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Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In Prime Minister’s questions on 4 November, the Prime Minister agreed to meet my constituents, Tina and Mike Trowhill, to discuss the very sad case of the baby ashes scandal. The Prime Minister said:

“I am happy to arrange that meeting.”—[Official Report, 4 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 964.]

Subsequently, Downing Street has transferred that meeting to a junior Minister whom the Trowhills have already met. On 11 November, I wrote to the Prime Minister expressing my concern, but to no avail. It does the reputation of this House no good when commitments given in this House and reported in good faith by the media are not kept. Will the Leader of the House see what he can do to arrange that meeting?

Chris Grayling: I will take a look at the point the hon. Lady has raised.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), may I impress on the Leader of the House the urgency of the matter? May we have an urgent statement on aerotoxic syndrome, as there were 251 incidents of toxic gas escapes into cabins last year?

Chris Grayling: I absolutely accept the hon. Lady’s point. We heard earlier from the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, who controls a large block of the time we have in this House for debates on such subjects, that he is short of topics for the coming weeks. I urge both the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) to put that request to the Backbench Business Committee, as that would bring a Minister to the House to discuss the serious issues that they raise.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): This week, the Leader of the House made comments that again insinuated that the SNP over-predicted the price of oil. Before the referendum, the Department of Energy and Climate Change had predicted an upper forecast of $135 a barrel for oil for this year alone. Low oil prices affect workers all over the UK and I have a constituent who at Christmas did not know whether his son would get back on to the rigs. Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement apologising for gloating while people lose their jobs?

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Chris Grayling: What the SNP cannot understand is that it is precisely because we are one United Kingdom that we can provide support to parts of our economy that are affected by such unexpected changes. If Scotland had become independent, a new Scottish Administration would right now be facing a massive financial gap because of the falling oil price. That is why Scotland was and is better off as part of the United Kingdom.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Leader of the House aware that 11 March marks the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson, one of our great Prime Ministers? Will he join me in ensuring that the House recognises the life of that great Yorkshireman, who was born in my constituency of Huddersfield, and will he try to persuade the Speaker’s Art Fund and perhaps even Mr Speaker that it is about time we had a proper statue of Harold Wilson on the Westminster estate? I have been in touch with every Member of Parliament, and across all parties there is an overwhelming majority in favour.

Chris Grayling: Mr Speaker will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments, which are important. Harold Wilson, although not of my political persuasion, was one of the major figures of 20th century politics. I think that everyone in this House, from all parties, would wish to extend to Harold Wilson’s widow our congratulations on the milestone that she has just celebrated of her 100th birthday.

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): I am sure that the Leader of the House will wish to be consistent and fair—he is a reasonable guy, after all. So, when will he introduce measures to implement Scottish votes for Scottish laws to address the democratic deficit that he has created with EVEL?

Chris Grayling: I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that we will see new developments in Scottish votes for Scottish laws this May, when we have elections to the Scottish Parliament, which delivers those Scottish votes for Scottish laws. I am confident that our strong Conservative team in Scotland will be working to make real progress and I am equally confident that the Labour party will have a difficult night in Scotland.

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Litvinenko Inquiry

11.32 am

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the death of Alexander Litvinenko on 23 November 2006 and the statutory inquiry into that death, which published its findings this morning.

Mr Litvinenko’s death was a deeply shocking event. Despite the ongoing police investigation and the efforts of the Crown Prosecution Service, those responsible have still not been brought to justice. In July 2014, I established a statutory inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr Litvinenko’s death, to determine responsibility for his death and to make recommendations. It was chaired by Sir Robert Owen, a retired senior High Court judge, and it had the Government’s full support and access to any relevant material regardless of its sensitivity.

I welcome the inquiry’s report today and would like to put on record my thanks to Sir Robert Owen for his detailed, thorough and impartial investigation into this complex and serious matter. Although the inquiry cannot assign civil or criminal liability, I hope that these findings will provide some clarity for Alexander Litvinenko’s family and friends and all those affected by his death. I would particularly like to pay tribute to Mrs Marina Litvinenko and her tireless efforts to get to the truth.

The independent inquiry has found that Mr Litvinenko died on 23 November 2006, having suffered a cardiac arrest as a result of acute radiation syndrome, caused by his ingesting polonium-210 on 1 November 2006. He ingested the fatal dose of polonium-210 while drinking tea at the Pine bar of the Millennium hotel on the afternoon of 1 November 2006. The inquiry, which in the course of its investigations considered “an abundance of evidence”, has found that Mr Litvinenko was deliberately poisoned by Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, whom he had met at the Millennium hotel on the afternoon of that day.

The inquiry has also found that Lugovoy and Kovtun were acting on behalf of others when they poisoned Mr Litvinenko. There is a strong probability that they were acting under the direction of the Russian domestic security service, the Federal Security Service or FSB. The inquiry has found that the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev, the then head of the FSB, and by President Putin.

The Government take these findings extremely seriously, as I am sure does every Member of this House. We are carefully considering the report’s findings in detail, and their implications. In particular, the conclusion that the Russian state was probably involved in the murder of Mr Litvinenko is deeply disturbing. It goes without saying that this was a blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenets of international law and of civilised behaviour, but we have to accept that this does not come as a surprise. The inquiry confirms the assessment of successive Governments that this was a state-sponsored act. This assessment has informed the Government’s approach to date.

Since 2007 that approach has comprised a series of steps to respond to Russia and its provocation. Some of these measures were immediate, such as the expulsion

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of a number of Russian embassy officials from the UK. Others are ongoing, such as the tightening of visa restrictions on Russian officials in the UK. The Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation into Mr Litvinenko’s murder remains open. I can tell the House today that Interpol notices and European arrest warrants are in place so that the main suspects, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, can be arrested if they travel abroad. In the light of the report’s findings the Government will go further, and Treasury Ministers have today agreed to put in place asset freezes against the two individuals.

At the time, the independent Crown Prosecution Service formally requested the extradition of Mr Lugovoy from Russia. Russia refused to comply with this request and has consistently refused to do so ever since. It is now almost 10 years since Mr Litvinenko was killed. Sir Robert Owen is unequivocal in his finding that Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun killed him. In the light of this most serious finding, Russia’s continued failure to ensure that the perpetrators of this terrible crime can be brought to justice is unacceptable. I have written to the Director of Public Prosecutions this morning asking her to consider whether any further action should be taken, in terms of both extradition and freezing criminal assets. These decisions are, of course, a matter for the independent Crown Prosecution Service, but the Government remain committed to pursuing justice in this case.

We have always made our position clear to the Russian Government, and in the strongest possible terms. We are doing so again today. We are making senior representations to the Russian Government in Moscow. At the same time we will be summoning the Russian ambassador in London to the Foreign Office, where we will express our profound displeasure at Russia’s failure to co-operate and provide satisfactory answers. Specifically, we have demanded, and will continue to demand, that the Russian Government account for the role of the FSB in this case.

The threat posed by hostile states is one of the most sensitive issues that I deal with as Home Secretary. Although not often discussed in public, our security and intelligence agencies have always, dating back to their roots in the first and second world wars, had the protection of the UK from state threats at the heart of their mission. This means countering those threats in all their guises, whether from assassinations, cyber-attacks, or more traditional espionage. By its nature this work is both less visible and necessarily more secret than the police and the agencies’ work against the terrorist threat, but it is every bit as important to the long-term security and prosperity of the United Kingdom.

The House will appreciate that I cannot go into detail about how we seek to protect ourselves from hostile state acts, but we make full use of the measures at our disposal, from investigatory powers right through to the visa system. The case of Mr Litvinenko demonstrates once again why it is so vital that the intelligence agencies maintain their ability to detect and disrupt such threats.

The environment in which espionage and hostile state intelligence activities take place is changing. Evolving foreign state interests and rapid technological advances mean it is imperative that we respond. Last November the Chancellor announced that we will make new funding available to the security and intelligence agencies to

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provide for an additional 1,900 officers. In the same month, I published the draft Investigatory Powers Bill so that we can ensure that the intelligence agencies’ capabilities keep pace with the threat and technology, while at the same time improving the oversight of, and safeguards for, the use of investigatory powers.

In the Government’s recently published national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review, we set out the range of threats to the UK and our allies, including from Russia, and our comprehensive approach to countering these threats. Since publication of the previous SDSR in 2010, Russia has become more authoritarian, aggressive and nationalist. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilising actions in Ukraine have directly challenged security in the region. These actions have also served as a sobering demonstration of Russia’s intent to try to undermine European security and the rules-based international order. In response, the UK, in conjunction with international partners, has imposed a package of robust measures against Russia. This includes sanctions against key Russian individuals, including Mr Patrushev, who is currently the Secretary to the Russian Security Council.

The Government are clear that we must protect the UK and her interests from Russia-based threats, working closely with our allies in the EU and NATO. This morning I have written to my counterparts in EU, NATO and “Five Eyes” countries, drawing their attention to both the report and the need to take steps to prevent such a murder being committed in their streets.

We will continue to call on President Putin for Russia, as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, to engage responsibly and make a positive contribution to global security and stability. They can, for example, play an important role in defeating Daesh and, together with the wider international community, help Syria work towards a stable future. We face some of the same challenges, from serious crime to aviation security. We will continue to engage, guardedly, with Russia where it is strictly necessary to do so to support the UK’s national interest.

Sir Robert Owen’s report contains one recommendation that is within the closed section. Right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate that I cannot reveal details of that recommendation in this House, but I can assure them that the Government will respond to the inquiry’s chair on that recommendation in due course.

Finally, I would like to reiterate the Government’s determination to continue to seek justice for the murder of Mr Litvinenko. I would like to repeat my thanks to Sir Robert Owen and, in particular, Marina Litvinenko. As Sir Robert states in his report, she has shown “dignity and composure” and

“has demonstrated a quiet determination to establish the true facts of her husband’s death that is greatly to be commended.”

Mr Litvinenko’s murder was a truly terrible event. I sincerely hope that for the sake of Marina and Anatoly Litvinenko, for the sake of Mr Litvinenko’s wider family and friends, and for the sake of justice, those responsible can be brought to trial. I commend this statement to the House.

11.43 am

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): As the Home Secretary said, this is one of the most shocking and disturbing reports ever presented to Parliament. It confirms that

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the Russian state, at its highest level, sanctioned the killing of a British citizen on the streets of our capital city and, in so doing, exposed thousands of Londoners to unacceptable levels of risk—an unparalleled act of state-sponsored terrorism that must meet with a commensurate response. So far-reaching are the implications of the report that it is important not to rush to judgment today. Time must be taken to digest its findings and consider our response. There are difficult questions that need to be asked in formulating that response, and I intend to focus on those.

First, however, I echo the Home Secretary’s words of praise for Sir Robert Owen and his inquiry team, without whose painstaking work this important truth would not be known. I also extend the gratitude of Labour Members to the Metropolitan Police Service for what the report calls an “exemplary investigation” and to the Litvinenko family’s legal team, particularly Ben Emmerson, who supported them on a pro bono basis, and probably without whom we would not be here today.

More importantly, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending a message of admiration, sympathy and solidarity to Marina and Anatoly Litvinenko, who have fought so courageously to make this day a reality. People will of course leap to the international and diplomatic issues that arise, but it must be remembered, first and foremost, that this was a family tragedy, and their wishes surely matter most. With that in mind, would the Home Secretary be prepared to meet Marina and Anatoly to discuss this report, its findings, and the British Government’s response? I have spoken to Marina, and I know that she would welcome that.

