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There is a role for Government. I believe that what the Committee set out in our report in 2011 still pertains today: dairy farmers should be offered written contracts by processors that specify either the raw milk price or the principles underpinning the price, the volume and timing of deliveries, and the duration of the agreement. Unless such contracts are made compulsory, we will continue to be in this circular situation. That is a very good argument for looking at the voluntary code, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), whom I am delighted to follow. If we have a situation where the voluntary code is not deemed to be working, let us review it and see whether it should be made compulsory. Let us look at why the groceries code and the adjudicator’s remit does not extend to the role of the dairy industry. Let us look at having greater oversight by the Office of Fair Trading. Let us work with the European Commission and our partners, crucially, to underpin the labelling. If we can get the labelling right at an EU level, that would be a great way forward. Let us encourage all consumers to buy the red tractor product.

Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): One of the key drivers in the creation of the groceries code adjudicator was to try to deal with some of the inequalities that dairy farmers had to deal with all the time. Does my hon. Friend feel it is incumbent on us to do everything we can to address that long-term issue?

Miss McIntosh: I am delighted that my hon. Friend made that intervention. I hope that the Minister, having heard that, will listen to the arguments made by both my hon. Friend and me. I hope that as many people as possible will heed the message and hear the voices that have spoken this afternoon. I believe that we need a greater balance in the relationship between the dairy producer, the processor, and the retailer. Having a four-pint milk bottle sold for 89p is unsustainable. That certainly would not happen in China.

I shall end my arguments by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, and by saying that I hope the Minister will review the recommendations in our 2011 report, which we stand by, and will review the groceries code adjudicator and the voluntary code, and encourage co-operatives. There must be a role either for the Competition and Markets Authority or, as I would argue, the Office of Fair Trading.

3.7 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall for our consideration. Every one of us in this room has an interest in the dairy industry, so it is important for us to put forward our case—in my case, for Northern Ireland.

The situation in Northern Ireland is different from the situation in the rest of the UK mainland, as I am sure the Minister is well aware. Agriculture is a devolved matter, but the industry is also different, because we export 85% of our dairy products, unlike the UK mainland. I have been contacted by many dairy farmers in my area who are directly involved in this, and by the Ulster

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Farmers Union and Chris Osborne, who gave me some background to this. I represent the Strangford area and its farmers, and we probably have the sweetest milk and the best cheese in the whole United Kingdom. I say that without fear of anyone saying anything different—well, they might say something different, but the key is in the tastebuds.

Here and across the mainland, it seemed that I could not pass a red bus without someone showing off their milk moustache on the side of it, and back home, the latest campaign has dubbed milk “A force of nature”. Clearly, the campaign for milk across the United Kingdom is of great interest to each and every one of us. Some 75% of primary schools in Northern Ireland receive milk through the EU milk scheme, which shows, again, the importance of the dairy industry for us. In Northern Ireland, there are 3,425 dairy farms, almost 280,000 dairy cows, and 2,318 people involved in the dairy industry. Clearly, dairy is an important farming sector for us. Some 85% of our milk is exported. Pritchitts, in my constituency, exports to all areas of the world, including the middle east, the far east, the United States, Canada and across the United Kingdom. I am not sure whether it is because we have the greenest grass or the best pedigree stock, but our product is well received in all parts of the world.

The difference between the prices received by dairy farmers on the UK mainland and those in Northern Ireland is where our problem is. The decrease in prices is due to a combination of things, including expected market demand and the Russian embargo. In the past few years, Northern Ireland farmers, like farmers on the mainland, have invested heavily in pedigree stock and new dairy cows. They have also invested in the slurry lagoon systems they have to have in place. Those are expensive, and the repayments on them are very long term. That is all because of EU bureaucracy. Many Members—indeed, many of us in the room—will say that that is EU logic gone mad, but we are all none the less subservient to the EU’s rules.

In Northern Ireland, the Ulster Farmers Union milk price indicator, which was launched in May, is the only barometer of local prices available to local farmers. Given the exceptionally volatile market situation, there are noticeable price differences between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In September, the difference was 5.36p per litre. When commodity prices are good, the gap tends to be narrower; it is wider when they are under pressure, as they currently are.

As things stand, farmers in Northern Ireland are likely to lose 5p per litre just in November. Although many are hopeful that prices have bottomed out, there are fresh concerns about the direction of cheese prices. Of course, not having the correct price for dairy products has an impact on other producers down the line and on the agri-food industry overall. At the moment, the biggest concern for the Ulster Farmers Union is the pressure that this market volatility will put on farm cash flows. Many farmers have large overdrafts, and the impact on their ability to pay them back is great.

Farmers on the UK mainland have held protests about price cuts, despite their farm-gate price continuing to be 5p per litre higher than that of their Northern Ireland counterparts—that is how the market is at this time. When the Minister responds, I hope, from a Northern Ireland perspective, that he will be able to tell us what

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discussions he has had with the Treasury about a tax break for local farmers, because the situation in Northern Ireland is dire, compared with that in the rest of the United Kingdom. We have to put a marker down for dairy farmers in Northern Ireland, and particularly those in Strangford, which is one of the major milk-producing areas in Northern Ireland. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

3.12 pm

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on securing this timely debate.

When I found out this debate was to take place, I spoke to farmers in my constituency. I hesitated to use the word “crisis”, but they reminded me that this is, indeed, a crisis, and we have heard of the experience in Northern Ireland. The price fluctuations might seem small, but when someone is running a small family farm, they are very frightening, and they can make the difference between survival and extinction.

In my intervention on my hon. Friend, I talked about the impact on the broader rural economy. There are 600 farms in my constituency. Most of them are on the uplands, but there are large parts of the county where taking away the small traditional family farms would have a huge impact on the viability of the broader rural community. We have heard about the increasing volatility and about the experience in Northern Ireland, and that is the experience in Wales as well—that is the case that the Farmers Union of Wales and National Farmers Union Cymru have put strongly to me.

I will not rehearse the figures, which we have heard from other Members, other than to say that the recent milk price cuts have wiped an estimated £800 million from the annual income of UK dairy farmers. We have heard about the reasons behind that: the increase in dairy production, over-supply globally, the turndown in global commodity prices, the slump in Chinese demand and the residual impact of the Russian ban.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The other reason is supermarkets trying to sell four pints for £1. While most consumers would welcome being able to buy milk so cheaply, they simply do not want to do that on the backs of the farmers who produce the milk. They would far prefer to see the supermarkets pay a decent price for the milk, and to pay a decent price for it themselves, than to get cheap milk on the backs of farmers.

