Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for securing an important and, for me, timely debate. It is important, just sporadically, to practise what we preach. Last weekend, I could be found on the mean streets of Portsmouth with my hon. Friends the Members for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) and for Eastleigh

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(Mims Davies), running the Great South Run. I think all of us, perhaps, are beyond 40, so we are in the age group that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) mentioned as being most at risk of inactivity.

I vividly remember standing in Mottisfont abbey, a magnificent National Trust property in the heart of Hampshire, some 10 years ago, when I was a local authority lead member for leisure, and listening to the head of our local health authority talking about the health benefits of the great outdoors in our part of the county. She said that she wished she could bottle it and provide those benefits to patients who appeared at doctors’ surgeries across Hampshire suffering from depression or stress. We all know that exercise is one of the best remedies for those suffering from a mental health condition. Of course, we cannot bottle it, but I pay tribute to the National Trust, which is the owner of not only great stately homes but massive tracts of countryside such as can be found in the New Forest, a very small corner of which is in my constituency.

Other national parks have been mentioned, so it is important that the New Forest is also discussed in this debate. The New Forest is a fantastic location for all sorts of outdoor activities. Of course, it is one of our most crowded national parks, with seven visitors per square kilometre—I gather that it is the most densely visited national park in the country. The New Forest attracts 13.5 million people each year, and they do not predominantly come for formal recreational activity; they come for informal activities such as dog walking or kite flying. Families are visiting with their children and having picnics.

The New Forest also has some of the slightly competing elements of outdoor recreation: horse riders, trail riders and cyclists. I cannot pretend that those relationships are always easy and happy, but it is an enormous space. We have to ensure that there are opportunities for different recreational activities to happen not necessarily alongside each other, but within the same realm.

Other hon. Members have mentioned their APPG interests. As chairman of the all-party group for the horse, I might be expected to focus several of my remarks on equestrianism. The British Equestrian Trade Association highlights that the economic value to this country of the equestrian industry is some £4.3 billion a year, which is a massive sum. My hon. Friend the Minister has recently made her inaugural visit to the Horse of the Year Show, for which I commend her. I hope she enjoyed it but, much more than that, I hope we will see her at more equestrian events across the country to witness at first hand some of the brilliant sportsmen and women—of course, men and women compete on an absolutely level playing field. We have the reigning Olympic gold medallists in show jumping and dressage; our eventers only secured a silver—I use the word “only” advisedly.

It is not just about competition: some 96% of people who ride do so simply for pleasure. I declare another interest because I am one of those people, although I manage to ride barely once a month nowadays. The freedom and opportunity to enjoy riding, particularly off road, is an important part of people’s wellbeing.

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): I am pleased that the British Equestrian Trade Association is being pushed. I hope the hon. Lady will also push disabled

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riding and donkey sanctuaries—that might not be quite her world of riding. I was in the cavalry a long time ago, so I know that horses are important. We should highlight the fact that riding teaches children the discipline of looking after animals and challenging their fears.

Caroline Nokes: The hon. Gentleman is right that looking after and taking responsibility for an animal is crucial in teaching our young people skills that are not readily available in the classroom.

I thank my constituent Rob Powell, who contacted me this morning to point out the economic benefit of trail riding on motorbikes, not horses. I thought to myself, “How on earth could this be part of promoting physical wellbeing?” He educated me by explaining that motorcyclists who ride off road have lower blood pressure, lower levels of cholesterol and are less likely to suffer from heart disease if they ride their motorbike twice a week off the tarmacked road.

It is important that we find spaces that are available and accessible for different types of activity. We are lucky in Hampshire to have the country’s second highest number of green lanes available to the public, behind only Wiltshire, but it is the Government’s role to ensure that we have good networks available to ramblers, cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists and all types of outdoor activity.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): As president of the East Lancashire ramblers association, I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising that point. Will she join me in congratulating the Ramblers on its “big pathwatch” initiative, which is keeping an eye on the 140,000 miles of rights of way, including bridleways—this is not just for ramblers—across England and Wales?

Caroline Nokes: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. Like him, I have received emails from constituents highlighting the effectiveness of the “big pathwatch” campaign.

As might be expected, given my interests, I want to conclude by saying that we have to ensure that activity is accessible to all and is available to both genders. I hope that the Minister will commend the This Girl Can campaign, which has been reinforced across Hampshire. Our sports partnership in Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight has done a great deal to promote keeping young girls active once they leave school. The biggest drop-off in female physical activity occurs when they leave school and go to college, which is when most girls hang up their trainers and stop taking part in the team sports they took part in at school. It is imperative that we find pathways into sport for young girls. I commend the work of the This Girl Can campaign, which has made it less of a stigma to get hot, sweaty and physically active. We have to keep pushing that agenda.

3.6 pm

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this debate. I think of him as a hillwalking friend, and I am pleased to be part of the all-party group. I can go one better than him, because I have shared a tent with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) at 10,000 feet. I also shared a mountain hut with him and the Minister at about 15,000 feet. We may not necessarily wish to repeat those experiences, but they were incredibly valuable none the less.

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On Saturday I was on the top of Skiddaw above Keswick at 3,000 feet. I have been going there with a group of friends for 25 years—it was our silver jubilee Keswick. Some of those friendships have developed as a result of that love of hillwalking. Those trips are very special. We spend money when we are there. We have meals in the local fish and chip shop or the local curry house. We go to cafés and have the necessary many cups of tea and coffee. Hillwalkers are hungry people, and we even pop into one or two of the local pubs, which might surprise colleagues. On Sunday afternoon I was delighted to have a pint with Alan Hinkes OBE, the only Briton to have conquered all of the world’s tallest mountains. He is a big friend of the all-party group.

My friends and I spent significant amounts of money, which is important to many areas of all the nations of the United Kingdom. Such spending is important to my constituency, which borders North Yorkshire. We have beautiful countryside in Leeds North West. We have the medieval market town of Otley, which is on the edge of the Nidderdale area of outstanding natural beauty. I say gently to the hon. Member for Macclesfield that the Peak district is wonderful, and part of it is in Yorkshire. Indeed, Yorkshire has two complete national parks and part of a third. When the wonderful expansion of the Lake district and Yorkshire dales happens, Yorkshire will contain parts of four national parks and will be the only county with anywhere near so many. Hillwalking is hugely important to the Yorkshire economy.

I am proud of the work of the Carnegie Great Outdoors faculty of Leeds Beckett University in my constituency. The faculty led with great distinction and patience the expedition on which the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, the Minister and I travelled. The expedition supported the excellent Royal British Legion’s Battle Back centre, a wonderful national facility that works to rehabilitate our servicemen and women who have been injured in conflict. We were all delighted to support that wonderful charity by going out in the conditions we did. It is hard to overestimate the social values, the sense of wellbeing and the social cohesion that people can get from such an experience. Our expedition was led with great distinction by the wonderful Dave Bunting MBE.

The debate is about the economic contribution of outdoor recreation, and Carnegie Great Outdoors, which offers days in the outdoors, makes a significant contribution to the Leeds and Yorkshire economy. There has been a huge growth in hillwalking and climbing, which is very welcome, but we want to see even more. I was delighted when the BMC asked me to do a Sport England fellowship and to become its hillwalking sports fellowship ambassador. I am still working with the BMC on that, and I am pleased to walk with its members; indeed, we did a wonderful walk in the Yorkshire dales to Simon’s Seat.

Again, that is an example of the economic contribution made by outdoor recreation, because we had to travel there and we spent money there. People have said, “Wasn’t it wonderful?” and they want to go back. The walk was part of the two-week Otley walking festival, which brings people from all around the country. The figures show that 210,000 people aged 14 and upwards now go walking once a month, while 84,000 people go

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once a week, but we can do more. The more we can encourage people to get out, despite their busy schedules, the better, and we have heard about the economic and other benefits.

I have a few asks of the Minister. First, I think the best title for her would be “Sport and Recreation Minister”, which would cover the outdoors and other forms of recreation, and I would ask for that title to be seriously considered. Secondly, will she convene a meeting between the DCMS and DEFRA, because those two Departments need to be absolutely locked together in bringing forward a strategy? Thirdly, I was pleased to support the cycling investment strategy and the Infrastructure Act 2015, but will the Minister accept that infrastructure should also extend to outdoor access and maintenance, which are important? Finally, will she liaise with Ofsted, which should include outdoor and adventurous activity when it looks at what schools are doing? I hope the Minister will take those things away.

3.12 pm

James Heappey (Wells) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this important debate. I should declare a new interest, because I was recently appointed the chair of the all-party group for the UK events industry. This is a hugely important debate. I say that not only in my capacity as the chair of the all-party group, but as the MP for Wells. I have the pleasure of having the Mendip hills, the Somerset coast and the Somerset levels in my constituency.

There is enormous economic benefit to be had from outdoor recreation, and there are enormous health and wellbeing benefits as well. As a former Army officer who organised plenty of adventurous training for his troops, I would add that there are also values that come from outdoor recreation, which we should note in this debate: confidence, independence and a respect for nature and the environment.

The tourism industry in Somerset is worth £1.3 billion per annum. Some £623 million of that is made from day-trippers. Some come for the food and drink, some for the shopping and some for the attractions. Many of those are outdoors, such as Cheddar gorge and Wookey Hole. Many people come for the hills, the coast, the waterways and the caves. That is a hugely important part of our economy, and it is important that the Government support it.

The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) said that nearly a quarter of a million people go hillwalking and climbing every month. That is worth £2.3 billion a year to the UK economy. I am therefore pleased to support the Walkers are Welcome campaign in Cheddar, and another that is getting under way in Burnham-on-Sea. Those will be really important initiatives as we seek locally not only to access some of the £2.3 billion walking and climbing economy, but to grow it by opening those activities up to new participants.

I make a plea to the Minister to push on with the investment in the south-west coat path. From the numbers I have seen, I understand that it might cost barely £500,000 a year to maintain, but that it would generate £435 million of economic activity. Those are encouraging statistics, which I hope the Minister recognises.

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There are more activities beyond climbing and walking, all of which are worthy of mention. There are active cycling and sporting activities communities in my constituency and across Somerset. There is mountain biking, caving, sailing, pony trekking, fishing, canoeing and all sorts of other things besides. All those activities are relatively inexpensive for the Government or local authorities to support. Invariably the equipment is owned by individuals, clubs or businesses, but the Government and local government can play a role in meeting the small cost of marking routes, helping to market those activities and providing support, for example through local authorities’ various economic development and tourism departments, so that we recognise the outdoor recreation offering and promote it to the best of our abilities. If there is a way of incentivising businesses and clubs to commercialise further what they do, so that they can grow those industries, all the better.

When individuals or families come to Somerset to cycle, walk, climb or cave, that is great—that is two, three or four people who will buy a meal and perhaps stay overnight. However, the events industry is hugely important. When the Ten Tors is taking place on Dartmoor, every bed and breakfast and hotel is full; when the Three Peaks is going on, there is business across Wales, the Lake District and Scotland. Regularly, in my part of Somerset, there are amateur cycling sportives, which bring hundreds of cyclists from across the south-west to thrash themselves up Cheddar gorge—I know not why, but they do, and they spend money once they have finished. Such events matter enormously to communities and economies across the country, and I am keen to be an advocate for all they offer in my role as the chair of the all-party group.

It is important to mention the vital role played by search and rescue organisations, many of which are voluntary. In my constituency, the members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Burnham area rescue boat, the coastguard, the cave rescue and the Mendip mountain search and rescue teams all make a commitment to keeping people safe without being paid, and they turn up at all hours of the day and night, in all weathers and in all terrains to do so. I admire them greatly for all that they do, and it is important, as we speak about the value of outdoor recreation to our economy, that we recognise that those people underpin others’ ability to pursue outdoor sports.

