3.12 pm

Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): It is a delight to be able to speak in this Chamber again, having emerged from my sett. I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on introducing the debate. The last time I spoke in this Chamber, I rather thought it was designed to encourage rational debates and to take some of the heat out of our arguments. Speaking as someone who might even be veering slightly towards the hon. Gentleman’s point of view, I have to say that we sometimes have to try to take the passion out of these things, although I know it is difficult.

The hon. Gentleman declared that he is a member of the League Against Cruel Sports. We are not talking about sports, and if we were talking about blood sports, my voting record would show where I stand. I am a member of four wildlife trusts, and I have been a keen wildlife conservationist all my life. I watched badgers from an early age, and I read the seminal work on badgers in the New Naturalist series by Ernest Neal. Generally speaking, therefore, I am a badger fan. However, the debate is not about whether badgers are great creatures; it is about a terrible disease that is causing misery for many farmers and that is affecting their livelihoods and communities.

Michael Fabricant: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the issue is not only the misery of farmers and the impact on their livelihoods and families? There is also

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the misery of other sentient beings—cattle. Some 35,000 cattle are destroyed every year, more than half of which are dairy cows. I do not know whether the solution should be culling badgers, but we do need a solution.

Sir John Randall: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I did not oppose the cull when it was first proposed, simply because the arguments on both sides are very strong, and the reason for setting up the trials was to find out whether culling works. From what I have seen, the trials have not gone according to plan, for a variety of reasons, which other colleagues will go into in more depth.

I am not sure about the issue—I disagree slightly with the hon. Gentleman, who initiated the debate, on this—because I think there is scientific argument on both sides. That is why it is difficult for lay people such as me and for the public to get to grips with this issue.

Mr Donohoe: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Lay people do not necessarily get the information, because the Government do not give the facts out. Is that not the case?

Sir John Randall: I could not possibly comment, and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to. I have not looked into that issue. I trust the Government to give out all information properly. Occasionally, if they do not, they need a bit of a nudge. If there are nudges to be given, perhaps they are listening. However, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need all the facts, but it is difficult to give us all the facts, because everybody’s opinion seems so polarised.

Reluctantly, I did not oppose the cull. I say “reluctantly” because, although I represent a suburban seat—there are badgers there, and a lot of other wildlife—the cull is not something I particularly wanted to happen. However, despite the beard, I am not a bunny hugger just for the sake of it, and there are times when we have to control wildlife.

I want to find out how the culls have gone. I want to be sure that they are assessed properly and that we have all the facts. If they have not been successful, I would propose that no further culls take place. However, if it is proved that the culls have been effective, I may, reluctantly, have to let them proceed again. On balance, I do not think there is necessarily a need for further culls, but I am waiting to be convinced.

None of us in this room or outside must ever forget what this issue really means for individual farmers, their families and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) said, cattle. This is an incredibly difficult subject, and we cannot just rush into things on the basis of sentiment.

3.17 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing the debate.

There is agreement in the Chamber that bovine TB is a major issue, especially for farmers. I acknowledge that TB in badgers is part of the problem, and no one has ever denied that it is—it is the Government’s response to that problem that is in dispute.

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As we all know, the previous Government spent a significant sum on scientific research, and the overall conclusion from the randomised badger culling trials was that the culling of badgers could have no meaningful impact on the incidence of bovine TB. The pilot culls recently completed were not, therefore, supported by scientific evidence.

Mel Stride: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Angela Smith: I will give way just once, because of the time limits and because other Members want to speak.

Mel Stride: I thank the hon. Lady for generously giving way. On the point about scientific evidence, the debate is, in a sense, slightly premature, because we await the outcome of the independent expert panel report, which will assess whether the culls were safe, humane and effective. In the event that the panel concludes that they met all three of those tests, will the hon. Lady accept, as I do, that the culls should proceed?

Angela Smith: The scientific evidence I was referring to was the 10-year, £50-million project, which is the fundamental basis for any science relating to the cull.

The pilot culls recently completed were not supported by scientific evidence. The justification for them was that they were to

“test the assumption that controlled shooting is an effective method of badger removal, in terms of being able to remove at least 70% of the starting population in the area, over the course of a six week cull.”—[Official Report, 15 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 70W.]

Thus, the pilots were designed to test not the science, but whether controlled shooting could achieve the crucial target of removing 70% of the badger population in the cull zone, that figure being key to achieving even a modest reduction in bovine TB.

Therefore, my first question to the Minister is, what percentage of badgers was culled in the two pilot zones? Furthermore, will he confirm the scientific advice, which indicates that if there is an underachievement of the 70% target, culling is liable to make the incidence of bovine TB worse because of the impact of perturbation? Given that the current performance in the pilot zones could only be improved by the use of cage trapping, surely the Minister will agree that the pilot has failed in its testing of the assumptions I referred to. That is the key point: the pilots were testing controlled shooting against cage trapping.

It is generally accepted that vaccination presents an effective method of disease control; yet we are often told that the cost of badger vaccination is too high. However, as has been mentioned, according to a written answer from the Minister for Policing, the cost of policing the two pilot culls was around £1.6 million. Does the Minister acknowledge that if an effective cull requires cage trapping, it is more cost-effective to tackle TB in badgers by vaccinating than by killing? I should have said earlier that a greater problem is the incidence of TB in cattle. Will the Minister acknowledge that the Government need to focus more on securing an approved cattle vaccine?

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The previous Government’s response to the trials was to authorize six badger vaccine trials, which, combined with the vaccination programme in Wales, offered the opportunity to measure the effectiveness of the approach scientifically over time. The coalition, however, announced in June 2010 that

“it would be reducing the number…from six to one in view of its intention of reviewing policy on badger control, and the need to reduce spending.”

Will the Minister now agree that it was short-sighted to destroy the opportunity of making a rigorous scientific assessment of the effectiveness of vaccination in the field? Will he review that decision?

It is clear from scientific briefing that in Britain, badger behaviour is tightly defined territorially, which means that TB in badgers is to some extent contained by the animals’ social structures; so it is hard to fathom why the incidence of bovine TB has climbed so rapidly in recent years. One can only conclude that there is a need to focus on cattle movement and biosecurity to work out long-term solutions with a view to eradicating the disease.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North in calling for a review.

3.22 pm

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I shall be brief, and stick to practical concerns including one or two claims that have been made about practical matters, rather than talking about the science, which I shall leave to the Minister.

There are four myths that I want to discuss. The first is the ineffectiveness or otherwise of shooting. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) said, we need to be careful about leaping to conclusions before the independent expert panel reports, but it is worth factoring into the investigations how much of a bearing the quite high level of animal rights activity had on the effectiveness of the shooting exercise. If it emerges that protest activity—whether those involved were innocently exercising their right to protest, which is fine, or were more strident, active and militant—had a negative impact on the exercise, that should be reported in full. The report should cover the question of what the result would have been without that activity.

As I mentioned in the debate that we had in the main Chamber, I detect a little hypocrisy in arguments about the effectiveness of shooting. The same organisations that now claim that shooting is an ineffective method of controlling or destroying a mammal of the size in question said something else on the subject of foxes, in a different debate only a few years ago. The RSPCA said:

“Shooting is widely held to be a humane method of control in skilled hands”.

The League Against Cruel Sports, the organisation that the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) is associated with, said:

“Culling should be carried out by the most efficient and humane methods available. In practice we believe this means the use of high velocity rifles by users who have passed a competency test or by humane trapping”.

It seems odd to me that the method that was deemed to be the answer to all the queries a few years ago is now deemed inappropriate.

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Caroline Lucas: I know that the hon. Gentleman said he would leave the science to the Minister, but it would be good if he knew a little of it. There is a vast difference between culling badgers and culling foxes, and if he had availed himself of yesterday’s briefing by a scientist who works in this field, he would have seen that those animals act differently, so such a correlation cannot be made.

Simon Hart: I am grateful for the lesson on countryside management. Actually the method of control is similar and the activity of the animals is very similar. If the hon. Lady had, as I have, spent many hours studying how they behave at night, in the lights of a vehicle or the lights used by an expert, she might reach another conclusion. Perhaps that is a debate for another day.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Surely it would have been most sensible to mark the ammunition used in the pilot, so that the public could be assured about whether the bullets that were fired reached their target. There has been no such marking of ammunition, so it is not possible to be certain that it did not damage and wound badgers. I have mentioned the issue time and again, and I do not understand why the Department is so loth to do it, so that we know exactly what happens.

Simon Hart: The Natural England licensing conditions are clear about the sort of ammunition and weaponry that should be used, and the degree of expertise to be deployed. We all need to wait to see if there was any wounding—let alone what the rate of that was—so I shall not answer the question and I do not suppose the Minister can either.

