Kate Green: Certainty would be valuable to those who want to provide youth services. I also make the point to the Minister that the availability of statutory funding has drawn in additional voluntary funding on top of the statutory funding that has hitherto underpinned our service. Lostock youth centre, for example, has been able to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds of voluntary money to top up the statutory support that it receives. Although some of that voluntary money may continue to reach our youth centres, we will lose the basic infrastructure that enables a trained team of youth workers to go out and seek such additional voluntary

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funding support. Even if voluntary funding were widely available, provision cannot exist in a vacuum, without an underpinning of statutory financial support.

I am concerned that there is a real mismatch between the degrading of our youth services and the other strategic ambitions of local authorities and the Government for our young people: priorities such as reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, making young people feel safe, ensuring their emotional well-being and ensuring that they achieve, attain and have aspirations. In the context of considerable attention being given to the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, there must be the highest provision in relation to safeguarding, and the youth service hitherto has been an important element of providing such protection to potentially vulnerable young people. As I am sure the Minister will understand, we are deeply concerned about that in the Greater Manchester area. The youth service in Trafford has been actively engaged in that area, and it is well informed about the young people who are at risk. I am concerned that such knowledge and intelligence may be lost.

Everyone recognises the financial pressures that our local authorities are under, but it is very short-sighted simply to slash youth provision. It is poor value for money because it will generate additional costs and pressures in other parts of the system in the years to come. I appreciate that the Minister will say that local authorities must exercise discretion locally and make their own decisions, but he has the opportunity today to offer certainty and stability so that we at least have the capacity for forward planning. I hope he will give us those assurances this afternoon.

3 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) on securing this debate.

I must declare an interest: I am a youth worker. At least, when I had a proper job before I came to this place I spent almost all my professional life as a youth and community worker, working with young people in communities. A few of us in this place and a few more in the other place were youth and community workers, and we are all in absolute despair at what is happening to our services. I also chair the all-party group on youth affairs, so I try to keep my feet on the ground, although the situation is moving incredibly fast at the moment. Unfortunately, it is not changing for the better; services are being destroyed up and down the country—I will talk a little more about that later.

Let me start with something the Chancellor said in his autumn statement a few minutes ago:

“We have shown in this Parliament that we can deliver spending reductions without damaging front-line public services”.

I wish he were part of this debate so he could see how those budget cuts have totally destroyed front-line services —the youth service in particular.

Let me take hon. Members back to the start of the system. There was an early youth service at the end of the 19th century, when a number of voluntary organisations were set up to work with young people—in particular, those who faced difficulties in the streets and those who worked in the mills, in service and in other places. There

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were cuts to those services as the years went on, particularly in the 1950s. In 1958, Lady Albemarle produced a report that became the foundation of the modern youth service. The Education Act 1944 provided a statutory basis for the youth service. If hon. Members wonder why I am talking about 1958 and 1944, it is because we always link Acts backwards, and the Education and Inspections Act 2006 contains references to the 1944 Act—I was always confused about that. The 1944 Act set out that local authorities should procure a sufficient youth service.

Sadly, under the previous Tory Government in the 90s, our youth services started disappearing at a rate of knots. I always used to think that perhaps one day I would not be a youth worker, but I never thought that there would be an end of the youth service. In the 1990s, although I still wanted to be a youth worker, there were nearly no jobs left.

The previous Labour Government strengthened the legislation. Unfortunately, some of the first words in the 2006 Act are:

“must, so far as reasonably practicable”.

That is something I hope an incoming Labour Government will sort out. I plead with the Minister to talk to local authorities about what is “reasonably practicable”. If it is reasonably practicable for a local authority to provide library services, education and other services, surely it should still be providing youth services.

The 2006 Act called on local authorities to secure for qualifying young persons in the local authority area—13 to 19-year-olds and people with learning difficulties up to the age of 25—

“sufficient educational leisure-time activities which are for the improvement of their well-being, and sufficient facilities for such activities; and...sufficient recreational leisure-time activities which are for the improvement of their well-being, and sufficient facilities for such activities”.

It states that

“ ‘sufficient educational leisure-time activities’ which are for the improvement of the well-being of qualifying young persons in the authority’s area must include sufficient educational leisure-time activities which are for the improvement of their personal and social development.”

That was later defined to mean youth work.

The Act set out two forms of activity. Educational leisure-time activity aids young people’s social and personal development, and includes activities delivered by youth workers. Recreational leisure-time activities can include provision by youth workers, but it also includes sport, informal physical activities and cultural activities such as music, performing arts and visual arts.

The Government did not totally abandon that commitment. In a policy document on youth services, they reiterated:

“It is…local authorities’ duty to secure, so far as reasonably practicable, equality of access for all young people to the positive, preventative and early help they need to improve their well-being. This includes youth work and other services and activities that:…Connect young people with their communities, enabling them to belong and contribute to society, including through volunteering, and supporting them to have a voice in decisions which affect their lives;…offer young people opportunities in safe environments to take part in a wide range of sports, arts, music and other activities, through which they can develop a strong sense of belonging, socialise safely with their peers, enjoy social mixing, experience spending time with older people, and develop relationships with adults they trust;…support the personal and social development of young people through which they build the

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capabilities they need for learning, work, and the transition to adulthood…improve young people’s physical and mental health and emotional well-being;…help those young people at risk of dropping out…raise young people’s aspirations, build their resilience, and inform their decisions—and thereby reducing teenage pregnancy, risky behaviours such as substance misuse, and involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour.”

Sadly, the Government, through their devastating cuts, have failed absolutely to enable young people to access those services.

The previous Government’s document “Resourcing excellent youth services” states:

“the purpose of the work must be predominantly that of achieving outcomes related to young people’s personal and social development (as distinct from, say, their academic or vocational learning);…the methods of the work include the extensive use of experiential learning and of small groups (as distinct from, say, a prescribed curriculum and whole-class teaching or individual casework);…the values of the work include the voluntary engagement of young people with skilled adults. This relationship transforms what is possible for young people.”

Alex Cunningham: My hon. Friend is talking about how the youth service and youth workers have a very different role to play in supporting young people today. In schools today, there is tremendous pressure on young people. They have got to have their heads down, the curriculum is very tight and they must concentrate on academic subjects. That is all the more reason why they need somebody outside that environment to help them develop in other ways.

Julie Hilling: I agree. Anybody who has worked with young people knows that if their heads are not in the right place, they cannot learn. I used to manage a project for looked-after young people, who were put in small groups with qualitative professional workers to work through their issues. Sticking them in a classroom and trying to stuff their heads full of facts was not working. The facts were being kept out by the mess in their lives—they did not know what was going on in their lives and they did not have good relationships with adults. Providing that space did more than allow those young people to be themselves; it enabled them to learn, participate, take part, get ready for work and take up their role in the world. It fulfilled an important part of those young people’s development.

I shall quote from Choose Youth, an organisation that shows that the Government have done something right. They have brought together all the practitioners in the voluntary and statutory sectors in youth work—that was unknown in the past—in an organisation that seeks to defend and promote youth work. Choose Youth says:

“What is youth work and why is it important?...Youth work as a professional educational practice uniquely inspires, educates, empowers, takes the side of young people and amplifies their voice. Unlike other interventions with young people it combines these elements in a relationship that young people freely choose to make with their youth workers. From this relationship a curriculum of learning and activities is developed that build on the positive and enhance social and personal education.”

Youth work is sometimes a place, such as a centre. Sometimes it takes place on the streets, sometimes in projects—in arts or sports projects in a variety of settings. What is unique, however, is that it is, first, an informal relationship that young people can choose to be part of—they do not have to be part of it. Secondly, the relationship is based on their terms; the youth worker

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tries to find out what young people actually want and need, rather than what the youth worker, as an adult, thinks they want and need. There is, therefore, a voluntary relationship and the ability for young people to develop and to choose their own curriculum.

As a youth worker—I apologise to all the young people I worked with over the years for this—I never had a conversation that was truly about what they thought about “Brookside” the night before or what they did the weekend before, because all those conversations were fundamental starting points for exploring other issues. We would use soaps to talk about date rape, and we would use things that were going on to talk about drugs, sex or relationships. Yes, we would teach young people about condoms and how to have positive sexual relationships, but there was a whole mix when it came to working with young people.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I am listening with interest to what my hon. Friend is saying. In terms of the horrendous examples of child sexual exploitation we have seen across the country, with more surely to come over the next few years, does she agree that there is a reason why, in every serious case review we read, it is charities that have raised the alarm? They take the time and have the space to develop relationships with young people, exactly as she is outlining. That is why cutting these organisations, which are doing such important work, is so short-sighted.

Julie Hilling: I was going to talk about that issue, but I will pick it up now. If we look at the reports about Rotherham and Rochdale, we see it was youth workers who took the side of young people and started to raise issues. They said, “Things are not right here. These young people need to be listened to.” Indeed, they are perhaps the only professionals who come out well from those reports.

Youth work is also about challenging attitudes. It is not necessarily about taking the side of young people and deciding they are absolutely right, but about challenging their attitudes, their racism and their sexism. It is about challenging them to think about the world so that they do not just walk into the world and accept their place, but challenge the world as well. If they see injustice, they can challenge it by working together, not by rioting on the streets. Part of the legislation is that the voice of youth is central and that young people have a right to a voice.

Bill Esterson: I want to link what my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) said with something that my hon. Friend said earlier, based on her experience. Many of the young people involved in the trafficking were in children’s homes; my hon. Friend talked about her work with looked-after children. All too sadly, many children in care will end up in prison a few years on, costing £200,000 a year each, which is an horrendous sum. Given my hon. Friend’s experience, can she say how effective youth work has been over the years in keeping some of those young people from ending up in prison?

