11.32 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I thank the Minister for the statement and the small amount of notice we had of its contents.

There are growing pressures on education funding and demographic trends are dictating the need for more school places, with the National Audit Office reporting

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the need for an additional 250,000 places by next year. That has big implications for the allocation of education funding.

Ministers have shown a degree of complacency in addressing the primary school places crisis. In less than a month, parents will learn the outcome of their application for their child’s primary school place and we know that under this Government we have seen a doubling of the number of classes with more than 30 pupils and—do not worry, I will not take up 1,400 words, as the Minister did—a trebling in the number of primary schools with more than 800 pupils. The pressures are real, which is why it is so alarming that according to NAO data two thirds of all places created by the free school programme are being diverted from areas of high and severe need for primary places. In secondary schools, only 19% of places—[Interruption.] Government Members should listen to this—they should listen with their ears, rather than their mouths. In secondary schools, only 19% of places are in areas of need. That cannot be right, particularly on a day when another free school has gone into special measures.

We have to take any statements on finance from the Schools Minister with a pinch of salt, because he has form. He used to claim when in opposition that the pupil premium would be additional money in real terms for schools, but, as he admitted today in his statement, it is not additional money in real terms. What are the implications of the statement for the pupil premium and for non-local authority schools?

The idea of a national funding formula has merit, but it must be debated openly and transparently. The coalition has said that it is committed to a new national funding formula by 2015-16. Can we assume from today’s statement that this has been filed away in the drawer marked “Too difficult”, and that there will be no new comprehensive funding formula under this increasingly impotent Government?

The Minister claimed that previous Governments did nothing on this. That is nonsense. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that a new national funding formula will have winners and losers. If Ministers are pursuing the national funding formula, they must do so in an open and transparent way and be clear about who will lose out. So can the right hon. Gentleman confirm—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are living in cloud cuckoo land if they think no one is going to lose out. Can the Minister confirm that there are no losers from this announcement because he has decided to leave the bad news for those he intends to hit with cuts, including his hon. Friends who are so voluble, until after the next general election?

If this is genuinely new money for education, it will have a Barnett formula consequential for the devolved Administrations, which I know will be of interest to all political parties in the devolved nations, including the Minister’s own party. Can he confirm that this announcement contains new money from the Treasury, and say how much the Barnett consequential of that new money will be for the devolved Administrations and how much he is taking from his existing budget? It was not clear from his statement how much is new Treasury money, and how much he is cutting from the schools budget to pay for this part of the announcement. I would be grateful if he clarified those figures.

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The Minister said in his statement, “We are able to deliver this significant boost by using money from within our protected schools budget and because of additional money from the Treasury.” The House deserves to know how much will come from each source, where the money is being taken from within the protected schools budget and what the Barnett consequentials are. We learned this week that Ministers have been known to put the cart before the horse in devising policy, and only then to think how they might pay for it. Can the Minister assure us that this is fully costed and not simply another botched spending announcement from the Department for Education?

Mr Laws: I am grateful, I suppose, to the hon. Gentleman for his response, but all of us in the House are still none the wiser about whether the Labour party supports the proposals I am announcing today. Perhaps there could be some indication of this from the Labour Front Bench. Do I take it from all those critical comments that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) proposes to send back the money we are going to allocate to Stoke-on-Trent—potentially £4 million to his area? We are unaware from the statement whether the Labour party supports these proposals. Or is the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) genuinely embarrassed that his party failed to deal with the issue of underfunded areas year in, year out, in spite of clear evidence of unfair funding throughout the country?

To come to the points that the hon. Gentleman did make, few of which were about the contents of my statement, I do not know how he has the nerve to accuse this Government of complacency over school place planning, when the amount of money that we are putting into basic need is many multiples of the amount that the previous Government put in. How can he talk about complacency when his was a Government who ignored all the forecasts of the Office for National Statistics from 2003 onwards and were taking out 250,000 primary schools places at a time when the population was increasing? That is behind many of the problems that we face in parts of the country today where Labour was closing down places when it should have been funding them.

On the pupil premium, it is clear that we have protected, in cash terms, the settlement for every pupil, and the pupil premium is on top of that. I invite the hon. Gentleman to go to schools across the country, particularly to those in areas of high disadvantage, and try telling them that this is not extra money. It is making a massive difference in some of the most deprived schools. Furthermore, I can confirm that in 2014-15 the pupil premium will rise for primary schools from £900 to £1,300, and for secondary schools to £935. It will give schools thousands and thousands of pounds extra over a young disadvantaged person’s time in education to improve their educational outcomes, and I am very proud of that.

We have also made it clear that the right time to set out the national fair funding formula is when we have multi-year plans, so we can create a sense of certainty. We are not, as previous Governments did, simply kicking this issue into the long grass. For the first time, we are delivering the uplifts that will make a real difference in

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areas such as Cambridgeshire and the others that I have mentioned. If the hon. Gentleman wants to campaign on that, he is welcome to do so.

Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Gloucestershire is one of the lowest funded local authorities, so the Minister of State’s announcement will be very much welcomed by schools in the Forest of Dean and across the county. Will he set out for my benefit the amount of extra funding that we will get in Gloucestershire? The good news in his announcement can be detected in the fact that there are only eight Labour Back Benchers interested in schools funding. That is a triumph and shows the success of his announcement.

Mr Laws: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He notes quite correctly that the Labour party does not like to hear good news on this or on any other issue. I can tell him that the news for Gloucestershire is good. The proposals on which we are consulting today would give almost £10 million extra to Gloucestershire schools. They would potentially increase the per pupil funding rate from just over £4,200 per pupil to £4,331. Furthermore, south Gloucestershire is a gainer from these proposals, gaining more than £8.5 million. Its per pupil funding rate would rise from around £3,969 to £4,217, which is a massive increase that will be welcomed by schools in that area.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Under this Government, changes to local government funding have benefited the wealthiest areas at the expense of the areas of greatest deprivation, especially in places such as Sefton and the other metropolitan boroughs. Can the Minister assure us that the same thing will not happen when it comes to school funding?

Mr Laws: I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. If he goes to some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country, he will find that they are extremely welcoming of the Government’s actions, particularly on the pupil premium that has been put into authorities, some of which were already receiving generous levels of disadvantage funding. Schools in many of those areas welcome the action that we have taken as a coalition Government. They welcome the pupil premium, which, because it follows disadvantage, has gone heavily to the areas he is talking about.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): This is welcome news for Cambridgeshire. As my right hon. Friend knows, Cambridgeshire receives less funding than anywhere else in the country. That has been really showing in our schools, which have been reducing their teachers and struggling under this unfair funding formula. In the past 10 days alone, 750 of my constituents have signed a petition calling for immediate support. I ask my right hon. Friend to look kindly on Cambridgeshire when he comes to administering his £350 million pot.

Mr Laws: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and I compliment him on the work that he and other county MPs in Cambridgeshire have done to raise the issue. I know that there is real anger in Cambridgeshire about the fact that it has been left as such an unfairly underfunded authority for so many years. I hope that schools in that area will welcome the uplift. The increase on which we

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are consulting would take the per pupil funding in Cambridgeshire from £3,950 to £4,225, which is an increase of around 7%. That is a significant uplift for its schools.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): In my experience, announcements made at the Dispatch Box often sound very fair, but when we look at the detail we find a lot of the devil in there as well. I caution Government Back Benchers to heed those words. Some local authorities are missing out but will receive what is effectively transitional funding. How long will that last? Will they fall off a precipice in 2016 and find themselves severely disadvantaged? What transparency will there be, because it is very important that we are able to scrutinise this, including in relation to capital funding? I am waiting for Corelli college in my constituency to hear from the Education Funding Agency, but it is very difficult to find out by what criteria it is being judged so that I know what to expect when funding is decided. We need more transparency in all cases.

Mr Laws: This is not overnight funding; we intend to address these issues for the long term. On fairness, I just point out to the hon. Gentleman, as I did in my statement, that the funding will help not only underfunded rural areas, but areas such as Brent, Blackpool, Bury and Stoke-on-Trent. On capital funding, if he has concerns about schools in his constituency, I would be happy to meet him to discuss them.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Cambridgeshire has been underfunded for 30 years now and, at £600 per pupil below the English average, is right at the bottom of the pack. At last this Government are doing something about it, as others have not. On behalf of all those who have campaigned on the issue for so many years, particularly the Cambridgeshire schools forum and Cambridge News, I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister. I urge him to ensure that this actually happens.

Mr Laws: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We are determined to ensure that these changes take place. I congratulate him on being such a robust campaigner for these changes—hardly a week has gone by over the past few years when he has not lobbied me for fair funding for Cambridgeshire. I know that there are schools in the county that are in vision distance of schools in other authorities that are funded in a totally different way. That was always unfair and we are now addressing it.

Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): Currently, schools get the pupil premium based on the number of parents who apply for free school meals. If all children in reception, year 1 and year 2 will get a free school meal in future and parents no longer have to apply, how will the pupil premium be allocated?

Mr Laws: As the hon. Lady will know, that is an issue in places, such as Newham and Durham, where the eligibility checking service is being used to ensure that all those pupils still get the pupil premium. In the medium term, I believe that the answer is to move to a more automatic system so that, rather than having to rely on parents applying, we can ensure that the money is delivered automatically. It should not be necessary for

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parents to have to apply and for schools in some parts of the country to be so reliant on that process, which often means that they do not get the money they deserve. We will certainly ensure that that issue is addressed as we take these reforms forward.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Schools and families in Swindon will warmly welcome this announcement. Will my right hon. Friend outline the extent of the increase that schools in Swindon will enjoy and pay tribute to the work of f40—the Campaign for Fairer Funding in Education—and my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who has worked so hard with many of us on that?

Mr Laws: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome. Swindon is one of the authorities that will benefit from these changes. It currently receives funding of around £4,100 per pupil. Under the proposals we are announcing today, which we will consult on, that will increase by £100 per pupil, delivering almost £3 million extra to Swindon.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Halton is the 27th most deprived borough in England. Is it a gainer under these proposals? Will it gain as much as, say, Cambridge?

Mr Laws: There are 153 authorities, so I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman on that point. He can also pick up a copy of the details from the Vote Office. Given the level of deprivation, his constituency will be receiving a huge amount of pupil premium funding, which was never received under the Government he supported.

