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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 13 October 2015

[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Child Suicide Bombers

9.30 am

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of use of children as suicide bombers.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, but it is sad, to say the least, that it is in a debate on such a tragic and difficult topic. I welcome the Minister. I am very aware that he has faced a personal family tragedy related to an act of terrorism that included a suicide bombing. I am indebted to him for his willingness to speak in the debate, and I very much look forward to his contribution.

Although, like most people, thankfully, I have not suffered in the same way as the Minister’s family, I have had some contact over the years with situations of conflict. Although those do not constitute a declarable interest, it is perhaps appropriate briefly to establish my own background and interest in the topic. I have worked at times in places that have suffered from serious conflict. At one stage in my career, I was briefly surrounded by heavily armed individuals in Aden in Yemen, fearing that I might be about to be kidnapped. Fortunately, the situation was resolved, but I still remember the feeling of fear and helplessness. I have tutored around eight undergraduate and postgraduate prisoners in the H-blocks of the Maze prison in Northern Ireland, including some found guilty of bombings. I have worked in places such as the Namibia-Angola border not long after a major conflict. Perhaps in part because of that background, I am now the chair of the all-party group on explosive weapons.

I have for many years been an observer of conflict. I am drawn to this debate because of my judgment that we have entered a new era that brings with it some horrendous developments, of which child suicide bombers is, for me, the most awful. Although the first recorded suicide bomber was a young Russian called Ignacy Hryniewiecki, who in 1881 blew himself up along with the Russian Tsar, suicide bombings were comparatively rare until very recently. During world war two, the Japanese military at times used suicide missions, but it was never a regular or major feature of large-scale armed conflicts. I believe that developments that now mean that some states wage war on terrorist groups with such advanced technological weaponry that it is no longer a case of facing armies or armed groups face to face are a contributory factor to the rise in suicide bombings. Thus, when cruise missiles or drones are used, those on the receiving end increasingly turn to new forms of conflict and new targets.

The 21st century has become the age of the suicide bomber, and suicide bombing is growing exponentially as a chosen form of combat. A recent report by Action on Armed Violence revealed that in 2014 there were no

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fewer than 3,463 civilian casualties from suicide bombings, but in the early months of 2015, the number was already around 5,000. I would like to acknowledge the work of Action on Armed Violence and of UNICEF, both of which are observing today’s debate, and I hope to do them some justice. The weekend death toll of the attack in Turkey, which appeared to target demonstrators for peace, is a further example of how devastating such attacks can be.

A study by the University of Chicago claims that 36 countries have suffered from suicide bombings, with more than 30,000 people killed over the past 30 years, including in the UK and, of course, in this city in particular. I must, too, acknowledge an attempted suicide bombing at Glasgow airport. The number of failed attempts worldwide is unknown, but even fails can often cause alarm and affect people’s way of life.

What and who are suicide bombers? They are highly effective, because the perpetrator functions as a sophisticated guidance system for the weapon. Whereas advanced states can use technological guidance systems, terrorist groups increasingly use human beings, either on foot or in vehicles. Suicide bombers therefore operate as part guided weapons system, part weapon. Often, these attacks happen far away from a traditional battlefield, if such a battlefield even exists, and strike at the heart of civilian life, including religious or ethnic groups and economic and cultural targets. Their impact is psychological as well as physical, causing fear and disruption to daily activity. Some of the most horrific attacks appear to have simply targeted as many civilians as possible in urban areas.

Suicide bombers have often been associated with extremist groups such as Daesh and Boko Haram, but the phenomenon is escalating beyond those notorious groups. Most academic studies of what motivates suicide bombers address adults, which is perhaps unsurprising given that children as suicide bombers is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Such studies that exist, such as those of those of Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago and Professor Scott Atran of France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and the University of Michigan, can at times draw different conclusions, but they agree that overly simplistic views such as those of ex-President George Bush, who said that the suicide bomber

“hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises dissent”,

are, to quote Professor Atran,

“hopelessly tendentious and wilfully blind”.

Such comforting simplicity is no basis for understanding, let alone for constructing a policy. We need to understand much more about the motives and beliefs of adults before we can understand fully their motives for choosing to use children. One thing seems sure: addressing the problem by military means alone will do little to stop the spread of this horrendous practice.

The escalation in recent years of suicide bombings is happening along with the growth in using children as suicide bombers. The exploitation of children, treating them as mere dispensable tools of conflict, is a development that we do not fully understand. Such details as are becoming known confirm the need for everyone to refocus and do more to understand and address this trend. Examples of the growth in recent times of child suicide bombers are sadly not hard to find. It is claimed

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that some are as young as seven, although confirmation is often difficult. The youngest UK citizen to become a suicide bomber was 17-year-old Talha Asmal, who in June this year was involved in an attack in Iraq. It seems only a matter of time before even younger children among our own community become involved, unless we can find more effective preventive actions.

The scale of the problem worldwide is truly shocking. Take the case of Iraq. The Iraqi Independent Commission for Human Rights recently estimated that more than 1,000 children have been trained as suicide bombers in the six months up to May 2015. Think of it—1,000 children. In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council found that Daesh was recruiting

“children into armed roles under the guise of education”

and that they were being

“deployed in active combat missions during military operations, including suicide bombing missions”.

In Nigeria since July 2014, the latest information shows that there have been nine suicide bombings involving children between the ages of seven and 17, all of whom were girls. Many of the attacks in Afghanistan are carried out by children. It is reported that some as young as nine have been intercepted. Often trained in Pakistani madrassahs, they are very susceptible to indoctrination. There are reports that in Afghanistan, child suicide bombers are sometimes given an amulet containing Koranic verses, which they are told will protect them from the explosion.

Given the current crisis in Syria, it is instructive to note that Daesh is increasingly using suicide bombings involving children. Indeed, hundreds of children are undergoing training as suicide bombers in camps in Syria and Iraq. Daesh calls these children, “Cubs of the Caliphate”. There are several reports of hundreds of children being kidnapped by Daesh and forced into their camps. In February, a Daesh video was released showing a training camp for children. Renate Winter, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, claimed that many of the children being used as suicide bombers “are mentally challenged” and will have little or no idea of what is happening to them. It therefore seems probable that some of the young children being used are particularly susceptible to exploitation.

Furthermore, ongoing conflict in Syria and Nigeria is uprooting families and leading to many thousands of unaccompanied and separated children, who then become particularly vulnerable to terrorist groups. Put simply, it is comparatively easy to kidnap children under no one’s care. That is partly why I am particularly keen for the UK to welcome as many unaccompanied child refugees as possible.

However, it is, of course, not only via camps that children can be indoctrinated. The internet is well used by terrorists, radical clerics and others as a means of getting to young people and turning them. Indeed, there are as many channels for indoctrination as there are methods of training and education, yet it seems that the terrorists are ahead of the game in many respects. We need to know more and do more to protect children.

Wider concerns are now being expressed regarding child suicide bombers. UNICEF, for example, is concerned that the trend in child suicide bombers could lead to

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children increasingly being viewed as potential threats, placing many children at further risk. Furthermore, according to UNICEF, tens of thousands of children are receiving some form of psychological support as a result of the effects of conflict. People in psychological distress may be additionally vulnerable in many situations.

What is to be done? I have four matters to put to the Minster for reflection. First, we need to know much more about this phenomenon. Knowledge is a key requirement for effective action. Do the Government have any plans to increase funding for research in this area, and will they take a lead internationally in calling for and co-ordinating a much better resourced and focused investigation into the patterns and causes of suicide bombing involving children?

Secondly, will the Government take a lead in bringing together existing practice in providing education and psychological services aimed at counteracting the indoctrination of children?

Thirdly, will the Government at least consider putting together a taskforce, which may include cross-party membership as well as an appropriate range of professional experts, aimed at assessing the risks posed to young people in the UK and making recommendations to Government?

Finally, will the Government specifically aim to take in unaccompanied refugee children as part of their refugee relief programme?

As a new MP and one from Scotland, it would have been easy to avoid this difficult topic and to seek a debate on some domestic issue that was much less harrowing. Indeed, I know that some people may question whether this should be a political priority of mine; after all, I am not a spokesperson on either defence or foreign affairs. However, I am sure, that the Minister will fully agree at least about the importance of this topic.

9.44 am

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate, Mr Evans, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) on securing it and on giving us chance to participate. As I said to you, Mr Evans, and to the shadow Minister and the Minister, I have another Committee to go to, so I apologise for having to leave early. That does not take away from the debate’s importance.

When we think about this matter, we are aware of the horror of what takes place, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has outlined. I hope that examples that he has given and others will explain the true horror that comes from using children as suicide bombers. Unfortunately, as terrible as this is, it is a daily reality for hundreds of vulnerable, impressionable children. Understanding why it happens is simple: children are easy targets—they are easily impressed—and the people using children for these horrific purposes have no capacity whatever to care about that.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way so early in his speech, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) on securing this timely debate. The psychological welfare of young people has been mentioned, but how do we deal with the issue of

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children of Christian families in Syria being taken, with the threat of death to their families if the children do not carry out suicide bombings? I agree entirely that we need to address psychological welfare through education, but how do we deal with that situation?

Jim Shannon: I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for that intervention. I wish I had the answer he wants, but I am not capable of giving it to him. As he knows, however, the persecution of Christians is an issue very close to my heart. In last night’s Adjournment debate, I made the point to the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox), who secured it, that 600,000 Christian Syrians have been displaced because of their belief. Many of them have been given the ultimatum “convert or die”, and when their children are kidnapped and used for these nefarious purposes, there is all the more reason to be concerned about the situation. This is a big issue and it needs to be tackled.

Like the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, I want to put on the record my sympathies for the people who lost their lives in Turkey over the weekend. They were involved in a peaceful protest. Nothing violent was ever supposed to happen, but they were cruelly murdered and injured. We need to put on the record our sympathies for all those who lost their lives.

I lived through the Troubles; I am old enough to remember them and to have participated in uniform as a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, trying to thwart the activities of evil men and terrorists in Northern Ireland. I am also old enough to recall many of the people who died and the funerals I attended, all because of the evil activities of IRA terrorists. Again, perhaps those murders and bombings—indiscriminate bombings against innocent civilians, who were not involved in any way—give us just a wee insight into what happens.

The use of children in wars is nothing new; it is a tactic adopted by many in conflict. We can all conjure up the dreadful images of the child fighters used in Sierra Leone not so long ago, in other parts of Africa and in Burma, to name but a few. Again, children were used simply because they were children. Using them as suicide bombers is simply the next stage. It is a natural progression and means that a small child can be used to cause maximum devastation, while not sacrificing adult fighters who might be of more use elsewhere. That is what this is really all about: it is plainly and simply selfish. It has nothing to do with glory or anything else that fighters try to tell children. Let us not be under any illusion about that. The people who use children to fight or who strap bombs to their chest have absolutely no remorse. They do not care for or value human life; for them, there can be no consideration or distinction given for the innocence of a child.

In July this year, ISIS revealed the name of a young boy who had been responsible for the deaths of 50 Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Omar Hadid al-Muhammadi was just 14 years of age. Most of us sitting here today have children far older than that. Think back, Mr Evans, just for a second, to when your own nieces or nephews were just 14. What were they doing? I suppose that, like my own sons, they were staying out a little later with their friends and spending a little less time with their father and mother and a little more time with girls—having girlfriends one week and being heartbroken the next. That is life; that is what happens. At 14, however, they

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were still easily influenced. They copied their friends and followed the crowd, as teenagers often do in an attempt to fit in, but that is simple stuff; that is all part of growing up.

Being forced to strap a bomb around your chest is not part of growing up—nor is being told, as young Abdul Samat was, that bombs will not kill you but will kill only Americans. Those are the lies that children are fed, and they are brainwashed to believe them. The saddest thing is that they are also brainwashed to believe that killing Americans or British servicemen is the will of Allah, of God, and that they will be rewarded highly for it.