Julie Hilling: That is always hard to quantify, but the issue is important. Over the past few years, people have looked for integrated services, which is the right thing to

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do, but they have then tried to combine them in one role. Social workers working with young people in care have a vital role, but that adult who befriends young people and works with them on their terms, and who does not have to make sure that they are home by 9 o’clock at night, they have done their homework or they have eaten their greens, is also vital.

My hon. Friend is right that the cost of young people who enter the penal system is enormous, and I will come to the figures in a moment. We are spending about £100 per year per young person on youth work, compared with the hundreds of thousands of pounds we spend to keep people in the penal system because we could not spend a pittance on them before. It is estimated that if we spent £350 per year per young person, that would fund the proper youth service we are talking about.

Another issue the Government have led us to is working just with the young people who are most in need—those who are not in education, employment or training. Of course we need to work with those people, but the more cuts we make to the service that gathers most young people, the more people will fall to the bottom of the net and need a more specialist service to get them out. The youth service is a good vehicle for enabling all young people to have that same positive relationship.

Let us talk about some of the cuts. In 2010, Sheffield had 41 youth clubs; in 2013, that was down to 23. Since 2013, of course, there have been further cuts, and those cuts are continuing. In the north-west, Manchester disestablished its youth service. It is still putting £1.3 million into the voluntary sector, but that is now up for grabs, and it is likely to disappear. Oldham is getting rid of everything apart from one myplace centre. In Trafford, all provision is on the table to go completely, although a housing association might pick some up. In St Helens, there is a 77% cut, and it now has only 28 hours of delivery at the most.

In Lancashire, half the budget has gone, and it is now looking at further cuts. In Tameside, the budget is almost gone. In Stockport, it is gone. Sefton faces huge cuts. In Liverpool, the budget is gone. Bolton faces massive cuts. Wigan now faces an 80% cut. Cheshire West now has four professional youth workers—I am sure they know individually every one of the young people they are supposed to be working with. The one little bit of success is in Knowsley, where youth workers and young people have set up a project together and are running the services.

The picture across the country is devastating. The smallest cut is 50%. A lot of areas have cuts of 75%. Now, particularly in the period going forward, a lot of areas are cutting budgets completely. These authorities have a statutory duty to provide a service, and I will come back to that in a minute.

We are losing the professional expertise and the co-ordination across the piece. Even when there is money to go into the voluntary sector, there is nobody there to co-ordinate that spend. Indeed, I was told yesterday of a local authority that is now looking to the regional youth service unit to provide it with some infrastructure, because the local authority’s infrastructure has completely disappeared.

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It is now difficult to ascertain what is left of many services. Some are youth and play, while some are just youth support services. The whole designated youth service budget has gone completely. What saved the Wigan youth service in the late ’80s was the fact that the local authority had to spend a percentage of its education budget on the youth service. We had a great influx of money, and we doubled the number of youth workers. Legislation is important, and it should be implemented.

If we ask people in a neighbourhood what they want, they say they want youth centres for young people to go to. They do not want young people hanging around on street corners with nothing to do; they want them to have positive relationships. In that respect, early-day motion 488 now has more than 100 signatures, and 38 Degrees—I agree with this 38 Degrees petition—is encouraging people to sign a petition.

One of the Minister’s predecessors did a survey of local authorities’ youth service spending. As far as I am aware, it has never come to light. Can the Minister enlighten us about what happened to it, or whether it exists? Certainly, Unison did freedom of information requests on some local authorities and discovered that at least 2,000 jobs had gone. Given that there were only 7,000 in the first place, that is an enormous percentage. Some 350 youth centres closed and 41,000 youth services places were lost. As has been mentioned, a place in the criminal justice system costs £200,000 per annum.

I quote again from the Choose Youth manifesto:

“Youth work contributes significantly to early intervention and preventative services thereby reducing the incidence of young people in need of highly targeted intensive and expensive services later on.

For example, the Audit Commission report into the benefits of sport and leisure activities in preventing anti-social behaviour by young people estimates that a young person in the criminal justice system costs the taxpayer over £200,000 by the age of 16. But one who is given support to stay out costs less than £50,000. Other comparative costs include: £1,300 per person for an electronically monitored curfew order. £35,000 per year to keep one young person in a young offender institution. £9,000 for the average resettlement package per young person after custody.”

Youth work is a cheap, efficient alternative to all those other intervention measures. The National Youth Agency used to be paid to collate a survey of spending on local authorities. It can no longer do that work because it is no longer paid to do it.

The youth service profession are qualified workers, not just people who turn up on a Friday night and decide that they will play with young people. A youth work qualification is equivalent to a teaching qualification. The qualification and training are as rigorous as those for other caring professions such as social work and teaching. Youth work is now a degree profession and youth workers are highly trained and qualified. They support volunteers in their work. For every pound spent, £8 comes back in action by volunteers. The work is cost-effective in all sorts of ways, but it is about professional service. Most of us would not want an unqualified teacher to be standing in front of a class and teaching. Most of us would not want an unqualified doctor to treat us or an unqualified nurse to deal with us. Why then should we accept unqualified youth workers working with young people?

Alex Cunningham: I am delighted that my hon. Friend is paying tribute to youth workers and their professionalism, in what is now a degree-entry profession. They do

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tremendous work, and for so little pay; it is not a well rewarded profession financially, although it is in other ways. Could my hon. Friend recommend it as a career choice in the current environment?

Julie Hilling: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I went to Huddersfield to talk to a group of students a couple of weeks ago, and asked them much the same question. They are still as dedicated and committed, and they may well get jobs, but not as youth workers, because the skills of youth workers and the methodology of youth work are wanted by many other professions. Really, however, we should hope that they can employ their core skills in working with young people.

Finally—I recognise I have gone on for rather a long time—it is a false economy to remove youth services, and to work with young people only when they are already in trouble or at risk of getting into trouble. The Minister needs to make local authorities live up to their statutory duties, and not just ignore the legislation that says there is a statutory basis for the youth service. Of course that needs strengthening and I hope that the next Labour Government will strengthen it. We have seen how easily an incoming Government can water down regulation. However, there is regulation and legislation. The Government should live up to their promise to young people and enforce the legislation to make sure that we have a sufficient youth service in every area of the country.

3.24 pm

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I apologise for being late for the debate. I was in the Chamber for the autumn statement, desperately bobbing up and down trying to be called, which took rather a long time. I am sorry to have missed the opening speech, and congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) on securing the debate. It is a privilege and pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), who knows an awful lot about the subject. I was interested in her speech, which was largely non-political, with the exception of some comments about cuts. I will say something about those in the context of my local authority.

I used to serve as a local councillor and I used to be—and still consider myself to be—a schoolteacher, so general issues to do with young people are of considerable interest to me. I am interested also because one of the local authorities in my constituency has made a significant change to youth services in recent years, from which I think we can learn a lot, and perhaps paint a slightly different picture from the doom and gloom scenario in many local authority areas. I was a councillor through a Labour Government, and year after year, youth services seemed to be cut or reduced, or become less significant. Even at a time of increasing local government expenditure, which happened in some years, it was a service that still seemed to come under the hammer for efficiency savings or cuts. Of course, there is variation in that from authority to authority.

We hear a lot about cuts to the youth service, and that was happening in North Lincolnshire until we came to office in 2011 when we took the council away from the control of the Labour group and made the political decision to increase the youth budget.

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Lisa Nandy: Given the problems that the hon. Gentleman outlined about non-statutory services becoming poorer and less of a priority in times of trouble, does he support a statutory youth service?

Andrew Percy: I am open to debate on that. I do not have a particularly strong view one way or the other. Provision for young people is something that local authorities should just want to make, because it is part of their core function. If we have local democracy those decisions should be for local councillors, and if they do not choose to provide those services local people have the option of throwing them out. Young people can play an important role in that if more of them vote. I always say to young people that the reason they do not have a free bus pas when pensioners do can be seen from the turnout figures.

I have been painting a rosy picture up to now.

Alex Cunningham: rose

Andrew Percy: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. It is his debate, after all.

Alex Cunningham: If the hon. Gentleman is not in favour of youth services becoming a statutory responsibility of local authorities, does he accept that perhaps we need to make sure there is specific funding—an increase first, and then specific ring-fenced funding for the delivery of youth services in local authority areas?

Andrew Percy: I am always wary, Mr Davies—and as a fellow Yorkshireman I should have mentioned that it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship—of this place telling local authorities what they should or should not spend their budget on. I remember the Connexions budget, which was ring-fenced to local councils. It was ring-fenced funding for a couple of years, at which point it simply passed into the revenue budget of local authorities. The extra funding we got for Connexions, which we had to spend on it in the first year or two when it came from central Government, did not continue because it became part of our main revenue budget.

Alex Cunningham: I chaired a Connexions company across the whole of the Tees valley. That was not money vested in the local authority; it was vested in the Connexions company, which was there to deliver, and it had no other option but to spend the money on direct services.

Andrew Percy: I do not know what the situation was, but I remember in the city of Hull, when we had it, although there was pump-priming from central Government we eventually ended up picking up some of the expenditure on Connexions. [Interruption.] I will have to. If the hon. Gentleman wants to contact me afterwards we can try to sort it out. I was on the council for 10 years. There are many things I remember well and some I choose to forget. This is one that I remember; we debated it in the council chamber. I will happily be corrected afterwards.

On the hon. Gentleman’s broader point about whether we should be mandating how local councils spend their money, there are countless examples. Connexions may be an example of where that happened after funding was made available by the previous Government. Bus passes are another example of where local authorities

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got some money and were told that they had to provide something. The money from central Government disappears off and local authorities ended up having to absorb it in their revenue budget. My answer to his question is that I would be nervous. It is something that local authorities should choose to provide, and if they do not provide it, they can be held accountable at the next election.

Bill Esterson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Percy: I came in late, so it would be rude of me not to give way.

Bill Esterson: The hon. Gentleman used the phrase “Government money disappears off,” which has certainly happened on a grand scale under this Government. Does he agree—this is the point Opposition Members have all been making—that investment in youth services prevents the costs of social failure, one way or another, especially preventing young people ending up in prison? Does he support the general principle of invest to save, quite apart from the benefits to young people?