Let me now turn to that Government response. I welcome what the Home Secretary said about renewing efforts to bring the murderers to justice, and her new approach to NATO and EU allies. However, given that these two individuals are reported to be travelling, will she go further and directly approach all EU, NATO and Commonwealth allies individually to ask for their immediate co-operation on extradition?

There may be other individuals who are British citizens and who are facing similar dangers. Will the Home Secretary provide assurances that there will be a review of the security of those most at risk? Has she reviewed the level of security that was provided to Mr Litvinenko by the British security services, and can any lessons be drawn from this in better protecting others? That is important, because there is a real possibility that this was not an isolated incident. The House may be aware of an ongoing inquest into the death of Alexander Perepilichny, a prominent Russian lawyer who dropped dead in Surrey after going for run. While there is a limit on what we can say about an ongoing inquest, does the Home Secretary believe that there is a case for it to be upgraded and provided with extra support, possibly from Sir Robert himself?

I will now turn to potential action against the wider network of Russian interests linked to the perpetrators. Of course, no individuals commit these crimes alone, and today’s report confirms that there is a network of people who will have known about and facilitated this crime. I gather that Mrs Litvinenko has prepared a list of names, to be submitted today to the Government, of people who have aided and abetted the perpetrators, and against whom she believes sanctions should be taken. This could include the freezing of UK assets and

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property and travel restrictions. Will the Home Secretary give an in-principle commitment to look seriously at that list and those requests? Further, can she say whether, going forward, action of this kind would be facilitated by new legislation along the lines of the Magnitsky law in the US, and whether the Government are giving any consideration to that?

Finally, let me turn to our wider relationship with Russia. The Home Secretary indicated that there will be new diplomatic pressure, and I welcome that, but I have to say, having listened carefully to her, that I am not sure that it goes anywhere near far enough in answering the seriousness of the findings in this report. Indeed, it could send a dangerous signal to Russia that our response is too weak. What has been announced today cannot be the end of what the British Government are prepared to do.

Given what we know about the way the Russian state operates, is there not a case for a wide-ranging review of the nature and extent of this country’s relations with it—diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural? Given the proven FSB involvement, will the Government consider expelling all FSB officers from Britain immediately? More broadly, can the Home Secretary say whether the Prime Minister has ever raised this case directly with Vladimir Putin, and whether he is seeking an urgent conversation with him today to discuss the findings of this report?

On parliamentary matters, it beggars belief that one of the suspected murderers is today a leading Member of the Duma and even second in command of its Security Committee. Given that fact—this may be a question for you, Mr Speaker—what is the correct relationship for this Parliament to have with its Russian counterpart?

On cultural collaboration, given what the report reveals about the Russian Government and their links to organised crime, and given what we know about corruption in FIFA, is there not a growing case for this country to engage with others in a debate about whether the 2018 World cup should go ahead in Russia? On the economy, are the Government satisfied that the current EU sanctions against Russia are adequate, and is there a case to strengthen them?

I ask those questions not because I have come to a conclusion about them, but because I believe they are the difficult but right questions that fall out of the report and that this country now needs to debate them in the light of its findings, if we are to do justice to the Litvinenko family.

There is a question about how the Government go about formulating their response and the considerations that will guide them. Although the Home Secretary ordered this review, it is important to note that she originally refused to do so, citing international issues. She has mentioned them again today, but should not it be considerations of justice, not diplomacy, that lead the Government’s response? Will she give a categorical assurance to that effect? There can be no sense of the Government pulling their punches because of wider diplomatic considerations. If we were to do that, would it not send a terrible message to the world that Britain is prepared to tolerate outrageous acts of state violence on its soil and appease those who sanctioned them?

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Once all those considerations are complete, will the Home Secretary commit to coming back to this House and updating it on the final package of steps that the Government will take? The Litvinenko family deserve nothing less after their courageous fight.

I wish to finish by recalling Alexander Litvinenko’s last words to his son, Anatoly, who was then 12 years old. He said:

“Defend Britain to your last drop, because it has saved your family.”

He believed in Britain and its tradition of justice and fairness, standing up to the mighty and for what is right. Should not we now find the courage to show his son and the world that his father’s faith in us was not misplaced?

Mrs May: First, may I echo the comments made by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) about the investigation by the Metropolitan police? As he said, it was identified by Sir Robert Owen as exemplary and, as I indicated in my statement, the investigation remains open. The right hon. Gentleman also said right at the very beginning of his comments that time needs to be taken to look at the report. It is very thorough and detailed, and he is right to say that we need to look at it carefully.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I would be willing to meet Marina and Anatoly Litvinenko. I wrote a private letter to Marina Litvinenko yesterday and I would be very happy to meet them to discuss these and other issues that I understand she has raised today in response to the report.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of other questions, including about a potential Magnitsky Act. I know that the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is sitting next to the right hon. Gentleman, has raised that issue in the Chamber on many occasions. There are a number of actions we can take in preventing individuals from coming to the United Kingdom, but in this case, of course, we actually want Lugovoy and Kovtun to be in the United Kingdom to be able to face justice. The right hon. Gentleman said that there were reports of them travelling. There are Interpol red notices and European arrest warrants in place, which will lead to their being arrested if they travel outside Russia.

Of course, we take the security of individuals in the United Kingdom very seriously and look at and review those issues regularly. The right hon. Gentleman said that we need to review our relationship with Russia. We have just been through the exercise of the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review. I referred to that in my statement, and that makes very clear the issues in relation to Russia. I assure him that the Prime Minister will raise the matter with President Putin at the next available opportunity. EU sanctions are of course agreed across the European Union, and the UK has actually been leading on EU sanctions and encouraging such action to be taken.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman commented on the importance of justice. We agree on this issue. Everybody in the House recognises the significance of this report’s findings, and the significance of the fact that this act of murder took place on the streets of London and was state-sponsored. We want to see justice for the family:

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we want those who undertook this murder in London to be brought to justice. That is something which we share, and we will make every effort to ensure that justice is found for Marina and Anatoly Litvinenko.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for her comprehensive response to the report. Sir Robert points out not only that Lugovoy has not been extradited to the UK, but that he

“has been lionised in Russia. He has become a member of the Duma, and indeed was awarded an honour by President Putin during the course of the Inquiry’s hearings.”

This calculated snub adds insult to injury. Is it not clear that, while such a position is maintained and the suspects are not extradited, the Putin Government can never and should never be treated as an equal and full partner in global political affairs?

Mrs May: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in his description of what has happened in relation to Lugovoy in Russia. That tells us all we need to know about Russia’s attitude to the action that took place on the streets of London. Russia does of course participate in such a way—it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council—and, as I said in my statement, there will be national interests that require the British Government to engage guardedly with Russia. For example, there are issues relating to Syria and the resolution of the conflict there. However, I assure my right hon. Friend that we are very clear about such issues in relation to Russia. We were clear about those issues in the SDSR. That is why, when we engage with Russia, we will, as I say, do so guardedly.

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP): I, too, thank the Home Secretary for her statement. I pay tribute to Sir Robert Owen and his inquiry team for their work, and indeed to all those who have contributed to getting to the truth. All Members will share a sense of outrage at this cowardly and awful murder, and we again express our condolences to Mr Litvinenko’s family. As the Secretary of State has said, the apparent involvement of the Russian state at the very highest level makes this murder doubly shocking.

It will clearly take some time fully to digest all the findings and recommendations of the report and to think through its implications, but some initial questions arise. Most immediately, we need to know what more, if anything, can be done to bring Mr Litvinenko’s killers to justice. We welcome the action against Mr Kovtun and Mr Lugovoy announced today, and the request made to the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, what, if any, further options are being considered? Will we hear from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs about what he believes to be the appropriate response?

To look back at the circumstances of the murder, will the Home Secretary say what, if any, information our security and intelligence services had about Mr Kovtun and Mr Lugovoy prior to their meeting with Mr Litvinenko? Were they aware that the meeting was taking place, and had they assessed whether it represented a risk to his life? Most importantly, what do we know about how the killers were able to acquire such a significant dose of radioactive polonium and use it in this country as a weapon? Finally, what more can be done to prevent any

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such awful event from happening again in future? Has any assessment been made of the risk to those who have fled regimes and sought shelter in the UK, so that we can prevent such attacks from happening again?

Mrs May: As I have said, we all share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to bring these individuals to justice. That is why I have written to the DPP this morning to ask her to explore whether there are any other options that she can look at in relation not just to the extradition of the two individuals, but to criminal asset freezes.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs should make a statement on this issue. As the hon. Gentleman can see, my right hon. Friend is present. The statement I made is obviously the view of the Government, and we have discussed the approach we are taking on these matters.

The hon. Gentleman asked about access to polonium-210. As I said earlier, this is a very detailed report, and sections of Sir Robert Owen’s report cover that particular issue. We are grateful to Sir Robert for the thoroughness with which he has conducted his inquiry.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for the tenor and thrust of her statement. The magisterial report written by Sir Robert Owen says in paragraph 10.16:

“The FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin.”

Given the secrecy of the Russian state, I do not think we need to worry too much about the word “probably”. This is way beyond the normal civil legal requirements and what is needed to take economic, political and diplomatic action. What is certain is that the Russian state under President Putin has killed over 100 opponents—lawyers, accountants, journalists and politicians. It is a kleptocratic state that uses assassination as a policy weapon.

May I ask the Home Secretary what we intend to do about Patrushev and Putin? We cannot tolerate their ordering assassinations on the streets of our country. Will she take targeted economic sanctions against them and, where possible, travel sanctions, although obviously those are not possible with a Head of State? Will there be an expulsion of intelligence officers—both FSB and others—from the Russian embassy, which would be entirely appropriate? It has been asked whether we should encourage our allies to help us. Of course we should, but we should also tell countries such as the Bahamas, Switzerland and Cyprus—all the Russian financial boltholes—that there is no hiding place for the money of these people.

Mr Speaker: We are extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what has to be described as a comprehensive question.

Mrs May: First, on the results of the inquiry, what Sir Robert Owen has found in relation to the individuals responsible for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and, indeed, the responsibility of the Russian state will come as no surprise, as I said in my statement, because successive Governments have made the assessment that there was state involvement in this act. That is why the Government at the time took a number of measures,

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some of which remain in place today, in relation to our relationship with the Russian state. I assure my right hon. Friend that it is in no sense business as usual and that there is not the sort of relationship that we would have with most states.

As I indicated, action has already been taken against Mr Patrushev in his current role in the form of sanctions. As my right hon. Friend himself indicated in his question, relationships with a Head of State are a different matter. As I indicated earlier, the Prime Minister will raise this matter with President Putin.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Is this not proof, were any further evidence needed, that what we are dealing with in Putin’s Russia is a rogue state? The British public will be aghast that the two murderers have only today had their assets frozen by the Treasury. Does that not point to complete complacency on the part of this Government? When will they take meaningful action against the dirty Russian money and property here in London that sustain the Putin kleptocracy? When will the Government implement the will of this House, which in 2012 voted overwhelmingly in favour of passing Magnitsky Act-type legislation?

Mrs May: I have answered the last point that the right hon. Gentleman made about the Magnitsky Act that exists in the United States. We have measures that we can take to prevent people from coming into the United Kingdom. In respect of the two individuals whom the inquiry found committed this murder on the streets of London, it is important that we take every step to bring them to the UK, rather than stop them coming here, because we wish to see them brought to justice. He talked about the position of Russia. As I indicated, we have seen recent examples of the increasing nationalism, authoritarianism and aggression in Russia.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why the asset freeze has been put in place only today. Obviously, I looked into what further action could be taken following the results of the inquiry by Sir Robert Owen. Of course, action was first taken in relation to this matter in 2007 as a result of the initial investigations and the initial assessments that were made by the Government and others. Asset freezes were not put in place at that time. We have looked at that and decided to do so today.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Why was my right hon. Friend’s case put to the High Court in January 2014 in the following terms:

“There was no clear public interest in the immediate establishment of a statutory inquiry to investigate the Russian state responsibility issue.”?

