“counterintuitive and filled with traps for the unwary”

and that “a small inconsistency” or even a typo can result in denial.

The very few exceptions are as rare as spotting a unicorn. I think there are certain cultural programmes, although there are lots of hoops to jump through. If people did perform for free, there are some exemptions—where people would be called “visitors for pleasure”—but otherwise, a full work visa is needed, and woe betide anyone who mixes up their categories. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, if someone uses a regular tourist visa and gets caught, that is unauthorised employment and there are dire consequences, such as removal from the country and a subsequent ban on re-entering the US. That will count against any future application for a work visa or a green card.

The hon. Gentleman pointed out some ways forward. Even with no instant slashing of fees, there are steps that could massively simplify and expedite the whole process of obtaining visas for overseas visiting musicians, and for artists, writers and academics—as a former academic, I ought to say something for them. A clause could be negotiated in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Perhaps we could negotiate the removal of these obstacles, because they are restrictive barriers to trade at the end of the day. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the use of alternative locations to London and Belfast. Interviews could be carried out at town halls.

I have slightly different figures from those cited by the hon. Gentleman. The House of Commons briefing says that the British music industry contributes £4.1 billion to the UK economy, which I think is about twice as much as what he said—I think he said £1.9 billion or something like that—but UK performers need to be able to tour key markets such as China and the US. Whether it is Wham! or the Hallé orchestra, both nations benefit culturally from inter-country musical exchange. The countries benefit as well as the coffers of

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the Exchequer. George and Andy, like Elton a decade before them, helped to demystify China, paving the way for our delegation visit.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman: the American embassy now needs to engage directly with musicians via bodies such as the Musicians Union, the British Council and others to devise a workable system for UK musicians to perform in the US. The tourability of everyone, from bubblegum pop bands, to our finest orchestras, to Adele, whom he mentioned, will be seriously jeopardised if things remain as they are.

2.57 pm

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Howarth. For once, I have very little to declare in terms of interests, as I am entirely tone deaf, but I appreciate other people’s musical acumen, which is why I am here to speak today.

Economic analysis data demonstrate that the UK’s music industry makes a vast contribution to the UK economy. Figures published by UK Music indicate that between 2014 and 2015, although other sectors have been struggling in these times of austerity, the music industry has continued to grow by 5% year on year. Last year, the music industry contributed £4.1 billion to the UK economy, £2.1 billion of which came from musical exports. It provides a large number of jobs—approximately 117,000 full-time jobs—and generates additional revenue from the thousands of musical tourists who visit the UK each year to attend music gigs and festivals or to revel in our rich music history. That also has a knock-on effect for local businesses and communities, creating vibrant local cultures, generating wealth and encouraging economic growth.

Given the obvious value of our music industry, it is important for artists to be able to promote their music abroad, to build fan bases, boost exports and attract more musical tourists. However, it seems that, as described, performing overseas can be problematic and expensive, particularly for musicians in the early stages of their career.

I understand that at present a number of sources can provide assistance to musicians to help them to work abroad. It is mainly financial, but does not reach many artists. Through this scheme, funding is available to UK-registered independent music companies and can help artists to progress from being established UK musicians to being commercially successful international acts, but it does reach the vast number of acts and not everyone can receive funding.

It seems that when performing overseas, many of the issues encountered by musicians relate to cumbersome policies and procedures. I supported a recent early-day motion recognising the specific difficulties for UK musicians in obtaining work visas to perform in the US. In this regard, I note that guidance issued by the Musicians Union, highlights that, except in very specific circumstances, all performances in the US require a visa regardless of whether the artist is being paid. It is a two-step process, and to perform abroad, a petition must be filed by a company in the US before an application can be lodged in the UK. Thereafter, all UK visa applicants must attend an interview at the US embassy in London or Belfast. That can be a long process, and for anyone who does not live locally, it may be difficult to attend the interview.

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The visa process is expensive and may cost thousands of pounds, with fees for processing being incurred in both the US and the UK. If an act has backing musicians or crew, more than one petition is required and each petition in the US is charged separately. Also, if the act is not represented by a US company, it will have to employ immigration professionals to act as the petitioner on its behalf. It seems that the cost for the services of such companies can range from approximately $800 to over $8,000. If the visa is required within three months, additional fees are incurred for an expedited service, with the US charging $1,000 to process an application within 10 to 15 days.

It has been highlighted that many artists find the application process complicated, confusing and unpredictable, which can lead to mistakes by the applicant and the officials processing the application with long delays and increased costs and losses. When applications are delayed, acts that are keen to ensure that they can meet planned dates may have to pay additional costs to try to have their applications expedited, or they may hold off booking travel arrangements until the last moment, which can impact on the cost of flights. That can sometimes result in whole tours being cancelled or postponed, so in addition to losing money on the US tour, artists may also lose money by having to forfeit booked travel and accommodation and by missing out on other bookings that they had refused on the assumption that they would not be available.

Those up-front and hidden costs make it very difficult for musicians who earn under £20,000 a year to meet visa requirements, particularly if they are travelling to perform at free shows aimed at raising their profile. In some circumstances, it may be possible to be exempted from visa requirements on discussion with the US embassy, but that occurs only in very specific showcasing situations, which stipulate that the artist should not yet be a full professional musician.

As a result of these issues, some desperate musicians may risk entering the US to perform without the correct documentation. Surely, the system should be workable, so that people are not placed in this situation and do not go to these extreme lengths. The early-day motion that I signed called for the US and the UK to devise a more workable system for UK musicians to perform in the US, and I reiterate that request to the Minister today. Given the music industry’s value to our economy, surely that would be advantageous for both sides of the Atlantic.

I commend the recent success of my local band, Single by Sunday, which won a competition at the weekend for its musical ability. I very much hope the Minister will make strides with such applications, so that Single by Sunday can soon be touring the US.

3.4 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), chair of the all-party group on music, on securing the debate and on his opening remarks. He covered much of the ground in his speech very well and I associate myself with his remarks about the Bataclan attack in Paris. People getting together to enjoy one another’s company,

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whether at a football match or music gig, represents the best of humanity, and people killing others while they enjoy themselves for the sake of a twisted ideology represents the worst of humanity. We are here to celebrate the best of humanity in our wonderful musicians and to try to help them a little, with the assistance of the Minister, to pursue their profession, career, trade and art with a bit more freedom and more opportunities to travel and play abroad.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and I thank the other hon. Members who have contributed, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) whose Wikipedia entry describes her occupation as writer, columnist, politician, senior lecturer and music DJ. She did not mention that in her contribution, but I am sure we all look forward to witnessing that talent during this Parliament. She pondered on what would be the contribution to Chinese history of the famous tour by Wham! of the People’s Republic of China. The answer may be the same as that given by Zhou Enlai when asked about the French revolution’s influence on history: it is too early to tell. No doubt we will eventually find out what contribution Wham! made to Chinese history.

Nigel Adams: That tour may have been preceded by Elton John—I am not sure of my chronology—but its contribution may have been a surge in bleached mullets across China. They became very popular if I remember the period to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Kevin Brennan: Is it any wonder that from time to time we are condemned for western imperialism by those in the far east?

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on her contribution. She said she was tone deaf, but I thought she hit exactly the right note with her contribution. She has colleagues who are very musically talented, including the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who plays in the legendary parliamentary rock band, MP4, with me and colleagues from other parts of the House.

Moving on to our discussion today, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty and other hon. Members outlined the contribution that the music industry makes to our economy, particularly to our export revenue. When our balance of payments is in significant deficit the industry makes a positive contribution. There is always a danger of double-counting, but the figure for UK music of around £2 billion is credible, and nearly £1 billion of that comes from the work of musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists in foreign currency revenue from overseas. A significant amount, estimated at £42 million, comes from foreign currency through live performances of UK music. Music is a significant part of our economic strength and our cultural strength, and the soft power of the industry’s contribution to promoting democracy, freedom and our cultural values across the world is highly significant and should not be underestimated.

There have been some welcome developments in recent years, including the music export growth scheme, which the Government introduced in the last Parliament to support musicians through grants enabling them to develop, to tour and to play overseas. That scheme is very welcome, but what is not welcome is the fact that musicians who are supported by it, or by Arts Council

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and other schemes, are sometimes denied the opportunity to tour overseas and subject to excessive costs if they do. Recently, there has been a particular focus on musicians touring in the USA, because of a number of cases that have been highlighted.

Let me say that I am extremely pro-USA and a big fan of American music. I have an American wife. I first went to America with my guitar—I was not stopped at customs—when I was 19 years old.

Dr Huq: Last year.

Kevin Brennan: It was a lot longer ago than that—it was a long, long time ago.

The cultural exchange between the United Kingdom and the United States, particularly in relation to music, is one of the world’s great cultural jewels. The tremendous cross-fertilisation we have seen over many decades between music in the United Kingdom and America is a wonderful thing, and the Government should cherish, develop and support it.

I want, however, to highlight a couple of cases, in the hope that that will lead to better procedures in future, because there have been some worrying cases recently. One, which the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty referred to, was that of Kizzy Crawford, a young singer from Wales. Kizzy has in fact played at the House of Commons—in one of my other roles, I chair the all-party group on folk arts, and Kizzy played earlier this year at one of the little showcases we have from time to time in the Jubilee Room, just next door to this Chamber. She is a wonderful young talent, with a bright future in the music industry, and she has the potential to become quite a big star.

Kizzy visited the US earlier this year, having been invited to participate in a showcase in Kansas City. She travelled first to Canada to do some gigs there before moving on to the United States. All was going well, and she even cleared US customs, going through pre-clearance at Toronto. Unfortunately, her flight was cancelled, and she had to spend the night at her hotel with her manager and musicians. They returned for the flight the next day, but as they were going through US customs, Kizzy was pulled aside into what I believe is called secondary, where she was questioned.

We should bear in mind that this young girl was—I think I am right in saying—18 years old at the time. She was a young girl from Wales embarking on her musical career, and she was not well equipped to deal with being heavily questioned in such circumstances. She was pulled away from her support mechanism—her manager—on her first visit to America as a musician. It was quite a traumatic experience for her, and it is understandable—I say this as the father of a 21-year-old daughter—that she was frightened. She had a bit of a panic attack, as a result of which she was detained in a locked room for several hours.

Kizzy was eventually refused entry into the United States, where she was supposed to play a showcase in Kansas City, despite having funding from the Arts Council of Wales for the visit, and despite having the correct paperwork, visa and so on. She was also told that being refused entry at the border could have a major influence on her ability to visit the United States again as a musician and would automatically mean that she would have to obtain a visa for every visit to the United States.

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At this point, I want to praise UK Music and its chief executive, Jo Dipple, for the work it does in this area. I also want to praise the Musicians Union—I declare an interest as a member—under its general secretary, John Smith, and its assistant general secretary, Horace Trubridge, for the tremendous work that it does in this area.

As a result of Kizzy’s case, there was a degree of lobbying, and I, among others, got in contact with the US embassy. In terms of what then happened, it is fair to say that the same might have happened in the UK. As MPs, we know that those who write to the Home Office about particular cases of refusal of entry do not always get a full and helpful response. In this case, however, there seemed to be a difference between the attitudes of the State Department and the Department for Homeland Security.