Mr Williams: The hon. Gentleman also represents a rural constituency, and that is certainly the message from consumers in my constituency when they reflect on the prices supermarkets pay. I concur that that is what consumers would think if they understood the pressure such prices put on the family farm.

The Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, undertook a report into the dairy industry, which was published last autumn. We undertook our inquiry as a result of the major crisis in the summer of 2012, when retailers and processors announced sudden large price cuts. This is not, therefore, something new; it is a recurring theme, which needs to be addressed, and the Government have done that in part.

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These issues are a particular concern in west Wales, where our dairy sector employs thousands of people and accounts for a third of all agricultural output. We therefore lobbied for a code, and the Government, including my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) when he was a member of the Government, introduced one.

The code has recently been subject to review by Mr Alex Fergusson. The review has revealed concerns in some parts of the industry that the code is not working to its full potential. Some processors have expressed legitimate worries that those who comply with it are at a competitive disadvantage. The code is thought to cover about 85% of the UK’s milk market, but a major weakness seems to be that it is not equally embraced by all. There is also concern that purchasers are cherry-picking elements of the code and that some producers will be left at a competitive disadvantage as a result. The FUW has also revealed that there are varying levels of confidence in the code among producers, with 9% being extremely pessimistic about it.

As in 2012, all parties in the dairy industry supply chain deserve fair contractual terms and conditions. The FUW said:

“Farmers should have a fair balance of power with their milk purchasers and contracts should be formed in such a way that milk prices will not be dropped without sufficient advance notice.

Elements of the code, such as shorter termination periods, the abolition of retrospective price adjustments and the inclusion of a market-based pricing formula will aid in shifting the balance of power back in the direction of the producer.”

That reflects the situation many farmers in my area are experiencing. Small businesses are unable to plan or invest for the future, to sustain the family farm or to attract youngsters to the industry.

The FUW says that systemic failures in the dairy supply chain mean that the price Welsh farmers receive for their milk is often less than market indicators would dictate, as Members have repeatedly said. Given that the code’s ability to work for all dairy producers is limited, and given that some processors have yet to adopt the code in its entirety, should we be looking at the benefits not of a voluntary agreement, but of legislation?

We have talked about the need to extend the groceries code adjudicator’s powers to include all aspects of the dairy supply chain and the dairy code. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), who chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, was right to talk about that. There is a perception out there that the issue is dealt with by the groceries code adjudicator, and we need to address that.

Lastly, I would like to return to the point I made in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire about producer organisations. I remember standing in a farmyard in the village of Tremain, near Cardigan in Ceredigion, at a meeting organised by the NFU at the height of the crisis in 2012. There was huge scepticism about whether farmers would be able, practically, to work together, given the diversity of the arrangements. We need to continue to address that issue, but we also need some Government assistance, as has been provided in Scotland, to ensure that we have properly constructed organisations that can negotiate from strength.

This is a timely, important debate, and the issue is critical for the wider rural community.

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Several hon. Members rose

Mrs Linda Riordan (in the Chair): Order. Unfortunately, because of the number of hon. Members who still want to speak, I am reducing the limit on Back Benchers’ speeches to three minutes.

3.19 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on securing the debate. The current Parliament has been one of the most supportive of rural debates. More than many previous Parliaments, it has heard the voice of the primary producer, and it should be commended for that.

Many hon. Members have described how important the milk producing sector is to the economy. My constituency has one of the largest bottling plants, and United Dairy Farmers, one of the most successful farming co-ops, operates there producing yogurt, drinks, butter and other milk-based items. It is the backbone of the local economy and jobs, and it is important to support it. However, we must bear in mind in the debate the world pressures on milk produce—over-production of milk worldwide, and the closure of the Russian market to EU-produced milk. Also, Chinese imports are now half what they were two or three years ago. My constituency helped to provide some of the biggest quantities of whey to China. The market needs to be encouraged and expanded, but there is pressure on it. I should certainly appreciate it if the Government could do more about that.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): One of the key issues seems to be the world market and the competition problems that we face. Many farmers tell me that they are concerned about the end of quotas leading to other countries taking losses and expanding hugely into countries such as Portugal, and completely undermining the market. Does he agree that that is one of the major concerns, if we are to tackle long-term prices?

Ian Paisley: There are a number of fundamental things that need to be tackled. I am going to say something that will probably be quite unpopular, but it is a fact: the consumer must be educated to understand that if they want to eat clean, green, traceable local produce, they will have to pay more for it. All sectors of the industry must support that message, educating children, housewives and consumers about the fact that if they want to fill their basket with local produce it will cost more. We should get away from the notion that we can have cheap mass quantities of foodstuffs; we can have cheap mass quantities of food-like stuffs—but not of food. We must be clear about it, but it is difficult to sell that message to the public, especially in times of austerity. However, we need to address it.

Northern Ireland is more reliant on exports than the rest of the UK, so the effect that the milk sector feels is of course much greater. Cheap imports are pressed on us by our neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, which aggressively sells its milk in Northern Ireland but also aggressively opposes the sale of ours in the Republic. The Government should give that strong scrutiny.

I want to leave two matters with the Government for consideration. UKRep should be encouraged to press in the EU for an increased level of intervention to take surplus off the market. If that were done it would be of

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considerable help to world prices and local UK prices. The Government must help companies to find new markets. That is easy to say and difficult to achieve, but significant action must be taken, and, as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), said, pressure must be put on people to buy red tractor-marked goods and local goods. That means aggressive Government encouragement of the sale of those goods; and they can take it right to the line. Many European Community countries break the rules when they sell their local products. I want our Government to bend that line and be as proactive as they can in ensuring that British products are sold to as many British people as possible. The Government could also encourage DairyCo, a statutory body paid for by a farmers’ levy, to do its job, if they gave it more support.

3.24 pm

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is a pleasure to join the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart). It is good at last to have a voice in the debate from the west country of England, where an awful lot of the finest dairy land in the country is. I shall not get into an argument about whether our milk and cheese is better than anyone else’s, because we know the answer to that in Somerset.