Andrew Percy: I will not rehearse with the hon. Gentleman the reason why there are spending reductions for local government, which would have been implemented by whoever was in power. Let us not pretend that there is some sort of alternative nirvana in which local government budgets would be increasing. Regardless of who won the 2010 election, local government budgets would be reducing, so let us nail that myth.

I am rapidly trying to remember the hon. Gentleman’s question, which was on whether there is value in investment. I think there is value, but it can be provided in a number of ways. Indeed, who is providing such bespoke support, particularly to at-risk young people, varies between localities. There is no doubt, because the evidence is very clear, that if we intervene early on young people who are at risk of following certain pathways, we can prevent those outcomes—that is what we all want. I broadly agree with him, although how we provide it should not be mandated in one particular way.

That brings me neatly to North Lincolnshire council. We went through a painful process, because following the “Positive for Youth” Government guidance in July 2012, the local authority decided to consult young people on how it should provide its youth services. In so doing, the local authority spoke to 2,000 young people, who told us that the service they had been offered, which in many ways had not changed since the old Humberside youth service of 40 years earlier, was not necessarily delivering what they wanted it to deliver. That became controversial. Some youth workers did not like it, because different providers were brought in. Indeed, in the initial proposals there was a gap between what would happen to the core, traditional youth worker roles and the new provision. Questions were asked about whether we would lose something. Eventually, the local authority came to the sensible position of retaining a number of fully qualified youth workers in an outreach role across localities, and a range of other provisions was provided across various localities with an increased budget of £194,000, which is not insignificant for a small authority.

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Young people told us that they did not necessarily want everything to be sport-related, which often happens with youth services and youth provision in the broader sense. People often think, “We’ll just put goalposts up and give kids a football, because that’s what they really want.” But that is not what a lot of young people want, so street dance is now being provided by a brilliant organisation called Street Beat. We have Grasp the Nettle, and we even have cooking classes. Of course, street sport is provided throughout the summer months, and indoor sports are provided in the winter months.

We have been able to base those activities in 20 centres across North Lincolnshire, including all the existing youth centres, which the council decided to retain and, in some cases, improve—the youth centre in Broughton in my constituency will shortly be moving. We now have new providers offering a range of services, including the Duke of Edinburgh award programme, in a number of new centres. There are new operators in places such as Winterton, Brigg, Epworth and Crowle. Attendance in Broughton has increased by 63% since youth services were provided in this different way, which was controversial in many respects, but the figures speak for themselves.

The local authority also talked to disabled young people about what they wanted. The responses were very interesting, because they wanted bespoke services for disabled young people to be part of the mix, but they wanted mainstream provision to apply to them, too. I pay tribute to Scunthorpe United, which does a great job of providing disabled youth services. I also pay tribute to Daisy Lincs, which is a great local charity headed by Julie Reed from Crowle. Daisy Lincs does a brilliant job with disabled young people.

I will now describe where we are at in my area and across North Lincolnshire. Before the changes, we used to have three sessions a week in Winterton; we now have five. We used to have eight sessions in Brigg; we now have nine. On the Isle of Axholme, which I represent, we used to have three sessions; we now have nine. The number of sessions increased by 49.5% between 2012-13 and 2013-14, and the attendances speak for themselves. There were 31,215 attendances in 2013-14 compared with 22,800 in 2012-13, so providing services in a different way and delivering them with extra funding has made a real difference. The biggest thing we found was that 85% to 90% of young people simply did not engage with the old youth service provision, which was working very well for a certain group of young people, but it was not working more broadly. It could be argued that some of the new provision, because it is based around themes such as street theatre, may not be picking up some of the important issues that the hon. Member for Bolton West so eloquently outlined. That is why outreach services are being retained.

We know that the picture is painful for many local authorities, but in North Lincolnshire, by putting in that extra money and providing services in a different way, based on what young people told us they want—there were some protests from youth workers—we have been able to deliver a positive change.

Alex Cunningham: The hon. Gentleman is giving the same message that Opposition Members would give. If more resources are put into the service, and if the service is modernised, better services can be delivered for more young people. Surely that is the message: we need more resources for youth work.

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Andrew Percy: Local authorities may simply provide what they already spend, but we took the decision to reverse the cuts of the previous council administration. We put new money in, but we provided the services in a different way. If I had one criticism of my time as a local councillor and of my time working in this process, it is that some of those closest to the service do not necessarily always understand how society and young people have changed and how the provision needs to alter too. In my profession as a teacher, the pastoral support offered to young people now is very different from the support that was provided to young people even—when did I go to school?—10 or 20 years ago. The provision is very different, so schools pick up some of it, and there are other services, too. Nothing can exist in stasis. Money may be part of the answer, but we can do things differently. We can get positive outcomes even with a declining budget, which my other local authority faces because it made different decisions. The general message is that provision for young people is vital.

Alex Cunningham: It is not statutory.

Andrew Percy: I have already explained the answers to that one. I apologise once again for being late and will end there.

3.38 pm

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) on securing the debate and on his opening speech. He is right to situate what has happened to youth services in the context of what has happened to support for and the focus on young people over the past few years. Support has collapsed in some areas where it is most needed. He mentioned the education maintenance allowance and the careers service among other things. The speeches and interventions made by my hon. Friends show how strongly Labour feels about youth services and demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that all young people have access to a high-quality, open-access and appropriately funded youth service.

We believe that it is important to set that benchmark because of what we have seen happening in recent years, with huge pressures being placed on local authority budgets, but we are not prescriptive about how it should be delivered locally, or what it should look like. However, where we are clear and where we perhaps differ from this Government—unless the Minister is going to say something very exciting in his closing speech—is in our belief the Government have a clear role in ensuring that that offer to young people is made clear to local government and is delivered in every community around the country. I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) said. The difficulty is that what we have seen over the years is that some local authorities absolutely get this issue and understand it, but not all. The key question for national Government is what to do when that commitment is not being delivered in some local areas where people simply do not get it.

My own local authority, Wigan, has had real challenges with this. We have had the third worst budget cuts in the entire country, but the fact that there are three MPs in Westminster Hall today who represent parts of that borough—my hon. Friends the Members for Makerfield

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(Yvonne Fovargue) and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), and myself—shows that there is a strong commitment from us as elected politicians to try to protect those services.

One of the exciting things that has happened in Wigan in the past few years is the youth zone that we have managed to set up. It is an example of some of the things that Members have talked about today. It is a way of doing things differently, because it is a partnership between the OnSide charity, the local authority, local entrepreneurs and businesses, the community, and, most important of course, young people themselves, who have been involved from the outset in campaigning for this service, designing it and now running it, as well as using it. It is not the beginning and end of the whole story in terms of the youth services that we need in our borough, but it is a real achievement at a time when the local authority budget in particular and the community are under such strain.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the free bus service that runs from my area, which is an outlying area of the borough? The authorities recognised that young people from the outlying areas of the borough were not using that service, and they have done something immediately to try to solve that problem.

Lisa Nandy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that, and it is one of the reasons why I congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North for situating this debate in the wider context of what is happening to young people. Transport costs are the key thing that young people always raise with me and, I am sure, many other Members, and it is important that we think about that when we consider services for young people.

There are some other startling examples of local authorities doing something really exciting. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole is right to acknowledge the impact that the cuts have had but also to say that this is not just about funding. For example, I think that many Members will be aware of a project in Lambeth that I have heard about and seen for myself. Lambeth took the huge amounts that it was spending on young people through various budgets and put it into a trust, which anyone in the community over the age of 12 could join. It was weighted towards young people, so that they retained control, and it gave the community the power to take real decisions about how services were commissioned and delivered and what they looked like. My understanding is that that project has been a remarkable success. It points to a key feature of successful youth services; the most successful ones are those that involve young people in commissioning, designing and delivering them, where possible.

However, we know from our experience of looking at youth services that what works in Lambeth does not necessarily work in Liverpool. That is why I have said that there needs to be a clear minimum offer from this Government. Labour is clearly committed to that, but not to prescription about on how it should be delivered. Labour Members have previously said that we are open to strengthening the statutory duty to provide youth services, and I have listened carefully to the contributions by hon. Members on that point, but I think we must

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recognise that, on its own, a statutory duty is not enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West said, we already have a statutory duty, limited though it is, and it is not being fulfilled around the country. Labour is very attracted by the possibility of introducing a duty to ensure that young people are involved from the outset in designing and commissioning youth services, and we wonder whether the Minister might share that aspiration; if he does, perhaps he will say something about it today.

There is also a clear need to ensure that young people can hold the people who make these decisions to account. That is one of the reasons why Labour is committed to introducing votes at 16. I hope that the Minister will listen to that argument and consider carefully how young people can hold their elected politicians to account for their decisions if they do not have the vote.

I should also mention briefly concerns about the work force. I want to be fair to the Minister, so I will say that some of the problems in the youth service work force predate the coalition. In 2008, a survey by the National Youth Agency found that a third of councils were not investing at all in the professional development of youth workers. That was really worrying then, but I dread to think what the figure is now, several years after the huge cuts that we have had. Can the Minister tell us? There is a real risk that we will run down the quality of our services and then turn around and say to young people that those services are not worth saving in any case.

There is no question that the last four years have been absolutely horrendous for this sector, and I do not want to lose sight of that. We have lost good, skilled staff, and many more are under significant strain, dealing with low pay, job insecurity and the prospect of redundancies. This really matters, because as my hon. Friends the Members for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and for Stockton North said, behind the loss of all those youth workers—2,000 of them during the last few years—is a story of broken relationships. I once worked with a young person who had grown up in and out of care. He was 18 when I first came across him and he told me that the only consistent adult in his life since he was 11 had been his youth worker. When we lose good, skilled staff, we break that link and that bond, and the damage is irreparable.

