It is surprising that, after the debate in the Chamber on 22 November 2012, the issue remains unresolved and that we find ourselves back here discussing largely the same matters. On that occasion, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), then children’s Minister, was positively effusive in her support for this idea, yet here we are in the dying days of the Parliament and we do not appear to be much further forward. As my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) has said, there is no requirement to teach life-saving skills in our schools. In some schools, children learn about automatic external

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defibrillators or CPR, but the Government, as far as I am aware, have no settled policy on the issue. The Minister might be able to help us on that point.

In December 2014, the Minister for Schools was almost as effusive as the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk, and perhaps even more so. He became the first Education Minister to back adding first aid to the curriculum when he said that it should be a compulsory part of personal, social, health and economic education, or PSHE, lessons. I understand that the Government’s cardiovascular disease outcomes strategy recognises the need to improve out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survival rates and promotes an increase in the number of people trained in CPR and in the number of public access defibrillators. What steps are the Government taking to increase the number of people with such training, as part of their strategy? Schools seem an obvious place to start if we want to increase the numbers, and teacher training courses are another place where it might make sense to try to increase training. I would be grateful if the Minister shed light on how the strategy is being implemented, because that might go some way to addressing some of the issues raised today.

When the Secretary of State for Education was last asked about the issue in a parliamentary question, the best she could offer was that the Department of Health was

“helping schools to procure defibrillators at a reduced price.”—[Official Report, 2 March 2015; Vol. 593, c. 672.]

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that there is often difficulty between Departments, and I take that point, but what we are doing in schools requires more than the Secretary of State to tell us that the Department of Health has a policy to help to get some cut-price defibrillators.

Jim Shannon: The first responders organisation on the Ards peninsula, where I live and which I represent, has managed to buy half a dozen defibrillators at a reduced price. The organisation has obviously negotiated that price and made defibrillators more financially available.

Steve McCabe: Most people would agree with anything that could be done to make the equipment available at reduced cost.

As I understand it, the Department for Education non-statutory guidance encourages schools to consider purchasing a defibrillator as part of their first aid stock, and the guidance also suggests that staff members who are already appointed as first aiders might wish to promote first aid techniques more widely in the school among teachers and pupils. That is the end of my pre-election knockabout, because I recognise that the bulk of the debate has been relatively consensual. I will not pursue the Minister any further.

Like others, I recognise that every year some 150,000 people die in situations in which first aid could have made a difference. According to the British Heart Foundation, more than 30,000 people suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the UK each year. Some hon. Members said that fewer than one in 12 survive, but my researcher told me that the figure is fewer than one in 10—we know that not enough people survive. As the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) reminded

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us, this is not about statistics; it is about real-life experiences that people may or may not survive. It is important to bear that in mind, and we are clearly behind other countries in teaching CPR to young people.

According to the Red Cross, only about 20% of our secondary school students learn first aid skills in the classroom, and it is estimated that less than 13% of pupils access some sort of CPR training at school. If we ensured that school leavers were capable and confident in performing CPR, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West said, an estimated 5,000 lives could be saved each year.

Arguably, we are behind many of our European counterparts; countries such as France, Denmark and Norway all make life-saving skills such as CPR a mandatory part of their school curriculums. For many years, they have used strategies ranging from self-learning with DVDs and mannequins to structured teaching, which is exactly the model that Members have discussed today.

Further afield, a recent statement by the American Heart Association concluded that CPR training should be required for graduation from secondary school. I was told that 20 states have introduced such a requirement, but I note that two Members have said that the number is 36, so I bow to their superior research. I understand that most US schools use a CPR training kit that trains 10 to 20 students at a time and takes 30 minutes, which is not dissimilar from the approach recommended by the British Heart Foundation and mentioned in the debate by several hon. Members.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) said, international evidence suggests a substantial decrease in deaths associated with cardiac problems in countries where CPR training is mandatory in schools. In Norway, for example, survival rates are 25% better than our own for individual cases of cardiac arrest. To compare the international story to our own, as I have said and others have repeated, only 20% of our students leave school having learned first aid, so we can see the scale of the problem facing us.

As was mentioned earlier, when asked in a recent survey, almost all secondary school students stated that they would want to help a friend or family member needing emergency first aid, but 94% said that they needed further training before they would feel capable of doing so. A further half of secondary school students admitted to feeling nervous and panicking in such situations. The issue is further exacerbated; a British Heart Foundation survey found that barely a third of respondents would know how to perform CPR on a friend or family member. That is worrying when we consider the number of people at risk.

As I understand it—other Members here may be better informed than me—it is likely that CPR training would be confined to the secondary sector, as young primary-aged children frequently lack the physical strength to carry out CPR on adults. In their case, training would probably involve general awareness, maybe about the appropriateness of dialling 999 or putting someone into the recovery position, as the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) said. It seems to me that it would not exactly be a daunting task to teach that to primary school children; the British Heart Foundation claims that its training takes about 30 minutes. The hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North

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(Caroline Nokes) reminded us that the Select Committee on Education recommended in its recent report “Life Lessons” that PHSE should be compulsory in schools.

I will conclude by summarising the Labour position. We are committed to ensuring that life-saving skills are taught in all our schools, and we are happy to talk to schools and teachers about the best way to ensure that that happens. As we heard earlier from the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North, some people think that this should be part of PSHE while others suggest that it should be included in the physical education curriculum. There is some debate. The PSHE Association wants a programme of study that includes emergency life-saving skills.

Schools might also use organisations such as the Red Cross, St John Ambulance, the Royal Life Saving Society or others to provide relevant resources and training. As we have heard in the debate from a variety of Members, several local organisations and campaigns could be utilised to that end. The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford described the arrangements in her area to supply equipment, which showed what a community effort it can be. The hon. Member for Strangford told an encouraging story about what progress can be made, but he also served to remind us that, at times, Departments can be good at getting in the way. If ever there were a case for joined-up government, it is on issues such as this.