The point made by the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) about the undervaluing of milk is crucial. How can it be that I can go down to the Members’ Tea Room, in this very building, and buy a silly little bottle of water, without even bubbles in it—a pint of water for 85p; and Iceland supermarket can sell 4 pints of milk for 89p? Where is the logic in that? It is outrageous that milk is undervalued to that extent.

There are clearly issues of over-supply and reduction in world demand, but the fact remains that the issue is the relationships between producers, processors, retailers and consumers. We need a supply chain that is fair at every level. I hoped that a voluntary code would achieve that, but at the moment, after appearing to work well, it is failing to do so. We need to look at it again. Is statutory imposition the answer? That has its drawbacks. Making the voluntary code statutory would limit its scope, but perhaps we have to think about that. I certainly agree that the groceries code adjudicator should be able to look at supply chain relationships, rather than simply the producer-to-retailer relationship; that would bring the dairy industry into its ambit.

What else can we do? First, the dairy industry needs to be ambitious. I do not like people saying, “Of course, we will be prey to all these imports.” We have a superb dairy industry and can beat off any competitors if we are sufficiently ambitious; but that means actively marketing dairy and dairy products, as we do, around the world. Anywhere I have been in the world, I have been able to find cheese from my constituency. We also need efficiency. There are marked differences in efficiency between dairy farmers, but it is no good shouting at those who are less efficient that they must invest, if they do not have the money to invest because they do not get a proper return on their product. We need to be able to support efficiency, and perhaps the Minister can give us his evaluation of the use of the £5 million dairy innovation fund, and tell us what more can be used.

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The most important thing is for retailers, processors and producers to share the risk. Their relationship must be based on trust, and until that happens we will not have a sustainable dairy industry for the future.

3.27 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath). I pay tribute to him for the work that he did as a Minister, and in a previous Parliament when he worked with me on these issues. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on obtaining the debate. I assure him that I have not prepared a press release, or even written a speech, but I feel passionate about the subject. My first job and my brothers’ first jobs were working on dairy farms. The herds were small in those days, but it was great experience. Sadly, those farms have gone, for many different reasons, and the fields where they were are now full of horses. I love horses, but would prefer to see dairy cows there.

The farming industry has suffered for many years from external factors, which we have heard about today. More recently, high fuel and energy prices and expensive food stock have been added to by the Russian sanctions on the EU. I want to deal specifically with the price war in the supermarkets. I have long campaigned for a supermarket ombudsman, which was brought in as the groceries code adjudicator, but the current arrangement is lacking and needs to be strengthened. That is not a criticism. When we bring in legislation, we always find out later that it needs to be strengthened in response to issues such as the one we are considering.

Some supermarkets are devaluing a great British product. I want the red tractor on milk produce, but also the red dragon, so that people know about the local involvement, time and effort. Dairy farmers work damn hard. It is a tough job, throughout the year, and they cannot just diversify when the price moves up and down, because theirs is a long-term commitment. Producing the stock needed to produce dairy milk does not happen overnight, and it is not possible to cut back and switch on and off with demand.

We need greater localism and food labelling. The Minister has done some good work on food labelling, but it needs to go much further. In my constituency of Anglesey, for instance, local farmers supply a producer in the area.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that there are also pressures on, for example, the baking industry, in that the prices of cakes and bread are being driven down, to the detriment of suppliers? Their situation is very similar to that of the suppliers in the dairy industry, and we must tackle the supermarkets on this issue.

Albert Owen: Absolutely. The example that I was going to give is that of Glanbia Cheese, which produces mozzarella for pizzas across the world. That is produced in my area, yet credit is not given to the superb milk that comes from north-west Wales and from Anglesey. That is an important point—the problem feeds into other food industries. My hon. Friend is right to make the point about cakes and so on.

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We need to stand up together for British dairy farming, and today’s debate has been very useful, because we are coming to good conclusions. We want to strengthen the groceries code adjudicator’s remit, so that it can look at this issue. We want to stand up for the farmers, who are working damn hard to produce a product that is increasing in importance. Yes, there are external factors, but we want to be proud to be Welsh and proud to be British when it comes to our milk and dairy industry. I feel that this debate will help to move things forward.

The issue is a recurring one, and there are no party political points to be made here. The dairy industry is a difficult one, and it needs long-term support from across the parties—I know that the Minister is listening carefully to what is being said by Members from all parties—because we want Welsh and British dairy farmers to be able to produce the fine product that our children need and that our children’s children will need in the future.

Several hon. Members rose

Mrs Linda Riordan (in the Chair): Order. Quite a number of hon. Members still wish to speak. I intend to call the Opposition spokesperson at 3.40 pm. If remarks are kept brief, I will get in as many Back Benchers as I can.

3.31 pm

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on securing the debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). Most of my prepared speech will be thrown out the window in view of the change in the time limit, but most of the points have already been made, not least by the two Carmarthenshire Members, who have highlighted many of the issues facing the farming industry in Wales. The impact of the decline of the dairy industry is not only on farming communities and rural communities. In my part of north Wales, the fact that the average herd has gone from 40 to 125 cows means that there are fewer family farms, and there has been a direct impact on the Welsh language and Welsh communities as a result, so the issue is not just economic but cultural in our part of Wales.

I want to pick up the point about a price of 99p for 4 pints of milk. I was once asked on the radio what the price of milk was, and I responded by saying that it was possible to buy 4 pints of milk for £1 in a supermarket. I thought that I had done well in answering that question. Most politicians fail to get the answer right on the price of milk, but obviously, as a Member of Parliament for an agricultural area, I was then condemned by the two farming unions for buying my milk in a supermarket.

It is important that we make points such the fact that milk and bread, for example, have for a long time been loss leaders. The key point is that the loss should be borne by the supermarkets. If they want to have a price war over the price of milk, they should bear the loss.

Ian Lavery: Is it not time that we looked at regulating supermarkets to protect the farmers and suppliers?

Guto Bebb: That is a fair point, but it should be pointed out that there are some supply chain initiatives that we should see as moves in the right direction. For example,

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Tesco, which is not a company associated with good practice most of the time, has an interesting supply chain for dairy farmers that takes into account the cost of production and the need to create a profit, but it represents only 5% of UK dairy farmers. However, it is an example of what can be done. I understand that another supermarket is going down that road, but I will not name another supermarket just in case people think that I am in the pocket of the supermarkets.

