There are other examples of such things, and we can learn from mistakes that have been made. I understand that the Shetland Charitable Trust has got itself into trouble over what it can and cannot fund. The Alaskan funds are quite interesting because of the dividends that they have been able to pay out, on top of the future capital investment that will be available to ensure that when the oil goes Alaska will be left with something. That is what we are looking for. It is certainly what I am looking for: to be able to tell people in Lancashire “We will be prepared to put up with all this”—because I am not sure there will be too many jobs in it—“as, at the moment, we, or some of us, are prepared to put up with wind farms out at sea and on the hills, and possibly a

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new nuclear power station, if some long-term investment will be coming back to Lancashire, and it will not be used as an excuse to deny Lancashire other funds.”

That is the principle that I would like the Minister to consider. I know he cannot give us direct answers today, and I am grateful for how far he has got on the question. There will be future meetings, until we reach a system. Members of Parliament of all parties from the part of the world in question need to prove that serious investment will come back to the boundaries of our county, however we define them, and those of other counties that will be affected in the future. Then, provided all the safety and environmental measures that we may debate on Thursday are secure, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde has stressed, there is absolute clarity and transparency and independent regulation, we can give our support and make a vital contribution to the United Kingdom, in the way that Lancashire has always been prepared to do.

3.26 pm

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Benton. I congratulate the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on obtaining the debate. It is not really a surprise to many of us that following the announcements that formed part of the spending review—or rather announcements of announcements, as I anticipate more detail soon—there is heightened interest in the broad subject of shale gas and fracking, with two debates this week.

Some hon. Members who will take part in Thursday’s debate are not here today, and I hope that they will read this debate before then. What has been good about it so far is the degree of thought and rationality that has been applied to wider issues of community benefit, and not just the specifics. Those thoughts have come, not surprisingly, from Members of Parliament from all parties in the affected area; they have the right and responsibility to speak up for their constituents. As many have intimated, even if they have not said so explicitly, we do not yet really know what we are dealing with. We can know only after some exploration, when we find out what is being extracted and what will be got out of the ground. We can then make further judgments; but we can get to that stage only if there is public confidence and acceptance.

The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) referred to a social contract—I am pleased to hear he is not a socialist; that gave me some comfort. However, the idea of a social contract is vital. The technology is not new, but an existing technology is being given a new or different application, and it is not surprising that there is anxiety and concern about the impact. That is not least because people have seen reports and films about the experience in other parts of the world, notably the USA. It is right for Government and the appropriate authorities to take those things seriously; because confidence is necessary. That is why the hon. Member for Fylde was right to begin his remarks by talking about regulation. I hope that he does not mind my saying that he was right to point out that the issue is not just the robustness of the regulation; it is also the comprehensiveness of monitoring. Having all the right regulations does not necessarily guarantee

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that what should happen does happen. That is not to cast aspersions on any individuals or companies that may be involved in the future: it is a question of public confidence.

The reality is that for a number of months, following the cease in activity after the earthquake, or earth tremors, that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) referred to, many of us were waiting for the Government response to those issues. Despite the comments of some hon. Members—who are not here today but who have an interest in the area—who thought that that it was a dereliction of duty for the Government to have that pause on activity, I think it was exactly the right thing to do in order to assess properly what was happening. I take the geological survey published a couple of weeks ago as an aspect of that evidence base that needs to be assessed, but it only tells us what the theoretical resource is and not what is recoverable.

We had a debate in Westminster Hall on the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s initial report into shale gas, which the hon. Member for Fylde was not able to take part in at that time, as he was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then energy Minister, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry). However, I seem to recall that the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) and the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who have spoken today, were present and took part. Since then, a lot has happened and things have moved on, but in March last year, we set out a number of conditions, from the Opposition perspective, that we thought needed to be in place in relation to regulation. I am sure that we will delve into these matters much more on Thursday, but I want to highlight what we suggested those conditions should be, because they speak to the wider point about the way in which the whole issue continues to develop.

We said that the chemicals used must be restricted to those that are proven to be non-hazardous with mandated public disclosure of all the chemicals to be used, including their toxicity levels. The integrity of each well must be assured to prevent water contamination, with independent assessment of the well design, the cement bond between the casing and well bore, in addition to the composition of the casing to determine its ability to resist corrosion. Seismic monitoring should be put in place with a traffic-light system, to which the hon. Member for Fylde referred earlier, as has been the case in the Netherlands and Germany. The level of methane in groundwater should also be assessed prior to any drilling, because a criticism that has been made a number of times relates to potential contamination. Sometimes it goes further, and some people claim contamination of groundwater from methane, when, as we are all aware, methane can occur naturally in groundwater. Unless there is initial monitoring of it as a baseline study, we cannot tell whether anything untoward has happened. We said—the hon. Member for Fylde also made this point—that all potential shale exploration should be subject to an environmental impact assessment, given that previously, smaller applications did not necessarily need to be. We also said that we believe the monitoring should take place over a 12-month period to allow sufficient time to gather the evidence required to make an informed decision to proceed with exploration.

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I am pleased that late last year, the Government broadly accepted, or came up with, a very similar set of conditions. Those conditions are comprehensive, although there are still some gaps in regulation that the Government need to fill, which I will come on to later in the week. But, as others have said, the regulation needs to be robust, and I am sure that that is exactly the intention of both the Minister and the Department. I repeat the point about language, and using language that suggests, even if it is not the intent, that the regulation will be streamlined—which can mean a number of different things to a number of different people—is not necessarily the best choice of language in this regard.

I move on to community benefits, on which some important points have been made so far this afternoon. I take a broadly similar position to the hon. Member for Southport. When making the case, there are people who have legitimate concerns about a number of areas that need to be addressed, while some are against shale exploration and have a principled, ideological position. It is fair enough for people to take that position, but there is a need to separate those ideological objections from legitimate environmental concerns, and that is exactly what the regulation needs to do.

In terms of community benefits, the Government have acted on onshore wind, and, given the ongoing discussions, I am sure that we will get more on community benefits in relation to nuclear in the near future. We have had a broad acceptance that there is a degree of disruption, that there is a need for that to be recognised, and that there should be some community benefit and support. However, it is not as straightforward as it initially sounds. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South made the point about what local impact is, how that is best defined, and where community benefits are. The Minister is well aware of the issue. I read a comment from him that must have been made at the time of the announcement; he was talking about what might impact on a particular community, but if that community uses a swimming pool that needs to be rebuilt in an adjacent town, how can that line best be drawn? We really need to get into the detail of that over the next period, because there are potentially significant financial benefits, quite apart from the impacts that others have discussed in terms of jobs and economic activity.

