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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 18 November 2014

[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]

Physical Inactivity (Public Health)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Dr Thérèse Coffey.)

9.30 am

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): It is a pleasure both to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir, and to introduce today’s debate. I would like to put my thanks on the record to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating us this time, and I particularly thank the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron), my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) and the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) for their support in applying for this debate. It is great to have cross-party interest, and I am looking forward to hearing colleagues’ contributions today on how we can best get Britain active.

I note that the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford has sent her apologies to us today; I understand that she is being kept busy in a bunker in Rochester and Stroud. Fair do’s—she is a tireless campaigner on public health and I pay tribute to the work that she has done in this area.

There is a physical inactivity epidemic and a growing obesity problem. If we want to make south Wales and the UK healthy again, we must help people to enjoy the simple activities that can save their lives. We need to walk, dance and play our way to well-being.

Tredegar in my constituency is the home of Nye Bevan and the NHS, and promoting physical activity is an issue that beats at the heart of our nation’s health. Although health is a devolved matter in Wales, I take an interest in the wider issues of public health, and during my time in the House I have spoken in favour of minimum pricing for alcohol and plain packaging for cigarettes, and taken an interest in the drivers of long-term conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Britain, including Wales, is a great sporting nation. Governments of both colours have made huge efforts to showcase Britain as a home to sports. In recent years, we have celebrated the 2012 Olympics and this year’s Glasgow Commonwealth games, and next year there will be the rugby union world cup. However, for all that we are a successful sporting nation, we are not an active nation.

This debate is conveniently timed, as ukactive has just published its latest report into what it calls an “epidemic” of inactivity. Ukactive aims to get

“more people more active, more often”

and the stats that it has to show are really quite shocking.

Inactivity is the fourth largest cause of disease and disability in the UK, and physical inactivity directly contributes to one in every six deaths in the UK. That makes it as dangerous as smoking. Those who are

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completely inactive are at a much greater risk of a wide range of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancers, obesity and mental health conditions, including dementia. Last week, the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services reported that Wales is suffering from an “obesity epidemic”.

In the most recent Wales health survey, 58% of adults were classed as overweight, with 22% classed as obese. In my constituency of Blaenau Gwent that was higher, with 27% of adults being classified as obese. Meanwhile, Public Health England reports that obesity in adults has increased from 15% in 1993 to 25% in 2012. Obesity for children under 10 has increased to 13% and for 11 to 15-year-olds, it has increased to a shocking 18.7%. The answer to that is not just diet, of course, and it is certainly not to do nothing. We need to get Britain moving. How do we do that? I am careful at least to try and practise what I preach. Although I am often guilty of flopping down by the telly and watching sport instead of doing it, over the summer one of my tech-savvy daughters downloaded a pedometer app on to my phone for me. I now take care to get in my 10,000 steps a day, although sometimes it is a struggle. I am also a keen hiker; my part of the world, which includes the Brecon Beacons, is very good for that.

One of the key messages that we need to get across in this debate is that physical activity can be as simple as just going for a walk. This is not a debate on how to increase participation in sport, although sport is a cracking pastime for those who want to do it. Physical activity can be anything from taking the dog for a walk, to a Zumba class, to kids flying around on a skateboard. Not every kid in a class will be sporty, just as not every adult has fond memories of playing rugby in freezing cold PE lessons. We risk putting people off and making them think it is not for them if we make this solely a “sports” agenda, not a “get active” agenda. It is important that we make it easy, natural and normal for people to fit activity into their day.

In Blaenau Gwent in south Wales we have some fantastic, varied activity going on. There is a great tradition of bowling, with many teams from different valley villages and towns. That also helps address problems of loneliness and supports good mental health for older people. There are lots of dance groups, too. Places such as the Llanhilleth institute, built from the contributions of miners and steelworkers, positively bubbles with the sounds and energy of Zumba and body combat sessions. It is fantastic to see these places.

Having said that, in times of cutbacks to councils we need to promote more and more of such provision in deprived boroughs such as mine. I would like to see promotion of what I see as more accessible sports too, which require less space and less kit and caboodle, and which can be played indoors, such as table tennis and basketball.

Across Britain, the most deprived areas on average suffer more from inactivity and have higher rates of obesity than less deprived boroughs. There are practical concerns that we need to take into consideration. We can encourage somebody to take more exercise, but if we do, we need to make it easy, affordable and safe for them to do so. In order to make a meaningful difference, we need to be serious about reaching those hardest-to- reach groups.

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The biggest health benefit is earned by getting someone to move from no activity to some activity. What are the Government doing specifically to encourage participation in physical activity in the most deprived areas? The next important factor is profile, and there is still lots to do to raise the profile of physical activity to improve public health. There have been some real success stories over the past year, of local government pushing this issue up the list of priorities. Ukactive found that over 70% of local authorities have increased spending on physical activity in the last year. In Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government have set the pace for leadership on this issue. Last year, Wales launched the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013—Europe’s first piece of active travel legislation—which puts safe cycling and walking at the heart of Wales’s plans for the future.

We must not underestimate the achievements that there have been, but we must also not underestimate how far we still have left to travel. Despite the increases and the good work and good will that we have seen, spending on physical activity represents just 4% of the ring-fenced public health grant. We need all Governments, of all colours, to take leadership on the issues—just look at the national campaign on smoking, which has made such a huge difference. Before 1998, smoking levels were rising year on year, as inactivity and obesity levels are rising now, yet since 1998, 1.5 million people have quit smoking. The tide has turned. Important factors include the 10-year strategy, which has been long-term and, crucially, supported by all major parties across the aisle, so it is important that this issue is not politicised, and that is why it is great today that there is good cross- party debate. Pleasingly, the momentum has continued —and fair do’s, in 2011, the Government set specific targets to reduce smoking further by 2015. That needs to be applauded.

However, that leads me to a final but really key point. Action on smoking is about shifting the narrative to prevention rather than cure, and that is what we need to do now for physical inactivity. Individually, we all need to be concerned with physical activity for the sake of our personal health, and nationally, we all need to be concerned about physical inactivity for the sake of our national health service.

The new chief executive of NHS England put that in no uncertain terms last week, when he told the annual conference of Public Health England to get serious about obesity or bankrupt the NHS. We cannot afford to keep flooding our NHS with avoidable illness and disability. Diabetes UK estimates that type 2 diabetes already costs the NHS about £9 billion a year. If we are to protect our NHS and the excellent service that it gives us and our constituents, we need to prevent these problems from arising in the first place. The NHS is the national health service, not the national sickness service or the national pharmaceutical service. Prevention is better than cure. We need to start seriously looking at shifting to a service that promotes health and prevents illness wherever possible.

I am pleased that a future Labour Government would be committed to allowing GPs to give out exercise on prescription. That is a step that the medical profession is ready to take. A recent poll of GPs reported that 95% of GPs without access to exercise referral programmes

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said they would use one if it were available. The success of initiatives such as Let’s Get Moving, which encouraged more than 500 previously inactive patients to amass a total of 164 million steps—is that not brilliant?—shows how valuable GP surgery-led interventions can be.

This is an important debate and there are important questions to put to the Minister. First, how can the Government and others improve on what is being done? Secondly, where is the Olympic legacy for deprived areas such as Newham, which hosted the Olympics and is the least active borough in the country? Thirdly, what can be done to ensure that best practice is being shared, and that our efforts are being properly monitored so that we have data on what works, what is needed and, importantly, where?

Credit needs to be given where it is due. Some ships are moving in the right direction. For example, in England, the NHS’s “Five Year Forward View” makes a strong reference to this topic. We must applaud that, but the tide has not yet turned and inactivity is still set to rise.

Like smoking cessation, what can the Minister offer that will really make a difference in this regard? Labour has given a commitment to put physical activity at the heart of its future health plans, but the current Government and all future Governments, of any colour, need to do the same. I look forward to hearing from colleagues and to the Minister’s reply.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order, About eight hon. Members want to speak, and I want the winding-up speeches to start at 10.30 or 10.35, so although I will not impose a time limit on speeches at the moment, I suggest that if Members stick to about six minutes each, we can get everybody in.

9.42 am

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): It is an absolute pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who made a very good, thoughtful speech on a very important topic. I have highlighted it a number of times previously in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber.

I am speaking partly as a vice-chair of the all-party group on heart disease, but also because of my own background. My school was bottom of the league tables in Kidderminster. My group of friends replicated whatever was on television, so predominantly we played football, but if Wimbledon was on, out came the tennis rackets; if the Tour de France was on, out came the bikes; and if the Ashes was on, out came the cricket bats. The importance of that was both that I was active and that I kept out of trouble. Two of my friends ended up spending time at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but the rest of us did not follow that path, because frankly we were just too tired at the end of the day, although I remember that when I phoned my old headmaster to say that I had got into Parliament, he said, “You know, the last time someone from our school got into the press, it was because they had gone to prison, but I’m not sure which is worse.” We will all make a judgment on that.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent made a very important point. This debate is not just about sport; it is about the opportunity to be active. That is the part that I want to concentrate on—that opportunity. Before I

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became the MP for North Swindon, I represented for 10 years as a councillor a new build housing estate. It went from 1,800 to 10,000 houses. I was horrified once to be told that I was very lucky that my ward had the greatest proportion of open space of any ward in Swindon. I knew, as I lived there, that that was complete nonsense, so I did a bit of digging and it turned out that hedges, heritage sites and grass verges counted as open spaces. The last time I put down jumpers for goalposts to play football, none of those counted as usable open space, so it is a welcome move that the Government have removed the higher density rule, but I still think that more needs to be done in planning terms for new development to provide usable open space. That is incredibly important because garden space for one’s own home is now one third smaller than it was in the 1960s and front gardens for new builds are often just an aspiration rather than a reality.

We do not need premier league-standard open spaces for people to be active. When I used to play football during the whole of the summer holidays, we played on an almost vertical pitch, which was very handy, because Matthew and Paul Gilbert, the twins, were considerably better than me and my teammates. We got to kick downhill all day and they got to kick uphill—that was only fair.

We also need to look carefully at how we organise opportunities. I was a big fan of the school sports partnership. The Government looked at that when they first came to power, because there was the worry that in the previous years, even with £150 million being spent, only two out of five children ever took part in competitive sport.

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that competitive sport, whatever sport it might be, in school leagues and various competitions is beneficial in getting young people involved and stopping some of the obesity problems that this country has?

Justin Tomlinson: I thank my hon. Friend for that very good point. I am about to come on to that issue, so I shall just pause my response, but I will cover it.

To return to the school sports partnership, there was the worry that after the £150 million had been spent year on year for a number of years, still only two out of five young people were involved in competitive sport. The reality is that if someone is good at sport, that is probably because their parents have encouraged them, and they have probably already signed them up to competitive teams. What the figures did not show was what was happening with the other three out of five children; it was probably the only opportunity that they had to be active. Therefore, the figures were not telling the full story and it was absolutely right for the Government to continue that provision.

Leading on from that was the desire to reinstate the school games, which was competitive sport. I speak from the experience of invariably being on the losing team—that set me up well for being involved in politics later in life. But I think that it is important for children not always to win. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and I visit the Swindon school games every year, and they are a

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fantastic success. Huge numbers of sports clubs are engaged, as are volunteers; and schoolchildren of all abilities are getting involved.

I also welcome the moves to encourage more troops to become teachers. There is a chronic lack of PE-confident teachers in primary schools. That is a real challenge. I have visited a number of primary schools, and they have said that it is one of the biggest challenges that they face.