Regarding the National Citizen Service, I say to the Minister that although I support many of the things that my hon. Friends have said, and I myself have also had a parmo with some of the young people from Redcar who have taken part in NCS, it is no substitute for long-term, ongoing youth services provided all year round. It is a short-term intervention and it is very expensive. If we come to power in May next year, we are not planning to make the same mistake that this Government did with the v scheme, and simply tear something up because another party has established it, but we are very concerned about the cost of NCS. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North drew a parallel between the amount of money that the German Federal Government spend on year-round youth work and the money that this Government spend on short-term interventions.

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The other thing to say is that young people spend 85% of their time out of school, yet each year local authorities spend 55 times more on formal education than they do on providing services for young people outside the school day. We need to get a bit of a grip on this, because when this Government agreed to protect ring-fencing for school funding they did not do the same for additional activities. They abolished ring-fenced grants for—

Alex Cunningham: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Lisa Nandy: If my hon. Friend does not mind, I will not give way, as I have only a couple of minutes left and I wanted to make some last points.

As I was saying, the Government abolished the ring-fenced grants for additional activities. They inherited spending of £350 million per year on those activities, which equated to about £77 per young person aged between 13 and 19. A previous Minister responsible for this area said that that equated to

“large slugs of public money”.

I hope that the current Minister will take the opportunity to reject that view and tell us that he thinks young people are worth at least £77 of our money per head.

Over the past four years, Ministers have passed on responsibility to the very same local authorities that they are hammering with budget cuts. Frankly there was only ever going to be one result, because at the same time the money that helped to sustain youth services was put into an early intervention grant, which was also used to fund Sure Starts and services dealing with teen pregnancy, substance misuse and mental health, before being cut again by up to 40%. I say to the Minister: what sort of message does that send to young people about our commitment to them? If my hon. Friend the former Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East were here, he would say that this approach is so short-sighted, particularly given all the issues about child protection and children in the criminal justice system that we have discussed.

I also wanted to say to the Minister that some local authorities have cut way beyond the average. Have he or any of his colleagues ever considered using the powers that they have under the Education Act 2006 to intervene where they see youth services being cut disproportionately and the statutory duty that exists in that Act not being met?

In 2011, the Minister’s predecessor as Minister for Civil Society said,

“we are working with our strategic partners to gather information about what is happening on the ground”.

Has that happened and has it been published? What discussions has he had with local authorities?

This is not simply a question of money; it is about priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West said, quite rightly, that the emergence of a significant youth service can be traced back to post-world war two and “In the Service of Youth”. It was a time when the country was facing the most significant financial challenge in its history. This is not just a question of what we say to our young people; it is about what sort of country we want to be. Do we want to be forward-looking, confident, ambitious and invest in our young people, their talent

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and energy, or do we want to watch the sad disintegration of the services that they rely on over the next few years? I know what our answer is.

3.50 pm

The Minister for Civil Society (Mr Rob Wilson): With your toleration, Mr Davies, may I begin in a slightly unusual way by congratulating the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on her recent news that she will be adding to the youth of the nation? I hope that she will be declaring a personal interest from now on. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) on securing an important debate and I thank all hon. Members who have contributed. It has been a useful airing of views.

My first response to the debate is that I know these have been tough times. On today of all days, I recognise that the funding situation remains tight across the public sector, even though this Government have successfully cut the deficit in half. Local councils have had some difficult decisions to make across all the services that they provide and this has had a knock-on effect on wider youth services. Having said that, I was slightly concerned during some contributions, because we should always remember to talk about young people in a positive way. We should be emphasising strengths among our young people, not negatives.

I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) say that 20 centres are being established in his area and that those are doing things in a different, but very positive, way. The hon. Member for Stockton North mentioned some positive things that Stockton council is doing. I congratulate it on raising attendance at some of its centres and on its engagement in the youth services area.

I was sorry to hear that the council in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who has had to leave, is taking the option of abandoning youth centres, but at the end of the day that is a choice, not a necessity.

Alex Cunningham: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Wilson: I will make some progress and then I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.

I have been Minister for Civil Society for just over two months and have seen the important and difficult work done by youth workers and so many others with young people. These individuals are making a vital contribution to realising the Government’s ambition to ensure that all young people have the opportunities needed to fulfil their potential—an ambition I am sure we all agree with.

Only last month on a visit to Stockton, I met Five Lamps, an organisation in the constituency neighbouring the hon. Gentleman’s. This award-winning social enterprise is working with young people in the town. Five Lamps works with nearly 25,000 people every year through programmes including youth services and work with those who are not in education, employment or training. It was inspiring to see how it transforms lives and raises aspirations in Stockton. Five Lamps is a fine example of the type of support that is available at the local level, and hon. Members would do well to commend such work in their own constituencies. I am a huge supporter

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of these types of local services. I am also committed to bringing national and local government together, along with civil society and businesses, to give young people the best possible opportunities to succeed, and I will set out the Government’s current work to achieve this.

At local level, this Government have retained the existing statutory duty for local authorities, which requires that they secure, as far as is practicable, sufficient services and activities to improve the well-being of young people, as outlined in section 507B of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Not only did we retain the duty, but we updated the guidance on it in June 2012.

Hon. Members will have seen early-day motion 488, tabled by a Labour Member—some have mentioned it —in favour of a statutory funded service with ring-fenced funding from central Government. I have considered the issues, but do not support the EDM. I believe that effective local youth services are already supported by the existing statutory duty. I also believe that local authorities should be empowered to decide how to secure services that meet the needs of young people in their communities with the resources available to them. It cannot be the role of central Government to dictate to them what services to deliver or to ring-fence funding for this purpose. I am not clear from comments by the shadow Minister whether Labour now proposes to ring-fence these budgets.

Julie Hilling: I do not understand why we bother to legislate in this place if we are not going to ensure that local authorities or other bodies carry out the measures in legislation that we introduce.

Mr Wilson: The hon. Lady has to recognise that the principles of localism cannot simply be overridden the first time anyone disagrees with a decision that is made. If we are serious about localism—I am—we have to trust and respect local choices, and if necessary provide support to encourage new ways of thinking about how services are delivered.

Alex Cunningham rose—

Mr Wilson: I will make a bit more progress, if I may.

I support transformational change that results in services that are more responsive to the needs of people using them and more efficient and resilient. We know that innovation is possible and that there are new models for delivering youth services that get the most out of the best of the voluntary and private sectors. Gloucestershire county council is one example. Its targeted youth support service is now provided through a partnership between a private sector organisation, Prospects, and the county council. It works with nearly 6,000 vulnerable young people in the county, more than 90% of whom say it has made a difference to their lives. Nationally, the Government want to provide practical support so that others can follow its lead. Through the “Delivering Differently for Young People” programme, we are supporting 10 local authorities to do so and to explore new models of delivery. I heard what the hon. Member for Stockton North said about his own local authority and its initiatives and I will look at those more closely.

If the hon. Gentleman would like an example of what is possible in his region, he could look north to North Tyneside, one of the councils we are supporting through

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the “Delivering Differently for Young People” programme. Its vision is to deliver joined-up services for young people that bring the public and voluntary sectors together to make the most of skills, buildings and resources. At every step, this will involve young people and will focus on tackling the needs of young people in a way that is co-ordinated and comprehensive. We will provide short-term specialist support to plan how they implement this vision. Gloucestershire and North Tyneside councils are just two of many positive examples of how councils are looking for new and creative opportunities to bring people together, create partnerships and look at new funding streams.

To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, my officials are working closely with the Local Government Association, which is a co-sponsor of the “Delivering Differently for Young People” programme.

Alex Cunningham: The Minister is giving examples of good practice. We all love such examples and we know it is happening in parts of the country, but in other parts of the country the service is disappearing—we have heard an example today—so what is he going to do about that?

Mr Wilson: At a national level, the Government are going further. We are supporting leading youth organisations to develop the centre for youth impact. For the first time in this country there will be a central point for information, guidance and bespoke support, to demonstrate the value of youth services to others, particularly those who make funding decisions—something a Labour Government never did. Again, to answer another of the hon. Gentleman’s questions, the Cabinet Office did a survey of youth services in November 2013, which has informed the actions that I am talking about today.

Moving away from local youth services, I know that the hon. Gentleman has a particular interest in engaging young people in the democratic process. I share his commitment and will speak about the Government’s work in this area. Last month I had the privilege of speaking to the UK Youth Parliament and saw young people at their best: informed, articulate and passionate. They debated with eloquence and conviction about issues that matter to them, such as mental health and a living wage for all. We must make sure this same powerful voice shapes the services they use, locally and nationally. Engaging and listening is a way of ensuring our policies and services meet their actual needs. The Government are also ensuring social action opportunities exist outside school and college for young people to develop the skills and confidence they require to transition into adulthood.

Unfortunately, I am not going to make it to the end of my speech, so I will leave it there, Mr. Davies.

Philip Davies (in the Chair): We come to the next debate, which is on Government strategy for the UK steel industry.

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UK Steel Industry

4 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to have the chance to raise an issue that is of concern not only to me and my constituency, but to many Members from all parts of the House. It is great to see a number of them here with me, as well as the shadow Minister for these issues in the shadow Business, Innovation and Skills team, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright).

The UK steel industry and the associated metals sectors comprise more than 24,000 enterprises, which directly employ more than 330,000 people and were worth more than £45.5 billion to the UK economy in 2012. Indirectly, two to three jobs in the broader economy are dependent on each job in the metals sector. Steel, as many of my colleagues will attest, is vital for many of the UK’s strategic supply chains, such as those in the automotive industries, construction and energy.

