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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 26 June 2013

[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

Museum of Science and Industry

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Karen Bradley.)

9.30 am

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady.

Let me set the context for this morning’s debate. The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester—MOSI, as it is affectionately known—is part of the Science Museum Group, which consists of five museums: MOSI; the Science Museum in London; the National Media Museum in Bradford; the National Railway Museum in York; and the National Railway Museum in Shildon, County Durham. The SMG has an international reputation. Collectively, its museums attract more than 5 million visitors every year—mainly school groups, but also individuals and families. I certainly remember taking my daughters to MOSI when they were little. I also remember my mum taking me to the Science Museum in London; that really brought science to life for me, and it was one reason why I ended up taking biochemistry and physiology as my first degree.

MOSI became part of the SMG in 2012. It is feared that today’s comprehensive spending review will announce a further 10% funding cut for the group, on top of the 25% real-terms cuts it has suffered over the last spending period. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who cannot be here today, because she is on maternity leave, has campaigned doggedly on this issue; she even visited MOSI last weekend with her family—they start young in the Powell household. She has determined that, in 2011-12, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport grant to MOSI fell to £3.9 million from £4.88 million the previous year.

The SMG felt that if that was to be the level of the funding cut for 2015-16, the only option would be to close one of its museums outside London and to scale back provision in London. The ratio of taxpayer to commercial funding in the SMG’s existing funding model is approximately 60:40, and reversing—in fact, more than reversing—that relationship in such a relatively short period threatens the SMG’s viability. I appreciate that, in the light of the high-profile campaign to save MOSI, which has support from, among others, fellow Oldhamer Professor Brian Cox, the Minister seemed to have a change of heart last week, and the threat to our regional museums has been lifted, but I would be grateful if he could confirm that in his closing remarks.

As past and current leaders of the museums said in a letter to a national newspaper last week, the SMG museums not only hold collections of international significance, but are vital to their host cities, providing cultural, educational and economic benefits across their regions. The economic importance of Manchester’s science and innovation base cannot be overestimated, and it is confined not just to the city centre. Greater Manchester

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is one of the fastest growing city regions in Europe, generating £47 billion of gross value added each year, and accounting for 40% of GVA for north-west England.

That recent growth has been driven by knowledge-intensive and high-growth firms. Manchester has been at the forefront of scientific development since the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Inventions such as Samuel Crompton’s spinning wheel, which was exploited by Richard Arkwright, helped to establish Manchester as the centre of the global textile industry. More recently, a small-scale experimental machine—nicknamed “Baby”—created by Alan Turing was the first stored-program computer to run a program, and it was the forerunner of the modern computer.

There are many other famous Manchester scientists I could talk about, but I will mention just a few. They include John Dalton, who did work around atomic theory; Ernest Rutherford, the physicist; and Tom Kilburn and Freddie Williams, who commercialised Alan Turing’s work. Of course, the first commercial railway in the world also ran from Manchester to Liverpool, and MOSI is located on the site of the old Liverpool Road station.

Today is no different. With our excellent universities and the development, for example, of a regional science centre for 16 to 18-year-olds, in my constituency, Manchester is once again being seen as a world-class centre for research—a status reinforced by the Nobel prize-winning discovery of graphene. The translation from research to the commercialisation of such discoveries is aided by Manchester’s science parks. As we have seen with the development of industrial hubs, such as the digital sector in silicon valley, in California, the closer research and development are to industry, and the closer the links between them, the greater the opportunities for the growth of new, innovative knowledge-based industries.

Manchester has a world-class biotech cluster, and the digital, creative and information and communications technology sectors are growing faster than those anywhere else in the UK, outside London. The country’s second-largest media hub is based at MediaCityUK.

Those are our new industries. From those developments, our 21st-century manufacturing base will grow. MOSI is part of that. It showcases the city region’s economic and scientific strengths, as well as their development potential, promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics and inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): I strongly support the case my hon. Friend is making. Of course, I have an interest in this issue because the National Railway Museum is based in my constituency. She has, several times, made the important link between the museums and exciting the public—especially young people—about science. She has also mentioned the museums’ contribution to a science-based economy. The National Railway Museum has established a rail academy, which is basically a training school in craft skills for the railways. Will she join me in asking the Department to provide enough money not only to keep the museums’ doors open, but to ensure that the collections are properly conserved, added to and explained to the public?

Debbie Abrahams: I am grateful for that intervention, and I wholeheartedly support what my hon. Friend says. We must see our museums not as archaic, but as

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part of inspiring the next generation, and we must see the potential that has for our economic growth and the regeneration of our regions.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, which is important to all of us, including you, Mr Brady. Does she agree that museums also need to be resourced to carry out outreach into communities that might be less willing and able to come through the museums’ doors? We would be very sorry if we lost the good work museums in Greater Manchester have done to reach out to disadvantaged communities.

Debbie Abrahams rose

Mr Graham Brady (in the Chair): Order. Before the hon. Lady replies, I should clarify one point for the record, since my status as a Greater Manchester Member of Parliament has been mentioned. While I may have my own strong views outside the Chamber, my only view for these 90 minutes is that we should have orderly debate.

Debbie Abrahams: Thank you, Mr Brady. I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Outreach work is one of the things MOSI is doing. The potential threat to the work done in our schools is a real issue.

The museum hosts a range of high-profile events promoting science and innovation. They include the Manchester science festival, which, in 2012, included MOSI’s first citizen science project—Turing’s Sunflowers. The project drew participants from 13 countries and generated the largest ever data set investigating Alan Turing’s hypothesis about the mathematical patterns in sunflowers—we will all know about that, and we will be discussing it over tea later. There is also the FutureEverything art exhibition and conference—a ground-breaking mix of cutting-edge digital technology, art and music. Those are the types of programmes MOSI puts on, and they are so accessible for such a wide range of groups.

MOSI also runs tailored programmes for schools and colleges, reaching 75,000 young people a year. Through MOSI’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics network contract, high-quality, innovative projects are delivered to volunteers and schools. Over the past year, the STEM ambassador programme has placed ambassadors in 140 schools in Greater Manchester, working with 450 teachers and providing at least 100,000 instances of engagement with pupils in face-to-face activity.

Of course, we must not forget the under-six programme, which allows the children of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central and others to explore and find out first hand about the magic of science.

I am looking forward to visiting the exhibition on the brain that is coming to MOSI next month.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making excellent points, and I congratulate her on securing the debate. In our debate last week, we focused on the point that the funding

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threat to a much loved museum is a matter of huge concern to people in the region who work in science and engineering, such as the astrophysicist Tim O’Brien. He has said that he has no doubt that places such as the museum make our future scientists. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital to our future productivity, as well as providing excellent learning outside the classroom?

Debbie Abrahams: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The activities and exhibitions can inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, as I have mentioned.

We must not forget that MOSI also directly makes a key contribution to the region’s economic prosperity. A recent study of its economic impact shows both direct and indirect impacts. It is one of the top two visitor attractions in Greater Manchester and generates a direct gross value added benefit of more than £7 million as an employer and through procurement, but there is also nearly £28 million in off-site expenditure, generating a GVA of £8 million. MOSI’s development plans have the potential to increase those impacts.

As I have mentioned, after the 25% real funding cut in the last spending round, there is the prospect of a further 10% cut in the comprehensive spending review this afternoon, and the SMG has made it clear that if that happens a tipping point will have been reached and activity will have to be cut dramatically. That will include the closure of one of its regional museums. SMG has proposed a different approach. It has suggested, for example, moving the group from the responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and protecting the current funding level for both revenue and capital. That would provide a foundation on which the group would seek further major revenue and capital investment from the private sector. I should be grateful if the Minister commented on those proposals, as well as confirming that the CSR does not threaten MOSI or the free access to museums introduced by the Labour Government. To introduce such a threat would, as my hon. Friends have said, be myopic, to say the least, and bring into question the Government’s commitment to fairness, growth and the regions.

I am immensely proud of Manchester’s contribution to the world’s science knowledge base. Through our entrepreneurs and industrialists, the applications of that knowledge have changed how we live. MOSI not only inspires future generations to become the new Geim, Novoselov, Turing or Dalton, but, as curator of those achievements, protects our cultural heritage and contributes to our cultural identity. That is something that we should honour and celebrate, not destroy.

9.43 am

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Brady. I accept your strictures imposed earlier—you are certainly independent—but you are also a Greater Manchester MP, and it is always pleasing to see one of those reach the heights of chairing Westminster Hall debates.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing this important debate. I first visited the then Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry in 1983, shortly after it moved to the historic Liverpool Road station site, in Castlefield. The museum visit was with

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3rd Denton (Wilton street) cubs, and I remember being mesmerised as a 9-year-old boy by the big engines, the turbines, the wheels, the pistons, the smell of the smoke and the steam. It was really alluring and gave me a lasting interest in science, technology and innovation.

Over the years, the museum has grown, first encompassing the neighbouring Manchester Air and Space Museum and then gradually filling the whole of the Liverpool Road station site. For those who do not know, the Liverpool Road station is the terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, which opened in 1830, and the museum buildings are therefore those of the world’s first passenger railway station, here in Manchester—or rather there in Manchester, since we are in London, England’s second city.

Other Manchester firsts housed in the museum include, as my hon. Friend said, Baby, the first programmable computer, which is so large it would probably fill this Chamber, but is about as powerful as a pocket calculator. Nevertheless, it is a Manchester first. There are also Rolls-Royce cars. Of course, it was in Manchester that Mr Rolls met Mr Royce and founded the company that continues to produce those cars. The huge emphasis on science is fitting, in the city where the atom was first split. The museum commemorates king cotton: Manchester is of course Cottonopolis, because cotton was the industry that the city’s wealth was built on. However, it also recognises the downside to rapid, uncontrollable growth—particularly the cholera epidemics of the 19th century, with the campaign for clean water and proper sanitation. There is even an opportunity—I do not know whether you have done this, Mr Brady—to walk through a reconstruction of a Victorian sewer, with the smells included.

The Museum of Science and Industry, better known as MOSI to its regulars over the years, is a much loved local museum, and I have fond childhood memories of it. One of the best Christmas presents that I ever had was when I was 12. My grandad’s friend was a friend of the museum, and he bought me membership, so I, too, became a friend of the museum. Back then, people had to pay to get into museums, but a perk with the friend membership badge was to get in free, so I spent many a good time there. More recently, I have enjoyed taking my children there. I think that such experiences are the reason that Mancunians would consider it a tragedy for the museum to close; that is why we breathed a collective sigh of relief when Ministers assured us, last week, that that would not happen.

Not only is MOSI hugely popular with visitors in the north-west and across the north of England; it is also an iconic national museum. We should not be tempted to call it a regional museum, because it is not. It is a national museum based in the regions, and we should emphasise that. It has uniquely interesting sections about the history of the industrial revolution and has helped to garner the inventiveness of our science base in the north-west. That scientific base is not just a thing of the past. As my hon. Friend mentioned, graphene is a modern Manchester invention and an example of the important role that science has always had, and will continue to have, in the economy of Greater Manchester and the north-west of England.

It is therefore a matter of some concern that in the past few months sources inside the museum’s parent company, the Science Museum Group, have claimed

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that the future of MOSI is under threat because of funding problems. As a result of the previous Labour Government’s move to give free access to important national collections, visitor numbers at MOSI have shot up. Last year, the museum welcomed more than 800,000 visitors, and it is rightly regarded as a major national centre for industrial heritage and innovation.

