6.30 pm

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) on securing the debate.

Raped, beaten and destitute, Sarah had nowhere to go. Aged 28, and with her young son, she faced no option other than to leave her own home. Tom, her partner, had become increasingly violent over the past year, stripping her of her self-esteem. On one occasion, he had tried to push her out of an upstairs window. On another, she awoke at night to find that he had poured methylated spirits all over her, trying to set her alight. It stopped only when their young son saw what was happening and called the police. She had tried to leave over the years, but on every occasion Tom had persuaded her that he was a changed man and that he could not cope without her. One night, though, everything changed and she realised that she could not take any more. This is not a storyline in a soap opera; this was one of my clients when I was a barrister. I was instructed late one evening to apply to the court for an emergency order to get a judge to provide her with accommodation. The move was designed to provide her with a safe place and support for her son and to keep her away from the very real threat posed by Tom.

Two women die at the hands of domestic abusers each week in England and Wales. On average, a woman will be assaulted 35 times before seeking help. In 2009, the cost to the UK economy was estimated to be £15.7 million a year. Although we need to celebrate the achievements of women, we also need to pause and reflect on the areas in which, as those statistics show, women and girls are still being failed. Although words are important, it is action that will make a real difference.

In March 2014, the Government introduced Clare’s law, which is named after Clare Wood, who was tragically murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009. The law allows people to ask the police whether their partner has a history of domestic abuse, and it has already helped more than 1,000 people. We have introduced new domestic violence protection orders that protect victims in the immediate aftermath of domestic violence, when they are at their most vulnerable. Domestic violence is not always physical. It can be psychological and emotional, which is why we have introduced a new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. Of course, all those numbers mean nothing to women and girls who are still suffering abuse, and it is for them that I speak today. No one in this country should live with the threat of violence or in fear of harm.

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6.33 pm

Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I look forward to the day when there is no longer any need for International Women’s Day; when “Woman tipped to become next M&S boss announces she is taking maternity leave” is no longer a newsworthy headline for the Daily Mail; when we have 50%, not 22%, of parliamentarians across the world being women, and we no longer feel any need to measure or report the statistic; and when we do not need to discuss how to encourage more young women into science and maths.

Yes, we have come a long way. Government after Government have brought in legislation to ensure that we have equal treatment, but we are still striving for parity. Why is that? I do not profess to have the answers, but I recently read an article about a transgender person who had therefore experienced life as both a woman and a man. Ben Barres is a biologist at Stanford who lived and worked as Barbara Barres until he was in his 40s. He said that, as a woman, he often experienced bias, but when he became Ben he noticed a difference in his everyday experiences. He said that as a man, people treated him with much more respect. He noticed that he was more carefully listened to and his authority less frequently questioned. He wrote:

“The reasons why women are not breaking into academic jobs at any appreciable rate is not childcare, not family responsibilities.”

He went on to say:

“I have had the thought a million times: I am now taken more seriously”.

So I welcome International Women’s Day, but I would welcome more a time when there is no need to celebrate it, when women are recognised and lauded for what we have done as individuals, not for our achievements as women.

6.35 pm

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, an opportunity to celebrate great women and also to reflect on what more we can do as parliamentarians. It is true that there are more women in Parliament today than ever before, which is primarily why it is incumbent on us to take this opportunity to ensure equality across the board.

Women’s rights are human rights, yet when it comes to employment, women repeatedly suffer discrimination. We have seen Women Against State Pension Inequality campaigning vigorously for transitional arrangements.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a compelling need for the Government to resolve the WASPI issue through transitional protection, perhaps with an announcement in the Budget next week?

Angela Crawley: Absolutely. I would wholeheartedly welcome an announcement in the Budget next week that the Government will make transitional arrangements for those women.

We have heard about the issues of pensions, employment and domestic violence. I recognise the powerful contribution of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), which highlighted the fact that too many women lose their life to violence every day.

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On welfare, more women than men are lone parents and carers, a fact that must be recognised. The Government must ensure support for those women. There are many gaps that need to be addressed before we have full gender parity. I have called on the Prime Minister to take five key actions for International Women’s Day. First, the rape clause in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill must be scrapped. A woman who has a third child as a result of rape will be required to justify her position to a Government official in order to claim tax credits. That proposal is abhorrent. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who has campaigned tirelessly against it, and I support her efforts unequivocally. I hope the Government will remove that barbaric proposal.

I have urged the Prime Minister to ratify the Istanbul convention and to take serious action to tackle violence against women. Every day in the UK, women lose their life to physical violence. Ratification of the treaty would not only co-ordinate the policies of Government, local authorities and charities, but would send a clear message that the UK is committed to tackling all forms of violence.

The tampon tax must be scrapped. Labelling women’s sanitary products a luxury item is ridiculous. Those items are a necessity, so an additional VAT charge is wrong. Instead of the Government forcing the European Commission’s hand to lift the unfair tax, women will continue to pay that charge, and as a result continue to pay for their own services. We must remove that unfair tax, and the UK Government must use the money to support services.

