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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 16 December 2014

[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]

UK Company Supply Chains

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Damian Hinds.)

9.30 am

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby.

This issue—human rights abuses in the UK supply chain—is an extremely live one. Whether it is the children of the Colombian coalfields, abuse in the sweatshop economies in Bangladesh, the exploitation of the workers in India in relation to the blood bricks, or the migrant workers in Qatar working in construction in the most inhumane of conditions, and whether it is British American Tobacco, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Glencore or many other multinationals, it is essential that everyone works together within the supply chain authorities to eradicate violations of human rights, from one end of the chain to the other.

We have an absolute moral duty to tackle and stamp out legally the human rights abuses that we see on an almost daily basis. They take many forms. We see women forced into prostitution, and children, men and often entire families forced to work in agriculture, domestic work, factories or sweatshops producing goods for global supply chains. As I say, this abuse needs to be stamped out.

In recent years, the extent of human rights abuses in the overseas supply chains of UK companies has come to light in a way that has emphasised the urgency around tackling modern slavery. At this early stage of the debate, I want to place on the record my thanks to Unite the union for its outstanding work on such issues. Had it not been for Unite, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) and I would not have joined the fact-finding trip to the tobacco fields of North Carolina, which I will now discuss.

My hon. Friend and I were invited as part of a delegation to North Carolina by the American farm workers’ union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. We had the opportunity to witness at first hand some of the many human rights abuses endured by tobacco industry workers in the fields of America. We heard disturbing stories of what is essentially daily life for them—instances of child labour, sexual exploitation of women and human trafficking. It was a world away from what we would expect in a developed country and the so-called “land of the free”, which is one of the richest nations in the world.

The working conditions that we saw were absolutely atrocious, with unbelievably long hours of manual labour in unbearable heat; squalid living conditions, which mean workers have a lower quality of life than inmates in UK prisons; and employers showing a total disregard for basic health and safety regulations by not providing gloves to workers picking tobacco plants, so that their

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skin is exposed to the toxic nicotine, which meant that many of them develop green tobacco sickness, an affliction with symptoms including nausea, intense headaches, vomiting and insomnia.

We visited about five farms. We also met many people working in the tobacco fields; men, women and even children. I have to say that it was quite harrowing. We listened to the testimonies of many people who were working in the fields. I will take just a little time this morning to outline what some of these people had to say. They were workers who were being exploited in the tobacco fields.

There was Hector, aged 49, who was from Wilson county. He said:

“I had an accident and the farmer didn’t take responsibility. I don’t agree with that…they made me suffer there in the field. I was working the tobacco and a harvesting machine cut off part of my finger. The farmer told me that someone was going to take me”—

to the hospital—

“but the hours went by and I couldn’t tell if he was telling me straight and there I was with my finger bleeding all the while.”

We visited Hector where he lived and at that time his hand was bandaged but he still had not been seen by anyone, days after the accident. At the same time, he was not being paid any wages, even though the accident was because of the negligence of his employer in the tobacco field. Many people were scared to speak out, in case there was retaliation by their employer; that is a huge issue in many of the places that I have mentioned.

There was also Sandra, who is only 13 and from Wayne county. She said:

“I started working in tobacco when I was seven. I work in tobacco because I’m thinking of my future. I want to go to college. My parents have a hard time paying for high school…and I have younger brothers and sisters that want to go to college, too. It’s important for me to work to help my parents, but there are many problems.”

There was Lorenzo, who was 26 and from Nash county. He said:

“If you have a contract”—

commonly known as an H2A visa—

“they treat you differently, but for us they lower the weekly wage. There’s no bathroom and if there is, you can’t use them; you can’t even go in because they are so dirty, and they don’t clean them.”

He said that when the inspectors come around the employers

“bring the bathrooms”—

that is, the portable bathrooms—

“and clean, too, but the inspectors leave and nothing changes”.

So the employers change things when the inspectors arrive to make them look an awful lot better than the dismal situation that workers usually face.

We visited some of these camps and saw some of these toilets. Can you imagine the squalid conditions that these people are living in? I said that those conditions were worse than those in UK prisons. However, to say that is a bit of a nonsense; you would not keep hens on an allotment in places such as those where these human beings reside, seven days a week and 24 hours a day. They were ashamed of the conditions themselves. And to see the toilets, one after another without any privacy shields between them for example, not cleaned for months on end—what sort of way is that to treat ordinary human beings?

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We spoke to Gloria, who was 23 and from Duplin county. She said:

“Women with children have it harder. We have no support. If you go out with the contractor, in every way you get treated better. If you go out with him, you’ll get a lot of hours in the good jobs and if you don’t, your pay will suffer. We have to take care of our children! All I ask is that women get treated equally as men in the fields.”

Just for clarification, when she said that women have to “go out” with the contractor, that is what she means—women must give the contractor sexual favours to ensure that they get equality in employment with the men in the tobacco fields. It is an absolute disgrace that that is continuing in what is, I must add, the land of milk and honey.

There was also Maria, who was 26 and from Greene county. She said:

“We get pesticides sprayed near us when we work and we don’t know what they are. This season—”

the 2014 season—

“I got sick from the chemicals and one day I was sick in the bathroom and the supervisor came and told me I had to get back to work. When I couldn’t, he told me he didn’t need me anymore and that was my last day working there.”

Those are a few of the testimonies we heard.

There was also the case, which has become well-known now in North Carolina, of a chap who was feeling pretty poorly after working in the 110° or 120° temperatures in the tobacco fields. The farmer said, “Well, you cannot leave: this is your job,” and sent him to sit under a tree in the shadows in the hope that he would recover. At the end of the day, everybody went home and did not realise that this chap had not come back to the camp with them. They were not too concerned, but as the days went on they realised that this chap had not come back and were slightly worried. So they decided to go back and look, following his traces from where he was in the tobacco field to the tree under which he was supposed to recover, only to find that his corpse was still sitting there, decomposed. Nobody had been to see whether he was recovering. That is why we raise these issues today.

Of course, a lack of regulation causes these poor conditions. Here we have a catalogue of atrocities that amounts to less of an American dream and more of an American nightmare. This is largely due to the lack of regulation in the tobacco farming industry. Labour standards are generally weaker in America. This, coupled with the inadequate resources provided at both state and federal level, means that it is near impossible to ensure that employment rights are enforced.

It is equally damaging that agricultural workers are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, which denies them the fundamental right of the freedom of association. With no collective bargaining structures in place and with the precariousness of their employment, workers see no alternative to withstanding the appalling conditions and abusive treatment, particularly as many of them are undocumented workers, originally from central American countries, such as Guatemala and El Salvador, with the overwhelming majority hailing from Mexico.

FLOC, with its president Baldemar Velasquez, has for many years been playing a leading role in trying to get these abuses eradicated. It estimates that at least 20,000 tobacco farm workers are not unionised, in an

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industry where joining a union would be essential in providing the necessary protection in the workplace. With this in mind, it is of the utmost concern that, as workers in those tobacco fields supply companies such as British American Tobacco, many people in this country could be unwittingly supporting this form of modern slavery.

My hon. Friends the Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) met representatives from BAT on 29 October, and although BAT expressed sympathy with the workers in question, it refused to be proactive in regulating its own practices, as confirmed in writing in its letter of 10 November 2014. BAT has also ignored calls for it to use its influence as an owner and customer of Reynolds American to urge that company to sign up to the Dunlop Commission, a mechanism already in place in America, which would give guarantees to tobacco farm workers on Reynolds American contract farms, a source of tobacco for BAT.

BAT was prepared to meet colleagues who had been on the delegation, and others, but there seems to be some difference in views about how that meeting concluded. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North believes that although BAT listened it would not be happy to do very much about using its influence, as I have suggested. BAT says that the meeting was quite helpful. Does the Minister think that this is the way that a modern company should operate, waiting for legislation to compel it to protect employment rights and the human rights of tobacco farm workers on contract farms in its US supply chain?

Urgency is needed to tackle this issue. Worryingly, stories such as those I have mentioned from North Carolina are not uncommon. The reality is that, over the last decade, current measures have failed to tackle modern slavery in our supply chains. We have seen first hand how the lack of regulation of the industry in America breeds worker exploitation, so the focus must be on imposing regulations on all companies throughout the world that feed into supply chains in Britain. Companies should have to report on their working conditions and those of their suppliers, to ensure that we have transparency in our supply chains and that we can help reduce the risk of modern slavery.

We should be focusing on this issue through the Modern Slavery Bill, which is currently going through Parliament. We need to look at procedures for the investigation and monitoring of modern slavery risks, both in UK organisations and their global supply chains; we need support and access to remedy for victims of forced labour and modern slavery; and we need to train staff and suppliers to draw on expertise and advice to remove confusion over lines of accountability with companies down the chain. We need greater clarity in lines of accountability of businesses of all sizes, which could be achieved through introducing minimum reporting standards, effective scrutiny bodies and enforced penalties. These functions should be monitored as part of the anti-slavery commissioner’s duties.

Like most hon. Members in this House, I welcome the vital role played by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority in managing and mitigating risks of slavery in the food and agricultural sectors, but I urge its expansion to deal with other high-risk areas, such as fisheries, apparel, construction, cleaning, care and

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hospitality. All authorities responsible for inspection, monitoring and enforcement of labour standards should work proactively to identify abuses of labour standards and act effectively if modern slavery is found. Truly to tackle modern slavery, the Bill must address this.

Thousands of temporary workers in the UK fall between the cracks of labour inspection and regulation because they are not covered by the GLA. UK labour inspectorates should take proactive measures to ensure protection of workers from abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices. Companies should also seek to ensure that migrant workers do not pay a recruitment fee, including in their country of origin. These fees put them in debt bondage, which is a critical factor in forced labour and trafficking for labour exploitation.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister shares the view that I have wholeheartedly expressed here, which is that Britain should not tolerate human rights abuses in our overseas supply chains or indeed modern slavery in any form—a view shared by many of my hon. Friends in the House. Does the Minister agree with me that freedom of association agreements would make all the difference in improving the rights of employees of multinational companies? Will the Minister support the extension of the GLA and its use as a model for good industrial relations practices?

Greater scrutiny and regulation in our supply chains are long overdue. We need to take a stand on the world stage to show that Britain will not profit from exploitation. With this in mind and Britain’s industrial reputation at stake, I invite the Minister to say why the UK does not insist on proper legally binding corporate social responsibility reporting, and why we do not push harder for better regulation at the international level to hold multinational companies to account. I finish by saying that anyone who saw the things that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and I saw in the tobacco fields of North Carolina would be truly ashamed that the supply chain in the UK is contributing to modern-day slavery. Those individuals were treated like animals and worked like animals.

9.50 am

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) on securing this debate. He has eloquently spoken about what we saw in North Carolina, which was depressing. I put on record my thanks to president Velasquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and his team of volunteers who work tirelessly every day to try to identify and expose what is happening in that part of America. I also put on record my thanks to the local communities, the Churches and the faith groups that we met in North Carolina. They told us clearly that they do not want British American Tobacco, Reynolds or any of these companies operating in their communities and treating people in the way that they do.

My hon. Friend mentioned the meeting that I and others had with BAT. We were offered all the empathy in the world, but nothing of substance to help people. We have multinational companies that are quite prepared to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in courts trying to defend themselves against having to give workers a say at the workplace so that they can lead a decent life, with respect. Those companies

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would rather pay fancy lawyers hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to continue to treat their workers in the way that they do. From what we have seen, the situation is depressing.

Another company that is coming on to the radar for behaving in that way is the bus company National Express. It is well respected and well established in the UK, but when it goes abroad to America, the first thing it tries to do is indulge in union busting, which is a complete waste of people’s time. The most important thing from a British perspective is that the company has the contract to take kids in America to and from school. A number of safety concerns have been raised, and the last thing we want is a UK company being responsible for fatalities in America. Anyone who complains or highlights those safety issues suddenly finds themselves unemployed. National Express is a well-respected, well-established company, but when it goes abroad I am reminded of the television programme, “An Idiot Abroad”. That is exactly what it is. It behaves like an idiot and does nothing until such time as legislation forces it to, which is not a progressive way forward.