It is beyond argument that MOSI is a vital part of Manchester and that it provides cultural, educational and economic benefit throughout the region. It is an invaluable part of the local and regional economy, attracting tourists and prestige, and, as we heard from my hon. Friend, it supports many jobs. Surely, there is a wider principle that the benefits of tax revenue gathered nationally should be spread, so that everyone across the country can benefit from them.

Everyone pays taxes, so surely there is a case for the benefits of tax revenue to be spread as far as possible around the country. That has been demonstrated by the BBC, with the excellent move of a large part of its operation from London to Salford, spreading more of its economic impact outside the M25. Surely, our national museums should operate on the same principle. Everyone should have access to our national collections—a point firmly made by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley).

Kate Green: My apologies, Mr Brady; I would not for one moment impugn your independence, but it is a great pleasure for us all to see you in the Chair this morning.

Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the Imperial War Museum, which of course has located the Imperial War Museum North in my constituency? It is a national museum in the regions, and it is very well visited and much loved.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Imperial War Museum North is another national museum based in the regions that is bringing into Trafford wharfside, and into an iconic building at that, visitors who probably would never have seen those collections in the Imperial War Museum in London. We enjoyed a visit a couple of years ago to see the “Horrible Histories” exhibition, which my kids found absolutely fascinating. We should continue to trumpet the benefits of having national museums and collections in the regions, so that we all may benefit from learning from our past and looking towards our future.

The speculation about MOSI’s future was met by uproar from residents across Greater Manchester and the north of England. As we can see from the number of colleagues here today, the speculation has been met by real concern from most Greater Manchester politicians. The suggestion that MOSI would be affected by the Science Museum Group’s problems led me to write to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. In my letter, I outlined that the acclaimed opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics included a stunning segment on Britain’s development into the global industrial power that it is today. Danny Boyle is rightly lauded for portraying the history of Britain not just as a succession of monarchs, but as a land built by proud working men and women.

Life during the industrial revolution may not have been pleasant for some—indeed, it almost certainly was not—but surely it is just plain wrong to allow access to

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that history to be lost. I pay tribute to all those involved in MOSI’s development from the early days in 1969, when the then North Western Museum of Science and Industry opened in a temporary venue on Grosvenor street. It was later linked to the university of Manchester institute of science and technology, and then through the superb vision and drive of the former Greater Manchester council, which was instrumental in moving the museum and developing it on its current site, the museum turned into what it is today. The museum, along with the transformation of the county’s once polluted river valleys, is probably the former Greater Manchester council’s best lasting legacy. I thank the many volunteers and friends of the museum who have worked hard to keep things ticking over in the good years and the bad.

People in Manchester and across the north-west, and indeed across the country, are incredibly proud of our free museums, so it is of some small comfort to hear the DCMS announcement on the funding settlement for 2015-16, as no museums should close. Clearly, like MOSI, we await confirmation of the actual details of the funding package, and until those details are received, we cannot be certain of the structural deficit that MOSI will face or of which options will have to be considered. Opposition Members certainly hope that the Government’s culture funding cuts will not result in the closure or downgrading of this outstanding Manchester institution or of parts of it.

There are a number of concerns about the Science Museum Group and MOSI that I would like the Minister to address. Whatever financial problems are facing the Science Museum Group, particularly the London Science Museum, most of my colleagues here today would agree that they should not affect MOSI.

Of course there remains the question of what to do with the structural deficit. The Science Museum Group is currently £2 million in the red, which is projected to go up to £4 million, and potentially even to £6 million, depending on the CSR announcement today. Recent figures show that between 2010-11 and 2014-15 Government funding for the Science Museum Group, including MOSI, has been cut by 25% in real terms. So far, the Science Museum Group has undertaken a number of cost-cutting initiatives, including redundancies across the entire organisation, to try to make the necessary savings. Although it now seems that there will be only a 5% cut to the Science Museum Group’s budget, not the 10% cut that was envisaged, it will still have a significant impact on the budgets and savings that will have to be found.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing this debate.

The Minister’s announcement that the cut will be only 5%, rather than 10%, is very welcome, but it will clearly have an impact on the long-term financing of the Science Museum Group and, in our case, MOSI. Surely, we ought to be considering constructive ways to bridge that gap. Some 5 million people visited the museums last year, and the budget deficit is likely to be in the region of £4 million, which is the equivalent of

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80p per visitor over 12 months. I am not suggesting for one second that we ought to be charging entry, but surely we ought to be able to generate more money from those 5 million people who are going through the doors, as well as generating more money, particularly in Manchester, from sponsorship by large businesses such as the airport. From Manchester’s perspective, that would be seen as businesses supporting our local museum.

Andrew Gwynne: I absolutely would not support anything that might lead to the introduction of charges at MOSI, because I think that would be a very retrograde step. Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is on the need for a longer-term vision for the museum, whether that is through charitable giving or through greater sponsorship. I am cautious about the airport, which is not a cash cow for every funding cut in Greater Manchester. Indeed, the Manchester Airports Group already contributes greatly towards the arts in Greater Manchester, most notably through its sponsorship of the Hallé orchestra. I am not sure that the Manchester Airports Group can for ever write blank cheques to fill every funding cut that comes Manchester’s way.

Barbara Keeley: My hon. Friend is making a great case, and I support what he says about charging. I note that a parent from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) started the Facebook group “Save The Museum of Science And Industry Manchester.” In her appeal, she made this specific point:

“It is one of the few places left…suitable for everyone from babies to older people.”

She makes the important point that, because the museum is free

“this means that it is accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford to go on expensive days out.”

Does my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) agree with her? In these days of cuts and austerity, when families are suffering and wages are going backwards, we must think of having such days out. Young people can learn a lot from a free day out, particularly one with their family.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only is the museum free, it is fun. That is why people want to keep going back. MOSI is a hands-on museum. There are not lots of exhibits in glass cases; there are lots of things that people can touch, feel, do and play with, which can spark imagination. MOSI is a great fun day out for children and adults of all ages. We must develop a clear vision of what the museum wants to do in the future.

Hugh Bayley: On charges, the National Railway Museum has been part of the Science Museum Group since its inception and it is instructive to consider what happened there. When charges were introduced, the number of visitors fell to 300,000; when charges were removed in a number of stages by the previous Labour Government, attendances rose again and are now at the 1 million mark. When a museum does not impose entry charges, people pay much more in the cafeteria and the shop. There are marketing opportunities for museums, which are stronger and better if they remain free and open to the public.

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Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Total visits to MOSI in 1997 numbered 235,000. In 2011-12, they peaked at 818,000. That shows the benefit of free access to collections at our national museums in the region.

On visitor satisfaction, 99% would recommend MOSI. Not only is it accessible to all, it is obviously enjoyed by all but the miserly 1% who clearly do not think it is a good day out. Who would dream of 99% visitor recommendations? In 2012-13, 63% of visitors to MOSI were families and 10% educational groups. Only 27% were general admissions of independent adults. I am sure that it is exactly the same in York. Our national museums benefit families who are struggling to make ends meet in the cost-of-living squeeze by giving them a free, fun day out on their doorstep in central Manchester, York or Bradford.

I press the Minister to give firmer reassurances about the future of MOSI. Surely, we must make the case for national museums across Britain, not simply focus on the ones based in the capital city. As we have heard, MOSI is a world-class museum. Surely, we should fight to protect a cultural asset not just for the north of England or for Greater Manchester, but for Britain as a whole.

10.2 am

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing this debate. As ever, she reminds us that all those cold, chilly evenings canvassing in the Saddleworth snow for a by-election were worth every minute, because of the role that she plays in championing our area. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Brady. I must ask your indulgence and that of Front-Bench Members; I may not be able to stay for the whole debate, due to my Wednesday responsibilities for Prime Minister’s questions, to which we are all looking forward today.

Along with many of the Members here today, I spoke about MOSI in last week’s Opposition day debate. The passion in the Chamber that day demonstrated the strength of feeling about the preservation of one of our most treasured cultural institutions. I will not repeat that speech—it is a particularly good one, if anyone has not had the chance to read it—but I will summarise it by saying that for me, MOSI is the soul of our city.

I received a huge response to that speech. Many people e-mailed me to tell me that reading it made them want to go visit MOSI. It made me want to visit MOSI as well, but the duties of a Member of Parliament during summer and spring weekends meant that I could not get there this weekend. However, my wife and daughter visited MOSI this Monday. I rang them on Monday evening and spoke to my two-year-old daughter, who is usually obsessed with iPads and other modern technology. She had been captivated by a typewriter and a rotary-dial telephone.

Kate Green: My hon. Friend highlights how important it is for girls as well as boys to be able to enjoy the experience of visiting MOSI. We have a huge wish for more girls and young women to enter science and technology careers. MOSI can be a good early introduction for them.

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Jonathan Reynolds: I absolutely agree. I mentioned in my speech last week that I take Bess to MOSI and tell her about invention and how she can be an engineer because of the opportunities available. One can see a flicker of inspiration in children’s eyes. It is fantastic for boys and girls, and it is a particularly good way to illustrate to people the kinds of career and opportunity that everyone should be able to follow.

MOSI also illustrates how far contemporary technology has come and gives people a sense not only of where we were in the past but of where we are now. I welcome what the Minister said last week to guarantee its survival. To be honest, though, I think that most people are bewildered that there should ever have been any doubt about the future of such an important asset. MOSI is particularly important to my constituents and me, and the questions about its future highlight the struggle for survival and the worry of many museums throughout the country. It is great to see my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) here making those points too.

Government figures released earlier this year show that local authority funding for museums fell by 11% in 2011-12. As local government grants make up half of all public funding to the arts, that is particularly alarming. If the cuts to local government announced today are the 10% reported, given that things are already at breaking point, there must be doubt about the long-term survival of some of our most treasured national museums. It illustrates how big and painful the cost is of this Government’s failure to get the economy going over the past three years.

Barbara Keeley: My hon. Friend is supporting and extending the case that we are making for MOSI. He is right to highlight the role played by local government. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who was instrumental in establishing the museum. Manchester city council bought part of the site for £1. When I was a Trafford councillor, Trafford also established the Imperial War Museum. Salford council has taken the risk of buying the docks to establish the Lowry. If not for that, our cultural heritage in Manchester would not exist as it currently does. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) agree about the importance of local government? Those who cut local government are pulling the rug from underneath our city council leaders and other leaders in Greater Manchester, who may not be able to do such things in future.

Jonathan Reynolds: I could not agree more. As an MP and a former councillor, I always say that local government should be just that—not local administration, but local government. The legacy that we can point to in Greater Manchester, and some of the exciting work that we are doing for the future, is a strong sign of that, but I worry that soon councils will be able to do nothing but try to deliver their statutory responsibilities, because there will not be enough funding to go around.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): To follow on from that point, it is not just about our national museums in the regions. It is also about places such as Bolton Museum and other museums in our various towns that have been supported largely by local authorities over

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the years. They are crucial to young people’s understanding, and particularly their involvement in science and technology, as well as to expanding their views of the world and their heritage.

Jonathan Reynolds: I agree. They are so important to us that given the financial situation, I think that we will have to consider different ways of funding them in the long term to guarantee their existence. However, I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne): I am completely opposed to bringing back charging to enter museums. Free museum access has been an outstanding success, and there should be consensus that it must always continue.