What matters more than anything is that we stop discussing and start doing. Under Labour, life-saving skills, including CPR where age-appropriate, will be taught in all schools.

3.46 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): That is the third education policy announced by the Opposition during this Parliament; I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). It is a pity that he does not have a few more to put to the electorate in two months’ time. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David; it is the parliamentary assessment board all over again. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on securing the debate.

There is nothing more important than keeping children, and indeed the staff who teach them, safe in our schools. This Government have already done a great deal to ensure that defibrillators are more widely available in schools. In answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, we have encouraged all schools to consider purchasing automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, as part of their first aid equipment. We refer to that in the new statutory guidance on supporting pupils with medical conditions at school.

In November last year, we launched new arrangements to help schools to purchase high-quality AEDs at a significantly reduced price. To make that as easy as possible, we also produced a guide, “Automated external defibrillators (AEDs): A guide for maintained schools and academies”, covering the issues that schools might wish to consider when purchasing an AED, including location, maintenance and access to training. It was developed in collaboration with NHS ambulance services and other specialists, including Dr Andy Lockey of the Resuscitation Council, who was mentioned by the

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hon. Member for Bolton West. I am pleased to confirm that as of 6 March, 227 confirmed orders under the scheme had been placed, for a total of 291 AEDs.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) touched on the important role that AEDs can play in communities. Many schools view a community-access AED as a tangible contribution that they can make to their community. The AED guide suggests that schools might wish to consider community access where such a solution also meets the needs of staff members.

Access to an AED is only part of the story. Every second is important when someone suffers a cardiac arrest, and first aid skills are vital to ensuring that help is available when it is most needed, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) pointed out from his own experience when his father had a cardiac arrest. I see why he is so passionate about the issue; he is an indefatigable campaigner on it, as he is on other life skills in the curriculum.

Therefore, the guide is clear about the importance of defibrillation and of CPR in the chain of survival. Schools will already have first aiders trained in CPR, but there is no reason they cannot use the purchase of an AED as an impetus to promote knowledge of those skills more widely within the school community; indeed, the Department for Education’s guide suggests that schools do that, and we hope that many of them will choose to do so.

The hon. Member for Bolton West made a powerful case that we should go further, persuasively arguing for CPR and life-saving skills to be included in the national curriculum. Similarly powerful speeches were made by my hon. Friends the Members for North Swindon, for South Derbyshire, for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). I listened carefully to the story of the PE teacher attending an interview at Mountbatten school and all I can say is that I hope to goodness that they were given the job of PE teacher at that school.

Caroline Nokes indicated dissent.

Mr Gibb: If not, I am sure that he or she has been snapped up elsewhere.

We heard powerful speeches from the hon. Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) and for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane); I am sure the latter will receive a letter from either Willie Walsh or Richard Branson, depending on which airline did not have a defibrillator. There was also a powerful speech from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

I recognise that the intention of the hon. Member for Bolton West is to ensure that more people have the knowledge and skills that could prove so valuable in assisting a child, teacher or someone visiting a school who suffers a cardiac arrest. However, whether teaching such knowledge and skills should be an addition to the national curriculum is another question.

The new national curriculum, which came into force in September 2014, represents a clear step forward for schools. It will ensure that all children have the opportunity to acquire the essential knowledge in key academic and non-academic subjects. However, I am afraid that it has now become somewhat routine for Education Ministers

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to come to such debates to make the case against the inclusion of a particular new requirement in the national curriculum. Proposals such as this are often supported by a persuasive argument, but their sheer number means that we need to start from a position of caution when addressing them.

The national curriculum creates a minimum expectation for the content of curriculums in maintained schools. Quite deliberately, it does not represent everything that a school should teach. Also, schools do not have a monopoly on the provision of education to children; parents and voluntary groups outside school also play an important role.

Many schools choose to include CPR and defibrillator awareness as part of their PSHE teaching. In the introduction to the new national curriculum, we have highlighted the expectation that PSHE should be taught, and improving the quality of PSHE teaching is a priority of this Government. However, we do not want to prescribe exactly which issues schools should have to cover in PSHE or other related parts of what we would call the school curriculum, as opposed to the national curriculum.

Prescribing a long list of specific content to be covered could be unproductive, leading to a tick-box approach that did not properly address the most important issues. Nor would it ensure that schools addressed those matters that were most relevant to their pupils. Indeed, we should trust schools to provide the right education for their pupils, within the overall framework of the national curriculum.

Julie Hilling: I had some optimism at the start of the Minister’s speech, but I have come back to a state of depression after listening to what he has had to say. He is talking about a list of issues that come to him, but how many of them could save 150,000 lives a year and how many would combine a range of issues including citizenship and boosting confidence? I ask him to consider the fact that this subject potentially has a special, indeed unique, position in our national curriculum.

Mr Gibb: I am not arguing against the inclusion of CPR in a school’s teaching curriculum; I am arguing about whether teaching these things should be statutory. There is more than one way to achieve an objective.

Also, if we look at the list of issues that people argue should be included for consideration in the national curriculum, we see that many of them would save a significant number of lives each year: relationships; drugs and alcohol; emotional and mental health, and well-being; emergency life support skills; homelessness; forced marriage; violence; transgender issues; tobacco; animal welfare; bullying; gambling; gender equality; cancer; symptoms of brain tumours in young people; fire and road safety; body image; the UN declaration on the rights of the child; environment; the dangers of carbon monoxide; cooking; media literacy; knife crime; parenting; chess; and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Those are all specific cases where Governments, including the previous Government, have been lobbied over the years for things to be included in the national curriculum. It would be easy for any Minister—Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat—to say yes to those issues, only to find that there was little time in the national curriculum

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for the core academic subjects that we want children to learn. However, that does not mean that we do not think those other things should be taught in schools.