Through the embassy, the State Department had issued Kizzy with all the right documents, allowing her to go to the USA and play in this showcase, and there should not have been a problem. However, that process was separate from the process of the Department for Homeland Security, which, understandably, has to protect the USA’s borders and do its job. None the less, one wonders why Kizzy was pulled aside in the way she was and whether there was any racial profiling in this case. I do not know, but it seems that Kizzy was singled out for pretty harsh treatment for a young musician simply travelling to the USA. It is concerning that there seems to be this disparity between the attitudes of the State Department and the Department for Homeland Security.

I do not think that that was deliberate, but this is not an isolated incident. The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty mentioned another case, involving the band Calan, who are also from Wales. They also encountered great difficulty when they sought to enter the United States. At first, there was a bureaucratic problem involving the computers at the US embassy, which, in fairness, affected everybody, although it was a bit of a nuisance. Subsequently, however, the band did everything they could to get the right clearance, paperwork and visas so that they could fulfil their engagements in the United States.

Initially, Calan did not tour as a whole band, because two of their members could not gain entry. Subsequently, the band ran into problems again, even though they thought they had the right paperwork. In an email to me, their manager said:

“our issue might not be with the embassy but rather homeland security. Calan travelled in what they thought was the correct way…But my main issue is the way they were treated and although there might not have been the right stamp in their passport they had paid for a visa and had a copy of the approval notice…Not letting them into the country was a little over zealous I feel.

They sat around for about 7 hours then had their laces removed along with belts and were put into a cell with other people with a toilet with no door. Then the next day they were escorted to a caged van and taken to the plane. The atmosphere in the holding room was extremely unpleasant with guards being incredibly rude and impatient.

I understand that they have to treat everyone in the same way but to treat them in the same way as criminals was uncalled for. If this was a one off incident then it might be unfortunate but other musicians have travelled to the USA for perfectly valid reasons and been turned away and treated badly.”

I hope that today’s debate will open up a dialogue between the Government and the US embassy. We have heard today of the support the US ambassador gives to

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music, and he is a tremendous music fan—I attended the Rock the House event at his residence earlier this year, and it was incredibly generous of him to give that facility over to allow young people the opportunity to play music. Unfortunately, the very positive example he is setting is being let down a little because of what happens when people get over to the other side of the Atlantic.

As well as opening up a positive dialogue, it would be helpful—there are moves to do this—to have more pre-clearance in the UK for people travelling to the United States. It is possible for people travelling to the United States to pre-clear immigration in Ireland, and there are plans for more of that to happen in the UK. I do not know whether the Minister knows anything about that, but does he think it would be a positive contribution to solving the problem?

UK Music has raised the issue of A1 national insurance forms for employees who go overseas for two years or less. Musicians have apparently been having difficulty in getting those forms from HMRC, and UK Music would like the Government to consider what could be done at HMRC to speed up the process. Also, musicians have problems when flying musical equipment to the United States, when the band needs an approved US company with a business premises, a federal tax ID and a previous shipment history, which restricts options to fly equipment as cargo within the USA; equipment can be moved only by cargo plane, and they operate between a minimum number of cities, and are less frequent and much more expensive. That is an additional problem.

I look forward to the Minister’s response and hope that he will say something positive about the steps he is taking. As the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty said, the debate is a cross-party initiative. We are all here for the same reason, because we love British music and want the rest of the world to love it too. The only way that can happen is if our musicians can travel freely. I hope that today’s debate can contribute to that.

3.21 pm

Michelle Thomson (Edinburgh West) (Ind): I declare an interest as a former professional musician. I graduated from what was the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and is now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. My studies there were the most fantastic start in life—an immersion in the world of music, studying the technical elements and history, and of course working on, living, sleeping and breathing that interest along with people who shared it.

I remember with pride the day I graduated. I strode down Buchanan Street in Glasgow wearing my gown and an old gentleman came up to me and said, “Now, you think you’re fair Airchie today, don’t you, doll?” I said, “Well, yeah, of course I do, because I’ve just graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.” He said, “Oh, and what did you play?” and I said very proudly that I played the piano concerto by Mozart, K.488; and he said, “Oh, you played the piano. Aye, but doll, can you play ‘Spanish Eyes’?” I had to fess up “No,” but I could play Mozart K.488.

Why do I tell that story? I suppose it is to illustrate how much when someone is truly immersed in music they eat, sleep and breathe it. It is a passion and a calling. I have always described myself as doing various

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things, and I am currently the MP for Edinburgh West, but music is part of my passion. I think I probably speak for many musicians who feel that way.

Something else that I did not know at the time I have been talking about, having studied the classical range of musical styles, was marketing myself in the world of music. That is still a common problem, although courses in all the conservatoires and fantastic UK institutions focus on marketing much more. They tell people how to understand what their product, brand and unique selling points are, to look at their cash-flow modelling and contingency, and so on. I have learned those things through the course of my life, but they do not come naturally—and why should they? It is not unreasonable for us to recognise that the unique skills that enable musicians to express themselves and drive them to give of themselves are special and different. We do not want musicians to take on so many business skills, including visa application processes, that they lose the essence of what gives so much joy.

I agree with all the comments made about how precarious a musician’s life is. It is not just about the net profit or, frequently, the losses; it is about how difficult it is to make a living in the world of music. Imagine someone getting to the point where they are doing the right things and they want to go to other climes, such as the United States, and do something marvellous, giving and also taking—because we all learn from each other. It is a struggle for young musicians even to get to that stage of looking abroad, to foreign climes. In Scotland we have many fantastic musicians. Those are not only classical musicians such as the National Youth Choir of Scotland, which plans to go on tour to Los Angeles next April, but also folk musicians. There is a strong bond between the United States and Scots who have gone there.

What I am asking today is that we step back from the specifics of process and cost and reflect on why music, creativity and the arts are so important: they take us out of ourselves and give us something special and different. In this uncertain world, with events such as the recent ones in Paris, we should surely look outwards more, which means reaching out to artists and creatives who have something to give.

3.26 pm

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) on securing the debate. He has a long-standing interest, and valuable experience, in the area in question. I associate myself and the Scottish National party with his concluding remarks about the atrocities in Paris, and particularly what happened at the Bataclan. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who signed my early-day motion on the subject of US visas for performing musicians, and I welcome the speeches by Members with experience of such areas, which demonstrated the cross-party concern and consensus on the issue.

I tabled my EDM after learning more about the challenges that musicians in Scotland and the UK face in securing visas for the United States, at an event at the University of Glasgow, in my constituency, during the October recess. The event was organised by UK Music and designed to encourage students, and others starting out in the music industry, in their careers as artists or in backstage and support roles.

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The location was very appropriate, because the University of Glasgow plays an important role in nurturing talent, and in teaching skills for music careers; but also because the west end of Glasgow—the part that I represent—and the city as a whole are home to one of the most vibrant music scenes in the UK and probably the world. Glasgow is recognised as one of nine UNESCO cities of music. My constituency is home to a number of well-known and successful musicians and, indeed, venues such as the Oran Mor and Cottiers theatre, which are renowned for the gigs and performances that they have hosted over the years. I declare something of a personal interest as well, because I have a number of good friends who have made their career in Scotland’s thriving folk scene. I may reflect on some of their experience.

We have heard various statistics on the importance of the music industry to the UK economy, and specifically the statistic about the export revenue from UK music. In 2014 that was some £2.1 billion, £42 million of which came from live performances. Yet we have also heard that more than half of musicians, and especially those early in their careers, will earn less than £20,000 a year. There is something of a tension between the overall value of the industry and the individual experience of a highly competitive market. I know from the experience of good friends what dedication and hard work are needed to make a success of such a career. That no doubt makes artificial barriers such as those that we have heard about all the more frustrating.

Several interesting case studies have come up in the debate, and the issue is not limited to the United States. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) outlined the challenges in what historians will from now on clearly refer to as the “post-Wham! period” of China’s history. She also mentioned Canada where the story is perhaps slightly more positive. Canada, and Nova Scotia especially, plays an important role in nurturing young Scots artists. I have many friends and acquaintances who have been over there for the feis and folk scene, and that has nurtured their talent and given them exposure to different cultural influences. The ease of entry that the hon. Lady described must help with that.

One of my friends, Adam Sutherland, is a highly talented fiddle player and composer. Over the weekend, when I was speaking to him about the debate, he put out a call on the social media for any case studies—within hours, if not minutes, dozens of people were saying, “This is an issue. I’ve been affected by it.” A few of them have provided me with stories not dissimilar to those that we have heard. I think that it used to be an issue with the US embassy that interviews were conducted at 8 o’clock in the morning, so it was almost impossible to go for a visa interview without travelling and staying overnight—at huge cost, as those of us who are getting used to staying in London are discovering. I understand that that issue has been resolved, which is welcome. Perhaps that demonstrates that there is some openness to change and a willingness to introduce some flexibility, but I have heard stories similar to the ones that we have heard today.

I heard from a US-based promoter who works with several UK bands that despite having the support of her local US Senator, she has been unable to make progress with certain visa applications. She spoke of visa officers adhering strictly to the letter rather than the spirit of the rules and having little or no understanding

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of folk or traditional music. There does seem to be a particular challenge for folk and traditional musicians. The configuration of bands is often different and a bit more fluid than might be the case for a mainstream four-piece rock band. As we have heard, the instruments can also be more complex and varied, and likewise the technical support and management required.

The friend I mentioned is a member of a 12-piece band—the Treacherous orchestra. We can only begin to imagine the costs and logistics facing a band of that size and the complexity of organising a tour anywhere, let alone having to overcome the visa challenges that we have heard about. But I have no doubt that that band, like so many others in Scotland’s thriving music scene, would, if they tried to organise a tour to the States and did have the opportunity to crack that market, go on to major international success.

At this point, it is worth reflecting, as others have, on the intrinsic value of a live music performance. Very little music is composed to be heard as a recording. It is to be live, lived in, a living thing in its own right—unique and memorable every time it is performed and heard. Live performances are also important as ticket and merchandise sales often provide valuable income streams to artists, especially when the cost of recorded music is being pushed down by online retailers and streaming services.

We have heard that UK Music and the Musicians Union have suggested a number of solutions to the current difficulties facing musicians who wish to perform overseas, especially in the United States. I hope that the Government, and any representatives of the US embassy who are listening, will take those suggestions in the constructive and helpful spirit in which they are offered.

The US has a valuable network of consulates across the United Kingdom, including a valued and respected presence in Edinburgh. Allowing visa processing or interviews to take place there would be warmly welcomed —not only by Scottish artists but, I suspect, by those from the north of England. The UK Government are proud of their special relationship with the US Government, so I hope that they will bring some of their diplomatic influence to bear on this issue.

The Scottish Government and Creative Scotland are taking what steps they can to promote and support artists who wish to perform overseas. I want to highlight some industry initiatives, such as the FolkWaves project, which promotes Scottish music to all kinds of radio stations across the world by allowing musicians to upload their singles to the website and global broadcasters to download the latest releases. That avoids a lot of logistical challenges in terms of posting CDs or demo tapes or other things that had to be done in the past.

In January, venues in my constituency and across Glasgow will play host to the 22nd annual Celtic Connections festival, a celebration of folk and world music that brings together the best of Scottish and global talent and that is worth millions of pounds to the city economy. I say to the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) that perhaps MP4 should apply to give a performance, which I have no doubt would be a sell-out. I will say the same to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) when I see him.