Does she regret that that was put on her behalf?

Mrs May: Successive Governments, including this one, have wanted to try to get to the truth behind this issue, but it was not until 2011 that the coroner decided that the trial was unlikely to take place, so that an inquest could go ahead. That inquest was started, and at the time we felt that the most appropriate form in which these matters should be assessed was through that inquest. It then became clear through a decision of the divisional court that certain evidence was necessary and not available to the inquest. At that stage, in order to ensure that all evidence was available and that all

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matters could be considered, I decided to turn the inquest into a statutory inquiry.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Well, they’ll be quaking in their boots in the Kremlin today, won’t they? Putin is an unreconstructed KGB thug and gangster who murders his opponents in Russia and, as we know, on the streets of London, and nothing announced today will make the blindest bit of difference—nothing at all. We need much tougher measures to target Putin and the people around him, and those calling for a US-style Magnitsky Act are completely right. We need to target the crooks and murderers who have been involved in murders and corruption, and prevent them from coming to the UK, from keeping their money in British banks, and from buying property here in London.

Mrs May: I say once again to those who think that the creation of a Magnitsky Act and a list of people who are excluded will, in some sense, add to the strength of measures that we already have that it is already possible for us to exclude people from the United Kingdom. I repeat: we want those individuals who came to London and committed this act on its streets to be brought to the UK to face trial, so that justice can be done.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): We are constantly reminded of Russia’s human rights abuses against its own citizens, and we have initiated sanctions against Russia for its abuse of human rights against citizens of other countries such as Ukraine. Surely it is now imperative that we initiate sanctions against Russia, as well as against those individuals responsible for killing a British citizen on British soil.

Mrs May: My hon. Friend’s portrayal of the Russian state is right, but a number of sanctions have already been implemented in relation to this matter. As I indicated, in 2007 the then Government took a number of measures, including the expulsion of certain officials from the Russian embassy and visa sanctions, and some of those measures remain in place. Sanctions have been implemented, and further sanctions have been taken against individuals in relation to Russia’s actions in the Crimea and Ukraine. We are very clear about the nature of Russia, which is why we have continued to consider steps that can be taken. Anybody who thinks that sanctions are not in place is wrong—sanctions are in place.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): The Home Secretary and Parliament have before them a report that sets out that the Russian state probably sponsored and sanctioned the murder by nuclear material of a UK citizen, just a couple of miles from this building. Does the Secretary of State agree that her refusal to act strongly in response to that, including taking the matter to the United Nations Security Council, will be seen as a sign of British Government weakness by Putin?

Mrs May: I am not sure what action the hon. Lady thinks the United Nations Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member, would take in relation to this matter. I have drawn the issue to the attention of a wide variety of colleagues in the European Union, the “Five Eyes” countries and NATO, to ensure that they are aware of the findings of this inquiry and its potential implications for them.

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Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The public inquiry has been a triumph for Marina Litvinenko and the British justice system. It has established in the open what the Government have either known or certainly assumed for the past decade about the nature of the current Russian state. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the current state of relations with Russia is already heavily conditioned by that understanding? The challenge remains, with this as the background, to advance our remaining common interests, not least in the fight against violent Islamic extremism and in bringing to an end a bloody civil war in Syria. That challenge, answering the difficult questions posed by the shadow Home Secretary, is at the core of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s current inquiry into the British-Russian relationship.

Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the fact that his Committee is undertaking that important review into the British-Russian relationship. He is absolutely right. Our relationship with Russia is already heavily conditioned. As I indicated earlier, shortly after the murder took place sanctions of various sorts were put in place, including visa sanctions. Those have remained. Our relationship with Russia is, as he said, heavily conditioned. As I said earlier, it is also the case—he is absolutely right—that there are issues in the British national interest on which a guarded engagement with Russia may be important. Of course, the future of Syria and resolving the conflict in Syria is just one of those issues.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): A slap on the wrist for Russia won’t do it. President Putin’s heart will not miss a beat if the UK cancels a trade mission here or a cultural visit there, but it will if we expand the scope of the sanctions already in force because of Russia’s illegal activities in Ukraine. Will the UK Government now ban any other Russians implicated in the murder, however senior, from travelling to the UK and freeze their assets? An assault on our sovereignty, which saw a British citizen murdered on British soil in a nuclear attack, requires nothing less.

Mrs May: As we have said, it is of course right that we take extremely seriously the nature of the attack that took place and the findings of the inquiry. As I indicated, this is not something that comes as a surprise. An assessment has been made by successive Governments of the responsibility and involvement of the Russian state in the act, as well as of the two individuals who have been named as undertaking the act here in the United Kingdom. We have a series of sanctions in place. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the reaction to Ukraine. I indicated earlier that it is in fact the United Kingdom that has been leading the European Union effort in placing sanctions on individuals in Russia.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Russia’s incremental bilateral relations are improving on the issues of Syria, Iran and global counter-terrorism. Is it not the case that, while that is welcome, the diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Russia can never be fully re-set until there has been justice over what the Home Secretary has rightly said is state-sponsored murder on the streets of London?

Mrs May: We are very clear that it is not business as usual with the Russian state. Our relationship with Russia is heavily conditioned. As I have indicated, there may be

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some issues on which it is necessary to engage with Russia very carefully, but it is not the case that we are lifting or changing the relationship. Successive Governments have been clear since 2007 that it was necessary to take action. That action has remained.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): What we are looking at here is an act of terrorism sponsored and carried out by the Russian Government. The report leads only to one possible conclusion: we now have to regard the Russian state as an organisation actively involved in commissioning, funding, supporting and directing acts of terrorism against UK citizens within the United Kingdom.

I appreciate that the Home Secretary cannot go into detail about everything that is happening in response to that, but may we have an assurance that, in the pursuit of justice, the Russian terrorist organisation and those involved in directing it will be pursued with exactly the same vigour as anyone else who directs acts of terrorism against United Kingdom citizens?

Mrs May: We are very clear that we want to ensure that those responsible for the murder are brought to justice. That is why, as I have indicated, every effort is being made in relation to the two individuals named in the report as having conducted the act here in London. The investigation is ongoing and every effort is being made to ensure that they can be arrested and brought to justice here in the UK.

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): I, too, was struck by the reported final words of Mr Litvinenko to his son, Anatoly. What an assured and articulate man he has grown into, as we saw on the TV recently. To repay the confidence of Mr Litvinenko in this country, may I ask the Home Secretary to go further? In particular, will she respond in detail to Mrs Litvinenko’s request regarding the additional names she has prepared with Ben Emmerson, and whether those individuals should be banned and sanctions taken against them?

Mrs May: I echo my hon. Friend’s comments about Anatoly Litvinenko. His demeanour in the interview on television last night showed a fine young man who has grown up in this country against a background of very difficult circumstances, given what happened to his father. As I indicated earlier to the shadow Home Secretary, I would be happy to meet Marina and Anatoly Litvinenko. Obviously, that would provide an opportunity to discuss the matters my hon. Friend raises.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Bill Browder, a British citizen, wrote his book “Red Notice” explaining how he took the Magnitsky Act to the United States, because he could get no interest in it here in the UK. Is it not now time for the Home Secretary to meet Bill Browder, look at how the Magnitsky Act has made such a huge difference and consider what the United Kingdom can do to introduce the Act here in the UK?

Mrs May: I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I will repeat what I have said to a number of Members who raised the issue of the Magnitsky Act. The Act excludes or stops certain individuals from coming into a country, in this case the United States. We already have powers that are at least as robust, if not more so, than

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the powers in the Magnitsky Act. It is on that basis that I think we have the powers we need to exclude people. I repeat the point I made earlier: if people think that introducing the Magnitsky Act will mean that those who perpetrated this heinous crime will be brought to justice, they are very wrong.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): A unilateral boycott of any sporting event in Russia by this country would be futile. There is no denying that delivering the world athletics championships, the winter Olympics and the 2020 World cup, while behaving like an international pariah, is a major propaganda coup for Putin. What does the Home Secretary think we can do to work with sympathetic nations to ensure that Putin cannot deliver these sorts of propaganda coups in future?

Mrs May: I recognise that a number of Members have indicated their desire for the Government to intervene in decisions taken by various sporting authorities. I have set out that a number of decisions have been taken by the Government. Sanctions have been put in place over a period of time in a number of different ways against the Russian Government. We are very clear that we maintain measures started under the Labour Government in 2007. As I have indicated, we are looking to see what further action can be taken against Lugovoy and Kovtun as a result of the report.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): I welcome the Home Secretary’s report and I look forward to seeing what extra measures and actions she takes as a result of it. I am very concerned about people currently living in this country who have spoken out against the Putin regime. We already knew they were in a dangerous position, but clearly it has now been proven that they are in a dangerous position. Will she look at their security arrangements? Will she review how the polonium-210 came in, and how secure we are living in a city with the threat of it just wandering around our streets?

Mrs May: We look very carefully at the measures taken on our borders in relation to goods and individuals coming into the United Kingdom. On sanctions or other actions taken against individuals and the Russian state, I have answered that question on a number of occasions already.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): The House should pay tribute to the great British scientists without whose

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dedication and expertise it is widely accepted we would not have come to the truth. Will the Home Secretary join me in thanking them?

Mrs May: I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to do just that. The work of the Atomic Weapons Establishment played an important part. The scientists who helped to investigate and get to the truth of the matter did a very important job.

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): I am sure I speak on behalf of my constituents and the whole nation when I say that my thoughts are with the Litvinenko family and that everything must and should be done to ensure they have justice. My constituents will be extremely concerned that a foreign nation could have come to our country—to our heartland of London—and, bearing in mind how it killed Litvinenko, put our citizens at risk. Based on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and others have said, can the Home Secretary honestly say she is doing everything she can to keep our citizens safe?

Mrs May: I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government take extremely seriously their prime responsibility for maintaining the safety and security of British citizens. We have, for example, introduced legislative proposals, and continue to do so, to ensure that our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to keep us safe.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Last but certainly not least, I call Jim Shannon.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. Given the revelation that President Putin most likely signed off on the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and the fact that decency and moral correctness mean nothing to the Russian authorities, does she agree about the importance of sanctions? That said, many people inside and outside the House, and perhaps she herself, are frustrated that sanctions do not seem to be biting in the way they should. Will she outline what new and unique sanctions are in place to make these people more accountable?

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman invites me to comment again on the sanctions put in place against the Russian state and individuals. I repeat that we continue with the visa sanctions introduced in 2007. As I indicated, the UK led the economic sanctions that resulted from the EU discussions that followed Russia’s action in Ukraine, and of course any sanctions applied at EU level require agreement throughout the EU.

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Infected Blood

12.22 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): In the urgent question on 16 December, I committed to publishing the consultation on infected blood scheme reform in January. I am pleased, therefore, to announce the launch of that consultation. I recognise that for some this will come too late. I cannot right the pain and distress of 30 years, and the truth is that no amount of money could ever make up for the impact that this tragedy has had on people’s lives. As I have said before, for legal reasons, in the majority of cases, it is not appropriate to talk about compensation payments, but I would like to echo what has been said before in the House and say sorry on behalf of the Government to every person affected by this tragedy.

