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Any revenue from the privatisation would go to the Treasury, not the company. If the Government believe that Royal Mail will be strong enough to borrow in the private sector, why do they not believe it will be strong enough to borrow in public hands? Network Rail, for example, is to all intents a public company, but it has borrowed more than £30 billion from private markets. This borrowing does not count towards public debt.

I have asked the Government today to confirm how many shares they intend to sell off. For example, should only 50% of the shares be sold, does the Minister believe that Royal Mail could borrow from the private sector, or does he believe that all the shares need to be sold off to do that?

The service to the public is severely put at risk by a privatised Royal Mail. No doubt, the Minister in response will explain the protections of the inter-business agreement between Royal Mail and the Post Office. However, he will also be aware that there are few safeguards to ensure that that agreement is not watered down significantly a few years down the road. The Government may say that this proposed privatisation is not ideological, but given the risks of proceeding down this path, surely the Minister must accept that it cannot be in the interests of the public for this privatisation to take place at this time.

I ask the Government to answer a number of questions. Will they explain whether the legal requirement for the provision of universal service is a UK-wide obligation or could it be met in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland alone? How frequently will Ofcom, the regulator, be required to carry out a review of the universal service requirement, to ensure it reflects the reasonable needs of postal service users? Will Ofcom be required to seek the Minister’s approval before it can carry out a review of the universal service requirement?

Will prospective purchasers be allowed to divest Royal Mail of its international parcels business, General Logistics Systems? Will Royal Mail purchasers be allowed to divest the business of the postcode address file? What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the universal service is protected following privatisation? What steps are the Government taking now to publish the terms of the sale of Royal Mail and how they intend to proceed, so that Parliament can give proper scrutiny to what is going to happen in the next few months?

Several hon. Membersrose

Philip Davies (in the Chair): Order. At least seven hon. Members wish to catch my eye. I intend to go to the shadow Minister no later than 3.40 pm. I shall not impose a formal time limit at the moment. I ask hon. Members to be considerate to each other, which will mean about five minutes each, as a guideline. If they can keep to that, that will help everyone get a fair crack of the whip.

2.59 pm

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on securing this important debate.

As the hon. Lady says, Royal Mail is an essential part of Britain’s social and economic fabric. One of the UK’s largest companies, it has more than 150,000 employees and a turnover approaching £9 billion. In 2012, research

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from the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that, in terms of Royal Mail’s economic footprint, its core UK business ranks as the eighth largest organisation in the UK. It contributes nearly 0.5% to the UK’s total GDP, rising to 0.7% when its wider economic impacts are included. That means that, for every £1 Royal Mail pays in wages, an additional 57p is generated elsewhere in the economy; it is a massive organisation by anyone’s standards, and one that is operating in a fast-moving and ever-changing marketplace. Like any business of that scale, the key to Royal Mail’s future success is access to the flexible capital that it needs to innovate and invest.

My first real involvement with Royal Mail came back in the ’90s, when I was running my own small business. In the days before e-mail, as I am sure everyone recalls, we had a daily collection for franked mail, through which we sent out all our mailshots, quotes, artwork and invoices, as well as the products that we manufactured. Now, all those things, other than the products themselves, are sent electronically. My business, like many others, has seen a massive fall in its use of the post. Conversely, of course, there are other small businesses across the UK for which the internet has been the catalyst for a massive increase in their use of Royal Mail, with the growth of online shopping, eBay and mail order.

On average, the spend on post by small businesses is quite low—just £9 a month for the average micro-business. Royal Mail has always kept the needs of business customers at its heart, as far as I can tell. Prices of franking services used by businesses have lagged behind inflation for many years and continue to do so. Franking customers benefit from good prices and significant discounts, but even so, as the hon. Lady said, the marketplace is increasingly competitive. Many large businesses, such as banks and utility companies, already employ one of Royal Mail’s rivals, such as TNT and UK Mail, to collect bulk mail. According to its website, UK Mail is the UK’s self-styled leading alternative mail service provider and claims to handle more than 2 billion letters per annum and to support more than 1,000 businesses. To survive in the face of such competition, Royal Mail needs flexibility to act in the most businesslike way possible.

I was also on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s visit to Glasgow, which the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) mentioned a moment ago, and I was struck by how unbusinesslike the Royal Mail’s spokesperson was in his approach to potential Scottish independence. I found that shocking. Royal Mail must act in a more businesslike way, and it needs to improve its efficiency to invest and innovate, which means that it needs access to the capital that other large companies enjoy so that it is sustainable over the long term.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The hon. Lady is accurately outlining the change in the business climate in how often small businesses use the post, but she is also outlining Royal Mail’s need to be adaptable. Does she understand that, as we have already heard, Royal Mail’s profit in the past 18 months has increased considerably in the face of all that she has just

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outlined? It is in the public domain that Royal Mail is earning a significant profit, which should continue to be the case.

Caroline Dinenage: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, but for any business to continue, it cannot just look at what it is doing now; it must consider future challenges. As we have already heard, the self-styled rivals to Royal Mail offer daily challenges, and any company with long-term aspirations must be able to innovate, invest and grow in the future. That is the problem. At the moment, Royal Mail is competing for scarce public capital against other priorities such as schools and hospitals. Unless Royal Mail can access equity markets, every £1 that it borrows is another £1 on the national debt.

Robert Flello: I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady, but I do not recognise some of the things she is talking about. From my experience, the work force in Stoke-on-Trent have gone through incredible change and have adapted to new systems. Indeed, they are so efficient that I sometimes wonder how on earth our postal workers manage to do some of the things they are being asked to do. There is new equipment and new vans. There has been huge investment, and the work force have adapted incredibly to very stringent business standards. I really do not recognise the picture that she is painting when I see for myself what is happening in places such as Stoke-on-Trent.

Caroline Dinenage: I am sure Stoke-on-Trent is a fabulous paragon of what our wonderful mail services do—as is Gosport, I hasten to add. I do not think anyone today is in any way casting aspersions on either the service or the quality that Royal Mail delivers; we are talking about how to ensure that Royal Mail is able to continue doing that in the long term when we are facing other challenges to the public purse. Clearly, adding further to the national debt would not be responsible in the current environment, especially when Royal Mail can run on a fully commercial basis and already has the capacity to be profitable, as we have heard.

Royal Mail has the highest service specification of any major European universal postal service: 93% of first-class mail is delivered the next working day and 99.9% of delivery routes are completed each day. But I argue that the quality of service framework that applies to Royal Mail under public ownership would continue to apply under private ownership. We talk about private businesses being interested only in shareholder profit, but having run a private business for more than 20 years, we are also very keen on quality of service and maintaining our customers, which must be taken into consideration.

Leading postal operators that provide universal postal services in other European countries have moved into the private sector and been successful. The Austrian postal service and Deutsche Post, for example, have delivered consistently high mail profitability since flotation, and Deutsche Post is perceived as being in the vanguard of digital transition. Furthermore, levels of service have remained consistently high. In 2012, for example, the proportion of letters delivered the next day in Germany and Austria was 95%, compared with the 93% regulatory target in the UK. Those and other international examples

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show private sector investment delivering competitive, profitable postal frameworks without necessarily compromising on service levels.

The Government say that their overarching objective is to safeguard the one-price-goes-anywhere, six-days-a-week universal service, to deliver taxpayers value for money and to deliver customers the quality of service that they are used to. The best way to safeguard the universal service for future generations is to combine the best of both the public sector and the private sector and to give Royal Mail the independence, flexibility and, above all, access to the investment it needs to face future challenges.

3.7 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I start by declaring an interest: I am proud to say that I am a member of the Communication Workers Union, and I am also a member of the Communication Workers Union all-party parliamentary group. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark), who chairs that group, on securing this timely and important debate and on her passionate opening speech.

Of course, this debate is timely in that it closely follows the result of the ballot held last week. The result should embarrass the Government, as 96% of postal staff rejected their plans, despite the cash bribes that Ministers said postal staff would receive. That is a reminder to the Government that principles cannot be privatised, which I know is not something many Tory MPs understand. For them, privatisation is a panacea to every problem, whether or not the problem is even genuine. I say that because this debate strikes more than a passing resemblance to the debate on the privatisation of the east coast main line, with which I will draw some parallels to make my points even stronger.

Just as with the east coast main line, the Government want to privatise a key national asset against the wishes of the vast majority of stakeholders, and just as with the east coast main line, the desire to privatise clearly owes more to dogma than to the bottom line. The east coast main line has flourished under public control since the collapse of the private operator and has generated hundreds of millions of pounds in returns to the Treasury while requiring little subsidy and ploughing tens of millions of pounds from the remaining profits into service improvements. Similarly, last month we saw that Royal Mail profits are also showing hefty improvements —up to £324 million—as a result of modernisation and the increasingly buoyant internet sales market. Royal Mail has made a total of more than £0.5 billion over the past two financial years.

