Zero-hours contracts have shown themselves to be more open to abuse than regular permanent contracts. For example, some scheduling of work hours in the

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home care sector allowed no time for travel between home visits, leading to staff working considerably beyond their paid hours in some cases.

What will be crucial for workers is whether zero-hours contracts constitute an employment relationship. If there is an employment relationship, an employee on a zero-hours contract will acquire the same comparative rights as other employees. If there is a pattern of regular work that is regularly accepted, it should be deemed that the contract is one of employment.

Employers should take heed because zero-hours contracts can work against them. They damage the employer’s ability to attract and hold on to high-quality staff. They also damage their ability to provide continuity and quality of services. Zero-hours contracts are simply not compatible with developing a professional work force and delivering quality services.

Let me give a few examples. The G4S security fiasco just before the start of the London 2012 Olympics, when the firm was unable to meet its contracted staffing requirements, is an example of how zero-hours contracts can be a disaster. In my constituency, Amazon outsources hiring at peak times of the business year to private employment agencies that offer zero-hours contracts. The result is that many subcontracted employers end up in employment disputes that hit the headlines and ultimately reflect on Amazon and its business. I call on Amazon to distance itself from such contracts, even if it is associated with them only at arm’s length, and to give clear direction to its subcontractors. Amazon does not want zero-hours contracts offered to its temporary staff.

It would be far less damaging for employees and employers if permanent contracts were offered specifying a minimum number of hours per week. For thousands of workers across Scotland and the rest of the UK, life on a zero-hours contract means they are living their life permanently on call, uncertain whether they can secure enough working hours each week to pay the bills.

The forward march of zero-hours contracts is likely to have profound implications for the UK economy, as well as for the individuals on those contracts and for the services that those people provide.

Nia Griffith: Does my hon. Friend think there is scope for using procurement to force those who supply public sector—Government and local authority—projects to ensure that the workers they employ are not on zero-hours contracts?

Mr McKenzie: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an important point: procurement can be used to stipulate terms and conditions. We should stipulate that zero-hours contracts are not welcome in any procurement contract.

As I said, the erratic income stream that often comes with zero-hours contracts can make it difficult to manage household budgets, to juggle family and caring commitments and to access tax credits and other benefits. It is clear that the supposed flexibility that these contracts provide comes at far too high a price for the overwhelming majority of those who are employed on them.

Robert Flello: As well as the damage and exploitation experienced by the individuals concerned, is not the taxpayer, through working tax credit and the like, effectively subsidising the profits of these private companies?

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Mr McKenzie: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a good point: the taxpayer is subsidising these companies. Increasingly, there is a race to the bottom in terms and conditions in services.

I am led to believe that the Government have acknowledged the need for reform, and a review will report in the autumn. However, I fear that it is unlikely to lead to an outright ban on zero-hours contracts and that it will not be the precursor of a much-needed agenda for promoting fair and full employment. None the less, thousands of people across the UK hope that the Government will, at a minimum, recognise the indisputable case for introducing more stringent safeguards to provide greater certainty and security for the growing numbers who work on these contracts. It is almost as though we have gone back in time to a scene from “On the Waterfront”. I have witnessed people turning up at factory gates and being chosen for a shift, while others are turned away and told to come back the next day. Those are simply not the employment contracts or practices that we need for the 21st century.

3.16 pm

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) on bringing this subject to the Chamber. It is essential that such debates take place, because many of the people we are discussing do not have a voice in society.

I am overwhelmed by the absence of Government Members. I am really disappointed, to say the least, that not even one Conservative MP is in the Chamber to listen to some of biggest concerns that affect some of the least well-off people in society. The zero-hours contract is the scourge of the working poor. It has trapped many people in an employers’ paradise; it is a charter for legal abuse, as we have heard in many fine contributions today; and it needs to be stamped out.

Some 8% of workplaces now use zero-hours contracts. Interestingly, 85% of the people employed on those contracts work in the private sector. The Government tell us almost hourly, “We’ve disposed of many jobs in the public sector, but look how many we’ve created in the private sector.” Well, if this is the type of job they are proud of, they really need to look at this, because these are not jobs in reality. What is happening to many people on zero-hours contracts is an absolute scandal.

People on zero-hours contracts receive lower gross weekly wages—an average of £236 a week, compared with £482 for those who are not on zero-hours contracts. On average, therefore, those who are on zero-hours contracts receive less than half the pay of those who are not. Workplaces that utilise zero-hours contracts have a higher proportion of staff on low pay—between the national minimum wage and £7.50 an hour—than those that do not. Those employed on zero-hours contracts also work fewer hours—an average of 21 hours per week—than those who are not, who work an average of 31 hours per week.

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC has said:

“Employers know they can get away with advertising zero hours jobs because there are so many jobseekers hunting too few vacancies.

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With the tough times set to continue, now is the perfect time for the government to be reviewing— and hopefully regulating—the increasing use of these exploitative contracts.”

In my constituency, 26 people are applying for every job at the jobcentre. That is an absolute outrage. A lot of those jobs involve zero-hours contracts. People are really excited if they get the opportunity to work one or two hours a week, yet in the statistics that is counted as employment. That is outrageous.

Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer, said:

“A zero hours Britain is a zero-rights Britain in the workplace—Beecroft by the back door. Being at the boss’s beck and call is no way to build a skilled, committed, loyal labour force.”

I do not agree with the Liberal Democrats that much—hardly ever—but I agree with that comment. It spells out neatly and concisely exactly what zero-hours contracts are all about. As my hon. Friends have said, they give no guarantee of regular earnings, which leads to huge problems in meeting energy, food and clothing bills, and people have no way to plan their future. The need to respond to calls, frequently at short notice, to obtain work absolutely disrupts any type of social or family life. It causes problems with the kids and with everyone involved, because people on those contracts cannot plan anything at any time, yet they are paid nothing for the privilege. We need to look at that situation.

There is much more that I would like to say. Just before I came in I met someone from Nacro, who explained that there are probation officers who work on a proper, 37-hour contract, and who at night time are given zero-hours contracts. They work two separate contracts, which is causing chaos, but the probation service does not need to pay overtime and extra payments. That practice will spread through society, and it is unacceptable.

I agree with my hon. Friends who have said that the practice of giving zero-hours contracts should be outlawed. Okay, there is a review, but it must outlaw them. Let us be fair to people, respect people, look at how they want to work and give them working opportunities that they can be proud of and plan their lives around, so that they can secure their future. Zero-hours contracts are the sort of thing that should not be allowed in civil society; but perhaps we do not live in a civil society.

3.22 pm

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my fellow north-east England MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), on securing this long overdue debate.

At a time when unemployment is persistently high—and nowhere more so than in north-east England—the Government still refuse to listen to Opposition calls for a compulsory jobs guarantee. The same Government are content to massage the unemployment and employment figures in whatever way possible, to give a very different impression of the challenges facing countless people. It is therefore all the more fitting that we are here today to discuss contracts that must be contributing in a substantial way to in-work poverty.

We all know that the bulk of jobs created under the Tory-Lib Dem Government are part-time and low paid, leaving families and individuals struggling to cope, while the Prime Minister boasts of the opportunities he has

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created for them. I am not too surprised that there is not a Conservative in the Chamber, and that the Conservatives have left a Liberal Democrat Minister and Parliamentary Private Secretary to answer today. However, the Prime Minister cannot throw a veil over the reality of worklessness and minimal or zero-hours contracts, whose numbers are growing daily, and which are often used as a mechanism to screw down wages, screw down people and screw down our country.

We need to take action to make sure that unscrupulous employers cannot take advantage of workers in what is already a tough jobs market, and to ensure fairness in the workplace and promote real job creation—of jobs that pay well while assuring security in the workplace and shared prosperity. There is no doubt that employers seek increasingly flexible staffing structures and many are adopting zero-hours contract arrangements to avoid agency fees and to sidestep the Agency Workers Regulations 2010.

The use of zero-hours contracts is, as many hon. Members have said, widespread across both public and private sectors. A survey by the Industrial Relations Service suggests that 23% of employers now include zero hours as an employment option. In public services, the care sector has been particularly vulnerable, with more and more such contracts. The situation is likely to worsen further under the NHS’s new commissioning arrangements, which do not guarantee providers with work, so that they in turn do not guarantee work to staff. That alarming trend has even spread into areas such as cardiac services and psychiatric therapy.

