9.30 pm

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): This has been a excellent debate with positive contributes from 33 colleagues on both sides of the House. The clear message is that Parliament wants to see greater support for cycling, not just from the Government but from all parties. That is the call to which I want to respond on behalf of the Opposition this evening.

First, let me pay tribute to the all-party group on cycling. The “Get Britain Cycling” report is excellent, well-argued and persuasive and has had a considerable influence as we have reconsidered our approach to cycling as party of Labour’s policy review. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing and opening the debate on behalf of the all-party group, but I also particularly want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin). He also made an excellent contribution to the debate, of course. Less visible, but absolutely vital, is the energy with which he has sought to persuade my colleagues and I that we must make a much greater commitment to cycling and that we must go significantly further than the important progress that we started to make in government.

Finally, let me mention my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). He not only made a customarily informed and passionate contribution today, but has been a powerful advocate for both cycling and improving safety on our roads for many years—advocacy that, coming from a respected

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Transport Minister, delivered real policies that saved lives. I am very sorry to have lost his expertise as a Member of our Front-Bench team. However, I know that he will continue to make a considerable contribution on this and many other issues in the future, albeit from the Back Benches.

I am clear that supporting cycling is a hugely cost-effective way of improving our personal and national quality of life. When nearly a quarter of all car journeys are for less than a mile, making cycling a more attractive option has great potential to cut congestion and boost the economy. With families facing a cost of living crisis, making more journeys by bike is a good way to reduce the impact of rising fuel costs on the household budget, and as a cost and time-effective way of staying fit, to which many Members have attested this evening, cycling has real health benefits. Of course, it also benefits the environment, helping us to cut emissions and reduce transport’s contribution to climate change, which remains significant.

The message is being heard, with 20% more people cycling than a decade ago, yet if one goes to the Netherlands—as I also have as part of our policy review—it is apparent how much further we still have to go. In Holland, a third of all trips to and from rail stations are by bike compared with 2% here. I have seen for myself the fantastic facilities for cyclists at stations in Holland, where there are not just bike spaces but undercover staffed storage with people on hand to repair and maintain bikes while owners are at work. It is a matter of investment—10 times more is spent per head of population on cycling in Holland than in the UK—but it is also about attitude and commitment. I am sorry to say that we have not seen the commitment from the Government that we need to see to increase cycling and to make it safer to cycle.

Immediately on taking office, Transport Ministers abolished Cycling England and, more importantly, its £60 million annual budget and the cycling city and towns programme that we established. Since then, policy after policy has set back the progress that we were making. Targets to cut deaths and serious injuries on our roads were abolished, even though they brought focus to efforts to improve safety. The THINK! road safety campaigns have been degraded, road traffic police numbers have fallen and support for speed cameras has been axed, which has made enforcement much more difficult. Longer HGVs have been given the green light, despite the Department for Transport’s analysis of consequential increased road casualties.

This summer we heard the long-awaited promise that axed funding for cycling would be restored, but headlines about the figure of £148 million turned out to be spin. The reality is an average of just £38 million a year until 2016, with the rest to be found by local authorities, which is a third less than the previous Government’s investment. With only one tenth of the population benefiting, that is simply too little, too late, after three wasted years.

It is clear that we need a step change in the Government’s commitment to cycling. There should be a long-term commitment that is supported by all parties and that will last across Parliaments. I shall briefly set out clear proposals for what should form the basis of that new

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commitment and I hope that the Minister will respond positively to each of them so that we can begin to forge the cross-party consensus that cycling needs and deserves.

First, we must end the stop-start approach to supporting cycling, which means that we need long-term funding of the infrastructure needed for dedicated separate safe cycling routes. Ministers recently set out annual budgets for rail and road investment up to 2020-21, but they failed to do so for cycling infrastructure, which means that while there is a £28 billion commitment for roads, we have only a one-off £114 million from central Government for cycling, and that is spread across three years. It is time for a serious rethink of priorities within the roads budget with a proportion reallocated to deliver a long-term funding settlement for cycling infrastructure.

The priority for investment to support cycling must be dedicated, separated infrastructure to create safe routes. The focus has too often been on painting a thin section at the side of the road a different colour. Genuinely separated cycle routes are vital not only to improve safety but, as we have heard from many hon. Members, to build confidence and to encourage those who are not used to cycling to make the switch to two wheels. It is also important that a commitment to new infrastructure does not become an excuse not to improve the safety of cyclists on roads where there is no separation. The priority should be redesigning dangerous junctions where almost two thirds of cyclist deaths and serious injuries due to collisions take place. We need a much greater use of traffic light phasing to give cyclists a head start.