I want to make some key points in relation to the situation in Wales. We need to look at the long-term opportunities as well. The impact of the sanctions on Russia, for example, shows that we are working in a global market. I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to give me some assurances that the potential for a free trade agreement across the Atlantic will be an opportunity for Welsh farmers and British farmers to exploit. It is important to remember that we have a market in north America that could be identified as a possibility for Welsh farmers, but we need to have some progress on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. When markets are closed to us, there is a direct impact on our communities.

Another issue that I want to touch on is the movement of funding from pillar one to pillar two. The situation in England is that 12% of the money from pillar one is moved to pillar two; in Wales, it is a more draconian 15%. What is key, if that money is moved to pillar two, is what can be done with that funding to encourage diversification and new opportunities for Welsh food producers. I am following the speech from the hon. Member for Ynys Môn, and Ynys Môn has done a fantastic job of promoting local produce. That example could be followed and, indeed, is being followed in other parts of Wales.

I will give one small example from my constituency. By utilising European money in a creative manner, we have created in my constituency the Welsh food centre in Bodnant. Among other things, it has bought the entire milk production of Gerallt Jones, of Tal-y-Cafn Uchaf farm, and created new markets by creating high-premium cheese, butter and cream products. We could take such opportunities with the money going to pillar two.

I will end my speech at this point in order to ensure that someone else can speak.

3.35 pm

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): I want to make a few swift points in the time available to me. First, it seems to me that much of the problem that we are all addressing today could be helped by a general elevation of farming in the priorities of Government. I would like to see a Secretary of State for Agriculture sitting in the Cabinet. It is time to see that innovation, which would send a clear message to the farming community throughout our constituencies—like my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), I speak as a representative of a west of England constituency. The fields and pastures of Devonshire are synonymous with the finest dairy produce in the world. That community would like to see, if at all possible, a seat at the highest table being attributed to the ministerial representatives of farming and agriculture.

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If we started to think about the dairy industry as a strategic industry that contributes to food security in this country, and an industry that should be spoken for at the highest table, in Cabinet, the message would be sent throughout the processing industry and the retail industry that the Government were at last attaching to the dairy industry, and the cattle and livestock industry as a whole, the priority that they deserved.

I agree with right hon. and hon. Members about the methods and techniques that need to be adopted. We cannot do much about global commodity prices, but we can do quite a lot about the domestic market. We can strengthen the voluntary code, which is important, and we should be considering making it a compulsory code, as the Select Committee is. It is clear from the review by the MSP, Mr Fergusson, that that code could do a lot of good. We need it to be extended, and the Government need to fight and encourage people to adhere to it.

I would be failing in my duty if I did not also mention the crisis of bovine TB, which prevails throughout Devonshire and elsewhere. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about the need to ensure that the TB eradication strategy is implemented in full. When I was a child, I was told that the animal kingdom was divided into two sorts of animals: the vertebrates and the invertebrates. As it is with the animal kingdom, so it is with Departments of State. I hope that the Minister will prove himself to be a member of a vertebrate Ministry that will discover its backbone.

Mrs Linda Riordan (in the Chair): With less than two minutes, I call Tessa Munt.

3.38 pm

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I will make very few points, because most of the points have been made already, but it seems a great shame that the advantage of power is all held by the retailers and processors. One thing that I welcome is what has been done by Farmers For Action. Its protests have generated publicity. That sort of thing gets on to the news, and those protests have always proved peaceful and, certainly in my area, have taken place with the agreement of the police. I particularly welcome the move that Farmers For Action has made to produce stickers, posters and leaflets that it will distribute outside supermarkets so that the customers, who are the end of the line, can connect the dots and understand the difficulties faced by the producers, who are at the very beginning of the line. Asking farmers to plan when they are being offered prices that are well below the cost of production seems desperately unfair. I will leave it there, but I endorse everything else that has been said today.

Mrs Linda Riordan (in the Chair): Mr Drax, would you like 45 seconds?

3.39 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I would be delighted to speak for the last few seconds. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) for securing the debate. I will briefly speak up for Mr Rob Vearncombe, a dairy farmer from Kimmeridge, which is a beautiful place in my constituency. As fast as I can, I will list the points that he wanted to make directly to the Minister and the Government.

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First of all, Mr Vearncombe thinks that the recent milk price cuts will have a devastating effect on the dairy industry in the medium to long term. In the short term, he believes that the industry can ride the storm for six to eight months because of the higher prices that have been achieved. For a dairy farmer who produces 1 million litres a year from 125 cows, the fall in milk prices represents a loss of about £35,000 a year. Colleagues have already mentioned such vast figures, and I do not believe that the public understand that 1p off, or added to, the price of milk makes a vast difference to the bottom line for a farmer, particularly a small one.

There is a huge variation in how farmers produce milk. There are high-intensity systems, and there are low-intensity systems such as those common in New Zealand, and the public do not understand the cost implications of the different systems. The type of land is a large factor.

Mr Vearncombe says that variations in milk price have a dramatic effect on profitability. He claims that farms that are achieving 35p a litre have been “poached” by supermarkets to supply directly, with strings attached—

Mrs Linda Riordan (in the Chair): Order.

3.40 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I thank the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) for securing this important and thoughtful debate. I begin by conveying an apology from my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) who is currently on a shadow ministerial visit to Brussels, where he is discussing several topics, including the ongoing dairy crisis, with European counterparts. I assure Members that we take such matters very seriously and consider them to be of the greatest importance.

As has been made clear this afternoon, the recent situation in the dairy industry is extremely worrying for rural communities, tourism and the availability of local food. Britain has a long tradition of dairy farming, which is the country’s largest agricultural sector. The UK is Europe’s third largest producer of milk after Germany and France, and the industry employs more than 50,000 people and contributes £3.7 billion to the British economy. For that reason, the Government must respond to the current dairy crisis by co-ordinating action by European officials to support dairy farmers and restore confidence in the industry.

We need stability in the industry, but consecutive months of high domestic milk production, combined with the ban on dairy imports to Russia and falling returns from global commodity markets, have resulted in an overall fall in milk prices because the largest UK milk processors have reduced payments to farmers for raw liquid milk. Low global dairy commodity prices have been compounded by price wars between major retail outlets, which have used milk as a loss leader to attract customers. Several hon. Members have made that point.