The east coast main line and Royal Mail are not failing monoliths or drains on public resources; they are valued services that can and should provide an ongoing contribution to the public purse. Yes, we should always look for them to be better, but private does not necessarily mean better and in many cases may well mean worse. In both cases, the fear is that the Government are opting for a short-term, one-off cash boost ahead of the election, rather than retaining assets that can and should generate ongoing returns to the public purse for years and decades to come. I am sure the Minister will say that that is not the case. Why, then, do the Government plan to pursue the sale of shares in Royal Mail during

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this financial year, while markets are still quite shaky, rather than waiting until the time is right, to ensure that the best value can be achieved for taxpayers? If Royal Mail is sold off in the next few months, what guarantees do we have that that would represent a good deal for the country? I know there is a difference between rail franchising and a flotation, but what guarantees will we have that the taxpayer will not be called on to foot the bill for private failure, if it comes to that, as happened with the east coast line?

It should not be forgotten that, in pressing ahead, Ministers are not only forgoing the decades of returns that could be realised, but undermining the job security of more than 100,000 postal workers. They are also putting at risk the future of a service that millions of people rely on, despite having no electoral mandate to do so. As always, a Tory Government are putting private profits before people.

My constituents want their Royal Mail to continue to represent their monarch, not to operate in the interests of overseas royal families as part of their investment portfolios. They also want their Royal Mail’s directors to concentrate on improving services, not the bank balances of shareholders, which they would have a duty to do. Finally, they want their Royal Mail to concentrate on maintaining local delivery offices and on keeping services affordable because of the social benefit they bring, not on stripping assets to satisfy the demands of institutional investors. I believe that the Minister’s constituents also want that and that he does too, if his infamous letter to his constituents represents his personal view.

The legislation may be on the statute book, but that does not mean that we have to rush into using it; I would rather that we did not use it at all. Let us at least wait until we can be sure that using it will bring real benefits to Royal Mail and the country as a whole.

3.12 pm

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Davies. I would like to start by paying tribute to the Post Office and Royal Mail for the hundreds of years of service they have dedicated to the nation. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to the sorting office in Stourbridge. I visited the delivery office early one morning last summer, and it was an eye-opener to see the incredible hard work, commitment, organisation and efficiency that characterised it. I then went with a postman on his delivery round, which topped off the visit for me; indeed, it was one of the most rewarding visits in my constituency calendar last year.

Mention has been made of the price of stamps, and I was on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee at the time the proposal was made to raise the price of first-class stamps to 60p. The Committee was concerned about that proposal, and I shared that concern, but if we are to guarantee a universal six-day-a-week collection and next-day delivery service, 60p is a fair price, and a favourable comparison can be made with other items we might purchase for a similar sum, such as daily newspapers.

The need for part-privatisation was accepted under the previous Government. Richard Hooper was appointed back in 2008 to conduct an independent review of Royal

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Mail’s future, and his report under the previous Government made the case for part-privatising the Royal Mail service to guarantee its future sustainability. The former Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Mandelson, was passionate about going ahead with part-privatisation at that point, firmly believing that Royal Mail was not sustainable in the form it existed in at that time. The current Government are merely taking on that unfinished business so that Royal Mail can, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) said, seek private capital on the stock market. We can surely all agree that we do not want to add in any way, shape or form to the country’s debt if that can be avoided. If private capital can enable the Post Office and Royal Mail to innovate to meet the challenges of the future, that is surely to be preferred to increasing the debt burden on the taxpayer.

On the opportunities for staff, I do not accept that the 10% employee ownership proposal is a bribe. I am impressed by certain models of capitalism—notably the John Lewis Partnership, which is a model many people in the Government respect. Lessons can be learned from that way of doing business. Members of the important staff stakeholder community have an interest in the business for which they work. I think that model will come to be appreciated with the passage of time.

Mr Anderson: Does the hon. Lady accept, though, that there has been a full democratic ballot of the work force, with a 74% turnout, which is probably more than for any of us at the last general election, and 96% of the people balloted said they did not want to get involved with these plans? Surely, the Government should listen to them; the people we expect to deliver the service do not want to go down the road the Government are suggesting.

Margot James: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. No doubt there will be many pressures and issues on the minds of people who work in the Post Office and the Royal Mail, and they came to their conclusion, although I do not know what the precise wording of the question in the consultation was.

I was talking about what would happen in the fullness of time. I think most employees who get a stake in the business for which they work—especially one with a good future, such as Royal Mail, which has a rosy future now that the Government have taken its huge pension obligations to one side—would welcome such participation.

I am impressed by the protections that the Government are putting in place. Royal Mail will still be regulated by Ofcom. There is the second-class postage cap. The VAT exemption will remain. The service will remain free for blind people and those serving in the forces. There is also a commitment on the Post Office side to maintain 11,500 branches. As I said—I am sorry the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) thought this was a party political point—I have seen with my own eyes in my constituency what has happened at several post offices. Only last Friday, I opened a branch that had been upgraded and renovated. We are also keen to get a Post Office Counters local service back in an area that had its post office taken away a couple of years ago, and we are close to achieving that.

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There is, therefore, great promise for the future. I look forward to Royal Mail staff having the opportunity to take a stake in their business and the taxpayer having a fairer solution in terms of an ongoing commitment in the future.

3.18 pm

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am pleased to appear under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark), who made a fine speech in introducing this important debate.

I served on the Committee that considered what is now the Postal Services Act 2011. I opposed privatisation at the time; nothing that has happened since has persuaded me to do otherwise, and I still strongly oppose privatisation. Areas such as mine have seen major changes in postal services, with reductions in mail collections and ever later deliveries. I live in a town, but I do not now get my mail until about 1 pm; in rural parts of my constituency, it is much later. For me, it is a minor inconvenience, but deliveries are crucial for many businesses in my constituency.

It is the business side of the matter that I want to comment on. Royal Mail is not a drag on public spending, but an important economic driver, especially in rural areas. In his evidence to the Committee that considered the Postal Services Act 2011, Richard Hooper quoted the point that I made to him at the outset of his 2008 investigation of Royal Mail, during the Labour Government. I observed that the universal service is crucial to businesses in rural areas, and have argued that point ever since. It colours my whole attitude to the issue; the service is crucial to rural areas throughout the UK.

Mr Hooper made a point about a young lady with a mobile phone and laptop, and wondered why she would need anyone’s physical address. Perhaps she has now moved on to a smartphone, and I empathise with that view, because young people are no different in Angus from anywhere else. They use e-mail and texts. Mr Hooper made the point that only about 10% of mail is private letters, and about 8% of that is sent around Christmas—it is mainly cards. That is a sobering fact, and I suspect that things have deteriorated since then. It seemed to me that there were fewer Christmas cards about last year. Perhaps that was because of the rising cost of postage, or perhaps I am simply less popular—I do not know. The youngster with the phone and laptop may never feel the need to write a letter, but I am almost certain that if they live in a rural area they will use the internet to order books, CDs or DVDs, even though those may be under threat from digital streaming, and, increasingly, fashionable clothing—not a problem I have. There are very few outlets for entertainment and fashion items in rural areas now.

It is sobering that when last Christmas I, like many others, visited my local sorting office, I was struck by the fact that it was stacked with packages from Amazon and similar online retailers. That is where the great growth in mail delivery is happening. The important point for areas such as mine is that the process works both ways. Not only do people in rural areas use the post to get items delivered; crucially, small and medium-sized businesses in those communities use Royal Mail to get their products out. In many cases they do not have an

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alternative. The other private companies do not offer a service in many parts of rural Scotland. The universal service is crucial to those businesses, and it is crucial to those of us who hope that businesses will be created and sustained in rural areas.

The hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) said that the regulations under the Bill were sufficient to enable a universal service obligation to be maintained. I am afraid I do not accept that. There are many aspects of the Bill that cause me great concern. That is nothing new, because under the previous system Royal Mail investigated the introduction of a zonal pricing system. I must ask what protection the customer really has. Ofcom has already removed price caps from all Royal Mail products, apart from the second-class universal mail service, with the result that that is now the only truly universal service. First-class mail can be priced out of the reach of many, and with the price of a first-class stamp already 60p—one of the highest in Europe—how many people or, crucially, small businesses will send first-class mail?

The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland has noted a substantial increase in the small packages rate, which is affecting many small businesses in rural areas of Scotland; and things could get worse. There is nothing in the 2011 Act to prevent Royal Mail or a private owner from introducing zonal pricing. I took that point up with Ofcom, which confirmed in a letter to me:

“Ofcom does not have any powers to restrict Royal Mail from introducing this pricing variation related to user location, as the Postal Services Act 2011 limits our regulatory powers to universal services and access”.

That is from the horse’s mouth—from the regulator that oversees the service. There is nothing to stop such a variation in price being introduced now, never mind after the service falls into the hands of a private operator.

The Government have talked about an initial public offering, but they have not ruled out a sale to one of the major international companies, such as TNT and Deutsche Post. The Communication Workers Union in its document in relation to the Bill made the views of some of those companies about the universal service very clear: they amount to an intention to get rid of it if they can, because they consider it to be an anchor on their business.

Ministers have previously argued that the universal service is a benefit to Royal Mail, as it is the only carrier that guarantees a delivery to every address. However, that ceases to be true when other companies take on the most profitable routes. A couple of months back I met a man delivering mail on the stairs of the block of flats where I live in London. He was wearing a postal uniform, but not a Royal Mail one: it was a TNT uniform. Ofcom has already, as the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran said, sanctioned trials in areas of London for other companies to run an end-to-end service. Quite how that fits in with attempts to sell Royal Mail to such companies I am not sure, but it is a sure sign of the huge pressures on the USO that will come with privatisation. You can bet the mortgage on the fact that they might do it in London, but they will not do it in rural Scotland.