Secondly, we need to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, so I propose a cycle safety assessment before new transport schemes are given the green light. In the same way in which Departments have to carry out regulatory impact assessments and equality impact assessments, there should be an obligation to cycle-proof new policies and projects. We need new enforceable design standards and measures to ensure compliance.

Thirdly, we need national targets to cut deaths and serious injuries to be restored, but they should sit alongside a new target to increase levels of cycling. The number of cyclist deaths is tragically at a five-year high. Of course, targets alone are not the only answer, but they help to focus minds and efforts, so Ministers are wrong to reject them. However, it is vital to ensure that targets do not perversely lead to local authorities and others seeing the way to cut deaths and injuries as discouraging cycling. In fact, cycling becomes safer when more cyclists are on the road, so we should learn from the success that has been achieved in European countries that have set clear goals to increase levels of cycling alongside the policies necessary to achieve that.

Fourthly, we should learn from Wales and extend to England its active travel legislation, which sets out clear duties on local authorities to support cycling. Local authorities are central to devising, prioritising and delivering measures to support cycling, so it is important that additional support from central Government is matched by clear obligations. To assist councils, we should provide them with a best-practice toolkit to boost cycling numbers that is based on what we learned from the cycling city and towns programme and evidence from abroad. Councils

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should be supported to deliver 20 mph zones, which should increasingly become an effective default in most residential areas.

Fifthly, we must ensure that children and young people have every opportunity to cycle and to do so safely. The Government should not have ended long-term funding certainty for the Bikeability scheme, nor axed the requirement for school travel plans. Those decisions can and should be reversed. Sixthly, we need to make it easier for cycling to become part of the journey to work, even when the commute is too far to do by bike alone. Employers can play an important role in providing access to showers, changing facilities and lockers. However, our public transport providers need to step up and do much more too. Instead of the Government’s approach, which has been to propose a weakening of franchise obligations, we should toughen up the requirement to provide station facilities and on-train space for bikes in rail contracts.

Seventhly, we need to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done in cases where collisions lead to the death of cyclists and serious injuries. I welcome the recent commitment from Ministers to initiate a review of sentencing guidelines. It is vital that this is a comprehensive review of the justice system and how it protects vulnerable road users, and it should be concluded without delay in this Parliament. We are certainly willing to work with Government to implement sensible changes that may be proposed.

Finally, we need tough new rules and requirements on heavy goods vehicles that are involved in about a fifth of all cycling fatalities, despite the fact that HGVs make up just 6% of road traffic—there is clearly an issue there. We should look at the case for taking HGVs out of our cities at the busiest times, as has happened elsewhere in Europe, including in Paris and Dublin. As a minimum, we should require safety measures on all HGVs, including sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars, as well as better training and awareness. I have previously suggested to Ministers that the £23 million that is expected to be raised annually from the new HGV road-charging scheme could be used to support the road haulage industry to achieve that. I hope that that idea will be taken seriously and considered by Ministers, along with all those clear proposals. Taken together, I believe that that would be a significant improvement in the Government’s current approach, and it is something that all parties could support across the House.

Cycling has the potential to be a huge British success story, but it needs a new approach and a shared commitment across Government, councils, schools, employers and public transport providers. Most of all, it needs Ministers to cut the spin and instead give cycling infrastructure greater priority within the existing transport investment plans that they have set out. It is time to end the stop-start approach that is getting in the way of progress and agree a cross-party, long-term commitment to cycling.

9.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I welcome the fact that the debate has taken place. It follows the very successful debate in Westminster Hall, which was also engendered by the all-party group on cycling. I pay particular tribute to

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my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), and the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for their leadership of that group, and, indeed, to all members of that group for a very good report. I welcome the fact that this has been a well-attended debate, and that the contributions from Members from all parts of the House have, almost without exception, been positive and constructive. I am particularly pleased to hear the news of individual MPs taking up cycling. That is now on the record in


, and doubtless their constituents will hold them to that commitment.

The Government wants more people to cycle more often, more safely. We are determined to drive that forward. We have a good record to date, but I want to make it clear that we want to go even further. I believe that we have the most pro-cycling Government that the country has ever had, and we are determined to go even further.