I want to reiterate a point that has been made. I have, in front of me, documentation from the United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group, when it put out its community engagement charter. The point about whether it is a wellhead or a pad is important—the language used by the UKOOG refers to it being per well site. That language in itself is slightly ambiguous, in terms of it being a well site, as opposed to a wellhead. Will the Minister try to clarify that important point?

On the wider point about community benefits, we know that in relation to the foreshore, the Crown Estate has established a system of community benefits. Not a huge amount is flowing into that fund at the moment, but it will in future in relation to offshore activity. The fund is effectively administered by the national lottery and it is appropriate for a number of community bodies, as well as local authorities, to apply. Will the Minister say more about consideration of that type of model or of that as part of the model, as opposed to something being run by an industry group?

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There is a wider point in relation to Shetland, which the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood referred to. In one of my previous lives, I was a local government officer in Scotland. It always used to gall us that, every year, when the 32 local authorities in Scotland got their audit reports, Shetland got the worst one in terms of sustainability of funding, but it was okay, because it has that huge amount of money there. In fact, with what is happening west of Shetland, it probably has quite a lot to be able to rely on well into the future. However, there is a point about long-term sustainability as well, which I think needs to be reflected in the wider community benefit picture. The Minister is well aware of the issue, and he asked how we stop funds being swallowed up by the local authority social services budget—I think that was what he used as an example of a local authority budget that is always under pressure, where there is the temptation to plug the gap, if there is additional revenue. However, this really needs to be something additional. We do not know the scale yet, as the hon. Members from Lancashire have made clear in their contributions.

I shall finish by reiterating a point that has been made about regulations. Regulations need public confidence and wide acceptance, and the same goes for the community benefits package and arrangements. Communities need confidence in them and they need to know that they will be appropriately and fairly dispersed and applied. They need to see that the benefits are there for them to use in recompense—although not formally in recompense—for the disruption there may be during the activity that may or may not happen in Lancashire or elsewhere in the years ahead.

3.40 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): May I join colleagues in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr Benton? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing an important debate on this subject and on his constructive approach. If I may say so, I congratulate Members on the tone that they have adopted throughout their contributions. I will try to answer the various points that have been raised.

My hon. Friend began by rightly raising the interests of communities, and the debate has clearly demonstrated that community interests have a number of dimensions and apply to all potentially affected communities across our country. I will group my comments into four areas: first, local communities should be clear on the Government’s policy on shale; secondly, they should be clear on when they will be engaged locally and by whom, and have access wherever possible to objective information; thirdly, they should be reassured about shale development and that it will be carried out safely and in a way that protects the environment; and finally, they should know exactly what benefits should flow from hosting shale gas developments. I will tackle each in turn.

As a Government, we believe that shale has the potential to provide this country with greater energy security, an incentive to growth and more jobs. Through the co-ordination of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, we are creating the framework to accelerate the development of shale responsibly. Looking at the big picture to see how our various energy sources fit together

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in the market as we transition to a low-carbon future, we quickly realise that oil and gas will form a key part of our energy requirements for some decades to come. We need to recognise that shale gas development is part of a historic continuum in the development of our domestic resources. Over 2,000 conventional oil and gas and coal bed methane wells have been drilled in the UK. Fracking, of course, is an established exploration technique used around the world. I see unconventional resources as a part of the bigger picture and continuum.

As Members will know, the British Geological Survey has now estimated the total volume of gas in the Bowland-Hodder shale, which includes Lancashire, at some 1,300 trillion cubic feet. Effective exploration of that resource is necessary to help us understand how much of that gas is technically or economically recoverable. We are therefore encouraging the safe and environmentally sound exploration that will help us determine that. With robust regulation now in place, there is nothing to prevent licensees from bringing forward new drilling plans and seeking the necessary permissions. In Lancashire, Cuadrilla has recently announced further plans for exploration, and of course we welcome Centrica’s recent investment in its licence in the area. We are therefore likely to see Lancashire lead the way in the exploration phase, which if proven will provide local communities with real benefits and opportunities.

Early community engagement by companies in the industry is essential to gaining public acceptance of and support for shale gas development. We have worked closely with the industry to encourage strong engagement that addresses local concerns. We are therefore pleased that the industry—through its trade body, the United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group—has recently collectively adopted a community engagement charter. One of its objectives is to identify and proactively address local issues and concerns. In addition, each operator will engage with local communities and other stakeholders, beginning in advance of any operations or any application for planning permission. For our part, the Government have a role to play in supporting public engagement by ensuring access to evidence-based information that can address the questions raised and inform public debate.

My Department is looking urgently at how we can swiftly take forward the suggestion from my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), which has also been touched on this afternoon, to ensure that we provide clear information to the public on the myths that tend to surface about shale, so that we can help the public to separate fact from the fiction. An objective of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil is to help people understand the facts about shale gas, and that includes supporting local authority engagement with communities where it can assist in resolving issues and allowing projects to proceed where appropriate. Officials are developing plans for how we can do that in practice and will be engaging with local authorities—particularly Lancashire, at this stage—on what assistance is needed from central Government to best deliver support.

Some of that is already happening. The Lancashire shale gas forum, established by the Environment Agency, already brings together county and district councils, regulators including the Health and Safety Executive, my Department and the Office of Unconventional Gas

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and Oil to discuss strategic shale gas issues and matters of concern to local communities. That forum is meeting today.

Mr Marsden: The Minister will have heard my comments about the effects in Blackpool. He referred to district and county councils. Can he tell us whether Blackpool council, which is of course a unitary council, is included in that group?

Michael Fallon: I am not able to confirm that immediately, but I may be able to do so shortly. I certainly understand the question. My information was that the group included Lancashire county council and the district councils, and my assumption was that that would include Blackpool. If I am wrong, I will let the hon. Gentleman know as swiftly as I can.

I turn to regulations that ensure safety and protect the environment. In our country, we have more than 50 years’ experience regulating the onshore oil and gas industry. Our system of regulation is comprehensive and fit for purpose for exploration, but we are not complacent. We want continuously to improve it, and local communities will expect no less. A number of regulatory bodies and Departments are involved, including the Environment Agency, the HSE, my Department and the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Communities and Local Government. The Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, which has no regulatory functions, co-ordinates activity across Government on unconventional gas and oil, including on the regulatory process, while ensuring that shale development remains safe and the environment is protected. We are making good progress. The Department for Communities and Local Government will shortly publish planning guidance for industry, mineral planning authorities and local communities on how shale gas developments should proceed through our planning system.