I will focus on the Blood Bricks campaign—it is a difficult name to say and I have been caught out a few times by mispronouncing it—and early-day motion 362. Union Solidarity International, working in partnership with Prayas, ActionAid and Thompsons solicitors, has developed an international campaign to highlight forced labour and child labour in the global brick construction sector. The Blood Bricks campaign focuses on India, where trade union organisations, non-governmental organisations and human rights campaigners have been organising, educating and mobilising thousands of workers to raise wages and access to public services and to combat child labour and sexual exploitation.

The issues of forced labour are not restricted to India. Recent case examples in Brazil and Qatar highlighted problems with the work on the infrastructure for the football World cups of 2014 and 2022. However, bonded labour, forced labour, child labour and infringements of domestic and international legislation are widespread in India. According to the International Labour Organisation, almost 21 million people across the world are victims of forced labour: 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. Those who exact forced labour generate vast illegal profits. Domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment are among the sectors of most concern. Migrant workers and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to forced labour.

The early-day motion, which stands in my name and has a significant number of signatures, focuses on the workers who were faced with choosing which limb they wanted cut off when they tried to escape from bonded labour, as featured in a BBC story by Humphrey Hawksley only a few weeks ago. The USi has identified a company operating in the UK with ties to bonded labour. Those workers were said to have been working for Jai and Raj Group, a subcontractor of Indian engineering and construction giant Larsen and Toubro Ltd. In 2010, Renfrew firm Howden Group entered into a multimillion pound joint venture with L&T to manufacture equipment for power plants. The USi has written to Howden Group, alerting it to the allegations that have been passed to the Indian Government’s Ministry of Labour and Employment, but its response is completely inadequate.

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The Howden Group, despite being controlled by L&T on this site—a fact it acknowledges—says we should raise our complaints directly with Larsen and Toubro.

The workers, who are from the state of Uttar Pradesh, were said to have been lured to work on a construction site in Delhi by an advance of 1,000 rupees, which is approximately £10.26, and promised wages of 12,000 rupees, which is £123.08 a month. We believe that the allegations, which potentially implicate L&T—it has major operations in the UK—are a serious breach of domestic and international law. If companies want to operate in the UK, that must come at the price of proactively ensuring that their supply chains are free from slavery. UK companies operating around the world have a legal duty to uphold the law.

In a statement, Howden confirmed that it was in a joint venture with Larsen and Toubro in the power industry in India, but added:

“However, we are not aware of any issues around bonded or forced labour (or allegations thereof) in connection with L&T or a subcontractor of L&T in India.”

A spokesman for L&T denied the allegations of bonded labour and said the company had the highest standards of labour welfare at all establishments and job sites, and was compliant with Indian labour laws and Acts. He added:

“Among other rules and regulations, there are specific checks in place that prohibit the use of bonded labour. We understand from our project site that we hire various equipment from the agency (Jai and Raj), and confirm that no bonded labour is deployed at our project site, directly or indirectly.”

However, USi has evidence directly to the contrary, which it believes to be the tip of the iceberg of companies operating in the UK with ties to modern-day slavery and of UK companies operating in countries such as India that are implicated in those practices. That is why we need a robust response.

Analysis of the records of workers across three states shows that average wages over the working period of six months range between $2 and $3 a day. Those rates are significantly lower than the statutory minimum wage. Even to earn that level of wage, workers have to put in 12 or more hours of work every day. Even children are forced to work, as the food expenses given to workers are correlated with production levels. Lower production can simply mean that a family does not have enough to eat.

A significant change in law is needed. We need obligations with teeth. As the UN recognised in its guiding principles, it is not enough to encourage companies. If companies do not ensure respect, protection and human rights compliance, there must be proceedings that can be brought against them and remedies available through the courts.

Accordingly, the following obligations are a minimum for any company wanting to be registered to do business in the United Kingdom. First, they must do more than simply produce a report; there must be a positive obligation upon the company to proactively audit and carry out due diligence to ensure no human rights breaches within its operation in the United Kingdom or anywhere else it does business. Secondly, the same positive obligation must apply to subsidiary companies, joint ventures and supply chains, when the supply represents a minimum

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financial limit or a minimum percentage of a company’s turnover. Thirdly, any company that is linked to human rights breaches by its own operation, joint ventures, subsidiaries or supply chains will not be entitled to any Government subsidy or export credits. Fourthly, when a company knew or ought to have known about negligence or was recklessly indifferent to human rights breaches, it shall be liable to pay compensation for the extent of the human rights breaches against individuals in claims brought in the United Kingdom, irrespective of where the human rights breaches took place. Finally, deliberate, grossly negligent or reckless indifference to human rights breaches in such circumstances shall also be a basis upon which criminal proceedings may be brought against the company or individual directors.

I have referred to just one example, which is the tip of the iceberg of the total exploitation of vulnerable workers around the world. The British taxpayer is clearly saying that such exploitation should not be done in their name. They want no part of it. I ask the current Government, or whatever new Government we have after May, to take forward legislation to ensure that people are not exploited and that Britain and companies registered here play by the rules.

10.1 am

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): It is a pleasure to take part in this important debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) for a good opening speech, in which he highlighted the severe exploitation of workers in the tobacco industry, particularly under British American Tobacco and R. J. Reynolds. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) made specific reference to the Blood Bricks campaign, and there are many other examples. My comments will centre on the food industry.

As the debate is focused on the UK’s supply chain, I will consider not only what we could do with regulations, but what we should tell supermarkets. There are effectively only six major buyers among the supermarkets and retailers in the UK. Those buyers sit in offices alongside people who are responsible for corporate responsibility and ethical trading. If they wanted to, they could drive a race to the top, rather than a race to the bottom. There is case for regulation, as I will describe in a moment, but there is also a case for going beyond regulation and actually telling companies, “You should be showing British leadership and world leadership.” We should go far beyond what regulations can deliver and seek far higher standards right along global supply chains.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): My hon. Friend mentioned global leadership. The UK shows such leadership with our international development objectives in many of the countries where supply chains are located. Does it not make sense for us—a partnership of our business community, our public and our Government—to ensure that we are helping development in such countries with measures such as fair pay, decent work and decent working standards?

Huw Irranca-Davies: I agree entirely. While today’s focus has been on the deplorable gross exploitation of workers in different parts of the world, there is also routine, daily exploitation through the suppression of

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wages and the absence of terms and conditions and protections. There is no recognition not only of unions, but of grievances in the workplace. Many workers experience a dampening effect that keeps them under control, having to do what the employer says because they have no voice.

My hon. Friend is right to suggest what our cross-Government international development approach should be on the food and clothing sectors and so on. We should not only look to see where regulation can work, but work with the sectors and say, “As an island nation, we have such global reach that we should be forcing standards up.” We should not be waiting to be told to do that; we should be working at it now, whether in Africa, India or South America. Ultimately, if we have products on our shelves that are being produced extremely cheaply, we know that somebody or something is being exploited somewhere. In the food sector, that could mean exploitation of animals, communities or workers.

I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back to 2004 when some of this debate began. In the Morecambe bay tragedy, 32 Chinese cockle pickers died out on the mud banks. It was a horrendous incident that woke the country up to something that we thought could not happen in a modern society. Chinese workers, trafficked by rogue gangmasters into the UK, were exploited in terms of pay and conditions and then placed in hazardous and ultimately fatal conditions. They were paid £5 for 25 kg of cockles while being left to the ravages of the tide. In the eyes of the gangmasters, they were expendable. As a result of a cross-party and cross-sector approach, many people came together and said, “We must deal with this,” and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority was established as a result.

The GLA has done tremendous work on tackling exploitation in a lean and mean way, but it is still happening. Back in 2012, two people were arrested in Kent following the exploitation 17 Lithuanian workers, who were being moved around the country in minivans to work. Sometimes they went without pay for weeks on end. Sometimes they received a pittance, but with deductions. They slept in a van as they travelled. When they were not sleeping in vans, they slept on floors in the most basic of portakabin accommodation. It was complete exploitation. What surprised people after it was picked up by the GLA was that it was occurring in our supposedly reputable food supply chain. It involved Noble Foods, which supplied companies such as McDonald’s, Tesco, Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s. The products that Noble Foods supplied to those companies included—with no irony—chicken bearing the Freedom Food mark, yet people working for the company were being exploited and had no freedom themselves. It was debt bondage. They worked 17-hour shifts and slept on buses. It was crazy.

Well done to the GLA on that, but the point has already been well made by my colleagues that the GLA needs to follow its intelligence whenever exploitation is taking place. We know that it happens in the social care and construction sectors. It is a lean, mean organisation that now needs to target sectors where its nose suggests there is a stink and where exploitation is occurring.

I want to consider a more recent case that brings the issue right back home and into the produce that we take off the shelves and put on our plates. It has been reported that abuse and exploitation are widespread in

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the Thai fishing industry. It looks very much like slavery, but certainly involves human rights abuses. Thailand produces 4.2 million tonnes of seafood each year, 90% of which is exported. The main markets are the USA, the EU and the UK—we do like our seafood.

The Guardian

reported this year that people were forced to work 20 hours a day and endured regular beatings if they complained. They received one plate of rice a day to keep them going. People were purchased by boat captains from brokers for between £450 and £640—direct, old-fashioned slavery and exploitation of human beings. At every stage officials were bribed, so that the slaves could be brought in.

The Guardian

reported that a slave trafficker called the Thai police “business partners”, while the people forced to do the work were seen as expendable. Kevin Bales, an anti-trafficking activist, estimates that slaves cost 95% less than they did at the height of the 19th-century slave trade.

The vessels that use those slaves each year catch roughly 350,000 tonnes of so-called “trash fish”, turned into fishmeal for multinationals such as CP Foods, which supplies major retailers in the UK, including Asda, Iceland, Tesco, Morrisons and the Co-op. Many of those retailers—I come back to the point about the power of the retailers and the six major buyers in the UK—were not aware of what was going on, but many people would say, “You did not show due diligence in looking at what was happening in your supply chain.” The case has woken many retailers up, but the question is, why did it take that to wake them up?

CP Foods has stated that it requires its factories to buy trash fish only from legal and licensed boats. Captains, however, often fail to record where their fish comes from, so how can we have a trail for where the fish is being purchased? Tesco says that it regards slavery as unacceptable, and it is working with international organisations such as the ILO to achieve a broader change in the Thai fishing industry. All the retailers who were caught out have responded rigorously, in part to deal with reputational damage.

Exploitation remains a major concern. The two biggest industries in which exploitation, trafficking and slave labour are rife are the garment industry and the food industry. A tremendous amount could be done by the British food sector. My hon. Friends have already mentioned asks that go beyond where the Government are with the Modern Slavery Bill. We want to see elements from the Ethical Trading Initiative brought forward. We want to see comparability between different companies on reporting along the long line of their supply chains; we need to be able to compare Marks & Spencer, Tesco and everyone else in the UK—apples with apples, not apples with pears. We want to see directors having individual fiduciary duties to ensure the accuracy of reporting; we do not want another Thai fishing industry exploitation case to come up and a director to say, “I knew nothing about it. I did my best, but someone lower down the chain is responsible”—that is not good enough. Things have to stop right at the top; leadership has to come from the top. We also want not only large public, but privately listed companies included.

A lot more can be done, not only with regulation, but by working with such companies, so that we go way beyond regulation and so that the UK shows real leadership in ending exploitation in the food sector and every other sector mentioned by my colleagues. Consumers can also

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play a role, because the consumer voice, as we have seen in recent history, frequently shames sectors into taking action. Let us get on with it.

10.13 am

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to be serving under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Crausby.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) on securing this vital debate, and him and my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) on their excellent work in highlighting the appalling abuse in the tobacco fields of North Carolina. The exploitation of the workers there shocked me. One hears about the American dream, but those workers were clearly not living the American dream; they were living what can only be described as an American nightmare, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck pointed out.

