Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): To follow on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), may we have a debate on the

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sale of rugby union world cup tickets? The protection of Olympic tickets from resale helped to prevent ticket touting. Can we make the rugby world cup a party for ordinary people, not just for the rich who can afford tickets?

Mr Lansley: As I have said, I am happy to consult my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about their response on that issue.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware of the great concern about lifting restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians coming here after 1 January. Will he bring back the Immigration Bill on Report so that the House has a chance to consider my new clause to extend those restrictions?

Mr Lansley: The House will be aware that I of course announce future business every week, and the Immigration Bill will be part of a future business statement. My hon. Friend was in his place yesterday to listen to the Home Secretary, and he and Members from across the House will have heard about a substantial package of robust measures that should make a significant difference. In the light of figures on migration from within the European Union, it is terrifically important to make it clear that although we value the brightest and best coming here to study and work, as is absolutely right, we and other countries—Germany, France and the like—do not want that to turn into an ability for people to come to this country or other countries across the European Union for the purpose of accessing benefits.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to come here and make a statement on intervention in failing markets, because he seems to be all over the shop? He has rightly given in to a cap on the cost of credit, but he will not listen on a freeze on energy bills.

Mr Lansley: The Chancellor will be here next Thursday.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Across London and the south-east, we have the scandal of accommodation being erected in gardens and landlords charging exorbitant rents from people who are not paying council tax but are receiving benefits. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on beds in sheds, so that we can examine that problem in detail and get some action?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Not least because I would like to hear more about the matter, I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government to reply to him and to allow me to see that reply. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members may want to take further steps to secure a debate on the matter, for instance on the Adjournment.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): Mr and Mrs Lloyd live in Little Addington in my constituency. They have been flooded twice because of a burst water main. Anglian Water accepts that the water main needs to be replaced, but it will not do the work until late in 2014. In the meantime, it has reduced the water pressure and people in the village cannot even have a proper shower.

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What advice can the Leader of the House give me on how we can hold Anglian Water to account and get it to change its mind and fix the problem?

Mr Lansley: Two things can be done. I will take it on myself to raise the issue with my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to secure a response from the Government. Separately, the hon. Gentleman can speak to Anglian Water, as I have done myself. I have made it clear that I have supported its bids to the water regulator for a price control, which incorporates a commitment to investment, but equally that I will hold it to its commitment to make that investment, for instance to tackle the impact of sewerage issues on households. He may have similar measures that he wants to raise with the company in that way.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Tomorrow, the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, which I chair, will publish its report on the neglected tropical diseases that affect 1.4 billion of the poorest people on earth. May we have a debate about the excellent research that is carried out into those diseases in UK institutions such as the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial college and many others? The UK is a world leader in such research.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is right that we are a leader in research into tropical diseases and into treatments for and responses to them. Increasingly, with this Government’s commitment to dedicating 0.7% of our gross national income to overseas aid, we are also a leader in combating those diseases across the world.

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Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Before the last election, the Prime Minister promised to lead the “greenest government ever”. Now, he is ordering his officials to get rid of the “green crap”. May we have a debate on what the Prime Minister means by “green crap”?

Mr Lansley: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman was in his place for Energy and Climate Change questions, so he will have had an opportunity to hear from the Secretary of State that, through our policies, this Government are achieving greater energy efficiency and carbon reduction than any of our predecessors.

Mr Speaker: I think that the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) was quoting. In those circumstances, the use of such a word is perfectly orderly, but I would not want colleagues to think that it is to be encouraged ordinarily, for it is not.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Given the Spanish Prime Minister’s comment that a separate Scotland would be outside the European Union as well as outside the United Kingdom, may we have a debate on the possibility of a Scotland that is in not-so-splendid isolation?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Members of this House may well seek a debate on Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom. It is perfectly proper for them to go to the Backbench Business Committee to seek such a debate. It is instructive that in the space of two days, one of the central points in the document that the Scottish Government supposed would be the answer to all the questions has turned out to be based on false assumptions.

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Sexual Violence in Conflict

11.39 am

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the Government’s initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict. This issue is not about politics but about our common humanity; it is not enough to be united in condemnation of it, unless we are united in action against it.

It was only when the true horror of slavery came to light in the 18th century that our nation acted against it. In our time we have come to understand the true horror of war zone sexual violence in Bosnia, Rwanda, Colombia, Somalia and many other nations, including Syria. I will never forget meeting young women in a hospital in Goma who were so damaged by rape that they required surgery; the women in a refugee camp who said they were being “raped like animals”; male survivors in Sarajevo, who 20 years on still live lives shattered by trauma; or women in refugee camps in Darfur who were raped collecting firewood. What they all had in common was that, unjustly, they bore the stigma, shame and loneliness, while their attackers walked free and unpunished.

This is rape used as a tactic or weapon of war, to terrorise, humiliate and ethnically cleanse. It destroys lives, fuels conflict, creates refugees, and is often a tragic link in a chain of human rights abuses from sexual slavery to forced marriage and human trafficking. Sexual violence affects men and boys as well as women and girls. It undermines reconciliation, and traps survivors in conflict, poverty and insecurity. Preventing it is a moral cause for our generation.

Our goal must be to end the use of rape as a weapon of war, no longer treating it as an inevitable consequence of conflict but as a crime that can be stopped. We need to put perpetrators behind bars and restore dignity to the survivors, who are often rejected by their families, suffer illness, lack proper housing, are not employed, have no access to education, and struggle to survive. Ending war zone rape is the aim of the initiative I launched 18 months ago with Angelina Jolie, the special envoy of the High Commissioner for Refugees. I pay tribute to her for helping us galvanise world opinion.

In April, during our presidency, the G8 adopted an historic declaration that promised to eradicate sexual violence in conflict. In June, I chaired a meeting of the United Nations Security Council that unanimously adopted resolution 2106—its first resolution on sexual violence in three years. It was co-sponsored by an unprecedented 46 nations and strengthened the UN’s capabilities. In September, during and after the UN General Assembly, we put forward a new declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict. That has been endorsed by 137 countries—more than two thirds of all members of the United Nations.

At our behest, those countries have promised not to enter into or support peace agreements that give amnesty for rape. Suspects can be arrested in any of those countries, all of which have now recognised rape and serious sexual violence as grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, so that the principle of universal jurisdiction applies. They will support new global efforts to give aid and justice to survivors, and for the first time every UN peacekeeping mission will automatically include the

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protection of civilians against sexual violence in conflict. Furthermore, all 137 countries have agreed to support the development of a new international protocol on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict that we have proposed. Those are groundbreaking commitments to erode impunity and support victims. This month, our attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka ensured that the final communiqué contained the first ever commitment by all 53 member states to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

We are underpinning that diplomatic campaign with practical action. Over the past six months we have worked with leaders in 14 countries who are champions of this initiative in their regions: the Presidents of Liberia, Malawi, Senegal and Tanzania, the Prime Minister of East Timor, and the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Croatia, Denmark, Guatemala, Jordan, Mexico, South Korea, the UAE and Indonesia. I thank them all for their leadership.

We have drawn up the new draft protocol with experts from all over the world, and it sets out ideal international standards for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict zones. Its purpose is to increase the number of prosecutions worldwide, by ensuring that the strongest evidence and information are collected, and that survivors receive proper support. Since April we have deployed our team of experts to the Syrian borders, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, where they have trained health professionals and human rights defenders in documenting crimes, investigating standards, and collecting and storing forensic evidence.

In Mali, we are deploying experts with the EU training mission. They have trained two battalions of soldiers so far in international humanitarian and human rights law, in a country where men in uniform have often been accused of carrying out some of the worst rapes. We are giving new support to the UN, and have provided £1 million to support the work of the special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Bangura, to whom I pay tribute for her inspiring work. We will second an expert to her team in 2014.

The Department for International Development is playing a vital part. It has agreed a new approach to protecting women and girls in emergency situations with the UN and civil society, and launched a new £25 million research and innovation fund to help address violence against women in conflict settings.

All that represents significant progress—action begun by eight nations has become global; we have driven the need to end war zone sexual violence up the world’s agenda; and we have generated a new willingness from Governments around the world to take a stand on the issue—but it is only a beginning. We will not succeed until we shatter the culture of impunity, make a real difference to the lives of survivors and stop such crimes happening. Therefore, while we continue our diplomacy and practical work, lobbying more countries to join us and urging those who have done so to fulfil their promises, we want to achieve another step change in global awareness and readiness to act. We need to bring together in one place all the people who are driving forward the initiative, to open the eyes of many others and to ensure that commitments to practical actions are fulfilled.

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As the next stage in the campaign, I have decided to convene a global summit in London from 11 to 13 June next year, co-chaired by me and UNHCR Special Envoy Jolie. We will invite the states that have endorsed the declaration, and legal, military, civil society and humanitarian representatives from around the world. We will open up the summit to civil society and members of the public. There will be a large fringe throughout the summit, enabling events on conflict prevention, women’s rights, international justice, and business and human rights. We will run simultaneous events in our embassies and high commissions on every continent, so that this is not only a summit in London, but an international global event that continues around the clock throughout the duration of the summit. We intend it to be the largest summit ever staged on sexual violence in conflict.

We want to bring the world to a point of no return, creating irreversible momentum towards ending war zone rape and sexual violence worldwide. We will ask all the countries present to make real practical commitments. We will ask them to revise their military doctrines and training, and their training and operations on peacekeeping missions. We will ask them to commit new support for local and grassroots organisations and human rights defenders. We will encourage groups of nations to form new partnerships to support conflict-affected countries, to make the matter a priority in their Foreign Ministries, and to set up teams of experts, as we have done. In addition, we will launch the new international protocol and ask all countries to ensure its implementation. We will work ahead of the summit to secure even wider endorsement of the UN declaration and the participation of all the world’s major powers, and we will seek ideas from civil society, other Governments, UN agencies, and regional and multilateral organisations, to build the momentum.

The campaign aims to ensure that sexual violence can no longer be a feature of conflict in the 21st century, but our ultimate objective must be to eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls, in all societies. There is no greater strategic prize for this century than the attainment of full social, economic and political rights for all women everywhere, and their full participation in their societies. We will not secure that unless we change global attitudes to women, root out discrimination and violence against them wherever it is found, including in our own countries, and show the political will to make women’s participation in peace building and conflict resolution world wide a reality, including at the Geneva peace conference on Syria.

Our work on the initiative stretches across the Government. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked immigration officials to look at how to improve guidance and training on gender-based asylum claims, and she is introducing a modem slavery Bill to give authorities the powers to investigate and prosecute human traffickers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made the protection and empowerment of girls and women a priority. By 2015, the UK will have helped millions more girls and women to get access to education, financial services, jobs and land rights, and our new £35 million programme aims to reduce the practice of female genital mutilation by 30% in at least 10 countries in the next five years.