We must also take firm action on the gender pay gap. The Scottish Government have committed to 50:50 by 2020, to encourage public sector, third sector and private sector companies to ensure equality on boards. The Scottish Government plan to legislate to ensure that public authorities with more than 20 employees will publish information on that. I hope the UK Government will consider that, as the current threshold of 250 employees is not good enough to tackle the gender pay gap as they hope it will.

Unlawful maternity and pregnancy discrimination is more common in Britain’s workplaces than ever before, with many women being forced out of their employment. The Government are trying to help people into work, yet they are introducing employment tribunal fees that may be a barrier to many women tackling rogue employers. The Government must look at those fees and challenge discrimination in all its forms.

I have presented those five points to the Prime Minister. We need deeds, not words, and I urge the Government to take those recommendations on board. As parliamentarians, let us be bold in delivering the kind of society we want to achieve—a more equal future for everyone. Let us deliver it—it is possible.

6.39 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing today’s debate. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for making time available for it and all the Members who have participated, women and men, for their contributions.

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The debate has been an important opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements and share in an ambition that exists around the world to achiever gender equality, not only as a matter of justice to women but as a prerequisite for a successful, prosperous and peaceful future for our world. Equality for women is not a zero-sum game that means men must lose out if women do well. Whenever women are poor, insecure and unsafe or disempowered, everyone suffers—families, children and communities. When women do well, by contrast, society thrives; health, educational attainment and economic performance all improve. That is why our ambition of gender equality in every country is so important.

Of course, we have made great strides forward, especially here in the UK. Women are achieving educationally, professionally and in public life in ways that our grandmothers could not have dreamed of. More women occupy senior positions in business, in the professions and in sport, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees). We have choices that were denied to previous generations of women.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Kate Green: I will not, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, because I am very short of time.

As we have heard today, there is still a long way to go. There is a long way to go on economic equality, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), who talked about gender pricing, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), who talked about the importance of our membership of the European Union in protecting women’s economic position, and many other hon. Members. We heard about the gender pay gap, which is nearly 20% higher in this country than the European average, and about the average apprenticeship wage for young women being more than £1 lower than it is for young men. We heard about women being trapped in low-paid sectors such as catering, caring and retail. We heard from many hon. Members about the disproportionate representation of men in STEM jobs, and we heard that the disadvantage that women experience in the labour market feeds into their poverty in retirement.

No one who was in the Chamber this afternoon can have failed to be moved and appalled by the names read out by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) of women who are among the two killed every week in this country by a partner or former partner. We heard from hon. Members throughout the House of many other appalling examples of gender-based violence. We heard from the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), my right hon. Friend the Member for Slough, who talked about the violence endemic in prostitution, and the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), who talked about breast ironing, a new and horrific form of abuse that has arrived in this country. We also heard about female genital mutilation. Although we did not hear much about this today, we should also remember the special circumstances of lesbian and transgender women who suffer appalling gender-based violence.

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The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and the hon. Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) rightly talked about cyber-abuse. I join the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) in urging the Government once again to consider introducing compulsory sex and relationships education.

May I make a special mention of the contribution of the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), who spoke up for detained refugee women? Their plight in a civilised country is something that shames all of us. I was proud to sit in this Chamber this afternoon and hear her speak out on behalf of those women. It is a cause that we must continue to champion together.

We also heard that this Parliament has, pleasingly, seen the highest level of representation of women that we have ever had. However, as many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Eastleigh, my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), said, we still have some way to go. When just 29% of our MPs are women, it is clear that our Parliament continues to fall a long way short of reflecting the population of our country.

Given the contributions that we have heard this afternoon, I am pleased that the sustainable development goals, to which we, along with all other countries, are signatories, include a goal dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment. The sustainable development goals are not just for developing economies but apply to every country, including the UK. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we recognise that the challenges women face here at home are the same as those faced by our sisters everywhere. For sure, there are differences of degree, but not differences of kind. We have heard some shocking examples—the plight of the Yazidi women, women in Saudi Arabia and the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram—but the pattern of poverty, inequality, inadequate representation and gender-based violence exists in every country. As the challenges are the same worldwide, we can learn from and support each other to achieve solutions. We can work together to ensure that we embed gender equality into every aspect of our policy and practice.

I know that the Minister shares my passion for gender equality, and I am sure she will take the opportunity today to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to systematically addressing gender inequality, wherever and whenever it arises. As we sign up to the vital sustainable development goals, I hope she will say that they will shape and underpin policy right across Government —both domestic policy and the way we use our influence and share learning with others internationally.

I also hope that Members will today affirm our determination that this debate will take place every International Women’s Day—in this Chamber and in Government time, as the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham suggested, in solidarity with our sisters around the world and as a measure of our resolve to place gender equality at the heart of our politics.

In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I take this opportunity to wish you, all right hon. and hon. Members, and our sisters and brothers around the world a happy International Women’s Day?

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6.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice (Caroline Dinenage): May I, too, start by congratulating the right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who secured the debate? I congratulate everybody who has taken part. We have had outstanding and excellent speeches from male and female Members from across the House.