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I join my Cambridgeshire colleagues in welcoming this rise, which is much needed by schools in East Cambridgeshire and Fenland in my constituency. Does he agree that parents will not forget the unfair allocation left by the previous Labour Government, which has penalised our schools for the first half of this Parliament?

Mr Laws: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Cambridgeshire parents will not forget the underfunding under the previous Government, and they will also be worried about what would happen if a Labour Government came back in, because there seems to be a complete absence of commitment to these changes on the part of Labour Members.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): It is good finally to get this statement, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) said, the devil will be in the detail in relation to where the money comes from and where it goes to. Given that 16 to 18-year-olds are already funded 22% less than five to 16-year-olds, does this change mean that they will be funded even less, or are they also captured in the concept of fair funding?

Mr Laws: This is an announcement for schools and it is covered by the schools protection provisions.

Nic Dakin: There are a lot of 16 to 18-year-olds in schools.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. There should be one question and no comments from a sedentary position—not from a Whip.

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Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): For many years, schools in my county of Leicestershire have bumped along the very bottom of the education funding league tables, in stark contrast to schools in Leicester, which get £700 per year per pupil more than the county. I commend the excellent work of the f40 group, ably championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). Teachers, parents and pupils across Leicestershire will welcome this statement, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that this is the beginning of a movement towards fair funding, not the end of it?

Mr Laws: I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. As I made clear, this is the first major step towards fair funding, not the last one that we believe is necessary. He will be pleased to know that the proposals that we are issuing for consultation take per-pupil funding in Leicestershire from £3,995 up to £4,197—an increase of over 5%.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): We have heard much today about fairer revenue funding for schools, but I would like to press the Minister again about fairer capital funding. When I met him in November, he was confident that he had secured enough money from the Treasury to fund the expansion of primary schools in London to meet rising demand, but in Lewisham we are £27 million short if we are to provide a school place for every child between now and 2017. What guarantee will he give me on funding these expansions?

Mr Laws: At the end of last year we announced a massive allocation of capital for basic need right across the country, with an additional premium for London that was very much welcomed by the London authorities. We have allocated for basic need many multiples of the amount that the previous Labour Government did. London has been a huge gainer. We have increased the period of time for which we allocate the money to three years to allow for forward planning. However, if the hon. Lady is still concerned about the situation in her area, I would be delighted to meet her and go through the figures.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I welcome the statement and note that it has taken a coalition Government to make some progress on fairer funding for our schools. Given that last year, under its current administration, Poole had the worst key stage 2 results across the country, will my right hon. Friend confirm the position for Poole? Does he agree that any extra money that goes to Poole must be put into our schools to support teachers in improving the outcomes for our children?

Mr Laws: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Once again, I praise her resilience in campaigning on this issue throughout the long period of the Labour Administration, who ignored the issue. I am pleased that it is a coalition Government who are proposing to raise the amount of funding for Poole from just over £4,000 per pupil to £4,142, which would give Poole over £2.25 million of additional funding.

Kevin Brennan: The civil service is meant to be independent; this is outrageous.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. If Opposition Front Benchers insist on speaking, it should be sotto voce and not so that the House can hear exactly what the hon. Gentleman has said. He had his go at some length—at sufficient length, in my judgment.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): It is very interesting that the Minister is able to give the allocations that are relevant to Government Members, but not those that are relevant to Opposition Members. Will schools in Hull gain from his proposals?

Mr Laws: I have mentioned many of the authorities represented by Opposition Members that will gain from the proposals, including Blackpool and many other parts of the country. Of the 153 authorities, 62 will gain. I do not believe that Hull is one of the authorities considered to be underfunded. The hon. Lady can check the precise figures in the papers that are in the Vote Office.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I really welcome the announcement. It is a significant step towards a fairer funding formula, which children in our counties were denied by the previous Government. Labour continues politically to use the education budget for its own areas. I am keen to hear what the announcement will mean for children in Suffolk, if the Minister has that information available.

Kevin Brennan: Oh, I’m sure he does.

Mr Laws: Labour Members are making a lot of noise, which reflects their embarrassment at the fact that this was a problem for years under a Labour Government and they did nothing about it. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not like to hear good news, but I can give him some more good news for Suffolk, whose funding will go up by more than £9 million, from £4,241 a pupil to £4,347. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Labour Members cannot take this in a measured way or accept that we are doing the right thing to deliver fair funding.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): Under the current funding regime inherited from Labour, South Gloucestershire is the second-lowest-funded local authority in the country. I have long campaigned for there to be no difference in funding when it comes to areas of deprivation in Kingswood and in neighbouring Bristol, which—this is desperately unfair—gets £750 more per pupil. May I welcome the massive increase in funding for south Gloucestershire pupils and ask the Minister, on behalf of my constituents, what that will mean for pupils in Kingswood?

Mr Laws: I am happy to confirm the figure that I mentioned a moment ago to another Gloucestershire MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). South Gloucestershire, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) correctly indicates, is one of the areas that have been underfunded for a long time. Under the proposals on which we are consulting, its funding will go up from the current £3,969 per pupil to an indicative figure of £4,217. That 6.3% increase is significant and I know that parents in my hon. Friend’s constituency will welcome it, even if the Labour party does not.

Kevin Brennan: Oh, shut up.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The whole House heard the hon. Gentleman’s remark from a sedentary position. An apology would be appropriate.

Kevin Brennan: Without reservation, I apologise.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for acting honourably and trust he will now be a little quieter.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): May I warmly welcome this significant step in the right direction? An extra £200 per pupil in Devon is a very welcome step. Of course, we still want to see a fair funding formula, but I recognise that the time to do it will probably be next year, when there is a comprehensive spending review. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in the event of a new Government being elected and not progressing with this next year, the extra moneys he has announced today will go permanently into the system and will not simply be a one-year deal?

Mr Laws: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. Our intention is clear that the increases should be permanent. That relies on the decisions the country will have to make at the next general election.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and on targeting funding towards pupils in the schools that need it most. Will he provide a little more information on the implications for north Yorkshire?

Mr Laws: I can confirm that north Yorkshire is one of the authorities affected by today’s announcement. Its current funding per pupil is £4,338 and, if the consultation goes ahead, it will rise to £4,435. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Labour Members genuinely are not able to accept that this is a serious matter and that some of these areas have been underfunded for many years. In spite of this serious issue, the coalition Government took the decision to apply the pupil premium and add it to many areas that were already very well funded. We took that deliberate decision in the knowledge that that would put deprivation first, and we are now making sure that we also correct this injustice.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I very much welcome the Minister’s statement. It addresses the unfair funding system for students in Medway, which has some of the worst key stage 2 results in the country. There is a seven-year difference in life expectancy between two parts of my constituency. Will the Minister clarify how Medway local authority will benefit under the proposal? [Interruption.]

Mr Laws: I of course—it is quite possible to do this—have a list of the 62 authorities impacted. If the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) wants one, she can go and get a copy. Medway’s current funding is £4,352, which will increase to £4,402 under the proposal.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): May I tell my right hon. Friend that this announcement will be warmly welcomed in Cheltenham and across Gloucestershire—including in schools such as Balcarras, whose sixth-form

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funding has been particularly badly hit by the inclusion of the historical element in the funding formula—but when will we hear further announcements about progress towards a fully fair funding formula, and will that happen within the next 12 months?

Mr Laws: We will now have the consultation on the measures announced today. We will listen to the feedback we get from parents, teachers and others, and we will then make a final decision about the settlement for 2015-16. Given the importance of stability, we do not think it right to fix plans for years beyond 2015-16 until we know the education budgets for those years. It is for the country to decide at the next election whether it wants to return parties that are committed to ongoing funding reform.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): In the London borough of Harrow, 12 primary schools will add an extra class to each year group this September, and a further three primary schools will do the same the following September, which amounts to 3,000 extra school places. One problem is the lag between the pupils being allocated and the funding following them. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be no attempt to reduce the amount of pupil funding in those schools, and that the funding will increase in line with his statement?

Mr Laws: We are certainly trying to ensure that in areas such as my hon. Friend’s we put in extra money to support the expansion of school places that is taking place. As he knows, we have now had the biggest increase in the primary population since the end of the second world war, and we are making sure that we put all funding, including capital funding, into the system to support that increase.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that had the funding criteria been in place a few years ago, the Labour county council would not be shutting down Skerton school in my constituency?

Mr Laws: Certainly. We are announcing significant amounts of money today. Hon. Members on both sides of the House need to reflect on the consequence for many millions of young people over a long period of the fact that their schools were not funded fairly in many parts of the country.

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I thank my right hon. Friend for the announcement about basic needs capital earlier this year, including the £35 million to enable Sutton to provide extra secondary school places. In his statement, he mentioned Sutton as one of the potential beneficiaries of the changes. Sutton has been short-changed in funding for education for at least 30 years, if not 40 years. Will he give us some indication of the good news that pupils, teachers and schools in Sutton can now expect in securing extra resources for teaching?

Mr Laws: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for welcoming this announcement. In the paper on which we will consult, Sutton is among the top five authorities that we consider to be under-funded and is therefore among the top five beneficiaries. He will know that the

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funding rate in Sutton is £4,360 at present; under the proposal we are consulting on, it will rise to £4,637, which is an increase of 6.4%.

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the combination of fairer area funding, the pupil premium and the protection of the overall schools budget amply demonstrates the Government’s commitment to investing strongly in our nation’s future, while targeting additional resources transparently at the places where they are most needed?

Mr Laws: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I am incredibly proud of what we will have done on school funding by the end of this Parliament. At a time of austerity, we have put a massive amount into deprivation funding, which has helped constituencies across the country and the most disadvantaged areas in particular. Now we are dealing with the long-standing injustice of other areas having been short-changed.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I welcome the movement, at last, towards fairer funding. I also welcome the additional amount for Stoke-on-Trent—a city that is close to my heart, as well as to my constituency. Will the Minister expand on what today’s announcement will mean in the long term for my county of Staffordshire?

Mr Laws: I am looking down my list, but I will have to come back to my hon. Friend because I do not have the number immediately to hand, given that there are 153 authorities.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Wyvern college in my constituency is one of many Wiltshire schools that has been historically underfunded. Will the Minister meet me to discuss its 10-year deficit? On a more positive note, will he outline the additional per pupil funds that will be available to all Wiltshire schools as a consequence of today’s announcement?