CPR is included in the non-statutory PSHE programme of study produced by the PSHE Association, which should please my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North. That suggested programme of study, which was produced by some of the leading experts in PSHE teaching, includes teaching young people how to recognise and follow health and safety procedures and ways to reduce risk and minimise harm in risky situations, and how to use emergency and basic first aid. Many schools also make use of organisations such as the Red Cross and St John Ambulance to provide information to young people about first aid and dealing with emergencies.

The British Heart Foundation has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. It has offered to provide free CPR training kits to every secondary school in the country, allowing young people to gain first-hand experience of that important life-saving skill. The training kit covers how and when to perform CPR on an adult or child; how and when to put someone in the recovery position, which was referred to in the debate; and how and when to use a public access defibrillator. It contains an educational DVD demonstrating how to carry out CPR while trainees join in by using mannequins, so that no instructor is needed. The kit includes 35 mannequins, enabling every pupil in a class to learn CPR together.

We will work with the British Heart Foundation to promote that kit to schools. Indeed, the DFE is notifying all schools of the foundation’s “Call, Push, Rescue” kit in the next all-school termly e-mail, and we will continue to work with the foundation to promote its resources, as well as those provided by St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross, to all schools.

Many schools are already making good use of the resources and opportunities that are available to teach CPR, and to raise awareness of public access defibrillators. At Fulford school in York, for example, CPR training is managed by the deputy head teacher as part of his responsibility for pastoral care and character. One day each year is set aside to train all year 7 students; CPR training is part of their personal development lessons. At the last training session, around 30 teachers stayed behind to help and to learn the skills themselves. Feedback from the parent council has been favourable, as has been the response from students.

Other schools approach the training in a different way. For example, at Devonport high school for boys, CPR training sessions using the “Call, Push, Rescue” kit have been run in PSHE classes on Friday mornings. Since the school received the kit, year 10 students from three of the school’s six houses have undertaken the training.

I again thank the hon. Member for Bolton West and other hon. Members for their thoughtful and constructive contributions to the debate. I reassure them that I agree with them about the value and importance of first aid skills, and I also support access to defibrillators in schools. Although we do not believe that adding teaching on those issues to the national curriculum would advance the cause most effectively, we will always remain open to further discussions about the best way to promote those issues to schools and to ensure that schools have the resources they need to keep their staff and pupils safe.

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Lake Lothing: Crossings

3.58 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to raise the issue of a third crossing over Lake Lothing in Lowestoft. This is a matter of great importance to those living and working in the Lowestoft area. There has been a need for such a crossing for many years.

Lake Lothing, around which the port of Lowestoft is based, splits the town into two parts. At present there are two crossings: the bascule bridge at the eastern end, close to the town centre and the outer harbour, and a crossing at Mutford lock to the west, at Oulton Broad. The two crossings are inadequate, and congestion frequently builds up, particularly when the bascule bridge opens to allow vessels into and out of the inner harbour. A poor road network has blighted the town for a long time. It is a disincentive to people to go into the town and is preventing businesses from moving there or expanding there.

The challenge of building the third crossing has been considered many times over the years. It is not a straightforward task, although I believe that in the past five years the building blocks have been put in place that will enable the bridge to be built at last. I propose to explain why that is the case and what now needs to be done to take the scheme forward. The bridge will bring benefits not only to north Suffolk but to East Anglia and the United Kingdom, by developing the regional economy.

I am particularly pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), will be responding to this debate. Last summer, he started his fact-finding drive along the A47 from the centre of Lowestoft. He arrived early on the train. I drove him around Lake Lothing and he saw for himself both the problem of the bridge and the great potential that can be unlocked by building the third crossing.

I want to provide some historical context. There have been two crossings of Lake Lothing, approximately in their current positions, since 1830 when the first swing bridge was installed, linking the town centre to Kirkley and Pakefield. That bridge was replaced in 1897 with another swing bridge, the Jubilee bridge, which lasted until 1969, when it broke down. It was replaced in 1972 with the current bascule bridge. Two bridges over Lake Lothing were adequate while the main transport routes to Lowestoft were by sea and rail, but it was apparent even before world war two, with more reliance on road transport, that there was a need for a third bridge and that its absence was hampering plans to bring new employment opportunities to the town. The problem was compounded by the decision to construct a three-lane bascule bridge, which was illogical when one takes into account that there are four, and now sometimes five, lanes of traffic approaching it.

In the past 35 years, much of Lowestoft’s rich and proud industrial heritage has gone. The fishing industry is a pale shadow of its former self, the canning factory and the coachworks have long since closed, and there has been a move away from traditional home-based tourism. It would be wrong to blame the lack of a third

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crossing for their demise, but poor infrastructure to and around the town has hampered attempts to attract new businesses to the area.

The problems faced by coastal communities such as Lowestoft, which include inadequate infrastructure, are deep-rooted and will not be addressed in five years. However, since 2010 policies and initiatives have been put in place, and projects have been carried out, that will reverse the decline and enable the necessary road infrastructure to be built that can bring sustained economic growth back to Lowestoft.

First, the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth enterprise zone has been a great success, with 40 new buildings now completed and £19 million of private sector investment secured, including the developments on the Riverside business park, which adjoins Lake Lothing. On his recent visit to Lowestoft, the Prime Minister announced plans for the future expansion of the enterprise zone, which could include land in the surrounding area. To realise the full potential of the enterprise zone and the assisted area designation, good road infrastructure is required, including a third crossing.