Cycling is good for the environment, good for individual health, and good for the economy. It is good for the environment, because it cuts carbon emissions, noise and air pollution. It is good for individual health, and I am delighted both that the former Health Minister, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), has attended the debate, and by the contribution that the Department of Health has made towards to cycling efforts in government, including the financial contribution that it has made to some of our projects. NHS reforms provide an opportunity at local level for the public health function to be discharged in conjunction with the transport function in a way that simply was not possible before.

Cycling is also good for the economy. Last week, I was in Cambridge, where 47% of adults cycle at least once a week. I congratulate the three councils there: Conservative Cambridgeshire county council, South Cambridgeshire district council, and my Lib Dem colleagues on Cambridge city council, who are working together to promote cycling. The lesson there is that whereas the population of Cambridge has risen from 105,000 to 125,000 in a decade, car travel is flat because the councils have incentivised cycling. If the three councils together had not done that, there would be gridlock in Cambridge as a consequence. So the lesson is that those who want to help the local economy will help the local cyclist. Those who advocate anti-cycling policies damage the local economy.

It is worth pointing out that a 20% increase in cycling levels from 2010 to 2015 could save the economy £207 million in reduced traffic congestion and £71 million in reduced pollution levels. Members on both sides of the House who have drawn attention to the economic value of cycling are absolutely right to do so.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): My hon. Friend knows that there will be a huge boost to tourism in Yorkshire from the Tour de France next year. I did not get the chance during the debate to mention that in Otley, which is part of the route, and the birthplace of Lizzie Armitstead who won the first medal in the London 2012 Olympics, we also have a lot of work going on at grass-roots level. My constituent Joseph Cullen is working very hard to get ordinary people cycling. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is as important to get ordinary people cycling as it is to train Olympians of the future?

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Norman Baker: I entirely agree. As one Member said earlier, cycling must be for everyone. It is the Government’s intention to make sure that that message goes out loud and clear.

Mr Bradshaw: Will the Minister give way?

Norman Baker: I will, briefly.

Mr Bradshaw: The Minister said a moment ago that this is the most pro-cycling Government ever. What is his response to the disgraceful comments of the Communities Secretary that cycling was an obsession of the elite and that he wanted to make a free-for-all for motorists to park on double yellow lines?

Norman Baker: I think the Communities Secretary is capable of answering for himself.

I want to mention the funding arrangements which this Government has put in place. If people believed some of the earlier comments, including from the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), they would think that this Government had not been funding cycling. That is quite untrue. In fact, we are funding cycling more than the Labour Government did. Between 2005 and 2010 the previous Administration spent £140 million—£200 million with match funding—on cycling. Under this Administration, £278 million—£375 million with match funding—will be spent in our five-year period. That is almost double what the Labour Government spent in the previous five years. When Opposition Members complain that there is not enough funding, a little more humility would not go amiss.

I entirely agree with the comments made by hon. Members that it is important not to neglect rural areas. That is why the Government has committed £600 million to the local sustainable transport fund, which equates to £1 billion with match funding. That local sustainable transport fund has funded 96 projects, 94 of which have cycling elements. A further £100 million capital and £78 million revenue funding has been allocated for the LSTF in 2015-16. We have seen £44 million committed throughout this Parliament to support cycle training for schoolchildren. I might say to the shadow Secretary of State that the first thing we did on cycling as a coalition Government was to commit to Bikeability funding throughout the whole Parliament to give the certainty which she says she wants.

In addition to all that, £159 million has been announced since the beginning of 2012—£94 million to increase cycling in eight cities and four national parks, £20 million to deliver safer junctions outside London, £15 million to enable cycle parking at rail stations, £15 million to provide more safe cycling links between communities and £15 million for junction safety in London. In times of plenty, the allocation to cycling measures was £200 million. In times of hardship, we have had £370 million from this coalition Government.

Hugh Bayley: I am concerned that much of the money spent on cycling measures under the previous Government and the present one is spent badly because the planners and engineers who design road systems do not understand cycling well enough. Will the Minister meet the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Royal Town

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Planning Institute and others to try to create a professional qualification for cycling planners, and then to insist that local authorities use such people in designing their systems?

Norman Baker: The local sustainable transport fund schemes—there are 94—were all subject to expert analysis, including by those from local authorities and others who know about cycling, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that it would be helpful for him and me to meet particular people, I would be happy to do so. He should phone my office and we will sort it out.