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I am looking forward to seeing one of my favourite American bands, which, as anyone who was in the main Chamber for the EVEL—English votes for English laws— debate will know, is They Might Be Giants, performing as part of the festival. If you want to continue expanding your musical horizons, Mr Howarth, you should know that they are also playing the Shepherd’s Bush Empire here in London on 4 February—an unrivalled night of musical entertainment guaranteed.

As Scotland and the UK get ready to welcome artists from all around the world, not just to perform but to learn and to share experience and creative energy, let us hope that some reciprocity can arise from this debate. As other hon. Members have said, in troubled times in particular, music should be a force for bringing peoples together, for cultural exchange and the promotion of harmony—in all its forms.

3.34 pm

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) on securing this important debate. I associate myself with the remarks that he made regarding the atrocities in Paris. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) put it, music represents the best of humanity. It is in some ways an unfortunate—indeed, horrific—tribute to the power of music in our culture that the Daesh terrorists chose to target it and those who enjoy it.

I do not have much of an interest to declare. I should perhaps say that I am taking piano lessons. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) could no doubt teach me much, but I have no intention of performing in the US or anywhere else. Despite that, or indeed because of it, I understand very well the contribution that music and its performers make to all our lives and how they make our lives better. That is why I am particularly pleased to speak in this debate.

There have been many thoughtful and powerful speeches on the power and value of UK music, whether it is adding £4.1 billion to our economy or contributing in other ways. The creative industries have been growing three times as fast as the national economy in recent years—if only the whole economy could follow the example that musicians are showing us.

In addition, of course, there is the cultural value. Music bridges divides, bringing us together. It creates bonds between people. Few things can jog a memory more quickly than hearing an old song. In my part of the world—Newcastle and Gateshead—music has been playing a role in regenerating the city. Sage Gateshead is a great example of how culture can act as an anchor for, as well as a symbol of, a stronger economy. The UK does music well, and we have for some time. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West entered the US with a guitar, I think he said, and was not turned back, but also, as part of the cultural contribution, the Animals, from Newcastle upon Tyne, were part of the British invasion of the American charts, accompanied by a significant presence on American soil, as the iconic photograph of the Beatles landing in the US shows. “The House of the Rising Sun” is a brilliant example of cultural fusion between the US and the UK and particularly the north-east.

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Live music employs 25,000 people in the UK. We have many world-beating venues, although some of them are disappearing, and, as we have heard, world-beating festivals, which were attended by 9.5 million people last year. As we have also heard, just this week, Adele has broken the US record for first-week album sales.

Like other hon. Members here, I am a good socialist—if not a Maoist—and I am keen to share our music with the world. In fact, in many ways, we already do that. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) about what I think we should call the Wham! intervention in China’s cultural evolution. Our recorded music exports are booming; they were up 17% last year. UK artists account for one in seven of all albums sold worldwide. That is a phenomenal statistic, which shows our contribution to world music culture.

We are one of three net exporters of music, and UK artists accounted for four of the five top-selling albums in the US in 2012. Those included One Direction, which became the first British group to have two albums debut at No. 1 in the Billboard top 200. I doubt whether One Direction ever had much of a problem organising a US tour, at least not from a visa point of view, but, as we have heard today, many artists are having problems with the US embassy visa procedure, and it seems to be getting worse.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West and the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty contributed some depressing examples. The well-established exchange of culture and ideas—whether written declarations such as that of Thomas Paine, or musical contributions such as those of One Direction—has been a foundation of the long-standing friendship between the US and the UK. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow has described the increasingly complex and costly processes for getting a visa, including being forced to go to London or Belfast to attend a face-to-face meeting, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned, and facing costs of £2,500 or more. Given the low earnings of many musicians, those costs, combined with the potential travel and accommodation costs, prevent many acts from taking their music abroad.

Although the Minister is not directly responsible for that, I hope that today’s debate will provide him with the opportunity to tell the House how he has been supporting our young musicians by tackling those barriers, and I would like to offer him the Labour party’s support—it is nice to be able to say that—in his endeavours. What have the Government been doing about the matter? It is not new, although the situation has become increasingly difficult. Are his officials aware of the issues, and how long have they been monitoring them? Perhaps he could say how we got here. Has there always been such an enormous disparity between the costs and difficulties faced by UK musicians going to the US and those faced by US musicians coming to the UK?

What meetings and discussions have the Minister and his officials had with the US embassy regarding its engagement with the music industry? Has the Minister discussed that with representatives of the UK music industry, particularly those such as the Musicians Union that represent smaller or less-established acts? Is he aware of the great work that is, as has been mentioned, being done in that area by UK Music? Have he,

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his Department or its agencies had any discussion about simplifying the visa system for musicians? I am sure that he shares the enthusiasm of those in this room for UK live music. He is in the best position to bang the drum for the industry and UK art with the United States, so can he tell the House how his Department and the various agencies that have an interest in this area—UK Trade & Investment, the British Council, the Arts Council and so on—are working together to make sure that we are all pulling in the same direction?

I agree with the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty that we should also work with European partners. I merely observe that I hope that we continue to be at the heart of Europe after the European referendum. Will the Minister commit to keeping the House updated reasonably regularly on the progress he is making?

One of the biggest barriers, as we have heard, is the requirement for visa applicants to attend an interview in London or Belfast. I hope that the Minister will recognise that, despite the fact that most arts and culture funding is focused in London, there is a huge wealth of artists and musicians in towns and cities across the country—particularly, I would say, in my own area of Newcastle—and for many of them, the burden of travelling to London for a visa interview seems to be an unnecessary barrier. Can he commit to finding a solution to that problem? I realise that the answer ultimately rests with the US embassy, but I hope that he can turn his famed charm on the ambassador and his officials.

Ambassador Barzun was recently in Newcastle to launch the cultural festival that we will have there in 2017 to commemorate 50 years since Martin Luther King was given an honorary doctorate by Newcastle University, and at which many American musicians will certainly be playing. The ambassador is a strong supporter of cultural exchange, and his cultural attaché has been a great support to us in planning the festival.

Finally, although we have focused today on problems with the US visa system, what are the Minister and his Department doing to monitor the situation in other high-value export music markets? I look forward to his response.

3.45 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am grateful for the chance to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and to take account of the contributions made by many other hon. Members. May I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth? It is an impactful point that in 1968 as I was being born, you were thrashing out tunes in a club. I think that that links us in some strange way.

I thank my hon. Friend for proposing this important debate. He is extremely knowledgeable about the music industry, and he is a vigorous supporter of that industry in the House. I echo his and many other hon. Friends’ comments about the horrific attacks we saw in Paris a week ago on Friday, particularly the attack on the Bataclan. Everyone has acknowledged and understood that that summed up why the events of that day were an attack on our way of life, because the opportunity to gather and listen to music is one of the manifestations of a free society. That is yet another reason why that day filled us with such horror.

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I was lucky enough to meet the French digital Minister the day before the attacks, and the meeting reminded me of the strong links that exist between the UK and France across all our creative industries: not only music but film, video games and many others. I want to forge and strengthen such links, and even more so in the light of what happened on that horrific Friday, which will live in our minds forever.

My hon. Friend made a number of important recommendations, and I will pick those up as soon as possible. As this is the day of the spending review, I want to acknowledge the very good settlement that the Chancellor has given to the arts, because that supports investment in music. In the lonely hour I spent before the Chancellor got to his feet, I did not anticipate how good the settlement would be. As I make my remarks, I will make clear some of the support that the Government are giving to the music industry in general.

My hon. Friend made specific points about engagement with the US embassy, the ability to add tour dates should there be any delay, the possibility for the US authorities to use public buildings in the UK to make access to visa services easier for musicians, and the role of the Creative Industries Council. We also had important contributions from other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), who talked about her experiences in China. Her experiences in a left-wing environment reminded me of my early engagement with music, because I was a west Londoner too, and I well remember going to see the Redskins perform at the Hammersmith Odeon. The message,

“Neither Washington Nor Moscow”—

the title of their best-selling album—

“but international socialism”

never quite got through, but I was pleased to see that the shadow Chancellor, who brandished Mao’s “Little Red Book” when he responded to the spending review today, has clearly taken that message on board.

I want to pick up on a point in the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton about how airlines treat musicians. I hope that the message goes out from this debate at least to our own domestic airlines about some of the representations I have received from musicians. I hope they will treat musicians fairly when they travel abroad and that, for example, musicians who want to carry their violin or trumpet case on board will be allowed to take those instruments on board as carry-on baggage. I will obviously not suggest that for a double bass or a set of drums, but I hope some common sense can be used.

The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) mentioned the upfront and hidden costs that can have an impact on musicians, such as visa delays, which not only cause frustration, but can increase the cost of a tour. The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is a well-known supporter of the music industry, and also plays in the legendary band, MP4. He talked about the US-UK relationship and rightly praised the work of Jo Dipple and UK Music, which is fantastic across the piece on music policy, as well as the Musicians Union.

I was humbled by the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Michelle Thomson) considering she is a highly qualified musician. I was interested to hear about her experiences, and I think that she will speak

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with some authority on music issues in the House. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) on tabling the early-day motion calling attention to the issue that has now been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty.

Many hon. Members have talked in great detail about the strong link between America and the UK. That relationship is unequivocally a good thing. From Acker Bilk to Adele is not a great leap alphabetically but, from 1962 to November 2015, they bookend almost 100 British singers and groups who have reached No.1 in the Billboard charts, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Queen, David Bowie, Bananarama, Kim Wilde, Def Leppard, Leona Lewis, Coldplay, Taio Cruz and a host of others. I could take the rest of my time just listing British musicians who have had an impact on the American charts.

Rightly, many hon. Members wanted to use this opportunity to praise the whole UK music industry. It is a salient and telling fact that five of the top 10 global recording artists last year were British, and one in seven albums sold worldwide was by a British artist. In fact, a British artist, Mary-Jess Leaverland, won the Chinese equivalent of “The X Factor” last year. Sam Smith has had No.1s from Canada to New Zealand, as has Ed Sheeran. Music is one of the things that makes our country great.

It is important to say—and hon. Members pointed this out—that we are talking not just about artists, but about sound engineers, producers, promoters, roadies and many others. Those speaking in the debate have been well informed by UK Music. Some people gloomily forecast that the writing is on the wall for live music and the music industry, but I disagree. I see the vital contribution of the live music scene not only to the worldwide scene, but to the UK’s economy. All around the world, people of all ages arrange their diaries around music festivals, which in many cases provide life support to their local communities. We will continue to support and promote the environment for UK music.

As I have money on my mind, I want to note that between 2012 and 2016, the Government have invested £460 million in a range of music and cultural education programmes. We are introducing tax relief for orchestras, which comes in next April. We recognise that music tourism generated more than £3 billion of spending, and 500,000 people came here just because of our music. I also mention, as it is very relevant to the debate, the music export scheme that we started a couple of years ago, which has helped so many musicians to go abroad. We do not just export our music; we welcome music from around the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty will know that the Taiwanese king of pop, Jay Chou, was so taken with the UK that he got married in Selby Abbey earlier this year, promoting a rush of Taiwanese tourists.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) asked what the Government are doing about the issue. I will need to check the records but I am certain that when the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) raised this issue in the House, I wrote to the American ambassador. She is quite right. We have to be careful as this is a visa system operated by another sovereign country but it is right for Ministers

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and, indeed, other Members of this House, to raise representations and make suggestions. I am not the only one who can do this: other Members can as well. Everyone who has come across the new US ambassador—I do not know whether we can call him new now—will know that he is a passionate supporter of the music industry, and I am sure that he would hear and take on board hon. Members’ concerns.