I am pleased to be able to chart the significant progress that has been made under the Government. There are now more women in work than ever before. There are more women on boards than ever before. There are no all-male FTSE 100 boards. There are more women- led businesses than ever before—about 1 million small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK are women-led. The gender pay gap is the lowest on record and has virtually been eliminated among full-time workers under the age of 40. While it is important to celebrate how much progress we have made, we must be clear that, in today’s society, there is no place for any pay gap. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is the pledge for parity, and I am delighted the Prime Minister has pledged to close the gender pay gap within a generation.

It is vital to the Government that our economy benefits from the talents of everyone, and that everyone is able to fulfil their potential in the workplace, regardless of gender or background, so this year the Government are taking a bold step. We will redouble our efforts to complete the fight for equality, starting with the introduction of regulations to require large employers to publish their gender pay gaps. By working with businesses and employees, with a focus on transparency, I am confident that we will begin to see results.

The gender pay gap usually starts in the type of work that women do in the sectors in which they typically end up. As we have heard in some of today’s excellent speeches, occupational segregation is particularly apparent in the science, technology, engineering and maths sectors, where jobs carry a significant wage premium, but a shortage of girls and women are entering them and working their way to the top. We are working closely with schools and businesses to deliver initiatives such as the STEM diversity programme to address that.

Crucially, our work on girls’ aspirations is about dispelling the myth that there are girls’ jobs and boys’ jobs. There are, simply, just jobs. Last year we published guidance entitled “Your Daughter's Future”, which empowers parents and teachers to support girls in making decisions about subject and career choices, free from gender stereotypes.

There is also much more that we can do to support women in their careers and in achieving their potential. Women now lead about 20% of UK small businesses, which are the lifeblood of our economy, yet they are still setting up businesses at about half the rate of their male counterparts. The Women’s Business Council estimates that if women started businesses at the same rate as men, there would be 1 million extra businesses, yet research tells us that many women say that they lack the confidence, or perceive themselves to lack the necessary skills, to be able to do that.

We must not let the fear of failure hold back talented female budding entrepreneurs from achieving their full potential. That is why we continue to fund the £1 million

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women and broadband programme, which has been incredibly successful. In fact, many of our women and broadband projects across the country, from Durham to Devon, are themselves celebrating International Women’s Day.

We have also endeavoured to address the issues that are most pertinent to women in work. From the introduction of the right to request flexible working, to shared parental leave, we are helping women to achieve a better balance between work and motherhood. Realistically, however, women’s caring responsibilities rarely end when their own children fly the nest. The challenge of balancing care with a fulfilling career can often become most acute in the later stages of a woman’s working life, whether they are caring for an elderly relative or for grandchildren. Let us not forget the remarkable sandwich generation, either, who are somehow doing both. We need to find ways to support them all. That is why the Women’s Business Council has established a working group on older workers and will consider what business can do to support them. We have also invested money in nine pilots across England to explore ways to support carers to balance work and caring responsibilities. When we talk to women—and men—it is clear that, on work-life balance, childcare is the most important issue. That is why we are investing more than £1 billion more a year on free childcare places.

Turning to parity of representation in politics and public life, we come full circle. We know just how valuable female role models can be to young girls and women—raising aspiration is vital to the talent pipeline. We all take great pride in being part of the most gender diverse Parliament in British history. The Government are committed to improving the public appointments process and have set an aspiration that 50% of new appointments should go to women.

Equality, however, is about more than just economic parity—protecting women and girls from violence, and supporting victims, are also key priorities. The list of murdered women at the hands of domestic violence that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) read out earlier makes that argument more powerfully than any speech. I wholeheartedly agree with her that the voices of those murdered women must remain at the forefront of effective Government policy making. Our new violence against women and girls strategy, which was published today, will focus on service transformation and prevention.

We are also working with partners such as the PSHE Association to ensure that schools have access to safe, effective and high-quality resources. We have launched the next phase of our teen relationship abuse campaign, Disrespect NoBody, which encourages young people to think about their views on violence. We have funded the revenge porn helpline and the Freedom charity, which educates schoolchildren and their teachers about forced marriage.

We have made significant progress since 2010, including by criminalising forced marriage and revenge porn, as well as strengthening the law on domestic violence. We have strengthened the law on female genital mutilation so that it includes mandatory reporting and introducing FGM protection orders.

Tom Brake: Will the hon. Lady give way?

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Caroline Dinenage: I will not. I am desperate to give the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) an opportunity to conclude the debate, because she did so well to secure it in the first place.

Let us celebrate today how far we have come and the achievements of past years, but at the same time we need to redouble our efforts to do more to close the gender pay gap and to ensure that no woman is deterred from achieving her aspirations and realising her potential. No woman should feel that she has to live her life in fear because of her gender.