Some may say the employers cannot be blamed, but I do not care who is blamed: no one should have to suffer the indignity of a contract under which it is possible for no work at all to be provided. In figures from the national minimum dataset for social care, it is estimated that 150,000 domiciliary care workers alone are employed on zero-hours contracts. Statistics released last week by the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) suggest that 307,000 people in the social care sector, or 20% of the work force, are employed in that way. Within the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS foundation trust alone—that is the one that serves my area—there were 786 zero- hours or casual contracts in operation in April 2013, 682 of which were for clinical positions. I acknowledge that some of those may cover people with other roles, elsewhere and within the trust, but I still think it is a scandal that we are trying to provide care on that basis—even if it does afford the employer flexibility to fill gaps.

Elsewhere, in the worst scenarios, zero-hours contracts can result in some of the most vulnerable people—who care for other vulnerable people—being unfairly treated owing to a lack of proper protections. Recent work by the Resolution Foundation indicates that those who are employed on zero-hours contracts work fewer hours than those who are not, averaging 21 hours per week compared to 32 hours per week; and there is a gap of about £6 an hour, on average, between those who are on zero-hours contracts and those who are not. Not only does that put employees completely at the mercy of employers, presenting the opportunity for rogue employers to exploit workers; it also removes any semblance of the stability and certainty that must be central to rebuilding our economy and people’s lives.

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Robert Flello: I want to pick my hon. Friend up on a fact. He mentioned the difference in the number of hours, but I suggest there is not a difference. It is just that the people who are not on zero hours are getting those hours paid.

Alex Cunningham: Indeed. That is very much the case. It just worries me that although the average working week for people on those contracts may be 21 hours, for many people they mean zero.

Power imbalances operate in many workplaces, and workers who need a minimum number of hours a week to remain financially secure often find the uncertainty of working fluctuating numbers of hours tremendously tough. Similarly, some find their contractual situation becomes a device through which loyalty is used to determine future work load. In essence, the allocation of a favourable number of hours becomes reliant on such factors as previous flexibility and a willingness to accept all hours offered, as well as fickle aspects such as cordial relationships with line managers. Regardless of how good a worker someone is, if their face does not fit, their zero-based contract may mean just that—zero. The repercussions that are used to sanction employees who are deemed to have stepped out of line should be better regulated to ensure fairness in the workplace. It is time that safeguards against exploitation were re-examined and bolstered to achieve a balance of power.

Before the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999, zero-hours contracts were often exploited to clock off workers during quiet periods, while retaining them on site to allow for a rapid return to work. That down time was largely unpaid, and was grossly unfair to employees. Under the previous Labour Government, action was taken to protect the interests of workers and stop that abuse. We cannot and must not go backwards on these issues. We need a Government who will take more action now. If we must have such things as zero-hours contracts, we need to ensure that they are properly regulated to maintain an individual’s freedom to contract on favourable terms, with some form of guarantee that they have a job worthy of the name.

3.28 pm

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, for the first time but not, I am sure, the last. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) on securing the debate, and on her excellent opening speech. I should like to say that we are having a debate this afternoon, but it seems only the Labour party really cares about the issue. There is not a single Conservative MP in Westminster Hall this afternoon. I am glad to see the Minister, and am also happy that the Government will undertake a review of the worrying rise in zero-hours contracts.

I wish to associate myself with many points that have already been made—it is always difficult going last in such debates—but I want, in particular, to agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central about the flexibility of such contracts being a one-way street. The flexibility is all to the advantage of the employer and to the detriment of the

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employee. The worker is left waiting for a call and is on call, not knowing from one day to the next, or from one week to the next, whether they will get any hours at all. These contracts do not even provide a guarantee of any hours, and therefore, they have been named zero-hours contracts. In many cases, workers are desperate to increase the number of hours they work, and many of them are on very low incomes. These contracts seem extremely exploitative and make the lives of some of the poorest in society even harder.

I am particularly concerned about three groups of workers who the contracts seem increasingly to affect: the first is young people; the second is care workers, as some of my colleagues have discussed; and the third is public sector workers, which is worrying, because even though the majority of such workers are in the private sector, the use in the public sector seems to be increasing. It must be in the Government’s power to do something about that.

Research suggests that one in three people employed on zero-hours contracts is aged between 16 and 24. It is absolutely devastating to be unemployed at such a young age and to be only able to get a contract of work that does not guarantee any hours at all. The fact that this exploitative arrangement is the first experience that a young person could have of work seems totally unacceptable and unfair.

Andy Sawford: My hon. Friend makes a really important point about the particular impact on young people. I hear from young people who feel that they have had no training and no investment from their employer, because there is no incentive to do so when they are in such fragile, short-term employment.

Emma Reynolds: The Government need to look at the issue even more closely and consider whether the practice should be banned, for young people, in particular, but for all workers.

I turn to the issue of care workers. As has been mentioned, a report by Unison found that 40% of home care workers are employed on zero-hours contracts, and that number is thought to be on the rise. Home care workers play an incredibly important role in our society, especially given that we have an ever-increasing ageing population. They are saving the state money by ensuring that elderly people can stay in their homes and live there, rather than in a care home, and they are ensuring that elderly people are not in hospital. I am particularly concerned about reports suggesting that those workers are not being paid for travel time between visits. It seems that that must be, in some way, illegal—how can it be legal? In winding up, if the Minister has time, I would like her to comment on that point. If they have not been guaranteed a minimum wage for the real hours that they are working, have their minimum wage rights been breached? Is the employer, in such cases, in breach of the European working time directive?

Finally, let me say something about the public sector, because the contract is not unique to carers. We are seeing the increasing use of such contracts in all parts of the public sector, whether in the health service or elsewhere. In the health service alone, workplaces using zero-hours contracts rose from 7% in 2004 to 13% in 2011. Central Government have also been found to be using zero-hours contracts. As has been suggested, local government

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contracts seem to be driving the rise of these exploitative contracts. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central suggested that it is going on here in the House of Commons, too, and I would like the Minister to address that issue specifically.

Will the Minister reassure Labour Members, who are concerned about this injustice, that the review that the Government are conducting will look at exploitative practices by employers? Will the review consider how many of the workers who have had those contracts are low paid, and will it consider banning the contracts? Will she say whether central Government will take a leading role in getting rid of the contracts from their own payroll and do something to discourage, dissuade or even sanction local government if, when contracts are issued, conditions are not in place in the contracts to stop this kind of exploitative practice?

Our debate is timely, because the use of zero-hours contracts can be seen in a wider context of rising inequalities. Regrettably, inequalities in income are increasing, and the gap between rich and poor is widening. The Government are only exacerbating that. Living standards have been frozen, or in some cases, have declined for many lower and middle-income workers. The mean family income in 2015 will have the same worth as in 2002. For the first time in generations, parents are concerned and expect that their children will be worse off than them. The increasing use of zero-hours contracts in the private and public sectors is only exacerbating those inequalities, and I would like the Government to do something about it.

3.35 pm

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Dorries—no doubt there will be many more times to come. I pass on my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), whose speech was fantastic. Not only today, but every day that she has been in Parliament she has been championing the rights of people on zero-hours contracts, and it is important for her to have led today’s debate.

Although a small number of people use and like the contracts, we have heard, from all Opposition Members, about people who have gone to their constituency surgeries with examples of where the contracts are not appropriate. It is a shame that we cannot take a vote today, because we might win it, given who is here this afternoon. Of course, the aim of a zero-hours contract is to deflect from giving anyone pay; it is not just about hours. When an employer is looking at putting together a zero-hours contract, it cannot only be about the work available. It must be about reducing the wage bill and ensuring that there is no pay.

Nia Griffith: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is sometimes an irony in the use of agency workers, whereby the workers get paid very little and are second-class citizens, compared with the permanent employees, but, in fact, the firm gets ripped off because of the agency fees?

Ian Murray: That is a good point. We should have another Westminster Hall debate on the agency issue, in terms of how that all fits together. It is not only about zero-hours contracts, as there is a tapestry of problems in the employment industry that are worth looking at.