Opponents of the cull have quite reasonably pointed out that cage trapping can be more effective; but they have also said that it is ineffective, or less effective than it could be. I find that odd. If it is ineffective for the purpose of removal, why should it be effective for the purpose of vaccination? If we can learn anything from what has been said, it is that it is very difficult to trap wild animals, whether to dispose of them with a weapon or to inject them with a vaccine. I do not say that it is not possible. I live almost next door to the vaccination operation that is going on in Wales, and am well aware of the practical difficulties that are being encountered; but we cannot say that trapping badgers to shoot them is ineffective, but trapping them to vaccinate them is effective. That does not wash.

The third myth is that public safety has been compromised. There does not seem to be any evidence. Perhaps the hon. Member for Derby North can come up with hard and fast evidence. Before we bandy scare stories around we need examples. I mentioned the endorsement given by animal welfare organisations in the past few years to the use of high-velocity weapons for the control of other mammals in Britain. It is odd: if it does not pose a public safety issue to put fox control into the hands of someone with a high-powered weapon who knows what they are doing, why should it pose a safety issue when someone engages in precisely the same activity to control badgers, with the same weapon, ammunition and training, in the same place? If someone can answer that question I should be grateful.

The fourth myth is that the cull has increased police costs. The history of the hon. Gentleman in the animal welfare movement is perfectly reasonable, but I venture

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to suggest that had it not been for animal rights activity—violence, intimidation and damage—carried out in or around the cull areas, there would have been no need for any policing costs. The only policing costs are to do with policing animal rights activity. They have nothing to do with the cost of the cull itself.

Ian Paisley rose

Simon Hart: I give way, because no one else gave way to my hon. Friend.

Ian Paisley: It is nice of the hon. Gentleman to take pity on me; don’t cull me.

The only body that has been sanctioned for its activities in connection with the issue is the RSPCA, which has today been accused by the Advertising Standards Authority of being alarmist because of what it has said.

Simon Hart: My hon. Friend makes a good point.

I have 21 seconds left, so I shall say that farmers do a fantastic job. They have been through hell in the past 20 or 30 years, and animal welfare organisations have been involved only in the past few years. To my mind, for my family, in my area and for my constituents, farmers are the celebrities we should listen to.

3.29 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I add my congratulations to those given to the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing the debate. It is critical that MPs should be properly involved in future decisions about the control of TB, and that those decisions should be voted on by the House.

The pilot badger cull can be judged only a spectacular failure, including against the Government’s own terms of reference. No one is leaping to premature conclusions because some of the figures speak for themselves. The policy specified that a minimum of 70% of the badger population should be removed within a single six-week period but, as colleagues have said, contractors are estimated to have removed 65% of the population in the Somerset zone after nine weeks of culling, and less than 40% of the Gloucestershire population after 11 weeks and two days.

We know that killing too few badgers over an extended time frame not only risks further reducing the already modest long-term reduction of new herd TB incidence in cattle that the Government were predicting, but crucially is likely to make things even worse for farmers because of perturbation of the remaining badger populations leading to increased prevalence of bovine TB infection among badgers.

The pilots were also supposed to determine the humaneness of controlled shooting as a method of culling badgers, but only 155 badgers have been subject to post mortem examination during the pilot culls—almost 100 fewer than the low number that DEFRA originally said would be examined. There are no guarantees that all the badgers will have died as a result of shooting. Like me, hon. Members will have heard reports of contractors picking up badger carcasses from roadsides, for example, to meet their quotas.

I have asked the Minister how many of the badgers submitted for post mortem examination were killed as a result of free shooting. He assures me that any cause of

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death other than shooting would have been identified, but he has so far been unable—perhaps unwilling—to give me the numbers. The issue is important because it impacts on whether we have sufficient evidence to judge the humaneness of controlled shooting. I hope the Minister will provide the information today.

I am anxious that any assessment of humaneness should take account of badgers shot and wounded but not immediately killed. DEFRA has not released details of the exact criteria that the independent expert panel will use to determine humaneness. Having observed the shambles in the pilots to date, I have no confidence that the remainder of the process will be scientifically robust.

The pilots have proved conclusively that shooting is ineffective in removing the number of badgers required if there is to be any chance of reducing the incidence of bovine TB. We know that contractors resorted to cage trapping, which has been more effective than shooting and which any badger expert could have told DEFRA about before the start, but it is more expensive and ineffective overall compared with the alternatives to culling.

I want to make two key points. First, vaccination is a far better way forward.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that newer approaches to vaccination are emerging and could reduce the cost significantly? Is she aware of the work of the Sussex badger vaccination project, which has a team of volunteers who want to vaccinate? Such organisations should be given a chance to demonstrate their work.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. I agree with him absolutely, and I am familiar with the Sussex badger vaccination project. As he rightly said, it is a service run by volunteers to offer landowners and farmers in East Sussex the chance to vaccinate badgers at very low cost, thereby providing a humane and less controversial method of tackling the disease. It has said that there is strong evidence that a programme of badger vaccination, combined with a robust cattle control programme, will produce better medium and long-term results than culling in eradicating bovine TB. It has many volunteers on hand to do that. It is just one example of how we could, with the right political commitment, take action that would make real gains in reducing bovine TB and its terrible consequences for our farmers.

The cost of the culls has spiralled out of control when the increased cost of cage trapping and expenditure on policing is taken into account. Based on analysis of DEFRA’s estimates, badger vaccination would cost the equivalent of £2,250 per sq km per year compared with the estimated £2,400 price tag per sq km for the pilot culls. Vaccination is the cheaper option and many other figures show that culling is even more expensive than the DEFRA figure that I cited.

My second reason, and the last point I want to make, is that vaccination works. It reduces the probability of infection by 70 to 75%, even allowing for the fact that not all badgers will be reached and that vaccination needs repeating year on year to include new cubs. It is still more effective and more cost effective than shooting,

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not least because vaccination allows the badger population structure to remain in place, granting considerable benefits for disease limitation.

My plea is that the Minister should focus on vaccination and rule out gassing, which is inhumane and ineffective. I have asked questions about that, and I am concerned about the responses. Investigation of a cattle vaccine should be a priority to provide some chance of getting rid of the disease.

3.34 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I am grateful to you, Mr Weir, for allowing me to catch your eye. I grew up on a dairy and pig farm where my father lost his entire pig herd to swine vesicular disease and my mother was frightened that she would lose her entire dairy herd to foot and mouth disease. I can therefore empathise with my farmers in Gloucestershire whose cattle have had to be slaughtered because of this dreadful disease, which causes a painful death for badgers and other wildlife. Last year, 28,000 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered because of their susceptibility to TB. The cost to taxpayers has been £500 million over the last five years and it will be £1 billion if nothing is done over the next five years.

My constituency is fairly close to the cull and the preliminary results are that it has been successful on two counts: humaneness and effectiveness. If the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), who proposed the debate—he is laughing—has a serious accusation about shots being fired above people’s heads, he should report that to the police. They will investigate and if anyone did that, they will have committed a criminal act and should be prosecuted. Let him produce the evidence before he makes such statements.

The real answer is an oral vaccine. The trouble is that it has been around the corner for the 21 years that I have been a Member of Parliament. It solved the rabies problem. An oral vaccine fed to foxes on the continent now renders it sufficiently rabies-free for us to take our pets there.

Much nonsense has been uttered in this debate about the cost of trapping and a licensed injectable vaccine. The realistic figures from the Welsh trial show that that costs about £3,900 per sq km. If that is extrapolated to the Gloucestershire trial alone, the figure each year would be a staggering £1.170 million; I expect that the policing costs of the cull would be less than £1 million. Those who are against the trial cull—I emphasise that it is only a trial cull—should bear that in mind.

Nowhere in the world has a significant reduction taken place without elimination of a significant TB reservoir in wildlife. We saw that in relation to possums in New Zealand, to deer in Australia, and in America.

Angela Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the social structure of the badger population in Britain is completely different from the social structure and behavioural habits of possums in Australia and New Zealand?

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Having watched badgers, I know that when a badger gets TB it goes into the bottom of the sett, dies slowly over a long time and infects other badgers. That is a fact. The disease is

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painful and must be eliminated one way or another. Surely we can unite around that. It is not something we want in our wildlife or our cattle.

In closing, I want to make one or two points. A lot of nonsense has been talked about the safety of shooting. If it were not safe, we would have seen more incidents in Gloucestershire. My information is that there has not been unsafe shooting and that there has been humaneness. I do not know of any cases of a badger going away to die. Again, if the hon. Member for Derby North, who represents the League Against Cruel Sports, can produce evidence, I would be interested in seeing it. He made many exaggerated claims in his speech.

We must do something about this dreadful disease. Our farmers have to use one of the strictest biosecurity devices in the world to ensure that their cattle are free of TB, and it costs them a great deal of money.

Tessa Munt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I will give way to the hon. Lady in a moment.

If we keep imposing those costs on our farmers, vast areas of the south-west—the hon. Lady’s constituency area—will have no beef cattle. We will then import more and more beef into this country and we will lose jobs. That has happened in the pig industry, and it will happen in the beef industry.