Depressingly, such exploitation is happening all around the world, not only in the most powerful nation on the planet, the United States of America. Exploitation is happening not only in developing nations, but in so-called highly developed western democracies. It is also happening, as my hon. Friends mentioned in their contributions, in what is, per capita, the richest nation on earth—Qatar.

I visited Qatar earlier this year with a delegation led by the construction workers’ union UCATT—the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians—and by the Building and Woodworkers’ International. We went to look at the impact of the World cup, the transformation taking place in that country and the terrible abuses to which construction workers and migrant workers across the piece are being subjected there. Again, I was absolutely shocked. When my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck was talking about the squalid circumstances in which the tobacco workers in North Carolina were living, it struck a chord, because that was precisely the kind of thing that I witnessed in Qatar. The working conditions, too, were appalling.

At one level, we can look at Qatar and say, “An amazing transformation is being made in that nation.” I visited what I believe to be the largest construction site anywhere in the world and it is incredible what is being done in the country, but there is absolutely no excuse for the kind of exploitation that migrant workers are being subjected to in order to make the transformation. Money cannot be the reason why people are being exploited, because Qatar is the richest nation on the planet, as I said. Nevertheless, it is subjecting workers to terrible working conditions, such as the heat of the day, and terrible living conditions.

When we arrived in Qatar, 1,200 workers had already lost their lives since the World cup had been awarded to the country. At an attrition rate of that level, 4,000 construction workers will have lost their lives before a ball is kicked in the World cup. That cannot be right and cannot be allowed to go on. There can be no excuse. What saddened me most of all was the fact that British companies are implicated in such exploitation.

On our trip, we visited Balfour Beatty, which at the time was carrying out some work in Qatar. A senior Balfour Beatty representative to whom we spoke told us, when we put it to him that workers were being

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subjected to such terrible exploitation, “You mustn’t look at this through western eyes. These people like to live together—in these appalling squalid circumstances.” He did not say the last bit, but that is what the circumstances in which they are living are like.

People are brought to Qatar by disreputable recruitment agencies, who lie to them about how they will be able to earn riches beyond their dreams, to send money back to their families and in effect to be set up for life. They are charged up to £1,500 for the privilege of getting there, but when they arrive they are told, “The salary you were told you were going to earn is not true. We will rip up that contract that you thought you had signed and give you this one. You can’t go back to your home country, by the way, because we will have your passport off you.” So people are trapped and, before they start to earn anything, they have to pay back the recruitment agency up to £1,500. They were told that they would earn a huge sum, but they are only earning about £30 a week. Those are skilled people—skilled tradesmen—who at best are earning about £30 to £35 a week. That is completely wrong and it is disgraceful that British companies are involved in that process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) hit the nail on the head when he talked about how the senior representatives in companies say, “We didn’t know anything about it.” I took it upon myself to get the House of Commons Library to provide me with a list, as best they could, of all the British companies operating in Qatar today. I have written to each and every single one of them demanding to know what steps they are taking to stop that exploitation.

When people are working incredibly hard, they are entitled to live in decent accommodation. In Qatar, not only do they work long days, but the labour camps are miles away from the construction sites; before people even start their day’s work, they have a one or two-hour bus journey and they have another at the end of the day. I was absolutely shocked. Yes, the conditions were squalid and filthy, but people have also not even got mattresses to sleep on, and there were eight, 10 or 12 people to a tiny room.

I could not believe what I was seeing—people did not even have mattresses. They were sleeping on bunk beds of hard, solid planks of wood. After a long, hard day of grafting in the heat of the day—I used to work in the construction industry so I know what a hard job it is, although we did not work those hours or in that kind of heat—they go home to appalling filth and squalor and they cannot even get a decent night’s sleep because they have to sleep on a hard plank of wood. Then the representative of Balfour Beatty tells us, “You mustn’t look at this through western eyes.” That kind of colonial mentality still seems to pervade these British companies.

The other point my hon. Friends referred to was the lack of trade union recognition in the tobacco fields. We put that to the Qatari authorities. It is vital that there should be freedom of association and the right to form a trade union in order to secure workers’ rights, and we want to see that. In fact, we could do with much greater trade union membership in this country, with the Government encouraging that rather than continually attacking the unions and their attempts to secure workers’ rights over here. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore talked about the cockle pickers—would they not have

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benefited from being members of a trade union? They certainly would not have been put at risk of losing their lives.

It was Ted Heath who once talked about the “unacceptable face of capitalism.” Here we have just that in the examples highlighted by my hon. Friends and what I saw in Qatar. That is the unacceptable face of capitalism and British companies are implicated in it. When I wrote to those companies, all bar one of them—I think—came back to me and effectively said, “It’s nowt to do with us, guv—we don’t employ these workers directly.” They were washing their hands of the issue in a kind of Pontius Pilate approach. They say, “You can’t blame us,” but they are happy to take the profits from this huge transformation.

It is incumbent on the Government today—I hope that the Minister will do this when she responds to the points made by my hon. Friends—to explain what they are doing about the British companies implicated in exploiting workers across the globe. From the United States of America to Qatar and beyond, that must stop and the Government have a huge and important role to play in making it stop. When we have asked questions about that, we have heard encouraging words from Ministers. They have said that human rights are sacrosanct and that they will certainly bring pressure to bear on the Governments—and, I hope, the companies—who are implicated.

However, there is a twin pressure. While on the one hand we hear welcome talk from Ministers who say, “Human rights is important and we’re going to bring pressure,” on the other hand, when we are talking about places such as Qatar, the rewards are immense because the contracts run into many billions of pounds. I know that representatives from Qatar have been here and have had meetings with the Mayor of London and, as I understand it, with Ministers too—I do not know what they spoke about, but I understand that they are keen to secure work in Qatar—so I wonder whether the Government are speaking with a forked tongue. I hope that they are not, because it is really important that their response is about not just rhetoric, but action. That is what I want to hear.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson) indicated assent.

Chris Williamson: I am pleased to see the Minister nodding her head. I hope that, when she gets up, she will tell us about some of the positive actions that the Government have taken and those that they propose to take to ensure that we do not have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore said, the continual race to the bottom. British companies and the British Government should be about a race to the top. We should be setting standards. We have a proud tradition going back many years of standing up for human rights, so it is really important that the Government step up to the plate in all the circumstances highlighted, including those I highlighted in Qatar.

I want to close with a quotation from Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book in America, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” He said:

“Capitalism should be the slave of democracy, not the other way around.”

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I could not have put it better myself. That is essential, because if capitalism is not the slave of democracy and it serves only the richest and most powerful people around the world, what is the point of it? If it is only about exploiting ordinary working people, I would say let us throw it aside and have a socialist state in every nation. However, I am not actually asking for that. Capitalism can work, but we need to make it work—we need to make it the slave of democracy. In conclusion, when we hear from the Minister, I hope that she will give us some indication of how the Government will ensure that workers are protected and that capitalism is indeed made to be a slave of democracy, not the other way around.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): Order. I want to call the two Front-Bench Members no later than 10.40 am.

10.27 am

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) on leading the debate and I commend him and my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) on their initiative in North Carolina and the meetings that they have held here since. I was struck that my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck made the trip to North Carolina having been in Columbia the previous week with me and others on a Justice for Colombia trip.

When we were in Colombia, among the things we witnessed was a major project driven by the EU-Colombia free trade agreement that is leading to the degradation of land rights and further abuse of labour rights. However, in a poignant way that project is not just throwing up issues about new dimensions of modern slavery; it saw us meet Afro-Colombian families who are the descendents of the original escaped slaves—the people who were given and found this land by the shores in Colombia—who are now being driven off that land and forced to live in concrete batteries up mountains, well away from their previous experiences. That is happening not just to them, but to indigenous peoples as well.

That mega project of a super port at Buenaventura is driven not just by the Colombian Government and big business, but by myriad vicious paramilitaries who are completely indulged by the police. That is one of the reasons why, as a member of the Modern Slavery Bill Committee, in Committee and on Report I tabled amendments that would have broadened the issues around ethical trading and supply-chain proofing. That was to make sure not just that customers were taking responsibility for what happened in the workshops from which they bought goods, but that people were taking responsibility for wider aid and trade policies that were driving wholesale, pernicious human rights abuses, affecting not only people’s labour and land rights, but their basic living conditions and even where they had the right to live.

In the Bill Committee, we did see progress on supply chains. Initially, the Bill was completely deficient in that area, but there was strong lobbying, which, I must acknowledge, came from Members on both sides of the House—from the Government Benches and the Opposition Benches, and from parties big and small—and that was reflected in the Committee. Obviously, there was also a

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big lobby, involving groups ranging from Anti-Slavery International to the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, Oxfam, UNICEF and many others, and they all highlighted, among other issues, the Bill’s deficiency in that respect.

Even though all those groups and coalitions inside and outside Parliament must be commended on the strong case they made to the Government, the business voices responding to the ethical trading initiative were decisive in persuading Ministers. Although I commend the businesses involved for being ethically alert and active and for working in partnership with others, it is a poor comment on the Bill that the issue would have been missed altogether had it not been for the intensity of those business voices.

Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Some of the more progressive, ethically aware companies see the competitive advantage in driving higher standards, which will, hopefully, drive the rogues out of the marketplace in different sectors. There is therefore an advantage in driving higher standards.

Mark Durkan: Exactly. That is exactly the point those businesses made, and it was clearly taken on board by Members on both sides of the House. It was also stressed by the trade union movement, which has been an active driver of the ethical trading initiative.

Whenever the Government resisted widening the Bill’s scope, they would tell us that ethical auditing was already taking place. However, ethical auditing, as talked about and supposedly practised over a number of years, is really a badge for big business, rather than a shield for vulnerable, exploited workers. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and others have quoted examples of scandals that have been identified, including the case of the Thai fishing industry, which was revealed in The Guardian. We were previously told that those things were the subject of ethical auditing—that companies were aware of the issues and would respond to any problems—but it is up to somebody else to show them the problems, and then they respond.

In the example of the Thai fishing industry, there has been some positive response subsequently. After The Guardian exposed the story, with the assistance of Anti-Slavery International, that organisation, along with Thai NGOs, retailers and seafood suppliers, embarked on a project called Issara—the Thai word for “freedom”. The inspections the project team has been able to carry out are already delivering positive results and driving change. That shows that there needs to be effective intervention, as hon. Members have said.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said, effective intervention should be about making sure not only that companies are liable and held to account for what happens in their supply chain, but that the state has the power to ban goods. What is the point of passing legislation saying that companies will have responsibilities and liabilities in terms of knowing what is going on in their supply chains, saying that we encourage consumers to be responsible, conscientious and aware—for example, that the goods they buy may come from southern India, where young Dalit women and girls are exploited, or

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from Uzbekistan, where the exploitation involves not just companies, but the Government—and saying that there is a responsibility on consumers, suppliers and retailers, if there is no responsibility on the state? If it is evident that the sourcing or manufacture of a product involves slavery and human rights abuses, there should be the power to ban that product.

Such a power has existed in American law since 1930—since the Tariff Act—and it was in the scope of one of the amendments I tabled to the Bill to say that there should be the power to ban or prohibit something where there was clear evidence of abuse. That amendment would not have imposed a duty on the state to police trading practices in all parts of the world, but it would have been based on the state’s right to respond when someone else brought evidence to it. In the American system, the Department of Homeland Security can be petitioned with evidence, and it would then have the power to issue a ban. If we are serious about dealing with these issues, we should follow through.

Chris Williamson: My hon. Friend is right. I am closely following his point about the importance of the state being meticulous in enforcing greater protections. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said, these multinational companies are quick to resort to litigation, and they will spend a lot of money on lawyers. Chevron, for example, had a case brought against it for causing terrible pollution in the Ecuadorian rain forest, but it said it would fight the case

“until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice.”