The children are well chosen. They are often highly illiterate and they are fed a diet of anti-western and anti-Afghan Government propaganda until they are prepared to kill, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath said in his introduction. As has been mentioned, the boys are also assured that they will miraculously survive the devastation that they cause. How can that be possible? A senior Afghan intelligence officer said:

“The worst part is that these children don’t think that they are killing themselves. They are often given an amulet containing Koranic verses. Mullahs tell them, ‘When this explodes you will survive and God will help you survive the fire. Only the infidels will be killed, you will be saved and your parents will go to paradise’.”

It is very clearly brainwashing, a conditioning of young people’s brains and minds.

At no time at all is it acceptable to use children as suicide bombers, and now that is spreading west—certainly the mindset is, anyway. In June this year, we learned that a 17-year-old British boy from west Yorkshire was responsible for the deaths of 10 troops near Baiji. In typical ISIS fashion, images of the boy emerged, in commemorative style, following the suicide attack. More worrying is the circulation of reports claiming that many people are not forced into carrying out these attacks, but request it. That is quite worrying. For someone who is completely committed to the Islamic State ideology, a hard-core supporter of jihadism and the caliphate, killing themselves in a suicide operation is the greatest honour that they can have. In territories controlled by Islamic State, there are even registers on which people can sign up to commit these attacks. The worrying thing is that they are brainwashed; they are conditioned to feel that it is the right thing to do. How do we address that issue?

The whole thing is glamourised. That is done purposefully to encourage easily impressionable children and young people into making dangerous and misinformed decisions. That is the heart of the issue and unfortunately it is not something that is easily resolved. In recent years, many adult fighters have found it increasingly difficult to hit their targets, and children generally prove to be more successful. For many families, there is little choice but to put their children directly in the line of fire, so to speak, in that they have to send them to schools to receive education but often those prove to be key recruitment areas for Taliban fighters. For many poor families in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a madrassa is often the only option to ensure that their children receive free education and safe lodgings; I mean “safe” in the loosest sense of the word. It is safer in terms of location, in that it is not in the streets, directly in the line of fire, but with the ever

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increasing threat of recruitment by Taliban fighters, the choices that parents are often faced with are extremely difficult.

Just as the fact that they are children makes no difference, nor does gender. A 10-year-old girl, Spozhmai, got international media attention when she was detained on 6 January 2014 in the southern Helmand province. She said that her brother had tried to make her blow herself up at a police checkpoint.

Perhaps the Minister and the shadow Minister will also mention this matter; I hope that I will be here for their contributions, but I may not be. The question is how we address these issues. I think that one thing that we need to do is, obviously, to have direct contact with those who are of the Muslim religion, because we have seen some indication that people with religious viewpoints are trying to persuade children and young people not to get involved.

We need to address the issue of cyber-contact. We need websites that are set up to combat the attractive scenes that they seem to set in ISIS areas. Last weekend, I heard that a group of people of the Muslim religion had set up a specific base to try to combat that. Are we working alongside such organisations to ensure that we address those issues? We have to do that in Britain as well, because the fact that young people are leaving here and going to fight for ISIS elsewhere in the world is an indication that something is not right. How do we address that issue? We need to speak to these young people. We need to be more influential. We need to be on the websites that they are looking at. We need to be telling them the truth.

In 2011, an eight-year-old girl was killed in central Uruzgan province when she carried remotely controlled explosives to a police checkpoint in a cloth bag—an eight-year-old. I ask the question: what did that eight-year-old really know? Cases of girls carrying out attacks are fewer, but they exist and I fear that they will increase as people are less likely to expect young girls to carry out such attacks. We must do more to protect vulnerable children from being recruited, brainwashed and ultimately tricked into sacrificing themselves for something that they cannot even begin to comprehend.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on bringing this issue to the House for consideration. I thank him for giving us a chance to participate, for highlighting such an important issue, for asking for change and for asking us all to use our influence where we can among those who have influence within religious organisations. With regard to websites and whatever cyber-contact there may be, we need to ensure that these people are persuaded that there is not a future in ISIS or in being involved as a suicide bomber and that the repercussions for them and for others are too extreme.

9.56 am

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, for the first time, at least in Westminster Hall, but undoubtedly not the last. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) on securing this very important and timely debate. I echo his remarks about our condolences to all those affected

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by the bombing in Turkey at the weekend and our outrage at such terrible events as well as those about the Minister’s experience and commitment to these issues; it is right that that should not be overlooked.

I am not totally certain about the protocol for these things, but I want to commend the House of Commons Library for the substantial briefing pack that it produced for the debate. It was extremely thorough, and I was struck in particular by the historical notes that it included on the role of children in conflict. It looked right back to the middle ages, when boys were used as pages; they would squire for knights and go into conflict. It went right through to the under-age boys and young men signing up surreptitiously to fight in world war two.

Just before the October recess, the Minister responded to a debate in this Chamber about the arms trade. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) spoke in that debate very powerfully about the role of child soldiers in conflict today. Some 250,000 children around the world have been conscripted into conflict against their human rights, as I will go on to say. My hon. Friend said that Governments around the world should be aiming

“to get children out of army uniforms and into school uniforms.”—[Official Report, 17 September 2015; Vol. 599, c. 396WH.]

The harm caused to children and the legacy for child soldiers during the rest of their lives is well known and horrific enough, but the use of children as suicide bombers takes the involvement of children to the extreme —an extremity that, sadly, seems to be becoming the norm. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) also spoke very powerfully about the complex and horrific circumstances and abuse that children experience, the conditioning that they experience, before they become a suicide bomber. That gives us all something to reflect on.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath said, the increasing use of suicide bombing generally and particularly that involving children perhaps reflects the changing nature of warfare today—the increasingly asymmetrical nature of warfare and conflicts around the world. It is important that we consider why that might be. We do not have an awful lot of time to do that today, but I would caution about what might often be seen as a willingness to rush into conflict rather than taking a diplomatic route. The use of indiscriminate and sometimes overwhelming military force, very blunt instruments in very complex situations, perhaps provokes equally blunt and horrific responses. None of that, of course, is an excuse for the use or involvement of children in conflict and particularly not as suicide bombers.

The rights of children are protected under the UN convention on the rights of the child, and over the past year we have marked 25 years since its signing and adoption. UNICEF has described the convention as

“the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history.”

As is often, sadly, the case, ratification and adoption are not necessarily the same as implementation, and there is still a duty on Governments around the world to reflect on how well they are implementing that convention—particularly article 38, which calls on Governments

“to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child…take all feasible measures to ensure that

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persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities…refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces”


“In accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population in armed conflicts,”


“take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.”

The recruitment of children as suicide bombers is in direct contravention of the rights afforded to children under the convention on the rights of the child. Indeed, the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court lists

“conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities”

in international or non-international armed conflict as a war crime. Anyone recruiting or using a child as a suicide bomber is, de facto and de jure, a war criminal under the Rome statute of the ICC. That is reflected in the optional protocol to the convention on the rights of the child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, and it brings home to us the gravity of the situation and the seriousness with which we should respond.

I want to reflect on two conflicts that are, perhaps, somewhat overlooked. First, I want to mention the situation in Nigeria, which my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath touched on, and in particular the use of women and girls as suicide bombers in that conflict. It would be interesting to hear what representations the Government have made, or are prepared to make, to the new President of Nigeria to seek a peaceful end to that conflict and to secure the protection of children.

Secondly, I want to highlight the reports on the worsening conflict in Yemen, into which children are being drawn as soldiers or suicide bombers. The Minister may be aware of reports by Amnesty International of weapons made in Britain being sold to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen; it would be interesting to know how he plans to respond to those reports. He can expect some written questions from me on the matter.

I do not have much more to add to the profound and detailed contributions made by the two previous speakers, but I want to echo the call made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath for information on how the Government plan to increase funding for research into the matter. What support can they provide for educational psychological services to counteract the indoctrination of children, and how will they assess risks posed to young people in the United Kingdom? How will the Government welcome and support unaccompanied refugee children into the UK? What comfort and security can those children expect when they attain adulthood? Will they be granted leave to remain in the UK, having spent their childhood here and grown up here after being taken in as refugees? Those are helpful examples of concrete steps that must be taken as part of a wider global effort to build peace and security, and above all to protect future generations from the horrors of war and conflict.

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10.3 am

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I offer my genuine thanks to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) for raising this topic. His contributions and those of the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) highlighted the chilling nature of this war crime, which is being perpetrated in many regions of Africa and the middle east, and which, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath mentioned, sadly also finds origins in the United Kingdom. We need a measured approach to the problem, but we must recognise that it exists, quantify it and look at how the UK Government can support efforts, in-region and across the world, to reduce and stop the crime.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath mentioned several countries—Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chad, to name just a few—where child suicide bombers are now being used. I had not noticed until my preparation for the debate this morning that there was a report only this weekend of women and child suicide bombers killing dozens of Nigerian refugees in Chad. The article states:

“Two women and children were among the five suicide bombers who attacked the village’s busiest markets”

in the Baga Sola region of Chad, where 36 people were killed this weekend. That emphasises the need to quantify, record and assess where, how and when child suicide bombers are used, and to take a proactive response to addressing the problem.

According to recent reports, ISIS has trained more than 1,000 children to become suicide bombers over the past six months, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath mentioned. Action on Armed Violence and UNICEF have taken a strong interest in the matter. In a report produced in August this year with the title “2015: an epidemic of suicide bombers”, Action on Armed Violence stated:

“Between January and the end of July this year, over 5,000 civilians have been killed and injured by suicide bombings globally. This is a 45% increase from the same period in 2014”.

That can be traced back to the increasing use of suicide attacks by militant rogue elements, such as ISIS/Daesh, which, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, is now training people under the soubriquet “Cubs of the Caliphate”. The United Nations Human Rights Council has found that ISIL is recruiting

“children into armed roles under the guise of education”

and that children are being

“deployed in active combat during military operations, including suicide missions.”

The Iraqi Independent High Commission for Human Rights has estimated that 1,000 children have been trained to become suicide bombers.

It is clear from the events in Chad this weekend that Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and southern Chad is using child suicide bombers to a greater extent. In fact, 75% of the suicide attacks in Nigeria in the past 12 months have been undertaken by children, all of whom, as the hon. Gentleman pertinently highlighted, were girls. That says something about the mindset of the individuals who carry out the attacks. Boko Haram is exporting

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these practices to the neighbouring African nations of Chad and Cameroon, neither of which had experienced suicide attacks before 2015.

The UNICEF representative in Nigeria has made the important point that child suicide bombers are as much victims of the terrorist activity as they are potential perpetrators. We should remember that and look at how we can address the problem. As the hon. Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, for Strangford and for Glasgow North have said, it is one thing for an adult over the age of 18 to determine that they will undertake such activity. Throughout history, there have been kamikaze pilots, suicide attacks and suicide protests. However, for children—particularly girls—to be identified, groomed, trained and sacrificed in these attacks is a new and horrific development. We should remember that in our discussions.

This is an international problem. Who would have thought, Mr Evans, when you and I arrived in the House 23 years ago, that there would be a situation such as this? A child has been groomed in Dewsbury, travelled to an area of the world where there is an international terrorist conflict and, in that part of the world, has blown themselves up to support a cause against the interests of the United Kingdom. Who would have thought, 23 years ago, that that would happen?

There are no party divisions on this issue; something has changed and something needs addressing. The difficult question for all of us is: what can that be? If there were an easy solution, we would undertake it. The question is, what could that solution be? I will throw a few ideas on the table, which I hope will help the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. We cannot necessarily solve this problem, but we can play a role in helping to understand and address it.

