“are likely to see the breakdown of their parents’ relationship.”

That is why some sort of early intervention is needed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said that the stigma must be removed. It must be removed because 48% is unacceptable.

Jim Shannon: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. His wise words and heart contribute to this debate.

I have been an advocate of marriage between a man and a woman as the most stable way to raise a child, and I am on the record as saying that during a Bill Committee debate last year. I advocate that not because my parents remain a strong partnership after 60 years of being together, but because it is a fact that those who are married have a more stable relationship than those who cohabit. I base that on information and statistics that have been made available to me, and any social worker or person in that area of expertise will agree. I stress again that some families outside that mode do a great job, and I do not suggest that marriage is the only right way; however, it has proved to be the most stable way.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): My hon. Friend will not be surprised that I draw to his attention to the fact that God says, in his precious word, that he put us together in families. Although many people have sought to undermine marriage, does my hon. Friend not agree that the scriptural bond of marriage is still the foundation stone of a strong society, and will be in years to come?

Jim Shannon: I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend’s wise words. Marriage is the bedrock of society. I have been married for 26 years and I have a very understanding wife. I do not say this with pride, but I was not always present while my children were being reared. My wife was a housewife and looked after them. Being a housewife is sometimes a harder job than working in a shop or elsewhere. The way my three boys have come on is a credit to my wife and the guidance she gave them, and I make no bones about that.

A consistent feature of cohabitation has been its relative instability compared with marriage. Some UK and European studies draw attention to the fact that, regardless of socio-economic status and education, cohabiting couples are between two and two and a half times more likely to break up than equivalent married couples. That is a fact; it is not made up. Even the poorest 20% of married couples are more stable than all but the richest 20% of cohabiting couples. The statistics are clear. Three quarters of family breakdown involving children under five arise from the separation of non-married

14 Jan 2014 : Column 241WH

parents. Only 9% of married parents split before their child’s fifth birthday compared with 35% of unmarried parents.

I was just talking to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), and we want to put on the record the good work that Relate does. I sometimes refer people to Relate and although its advice may not always have worked as I might have wished, it was always expert and important. I have also referred constituents to friends in their church. No one can speak better about churches’ good work than my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), but I want to put on the record my thanks to them for giving guidance, support, help and advice when it is needed.

CARE has supplied me with information combining new data on family breakdown from Understanding Society with household data from the Office for National Statistics. Research from the Marriage Foundation shows that cohabiting parents now account for 19% of couples with dependent children, but 50% of family breakdowns. We all know that marriages may break down irrevocably. I am no man’s judge and never will be, but every effort should be made to prevent breakdown.

Statistics also show that when a separated couple was married, the children are 60% more likely to have contact with their father than if the parents were unmarried, and that separated fathers are more likely to contribute to their child’s maintenance if the parents were married. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has just left the Chamber, referred to the father’s role and said that even in a broken-down relationship it is important that a father remains in contact with the children as they are growing up.

The prevalence of mental health issues among children of cohabiting parents is more than 75% higher than among those of married parents. Children from broken homes are nine times more likely to become young offenders. I give these statistics with no joy, but they account for 70% of all young offenders. I could continue to give statistics, such as the rise in the cost of family failure, which the hon. Member for Aldershot said was £44 billion. That is a massive amount of money. Failed relationships now cost every UK taxpayer £1,475 a year.

The Centre for Social Justice and the Marriage Foundation make it clear that the Government should strengthen stability and reduce family breakdown by encouraging and promoting marriage. The Democratic Unionist party, of which I am privileged to be a member, supported the married couple’s tax allowance. With my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), I have pressed the Chancellor to implement that allowance. I believe that every hon. Member in the Chamber probably supports that.

Mr Andrew Turner: Will the hon. Gentleman help me and say whether there is a relationship between membership of the IRA and the extremist Protestant organisations, and the breakdown of families?

Jim Shannon: I cannot give the statistics, but I am sure that there has been some impact.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 242WH

The public policy benefits of marriage are extensive and should be recognised in the UK tax system, as is the case in most OECD countries. Although marriage was recognised in the UK income tax system for many years and continues to be recognised in most OECD countries, that recognition was removed in the UK in 1999. Today, the UK is the only large, developed economy not to recognise marriage in its income tax system. Only 20% of people in OECD countries live in jurisdictions that do not recognise marriage and most of them live in the UK or Mexico. A fully transferable allowance would reduce discrimination against one-earner couples, increase the threshold for low and middle-income families, and reduce the imbalance between one-earner and two-earner families.

In 2010, the Conservatives proposed a transferable allowance of £750 for married couples and civil partners under which a spouse or partner who could not use their personal allowance could pass it to his or her partner if they were a basic rate payer. The Chancellor gave a commitment on that in the House and we have pressed him to ensure that it is introduced before the next election. I understand that he has given a commitment to do so. What discussions has the Minister had on the date of implementation of that allowance? It is time to introduce this encouragement for families. If nothing else is heard in this debate, I hope that that will be heard and that the Government will encourage families and marriage and do what they promised.

3.7 pm

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): It is a pleasure, Mr Streeter, to serve under your chairmanship. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) for securing this important debate, and I look forward to the Minister’s response; I am sure he will bring common sense and sensitivity to it.

It goes without saying that the family is the backbone of our society. As I am sure many hon. Members have experienced, when couple relationships are turbulent, it shows in other aspects of the couple’s lives. Several studies show that those who are married or in stable relationships live longer lives and require medical assistance from the state less frequently. Couple, family and social relationships may act as a shock absorber in supporting people through life changes, such as becoming a parent, retirement or family bereavement, but for many the relationship itself may need support during, after and even before such events. That is why it is vital that when things go wrong in relationships, there are organisations to turn to that offer affordable support and guidance.

One such organisation operating in my constituency is Relate, which offers counselling services to couples, or those in complex relationships, which are now more common, as relationships and family structures are evolving all the time. Without Relate, many in relationships would not be able to afford the appropriate counselling; Relate has been able to subsidise its support, making it accessible to everyone, not just the well-off. Last year, it gave bursaries to more than 1,400 people.

I was alarmed last year when the director of Relate Derby and Southern Derbyshire contacted me to say that Derby city council had told it that it would reduce funding further. It looks as though Derbyshire county council will follow suit. In fact, it is expected that in

14 Jan 2014 : Column 243WH

time there will be no funding whatever from the two councils. The squeeze on funding has resulted in a 30% reduction in Relate staff numbers in the area. That means that the charity is finding it difficult to cope with the increasing demand for all its services.

Local changes to funding structures mean that many central initiatives could be undermined. Relate Derby and Southern Derbyshire is on the precipice of substantial cuts in funding that will mean a reduction in the provision of services, which will be felt by hundreds of vulnerable clients. Without regular grants from Derby city council and Derbyshire county council, funding for Relate services in the area increasingly comes from spot purchasing, which means that the charity experiences peaks in demand without the core funding to ensure that staffing levels are sufficient to meet that demand. The other issue with spot funding is that it generates an increase in administration costs for Relate. That has already had a knock-on effect on its provision of additional services. It is considering no longer accepting further requests. Children and young people in other groups will be all the poorer if they are unable to access the excellent services of our local Relate.

Relate Derby and Southern Derbyshire is well known for its work with people with Asperger’s syndrome and their families. Relate offers live chat, e-mail and webcam counselling, which can be more suitable for different client groups, such as those with Asperger’s. That counselling might well disappear if no money can be found, even though the demand is even greater this year. Last year, Relate helped more than 250 families in the area in which there were people with Asperger’s. It is clear that the withdrawal of funding by Derby city council and the county council, and the change to funding structures for services, will have a profound and negative effect on the number of referrals that Relate can deal with and the ongoing support it can offer to stakeholders.

Jeopardising the provision of subsidised counselling has an impact not only on the relationships of the couples and families who need it, but on the police force, the health service, social services, the school system, the courts and the economy as a whole. As has been said, a report by the Relationships Foundation estimated that the total cost to the economy of relationship breakdown was some £46 billion. That is perhaps not surprising when one considers that those who have experienced the breakdown of a relationship often have poorer employment outcomes and poorer physical and mental health.

The consequences of conflict in the home are even more keenly felt by children; those who experience such situations typically have poorer outcomes in the classroom. Domestic violence is a substantial issue for a number of Relate’s clients. In fact, 23% of all those referred by the two councils are victims of domestic violence, but only 4% of those had reported the abuse and violence to any other agency. Relate is doing an incredibly valuable service that other agencies seem unable to do. It goes without saying that it is in the Government’s interest to ensure that affordable counselling is accessible.

While I am extremely pleased by the Government’s commitment to keeping families together—demonstrated by their £30 million investment in relationship support bodies over the life of this Parliament—there is still more to be done to support organisations such as Relate Derby and Southern Derbyshire, which provides

14 Jan 2014 : Column 244WH

incredible value for money and great expertise for local families. The Government should further promote the importance of relationships by requiring local authorities to recognise family relationships as a core responsibility, and ensure that they do not continue to be overlooked in favour of other priorities in local government funding decisions.

Fiona Bruce: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does she agree that local authorities should be required to measure levels of family breakdown in their locality? Family breakdown is a recognised index of social deprivation and a key driver of social disadvantage.