Tessa Munt: Many farmers in my constituency have an enormous problem with DEFRA and its agencies in respect of taking cattle off farms when they have been proved to be infected according to the criteria. If cattle are waiting on a farm, not isolated, for 21, 22 or 23 days before they are removed, how on earth can we say that biosecurity is at a high level? That is not the case.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Nobody would condone any farmer or anybody breaking the biosecurity regime. In fact, the Government, as no doubt the Minister will tell us this afternoon, have tightened regulations still further so that they are some of the toughest in the world. They are imposing a great deal of economic strain on the farmers who have to implement them.

In closing, I simply say that if we want to import more and more of our food, let us get rid of our cattle industry in the south-west by not doing something about TB. For goodness’ sake, let us do everything that we can with the armoury in our box to see if we can at least reduce it, if not eliminate it.

3.40 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I, too, would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing the debate. I, for one, think that he can be very proud of his many years of activism on the animal welfare front.

My hon. Friend quoted Lord Krebs as saying that the “crazy scheme” of badger culling had got “even crazier”. As we have heard, the two pilots carried out in the west country have been a complete shambles, and the worst thing is that that was utterly predictable. The aim of the pilots was to kill 70% of the badger population in the chosen areas, but in Somerset, only 58% had been killed at the end of six weeks, while 64% had been killed at the

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end of the extended cull period. In Gloucestershire, it was even less successful: 30% had been killed at the end of the six-week period, and 39% had been killed at the end of the 11 weeks and two days after it was extended.

Those figures are based on the figures that the Government came up with after the pilots had already started, when they dramatically revised down the estimates of the number of badgers in the cull areas. Somewhat mysteriously, the number of badgers estimated to be in the Somerset area had fallen from 2,490 to 1,450, and in Gloucestershire, from 3,400 to 2,350. That simply looks like pure guesswork, yet back in October 2012 when the pilots were postponed due to uncertainty over badger numbers, the Secretary of State said:

“It would have been quite wrong to go ahead when it was not confident of reaching the 70% target and could have made the position worse.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 847.]

Why was DEFRA so convinced that it had got the figures right this year, and why did it get them so wrong?

That was not the only time that the Government moved the goalposts. We saw an extension of the time limits to which I have already referred, and we saw a move to cage trapping when shooting proved to be a shambles. As we have heard, extending the culls beyond the original six-week time frame could be very dangerous for farmers. We have heard about perturbation and the fact that if less than 70% of the population is killed, traumatised badgers will be moving out of cull areas. The longer the pilot culls and the shooting are going on, the more likely badgers are to do so, and potentially they could spread TB to surrounding farms that were previously TB-free.

As David Macdonald, chair of Natural England’s science advisory committee and one of the UK’s most eminent wildlife biologists, said at the time of reviewing an extension of the pilots for Gloucestershire:

“Perturbation has undoubtedly been caused in Gloucestershire already and an extension by six to eight weeks is likely to worsen the perturbation even more.”

I also want to talk briefly about the comparative costs of culling versus vaccination. The Somerset badger group’s volunteer-led vaccination programme works with farmers who would prefer to vaccinate badgers on their land. They have vaccinated 140 badgers, which works out at £83 per badger, of which the group charges £25 per badger to the farmer. The group said that if DEFRA is prepared to cage-trap the badgers, it will cover the cost of vaccinating the badgers at a cost to the group of £14.50 each for the vaccine. Is the Minister prepared to consider that offer?

Finally, I pay tribute to the many activists who have protested against the culls and maintained vigils. I met many of them at a demonstration in Bristol a couple of weeks ago. It is quite shocking that people such as the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) described the protesters as “malingerers and scroungers”. I was contacted by a constituent who said that she was deeply upset by that description. She had cared for her husband for five years when he was suffering from dementia. I would also like the Minister to confirm that not one protester has been arrested, and that the Secretary of State’s referring to a small minority who resorted to widespread criminality in their determination to stop this was wrong.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. There are still a lot of Members trying to speak. I want to call the Front-Bench Members at five minutes to 4 to give them time for a reasonable summing up, so I am going to reduce the time limit from now on to three minutes to try and get everybody in.

3.44 pm

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) for securing the debate; he managed to achieve what an early-day motion signed by about 170 Members from across the House could not. I want to ask the Minister today why the matter has not been brought back before the House. Several other Members who seem to be in favour of the cull have said, “This is only a trial. It is only a pilot.” Yes, it is. It is what the House voted for. I abstained from the vote because I had not had badger incidents in my constituency, and I knew that there was a great strength of feeling about farmers.

I have had my eyes opened since then—I have moved from being neutral to being opposed. I thank my constituent, Mr Cotton, who brought to my attention the dodginess of some of the science that was being referred to, but I will not explore that now, because we do not have the time. Why is the issue not coming back before the House? I am sure that many hon. Members at the time lent their support to the Bill out of sympathy and a real feeling that something needed to be done, but only if it was science-based, and only if it was a trial. This has all the makings of something that will roll on, regardless of the outcomes of these particular trials. I am very concerned that it seems we can move from controlled shooting, which is what the pilots were supposed to be looking at, to caging, which would be achieved if we were going to be using vaccines, and yet we do not say, “Hang on a sec, let’s stop what we are doing. Bring it back before the House and see if the House would rather explore those options.”

Some people have said today that shooting a fox is not particularly different from shooting a badger. Well, one is a protected species and the other is vermin, but also, as I have been reliably informed by people who are very knowledgeable about such things, a badger has a particularly strong head structure. It is very difficult to shoot a badger. It has to be shot in a particular way—potentially down its side or under its arms—and that makes the controlled shooting of badgers difficult. I do not know why it is being said one minute that the pilots are a success, and the next minute, that we are going to evaluate them.

The Secretary of State seems to judge them as a success. I had a letter from him today, which I asked for in October. He said that he believes that there has been a success:

“The extension…has therefore been successful in meeting its aim in preparing the ground.”

Success keeps being referred to. That does not speak to me of an open mind. It sounds to me like a Minister who may consider just rolling it out.

Bring the issue back before the House. It is what Members want. They have made their views clear, and I think the public will understand the concerns of people such as myself, who have moved from neutral to negative. I am sure that if the matter came back before the House now, there would be a very different vote unless the

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proposals were very different. Please will the Minister listen to the views of Members and the public? It is not all about hugging cuddly creatures; it is all about deciding whether a protected animal should be treated in this way or in another way that may deliver the same result that we all want, which is protecting farmers but ensuring that we are dealing with the problem in the most humane way possible.

3.47 pm

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing what is evidently a very popular debate.

The Government’s badger cull policy has been described as nothing more than a fiasco from the start to the finish, which this will hopefully be. Truly, it can be described as a shot in the dark at trying to eliminate the disease. We have clearly seen what has come out of the cull: nearly 2,000 badgers have been killed, millions of pounds have been spent and communities have been divided. Unbelievably, the Government are still considering rolling out the policy of slaughtering badgers in 10 new areas next year.

We call on the Government to cancel their killing plans once and for all, and to focus instead on improving cattle welfare, controlling cattle movements, increasing biosecurity and developing badger and cattle vaccination. I welcome the announcement that the badger cull pilot trial has been stopped after marksmen failed to meet the Government’s target of a 70% kill. Remember that that trial was extended by some weeks after DEFRA confirmed that marksmen had only killed 39% of badgers.

Still, DEFRA Ministers pressed ahead with the cull, despite scientists warning against that untested and risky approach. Instead, what we need is a science-led policy to manage cattle movements better and a vaccine to tackle TB in cattle. The Government have now been warned for more than two years that the badger cull was bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife. However, the cull has not helped to resolve the issue at all. Based on recent evidence, culling clearly does not work. Culling risks spreading the disease further, it costs more than it saves and it increases the risk of wildlife crime and of wiping out local badger populations.

It is clear to me that the Government’s policy does not make sense. Instead, they should be implementing a science-led strategy in the fight to reduce bovine TB, including the use of vaccination. In contrast, the Government, I believe, are still proposing to shoot free-moving badgers as the main method of culling. The Government say that the vaccine is not ready. Why is that? It could be because one of the first acts of the Government in 2010 was to cancel five of the six vaccine field trials commissioned by Labour. Also, DEFRA has cut funding for the research and development of a badger vaccine and a cattle vaccine. It seems that the Government still believe that bullets cost less.

I will finish now, because many other hon. Members still wish to speak, by asking the Minister to pause, cancel the culls for good and initiate a robust and genuinely independent scientific review of what went so badly wrong with these pilot culls.

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3.50 pm

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): My primary concern as I approach this subject is for the lives and livelihoods of livestock farmers in my constituency that are affected by bovine tuberculosis. Until people see the impact that it has, they do not fully understand why it is such a significant issue for livestock farmers, particularly in my part of the world, where the number of reactors has been very high.

