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I find the tenor of this debate unbearably disappointing, after doing so much careful work with colleagues across the House on the all-party parliamentary group. Everyone has said that the work was thoughtful and considered, and it has been much referenced. The key finding of that report was well articulated by the Archbishop of Canterbury: this issue is so great and has been going on for so long that it needs to rise above party politics. It needs a considered, all-party approach, but this debate has thoroughly let down the people in our constituencies who have to go food banks. It thoroughly lets down the hundreds and thousands of volunteers who give their time so freely.

The Opposition had the opportunity to hold a debate granted by the Backbench Business Committee. They did not have to pick an Opposition day to discuss such an issue. I shall leave my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) to discuss the APPG findings, and in the time available I want to discuss what is going on in my constituency. For well over a year, volunteers from my team have gone to each session in the three food banks in my constituency. I represent one of the poorest regions in the country, so I understand why people use food banks. We are helping those volunteers to get to the underlying reasons why people use food banks and we are helping those people to get back on their feet. That was a key recommendation in the APPG report.

Jeremy Lefroy: Does my hon. Friend agree that a key point about food banks and the important work that they do is that it is not just about the distribution of food? It is about listening to problems and giving advice, pointing people in the right direction, as well as providing food.

Sarah Newton: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that the volunteers at the food bank really welcome the volunteers from my team, who provide such important advice in getting to the underlying reasons why people are there. We can help with issues relating to benefits, employment, housing and debt, among many others, because there is a huge variety of issues. By working with DWP locally and Cornwall council, as well as with employers and civil society, we can help a great many people access the available help so that they can deal with those issues and get themselves back on their own two feet, which is exactly what they want to do. Nobody wants to end up at a food bank, but some people at some time in their lives will need a great deal of help to help themselves. Although the state of course has a role to play, nothing will ever replace the kindness and generosity of somebody freely giving their time to help a person in need.

Stephen Mosley: The volunteers in my constituency, like those in my hon. Friend’s, work really hard at the food bank to support and help people. One thing they raise with me, however, is the fact that from time to time people have nowhere to turn when they have benefit problems. Does her office have people in that situation coming to see her for help?

Sarah Newton: Yes, and I am very pleased that I have such experienced members of my team at the food banks. They have years of experience at the citizens

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advice bureau and can give that advice and sort out benefit problems with the DWP locally. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the team in my local Jobcentre Plus, who work very well with us when issues are identified, to ensure that people get the support that is there for them. The biggest single issue we find in the work we have been doing for well over a year now is that people do not get, or do not even know about, all the help that is available to them. Having people at food banks who can offer good advice on welfare, debt and employment is absolutely essential. Although I really appreciate and value the opportunity to talk about the excellent work being done in my constituency, I think that the way the Opposition have approached the issue today is shameful.

6.7 pm

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I am ashamed and angry that we are having to have this debate today and that just under 1 million people in our country have to access emergency food aid. It is an absolute disgrace. We know that those figures only touch the surface. I heard stories when I was in Erewash—for example about Billy, who has to go “skipping” when the supermarkets put out their food at the end of each day because he has nothing to eat. There are the mums who are going without, the teachers who say they have children turning up at school hungry because they have nothing to eat at home, and the councillors who are handing out food from the back of their cars. The list goes on. The figures we have are just from the Trussell Trust, but we know that there are many more food banks and unofficial organisations that help people in need, whether they be hostels, luncheon clubs or the many other people who provide emergency food aid.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: there is not one person who walks into a food bank with their head held high. People cannot just walk into a food bank because they decide they want a bit of extra food; they have to be referred. As the many hon. Members in this House who issue food bank vouchers know, it is an incredibly difficult thing to broach with a constituent who is clearly in need. I have had constituents reject the offer because they are ashamed and embarrassed. The fact that we have to do that as MPs should fill us all with shame. Frankly, I am appalled that two years on from the debate we had at Christmas 2012, when the Minister said that it was not a problem, the number of people in our country having to access emergency food aid is approaching 1 million. Again, I am frankly appalled.

We know that there are many organisations across the country doing phenomenal work, whether that is the Trussell Trust, FareShare or FoodCycle, which go out of their way to provide people with help. I have seen it in my constituency. I have met a man who had to walk a 9-mile round trip in the cold, having just come out of hospital after heart surgery, because he had nothing to eat at home. I had a constituent who had worked all her life but was made redundant in her mid-50s. She had applied for hundreds of jobs and did not receive the support she was entitled to. My constituent Thomas O’Donnell waited eight months for his personal independence payment and suffered malnutrition as a result. I am sorry that the Minister is too busy to listen to the individual cases of my constituents who have been affected and had to access emergency food aid.

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Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Luciana Berger: I have been asked not to, because other Members wish to speak.

A family in my constituency have been waiting since August to get their tax credit application processed, and they are having to live on food bank vouchers because they have nothing to eat at home. I pay tribute to James Sloan and those at Central Liverpool food bank who do such an excellent job in providing people with support, and the volunteers who give their time to collect food, the people who donate very generously—in Liverpool, we have had one of the most generous supermarket collections anywhere across the country—and the people who give their time to listen and to provide a cup of tea.

However, I reiterate that we should not need those volunteers. We should not need the hundreds of food banks. We should not have 1 million people having to access emergency food aid. It is a disgrace that over 23,000 people—

Mr Speaker: Order. Time is up. Before I call the next speaker, let me say to the House that I know that nobody intends any discourtesy, but it is frankly discourteous for Members on the Treasury Bench to be chattering to each other when an hon. Member is speaking. These are important matters. Please let us treat each other with appropriate respect. I hope that the Minister, who is sitting there impassively, has got the point—he had better have got it.

6.25 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): It is a privilege to contribute to this debate. I represent Salisbury, where the headquarters of the Trussell Trust are based. I have had the privilege of deep and thoughtful conversations and dialogue with those at the Trussell Trust during my time as MP.