Nigel Adams: Does the Minister agree that the restoration of a dedicated person within the embassy would make a big difference? I have been involved with making phone calls to people I know who work at the embassy over the weekend—these problems often happen then. It would be such a big help if there was a dedicated line for people to call—

Mr Vaizey: I will stop my hon. Friend there because he will get a chance to respond in a couple of minutes. On that point, I will make that representation to the ambassador. It is an interesting point that the Arts Council has a dedicated official who helps artists coming into this country and works closely with the Home Office. I want to ask him about the point about adding tour dates and, potentially, to make the offer of public buildings. I certainly think that we could make representations about an office in Edinburgh. It is not my job, by any stretch of the imagination, to tell the US embassy or Government how to run their affairs, but I could make that suggestion.

Finally, on the Creative Industries Council, we have a sector advisory group for the creative industries, which brings together UK Trade & Investment, the British Council and others. I will ensure that that is on the agenda of the sector advisory group at its next meeting, which is co-chaired by me and the head of BBC Worldwide, Tim Davie. Now it is time for me to “lay me down” my notes, and I will sit down and allow my hon. Friend to respond.

3.57 pm

Nigel Adams: I will be very brief. I am actually quite heartened by what I have heard this afternoon. I am particularly encouraged by the words of colleagues from both sides of the House. This is clearly a huge issue that is stifling creative talents from the UK and affecting their ability to expand their careers abroad. I do not think we have heard any dissenting voices this afternoon, and I am particularly encouraged that the Labour party seems to be on board. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) had three very good stabs at my constituency name but, if she does not mind me saying, it is Selby and Ainsty, and I think the ambassador is Ambassador Barzun.

Mr Vaizey: I just want to correct something on the record. I do not think that I wrote to the American ambassador, and I do not want to mislead the House. I think we took it up with officials. This issue came across my desk about three years ago. I just wanted to make that clear so that Hansard do not report me misleading hon. Members—[Interruption.]

Nigel Adams: Absolutely. It would be very encouraging if the Minister was able to write to the ambassador now. It is good news that the Minister and the Government take this issue seriously. These people’s careers have a lot to offer our country. We must remember that many

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musicians are on relatively low wages of £20,000 or less, and the cost is simply prohibitive for them to be able to get to the United States to perform their work. I am encouraged by what the Minister said regarding the possibility of liaising with the embassy regarding public buildings so that people do not have to travel to Belfast and London. I conclude my remarks by thanking everyone else for contributing. Hopefully, in the next few months, we will have an update to report.

Question put and agreedto.


That this House has considered UK musicians performing overseas.

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Mr Shaker Aamer

[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

4 pm

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Government response to the return to the UK of Mr Shaker Aamer.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. My interest in this matter stems from various press reports, such as this BBC report from the time of Mr Aamer’s return suggesting that he would be entitled to a large and secretive sum of compensation, allegedly in the region of £1 million. That, apparently, is in line with compensation paid to previous inmates of Guantanamo Bay who have returned to the UK.

I wrote to the Minister on this subject and, as always, he wrote back to me swiftly and directly, for which I am grateful. I could read out the whole letter because it is only a couple of sentences long, but I will not. The important sentence states: “In 2010, Kenneth Clarke, the then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, made a statement in the House of Commons. In it he noted that Her Majesty’s Government had inherited the issues around the treatment of UK detainees held by other countries from previous Governments and that these issues needed to be addressed.” The letter goes on to say: “To that end, Mr Clarke informed the House ‘that the Government have now agreed a mediated settlement of the civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.’ The details of that settlement have been made subject to a legally binding confidentiality agreement.”

I wrote to the Minister asking for confirmation that Mr Shaker Aamer will not be entitled to money, and that is the response I got, so I think it is fair for me to assume that Mr Aamer will be in line for substantial damages. If the Minister wants to intervene at any time to tell me that that is not so and to rule it out categorically, I will happily cut the debate very short and finish now.

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. On a day when the Chancellor has announced difficult decisions in the spending review, many of my constituents will be horrified at the thought of compensation being paid to Mr Aamer. Will my hon. Friend reflect on that for a moment?

David T. C. Davies: I will further reflect on that and say that my hon. Friend’s constituents are absolutely right. I am horrified at the prospect of this happening. It is completely and utterly wrong that Mr Aamer should be entitled to any compensation.

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government and other groups who fought for 14 years for the release of this resident of Britain, Shaker Aamer, should be given a lot of credit and that nothing can ever compensate somebody for the loss of liberty for 14 years without charge? However, if compensation of a monetary value should be given, surely it is the US Government who should be giving it.

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David T. C. Davies: I will not comment on what other people have done, but my hon. Friend is certainly right to say that, if anybody is going to pay compensation, it should not be the British taxpayer given the enormous amount of time and money that British officials have spent trying to secure Mr Aamer’s freedom.

I will now set out some of the generally accepted facts. Mr Aamer is a Saudi citizen; he is not a British citizen at all. He was born in 1968 and moved to the UK in 1996. He subsequently got married here. He was given indefinite right to remain here and submitted an application for British citizenship. Before that application went through, he decided in 2001 to leave and move to Afghanistan, which at the time was run by the extreme Islamic Taliban Government.

The war in Afghanistan broke out in 2001, while Mr Aamer was over there. He was able to get his family out of Afghanistan, but he chose to stay there. In, I believe, November 2001, he was kidnapped by Afghan nationals and handed over to American nationals who imprisoned him. On that basis, I fail to see why the British taxpayer should become responsible for handing over to him a cheque for £1 million. He may be completely innocent of terrorist activity, but he certainly chose to embark on a very risky course of action of his own volition.

Dr Mathias: Westminster Hall is a good place to have a debate, but it is perhaps not the appropriate place to put someone on trial who was not tried for 14 years.

David T. C. Davies: My hon. Friend is probably right, but I am not putting him on trial. I have given the generally accepted facts: he chose to come to the United Kingdom as a Saudi citizen; he got married here; he applied to become a British citizen; and, before that application went through, he moved to Afghanistan. He apparently preferred to live in Afghanistan in 2001, and he was captured by Afghan nationals from the Northern Alliance and handed over to the Americans. There is no doubt about any of that, so I am just citing facts. He may be completely innocent of any terrorist activity, and I will assume that he is for the time being.

Dr Mathias: I appreciate my hon. Friend’s clarification. Unfortunately, as he knows, some facts have not yet been proven, and the Minister might give us more information on the question of any torture and the presence of British people during that torture. There are therefore many complicated issues with this case.

David T. C. Davies: There are certainly a lot of facts that have yet to come out, and I might refer to a few in a minute. I will first address the statement by the then Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), in 2010. He made a couple of points setting out why he would make large payments to the previous Guantanamo Bay inmates who returned to the UK.

I will not try to read it out but, in summary, the former Lord Chancellor said that the Gibson inquiry would not be able to begin until the claims had been resolved. My first question is: why not? I do not see why outstanding claims should prevent an inquiry from

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being set up. In any case, the Gibson inquiry subsequently ended because apparently nobody was satisfied that it would be impartial. There is no Gibson inquiry now, so that particular problem will not occur in the case of Mr Aamer.

My right hon. and learned Friend’s second point was that he felt there was absolutely no admission of culpability in any of the matters to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) has just referred. If we, as a Government or as a country, are not culpable of any misdeeds in these people’s cases, why on earth are we not saying so and fighting the court cases? If there is any culpability, it certainly does not lie with any Minister of this Government or the previous coalition Government; the blame will rest with someone else—so maybe someone else, and not the British taxpayer, should be held accountable.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a compelling speech. What does he think the families of the brave members of our armed forces who lost their lives in Afghanistan will think about this news?

David T. C. Davies: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which I will come to in a minute because there are three families in that position in Monmouthshire.

The then Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, made the point that the cost of fighting a court case was

“estimated at approximately £30 million to £50 million over three to five years of litigation.”—[Official Report, 16 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 753.]

That is a very high figure, and I find it hard to believe, but I am not a legal man. In any event, if we are right then we should fight these cases. We should not simply have a situation where people can pitch up and say, “I’m going to sue the Government for £1 million and it will cost you more than that to defend the case, so you’ll have to give me the money.” This Government should be a Government of principles and if we believe that we are in the right, we should fight these cases and not simply hand out cheques to people.

Julian Knight: On that point, I wonder whether the figure of £30 million to £50 million that he just cited is in relation to our fighting the case and losing it. If so, what would be the figure if we fought the case and won?

David T. C. Davies: Exactly, and I wonder how much of that £30 million to £50 million would be the costs being submitted by the lawyers working for these people—actually, the statement does not make that clear, so I cannot comment. However, my hon. Friend makes a very good point.

If the Government showed a willingness to go to court, it might well be that Mr Aamer’s extremely expensive lawyers would think twice about bringing the case to court. There is certainly an implication of that in this report from the BBC and other press reports. In this report, Mr Stafford Smith, one of the main lawyers involved, implied that he was not going to bother suing the Americans because he had no chance of getting money out of them. As far as I am concerned, let

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Mr Aamer’s lawyers fight for their money in Britain, and let the Minister and the Government do everything in their power to stop them from getting it.

There are facts that need to come out here. Mr Aamer himself obviously felt that the extreme brand of Islam favoured by the Taliban at that time in 2001 was preferable to anything on offer in the UK. He chose to go out there to Afghanistan.

Dr Mathias: Will my hon. Friend give way?

David T. C. Davies: Hang on; I will give way in a moment, but perhaps my hon. Friend can clarify this matter if she knows anything about it. Mr Aamer claims that he was working for a charity in Afghanistan. I have scoured the internet and looked at every report I can find from everybody that has had an interest in this case, and I have not been able to find out anywhere the name of this charity.

Dr Mathias: There are lots of principles at stake here and I think it is very worthy of us to debate them, but I do not believe that we are here to put somebody on trial who was in prison for 14 years without any trial, and without their being present here today. Will my hon. Friend please stick to the principles of this very worthy debate and avoid putting Mr Shaker Aamer on trial here today?

David T. C. Davies: I am not putting him on trial, but if his lawyer wants to come out and tell us more about this charity that he was working for, his lawyer should do so; he has had plenty of opportunities.

Dr Mathias rose—

David T. C. Davies: I will give way once more to my hon. Friend, but lots of people have been saying lots of things in defence of Mr Aamer; nobody has been telling us about this charity that he was working for. If my hon. Friend knows anything about it, I ask her to enlighten us.

Dr Mathias: Yes, I have information, but it needs to be given in a court of law if it is relevant. I do not believe that it is valuable here. I believe that if my hon. Friend needs this conversation, then the lawyer must be here, Mr Shaker Aamer must be here and we must go back 14 years, when a trial should have taken place.