Mr Laws: I would, of course, be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss these matters. Wiltshire is one of the 60-odd authorities that will benefit from the statement. Its funding will rise by about £100 per pupil.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): Like other Members, I welcome this important step to put right, in the case of Cornwall, more than three decades of unfair funding. That has left a legacy of crumbling schools that have simply not kept up. My right hon. Friend knows about Helston community college, because I took a delegation to see him about it. Will the fairness that is being brought in be reflected in future announcements on capital funding?

Mr Laws: I assure my hon. Friend that we will bring fairness to capital as well as to revenue funding. Under the last Government, capital for maintenance and rebuilding was allocated largely on the basis of pupils, rather than on the basis of the condition of the estate. We are surveying the entire school estate. That will allow us, later this year, to make long-term announcements on capital that are informed by the actual condition of schools across the country.

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Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): When I started campaigning on this issue in 2008, Labour said locally that I was trying to steal money from neighbouring urban areas. Even after this announcement, neighbouring urban areas such as Hull and Doncaster will receive hundreds of pounds more per pupil than my area to meet the additional needs in those areas. I welcome the announcement. Will the Minister tell us how much extra brass we will be getting in the East Riding of Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire as a result?

Mr Laws: There is a long list to go down and Lincolnshire is certainly on it. Its per pupil funding will rise to £4,370. I will write to my hon. Friend about both authorities.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): This announcement, along with the pupil premium and free school meals for poor pupils, shows that the Government have a relentless focus on the poor. When the Minister says that funding will be based on the actual characteristics of pupils and schools, does that relate to areas within counties and not just to counties? Will he set out how the proposals will help my constituency of Harlow?

Mr Laws: I should explain that what the Government will do under these proposals is to ensure that each local authority area is funded fairly. There will still be flexibility for individual local authorities to take decisions about how they allocate that money to their schools.

Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): I welcome the proposals, which could mean several million pounds of extra funding for Norfolk schools. Will the Minister confirm that heads will have the freedom to use this money to support the professional development of teachers and to assess more effectively the impact of training on pupil outcomes?

Mr Laws: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. He has been a robust campaigner for fairness for Norfolk. He is right to say that we must focus not only on the quantity of additional money that is going to areas such as Norfolk, which will get £16 million extra under our proposals, but on ensuring that the money is spent effectively. I believe that providing high-quality continuing professional development for teachers would be a good way of spending it.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Will the Minister join the tributes to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) who, ironically, cannot be here today but has done incredible work over many years on this issue? Will he also confirm his announcement on schools in sparsely populated areas, which is important for Nidderdale high school, Upper Wharfedale and other schools in North Yorkshire?

Mr Laws: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the work done by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) in leading the recent campaign at a national level with the so-called F40 authorities, and I am sorry that he cannot be here today because his area gets an uplift. I agree that sparsity should be a consideration. We must ensure that where we need more schools because of rurality, that is reflected in the way we fund local authorities.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): A surprising last-minute entry, Mr Bill Wiggin.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to the statement and hearing how my right hon. Friend is teasing Labour Members by not telling them their figures. Will he remember and reinforce the unfairness that we have had to put up with for so many years, and turn the knife by telling us how much Herefordshire is getting?

Mr Laws: Yes, I certainly can. Herefordshire is one of the authorities that were underfunded by previous Labour Governments, and it will gain as a consequence of this announcement with funding rising to around £4,430 a pupil.

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Points of Order

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. We have had a blatant attempt by the Minister not to answer questions from Labour Members. I asked him specifically about the impact on Halton. I have just checked the figures, and—surprise, surprise—Halton is not included among the areas that will benefit. The Minister deliberately answered Government Members, but would not answer questions from Labour Members. That is a great disrespect to this House.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): The hon. Gentleman knows, as the House knows, that that is a continuation of the debate and not a point of order for the Chair. He has made his point, and I am sure the Minister has heard it.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We were told that the figures for our constituencies would be in the document, but I went to the Vote Office and they are not. We have only a list of 62 authorities that have benefited from the £350 million that has been announced today. Furthermore—this is important—the document states that there are implications for converging funding under one formula in the future. That clearly has serious consequences for the constituents of those of us who miss out, but we are not being told. We have a right to know.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order that in a serious debate on school funding, the shadow Minister behaves like a school bully in the playground—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to make a point of order further to that raised by the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). That is not a point of order but rather a matter for me to deal with. I have dealt with it, and the shadow Minister has acknowledged that and apologised.

I fully appreciate that the hon. Member for Eltham is making a point about which he feels passionately, but it is not a matter on which the Chair can rule at this moment. The information given to the House by the Minister is a matter for him. He is here and hears the point. If he would care to respond to the point of order, I give him the opportunity to do so.

Mr Laws: I am delighted to confirm, as I made clear in my statement, that we have listed the authorities that are gaining from the changes we are making today. Authorities not on the list are not losing anything; they are protected.

Derek Twigg rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has already made his point and it was not a point or order. This statement has run for three quarters of an hour and has now come to an end.

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Local Government Procurement

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Before I call the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, it might be helpful to the House if I explain again briefly the new procedure to which it agreed last year—[Interruption.] Order. If hon. Members are dissatisfied with the last statement, they must find another way of taking up their points and not cause a disturbance in the Chamber.

Essentially, the pattern is the same as for a ministerial statement. The hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) will speak for up to 10 minutes—there is no obligation to take all that time—during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I will call Members who rise to put questions to the hon. Gentleman, and call him to respond to those in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions and should be brief, and those on the Front Benches may take part in questioning. The same procedure will be followed for the statement from the Chair of the International Development Committee, which follows this statement.

I call the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee.

12.15 pm

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab) (Select Committee Statement): I am delighted to present the sixth report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on local government procurement, HC 712. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us this opportunity, as well as our special adviser, Colin Cram, and the second Clerk to the Committee, Sarah Coe, who led the work in producing the report.

Local government spends about a quarter of its annual expenditure—some £45 billion—on procuring goods and services. At a time of financial constraint in local government, my Committee thought it timely to examine how successfully councils across the country are delivering value for money and meeting wider objectives. I am pleased that we found evidence of much good progress in many local authorities. Councils are cutting costs and reducing the burdens on those doing business with them, strengthening links with the delivery of community objectives, improving risk management, and taking steps to reduce fraud. We also found, however, that evidence of progress was patchy across the country. That is extremely worrying given that councils face the challenges of managing increasingly complex procurement operations, while at the same time, for obvious reasons, they need to make cost savings and preserve the quality of services for their communities.

The Committee makes a number of recommendations in the report about how the sector and its partners, including central Government, can work together to ensure that councils step-up their efforts to commit to delivering first-class procurement. As in all our reports, the Committee takes a localist approach, giving councils the freedom to tailor their approaches to meet local needs—hence we urge the sector to take the lead in this matter. The Committee makes three overarching recommendations and a number of specific points. I will refer initially to the three overarching points.

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First, local government needs to lead the change in partnership with central Government and other partners. We commend the work undertaken to date by many councils and the Local Government Association. We endorse the sector-led approach to supporting council action since it is an effective means of spreading good practice while tailoring procurement to local needs. Nevertheless, a step-change is now needed for successes to be replicated across the country, and for detailed support to be provided to tackle all complex aspects of procurement. We therefore conclude that the LGA, with the support of DCLG, should establish a taskforce with representatives of the private and third sectors to develop an action plan for improving council capacity to conduct effective procurement. We recommend that the Cabinet Office dedicate resources to ensure that lessons learned in central Government are translated into effective council action where appropriate, and vice versa.

Secondly, procurement excellence needs to be embedded across councils, not seen as the preserve of a handful of specialists. A lesson we learned during the Committee’s visit to my city of Sheffield, was that procurement should not be seen as a niche activity, conducted in back offices by a narrow set of specialists, but rather as a vital cross-cutting activity that requires in-depth skills from all staff involved in designing, commissioning and particularly managing services once contracts are let. To achieve that, councils must step up training, and the sector—especially the LGA—needs to ensure that procurement skills are embedded across councils. Investment in procurement skills should be seen as a wise investment now because it saves money in the future. Councils should look at adopting the toolkit developed by Sheffield city council, and the Cabinet Office should consider how the Government’s Commissioning Academy can help develop the skills of local government officers.

The third overarching recommendation is the need for political and officer leadership. Procurement improvement must be spearheaded by council cabinet members and front-line councillors, with the close involvement of senior officers. We commend the LGA for putting procurement at the top table within councils. We can see considerable advantage to councils identifying a lead cabinet member and a senior officer who will take overall responsibility for procurement. Councils should also ensure that front-line councillors have a clearly defined role in reviewing and scrutinising procurement, including outsourced contracts, and their impact on services for residents. In the end, that is what is important: services for residents.

We would like all councils to make an annual statement to their full council meetings to set out their strategy for incorporating economic, social and environmental value in procurement, including employment terms and conditions, impact on local economies and small businesses, and relationships between contractors, customers and the relevant councils.

In total, the Committee makes 29 specific recommendations. You will probably be pleased to hear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I do not have time to go into all of them, but I will mention some key recommendations.

On value for money, councils have shown that they can save millions of pounds through joining up with each other and other public sector bodies, directly or via procurement organisations, to buy some goods and

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services. However, opportunities are not being taken fully and we estimate, conservatively, additional savings of approximately £1.8 billion could be achieved with better collaborative approaches. The LGA should review collaborative approaches and produce best practice guidance. It should continue to focus on supporting councils to collaborate in key spend areas—particularly in IT, energy and construction, where it is relatively easy for collaboration to save money—while recognising the importance of local freedoms and flexibilities. Securing savings should not come at the expense of delivering wider commissioning objectives, such as supporting local economies. There can be no compulsion to collaborate or to join a centralised procurement body. Councils must retain the flexibility to deliver local priorities, but should consider examples of good practice.

On delivering economic, social and environmental objectives, the Committee was clear that councils should exploit fully the potential of their procurement spend to deliver local strategic priorities, including social, economic and environmental objectives, by letting contracts, as appropriate locally, on the basis of best value, not simply lowest price. A case in point is support for small local businesses, which all local authorities are keen to support. Some 47% of council spend is currently channelled via small and medium-sized enterprises. There is clearly much good practice, but more could be done, for example by the LGA disseminating best practice and guidance.