I am extremely passionate about evidence-based policy making and in 1998 I strongly backed the randomised badger culling trials, which have been mentioned, and that was the right approach at the time. In my view, the evidence has been used rather selectively to advise on the way in which policy should be rolled out by the Government. The worry that I had when the Government came up with their proposal was that it ran the risk of making the situation significantly worse.

In view of the fact that in the Penwith area, where there was a proactive cull, there was only 50% co-operation among farmers and there was a large element of activist intervention as well, it was clear that we would never get a licence there. It was on that basis that I went to the Zoological Society of London, and Professor Rosie Woodroffe and I came up with a proposal to establish a vaccination programme that was community-led, volunteer-led, using the big society approach, across the Penwith area. I am pleased that DEFRA is supporting us—it is doing so in a rather minuscule way, I am sorry to say, but at least it is a start—in providing the vaccine ampoules during the whole programme, up to 2019. This is across 200 sq km of Penwith. We have strong buy-in by the local community. The farmers are coming on board. We have undertaken a pilot in the area. Indeed, I have been out to oversee that and I can confirm, as a result of having been in the field and seen the badgers moving the goalposts and doing various other things in the countryside, that even slimy politicians do not seem to have a perturbation effect on badgers when they are being vaccinated.

I raised one of my questions for the Minister earlier. It relates to what the independent expert panel will conclude. Of course, there has been the “what if” question. What if it finds that, on all three counts, the trials are effective, humane and safe? But what if it finds that they are not effective? It is not even there in terms of judging whether the cull is effective in controlling bovine TB, because it would take years to undertake that. Also, I understand that the independent expert panel has been given only a six-week window; it is looking only at the six weeks. I hope—I have asked the Minister this already—that it will be given an extension to the full 11 weeks or more to review the effectiveness, safety and humaneness of the cull, but I cannot see that there is any sense in allowing the cull to continue.

3.53 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I appreciate your stewardship of the debate, Mr Weir. I want to make three brief points and try to give other hon. Members an opportunity to speak as well.

I am a member of the British Veterinary Association and I think that the aspersions cast on the British Veterinary Association today—the character assassination that was attempted—were wrong and shameful. The

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many Labour party-supporting vets up and down this country will, I am sure, be very concerned at the way in which they were character-assassinated today by the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson). I think that he should consider what he said, because his passion in the debate does not give him a right to character-assassinate members of the British Veterinary Association, who have the interests and welfare of all animals in this country at heart.

When I intervened earlier, I mentioned the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and I was concerned that its advertising campaign is the only thing that publicly, by an independent body, has been described as “alarmist” in terms of how it has tried to suggest that the only thing to do is vaccinate or exterminate. I wish that we could vaccinate our wildlife in this country and protect it all, but we have to be realists and to make a judgment call about what is more important: sacrificing a few wild animals to ensure that our beef and milking herds up and down this country are protected from a pernicious and nasty disease that ruins lives and ruins many thousands of our cattle in this country, or not doing that. We have to face reality.

The rant from the hon. Gentleman today was very disappointing, because he failed at every opportunity—

Andrew George: To take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.

Ian Paisley: No, not to take an intervention; I do not care if the hon. Member for Derby North does not want to hear an intervention from me. He failed to take the chance to support our bovine herd and our farmers and basically tried to portray a picture of it being either them or us. We are all in this one; we have to find a solution to it; and we have to recognise that if an animal is carrying a pernicious disease, it needs to be put down, not only for its own welfare, but for the welfare of the bovine herd.

3.55 pm

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): This is a very difficult, complex, sensitive and not straightforward issue, but despite all that, I have always been in favour of a targeted pilot cull; I just need to explain why. Perhaps it will be helpful if I describe a bit of the context from which I come. Before I entered public life, I was a livestock farmer; that was my occupation. We lambed the sheep out on the hills, and nothing ever gave me more pleasure than seeing a badger. It was a rare sighting 30 or 40 years ago and a great thrill. I have always been very proud of the fact that we had badger setts on my farm and we protected them. I do not farm those animals any more, but I still insist that the badger setts and, indeed, all wildlife are protected.

Another aspect of the context in which I speak is that I have always had a huge interest in wildlife. I was a trustee of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust before coming here and retain an active interest in developing diversity and balance in our wildlife.

The aspect of the context in which I speak that is perhaps most relevant to today’s debate is that I was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales for eight years until 2007, and for most of that time I was the Chairman of the rural affairs Committee—it had one

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or two different names. During that period, bovine TB and the control of it was a huge issue for the Welsh Government. In fact, we went to Ireland on a fact-finding mission. We met the various bodies in Ireland, including the badger protection association. When we came back, it was interesting that one of the members became a Minister in the Labour-led Government in 2007 and introduced a piloted cull. It was complex at that stage to introduce a law in Wales, and they made a mistake in the legislation. The intention of that Government for four years was to introduce a targeted piloted cull in Pembrokeshire, and that is what would have happened, only they made a mistake in the legislation.

In 2011, a new Minister took over and decided to introduce a system of vaccination. There is now another new Minister. If I had been allowed to intervene on the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), that would have been the question that I asked: what discussions have there been in terms of the view that he was taking and the Welsh Minister? To me, this is crucial. If vaccination would work, everybody would be in favour of it.

Simon Hart: Is my hon. Friend aware that the advice of the chief vet in Wales to the former Government in Wales was exactly the same advice as she gives now to the current Government, which is that a cull is the best way forward?

Glyn Davies: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, principally because it gives me another minute. I actually welcome the fact that there is a different process involving vaccination taking place in Wales, because a number of people are saying that it would be much preferable to move to a system of vaccination, and how could I not agree? But ever since I have been involved in this issue, which is probably about 40 years, I have always been told that an effective vaccination is probably about 10 years away, and the situation is not much different today. It is possible to vaccinate badgers; I am told that in Wales, it costs about £662 per vaccination. Every badger has to be caught every year. All the discussions I have had suggest that what is happening in Wales will not work, will not be cost-effective and probably will not be repeated.

One or two Members have referred to different types of vaccinations. I think they are great, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that he is open to all such suggestions. We want a way of dealing with a hugely complex issue that causes the death of huge numbers of perfectly healthy animals, which disrupts and causes massive distress to a huge number of farming families, and which disrupts and causes disease among our wildlife. We need a way of dealing with this. In the short term, I think we need a targeted pilot cull to make certain that we know that going down the cull route is the best way to deliver what we want.

4 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): It is great to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I will have to rattle through some of my points to try to deal at speed with many of the issues that have been raised. First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North

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(Chris Williamson) for securing the debate. I would like to single out the contributions from my hon. Friends the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), and the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) and for St Ives (Andrew George).

I would also like to mention the contributions of others of various parties who made significant points in favour of vaccination. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who made it clear that she had changed her mind based on the evidence. She made a passionate contribution, demanding that the matter should be brought back to the Floor of the House of Commons, debated in full in Government time and put to the vote. As she said, I think the outcome of such a vote would be very different from the previous one.

The Government’s badger culls have been an expensive failure for farmers, for taxpayers and for wildlife. For the Prime Minister and DEFRA Ministers to pretend otherwise is to ignore the evidence. In 2012, the culls had to be abandoned because the number of badgers had been counted wrongly, which is a pretty fundamental mistake. There were too many badgers. This year, the badgers have been miscounted again. This time there were too few, but with no satisfactory explanation, which conveniently allowed the Government to revise the targets downwards. That numbers problem should not have been a surprise to Ministers, because in November 2012, 30 leading scientists wrote to the Secretary of State objecting to the culls and noting:

“Setting such minimum and maximum numbers is technically problematic, especially when local estimates of badger numbers are very imprecise.”

The Minister’s estimates of badger population numbers for the first two culls have been repeatedly wide of the mark. For the Secretary of State to add insult to injury by talking nonsense about badgers moving the goal posts was ridiculous. That is not good enough, when there is a risk of spreading tuberculosis by culling too few badgers or eradicating an entire local population by killing too many. The first two pilots, failures as they have unarguably been, have at least taught us one important lesson. We can have no confidence whatsoever in the accuracy of badger population estimates. That knowledge reveals a risk of perturbation or of localised extermination. On that basis alone, until sound population baseline analysis is undertaken, we cannot proceed with these culls, let alone the further 40 that the Government desire.

After last year’s cull cancellations, the Secretary of State told us in October 2012:

“Evidence suggests that at least 70% of the badgers in the areas must be removed.”

That was one of his fleeting dalliances with the concept of evidence. He added:

“It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 836.]

The postponed culls were rearranged for 2013. They spectacularly failed to meet the Secretary of State’s targets, which had also been transposed into the essential guidelines set by DEFRA for Natural England stipulating that 70% of badgers had to be culled in six weeks to

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avoid an increased risk of perturbation. At that point, the Government should have stopped, in accordance with their own guidance and the Secretary of State’s words. There was no grey area, but they turned their backs on the science. They extended one cull by 42 days and another by 93 days. Four of the nine members of the Natural England board expressed concerns, including the chair of Natural England’s science advisory committee, who went on public record in November with his concerns:

“I fear there will be two tragic losers, the farmers who are paying the crippling bill for extending this trial”—

that was the Gloucester trial—

“and the badgers whose lives may be lost for little purpose.”