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Our country is putting new effort, new single-minded focus, new resources and new political will into advancing the rights of women and girls, and ending war zone rape worldwide. In 2014, we will intensify that work in every respect, drawing on the united support of this House of Commons, the work of Members from all parties, the excellence of our diplomats and aid workers, and the strength of our alliances. Working to end sexual violence in conflict is part of the attainment of full rights for all women everywhere, and in the strong tradition of this country’s championing of human rights and freedom.

11.49 am

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it.

The Foreign Secretary is right to say that condemnation is simply not enough and that action is required against these abhorrent and heinous crimes. When this matter was last debated in this House, I put on record the Opposition’s support for the Government’s preventing sexual violence initiative, and I paid tribute to the Foreign Secretary’s considerable and personal efforts in this area. I am happy to do so again today. Indeed, I welcome the steps that have been taken since that debate in March, including by the Foreign Secretary himself, to help maintain and to raise the profile of this issue on the international stage. In particular, I welcome the decision to host a global summit in London next year, co-chaired by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Jolie.

The Foreign Secretary did not make reference to the work of campaigning organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Saferworld and others. I hope and trust that that was an inadvertent oversight, but I am sure he will join me in welcoming their vital contribution to help advance this cause in recent months and over many years. Their work has been indispensible in placing this issue firmly on the international agenda, so will he assure the House of their active and engaged participation in the summit to be held in London next year?

Sexual violence in conflict is today all too prevalent across the world. The perpetrators are rarely held to account for their crimes, as we have just heard. Indeed, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the issue as

“the most pervasive violation of human rights across the globe”.

The Foreign Secretary is therefore right when he says that this is the time for the international community to step up its efforts to respond to these continuing and pervasive crimes.

When the Foreign Secretary last addressed this House on the matter back in March, he set out a number of measures that the Government were introducing to try to tackle this issue globally. I would like to ask a series of questions about their subsequent implementation. First, sexual violence as a tool of war remains one of the least prosecuted crimes, and I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s focus on that work today. Will he set out for the House how many UK personnel have been deployed in post-conflict areas, as part of the UK team of experts, to help improve local accountability structures since the initiative was first launched? Will he set out what discussions he has had with international partners on contributing their skilled and experienced staff to an international

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team of experts that can be deployed more widely? I welcomed the UK’s commitment to increase funding to the UN Secretary-General’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict. Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on whether other countries have followed the UK’s lead in increasing funding for this office?

The Foreign Secretary covered some specific countries of concern. Despite our well rehearsed disagreement with the Government on the Prime Minister’s attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit last month, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s efforts to raise the issue of preventing sexual violence on the agenda while he was there. During his visit, he emphasised that the UK was ready to offer more assistance and co-operation to the Sri Lankan Government to tackle this issue. What response has he received from the Sri Lankan Government since the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to those offers and how he plans to take this work forward?

In response to a written question in October, the Government confirmed that Burma has now been added to the list of countries, despite being omitted from the original list. Will the Foreign Secretary explain the reason for not including Burma as part of the initiative when it was first launched?

The Foreign Secretary spoke about the work that is being done today by the UK’s team of experts on the Syrian borders. Can he provide any more details about the nature of the work, and whether there are plans for support to be given to those in need in Syria itself? Will he also say whether he raised this issue with the Syrian National Coalition when it was in London last month?

The Government have taken important steps to help to raise this issue on the international stage and we pay generous tribute to their efforts to do so. Where they continue to pursue steps to help tackle this pervasive and deplorable abuse of human rights, they can rest assured that they will have the Opposition’s support in their endeavours.

Mr Hague: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for this initiative and our work on it in recent months. It is one of those subjects on which cross-party support, pursued consistently by all of us, is very important and helps to make a big impact on the rest of the world. I know that feelings on this will be appropriately strong among all political parties in the House.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the campaigning organisations. I mentioned that I envisaged the summit giving a big role to civil society, and that certainly includes all the organisations he mentioned. I have often stressed how our efforts build on the good work done at the UN and by non-governmental organisations around the world. I am pleased to say that many of those NGOs sit on the PSVI steering board that I have established, so they advise me directly on the development of this initiative. This afternoon, I will also be meeting organisations like Amnesty—it sits on our human rights advisory group, which also discusses these subjects. NGOs and other campaigning groups are thus fully involved in this initiative, and I value their support enormously.

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The right hon. Gentleman is right that this is the least-prosecuted crime. That, of course, is what we are trying to change: shattering the culture of impunity is our central objective. We want to break into that and show that prosecutions can take place. We have more than 70 people—doctors, lawyers, forensic experts, experts in gender-based violence—in our very impressive team of experts. They have deployed in much smaller numbers—they have other jobs in their areas of expertise—to various countries, some of which I listed in my statement. For example, we have deployed a team to Libya to assess how best to engage with civil society and women’s organisations there, while the basic infantry training we provide to Libyan troops will incorporate a sexual violence element. As I mentioned, we are doing the same in Mali.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about Burma. We are providing support to legal assistance centres in Burmese refugee camps in Thailand and to trauma care camps in Kachin state, both of which deal with rape cases. Our embassy in Rangoon is currently considering how we can do more in Burma, and we are also promoting legal reforms that address and deter sexual violence.

We have done a lot of work on the Syrian borders, supporting the collection of evidence of human rights violations and abuses, including of sexual violence. We have trained more than 300 Syrian journalists and activists in documenting and exposing human rights abuses, including crimes of sexual violence. These are examples of the support our team of experts are providing.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about funds for the special representative. We have been the most generous of countries in recent years, but other countries have given additional funding—not many of them on the same scale as us, but I continue to encourage them to do more.

On Sri Lanka, yes we secured the commitment in the Commonwealth communiqué, which I have to point out we could not have done had we not been there. While I was in Sri Lanka, I also gave a public speech on preventing sexual violence in conflict that was widely reported in the Sri Lankan media—on the television and across the newspapers—so I think we drew the attention of a far wider audience in Sri Lanka to this subject. I discussed with the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka specific support for our initiative, and we await their reply on whether they will support it. Of course, there are aspects that the Sri Lankan Government will find difficult to sign up to, which is why it is important to put it to them and to continue putting it to them. We can only do that, however, if we meet them, which we would not have done had we followed the right hon. Gentleman’s advice.

That, however, is our one disagreement. Otherwise, of course, there is strong cross-party unity on this issue, and I look forward to Opposition Members as well as Government Members playing a big role at next June’s global summit.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. Although, untypically, few Members are seeking to catch my eye on this statement, I remind the House that there is a statement by the Secretary of State for International Development to follow, and thereafter, under the auspices of the Backbench Business

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Committee, two debates, the first of which, in particular, is heavily subscribed. As a consequence, there is a premium upon brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike, first to be exemplified by Mr Alistair Burt.

Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is the second time you have caught me like this; I will do my best.

Yesterday I had the privilege of chairing a meeting at Portcullis House, which was attended by a number of Members. It was organised by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations and the Centre for Global Justice to discuss the issues raised by today’s statement. People were full of praise for what has been a quite extraordinary and exceptional personal effort by my right hon. Friend to bring this matter forward. I do not think anyone should minimise that. The same groups will be very interested in next year’s meeting.

I would like to raise the difficult subject of abortion. Is my right hon. Friend convinced that there is now a complete international consensus and that, although there are different attitudes to abortion, there is no restriction on providing aid and support for full medical access to all treatment, including the right to abortion services, needed by women who have been the victims of rape in conflict, or is it still the case that some countries hang back on their aid and support or make them conditional? Will my right hon. Friend raise this issue with the countries where that might be the case?

Mr Hague: I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for the support he has consistently given to this initiative. We will make sure that the organisations he mentioned will be fully involved in the global summit and in all our continuing work next year.

The position of the UK Government on the issue he raises is that safe abortion reduces recourse to unsafe abortion and thus saves lives, although we do not consider that there is any general right to abortion under international humanitarian or human rights law. Women and adolescent girls, however, must have the right to make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and well-being. The July practice paper from the Department for International Development clearly outlines the UK policy position on safe and unsafe abortion in developing countries. There are, of course, some countries holding back on this issue, but we will continue to encourage them to adopt the same approach as us.

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I spoke to some Afghanistan MPs this week and was quite concerned when they said that, because of the Afghan culture, women there could not achieve equal opportunities. What training is being given to the Afghan army so that, particularly post-2014, it sees it as part of its role to protect women from sexual and other forms of violence?

Mr Hague: As the hon. Lady knows, this is part of an immense subject. We regularly raise with the Afghan Government the issue of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan in the future. We certainly try to build this into our mentoring of the Afghan national security

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forces. Given that we will contribute substantially to those security forces financially after the end of the 2014, we will continue to pursue this issue; it should be in their training.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): May I commend the Foreign Secretary on his personal commitment to this important work and welcome the international response to the Government’s initiative? It is certainly a good start. The Foreign Secretary rightly described a comprehensive approach to this subject and spoke about the work of the Home Office and DFID. Will he confirm that the Ministry of Defence is also completely committed to this—both in principle and in practice? Our military personnel do good work in training foreign troops in various parts of the world. Is this agenda now firmly embedded in their programmes?

Mr Hague: My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is very supportive of this work. I will ask the Ministry of Defence to play its part—along with other Government Departments, which I know will be keen to do so—in the global summit next year. One of our objectives is to build into the work of militaries around the world the importance of this issue. That is what we are trying to do with the various training missions I mentioned. Our MOD has a lot to offer—it can contribute a lot in that regard—and we will discuss further how it can best continue to do so.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): As chair of the all-party group on human rights, I know it has done a considerable amount of work over the years in hosting women who are the victims of rape. The Foreign Secretary should add this one to his list. I have encountered victims of rape in many countries of the world, including in Rwanda, Iraq and East Timor, and in East Timor, in particular, there has been no follow-up to the rapes that were committed by Indonesian forces against many of its citizens.

May I also ask the Foreign Office itself to be more sensitive towards victims of rape who approach the consular services? Such victims have been treated with considerable insensitivity in the past. I think that the Foreign Secretary will know of the specific case to which I am alluding.

Mr Hague: The right hon. Lady is well aware of the importance of this issue because of all the work that she does. I hope that she will be heavily involved in all the work that we do next year, both personally and through the all-party parliamentary group. There are difficult issues for many countries to face in this regard, and we are trying to ensure that they face those issues by involving their leaders in what we are doing. That is continuing work.

It is very important for the Foreign Office to be sensitive to these issues in its consular work. The right hon. Lady will have seen the publicity about one particular case this week. The Foreign Office has apologised unreservedly for what happened, and, having looked into the case, I am satisfied that it is not representative of the normal work of the consular service, including its work in Cairo, where the incident took place. Our consular staff have been dealing with an average of five rapes and up to 25 sexual assaults a year, and the

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problems that arose in that case have not been apparent in others. Nevertheless, we will hold ourselves to high standards.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his leadership and progress on preventing sexual violence in conflict. It was excellent to hear about the global summit that will take place next June, which I think will give hope to women throughout the world. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government have a cross-departmental taskforce to deal with this issue? I note that both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development are present, and I know that they consider it to be a top priority. It would be good for all Departments to work together, and to make it clear once and for all that sexual violence should not be tolerated.