6.54 pm

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab): I thank all the participants in the debate and the Backbench Business Committee for the time that it allocated. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) touched on the battle—it was a bit of battle, I must say—that we had to ensure that the debate was held in the Chamber. I took a deep breath when it was suggested that we hold the debate in Westminster Hall, although the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) was a little more generous than me—subtlety was never one of my strong points. The number of Members from both sides of the House who have spoken today, on International Women’s Day 2016, in this passionate debate showed that we were right to hold the debate here in the Chamber.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) highlighted the women who have been killed by men since International Women’s Day 2015, reading out 121 names. Internationally, five women are killed every hour, so during this debate 15 women have been murdered. That is a sobering thought. The hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) talked about Boko Haram and the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, and said that there would be a renewed emphasis on that issue. We must never forget the women and girls who have been murdered, killed or kidnapped, or who are still missing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) highlighted the gender differentials. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned the Yazidi women who have been captured and raped. My right hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) mentioned prostitution and trafficked women, and she talked about the motion. The motion took a while to write, because so many issues could have been included that it was difficult to know what to focus on. A common theme that has come out of the debate is that the abuse of women is always used as a weapon of war. Whether it be in gangs, wars or other violence, women and young girls are always used and raped. We must never, ever forget that.

I have a little bit of a confession to make. Last night, I was thinking about the Chancellor in bed—[Laughter.] It is true. I was thinking that he has a deleterious effect on women, and I am fearful about next week’s Budget.

Mr Jim Cunningham: On that subject, surely the Chancellor could take a step in the right direction on International Women’s Day by looking at transitional arrangements for women who were born after 1951.

Dawn Butler: Absolutely. We have to do more on the transitional arrangements for women. The situation is not fair and it is just not right.

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As I say, I worry about the Budget next week. It sometimes seems as though revenge is being taken against women, because 81% of the cuts made in this Parliament will affect women. In UK households, 744,000 individuals are on zero-hours contracts, and the majority of those people are women. In 2007, 62,700 equal pay claims were made. We all know, as has been said in the debate, that women are not being treated better at work, but only 9,621 equal pay claims were made in 2014-15, because of the changes that have been made to the law.

Twenty per cent. of small and medium-sized enterprises are led by women. Women often start their own businesses to ensure that their worth is acknowledged, and the number who do so increases every single year. Forty-nine per cent. of lone parents are on prepayment meters, which means that they pay more, and that contributes to household debt. Guess what? The majority of lone parents are women. As I have said, 744,000 people are on zero-hours contracts, and the majority of them are women. Would it not be great if we could outlaw zero-hours contracts in this Parliament?

We in this House have a duty to ensure that we make laws that are not harmful to women. We have to empower women in this place; that is our duty. As has been mentioned, PSHE is an important part of education. It sets the foundation in schools, from a very early age, for constructive relationships. In my opinion, it should be compulsory.

I thank the House for the way in which the debate has been conducted, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee again for granting it.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House expresses its solidarity with International Women’s Day; notes with concern that, despite women making up 51 per cent of society as a whole, more progress needs to be made in electing women to Parliament, as well as in establishing equal pay and parity between men and women in positions of leadership; and calls for greater action against FGM and other practices that are harmful to women.

Mrs Miller: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have just had a very powerful, thought-provoking and emotional debate, thanks to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and many other Members who have contributed this afternoon. By my reckoning, 38 right hon. and hon. Members contributed to the debate, and not everybody was able to get in. What advice can you give me about talking to the relevant authorities to ensure that, in the future, we are able to secure an even longer debate? We are grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for supporting today’s debate, but I think that there is a great case to be made for having even longer to discuss an issue that is relevant to every single Member of the House.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): I think that the right hon. Lady has just made that point to the relevant authorities, and I think they have heard it. Just for confirmation, 38 Members spoke, and everybody who wanted to get in did get in. It was very tight at the end, and I am grateful to hon. Members for keeping to such a tight limit, but everybody did get in. I thank you all very much, and I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order.

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Business without Debate

delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Financial Services and Markets

That the draft Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) Order 2016, which was laid before this House on 22 February, be approved.—(Sarah Newton.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

EU Measures to Combat Terrorism

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 14926/15, a Proposal for a Directive on combating terrorism and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA; endorses the Government’s decision not to opt in under Protocol 21 on the Position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice annexed to the EU Treaties; and supports the Government’s approach of working with other Member States to support our international partners and strengthen the international response to the threat from terrorism, recognising that national security is a matter for individual nations through their sovereign Parliaments.—(Sarah Newton.)

The Deputy Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 9 March (Standing Order No. 41A).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 14972/15 and Addendum, a Commission Communication: Closing the loop—An EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy, No. 14973/15 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Proposal for a Directive amending Directives 2000/53/EC on end-of-life vehicles, 2006/66/EC on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators, and 2012/19/EU on waste electrical and electronic equipment, No. 14974/15 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Proposal for a Directive amending Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste, No. 14975/15 and Addenda 1 to 3, a Proposal for a Directive amending Directive 2008/98/EC on waste, and No. 14976/15 and Addenda 1 to 3, a Proposal for a Directive amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste; and supports the Government’s continuing efforts to amend these proposals in order to secure measures increasing resource efficiency and reducing waste whilst avoiding costs to business, householders and Local Authorities which are disproportionate to environmental and economic benefits.—(Sarah Newton.)

Question agreed to.