I also want to mention a key recommendation that, to my surprise, was not touched on much in the all-party group’s report: cycle-proofing—although the shadow Secretary of State referred to it in her comments. The “Action for roads” Command Paper, published in July this year, made it plain that we want to cycle-proof our road network and minimise situations where major roads are a barrier to walkers and communities. All new roads and improvement schemes on the strategic road network will be designed with cyclists, as well as motorists, in mind. There is almost £5 million for 14 schemes identified in the strategic road network where the Government will fund significant improvements to remove barriers to cycling, with a further £15 million for such improvements in 2015-16. Officials are currently planning a conference on cycle-proofing roads later this year, which will involve council chiefs, directors of highways and planning, representatives from local economic partnerships and national parks and so on to ensure that we have the expertise and can work out how best to cycle-proof our roads, streets and communities.

Steve Brine: I know that the Minister did not want to move on without responding to my challenge in respect of junction 9 of the M3 and the Highways Agency, so I just want to give him a chance to do so.

Norman Baker: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting that point into the debate twice. I do not have a specific answer, but I will write to him subsequently. Indeed, if there are any other specific comments that Members have made that I cannot respond to, I will try to do so in writing subsequently.

We are looking at the feasibility of a new national cycleway broadly to follow the HS2 corridor, which would link people, communities and local stations to the countryside and tourist attractions and benefit those living along the corridor. We are looking for these opportunities to improve cycling.

I also want to touch on the safety of cycling, which of course is very important. The Transport Secretary and others have made it clear that any death on the roads involving a cyclist is one too many. We are determined to take what action we can to minimise the number of cycling deaths. That is why I have made it possible for local authorities to install Trixi mirrors at junctions without having to apply to the Department for Transport and why my colleague the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has been so assiduous in trying to deal with the problems of HGVs and to ensure that some of the points mentioned by Opposition Members are properly dealt with through mirrors, cameras and so

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on. To pick up on a point the shadow Secretary of State made, I am happy to say that no incidents involving cyclists and semi-trailers have been reported since the trial began.

Sir Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): My hon. Friend may be aware that I have had discussions with some of the HGV trailer manufacturers and know that they would be very willing to see additional safety measures and happy to work with the Department to achieve that. Will he join me in welcoming that initiative and see how that can be progressed very quickly indeed?

Norman Baker: I certainly welcome that, and I welcome the constructive response we have seen already from the Freight Transport Association, for example. That comment is very welcome and I am sure that my colleague, the hon. Member for Wimbledon, is aware of that and can take it on board and move forward appropriately.

As I said, any one death on the road is one too many. Figures for London show that between 2008 and 2012, 53% of all pedal cycle fatalities were a consequence of direct conflict with HGVs, so there is a serious issue that we are very much aware of, as I think is the Mayor. We are taking steps to deal with it through a number of changes. It is also important to note that cycling in London has increased by 173% since 2000, and figures for cycling deaths and injuries have to be borne in mind in relation to the big increase in cycling that has taken place.

Jane Ellison: On the point about HGV safety, tomorrow morning I am visiting the regeneration site at Battersea power station, where the developers, owners and constructors are running a specific day of cycle awareness training with HGV drivers and cyclists. Does the Minister welcome such moves where developers take responsibility for HGVs moving in and out of their sites? Perhaps that is a way forward.

Norman Baker: That is exactly the right response, and I hope that it will become common practice across industry and across the country.

I want to respond to some of the comments made by Members. In the previous cycling debate, the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) called for the Prime Minister to lead and take action. The hon. Gentleman was very nice to me today but lamented the fact that I was, he implied, dealing with this without support. That is not the case. There is support from all my colleagues in the Department for Transport and from different Departments across Government, and the Prime Minister himself made a statement in August. That clearly indicates the importance that the Government as a whole attaches to the matter. If any colleagues across Government were not taking it seriously, I am sure that the Prime Minister’s appearance in August will ensure that they take it more seriously than they did previously.

There have been a number of suggestions that we should have a cycling champion. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) talked about that. I am very sorry that he is no longer on the Front Bench, by the way. He has been a very good Minister in his time, and a shadow Minister as well—not just the Member for Poplar but a popular Minister. He asked whether I am the national champion for cycling. I hope

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that I am a national champion for cycling, but so are my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, my other colleagues in the Department for Transport, and the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. We want to make sure that this is owned across Government by all Departments. The danger of having one person identified in the role is that others do not feel the need to participate in the same way. I am not particularly keen to use the word “tsar”, by the way. The history of tsars at the end of imperial Russia is not a happy one, and we can probably do without it.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for drawing attention to the health benefits of cycling. We used the World Health Organisation economic assessment tool in assessing the cycle city and national park bids and the grants we subsequently gave. She mentioned 20-mph speed limits. I hope that she will welcome, as others have, the fact that this Government have made it easier for local councils to introduce 20-mph limits, which I campaigned on for a decade before they finally became reality under this Government. She asked about enforcement, which several other Members properly raised. The hon. Member for Wimbledon and I had a meeting with Suzette Davenport, who is a lead member on this for the Association of Chief Police Officers. She has agreed to rewrite the guidance for ACPO on the enforcement of 20-mph limits, and I hope that that will appear before long.