Mr Hague: There is a living, breathing demonstration of the cross-Government work that is being done, in the form of not only Foreign Office Ministers but the Secretaries of State for the Home Department and the Department for International Development. Their work on the wider agenda is crucial. The Foreign Office leads the work on the initiative to deal with sexual violence in conflict, but I have already told the House how helpful the work of the other Departments is. There is also an inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, which is overseen by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. So the broad answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement, but may I press him on just one aspect of it? I think that we can be a little complacent about much of this violence, whether it takes place in conflict zones or here in our own communities—and disturbing evidence emerged this week about rapes of girls in London gangs. Is not the real problem the fact that people in our own communities as well as in foreign communities do not believe in equal rights for women, and do not think that women are equal? We must stop avoiding that problem and deal with it here, as well as dealing with it in other countries.

Mr Hague: I agree, and I hope that none of us will be complacent. What is happening in some societies—not necessarily in conflict—is going backwards at the moment. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about what lies at the root of the problem, and that is why, in my statement, I set this initiative in the context of a broader effort. We are seeking to prevent sexual violence in conflict, but changing the entire global attitude to that—which is what we are setting out to do—would have a beneficial effect on attitudes to women in many other situations and in many societies. I must emphasise again the importance of ensuring that all our own domestic conduct and policies also push in that direction.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his announcement, and congratulate Ministers on all the work that they are doing. I should also draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I have visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Jordan, where I was able to speak to women in

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refugee camps. May I remind the Foreign Secretary of the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) about the need for women to have access to full reproductive rights, and to be able to look after their bodies in the way that they feel that they should be looking after them? That issue really needs to be raised at the conference in June.

Mr Hague: Absolutely. My hon. Friend knows from her work that the DRC is one of the countries most affected by these issues in the world, but I am pleased to say that its Government are supportive of this initiative. They are involved in it, and I have met some of their Ministers on my own visits to the DRC. She is right to suggest that, because the conference will involve a considerable fringe that will address a wide range of issues as well as agreeing our protocol on sexual violence in conflict, there will be scope for addressing fully the issues that she has raised.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s announcement on the summit next year, but we need to get our own house in order as well, given that two women die each week as a result of domestic violence here. It is good to see the Home Secretary sitting next to the Foreign Secretary in the Chamber today. May I press the Foreign Secretary further on the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) on protection for women in Afghanistan? Will he tell us what protection is being given to women human rights defenders there?

Mr Hague: There is already training in human rights for the Afghan forces, but no one should disguise the fact that this is going to be an immense challenge over the next few years. That is why the hon. Lady and others are raising these issues. We raise the matter regularly with Afghan Ministries and I have said that we need to build it into the support that we give to the Afghan national security forces. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has also allocated a substantial amount of development aid for Afghanistan after 2014. We will ensure that the importance of these issues runs through all of that, but this will be one of the biggest challenges in the world, and the hon. Lady is right to raise it.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): The cultural attitude towards rape victims in some countries, and the rejection of them, means that their suffering can be lifelong. In the Foreign Secretary’s discussions with the countries participating in the international protocol, has he detected any real understanding of that fact, or any real determination to address those cultural attitudes?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is quite right. One of the most haunting and disturbing aspects of this whole thing is the fact that the people affected go on to be lifelong victims as a result of the stigma, the shame and the isolation from their families. We have to turn that around by changing the global attitudes to these subjects, so that it is the perpetrators who suffer the shame and stigma. That is our objective. I have seen a recognition of the need to do that among the leadership in many of the countries that have experienced these terrible crimes.

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We need to see the full implementation of the protocol that we will arrive at together, and the fulfilment of the commitments in the declaration that those countries have signed. Our main objective over the next few years will be to change the situation on the ground.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): I have listened carefully to the Foreign Secretary’s remarks on Burma. He will know of the reports of sexual violence against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine and against other minorities in Kachin state. In the light of those reports, there is scepticism about the depth of the regime’s commitment to the initiative. What assurances has he sought from the regime, and what role does he envisage it playing at the summit next year?

Mr Hague: That scepticism is understandable. This will require a big change in attitudes and increased priority to be given to this issue in Burma. We have raised the matter with the Burmese Government, but we will need to go on doing so, because the scale of the problem is substantial, including in the areas that the hon. Gentleman mentions. I cannot give any categorical assurances that the Burmese Government will do the right thing, but I can assure him that they will receive very strong encouragement from Her Majesty’s Government to do so.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): The whole House has rightly paid tribute to the Foreign Secretary’s remarkable personal leadership in this area. I want to ask him about prosecutions. It is hard enough to get convictions for rape in peacetime in the UK, let alone elsewhere after the fog of war. Have there been any successful prosecutions? What would the Foreign Secretary consider to be a good result in this context?

Mr Hague: There have been very few. For instance, there have been just a handful of convictions in Bosnia following the many thousands of rape cases. In any of the conflicts in recent times, only a tiny percentage of rape cases have resulted in a conviction—too few to make any difference to the culture of impunity. There are one or two important international prosecutions proceeding at the moment, but we will be able to judge their impact only when they have been concluded.

My hon. Friend asked what would constitute success. Success would be a sufficient number of prosecutions to change attitudes. Of course, that will take a long time to build up, but we will be making progress once military commanders know that when they issue such orders, justice will have a long reach and a long memory and there is a high chance that it will catch up with them.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In order to secure prosecutions, there must be proper investigation. We have a lot of experience in our police forces in this country, where huge strides have been made in treating victims properly and in running investigations. Is that experience being drawn on by the expert panel?

Mr Hague: Yes, that expertise is present in our team of experts. They are focusing on advising organisations and Governments in other countries on the documentation of these crimes, and on the use of forensics. The protocol

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that we want to agree next year will set out international standards on the investigation and documentation of such crimes, so that evidence can more easily be used across the world. Setting such standards will raise the standard of documentation and records, and the ability to investigate these crimes, in many countries. So, yes—the hon. Lady’s point is absolutely taken on board.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I praise the personal commitment, energy and dedication of the Foreign Secretary in pursuing this really important issue. I also applaud the cross-departmental working between the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Department for International Development; it shows this Government working at their very best. In which countries and regions does my right hon. Friend expect to see the most progress over the next five to 10 years?

Mr Hague: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. We hope that the biggest progress will be seen in those countries that have experienced the most serious problems over the past few decades. We have seen those problems in Europe, in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Liberia and Rwanda. We have also seen them in south America, in Colombia. Hon. Members have also referred to the problems in Burma. Most of the continents of the world contain countries in which we want to see big progress being made on tackling these issues. As I have said, it is encouraging that, in most cases, the Governments of those countries are now signed up to our declaration and our initiative. That means that there is a possibility of making real progress.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): A lot of sexual violence is occurring in Sri Lanka, and it has been going on for some time. Is the Foreign Secretary really comfortable with President Rajapaksa playing such a leading role in the Commonwealth at the moment?

Mr Hague: I am comfortable that it was right to raise all these issues in Sri Lanka. As I mentioned as gently as I could earlier, we could not have done that had we not been there. [Interruption.] It is apparently now the policy of the Opposition that we should have been there.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): No, it is not.

Mr Hague: So there is a little redefinition, but that is allowed. So we have made an impact on this issue in Sri Lanka that we could not have made otherwise, particularly in the speech—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that I am misrepresenting the position, but we understood the Opposition to be saying that we should not go to Sri Lanka. If we had not been to Sri Lanka, we would not have been able to do anything of this: to secure the communiqué; to make a speech on sexual violence to raise the issue with the Sri Lankan Government and to have coverage all over the Sri Lankan media. So Opposition Members can shake their heads or stick them in the sand, but the effect is the same. The answer is that I am comfortable that we did the right thing to raise this issue in a big way in Sri Lanka.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Foreign Secretary and colleagues.

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Typhoon Haiyan

12.20 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the United Kingdom’s response to Typhoon Haiyan. Three weeks after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines, its full effect is becoming clear. The impact has been devastating. As of today, the UN reports that more than 14 million people have been affected, with 3.5 million displaced. The official death toll stands at 5,500.

I visited the Philippines last weekend. The devastation the typhoon has wreaked was clearly evident as I arrived in Tacloban in a RAF C-130 that was carrying a cargo of UK supplies. Many of the outer parts of the town have been flattened and debris from the typhoon litters the streets, but aid is now getting through at scale. In Tacloban, clearance work is well under way and reconstruction efforts were evident throughout the town, with small businesses getting going again and activity on the streets. The Philippines Health Secretary told me that 90% of health facilities in the affected areas are now operational, although many had suffered damage, but there is still huge need, particularly in the outlying islands and more remote areas. I heard from non-governmental organisations that only 20% to 30% of those people in need of shelter kits had so far received them.

Through our rapid response facility, the UK was one of the first donors to get relief to the worst-affected areas. The UK has so far committed more than £50 million of support, which is helping to get shelter, clean water and emergency supplies to up to 800,000 people. Our logistical support has helped to transform the relief effort. Aircraft handling equipment provided by the UK to unload supplies from planes has doubled the airport capacity at Cebu. The UK has also extended the reach of our overall humanitarian response through the deployment of the Royal Air Force, HMS Daring and now HMS Illustrious. That military support has been crucial in delivering relief to more remote islands, including the provision of emergency medical assistance through the UK international emergency trauma team. I pay tribute to the outstanding servicemen and women of the RAF and Royal Navy for their tireless efforts to help those hit by Typhoon Haiyan, and to the NHS personnel who are working to take care of those injured and in need of medical assistance.

I believe that the cross-Government nature of our effort, involving the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a range of home Departments, has hugely enhanced our effectiveness, allowing us to combine a range of assets that is greater than any other country’s response. The British public have shown, and continue to show, overwhelming generosity in response to this crisis, with contributions to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal now standing at £65 million. It is an incredible display of support to help to maintain the momentum of the relief effort, getting lifesaving supplies to those who need them most.

It is clear that the people of the Philippines face a long road to recovery in the wake of this disaster. During my visit to the Philippines, I met Foreign Minister

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del Rosario and other members of the Philippines Government, and I gave our commitment that the UK would continue to support their Government as they begin reconstruction and seek further to improve preparedness against future disasters. There is much that the international community can do in support of that goal, and I have already agreed to dedicate £5 million from a regional programme to strengthening the resilience of four Filipino cities to natural disasters.

While in Manila, I met the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, other donors and NGOs. I heard about their experience of the response so far and discussed with them plans for the longer-term recovery and reconstruction effort. The Government of the Philippines have been clear that they will be leading the reconstruction effort, and the UK will support that work. I raised my serious concerns about the particular vulnerability of women and girls suffering deprivation, a lack of protection and the threat of abuse and trafficking. I hosted a high-level meeting on this issue with many heads of UN agencies in London on 13 November, when a commitment was made to ensure that protection was a core element of the response. We are working with the Philippines Government, the UN and NGO partners to ensure that this important issue is prioritised, and I have deployed UK specialists in this field to the Philippines to help to ensure that the risks that women and girls face are fully addressed.