I remind hon. Members that section 43 of the 2011 Act allows Ofcom to review the USO and recommend, among other things, a review of the minimum requirements —which amounts to cuts in what the USO must deliver.

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Royal Mail should be seen as part of our national infrastructure—an economic driver, not a drain on the public finances. It should remain in public ownership.

3.25 pm

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on obtaining this debate on a serious matter.

It would be a nice change if in this place we listened to the people who know: the people who deliver a service. The service we are talking about has been delivered for 497 years, and I reiterate what my hon. Friend said: what is happening is bribing people with public money—asking them to take shares in an organisation. As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), 96% of the members of the union who were balloted said, on a 74% turnout, that they did not want that. Even Boris Johnson, who constantly lectures the unions about ballot thresholds, could hardly argue against those sorts of figures.

I have no doubt that people will say, “It’s self-interest. They want to remain where they are,” but the bosses of Royal Mail said—pigs may fly one day—that the terms and conditions of the workers will not be affected; so they cannot be accused of self-interest on that point. Perhaps their self-interest is based on their pride and faith in the service. They believe that Royal Mail is not just a brand to be bought and sold in the marketplace; they believe in the principles and ethos of public service. So do many other public service workers. In the past 25-plus years the House has ignored their voices. We have always known better. For example, in 1992 the public services trade unions argued against the private finance initiative. Hardly anyone in the House today would speak in favour of PFI as a wonderful success, but for 25 years when the trade unions said anything the response was, “Ignore them—they are just looking after their members.” They were right when they said it would not work: it has not worked.

Likewise, members of the National Union of Mineworkers said, “If you close the mines in this country and privatise them, what will you end up with?” We can see what we ended up with: there are three coal mines left in this country; we import 50 million tonnes of coal from some of the least secure regimes in the world; and the reality is that the lights of this country may go out. Similarly there was the “Tell Sid” debacle: “Tell Sid” to have shares, and we will transfer all the risk to the private utilities. What did we end up with? The voice of the work force was ignored, and the utilities sector is not fit for purpose. There is a £200 billion bill—we will have to find that to make sure we can power our country for the future—and a pricing regime that has pushed millions of people into fuel poverty.

Exactly the same process that is now being suggested for Royal Mail was carried out in the deregulation of bus services. In my part of the world we had something called Busways. We were told clearly, “Sell the shares to the work force—it will be their company.” What happened? In a few short months there was a management buy-out. Four people walked away with millions of pounds; the people on the ground were left with worse terms and conditions, working bad shifts with lower numbers, a poorer service for the public, a worse deal for the work force, and huge hikes for those using the service.

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It is not just on the privatisation agenda that the voice of the workers has been ignored. When the Care Quality Commission was mooted, people in the health service said it would not work; and of course they were ignored. We saw what happened last week, but I will tell you what: I bet the two previous Health Secretaries—and probably the present one—wish they had paid a bit more attention to the people who actually work in the service than they did to those who advised them. But our arrogance as the political élite is overwhelming. We assume we know better than those who have dedicated their lives to delivering a service to the people of this country.

I make a plea to the Minister to stop rubbishing the voice of Royal Mail’s dedicated work force and accept the fact that they have been flexible in recent years. They have accepted huge changes to their working practices, shown huge experience and commitment, engaged much better with the modernisation programme and delivered much better industrial relations than in the past. They might just know something that we in this place do not. I ask the Minister to listen to the voice of the workers, and of the public. I am convinced that the people of this country do not know that this is being done, and they will not support it if they are made aware of it.

I look forward to the Minister’s response, particularly to the pointed questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. I look forward with almost as much keenness to what the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), has to say, as I know that he is committed to the agenda of not privatising Royal Mail.

3.30 pm

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on securing this important debate.

The Government are pushing ahead with plans to privatise Royal Mail and hope to do so within the 2013-14 financial year. Members have declared interests. My interest is anti-privatisation. I am absolutely opposed to privatisation in any guise, for the right reasons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) mentioned, we only have to look at the coal industry, which has been completely obliterated, and the electricity industry, in which the big six companies make billions of pounds in profits, while millions of people head toward record levels of fuel poverty. We only have to look at the privatisation of telecoms and of the railways, where fares are sky high and investment is completely lacking. Privatisation fails this country. The record is there to be seen. That is my declaration. We should stop kidding people that privatisation is in the best interests of consumers—as though calling them consumers makes them feel more important. We should really call them the general public.

The Government are desperate and seeking to generate as much finance as possible to get them out of the hole that they created. Consequently, they are determined to press ahead with the fire sale of Royal Mail, which is scheduled for this autumn. The decision to sell and

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when has been dictated by what is politically expedient for the Tories and the coalition in the short term, not what is best for the country. For the record, Royal Mail is making a profit. It is a profitable and efficient business. Its operating profits were £403 million last year, up from £105 million the year before. It is not a failing business; it is a very successful one.

Looking back on what has happened since the Government argued for privatisation, the original Hooper report of 2008 identified a number of issues faced by Royal Mail. Many of those issues have been resolved, notably the pension deficit and regulation, which leaves the Government’s case resting entirely on Royal Mail’s need to access capital. Royal Mail is doing well in the public sector, and it is my view, and I am sure that of most people in the UK, that it is a public asset and should remain so.

I thank the Royal Mail work force, who have embraced much change in the name of modernisation. They have done everything that has been expected of them to turn Royal Mail around, so turning it into the successful business that it is today. I have visited the Royal Mail in my constituency and been on a round with the men and women who do that fantastic job.

Contrary to the Government’s claim, there is no good reason why Royal Mail should not be able to borrow the capital that it needs to invest, while remaining in the public sector. That would not be at the expense of public sector spending, and it would not need to count towards Government debt. In 2008, the Hooper report identified five problems with Royal Mail that it argued needed to be fixed: the pension deficit, the relationship with the regulator, pricing, modernising performance and industrial relations.

The report made three proposals: that the Government should take on the pension deficit, that the regulator should be changed and that Royal Mail should be part privatised. On privatisation, the only remaining step not implemented, the Hooper report argued that Royal Mail was trying to improve industrial relations and the quality of management, reduce political interference, introduce commercial and financial discipline and allow access to private capital. On pensions, the Government took on the assets and liabilities of the pension scheme in March 2012. Since then, Royal Mail’s annual pension spending has fallen by up to £300 million as a consequence.

It is worth reminding the House what Communication Workers Union employees were asked. The hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) said that she was not sure what was on the ballot paper. It said, “Do you oppose the privatisation of Royal Mail?” Can it get any simpler than that? It was pretty simple and not ambiguous in any way. The result was a 96% vote yes. The work force are totally behind it, and rightly refused to be bribed by the Government’s offer of shares or finance to privatise Royal Mail. We cannot continue to allow the likes of TNT and other companies that ignore good industrial relations with the trade unions and the workers and that pay well below the living wage to undercut such a fabulous service as Royal Mail.

Thank you, Mr Davies, for allowing me to speak. Put simply, the Labour party opposed the privatisation of Royal Mail while we were in government, and we continue to oppose it in opposition.

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3.37 pm

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on securing this debate. I suppose that I should declare an interest as the proud parent of a Royal Mail employee.

For me, this goes back to the 1980s, the last time a Conservative Government decided to go on a privatisation binge. I saw it up close, personal and at first hand when I was an employee of British Telecom and the Conservative Government at that time decided to sell it off, supposedly to make it leaner and more competitive. I saw job losses, closed depots and lost opportunities for a future generation to secure good employment in my neck of the woods.

Like the last time, these sell-offs have been driven by a desperate need for money to plug a gap left by failing Government policies and to pay for the rising number of unemployed. The current group of state-owned businesses proposed for privatisation could fetch nearly £9 billion, £3 billion of which would come from the sale of Royal Mail. The original rationale for privatising the Royal Mail was that it was making a loss. We now know that that is no longer true. Annual profits are up more than 60%, and figures show that the amount of mail being sent has risen.

Royal Mail still needs investment. The coalition’s policy does not make economic, political or social sense. Ministers are motivated by ideological blinkers and the desire to make a quick buck, not by the long-term best interests of the taxpayer, the Royal Mail or the public. Under privatisation, there will be no obligation to deliver the 26 million letters a day that Royal Mail currently handles. Service will worsen, especially in rural areas.

Red pillar boxes are a symbol of Britain and give people a connection to the past not only of the GPO and the Royal Mail, but of their own community. There are no Government safeguards to prevent the organisation from falling into foreign hands. Royal Mail is more than a business; it is a service. To cite only one of the services provided, I can identify our posties, who we see every day up and down the country. They do more than just deliver mail, and they go in early to set out their walks and deliver their full mail sack; some of the private sector firms, however, after too much time into the day will take the mail back and not deliver the full amount. Posties are the ones who we see in the community and who are recognised as part of the community; they are the ones who see that the curtains are still closed and that the milk is on the doorstep. They provide more than a mail service; they are part of the community, which would not be the case under privatisation.