For its part, the Environment Agency recently published a statement of actions to simplify the regulation of exploratory activity by the oil and gas industry while maintaining environmental protection. As a first step, it will publish draft technical guidance for consultation by the end of July, setting out its requirements on operators and giving them, local communities and stakeholders more certainty. The Environment Agency and the HSE have already agreed to work closely together and have developed a joint approach to inspecting new exploratory shale gas operations under a memorandum of understanding, which directly addresses one of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde made. That means that they have agreed a joint programme of inspection for the next series of fracturing operations in England and Wales. They will meet new and first-time operators, advise them of their legal duties and conduct a joint inspection of key operations, including cementing and the verification of cementing and the main hydraulic fracture.

In addition, the Department of Energy and Climate Change will check that the HSE and the Environment Agency, or its Scottish equivalent the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, have no objections before it consents to drilling operations. Furthermore, if hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is intended, we will require measures to address the risk of induced seismicity, namely prior

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analysis of geological risks and the submission of a detailed fracturing plan, including a traffic light control protocol.

On the community benefits, I think we all agree that it is vital that communities that host shale benefit from the developments. As part of the recently published charter, the industry has set out its benefits proposal, which is, as has been said, to provide communities with £100,000 per fracked well site at the exploration stage and 1% of revenues at the production stage. The industry estimates that that amounts to as much as £5 million to £10 million per pad, and some £1.1 billion overall for communities in the UK. We welcome the offer from the industry. It represents a good deal for communities at this stage in the development of the UK shale industry. I am pleased that the industry has pledged to keep the offer under review and to consult communities about it in the light of operating experience.

At this stage, the operators group envisages that community funding will be split, with two thirds going to a local-level community fund and one third to a wider fund at county level. That need not mean the local authority itself; it might be a charitable or other foundation operating at county level. The operators have pledged that at each stage they will work with the local community funds to set out what level of benefits would be provided on a per household basis, so that even though communities may choose to use the funds to pay for community-wide measures residents will understand what their share of the benefits is at the household level.

The industry plans to publish further details of the proposals later this year, setting out more on the funding allocation and on how the charter will operate in practice. As the industry develops the details further, it will engage with interested parties and the local authorities involved, so I urge interested Members also to engage in the process and to help shape the proposals further. I assure Members that we in the Government will continue to work with the industry to ensure that it delivers on its commitments and, importantly, to keep the offer under review as we learn more about how the industry is likely to develop in the UK.

Finally, one of the potential benefits of shale gas production is job creation. My hon. Friend referred to the importance of the supply chain. Building partnerships to encourage job creation and growth is part of the work being led by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills under the Government’s growth strategy, and DECC will work closely with BIS to assess the need for skills development.

The oil and gas sector strategy has already identified how the sector and the Government can work on the skills challenges the offshore sector faces, and it points out that links could be made with opportunities in other sectors, including that of shale gas. Work on supply chain mapping is also being commissioned. To improve the responsiveness of the skills system to the needs of business, BIS is promoting much greater employer leadership and closer collaboration between business, higher education and further education colleges. We are already seeing signs of that in Lancashire, and I hope that other companies and institutions will follow the lead of Cuadrilla and the university of Central Lancashire.

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In the brief time remaining, I want to respond to the points that have been made, but if I cannot cover them all I hope that colleagues will allow me to write to them in detail. I was asked how we will monitor seismicity. The monitoring system will include a prior assessment conducted by operators. A fracking plan will have to be submitted. There will be a traffic light warning protocol and real-time monitoring, and if any activity over 0.5 on the Richter scale is detected the operation will be halted and further steps taken. The British Geological Survey has a national earthquake monitoring system that will, of course, alert us all to any changes in natural background seismicity.

I was asked how we would maximise local job opportunities and improve apprenticeships. The industry commits in the charter to encouraging that wherever reasonably possible. I was also asked about greater public engagement by the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, which I have already mentioned. We are developing plans, as has been suggested, and we are committed to reinforcing how the public can have access to more independent information.

On transparency and the type of organisations involved in enjoying community benefits, I was asked whether we should share benefits directly, for example through reductions in bills. I have already said that I welcome the industry’s commitment to flexibility, to engaging with communities and to consulting them over the autumn. Even if it is decided to take the benefit more generally—the new swimming pool that was mentioned, for example—I want local households to be clear what the benefit would be if it were a reduction in their individual bills, so that everyone understands the contribution that shale gas can make. The operators have committed to publishing each year how they are adhering to the charter, once the system of benefits starts to operate. The information about each local arrangement will be made public, and the next community down the line will be able to see it and decide whether it wants a similar package.

I was asked whether the benefit is per well. In the charter offer it is per well site, but that is one thing that the industry will consult on in the autumn. The disruption and the impact of the whole operation is at the well site, but the length of horizontal drilling means that some of the activity takes place a long way from the site. That is one of the issues that will be clarified a little later on.

I hope that I have responded to the main points that were raised, but I undertake to pick up any others later. I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. I think we have shown that it is perfectly possible to approach the development of this entirely new industry as neither zealots nor victims but in a practical, constructive way, working through the issues one by one and ensuring that our communities get the benefit of what is potentially a very exciting development.

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St Raphael’s Hospice

3.59 pm

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I appreciate having this opportunity to address the House on an issue that is of major concern to my constituents, to the many staff who work at the very valued institution of St Raphael’s hospice, which is in north Cheam in my constituency, and to the staff who work at the adjacent charitably run St Anthony’s hospital.

I suspect that when the Minister saw the title for the debate, he turned to his officials and said, “What on earth am I doing a health debate for?” I can well understand that reticence and puzzlement as to why a Health Minister was not invited to respond. I want to use the debate to explain why I am grateful that a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister is responding. The issues are not so much about health care as they are about accountability, transparency and the responsibility of trustees in discharging a public good and a common purpose. The debate requires an intervention or some involvement from the Foreign Office.

I ask the Minister to intervene on behalf of my constituents to safeguard the future of a much valued hospice and a widely respected hospital. I ask that our ambassador to the Holy See make officials at the Vatican aware of the concerns I am expressing. I will explain why. The Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross of Liege is a Catholic charity that owns and runs St Anthony’s hospital and St Raphael’s hospice, both of which are based in north Cheam. Together they employ 900 local people and are much loved, much admired institutions with a strong tradition of volunteering, which is very much at the heart of the hospice movement.