I commend to the Minister—I am sure she has already seen it—the “Reconomics” report, which is an excellent study of what outdoor recreation could mean for our economy. Outdoor recreation is hugely important financially and for our public health. As I said earlier, it is also about giving people values—independence, confidence and a respect for nature and the countryside. This is a pan-Government issue, and it would be great to see DEFRA working with the Minister to make sure that our AONBs, national parks and other areas of countryside and coast are properly resourced to meet the needs of the outdoor recreation industry. The bottom line is that we will get back far more than we spend, so this debate is hugely important, and I hope it means the Government will invest in this vital industry.

3.18 pm

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I, too, thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley)

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for securing this debate, which is of great significance to my constituency and to the wider leisure economy of Wales and Britain.

I would like to invite the Minister and Members to visit Blaenau Ffestiniog if opportunities allow—perhaps next year, during “Wales 2016: Year of Adventure”. In Blaenau, a combination of home-grown initiatives and far-sighted investors has excelled in adapting the town’s extraordinary backdrop of former slate quarries into a high-adrenaline adventure landscape, complete with downhill biking trails, zip wires and trampolines spanning cathedral-like caverns—I hope Members will forgive me, because caverns are not technically outdoors.

Wales has first-class mountain biking facilities—not only those managed so ably by Antur Stiniog, but also Coed y Brenin and the Mawddach trail, also in my constituency. There are many others throughout the nation. The longest continuous path along a nation’s coastline, the 870 mile-long Wales coastal path, has played a major role in extending the valuable visitor season beyond the traditional summer months. Nefyn golf course, like many of Wales’s outstanding courses, is located on the coast, and plays its part in the golf economy, which contributes almost £38 million to Wales.

On a different tack, I want to take the opportunity to assess the value of the equine industry, for personal reasons. Sometimes I wonder whether it is the fact that it is an activity with a strong gender bias—almost 75% of riders are women and girls—that means that that leisure pursuit perhaps does not get its proper appreciation. I understand from the same report that the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) mentioned earlier that average spending on a horse comes to £3,600 a year; but I do not want my husband to know.

Caroline Nokes: I can assure the hon. Lady that I have been trying to keep that figure from my father all my life.

Liz Saville Roberts: Indeed.

Wales is ideally placed as a location to promote horse riding. Our native breeds of Welsh cobs and ponies are in great demand as show and riding horses across the world. We have excellent off-road opportunities, and surely we can safely accommodate Lycra-clad mountain bikers and more sedately dressed horse riders in the forests and mountains of Wales, alongside, of course, hillwalkers and mountaineers.

None the less, the competitive potential of Wales is undermined by the requirement to levy 20% VAT on attractions and hospitality. Reducing VAT to 5%, which is a long-standing Plaid Cymru policy, would give us a more level playing field compared with France, Ireland and beyond. Attractions and hospitality directly contribute 20% to the local economy in Dwyfor Meirionnydd and employ 4,400 people. My constituency would get an economic boost of more than £6 million from such a change, and the value to Wales as a whole has been estimated by campaigners at £167 million. That would be of benefit to young people, who are particularly likely to be employed in the sector, and it might prove an incentive to employers to pay above the minimum allowed by law.

I want to point out how great a role the public sector plays in promoting the leisure economy in Wales, and, given the non-statutory nature of those services, how

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vulnerable they are at a time of continuing public cuts. The prospect of a European referendum that might result in the UK leaving Europe would be disastrous to the Welsh economy as a whole, and also to initiatives such as Antur Stiniog, Plas Heli in Pwllheli and many others. Those employment-generating ventures would simply not exist without regional development funding.

Finally, I ask the Minister to consider how best to encourage overseas visitors, and perhaps home visitors too, to venture beyond the capital cities of England and Scotland. Search engines need to be able to direct potential visitors to outdoor recreation activities, events and attractions in locations across the United Kingdom, and thus encourage people to explore and spread economic value to areas where its impact is proportionately far more significant. The adventure, excitement and scenery of Blaenau Ffestiniog need to be accessible to people who do not—yet—know how to spell the name of the town.

3.23 pm

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, particularly the item about outdoor learning, which has been a lifelong professional as well as personal interest of mine.

If nothing else, the debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) has shown that although we are of course delighted to have the Sports Minister here, her place could easily have been filled by a Minister from the Department of Health, the Department for Education or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Chancellor, indeed, could have attended, because most of what has been said this afternoon has shown that, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) put it, the issue is to do with investment that brings a healthy return, which the Treasury perhaps even more than any other Department should take seriously.

I want to make some observations, rather than raising concerns, about two areas. First, much as I welcome, admire and champion the adventurous theme of some of the speeches, and the emphasis on fit, active people, I think that the challenge for the Minister is to ensure that outdoor recreation and access to the outdoors is accessible to everyone—an 80-year old as well as an eight-year-old, a wealthy person as well as someone on lower wages, and families as well as individual mountaineers such as those we have heard about. That is a big challenge. There is compelling evidence that everyone gets some health benefits from access to the outdoors. Let us make sure that the Government see it not just as something for the fit and healthy, but something to which everyone can have access and that everyone can afford and benefit from.

Despite widespread support from the Government and non-governmental organisations, and colleagues on both sides of the House, and after all the years of agreement, it seems that there are still areas of barriers and conflict. The world of education is one that I have taken great interest in, and it seems that there is still some confusion, particularly in parts of the teaching

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profession, between outdoor education and outdoor entertainment. As long as teachers still believe that outdoor activity is a sort of alternative to education, we shall never make the progress we would like. It needs to be seen as just as important an element of a young person’s education and upbringing as work in a classroom or laboratory.

Perhaps the Minister can help us with the fear—sometimes justified, and sometimes not—of the consequences of litigation if something goes wrong when children are taken on some kind of outdoor experience. There is the refrain of “It’s health and safety; it gets in the way, causes added hassle and adds cost to the trip,” but sometimes it is not health and safety that is the problem but the litigation element, which may be a consequence of health and safety restrictions or of breaches, inadvertent or otherwise. The Government can help in those areas, and I hope that the Minister will help us as part of the pan-departmental approach.

The result of what I have described is the charitable sector and private enterprise soldiering on, doing fantastic work in the outdoor recreational arena, sometimes despite rather than because of Government. Many hon. Members have quoted examples from their experience, and in my part of the world we have a competition called Ironman Wales. It happens in my constituency and involves 43 countries. There are 2,000 athletes and 40,000 spectators. It does not happen only on one weekend a year in the county, because there is training throughout the year. It has spawned an enormous triathlon-based industry in west Wales, reaching way beyond the people in Lycra whom we all slightly aspire to look like but are probably never likely to. I restrict myself to the other private venture fitness effort in west Wales—actually, it happens across the UK—called parkrun. Almost everyone can do 5 km on a Saturday morning followed by a croissant and a cup of coffee. I recommend everyone to experience that, as I do, every weekend. The point is that the economic benefit from those events extends way beyond the weekend or day when they happen. It has a 365-day life that brings prosperity and jobs to an area.

In the area of education there are numerous charities involved. We all know which ones they are, but in my part of the world organisations such as the Field Studies Council now have compelling evidence that if children struggle to perform to their maximum capability in traditional classroom scenarios, taking them out of the classroom and educating them in a different, novel, adventurous and intuitive way not only brings them the pleasures of the great outdoors, and brings alive the world of nature that is often denied to them, but has positive benefits for the rest of their development. When they go back into the classroom they find that because they excelled outside, they begin to excel inside. It should not be left to the charitable sector to champion that approach, yet often that is what seems to happen. My plea to the Minister is to grip the Secretary of State for Education and say, “This isn’t just a pleasurable add-on; it is an essential investment that the Government can make, for which there are huge returns.”

Anyone who knows me will know that I am of course also going to ask for recognition of the country sports community’s enormous work and its value to the nation. Angling, which so far has not had a mention, is the biggest participation sport in the UK. I think that there

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are more than 100,000 jobs, or full-time equivalents, in the industry, and that is not to be sniffed at. It is not a question of what we can afford to do; it is more a question of highlighting the things that we cannot afford not to do.

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): We have 10 minutes left for three Back-Bench speeches, so great brevity will be a courtesy.

3.29 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): First, I thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for securing this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in it.

The great outdoors is a great British tradition, and spending quality time outdoors has shaped us in many ways. Today’s debate is timely as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has just concluded its consultation on a new strategy for sport, and the Government’s spending review is currently under way. We are all aware of the great opportunities of outdoors recreation from a physical point of view, but there are also economic benefits. As the Minister knows, I am one of those who enjoy country sports; the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), who spoke before me, does too. I do not hunt or fish; shooting is my sport and the one that I want to speak about today.

However, I also want to quote Dr John O’Kelly, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland and an active GP. He has said:

“GPs are definitely seeing growing numbers of both children and adults who are overweight and obese. It is just passing on to another generation. We are already seeing a significant increase in Type 2 diabetes and expect that to increase. It also has huge ramifications on the health budget.”

We are ever conscious of that situation; the cost of dealing with obesity in Northern Ireland is £370 million a year. With that in mind, we must encourage many people, young and old, to participate in physical activity, in order to address the growth in type 2 diabetes and obesity.

I will speak very briefly about country sports, to which the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire referred. I have engaged in country sports since I was about 18, or perhaps even younger. Shooting is a sport that gives me the chance to enjoy the country air, and to chase up pheasants; usually, my dog thinks it can catch them before I can shoot them, but that is just one of those things.

What I see in country sports is a great opportunity. I know that the Minister and I have different opinions about country sports—we both know that—but I ask her to consider the great benefits of country sports. Some 600,000 people in the UK participate in shooting sports; 74,000 jobs are created as a result; and in Northern Ireland 60,000 people are involved in country sports, with 12,000 people involved in angling and hunting. There are benefits for the countryside, with 3.9 million days of conservation and 16,000 jobs created as a result of country sports, which is worth £250 million to the economy. Those are the facts and figures about country sports, such is their appeal.

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The benefits of country sports are not always physical; they can also bring peace of mind. Angling is too slow for me, but that is just my opinion; it gives other people great recreational opportunities.

I just hope that the Members here in Westminster Hall today clearly recognise that outdoor activities are not only physical activities such as mountain climbing, walking, cycling, motorcycling, quad biking or whatever they may be, but country sports as well, and I hope they recognise the benefits that country sports bring to all of us. Hopefully the Minister can appreciate that, even if it is from a different point of view to my own, and understand that country sports are very important, even integral, to the countryside and who we are.

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Admirable and characteristic brevity from the hon. Member from Strangford.

3.33 pm

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Thank you, Mr Gray, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this debate. He is a great man and he made some powerful points.

In Britain, we are blessed with some of the most beautiful countryside and outdoor spaces in the world. Perhaps because of that, outdoor recreation is the UK’s favourite pastime. Four out of five adults in England regularly visited the natural environment in 2013-14. I am a keen amateur sportsman, participating in parliamentary football games, rugby games, cricket matches and tug-of-war events; I think people will get the general idea. And if I can do it, anybody can do it; there is hope for us all.

I am also the chairman of the all-party group on running. I encourage all Members to apply for the London marathon; if anyone is interested, they can see me later. I am also the father of three children, and I am keen for them to learn the benefits of sport at an early age. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) mentioned parkrun. My children and I are keen, enthusiastic parkrunners every Saturday morning. I am interested to know whether my hon. Friend turns up to parkruns for the croissant and coffee, or whether he actually participates in the run.