The first suggestion that the Minister could seriously consider, or at least comment on, was made by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath: do we know how many attacks involving children occur each year? If we see press reports of a suicide attack in a particular country, do we know whether it was undertaken by a child or an adult? Why does that matter? It matters because an attack undertaken by an adult may require a different level of motivation and response than that required in an attack undertaken by a child, which might be due to different circumstances.

All such attacks are treated the same in terms of press reports, news response and the impact on families such as the Minister’s family. We need to differentiate between them and examine which suicide attacks are undertaken by children and why. The UK Government will not make that assessment alone, but I welcome the Minister’s contribution on the idea of getting a proper assessment, through the United Nations and others, of what action is taken and how.

The second thing is a more fundamental issue that addresses not only child suicide bombers, but the development of terrorism and radicalisation generally: the use of the internet, promotional material and social media, and how that is regulated and monitored. Those are sensitive and difficult topics. The Government will look at those matters through Home Office legislation and will continue to do so on an international basis, but there has to be a balance between the freedom to

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promote ideas, the freedom to say things and the freedom to promote radicalisation via the internet and social media. I welcome the Minister’s contribution on that. We need an assessment of how we can deal with the issue in a positive and effective way. For example, I cannot control what happens in Syria or Chad, but I could influence people’s views on those issues through social media.

Talha Asmal was the 17-year-old from Dewsbury who detonated a vehicle fitted with explosives while fighting for a militant group in Iraq. Farooq Yunus from the Zakaria mosque in Dewsbury said that we have failed these boys. The community said:

“ISIS is running a sophisticated social media campaign and the community is concerned their faith is being used by hate preachers and internet groomers to manipulate their religion.”

It is very difficult for the UK Government to influence remote areas of Chad, where Boko Haram, an essentially fascist terrorist organisation that is not concerned about the rules of international law, captures girls and makes them go and bomb other regions of Chad. However, it is possible for the Minister, with Home Office colleagues, to look at what material comes through the internet to people such as Talha Asmal in Dewsbury. It is possible to try to track that back to see where grooming takes place. We would do that if it were paedophile material or if people were trying to secure individuals for sexual purposes. We approach this in a controlled, libertarian way, but in a way that ensures that radicalisation does not take place using those methods.

We should also look at what we need to do in-region, and that is where the Foreign Office will play its role. The hon. Member for Glasgow North mentioned the Nigerian president and the new Nigerian Government. I confess that they are probably as concerned about what is happening in northern Nigeria and southern Chad as the UK Government are. The question for us is, what can we do to support them to achieve their objectives of cracking down on Boko Haram and on suicide bombings by children and others? How can we help to strengthen community leaders, give advice to Governments and potentially help them with some of the issues of social media and radicalisation? We should look into how we can strengthen responsible community leaders where we can. We are not responsible for Chad and northern Nigeria, but we can help to support the Governments accordingly. It will not be simple but it is important that the Government have a strategy to look at those areas.

I was particularly struck by the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North, which I also wanted to make: that this is clearly and utterly a war crime. Would the Minister give a signal? If we have evidence that a suicide bomb in a particular country—as in the Minister’s own personal case—killed a UK citizen, in respect of war crimes should we not look at those who are potentially radicalising but not actually committing the offence as well as the issue of international murder? Will the Minister clarify what steps he believes we should take with those who are grooming and training, or developing into, suicide bombers who we know, through intelligence or through co-operation with other Governments, are undertaking those activities? There is potential for us to look at how we can help to facilitate those prosecutions and that activity. There is a role for

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the UK Government, on an international stage, to support the development of tackling war crime issues in international courts.

Finally, I would appreciate the Minister’s support of the suggestion by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath about unaccompanied children. If there are instances where the UK Government can help, a very productive way to assist vulnerable refugees would be for the Government to look at how we can help to take people out of conflict zones and into a place of safety. Children are made into potential suicide bombers for a range of reasons, but it is clear that their being separated from their families and falling into company encouraging such activities is certainly not a positive thing.

I welcome the debate. There will not be much difference between us on the fact that the issue is chilling, horrendous and needs to be stopped. I have mentioned some suggestions that we could look into. The Minister will, undoubtedly, make a contribution in other areas. The key thing is that, although we are not directly responsible for prevention in all spheres, there are things that we can do.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath for giving us this opportunity to air the issues. I hope the Minister will be able at least to highlight some concrete potential areas of travel so that we can play our role in helping to end the conflicts that lead to this activity, to take action against the terrorist organisations that are destabilising many areas of Africa and the middle east and, particularly, to do what we can to stop the chilling phenomenon of child suicide bombers.

10.20 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I join other Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) on securing this important debate and on his measured contribution. He struck the right tone. I also thank him for his personal comments. My family and I are grateful for the manner in which he raised those issues.

I thank other hon. Members for their contributions, and I welcome the shadow Minister to his role. He and I have known each other for some time, although not for 23 years—I have not been here that long. He comes from a Home Office background, and he has huge experience of security matters. I am pleased to see him with a Foreign Office brief. He will have much to contribute.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) covered a number of issues concerning Nigeria and Yemen, which I will address. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is a regular contributor to such debates, is unfortunately not able to be in the Chamber, but he highlighted the brainwashing of children, which I will also address. I will focus primarily on the remarks, comments and thoughts of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

The use of children as suicide bombers is a grave issue, and I am sure the House is united in its condemnation and deep sadness at the practice. As we have been reminded just this weekend in Turkey, any suicide bombing is a tragedy, and the use of children as weapons in that way is truly heartbreaking. Children involved in suicide attacks, as elsewhere in armed conflicts, are first and

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foremost victims, not perpetrators, as the shadow Minister said. Sadly, the use of children in conflict is nothing new. For example, thousands of children fought in the Napoleonic wars and in many conflicts since, including both world wars. In more recent times, children have fought in conflicts in places such as Cambodia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Uganda, Chad, Burundi, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia. There is a long list of countries in which such tragic events have taken place.

What is new is the horrifying way in which children are being used as instruments of violence. As has been said today, it is a chosen form of combat. Children are lured with false promises of paradise in the afterlife, or forcibly coerced by terrorist organisations, into carrying out suicide bombings against both state and civilian targets. The nature of conflict is changing, but the way in which terrorist groups in particular exploit the most vulnerable in society in pursuit of ever more barbaric attacks is both abhorrent and cowardly.

I will set out the need both to work towards resolution of specific conflicts and to seek to address the underlying issue of extremism, which can lead to such appalling acts of violence. I will also address the four measures mentioned by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. The increasing spread of suicide attacks has principally been driven by two armed groups that have been mentioned today—ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram mainly in north-eastern in Nigeria—although we remain deeply concerned about the use of such tactics by other terrorist groups, including groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

ISIL has used co-ordinated suicide attacks as a key part of its military strategy, and we have seen reports of children in isolated areas being forced into military training after the militant group closed their schools, leaving an estimated total of more than 670,000 children without the opportunity to receive a proper education. ISIL bombards the internet daily with shocking images of children with weapons, and even of children being present at executions. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights estimated in May that ISIL may have trained up to 1,000 children as suicide bombers since November 2014. A major step towards eradicating the abuse of children as suicide bombers is to attack the organisations that recruit them. We are utterly clear in our determination to defeat ISIL. The only way to relieve the suffering of children and adults affected by ISIL, and to counter the real and significant threat to the UK and our allies, is to defeat ISIL and establish peace and stability in the region.

Another worrying trend is the way in which ISIL, in particular, is luring young people to Iraq and Syria, as hon. Members have said. More than 700 UK-linked individuals have travelled to Iraq and Syria in recent years, and we know of at least six British nationals who have carried out suicide bombings, the youngest of whom was only 17. The problem is not confined to the so-called foreign fighters; we have also been shocked by the stories of young schoolchildren turning their backs on the safety of family and homes in the UK and of parents bringing their infant children with them into harm’s way in Syria.

In response, earlier this year, the Government introduced new legislation in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which provides the police with temporary

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powers to seize a passport at the border and places the Government’s deradicalisation programme, Channel, on a statutory footing. There will be new powers to add to existing terrorism prevention and investigation measures, and there will be targeted discretionary powers to control the return to the UK of British nationals suspected of terrorism offences. There will be enhanced aviation security powers, too, and insurers will be prohibited from reimbursing payments made in response to terrorist demands.

Internationally, the UK is at the forefront of global efforts to counter ISIL. In the UN, we supported the adoption of resolution 2178 calling on all countries to take appropriate measures to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria. The UK is playing a leading role in the global coalition of more than 60 nations committed to defeating ISIL. Together, we are working to defeat ISIL on all fronts: militarily; cutting off ISIL’s finances; reducing the influx of fighters; challenging ISIL’s ideology, and providing humanitarian assistance.

Boko Haram has regularly used child suicide bombers in Nigeria and neighbouring countries. It deliberately targets the weak and vulnerable, and it aims to sow seeds of unrest between communities. We estimate that more than 20,000 people have been killed and more than 2.2 million displaced by the insurgency. The use of children as suicide bombers is a particularly heinous example of this terrorist organisation’s brutality, but we remain firm in our commitment to Nigeria and its regional partners in their fight against terrorism. We are providing a substantial package of UK military intelligence and development support to Nigeria, which includes increased training programmes and advice on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. We have also provided £5 million to support a regional taskforce against Boko Haram itself. Like ISIL, Boko Haram must be defeated, and we are determined to ensure that it is.

More broadly, as we have seen in conflicts across the world, children continue to be used as soldiers. We are working with the UN, which leads the international response on that issue. The response includes pressing parties listed in the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict to enter into concrete action plans with the UN to verify and release any child soldiers associated with armed groups and forces. We also support the campaign of the Secretary-General’s special representative to end the recruitment and use of children by Government armed forces in conflict by 2016. The UK is providing £150,000 in funding over three years to support the UN office of the special representative, which has served to increase the special representative’s capacity to monitor emerging situations of concern, in line with Security Council resolutions 1612, 1882 and 1998 on children and armed conflict. The UK has also contributed funding to support a child protection adviser in the African Union to strengthen AU policies on preventing child soldier recruitment.

The UK recognises that education is important to preventing recruitment in the first place. We have therefore allocated more than £110 million for protection, psychological support and education under the “No Lost Generation” initiative since it was launched in 2013. Partners include the Department for International

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Development, UNICEF, the EU and Save the Children. The initiative aims to avert having a lost generation by ensuring that every Syrian child gets a good-quality education and access to child protection and much-needed psychological support. The partners have worked with host Governments in the region in an effort to mobilise predictable long-term finance in support of national educational sector plans with strategies for refugee children to access education through public schools and alternative education provision.

On the four specific proposals mentioned by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in his speech—I was grateful to receive them beforehand, so I have no excuse for not replying to them—he first raised the importance of understanding the entire issue. The Government’s cross-departmental research, information and communications unit conducts research on a wide variety of issues related to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism. One such report, issued in February, analysed the use of children in ISIL propaganda, which has escalated in recent months, although we have yet to see an ISIL video that actually includes a child suicide bomber. The Government also continue to draw on the wealth of academic research being carried out in this country and others.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman raised the importance of countering the indoctrination of children. Defeating terrorism is a job for us all, as the Opposition spokesman described. That means that individuals, families, communities and Governments must work together to expose the hateful beliefs of extremists, deny them space in which to operate and protect those who are vulnerable to radicalisation. One aspect of the Prevent strand of the UK counter-terrorism strategy is to protect vulnerable people, including children, from being drawn into terrorism. We are also working closely with international partners to address extremist material online and mobilise civil society to challenge extremism and find more effective ways to counter ISIL’s messaging.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman asked about creating a taskforce to address the issue. Although there are currently no plans to do so, I reassure him that the Government consult a wide range of stakeholders and experts as part of the policy-making process and will continue to do so as our extremism strategy is announced and rolled out in the coming months to ensure that it is as effective as possible.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the plight of unaccompanied refugee children. Through the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme, the UK is helping some of the most vulnerable refugees, including survivors of torture, women and children at risk and those in need of urgent medical treatment. As the Prime Minister announced on 7 September, we will expand the existing scheme to resettle up to 20,000 Syrians in need of protection during this Parliament. I stress that that is in addition to those whom we resettle under the gateway and mandate schemes and the thousands who receive protection in the UK under normal asylum procedures.