Secondly, a major constraint on realising the full economic potential of the Lake Lothing area has been the lack of adequate flood defences. That was all too apparent during the storm surge of 5 December 2013, which hit the area particularly hard. It is vital for businesses investing in their premises that flood defences are in place. Thus it is welcome that funding has been secured for a £25 million flood protection scheme. This major engineering project will be constructed over the next few years, during which time temporary arrangements will be put in place to provide the necessary protection. Addressing that problem means that developments can proceed, which in turn focuses attention on providing better road infrastructure.

Thirdly, Lake Lothing is not the only pinch point in the Lowestoft road network, and work is taking place to sort the others out. The Oulton Broad North level crossing is a major cause of congestion, but a solution to improve the situation has been found. When the railway line to Norwich is re-signalled, the platform will be extended and the signal board repositioned, so that trains can run into the platform while the crossing remains open to traffic. That work should be completed in 2016 and will result in a considerable reduction in the time for which the barriers are down, during which congestion builds up along Bridge road, Normanston drive and Gorleston road.

The long-awaited final phase of the northern spine road, which removes traffic from the Bentley drive area to the north of the town, will be completed in the next few weeks. The scheme is taking place as a result of a £4.63 million pinch point fund grant from the Government. A relief road for Lowestoft has in effect been built in phases over the past 30 years, and the new section of the northern spine road is the penultimate item of work. The final piece in the jigsaw, which will link them all together and join the north of the town to the south, is the third crossing. It is thus right that we now focus our attention on its delivery.

Fourthly, for too long during the past 40 to 45 years we have built roads in a piecemeal, scattergun way, rather than by pursuing a strategic planned approach. That explains why the gestation period for many projects

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is elephantine and why some schemes are woefully inadequate almost from the day they open, as was the case with the new bascule bridge in 1972.

In the past year there have been encouraging signs that a strategic approach will be pursued in future, as the Government have carried out feasibility studies on six trunk roads as part of their road investment strategy. One of those roads was the A47, which links north Suffolk and Norfolk to the A1 at Peterborough. The A47 is at present of poor quality along much of its 119-mile length, and its unreliability has meant that it has not functioned properly as the gateway to growth that it should have been. In December, the Government announced an initial investment of £300 million for upgrading the A47, to include some dualling, junction improvements and extending the road to Lowestoft. This is good news, but it is not the endgame. It is only the beginning of a campaign for a full dual carriageway link from Lowestoft to the A1. That would enable the road to function properly as a gateway to growth and ensure that the whole area along the length of the road realised its full potential. It would create an estimated additional 17,000 jobs and an increase of £706 million per annum in economic output across the region. The new, upgraded A47 now starts on the south bank of Lake Lothing, which provides the context within which we can now plan for the third crossing.

A start has been made, with Suffolk county council commissioning WSP consulting engineers to provide an overview of options both to the east, close to the bascule bridge, and in the centre of Lake Lothing. The study considered the engineering feasibility, the budget costs and the likely effect on traffic movements of the options, and concluded that bridge crossings both in the centre of Lake Lothing and to the east are technically feasible. From analysis of the report, it is clear that more detailed work is required to produce a robust scheme that everyone can get behind and that can be promoted to secure funding for the bridge’s construction.

There are further issues that need to be addressed. First, there is the bridge’s location. It needs to be in a position that both enables traffic to flow smoothly around the town and enables the port and the businesses located there to realise their full potential and make the most of the exciting job opportunities emerging in the offshore energy sector. When one looks at how the various phases of what is in effect the Lowestoft relief road have been built over the past three decades, one sees that the obvious location for the crossing, to enable traffic to flow smoothly, is at the centre of Lake Lothing. During that time, port operations have changed and vessels have got bigger. If the crossing is to be in that location, it must be a high-level bridge that does not have a negative effect on the potential to bring jobs to Lowestoft and that serves the emerging offshore renewables sector. Lowestoft is well placed to benefit from those opportunities, due to its geographic position close to wind farms, the skills built up in the oil and gas sector over the past 40 years and the town’s growing reputation for expertise in offshore renewables technology.

Secondly, the report identifies further work that needs to be carried out to arrive at the optimum solution. That includes further traffic monitoring, taking into account not only existing traffic flows but changes that

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are likely to result from the completion of the northern spine road, new housing and new business development; full ground condition surveys and environmental investigations; an assessment of the impact of any scheme on existing buildings, including those that might have to be demolished; and the likely cost of necessary land acquisitions.

Thirdly, the business case for the third crossing needs to be worked up. Lowestoft has three economic assets: the port, the town centre and the south beach. At present, all three fail to realise their full potential due to the dysfunctional road system that serves them. The third crossing can solve that problem, thereby creating hundreds of new jobs. We must demonstrate how that will be achieved.

I am seeking Government support and assistance to take the scheme forward. The necessary background and preparatory work has been carried out, but we now need to move forward on two fronts. First, a full, credible and robust scheme needs to be prepared. The New Anglia local enterprise partnership and Suffolk county council have indicated that they will carry out that work if the Department for Transport confirms that it will give the scheme full and serious consideration and there is a reasonable expectation that funding for the bridge’s construction will be forthcoming. Will the Minister provide that confirmation?

Secondly, the work is detailed and will take some time to complete. While it is ongoing, it is important that short-term improvements are carried out to ensure that traffic flows more smoothly and to relieve congestion. Later this year, tidal flow arrangements over the bascule bridge, which are necessary as a result of the bridge having only three lanes, are due to be improved. The old signs and signalling equipment will be replaced. It is important that that work takes place on time. The Highways Agency is working with Suffolk county council on proposals to improve key junctions around the town, including the nearby Pier terrace, the Asda roundabout, Tom Crisp way and its junction with Blackheath road, and the junction by the Flying Dutchman. Will the Minister do all he can to ensure that those works take place as soon as possible?