Scheme reform is a priority for me and the Government, and for that reason I can announce that the Department of Health has identified £100 million from its budget for the proposals in the consultation. This is in addition to the current spend and the £25 million announced in March 2015, and it will more than double our annual spend on the scheme over the next five years. This is significantly more than any previous Government have been able to provide for those affected by this tragedy.

I know all too well of the ill health and other impacts on many of those affected by the tragedy of infected blood. I have corresponded with many of those affected and their MPs—they each have their own story to tell—and I have reflected carefully on all this in developing the principles on which the consultation will be based. These are: that we focus on those infected; that we can respond to new advances in medicine; that we provide choice where possible; and that we maintain annual payments to everyone currently receiving them. The consultation is an opportunity for all those affected to have their say, and it is important that it extends to the quieter voices from whom we hear less often.

It is not appropriate, and I do not have time, to go through the whole consultation document today, but I would like to highlight some of its key components. A large population within the infected blood community currently does not receive any regular financial support. These are the people with hepatitis C. I believe it is important that everybody receives support from the new scheme and that it be linked to the impact infection has on their health. I therefore propose that all those registered with the schemes with hepatitis C at current stage 1 be offered an individual health-based assessment, completion of which would determine the level of annual payment received. This would also apply to anyone who newly joins the scheme.

The consultation document outlines our proposal that those currently receiving annual support should have their payments uplifted to £15,000 a year. Those who are co-infected and currently receive double payments would continue to do so. I often hear that people are unhappy about applying for discretionary charitable payments. I hope that the introduction of new regular annual payments will remove this requirement. I am keen that those who respond to the consultation take the opportunity to answer all the questions about the support proposed so that I can make informed final decisions on the shape of any new scheme once all the responses have been collected and analysed.

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During the urgent question, I said I was interested in the opportunities offered by the advent of simpler and more effective treatments that can cure some people of hepatitis C. The NHS is at the start of its programme to roll out the new hepatitis C treatments previously approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. As Members will know, the NHS must prioritise treatment on clinical need and not on route of infection, which means that, although some in the infected blood community will be eligible for treatment right away, others might have to wait.

More than anything, I want, if we can, to give the chance to limit the impact of hepatitis C on the infected community by making an offer of treatment. Over recent months, I have received many letters from people expressing a wish to halt the progress of their infection—one of the many letters that particularly struck me asked simply: “Please make me well”—so my intention is that the new scheme will provide an opportunity to enhance access to treatment, especially for those who fall just short of the current NHS criteria. I hope that we can treat more people if finances allow. That is why the consultation is seeking views on offering treatment to those with hepatitis C in the infected blood community not yet receiving treatment on the NHS.

In keeping with the principle of offering choice where possible, I am pleased to announce that we are consulting on a choice of options for the bereaved. Currently, bereaved partners or spouses are eligible to apply for means-tested support from the charities. As I have said, I have heard concerns from many people who do not like having to apply for charity. With that in mind, the consultation offers the choice of continued access to discretionary support or a one-off lump-sum payment for the bereaved based on a multiple of their current discretionary support. There are questions on this in the consultation document, and I am keen to hear from those affected so that I can understand their preference.

Having listened to concerns about the complex nature of the five schemes, the consultation proposes that, following reform, there will be one scheme run by a single body with access to expert advice, including from National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, so that we can keep pace with any new advances in treatment for hepatitis C and HIV that emerge.

On the next steps, the consultation will be published today on gov.uk and will run until 15 April. This is a 12-week consultation to ensure that all those who wish to respond have time to do so. The consultation document contains questions about the proposals on which I would welcome views. I recognise that there has been disappointment that we have not consulted sooner, but the outcome of the consultation will be crucial to informing our final decisions about how to proceed, and I give the House, and those affected, my commitment that we will proceed as rapidly as possible to implementation thereafter.

We need, as a priority, to make progress in rolling out the health assessments as quickly as possible to ensure that people get access to the support and clinical advice they need. I should be clear, however, that my intention is that annual payments for the current stage 1 cohort should be backdated to April 2016, regardless of when each individual’s assessment takes place.

This is the first time that the Government are consulting fully and widely with the entire affected community and all those who might have an interest on the future

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reform of the scheme. In developing the proposals to include within the consultation, I have taken account of points I have heard in debates here, of correspondence sent to me, of my discussions with the all-party group and of views gathered during pre-consultation engagement. The consultation is now open and it is my hope that all those affected by this tragedy will respond, and that we can move forward from here. I commend the statement to the House.

12.30 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I thank the Minister for her statement and particularly for advance notice of her intention to give it and for providing me with early sight of it.

I appreciate that this is a difficult issue, but I think that the Minister’s approach today has been the right one, and we will welcome what she has said. She was right to apologise on behalf of the Government, and I would like to echo that apology, because successive Governments of all colours have failed to respond adequately to this scandal. In many ways, this failure has only deepened the injustice felt by the victims.

I want to pay tribute to all Members who have been a strong voice for the victims of contaminated blood. I would like to mention, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and indeed my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham).

This scandal saw thousands of people die, and thousands of families destroyed through the negligence of public bodies. Although the Minister was absolutely right to say that no amount of money could ever make up for the impact this tragedy has had on people’s lives, we all owe to those still living with the consequences the dignity of a lasting settlement. With that in mind, I want to press the Minister on four points.

First, on funding, it was claimed that one reason for delaying the announcement of this consultation was to achieve clarity about how much funding would be available, following the comprehensive spending review. The Minister appeared to announce an additional £100 million for the new scheme, so for further clarity, will the Minister set out the total amount that will be available over the lifetime of the new scheme, and how that compares to the previous scheme?

Secondly, we welcome the fact that the consultation will offer the choice of a one-off lump sum payment for the bereaved, but will the Minister say a bit more about how that might be implemented? As she knows, these payments will enable choice, and it is important that we get this right.

Thirdly, will the Minister say a bit more about widows and widowers? She will know that the Scottish review group recommended that widows should get some form of pension for the first time. Has she considered this option? It is important to recognise that widows and widowers are suffering not only from an immediate loss of income from their partner, but from the inability of their partner to save for a pension or get life insurance over the past few decades.

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My final question is about the status of hepatitis C sufferers who have not developed liver cirrhosis. We welcome the possibility of ongoing payments, but can the Minister say how the assessments will work? In particular, it is important that these assessments take account of the longer-term health impacts of living with hepatitis C. Does the Minister have any figures on how many of these individuals will not have access to the new hepatitis C treatments? Given that the NHS made these people ill, and the NHS has the drugs available to help these patients, it does seem wrong that we are denying some of these people treatment—the treatment that they both need and, frankly, deserve. Will the Minister say a bit more about how the Government intend to improve access to treatment specifically for these individuals?

I hope that everyone affected will be able to take part in this consultation and have their say on the future reform of the scheme. The Minister will have our full support in implementing that new scheme and doing what we can to provide relief for the victims of this terrible injustice.

Jane Ellison: I thank the shadow Minister for responding in those terms. It is much appreciated. As he says, we all want to try to move forward with a consensus in support of the people affected by this tragedy. I will try to respond to his questions, although I might have to write to him on one of them because my on-the-spot maths is not quite good enough.

On funding, as I have made clear several times before, the money will come from the Department of Health budget, and we have identified an additional £100 million over this spending review period, which allows us to double the current spend on the existing schemes. This is in addition to the £25 million announced in March 2015. Spend to date is £390 million and the projected future spend is £570 million, so together with the £100 million and the £25 million, that amounts to more than £1 billion over the lifetime of the scheme. I hope that provides the hon. Gentleman with some clarity on funding.

The hon. Gentleman asked about lump sums. It can be seen in the consultation documents that we are consulting on options for both those already bereaved and those who will be bereaved in the future, and we are asking people how they feel about continuing with a discretionary approach or taking a one-off that would be based on a multiple of the discretionary payment they get in the current financial year—or indeed a hybrid of the two. We are trying to be as open as possible, so people can give us their views on how they see the way forward.

I have seen the Scottish proposals and I had a conversation with my opposite number in Scotland this morning before I came to the House. Because one of the options for bereaved people is an ongoing payment, albeit a discretionary one, I would not compare it to what I understand the reference group in Scotland has put forward as a pension. Obviously, we are talking about access to ongoing but discretionary payments. Again, I look forward to hearing the views expressed during the consultation on that issue.

It might be helpful for Members to know that 160,000 people in England have hepatitis C. Those affected by this tragedy make up fewer than 2% of the hepatitis C population in England. The NHS has to treat people on

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the basis of clinical need. The treatments are in the region of £40,000 each—quite expensive treatments. However, we believe more treatments are in the pipeline, which is one reason why I am so keen to ensure that clinical expertise is embedded within the new scheme. We are particularly keen to understand in respect of the people who do not quite reach the current NICE guidelines for rolling out treatment in the NHS whether, by recognising the unique circumstances by the people affected by this tragedy, we can do something within the scheme to support them. We need to understand how many people will be interested. Members might find it helpful to know that while not every genome type of hepatitis C is susceptible to the new treatment, the majority, thankfully, are. For some people, none of the new treatments is clinically appropriate.

I think I have dealt with the key questions that the hon. Gentleman asked me. I would be happy to carry on working in the spirit in which he responded to my statement and come back to him with any further clarity that he seeks subsequent to this debate.

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): I thank the Minister for her statement and for the measures she has outlined today, as well as for her continuing commitment to seek justice for the victims of contaminated blood, including some in my constituency. When it comes to looking at drugs for the future, will the Minister commit to continuing investment in molecular diagnostics as the way forward for victims in the future?

Jane Ellison: The Government and the NHS have made it very clear that we greatly welcome what we see as a rapidly changing landscape. There is huge commitment on this issue. I am joined on the Government Front Bench by the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who is doing a great deal to accelerate some of the newest treatments and their adoption within the NHS. I can absolutely give that commitment that we always want to stay at the cutting edge of medicine. One reason for delaying this consultation, perhaps to the frustration of some, is that we now have a fuller picture of the current state of the available treatments. The last three treatments that are to be rolled out in the NHS were not approved by NICE until 25 November. I want to ensure that we are always up to date with the treatment landscape as it evolves, as we hope it will continue to do.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): We understand the terrible situation of those who have been affected by the infected blood tragedy, and empathise greatly with them. It is imperative that we take every possible action to compensate where we can, although no amount of money can truly compensate the individuals whose lives have been affected.

It appears from the Minister’s statement that what is being proposed is a step in the right direction, but we must focus on the needs of those affected, offer choice, and ensure that there is medical advancement and evidence-based practice. I understand that payments are made through a United Kingdom scheme, but there is clearly considerable involvement on the part of Health Departments in devolved Administrations.

Let me end by reiterating our support for those affected, and by asking the Minister what discussions she has had with devolved Administrations about

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consultation arrangements, scheme reform, payments including those recommended for widows or widowers, and other support that is urgently required.

Jane Ellison: The consultation is being undertaken by the Department of Health in England, but anyone in the United Kingdom can respond, and we continue to work with all the UK Health Departments. My officials have been working closely for months with officials in devolved Administrations. I offered to speak to my ministerial counterparts on the phone this morning, and had a helpful conversation with both Shona Robison and the Welsh deputy chief medical officer. I note that the chief medical officer for England also contacted her opposite numbers.

As I have said, we are in touch with all the devolved Administrations. Because health is now a devolved matter, they are responsible for providing financial support for those affected in each country, and I know that Scotland is consulting on scheme reform in its own right. However, all the devolved Administrations will have the option of joining our new scheme in the future, and an assessment will be made of the financial contribution that is necessary. I had a useful conversation with Shona Robison about some of the transitional arrangements, and about how we can work together. I said that we would try to be as helpful and supportive as possible, and I have every confidence that we will continue in that spirit.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I welcome the statement, I welcome the consultation, and I certainly welcome, on behalf of my constituents, the extra money that seems to be available.