Mr Hanson: On that point, can the Minister shed any light on this? He has mentioned again the figure of 20,000 during the course of this Parliament. Does he have any indication of how many of that 20,000 he expects, let us say, within the next nine months, which will be a critical time given where we are in the refugee crisis?

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Mr Ellwood: The Prime Minister has appointed my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) to be the Refugees Minister, and he answered questions on that issue yesterday. It is not for us to do the actual selection—it is being done through UN agencies—so I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the specific number, but I will write to him with more details about how the process is forming. Time permits me to cover some of the other points raised by the right hon. Gentleman. He asked how many attacks are being made by children rather than adults. I do not have those statistics to hand, but I will certainly write to him in more detail. He is absolutely right: the approach that we take will differ depending on who is involved, and we will be able to focus in more detail if the numbers prove that in certain areas, children are used in preference to adults.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the use of social media. That is the big difference between non-state violence today and 10 or 15 years ago: a terrorist group based in far-off, distant countries can reach families and individuals here in the UK and in other parts of the world. I was astonished and taken aback when I saw the horrific images on television of the Jordanian pilot who was burned alive, but three weeks after that event, several teenagers made the journey from the UK via Turkey into Syria after seeing ISIL’s barbarity and what it stood for. It reflects, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the work that needs to be done with our communities to ensure that such people understand where they are going and what will happen to them when they join ISIL on the front line.

The use of social media is critical, and it is fair to say that we are only now coming to terms with how it is being leveraged. The information that ISIL produces online does not have to be accurate or legal, but every counter-message that we put out needs to be. I am hosting a summit at the end of this month on online extremism. We are inviting Facebook, Google, Twitter and a number of other organisations whose sites are used as vehicles by extremist organisations to pass along messages to share common practice on how to get the upper hand in countering such messages.

I also co-chair the smaller working group on strategic communications as part of the larger counter-ISIL taskforce, working with the United Arab Emirates and the United States. The Sawab centre has been set up in Abu Dhabi to monitor Twitter feeds and provide replies to some of the messages that we are seeing there, to ensure that there is an alternative view and that when ISIL puts out messages to attract people, there are imams there to say, “This is wrong. This is not how Islam should be interpreted.” It is a major step forward in countering that online messaging. It was launched last month and is already having huge success.

The Prime Minister has also announced £10 million to be spent on a co-ordination cell in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to draw together experiences not only of what we are doing in the UK, for example through the Prevent strategy, but of what other countries around the world are doing to counter extremism and the ability of such organisations—not only ISIL and Boko Haram—to recruit the young and vulnerable in society.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what more we can do in the region. I will probably have to write to him in more detail on that, but I will give the example of

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Tunisia. The people who attacked Sousse in June were trained by ISIL extremists in Libya. We are now working with Tunisia on a series of levels: first, on first responders, with which he will be familiar; secondly, on gathering intelligence for a better understanding of the networks operating in that country; thirdly, on tackling the ideology itself, which goes to the core of the work that needs to be done on social media and so forth.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said that this is a war crime. He is absolutely correct; it is. Where it has been possible to track down those who have been grooming and training, via the internet or otherwise, arrests have been made.

It is very important to have this debate, not only for the Government to place on record what we have been doing, but so that we can understand the mood and concern expressed by parliamentary colleagues who want Britain to do more in the face of this immense challenge. As we heard today, children continue to be targeted, coerced and exploited during conflict, and that includes children abused by being used as suicide bombers. We must do everything we can to end those abhorrent abuses, which means degrading and defeating barbaric organisations such as ISIL and Boko Haram and working with our partners in the region and around the world.

We must also continue to use our diplomatic, security and intelligence capabilities as part of the Contest programmes—our counter-terrorism strategy—that we run to pursue and disrupt terrorist organisations where they threaten the UK and our interests overseas. Critically, as the Prime Minister said at the General Assembly of the UN last week, we must

“take away the building blocks of extremism that lead people to an extremist world view, that then takes them to an extremist terrorist view.”

In the appalling cases that we discussed today, that view can lead them to exploit and murder children.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath for the opportunity to set out the Government’s position today and to hear the views of parliamentary colleagues.

10.41 am

Roger Mullin: I pay tribute to everyone who participated in the debate. I hope that it has been an important opening up of an issue to which we will no doubt return in different settings in the coming months, before we find better ways of moving forward. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for his response to my suggestions. I would like to reflect on a couple of matters.

One is about the need for research. I heard what was said about the Government having undertaken internal reviews and talked to academics and the like, but we need more of what academics call primary research. It struck me that when looking at the emerging numbers and patterns, we are inevitably drawn to make assumptions about motives and the motivations for what has happened, and I am as much at fault as anybody in this debate. However, rather than base our understanding on assumptions made through the prism of our culture and where we are based, we need more primary research to get into the hearts and minds of those involved in these horrendous activities. Such research would be tremendously difficult to undertake. Academics have

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made a few forays into the field, but we need to consider how more could be done to understand properly the motives and connections that lie behind these activities. I hope that the Government will continue to think about how they can improve their knowledge base.

Secondly, I ask the Government to pay further attention to refugees. I heard and understood what the Minister said about the assessments of who are appropriate refugees coming from other agencies, but the Government provide those agencies with the brief setting out their concerns. I ask the Government to ensure that there is sufficient resource and back-up available in the UK and that those agencies that undertake assessments on behalf of the Government, as part of the refugee programme, pay attention to the problem of unaccompanied children.

In the past couple of weeks, I have spoken to different agencies involved in providing counselling and psychological services in my constituency, including a migrants forum that provides befriending services and the like. I assure the Minister that people in the voluntary sector, as well as the statutory sector, could provide better meaningful support here to some of those young children than can be given in a camp, and I am sure that that is true for many parts of the country. I simply ask the Government to give that matter further consideration.

The main thing that I want to say to everybody is thank you for participating in the debate. It has been important and I hope that we will all charge ourselves with the task of keeping a strong focus on the issue.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of use of children as suicide bombers.

10.44 am

Sitting suspended.

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Prostitution (Prosecution Trends)

10.55 am

Mr Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That this House has considered trends in prosecutions for prostitution.

Women who sell sex on the streets have always been the most visible, most vulnerable and most stigmatised part of the sex trade. However, in the past two years, for the first time in our recent history, they have also become the most targeted by the state. In this debate, I will outline how the burden of criminality has shifted in our law courts between those who sell sex and those who procure it. Remarkably, despite there being a broad and publicly stated consensus among the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office, survivors’ groups, health services and academics that women in prostitution should be diverted from our criminal justice system, those women are being targeted—in some cases, at twice the rate of men.

We in this House know that views on prostitution can be deeply polarised. For some, prostitution is simply a matter of private choices, while for others the harm that it inflicts on individuals and communities requires the state to take proportionate action. It is therefore no surprise that our legislators rarely visit prostitution policy. It is politically charged; a subject where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head-on with notions of liberal freedom, and where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base and, frankly, very few votes. Also, I have yet to see evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population, within which one in 10 men have purchased sex. Therefore, it is little wonder that last year’s report by the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade, which I chair, on how the law should change was the first major cross-party intervention on this subject for some 20 years.

In taking evidence for that report, we spoke to women who sell sex and the men who buy it, as well as to the agencies we ask to police prostitution and the services we ask to pick up the pieces. Our conclusion was stark: because our lawmakers send no clear signals about the nature of prostitution, the most visible people involved—those who sell sex—are targeted, while the men who create the demand often walk away, without taking responsibility for the damage that they do. Therefore, the figures that I will highlight today are just another symptom of a broader problem.

Once, there were consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, brothel-keeping and control of prostitution, but in each year since 2013 there have been more prosecutions for soliciting and loitering than for profiting from prostitution and kerb crawling. In simple terms, offences that are, by and large, committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pockets have a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted, and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts and in prosecutions, the most vulnerable party involved in the transaction carries the burden of criminality and punishment.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. Let us take

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on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14, just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 prosecutions—more than twice as many—for soliciting and loitering. There is a similar pattern in the 2014-15 figures, with 227 charges for kerb crawling reaching court compared with 456 prosecutions initiated against people selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution—pimping—were brought in the same year. Those figures refer to men and women on the same streets, and it takes a particular kind of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex rather than by men wishing to purchase it. Yet it is women who sell sex who are targeted in our law courts, not the men who create the demand in the first place.

The current situation goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s own guidance:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women (VAW) strategy because of its gendered nature. As with other VAW crimes, a multi-agency approach is needed to enable women involved in prostitution to develop routes out of prostitution, and to provide the most appropriate support…The ACPO’s policy and strategy for policing prostitution is clear in its commitment to recognise prostitution as a victim-centred crime, and that those who are abused and exploited require holistic help and support to exit prostitution. There is a need to adopt a multi-agency approach and work with voluntary sector organisations to enable those involved in prostitution to change their lifestyles and to develop routes out.

At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

That is the guidance—why then is this happening? For the same reason it always does. In our criminal justice system, stigmatised poor women are still, tragically, valued less than moneyed, often professional, men. As I have said, the number of prostitution-related offences is down, but that does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, nor in its inherently exploitative and violent nature.

Some reductions could be welcome. For example, the 75% reduction in prosecutions over the past six years for brothel keeping could reflect a more sensitive approach by the police to the requirement to protect, without coercion, a small number of women working together, but between 2008-09 and 2013-14 there was a nearly 50% drop in prosecutions for pimping, a 35% drop in prosecutions for kerb crawling and a 74% drop in prosecutions for advertising prostitution. All those offences concern the people who create the demand for, or exploit, the most vulnerable in the transaction—women who sell sex. And it is still women; prostitution remains highly gendered, with the 2004 Home Office publication “Paying the Price” putting the ratio of women to men at 4:1. In 2014-15, more than double the number of prosecutions were initiated for soliciting and loitering—offences committed by and large by women—than for kerb crawling, which is committed almost exclusively by men. In fact, in the past two years there have been more prosecutions for loitering and soliciting than for pimping, brothel keeping, kerb crawling and advertising prostitution combined. There may be an alternative explanation, but my reading of the figures is that there is a consistent thesis that as police funding has been squeezed, the focus of the law around prostitution has been diminished and downgraded, the level of resources going into ongoing and targeted operations to prevent exploitation

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has reduced, and instead of going after those who create the demand and enable pimping, advertising or coercion—for understandable reasons the most resource-intensive operations—the authorities are going after the most visible part of the trade, and the quickest win: the women.

Despite differing views about how the legal settlement should be enacted, all sides in the debate have come together in the desire to see women diverted from the courts. Let us remember that it is still possible today, in 2015, for women to go to prison for offences related to prostitution, for example, for being unable to pay fines imposed for a series of prostitution-related offences. This debate raises those issues directly with the Ministers responsible, in the hope that they will reiterate and reinforce the current guidance and direct the police to take more measures to tackle demand rather than supply. To be honest, the prosecution bias against women in the law courts is not the problem; it is merely a symptom. The bias will be tackled only when the law reflects the inherent harm the trade presents to women, rather than sending mixed signals.

In the 2014 report produced by our all-party parliamentary group on prostitution and the global sex trade, “Shifting the Burden”, alarming submissions highlighted the number of women in the trade who were survivors of child sexual exploitation, or were care leavers, or who had entered at an age where they could not consent. For most women in on-street work, drug and alcohol abuse is a fact of life. All that is a world away from the myth of the “happy hooker” promoted on television and in film. We reported that the legislation is complicated and confusing, and that loopholes still exist that allow men to escape prosecution for abusing girls as young as 13, and for trafficking women into the country to be raped repeatedly.