When international companies have that attitude, states need to be strong and to stand up for their citizens; otherwise, these powerful companies will ride roughshod over them.

Mark Durkan: I fully accept my hon. Friend’s point. That is why, rather than leaving these issues to all sorts of litigation, there should be the power to ban a product where it can be specifically identified.

I have closely followed all that my hon. Friend has said today and previously about Qatar. Several Members in the Bill Committee mentioned the system of employer-tied visas for domestic workers in the UK, where the visa, which rests with the employer and is almost their property, can be abused in a way that makes the employee their chattel. The style and logic of the visa system used to exploit workers in Qatar are exactly the same, and that should give us all pause for thought.

10.38 am

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Mr Crausby.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) not only for bringing this issue here for debate, but for visiting Colombia and the North Carolina tobacco fields and for his report, which I would encourage all Members of the House to read to see what he experienced. We should all reflect on the personal, real-life stories he has told us this morning and do everything we can to resolve some of the issues.

I also pay special tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) for all his work on these issues not only in the UK, where he has stood up for the rights of individual

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workers, but across the world. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his dedication, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority may never have come into being. The authority has transformed the lives of many in the UK, and I hope it will be a blueprint for transforming many other lives across the world.

The issue is huge: global exploitation in UK companies’ supply chains cannot be tolerated and we should say that clearly. We cannot be serious about tolerating slavery in the United Kingdom if we are prepared to accept the use of slave labour for products or in construction in other parts of the world. We have heard many examples this morning of such forced labour, including blood bricks. The 1,200 people killed in the collapse of the Rana Plaza were supplying clothing to some of our main high street stores, many of which will do quite brisk trade over the festive season as the public do their Christmas shopping with them. We heard, particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), about prawn fishermen held in a lifetime of slavery. We have heard, and I have certainly read, about the human rights issues affecting them, and about bodies torn apart by vessels for fun. The prawns were being sold to many high street stores—Tesco, and even the Co-op. It is not good enough for those companies to say “We didn’t realise it was happening.” Our conclusion today—the whole point of the debate—should be for the Government to say it is unacceptable and that ignorance is no defence, and that we should do something about it. We should put the onus on companies to investigate their supply chains.

We have heard many times about small children being paid pennies a day for sewing sequins on to children’s clothes, and we heard reports from the tobacco fields of North Carolina. I was much struck by the wonderful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) about serious exploitation in Qatar, in the building of World cup venues. It is the primary sporting event in the world, and those workers are being exploited. How can we possibly tolerate the possibility that in a few years’ time Scottish football fans may celebrate, in the patriotic way of passionate fans, goals scored by a Scottish football team at those venues—when the death toll for building those very terraces could be as high as 4,000? That must be unacceptable, because there is a blueprint for how to carry out such projects properly. The UK Olympics in London was a major construction project—one of the biggest in the world at the time. There was not one death. It can be done, and we should secure legislation to prevent such deaths.

There are various studies showing that the public are highly aware of the issue; 84% of the UK public want legislation and so do the overwhelming majority of companies. The Government have come some way on the question of supply chains, as we shall probably hear from the Minister, with regard to the Modern Slavery Bill; but the Opposition think that they should go an awful lot further. Some of the stories that we have heard today reinforce that.

Most large retailers are implementing policies to tackle the issue, but it is hard to see tangible progress that would enable consumers to make direct comparisons between companies, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore mentioned. We must be able to compare apples with apples rather than pears. That is why we must introduce mandatory standards for reporting, to force

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companies to adopt standard procedures. We must be able to assess supply chains, because we want to support British businesses that act on the issue, and create a level playing field. It is a pro-business agenda, and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) was right to suggest that. Businesses want to stamp out the practices in question. However, we will not get to the stage where the advantage to business is clear unless there is a level playing field to allow comparisons to be made and businesses that do not take action to be exposed. Many large companies have backed legislation to create a level playing field, and so have the British Retail Consortium and the Ethical Trading Initiative, which was set up with 81 corporate members. Retailers are also acting. Sainsbury’s, Next and even Primark have complained about competitors who have not acted.

A community of NGOs and businesses has coalesced around the Ethical Trading Initiative to recognise that three fundamental things are needed. First, it concluded that there must be more regulation of national and international supply chains to establish the level playing field. Secondly, there should be a partnership with unions and non-governmental organisations; that would be essential to tackling forced labour issues in international supply chains. Thirdly, Governments would need to shoulder their portion of the burden in tackling those issues. I believe that when Governments regulate in such matters, although it is necessary, it is because there has been a significant business failure. I think that businesses have recognised that and that they must do something about it.

UK companies undoubtedly have hugely complex supply chains, as we have heard in the debate. That is particularly true of the fishing matters set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore. Even best practice in auditing is not foolproof. That is why the approach must be about changing market conditions and creating incentives for the suppliers to be shown to be fair. That would mean suppliers being able to show that they meet International Labour Organisation standards, backed up by kite marking and a proper inspection regime.

I acknowledge, as I think that everyone would, that it is hard for UK companies to implement that approach individually. They say that to us consistently; but collective action could make it the norm. The Bribery Act 2010 has reduced the burden on business by creating consistent standards and an industry to audit them. It is regulation, and the Government will talk about their one in, two out approach to regulation; but the Act has brought in consistent standards, reducing the burden on business and creating a level playing field.

As to the Modern Slavery Bill, the Government have to some extent had to be dragged along kicking and screaming. It took them until Report to introduce relevant provisions, and there was massive criticism of their proposals, questioning whether they are appropriate. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck concluded that the lack of proper, enforceable regulation led to the removal of all humane conditions from the supply chain—something he witnessed on his many visits.

We proposed amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill in Committee. They would have built on proposals from the Joint Committee that dealt with the draft Bill, and would have allowed for legal reporting on the supply chain within the Companies Act 2006, and regulations including four standard reporting elements, with definitive

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actions for companies. It is not good enough for companies just to report on those issues. They must also show that they have taken action.

The first of the four elements was accountability for tackling modern slavery and forced labour, including policy commitments, resourcing and actions to exercise due diligence. The second was that modern slavery and forced labour risks should be investigated, monitored and audited in the UK and throughout global supply chains. The third was that victims of forced labour and modern slavery should have support, and access to remedy. It is not good enough just to deal with today’s problem. Things that have happened in the past must also be dealt with. The fourth thing on the list was, crucially, that staff and suppliers should be trained and have access to expertise and advice in dealing with the issues. Those are the critical things that we need to think about to get robust and legally enforceable reporting mechanisms.

We welcome the measures that the Government have introduced, as far as they go, but they need to go further. In the other place, Lord Rosser, who tabled some amendments, concluded:

“I can only comment that it is very difficult for civil society to make a judgment if there is not enough information in the statements in the first place.”

He added that there is no legal requirement to produce the relevant statements and that the Bill

“still does not go far enough and will not enable those judgments to be made by society, whether it be consumers, voluntary organisations, the media or others.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 December 2014; Vol. 757, c. 1892.]

We can see that proper regulations work. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority works. The groceries code adjudicator is limited but seems to be working. Where there is good regulation, such as the Bribery Act 2010, it can work.

I will be interested to hear whether the Minister will respond to the debate by saying that the Government will present proper, strong, robust regulations. It is clear from what we have heard this morning that morally unjustifiable things are happening in our supply chains. As consumers in the marketplace going shopping we should know clearly where products come from and how the companies look after their employees. If we do not act we will have missed an opportunity. Not only that, but the United Kingdom will be ducking its responsibilities on the international stage to do something about what is happening.

10.49 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. It is also a great pleasure to respond to this thoughtful and powerful debate. It is customary on such occasions to say that this has been a good debate, but it really has been striking, particularly the number of examples of individuals who are suffering in the most horrific conditions. Sometimes the discussion of business issues and human rights becomes abstract, and bringing it back to individuals is helpful.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) on securing this debate and on sharing his personal testimony and experience of the individuals

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he has visited. He is right that this is an issue on which there is a moral duty. Of course there are business benefits from improving human rights, as the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and others have said, and it is important that we make that business case, but the hon. Member for Wansbeck put his finger on it when he said that this is a moral duty. We are all human beings, and human rights are universal. Whatever we do and whatever our role, whether we are working in business, politics or the media, we have a responsibility to other human beings and to ensure that human rights are upheld.

The Government are taking a range of action, of which I am proud and which I warmly welcome and champion, from narrative reporting to our work with different sectors, including the retail sector, to ensure that they are improving their practices. We have also amended the Modern Slavery Bill to address supply chain reporting, to which I will return. At EU level there is also non-financial reporting, and of course we support these issues at the United Nations through the business and human rights action plan, which we were the first country to create. We can take international leadership on this issue, but that does not mean that there is any room for complacency.

It is also important to recognise that, although the issue is simple in terms of morality and what is right, it unfortunately is not simple to work out how to stop human rights abuses. Various Members have mentioned that some companies sometimes offer the excuse, “We didn’t know what was going on,” but it is true that it can be difficult for companies to get to the bottom of every part of their supply chain. There is a role for sharing best practice and for helping companies to understand the best way to get that information. There is a dividend or benefit from taking the issue seriously and creating what the hon. Member for Ogmore described as a race to the top. We need to do that.

Earlier this month I was in Geneva for the UN forum on business and human rights. It was the third time the forum has taken place, which shows how international business is taking this issue more seriously. The feedback I received from the 1,900 delegates was that the forum was much more constructive and positive both for business groups and for non-governmental organisations than in the previous two years, which is a sign of progress. I met a group of UK businesses that have signed up to the UN global compact, which commits them to reporting annually on the actions they are taking on a range of issues from working conditions to environmental impacts and human rights. Businesses turning up to the UN forum on business and human rights are probably already fairly committed to taking the issue seriously, but it is good that the forum shows that a large number of UK companies are doing so.

Anas Sarwar: It is good to hear about that international co-ordination to ensure that multinational companies are rightly reflecting on this issue, but that principle should also apply across Government here in the UK. Is the Minister therefore disappointed that the Department for International Development has withdrawn its funding for the International Labour Organisation?

Jo Swinson: I will happily speak to colleagues in DFID and write to the hon. Gentleman with a fuller answer. A range of international organisations play a

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hugely important role, and obviously the Government always need to consider the best way to further our overall objectives. I will certainly write to him on the specifics of that point.

There were many NGO representatives in Geneva who were rightly passionate about ensuring access to justice for victims of human rights abuses. I spoke a little of my personal commitment to this issue. Indeed, one of my political heroines when I was growing up and deciding to study business was Anita Roddick. She was a pioneer in proving that business has a social responsibility that needs to be taken seriously. I remember reading her book, “Business as Unusual,” which I found incredibly inspiring on the role that business can play. Business should be, and often can be, a force for good in our society. It ought to be a way of taking humanity forward, rather than ultimately being responsible for exploitation. Capitalism goes wrong when that happens, as some Members mentioned, but business is able to be a force for good.

As I said, many UK businesses are taking this issue seriously, but some are perhaps not taking it as seriously as they should. The examples we have heard today back that up. The hon. Member for Wansbeck talked very powerfully about the squalid conditions in North Carolina. We are used to talking about such issues in other parts of the world, but we would not necessarily expect it to happen in a country such as America. That juxtaposition of such wealth with such poverty and disregard for rights is awful, particularly when he talked about the example of a seven-year-old girl or someone who had part of their finger cut off without even being able to get hospital treatment.

The hon. Member for Ogmore rightly focused on the responsibility of big companies such as supermarkets and their power to drive change. He is right that, if something is incredibly cheap, it is not always the result of wonderful business efficiency. Sometimes that might be the case, but sometimes it means that someone, somewhere is being exploited, and he is right to point that out.