Professor Rosie Woodroffe described the extension of the Gloucester pilot from six to 14 weeks as “uncharted territory” and added that the additional time risked increasing perturbation and the detrimental effects of the cull. The Minister’s cull policy may have increased the risk of TB in pilot areas and surrounding areas.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a bit of a cheek for the Government to say that the pilot culls have been a success, when those of us who are anti-cull have been told not to leap to conclusions until the independent panel has concluded?

Huw Irranca-Davies: That is absolutely right. I do not have time to cover everything, so I will write to the Minister on some issues.

I turn to the meat of the matter. Will the Minister agree to examine the evident problems with baseline badger population analysis and bring forward proposals for more accurate population counts? In the interests of good science and evidence-based policy, will he support a vaccination trial in the south-west of England and compare the results with the cull pilots to establish whether it will be more effective, and more cost-effective, to vaccinate instead of shooting or gassing?

In the interests of transparency, will the Minister agree to publish the full taxpayer and landowner costs of the extended culls, including the cost per badger culled—we anticipate that that will be at least £2,200 per badger—and place a report on the full costs in the Library of this House? Will he agree to strengthen the membership of the independent expert panel to provide additional scientific expertise, and will he be open to suggestions for the composition of that strengthened panel from Labour and others? Will he agree to strengthen and clarify the remit of that panel to ensure that its original task of monitoring humaneness, safety and effectiveness deals adequately and separately, as needed, with the original cull period, the extended cull period and, specifically, the later weeks in which humaneness and effectiveness may have been especially compromised?

Will the Minister publish in full and without delay the transcripts of the independent expert panel, together with any evidence presented, so that full and transparent scrutiny of the decision making by scientific and other peers can take place? Will he also publish in full a report by the independent expert panel? Will he halt any further culls and postpone any announcements on further culls until that report from the independent expert panel has been debated in Parliament with the Secretary of State answering questions? Will the Secretary of State, who has not come to Parliament to answer in full

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the debate on the extended culls, put any further culls to a vote in Parliament and test the democratic legitimacy of the culls in the country? There has been no vote whatsoever on the extended culls, which is an affront to parliamentary democracy on so controversial an issue.

The numbers attending the debate and the lack of time available for speakers demonstrate the need for the Secretary of State to come to Parliament in Government time to debate the issue, instead of hiding behind repeated written statements. We all accept that we have to eradicate TB for the good of our farmers, but we have to do so in a way that is based on evidence. That is where the Government have failed.

4.7 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing what has been a lively debate. I welcome the opportunity to outline to hon. Members the Government’s strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis and the role that a targeted badger cull can play in that strategy. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) set out, we should first recognise the huge impact that the disease is having on the farming industry. Our farming communities continue to suffer as a result of the spread of bovine TB. In the 10 years to 31 December 2012, more than 305,000 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered as a result of the disease. Statistics published only today show that a further 24,600 cattle were slaughtered up until the end of September, solely as a result of bovine TB. Over the past 10 years, the disease has cost the Government more than £500 million, and it is estimated that it will cost taxpayers another £1 billion in the next decade if we do nothing.

Let me start by saying that no one, least of all me, wants to kill badgers. I recognise the sentiment that many people feel towards the animals. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) said, that feeling is shared by many people in the country, and we recognise and understand that. If there were an easy way to tackle bovine TB, we would have done it. There are no easy answers when it comes to reversing the spread of bovine TB, and there is no example in the world of a country that has successfully tackled TB without also dealing with the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population. In Australia, a national eradication programme spanning almost three decades enabled the achievement in 1997 of official freedom from bovine TB and an infection rate of less than 0.2%. The comprehensive package of measures included a cull of feral water buffalo. The comprehensive and successful package of measures to eradicate the disease in New Zealand focused on the primary wildlife reservoir of brushtail possums. As a result of those efforts, New Zealand is on the verge of achieving bovine TB-free status. Closer to home, the Irish Republic has also had a comprehensive eradication programme, which included the targeted culling of badgers in areas where the disease is attributed to wildlife. Since 2000, there has been a 45% reduction in TB breakdowns.

Angela Smith: Will the Minister give way?

George Eustice: I will make some headway.

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A number of European countries that have a known problem with TB in wildlife are tackling that reservoir of disease. Badger culling is undertaken in Switzerland and France, and deer and wild boar are culled in the Baltic countries, Germany, Poland and Spain. International experience clearly shows that one part of a coherent strategy to tackle the disease must include tackling it in the wildlife population.

Angela Smith: The Minister makes the case with international comparisons, but he must acknowledge that the structure of badger populations in Britain is different from that in southern Ireland and across Europe, which makes the case for culling in Britain unsustainable.

George Eustice: I do not accept that, because the randomised badger culling trial, cited by many hon. Members today, showed that culling contributed to a significant reduction in disease in the areas where it ran. It also showed that, even in those areas that had a slow start, where less than 40% of the badgers were culled in year one, there was still a significant reduction in the incidence of the disease provided the cull was sustained in subsequent years.

The Government have developed an ambitious and comprehensive plan for containing the spread of the disease through our 25-year strategy. It has several components, but at its heart is a recognition of a simple and unavoidable fact: there is no magic solution and no one measure will eradicate the disease on its own. TB is an incredibly difficult disease to fight and we need a range of different measure to tackle it.

Some, such as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), have suggested that vaccination is an easy answer. I wish it were that simple, but it is not. Members will remember that last year, there were concerns about the Schmallenberg virus, a disease that affects sheep. It was relatively straightforward to develop a vaccine that was virtually 100% effective, and the disease is now fully under control. TB is not a simple virus. It is a complex bacterial disease. The bacteria reside inside the cell walls of the host, which makes it incredibly difficult to develop an effective vaccine. As a result, the current BCG vaccine provides only limited protection in about 60% of cases, and even then, the level of protection given is variable. Notwithstanding those difficulties and limitations, we are nevertheless investing large amounts of money in developing methods of deploying vaccine to both badgers and cattle, because,

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although vaccination is not a solution on its own, it could have a role in creating buffer zones or containing the spread of the disease.

Since 1994, more than £43 million has been spent on developing the cattle vaccine and the oral badger vaccine. We have committed to investing a further £15.5 million in vaccine deployment over the spending review period.

David Morris: I pay tribute to the Minister for the work I know he has been doing on this subject. Farmers know where the badgers are. Does he agree that if we could roll out the vaccine programme to the farming community, it would help all concerned and stop anguish in all parts of our communities?

George Eustice: We have a badger vaccine deployment fund of approximately £250,000 a year. Uptake has been slightly disappointing so far. We must also recognise that vaccination does not provide protection to all badgers, even once they are vaccinated. In Northern Ireland, a trial has been discussed, described as, “Test, Vaccinate and Remove”, meaning that the badgers are first trapped, then tested, and the ones that are not infected are vaccinated and released and the ones that are infected are culled. That test is only 50% effective, so for every infected badger that is culled, another is pointlessly vaccinated and released back into the wild to spread the disease further.

Bill Wiggin: My constituents are deeply concerned about the issue, as everyone knows. We have to explain to farmers why someone is taking away the cattle, but doing nothing about the badgers at the end of the field. What progress is the Minister making on a DIVA test?

George Eustice: We are working on a DIVA test, but, as hon. Members pointed out, it will probably take eight to 10 years to get a licensed vaccine for cattle.

We are constantly refining cattle movement controls, which a number of Members have mentioned. In 2012, we introduced tough new controls on cattle movements and TB testing. In January this year, we significantly expanded the area of the country that is subject to annual testing and further tightened cattle movement controls, including the conditions that need to be met before TB breakdown herds can restock. Last month, we launched the risk-based trading scheme to encourage farmers to share details of the bovine-TB disease history of the cattle they sell, and to encourage buyers to act on that information. Less than two weeks ago, we went further.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. We have run out of time.

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Gary Dunne

4.15 pm

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise a constituency issue in Westminster Hall. Gary Dunne was tragically murdered on 3 March 2006 in Benalmadena on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. He was attacked by 12 men and stabbed to death with a machete by Victor Posse Navas. For his family, nothing will bring Gary back. Every day, they remember him as a son, a partner and a father. Although nothing can be done to soften the horror of the tragedy for the family, much more could have been done, and still can be done, to make life that bit easier for them.