We also showed that policing and enforcement is unevenly prioritised and resourced across the country, with a few exceptions that are made possible only through extraordinary political leadership at a local level. We examined why girls at risk of entry were not effectively diverted and why women who wished to exit were unable to do so, often as a direct result of the law’s stigmatising effect, and we looked at how notions of choice were deeply problematic where the sex trade was concerned. We also demonstrated the effect that prostitution had on wider cultural attitudes with regard to gender equality and how demand might be tackled by making it less socially acceptable to choose to buy sex.

In short, we recommended a shift in the burden of criminality from the most vulnerable and marginalised to those who create the demand in the first place. That is why I welcome the work of the “End Demand” campaign, with more than 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, and advocating the adoption of a sex-buyer law throughout the UK. Such a law would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Next month, the campaign’s report by a commission of expert witnesses on how a sex-buyer law could effectively be put into practice will be published, and I welcome that. Regardless of big changes in the law, however, I do not see how anyone can support the current state of affairs, with more prosecutions being brought against women than against men.

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I would welcome the Minister’s addressing the following issues in her response. First, I would welcome her reiterating the guidance about the diversion of women from the criminal justice system wherever possible, and reinforcing the instruction to go after those who create the demand, or coerce or exploit those in prostitution. The ratio of women to men being prosecuted should return to pre-2013 levels. Secondly, will the Minister update the House on the progress of the violence against women and girls strategy on which consultation recently closed? Specifically, will she inform us whether the Westminster Government will follow the example of Holyrood and formally treat prostitution as a form of violence against women?

Thirdly, will the Minister state what more can be done to ensure that the police are directed—and have the resources—to go after those who control and create the demand for prostitution rather than their using crude measures to move on-street prostitution on, further trapping women in cycles of abuse? Finally, will she reassure me that the authorities are not targeting women because they are easier to arrest and prosecute? That goes against the Government’s own guidance, and against common sense and any sense of natural justice. In doing all that, I hope that the Minister will be able to make things an awful lot safer for one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.

11.9 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): It is an honour and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker) on securing the debate, and on his article on the New Statesman website, which I recommend to anyone listening. I know that he takes a great interest in this area, and I appreciate the points he raised. It is clear from what he said, as well as from the previous debates during the passage of the Modern Slavery Bill, that he and other hon. Members have strong views on this issue.

I start by reassuring the hon. Gentleman that the Government and I share his clearly stated desire to protect all women—particularly vulnerable women—from violence. As the Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, I am determined to do everything I can to protect victims and to bring perpetrators to justice. I recognise the harm and exploitation that can be associated with prostitution, and the Government are committed to tackling that. In that context, we cannot look at prostitution in isolation from the broader work taking place across Government and beyond to eradicate violence against women and girls, to protect vulnerable people and to tackle exploitation in all its forms. Protecting victims from crime remains at the heart of our approach. We can do that by preventing crime from occurring in the first place, supporting victims through the criminal justice system and helping them to recover, regain their confidence, and reclaim their lives. In short, we need to believe them, take them seriously and listen to them.

In March, the Government published a report detailing progress in tackling violence against women and girls—if you will forgive me, Mr Evans, I will refer to it as VAWG from now on, which is the acronym that we all recognise—

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over the last Parliament. Our commitment to that important work continues: the previous Government ring-fenced £40 million for VAWG services—that is £10 million a year—and the Government are continuing that funding to April 2016. We are consulting on refreshing our VAWG strategy, which will be published later this year. I will say a little more on that in a moment.

It is important to recognise that local areas are in the best position to identify and respond to issues in their areas, and that includes the complex problems that can be associated with prostitution. Working alongside front-line organisations, other agencies and the Crown Prosecution Service as appropriate, local police are in the best position to respond. They know what to prosecute, when and why. The police are assisted in that by guidance from the national policing lead for prostitution, which makes clear that the police’s first priority is the protection of often vulnerable individuals from violent and sexual crimes. The national policing lead’s strategy for policing prostitution is clear on that, and the message will be emphasised in the refreshed and updated strategy due to be published later this year.

To be clear, the protection of victims is the Government’s priority, and our work on refreshing our VAWG strategy is based on that. As the hon. Gentleman said, we continue to work on that. I am leaving straight after this debate to have another round-table discussion on refreshing the strategy. I look forward to presenting that refreshed strategy, which will put victims at the heart of everything we do.

The hon. Gentleman also made a point about multi-agency working. He is absolutely right: the issue cannot be tackled solely through arrests and the criminal justice system; it has to be tackled by all agencies working together and by ensuring that women feel they have the support they need to not be forced into prostitution in the first place and that if they are, they will be helped out of it.

Legislation and prosecutions are only one aspect of the response. The police and the CPS are empowered by a degree of discretion in arresting, charging and prosecuting. We want them to use that discretion sensibly and appropriately, based on the circumstances of each case. That will allow them to focus on what causes the most harm.

Members will know that legislation on prostitution has grown somewhat organically over time. The most recent changes to offences in this area were made by the Policing and Crime Act 2009. Prosecution data from the Crown Prosecution Service show that there were 83 prosecutions for controlling prostitution in 2014-15, compared with 58 in the previous year. That represents a continuation of the increase in prosecutions since 2011 and reflects a focus on tackling exploitation. As the hon. Gentleman said, there was also an increase in prosecutions for brothel offences: 96 in 2014-15, compared with 55 in the previous year.

However, prosecutions are not everything. Many factors can contribute to women’s presence in a brothel. They may be victims or perpetrators of exploitation, running or profiting from activities. Importantly, where the police refer cases to the CPS, there is discretion and guidance on whether to charge and prosecute. Generally, the degree of coercion and control of a prostitute’s activities, as well as penalising those who profit from their earnings, will determine the public interest in prosecuting. The CPS’s approach emphasises that anyone abused and

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exploited through prostitution needs help and support on health and welfare to exit prostitution. The CPS is encouraged to adopt a partnership approach with local authorities and other statutory and non-statutory organisations to find routes out of prostitution other than charging.

It is worth noting that the longer-term trend for the number of offences of soliciting for prostitution recorded by the police in England and Wales is downward. Since 2010-11, fewer than a thousand such offences have been recorded annually—it was 868 in 2014-15, compared with more than 2,000 in 2002-03. Of those, only approximately half were prosecuted, and prosecutions are also showing a downward trend. Those figures will reflect a number of factors, including incidence, community concerns and police enforcement approaches.

Strong moral and ethical questions are raised by prostitution, but the Government’s overriding priority remains the safety of people involved in prostitution. Existing legislation regarding buying and selling sex is focused on minimising the harm and exploitation that can be associated with prostitution. Most recently, for example, the Government removed all references to the misleading and unhelpful terms “child prostitution” and “child pornography” from statute during the passage of the Serious Crime Act 2015. That was in recognition of the exploitation that can be associated with prostitution and clearly shows our shared duty to protect the most vulnerable, particularly children.

Different legislative approaches have been adopted in different jurisdictions. I know that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the approach in Sweden and some neighbouring countries, which is often referred to as the Nordic model. I am also aware of recent legislative developments in Northern Ireland, and we will follow their implementation and impact with interest. It is important to reflect that an alternative view challenges the position that all paying for sex is by definition violence. That has been expressed by a variety of organisations, including those that represent people involved in prostitution. It was expressed most recently by Amnesty International, which changed its position.

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It is difficult to argue that any single legislative approach to prostitution is ideal. A perfect solution probably does not exist. To be clear, I am not suggesting that those involved in prostitution have made an independent and free choice to do so. In fact, during my work on the Modern Slavery Act 2015, I met many victims of trafficking who were forced into prostitution entirely against their will. We all recognise the need for the law to protect the vulnerable and punish the perpetrator, but when considering alternative legislative approaches we must consider carefully whether we are confident that they support the safety of those involved in prostitution. I continue to and have always been willing to listen to the evidence about what works to keep the public safe. At this stage, I do not believe there is sufficient evidence of the value of such significant changes to the legal and moral position of buying sexual services in reducing harm to those involved, but I will continue to watch with interest.

We hear differing views on this issue whenever it is debated, and I respect Members’ genuinely held positions on how to achieve the best outcomes for often vulnerable individuals. The issues around prostitution are complex and contentious, but regardless of the legal position of prostitution, the law on rape and sexual assault is crystal clear and unequivocal. We expect every report of violence to be treated seriously from the time it is reported, every victim to be treated with dignity and every investigation and prosecution to be conducted thoroughly and professionally. In that context, it is important to reflect on the increased reporting rates for these terrible crimes, which show that victims increasingly have the confidence to report and can access the support they deserve. I am proud of the progress we are making in tackling all aspects of violence against women and girls and in protecting all victims. As the Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, I am determined to do everything I can to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice.

Question put and agreed to.

11.18 am

Sitting suspended.

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Media Plurality (Wales)

[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered media plurality in Wales.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Chope. I am pleased to be able to bring this issue to the attention of the House. The issue of media plurality in Wales is one of growing concern for many in a Welsh context, mainly because we have undoubtedly reached a position where Wales is more clearly defined as an administrative and political entity than possibly at any time in its history, and yet there is a question as to whether its administrative and political distinctiveness is recognised in public discourse in the Welsh media.

The purpose of the debate is to highlight concerns about issues relating to the media in Wales and the way in which we are served by the media in Wales. I also want to ask the Minister a few questions. I am sure he will be able to respond to my points either in full today or in due course. To give the Minister an opportunity to have a think while I speak, I will list the main areas that I wish to talk about in this debate. First, as I have said, we need to recognise the changed political and administrative situation in Wales. We are undoubtedly part of the United Kingdom with a distinct Government and administrative system, and that needs to be recognised. Indeed, the Welsh political system is increasingly being taken seriously. For example, the decision of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) to put his name forward for election to the Welsh Assembly shows that the way in which the political situation in Wales is developing affects decisions made by hon. Members in Westminster, so we need to recognise that political entity and its existence.

However, we need to ask ourselves whether our media portray that entity fully, and whether the consumption of media in Wales reflects the changed political situation that we face in Wales. Do we have sufficient discussion within the media, whether in the printed media, online, in newspapers or on television and radio? Do we have a consumption in Wales that allows for a discussion of our political discourse that contributes fully to the way in which our democracy works? There is a question as to whether we have such media in place.

Then we need to ask ourselves whether there are shortcomings in the printed media in the Welsh context. We are increasingly dependent on two daily Welsh titles that see a regular fall in sales. The question we then have to ask is whether Wales and Welsh politics are taken seriously by the UK media. We can make a contrast between the situations in Scotland and Wales, for example, so I will touch on those issues as well.

The print media in Wales are declining. I will talk about the figures, but when we see the reduction in the Western Mail and Daily Post sales figures, it is impossible to deny that. What does that decline tell us about what is expected of the Welsh media by the Welsh people? Is there a lack of interest or is it a response to what is perceived to be a declining product, with some exceptions, I am sure? If the print media situation is as bad as I am

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making out—I will provide statistics that imply that the situation is pretty dire—we have to ask ourselves whether that results in a dependency on the broadcast media that is far beyond what we see in many other parts of the United Kingdom. Again, I will provide statistics that show how the dependence of the Welsh public on broadcast media—television and radio—is much clearer in Wales than in the rest of the United Kingdom.