David T. C. Davies: No, I disagree with my hon. Friend. If she knows the name of the charity, then she should say so; it is not listed anywhere else. And while she is at it, she ought to try to find out, or the lawyer ought to explain, why Mr Aamer was apparently arrested on a fake Belgian passport when he was in Afghanistan, because fake passports are not normally de rigueur when one is doing work for aid agencies.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman should perhaps really abide by the points made by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias). Is he not abusing his position here and taking advantage of parliamentary privilege to try to put on trial a man who spent 14 years in custody without ever having allegations proved against him or ever being put on trial? Is this not a matter where due process should take its course? I hope that is what the Minister will tell us.

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Frankly, to try to besmirch this man’s name after everything he has been through is really quite disgraceful, and it takes advantage of parliamentary privilege.

David T. C. Davies: I am amazed by what the hon. Gentleman is saying, because this matter is surely relevant. If Mr Aamer was in possession of a fake Belgian passport, that needs to be discussed. I am not besmirching him; I am not even saying that he was in possession of a fake Belgian passport. I am saying that it was widely reported and has not been denied.

The second point is that I am saying there is a lot of information that has been put out there about Mr Aamer by his lawyers, among others, but nobody has seen fit to tell us the name of the charity that he was working for.

Andy Slaughter Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David T. C. Davies: No, no; I have given way a few times.

Andy Slaughter: On that point?

David T. C. Davies: Okay, if the hon. Gentleman knows the name of the charity, let us have it.

Andy Slaughter: I will make two points quickly.

David T. C. Davies: Ah, right, so he does not know.

Andy Slaughter: The first point is that Shaker Aamer himself has not had the opportunity to put his side of the story. I am sure he will do so at some point, and therefore this discussion is at the very least premature.

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to ask about due process and to question the Minister about how the Government conduct litigation. In my humble opinion, he is not entitled to come here and attack a man who has suffered grievously and not been shown due process, and to add insult to injury by doing what he is doing today.

David T. C. Davies: The hon. Gentleman can relax, because I am not attacking Mr Aamer at all; if I was attacking him, the hon. Gentleman would know about it. I am just raising a few questions. When I am in attack mode, I am in attack mode, and I am not in attack mode. I am actually giving him the benefit of the doubt—

Andy Slaughter: You are in smear mode.

David T. C. Davies: No, I am not in smear mode at all.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (in the Chair): Order. We do not have this discussion in the Chamber.

David T. C. Davies: I find this absolutely extraordinary. These are perfectly reasonable questions to ask, given that this man is apparently about to receive £1 million of taxpayers’ money in secret, which I think is outrageous. Three young men from Monmouthshire have lost their lives fighting in Afghanistan. They did not choose to go there; they did not go and choose to live under this extremist Islamo-fascist state that Mr Aamer decided was a worthy state to go and live under. They were asked to go there by the British Government.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who is sitting next to me, made some proper points in this debate. What I have here is a list of the sums that people will get paid if they receive serious injuries in the defence of their country. The absolute maximum that someone can get if they have lost both arms and both legs is £570,000. That is for people who have been doing their duty for this country. This man, Mr Aamer, not a British citizen at all, was given the right to come over to this country because of our generous ways. His family, as I understand it, have been looked after by the state ever since he disappeared off to Afghanistan with them—

Andy Slaughter: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David T. C. Davies: No, I am not giving way again, because I asked the hon. Gentleman to answer a straightforward question last time, and he said he was going to and then he did not.

Let me finish by saying that it is absolutely outrageous that British servicemen and women who lost arms and legs in Afghanistan fighting those Islamo-fascists who had launched those disgraceful attacks on New York, while Mr Aamer was apparently out there in Afghanistan by choice working—allegedly—for some sort of charity, will now get only half as much money as Mr Aamer. He is not a British citizen; he chose to go and live in a foreign country; he was kidnapped by members of some other militia in said foreign country; and he was put in prison in another foreign country. It is wrong that the British taxpayer should be expected to pick up the bill for that.

4.16 pm

The Minister for Security (Mr John Hayes): Mrs Moon, you and my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who has secured this debate, will appreciate that there are some things that I can deal with straightforwardly in this debate and some matters that are not appropriate to raise, which are subject to proceedings that would not be appropriate to refer to. Obviously, if there are any security matters that I am unable to raise, my hon. Friend will appreciate that, given his experience of this House, and I know that he will not test me on them.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to the House. Shaker Aamer is the last UK resident to be released from Guantanamo Bay. As my hon. Friend will be aware, Mr Aamer was released and returned to the UK on 30 October into Biggin Hill airport. Other Members secured debates earlier this year, seeking Mr Aamer’s release, and as you will know, Mrs Moon, there is an all-party group on Shaker Aamer. Those Members have made their arguments and those arguments are now, of course, in the context of Mr Aamer’s release, but I appreciate that other Members—my hon. Friend is clearly one of them—who may seek to question why this Government went about trying to seek Mr Aamer’s return to the United Kingdom.

David T. C. Davies: Will my right hon. Friend give way on that issue, because that is not actually what I am raising?

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Mr Hayes: Forgive me, but I will just make this fundamental point, because I think we can find a synthesis across this Chamber if we all understand it. Indefinite detention without fair trial is fundamentally unacceptable. That is central not only to our view of the legal process but, more than that, to the ethical framework on which that process is built. It is an a priori assumption that detention without trial is unacceptable, and I am absolutely certain that my hon. Friend, who is about to intervene on me again, will agree with that.

David T. C. Davies: Actually, I was just going to point out, with the greatest of respect to my right hon. Friend, whom I have known for a long time, that that is not what I have raised here. I am not making any comment about Mr Aamer’s detention. I am making a comment about the prospect of his receiving a secret payment of £1 million or thereabouts. That is what I am raising today.

Mr Hayes: That is what my hon. Friend has raised in part, but it is impossible to consider it out of the context of the circumstances that prevail in respect of Shaker Aamer. My belief, which I am sure my hon. Friend and the whole Chamber shares, is that the fairness of any judicial system is vital to its popular acceptance. The unintended consequence of Guantanamo Bay is to create a perception of unfairness, which potentially fuels distaste for and hostility towards the US and her allies. With that in mind, the UK Government committed to making best endeavours to bring Mr Aamer back to the UK. Representations on his behalf in which the UK position was made clear were made by Ministers at the most senior levels, including by the Prime Minister to President Obama. The whole Chamber will be aware of that, because it was the subject of some publicity. The fact that the US Administration agreed to review Mr Aamer’s case as a priority and then release him demonstrated our close ties once again.

Following the return of Mr Aamer, it is important to emphasise that the UK is not considering accepting any further detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The timetable for the closure of that facility has not emerged, but Members will be mindful that it remains a matter for the US Government. Members will know that President Obama has commented on that a number of times. In respect of Mr Aamer, officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and across the Government worked to ensure that the return happened quickly and securely.

Dr Mathias: In view of the motion’s wording, will the Minister tell us whether the Government are looking into the allegations that UK personnel may have been present at times when torture was administered to Mr Shaker Aamer, whether in Afghanistan or in Guantanamo Bay?

Mr Hayes: I heard my hon. Friend raise the same issue earlier in the debate.

David T. C. Davies: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hayes: I will in a moment. I am not sufficiently accomplished to remember all the interventions and then respond to them in sequence. I need to do them one by one, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) made her point and put it on record, but she must know that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the details of anyone involved in alleged events in Guantanamo Bay, and I certainly cannot do so in this debate.

David T. C. Davies: Does the Minister not agree that the allegations of torture are simply that—allegations? Those allegations are besmirching the American Government, and I have as much right to ask why Mr Aamer was out there on a false passport, working for a charity that I cannot find out anything about, as others have to suggest that he was tortured when he got there. They are all allegations, and that is it.

Mr Hayes: With the combination of assiduity, perspicacity and good hearing that my hon. Friend personifies, he will have heard me use the phrase, “anyone involved in alleged events”.

Returning to my script, I understand that the public will have concerns in respect of a former detainee of Guantanamo Bay returning to the UK and the potential security implications. My hon. Friend articulated some of that today, but it is important for me to say that I cannot comment on why Mr Aamer was detained in the first instance or provide any details, as I said at the outset of the debate, on security arrangements in this individual case. It has been a long tradition of successive Governments not to do that, and it would be entirely inappropriate for me to break with it today, given the sensitivity of these matters.

I reassure the whole Chamber, however, that the first duty of any Government is to protect the security of our citizens, and we take that duty extremely seriously. Any individual seeking to engage in terrorism-related activity should be in no doubt that the relevant authorities will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security and ensure that they are brought to justice. Recent events around the world, particularly so close in Paris, have demonstrated that the threat remains real, severe and dynamic.

The Chamber will not be oblivious to the fact that both the Prime Minister and the director of MI5 have made absolutely clear that we have foiled no fewer than seven different terrorist plots in the past year alone through the work of our security services and police. That is ample illustration of the urgency, severity and character of the work we are doing. The police and security and intelligence agencies already have a range of powers available to them, stretching from prosecution for criminal offences relating to terrorism to executive disruption powers, such as the imposition of terrorism prevention and investigation measures.

Dealing with Syria, we have a wide range of powers to disrupt travel and manage the risk posed by returnees. Those powers include the ability to temporarily seize and retain travel documents to disrupt immediate travel and the creation of a temporary exclusion order to enable the UK Government to temporarily disrupt and control an individual’s return to the UK.

Of course there will be those who criticise some of the measures as an infringement of civil liberties, but I disagree. They are about protecting precious freedoms from terrorists who want to steal them from us. Our

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legislation is robust, and because of our determination to get the balance right, those powers are matched with appropriate checks and balances, safeguards and judicial oversight. We remain confident that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the tools available to deal with those who seek to threaten the UK.

There have been comments in the media, reflected in my hon. Friend’s speech today, about any payments that may be made to Mr Aamer. I refer those present to the statement that my hon. Friend referred to by the then Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). On 16 November 2010, he stated that

“the Government have now agreed a mediated settlement of the civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The details of that settlement have been made subject to a legally binding confidentiality agreement.”—[Official Report, 16 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 752.]

I am repeating a point that my hon. Friend made, and I know he would not expect me to go further than that today.

David T. C. Davies: Why does the settlement need be secret?

Mr Hayes: As the statement I just read out said, the settlement is subject to a binding confidentiality agreement. That is not uncommon in law. My hon. Friend is a distinguished parliamentarian and an authority on a number of matters, and he will know that it is not uncommon to have confidentiality agreements in such cases.

The former Justice Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, noted that the Government of the time inherited the issues around the treatment of UK detainees held by other countries from previous Governments and that the issues needed to be addressed. He said that failure to do so would mean that our reputation as a country that believes in the rule of law and fairness, as was described earlier, risked being tarnished. As was also set out in that statement, no admissions of culpability were made in settling the claims and none of the claimants had withdrawn their allegations. It was a mediated settlement where confidentiality is a common feature. I am therefore unable to provide any further comment on legal action brought by those detained in Guantanamo Bay than that already provided by the statement.

It is open to Mr Aamer to bring a damages claim in the US. That was raised in the course of considerations, and it is a matter for the US justice system. I cannot comment on that, and I cannot comment on what Mr Aamer plans to do, because I do not know.