For nearly 80 years, there has been a need for a third crossing over Lake Lothing, but requests to Governments of all colours have fallen on deaf ears. As a result, many people in Lowestoft feel let down by and alienated from those in Westminster. To get the third crossing built will not be easy. Plenty of challenges lie ahead, but there are reasons to be optimistic. First, the Government recognise the need for a strategic approach to building such large local infrastructure projects. It is helpful that the crossing is now on a strategic route, the A47, which has been identified as a growth corridor. Secondly, the acceptance of the need for such projects to be driven by local people and local businesses who know their area best, rather than by the man from Whitehall, is encouraging. Those people are better placed to understand what a scheme such as the third crossing can do for the Lowestoft and East Anglian economy. Finally, the success of the enterprise zone illustrates and confirms Lowestoft’s great potential, but that can be fully realised only by first-class infrastructure. In summary, there is a real opportunity to build the third crossing. I look forward to the Minister’s reply on how the Government will work with local people to turn that dream into a reality.

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4.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing this debate on the third crossing over Lake Lothing in Lowestoft. I know that the subject is of great importance to him and his constituents, including businesses within the area, and he spoke eloquently. I visited Lake Lothing and Lowestoft on 4 July as a prelude to my epic road trip along the A12/A47 that culminated at Peterborough. I know that the road is very important for a number of Members whose constituencies lie along it, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who I note is in her place.

Lowestoft is an important centre in Suffolk and the east of England. While its traditional industries, such as fishing and tourism, have declined over the years, the town has begun to develop as a key centre of the renewable energy industry in the UK. As with any key centre, having good transport links is vital for continued economic growth. With its particular geography—indeed, I believe it is the most easterly point of the British mainland—Lowestoft needs good connectivity to compete effectively. That goes for the country as a whole, and the Government certainly recognise the importance of an effective transport infrastructure to the economy and to delivering improvements targeted at supporting economic growth. That is why just before Christmas the Government announced the road investment strategy—the biggest upgrade to our motorways and key trunk roads in a generation. It is a £15 billion programme to triple annual investment by the end of the decade. It represents an enormous opportunity to transform the roads that traverse our nation and includes an unprecedented £3 billion of investment for the east of England, of which some £1.5 billion is new investment.

The key artery of the A47/A12 will see a £300 million package of improvements that includes dualling of three sections of the route and improvements to the Acle Straight and junctions around Norwich and along the A12 in and around Great Yarmouth. The aim is to address challenges and reduce congestion, delays and accidents on that key corridor. As part of the improvement package, we also plan to renumber the section of the A12 between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft as the A47. The renaming will better reflect the route’s nature as a continuous corridor. Time scales for the next stages of work are due to be published in the Highways Agency’s delivery plan, which is expected to be published later this month.

Improving our national networks is about not just roads, but railways. They are all part of the picture of improving connectivity, of which the proposed third crossing is a vital part. The Government support the key recommendations put forward by the Great Eastern main line taskforce. The group wants to see better rail journey times to East Anglia, with the journey to Norwich reduced to 90 minutes—the “Norwich in 90” campaign. We want to see bidders for the new Greater Anglia franchise incentivised to submit plans for achieving these recommendations for services and other associated benefits along the Great Eastern main line. In addition, east-to-west rail connectivity is important. We understand that good progress is being made on the ambitious east-west rail project, which aims to link Ipswich, Norwich,

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Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford by rail. Those are some of the fastest-growing urban centres in the country.

The local road networks in Lowestoft are vital for the local economy and for the journeys that residents make day in, day out. As Members will know, local roads are the responsibility of the local highway authority, which for Lowestoft is Suffolk county council. From 2011 to 2015, Suffolk county council received £74 million from Government for the maintenance of its local road network, with a further £18.5 million for local transport improvements. As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney mentioned, we have also invested in addressing known areas of local congestion through the Department’s local pinch point fund. In May 2013, Suffolk county council secured £4.6m of Department for Transport funding towards the £6.6 million cost of completing the Lowestoft northern spine road. That work is due to be completed shortly and will allow better traffic flows and a quicker route to the northern part of the A12. Members will be aware that we have made some substantial changes to how we fund local transport schemes. As part of the growth deal process, we have a more decentralised and devolved system through the local growth fund. That gives real decision-making power to local areas, allowing them to develop and prioritise key projects to best help to realise economic growth in their areas.

Transport projects play an important part in the process. The initial round of the local growth fund allocated about £6 billion to areas around the country, about £3 billion of which went to proposed new transport schemes. The local enterprise partnership for the east of England benefited, with £173 million allocated in the July growth deal announcement. A considerable amount of that allocation is for transport projects. In addition, a further £48.5 million was made available to the LEP through the second stage announced in January.

Many local transport schemes, such as the third crossing over Lake Lothing, will look for funding to further rounds of the local growth fund. However, the process is competitive and the funding is not a bottomless pit. Only the projects that produce the most compelling business case will be successful in securing funding, and they will also need to be top priorities for the LEP, as it determines which schemes are needed to deliver economic growth in the LEP area.

A third crossing at Lowestoft has been under consideration for some time now. I am aware that the Highways Agency commissioned a feasibility report into the options for a crossing at Lake Lothing a number of years ago, and I note the recent report commissioned by Suffolk county council to look at options for a new crossing. There have also been a number of public-facing events to gauge local opinion on the location and design of the options. The prospect of a third crossing appears to generate considerable local support, and I appreciate that my hon. Friend welcomes the momentum behind the project.