The Minister has said that she wants the widest-ranging consultation. Every Member will have received letters from their constituents about this issue, and those letters have been have passed on to the Department. My constituent Matthew Harris, for instance, has been campaigning actively for a very long time. Will the Department be able to contact those constituents, and ensure that those who are directly affected, and with whom the Minister has already been in contact, can take part in the consultation?

Jane Ellison: I assure my hon. Friend that we will make every effort to reach people. My officials have already put in place extensive plans to publicise the consultation—they have met the heads of the charities and those running the current schemes, and will be writing to those who are registered with those schemes—and we will make it as easy as possible for people to get involved. One of our reasons for organising a 12-week consultation is that we recognise that some people may not be online, and we want to make sure that everyone has a chance to comment.

I will reflect on what my hon. Friend has said about direct contact. That may already be being pursued through some of our plans, but, as I have said, we have extensive plans to publicise the consultation, and it goes live today. Of course I shall welcome Members’ contributions on behalf of their constituents.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I thank the Minister for her statement. I am sure that the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood will want to study the details in the coming weeks, and to take part in the consultation.

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At first glance it appears that the Minister’s proposals are not as generous as those that are being discussed in Scotland, although I accept that as yet the Scottish Government have not accepted those proposals. However, I want to raise the specific issue of health assessments of those who are in stage 1 of hepatitis C. A number of those people have been living with the condition for a great many years, and even if their viral load is now cleared, they will not be able to resume their lives as if they had never been infected. Will the Minister assure me that that will be taken into account in any health assessments and in any subsequent financial arrangements?

Jane Ellison: Let me first thank the hon. Lady for all the campaigning work that she has done, for which she has rightly been recognised by others. Although we have not always been able to agree on everything, I have been greatly informed by what she has brought to our discussions, and I take on board many of the reports that the all-party group has produced over the years.

The recommendations that are being discussed in Scotland were made by a reference group and not by the Scottish Government, who have yet to respond to them. Shona Robison indicated that they would respond in due course, but that, obviously, is a matter for them.

It is a little too early to specify exactly how the individual health assessments will be carried out, but we will be asking an expert advisory group to advise on the criteria and the evidence. As I said in my statement, it is a question of recognising the impact of ill health, and also the fact that some people’s health fluctuates. I think that we can be assured that everyone will be included in the scheme, and that everyone will receive an annual payment. I should add that we expect people’s own clinicians to be involved in the individual assessments.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): I welcome the Minister’s personal determination to see this through, and the progress that she has already achieved. I know we all agree that it has long been needed. I welcome the Government’s apology, the level of funding that has been secured, the format of the annual payments, and, in particular, the backdating offer. However, may I also urge the Minister to focus on fulfilling her promise of treatment for hepatitis C at every level of the NHS? A great deal of bureaucracy lies ahead, and our constituents have no appetite for putting up with it.

Jane Ellison: I thank my hon. Friend for what she has said. I am glad that she feels that we are making progress.

The NHS is just beginning to roll out many of the new hepatitis C drugs, although some people have already been treated, and obviously many more will be treated in the future. One of the benefits of individual health assessments for everyone in stage 1 of the scheme is that we shall be able to understand not just clinical need, but problems such as those described by my hon. Friend. The consultation may help us to establish whether help with navigating the health system is one of the non-financial aspects of support that people might seek.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I thank the Minister for her statement, and welcome the consultation. It is an important step forward.

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The individual health assessment clearly marks quite an important moment for people with hepatitis C—a condition that other Members have raised—because the Minister has talked about linking it to payments. Does she envisage an entirely discretionary payment linked to the assessment, or a system involving payment bands? How will the scheme work, and will there be a right of challenge? What does the Minister mean by “enhanced” access to treatment? Is there still a risk that some people will not have immediate access to it?

Jane Ellison: As have I said, we will ask an expert advisory group to consider what the criteria for the health assessments should be, and we expect people’s own clinicians to be involved. Broadly speaking, we probably envisage payment bands, but that too will be subject to the consultation. We want to be able to combine speed and fairness.

People with hepatitis C are receiving NHS treatment based on NICE guidelines, but we understand that there will always be people who fall a little short of that at any one time, and we hope to be able to offer treatment to them within the scheme. Within the overall envelope of funding, however, we will not know exactly what the balance is until after the consultation. I do not know what affected individuals’ views are about the balance between treatment and some of the other options in the consultation. I genuinely want to see what they think, and how attractive the treatment offer is to them, before we reach our final conclusions.

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): I thank the Minister for the work she has been doing on this issue. I also thank her and her ministerial colleague my right hon. Friend the Minister for Community and Social Care for the impressive way this is being handled. We should never forget that this is a simple matter of justice, and it is time, after all the apologies, that those affected should feel we are doing justice to that injustice. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree with me that one of the important needs is that any scheme should be simple, comprehensive, predictable and consistent, and that it is absolutely essential that the bewildering variety of current provision is resolved into that single clear scheme. Will she give me the undertaking that, whatever emerges at the outcome of this process, that will be the Government’s abiding priority?

Jane Ellison: I certainly think I can give my hon. and learned Friend some comfort in that regard. The area on which there was the greatest consensus right across the infected blood community and this House is on precisely what he describes: the complexity of the schemes and the fact that they are mixture of regular payments and discretionary means-tested payments. Obviously we need to wait for the end of the consultation to see exactly what everyone’s views are, but we will not waste time. We will begin a scoping exercise on scheme reform while the consultation is under way in anticipation of finalising plans at the end of the consultation. I agree that we need a scheme that is straightforward, simple and sustainable, both giving regular support to those infected and allowing this Government and future Governments to be able to plan and sustain the support.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Like many other hon. Members, I have met constituents who have been affected by this tragedy,

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and it is a simple matter of justice that needs to be righted, so I welcome much of what has been said from both Front Benches today. Has the Minister met or spoken to the Welsh Health Minister over the past few days to discuss the matter and how it will operate in Wales, specifically with regard to financing and the availability of the drugs? Will Welsh sufferers have to travel to England to take part in the assessments or will arrangements be made for them to take place in Wales?

Jane Ellison: One or two of those questions are probably a little too detailed to comment now, but it is worth reiterating what I said about the devolved Administrations. I have not been able to speak to the Welsh Health Minister; we offered the opportunity of a call with other Ministers, including the Scottish Minister, but the Welsh Minister knows that he can get in touch. One of his officials was on the call this morning, and our offices have been talking to each other. I am happy to pick this up with the Welsh Health Minister if he wants to do so.

This consultation is for the scheme in England, but we have been working with counterparts in the devolved Administrations. While everyone in the UK is welcome to respond to the consultation and say what they think, health is now a devolved matter—that is different from when the first schemes were set up—so the devolved Administrations are responsible for providing financial support for those affected from each country. Treatment within the NHS is obviously a matter for the NHS in Wales, and I will look at some of the other points the hon. Gentleman made. We are happy to talk to him about the devolved aspects and write to him afterwards.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I thank the Minister for the consultation, the additional money, the scheme consolidation and the work that both she and the Minister for Community and Social Care have undertaken. I also thank, of course, the all-party group and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). Will the Minister concede that, for those of us who have worked closely with individual victims for a number of years, the resolution has to be, as far as possible, to put them in the financial position they would have been in but for the grievous harm done to them, and that that may in some cases mean a bespoke solution for individual victims—we are not dealing with unlimited numbers of people here?

Jane Ellison: That is clearly the hon. Gentleman’s view and I invite him to submit it to the consultation. This is exactly why we are consulting. We have made some proposals, but some of the questions are very open, and we will look at what comes back from the consultation. I urge him and other Members to take part in the consultation.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I welcome the statement and commend the shadow Minister’s tone. Victims in Northern Ireland share the compound frustration that we have heard from other Members on behalf of their constituents, but maybe feel more pointedly the contrast with their friends in the south of Ireland, who have had a path of justice available to them over many years. I know the Minister is absolutely sincere in her commitment to the issue of treatment, but will she give assurances that the effort she is putting into making sure people

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can be made well will not detract or distract from the obligation we still have to make good this travesty that people have suffered?

Jane Ellison: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question and his sustained interest over such a long time, speaking on behalf of people from his area. Based on our previous conversations, I recognise there might be aspects of the proposals that the hon. Gentleman does not feel meet his own aspirations, so again I invite him to respond to the consultation. I will take note of his—and all other Members’—views. These are our proposals. Some of the questions are very open and people can give us their views. I recognise that something different happened in the Republic of Ireland, and it is down to another Government to make those decisions. The circumstances were different for reasons I have gone into previously from this Dispatch Box.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): The Minister will know that some of the cases go back many years and the medical records may have been destroyed. Can she say in a little more detail what evidence is required both at the assessment stage and for those applying to the discretionary fund?

Jane Ellison: In truth, it is a little too early for me to give that level of detail. We want to ask for expert advice on that in order to get it right and, as I said in the statement, we are looking at the impact on people’s health now. We do not want this to be an invasive or onerous process for the people, who have gone through so much already, so we envisage involving people’s own clinicians as well as gathering other evidence. This is something we will ask experts to advise us on and we will come back at the end of the consultation.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I commend the Minister for her work on this and thank her for her statement today. We know her as a compassionate person totally committed to this case; I do not think that anyone in the House has any doubts about what she is trying to deliver, and we thank her for that.

Some 7,500 people have been contaminated by blood. Last year, the Prime Minister gave a commitment of £25 million and this morning the Minister has given a commitment of a further £100 million, which is good news. Some 10 people have passed away. The European Commissioner for Human Rights has recently ruled that Italy must pay compensation immediately to all those who received contaminated blood. I know there is a consultation process, but when will we see the money actually getting to the victims? Is there a timescale? There has not been any commitment, as I understand it, with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Minister, Simon Hamilton. What, if any, discussions have taken place?

Jane Ellison: As I set out earlier, we offered a phone call this morning with the Minister in Northern Ireland, but I am more than happy to pick up on that. Our officials have been working quite closely together for some time on this, so I am more than happy should my opposite number want to have a conversation. The circumstances in Italy are different and, as I said in answer to the last question, other Governments must make decisions for themselves. I am aware of that case, but I think some of the circumstances are quite different.

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On timescale, our priority is to move forward the individual health assessments, and at the same time we will do some scoping work around reform of the schemes themselves. I cannot yet say how long that will take, but I obviously want to do it as quickly as possible. As I mentioned in my statement, I want to reassure Members that whenever we undertake those assessments, people will not miss out just because they are towards the end of the process. We will backdate all those annual payments, once they are awarded, to April 2016.

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Point of Order

12.59 pm

Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. At business questions earlier today, I pressed the Leader of the House for a full debate on the Government’s proposal to allow Transport for London to run all the local metro train services in our capital, including those operated by Southeastern in my constituency. However, I and many other hon. Members representing London constituencies were amazed to learn of this announcement and of the Secretary of State for Transport’s supporting statement, not in this House but in an online article that appeared this morning on the website of the Evening Standard. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) was obviously aware of it, because he was at a press event with the Secretary of State, but the Leader of the House did not seem to be aware of what had taken place. Can you assure me, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the Secretary of State has at least had the courtesy to inform the House through your good offices of this welcome proposal, which will have serious implications, not least financial ones, for London?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there has been no written statement, and that I was not aware of this. He has certainly got his point on the record, however. As he knows, the Chair frowns upon statements being made outside the House before they have been made in the House. I hope that the Government will take on board the fact that this House is the place where statements should be made first.