Pauline Latham: My hon. Friend makes a substantial point. If local authorities did that, they would have more information to go on, instead of just cutting funding without thinking about the consequences. The health and wellbeing boards could help fund some of the work done by organisations such as Relate; that would help. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

3.14 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) has done the House a great service in ensuring that we have this debate. It is such an important debate that it is a matter of regret that we are having it in Back-Bench time in Westminster Hall.

The effects of marital breakdown on society are enormous. It is a modern plague and it is causing not just expense but misery. We have to speak up about it all the time, because there is almost a conspiracy of silence about such issues. Over the past 50 years, a view has grown in our permissive society that people are happiest if they are completely liberated and can do what they want and say, “It is about me.” The Churches, successive Governments, schools, the BBC, national newspapers and we as Members of Parliament are all complicit in that permissive view of society, which has left a trail of despair in its wake.

Sir Paul Coleridge, the family division judge, has been mentioned. He is one of the very few people who have had the courage to speak about this matter. He deals with these issues every day of his working life. He warns of the “yawning public ignorance” of the mental effects on children of conflict between parents, even from birth. He is either retired or about to retire, and The Daily Telegraph said that he

“decided to step down because of opposition from within the judiciary to his support for traditional marriage. He has been placed under investigation and could be officially censured over comments last year criticising the Government for pushing through same-sex marriage legislation rather than tackling a ‘crisis of family breakdown’.”

He is a man who knows what is going on and he should be listened to.

I am grateful to the Library for its work on the briefing papers, but I do not want to quote a load of statistics, because we all know the truth. It is absolutely clear what is going on and there is no argument about it. The decline of traditional marriage has been an unalloyed disaster. People in government, in schools and in Churches are frightened of speaking out about this issue. They think that if they say they support traditional marriage,

14 Jan 2014 : Column 245WH

they are somehow criticising people who are not married or who, for all sorts of reasons that are not their fault, are no longer married, but that is not the case. Surely we can value everyone in society and how they live, while speaking out for what is right in society, which is marriage and people setting out to stay married if they want to bring up children.

Again, we are indebted to the Library for telling us what is going on. These are all statistics and facts. They are not made up by people who come here with a particular point of view. A story in The Daily Telegraph on a National Centre for Social Research study said:

“One in eight divorced or separated fathers has lost all contact with their children”.

Is that not dreadful? Is that not sad?

Sir Gerald Howarth: It is tragic.

Sir Edward Leigh: Indeed. One in eight divorced or separated fathers do not see their children at all. The Daily Telegraph story continues:

“Almost a million men in the UK are estimated to have dependent children with whom they do not live. Almost 130,000 of them have no contact at all with their children.”

A story in The Daily Telegraph on the British social attitudes survey said:

“The belief that couples should ideally get married before starting a family has effectively collapsed within a generation, the British Social Attitudes survey, the longest running and most authoritative barometer of public opinion in the UK, shows.

Only a minority of people now view marriage as the starting point for bringing up children, with support for that view almost halving in less than 25 years.”

Do we not have a responsibility for the change in social attitudes? We are told, “Britain has changed. You have to accept it,” but do we not have a right to speak up for what is right?

Dr McCrea: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that behind the statistics in the briefing papers are many human tragedies and stories? We are talking about people and lives. Does he also agree that the traditional family unit has been constantly under attack in our society? It is about time that the Government did more to encourage and strengthen the marriage bond, rather than airbrushing marriage from family policy documents.

Sir Edward Leigh: Absolutely right; but it is the people at the bottom of the heap who suffer the most. We are not talking about society divorces in the 1950s. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people living, effectively, a tragic life. The Marriage Foundation has interesting statistics, including:

“45 per cent of young teenagers (aged 13-15 years old) are not living with both parents…Half of all family breakdown takes place during the first two years”;

but—and this is the important point:

“Amongst parents who remain intact, 93 per cent are married…In sharp contrast, of the 47 per cent of children born to unmarried parents today, the report predicts that just 11 per cent will reach the age of 16 with unmarried parents still together.”

Marriage works. It is best for children. Every statistic proves it. Why are not the Churches, schools and Government crying that out from the roof tops?

14 Jan 2014 : Column 246WH

Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend is making a passionate speech. He asks why Churches and schools do not recognise what many people say is the bleeding obvious, which is backed up by all the statistics. It is true that the previous Government had a good document supporting families, and the present Government have one. However, they do not give effect to the means by which we can strengthen marriage and those relationships, and send a clarion call out to people: “This is the way to lead your life—if you want a fulfilled life, you are more likely to have it through this means.”

Sir Edward Leigh: The Government are making one effort. They have said that they will bring in a transferable allowance for married couples. It is a matter of regret and has already been noted that the Labour party spokesman is here alone. Fair enough—he will speak in a moment; but it is a matter of regret that the Labour party has continually laughed at the proposal from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Labour viewpoint is “This is rubbish and will not make any difference.” The fact is that if one member—usually the mother—of a married couple who are doing their best to bring up children decides to stay at home, they are uniquely disadvantaged by the tax and benefits system.

There are six key arguments that drive a coach and horses through the arguments against the transferable allowance. First, the UK is out of line with international convention in not recognising marriage in its tax system. We are virtually alone of all big countries. One-earner married couples—those who would benefit from a transferable allowance—are thereby at a serious disadvantage relative to comparable families. The second is the distributional argument: introducing a transferable allowance for married couples will disproportionately benefit those in the lower half of the income distribution. In that way, it is quite unlike the coalition policy of increasing the personal income tax threshold to £10,000.

The third argument is about the married couples allowance, which was dismissed by some as something of an anomaly, but which played a key role in sustaining one-earner families. The fourth argument is that a transferable allowance would help to make work more rewarding for many of the poorest in society. The fifth is that transferable allowances should be introduced as soon as possible to compensate for the attack on one-earner families resulting from the introduction of a higher-income child benefit charge. The sixth and final argument is the stay-at-home spouse argument; most one-earner families do not have the option of becoming two-earner couple families.

The Government are at least doing one small thing. It will not, on its own, persuade anyone to get married or stay married; but at last we have a statement. That is what we want today from the Minister—and from the Prime Minister and all Ministers. We want them to have the courage to stand up for traditional marriage. That is not just because the current situation is a modern plague that costs us £46 billion a year—it is not just about the cost. The point is the human misery that comes in its wake. That is why the debate is so important.

3.24 pm

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) warmly on obtaining the debate.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 247WH

I am extremely grateful to the colleagues who have been here throughout this debate on a matter of important public policy. It is an area where we politicians sometimes fear to tread, thinking that it is an aspect of personal life where we should not intrude, and that we should get back to the building of bridges, bypasses, hospitals and schools. I reject that argument entirely. The issue is one of public policy that affects the amount of tax we pay, how children do in school, the criminal justice system and pretty much every area of life.

In support of my view, I quote the Prime Minister. In a great speech to Relate in June 2008 he said that

“there are some who think politics should stay out of issues like relationships…I just think that’s incredibly superficial and short-sighted”.

He continued:

“For too long, politicians here have been afraid of getting into this territory, for fear of looking old-fashioned or preachy.”

Those of us who support the thrust of his arguments are here with the full and explicit support of the Prime Minister, because he gets it. In his speech he said:

“The number one challenge we’ve got in this country today is to strengthen our society. There is no more important way of doing that than strengthening families, and there’s nothing more important to families than the strength of their relationships.”

I am delighted he said that. He continued by commenting that:

“helping people maintain strong relationships is not some fluffy alternative to reducing budget deficits—it is the way to reduce budget deficits, by reducing the demands on the state caused by family breakdown.”

In December 2010, as Prime Minister, he made another speech reiterating the important commitments he had made as Leader of the Opposition.

The parents of half the children born today will split up by the time the child is 15. By the age of 16, one in six children will not see their father at all. Cohabiting parents are sadly three times more likely than married couples to have separated by the time their child is five. A child whose parents split up is twice as likely to live in poverty as one whose parents stayed together, and has a 75% greater likelihood of underachievement at school. The Youth Justice Board says that 70% of children and young people in custody have an absent father. How much more evidence do we need that the issue is important, and a legitimate area of public policy? That is why those of us who care about it are here today. To me, it is a question of giving people the skills and support to make a success of the most important area of their lives; it is about reinforcing good habits and positive social norms.

The crisis is unfolding slowly and imperceptibly, without dramatic moments and media attention, but that is no excuse for not drawing attention to it. That is why the debate is so important, and why we look forward hugely to the Minister’s response. We want to encourage him to continue the good work begun by the Government. His boss, the Secretary of State for Education, who is charged with the matter, takes the issue seriously, too. He made an important speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research in August 2008 and considered the educational underperformance of children growing up in unstable families, citing important work by James Heckman of the university of Chicago.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 248WH

We have been around the piece and we agree that we need to do something about the problem, so I want to be practical. I have five practical, positive steps that we could take. The first is to do with relationship support. There are some wonderful programmes today, and I want to give credit to them. My complaint is that often they are too small and piecemeal. I yearn to roll them out across the country so that they can be carried out to scale, to tackle the size and challenge of the problem. The first programme I want to mention is called As 2 Become 3, and is provided by Insights for Life, run by Bob and Jess Read as part of an antenatal package. That is important because dad is almost always there with mum as they go to the hospital for their antenatal courses, and the feedback about it has been tremendously good.

Let me quote what some couples said. Ali and Simone said of the course:

“The course also helped us make sure we share this 24/7 job and still find time for each other which is important as this is why the baby is here in the first place.”