On reducing costs to businesses, the cost to a business of a typical council procurement exercise can be about £40,000 to £50,000. A Centre for Economics and Business Research report published in July 2013 found that UK procurement processes were the most expensive in the EU and took some 53 days longer than average. Too many councils are applying EU regulations over-zealously. The Government and the LGA should spell out what is a proportionate approach. Pre-qualification questionnaires should be standardised, so that councils do not require a new form for every contract and potential suppliers do not find themselves having to fill in different forms for every local authority and every public body. There should be standardisation to reduce costs. Councils must include requirements in contracts that contractors stick to timetables for paying their subcontractors right down the supply chain, with spot checks on implementation. It is not acceptable for firms to delay payment, which puts smaller firms, in particular, at risk of cash-flow crises.

Outsourcing a contract does not mean outsourcing responsibility for ensuring quality and consistency of service to residents. It is therefore alarming that in the worst cases councils not only fail to monitor quality but bear the costs when a contractor fails to deliver its side of the contract. It is vital that councils are equipped to manage complex contracts. Greater voluntary collaborative work between regional procurement bodies can open up access to specialist procurement skills to help to tackle this problem.

On fraud, we found little hard evidence of significant fraud, but widespread unease that, as more services are put out to tender, local authorities are at much greater risk. Councils must not “let and forget” contracts, but proactively tackle fraud throughout the lifetime of a contract, not just during the tender phase. Contracts let by public bodies must be transparent and performance against them auditable. We support the Government’s

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commitment to open-book accounting. Councils should consider placing similar requirements on information provision by contractors as applied to a public body under freedom of information regulations to provide a level playing field. We heard that one of the best means of identifying fraud was whistleblowing. More needs to be done to support whistleblowers and the Government must publicise arrangements for an anonymous reporting channel.

The measures set out in our report will help to achieve a vision of better procurement and commissioning from local councils. We hope that the Government, local government sector leaders and individual councils will pay heed to our recommendations.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I welcome the statement and the contribution we have all made to the report. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we uncovered many examples of good practice, but that no authority is doing all those things? We desperately need to ensure that examples of good practice are followed by all local authorities, so that every resident benefits from the good practice of the best authorities.

Mr Betts: Absolutely. That was the theme right the way through the inquiry. There is a lot of good work out there and the best way to persuade local authorities to change is to show them another local authority that is doing things in a better way. That is why the LGA is key to delivering improvements; with many of our reports, that is probably not the case. We are looking to the LGA and the Department for Communities and Local Government to work together to set up a taskforce to bring examples of good practice together and disseminate them to councils up and down the country.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent chairmanship of the Select Committee and for this inquiry in particular. If he were to read my article for the new think-tank, the Entrepreneurs Network, he would see that I suggest a kitemark scheme for local government that encourages councils to be small-business friendly, not least on procurement. Does he think that the LGA could adopt that and take it forward?

Mr Betts: The Select Committee did not consider that particular proposal, but it is interesting. We recommend that the LGA sets up a taskforce and I am sure that that is something it can consider. Indeed, every council should consider it. One of our recommendations is that once a year there should be a report to the whole council on a local authority’s procurement practices, with specific attention given to how local authorities deal with small businesses and local businesses as part of their commissioning approach. That is something individual councils could consider, too.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his Committee’s report. Procurement is about not just getting value for money, but ensuring that small local companies can access contracts. Did the Committee consider the procurement of local food and produce, so that we have the chance to ensure that good quality, high welfare standard food is fed to our children and used in our hospitals?

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Mr Betts: We did not look specifically at food contracts—obviously, with £45 billion of spending, there is a wide range of contracts—but we found that local government commissions and procures about 40% of its expenditure from small businesses. That is a higher percentage than for central Government, so there are many good examples. We recommended that councils should have an annual report. That would allow them to consider how to deal with small businesses and tailor commissioning to enable them to compete for contracts; that is an important element of the recommendation. That should be embedded in council policy from the beginning. Councils should not just suddenly think, “Oh dear, that contract hasn’t really given small businesses a chance” after it is let. It should be embodied in the policy of the council from the beginning.

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee on which I serve, on his statement. Does he agree that the £45 billion of procurement for which local government is responsible makes a considerable contribution to economic growth and sets a good example—I think he alluded to this in his response to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—that central Government would do well to follow? Procurement should benefit the British economy rather than being expended overseas, something we unfortunately see with central Government procurement, such as with the contract for the Thameslink deal that should have gone to Bombardier but went to Siemens.

Mr Betts: Some of the councils that we studied took a robust and considered approach to benefits for their local economies, while others did not do quite so well in that regard. Again, it is necessary to learn from good practice. We asked the Government to carry out a post-legislative review of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which gives councils certain responsibilities, to consider its impact on local economies, and to extend its social value requirements to smaller contracts, which it does not currently cover.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I welcome the report, but I urge my hon. Friend and the Committee to go further. I asked a succession of ex-council officers, serving officers and members of residents’ associations in the London borough of Hillingdon to consider some of the issues raised in the report. Let me give some examples. The first is the use of part 2 of the “Cabinet Meetings” document to maintain secrecy on matters relating to contracts that should be open and transparent, including poor performance and, in particular, decision making by councillors. The second is the use of compromise agreements involving a gagging clause preventing staff from exposing what has gone on after they have left.

As for my third example, let me introduce my hon. Friend to a term that is currently being used in the London borough of Hillingdon: the term “be restructured”. It means that the department of a whistleblower, or anyone who questions or criticises any decision made by the council, particularly decisions made by the leader of the council, will suddenly “be restructured”, and the whistleblower will be without a job. That is unacceptable. I think that I was the first Member to refer to the Transparency International report in the Chamber, and

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I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn on it, because it revealed the openness of local government to abuse and, indeed, corruption. I think that we must be eternally vigilant.

I urge the Committee to move on to the agenda that has been set out in my constituency, and look into the concerns that have been expressed about local government performance in our area.

Mr Betts: My hon. Friend has raised a number of points. Let me deal first with his point about transparency. We support open-book accounting, but I accept that that means opening the books to the councils themselves rather than a wider agenda. Freedom of information is often not applied to every aspect of a contractor’s dealings. We urged councils to consider making that so, but did not direct them to do so because ultimately this is a local matter and they should be free to make that decision. As for whistleblowing, we concluded that a clear system that contractors would be required to adopt should be written into the contracts. There should be no effect on a whistleblower. They should be protected as part of the contract. If any whistleblower raises concerns with a contractor, the information must be passed on to the council. We also considered ways of enabling whistleblowers to draw attention to problems anonymously, which would probably involve a role for the National Audit Office.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his statement. He rightly referred to a move from lowest cost to best value. He will, of course, be aware of legislation passed by the last Labour Government, which stipulated that all public bodies should procure only legal and sustainable timber. Did the Committee carry out any investigations of the progress that local authorities are making in that respect?

Mr Betts: I am afraid that I cannot provide a great deal of further enlightenment. We did not receive much evidence relating to the environmental elements of local government commissioning. What was clear to us, however, was that, although cost is obviously very important to councils at this time, other important issues, such as the quality of service, economic and social added value, and indeed environmental impacts and implications, should be considered by councils as part of their procurement strategies.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. As the report makes clear, procurement is inextricably linked with local government aspirations relating to the pursuit of social value and community benefit, collaboration to obtain best value for money, greater transparency and a better understanding of risk. I particularly welcome the suggestion that there should be more guidance on best practice in procurement to increase the number of local apprenticeships and trainee opportunities. Does he agree that central Government should support that work, so that much more can be done locally to strengthen our economy and deliver good outcomes for local people?

Mr Betts: Absolutely. We believe that that is now a matter for central Government—the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Cabinet Office, whose commissioning academy could be used to

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increase skills in local authorities—and for the Local Government Association. Many examples of good practice will be sector-led. A number of councils are doing excellent work across the political spectrum in encouraging contractors to take on apprentices as part of an overall council policy, but the practice would be a great deal more effective and beneficial if it were adopted by other councils. That aim is at the heart of our report.

I thank all members of the Committee for their work. I believe that the report makes many good recommendations that will enable us to make progress. It was approved by the whole Committee, and that is the basis on which we always try to work.

Barry Gardiner: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Before the statement, you were good enough to explain the procedures—which are rather novel for the House—that would govern its delivery and the subsequent questions. Can you tell me whether it is in order, when such a statement is made by the Chair of a Select Committee, for no Minister from the relevant Department to be present?

Mr Betts: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. A local government Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams)—was asked to attend, but he thought that the statement would be made earlier, and he had a ministerial commitment outside the House. He rang my office to apologise and I accepted his apology. The Deputy Chief Whip is representing him on the Front Bench, but obviously the Deputy Chief Whip could not speak.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for explaining the background.

It is so refreshing to hear a point of order that is a point of order! I can respond to the genuine point of order raised by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) by saying that a Minister—albeit a Whip—was present throughout the proceedings. It is not necessary for Front Benchers to take part in statements of that kind. It is of course desirable for the relevant Minister to pay attention to what is happening in the Chamber as a result of a Select Committee’s deliberations, but the Select Committee Chairman has explained very well what happened this morning. I am glad to have had an opportunity to explain further how the new procedure will work, and I therefore thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order.

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12.37 pm

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Following the point of order from the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), I am pleased to see the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr Duncan) sitting on the Front Bench.

I welcome the opportunity to make a statement on the International Development Committee’s report on democracy and development in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar. There is a little item in the report about the issue of its name. I had the privilege of visiting Burma last July as part of a delegation led by Mr Speaker and including my fellow Committee member the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), as well as the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). The Committee also visited the country last November. We spent time in and around Yangon, and in the capital, Naypyidaw. From Naypyidaw we drove down to Mandalay, stopping en route, and then made visits in and around Mandalay.

We concluded that Burma presents unique challenges in comparison with any of the United Kingdom’s other bilateral aid partners. As most people know, the country has endured 60 years of conflict and decades of military dictatorship, during which development and progress have regressed. Per capita GDP is $800, while the per capita income of its neighbour Thailand is $4,800. Although the UK has remained engaged and has provided support, the circumstances have been difficult, as the Committee observed in its last report in 2007. At that time, we could only visit refugee camps on the Thai border; we could not visit the country itself.

Since cyclone Nargis devastated the country, it has become apparent internally that if the country is to develop, it needs to change. The military Government have transferred some powers to the Parliament, and after by-elections last year, Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to Parliament along with 42 of her National League for Democracy colleagues. Full elections are promised for next year.