Worryingly, I have learned in this fantastic debate that it costs £3,500 to keep a horse. My daughter, who is eight, keeps on talking about “having a horse, daddy”, and now people can see why I have got her into parkruns, because running is far more cost-effective than horse riding in my view.

In particular, I am keen for more people of all ages, shapes and sizes to take up running, or even walking in the hills. There are initiatives such as the excellent parkrun, and there is also the NHS’s excellent “Couch to 5K” scheme. I encourage colleagues to consider that scheme for their constituents.

Recently, I abseiled; I was persuaded to do so by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, the great man. Although I am a keen sportsman, I had never thought about mountaineering before. If anyone knows Helsby hill, they will know that it is a famous rocky

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outcrop on the M56 that is in the shape of a face; some people say it is in the shape of a female face, but I am not sure. I did as I was told when abseiling, and I am most grateful to my hon. Friend and to the British Mountaineering Council, which is an amazing outfit that puts safety first. I had never abseiled down a mountain before, but I felt relatively safe, and my 12-year-old son took to abseiling like a fish to water. I know that is not a very good analogy, but he abseiled down the hill perfectly, unlike me.

The countryside is a real opportunity for the local enterprise partnerships. I think the countryside’s power of attraction is underestimated; it could be important for our constituencies and for the regional growth fund areas. I do not think that people pay enough attention to the countryside’s potential to attract tourists from outside the local area.

Regular outdoor exercise is proven to provide both social and personal benefits, as well as to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing. The World Health Organisation and all four chief medical officers in the UK rate physical inactivity as the fourth largest risk factor for chronic diseases. Outdoor recreation can make a significant contribution to tackling the £10 billion cost of physical inactivity, crucially saving our NHS money, a point that was very well made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). Outdoor recreation also drives the visitor economy, with an estimated £27 billion spent on visits to the great outdoors, providing vital investment in what are often our most rural communities.

3.36 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Gray. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this debate.

I think it is a given that there is an excellent positive impact from outdoor recreation; I guess the question is how we can boost that economic impact. So I will concentrate on a theme that has come through in all the speeches that we have heard today, which is the cross-departmental work that is going on and which probably needs to be augmented in the future.

Many different Government Departments have an impact on how people can participate in outdoor recreation. There is the Department for Transport; we have heard about its cycling and walking infrastructure strategy. There is also the long-term preservation of our nation’s paths, trails, waterways, country parks and coastlines, which involves the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have also heard about the national park extensions. DEFRA really should be given a key remit to provide more co-ordination of the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission, to see what they can do to improve access to and participation in outdoor recreation.

There is also the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, because we benefit massively from tourism. The “Reconomics” report by the Sport and Recreation Alliance, which many hon. Members have referred, mentions “staycations”. Just one element of “staycations” struck my eye—overnight trips involving outdoor recreation

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by domestic visitors were worth more than £10 billion to the UK economy in 2013. That is quite an astonishing figure. We should be broadcasting more to the world about the wonders of Great Britain and any of the countries within it, because people can go to any part of Great Britain and find some fantastic things to do outdoors.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has a vital role in planning, conserving the existing outdoor environment that is used for physical activity and ensuring that places for such activity exist in any new-build environment, be they roads, estates or town developments.

Education is also important. Schools play a vital role in introducing people to new pursuits, and we need to encourage teachers to deliver a range of activities both inside and outside the curriculum, including learning outdoors. Hopefully we can allow school facilities to be available for community use, too, which is a problem that many academy trusts are struggling with at the moment. Ofsted was mentioned earlier, and it should recognise and encourage good practice in that field.

However, the most important Department in this regard is the Department of Health. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield mentioned many projects, and the mental health benefits of activity are just phenomenal. It also helps to tackle our obesity and diabetes problems. We need to move to a more holistic view of what sport and outdoor activity can do, to make the Treasury realise that it will get much more bang for its buck by investing in this area.

3.39 pm

Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing the debate. When I first came to London in May, two things struck me: first, every flat I went to see seemed to offer the opportunity of a gym as part of the complex; and, secondly, London has a lot less greenery than Glasgow. Of course, Glasgow means “dear green place”, and it is well known for that.

Glasgow, of course, also benefits from its proximity to the outdoors. In my previous life I was a teacher, and it is great to hear so many Members talking about the benefits of the outdoors to young people. One of the best parts of the job for me was to get young people out experiencing what we have to offer in Scotland. I did that in two main ways. First, I was heavily involved in the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme, which built up their confidence and showed them lots of skills. It definitely developed their employability skills, which have not yet been mentioned. I believe that education should not be confined to the classroom, so I agree wholeheartedly with the comments that hon. Members have made about that.

One of the lessons that the young people learned was, “Don’t wear jeans.” Another was, “Don’t hang jeans on a fence in Scotland in April if you have got them wet, because you will have to chip them off the next morning.” As a teacher taking young people away, one of the great things was that unlike on other school trips, when they are in the great outdoors there is no danger of them not going to sleep at night.

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The second thing I did with young people was skiing. Skiing in Scotland is quite an experience. It teaches great technical skills, especially when the snow cover is not as good as might be hoped. Avoiding rocks, grass and the occasional sheep certainly builds up one’s technical ability. When we have good snow cover, the five major resorts of Glenshee, Glencoe, the Lecht, Nevis Range and Cairngorm can definitely compete with the best in Europe.

Scotland is definitely waking up to its potential. I was in the highlands a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately we do not have the technical facilities for me to share my holiday snaps, but I stayed in a hotel that I had stayed in before. It was October, and the hotel would normally be quiet, but it was bustling. The manager told me that the hotel was going to be busy right through into the new year, which was fantastic to hear. Scotland has so many activities to offer: walking, climbing, sailing, fishing, canoeing—I could go on. There are also the activities for adrenaline junkies, one or two of which I may have tried.

The economic benefits to Scotland are massive. Some 82% of Scotland’s adult population have done some activity in the outdoors in the past year. Tourism in Scotland is worth £12 billion to Scotland’s economy and offers employment for 211,000 people, but I echo the remarks of other Members that VAT reductions would make a massive difference. One of the big issues that we have in Scotland is land ownership. Half of Scotland is owned by fewer than 500 people, and many of them are overseas landlords. Some are responsible, but others are not working for the benefit of the community. In the mountains north of Ullapool, there have been recent reports of signs on footpaths saying, “Mountain closed”. That is a challenge to the ancient right to roam, and we need to be aware of that. The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through the Scottish Parliament, is about ensuring that communities living on the land have a greater say in how it is used and allowing them to reap the economic benefits of their land. The relationship between people living in Scotland and the land of Scotland is of fundamental importance, and the economic benefits are crucial to us.

I ask two things of the Minister and everyone else here. First, come and visit the great outdoors in Scotland. It is spectacular and has so much to offer. Secondly, can we look at the transport links to Scotland to allow better accessibility? To conclude, when I was looking at flats in London, I thought, “I don’t need a gym; I’ve got Scotland as my gym.”

3.45 pm

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this debate. The number of Members here and the good-natured tone of the debate are a tribute to his work and that of the all-party group, and I hope not to undermine that tone too much. Let me start by declaring a personal interest in outdoor recreation. Growing up in a city with the glorious town moor at its heart, in what is undoubtedly the most beautiful county—Northumberland—with the most stunning coasts and the glorious Cheviot hills, how could I not have that interest?

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Despite the beauty of our countryside, which several Members emphasised, we have an inactivity crisis in the UK. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) gave many examples of the cost and consequences of the crisis. Together with the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), he highlighted some of the many mental and physical benefits that come from activity. It can reduce risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and address moderate mental depression and anxiety. That helps to reduce pressure on the NHS and helps people to live longer, independent and healthier lives, as well as reducing the cost of days lost to the economy. In addition, physical activity can improve academic performance and educational attainment, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) illustrated, and that can help to tackle youth unemployment. We cannot overestimate the benefits that come from the great outdoors, and we must not lose this opportunity to consider the social and economic benefits that come from sport.

We should also remember the many major tournaments and sporting events that we have hosted in the UK. The rugby world cup, which reaches its climax this weekend, has been a huge triumph for the organisers. It is predicted to generate up to £2.2 billion of output into the economy and has supported 41,000 jobs across the country. Sadly, it has not been such a resounding success for the home nations on the pitch, but—moving quickly on—the benefits of the 2012 Olympic games continue to flow, with the visitors to the UK and the businesses attracted to locate and trade here. More recently, the Yorkshire Grand Départ of the Tour de France provided a £128 million boost to Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and London. I hope that a Grand Départ in Northumberland will one day provide a similar boost there. All those events help to inspire people to take part in pursuits, as well as generating economic activity.

Outdoor recreation is the UK’s favourite pastime. Along with tourism, it is a key economic driver, particularly in rural areas, as emphasised by the hon. Members for Wells (James Heappey), for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). Just this weekend, I set out on a red ramble with 23 of my Newcastle Labour comrades around Ovington in the Tyne valley, and afterwards we contributed something to the local economy in the local pub.

Whether it is walking, mountaineering, angling, canoeing, off-road cycling, horse riding or any of the other outdoor pursuits we have discussed this afternoon, we need to ensure that more people take advantage of the opportunities afforded to us. The hon. Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) emphasised that point. Expenditure in the sector supports landowners such as the National Trust, retailers and manufacturers, outdoor clothing and equipment shops, and outdoor centres. It supports many in different sectors and brings economic activity to areas where it is much needed.

It is essential that the Government deliver a strong, coherent and joined-up sport and physical activity strategy, which is what the Labour party and those working in the sector have been calling for. According to the most recent data from Sport England, there are around 400,000 fewer people taking part in sport once a week than there were in 2011-12, including 275,700 fewer women. That is of particular concern. Also, the percentage of those

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in the lowest income groups who participate has fallen from 29.3% to 25.7%. Those figures are an indictment of the Government’s approach to sport, from removal of ring-fenced funding for school sports two years prior to the games to the decision to water down protections for playing fields.

I encourage the Minister to look at Labour’s “More Sport for All” policy document. I am encouraged by the Government’s recent consultation on sport, and I hope it signals a change in intent that the Minister will elaborate on. I hope she will take this opportunity to confirm a timeline for implementing a new sports strategy and let us know what commitments she has received from colleagues in other Departments to deliver a joined-up sports strategy going forward, and I hope she will respond to the many questions raised by hon. Members in this debate. I look forward to her responses to the proposals and to hearing how the Government look to address them in the upcoming sports strategy.

3.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tracey Crouch): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for securing this debate, and for the constructive and interesting contributions that he and others have made today.

As I look around the Chamber, I realise that I have spent far too much of my recreational time with many of my colleagues here today, often with little economic benefit. A couple of hon. Members have mentioned that I climbed volcanoes in Ecuador—in the place of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield—with the hon. Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland). It has scarred me for life, in both a good and a bad way, but I can assure my hon. Friends that what goes on on tour stays on tour, including who was sharing which tents when.

This issue is clearly of great importance to our nation’s economy and to the health and wellbeing of our citizens. I will try to respond in my speech to all the points made, but given the time limitations, hon. Members must forgive me if I do not. If I miss anything, I am happy to write. As a courtesy to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, who secured this debate, I will pick up on his key asks first, which were running themes throughout other Members’ contributions.

The first theme was about how outdoor recreation should be an integral part of Government strategy. The sports strategy is forthcoming—it will be published before Christmas—and the consultation in the run-up to it had 10 chapters, only one of which had a foreword from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so I can absolutely reassure hon. Members that this is an important issue for all Government Departments, so we need to work together if we are to deliver an effective sport and physical activity strategy going forward.