The trustees of the Daughters of the Cross are six Catholic nuns, who have decided to sell St Anthony’s hospital to a commercial concern, bringing to an end more than 100 years of care and Christian mission for the sick, the vulnerable and the dying. Their decision confounded and distressed those who work at the hospital and the hospice, as well as many of my constituents and many in the wider community who benefit from the work of the institutions. The decision is all the more perplexing because the Daughters of the Cross charity, according to its latest accounts, has more than £80 million in cash and investments, even before selling off the hospital. Lack of money is not the problem and should not be a justification for what is being done.

Worse still, the Daughters of the Cross have so far failed to explain why a proposal for a new Catholic charity with new trustees could not form the basis of a gracious and negotiated passing of the baton to a new generation of trustees. Instead, Daughters of the Cross are insisting on the withdrawal of all the existing funds currently held by St Anthony’s hospital—some £35 million in all—as well as a capital receipt for the disposal. In my meetings with the charity, the trustees talk about the money being their money. There is no recognition that the money is held in trust, or that it is the result of co-production between the Daughters of the Cross and those who work in the hospital and hospice.

The issue I am raising is not a religious one. It is about the behaviour of a charity and the reputational damage that is doing. The Daughters of the Cross is a congregation of pontifical right. It does not come under

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the temporal or spiritual authority of the Catholic Church in England. It is answerable directly to the Vatican in Rome, and critically it has not yet obtained permission from the authorities in the Vatican that oversee decisions to dispose of assets held by the Catholic Church. The body with the decision-making authority is called the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, whose secretary is Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo. As part of the charity’s governance, it has well-established advisory committees that bring together community and expert opinion to guide the trustees’ decisions, to ensure that the right investments are made and that the right development of services takes place. Sadly, that expertise has been sidelined in this matter and not given the weight it deserves.

The chairman of St Raphael’s hospice, Dr Ron McKeran, has written to Archbishop Carballo, imploring his committee to exercise its oversight role and use its discretion to stop the sale and instead fully explore and take forward the creation of a new Catholic charity. Dr McKeran and many others believe that the sale of St Anthony’s will destroy the very special Christian character of the hospital. In his view, the actions of the charity’s trustees seem to be devoted to turning charitable assets into greater financial reserves, rather than to turning public donations into charitable activity. I believe that Dr McKeran’s analysis is spot-on.

The sale will expose St Raphael’s hospice to financial uncertainty. That is critical. At present, the hospital, as part of the same charity, provides a hidden subsidy of around £1 million a year. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two institutions. The hospital provides vital services, including IT, payroll, catering, and site services. Cutting the hospice free of its ties to the hospital, eventually to become a stand-alone charity, would leave it facing the prospect of a million pound funding gap.

There is an alternative: a proposal to spin out a new charity to take St Anthony’s and St Raphael’s forward together, maintaining the Christian mission that has flourished on the site in north Cheam for more than a century. The trustee nuns of the Daughters of the Cross have so far not explained why they are unwilling to appoint lay trustees, as other similar charities have done. There could be a managed transition with new trustees taking up the reins when the nuns are no longer able to exercise their responsibilities as trustees. That is more in keeping with the ethos of the charity, but the trustees are confusing their worries about their own mortality with the bigger picture and the purpose of the charity they founded. The trustees have offered no explanation as to why the reserves of £80 million and the moneys from the disposal of a very valuable site in Chelsea cannot be used to achieve their ends.

As a result of all that, the hospice finds itself in limbo, uncertain of its future and reliant on words of good intent, but no guarantees. I hope the Minister understands the concern that I and many of my constituents have about the future of St Raphael’s hospice. My concerns have already led me to write to the Charity Commission, asking it to investigate how the charity has conducted itself, the lack of due diligence and the risk of financial and reputational damage. It cannot be right for a charitable purpose to be subverted by the personal concerns of the trustees about their own long-term involvement in the charity. Nor is it right for the trustees to set aside the expert opinion of their own advisory

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boards, as well as the views of the staff, volunteers and the public. Their goal should be to secure the long-term future of the charity. That is why I am asking the Minister to act: not to interfere in matters spiritual, but rather to set out those concerns to the authorities in the Vatican who have the final say.

Will the Minister ask our ambassador to raise the matter, urging that it be carefully considered, and that the representations from Dr McKeran, myself and others are properly taken into account? At the very least, will he ask our ambassador to draw the attention of the appropriate authorities in the Vatican to this debate? There is no authority in the UK that can prevail upon the Daughters of the Cross to change its decision; only an intervention from the Vatican can hope to protect the future of the much loved and cherished St Raphael’s hospice.

I finish by quoting from a letter from June Whitfield, who is a doughty fundraiser for St Raphael’s hospice. She recently wrote to Sister Veronica Hagen, who is the chairman of the trustees of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross. The letter ends with these two paragraphs:

“And I urge you to reconsider the proposal of the Management, staff and supporters of the hospital and hospice to instead create a new charity encompassing both St Anthony’s and St Raphael’s.

The Daughters of the Cross established St Anthony’s Charitable Hospital in 1904 and then built St Raphael’s Hospice in 1987. Their ethos and faith have served the people of both Sutton and Merton well for over a century, it would be not just sad, but unforgivable if you and your current colleagues are the ones to extinguish these beacons of hope and faith in an increasingly difficult world.”

That is absolutely right, and I hope the Minister can help.

4.9 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): May I begin by expressing my pleasure at serving under your guidance this afternoon, Mr Benton?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) on securing this important debate today and on setting out his case and concerns, and those of his constituents, so eloquently. I pay tribute to the role that he has played in supporting his local community on this challenging and difficult issue, and I am struck by the strength of local feeling that clearly exists about the future of St Raphael’s. This is clearly a great concern for many people, given the excellent and dedicated work that has been undertaken—both recently and over a significant period—both by St Anthony’s hospital and St Raphael’s hospice.

In particular, the work of the hospice exemplifies the huge support that exists for the hospice movement across the whole United Kingdom. St Raphael’s clearly plays a very important role in the lives of many people within the community of Sutton and Cheam. Indeed, hospices such as St Raphael’s have a crucial role to play in providing a dignified environment for people with serious or terminal illnesses throughout the United Kingdom.