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Many hon. Members—including my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), who always speaks very passionately about such issues—have said that people get no pay and no hours. People sometimes go to great expense to turn up at work. They arrange child care and sometimes they do not even get a call to say they have got hours—actually, sometimes they do not even get a call. I have a screen grab here from someone’s iPhone, where a message says, “You’re not needed today.” That is all it says. It was sent at 12.40 in the afternoon, so they sometimes do not even get a call from their employer to say they are not required.

Many Members have spoken about the increasing numbers of contracts, so I will not run over that again. However, I would like to concentrate on the law behind the issue. A body of law sets out what someone is classified as when they are at work. They are either an employee, a worker, or self-employed. We shall set aside the fourth, new category of someone who is an employee shareholder, as that is a different debate altogether. If we look at those three categories, it is clear what someone who is self-employed is. There is a whole body of case law about what the definitions of an employee and a worker are. Many would argue that someone on a zero-hours contract is, in fact, a worker, but that worker needs to have some kind of mutuality of obligation, and there cannot be a mutuality of obligation if the worker has to turn up for work at their expense, but the employer has no need to give them any hours. That does not seem to me to be any sort of mutuality.

Andy Sawford: I agree that the important point about an employment contract is that there must be a mutuality of obligation, but the contract also must impose an obligation on a person to provide work. Therefore, I cannot understand why it is not unlawful as it stands, in the current body of law.

Ian Murray: There is an argument about whether zero-hours contracts are currently unlawful, but mutuality of obligation is case-law terminology and is therefore not written in statute. That is how, over many years, the case law has built up about the definition of employment tribunals, in terms of whether someone is in work or, indeed, whether they are a worker, an employee or self-employed. So there is a definition. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck has said that what we are talking about is not a job. It perhaps is not a job. It cannot be right for people to be in this situation and not end up with any hours.

Let us consider some of the damaging effects. For staff, zero-hours contracts have huge drawbacks compared with permanent regular work. There is no guaranteed level of regular earnings that provides any certainty with regard to meeting bills, meeting rent or planning for the future. The need to respond to calls to attend work, frequently at short notice, disrupts life outside work and places a particular strain on families in terms of arranging care for dependants. The Government have put a heavy emphasis on being family-friendly, but we have yet to see any evidence of that. Zero-hours contracts fly in the face of the flexible working legislation that the Minister, to be fair to her, has pushed through and championed in government. They slightly contradict that aspect of employment.

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There is a detriment to business as well. That is why I cannot see why business wants to use zero-hours contracts, particularly in some of the areas that have been spoken about. There must be reputational damage to employers who use these contracts. There must be an inability to attract and to retain high-quality staff. There is undoubtedly a direct correlation between continuity and the quality of the services involved. Some hon. Members have spoken clearly about health and social care and how continuity and quality of services are significantly affected. A loss of training and skills development tends to accompany zero-hours contracts, particularly if people have to pay for their own training, which is a huge issue with these contracts.

There is an overarching ethos and ideology. The Government have a one-track mind on this issue. They look at regulation and employment law as a burden on business. We have seen that with the Beecroft report. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck used the phrase “Beecroft by the back door”—we have copyrighted that now. This is Beecroft by the back door. There are all these ideological moves, in terms of the legislative programme that the Government are pushing through at the moment, that are simply an attack on workers’ rights and the ability of people to earn a living. Their central argument about removing workers’ rights in order to encourage businesses to grow surely cannot be right. It flies in the face of the evidence. Let us say that we accept that the Government have created 750,000 private sector jobs in the past two years as a fact, whether it is challengeable or not. Those jobs have been created under the current framework of employment rights, so that flies in the face of what they are saying.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): I apologise to fellow hon. Members for not being able to be here at the start of the debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that good regulation could protect employers who do not want to see this sort of practice? It could prevent a race to the bottom, which is what I think we are seeing in the care sector.

Ian Murray: That is a valuable intervention because that is what many employers are telling us and what many business organisations are saying: when we undermine workers’ rights, we are undermining as well the businesses that are looking after their staff. I ran my own business before coming into this place. Any business person—any person running a good business—gets up every morning of every day and wants to look after their staff; they know that their staff are their greatest asset. There is a danger here for the Government, and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), the Minister’s predecessor, said this quite clearly in a newspaper. Admittedly, it was six weeks before he got the job as the Minister responsible for employee relations, but he said that there was a real danger of undermining job security, which undermines consumer confidence, which sets us up in a spiral of economic decline.

Let me pick up some of the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central raised. She referred to the disproportionate effect on women. Clearly, we have to look at that. The explosion in the number of zero-hours contracts has had a disproportionate effect

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on women, and that is probably because of some of the sectors in which we have seen this, such as the care sector and the hospitality sector. These are industries with high percentages of female employees. It is difficult to know whether it is a response to demand for flexible hours, better enabling female professionals to return to work after maternity leave, but it cannot be viewed as a positive trend at a time when equality in the work force is becoming more vital than ever. The Government have to consider whether what is happening is consistent with some of the other policies that I have mentioned in relation to flexible working.

There is also the issue of tax credits. The Government have been very clear about resolving some of the issues in relation to welfare. Their view was that the tax credits bill was too high, but the tax credits system was put in place to ensure that work paid, so again the reality flies in the face of some of the rhetoric and ideology. How exactly does the working tax credit issue interact with some of these zero-hours contracts? How often should HMRC update its system for someone who is on a zero-hours contract? Must they be on a zero-hours contract for a certain number of months? What happens when they get an injection of hours at the last minute? How is all that put together? There are also issues in relation to Jobcentre Plus. If someone is on a zero-hours contract and by law they are neither an employee nor a worker, are they actually in employment; can they claim jobseeker’s allowance? All those issues must be dealt with.

We have heard about the number of staff in this place who are on zero-hours contracts. A press release was issued this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan). He said that 155 staff in this place were on zero-hours contracts. There are a number of case studies. This issue does not just involve the hospitality or care sectors. Edinburgh university, in my own constituency, has recently done an analysis that shows that 47% of lecturers in the college of humanities and social science are on zero-hours contracts, so there is a real problem there. I know that the University and College Union is taking it up with the university of Edinburgh.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the NHS, so I will not cause delay by making further comments on that, but may I turn to the Government’s recently announced review of zero-hours contracts? The announcement that the Secretary of State and the Minister were to look at this issue was very much welcomed. We must congratulate the Minister on at least going that far, but we need to know whether the Government will issue a call for evidence. Many trade unions have done so much work on this issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) mentioned USDAW. It has done a tremendous amount of work on pushing this issue forward. The Government really have to issue a call for evidence. I believe that their review involves only three officials in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so it would be good to issue a call for evidence.

Will the review consider the issues in relation to tax credits? Will it consider specifically the interaction of zero-hours contracts with young people and women in particular? The Minister may not be aware, but there was unanimous agreement from panellists at the Work Foundation’s recent conference on this topic that the

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review, in its current form, was too lightweight and would not provide the Government with the hard data that they needed to reform the system. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response.

You have heard from Labour Members, Ms Dorries, the real concerns about zero-hours contracts and the impacts that they have on family life, on income and on people’s ability to plan their daily lives. This is simply an issue of fairness. It cannot be right to demand that someone travels to their place of work and then tell them that they do not have any work. I will be very interested to see whether the Minister will put together a body of work that looks at the mutuality of obligation and whether this is a case in which someone is not an employee, a worker or self-employed and therefore is deemed to be unemployed.

3.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and to respond to what has been a lively and good debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) not only on securing it, but on putting the arguments in a straightforward but well researched way. Over a period certainly of months and quite possibly longer, she has been a real campaigner for and champion of these issues. It is a credit to her that she has persevered in raising them. I very much welcome the time and effort that she has already put into this issue and her bringing it to the House today to give us all the opportunity to discuss it and highlight some of the problems.

The turnout reflects the concern that many people feel about this issue. I will discuss later how the Government are looking at it, but such a debate can be incredibly helpful to bring forward Members’ contributions, which of course can feed into that information that the Government are collecting from other sources.

In basic terms, of course we understand that zero-hours contracts can work well for some people, giving them flexibility in the hours that they work. Equally, we are well aware that they do not provide the certainty that many people feel that they need. Those people need to know what they are going to earn, so that they can manage their finances and, indeed, their lives. Hon. Members have given many examples this afternoon, and the Department has received a number of letters that reflect some of the concerns. Hon. Members will also be aware of the media commentary and stories, some of which have been quoted today as well.