I am very proud that when I was a councillor, I set up the Swindon sports forum, which brings together about 60 different sports clubs. They are not necessarily competitive sports clubs. They could be walking clubs or clubs aimed at those aged 60 and above. However, the forum brings clubs together to share best practice and to talk about how they can secure funding from external bodies and how they can sometimes share facilities. There have been a number of major successes in that respect.

We face another big challenge. We talk about the Olympic legacy, and straight after the Olympics or any major sporting event on the television, young people are inspired and want to go and replicate the success that they have seen on the television. Sports clubs are then overwhelmed, in the short term, by huge numbers of new participants. The problem is that the number of children who can benefit is capped by the number of volunteers who are available. Sports clubs are no different from charities, political parties or other organisations when it comes to the real challenge of finding sufficient volunteers. I am a big fan of the Government’s National Citizen Service programme, because it is training young people to be good, constructive citizens. I think that we should look to channel more of those volunteers, in the summer, to go on to become sporting volunteers to help sporting clubs.

There also needs to be a lot more work among youth services, leisure centres and traditional sports clubs. I remember that when I was a councillor, the three would never talk to one another, but I also remember pointing out that on a Friday night there was the ice skating disco. That was not technically sport, but it involved 650 teenagers going round very quickly in a circle chasing after people they found attractive, so I argued that it was probably the most beneficial way of getting young people active.

Finally, there is the big plea that I have made as an MP. We have amazing facilities in this country. Whether it is schools, sports centres or community facilities, they are fantastic facilities. However, we charge an absolute fortune for voluntary groups to come and provide constructive activities, whether for older people or for younger people. It is very hard to get volunteers, and I think it is unacceptable to charge them for the privilege of helping people to be active. In my utopian world, between the hours of 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock, all school buildings would be available free of charge to groups that provide constructive activities for young people. That would help busy parents. It would help to tackle the obesity crisis. It would provide constructive engagement, which stopped me going down a very different path. I make that plea for all parties. There is good cross-party support on the wider principle, and I think that that is the most tangible way in which we could make a big difference.

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9.50 am

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on securing such an important debate. We need to promote physical activity to people across the UK. The issue is important to me as a constituency MP in an area that has very low levels of physical activity. I am co-chair of the all-party group on women’s sport and fitness, and I encourage hon. Members to support that group. Last year, I was co-chair of the all-party commission on physical activity.

As an MP in the north-west of England, I am concerned that ours is one of two regions in the north with the highest levels of inactivity in the UK. In our region, 32% of the population is classified as inactive, which represents an inactivity level 5% higher than in the south-east. Reports demonstrate that deprived areas have higher levels of inactivity than the least deprived areas; the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) has referred to some of the reasons for that. The sheer cost of undertaking physical activity and classes sometimes gets in the way. My constituency is in the top 40 local authorities with the highest inactivity rates, and 33% of people are inactive. We need action locally to tackle the problems.

There are stark differences in inactivity rates not only between regions, but between men and women. There is a worrying gap between the rates of men and women who undertake exercise. The most recent figures from Women in Sport, which was formerly the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, show that only slightly more than 30% of women in England aged 16-plus take part in sport or fitness once a week, compared with more than 40% of men.

In Salford, the gap is even greater, with only 25% of women taking part in weekly exercise. Figures from Sport England demonstrate that more men take part in activity than women in every age group up to age 65. That is serious, because being physically inactive shortens a person’s life span by up to five years and is responsible for 17% of premature deaths in the UK. Indeed, if everyone in England were sufficiently active, an estimated 37,000 lives would be saved every year. We must take that seriously.

I find it interesting that inactivity is as dangerous to health as smoking. Because women are less active than men, women are subject to an increased risk of ill health and premature death. The reasons for the gender gap in inactivity rates are well established. Women and young girls either face, or feel that they face, many barriers when it comes to sports participation. Barriers exist at both grass-roots sport level and elite levels. In the all-party group on women’s sport, we work to identify those barriers and the actions needed to remove them.

The all-party group pressed the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to hold an inquiry into women in sport, which it did. The Committee’s report, which was released in July this year, contained some interesting recommendations and confirmed many of the reasons for the gender gap in activity. It is not that inactive women do not want to play sport or to be active; research from Women in Sport showed that 12 million women, more than half of whom are inactive, want to

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play more sport. Many of the sports that are most popular with women, such as running and swimming, are done informally—that is an interesting clue—so they are outside the formal funding structures for sport.

Women make up 62% of participants in swimming, 42% of participants in tennis and 41% of participants in athletics, particularly running. I will come on to talk about running informally, because it is an attractive sport to women who have family responsibilities or other commitments that prevent them from taking part in team sports. There is also a clue in the figures for team sports. Only 7% of participants in football, 8% of participants in rugby union and 9% of participants in cricket are women. We can see a real trend there; women are tending to do informal sports such as running and swimming.

Many girls are put off exercise and sport at a young age, and too many girls end up thinking that sport is simply not for them. Sports such as football can seem entirely male, judging from the media coverage that they receive. Women’s sport accounts for only 0.5% of all commercial investment and only 7% of the media coverage of sport, which makes it even more difficult to encourage girls and women to participate.

In terms of financial reward, it is surprising that male footballers are paid millions of pounds every year, but women’s teams are nearly always amateur or semi-professional. Members of our England women’s football team are on contracts under which they are paid £20,000 a year—not £20,000 a day or a week, but £20,000 a year—and the England women’s rugby squad were not put on paid contracts at all until after they had won the rugby world cup. Every time I mention that, I get comments on Twitter stating that that is because of a lack of interest in women playing sport. I understand that 55,000 tickets have been sold for the England-Germany women’s football match at Wembley this Sunday, so perhaps that tide is turning.

Women’s and girls’ negative perceptions of sport often stem from negative experiences of physical education and sport at school. That point is supported by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee report. A survey carried out by Women in Sport found that 51% of girls felt deterred from physical activity by their experiences of school sport and PE. Many girls describe their experience negatively, citing a lack of choice, an overly competitive environment, a lack of confidence in their own ability and concerns about body image. It is essential that we change young girls’ perceptions of sport if we want them to be active for life. We must, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent said, create exercise classes and sporting activities that actually interest girls.

I look forward to the campaign being launched by Sport England, which aims to change our perception of girls and women doing sport. The campaign is called “This Girl Can”, and it will aim to see more women and girls exercising regularly or playing sport with less fear of judgment, more confidence and more enjoyment.

I will mention two very worthwhile initiatives of the sort that we see springing up now. “Fatty Must Run” is a social media advice and support initiative and Twitter account run by Julie Creffield, and it helps people who are overweight and starting to take exercise. Another great initiative is the “Couch to 5K” running group in Blackburn, where volunteers support free group running

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sessions to encourage inactive people to run regularly. As part of our thinking about how to increase activity levels, we must look at similar wonderful, often voluntary, initiatives and find ways to support them.

It is time to focus on the scale of the problems we face with inactivity and health. I have mentioned that we could save 37,000 lives a year if everyone in the UK were sufficiently active. Women in the UK have the 10th highest rate in the world of cancers linked to physical inactivity. In 2012, there were nearly 79,000 deaths across the country from bowel, breast and womb cancers, of which an estimated 12,000 could have been prevented if women were more physically active. In Salford, the CAN-Move project aims to ensure that physical activity is part of the pathway for patients with breast, bowel or prostate cancers, and it offers those patients a 12-week physical activity programme. Such projects should be available more widely, but the most important thing is to focus on encouraging people to be physically active earlier, not simply when they already have a cancer.

9.58 am

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on securing this important debate. I feel somewhat daunted to be following the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), who is something of an expert on women’s sport and fitness. That was to be the focus of much of my speech, but there are a couple of other areas that I would like to discuss.

We have heard at length this morning about the problems associated with a lack of physical activity, and I wanted to focus briefly on some of the positives. Perhaps I come from a fortunate position and constituency, because Test Valley, in the south-east of England, is the eighth most active borough in the country. I spent 10 years of my life as the leisure portfolio holder on the local council, so I should know a little bit about what we did to encourage such activity, to ensure that there were pathways from school sports into clubs and to try to retain the crucial group of 14 to 18-year-old girls, where there is the most stark drop-off in levels of physical activity.

Test Valley borough council has long had a determined commitment to ensuring that sports clubs are supported, encouraged and celebrated. The weekend before last, I was lucky enough to go to the inaugural Romsey and District sports awards—a fantastic, uplifting event at which there was absolutely no shame about celebrating elite sport and the successes of those who have achieved a phenomenal amount, either as individuals or as part of teams and clubs. But there were also categories for veterans, a critical group that is being encouraged to stay in sport longer and be active later in life. There were also categories for coaches and volunteers. The volunteers were perhaps the most inspiring group, as they are giving up thousands of hours every year to ensure that clubs can keep going.

In my area, we are lucky to have a wide range of clubs. Every year there is a sports fair at Romsey sports centre, where the pathways from school sport into clubs are promoted and made accessible and inviting. One of the biggest barriers to physical participation is cultural.

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I always use the example of a golf club where, after walking in through the door, people are almost inevitably told that they are wearing the wrong things. The same is true of many gyms, where it is imperative to be wearing the right kit. Wherever people go, there are mirrors on every wall. People who feel somewhat nervous or anxious about making that first step—I firmly believe that the first step is the most important—can sometimes be put off instantly on arrival.

I have long said that the hardest thing when it comes to keeping girls and women in sport is that wonderful substance Lycra. Everyone in the gym will be wearing it, yet those who feel slightly self-conscious about their appearance, or those who might be overweight, may look in the mirror at themselves clad in Lycra and decide that the gym is not for them and that they are never coming back.

It is critical that we have welcoming environments that are accessible in terms of both cost and the physical structure of the buildings. It is also imperative that we have a welcoming, enthusiastic and encouraging culture among instructors. I declare an interest as a parliamentary ambassador for the YMCA, which has led the way on physical activity and sport over the past 150-plus years. It is very seldom that people will go into a gym in this country and find instructors who have not been taught by the YMCA how to make the environment welcoming and successful and how to enthuse people to achieve what they can.

As chairman of the all-party group on body image, I have focused on some of the cultural barriers to participation, but I will say a few words about why it is important to encourage and not to “fat shame,” a hideous term. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South refer to “Fatty Must Run”, about which I have some reservations because the first step is the hardest. In a nation of people who are not taking part in enough sport and exercise, we have to encourage that first step. We have to make it culturally acceptable and the norm for people to take part, and we have to give them a pat on the back when they start taking part in sport.

The fat-shaming that we see from celebrities such as Katie Hopkins does the wrong thing, and we have to try to encourage everyone, whatever their size or shape, to take part in sport. It is true that people can be healthy at any size and inactivity is a danger for its own sake, so, whatever their body shape, I encourage people to participate.

I conclude by picking up the point about the participation of girls and women. Fifty per cent. of girls are put off sport in secondary school, and that feeling can continue for the rest of their lives. My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) referred to jumpers being used as goalposts, which is an important point. It is easy for boys to take part in football because all they need is four jumpers and a ball. Traditional women’s sports require a great deal more equipment, and it is therefore harder for girls to carry on in sport once they leave school.

Many other hon. Members wish to contribute to this debate, so I will finish with one parting shot to the Minister: the Olympic legacy is critical. A feel-good factor is not enough; we want genuine well-being as our Olympic legacy.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. I am afraid that we are now running up against the clock, so from this point I will set a formal five-minute time limit on speeches.

10.4 am

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on securing this debate, and I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on allocating time for a subject whose importance is increasingly being recognised. The Select Committee on Health, of which my good and hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and I are members, will be holding an inquiry on the impact of physical activity and diet on health, so this is a timely debate. I am sure that the evidence compiled by the Select Committee will be brought to the Minister’s attention, and that appropriate action will be taken.