Adrian and Britta, another couple, said:

“We discussed which values are most important to us, and how they could be developed and nurtured. Learning about different ways to manage conflict gave us permission to be more open and honest, and we now try to collaborate rather than merely compromising. It has been worth the extra effort as it has brought us closer.”

Many colleagues here have talked about the importance of giving people the skills and support of early intervention. Why is every single antenatal course in the country not signposting that course? Why is it not being made available in every single NHS hospital? If it is having good results and good outcomes, let us do it everywhere, not only in a few selected places.

The next course I would like to mention is Let’s Stick Together, which is run by Care for the Family. The Minister’s Department is giving funding to the Let’s Stick Together programme. Pilots are being run in different areas across the country, and we look forward to the evaluation of those. It is an hour’s course that is typically done for new parents in children’s centres. The feedback is really positive and people often want to go on and do more courses to keep their marriages and relationships strong. I celebrate that work; we should have more of it.

Another course, which is run by Family Action, is called Parents as Partners. It looks at parenting issues and encourages strong parenting, but all the academic evidence is that, as the relationship between mum and dad is strengthened, where the parents are together, the parenting outcomes are even better. I pay tribute to Family Action and the important work that it is doing.

This morning I had a briefing from Safe Families for Children, which is an excellent project to help vulnerable children. It involves early respite care for children whose parents are in deep difficulties, before the situation gets to the fostering stage. It has been run in the Chicago area very successfully, saving a lot of money there, and it has been rolled out in the north-east. I think the Minister has had an invitation from Sir Peter Vardy to go and see it, and I hope that he may be able to take that up at some point. Parents are most likely to split up just after a child has been born, so if parents can be given some space to deal with difficult issues, that can help the couple to stay together.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 249WH

Last, but by no means least, I pay huge tribute to the work done by Holy Trinity Brompton, by Nicky and Sila Lee, who are the pioneers of the marriage preparation course, the marriage course, and the restored lives course, for people whose relationships have sadly split up—we must not forget such people, because we want to help them to rebuild their lives, so that they can build stronger relationships and marriages if they get the opportunity to marry again. That work is being looked at around the world. In Shanghai, they are very keen on the work of the marriage course. The Chinese Government get it in a big way and are copying in Shanghai what Nicky and Sila Lee are doing. That is the first area that I wanted to cover—practical things being done around the country. However, let us do them to scale and make sure that there is proper signposting in all those areas.

Secondly, I want those courses, and others which have not yet come to my attention but are no doubt happening, to have a kitemark—a Government seal of approval—so that public authorities such as local authorities, hospitals and others can refer people to them with confidence, knowing that proper provision is made and people’s qualifications and other standards will be acceptable. That would be hugely helpful, so that directors of public health, people running family centres, local authorities and so on could signpost such courses with confidence.

The third area I want to address, which has been mentioned by some colleagues, is local authority and local council engagement. I believe that if we value something, we measure it, and we also measure what we value. It is therefore really important that local authorities know what is going on in terms of relationship health in their areas. If local authorities saw the extent of family breakdown in their area, they would be more determined to do something about it. They have the opportunity to do so through their child poverty strategies, which need to address family breakdown. If they saw that an area was worse than another similar area, they would ask why that was and what that other area was doing better. They would perhaps want providers of some of the courses that I mentioned to come in and do something about it.

In my area, I set up the Bedfordshire Family Trust. We run couple strengthening courses. We get people coming to them and know that the courses work and that people appreciate them. That is the sort of thing that local authorities should be able to refer people to in order to save their budgets on housing, care placements and so on, because, as we know, local authorities have to watch the pennies at the moment. That is the third area where I would like to see action.

The fourth issue is public health, and that shows why family is so important. We have a Minister from the Department for Education here and I do not expect him to be an expert on health issues, but he will have heard colleagues mention health earlier. We know that there are significant implications and health costs, and that poor-quality relationships can lead to increases in alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease, and linked problems with childhood obesity and diabetes.

As the chair of the all-party group on strengthening couple relationships, I was hugely surprised by one fact. We issued a report earlier this year called “Relationships:

14 Jan 2014 : Column 250WH

the missing link in public health”. Just listen to the data on coronary artery bypass grafting, which is perhaps not something that people would have thought was directly linked to the quality of relationships. The facts are that:

“The quality of couple relationships also has a remarkable impact on survival rates after bypass surgery, with married people being 2.5 times more likely to be alive 15 years after coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) than those who are not married, and those in high-satisfaction marriages being 3.2 times more likely to be alive 15 years after CABG compared with those reporting low marital satisfaction”.

That is a reason to have a strong marriage, if no other.

On that fourth point, the cost to the health service of people with long-term conditions is huge. When couples are together and can support each other in older age, we save a huge amount for the health service. That is another reason why we have to take public health seriously.

3.37 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on securing the debate, and I thank all those who contributed. There have been some very interesting points made.

I was particularly keen on some of the practical suggestions made by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who is the chair of the all-party group on strengthening couple relationships, as he said. Looking at the group’s minutes, I was struck by some of the issues identified, especially by Dr Lester Coleman of the OnePlusOne charity. He emphasised that those who are more engaged at work enjoy a better quality of relationship. That may be because they are more personally fulfilled and more secure in their personal identity, and therefore are better able to give and share. That would seem to be an argument for making it easier for those who wish to work to do so, and is perhaps also an argument for supporting child care, which is a very important part of the Labour party’s policy, especially at a time when the cost of child care is rising so dramatically.

Apparently, parents, as opposed to non-parents, also experience better-quality relationships, and although I would be the first to accept that many contented couples do not have children, that finding suggests to me that we may need to do all we can to support those who wish to be parents. That might include measures such as those that the Government have embarked on to improve adoption. It might mean working harder to broaden the range of people who can adopt and foster. In some cases, it might mean making fertility treatment available to more couples on the NHS.

I also understand that Dr Coleman says that where there is greater work-family conflict, that can have quite a negative impact on the quality of relationships. Of course, that brings to mind all the arguments about making work flexible, so that it fits in with families, and the issue of the living wage, which we comment on from time to time. I am not sure that all of that has received enough attention in the debate so far.

It is perhaps also worth noting that in the YouGov survey commissioned by Relate, to which the hon. Member for Aldershot referred, 59% of respondents

14 Jan 2014 : Column 251WH

were concerned about the strain that money worries were placing on their relationship, which of course is one reason why we on this side of the House take so much time to emphasise the problems of the cost of living at the moment.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Who is “we”?

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Order.

Steve McCabe: I think that I can speak for my side of the House, Mr Streeter. When it comes to strengthening couple relationships, the hon. Member for Aldershot has been clear. He is talking about heterosexual couples. We learned about his views on this issue during the debate on same-sex marriage. He has repeated them honestly today in this debate and in his ePolitix article, in which he states that marriage

“for the majority of Conservative MPs can only be between a man and a woman”.

I do not think that in this day and age it is possible to make such a narrow distinction, because whatever the views of individuals, the law and society are clear: “couple relationships” can mean married, cohabiting, heterosexual and homosexual relationships, however difficult that is for some people to accept. I acknowledge that many people put great store by traditional marriage, but that does not mean that we can deny the reality of what we see around us.

Sir Gerald Howarth: What the hon. Gentleman has heard throughout this debate, though, is that all the evidence has shown that cohabiting couple households—I am referring to the statistics relating to family disorder, the breakdown of family life and so on—are much more akin to single-parent households than to married couple households. No one is saying that people have to live that lifestyle, but the facts suggest to us that there is one lifestyle in this country that is likely to produce a happier outcome and is better for children, and that is marriage. His right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), a former Secretary of State for the Home Department, said that himself, so why cannot the hon. Gentleman accept it?

Steve McCabe: As a divorcé, I do not feel that my divorce has prevented me from being able to have a further solid relationship; nor has it prevented me from having a strong parental role or from being part of a family.

It is interesting that the Government’s most explicit policy to support marriage, the married couple’s tax allowance—we heard quite a lot about that from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)—is available only to one third of married couples. The proposals are really designed for the situation in which one partner does not work outside the home or earns very little. It is really a policy for stay-at-home mums, which is perhaps slightly at odds with some of Dr Coleman’s suggestions. Of course, it is available only for married mums, not for widows, cohabiting mums or anyone like that. Perhaps most astonishingly of all, it is available for the love rat who deserts his wife and family and runs off with someone else’s wife. He can remarry and claim the allowance. That strikes me as a slightly perverse way of strengthening couple relationships.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 252WH

The other thing that is slightly strange about the policy is that it applies to only 4 million of the 12.3 million married couples, and it is not clear what impact it will have on children, given that pensioner families make up more than one third of the beneficiaries. In fact, only 35% of the 30% of families who gain from the policy have children, and only 17% have children under the age of five. It is hardly a well targeted policy if its aim is to support the concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Andrew Selous: I want to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the international facts. If we look across the OECD, we see that the UK is very much an exception in not recognising marriage at all in the tax system. In fact, it is really just us and Mexico alone among all the OECD countries that do not recognise it; 80% of the population of OECD countries live under a system in which marriage is recognised.