It is important to be clear: zero-hours contracts will suit some individuals, but not everyone. A range of problems has been raised today, such as people accepting a job under such a contract when it did not suit them because they felt that they did not have a choice.

Andy Sawford: Will the Minister give way?

Jo Swinson: I will give way, but I am keen to make progress, so that I can respond to the points raised in the debate; I hope that hon. Members will let me.

Andy Sawford: I thank the hon. Lady for being generous in giving way. Zero-hours contracts are welcomed by some only because they afford flexibility; it is the flexibility they want, not the zero-hours contract. We ought to make that distinction.

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Jo Swinson: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but for some people that flexibility is very much tied to the zero-hours contract, because they can work a significant number of hours some weeks and perhaps not at all other weeks. I shall give examples of people who that arrangement might suit. I appreciate that there are different ways to achieve flexibility, but zero-hours contracts are one such way, and if used properly, they do not need to be a problem. The hon. Member for Sunderland Central mentioned flexibility being a one-way street, which is a good way to put it. If there is only a one-way street, that suggests that the contract is not equal on both sides. Genuine two-way flexibility can work very well for employees and employers.

I was touching on some of the problems and areas where zero-hours contracts do not work well. Perhaps an individual took on such a contract but, because they had other work commitments, such as a part-time job or other responsibilities, had to turn down work fairly regularly, which leads to them not being offered work because they were seen as inflexible. That situation is a two-way street not working as a two-way street, which is not right. The hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) raised the case of a lady who had been told that if she did not work a particular set of hours, she would not get work in future. The hon. Lady mentioned the rather horrendous suggestion that the lady had to leave her children in a car park, and my heart goes out to someone in that situation. That scenario—an implied threat hanging over someone, if they do not take on particular work—is not right. On a zero-hours contract, the employee should be genuinely free to turn down work.

As has been mentioned, people rely on income to prove that they can take out a mortgage, for example, or to prove that they are able to make regular rental payments to rent a flat, so zero-hours contracts can be problematic, if people cannot prove that regular income. For those reasons, officials in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are looking into such contracts, to gather further information over the summer to better understand how they work and the issues involved. It is important that we establish what the problems are before we change policy.

Lots of figures have been mentioned today, particularly on the recent sharp increase in zero-hours contracts since 2004. Those figures are accurate, but it is important for context to point out that zero-hours contracts are not new. Hon. Members have talked about them today as if they are an evil invention of the current Government, but they have been around for many years. According to the graphs from the 2000 labour force survey, the overall number of people and the percentage of the work force using such contracts was slightly higher in 2000 than for the same quarter in 2012. I know Hansard does not allow graphs, but the graph shows that the use of zero-hours contracts was high in 2000, gradually reduced towards 2004 and has risen since then, with a couple of blips along the way where the graph is slightly spiky. That is the pattern, so, although the recent increase has brought some problems into sharp relief, these contracts are not a recent issue.

The Labour Government looked at zero-hours contracts. Their White Paper said:

“The Government wishes to retain the flexibility these contracts offer business and believes that the National Minimum Wage and Working Time Directive will provide important basic protections against some of the potential abuses.”

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Some of those abuses have been outlined today, and I will shortly come to the points raised, but it is important to challenge the assumption that such contracts are always a bad thing. They can be helpful if an individual and an employer genuinely want to come to an agreement about a contract. For students, who might not be able to commit to a fixed work pattern due to their timetables, zero-hours contracts may be helpful in giving them good work experience. They can also be useful for semi-retired people who want to work occasionally, but not on a fixed weekly basis. Zero-hours contracts are useful in some situations, but it is important that they are not abused.

The Government want to ensure that people on jobseeker’s allowance are in no way forced to apply for zero-hours contracts. I want to stress that that is not happening. It is not the case. There is no sanctioning of benefit if people do not apply for such jobs, because decision officers at the Department for Work and Pensions cannot mandate claimants to apply for them. If jobseekers wish to take one, they are free to apply, but the decision-maker guidance sets out clearly that

“if a claimant refuses or fails to apply for or accept employment that is for less than 24 hours a week, the claimant will have good cause”,

if that is the reason for not applying.

I shall turn to some specific points that Members raised. We will obviously work alongside the DWP in the Government review, to address the eligibility for support issues. Universal credit should make it easier for people to get Government support based on the number of hours they work, without, for example, the cliff edge of 16 hours, but we need to work closely with other Departments on that. The hon. Members for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) and for Sunderland Central and for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) raised the impact of zero-hours contracts on women. Resolution Foundation research shows that the use of such contracts is fairly evenly distributed between men and women: women have about 53% of the contracts and men have 47%, so the figures are perhaps not quite as skewed as suggested.

Alison McGovern: Will the Minister give way?

Jo Swinson: I am sorry, but I want to respond to the points raised.

The hon. Member for Sunderland Central mentioned living life on call. If an employee is on call at their place of work, they should be paid; the legislation is clear. Some of the cases raised today are breaches of legislation. I will come on to the pay and work rights helpline. The provisions in the working time regulations on breaks proportionate to the time spent working give some

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protection to workers. Although lunch breaks are not paid in zero-hours contracts, that does not mean that people should not get time to take a break at work, and the working time regulations set that out clearly.

Care workers not being paid for the time spent travelling between houses was raised. If care workers have wages deducted for that time or have to pay for photographs, uniforms and so on, they might be working for less than the minimum wage, particularly if they are not on a high wage. It obviously depends on the case. Employers of people who are very well paid may not be in breach of national minimum wage guidance and legislation, but where employers are in breach, I urge people to contact the pay and work rights helpline on 0800 917 2368 or search for “pay and work rights helpline” online. HMRC can enforce the legislation, and it takes breaches of national minimum wage guidance and legislation seriously. It is important that such cases are reported, because employers need to be taken to task if they are exploiting workers.

Four out of five people on zero-hours contracts are not looking for another job, which suggests that not everyone on such contracts is unhappy. There are clearly cases where that is the case, but the figures suggest that it is not true that people are trapped on the contracts. They can terminate the contract in the usual way. I agree with the hon. Member for Wigan that employers who abuse zero-hours contracts are likely to be poor employers, but “employers who abuse” is not the same as employers who use zero-hours contracts. There is a difference.

Various hon. Members mentioned a ban on zero-hours contracts. Although we need to look at the evidence, there are immediate challenges to that proposal. The hon. Member for Wigan mentioned small-hours contracts. If we ban zero-hours contracts, what would be the minimum—one hour, two hours, four hours, eight hours? If someone genuinely wanted to work for a small number of hours, should we stop them from being able to do so? When we look at the suggestion, it begins to unravel. It is useful to look at international examples, and the hon. Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) cited some.

Business, Innovation and Skills officials are speaking to a variety of stakeholders, including industry bodies that represent sectors where such contracts are used and trade unions, which, as was mentioned, have a lot of information, to examine the extent of the use and the abuse of zero-hours contracts. We will work with other Departments. There is no call for evidence at this stage, but we do not rule it out for the future. Research shows that doing our homework before issuing a call for evidence is useful. I welcome the interest the debate has sparked, and I am sure that we will return to the topic when we have the further information from the BIS fact-finding review.

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HMS Concord (Yangtze River Incident)

4 pm

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I am delighted to have secured this debate on what is an important topic to many people, and I hope that during the short time available we can provide some insight into the truth that the past 64 years have failed to reveal.

I would like to take right hon. and hon. Members back in time to 1949, to the Yangtze river of China during the Chinese civil war, and an historic event that has taken on the name “the Yangtze incident.” The event happened at a time when Great Britain was at peace, but it took us to the brink of a third world war. Much has been written about the incident, including a book that was made into a film, with Richard Todd in the starring role. Neither the book nor the film, however, comes anywhere near the truth of the story that is yet to be told.

This is not a story about one ship, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Amethyst, and her daring escape after three months’ incarceration by communist forces on the Yangtze river. It is the untold story of HMS Concord, a C-class destroyer that Commander-in-Chief, Far East Station, Admiral Sir E. J. Patrick Brind deployed into China’s Yangtze river as part of his endeavour to bring about the escape of HMS Amethyst.