Many hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have covered the general subject areas, so in the interests of brevity I do not intend to repeat the statistics, but I will mention some specific issues that affect my constituency of Easington, County Durham in the north-east of England. The figures on physical inactivity quoted by hon. Members earlier in the debate are even higher in my region. Some 32% of people in County Durham are classed as physically inactive, and all the projections indicate that the problem will get worse. Higher degrees of inactivity are predicted by 2030.

International comparisons show that our levels of inactivity are twice those in Germany and France. I thought we would be rather more active than the United States, but our levels of inactivity are 20% higher. It is generally recognised that physical inactivity is a considerable public health problem. The numbers of people who are likely to suffer as a consequence of physical inactivity were identified earlier in the debate. It has been suggested that physical activity can help to combat, or at least delay the onset of, conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and even dementia.

The costs are not just for the individual; there are also costs for communities and our economy. There are various estimates of the cost to the UK economy, and I have seen a figure of £20 billion a year, so there are direct costs associated with the health issues. My hon. Friend said that £9 billion a year is spent on costs associated with treating type 2 diabetes, but many other health issues are also caused by inactivity. There are also indirect costs such as, for example, lost days of work and low productivity. Employers need to take note. Some 16 million working days are lost every year due to obesity-related illnesses, so improving workplace health could have an immense impact on individual businesses and the economy. It is in everyone’s interests to address physical inactivity.

There have been some welcome improvements, and hon. Members have mentioned local authorities that are trying to prioritise physical activity, but local authorities are facing considerable pressures as a consequence of cuts in central Government funding, which have inevitably had an impact on their ability to deliver activities and opportunities to engage in physical activity. My local authority, Durham county council, is one of the hardest hit, and such authorities face some of the greatest

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challenges in relation to physical inactivity. Such authorities have seen the deepest cuts to their overall budgets. Indeed, 13 of the 15 local authorities with the most inactive populations are located in areas that are considered most deprived or more deprived. Despite facing huge challenges, particularly public health challenges, Durham county council has had to implement £135 million of cuts in three years, with another £44 million of cuts in the pipeline.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. Time is up, I am afraid.

10.9 am

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on securing this debate on an important subject on which I know he has been campaigning for many years. Many of us have taken the opportunity to come to support him.

I draw Members’ attention to my interests: I am co-chair of the all-party group on mountaineering, a vice-chair of the all-party group on mountain rescue and secretary of the all-party group on national parks; there is a definite outdoor theme there. I will spend a few minutes discussing why it is vital to ensure that we tackle the challenge of physical inactivity, and how we can do even more by tackling it in an outdoor setting. Over the past few years, I have been passionate as a Member of Parliament about ensuring that we get people off the sofa and outdoors to be active. The good news is that we are making progress. We have had numerous debates; I secured a debate on outdoor pursuits recently, and in September the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) secured a debate on outdoor sport and recreation.

It is positive that we have been working closely with Ministers, particularly the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), who takes a keen interest in the matter, and of course our very own Minister for public health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who is an example in that respect. She was kind enough to come to the Macclesfield area and High Peak, and we walked around Goyt valley and up on to Shining Tor, practising what she preaches by having a meeting outdoors, talking and walking. She is an excellent walker and a great ambassador for the issue. I commend her for the important work that she does.

Why are we doing this? As Members have highlighted, it is important to recognise that 30% of the UK population are inactive, compared with Scandinavia, where the figure is more like 8%. Clearly, there are other countries not very far away that have grasped the nettle better and more effectively than we have. A key report published recently, “Moving More, Living More”, suggests that the cost of physical inactivity is around £20 billion. We have a chance to reduce premature death. The importance of physical activity in tackling mental health issues as well has not been stressed as much in this debate as in other settings. The well-being aspects of walking and cycling, for example, are critical. Charities in my area, such as Age UK Cheshire East, make every effort to show people those well-being aspects.

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It is good that we can take the agenda forward through Government and local authorities, but importantly, we can get more people involved in outdoor activities by bringing together various groups. Progress is being made; a year or two ago, we launched an important programme called “Britain on Foot”, and now a coalition of outdoor organisations including the Ramblers, the Youth Hostels Association, Living Streets, the British Mountaineering Council and the Outdoor Industry Association has published six key proposals for Government action on the outdoors.

The first and most important is that we need cross-government support for a long-term strategy on outdoor recreation. We need a strategy for promoting outdoor activities and tackling physical inactivity, just as we have one for sport. Interestingly, Sport Cheshire has now changed its name to Active Cheshire, an approach which I am sure has been mirrored in other parts of the country as well, to show that we need a more holistic approach. Yes, we have a sport strategy, but now we also need a physical or outdoor activity strategy to match it every step of the way. The aim is to get 1 million more people out of physical inactivity.

Another of the six key proposals is to increase opportunities for young people to be active outdoors; I know that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent is particularly keen on that. The work of the Scouts, the Guides and Duke of Edinburgh programmes provides clear opportunities. I hope that the Minister, in her winding-up remarks, will show her support for the six key proposals, as the Sports Minister has done. We need a cross-government approach to the issue. The Sport and Recreation Alliance’s report “Reconomics”, published earlier this year, says that we have a vast blue and green gym that we should be using more often. It is free. Let us get more people active outdoors.

10.14 am

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on securing this debate. I do not want to repeat too much of what has been said. As people will know, I have had an active interest in public health for a number of my years in the House, and I have said on numerous occasions that the public health issues for the 21st century will not involve sanitation, fresh water supplies or bad housing, although unfortunately, in such a rich country bad housing still exists; they will have more to do with individual lifestyles and behaviour, including smoking, drinking alcohol in unhealthy amounts and other things. Inactivity is a major threat to public health in the 21st century.

My hon. Friend talked about the national health service being a sickness service. I have used it on many occasions, and for most of my life it has really been a national ill-health service. It reacts to people on the basis that there is something wrong, and we must move away from that. I say to the Minister that although I do not have many compliments to pay about the contents of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, moving public health into local government so that it becomes a part of local society was a proper thing to do. Also in that Act, although I have heard little about them since, were provisions on population health and how we measure it, and on health inequalities, from which constituencies such as mine suffer badly. I would like a lot more to be done on that issue.

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There is a wealth of evidence clearly showing that an active life is essential for physical and mental health and well-being. A number of diseases, including cancer and diabetes, are affecting an increasing number of people at an earlier age, as are conditions such as obesity, hypertension and depression. Regular physical activity can guard against such conditions. We must enable people to take control of their current and future health.

Boosting parents’ understanding about active play and physical literacy is essential for children as well. My childhood was not spent on Xboxes, or even in front of television for much of the time. Most of the time, if the weather was right, we were outdoors, climbing trees or playing football on the street, and up to all sorts of things. We had a far more active life than my grandchildren do. Outwith activities such as football and so on, they lead a pretty sedentary life in front of televisions and in their play.

Being active increases quality of life at every age and increases everyone’s chance of remaining healthy and independent. The benefits do not stop there; there are many other social, individual and emotional reasons to promote more physical activity. Being active plays a key role in brain development in early childhood, and it is good for long-term educational attainment. Increased energy levels boost workplace productivity and reduce sickness absence.

As Members have hinted, the experience of other countries tells us that getting the whole nation active every day will happen only if we involve all sectors. Countries such as Finland, the Netherlands and Germany have turned their inactivity situation around—not in years, I admit, but in decades in places such as Norway. We all need to engage with such strategies in our communities. In order to make real and lasting change, we must take a long-term, evidence-based approach, building on what we know works, and embed physical activity into the fabric of daily life, making it an easy, cost-effective and normal choice in every community in England.

I will finish by giving an example. More than 20 years ago in my constituency, a then coal mining village called Thurcroft set up a programme with the local public health organisation called Thurcroft Healthy Hearts. It brought schoolchildren and pensioners together to discuss issues such as smoking. Inevitably, as it was a three-year programme, it ended after three years. Little evaluation of its benefits was done, although people were asked if they were happy with it and they said yes. However, from that programme came Thurcroft walking group. I walked with the group a couple of years ago. Its members are elderly people who have been meeting once a week to walk together, which has been to their general benefit. That is what we need more of in our society.

10.19 am

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on bringing this issue forward for consideration.

When we look at the figures for physical inactivity, some of them are horrendous. In a world where we are so image and health conscious, it makes me wonder why we have not moved forward in the way that we should have done.

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We followed the Olympic games in 2012 by putting an emphasis on making more people do forms of exercise. Cycling was in, the gas-guzzlers were out and pedal power seemed to be winning the day.

We also have to look at ourselves, because we are all different—in fact, unique. We are all different shapes and sizes. Also, some of us have faster metabolisms than others. Some of us could eat buns and cakes until the cows come home and not get fat; others just look at buns and cakes and their waistline expands straight away. That is what we are—different—so sometimes we have our own in-built systems that have to be addressed as well, and physical activity is a way of doing that. We want to try to ensure that those who are inactive consider physical activity; if they do not do more physical activity, their lives could be shortened.

Thirty minutes of exercise—three 10-minute blocks of exercise—can increase our life span, and reduce our chances of developing a wide variety of diseases. I am a type 2 diabetic myself. My developing diabetes was not necessarily down to a lack of exercise; it was down to diet. What we eat is therefore also important. Physical activity is important, but so is diet.

There are international figures to show the number of people who are not getting the recommended levels of physical activity. In the Netherlands, the figure is just 18% of the population; in Germany, 28%; in France, 33%; Finland and Australia are tied at 38%; they are followed by the USA, the stereotypical view of which is that everything is supersized, including people’s thighs, and 41% of its population are not reaching the levels of activity recommended; but the figure for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is 63%, so we are at the wrong end of the scale, unfortunately.

Why is that important? It is important because Finland in 1970, for example, had the highest rate of heart disease in the whole of Europe, but now Finland has one of the lowest rates of premature cardiovascular deaths in Europe, the figure having dropped by 65% since 1970. In Finland, men are now living for an average of seven years longer, and women for an average of eight years longer, than they did in 1970. The right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron), who spoke before me, was absolutely right when he said that it has taken decades for that type of change to happen, but we have to start somewhere and hopefully we can start here.

At present, physical inactivity is responsible for 17% of premature deaths in the UK. According to ukactive, if everyone in England achieved their recommended amount of physical activity, 37,000 lives would be saved each year. Unfortunately, the other part of that equation is that if action is not taken, that figure of 17% will increase by another 15% by 2030. That is why the Government need to encourage the general public to be more active. In her response, perhaps the Minister could consider defining physical activity as a stand-alone public health issue, as has been requested by the World Health Organisation.

In its report, “Steps to solving inactivity”, ukactive found a clear correlation between physical inactivity and deprivation. That is also why this issue should be prioritised in public health, education, social care and transport policy. Active children are more likely to be

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active adults, so the education in this area must start at home at an early stage. It is for not only the Department of Health, but the Department for Education and other Departments to consider. When it comes to the education of children, we all know the benefits of eating well and exercising.

The right hon. Member for Rother Valley said that when we were younger we had physical exercise; we did not have Facebook or Xboxes. That is a fact. Some parents even tell me that their children contact them in the kitchen below by texting or Facebooking them from the bedroom above. That is ridiculous, but it is a fact; that is sometimes how things are done. That is where we are moving to, and we have to address those issues. We are also in a different age, one where the vulnerability of children is greater than before, and we are obviously concerned about that.