I have done a little bit of research in advance of this debate. As the Minister knows, the Opposition are always here to help with constructive suggestions about this Government’s problems. It appears to me that increasingly, a lot of institutions are turning to the internet to supplement their funding. A range of organisations from start-up businesses to non-profit organisations, and even councils, are turning to what is known as crowd funding as a cheap, easy and accessible way to raise funds. Clearly, crowd funding is no silver bullet, but I am glad that our shadow Culture, Media and Sport team has said that it will examine what opportunities it might present.

Two of the world’s most famous museums have used crowd funding successfully to raise money to buy specific pieces or fund exhibits. The Smithsonian in Washington, for example, is looking for $125,000 to put on the world’s first exhibition of yogic art. To be honest, I have no idea what that is, but it sounds extremely exciting. Similarly, the Louvre runs an annual crowd-funding campaign known as “Everyone’s a Patron” to ask members of the public to help purchase particular pieces of art. Since the campaign started in 2010, it has funded the purchase of “The Three Graces” and a collection known as “The Treasures of Cairo”, and this year it raised €800,000 to complete a set of 13th-century ivory figures, which now form the only complete set anywhere in the world. Given the huge amount of public support generated by the campaign to save MOSI, maybe we could harness some of it to bring our people even closer and get them more involved in MOSI’s future to secure its long-term success.

Clearly, that funding model would not solve every problem, but I wonder whether there is a role for the Government to support such campaigns. It could be a way for the Government to support not just museums but a whole range of the arts, start-up businesses or practically any other project that we could imagine.

I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth for securing the debate. I also thank my constituents for the way in which they have got behind the campaign, the Manchester Evening News for its leading role in the campaign to save MOSI and the Minister in anticipation of what I am sure will be his reassurance. In my speech last week, I said that it would be unconscionable if we ever lost MOSI, and I stand by that entirely; I am grateful for the platform given to us as Members of Parliament for Greater Manchester to assist in some way in the campaign.

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10.10 am

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing the debate on the future funding of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. She has clearly articulated the relevance and importance of MOSI in Manchester, and I am sure that people throughout the country share her passion for this award-winning museum. It has real historical, scientific and educational value.

We have had a good debate, with several useful contributions. We should mention my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), although she is not present today. She has been an articulate and determined campaigner for MOSI, so it is right to place recognition of her work on the record.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) mentioned his first visit to the museum while still in the Cub Scouts in 1983. He spoke with passion about the scientific and industrial heritage of Greater Manchester. He rightly pointed out that MOSI is a national museum that is based in the regions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) again stated his strong support for MOSI. He said that it was part of the soul of Manchester, and he rightly pointed out the important role of local government in supporting our cultural heritage, a theme to which I shall return.

We had some useful interventions from my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Hugh Bayley), for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), and from the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech).

Today’s contributions and those made in recent weeks as part of the wider debate are testimony to the importance of culture and heritage throughout the country. Last week’s Opposition debate, with contributions from Members of all parties, illustrated clearly the economic, social and educational worth of culture, in addition to its intrinsic value. Significantly, we received assurances that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will remain in its existing form, as well as assurances from the Minister, which we accept in good faith, that the Science Museum in London should not have to close, and nor should the National Railway Museums in York and Shildon, the National Media Museum in Bradford or MOSI in Manchester.

Last week, I also asked the Minister to confirm whether the same assurances applied to the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield, which is also funded through the Science Museum. I would be grateful if he clarified today whether he is able to extend his recent assurances to include the National Coal Mining Museum. Such assurances would be most welcome and greatly appreciated.

In spite of the Minister’s recent and welcome assurances, I am sure that all Members agree that the devil will be in the detail. As I am sure the Minister acknowledges, our museums face challenging times, which is why we must continue to emphasise just how important culture and heritage are to our society. More needs to be done to secure the long-term financial stability of our museums.

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If we do not do something, the accumulated loss of income could seriously damage our culture and heritage sector.

My hon. Friend the Member for York Central last week described our museums as

“like fantastic flowers in a garden”—[Official Report, 19 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 960.]

and said that we must “keep feeding their roots”. I agree with him. Museums inspire and educate while they entertain; beyond that, they are of course of important economic value. More than 4 million people visited one of the Science Museum Group institutions last year, attracting tourists from inside and outside the UK to places that they might not normally visit, and benefiting local economies, even where museum entry is free.

MOSI is a prime example of the importance of universal access to museums, and it is an integral part of Manchester’s cultural offer. During the industrial revolution, Manchester was at the centre of the textile industry in this country, and MOSI celebrates that history and the city’s technological development. MOSI provides an estimated £8 million in gross value added to the local economy and attracts more than 800,000 visitors each year, including more than 100,000 school visitors.

Andrew Gwynne: Is it not important to recognise as well that MOSI is an integral part of the Castlefield urban heritage park in Manchester city centre? The park is also the home of Manchester’s Roman fort, Mamucium, the birthplace of the city, and the site of the Bridgewater and Rochdale canals, which brought coal into the city to fuel the industrial revolution.

Dan Jarvis: My hon. Friend is right to point out that MOSI is part of a wider collection of cultural and heritage offers in Greater Manchester. In the near future, I hope to have the opportunity to go and see some of the incredibly important cultural and heritage institutions in that part of our country.

It is also important to highlight MOSI’s work in education, which is instrumental in inspiring young people to consider careers in science and industry, fields that are crucial to our country’s future scientific innovation. As already mentioned, since 2009, MOSI has hosted science, technology, engineering and mathematics ambassadors in schools. The museum provides valuable scientific inspiration to the young people of Greater Manchester and much further afield.

A great supporter of museums as a platform to motivate and educate, Professor Brian Cox, has stated recently:

“Knowledge and inspiration are classless.”

I agree, and, even more so, that access to the institutions that provide such knowledge and inspiration should be classless, too.

It is right that society should invest in museums. They are of real social benefit, but we must help them to develop practical, dynamic and innovative ways to ensure the future success of such organisations. That must include funding. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington discussed that in his intervention today and in his speech last week, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde mentioned crowd funding and other potential sources of revenue. Museums and government, national and local, need to look at innovative ways of securing funding for museums such as MOSI.

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Private and public funding are not mutually exclusive, and much can be gained from the diversity of multiple funding streams, as our cultural sector already shows. In difficult economic times, however, DCMS, local government, the Arts Council and the museums themselves must focus on creating an innovative offer, one that will sustain our museums not only for now, but for the next generation. Museums have done great work in recent years to reinvent themselves, integrating new technology, new experiences and attracting new audiences.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the need to look for alternative sources of funding, but does he agree that it would be a retrograde step to revert to some form of charging at museums such as MOSI, even at a level of 80p, as suggested by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech)?

Dan Jarvis: I assure my hon. Friend that I completely agree that it is not in our interest—the interests of museums and of the people we represent—to go back to what were, frankly, the bad old days, when only those people who could afford it went to our museums. That is why it is vital for us to campaign to safeguard the right of all people, and of young people in particular, to be able to visit those incredibly important cultural and heritage sites. I believe that the Minister agrees, though I would be grateful for his assurances. I completely agree with my hon. Friend that the introduction of free entry to museums was a significant achievement that we should never row back from.

It is important that museums look innovatively at what they can offer the public. They have done great work on that in recent years and have integrated new technology and new experiences to reach out to new audiences. They must work in a wider and stronger network of partnerships with other cultural and educational bodies, such as libraries, schools, colleges, universities, and arts and community centres. They also need to work with the people who visit them and those who do not yet do so—the 50% of the country that did not go to a museum or gallery last year.

Museums help create a sense of history, a sense of community and a sense of place by preserving our culture and as a visible sign of our civic pride and social values. That is why maintaining and developing our regional museums should be a priority for any Government. In that context, I would like to take the opportunity to ask the Minister an important question that I have asked him before, and which I asked the Secretary of State during parliamentary questions last Thursday. In these challenging economic times, what work is the Department for Communities and Local Government doing with the Arts Council and local authorities in the regions to support the arts, culture and heritage? I would be grateful for a response when he winds up the debate.

Artistic and scientific brilliance can flourish anywhere, but talents need to be honed and people need to be inspired. That can happen only if people are given the opportunity to experience and explore their own history and culture. This week, a new Lowry exhibition opens at Tate Britain and displays some of the distinctive northern industrial landscapes that the Stretford-born artist painted over his lifetime.

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Jonathan Reynolds: Lowry may have been Stretford born but, as my hon. Friend may know, for a substantial portion of his life, he lived in Mottram in my constituency. We are extremely proud of him.

Dan Jarvis: My hon. Friend is right to be extremely proud and I am grateful for his important clarification. He will agree that we need to ensure that the next generation of children has every opportunity to succeed. It will never be acceptable to tell a child that they were born in the wrong decade, and that is why a new museum will open tomorrow in my constituency. Experience Barnsley will enable visitors to discover the history of our town through local perspectives. Such initiatives can help ensure that each person’s potential is fulfilled, and that no future L.S. Lowry, Barbara Hepworth, Marie Curie or Stephen Hawking is missed because they did not have cultural and educational opportunities near where they grew up.

Protecting free entry to our museums and securing the future of our regional museums should be a priority. Equal access to museums should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few. That is why the Labour Government ensured that entry to museums and galleries would be free for all. In the 10 years following the introduction of that policy, visitor numbers have more than doubled to 18 million a year. We must continue to encourage people to visit these wonderful institutions.

Our museums are essential to people all over the UK—socially, educationally and economically. To continue to thrive, they must continue to reinvent themselves, drawing new crowds through their doors. They must work with national and local government and others to develop innovative methods of funding. Our museums can continue to go from strength to strength and our society with them. We must help make that happen.

10.24 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am pleased, Mr Brady, to speak under your chairmanship in this important debate. As many hon. Members have said, it is a huge honour to be presided over by a Greater Manchester MP and chairman of the 1922 committee. You are the shop steward of our Back Benchers, which adds to the lustre of your chairmanship this morning.

Many hon. Members have talked about the impact of the Museum of Science and Industry on their lives and those of their constituents. Before I go into the detail of some of the excellent contributions, it may be worth pointing out that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), who was here this morning as the Whip, told me before the debate started that there is a photograph of her aunt, Connie Varty in the museum, taken when she was a young woman working as an engineer for Beyer Peacock & Co. Almost everyone has had some impact from the wonderful museum.

I shall begin in the traditional but no less heartfelt way of thanking the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing this debate on the future funding of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. I welcome her contribution and those of the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish

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(Andrew Gwynne), for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), all of whom are concerned about the museum’s future.

There has been a strong reaction in the last three weeks to reports that the museum may be in danger, and it is clear how much it is valued. I will use my contribution to scotch the rumours that have swirled around. First, the Museum of Science and Industry is in no danger of closing, nor are the museums in York or Bradford. At lunchtime, I will meet the chairman and directors of the Science Museum Group to discuss the future. I have made the point in many debates that we cannot be complacent. The challenge—I will come to this in a moment—is not simply to keep the museums open but, as was echoed in many of the contributions to the debate, to ensure that they are enhanced and improved to sustain their future for many years to come.

I come to the “scotching the rumour” section of my speech. A few weeks ago, someone—I do not know who—tweeted that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport would be abolished as part of the comprehensive spending review. I want to scotch that rumour. The Department is a metaphor and an adornment to the Government. We have moved to better offices, and they cost £2 million a year less than previously. One gets more for less with DCMS. We are also delivering the main growth programme for the Government by rolling out superfast broadband.