Tobacco Levy

7.1 pm

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Cuts to public health funding mean that vital stop smoking services are being closed down. Such closures are preventing smokers from accessing the most effective way to make them quit. Some 16,112 people have agreed that smoking inflicts a massive financial burden on our

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country, costing society approximately £13.9 billion each year in England alone. The petitioners therefore request that

the House of Commons urges HM Treasury to make the tobacco industry pay for the damage they cause by introducing a tobacco levy to help fund Stop Smoking Services and advertising campaigns to help people quit.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that cuts to public health funding mean vital Stop Smoking Services are being closed down; and further that these closures are preventing smokers accessing the most effective way to make them quit.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Treasury to make the tobacco industry pay for the damage they cause by introducing a tobacco levy to help fund Stop Smoking Services and advertising campaigns to help people quit.

And the petitioners remain, etc.]


Third Crossing (Lowestoft)

7.3 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I would like, on behalf of my Waveney constituents, to present a petition calling on the Government to fund the construction of the third crossing of Lake Lothing in Lowestoft. A strong, compelling and evidence-based business case has been prepared, and it is vital that work starts on this much-needed bridge as soon as possible.

The petition, which has 10,049 signatures, states:

The petition of residents of Waveney,

Declares that the decision to build a new crossing over Lake Lothing in Lowestoft is agreed with all possible speed; further that there is significant local support for a new crossing; and further that the new crossing would positively impact upon the local economy in Lowestoft and the surrounding area.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to confirm funding for the project in order for construction to begin as soon as possible and be completed by 2020.

And the petitioners remain, etc.


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Hinkley Point C Reactor

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Sarah Newton.)

7.4 pm

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): We have just had a good debate on International Women’s Day and we are about to discuss nuclear power, so I would like in one sentence to remember Marie Curie, who did all the basic work on radioactivity, Lise Meitner, who discovered uranium fission, and a lady who hon. Members probably have not heard of, Leona Woods Marshall Libby, who was the first person in charge of building a large-scale nuclear reactor. Unfortunately she had to wear baggy clothes to hide her pregnancy in case she got fired.

I am interested in the Hinkley Point C reactor partly because I have an EDF nuclear plant at Torness in my constituency, and nothing that I say tonight should be taken as anything other than deep respect on my part for the management and staff at that plant. I am also interested in this subject because I am a sometime energy economist. This debate is not about arguments for and against nuclear power; it is about the fact that the Government have been keeping Parliament in the dark—I use that word advisedly—on the crisis in the EDF board. I heard the Minister of State speaking on the radio this morning. She gave the usual line that it will be all right on the night, but it will not.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Is he aware—perhaps he will refer to this—that the project and finance directors for the Hinkley Point C project have stood down in the last month, and one stood down earlier this week? There is no working model in western Europe for the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor.

George Kerevan: I am aware that two senior members of EDF have quit their jobs. More to the point, I have been in touch with members of the EDF board in France—I trust the Government have too—and as we speak, at least one third of that board are in favour of a moratorium on a decision to go ahead with the Hinkley Point C reactor until at least 2019.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): As my hon. Friend will know, part of the EDF board is made up from trade unions. It was pointed out to me earlier today at a lunch for stakeholders in the energy industry, that it is ironic that a UK Tory Government are being lectured by French trade unions on financial responsibility at Hinkley.

George Kerevan: If my hon. Friend has been reading the French media over the past few days he will know that it is not just the French unions. Practically the entire French media are now referring to Hinkley Point and the EPR reactor as the “English threat” to EDF.

Hinkley is the biggest power project we have ever seen, at £25 billion and rising. Under our current energy plan we are dependent on it to deliver 7% of the UK’s generation capacity, at a moment when our capacity margins are close to zero. Having mortgaged the UK’s energy future to Hinkley C, the Government have failed

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consistently to keep Parliament informed about the crisis on the EDF board, up to and including last weekend when the person in charge of the company’s finances—the chief financial officer—was in effect forced to resign because of his resistance to going ahead with this project.

If a major UK engineering company had a contract with the Government, and its chief financial officer was opposed to that contract and was fired, imagine the scandal there would be. However, the Government are happy to stay quiet while the senior management of EDF are removed in order for the project to go ahead.

James Heappey (Wells) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the chief executive of EDF, both in the UK and France, has been consistently committed to the project, as indeed have the UK and French Governments? I am not quite sure what else it is we might like to know in this House, given that that commitment has been unanimous and unstinting.

George Kerevan: I am aware of that—that is the problem. Why is there a revolt on the board? It is not just the trade union members. It is true that a third of the EDF board is allocated to union members, union representatives and staff representatives. They are in favour of nuclear power, but they are worried about the impact on the company’s future. Why is there a vote? Why was the chief financial officer against this? EDF has a negative cash flow. Its debts are twice its company valuation. Its share price has halved in the past 12 months. How is it paying its dividend? It is doing so by issuing more shares and giving them to the shareholders. Imagine how insane that is.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Every point the hon. Gentleman has made is right, but insofar as the company is underwritten by its main shareholder, the French Government, the issues he raises are peripheral.