In his introduction to the debate, the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent referred to the anti-smoking campaign. It has been so successful that since 1998 1.5 million people have stopped smoking. Physical inactivity is the fourth largest cause of disease and disability in the UK, contributing to one in six deaths here. When we consider what the anti-smoking campaign achieved, I believe that we can do the same when it comes to promoting physical activity. Exercise is necessary for everyone’s health, regardless of their shape and size.

10.24 am

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Weir, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on securing this important debate, because we are very aware that inactivity has a direct impact on health, as we are so obviously seeing across the country.

Quite simply, our lives have changed. Many people now work in non-physically demanding jobs, where they spend many hours in front of a screen, before heading home to spend many more hours in front of a screen. Our leisure pursuits have changed as well, and even more so for our young. As we have heard, online games etc. are providing great competition for the more traditional games and sports in children’s leisure time.

Inactivity and poor diet are taking their toll. We see that in our hospitals and in our health centres. As you will know, Mr Weir, many GPs in Scotland are now prescribing activity, in the form of “gym prescriptions”.

The UK is staring at an epidemic of poor health brought on by obesity, which is due to a lack of activity and a poor diet. This is happening across the UK, where the only thing that seems to be getting faster is our eating habits. Drive-through food outlets can be seen everywhere. These are fine if they are visited infrequently, but unfortunately some people visit them frequently.

As we know, prevention is always better than cure. In Scotland, we are ahead of other parts of the UK and the world in suffering from this obesity epidemic; I suspect that you will agree with me, Mr Weir, when I say that that is the only world league table that we do not want to top. The problem hit us some years ago, and we had to take serious action to try to reverse the trend and prevent another generation from becoming inactive.

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Top of all the unhealthy league tables—that is where we in Scotland found ourselves. Heart problems and diabetes brought on by a poor diet and people being overweight, coupled with smoking-related illnesses and the impact of over-drinking, all damaged our health, and at younger ages. We were seeing health problems associated with people in their 80s taking hold while people were in their 40s. We needed to get more active, and to improve our quality of life in so many ways. We needed to promote activity and sport for all. I am glad to say that that message is getting through. I myself am a Zumba orphan; my mother spends more time doing Zumba than she does on the phone, or talking to me.

My constituency of Inverclyde built all-new schools with state-of-the-art sports facilities. Inverclyde schools’ sport facilities are first class and free for use by our communities. We also employed sports co-ordinators to introduce kids to a variety of sports and even more importantly to continue that sporting activity by linking up with clubs after school. The last time we did that I myself was in secondary school. That was when we built new facilities and I was introduced to a new indoor sport called basketball. In Inverclyde, we also offer free swimming to kids under 16, as well as free hire of 2G, 3G and—even in Scotland’s climate—grass pitches for under-19 teams. Funding all that is not easy, but if we did not, the cost in the future would be quite simply unbearable. We bought into the legacy of the London Olympics and the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, using those events to excite people and promote activity.

Inverclyde educates and promotes the importance of getting active, and of healthy eating. You are what you eat. We tell youngsters that if they put rubbish in, they will get rubbish out, especially in sport. We are educating our kids to cut out as much sugar as possible, and to eat “five a day”. The message is getting through. I paid a visit to a school, where I ate a school meal, and one of the pupils told a teacher that I had only three pieces of fruit and not five. I was guilty, and had to take another two pieces. So, as I say, the message is getting through.

We have been removing fizzy drinks from schools, and replacing them with water. However, we cannot do that on our own. We need our supermarkets to buy into this process too. We simply need to ask: why is fruit more expensive than sweets? We should remove sweets from the checkout area. We should also make things easier for hard-working families, because the fruit and vegetables that they are taking home are not lasting the full week and they have to make further trips to the supermarket to stock up.

In conclusion, what can the Government do? I should like to offer some low-cost solutions that I am sure they would be interested in. They could do more to promote sport and an active life style; they could approach supermarkets about their short sell-by date food-laden shelves and about ready meals; and they could emphasise the reduction in sugar consumption. Activity can be a small part of people’s day, but it is a big part of their life.

10.29 am

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on securing this debate

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and all colleagues across the House who supported the application for it. We have heard some important contributions by hon. Members from all parties.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank the many organisations that are doing an important job to get Britain moving—hon. Members mentioned many of them—including ukactive, Sustrans and StreetGames. I had the pleasure of joining Living Streets on a walk to work back in May, to celebrate national walking month and the benefits of walking to work, so I have seen first hand the fantastic work that it does. I also thank my hon. Friend for mentioning pedometers. Many hon. Members measure their steps on a daily basis. I am just on 2,000 already today and on my way to securing my 10,000 a day.

I share hon. Members’ concerns about the place of physical activity in our society. Just a few generations ago, physical activity was an integral part of daily life, yet today it is becoming ever less a part of our daily routines. The opportunity to move and be active in modern life has declined dramatically: advances in technology mentioned by hon. Members, the rise in passive entertainment options, community safety concerns, roads that are not safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and limited playgrounds and green spaces are just a few of the reasons why.

We have heard the statistics, but they are worth reiterating. In some parts of the UK, more than 40% of the adult population is classed as inactive and a quarter of all adults in England are failing to do enough physical activity to benefit their health. Nearly half of all 11 to 25-year-olds in England—more than 4.5 million individuals —fail to achieve the chief medical officer’s recommended levels of physical activity. This is deeply concerning. Our nation’s children and young people are not getting the activity that they need to stay strong, fit, healthy and happy, which is something that will inevitably affect them in later life.

As we heard, insufficient levels of physical activity are estimated to cost more than £7.5 billion nationally. Other figures have also been mentioned. That sum is broken down to just over £1 billion in the NHS, £5.5 billion in lost productivity and £1 billion in premature mortality among the working-age population. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) also mentioned the staggering 16 million days lost in the workplace, which we must be concerned about and take action on.

More than 1 million children are classed as obese and a third of children leaving primary school are classed as obese or overweight. We know that the status quo is not working. If we are to make the NHS financially sustainable in the 21st century, it follows that we need to have the most ambitious plans for physical activity, to contend with those lifestyle diseases that the NHS is increasingly responding to.

We know that physical activity is the simplest and cheapest route to good health and staying well. Moving from inactivity to activity is one of the easiest first lifestyle changes to make. This has been looked at academically and found to be easier than altering diet, stopping smoking or reducing drinking—and it can cost next to nothing, too. However, the issue is about more than health; it is also about people fulfilling their potential and making the maximum contribution. We know that children who are more active are more likely

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to achieve better exam results and earn more throughout their lives. I echo the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent about lower levels of physical activity in more deprived communities. I should be keen to hear the Minister respond to that issue.

Put simply, physical activity and sport builds strong people and strong communities. Yet for an activity that brings such universal health benefits, there seems to be very little centrally driven support for its promotion. We have neither a way of accurately measuring the physical activity people take, nor consistent messages about what level of physical activity people should be taking. Until recently, the guideline for adults was for them to take 30 minutes or more of physical activity of moderate intensity on at least five days a week. That is a minimum of two and a half hours of physical activity per week.

In 2008, the health survey for England measured physical activity among adults by means of a questionnaire. Some 39% of men and 29% of women reported that they met the recommended minimum level of physical activity. However, when accelerometers were used on a group to measure their physical activity objectively, the real percentages were actually 6% and 4%. That was complex enough, but to make things more challenging, in 2011 new guidelines were produced by the UK’s four chief medical officers that are particularly complex—I shall not read them out; I struggle to understand exactly what the recommendations are.

There are other issues to consider, too. The active people survey does not actually measure activity and does not include recreational walking or recreational cycling. We no longer even have a way of measuring children’s participation in school sport, because the school sports survey, which measured the proportion of pupils receiving two hours of curriculum PE and the proportion participating in at least three hours of “high quality” PE a week, was scrapped in 2010. So, too, were the regulations that previously tracked schools’ travel patterns. Will the Minister share with us any plans to clarify this confusing picture and introduce a more consistent way of measuring physical activity? Are there any plans to reintroduce the school sports survey and school travel survey?

Again I share concerns raised by hon. Members about the Olympic legacy in our country, despite the huge progress made under the previous Labour Government. In 2002, just 25% of children undertook two hours of PE and sport in school, but by the end of the previous Labour’s Government time in office this had been raised to 93%. The previous Labour Government also created 422 school sports partnerships and 2,300 school sport co-ordinators, covering every school. It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) who promised a “golden decade of sport”, kicked off by the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. Yet a series of decisions has meant that these ambitions have not quite been realised under this Government.

The school sport partnerships—the local networks of schools and PE teachers—which had quietly been achieving notable success in getting students across England to be more physically active during school hours, have been

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abandoned; playing fields in some areas have been sold off; and school sport targets have been removed. We heard earlier this month that the borough that hosted the Olympic games is the least physically active in England.

Grahame M. Morris: Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the impact that cuts in local government have had, particularly on youth services? In national youth week last week, a number of youth clubs, including in Peterlee in my area, were reporting that they may have to close because of funding cuts.

Luciana Berger: I will move on to that point in a second. I was interested in the remarks made by the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson). I have seen first hand some young people in my constituency who have taken part in the national citizen service, but that is just a few young people. At the same time, throughout the country, we have seen devastating cuts to our youth services. I want all young people to have access to good services. In a moment, I will mention my concerns about local authority cuts.

I should be interested in hearing from the Minister what work the Government are doing to mobilise all the different sectors, industries and organisations that have a role in getting Britain moving. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington mentioned people with dementia. We need particularly to pay more attention to and focus more on older people.

I am keen to hear what the Government are doing to encourage councils, which have the delivery system, to open up their parks, improve access to leisure centres and swimming pools, and make walking, running and cycling a key consideration of developments. However, I echo the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington about cuts sustained by local authorities throughout the country. My own area in Liverpool has had its budget cut by 56% and it is struggling to do all those things well.

We know that small adjustments to workplaces can make active travel or exercise before or after work a much more realistic option. What work are the Government doing with employers so that workplaces can become more physical activity-friendly? I have asked a number of questions about the health at work programme, and I was disappointed to learn from a parliamentary question that no records are being kept of the number of businesses that are becoming good health at work employers. That is a key issue, which needs more attention and resource directed towards it.

What work are the Government doing with sport governing bodies to ensure that the great success we have enjoyed at the elite level is matched with the same success at grass-roots level? I, for one, enjoyed taking part earlier this year in the “Back to Netball” programme, and I would like to hear about more projects like that that the Government are encouraging across the country—not only for young people, but for adults.

There is a particular concern and challenge around young people at college or university and the differing costs of accessing physical activity and organised sport in places of higher and tertiary education. In the absence of school sport partnerships and compulsory minimum numbers of hours of physical education in schools, how

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will the Government ensure that sport and activity are a feature of every school, with quality sports coaching and provision in all schools?

I echo the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) about female participation in sport and physical activity. We know that there is a gap between the number of men and the number of women who take part, and I would be keen to hear from the Minister what the Government are doing in that area. Finally, what action are the Government taking to promote active travel and create environments where people are more likely to walk or cycle for short journeys?

With the right support and direction from Government, getting Britain moving is a single, simple, positive goal that the whole country can get behind—a goal that has the potential to shift our national culture. The issue is not about finger-wagging or telling people they cannot do something they enjoy; it is about promoting a positive activity that people can feel good about and an affordable route to good health and well-being for the whole population. It is the most cost-effective way of making our public services and our NHS sustainable now and in the future.

10.41 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): First, I thank the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) for securing this debate on such an important topic. It is one of my personal passions, particularly while I have been in this job. It is evident from the contributions of so many colleagues, who made so many thoughtful points, that many share my passion for this area. I do not pretend to think that I can respond to every specific point that was raised, because it has been a varied and wide-ranging debate, which demonstrates Parliament’s appetite to get stuck into this topic. I will return to the powerful role that MPs have in increasing levels of physical activity if I have time towards the end of my remarks.