Another issue that was raised on numerous occasions was about adding “outdoor recreation” to my ministerial title. I am actually the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, as well as for gambling and a whole host of other things. When I was originally asked to put “heritage” in the title, the early suggestion was that I would be the

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Minister for Sport, Heritage and Tourism. That was quickly vetoed for obvious reasons. Having sport, heritage, outdoor recreation and tourism in the title would make me the Minister for SHORTs, and I am not sure that would go down too well either. However, I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield that I will look to see if I can add outdoor recreation to my overall responsibilities that are listed formally. There is however one confusing aspect to this, which is that, as many other Members have mentioned, both DEFRA and the Department of Health have outdoor recreation in their portfolios, so it is important to discuss that with those Departments.

Today we have heard in particular about the economic value of the outdoors. We know that the outdoors market is vast and brings real opportunities to the local and national economy. It brings jobs and supports spending. This can be particularly important for the economy of rural communities. The Reconomics report highlighted the value of the sector to be some £1.43 billion in 2013. It also showed more than 26,000 people directly employed in outdoor education, recreation, development training and outdoor sport development. That is a huge number of people whose very livelihoods depend on the outdoors, and it is my job, and that of Ministers across Government, to ensure that they have the opportunity to work in the industry they love, which offers so much to our country—it is absolutely correct to think of this as an industry; it is a massive part of the future of the British economy.

Indeed, the outdoors is a vital part of our tourism offer—another area of responsibility that I have. According to data from VisitEngland, the estimated spend by visitors undertaking long walks, hiking or rambling is around £1.8 billion a year. The figure for cycling or mountain biking is £520 million a year, while for fishing it is £274 million and for sightseeing or exploring the coast or countryside it is more than £2.5 billion a year. These numbers are a huge boost to the economy, and we need to ensure that we make the most of this important opportunity. The Government are committed to supporting the sector, and I was particularly delighted to see the launch of the three-year Countryside is GREAT campaign earlier this year, designed to grow international visits, as well as the Adventure is GREAT campaign. Such campaigns are re-energising international perceptions of the British countryside and encouraging overseas visitors to explore different parts of Britain.

Our five-point plan for tourism is all about getting people out of London, exploring and experiencing our great outdoors beyond these city walls. It will help to support the wider recreation industry, including in Somerset, Hampshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, the south-west, Wales, Northern Ireland, Cheshire, Northamptonshire, Scotland, Northumberland and, of course, my own county of Kent.

Although the economic impact of the outdoors is of course important, we should not forget that outdoor recreation has many wider benefits and plays a huge part in delivering a more active nation, which the hon. Member for Bassetlaw and others spoke passionately about. The outdoors provides millions of people with the opportunity to participate in a diverse and interesting range of activities. It improves their health and, most importantly, it is fun.

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I work closely with the public health Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison)—not least because sport and physical activity is undoubtedly valuable for everyone throughout life. As we grow older, getting active can be even more important, helping to tackle social exclusion and loneliness, as well as leading to better health and self-confidence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) said, no speech about the outdoors would be complete without mention of our inspirational national parks. They are a vital part of our heritage, not only providing beautiful landscapes for us all to enjoy, but helping to sustain many rural businesses.

National parks receive 90 million visitors every year, supporting 68,000 jobs and generating £4 billion for the economy. The Lake District and Yorkshire Dales national parks are to be extended next year, which can only be seen as good news. I want us to encourage those who would benefit most to get out and explore the great outdoors. It should be accessible to everyone, regardless of age, gender or ability. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) said, accessibility is an essential part of delivering that.

I am pleased that Sport England has already invested significantly in outdoor recreation so that people can engage in a variety of activities. To respond specifically to two colleagues who mentioned horse-related activities, Sport England has agreed a £6 million investment in the British Equestrian Federation to attract and keep more riders.

A cross-departmental approach is essential, but a joined-up approach at all levels of Government and governance is also essential. Clinical commissioning groups, local authorities, recreation facilitators and local enterprise partnerships all need to work together.

We have had a fascinating debate today. The potential for outdoor recreation is massive. I will publish the sport and physical activity strategy for the country by the end of the year. It is a cross-departmental strategy. I am keen that it takes into account the issues raised today and the potential that outdoor recreation has to deliver a much wider agenda, including the educational, environmental and health aspects raised in this afternoon’s debate. We are at a unique moment in time, and it is important that all Departments join together to recognise the importance of sport and physical activity to everyone.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the economic value of outdoor recreation.

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Living Wage (Farmers)

[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

4.1 pm

Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the effect of the living wage on farmers.

Last week, on 21 October, it was apple day, a day on which we could celebrate the wealth and variety of apples available in the United Kingdom. I am a proud man of Kent, a county that produces a high percentage of the fruit grown in Britain, including 60% of its apples. I fear, however, that Kent’s status as the garden of England might be under threat from a Government policy with which, ironically, I agree: the introduction of the national living wage.

I called for this debate so that I could set out some of the worries of farmers in Kent, particularly those who grow soft fruit, top fruit and stone fruit, but I will begin by making a couple of things clear. First, agriculture and horticulture are not low-wage industries, as is often suggested. Indeed, only a very small proportion of farm workers earn at the level of the national minimum wage.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this important issue before the House. I declare an interest as a member of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, which shares my concern that the living wage has the potential to put farmers off employing those under 25 who do not have experience, which will have a knock-on effect. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that we should take that issue on board as well?

Gordon Henderson: Yes, and I will come on to discuss how we might resolve that later in my speech.

The second thing I want to emphasise is that, like me, farmers in my constituency and beyond support the principle of a living wage. Nevertheless, they are concerned that, because of a number of challenges unique to their industry, they will be forced out of business, not by the national living wage directly, but because they will be unable to compete with cheap imports from countries where farmers will not have to pay their workers as much as their British counterparts.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend from Kent for calling for this debate and setting out the case very well. Fruit farmers in my constituency are also worried about the effect of the living wage, although they also very much support it and often pay experienced workers well above it. They are worried that it will increase their labour costs by perhaps 11%, when they make margins of only around 1% or 2%. I feel strongly on their behalf that the Government must look at mitigating the impact if we want to maintain a successful British fruit industry.

Gordon Henderson: I am pleased that my hon. Friend and fellow Kent MP has raised that important issue, because I will be dealing with it later in my speech.

Another problem faced by farmers is foreign competition, which has made things worse. Their main customers are supermarket chains that are notoriously hard-nosed

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when it comes to price negotiations: they always look for the cheapest suppliers, whether or not they come from this country. It is inconceivable that supermarkets will, without protest, allow farmers to pass on the increased labour costs they will be forced to pay. The supermarkets will simply buy cheaper, imported produce.

Many of the workers employed by farmers are seasonal. Traditionally they were students who, because they were generally under 25, would not be covered by the national living wage, but the supply of home-grown student workers dried up and was replaced by foreign workers, many of whom came to this country under the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. Sadly, two years ago the Government scrapped SAWS, a decision that will exacerbate the problems faced by farmers if they are forced to pay the living wage.

Some farmers will look into introducing even greater mechanisation in order to reduce their labour costs. There is little doubt that such a move will inevitably lead to fewer staff, so it is highly likely that an unintended consequence of the national living wage will be a rise in unemployment among farm workers. Of course, some farming sectors do not lend themselves to mechanisation, and horticulturists such as soft, top and stone-fruit farmers are in that category, which is why they face the biggest challenges. As I said earlier, some of those challenges are unique to farmers. For instance, they have to deal with the vagaries of the supermarkets, which, in addition to demanding unsustainably low prices, have been known to reject a delivery of perfectly good crops as imperfect, simply because they still had some of that crop in stock from a previous delivery.

Farmers have to contend with unpredictable weather, which can decimate their crops. They also have to contend with the additional costs associated with the sale and delivery of highly perishable products and, as I have pointed out, competition from foreign imports from EU countries such as France that are becoming even cheaper because of the fall in value of the euro against sterling.

Farmers are not like widget manufacturers: they cannot just buy in components to produce goods; they have to plant crops, nurture them and eventually harvest them. Top-fruit farmers face a particular problem, because when they plant trees they are unlikely to have a saleable crop for three or four years. When considering whether to invest in new trees, a farmer needs to be confident that he or she will be able to sell the eventual crop of fruit profitably. Such farmers believe that the national living wage will make that very problematic. There are farmers in my constituency who planted fruit trees last year based on the understandable assumption that, over the next few years, their wage costs would be in line with the trend in the minimum wage seen over recent years. Imposing the new living wage on those farmers, without consultation or warning, will put their financial stability in jeopardy unless mitigation is forthcoming from the Government.

I accept that it was announced in the summer Budget that the cost to employers of paying the living wage would be offset by changes to corporation tax rates. The problem is that in the horticultural industry a reduction in corporation tax will not have the beneficial impact that the Government suppose, because 95% of producers

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are sole traders or partnerships, for whom corporation tax is not payable. Similarly, although the increase in the employment allowance will reduce employers’ national insurance contributions, that will have little effect on horticultural businesses because, typically, they employ relatively large numbers of workers, and the change to the employment allowance applies only to a business, not to the number of workers employed.

Although horticultural businesses employ large numbers of workers, they are, in the main, low-turnover small and medium-sized outfits.

4.9 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.24 pm

On resuming

Andrew Rosindell (in the Chair): Order. The debate will now resume and will conclude no later than 4.45 pm.

Gordon Henderson: As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted, while horticultural businesses employ large numbers of workers, they are in the main low-turnover, small to medium-sized outfits, which leaves them exposed to the impact of the living wage. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) pointed out, profitability levels in the industry are low and having to pay the living wage will push many producers over the edge and out of business. Unless the Government step in and help farmers, we are likely to see the loss of British-grown produce and an increase in imported food, which would have serious long-term consequences for not only the British economy but our country’s food security.

Farmers also face a couple of other problems. Accommodation provided by an employer can currently be taken into account when calculating the national minimum wage. It is not clear, however, whether that arrangement will continue under the living wage. If it does not, many employers who provide accommodation will face rising wage bills without the benefit of a reduction in the amount that they pay to subsidise that accommodation. It might help if the Minister confirmed whether and how the living wage will differ from the national minimum wage in that respect.

Another problem is that the introduction of the living wage comes at a time when farmers, like other businesses, are facing increased costs from other employment legislation, including pension auto-enrolment and an increase from 1% to 2% in the employer contributions that will come into effect in 2017. Farmers believe that the rise in wages under the living wage will lead to a growth in contributions to auto-enrolment pensions. Assessing a complex, changing workforce and calculating contributions for short periods for seasonal workers who stay with a business for just over the current 12-week postponement period will add to farmers’ costs.

To help British farmers in general, and my local farmers in particular, I want the Government to consider several possible mitigating measures. First, supermarkets could be encouraged to work with farmers to help ensure that they receive a fair price for their produce. Ministers could do that by convening a meeting between the management of our major supermarkets and farmers’ representatives to put together a long-term plan for the

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industry. Secondly, the exemption from the living wage for workers under-25 could be widened to include seasonal workers. Thirdly, employment allowance could be changed so it is based on individual workers and not a business. Fourthly, we could introduce staged increases for the level of accommodation offset that counts towards an employer’s payment of the national minimum wage and, presumably, the living wage. Fifthly, the cumulative and disproportionate administration burden associated with auto-enrolment duties could be reduced by extending the current three-month postponement period to six months to help capture seasonal workers in the postponement period.