As many will know, Cardiff South and Penarth has a long and proud industrial history. It is just a stone’s throw from Tiger bay, where the coal hewed out of the valleys of south Wales was exported to the world and where the East Moors steelworks sprang, establishing Cardiff as a major player in the steel-making industry in the late 1800s. Although the original East Moors complex was closed in 1978, I am pleased to say that Cardiff remains a major centre for steel production, which is currently done by Celsa. It has one of the most carbon-efficient electric arc furnaces in Europe and the world and rolling mills that produce crucial products, such as reinforcing bar, for such UK infrastructure projects as Crossrail.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I am pleased that my hon. Friend has managed to secure a debate on this important topic. Shotton steelworks is in my constituency. It produces high-end, top quality coated products. Does he agree that the price of energy is harming this important industry, which could do so much better if it could compete with companies in Europe that have much lower costs?

Stephen Doughty: I absolutely agree. It is very much the case that from Shotton to Cardiff, from Skinningrove to Llanelli, from Scunthorpe to Middlesbrough and from Newport to Redcar, steel producers are being outflanked by significant challenges, including energy prices, which continue to increase unabated. The rules of the game appear to have changed. I want to focus on a number of strategic issues.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely debate. Does he share my disappointment that in the autumn statement the Chancellor did not take the opportunity to bring forward mitigation on the renewables obligation for high energy users, such as the steel industry? That would have been a clear message today that the Government are on the side of steelmakers.

Stephen Doughty: I share my hon. Friend’s disappointment. I asked the Chancellor a question on that issue, and I was disappointed that he chose to make a political point, rather than engage with the serious issues being raised by many hon. Members.

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I want to focus on a number of strategic issues. Whether it is energy prices, taxation, foreign dumping, uncertain future ownership or the lack of clarity in the UK’s industrial and infrastructure strategies, it is crucial for the sake of our future industrial and manufacturing capacity, as well as for jobs across the UK, that the steel industry has urgent, robust and bold action from the Government, not caution and bureaucratic handwringing alongside many warm words that make little difference in practice.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): Because of the challenges facing the steel industry, steelworkers have had to adapt, accepting changes to their terms and conditions and rising to the challenge of hitting the targets that companies have set them in difficult times. Does my hon. Friend agree that announcing some support for the steel industry is all very well, but delivering on it is crucial for steelworkers, who have worked so hard in difficult times in constituencies such as mine?

Stephen Doughty: That is absolutely the case. My hon. Friend speaks about her constituency; employers at Celsa in my constituency have taken some hard decisions to ensure that the company continues to thrive and go forward. We need that kind of commitment from the Government, too.

The steel industry does not need posturing or the erection of barriers to trade or unjustified protection from fair competition; it is simply asking for action to level the playing field and ensure that we do not offshore carbon emissions or contract out our potential domestic growth generation to such places as China and Turkey.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is terrific knowledge, skill, innovation and expertise within the Community union? Tata Steel would be well served if it exploited that collective wisdom and experience, because that could be the solution to keeping its operation intact and thriving.

Stephen Doughty: I wholeheartedly agree. My hon. Friend mentions the Community union, which has many members in my constituency and those of other Members present. It provided a helpful briefing for this debate and continues to speak out with a strong voice on these issues. Community estimates that the energy prices faced by UK steel producers can be 50% higher than those faced by our main European competitors, such as Germany. The Minister might not be aware of this, but green levies in the UK are two to three times higher than those faced by European competitors.

I firmly believe that we need a responsible and supported transition to a low-carbon economy, but it would be absurd if ill-fitting policies for this and other energy-intensive industries resulted in carbon leakage that leads to higher global carbon emissions. The Celsa plant in my constituency uses recycled steel in a carbon-efficient process, and it would be a tragedy if some of that production was lost to China, where the same carbon emissions standards and local environment standards would not be followed.

Earlier this year, the Chancellor said that manufacturing continues to play a key role in the UK’s economic recovery, but that the cost of energy acutely impacts on the international competitiveness of the sector, particularly for energy-intensive industries. I agree, as I am sure do

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many of my colleagues and the French and German Governments, but actions speak louder than words. Where the UK Government has failed to act robustly and urgently to level the playing field, others around the world have been taking action, including Germany and France. Unfortunately, that is leaving the UK at a disadvantage. As a close observer of what happens on the continent, the Minister might know that the French Senate recently debated finding a mechanism to fix the electricity cost for energy-intensive users at a maximum of €30 per megawatt-hour, compared with the €73.50 per megawatt-hour in the UK. That is a stark contrast.

The Minister might be aware that there has been extensive correspondence between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and me and other Members on these issues. The announcements in the Budget earlier this year on an energy-intensive industries compensation package were welcome, but many of the measures will have no immediate impact, which presents a serious risk.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) mentioned this issue. I was deeply disappointed by the Chancellor’s answer today. I simply asked whether he was content with the decision—I had been told that the Minister for Business and Enterprise, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), would be responding to the debate, and I am disappointed that he is not here—that he and that Minister made not to bring forward that package. That decision is deeply disappointing to many of the steel producers in this country.

I am sure that the Minister has received many bulging red boxes full of cautious and bureaucratic advice from officials on the issue, but it is ultimately a political decision for Ministers to interpret European guidelines and decide whether there is a possibility of retrospective exemption and renewable sources support compensation. The bottom line for our steel producers is that in practical terms many of them are paying more taxes than they paid three years ago. They are finding themselves at a growing competitive disadvantage. The Minister’s cautious approach stands in stark contrast to the proactive and decisive one taken by Ministers in other EU member states. I am sincerely asking whether he and his ministerial colleagues will take another look at this crucial issue.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it was the unilateral imposition of the carbon floor price at a particular rate that has caused the problems? The steel industry is not asking for charity; it is simply asking for a level playing field. We want the situation put right as soon as possible.

Stephen Doughty: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend’s points.

On another issue, the Minister here today will know that business rates are one of the few taxes that are non-cyclical and fixed at a level irrespective of economic or market conditions. As such, business rates are treated by industry as a fixed cost, which is given much greater prominence when making investment decisions. According to the industry, the fact that business rates are five to 10 times higher in the UK than in EU counterparts represents a significant comparative distortion that undermines the UK as a destination for investment.

Will the Minister say whether any consideration has been given to removing plant and machinery from the business rates valuations? What about alternative

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approaches for large-scale manufacturers, with a view to adopting a simplified model based on capital values rather than hypothetical rental values?

I come to foreign dumping, responsible sourcing and supply-chain access, huge issues for UK-based steel producers—and the environment is changing all the time. We have been shown some shocking statistics. I mentioned the reinforcing bar produced by Celsa in my constituency. Hopefully, the Minister has seen the data that show that imports from China now account for more than a third of overall UK market share, which is a dramatic increase in recent years; the figures for this year show an even greater increase. We also see problems with imports from Turkey.

There are also questions about traceability in the supply chain and the fact that the classification of such products often does not meet British standards. In the extreme, that has potentially serious implications for the future structural integrity of buildings or infrastructure projects in which non-compliant rebar or other steel products have been used.

The UK Certification Authority for Reinforcing Steels has been too slow and ineffective in its response to date. Quite frankly, the Government’s response has also been disappointingly slow, given that I understand that misclassification was raised at the steel contact group in October 2013 and again in June 2014.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the importance of manufacturing to his constituency. We know that Celsa was built under the tenure of the previous Labour Government, much like the blast furnace at the Redcar steelworks near my constituency that was built under the Callaghan Labour Government. We are potentially on the verge of putting 46% of Britain’s steel making in limbo. We need strong opposition from the Government in relation to Celsa as well as Scunthorpe’s four-blast-furnace operation. We need clear direction and a clear message from the Government about what steel production will look like in the future.

Stephen Doughty: I thank my hon. Friend for those well made points; I wholeheartedly agree with them. On traceability and the quality of products used, the Government could do something right away: ensure that all Government or Government-backed projects have a robust, responsible sourcing requirement.

As I have said before, although the Government’s sector- by-sector approach is welcome, it must be dramatically accelerated. That would, without doubt, serve to stem some of the questions about safety and sustainability rightly coming from concerned people inside and outside the industry. Reports that Chinese rebar has been failing British standards tests coupled with the news that one third of rebar used on UK sites is Chinese should have red lights flashing on ministerial dashboards, not only in BIS but in other Departments.

Nia Griffith: Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that Ministers, in their reply to the steel group, rather brushed aside any option to intervene in what CARES is doing? Will he reiterate to this Minister the need for them to look at that thoroughly?

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Stephen Doughty: I wholeheartedly agree; I was disappointed by the Ministers’ response. Like many others here, I saw a glimmer of hope when the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills responded to a question on that from my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool, who is sitting here. The right hon. Gentleman said that there would potentially be an inquiry into the testing process of rebar steel. However, since then we have been told—not only publicly, but in answer to parliamentary questions and informally—that the Secretary of State misspoke, and the executive director of CARES has said that it has not been contacted by the Government.

I hope that the Secretary of State did not misspeak, but if he did, perhaps the Minister can clarify the situation. More importantly, will such an inquiry be considered? Ultimately, people want to see one because they want to know that the steel products being used are safe, sustainable and responsibly sourced.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Given that Network Rail is due to invest billions of pounds in track renewals and that major rail infrastructure such as Crossrail, High Speed 2 and possibly Crossrail 2 are coming up, is it not shocking that the future of Tata’s long products steelworks at Scunthorpe, which I have visited and produces much of the UK’s high quality rail, is so uncertain?

Stephen Doughty: My hon. Friend makes a crucial point about not just the industry, but the crucial infrastructure projects, especially in transport, that it supports. It is crucial that we get that right.

I mentioned Celsa’s contribution to the Crossrail project. The only responsible sourcing scheme in the UK that guarantees cradle-to-grave traceability for construction steel products is BS 6001, which was crucial to Crossrail. Will the Minister say whether the Government intend to ensure that all public projects apply the same standard in a timely fashion?

Ultimately, each of the issues and concerns that we have raised can be considered on its own, but there is an increasingly apparent need for a detailed, workable industrial strategy for metals, including steel. The Minister might jump to his feet in a moment and cite the development of a UK metals strategy as showing that the Government are on the case, but by all accounts, that is still in its early development stages and is not even guaranteed to receive official backing, despite being funded by BIS.