Of course, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the additional £60 million in Government funding that was awarded to hospices across England earlier this year. A total of 176 hospices will benefit from that fund. It will

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not only help to improve conditions within hospices themselves, but support the care that hospices provide to people in their own homes, which is a crucial factor that he personally focused on when he was a Minister in the Department of Health and for which he deserves enormous credit.

Given today’s debate, I am particularly pleased about the award of more than £500,000 to St Raphael’s hospice, which I understand will help towards building its new extension. Investment in hospices is vital, not least because more and more people are using their services. Hospices need support to provide the care that is so desperately required. Such additional funding will enable hospices to modernise their premises, to improve further the facilities and care that they provide to patients and—significantly—to give increased support to patients’ families. The importance of that support and the continued provision of compassionate and dignified care at what is a very difficult time for both patients and their families should never be underestimated.

St Raphael’s can be held up as an excellent example of the strong role that faith groups can play in contributing to wider society. St Raphael’s ethos of accepting people of all faiths and, indeed, people of no faith is admirable; that is exactly the sort of model for interfaith relations that the Government are keen to promote. It is also important to say that this role of religion and faith within communities makes a vital contribution to national life, by not only guiding the moral outlook of many people but providing help for those in need. Compassion and the desire to provide assistance to those who suffer are excellent principles for faith groups to focus on.

Across the country, people from different faiths are working hard, not only in countless churches but in countless mosques, temples and synagogues, as well as in charities and community groups, to address problems in their local communities. The Christian Churches have an extensive national framework of buildings, expertise, volunteers and reach that can put them at the very heart of providing services, not only to the homeless but to others in need. St Raphael’s is a very good example of that in my right hon. Friend’s own community.

I will now turn to the future of St Raphael’s, which was the main focus of my right hon. Friend’s remarks this afternoon. I understand that, as he quite rightly pointed out, the trustees of the Catholic Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross of Liege are members of an international order of religious sisters based in Belgium. They help to provide health care and similar services, both in England and around the world. As he also quite rightly pointed out, the Daughters of the Cross are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Ultimately, they are subject to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, based in Rome within the Roman Curia of the Holy See.

Given the strong local concerns for the future of the important health care and hospice provision provided by St Anthony’s hospital and St Raphael’s hospice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is making representations to the relevant Holy See authorities, through the British ambassador to the Holy See. I will come on to the details of those representations shortly.

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Our ambassador has also spoken to the apostolic nuncio in the United Kingdom, Archbishop Mennini. We understand that the archbishop would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend, if he was willing to attend such a meeting, to hear his concerns and discuss these important issues. The papal nuncio, as His Holiness the Pope’s representative in the UK, is an appropriate vehicle for these concerns to be expressed and passed to the Holy See, as is, of course, our ambassador to the Holy See.

I can inform my right hon. Friend that only this morning our ambassador had a meeting in the Vatican with the secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, and was able to brief him on the concerns of the local community about the future of St Anthony’s and St Raphael’s. I am delighted to tell my right hon. Friend that the archbishop was fully aware of the case and acknowledged receipt of the recent letter from the chairman of St Raphael’s hospice about the issues that my right hon. Friend has articulated today.

In the meeting this morning, the archbishop made it clear that the decision on the future of St Anthony’s and St Raphael’s was ultimately for the trustees. However, he assured the ambassador that the Vatican would look carefully at the case, as it does all such cases, and will do so over the summer. I can inform my right hon. Friend that there are similar cases, particularly across western Europe, as those who are providing the health care are ageing, as he described earlier. The archbishop also confirmed that, in general terms, guidance would be given to the trustees on the basis of the known preference of the Church that such good works should continue to be run on Catholic lines and that a reply would be forthcoming to the chairman of St Raphael’s hospice once proper consideration had been given. I hope that goes some way to placating the concerns that my right hon. Friend outlined, but I suggest that he follow up the offer of a meeting with the papal nuncio in the UK.

Paul Burstow: I thank the Minister and his officials for so rapidly and diligently pursuing this case on behalf of my constituents. I am sure that Dr McKeran will look forward with great interest to the response from the Church. May I ask the Minister to do one further thing, which is to ensure that the report of today’s debate is also passed to the papal authorities, so that they can be aware of our exchange?

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I understand that the archbishop in the Vatican was made aware this morning that this debate was taking place. However, I will of course be happy to respond to my right hon. Friend’s request, to ensure that he sees the Hansard report of the debate passed through our ambassador to ensure that there is follow-up to this debate in the way that he describes.

With your indulgence, Mr Benton, I would just like to set out, for a couple of minutes, the importance of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. This debate exemplifies why it is increasingly important for the UK to maintain a positive, dynamic and energetic relationship with the Holy See. Not only for bilateral purposes but globally, there is significant mutuality of interest between the UK and the Holy See.

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To that end, Baroness Warsi led an historic visit of seven British Ministers to the Holy See, where they were received at the highest level, including an audience with the Pope. This visit broke new ground, both in the scale of the delegation and the substantive nature of the talks, which covered issues as diverse as sustainable development, conflict prevention, Somalia and the ongoing process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

During 2013, we have worked closely with the Holy See in furthering our global agenda. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote to His Holiness Pope Francis in June this year, before the G8 summit, to brief him on our agenda and to seek his views. That is a reflection of the importance that we place on the influence and role of the global Catholic Church and the Holy See.

Of course, this has been a historic year for the Vatican, with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to stand down and the subsequent inauguration of His Holiness Pope Francis. The Government warmly welcomed the appointment of Pope Francis, and we strongly support his unceasing desire to tackle social and economic injustice, poverty and disease—issues that of course have been at the heart of our own G8 agenda.

I will conclude by reiterating the importance of the Catholic Church—along with so many other religions and faith groups—as a provider of much-valued and often unsung social services, including health care and hospice provision, support for the homeless and the marginalised, education provision and much else. The Government value the work of the Daughters of the Cross in running St Anthony’s hospital since 1904 and St Raphael’s hospice since 1987, and we understand their difficulties in maintaining these responsibilities. However, like my right hon. Friend, I very much hope that a solution can be found that satisfies all parties and that ensures the continuation of these vital services to the local community.

4.20 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Women in Wales

4.25 pm

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): It is good to start early on this hot, sunny July afternoon, Mr Benton.