3.40 pm

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): It is great to see you in the Chair again, Mr Davies. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark), who set out a compelling case for keeping Royal Mail in the public sector.

I also pay tribute to the Royal Mail staff, who have worked tirelessly alongside their management to create a leaner, fitter and more modern company. As we have heard, the recent results, with profits in excess of £300 million, are testament to not only the hard work of the staff, but the steely determination of management and

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staff working together, in partnership with the trade unions, to make the Royal Mail service the best it can possibly be. It would be wrong of me not to mention especially the Royal Mail staff in Edinburgh, who got the best performance stats in Scotland only last month, so I say congratulations to them.

As we have heard this afternoon, Royal Mail is a much treasured institution, with a universal service obligation covering all parts of the country—whether north, south, east or west—for one uniform price. It dates back to 1516, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), who mentioned that, was there at the time. It touches all of us, whether through birthday or Christmas cards, letters to friends, bank statements or the Liberal Democrats’ “We’re winning here” letters—given that, no wonder delivery volumes are dropping. Royal Mail also happily delivers my letters to the Minister, six days a week at one uniform price. It is the last major publicly owned business, which is something that we should cherish and protect.

Royal Mail of course has challenges. Letter volumes are falling fast, as everyone turns to electronic communications. It has some way to go to complete the modernisation programme, to make itself the best it can possibly be. There is of course the risk of industrial action, given the industrial relations issues that we heard about in the CWU survey just last week. The maintenance of the USO is of course expensive, and the position of Royal Mail on delivering that USO is compromised by the ability of other companies to come in and cherry-pick the most profitable end-to-end services. One of the critical things, which has not yet been mentioned, is that Royal Mail service standards are much higher than the standards of any of the businesses coming in, which makes cherry-picking easier and, obviously, a lot cheaper.

There has been a lot of talk about the Hooper report, including by the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James). That report, however, if we analyse what has been done since, shows that the company can be viable in the public sector. The issues raised by Hooper deserve a bit of attention. The pension fund assets have of course gone into the public purse, so the public purse is now responsible for the liabilities. In essence, having just nationalised the liabilities to the taxpayer, the Government now propose to privatise the potential profits. The regulatory environment has improved, following the transfer of responsibilities to Ofcom, and we have seen that in the deregulation of pricing, with the exception of second-class stamps; a lot of the profits over the past year or 18 months have been directly attributable to freeing up Royal Mail from some of those industrial strangleholds.

Furthermore, industrial relations and quality of management have improved. We must pay tribute to the management, the chief executive officer, Moya Greene, and the CWU for again working in partnership to ensure that industrial relations were improved and the modernisation programme taken forward. That was not an easy task for anyone, but they have come through it with aplomb, and the profits have helped. On the other side, the explosion of the parcel business, which was highlighted by the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir), has given a real opportunity for Royal Mail to become even more profitable. I am slightly disappointed that he did not tell us what the cost of a parcel or letter would be in an independent Scotland.

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Mr Weir rose

Ian Murray: I will not be taking an intervention, because I do not have much time, but perhaps on the next occasion that we debate Royal Mail, the hon. Gentleman might come prepared with some of that information.

The environment therefore has changed since the Hooper report in 2008. That is why we should allow Royal Mail, under its new regulatory regime and its new environment, the opportunity to thrive in the public sector.

What is the real purpose of privatising Royal Mail? First, ideology—there is an ideological thirst for privatisation in the Government—and, secondly, to plug a hole in the Chancellor’s funding gap, because he is borrowing £245 billion more during this Parliament, owing to his failed economic policy. The fire sale of Royal Mail is the opportunity for him to plug that gap.

Let us analyse who is against the proposals. The late Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, the architect of ideological privatisation in the Conservative party, said that it would be a step too far. More recently, the Bow Group, a right-wing think tank to which the Minister might give much credence, said:

“It is likely to be hugely unpopular, prices will rise at a time when people cannot afford it, an amenity that many communities consider crucial will be removed, it will undermine the heritage of Royal Mail. The privatisation of Royal Mail is likely to move swiftly from a poisonous legacy for the Government now, to a poisonous legacy for the Conservative Party going forward”.

I would include the Liberals in that.

Mr Tom Clarke: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ian Murray: I will not, if my right hon. Friend does not mind, because I have only 10 minutes and I want to try to give the Minister an extra minute to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. I apologise for not giving way.

In future, the privatisation of Royal Mail is likely to move swiftly from being a poisonous legacy for the Government to being a poisonous legacy for the Conservative party. That will include the Liberal Democrats, even though the Liberal Democrat manifesto was against the privatisation of Royal Mail—in fact, the Deputy Prime Minister spoke against it not that long ago.

We heard about the CWU consultative ballot this week, which produced a clear result from 96% of the very staff whom the Minister wishes to bribe with 10% of the shares. I hope that they are not shares for rights, which is a whole other subject for debate. Before the Minister jumps to his feet to say that the CWU ballot had a low turnout, it was some 78%, but this is not just about the posties. Unite, which represents a number of managers in Royal Mail, heard serious concerns expressed by management and senior management, who have also been saying that they have significant concerns about privatisation.

Concern about the rise in stamp prices has been expressed by the Countryside Alliance, the National Pensioners Convention and the Scottish Family Business Association, which are all becoming increasingly worried about the pace of the privatisation. The cross-party Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, which many Members present serve on, was also against the speed of

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the privatisation. Critically, the National Federation of SubPostmasters, which originally supported the Postal Services Act 2011 when it was going through the House, said that it no longer supports the separation of the two businesses and the privatisation of Royal Mail, because of the potential impact on the post office network. That includes the 10-year inter-business agreement and the £360 million a year that goes into the Post Office by having that inextricable link between the business and the delivery units. The Minister needs to address that and to let us know the impact on the post office network of the privatisation of Royal Mail.

If there is any doubt at all that the Minister does not believe the Countryside Alliance, the Bow Group, the late Baroness Thatcher, the CWU or Unite, why does he not believe himself? In February 2009, when in opposition, he said clearly in a letter reported in the press:

“I certainly do not support the…plans for privatisation”,

with reference to Royal Mail. Even with the Hooper environment getting better, the Minister now says that he is not against it. He might pop to his feet to say, “That is because we’re giving 10% of the shares to the staff,” but if that is the justification for changing his stand from being against privatisation to fully privatising Royal Mail, it is a weak argument.

The Government have also failed to address a number of critical issues with regard to the justification for privatisation. On the timing of the sale, why now? I claim that it is because the Chancellor needs the money in his Budget come April next year. I hope that the Minister can dispel that myth. The hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) said that Royal Mail has to compete with schools and hospitals and everyone else for public money. It does, but the future profits of Royal Mail could be building schools and hospitals and every other piece of infrastructure that this country might put together. Public services are not always a drain on resources; a profitable Royal Mail could contribute to the Government’s resources, to build schools and hospitals.

There are unresolved competition issues and questions about what happens if the Royal Mail falls into trouble in the regulated environment. The USO is expensive and the most profitable parts could be cherry-picked by other end-to-end deliverers, so that it might become unaffordable. What happens then? Does it revert back to the Government and the public purse, as happened with the east coast rail line, which my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) mentioned, with the company handing back the keys? This is a huge issue, and there is an impact on customers and the post office network. If all that is put together, the strongest compelling case is to keep Royal Mail in the public sector, and that is what we will fight to achieve.

3.50 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on securing this debate, and I thank hon. Members who have contributed to it. It has been a good debate, and I welcome the opportunity to respond to the issues raised and to explain why the Government intend to sell shares in Royal Mail in this financial year.

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The Government’s overarching objective is to secure the future of the universal postal service: the six-day-a-week service at uniform, affordable prices that delivers throughout the UK. The service is vital to our economy. The Government’s reforms go back to Richard Hooper’s independent review of the postal sector which was commissioned by the Labour Government because the volume of mail was falling. That review concluded that there was a substantial threat to Royal Mail’s financial stability and that the universal service was under threat. It recommended that action should be taken as a package to secure the universal postal service with responsibility for postal regulation being transferred to Ofcom, the Government tackling the historic pension deficit, and Royal Mail entering into a strategic partnership with one or more private sector companies to give it commercial confidence, access to capital and corporate experience. The Labour Government accepted those recommendations.

In 2010, following an updated report by Richard Hooper that confirmed his initial findings, apart from the need for a strategic partnership, the new Government introduced a Bill to enable implementation of the package of recommendations. Since the Postal Services Act 2011 received Royal Assent in June 2011, we have implemented two elements of that package by establishing Ofcom as the regulator with stronger powers to protect the universal service, and by taking on Royal Mail’s historic pension deficit. By removing those major barriers, Royal Mail has begun its journey to long-term sustainability. It is now profitable, as hon. Members have said, and its overall financial position has improved.