Society has changed a great deal, and that sits behind everything we have been debating this morning—why we have become more sedentary—and other Members have laid that out. I will not spend too much of my speech going over the evidence base, because it has been well covered by the hon. Gentleman and other Members, but the evidence base is well established for the problems that the level of physical inactivity in our nation is causing. I was pleased to hear Members talk about not only physical conditions, but mental health. I think dementia was also mentioned. There is an important evidence base for the fact that becoming more physically active can benefit people in a great many ways. One of my personal passions is how physical activity can impact on social isolation and exclusion; I will try and touch on that later. I will not reiterate what other Members have said on the statistics on how inactive we have become as a nation, because they are all on the record; I would prefer to use my time—I am conscious of leaving a little bit of time for the hon. Gentleman to wind up—by telling the House what the Government are doing.

I will say a few words about obesity. It is a slightly complex area, as I was saying to the hon. Gentleman just before we came into the Chamber. We are clear that

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all the expert evidence suggests that while physical activity brings the important health benefits that we have been discussing—such things as stronger muscles and bones and improved cardiovascular health and metabolic health, as well as some of the psychological well-being aspects—tackling obesity is fundamentally about eating and drinking less. That is what will lead to significant weight loss. That is not to belittle the role of physical activity, but to emphasise its importance. Physical activity cannot just be seen through the narrow prism of its role in weight loss, because it is bigger and more important than that and goes to the heart of so many well-being and other social issues. I am keen that it is not cast only in the light of weight loss. We need to understand its role in tackling obesity, not least in encouraging active lifestyles in children from the very start and not building up problems for future generations, but it is a little more complex than that.

Barbara Keeley: Will the Minister acknowledge that it is important for overweight people and large people to take exercise, because they will be healthier, whatever size they are, if they do that? There is a danger in focusing just on weight loss, instead of exercise. If people take exercise, it is likely to lead to a healthier lifestyle and a desire to lose weight.

Jane Ellison: Absolutely. I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. It is exactly why we should not just link obesity and physical activity together. It is better for everyone to move. I will come on to some of the conditions that are helped by that, but she is right that whatever someone’s age, weight or state of health, moving more is always a better option.

Members have touched on this, but it was an important moment when we saw prevention put right at the heart of the NHS with the publication of the “NHS Five Year Forward View”. Public Health England collaborated closely with the NHS on the prevention chapter of that forward view, which states:

“The future health of millions of children, the sustainability of the NHS, and the economic prosperity of Britain all now depend on a radical upgrade in prevention and public health.”

It cannot be said more profoundly than that that this issue is important. The attention given to that aspect of the forward view was heartening to me as the public health Minister, because I had not heard the prevention agenda put quite so much at the heart of the health debate in our country and related to the sustainability of our great public services to that extent.

Members have talked about shifting the narrative. With the best will in the world, Governments can only do so much. We have to shift the population’s thinking from where we are now to where we need to be. A couple of Members touched on the role of some of the major charities. I have been having conversations with some of the major health charities about how they can harness the reach and reputation they enjoy among our population. For example, Macmillan Cancer Support is famous for its wonderful cancer care, but it is a bit less famous for the excellent work it does with the Ramblers on the evidence base on walking as a key element of physical activity. I have been talking to Macmillan and others, including some of the big cancer charities, about what more they can do to get people to understand

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more widely the role of physical activity in preventing diseases, because those charities have enormous reach into the population.

I pay tribute to Breakthrough Breast Cancer on its message, “Raise your pulse, reduce your risk”, which is a campaign that tells women that 30 minutes of daily physical activity can reduce the risk of breast cancer by at least 20%. Arthritis Research UK launched a piece around understanding arthritis, which addresses exactly the point that the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) made in her intervention. It is tackling the misguided belief that someone should rest if they have joint pain and is trying to put some of its weight, resource and reputation behind simple messages on standing, walking and being more active, even for people with some of those physical challenges.

We have dwelled a lot on physical inactivity among the young, and I will come on to some of the things that the Government are doing to help that, but the most inactive generation is the oldest generation. Only one in 10 men and one in 20 women over 75 are active enough to stay healthy. I am lucky enough to have both my parents still with me—one is 80 and the other is just under 80—and very much active and healthy. My father is still cycling 50 miles a week at 78. I look at their lifestyles and I see how much can be gained from staying active as people grow old. It helps them to remain independent for longer and tackles some of the thorny issues of social isolation. Active older people are unlikely to be lonely. We must be passionate about the activity agenda for older people, as well as the sensible focus on getting the young into good habits.

On the role of Government, experience from across the globe shows that getting everybody active every day will work only if everyone is involved, including all levels of government, so I want to discuss what we have been doing recently, because the level of activity is good. At a national level and following up on the Olympic legacy—I chair a cross-ministerial group on the physical aspect of the legacy—we started “Moving More, Living More” as a cross-Government policy to get more people active. It stresses that physical activity is everyone’s business. If it just sits in a health silo, we will fail again. I have had conversations with Lord Coe, who recognises that we have been around this circuit before. Physical activity cannot just be a health measure; it must be embedded across all levels of Government and local government.

Following on from that, we have taken a much more granular approach and have provided a proper toolkit. Just last month, Public Health England published the “Everybody Active, Every Day” framework. It was going to be published early next year, but I urged it to bring that forward to this autumn, so that it was available to local authorities when planning their 2015-16 spend. We have provided £8.2 billion for public health over three years, and it is important that we also provide the best evidence base for how to spend that money for local populations.

I want to describe how the scheme was produced, because it has been a wide-ranging collaborative effort. I hope that MPs all received their toolkit. It might still be lurking in the inbox—we all receive a lot of e-mails—but please look for it, because it was designed to give MPs

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a role in promoting the agenda. The campaign was co-produced with more than 1,000 cross-sector organisations and individuals at national and local level. It was begun at a workshop in January this year. Since then, we have had nine expert round tables attended by more than 200 experts. Five regional forums have been attended by some 750 individuals, including people from local authorities. The “Moving More, Living More” policy and the recommendations of the all-party commission on physical activity—I see one of its members here—fed into the process. We held sector-specific presentations and workshops, bilateral meetings with Government and nine expert rapid topic overviews.

Good and promising practice has been collated, and we have also commissioned work on what constitutes such practice, with more than 960 submissions for assessment. I have also commissioned a review of return on investment data, which is critical for local government. A public consultation was held on the draft documents, with 183 submissions raising 550 specific issues. The output from the exercise, which was launched at the Oval last month, includes a toolkit, as mentioned, for elected representatives—I worked with Public Health England on the MP toolkit and we are looking at one for locally elected members as well—and free British Medical Journal-sponsored e-learning modules. Regarding the review of promising practice in communities, we have commissioned the Centre for Sport and Exercise Science and ukactive’s research institute to consider and rate submissions. We have also done some detailed topic overviews, in particular looking at some in-depth guidance for addressing complex issues around deprivation and health inequalities, which will respond to one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent.

I have attended a high-level round table with local government leaders, who I must say are a great deal more optimistic than the shadow Minister about their ability to deliver on this agenda. The meeting was cross-party and extremely positive, and I have seen many of the things that they have been doing. This is a collaborative effort right across local and national Government to take us to the next level in terms of an evidence-based approach to physical activity. Like the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron), who spoke about public health sitting well with local government, I absolutely think that it has landed in the right place. I have seen some fantastic examples of real leadership, but we need to give local government the tools to do the job. We do not want people endlessly reiterating the evidence base and endlessly trying to work out what works and carrying out their own evaluations when that can be done at a national level through the resources of Public Health England.

The four areas within “Everybody Active, Every Day” are “Active society”, “Moving professionals”, which is about ensuring that our professionals are geared up to make every contact count, “Active environments”, and “Moving at scale”, which is about the big interventions—as opposed to small, excellent micro-interventions—that will really make a difference to the population. The framework contains a lot more detail, and I urge Members to have a look at it, because it is what we are now engaging with local government leaders on. I was asked about the data that local authorities have at their disposal and the Active People survey provides them with areas to target.

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In addition to all that, my Department has given £11.4 million to the Change4Life sports club programme, through which 13,500 clubs have been established to help our children to be more active. Those clubs have deliberately been set up in areas of high childhood obesity and significant deprivation. We are also investing £180 million over three years into the primary PE and sport premium to improve health outcomes for primary-age children. We have provided £30.5 million to fund the School games organisers, who are responsible for delivering the games and co-ordinating Change4Life sports clubs. Much work is ongoing with the Department for Transport around cycling cities, and we have augmented its funding by putting money into five walking cities.

Sport England recently announced that it is also making more money available to help to get people more active. I echo everything that has been said today about women’s participation and removing barriers to entry. Some extremely good points were made. I welcome the fact that Sport England has recognised that and is looking to fund things that many of us would not traditionally recognise as sport and things beyond team sport. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), I remember the Lycra shame of the 1980s and the “feel the burn” movement. We do not want people to go to something once and then give it up. We must remove the barriers to entry. I heard about wonderful local government initiatives, such as T-shirt swimming days for people who do not want to swim in just a swimsuit, and other clever things.

However, we need to get the message out there, which much of the debate concentrated on. I must be honest that I do not believe the chief medical officer’s guidelines are well understood. They are difficult for health professionals to understand and the same is certainly true for the public. I have commissioned a piece of work

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from Public Health England to develop a mantra for physical activity similar to “five-a-day”, which, if not universally observed, is widely known and understood.

I hope that I have provided a sense of how we are trying to follow up on the Olympic and Paralympic legacies. Lord Coe has been clear that that will be judged over decades not years, because although the shadow Minister suggested that it has developed over the past five years, the problem has developed over decades, but we are taking action. MPs have a valuable role to play. It is a huge job, but we are making great strides towards getting everybody active every day. I thank Members for their participation in the debate.

10.58 am

Nick Smith: I have little time to respond, so I unfortunately cannot comment on all the cracking contributions made in the debate, but I did particularly like the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), who talked about our spending all day in front of a screen and then going home to spend our evening in front of a screen. We should all be mindful of that. I also laughed at his story about being a Zumba orphan, because that is where his mum spends all her time these days.

I want to highlight a few points that were made in today’s debate. It is important that we reduce obesity and improve health in areas of deprivation. The costs of being unhealthy are high, particularly for clinical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The financial costs of obesity are also high, and we need to promote physical activity. The NHS’s chief executive has spoken of the NHS being bankrupted by the high costs of physical inactivity.

I thank everybody for participating in today’s debate. We must place as much emphasis on promoting physical activity as we placed on reducing smoking in the past in order to see a successful campaign.

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Corporal Stewart McLaughlin

11 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I welcome the Minister of State for defence personnel, welfare and veterans and hope that she will be able to deal in detail with my arguments today. A member of the shadow Cabinet is not often successful in applying for a Westminster Hall debate, so I want to thank Mr Speaker for allowing it to happen.

My aim is to persuade the Government to right a great injustice and finally to allow Corporal Stewart McLaughlin’s heroic actions during the battle for Mount Longdon to be considered for the recognition that they so clearly deserve. I will end my remarks early to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who also served in the Parachute Regiment, to add his voice to the plea for the long-overdue consideration of a gallantry award for Corporal McLaughlin.

The circumstances that have led us to this debate, 32 years after the event, are well known and not disputed. In July 1982 Corporal Stewart McLaughlin was a section commander in 5 platoon, B company, 3 Para, which during the Falklands war led the successful assault on Mount Longdon, overlooking Port Stanley. It was a crucial victory that led, just days later, to an Argentinian surrender. As is acknowledged, the successful outcome of that battle was substantially in doubt.