Last year, I looked at the financial cost for women in Wales of the policies of the coalition Government. The study, which was based on parliamentary questions and Library research, revealed that, directly due to coalition policies, £1 billion would be taken away from Welsh women. It highlighted that more than £700 million would be lost to women in Wales as a direct result of pension changes; housing benefit changes, not including the ruthless bedroom tax, would account for more than £13 million; nearly £40 million would be lost due to changes in working tax credits; and public sector pay restraint would cut £300 million out of families’ pockets.

Have things got any better since then? Clearly, the answer is a resounding no. Things continue to get worse for women in Wales, whether because of the replacement of well-paid jobs by lower-paid ones, sustained attacks on public sector jobs, the increase in zero hours contracts and part-time working, cuts to child care, or direct tax or benefit changes, such as the bedroom tax. Whichever cut it is, women in Wales are being hit hard.

Why is this situation affecting women so badly? Women are, on average, poorer than men. Some 64% of low-paid workers are women and in later life women’s average personal pensions are only 62% of the average for men. Women also live longer, often spending the final years of their lives alone. Women are more likely to be the primary carers for children, older people, the sick or the disabled. Nearly three quarters of carer’s allowance claimants are women, confirming that women take responsibility for the majority of care. Women are also far more likely to be lone parents. Indeed, in Wales 95% of lone parents are women and that group is much more likely to be below the poverty line. Women are also more likely to be the victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Given that women use public services and benefits more than men, it is clear that when provision is cut it will hit women even harder. The fact that women are bearing the brunt of the Government’s deficit reduction plans is proven by Library research. Of the £14.4 billion raised in 2014-15, through changes to taxes, benefits, pay and pensions, £11.4 billion—some 79%—comes from women and £2.9 billion from men. In a Cabinet with three times as many men as women, it is hardly surprising that women’s voices are not being heard at the highest level.

Mrs Siân C. James (Swansea East) (Lab): The cuts in the public sector are particularly affecting us in Swansea East, because we have high dependency on public sector jobs. Does my hon. Friend agree that the cuts are impacting much more strongly on women than on men, because more jobs are being developed for men, but not as many for women?

Jessica Morden: In terms of public sector employment and cuts to it, my hon. Friend is right. I will mention that later.

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Let us look for instance at tax and benefit changes. The coalition Government and Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions have consistently described their welfare cuts as fair. Clearly, they are unaware of or are ignoring the disproportionate impact they are having on women in Wales. A recent Office for National Statistics study on the effect that benefit and tax changes have had on incomes by household types demonstrates the negative financial consequences for women and families. That study, which covered the financial years 2010 to 2012, shows that a lone parent household with dependent children is £2,248 worse off. We have already established that the vast majority—95%—of lone parents in Wales are women. For other families, the situation does not get any better. A household with two adults and two children is nearly £5,000 worse off. The stress on parents who are trying to accommodate such an income fall, bearing in mind the huge hike in living costs, adds a great deal of pressure for people who are already working hard to keep their heads above water.

A recent report by the TUC showed that most jobs created since the recession have been in low-paid industries such as retail, the service sector and residential care. That was borne out by the ongoing inquiry by the Welsh Affairs Committee into the Work programme. Nearly 8% of the 587,000 net new jobs since June 2010 have been in sectors where the average pay is £7.95 an hour or less. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that long-term unemployment has increased by nearly 100,000 since May 2010, and a shocking 86% of that increase is among women. Young Welsh women are particularly struggling in the labour market, with one in five out of work. In the figures released in June, the overall unemployment rate in Wales remained unchanged at 8.4% but the number of unemployed women rose again.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend recognise that there is a particular problem for young mums in Wales? According to the House of Commons Library, a couple with a joint income of around £24,000 will lose £1,300 in benefits as a result of the changes to child trust funds and tax credits, particularly the baby element. An awful lot of people in Wales, including many of my constituents, come from households with a joint income of around £24,000. Young mums will be particularly vulnerable and will have very little money to spare for their children.

Jessica Morden: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Young families, in particular, will be hit by the cumulative impact of the loss of the child care element of tax credits, the child trust fund and maternity grants.

In Wales, most part-time jobs are undertaken by women; 27% of public sector employees work part time and 85% of those are women. Although it is true that many women want to work part time, many others have no choice.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I have some sympathy with many of the points that the hon. Lady has made on the welfare reform agenda. On child care, does she acknowledge that the Government have announced a constructive package that will help many young mothers?

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The figures suggest that 5,700 people in Newport would benefit. Child care is a particular problem, and the Government are taking action. In a spirit of fairness, I am sure that she would acknowledge that that should be recognised.

Jessica Morden: As far as I can see, the action on child care is too little, too late. Many families in my constituency are struggling with huge child care costs, which are bigger than those in many countries around the world. The Government’s proposals will take time to filter through and will have no immediate impact on those families. In addition, the little bit of help that has been provided for child care is totally offset by the huge cuts to tax credits.

According to the Bevan Foundation report “Women, Work and the Recession in Wales”, the number of people in Wales who work part time because they were unable to find a full-time job has increased by 79% to one in five of all part-timers. In addition, the burden of unpaid work still falls on women. Child care responsibilities or caring for older people mean that many women have little choice but to work part time. Contrast the difference between the Labour Government in Cardiff, who are doubling the number of Flying Start places despite losing £1.4 billion from their budget, with the coalition in Westminster, who have cut the child care tax credit by up to £1,500 a year for low paid women while giving millionaires a tax cut of £2,000 a week.

In Wales, women make up two thirds of public sector employees, so the steady and sustained attack on jobs in the public sector has affected women disproportionately. In addition, the pay freeze has worsened the pay gap between men and women; the full-time pay gap now stands at 14.9%. In many parts of Wales, particularly in places such as my constituency, the public and private sectors are completely intertwined. If money is taken from public sector workers, less money will be spent in the local economy, which in turn hits the private sector. By affecting so many women in such a way, the Government are directly affecting the Welsh economy.

The living wage is one that meets the requirements for a basic quality of life and reduces families’ reliance on Government programmes for additional income. In 2012, it was calculated that 24% of all working women earn below the living wage and 62% of those earning less than the living wage are women. How do we stand in Wales? Wales has the second-highest proportion of people earning below the living wage in the UK, the highest proportion of part-time workers earning below the living wage and, at 44.5%, the highest proportion of female part-time workers earning below the living wage.

In Wales, many women are on zero-hour contracts, which were the subject of a debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) in this Chamber last week. Recent UK estimates suggest that 97,000 people in Wales have such contracts, of which at the very least half will be women. I know from bitter experience, however, that Government answers to parliamentary questions on the matter are difficult to come by.