Rumour No. 2 concerns the introduction of charging for our national museums. I was berated in no less an august journal than The Spectator for a mildly flippant remark saying that when tourists visited our museums for free, we would fleece them in the cafes afterwards. The hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) said that more elegantly, and the point was well made that visitor numbers have doubled at the Museum of Science and Industry, and many visitors who enter free spend money within the museum. The commercial case is that charging would enable museums to raise revenue, but they would lose a significant amount of income from cafes, shops and other areas where visitors spend money. It is not a zero-sum game, and charging would not simply increase revenue by the amount charged. That is the commercial reason for introducing charging, but I accept the moral case that museums are national collections that should be open to the public free for all.

Andrew Gwynne: I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification and greatly reassured. Do I take it that he completely rules out the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech) that people should perhaps pay 80p to visit MOSI in future?

Mr Vaizey: I do not want to enter a row between the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech). I have made the Government’s policy as clear as possible.

I turn to rumour No. 3. There is no intention of transferring the Science Museum Group to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I certainly welcome that Department’s interest and think there is an opportunity for a deeper and more profound partnership between the two Departments in supporting the Science Museum Group. There is no mystery to the fact that the Minister for Universities and Science is a huge admirer

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of the Science Museum Group, and he recognises that it is without doubt the most formidable attraction for young people in drawing them into the world of science. It is therefore important, for a Government who take science seriously and want to increase the number of young people who choose careers in science, to clearly support the Science Museum Group’s education work. I will be holding discussions with BIS to see what support it wishes to bring to the organisation.

On rumour No. 4, I scotch any suggestion that we would allow the National Coal Mining Museum to close. That is certainly not our position, and it, too, will remain open. The point of bringing the Museum of Science and Industry and the National Coal Mining Museum within the Science Museum Group was to enhance their offer.

An important point of principle to get across—I thought of this when I was hearing the excellent contributions by the hon. Members for Oldham East and Saddleworth, for Denton and Reddish, for Stalybridge and Hyde and for Barnsley Central—is that we have to get out of the mindset that somehow the regional museums are second class, or that the national museums in the regions are somehow second class to the national museums in London. In principle, if a museum had to close, there is no reason why the London branch of the national museum should not be on the same page. It is really important to say that the museums in York, Bradford and Manchester have as much status and right to survive and thrive as the museums in London.

As has been pointed out time and again, the visitor numbers and attractions at MOSI are second to none. The museum is home to many important buildings from our industrial heritage, and it is uniquely placed to explore the meeting of science and industry and the beginnings of the modern world—the industrial revolution, of course, started in Manchester—in a way that has meaning locally, nationally and internationally. It promotes the best of new technology and curates the Manchester science festival and the FutureEverything conference and exhibition, which I visited last year and experienced a groundbreaking mix of cutting-edge digital technology, art and music. MOSI is at the forefront of science education. It delivers innovative projects and a high-quality service for schools and volunteers through the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network—STEMNET.

Since MOSI joined the Science Museum Group, investment has been made in the public programme and events, in improving the retail and catering offer and in attracting visitor donations. SMG’s long-standing relationship with the Wellcome Collection has also established a new relationship with MOSI that will culminate in the opening of a special exhibition next month.

I hope that I have left hon. Members in no doubt as to my personal support for the museum in Manchester, but I have to thank the director of the Science Museum Group. Since he made his concerns known on my birthday, on 5 June, I have had a meeting with MPs from Bradford and an Adjournment debate, and many contributions were made during the arts debate in the main Chamber. We now have the Westminster Hall debate, and I am still looking forward to my special

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appearance in front of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, so he has certainly helped me fill my time and build up valuable experience in parliamentary debating.

To summarise what has happened, on 17 June, I met the hon. Members representing the Bradford areas, and my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) and for Shipley (Philip Davies), as well as the director of the Science Museum Group, in advance of the Adjournment debate held by the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway). We had a productive discussion and agreed that a working group representing the Science Museum Group, local MPs and Bradford council should come together to look at securing a sustainable future for the National Media Museum. That has now become known as the five-year plan. During the Opposition day debate on the arts and creative industries on 19 June, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport also made it clear that the reduction in resource funding for national museums in 2015-16 would be held at 5%.

There is also an important additional development that will affect the Science Museum Group positively. Recognising the unique business model of the national museums and their innovative approach to generating income, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has offered new measures that will make it easier for the museums to manage their budgets independently and reduce administrative burdens. That will include an exceptional power for the sector to borrow up to £40 million a year from the Government; authorisation to invest in non-grant income; access to reserve funds, so that museums have the flexibility to spend donations that they receive; the freedom to set pay, to attract the best expertise; and exemption from Government procurement policy, so that museums can make their own choices about key contracts.

As I think most hon. Members would agree, that is a significant step forward and something that the national museums have long campaigned for. Combined with the favourable funding settlement, it is clear that there is no reason why the Science Museum Group should close any museum based on a lack of funding. The new administrative and financial freedoms will also boost income generation and create a more dynamic operating model.

As hon. Members will appreciate, the outcome of the spending review will shortly determine the Government’s capital support for the national museums, so I cannot speculate on that at this point. However, I can mention the support for capital improvements provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the DCMS Wolfson Fund and the Catalyst match-funding schemes, which we have established with the Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

During the Adjournment debate last week, I paid tribute to the constructive way in which hon. Members representing Bradford, Manchester and York have worked with me and the Science Museum Group to forge a sustainable future for the regional museums. I would like to thank them again for their continued commitment to that endeavour. Looking ahead, we will continue to work with the Science Museum Group, as it examines a range of options across its operation to increase the income that it generates from exhibitions, events and

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corporate sponsorship. We will also look at potential partnerships at regional level, both public and private, working with local government, education and business.

Andrew Gwynne: I do not think the Minister appreciates just how lucky he is. He has visited the Museum of Science and Industry at Liverpool Road station, and he might not be aware that an earlier Member of Parliament was not so fortunate. The Liverpool Member of Parliament, William Huskisson, was killed at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, when he was run over by Stephenson’s Rocket, which is a fate that, thankfully, the Minister avoided.

Mr Vaizey: I went on a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket when I made the visit. It is well known that the first railway fatality involved a Member of Parliament, which may still resonate through the ages.

I pay tribute to the way in which hon. Members have approached the issue. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central has also contributed significantly to the debate. He and I sparred with each other at last week’s debate, and I probably got slightly carried away—I am not used to debating in a full Chamber, so it was a novel experience for me. It was an interesting debate, and the Labour party is making a powerful case for the importance of supporting arts and culture in the regions.

There was a slight paradox—I felt, obviously, being biased—in that Member after Member got up and talked about how well culture was doing in their constituency, so we are not having an arts emergency, but the issue is worth looking at. That is why I am pleased, for example, that the Arts Council has, under this Government, looked seriously at how it supports arts and culture in the regions using lottery money, which we increased.

As hon. Members know, we significantly raised the proportion of lottery funding going to the arts. An additional £100 million is going to the arts every year under this Government. Some of that money has been used to significantly increase the amount of funding available for touring, so national arts organisations have the opportunity to tour their work around the country. The Arts Council has also set up what it calls the creative people and places fund—off the top of my head, it is worth about £30 million—which is designed to support arts and culture in areas that are, to use the jargon, under-represented in terms of arts and culture, where perhaps the quality of offers that one might find in other parts of the country is not available.

The issue is serious and important, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth for raising it, but I hope that she will also acknowledge that a lot of work is being done to ensure that all parts of the country benefit from our arts and culture. We will listen to any further suggestions that she or other hon. Members may have.

10.40 am

Sitting suspended.

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Non-geographic Telephone Numbers

11 am

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Brady. I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this important issue. The matter is of concern to many people—all our constituents, I think. It is a complex and controversial issue, but the term “non-geographic phone numbers” generally covers numbers that start with 08, 0845, 087, 09 and 118, and which are used for everything from contacting Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to voting on TV shows.

All the evidence shows that people find the numbers extremely confusing and expensive. The so-called freephone 0800 numbers are guaranteed to be free only when phoned from a land-line—they are not always free from mobile phones—and it is people on low and fixed incomes who are undoubtedly hardest hit. Poorer people often do not have the security of a land-line, and they are unable to get contracts.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He rightly says that 0800 numbers are free only from a land-line. Does he agree that the warning signal, or the acknowledgment that it could be very costly to use such numbers from a mobile, is often in such a tiny—almost insignificant—font size, either on the screen or in newspaper print, as to be illegible, particularly for elderly people?

Richard Burden: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It is important that the information is clearer, but perhaps what is more important—and this is the case I will advance today—is ensuring that the calls are free rather than just pretending to be free for certain people.

As I was saying, people on low and fixed incomes do not have access to land-lines, and they probably do not have access to contract mobile phones either or, sometimes, to the internet. They rely, therefore, on prepay mobile phones and phone boxes, and as the former have higher call costs than contract phones poorer people end up paying more to use the telephone than those on higher incomes. A study by Save the Children, in fact, found that they could be paying about 22% more.

What is particularly unfair, and this is one of the major subjects of today’s debate, is that it is not just businesses and game shows that charge people a fortune; the Government’s own use of the numbers is a matter for concern. I have been contacted by constituents who are justifiably irate that ringing essential public services, such as HMRC, results in them having sky-high bills. The answers I have received to parliamentary questions to Departments have revealed not only the shocking scale, but the scope of Government use of high-cost phone numbers. Six out of 10 Government phone lines are high cost. The Home Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs all use a high proportion of high-cost phone lines. The Department for Work and Pensions alone has 200-plus 0845 numbers. Vulnerable people are being charged rip-off rates for contacting essential services, including pension, work and welfare services—when talking to Jobcentre Plus, the Pensions Advisory Service, about disability living

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allowance and attendance allowance, and so on. The waiting times for the services can be long, and that drives up bills even further.

The 0845 and 087 revenue-sharing numbers are the major culprits. Calling the numbers can cost anything up to 41p a minute, and a service charge is included, which is paid to the Government. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) is here today because he has done some very important work on what he has rightly termed a telephone tax, and the National Audit Office is also looking into the scandal. It is simply beyond belief that people calling taxpayer-funded phone lines are taxed again. Some Departments have been making money, and phone companies are clearly making a fortune. It is illogical and unfair, and it cannot continue. The use of revenue-sharing numbers by the Government and all associated public agencies must stop, and it must stop now.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I welcome the success that my hon. Friend has had in securing the debate, and also the fact that he is campaigning hard on the matter, as am I. It is important to expose the rip-off rates that some people have to pay to access essential public services and information.

My hon. Friend mentions the revenue sharing, which is part of the deal for 084 numbers. Both he and I have tabled parliamentary questions, and I have had seven Departments say to me that they do not get any financial or non-financial benefit from the lines. That, however, contradicts what Ofcom believes to be the case, and I have, therefore, had to write to those seven Departments. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a follow-up to the debate, something the Minister might usefully do is ensure that attention is drawn to other Departments that use the numbers but do not appear to know that they should be gaining a financial benefit—at a cost to many of the poorest, who pay the extra charges?

Richard Burden: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and it is true that many Departments, or the people who make the decisions, did not know that they were making money out of the numbers. They assumed that something starting with 08 was free, just like the 0800 numbers. It is important that that message gets across. There are one or two Departments that, when they found out, were fairly horrified and said that they would change. The key thing, therefore, is that they make that change quickly.