The Government would look to support well-evidenced local major transport schemes that are prioritised by the local enterprise partnership, would help to deliver local growth, and offer good value for money. We know that local residents are frustrated by the town’s long-standing traffic problems and want a solution, which is why, in July last year, the New Anglia local enterprise partnership

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secured £100,000 through the local growth fund towards development work to look at the options for a third river crossing in Lowestoft. That funding will enable the LEP to develop a more detailed technical feasibility study for the project. It is now for the LEP and its key partners to take that work forward.

As part of the next steps, I urge my hon. Friend and all the interested local partners to continue to help to take the project forward; to help to build an effective and convincing evidence base; to continue to gather strong local support; and to continue to develop that support through the LEP. We want to see local areas creating the best local infrastructure solutions for growth.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important topic, which I know has generated considerable local interest. I also thank him for highlighting the issues in Lowestoft. It is now for the LEP and local partners to take forward the assessment work and to consider the outcomes and the best way to take the proposal forward.

4.23 pm

Sitting suspended.

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The Hague Abduction Convention

4.30 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): It is a pleasure to meet under your chairmanship at this stage of the afternoon, Sir David.

The subject of the debate is The Hague abduction convention, which is more fully known as The Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. It dates back to 1980 and has force in UK law under the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985. Many of us, as MPs, will have come across the convention, perhaps from a number of different angles depending on constituents’ experiences. Such experiences can be brought to us either directly or by families whose members want to use the convention to try to ensure the restoration of a parent’s due and wanted relationship with a child, or by constituents or their families who feel that their family has been affected by a case taken under the convention in which their circumstances, or how events unfolded, have not been fully understood or appreciated.

The purpose of the debate is not to pretend that any of us in such cases, or in the general balance or mix of cases that we get, should look at the subject from the perspective of one interest or another, whether that of the parent who has custody of a child or that of the parent who is seeking custody under the convention. The real reason for proposing the topic for debate occurred to me in the light of experience. Some of that experience relates to a particular case; some relates to a few other cases in recent years in my constituency and in the wider area of north-west Northern Ireland.

4.32 pm

Siting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.44 pm

On resuming

Mark Durkan: As I was saying before the Division, I was prompted to introduce the debate by a number of issues and observations that have arisen from cases that have been shared with me by Foyle Women’s Aid—not all relate directly to people in my constituency, but all those involved have been using the support of Foyle Women’s Aid—and from some other cases.

I stress that at no point will I be questioning specific decisions in specific cases, nor will I be naming any of the people involved in the cases. That is partly because of the sensitivity of a current case, which I suppose has most prompted me to raise the issue. Just this week, a woman has had to return to Australia with her child, who was born in my constituency, on the basis of decisions that have been made following a case taken under The Hague convention.

I stress that I am not trying to involve the Minister in anything that would rightfully be within the purview of the devolved Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. Perhaps more importantly, I assure Ministers not just here, but in Northern Ireland, that in no way am I trying to second-guess any decision by any judge of the Northern Ireland courts. I want to be very clear that the Lord Chief Justice should have no concern with any of the aspects of the debate that I will raise here today. I do

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not believe that Members should use any forum of the House to try to second-guess or overturn decisions of judges or the courts.

Rather, the issues I want to raise today are about whether we as legislators need to give more consideration to The Hague convention as it stands, whether the 1985 Act is sufficient and whether additional light needs to be shed on the issue, given all the experience and understanding we now have in relation to the changes to family life and our understanding of it. There is also greater internationalisation of life now and far more complicated trans-jurisdictional arrangements are in place. Also, a more acute understanding has arisen as to the limited regard that different aspects of the law have had for key principles such as the best interests of the child. There is also the question whether the law is duly responsive to any evidence or allegations that arise about conditions of abuse that might have affected a child or that might affect a partner.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. A parent whose child has been abducted will be aware that their access to legal aid is restricted. Given the vulnerability of all the parties involved, does he agree that it is vital to ensure that they all have the assurance that they will be represented fairly?

Mark Durkan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. Legal aid is a key issue for anyone involved at either end of cases such as these, whether they want to bring a case to have their child restored to their custody or they find themselves accused and become a defendant in such a case. The question of legal aid, and the restrictions on it, is particularly acute. Although Ministers have, perhaps understandably, changed position on some elements of legal aid because of more specious cases or cases in which people were testing any sort of claim culture connected to accidents, the fact is that, for a parent, a case about their child is a matter not of calculated choice, but of the emotional imperatives that come with being a parent.

It is important that people should have as much recourse to legal aid as possible, and the decisions around legal aid should be duly sensitised to such situations. Certainly, in a recent case that I know of, a woman has found herself facing a case of child abduction, and on being told to take a child who was born in Northern Ireland back to Australia she found herself in precisely the position whereby she was weakened, so I know this can come on either side of such cases. I am sure that the Minister would be sensitive in all such situations, although we are talking in this case not particularly about one side or another, but about the balance of justice, which goes to the heart of the legal aid questions.

I want to return to the points that particularly concern me, which arise from decisions made recently. I am not concerned because the court made those decisions, but a question arises for legislators and for the Government as the transposing signatory to The Hague convention as to whether we are perhaps leaving courts in a position where they have to take decisions on fairly narrow grounds in fairly shady light, sometimes having to disregard evidence that people try to bring forward in relation to either abuse against them that they allege took place at

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the hands of the other parent or where they say they have evidence of ill treatment or questionable treatment by the other parent of the child.

It seems that the courts tend to set a very high threshold in relation to consideration of any such evidence, and also then say that it would not be for them to determine anyway, but would be for the court in another jurisdiction if the child was to be returned to that other jurisdiction. It seems that in child abduction cases the courts and the legal profession find themselves almost adopting a standard akin to the rules of the road. For instance, in car accident cases it is automatically presumed that if a person has driven into the back of another car, the liability lies with that person. It does not matter about any other circumstances or conditions; the court does not want to know. It is straightforward.