Having contributed extensively to the report over the past six months, I am struck by the range of the 77 recommendations that we have made. The report makes uncomfortable reading for all politicians in all parts of the House. I want to make it absolutely clear that I understand the strong feelings that are generated when we discuss this matter. Let me therefore point out that we focus extensively on the issues of low pay, benefit administration, benefit delays, hardship payments, short-term benefit advances, tax credits, mandatory reconsideration and benefit sanctions. However, it is also important that we think about supermarkets, the food supply chain, energy companies and regulators, and how the food banks operate and work with other charitable organisations. If we are going to take this report seriously, it is very important that we do not try to cherry-pick its recommendations. As Chris Mould, the chairman of the Trussell Trust said,

“that’s precisely how to hollow out the potential and impact of the inquiry and leave most of the causes of the problem untouched.”

I do not want not to reference fully the complexity of individuals who use food banks and the fact that some of the issues they raise make uncomfortable reading for politicians on the Government Benches. However, we have to be honest about what we are saying about an alternative. When we talk about reforming the sanctions system, we are talking about a system where there has

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been a significant improvement and where, when there were changes to benefits in 2006-07, there was also a spike in the proportion of those who gave benefit delays as a reason for using food banks. In fact, the situation was very similar to the one we saw when the recent benefit changes were implemented. This is a national system, where 18,000 decisions are made every day.

Sarah Newton: Does my hon. Friend agree that, as we saw in the report, a lot of the solutions can be found by talking to local DWP staff and identifying where there could be glitches, so that those staff could themselves be part of the solution?

John Glen: I absolutely agree. Even in Salisbury, where according to today’s figures unemployment is down to 0.8%, we know of individuals who have not been well served by certain decisions. We all act as advocates for those individuals, and it is perfectly right that we should.

As the Bishop of Salisbury said when he gave evidence to the APPG,

“hunger can happen to any of us. It stems from low pay, lack of self-esteem, family breakdown, unemployment, addiction, mental illness, sickness or bad luck”—

or, indeed, a combination of many of those factors. Any strategy on food poverty that ignores that list in its entirety and how those elements interact with one another, choosing instead to focus entirely on benefits and economic factors, does not do justice to the complexity of the problem in this country. Everyone who turns to a food bank has a different story to tell: some are about straightforward administrative errors, whereas others are extensive tales of hardship. I urge the Government, in their response, to reflect on the full range of our 77 recommendations and the issues that we have discussed.

6.29 pm

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I want to address one question that arises from the speech made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). There is a sense of anger and shame that, as politicians, we are all almost powerless in the face of the rising tide of poverty and hunger in our constituencies. I want to caution people who think it will be easy to stem that tide. I want to address those on both Front Benches on what I hope, as we go into the election, the electorate will ask of us in alleviating the current position.

I do not believe, as the hon. Gentleman and some academics have suggested, that we are in a world in which we can easily move to the abolition of food banks. I wish that were true. One important thing that I hope we did in the report was to suggest that the situation exists not only in this country, but in similar economies in the western world. In Canada, the United States, France and Germany, as in this country, the number of people reduced to hunger is increasing. That suggests that something very fundamental has happened and is happening to the economy in such western countries, and that protecting the poor—as far as they are concerned, the economy is clearly falling away—will be really difficult.

That does not mean that we should not think about what we are doing, or that we should not ask both Government and Opposition Front Benchers to lessen the number of our constituents who are faced with the

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horror of not being able to feed their children or, many times, not being able to feed themselves. The Government have an important role in relation to the number of people who are hungry. A number of rip-off merchants in the utilities who charge the poor more than the very rich are accountable. There is the shame of being in a country in which only 2% of the edible waste is recycled to people who are hungry today.

Sarah Newton rose

Mr Field: No, I will not give way, because other Members want to speak.

The important point for Government and Opposition Front Benchers is whether we will implement the recommendation that if someone’s benefit is not paid in a reasonable time, they automatically qualify for emergency payments. Will they both introduce a yellow card system to ensure that those who have been sanctioned can seek help, rather than having to face hunger? It is fine for us to get angry, but we have some power, which is to make the two Front-Bench teams respond to our demands, and I have not heard them talk about that tonight.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. The Front-Bench speeches will begin at 6.46 pm. There is no obligation on Members to take the full three minutes, and those who take less time will help others.

6.33 pm

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): My last visit to one of the six Trussell Trust food banks in my constituency left me shocked and horrified. I heard about a single mum—working as a lunch time school supervisor while training to become a classroom assistant—who must, being employed part time, attend jobcentre interviews. On the day her father died, she forgot her appointment. She rang the next day to apologise and explain, but the death of her father was not accepted as a valid reason for missing her appointment. She was sanctioned for one month, and had no choice but to turn to the food bank. I heard about the 14 men sacked with no pay after four weeks’ work when their food-packing employer went bust. The jobcentre told them they could not claim, but had to pursue the company for their wages. Being penniless, they turned to the food bank.

These stories and thousands like them typify the impact of this Government’s welfare reforms, which, through a cocktail of callousness and ministerial incompetence, are condemning hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens to modern-day penury. These people are doing all that we ask of them: they are in work or training, and they are trying their hardest under difficult circumstances to better themselves and provide for their families. They are exactly the type of people that our welfare system was created to support, but this Government are punishing them, and leaving them destitute and reliant on charity to stop them and their children going hungry.

Ministers refuse even to acknowledge the explosion in the use of food banks. The Secretary of State boasts that we have fewer people using food banks than in

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Germany, but having 1 million people having to depend on hand-outs to prevent them from going hungry—870,000 more than when the Government came to office—is nothing to be proud of.

The reasons that the Government have given for the rise in the number of food banks have ranged from the ignorant to the outright scurrilous. There is not the time to recite all the dreadful things that Ministers have said, but now infamous ones have included sentiments from “Let them eat porridge” to “People use food banks because more people know they’re there”, or, “There’s more food waste being recycled”. It is either that or “The lower orders simply can’t cook”. There is no limit to how offensive Ministers can be. Condescending and out of touch does not begin to describe it.

What our country needs is a lower cost of living, higher wages and a fair benefits system that is fit for purpose. We must end the scandal of in-work poverty by raising the minimum wage, spreading the living wage, keeping household bills down and putting an end to exploitative employment practices. The Government would have it that poverty is the personal and moral failure of the poor, to which there is an all-stick-and-no-carrot solution of plunging the poor further into destitution.