Indeed, we are more than four and a half years into a Government who chose not to include the metals industry among their sector-specific industrial strategy and who now, quite frankly, are playing catch-up. We have talked about procurement and other investment decisions, but the UK cannot afford to lose out on major public infrastructure projects, as Community made clear was the case with the £790 million contract to supply steel for the new Forth road bridge. Tata steel’s plant just down the road could have supplied more than one third of the required steel, but instead the contract went to producers in China, Poland and Spain.

Tom Blenkinsop: The Minister will probably also agree that that was primarily the responsibility of the Scottish Executive, who did not play their part in trying to support the local Scottish industry. It would be

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interesting to hear the Minister’s response on what the UK Government said to the Scottish Government at a time of trying to support UK steel rather than Chinese imports.

Stephen Doughty: My hon. Friend makes a strong point and I would be interested to know the answer to that question as well. Many steelworkers and those who work in related industries throughout the UK want to see the Government standing up and backing the steel and metals industries here—not seeing major projects that could be generating wealth, jobs and opportunities in this country all ending up with Chinese products. I have already raised concerns about the quality and traceability of some of those products.

In conclusion, I will ask the Minister a few questions on which I would appreciate answers. I mentioned dumping by China and Turkey. Will he outline what representations Ministers at BIS have made to other EU member states, the European Commission and the Council on support for an anti-dumping measure?

Will the Minister outline whether there have been discussions on a UK Government responsible-sourcing requirement? Would he be willing to facilitate a meeting between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and colleagues concerned about these issues to discuss the use of steel in UK infrastructure projects and how procurement can drive the future of the industry?

Will the Minister clarify what assessment the Department has made of reports that Chinese rebar has failed British standards tests, given that much of the steel used in the past year on UK sites has been Chinese? Has he had discussions with other Departments about any risks to the future structural integrity of building and other infrastructure projects?

As I said earlier, will the Minister, with his colleagues, be generous and look again at the decision not to bring forward compensation packages to January 2015? That is crucial. Will he detail what discussions there have been in BIS on that and why it was decided not, for example, to make an encouraging announcement on that today in the autumn statement?

We have mentioned China and Turkey. Will the Minister give an assessment of reports that India is now also looking at subsidising its steel industry to compete with cheaper Chinese imports? What assessment has been made of the US Department of Commerce’s decision to impose anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on imports of carbon and alloy steel wire rod from China in reaction to a massive increase in its shipment?

Any one of the issues that I have outlined, in addition to those that I have not had time to mention, is enough to put serious strain on any business, but the cumulative effect is a matter of grave concern to the British steel industry. The risks are real and the threats are intensifying, so urgent and robust action is required from the Government. If capacity is put at risk, that could have serious consequences not only for the jobs and communities that depend on those industries, but for UK infrastructure priorities. I hope that today the Minister will give some encouragement to UK steel producers and their employees.

4.19 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies, if a little disconcerting. I look forward to participating in the debate under your chairmanship.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) on securing the debate, which is the second one I have done on British steel. It is always reassuring to see the passion and knowledge of the Labour Members in the Chamber, who represent many different steel interests in their constituencies.

I hope that the House will not take it amiss if I also thank in person once again the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), who was kind enough in a previous debate to mention my late father’s work, “The History of British Steel”, because it is the 40th anniversary of the publication of that seminal work.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Will it be reprinted?

Mr Vaizey: It will be if this level of interest in the House is maintained. This year is also the 30th anniversary of my father’s death, and it is nice that he can be mentioned in Hansard, because he was a Member of the other place, thanks to Harold Wilson.

Stephen Doughty: The Minister mentioned that this was the second time that he had had to respond to a steel debate. I appreciate that his family has a strong tradition in such matters—I enjoyed hearing about it in a previous debate—but where is the Minister responsible for the issue today and why has he not been present now at two such debates?

Mr Vaizey: Hansard has on the record the reason why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business and Enterprise could not attend the previous debate. I gather that today he is assisting the Chancellor with the autumn statement, because his brief covers a wide range of issues. Indeed, Mr Davies, you are an expert on the working relationship between the Chancellor and the Minister for Business and Enterprise.

Nic Dakin: Are we to understand that the Minister is now the Minister for steel, because he has shown far more steel on the issue than the Minister to whom he was just referring?

Mr Vaizey: I do not wish to sound churlish, but it is said that one should be beware of Greeks bearing gifts, and one should also be beware of Labour Members, however much one admires them, bearing compliments.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth is working hard to secure a long-term future for the steel industry in his constituency. He has been an assiduous champion for Celsa and has facilitated meetings between it and Ministers. I picked up on about nine points made by hon. Members during the course of the debate, but he left me with five or six specific questions, mostly focusing on efforts to mitigate the impact of high energy prices and of competition, which from his perspective is unfair—I hope that I am not speaking out of turn in putting it that way—and on what the Government are doing about things. He also asked about the future strategy for the steel industry.

I have quite a long speech, but the hon. Gentleman spoke rapidly, if clearly, and the time left to me is not long, especially given the level of interest in the debate. I will try to pack in as much in the short period available as he managed.

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It is well known that the steel industry is cyclical, and we also know that it has faced particular difficulties in the past few years, especially with the economic downturn having a major impact on construction, leading to overcapacity and severe competition throughout the world. It is worth saying, as I did in the previous debate, that the UK remains a significant player in the global steel market. We have replaced France as Europe’s second largest producer of steel and we have overtaken Italy. It is worth remembering that we continue to manufacture to a high level in this country.

My right hon. Friends the Minister for Business and Enterprise and the Secretary of State for Wales met the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth and representatives of Celsa to talk about the company’s concerns, in particular the policy issues, which it is important to note affect many other steel companies in the UK as well. The Minister for Business and Enterprise replied at the beginning of this week to the letter that was sent out by Celsa following that meeting.

The first major issue raised at the meeting and in the debate today was compensation for energy-intensive industries for the indirect costs of the European Union emissions trading scheme and the carbon price floor. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth knows that the Government are trying to compensate electricity-intensive industries for the indirect costs of the renewables obligation and the feed-in tariff. We are also seeking to exempt EIIs from the costs of the contract for difference.

The mitigation has not been brought forward, because we need to seek state aid clearance from the European Commission. It took 18 months to obtain Commission state aid clearance for the carbon price floor. The hon. Gentleman and Celsa would perhaps like to see the Government being what they might describe as more robust, but clear state aid clearance is important. As he knows, if aid is provided before state aid approval is given, technically that would be illegal and we run the risk, if approval is not given, that the company would have to pay back the state aid. That is the reason. I am sure that the Chancellor, if he could wave a magic wand, would wish to bring forward mitigation, but we have to go through the process.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth also talked about procurement. We have greater transparency of opportunities through the publication of procurement pipelines, which now cover 19 sectors. We have a simpler public procurement system; we have abolished the pre-qualification questionnaires for low-value contracts; and we help suppliers to find contract opportunities via a single online portal. We are working with industry to map supplier capabilities. We want to quantify the opportunity that exists to maximise the economic benefit for the UK—of course we do. Where there are capability gaps, sectors will encourage domestic suppliers to expand to fill them, with support from the Manufacturing Advisory Service.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland tried to tempt me to have a pop at the Scottish Executive over the Forth bridge. My understanding is that the approaches to the bridge are to use British Tata steel, but I cannot comment on the procurement process of the Scottish Executive—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil),

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commenting from a sedentary position, would like to say why the Scottish Executive procured from China, Poland and other markets.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I only wanted to ensure that the Minister knew the difference between the Executive and the Government. “The Executive” is what Labour did not have the courage to call their Government in the past; “the Government” is what exists now.

Mr Vaizey: We are disappearing down a particular Scottish cul-de-sac. I will leave that as an argument between the Scottish National and Labour parties.

We are working to strengthen existing supply chains by encouraging primes to adopt a collaborative and long-term approach to their suppliers. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth discussed Chinese imports of rebar. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service looked at the complaint by UK Steel and concluded that CARES had responded in an appropriate way to the concerns expressed in line with the expectations and requirements of the accreditation standard. I can tell him, however, that there has been an increase in vigilance on the part of CARES, with increased sampling and more checks. We have also been advised that, as a result of ongoing discussions between CARES and UK Steel, and of the further testing of some non-compliant imports, CARES visited the Chinese steel mill concerned. CARES conducted further sampling and testing, but it did not find evidence of stock production being non-compliant. On that basis, we genuinely think that we are doing everything possible, although we may be able to do more if the industry provides us with additional evidence of what it thinks that we should investigate.

Tom Blenkinsop: The issue of whether it was a Scottish Government or an Executive who sold steelworkers in Motherwell and the rest of the UK down the Yangtse is irrelevant. The real issue is whether the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has an ongoing inquiry. If so, is it looking at the steel products that are sitting on dockyards or in warehouses for more than 12 months at a time, rusting away and undermining any usage in a construction project, because of health and safety?

Mr Vaizey: I will take that specific point back to the Secretary of State. As I said, there have been discussions between UK Steel, UKAS and CARES. The Government take an interest in such issues. We will go back to those organisations if there is appropriate additional information.

Let me comment on anti-dumping quickly, because time is running out. We have been in contact with the European Commission on a number of occasions over the past year. We have had face-to-face meetings and we have asked the Commission to look at the case for launching an anti-dumping investigation into Chinese rebar imports. The problem is simply that Chinese rebar is only being exported, as I understand it, to the UK market and anti-dumping actions are taken at the European level, which presents serious legal difficulties for the Commission. We think, however, that the Commission is genuinely trying to find a way round the problems. We check regularly with it on progress and encourage it to take action, but at this stage a more aggressive approach might be unproductive.