The Government of the Philippines expressed their heartfelt thanks to the UK Government and the British public for their response to the typhoon. We should be proud of the generosity of the public, including that of the Filipino community living in the UK, and of our medics and military personnel, and Department for International Development and consular staff, who have worked tirelessly over recent days in the humanitarian effort. In addition, we should be proud of the efforts of UK NGOs in delivering so much so quickly. This response—the public’s response—truly represents the best of Great Britain. Our thoughts continue to be with the people of the Philippines, particularly those who have lost loved ones. The dire humanitarian situation and the ongoing recovery effort deserve the continued attention and support of this Government, and I commit my Department to leading that effort. I commend the statement to the House.

12.25 pm

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and for advance sight of it. It is three weeks since Typhoon Haiyan, and our thoughts remain with those who have lost loved ones, those still searching for bodies and those seeking to rebuild their homes, lives and businesses. I will be travelling to the area this weekend. The situation on the ground remains desperate, but it is now clear that this was one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall and that many of the communities closest to the shore were ill-equipped and too poorly constructed to deal with the brute force of the barrage. Typhoon Haiyan has obliterated whole towns, destroyed communities and shattered lives. Although many will rightly ask questions about climate change, this is also a story about poverty. The poorest and most vulnerable were hit hardest, the worst quality homes were those most likely to collapse, and families living in some of the

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poorest provinces in the Philippines are now left with no homes, no assets and no savings to fall back on. I would also like to join in the praise of our aid charities operating there, of DFID staff and Ministers, and of the members of our armed forces who will now, unexpectedly, be separated from their families over Christmas.

Another thing is clear regarding this tragedy: the British public should never be underestimated. Their generosity, through their emotional concern and financial contribution, is a further brilliant reminder that we are not and never will be a nation that looks the other way. The Disasters Emergency Committee public appeal has now topped £65 million. Let us think about that. It is £1 for every person in our country, or an astonishing average of more than £3 million every day since the disaster struck, and all that at a time when many at home are struggling. The appeal started on the same weekend as the separate Children in Need appeal to support families in the UK which, too, broke new records.

So absolute was the destruction that the UN compared the scene on the ground in Leyte island to the devastation of the Boxing day tsunami of 2004. Although the destruction was similar in nature, we can at least be thankful that it was different in scale. Yet lessons, of course, must be learned by the international community about its response to that previous tsunami.

Let me now deal with some specific questions. The Department has not yet briefed the Opposition and, because of that, the time available today does not allow me to ask the full list of questions that I still have. As a former Secretary of State, I have always held the view that the political relationship between the two Front Benches is largely set from the Government Dispatch Box. I hope that I am not going to have to adjust, on this or any other issue, to the fact that even my request for a telephone conversation with the Secretary of State was refused—[Interruption.] It is not weak; it is a fact.

Will the Secretary of State say what assessment she has made of how the response to Typhoon Haiyan has been informed by the experience of the relief efforts following the tsunami? How much UK aid has been delivered and what materials have been sent? What is the plan to help the Philippines Government to ensure that all donations that arrive in the country are of use in that country? The previous Government published plans to ensure that 10% of all disaster relief was directed towards work designed to ensure better preparedness for future disasters. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress and delivery of that approach?

The United Nations has said that rehabilitation costs will be more expensive for Haiyan than was the case following the tsunami. With officials on the ground warning that it may take as long as 10 years to rebuild, it is vital that we get this right. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the Philippines’ capacity to return to growth in the coming years and of the impact of this disaster on the regional economy? I want to conclude on climate change. It is neither wise nor accurate to attribute any specific weather event to climate change, but we do know that climate change is real. Due to the nature of what we are discussing today, I shall make this observation gently: there are worrying noises from parts

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of the Government regarding renewed scepticism about taking action on climate change. Will the Secretary of State put it on record that she is determined to take renewed action on climate change, which is one of the most pressing developmental and poverty reduction priorities for the Government, I am sure, and certainly for the Opposition?

Typhoon Haiyan is not just a disaster today, but an echo of our future tomorrow. The Philippines will continue to need our support long after our shock has subdued. As the Government set out their plans in the coming months, we will rightly scrutinise them, but we will instinctively support them.

Justine Greening: Disappointingly, the right hon. Gentleman has shown that the tone of the relationship can be set by his side as well as by ours.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what we have delivered. The UK has delivered support to around 800,000 victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which has included 12 flights. Two RAF C-17s have landed in Cebu so far, with a third rotation planned. We have also delivered more than 17,000 shelter kits, 38,000 tarpaulins, 16,000 hygiene kits and 1,500 tents, as well as water and sanitary equipment, buckets, jerry cans, 4x4 vehicles and JCBs. We have provided heavy-lifting equipment at the request of the World Food Programme to help to load and unload aid at Cebu airport, and also debris and road-clearing equipment to unblock roads so that we can get aid through. As everyone is aware, we also sent over HMS Daring, which has now been relieved by HMS Illustrious, which enabled medics and supplies to get to isolated and devastated communities. We have also had an RAF C-130 plane in the region shuttling supplies between Cebu airport and the people who need them in Tacloban, for example.

The Government have carried out significant work on disaster preparedness. Through the UN, we are involved in the work of Political Champions for Disaster Resilience, which works with the Government in Haiti. I have invited the Philippines Government to become involved so that they can be better prepared for disasters and better able to respond to them.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what we were specifically doing in the Philippines. As I said in my statement, we have earmarked £5 million for four main cities in the Philippines that can benefit from better disaster preparedness. In 2010, the Philippines Government passed a law setting out a framework for them better to respond to disasters. As I am sure the House is aware, that part of the world is particularly prone to natural disasters. The challenge they faced was simply the scale of the typhoon, which was possibly the largest ever to make landfall. We will work to help them to improve their ability to withstand such disasters. Part of that will involve looking at how buildings are constructed and helping local government to improve its capacity to work with communities and evacuate people.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about my assessment of the Philippines Government’s capacity to deliver the reconstruction effort that is needed. They are today and tomorrow looking at the initial needs assessment on infrastructure. I have spoken to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which are likely to mobilise some of the financing that is needed for the reconstruction effort. There is a general willingness on the part of the

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Philippines Government to drive forward the work and on the part of the international community to support that effort over the coming months and years. Indeed, it is already projected that UN work will take place over the next 12 months as a minimum.

The Government have always made it clear that we want an international agreement on climate change—it is vital that that is tackled. The right hon. Gentleman should remember that it was the Conservative party in opposition that proposed a climate change Act and his Government ultimately took the idea on board. I assure him that we remain resolute in prioritising tackling climate change, as he will see over the coming months.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): We are increasingly seeing disasters occurring around the coast and in island states. We have also seen the enormous role that HMS Illustrious has played. Will my right hon. Friend consider whether, when Illustrious retires, we might convert it into Her Majesty’s relief ship, which could be based somewhere such as Gibraltar?

Justine Greening: That is an interesting suggestion. It might prove to be an expensive way of ensuring that we can reach people quickly, but we are always open to ideas. I should say that the medical team on Illustrious has already treated two children with infected wounds who unfortunately needed to have limbs amputated. That saved their lives, so we can see how our Royal Navy provides support to people who are in desperate need, and we should be proud of the work that it is doing.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) will be going to the Philippines this weekend to see the situation for himself. Perhaps he will find out how far the Secretary of State’s £5 million will stretch in helping those four cities to prepare to defend themselves in the future. The most shocking fact in the Secretary of State’s statement was that, three weeks on, three quarters of the people who need shelter do not yet have it. Will she tell the House what she is doing to overcome that disastrous situation?

Justine Greening: I mentioned that fact in my statement because it is shocking and sets out the scale of the challenge facing us. The typhoon hit a country that has a lot of disparate communities on outlying islands. One of the reasons why we sent out Daring and Illustrious was to get to those western islands in the Philippines that would otherwise not be reached. Obviously, there has been significant focus on Tacloban, but less focus on the area to the west of Tacloban. A lot of work is under way. I flagged up the issue of shelter because it is one of the main things on which we are working with the UN. We have sent significant numbers of shelter kits and six flights will be going out to the region this week. The very generous response of the UK public to the DEC appeal will mean that our leading NGOs will also have the resources to provide the critical shelter about which the right hon. Gentleman talks.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on her announcement and the hard work that is being undertaken. On behalf

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of the people of South Derbyshire who have written to me—this is reflected in what has been said by Government and Opposition Members—may I say that the great contributions made by the public have been astonishing? I put it on record that it is not just a matter of the Government doing something, because the people are doing something, too.

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend is right. People’s generosity is staggering. Some £65 million—that amount is rising—has been delivered to the Philippines appeal. We can be really proud of the way in which our country has responded to the crisis. When I met the Philippines Government over the weekend, their thanks to us were heartfelt. They were really staggered by the response from our country, which they will remember for a long time. In the meantime, we will continue to play our role as one of the leading nations providing humanitarian support in their time of need.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her colleagues in the Home Office about trafficked people, particularly women and children, who might try to get entry into the UK? What measures are being put in place to deal with that?

Justine Greening: I am interested in working more closely with the Home Office on trafficking. It is a key area with an international aspect in which we can up our game as part of the solution. We were concerned by what we came across in the Philippines. One fact that has been less discussed is the significant displacement of people. Many of them turn up in Manila and although they might perhaps get initial support for the first few days they are there, it is easy for them to become lost after that. They are at serious risk, particularly women, girls and children, of becoming involved in all sorts of situations, including trafficking, over the coming weeks and months. That was why I issued my call to action a couple of weeks ago to raise international awareness of the issue, at an event attended by the former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. On the practical side of things, I sent over two of our experts from DFID to work across the UN effort and ensure that we are doing all we can to co-ordinate and prioritise the protection of women and girls through the crisis.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. I am proud of the contribution we are making both as a Government and as a people to the Philippines. Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the Harlow Filipino community, who held a special fundraiser last Thursday night following the tragic death of the Harlow Princess Alexandra hospital nurse, Jeffrey Ducusin, and his son Jairo? Will she express condolences to the family and visit the Filipino community in Harlow sometime in the future to give them support at this difficult time?

Justine Greening: I express my deep condolences to the family and to all those people who have lost loved ones in the crisis. I would be happy to meet the Filipino community and I had the chance to meet some of them a couple of Fridays ago when we had a special mass at Westminster cathedral. I have been in close contact with

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the Philippine ambassador to London since the crisis hit and I saw him this weekend in the Philippines. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend’s local community.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Others on both sides of the House have emphasised how the UK and the British people have shown great generosity to help out in the Philippines, but what discussions has she had with her international counterparts to ensure that all nations pull their weight and help out?