We have to ask what type of society we want to be. Having witnessed the tremendous kindness and generosity of ordinary people who donate to and run food banks, I do not think the British people believe that those who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own should be thrown on to the scrap heap as the Government are doing. Any future Government ought to count achieving a hunger-free UK as a priority, but for that Government this nation’s hungry will sadly have to wait.

6.35 pm

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Everybody should agree that it is an absolute and utter disgrace, in a rich, developed nation of the 21st century, that so many of our fellow citizens have to resort to food banks. The largest food bank in my constituency is the Angus food bank, which is run by a group of churches, supported by the Trussell Trust. I have joined food collections, and the dedication of volunteers and the generosity of those who donate never ceases to amaze me.

It is often those who have little enough themselves who are most ready to help their fellow citizens. I recall that at a recent event, one person came up to us with a small donation, saying that he could not afford much but had been helped by the food bank when he was in need and wanted to give something back. That is far from unusual. Food banks bring out the best in ordinary people with a desire to help those who find themselves in temporary difficulties through illness, unemployment or other factors. Unfortunately, they do not seem to have that effect on Ministers.

The rise in food bank use is down to rising need, and the number of people using them is certainly going up. In Scotland alone, 51,647 people received a minimum three-day supply of food from a Trussell Trust food bank in the six months to September this year, an increase of an astonishing 124% on the same period last year. Almost one third of those helped were children. The Trussell Trust expects that over the full year, the number will rise to more than 90,000. Angus food bank helped 1,247 people in the six months to April, and it

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does not cover the major town of Arbroath, which is served by other food banks. Some 277 of those people were children. In the council ward where I live, 338 people were helped. Those figures are shocking.

Why do people go to food banks? The Trussell Trust says that only 5% of people who come to it cite homelessness as the main cause of their crisis. Almost half—46%—cite benefit problems, and a further 18% cite low income.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Trussell Trust food bank in Newtonards, in my constituency, was the first in Northern Ireland. It is run by the Thriving Life church and does excellent work. I am the main referral agency for it, and for the record, the main reasons for referrals are benefit delays at 30%, benefit changes at 15% and low income at 22%. Last year—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Interventions need to be short. We are trying to get everybody in, and it is not going to happen at this rate.

Mr Weir: Clearly the main issues are a direct result of the current Government’s policies. Many people turning to food banks have been “sanctioned”, to use the Government’s word, often for seemingly unfair reasons. Some 86% of food banks say that they have seen an increase in referrals for that reason. It is not just the Trussell Trust making that point; Barnardo’s also does, citing the rising cost of living, cuts in welfare support and benefit delays.

Those matters are under the Government’s control. There do not need to be delays in sorting out benefits when circumstances change or for there to be sanctions for seemingly minor reasons. From my constituency experience, there appears to be a particular problem when someone wishes to change from a dual to a single claim. They cannot get a clear answer on what information is required to prove their status. Such cases can drag on for months, which is completely and utterly unacceptable. Sorting that out would not necessarily increase costs and would certainly reduce the misery that many of those who use food banks are suffering.

The use of food banks is not just about benefits. It is also about incomes, as many Members have said. The Scottish Government are promoting the living wage among their own employers, and the new ScotRail contract will include a living wage clause. SSE has just become a living wage employer. Food banks are not an easy route for anyone, and those who will be most pleased when food banks cease to be required are the volunteers who are putting so much into running them and helping those in need.

6.39 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Like many Members, I will start by thanking those in my constituency and across east Durham without whose donations, care, compassion and commitment, local food banks would not function. I thank volunteers who work with the East Durham Trust’s FEED project, and the County Durham food bank for its hard work and dedication throughout the year, and the support that it has offered my constituents in times of great crisis. However, although I am delighted and honoured to pay tribute to those volunteers and everyone who supports food banks, we must address the political question of why there has

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been such an exponential growth in their use. Government Ministers suggesting that it is some kind of act of God simply does not wash.

In my opinion, the acceptable level of food bank usage is zero. Access to adequate nutrition is a basic human right, and there is no excuse, even in a time of austerity, for a modern and rich country—I think we are the seventh richest country—to be unable to meet the food needs of its people. The Prime Minister said that food bank usage increased from 2005-06, but numbers went from 40,000 to almost 900,000 this year—those are huge numbers.

Information that I receive from food banks in my constituency shows that there is little evidence, if any, of people abusing the system. The average number of visits from an individual user is 1.7, with the food bank often being instrumental in resolving a particular crisis and the underlying cause that led to initial contact with the food bank. In fact, food banks are more concerned about those in Easington and east Durham who are too proud to access the service, and it is often only the intervention of a referral agent—a health visitor, social worker, or sometimes an MP—that brings many cases to the attention of the food bank.

I do not have time to go into the figures, but the numbers are staggering and we have not seen anything like it since the miners’ strike in terms of the numbers of families and children who are being fed not just by the Peterlee and Seaham based centres, but by centres in smaller villages. Something like 1,300 people use such centres every month, a third of whom are children, and one food bank produces 12,000 meals a month. Clearly, benefit delays or referrals are the commonest reason why people are using those food banks.

6.42 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), who is no longer in her place, spoke of being disappointed with aspects of this debate. Well, I was disappointed that the Minister came to the Dispatch Box with a folder full of facts and statistics on the economy, food waste, the performance of the Department for Work and Pensions, and many other issues, yet he could not bring himself to admit why people are going to food banks in this country. For the benefit of the House, I will add some examples that I have heard, which back up what the Trussell Trust, independent food banks and many others are saying: the use of food banks is caused by changes and delays in the benefit system, debt, and, increasingly, people with low incomes who made up 22% of cases this year, up from 16% the year before. Those are the facts, and it is a shame that the Minister—unlike some Government Members who were far more candid and open—was unable to state them. Perhaps the Minister who winds up the debate will be clearer.

I pay tribute to the many volunteers and organisations in my constituency, including Cardiff food bank, which is part of the Trussell Trust network and fed more than 4,500 people in the past year. The independent food bank at Tabernacle Baptist church in Penarth fed an increasing number of people this year—2,180 to date, and that number is increasing all the time. It repeats to me the same reasons for why people come to it.