I will first explain the position with regard to the civil war in China. Government policy at the time was governed by the Moscow declaration of December 1945, in which the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union declared a policy of non-intervention in China’s internal affairs. The known facts are that China was split into two warring parties, the Communist People’s Liberation Army, led by Mao Tse-tung, and the nationalist army, under the Kuomintang. As the Chinese civil war raged on, the communists began to make headway on the shores of the Yangtze river near the city of Nanking, and warned that any foreign ships in the river would be attacked. Right hon. and hon. Members might wonder what the importance of that is, and the answer is simple: it endorses the fact that the Yangtze river was a known war zone.

I said at the outset that I would like to take us back in time. The date was 20 April 1949. A British warship, HMS Concord, was stationed at Nanking, to act as guard ship to the British embassy and to evacuate staff and other British nationals if necessary. She had been there for some time, and her relief was long overdue and her stores depleted. The relief ship was His Majesty’s Australian Ship, Shoalhaven, which was at Shanghai and should have relieved HMS Concord on 16 April. The relief did not take place; the Shoalhaven was stood down.

HMS Amethyst, en route to Nanking up the river Yangtze to relieve the guard ship HMS Concord, came under heavy fire from the north bank. At nearby Rose island she ran aground, was severely damaged and suffered heavy casualties, with more than 50 members of the crew killed, dying or seriously injured. The captain was mortally wounded and the first lieutenant, though wounded, took command. The communists continued to fire at Amethyst and, to save further loss of life, about 60 lightly wounded and uninjured crew

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members were evacuated ashore, but further evacuation stopped when those in the water came under fire. Those put ashore eventually arrived in Shanghai and were treated in hospital.

At this juncture, it should also be remembered that before all of that two other ships, the frigate HMS Black Swan and the cruiser HMS London, were involved, along with HMS Concord, in an attempt to assist Amethyst’s escape. Due to the narrowness of the Yangtze river, none of the ships was able to manoeuvre and they were, in effect, sitting ducks for the communist field guns. All three ships suffered heavy damage and casualties in the attempts, and it was decided that to proceed further would be disastrous for them and their crews. The order was given to return to Shanghai.

On 21 April, HMS Amethyst was refloated, and on 22 April Lieutenant Commander Kerans arrived on board from Nanking, where he was assistant naval attaché, and took command. Amethyst remained incarcerated for 100 days, and the fact that HMS Concord entered the Yangtze to aid Amethyst in the aftermath of her escape has been denied. The involvement of HMS Concord was hidden or deleted from any public or official record.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this important debate. One of my constituents is a veteran sailor from HMS Concord, and his concern has always been that the Ministry of Defence denied that the ship was ever in the Yangtze. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Sir John Holmes’s medal review, which acknowledges that the presence of HMS Concord is now no longer in doubt, goes some way towards proving that my constituent and other such gentlemen have, for many years, been right?

Graeme Morrice: Yes, indeed. I accept that point, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I know that she has a personal interest in the matter, particularly regarding the award of medals, and I will touch later on the Sir John Holmes review.

Concord’s logbook was removed, and without evidence to the contrary nothing could be proven, until now. Despite efforts to prevent the truth from emerging, personal accounts of HMS Concord’s part in the events, given by my constituent Mr William Leitch of Livingston and members of the HMS Concord Association, provide an overwhelming insight into the risks that Concord was subjected to when ordered into the Yangtze river. Mr Leitch has been in touch with me on the issue over the three years since I was elected to Parliament, and he is delighted that I am able to have this Adjournment debate. He will no doubt be watching live on the internet.

What follows has always been denied by the Government, the Foreign Office and the Admiralty. When it was obvious that negotiations for a safe passage downriver were leading nowhere, Lieutenant Commander Kerans informed Admiral Brind in a coded signal that he planned to break out that evening. Admiral Brind, without reference to the Admiralty or the Foreign Office, signalled to HMS Concord, which was patrolling in the South China sea, to proceed upriver to meet Amethyst and, should the Woosung forts open fire, Concord was to return fire in support of Amethyst. When Amethyst made her escape on the night of 30 July 1949, one other ship, the destroyer HMS Concord, entered the Chinese

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territorial waters of the Yangtze to escort and cover the ship past the massive guns of the Woosung forts, which were the last obstacle before reaching the open South China sea.

The duty quartermaster was ordered to go around the ship and tell everyone, by word of mouth—not piping it over the tannoy as the sound would carry over the water and could alert the enemy—that the ship would up anchor and proceed upriver. The Concord was challenged by a nationalist gunboat and ordered not to travel any further. Stopping until the nationalist ship had left the vicinity, the Concord then sailed past the heavily armed Woosung forts to meet Amethyst. At the forts, Concord, on sighting Amethyst, sent the signal, “Fancy meeting you here”, to which Amethyst replied,

“Never, repeat never, has a ship been more welcome.”

Lieutenant Commander Kerans then signalled Admiral Brind, with a copy to the Admiralty:

“South of Woosung… Have rejoined the fleet… No damage or casualties… God save the King.”

Having passed the Woosung forts without their opening fire, the Concord, still in the Yangtze river, transferred supplies and 147 tons of fuel to the Amethyst, which had only 7 tons left. Both ships made it into the neutral waters of the South China sea and set course for the British province of Hong Kong.

The Concord was soon met by HMS Cossack, whose captain boarded the ship, removed its log book and took with him any evidence of the Concord’s involvement. The move to expunge any mention of its involvement with Amethyst was in motion. Admiral Brind went public and informed the news media that he had decided to authorise and endeavour, despite the risk, to bring about HMS Amethyst’s escape from China’s Yangtze river.

Hon. Members may wonder why there was so much concern to hide the fact that Concord had dashed up the Yangtze to assist Amethyst. The answer is simple: to prevent an international incident when cold war tensions were high. Had the Communists been aware that Concord had gone to the aid of Amethyst and entered Chinese territorial waters, the political consequences might have been catastrophic. Admiral Brind going public on what amounted to a covert mission that he had authorised would obviously upset the diplomatic apple cart.

After Concord and Amethyst had cleared the Yangtze river into the open sea, Sir Ralph Stevenson, the British ambassador in Nanking, sent a telegram to the Foreign Office, with copies to the commander-in-chief Far East station and the Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Canton embassies. He stated:

“No repeat no publicity should be given to the fact that H. M. Ship Concord entered Chinese territorial waters… It might help to lessen the possible repercussions upon British communities in Communist occupied territory if public statements could stress that the escape of H. M. Ship Amethyst was due to the initiative of the officer in command in accordance with the best traditions of a sailor responsible for the safety of his ship and the welfare of the ship’s company and that his intention to do so was not revealed to any of us out here.”

In other words, “If the balloon goes up and politically everything goes pear-shaped, we blame Lieutenant Commander Kerans and hang him out to dry.”

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That telegram removed any official mention of the Concord’s involvement in the Yangtze incident. The move to expunge any mention of Concord’s involvement with Amethyst was going full speed ahead. Although Admiral Brind had ordered Concord to enter the Yangtze and escort Amethyst past the Woosung forts, he had no alternative but to comply with Ambassador Stevenson’s instructions. Consequently, a press release was issued and this report appeared in the Evening News on Saturday 6 August 1949:

“A Navy spokesman stated that the destroyer Concord had been waiting at the mouth of the Yangtze and was prepared to go up river to the aid of the Amethyst if needed”.

It is clear from the evidence that on the date and at the time that Admiral Brind gave the order, he committed HMS Concord and the ship’s company to a situation in which the risk to life and limb exerted by enemy forces was significantly above what UK armed services personnel might routinely be expected to tolerate. In recognition of the action, the officers and ship’s company of HMS Amethyst, together with those who served on three other Royal Navy ships that took part in the early stages of the incident, were awarded the Yangtze 1949 clasp to the Naval General Service Medal 1915.

I am concerned that that aspect of the incident is being sidelined. The committee responsible for compiling the 1949 Yangtze campaign awards scheme—the Sir John Holmes review—was not invited to look into HMS Concord’s role in the incident covering the dates from 28 to 31 July 1949. In other words, officially Concord was not there. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate how frustrating that is. The Minister should understand the strength of feeling behind the Concord veterans’ claim that they should be eligible for the NGSM Yangtze 1949 clasp.

The unrecognised heroes of the Yangtze incident—victims of Government skulduggery—are not claiming heroism or bravery; they simply believe that some official recognition should be instituted. Today, a large question mark hangs over the Yangtze incident. I fear that it appears to have been a cover-up that may be ongoing to this day. Indeed, this debate may already have some people cringing in high office within the Government and the Admiralty.