In conclusion, I reiterate that the UK has long held that indefinite detention without trial is fundamentally unacceptable, because it is unreasonable and unfair. The rule of law depends on popular acclaim. It depends on us all believing that we will be treated fairly, properly and equally. My hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister has asked the Intelligence and Security Committee to examine the themes and issues set out in “The Report of the Detainee Inquiry”, which was published by the Government in December 2013. I have outlined as far as I can Mr Aamer’s immigration status and the measures in place to deal with any individual engaging in terrorist-related activity. In addition, I have reminded those

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present of the statement by the former Justice Secretary on the damages claims brought by those detained in Guantanamo Bay and the mediated settlement that followed. I know that my hon. Friend will be pleased to have had the opportunity to put these matters on record, and I know that he feels strongly about them. With the respect I offer him, I hope that he will respect my position in not being able to add further to these matters on this occasion in this House.

4.29 pm

Question put and agreed to.

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Low Emission Zones

4.30 pm

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the introduction of low emission zones.

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. It is great to host this debate on the vital subject of establishing low emission zones in the UK. Although I will focus my attention on the wider benefits of low emission zones across the UK and why they should be introduced, it will come as no surprise to Members that I would like to use my own constituency of Bath as an example of how the introduction of low emission zones will benefit a UNESCO world heritage site.

I also want to outline why the outcome of the Government’s recent consultation on air quality must lead to the introduction of a standardised set of rules and regulations for establishing low emission zones across the UK. In layman’s terms, I want to see an off-the-shelf low emission zone system that can be picked up from Government and dropped into a community such as Bath in a much easier way than is currently the case. With the European Court of Justice’s deadline for a proposal on how we can bring Britain’s air quality up to legal standards almost upon us, we need to look at the introduction of low emission zones and how they can be implemented as quickly and successfully as possible.

It is not only in terms of deadlines that time is ticking. Air pollution is having a devastating impact on the nation’s health, and that simply cannot be ignored for much longer. In my view, a national strategy is needed to ensure a continuous and unified approach to implementation, so that drivers are not expected to comply with a variety of different regulations and restrictions as they travel around the country.

Bath, unbeknown to many outside the south-west, has a huge problem with air pollution. Many of its buildings are constructed out of the famous yellow Bath stone, but they are slowly blackening in many areas. Air pollution levels in Bath far exceed legal limits and are causing problems to constituents’ health and wellbeing, as well as the health of the many tourists who visit our city. Bath relies on tourism for much of its income, and the situation puts tourism at risk.

I will show the Chamber a map, which, at the request of the Chairman, I will hand to the Library. It is famously known as the “corridor of death” map in Bath, and I have a copy courtesy of the Federation of Bath Residents Associations. The map shows the dangerously high levels of air pollution in Bath, which have increased further since it was published in 2009. A study in Bath showed that road traffic contributes a staggering 92% of the total NOx concentration, with heavy-duty vehicles contributing between 24% and 57.1% of that. Those figures are promising in that they show that a restriction on the movement of vehicles through central Bath will reduce the contribution that traffic makes to pollution levels in the city.

Earlier this month I raised the issue with the Secretary of State, who visited Bath prior to the election. She stood with me on the corner of London Road and Cleveland Bridge and we breathed in the air pollution together. She was clear at the time that the Government

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would like to introduce a standardised system of low emission zones around the UK. This was music to the ears of members of the Federation of Bath Residents Associations who were in attendance, along with local residents from Camden and Walcot in my constituency.

Since then I have welcomed both the European Commissioner for the Environment and the Conservative MEP for the South West, Julie Girling, to see the situation at first hand. At our meeting, we discussed Bath’s special case and called for Bath to become a special case study for air pollution by the European Commission. Given our unique world heritage status in the UK, our bowl-like geography as a city, and the Bath stone that I mentioned earlier, which seems to take on pollutants in a more destructive way than other building materials, it is important that we have a low emission zone. I want to thank the Bath residents associations, including FoBRA and the city centre residents associations, for championing these changes in Bath.

Low emission zones work to deter the vehicles that produce the most harmful gases from entering certain areas of the city. They are not prevented completely from entering, but face large fines if their vehicles are not adapted to reduce the levels of emissions produced. Air pollution contains many different substances, and is one of the biggest causes of man-made pollution in the UK. Road transport, particularly transport that uses diesel engines, contributes the most. The zones restrict the vehicles that have the worst effect on air quality with a system of local charging and regulation.

The idea is that individuals and particularly businesses with a large fleet of vehicles make simple changes to their vehicles, or alternatively replace them, so that they can drive through the area without receiving a charge. This will in turn protect the environment from ever worsening pollution levels. Such zones have been introduced elsewhere in Europe, with Germany having a national framework of more than 70 low emission zones, which has produced staggering results. Berlin alone saw a 58% reduction in diesel particulates, which obviously has had a huge, positive effect on the health of the local population.

Bath needs a handful of major infrastructure projects to reduce the amount of traffic in the city, thus reducing air pollution further. The introduction of a low emission zone will need to work as part of a wider strategy to reduce the amount of diesel cars passing through the city each day. In the previous Budget, the Chancellor championed the cross-party transport strategy that I hope will be implemented by my local authority—the first time it has been run by Conservatives in a very long time; in fact, ever. Only with this combined approach can we reduce the scarily high pollution levels in the city.

Low emission zones are not a new thing to the United Kingdom; the low emission zone in London provides a brilliant starting point for a national strategy. London began with the introduction of charges for vehicles that failed to meet emissions standards and is set to see the introduction of an ultra-low emission zone in 2020.

On a similar note, I am pleased that Transport for London has announced that new black cabs will no longer use diesel and must be capable of running on an electric battery from January 2018. 1 recently met Calor, the gas supplier, which advocates adopting liquefied

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petroleum gas taxis that would be another clean alternative that could help businesses adapt to the introduction of low emission zones.

Outside London, low emission zones have already been introduced in a handful of places across the UK, including Oxford, where many of the main roads in and out of the city have controls in place, and Brighton, which introduced a low emission zone for buses at the start of this year. Bath and North East Somerset completed a feasibility study in 2014. It found that air quality improvements could be made with the introduction of a low emission zone in the central area of Bath. I want to build on this study by working with the Minister and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to use the introduction of a low emission zone in Bath as a template for a system that could be replicated across the country in areas of dangerously high air pollution.

The technology currently exists for the police and/or local authorities to prevent high polluting vehicles from accessing built-up areas. The problem really rests in the inability of councils to enforce vehicle access. We need to find a way to enable local authorities to do that. We need to ensure there is improved collaboration on this issue. My understanding is that areas across the country have struggled to introduce low emission zones because Government agencies, including Highways England, the police service and a mixture of local authorities, have not been working in partnership in an effective way to deliver these zones. My hope is that, following the publication of the Government’s consultation, a framework will be introduced to ensure that these problems are ironed out.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be exemptions in low emission zones? A class of vehicle that should be exempt is the historic vehicle. The Government define such vehicles as vehicles more than 40 years old. They are used for many charitable and fundraising events and are a feature at most weddings. As they make up only 0.6% of licensed vehicles on the road, their contribution to pollution is negligible. I declare an interest as the owner of several such vehicles and as chairman of the all-party historic vehicles group.

Ben Howlett: I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I do not wish to be the most unpopular person at every wedding in Bath, so I completely agree that certain vehicles need an exemption, particularly vehicles that cannot be updated. A 40-year limit seems a very sensible one if such vehicles make up only 0.6% of the total number of vehicles on our roads. If a national framework were introduced, such exemptions could easily be included so that drivers would not have to check the policy of each individual zone on their route.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the hon. Gentleman for calling for this debate, because York’s infrastructure and the geography of the vale of York very much mirror what he has described. Is not the urgent issue, though, the need to address the level of nitrogen dioxide in fuels? We should address that immediately, alongside the other measures he has mentioned.

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Ben Howlett: I agree that we should be doing all we can to reduce pollutant particulates from our vehicles, whether that is NOx or carbon dioxide. I have given some examples of the exciting new technologies that are available. Whether we need to invest heavily in hydrogen vehicles or introduce the Calor LPG taxis I mentioned earlier, there is a range of technologies out there to help to reduce vehicle emissions. I must say at this point that there is an incredibly exciting new vehicle emissions plant in Bath that is working to reduce vehicle emissions in real-world testing. Hopefully we will see more investment in such plants. Bath is a very similar city to York; they were not built for cars, as the hon. Lady and I know. As a result, unfortunately we are sometimes constrained as to what can be done. If a new standardised system of low emission zones comes in, I hope that our councils will be able to work together closely.

I urge the Minister to consider the introduction of a national framework for the introduction of low emission zones so that any local authority in the UK that needs to take urgent action to reduce air pollution can easily implement a low emission zone without being stopped by red tape and disagreements—that goes for York as well. Our country desperately needs a standardised system of low emission zones. Our economy cannot face a hefty fine from the European Union, and we need solutions that can be implemented smoothly.

Finally, back to Bath. A number of big infrastructure projects are being discussed locally that would directly benefit from a low emission zone. An implemented zone would encourage further use of park and ride, or the use of an alternative link road between the A36 and A46—I have been lobbying the Chancellor on that heavily—to avoid people having to drive through the city. I am concerned that Highways England might try to block any proposed low emission zone, and hope that the Minister will support me in changing its mind. Bath needs red tape and bureaucracy to be cut so that it can use solutions that will make it a beautiful city fit for the 21st century. The first move is to introduce a low emission zone to both protect the iconic Bath stone and prevent the health of residents from deteriorating any further.

4.43 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is a pleasure to speak on this issue. I do not have a large contribution to make. Usually I am a man of many words, but on this issue I will be a man of few words. Nevertheless, I want to contribute to the debate if I can. I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for calling for this debate. I very much look forward to the responses by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), and by the Minister, who always brings a flair to his responses, so I look forward to hearing him. I remember the Adjournment debate in which he fiercely defended the lion as the national emblem of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I live in and represent a largely rural constituency, Strangford. I am fortunate that when I get up in the morning I can breathe the fresh sea air of Strangford lough. I live in the countryside and because of that I have never had to deal with the emissions referred to by the hon. Member for Bath. I have been very fortunate to have always lived in the countryside, and I thank God for that. My constituency is not directly affected by the problems arising from high levels of emissions, but

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neighbouring constituencies experience a lot of congestion, and when I join those queues of cars, as I do when I go through Belfast or to the airport—wherever it may be—when I am sitting in the car, with the traffic nose to tail, I understand what it means to have all those emissions around. Even if the windows are up, this is the time of the year when heaters are going, drawing emissions into the car.

There is pollution from cars, but also from the large volume of air travel. Perhaps the Minister can give his thoughts on that. It seems to me that there is an understanding of the issue of emissions from air travel. Some of the planes that are being built now would help to address that, but until the transition to those new planes, we have to deal with the issue as it is, as the hon. Member for Bath said. Pollution brings with it the ultimate effects on the climate, which we cannot ignore, as well as the negative effects on public health, particularly in places close to where emissions are emitted. We have a duty to our citizens when it comes to public health, and we must address that.

The Minister will reply within the scope of his departmental responsibility, but there are other responsibilities, and perhaps he needs to work with other Departments. When he responds, I would be interested to hear about his relationship with, for example, the Department of Health, and about how he will work alongside other Departments to make things better. It is through no fault of their own that citizens come into contact with or are subject to dirty air as a result of emissions. They should not have to suffer the consequent negative impacts on their health. More needs to be done to protect people from the detrimental health effects of being around dirty and polluted air. We have moved on a great deal. We can all remember those grainy images on TV in the 1950s and 1960s—well, I am not sure whether everyone can, but I can—where smog just enveloped everyone, and they had to live in and breathe it. Thank goodness we have made gigantic steps to stop that.