Justine Greening: Those discussions are now well under way. I spoke yesterday with Baroness Valerie Amos, who leads the UN humanitarian effort. It is clear to me that although the UK can play and is playing a leading role in responding to the crisis, it is important that other countries continue to play their role. We have seen massive generosity from across the international community, but there will be a further UN flash appeal in December. I encourage the whole international community to respond to that flash appeal positively so that we can ensure that we keep the humanitarian effort going.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Mountainside mobile signal enabled my constituents Marcus and Ellen to determine that a family of seven of their relations survived the storm on the island of Samar, but none of the homes in the community of Bakhaw withstood the storm. They report that today still no aid workers or representatives of the Philippine Government have been to the island to bring help and assistance. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that there is no unnecessary delay in the distribution of aid by the Philippine Government?

Justine Greening: The nature of the storm and the part of the Philippines it hit—the middle third of the country—have made it incredibly challenging to get to all the communities people have wanted to reach. I know that when the UN first arrived at Tacloban airport immediately after the storm had hit, it was initially impossible even to get into Tacloban, just 10 km down the road, because of the debris. Even on the mainland, reaching people was challenging. One reason we have sent our Royal Navy vessels is to reach such communities and the Illustrious significantly steps up the capacity beyond that which the Daring was able to provide to reach more of those islands. As the hon. Gentleman sets out, it is a continued challenge to reach those communities and to ensure that the supply lines that will support them over the coming weeks remain open and are established in the first place.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): There has been much rightful praise for the work of the British public in donating to the appeal, but it has involved a younger generation of donors, some perhaps donating for the first time, most of whom will have donated by text. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that we are doing enough to ensure that donations made by text receive gift aid so that more can go towards this important appeal?

Justine Greening: I take the hon. Lady’s point on board. There are established processes to ensure that gift aid happens when it is meant to happen and that

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people have the choice—and are pressed when they are given the option—to sign up for gift aid. In my former role in the Treasury, I did a lot of work to ensure that it became easier for people to get gift aid, whether in the workplace or elsewhere, and I am very happy to follow up her point with the Treasury.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): As we have heard, there has been a tremendous amount of support from the British people for those affected by the typhoon in the Philippines and the UK Government have also given £50 million. How confident is the Secretary of State that that money will reach the 800,000 people who need it as quickly and effectively as possible?

Justine Greening: We launched the rapid response facility, which meant that over that weekend we were able to start working with huge NGOs as well as smaller ones to get aid out to the people who needed it. We are using trusted NGOs, we have due diligence and I am satisfied and confident that we will ensure that the investment that goes in, whether from the British public or the Government, reaches the people it is intended to reach.

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to review our immediate response to the disaster to ensure that the right sort of support was prioritised, given the unfortunate reports of aid sitting on the tarmac?

Justine Greening: Lessons can be learned from every single humanitarian or disaster response. For example, this was the first time we had used our NHS emergency trauma list of NHS professionals, so we will absolutely ensure that we learn the lessons. One reason we sent the loaders and rubble and debris clearing equipment was that we found that planes could land in the nearby airport, whether that was Cebu or Tacloban, but there were then two problems. Either they could get supplies off the plane but not down roads as they were not clear, or the supplies were so huge that there was no equipment to get them off the planes as that had been damaged by the typhoon. My Department sourced from the Netherlands a massive piece of equipment that could clear the biggest loads off planes. We got it from the Netherlands to Tacloban and Cebu airports to double the capacity of what we could offload from planes. The hon. Lady is absolutely right: this was a big logistical effort and as we encountered various bottlenecks they had to be removed.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): I, too, thank the Secretary of State for her statement. She highlighted that NHS personnel and staff are doing quite a lot of work in the Philippines. Will she elaborate on the expertise that they are bringing and the good work they are doing on the ground?

Justine Greening: I had the chance to meet some of those fantastic people and one was from my local hospital, St George’s in Tooting. There were surgeons, anaesthetists and doctors who were working alongside other international medics, such as those from AusAID, to provide support. Some of the stories of what they have done are phenomenal, particularly those about dealing with the initial casualties who came in following the typhoon. They have latterly been dealing with some

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of the broader issues, such as the fact that shelter is limited, which means that we are starting to see challenges with pneumonia in children. The work those people are doing is evolving over time. Our support is now principally being delivered through HMS Illustrious and health care is being provided by the NHS people on board.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): Following on from the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) about the measures being taken by DFID to protect vulnerable women and girls from being exploited and trafficked, can the Secretary of State tell us which NGOs she is working with in the Philippines so that the great British public, who have already been so generous and who may want to donate directly to those NGOs or even offer time and expertise to help those women, girls and families rebuild their lives, can do so?

Justine Greening: We are working with so many that it is difficult to give a complete list. Save the Children, Plan International, Christian Aid—a range of fantastic NGOs are now involved in the effort. One of the things that we are rapidly setting up is women-friendly and child-friendly spaces so that women and children at risk have safe spaces to go to. I heard reports today when I spoke with our DFID team on the ground of children being offered for sex trade sale to aid workers in Tacloban, which of course is absolutely disgusting and unacceptable. It is why we are right and working so hard to minimise the risks to vulnerable people.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for co-ordinating so successfully the fast and wide-ranging response of our Government to this enormous disaster, which is especially sad for those of us who have lived in the Philippines and travelled in this part of the Visayas. I also share the feelings expressed by several hon. Members about the generosity of the British people to the tragedy. I highlight the response in my constituency led by Raymond Padilla in the Gloucestershire Filipino Association, the headmaster and staff of St Peter’s high school, including Dan Hudson, who has organised a 24-hour basketball session this weekend, both the Anglican and Catholic Churches, Gloucester Rotary and many others, including the Philippine Community Fund, which was founded by my constituent Jane Walker. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the emphasis in due course moves from saving lives to rebuilding communities, there will be an opportunity for DFID to highlight specific needs for goods or equipment to which our wide-ranging civic society organisations could respond?

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Although the focus has initially been on providing life-saving support, going forward that will gradually evolve into the reconstruction effort, including people’s longer and medium-term needs. The Government of the Philippines are working on shaping what that response needs to be, and the UN is there to support them. I shall be interested to hear from my hon. Friend what he thinks his local community could do. I pay tribute to them for all the work they have already done. It is

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outstanding, and it is a tribute to the generosity and selflessness of people in this country that they respond so generously.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): How much of the initial £30 million that she announced in response to the UN’s $300 million appeal has gone through the UN and how much has been allocated through other routes, and which routes?

Justine Greening: About £23 million of the £30 million went to the UN flash appeal. A further £6 million or so went to the Red Cross movement in one form or another. In addition, we had set aside £8 million for the initial response through the rapid response facility. We spent £2 million on getting equipment and supplies out there. So we are now at just over £50 million. A UN flash appeal will be coming out in the next couple of weeks, once the latest needs assessment has been done.

The Prime Minister made it clear to the president of the Philippines the weekend the storm hit that we would continue to look at what more we can do as a country to help his country respond to this crisis.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and her Department. She has responded outstandingly to this crisis. Like many colleagues, I pay tribute to the British public. In Eastbourne alone the response has literally bowled me over. More than £5,000 has been raised on an Eastbourne typhoon appeal JustGiving site. Ocklynge school raised £1,600. The Rotary raised £1,500. The list goes on. It is absolutely fantastic.

I grew up in Africa and I know that after very heavy floods, or in this case a typhoon, waterborne diseases are a real threat. I would appreciate it if the Secretary of State gave some detail about what vaccines have been provided. Is there a recognition that this could be a real issue?

Justine Greening: Picking up on my hon. Friend’s first point, I pay tribute to the officials in my Department, who have been working around the clock since the crisis began both in the Philippines—we had people who went out there that very weekend—and the whole team back in Whitehall, who have been co-ordinating with the Philippine team. These are people who literally drop everything and head over to a place to be part of the humanitarian support at the drop of a hat. We should pay tribute to their creativity, their effort and their relentless good humour in dealing with a challenging situation. They are flying the flag for our country and working alongside our fantastic MOD and NHS colleagues to deliver a cross-government response.

My hon. Friend is right to raise the generosity of the British public and I am delighted to hear that his own community have been so generous.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) rightly raised the importance of the reconstruction phase. I know from previous disasters that, whereas the international community has responded generously and quickly to the immediate disaster, it is sometimes difficult to get a full response to international appeals such as

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that from the UN. What is the Secretary of State doing to focus attention within the UN and EU on preparing for the fundraising for the reconstruction phase?

Justine Greening: It is one of the reasons why I met with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank when I was in Manila over the weekend. The effort on setting out the infrastructure and longer-term reconstruction need is rightly being led by the Government of the Philippines. It will cover a number of areas, including housing, building and building standards, water and drainage and community resilience. Over the coming days and weeks we will have a clearer sense of the Philippine Government’s assessment of future need. That will feed into a World Bank or Asian Development Bank trust fund of some sort, and the UK stands ready to be supportive of that approach.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her personal energy and commitment in co-ordinating the UK aid effort, alongside her excellent Minister of State. Does she recognise the welcome but late response of the Chinese Government in increasing its aid and sending a hospital ship. Will she put it on record that the Chinese Government should not ruin that by politicising its aid and relief effort?

Justine Greening: I agree. I do not think that humanitarian effort should be politicised. It is about helping the people who have been put in so much need by the typhoon that hit, and getting support to them. That surely has to be the most important thing. I hope that all countries, including China, will respond positively and generously to the next UN flash appeal.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): People in Kettering and across the country have been incredibly generous in contributing £65 million to the financial

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appeal. It shows that this is the sort of international aid that everyone can support. The United Kingdom was already one of the world’s most generous donor nations, and the contributions from the NHS, the Royal Navy and other parts of Her Majesty’s armed forces will not have come cheap. How are those contributions counted against DFID’s aid target, and how are those costs reimbursed to both the Ministry of Defence and the national health service?

Justine Greening: I hope that I can provide my hon. Friend with some assurance. Where International Development spend and effort takes place in other Departments, it is classified as official development assistance and is part of the UK’s 0.7% commitment, which this year for the first time this Government are reaching. Part of our just over £50 million response is the money that we have spent sending HMS Daring and HMS Illustrious. We will fund the marginal costs that the MOD has incurred to get those vessels into the area and do the work that they have done, which I think is quite right.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): My question builds on that asked by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), while the British public have been responding generously to the appeals for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, China has been seeking to extend its air right, raising concerns in the Philippines about its claim over the Spratly Islands. As the Prime Minister is shortly to visit China, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put a note in his bag outlining the United Kingdom’s outstanding and selfless response to the tragedy as an example of how China should respond in future?

Justine Greening: My hon. Friend makes his point clearly. I am sure that is something the Prime Minister will take on board when he visits China shortly.