Farmers for Action states that some farmers are selling milk for as little as 25p a litre, which is far below the market price. That results in farmers operating at a loss and not even covering production costs. Not only is that financially unsustainable, but it raises further questions

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about responsibility in our food supply chain. If the illusion is created that food is cheap, it may damage the agricultural industry and affect how the public view food. That is not at all helpful to achieving our aims. The Government must address long-standing structural imbalances of low profitability in the industry. Farm incomes are still falling, and many farmers have left the industry altogether. We currently have just over 10,000 dairy farmers in England and Wales, and that figure is down 4.1% on the previous year.

Although the dairy industry is not yet self-sufficient, we do not believe that its future is bleak. Population growth, increased wealth in developing nations and changes in dietary habits all point to greater long-term demand for dairy. The Government must ensure that the UK dairy industry is well placed to take advantage.

Glyn Davies: If there had not been such demand today and I had been able to make a speech, I would have liked to make the point that quotas come to an end next year. European countries will expand dramatically to take over the growing market that the shadow Minister is talking about. We need an assurance from the Minister that the instruments in Brussels will not be used to enable other countries to expand their industry at the expense of the British dairy industry.

Angela Smith: That is clearly for the Minister to answer. I made the point earlier that we need to see effective, co-ordinated action from the UK Government in its relationship with Brussels to ensure that the UK dairy industry is properly served.

In June, the industry pulled together and launched a plan called “Leading the Way”, which states that an estimated 2.5% annual growth in global demand for dairy products over the next 10 years will boost UK dairy production through increased exports and import substitution. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) made a point about marketing. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) talked about localism and the need to ensure that people properly understand that cheeses such as mozzarella are sometimes made in Wales. That is an important point, and a lot can be done on that score. In particular, more can be done to encourage British people to eat British cheese. My own favourite is Wensleydale, the great Yorkshire cheese that is produced in Hull.

Roger Williams: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Angela Smith: I will not give way, because I need to give the Minister time to respond. “Leading the Way” is an important vision for profitable growth for the UK dairy industry, based on economic, social and environmental sustainability. It focuses on the capacity of the dairy sector and the need for it to be competitive in a global context through scale, innovation and efficiency. What are the Government doing to support the industry at every level, and to improve the industry’s international competitiveness?

The industry’s voluntary code of best practice is another encouraging sign that the sector is addressing some of the structural issues of pricing mechanisms and transparency that need to be resolved. As several hon. Members have said, the dairy code provides a useful voluntary model to ensure that producers get a

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fair deal, and it avoids inflexible legislation and price fixing. However, it must be made to work and it must be rolled out across the dairy sector. Labour supports and encourages the dairy industry’s voluntary code of practice, which has been drawn up by Dairy UK and the NFU, and we believe that it should be adopted by the entire industry. It is absolutely right that milk producers should get improved bargaining power.

We should all welcome transparent contracts between producers and purchasers that set clear prices, which will add much-needed security. That is why the findings of the UK’s independent review of the voluntary code, which were undertaken by Alex Fergusson and recommended that the code be extended up through the supply chain, were encouraging. I commend the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and its Chair, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for launching an inquiry into the matter, which is helpful and appropriate.

The hon. Lady recently wrote to the Secretary of State to seek the Government’s views on the potential for the statutory framework provided by the groceries code adjudicator to be extended to help to alleviate the current problems in the dairy industry. Labour, of course, supports the adjudicator, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore was very much involved in getting the Groceries Code Adjudicator Act 2013 through the House. The adjudicator’s remit under the 2013 Act does not extend to the relationship between indirect suppliers, such as farmers, and retailers, nor does it apply to price setting. Labour would be open to exploring whether the adjudicator’s role should be extended to include the relationship between milk producers and milk processors.

To tackle the current crisis, we must take important steps domestically and at European level. We believe that retailers, processors and manufactures must work with dairy farmers to ensure a fair return for their product. They must recognise the cost of production and ensure investment and long-term viability.

What are the Government doing to address the structural imbalances that result in low farm gate prices? What meetings has the Minister had with European colleagues to ensure that British farmers get a fairer price for the milk they produce? What additional EU measures will be taken to ensure the viability of the UK dairy sector? That point was made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) in his intervention. Finally, what are the Government doing to take more proactive steps to promote investment in processing and reduce farmers’ production costs, including support for innovative research and development? Dairy farming plays an integral part in our rural economy, as it has for centuries. The Government must support the sector to overcome the short-term crisis and secure the long-term sustainability of the industry.

3.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) on securing this debate. The over-subscription of the debate, which has necessitated such a tight time limit on contributions,

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shows the importance of the dairy industry. Many cheese varieties have been mentioned, and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) said that the best cheese is in the west country. I say that the cheese gets better the further west it is made. If people go all the way to Cornwall, they will find the best cheese.

Volatility is the new challenge facing the industry, and I will briefly describe what has happened, because we seem to have gone almost full circle in little more than two years. In June 2012, UK farm gate milk prices fell to just over 26p a litre, and at that time feed prices were extremely high. The situation was incredibly difficult, and confidence was at rock bottom. Many of us will remember attending a meeting with the then Minister with responsibility for farming, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice), to highlight the issue and the crisis facing farming. However, we then experienced a much better period and something of a turnaround. Relationships in the supply chain improved drastically following the development of a new code of practice for dairy contracts. By November 2013, prices had gone up to 34.5p a litre. Demand started to grow in China, feed costs fell dramatically and our farmers responded by increasing production. UK milk production increased for the first time in 10 years.

The latest figures from the farm business survey published just last week show that, in the very positive 2013-14 financial year, the average farm business income on dairy farms increased by more than two thirds to more than £87,000 a year, which was driven by both increased prices and increased production. That was perhaps a record year, but as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) showed when he described the concerns of one of his constituents, many farmers will now feel that that seems a long time ago. Since then we have sadly seen another serious dip in prices, with the latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics showing that the average milk price in September 2014 was just over 30p a litre. Anecdotally, there are some examples of farmers accepting less than 30p a litre. Some projections show that the price could still go down further. In fact, we can probably expect to see another six months of relatively low prices.