Sixthly, the starting point for national insurance could be aligned with the starting point for income tax. In 2011-12, the class 1 NI threshold was set at almost 95% of the income tax starting threshold. Today, it is just 76%. Finally, the review cycles for the national minimum wage and the living wage could be aligned to reduce complexity. As I asked earlier, will the Minister perhaps confirm whether and how the living wage will differ from the national minimum wage? In addition, will he provide clarity on how the two wage rates will co-exist and whether the various rates can be simplified?

Agriculture and horticulture are important to Britain. They are particularly important to Kent, which, in addition to being the garden of England, just happens to be God’s own county.

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): My hon. Friend speaks for many of us who represent some of the fantastic areas of the kingdom of Kent. I am delighted to hear his comments, which forcefully express the importance of agriculture to our region. In my constituency is Hugh Lowe Farms, which grows the strawberries for Wimbledon, and the community there has done a great deal to develop not only the farm but the economy around it. Marion, who runs the farm, raised the possibility of considering the Australian piece rate, which is a concept that would see the average employee wage be 25% above the minimum. If my hon. Friend is not going to come on to that point, will the Minister consider it anyway?

Gordon Henderson: I welcome that intervention because I was not going to mention the concept, so it is just as well that my hon. Friend did.

In conclusion, I want to see a thriving farming industry in Kent that provides food security for future generations. To achieve that, however, we need the Government to back British produce.

4.29 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) for putting this important issue on the agenda. Food and farming is a vitally important industry; it is our biggest industry—bigger than aerospace and automotive put together. I am conscious that horticulture makes an important contribution, with an output of about £9 billion per year and employing some 12,000 people, many of whom are casual workers and many of whom are in Kent, the garden of England.

I declare an interest, because I spent 10 years as a strawberry farmer. As my hon. Friend described some

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of the challenges for soft fruit producers, I got flashbacks to difficult problems that I, too, encountered. He made the valid point that we are discussing perishable products. There are immense challenges in getting the crop harvested without the pickers bruising the fruit, getting it into a cold store so that the field heat can be removed and we can preserve the shelf life, getting the right orders at the right time, and getting the fruit on a lorry without someone tipping over the pallets on the way, so that it arrives in good condition. Those are daily challenges for soft fruit producers.

My hon. Friend also mentioned that producers can have problems with supermarkets. Again, he is absolutely right, and I have seen that happen. If there is a rainy day and sales in the supermarkets go down, supermarket buyers will look for excuses to reject consignments of soft fruit. That is a hazard of the industry. Another risk is weather, which I will come on to later. The risk has been reduced, but it is still there, in particular in the top fruit and stone fruit sector.

The biggest challenge of all is staffing. In the farm that I ran, we had 50 acres of soft fruit and employed about 300 people. Half of them were local people and the other half came from a number of different countries, mainly European Union ones, but also some Commonwealth countries such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand—students who were on a work visa. So I know the challenges that farmers encounter with staffing.

I am, however, more optimistic than my hon. Friend on a number of fronts. He claimed that supermarkets will not pay a premium for fruit, but the evidence does not bear that out. English soft fruit has always commanded a premium. Consumers are tired of Spanish strawberries by March and April and are looking for quality, English glasshouse-produced strawberries. Those glasshouse and then tunnel-produced strawberries command a premium not only over Spanish fruit, because we have superior varieties, but even over Dutch strawberries. The Dutch use similar varieties to us, predominantly Elsanta or more recent ones, but even so English and Scottish fruit command a premium over foreign imports. I am more optimistic than he is about supermarkets paying a premium.

Another development of recent years has been the changes to production systems—a big transformation, which was starting 20 years ago when I was still in the industry. In fact, I was one of the first producers of glasshouse strawberries, and we used to be the first to supply the supermarkets, normally in time for Easter. We have had a huge change in production, so the season is no longer four weeks in the middle of summer, with Wimbledon fortnight smack in the middle; we now have production from March right through to Christmas.

We have also seen the development of table-top systems, which have lower labour costs. Few commercial soft fruit farms now produce strawberries in traditional beds, growing in the soil; most of them grow in a coir substrate, basically on a table top, which makes the fruit much easier and much cheaper to pick. The other advantage of moving to such systems is the advent of the so-called Spanish or French tunnel—temporary tunnel structures, which hon. Members can see in their Kent constituencies for most of the year and which protect the fruit from the weather. That has had a major impact in reducing weather risk. In fact, the greatest

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weather risk is now probably the effect on demand, with problems such as sales collapsing in the middle of summer because of a wet week.

There have also been big changes in the top fruit industry. Again, over the past 20 years the advent of new, more intensive systems, such as apples grown in spindle or bed systems, has lowered the cost of picking. They are now generally grown on M9—dwarfing—stock, which keeps the size of the tree down, makes the apples easier to pick and keeps the picking costs down. We have also seen big innovation in the top fruit industry with new varieties. In the case of stone fruit, who would have thought that this country would have seen a huge expansion in the production of apricots? However, we are seeing apricots and cherries grown in this country like never before.

The changes in production systems have made it easier for soft fruit businesses to manage their staff. In my day, we had to build from nothing to 300 staff within about 10 days. By the time all the staff issues had been sorted out—such as supervisors who could not do the job, endless recruitment or problems with training—and things had been perfected, it was time to start shutting everything down, because the season was over. Every soft fruit business used to have that challenge. The big change is that it is now possible for a soft fruit farm to offer employment from March right through to December.

Two years ago I visited one of our largest soft fruit producers, Hall Hunter, near Guildford, as part of the open farm Sunday project. The people there explained to me that about 60% of their staff are retained from the previous year. That was unheard of 20 years ago—every soft fruit business had to start from scratch each year—so now soft fruit enterprises are getting the bulk of their staff returning from one year to the next, and they do not have those huge costs of retraining.

I am aware of the concerns in the industry about the impacts of the national living wage, such as the potential increase in costs. We have to put that into perspective, with the coalition Government having abolished the Agricultural Wages Board. Twenty years ago I was campaigning for that, along with some of the larger enterprises. Strangely enough, at the time it was the National Farmers Union that stood in the way of the then Conservative Government, who were ready to sweep away that anachronistic organisation, and it did not happen. However, we have now scrapped the board. It is worth noting that in 2012, the final year of the Agriculture Wages Order, the level for a grade 1 standard employee was £6.96, so the change we are seeing is not so dramatic.

My hon. Friend was absolutely right when he said that we should not perceive the agriculture industry as only a low-wage one. In fact, it employs about 500,000 people. Our rough analysis suggests that the number of those affected by the national living wage will be fewer than 20,000—so the vast majority of those 500,000 are already earning more than the national living wage.

The other thing that we have to bear in mind is that the national living wage will apply only to those over the age of 25. As my hon. Friend pointed out, many soft fruit farms still rely on student labour—not only from the UK, but typically from other European countries—and they will be exempt from the national living wage. The national minimum wage rates will apply instead.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) mentioned concerns about the treatment of piece rates, but there will be no change. We already have an approach that allows for a fair piece rate to be set, which is a mean average of the output per hour that a farm’s staff can achieve, divided by a coefficient of 1.2, to ensure that those only a bit slower than the average will still hit the minimum wage. The provision of a fair piece rate, which is still used in many sectors of horticulture, including the flower and soft fruit industries, means that with staff who work intermittently—they might work for two or three hours and then want to take a long break before starting again—instead of having to record every minute that they are sat in a hedge having a cup of tea, there is the ability to set a fair piece rate. That will not change.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey invited me to make a whole load of policy commitments that he well knows are issues for other Departments, such as aligning tax thresholds with national insurance thresholds or extending the employment allowance so that it applies per employee rather than per business. He understands that I cannot give such commitments on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, but officials from BIS are present, so I am sure that some of my hon. Friend’s points will be taken into account.

I want to pick up on a number of issues that my hon. Friend raised. First, he commented that horticultural businesses typically will not benefit from the change in corporation tax. I am not sure whether that is largely correct. Even when I was in the industry 20 years ago, about 10 major enterprises controlled about 70% of UK soft fruit production. That has not changed; if anything, even larger businesses have come together. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling mentioned Marion Regan from Hugh Lowe Farms. I know Hugh Lowe well and I know Marion well. It is a strong, enterprising business, and there are others such as Angus Davison’s business in the west midlands. We have got some very large businesses that are limited companies and will benefit from the change in corporation tax.

Smaller businesses—perhaps not those in horticulture but those in broader agriculture sectors—will in the most part benefit from an increase in the employer’s allowance from £2,000 to £3,000. A small dairy farm owner who has perhaps only one or two staff helping them out on the farm will benefit from that increase in the employer allowance. That will help to offset any additional costs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey mentioned the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which was discontinued a few years ago. I am keeping a close eye on this, but, in the conversations I have had with soft fruit enterprises, most tell me that they have not had difficulty in sourcing labour so far. Most still find that they manage to get all the staff they need from countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and other European Union countries. We must bear in mind that the scheme was brought in to enable students from Poland and the Czech Republic to come to the UK when we had only about 12 member states in the European Union. Now that those countries are in the EU and we have an EU of 28 member states, the rationale for it has somewhat diminished.

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My hon. Friend asked about the accommodation offset. In October 2015—just last month—the offset was increased to £5.35 a day, which is a rate recommended by the Low Pay Commission. The rules for the accommodation offset will also apply to workers aged 25 or older who will receive the national living wage from 2016. The rules are therefore broadly the same, and the rate will be set by the Low Pay Commission. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will assess complaints regarding the accommodation offset for national living wage cases, just as it does now. There is no change: the offset will be based on a recommendation coming from the Low Pay Commission.

I am far more optimistic than my hon. Friend that the industry can cope. This is a vibrant industry that has seen huge growth in production and huge innovation in the past 20 years. That innovation has changed how it employs staff and means that, in my view, it will to cope with the coming change far better than he fears. The industry in Kent has a bright future. I was the most westerly outpost of Kentish Garden, the forerunner to Berry Gardens, and I spent many years in my 20s in Kent trying to deal with some of the challenges the industry faced. I believe that it has a strong future.

Question put and agreed to.

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Chagos Islands

4.45 pm

Dr Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Chagos Islands.

Thank you, Mr Rosindell, for the opportunity to consider the many issues that confront the UK Government in respect of the Chagos islands. It is my privilege to serve under your chairmanship as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on the Chagos islands.

It would be remiss of me not to begin the debate by highlighting the presence of the Chagossians, other interested parties and Members from all political parties who have taken the time and trouble to be present here today; it is rare for a humble Westminster Hall debate to be so well attended. The interest in the debate reflects the widespread concern, and high levels of interest, from across the world for the people of the Chagos islands. Many here today have worked tirelessly to highlight the injustices perpetrated on the indigenous people of the Chagos islands over many years by a nation state that, quite bluntly, should know better.

On 8 November 1965—almost 50 years ago to the day—Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister, authorised the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory. That act was far from benign. The establishment of that territory was nothing less than a cynical and calculated plan to annex the Chagos archipelago, expel its indigenous people and deploy resources for military advantage.

The plan hinged on shameless exploitation. During a five-year period from 1968 to 1973, every single Chagossian man, woman and child was forcibly removed in secret from the islands. None has since been allowed to return. For the past 50 years, Chagossians have lived in poverty. To the utter shame of every UK Government and the 17 Foreign Secretaries since, that ethnic cleansing of an entire people has been variously ignored, glossed over or actively misrepresented.