I have to say that there were a couple of churlish comments. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) complained about the Government’s approach. I should point out that she has had £10 million in two local sustainable transport tranches, £5.7 million through a cycle city ambition grant, and £1.24 million for cycle safety funding. That is £17 million for Newcastle and she was the most ungrateful Member here today. The second most ungrateful Member was the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who said that the Government were doing nothing and forgot to mention that the scheme at Brighton station that she identified—the cycle rail fund—and the cycle lanes on Old Shoreham road and Lewes road are paid for from the Government’s funding.

I am delighted that this has been such a good debate and that so many people have turned up to contribute. I confirm that the Government takes this matter very seriously, and we will make further progress. In the spirit of coalition unity, let me say that I have something in common with Norman Tebbit—we both want people to get on their bikes.

9.58 pm

Dr Huppert: It has been fantastic to have such a great debate with so many right hon. and hon. Members contributing. The passion expressed has been really fantastic. The support for the cross-party report, “Get Britain Cycling”, is very welcome and I am very pleased to see it.

At our conference in two weeks’ time, my party will debate adopting this as part of our party policy and then in our manifesto. I hope that other parties will do the same, because it would be marvellous if at the next election they all offer some serious improvements on cycling. For years—for decades—Governments have not done enough. We are doing more now but there is

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far more still to do. I hope that the support expressed in this debate will add extra weight to the call on all our parties for this Government and all future Governments to try to do their best to get Britain cycling.

It is also fantastic that while so many right hon. and hon. Members have been here, outside a huge number—some 5,000—cyclists organised by the London Cycling Campaign have been showing their support for what we are doing and trying to help to get Britain cycling. I am pleased that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign has been involved in all that.

I am really delighted that we have had this debate. I hope that it will give an impetus towards improving facilities for cyclists, and also for pedestrians and consequently for drivers and all other road users. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House welcomes the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report “Get Britain Cycling”; endorses the target of 10 per cent of all journeys being by bike by 2025, and 25 per cent by 2050; and calls on the Government to show strong political leadership, including an annual Cycling Action Plan and sustained funding for cycling.

Business without Debate

Delegated legislation

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

Public Bodies

That the draft Public Bodies (Abolition of the Registrar of Public Lending Right) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 9 May, be approved.—(Nicky Morgan.)

[Relevant document: First Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Scrutiny of the draft Public Bodies (Abolition of the Registrar of Public Lending Right) Order, HC 506.]

Question agreed to.

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

Regulatory Reform

That the draft Regulatory, Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 24 June, be approved.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

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

Free Movement of Workers

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 9124/13 and Addenda 1 and 2, a draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on measures facilitating the exercise of rights conferred on workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers; notes that the proposal seeks to prevent discrimination against EU nationals when seeking work in another Member State; further notes that this proposal is intended to facilitate the exercise of existing rights, in particular by requiring Member States to provide adequate judicial or administrative means of redress, to designate a body or bodies for promotion and support of equal treatment of workers and their

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family members, to encourage social dialogue and to disseminate information on free movement rights; and supports the Government’s approach of seeking to ensure that no EU legislation is adopted that creates new free movement rights or imposes unnecessary bureaucratic burdens.—




Question agreed to.

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Charitable Support Work Romanian Orphanages)

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

10 pm

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise in the House an issue that has, surprisingly, been subject to very few debates over the years, namely the plight of Romanian orphans, children and young adults living in institutions and, in particular, the charitable support work for them over many years.

Few of us will ever forget the awful images in the 1990s of the horrors of Romanian orphanages, which were exposed following the collapse of the Ceausescu regime in 1989. The world was stunned by the television and newspaper images of half-starved, abandoned children tied to their beds. Aid agencies rushed to help and Governments throughout the world condemned what they saw. I am sure that many Members will know someone who answered the call to offer help to those children and young adults. One such person was a constituent of mine, a lady called Linda Barr.