The aim of low emission zones should be welcomed, and such zones could achieve real results if implemented properly. As always, though, we need to be mindful of the potential unintended consequences. I wholeheartedly support what the hon. Member for Bath said, but there is a cost factor, and we should be very cognisant of that, and of what it means. It is all right for many of us, including me, to say, “Let’s take the steps and make the difference,” but if we add in the cost factor, perhaps people’s zeal might be tempered slightly.

Rachael Maskell: In York, it has been estimated that every year 82 people die prematurely as a result of emissions. Surely that cost should be put above other costs.

Jim Shannon: I wholeheartedly agree. I am here to support low emission zones, but, if I can, I want to put into the debate the cost factor, because it has to be addressed. At the end of the day, we all pay for these things. I agree with the hon. Lady: if 82 people die in York every year because of emissions, let us do something about it. But I am asking who is going to pay to make that happen and how it will work. Will it be local councils, direct funding from Government or something else? We need to look at that. I am not saying that we should not do anything—we should—but I want to be told where the funding is coming from. That is the issue.

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Might low emission zones negatively affect economic activity, particularly small and medium-sized businesses? Of all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland has the largest number of small and medium-sized businesses, which could be directly affected. Large businesses will be able to replace vehicles that fall short of the targets with relative ease compared with SMEs, and local, indigenous businesses will be hit hard if they are hindered in their ability to operate as a result of the introduction of low emission zones. I support the purpose of the debate, but make that point because we have to be honest and realistic about what is achievable. How do we achieve the goals that the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) wants, that I want and that everyone else present wants? Perhaps we could alleviate concerns by introducing an exemption system or some sort of assistance for SMEs, particularly indigenous businesses.

We need to take action on this issue. The cost to the climate is too much, as is the cost to our quality of life.

Sir Greg Knight: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Does he agree that if a zone is introduced heavy-handedly it could have the effect of making shoppers go to out-of-town shopping centres where parking is free, rather than go into town or city centres? It would therefore hit small businesses in our towns and cities.

Jim Shannon: As always, the right hon. Gentleman brings his experience and knowledge to the debate. I thank him for that intervention, which helps us develop our debate. I hope the shadow Minister and the Minister will respond to it. It should be done in the right way, and this debate is about how to achieve our goals.

I believe that, as public representatives, we should be bound to do our best to promote better public health. In Berlin, there have been real results from such zones. There are examples from around the world of where they have been successful. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bath mentioned this in his introduction—I am sorry if I missed that bit—but I think Berlin shows how it can be done. There has been a 58% reduction in diesel particulates and a 20% reduction in NOx. There is no doubt that the LEZs and ultra-low emission zones in Berlin work; it is just a matter of addressing the concerns that other hon. Members outlined.

We have to address the issue of emissions. We have to save the lives that the hon. Member for York Central wants to save in a way that we can afford. If we set goals and targets, I believe we can address the issues of emissions, the climate and public health while having as little a negative impact on stakeholders as possible. I am sorry for labouring that point.

4.51 pm

John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP): I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing this debate. I declare a family interest: I have a relative who is involved in charging points in Scotland. I want to make that open and plain.

I have been here only since May, but I have been impressed by the knowledge that we gain. I am proud and privileged to be a member of the Environmental Audit Committee. The Minister appeared before us and gave us wonderful information about the Volkswagen

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scandal. I cannot say that I agree with him, but I was totally impressed by his knowledge of the situation. He was particularly honest, and everybody in the Committee appreciated it.

There is huge cross-party recognition that we need to do something. Some years ago, I visited Bath and Wells and the surrounding district—if I remember correctly, Cheddar gorge is in that area—so I know it is extremely busy. It is a beautiful area that I would go back to if I had time, but I totally get what the hon. Gentleman meant when he described it as a death route. The map that he produced is probably significant to lots of people in the House.

The area that I represent is similar to that of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I have the benefit of being 10 minutes away from canals, mountains, hills and rivers. We are building fish ladders and hydro pumps, and there is a general trend towards getting people out and about, walking and cycling, which can only be good for public health. One of our biggest employers, Alexander Dennis Ltd, has just signed a £2 billion contract with a firm from China to deliver all-electric buses. Hopefully, we will see them on the streets of London and Bath in the future.

Local authorities in Scotland have issues, too. To go back to what the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, we have had more than 2,000 deaths from air pollution in Scotland. That is not good enough; it is not acceptable. I wholeheartedly go along with everything that is going forward. We need a local strategy and we need to take local people and communities with us, but we have to be mindful of how it will impact on businesses, town centres and city centres.

A Dundee taxi operator has the UK’s largest electric taxi fleet, with 40 such vehicles. The University of Dundee— I do not know why I am going on about Dundee; I am from Falkirk, so I will probably get a row about that when I get home—has got seven electric vans and is rolling out 12 electric bikes. It aims to reduce its CO2 emissions by 9 tonnes, which will save £10,000 a year. Those are all good, practical steps towards lowering emissions. I think the whole country should work towards the national strategy. In Scotland, we are working towards it as fast as we can.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Gentleman referred to electric cars. Interestingly, during the May election, one of the things that people said on the doorstep—and, indeed, on the day of the election—was that they wanted to commit to driving electric cars. Many people wish to make that move. I certainly see that in my constituency. We have installed our first few electric power points in the town of Newtownards, which is a magnificent step in the right direction, so things are moving forward. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the time has come for the Government to harness the energy of our constituents who want to see this happen?

John Mc Nally: I totally agree that we need to harness that energy. In fact, in an earlier debate today we spoke about the need to store renewable electric energy and to produce it when it is required. I do not yet fully understand the Chancellor’s autumn statement—once I have read into it, I will—but I believe he said that he is going to put more money towards renewable energy. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten me on that point.

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People want electric cars. From memory—I have not researched this thoroughly—most people travel less than 30 miles a day in and around their own areas. The majority of people do not travel long distances. Therefore, to go back to the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford, having electric charging points in town centres would be great. When we build infrastructure, new shopping centres, schools or hospitals, we should put electric charging points into the construction plan whenever those things are built; it should be like ensuring disability access. That makes absolute sense to me.

I totally agree with what is going on. I am glad I have come along to represent the Scottish National party, and I am happy to share my knowledge at any time in the future. I thank the hon. Members for Bath and for York Central.

4.57 pm

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) on securing this debate, and I thank other colleagues for their contributions. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon.

We need to introduce a network of low emission zones. The health impact of air pollution places a huge burden on this and future generations, so we need a genuine long-term solution. Air pollution-related conditions cause thousands of premature deaths in this country every year. Children growing up around severe air pollution are five times more likely to have poor lung development, and long-term exposure leads to an increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease.

Although the majority of harmful substances come from industry, in urban areas as much as 70% of harmful pollution comes from road traffic. Diesel emissions are a particular culprit, as other hon. Members have said. The World Health Organisation has identified diesel fumes as a cause of lung cancer; it classifies diesel exhaust as a group 1 carcinogen, which places such fumes in the same category as arsenic and asbestos. That tells us how dangerous pollutants from diesel are, and it puts the seriousness of the Volkswagen scandal in perspective.

We urgently need to introduce low emission zones to protect the vulnerable from exposure. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide on London’s Oxford Street are three times over the EU limit and are the highest concentrations in the world. A low emission zone has been implemented in London, and an ultra-low emission zone is on its way, but much more needs to be done, not least because this is a UK-wide issue. The EU’s limits for nitrogen oxides are regularly breached across the UK. Some 31 of 43 areas in the UK already exceed the limits set out in the 2013 EU ambient air quality directive.

Rachael Maskell: In addition to low emission zones, is it not important that we also carry out congestion commissions to look at the issues behind emissions? Vehicles with lower emissions can contribute to the cumulative impact.

Nick Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The more information that is available on this topic, the better. We need more ambition to clean up the air we breathe.

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Worse still, the glaring inconsistencies between test data and real world emissions mean that the accuracy of the Department’s assumptions on air quality improvements must also be called into question. Given all the recent media coverage—colleagues might have seen Monday’s “Panorama”—which has seriously challenged testing data, will the Minister assure us of the robustness of the Government’s current consultation and that projections are based on accurate modelling and real world figures?

The consultation is right to suggest that there is more we can do to tackle air pollution, but the Government describe the plan as

“a plan for a plan by others”

and dodge any time-bound targets or real responsibility. The UK is also facing fines from the European Commission of £300 million a year for contravening emissions limits and failing to have a plan to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air.

A few years ago, the Government gifted themselves the power to pass such penalties on to local authorities in areas of high air pollution. At the same time, those local authorities faced deep cuts to their budgets. In Wales—you may recognise this, Mrs Moon—we call that a hospital pass. The buck is being passed without the real power to fix the problems being identified. While the Government’s approach relies on devolving obligation and accountability to local authorities, it does so without providing any additional resources or the tools for the job.

Local authorities of course have a significant part to play, but the scope of the problem absolutely requires national oversight and guidance, which is the sort of thing that the hon. Member for Bath was talking about. We should be shaping a clear path by granting local authorities the powers that they need to reduce air pollution from vehicle emissions. That means delivering a national framework for low and ultra-low emission zones, implemented locally and informed by local intelligence. The decision-making and responsibility for reducing air pollution cannot be palmed off if local authorities have insufficient direction or investment.

While the Government’s plan refers to a national framework of clean air zones, the proposal lacks detail and needs development. Providing local authorities with a national framework would enable far more coherence. Examples from elsewhere, including from the Netherlands, show that such an approach would be a step in the right direction. How does the Minister intend to achieve the necessary improvements given the hefty budget cuts to his Department and local government announced earlier today?

In conclusion, a framework of low emission zones in the UK would be worth while and cost-effective and would make a real difference, but the Government need to throw their full weight behind the framework to ensure that it delivers the benefits it promises for our health and for the health of generations to come.

5.3 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship eventually, Mrs Moon. As your husband was a distinguished ecologist and created the local government network of ecologists, I am pleased that it should be an environmental subject

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that I have the privilege of presenting in front of you. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for securing this debate and thank others for their contributions, which I will try to wrap together, to consider what is a surprisingly tricky, important and evolving subject.

The first question is one of science, about which the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) made several points in a couple of interventions. One of which was about the chemistry of diesel engines and their nitrogen dioxide content. I think that she was getting at the fact that diesel burns at a different temperature to petrol, producing more nitrogen dioxide. She also pointed out that some emissions may come from technically low emission vehicles. Nitrogen dioxide is our major concern today, but we are also concerned about particulate matter, and, as others mentioned in the debate, sources of emissions extend to other things apart from vehicles, including non-road mobile machinery, such as construction machinery, and domestic boilers. The sources extend right across the spectrum of vehicles, including buses, taxis, heavy goods vehicles, light goods vehicles and cars.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), the shadow Minister, also focused on science and modelling. The modelling that we undertake in Britain is sophisticated, taking nearly three months to run, and European Union-accredited. It is unbelievably complicated, involving the overlaying of emissions and the balance of the fleet. For example, when my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) is driving through his area, his vehicle will have an impact on emissions in a particular place, and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned emissions from planes, which need to be put into a totally different part of the model due to atmospheric dispersion. The model therefore includes sources of emissions, a climate model, including how the wind moves things around, and the road network, and out of that we attempt to calculate nationally the number of micrograms per cubic metre. As pointed out by the shadow Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Bath, local situations will always arise in which things are being captured that may not be captured by the national model. Equally, the national model will be much better at reliably catching the national picture than can be achieved on a grid basis.