While a host of problems remain, a key opportunity exists for UK development programmes to help deliver transformational change. We must seize the moment. The Committee’s main conclusions are: that the Department for International Development should be more engaged with the political nature of Burma’s development—this is not just about development; it is about politics, too—and that the UK should continue to press for constitutional reform for the development of a federal structure inside Burma, which is being talked about widely there, and for the removal of the block on Aung Sa Suu Kyi standing for president. That is not because she has to be the president, but because it would be somewhat strange if a clearly popular elected opposition party candidate were not at least eligible to be a presidential candidate. As part of this, the UK Government should work to help the armed ethnic groups and the Burmese military to make the transition to delivering civilian Government. That is a huge challenge.

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DFID has given a substantial chunk of its budget to health programmes and we saw, and heard, how radical and transformational they were, but the Department should place even more emphasis on addressing drug-resistant malaria in Burma as it is a problem that threatens to spread to the rest of the world with potentially devastating consequences.

One specific issue, which an exchange with the Minister shows he understands, is that DFID’s education budget in Burma is currently too small to be effective. We are not saying it is of no value, but we do think it should increase, with a major focus on teacher training. We have, effectively, a lost generation in Burma that desperately needs education.

We also think that DFID’s work to assist the peace process, to improve public financial management, to encourage the inclusion of women and to reform the Burmese military should continue, with additional funding made available as opportunities to expand these programmes arise. These are all major challenges.

We welcome the UK support for the Burmese Parliament. It should be a long-term partnership and the UK will need to reform its approach to parliamentary strengthening to ensure that DFID and the Foreign Office can rely less on non-UK organisations—such as United Nations Development Programme and the National Democratic Institute—and draw more on UK organisations. The Westminster brand is valued, and we think it is strange that we are buying expertise from other models when people would like to hear more from ours.

The UK is doing a very good job in helping to co-ordinate the role of the development partners as chair of the working group, and we believe that that should continue. Smaller donors should be encouraged to be part of that process, rather than to try to operate independently.

We recognised when visiting the peace centre that there is a ceasefire across most of the country, but as yet there is no peace process. The situation in Rakhine is critical and could threaten the whole reform process if it is not addressed. DFID can help by doing more to promote inter-faith dialogue and inter-community understanding.

We accept that in the current situation progress will be unpredictable and uneven, but supporting the reform process by working to deliver public services and develop livelihoods offers unprecedented potential.

To achieve these transformational objectives we recommend that the bilateral budget for Burma be increased from its current level of over £60 million to around £100 million. We think that there is more than enough work in education, in parliamentary strengthening and in building Government institutions to justify the steady build-up of expenditure and we believe that DFID could, and should, find that resource.

I hope the House will accept that the UK has a crucial role to play in Burma. We have partners we can work with. We have an opportunity that may not come again and we should not miss it.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I had the opportunity

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to visit Burma last summer, looking specifically at issues around maternal health. What struck the group that went out with Marie Stopes was that the budget for health in Burma is extraordinarily small. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the importance of developing the political process. Did the Committee look at the balance between UK funds helping to directly provide health services, for example, as opposed to working with the Government and Parliament and has it looked at the overall funding compared with international comparators?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: We recognise that Burma needs capacity right across the whole system. Frankly, its spending on health and education has been minimal and its capacity to do that at the moment is pretty limited. We have to work with the partners we can find, sometimes directly. Of course we want to build up capacity within the Government, provided that the partners within the Government will respond in the right way, but we did see very good co-operation and real evidence that we are making specific changes. So our view is that we can expand the development support and help build those institutions, but we also need to strengthen the political capacity. One particular step is to enable Parliament to raise the funds that will ultimately enable these developments to be taken forwards as the economy develops. That is crucial and it is something DFID does very well in many other countries.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I am the chair of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases. I and my colleagues on that committee are extremely concerned about the growth of resistance to artemisinin-based drugs, which are our main hope for tackling malaria in Burma and the surrounding area. Does my right hon. Friend think the international community is giving enough weight to this issue?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I commend my hon. Friend for his assiduous work on the all-party committee, which is extremely important. The answer to his question is that it has not been possible to do enough because of the problems of conflict and lack of access. Indeed, that is the very reason why it has become an endemic threat to the whole world. We hope that, with a ceasefire in place and hopefully the beginnings of a peace process, the opportunity to engage will increase. That is why we have made a specific recommendation that greater priority within the health budget should be given to tackling that problem, and I am certain that my hon. Friend will ensure we focus on that.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The report refers to DFID’s main contribution to peace-building having been in funding Jonathan Powell’s non-governmental organisation Inter Mediate, with strong experience being drawn from what happened in the Northern Ireland peace process. Has the Committee made any assessment of the work of Inter Mediate and the way in which the experience in Northern Ireland has helped to develop peace-building in Burma?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: We did not make a specific engagement within that process, but we learned from DFID that the Northern Ireland experience was seen to

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be of some value and relevance. We obviously have to be careful not to assume that what happened in Northern Ireland is automatically transferable, but some kind of understanding of how we get beyond entrenched conflict to a situation where communities can start to work together is clearly useful, and the justification for supporting Jonathan Powell’s organisation was that he had some experience of doing that. The right hon. Gentleman may have a subjective view on how valid that is, but it seemed to us that this was well-received by the Burmese who felt it helped them to think about how to stop hating people and start working with those who were enemies, and that seems to be of some value.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for the report. Bearing in mind the situation in Egypt where the military have had real problems in giving up power, will he give us his candid assessment of the chances of the Burmese military ceding power to a democratic Government in the near future?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: That is a very good and fair question and we took a lot of evidence, ranging from people who felt the military would never let go to others who felt the pressures on Burma to open up were so intense that the reforms that have been started could not be reversed, although their progress will, I think, be uneven and bumpy. All I can say is that the authorities representing the military who we met looked to the Indonesian model as the way forward—in other words, a gradual move away from military control through the building of civilian capacity. But I guess that the day when the military is subservient to Parliament is a long way off.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and I visited Burma in 2012. One of the Government Ministers there had been given the task of mediating between the various ethnic minority groups. I have a suspicion, however, that the disputes between some of the groups have got worse since then. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what he found in that respect?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: The Committee did not have the opportunity to visit some of the more disputed territories, either for security reasons or because access was not granted or there was insufficient time. We understood, however, that there was at least a ceasefire in place across the whole country, except in the north. That is good news. The bad news is that the process of turning that ceasefire into a proper process of moving towards civilian government and letting go from the centre has not begun. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that the army has consolidated its position in exactly those provinces. That does not bode well, unless it starts to accommodate the other armed ethnic groups as part of the process of change. That is something that we think the UK Government could contribute to, so long as we have partners to work with.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): We welcome this thoughtful and comprehensive report, which reflects upon the progress being made in this troubled Commonwealth nation. The Chair of the Committee referred to the role of DFID in helping to build democratic capacity and strengthen Parliament in Burma. Of course,

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DFID is not just the charitable arm of the UK Government; it is a major force for soft power. What work is the Committee planning to do to examine DFID’s wider work on building democracy, particularly in the light of recent examples such as Bangladesh, where those processes have had mixed results?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments; I completely agree with him. Incidentally, we thought that the co-operation between DFID and the Foreign Office in Burma was particularly successful. Indeed, our visit would not have been the success that it was without the full co-operation that we had from the Foreign Office and from the ambassador and his team, although that is not in any way to suggest that the DFID team was not also extraordinarily important. That is the kind of working that matters, because this is a political process as well as a development process.

We actually had a much fuller section on parliamentary strengthening in the draft report, and we concluded that that was an issue to which we should return separately. The Committee has not yet agreed on that, but I think that we have unofficially agreed that we should produce a short report on how DFID could expand its role of parliamentary strengthening in all the partner countries. If we are concentrating on post-conflict countries and fragile states, building democratic institutions and making them work are surely central to that task. We have a unique capacity to do this work, and our view is that we need to put a lot more investment into it to ensure that our engagements are sustained and continuous, and that the contacts are maintained. These processes need to develop full, long-term relationships, rather than ending up with the odd seminar here and there or the odd secondment. I hope that we will be able to come up with a report that will develop that theme.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Alan Duncan): I rise briefly to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) and all his Committee for this report, and for the thoroughness of their inquiries. It is refreshing to be broadly commended in a Select Committee report, and to be asked to spend more. The request to raise our budget from £66 million to £100 million a year is an ambitious one, particularly as our funding increases have plateaued over the past few years, and there are further demands on our resources for the likes of humanitarian efforts in Syria. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House, however, that we will study all 39 recommendations and take them all into consideration when deploying our resources and focusing our efforts in the future.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, which we very much appreciate. We would not have expected him to accede to our requests immediately, but we think that he is up to the challenge. This is not just a question of our saying, “Let’s spend more money.” We have identified specific sectors in which we think that would be useful. We took out of the report a section dealing with where we thought the money should come from, because it is the job of Ministers to prioritise such matters, but if they want to talk to us informally about that, we have some ideas.

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royal assent

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2014

Children and Families Act 2104

National Insurance Contributions Act 2014

Citizenship (Armed Forces) Act 2014

International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014

Leasehold Reform (Amendment) Act 2014

Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014

13 Mar 2014 : Column 456

Backbench Business

Badger Cull

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Before I call the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) to propose the motion, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the hon. Lady will deliver her speech from a sedentary position. I commend her for coming to the House today; we appreciate that she is recovering from surgery. Given that she is speaking from an unaccustomed position and without the usual aid of an ability to bob up and down or otherwise gesticulate, the delivery of her speech will be more difficult than it would be if she were in her customary position. I am sure that the House will bear that in mind and give her all the support she deserves.

12.56 pm

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House believes that the pilot badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have decisively failed against the criteria set out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in guidance to Natural England for licensing of the culls, which stipulated that 70 per cent of the badger population should be culled within a six-week period; notes that the costs of policing, additional implementation and monitoring, and the resort to more expensive cage-and-trap methods over an extended period have substantially increased the cost of the culls, and strengthened the financial case for vaccination; regrets that the decision to extend the original culls has not been subject to any debate or vote in Parliament; further regrets that the Independent Expert Panel will only assess the humaneness, safety and effectiveness of the original six-week period and not the extended cull period; and urges the Government to halt the existing culls and granting of any further licences, pending development of alternative strategies to eradicate bovine TB and promote a healthy badger population.

I thank you for your gracious comments, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the debate will be very well attended and, bearing that in mind, I hope that colleagues will accept that I will not be taking any interventions during my opening remarks. I know that the many right hon. and hon. Members here today will make this a lively and impassioned debate.