Although we called the institutions in the images orphanages, the reality was that most of the children in them had parents, but those parents were simply not able to afford to feed and care for their large families. The aim of the Ceausescu regime had been to increase the population of Romania to 30 million by 2000, with women required by law to have at least four children—a number that was later increased to five. Families who had fewer than three children were taxed heavily. That policy weighed heavily on the Romanian nation, and the long-lasting consequences of such a policy cannot easily be rectified.

The orphanages were staffed by the minimum number of people required to keep the institution operational, but no consideration was given to the developmental needs of the children. Children in the institutions grew up without any mental stimulation or physical activity, without any loving human touch and often without sufficient food, clothing or health care.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I spoke to him earlier about my intervention. He has mentioned the number of charitable organisations. Does he recognise the good work done by churches in my constituency, such as my own Baptist church in Newtownards, and many others across the United Kingdom, which made immense contributions to help the Romanian children?

Mr Brown: Absolutely. I fully recognise that. That is not really a debate I wish to have this evening, but I recognise everything that was done by communities throughout the UK and further afield. Charities from other countries wanted to help the plight of Romanian children and young people at the time and they still do that work.

For the young adults, the consequence of growing up in state institutions has been an even more difficult adult life. Upon reaching adulthood, most of them were unprepared for jobs or higher education. Some former orphans joined the military or entered the secret service

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and some attempted to fit into society, but most found themselves homeless. It should be recognised that post-Ceausescu, great improvements were made by the authorities and support for the children and young adults came from many parts. The improvements were made possible in no small measure by the work of the many organisations and charities that developed within Romania and across the world, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned.

In my area, Linda Barr, who has worked with children and young adults in Romania for more than 20 years, along with her colleagues in the health service, set up the Dumfries Hospitals Romanian Support Group and then established the RAP Foundation. I know that the Minister is very much aware of the work of the foundation. It has successfully developed direct working links with colleagues in Romania to advance the education of children and young people with disabilities in the country, particularly in Bucharest, and to relieve their suffering and distress.

In July 2007, the foundation officially opened its first supported accommodation apartment, providing a family-style home for four young people: Aurel, Florin, Razvan and Virgil. The foundation works with its project partner, the Romanian Angel Appeal, and other agencies to support the apartment and to develop similar projects.

For 17 years, the foundation has arranged for children and young adults from Bucharest to go on seaside holidays of a lifetime on the Black sea coast. However, as the Minister is aware from the correspondence that I have sent him, this year’s holiday was in danger of not going ahead. It would appear that because concern was expressed by members of the foundation and others over the treatment of a number of young people with disabilities in the Gheorghe Serban district of Bucharest, the general directorate of social assistance and child protection of sector 2 sought to put in place what can only be described as a number of hurdles to prevent this year’s holiday from taking place. It delayed agreeing to the holiday to the extent that the original bookings had to be cancelled. It demanded that the RAP Foundation be registered as a “provider of social assistance”, even though its work as a sponsor does not require such registration and despite its long-standing collaboration with the Romanian Angel Appeal, which is a well-known non-governmental organisation working in Romania that is registered as a “provider of social assistance”. The general directorate also sought to block members of the RAP Foundation from attending the holiday as volunteers.

Due to the foundation’s persistence and, I have no doubt, the work of the British embassy in Romania after I raised the issue with the Minister, a way was found to allow the holiday to go ahead this year. I place on the record my thanks to the Minister and the British ambassador and his staff for their assistance. This year’s holiday was another major success for the young people, but it was not without its difficulties. Sadly, this is the second year in which the RAP Foundation has found the authorities in Sector 2 unwilling to be co-operative. It saddens me to say that when the young people eventually set off on this year’s holiday, the comment was made that it seemed as if it was the first time that many of the young people had been out in the fresh air since the previous year’s holiday.

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I recognise that the mayor and the director general of sector 2 are upset and angry at the documentary shown on Romanian Antena 3, “The Irrecuperable Romania – Bucharest”, which was broadcast on national television in May of this year, but there was absolutely no need for them to accuse members of the RAP Foundation, through media releases, of having “occult intentions” or to say that

“the Scots should go home and look after their own sick people”.

I do not know many of those involved with the RAP Foundation, but I assure the Minister that I would trust those I do know implicitly. Two local people, Linda Barr and John Glover, have both received awards through the honours system for their charitable work.