Our British consular staff deal with thousands of deaths of British nationals around the world, often in difficult, traumatic and complicated situations. They deserve praise for their work. More often than not, the support from consular staff is of the highest standard. In this case, however, the Dunne family were left vulnerable; they felt alone and received little help. In the midst of dealing with the news of the cruel murder of their son, they were told that they would have to pay to bury him, not in Liverpool, but in Andalucia in southern Spain, due to local legal restrictions about hygiene. The Spanish authorities said that before Gary could be brought home to Liverpool, he would have to be cremated in Spain. The family received no assistance from the Spanish police and were not met by liaison officers.

Mr and Mrs Dunne had to endure three years of campaigning simply to ensure that their son’s body could be repatriated and buried at home. In 2009, Gary’s parents were finally able to bury him. The intervention of the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), helped enormously. He made personal representations to the then Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, which resulted in progress being made.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on his incredibly important campaign. I also congratulate the Dunne family on all the work they have done. What happened to them could happen to any of our constituents. Does he agree that the ordinary citizen would expect the EU to ensure that everyone has decent treatment in such appalling circumstances?

Stephen Twigg: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention; I agree with him entirely. Further on in my remarks, I will talk about the work that the excellent MEP for the North West, Arlene McCarthy, has done to support the Dunne family and to raise the broader issues.

The Prime Minister played his part. The community and people of Liverpool were a constant support to the Dunne family. A petition lobbying for Gary’s body to be returned home was signed by more than 40,000 people. When his body was finally returned for a funeral in Liverpool, hundreds of well-wishers turned out in the streets to applaud. It is not often that civilian funerals are held at Liverpool cathedral, but the dean agreed to host the service there. Everton football club provided Goodison Park as a venue for the wake. No

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family should have to face the trauma and struggle that the Dunne family have had to endure—waiting for years before they could finally have a funeral and bury their son. There are lessons that we must learn.

My constituents, Gary’s parents—Stephen and Lesley—have worked tirelessly to ensure that no other family has to suffer such an ordeal. In 2010, I raised their case at Prime Minister’s Question Time with the current Prime Minister. He agreed to meet Mr and Mrs Dunne, who emphasised the need for changes at a European level, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) rightly said, to prevent apparently obscure local rules stifling a family’s ability simply to bring their loved one back for a funeral.

I remain grateful to the Prime Minister for meeting Mr and Mrs Dunne and for his support in that meeting. What progress have the Government made since then? Do the Government see any way in which we could ensure that the system of repatriation does not cause even more suffering and agony to grieving family members?

The Spanish authorities had insisted that due to rules related to their hygiene laws, Gary’s body could not be repatriated for at least five years. However, since then, the Dunne family have discovered that other families who suffered tragedies in Andalucia were told that they did not have to wait such a long time. Will the Government look into why there seems to be an inconsistency in the application of the rules? If the rules indeed state that a body can be repatriated only after five years unless it is cremated, will the Minister make the case, through the appropriate channels, both directly with the Spanish and through the European Union, for reform of what seem to be unreasonable and unfair rules?

After all that, the tragic saga still goes on for Gary’s family. The Dunne family were not informed by the Spanish authorities when the murderer was caught; they had to find that out through a friend phoning them. Owing to their frustrations with the Spanish legal system, the Dunne family tell me that they still do not know whether the killer is still in jail, and if so, when he will be released. Will the Minister make representations on behalf of the family to ensure that their case is brought to the attention of the relevant Minister in Spain? It is critical that the Government of Spain undertake the responsibility to keep the Dunne family informed of developments as and when they occur.

While the process up to this point has been handled atrociously by the local and national authorities in Spain, there is still a lot more that they can do. Gary’s partner, Ashley, and his young son, Kieran, have struggled to receive any compensation. The Spanish court has ordered the perpetrator to pay €125,000 in compensation, yet so far, only €1,500 has been received. Payments stopped some time ago, and the small amount that was paid was of little comfort, as it had to be used simply to pay court costs.

Stephen and Lesley have spent time themselves in Andalucia, at their own expense, fighting for justice for Gary. Due to a legal error during the formalities of applying for the money from the Spanish Government, the Dunne family were only receiving €100 a month from Gary’s killer, which came from the wage that he gets from his work in the prison kitchens. Now even that has stopped. Neither the killer nor his family has significant assets, and they are apparently unable to pay the compensation.

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With the support of Arlene McCarthy MEP, the Dunne family have been lobbying the relevant Spanish authorities. In December 2011—two years ago—Arlene McCarthy wrote to the Spanish Minister who leads on this area of policy, but she has not even received the courtesy of a reply. Will the Minister look into that issue as a matter of urgency and make representations on behalf of the Dunnes?

I got to know Mr and Mrs Dunne well, as their constituency Member of Parliament. I have known them now for six years. Their focus has always been on the fight for justice for Gary and his surviving partner and child, but also, more broadly, on trying to ensure that no other family has had to endure what they have endured. However, the court in Spain had ordered compensation of €125,000. Although the issue of compensation has never been the one that the family has asked me to prioritise, I feel that I owe it to them, as their MP and a friend, to say that it seems to me a basic minimum that the compensation should be paid out to the family as a matter of urgency.

Finally, will the Minister assure me that more is being done to ensure that standards are maintained and improved in our consulates around the world? The Foreign Secretary has said that the Foreign Office is always seeking to improve the consular support and assistance in such tragic circumstances. Will the Minister set out what measures are being or will be taken to fulfil that? It seems critical that the staff who are involved in what is by its nature delicate and sensitive work are equipped fully to do their job professionally and compassionately.

I am aware that the Foreign Office has signed an agreement with the national homicide service run by Victim Support to provide the same level of support to families who lose a loved one as a result of a murder or manslaughter overseas as they would receive if the crime had taken place in the UK. That is a welcome commitment on the part of the Government and Victim Support. Will the Minister tell us how that new service will work and whether the Government have reached their goal of offering the level of service that one would expect in the UK for families who find themselves in such tragic circumstances abroad?

Gary’s family have suffered terribly for almost eight years now. They have lost a son, a partner and a father; they have battled for three years just to have a proper funeral for Gary; and they are now trying to receive the compensation that a court has ordered should be paid to them. It is a great tribute to them that they continue to campaign for justice for others, as well as wanting justice for themselves. I believe that they have been let down, and they deserve more from the relevant authorities. I urge the Government to do everything in their power, both bilaterally with Spain and through the European Union, to help us take the matter forward.

4.27 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for securing a debate on this case. I also thank the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) for his intervention.

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May I add my own condolences to the family and pay tribute to their unwavering determination in the face of their loss? The death of a loved one is always distressing, and the grief of Mr Dunne’s family has clearly been compounded by the circumstances of his death and the procedural difficulties they faced thereafter.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is committed to making the process for those bereaved abroad as simple as possible. Providing consular assistance to British nationals who are the victims of serious and violent crimes overseas and their next of kin is a priority and a central function of our embassies and posts around the world.

Before I address the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, I would like to outline the involvement of the Foreign Office in the case to date. Following Mr Dunne’s death, British officials were in close contact with the family to provide consular assistance. When, as the hon. Gentleman said, the family experienced difficulties in bringing Mr Dunne home to Britain, consular staff did all they could to help. However, it became clear that under local law, the possibility of a further autopsy during the trial process prevented an individual’s remains from being repatriated, cremated or embalmed. The only option therefore was a local burial until the trial was complete. After that, exhumation before a period of five years had passed would only be permitted if an immediate cremation within the cemetery was arranged.

Representations were made to the director general for the Costa del Sol health district in November 2007 and to the provincial delegate of Andalucia’s health district in February 2008, to see if an exception could be made to these requirements, based on the compelling compassionate circumstances of the case. While sympathising with the family’s wishes, both the director general and the provincial delegate explained that, because Mr Dunne was a victim of murder, his case was considered a judicial one.

Understandably, Mr Dunne’s family continued to fight for his return and in July 2008 they petitioned the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). In October 2008, the right hon. Gentleman raised the case with the then Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Zapatero, and secured an agreement from the Spanish authorities to allow Mr Dunne’s repatriation without a cremation, on exceptional humanitarian grounds. So, with guidance and support from consular officials, Mr Dunne’s family made an application for his exhumation. As we have heard, three years after Gary Dunne’s murder his family and friends finally held the funeral, at home in Liverpool, which they had long sought. Later that year, Mr Dunne’s family contacted the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to express their gratitude for the assistance they had received.

I now turn to the points the hon. Gentleman raised in his speech. First, I will address the question of whether EU-wide procedures for repatriation could be agreed, to prevent other families from facing the horrifying and distressing situation the Dunnes faced. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, this is a difficult and complex issue. The power to act lies with other Governments, and the ability of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to intervene in domestic matters—such as the variations in Andalucian law on repatriation, burial and cremation, which the hon. Gentleman outlined—is limited. However, it is clear that, as my right hon. Friend the

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Prime Minister said when he met the Dunne family and—I think—the hon. Gentleman in 2011, we should do all we can to prevent other families from facing the suffering endured by the Dunnes.