George Kerevan: I think the hon. Gentleman has summed up the incredible state we have got ourselves into. Somehow, it will be all right on the night. Somehow, the French Government are going to bail out the United Kingdom’s energy policy. I can assure Conservative Members that that is not going to happen. What is going to happen is the following: at some point, I suspect with pressure from the British Government, what is left of EDF’s board and senior management will override the resistance of the minority on the board and green light construction. They will green light construction at a point where EDF cannot guarantee it has the funds to complete building the reactor. At some point, there will be a crisis and who is going to pick up the pieces? I can assure the House that it will be the United Kingdom taxpayer, not the French taxpayer.

Philip Boswell (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP): Having previously worked in the industry, like the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), in contracts management, I looked at Hinkley C online. While forms of agreement have been agreed as far back as October 2015, they are just a vehicle for project delivery. The design phase determines the project. As we appear to be about to enter the detailed design

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phase, this stage gate requires a more robust estimate to assuage investor concerns. Clearly, that has not happened. Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the very public challenges the project faces if it ever starts, the forecast practical completion date of somewhere between 2023 and 2025 is highly unlikely?

George Kerevan: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Originally, the two Hinkley C reactors were designed to be off-the-shelf copies of the reactor being built by EDF in Normandy. That has not happened. There have been significant changes. In fact, the way the EPR reactor has to be built—on site, piece by piece; it will be unique—leaves massive margins of error for cost overrun. Who is underwriting any cost overruns? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has given a partial capital guarantee that if there is any problem in the construction phase, the British taxpayer will start to pick up the bill.

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend accept that of EDF’s two reactors underway in Europe, there have been huge cost overruns in Finland where the reactor is nine years late, while the one in Normandy is four years late?

George Kerevan: Yes, that is entirely true. That is the point. If we look at who is actually responsible for having got us into this financial hole, do I detect yet again that it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer? We are here not out of an energy policy issue, but because the Chancellor wanted to keep the construction costs of £25 billion and rising off the national book. He wanted to keep it off the debt. For the first time ever in the UK, we are trying to build a new reactor with a new reactor design by putting all the risk on to the private sector. This project is too large and the technology is too unproven for that to work. The Chancellor is digging himself a big hole to protect his rickety plan to keep down the deficit and pay down the national debt, but it will not work. At some point in the next 10 years, we will be back here discussing a bail-out.

That is what I am trying to get across. A significant number of EDF board members know that the project cannot be financed through private capital. Even if EDF could raise the £12 billion or £18 billion—its share for building the Hinkley C reactor—it would need four, five or six times that to complete its programme of reactor life extensions in France. The sum total is colossal for a company already dripping with debt. Unless the French taxpayer is prepared to underwrite all of that, which is highly unlikely, something will have to give, and let me assure the House that it will be not EDF’s reactors in France but this project. It will disappear into the wide blue yonder.

The problem is that by 2025, when the two reactors are not on-stream, we will have closed down the 10 coal- fired stations that the Government announced would be closed last November, just before the Paris climate change conference, and suddenly we will have a huge gap in the 2020s—even worse than now—in our capacity to generate electricity. That will all be because we have mortgaged ourselves to an outdated approach to energy, which is to build gargantuan nuclear reactors that cost the earth—literally and financially—and which cannot be underwritten by the private sector because of the risk. The Government have manifestly been trying to

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pretend otherwise, and that is ultimately why they are refusing to come back regularly to the House to explain what is going on. They are hoping for the best.

I want the Minister to tell us what discussions have been going on with the board, when we might see the decision to go ahead with construction and what will happen if we do not get a timely agreement to go ahead. What happens if the board delays and delays until 2019? Is there a plan B?

Philip Boswell: Will my hon. Friend also ask the Minister whether, given the current constraints and pressures in the industry, she foresees the current negotiated strike price of £92.50 being renegotiated—the only way being up?

George Kerevan: Of course, the strike price is subject to certain qualifications. Were EDF to build the reactors and make a vast profit—the strike price is more than twice the current cost of electricity and there is an increment for inflation—there would be a clawback. If it makes a profit beyond what was originally envisaged, some of the money would come back to the British taxpayer. The clawback was insisted upon and enlarged by the European Commission, so it was interesting listening to the Minister this morning on the radio, given her position on the UK leaving the EU. It was in fact the Commission that tried to stand up for the British consumer. That is one reason I will be voting to stay in the EU.

I have made the basic point, so I shall draw to a close.

David Mowat: The hon. Gentleman is making the case that the EDF board, which, with others, produces 70% of France’s electricity from nuclear power, is incompetent. Is it his position that the board of Hitachi is equally incompetent, given that it is also planning to build nuclear power stations in Britain, or has it not got as far as the SNP in its analysis of the practicality of the whole thing?

George Kerevan: I cavil at the word “incompetent”. The board’s decision has become politically charged. That is the point. The UK Government are desperate to continue with the project because everything is hitched to it and because it keeps the cost of building Hinkley C theoretically off the books—although it cannot remain so in the long run—and the French Government are committed to it because EDF is in a major financial crisis and they want to protect its reputation and give it a chance to grow out of its problems. If we make such decisions political, however, we make bad decisions—that is my point. It is strange that I have to lecture the Conservative Government on that.