Labour wants universal credit to work, but even the impact assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions states that

“second earners may choose to reduce or rebalance their hours or leave work.”

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As a result of pay inequality and time taken out of the labour market to raise children, fewer women tend to be primary earners in their households, so the policy will simply not work for many women. In addition, many people are concerned that women will be sanctioned because they struggle to find the child care to enable them to take a job. That question was raised in the Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry into the Work programme.

Government cuts are not only affecting women disproportionately but cutting off access to advice and legal support. At the same time as all the changes are being made to benefits, swingeing cuts are being made to advice services. Organisations such as Citizens Advice, Shelter Cymru and Consumer Focus Wales provide such services, but the sector is expected to lose approximately £3.36 million from various sources over the next 18 months, which is the equivalent of 50 full-time jobs. In fairness, the Welsh Government have recognised the importance of such services and recently provided £1.8 million of extra money to allow the organisations to adapt to the increased demand for their services.

My local citizens advice bureau in Newport, which does excellent work, has had 745 more cases this year than last, but that tells us only part of the story. The citizens advice bureau can only deal with the numbers for which it has funding and advisory capacity. The staff know that more demand exists, but they cannot meet that demand without additional funding. That is happening at a time when people need more help than ever before. As we all see in our surgeries, demand increases every week.

The changes to legal aid demonstrate yet again that the Government are willing to make cuts irrespective of their impact. I am already seeing heartbreaking cases in my surgery following the cuts to some family and civil legal aid. One mother of three children came to see me because her ex-husband had refused to return one of the children after a stay. The father has a high income but the mother is in receipt of benefits, so she sought legal advice but was informed that she does not qualify for legal aid. Because both parents are considered good parents, a court case will be required to solve the issue, but she does not have the money to pay for it. Her husband can have a solicitor but she cannot. She told me that

“the poor no longer have recourse to justice, only the well off.”

Unfortunately, she appears to be right.

Many victims of trafficking and domestic abuse will no longer be eligible for legal aid. According to research by Rights of Women and Welsh Women’s Aid, half of all domestic violence victims will not qualify for legal aid to help them and their children safely to separate from abusive relationships.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): In recent years, we have seen a welcome change in emphasis from the police on domestic violence, and more people are now willing to report domestic violence. If people are being asked, rightly, to come forward, but they are being failed when it comes to legal funding, the situation is serious. I would have thought that people right across the House would regard domestic violence cases as extremely important.

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Jessica Morden: My hon. Friend is quite right. The changes to legal aid require a much higher level of evidence to be provided, and organisations such as Women’s Aid believe that as a result, half of women across Wales will not have access to legal aid if they need it.

There are so many areas in which women are disproportionately affected, and I have only talked about a few. I could have talked about the abolition of crisis loans, the bedroom tax, changes to tax credits or pension changes. Name a policy and it is likely to hit women hardest. When families are already feeling the impact of more than 7% inflation on energy costs, with Wales having some of the highest electricity bills in the UK, as well as more than 6% inflation on clothing and more than 4% inflation on food, people can see why it is important to address the inequalities.

Equality law states that whenever the Government propose new legislation and policies, they have to give due consideration to the impact that the changes may have on equality of opportunity between men and women. Time and again, it is clear that the analysis is either inadequate or being ignored, as women in Wales are disproportionately affected by the coalition’s policies. Rather than getting the analysis right, the equality duties were highlighted in the Government’s red tape challenge, and there are fears that they might be watered down or dropped altogether by the coalition.

It is now time for the Secretary of State for Wales to carry out an in-depth analysis of the impact of his Government’s policies on women in Wales, because no matter which way we turn or whatever policy we look at, the Government are letting down women in Wales.

4.41 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr Benton.

I thank the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) for securing this short debate on the important subject of women in Wales and the situation under this Government, or any Government. I thought I was coming in here to listen to a debate in the round on women in Wales, but—I hope she forgives me for saying this—in fact we were treated to a speech that was pretty similar to those we have heard in Westminster Hall and on the Floor of the House numerous times in the past three years: a general attack on cuts and welfare reform, dressed up as a debate about women in Wales. We could have been discussing the role of women in public life, higher education or the legal sector in Wales, or the efforts that we as a Government are making to help women in Wales smash through the glass ceiling and take their place on boards, running companies and being leaders in all spheres of life in Wales. What we actually had was a crude attack, if I may say so, on our welfare reform proposals and our approach to deficit reduction.

Nia Griffith: Does the Minister not accept that the full title of the debate is “Effect of Government policies on women in Wales” and that my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) has cited specific statistics about the situation as it affects women and women in Wales? She made that point a number of

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times. It is about the actual effect on women in Wales and the lack of an impact assessment or, if there is an impact assessment, the lack of sufficient attention to it, because there has been a disproportionate effect on women.

Stephen Crabb: The danger when looking through any particular demographic lens—we could have been debating the impact of policies on young people, older people, disabled people or people from ethnic minorities—is that we are lured into making generalisations and over-simplifications. We have had a bit of that this afternoon, so hopefully I will inject some balance into the debate.

The starting point, of course, is the economic context and the enormous financial crisis that still faces this country. It is worth putting on record again—I know that Opposition Members will roll their eyeballs at this—that the reason why we are having to take very difficult decisions about public expenditure, and the reason why we are having to restore discipline to our national finances, is the financial mess that the Labour party left after 13 years in government. I will go further: future generations of women and girls would not thank us if we shirked our responsibility now and did not address the deficit and the debt. They would not thank us for the burden of debt that we might hand on to them if we did not take the difficult decisions that we are taking.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I say with all due respect that we have had three years of this Conservative-led Government, and the record is now wearing a bit thin. It is no longer valid, if it ever was, to blame everything on the previous Government. Surely to goodness the Minister can form a better argument in defence of what he has done.

Stephen Crabb: The context is important, and it is valid. I reject what the hon. Gentleman says.

The Labour party is committed at the moment to cutting £7 out of every £8 that the coalition Government are cutting. The Labour party has said that it is committed to that level of budget cuts. Of course, it will not say where. I listened to the hon. Member for Newport East give a long list of cuts to which she objects, but she will not say what her party would have cut. She is also not saying that her party, if it were in government, would actually increase spending on any of those services. I hope she will forgive me for saying this, but it is a little disingenuous to attack all the efforts that we are making to restore discipline to our national finances without also being up front by saying, “As a party, if we were in government, we would probably be cutting all of these things, too.”