I suggest that revenue sharing is particularly unfair, but that it is part of a wider picture. Calling any public service on a geographic or a non-geographic number means that people with very little money—those with prepay mobile phones—get bills they simply cannot afford. That covers accessing central Government services and those of other public bodies, agencies and local authorities and, until very recently, even GP surgeries. I was made aware of the case of a homeless family in my constituency who clearly did not have a land-line or a contract phone, and were trying to reach Birmingham city council a couple of years ago. They were kept hanging on for ages, just trying to find out if they had any chance of getting a home. How can we seriously expect people calling a homelessness helpline to maintain regular direct debits or have been able to negotiate

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cheap phone tariffs? We need clear criteria for all public services—in central and local government—if we are to overcome the problems.

I sought to have this debate because there is a chance for the Government to change, and to initiate change. I understand that, in July, Ofcom will make clear recommendations for simplifying the system. It will make 0800 numbers free for all, including from mobile phones and, going back to the point that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) made, it will ensure that the costs of calling 084 and 087 numbers are clear. It will also encourage greater use of 03 numbers, which are priced the same as the traditional 01 and 02 geographic numbers, and they will not have a revenue-sharing element.

Of relevance here is article 21 of the EU consumer rights directive. An amendment to the directive, which could stop businesses using a service charge when consumers call under certain circumstances, is under consideration, and more work needs to be done on that. I therefore ask the Minister: will the Government continue to charge what has been rightly termed a telephone tax when they begin to regulate businesses in that regard?

There is already best practice in some Departments. HMRC has been one of the worst culprits, but it has now rightly responded to the Public Accounts Committee’s recommendations and is switching to 03 numbers, which will save many people a fortune. That must be linked to the more recent PAC recommendation for improving waiting times so that people are not left in a queue for hours.

We need more clarity and co-ordination, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne said. That is not a new idea; it has been on the agenda since 2006, when Sir David Varney called for change in his Cabinet Office report, “Service transformation.” He called for clear public sector telephone number strategies that would end confusion and provide a better service to people, as well as a better deal for the taxpayer. Seven years on, Ofcom is now providing the Government with a framework to achieve that.

I have some questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer. First, does the Minister agree with me—and, I am sure, countless members of the public, and campaigners, such as the fair telecoms campaign, which has done a great deal of work—that it is fundamentally wrong to place a service charge or, to put it another way, a telephone tax on calls to phone lines that are already funded from taxation? If so, what is the Government’s time scale to end its use across all Departments and agencies?

Secondly, what progress has been made on implementing the recommendations on contact centres in Sir David Varney’s “Service transformation” report, which was taken over by the Cabinet Office’s Contact Council? The report called for an exploration of the scope for single access numbers for all non-emergency public services, which would provide complementary support for the 999 service; more urgently, for the implementation of a clear public sector numbering and tariffing strategy using the 03 number range; and for the establishment of a set of cross-Government benchmarks, such as calls answered per minute, to improve the performance of public sector call centres.

If no progress on implementing those recommendations has been made since the abolition of the Contact Council, will the Government now take the opportunity provided

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by Ofcom’s consultation and its results to establish a whole of Government solution? Such a solution would need to be clear and comprehensive, and it would need to make access to all public sector services less confusing and more cost-effective for the taxpayer. It would end the use of revenue sharing—the telephone tax—and establish clear numbering criteria for different services, with essential services using freephone for all 0800 numbers and all other services using 03 numbers.

Thirdly, will the Government enforce Ofcom’s recommendations that the costs of revenue-sharing numbers must be declared, which goes back to my right hon. Friend’s point? What is Ministers’ time scale for such an implementation? Ofcom has outlined an implementation period of 18 months from when the recommendations are published, which means organisations would not have to declare their charges until at least 2015. We know the costs, and we know that many people are currently confused about the price of the numbers, so why delay? The Cabinet Office should issue directions to enforce transparency now, and I invite the Minister to agree with me.

The success of the gov.uk website—it provides one point of access for all Departments and public bodies—demonstrates that better Government co-ordination in communications can be done simply and effectively. As face-to-face services are cut back—not all of us think that that is a good thing—and more people are directed online and on to the telephone, it is important that the Government do not ignore those sections of the population that find it difficult to access the internet and do not have access to contract phones or land-lines. We know that they are the people most likely to need the Government’s help and advice.

Finally, we need to ensure that people’s contact with the Government or local government is not just that of being transferred from one Department to another, while watching their phone bills go up and up as they hang on the line. As the Government introduce huge changes to the benefits system, with universal credit and so on, we know that there are likely to be very big increases in the number of inquiries. That underlines the fact that we need an efficient system, which recognises that people calling Government advice lines have complex concerns and problems that need to be dealt with sensitively and effectively.

The idea of today’s debate is to invite the Government to seize this opportunity drastically to improve public services and end the scandal of rip-off rates that hit the most vulnerable in their time of need. I invite the Minister and the Government to take up that opportunity.

11.15 am

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): It is an enormous pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady, for the first time, at least in this Chamber.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) not only on securing the debate, but on how he presented his argument. I extend those congratulations to the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), because they have together done an excellent job. They have taken a forensic approach to using the parliamentary question

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process to expose some, frankly, awkward and inconvenient truths about a system that, as Ofcom has said, clearly does not work for anyone at the moment. It is quite right to raise that substantive issue.

The right hon. Gentleman, who was a distinguished Minister, will recognise that I feel, in coming to this for the first time, that this is one of those situations in which Departments have been allowed to do their own thing, without very much effective co-ordination from the centre, over many years and during different Governments. We have reached the point at which we have to acknowledge that the current system does not work for anyone. Ofcom was quite right to make that point, and it is also right that the National Audit Office should look at the issue. My congratulations are therefore quite genuine.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield mentioned that the Cabinet Office previously had a role, but it has not been directly involved in recent years. We are now reviewing whether there is a case for central control to play a more proactive role. The reason for that is straightforward: we see ourselves as champions, first, of transparency across Government—there is a failure of transparency here—and secondly, of the taxpayer in ensuring that those who supply services to the Government and the public deliver best value.

Through the Efficiency and Reform Group, we take great pride in ensuring that historical contractual arrangements with large corporates are much less cosy than they were. I refer the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman to its recently published report, which demonstrates that, through a much more rigorous and robust process, we saved the taxpayer £10 billion last year—this is serious money—by doing things that we consider to make hard commercial sense but had not been applied. For both those reasons—as champions of transparency and of driving a hard deal with the taxpayer and the public—we are taking an increasing interest in this area.

The timing of the debate is slightly awkward in the sense that we are all waiting for the NAO report. As a former Minister, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne will know that Ministers sometimes read a brief that is not quite what they want to have to say, and this is one of those moments. Having looked at what is happening, I sense that there is frankly a substantial problem, as I have said. It is not just about the cost, which is real and of course massively relevant at a time when our constituents are very stretched; there are also big issues around complexity and transparency, and the system does not work.

There is clearly a real problem, but I see some encouraging signs of movement and transition. It probably needs to go further and faster, but there is clearly movement in some areas. One area is around transparency, which matters a lot because it is the great disinfectant. The Ofcom policy proposals are all about simplifying the matter and making it less complex and more transparent. Responding to those proposals is now under way.

I also see progress in the action taken by Departments to reduce costs. The hon. Gentleman did not mention this, but we should recognise that HMRC, which is a hugely important Department in the context of this debate, has already moved two of its helplines, the tax credit and Welsh language helplines, from 0845 numbers to 03 prefix numbers to reduce the cost to callers. It is also committed to moving all of its personal tax, expenses

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and benefits helplines to 03 numbers by the end of the summer, which was welcomed by the Public Accounts Committee and the voluntary sector in particular. Clearly, there has been movement both on transparency and to reduce costs.

Another area, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, is about reducing the need for the public to use the phone in engaging with the Government. He makes a fundamental point that we will always be in a situation in which a proportion of the population will not be online or comfortable with being online and will need what we call in our clunky Government language “assisted digital”. The Government will shortly announce plans to invest taxpayers’ money in a radical, ambitious process to go digital by default, which will ensure that no one is left behind and which should transform the experience of dealing with Government—online as often as possible and practicable. We all know the benefits of online communication, and success on that mission will mean that we reduce the need for people to use the telephone and be exposed to some of the vagaries, complexities and costs that we are debating here now. It is important for that to be registered, because the Government digital strategy, which was published last November, sets out how we intend to redesign digital services to make them straightforward and convenient so that all who can use them will choose to do so while those who cannot are not excluded. That channel shift, as we call it, will result in a reduction in the use of call centres, telephones, post and in-person centres, thereby reducing the problem of higher non-geographic phone charging, which is the subject of this debate.

John Healey: I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he is responding to this debate. I am intervening before he returns to his brief, because his response so far has been genuine, open and welcome. He recognises that there is a significant problem, which is very welcome. He says that the Government are now reviewing the area, which is also welcome. He talks about a problem of timing. May I perhaps help him with that? The NAO has indeed now agreed to carry out a cross-Government review of the use of non-geographic numbers, some of which have these rip-off rates. The Comptroller and Auditor General tells me that he expects that report to be completed next month, in July, so the Minister may not have to wait long before he considers action. I invite him to tell the Chamber how he intends, from the centre of Government, to respond to that NAO report and the findings that it may have.

Mr Hurd: I am grateful to the Opposition for any offer of help, but I approach such offers with some wariness, and my instinct was right on that one. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the NAO report is imminent; I do not have an exact date, but July seems to be the month. My awkwardness comes from trying to give the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman as robust a response as they would like. None the less, we must wait for that report and its recommendations to see to what degree they encourage a higher level of central co-ordination and control, which both Members are instinctively calling for.

We will also have to wait to see whether the NAO gives the Cabinet Office some sense of mandate to play a more proactive role in this exercise, which is a move

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towards not just greater rigour and transparency, but a great deal of commercial awareness when it comes to conversations with the suppliers of services, who, as the hon. Gentleman has said, might have benefited disproportionately in the past with regard to the charges that they have effectively made to the public. The point that I was labouring is that we now have a real body of experience that is saving billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in negotiating and renegotiating, often in flight, these contracts with suppliers to ensure that the taxpayer gets a better deal.

What I am asking of hon. Members is patience. Let us see the NAO report and what signals it sends in terms of the deficiencies of the current system and the need for a bit more central control, and then the Cabinet Office will respond. We are now a great deal more interested in this subject than in the past because we recognise that the system is not working for anyone. I just hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman on that.

Richard Burden: Like my right hon. Friend, I am sure that the Minister is being absolutely genuine in what he is saying. We are waiting for the NAO report and the Ofcom recommendations, both of which will be published in July. I completely understand that the Minister needs to wait for them. There will be complex negotiations with suppliers. There is one thing on which I should like to push him a little further. On behalf of the user of services, the public, would it not be reasonable to say that there are certain principles here to which we aspire? The first is that an essential public service should be free to the public. Secondly, phone lines should be as cheap as they can be for other Government services. The obvious way of doing that is using something like the 03 numbers. How we get to those points could be the subject of detailed discussions, but, presumably, we should be able to agree that if the call is essential, it should be free, and if it is non-essential, it should be as cheap as it can be.