The hon. Gentleman also addressed the comparability of reporting so that people can compare apples with apples, rather than with oranges, which is a useful analogy in the context of our conversation about the food industry. This is an important issue, and at the event in Geneva there were some interim results from an interesting, in-depth study by The Economist on business attitudes to human rights. One of the early indications is that, when business leaders were asked what would make the biggest difference to their behaviour, they

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talked about some kind of benchmarking tool so that companies can be compared. Such a tool needs to be developed with care because these are genuinely complex issues, but UK companies such as Aviva are leading the way. There is an exciting project to create a human rights benchmark so that companies across the country, and internationally, can be compared so that we may have a proper analysis of their human rights records.

The hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) relayed stories about his experiences in Qatar, and they are a hugely powerful account of disgraceful behaviour, particularly in such an incredibly rich country. What I found most breathtaking about his speech was Balfour Beatty’s reported comment that we must not look at this issue through western eyes. I was blown away by that comment. Human rights are universal. Whether someone is in squalid conditions and having to work ridiculous hours here or in another part of the world, we should be concerned and acting to change the situation—responsible UK companies will act to change the situation.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s action on writing to UK companies, and I know that he wants action from the Government, which is why we are introducing the reporting requirement on supply chains so that companies have to say what they are doing on slavery and trafficking. I am delighted that that amendment has been made to the Modern Slavery Bill. I have met campaigners on that issue over the past couple of years, and there is a strong case for introducing the requirement to drive transparency and change behaviour.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) mentioned the voice of business, and there is a strong voice within the business community, which wants to see progress on these issues and is supportive of many of these measures. This is a complex issue, which is why the solution cannot be easily described in a soundbite; it is about proper engagement with business, and it is about taking the UN guiding principles that were developed by Professor Ruggie over a significant course of time and therefore have the buy-in of key players. He and his team are still very involved in trying to make that a reality. The UK has published its action plan, and a handful of countries have now published their own action plans, but we must ensure that we use that leadership to do what we need to do in our own country and to encourage other countries to do the same. I fully believe that in 20 or 30 years, this will be seen as a key and obvious business issue, but we are now at the stage where it has to be established. We have made great progress compared with 10 or 15 years ago, but there is still a lot more to do. I welcome today’s debate.

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UK Film Investment (Tax Relief)

11 am

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): I am delighted to take the opportunity today to draw the House’s attention to the serious and widespread misapprehension about the current status of the tax affairs of those who, between 1997 and 2007, invested in the increasingly successful UK film industry, at the encouragement and incentivisation of the British Government. There is a general perception, perpetuated by the media and encouraged by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, that all those who invested in UK film between those years did so for the purposes of tax avoidance, rather than as genuine investments.

On 22 October this year, I raised the matter at Prime Minister’s Question Time, and the Prime Minister gave a telling response. He said that

“the things…being investigated are abuses and were known to be abuses at the time when people entered into them.”—[Official Report, 22 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 899.]

I find that rather a worrying statement. It rather suggests that the Government have made up their mind on these partnerships, on the basis of very little evidence and next to no attempts to engage with those involved. If it is ultimately ruled that the schemes are not in order, many investors could find themselves liable for tax bills of up to 10 times their original investment. The financial stress caused by sudden and unexpected demands from HMRC is proving ruinous in some cases. I have heard accounts of marriages breaking down and people becoming sick with worry, and the consequences should be clearly understood by all those involved.

There has been no engagement with the partnerships to discuss the situation nor any attempts to engage in meaningful settlement talks, despite a settlement opportunity letter being issued to partners at the beginning of last year. Today, I would like to ask the Minister to look again at the situation and urge HMRC to bring this business to a conclusion. The lack of information and engagement has been woeful, and I would hope that in many cases, investigations can be concluded or dropped outright, or at least, that a settlement can be reached.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. We desperately need investment in entertainment, culture and the arts. The one bright light of the recent autumn statement was the expansion of the enterprise investment scheme up to the full level of private investment. The opportunities for investment in film, theatre and all sorts of productions in a time of austerity is wonderful, and it would be a pity if what he is pinpointing ruined all that.

Sir Nick Harvey: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. This takes us back to 1997, in the midst of the “Cool Britannia” era, in which stars of film and pop attended parties at Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street and the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), introduced a full tax relief on investment in small-scale British films in order to encourage investment and promote growth in the British film industry.

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Encouraged by a report called “A Bigger Picture” from the UK film policy review group, the Government established a 100% write-off for tax purposes on the completion of films with budgets of £15 million or less. In real terms, that meant that sale and leaseback deals for smaller films would become financially viable, vastly stimulating the market. Those reliefs were known as section 42 relief, in place from 1992, and section 48 relief, in place from 1997. They lasted for 10 years until 2007 and were arguably a large success: the size of the industry increased from £1.7 billion in 1997 to £3.2 billion in 2008; the number of films made in Britain doubled over the period and 46,000 new jobs were created.

In the Budget in March 2004, the then Chancellor was able to report on the successes of the reliefs. He said that “a minority of” third parties had abused them, but he did not see the need for an “anti-avoidance rule”, saying simply that he thought that “loopholes” needed to be closed. However, other partnerships, including the 74 Movision film partnerships, applied the terms of the Films Act 1985 and the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 scrupulously.

The Movision film partnerships were established between 2002 and 2004, entirely in accordance with the law and with significantly different arrangements from the “minority” that was commented upon by the then Chancellor. Furthermore, the Movision film partnerships, which were established with approximately £50 million of subscription capital raised from approximately 500 partners, with an average investment of £50,000 a head, produced 13 British films and acquired another 14 British films. Those films would not have been made without the involvement of the Movision film partnerships. In the end, the partners did exactly what the Government had asked them to do; they invested in British films and claimed their tax reliefs.

Mr Sheerman: The hon. Gentleman is making the point brilliantly clearly. I was born in Shepperton and when I was a youngster, my family worked in Shepperton studios, and I am passionate, as he is, about the film industry. The people who misused the tax relief were a tiny minority. Most of them have done really good stuff. “The Scottsboro Boys” is a big success at the moment—one of my constituent’s sons is a star of it. This is how that production was done. Small films and big films are being produced in this way. I beg the Minister: please do not spoil that, because this is the future of the film industry in Britain.

Sir Nick Harvey: I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. I think that this policy was a success and that one can visibly judge the tangible uplift in small film producing in Britain during the period that the tax relief existed. I think that the then Chancellor was right in March 2004 when he observed—this is widely recognised—that a minority of partnerships were abusing the tax relief, but they were a minority. This is the point: it is completely inexplicable and totally unacceptable that 10 years later, HMRC is treating the whole lot of them as though they were crooks, and when the Prime Minister gets up to respond at Prime Minister’s questions, he has in his folder a brief that says that all those involved were involved in abuse, and that they knew at the time that they were engaged in it. That is completely different from the experience of the

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Movision partners to whom I have talked and of my own constituent on whose behalf I have taken an interest in the subject.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that the important thing is to consider the future of the film industry and particularly the young people who are involved in it? Whatever is the case, it is certainly not the fault of young people looking for a future in the film industry. I spoke to a young man—a Kendal college film student—called Emilio Methven on Friday. He did a survey of his fellow students over the weekend, and they want investment in the film industry going forward and more apprenticeships. They want the UK Government to demonstrate that in backing the UK film industry, they are going to back UK film students. They do not want a sense of there being a retrospective potential attack on the film industry that makes their future much harder to establish.

Sir Nick Harvey: My hon. Friend makes a series of very good points. These small films are something that Britain is good at. We have an international reputation in it and the developing creative industries in this country are something that we should celebrate, and yet investment in film is an inherently precarious thing to do. If it had not been, it would not have been necessary to contemplate these sorts of tax reliefs in the first place. The reality is that this scheme was almost too much of a success. It ended up costing more in tax reliefs than had been anticipated at the outset. However, as my hon. Friend says, young people up and down the country are engaged as students and as workers in the early stages of careers in the creative industries, and it would be a very backward step if the UK Government, the Treasury and HMRC were seen to be having a crusade against this industry at the very time when we should be encouraging it further and trying to ensure that more jobs are created in this area in years to come.

Anyone who has looked at this matter will understand that a minority of those involved had, arguably, been seeking to avoid tax rather than to invest in film. There are companies—for example, Icebreaker and Eclipse 35—that have been ruled to have abused the reliefs. Rulings have been made and money has been clawed back. However, I believe that the majority, including Movision, acted in good faith, and they are now being tarred with the same brush in the eyes of HMRC, which is refusing to give them the reliefs and challenging the availability of them to those that claimed them.

HMRC’s current position is that all compliant Movision partners who entered into investment in terms of their tax returns are under inquiry for all years ending from 5 April 2003 onwards. Hon. Members will be aware of how rarely retrospective legislation is passed, yet in effect that is what HMRC is doing by applying regulations in such a way that they are having a retrospective impact on these genuine film partnerships, as they were formed and invested in before 2007, and the abolition of section 42 and 48 relief. However, the sticking point is that HMRC will not engage with the partnerships either to discuss the rationale behind its position or to engage in any meaningful settlement talks. Many of its actions could even be viewed as obstructive. HMRC’s inquiries into Movision have been going on for 10 years—since 2004. When HMRC asked Movision how it incurred

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100% production expenditure on films, Movision responded in detail on 11 December 2006. HMRC did not respond to that until June 2013—more than six years later. That is completely unacceptable.

It subsequently transpired that HMRC had had a resolution discussion embargo in place from 2010 to 2013, but had chosen not to inform anyone about that; none of the partnerships was aware of it. Why was that? What was the purpose of the embargo? What benefit did it afford to HMRC or the taxpayer?

In 2013, HMRC trialled an alternative dispute resolution and found it to be successful. Following that, it offered a 55% settlement to all partners. Many phoned back and at first were told that HMRC would get back to them after 10 days. Those who phoned later were told six weeks and then two months, and those who rang after that were told that the settlement team had been disbanded—with no explanation.

Movision has made two settlement offers to HMRC: one for £2.4 million and another for £3.95 million. It was told by HMRC that its offers were unsatisfactory, but not why, which obviously makes it very difficult for it to negotiate. The latest development, in the last fortnight, is that HMRC has issued a new embargo on discussions with film partnerships if the partnership has investment in films via anything similar to sale and leaseback. Sale and leaseback is a perfectly conventional method of generating financing whereby the owner of an asset sells the asset but then leases the asset back from the inquirer, thus freeing up some capital. It is commonly used in financing films, and HMRC recognises it in its own business manuals. It is unclear why the embargo has been issued, but it will certainly delay even further any meaningful discussions.

As I said at the outset, there remains a misapprehension about film tax relief. I fully understand the importance and, indeed, the necessity of putting a stop to tax avoidance. That is more pressing than ever in the current financial climate. It is clear that a light needs to be shone on these partnerships. HMRC needs to take immediate steps to identify those who were genuine investors as opposed to those who cynically abused the tax system. The Treasury must be clear that film partnerships that applied the correct legal procedures before 2007 are and remain eligible for the tax reliefs that they were promised by Her Majesty’s Government. With 65,000 cases of tax avoidance identified and a record 27,000 tax disputes waiting to be heard at tribunal, it seems clear that HMRC should be either prosecuting or moving towards a settlement with partnerships.

As I said, for the 500 partners involved in the Movision scheme, the average individual subscription was just £50,000. We are not talking about the super-rich; we are not talking about pop stars and footballers, who are advised on how to seek opportunities for aggressive tax avoidance. With every year that passes, the impact on some of the partners, with the HMRC sword of Damocles hanging over them, will worsen. Many have already become ill, suffering nervous breakdowns and stress-induced illnesses, and have seen marriages and businesses fail. That is a very high price to pay for responding to the call of “Cool Britannia”. Furthermore, it will no doubt make investors less likely to make use of current tax reliefs to invest in industries that the Government want

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to grow, of the sort that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) suggested, and let us not forget that that is how this whole business started.

HMRC should stop prevaricating and engage with the film partnerships to resolve the inquiries. That should include the aim of either settling or prosecuting within two years, because this has already gone on long enough. I hope that the Minister will consider the steps needed to bring clarity out of the current chaos and rectify unfairness caused to genuine partnerships and investors.