Corporal McLaughlin’s men were under sustained fire, but he reassured them by running into danger to pull the injured back to relative safety. He also protected them by leading the charge to the cover of nearby rocks. Apparently, when he realised that their position there was unsustainable, he shouted, “I will count one, two, three, and then we all go.” According to his commanding officer, he shouted, “Come on, lads, I’m bullet-proof. Follow me!” He then ran straight towards the gunfire, followed by the rest of the section, and they all reached cover. Members of the section apparently commented that it was the bravest thing they had ever seen. The regimental colonel said that Corporal McLaughlin’s heroic actions on that day are so widely known that they are now in the DNA of the regiment.

As I stood on Egremont prom on Remembrance Sunday to honour our war dead, it occurred to me that no story expresses the bravery and sacrifice of our armed forces better than that of Corporal Stewart McLaughlin, who was killed later that day in 1982, at the age of only 27. After the battle, Corporal McLaughlin’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike, wrote up a citation for bravery, but in the chaos and confusion after the battle the citation appears to have been lost, so it was never processed or considered.

The McLaughlin family are a big military family and they do Wallasey proud. Stewart’s dad, the late Edmund Joseph, served, and so did six of his eight sons. Stewart’s mum, the late Elizabeth, had much to be proud of. After Stewart McLaughlin died in June 1982, the family went to a memorial service for the fallen Paras in October of that year. At the memorial, Major Mike Argue, Stewart’s officer commanding, told Edmund that he had put Stewart in for the highest award for gallantry. Three weeks later, when the awards were published in TheGazette, Stewart’s name was not even mentioned. That

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was when Edmund knew that something was wrong and he started his campaign to get Stewart the recognition that everyone knew his actions merited.

Corporal McLaughlin’s family have run a tireless campaign for the proper consideration of Stewart’s actions, because they rightly believe that recognition of bravery should not be refused simply because of some kind of administrative error, and it was administrative error that is at fault. I first visited Edmund and his wife Elizabeth in the 1990s to lend my support to the campaign. In July this year, hundreds of Paras, family and friends marched to Downing street asking for Stewart’s bravery finally to be properly considered for an award. Thousands of people have signed a petition and it was handed to the Prime Minister on that day.

Since then, however, it is fair to say that we have come up against a brick wall of intransigence. I have received two letters, one from Lord Astor and the other from the Prime Minister, turning down a request for what they call a “review” of the situation. They are understandably worried that a gallantry award granted to Corporal McLaughlin after the passage of so many years might somehow open the floodgates, but I argue strongly that Stewart’s case cannot be reconsidered, because it was never considered in the first place. The response I have had from the Prime Minister fails to address that crucial issue.

A citation was written, but never processed. The letter from Lord Astor, a Minister at the Ministry of Defence, seems to intimate that perhaps Sir Hew Pike never submitted the citation at all. That point is patently untrue, however, and I ask the Minister present today to confirm that on the record. Sir Hew Pike, who is in the Public Gallery listening to the debate, along with Stewart’s entire chain of command in the Paras, recalls submitting the citation and has recently taken the unprecedented step of rewriting it. In it, he states:

“Cpl McLaughlin’s leadership through a terrible battle, of which his young soldiers had no previous experience, inspired confidence in all and sustained those who might otherwise have faltered.”

There are many contemporary accounts of Corporal McLaughlin’s actions on that night that are not disputed. Yet the Prime Minister’s letter refers to “reopening honours boards” and “reconsidering” Stewart’s actions which have been “rigorously examined”, even though we have established that his bravery was never considered for an award in the first place.

The Prime Minister goes on to say that there cannot be an award at this distance, because it would be unfair to those who “fought alongside him”. Yet it is precisely the testimony of those of his comrades who did fight alongside him that provides the irrefutable evidence of his heroism on that day. Indeed, some of them were on the march to Downing street in July.

It is of course right that our honours system is rigorous and above reproach. It is also right that politics should play no role in making awards. All the campaign has ever been about, however, is ensuring that Corporal McLaughlin’s actions are finally properly considered in the way that they would have been without the administrative error. The circumstances are so exceptional that I do not believe a dangerous precedent would be set if the Minister were to make us all extremely happy and announce a belated consideration in her response today.

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It would not be the first time that a retrospective award has been made. For example, in 2012 the Prime Minister announced that sailors who delivered supplies to Russia during the second world war should receive the Arctic Star. Only a month ago, the Prime Minister awarded the South Atlantic medal to soldiers who served in the Falklands in the weeks after the war had concluded, and that was done after a review. I have examples of half a dozen soldiers granted the Victoria Cross decades after their death in the late 19th century. What we are asking for would not be unprecedented.

Corporal McLaughlin gave his life in the service of his country, but he has been failed by a rigid administrative system that has forgotten his sacrifice. His citation should have been processed, but it was not. The Minister has a chance to put that right. Every Minister whom the family have met has agreed that Corporal McLaughlin displayed enormous bravery worthy of recognition. Anyone hearing his story, or reading it in much greater detail than I have presented today, would agree. Will the Minister not agree that it is now appropriate that the rewritten citation should be properly considered alongside the contemporary accounts of Stewart’s undoubtedly brave actions that day in order to give a man who gave his life for our country his due recognition?

11.9 am

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) on securing this important debate. It is quite unusual for a member of the shadow Cabinet to secure a debate of this sort, and I pay tribute to her for the tireless campaign she has pursued over many years.

I also pay tribute to the McLaughlin family. For them, it has been a long march—or, to put it into regimental parlance, a long tab—but they have made a determined case throughout in a dignified way. We know that they are supported by an extended regimental family and that they carry the good wishes of thousands of people, not just in Merseyside but across the country.

This debate is important because it is about basic fairness to Corporal McLaughlin and his family; but it is also, more broadly, about the way in which we treat our veterans. Corporal McLaughlin was a tough and robust paratrooper, serving with 5 platoon, B company, 3 Para during the battle for Mount Longdon on the night of 11 June 1982. There is no doubt that he showed supreme courage and outstanding leadership during the battle. That was acknowledged in a recent letter from the Prime Minister, in which he said:

“I have no doubt of the gallantry and incredible selflessness that was demonstrated...through his actions on the Falkland Islands.”

We know that Corporal McLaughlin ran towards sustained fire, provided support to other platoons pinned down by Argentine forces, neutralised an enemy bunker and ran forward under fire to pull a wounded man back to cover. Although one man under his command was wounded, his entire section survived the battle.

As my hon. Friend said, a citation was written at the time by the commanding officer, Lieutenant General Sir Hew Pike, then a lieutenant colonel. We also know that, although now retired, Lieutenant General Pike has taken the unusual but much welcomed step of rewriting

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the citation. That rewritten citation was submitted to the Chief of the General Staff. Given the facts that have been outlined today, will the Minister consider whether she thinks it fair that the MOD is not prepared to look at the circumstances of this exceptional case?

We should also consider the wider message that the case sends to those who have served—our veterans. By recognising Corporal McLaughlin’s sacrifice, we send a message that as a country we value the service of our men and women, that we reciprocate their service by ensuring they are treated fairly and are not disadvantaged, and that when they are injured mentally or physically they are supported. We must also be clear that their families will be properly supported if they do not return home from the places where our country has asked them to serve and that their loss is formally recognised by our nation. I am sure the Minister agrees that that is the fair thing to do.

I am sure the Minister will have received advice from her civil servants about how to respond to this debate and I have no doubt that their intentions are honourable. However, they may be advising that no special case should be considered, and that doing so may set a precedent. They should know, however—my hon. Friend has already outlined this point and I have shared the detail with the Ministry of Defence—that there is already precedent. My hon. Friend cited some examples, but we know there are more besides, including of where an award was granted decades after the action that warranted it took place.

In 1858, Private Edward Spence of the Black Watch died from wounds he sustained during the Indian Mutiny. In 1879, Lieutenant Nevill Coghill and Lieutenant Teignmouth Melvill fought at the battle of Isandlwana; they attempted to get their regimental colours to safety but were eventually caught and killed. Those are two of six examples from the period. Until a change in policy in 1907, awards for gallantry were not made posthumously. After that change, the families of those soldiers were duly invited to meet the King and receive the Victoria Crosses they had for years been denied. Military historians—we know there are quite a few of them out there—will also know about the VC awarded to Major Edward Mannock in April 1919, some time after his death in action, after a strong campaign by his former comrades, led by Ira Jones, and through the support of Winston Churchill. Precedent is not an issue in this case.

Let us be clear: given the concerns that have rightly been raised and the facts that have been laid out, it is within the Minister’s gift to state that she feels this case is exceptional and merits further investigation. She could do that, and I hope she does so today. It would be warmly welcomed.

Corporal Stewart McLaughlin was a man who laid down his life for our country. He demonstrated supreme valour and made the ultimate sacrifice. He inspired his men that night and played a key role in sustaining the momentum that enabled 3 Para to win the battle of Mount Longdon. He left behind a family and a son, who is here today. We owe it to Corporal McLaughlin and his family, who have borne his loss for so long, to ensure an injustice has not been served. I believe that an injustice has been served and that we must put that right. It is only fair after what he has done for us.

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11.16 am

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Anna Soubry): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) on securing this debate and the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on his speech. I have 14 minutes in which to try to respond to a difficult situation. It would trouble anybody to have to respond to what is undoubtedly an extremely difficult case, and if I sound as though I am rushing, I apologise absolutely, but there are some important points that need to be made.

The first such point is that I speak without fear or favour. I do not speak on behalf of any civil servant; I say what I believe to be right and true. I will begin by reading a small section of the speech prepared by me, because I want these words recorded in Hansard. I will then respond as far as is possible to all the important points that have been made.

We have heard today how Corporal Stewart McLaughlin was killed by mortar fire in the Falkland Islands in June 1982, after he had led a series of charges against the Argentines, notably machine gunners, in the battle of Mount Longdon. Like many others, Corporal McLaughlin was in the prime of his life when he died. He was only 27, and I know that he left a young son only four months old.

We know that a quarter of 3 Para lost their lives fighting on Mount Longdon. It is a remarkable story of courage, valour and achievement that Mount Longdon was taken at that time. We have also heard of Corporal McLaughlin’s exceptional bravery and his leadership in the face of heavy enemy fire.

Having been briefed in detail on his actions in June 1982, I absolutely agree with the assessment of those actions. There can be no doubt whatever that Corporal McLaughlin demonstrated exceptional courage and bravery, in the finest traditions of his regiment—and, of course, the British Army—throughout the Falklands campaign. His family, his compatriots and the nation are right to remember him in that light. He was heroic.

We have also heard mention of a letter written to Corporal McLaughlin’s son by the Prime Minister. I will repeat the lines quoted by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central:

“I have no doubt of the gallantry and incredible selflessness that was demonstrated by your father through his actions on the Falklands Islands. Our country owes a debt of gratitude to him and many like him which can never be repaid.”

I will now describe, in short, the system as I understand it. I am happy to be corrected—notably, if I may say so, by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central, who knows this system because he has served himself, no doubt with courage and gallantry. As I understand it, after a battle, once the theatre of war has ceased, there is a gathering of officers who make representations to the commanding officer about those men—as they invariably are, although there have been women, as well, in more recent times—who have acted well above and beyond the call of duty. As a result, citations are prepared; that certainly happened after the battle for Mount Longdon.

The citations are submitted to a committee to decide whether honours should be awarded. That committee then goes into considerable detail, often taking evidence from others who served. It looks at the whole theatre of

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war and—I will be corrected if I am wrong—tries to make some assessment of what awards should be made and on what grounds. It takes all matters into consideration at that time.