Some of the senior management of EDF, knowing the difficulties, want to delay and want to get the funding in place. It was because the chief officer wanted the funding in place that they got rid of him. How can that be so? Aside from politics and differences on nuclear power, cannot the Government and the Department of Energy and Climate Change see the problems that they are getting themselves into? All they come back with is “It will be all right on the night”.

Ms Ritchie: What does the hon. Gentleman think of the fact that the French project in Flamanville and the Norwegian projects have hit construction problems?

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George Kerevan: Both the Flamanville reactor and the reactor in Finland have run into trouble. The EPR reactor was designed to be super safe, but it involved loading technology on top of technology, with the result that it has to be built in situ. It cannot be built, as other reactor models can, in the factory with bits getting moved in. Building in situ means that each and every single EPR has been different and that the economies of scale that were meant to make the projects cost-effective have gone. That is why it is becoming very difficult for EDF to raise the money commercially to do the funding. The technology is questionable, the funding is questionable and there is Government interference.

All I am saying ultimately is that this Parliament needs regular updating in an honest and serious way so that we know where we are. We also need a plan B because this antediluvian and obsolete method of approaching how to fund large-scale and huge energy projects by putting all the eggs in one basket runs a risk. Perhaps because the Government are frightened to own up to that risk, they hide—and if they hide, it just means that the problem will be even greater in the future.

7.21 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Andrea Leadsom): In the same tone as the hon. Gentleman, I would like to draw attention on International Women’s Day to the fact that Dame Sue Ion was on “Desert Island Discs” as the first woman to be awarded the very prestigious president’s medal by the Royal Academy of Engineering and she is herself a nuclear expert. I am sure that all hon. Members will be delighted to hear that today of all days.

I thank the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan) for securing this debate, which gives me the opportunity to put forward the Government’s vision for Hinkley Point C. HPC is a matter of national importance for our energy system, and it is only right that it should be discussed in this House. However, let me point out that we do not put all our eggs in one basket. Far from being the only game in town, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, it is part of a balanced mix of energy sources that includes renewables and fossil fuels. It is absolutely vital that we stick to our plan for energy security and decarbonising at the lowest price to consumers.

Returning to HPC, there are numerous approvals processes for a project like it, many of which have already been completed. These include state aid; the approval of a funded decommissioning programme to cover the costs of managing waste from HPC, which is included in the contract for difference; planning approval; and grid connection. Some other processes will continue up to signature of the documents. Looking ahead, HPC will need to comply with the UK’s robust nuclear regulations—among the most stringent and safest in the world.

However, the key to this project is the funding package that has been negotiated with the developer. It is this, I think, that the hon. Gentleman had in mind when calling for this debate, and I intend to focus my remarks on it. The short answer to the question he raised is that the timing of Government’s final approval of the deal is dependent on EDF being in a position to make a final investment decision. As he is aware, this is ultimately a commercial matter for EDF. In the UK, it is for developers

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to fund, build and operate new nuclear power stations. I would like to take this opportunity to explain what this Government are doing to expedite the successful conclusion of this landmark deal.

Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP) rose

Andrea Leadsom: I shall not give way for a while; I am slightly short of time and I have important points to make. I will give way later if there is time.

Let me first remind the House of the reasons why the Government have supported the development of Hinkley Point C, and how we have ensured that this is a good deal for Britain. New nuclear is needed, alongside renewables and fossil fuels, because nuclear is the only non-renewable low-carbon technology that is currently proven and can be deployed on a large scale to provide continuous supply. Most existing nuclear plants, which currently meet about 16% of our energy needs, are due to close by the late 2020s. Without new nuclear build, the share of nuclear generation could dip to 3% in 2030. Britain is a world leader in civil nuclear, through our skills base, our infrastructure and our regulatory regime. Hinkley Point C will keep Britain at the forefront of nuclear development.

Government policy has determined that the new plant should be financed and built by the private sector. The Government have worked closely with new-build vendors and industry to develop a number of initiatives to maximise both the capability and the economic benefits to the UK. That goes far wider than Hinkley Point C—industry has set out proposals to develop 18 GW of new nuclear power in the UK—but the first step in this long-term plan is Hinkley, which will be the first new nuclear power plant to be built in the UK for 20 years, and which will blaze a trail for further nuclear development.

Once it is up and running in 2025, Hinkley will provide 3.2 GW of secure, base-load and low carbon electricity for at least 60 years, meeting 7% of the UK's energy needs. That is enough to power 6 million homes, twice as many as there are in the whole of London. Hinkley will give an enormous boost to both the local and the national economy, providing 25,000 jobs during construction, as well as 1,000 apprenticeships. The plant will provide employment for 900 permanent staff once it is up and running, contributing £40 million a year to the local economy.

Having visited Bridgwater recently, I can tell the House that there is a real sense of excitement about the project. EDF has not been complacent; it is digging away. It has back runs, and the whole site has been levelled. There is big investment in the local community, and local people are very supportive of the project.