This is a timely debate, coming before any further roll-out of the culls, and particularly in the light of concerns being raised from many quarters about the culls. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting a full day’s debate and vote on the Floor of the House. I have received a large amount of cross-party support for this debate. It is important to note that this is not a matter of one side of the House versus the other. The House wants a chance to vote on this issue and I have made repeated calls for it to be brought back before the House. I tabled my first early-day motion on 25 June last year calling for the matter to return, and 149 Members from both sides of the House supported it. I then tabled another on 31 October asking for a return, which attracted 107 Members. In a well-attended Westminster Hall debate on 11 Dec, I pleaded with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), to bring the matter back before the House. Well, I have brought it back, with the support of many colleagues of all political parties. I hope that colleagues today will examine their consciences and try to do the right thing. I know that this is not an

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easy subject, and that feelings are running high on both sides, but we must not be seen just to be doing something, if we are now convinced that the facts and evidence indicate that we might have taken the wrong approach.

Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs Main: I am sorry, but I have indicated that I will not be taking interventions.

The public might be surprised to learn that the Minister can instigate a cull without having to get the consent of the House. Consequently, there has been no substantive vote in Parliament proactively to adopt a culling strategy. Instead, we have merely had two votes not to adopt one. The two votes on the subject took place in Opposition day debates on 25 October 2012 and 5 June 2013. The most recent vote in the House of Commons, on 5 June, was 299 to 250 against the motion:

“That this House believes the badger cull should not go ahead.”

As the House can see, even in an Opposition day debate, the vote was a close one—and that was before we had gleaned all the information about the underperformance of the culls.

We all accept that the House has had an uneasy relationship with this topic, but we should not be here today to score political points or to try to rehash history. We should be here to examine our current position in a cross-party fashion and to give a strong steer to the Minister as to the next steps we believe he should take. I believe, as I am sure many other hon. Members do, that we should halt the culls and not issue any more licences until a full examination of the failings has been taken into account. That is what the debate is for; it is not a blame game. It is a recognition that hon. Members might wish to change their minds based on the change in facts.

There is great sympathy with farmers who have experienced heartache and hardship over losing cattle and precious stock to bovine TB. There is also regard for how we as a society treat all animals, but in particular a protected species. This tension has divided the House. I believe that many lent their support to the concept of tackling bovine TB with this strategy, but they did not give their Government permission to carry on regardless—regardless of humaneness, effectiveness or cost.

Performance criteria for the pilot culls were set by the Government, and they were not arbitrary, but intended to reassure hon. Members and the public that what was being done was an effective way of tackling bovine TB infections and was, crucially, humane. The reason for the 70% kill target within a six-week period was specifically drawn so that sufficient badgers would be killed to ensure that they did not simply go elsewhere, thus spreading the TB more widely.

This approach reflected extensive research carried out by Professor Woodroffe in trials in the 1990s, which showed that a failure to kill this percentage in a narrow window of time could worsen matters as disturbed diseased animals took TB to new areas. Analysis commissioned by the Government found that the number of badgers killed according to the criteria fell well short of the target deemed necessary, despite the cull being extended and cage shooting being used. We must face

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up to the fact that this House, if we persist and simply roll out more free-shooting culls, may be contributing to an increase in TB in cattle.

The humaneness test set by Ministers was to ensure that no animal suffered needlessly a protracted, agonising death. Badgers were supposed to be free-shot quickly, efficiently and, importantly, cost-effectively. It is now understood, however, that between 6.4% and 18% of shot animals took more than five minutes to die, and sometimes even as long as 10 minutes or longer. In order to avoid suffering, the standard to be met was that no more than 5% of shot badgers should take more than five minutes to die. An independent expert panel was appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help Ministers to evaluate, against the Government’s own criteria, the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of pilots, and its conclusions are damning.

Mr Harper: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] Will Opposition Members listen to my point of order? I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend quoting figures from an independent report. Are you aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether that independent report has been placed in the Library of the House or on the Table, so that hon. Members taking part in the debate may reference it? I was not aware that the report had been published.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I may be able to help the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) and the House. Today, I received a response from the Minister who is present, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), which clarifies that the report has just arrived on the Secretary of State’s desk. The pursuant question is why, when it was due to be published in February, it has not been published in time for today’s debate.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I thank the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) for his point of order. It is not in fact a point of order for the Chair, but it is a point that the House has noted. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) has been helpful in providing information to the House.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I always understood it to be a convention of this House that if any Member quoted from a document in the public domain, the document should be tabled before the debate, to be available to every hon. Member so that they, too, may quote from it. I do not believe that the document is yet in the public domain—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. That rule applies to Ministers; it does not apply to a Back Bencher addressing the House.

The matter is now at an end. The hon. Member for St Albans is referring to the report, which may come up and be debated for the rest of the afternoon; it is not for the Chair to rule on where the report ought to be. The hon. Lady is quoting from it, and I am sure that

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Members will listen carefully to what she is saying. They will then be able to deal with her points, with or without the report before them.

Mrs Main: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that passions are running high in this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) must be psychic, because my next words were to be that no one appears to be disputing the comprehensive but leaked report. Whatever the detail, the dispute is about whether we pursue a failed policy, or adopt a new one.

As Professor Rosie Woodroffe, a scientist at the Zoological Society of London, said, the

“findings show unequivocally that the culls were not effective”.

I know that hon. Members say, “We haven’t seen the reports”, but that is not in dispute, unless the Minister whose desk the report has landed on says that it is not in the report. If so, I look forward to hearing it, but I believe what has been widely reported in the media after being leaked comprehensively.

I hope that the Secretary of State will now focus on other ways of eradicating TB in cattle. If predictions of the findings in the report are borne out, the cull

“has cost a fortune and probably contributed nothing in terms of disease control, which is really unfortunate.”

Those are the words of Rosie Woodroffe.

I am personally disappointed that a DEFRA spokesman has recently said:

“We knew there’d be lessons to be learned from the first year of the pilot culls which is why we’re looking forward to receiving the panel’s recommendations for improving the way they are carried out.”

If the House notes those comments carefully, it cannot hear the sound of any culls being stopped, but simply of them being improved. In other words, we are committed to finding a better killing strategy—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, that is my phone—someone who obviously does not respect the—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. In these unusual circumstances, this incident will be overlooked. As I said at the beginning of the debate, these are unusual circumstances; no other Member may take this as a precedent.

Mrs Main: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps it was a badger ringing me up and willing me on.

If the House notes the comments, it will hear talk not of culls being stopped but of their being improved. The Government do not have carte blanche to carry on regardless. Hon. Members may dispute the report and whether it has been leaked, but the Government do not have unconditional support to continue with a failed approach, in particular one that causes suffering to a protected species. As Robin Hargreaves, President of the British Veterinary Association said:

“We have always stated that if the pilots were to fail on humaneness then BVA could not support the wider roll out of the method of controlled shooting”.

There are colleagues who share those views.

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The pilot culls were supposed to demonstrate a minimum of 70% of badgers killed within six weeks. Despite the badger population estimates being sharply cut and the culls being extended, both pilots failed to meet the minimum 70%. When both trials duly failed to kill sufficient badgers within the specified period, they were extended on the advice of the chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens. The panel’s widely leaked report, although still disputed today, concerns itself with the initial six weeks. This extended the misery, the cost and, if we accept the time scales based on the original pilot criteria, the range of TB spread due to perturbation.

Do we continue with cruel practices licensed by the Government in order to be seen to be doing something? DEFRA agreed with an expert group the criteria for how the trials could be deemed humane. It was DEFRA’s rules, not some arbitrary figures plucked out of the air. Mark Jones, vet and executive director of the Humane Society International of the UK, said:

“The government’s boast that all badgers were killed cleanly and killed instantly is clearly not true. We fear many badgers may have suffered significant pain and distress.”

Andrew Guest, from the National Farmers Union, said of the revelations: “It doesn't sound good”, but added that it was important that a significant number of badgers had been removed.

Simply getting rid of lots of badgers, regardless of cost, pain or effectiveness, was not the criterion set down by the Government. That is not a good enough reason for this House to support ongoing culls. This House wishes to tackle bovine TB efficiently, effectively and humanely. That is why we need to stop the failed cull policy, not grant any further licences and come up with a better method to tackle TB without inflicting pain and misery on an endangered species. The badger culls were condemned as “mindless” in 2012 by Lord Krebs, who commissioned the 10-year study. The extensions to the culls were criticised by Natural England’s lead scientific director, Sir David Attenborough, and the National Trust.

We acknowledge the devastation inflicted on farmers and cattle by the scourge of bovine TB. This should not be about the House abandoning their plight, but neither can we ignore the plight of the badgers. Monitoring reports from England’s wildlife watchdog, Natural England, apparently seen by The Guardian and perhaps hotly disputed by some hon. Members, show that a third of the badgers were shot in the wrong part of the body. Apparently, badgers are very hard to shoot, although I would not know as I am not a marksman. Two out of nine badgers had to be shot twice, having not died instantly.

Professor Woodroffe, who worked on a landmark 10-year study of badger culling, said the conclusion to be drawn was simple:

“The pilot culls have not been effective.”

She questioned the multi-million pound cost of the culls and argued that badger vaccination would be cheaper and more effective. So our argument today is probably leading us towards vaccination of badgers and/or cattle. The current available vaccine for badgers, which is injectable, has been shown to reduce the burden of disease in badger populations. An oral badger vaccine is not expected until 2015. I know there is some concern that vaccines may not be as effective as we would hope,

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or be licensed and come on line quickly enough, but if the current shoot-to-kill approach is also deeply flawed we should endeavour to strengthen and prioritise all the non-lethal methods in order to find a humane solution.

Many hon. Members and wildlife lovers believe that is the only way forward, unless we are to decide to keep slaughtering badgers in perpetuity to eliminate a reservoir of TB in badgers, many of which will have been infected by other species or cattle. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth told the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) in DEFRA questions that the Government

“'accepts that there is a range of measures we should pursue, including developing vaccines, and we are doing some work to develop an oral vaccine for badgers as well as on cattle vaccines. We are considering other measures such as contraception for badgers and increased cattle movement controls, so we are covering a range of issues as we try to solve this difficult problem.”—[Official Report, 13 February 2014; Vol. 575, c. 998.]