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I pay tribute to those volunteers, many of whom come to me and ask, “Why?” That is the fundamental question that the Government have failed to answer today. From my experience in international development, the same question is asked about poverty and injustice around the world. We see people who are facing disaster and we ask why they are vulnerable to disaster. It is because they are living in poverty. Why are they living in poverty? It is often of the systems, policies and processes of Governments and others that leave them in that place in the first place. One member of staff I worked with at the charity World Vision once spoke to me about a pit in the world of poverty, with a big digger digging it out. Organisations such as food banks can put rocks back into the pit to try to fill it back up. Ultimately, however, they cannot stop the digger digging it out. The digger in this case are the Government, with policies such as the bedroom tax and punitive sanctions, and policies that fail to deal with energy prices and the cost of living. That is the digger and that is what we have to switch off. The Government would do well to listen, rather than trying to undermine the organisations that are speaking up for so many across the country.

6.45 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I pay tribute to the excellent work of the Antioch centre and Myrtle house in my constituency, and to those who volunteer to collect food from supermarkets.

It saddens me that, in spite of us raising this problem many times before, the Government still have not done anything about it. Instead of seeing a drop, we are actually seeing a rise, documented by others today, in the number of people going to food banks. I was particularly disappointed that the Minister did not seek to tackle or name the causes of that rise. He did not talk about benefit delays, low income or benefit changes.

It is a mark of indignity to have to go to a food bank. Nobody goes to one out of choice, and we should be trying to restore dignity. Believe me, people on the lowest incomes know where to find the cheapest food. Baroness Jenkin, who criticised cooking skills, has absolutely no idea. Very often, the people who live in the worst rented accommodation have the most expensive and least efficient cooking appliances and pay the most for their electricity.

On benefit sanctions, the right-wing Policy Exchange think-tank acknowledged in a report in the spring that 68,000 benefit claimants each year are having their benefit payments stopped unfairly. In addition, there are a huge number of very dubious cases where it has been very unclear why a benefit has been stopped. People have been sanctioned for appalling reasons: death, being in hospital, and having learning difficulties and not understanding what they are supposed to be doing. That is absolutely outrageous.

Barnardo’s highlights the real issue: the breaking of the link between benefits and inflation. In the House of Commons Library note, the specialist tells us that that has never, ever happened before under any Government, whatever their colour. The link has never been broken. There is, therefore, a political choice: to sort out the country’s deficit problems on the backs of the rich and not take from the poor; or to do so on the backs of the poor and give tax breaks to millionaires.

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6.47 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): “Hunger stalks the land.” That is the conclusion of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger in the UK. I welcome that inquiry. Thanks to the members of that inquiry and the report they have produced, the truth, so long denied by Ministers, must now be faced: a lot of people in Britain are going hungry.

I want to add my tribute to the volunteers responding to hunger. We have heard a good deal about the Trussell Trust. It has 400 food banks operating from 1,200 locations, every single one of them based on a church. Last month, the report it was responsible for, with others—referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) in her excellent speech and launched at the meeting chaired by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—set out the facts. The interviews with almost 1,000 users in three food banks showed that well over half were there because of problems with the benefit system. The bulk of the problem is in the DWP. The all-party inquiry confirms that, yet no DWP Minister is going to defend the woeful record of the Department in this debate.

A newspaper article on 22 December last year told us that the chairman of the Trussell Trust repeatedly asked the Secretary State last year to meet to discuss the problems in the DWP that were driving people to food banks. The Secretary of State did not meet the Trussell Trust. Last week in the House he told us:

“I have never refused to meet it”.—[Official Report, 8 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 638.]

I hope he will at some point explain to us what the distinction is between not agreeing to meet and refusing to meet, because he did not meet the trust. The article tells us not only that the Secretary of State did not meet the Trussell Trust, but that in his reply to the letter he accused the Trussell Trust of publicity seeking.

What gets under the skin of the Secretary of State, whom I am delighted to see in his place, is that the Trussell Trust refuses to shut up about how many people are turning up to its food banks. He was simply unwilling to face up to the consequences for the hundreds of thousands of people forced by his policies to go hungry. Thanks to no less an authority than the National Audit Office and its report on universal credit, we know that he has established a good news culture in his Department: telling the truth about the effects of his policies is simply not allowed.

Having failed to get a meeting with the Secretary of State, the Trussell Trust wrote to the welfare reform Minister, Lord Freud, who wrote back on 30 August saying he was

“unable to take up your offer of a meeting”.

Ministers did not want to know what was really going on. Last week, faced at last with the truth from the all-party inquiry—heaven knows what pressure the Secretary of State put on his hon. Friends who signed up to the inquiry—the Secretary of State made a concession. He said he would do much more to raise awareness of interim payments—at last! Let us hope he delivers, but that was exactly what the Trussell Trust wanted to speak to him about well over a year ago, when he refused to engage.

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The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): I have made it clear that I have met members of the Trussell Trust. I have never denied meeting members. The right hon. Gentleman needs to reveal his sources.

Stephen Timms: The chairman of the Trussell Trust wrote to him repeatedly last year asking to meet him, but he did not meet him.

Mr Duncan Smith: I met members of the trust.

Stephen Timms: We have all met members of the Trussell Trust. The Secretary of State refused to meet the chairman. [Interruption.] Ah, I think we are getting somewhere. He tells us that members of his staff met—

Mr Duncan Smith: And me.

Stephen Timms: And him, too. Why did he not meet the chairman of the Trussell Trust, who wanted to explain—

Mr Duncan Smith: I have met members of the Trussell Trust.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We need to keep the debate going. We cannot have people talking across each other.

Stephen Timms: The Secretary of State refused to meet the chairman of the Trussell Trust, because he wanted to explain to him the problems that the policies of his Department were causing for the hundreds of thousands of people having to go to food banks as a result.

As we now know, the big reason so many people are going to food banks is delays in benefit payments. Whenever that is raised, Ministers say that delays in benefit payments have fallen. The all-party inquiry has shed some welcome light on the matter. It wrote:

“We found that the Department for Work and Pensions does not currently collect information on the length of time taken for benefit payments to be made.”