EDF believes that at least 60% of the £18 billion value of construction work on Hinkley will go to UK-based businesses. Through our negotiations, we have ensured that consumers will not pay anything for the electricity until the plant is generating, so the risks of construction will be transferred to the developer. At the same time, we have ensured that mechanisms are in place to enable any construction underspends or profits above a certain level to be shared with consumers. If the project comes in under budget, savings will be shared with consumers, but if there are overspends, the developer will bear all the additional costs.

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As I have said, we need new nuclear, and Hinkley Point C will pave the way for a new generation of nuclear plants in the UK in a cost-competitive way, thanks to the unique deal that we have negotiated.

Callum McCaig: In the context of that “unique deal”, may I ask the Minister, as the final decision approaches, for a cast-iron guarantee from the Government that the strike price of £92.50 will not be increased?

Andrea Leadsom: As I have explained, the strike price has been agreed, and we expect a final investment decision in the very near future.

The deal has already been through a number of rigorous approvals processes, both within the Government and within the European Union. In October 2013, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and EDF agreed the strike price for the electricity to be produced by Hinkley Point C. In October 2014, the European Commission approved the Hinkley Point C state aid case, following a lengthy and rigorous investigation by the Commission. Notwithstanding the ongoing opposition of a small minority of member states, we are confident that the decision is legally robust and will stand up to challenges.

In October 2015, EDF and its partner of 30 years, China General Nuclear, signed a strategic investment agreement in London. That commercial agreement set out the terms of EDF's partnership in the UK with CGN, starting with Hinkley Point C. EDF and CGN agreed to take a 66.5% stake and a 33.5% stake in Hinkley respectively. At that point, the final form of the contracts was agreed in substance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear at the time that she would make her final decision on Hinkley once EDF had reached its final investment decision.

The Government’s position has remained unchanged while the final details of the contracts have been ironed out. In November, we set out that we expected to conclude the deal in the coming months, and the Secretary of State made it clear that she was minded to proceed with the contract for difference support package for the deal, subject to any change in circumstances. We remain confident that all parties are firmly behind Hinkley Point C and are working hard towards a final investment decision. We have received assurances from EDF and the French Government—EDF’s largest shareholder—on this point. Hinkley is a large investment for EDF and CGN, so it is only right and proper that they take the necessary time now to ensure that everything is in order so that they can proceed smoothly once they have taken a positive final investment decision.

James Heappey: Does the Minister share our impatience, however, at the delay in the decision? Will she perhaps use this opportunity to encourage EDF to make all haste in arriving at that final investment decision?

Andrea Leadsom: I hear my hon. Friend, and I can tell him that we are ready and keen to proceed as soon as EDF announces its final investment decision. However, this is a commercial matter, and it is for EDF to finance Hinkley Point C and to deliver that final investment decision. We are aware of the financial issues it is dealing with, and we remain in regular contact with the corporate leadership of EDF and with the French

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Government. We have been assured by both that they are taking the necessary steps to reach a final investment decision as soon as possible. We are confident that this is a matter of when, not if. Specifically, we have been reassured that the resignation of the EDF finance director will have no impact on the timing of EDF’s final investment decision.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): I just want to correct something that was said earlier. The finance director has always been opposed to this. This is not new or strange. I have spent nine years dealing with this as the MP for the area, and I can tell the House that this has come as no surprise at all. I just wanted to clarify that point for the Minister of State.

Andrea Leadsom: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification.

Last Thursday, 3 March, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met President Hollande at the UK-French summit in Amiens, France. The French Government gave a public commitment that EDF is currently working to take a final investment decision in the near future, with the full support of the French Government. We expect that a final investment decision can be achieved within a few weeks. Once EDF announces that it has taken a final investment decision, all parties will be in a position to sign the contracts and detailed investment documents within a matter of weeks. EDF’s chief executive officer, Jean-Bernard Lévy, has also reassured us that EDF is still on track to pour the first concrete at the Hinkley site in 2019 and to start generating electricity in 2025.

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Philip Boswell: The Minister spoke earlier about safety. At Sellafield, engineers estimate that it will cost about £50 billion over the next 100 years to clear up buildings B30 and B38. Will she tell us how much has been set aside for the decommissioning of the Hinkley Point C project, and where that money is going to come from?

Andrea Leadsom: The hon. Gentleman knows that that is a completely different matter. I see him nodding his head—he knows he is being mischievous. He also knows that the full cost of decommissioning Hinkley point C is included in the contract for difference—[Interruption.] It is included. It is a requirement of new nuclear to have a fully costed decommissioning programme included in that way.

The Government remain committed to conducting this deal in an open and transparent manner. We intend to honour the commitment made in this House by the previous Secretary of State to place the contracts—with only the most commercially sensitive data redacted—and the value for money assessment for Hinkley in the House of Commons Library once the documents have been entered into. This is a good deal for the British public, and it is one that the UK Government remain committed to. I thoroughly commend the project to all Members of this House.

Question put and agreed to.

7.33 pm

House adjourned.