For example, more people get their news in a Welsh context from the television than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Is that a good or a bad thing? Does that lead to a dependence—an overdependence, perhaps—on the BBC? That is not an attack on the BBC, but do we want to end up in a situation in which most news is provided in Wales by one broadcaster? Granted, some of the BBC output goes out on S4C as well, but we are talking about one broadcaster, the BBC, being responsible for the two main radio stations in Wales, for the BBC news output in English and the S4C news output in Welsh. Is that a healthy situation? Is it the best use of licence payer and taxpayer funding if we end up in a situation where the BBC has almost a monopoly?

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): There is a problem in north-east Wales where the BBC output in certain parts comes either from the north-west or the midlands. The hon. Gentleman talked about overdependence on the BBC, but it could be said to be overdependence on the wrong type of BBC.

Guto Bebb: I am fascinated by the concept of the wrong type of BBC, but I understand what the hon. Lady says. Even in my constituency, which is significantly further west than the hon. Lady’s, we have the phenomenon of people turning their aerials towards the north-west because, apart from wind farms, there is nothing to stop signals from the north-west hitting the north Wales coast. It is a fact that people in north-west Wales pick up media from the north-west of England.

The Minister will not be surprised to hear the final point that I will touch on: the situation in relation to S4C and how it can fit into the whole media situation in Wales.

Is the political discourse a problem? I think it clearly is. Any politician knows that it is a problem, because when we knock on doors—I am sure I am not giving away any secrets—we often feel frustrated at people’s lack of understanding about the way in which they are governed. I find it very frustrating, having had a full two years of showing how clearly the Welsh NHS is failing. Some hon. Members will disagree on that point, but it is frustrating to fight a general election with people telling me on the doorstep that they are not voting for me because I am a member of the Government, and the Government are closing maternity units in north Wales. That is the type of frustration that politicians are aware of.

The question is: how can people make the right decision? How can we have an accountable Welsh Assembly if people do not even know what the Assembly is responsible for and they are not even following the discussions that lead to decisions? For example, decisions on the maternity unit in Glan Clwyd are made in Cardiff through the health board, but that accountability is missing in a Welsh context. Frankly, after 18 years of

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the Welsh Assembly, such lack of accountability is something that should concern all of us. If all political parties believe the Welsh Assembly is central to the way in which Wales is governed and that we should have devolution to greater or lesser extent—there are disagreements as to exactly how much—and if there is a feeling that we should have a devolved Administration who are responsible for crucial decisions in a Welsh context, we have to ask ourselves whether there is a lack of a coherent discussion of the issues relating to people in Wales in the printed media and the media in general. Clearly we have a problem, and I would argue that it is pretty much undisputed that there is a democratic deficit in the way in which public issues and affairs are discussed in a Welsh context. That issue should concern all of us on a cross-party basis. The responses might differ from party to party, but the concern should be genuine and heartfelt among all Members of this House and all people involved in politics in a Welsh context.

The problem arises to a large extent because more than 90% of the printed media read in Wales comes from London. I have nothing against London. I happily live here three to four days a week, and I would be lost without my daily morning paper and certainly my Sunday papers. I know I am in a minority in still enjoying a morning paper. Indeed, my daughter is now doing the same paper round that I used to do 30 years ago. That shows we believe in equality in our household, because she has taken over the paper round from my son. When I did the paper round, I delivered to more than 50 houses, but that has gone down to less than 20. Clearly, there is a decline that is not related to Wales alone. The key point, though, is that as 90% of the printed media sold in Wales come from London, there are clearly questions to be asked. First, why are the Welsh media declining so quickly? Secondly, why do London media not do in Wales what they do in Scotland?

We should ask serious questions about the contrast between Wales and Scotland. There are three daily national newspapers in Scotland, all of which sell more than the two papers we have in Wales. On top of that, Scotland has two regional papers with significant distribution and sales. Furthermore, no fewer than seven UK titles produce Scottish editions. It is difficult to argue that there is not a more lively debate about politics in Scotland than in Wales. I am not saying that that is all down to the failure of the media—politicians must take responsibility as well—but it is difficult to have an engaged discussion when so much of the content people read daily does not address Welsh issues.

Even if some parties present were unhappy with the Daily Mail’s campaign on the Welsh NHS last year, there was something quite refreshing about the fact that day after day for several weeks a London-based newspaper concentrated on the so-called failures of the Welsh Government. I should be clear that I am not trying to make a political point, but in my view there is no doubt that that campaign resulted in public discourse about the Welsh context, because suddenly the London papers were taking an interest in Wales. That type of discussion of Welsh matters should not be confined to one-off issues with, perhaps, a slightly partisan political agenda in the background. I happen to think that the Daily Mail was highlighting important issues of concern to us all, but I respect the fact that some people in the Cardiff Administration would respectfully disagree. I think we

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would all agree that if there is a perceived failing of the Welsh Government, that should be highlighted in the media read by the people of Wales. If not, we have a problem.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. What role does he see for a vibrant and powerful local press? In my constituency, the Tivy-Side Advertiser and the Cambrian Newshave led some very spirited and robust defences of our local health service, yet I think he would agree that, sadly, the local press is also in retreat.

Guto Bebb: Indeed, I was going to touch on that. It is significant that Wales has a track record of a strong regional press, although it could be argued that it has been subject to far too much centralisation of ownership. There is a vibrant local press in Wales, but I checked the figures with the Library this morning, and, as far as I am aware, not a single one of our newspapers is showing an increase in sales. Some declining sales are truly worrying. In my constituency, the North Wales Weekly News has given up on its valley edition. It still produces two editions for the coast, but sales are falling.

The Caernarfon & Denbigh Herald was immortalised in a pop song by a group called Y Cynghorwyr, who argued that it says it in the Caernarfon & Denbighso it must be true: “Mae o’n dweud yn y Caernarfon & Denbigh, y papur sy’n dweud y gwir”. For a newspaper to be immortalised in a pop song but suddenly find its sales falling below 9,000 must be a concern for the regional press. Yes, there is a regional press that can take up the slack, and there is no doubt that, for example, the regional press in north Wales has been at the forefront of the issue when it comes to concerns about the A55 or the health service, but is it in a position to respond positively as sales fall dramatically? I suspect not.

The Institute of Welsh Affairs recently did some media monitoring and found that between 1999 and 2013 the number of journalists working in the local and national press in Wales—I will call the Daily Post and the Western Mail a national press—went from 700 to around 110 or 115. That fall is significant. In my constituency I have first-class journalists who work for both the Weekly News and the Daily Post. They might cover an issue in Llandudno in the morning and then be in another constituency covering a different issue for the Daily Post in the afternoon. They are multi-tasking in order to keep the show on the road. I am not sure whether, in the long term, that will result in the vibrant culture we need for discussion of what is going on in Wales.

There is no denying that the decline has resulted in cuts that, it could be argued, reduce the appeal of the regional press. On Sunday, I was delighted to see the Daily Post print a Sunday edition for the first time in its history. It says a lot about this debate, as the purpose of that edition, on which I warmly congratulate the Daily Post, was to celebrate Welsh sporting success after the Welsh rugby and football teams qualified. I must add that both teams qualified after losing, but that did not stop the Daily Post making a big issue of the success of our Welsh sporting heroes—good for them for doing so. I would be delighted to see the Daily Post appearing again Sunday in future. Nevertheless, that masks the

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real situation, because there is a decline in the regional press and in our two main daily titles in Wales, resulting in the dominance of public discourse in Wales by the broadcast media, which probably means the BBC in the form of BBC 1 and S4C news content, and Radio Cymru on Radio Wales.

Before I turn to the dominance of the BBC, it is worth mentioning people’s expectations and hopes for online media as an alternative. There is no doubt that the Daily Postand the Western Mail have dramatically increased their online content. The BBC provides a sterling service in trying to cover Wales online in both languages, but I have concerns, as well as hope. For all its faults, the Welsh Assembly has at least recognised the importance of some degree of alternative plurality in Welsh news gathering. Golwg360 is a second online news provider that has been made possible through Welsh Government funding, and I welcome it as a response to the need for diversity in online news. As a Welsh speaker, I welcome the fact that I am able to turn to the BBC and to Golwg360 and find that the content is not always the same—it is often significantly different—but if we acknowledge that there has been a market failure in the provision of plural voices in Welsh online, we should also recognise that there is an issue with online provision in English.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the quality of online content? I am heartily sick of reading 20 things I wanted to know—or did not want to know—about some celebrity, some aspect of our geography or whatever.

Guto Bebb: I tend to agree. There is always a question of quality, although when MPs are asked to provide 20 facts about themselves they seem quite happy to do so.

Craig Williams (Cardiff North) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and approaching it in his usual style. We have debated intervention in this declining market at length. First, does he welcome the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s welcome efforts with Made in Cardiff and the increase in local television news? Secondly, I say unashamedly that S4C is based in Cardiff North for now, although of course there are plans for it to go elsewhere. If we look at S4C’s spending, we see that 82% goes on independent broadcasts and supporting the independent network. I commend that as a way in which the media in Wales could approach supporting the sector.

Guto Bebb: I agree with both my hon. Friend’s points. We should applaud the success of a local television network in the Cardiff area, but that does not address the needs of the whole of Wales—of course, that is not to decry the success of such a service in the Cardiff area. I welcome S4C’s spend in the Welsh context and how that can foster a plurality of providers in production companies and so on. The fact that we have an independent television sector in Wales is in many ways a direct result of the existence of S4C. That plurality of production companies, if not of final destinations for programmes, is something that I welcome very warmly.

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I mentioned our over-dependence on television for news in a Welsh context. The figures are stark. In most of the UK, about 45% of people get their main news from television; in Wales, the figure is more than 60%. Strikingly, because commercial radio is much more successful in most of the United Kingdom than in Wales, the figures on the number of people in Wales getting their news from the radio is slightly lower than in the rest of the UK. The overall picture, however, is clear: we have a dependence on the broadcast media that is not replicated in the rest of the United Kingdom. We should be concerned about that.

Even more concerning was a study of the 2007 Welsh Assembly election. No respondents to the survey said they gained their news about the election from London-based newspapers. It is difficult to see how there can be a democratic debate if 90% of the newspapers sold in Wales are London-based and contain no coverage of the election. Some 42% of the news that people received about the 2007 Assembly election came from BBC Wales. Obviously, we should congratulate BBC Wales for getting that reach, but before the BBC gets too proud of itself I should point out that the same survey showed that 55% said that their main source of information about the campaign was the polling card, and 72% said it was political literature—so it could be argued that we beat the BBC’s reach.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Although S4C and Welsh-language broadcasting covers very Welsh issues, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong to separate that from the British context? Wales is a part of Britain, and if we are going to continue to subsidise the Welsh-language channel—inevitably it will need a degree of subsidy in the future—it would be wrong for the British Government just to say, “That’s a matter for the Welsh Government. They do not need a contribution from the British Government.” It would be a mistake to isolate the Welsh language as an issue to be dealt with only in Wales and say that it has no consequence for Britain; that would extend the trends he is talking about in other forms of media.

Guto Bebb: I have come to this debate without all the answers, but with many questions. That question is worthy of consideration.

The S4C viewing figures, which include viewing figures from platforms available in England, show a significant following of S4C programmes from viewers based in England. The Welsh language is one of the ancient languages of the United Kingdom, and therefore it should not be looked at in isolation from things that happen on this side of the border. The viewing figures show that S4C undoubtedly provides a service for people living on the other side of Offa’s dyke. It is the same for Radio Cymru’s radio provision. People who enter competitions in the daytime often live in Wolverhampton and Liverpool, happily listening to Radio Cymru. I accept that this debate should not be a Welsh-only debate, but it is important that it does not ignore Wales completely by becoming London-centric. I am genuinely concerned about that.

The figures show our dependence on broadcast media. There is a concern—again, this is not an anti-BBC point—that our dependence on the broadcast media in a Welsh context becomes a dependence on the BBC.

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The provision of news in Welsh and English in Wales comes from the BBC. If somebody watches BBC news or S4C’s news, they are watching a BBC product. The same is true of Radio Cymru and Radio Wales.