The challenge now is to maintain that positive momentum. We should not forget that in recent history the Royal Mail group has swung between profit and loss. Royal Mail’s core UK letters and parcels business suffered losses in five of the last 12 years. During that period, overall losses were around £1 billion and around 60,000 jobs were lost, so resting on the current year’s profitability is not enough. The core UK network made a margin of 3.9% in that financial year, which was an improvement, but it was well below international peers such as Deutsche Post and Austrian Post with a margin of more than 8% and Belgium Post with a margin of 17%.

A more profitable Royal Mail will be better able to weather any future market weakness and, more importantly, will be able to take advantage of new opportunities. The company needs future access to private capital to be able to continue its modernisation programme and to seize opportunities for growth such as the boom in on-line shopping. The final phase of our reforms and implementation of the Hooper recommendations is the sale of Royal Mail shares, which will give Royal Mail future access to private capital.

That is the way to put Royal Mail’s future on to a long-term sustainable basis. It is consistent with developments in Europe where privatised operators in Austria, Germany and Belgium have been profitable and continue to provide high-quality services. Only last week, there was a successful sale of shares in the Belgian post operator, bpost. The Government’s decision to sell shares in Royal Mail is not ideological. It is a practical, logical and commercial decision, just as the Labour Government’s decision was in 2009. What they got

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wrong and what everyone opposed, including me and most Labour MPs at the time, was of course their proposed implementation.

I will turn to some of the more detailed questions that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran asked. She asked about the effect on the Post Office, which is now a separate business. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) said, we put an end to the closure programme. I am looking forward to re-opening the refurbished Otford post office on Friday. It is winning a range of front-line service contracts from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Skills Funding Agency, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Border Agency and many others.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran asked me about the type of sale. We have not made a decision on how much of Royal Mail to sell, nor what form the sale should take. I assure hon. Members that when we decide, we will make a statement to Parliament and under the legislation we must lay a report to Parliament at the same time. The hon. Lady asked about the fees involved. If there is an initial public offering, the fees will be set out in a prospectus. I assure her that we will be very careful to keep them as low as possible.

The hon. Lady also asked whether the universal service provision is UK-wide, and the answer is yes. She asked whether Ofcom can review the universal service provision and throw it up into the air at any particular point, and whether ministerial approval is required to do so. The answer is that Ofcom may review it at any time, but cannot change it. Only the House can change the universal service provision—

3.55 pm

Sitting adjourned for Divisions in the House.

4.21 pm

On resuming—

Michael Fallon: When I was interrupted, I was replying to the important question from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran on what triggers a review of the universal service requirement: could Ofcom do it at any time or does a review need ministerial permission and so on? The answer is that Ofcom can review user needs at any time and it must carry out such a review before it can modify any part of the universal service order, but it cannot modify the order in a way that changes the minimum requirements. That can be done only by Parliament amending the Postal Services Act 2011, which gives all of us the protection we need, and that protection continues irrespective of the ownership of Royal Mail.

The hon. Lady asked about disposables. The directors of the company—a privately owned Royal Mail—must act in the best interests of the company. The Royal Mail is already clear that it sees the postal access file as an integral part of the business. It is separately regulated by Ofcom, and that separate regulation continues irrespective of the particulars of ownership. If I have missed any of her questions, I will write to her after the debate.

The Royal Mail is a business with a £9 billion turnover, which employs more than 150,000 people, and of course, a company of that size and importance to the British

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economy should have access to the flexible capital it needs: to continue to modernise; to become more efficient and competitive; to innovate and invest; and to seize opportunities presented by new markets, such as the rapid growth of online shopping. Over the past years, Royal Mail’s investment in the business has increased from £555 million to £665 million. As I said earlier, Royal Mail is profitable, but its margins are still behind those of its competitors. Investment remains crucial if it is to continue to improve margins and provide the services that customers demand.

No responsible party would propose that in the current environment Royal Mail should have to compete for scarce public capital against other services, such as schools and hospitals. Royal Mail, run on a fully commercial basis, has the capacity to be cash-generative, profitable and perfectly able to raise the capital it needs from the private sector. A sale of shares will also reduce the possibility of any future Government interference in the operations of the company. It is time for Government to step back from Royal Mail, to allow its management to focus wholeheartedly on growing the business and planning for the future. We will give Royal Mail the commercial freedom it has needed for so long.

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Mitochondrial Disease

4.25 pm

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I am pleased to be able to lead a debate on this most important subject. I shall speak about mitochondrial disease, the devastation it causes and the new techniques developed by Newcastle university to prevent it. I declare an interest in that my father studied medicine at Newcastle, so I am a natural champion of that great university’s medical research and innovation. I am here primarily to champion not Newcastle university however, but the interests of my constituents struck down by mitochondrial disease, and indeed all those who suffer from it.

The subject is technical and I will attempt to be as clear as possible in setting out the arguments. Mitochondria are found in every cell in the human body, except red blood cells. They are the batteries generating energy for the cell. Mitochondria convert the energy of food molecules into the energy that powers the cell’s functions. About 200 children are born every year with a mitochondrial disease. Such diseases are passed from mothers to their children and are caused by faulty mitochondria. Like all DNA, the DNA in mitochondria can mutate and mothers can pass those mutations on to their children. Faulty mitochondria mean that the cells are unable to function normally and the diseases caused by them can have a devastating effect on families. The diseases tend to affect parts of the body that use a lot of energy, such as the brain, muscles, nerves, liver, kidney and heart, and vary widely in severity, from life-threatening to having few or no obvious symptoms. Symptoms vary, but can include poor growth, muscle weakness, tiredness, poor co-ordination, and sensory, respiratory or cognitive problems.

There are no effective treatments available for serious mitochondrial disease. When the cells go wrong, it can result in serious conditions, including blindness, fatal heart failure, liver failure, learning disabilities and diabetes, and can lead to death in early infancy. Prevention is the only realistic option. In 2010, Newcastle university scientists, with funding from the Wellcome Trust, pioneered research into variations of in vitro fertilisation procedures that could prevent the transmission of the genetic mutations that cause these devastating disorders. The techniques use part of an egg donated by a healthy individual, to replace the faulty mitochondria of the affected mother. The intention is to give affected families a chance to have healthy children that are genetically related to them, but born free of mitochondrial disorders. Such techniques are not currently permitted in the UK, but legislation allows the Government to introduce secondary legislation that would allow the treatments to be used.

Mitochondrial disease can blight families for generations, because, as I said, it is passed from the mother to child during pregnancy. The techniques could put a stop to it, by preventing the faulty mitochondria from being passed to the embryo. Mitochondrial disease affects about 6,000 adults in the UK. In my constituency, four families—Bumstead, Cass, Bland and Mahmood—suffer from mitochondrial disease. Although every effort is being made to help them, there is no cure. For example, Lily Cass, who is in her 70s now, has five brothers and three

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sisters, and one brother who died at 56. They are all affected in different ways by mitochondrial diseases, and some more severely than others. Some days, Lily can hardly move due to lack of energy caused by her faulty mitochondria, which takes all her strength away. She has four children, including a daughter, who is likely to pass the disease on to her children. She worries about that all the time.

For those women and their families, the most important help we can offer is potential treatments, to prevent the next generation of patients from being affected. The opportunity to have their own children free of disease is something that the patients understandably want.

As with all such advances, it is right that the ethics are properly considered before techniques are adopted, and the Minister will be aware that concerns have been raised. There are those who argue that the techniques create children with three parents, but the embryo would carry only a small number of genes from the donor—just 13 out of 23,000, or 0.056% of the genetic material. How much of a parent is that? The function of the 13 genes is restricted to powering the mitochondria; they do not affect personal characteristics such as eye or hair colour, or behaviour.

Last June, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics produced a report that found that the technique would be an ethical treatment option for affected families, as long as research showed that treatment was likely to be safe and effective, and families were offered full information and support. The council’s report found that no strong cultural or social emphasis is generally placed on mitochondrial inheritance as a specific element of personal identity. Many of the social and biological aspects that typically imply a “parent”, and may be relevant in egg donation for reproduction, do not apply to mitochondrial donation. The council therefore suggested that if the treatments were made available, mitochondrial donors should not have the same status in regulation as reproductive egg donors.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes a good case about the serious effects that the diseases resulting from the condition have on families. If we think forward to any children who are fortunate enough to be born without disease because of the treatment, would there be any possibility that they might consider themselves to have three parents, whether or not they had any traits from the third one? Has thought been given to how that would be considered if it should happen?

Chi Onwurah: My hon. Friend is right. There has been some debate about the status not only of the donors but, most importantly, of the children. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics says that families must be offered full information and support, and that must also apply to the children, so that they understand the scientific nature of the very limited gene inheritance from the donation.

If mitochondrial donors were not given the same status as reproductive egg donors, it would be not legally required for them to be identifiable to people born from their donations. The council concluded that the proposed treatments would be a form of gene therapy that would permanently cure the disease in future generations. Changes resulting from the replacement

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of mitochondrial DNA would be passed on not only to the resulting children, but to the descendants of any girls born from the techniques, via their eggs.

Dr Geoff Watts, who chaired the inquiry, said:

“We understand that some people concerned about the idea of germline therapies may fear that if such treatments for mitochondrial gene disorders were approved, a ‘slippery slope’ would be created towards comparable alterations to the nuclear genome.”