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Backbench Business

Childhood Obesity Strategy

[Relevant document: First Report from the Health Committee, Session 2015-16. Childhood obesity—brave and bold action, HC 465.]

1 pm

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House calls on the Government to bring forward a bold and effective strategy to tackle childhood obesity.

I want to thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for this debate. I also want to thank all my colleagues from across the House who are members of the Health Select Committee—and the staff of the Committee, particularly Laura Daniels—for their work on the report on childhood obesity that was published recently. Outside this House, there are also many organisations and individuals who have campaigned tirelessly to improve children’s health.

Perhaps we can start by looking at the example of Team GB and their success in the Olympics. On the morning of their track cycling victory, the architect of the team’s success, Sir David Brailsford, put their success down to the principle of marginal gains and their relentless pursuit of identifying every efficiency in the rider, the bike, the environment around them and their training regime. All those marginal gains were added together to win gold for Team GB in the Olympics. I think we need to adopt the same principle when it comes to tackling childhood obesity.

Too often, I hear people saying that it is all about education, or about getting children to move more in PE at school, but I would say that there is no single measure. We all know that this is an extremely complex problem that requires action at every level. I therefore call on the Minister to look at every single aspect of tackling childhood obesity. If we were running a cycling team hoping to win the Olympics, we would realise that we could not achieve success if we left any of the factors out, so let us apply that principle here.

Let me set the scene by telling the House why this subject matters so much. We know from the child measurement programme in our schools that around one in five of our children who enter reception class are either obese or overweight. However, by the time they leave in year 6, a third of our children are either obese or overweight. Perhaps even more worrying are the stark data on the health inequality of obesity. A quarter of the children from the most disadvantaged groups in our society are leaving school not just overweight but obese, which is now more than twice the rate among children from the most advantaged families. My first question for the Minister is this: will the childhood obesity strategy not only tackle the overall levels of obesity but seek to narrow that yawning and growing gap in our society between the least and most advantaged children? Any strategy that fails to narrow that gap will have failed our children.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Lady agree that some of the overall problem can be explained by the fact that people do not know how much sugar is in their food? She will know that women are supposed to have no more than six spoonfuls

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a day, and men no more than nine. Only today, when I was in Portcullis House, I bought three items: a Snickers bar, which has five spoonfuls of sugar; a yoghurt with seven spoonfuls; and a Coke with nine. She will be glad to hear that I did not eat any of them; perhaps I was just removing them from other people. Does she agree that an awareness of how much sugar we are eating is very important if we are to manage our diets?

Dr Wollaston: Indeed. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I shall come on to that subject later. I am relieved to hear that he is not on a sugar high for the debate.

I want to set out not only the scale of the problem but its consequences. It has consequences for the whole lifetime of our children, in relation to their physical and emotional health. They also suffer the impact of bullying at school, as they are too often stigmatised in the classroom because of their weight. There is increasing evidence that obesity is a factor in causing many preventable cancers, and it also has an impact on conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. This has a cost not only to individuals but to wider society and to the NHS.

The Minister will know how essential it is that, as part of the five-year forward view, we tackle the issue of prevention. We cannot do that without tackling obesity, particularly among children, given the lifetime impact and consequences of the condition. She will know that 9p in every £1 we spend in the NHS is spent on diabetes. We estimate from the evidence that the Health Committee took during our hearings that the overall cost of obesity to the NHS is now £5.1 billion a year, and the wider costs to society have been estimated to be as high as £27 billion, although the estimates vary. We simply cannot afford to take no action.

Physical activity is of course extraordinarily important and I am confident that it will feature strongly in the Government’s strategy, but it is no good focusing solely on that. Physical activity is good for children, whatever their weight. Indeed, it is good for all of us, whatever our age. However, any strategy that assumes that we can tackle childhood obesity solely through physical activity will simply be ignoring the overwhelming evidence that most of the gain will be in reducing calories. That is not just about sugar, however. It is easy to be accused of demonising sugar. The fact is that children have more than three times the recommended amount of sugar in their diet, but that is perhaps the easiest aspect of the problem to tackle. The Minister will recognise the fact that we are talking about overall calories, which also include fats.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I need to declare an interest here; it is a fairly well-known one. My union has been pressing me to remind my hon. Friend that sugar intake has a disastrous effect on the teeth and causes tooth decay. Is she aware that the most common cause of hospital admissions among five to nine-year-olds is tooth decay? Every week, almost 900 children in this country require hospital treatment for tooth decay, and the biggest single factor is sugar.

Dr Wollaston: I thank my hon. Friend from mentioning that. I was going to come on to that point and he has saved me from doing so. I completely agree that we must not forget the impact of sugar on children’s teeth. He will recognise that there are great health inequalities relating to that issue as well.

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So how should we tackle this? I have spoken many times about a sugary drinks tax, but I recognise that that is not where the greatest gain lies when it comes to tackling childhood obesity. As the Minister will recognise from the evidence presented by Public Health England, price promotions will need to form an extraordinarily important part of the childhood obesity strategy if it is to be effective. It is a staggering fact that around 40% of what we spend on our consumption of food and drink at home is spent on price promotions. Unfortunately, however, they do not save us as much money as we assume. They encourage us to consume more. In British supermarkets, a huge number of those promotions relate to sugary and other unhealthy products. I call on the Government to tackle that as part of their strategy. We need a level playing field as we seek to rebalance price promotions, but that has to be done in a way that does not simply drive us towards promoting other products such as alcohol. We need to take a careful, evidence-based look at all this.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I am delighted that the hon. Lady is pursuing this issue. Has she looked at whether there could be a tax on the ingredient “sugar” in products, so that we create an incentive to reformulate, in order to reduce sugar content not just in fizzy drinks but across foods and drinks generally? Could that be a way to get the industry to start to think about the content of its food?

Dr Wollaston: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point, which prompts me to address the issue of a sugary drinks tax. We looked at examples of where taxation can be applied across sugar more broadly, perhaps to incentivise reductions within reformulation, as some countries have done. However, we wanted to address the single biggest component of sugar in children’s diets, which is sugary drinks. The Committee recommended a sugary drinks tax rather than a wider sugar tax, and there are several reasons for doing that. First, we know that it works. Secondly, it addresses that point about health inequality.

Mexico introduced a 1 peso per litre tax on sugary drinks and by the end of the year the greatest reduction in use—17% by the end of the year—was among the highest consumers of sugary drinks. The tax drove a change in behaviour. The whole point of this sugary drinks tax is that nobody should have to pay it at all. To those who say it is regressive, I say no it is not; the regressive situation is the current one, where the greatest harms fall on the least advantaged in society. As we have seen with the plastic bag tax, the tax aims to nudge a change in behaviour among parents, with a simple price differential between a product that is full of sugar, and causes all the harms that we have heard about, including to children’s teeth, and an identical but sugar-free product—or, better still, water.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate and on her work in this area. We do not really have to wait for a tax; we can take what the Mayor of London has done in City Hall as an example. He has made sugary drinks more expensive, and therefore people have that choice immediately. In the presence of the Chairman of the Administration

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Committee, the House’s greatest living dentist, who is participating in this debate, may I say that it is possible for this House to put up the price of sugary drinks so that those who go to the Tea Room will then have that choice?

Dr Wollaston: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that and welcome what he describes. That movement is not just happening in City Hall, because it is being recommended within the NHS by Simon Stevens. I also congratulate Jamie Oliver and the many other outlets that are introducing such an approach. The other point to make is about public acceptability, because all the money raised goes towards good causes. As we have seen with the plastic bag tax, the fact that the levy is going to good causes increases its public support. That levy has been extraordinarily effective, as plastic bag usage has dropped by 78%. That is partly because we all knew we needed to change but we just needed that final nudge. That is what this is about: that final nudge to change people to a different pattern of buying. It has a halo effect, because it adds a health education message and that is part of its effectiveness.

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): I am a fellow member of the Health Committee, in which we also discussed ring-fencing the sugary drinks tax so that money could be put back into health education about obesity, particularly in schools, to prevent child obesity in the future. Could my hon. Friend speak a little more about that?

Dr Wollaston: I thank my hon. Friend and fellow member of the Health Committee for her intervention. At a time of shrinking public health budgets, there is a huge additional benefit from having this kind of levy, in that many of the other measures that the Minister will want to see in the strategy—on exercise in schools, teaching in cookery lessons and health education—could be funded in part through a sugary drinks tax. I hope she will look carefully at this idea and consider introducing it.

Geraint Davies rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. It is meant to be a 15-minute opening speech. Mr Davies will want to speak and he will not want me to take any minutes off him, so I am sure this will be a very quick intervention.

Geraint Davies: The debate is often between reformulation and tax. I agree with the tax on fizzy drinks, but if we had a tax on overall sugar input—for the sake of argument, let us suppose that sugar makes up half a Hobnob and the tax is at 10%—that would give an incentive to the manufacturers to reformulate without the price going up and we could get the sugar content down.

Dr Wollaston: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, which brings me on to reformulation. It will also form a core part of the strategy. Our view was that we should have a centrally-led programme of reformulation across foods and drinks, and that what manufacturers want is a level playing field. The trouble with reformulation is that it takes time; there has been an effective programme on salt, but that has happened very gradually, over a 10-year period. There is no reason why these things should be mutually exclusive; I come back to that point

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about marginal gains and say let us do all of the above. I know that the Minister is looking closely at reformulation and understands how powerful it will be. The evidence we heard was that it could take 6% of the sugar out of children’s diets. Reformulation, alongside other programmes, will play a part, but it will not work on its own and, unfortunately, it will take longer.

We also need to examine the pervasive effect of marketing and promotion. Do I want to have a kilogram of chocolate for almost nothing when I buy my newspaper? Of course I do, but please do not offer it to me. Please do not make me walk past the chicanes of sugar at the checkout or when I am queuing to pay for petrol. We know that 37% of all the confectionary we buy is bought on impulse. It does not matter how much we are intending not to buy it, if it is presented to us on impulse, we buy it, as impulse is an extraordinarily powerful driver. I therefore hope that any strategy will tackle that part of consumption, along with portion sizing. The supersizing of our society is in part down to the supersizing of portions and offers. All of this needs to be included in our approach, as does dealing with advertising. This advertising is pervasive and it is hitting our children everywhere they go, on television, online and through the influence of “advergames”. We know that this is very powerful in driving choices for children, so I hope the Minister will look carefully at that. She will have seen our recommendation of a watershed of 9 pm.

Time is running short, so I shall close my remarks, as I know other Members will want to cover many other aspects, such as exercise, the effect of what local authorities do, how much more powerful they could be in their roles if we gave them greater planning powers, and so on. Early intervention, research, education, teaspoon labelling—please do it all. We need a bold, brave and effective strategy, and we need to learn from British cycling and the law of marginal gains.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker: With an eight-minute limit, I call Sharon Hodgson.

1.18 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on proposing and securing this important debate, and she will be pleased to hear that I agreed with almost everything she said. Many here in the Chamber will be aware of my strongly held passion to provide all children with a hot and healthy school meal, especially one that is free. The debate around the Government’s impending childhood obesity strategy, both here in Parliament and in the outside world, has focused on the reformulation of foods that are high in sugar and salt and the introduction of a sugar tax. Although I support those measures, I want quickly to discuss how school food can play a significant role in addressing the obesity crisis facing our children today.

I want to say at the outset—I am sure people are thinking this, if not here then definitely on social media—that I am rather overweight myself and that some may say I should practise what I preach. I do try. But that is why I am so passionate about this agenda: I know how much harder this becomes as you get older. I was

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allowed to adopt bad habits that are hard to break, and that shows why we need to educate the next generation to do much better.