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Coastguard Centres (Staffing)

4.30 pm

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, in the last, but I hope by no means the least, debate of the day. I look forward to hearing the response from the Department for Transport on the issues I will raise.

It is now about three years since the coastguard went through the upheaval of reorganisation, changes and closures, onwards towards its new structure. Of course I mourn the loss to Scotland of the Clyde and Forth coastguard stations. Scotland has 66% of the UK’s coastline, but, alas, only 33% of the coastguard stations. I am glad that we managed to save Stornoway station, which is now a very important coastguard station. It has a search and rescue helicopter—at one point, it had an emergency towing vessel, a tugboat—and is located in an important sea area. I am glad that we also still have in Scotland the Shetland and Aberdeen stations.

Stornoway is located between Belfast to the south and Shetland to the north, and covers a large sea area, not least because the next station to the west—perhaps the one direction I have not yet mentioned—is in Canada. Stornoway station’s area of responsibility covers about 250,000 square miles of sea, and meets the Canadians’ area at 30° west, about a time zone and a half away; Stornoway lies about 7° west. I had thought that Shetland station’s area of responsibility would be larger, but the Faroe Islands lie to its west and Norway to the east and north.

Those are just a few facts that can be found out by your average MP when they visit the local coastguard station. I bring them to hon. Members’ attention because they emphasise the international aspect of maritime activity, which could doubtless be further underlined by the station to our south, Belfast, which no doubt deals with coastguard colleagues in other jurisdictions such as the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland.

As I said, it is now over three years since the announcement that, importantly for me, confirmed that the hard work had paid off and Stornoway coastguard station was saved. The date was 22 November 2011, and it was a Tuesday—one that brought great relief not just to me but to those working at the station and people round about. We kept our coastal maritime expertise in Stornoway, and with it the associated local knowledge and jobs, as well as the intimate interaction with our local fishing community.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I do not want to take away from what the hon. Gentleman has said about the people of Stornoway, but on that same date the people of Crosby coastguard station had exactly the opposite reaction, because of the announcement of the closure of that station with the loss of jobs unless people were prepared to relocate to either Southampton or, in some cases, Holyhead. The subject he has chosen for his debate is the staffing of coastguard stations, and I am interested to hear what he has to say on that point. Many of the staff at Crosby have not been able to transfer, and grave concerns have been raised with me about the standard of recruitment and training of replacement staff. Have similar points been raised with him?

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Mr MacNeil: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. He will recall, I think, that the word I used about Stornoway was relief. To see that the stations in Forth, Clyde, Crosby and other areas were to close and the jobs of professionals with years of expertise under their belts were to be lost brought no pleasure at all—in fact, it brought great sadness. I am interested to hear what he said about staff, because I am coming on to that point. If there are surplus staff somewhere, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency might consider that fact when dealing with some of the problems I will be highlighting.

It has been three years since the reorganisation, so we would have thought that most of the changes would have been brought through by now and the organisation would be running as smoothly as it could and should be. Many people would expect the changes to have bedded down, yet reports have come to my ears—actually, to my eyes—of one coastguard officer saying to another, “Let’s hope the latest Minister does something, because the whole issue—the closure of stations, the loss of experienced staff, the undermanning—is a disaster waiting to happen.” Those are strong words—not my words, I stress, but words I feel need to be checked up on.

We must remember the value of our coastguard staff, as the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) pointed out with regard to the staff in Crosby, who sadly lost their station. We know they are trained to a high standard and that their professionalism is exemplary. I know that not just from visiting coastguard stations as an MP but from an earlier life working on fishing boats, and travelling regularly on ferries as I do, I am aware of yet another aspect of the work of coastguard staff. Each time I have been in the wheelhouse of a fishing boat or on the bridge of a passenger ferry and the words “Stornoway coastguard” have come over the radio, that radio has been turned up and there has been silence from those assembled within earshot, because, nearly always, serious and important words are coming across the airwaves.

How are those in the stations—the people broadcasting into the wheelhouses of fishing boats and the bridges of passenger ferries—faring at the moment? No one would know it from the professionalism that I hear coming over the radio, but in reality, although they may not show the strain, it seems that the stresses are most certainly there. When I visited Stornoway coastguard recently, the watch was at 75% of its strength. That brings us back to the point about Crosby. There is a problem with staffing, and people are working overtime to cover a shortage of staff—it is a regular occurrence. Some retired coastguard officers are coming in to help out, if only for a limited time due to the restrictions on what they can earn, and their expertise is still looked to. The demands on present staff are high.

I have good news for the Minister. I am sure he will be pleased to know that fortunately there are many people waiting to join the coastguard service. Sadly, I have not got much more good news than that—that is where the good news ends. Perhaps, by extension, we could say that the fact that 60 or so people came to Stornoway coastguard station in May and June to apply to join the service is good news, but six months later there is still a shortage of staff, and none of those people has been appointed. I am told that that pattern is being repeated

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across the service; in fact, some at Stornoway would argue that their situation is better than that at many other stations.

The problem has lasted for six months and is set to go on until February. That means the MCA’s recruitment process for the coastguard will have taken eight months in total. And there is more: although three staff are in the pipeline for Stornoway—they are due to start in February—the reality is that eight more are needed and the glacial pace of recruitment could go on for ever.

Can anything be done? There are indeed things that can be done, which were identified quite quickly by the staff I have met—these ideas are not mine, but are emerging within the coastguard. The bottleneck seems to be the fact that new recruits cannot start until they go to training, which takes place in Fareham or perhaps Highcliffe. There are certain dates set aside in March and new recruits can start at their stations six weeks before, hence the eight-month delay. However, there will be a knock-on effect. When will the next opportunity be? Surely the Minister and the MCA either have to look to increase training so it starts at more regular intervals, in order to shorten the recruitment period, or else think of another solution so that stations are not left with such stresses on the shoulders of their watch staff—stresses that have obvious knock-on effects on morale.

The most obvious solution would be to let new recruits into the operations room once they have been through the application process and have been accepted, so that they can do most of their training in there. Coastguard officers—seasoned people with a wealth of knowledge under their belts—tell me that that is where most of the training occurs anyway. The training centre helps to top and tail those skills; it is a useful check on quality, and is useful, too, as a refresher course.

The current situation cannot be allowed to fester—that is how it feels to many at the moment. Some in the service feel that it could be a cack-handed way to save money, but I am not sure it is that sophisticated. I would not say it is incompetence. Perhaps it is mismanagement, or I might be a bit kinder and say that it is not mismanagement but people cleaving to a system and a model idealised for some time, which they think should be delivering for the coastguard. However, it is not—it is simply not cutting the mustard.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The coastguard station at Bangor in Northern Ireland was saved when the last changes took place. I was aware earlier this year of issues similar to those outlined by the hon. Gentleman at Stornoway. Action was taken in Belfast and at Bangor coastguard station in regard to issues of sickness and overtime, and I understand that those matters have been addressed. When changes have taken place successfully, that might be a precedent for what to do in Stornoway.

Mr MacNeil: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I understand from what he says that, unfortunately, Stornoway is not the only place affected like this, but I am pleased to hear that Bangor had a successful localised approach.

The situation facing some of us is an eight-month delay, which has had an unfortunate result for at least one new recruit, who gave up her job when she accepted the coastguard job, only for it to become apparent later

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that she would have to wait many months, until February, without salaried employment while she waited to start the job with the coastguard.

Bill Esterson: The hon. Gentleman is raising some worrying examples, and I can add to them because information given to me suggests that existing coastguard staff have felt criticised by senior agency management—so much so that some of them have left, which perhaps explains some of the evidence he gave earlier. That concerns me not just in terms of what is going on with the closure at Liverpool, but what is happening at Fareham and elsewhere and the knock-on effect on the service’s ability to deliver. It does not bode well if quality and experienced staff are being criticised.

Mr MacNeil: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I have some evidence that I was not going to use because I thought there was not enough support behind it. Essentially, it is an e-mail containing implied criticism of existing staff, saying that there were better, more highly trained, more experienced or higher quality staff—I cannot remember the exact words—and existing staff felt undermined by that. I will be charitable and say that that was unfortunate, but there seems to be more than one example, or it may be the same example in many places, but it is unfortunate that the situation arose.

I return to the new recruit at Stornoway. I cannot help but think that that person has been mucked about by the MCA system—I will be kind and say that it is the system. We cannot treat grown adults, whom we trust to run one of our most important emergency services, like that and expect them to go months without paid employment because of the MCA’s procedures not being clear during the recruitment.

I have outlined some of the problems of undermanning in the ops room and taking in retired people, but there are other knock-on effects. Coastguard volunteers around our coast are also affected. Some people are destined to leave the operations room to train volunteer coastguards and to give them the training they deserve and the professionalism that anyone who is ever in need of their services deserves, but they cannot leave the operations room because of the demands there, so one of the knock-on effects is that that training is not happening. Those who would oversee development of the volunteer teams cannot be in place due to the glacial recruitment issues. Courses that should be happening in rope rescue, water rescue, first aid, land search, and equipment control and maintenance, to name but a few of the 20 courses in the guide, are not happening and cannot happen. We are back at the root of the problem, which is getting people into the service in a timely, speedy, correct and clear manner. This is not good for morale.

I may have sounded critical of the MCA and operations within the coastguard, but I do not mean to. There has been a general pattern of events in the coastguard service over the last few years and I have been critical, but although I am still being critical today, I hope that the criticism is constructive. We would all like nothing better than to have a properly functioning coastguard service. It is important to get to grips with that goal, and it could be happening, but it is not.