Mrs Siân C. James: Let us move away from cuts and look at job creation. In Swansea East, the most recent figures show that between May 2012 and May 2013 female unemployment rose by 13.5%, yet male unemployment fell by 1.5%. Things are just not working for women, are they? That is really what the debate is all about. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) was attempting to say—and I think

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she said it very succinctly—that it is not working for women. What are this Government going to do on their behalf?

Stephen Crabb: There are communities in Wales in which unemployment among women remains a very serious problem, and I recently spent a day visiting various initiatives in the valleys, looking at job creation schemes and efforts to address long-term unemployment among men and women. I completely recognise the point that the hon. Lady is making, but let us step back and look at the bigger picture.

More women in this country went out to work today than ever before in history. There are now 13.8 million women in employment, which is more than ever before. Female unemployment actually rose under the last Labour Government by 30%. Under this Government, since May 2010, the number of women employed in the UK has increased by more than 350,000; in Wales, the number of women employed has increased by 21,000. The picture is not as gloomy as the hon. Member for Newport East presents. The employment rate in Wales among women is up by 1.2 percentage points, which is good progress. We are not complacent about that, and we need to be ambitious about improving it, but the trajectory is positive.

In the hon. Lady’s constituency of Newport East, there are now 2,400 more women in employment than two years ago. Surely she must welcome that. The employment rate among women in her constituency is up by more than 6%. Some positive things are happening.

Jessica Morden: Does the Minister appreciate that long- term unemployment among women and unemployment among young women have risen?

Stephen Crabb: I do not have the specific statistics to hand, but as I said to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs James), there are certainly communities in which the trends are not as positive as the broader Welsh trend that I have presented here. We need to be more ambitious and redouble our efforts to see unemployment fall across all categories of women in Wales. I hope Members of all parties can agree on that.

Beyond just the positive signs we are seeing in the employment market, we as a Government absolutely recognise that many, many families face real financial pressure at this time. Many of those families, as the hon. Member for Newport East rightly says, are headed by single women, which is one reason why we are absolutely committed to assisting with the cost of living. We have seen some significant increases in the cost of living, which have placed huge burdens on families in recent years. That is one reason why we are doing one of the most effective things that can be done to put cash back in families’ pockets, which is to take the lowest-paid workers out of income tax altogether. We have now cut income tax for more than 1.1 million working people in Wales by increasing the tax-free personal allowance. By increasing it to £10,000 in 2014, we will lift 130,000 of the lowest-paid workers in Wales out of income tax altogether. Let no one be in any doubt: the majority of those 130,000 people lifted out of income tax—57%—will be women.

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The hon. Member for Newport East spoke in great detail about some of our welfare reform measures. The introduction of universal credit is central to our welfare plans. Why are we reforming welfare? First, we cannot begin to think about cutting the deficit and the debt burden unless we are serious about welfare reform. Also, we all have communities in our constituencies where there are people who have not worked a day in their life—we have 200,000 such people in Wales, and worklessness is still a huge problem in many of our communities. If we care about those communities and are bothered by that, we must be serious about welfare reform. We as a Government are certainly bothered by it, which is why we are putting so much energy and focus on welfare reform.

Nia Griffith: As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East said, we support the idea of making work pay, but it seems to us from the figures presented by professional organisations that universal credit may actually provide a disincentive for the second earner in a household to go out to work or take on more hours. Can the Minister take that back as a serious message to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and ask them to consider it, so that the introduction of universal credit does not create a disincentive for people to go out to work?

Stephen Crabb: If that is a real concern and there is evidence to back it up, I will certainly take it to my noble Friend Lord Freud, the Minister responsible for welfare reform, and discuss it with him. I sit with him and discuss the impact of welfare reform in Wales, because I am concerned about it. The whole purpose of introducing universal credit is a more simplified system, which we want to incentivise more work. We hope that more women will choose to re-enter the labour market, partly on the back of the introduction of universal credit. Some of them will be in work already, but we want them to take on more hours if they choose to do so. We want people to be able to make the right choices for them in their circumstances at that point in time, and we want a welfare system that supports those choices rather than creating negative incentives that work against the interests of the families and individual women that we are discussing.

Households with single women and couple households will be better off on average after the introduction of universal credit. We are clear that that is what the modelling shows. Single women will receive an average increase in benefits of about £13 a month, and the figure for couple households will be £16 a month.

The impact of child care costs has been mentioned. We recognise that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for putting on record some of the measures that we as a Government have taken to assist with child care costs, most notably

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the introduction of the tax-free child care scheme, which makes child care simpler and more affordable for parents to access. From autumn 2015, working families will be able to claim 20% of child care costs, up to £1,200 per child under 12. We believe that that will contribute significantly to helping women who want to go out to work in Wales by encouraging those who want to do so to get back into the labour market and take the jobs that are being created.

To respond to the point made by Opposition Members, I absolutely agree that more women than men have been affected by public sector job losses, due to the proportion of men and women who work in public services. Nevertheless, it is true—even in Wales, where Opposition critics said that it could not happen, because we were led to believe that the private sector was too weak—that more private sector jobs have been created in Wales to offset public sector job losses. Women are taking up those new jobs. Some of them will need extra skills training, and we are committed to helping provide that, but I genuinely believe that the employment situation is not nearly as grim as Opposition Members say.

Jessica Morden: Does the Minister accept that some of those jobs are lower-paid part-time jobs?

Stephen Crabb: There is a general problem in the economy at the moment that real wages are falling as a consequence of the recession. We are seeing that across sectors. Actually, a great many women want to work part-time. When I go around and talk to unemployed men, one common complaint that I hear is, “A lot of the new jobs being created are much more suited to women with families.” A great many women in Wales have been able to benefit from that structural change in the labour market.

We could also talk about pension reforms such as the introduction of the single-tier pension and tackling the historic inequality between men’s and women’s pension receipt. We could talk about the efforts that this Government are making to tackle domestic gender-based violence, a point raised by Opposition Members. We as a Government are absolutely committed to, and serious about, breaking down the barriers that women face in all spheres of life, so that women can play their fullest role in work and have equality at home, in educational institutions and—

Jessica Morden: Why are there not more women in the Cabinet, then?

Stephen Crabb: We will try to fix that. The hon. Lady will have to wait and see. On that point, I will end.

Question put and agreed to.

4.55 pm

Sitting adjourned.