Therefore, I have asked that, as a matter of urgency, officials follow up with the hon. Gentleman and the Dunnes’ MEP, Arlene McCarthy, on who has done what following the Downing street meeting, so that we can collectively agree appropriate next steps. Secondly, I know that the hon. Gentleman and the Dunne family are deeply concerned about the apparent inconsistencies in the application of the rules governing repatriation. The advice we have received from the Andalucian authorities consistently made it clear that an unembalmed body can only be exhumed and repatriated after five years, unless it is cremated. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there may be factors at play in the other cases that he mentioned that we are not aware of. Exceptions can clearly be made if the grounds are sufficiently strong, as indeed they were in the Dunnes’ case. However, as I have said, I have asked officials to provide a progress report on efforts to establish common practices across those parts of Europe that currently require delays in repatriation.

The hon. Gentleman also highlighted the lack of support that Mr Dunne’s family felt they received from the Spanish authorities, and indeed the authorities’ level of support continues to fall short of the family’s expectations when it comes to their being kept informed of the current status of the perpetrator of this terrible crime. It is important that the Spanish authorities keep the family informed of any developments in the case, either directly or through their legal representatives. I have asked my officials to contact the relevant authorities in Andalucia to see if lines of communication can be re-established. For his part, I urge the hon. Gentleman to consider raising the matter directly with the Spanish ambassador.

On the issue of compensation, I am aware that, as the hon. Gentleman said, although an award of €125,000 was made by a Spanish court to the family, they have only received €1,500 to date. I am conscious that that can only add to the distress they have already suffered. However, the British Government cannot interfere in another country’s judicial process or direct the Spanish courts to enforce payment, particularly when the offender may not have assets with which to pay the outstanding compensation, which I understand to be the case in this instance. Therefore, I am afraid that our consistent advice to Mr Dunne’s family has not changed. Their Spanish lawyer is best placed to help them pursue this issue through legal channels and to advise them on applying to the Spanish state for payment of the outstanding compensation.

Also, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, with whom the hon. Gentleman has been in communication about this tragic case, has previously provided him with information on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which Mr Dunne’s family may wish to approach for advice—if they have not already done so—about whether they can submit a separate application for compensation from the Spanish authorities.

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Our consular staff often have a difficult and frustrating time, but on the whole they carry out their job—as the hon. Gentleman was kind enough, and right, to say—with patience, dedication and a great deal of tenacity. I am sure the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman will join me in commending their efforts.

Having said that, I assure the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not complacent. We continually review our consular policy so as to provide British nationals with the best possible service. As part of that work, we have put in place a number of processes to ensure that high standards of consular assistance are provided to British nationals. Our new consular strategy for 2013-16 focuses on doing more for the most vulnerable, including victims of violent crime overseas and their families. Consular teams also undertake regular complex case reviews to ensure that we are providing the most appropriate and effective service in particularly complex and long-running cases, and we employ professional specialists, such as legal advisers and social work advisers, to provide expert advice. In addition, early next year we will undertake a review of the methods used by similar organisations to see how we can develop our own quality control and audit processes.

Cases such as that of the Dunne family highlight the extra support that is needed by those who have lost a loved one to murder or manslaughter overseas. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Victim Support’s National Homicide Service, which in part was set up to address the problems encountered by families such as the Dunnes. Since 2010, the Foreign Office has provided funding to Victim Support so that it can offer such families a dedicated caseworker and give practical support to help with the added trauma, complications and costs that a murder overseas can cause. Those bereaved by murder or manslaughter are now entitled to identical levels of support whether the crime was committed in the UK or abroad, and since 2011 many bereaved families have already benefited from this enhanced support.

In conclusion, I again thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I am aware of the very great support for the Dunne family that has been demonstrated by the people of Liverpool. This is a tragic case that has been compounded by the anguish that Mr Dunne’s family had to endure in order to bring him home to Britain. I hope they have been able to find some degree of comfort and closure in his return. I also hope that, through their legal representative, they are able to seek the full amount of compensation that is due to them.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. The Minister who is responding to the final debate today, which is due to start at 4.45 pm, is not present, so I shall suspend the sitting until 4.45 pm.

4.37 pm

Sitting suspended.

4.45 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

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Children’s Centres (Dudley)

5.5 pm

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir, and to see my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) present for the debate. I suspect that he, like myself, is here because he was deeply concerned last month when proposals to cut by 40% the budget for children’s centres in Dudley were published by Dudley metropolitan borough council. I was outraged further because three of the seven children’s centres earmarked for closure were in my constituency. Virtually half of the centres earmarked for closure were to come from a quarter of the borough.

That there was no reasonable basis for the proposal ensured its early demise, and I am pleased and relieved that Dudley council withdrew the proposal two weeks ago. Undoubtedly, a major reason for the council’s change of heart is the excellent work of our children’s centres and their ability to galvanise hundreds of parents, together with the wider community that they serve, to communicate in no uncertain terms just how vital is their contribution to families and communities not only in my constituency, but across the metropolitan borough of Dudley.

Three weeks ago, I held a meeting with the principals and parents from Hob Green, Quarry Bank and Peters Hill, the three main children’s centres that were to be closed by the proposals. I was tremendously impressed by their commitment, excellence and the breadth of work undertaken on the behalf of families and communities.

The council’s proposal, albeit withdrawn, has unnerved everyone involved. A will therefore now exists to ensure that the role of children’s centres and the value that they provide are properly understood. It has also been recognised that, as with all public services, there is a need constantly to assess service delivery and value for money in ways that work ever more efficiently in future. For those reasons, I am pleased to be holding this debate today.

Children’s centres provide many new parents with a structure of support that is a lifeline to them and their children. To help new parents and babies get off to a good start, they offer antenatal classes, breastfeeding support, baby massage, maternal mental health support and other such classes. Maternal mental health support can be absolutely crucial to women suffering from post-natal depression and other mental health states that can impact so negatively on babies and small children.

As babies grow into toddlers, a social divide can start to open up, but children’s centres are doing outstanding work to counter it. Parenting classes, help with behaviour, healthy eating and educational play sessions form the bedrock of support for families with toddlers. Since Hob Green children’s centre opened in 2008, the percentage of children attaining the standard expected at the early years foundation stage has increased from 78% to 88%. That is an increase of 10% in only four years.

Dawn Swingler, the foundation stage manager at Hob Green primary school, in whose premises the children’s centre is sited, said:

“It is very apparent when children join the nursery if they have attended sessions in the Children’s Centre. If they have, they arrive ready to engage, happy to leave their carers and ready to learn. If they have not then we as a staff have to devote time to settling children in, building trust and relationships from scratch,

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all of this takes time and for these children learning cannot begin for many weeks, sometimes months. Whilst we are happy to do this, the knock on effect is that our range of activities for all children is diminished as staff are involved in this crucial work with individual children.”

Although it is right that children’s centres should help families that are deemed hard to reach, the needs of babies and families with young children do not always correlate with their socio-economic status. A single parent who uses our children’s centres told me of her struggle to get off benefits and into work, but she said that she felt strongly that her children are not deprived. That is true of many parents in similar positions. There are many families who struggle on low incomes and benefits, but whose children cannot be described as deprived or disadvantaged. Conversely, there are families on average or above average earnings whose children are seriously disadvantaged.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. She is making an important point about disadvantaged backgrounds. Does she agree that the Government’s provision of free nursery care for two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds is extremely valuable? Does she also agree that central and local government should look at ways of using the new funding to offer a package of holistic support for two-year-olds and their families, and that children’s centres are often an ideal place to provide support, because they have the benefits and services that she described?

Margot James: I strongly agree. I was not implying that we should disregard socio-economic status. I merely meant to point out that it is just one factor that we should consider. I support the Government’s decision to increase the support for disadvantaged two-year-olds by providing 16 hours a week of nursery care. Children’s centres are an ideal place for some of that learning to take place.

There are also families on above average earnings whose children are victims or witnesses of domestic violence or some other horror. Although those children do not fit neatly into a disadvantaged sector by socio-economic standards, they are seriously disadvantaged by any other measure. Domestic violence is not defined by socio-economic status, yet it is a substantial indicator of deprivation among the children of families who are affected by it. The same can be said for alcoholism and drug addiction.

The Government’s classification of wards by socio-economic data, which labels some areas as deprived, is a useful indicator of need but it is only one of many indicators. In isolation, socio-economic analysis is too limited to be the sole driver of policy at a local level. The original proposal to close our children’s centres in my constituency was determined almost entirely by that one measure of socio-economic advantage or disadvantage.

James Morris: My hon. Friend is making a very important point. In my constituency, the centre that was proposed for closure at Tenterfields was deemed to be not serving a disadvantaged community. In reality, the people living in the Highfields estate in Halesowen who used that centre would have had to travel 2 or 3 miles down the road to other service providers, had the centre closed. The whole of the Dudley proposal was predicated on a nonsensical analysis.