It is not surprising they do not know what is going on, because they do not collect the information. The big problem is with sanctions, as we have heard: between 19% and 28% of food bank visits are the result of benefit sanctions. As Government Members have confirmed, including the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), enormous pressure is being placed on advisers to sanction people, whether or not those sanctions are justified.

We have all-party recognition that hunger is stalking the land. The all-party inquiry is right. We need a strategy to end hunger, and a big part of that will involve putting right the terrible problems in the DWP, but with DWP Ministers not even willing to take part in this debate, it will take a change of Government to do it.

6.53 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to close this debate.

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I begin by reiterating what many other hon. Members, including the Minister for Civil Society, have said about the fantastic work food banks do and the role they play in our voluntary sector. This Friday, I will again be visiting a food bank in my constituency, run by Don Gardner, who is involved in the local church, and by many other able volunteers and church groups in the area. I also pay tribute to hon. Members who took part in the recent all-party group inquiry into hunger and food poverty. We have heard some good contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury (John Glen) and for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field).

The report concludes that the issues surrounding household food security are varied and complex and should be considered as a whole. Indeed, earlier this year DEFRA published a review of food aid that reached a similar conclusion. We should also note that food aid is not just a UK phenomenon. Other countries have also seen a large increase in the provision of support through food banks. In Germany, for example, food banks support about 1.5 million people every week. There has also been a large increase in the number of food banks in countries such as France and the United States.

The reasons are complex and every report that has considered the issue has concluded that much. Some have said, for instance, that food price inflation might be a factor. There was certainly a big spike in food prices in 2008, but evidence shows that in 2013 food prices in the UK were lower than those in other European countries, including Germany. UK food prices are lower now than they were in 2013. In fact, in the last year UK food prices have fallen by 1.7%, the first time we have seen such a fall since 2002.

A number of people have suggested that the inflation that happened between 2008 and 2012 might have had a compound impact on household incomes and expenditure, and that is possible, but we should recognise that in 2008 the poorest 20% of households in this country were spending 16.8% of household income on food whereas in 2012 that figure was 16.6%. The amount spent by the poorest households on food barely changed between 2007 and 2012. We recognise that there are those who are struggling to cope with the cost of food, which is why the Government are doing a number of things to help. For instance, we have extended free school meals to all infant pupils, which means that an extra 1.5 million children are receiving a nutritious meal.

Let me turn now to some of the other points that were made. A number of hon. Members mentioned sanctions and delays in payment, but the fact of the matter is that 93% of JSA and ESA claimants get their payments on time—

Stephen Timms: Will the Minister give way?

George Eustice: No, I will not. We have no time.

That figure can be compared with 86% in 2009-10, so there has been an improvement in payment times.

A number of hon. Members have mentioned sanctions. I have discussed the issue with my own local jobcentre and I can confirm that hardship payments are being paid where needed. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1519

raised the important question of whether there is more we can do to advertise hardship payments. I can confirm that the Government are looking at ways in which we can advertise them more. My own jobcentre has already made it clear that whenever it sanctions anyone it also explains to them the availability of hardship payments, which is important. I should also say that there are no benchmarks or targets for sanction referrals. We have also tried to speed up the payment of hardship payments to within three days of when people are entitled to them.

I want to turn to a number of other relevant issues. First, is poverty a driver to the use of food banks? It might well be—obviously it is—but the best way to get people out of poverty is to help them off benefits and into work. Since 2010 we have 1.7 million more people in work, which means 1.7 million more people with the security of a pay packet. The latest statistics show that 95% of the jobs being created are full-time jobs.

Let me turn now to food waste, food recycling and redistribution. Much has been done through provisions such as the Courtauld commitment. For instance, we have cut household waste by about 15%, a saving of 1.1 million tonnes of waste, but the Government are committed to doing far more about the redistribution of food. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and my hon. Friend the Minister for Civil Society will convene a meeting in the new year with leaders of the major food retailers and other industry representatives to discuss how more surplus food can be put to good use.

In conclusion—

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 237, Noes 293.

Division No. 122]





Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

Meale, Sir Alan

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Julie Hilling


Susan Elan Jones


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Amess, Mr David

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Baker, rh Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, rh Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burt, rh Alistair

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Sir William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, rh Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Luff, Sir Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Randall, rh Sir John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, rh John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Webb, rh Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, rh Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Harriett Baldwin


Dr Thérèse Coffey

Question accordingly negatived.

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1520

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1521

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1522

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1523

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1524

Warwick (1,100th Anniversary)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mel Stride.)

7.10 pm

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): It is an honour to represent the constituency of Warwick and Leamington, particularly in this anniversary year. The constituency includes the towns of Leamington, Whitnash and Warwick and a number of surrounding villages, but in this debate I wish to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Warwick, a town steeped in history and characterised by a strong community spirit.

Many of the iconic buildings that make up part of this history are still standing today, and are integral to the fabric of the community. The transition from a defensive stronghold in 914 to the impressive county town of Warwickshire in 2014 is clear for all to see; Warwick has developed over many centuries and is now a remarkable place to live and a popular tourist destination. I would like to put on the record details of its long and illustrious history, and reflect on the characteristics that shape our town today.

Historic buildings are a defining aspect of Warwick, including St. Mary’s collegiate church, dating back to 1123, and the Chantry chapel at the Lord Leycester hospital, dating back to 1126. Alongside this historical grounding and rich heritage, Warwick is home today to a range of fantastic schools, voluntary organisations and businesses, all supported by local residents with a dedicated, hard-working and neighbourly nature. It also stages nationally-renowned festivals, from the ever-popular folk festival, now in its 35th year, to the annual Victorian evening which starts the festive season in a spectacularly traditional way.

Our open green spaces remain a picturesque part of Warwick—not least St Nicholas park, alongside the river Avon. As a Warwick resident, I hope to see our open spaces preserved and the beauty of the town maintained. Given the nature of Warwick, excessive development would not be in our best interests and I have campaigned against it.