I hear such a message from people who have handled a number of cases, and the woman who has this week had to return to Australia felt that she was in such a situation. The evidence that she had been raising and pursuing was essentially set aside. That is not because the court did not want to know or because judges wanted to be insensitive to that, but that is not how the law stands and it is not how the law tests such things. Essentially, for the court, the real issue was to decide where the jurisdiction on the matter should rest, and the court has basically said that any of the other issues would be for a court in Australia to decide. That point does not stand alone.

The mother obviously appealed the decision that was made in respect of her and her two and a half-year-old child, but she had to give undertakings. On losing the appeal, she had to sign the following:

“The Appellant agrees not to institute, encourage or pursue any criminal proceedings whether in Northern Ireland or Australia, against the Respondent in respect of any of the allegations made against the Respondent in the course of the Hague Convention proceedings.”

Here we have The Hague convention being operated and brokered via the courts on the basis that, even if there is evidence that could give rise to possible criminal proceedings, as part of the discharge of a case under The Hague convention such evidence is not to be pursued.

As a legislator, I believe that that goes against the grain and the spirit of much of what we have heard from the Government in recent times about more responsive and alert reactions to evidence that arises in different family circumstances.

In this particular case, issues did arise around whether the child was exposed to risk. I do not want to go into any of the particulars of that, but the determination seemed to be that that was not a matter on which the courts would or could hear anything. Again, to my mind, that is inconsistent with the very clear standards that we hear ringing right across all the political institutions in recent times: in relation to the position of children, every effort will be made to ensure that the best interests of the child are fully considered and addressed.

In relation to how such cases are addressed, it seems to be very hard for anyone to find out whether anybody has the role of advocating the best interests of the child. It is not clear that the court is in a position to hear or take the evidence. Perhaps we need to apply some of the yardsticks developed under the Modern Slavery Bill, which states that in some instances there will be a child advocacy service whose responsibilities will be particularly

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to speak to and address everything on the basis of the best interests of the child. Perhaps that should be applied here.

I hope that the Minister and his Department, and his colleagues in other Departments, because I know this cuts across various Departments, will take the spirit of what has been said on so many other fronts and make sure that it also informs how we go forward with The Hague convention, in terms of how we address it as legislators, how the Government address their role as a signatory and how they take forward their discussion with other Governments in modernising The Hague convention and the various memorandums of understanding that go with that, so that none of what we are saying in relation to child abuse and domestic violence—violence against women or anything else—runs out when it comes to the very important and vexed issue of The Hague convention.

4.57 pm

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on obtaining this important debate. I thank him for allowing me to make an extremely brief contribution to add to what he has said about the importance of looking at the issues from the point of view of the child. Like him, I have a particularly difficult constituency case at the moment. I know that the Minister is aware of it. I will not refer specifically to it, but I want to raise the issues that concern me, which add to what the hon. Gentleman has already outlined.

There are issues about the content and operation of the convention, which mean that the best interests of the child are clearly not always served. I understand the importance of the issues of jurisdiction and freezing the situation where it is, but, in the constituency case that I have, it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be in the interests of the child for the decision-making process to take so long. A very young child has not had contact with one of their parents for two years. The likelihood of a relationship developing as one would want between a parent and the child—whether they live with them or simply have contact—is almost impossible. It is extremely heartbreaking and very difficult to deal with.

I am grateful to the Minister for the time that he has given to me and my constituent on this issue, but I do think that, in the circumstances—the hon. Member for Foyle is raising fundamental questions—this is a good time for the Government to say, “Could we be doing more? Should we be raising this in international forums? Should we be looking at how we can have the best interests of the child—as our legislation, the Children Act 1989, puts it—clearly at the centre of what happens?” I look forward to what the Minister will perhaps commit a future Government to doing.

4.59 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Simon Hughes): I am very happy to be serving under your chairmanship, Sir David. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for raising this really important issue. I am conscious that I can only deal with his constituency case by factual commentary, as it

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were, and not by intervention. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) has also spoken. I was very happy to accommodate her and her constituent when she raised an issue to do with Ukraine. Clearly that case has dragged on for a long time and I hope that we have been able to at least suggest the best ways forward in a difficult situation.

This issue is really important, as all colleagues know. Child abduction can have a devastating effect on the child, let alone on the other parent, who is left feeling that their rights have been violated. It can hugely damage the relationship between the child and both parents, actually—not just one parent—and the happiness of the family, the extended family and the like.

I would like to respond briefly to the general issue that the hon. Member for Foyle raised and then, because there is a lot of information that I would like to be shared more widely about where people can go for advice and help, I propose to write to him and put a copy of that letter in the Library for public record. I will copy that to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley as well, because I do not think everybody understands what the opportunities are, even though those may not be as extensive as people wish.

The hon. Member for Foyle specifically raised the 1980 Hague convention on child abduction, which is the key document. The purpose of the convention, although it has been there for a long time, is to set up obligations between contracting states aimed at seeking the return of a child, wrongfully taken or wrongfully retained away from the place where the parent believes they should be, to their country of habitual residence. However, it does not provide a legal court that can adjudicate, nor does it determine the parental rights. It provides a mechanism of communication between one country and another, if they are both participating countries in the convention.

The hon. Gentleman raised a case in Northern Ireland that relates to Australia, and the hon. Lady’s case relates to Ukraine. We have accepted the accession of the following countries and work the convention with them: Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Belarus, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Macau, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, St Kitts and Nevis, South Africa, Turkmenistan, the USA, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. For those countries, there is an arrangement, but that means that all the other countries do not have an arrangement. Therefore, for families whose child is taken somewhere else, we cannot even avail ourselves of the system that we have at the moment.