Steve McCabe: I was talking about the efficacy of a particular measure. Despite the doom and gloom, if we accept that not all relationships come in the form that the hon. Member for Aldershot would like to see—I accept that that is his view, and I understand that he holds it sincerely—the Relate survey to which I referred has some interesting observations. Let me pay tribute to the comments by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) about Relate. I agree: I think that it is an excellent organisation that we should protect. The Relate survey paints a slightly rosier picture. It found that 93% of people said that, when times were hard, relationships within their family were important. Although the media sometimes presents our society as one in which family relationships have broken down, Relate could not find evidence that that was the case overall. According to its survey, families—albeit sometimes new families or reconstituted families—remain the backbone of our support systems.

3.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) for raising this deeply important subject, and for stoically being here despite his heavy cold.

Like all those who contributed this afternoon, I believe that strong and stable families are the backbone of a strong and stable society—the key to ensuring that children grow up in a loving environment and develop into healthy and fulfilled adults. That is why the Government have invested significantly in supporting families and couple relationships, as well as the institution of marriage—because we understand the crucial role that the family plays in providing a foundation for a child’s development and success in later life. I saw that for myself in my own personal and professional life before coming to Parliament, so I need no persuading of the merits of a strong, stable and loving family environment in bringing about a better society.

Although the view that I have set out is based partly on what we know intrinsically works, and the values that help to improve and enhance lives, we also know from research that happy relationships lead to better physical and emotional well-being for all involved. The fact is that the quality of the relationship between

14 Jan 2014 : Column 253WH

parents is strongly linked to positive parenting and better outcomes for children. Family stability is key for children. Sustained parental relationships are associated with a range of positive childhood, adolescent and adult outcomes, including in respect of cognitive development, education—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State himself said that in his speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research in 2008—better job prospects and less propensity to commit crime, as well as in relation to health. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) raised important points about how health outcomes could be improved with the right support for relationships, and measures that we know help to achieve that. I will take away her comments about the health outcomes framework and the role of the health and wellbeing board, and I will discuss the matter with Ministers in the Department of Health to ensure that it is properly considered as those aspects of the health system develop further.

On attachment, which is a vital part of understanding whether a relationship is positive or not, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence will for the first time produce guidelines on what constitutes a secure attachment, which will be an extremely useful addition. Conflict between parents is detrimental to children’s outcomes, hence the high priority we are giving to supporting all couple relationships, particularly those of people who are married. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot told us, evidence shows us that the children of married parents do better than those of cohabiting parents, particularly on measures of social and emotional development at the ages of three and five. We need to ensure that all under-fives receive the best possible support, so such evidence is important.

Centre for Social Justice reports, which many hon. Members have brought with them, have starkly illustrated the considerable emotional, social and economic costs associated with the breakdown of families. As my hon. Friends the Members for Aldershot and for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) have reminded us, those costs amount to an astonishing £46 billion a year, which is not far off the total annual budget for educating all our children.

Important life events, including the transition to parenthood, relocation or changes in employment, can contribute to relationship stress. We must do what we can to encourage couples to take up support at an earlier stage—the early prevention that hon. Members have mentioned in this debate—to ensure that they get through difficult events in their lives. My time at the family Bar has shown me the devastating consequences of not doing so, not only for adults but, perhaps even more importantly, for any children involved. To bring that about, and by virtue of the strong prime ministerial steer, the Government have committed £30 million over the spending review period from 2011 to 2015, which puts funding for relationship support on a much more stable long-term footing. That gives us greater encouragement that we can get couples to use relationship support services.

The Department is funding a range of providers to deliver relationship support services, including one that my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) highlighted: the Parents as Partners evidence-based intervention programme delivered by

14 Jan 2014 : Column 254WH

Family Action, which works with couples who are particularly likely to face relationship stress or be at risk of relationship breakdown. There is also a series of campaigns and culture change messages aimed at employers, new parents and young people to raise awareness and encourage them to seek help on relationships. There is training for early years workers and managers, to help them to encourage positive relationships between parents, and to engage better with fathers, in particular, on relationships and parenting. The public policy agenda is being developed—a point made by my hon. Friend—through the formation of the Relationships Alliance, which I know he has been instrumental in helping to bring together.

I take on board the point that my hon. Friend made about the need to scale up some of those excellent services, and the Relationships Alliance is well placed to help achieve that. In my ongoing discussions with the alliance—I am meeting representatives next week—I am sure that that will be on the agenda. All those valuable services are provided by expert organisations. Many hon. Members have praised the work done by such organisations, which include Relate, Marriage Care, the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships and OnePlusOne. Those four organisations, which launched the Relationships Alliance in the House of Commons in November, will be key in helping to establish a much more coherent and cohesive message on what is available to those who need support.

Fiona Bruce: I thank the Minister for his constructive personal concern and his comments so far. We have heard today that the issue straddles many different areas: education, local government, the criminal justice system and health and well-being. Would it not be helpful to appoint a dedicated Minister to tackle this issue? Care for the Family has said that it feels as though there is no one in government waking up every morning thinking about this key social policy as a priority. After all that we have heard today, should not there be?

Mr Timpson: As the Minister with responsibility for children and families, I have sympathy with the need to raise the issue across Government and to ensure that all Departments play an active role in establishing what works and delivering it, but as my hon. Friend will acknowledge, I am not in a position to start appointing new Ministers or Departments. Forums are available to bring the topic together across Government; in particular, the social justice committee, which is chaired by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has a strong interest in the subject and is well placed to hold such cross-government discussions.

We are doing a significant amount to support families but we must recognise that, sadly, parents separate. When that happens, it can be a difficult time in which families need support on a range of issues. That is why we are improving the information, advice and support available to separated parents outside the court system to help them focus on their children’s needs and to agree workable arrangements for post-separation parenting. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) rightly said, the Children and Families Bill, which is currently in the other place, includes provision to highlight the importance of a

14 Jan 2014 : Column 255WH

child having a relationship with both parents following family breakdown, provided that to do so is safe and in the child’s best interests. The welfare of the individual child must be the court’s paramount consideration, but, subject to that, the parental involvement clause requires courts to presume that the child’s welfare is furthered by the involvement of each parent who can be safely involved. By making clear the basis on which the court makes those decisions, that provision is intended to encourage parents to reach agreement themselves about their child’s care without recourse to the court.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Before my hon. Friend the Minister sits down, may I thank him for the serious attention that he is paying to the issue? We hope that we can support him in raising it up the Government’s agenda. Before we conclude, may I also thank you, Mr Streeter, for all that you have done in this field?

Mr Timpson: It is remiss of me not to have directed similar praise to you, Mr Streeter, and I concur with the words that have just come in your direction.

The Government have commissioned two key pieces of work that will inform future policy makers and commissioners, because problems often start with poor commissioning decisions. That will help in areas such as Mid Derbyshire that want to move away from short-term, spot-purchasing solutions towards something more sustainable. Those two key pieces of work are an independent evaluation of relationship support interventions and a cross-government review of the family stability indicator of the social justice strategy.

Although significant evidence points to the importance of the quality of adult couple relationships to child outcomes, we know from various reviews of literature that there is limited evidence from within the UK about which relationship support practice has the most positive

14 Jan 2014 : Column 256WH

impact on adult and child outcomes. My Department has consequently commissioned research to test the effectiveness of several relationship support interventions, some of which we have already heard about—“Let’s Stick Together”, which my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton and for South West Bedfordshire have mentioned, as well as marriage preparation and couple counselling—to evaluate whether they are as effective as we would like. That report is due at the end of the month.

Steve McCabe: Does the Minister agree that it would be wrong of us to conclude the debate without acknowledging that figures released today show that the divorce rate in this country is falling, not rising?

Mr Timpson: It would be remiss of anyone not to welcome a fall in the divorce rate, but the fact is that it is still far too high. That is why our emphasis is on working with couples at the earliest opportunity so that they never have to reach that stage in their relationship.

The debate has been informative, passionate and serious. Although the Government have done a lot of work in this area, we recognise that there is still work to do, not only on the ground to improve relationship support, but in the messages that come from Government about how we build strong relationships across society. The past 50 years have seen a seismic shift in the structure and composition of families in this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot rightly acknowledged, we should respect many of the reasons why that has happened, but we cannot accept the erosion of marriage and the many well evidenced benefits that it brings to society. That is why the Government are committed to supporting marriage. The marriage tax break is a step in the right direction that will help to ensure that all the attributes marriage brings with it flourish and do not wither.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 257WH

Lower Thames Crossing

4 pm

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, and good to see my hon. Friend the Minister in his place. I have debated these matters a number of times with a number of Ministers over the past three and a half years, but this is the first time that I have had the pleasure to debate with him. I am also grateful for the interest shown by hon. Friends present, which shows the importance of the subject.

The Government are considering where to site a new river crossing in the lower Thames area. As we all know, new Thames crossings do not come along very often. Perhaps, as a result, the debate is all the more challenging when they do, but it is important that we get the location right. That is why we need to have a discussion today.

Some people think that the removal of the toll barriers due to take place next year will alleviate the need for a new crossing, given that it will increase capacity at the existing Dartford crossing. However, I think that they are wrong and that to rely too heavily on that solution is excessively short-termist. We need good infrastructure if we are to make the most of economic growth opportunities. I feel that we have insufficient crossings to the east of Tower bridge. I would like to see two more new crossings in London and a new crossing in the lower Thames area, but much further downstream than is proposed in the options before us.