It is widely accepted that the founding of Warwick came in the year 914, when Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, established the settlement—a lady whose face has appeared on many mugs, tea-towels and other merchandising this year. The town was built on a small hill that controlled the river crossing on the road to London, and was strategically placed to control the Fosse way, built by the Romans. It was therefore an excellent location to protect locals from the threat of invasion. According to the etching from 1731 in my office

“the town has a pleasant situation on the North side of the River Avon upon a hill”.

However, the etching also suggests that there were settlements on this land prior to 914, and that Kimboline, a British King, established a town there around Christ’s nativity.

The fortified dwelling was one of 10 built to defend Mercia from the threat of the Danes, and the settlement became the county town of the new shire of Warwickshire in 1001. In 1068, William the Conqueror built a motte

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1525

and bailey castle to gain control of the region and to respond to various uprisings. The famous castle is still an integral part of Warwick, providing a majestic backdrop and attracting vast numbers of visitors every year.

In 1086, 244 dwellings were recorded in the Domesday Book as the settlement started to grow. The fortification of the town was completed with the construction of a town wall. A market was based in a number of streets and buildings across Warwick. Because of its location away from the main trading routes, there was significant competition from nearby towns for trade. The main prosperity came from the castle, but trading was certainly a major feature, and the market remains a part of weekly life in our town today—come rain or shine, traders still operate in the square every Saturday.

The square also has the statue of Randolph Turpin, the boxing champion who won the world middleweight title in 1951. He was considered to be one of the best in the sport throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Wandering through the square and around the centre of Warwick, we find a huge array of pubs and restaurants and a fabulous night scene.

By the 15th century, many of the suburbs we see today were formed, including Saltisford and Smith Street. By the early 17th century the general street pattern was clear, and the town was being shaped as a tight community that continues today.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the Adjournment debate. His constituency is right next to mine, although mine is in Coventry and at one time Coventry was part of Warwick. Will he join me in congratulating Warwick university, which is partly in Coventry and partly in Warwickshire, as next year will be the 50th anniversary of its foundation? I know he takes a great interest in that.

Chris White: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. We work closely together to celebrate the contribution that the university makes. It was good to join him in marking that anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I hope Coventry and Warwick can work together to make sure that the university continues to flourish.

In 1552, the court leet was established by a royal charter, and is still in existence. The group of jurors represent the best interests of the borough, and includes interesting positions such as constables, overseers of pavements, an ale taster and a brook looker. This hat-tip to history is representative of what Warwick is about. I pay tribute to the current mayor of Warwick, Councillor Moira-Anne Grainger, who helps to continue the fine tradition of civic leadership and pride.

As the county town, Warwick attracted many visitors. The market remained a feature, and the town became a popular destination. Horse racing was becoming a crowd-pleasing form of entertainment in the 17th century, and with the financial help of Lord Brook, the first race took place on St Mary’s common in 1707. The racecourse remains a distinct part of the town, holding regular meetings, and is nationally recognised. Entertainment was provided for all tastes as the town grew, and a theatre was built in the 1790s.

During the civil wars of the 17th century, Sir Robert Greville sided with the parliamentarians and put the castle in a state of readiness, yet Warwick managed to

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1526

remain unscathed. However, the town’s luck came to an end on the afternoon of 5 September 1694. The great fire, which almost destroyed the town, spread swiftly across much of Warwick, destroying or damaging about 250 shops and houses owing to their timber frames and close proximity. The impact that this had on the town was far reaching, requiring financial support to rebuild the affected buildings. Plans were put in place by the owner of Warwick castle, together with local gentry. Most of the rebuilding was completed within a few years, and the designs were subject to an Act of Parliament. This discouraged alterations to the town for a number of years, but in the 18th century the design of Warwick became more creative.

The court house was built in the 1720s and the shire hall was replaced in 1758. Although the current shire hall is one of the most shocking pieces of architecture in the town, it houses the county council. I hope that in 2015 we can start the process of consultation as to the merits of a unitary authority. I would like to praise Warwick town council for reopening the beautiful building that is the court house on Jury street, with the financial assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The grade 1 listed building has this year become a place for community events, and it is wonderful to see it being utilised in this way. The court house holds fond but anxious memories for me personally, as it was at a meeting there in 2002 that I was selected to stand as the candidate for the Warwick and Leamington seat.

I should like to add a little more detail on the castle, which is undoubtedly one of the most striking features of the town. William I began its construction in 1068 and it still stands today as a landmark, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Passing through generations of families, the castle provided protection for nearly 200 years, and was converted into a stone structure in 1260. Four years later, Simon de Montfort successfully attacked the stronghold as leader of the rebellious barons. Caesar’s tower and the dungeons were built in 1350, and Guy’s tower was completed in 1395. A number of our monarchs have visited the castle over the centuries, including Queen Elizabeth I, King William III and Queen Victoria. The castle was attacked in 1264, besieged in 1642 and damaged by fire in 1871, but it has stood the test of time.

St Mary’s church also dominated Warwick in its early days and is an important part of the town today. It was established in 1123 by Roger de Beaumont, the second Earl of Warwick. The only surviving part that de Beaumont built is the crypt, with the chancel vestries and chapter house being extensively rebuilt in the 14th century by a later Earl of Warwick. The church, along with much of Warwick, was significantly affected by the great fire. The nave and tower were completely destroyed, and the church as we know it today was rebuilt in the early 18th century by the brothers Francis and William Smith.

There is much to see in St Mary’s church, including the chapel of the Warwickshire Regiment, several monuments to Warwick dignitaries, and the Beauchamp chapel. In this stunning chapel is the tomb of its builder, Richard Beauchamp, the 13th Earl of Warwick. Beauchamp served Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI and was a great landowner of the time. His daughter married Richard Neville, who was known as Warwick the Kingmaker, due to wielding the balance of power through the weakness of kings during the first half of

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1527

the wars of the roses. I am pleased to be a member of the congregation, and I pay tribute to the rector, Vaughan Roberts, who has for many years led services at St Mary’s. I also thank the choir and the organist, who put on a wonderful performance at the carol service on Sunday.