11.16 am

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey) for securing the debate. It had two key and linked themes: investment in the film industry and concerns about tax avoidance. On both those issues, the Government have a strong, clear message. We of course strongly support the UK film industry and want to encourage genuine investment in film, but equally—and unapologetically—we condemn the use of tax avoidance schemes. We want low taxes and a competitive regime, but we expect those taxes to be paid.

We have in the United Kingdom a vibrant and successful film industry, of which we should be proud. In the past three years, employment in the creative industries has grown at five times the rate of the wider economy. The past year has seen film and television production in the UK boom, with, to pick names at random, “24” being filmed in London, “Outlander” in Scotland, “Da Vinci’s Demons” in Wales and “Game of Thrones” in Northern Ireland.

It is right that as a Government we lend our support to those who want to invest in the industry. We now have a robust corporate film tax relief, which was expressly designed to minimise the risk of tax avoidance and which has been in place since 1 January 2007. The new relief goes straight to those making films—in other words, it is the production company that gets the direct benefit of the regime.

The new regime has proved very successful in attracting inward investment. It is highly popular with film-makers and has helped to make the UK one of the top film-making destinations in the world. Since the film tax relief was introduced in 2007, 1,680 film productions have become eligible to claim the new relief, and total production expenditure by films claiming the relief was £7.8 billion, of which 72% was incurred in the UK.

As a Government, we have made the relief even more effective. From 1 April 2014, we increased the rate of relief for larger budget films, reduced the level of minimum UK expenditure and modernised the system of film tax relief qualification. To ensure that our creative industry flourishes across sectors, we announced in the autumn statement that we would introduce tax relief for children’s television and for orchestras.

With regard to the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), I should say that we have a successful record in this

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country. The existing film tax relief is working well and continuing to attract investment to the UK. I am pleased to confirm that there has been no reported avoidance activity with the new film tax relief.

Mr Sheerman: I hope the Minister takes the point that those of us who have spoken in the debate do not agree with tax avoidance, which is carried out by a minority. We are at a critical stage, having had such good news in the autumn statement—Opposition Members do not often congratulate the Minister on such things—about raising the social investment tax relief scheme to a much higher level, and about the seed investment scheme. The Minister knows that I am very keen on crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, and we are seeing a new beginning when it comes to vibrant theatre and social investment across our country. The Minister must not send a message in his response to the debate that some of that might be seen as tax avoidance. We are talking about social investment and investment in our arts, and it is to be welcomed.

Mr Gauke: The hon. Gentleman is nothing if not consistent; I have never known him to fail to take the opportunity to extol the virtues of crowdfunding and some of the other measures that we are taking. The point that I am making is that we have a film tax relief system that is working well and attracting investment. Nothing in what I am about to say should undermine that.

Our system is working, but I cannot, unfortunately, say the same about all investment under the film relief that was in place before 2007. The old relief was heavily exploited by partnerships of wealthy individuals. Typically, they sought to obtain tax relief out of all proportion to their economic investment. Many schemes used artificial and contrived arrangements to create excessive tax claims. In short, investors abused the relief to try to dodge paying their fair share of tax.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon argued that the old legislation was working well. The previous Government took significant legislative action over a number of years to try to prevent the various forms of abuse that were occurring, but they concluded in 2007 that they had to scrap the old regime and replaced it with a much better scheme that now works. HMRC is actively investigating and countering schemes under the old regime about which it has concerns.

Sir Nick Harvey: I am not dissenting from the Minister’s proposition that the post-2007 arrangement has been better than the arrangement that ran for the previous 10 years. Nor would I take issue with his assertion that there was some abuse of the previous system. However, when he says that investors used those schemes for the purposes of tax avoidance, is he seriously contending that every single investor who availed themselves of a tax relief that the Government had created was doing so for tax avoidance purposes, or does he accept that there were good and bad among those investors? Will HMRC please do more to distinguish between the two?

Mr Gauke: HMRC is not taking a blanket approach to all such schemes, and I will return to that point in a moment.

It might be helpful if I set out some of the problems with the old regime. At the extreme, the situation was so bad that some films were produced solely for the purpose

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of avoidance schemes, and they were never destined for release beyond the minimal qualifying requirements. Other schemes involved genuine commercial films, but the structure of the financing was designed to generate tax relief in excess of the scheme user’s genuine economic investment. Alongside the schemes that used the relief, other avoidance schemes were created that happened to use films as the avoidance vehicle of choice, even though they did not rely on the specific film relief.

Everyone should be clear that the use of films for tax avoidance is bad for the reputation of the UK film industry. I suspect that there is no dispute among us on that point. Such avoidance is unfair on the vast majority of the public who pay their fair share of tax, and it is correct for HMRC to tackle avoidance in whatever form it takes. HMRC has a strong track record in the courts, winning about 80% of tax avoidance schemes that go to litigation. In 2013-14, HMRC’s 30 wins protected some £2.7 billion of tax. HMRC has a strong track record of defeating film schemes in court. It is right for HMRC to challenge avoidance schemes, because that is its job, but it has not taken a blanket approach of opposing all schemes that involve the old film tax relief. If someone believes that HMRC’s view on a scheme is wrong, they can take the matter to the courts for a decision.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon has raised the concern that HMRC has not always worked the case properly. I cannot comment on specific cases or schemes, but let me reassure him that the resolution of existing tax avoidance schemes is a top priority for HMRC. During the past year, HMRC has created a dedicated counter-avoidance directorate, bringing together technical, policy and operational expertise from across the Department in one place to concentrate focus on tackling marketed tax avoidance. The Government have consistently supported HMRC’s work to counter marketed tax avoidance by introducing new legislation and investing in its resources.

That brings me to this year’s Budget, in which the Chancellor announced that from 17 July 2014, individuals and businesses involved in tax avoidance schemes must pay HMRC the disputed amount of tax up front while the dispute is being resolved. That new power, which is called accelerated payments, came into force as part of the Finance Act 2014, and it removes the cash flow

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advantage that those who deliberately try to bend the tax rules by avoiding tax previously had over the majority of taxpayers who pay their tax up front.

I am pleased to say that the collection of tax from avoiders has accelerated enormously since the introduction this year of accelerated payments, and avoiders have already agreed to pay more than £30 million since Parliament introduced that measure. It is quite right that the users of avoidance schemes involving films or film relief should also pay up front.

Mr Sheerman: Can we send the message to HMRC that although it must catch the rascals and make them pay, it needs to be more discriminating? If it is not, we on the Back Benches will put a lot of attention and focus on to making sure that it becomes so, to ensure that people who have innocently invested are not picked on. We have many powers, through Select Committees and from the Back Benches in Question Time, to keep our eye on HMRC and ensure that it does the job properly.

Mr Gauke: I am sure that that point has been noted, and I do not disagree that HMRC must pursue those who have engaged in tax avoidance and not pursue those who have not. However, an important part of HMRC’s role is to pursue tax avoidance thoroughly. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on any ongoing litigation, but I stress that neither accelerated payments nor any other HMRC action to tackle avoidance will stop genuine investment in UK films.

The UK film industry goes from strength to strength, supported by a successful, avoidance-free film tax relief that goes directly to film producers. We want to continue to support investment in the UK film industry so that it can grow. Tax relief, properly due, has an important place in helping to provide that support. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield has made clear, further announcements of such support were made in the autumn statement. Tax avoidance has no place in a modern film-making environment. The UK has a hard-won reputation for world-class creativity, but we want that to be expressed in the creation of films, not in the creation of tax avoidance schemes.

11.29 am

Sitting suspended.

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Kew Gardens

[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. We have 90 minutes, but I will keep my remarks relatively short because there is an appetite for further speeches, although I admit that I would have preferred it if there were more MPs here for this debate on an important issue. I am here to defend a jewel in my constituency, but I am not here because Kew gardens is in my constituency. Kew gardens is a national, even an international, treasure, and I will briefly explain why.

Kew gardens has been a world-class centre for botanic research for nearly a quarter of a millennium—250 years. William Hooker, who was a director of Kew gardens in the mid-19th century, was Darwin’s principal sounding board for his theory of evolution, and it is said that “On the Origin of Species” would not exist without Hooker and Kew, certainly not as we know it today. Kew gardens goes back a long way, and today Kew has the world’s largest collection of living plants. It has one of the world’s largest botanical library collections, and it has more than 7 million specimens in a herbarium, including 350,000 “type specimens,” the original specimens on which new species descriptions are based.

Kew gardens is a UNESCO world heritage site. It attracts 2 million visitors a year and is one of the UK’s leading tourist destinations. Each year, 100,000-plus schoolchildren go to Kew to learn about plants. The extraordinary millennium seed bank, which I will address in a few moments, is the largest plant conservation programme in the world and I am told that by 2020 it will hold seeds from 25% of the world’s plant species. People will know what I mean when I say that Kew gardens is not just a constituency concern.

It is easy to see all that as nice to have, as of academic interest only, but at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, plants are central to our life. Without plants we would not exist, so I will briefly focus on the world-leading science at Kew. Before this debate I received many letters from Kew’s members, staff and scientists, as well as from general lovers of Kew gardens. I had one letter from a member of Kew’s staff that cited one key area of Kew’s scientific work. She said:

“Taxonomy is something Kew excels in, in fact we are the world leaders. Taxonomy is a science that will rarely hit the news headlines or draw in funding. However; taxonomy underpins all biological scientific research. If we didn’t know one species from another, or how many species there are; or where they exist in the world, how would any other biological, conservation, climate change, ecological restoration, food security, or medicinal research take place? Taxonomy underpins science the world over, and Kew is currently the world authority. It would be a terrible mistake and an irreversible loss to science to jeopardise this.”

She is right, and that is just the start of Kew’s science. Kew has been involved in cutting-edge plant chemistry research to identify anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties in British plants. Kew is building a one-stop-shop register of medicinal plant names and researching medicinal uses of our own British plants. Our flora consists of some 1,600 species, of which 400 are believed to have medicinal properties. A quarter

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of all prescription drugs come directly from plants, and right now, as if just to prove the point, Kew is looking for potential Ebola drugs based on the tobacco plant.

Kew’s work on climate adaptation is also world-leading. It is using the natural characteristics of wild relatives of mainstream commodity crops such as coffee, which is among the most important economically, to breed climate resilience into commercial varieties. If we consider that, as a species, 80% of our calorie intake comes from just 12 dominant crops and that 50% of our calories come from just three big grasses—wheat, maize and rice—the in-built vulnerability of the global food economy is self-evident. Imagine what would happen if we were to lose any one of those crops. Kew is leading work on building resilience into the essential commodities on which we all depend.

Kew is leading studies on wild bees, which are hugely important given our dependence on pollinators and the fact that pollinators are declining rapidly in this country. Kew provides the Government with top-level advice on climate change, biodiversity and the illegal trade in wood from endangered species—the list goes on and on. We face countless challenges across the world, but the challenge that dwarfs all others is the environment. As the world’s population continues to grow, and as our appetite for resources continues to escalate, we are ravaging the very ecosystems on which we all depend. It is a mathematical certainty—this is not my opinion but a fact—that, unless we change dramatically, we will find ourselves scrambling to compete for ever-dwindling resources, and Kew is part of the solution. Kew is more important than ever, yet we have chosen this moment in our history to jeopardise its future.

I will put that in context. In 1983, 31 years ago, 90% of Kew’s funding came from Government. That has dropped below 40% this year. In April 2014, it was announced that there would be further cuts of £1.5 million and that up to 125 jobs, mostly in scientific research, would have to go, and Kew faced a £5 million hole in its budget. As of 1 December 2014, there had already been a 22% reduction in core science staff. The very small silver lining is that that appalling threat to Kew’s future has caused people from all over the world to rally to its defence. Here in the UK, 100,000 people signed a petition in a matter of weeks, and I was pleased and honoured to deliver the petition directly to No. 10 with my friend, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). Outside of that process, ecologists, conservationists and scientists from across the world have expressed real anger about the decision. The brilliant biologist Jane Goodall described the cuts simply as “unbelievably stupid”. I am thrilled to hear that, starting tomorrow, the influential Science and Technology Committee will be holding an inquiry into those cuts.