That is an understandable fear, but he went on to make a very important point:

“However, we are only talking about the use of these techniques in the clearly-defined situation of otherwise incurable mitochondrial disorders, under strict regulation.”

In 2012, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority—HFEA—launched a public consultation on mitochondria replacement. It interviewed almost 1,000 people, and a further 1,800 completed questionnaires. It also organised public workshops around the UK and spoke to individuals affected by the diseases, to gauge their views. It published the results in March of this year, and found broad public support for the use of the technique.

The HFEA asked four main questions about attitudes to the gene treatment of mitochondrial diseases. When asked about attitudes to the selection of embryos based on testing, 65% of those questioned were positive or very positive, with only 8% negative. When asked about altering the genetic make-up of an egg or an embryo, 56% were positive or very positive and only 10% were negative. Attitudes to the use of genetic material from a third person showed that 44% were positive or very positive, with only 15% negative. The HFEA therefore advised the Government that there was broad support for mitochondrial replacement being made available to families at risk of passing on a serious mitochondrial disease. It also advised that if treatment were to be authorised by Parliament, it should be under certain conditions, such as its being available only in licensed clinics.

The HFEA recommendations have been widely welcomed by campaigners. For example, Dr Marita Pohlschmidt, director of research at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said:

“We welcome this outcome. There is currently no effective treatment available for mitochondrial diseases, and at this time, prevention remains our strongest option. By taking forward research into pro nuclear IVF, we move towards giving women living with these devastating and unpredictable conditions the choice to bear their own unaffected children. This technique does involve a step into new scientific territory. But it is a calculated, specific step with the sole aim of preventing a potential fatal condition from being passed down to the next generation, where possible.”

We are now waiting for a decision from the Government about whether secondary legislation that will allow the techniques to be licensed for use in patients will be introduced in this parliamentary Session. It has taken years to get to this stage, and it is important that progress does not stall because families are waiting for this. Introducing regulations now will ensure there is no avoidable delay in the treatments reaching affected families once research is completed and the HFEA considers there to be sufficient evidence that the techniques are safe and effective.

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I called this debate to hear an update from the Minister on the progress that she has made, and to ask when we can expect a decision, and when we can expect to see legislation.

4.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) not only on securing the debate but on highlighting the impact of mitochondrial disease on families, and the potential of the new techniques to prevent suffering and premature death and bring hope to the many families who seek to prevent their children from inheriting these sorts of diseases in the future. The hon. Lady does everyone a service in raising the issue. It is a controversial issue, and she has asked me some direct questions.

The Government fully recognise the sensitivity of the issues, and since researchers first approached my Department in 2010 requesting that we make regulations, we have been collecting expert opinion and public views. I will be up front, and say straight away that the chief medical officer has given the issue her careful consideration in the light of the advice and the findings of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, following the consultation period. I anticipate that she will set out the Government response before the summer recess and, even with my poor mathematics, I can work out that that should certainly be within the next few weeks.

I emphasise that the Department of Health has given careful consideration to the advice and information passed to us by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority on 28 March. We have also taken account of other published reviews, such as the one in 2012 by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in its report on “Novel techniques for the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disorders: an ethical review”.

Our considerations are being led by the chief medical officer. It is right, if we are to move forward, that she should be the person to lead on the proposals—she may reject them—and, as the CMO, to make any announcement and to be at the forefront of any decision. I am told that her considerations are almost complete.

We recognise that allowing the treatment would give an opportunity for women who carry mitochondrial disease the choice—it is important to state that if regulations are introduced, they would have a choice—to have genetically related children without the risk of serious diseases; I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving examples of those diseases, and it is the understandable desire of many parents, especially women, not to allow them to be inherited by a child.

This issue is about giving women a choice on whether or not their DNA is put into another woman’s egg. In effect, a woman would be hijacking the batteries, because mitochondria are the batteries that provide the energy, and when they do not work, they cause these diseases. This is not about any kind of genetic engineering, about which people would rightly be concerned.

When the science and the real benefits are explained to people, and the fact that the child who is born has the same genetic background as their mother, they will see

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that the press have perhaps been a bit misleading in saying that, if it all goes ahead, some children will have three parents. They really will not: they will have their biological mother and father. It is simply that the batteries have been taken from another woman’s egg so that they are sure that any child does not bear some of the very serious diseases that often lead to premature death.

We recognise the concerns that have been raised about whether such techniques are a form of germline or genetic modification in human beings and about whether it would be ethical to allow them in treatment, and those considerations are important. Technically, the resultant embryo would be formed from the eggs of two women, but the genetic material that relates to the child’s characteristics would have been removed from the donor egg, so the child will have genes from the patient and her partner—in other words, from the child’s mother and father—but they will also have healthy mitochondria.

Chi Onwurah: I thank the Minister very much for the constructive form of her response and for the new information. Her point about the child not having the genetic material is very important. Will she emphasise that the process is nothing like changing the eye colour or height of the unborn child? An important point to get across is that there is no genetic modification in that sense.

Anna Soubry: I absolutely agree. I am perhaps putting the subject in simple terms, but that is how it is. This is actually about the fact that if someone is effectively carrying this particular disease, the mitochondria—the batteries that charge things—are replaced to make sure that they do not have these diseases. Because the mitochondria cannot be taken out of the mother’s egg, a donor egg has to be found. The DNA is removed from that egg and the mother’s DNA is put in—taking those good healthy mitochondria or the batteries—so that she has a healthy egg that, in due course, can be fertilised by the father in the normal way. It is absolutely right that the genetic make-up of a resultant child will be the mother’s and father’s. That does not of course guarantee that the child will have the same colour eyes as their mother, as we all know, especially me as a blue-eyed mother with two brown-eyed daughters. As ever, Mr Davies, I digress, but this is a serious matter.

I pay great tribute to researchers at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle. The hon. Lady should not hesitate to do so, whether her father was there or not, because it is a fine institution. They have been developing their groundbreaking expertise for many years. In anticipation of significant advances in this field, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 was amended in 2008 to introduce a regulation-making power that, if implemented, would enable mitochondria replacement to take place in treatment.

The powers are therefore there, but it is important to say that they would not be implemented in some secondary way. I understand that the matter would have to come to this place and that, in any event, there would be a debate. That is my understanding, but if I am wrong I will correct that, as you would expect, Mr Davies.

In 2010, Newcastle researchers approached the Department of Health and, in the light of their progress, requested that we consider introducing regulations to

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allow mitochondria replacement in treatment. In response, the Department asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to get independent advice about the safety and efficacy of the techniques.

An expert advisory group was established, and a report was passed to the Department in spring 2011. It found that the techniques were not unsafe, but it recommended that further research be undertaken. After careful consideration of that report, the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills commissioned the HFEA in autumn 2011 to undertake a comprehensive set of public consultations to identify the public’s views about and understanding of this complex and sensitive issue. That consultation was held between July and December last year. It looked at the social and ethical issues raised by mitochondria replacement, as well as addressing a range of practical regulatory issues.

In collaboration with Sciencewise, which has a key role in helping the public to understand complex scientific issues, the HFEA took many different approaches to ensure that it gathered public views on the issue. It held workshops with members of the public, tracking their views over time and in response to new information. It ran what is called a representative survey, an online public consultation, two public meetings through which interested groups and individuals could express their views, and a focus group with families who are personally affected by mitochondrial disease, because their views are extremely important.

The HFEA report was published on 28 March and was passed to the Department. It provided us with three separate strands of advice: the outcome of its public dialogue and consultation; a scientific update on the

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safety and efficacy of the new techniques; and the issues to consider in introducing an appropriate regulatory framework. The public consultation indicated, overall, that there is general support for allowing the treatment techniques to be used, as long as they are safe and carefully regulated.

We appreciate and recognise, however, that a range of views, not all of which were in favour of a change in regulation, was strongly expressed through the consultation. A significant response came from the religious community, which was not in favour of allowing the techniques, whereas the scientific community, bioethics groups and patient and family groups were in favour.

The expert panel, which was reconvened by the HFEA, concluded that although there continues to be nothing to indicate that the techniques are unsafe, further research on some specific aspects should be undertaken. All the recommended research is currently being undertaken either in Newcastle or Oregon in the United States. The expert panel expressed the view that insufficient research is currently available to recommend one particular technique above another. It also recommended long-term follow-up monitoring of any children born as a result of the techniques.

I conclude where I began by saying that we anticipate that the CMO will announce the Government’s response very soon—before we break for the recess—which is at least some good news. As the hon. Lady said, the issue has been ongoing for several years, so it is important to find out whether it will reach the sort of conclusion that she wants, and we anticipate that that will be very soon.

4.48 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Horn Lane, Acton

4.52 pm

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I am delighted, Mr Davies, to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. I can scarcely believe that I am back in Westminster Hall with the same issue that I first raised with the Minister some two-and-a-half years ago—the outrageously high pollution levels on Horn lane in Acton. For years, they have blighted the lives of local residents who, while fortunate in many ways to live in this part of west London, suffer the severe misfortune of living next to perhaps the most unfriendly neighbour imaginable. That neighbour is a polluting industrial site, which is home not only to a waste transfer company but to a construction aggregates company, a cement company and a metal recycling plant, too.