All that is done in the strict confidence. Unfortunately, this case is an example of why that confidentiality exists. It would be quite wrong for a family to be given some sort of false hope: “Your son was remarkable”—I actually take the view that they are all remarkable—“and is being put up for an award.” If that young man then does not receive an award, that family quite rightly feels that some injustice may have been done and that, in some way, some criticism has been made of the otherwise heroic actions of their loved one. That is why this is done in confidence, and I do not have any difficulty with that whatever.

In the event that a citation that has been put forward does not result in an award, there is a period in which the commanding officer can, effectively, say, “What went wrong there? What happened? We put forward this person for an award. He didn’t receive one. Why didn’t that happen? Has some injustice been done? Is there some new evidence that can be brought forward to make sure justice is done?” I am told it is a five-year period, although, normally, these things happen quite swiftly after the awards have been announced.

Unfortunately, in this case, no such representation was made at that time. Sir Hew Pike has talked about that and his grave regret that that was not done at the time. It may be that if it had been done at the time, we would not be having this debate today, and this perceived—and I think it is an injustice—would not be being put forward in this way. But it was not done, and I know that Sir Hew, in meetings with the family, has expressed his regret that it was not done.

What do we know has happened in this case? If Sir Hew says he wrote and submitted a citation, it is not for me to say that he did not. What we do know, however, is that no citation was received and therefore the board, the committees and so forth never considered the case for Corporal McLaughlin to be given an award. We could go back and perhaps talk for ever about why that citation did not go forward. Sir Hew has talked about the constraints of time, and he has said, according to the minutes I have seen, that, perhaps, in the heat of the moment, after all that had happened, the issue simply did not catch somebody’s eye—I think that is the expression he uses—and the citation was, therefore, not submitted. In any event, however, it was not submitted and, therefore, could not be considered. Then, unfortunately, no one came forward—it has to be at the highest level—to say, “What’s happened with the case for McLaughlin? Why hasn’t he got an award?”

So here we are, 30 years later, in this awful position, where there is no doubt about Corporal McLaughlin’s gallantry, heroism and bravery, but the question is, how do we fix something 30 years on? I have thought long and hard about this—forgive me, but I listen to my officials and I respect all that is said—and I genuinely do not see any way round this, because of the passage of time. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central will no doubt disagree with me—I am more than happy to be intervened on—that everyone who serves knows what the rules are. These are the rules, and they can sometimes result in injustice, because it is also the case—

Ms Angela Eagle: Will the Minister give way?

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Anna Soubry: May I just finish this point? I am quite happy to take an intervention, although I am conscious of the time.

The hon. Gentleman and others listening to the debate will know that there are many who conduct themselves well above the call of duty and who do the most astonishingly brave and heroic things, but who, for whatever reason, never even get a citation—those wonderful acts never come into the light, so they never get the recognition that they should. Apparently, I am told, that is an accepted part of the system; it is not a perfect system, but is as good as it can be.

Ms Eagle: I understand the argument the Minister is making about precedent and the way the system works, but we have now established that the citation was written —Sir Hew Pike, who is here listening to the debate, says it was written—but never actually typed up and transferred over. Therefore, Stewart McLaughlin’s actions were never considered at the time.

Given the exceptional nature of this occurrence, where we have the word of the commanding officer at the time and we have extremely detailed contemporaneous information about what Stewart did on that night, I wonder whether the entire system would collapse and the floodgates would open if the Minister said, “This is exceptional. We need to go back and consider, with all the evidence we have, the citation that was originally written and accept that there was an unexpected administrative error. In this case, therefore, we should go back and reconsider.”

Anna Soubry: I hear the power of the argument, but I fear that this may not be the only such case. Yes, I do believe that it would not be a good precedent, because of the 30 years. If it were not for the 30-year period, there would be much more merit. It is perhaps unfortunate that we did not have this debate many years ago, because we could perhaps have resolved this. However, it is the 30-year period that agitates concerns.

Dan Jarvis rose—

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Anna Soubry: Quickly, but the hon. Gentleman must remember that I have a matter of minutes left, and I want to read out a letter.

Derek Twigg: I am not sure whether I have to declare an interest, but I am an honorary member of the South Atlantic Medal Association.

If the Minister believes an injustice has been done, will she say she believes an injustice has been done? Clearly, she has the power to do something about that. Let us take an example. The advice was very clear that the Bomber Command medal and the Arctic medal could not be awarded so long after the event. Why can the Minister not take action now to ensure that this wrong is put right and that this injustice is dealt with?

Anna Soubry: For the very same reasons that no Government of any colour over the last decades has changed the system: we recognise the danger. Actually,

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awards for gallantry and bravery are different from service medals, if I may say so. However, the issue is the passage of time; it is the 30 years. It is also the fact that there is that five-year gap during which exactly such representations can be made by comrades—by senior officers. In this case, that did not happen. Those who serve and who know about the system say that it is not right and that it would not be fair, given the long passage of time—

Dan Jarvis: Will the Minister give way?

Anna Soubry: No, I cannot take interventions. I have taken three interventions, and I have had less than 15 minutes to try—

Dan Jarvis: Two.

Anna Soubry: Sorry, two interventions. If I can give way, I will. I do not know whether everybody has read the letter from Lieutenant General Jacko Page, who was the colonel commandant of the Parachute Regiment. If I do not have time to read out his letter to Corporal McLaughlin’s son, I will make sure everybody gets the opportunity to see it, because, in it, he expresses the position better than I am perhaps expressing it. He talks in very clear terms about the unusualness of this case. He says:

“This is an unusual case in that the system for the award of honours is, as much to protect those who do not receive an honour, kept confidential. It follows that there is no formal appeal process, and no ‘right’ to an award for a particular level of gallantry or bravery shown.”

Dan Jarvis: Will the Minister give way?

Anna Soubry: I will, but wait—sorry. The letter continues:

“Everyone who has knowledge of Stewart’s story recognises his outstanding courage and leadership on Mount Longdon, and how widely admired he was as a soldier. But the very essence of the citation system is that all those relating to a particular campaign should be contemporaneous with the events described, so that fair comparisons of ‘like with like’ can be made by the Committee in the process of selection and allocation of awards. Even a relatively short time after the event, let alone 31 years later, this disciplined methodology becomes, by definition, impossible. Language changes, perceptions change, memories change and the immediacy of the time is entirely lost. Above all, the necessary comparisons between citations cannot effectively be made. Moreover, it is hard to imagine how in practice the allocation process could fairly be opened to retrospective citations without extending the principle to all, not just in the Falklands Campaign but in every theatre. This would be wholly unimaginable; it simply could not be done.”

Dan Jarvis: Does the Minister want to run the risk of talking the debate out? Will she give way?

Anna Soubry: Yes.

Dan Jarvis: I am grateful to the Minister. Let me ask her a very simple question: has an injustice been served on Corporal McLaughlin? Yes or no?

Anna Soubry: I believe that his outstanding bravery has, indeed, been recognised, and it has been marked. The hon. Gentleman should explain that—

11.30 am

Sitting suspended

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EU Reform

[John Robertson in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): It is a great pleasure, Mr Robertson, to serve under your chairmanship. In 1997, shortly after the Maastricht rebellion, Thomas Kielinger of Die Welt wrote a pamphlet entitled “Crossroads and Roundabouts” about Germany and the United Kingdom in Europe—the contrast between the German vision of Europe and the UK’s commitment to its Parliament and its own national interest. We have done the roundabout; now we are truly at the crossroads of the EU and perhaps even of our relationship with Germany. Is it really the case that in this country we are disproportionately preoccupied with our own national concerns?

I am introducing this debate about the UK and Germany in the EU—the first devoted specifically to the subject, I think—about which, in the interests of our mutual relationship, we must be both realistic and straight with each other, as we were yesterday in discussions with the Bundestag European affairs committee.

I warned John Major before Maastricht that the treaty, which I urged him to veto, would lead to a European Government and a German Europe. I campaigned for a referendum on that and the petition to Parliament received many hundreds of thousands of signatures. In my book of that time, “Against a Federal Europe”, I wrote:

“The answer to the German question lies primarily in Germany itself and that to hand her the key to the legal structure of Europe with a majority voting system gravitating around alliances dependent on Germany simply hands her legitimate power on a plate.”

That is now becoming clearer by the day. I also wrote then:

“Britain wants to work together with Germany in a fair and balanced relationship, based on free trade, cooperation and democratic principles. She does not want to be forced into a legal structure dominated by her. Plans for a united Europe stray into the darkest political territory, and must be firmly rejected.”

I wrote that in 1991. In 1990, I had written that

“if Germany needs to be contained, the Germans must do it themselves…now is the time for the Germans to prove themselves”.

In the words of the German philosopher, Thomas Mann, in 1953:

“We do not want a German Europe, but a European Germany.”

I argued that we were embarking on

“a European Germany and a German Europe”

because the two ran together after Maastricht. As Bismarck himself said:

“I have always found the word ‘Europe’ on the lips of those politicians who wanted something from other Powers which they dared not demand in their own names.”

He meant their own national interests. It is also to be recalled that, as Friedrich Karl von Moser stated:

“Each nation has its main characteristic. In Germany it is obedience. In England it is liberty.”

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): My hon. Friend and I have talked many times about these matters, for obvious reasons. Does he accept that a British exit from the European Union would be the single most likely thing to provide the German dominance of Europe to which he refers? Is it not very much within the modern German mentality to see the European

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Union as a way of containing elements of some chapters of their history—of which, understandably, they are not proud? They see a strong European Union as being the way in which the dominance of Germany can be kept at bay.

Sir William Cash: I understand that point and my hon. Friend has made it to me before. All I can say is that it depends on the structure being created and the irreversibility established by the treaties themselves as put into legislation. As I shall explain in a moment, the consequence of the existing structure is to create an imbalance in favour of Germany and a disadvantage for the United Kingdom in several areas. That is what we must evaluate because we want a peaceful and stable Europe; unfortunately, however, what is happening now is creating instability, and I believe the European Union as it was conceived will ultimately be undermined. Our parliamentary system is the bulwark of the liberty and democracy that saved us and Europe. That is no anachronism today.

The problem we now face in an increasingly assertive German Europe is one increasingly at odds with British national interests. For me, that was one of the mainsprings of the Maastricht rebellion and it has been exacerbated by successive treaties, including Lisbon—against which, notably, the Conservative party was united.

The situation is getting worse. For example, we are told that the single market is the prime reason, or certainly one of the prime reasons, for our engagement in the European project. Although more than 40% of our trade is with Europe, our trade deficit with the other 27 member states is £56 billion, whereas the German surplus with the same member states is £51.8 billion. At the same time, we have a substantial surplus with the rest of the world with the same goods and services. I fundamentally disagree with the CBI’s analysis.

A host of individual problems give rise to concern—for example, the regulatory system in the City of London. I wrote about that in the Financial Times,warning the City against the consequences, and we have lost case after case in the European Court of Justice. There is the ports regulation, opposed by port employers and the trade unions. There is the change in the patent courts system. There is the lack of a reciprocal policy of liberalisation in relation to energy, professional services and other matters. There is over-regulation, particularly of small businesses, on which no substantial progress is ever made, and which is calculated to cost about 4% of EU GDP.

The effect on our economy is deep. Our growth is being dragged down by the sclerotic eurozone, whose problems in many countries, such as Italy and Greece, are blamed on German currency and export manipulation.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the single market. Logic says that anyone signing up to a single market gets a central bank and a single currency. Surely the horse has bolted. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was the Labour party that gave the British people a referendum and the five economic tests.