I was recently talking to my wife about this issue. She said that she seldom watches the nine o’clock news on S4C because she has heard most of the content on “Post Prynhawn” on Radio Cymru at 5 pm. That is a genuine concern. If we think that the viewing figures for “Newyddion Naw” on S4C—about 25,000—are not high enough, we need to ask why. When we acknowledge that people in Wales are dependent on the broadcast media for their news, we also acknowledge that they are dependent on the BBC for that content. I wonder whether the fact that 85% of all news content in Wales is provided by one provider is healthy. That is not to say that the BBC is doing anything wrong, but do we need more plurality? If News International provided 85% of all news content in a Welsh context, I suspect that most Opposition parties would complain. The same should stand in relation to the BBC.

We are slowly starting to have a debate in a Welsh context. The Media Reform Coalition and the Institute of Welsh Affairs are starting to talk about these issues, but we need to move forward at a much faster pace. Frankly, it is not just that the provision of information and news is lacking; our democratic institutions in Wales will be undermined if we do not deal with this issue quickly.

There is no denying that S4C is an important issue for all of us who care about broadcasting in a Welsh context. For those of us who are worried about the future of the Welsh language, it is an even more important issue. Most Government Members were willing to consider the spending reductions in 2010 in the context of the spending review, the real challenges facing the Government and other institutions, and the need for them to live within their means. But we need to ask ourselves a simple question: should the future of S4C be decided solely as an add-on to the charter review process, which is being undertaken in London?

The BBC has a budget of some £3.6 billion, and the grant for S4C and the programmes provided by the BBC comes to about £90 million. In the context of a £3.6 billion budget, it is difficult to argue that the £90 million that goes to S4C will be the tail that wags the dog. My concern is that S4C will be forgotten in the charter renewal process. We need to ask ourselves seriously whether it is enough for S4C to be considered as part of the charter review process, or whether an independent review should be undertaken in relation to S4C to ask a simple question: after 33 years, what exactly is the point of a dedicated Welsh-language broadcaster in the 21st century? I think the answer would be very positive indeed, but we have not asked that question since the channel was established in 1982.

In 2010, when the changes were announced to the funding of S4C, and when the reduction to the funding of the BBC and S4C was announced, the then Minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport promised that there would be an independent review into the future of S4C at the same time as the charter review. I think that would be welcomed in Wales—not because S4C is more important than any other broadcast element of the Welsh media picture, but because a review would be a starting point for asking serious questions about

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what exactly we want from the Welsh media in a Welsh context. I would argue strongly, therefore, that the promise that was part of the 2010 settlement should be delivered. I think there is an appetite in Wales for looking creatively and constructively at how to utilise and fund S4C in the future and at how to protect what is important in delivering a service to the people of Wales.

If an independent review is instigated—one was discussed in 2010, but the details were not as forthcoming as they should have been—it is crucial that it should be freed from the issue of cost and money saving. It is important that there should be a two-year provision of financial stability while the review is undertaken, and I would argue that that provision should come from both the BBC and DCMS. I appreciate that the Minister does not represent DCMS, so will not be able to give me certainty about funding streams from another Department. However, if there is an independent review, it has to take place in the context of a stable financial situation.

Mr Mark Williams: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Guto Bebb: I will give way quickly, but I am running out of time.

Mr Williams: I very much welcome the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I echo the need for stability, which is particularly important for the independent production sector, given the scale of some of the small enterprises. They are facing the prospect a £2.7 million cut in the central Government spending review, and possibly, if there is a 20% reduction from the BBC to S4C, a £15 million cut for S4C, which would have dire implications for the independent production sector.

Guto Bebb: It is difficult to escape the likelihood of real consequences. It is staggering how well S4C has coped with the funding reductions that were part of the 2010 settlement, but, given that less than 4% of the total budget goes on overheads, any further cuts will clearly be to programming, which would be a further kick to media plurality in a Welsh context. The review should not be just about S4C; it should be a starting point for an ongoing civic discussion in a Welsh context about what we want our media to provide.

I am coming to the end of my very long speech, Mr Chope; I apologise. We should be looking at the issue of the plurality of news content, which worries me as somebody who is obsessed with news and interested in current affairs—as I should be, given the job that I do. Ofcom states clearly that if our desired outcome is a plurality of media ownership, we should prevent any one media owner or voice from having too much influence on public opinion. That is certainly the situation in Wales. S4C is a recognition of market failure; it would not exist were we dependent on the market. As a free-market capitalist, I accept that. I believe in the free market, but I also believe that it does not always have all the solutions to all the problems that we face.

If S4C is to respond to the need to provide a service to Welsh speakers in a Welsh context, financial intervention through the licence fee payer, through the taxpayer, should be used for a further common good. For example, why does the deal between the BBC and S4C for 10 hours of BBC programming every week include news content? It must be easy for the BBC because it is not duplicating

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any services, but if we are concerned about the plurality of news content in Wales, such issues should be considered seriously in any independent review of S4C.

If such a review took place, it would also be an independent review of the media situation in the whole of Wales, because the organisations are so interlinked. If S4C could commission a new service from another provider, that would impact on the BBC, so an independent review would be a real step in the right direction in responding to the deficit in the provision of media content that allows us to discuss what is going on in Wales in a real and proper manner.

This is an important and, to a large extent, a cross-party issue. However, I fully recognise that decisions will have to be made and that my Government will have to respond to some of my points. I am not hiding from that responsibility. I hope that the Government will listen carefully. They responded positively in the past when calls were made to protect S4C’s budget. There is an opportunity here not only to respond to those who want to protect S4C, but to consider carefully how S4C fits into the media pattern in Wales and how, if we recognise a market failure, the intervention of licence fee payer and taxpayer money could deal with some of the deficiencies in media plurality in Wales. We need the opportunity to discuss matters in a Welsh context in the same way as happens in Scotland, Northern Ireland and certainly here in London.

3.2 pm

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on securing this debate. The topic has been of concern to me throughout my political career, from the campaigns in the ’70s and ’80s to set up S4C to today, via the debate on media plurality in July, during which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) spoke eloquently. At that time, if I remember correctly, I said that Welsh broadcasting, specifically Welsh-language broadcasting, is an issue for the entire UK in that S4C is probably the largest contributor to the diversity of UK broadcasting, providing so many hours in a language other than English. Were one the ubiquitous Martian, arriving on this planet and looking at broadcasting in the UK, where would one look for diversity? S4C would obviously be what that Martian would see.

I must take issue with what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), who is no longer in his place, said about the subsidy for S4C. One could argue that the licence fee is just a subsidy. I do not know why we should single out S4C as having a subsidy; ITV is subsidised by the advertising industry. Subsidy is a pejorative term and we should not be using it.

As the hon. Member for Aberconwy said, Wales now has a clearer identity than at any point over several hundred years at least, but it is not in the league of the “Great British” identity, with TV schedules containing the Great British this and the Great British that. There are not that many listings for the Great Welsh this or the Great Welsh that, but Wales has a clear media identity. Paradoxically, the sources of information available to our population seem to get more precarious and narrower.

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The hon. Gentleman referred to the incredibly high penetration of newspapers from England. People in Scotland get their news from domestic sources, but people in Wales get their news from sources outside Wales. One could almost compare the situation to the infamous entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica that read, “For Wales, see England.” That could be the case here. The interesting thing to note is that if one looked at the entry for England, there was virtually nothing about Wales, which rather says it all—plus ça change.

There is a legitimate concern that Trinity Mirror owns both large—largish—newspapers in Wales, the Daily Post and the Western Mail. The hon. Gentleman referred to News International, and the situation in Wales is something of a monopoly. Although other newspaper companies exist—the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), who is no longer in his place, referred to the Cambrian News, which is widely read, and the Tivy-Side Advertiser—the papers in the national forum, if such a thing exists, are owned by the same company. That is not such a concern regarding content, but for the newspapers’ general future direction. I made a point about the quality of online provision and the pressure on journalists to get the “click”. They have to formulate their reports in such a way that allows them to be put online quickly, which leads to issues of quality.

New technology allows all kinds of options, not only in newspapers, but on television. I was recently interviewed by a journalist who set up his own camera and sound recording equipment and then rushed around the back to ensure that everything was working and then rushed around the front to question me. I am unfortunately old enough to remember being interviewed by local broadcast journalists with two or three crew, and by national or UK-wide journalists with two Land Rovers-full of crew, who turned up in Caernarfon to interview me.

Falling circulation is a problem common to all newspapers, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the problem is particularly acute in Wales given the centrality to the national debate of the small number of newspapers. As there are really only two quasi-national newspapers, any fall in their circulation is of deep concern.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Institute of Welsh Affairs, which is to publish a report on 11 November showing that the circulation of Welsh newspapers has again fallen dramatically. The statistics that I have do not give much depth, but they report a fall of 60% in the circulation of the South Wales Echo and a 33% drop in sales of the Daily Post. I do not know over what period that relates to, but it gives an impression of the trend. It is also reported that the Western Mail now sells only 17,815 copies a day, which must be a concern for a national newspaper.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): On that point about the Western Mail being a national daily newspaper for Wales, it has barely ever featured on the reading agenda in my part of west Wales. That is not an insult to the paper; we have just never read the Western Mail in Pembrokeshire and not much in Carmarthenshire either. Is the hon. Gentleman’s point that we are somehow worse off as a result of not having access to the paper? We have never really historically had one at all. I do not quite understand why this is the tragedy that he makes it out to be when it has never been an issue for us.

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Hywel Williams: I am all for diversity. Of course, the Daily Post is the paper for the north, and perhaps I can regale Members with a brief story. When I moved from Cardiff to Pwllheli many years ago, I asked the local shop to keep the Western Mailfor me. I think I was its only reader there at the time, and it was kept next to the Morning Star and the men’s magazines at the back. There are other newspapers in south Wales and north Wales that have a particular importance.

While I am referring to amusing matters from the past, I should also mention that I once asked my mother why she bothered reading the Daily Post, and she, being an elderly lady, gave me a very straight answer: “I only buy it for the deaths.” Whatever sells newspapers is important, but it is also important that we talk to each other. However, I do not want to reminisce too much.

One small sector—Welsh-language community newspapers—is doing quite well, and other newspapers could learn a great deal from papurau bro, as they are called. They are very small and very local, but their market penetration is enormous—about half the people they serve might look at them at some point. We are talking about circulations of 1,000 or 2,000, but these papers give people what they want, and growth in such provision might be one way forward.

As the hon. Member for Aberconwy said, television is extremely important in Wales because so many people get whatever Welsh news they get from it, rather than from newspapers. We have a very successful news service, albeit limited and provided mainly by the BBC. Although provision in English, on, say, “Wales Today”, tends to be somewhat domestic—one might even say parochial—the news in Welsh addresses international issues. Quite amusingly, it has a network of people around the world—they are not professional journalists of course—who can contribute, and it can find people in Ontario, Mexico or wherever. The other day, when Wales played Fiji at rugby, Radio Cymru went for a comment, not to the ground or to Cardiff, but to a Welsh person living in Fiji, who told us all about the game. That has its weaknesses, but there is a breadth of provision.

All broadcasters face the challenge of declining audiences, as people turn to alternative ways of getting their television, either by delaying watching or by choosing alternative ways of viewing. When I was preparing for the debate in July, I looked at what the Audience Council Wales had said. It used a very striking phrase, which I quoted in my speech. It said broadcasters in Wales were living

“closer to the cliff edge”

than ever before. Broadcasters might be living, and they might be on the right side of the cliff edge, but their position is more precarious than in the past.

The point about S4C is that, although people may be able to access their news in English from anywhere around the world—from Fox News, from the BBC in London or from France 24, which has a service in English—S4C is the only place in the world, and indeed the universe, where people can get a full Welsh-language TV news service. In that respect, it is extremely precious and must be defended. Its decline is particularly serious and dangerous.