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Point of Order

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance and advice on an exchange that took place earlier today on the spare room subsidy/bedroom tax. I mentioned the need for clarification, given that the Prime Minister told me yesterday:

“Obviously, what we have done is to exempt disabled people who need an extra room.”—[Official Report, 27 November 2013; Vol. 571, c. 254.]

When I raised the matter with the Leader of the House earlier, he said, “The Prime Minister yesterday was absolutely right to say that those disabled people who need an additional room for overnight carers will not have the spare room subsidy removed in respect to that room.” My concern is that additional words have been attributed to the Prime Minister. Words have been added that he simply did not say. I am not suggesting that the Leader of the House would deliberately misrepresent what was said or mislead the House in any way, but I think that inadvertently that is the outcome of the words he attributed to the Prime Minister. I seek your advice on how that might be reconciled—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I think that I have the gist of it. Every individual Member is responsible for what they say in the House. If a Member feels that they need to correct the record in any way whatsoever, there is a route open to them, but it is not currently a matter for the Chair. If there are no further points of order, we will move on. [Interruption.] It would be handy if any private conversations about the record took place outside the Chamber, not across the Dispatch Box from a sedentary position.

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Backbench Business

European Scrutiny Committee Report

1.2 pm

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the publication of the Twenty-fourth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, on Reforming the European Scrutiny System in the House of Commons, HC 109-I.

The European Scrutiny Committee’s unanimous report is the most radical since the passing of the European Communities Act 1972. It raises fundamental questions about the operation of the Act, which are of great significance to the public and the electors, who have to obey the laws made under and by virtue of it, and the scrutiny of the European legislation that flows from it. I propose to make a short statement without interventions in order to set out the basic issues. I will then give way on specific questions as they arise.

Emphasising the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament on behalf of the electors, the Committee makes proposals relating to a veto to be deployed at national level and asks the Government to respond to our conclusion that parallel provision should be made to enable the House of Commons to disapply existing European legislation. We specifically state that

“there should be a mechanism whereby the House of Commons can decide that a particular EU legislative proposal should not apply to the United Kingdom”

and that

“if such a Motion was passed the UK Government would be expected to express opposition to the proposal in the strongest possible terms, including voting against it.”

A further conclusion of the Committee is that parallel provision should be made to enable a decision of the House of Commons to disapply parts of the existing acquis communautaire, the body of European law that exists under the treaties.

The Committee proposes greater involvement in European legislation by departmental Select Committees, as a whole and individually, including the appointment of a Member of Parliament as a specialist reporter on each and every Committee as a means of focusing the Committees on the enormous body of law constantly arising in relation to policy making and law making within their individual purview. We state that there should be permanent chairs and members of newly created European document debate committees that replace the European Standing Committees. We also propose the reintroduction of EU oral questions on the Floor of the House.

We propose that there should be greater accountability of Ministers, specifically in relation to the problems that arise concerning the activities of United Kingdom representatives in Brussels, including their interaction with the Committee of Permanent Representatives who represent the European Union institutions as a whole, because we believe that there is a significant gap in accountability in that context. We also propose measures to improve debates on the Floor of the House.

There is another concern and it relates to the treatment of European matters in the media, particularly television and broadcasting. We note the importance of providing balanced and informed media coverage on the EU in

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general, and the scrutiny process in particular, and criticise the chairman of the BBC Trust for refusing to give oral evidence to the Committee. For example, this morning the “Today” programme dealt with a whole range of matters of enormous immediate interest, including tobacco packaging and green levies. There is a stack of stuff that comes up continuously, but there was no mention whatsoever of the EU basis on which those matters are dealt with.

With regard to what is going on in the European Union as a whole—the report refers to this—the body under the treaties that represents the national Chairmen of each of the 28 member states with responsibility for European scrutiny meets about once every eight weeks. There has been increasing awareness over the past year, in the light of increasing European integration, demands for political union and so on, of the need for democratic legitimacy in national Parliaments. When the Prime Minister said in his Bloomberg speech, in relation to his fourth principle, that the national Parliaments are the root of our democracy, I am sure that he spoke for the whole of this House. It is vital that our Parliament gives effect to that principle.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful statement. Will he confirm that this was a unanimous and cross-party report? I note that the Leader of the House, the Deputy Leader of the House, the Minister for Europe and the Chief Whip are all here. Can we take that as an indication that they are keen to implement these recommendations at the earliest moment?

Mr Cash: I would be extremely interested to know why they would not be interested in supporting the Committee’s proposals, particularly the basis on which they are derived, which is that we are putting our national Parliament at the heart of the process, because that is the basis on which Members of this House are elected by the people we have the honour of representing.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): It is remarkable that this is a unanimous report. Indeed, it is supported by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the previous Chairman of the Committee. It comes up with a radical but soundly based proposal

“whereby the House of Commons can decide that a particular EU legislative proposal should not apply to the United Kingdom”

even it is voted through by the Council of Ministers under qualified majority voting. It also suggests that

“parallel provision…to disapply…the acquis”

communautaire should be made available to the House of Commons. That is based on Professor Damian Chalmers’ analysis regarding the creation of a form of unilateral red card of national Parliaments that is, in turn, based on the EU treaties themselves, which

“shall respect the essential State functions”

of member states. I commend the report and congratulate my hon. Friend on it. He highlights something of a scandal in this House in that we do not scrutinise European legislation in this way already.

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Mr Cash: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s contribution to this discussion. In our report we reject the proposals from the Minister for Europe and the Foreign Secretary regarding a collective red card with a threshold. We believe that if the principle of veto is to be accepted, because it does not apply in the national interest, that should be a unilateral decision taken by an individual Parliament. The 1972 Act is based on the White Paper of 1971. That document, which created all the consequences that flowed from the Act, specifically stated that the veto must be retained in the national interest, not only for the sake of the individual nation states—the United Kingdom, in particular—but because to do otherwise would endanger the very fabric of the Community. It recognised that imposing a compression chamber on the whole of the European Union would lead to the kinds of problems that have recently emerged with the charter of fundamental rights, immigration questions and the rest.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on this report and on the work of his Committee. Apart from what was suggested in the treaties in the early ’70s, we need better scrutiny not only because the organisation now called the EU has fundamentally changed since we first joined it, or because there has been a salami-slicing of our sovereignty under Governments of all parties in the past, but because the British electorate expect us to be scrutinising EU legislation in this place, as the proposals suggest?

Mr Cash: Indeed. These very radical proposals on changing Standing Orders and the whole mechanism and process would greatly improve our scrutiny. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The British public not only expect us to scrutinise EU legislation in this place but want to see us doing it. Does my hon. Friend find it extraordinary that the chairman of the BBC Trust should refuse to appear before his Committee? Does that not send a very bad signal to all the other Select Committees of this House, and what can we, as the House of Commons, do about it?

Mr Cash: This is all covered in the report—we make extensive reference to it and include the correspondence that was exchanged between the chairman of the BBC Trust and me, as Chairman of the Committee. I think that most people would conclude that his not appearing voluntarily before the Committee to give evidence was really quite disgraceful.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I congratulate the Committee on achieving such cross-party consensus on many of its proposals, including better scrutiny by departmental Select Committees. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that improved media coverage of European politics by all public service broadcasters, not just the BBC, would help to inform the European debate whichever side one takes?

Mr Cash: I entirely agree—that is absolutely the case. It does not follow that anyone has a complete monopoly of wisdom in relation to these issues; what matters is that we have a proper and informed debate based on central principles. The principle of the supremacy of

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this Parliament is so fundamental that there cannot be any dispute about it. A central element of that principle and of our decision making is that the United Kingdom electorate should not have imposed on them legislation that is not in the national interest and that they do not want.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I certainly welcome some of these findings. My hon. Friend is aware that I conducted my own study into this and became very conscious of the fact that we do not scrutinise EU legislation as well as other European countries. We are good at complaining about it but we are not engaging upstream in implementing this legislation or even preventing some of it. Will he expand on his proposed so-called European document debate committees? I would be pleased if European Committees A, B and C were replaced, because they have not done a good job. I also agree that there should be more time for us to question the Minister for Europe on the Floor of the House.

Mr Cash: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There was a time when membership of these Committees was permanent, which meant that they had people who really knew and understood the context in which these matters were being debated. They were not just shoved on them by the Whips at short notice to sit there writing correspondence, or whatever; they took an enormously coherent interest in those matters. The idea of having permanent Chairs and permanent members of the Committee, in parallel with the arrangements for specialist MP rapporteurs—or reporters, as we call them—to serve on the departmental Select Committees, is to create an integrated approach so that the whole House is properly informed at every policy level and can therefore ask the right questions of departmental Ministers on the Floor of the House and in public Committee sittings.

Mr Jenkin: At the risk of testing the patience of the House, I note that, as my hon. Friend will be aware, my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) has tabled a new clause to the Immigration Bill that touches on these matters in relation to the lifting of restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants coming into this country under the EU free movement of people provisions. Is it appropriate on this occasion for me to draw my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) into any thoughts about how these principles might apply to a new clause to the Bill that would be effective in upholding the sovereignty of this House?

Mr Cash rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Given that the time limit on this debate is 20 minutes, of which there is only about one minute to go, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not want to be drawn off his subject and into the wider debate.

Mr Cash: I am certainly prepared to say that important questions of principle arise about the existence of European legislation, as it stands, and what changes would need

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to be made in order to amend it. This is part of what could be a disapplication provision or a “notwithstanding” arrangement to ensure that legislation fitted in with what the British people wanted.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab) rose

Mr Cash: I give way to my hon. Friend.

Kelvin Hopkins: I think we are personal friends but perhaps not friends in the political sense.

I am most grateful for this opportunity to say a few words. I strongly support the report and endorse everything that the Chairman of the Committee has said. It is an excellent report that goes a long way towards satisfying what I think Members across the House have wanted for a long time. Does he agree that one component of our system that really does work is the European Scrutiny Committee itself, with the Clerk, the legal advisers and the Clerk advisers doing an absolutely first-class job? That kind of scrutiny, which we undertake every week, is a fundamental part of what we do.

Mr Cash: The hon. Gentleman—as he prefers to be called in this context—is completely right that we are extremely well served by the Clerks of and advisers and legal advisers to our Committee and, through that service, so is the House. I simply cannot believe that we could have a better service.

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that in order for the Committee to do its job it needs to be told what is going on, and that the Government should pay heed to the distinguished academic opinion we received, which said that limité documents should be made available to the Committee—apparently that happens in other European Parliaments—so that it can report on them to the House?

Mr Cash: As my hon. Friend knows, we deal with that issue in the report. A limité document is one that is heavily restricted as a matter of confidentiality. We believe very strongly that, given that other member states appear to get these documents and can make them public, so should we. It is monstrous that Committees should be gagged on matters of great public interest and importance by imposing a limité tag on them.

On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood)—this is my very last point—there is at the back of the report a complete analysis of all the scrutiny systems of all 28 member states in comparison with ours, so that people can form a judgment about the effectiveness of European Union scrutiny as a whole. Obviously, if the scrutiny system of some member states is wanting, one might have reasonable grounds to worry, when it goes through the majority voting system, that not all the arguments have been taken into account.