School food has played a role in public policy for more than 100 years. It was first discussed in this place in 1906 when Fred Jowett, former Member of Parliament for Bradford West, used his maiden speech in the Chamber to launch his campaign to introduce free school meals when compulsory education was being rolled out. That led to the passing of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act 1906, which was originally Jowett’s private Member’s Bill.

Jowett’s campaign was driven by his experience as a member of the Bradford school board, where he witnessed the malnourishment of children who then fell behind their more affluent peers. Here we are, more than 100 years later, and those arguments are still being made today.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I was just thinking the same as my hon. Friend about how far we have come in some respects but not in others. She will be aware of the private Member’s Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field). Does she support it?

Mrs Hodgson: Yes, that private Member’s Bill is an excellent initiative, and should be adopted by the Government and local authorities. It is very simple to share the data that we already have on families who are entitled to benefits, to ensure that the entitlement of their children to the pupil premium is not lost when universal free school meals are rolled out. That is a very important point.

Although we do not always think about obesity in this way, it is a form of malnourishment. What we are seeing today is very similar to what we saw more than 100 years ago, with children lacking the right nutrients to see them living a healthy childhood and growing into healthy adults. That is especially concerning given that today more than one third of children are leaving school overweight or obese.

The school setting is one of the most important interventions in a child’s life; it is where we nurture and educate future generations. Why should we not feed these children so that they are fuelled to receive the best education and life chances possible? That notion was strongly supported by the previous Labour Government, who introduced a raft of measures that addressed the food eaten by children in our schools. They included nutrition-based school food standards that provide children with the proper nutrition to learn, fully-costed plans to extend our universal free school meal pilots, and the introduction of healthy, practical cooking on the national curriculum.

Although much, or all, of those measures were scrapped when the coalition Government were formed in 2010, it was very welcome when, in 2013, the school food plan was published, calling for the reinstatement of lots of those measures as well as new and improved measures in our schools to address the health of our children. Those included introducing food-based standards for all schools, training head teachers in the benefits of food and nutrition, improving Ofsted inspections on school food, and the roll-out of universal free school meals for primary school children, when funding was found.

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As we know, that funding was found, thanks to David Laws and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg). Fortunately, universal infant free school meals were secured by the Chancellor in the comprehensive spending review. All those measures came out of concerns for the health of our children and the growing obesity crisis, especially given that 57% of children were not eating school lunches. Some were opting to take in packed lunches, only 1% of which met the nutritional standards of a hot lunch, while others were opting to go off site to eat junk food at local takeaways.

As research has found, health problems associated with being overweight or obese cost the NHS more than £5 billion a year, and, with obesity rates continuing to rise for 11 to 15-year-olds, especially in deprived areas, it is now clearer than ever that we need seriously to address childhood obesity.

Giving children a healthy and balanced diet during the school day can only be a positive intervention in helping to address obesity. I cannot stress how strongly I believe that one of the most important interventions to help address health issues in childhood is universal free school meals.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): The hon. Lady mentioned that children are consuming junk food from outlets near schools. Does she believe that councils should have powers, as part of planning guidance, to take action on junk food outlets being so close to schools?

Mrs Hodgson: Yes, I do. I really welcome that intervention, because it not only makes the point, but stresses it very strongly. Some councils are very good and introduce byelaws to ensure that burger vans cannot pull up outside a school, and that, if there is already a number of takeaway shops nearby, no more can open. Matters such as that need to be addressed by councils.

The pilots introduced by the previous Labour Government in Durham and Newham to look into the benefits of universal free school meals found many benefits to a child’s health, and research continues now that we have universal infant school meals. The pilots in Durham and Newham found a 23% uptake in vegetable consumption at lunchtime and a steep decline in the typical unhealthy packed lunch foods. For example, there was a 16% decline in soft drinks and an 18% decline in crisps. Those are all-important figures that the Government should remember, and both the Department of Health and Department for Education should look further into how best they can use the vehicle of universal free school meals to help improve children’s health.

Although universal free school meals are protected in the Government’s comprehensive spending review—this followed a concerted campaign by school food campaigners, myself and others in the House—there is another area that the Government must consider when looking to improve the health of our children: holiday hunger. Children are in school for just 190 days of the year, and the rest—a total of 170 days—is totally down to their parents. Some may say that that is how it should be and that when we lock the school gates for the holidays it is none of our business what children eat, whether they eat or what they get up to. None the less, with the

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growing use of food banks in school holidays and the reports that children return from the longer school holidays noticeably thinner and unhealthier, the issue is one that we can no longer ignore.

If there is a push for better food provision in our schools, then we need to be doing much more during the holidays so as not to undo the hard work that goes into improving the life chances of children during term time. That is why the school food all-party group, which I chair, has established a holiday hunger task group, which last year launched its “Filling the Holiday Gap” guidelines to provide organisations and local authorities wishing to provide food during holidays with the resources to offer healthy and nutritious food. Late last year, it published its update report, which called for action to be taken by the Government.

When the Government’s childhood obesity strategy is published, I hope that there will be significant mention of the benefits that school food, especially universal free school meals, can have on a child’s health, and of how it can be used to address the growing childhood obesity crisis. There is evidence out there to support using universal free school meal provision to its fullest, instead of squandering its potential, to improve the health of our children.

This is a moment when the Government can really make a difference to children’s lives and I hope that all options and avenues will be pursued so that children are given the healthy food that they need to fuel their education and to make them as healthy a version of themselves as possible so that they grow into fit and healthy adults.

1.27 pm

Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for calling this important debate. I am sure that Members can all see that I am a man who likes his food, and that I am not particularly in a position to lecture others on obesity. At the same time, I cannot ignore the fact that too many children in this country are obese, that poor children are more likely to be obese than rich children—boys and girls in the lowest quintile are three times more likely to be obese as those in the highest quintile—and that those living in towns are more likely to be obese than those living in rural areas. Those are unpalatable facts. It is right and proper that we investigate, and, where we have clear evidence, take the appropriate action.

However, the evidence does not suggest that childhood obesity is a problem that is getting significantly worse. The proportion of obese children in year 6 is higher than it was in 2006-07, but for reception children the proportion has fallen over the same period. Moreover, there has been a significant decrease in the proportion of British children, aged two to 10, who are obese.

Dr Wollaston: Will my hon. Friend go back and look at those figures in more detail? What he will see is that, although those figures are falling for the wealthiest children, they are rising for the most disadvantaged children. We are seeing a widening of the gap, which masks the underlying problem.

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Will Quince: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I will come on to that in a bit more detail. The important element is that any approach we take must be evidence based. I absolutely agree with her that we need to look at all the evidence.

I stated that the proportion of those aged two to 10 who were obese had gone from 17% in 2005 to 13% in 2013. The evidence suggests that childhood obesity rose quickly in the mid-2000s and has slightly fallen ever since. That is an important fact for two reasons. First, it suggests that our education programmes in our schools and the Government-backed campaigns on obesity within the last decade have had a positive impact in halting the increase in childhood obesity. Secondly, it undermines the scaremongering that suggests that childhood obesity is rocketing year on year. It simply is not; the reality is much more complex.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes as already mentioned, there is a growing clamour for a sugar tax on soft drinks to combat childhood obesity. She has called in a recent article for a 20% tax on sugary drinks as part of that overall solution. Her calls have been echoed by the BMA and other public health campaigners. I have huge respect for my hon. Friend, but I think that a sugar tax is completely the wrong answer. A sugar tax is illiberal and patronising—in my view, nanny statism at its worst.

Given how sugar tax campaigners argue, one might think that consumption of sugar in the UK is at a record high. It is not. Consumption of sugar per head in the UK is falling, from a high of more than 50 kg a year in the 1980s to less than 40 kg a year now. What is more, soft drink consumption in the UK is falling. The latest household food survey from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows that household soft drink consumption purchases have fallen by 5.2% since 2011 and by 19% for high-calorie soft drinks in the same period. Regular soft drink purchases are now at their lowest level since 1992.

Geraint Davies: Does not the hon. Gentleman agree, though, that a sugar tax would be eminently fiscally responsible? It would gather revenue, increase life chances, increase health and reduce health costs. From the point of view of the Exchequer, it would be very sensible. Can he not come up with other sensible ideas like that?

Will Quince: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and, of course, that would make sense if the evidence suggested that a soft drink tax implemented anywhere else in the world had actually worked and had the effect that he suggests. He is right to suggest that there are a lot of other measures that we as a Government and that businesses and organisations can take to address this issue; I do not believe that the sugar tax is the right one.

Sugar tax advocates have pointed out the introduction of a sugar tax in Mexico and the corresponding 6% decline in soft drink sales since the tax was introduced. However, research in The BMJ does not show evidence of a link between the introduction of the tax and the small decline in soft drinks consumption. Further taxes on non-essential energy dense foods were also introduced at the same time as the sugar tax, and they accounted for a higher proportion of Mexicans’ daily calorific intake. As the authors of the research admitted,

“we cannot determine the independent role of each”

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of the taxes. The research even acknowledges that there is a lack of information on nutritional data for packaged drinks in Mexico, which means that researchers cannot see what the fall in soft drink consumption meant for a decline in sugar intake.

As many Members may know, Mexico does not have safe drinking water. As a high-profile advocate of the sugar tax in Mexico, Alejandro Calvillo, stated:

“We know that there are people who drink a lot of sodas and they don’t have access to drinking water.”

How can we possibly compare the results in a developing country that has unclean, unsafe drinking water with how a tax might operate here in the United Kingdom? Instead, let us compare like with like. When sugar taxes have been tried in developed nations such as France, they have had a negligible effect on reducing consumption. Denmark scrapped its sugar tax on soft drinks in 2014 and labelled it an expensive failure. The Danish Ministry of Taxation labelled food and drink taxes as

“misguided at best and may be counter-productive at worst”.

They even described it as an expensive liability for business, and, as we all know, a sugar tax would be a very bitter pill for British businesses to swallow.

Study after study on soft drinks taxes in the USA also shows that they have a negligible impact on sugary drink intake and calorie consumption. What is more, the small decline in sugary drinks is almost entirely offset by consumption of other sugary products.

Dr Wollaston: My hon. Friend is very generous to give way again. I wonder whether he has had an opportunity to look again in detail at the article in The BMJ to which he refers. He is citing the figure of 6%, but the article makes it clear that by the end of the year the decline was 12% overall, and—more importantly, if we are to address the issue of health inequality—17% among the heaviest users. He might wish to update himself. I am happy to share the paper with him.

Will Quince: I thank my hon. Friend and I would be delighted to take another look at that piece of research.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has made a case for the sugar tax to protect the poorest, and I think that that was the point that she was just making. As I have mentioned, and this is a good point, the poorest children are the most likely to be obese. However, the statistics show that, in low-income households in Britain, soft drink purchases dropped by 14% between 2007 and 2013. Perhaps a 20% sugar tax on soft drinks is not very much to celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and some of those who are pushing the idea of a sugar tax, but for those on the lowest incomes—who we know, proportionally, buy these products—about 12p a can or 37p per 2 litre bottle is a massive amount of money.

Maggie Throup: I think that the point is that we are talking about a tax on sugary drinks and there are alternatives, such as drinks with artificial sweeteners. We are not making it so that these people do not have a choice. There are two different sides of the argument.