Each year at St Mary’s, the feast of Thomas Oken is celebrated. Oken made a considerable fortune, and left most of it to fund education and housing in the town. His attitude to helping those in need is reflected in his will, which distributed funds to the town. A deeply religious man, Oken put the town and fellow residents first, and provided £1 annually for a feast. His house has been converted into Oken’s tea rooms in Warwick, located near the castle, and his name lives on in Warwick folklore.

The Lord Leycester hospital, an historic group of timber-framed buildings dating back to the late 14th century, is another eye-catching part of the centre of the town, and has a beautiful 12th century chapel attached to it. The word “hospital” is used in its ancient sense, meaning a charitable institution for the housing and maintenance of the needy, infirm or aged. For nearly 200 years, it was the home of Warwick’s medieval guilds. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it became a place of retirement for old warriors, and it remains today as an independent charity providing a home for ex-servicemen and their partners. The man in charge of the hospital is still referred to as “Master” throughout the town.

A little further out of town, Guys Cliffe is a large manor house that is now sadly run down, but it provides a fascinating story about the famous Guy of Warwick. The legend goes that Guy, the son of a castle steward, won the heart of Lady Felice, daughter of the Earl of Warwick. Owing to their different roles, it was unacceptable for the romance to flourish, so Guy went away to fight as a knight to prove his worth. On returning to Warwick, he married Lady Felice but regretted his violent past and embarked on a pilgrimage. On returning once more, he settled in a cave at Guy’s Cliffe, overlooking the Avon, living the rest of his life as a hermit.

Another institution with its roots in history is Warwick school, the oldest boys’ school in the country. The school was certainly in operation during Edward the Confessor’s reign in the 11th century, and there is a statue of him in the entrance hall, but it was probably in existence around the time of the founding of the town itself. The school was situated in the market place, before Henry VIII re-founded it as the King’s New School of Warwick. At that point, the school moved to what is now the Lord Leycester hospital, having being situated in a number of locations. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales visited this year to congratulate the school on its anniversary. Fittingly, the under-15 rugby team became national champions this year, while the under-18s reached the final at Twickenham.

Schools across the town have much to pride themselves on. I have had the opportunity to meet many groups of students across the area over the years, and the energy, passion, maturity and attitude to hard work are clear to see in all our younger people. As a patron of Myton school, I find that it is always a highlight to visit and to welcome students to Parliament each year, and it will be a great honour to present awards at the school’s ceremony tomorrow evening. Tomorrow morning, I shall be visiting

17 Dec 2014 : Column 1528

Aylesford school to join the official turf cutting ceremony on the playing fields, marking the start of the new Aylesford primary school build, which is due for completion and to open for its first reception intake in September 2015.

Warwick hospital is also an excellent example of an outstanding local institution, and recent figures in the 2014 Quality Health survey illustrate that 93% of A and E patients that responded felt they were treated with respect and dignity. The dedication and commitment of those who work in the hospital are phenomenal, and only on Monday I had the chance to visit the hospital to see the beginning of the construction of a new ward, which will yet further increase their capacity. Myton hospice also provides an incredible quality of care and is the pride of many in the district. I hear many moving stories about its work, and have had the pleasure of meeting many of the staff and volunteers who are involved.

Community projects generally are a real feature of Warwick. As its Member of Parliament, I have had the opportunity to become involved with a number of fantastic initiatives. The Friends of Warwick Station is an excellent example, aiming to improve the facilities and aesthetics of our railway station. Recently, children from a number of schools across the area joined the group for a flower-planting session, typifying our community spirit. I pay tribute to our local papers, the Warwick Courier and the Warwick Observer, for raising awareness of such initiatives.

On the political aspect of Warwick, the town is first known to have returned members to Parliament in 1275. The parliamentary seat of Warwick and Leamington that I represent was formed in 1885, bringing to an end the election of two Members in each parliamentary Session. Among other predecessors was Sir Anthony Eden who represented the constituency between 1923 and 1957, which gave it its nickname ‘The Garden of Eden’. In his first election victory, Frances Evelyn Greville, the Countess of Warwick, stood against Eden as the Labour candidate. Daisy, as she was known, had joined the Social Democratic Federation in 1904, donating large amounts of money, and supported the great October socialist revolution in Russia.

The rich history of Warwick and the heritage that is stamped on the town can be reflected on with much pride. Industrially, our area is well known for its manufacturing expertise, and the recent growth of the sector is a welcome return to our roots. Our local performance in business is a credit to the array of qualities that the town possesses. Firms operating in more established sectors are also excelling, such as the National Grid Company, and DCA Design International, a world-leading product design consultancy. As many Members will be aware, we recently celebrated small business Saturday, and I have long been an advocate of promoting the value that small firms bring to our economy. I was delighted to walk around the town to visit many of the businesses that are behind the recent resurgence of our local economy, and even managed to purchase my Christmas turkey!

In the 2015 UK vitality index, promoted this week, for local economies by Lambert Smith Hampton, Warwick is fifth overall. In addition, our town ranks equal first for education in the index. Mr Deputy Speaker, if you would indulge me briefly, let me say that jobs figures released today show that in my constituency there has been a 73% fall in the number of unemployed claimants

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since 2010. That is a remarkable decrease, and I pay tribute to the businesses that have been instrumental in strengthening our local economy.

As I have alluded to, the architecture and aesthetics of the buildings in Warwick are well known, with areas of special historical interest. Wandering through the town and the streets that were set out centuries ago is a reminder of our extensive history. J. R. R. Tolkien married in Warwick in 1916 and was an admirer of our town, with some people suggesting that his stories and writings were based on it. As reported in “Warwick: A Short History & Guide”, Tolkien

“found Warwick, its trees, its hill, and its castle, to be a place of remarkable beauty”.

Since the establishment of Warwick in 914, the town has developed across centuries with a continuous sense of strong attachment for local residents. Next year, we will celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and 750 years since the Simon de Montfort Parliament, both important in developing democracy, and it is incredible to think that the town I represent predates that.

The castle has always been an iconic and picturesque feature, and St Mary’s church has always stood tall on the skyline. The market square is a great focal point of the town, and is often a hive of activity, as it has been for centuries. Only last week, I was sitting in the square watching the film “Frozen”, thanks to Warwick Rocks—one of many events that local organisers have done so well to put on for residents.