The 1980 convention provides a civil law mechanism to allow one parent to seek the return of a child wrongfully removed or retained. It is a summary procedure with the aim of getting the child back as soon as possible, so the court in the country of the child’s habitual residence can make its long-term decisions.

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that the test has to be about the welfare of the child and what is in the child’s best interests. That is what our court applies in England and Wales and what the courts in Northern Ireland and Scotland similarly apply. The test is the best interests of the child, always. The court that is seized with the responsibility will have to make that decision.

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Sometimes, as in the Ukraine case that the hon. Lady brought to me, in which that decision is going through the Ukraine courts, we have to watch—the parent has to participate if they can—as they make their decision, but we cannot exercise sovereignty over the courts of Ukraine or Australia, because they have their own jurisdiction.

The decision on whether or not to return the child is made by the court, applying the convention, in the country in which the child has been taken or retained. There are defined and limited grounds for non-return under article 13 of the convention. Under article 13(b), if

“there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation”

the child does not have to be returned. That is the test under the convention for the foreign court dealing with the case.

The Hague conference, which is the body that oversees that, has no enforcement powers, so we cannot take any country to court if they are not complying. Every four to six years, the Hague conference holds a special commission that allows countries to feed back on the operation of the convention. There have been two supplementary sets of decisions since then to try to make the system more effective internationally.

First, there was Council Regulation 2201/2003—the EU Regulation Brussels IIA—which has provisions to enhance the operation of the convention among EU member states. One such provision is that the court in one member state of the European Union should not refuse to return the child to another member state if protective measures have been put in place to protect the child in the member state of the child’s habitual residence. There is an additional obligation that helps in the EU but does not apply in the two countries that colleagues have specifically raised.

Subsequently, there has been a further development in terms of international agreement: the 1996 Hague convention on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition, enforcement and co-operation in respect of parental responsibility and measures for the protection of children. That was ratified by the UK in 2012 and it provides for greater co-operation between the central authorities in each contracting state, so that information on vulnerable children can be exchanged and measures to protect the child considered at an early stage.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, three different authorities in the UK act as the relevant post box and implementation authority. There is one for England and Wales, one for Scotland and one for Northern Ireland, so he would address, as I am sure he has, his engagement to the authority in Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady addressed hers and that of her constituents to the authority in England and Wales. They act as the agency, and in my experience, having looked at the Ukraine case, they do so very efficiently, but it falls short of what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we might need to do, which is beef up the system and decide whether we ought to have additional penalties or actions.

I have just some comments on how frequently this happens, and I have answered a couple of questions recently on the matter from the hon. Member for West

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Ham (Lyn Brown) and the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord). The central authorities in the UK have shown that, in the years 2009 to 2013, across the UK, the following number of parents have applied for the return of their child from another country under the convention: in 2009, there were 236; in 2010, there were 167; in 2011, there were 214; in 2012, there were 246; and in 2013, there were 243. There were some in each year from England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so there is a fairly consistent number of applications.

The courts in this country have prompted a consideration of whether we ought to do more. The previous Lord Chief Justice, I think—rather than the present one—has suggested that the matter ought to be looked at again, so it has been referred to the Law Commission. It reported recently, at the end of last year, and I refer both colleagues to its report, which was called “Simplification of Criminal Law: Kidnapping and Related Offences”. It recommended that kidnapping and false imprisonment, which are currently common-law offences, be made statutory offences, and that the kidnapping offence should be simplified, with some of the current elements of the offence removed and the offence of false imprisonment renamed “unlawful detention” but otherwise remaining unchanged. It recommended that the maximum penalty for child abduction be increased from seven years to 14 years and that the child abduction offence covering parents abducting children out of the UK be extended so that detaining children outside the UK without consent would also be an offence. That is a very important issue, because at the moment it is an offence to take a child illegally; it is not an offence to take the child legally and then not bring them back. That issue has been raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley and other colleagues.

Following the report’s publication, the co-chairs of the all-party group on child abduction wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in January to ask what action was planned, particularly on the new offences. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, who is a Minister in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, indicated that we would need to consider fully our response. The Law Commission published its impact assessment in February 2015. We, like any Government, have an obligation to respond within six months. We will do that, but self-evidently we will not get the response delivered before the general election. The issue will be on the desk of whoever is in the Ministry. I hope that I will still be the person responsible. I would be very happy to be that person, but that is a matter for a greater decision-making body—namely, the great British public. Let me reassure the hon. Member for Foyle, however, that the question whether we need to do more in the criminal law is very much alive. There is a problem of course, because if, for example, we added extradition to the ability to bring back someone who had taken a child away but was acting illegally and committing an offence, that still would not necessarily get the child back, so the answers are not as easy as we might wish.

I will mention a couple of other things if I may. There is a charity called reunite—the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady may have heard of it—which deals with a wide variety of queries on child abduction and operates a 24-hour helpline, funded by the Ministry of Justice.

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That charity’s statistics for 2014 suggest that domestic abuse is not present in many of the cases that it is involved in; the majority of its cases have to do with the breakdown of a relationship and one parent wanting to return to their home country with the children.

The other thing I should say is that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office regularly intervenes on these issues, is very willing to do so and, on an annual basis, takes up many cases with the authorities in other countries. I assure the House that we do not think that the present

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system can just be left to work. We do not have an international enforcement system; we have an international communication system, but on the agenda are propositions as to how we might make it stronger. I am open to all ideas and I hope that all those reading the record of this debate, as well as those participating in it, will feel free to send their ideas to us at the Ministry of Justice.

Question put and agreed to.

5.12 pm

Sitting adjourned.