Former employees of one of the homes told members of the foundation that severely disabled young people are kept tied to their beds, and many are showing signs of severe malnutrition. Beatings and other forms of physical and mental abuse were also described—I really thought we had got past what we witnessed under Ceausescu. Examples are given of residents lying on their backs and being force fed by nurses. Patients’ mouths are open while food is stuffed in so quickly that they try desperately to resist. Two female residents have recently died of pneumonia in the institution after allegedly being denied emergency medical care.

After having viewed what was televised, Professor Michael Kerr, professor of learning disability, psychiatry and honorary consultant in neuropsychiatry at Cardiff university, provided his independent professional opinion:

“All the individuals with a disability seen on camera appear to be seriously, most probably dangerously, underweight. Such a degree of underweight needs urgent assessment as it is associated with a very high mortality. As all the individuals show such underweight there must be serious concerns that the cause is systemic. That is related to dietary practices or environmental stress.”

Professor Kerr recommended an urgent assessment be made by specialists outside the current care team and said:

“In fact, refusal of entry to such assessors would simply increase the gravity of my concern”.

The RAP Foundation has funded all the work it has undertaken in Romania over these years, and has never at any time sought financial support from the authorities in Romania. It is funded through charitable donations raised from people of all ages who live in Scotland and south Wales. What is so distressing is that after the Ceausescu regime, the country made significant progress, so much so that in September 2005, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Romania, went so far as to claim:

“Romania has profoundly reformed—”

from top to bottom—

“its child protection system and has evolved from one of the worst systems in Europe to one of the best.”

In an accession report published prior to November 2005, European Union observers were positive regarding the child care system in Romania.

The Minister has indicated that he would be prepared to meet representatives of the RAP Foundation, and I suspect they would wish to take up such an offer if it is made. The foundation is delighted at the progress that it and so many other charities have been part of over the years, to bring a better quality of life to children and

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young people resident in those orphanages and institutions. It is worrying, however, that after all the progress, excellent work and support experienced in other parts of Romania, the Gheorghe Serban sector is not being as open as many organisations would wish it to be.

This debate was secured by me with a degree of reluctance, and I recognise that our Government have no control over what happens in institutions in any other country. I hope, however, that the Minister will recognise that all that is being requested by many charities, and the RAP Foundation in particular, of authorities in the Gheorghe Serban sector of Bucharest, is for them to be open and allow an independent team to look at what is happening within the facilities under their control. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and I hope he will be in a position to report back to the House on this matter in the coming months.

10.14 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I thank the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown) for raising the important issue of conditions in Romanian orphanages. You will know, Mr Speaker, that the promotion and protection of human rights are at the heart of UK Government foreign policy objectives. All hon. Members would agree that orphaned children have a right to be cared for appropriately and with compassion, and that we in government should do what we can to support work to that end. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said about the efforts made by the British embassy and the team under Ambassador Martin Harris. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s comments are relayed to the team.

The hon. Gentleman remarked on the fact that we first became aware of the unspeakable conditions that prevailed in Romanian orphanages in 1989, when the regime of President Ceausescu was overthrown. Thousands of children lived in appalling conditions in state institutions. It is good to be able to say that, since that time, a large number of substandard institutions have been closed, and that many of the remaining institutions have improved both their services and their standards. As the hon. Gentleman has said, there is work to be done, but we should acknowledge the progress that has been made and the part played in that by British charities, which have actively worked towards such improvements in Romania ever since the revolution.

Charities from this country have provided support and facilities to Romanian orphanages, and have helped to raise awareness, both nationally and internationally, of the poor conditions still encountered there. I shall refer to the list of such charities. The Hope and Homes charity for children has its largest programme in Romania, and has worked with national and local authorities there to improve services in certain orphanages, and to close substandard ones where appropriate. It has worked with the Romanian Government and its partners, Absolute Return for Kids. Hope and Homes has pledged to end institutionalised care for children in Romania by 2020.

Other British charities operating in the field include SOS Children’s Villages, the Foundation for the Relief of Disabled Orphans—FRODO—Children in Distress and Muzika. FARA has worked in Romania since 1991.

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I was delighted to see that FARA’s chairwoman, Jane Nicholson, was awarded an MBE earlier this year for her work in Romania.

Other charities operate to help not only orphaned children but children more widely within Romania. Those charities include The Little People, which helps children with cancer; Hospices with Hope, which has been building palliative care facilities; Light into Europe, which works with the blind; and Nightingale’s, which works with orphaned children and young adults who have HIV. That is just a snapshot; it is not an exhaustive list of what the British charity sector does in Romania. Like the hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne for her energy and dedication in championing at the highest level the fight to improve conditions for children in Romania.