The site sits slap bang in the middle of a residential community and is a throwback to a time when Horn lane was home to factories rather than the flats and houses that are there now. As forum posts on the local residents’ website frequently demonstrate, the community there cannot fathom how or why that industrial remnant is still allowed to be there. Residents have had enough of the disappointing performance of the local authority and the Environment Agency in getting anything significant done about the consistently excessive pollution that emanates from the site. They are able to provide numerous examples of the negative effects it is having on local people’s health.

Ask Vib Patel, a chemist on Horn lane, and he say that sales of inhalers for customers there are appreciably higher than those at his other shops in Tufnell Park and Victoria. That can be of no coincidence when we take into account the number of times so far this year that operators have again breached air quality objectives with their activity. Horn lane has been up there yet again as the most polluted area in the whole of London. A simple look at the readings broadcast on Ealing council’s own air quality webpage confirms that Horn lane is an outlier when compared with other sites, and all the while Ealing council is bidding to become an air quality exemplar borough, but more on that later.

As I know from previous attempts to get something done about this difficult site, responsibility for monitoring and taking enforcement action when necessary is conveniently shared between a public body, the Environment Agency, and the local authority, Ealing. I say conveniently because, as the Minister admitted in his response to me last time, this creates a complex and all together confusing picture, which I am afraid all too often leads to spectacular inaction. I do not think it is overly cynical to say that that suits almost everyone concerned apart from the residents who have to live with the effects of the site. I am back again to say that this time enough really must be enough. I am sick of the excuses. What we need now is meaningful action. Either we get some proper enforcement against those persistent polluters or we should completely rezone the area for business and residential use, a perfectly sensible and achievable ambition, especially with Crossrail set to arrive at Acton mainline station in the next few years.

As the Minister knows from my brief potted history of the saga last time, a group of determined and committed local residents decided that they needed to find a way of

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upping the ante and applying pressure on those with the power to take enforcement action against the operators at the site. They banded together to form an action group, SHLAP, or Stop Horn Lane Air Pollution, and I secured a series of meetings for them with the Environment Agency and an Ealing council officer here in Parliament. Together we tried to get to the bottom of various licensing agreement conditions and were presented with endless pages of monitoring statistics from the various monitors installed at the site as part of an attempt to control the operators.

It was a frustrating exercise in which we learned from the Environment Agency that because of potential legal action from any company that was threatened with losing its licence because of regular pollution breaches, it rarely, if ever, wanted to go down that particular route. As it said, it would have been necessary to be able to prove precisely which operator was to blame for any pollution infringement. As that would be nigh on impossible in such a complex area, it was never really going to be a starter.

We were left feeling that really the only lever available was monitoring and more monitoring, and many of us feel that monitoring without consequences can become rather pointless. This just is not good enough. How can the public continue to be told that there is unacceptable pollution at a site, but that nothing can be done about it or, at least, that no agency is prepared to do anything about it?

The issue has continued to simmer away, but things really came to a head in April when it came to the attention of local residents that Ealing council had put in for City Hall funding, from the Mayor of London, to the tune of nearly £500,000 to become an air quality exemplar borough. Imagine their surprise when, reading the report presented for a Cabinet discussion on the issue, they discovered there was not even a mention of Horn lane. Imagine their frustration. It really did beggar belief that Ealing would put itself forward as an air quality exemplar borough with absolutely no reference at all to the shocking pollution levels on Horn lane. Only when that was pointed out to the council did an addendum to the report magically appear, finally mentioning the site. It was a classic example of the prevailing attitude, showing a cavalier approach to the health of the local residents.

In fact the local authority’s casual attitude to the problems of this site and the concerns of local people is reflected in the way in which officers continue to reach for the convenient excuse that it is all to do with heavy traffic in the area. A large part of the problem is its failure to accept that the unusually high pollution levels in the area are caused by the Horn Lane industrial site, and I am sorry to say that that was a feature of the Minister’s response back in 2010 as well. The now familiar refrain, or a useful get-out clause is my view, is that there are numerous other potential sources of PM10— particulate matter of less than 10 microns in diameter—close to the monitoring station at the Horn Lane site. Examples cited are the nearby A40 and the Hanger Lane gyratory system and the heavy traffic in the neighbourhood.

In the Minister’s previous response he said:

“In the case of Horn lane, there are several potential sources of PM10 close to the monitoring station, including transport from Horn lane and the nearby A40, other transport sources such as

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buses and trains, and pollution from the industrial site, which has several units engaged in concrete production, aggregate supply, scrap metal and waste transfer, and also heavy vehicle movements. That combination of sources adds to the load of dust and pollution and requires that several agencies work together with operators to control it.”—[

Official Report,

15 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 295WH.]

In other words, this is a complicated picture. There are lots of sources of potential pollution and we cannot really be sure how bad or how responsible the Horn Lane site is for the actual breaches of air quality targets. However, if anyone spends five minutes on Ealing council’s air quality website, they will find all the evidence they could possibly want to show that that excuse simply does not stand up.

The website helpfully allows people to compare monitoring data on PM10 particulates on a graph that shows the monitoring stations at the three locations I have just mentioned: Horn lane; the Hanger Lane gyratory system; and the A40. The results speak for themselves. Horn lane always comes out as being at least two to three times more polluted than the other two locations. This month is as good an example as any. The latest readings show an average of between 100 and 200 micrograms per cubic metre for Horn lane, compared with less than 50 micrograms per cubic metre at the other two sites. I encourage the Minister and his team to have a look at the website.

How much longer do we have to go on hearing that traffic is the root cause of the problem at Horn lane when the facts clearly demonstrate that that is plainly not the case? Of course, much of the heavy traffic in the immediate Horn Lane area is actually generated by the industrial site itself. Moreover, there are many other major roads in other parts of London with similarly heavy traffic that do not generate the high readings that Horn lane does. It is also worth noting that Horn lane is a small connecting road, whereas the A40 is a main arterial road and Hanger lane a major gyratory system.

Obviously, general traffic in the Horn Lane area, plus the trains, ensures a degree of pollution that in itself might be problematic, but clearly it is the addition of the local industrial site that tips the levels around Horn lane over levels that would be acceptable. That is why attention must be focused on bearing down on that source of high pollution.

There is real frustration that no one seems prepared to get to grips with what is a serious problem. As I have already said, the Environment Agency has been busily monitoring the situation and it is only fair to say that it has succeeded in reducing the amount of tonnage going through the waste transfer facility. Despite this, however, on many occasions the spikes in air pollution remain as high as ever, so clearly the Environment Agency has not got to the bottom of the problem. Indeed, despite the engagement of the agency with the local SHLAP group, local residents are still being exposed to unacceptably high levels of pollution. The official monitoring statistics continue to register pollution levels that regularly breach requirements.

Similarly, Ealing council has consistently failed to do anything about a road that—under its watch—has fast become what is often the most polluted road in London. For example, it is quite extraordinary that Hansons, the cement plant, got away with expansion without planning permission, and it was only after local pressure was

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exerted that the council is now insisting on a retrospective planning application. That just goes to show how disinterested the local authority has been in what goes on at the site.

I know the council will say that since 2005 there has been an improvement. That is true—to an extent. However, that improvement seems to have tailed off since 2009. Equally, residents say that that assessment sounds like the council is resting on its laurels. The breaches continue to happen on a regular basis. Whenever they occur, and however often they occur, they are totally unacceptable and the council needs to be far more active than it has been.

As the Minister knows, I tabled a couple of questions recently that specifically asked about the role that local authorities should play in tackling persistently high levels of pollution, and what powers are available for them to do that. His answers could not have been clearer. He said that this is an area of local authority responsibility and there is a wide range of powers available to local authorities, including under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010; under the Clean Air Act; under the Environmental Protection Act 1990; and under the Noise Act 1996. These powers would seem to cover all bases, so why are they not being used to maximum effect?

Notwithstanding the inaction so far, I have pursued a further meeting with the Environment Agency and Ealing council, which we are holding at the Horn Lane site on 12 July as a last-ditch attempt to bang heads together. It is no use the council launching new and costly consultations about what new monitoring or green infrastructure measures might help to ease the problem. We have already had eight years of monitoring. At the very least, what is needed is action against the pollution perpetrators and, more importantly, greater thought to be given to a site that should be a regeneration priority for the borough, especially when we consider the fantastic opportunity that a new Crossrail station in the area presents.

However, there is a real fear that Ealing council will continue to make noises about small, remedial measures to ease the problem, which anyone who has followed this issue closely knows will do precisely nothing to ease the problem. Also attending the meeting on 12 July will be representatives from City Hall and I hope that Ealing council will be prepared to discuss with the Mayor’s team the wider planning considerations of a rezoning of the site for residential and business use, and to promote the obvious benefits that a rezoning might bring.

I understand that when a rezoning is being considered there are implications for the Mayor’s London plan, which make things more difficult. In particular, the site also operates as an important railhead for freight transport, which takes a degree of pressure off all the roads going into central London. Clearly, that element of the site might have to remain, but why should that preclude proper consideration being given to the rezoning of the rest of the site? After all, if we were planning from scratch, would we put this industrial site right in the heart of a residential community? I do not think we would. The benefits of a flagship new Crossrail station in the area—the last one before Paddington—are obvious. The council recognises and is planning for the Crossrail benefits in Ealing town centre. Why can it not see the potential for Acton too?