That answer shows that the Minister recognises the value of these other strands of TB control, and I hope that he will commit today to redoubling his efforts on those fronts. Today, we need to urge the Government not only to speed up their work on vaccines, particularly of the oral kind, and redouble their efforts on enforcing biosecurity and cattle movements, but, most importantly, to stop this inhumane slaughter of badgers.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Before I call speakers from the Back Benches, may I say that it will be obvious to the House that a large number of Members wish to speak this afternoon and so, as a courtesy to other Members, it would be helpful if Members limited their speeches to about eight or nine minutes? If they do so, everyone will have the chance to be heard.

1.12 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will bear those comments in mind. Let me start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), whom I have the privilege of following. She has shown astounding bravery and dedication in turning up for this debate so quickly after major surgery.

This debate is important not just for wildlife, but for the cattle industry, the dairy industry and the farming industry more generally. We need to acknowledge that and put it on the table at the very beginning. We all acknowledge the importance of tackling bovine TB. The debate on this issue so far has, to some extent, been polarised, so today’s debate is an opportunity to bring the House together to forge a new consensus on how to tackle this difficult problem.

I wish to focus on three aspects of the debate. First, I wish to deal with how the outcomes of the recently completed pilot culls differ from and deviate from those of the randomised badger culling trial, which took place a few years ago. Secondly, given the time limits, I wish briefly to refer to the alternatives. Thirdly, I wish to refer to the Bow Group recommendations on how to proceed in the future, which are incredibly interesting and constructive.

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Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Angela Smith: Very briefly, because I am aware of the need to keep my contribution short.

Mr Heath: I appreciate that, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Given that a lot of people wish to find a degree of consensus on this issue, I am genuinely curious as to why the motion makes no mention of the comprehensive strategy developed by the Government last year, which includes things such as polymerase chain reactor recognition of infected setts; an edge of disease strategy; greater biosecurity; and the routes to infected vaccines. Why is none of that mentioned in a debate that is supposed to be bringing the House together?

Angela Smith: The hon. Gentleman has anticipated much of what I am going to say about the constructive way forward.

The first and most important point to make about the pilot culls relates to the meeting of the scientific experts convened by DEFRA in April 2011, which drew two key conclusions about the pilot culls. The first was that the culls needed to be

“conducted in a co-ordinated, sustained and simultaneous manner”

over a short time period in order to minimise potential impacts of perturbation. The second key point was that

“the more that a future culling policy deviates from the conditions of the RBCT…the more likely it is that the effects of that policy will differ”.

Those two important points are at the heart of today’s debate. They explain why a target was set of a 70% reduction in badger density in the cull areas in six weeks, but we find—this is not because of the independent expert panel report—that Natural England withdrew licences after 11 weeks of culling in both zones because it was evident that there was no hope of reaching the target number of badgers.

I wish briefly to address why the targets of 70% and six weeks were chosen. The six-week target was set by DEFRA in the context of the lessons learned by the RBCT, which found that the proactive culls that were completed across entire areas in eight to 11 nights had a much higher likelihood of delivering a positive impact than the prolonged culls—the reactive culls that took place—over more than 12 nights. The risk of the latter is that TB in badgers is further elevated and thus it is expected that any benefits in relation to reducing cattle TB are undermined.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): The number of badgers in the area was one of the issues raised in previous debates. Obviously, the 70% target is dependent on having a reasonable estimate of the number of badgers in a particular area, and I understood that not to be available.

Angela Smith: This is the “badgers moving the goalposts” argument, which repeatedly comes back to haunt this debate. The important thing is to have accurate numbers, not least because we do not want to break the Bern convention, and therefore the law, in terms of taking the risk of eradicating an entire species.

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On four occasions, the RBCT conducted non-simultaneous culls—this comes back to the point about the short period of time, as they went on over a prolonged period. It was found—the evidence is there—that there was an increase in the proportion of badgers infected, over and above the background norm of the increase in numbers infected by the proactive culling.

In 2010, DEFRA’s science advisory council said:

“There is little useful data on the issue of what time period should be considered as ‘simultaneous’. The Group advised that if culling was carried out in a period of up to 6 weeks (although preferably less), that is likely to reduce the adverse effects of non-simultaneous culling; this advice is based on opinion and not on evidence. The longer the period that culling is carried out in, the less confident one can be that the deleterious effects seen with non-simultaneous culling as carried out in the RBCT will be minimized.”

That is from DEFRA’s own science advisory council. It is absolutely clear that the pilot culls took a fairly significant risk in planning to meet the six-week target. The fact that they failed comprehensively to meet that target supports the claim in the independent expert panel report that the pilot culls were ineffective; they took 63 and 77 nights respectively. Remember that the randomised badger culling trial found that to maximise impact, a cull should take place over eight to 11 nights.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Angela Smith: I will give way just one more time, because a lot of people want to speak.

Roger Williams: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She said that the randomised badger culling trials occurred over 10 to 11 days, but of course they failed miserably to reduce the number of badgers in a way that met their objective.

Angela Smith: The reactive culling in the RBCT did fail. That is not the point. I am talking about proactive culling, which is best carried out over eight to 11 days. Reactive culling is when one kills the badgers in a small area—a hot spot—and does not go back again. The proactive culling is done over a bigger area—that is the important point—annually. It is a much more scientific approach to culling. Reactive culling does not work at all; in fact, it makes the problem a lot worse.

The 70% figure, which is an average, is based on proactive culling. It was demonstrated in the RBCT that it did deliver reductions in cattle TB incidence in the culling zone on a gradual basis. There was, however, a rapid but diminishing increase outside the zone. That is where the 16% figure in the RBCT report comes from. It is often not reported, however, that the 16% figure was based on a scenario that was more optimistic about the potential beneficial impact of culling overall. In fact, the average reduction over nine years was 12%. That is why the Independent Study Group on Cattle TB said that culling could not deliver any meaningful reduction in bovine TB. That is the key point.

Reactive culling reduced badger density by 30% and elevated cattle TB; that is the point that I was making earlier. The problem is that it is not known scientifically where between 30% and 70% removal an effect on TB is

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achieved, hence the importance of the 70% target. Scientifically, it is the only target that one can use to measure effectiveness.

In summary, the requirement to kill at least 70% of local badgers within six weeks was not an arbitrary target. It was a scientifically driven target. As I have said, the six-week target was set because prolonged culling over more than 12 nights further elevates TB in badgers and is expected to undermine any benefits for cattle TB control. In terms of both the length of the culling period and the targets for numbers killed, the pilot culls failed comprehensively. That prompts questions about the future of culling. If we are to go ahead with more culling, Ministers have to answer this key point: killing effectively, over less than six weeks, will require far more marksmen and far greater resources, so that we can do the work simultaneously. One of the key lessons to be learned from the pilot culls is that we would need much greater resources to do the job, and I am not convinced that taxpayers are prepared to pay for that kind of resource.

It was found in the end that the pilot culling had to make use of cage trapping in addition to free-shooting. That points to the need for much greater resources. If we include policing in the costs, we are looking at more than £4,000 per badger shot in the pilot culls. On the alternative, vaccination costs £2,250 per square kilometre covered. When looking at cage trapping, and whether to vaccinate or cull, we have to remember that vaccination is much cheaper, partly because policing costs are removed from the equation, but also because with vaccination there is no need to dispose of the carcases of badgers culled. We all know that there is a massive army of volunteers ready to help the Government conduct the vaccination. In fact, there is already an initiative to deliver vaccination on a wider scale.

I quickly want to refer to the other important part of the alternative.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. I am sure that the hon. Lady will very soon draw her remarks to a close.

Angela Smith: Of course I will, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It must be remembered that cattle testing and movement is an important part of all this. Vaccination, cattle movement and testing, and biosecurity make up the package of measures that we need in order to move forward. I am sure that other Members will refer to some of the details.

In concluding, I want to refer to the Bow Group report, an excellent piece of work from the right of the political spectrum. We have the spectacle of a Labour MP recommending a Tory report, but it is an excellent report—thorough, sensible, and evidence-based. It has a number of recommendations, all of which are sensible. I want to focus quickly on three key recommendations. The report recommends that farmers no longer be allowed to move their herds from one of their farms to another without pre-movement testing. That is an important point, because currently they are allowed to do so. They should not be allowed to move their herds to agricultural shows or common land without pre-movement testing.

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The report recommends more testing and increased use of the gamma interferon test, alongside the currently used test. I understand that the Government have moved on all this, but the report makes it clear that more needs to be done. Importantly, it recommends field trials of cattle vaccine, as recommended by the European Commissioner only last November, but so far we have heard nothing from DEFRA on when it will move ahead with that.

The Commons has an opportunity today to move on the issue and forge a new consensus. We should build on initiatives already taken by DEFRA on cattle movement and testing, and on biosecurity; and we should carry out vaccination on a comprehensive scale, and drop the culling.

1.28 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith).

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing the debate, on leading it with her sterling contribution, and on showing such strength in such difficult circumstances. I absolutely agree with her that we have to learn to treat all animals, whether farm or wild, the same. We need to consider the implications of the economics of the case. I am sure that others will give more detail, but we have to recognise that the number of new cases of bovine TB is on the rise; it is doubling every nine years. In the 10 years to last November, 310,000 cattle across Great Britain were slaughtered, and last year, between January and November alone, 30,377 otherwise healthy cattle were slaughtered—an average of over 90 a day. In the last 10 years, bovine TB has cost the taxpayer £500 million, and there is an expectation that that will rise to £1 billion over the next decade.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD) rose

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con) rose

Miss McIntosh: I will take two interventions now, and then no more.

Stephen Lloyd: I appreciate that the figures are still high, but does my hon. Friend agree that a recent report shows that in 2013 there was a significant drop of 14% in the incidence of TB in cattle, and the rate that the disease is spreading also declined by 7% in 2013? The figures are going down.

Miss McIntosh: I stand by the figures that I have just given.

Mark Pritchard: Does my hon. Friend agree that animal welfare campaigners and farmers want to see healthy cattle and badgers, and that is why I welcome her preamble? Does she also agree that this Government should focus on vaccines, as the last Government should have?

Miss McIntosh: I will come on to vaccines.

I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans and the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge said. The House is very short of alternatives. If we are to have a mature, intelligent debate, the House and the public need to consider what the realistic alternatives

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are. The badger population was in decline and was given protection in the 1970s, for very good reason, but when we see the extent to which the population has grown and the implications for the spread of bovine TB, the position is very serious. I have two auction marts in my constituency, one in Thirsk and one in Malton, and the implications of the cattle restrictions generally are difficult for them.