The purpose of the annexation was to facilitate the leasing of the largest island in the Chagos archipelago, Diego Garcia, to the United States to allow the construction of an enormous military base. The base remains today. We now know that, in return for annexing the archipelago and expelling its people, the UK Government received a cash discount of £11 million on Polaris nuclear missiles, which is equivalent to about £200 million today when adjusted for inflation.

The story of Chagos has been a chronicle of abuse, naked greed and bullying on a grand scale. Indeed, it is a narrative of the hideous abuse of power and trust perpetrated against a humble people and an account of the success of a plan that hinged on the reprehensible neglect of a people’s inalienable human rights. Many believe that abuse of power falls within the International Criminal Court’s definition of a crime against humanity. That may be so, but we can be certain that human rights were sacrificed by the UK Government in a sordid deal to secure weapons of mass destruction. I am sure the Minister agrees that that is an appalling legacy.

Before 1968, more than 2,000 people lived on the Chagos islands, with many having family histories dating back almost 200 years. Chagossians had a thriving society, with numerous villages, schools, hospitals, churches

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and businesses, and a unique way of life. Unknown to Parliament, and in clear breach of United Nations charters, the UK plotted to deliberately destroy that society. The truth about the cleansing of the Chagossians, and the Whitehall conspiracy to deny that there had ever been an indigenous population, did not emerge for almost 20 years, until files were unearthed at the Public Record Office in Kew by the historian Mark Curtis, the journalist John Pilger and lawyers acting for the former inhabitants of the islands, who were campaigning for a return to their homeland.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I am not familiar with the geography of Diego Garcia, but is there enough room on the island for the military base to remain and the people to return?

Dr Monaghan: The islands are an archipelago. There are hundreds of islands and more than enough space for everyone.

In 1982, when the truth leaked out, the islanders exiled to Mauritius were awarded derisory compensation of less than £3,000 per person. Those exiled to Seychelles were awarded no compensation. It was noted then that it had been

“entirely improper, unethical, dictatorial to have the Chagossian put their thumbprint on an English legal, drafted document, where the Chagossian, who doesn’t read, know or speak any English, let alone any legal English, is made to renounce basically all his rights as a human being.”

Was the annexation improper? Certainly. Unethical? I have no doubt. Dictatorial? Absolutely. Those are strong words, but that is exactly how the UK Government have treated and continue to treat the people of Chagos. That is what the Minister is here today to explain.

I understand that Diego Garcia remains the United States’ largest military base outside north America. There are two runways, over 30 warships, more than 4,000 troops and a satellite spy station located on the island. The base has been used as a launch pad for invasions, including those of both Afghanistan and Iraq. It is still in use, and that use is still encouraged by the UK Government.

In 1966, terms for the lease of Diego Garcia were agreed at $1 a year. On expulsion, the indigenous population were allowed to take just one suitcase each. They were forced into the hold of the SS Nordvaer and transported to Seychelles, where they were held in prison cells before being transited elsewhere, many to Mauritius. Wherever they were sent, they were left without financial support.

A Foreign Office memo on the subject at the time, from Sir Paul Gore-Booth to diplomat Denis Greenhill, stated:

“We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls…The United States Government will require the removal of the entire population of the atoll.”

Denis Greenhill replied in August 1966:

“Unfortunately, along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius etc. When this has been done I agree we must be very tough and a submission is being done accordingly.”

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It is impossible for the UK Government to hide behind that correspondence. The casual disregard for human life it evidences is chillingly calculated, unambiguous and staggering. Nevertheless that “tough” action provoked legal action that has ultimately led to all of us being here for this debate today.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): It was estimated in 2007 that the litigation costs to the UK taxpayer for Government action against the Chagossians had amounted to over £4 million; that has no doubt increased after more recent legal proceedings. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hypocritical of UK Governments to spend money in that way when many Chagossians have been denied fair compensation from the UK?

Dr Monaghan: My hon. Friend has raised a valid point that I will come to shortly.

In 1975, a former resident of the Chagos archipelago, Mr Michel Vencatassen, initiated a claim for compensation in the courts of England against the UK Government. The claim was settled in 1982 in an agreement under which the United Kingdom would pay £4 million into a fund for the former residents of the archipelago. Together with a previous payment of £650,000 made to the Government of Mauritius in 1966, that £4 million was later held as

“full and final settlement of all claims”

arising from the removal or resettlement of the population of the Chagos archipelago—despite the fact that many Chagossians have received no compensation at all.

Other verdicts in the English courts went in favour of the Chagossians, in 2000, 2006 and 2007. But in 2008 the House of Lords overturned them all and ruled in favour of the UK Government. That bizarre ruling argued that the Chagossians were deprived of their right of abode lawfully. The ruling resulted in the formation of the all-party group on the Chagos islands, which has since met over 50 times and has attracted members of every single political party represented at Westminster. Full cross-party representation on such a group is very rare indeed.

Undaunted by the 2008 ruling, a group of Chagossians continued to pursue their claims before the European Court of Human Rights. In December 2012, the European Court judgment Chagos Islanders v the United Kingdom held that the claim was inadmissible, on the grounds that in settling their claims previously in 1982 and accepting and receiving compensation, the applicants had effectively renounced further use of legal remedies. Following the ruling, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), then Attorney General and speaking for the UK Government, said:

“we regret very much the circumstances in which they were removed from the islands and recognise that what was done then should not have happened.”

Fine words on a flawed judgement—flawed because, I note again, not all Chagossians were compensated.

Five weeks before the general election in 2010, parallel to the actions on deprivation of right of abode, the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband—now, it is worth noting, president and chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee, where he oversees humanitarian relief—ignored the advice of diplomats

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and rushed through the establishment of a marine protected area around the UK-controlled Chagos islands. That declaration was another significant, desperate and cynical attempt to anticipate legal claims on right of abode and to continue subverting the human rights of the Chagos people.

At The Hague on 18 March 2015, in its judgment Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v United Kingdom), the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favour of Mauritius against the UK Government concerning the declaration made on 1 April 2010 by David Miliband on behalf of the UK Government. The tribunal found that consultations on the marine protected area were characterised by a lack of information and an absence of sufficiently reasoned exchanges between the parties involved. It noted in particular that the UK Government engaged far less with Mauritius about establishing the marine protected area than it did with the United States. We need not speculate why.

More recently, on 4 August 2015, the UK Government announced a three-month consultation exercise on purported resettlement of Mauritians of Chagossian origin in the Chagos archipelago. That consultation period ended yesterday, when Mr Pierre Prosper, chair of the Seychelles Chagossians Committee, told me that although all Chagossians have responded to the consultation stating that they want to return, all have refused the terms of the UK Government’s offer,

“which reduces us to cheap labour for the military base, with no rights at all”.

Considering that consultation on resettlement, the Minister should know that the proposed conditions of resettlement amount yet again to a gross violation of the Chagossians’ most basic human rights.

The Prime Minister of Mauritius has also rejected the premise of the UK Government’s consultation and has demanded that Chagossians who wish to resettle on the archipelago should be able to live in dignity and enjoy their basic human rights. I support that view. The Prime Minister of Mauritius stated earlier this month at the United Nations General Assembly:

“The Chagos archipelago was illegally excised by the United Kingdom from the territory of Mauritius prior to its accession to independence, in breach of international law and resolutions of this Assembly.”

In the wake of that illegal excision, the Mauritians residing in the Chagos archipelago at the time were forcibly evicted by the British authorities, with total disregard for those people’s human rights. Most of them were moved to the main island of Mauritius. The Government of Mauritius are fully sensitive to their plight and their legitimate aspiration as Mauritian citizens to resettle on the archipelago. Mauritius welcomes the award of the arbitral tribunal delivered on 18 March 2015 against the United Kingdom under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea:

“We welcome the tribunal’s decision that the ‘marine protected area’ purportedly declared by the United Kingdom around the Chagos archipelago was established in violation of international law.”

That is an excellent summary of the current situation.

The current resettlement proposals offer no right of abode and stipulate that Chagossians must return to their islands as “contract workers”, with no right to buy land or property. Moreover, the resettlement is intended to be for a trial period, beginning with a two-year pilot, after which resettlement may be cancelled. During the

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pilot period, Chagossians will not be allowed visitors on their islands, despite hundreds of wealthy tourists visiting the islands each year, mooring their yachts, living in Chagossians’ abandoned homes and spending their time on the islands largely unmonitored. Similarly, unlike with Tristan da Cunha and Pitcairn, the UK Government’s resettlement proposals advise that no education services will be provided, thereby effectively excluding families with children from returning to their islands.

In short, the consultation and the terms of resettlement are transparent, unsatisfactory and quite obviously designed to scare the indigenous people and ensure that resettlement on the Chagos islands fails. The refusal of the consultation document to guarantee support for Chagossians if resettlement is cancelled after two years means that Chagossians face an unenviable dilemma, and an unattractive and very insecure future. Furthermore, many Chagossian groups in Europe—for example, in Switzerland and France—have not been consulted on the resettlement proposals at all. As an exercise in engagement, the consultation is therefore effectively worthless and should be viewed and condemned as such.

To be clear, the UK Government’s consultation fails spectacularly to address the key issues and should be roundly dismissed. It is, of course, welcome that the UK Government are considering how to make Chagossian resettlement a reality, but the terms of resettlement must be fair to Chagossians. The current proposals are not.

The basic premise advanced by the UK Government of there being “uncertainty” over both resettlement costs and demand is simply inaccurate. Indeed, recent freedom of information requests reveal that KPMG, which evaluated resettlement options and developed the costings, has described its own estimates as having been made with “pessimism”. It remains unclear who instructed that pessimism, but I am sure we will find out at some point. To put that pessimism into context, one estimate suggests “capital and training” costs of £267.5 million over six years to resettle 1,500 people. Another scenario is costed at £4.04 million per person to meet the capital costs of “resettlement and security” over the first 10 years.

Bob Stewart: The hon. Gentleman mentioned a figure of 1,500 Chagossians. Roughly that number of people were dispossessed in the first place. I would have thought the number was greater now, given everything that has happened with families. Is it still 1,500?

Dr Monaghan: It is not 1,500. I think the number of Chagossians and their dependants is now approaching 5,000, but one of the scenarios put forward in the consultation document suggests that 1,500 people might be resettled.

There is, in fact, no consistency and no credible explanation for the overly high cost estimates of resettlement in the consultation document, but perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to explain the pessimism included in the figures. KPMG’s pessimistic estimates suggest resettlement costs could start at £64 million over three years, which represents a tiny percentage of the Department for International Development’s budget. It is certainly far less than the £200 million cash discount achieved by the UK Government on the leasing of Polaris nuclear missiles in 1966. Indeed, £64 million seems a bargain by comparison.

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Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Clearly, the report said there was no fundamental reason why the Chagossian people should not return to the Chagos islands. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that given the injustice, money should not be the reason for not giving these people the right to return? Money should not be an issue in this case.

Andrew Rosindell (in the Chair): Before the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) rises again, I point out that we only have between 15 and 20 minutes for the six Back Benchers who would like to contribute to this debate. The hon. Gentleman might consider that in his remarks.

Dr Monaghan: Thank you, Mr Rosindell. This is clearly a complicated and important debate for the many people who are in the room today. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey): this is not and should not be a debate about money. There are moral imperatives attached to the resettlement of the Chagos islanders.

As the UK-US agreement on the use of Diego Garcia approaches expiration on 30 December 2016, the UK Government find themselves at an opportune point to renegotiate the terms of the lease for a further 20 years. The relationship began with the UK Government abnegating their responsibilities, accepting a discount on Polaris nuclear weapons and implementing a programme of forced expulsion of the Chagossian people. It should end on 21st-century humanitarian terms. Will the Minister ensure that the United States support for the resettlement of the Chagos islands is a prerequisite for extending the current agreement? If the United States had fundamental concerns about sharing Diego Garcia with Chagossians, it would not have allowed resettlement to be considered in the first place.