Roger Williams: Dairy UK is concerned that some information issued by the Department of Health about the quality and healthiness of dairy products is not true. Will the Minister please talk to the Department of Health to address that concern?

George Eustice: That was an issue about a year ago. We had discussions with the Department of Health, and the Government changed some of the approaches in the advertising to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

There is some good news, in that the average price for forage crops remains low, and the price of protein concentrates continues to fall. The UK farm gate milk price also remains a bit stronger than in some other European countries, notably Germany and Poland. Some of the Baltic states have been very exposed to the Russian ban. In Latvia, for instance, the average farm gate price is now less than 20p a litre. Nevertheless, the sharp fall in prices has had a big impact on farmers, and confidence is low. As I said, we seem to have gone full circle.

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Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I thank the Minister for giving way, as I had hoped to speak in this debate. There was a meeting of Cheshire farmers yesterday, at which I am told frustration reigned. The main question they asked me to put to the Minister was this: what can the Government do to reassure dairy farmers that they have a viable future and so should invest in the future of their businesses?

George Eustice: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I will address in a moment.

Volatility is, of course, a feature of global markets. The National Farmers Union is showing strong leadership in developing futures markets and other market mechanisms alongside industry partners. Every six months I chair a meeting of the dairy supply chain forum. The next meeting was due just before Christmas, and given the challenges that the industry is facing, I have brought that meeting forward to a little under two weeks’ time. One of the key issues I want to address in that meeting is whether we can do more to support the NFU to develop the mechanisms that help farmers to manage volatility.

Despite the current challenges, as many hon. Members have said, the long-term picture for our dairy industry is very positive. British farmers and dairy producers are producing a range of fantastic products. Over the next decade, global demand for dairy is expected to increase by around 2.5% a year. Earlier this summer, I attended the launch of the industry’s “Leading the Way” growth plan, which sets out some of the opportunities for the industry. We are supporting and encouraging dairy farmers and processors to develop their businesses on the back of growing demand, and over the past year exports of milk powder have grown by 65% to £152 million, and cheese exports are up by 12%.

As the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) said, there has been a particular problem in China, where demand has fallen, which has contributed to some of our difficulties with price. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be visiting China in December, and I am sure this will be one of the issues on her list. Substantial investments are being made in the UK dairy processing industry, which is testament to its long-term potential, including Arla’s new plant at Aylesbury and plans for the Davidstow creamery in Cornwall.

On the idea of encouraging producer organisations, we have given dairy farmers the opportunity to unite in producer organisations so that they have greater clout in the marketplace. In the past two years the Government have spent £5 million supporting that work. My hon.

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Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) spoke about quotas, and at virtually every Agricultural Council since January I have resisted calls from Germany, Austria and others to loosen the quota regime ahead of time. Earlier, they were concerned about the risk to them of the super-levy fine, and we have resisted those calls because we did not want to create additional pressure on the market. Many hon. Members have highlighted the dairy code, and Alex Fergusson has now concluded his review. He concluded that the code is working well and has made a positive difference, and 85% of production is currently covered by the code.

A number of people have talked about transparency in the contracting system, which is provided for in the code. Farmers essentially have an opportunity to walk away from a contract with three months’ notice, or if there is to be a clear and transparent basis on which the price is calculated, sometimes linked to production costs, it has to be clearly stated in the contract.

A number of Members asked whether the code should be put on a statutory footing. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome pointed out, there are drawbacks to that, because we probably would not be able to include a farmer’s right to walk away after three months. We would end up with a statutory code that is far weaker than the voluntary code.

Co-operatives have also been mentioned. One of the points that Alex Fergusson made in his report is that, although members tend to be very happy in co-operatives and tend to support that approach, he thinks that in some cases they could do more to leverage their power within a co-operative to ensure that they are getting a fair deal, which the farming industry might want to consider.

Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), have mentioned the groceries code adjudicator. It is important to recognise that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has committed to reviewing the groceries code adjudicator in 2016, but the dairy code is currently voluntary, and the latest report by Alex Fergusson concluded that it is working well. Farmers are not telling us that the code itself is a problem. The other thing we have to recognise is that the dairy code is most valuable to farmers when markets are tight and prices are rising; it is of less use to them at the moment when, frankly, we have an oversupply, with milk production up by about 10%. Finally, the other issues raised today concern whether retailers should be covered by the code, which the industry is considering because it was recommended by Alex Fergusson. The long-term future is bright for the industry, and we are doing all we can to address the immediate challenges.

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Newlands Park (Mobile Home Site)

4 pm

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mrs Riordan. The debate is very important for my constituents. There are more than 2,000 park home sites in the UK. They are often populated by elderly residents, with many sites having a minimum near-retirement age, so the residents on the sites are often at the more vulnerable end of the spectrum. It is a shame to say that in this day and age the spirit of Rachmanism—a synonym for the exploitation and intimidation of tenants by unscrupulous landlords—is alive and well and stalking some of the mobile home parks of the UK, and certainly the one in St Albans that is the subject of this debate. I suspect that it is not an isolated case, but it is what I want to focus on today. I sent the Minister a list of the points that I wish to raise. In this half-hour debate, I will come up with a shopping list of questions that I would like answers to, and I accept that the Minister may wish to respond to some of them in writing later.

The Government had the best of intentions when they introduced the new Mobile Homes Act 2013 as a result of concerns raised by hon. Members of all parties about abuse by park home owners. It was said that malpractice was widespread across the park homes sector, and that the law was inadequate because it neither deterred unscrupulous park home site owners from exploiting residents, nor provided local authorities with effective powers to monitor and improve conditions. I am still amazed that there are no restrictions on who can own a park homes site, and the issuing of a licence is often a mere formality. Having a long criminal record or even a record of malpractice on other sites does not necessarily bar someone from the industry. When a site owner fails to comply with the conditions of the licence, it is the responsibility of the local authority to prosecute.

Unfortunately, the Mobile Homes Act simply gave powers to a council to prosecute. It did not impose any duties. Today’s debate shows that those powers, if not used, might as well not exist. My residents were hopeful that the Act would deliver improvements for them. Sadly, that has not happened.