The shadow Minister mentioned Oxford Street, and I absolutely agree that the situation is shocking. It is terrible that the levels, at 120 micrograms per cubic metre, are three times the EU limit. However, I gently challenge the idea that that is the worst in the world. Someone on a visit to Beijing, Delhi or a number of cities in Latin America will find considerably higher levels, but the situation on Oxford Street is indeed shocking. Such levels will have a serious impact on human health, which was raised by the hon. Member for Strangford.

There is also the question of cost: what do we do about the problem, and where do we allocate the costs? We now have a better understanding of the cost to human health, which has two elements. There is the indirect cost to human health. There is the value that we put on our own lives and the fact that people, if they have lung diseases or heart diseases, may die prematurely. The Treasury attaches an economic value to that, which is a slightly bizarre process. There is also the direct cost to the national health service of trying to treat people.

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The hon. Member for Strangford challenged us to try to integrate much more how we use the NHS budget, public health, how we think about air quality and the measures that might be taken by my Department or the Department for Transport.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) for his speech. His example—as he said himself, it was perhaps more Dundee than Falkirk—shows how we can learn from the devolved Administrations again and again. In environmental policy, we are already learning from Wales’s approach to recycling and from Scotland, in particular Zero Waste Scotland. Different approaches are often taken across borders. The Dundee example of electric vehicles and potentially electric bicycles is something that we are happy to learn from, and we are happy to exchange ideas across borders.

The fundamental challenge posed by the hon. Member for Bath and the shadow Minister was, “What on earth do we do about this? How do we address these problems?” The shadow Minister put his finger on two problems, one of which was how to get the balance right between the national and the local. He was saying that it is all very well the Department pontificating and saying, “This is where we want to get to,” but the local authorities are given the job of responding to it without resources. The other problem was how to allocate the resources and costs, which was also the challenge of the hon. Member for Strangford.

One way of understanding the dilemma is to look closely at the exact example raised by the hon. Member for Bath. How does the balance work? Bath, fortunately, is modelled not to be in exceedance by 2020. This is a devolved issue, but the cities we are particularly concerned about in England are Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby, Southampton and London. They are our major concerns and we have a different approach to each city—Bath is a good example. Forty micrograms per cubic metre on average of ambient air quality is an EU-set target, but we want to do better than that, because of the benefits to human health. We would like to reach the target sooner rather than later.

Since Roman times, Bath has been a great symbol of health in this country. It was where Roman tourists and 18th century tourists alike went for their health; it is a world heritage site based on the idea of health. We should certainly have a clean air zone in a place that is seen as a great symbol of health.

The council in Bath has led in a number of ways. This is a good example of the local-national thing. The council already has an extraordinary project on bicycles—Bath’s answer to the Boris bike—which has just launched and has 5,000 bikes in operation. The council has a good approach to electric vehicle charging and has more than 20 electric vehicle charging points, with businesses also building their own charging points. It has invested in hybrid buses. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been proud to co-operate in a small way on the Bath website and on some of the research into moving towards low emission vehicles. Now Bath has come forward with a proposal to have its own low emission zone, which we welcome.

There has to be a national contribution, which I will set out in a moment, but the reason why getting the balance between local and national is vital is that we can see in a single road such as Rossiter Road in Bath an exceedance reduced by 18 micrograms per cubic metre

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through a single local intervention. It is not sensible for the Department to fantasise that, sitting here in London with a 300-mile screwdriver, we have a solution for 28 cities. Much will be about having active traffic management systems.

One Labour MP, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), came to me with a brilliant idea about how to resolve diesel pollution issues caused by passenger vessels docking in port. It involved setting up electricity charging points, so that the vessels did not have to run off their diesel engines. He found a solution that involves the local enterprise partnership and the local council. Such solutions can have much more of an impact much more rapidly than our simply mandating things from the centre.

As for cities where we will be in exceedance by 2020, however, we are clear that we will take action. The Government are determined to be in compliance. In 2020, we will be judged on whether we are below 40 micrograms per cubic metre in every city in England, with the exception of London, and we will be in compliance in London by 2025. We will ensure that we put structures in place to support local initiatives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bath made a final challenge: can we produce a standardised system of low emission zones to be rolled out across the cities? Yes, of course we can. The point of our consultation is to provide four straightforward models of what low emission zones—what we call clean air zones—can look like. The first model deals with buses and taxis; the second with buses, taxis and heavy goods vehicles; the third with buses, taxis, HGVs and light goods vehicles; and the fourth one goes all the way down to cars.

Sir Greg Knight: Does the Minister agree with me and the Mayor of London that there is a case for exempting historic vehicles from any restrictions or penalties?

Rory Stewart: My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point and one we will have to think about. We have to get the balance with simplicity right, and that is what we are trying to achieve. The request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath for a straightforward, simple system was a good one. The objective is for an HGV driver to know that the same rules apply throughout England or, ideally, if we can work with the devolved Administrations, throughout the United Kingdom, so that we do not have different rules in different places. Provided we can achieve simplicity and a national standard, however, I can see a good argument for excluding historic vehicles. In essence, because the low emission zones would be standard, provided that HGV drivers had a Euro 6 diesel engine in their lorry, for example, they would know that they could enter any of the zones anywhere in the country, as such vehicles would be exempt. We do not want to end up with a situation in which any individual business has no idea what is happening when it turns up somewhere.

We have made some progress since the 1970s. The hon. Member for Strangford reminded us about the problems of smog, which were much worse. In the late 1940s, some incidents cost thousands of lives over two or three days. Since then, we have reduced sulphur dioxide by a

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dramatic 90%, which was an extraordinary achievement, particulate matter by 73% and the nitrogen oxides, NOx, by 62%, but we can still do better and we have a huge opportunity to do so. The Government have put £2 billion into that.

The real game in town is to ensure not only that by 2020 or 2025 we meet the targets, but that by 2050 we are in the lead and that, with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and his exotic car, we are predominantly driving electric vehicles. We can see the direction in which we are going: Britain should be in the industrial lead, and we should be the country where such vehicles are manufactured and tested.

Jim Shannon: I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. In my contribution, I mentioned the example of what Berlin had done. I am sure he is coming to it, but I was hoping to hear his thoughts on that.

Rory Stewart: The Berlin model is interesting in a couple of ways. First, it has had a good result; the system was put in quite early. Secondly, it was done without cameras. The German system is simply to say, “You will not drive into the centre of Berlin if you have less than a”—I cannot remember exactly what the rules are, but people must have in their vehicles something along the lines of a better than Euro 4 petrol engine or a better than Euro 6 diesel engine. However, there are no cameras to monitor licence plates. The German citizen appears to be so law-abiding that the system relies simply on the police to turn up and inspect the tax disc.

Our assumption is that we would do better to follow the London example of having cameras to recognise people’s number plates, rather than relying on that German system, which is nevertheless an example of how Berlin achieved something pretty remarkable at a very low cost. It did not have to put up any camera infrastructure, or do anything at all; the authorities simply told people not to drive in with certain vehicles and, in essence, that was that.

Rachael Maskell: I note the Minister’s concern about some of the larger cities, but some of the smaller cities and in particular, as we have heard today, the historic cities have problems and pockets of very high emissions, which cause concern. Will he look specifically at some of our historic cities to ensure that they can be part of the wider programme to reduce emissions?

Rory Stewart: Let me take the opportunity to conclude on exactly that point, because the hon. Lady has summed up our discussion: it is about exactly that balance between local knowledge and national.

The whole point of our consultation is to feed in the complexities. One thing that we have picked up is that there is, of course, a real problem with historic cities. The problem can be geographical; my hon. Friend the Member for Bath said that his city in essence sits in a bowl, and the pollution tends to congregate in it. The problem in York is a medieval street network, or just narrow streets, as potentially in the centre of Leeds, creating a real problem of congestion. A diesel engine might run well on the open road, but the problem is that, as soon as the vehicle gets stuck on a hill, its engine is pumping out a great deal of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. That is why we want our process to be

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an open one that embraces the offers made by York and Bath, gets behind them and clears the obstacles out of the way.

The Government’s main objective must be to bring into compliance cities that are not in compliance. However, as I said, the European target is simply a compliance level and we really encourage people to do better. Any city that wants to do better will find a huge benefit for human health and tourism: Bath alone, with its millions of visitors, is bringing in £400 million a year in tourism. It will also be good for businesses. We want this country to be a place where people are proud to breathe the air.

Ben Howlett: One of the key issues in historic cities, however, is that while we may have the ambition of introducing electric cars, we cannot just dig up the roads to introduce electric car charging points. One thing we are having a lot of difficulty with is getting through the planning process to introduce charging points in cities. Will the Minister guarantee that he will go away and work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to streamline the planning system for electric car charging points?

Rory Stewart: That is a very good challenge, which will apply to many of us. We see the same challenge in the installation of broadband and insulating historic buildings, as well as in electric infrastructure, and DEFRA tries to use different mechanisms to address that. We sit on taskforces on housing and infrastructure, which provide good opportunities to raise that point. I absolutely take the point that historic cities are different. They operate differently and it will not always be possible to have a solution for an historic city that can be applied to a new city.

Nick Smith: I thank the Minister for accepting my intervention and for his contribution. There seems to be a lot of willingness across the UK to introduce these schemes and he has spoken about introducing cameras and background administrative systems to help implement them, so how will the Government financially help local authorities to implement these good ideas?

Rory Stewart: The answer to that, I am afraid, is that we are still completing our consultation on the plan. The plan will be printed by the end of the year and a final answer will be presented to the shadow Minister

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on exactly that. We have just compiled more than 700 different responses and we are going through them to try to understand what local authorities wish to do in their different towns. We are trying to work out how many projects will involve cameras and how many will involve light goods vehicles, HGVs and taxis. Some will want to invest money in hybrid buses, while others will want to go for electric charging schemes and others will want active traffic management systems to move traffic around in different directions.

The plan, which will be the answer to that, will be scrutinised carefully by the Opposition and also by ClientEarth, the Supreme Court and the European Commission, all of whom will look at it to ensure that they can be confident that we can deliver by 2020. That is the document that we wish to present at the end of this year.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for attending. This is a really important issue on a change. We did not know much about nitrogen dioxide until relatively recently: the first scientific evidence on it came out of when the “Six Cities” study in the United States that began on particulate matter and moved on to nitrogen dioxide began to identify correlations between pollution and morbidity. We still do not completely understand the chemical processes and health implications. We know that there is some kind of correlation between these substances and effects on human health and that we have to act to reduce these substances, but this is something that Governments were not really focused on even as recently as five to seven years ago.

Science is changing all the time. New research is coming in and we have doubled our numbers in a lot of these areas. I am very grateful to those who have participated in the debate and we look forward to working with everyone around the table and every local authority and devolved Administration to ensure that we provide what everyone in the United Kingdom wants: that the invisible substance that we breathe and on which we depend and our children’s lungs depend is safe and clean and that British air remains something that we proudly breathe.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the introduction of low emission zones.

5.24 pm

Sitting adjourned.