Mr Hurd: If we are trying to create a culture of greater simplification, transparency and trust, principles are important in terms of bringing people together, communicating and building that trust. Some Departments need to think through quite carefully the implications of some of the changes that the hon. Gentleman is proposing. For example, if they cannot make a particular charge for a service, they have to consider how they can continue to provide it. It is reasonable to build into the process some time for them to think through that carefully, because, presumably, the services are valued by the people using them. The principles of transparency and of keeping it simple and as cheap as possible are ones that we endorse, along with the commitment to try, as far as we can, to move people to a situation where most of this stuff is done online. We also want to make sure that all the services that we provide to people who are not online and who are not comfortable with that—we hope the number of those will be smaller—are as easy to navigate as possible.

The hon. Gentleman usefully made the point—we know this from our own constituencies—that it drives the public nuts to be transferred around the system, not get answers and be kept waiting. A large part of what we do as MPs is to try to disentangle such things. The

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onus is on us to try to make that process of engaging with Government as easy as possible, because we know that, on too many occasions, it is far too difficult.

In conclusion, the hon. Gentleman has raised a substantial point. It is something that the Cabinet Office is taking increasingly seriously. We are waiting for the NAO report. We see encouraging signs of transition towards greater transparency, and a desire to reduce costs and the need for telephony services. We also recognise that there is value that we can add in ensuring that the taxpayer is not ripped off.

11.29 am

Sitting suspended.

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Beef Cattle and Sheep (Carbon Footprint)

[Annette Brooke in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure, Mrs Brooke, to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon. I thank Mr Speaker for granting this timely debate on the report on the carbon footprint of the cattle and sheep sector by the all-party parliamentary group on beef and lamb.

I also thank my fellow committee members, especially the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) for attending the oral evidence sessions that we held as part of our four-month long inquiry and for their assistance in compiling the report.

The all-party group wanted to examine the methodologies currently used to calculate the carbon footprint of the sector in the UK and globally and how the data are used to inform the measures being taken to reduce emissions.

The report, which we launched in Parliament earlier this month, found that more robust scientific data and a standard model to measure carbon sequestration were needed to help the beef and lamb sector meet the twin challenges of sustainable food production and of reducing the environmental impact. It also found that the positive environmental impact of grazing livestock must be taken into account when trying to mitigate the sector’s carbon footprint.

Our inquiry found that a large number of models are used to assess the carbon footprint. Professor Nigel Scollan of Waitrose told the group at the evidence session that 16 methodologies for measuring the carbon footprint of livestock have been developed since 2007 alone. The PAS 2050 model, which was developed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Carbon Trust and the British Standards Institute, is the standard model used by DEFRA. However, in the evidence session, the independent Committee on Climate Change, which acts as an advisory body to the Government, stated that its accepted method for calculating production emissions is set out by an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

There is a clear lack of consensus or consistency, which raises two crucial points. First, there is a lack of consensus on how to measure livestock emissions. Secondly, any debate going on at an international level is not based on comparable data. For example, in England, the footprint of beef cattle, according to the PAS 2050 used by DEFRA was 12.65 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogramme of live weight and for sheep it was 11.86 kg.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the research that has been carried out in Northern Ireland? The greenhouse gas implementation partnership seems to agree with him that there is still a body of research yet to be carried out. The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast, which is working with DEFRA and the department of

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agriculture and fisheries for Scotland, says as part of that research that the ongoing challenges of the inclement weather present a problem.

Annette Brooke (in the Chair): Thank you for that. We will keep interventions a little shorter in future.

Neil Parish: The hon. Lady is right, because climatic conditions will make a difference. The amount of time that an animal takes to finish grazing to become fat also makes a difference, as does the time taken to finish an animal for meat production. All such things have to be taken into consideration. Of course there are a number of ways to measure carbon.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): In my hon. Friend’s calculations, will he make reference to the transportation of meat once it has been processed through an abattoir? For example, moving beef from South America to Europe using aviation fuel enormously increases the carbon footprint.

Neil Parish: Indeed. When we import meat from South America, Australia or New Zealand, we should take into account the length of time that it takes to get here, especially if it comes by air. Of course, if it comes by sea, it is argued that the carbon footprint is not as large, but it is there none the less. That is why local home-produced food that travels very little distance to the abattoir and that is grazed nicely on good permanent pasture must be of great benefit to all the United Kingdom.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I applaud both the fact that we are having this debate and the work that my hon. Friend and his committee have done. Does he agree that, while this is a legitimate debate for us to have, our fundamental job in the House is to stand up and support our beef and sheep farmers?

Neil Parish: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The purpose of this inquiry and report is to look at the benefits of producing grass-fed beef and lamb, to keep sustainable grass pasture and to produce very good meat. We would not necessarily want or be able to plough such land, and a huge amount of carbon is captured within the soil. We took some evidence that showed that over years of permanent pasture the carbon actually increases, so there are many good reasons for producing this high-quality beef and lamb.

I will, if I may, continue with my contribution. The footprint of sheep, according to the PAS 2050, is 11.86 kg CO2 equivalent per kilogramme of live weight. The comparative figures for Wales were 7.51 kg CO2 equivalent per kilogramme of live weight and 8.6 kg CO2 equivalent per kilogramme of live weight.

As that has demonstrated, even within a country, there is significant variation in the statistics and no way to determine whether they were driven by different efficiencies or by different ways of producing data. That makes any form of comparative assessment of carbon footprint challenging and poses major difficulties for policy formulation. There is no international consensus on sequestration—the process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere by pasture land through a process of absorption and deposition in the soil, which acts as a carbon sink. In essence, that is a natural form of carbon capture and storage.

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The importance of including carbon sequestration is highlighted by Mr Bill Grayson, a producer who gave evidence to the inquiry. He ran four models on his farm’s emissions. The PAS 2050 model, which does not include sequestration, concluded that his farm was a net emitter. The other three methods, which include sequestration, put his farm as a net absorber of carbon. Evidently such significant differences make sensible policy development almost impossible.

Mr Spencer: My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. I hope that he recognises that we need to view this matter globally. It makes no sense to allow UK farmers to plant trees and remove land from beef production to then allow South American farmers to tear up rain forests to produce beef and to ship it around the world, so that it sits on supermarket shelves next to UK-produced beef.

Neil Parish: My hon. Friend raises another important issue. I have visited Brazil, where people are ploughing up a lot of the savannah and planting soya bean and sugar beet and driving cattle towards the rain forests and allowing them to partly destroy the rain forests before people cut down the trees. So it is absolutely essential that we produce in this country high-quality beef and lamb, so that we do not need as many imports; that is absolutely clear. I will go on to talk a little more about those examples shortly.

I want to highlight the methodology used to produce the figures. Achieving consistency in the figures used should be viewed as one of the top priorities for the industry and the Government, who should work in partnership. We urge Ministers and officials at DEFRA to accelerate work at both the EU level and with international bodies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation, to seek global consensus in an agreed methodology.

For example, if we compare the impact of livestock in the UK and in France using nationally-produced data, our producers will be hugely disadvantaged because French data will include sequestration. It is not very often that I ask a Minister to look at a French system, but on this occasion I will. We urge him to look into this issue as a priority and—if we are to see greater co-operation between nations in our effort to respond to environmental and food challenges—to migrate to the model accepted in France. If the Government do not view this as a viable course of action, they need to make a robust case to say why not. The disparity built into the status quo is no longer acceptable in a global debate, because we debate carbon across the whole world and we need to measure it in a similar way.

The report also highlighted other weaknesses in the current life-cycle analysis in the model that DEFRA uses, in addition to its exclusion of sequestration. It is well documented and understood that grazing livestock plays a major role in the management of our landscape; I think that all hon. Members from all parties in the House would recognise that. That view is supported by the English National Park Authorities Association and Natural England, which rightly point out that the landscape value generated by upland farming has an economic benefit to the area, owing to the tourism and business revenue extracted, and that grassland management is important to maximise upland areas’ efficiency as a carbon sink.

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Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, and I do so only to ask him to agree that that issue is particularly relevant to Wales. There is almost no cereal growing in Wales that is worth talking about; in Wales, farming is almost wholly livestock farming. Livestock farming in Wales is so important that it completely dominates the agricultural scene there.

Neil Parish: My hon. Friend refers to the amount of permanent pasture in Wales. Much of the land may well be too steep to be ploughed, and from an environmental point of view, we would not want to plough it. I do not wish to over-labour this point, but if we are not going to graze livestock on that pasture, what are we actually going to do to manage that land successfully? So livestock farming is not only important from an aesthetic point of view; it produces great meat and it does a great service for the landscape. So I very much agree with him. Parts of the west country and the north of England likewise have much permanent pasture.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): May I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to something that he might find interesting, which is the reintroduction of the little-known Welsh White beef cattle up on the Plynlimon hills with the Wildlife Trusts? The reason that those cattle have been reintroduced in those areas, which are vital for holding carbon emissions in peat bogs, is that they trample the right sort of way—better than sheep—in that environment and they eat the right sort of vegetation to keep the biodiversity right as well. So the Welsh White cattle are doing a good job up there.

Neil Parish: The shadow Minister raises an interesting issue about not only carbon sequestration but the management of grassland, but not only Welsh White cattle are important in that regard; there is an argument that sheep do not do the same job on certain pasture land as suckler cows and beef cattle do. That is perhaps the subject for a debate for another time, but it is relevant to the fact that, if we are to have good-quality grassland, we need the right type of stock to graze it.

The inquiry found that no current methodology exists to include this factor in an assessment of carbon footprint, despite the fact the loss of hedgerows and pasture land, for example, would evidently impact on the amount of carbon removed from the air. Of course, more carbon would also be emitted if that pasture land were to be destroyed.

Grazing livestock, particularly on uplands, makes a valuable contribution to biodiversity and the preservation of ecosystems. For example, hedgerows provide wonderful habitats for many species that are vital for the diversity of fauna and flora. As numerous witnesses pointed out, it is important to bear that in mind when considering the overall environmental impact of agriculture. Quantifying the carbon value of biodiversity is incredibly difficult and is not something that life-cycle analysis takes into account. The evidence suggests that it will be a major challenge to find an agreed way of quantifying this benefit in the short or medium term. This exposes the weaknesses of simply looking at carbon footprint as a measure of environmental impact, and we urge the Minister to consider this point.

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George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Like me, he was a farmer before first entering the House and as farmers we are used to getting the blame for a lot of things. There are certainly environmental consequences to certain farming practices, but does he share my disbelief that farmers are in the dock for—of all things—causing climate change and being responsible for it, given that we all know that the real problems with carbon come from the transport sector, energy generation and general industrialisation rather than from farming?

Neil Parish: My hon. Friend and I should probably both declare an interest; I should certainly do so as I am a farmer, and proud to be so. He is absolutely right, because what we have with methane gas from ruminants in particular is a very natural gas. It may come out perhaps too much for people’s liking, but it is very much there. We are taking lower-quality proteins—I had better be careful what I say—and developing them into high-quality meat. Therefore, the animal is doing a great deal of good, and I want to balance the amount of methane gas that the animals might produce compared with the amount of carbon that is kept in the land. I repeat the fact that if we do not keep that land as permanent pasture and plough it up, we will release an awful lot of carbon.

Farmers feel that the real basis of livestock farming is almost under threat. The whole idea of this report is perhaps to try to flag up in advance where the world might go to in a few years’ time, and that scenario is what I am particularly keen to avoid. People need to know the benefits of livestock farming.

I will move on to the next paragraph of the report. Food security is one of the most pressing issues for Governments across the world. By 2050, the global population is estimated to reach 9 billion, and food production will need to increase to meet growing demand. However, that has to be achieved using the existing agricultural land, while making more efficient use of water and mitigating the existing and future impact of farming on the environment.