To sum up, for 64 years the true story of HMS Amethyst’s dramatic escape from China’s Yangtze river has been suppressed. The House may now wish to have a full account of the circumstances in which His Majesty’s ships were fired on in the Yangtze river with grievous casualties and damage. I urge the Government to abandon diplomatic caution and investigate the circumstances in the process of awarding medals to those involved in the Yangtze campaign and, in particular, investigate whether the process was corrupted by the exclusion of relevant and important documents relating to the role of HMS Concord in the Yangtze campaign on 30 and 31 July 1949.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to offer and, perhaps more importantly, to whether he can confirm that the Government will conduct a review with due diligence and propriety. The House deserves to be told the truth and given an accurate account of HMS Concord’s role in the 1949 Yangtze incident.

4.16 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

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4.38 pm

On resuming—

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr Mark Francois): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Ms Dorries.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice) on securing this Adjournment debate, and I thank him for providing me with an opportunity to speak on this matter. I will try to make the Government’s position clear.

I will begin by speaking briefly about the Yangtze incident, drawing on the official accounts from the time. On 20 April 1949, HMS Amethyst was sailing up the river Yangtze to relieve HMS Consort, which was stationed at Nanking as the guard ship for the British embassy during the Chinese civil war. While en route, HMS Amethyst came under fire from a communist gun battery. Amethyst returned fire, but shells hit the wheelhouse and the bridge, killing or injuring everyone except the Yeoman of Signals. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Skinner, was mortally wounded and later died ashore. The damage to the wheelhouse had jammed the steering gear and the ship ran aground. Unfortunately, the doctor and a sick berth attendant were also killed when the quarterdeck was hit. HMS Amethyst continued to return fire with the only one of her three twin-mounted guns that could be brought to bear on the battery.

On receipt of Amethyst’s signal that she was aground and under fire, HMS Consort sailed from Nanking and reached the Amethyst at 1500 hours. Consort also came under fire and sustained casualties. Consort’s captain decided that it would be impossible to take Amethyst in tow, and Consort continued down the Yangtze.

On 21 April, HMS London and HMS Black Swan were ordered up the Yangtze to aid Amethyst. Both ships came under fire at point blank range: London was repeatedly hit and holed in her superstructure and bridge. The Chinese pilot was killed, the navigating officer mortally wounded, bridge communications were cut, five fires were started and numerous casualties were sustained. The ships were ordered back down the river. On her way down, London’s fire on the Communists was effective but she was fired at again and suffered more casualties.

On the evening of 21 April, a Royal Air Force Sunderland flying boat alighted near the Amethyst and succeeded in transferring an RAF medical officer and medical supplies, before being forced by gunfire to take off again. Around the same time, the British naval attaché, Lieutenant Commander Kerans, took command of the Amethyst and started negotiations with the Communist authorities.

During these initial two days, the Royal Navy suffered three officers and 42 ratings killed, and seven officers and 104 ratings wounded. Amethyst remained under the guns of the People’s Liberation Army for 10 weeks, with vital supplies being withheld from the ship.

In late July, Lieutenant Commander Kerans decided to break Amethyst out of the location where she had been since 20 April and to regain the open sea. On the evening of 30/31 July, taking the opportunity of a dark night and a favourable tide, the ship slipped anchor and, following the passenger ship Kiang Ling Liberation,

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sailed down river. The shore batteries opened fire once again. HMS Concord was ordered up the river to provide assistance and, if necessary, fire support.

Concord’s ship’s log for July 1949, which is available at the National Archives at Kew—I have a copy with me this afternoon—shows that on the evening of 30 July she was at 10 minutes’ notice for steam, later reduced to two hours’ notice. At 0145 hours on the morning of 31 July, she moved to a position ready to proceed up the river and at 0345 hours she weighed anchor and proceeded into the river. After sailing 57 nautical miles, she sighted Amethyst at 0525 hours. Concord turned round and provided escort as the two ships passed down river. This manoeuvre was successful and from the time Concord sighted Amethyst there was no enemy action and both ships returned safely. As her log records show, Concord stood down from action stations at 0715 hours, and at just after midday the main engines were switched off. As the hon. Gentleman rightly reminded us, at the mouth of the river, Lieutenant Commander Kerans sent the following signal from Amethyst:

“Have rejoined the fleet south of Woosung, no damage or casualties. God Save The King.”

A number of veterans of the Yangtze incident have been campaigning for several years for an independent review of the policy and for the award of the Naval General Service Medal with clasp Yangtze 1949 to HMS Concord’s ship’s company. The hon. Gentleman is a strong and vocal supporter of those veterans, as demonstrated by today’s proceedings, and a while ago he wrote to my predecessor about this subject on behalf of one of his constituents.

For many years, the policy of successive Administrations was that no consideration would be given to reviewing the qualifying criteria for existing medals more than five years after the events these awards were instituted to recognise. That general policy remains in place, but given the strong feelings of veterans from a number of campaigns regarding several medallic issues, the Prime Minister asked Sir John Holmes, a retired and respected senior diplomat, to conduct an independent, comprehensive military medals review. He was supported in this by Brigadier Brian Parritt CBE, retired. One element of Sir John’s work was a specific review of the eligibility of HMS Concord’s ship’s company for the Yangtze clasp, and what I say now draws heavily on his conclusions.

It is clear from contemporary documents that the Naval General Service Medal with Yangtze clasp was awarded for

“specified service and the exceptionally trying and dangerous conditions in which their duty was carried out by the Amethyst, Consort, London and Black Swan and those members of the Army and Royal Air Force who were involved in the short period 20 April to 22 April 1949”.

In considering this matter, the Holmes review accepted that HMS Concord did enter the Yangtze on 31 July 1949, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) and the hon. Gentleman said. For the avoidance of all doubt, I am happy to place that on the record this afternoon. While there, Concord met HMS Amethyst and escorted her out of the estuary. It is, of course, recognised that there was a degree of risk involved in this, given the shore batteries in particular. However, the ship’s log makes it clear that HMS Concord was not fired upon at any point.

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Graeme Morrice: Is it not officially recorded that the river was also mined and therefore that there was substantial risk to all vessels on the river?

Mr Francois: I am not denying that there was an element of risk involved in this, but it is nevertheless a matter of record that the other ships involved in the action were fired on by the Chinese shore batteries, and also a matter of record that Concord was not.

The independent Holmes review concluded that those making the decision in 1949 regarding eligibility for the medal would have been aware of Concord’s actions, but did not consider these sufficient in themselves to justify a recommendation of an award of the clasp to the ship’s company. If there was a wish to include Concord in the specified list, there was ample time to do so in August, October and November 1949, when the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals reviewed the qualifying criteria for the medal.

The Holmes review considered the award of the clasp to HMS Concord’s ship’s company thoroughly and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to show that the omission of the ship as a qualifying unit for the clasp was wrong or unreasonable, and that there was no new reason to overturn the original decision. Consequently, the review upheld the original position taken at the time. The review also concluded that there was no evidence to support claims that the ship’s company was overlooked deliberately, for diplomatic or political reasons. The findings have since been endorsed by the Honours and Decorations Committee, in late 2012, and Sir John wrote to Mr Peter Lee-Hale, the chairman of the HMS Concord Association, in January this year, setting out the reasons for his conclusions.

I am advised that for many years the men of HMS Concord wanted this position reviewed again by an independent authority—someone independent of the Ministry of Defence. The Holmes review has now taken place. It was an independent review that went back to the original documents at the time. As a result, I am reassured that this matter has now been subject to a comprehensive and thorough review by impartial authorities and, although I recognise the depth of feeling about this matter, well expressed by the hon. Gentleman, and fully acknowledge the efforts of the ship’s company, I can only reiterate that there are no plans, I am afraid, to reconsider the qualifying criteria for this medal.

I entirely accept that the hon. Gentleman is acting in good conscience, as are all those who advocate a change. I therefore recognise that the Government’s position, which I have re-stated today, will no doubt be disappointing for the veterans of HMS Concord and their families. However, the actions of Concord’s crew in 1949 have been brought to the public’s attention through the coverage of their long campaign for additional recognition. This debate will place another entry in the parliamentary record.