I will give the Minister a shopping list of issues that my residents face that they find it difficult to get redressed. The main problem is that the Newlands park residents are routinely described as troublemakers. The residents have banded together to form an association, and they have complied with all the residents association regulations in paragraph 28 of schedule 1, part 3, of the amended Mobile Homes Act 1983. They even sent a letter of their intention to form a residents association, believing that they had fully complied with requirements. However, the Golby family who ran the site, which they inherited from Mr Golby senior, had very different views as to the validity of the association.

On 1 September 2010, the secretary sent a letter informing the family of the association. It stated that

“The...membership list and constitution are available for inspection by appointment with the Secretary”

at the request of the family at any time. The association asked for a formal acknowledgment of its status, but the letter it received was far from a formal acknowledgment. It said:

“Please find...a copy of a letter from your so called Residents Association of Newlands Park.”

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It then went on to talk about putting up rents and warned about people who did not pay rents. It concluded:

“We feel certain residents are trying to cause friction on the Park, so please be aware before thinking of joining any sort of Association because we, the Partners...are here for you to speak to...If you feel you need to speak to us in private you can always put a note into the office.

We would like to wish...all the residents at Newlands Park a happy and healthy New Year.”

I do not think that the residents felt healthy when their wish to join a residents association was not acknowledged, and they do not feel happy about their dealings with the Golby family. The letter was received after they sent a politely worded request to have their residents association acknowledged. The residents say they feel intimidated and harassed, and they have reported the matter to the council. The residents then got another letter warning them to disband.

The council says it received allegations that the site owner’s family had not been on site as often as they should, and also

“intermittent recurrent reports of bad language, arguments and intimidating behaviour”.

The residents have a lot of concerns, and the only way that they can get their opinions across is by going through the residents association, but it appears that Mr Golby and his family do not recognise the association’s existence.

I spoke to Mr Golby today. Again, he mentioned troublemakers. He said he did not recognise the residents association, did not know all the names, and did not have enough information, even though the residents association had said it was happy for him to have any names and information that he wished to have. The association did not get a response to its letter, and I do not believe that Mr Golby has ever asked to meet it.

The residents are trying to fight back and assert their rights. They say they are a qualifying residents association, and the park owner is not entitled to discourage or stop any residents who wish to belong to an association. That should be the case. Elderly, vulnerable residents should not be warned against joining associations by the landlord. I cannot think what he has to fear if he is a responsible landlord. Perhaps that is why the few who are interested in having an active residents association and dialogue with the owners are labelled troublemakers.

“Dialogue” is a loose word. There are two lines of communication on the site. Three telephone numbers are posted on a notice board: mobile telephone numbers of family members. The council knows that those numbers are available and believes that that is adequate communication. When residents call, the phones are rarely answered, or the conversation is terminated by the call being cut off. There is also an office, but it acts merely as a drop-box, so letters often go unrecognised or unanswered for a considerable period. When residents raised that point with the council, it said that it was aware of complaints about correspondence:

“We currently await responses to some test correspondence that we sent there and will be taking this up with the owner in due course.”

Three Rivers council, which covers this area of my constituency, looks spineless, as far as I am concerned. It seems to take any assurances given by Mr Golby and his family that everything is absolutely fine. It is not. The council sent test correspondence; Erle Jackson, the

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officer dealing with the matter, says that the correspondence was sent a month ago and has still not been acknowledged by the partners. That is exactly what my residents experience.

I went to the site and there is a tiny shoebox of an office. Things are not collected regularly. There are no opening times on the office door. If I were a resident and went along at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday, I would not know whether somebody would be there to talk to me about any issues. That should flag up something to the council, which, as of today, has still not had a response to its communication. The lines of communication are not as adequate as the Golbys assured the council—and me, today—they were. It is obvious that they are not adequate, and I am told that Mr Golby and the other partners, who I believe are his sisters, cut off the conversation if it is not to their liking. Today, Mr Golby could be heard by my staff in an adjoining office. He was rather voluble and agitated at being pressed on some of these matters, and he said, “Thank you very much”, and cut off the phone call. I understand that that is common treatment for my residents, and they are at their wits’ end, which is why they came to me.

We should do better by park home residents. The council’s standards state:

“The name, address and telephone number of the site licence holder or their representative...should be prominently displayed.”

Well, there are three mobile phone numbers displayed. The standards also state:

“details must be sufficient to facilitate emergency contact at any time.”

I do not call putting the phone down and taking a month to respond to a letter being in compliance with that licensing detail.

Residents tell me that when they have discussions with Mr Golby, it is often at a volume that they find oppressive, and includes language that they find insulting and harassing, and one elderly lady told me that Mr Golby even burst into her unlocked caravan one day, mouthing foul expletives—

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs Main: Very briefly, as I have a large list to get through.

Ian Lavery: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Can she say whether she has more than one mobile park home in her constituency, and if so, is that a common way for the owners to treat people?

Mrs Main: I have several mobile home parks in my constituency. I have two in the area that I am talking about, which is covered by Three Rivers district council; the other one is perfectly well run. I have three others in the St Albans city and district council area, and they are absolutely fine as well. The one that I am talking about is an example of bad practice in running a park home, as far as I know. I cannot say that I have been to visit every park. There was one park site in my area that had some trees that needed pruning—it was a council site—and eventually those trees were pruned.

As I was saying, one elderly lady at the site said to me that this gentleman—Mr Golby—burst into her caravan, which was not locked, and uttered foul expletives because

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she had dared to raise a concern. The council acknowledges that there have been recurrent reports of bad language, arguments and intimidating behaviour, but it goes on to respond—

4.11 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.19 pm

On resuming

Mrs Main: I spoke to the Minister during the Division, and he is happy for me to exceed the 50% of the debate that would normally be allotted to me, to ensure that I can outline as many of my residents’ complaints as possible. Hopefully, he can think about them and respond to them later. I am grateful to him for that indulgence.

As I said, communication is key to this issue. I hoped that when the new Mobile Homes Act 2013 was passed, residents would no longer feel oppressed by the worst examples of site management. However, if councils are too weak to take action, those residents are no better off now than they were before the Act was passed; in fact, they may be worse off. If the owner of a site knows that a council is unwilling to act because it lacks resources or is worried about costs, they can act with impunity. They know that the council, having been tested, does not intend to do anything on behalf of the residents.