The Government have consulted on three options. One of those has been ruled out, but we are still looking at two. People are looking for clarity, but perhaps the fact that we still have not reached a decision illustrates how difficult the problem is. I suggest to the Minister that, given the fact that there is no obvious solution to the problem, it is time to look again and perhaps consider other options.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing such an important debate and pay tribute to the work she has put into trying to alleviate the congestion that affects both her constituency and mine. Does she acknowledge the difficulties that would result from putting an extra crossing at so-called option A, next to the existing Dartford crossing? That would not, in fact, create an alternative for motorists. It would give them no choice, so if there was any problem on the M25 at that location, the problems that we see today would only get worse.

Jackie Doyle-Price: My hon. Friend pre-empts much of what I was about to say. I completely agree with him. That is really the mistake in the present options before us—to be honest, they are just lines on a map. They are sticking plaster, informed more by cost than by what is in the best interests of developing a sustainable road infrastructure that will actually meet the needs of our growing economy. We all have great ambitions for the Thames Gateway as a powerhouse of economic regeneration, but they will not be realised unless we have adequate road infrastructure in place. That means developing a new lower Thames crossing much further east so that we open up the whole of south Essex and north Kent to new opportunities.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 258WH

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that the two options still under consideration both go through my constituency, but I must say that my objections are not based on nimbyism. My reasons for opposing them relate entirely to the resilience of the road network, by which I mean both the local and the strategic road network. On the local network, Thurrock is a major logistics hub with substantial port infrastructure, so a functioning road infrastructure is crucial to our continued economic success. I advise the Minister that the problems caused by traffic congestion are without doubt the biggest issue in my postbag. I hear from not just residents, but businesses, and they tell me that it is costing them jobs and business.

I am concerned that although the Highways Agency will advise the Department for Transport about the effect on the national road network, insufficient consideration has hitherto been given to the impact of either option on the local road network. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) agrees with me. The reality is that either option A or C—the two still under consideration—would have a critical impact on Thurrock’s local network.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing such an important debate. She is talking about the resilience of the road network and the economic potential of south Essex. Of the two remaining options on the table, A and C, does my hon. Friend agree that as well as not addressing or helping to deliver the full economic potential of south Essex, option C would also have an incredible environmental effect by dividing an established rural community and wrecking one of the most significant remaining rural parts of south Essex.

Jackie Doyle-Price: My hon. Friend is entirely right to identify that environmental impact of option C, which is perhaps the biggest barrier to that option. In addition, option A would have a significant effect on air quality. Taken together, both of those impacts—we are talking about serious environmental damage—show that we are looking at the wrong options.

I would like to say a little more about option A, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said, is at the site of the existing Dartford crossing. I understand the Highways Agency’s reasons for recommending option A—I have been down to the control room.

4.6 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.17 pm

On resuming

Jackie Doyle-Price: I will resume my critique of option A. As I was saying, it is the Highways Agency’s preferred option, due to the current challenges of managing traffic flow into the tunnels. However, as things stand, Thurrock routinely experiences gridlock whenever there is an incident at the Dartford crossing, and that would only get worse if option A was chosen. To give an example, over the Christmas period, the bridge was closed on three occasions due to high winds. Those in my constituency who live inside the M25, including

14 Jan 2014 : Column 259WH

myself, are totally cut off when such incidents take place. The traffic conditions are utterly miserable. On 23 December, it took me 105 minutes to travel two miles between Lakeside shopping centre and my house. Dartford crossing may be part of our strategic road infrastructure, but when things go wrong, it has a great impact on the local road network in Thurrock. To add insult to injury for the local users who crossed via the tunnels, the tolls continued to be levied during the disruption, after many commitments that at times of serious congestion they would be lifted.

The Minister will also recall the security incident that took place last September, when both the bridge and the tunnels at the Dartford crossing were closed. The disruption that that caused illustrated clearly how dependent the road network is on that one crossing, which makes the argument strongly that any new crossing should be not at that location but at a new one. In my view, the interests of the strategic road network would be best served if we considered creating a new outer ring road to complement the M25. That brings me to what is wrong with option C, which would link up on the north side with the M25 and the A13, which is already severely congested.

Another issue with option A that the Minister should reflect on arises from representations made to me by Vopak, which has a fuel terminal sited just east of the Dartford crossing. Vopak has advises me that if option A were to be built, it might require the closure of Vopak’s West Thurrock terminal. That would have serious implications for the resilience of the fuel supply to London and the south-east. That is the final nail in the coffin of option A—I hope.

I am aware that option C has generated considerable support from the local enterprise partnership, not least because it is also supported by Essex and Kent county councils. To be fair to Kent, it has developed its own vision of how the road network should look on the south side, but, unfortunately, that type of thinking has not really been done on the north side. As I have said, the result is that there would be greater burdens on the M25 and the Al3, so, for me option C is not the answer.

I remind the Minister that at the time of the 2009 study, there were two further options, D and E. I believe those options might lead to the creation of a proper new orbital road, which would add significantly to our road transport infrastructure, but it appears that they have been ruled out on the basis of cost. Dare I say to the Minister that that is a false economy? Sooner or later, we will have to build a new outer ring road, particularly if we are to realise the economic potential of the Thames Gateway. It is also worth bearing in mind the additional connectivity of the eastern region that such a road would create. It would add to the connectivity of Stansted airport, which would help us to deal with our aviation capacity challenges. In particular, option D—a crossing at Canvey—would allow connectivity with the Al30, which is a very under-utilised road.

I am very aware that what I am suggesting would slow down the timetable for the new crossing, but it is really important that we get the right solution to this problem and that we do not just apply a sticking plaster.

Stephen Metcalfe: My hon. Friend is making some powerful points, particularly about option C. To maximise the potential for future growth in south Essex, does she

14 Jan 2014 : Column 260WH

agree that looking again at options D and E would also allow us to make the most of Southend airport, which is now a growing hub and making great strides in providing additional airport capacity? Now, if someone wants to get to Southend, they have to come all the way to the M25 and then go out along the A13. A new outer ring road might start to address that problem.

Jackie Doyle-Price: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point that illustrates again the importance of looking at transport issues not just in terms of rail, roads, or airports, but in terms of the whole picture. Let me remind those people just down the river at city hall who talk about a Thames estuary airport that we already have one at Southend. It is very popular with my constituents because going there is almost as nice an experience as going to London City airport—you will know that, Mr Streeter, if you have ever used it. If you are flying short-haul, I recommend that you use Southend. My hon. Friend is entirely right about that.

I am really disappointed about this entire debate. I congratulate Kent county council on the work that it has done. It has taken the 2009 study and used it as a prompt to develop its vision of what it needs for its road network, so it is very disappointing that that type of thinking has not taken place on the north side of the river. Essex county council and Thurrock borough council should hang their heads in shame, because we are now on the back foot as we respond to these proposals. In 2009, the highways engineers of those two authorities should have sat down and come up with a sensible solution. Actually, there is evidence that Southend council is starting to do that—as my hon. Friend pointed out, the council is recognising the opportunities, with its growth strategy based around the airport. Nevertheless, all this shows that communities can be very badly let down by poor leadership of their local authorities. We are now having to respond to decisions that are being made without being at the table, and that is regrettable. However, never say die. Both my hon. Friend and I are loud in being champions for our communities, so we will try to shift the agenda ourselves. Having said that, it is rather difficult, because—as I have said—we are on the back foot.

I make a real pitch to the Minister please to look again at option D, a crossing at Canvey. Look at how that crossing would connect with the A130 and look at the impact that the other options would have on the M25 and A13. I must point out that the A13 is only dual carriageway after Tilbury docks, which again shows the weakness of Essex and Thurrock councils in responding to the road traffic infrastructure challenges facing them, to which they should respond more strongly if we are to maximise our economic competitiveness. I know that what I am suggesting will slow things down, but I implore the Minister to bring to this issue the long-term vision and thinking that the Department for Transport has brought to aviation and particularly to rail, including the development of High Speed 2. I say that because this project is an investment that will bring more bang for the Department’s buck.

In closing, I thank the Minister and the Department for responding positively to the requests that we made locally for investment in junction 30 of the M25, which will go a long way to help tackle the problems affecting the M25. I also thank him for the concessions that he

14 Jan 2014 : Column 261WH

has given the residents of Dartford and Thurrock for use of the Dartford crossing, which are very welcome and have gone down well. The Department has always engaged very openly with representations made to it, and I hope that he will reflect on the representations that have been made to him today in the same spirit.

I will put one last thought into the Minister’s head. The options before us are based on bridges and tunnels, but if we are to take a longer-term view, an interim solution may be needed. I simply point out that the Woolwich ferry carries a million vehicles a year. Perhaps we should look at the potential of ferries to boost crossing capacity on the Thames.

4.25 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): It is a great joy to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) on securing this debate on the options for the new lower Thames crossing. I acknowledge the attendance of my hon. Friends the Members for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) and for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who I know have a personal interest in the subject.

I have noted the points that have been made during the debate, which echo issues raised during the public consultation we held last year on options for the location of the new crossing. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock responded to that consultation, taking the opportunity to present formally the views and concerns of her constituents. The Secretary of State for Transport made an initial response to the consultation feedback with his announcement to the House on 12 December. He announced our decision to discard one of the options—option B—and to undertake further analysis to understand better the relative merits of the remaining options. I will therefore respond to this debate with reminders of the challenge facing us and the point the Government have reached in deciding where to locate a new lower Thames crossing.