Will the Minister confirm that Mark Simmonds’s statement on 19 November 2013 remains the position of the UK Government and that resettlement can be made compatible with the security needs of the base, as is the case with all other United States military bases around the world? If not, I am sure the Minister will want to take this opportunity to explain what differentiates the Chagos islands and requires the continued marginalisation of Chagossians and subversion of their human rights, because it is frankly absurd to claim that Chagossians are a serious security threat.

Beyond all that, however, there is a human, moral imperative to resettlement. I have already noted that there are Chagossians here today. Some of them want to return to their homeland to live out their lives. Some younger Chagossians want to live and work in the land of their parents and grandparents. All of them want to see their homeland grow and prosper again. All of them want their right of abode reinstated, and, in respect of their right of abode, the decision of the Supreme Court is awaited. Regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling in respect of the 2008 majority Lords verdict, all right-minded people must continue to argue for the most fundamental and basic human rights to be restored to the Chagossian people.

I urge the Minister not to rise at the end of this debate to recount yet another pitiable series of excuses as to why the UK Government should not, cannot or will not act to resettle the Chagos islands. Excuses, and

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we must be very clear on this point, are not acceptable. The UK Government’s continuing human rights abuses perpetrated upon the Chagos islanders are simply unacceptable. All of us in this room today know the truth about Chagos. We know what the islands are used for. We know who uses the islands. We know the ecology of the islands and the ecology of the ocean surrounding the islands. We know the rainfall pattern of the islands and that the islands are not dangerous, uninhabitable or sinking. We know the social history of the islands. We also know the true scale of the wrongs that have been perpetrated and the true cost of resettlement.

Rise today, Minister, and tell us—all of us here and those watching at home—what you are going to do now to right the wrongs inflicted upon this people. Rise today, Minister, to apologise to the Chagos islanders and to explain to all of us what you and your Government intend to do now to compensate Chagossians, particularly those in Seychelles. Explain how you will work to support the resettlement of all Chagossians, and how you will reinstate the vibrant society that they once maintained and which the UK Government so casually destroyed, and continue to deliberately and wilfully subvert today.

Minister, return to the Chagossians their human rights, as codified in the universal declaration of human rights, including their right of abode. Provide clarity on their citizenship status and their right to develop economic activity. Chagossians offer no threat to the operational activities of Diego Garcia, and I urge you to use the period in which the terms of the UK-US agreement on the use of Diego Garcia are being renewed to agree that both Governments will support the Chagossian people.

Andrew Rosindell (in the Chair): We only have 12 minutes left for six Back-Bench speakers, so I ask Members to keep their remarks as short as possible. I call Henry Smith.

5.13 pm

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) on securing this important debate.

There are more Chagos islanders in this Grand Committee Room than exist on the Chagos archipelago; that great injustice is visible here today. I first came across the issue of the Chagos islands when I was a teenager, reading a book about the remaining British overseas territories, and I was appalled then by what happened under the Wilson Administration in the late 1960s. It was the sort of appalling colonial abuse that one would associate with what happened 150 or even 200 years ago. Little did I know that, later on, I would have the honour and privilege to represent in my constituency the largest Chagos islands community anywhere in the world, first as leader of West Sussex County Council, where we were pleased to do what we could to support the community arriving at Gatwick and into this country. Latterly, over the last five-and-a-half years as a Member of Parliament, I have also been pleased to be a member of the Chagos islands all-party group and to advocate on behalf of the Chagos islanders.

The hon. Gentleman has set out many of the arguments, which I will not repeat because of the constrictions on time. However, it is important to state today that we

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cannot turn back the clock, but we can do the right thing now. He mentioned that people live next to airbases all around the world, and it should be no different in the Chagos islands. I commend this Government and the previous coalition Government on at least starting the process of a consultation, which of course finally ended yesterday evening. With the anniversary of the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory in a couple of weeks’ time, now is the moment that the Government should follow through and agree to the resettlement. Funds are available, such as European Union funds or the international aid budget. We have one of the most generous international aid budgets anywhere in the world, and we should be using it for the benefit of these British citizens and their right of return to their homeland.

I want briefly to mention those Chagos islanders who would prefer to stay living in this country, although I absolutely accept the need to acknowledge that the majority rightly wish to return. I appreciate that this is an issue for the Home Office, but further work needs to be done on passports and visa issues, which are something that many of my constituents grapple with. I thank members of the Chagos community in this country for the respectful way in which they have fought for their rights, given the appalling injustice that has been done to them.

On sovereignty, I would probably disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I believe that the ideal solution is that the Chagos islanders should be allowed to return to their homeland and then, just like every other overseas territory, it should be up to them to decide under which sovereignty they wish to live in the future. I could say much more, but given the time, Mr Rosindell, I will finish, because I would like to encourage other Members to contribute as well.

5.16 pm

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): I did not actually come to speak in this debate, but I would fully agree with what has just been said. We have to find a middle ground. Let me say to the Minister that the duty falls on us to find a way to get the Chagossian people back to their homes—a way that works with them there, living with schools, with their own religions and with their home around the base. That is all I want to say.

5.17 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): It is delightful to have you chairing this particular debate, Mr Rosindell, as I know you have been involved with this issue in the past.

I pay tribute to all the members of the all-party group, who, over a period of time, have really tried to keep this issue in the spotlight. In particular, I pay tribute to the new leader of my party, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who chaired the all-party group for many years through thick and thin. He has done a huge amount, and I know that he would like to have been here today, but I do not think he can be.

To me, it is unbelievable to think that what we did to those people 50 years ago could happen today. We would not have let it happen, and the fact that it did and that they are still waiting for their human rights to be restored so many years later is shameful for all of us. Now is the perfect time to get this return-fare package,

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50 years on, particularly with the negotiations with the United States coming up next year. We just have to be absolutely firm: this will not be renegotiated unless we have a fair return for all the islanders.

I have already spoken about the cost, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) on securing the debate and on outlining the history of the situation so clearly. Anyone who reads the history cannot be anything other than moved by the injustice of what happened to those people. We now have an opportunity, 50 years on, to really make their return happen. Money should not be the issue. It is there, and if the Government were to work with the people themselves on how they want this to happen, once we have made the decision that it is going to happen—I hope that has now been accepted, with the report from the independent study stating that there is no reason whatever why they could not go back—we have to make it happen as quickly as possible.

However, we have to work with the Chagossian people to make sure that when they go back, they do so under terms that they are happy with, and that they will not be misled again or sign up to all sorts of agreements that afterwards cannot be carried out. I am very supportive today of that return happening, and I again pay tribute to all the Chagossian people, who have shown such dignity over many years about this dreadful thing that happened to them 50 years ago.

5.20 pm

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): I, too, commend the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) for bringing this very important matter to our attention. I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for his contribution. I just want to add that I consider it a gross injustice to remove 1,500 people against their will. It is a gross injustice then to have an airbase, with a very questionable history in this century, on their land. It is a gross injustice to create a marine protected area without consulting the people who should be there, in their homeland.

I did not know about this matter when I was younger; I wish I had known. I owe thanks to my constituent, George Beckmann, who brought it to my attention. I am honouring a promise that I gave him as a candidate that I would stand up for the Chagos islanders. You deserve your home; you deserve reparation and an apology; and I am very privileged to be in the same room as you today.

5.21 pm

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. As a member of the all-party group on the Chagos islands, I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate, but it would clearly be better for everyone concerned if there was no need for a debate to be taking place after all these years.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) that the history of this starts in 1965-66. It was in 1966 that the agreement was made about the US naval base. That was before I was born, so I tried to imagine what drove the thinking at the time. There was the cold

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war. Did people believe that the actions were justifiable at the time? However, even if I try to put myself in the position of people then, there is no way to justify what happened—clearing the people from their homeland and trying to cover that up and justify it as involving only contract workers. Worse than that, we have had 50 years of cover-up and blocking since then. That is what is truly shocking.

I will give a flavour of the timeline. In 1971, the UK Government issued an immigration ordinance prohibiting return to the islands. In 1982, compensation was paid, whereby it was obviously hoped that the matter would disappear, but the compensation was paid only to Chagos islanders in Mauritius and not to those living in the Seychelles. That obviously forced the issue into the courts. In 2000, the High Court ruled that the ordinance was illegal, which the UK Government seemed to accept, but then decided not to accept—another shameful outturn. In 2004, new orders were issued prohibiting a return, which forced the matter back through the courts. In 2006-07, the Chagos islanders won in the High Court and then the Appeal Court, but unfortunately in 2008 the UK Government took the matter to the Law Lords and got a decision favourable to them, on a split decision.

The year 2009 is also very significant. The European Court had suggested that a friendly out-of-court settlement could be pursued, but that was not taken up by the UK Government. At the same time, the UK Government said that they had a moral responsibility to the Chagos islanders that would never go away. The Government actually said that the moral responsibility would never go away, but at the same time, behind the scenes, they were working on plans to create the marine protected area, so that was more double-dealing. Also in 2009, an immigration Bill was passed. The UK Government refused to accept an amendment that would allow special consideration for the Chagos islanders, so their dependants are not entitled to British citizenship. That is another strand of the story and it is very important now, because some of the people who were forcibly moved from their islands settled in the UK, but are now being told that UK descendants are not entitled to British citizenship.

In March 2015, it was ruled that the marine protected area violated international law. Unfortunately, we also discovered—from WikiLeaks of all things—that the MPA was, as was suspected, just a mechanism to prohibit the islanders from returning. That is more shameful deceit in recent times by a UK Government.

My hon. Friend touched on the KPMG report. At least, as was said, the recent Government commissioned a feasibility study in relation to allowing the islanders to return, but it is pessimistic about the costs. The estimates are £23 million for housing and public buildings for 150 people and £10 million for housing for a pilot involving 50. There is no doubt that those costs are designed to scare the Government and give them an excuse not to do that.

I will quickly conclude—apologies for having gone on. The Government now need to sort out three key issues: allowing a claim for resettlement; citizenship for dependants, who now, understandably, perhaps do not want to move back because they have been displaced for

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so long; and the future sovereignty of the islands. We need to get this matter sorted and remedy the wrongs of the past 50 years.

5.25 pm

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell; I know that you take an interest in these matters. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) on securing a debate on an issue to which he has long been committed and which is highly topical. I welcome the work of the all-party group and the various hon. Members who have spoken. I note that the honorary president of the APPG, the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—I do not know whether he is right honourable yet—is with us. I welcome him to his place; it is a very commendable show of support and solidarity.

In his maiden speech in the main Chamber, my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross highlighted both the cause of the Chagossian people and the historical experience of people in his own constituency who were affected by the highland clearances. In my constituency, the clearances are commemorated by, among other things, a plaque on the wall of the Lios Mor bar. The plaque names some of those most responsible for the forced removal of people and what it calls a form of ethnic cleansing. I will leave it to hon. Members to visit my constituency to determine exactly where in the bar the plaque is located, but it is in a place where it invites male visitors to pay those whom it names the respect it says they are due. Whether exactly the same attitude should be applied to those responsible for the forced removal of the Chagossians is not necessarily for me to say, but what is clear is that the situation is an injustice for which a resolution is long overdue.

Bob Stewart: Having had some experience of it, I would say that this looks like classic ethnic cleansing, and the human rights commissioner of the United Nations should take more interest in it.