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Margot James: I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent intervention. I completely agree. The Hob Green children’s centre, which I mentioned earlier, covers a huge area. When Hob Green was started in 2008, a similar proposal to start a children’s centre approximately 2 miles away was dropped. The Hob Green centre therefore covers a huge area, which takes in many different communities with different levels of socio-economic advantage. The strength of our children’s centres is that they serve a wide community and bring together people of different backgrounds, who get on together and learn from each other. That cannot be done if children’s centres are confined to narrow disadvantaged communities.

If any thought had been put into the proposals that we are discussing, the number of children under the age of five years might have been considered as an additional factor relevant to the decision-making process. If the constituencies of Dudley North and Stourbridge are compared, for example, we find that 5,508 children under the age of five live in Dudley North, while 8,020 children under the age of five live in Stourbridge. It is illogical to propose the closure of three children’s centres in the area with many more under-fives while proposing to close only one in the area with far fewer children under five.

Having made the case for the vital importance of children’s centres and the work they do, I will conclude by looking to the future. According to a survey undertaken this year by the charity Action for Children, which runs the excellent Stourbridge children and families centre, more than 1 million families are now using children’s centres nationwide. That is an increase.

I am pleased that the Government have increased the total funding for early intervention from £2.2 billion in 2011 to £2.5 billion in the current year. In addition, there is a national fund of £70 million held by the Department for Communities and Local Government to help local authorities reconfigure services. Does the Minister think that the children’s services department of my local authority should be encouraged to apply to access such funding to bring in more joint working between health and education?

Ideally, children’s centres should act as gateways, so that families can receive the support they need, whether for parenting, health services or child development and early learning. On the health side, I am delighted that many children’s centres are acting as hubs for the increased number of health visitors that the Government have deployed. If children’s centres act as gateways for such services, it is far better that they take a joined-up approach. More can be done locally as well as nationally through the greater integration of health and education. That not only means that families will get a better, more holistic service; it also means that those services will be delivered more cost-effectively.

In conclusion, local authorities now have responsibility for public health and additional funding for social care that has been assigned directly from the NHS budget. There is also now a separate funding stream for disadvantaged two-year-olds for 16 hours a week of nursery education. There is therefore a diverse array of funding sources that a fully integrated children’s centre service can now access. It seems quite wrong to be looking at cutting great swathes of our children’s centres just at the time when the focus nationally is on children’s centres doing more, not less, and accessing more funding streams to enable them so to do.

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On behalf of all the parents and children in my constituency, I congratulate children’s centres in Stourbridge and across our borough on the excellent and incredibly valuable work they do on a very modest budget. Long may that work continue.

5.21 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Stourbridge (Margot James) and for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) on their excellent work, first, in securing today’s debate on this important topic, and secondly, in stopping the closure of those children’s centres in Dudley. My hon. Friends’ work seems to have had the desired effect, so parents and children in Dudley will continue to benefit from the excellent services of local children’s centres.

Children’s centres provide a vital service to parents and families. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge pointed out, even though our financial position is not good due to our inheritance from the previous Government, we have increased funding for early intervention over the period of this Government. In Dudley we have been able to increase the level of investment in early intervention from £12.7 million to £13.1 million. We have done that because children’s centres and the associated early years services that local authorities provide are so important.

The early intervention grant comes from the budget of the Department for Communities and Local Government, and money for funding for two-year-olds comes from the direct schools grant. We want local authorities to use that money as flexibly as possible to make sure that the maximum amount of funding gets through to the front line to provide services in the way that parents and children want.

My hon. Friend made some interesting points about types of support given by children’s centres, and the idea of universal support versus targeted support. It is important that all parents feel that they can access a local children’s centre. That is the only way we are going to identify families that might have a particular need. She pointed out that although that could be because of socio-economic reasons, there are other reasons why such services might be useful.

Children’s centres are also a useful way of linking a whole community. As a young mother—well, perhaps not so young—I attended the post-natal group at my local children’s centre and found it a really useful way to meet other local parents. Many people have been through similar experiences and really value them.

The Department for Education has recently issued guidance to local authorities, making it absolutely clear that they should ensure that

“a network of children’s centres is accessible to all families with young children in their area”,

and that

“children’s centres and their services are within reasonable reach of all families with young children in urban and rural areas, taking into account distance and availability of transport”.

The guidance also states that

“together with local commissioners of health services and employment services”,

local authorities should

“consider how best to ensure that the families who need services can be supported to access them”.

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James Morris: On the subject of statutory guidance, local authorities are under a statutory duty to consult on matters such as these. In the case of Dudley there is a peculiar situation whereby the leadership of Dudley council has withdrawn the original proposal but is continuing to consult on it. One concern is that the council might use the results of that consultation to revise the proposals. Does the Minister agree that it is important that if Dudley council comes back with a revised proposal, it should have to consult again, and should not be able to use the contents of a consultation that is still going on, despite the fact that the council is saying it is withdrawing the proposal?

Elizabeth Truss: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I will look into the specific position of Dudley council. We are clear in our guidance, however, that the starting point should therefore be a presumption against the closure of children’s centres. That is an important part of our guidance, because having a wide network is important, so that parents are able to access a children’s centre near their home. Other research by the Department for Education suggests that parents are not willing to travel great distances for early years services, as obviously, with young children it can be difficult to travel long distances. That is why we have a presumption against the closure of children’s centres. In fact, less than 1% have been closed since the start of this Parliament, and new centres have been opened.

I also commend the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge on joined-up services and how important it is that families and children have a joined-up service and experience. Too often, people have to go to different locations for antenatal classes, health checks or parenting classes. Would it not be better for all those services to be on a single site? I went to see some excellent children’s centres with my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) recently. We saw an on-site midwife who was able to give people advice pre-birth, and stay-and-play sessions and parenting classes were taking place on the same site. Other centres have also done birth registration on site, which is often far more convenient than going to the registry office and helps parents to access a children’s centre. That is something local authorities should be looking at. I am speaking to the Local Government Association about that at the moment.

Some children’s centres provide child care on site, although that amounts to less than 1% of total child care in the country. Centres also provide access to child care through other routes, such as local schools and school nurseries, which provide 30% of child care, as well as private and voluntary sector providers and local childminders. I am pleased that children’s centres are involved in our new trial of childminder agencies, and are providing some training to and support for childminders. We want to see more locally integrated networks of services, so that parents who go to children’s centres have a clear steer on what is available locally and where they can get support and help—a one-stop-shop vision.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is supportive of that vision. It has created a £75 million transformation fund, to which local authorities can submit bids. When I met my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government recently, he said that there had not been many applications for children’s

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services, but we want more integration between health and children’s centres. My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge said that in 2015 more of those responsibilities will be devolved locally, so that seems an ideal opportunity for local authorities to consider co-locating services and making them much more integrated and parent-friendly.

Margot James: Does the Minister agree that the more that services are co-located and brought together, the more sustainable the whole children centre model is in the long term?

Elizabeth Truss: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point and she is absolutely right. She mentioned the Hob Green primary school and its improvement in outcomes from having a children’s centre on site. Some 50% of children’s centres are located on school sites and we are encouraging schools and children’s centres to work more closely together. That, again, is an excellent model.

Children’s centres can be based in schools and health services. That will vary according to area, but we give local authorities freedom to decide exactly how the configuration might work. Services in rural areas where there may be more child minders, for example, may be different from those in densely populated urban areas. The overall idea is that children’s centres should be accessible for local families and provide a gateway to other services.

A record number of parents—more than 1 million, for the first time—use children’s centres. That shows their popularity and massive success, which we should celebrate. My hon. Friend referred to the early years foundation stage and said that she has seen improvement in outcomes as a result of children’s centres.

Another major focus for the Government is the quality of early years provision overall. This year, we have seen a record number of people going into the early years teacher programme—a 25% increase on last year—and that is good news. All those programmes are about improving the attainment gap and outcomes for children. We have a large outcomes gap in this country between children in lower and higher income families, and we know that much of that gap has developed by the age of five. These services are vital and combine to create the best outcomes for children.

We want local authorities to be creative in developing services and thinking about the parent and child being at the centre of services rather than in the configuration of different parts of the health and education system. Services must be parent-friendly. Children’s centres have shown that they are parent-friendly and the fact that more than 1 million families use them is fantastic news.

I am keen to discuss further with my hon. Friend and her colleagues how we can help councils such as Dudley put together applications for the transformation fund, how to look at best practice throughout the country—centres in York are registering births at children’s centres, for example—and how to spread those best practice models more widely.

The Government have funded the Early Intervention Foundation, which is looking at research into best practice so that that can be disseminated more widely across children’s centres and we can ensure that all children’s centres understand the best way of working with parents and improving outcomes for children.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on her interest in the subject, and the clear progress she has already made in Dudley. It sounds from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis that more can be done under the current proposals. Let us ensure that as much as possible of the Government’s funding is spent on high-quality, front-line professionals working with parents and children.

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Question put and agreed to.

5.32 pm

Sitting adjourned.