Options D and E involved locations further east than the other options. Quite aside from the costs and the environmental issues associated with them, they were found by the 2009 study to take relatively little traffic—about 5% or less—away from the existing crossing. Of course, we all know that 50 years ago a tunnel was opened between Dartford and Grays. Today the Dartford-Thurrock crossing comprises two tunnels and one bridge, which carry about 140,000 vehicles daily across the Thames and provide a vital link in the M25 orbital route around London. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Dartford-Thurrock crossing, or the A282, is the only river crossing east of London and the only road link between Kent and Essex. It is also in the Thames Gateway, which is the area identified for major redevelopment and growth. Therefore, whether people are making long journeys from the channel to the rest of the UK or travelling across the area east of London, and whether they are travelling for business or leisure purposes, the crossing provides a critical link.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 262WH

Jackie Doyle-Price: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He is getting to the nub of the issue for myself and my hon. Friends who are here today, namely that the crossing is the only link between Kent and Essex and the only link that connects up our ports. As the only crossing east of London, it is the only show in town when there is disruption, and that is why we need something else to build resilience into the system.

Mr Goodwill: Well, nobody has come to me with the argument that we do not need to do something to alleviate the congestion, and of course the whole point of the Government’s consultation and the work that we are continuing to do is to ensure that we make the right decision based on environmental, traffic, cost and of course air quality grounds. Air quality is a major issue now, as the vehicles we are using on our road networks are failing to deliver the clean exhaust emissions that had been promised in earlier testing. It is disappointing how the vehicles operate in practice compared with the predictions that were made about them. In fact, in terms of journey time reliability, the crossing is consistently one of the worst performing links in the strategic road network, and it is forecast that the problems will get worse in the future.

A succession of Governments, both at national and local level, commissioned studies on congestion and possible new river crossings. A study for the Department for Transport in 2009 identified short and medium-term measures to improve traffic flows. It concluded that a new crossing was needed in the long term, and shortlisted a number of potential locations: option A at the existing Dartford-Thurrock crossing; option B connecting with the A2, which we have since discarded; option C connecting the M2 with the A13 and the M25 between junctions 29 and 30; and the option C variant that would additionally widen the A229 between the M2 and the M20. The Government have been determined to solve the problem from the outset.

Gareth Johnson: I pay tribute to the work of the Department for Transport. Back in 2010 the previous Prime Minister vowed to sell off the Dartford crossing. There was no plan to address the congestion and pollution in the area or to do anything to help small businesses based in Thurrock and Dartford. There is still much to be done, and the crossing still remains a scar on the face of the local area—it is the nemesis of the Thames Gateway—but the Department should be congratulated on its progress thus far.

Mr Goodwill: The Government are well aware of the brake on economic development in my hon. Friend’s constituency and others in the area caused by the congestion at Dartford.

At the first spending review in 2010, we promised to introduce measures to tackle congestion at the crossing in the short to medium term. Indeed, autumn this year will see the introduction of free-flow charging on the Dartford-Thurrock crossing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock mentioned: motorists will no longer stop on the crossing to put money into a slot machine or to hand it to an attendant. We also committed to reviewing the options for a new crossing. Subsequently, the national infrastructure plan 2011, which identified a lower Thames crossing as one of the Government’s top

14 Jan 2014 : Column 263WH

40 infrastructure projects, added a commitment to consult on those options. My Department has fulfilled both those commitments, and following the review of the options shortlisted by the 2009 study, the Department consulted the public from May to July 2013.

Knowing that our decision on the new crossing will affect many different interests, we engaged with the public in a variety of ways. In addition to online communications, both the Minister and officials met interested parties in a series of briefings, meetings and public information events. Numerous members of the public took advantage of opportunities to speak with officials to ask questions or raise concerns. In all, the Department recorded and analysed more than 5,700 responses to the consultation. The consultation feedback has confirmed that opinion is divided both on the need for a new crossing and where to locate it, and that there are serious issues at stake in reaching decisions on where to locate a new crossing and whether it should be a bridge or a tunnel.

Stephen Metcalfe: I am grateful to the Minister for giving up his valuable time. Has his Department at any point considered the capacity of the M25 as a whole and whether that will need expansion at some point? We have already moved to four lanes in some areas, but if at some point in the next 50 years we need an outer ring road or outer link road, so that people are not all using the M25, regardless of the crossing, would it not be worth reconsidering options D or E, or a variant thereof, and putting in place the most expensive part of the infrastructure of an outer ring road at this point in the investment cycle, rather than waiting to look at it again at some point in the future?

Mr Goodwill: I understand my hon. Friend’s point. Indeed, the Department is currently considering what further improvements may be needed on the M25, A282 and A13 to ensure that, when we address the bottleneck at the crossing, we do not push the congestion north and south to other parts of the M25, which is already a very congested road.

A number of consultation responses requested that we reopen other options previously rejected. Some, like my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock, advocated options further east downstream, while others advocated options further west within London. However, given the Government’s objectives for the crossing, as set out in the consultation, 1 am not convinced there are any reasons that would justify reopening previously rejected options. I am sorry to disappoint her. Further information about the consultation feedback is set out in a consultation response summary published online by my Department alongside the Secretary of State’s announcement last December.

That brings us to the point we have reached in determining where to locate a new lower Thames crossing. As I said at the beginning, we have narrowed down the

14 Jan 2014 : Column 264WH

options and are obtaining further advice on points raised during the consultation in order to weigh up the relative merits of the remaining options. In pursuing further advice, I am listening to concerns expressed by respondents to the consultation. Specifically, I am seeking more information, first, on the scale of further improvements that may be required on the M25, A282 and A13. Secondly, I am seeking further information on potential implications for compliance with national and European air quality targets. Many hon. Members will have seen the coverage of our planned improvements to the A1 in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, where we are having to take measures to reduce the speed of vehicles to reduce the pollution, particularly nitrogen oxides, that puts us in danger of breaching those targets. Thirdly, I am seeking more information on the scale of mitigation that may be needed to avoid impacts on protected habitats.

I make it clear that we have no plans to consult on additional options. The options we are still considering for a new lower Thames crossing are: option A, at the existing Dartford-Thurrock crossing; option C, connecting the M2 with the A13 and the M25 between junctions 29 and 30; and the option C variant that would additionally widen the A229 between the M2 and the M20.

Jackie Doyle-Price: The Minister has confirmed that he is still considering those options, but will he reassure me that there will be a close examination of the exact routes taken when the crossing hits the north bank? We have serious concerns about the impact on the M25 and the A13. Will there be further consultation with the community on those potential impacts?

Mr Goodwill: We are looking at the M25 as a whole as part of our route-based strategies, and will look at potential future routes for any outer orbital road, but we are not currently looking at that to tackle the urgent problem we have now.

The decision has far-reaching consequences and is not to be rushed. We will, however, make an announcement on our consideration of the options as soon as possible. My Department and the Highways Agency remain committed to accelerating delivery of infrastructure projects such as the lower Thames crossing. The final location decision need not delay the delivery of the crossing, as development of the remaining options continues.

A new lower Thames crossing represents a unique and challenging opportunity to address serious capacity issues on the strategic road network for the longer term, yet each option raises serious questions to which we are duly giving our full attention. I trust that hon. Friends and hon. Members will maintain their interest in the new lower Thames crossing as the Government progress and refine their proposal, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock and her colleagues will not be backwards in coming forwards to make their views known to me and my departmental colleagues.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 265WH

Manufacturing in the UK

4.38 pm

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank the Minister for taking time out of what must be a busy diary to come to this debate. I am delighted to have secured this debate because I believe that manufacturing plays a very important part in the UK economy, and I wish to see manufacturing encouraged and assisted to grow and prosper in every region of the UK.

Today, the manufacturing industry employs some 2.6 million people in the UK, which is just 8% of all jobs in the country. In 2011, manufacturing accounted for 11% of national economic output, some £145 billion. Still, manufacturing comprises only 12% of the UK’s economy, compared with more than 23% in Germany. As we are only too aware, manufacturing in the UK has underperformed compared with the service sector for many years—one reason being that manufacturing output declined particularly sharply during the recession and, after a short period of growth, again fell in March 2013 compared with March 2012. In the past few months, however, some manufacturers have started to grow and to increase their market share once more. Such businesses have embraced invention, innovation, quality and design, which I will discuss further as I make progress.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate him on securing this enormously important debate. It is important to celebrate the success of our leading-edge manufacturers, so will he join me in congratulating MINI, which has its plant in my constituency, on its sales going above 300,000 last year, which is up 6% on the year before? That helps to make my hon. Friend’s point that, with the right investment, the right product, the right work force and partnership between trade unions and management, we can do great things.

Mr McKenzie: I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. That example underlines what I am about to discuss, which are quality, design and improving market share. MINI is a true example of that.

The success of such businesses highlights that, without a strong manufacturing base, there can be no rebalancing of the economy, which we are told is a priority for this Government. Great importance should be placed on invention, quality and design in manufacturing. The importance of development to creating a product cannot be under-stressed. Research and development are essential to build businesses and to dominate markets.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I congratulate him on getting this important debate and must declare an interest in the manufacturing sector. Does he agree that this or any future Government need to remove the bureaucracy that affects companies, in particular SMEs, so that they can concentrate on market research and exports?