I want to spend a few moments putting on the record the importance of another aspect of guarding the coasts: emergency tug vessels. I want the Minister to understand

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the seriousness with which we on the west coast of Scotland regard them. We have nuclear movements going through the Minch—the stretch of water between the Hebrides and the mainland. The Minch is used by boats carrying nuclear material from Scrabster near Dounreay to the reprocessing facility at Sellafield, and we certainly do not want to contemplate one of those boats with that cargo requiring assistance, but the possibility exists. We also have fuel tankers, and those of us who do a bit of maritime trainspotting with the automatic identification system online often see tankers transiting north and south of the Hebrides between Tranmere and Mongstad in Norway. They carry fuel into some of the roughest European waters. We also have cruise ships in ever-increasing numbers, and the coastguards tell me that these sometimes carry the same amount of fuel as a tanker, which surprised me. They also carry something else very important: passengers. There are many people’s lives at stake, and we do not want one of those ships losing power along the rocky coastline of Scotland’s west coast.

If there are problems on the west coast, we will not be ready to tackle them like other nations, which take their responsibilities seriously and have plans in place to deal with problems. We have been told that we could get a tug from the oilfields west of Shetland and north of the Hebrides, but to my knowledge no simulation of a tanker or cruise ship in trouble has been carried out at the drop of a hat so that we have some experience of what would happen in real time trying to source one of those boats. I ask that such an exercise should take place. I fear that it will not happen and that our first experience will be an emergency.

I have a couple of final points. I mentioned the Faroes, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and Canada—the internationalisation of the coastguard. I am disappointed that the Smith commission on Scottish devolution has left only a consultative role for the Scottish Government. The issues I have brought to the fore would be dealt with faster and better in Edinburgh. As we saw today in the autumn statement, some of the things that have happened in Edinburgh, such as on stamp duty, have been a good example and have been copied. We have nothing to fear from devolution and control by Government outside Westminster. Sometimes, it may be for the benefit of us all.

As I said at the start, Scotland has 60% of the UK’s coastline but only 33% of the coastguard stations. Those coastguard stations are undermanned. I hope that if anything comes out of this debate, it will be that the Minister looks at the system so that we do not have the same situation in a year, and after four years a new system will have bedded down and we will have the necessary manpower in the coastguard station at Stornoway so that people do not suffer stress, can do their job professionally, and are released from the operations room to train volunteer coastguards.

4.47 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): It is an immense joy, Mr Davies, to serve under your illustrious and benevolent chairmanship. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman secured this debate on an important issue. It is important because coastguards are important. Their work is immensely valuable and I want to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate

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them on all they do to keep our shores and our people safe, not only the professionals, but the volunteers. They deserve a particular mention because in my constituency and in constituencies of other hon. Members here, volunteer coastguards do a superb job.

The provision of search and rescue is an obligation enshrined in international law and convention, including the UN convention on the law of the sea and the international convention on maritime search and rescue. The UK coastguard service’s area of operation extends as far west as the mid-Atlantic and in all other directions to internationally agreed meridians.

Picking up the hon. Gentleman’s last point, national coastguard services must operate across international boundaries to provide a search and rescue capability that is most appropriate in each incident at sea. The commitment from all professional coastguards is to protect and to save using whatever assets and resources are available, even those that may belong to other national authorities. Fear, risk, safety and rescue know no national boundaries and it is important to remember that that has always been the way and the habit of our coastguards.

From December 2010, this Government entered extensive consultations to find a way of addressing combined challenges: resilience, preventing skills-fade, improving the job offer for coastguard officers, and giving greater leadership and training support to community volunteers that make up the coastguard rescue service. Hon. Members, and particularly the Select Committee on Transport, were very much involved in those discussions and the consultation, and helped to shape the blueprint that we announced in November 2011. That was further refined in September 2013, because it took longer than we all hoped to agree new pay arrangements to reflect properly the different roles and responsibilities of coastguards working in co-ordination centres.

The unions were properly and heavily involved in that process, as they should be. I work closely, and always have as a Minister, with the trade unions that relate to the sector for which I am responsible.

Bill Esterson: The Minister is absolutely right to praise the volunteers, who do a fantastic job in my constituency, as in his. I am sure he is aware of a point that was made in arguing the case against the closures—I am looking at the 2011 report from Crosby. What assurances can he give about the relationships between officers in the MCA and those volunteers where coastguard stations have closed, as they have in my constituency?

Mr Hayes: I take that relationship very seriously indeed. I have already celebrated, in this all too short contribution, the work of those volunteers, and I see them as being critically important to the link between the coastguard service and the community. They are model examples of how voluntary involvement can not only enliven communities, but provide vital services. I take the relationship very seriously, and under this Minister, it will always be taken in that way.

Nevertheless, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the national network, made up of a new National Maritime Operations Centre in Hampshire and a series of geographically spread coastguard operation centres that, in effect, retain each of the existing paired sites, has been the product of the consultation that we described.

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The retained sites would move progressively into the national network over time until December 2015, whereas other centres would either close completely or would remain open but would no longer be responsible for search and rescue co-ordination.

The blueprint included new and exciting coastguard roles and responsibilities with improved pay and terms and conditions. As I said, the unions were involved in developing that package for coastguard roles, which, for example, would see shift patterns redesigned to reflect better seasonal demands, and with more weekends off over a year. In the union ballot, 79% of those who voted supported acceptance of the new terms and conditions.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has moved on a long way from the concept phase of this programme. We are now making real progress in establishing a joined-up national network for rescue co-ordination. The new National Maritime Operations Centre near Fareham became operational from 1 September this year, when it assumed responsibility for coastguard functions along the south coast that were previously handled by the Solent and Portland maritime rescue co-ordination centres.

Coastguards at Falmouth now operate in the first of the new breed of refurbished and refreshed coastguard operations centres, and in effect, joined the national network in October. Just as envisaged by the blueprint that we published in November 2011, any coastguard function, including search and rescue, in the areas covered by the network can be handled by anyone in that network, allowing the national commander at the National Maritime Operations Centre at Fareham to make decisions about the distribution of work loads, given the people, resources and experience available. It is that improved co-ordination, better use of resources and more efficient use of skills that lies at the heart of the blueprint and its implementation.

I believe that we can maintain and improve what we do as a result of the changes. If I did not believe that, I would not support them. It is as simple as that, because there is no way that this Minister or this Government would compromise safety or inhibit effectiveness. It is simply not our intention; it never would be and it never could be. It is important for hon. Members to accept that. As the national network evolves, the number of officers on duty at a particular site becomes less significant. Measurements of input, in the end, are bound to be less significant than measurements of effect. What matters is how the coastguard operation deals with need at the point of need.

Every month, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is either moving an existing co-ordination centre into the evolving network or ending the search and rescue function in one of the centres that was earmarked for closure.

Mr MacNeil: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hayes: I will not, because I am very short of time. I know the MCA is far from complacent and will continue to give the closures and transitions to come the same management, attention and care, so that people, their allegiances and emotions are handled with sympathy.

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I appreciate that there are always issues with this kind of radical programme, but I want to assure the House that after each transitional closure, there is a period of review, to learn lessons and improve the process before moving on to the next transition. I can further reassure the House that I will continue my regular face-to-face meetings with Sir Alan Massey and HM Coastguard officers to scrutinise and challenge the agency’s progress against that blueprint, including monitoring any particular pressure points, so that we can all have confidence that Her Majesty’s Coastguard continues to deliver the first-class service that we have all come to expect. It is absolutely right to examine and review this process to ensure the effectiveness at the point of need that I have described, in line with some of the arguments that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar has made in this debate.

The new coastguard roles and responsibilities are more demanding, and I am delighted that we are taking large numbers of our existing coastguard officers into the new set-up, supplemented by many new recruits. The hon. Gentleman mentioned recruitment, and he acknowledged generously that lots of people want to join.

4.55 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

5.5 pm

On resuming

Philip Davies (in the Chair): We have five minutes to go.

Mr Hayes: These five minutes will be exciting, because we have had a break and are waiting with anticipation for the culmination of this wonderful address.

I want to talk about recruitment, because for the operations centres the MCA has recruited against 78% of the roles, while for the roles to support the volunteer Coastguard Rescue Service the recruitment figure is 90%. Of the posts that have been filled, only 21% have been filled by new recruits; 79% of the vacancies have been filled by experienced coastguards taking up new opportunities. That is very important. The need to maintain continuity, to take advantage of experience and to ensure that the skills that people have developed over time play a key part in the new operation seems to me to be salient.

I do understand that there is particular concern about the adequacy of staffing at some centres that are transitioning into the growing national network. Many of the concerns expressed by hon. Members stem from the fact that the MCA has undoubtedly found it a challenge to staff existing maritime rescue co-ordination centres to the levels set out in historical watch-keeping risk assessments. Those levels were set several years ago and erred on the side of caution.

I can tell the House that I have had an assurance from Sir Alan Massey and the chief coastguard that there are sufficient officers with the right skills available across each existing pairing arrangement, backed up by additional cover, to sustain the comprehensive search and rescue service that we would expect. I have made the effort to challenge the service on that basis; I have asked those questions and asked to be regularly updated on recruitment and staffing. Hon. Members will understand that getting

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everyone in place for the new roles, both at co-ordination centres and on the coast to support our coastguard volunteers, is a complex jigsaw that must be carefully handled in terms of logistics and sequencing.

Mr MacNeil: I would like an undertaking from the Minister that he will seek to speed up what has been a glacial process. Eight months is too long. Can he look at shortening the period so that we do not see the undermanning in operations rooms that we have seen?

Mr Hayes: Senior managers closely monitor staffing on a daily basis and take action to ensure that safety is not jeopardised. That is certainly true for a lot of the west coast of Scotland and at Aberdeen. The essence of the plans that we have put in place is that they must

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have at their heart continuing operational effectiveness. I regard it as a key responsibility to ensure that that is the case.

I end by paying tribute to the professionalism and dedication of all those wearing the uniform of Her Majesty’s Coastguard. They should rightly continue to be proud of the job that they are doing and look forward to being part of a new and exciting future. Transitional arrangements are always challenging, and new ideas are sometimes regarded with suspicion, but we must move forward and we must get this right, because we owe it to the future to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

5.8 pm

Sitting adjourned.