The BBC and S4C have had funding cuts. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about possibly reviewing S4C; broadcasting is in a period of extreme fluidity, with all

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the talk about the licence fee and charter renewal, so this might be an opportune time to do so. However, we should not concentrate just on S4C, because it does quite well. Despite the fact that the news comes from one source—the BBC—and despite all the other problems we might associate with it, the service does at least come through, and people do watch it and get a diverse range of views. I would not, therefore, want to limit a review just to S4C, because that might problematise the service in a way that is probably unfounded.

I noted the hon. Gentleman’s wish to have a freeze on cost-cutting for two years. Certainty of funding is incredibly important for television. The production cycle is not six months or a year, but often much more than two years. Those involved need certainty so that they can produce the high-quality programmes we have seen in the past, which have won such international renown for S4C. Given the circumstances, and given the pressure on Government and BBC expenditure, a two-year freeze might be something of a vain hope, but I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that.

3.16 pm

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate hon. Members on both sides on their contributions.

As has been said, media plurality is at the heart of any healthy democracy. The United Kingdom is a vibrant, diverse, complex and, at times, eccentric country. It is essential that our broadcasting reflect that. It is also important that we have not only a diverse creative sector, but a plurality of current affairs sources.

Wales is an important, lively and diverse nation within the United Kingdom, and it has its own distinctive language and culture. I cannot claim to have any Welsh connections, but it is often remarked that there are similarities between the north-east, where I am from, and Wales in terms of people’s warmth, eloquence and attractive accent, and, unfortunately, in terms of the decline in some of their more classic industries.

It is critical that Wales should have a plurality of broadcasters that not only encourages different viewpoints, but ensures that Welsh people are informed of matters that are important to them. Having a critical mass of media production also stimulates the creative industries, which create jobs.

It has been clear for some time that UK media coverage of Welsh affairs is poor, to put it mildly. Representing a constituency 290 miles from London, I have first-hand knowledge of how insular a national media based almost entirely in London can be. Indeed, I have held debates in this room about the effect that that has on the diversity, or lack of it, in the national media. It was, indeed, in July that the contribution by the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) helped to familiarise me with the unique situation in Wales and some of the challenges there.

In the north-east, there is a strong regional news presence to fill that gap. I am grateful to our locally based Journal and Chronical, as well as to the Made in Tyne & Wear channel, and indeed to BBC’s “Look North” and to “Tyne Tees” news, which have a local base, even though they are not locally headquartered.

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It is important to remember that non-devolved services are covered in the UK news, and they are relevant to my constituents, but much less so to Welsh ones. It is clear from speeches made on both sides of the Chamber that the market for current affairs in Wales is failing to provide adequate services for the Welsh people. BBC Wales covers the National Assembly, as we have heard, but it is essential that people should be afforded a choice of current affairs programming and coverage. Coverage is being reduced, and the problems that traditional media organisations across the UK experience are exacerbated for Welsh content providers.

Susan Elan Jones: My hon. Friend is making an eloquent speech. Does she agree that a difference between the north-east of England and Wales is that the BBC provides a network of local radio stations in England, but that in Wales we no longer have that? We do not have the old Radio Clwyd, Radio Gwent or the others. That is a big oversight, and the BBC needs to look at the issue again.

Chi Onwurah: My hon. Friend intervened just as I was going to mention her in another context. She is quite right that a local radio network, particularly a BBC one, is an important part of media plurality, providing a local or regional insight and perspective on the news. I do not know where we would be without local coverage of our great sporting events, for example. I was grateful to her for making the point that large parts of north-east Wales cannot, in any case, receive BBC Wales, so its impact is limited and that encourages many Welsh citizens to turn to the national UK media outlets.

The fact that many Welsh people choose to consume UK media may also be a symptom of the convergence of media outlets. We cannot and do not want to stop the rise of digital and new media, and the innovation that that brings. However, as Ofcom’s Welsh advisory committee has noted:

“None of the London-based newspaper titles publishes a Welsh edition and there is almost a total absence of Welsh content in UK-wide newspapers.”

Historically, as we have heard, north and south Wales have different papers, and many Welsh people, if not the majority, take UK papers. While technology is disrupting traditional media models and creating many innovative online communities and interest groups—we have heard some of the hopes for the future in that regard—it has yet to provide a model that pays for local journalists on the ground covering events in communities and council chambers, or even the National Assembly Chamber. I speak as a champion of the internet when I say that we must recognise that the internet is not yet an alternative to independent professional journalism—certainly not yet in Wales. Ofcom’s advisory committee on Wales reported what many people have known for some time: that the situation is a cause for considerable concern and is getting worse.

Now a double whammy of cuts is coming down the track for public service broadcasters in Wales. The Chancellor’s decision to make the BBC pay for free TV licences for those over 75 has resulted in cuts to services. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport confirmed that Welsh programming would not be spared.

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As to the direct funding—I do not believe it is a subsidy—from DCMS for Welsh output, it has been reported in the media, although of course we do not know, that DCMS is planning for 40% cuts to its budget. In those circumstances it is highly likely that there are further cuts in the pipeline for Welsh output; but of course it is for the Minister to give us certainty about that.

Guto Bebb: The hon. Lady is right to make the point about the decision to agree with the BBC that the licence fee should come out of its budget; but from the point of view of concern about S4C, which is a small part of the BBC’s funding stream, surely the point is that the director-general agreed without any consultation with S4C, even though there were funding implications for it. Surely if the BBC were serious about its role in protecting S4C it would at least have consulted before making an agreement.

Chi Onwurah: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I agree that there should have been consultation with S4C, but I would also make the observation that the Secretary of State made his decision without consulting anyone, and in direct contradiction of criticisms he made while he was the Chair of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. In a democratic country we would expect consultation on a decision as important as funding, and obviously that would include consulting S4C on its funding.

I want to finish with some questions to the Minister. I am curious about what assessment he has made of the cuts, in a situation that is already a cause for serious concern. I have asked DCMS Ministers that question about a number of areas over the years and the answer is all too often a variation on “not much”. I hope that a Wales Office Minister can do better. What is the Minister doing to improve and strengthen media plurality in Wales? What discussions has he had with the Welsh Government and DCMS on cuts to Welsh public sector broadcasters? What assessment have the Government made of the effects of cuts on those broadcasters both before and since they were made? What discussions has he had with national media organisations more broadly, in the private and public sectors, about their coverage in Wales? Does he agree that there is a crisis in Welsh media plurality, and can he point to a policy or plan to address it?

I am sure that the Minister agrees with me and hon. Members about the importance of the issue to Wales. I am leaving as much time as he could need to set out how he plans to tackle it. The challenge is a long-term one that is not likely to go away without intervention from his Department, working in partnership across Government.

3.27 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Alun Cairns): It is a pleasure to serve once again under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I welcome this debate on an important issue, and pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who has shown an interest in the subject for many years since he came to the House. He is a champion of plurality, S4C, the Welsh language and news consumption, which are matters I want to return to.

I thank all the hon. Members who spoke. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Craig Williams) highlighted the role of Made in Cardiff TV and of S4C,

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which is based in his constituency. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) reflected on a range of issues, including papurau bro. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), who is not in his place at the moment, highlighted the relevance of local media, and the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) talked about radio broadcasts and the impact of what has been happening in north-east Wales in particular. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) left me with a list of questions that I will do my best to answer as the debate develops.

It was also a pleasure to hear contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) and for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), who is looking forward to the move of S4C from Cardiff North to his constituency—no doubt he will be not only an existing champion, but a future champion of the interests of the channel.

In Wales, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, the public’s ability to access a wide range of news, views and information about the world, nation or region in which they live is central to the health of democracy and society. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy talked about the changing political nature of Wales, and devolution rightly underlines the need for distinct and robust media outlets to contribute to the effective scrutiny of decisions made by tiers of government at all levels—it is essential to have accountability; a word he rightly used for testing policy and holding decision makers to account.

I recognise the specific challenges for media plurality in Wales outlined by hon. Members, in particular where the Welsh language is involved, and I will return to some of those points. Some issues were highlighted in Ofcom’s report on the future of public service broadcasting published in July, in particular our heavy reliance on BBC and S4C output for news and information about Wales. That point was also made by my hon. Friend.

I also recognise the importance of the Welsh context. Our topography has always presented challenges for terrestrial television coverage—for example, on commercial digital terrestrial television multiplexes—as well as for FM and DAB coverage. There has always been a battle over access to the broadcasting spectrum in Wales, which has arguably been characterised by fewer local commercial radio stations. Lower broadband take-up is another challenge because of the topography, although we are making excellent progress in closing the gap, but that has contributed to higher take-up of satellite TV than in other parts of the United Kingdom.

The debate has focused significantly on S4C. The channel has helped Wales to create one of the most dynamic examples of a creative industry cluster in the UK and beyond. In that context, it was a privilege to host a meeting at the Wales Office between key independent programme makers and companies and Teledwyr Annibynnol Cymru, the independent representative body, with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport only a couple of weeks ago. It was an opportunity for the independents to highlight their priorities for the Secretary of State and for him better to understand the needs of the sector in Wales.

Many of the companies involved are international in their outlook and operations. Their form rightly evolves and responds to the ever-changing marketplace. They

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have attracted private equity interest and takeovers, demonstrating the constant evolution and interest maintained in the industry from the perspective not only of viewers, but of the investments that result in a successful industry.

The success of Welsh television production has led to internationally recognised awards that have opened up significant export markets. Welsh-made television shows and formats are now sold worldwide. We have even had a Welsh hill farmer presenting on a French television programme—Gareth Wyn Jones, a farmer from Conwy, who originally starred in “The Hill Farm”, a show that has won an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He was asked to front a travel show on Wales for a major French television channel. That demonstrates diversity, which was one of the points made by the hon. Member for Arfon.

As well as a scene of dynamic independents, Wales has become a hub of creativity and a desirable place to make programmes, and I need only mention a few: the BBC 1 drama series “The Indian Doctor”, which has been sold to the US, China, Estonia, Mexico and Israel; “Dr Who”, for which Wales is the production centre and which is an iconic success of British television that has aired in more than 200 countries and been dubbed into many languages; S4C’s “Fferm Ffactor”, which is now licensed and produced in Denmark, Sweden and China; “Hinterland”, which was filmed in both Welsh and English, highlighting innovation and significant economies of scale from co-operating with the BBC and creating interest overseas from other independents; and children’s programmes shown on CBBC, with BAFTA-winning spin-off apps demonstrating the divergence between modern and traditional broadcasting technology.

Wales is home to more than 50 television and animation companies, which collectively generate around £1 billion a year for the Welsh economy. That all contributes greatly to employment in Wales, and last year 51,000 people were employed in the creative industries—a 10.5% increase since 2011—and 80,000 in the wider creative economy.

We have not given too much attention to plurality in radio in our debate, but it is relevant to the issues that were raised. I am pleased that the BBC is extending its national DAB coverage with 22 new transmitters across Wales by the end of 2015. Furthermore, with the BBC and commercial radio, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is investing up to £7.75 million to extend local DAB to match local commercial FM coverage. That will support further plurality in broadcasting in Wales, for which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central called. I hope that that will be welcomed in all parts of the House.

The benefits will be more choice of digital radio services for Welsh listeners and substantial improvements in BBC radio and BBC Radio Cymru digital coverage. Equally importantly, that offers opportunities for local and regional commercial radio services, which are popular throughout Wales and which play an important part in the plurality of news services—an important point highlighted by the hon. Member for Clwyd South. The new technology will provide more opportunities to fill the gaps, where they exist. I recognise, however, that more needs to be done further to enhance digital radio coverage in Wales—something we highlighted in the BBC Green Paper.