I am glad to have had this opportunity to speak and I am deeply grateful to all the members of my Committee for all the hard work they have put in. They agreed unanimously and I look forward to the Government’s response.

Question put and agreed to.

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Small Businesses

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Before I call the mover of the motion, a large number of Members want to speak in this afternoon’s debates, so in this first debate there will be a six-minute limit on all contributions after the mover has spoken. I am sure that Anne Marie Morris will bear that in mind as she opens the debate.

1.22 pm

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House encourages the Government to consider what further measures can be taken to encourage small business to flourish and prosper, including reducing the burden of red tape, addressing the complex tax structure, improving access to finance and gaining support from local government.

May I open by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate in the first place? I am delighted to see here so many Members who want to contribute on this very important issue.

Small businesses drive our economy. They are what create growth. Two thirds of new employment this year has been driven by the small and medium-sized enterprise community, not by the big boys. I believe we need a strategy across all Government Departments that supports that and recognises the importance of small businesses and vaunts them. We need a strategy and a culture change. We need to show national pride—writ large—and to say that small businesses are key and matter and that we as a Government support them.

The Government have a good record, but their proposals and measures tend to look at the SME community as a whole. Given that that can refer to businesses with 250 employees and a turnover of £50 million, the Government would be advised to look at segmenting the market and prioritising some of their support and funding for some of our very smallest businesses.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has a great record. It introduced the micro moratorium on new legislation for three years. It also introduced the red tape challenge. Indeed, 6,000 regulations are up for review, with 3,000 of them to be cut or significantly amended. The Department has changed employment legislation so that, when there is a problem and there needs to be a parting of the ways between employers and employee, the situation is now much easier and effective for both sides. The Department has also sensibly challenged health and safety. A non-high-risk business now has to be shown to have been negligent, rather than face a strict liability test, before it can be taken to court. The burdensome reporting and assessment that used to take place have also been removed from those low-risk businesses.

On access to finance—something that so many of our businesses call for—the Government have introduced the funding for lending scheme, which has gone well. StartUp loans have also been extended and the enterprise finance guarantee scheme has been very helpful.

We cannot, however, rest on our laurels. The Department needs to address some key issues. First, on late payment, I know that the Government are reviewing the prompt payment code, but I think that something needs to be included in the accounts so that company auditors can report on, and make clear, businesses’ record on them.

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Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): On the issue of late payment, my hon. Friend may be aware that the court system can make judgments on small business interest rates whereby a punitive rate of interest is paid by a large business to a smaller one if it fails to pay. Would she welcome the introduction of such a provision to other small business contracts?

Anne Marie Morris: I would indeed. That is a very sensible suggestion and I am sure the current review will look at it.

When people start up a small business, they are concerned about mortgaging their house and having to give personal guarantees. Can we not separate the liability of the business from the home and secure it instead on the business asset? We could do that if we introduced limited liability for sole traders and reintroduced the potential for banks to take a fixed charge over book debts.

The Government have welcomed the plethora of new so-called challenger banks and new alternative lenders, but let us be clear that they need more support. We need to look at the right sort of light-touch regulation in order to make them safe funding institutions in the fabric of our society. More importantly, the Government need to ensure better communication, because businesses do not know what is out there or how to assess it.

We also need to address the issues of European Union regulation, because the micro moratorium addressed only domestic regulation. The EU red tape taskforce has identified 30 areas to be addressed, which is welcome, but more needs to be done. I would ask the UK better regulation taskforce to look not just at what we can do to encourage EU initiatives, but at how we make regulations in this country. My understanding is that most of the review looks at whether a piece of legislation will be burdensome for the SME community as a whole, without really addressing the issue of very small start-up businesses.

The Treasury has been good. It has introduced small business rate relief and extended it, and I hope it will be extended further in the Budget. It has reduced corporation tax: we are ever closer to 20% all around. Perhaps most valuable is the national insurance employers’ allowance, meaning £2,000 off the employer’s contribution. That is good news.

Again, however, more needs to be done. Business rates are one of the biggest challenges. They need to be seen as fair and transparent. A firm with a business on the high street that is not the main footfall area of the town still pays high rates, and yet the rates for an out-of-town retailer covering the same amount of square feet seems disproportionately low.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an excellent and powerful speech. On business rate reform, I am sure she has heard, as I have, from local businesses that feel they would struggle without the extension of the small business rate relief that the Government have already given them. My hon. Friend has already said that she wants it to be extended, but does she agree that there needs to be more fundamental reform of the business rate system to support our small businesses?

Anne Marie Morris: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that there needs to be root-and-branch reform. The whole way in which rateable value is calculated is a

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mystery. The rulebook has got a bit like the tax code. Why are some pubs assessed on turnover, while others are assessed on freehold or rental value? That is arcane and requires a thorough overhaul.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that in London, where my constituency is, small businesses are penalised because the higher rateable values there mean that rates are extortionate?

Anne Marie Morris: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point.

The next area that should be addressed is the VAT cliff: if a business’s turnover reaches £79,000, it is suddenly hit by having to find VAT. It will hardly want to increase prices to its customers by 20% overnight. We could have a ratchet mechanism or go to the EU, which would be perfectly possible. I urge the Government to do so, because we need a derogation.

The Government, but particularly the Treasury, should consider the removal of class 2 national insurance contributions. The self-employed have to pay two classes of contributions, and they find that incredibly confusing. We have a great record on corporation tax, but could we not do more, including by looking at a new, simplified flat tax for the smallest businesses?

We should talk not only about BIS and the Treasury, but the Department for Education, because education is critical to our having a true and sustainable supply of new small businesses. The Government’s introduction of financial education is a fantastic first step, but that is only one piece of the enterprise skill set that an entrepreneur needs.

It is great that apprenticeship schemes have grown under this Government, with 858,000 individuals participating in those schemes this year, but we need more. We need enterprise education for six to 60-year-olds. The World Economic Forum has recommended that there should be enterprise education in every country throughout the period of education. I suggest that we ask Ofsted, which looks at community engagement to measure what schools do, to consider not only that point but business engagement as well.

In relation to funding in the tertiary sector, we should also look at whether institutions are offering enterprise education, which I believe should be available whatever discipline students are reading. Although I applaud Lord Young’s comments about business schools taking a lead, we should remember that they are not the only such place. There is a role for universities to work much more closely with local enterprise partnerships, a point to which I shall return.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that in many cases it would be beneficial for universities to be represented on LEP boards?

Anne Marie Morris: That is an excellent idea.

The Department for Work and Pensions also has a role to play. It has done some good things—it has delayed auto-enrolment for pensions, and we heard this morning that there may be a cap on pension charges—but the Work programme needs to offer the potential for proper self-employment. Research undertaken by the

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all-party group on micro-businesses has found that almost half of the businesses offering the Work programme did not have an adequate skill base to enable people to go back into work as self-employed individuals. The DWP could consider what it might do to help late returners. Organisations such as PRIME—the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise—help them to return to work, but there is very little else, although that matter is important.

Let us not forget the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It has done some great things for businesses. High-speed broadband is absolutely critical, and the fact that there are now broadband connection vouchers for small businesses in 22 cities is very welcome. However, more is needed, because rural areas are really suffering.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): My hon. Friend is setting out measures that will enable small businesses to grow. Let us not forget that every big business was once a small business, and, taken together, such measures should provide an incentive for businesses to get bigger.

Anne Marie Morris: That is absolutely right.

We need to spread the broadband initiative and encourage Ministers—sooner rather than later—to look at the 4G market. One of biggest concerns of small businesses is that they cannot get mobile reception, which is critical to them.

I ask the Department for Communities and Local Government to work with the LEPs and get them to engage better with the smallest of businesses. Please could it also look at procurement? Although central Government have done a good job in trying to meet their obligation of giving 25% of contracts to SMEs, the picture in local government is rather less rosy.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change also has a part to play. The £90 million scheme for clean-tech entrepreneurs is a very good step. There is a green deal specifically for small businesses, with a pay-as-you-save scheme. However, more needs to be done, including help with switching suppliers. Businesses currently find themselves moved automatically on to new contracts on disadvantageous terms.

What more could UK Trade & Investment and the Foreign Office do? UKTI has done a really good job, but it needs to do more to help the smallest businesses, and there is a call for greater support at embassy level.

Let us not forget the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which after all represents a fifth of our economy in the form of rural businesses.

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that, with the emphasis that the Government, driven by the Treasury, have placed on our embassies in the past three and a half years, UKTI is doing a fantastic job around the world through taking delegations, aided by Ministers, to push British exports? It is meeting with considerable success, because it has beefed up the quality and quantity of the people representing British industry and the Government around the world.

Anne Marie Morris: I agree entirely.

To return to DEFRA’s key role, a grant of £60 million has been set aside for the rural economy to enable businesses to look at opportunities in tourism and

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micro-enterprise. However, the Commission for Rural Communities has said that the Government need to consider future-proofing such businesses, particularly in relation to their peculiar needs for access to finance.

Finally, because I am conscious that many hon. Members want to speak, I call on the Cabinet Office to come up with a good definition of a small business. There has been a review in Europe, in relation to the Small Business Act for Europe, on how businesses are defined. It seems to me that European definitions have not been adopted across the UK. I am far from convinced that those definitions are right, but the term “SME” means very little to the average householder. Let us get a definition that is meaningful and relevant to the UK economy.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): The hon. Lady is certainly giving a very fiery and passionate speech, which is very welcome in this House. She mentioned personal guarantees. We have seen reports in the press of the antics of banks in forcing companies into liquidation so that they can avail themselves of their assets. When someone gives personal guarantees and then goes out of business through no fault of their own, a stigma is attached to them in this country, though not in other countries, and we need to get round that stigma. It would be an excellent idea for the banks to look at that.

Anne Marie Morris: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which we should certainly consider.

The Cabinet Office and BIS can lead the charge to celebrate small businesses and to get behind a joined-up strategy across all Departments, including by being clear what we mean by small businesses. In particular, let us all get behind small business Saturday on 7 December, to say, “We in this House support small businesses. We are there for you.”

1.38 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab) rose—

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Follow that!

Mr Bain: Indeed; it is a great pleasure to follow the tremendous speech by the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris). I thank her and the Backbench Business Committee for scheduling the debate.

I represent a constituency that has one of the largest problems of family poverty and long-term unemployment in this country, but it also has some rapidly expanding SMEs. I have been in contact this week with Gaia-Wind, which is the fastest growing private company in Scotland and the eighth fastest growing SME anywhere in the UK, to hear its exciting plans for expansion. It also, however, shows us some of the particular needs of participants in the green economy and the problems that they face.