In the face of that storm, the Government felt compelled to offer some kind of reprieve. In September 2014, the Deputy Prime Minister was wheeled out to announce that funding would be maintained until April 2015. I think that he and other members of the Government had hoped that that would be the end of it, but it was only a pause. People could see that it was a delay, a temporary reprieve, so the campaign persisted. On the back of today’s debate, the Government have felt compelled to move yet again. This morning, just a few hours ago, they announced that a further £2.3 million will be

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awarded during the 2015-16 financial year, which is clearly good news. It gives Kew time to prepare and adjust, but it is only a reprieve.

It is worth noting that Kew has already lost a considerable number of its scientific staff, so the reprieve is not good news for them or, frankly, for their work. What it shows, however, is that the Government know that they massively miscalculated and misunderstood the level of anger that their decision would provoke and the value that we all attach to Kew and its work. The petition demonstrates that public campaigning can work, and I pay tribute to all the members of the public who signed it, as well as to all the celebrated ecologists, conservationists and scientists who succeeded in shifting the Government’s position.

Where now for Kew? I do not doubt that structural improvements can be made and that savings can be found. Kew has been run by scientists for many years, and it has suffered decades of underinvestment. From our conversations I know that Kew’s management and staff are up for the challenge, but the Government have to provide a realistic trajectory, over years not months. Kew is not looking for the odd reprieve. Kew cannot look to the long term if its funding arrangements are so short-term and so uncertain. Yes, Kew scientists know that they will have to look for other sources of revenue, but there is also a risk in that. There is value in, and a desperate need for, public-interest science, which does not always lend itself to commercial considerations. An obvious example of that is genetically modified food. Governments and businesses fall over themselves to invest in GM, but so far all the promises of cheap pest control, and crops that tolerate floods, salt and extreme weather, simply have not materialised. A different type of biotechnology, traditional hybridisation, has delivered those products, and at a tiny fraction of the cost. Using new technologies such as gene marker mapping and genome sequencing, conventional breeding has quietly delivered—

2.39 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

2.50 pm

On resuming—

Zac Goldsmith: Before we were interrupted by the Division, I was making the point about the importance of pure public-interest science and saying that such science does not always lend itself to commercial considerations. The example that I was giving was GM food. As Members will know, GM food has attracted an enormous amount of Government time and commercial investment, despite the fact that it has not lived up to its hype. GM food has not delivered on the promises that have been made over the years, of cheap pest control and crops that tolerate salt, extreme weather, floods and all the rest of it. By contrast, more traditional biotechnology—traditional hybridisation—has delivered those products. For example, in recent years it has delivered drought-tolerant and flood-tolerant varieties of rice, with high yields and so on, using techniques such as gene marker mapping and genome sequencing. However, it has not received anything like the level of investment from industry or the level of energy from Government that GM food has.

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The cost of bringing a single GM crop to market is roughly $136 million, but the cost of bringing a non-GM variety, through these more traditional means, costs one fiftieth of that sum. Businesses and Governments are not falling over themselves to back traditional biotech because there is very little money in it for them. Improving crop varieties that farmers can use year after year is clearly not as profitable to industry as a GM model that requires farmers to purchase patented seeds year after year, locking them into dependence on the giant companies, just three of which control a staggering 70% of global seed sales. I give this example, and there are many other such examples, simply to show why we need pure public- interest science. It is important and if we push Kew purely to the commercial, which is where I think it will head if these cuts continue, we risk losing something inherently important and valuable.

I will end by quoting Richmond’s greatest living resident, Sir David Attenborough, who, as people can imagine, has taken a keen interest in this issue. He said:

“The important thing to remember is that Kew is the premiere botanical gardens in the world scientifically. People who think it is just a place to go to look at pretty flowers and flower beds are mistaking the importance of Kew Gardens. The Seed Bank is of world importance and it should be supported by the Government like a proper institution or university. And the continuing idea that Kew Gardens is merely a playground and that it should just put up the prices to look after itself is a misguided assessment of the value of Kew. The Government and the scientific departments should recognise that and support it properly.”

Like Sir David Attenborough and so many other people, I urge the Government to rethink their plans—even further than they have this morning—and to provide a genuine, long-term plan for Kew gardens.

2.53 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I declare an interest as a member of the Friends of Kew.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who has been campaigning so hard on this particular issue—not just as a constituency matter, but as a genuine commitment to the work that Kew undertakes.

I will echo some of the expressions that the hon. Gentleman used. If Members look at the correspondence received by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee for its hearing tomorrow, they will see that it sets out in significant detail the role that Kew has played. There are more PhDs per square inch in this correspondence than in any other Select Committee correspondence I have seen, which reflects the intensity of the scientific debate about the future of Kew, and that debate is absolutely fascinating. I am not completely sure what “Angiosperm Phylogeny (Group 3)” is all about, but the reference to it demonstrates the breadth of the work that goes on at Kew and confirms what has been already said about Kew—namely, that it is a world leader in scientific research.

I also say that for any west London MP, for any London MP and for many other MPs beyond London, Kew gardens are themselves a world heritage site. In addition, Kew is a park enjoyed by literally millions of people. Many of our constituents enjoy it as one of the most important open spaces in west London.

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Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Kew is important to the whole world and certainly to the whole of this country, but it has a special place of trust for those of us who have grown up and lived in west London. We want to see a sustainable future for Kew. While I acknowledge that the announcement today is welcome, there has to be a long-term future, and we have to preserve something that is unique in the world.

John McDonnell: I agree.

May I remark on the success of this campaign so far? It started way back in April, when concerns were being expressed by members of staff at Kew through their trade unions—PCS and Prospect, among others. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, we delivered a petition of more than 100,000 names. Unfortunately, we were unable to take the wheelbarrow containing the petition up to No.10, but we took the petition itself. The campaign built up a head of steam. We held a public meeting down at Kew; there were at least 200 people there, who were incredibly enthusiastic about the campaign. That effort secured £1.5 million, which the Deputy Prime Minister announced and which was very welcome, and we have received £2.3 million today. If we keep on talking, we will be up to the £5 million needed to cover the gap identified some months ago.

I am grateful for the new money but there is a long-term problem, mentioned by the hon. Member for Richmond Park: we need stability now. We cannot keep on going through these ups and downs of budgeting, in which one month a £5 million gap is found and then the Government come up with the occasional £1 million in the short term. What we are looking for is a long-term consistent plan.

The difficulty at the moment is about the funding of Kew itself. I have been looking through the figures, as set out in the House of Commons Library briefing. If we look at the funding in recent years, to be frank we see that the money has been ricocheting around, and up and down, in that time. There is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs operational budget. In 2007-08, it was £17.6 million; it went up to £19.85 million in 2008-09; then it went down in 2009-10 to £17.65 million; and it is now down to £14.4 million. Again, the message that comes across from managers, trustees and others is the inconsistency and unreliability of the funding, which means that they are unable to plan from one year to the next because many of the decisions about the funding of Kew are made quite late in the year. Consequently, the management find it almost impossible to plan.

The money I have mentioned is the core operational funding, which pays for staffing. In addition, if we look at the capital budget, which also comes from DEFRA, we see that in 2007-08 it was £7.6 million; it went up in 2012-13 to £17 million; and it is now back down to £13.6 million, but that includes some elements that take into account redundancy costs and other costs. Again, even on the basic infrastructure costs, let alone the staffing, the inability to plan for the long term is affecting the efficient management of the organisation itself.

Kew has done all it can to raise its own funds. We can see from the trust itself the operations that it has undertaken, including the charitable work that has taken place and the charitable donations that have been made. In addition, the hon. Member for Richmond Park and I

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met Marcus Agius, the chair of the trustees at Kew, who set out for us the discussions that had been taking place about the restructuring, which aims to secure additional funds. However, at the end of the day that was overridden—well, the backdrop to all this was the reduction in core income. So even though the restructuring is there to ensure that there is enhanced income, particularly with regard to the scientific work, it is still based on an overall cut in expenditure from DEFRA itself.

Again, part of the problem is that the income comes from DEFRA, whereas the work that Kew does actually spans a range of different Departments. Kew plays an important educational and scientific role. A range of aspects of its work could properly be funded by other Departments, particularly its work in the developing world. However, it relies on DEFRA; unfortunately, DEFRA’s budget has been cut in recent years, meaning that the cuts have followed through to Kew. There is volatility about the whole funding process, both in terms of DEFRA’s funding and Kew’s ability to secure funds from elsewhere. That means there is lack of clarity about the future of funding and an inability to plan and invest in Kew’s long-term future.

As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, the tragedy is that this year there have been significant cuts: 125 posts have been cut, with 65 staff having already gone, and there is now a group of staff in 51 posts who, although there are 42 vacancies, are declared surplus. Although it is possible that they will able to compete for some of the 42 vacancies, not all the vacant posts are suitable alternatives for those staff.

Kew’s expertise is described as a mosaic of individuals with their own individual expertise in small teams. In recent years, that expertise has been whittled down. For example, the voluntary redundancy scheme has meant that, in certain areas of activity, the expertise has either been reduced significantly or lost altogether. I shall give some examples that have been provided to explain the situation to us.

Expertise in legumes, one of the world’s economically important plant families, has now almost entirely gone and expertise in pollen has almost gone, with implications for health, forensics, conservation and the study of pollen in the archaeological and geological contexts. Capacity in many other areas has also been reduced, meaning that potential skills shortages are being faced in a number of areas. Kew relies on some world-renowned experts in these particular fields. It is absolutely admirable that a large number of staff who have retired or gone from Kew as a result of voluntary redundancy have come back voluntarily and are now offering their expertise as volunteers. What greater commitment can be demonstrated than that?

In addition, there is concern that the gap in funding from DEFRA is having an impact as Kew desperately tries to seek funding from elsewhere.

The entrance fee for Kew is £15 and there is now a discussion about whether children should be charged. For my constituency, Kew has become an oasis of calm within west London—particularly for families, who visit and enjoy it. Any further increase in fees will, unfortunately, deter many people from visiting Kew and there will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of decline as a result. More importantly, at the moment Kew offers the opportunity for all families to be able to visit. Any increase in prices will deter those least able to afford it and possibly those

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who need it the most in terms of being able to break away from the duress of their everyday lives.

There are other concerns. Yes, of course fundraising activities have to take place at Kew, but there has to be a balance as well. We do not want Kew turning into a base for funfairs and other activities that crowd out the environmental enjoyment of the park itself.

I have listed the range of issues put to us in the various public meetings that we have had. There is real concern that unless we get some agreement on stable funding over the longer-term period—the next five to 10 years in particular—the additional money that came in September and the additional money today, which of course is welcome, will tide us over perhaps for another 18 months and then we will be back to square one. In the meantime, we will have lost expert staff and—pardon the pun—their expertise does not grow on trees. These people have been trained throughout their lives and have dedicated their lives to Kew. Their expertise must not be lost.

Although Kew got some investment from the significant funds that other institutions gained—particularly the museums, with free access and investment over a longer period—because of its link to DEFRA in particular it never gained the scale of funding needed to tackle its long-term issues of physical infrastructure and the long-term financing of its staffing and research, particularly its scientific research capacity. Many people feel that, as a result, Kew has been discriminated against and that now is the time to stand back and look at where we go from here.

The triennial review is coming up in the new year—the scientific review is coming back to us as well—and that will give us some opportunity to look at the long-term role of Kew, but that must be linked to a long-term financial and investment plan. If that means looking at DEFRA’s or other Departments’ budgets, that discussion needs to go on within the Government.

I have a specific request for the Minister to take away with him. Kew management are desperately keen to work closely with the Government. There has been some close liaison between Kew management, the trustees and the Government in trying to look at a long-term financial plan for Kew, but we are nowhere near securing a sufficient deal on that.