Today, we have an excellent hospital, successful schools, thriving local businesses, and a wonderful community spirit. Warwick may have come a long way since its establishment in 914, but there is a sense of continuity with our predecessors, which makes it a truly special town.

Mr Deputy Speaker, may I take this opportunity to wish you a happy Christmas? To the Minister, a happy Christmas, but also to the residents of our fine town, a very happy Christmas indeed.

7.32 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): May I add to the great Christmas wishes “Happy Chanukah”? I was privileged to go to the Speaker’s apartments this afternoon to celebrate Chanukah. I heard the Chief Rabbi refer to the Speaker as a mensch, which I think should be the new parliamentary term that we adopt to praise our wonderful Speaker.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) for his wonderful speech, and for allowing me a small walk-on part in this Adjournment debate. It is not often that we get to deliver our maiden speech twice, so I praise him for doing so. I missed a trick with the 850th anniversary of Wallingford in my town, which is a stripling adolescent compared with Warwick, but after hearing his brilliant speech I intend to stick around for its 900th anniversary, when I will be 87. I serve notice on my constituents that I have another 40 years to serve to echo the celebration that my hon. Friend has held this evening.

It is quite right that my hon. Friend gave an important and lengthy speech, because such a moment only comes around every 1,100 years. After all, the next time we celebrate a similar anniversary it will be 3014 or, if we

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want to be a bit premature, 2914 for the 2000th anniversary. I know my hon. Friend as the Member for Leamington, which is not, I hasten to add, before anyone gets the wrong end of this stick, to disparage his loyalty to Warwick. It is important to remember that he represents Leamington because, as the Minister responsible for the video games industry, I was privileged to make a visit with him and see the extraordinary companies based in that part of his constituency. It echoes to a certain extent the remarks he made at the end of his speech about the fact that we are lucky to have cities and towns such as Warwick that have an extraordinary heritage spanning hundreds of years but which, at the same time, can adapt and accommodate the modern economy.

Yet again, I am afraid, my hon. Friend outbid me, because not only is Wallingford a pathetic adolescent—not a pathetic adolescent; just an adolescent—compared with Warwick, but his unemployment figures are slightly better than mine. His have fallen by 73%, and mine have fallen only by about 67%, but they are still very good figures indeed.

I note the presence of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), with whom I have shared many conversations. Indeed, a couple of years ago he and I visited the mediaeval Charterhouse in his constituency, which he has worked so hard to help restore, and I will continue to work with him on that. At one point he was so taken with my hon. Friend’s speech that he crossed the Floor to have a word with me. I thought that he might stay with us, so blown away was he by the rhetoric.

The people of Warwick have not been backward in coming forward to celebrate this important anniversary. There have been the brilliant St George’s day celebrations, the walking tours that explain the history of the town and the beer festival at Warwick race course, which included—I cannot remember whether my hon. Friend mentioned it—a celebratory beer brewed locally and specially for the occasion. I think that huge commitment to the anniversary is to be commended.

I was delighted to hear that the Prince of Wales visited Warwick to recognise the importance of the anniversary. I pay tribute to the extraordinary work he has done over so many years to support not only our heritage, but our modern economy. I was with him yesterday at the science museum, where we were celebrating engineering, and particularly the role of women in engineering.

My hon. Friend pointed to numerous ornaments in Warwick, and of course Warwick castle stands out as one of the greatest. One does not actually have to visit Warwick to appreciate the castle, because a little-known fact is that it is the building in this country that is most represented by the great Venetian painter Canaletto—there are five paintings and three drawings extant—who was commissioned by its owners. If you cannot visit the castle, Mr Deputy Speaker, I urge you to have a look at those pictures.

My hon. Friend also mentioned Warwick school, which is indeed the oldest public school in the country. I hope that it continues to have a thriving future, despite the plans of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) in his war with our great public schools. The school is also noted for educating two Conservative MPs: my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) and the famous Harry Greenway, the former Member for Ealing North, who I think was known to

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you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The current permanent secretary at the Department of Energy and Climate Chance, Mr Stephen Lovegrove, also attended Warwick school, as did Christian Horner, the head of Red Bull racing, but better known as the fiancé of Geri Halliwell. She will be known to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as Ginger Spice—I know that you stopped engaging in popular culture about 20 years ago. Of course—this is more in tune with your cultural tastes—Sabine Baring-Gould, the author of “Onward, Christian Soldiers”, attended Warwick school in the mid-19th century.

Warwick’s rich historic wealth is demonstrated by the number of designated assets within its borders. There are just under 1,500 listed buildings, 30 of which are grade I, 40 are scheduled monuments, 11 are parks and gardens and 31 are conservation areas.

If I was to make a policy point, I would say that my hon. Friend has demonstrated the importance of anniversaries. When we talk in this country about community cohesion and identity, we should remember anniversaries. When we worked with the heritage lottery fund, for example, I was pleased to be able to set aside a ring-fenced fund of £10 million that could be awarded for anniversaries. I hope that some of the money will support the important anniversary of the battle of Waterloo next year and the very important anniversary of Magna Carta, to which my hon. Friend alluded. Of course, it is also supporting the important commemorations we are conducting at the moment for the first world war.

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My hon. Friend also talked about Warwick’s vibrant economy. Our heritage buildings not only provide a wonderful backdrop for the running of modern businesses, but are modern businesses in their own right, attracting thousands of visitors. Around 80,000 people a year visit Warwick town, and many more visit the surrounding area. I know that my hon. Friend has done extraordinary work as a Member of Parliament to promote tourism and discuss with the Government the best ways to help tourism and support the modern economy.

Mr Jim Cunningham: Tourists always come to Coventry first, and then they go to Warwick.

Mr Vaizey: That may be so.

I commend Warwick, old and new. I have here a press cutting with a picture of St Mary’s church that points out that Warwick is one of the top 10 towns in Lambert Smith Hampton’s annual UK vitality index, where it has moved from eighth to fifth place as a place of economic growth. When we commemorate Warwick’s well-deserved 1,100th anniversary, let us remember that it is not only a great historic town but one of the top 10 most vital towns in the country.

Question put and agreed to.

7.40 pm

House adjourned.