Patrick Grady: That is a very fair point well made. We will perhaps have the Minister’s response to it.

The Scottish National party has for many years expressed its solidarity with the Chagossian people, and I want to take this opportunity to do so again today. At our spring conference in 2015, we agreed a resolution expressing frustration with the ongoing approach of the UK Government in relation to the Chagossian people and agreeing that the behaviour of the UK Government has consistently been contrary to well established laws on decolonisation and self-determination. These are, admittedly, complex areas of international law, but certainly the tradition in Scotland is that sovereignty should lie with the people, so irrespective of territorial claims by the United Kingdom, Mauritius or any other third party, the fundamental right to live and work on the Chagos islands should lie with the people who lived there until their forced removal at the hands of a UK Government.

We can welcome what slow progress there may have been, but the terms and conditions of the pilot resettlement proposal are minimalist to say the least. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross

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went into that in considerable detail and highlighted the views of the Chagossian community. I hope that if the Chagossians, supportive organisations or any other people come forward with alternative suggestions or proposals, the Minister will listen to those, and that what is in the current consultation will not simply be presented as a fait accompli. I know that the APPG has suggestions about possible sources of funding for resettlement and has questioned the cost of resettlement highlighted in the KPMG report. The highest cost that I can find is £267 million over six years. Although that is not a small amount, I imagine that it pales in comparison with the amounts spent on building, maintaining and running a US defence base—a defence base, of course, that the Government admitted was used for rendition of prisoners. That only compounds the injustice that has happened in that part of the world.

Time is extremely short, so I cannot go into all the detail that I wanted to. That shows that this matter deserves time on the Floor of the House, once the Government reach a decision—or, indeed, before then—so that the whole House can have its say. The debate raises a huge number of wider questions about the sovereignty of peoples and the role of current and former colonial powers—questions of geopolitical and military-industrial significance. If so-called developed countries can trample on the rights of small nations and communities out of military or political expediency, it makes it difficult for those countries to lecture so-called less developed countries or encourage them to smarten up their act on respect for human rights and the rule of international law. There are far too many historical—and current—examples of forced removal and migration of peoples, with the impact that that has on culture, economies, ways of life and the environment.

In the case of the Chagos archipelago, there are clear paths to restoration and the chance to right an historic wrong. If the Government can show some political will and make the kind of progress that has been called for, not only will some kind of justice be done to the Chagossian people, but there will be hope for other communities in similar situations elsewhere. If they cannot, the only conclusion that can be reached is that attitudes that should have set with the sun at the end of the British empire are, in fact, still stubbornly and unnecessarily at work at the heart of Government today.

5.30 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I should let hon. Members know that I took on my new role only this morning, but I have long been familiar with the historic injustice done to the Chagos islanders. I defer to the expertise and passion of others, not least my hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the president of the all-party group, about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) spoke. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) for his powerful, personal and thorough exposition of the appalling treatment of a people.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend believe, as I do, that the debate is timely as all hallows’ approaches? For 50 years, the Chagossians

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have not been able to mourn the souls of their dead adequately, because there has been no right of return.

Stephen Doughty: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have noted many historical dates, and that tragic celebration is an apposite time to have this debate.

The hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) spoke passionately about his constituents and gave a stark illustration of the injustice that has been done to them. I have strong sympathy with his views on sovereignty: that fundamental choice in the future must lay with Chagossians. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall made a similar and powerful point. The people of Chagos must be at the heart of decisions about their future, and they have shown great dignity throughout the long decades of struggle on this matter. I commend many of the other comments that have been made.

I have absolute and deep regret, which I know is shared by the official Opposition, over the way in which the Chagossians were forcibly resettled in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I, for one, cannot justify those actions or excuse the conduct of a previous generation and previous Governments, whether they were Labour or otherwise. In my view, the UK Government have a fundamental moral responsibility towards the islanders that will not go away. I urge the Government to do all that they can to seek a resolution.

Hon. Members attending the debate will know that that is a view shared throughout the House, including by the Leader of the Opposition. Let us be frank; this is not the only episode of regrettable action or events in the turbulent process of decolonisation. Members will be aware that I have long supported the cause of Somaliland, which is also a former British colony. The difficult fact is that, as in that case, we as successor generations often find ourselves left with complex legal and practical conundrums involving other sovereign states, international bodies and treaty obligations, which often conflict, or at least appear to conflict.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the original actions, the fact is that the base on Diego Garcia exists and there are agreements between the US and the UK, based, as we know, on the 1966 exchange of notes. I fundamentally believe that there must be a way of resolving that, and that is a common view among those who have contributed to the debate. The all-party group has said that any renewal of the 1966 agreement must be conditional on a commitment to facilitate and support Chagossian resettlement. I note what the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on that point. There is a practical possibility of that happening, so why do we not get to it?

I have a series of brief questions for the Minister before I allow him to reply; I am sure that we all want to hear from him. First, will he update us on the status of the negotiations with the United States on the renewal of the 1966 notes and any views on the US’s amenability to resettlement alongside any base that might remain? Secondly, what is his reaction to the legitimate concerns raised by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross about whether the current proposals for resettlement are adequate for the Chagos islanders? Thirdly, what is the UK Government’s position on the judgment on 18 March of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea regarding the marine

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protected area? Do the Government accept that judgment, and how do they intend to deal with it? Finally, we understand that the Supreme Court heard core arguments in June about the 2008 decision, and that it has reserved judgment. I do not have a deep familiarity with the proceedings of the Supreme Court, but does the Minister have an update on when we might expect a decision? I think that is something that we would all like to know.

I finish by expressing my great sympathy with the concerns of the Chagos islanders. That is certainly the view of the official Opposition, and we seek to work with the Government to find whatever solution can be found to achieve the resolution of their desires and hopes for resettlement, and to right the historic wrongs.

5.35 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (James Duddridge): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, particularly on this subject, in which I know you share a great interest. The fact that so many people have turned up to the debate shows the passion behind the views on this subject. I wager that this is the first time for a very long time—if ever—that the Leader of the Opposition has turned up to a Westminster Hall debate. I will be challenging the House of Commons Library to disprove that hypothesis. It is good to see him here alongside my new opposite number, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). I look forward to working closely with him on a number of issues.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) on securing the debate, and particularly on getting it today, which is timely for the consultation. He built on a passionate view of the Chagos islands and particularly reflected on the situation in the highlands. I was not there for his maiden speech, but I have read it and it was powerful. It was echoed in the comments by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) about the parallels between the problems in both situations.

The all-party group has historically been very active on these challenging issues, and I am grateful for its ongoing contributions. Although I have met members of the group informally, other Foreign Office colleagues have met the group formally in my absence, and quite rightly so.

In response to the debate, I would like to focus on the resettlement of the islanders and recognise the very real problems of their removal in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I begin by reassuring the House that I am considering the matter carefully, and that I plan to travel to the islands to see for myself the situation, to probe some of the issues that were raised during the consultation and to overcome some of the problems that are in the KPMG report, so that I am as informed as I can be before making recommendations and taking decisions on the subject. I hope to do that very soon, because I am acutely aware that this is a long-standing problem.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I apologise for not being here for the earlier part of the debate. I am doing what I have condemned many others for doing by turning up late and taking part. Please forgive me.

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I declare an interest as the president of the Chagos islands all-party group and as someone who has been a passionate advocate for the Chagos islanders for a very long time. I am delighted that the Minister will be travelling there and meeting the islanders. I hope that he will—I am sure he will—understand the humanitarian hurt that the Chagos islanders have suffered, the justice of their right to return and the real possibility that that could be brought about.

I hope the Minister will agree, as soon as he returns from that visit, to meet the all-party group and have a serious discussion with it and the islanders, so that we can finally put to bed this horrible period in British history when a group of islanders, wholly innocent of anything, were so abominably treated and so brutally removed from their homes. They have suffered for so long and fought so valiantly for their human right to live where they were born and grew up.

James Duddridge: I would certainly be happy to meet the all-party group after my visit, and, if time allows, perhaps meet one or two members of the group informally before then to gain some understanding of the issues involved.

A number of points were made, and I will try to move swiftly and cover as many as I can. This Government, like successive Governments before them, have made clear their regret over the wrongs done to the Chagossian people over 40 years. I will not seek to justify those actions or to excuse the conduct of an earlier generation. What happened was simply wrong. In the words of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, it is an appalling history. Therefore, it was right historically to pay substantial compensation. The British courts and the European Court of Human Rights have confirmed that that compensation has been paid in full and final settlement. Quite rightly, we are here today in the middle of another process.

Decisions about the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory are difficult. Occasionally, they are presented as being slightly more simplistic. Although cost is not the main issue, it is one of many issues and we should consider it. Successive Governments have opposed resettlement on the grounds of feasibility and defence. The House will recognise that there are fundamental difficulties, but we should look to how those could be overcome.

In 2000, the Labour Government looked at the practical challenges of returning Chagossians to the territory permanently and concluded that that would be precarious and entail expensive underwriting for an open-ended period. However, in 2012 under the previous Foreign Secretary, the then right hon. Member for Richmond, the policy review was announced, including the new study into the feasibility of resettlement, which concluded in January this year with the KPMG report. That independent study showed that resettlement could indeed be practically feasible, but that significant challenges remained. I hope that some of those challenges will be picked up in the consultation, in the work that Ministers have commissioned subsequently and by me in my visit and subsequent meetings. In March 2015, Ministers at Cabinet level carefully considered the KPMG study, which brings us to where we are now. We will continue to look at those issues in detail.

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The consultation that ended yesterday was well received. More than 700 written responses have been received, and officials met more than 500 Chagossians in their own communities in the UK, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Switzerland, France and as far afield as Tasmania. It is important that we consult as widely as possible. While we know that many Chagossians do want to go back, it is important to recognise—as shown in the independent feasibility study and more recently—that some Chagossians are more interested in securing other forms of support in the places where they live. We should assess what we can do for everyone, not just those who are returning.[Official Report, 10 November 2015, Vol. 602, c. 1MC.]

The consultation looked at options that fall short of full resettlement. If it turns out that we cannot do that, we should not simply do nothing. There are other issues—financial, legal and social—and the question of the ability of the military facility on Diego Garcia to operate unhindered. The US Government have expressed concerns about operating alongside a community, but I recognise the points that have been made by strong advocates, some of whom have met people on the doorstep, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias), and some of whom are long-standing advocates, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), who has been bending my ear on the subject from probably the day I was appointed and will continue, quite rightly, to do so.

Bob Stewart: Will the Minister give way?

James Duddridge: I will not give way, as I only have one and a half minutes left and I will probably not manage to cover all the points that have been made.

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A number of issues about the Supreme Court were raised. I do not want to get into critiquing ongoing legal cases, but my understanding of the issue around the United Nations convention on the law of the sea is slightly different from that presented to the House. While UNCLOS found for the UK Government on sovereignty, it was only on the process of the consultation that it said the consultation with Mauritius was not sufficient. I encourage the Mauritian Government to engage in resettlement discussions with us but, to date, they have unfortunately refused to do that. It would be incredibly helpful.

I take my responsibilities as Minister very seriously on this matter, which is why I am allocating a lot of time to it. I have read every single word of the KPMG report. I will do so again on what I understand will be a very long journey out to the islands. If time allows and I am able to, I will try to get to the outer islands; that is an important element so that I can look at all the options before taking recommendations to more senior Ministers and before the Government come to a decision. In conclusion, it is an important issue, and I sincerely thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and everyone here for their time.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Chagos Islands.

5.44 pm

Sitting adjourned.