My request is that the Minister should go back to his Department and convene a meeting with all interested parties—all the stakeholders—including the Friends of Kew, the relevant local MPs, trustees, the management of Kew and the trade unions. In that way, we can get absolute clarity on the current financial position and the Government’s plans for the long-term future of Kew. We cannot have the budget ricocheting around as it has done in recent years. A long-term, stable funding plan for Kew needs to be agreed between the Government and all parties. I ask the Minister to get everyone around the table in the coming months.

The £2.3 million on top of the £1.5 million has given us the breathing space to consider long-term staffing needs and examine a long-term plan, based on the restructuring that has taken place so far, in respect of the ambitions of Kew.

When we met the chair of the trustees, he outlined the work that had gone on: the development of a scientific vision; the way in which work force activities, in individual silos at the moment, were being broken

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down; the co-operation across areas of expertise; and the introduction of a better career development plan for the staff. However, at the end that was all clouded by the reduction in the core income. Unfortunately, I think that the plans that Kew is putting forward will hit the financial rocks—perhaps not in the next 18 months, now that we have the additional money, but after those 18 months, unless we have a clear commitment from the Government.

We need to address the issue on a cross-party basis. Bearing in mind its international and global scientific role, Kew’s budget and long-term planning cannot be dependent on changes in Government. I would welcome the opportunity for all stakeholders to come together and for a cross-party agreement on the long-term financing of Kew, agreeing a base budget from which the fundraising activities could be developed as well as some of the scientific project work, to bring in additional funds. There should be solid agreement between parties and all stakeholders on a long-term financial plan for Kew.

I turn to the current staff difficulties. Following the £2.3 million announced today and the £1.5 million announced earlier, the message to the management now should be to hold off any further redundancies and cutbacks because there is real anxiety about the loss of expertise as a result of the cuts and the voluntary redundancies that have already taken place. It is important that the message to management is that they hold on to what staff and expertise they have until there is a much better and deeper discussion about Kew’s long-term future.

I hope tomorrow’s Select Committee visit will produce a report that gives us some indication of what the Committee sees as Kew’s long-term future. The evidence that has already been provided emphasises Kew’s scientific role and the importance of holding on to Kew’s solid bedrock of scientists. However, those presenting evidence tomorrow will present ideas about how to establish a long-term budget. There is a spirit of co-operation between all the stakeholders now, and the Government should seize that opportunity. As I say, I hope that is done on a cross-party basis.

As a friend of Kew, I know that many of us have enjoyed the gardens over the years. Kew is a world heritage site and a beautiful park. Underlying all that, however, is the magnificent role that Kew plays in scientific research. If we do not address Kew’s needs now and seize this opportunity to secure its long-term future, many of us will feel extremely guilty in years to come when it is degraded as a result of waves of cuts and the instability of its funding base.

I hope the Minister will agree to meet us all and to bring all stakeholders together. We can create a long-term plan for Kew. In that way, we will not need to have another Adjournment debate in a few months’ time. Indeed, every time we go for an early-day motion or an Adjournment debate, it produces an extra couple of million pounds, so, in the long run, it would be cheaper for the Minister to bring us all together.

3.11 pm

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): There are three reasons why I want to contribute to the debate. First, I was the last Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—the Labour Government abolished

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it when they came into office in 1997. At the time, MAFF had responsibility for Kew gardens. For a while, therefore, I had ministerial responsibility for them, and they were an oasis of calm, especially when one was having to deal with things such as BSE and slaughtering millions of cattle. However, the case of Kew makes the machinery of governance point that non-departmental public bodies ricochet from one Department of State to another, depending on how the architecture of Whitehall responsibilities is made up. I will come back to that in a second.

My second reason for wanting to contribute is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) have made clear, Kew is one of the country’s outstanding assets. Indeed, in an oral question about Kew—looking at the House of Commons Library brief, I think I am one of the few colleagues who has asked one—I said that we all see it as a “national treasure”.

The third, personal, reason why I want to contribute to the debate is that my very first date with my wife was at Kew gardens. I therefore have a particular sentimental reason.

The hon. Gentleman’s machinery of governance point is very much the nub of the issue. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be Ministers know that, each year, the Chief Secretary agrees a spending provision with the Secretary of State for each Department. Once that overall spending envelope is agreed, Ministers have to go through the Department to see how it will be shared out among the various commitments and statutory provisions it has to undertake. Inevitably, non-departmental public bodies come at the tail end of those negotiations because Departments tend, understandably, to look first at their core activities and then, if one is not careful, to say, “We are having to take an x% reduction in our public spending, so we have to apply that across the Department as a whole.” That leads, even if there is a three-year review, to the figures one sometimes sees.

As the hon. Gentleman fairly observed, and as the House of Commons Library brief demonstrates, the narrative here is not one of recent sudden cuts to Kew’s funding: there has been considerable yo-yoing over the last eight years or so. For example, in 2013-14, Kew’s funding was £28 million. In 2007-08, however, it was only £25 million. In the following years, it was £26 million, £28 million, £24 million, £28 million and £32 million, so it yaws around quite considerably over the years. In those circumstances, it is difficult for any organisation or institution to plan.

If one keeps Kew as a non-departmental public body, it will be hard for the Department of State to ring-fence funding for it, as against everything else it has to provide for. Of course, the figures are not small. DEFRA provided £32.5 million in funding in the financial year 2012-13, out of Kew’s total income of nearly £60 million. Kew’s budget is therefore quite substantial; indeed, I cannot think of any similar non-departmental public body with a similar budget. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the museums, but they tend to get direct grant in aid, while other research organisations tend to be parts of universities.

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One of Kew’s great assets is its seed collection. I know from my time as a Minister with responsibility for the Overseas Development Administration and from chairing the International Development Committee that the seed collection is a global resource. However, that is really the responsibility of the Department for International Development, not DEFRA.

I rather find myself agreeing with my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman that we need to see how Kew, which is, by every account, an exceptional body, can be removed from the non-departmental public body, machinery of governance funding process. Permanent secretaries across Whitehall—in DFID, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, DEFRA and, indeed, in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for innovation, science and connections with universities—should put their minds to determining what value the nation places on Kew and then work backwards from that. If the nation places a value on Kew, it may be more sensible for Kew simply to get a grant in aid directly from the Treasury.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): As a London MP, I wish to make it clear that Kew is not just a museum piece or a phenomenally important research institution, but a wonderful part of London. It is used by many of my constituents as a place for general recreation and leisure. It is very much a 21st century asset, as well as having an important history.

Sir Tony Baldry: I think the whole House would agree with that observation.

I do not think the House should look on this as a beat-up for the Minister who has to respond to the debate. Nor do I think anyone would disagree with the Deputy Prime Minister when he said:

“Kew gardens is one of the world’s most important botanical research and education facilities…The Millennium Seed Bank is of global scientific significance, and scientists at Kew are heavily involved in research in the vital fields of biodiversity and climate change.”

All those things go pretty much across every Department. Climate change involves the Department for Energy and Climate Change. It is very hard that the responsibility for funding the whole of Kew should come within the budget of just one Department of state.

I would therefore hope for cross-party and cross-departmental discussions, not just about the funding of Kew, because such discussions would bring us perennially back to the same issue, but—although it may be rather boring talking about the machinery of governance—about where within the machinery of governance Kew sits and who is responsible for funding it under the National Heritage Act 1983. Changing that structure might make it possible to give Kew more certainty than it has had—and not just on the present Government’s watch. In fairness, I have not looked back to before 2007, and the Library has not given the figures, but I suspect that if I look back even to the time when I was the Minister, the figures tended to yo-yo around from year to year, depending on the departmental spend. I suspect that a cross-Government and cross-departmental review is required of where Kew should fit within the machinery of government and how it can be given sustainable funding. If we regard it, as I think we all do, as a national asset, we need to treasure it as one.

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3.21 pm

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I am delighted to take part in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on presenting such a cogent and comprehensive case for the support of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. I agree with every word that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said. I hope the message will go out that there is substantial unanimity across the House about something that is not just a national but an international treasure—an important and fantastic resource for the United Kingdom.

I have been going to Kew gardens since the days when it cost one old penny piece to go in. I see the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington nodding. He and I are of a similar age and I suspect that we both delved into our pockets to obtain that coin, which perhaps had Queen Victoria’s head on it. The price has gone up, of course; it is now £15 to get in, I think. I declare an interest as my wife is a friend of Kew gardens, and I have a constituent who is one of the most distinguished scientists in the world in her field, Professor Monique Simmonds. She is the deputy director of science and the director of the Kew innovation unit. She was awarded the OBE last year for the extraordinary work that she and her team have been doing, not just in the United Kingdom, in the Jodrell laboratory at Kew where they do scientific research, but around the world. She, with her team, makes a fantastic contribution through visits and making connections, and identifying plants that can produce life-saving medicines. So I wholeheartedly support the campaign to ensure that Kew is properly funded.

I am a Thatcherite Tory—I see you nodding, Sir Alan; thank you—and I recognise fully the need for the nation to balance the books. Unquestionably it is the big challenge of the Parliament to address the budget deficit, but the nation still spends £700 billion a year, and therefore how to spend that money on services, even if the amount is reduced, is a matter of legitimate political and public debate. I feel strongly that the nation needs to capitalise on one of its greatest assets: the talents of its people. We face a competitive world out there, with countries such as China and India snapping at our heels, and the only way this nation will survive is by harnessing the innovative talent that fortunately runs through it.

I argued repeatedly when I was a Defence Minister that we need to spend money on defence research. We need to be at the forefront of technology, and that also applies to Kew, in the field of medical science. We have the means to do it. We have the talented and skilled people at Kew, who are able to deliver. Rather than cutting them back we should expand them for, if I may be permitted to use the expression, they are the seed corn of our future prosperity as a nation. One of Britain’s most successful businesses, apart, of course, from the defence industry, is the pharmaceutical industry. There is a synergy; what the scientific research at Kew produces complements one of Britain’s most important industries.

Kew is not an ancient monument to be preserved, although I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington—as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury

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(Sir Tony Baldry), who mentioned his personal attachment to Kew—that it is a lung in west London, serving a wider purpose beyond the one that we have predominantly discussed today. That is important, but what is fundamental to the salvation of this nation is that we harness technology. In Kew we have a jewel in our crown, and I hope that we shall continue to fund it.

Another aspect of Kew’s work is the involvement of the Royal Botanic Gardens in the fight against crime and terrorism. We face a bio-threat, and without places such as Kew we would lack some of the expertise with which to address it. Some hon. Members may remember when a boy’s torso was found in the Thames. It had no head. The origins of that child were established by the forensic work done at Kew gardens. By analysing the contents of the stomach it was possible to tell which part of Nigeria the torso came from. I use that as a graphic but simple illustration of the depth of expertise that we cannot, as a nation, afford to lose.

I will not discuss the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury raised of how we structure government. I just believe, as others do, that there must be a long-term solution. My right hon. Friend suggested direct funding from the Treasury. In a sense, I do not mind how it is done, but done it must be, in the interest of the nation and the exchange of information and samples around the world. A huge amount of work has been done through fundraising at Kew, to raise funds without relying wholly on the Treasury; but as for the director saying it can all be done by selling more, that is what Kew has already been doing, and some of what it does involves payment in kind. By giving expertise it gets access to plants and other facilities available around the world. Much more bartering, as opposed to pounds, shillings and pence, may be happening.

I am left with the words of that magnificent magazine Country Life, to which I am sure the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is a regular subscriber.

Sir Tony Baldry: Compulsory reading.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Absolutely; required reading. The article said:

“The nation would, of course, be mad to let this treasure go, but that, in the worst possible sense, is what our elected representatives are doing already.”

Notwithstanding the funding that has been given, which I regard as temporary plastering, we need a fundamental, long-term solution, to preserve the fantastic work being done at Kew.

3.29 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): I start with the usual courtesies. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. You were a Minister who had responsibility for Kew in his time in government, so this debate will no doubt be of keen interest to you.