Mr McKenzie: I share the hon. Gentleman’s comments. SMEs clearly need all the help they can get to close in on markets and to increase their market share.

Several hon. Members rose

14 Jan 2014 : Column 266WH

Mr McKenzie: I will make a little progress and will then give way.

I offer as evidence the innovation of a well-loved son of Greenock in my constituency. I dare say that hon. Members have heard of him. His name is James Watt. While his product has been consigned to history, his name lives on as a unit of power, which is testament to his innovative genius. It was the innovation of the steam engine that saw him and his business partner go on to dominate the market for such machinery for over a decade. As James Watt would have put it, research and development are vital to the pursuit of excellence. In technology-based sectors, research is a primary driver of innovation.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Successive Governments have supported manufacturing in the west midlands, in particular Coventry, through their support for Jaguar Land Rover. The London Taxi Company was recently saved through useful agreements between the company and Jaguar Land Rover, because the trade unions were prepared to negotiate to save the company. We should welcome that and give credit to successive Governments. My hon. Friend mentioned research and development, and the university of Warwick and Coventry university have done a lot in terms of design and research in manufacturing.

Mr McKenzie: I note and accept my hon. Friend’s points and will develop them later in my speech.

The town of Greenock was not only the manufacturing birthplace of the personal computer back in the early 1980s but the innovation centre for surface-mounted technology and multi-layered processors, which have led to the powerful hand-held IT devices many of us rely on today. Sadly, that manufacturing base has moved to continents that can offer cheaper labour costs to satisfy the need for ever-reducing product prices, with the short-term justification of the need to maintain a healthy profit margin.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is being generous in accepting so many interventions. As he says, innovation is the key to the future of a successful manufacturing industry. Does he agree that by incentivising R and D tax credits we are holding on to British manufacturers that might otherwise have gone overseas?

Mr McKenzie: I will go on to describe that as a positive step forward later in my speech.

The manufacturing base moved and was lost when investment and encouragement in research and development stopped, and that is not the first time we have seen this. Indeed, history could be said to be repeating itself. My constituency suffered greatly when shipbuilding manufacturing went into steep decline.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and apologise for not informing him that I intended to intervene. I congratulate him on securing this important debate. It is vital that we achieve consensus on the role and

14 Jan 2014 : Column 267WH

importance of manufacturing in the UK, and I only wish that more Members from all parties were here to listen to what he has to say.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of “Making Good”, the report of an inquiry chaired by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and myself that forms part of the work of the all-party group on manufacturing, which is co-chaired by myself and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman)?

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Order. Interventions are supposed to be brief, so please conclude.

Chris White: Thank you, Mr Streeter. The report makes a number of important recommendations, from developing a long-term strategic fiscal framework to forming closer relationships with trade associations. I recommend the report to the hon. Gentleman and to anyone else who is interested in this debate.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Order. This is a half-hour debate. The more interventions that Mr McKenzie allows, the less time there will be for the Minister to make his response. I am sure that he will bear that in mind.

Mr McKenzie: Where once our shipbuilding industry pushed the boundaries of design and introduced propellers, double-skinned hulls, bulbous bows and countless other improvements, we stopped pushing the boundaries and proclaimed as a nation that anyone could build a ship. Instead, we should have been saying that not everyone can build the ships of tomorrow. We stopped asking, “How can we improve this product?” and stopped challenging the accepted conformity to regulation.

In other sectors, the rapid adoption of technologies is essential to innovation, and has transformed existing industries. The success of our economy depends on the extent to which businesses in all industries and sectors invest in adapting technologies and building capacity in order to get ahead. This is particularly true now. Since the industrial revolution, economic downturns have, on the whole, always been followed by surges of innovation. Manufacturing can have a prosperous future, but only if we prioritise research and development.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr McKenzie: I will make some progress and then give way.

Innovation and the speed at which innovative ideas are put into action are the keys to success. However, the costs of cutting-edge research and the latest high-tech processes are greater than ever before and are often too large for one company to bear. No competitive economy should leave universities, research laboratories and the private sector’s innovation arms to their own devices. The UK’s competitors understand that a country’s research and innovation capability is a key part of the national infrastructure, yet the UK spends relatively less on pure research development compared with its peers, and a significant part of that 23% is in the pharmaceuticals industry.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 268WH

Rehman Chishti: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and congratulate him on securing this important debate, about which I know he is passionate. On research, does he agree that we need to get more students and pupils to study engineering, which would lead to an increase in manufacturing and construction? If so, does he welcome the Government’s initiative of creating university technical colleges around the country, one of which will be in Medway, to help to achieve that aim?

Mr McKenzie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will touch on education later in my speech.

The UK’s innovation performance is generally weak, although I concede that there are some exceptions. However, UK manufacturing companies overall spend less of their turnover on innovation than their European peers, while, oddly, the opposite is true for UK service companies. Other countries, notably the Nordic countries, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Israel, have significantly increased innovation as measured by US patenting. The UK has grown innovation output slowly and from a relatively low base.

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and of course congratulate him on securing this important debate. We both represent Scottish constituencies, and my hon. Friend will be aware that some 70% of Scotland’s exports are to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As we strive to develop the manufacturing base in Scotland and seek to become more innovative, does he agree that it makes no sense whatever to turn our biggest customer into our biggest competitor, which is what would happen if the Scottish Nationalists got their way?

Mr McKenzie: I will not try the Chair’s patience by travelling down the route of an independence debate, but I and—I hope—Scotland could not agree more with my hon. Friend.

Current levels of UK innovation are insufficient to drive growth and to close the gap with key competitors. UK business enterprise research and development as a proportion of GDP has remained below that of other leading economies such as Japan, the US, Germany and France. Furthermore, there has been a slight downward trend in the intensity of business enterprise research and development in the UK, unlike in most other advanced economies. We need to combine public and private investment better to ensure that we do not fall behind.

Jason Lippitt, managing director of TMAT, which is an acoustic components manufacturer, argues that even with limited resources, smaller businesses must find a way to use research and development if they want to survive.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is making a fine speech. Would he compare the experience in his constituency with that in mine? I find that many of my manufacturing employers are worried about, first, access to finance—they are increasingly moving towards crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, which the Government are about to regulate and might destroy

14 Jan 2014 : Column 269WH

—and, secondly, the lack of highly skilled technicians. Yes, graduates are good, but technicians are what most of my employers are desperately looking for.

Mr McKenzie: I will explore later business demand for graduates and highly educated people to bring into the manufacturing process.

Jason Lippitt said:

“Research and development is of paramount importance. We haven’t yet invented the products we will be making in five years. Research and development is the lifeblood of business.”

How true that there are products we have yet to discover. In five years’ time, we could be dominating markets, but only if we prioritise and plan for the future of manufacturing in the UK. If we look at the phones or tablets in front of us now, could we have imagined them five years ago, or even believed how essential to everyday life they would become? Devices that we are doing without now will make us wonder in five years’ time how on earth we managed without them. With them will come new careers that we also could not imagine.

That vision is shared by Andrew Johnson, senior economist at the manufacturers’ group EEF, who said:

“There are countries on other continents that Britain will never be able to match labour costs with, but they will never be the dominant part of the selling equation if we continue to develop innovative new products and develop new technology.”

How true. What is the position of the Minister and of the Government on forming a partnership with manufacturers to invest in research and development to create new products and to win existing markets and create new markets? Government policies can either make or break a nation’s manufacturing sector.

For example, Germany has an interventionist industrial strategy. Public-private collaboration enables innovation and technology advancement and promotes talent development. Global leaders in innovation, such as the US, Japan, Germany and Sweden, have well-connected systems that enable the public and private sectors to work together to maximise the economic benefits of manufacturing and innovation.

What of the UK? The UK system would seem not to be as well connected or orientated to the needs of business compared with that of, say, the US Government, which plays a major role in shaping innovation. The USA has a systematic and comprehensive approach to driving innovation and to supporting small businesses through its small business innovation research programme. The Dutch Government, too, have introduced a new policy to promote innovation in strategically important economic sectors.

In contrast, the lack of any coherent manufacturing and industrial strategy from the Government can only prove to be a disaster for the UK economy, as highlighted by Lord Heseltine’s report, “No stone unturned”, which received a positive response from industry and the manufacturing unions and was welcomed by the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the lack of any real Government economic and industrial growth policy and their failure to take urgent action in developing a manufacturing policy are worrying.

On the whole, manufacturing continues to suffer throughout the UK. We need urgently to see the green

14 Jan 2014 : Column 270WH

shoots of recovery spring to life in all parts of the UK. Research and development tax credits are a move in the right direction, as I said, but what else might the Government do? Education and stimulation of the next generation of manufacturers could be a start, and I recognise the focus placed on that by some education providers throughout the country.

Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that the Scottish Government are hampering manufacturing growth in the UK by cutting severely the budgets of vocational colleges, in particular in the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics?

Mr McKenzie: I agree fully with my hon. Friend, but I fear that this debate is not the one in which to comment on the failures or otherwise of the Scottish Government to stimulate manufacturing or business.

