Finally, we need more work on mental health support for women before and after giving birth. There have been too many tragic stories of women self-harming or, in extreme cases, taking their own life and those of their children. We need better targeting of resources and better diagnosis of mental health problems. We need health visitors—I hope we will get the phalanx of new health visitors that the Government have rightly committed to provide—who can work with new parents and get into homes, where there is a much better chance of

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spotting problems. They can refer on to mental health services or parenting skills classes through children’s centres. That will form an important part of dealing with the epidemic of perinatal mental illness, in particular for first-time mothers.

This is an important subject for constituents across the country. The Minister is sympathetic to the problem and the Government would like to do more. Working with the royal colleges and some of the excellent charities, which have worked tirelessly over many years, we can get a better solution for better support for families who suffer from the pain of infant or perinatal mortality and hopefully do more to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place.

3.11 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for securing this important and sensitive debate. There are few more pressing issues than protecting the health of small babies and reducing the deaths of babies under one.

I want to put on record my appreciation of the Rainbow clinic at St Mary’s hospital in Manchester. Mancunians—I am proud to be one—are incredibly proud of the work not only of the Rainbow clinic, but of St Mary’s in general. It is a centre of excellence for Greater Manchester and the north-west, and I am not just saying that because I was born there as a premature baby almost 40 years ago. It genuinely is a superb facility not only for babies, but for mums, and I commend its work, just as the hon. Lady has done.

Members on both sides of the House will know from their experiences and as constituency MPs the heartbreak and pain that the death of an infant can cause a family. I was particularly touched by the powerful speech by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) about stillbirth. From a recent tragic occurrence in my family where stillborn twins were induced, I sadly know just how painful such an experience can be not only for parents, but for family members and how upsetting losing a child before birth can be. I know how unfair the law is; those children are not legally recognised by the state. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is important that the law be changed to reflect the realities, so that parents and grandparents can get closure, support and relief during such dreadful occasions.

We have seen some significant advances over the decades. It is easy to forget where we have come from, but we should recognise the work of health professionals and scientists to reduce the infant mortality rate in England and Wales to its lowest levels. In 1981, there were 11.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2011, that had dropped to 4.2 per 1,000, equating to a 62% decrease over 30 years. It is worth reminding ourselves that, in 1911, before the introduction of the social security system and the NHS, the rate was 130 deaths per 1,000 live births.

One result of the major improvements in public health over the 20th century, such as slum clearances, the provision of fresh water, mass inoculation, health screening and the NHS, has been a huge reduction in the tragedy of infant mortality. I am proud that the

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previous Labour Government reduced infant mortality by 27% between 1997 and 2010, which equates to more than a 1,000 fewer baby deaths a year. As we have heard today, however, there is no room for complacency. Hundreds of babies still die each year from perinatal respiratory problems, bowel failure or infection. Such deaths are not evenly distributed across our society, which raises critical questions as to how we tackle health inequalities. In his groundbreaking report on these matters, Sir Michael Marmot said that

“one quarter of all deaths under the age of one would potentially be avoided if all births had the same level of risk as those to women with the lowest level of deprivation”.

Things are getting better, however. We achieved our ambition to narrow the gap of infant mortality by at least 10% between routine and manual socio-economic groups and the England average, but there is still far more work to do.

Office for National Statistics infant mortality statistics for 2011 show that infant mortality rates were highest for babies with fathers employed in semi-routine occupations, such as shop assistants or care assistants. One of the Minister’s predecessors as Minister responsible for public health, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), has said that disadvantaged groups and areas have higher infant mortality rates and that poor health outcomes such as that are often linked to social factors, including education, work, income and the environment. I welcome the Government’s recognition of the link between poverty, housing, diet, neighbourhood and health, a point which was made powerfully by the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham and for Chatham and Aylesford. We must continue to tackle the conditions that cause health inequalities and the unfair distribution of infant mortality across society. There is no good reason why, in the seventh richest country on this planet, the likelihood of a family’s baby surviving its first year of life should depend on their socio-economic background. Will the Minister address directly the inequalities around infant mortality and still birth?

We should also note that women over 40 are at greater risk of having a baby who dies before it is one year old. Women under 20 are at greater risk, too. Will the Minister’s speech address how health services can be specifically targeted to support pregnant women over 40 and under 20?

There is a growing understanding that early intervention is the key to preventing infant mortality. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health states:

“The evidence quite clearly states that early intervention is the best form of prevention. Early intervention will not only lead to significant financial savings in the medium to long term, it is underpinned by sound science.”

A healthy pregnancy begins before conception. Action on health issues before pregnancy can prevent many problems for the mother and baby.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made a powerful point about understanding risk factors such as exposure to smoke and prenatal drug or alcohol use by mothers, but there are also positive steps that pregnant women can take to improve their and their unborn baby’s health, such as maintaining a healthy diet and weight, getting the right vitamins, taking folic acid and regularly being physically active. Women need proper advice, information and support to help them to understand the risk factors and make informed, healthy

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choices. What is the Department of Health doing to promote early intervention, and what resources is the Minister making available for that?

Of course, appropriate information continues to be important during pregnancy and after the child is born. Midwives and health visitors are our most crucial resource in ensuring that women have the information they need at every stage, and in supporting the development of confident, effective parenting. Forming trusting relationships with the women they care for is a critical part of the process, but many women do not have one midwife or health visitor whom they see regularly and with whom they can build a relationship. I hope that the Minister will explain what steps the Government are taking to deal with the problem and improve the consistency of care that women receive in pregnancy and after the birth of their child.

Two hundred babies a year die of sudden infant death syndrome and I welcome the work of the Lullaby Trust and the charity Bliss, which do an important job in advising and supporting parents in that connection. Tragically, five babies a week die without any explanation. Thanks to the “Back to Sleep” campaign, which advised parents to encourage their children to sleep on their backs, the figure is down from five babies a day in the mid-1980s; but five babies a week is still five too many, and I should like to know what the Minister and the Department are doing to try to reduce the figure further.

We have come a long way, but we still have some way to go. Advances in medical science must be matched by provision of NHS services and other social services in every part of the country. No one should be significantly disadvantaged by where they live. For pregnant women and young mothers to take responsibility for their health and that of their babies, they need the warm embrace of a strong system of health care, advice and support. If we want the coming decades to be characterised by further falls in infant mortality, and if we want many fewer families to suffer the terrible tragedy of a baby’s death, we need a continued, concerted and co-ordinated effort throughout Government.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford on securing the debate, because it is important to discuss the matters in question. It was perhaps remiss of me not to convey the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), the shadow Minister who leads on these issues. Sadly, just before the debate, she dislocated her shoulder and hopefully she is now receiving excellent NHS treatment at accident and emergency. I know she would want to pass on her thanks and appreciation to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford for securing the debate and raising an important matter.

3.23 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

3.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Like others who have spoken today, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) on securing a debate on a sensitive issue that it is incredibly vital that our nation makes more progress on. I apologise that the

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Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), whose portfolio covers this policy, is not here to respond, but I undertake to report back to him and to refer him to colleagues if I am unable to respond to anything today.

The death of a baby, whether during pregnancy or following birth, is of course a tragedy. Colleagues have eloquently described the devastating impact on families of losing a baby to stillbirth or during the first year of life. Although stillbirth is now at its lowest recorded rate in England since the definition changed in 1993, a study published in The Lancet in 2011 ranked the UK 33rd worldwide on stillbirths, below a great many other high-income countries. As has been said, being in that place in the league table is not a record we can be proud of. We are making progress, which I will describe, but as everyone accepts we clearly need to do more and to be in a better place. Similarly, infant mortality rates are at historic low levels, but still higher than the European Union average.

Although the stillbirth rate has decreased dramatically over the past 50 years, until recently it had not declined significantly since the 1990s. My hon. Friend referred to that sense of stalled progress. Thus, the rate for England and Wales in 1993, when the current definition was introduced, was 5.7 stillbirths per 1,000 total births. By 1999 the rate had fallen to 5.3, but 12 years later, in 2011, it had not really changed, at 5.2. It is encouraging that the rate has now started to fall. The rate for 2012 was 4.8 stillbirths per 1,000 total births, which is the lowest rate recorded in England since the definition changed. Although that is a statistically significant fall, which we all welcome, we recognise that the decline in stillbirths in the UK has not kept pace with that in other comparable countries. My hon. Friend also demonstrated that across the UK we do not necessarily have even rates of progress. The decline in the infant mortality rate has been more encouraging, that in England falling from 5.2 to four deaths per 1,000 live births between 2002 and 2012, although that remains higher than the EU average, as I said.

Such reductions are welcome, but the rates in England are still high and there is considerable scope for future reduction. That is why we have a wide range of initiatives in place that will help to reduce stillbirth and infant mortality rates, and tackle health inequalities. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), and others, were right to refer to the relevance of this issue. It remains a source of concern that we sit where we do in international league tables.

What can be done to reduce the number of stillbirths? As colleagues have said, stillbirth has many causes, some of which are known and some not. That is one of the challenges: we are so used to identifying exactly what a problem is, what we need to do and the resources necessary to tackle it; but here we are in slightly strange terrain, in that we know some things but not enough. The known causes include lifestyle issues such as smoking and obesity; medical causes affecting the woman, baby or placenta; demographics; and the safety and effectiveness of the maternity care given.

On reducing the risk of stillbirth, an important first step is to raise the issue’s profile, so that people are aware that it needs to be dealt with and is not simply one of those things to be accepted and about which

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little can be done. It is not acceptable to have one of the worst stillbirth rates in comparison with similar countries. We have therefore included stillbirth and neonatal mortality as an area of improvement for the NHS in its outcomes framework. We have identified it as an area in which we need to do much better.

A range of research has been conducted that demonstrates that women who access antenatal care late have poorer outcomes. Early access to antenatal care is therefore pivotal to improving health and well-being outcomes for women and their babies. In line with the guidelines of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, women should have an assessment of their health and social care needs, risks and choices as early as possible in pregnancy. That enables midwives to provide pregnant women with important lifestyle messages —for example, about diet, exercise, smoking and drinking —and to identify any pre-existing conditions that might require additional support. I will say more about public health later, but I can only share in the alarm expressed by Members at some rates of drinking—quite heavy drinking—during pregnancy, for example. According to the national statistics on that, there is great variation between local authorities. I will touch later on one of the reasons why we think public health sits so well within local authorities, which are in a position to tackle that regional variation.

The Department and NHS England are working with a number of key partners, including the stillbirth charity Sands, Public Health England, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, to take forward a stillbirth prevention work programme. The programme covers a range of initiatives, including raising awareness of the known risk factors among pregnant women and health professionals. That will ensure that women receive consistent advice on how to minimise the risk of stillbirth—including the importance of healthy eating and the other lifestyle issues that have been raised—are aware of foetal movement and what is normal for their baby, and know where to go for help if they suspect there is a problem. It is important that each stillbirth is investigated and lessons are learned. We are therefore working with NHS England to explore how standardised perinatal death reviews could be introduced.

Growth-restricted babies are up to eight times more likely to be stillborn than non-growth-restricted babies. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford is aware of the encouraging results we have achieved in reducing the stillbirth rate in the three regions where uptake of the Perinatal Institute’s growth assessment protocol training package—the GAP programme—was most prevalent. Following discussions with the Perinatal Institute, NHS England is encouraging uptake of the programme across the NHS in England. More than 75% of trusts in England have already signed up for that training.

Tracey Crouch: Will the Minister elaborate slightly on that training? Given the example of my constituent whose son, Henry, was stillborn at 38 weeks but had not grown for 16 weeks, the measurement tools currently available to midwives are clearly simplistic and some more sophisticated technology for measurement could well be of use. Will she elaborate on whether the new

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system is using more sophisticated technology? That is one reason why having an extra scan could help with early intervention, by identifying any growth problems sooner.

Jane Ellison: My hon. Friend has asked an extremely good question. I hope she will allow me to reply after the debate—I do not have an answer readily to hand, as the subject is not in my policy portfolio. I will come back to her on that, because it is a good question.

Although we know some of the risk factors for stillbirths, other causes are unknown, and it is important that we gain a greater understanding of those. The NHS National Institute for Health Research funds a range of research relating to causes, risk factors and prevention of stillbirth and neonatal death. Both the NIHR Cambridge and the NIHR Imperial biomedical research centres have ongoing research programmes on women’s health, including research relevant to the prevention of stillbirth and neonatal death.

In addition, the NIHR health technology assessment is funding three significant trials. The first is a £6 million trial of an intelligent system to support decision making in the management of labour using the cardiotocogram, or CTG. The second is a £1.4 million trial of nicotine replacement therapy in pregnancy, led by the university of Nottingham. The third is a £1.2 million trial of physical activity as an aid to smoking cessation during pregnancy, led by St George’s, university of London.

My hon. Friend referred to the Tommy’s stillbirth research centre at the university of Manchester, which is conducting innovative research that focuses on the unborn baby’s life support machine—the placenta. It has opened the Manchester placenta clinic, which combines specialised antenatal care for pregnancies affected by foetal growth restriction with front-line research into why the condition occurs and how it might be treated. The Government also fund MBRRACE-UK, or Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the United Kingdom, which is continuing the national Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths and national surveillance of late foetal losses, stillbirths and infant deaths.

I turn now to bereavement support and counselling, which were quite rightly raised during the debate. It is obviously important that women who have suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death receive evidence-based care, in an appropriate location, which supports both their physical health and their emotional well-being. In December 2012, NICE published clinical guidance that offers evidence-based advice on the diagnosis and management of ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage in early pregnancy—that is, up to 13 completed weeks of pregnancy.

We expect maternity care providers and commissioners to give due regard to NICE guidance and to ensure that there are comprehensive, culturally sensitive services and facilities for the management and support of families who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. Skilled staff should of course be available to support parents. I take on board entirely the point that that picture might sometimes be inconsistent. Clearly, we have to work towards greater consistency. As I often say when we have debates such as this, it can only be a good thing that Parliament continues to demonstrate its great interest in this area, as we can demonstrate to

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those who provide and plan our health services in which Parliament has shown a particular interest. Today’s debate provides another opportunity for us to do that.

In May 2012, the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), pledged that women who have suffered a miscarriage would get more support from the NHS. Over the past two years, the Department has awarded £35 million in capital funding to improve NHS birthing environments, including facilities for bereaved parents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford raised the issue of scans. There are currently no plans to introduce routine scans in the third trimester of pregnancy to monitor foetal growth and development. I recognise that there is a challenge to that policy. The UK national screening committee advises Ministers and the NHS in all four countries of the UK about all aspects of screening policy, and supports implementation. It uses evidence based on research, pilot programmes and economic evaluation, and assesses the evidence for programmes against a set of internationally recognised criteria. If stakeholder organisations, individuals or Members feel that there is enough evidence published in peer-reviewed journals to consider screening for a condition in the third trimester of pregnancy, they can submit a policy proposal to the national screening committee. That might well be something that my hon. Friend wishes to consider.

I turn briefly to the subject of the registration of stillbirths. I say briefly, because I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, is meeting my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) in early April to discuss his ten-minute rule Bill on the registration of stillbirth. That Bill aims to amend the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 to provide that parents may register the death of a child stillborn before the threshold of 24 weeks’ gestation. That Act, as amended by the Still-birth (Definition) Act 1992, provides for the registration of all babies stillborn after 24 weeks’ gestation. When a baby is stillborn, the doctor or midwife who attended the delivery or who examined the baby’s body after birth gives the parents a medical certificate certifying the stillbirth.

Although some parents are very distressed that they cannot legally register the birth of a baby born before 24 weeks who did not breathe or show any signs of life, others would be distressed at the possibility of having to do so. Getting the right balance between those conflicting wishes is challenging, but the existing system, whereby hospitals can issue local commemorative certificates—my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham alluded to those in his remarks—for those parents who want them goes some way to addressing the issue. I know that he will have more questions and challenges for my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, and will want to discuss those at that meeting in April. I recognise that he has signalled his intention to take the matter forward.

Although infant mortality rates are at an historically low level, health inequalities remain and often reflect inequalities by socio-economic group, ethnicity, geographical area and age. There is a threefold difference in infant deaths rates between professional groups and manual groups. Mothers born in the Caribbean, west Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh have rates between one and a half times and twice the national average. The greatest

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numbers of infant deaths and the highest rates are to be found in the most deprived parts of big cities such as Birmingham and Bradford. Young mothers under 20 have the highest risk of infant mortality—almost 60% higher than that for mothers aged 20 to 39, with young lone mothers at even greater risk. That is a terrible catalogue of loss, for the families concerned, for their communities and for the nation as a whole.

There has, however, been some progress in reducing those inequalities in recent years. The difference in the infant mortality rate between the routine and manual group, for example, and the population as a whole has narrowed from 18% in 2002-04 to 9% in 2009-11. We are looking to build on that progress, and that is why we have made reducing these inequalities a priority for the whole of the new health system, working with PHE and NHS England, and backed that up with new legal duties on access to and outcomes from services.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot has been referred to during the debate. He said in his post-2010 health inequalities review that there is a social gradient in health, whereby the lower a person’s social position is, the worse his or her health will be. He recommended that action should be proportionate to the level of disadvantage, including on his first priority of giving every child the best start in life, with which none of us would disagree.

On a practical note, we are strengthening the health visitor service, which Members were right to highlight. We are conscious that it is an important pledge and crucial to infant health and early child development. We are increasing the number of health visitors by 50%—4,200—by 2015. We are also doubling—by 1,600—the number of places on the family nurse partnership programme, which supports vulnerable young mothers over the same time scale. Sure Start children’s services also have a role to play.

The family nurse partnership has an exceptional record of successful intervention, particularly in the lives of young and vulnerable mothers. It has supported many thousands of them throughout the country through pregnancy and birth, and sustained the life chances of the child and the mother. I will quote a nice comment from one of the young women who were helped by this service. She said of her family nurse:

“Margaret doesn’t tell me what to do but helps me make good decisions about my baby, my life and how to be a great mum. I’m excited about my future and seeing my baby grow up. My partner and I became engaged last October and next year I start university”.

That is typical of a young life that has been turned round by effective intervention at a critical moment—not just the mother’s life but, critically, the life of her child also. We are delighted to support the family nurse partnership and to see it grow.

As expected, reference was made to midwives. It is vital to have the appropriate number of trained midwives available in the NHS. Since May 2010, the number has increased at twice the rate of the number of births. There are now 1,500 more midwives than in May 2010, and more than 5,000 in training who are due to qualify in the next three years. Obviously, Health Education England has been given a mandate by the Government in this area, but I completely accept the point about consistency of midwife care and support. That very good point was well made, and I will ensure that it is made to the NHS.

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Tracey Crouch: I am delighted to hear that there are 5,000 midwives in the training programme. Are they receiving dedicated bereavement training?

Jane Ellison: Again, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will respond to that question after the debate. I would not want to get the answer wrong.

We have touched throughout the debate on public health, which sits within my portfolio. National action must be complemented by local action. I mentioned the extraordinary range of indicators that I see regularly on issues such as drinking in pregnancy. It makes the case for why the transfer of responsibility for public health from the NHS to local government is sensible. We have backed that with £5.4 billion over two years, and a public health outcomes framework that focuses on health inequalities and key indicators in infant mortality such as low birth weight, which is associated with prematurity and is a significant cause of infant mortality and poor infant and child health.

Some of that local action is already being taken. My home city of Bradford has an excellent record in addressing infant mortality, despite having some of the worst outcomes. It established the Born in Bradford project, a long-term cohort study of 14,000 pregnant women and their children to improve understanding of health and sickness in babies and children, tracking their health throughout pregnancy and childhood into adult life.

In Salford, which is closer to home for the shadow Minister, the city council’s health improvement service offers activities to support new mums and children, including breastfeeding, weaning, exercise and socialising, and it is working to improve MMR vaccine uptake among black and minority ethnic and other groups, where uptake remains low despite our good national statistics.

In Birmingham, pregnancy outreach workers employed by the social enterprise, Gateway family services, tackle health inequalities in infant mortality by bridging the gap between women who need support and the agencies that provide it. Those are three illustrations of some of the imaginative projects that are under way. I hope we will see more and more local government adopting best

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national practice and responding to the particular challenges in their areas. Some of the contrasts are stark, and local government, which knows its communities well, is well placed to respond to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford referred to cot deaths. We have made reducing infant mortality an area of improvement for the NHS. Comprehensive advice to parents about reducing the risk of cot death is available on the NHS Choices website, which includes a wealth of other advice. In 2012, the NHS launched the Start4Life information service for parents. They can receive regular e-mails, videos and texts about pregnancy and the first eight months of their baby’s life. It is a free digital service to provide quality-assured advice at the right moments for parents, who can sign up online for it.

The Department has also included advice about the risk of sudden infant death in the Healthy Child Programme, which is the universal programme for all children from the start of life and includes preventive services for children with additional risks. Obviously, anything more we can do to highlight the available advice and support would be valuable, and Parliament has a great role to play in that regard, as do MPs in their constituencies, and local government. The advice is there, but the challenge is always to ensure that it gets to vulnerable groups, and accessing advice across a whole range of health information is difficult.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate, and other Members for their contributions. It further raises the profile of this vital issue of stillbirth and infant death. I assure the House that the Department is working collaboratively with partners, including charities such as Sands and Bliss, the royal colleges and others on a range of initiatives to help to reduce the number of tragic deaths. The Department is always open to new ideas and to working with partners throughout the health sector. We welcome these debates and the opportunity to engage further in any way that Members believe will help us to move forward in this vital area of policy for all our constituents.

3.56 pm

Sitting suspended.

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US Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (British Foreign & Commercial Policy)

4.8 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): I draw to the House’s attention that the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) and I are co-chairmen of the all-party group on Iran and that, in January, we were members of a parliamentary delegation to Iran.

This debate is not about the sanctions against Iran themselves, which the UK Government and Parliament have agreed to on an all-party basis; it is about the impact of US extraterritorial jurisdiction on British foreign and commercial policy. Its aim is to highlight the way in which US sanctions on Iran are in practice freezing out many services of UK-based banks and financial institutions, to prevent them and others from participating in commercial and trading activities with Iran that remain entirely lawful under the sanctions regimes of the UK, the EU, the UN and indeed the United States.

Here is the heart of the problem:

“humanitarian trade with Iran has always been permitted under both US and EU sanctions”.

I quote directly from a letter of 6 March to me from the Foreign Secretary. Such trade includes food and agricultural products, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and services. As the Foreign Secretary said in the same letter, however:

“many banks have been wary of processing the payments required. This has been driven in large part because of risk aversion to US banking sanctions”.

That risk aversion by banks based in the UK is entirely understandable. It is compounded by the fact that those banks cannot obtain greater certainty about the reaction of the US Government by looking at the black-letter text of the US sanctions regime. Nor, because they are non-US entities, do they enjoy any of the close connections that Washington DC offers big US corporations to obtain “comfort”, formal or informal, from the US Congress or Government. Rather, our financial institutions are subject to “guidance”, sometimes of an oral and confidential kind, from the US that, if they offer any banking services for any trades with Iran, they could find themselves in difficulties with the US authorities.

The pressure on our banks is intense. Most are so scared and so scarred that they will not provide banking services even where the trades are manifestly within the sanctions regime.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. The problem is illustrated by the fact that the Iranian chargé d’affaires, up to last month, could not even open a British bank account. May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, while he is talking about commercial issues, that what is clearly wrong is when humanitarian aid itself is being stopped because of the inability to get bank facilities? Is he going to develop and explore that point?

Mr Straw: I am indeed and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I will show that, in practice, the impact of sanctions is much worse against British trading of all kinds and banks than against any other banking operations.

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The impact of this unilateral extraterritorial jurisdiction of the US is especially discriminatory against UK-based financial institutions, because of their multinational nature. In contrast, for example, some German companies have banking services for their trade with Iran from a local Landesbank, which has no activity in the US. The US corporation Coca-Cola is able lawfully to sell its product in Iran and to use banking services for remittances by the Iranian franchise. A UK corporation in a similar situation would almost certainly find it far harder, if not impossible, to obtain such banking services here.

There is another example. For reasons of which the Minister is aware, I will not go into further details in public, but an Iranian entity in this country has seen all its banking services stopped, while an exactly similar Iranian entity operating in the United States has full access to the services of US banks.

The stark fact highlighted by the trade statistics is that the United Kingdom’s trade with Iran has been the hardest hit by far of any major European Union member, while, irony of ironies, US exports to Iran have scarcely been hit at all. As sanctions tightened, all EU countries saw their exports to Iran decline in the four years 2009 to 2012—in the EU as a whole, by 33.8%. But the United Kingdom’s exports in that period slumped by 73%, from $584 million to $159 million—the biggest fall by far. The US had the smallest fall, of just 11.3%, from $282 million to $250 million.

Let us go back to 2000. In contrast with the European Union as a whole and with Germany, France, Italy and the United States individually, the United Kingdom is the only nation whose exports to Iran were lower in 2012 than they were at the beginning of this century. In the United States’ case, a man from Mars might be forgiven for thinking that the United States had been on a modest export drive with Iran. Its exports in 2000 were worth $17 million; in 2012 they were worth $250 million; and they rose last year to $313 million.

The joint plan of action agreed between the E3 plus 3 and Iran, which came into force on 20 January, allows for some relaxation of the sanctions regime, but there is precious little evidence that that is making any significant difference for UK traders or banks, because of the threat, whether real or perceived, from the United States. This unacceptable situation is a direct challenge, I say to the Minister, to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. It is one that the United States Congress and Government would not tolerate for a moment were the situation reversed, yet the British Government preside over a catastrophic decline in our exports that is not required by sanctions and has not been suffered by any other nation, and then retreat into claiming that they cannot interfere in the “commercial decisions” of UK-based banks.

However, the circumstances that our banks face have been created not by the banks’ own “commercial decisions”, but by the actions of the United States Government. I say, with respect, to the Minister that it is time for the British Government to make it crystal clear to the US that, although we are four-square behind sanctions that they and we have agreed, we will not tolerate any longer the US preventing trading that is lawful under those sanctions and that it is itself carrying out. Effectively, it is preventing our traders from carrying it out.

The Government already have on the statute book clear powers to take counter-action against the United States if they cannot negotiate a satisfactory way through

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by getting the United States Government and their agencies to change their behaviour. I am referring to the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980, passed, as I recall, with all-party support by the Government of Margaret Thatcher. Introducing the Bill, the then Secretary of State for Trade, John Nott, told the Commons that its purpose was

“to reassert and reinforce the defences of the United Kingdom”

against attempts by the United States

“to enforce their economic and commercial policies unilaterally on us”


“the most objectionable method”


“the extra-territorial application of domestic law.”—[Official Report, 15 November 1979; Vol. 973, c. 1533.]

The Bill was prompted by decisions of US anti-trust regulators against UK shipping firms. The British and all European Governments took exception to that gratuitous interference. By the Act, the British Secretary of State is given power to prohibit any United Kingdom entity from complying with any extraterritorial sanction by the United States. Indeed, the power under section 2 makes it a criminal offence here to comply with what the US is trying to impose on our banks. The Act worked. It was used again in 1992 in respect of Cuba. It was followed in 1996 by similar, EU-wide regulations, which I think the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North will explain in more detail in a moment.

Ministers do not have to be frozen, blinking in the headlights of this unacceptable practice by the United States Government, which is inhibiting the lawful activity of British banks and hindering the step-by-step restoration of bilateral relations with Iran. The Government have strong powers, bequeathed to them by Margaret Thatcher, to deal with this situation. If Ministers make it clear that Her Majesty’s Government will be ready to use those powers if needed, their hand in negotiations will be strengthened, and with luck their use will not be necessary and we should be able to restore our trade at least to the trend set by the United States itself.

4.18 pm

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), my neighbour in Lancashire, on securing the debate. I am delighted to focus on the issue of extraterritorial sanctions. I recognise that this behaviour is a growing trend. It often emanates not from the US Executive, but from Congress, whose members would say in their defence, “It’s not our business how our laws and sanctions impact on other people. This is what I, as a US law maker, have a responsibility to my constituents to do.” However, we live in a globalised world; we live in a world of international trade; and we live in a world in which we are supposed to respect the international rule of law and trade deals.

I want briefly to take this back. It is not just about Iran. I want to take it back to Cuban cigars. I like a Cuban cigar from time to time, and many hon. Members may remember that in 1992 the United States passed the Cuban Democracy Act, which was followed closely by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. One might think that came from the Greater London council and Ken Livingstone, judging by its title. The

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effect of that legislation was to make anybody—US citizen, EU citizen or anyone else—who was involved in the trafficking of Cuban products guilty of an offence and prosecutable in the United States, or even to bar them from going to the United States. That was quite a formidable threat. It meant that an individual selling Cuban cigars in London who had a shop or an entity in the United States might be liable to prosecution. Even if they did not but they took a trip to America, they would be a trafficker of Cuban goods.

The European Union said that that was simply unacceptable and that a British citizen carrying out trade that was lawful under British and European law should not be a victim of such extraterritorial reach. In 1996, the EU passed a directive with the catchy title of Council regulation 2271/96 protecting against the effects of the extraterritorial application of legislation adopted by a third country, and actions based thereon or resulting therefrom. In effect, we are still obliged by the conditions of that regulation. It basically told European Union citizens and member states that, if they complied with an extraterritorial threat from a third country, they would be vulnerable to civil claims from people affected. For example, British banks could be sued by European citizens who were prevented from using their facilities in Iran, Cuba or anywhere else, and the banks would be liable to pay damages.

The regulation covered a number of Acts and it is still in existence today. Funnily enough, it worked. The United States adapted its legislation so that it covered only US citizens. If we were to put it in law, we would be saying, “We, as British law makers, do not really care about what American law makers think; our duty is to our constituents and to the sovereignty of this country, so we will make the decision, thank you very much.” That was in 1996, which was a long time ago. The annex to the regulation contains a list of Acts, and I am sure that, if the European Parliament were so minded, it could add more to that list. One that still resonates today is the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act 1996, which was recently modified to become the Iran Sanctions Act.

Some of those provisions are still in existence and we are still bound by the regulation. Will the Minister tell us why the United Kingdom Government are not enforcing the regulation as they are obliged to? Why are they not saying—perhaps they are—to the US and to third parties, “We are obliged to comply with the regulation, otherwise British banks, businesses and entities will be vulnerable to handing over sums of money to injured parties”?

We need to find a way through. We must speak to the United States and others engaged in such extraterritorial legislation to see whether we can drive a way forward. As far as I am concerned, I will soon be ringing up British banks and saying to them, “By the way, you are covered by this regulation.” I will recommend that anyone who comes to my surgeries invoke the regulation, if relevant legislation is listed in the annex, and seek damages. It is simply not good enough that we should be increasingly prohibited, even when we are doing things that are legal under British and European law and within a sanctions regime, for the sake of some far-off idea of protectionism elsewhere.

4.23 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance this afternoon,

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Mr Davies. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) on securing this important debate and, as always, on the detailed, measured and articulate way in which he set out his case.

Before I get into the granularity of some of the issues that he raises, I want to set out Her Majesty’s Government’s wider approach to tackling extraterritoriality, because it is an important issue. The impacts of extraterritorial application of another country’s domestic laws on UK businesses can be significant and are not always easy to measure or to cost. British Governments of all colours—both the current Government and their predecessor—have maintained their opposition to over-broad assertions of extraterritorial civil jurisdiction, including when the right hon. Gentleman was Foreign Secretary.

It is not that the UK is averse to legislating to regulate extraterritorial activity; we have done so ourselves in certain cases that concerned the actions of British nationals abroad, the most obvious example of which is the Bribery Act 2010. However, the UK has always opposed the exertion of jurisdiction by a foreign country over British nationals or businesses that have little or no connection to that country. In such cases, we consider that the UK or the state on whose territory the activity occurred should rightfully exercise jurisdiction. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, that has principally been an issue with regard to the United States. He will be aware, I hope, that the United States Supreme Court is not immune to such arguments, and has stated that

“even where the claims touch and concern the territory of the United States, they must do so with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application.”

Successive British Governments have taken an interest in seeking to ensure that US courts do not try to exert jurisdiction over cases that have no substantial links to the United States. Indeed, we have submitted amicus briefs in a number of cases to the US Supreme Court under the so-called alien tort statute, and the right hon. Gentleman may well be aware of the most recent cases involving Rio Tinto and Shell.

It is important to reiterate the importance that the UK Government attach to sanctions. I know that there is cross-party support from Members, including the right hon. Gentleman, for those sanctions. They are an essential tool of foreign policy and provide a means of coercing changes in behaviour, constraining ability to continue to behave in a particular way and signalling collective opposition to the actions of certain states or individuals. It is still Her Majesty’s Government’s view that that is the case, as has been evidenced by the reaction to the events recently in Ukraine.

I turn to Iran, which was the main focus of the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks. The international community has applied significant pressure to the Iranian economy through sanctions, because of the international concerns surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme. International sanctions, particularly the stringent measures put in place in recent years by the US and the EU, have brought Iran back to the negotiating table. I believe that sanctions have, therefore, been proven to be a vital tool in our attempts to resolve the Iranian nuclear question through peaceful means. I will drill down into what that means with specific relation to Iran in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) rightly raised the example of Cuba. In the case of Cuba, we and our EU partners have a

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very different view from the US on how best to engage. The US continues to impose a trade embargo and apply sanctions, but we do not feel that the US approach regarding sanctions is right and we have raised our objections with them. Clearly, however, US policy towards Cuba is a matter for the US authorities and not for the UK Government. Whereas British businesses and banks can trade freely with Cuba, the US has a sanctions regime. Companies must be fully aware of how their business is being transacted. Banks often use the US clearing systems—this goes right to the heart of the point my hon. Friend made—in which case they are subject to US laws. That is not extraterritorial application of the US-Cuban sanctions regime. We have made it clear for some time to British businesses that operate in Cuba that that is a risk that they should look to mitigate.

On the points the right hon. Member for Blackburn made about the impact of sanctions, it is important that the House understands the distinction between what is and what is not extraterritorial in nature. US sanctions impact on all businesses that operate through the US. Companies, including UK companies, that conduct business with sanctioned regimes must therefore ensure that, if their business goes through the US or there is a US link within the transactions, they comply with US law. That applies to Iran, Cuba and other regimes against which the US applies sanctions but the EU does not—for example, Sudan.

Mr Straw: I would like to make it clear that the principle of sanctions is not an issue; my concern is about their application. Does the Minister accept that, whichever way we look at the data, one cannot but come to the conclusion that United States practice and the way they pressure British banks is operating more harshly on our banks than on US banks and entities? That is the heart of the matter on which we want to see some action taken by the British Government.

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because it leads me on quite neatly to my next remarks. Before I move on, however, I must say that I do not think he can conflate the challenges that some UK banks have—we can come on to the specifics—with the whole range of issues that affect the bilateral trade relationship between the United Kingdom and Iran. For example, banks must consider other aspects in order to comply with regulatory authorities in the UK and the European Union, as well as in the US. Such considerations include anti-money laundering, concerns about counter-terrorism and all the other aspects that banks must consider when assessing risk and ensuring that they comply with the whole package of important regulatory regimes, US or otherwise.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to banks that have fallen foul of the US regime, but those cases concerned not extraterritorial sanctions but transactions that had a connection to US territory. The allegations were that the banks had directly violated US law by conducting business with Iran from the United States, and it is correct that those banks should respond to allegations that they have broken US regulations within US territory.

I want to move on to secondary or extraterritorial US sanctions, which are at the heart of the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks. Along with the European Union, we have taken steps to protect UK companies

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from such extraterritorial jurisdiction. The key to our approach to Iran is that our sanctions are so closely aligned with those of the US that the scope for such jurisdictional conflict is small. As I mentioned, we recognise the importance of US and EU sanctions in bringing Iran to negotiations.

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): I must say that I am rather disappointed with my hon. Friend the Minister’s response—I was hoping it would be rather more Thatcherite, if I can put it that way. It seems that the right hon. Member for Blackburn has a valid point: US trade with Iran is going up and British trade with Iran is being adversely affected. If that is happening, it is possible that the US intends that to happen. Will the Minister address that point?

Mark Simmonds: As I said in response to the right hon. Member for Blackburn, I do not think we can conflate the issues relating to the complexity of a bilateral trade relationship with alleged extraterritorial US sanctions. Many other issues are at stake—for example, the fact that the UK Government currently do not encourage or provide support for UK companies to trade with Iran. However, where trade is allowed under the existing sanctions regime—for example, within the scope of the humanitarian issues raised earlier, such as medicines and pharmaceuticals—the UK’s trade with Iran has increased by 80% since 2012. Where it is allowed within the sanctions regime, therefore, there is a significant uplift in UK trade.

I want to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North that we are implementing the EU regulation. The right hon. Member for Blackburn rightly mentioned the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980, but that cannot stop the US applying its laws to the US arm of a British multinational company. It stops the enforcement of US sanctions here in the UK, but cannot stop British businesses making commercial decisions on the basis of perceived risks in the United States.

Mr Wallace: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his clarification. Is he saying that a British bank choosing to trade in euros, and therefore not

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clearing through the United States, in order to carry out a transaction in correspondence function for an Iranian, Cuban or any other type of entity, based in London, should not fear any US sanctions? Does he also not recognise that, if they do business in euros and there is no transaction that touches the United States, it would be grossly wrong for the United States Administration to have a go at the US entity of the British parent company, because they have not broken any law in the United Kingdom or Europe?

Mark Simmonds: The Act to which reference was made—as well as the subsequent statutory orders, most recently updated in 1997—provides measures to protect British companies from the impact of, and prevent them from complying with, US sanctions. Judgments against UK companies that result from such sanctions, in the way that has been described, cannot be enforced in the UK. That sends a signal to the US that the EU is opposed to such an approach to sanctions.

What both the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North have described is a result as much of perception as of legal issues. It is true that all UK banks must ensure that they are taking a risk-based approach to transactions, and that they comply with relevant anti-money laundering and sanctions legislation. EU sanctions law does permit avenues through which certain types of key transactions with Iran can be made legitimately. Her Majesty’s Treasury works very closely with the financial sector to ensure that it is clear about applying for licences and authorisations that allow legitimate financial transactions involving Iran, particularly in the sphere of humanitarian trade, where the limit has recently been increased tenfold, since the agreement on the joint plan of action.

I am coming towards the end the time allotted for the debate, so I want to reiterate that our best approach must be to work with the US and others in seeking to minimise conflicting approaches. Although our objectives on particular policy issues vary on occasion, in most cases any difficulties arise from different regulatory approaches—we have similar objectives. That does not imply any loss of sovereignty: it is a clear UK foreign policy position.

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Rail Services (Eccles)

4.38 pm

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I am very pleased to have secured this debate—I am sure that my constituents will be happy—and it is good to see the Minister present.

Trains in Eccles have a long and proud history. When we opened the very first passenger railway, the Liverpool and Manchester railway, on 15 September 1830, Eccles played a part. It was actually a sad part, because tragically, on the day that the railway was launched, the Member of Parliament for Liverpool was struck by Stephenson’s Rocket. Stephenson managed to evacuate the injured MP, Mr Huskisson, to Eccles on a train, but sadly he did not recover from his injuries and died. Eccles therefore has a proud role in the history of the railways. However, that is the past, and my constituents are very concerned about the future of railway services in Eccles.

We have an amazing campaign group called Freccles, which I hope the Minister is aware of, because the Secretary of State, when he visited us recently to mark the beginning of the electrification of the Liverpool-Manchester line, met members of Freccles. The Secretary of State, in his subsequent correspondence to me, has been very complimentary about them. They are entirely a group of volunteers—Mr Stephen Clapham, Professor David Yates, Mr Sean Dunne, Mr Eoan Edwards and Ms Nina Keshishian—and they have been campaigning since 2005 to get an improved railway service at Eccles. They first came to see me in 2009, and together we have been campaigning for the past five years to get some progress.

We have a simple request. At the moment, Eccles station has an hourly service into Manchester. We are just a few miles outside Manchester and a thriving town in our own right. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) has Patricroft station in her constituency, where there are equally good campaign groups. We have an hourly service, and we are campaigning for two trains an hour—a half-hourly service. I would not have thought that, after five years of campaigning and bringing all our powers to bear, it was too much to ask. Unfortunately, we have made little progress over that period.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): The town of Eccles is split between my right hon. Friend’s constituency and mine—even though Eccles station is in her constituency—which is why I am here to support her debate.

Groups such as Freccles do a wonderful job in maintaining the fabric and look of that building. Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend agree that, beyond their excellent work in making those improvements, what they want more than anything is the half-hourly service? They already do brilliant volunteering, but the issue is not just about how the station looks, but about how the train service runs.

Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The group has regenerated the whole station. We have flowers on the platforms, a lovely entrance way

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and a mural; in fact, our station is better than the service. What we now need to do is ensure that the service lives up to the efforts of Freccles, which has done such a wonderful job.

We started in 2009. I wrote to Arriva Trains, which was operating the service between Manchester Piccadilly and Chester, asking for two trains an hour. It wrote back to me, saying, “The line is fairly congested. There is insufficient track capacity for additional stops without creating delay to other services. In addition, many of our trains are already very crowded on this route, and we would need to agree a strategy with the Department for Transport to secure sufficient rolling stock.” So, in 2009, we had little track capacity and overcrowded rolling stock, and Arriva Trains was not able to help us out.

Arriva directed me to Northern Rail, so we took the case up with that company. We had correspondence back and forth, culminating in a letter on 28 January 2011. Northern Rail gave me a much more detailed response, including the times of trains at key junctions and saying that it needed clearances of a specified number of minutes to be maintained. It said that it would not be technically feasible to insert an additional stop at Eccles station. It also talked about track capacity being limited at the Liverpool end of the route; apparently, if the train were to stop at Eccles station, it would result in the service passing Huyton junction around two minutes later, clashing with the eight minutes past the hour Wigan-Liverpool local service.

There were clearly a number of obstacles in our way, preventing a change to the system, and Northern Rail was also unable to help us. It said, “I am sorry that I cannot meet your aspiration to change the timetable on this occasion.” However, it told me that it was going to do new signage and some refurbishment. We therefore have new signage and refurbishment, but we do not have any trains.

Nevertheless, we persevered and had a number of meetings with the Greater Manchester transport executive. We also met with Salford city council, which has been supportive, and Transport for Greater Manchester. I have also been in correspondence with the Secretary of State to raise the issues.

I honestly believe that there is a good case for having two trains stopping at Eccles every hour. Over the past few years, the Eccles area has changed quite dramatically. MediaCity has now come to Salford, with the relocation of BBC and ITV. There is a lot of regeneration going on; we are about to have the regeneration of Port Salford in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South. Eccles station is now becoming much more of an interchange, signposting people to the Metrolink, which stops in Eccles and which has been able to open up the whole west side of Salford for regeneration.

Transport for Greater Manchester has a matrix on how many passengers a station must have to justify having two trains an hour. Over the past three years, the average number of passengers at Eccles station was 139,583. On TFGM’s analysis, if there are between 50,000 and 500,000 trips a year, the station is entitled to two trains an hour. The lower limit is 50,000, but we are at 140,000, so we more than meet that criterion.

TFGM said that, because Eccles station is an interchange with both Metrolink and bus services, it could justify a three-trains-an-hour, or even a four-trains-an-hour, service.

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It says that it has conveyed that view a number of times in its reports to the train operators, and it has met Freccles on a number of occasions.

We have been told time and again that the matter will be addressed in the new franchises that are being considered for train services in Greater Manchester and the north-west. We were hopeful that, when the line was electrified, journey times would be considerably shortened, enabling us to overcome the difficulties that Northern Rail set out—the tight time scales of trains passing one another, and there not being the minutes available in the timetable to do essential maintenance, or to manoeuvre rolling off to another siding before the train came back on. When we got electrification, we thought, “Well, at least this is a chance to achieve our aspirations.” However, we still do not have an agreement that we can have two trains an hour. The reason why I have secured this debate is that I am beginning to worry that the time scale is going on and on, and it is unacceptable.

We have now been told that a direct franchise for 22 months has been awarded, which runs from April 2014 to February 2016, after which there will be a completely new franchise. As I understand it, in that new franchise—I want the Minister to address this—there is a possibility to have more flexible commissioning in addition to the basic service. There is therefore a possibility in that new franchise to commission for two trains an hour to stop at Eccles station.

The consultation will begin this summer, as the Secretary of State has written to me to confirm. He also said that Freccles—and indeed I and my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South, as Members of Parliament—may make representations, which will be taken into account in drawing up the new franchise. He said, “I am pleased to note that Freccles are already working closely with Northern, a current operator,” and suggested that Freccles puts its views in for the 2016 franchise. He said, “This is because our specification for the full franchise may well give bidders flexibility to propose additional services over and above those we specify as requirements for the franchise.” Therefore, I can see just a glimmer of hope that, after nearly 10 years of campaigning to get a half-hourly service at Eccles, we might have the prospect of success.

Barbara Keeley: My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Taking into account her important point about passenger numbers and the access to employment that could be enabled by better train capacity, does she agree that the bigger reason why the Minister might want to consider is reduced traffic congestion? We have some of the most congested sections of motorway anywhere in the country, particularly the M60 ring road. The Highways Agency has been prevented from running its motorway widening scheme in those sections of the M60 as the air quality is too bad to tolerate any additional traffic. Motor traffic has nowhere to go, which adds to the powerful case she is making.

Hazel Blears: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the wider economic issues for Eccles and the surrounding areas, which are extremely important. As the Minister knows, rail connectivity can often be a driver of regeneration. We have a particular problem

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with housing shortage in this part of the Salford area. We have many applications for new housing but without proper transport links, including a rail link into the centre of Manchester, it is very difficult to satisfy those demands for housing development. I said that we have a number of big regeneration schemes coming on board and there are many applications for planning permissions to our local authority. Therefore, the economic case for having a decent rail service for commuters to get from Eccles into the centre of Manchester and home again in the evening is absolutely essential.

My hon. Friend mentioned reducing congestion and emissions. Rail is a much more climate-friendly way to travel, as we all know. In fact, there has been a big push by Governments of all political opinions to get people off the roads and on to the rail service, which has been very successful. I think that there has been a 30% increase in the number of people travelling by rail in Greater Manchester, which has helped both the economy and in terms of emissions and the atmosphere.

There is an overwhelming case for the increase from an hourly service to a half-hourly service; as I have said, it is not too much to ask for. When the Minister responds, I hope that he can give me some hope that in the consultation for the 2016 franchise we will at last be able to get that service for local people. It meets the criteria that have been set out in TFGM’s assessment and it can now happen in a practical way, because of electrification and the changes to the timetable. If we are to achieve the economic benefits as well as improve the convenience of local people, it is absolutely essential that we put the half-hourly service into place. It is very rare that there is a situation where virtually every part of the system—the operators, TFGM, the local MPs and the local people—is saying that a change should happen, and therefore it cannot be beyond our wit to put that plan into practice.

I started this debate by saying that trains in Eccles have a proud history, as they do. The members of the Freccles campaign group have been working away on this issue for many years now and I want them to have some assurance that their campaigning, their commitment and the fact that they have given their own personal time to make this change happen and to improve the station in the way that they have will be rewarded with a decent service that they can rely on.

It is simple for the Minister. What do we want? We want two trains an hour. When do we want it? Before 2018. I hope that he is able to give us some assurance on that.

4.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): Thank you, Mr Davies, for calling me to speak. I also thank the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) for securing this afternoon’s debate. My goodness, she is persuasive, isn’t she? She has raised a subject of interest to many of her constituents and others. I hope to address some of the points that she has raised.

The people of Eccles are served by a station that opened on the Liverpool and Manchester railway in September 1830—the world’s first major inter-city passenger railway. They have considerable pride in their local station, although we heard from the right hon. Lady about the tragic circumstances of the opening of the

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line. That local pride is demonstrated by the passion of the Friends of Eccles Station, which she has spoken about today.

By the way, I wonder whether George Stephenson had the same problems building his railway line as we are having building the High Speed 2 line. In Stephenson’s time, the major argument deployed against rail was, “Why do we need a railway when we have got the canals to use?”

Hazel Blears: I can help the Minister with that query. Apparently, Robert Stephenson had the same problems. He brought a Bill forward in the House of Commons; it was rejected; there was a revised Bill for a new alignment; and the revised alignment had a problem crossing Chat Moss, which was apparently a bottomless peat bog. I have no doubt that Stephenson faced exactly the same difficulties that the Minister might face in the future, but he persevered, had determination and got there in the end. I am sure that the Minister will want to do the same.

Mr Goodwill: “Plus ça change,” as I am tempted to say. I am told that only one thing is more difficult than building a new railway line: closing an existing one.

I welcome the investment made at Eccles station during 2013, which included a brand new ticket office building. That £235,000 project was funded by the national station improvement scheme, with contributions from TFGM and Salford City council. It provides a waiting area that offers much-improved facilities for passengers, and a raised section of platform—I am told it is called a “Harrington Hump”—has been provided on the eastbound platform. That will reduce the stepping distance from the platform to trains at Eccles, making it easier for people with reduced mobility or those with baggage or pushchairs to board trains to Manchester.

Northern Rail is installing a cycle hub at Eccles, which is due for completion next month. Having said all that, I understand that having a waiting room is no good if people have to wait too long for their train.

In July 2013, the Secretary of State for Transport unveiled a plaque at Eccles to commemorate the substantial completion of the first phase of electrification of the Liverpool and Manchester Chat Moss route. I commend the efforts of the volunteers who form the Friends of Eccles Station group, which has made such a contribution to improving the environment at Eccles station and promoting the benefits offered by the local railway, working with Northern Rail’s client and stakeholder manager and others.

Freccles, as we have to call the group, is just one of the groups of friends, station adopters and community rail partnerships made up of local people who volunteer their time and energy to improve their local stations and promote train services in the north of England.

Barbara Keeley: I did not want to let the Minister mention Freccles, an excellent group that does great work, without also mentioning Friends of Patricroft Station, a station near Eccles. That group is also campaigning for two trains an hour, as well as for the implementation of Sunday services. For some of these stations, a Sunday service would mean everything. It

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seems crazy to build up the numbers of passengers and the footfall during the week without having a Sunday service.

Mr Goodwill: It seems that there is not a friendless station in Lancashire. These volunteers who we have heard about make a considerable contribution at Eccles, other stations in the north and right across the Northern Rail network.

I am aware that Freccles wishes to see additional train services calling at both Eccles and Patricroft. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), who also mentioned air quality issues in a brief intervention, wrote to the Secretary of State on this subject on 7 March.

I appreciate the view of Freccles that additional trains at Eccles could provide local people with a broader range of direct journey opportunities to Liverpool, Chester, north Wales and Manchester airport for work and leisure. That would make it easier for people to travel to work opportunities by train, including the opportunities at Manchester airport and the growing Media City in Salford.

Local train services at Eccles and Patricroft are sponsored and specified by TFGM, which is a co-signatory to the Northern Rail franchise agreement. The Government believe that TFGM, as the local transport authority, is well placed to decide how best to deliver local transport to serve new employment opportunities such as those at Media City, and to offer sustainable and convenient journeys that bring economic benefits and access to jobs and leisure, while helping to reduce carbon emissions from transport.

The railway industry has to develop services that best balance the competing needs and aspirations of all passengers within the capacity of the infrastructure and the funding available. A balance has to be struck between people making local journeys, who wish for trains to call at a number of stations, and other passengers making longer journeys, who are attracted to the train because it can offer a quick journey between main city centres. It is for train operators to decide, in partnership with TFGM, whether there is an appropriate business case for their existing train services to make additional calls at Patricroft and Eccles stations.

Although there may be little obvious cost in an existing express train stopping at those stations, operators have to consider whether the additional fare revenue from new passengers is likely to cover the increased use of fuel and other industry costs. There would also be an impact for existing passengers from extending journey times. By offering quick journey times, express trains offer people a competitive alternative to other modes of transport.

An additional station call would require changes to the timetable, as a station call typically adds two or three minutes to a train’s journey. At busy junctions around Manchester, slowing a train by only a few minutes could mean that it arrives at the same time as a train that is currently running behind it or one that crosses the junction in a conflicting move. The railway infrastructure around Manchester Piccadilly is used to full capacity at peak times. Additionally, train operators need to consider how busy their existing trains are. For example, would a greater number of passengers making short journeys on an existing train lead to those making longer journeys having to stand?

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Hazel Blears: I am listening carefully to the Minister, and I am afraid he is not giving me a great deal of hope—my heart is not fluttering and I do not feel that, after 10 years, we might be making some progress. These are exactly the same arguments that I have been pursuing for the past few years with Arriva and Northern, and they would not change the situation because of financial reasons. Then there were issues about the time scale, and about the two minutes here and there. I understand that those are all genuine matters, but TFGM said in its letter to me that it shares our frustration and wants to get two trains per hour at “the earliest opportunity” possible. It also says that the Department for Transport is launching the consultation.

I am afraid I am asking the Minister for more than his simply saying that the issue has nothing to do with the Department and it is all a local matter, because, clearly, he has overarching responsibility. I should like to hear from him that he agrees that we have an excellent business case for making sure that we get these trains.

Mr Goodwill: I am merely outlining the problems, although they are not insurmountable. A balance needs to be struck between the needs of the express passengers, who want a quick journey, and passengers who may wish to stop at intermediate stations.

Passenger demand on Northern services has increased by more than 40% since 2004 and its trains are now used by some 85 million passengers per year. In the same period, passenger numbers at Eccles have doubled, as they have on TransPennine Express services. Such increases in demand for trains and track capacity are among the reasons why the Government are investing more than £500 million in the northern hub scheme over the next few years. That will increase capacity on the railway network serving Manchester and the cities of the north of England, enabling more trains to be operated in 2014, with further capacity improvement and more electrification due to come into use in 2016.

The right hon. Lady knows that Government investment in the railways of the north-west includes electrification of the lines between Liverpool and Manchester via Newton-le-Willows and Eccles, and from Liverpool to Wigan and Manchester to Preston and Blackpool North via Bolton. The first phase saw TransPennine Express introduce a fleet of 10 brand new four-coach electric trains between Manchester and Scotland, running via Wigan North Western. These entered service from 30 December 2013, with the full fleet now delivered.

From May 2014, TransPennine Express will provide additional carriages across its network, increasing overall capacity by 30%. That will include non-stop expresses between Liverpool and Manchester for the first time in several decades. These new train services will offer probably the fastest and most frequent express trains ever to run along the original Liverpool and Manchester railway.

Network Rail is nearing completion of the work for the next phase of electrification from Newton-le-Willows to Liverpool. Electric trains will be able to operate along the Chat Moss line from December. Some two years later, in late 2016, electric trains will be able to use the route from Manchester to Blackpool North via Bolton, too. That is all part of the Government’s massive electrification and investment project, providing more than 850 miles of electrification, which I probably do

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not need to remind the right hon. Lady is 842 miles more than delivered by the previous Labour Government in respect of improving our railways.

Although subject to reaching agreement, it is expected that a small number of train services between Liverpool and Manchester via the Chat Moss route will be provided using cascaded electric trains from the start of the December 2014 timetable. The planned phased introduction of four-coach electric trains will enable the operator to provide electric trains offering additional capacity for passengers travelling to Eccles and Patricroft during 2015.

Hazel Blears: I trust that the Minister will conduct the rest of this debate in the consensual way that has prevailed so far, otherwise I might be tempted to offer a different tone. Transport for Greater Manchester said:

“In the immediate short term, the major concern within TfGM is that the Department for Transport…has not confirmed when and how many electric units will come north to operate services over the newly electrified…line from this December.”

Will the Minister say how many are coming, to enable us to have that capacity?

Mr Goodwill: I will have to write to the right hon. Lady with precise details. I would not want to mislead the Chamber by giving the incorrect figure.

If agreed, it is hoped that the introduction of electric trains will enable a small number of the diesel trains used today to move to other routes. It is hoped that that will enable additional places to be provided for passengers travelling from Bolton and local stations on that line to Manchester at peak times, from the December 2014 timetable change.

Investment is being made on the Chat Moss route, to reinstate two tracks between Roby and Huyton that were removed in the 1970s. Initially, there will be a third track, but in a few years’ time, a new section of four-track railway will enable express trains to overtake local services, increasing capacity and reducing journey times.

In conclusion, we welcome the popularity of the railway in the north of England. Although I recognise that that has led to some services becoming very busy, the Government are investing to provide more, longer trains and to introduce electric trains and reduce journey times. I have outlined how the Government are working with operators and stakeholders to deliver increased capacity to the railway network, so that operators are able to provide passengers with more carriages and new, improved train services over the next few years. I hope to see electric trains calling at Eccles before the end of 2015, with operators working with TFGM and other local stakeholders to offer a more frequent service where there is a business case for doing so.

Hazel Blears: My heart fluttered a little when the Minister said “before the end of 2015”. Does that mean that he foresees the possibility, by the end of 2015, of two trains an hour—a half-hourly service—rather than the hourly service that we have now?

Mr Goodwill: The right hon. Lady mentioned this summer’s consultation and the opportunity that the new franchise may present. Let us hope that I have also seen that glimmer of hope, too, and let us hope that, in this case, it is not a false dawn.

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I thank the right hon. Lady again for bringing this matter to my attention. If enthusiasm was a way of getting this matter pushed through, she would certainly have the train already. I appreciate that it is difficult for people to plan their lives around a train service that runs only on the hour. I have a similar problem with the Northern Rail service to Whitby in my constituency, where there is also a campaign for a second train, to give us an early morning service. The problems faced in Eccles are not confined to the western side of the country; they are also encountered in my constituency.

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I appreciate the opportunity to make the case and to respond to the right hon. Lady’s points, and I look forward to seeing what developments come in future.

Question put and agreed to.

5.7 pm

Sitting adjourned.