In conclusion, I wish to take this opportunity to once again pay tribute to HMS Concord’s contribution to the defence of our nation and to her crew, whose actions were fully in line with the proud traditions of the Royal Navy.

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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

4.49 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight how regional sympathetic dystrophy, now known as complex regional pain syndrome, affects those who suffer from it and to press for more research into the condition, so that a greater number of people may be properly diagnosed and treated. If Members forgive me, I will use the acronym CRPS throughout the debate for brevity and ease of description.

The earliest descriptions of CRPS apparently date back to the American civil war, but I became aware of it only through my constituent, Kevin Scardifield, who suffers from the condition. He contacted me because his experience of CRPS and the quality of care that he received led him to believe that there is neither an adequate understanding of the condition by NHS clinicians, nor good-quality care for sufferers such as him on the NHS.

Before I proceed, it might be helpful if I explain CRPS and its symptoms. The NHS Choices website describes CRPS as

“a poorly understood condition in which a person develops a persistent (chronic) burning pain in one of their limbs.”

It continues:

“The pain usually develops after an injury—which in most cases is a minor injury—but the pain experienced is out of all proportion to what you would normally expect.”

It is through an injury that my constituent developed the condition in 2009. He was undergoing carpal tunnel release surgery when the local anaesthetic failed to work and he broke his hand against the clamp when he jerked so hard because of the pain.

To give a full account of the symptoms experienced by sufferers of CRPS, I will quote directly from a letter that Mr Scardifield sent to me:

“The pain of this condition is so great that there are recorded cases of sufferers self-amputating in a desperate attempt to escape the excruciating agony. Others have had their circulation so badly damaged that they have developed gangrene and have had to have amputations to save their lives. In either case it has caused the condition to spread further into their bodies.

According to the…McGill Pain Index, it is the world’s most painful incurable condition; it is almost impossible for us to understand exactly how painful that is. Try and imagine a 3 bar electric fire with a metal grill—how long do you think you could hold your hand against the grill with one bar on? Now try and imagine that fire is inside your hand, one bar is a good day for a sufferer, three bars is a bad day and there is no off switch.

Try and imagine a pain so great and a grip so weak that you cannot pull open a packet of crisps yourself, a sneeze that turns into a scream of agony. Knowing that you will never be able to pick up and hold or play with your newly born child or grandchild because one hand is useless and they could cause your condition to spread or start somewhere new.”

My constituent recounts that his injury was missed, not only by the surgeon in subsequent visits but by the hand therapists in approximately 50 visits. Eventually, he was diagnosed as having CRPS following a referral to the hand therapy unit of Milton Keynes hospital.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter to the House for consideration. I have a great many constituents who

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have the problem, which concerns me. Does he believe there is now a greater need for doctors to be trained to tell the difference between fibromyalgia, which some people think CRPS is, and the actual disease itself? If so, does he think the NHS should initiate training among doctors and surgeons to ensure that that happens? Should there be more research on how the pain starts and where it comes from?

Iain Stewart: I have much sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says, and if he bears with me, I will address training and research funding a little later.

The NHS Choices website sets out the quality of care and treatment that CRPS sufferers should receive due to the complex nature of the condition. My constituent should have been provided with a care team comprising a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a neurologist, a psychologist, a social worker and a pain relief specialist. He informed me that he has not received such care, as most health professionals whom he has encountered do not even know the condition’s acronym.

That leads me to my principal argument. If NHS clinicians do not sufficiently understand the condition, how will they be able to diagnose it properly and ensure that patients are adequately treated and cared for? The NHS Choices website says that it is hard to estimate exactly how common CRPS is because many cases go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. I think the hon. Gentleman was referring to that point.

My constituent contends that possibly 250,000 people in England have not been properly diagnosed. He is understandably impassioned about the issue and has been carrying out his own research using American sources—it appears more research is being conducted into the condition in America.

From my own research, I learned from one study that as many as one in 3,800 people in England may be affected by CRPS. Therefore, going by the 2011 census estimates, 14,000 people could either have been misdiagnosed or remain undiagnosed. Although that might appear to be a small number by comparison with my constituent’s estimate, it does not diminish the issue’s importance.

The core principles of the NHS state that good health care should meet the needs of everyone and should be based on clinical need. Kevin Scardifield is unable to do the everyday things that other people take for granted. He was a police officer before the onset of the condition—a profession he greatly loved but had to give up. So debilitating is the condition that, by the middle of last year, he had been able to leave the house only six times, which was just for a few yards to the GP.

I am sure that Members can appreciate why this is such an important issue and why Kevin Scardifield has been campaigning hard for proper diagnosis and treatment. Since he made me aware of the condition, I have made a number of representations to the Department of Health, the local hospital, the primary care trust—now the clinical commissioning groups—and even the Department for Work and Pensions.

I am grateful to the Minister and his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), for their replies to my constituent’s concerns when I brought them to their attention. Had my constituent felt that his concerns had been fully addressed, however,

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we would not be having this debate, so if the Minister will forgive me, I will raise a number of specific issues. First, as I have mentioned, people are either being misdiagnosed or remain undiagnosed because NHS clinicians do not appear to have sufficient awareness of the condition.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising the issue. Although I take an interest in health issues, CRPS is new to my attention. Only today, I was contacted by a lady from Leeds who is a sufferer, and listening to her story was very harrowing. Is my hon. Friend surprised, as I am, that there is only one specialist centre in the UK? That centre is in Bath, which is a long way from many places. If CRPS is diagnosed early, there is a high chance of it going into remission, which would be great for the NHS and, more importantly, for the patients involved.

Iain Stewart: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I suspect that if we spoke to all our colleagues we would find that they, too, have been contacted by constituents with this condition. One of the points that I will make in a few moments is on the need for greater research and specialist services, so that the types of benefit that he rightly describes can be identified and delivered.

Secondly, the number of people diagnosed with the condition is unknown. Indeed, the Department of Health has informed me that it does not hold such records. My constituent informs me that, in 2010, he was told by NHS Direct that just over 11,000 people had been diagnosed in the United Kingdom. In 2012, he came across some information in the CRPS guidelines prepared by the Royal College of Physicians that quoted research suggesting a higher incidence of CRPS in Europe. On the back of that, he again contacted NHS Direct, and this time he was informed that it had been ordered to stop keeping records and to delete existing ones, as that responsibility would be undertaken by the Office for National Statistics. The ONS, however, replied that no such responsibility had been passed to it. Will the Minister clarify that issue and assure me that there is a strategy in place adequately to capture the number of people being diagnosed with CRPS? Will he also look into claims that specialists are failing to highlight the seriousness of the condition, particularly its potentially degenerative nature?

Thirdly, there does not seem to be an agreed pathway within the NHS for the treatment and care of those diagnosed with the condition. If there is, it was not reflected in the care that my constituent received. Will the Minister ensure that all NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups follow the guidelines?

Fourthly, compared with the United States and other European countries, we are not doing enough to research the condition with a view to finding a cure and ensuring an improved quality of life for CRPS sufferers. While preparing for this debate, I observed that there was more information on the condition on US-based websites than on UK-based ones. I have also been unable to find UK charities or support groups for CRPS. Everyone can be proud of the fact that since the start of modern clinical trials, 39,179 trials have been made or are in progress to find a cure for cancer. The UK has carried out about 2,299 of them. The UK Charity Commission

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has 976 cancer charities on record, and the NHS spent more than £375 million between 2008 and 2012 on researching a cure for cancer. Clearly, that is a wonderful amount of research, but during the same period, only 76 trials on CRPS have been conducted worldwide. Holland, with a population of just over 16.5 million, has carried out three trials, and Switzerland, with a population of 8 million, has carried out two. The UK has a population of more than 60 million, yet I have been unable to locate a record of our carrying out any trials.

In addition, the NHS does not appear to have invested much in researching CRPS. I understand that one project was carried out last year in Bath, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) referred, but it was not aimed specifically at finding a cure, and it was funded by an American charity. Will the Minister look into funding for more UK research into the condition? Specifically, will he consider my constituent’s suggestion that a post be created within the Department of Health for a CRPS officer to liaise with specialist clinics around the world to collect, collate and disseminate papers and studies on the condition? My constituent explains that it would prove useful, as it was not until 19 years after the US first stated that guanethidine blocks were ineffective on RSD sufferers that our own specialists came to the same conclusion.