The challenge is no less great on the home front, with the UK population set to increase by 10 million in the next quarter of a century alone and after the percentage of agricultural land in the UK fell from 39% in 1989 to some 25% in 2009. This means maximising the value of available land, by getting the best possible outcomes in terms of food production. British agricultural land comprises many different land types, and not all are suitable for the production of arable crops. This point was eloquently made by the food climate research network in its evidence to the all-party group:

“Not all land can support crop production and the question then arises—what should be done with this poorer quality, more marginal land? Traditionally the answer has been to graze ruminants which then provide us with meat, milk and other outputs. This represents a form of resource efficiency—the land is being used to produce food that would otherwise need to be produced elsewhere”

That is particularly important.

Almost 65% of UK farmland is only suitable for growing grass where sheep and cattle are grazed. We should be utilising this marginal land, which cannot be used for arable crops but can grow good grass and provide good biodiversity and environmental benefits. Beef cattle and sheep play a vital role in food production,

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because of their ability to turn non-human food into edible proteins and nutrients. Limiting the role of British livestock will reduce the efficiency with which we use our land for food production and will therefore reduce our ability to be self-sufficient.

These points are often neglected, or at least not adequately considered, by those who advocate meat-free diets. If, for argument’s sake, we were all to switch to a diet free of meat, much of our agricultural land would be unfarmed and we would see a considerable drop in the efficiency of our land to food conversion, in addition to the negative impacts on biodiversity, as outlined above.

When the developing world is eating more meat, and choosing to do so, there is a greater need to produce meat across the world. Therefore, Britain should do its fair share of meat production, and grazing both sheep and cattle on grassland is essential, in my view. Grazing cattle and sheep are often given disproportionate blame for carbon emissions from agriculture, and there is not enough recognition among some conservation groups of the role that livestock farming, particularly of grass-fed beef and lamb, plays in storing carbon, protecting biodiversity and utilising marginal land that cannot be used for arable crops.

I thank you for listening to this debate, Mrs Brooke, and open it to colleagues to join in.

2.52 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) for bringing this matter to the Westminster Hall Chamber. Those hon. Members who represent agricultural areas will be aware of the importance of the carbon footprint in relation to beef cattle and sheep. I declare an interest as a farmer, although not a working farmer, and as someone who has lived in the countryside for some 40 years. The land that we have is rented out by adjacent farmers, who look after it well. I have spoken to the Ulster Farmers Union in Northern Ireland, which has given us a bit of a steer—if I may make a pun—and it has, along with the all-party group’s recommendations, given us some indication of where we want to go.

I am sure that I am not the only person here who watches adverts for cars with a low carbon footprint, who has read reports by environmentalists regarding our footprint as a country and has even been made aware of issues by children and grandchildren, coming home and telling us what they were taught in school. They tell us things we do not know and seem to have great knowledge and expertise.

It is incumbent on us all to be aware of the world that we live in and to do our best to leave a planet behind which our great-grandchildren can enjoy. One aspect of this is being told that we need to cut down our carbon emissions, otherwise global warming will wreak havoc on our country and our world. One of the main greenhouse gases is methane—we are aware of that—which is produced in large quantities by cattle. Agriculture is responsible for 22% of Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, but that must be set against the fact that it has moulded landscapes, encourages biodiversity and brings money into the local economy by providing employment. I want to give a farmer’s perspective on the issue, and a Northern Ireland perspective as well.

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Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for 3.5% of the total UK greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is responsible for 7% of the UK’s methane and nitrous oxide, because Northern Ireland relies a lot more on agriculture than other parts of the UK. Therefore the carbon footprint is of greater importance for Northern Ireland than for other regions of the UK.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Regarding the importance for Northern Ireland, does my hon. Friend agree that on this issue, like a number of others, it is important that the Minister, DEFRA and the responsible Departments in Westminster liaise closely with the regions—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland —to ensure that best practice is adopted by all those concerned, throughout the UK, in trying to tackle a serious problem?

Jim Shannon: I thank my hon. Friend for a good intervention. I am confident that the Minister will give us some indication of that—I have no doubt that that will happen—but the regions my hon. Friend mentioned must work together with DEFRA.

As I have often said in this Chamber, agriculture in Northern Ireland is under pressure because it is being strangled by EU regulations. Young farmers go to college and learn new ways, then they come home and cannot afford to implement changes that would be beneficial, due to red tape and regulations. However, that is a debate for another day. European legislation dictates carbon emission reductions, but the support offered is sparse. For example, in some countries carbon sequestration is included, but in our current model it is not included, so our farmers would be at a disadvantage in a global market if a tax were to be imposed.

In the grassland used to graze cattle and sheep, carbon is stored in the soil, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton said, therefore less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere if we farm along those lines. That information could have major repercussions and calls into question our understanding of the carbon footprint of livestock. Although that might be a little bit technical and hard to understand, perhaps, for those who do not have knowledge about the land, it is a serious issue.

It is difficult effectively to evaluate the carbon footprint of raising livestock, because many different variables affect the amount of methane produced, such as the feed system it is raised on, pasture type, rearing time and genetic make-up. People may believe that a meat-free diet is the future because crops have a lower carbon footprint, however far from the truth that may be, but some issues are raised by such a way of life. When land is ploughed, carbon is released that would otherwise have stayed trapped in the carbon sink and that in turn makes it difficult to compare the benefits of growing crops. Furthermore, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, 65% of UK farmland is suitable only for growing grass and would not be a viable option for growing crops. Some land would have to be in pasture all the time, because it cannot be used otherwise.

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this welcome debate. Is the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)

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aware of the impact of the cost of fertiliser on crop production and the impact of that on the debate on greenhouse gases?

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am aware of that. Certainly, the Ulster Farmers Union and the farmers on the land in the Ards peninsula and mid-Down are all aware of the costs of the fertilisers and their impact on the land and the waters round about Strangford lough and the Irish sea.

If we ceased to graze cattle on these pasture lands, they could not be used to produce more food and the productivity of our land to food conversion would stop. Biodiversity would also be negatively affected. Land used for grazing livestock provides habitats for animals, which creates biodiversity. Biodiversity has a positive impact on the environment, but that is another factor that is not included when calculating carbon footprints. Many factors that need to be considered when calculating carbon footprints are not considered, and that could negatively affect our farming industry here in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Calculating the exact amount by which biodiversity benefits the environment is also difficult. To combat our greenhouse gases, we need more investment in research into farming practices. For example, how big a role does carbon sequestration actually play? We also need to educate our producers to better understand the various issues so that they are able to run their businesses more efficiently.

There is a lot of work to be done. The competitive farming systems team spends a third of its money on sustainable and competitive farming systems, yet most small farmers cannot think of that amount of their income leaving in that way. In Northern Ireland, we have many small farmers. The average size of a farm in Northern Ireland is between 65 and 70 acres, but there are many hobby farmers and part-time farmers. The impact on such farmers is greater, and the impact on us in Northern Ireland is greater still.

Sustainability is crucial. Raising livestock sustainably is not solely the responsibility of producers; retailers also play a pivotal and vital role, which I hope the Minister takes on board. Retailers must enable consumers to make informed decisions about the products they buy so that they can take into account animal welfare, nutritional value and environmental impact before purchasing the product. There has been much talk in the press over the past week or two about the green, amber and red system that tells consumers about a product’s fat content, nutritional value and so on. That, too, will have an impact on farmers, through the retailers.

Retailers can make deals to source meat only from farms with lower emissions, which are better for the environment and are more cost-efficient, but they must stop squeezing the farmer with lower prices while maintaining or increasing prices in their shops, thereby putting pressure on farmers while increasing their own profit margins. Let us be realistic about achievable goals, rather than squeezing the farmer every time we try to achieve specific targets. That is a different story for a different day, but it comes off the back of this debate.

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The question that we need to answer is simple: how will we produce enough food to feed a worldwide population of 9 billion by 2050? The answer lies with finding more efficient ways to raise livestock that do not compromise the needs of future generations. Enforcing a vegetarian diet would be unsustainable because the fertilisers used to increase yields, particularly nitrates, pollute water supplies and lead to other consequences. We are endangering the already fragile fishing ecosystems, and the carbon footprint of cattle and sheep is too high. Those issues must be fully considered.

Although I fully understand the need to reduce the carbon footprint, it cannot be done at the expense of farming in the United Kingdom and, more specifically, Northern Ireland. In any consideration of the topic, the farmers’ views and opinions must be paramount. No system will work without their co-operation. Any enforcement of new regulations must be informed and subsidised and cannot be allowed to affect the cattle or the land. The Ulster Farmers Union recently highlighted an interesting figure:

“A recent European Joint Research Centre (JRC) study, highlighted that Brazilian beef has the largest carbon footprint of imported animal products, and with this in mind it is clear that it would be extremely difficult for the EU to achieve its CO2 emission reduction objectives.”

It is all very well to point the finger at our local farmers and to tell them what they should do, but other producers across the world are riding roughshod over the emissions objectives.

Any importation of animals with a high carbon footprint defeats the purpose of any targets set, and the local agriculture industry must be allowed to produce, sell and achieve reasonable aims. I urge great caution when considering the enforcement of a further burden on our agriculture sector. As one farmer said to me, and this is important,

“there are only so many targets we can reach before we realise that we haven’t had time to actually produce anything at all—just time spent filling in forms and working at machinery.”

Let us farm and help those who farm to do their best.

3.4 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) not only on securing the debate but on all his work to drive forward the all-party group’s report.

The impact of livestock production on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change is complex and highly contested. The report does an admirable job of highlighting some of the difficulties associated with carbon footprint modelling, particularly on measuring the impact of carbon sequestration, but that is only one aspect of a much bigger picture.

We need greater recognition of the urgent need to address climate change, and we cannot escape the reality that cattle and sheep produce a lot of methane, but it has become increasingly evident that that is not a zero-sum game; there is an increasing body of evidence showing the significant environmental benefits associated with livestock farming. When we look at both sides of the carbon balance sheet, we see that, overall, methane emissions from ruminants are only one part of the footprint of agricultural production and that cattle and sheep farming, which have been central to our culture

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for millennia, play a positive role not only in enabling sustainable land use but in maintaining our carbon sinks, protecting biodiversity and creating livelihoods in rural communities.

Those issues are extremely pressing in Scotland, because livestock farming accounts for a high proportion of land use—significantly higher than in other countries of the UK. More than 82% of our agricultural land is grassland, some 70% of which is rough grazing. Those are huge carbon sinks—the Scottish Agricultural College estimates that they represent 80% of the UK’s carbon stocks—so the extent to which carbon sequestration takes place on grassland is very important. We do not yet have enough consistent evidence to reach definitive conclusions, but we know that changing the use of that land could have very adverse consequences, not just for greenhouse gas emissions but for biodiversity and the livelihoods of our farmers and rural communities.

In the past, I have heard simplistic arguments for switching from livestock to arable production, which is a total non-starter in most of Scotland. Some 85% of Scottish land is less-favoured area, and much of it, especially on higher ground, is not suitable for crops. Our climate, combined with marginal land quality, makes arable farming an unviable proposition in many parts of the country. As much of that land is a carbon sink, bringing grasslands and rough grazing into cultivation would, frankly, be destructive and irresponsible in climate and environmental terms; it would increase, not decrease, greenhouse gas emissions.