Will Quince: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. As someone who spent five years working in the soft drinks industry, I think she makes a valuable point. We need to question what we want our children—and adults

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—to drink. Do we want them drinking sugar or sodium benzoate, acesulfame and aspartame? That is a whole separate debate that we can have. I tend to choose to drink diet variants myself, but those options are there and the industry is driving people towards those lower calorie drinks. Let us take Britvic Soft Drinks as an example. Members will notice that they can buy a 600 ml bottle of diet Pepsi or Tango for the same price as a 500 ml full-sugar variant. The industry is already encouraging behavioural change.

To return to the Mexican experiment, 63% of sugar tax receipts have been collected from low-income households and 37.5% of receipts came from those in poverty. As I mentioned before, particularly with soft drinks but across the board, labelling has never been better, nor has the choice for consumers. The industry is doing huge amount of work to encourage behavioural change and do the right thing.

I am conscious of the time and that lots of Members would like to speak, so I will conclude. I welcome a debate on childhood obesity and a clear strategy to reduce it. There are a huge number of measures that we as a Government could take ourselves and that we could encourage businesses and organisations to take, but let us ensure that the strategy is based on solid evidence. I strongly believe that a sugar tax is not the answer.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Before I call the next, very experienced, Member to speak, let me remind less experienced Members that when there are time limits, the first two interventions are compensated for and the clock stops, but after that the clock continues. I just want to ensure that no one gets a horrible fright.

1.38 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I will stick to my eight minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will not give way, if that helps—[Interruption.] All right, I will give way.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince). He is hard on himself; he is not obese, just very well built. I know that his enthusiasm for curry is known throughout Colchester, so that might be a contributing factor. It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) not just on how she chairs the Select Committee on Health but on how she brings issues to the House, especially this critical issue of childhood obesity. I am delighted to see the Minister at the Dispatch Box, as she gets it. She is the Minister responsible for diabetes and whenever we in the all-party group on diabetes ask her to deal with these issues, she has always been very open and transparent. I think that she is on the same page as the rest of us.

That helps me put aside at least half of my speech because I do not need to repeat the statistics that Members who are experienced in these matters know all about—the cost of diabetes to the national health service, the worry that over half a million people have type 2 diabetes and are not aware of it, the need for prevention and awareness, and the importance of protecting our children. The figures given by the hon. Member for

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Totnes are clear. The problem gets worse as children get older and the figures are so worrying that if we just stand still, the crisis of childhood obesity will continue.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): With reference to standing still, the debate today has largely focused on sugar and our intake of it. One of the key things we need to do to tackle the challenge of childhood obesity is to focus on activity—getting people to be physically active, through sport or, as I increasingly believe, outdoor recreation. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport sports strategy, which focuses more on outcomes and includes outdoor recreation, could help to tackle the crisis that we are facing. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree?

Keith Vaz: Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is looking at someone who constantly tells people to move more, but prefers to go by car rather than walk. It is a wonderful thing to say, but it is a different matter to get us on to those bicycles, on to our feet and involved in physical activities. My physical activity extends to table tennis, which is not the best way of losing weight and ensuring that my type 2 diabetes is under control. The hon. Gentleman is right—those lifestyle changes are necessary and they need to happen at a very young age. Schools, teachers, kids and parents need to be involved in ensuring that there is more activity because that will help in the long run.

We should be pretty dramatic in the way we deal with the problem. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker—as you have no doubt shown the film to your children at some stage—Mary Poppins thought that a spoonful of sugar helped the medicine go down, but a spoonful of sugar or nine teaspoons of sugar in a can of Coca-Cola, does not help the medicine go down—it makes matters worse.

In the short time available, I shall concentrate on the need to ensure that retailers do their bit to bring down the sugar content in sugary drinks. I am full of praise for the Mayor of London, the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), for going one step further than waiting for a sugar tax, which I understand is still on the agenda. There was a feeling that the Government had rejected that, but there were newspaper reports that the Prime Minister was still considering the matter. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when she winds up.

The retailers, having been invited by the previous Secretary of State for Health to be part of a voluntary arrangement, did not keep their side of the bargain. Despite the great declarations that were made by the previous Secretary of State, which I am sure were well intentioned, it is difficult to control global empires to ensure that they reduce the amount of sugar in drinks. We therefore have to take drastic measures. That is why I support a sugar tax, as enunciated by the Chair and other members of the Health Committee. We need to do that. We also need to do what the Mayor has done. Putting up the price of sugary drinks in City Hall is an extremely important way of sending out a clear message. Simon Stevens has said that he would do the same thing at NHS hospitals. How many of us turn up at local hospitals and see vending machines openly trying to sell us sugary drinks such as Coca-Cola?

I recently returned from a holiday in India. Whenever I asked for water or Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke, I was told it was not available. There is an interesting read-across

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to other Government Departments. The big retailers may be more conscious of the fact that the British House of Commons is interested in the issue, but in countries outside western Europe and the United States, they may feel that they can dump their sugary products without offering an alternative. Before we get to the issue of the sugar tax which, as I said, I support, there is much that retailers can do.

I recently visited a branch of Waitrose in West Bromwich. I was interested to see that all the sugar-free products had been put on one kiosk in the middle of the store, so when people walked in they were not overwhelmed by the promotion of two litre-bottles of Coca-Cola for the price of one—they looked at the kiosk, where there were only no-sugar products. That is a way of encouraging those who purchase—I am not saying dads do not do it, but in most cases mums—to go to the kiosk and try to think positively about buying products that are free of sugar.

As I said in an intervention, there are things we can do. If we go to the Tea Room to have our lunch after this great debate, what is on offer? Club biscuits, Jaffa cakes, the most fantastic Victoria sponge—marvellous stuff that the Administration Committee offers us. The fruit is at the side, between the refrigerated drinks and the till. By the time I get there, even I with my type 2 diabetes am sometimes tempted to go for the sugary products and the chocolate. Why do we not promote the food and drinks that are healthy?

That is why, like others, I commend what Jamie Oliver has done. We need people like that, who have captured the imagination of the British people, to ensure that the public and the press help in the efforts to reduce sugar. Finally, I lavish praise on my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who has introduced a Bill to provide for better labelling. We still do not have effective product labelling. It is important that we see such information because it will enable us to make informed choices.

If we do nothing, the obesity crisis will get much worse. We are not drinking at the last-chance saloon. That is now closed. We are outside and we are ready for firm Government action. That is our request to the Minister. Because her own commitment to these issues, I know she will react positively.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. I am afraid I have to lower the time limit on speeches to seven minutes now.

1.47 pm

Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con): I am delighted to take part in this important debate and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing it.

As we have been hearing all afternoon, we are facing a crisis of obesity among our children. That is storing up trouble for the future for our nation, as it has implications for the personal health of those individuals, and will create wider social problems and economic challenges—loss of productivity because of ill health and the cost to the NHS, as we have heard. It is therefore right that the Government take the issue seriously and develop a comprehensive plan to address it.

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We need to be realistic. The issue is complex and there is no silver bullet that will solve the problem of childhood obesity in one hit. There needs to be a comprehensive plan and a combination of measures to encourage greater activity and participation in sport and to address aspects such as diet, labelling and lifestyle. Parents must be at the heart of any strategy. We cannot replace their role and responsibility in raising their children and deciding what is best for their children’s welfare and future. We must never lose sight of that. Many parents feel that they are fighting a losing battle. The greatest influence on many children growing up today is no longer the parents and the household, but the media and the marketing budgets of multinational companies. Even the simple fact that in most shops a bottle of water is more expensive than an equivalent-sized can of fizzy, sugary drink—I think that is the case even in this place, so perhaps we should address that here—is evidence of the losing battle that many parents feel they are fighting in teaching and enabling their children to make the best choices.

In the time remaining I want to address the sugar tax. I am privileged to have one of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurants in my constituency. Only a few days after my election, the restaurant got in contact and asked me to lead a campaign for the introduction of a sugar tax. I have to say that my first response was to say no, because I am at heart a low-tax, small-state Conservative; my natural inclination is never to raise taxes. In fact, I want to cut taxes and have fewer taxes, so I did not particularly warm to the idea of introducing a new tax. Also, I do not want to see the state interfering in people’s lives, and particularly family life, any more than is absolutely necessary. Members will also be able to tell from my physique that I am not renowned for being a diet fanatic. In fact, I have been on only one diet in my life, and that was when my wife persuaded me to try the Atkins diet, with the bribe that I could eat as much bacon as I liked.

However, having looked at the evidence, I have come around and now believe that the Government should seriously consider introducing a sugar tax, because it would send a clear message about what is right and help people to make the right choices. In this country we have many taxes that are designed not only to raise revenue, but to educate and to influence people in the choices they make. I think that a sugar tax would be another step towards helping people, and particularly helping parents to help their children, to make the right choices. It would send a clear message that sugary drinks are not good for us. The Government would also be seen to be providing leadership on the issue, making a very clear and bold statement.

A tax on sugary drinks is not a silver bullet. It needs to be part of an overall package and a comprehensive strategy that includes better labelling, as we have heard, better education and encouraging physical activity. But I have been convinced that it needs to be seriously considered as part of the strategy to send that clear message and help parents make the right choice. I welcome the fact that, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) suggested, there might have been a little movement in the Government’s position. I encourage the Minister to take back the clear message that the Government should seriously consider introducing a

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tax on sugary drinks as part of the overall strategy. It is something we need to see move forward, and a clear message needs to be sent.

1.53 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I am pleased to be called to speak in this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for setting the scene so comprehensively, and for speaking along the lines that I and, I hope, most Members in the Chamber agree with. I declare an interest, because I am a type 2 diabetic, as is my friend and colleague the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). He and I have many things in common. We are both type 2 diabetics and we both support Leicester City football club—who would have believed that Leicester City would be top of the league? They are equal with Arsenal now, so there we are. I am very pleased to share that as well.

Obesity is at epidemic levels across the nation. Although strategies and responses have been developed, achieving results and driving down levels of obesity appear to be very difficult, which is disappointing. I am not here to argue or fall out with anyone—that is not my form—but I do not agree with some of the things that have been said today. For example, I am in favour of a sugar tax. My colleague, Simon Hamilton, who is the Health Minister in Northern Ireland, is against a sugar tax. I am in favour of it because I think that it would be the best thing. I think that sometimes we have to make decisions for people and that we have to do what is right. We have the power in this House to bring in legislation that hopefully can be used for the benefit of all.

Northern Ireland has the worst levels of obesity in the United Kingdom. Just over 24% of the 1,300 children from Northern Ireland who were surveyed by researchers at the Institute of Education in London were found to be not just overweight, but obese. We all know that the Ulsterman and the Ulsterwoman are fond of an Ulster fry. I used to be, but now I am allowed a fry only once a week because I am a diabetic. Believe it or not, as a diabetic I used to weigh 17 stone, but now I weigh 13 stone, so we can address the issue if we put our minds to it. Had I known what diabetes was about before I became a diabetic, I think I would have taken steps to change. I did not know it then because I was not interested. I did not know it because I did not realise there was anything wrong, but things were wrong. Sometimes we have to educate ourselves and take important steps and move forward by legislative means.

Members have referred to a balanced meal. Some people who carry a bit of weight think that a balanced meal means one hamburger in each hand. We have to think about this seriously. A balanced meal is not two hamburgers and big bottle of Coke; it is much less than that.

Obesity levels for 11-year-olds are higher in Northern Ireland than they are in other parts of the United Kingdom; in Wales the figure is 23%, in England it is 20%, and in Scotland it is 19%. It was reported in the news the week before last that every child in the United Kingdom will eat their body weight in sugar each year. Just think about what that means. That is four or five stones of sugar. Adults probably eat their body weight in sugar as well—not me, though, because I am a diabetic.