In the past, universities did basic science, while companies worked separately on applications for commercial use. Today, such boundaries have blurred, and successful research and development often involves co-operation throughout the innovation process. Design and, more importantly, quality in design will also give a manufacturer the edge in competitive markets, as we have heard. We have also witnessed improvement by Jaguar Land Rover in quality and design. That is how important design and recognised quality in design are in improving market share. Furthermore, I dare say that Mr Dyson is not resting on his laurels and will continue to show competitors a clean pair of heels through design improvements.

What of the process of manufacturing itself and the innovation there? I was always told by my previous employer to take inspiration from and look no further for success in process change than the high jumper Dick Fosbury, whose revolutionary approach to high jumping is now the accepted method, or process, by which all athletes approach the bar. Similarly, many of our innovative manufacturing processes, such as constant flow, “just in time” and fully integrated supply chains, are now accepted methods.

That brings me to the importance of manufacturing clusters and supply chains. Clusters such as IT in silicon valley or high-performance cars in southern Germany can be located in a particular region within a larger nation and sometimes even in a single town. Clusters affect competitiveness in three broad ways. They increase the level of productivity at which constituent firms can operate; they increase the capacity for innovation and productivity growth; and they stimulate and enable new business formation that further supports innovation and expands the cluster.

Caroline Dinenage: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr McKenzie: I thank the hon. Lady, but I will push on.

What are the Minister’s plans for and position on mounting a sustained programme of cluster development to create a more conducive environment for productivity, growth and innovation? That would of course bring employment opportunities throughout the United Kingdom. More of our large companies should be

14 Jan 2014 : Column 271WH

encouraged to expand the number of UK-based companies in their supply chains. Also, what is the Minister doing to encourage the establishment of manufacturing supply-chain associations throughout the UK?

Labour is committed to implementing a comprehensive industrial strategy to form the cornerstone of how the UK will build competitive businesses in the long term, and that has been welcomed by the CBI and others. We are an industrial nation, a nation that still has much to offer the world through invention and innovation, and a nation that has a future with manufacturing, but only if we plan for manufacturing in the future.

4.58 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): I join in welcoming you to the Chair this evening, Mr Streeter. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) on securing this important debate and on the participation and audience that he has attracted from among both Opposition and Government Members.

A strong manufacturing sector remains crucial to the UK economy, now and in the future. It contributes disproportionately to our overall productivity growth. It drives innovation and business research and development; it accounts for 72% of all our business R and D. Manufacturing accounts for more than half of all our exports, and it provides skilled and well-paid jobs and employment opportunities for people of all educational attainment levels throughout our country, and particularly in the less affluent regions. The recent Foresight report, “The Future of Manufacturing”, pointed out that it is also one of the keys to resilience. It is one of only two sectors able to drive growth right across the economy through cross-sectoral supply chain linkages.

Of course, some manufacturers have not had an easy time during and after the recent financial crisis, but there has been some encouraging news of late. We know from the Office for National Statistics that manufacturing output rose by 0.6% in the three months to November, and industrial production rose by 0.3%. Two weeks ago, an executive survey by the Engineering Employers Federation and Aldermore told us that 2014 looks set to be better for the UK and for manufacturing than each of the past two years. Projected manufacturing expansion of 2.7% will put us top of the European Union growth league. The Deloitte chief financial officer survey, published on 6 January, reported that business optimism was at a three-and-a-half-year high. It is true that macro uncertainty and capital constraints, two of the biggest blocks to business activity, have begun to recede.

Mr McKenzie: We welcome the statistics that the Minister is rehearsing. Will he advise us of the spread of manufacturing across the length and breadth of the UK?

Michael Fallon: I do not have a figure on that immediately to hand, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to write to him to fill in the picture across the regions. We have some statistical knowledge of that through the regional growth fund and our other funding instruments.

We have significant strengths in key manufacturing sectors, including automotive manufacturing, aerospace and pharmaceuticals. We need to make more of those competitive advantages and to sustain them. That is

14 Jan 2014 : Column 272WH

why we have a long-term plan in the shape of our industrial strategy, enabling Government and industry to work together to support the long-term direction that is needed to create more opportunities and jobs and to make this country more competitive. One of the most encouraging things about the industrial strategy has been the consensus that has built up around it, not simply among all parties in this House and in the all-party group on manufacturing, but between the CBI, the TUC, Lord Heseltine and others.

The strategy has five main strands: the sectors themselves, procurement, skills, technologies and access to finance. Through those strands, we are planning 10, 20 or even 30 years ahead. For example, with industry we are jointly funding the Aerospace Technology Institute to enable us to meet the challenges ahead and respond to the demand for up to 27,000 new civil aircraft between now and 2030.

Mr McKenzie: The Minister referred to the all-party group on manufacturing. What are his thoughts on that group’s call for a hotline to Government and a go-to man for manufacturing needs?

Michael Fallon: I was rather hoping that I was the go-to man and the contact figure within Government. Not only have I had the pleasure of addressing the group in this place, but the group has been to see me at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and although titles vary, if there is a Minister for Manufacturing, I suggest that it is probably me. I am certainly happy to add to that a specific hotline, or an official with whom the group can have contact.

I have already mentioned the Aerospace Technology Institute. Through the construction strategy, we are trying to make the UK the global leader in sustainable construction by 2025, in a market that will grow by 70%. As part of the automotive strategy, we are investing around £1 billion over 10 years in a new advanced propulsion centre to develop, commercialise and manufacture advanced propulsion technologies in the UK. That strategy, too, looks 20 or 30 years ahead.

Hon. Members have referred to the renaissance of our motor manufacturing industry. There is the success of Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan, and also of the MINI plant at Cowley, which I have visited.

Mr Sheerman: Very briefly on that point, the big companies such as Rolls-Royce and the companies that the Minister mentioned are wonderful, but does he agree that our real future lies in growing small and medium-sized enterprises into larger companies, as most people who will work in manufacturing will work in SMEs in the future?

Michael Fallon: I certainly accept that, but I do not draw a sharp distinction between large and small. Companies need each other, and if I am given the time, I will come on to talk a little about the supply chains. The hon. Gentleman’s point on employment is well made.

On procurement, we have recently published procurement pipelines worth nearly £80 billion, covering a range of sectors. On skills, we are responding to the engineering skills shortage identified by Members by enhancing young people’s engagement through initiatives such as

14 Jan 2014 : Column 273WH

See Inside Manufacturing and Tomorrow’s Engineers. We are also supporting the technologies of the future through the “eight great technologies” strategy, focusing on advanced materials, big data, satellites, robotics, synthetic biology and so on.

I was asked three very specific questions. The first was on supply chains. They are absolutely essential to creating strong, sustainable and balanced growth, but they have weakened or hollowed out in recent years. Our broad objectives there are, first of all, to work with industry to map current supplier capabilities and quantify the opportunity to source more UK content. In each sector—aerospace, automotive manufacturing, marine industry, nuclear and the like—where that mapping finds gaps in supply chain capabilities, the sector will encourage domestic suppliers to expand to fill them, with the support of the manufacturing advisory service.

We are also working to strengthen existing supply chains by encouraging some of the prime producers to adopt a more collaborative and long-term approach to their suppliers. That is part of the answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). For example, the Rolls-Royce apprentice academy will enable the company to train additional apprentices to work not just for Rolls-Royce, but for other companies in the Rolls-Royce supply chain, as well as other manufacturing firms in the east midlands. We are helping domestic suppliers to build the strength and capabilities that they need to access new opportunities. We underpin that through the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, which helps with funding for capital investment for skills and innovation.

Secondly, the hon. Member for Inverclyde quite rightly drew attention to the continuing need for innovation. He was right that it was innovation that drove the first and subsequent industrial revolutions in this country, and when it comes to innovation, the Government have a legitimate and necessary role in ensuring that our future is prosperous. Despite financial pressures, my Department has sought to protect vital investment in future innovation. We have launched seven catapult innovation and technology centres, one of which is focused on high-value manufacturing.

14 Jan 2014 : Column 274WH

The recent autumn statement pledged a further £600 million of support for the eight great technologies that I referred to, including advanced materials; the Government seek to support investment in innovative materials development and process technologies in manufacturing. For example, this year, the Technology Strategy Board will invest some £7 million in collaborative research and development to help British companies to improve and to enhance manufacturing process through innovation.

Thirdly and finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned design, but before I come to that, perhaps I should touch on finance, to which several hon. Members referred. Of course it has been difficult for companies large and small in certain sectors, including manufacturing sectors, to access the finance that they need through mainstream lending. Through the business bank and other sources, we are determined to help enhance some of the alternative methods of financing. Again, the hon. Member for Huddersfield made the important point that we do not want to over-regulate the alternative funding streams as they emerge.

On design, which was the hon. Member for Inverclyde’s final point, he is absolutely right to say that it is driving buyers. Last week, it drove buyers to the London boat show to buy high-quality boats and yachts. He referred specifically to the quality of design, and we see time and again that the reason British brands are and will be sought out is the high quality of design.

In conclusion, I think it has been recognised throughout the debate that manufacturing is no longer in decline. I am not over-claiming for its renaissance, but it is no longer in decline. On the contrary, it is recovering hand over foot, and we have seen significant recovery, particularly in sectors such as aerospace, automotives and pharmaceuticals. The Government’s active encouragement is needed on skills, the supply chain and access to finance, and I assure all those who have spoken, including the hon. Member for Inverclyde, that the Government are absolutely committed to ensure that manufacturing continues to recover.

Question put and agreed to.

5.10 pm

Sitting adjourned.