Sir William Cash: I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman’s second point about the referendum; I have never disputed that. Far from it—it was an extremely good thing,

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although back then it was about a kind of Europe different from the one we are now experiencing.

I voted for the Single European Act, but I tabled an amendment to preserve the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament. If that amendment had been allowed for debate, which it was not, it would have changed the whole nature of the matter. I was strongly supported by Enoch Powell, who understood that if we were to have a single market that did not work, the only way to retrieve the situation would be through some form of “notwithstanding” formula of the sort I have returned to over and again in subsequent years.

German economic policy is obsessed with fiscal discipline and large current account surpluses. Without the euro, currency adjustments would control Germany’s ability to export cheaply. German economic efficiency, combined with the single currency, allows for artificially cheap German exports at the expense of Mediterranean countries, which can deflate their currencies to offset cheap German goods, drawing money and jobs north and leaving the southern Governments unable to finance their deficits through economic growth.

German insistence on fiscal discipline is, as Wolfgang Munchau made clear in yesterday’s Financial Times, ideological and a deeply held response to the crisis of the 1930s. The result will be the destruction of the Mediterranean export economies while simultaneously deepening the damage through austerity on a massive scale. An attempt to impose German-style labour laws and fiscal discipline on those countries will fail and will not bring the required efficiency to compete with Germany.

The eurozone, which is dominated by Germany, is a disaster, as is increasingly recognised publicly by some of my Labour colleagues, and it seriously damages our economy. Furthermore, although we are told that consensus is the norm, the political consequences of the present treaties mean that, as of 1 November this year, the majority voting system in the EU Council of Ministers has been profoundly changed, subject only to a compromise transitional arrangement called the Ioannina compromise.

Germany and France with two small states can now effectively determine European decision making. The consensus is insufficiently transparent and is achieved primarily because the member states know the outcome of a given vote, which in any case does not sufficiently correspond to our concerns. In my European Scrutiny Committee, we have been very critical of how Coreper functions and the manner in which we are unable to achieve our objectives. We also have some critical things to say about UKRep.

Indeed, VoteWatch Europe has demonstrated that when the UK has voted between 2009 and 2012, it has done so in favour with the majority of member states in 90% of all votes. That strongly suggests that most European Commission proposals go through in practice. Therefore, the change in the voting system will tend to affect British interests increasingly adversely.

Professor Roland Vaubel of Mannheim university has examined the voting system and argued that the outcome is one of regulatory collusion, favouring Germany in particular. One must recognise that Germany makes a very substantial net contribution—£13 billion in 2013 compared with our £8.6 billion, although our contribution is rising. In return, Germany now acquires disproportionate advantages under the voting system and through its economic influence in Mitteleuropa.

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In his speech in Berlin on 13 November, John Major reinvoked the concept of subsidiarity and he did so again on “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. He said that subsidiarity is the answer and that we must

“nail it down as a matter of European law”.

I do not know which planet John Major has been living on since Maastricht, but that is already a matter of EU law. When he promoted subsidiarity in the Maastricht treaty, I described it as a con trick. In my 30 years on the European Scrutiny Committee, I have never come across a single example of the direct application of subsidiarity. Even John Major now reports its failure, and his speech in Berlin was a catalogue of the failures of his European policy at Maastricht.

The European Union is not an abstract concept. It is about the daily lives of our voters, to whom we are directly accountable, across a vast range of matters. The list of chapters in the consolidated treaties sets out the immense impact that the European Union now has on us all.

The European Scrutiny Committee, of which I was elected Chairman in 2010, argued strongly and unanimously in November 2013 that the Government should reintroduce the veto. We were promised that the veto would never be abandoned when the White Paper was issued in 1971; that was the basis of our voluntary acceptance of the treaties by our Parliament in the passing of the European Communities Act 1972, yet so many other additional competences have been added since. That paper described the veto as being in our vital national interest, and stated that to abandon it would even endanger “the very fabric” of the European Community itself. Somebody out there understood where all this could lead, as it has.

The Prime Minister, to his credit, did veto the fiscal compact, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) will remember a conversation that we had with him shortly beforehand. My Committee proposed the application of the formula

“notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972”

to our Westminster legislation when it is in our national interest to do so. We could thereby override European laws and the European Court of Justice when necessary, as we can and should, under our own flexible constitutional arrangements unique to the United Kingdom among the 28 member states, thus regaining our right to govern ourselves in matters of vital national interest.

Those proposals were rejected by the Government, which shows how weak our negotiating stance really is in relation to the need to change fundamentally our relationship with the EU in the interests of our parliamentary democracy and the needs of our voters.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Am I right in thinking that my hon. Friend has referred to the fact that Germany—the country on which this debate is focused—has a sort of parliamentary supremacy as a safeguard in its legislation, and that that is what he has tried to introduce for the United Kingdom? Can he tell us how well it works for Germany?

Sir William Cash: The short answer is that in the German constitution, in the preamble to the Basic Law of 1949, an assumption is built in for a united states of Europe. Unfortunately, therefore, a change in the German constitution would be required to enable the Karlsruhe

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court to override the provisions of the Basic Law. Therefore, Germany faces a real constitutional question that we do not, because we do not have a written constitution and we have the inherent right, within our own Parliament, to make the kind of adjustments that we want in this area.

To refuse to accept our Committee’s proposals—I say this with great respect to the Minister—is not merely walking away; it is not even engaging with the real problem, which is the dysfunctional structure created by successive treaties and the disadvantages that that creates for the United Kingdom.

All that demands a direct return to democratic accountability at Westminster—not the Maastricht-based co-decision with the European Parliament, which I opposed at the time, and not the manner in which the majority voting system and the so-called consensus have led to us being put at significant disadvantage from time to time in matters of our national interest. Those are increasingly becoming a matter of concern following the change in the voting system as of 1 November.

Mark Field: Does my hon. Friend not accept that many in continental Europe would say that Britain has a permanent exclusion from the single currency, is not signed up to the Schengen agreement, and in fact, under Maastricht, was also exempt from the social chapter, although that exemption has now gone? He talked about the fiscal compact, which technically speaking was not a veto, but essentially was done at eurozone level.

If we are going to continue to opt out, does my hon. Friend not recognise the concern that, as we become ever more marginalised from the centre of Europe, the case for staying in the European Union will become ever weaker? Is that the path down which he now wishes to take us, and if so—

John Robertson (in the Chair): Order. The hon. Gentleman will have the chance to make a speech later.

Sir William Cash: I have said many times on the Floor of the House that I think we have reached the point where we will have to leave the treaties, for all the reasons that I have given and will give. The opt-outs are merely indications of the profound uncertainty with which Britain entered the European Union in the first place. As I pointed out, the veto was a completely unconditional promise for the future, and that has now been whittled away. As I will explain, there are more and more reasons why we are at the exit door. Those are not purely economic, but political.

The European project, based on Maastricht and the successive treaties, has undermined the credibility and efficacy of European integration. That is now reinforced by the practical and visible impact of endemic protests and riots in the streets of European cities and by vast unemployment in several member states, in which youth unemployment has reached obscene levels of up to 60%. I predicted that when I wrote about it in the early 1990s, and I added that it would be followed by massive waves of immigration from central and eastern Europe when the Maastricht system failed, with the consequent emergence of the far right. No one can say that that has not happened now.

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Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Germans’ problem now is that to make a success of their single currency, they need a political union with massive transfers of money from the rich parts to the poor parts of the union, as we have in the sterling currency union or as exists in the dollar currency union, but that is exactly the kind of system that the United Kingdom would never accept, and that is why, at the crossroads, we need a different relationship?

Sir William Cash: That is completely right. We need a different relationship with the EU as a whole that also includes the eurozone, because the eurozone, which is causing so much of the dislocation in Europe, is dominated by Germany, and the German financial and fiscal policies, which I have described already, have that enormous impact in destabilising the eurozone.

This is where I really part company with statements made by some members—senior members—of our Government. I am referring to the consequences of the eurozone. We were told at the time when it was evolving, with the banking union and all the rest of it, that it was, in effect, a natural course of events that we could not prevent. Actually, it has created the very instability that is most likely to lead to the destruction of the European Union itself. That is the problem. It is not just a negative view that I am trying to put across; it is the fact that it is destabilising Europe. It is creating problems of a kind that can get completely out of control, with catastrophic consequences not only for this country but for Europe as a whole. That is why the argument that I am seeking to advance is that actually this is a real problem for Europe as a whole. It is not anti-European to be pro-democracy.

Mr Jim Cunningham: It was remiss of me not to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on acquiring the debate. I know the views that he has held over many years. My point is this. During the last economic downturn, the Germans, for example, did not dictate British economic policy; it may be argued that British economic policy was dictated to Europe. I do not see the hon. Gentleman’s logic. If he feels that the European market as it is constructed now is causing major problems in Europe, why should we pull out of that situation, rather than rebalancing Europe? That is what I do not understand about the argument that he is making.

Sir William Cash: The short answer to that is that we do not need to be in the European Union to trade with Europe, because it needs us—for example, in relation to Germany’s export of cars—on a monumental scale. I have already given the figures for the surplus that Germany runs with the other 27 member states. Furthermore, we have a global economy to which we can address our economic and trading concerns, and we are achieving a substantial surplus with the rest of the world, selling the same goods and services. What I am arguing is on the balance of judgment as to whether it is in our interest to subordinate our parliamentary system of government and the democracy that goes with it in order to achieve a trading relationship that at best is extremely debatable and, in certain instances, is positively disadvantageous.

Let me turn to the issue of defence, which is so fundamental to our national interest. Unlike John Cleese’s immortal words in “Fawlty Towers”, “Don’t mention

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the war”, we must never forget the reasons why we were confronted in two successive world wars by unprovoked aggression from Germany. We must look to the greater historic landscape in our mutual interests and we must look to resolve our real differences about the structure as well as individual issues within the EU.

Ten days ago, at a formal conference in Rome under the Lisbon treaty, comprising chairmen of national parliamentary committees for all 28 member states and the European Parliament, the German delegation formally proposed a defence Commissioner and a defence Council of Ministers and reinvoked the idea of an EU military headquarters. As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I argued passionately against that, as did the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) and the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The British delegation defeated the proposal, but the German delegation insisted that

“it will have to be put back on the agenda at the next conference”

and added ominously that

“Great Britain will simply not be able to maintain their line”.

That harks back to previous German attempts to establish a European defence policy with majority voting and must be repudiated once and for all.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a very important point because, as he knows, defence is the only area of European activity—I will not call it policy—where the United Kingdom still has a veto, a veto that I twice used to prevent any increase in the budget of the European Defence Agency. But is he also aware that the former Foreign Secretary, our right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), and I, at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting, vetoed the idea of an operational headquarters for the EU, because it would have served further to undermine the cornerstone of European defence, which is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation? We must resist any further attempt by the Germans, the Poles or the French to create a defence identity within the EU.

Sir William Cash: We are all indebted to my hon. Friend for his time in the Ministry of Defence. What he said is well known to me, but ought to be better known outside the House. This is crucial. The question, whether we have an EU military headquarters moves us into very dangerous territory. I will show my hon. Friend the full transcript of the exchanges between me and the German delegation on this matter. I do not have time to go into it now, but I can assure him that I set out some very powerful arguments, including by making reference to article III of the 1990 treaty, which dealt with the question of the restrictions on Germany in relation to the manufacture and distribution of nuclear weapons, which went back to the original NATO treaty of 1949. Also, of course, I mentioned in particular the role of NATO in relation, for example, to the Baltic states and the rest of it. NATO is there; it is the cornerstone, as my hon. Friend rightly says.