The UK Government, too, are active. We have supported and worked with the Government of Romania to improve conditions in their state-run facilities for both vulnerable children and adults. To give a few examples, our embassy in Bucharest, with Romania’s National Authority for the Protection of Children’s Rights, has facilitated workshops for 90 practitioners from all over Romania on handling disabled children in their care. We have also helped to foster links between Romanian and British non-governmental organisations through a networking event held at the Romanian Prime Minister’s office. The fact that the Prime Minister of Romania was willing to host such an event indicates that the Romanian Government, at the highest levels, recognise that there have been and continue to be problems with the conditions for children in at least some Romanian orphanages, and that the Romanians are determined to continue to drive through further improvements.

Earlier this summer, the Romanian Ministry of Labour, through its national agency for social inspection, carried out an inspection of 51 neuropsychiatric recovery and rehabilitation centres throughout Romania. As part of that exercise, it visited the two facilities with which the RAP Foundation has had such difficulties, including the Gheorghe Serban centre. Gheorghe Serban received 19 specific recommendations for improvement from the Romanian inspectorate, including the need to provide more space for patients and more nutritious food. The inspector’s report says that the centre is currently undergoing maintenance to improve living conditions. I understand, too, that the state secretary from the Romanian Ministry of Labour visited the centre in June this year and was made fully aware of the situation.

Let me turn to the work of the RAP Foundation and start by paying tribute to the dedication and leadership that Linda Barr has shown over so many years. If the hon. Gentleman would like to bring a delegation from the RAP Foundation to see me, he would be welcome to do so. RAP works to reduce social exclusion, to support higher standards of care and to increase the skills and opportunities for disadvantaged children and young adults in Romania, particularly in the capital city, Bucharest. The Government appreciate enormously the RAP Foundation’s work in two care facilities in Bucharest sector 2.

For many years, the RAP Foundation, together with its Romanian partner, the Romanian Angels Association, has been taking disadvantaged children and young adults on much needed and very well received summer breaks to the Romanian Black sea coast. I was concerned when

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I heard earlier this year of the possibility that the local authorities might refuse permission for this year’s holiday to take place. I subsequently instructed the British ambassador to meet the local mayor as a matter of urgency. That meeting took place on 24 July, and on the following day the mayor granted permission for the holiday to go ahead. I was very pleased to hear that Linda Barr wrote to the British Embassy on 26 August to say that their party was at the Black sea enjoying the holiday, and was in high spirits.

I know too, as the hon. Gentleman has told the House, that the RAP Foundation has had difficulties with Social Services—the DGASPC—in Bucharest sector 2, in gaining access to two facilities, especially the Gheorghe Serban centre. Under Romanian law, services within state institutions can be provided only by a registered provider of social care. That means that RAP has no legal right to insist on access to these institutions. As the hon. Gentleman said, it has traditionally worked through its Romanian partner, the Romanian Angels Association. It is also the case that while the central Government in Romania have responsibility for overall policy regarding state institutions, including orphanages, individual institutions fall under the responsibility of local government within Romania. For that reason our judgment is that difficulties are usually best tackled, at least in the first instance, by direct contact between our embassy team in Bucharest and the local mayor and others at local authority level, because they are the people who have direct responsibility for the surveillance and management of those Romanian state institutions.

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I have asked the British Embassy to continue to support the work of RAP and to try to mediate dialogue between the foundation and the social services in Bucharest Sector 2. I very much hope that, following the successful holiday this year, the relationship will be put back on the right footing and developed further in an effective manner, and above all in a way that provides the greatest possible opportunities to the children, whose interests should lie at the heart of all our considerations.

In conclusion, I am aware that the scale and complexity of the problem of Romanian orphanages have been reduced significantly since the 1989 revolution, but there is still cause for concern about the standards of care in some Romanian facilities and a lot still to be done. The efforts of the Romanian Government—combined with the contribution and support of British and international charities, and with the encouragement of the international community to improve the situation—remain necessary to ensure that the work to drive up standards continues.

I would like once again to thank the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway for raising this important issue and to reassure him plainly not only that we will continue to monitor the situation closely, but that we stand ready to take action where it is needed, at whatever level in Romania is most appropriate.

Question put and agreed to.

10.25 pm

House adjourned.