By contrast, a great deal can be done to maximise the sustainability of livestock farming without compromising livelihoods. Research by Scotland’s Rural College as part of the “Farming for a Better Climate” initiative shows there are lots of simple, practical steps that farmers can take to minimise and mitigate the impact of livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions, from how they manage grazing land to how they use fertilisers and manage waste and slurry; there is also the kind of energy, bedding materials and feed that they use, and even the breeds of sheep and cattle that they rear. Let us not forget that that account cannot end at the front gate—the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), who is no longer in his place, made a point about transport costs—it is also about other aspects of the supply chain, such as packaging and processing costs, all of which potentially have an environmental impact that can be reduced to bring better produce to consumers.

I represent a constituency famous for producing some of the finest beef anywhere in the world. Indeed, Buchan was known as the stockyard of Britain in the days when we still had trains. We are proud of the beef and lamb that we produce in the north-east, but livestock numbers have fallen across Scotland in recent years. As several colleagues from Northern Ireland have said, this has not been an easy time for livestock farmers, who face a range of challenges that are outwith the scope of today’s debate.

When people stop farming, the land stops being stewarded and communities start to diminish. Before we make rash policy decisions, it is important that we have a much better understanding of the role of carbon sequestration. We do not have enough of an evidence base yet, but policy should be based on knowing what we are dealing with and how we can best use our land sustainably. We should recognise that livestock farming

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is one of the most sustainable ways to manage, maintain and steward grassland and land that is not suitable for cultivation.

I hope the Minister will take on board the all-party group’s concerns about the methodologies used by DEFRA to measure the climate impact of beef and lamb production. I also hope he will recognise the contribution that cattle and sheep farming make to sustainable land management, food security, biodiversity and the well-being of our rural communities.

3.10 pm

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford)—I very much enjoyed her speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on calling the debate.

I should mention that I keep Hereford cattle, which are the finest, tastiest, most adaptable and most popular breed in the world—no need for any of these Welsh Whites.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bill Wiggin: I would be delighted to give way after challenging the hon. Gentleman.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Welsh Whites are a very small breed, with little panda eyes that look up at you. It would be very difficult to eat them, because they are gorgeous little creatures.

Bill Wiggin: It is difficult to justify having these wonderful animals if they have no purpose. One key point is that if we did not have a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, largely from meat, it would be hard to justify having these wonderful breeds, from many different parts of the United Kingdom, which would be a great loss.

There are two primary causes of climate change: one is chopping down trees in our rain forests to plant soya beans, and we are doing what we can to mitigate the impact of that industry; the other is emissions from the front and the back of the cow, which release methane into the atmosphere. While the emissions from our cattle are regrettable, we have taken steps to control the phenomenon, and we are currently taking further action.

A report called “The English Beef and Sheep Production Roadmap—Phase 1”, from 2009, states:

“Steady improvements in beef and sheep production efficiency have taken place over the past decade, with 5% fewer prime animals required to produce each tonne of meat in 2008 than in 1998.”

Emission levels from British cattle have therefore been reduced due to lower cattle numbers.

Regardless of where the emissions come from, however, the inquiry undertaken by the all-party group has clearly highlighted the fact that there are specific issues surrounding the way in which we in England measure carbon emissions from grazing livestock on our farms. In some cases, we go so far as to disadvantage our farmers, our industry and even our country, in terms of its ability to meet the agricultural industry’s global targets. It is outrageous that there is no international consensus on sequestration,

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and I am sure the Minister will want to see one. Having a consensus is absolutely fundamental; indeed, there is an old saying: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” We have to move forward on that.

Britain excludes sequestration from its assessments, whereas France and Wales, which is next to my constituency, include sequestration. That means that when we make comparisons between the three countries and measure how close each is to reaching its targets, we in England find ourselves at a disadvantage. While the inquiry by the all-party group, which is led by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, has told us many things we already knew, it has also revealed sequestration to be the primary issue of contention.

England has one of the most efficient livestock production systems in the world, in the form of our rain-fed pastures. Yet, grazing cattle and sheep comes in for undue negative criticism, with the focus fixed firmly on emissions from animals. Those animals actually have a positive part to play in landscape management and the utilisation of land that cannot, as many colleagues have said, be used for arable crops. Many fellow Members would support us in the view that our sheep and cattle contribute meaningfully to our environment, and the all-party group report rightly acknowledges that. One of the contentions revealed by the report is that if we, like France and Wales, took such issues into account, our carbon footprint could be significantly lower, and our farmers would be at less of a disadvantage.

The report suggests we need more robust scientific evidence and data to move the debate forward constructively. National Farmers Union climate change adviser Dr Ceris Jones acknowledged that the report highlights the exclusion of sequestration from the majority of our calculations of greenhouse gases. As the report recalls, “a number of witnesses” supported the idea that pasture land had the ability

“to sequester carbon from the atmosphere”.

It goes on to point to research being done in France by Professor Jean François Soussana on carbon sequestration, which may point to why several countries now include carbon sequestration in their calculations.

In my constituency, farming is a major employer and a huge part of the local economy. I therefore find very troubling anything that hampers my constituents or that might prevent their businesses from growing or from being as successful as they could be.

Carbon sequestration is set to be a significant issue for the industry, particularly because of the different attitudes towards it in different countries. As I explained, those differences could have a significant negative impact on our industry. If we could offset the methane emissions from grazing livestock, as happens in France and Wales, that could have a positive implication for our understanding of our livestock’s carbon footprint. Additionally, as the report explains, that

“would render the current PAS 2050 model incorrect and would mean we should move to a model closer to that used in France.”

Before such a drastic move is contemplated, and with the science unresolved, further investigation should, of course, be our first course of action. Dr Luke Spadavecchia, of DEFRA, has explained to the all-party group the complexity of the sequestration calculation. Even if

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the science on sequestration was unanimous, however, the inquiry would still have raised several valid and vital points on, for example, sustainability and the role our cattle and sheep play in feeding the world’s growing population.

Ultimately, there is still much debate to have on this matter. I hope the inquiry and our subsequent debate will enable us to find common ground so that we can move forward and give our farmers the best opportunity to succeed.

3.17 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke.

It is probably masochism that brings me here to debate with a room full of farmers. People are well aware of where I come from on this issue, but I hope to convince them that I am speaking not from an emotive perspective, but on the basis of a significant number of reports from eminent experts in the field, which have convinced me of the environmental danger posed by the livestock sector.

In 2009, I introduced a debate in Parliament on the environmental impact of the livestock sector—as I recall, it was just me and the then Labour Minister, who was not particularly impressed. [Interruption.] Actually, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) may have been there.

It is a shame that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) is not here, because he introduced the Sustainable Livestock Bill in Parliament a few years ago as a private Member’s Bill.

Neil Parish: When the hon. Lady refers to the dangers of livestock production, is she differentiating between grass-fed livestock on permanent pasture, which is good for the landscape and biodiversity, and other forms of livestock? It is an interesting point, and I would like her to clarify it.

Kerry McCarthy: I will get on to that in a moment. It was one of the first points I was going to make.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South is by no means a vegetarian—he enjoys eating meat—but he made a persuasive case at that time for looking at the environmental impact of the livestock sector. It is a shame that he could not be here, because he perhaps has more credibility on these matters than I do in the eyes of the farmers present.

However, let me turn to my first point and respond to the intervention from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). The problem with today’s debate is that it has, for understandable reasons, focused very much on farming in the UK. I understand that Members are keen to support the industry and the farmers in their constituencies, but that has led to a bit of a distortion, with a focus on grazing and grass-fed livestock, although I entirely agree that their environmental impact is less serious.

I had an interesting meeting with the Campaign to Protect Rural England on Friday and was told how in some areas of Wales the land previously used for sheep grazing was being used to grow blueberries, or given over to forestry, which were both more profitable. I accept that the areas at the top of the hill would not be

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suitable for that, but the CPRE made the case for alternative uses. Given the price of blueberries in the supermarket, perhaps people would gain from venturing into growing them.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have focused on local farming, but I think every one mentioned farming elsewhere in the world, where the impact and the carbon footprint are greater. Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that if livestock farming plays a role—and we believe it may—other countries need to do their part? Does she feel that that is something she should focus on?

Kerry McCarthy: I entirely support the move, if people are going to eat meat, towards locally-sourced, sustainable, grass-fed cattle. That is far more environmentally friendly, in view of issues such as food miles; and, in the case of organic meat, issues of pesticides and fertilisers are also addressed. I support that. It is not the ideal solution, but it is a lot better.

I had a piece published on the topic in the New Statesman last week; 97% of the world’s soya crop goes to farmed animals. As to the question of how to feed the world without a partly meat-based diet, it is estimated that we could eliminate most of the worst of world hunger with about 40 million tonnes of food, but at the moment nearly 20 times that—760 million tonnes—is fed to animals each year. My article was to an extent a criticism of the Enough Food IF campaign, which is about feeding the world and lobbying the G8 to address global hunger. The campaign criticises the fact that 100 million tonnes of crops go towards biofuels, and says that biofuels are a bad thing; but, as I have said, 760 million tonnes go towards feeding animals and it seems completely silent on that point. That needs to be addressed when we consider the devastation of the rain forest and its environmental impact.

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Lady is making an important point about the substitution of animal feed for human food, but she must understand that—even if the crop is wheat or soya beans—not all that food would be suitable for human consumption. Therefore, even in the ideal world that she hopes to live in, what she envisages would not mean we could not have animals.

Kerry McCarthy: I understand the nuanced argument that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but I still think that there is a compelling case, and I want to deal now with some reports.

It seemed to me that during the debate there was a herd of elephants in the room, which hon. Members were not mentioning. No reference was made to other very authoritative reports, which have said there is a serious issue to be addressed. In my 2009 debate, I cited the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation report of 2006, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, which makes compelling reading. It concluded:

“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

I will not cite all the figures that I quoted in my debate, because people will be familiar with the fact that it takes 8 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of beef.

Neil Parish: Will the hon. Lady give way?

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Kerry McCarthy: I do not think I can take any more interventions, because I suspect the winding-up speeches will begin soon, and I have been generous in giving way.

Raj Patel wrote in “Stuffed and Starved”:

“The amount of grains fed to US livestock would be enough to feed 840 million people on a plant-based diet. The number of food-insecure people in the world in 2006 was, incidentally, 854 million”.

I also cited figures about the water footprint. It takes 100 times as much water to produce 1 kg of beef as it does to grow 1 kg of vegetables. It takes 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce a single calorie of plant protein. It takes almost 21 square metres of land to produce 1 kg of beef, if we factor in animal feed, compared with 0.3 square metres to produce 1 kg of vegetables; I could go on. That was a 2006 report, but more recently Professor Mark Sutton, the lead author of a UN environment programme study published in February, entitled “Our Nutrient World”, called for people to become what he called demitarians, and eat half as much meat as they do now. He said:

“Unless action is taken increases in pollution and the per capita consumption of energy and animal products will exacerbate nutrient losses, pollution levels and land degradation, further threatening the quality of our water, air and soils, affecting climate and biodiversity”.

In 2009, a report was produced called “How Low Can We Go?”. It was co-authored by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Food Climate Research Network set up by Dr Tara Garnett, who is now at the university of Oxford. It gave scenarios in which cuts in food system emissions would mean we could reduce the total UK carbon footprint by 20%—that is, make a 70% cut in the UK food carbon footprint, which is currently about 30% of the UK total. It concluded: