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As became clear in one of our exchanges on Monday following the statement by the Secretary of State for Health, hospital structures throughout the world vary. Most intensive care units in France and the USA comprise single-patient rooms, whereas most ICUs in the UK comprise open, multi-bed units, which are often linked to high infection rates. We therefore need to have tools available to combat the threat from antibiotic-resistant organisms, which differ from country to country.

At the moment, Bioquell is involved in the decontamination of health care facilities around the world that have housed Ebola patients. Those include three hospitals in the United States, as well as hospitals in the UK, France and Holland. Recently, 20 of the company’s single-patient room Pods have been deployed in the middle east to help a hospital combat the spread of viruses. A small technology company from Andover—this ties in with my hon. Friend’s third point—is therefore leading specialist decontamination work in Europe and the US, helping to combat Ebola through the provision of safe single rooms.

I ask the Minister for an assurance that the contribution companies such as Bioquell can make will not be overlooked. The NHS is sometimes slow to adopt new technology, but when it faces substantial capacity and cost pressures due to an ageing population, the adoption of new technology must form a key part of the solution to those ever-growing pressures.

We rightly celebrate our knowledge-based economy. My hon. Friend the Minister’s Department has done much to export life sciences, to encourage med-tech industries and to generate export earnings. In return, however, the Government must support British innovation in the NHS. It is unrealistic to expect companies to be successful at exporting if they do not have a robust domestic market.

I end with the point my hon. Friend made about public interest. I hope the debate he has initiated will begin to drive the issue up the agenda, and bring home to the public and, I suspect, many of our colleagues the real threat antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose to the NHS. I do not think our colleagues appreciate that, with these new strains of bacteria, the NHS faces a major challenge, with high associated death rates, and no effective antibiotics exist. Unchecked, these bacteria will limit the ability of the NHS to provide many of the life-saving procedures we all take for granted, and the costs to the NHS will increase substantially. That means there must be a positive response to Jim O’Neill and active engagement with companies at the cutting edge of research in this field so that we can begin the fight back against these antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair): Order. Before I call Jim Shannon, may I say that the winding-up speeches will start at 3.40 pm? Three hon. Members wish to make a contribution, and I hope that can be borne in mind.

3.12 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. It is always nice to speak on health issues in this hall. It is also nice to see the Minister in her place—we seem to be here regularly discussing health issues—and I look forward to her response.

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First, I thank the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) for bringing this issue forward for discussion and for his introduction. The issue is of the utmost importance, and, despite the warnings about it, some people still want to bury their head in the sand like the ostrich—“If you put your head in the sand, the car won’t run you down.” Antibiotic resistance is a serious issue but, for some reason, some people—perhaps many people —are under the illusion that if we do not talk about it, it will not happen. However, it is happening right now, and we should all be extremely worried about it. That is why the debate is important. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) both mentioned the example of the grazed knee—in the past, it was not an issue, but it could be in the future, and people could end up dying from it.

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of a germ to prevent an antibiotic from working against it, and it is a global problem. It is also part of the reason why, in recent years, we have been warned over and over again to take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. That is a serious issue, which we must address. Although we cannot become resistant to antibiotics themselves, because they are designed to target germs not cells, antibiotic resistance is a major health problem, and we already face the reality of having fewer choices of effective drugs with which to treat basic illnesses.

Some 70% of the world’s bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics. Unfortunately, we are now in the position of considering drugs of last resort. Before we are at the stage when only one antibiotic is left that can do the business, we need to think ahead. Other Members have talked about the pharmaceutical industry and the development of new drugs, and that is important. The more a drug is used to treat germs, the more resistance they develop. For example, just a few years after penicillin was developed, resistance to it was found in Staphylococcus aureus, in the skin. After years of heavy use, several species of bacteria are now resistant to penicillin. However, the biggest problem facing us is the development of multi-resistant germs, which are resistant to a large range of antibiotics. As they begin to develop, effective treatments become difficult. In that respect, I declare an interest as a type 2 diabetic. Every year, I am eligible for a flu jab to help me combat colds and flu. Some years it does, but some years it does not—I am not quite sure why—but, again, that shows there is resistance to the jab used to deal with flu and the cold bugs out there.

We have been advised to follow some simple instructions to try to prevent germs from becoming immune to our medicines. The advice includes getting antibiotics only when absolutely necessary, and it falls to our GPs to know when that is. Other advice includes washing our hands regularly, finishing a course of antibiotics as advised and ensuring that antibiotics are taken only by the person they have been prescribed for. Finally—I hope the Minister can give us some indication of what is being done on this—GPs should not prescribe antibiotics for colds and flu, because they are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Sometimes GPs need to have a better focus on what is best. Do people always need an antibiotic, or do they need something different?

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend agree that we require an educational process—from the Government, to GPs, to pharmaceutical

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companies and to the wider public—to ensure that we do not face an Ebola-type position, where we are trying to play catch-up and the end result is many deaths?

Jim Shannon: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. As always, he succinctly puts the issue into perspective. We are all aware of Ebola, although we are not talking about it today. The question is how we resist such bacteria.

When it comes to viruses and bacteria, most of the pieces of advice I mentioned are simple enough for us to follow. However, the two most important, which involve access to drugs, relate to doctors, and my hon. Friend referred to that. Undoubtedly, we need to encourage greater awareness through media campaigns and posters in doctors’ surgeries, and by educating our children and young people. This is all about knowledge and awareness.

The findings from the World Health Organisation are quite disturbing. In May 2014, it warned that we should expect “many more deaths” because dishing out too many antibiotics

“will make even scratches deadly”.

That is the point many people are making. Over the years, antibiotics have been used properly to extend our lives, but now we are at grave risk of turning the clock back on medicine, with the World Health Organisation claiming that antibiotic resistance has the potential to be worse than the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, which was responsible for 25 million deaths worldwide.

The importance of necessary prescriptions cannot be underestimated. In England last year, 41.7 million prescriptions were written out, up from 37.2 million in 2006. The World Health Organisation looked at data from 114 countries on seven major types of bacteria, and the results showed that we have reason to be most concerned about the bacteria that cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections, diarrhoea and gonorrhoea—the hon. Member for Inverclyde referred to sexually transmitted diseases.

As people become infected by resistant superbugs, they are likely to need to remain in hospital for longer than would normally be required. That may also result in their being moved to intensive care. Both those things cost the NHS money, which is simply not an option in this economic climate.

Medicine is amazing, and we are blessed to have the NHS, which is so efficient and helpful. What has been achieved over the last 100 years is astounding. However, our generation has come to rely on tablets. We are all busy, and with work and families it is not always practical to take time off, but the convenience of taking a tablet to reduce our recovery time is beginning to have adverse effects. Unfortunately, while bacteria were getting smarter, we were loading ourselves up with antibiotics. If one did not work we got another one, and if that did not work we got yet another. Now bacteria are outsmarting us, and there are few new antibiotics in the pipeline.

Although we bear responsibility for our own health, and must ensure that when prescribed an antibiotic we take it properly, much of the responsibility lies with general practitioners. They must prescribe such drugs only when absolutely necessary, and they must prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics suitably, making sure that the selection, dosage and duration are correct. That is a clear role for the GP to play. It is vital to review and renew our campaign to research and assess microbiological

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data, with the aim of preventing any more bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotics. Perhaps in that way we will find a way to reverse their immunity, and ensure that the drugs that we are using are not those of last resort.

3.21 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) on taking the lead in the debate, and in the House previously. I congratulate, too, hon. Members from all parties, on setting out the issues clearly.

I want to concentrate on the second action point set out by my hon. Friend—a global network. I shall take malaria as an example—I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases—and will speak about what happened when resistance to malaria drugs spread around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. The drug that was most effective until then for the standard treatment of malaria was chloroquine. Quinine was of course a last resort, but chloroquine was used by most people. Resistance cropped up, initially in south-east Asia, spreading throughout sub-Saharan Africa, until there was little that most people who caught malaria could do, besides hoping it would be effective. In many cases it was not.

A new class of drugs was discovered, based on artemisinin, and a network called Medicines for Malaria Venture was set up. The previous Government were instrumental in setting up and supporting it, and the present Government have continued substantial support for it. As a result, even in 2008 there was a reasonable antimalarial drug pipeline. A couple of days ago in this place I had the pleasure of launching our group’s 2014 report, which had some helpful financial support from the Medicines for Malaria Venture. The pipeline has grown substantially in the six years since 2008. It has been remarkable to see not only that drugs have been coming through the pipeline, but that four of the six most commonly effective antimalarials at present have resulted from the venture. That is an example of what can be done by a multinational network, with Britain taking the lead. I urge the Minister to consider such an approach for antibiotics.

The chief medical officer, among others, has rightly referred to antibiotic resistance as a threat equivalent to the threat from terrorism. We see our work in international development as a means to combat many of the sources of terrorism. Unemployment around the world is a breeding ground for people who want to peddle violent and hateful dogmas. Where people have no jobs, ISIL uses that as an excuse to commit terrible acts. Terrorism is a threat, and so is antibiotic resistance. The problem is a global one, and relates to the global public good. Dealing with it would help the poorest in the world more than anyone else, and we could easily justify using overseas development assistance funding from the Department for International Development, alongside commercial and public health service funding, to fund a network such as the one I described. I urge the Minister to take as broad as possible an approach when she considers what sources of funding could be used to confront the threat. It cannot be exaggerated.

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3.25 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I am thrilled that despite my breaking two rules in a short time when I walked into the Chamber you are still allowing me to speak in the debate, Mr Chope. It is a pleasure to follow all the speeches, which have covered virtually all the angles. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) for securing the debate, and for the speech he made.

There is a depressing but nevertheless welcome consensus that we are losing our antibiotics to resistance, and effectively losing modern medicine as we know it. Notwithstanding the threat of Ebola it is hard to imagine a bigger health threat. The World Health Organisation has described antibiotic resistance as a bigger crisis than the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. If we lose antibiotics we risk the return of a time when basic operations will be deadly. I used to wonder what it would take to wake up the British establishment to that appalling threat. For years virtually nothing seemed to be done to combat the extraordinary phenomenon of antibiotic resistance. I thought, naively, perhaps, that once the health establishment blew the whistle, everyone else would fall into line and, fortunately, the health establishment has been blowing the whistle very loudly. We have heard various quotations today of the apocalyptic language of the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies. I think she has even used the term “apocalypse”. She has said that if we do not take action, deaths will go up and up, and modern medicine will be lost.

That is of course already beginning to happen. It is not a futuristic scenario. In 2006 there were just five cases in which patients failed to respond even to last-resort antibiotics in this country. Last year the number was 600. I know that there has been some action and I do not mean to disparage that. In March last year the Cabinet Office confirmed that it would examine the question of resistance as a national security issue. In September of that year it released an outline UK five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy. The Government have since set up a high-level steering group, chaired by Dr Felicity Harvey, the director general, public health, to implement the strategy once it is released, which I think will be later this year. All that is good news, and it is possible that the strategy will match the urgency of the situation. However, I am afraid that there are worrying signs that it will not.

Yes, there will be renewed efforts to develop new drugs, which is crucial. I was thrilled to hear the Prime Minister’s response to a question on the subject, during Prime Minister’s questions, when he briefly outlined the Government’s commitment to supporting the development of new drugs. That is obviously a prerequisite to solving the problem. There is nothing in the pipeline at all, and, as existing drugs become ineffective, we clearly must hope for new developments and do all that we can to facilitate them. There will also be renewed efforts to limit the inappropriate use of antibiotics in human medicine. That subject has been covered and I shall not dwell on it today. However, so far, successive Governments, including the present one, have resolutely avoided confronting a part of the problem that is not only huge but avoidable.

It is worth repeating that from day one, when Alexander Fleming accepted his part of the Nobel prize, he issued a dire warning. We have heard the quotation and I will

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not repeat it. The simple reality is that we have completely ignored that warning, more or less from the day he issued it. Instead of treasuring that miracle cure, we have squandered it—not just in hospitals but on intensive farms, and not just to treat sick animals but to keep animals alive in conditions where they otherwise would struggle simply to survive. That is not just a niche concern; 50% or thereabouts of the antibiotics that we use in this country are used on farms and it is even more in the United States and some other countries. Overall use per animal on UK farms is 18% higher today than it was a decade ago. That is disproportionately true of those antibiotics that are critical to human health.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making an important point: since tetracycline and penicillin-based antibiotics have been banned as growth promoters for farm animals, the use of tetracyclines has up gone tenfold and the use of penicillins has gone up fivefold. This is not a party political point: there is something that the Government can do immediately about that situation, which is to monitor and study it with a view to reducing the excessive use of antibiotics on farms.

Zac Goldsmith: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and will come on to that briefly—I am going to try to keep my remarks short. That is exactly the point. Many people felt that the ban on the use of growth promoters back in—actually, I forget the year, but I think it was 15 years ago, although I may have got that wrong and am happy to be corrected—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): It was in 2006.

Zac Goldsmith: It was eight years ago, then. Many people felt that ban heralded the beginning of the phase out of the routine prophylactic use of antibiotics on farms, but, as the hon. Gentleman just pointed out, use has continued to increase across the board and disproportionately with regard to those antibiotics that are critically important. Given that the antibiotics used in veterinary and human medicine are closely related it is impossible to believe that that increase has not contributed to antibiotic resistance and the transfer of resistant bacteria from animals to humans.

The problem is that the industry has dug its heels in and contested the link. We have been told that there is no proof, but we know that resistant bacteria can be passed to humans on food, through the environment, directly via raw meat and so on. Some strains of resistant bacteria can mix with human strains and pass on resistant genes. For example, E. coli in animals is different from E. coli in humans, but we know that resistance can be and is transferred between animals and humans.

The industry also says that levels of resistance on intensive farms are no different from those on extensive farms, but two reports from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have shown that resistance is 10 times lower on organic farms. The industry says there is no problem because antibiotics have to be prescribed by vets and everything is handled responsibly, but more often than not it is the feed mills that place orders for antibiotics rather than the farmers themselves. Finally, we are told that the use of antibiotics is necessary for the provision of cheap food. Perhaps

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that is the case, but that food will feel a hell of lot less cheap if the cost that society has to pay is the loss of modern medicine.

A briefing has been sent out to a number of MPs by the industry body RUMA—the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance—saying:

“Fluoroquinolones are rarely used in poultry in the UK.”

RUMA has stated that as fact in response to the points that I and others have raised today. But on 8 September, a few days before that briefing was released, I met representatives of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, who told me that the British Poultry Council has so far refused to provide any kind of data on antibiotic use at all. How the industry body RUMA can make such a bold and plain statement is beyond me—I suspect it is simply nonsense.

The experts take a different view from that of the industry. Sir Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer before Dame Sally Davies, went so far as to say that

“every inappropriate or unnecessary use on animals or agriculture is potentially signing a death warrant for a future patient.”

The European Food Safety Authority said last year that it is a

“high priority to decrease the total antimicrobial use in animal production in the EU.”

The Minister’s predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), told me after a debate on the same subject last year:

“Routine prophylactic use of antibiotics in both humans and animals is not acceptable practice”

and that she would be writing to DEFRA

“to ensure that existing veterinary guidance makes that very clear.”

I do not doubt the commitment of the chief medical officer—I am a wild fan of hers, as I know many hon. Members here are. I have not read her book yet, but I will do; I have read much of her writing. I have also met Dr Felicity Harvey and seen the seriousness with which she takes the issue. But so far, at least, DEFRA seems to be dragging its feet. There has been no sense of urgency in any of the meetings I have had, and any response I have had from DEFRA has been far more likely to mirror the industry line than anything the experts have said. The body language of DEFRA as a Department is almost completely defensive.

Thanks to the Netherlands and other countries we no longer have any excuse to stall. The Netherlands has seen a 50% reduction in livestock antibiotic use and expects a 70% reduction by 2015. It has phased out almost completely the use in agriculture of critically important antibiotics. There has been similar action in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. As I understand it, even the US, the land of agribusiness—it is where it was invented—has banned the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry.

The UK has no such targets or aspirations, and it is time that changed. We need to stop hearing excuses about lack of data that the industry has not provided and require those data to be collected. That is a prerequisite, as the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said earlier. If the five-year strategy is to be taken seriously when it is eventually produced, it must provide a pathway to ending the routine prophylactic use of antibiotics on farms. That is now a black and white issue. In addition, the strategy must provide a pathway

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to an eventual ban—ideally, sooner rather than later—on the use on farms of antibiotics that are critically important to humans. Those two measures are the least we can expect from the five-year plan if we are to have any hope at all of combating a threat that the World Health Organisation has compared to the threat of AIDS.

3.34 pm

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I also extend my thanks to the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) for securing this critical debate. He has done a great deal of work on raising the profile of antimicrobial resistance since he entered this place in 2010. Like him, and every other Member who has spoken today, I understand the issues at stake if we do not do everything within our power to tackle this threat. As well as being a shadow Health Minister, I am also chair of the all-party parliamentary group on antibiotics, which is co-chaired by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who has just made a superb contribution to the debate. The hon. Member for York Outer did an excellent job in setting out the scale of the challenge that we face today.

The APPG on antibiotics was formed in June 2013 specifically to raise the profile of antibiotic resistance. Through working with key stakeholders and experts on the issue, we hope to build a cross-party consensus on tackling the threat of AMR. Before moving on, I want to praise the work of Professor Laura Piddock and the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. That organisation works tirelessly to highlight the threat of antibiotic resistance; without it, the APPG might not even exist.

In the foreword to the document “UK Five Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy 2013 to 2018”, Dame Sally Davies gave a concise explanation of the scale of the challenge that we currently face:

“There are few public health issues of greater importance than antimicrobial resistance…in terms of impact on society. This problem is not restricted to the UK. It concerns the entire world and requires action at local, national and global level. AMR cannot be eradicated but a multi-disciplinary approach involving a wide range of partners will limit the risk of AMR and minimise its impact for health, now and in the future.

The harsh reality is that infections are increasingly developing that cannot be treated. The rapid spread of multi-drug resistant bacteria means that we could be close to reaching a point where we may not be able to prevent or treat everyday infections or diseases.”

Her sentiments and judgment have been echoed by scientist after scientist and medical professional after medical professional. Dame Sally Davies must be commended on her commitment and work on this issue—I am pleased so many hon. Members have recognised that today—and her leadership should be applauded. The Government must take heed of what she says and take the actions she recommends.

A report published on 10 October by Public Health England, “English surveillance programme for antimicrobial utilisation and resistance”, highlights that the problem is already real now and, as Members have observed today, is getting worse. Antibiotic prescriptions are rising—they increased by 6% in the past three years alone. At the same time, resistant bacterial infections are also on the

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rise. Resistant E. coli infections have risen by 12% since 2010. Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England told the BBC recently:

“We know that less than 1% of bacteria are extremely multi-drug resistant at the moment…But in countries like India they are approaching 10% to 20% of individuals they are not able to treat effectively with the antibiotics.”

The threat is real and we all agree that something must be done; inaction cannot be tolerated.

The Science and Technology Committee published its report, “Ensuring access to working antimicrobials”, on 7 July. At Health questions on 15 July, responding to the hon. Member for York Outer, the Minister said that the Government would publish their response to that report in September. We are now into October, so I hope she will explain when that response will be ready.

Government action is overdue. With that in mind, I would be grateful if the Minister would update Members on the progress made towards the three strategic aims and the seven key areas for future action as prescribed in the chief medical officer’s report on the five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy. The three aims were to improve the knowledge and understanding of AMR, to conserve and steward the effectiveness of existing treatments and to stimulate the development of new antibiotics, diagnostics and novel therapies. Will she explain how the findings by Public Health England on increasing antibiotic usage and increasing proliferation of resistant bacteria square with the first of those strategic aims? According to the five-year plan, the aims were informed by the 2011 European Union AMR strategic report, so we should recognise that we are already behind the curve.

The Government seem no closer on the third aim, the development of new antibiotics, although I recognise that that is a difficult problem to solve. The Science and Technology Committee report states that

“the Government needs to work with researchers, investors, small and medium sized enterprises, large pharmaceutical companies and other Governments to urgently identify appropriate economic models that might encourage the development of new antimicrobials.”

Since the Prime Minister’s announcement of the commission to review the situation we have heard nothing further from the Government. I hope that the Minister will be able to give assurances that the review, which will clearly take some years, will not be simply a substitute for any action that could be taken immediately and that, in giving those assurances, she will explain what action the Government are taking in the meantime and what discussions they—or officials, critically—have had with the stakeholder groups highlighted by the Committee’s report.

It is clear that this is an international issue that requires work across Governments. We warmly welcome the G8’s commitment to tackling it, but it is clear that more needs to be done. It cannot be solved simply by eight countries acting by themselves; wider engagement is needed. Will the Minister therefore update Members present on discussions with counterparts throughout the world and the actions that are being taken internationally?

Finally, I want to question the Minister on the pressures on primary care. One often-cited solution to over-prescription of antibiotics is to administer them only if a patient’s condition worsens. While that is a sensible approach that, where clinically appropriate, reserves

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antibiotics for the most serious cases, in reality the pressure on GPs means that that is not always a credible or deliverable solution.

At present 13 million people wait more than one week to see their GP. During that time, symptoms could worsen and antibiotics could be the only treatment available to people when they are seen. If they had been seen earlier, however, alternative clinical options might have been available to them. Relieving the pressure on primary care must form part of the toolkit that should be employed to tackle AMR, yet it seems that, at the moment, the Government have no response.

The tackling of antibiotic resistance is incredibly important. The CMO has said that the threat posed by AMR is on a par with international terrorism and the Government’s wishes and rhetoric must be backed up with action. That is the settled will of the Chamber and I am sure that it is also that of all 648 sitting Members of Parliament. Where the Government do the right thing, they will have the full support of the Opposition without question. This is too important to be subjected to the banalities of party politics, so let us get on with it.

3.41 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I thank all Members who have contributed to what has been an extremely good debate. I thank my hon. Friend the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), who led the debate and gave a thoughtful speech. I will try to respond to as many points as possible.

I will not spend much time on the scale of the threat, as many Members eloquently have outlined that. It was brought home to me clearly when, together with my noble Friend Lord De Mauley, on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the chief medical officer, I represented the Government at a World Health Organisation conference in The Hague earlier this year. The conference started with a young woman talking to us. Essentially, she was dying: she had been through pretty much every stage of antibiotics available and all had failed. That brought home powerfully what we are talking about now and what Professor Dame Sally Davies has been writing about for some years. The case has been made by other Members and I will not dwell on it. This is an extremely serious global public health threat.

The Government have a “one-health” approach, working together across human and animal health with DEFRA. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) made some detailed points that I will probably ask DEFRA colleagues to respond to in more detail. We will be able to respond to some of them, and some will be encapsulated in the strategy, which will be published alongside an implementation plan. Virtually all the points made in today’s debate will be covered, as well as many additional points, in that publication; I will talk to Dr Felicity Harvey and the CMO to ensure that.

In the time available, I will try to outline what the Government have done to date and give Members reassurance that we are not complacent and that we recognise the scale of the threat. In response to questions raised by some Members, we are not waiting for a grand global strategy to try to take action ourselves; we already have many things in hand, because, as Members have said, time is running out.

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In September 2013, we published the UK’s first five-year AMR strategy, taking the one-health approach that I have outlined to address the human, animal, food and environmental aspects of AMR, and set up the high-level steering group, to which some Members have referred, to oversee the delivery of that strategy and, importantly, to deliver metrics to assess progress and develop the implementation plan so that our progress can be judged. In June 2014, the steering group published the measures. Broadly speaking, they look at areas such as trends and resistance; antibiotic usage; the quality of antibiotic stewardship; public attitudes, knowledge and awareness; and changes in public and professional behaviour. All of those were touched on in the debate. I confirm to the shadow Minister that the Government published their response to the Health Committee’s report on 12 September.

The first annual progress report will be published later this year, alongside an associated implementation plan, which will pick up many of the points made in more detail. However, let me highlight some of the actions to date. I am delighted that the chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, received so many plaudits from Members in the Chamber. I, too, have read her book, which is short but very alarming, and it brings home in graphic detail the scale of the problem we face—it certainly helped to focus my mind. She has led a global campaign of which the UK is right at the forefront.

The adoption in May 2014 of the World Health Assembly resolution on AMR, which was co-sponsored by the UK, was a major step forward. It provided a mandate for the World Health Organisation to develop a global action plan to tackle AMR by 2015. We are actively contributing to support the delivery of that global action plan.

The international nature of the problem was highlighted by many Members. India was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer and other Members, and I confirm that the recently produced Chennai declaration has begun to tighten up on over-the-counter use, so we are beginning to see significant action. India also supported a World Health Assembly resolution on this matter. However, sitting the table and hearing the different contributions at the conference at The Hague certainly brought home to me the fact that there are differing attitudes across the world. It will be a big task to get some countries to where they need to be and we certainly need to lead by example, which is a point that has been well made.

One of the things that we can do in supporting the work at a global level is building capacity and capability. As with so many problems of our developed world, we cannot afford to wait for everyone to go through the same cycle of development, discovery and identification of problems; we need to try to share our understanding. Public Health England is piloting a laboratory-twinning initiative, where high-income Commonwealth nations are working with low and middle-income countries to build up AMR education, training and surveillance capability, rather than waiting for them to develop their own.

The drugs pipeline is a huge issue, which was explained well and in some detail by my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer. That is an area in which we need rapid and concerted international action to stimulate the development of new antibiotics. The O’Neill review,

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which was commissioned by the Prime Minister in July, was mentioned. It is an independent review looking at the economic issues that cause this problem, and will make recommendations on what collective action can be taken by Governments globally. I confirm to my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and others that that review will investigate solutions such as pricing and the introduction of incentives. The review is independent, so that team can think what they want—that is what they are tasked with—and we want them to come back with solutions to a problem that we know requires innovation. The interim report is due next summer, with the final report the year after that.

The faster adoption of new ideas was touched on, in particular those brought forward by small suppliers—Bioquell was mentioned. That is integral to the brief of the new Minister with responsibility for life sciences, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who was recently given a joint appointment to the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to look at how we can accelerate the rate of innovation, because, as we know, we must not lose time on this.

Members were concerned to know whether, in the meantime, pending the O’Neill review, work was under way, and I can confirm that it is. Quite a lot of work is going on with the pharmaceutical industry. The industry is working with Chatham House and the Big Innovation Centre to explore issues about the pipeline and to look at possible options to stimulate antibiotic development. We expect the outputs of those initiatives to be published later this year, and they will feed into the independent O’Neill review. Other work is under way, some of which involves making public assistance available to smaller companies where they need it, but I can confirm that the pharmaceutical and biotech industries are fully engaged, as we need them to be, in exploring the issue and working together on the all-important research agenda.

Much of the focus for that research is diagnostics. We have commissioned work to improve our ability to diagnose infections quickly and increase the take-up and routine use of point-of-care diagnostics. That means being able to diagnose much more quickly—at the point of care—without the delay in having to send things away for study, and so on. The more quickly we can diagnose, the more quickly we can use appropriate medication. The Select Committee certainly pressed us on that when we gave evidence and we are aware that it wants us to take action on that issue. That is very closely linked to the work on improving prescribing, which is a key strand of efforts to reduce the overuse of broad spectrum antibiotics. Easy, cheap and accurate diagnoses will enable us to tailor patient treatment much more speedily and improve clinical outcomes, which is obviously a win-win.

Hon. Members have mentioned the award of the £10 million Longitude prize, which happened on the evening between the first and second days of the Hague conference, so it could not have been more appropriate and it was great news that came through while we were all there. It was fantastic on two counts: first, that money will go towards developing a new diagnostic for

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AMR, on which we expect further details to be announced shortly; and secondly, it felt like a great leap forward for public recognition and public engagement on the issue. That announcement was integral to a popular science programme on television—it was not just done by the scientific community; there was full public engagement, so I am really delighted about that and we have to build on it.

On research, hon. Members will be interested to know that the Medical Research Council is leading an AMR Funders’ Forum to improve the co-ordination of research relevant to all those different aspects of antibiotic resistance. In addition, there are two new National Institute for Health Research, or NIHR, health protection research units—I apologise for all the acronyms—with a focus on AMR and health care-associated infection. They were established in April at Imperial college London and at Oxford university, and they are in the process of agreeing their initial two-year work programmes, so more research is going on in those establishments.

In addition to important work to galvanise international action and stimulate drug development, we are trying to put in place the infrastructure and tools needed to improve infection prevention and control, and diagnosis and prescribing, in order to prevent the development and spread of AMR. That requires thinking about the problem in an entirely different way, because this problem is unique. The scale has been outlined by other people, but because of some unique aspects, we need to do things in a different way, and we are very aware of that.

Infection prevention is, of course, better than treatment, so we are refocusing attention on what more we can do to improve our ability to prevent infections and reduce reliance on antibiotics. To reduce the risk of importing very resistant infections from countries where the prevalence is higher—some of those countries have been mentioned—measures such as screening on admission to hospitals are now recommended and will be taken up.

Improving infection prevention includes work with NICE—the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—and others to develop clinical guidance, best practice information and resources. We are also strengthening the code of practice on the prevention and control of infections to clarify for providers the measures they need to take to ensure effective infection prevention and, importantly, antimicrobial stewardship. That is being complemented by NHS England looking at the best ways to use levers on commissioning in the NHS and how it can establish local patient safety fellows to champion and help to embed best practice. On the animal side, DEFRA has provided guidance to assist with farm health planning. Work is under way to explore how we can make better use of vaccines and alternative treatments to reduce reliance on antibiotics and minimise the opportunity for resistant strains to develop.

I turn to the recent survey, the English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance —to which the shadow Minister nobly referred; it is quite a mouthful—or ESPAUR. That report from Public Health England was grim reading. It certainly made it clear that we have a long way to go in this regard, and it provided data that showed the enormous variability in the levels of prescribing across the health care system in England. It showed us some areas with extremely high prescribing rates, which often had the highest resistance

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rates. Although that report was tough reading, it was commissioned precisely because we did not really have a baseline report. We now have that, and it is a really important set of baseline information, from which we can go forward and help to improve practice.

Zac Goldsmith: Data are rigorously collected in relation to the resistance and use of antibiotics in human medicine, but they are hardly collected at all in relation to farm use. My understanding is that the whole system is entirely voluntary, and as a consequence, there are virtually no data at all. Is that an area where, at the very least, the Minister’s Department could pull rank on DEFRA and require the collection of data, so that we can have a meaningful discussion, because at the moment DEFRA does not seem inclined to pursue the matter with any great vigour?

Jane Ellison: I have already noted my hon. Friend’s concern about that, and I will bring it to the attention of my colleagues in DEFRA and ask them to give a detailed response. Although I had noted it as an area of concern, as I say, we work very closely together on this issue, which is why the UK, I think uniquely, sent two Ministers—one from agriculture and one from human health—to conference in The Hague.

To go back to GPs, we need to get to the bottom of why we have such variation around the country and why there is so much inappropriate use. That work is going on. There are some initiatives to support the optimisation of prescribing—essentially trying to give doctors more tools to enhance their professional skills. One of those is called TARGET—Treat Antibiotics Responsibly, Guidance, Education, Tools—and is being promoted by the Royal College of General Practitioners. Work is under way to develop this area and include it in health care training curricula. We have also developed new antibiotic prescribing measures for both primary and secondary care to try and help drive down that variability.

I think we can do more as MPs—all of us, in all our routine conversations with health and wellbeing boards, GPs and clinical commissioning groups, and with our local trust chief executives. This should be a standard question on our agenda for those meetings. That would really help, because I know, as a Government Minister, and I think we all know as MPs, that when we are aware

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that someone is going to ask us a tough question, we go away and start thinking about whether we have a good answer, so there is a lot more that we can all do to drive it at that routine level. There is only so much that the Government nationally can do to influence local GPs.

I want to reassure Members, however, that European antibiotic awareness day is on 18 November, and it would be a great moment for all of us to talk to our local health care professionals. I would be delighted if hon. Members here today, who are so interested in the subject, would work with me in putting together something in writing to all colleagues, with great questions to ask their local health care system. I would be delighted to do that and I can facilitate it. It would include posters for GPs’ surgeries as well as encouraging the public and professionals to become antibiotic guardians and to make pledges to undertake individual action in our effort to preserve antibiotics. Some members of the public are beginning to understand the scale of the challenge, but we are certainly not there yet, and I think Parliament has a role in trying to make that clear.

As a result of the work to date in the first year of the Government’s strategy, we have significantly better data and information, which we can use to inform the development of effective interventions. We have begun to define the scale of the problem much more, and I have outlined the action that we are trying to take in an international context to make sure that the spread of AMR is taken seriously across the world.

As I have mentioned, I will report all the points made in today’s debate both to the chief medical officer and to our cross-party high-level steering group to ensure that we have picked them up in the imminent publication. If there are any points that are not picked up, I will come back to hon. Members on them individually, but I want to reassure the House on the matter. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer for calling this debate and, indeed, the House for such a well-attended and thoughtful discussion. Everything we can do in this House to highlight the scale of the problem and the urgency of tackling it is very welcome, and I thank all hon. Members for their contribution today.

Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair): We now move on to a short debate on connectivity to Leeds Bradford international airport. I call Stuart Andrew.

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Leeds Bradford International Airport

3.59 pm

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): Thank you, Sir Christopher. It is a great honour to be able to raise this very important issue. I am particularly grateful to have secured a debate on connectivity to Leeds Bradford international airport, given its significance for many of my constituents, particularly those living in the Horsforth, Rawdon, Guiseley and Yeadon areas, but also those in areas much further beyond. When I was preparing for the debate, I reflected on the fact that when I was first elected to Leeds city council back in 2003, it coincided with the publication of the then Government’s White Paper, “The Future of Air Transport”, which said that the growth in air travel—

4 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.15 pm

On resuming—

Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair): Order. This debate can continue until quarter to 5.

Stuart Andrew: I would like to correct the record, Mr Chope, because I think I called you Sir Christopher at the start of the debate. Of course, I strongly believe that you should be Sir Christopher.

The 2003 White Paper on the future of air transport stated that growth in air travel would continue, and that airports such as Leeds Bradford would need improvements to surface access to accommodate that growth. Since then, I have taken a keen interest in the matter, and I note that surface access improvements featured in the recent report by Howard Davies on air travel in this country.

More than a decade after the first report, when it comes to getting to and from Leeds Bradford airport, all we have seen are some improvements to signalling and traffic lights at the most congested local junctions, and some increase in bus services. That is hardly adequate if we are serious about finding ways to cope with increased numbers of passengers.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this debate, which we have been looking forward to. My constituency welcomes the commitment to expand the potential of the airport and we are fully behind it, but he is absolutely right that we need the connecting transport that will allow us to get to that hub. It costs only about £55 or £60 to fly to Heathrow—what a bargain! Compare that with the cost of travelling on the east coast main line.

Stuart Andrew: I will come on to the point that extra flights of that sort will mean that more and more people use the airport.

Access to Leeds Bradford airport is notoriously poor. The airport is primarily accessed via single-carriageway roads, some of which are densely residential and some of which are merely country lanes. Given that since the publication of the report, the number of passengers has increased by more than a third, from some 2 million a year in 2003 to more than 3.3 million this year, the

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current standard of surface access is totally inadequate, not only for the passengers but for my constituents who live nearby.

Let me say how pleased I am that, at long last, the Department for Transport has commissioned a study on connectivity to Leeds Bradford international airport. The vast majority of passengers arrive by car. Whether they arrive by private car, Hackney carriage or private hire vehicle, some 85% to 95% of people travel to the airport on local roads, such as the horrendously congested A65 and A658. Local residents are frustrated by the amount of traffic on those roads. Despite the installation of traffic calming measures, many still use totally unsuitable roads, such as Scotland lane in Horsforth and Bayton lane in Rawdon, which causes all sorts of rat-running through those communities and many others.

One of the main reasons why I wanted to secure the debate was to make my position absolutely clear. The answer has to be a new rail link to serve Leeds Bradford international airport. As I mentioned, passenger numbers have grown significantly at the airport, and all commentators expect that growth to continue. The types of passengers using the airport are likely to add to the problem, with more business passengers than ever before.

Mr Sheerman: What would be the increase in traffic if, like the Isle of Man, we had a regular flight to London City airport? Would that not be an even greater reason to get a rail link to Leeds Bradford airport?

Stuart Andrew: The hon. Gentleman is in danger of giving my speech for me. He is absolutely right that new services would mean that more people used the airport. I will give the projections shortly.

Leeds Bradford airport is already one of the UK’s fastest growing airports, and it already supports more than 2,600 local jobs. All those people have to travel, of course, so they would need to use the rail link. The airport contributes more than £118 million to the city region economy. The Department for Transport has forecast that there is potential for the 3.3 million passengers to increase to 7.3 million by 2030, and to more than 9 million by 2050. Just this afternoon, the executive board of Leeds city council is discussing the potential for growth at the airport, and how it might be managed.

It is therefore imperative that instead of talking about the need to improve surface access, we start to do something about it and plan ahead. In my constituency, many of the old mills and factories have been replaced by new residential estates. Thousands of new houses are being built with barely any improvements to infrastructure. What is the result? We have caused real problems for my constituents. In a sense, we put the cart before the horse. We built the houses and caused a lack of school places and GP surgeries, and our road networks have become increasingly congested. I do not want us to make the same mistake with the airport.

As we have heard, passenger numbers are already increasing. The airport is working to increase the number of services, and its representatives are going to shows across the world to encourage new airlines to use its facilities. In the past two years, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said, British Airways has introduced domestic flights to and from London. Aer Lingus is about to introduce flights to Dublin and on to the United States. The airport is encouraging more

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business travel, with flights to more European cities, such as Frankfurt, Brussels and Madrid. That, coupled with the huge success of the Tour de France, is seeing Yorkshire take its rightful place as a wonderful tourist destination.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): The airport is in my hon. Friend’s constituency and mine, and the links will be built in our constituencies, but it is great to see colleagues from across the region here, because this affects the whole region. I fully support the rail link. My hon. Friend has mentioned our delivery of the Tour de France. We do not want talk on these issues; we want action. Does he agree that, with the Leeds city region having an economy worth more than £50 billion, we should be able to take such decisions for ourselves, including on whether we have light rail in Leeds, rather than having to go cap in hand to Whitehall? We need to make such decisions in Yorkshire, so that we can get on and have this rail link and the kind of modern, 21st-century transport system that we deserve.

Stuart Andrew: I could not agree more. We definitely need the system that we want. We know our local areas and the benefits that a rail link would bring. I hope this is the start of a joint mission to give a loud Yorkshire clout to securing the investment that we need. My hon. Friend is right about the increase in tourists and business passengers. We can see how quickly the passenger numbers could rise to those predicted by the Department for Transport. The airport could become one of the largest airports down the east side of England, and it could be bigger than the airports in Liverpool, Newcastle, Doncaster and the east midlands.

I am aware that the current study considers a range of options, one of which is a new link road from the ring road at Horsforth through the fields that are the natural border between Horsforth and Rawdon, past the airport and joining the A658. The West Yorkshire transport fund is carrying out further studies into that solution, but it will not solve the problem. In fact, it could make the situation a lot worse for my constituents, because passengers arriving at the airport by car will still have to use the roads through Apperley Bridge, Rawdon and Horsforth to get to the link road. The increased traffic that the new road would bring will make a bad situation much worse. Additionally, I fear that the road could become a new rat run for drivers wanting a short cut from the M62 to the A1 heading north. If we are serious about coming up with a long-term solution that will provide better connectivity to the airport while improving the experience for passengers and, more importantly, reducing the impact on my constituents and the constituents of other hon. Members, the only option is to create a new rail link.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): My hon. Friend mentions Apperley Bridge, and everyone here is familiar with the dreadful Greengates junction. This is all a false economy, because we now have to invest a huge amount of money to address the jams occurring in those areas. If we invested in a rail link, we might be able to save money that would otherwise have to be spent on clearing up problems caused by those traffic jams.

Stuart Andrew: My hon. Friend is another constituency neighbour, and he is absolutely right about the traffic jams that go right through Greengates, which people try

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to avoid as much as they can. Adding a new link road up to the airport would do nothing to alleviate the traffic on that road. In fact, as I said, a new link road would make the traffic much worse.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the biggest problem when assessing accessibility to the airport is that solutions have always been sought in and around the airport’s immediate vicinity, rather than across the whole region? Many people from my constituency also access the airport, so we must look for solutions on a much wider scale.

Stuart Andrew: Absolutely. I hope that the rail link to the airport is the start of a wider connection improvement across Yorkshire. The new rail link is the only option for me, because it offers an opportunity for greater modal shift, which will mean that we are better placed to cope with any future expansion. We need only look at other airports across the country that have direct rail links to see how successful they have been; I am thinking of places such as Manchester airport. A number of rail options are available to us. Some of them are gold-plated, but I would advocate going with a stage 1 approach that links the airport to the existing Leeds, Horsforth and Harrogate line. That would mean that a journey time of as little as nine minutes would be possible from the centre of Leeds, which is a pipe dream for anyone trying to achieve the same journey by road.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. The rail line he is talking about runs through my constituency, too, which shows how important Leeds Bradford airport is for connecting our region. If we are truly to connect the whole region, it must be through the rail infrastructure, rather than by tinkering with the road infrastructure. That means long-term investment, not short-term investment that means only short-term gains.

Stuart Andrew: I could not agree more. If we were to have such a spur, we could connect Harrogate, York and places much further afield, so that people had a decent transport system that offered a real alternative to those who might be thinking about using the car.

We have to be mindful of costs, and here again there are often great variations. We have all had transport projects in our constituencies and been staggered by the costs that some consultants seem to add. I had a meeting with the airport last week; the Horsforth spur that I suggested would cost some £50 million, and the Harrogate spur would cost an extra £25 million to £30 million. With all the other costs that would be added, the total is some £98 million. I know others have suggested that it would be much more expensive, and I realise that it is a considerable amount of money, but if we are serious about connecting the north, we need to invest and take a long-term approach, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) suggested.

I praise the Government for their investment in the northern hub and the massive electrification programme, but it would be perverse in the extreme not to link one of the region’s largest airports to that new and improved network. When officials and Ministers are looking at the options, they will of course have to consider the cost-benefit ratios, but I hope that they will bear in

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mind the cost-benefit ratios for the Jubilee line, which were poor at the time but improved significantly once the line was in operation.

I would also argue that the playing field is not level. Traditional DFT assessments of benefits relate to the value of time saved to business and leisure users over a 60-year period, meaning that a highways scheme, such as a new bypass, has a clear and large time-saving value for each road user. In turn, that becomes a large financial benefit in the appraisal. Until recently, there was an assumption that public transport travel was made up of non-working time, so that if there was a shift from using cars to using a new train service, the true value of time saved for business users was not accounted for, and neither was the regeneration or the economic impact of a new rail service. Although that has changed with more recent DFT appraisal methods, the uncertainty over the value attached to working time in the case of rail, and over the economic benefits, means that the value of time benefits for road users will more than likely be more pronounced in any appraisal.

It is imperative that we do not see a rail link in isolation. I have already mentioned the northern hub and the electrification programme, but we must not forget that we also have one of the largest infrastructure projects this country has seen in centuries coming into Leeds within the next 20 years. I am, of course, talking about HS2. What a missed opportunity it would be if people were to get off a brand new, shiny, high-speed rail link in Leeds station—one of the busiest in the country—and discover that they could not get to the airport by train. Even a three-year-old child would not come up with such a hare-brained scheme.

In conclusion, there is much that I welcome: at long last, the Department seems to be taking the issue of surface access to Leeds Bradford airport seriously, for which I am thankful. Nevertheless, this is our opportunity to be ambitious and to get it right, because this is not just about getting passengers to the airport, or the airport wanting to fulfil its expansion plans; it is also about looking after the people I represent, who live in the area. If we were simply to go with the easy option of a new road, I feel sure that within the next 20 years, or possibly even sooner, whoever is representing my seat—I hope it is me—will be calling for another debate asking for a rail link.

The time to do this is now. When the airport talks to airlines about its facilities, the question that is always asked is, “How do people get there?” For too long, it has been by car. A rail link would offer new capacity to deal with a long-standing problem and improve the attractiveness of Yorkshire and beyond, through inward investment. It would help us to cope with new tourists who want to visit the wonderful county of Yorkshire, and would also help us to spread the benefits of HS2 and the northern hub. I plead with the Minister; he could become the greatest living Yorkshireman if he is bold, takes the decision we need, and gives us the rail link that we want.

4.33 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I must say that the greatest living Yorkshireman has to be Geoffrey Boycott, and I could

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not even hope to compete with him. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this debate about connections to Leeds Bradford International airport, my local airport, which I have used many hundreds of times to fly to various places around Europe.

I was pleased to visit Leeds Bradford International airport, or Yeadon aerodrome, as many people still refer to it, in my official capacity on 1 May this year, when I saw some of the surface access problems. I made it clear to my officials that I wanted to visit the airport using public transport, so I embarked on the Yorkshire Tiger bus, which took me from outside Leeds station up to the airport. Although the service was very good, it was not particularly quick. Perhaps we have a general problem with railway stations and rail companies not encouraging people to take buses, but it was not immediately clear which bus stop to use or how to get to it. It occurred to me that it might have been nice to have a little aeroplane symbol next to the correct bus number on the electronic display at the bus stop.

Greg Mulholland: I am delighted that the Minister visited Leeds Bradford airport in my constituency, and I accepted his apology for his officials’ forgetting to tell me. I would have been delighted to join him and hope that I can do so the next time he visits. I am delighted that the Minister has already offered some support to the idea of a rail link to Leeds Bradford airport, but such a link must be connected to the modernisation and electrification of, and the improvement of rolling stock on, the important Leeds-Harrogate-York line. That is such an important line but currently cannot be used because of those issues.

Mr Goodwill: The gradients involved in potential rail access to the airport are sufficiently steep that I suspect one would need an electrically powered train to have the correct number of driving wheels, and I have been advised that doing that is not just a straightforward engineering challenge. I am well aware of the surface access issues at Leeds Bradford airport—indeed, my constituents on the coast at Scarborough and Whitby often tell me that it is more convenient to use Manchester airport because there is a direct trans-Pennine express service from Scarborough and through York and Leeds. They can get on the train in Scarborough and get off the train in the terminal at Manchester airport.

The debate is timely because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey indicated, the feasibility study that we commissioned into connectivity to Leeds Bradford International airport is nearly complete, and Ministers will shortly be considering its recommendations. Members’ contributions to today’s debate will be a vital input to our consideration. My hon. Friend has been campaigning hard on the need for a rail link and has wasted no time in taking his case to both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor. Today’s debate is another part of the process.

Before I come to the study itself, I want to say a few words about the role of regional airports. The Government have always made it clear that regional airports make a vital contribution to the growth of regional and local economies and are a way to provide convenience and travel choice for air passengers. That was recognised in the Government’s aviation policy framework, which was published in March last year. The UK’s airports

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help to encourage investment and exports by providing valuable local jobs and fuelling opportunities for economic rebalancing in their wider region or area.

The aviation policy framework also recognised regional airports’ very important role in providing domestic and international connections. The local availability of direct air services from such airports can reduce the need for air passengers and freight to travel long distances to reach larger UK airports. New or more frequent international connections attract business activity, boosting the regions’ economies and providing new opportunities and better access to new markets for existing businesses. The Civil Aviation Authority’s statistics for last year show that the UK’s regional airports handled 90 million passengers—around 39% of the UK’s total—and services from regional airports operated to more than 100 domestic and international destinations. We should therefore start referring to these airports as local international airports rather than regional airports.

Airports act as focal points for local business development and employment by diversifying into other aviation-related areas such as hosting on-site aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul companies, and aviation training facilities, as well as into non-aviation businesses. Leeds Bradford International airport is home to Multiflight, a flight training and aircraft engineering organisation that provides helicopter and fixed-wing charter flights, aircraft sales and management. It is also home to the Aviation Academy, which is affiliated to the universities of Leeds and Bradford and trains and prepares students to work in the aviation industry.

I am aware that many UK airports were affected by the economic downturn and that some have struggled to maintain their commercial viability. In that regard, I was saddened to learn of the closure of Manston airport in May and, just recently, Blackpool airport. I know that those closures have caused concern for people and businesses in, respectively, the east Kent and Fylde areas. However, airports operate in a competitive market and, although regrettable, the operators’ decisions to close them have been made on commercial grounds. I must say that the story is much better for Leeds Bradford airport: since the advent of Jet2, it has many times more passengers than it had in the old days when I used to fly to Brussels with Sabena.

Just like our economy, however, many of our airports are seeing real growth again. For example, Leeds Bradford and Belfast City airports saw passenger growth of more than 10% between 2012 and 2013, and we want that growth to continue. We warmly welcome the ambition of the UK’s regional airports. They are responding to local and regional demands by investing in their infrastructure, to enable services to more destinations, and to offer better facilities and more choice to their passengers.

As hon. Members will be aware, LBIA recently completed an £11 million passenger terminal development to increase airside space by 65%. That development is being replicated around the country with major investment at other airports, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Glasgow. Given the important role that regional airports play across the UK, by providing domestic and international connections and making vital contributions towards

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local growth, I want to see their development continue, and I want to see LBIA reach its full potential.

The Government recognise that good surface access to airports is a key part of their success. That is why the “Investing in Britain’s Future” document, published by the Treasury in June 2013, included a commitment from the Government to undertake a feasibility study into improving connectivity to LBIA, to consider problems and identify potential solutions, some of which we have heard about today. That study has recently been completed and my ministerial colleagues and I will consider its findings and recommendations during the next few weeks, before deciding how to proceed. So, as I indicated earlier, this debate is very timely, and I welcome the opportunity to hear from my hon. Friend and other Members.

The Government wanted to understand the issues that affected the airport, which is why we commissioned a study to identify and appraise potential improvements that would substantially improve the connectivity of LBIA to its catchment area, taking into account the aspiration of the airport to grow, and including both road and public transport options. There have been a number of studies over the years to look at various aspects of surface access to the airport. Given the significance of regional airports to the economy, we thought it was important to take a fresh look at this issue, taking the previous studies and reports into account, but also undertaking some new analysis in the context of today’s air travel market.

Therefore, WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff was appointed to conduct a study in April and is due to submit its final report shortly. It has looked at the evidence and reviewed the existing body of work on the issue, identified and shortlisted options, appraised the shortlisted options and set out its conclusions. I am pleased to say that the study has also drawn on the knowledge and expertise of local stakeholders, through the stakeholder reference group, which included representatives from the airport, local councils, Network Rail, bus operators, environmental organisations and the LBIA air transport forum. My colleague, Baroness Kramer, has provided updates to local MPs and ran a briefing session for them this morning.

I recognise that hon. Members may have concerns about the impact of potential solutions to this issue on their constituencies. All modes of transport have been considered in the study, including consideration of the case for new and improved highways, as well as bus and rail options. It may be that some of these potential impacts may be positive if congestion is reduced and connectivity improved, but I am well aware that some of the proposals for both road and rail schemes could require the construction of new infrastructure in what is now open space. That is naturally a cause for local concern and I can assure hon. Members that environmental considerations form part of the assessment process.

Whatever action the Government decide to take on the study’s recommendation, individual scheme proposals such as a new road or rail link would need to be subject to further evaluation, and would require statutory consents before they could proceed. This process would provide the opportunity for further consultation and public comment if people have concerns that they wish to bring forward.

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Grimsby Seafood Manufacturers

4.43 pm

Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss an anomaly that arises from the common fisheries policy. The anomaly is a measure designed to check state aid for fishing, but it is now depriving Young’s Seafood—a firm that we are very proud of in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, and my colleague, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), is here—of the ability to get state aid for investment and expansion.

Young’s is a seafood manufacturer on a considerable scale; I think it is the biggest seafood manufacturer in the country. However, this anomaly also applies to other seafood manufacturers, and seafood manufacturing is a major section of the food manufacturing industry. None of these companies can get regional selective assistance, or other public support, for the investment they need to expand and grow.

I emphasise that although my reputation is for being a Eurosceptic—a man whose opinion of the European Union can be summed up in four words, three of which are “the European Union”, and who is a continuous critic of it—I do not raise this issue just as a critic of the EU. I raise it because this situation is daft, impinges on a major manufacturing firm in Grimsby, and needs to be ended.

What is at issue here is the EU guidance on state aid regarding the entire fisheries sector. That sector is defined as being concerned with

“the exploitation of aquatic resources and aquaculture together, with the means of production, processing and marketing of the resultant products”.

That definition is being interpreted as applying to Young’s, which employs 3,000 people in Grimsby and Scotland. It is the largest single private employer in Grimsby, employing 1,700 people in processing jobs there, and—I have to say—creating a superb product range. It seems to me, and to Young’s, that to extend these European guidelines to the company is a distortion of their purpose, because Young’s itself catches no fish. It farms no fish; it does not have a fishing fleet; and it does no primary processing of fish, which is the filleting and gutting of fish—the only processing, I think, that the guidelines are meant to cover.

Young’s imports its fish from all over the world. In fact, it uses 30 species of fish from five continents. Very little of that fish is caught under the CFP, of which these guidelines are part. Young’s makes from those fish more than 300 dishes. It makes dishes; it turns fish into meals by processing it, adding ingredients and selling it as a meal. So, in every sense Young’s is not a fishing company but a food processing company—a fish and seafood processing company—and therefore it deserves to be excluded from these guidelines.

Young’s is a food manufacturer and it is an important part of Britain’s manufacturing industry. Young’s and other food manufacturers hit by this anomaly are anxious to expand, grow, invest and create jobs, but they cannot because they cannot get public support in the way that other industries that they are competing with for investment can. I hope that I can persuade the Minister to see that, and to do something about it, because if he does not, he will put Young’s and other seafood manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage not only to other food

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manufacturers but to the rest of the industry. He will also put us—the people of Grimsby, which is Europe’s food town—at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs and investment, which will harm the development of Grimsby, because we all know the importance of cluster growth, as emphasised by Michael Porter, whereby clustering industries can trade experience, skills, staff and research. We have such a cluster in Grimsby, but it will be damaged if it cannot get Government support in this way.

I have been working hard to drive that lesson home. On 6 June, I wrote to both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. In those letters, I asked for an early reply, but I did not get one. BIS passed the letter to DEFRA, and DEFRA did not answer. An Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA wrote to Young’s on 17 September—although I had written in June—explaining what the Commission thought, but we already knew what the Commission thought. What the Commission thinks is wrong. We want independent thought relating to the point that these are food manufacturers, not fisheries firms. The reply seemed over-complacent about the situation.

I took the issue up with our local enterprise partnership, which is very good and active. Lord Haskins, the chair, wrote supportively and pointed out in passing that some restrictions also apply to flower-growing in our area, although I do not see why, and to making potato chips. Let us face it: the fish and chip industry, which is vital to this country and provides a good deal of the sustenance for our people—and certainly for me—is being hit both ways; it is being hit because we cannot invest in the seafood producers, and because of restrictions on what can be allocated to producing chips. However, I am not taking up the chips side of the argument today; I am taking up only the seafood manufacturing side. Lord Haskins added helpfully that he and the LEP supported Young’s, which he said were

“wealth creators and providers of large local employment”,

which is true.

Our Euro MP, Linda McAvan, was also helpful. She understood the problem and the consequences and mentioned that guidelines for the fisheries sector are being revised at this very moment. If those guidelines are being revised, it is up to us to get our voice in, to get that revision changed so that this restriction no longer applies to seafood manufacturers. I want the Department to get in there and get this regulation changed.

That is my plea. I plead to the Government and Ministers to stop wringing their hands and stop telling us what they cannot do. Government is good at telling people what they cannot do. I want the Minister to find out what is happening to seafood manufacturers in other European countries, because I am sure, from a little bit of evidence that I have—it is incumbent on the Department to check this—that they are being aided by the state in a way that our state will not aid our seafood manufacturers. I will bet that those states are doing that, because the degree of cheating on European regulations is quite astonishing; others are less timid and hidebound than we are.

I plead with the Minister not to brass-plate European lunacies. Let us get round them, put Britain first, and put Young’s at the forefront of putting Britain first. Let us get food manufacturing excluded from this fisheries

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regulation, so that structural aid and regional support aid for investment and jobs can come to this sector, which is anxious. The purchase and consumption of seafood dishes is increasing steadily; they are good for us, and we want to encourage that and to encourage the manufacturers. The firms want to expand, and it is only this barrier that is preventing them from expanding.

I am fed up with excuses, and so is the industry. We need action on this anomaly. It ill behoves a Government who are constantly telling us that they will get a better deal from Europe to do so little to get a better deal in this instance. I have every hope that the Minister will accept that.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I share my hon. Friend’s views, and congratulate him on getting this debate. The other word that he uses in connection with the European Union is surely “out”; I would agree with that, as would most of our constituents in north-east Lincolnshire. Does he agree that this is yet another example of a case where the seafood and fishing industries have been at a disadvantage as a result of European intervention, and that they have missed out on many of the grants and benefits that other industries have had? To take up the point he was just making, does he agree that this issue should be a vital part of any renegotiation?

Austin Mitchell: I agree with my hon. Friend and colleague. I will also agree on the use of “out”, but there is a long trail a-winding there. The immediate issue is to get help now for a firm that needs and wants investment. My last words to the Minister—other hon. Members will have something to add—are these: stand up and support Young’s and Grimbsy, and get rid of this anomaly.

4.55 pm

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) on securing this debate. I want to balance his Yorkshire passion with the Lancashire side of things, and I take this opportunity, as this is his last year in Parliament, to thank him on behalf of the fishermen of Fleetwood for all the work he did in the past. He still has a great name in Fleetwood for standing up for fishermen across the country, alongside the late Mark Hamer, from Fleetwood. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Again, he hits the nail on the head. Fleetwood is very similar to Grimsby now, because although the fishing industry is almost gone—there are just three boats that fish—a large fish-processing industry is left behind, with more than 30 separate companies based in old-fashioned accommodation on the dockside, employing more than 600 people in Fleetwood. The majority of fish comes in by truck, as in Grimbsy. Much of it is shellfish and much of it—some 80% to 90%—is exported. That huge industry is able to take on new contracts, but unable to meet the specifications of supermarkets because of the old accommodation and all the health and safety regulations. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s view about the EU would be that expressed on any street in Fleetwood, which has seen the EU’s depredations on its once-great industry. However, we are where we are.

I should like to add to the hon. Gentleman’s appeal to the Minister. We still have huge skills and talents connected to the fish industry, and those are in fish

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processing. However, companies in Fleetwood are telling me that they are having to turn down orders because they do not have room, or accommodation with the capacity to meet health and safety conditions. With support of the Wyre district council, they want to come together in new buildings and create almost a northern Billingsgate. That would enable them to expand and increase their export markets—they reckon they could take on another 150 to 600 employees to meet that market—and create a centre for tourism, because the site would be open, like the new Billingsgate in London. Everything is there. The land is there; much of it is derelict. The old land would then be released for new developments along the dockside.

One would have thought that the whole thing was a straightforward regeneration bid, but we are stuck on where to go to find the wherewithal. As the hon. Gentleman said, we cannot go to Europe about the fishing industry, because for some reason this is seen as a separate business, although it is tied utterly to the historical skills of families in Fleetwood, who have been connected, from the earliest days, not just with fishing, but with processing fish. Those skills are still there.

We have gone to the LEP, and we are now looking at trying to get a regional growth bid, to help fuel this and get it working. I am taking the selfish opportunity, following on from the points made by the hon. Gentleman, to say to the Minister that the case in Fleetwood is exactly the same. Would it not be such a plus to revive these deprived fishing areas, which thought the whole thing was dying, and which still believe that there is no support anywhere, whether from Europe or central Government? I suggest that we could revive the industry in Fleetwood, with real jobs, new export markets and tourist attractions. Through that, we could reverse the damage done, including by the European Union, to what used to be a staple of England—its fishing fleets.

5 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) on securing the debate and bringing this subject to the attention of the House. As other Members have said, he has long been a champion of fisheries issues and the many fisheries businesses located in his constituency. Indeed, I remember when he changed his name a little over a decade ago to Austin Haddock, to highlight the plight of our fisheries industry. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting the Grimsby fish market and, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), Grimsby Seafood Village. I also visited the new Morrison’s fish processing facility, and at a dinner I had the opportunity to meet representatives of Young’s to discuss some of their plans and aspirations. I understand how important the sector is to the local economy around Grimsby, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to this debate.

As the hon. Gentleman said, we have corresponded on this matter, and I have also received representations directly from Young’s Seafood. He expressed some regret that we took some time to reply to that letter, but I assure him that there was a good reason for that. When I was shown the initial draft, it said that we could not do anything, and I wanted to explore the issue further. I put a hold on the letter and said I wanted a meeting to

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explore the issue with officials, to discuss it more fully with our lawyers and to challenge the legal opinion that we had. During that discussion, however, I was persuaded that their interpretation was correct. I will come on to explain the reasons for that, but first, I underline my support for the fish processing industry. When I visited Grimsby earlier this year, I saw at first hand what a forward-looking and dynamic sector it is. As well as employing thousands of people, it plays a vital role in providing the whole country with affordable, healthy food.

The hon. Gentleman and I have something in common: we are both on the Eurosceptic side of the political spectrum, despite being on opposite ends of the political spectrum on many other things. He has been consistent; I remember him saying before that his view of the European Union can be summed up in four words, and three of them are “the European Union”, and I can see that that has not changed at all. When I was the director of the “No” campaign against the euro, he played a leading part from the Labour Benches. I am afraid that the regulations I will describe will probably not do anything to diminish his scepticism on the European Union.

There are two issues under consideration: first, what constitutes a seafood business, and, secondly, whether such a business should be eligible for financial support from public funds. On the first question, which relates to the state aid rules, there are two relevant regulations. The first is the fisheries block exemption regulation, EC regulation 736/2008, which concerns aid to small and medium-sized enterprises active in the production, processing and marketing of fisheries products. The second is the fisheries de minimis regulation, EC regulation 717/2014. Both are clear, in alignment with the financial measures under the common fisheries policy, that they apply to the entire fisheries sector. The rules cover not only fishing or fish farming, or even the primary stages of processing, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, but all stages of production, including the processing and marketing of the finished product. The regulations effectively mean that support can only be offered in accordance with the conditions set out in the European fisheries fund, which is soon to become the European maritime and fisheries fund. There is a de minimis exemption for small projects, up to a total of just €30,000 over three years. I appreciate that such a small amount is of little comfort to Young’s, which has such an ambitious project.

I have some sympathy with the argument that a company, as the hon. Gentleman said, may primarily be a food manufacturer that produces meals of all kinds, rather than just a fisheries business, but I cannot agree that we are gold-plating the EU state aid requirements. They have a little room for interpretation, but it is just that: a very small amount of room. In this instance, it cannot reasonably be argued that a business whose entire product range appears to be fish-based is anything other than a fisheries business, as defined under the regulations.

We have applied the rules consistently, and have rejected similar large proposals from large applicants on exactly the same grounds. To be consistent, we have to apply the same approach now. If we were to take a

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high-risk approach on Young’s and allow it to receive this aid, the risk would lie with Young’s. The European Commission could decide that the aid was unlawful and require it to be repaid. If Young’s had already invested the funds in infrastructure and jobs, it would then be in the unenviable position of having to repay the aid in full, plus interest. That could pose a greater risk to the business than simply being clear in the first place that it is not eligible. In addition, should the Commission find the UK to be systematically making unlawful payments, that would put the entire programme at risk.

The hon. Gentleman asked an important question: what do other countries do? As a Eurosceptic, I always ask whether we are gold-plating regulations and what other countries do. The risk I described is not theoretical. There was a similar case in 2012 concerning a manufacturer of frozen fish products in Spain. The European Commission opened a formal investigation to determine whether the type of aid proposed was compatible with the internal market. It concluded that it was not, which resulted in the entire project being cancelled and the funds disallowed. If we look at what happened with that case and the approach we have taken with other large processors, we have to be consistent and recognise the risks of doing what the hon. Gentleman urges us to do.

It is not all bad news for Grimsby, however. There are a lot of good projects that have been supported through the European fisheries fund. Some 31 projects carried out by seafood businesses in the Grimsby area have already received some £3.2 million of European fisheries funding under the current programme. Individual grants have ranged from £4,000 to £1.2 million. Those projects have already delivered a wide range of local benefits, including port improvements, new processing units and ice plant facilities in the fish market, which have allowed local businesses to grow and prosper. When I visited the Grimsby Seafood Village, I saw a lot of those businesses benefiting from new premises and new investment to allow them to take their businesses forward.

While very large companies would be excluded from such support under most scheme rules due to their size, there are also significant general EU restrictions on large companies receiving state aid. That is simply because the European Commission has concerns that large subsidies in the fish processing sector would seriously distort the market. That is why the de minimis ceiling for state aid has been set at €30,000 over a three-year period. Additionally, the European Commission is explicit in stating that aid can be used only to support activity that a company would not otherwise undertake. That is what they call the incentive effect, and it is contained in article 7 of the fisheries block exemption regulation, which stipulates:

“Aid shall be considered to have an incentive effect if it enables the beneficiary to carry out activities or projects which it would not have carried out as such in the absence of the aid.”

I am not sure that we can make that case with Young’s.

Austin Mitchell: I thank the Minister for giving way. First, he is telling us why it cannot be done, but fish is only a part of the fish meals prepared by Young’s. There are other ingredients, whether carrots or chips or whatever. This is food manufacturing, so why can it not get support for the other sides of the process, which would help it to expand? The problem is that the alternative available sources of fishing finance mentioned by the Minister are only small-scale stuff compared with the

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big investment need of Young’s. Secondly, what are the British Government doing in Europe to change the situation?

George Eustice: I will come on to that second point, but on the hon. Gentleman’s first point about Young’s selling products that are not predominantly fish, when I had that meeting with officials I said, “Go and look at Young’s website and look at their entire product range. Let’s see what they are actually selling.” We could not find a product that was not fish or predominantly fish or one that would not fall within the definition of fish product under the regulations.

I want to finish the point that I was making about investment. Taking a broader perspective across the Humber, most businesses have benefited from some large-scale investment. Some £260 million in public and private funding is being invested under the local enterprise partnership growth programme. There is also the electrification of the east coast main line right out to the coast, so we are doing many things to help Grimsby.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s second point about what the Government are doing, the Government recognise not only that large companies are often part of the driving force behind growth in the regions, but also that they can in many cases have the greatest impact on the environment. As such, we are in discussion with the European Commission about ensuring that

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when it comes to investment in environmental protection or upgrading a plant’s facilities to help the environment, we may indeed be able to change the block exemption rules. We will work with the Commission on that for the benefit of those sectors of UK industry that stand to benefit, including the companies discussed today. We have already raised the matter with the Commission and if we get the proposal through, it could be of benefit to companies operating in the aquaculture and fish processing sectors and would at least help to support their investments in some of their environmental improvement, which we would encourage.

In conclusion, I again thank the hon. Member for Great Grimsby for his efforts in securing the debate. I reassure him that I did not just sign a letter and send it back. When I saw the draft, I was clear with officials that I wanted a meeting to get to grips with the issue. Having discussed the matter with our lawyers in some depth, I am afraid that my conclusion was that their interpretation and the Marine Management Organisation’s approach had been right, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to set out what we have done and the attempts that I made on his behalf to explore this important issue.

Question put and agreed to.

5.12 pm

Sitting adjourned.