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To sum up, surely there is something that we can do about this problem. We need a vision for the future of this part of Acton, and we need leadership to carry that vision through, which will require determination either to rezone or to crack down, to provide an enhancement of the quality of life for the local residents that they certainly deserve.

5.5 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) for raising this issue. In one sense, I am dismayed that she has had to raise it. I recall our earlier debate; as she said, it was more than two years ago. It is clearly a matter of genuine concern that this site continues to be a problem for residents in the Horn Lane area. At the end of her speech, she talked about the need for “leadership”. Quite clearly, she is giving great leadership to her constituents, and she should feel reassured that that is something I recognise. Indeed, I recognise not only her determination to continue to push at the agencies and authorities that can have control of this matter but to look holistically at this problem, to see that we are not just talking about an issue relating to the problems of today but one that relates to the development of the area in the future. She has not only considered the benefits that could come from the Crossrail development but the wider need to take a proper strategic view about the long-term use of this site in relation to the local people who live around it.

To set this issue in context, the Government recognise the impact that poor air quality can have on public health and we have an ongoing commitment to work towards compliance with EU obligations on air quality. In a way, that is rather a low level of aspiration. We want to do something not because we want to fulfil an EU obligation but because we care about residents in communities such as the one that my hon. Friend so eloquently describes and stands up for.

We have seen considerable improvements in pollution over many years now. Measures to reduce pollution from transport sources, industrial sources and other sources have ensured that the UK now meets EU standards for annual limits of particulate matter pollution, or PM10, and daily limits. In particular, measures to reduce transport pollution, such as increasingly tight European standards, have been effective in controlling particulate matter pollution, and, in London, actions such as the Mayor’s low emission zone, fitting diesel particulate filters to London buses and other measures have all made important contributions.

However, we also know that particulate matter pollution especially has health impacts beyond EU standards, and local hot spots such as Horn lane provide a continued challenge. My hon. Friend rightly pointed out that the London borough of Ealing has overall responsibility for air quality in the area, and for developing management plans to improve air quality and to meet other environmental concerns. I remember from our previous debate on this issue that the council has maintained a monitoring site at Horn lane since 2005, and her frustration

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that this continual monitoring does not seem to be delivering benefits is understood.

The Horn Lane site is particularly plagued by high levels of particulate matter pollution, or PM10, which is composed of dust and other fine materials from transport sources and other sources. However, I absolutely concede my hon. Friend’s point that it is industrial processes, such as waste management, construction and demolition, that she is concerned about in this area. PM10 is not visible to the naked eye, but it can be monitored and it impacts on human health, particularly vulnerable groups with respiratory problems. She made a very good point about the number of inhalers that are being sold locally.

The UK has set national objectives for levels of particulate matter and these should not exceed an annual mean of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. The UK has also set a level of 50 micrograms per cubic metre for daily mean levels of particulate matter. It is recognised that on some days this daily level might not be achieved because of particular local circumstances or weather conditions, and we therefore allow up to 35 days’ exceedances at those sites to take account of these instances.

In 2005, the Horn Lane monitoring site recorded levels of dust in excess of the national daily objective on 205 days. These levels were unacceptable and it was clear that rapid and urgent action was needed. In 2012, thanks to action by the EA and site operators, no more than 53 days were recorded as being over the daily objective. This is a significant reduction on the 2005 figure, but it is still too high. So far this year, there have been 36 days recorded in excess of the daily objective.

I want to outline what action has been carried out by various agencies since 2010, when we last spoke, and what action is being taken now with the Mayor, who is the strategic lead for air quality in London, and my Department. The Horn Lane area and the industrial site comprises several industrial processes adjacent to residential properties and a number of arterial roads and railways. These present several potential sources of PM10 close to the monitoring site at Horn lane, including waste transfer, scrap metal, aggregate supply and a concrete batching process. In addition, there are various key transport pollution sources in the area, including traffic on Horn lane and on the western A40; buses along Horn lane; and trains on the adjacent railway. But I concede my hon. Friend’s point that, although those may be part of the problem, they are not the significant driver, because plenty of other areas in her constituency with the same transport issues do not have this problem. One does not have to be a scientist or to have any particular knowledge about PM10s to know where the problem is coming from. Major construction works in the form of Crossrail and, recently, roadworks in the vicinity of Horn lane may have contributed.

We must remember that all these activities are important for growth, ensuring waste is recycled and construction materials are produced. I know that my hon. Friend is mindful of this for the benefit of Londoners as a whole and for the wealth of her constituency, but it is about where we locate such activities and the practicalities of doing that. These activities provide valuable employment opportunities, both locally and across London, and return money to the local economy. However, this combination of factors has also contributed to a perfect

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storm of pollution potential, making this location among the most challenging for operators to control and for the Environment Agency and the London borough of Ealing to regulate. This control must be achieved and it is the responsibility of operators, with support from other agencies, to ensure that their activities are properly managed.

I am staggered that a major change has taken place without planning permission. In an area as contentious as this, that seems to be an extraordinary state of affairs and it is right that my hon. Friend raises it.

At Horn lane, the Environment Agency regulates part of the aggregates site run by Yeoman aggregates, the waste transfer station of Gowing and Pursey, and Horn Lane Metals scrap merchant. The London borough of Ealing should also regulate part of the Yeoman aggregates site and a concrete production site, with Transport for London having responsibility for reducing pollution from transport sources.

The Environment Agency produced an amenity action plan in 2010, which is regularly updated with details of the actions taken to reduce emissions from the sites it regulates. These measures have significantly contributed to the reduction in levels since 2005.

Enforcement action has been taken against sites that are not performing appropriately and further legal enforcement has been taken and further enforcement remains an option. Since 2010, the Environment Agency has issued several notices to ensure waste transfer operations at the site are properly controlled. We rely on my hon. Friend to continue to keep us informed, where she thinks that this is not happening fast enough and where her direct dealings with the Environment Agency do not yield the correct answers. I remain on hand, and my colleague in the House of Lords, who has direct responsibility for these issues, will certainly follow up matters, as and when she informs us.

The agency has worked with Gowing and Pursey to install monitoring equipment and alert systems, so that the operators can respond to instances when dust levels are approaching dangerous levels; it is important to be able to monitor it before it becomes a major problem, and that is what is sought. The agency has also worked with those responsible for other sources of particulate pollution on the site, to promote improvements.

In 2012, the EA worked with the Greater London Authority and Transport for London to introduce a programme of deep cleaning, including the use of calcium magnesium acetate dust suppressant, to control dust levels at the site. The work was successful and showed a 36% reduction in the level of particulates in the area. Following a brief period where the site appeared to be contributing to dust in the area, an enforcement notice was served to bring the site back into compliance with its permit within one working day. This has been effective and at the time of the last inspection on 22 May, the site was clean and all waste was contained within the shed. Although particulate matter has reduced, all the parties recognise that levels continue to be above national

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objectives and continued action is needed to ensure the gains made are sustained and further reductions achieved.

The GLA represents the Mayor’s interest in improving air quality. It does this working with national Government and with London boroughs and the Environment Agency, as well as other stakeholders, such as business. Last week, the Environment Agency and the GLA co-ordinated a meeting, which my hon. Friend mentioned, of the key regulators responsible for this site, together with Department officials. A number of key actions were identified from that meeting and these will be taken forward by the key players concerned. We really want to make sure that these work and that a quantum leap is made in trying to resolve this problem.

The Environment Agency and the London borough of Ealing, as the main regulatory bodies, agreed to intensify their inspection regime to ensure that permit conditions were being met. I understand that this will include joint inspections, to be held monthly, and further action by the London borough of Ealing, agreed to reduce emissions from the wet concrete batching facility and the private haul road. There is similar action by the Environment Agency at the local metal waste site, and manual and mechanical sweeping, and further use of CMA spray, on the site to control dust. These and other detailed measures will help ensure that pressure is imposed to reduce particulate pollution. This site continues to concern us and we will continue to monitor it and my Department will continue to take a close interest in ensuring progress is maintained.

As we can see, this site presents a complex challenge. It is necessary for the local authority, the Environment Agency, the GLA and operators to work together to identify and control pollution sources. The regulators must also ensure that the responsible operators on the site comply with the control measures and monitor levels of pollution. Outside the site, ongoing action is being taken by the GLA to reduce transport emissions.

The continued action from my hon. Friend and local residents has been helpful in ensuring this. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue again today. I would have to be obtuse not to get the frustration that she feels on behalf of her constituents who live in this area. It is a complex site—an industrial site—that, in an ideal world, would not be in a location surrounded by residential accommodation. I assure her that this issue is on our radar. We want to ensure that the leadership that she has shown is reflected by leadership from all the agencies, some of which we are responsible for, such as the Environment Agency. However, we are not responsible for others and we look to my hon. Friend to continue to hold their feet to the fire on this.

We want this matter to be resolved. We do not want my hon. Friend to have to bring this back to the House, but I commend her for doing it.

Question put and agreed to.

5.19 pm

Sitting adjourned.