I hope that the Minister will address those matters when he replies, and I hope that this debate will help draw attention to this important issue, so that more people are properly diagnosed and adequately treated. I also hope that I have been able to do justice to the needs of sufferers such as my constituent. May I suggest that the Minister find time at some point in future to meet them, so that he can properly understand the sheer pain and agony that they face?

5.3 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Norman Lamb): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) on securing this debate on an issue of intense importance to people who suffer from complex regional pain syndrome. The condition can be debilitating, with a devastating effect on sufferers and their families. I know that there are those, including my hon. Friend’s constituent, who campaign tirelessly to raise awareness of the condition. The description that he gave of what people go through—attempts at self-amputation, for example—are unimaginable.

I pay tribute to Mr Scardifield for his persistent campaigning to raise awareness. It is highly laudable that he has chosen to campaign and maintain the pressure for increased understanding. The experience that my hon. Friend described—the diagnosis was missed by several clinicians, and there was no proper care team or personal care plan—is of concern. I am grateful to him for alerting me to the extent of the challenge faced by his constituent. One great benefit of Adjournment debates such as this is that they ensure that Ministers and officials focus on a particular condition that might not otherwise get the attention it needs. I am grateful for this opportunity. I hope that this debate will prove informative for those here who wish to learn more about the condition and be helpful to those affected, as

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I say more about the help and support that ought to be available for CRPS sufferers and the research into the condition that is currently under way.

Although it has been recognised as a medical condition for more than 100 years, diagnosing CRPS at its earliest stages remains a problem, as my hon. Friend rightly said, because it is often misdiagnosed or completely undiagnosed. The explanation is threefold. First, CRPS is relatively uncommon and patients do not routinely present to GPs with it. When the Department looked at the representations that we have received on the subject over the last few years, the number of individuals who have approached us is small. The fact that the condition is relatively uncommon and that GPs do not come across it that often creates a problem in terms of their capacity to diagnose it accurately.

Secondly, the range of symptoms associated with CRPS are shared with a number of other, more common conditions, so that when patients do present, they may not be correctly diagnosed in the first instance. Thirdly, there is no single diagnostic test that accurately identifies the condition; a diagnosis is made primarily by excluding other conditions with shared symptoms that can be accurately diagnosed. Those difficulties also mean that there are no reliable figures for the number of people living with the condition, and estimates produced by researchers and clinicians vary considerably, as my hon. Friend said in his speech.

I understand his concerns about having a clear picture of the number of people affected by CRPS. I will approach NHS England to ask whether there is any scope to improve our understanding of how many people are diagnosed with the condition. Ultimately, I think that we can all agree that a better understanding of the extent of the condition and the numbers affected would be a considerable advantage. Let us explore whether it is possible to achieve greater accuracy.

As my hon. Friend may be aware, since 1 April 2013, NHS England has been responsible for delivering improved outcomes for people with long-term conditions such as CRPS.

Jim Shannon: On the subject of statistics and information, does the Minister intend to make contact with the regional Administrations, whether in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, to ensure that all the information comes together so we can galvanise action and respond better?

Norman Lamb: I will certainly explore the possibility of understanding how much information is available to the devolved Administrations to increase our understanding of the prevalence of the condition. They may be in exactly the same position as England, where our understanding of the prevalence is ultimately still limited, but let us explore that further.

NHS England draws on a wide range of clinical advice when developing commissioning policies and statements. It has a specialised pain clinical reference group to provide expert clinical advice on pain issues. I will therefore put forward my hon. Friend’s concerns about the need for CRPS expertise.

Turning to the identification of CRPS, an increasing range of guidance is available to improve awareness of it among members of the public and health professionals to support early diagnosis. NHS Choices, to which my hon. Friend referred, provides comprehensive advice on

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the causes, symptoms and treatment of the disease. More detailed clinical guidance is provided via the NHS Evidence website.

In May last year, the Royal College of Physicians published a guideline for clinicians on CRPS, setting out best practice on the identification and management of the disease. The guidance was developed with the involvement and endorsement of 21 key organisations involved in the care of people with CRPS, including the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Orthopaedic Association, the British Pain Society, the British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine and the British Society for Rheumatology, to name but a few. I am confident that that collaborative guidance will prove useful in supporting clinicians to identify and treat patients with CRPS more effectively. When such guidance, produced by clinicians, is developed, one does not achieve a sea change in understanding overnight. It takes time to get the message across, in particular throughout the whole of primary care. The production of the guidance, however, is the starting point, and it will aid clinicians in diagnosing and treating appropriately.

Once a patient has been diagnosed with CRPS, a range of treatment options is available. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the condition, but many patients with pain disorders can be managed through routine primary and secondary care once they are appropriately diagnosed. For patients with CRPS, treatment can involve: physiotherapy; occupational therapy; a neurologist to examine the effect on the nervous system; sometimes a psychologist, who may be appropriate, because of the psychological problems caused by living with CRPS, as well as with a host of physical health conditions; a social worker for advice about what extra help and services are available; and a doctor or other health care professional trained in pain relief, which is critical.

NHS England is aware that more needs to be done to identify those patients with the most severe and complex chronic pain who need access to nationally commissioned specialised services. NHS England’s specialised pain clinical reference group is working with the royal colleges and the British Pain Society’s guidelines to ensure that the needs of those patients are appropriately met.

I am aware that the absence of clinical guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is a real concern of patients with CRPS. I am advised, however, that NICE is consulting on a short clinical guideline on the pharmacological management of neuropathic pain, including CRPS. The draft guidance, setting out recommendations for further research, highlights the need for more research into CRPS. Final guidance is expected for publication shortly, in October of this year. In addition, a quality standard topic on pain management in young people and adults has also been referred to NICE for development. Quality standards are a concise set of statements designed to drive and measure priority quality improvements within a particular area of care; they support commissioners to be confident that the services they are purchasing are high quality, cost-effective and focused on driving up quality.

My hon. Friend specifically raised research into CRPS. The Government are supporting a range of research projects into the condition, including a major trial of low-dose intravenous immunoglobulin treatment, funded

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via the Medical Research Council and costing more than £650,000. The investigators involved have previously treated patients with IVIG and reported encouraging results on pain relief in a pilot trial. IVIG may provide pain relief for patients for whom classical treatments are not satisfactorily effective. If IVIG treatment is proved effective, the trial may also stimulate research on the efficacy of IVIG in treating other chronic pain syndromes.

The National Institute for Health Research clinical research network is also supporting a multi-centre international study to define recovery and the priorities for recovery from the perspective of patients with CRPS. The NIHR welcomes high-quality funding applications for research into any aspect of human health, including CRPS, and judges them on an objective basis.

More generally, I reassure my hon. Friend of the Government’s commitment to improve outcomes for the 15 million-plus people in England who are living with a long-term condition, including those with CRPS. Through the mandate—the set of Government priorities for NHS England—we have asked NHS England to make measurable progress towards making the health service among the best in Europe at supporting people with ongoing health problems to live healthily and independently, with much better control over the care that they receive.

Through the NHS outcomes framework, we will monitor the performance of the NHS in supporting people with long-term conditions, such as CRPS, to live as normal a life as possible and to improve their quality of life. Improvements will be measured in three main areas: how well the NHS is performing in supporting people to look after themselves; how well a person is able to live as normal a life as possible; and how successfully the NHS manages long-term conditions by looking at unnecessary hospital admissions and excessive lengths of stay in hospital. The improvement areas are mirrored in the clinical commissioning group outcomes indicator set—apologies for the jargon—which will be used to hold CCGs to account for and to provide information for the public on both the quality of services and the health outcomes achieved through commissioning.

At service level, the new NHS improvement body, NHS Improving Quality, has made the development of evidence-based tools for the management of long-term conditions a key improvement programme for 2013-14. Interventions will involve care plans, care co-ordination, use of technology, risk stratification, self-care and, crucially, the role of carers. That work will be evaluated and best practice identified to help drive improvement in the management of long-term conditions such as CRPS in every local area.

I thank my hon. Friend once more for securing today’s debate. I very much hope that our discussion has been helpful to him and to his constituent. I am more than happy to discuss further how we can improve outcomes for people suffering from such a pernicious condition.

Question put and agreed to.

5.18 pm

Sitting adjourned.