There is a lack of investment in our economy. We discovered yesterday that investment by businesses has been largely flat over the past year. In fact, business investment contributed only 0.1 percentage points to the 0.8% of GDP growth in the third quarter. We also know that access to finance is a huge problem for the SME sector. Although the small regional banks in

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Germany, the Sparkassen, were able to keep lending to support SMEs during the recession, lending by institutions in this country, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, shamefully fell to spectacularly low levels, which had a huge and disproportionate impact on the SME sector.

In the coming weeks, we will celebrate the contribution that small business makes to our local economies and the national economy. We will celebrate the fact that there are 4.9 million businesses in this country employing 24.3 million people. However, we must be aware of the need to take firm action on business rates, the need to expand the range of financial institutions that are able to lend to SMEs, and the need to do much more on skills, and research and development.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman also celebrate the excellent, detailed, cross-departmental work that the Government have done to support British businesses—big, small and medium—and to get the economy in a position to turn a corner and move into accelerated growth?

Mr Bain: I certainly will not celebrate the three years in which we have had very little growth, which had a huge impact on SMEs. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I want to speak about the positive issues on which we might find more cross-party agreement in this debate.

I refer hon. Members to the excellent report that Santander and Dods published recently in the House. It contains key recommendations that the Government should attend to quickly. It shows that 285 separate schemes are available to SMEs which, in the view of the report’s writers, is far too many. It sets out the good recommendation, which the Government could implement straight away, of developing a single portal through which SMEs can have contact with central Government. The report found that only 29% of SMEs were aware of the existence of the funding for lending scheme and that 28% of businesses thought that access to finance would be the biggest impediment to growth in the next few years.

Shockingly, the report revealed that only 12% of students in our colleges and universities would make working for an SME their first choice on graduation. That is a real concern, given that the vast majority of job creation in the coming years is likely to come from the SME sector, and it shows that there is much more that the Government, SMEs, colleges, universities and schools need to do to promote founding and working in small businesses as good career paths.

As a country, we need to do far more work on skills. Only yesterday, the Minister illustrated in a written answer to me the growing gap in early rates of pay between those who have level 4 skills and those without any qualifications at all. That hourly pay gap of £8.84 has widened by a tenth in the past six years alone. SMEs, the Government and local authorities need to do a huge amount to improve in-work training so that people can see wage progression in a job, and so that a job in a small or medium-sized enterprise can become a career with long-term prospects.

We need to improve the shockingly low rates of research and development in this country. In public and private sector research and development, we lag way behind our main competitors in the EU and many of the emerging markets. The Government must do much

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more to boost the innovation that comes from the many millions of small businesses throughout the country, such as Gaia-Wind in my constituency.

As a matter of urgency, we need to improve access to capital. When I speak to SMEs in my constituency, they make it clear that they are willing and able to take on more staff, and that they want to create more demand across our country. However, the banking system is simply not working for SMEs. We need new players to come into the banking system and regional banks that focus on the needs of the economies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the different regions of England.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that if that is to work, the regional banks in all parts of the UK, including Wales, need to be driven by entrepreneurial zeal, rather than a civil service ethos?

Mr Bain: My hon. Friend raises the important point that we need a culture of long-term investment, as has happened over the past few decades in Germany, where there has been strong support for SMEs from the Government and the financial institutions. We need to see more of that in this country and it would be best delivered through a system of regional banks that provide support to business on a dedicated, local basis.

Finally, in this most significant of weeks for Scotland, I must say that it is critical that the SME community speaks out on the question of Scotland’s continued membership of the United Kingdom. It would be disastrous for Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK and disastrous for exporters if Scotland were forced out of the United Kingdom. It is important that all of us in the House encourage business to speak out on the need to keep the Union together.

I am incredibly supportive of small businesses in my constituency, and I look forward to hearing a positive debate among Members on both sides of the House.

1.46 pm

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): I think that this is my first opportunity to congratulate you on taking the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) on securing the debate and all those who supported her at the Backbench Business Committee. To pick up on just one of the points that she made, I agree about the difficulties that are presented by the VAT threshold, which I saw recently in the case of a meals on wheels business that serves my constituents. It is just about to hit the threshold, but its customers are ill-equipped to deal with a hike in prices.

Like my hon. Friend, I look forward to celebrating small business Saturday in my constituency. I also look forward to a discussion that will take place shortly at Norwich business school, whose advisory board I sit on, about how such business schools can be anchor institutions for the small firms in their surrounding area.

In the report, “Growing Your Business”, Lord Young of Graffham drew out just how much more there is to do to open up public procurement to small and medium-sized firms. My hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot mentioned the Cabinet Office at the end of her

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comprehensive list, and I am sure that she would join me in congratulating the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General on his work to give 25% of Government business to small and medium-sized enterprises. Surprisingly, it is often forgotten that the Government buy large quantities of goods and services on behalf of taxpayers, and there is no reason why small and medium-sized businesses should not take pride of place in that marketplace.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that small businesses find it difficult to deal with Government agencies because they are presented with a bewildering array of things such as pre-qualification questionnaires? Small and micro-businesses do not have a huge army of staff to deal with such nonsense, which increases costs not only for business, but for the Government, because they could have bought what they needed cheaper from a small business in the first place.

Chloe Smith: My hon. Friend could not have made a better intervention because I was pleased to be able to contribute to solving that exact problem when I was a Cabinet Office Minister.

Given a few tools, we can all do much more in our constituencies, and Lord Young is continuing to work on that issue in association with my hon. Friend the Minister for Skills and Enterprise. We must encourage small and medium-sized firms to use Contracts Finder, on which they will find a clear record of all available Government contracts. We should urge local authorities and others to put their contracts on that portal to allow the operation of a comprehensive marketplace.

We should also encourage constituency businesses to use the mystery shopper scheme that the Cabinet Office has introduced, which will help to solve the problem raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot. When small businesses that seek simply to get on and do business encounter poor practice or communication from the public sector, they need a way to solve the problem. The mystery shopper scheme does exactly that, and also gives us a chance to do more to encourage public authorities—whether local government, health, police or fire services, or any similar service—to do more to make their procurement SME-friendly.

Small firms can encounter many problems such as the prevalence of pre-qualification questionnaires and late payment. A care company in my constituency deals with customers who are particularly vulnerable, and tragic havoc can be wrought if a health body makes a late payment to such a company. The motion rightly calls on local government to do its part, and I suggest that better procurement forms an important part of that.

Mark Pawsey: My hon. Friend mentioned pre-qualification questionnaires. Once a small business has managed to jump through the hoops demanded by one authority, should not that be good enough for another authority? Perhaps we should have some form of qualification certificate.

Chloe Smith: That is my view. To the best of my knowledge, the Government are bringing forward proposals to put in place exactly that, which I support wholeheartedly, having started that work some months ago.

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The motion refers to red tape, but again there is no way to solve that problem except through a methodical approach. I applaud the opening provided by the mystery shopper service to which I referred as it allows us to be methodical by making a list of things that have gone wrong and solving them one by one. That is the only approach that will work for regulatory problems. We must hear from small firms that regulations have served ill, and then we can go about solving the problems. I always say as a constituency MP that I cannot attempt to help a constituent to solve something if I do not know the detail of what the problem is.

Like many others, I am sure, I encourage firms to use the red tape challenge that the Government have rightly set up, and I welcome the results of the initiative so far. To date, more than 3,500 regulations have been identified for reform, saving businesses more than £215 million per year. That is worth doing, and I am sure that the Minister will update the House about how we can extend that approach to European regulatory burdens. On behalf of my constituency businesses, I care very much about that issue.

In the remaining two minutes available, I will conclude by talking about recruitment, which is crucial for small and medium-sized firms. Of course we all want such businesses to become larger firms, if that is their ambition, but to do so they need great people to become their employees. I run a large campaign in my constituency called Norwich for Jobs, which does what it says on the tin. It seeks to create more jobs in Norwich, especially for those aged 18 to 24, and we aim to halve youth unemployment in Norwich in two years. I am pleased that local firms have responded to the call and that more than 800 jobs and apprenticeships have been pledged to the campaign. Although the campaign has been going for only 10 months, 400 young people have been helped into work so far. I want to ensure that small firms have pride of place in that campaign. I will soon run an event with the Federation of Small Businesses and a sister campaign called Swarm. We will consider how to encourage small businesses into such operations, and help them to find the talent they need among local young people. That not only helps the community and young people, but places small businesses in control of their recruitment.

I hail the £2,000 reduction in national insurance that is coming forward in the shape of the enterprise allowance, which will be important for cutting small firms’ jobs tax from Easter next year. I also note the success of start-up loans. So far there have been about 30 of them in Norwich, and 10,000 nationally, which is to be welcomed as it is all to the good of small businesses.

1.55 pm

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) and to co-sponsor this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) on securing it. I am pleased to speak in this debate, which considers how we can overcome the issues facing small businesses. Small businesses, which in my definition are those with fewer than 50 employees, are the powerhouse of the economy. They contribute 46% of the UK’s income in the private sector—a massive £l,558 billion—and constitute more

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than 99% of all businesses. Ultimately, a sustained recovery will be built on their backs, as has been said, and that must be recognised.

A whole range of different factors affect the success and even the viability of small businesses, including access to finance, the high costs of business rates and energy bills, but I will focus my remarks specifically on late payments. Hon. Members may know that for the past two and a half years I have run a campaign on late payments. It started as a small, local issue after a haulier came to one of my surgeries and said that he was going to go out of business because of late payments. The average term he was being given was 30 days, but he was often not being paid for 90 days. That is a common story that I wanted to look into in more detail.

I tried to discover the scale of the problem and it was striking that so few businesses would come forward and describe what they were experiencing. That was until one brave local couple, who started a plumbing business 35 years ago, came to me and said that their business was going under—as indeed it did with debts of more than £150,000 due specifically to late payment.

Mark Pawsey: Is the hon. Lady confusing late payments with customers who refuse or do not have the means to pay? Those are totally separate issues and if a business wants to avoid the problem of late payment, it can refuse to supply goods to the customer until the account has been paid.

Debbie Abrahams: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, if slightly patronising. I have gone into the issue in quite a bit of detail, and it was a specific point about late payments.

Let me give a bit of background to this case. As I said, the story of Ann and Harry Long is far from unique and is a particular problem for small and micro-businesses that do not have the cash-flow buffers of larger companies. I have a particularly a high level of micro-companies in my constituency—more than 85% of companies have fewer than 10 employees—and a number have gone into administration, primarily as a result of late payments.

Nationally, we know from Bacs that more than £31 billion is owed to small businesses, and more than half—58%—of the country’s 1.7 million SMEs say that large companies choose when they pay. In 2011, only £24 billion was owed, so the problem is increasing. If we compare what is owed in late payments to the amounts being lent by high street banks, which last year was £56 billion, we sense the scale of the problem.

According to Bacs data, the average SME is owed £31,000 at any one time and waits an average of eight working weeks for payment, which is nearly double the contract terms. I am particularly concerned about the gaping north-south divide. Small businesses in the north say that they are owed an average of £39,000, which is almost double the £23,000 owed to the average southern business.