I want to make a general point about the six-day rule. I understand the position with regard to the cattle restrictions relating to bovine TB that are in place in the south-west, and the need for a swift response to any potential animal disease. But, particularly at red cattle marts such as Thirsk, the operation of the six-day rule, as intensive and as regulated as it is, is having a negative impact. Many livestock producers will not take their cattle or sheep to mart—it is true that there are fewer pigs now—on the basis that they may not be able to obtain the price that they need and they will have to go to slaughter anyway. I hope that the Minister will look favourably at reviewing the six-day rule. It could be brought back swiftly if need be.

The sad fact, which has been demonstrated in today’s debate, is that not many of us living in Britain today have close rural roots. When a pilot cull was introduced in Ireland, it proceeded smoothly, effectively, clinically, and virtually without disruption. Do the Government have anything to learn from the conduct of the Irish cull? The fact that many of us now live metropolitan lifestyles leads, regrettably, to an increasing misunderstanding of animal husbandry and welfare issues.

In the few moments that I have left I want to commend to the House the work of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on vaccination against bovine TB and the Government’s response. I am delighted to record that both Front-Bench teams were well represented on the Committee when it took evidence. We looked carefully at injectable vaccine for badgers, oral vaccine for badgers and oral vaccine for cattle. There are difficulties with each that we can rehearse this afternoon, but will the Minister update the House today on where we are, particularly with regard to reaching agreement in Brussels with our European partners and at home on each of those matters?

I pay tribute to the work of the Food and Environment Research Agency in Sand Hutton in Thirsk and Malton—

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Miss McIntosh: I am reaching a conclusion.

FERA is doing work on sterilisation. Oral contraception has been referred to, and the sterilisation of the badger population would be welcome, but it will inevitably have a cost implication. There are also questions about its practicality. It would make sense for the Minister to update us today on that work and to review its cost implications and practicality. That could be a real alternative. I was not aware of it until the Select Committee had the opportunity to visit FERA. Today’s debate is particularly timely as we consider the alternatives to produce a healthy cattle and a healthy badger population.

1.35 pm

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I rise in support of the motion. I congratulate colleagues on both sides of the House who tabled the motion and

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I thank the Backbench Business Committee for enabling the debate to take place. It has become clear over recent weeks and months that some colleagues who initially supported a cull are now beginning seriously to question that position. I thank the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who, I appreciate, has now left the Chamber, because she was one of the first people to draw to my attention some serious reservations about what the Government had done.

The starting point on this issue and the common ground we are probably all on is that we do have a serious problem in England with bovine TB. So how do we reach agreement on reducing the scale of the problem, leading hopefully to its eradication? Both sides need to be honest. Under the previous Government we spent 10 years and some £50 million on trialling culls, and the outcome was no real meaningful contribution to eradicating TB in cattle. With the recent pilot culls we have witnessed an abject failure for farmers, taxpayers and wildlife.

The two pilot culls failed to achieve their own success criterion of culling 70% of badgers in six weeks. Against sound science, they were extended and spectacularly failed again to cull target numbers. The leaked IEP report shows that DEFRA failed to meet its main test for humaneness, as we have already heard this afternoon and will no doubt hear again—

Mr Harper: I take a particular interest because one of the cull areas covered a significant part of my constituency, and I am interested in the humaneness of the tests. I think that today’s debate, in asking the House to take a view, is premature. I meant what I said. I was disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) did not take my intervention, which was why I raised a point of order. I want to see that report in its entirety to be able to make a judgment about the cull as carried out and also, if the culls continue, whether there need to be any changes. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the House needs to see that report before it can reach a proper decision?

Mr Brown: I respect the hon. Gentleman, but his own Government, Ministers and the Secretary of State have done nothing to give anyone any confidence in what was going on. Perhaps we will hear from the Minister later, but the constant delay has done nothing more than make people extremely suspicious about what was going on. It was almost as if there was an attempt to find reasons why what was done was correct. So he and I will have to part company there because I am not convinced that what he is saying is correct.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows the danger of Governments trying to be seen to be doing something when they have no idea what to do? In this case, it has resulted in great cruelty and a failure.

Mr Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Let us be honest: from time to time, we in this Chamber should realise that no one side has a monopoly on the answers to the problems, whether those problems are in our rural communities or our cities, although we must recognise that certain views sometimes need to be more respected on certain occasions.

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I was referring to the leaked report and to the issue of humaneness. It has been suggested that no more than 5% of the badgers should take more than five minutes to die, but the IEP found that the actual figure was between 6.4% and 18%. Over time, the Opposition have made a series of reasonable, rational and, importantly, cross-party requests of the Government, none of which has been met to date.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend not agree that the Government entered into this with a preconceived idea about their approach and with a closed mind, particularly the Secretary of State? As anybody who has watched any of the television interviews knows, he would not consider anything else, but his methods have led to abject failure.

Mr Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which takes me back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). It is about making it look as if something is being done, but, all too often, it results in even more damage.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the badger cull was the wrong thing to do and that we should have followed Scotland’s example, as it achieved BTB-free status in 2009 without culling anything. However, he must acknowledge the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), which he also announced when he was a Minister: the Government have also done the right thing by restricting cattle movement, which is probably a contributory factor in the fact that bovine TB incidence is now falling in England.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Mr Brown, you are being very generous in giving way to other Members, but may I gently remind you that we have agreed to keep our remarks to eight or nine minutes, including interventions? I hope that will mean that those intervening will eventually be able to speak.

Mr Brown: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I must say that I have been known to be generous to a fault on many an occasion.

All I can say to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) is that I had not realised that my writing was that large, as he has obviously seen what I am about to say. The story is totally different in other parts of the UK. In Wales, there has been a significant and substantial reduction in the disease, with decline at twice the rate of that in England. That has been achieved without culling but with badger vaccination and stringent measures on cattle that have been handled properly. In Northern Ireland, bovine TB is declining at a faster rate than in the south, where culling is taking place. As the hon. Gentleman has said, in Scotland we are fortunate—I shall put it no more strongly than that—to be clear of bovine TB, but we are not complacent and tight biosecurity is in place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) is absolutely correct that this is about biosecurity and vaccination. Whether Members will accept it or not, there is a small army of volunteers who want to engage with farmers and others to try to eradicate the disease through a vaccination scheme.

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Professor Rosie Woodroffe, a leading badger ecologist, questioned the licence extensions and their potential to increase the spread of TB through perturbation. She said that going from six to 14 weeks, as happened in the Gloucestershire cull area, was uncharted territory—so it is about things being seen to be done rather than about grappling with the issue. In November, she said:

“It is not unreasonable to expect that as you prolong the cull and you prolong increased badger movement, you increase the detrimental effects.”

In December, she said:

“It’s very likely that so far this cull will have increased the TB risk for cattle inside the Gloucestershire cull zone rather than reducing it…Culling low numbers of badgers, over a prolonged period, during these winter months, are all associated with increased TB.”

I hope that those who are now thinking seriously about what has happened will realise that it is an issue not of crying over spilt milk but of seeing that we have it wrong and asking about the scale on which we have it wrong. I hope that Members will support the consideration of vaccination and tight biosecurity so that we can make some moves towards eradicating this terrible disease from our countryside.

1.45 pm

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): Unlike those of the previous speakers, my constituents have cattle. They also have experience of TB and are wrestling with the problem.

I am sorry that the debate is taking place at all. I have a great deal of respect for the Backbench Business Committee, but it would have been considerably more helpful if it had waited to hold the debate until after the report had been published. If we have a scientific report, it is worth reading it before having the debate.

Huw Irranca-Davies: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned once again the IEP report and it might help the House to know that we now know, as I have had a response today, that the report is available and on the desk of the Secretary of State. May I ask through you whether the Minister and officials, through their good offices, could produce that immediately and put it in the Library? We still have time to look at it and consider it in the debate. That would help all Members.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): That is clearly not a matter for the Chair, but the Minister will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s point and, as he has said, there is plenty of time left in the debate at the moment.

Bill Wiggin: I am grateful to you for your judgment, Madam Deputy Speaker. Unlike the shadow Minister, I do not have access to the Secretary of State’s desk. Even if he has the report, I have not seen it and neither have my hon. Friends. Even if it is available today, we should have read it before we had the debate.

Let me return to the core of the debate, which is science and whether the Government have paid sufficient attention to the scientific detail and acted accordingly. It is wrong in every way to base an argument on a leaked report before its conclusions are in the public domain. Whatever our view, particularly if we are unsure about badger culling, we should take some comfort in

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knowing that before the Government roll out the policy across the country they test it with pilot schemes. Further comfort should be taken from the fact that they ensure that effectiveness and humaneness are the key factors that are tested.

We might find it hard to know without references from scientists whether a badger dies quickly or slowly when hit by a bullet. We might want to know whether the number of badgers culled is sufficient to prevent the spread of bovine TB. We cannot know these things unless the experts have published their reports, yet we are discussing the issue without the report. I can see the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), waving bits of paper at me, but I want the constituents we all represent to have the same information as everybody in this House when we comment on this.

Mr Harper: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for giving way. Given that we are talking about the pilot cull and the House is being asked to make a decision about whether the cull should be rolled out, the point is not just about the report. If the report makes recommendations, we will want to know the Government response to them. We want the considered view of the Secretary of State and if he has only just received the report, he needs time to digest it and make some decisions.

Bill Wiggin: My hon. Friend is, as always, absolutely right.

Angela Smith: Even if we do not have the IEP report, we know that the pilot culls took 11 weeks rather than the RBCT’s recommended maximum of 11 nights. That means that the pilot culls have failed, does it not?

Bill Wiggin: I hope that the hon. Lady agrees that I have been generous in giving way to her, because she had quite a long time to have her say. I regret bitterly that in her speech she did not condemn the activities of people protesting that might have meant that the tests took longer. She should have done that, because whatever the report concludes about the trials, it is indisputable that what applies to one species should apply to the others. If we cull cattle, we should cull badgers. If we vaccinate badgers, we should vaccinate cattle. It is inconsistent treatment of one species or the other that damages disease control. That is proven by the spread of the disease and the inconsistent record of the previous Government.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bill Wiggin: Yes, I will give way, although I must not give way much more.

Caroline Lucas: The words that the hon. Gentleman has just spoken are scientifically so wrong. All the evidence that we have seen demonstrates precisely that the strategy taken should depend on what species we are talking about and on the ecology. Just because culling makes sense in one context with one species at one time, it makes no sense to say that that means it is okay to do it in a different environment. The circumstances matter, not the general principle.