Some of the most vulnerable residents in my constituency fear that their residents association will be bullied and intimidated by the Golby family. As I say, Mr Golby does not recognise the association. I rang the mobile phone number and spoke to Ms Fitzgerald today—I believe she is Mr Golby’s sister. She said that there was some troublemaking on the site, but she would let it pass. She said that I can visit her to talk about these matters. I said that I intend to take up her offer, because the residents cannot get hold of the owners except via a mobile phone number, which means that the owners can terminate a call if it does not suit them or if it becomes difficult, and that nothing is recorded. Many residents say that if their number is recognised as belonging to one of the so-called troublemakers, their calls may not be answered.

The fact that reports have been made to the council should surely raise a red flag that something is thoroughly wrong on the site. An earlier incident in 2012 was reported to the council’s legal services team, which responded by saying that

“the Council’s power to…prosecute is discretionary”,

and that

“other remedies were more readily available to the victim and the Council had no staff or resources”.

My staff have been looking into this issue for the past few days, and the phrase “We haven’t got the staff or the resources” has arisen frequently. Councils are ducking their responsibility to vulnerable residents by saying that they have no staff, no responsibility and no legal obligation to do anything, so it is no wonder that residents are approaching their Members of Parliament.

My residents sought legal advice, but sadly even one meeting made it obvious that it is beyond the means of the elderly people living on the park home site. One resident told me that people live on the site for various reasons, one of which is a lack of money. The homes are

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a relatively inexpensive way to live—although my residents might beg to differ, given some of the practices on the site.

The council is aware of those issues. It reported that the

“recurrent reports of bad language, arguments and intimidating behaviour”

are

“nearly always…anecdotal, of something that happened to someone else.”

I wonder why that is. I wonder whether it is because the residents do not want Mr Golby turning up in their sitting rooms telling them in no uncertain terms—“effing and blinding”, as it has been described to me—that if they do not like it, they can get out. Perhaps that is why people say, “I heard that—”. It is difficult. The spirit of Rachman is haunting those residents, who are no more protected by the Mobile Homes Act 2013 than they were previously.

It is amazing that, although Mr Golby does not recognise the residents association, his sister does. She gave me a very different version of events. The site agreement states that

“the details must be sufficient to facilitate emergency contact at any time”.

If nobody takes the residents’ phone calls, no office number is provided, the office is rarely manned and it operates as a drop-box from which even the council must wait more than a month for a response, there is a serious problem. What rules govern communication on the site? I ask the Minister whether anything more can be done to give residents the right to have a residents association and to have a better form of communication than three mobile phone numbers pinned on a notice board.

There are rules governing the sale of park homes, but residents on my site find it difficult to sell theirs. A letter from the site office states:

“To all residents of Newlands Park…No sale may take place without the full consent of the park owners.”

Interestingly, not only does the owner of the site require written notice of any prospective purchasers, but they require notice to arrange to meet with the prospective purchaser. It is my understanding—I would like the Minister to confirm this—that a park home owner has no right to request to meet the prospective purchaser. They can check the purchaser’s references, creditworthiness and age, if there is an age condition on the site. However, meeting the prospective purchaser seems overly onerous. Unfortunately, my residents are telling me—this has happened on more than one occasion—that it is difficult to sell their homes to anybody other than the Golby family, and they are sold at a very low rate. I have been told that, particularly if people go into care:

“They force a purchase for about £1000”

for a park home

“on them, or their relatives, when the home is valued at considerably more.”

They then either replace the home, having secured the site for a small amount, or, if the home is in good condition,

“re let the old home at an exorbitant rent.”

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That practice is denied to the residents of the site, but the park home owners do it regularly and buy up those properties cheaply.

When somebody had the temerity to display a notice on a board outside their park home, it was ripped down and they were told that they are not entitled to have notice boards on the site. There are other structures on the site, such as gazebos, benches, bird baths and other things, but a small notice board, on which somebody might have the temerity to display something that is not allowed on the official notice board, was not permitted. I asked the council about that, and was told that the Golbys will not allow anything on the notice board that is not of their choosing. That means that, yet again, the residents’ lines of communication are substantially diminished. The residents association is not allowed to put up its own notices anywhere on the site. I find that practice unfair, as it seems designed to isolate people from their ability to communicate.

When I visited the site, I discovered a litany of ongoing problems, such as leaking water pipes from a van that an elderly gentleman was renting from the Golbys. There is a dispute about a water bill, but I will have to leave it there. The water had been running for a considerable period, causing some nearby vans to be on soggy bases. Some of the bases are crumbling away. The council recognises that the Golbys must repair the concrete pitches that are heavily broken up; some of them are only the size of a paving slab. The Golbys refused to do so, although I was told today that they will do it. I have seen letters that attest to the fact that they believe that if they do the repairs, the vans may be damaged due to their age. They feel that that absolves them from having to repair the park home bases. Some of the vans are now propped on bricks or wooden blocks because they are off-level. I am concerned that some people’s vans may be blown over or collapse because they are on such a lean.

Some councils have got more backbone, and perhaps more resources, than Three Rivers. In 2006, Torbay council took Hatchmere Park Ltd, which owns Falcon Park in Totnes road, Paignton, to court. It did not do any ground repairs to the site in 2006, and the caravans were on leaning banking and were shown to be unstable. There was a risk to health and safety, so the council took action against the company. It turned out that the same people had been prosecuted in 2008 and 2010 for similar offences. My council seems not to wish to invoke health and safety, although there are elderly people in caravans that are clearly on a lean. Will it take one of them blowing over or collapsing, or somebody being killed, for somebody to get the backbone to use the powers that have been given to them, although they are not duty-bound to do so?

There is, unfortunately, asbestos on the site. It is in a broken-up shed that is not in the Newlands Park site, but is within the curtilage of the site. It seems that nothing is being done about it. When my staff pressed Three Rivers council, they were told that Mr Golby said he was dealing with it, and that the council did not have the resources to do anything. I find it amazing that the council’s correspondence on 3 November said:

“Water supply and drainage…only requires their provision.”

However, the licence states:

“All parks should be provided with a water supply in accordance with appropriate Water Byelaws and statutory quality standards.”

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If my council is not inspecting anything, how on earth does it know whether complaints about leaking pipes and drains, and sewage, are reasonable?

The Golby family accept that they have the responsibility to fix the bases, and the council has accepted that, but no one is making them do it. The residents do not have the money to ensure that it is done, so we have an impasse. The partners—the Golby family—have claimed that they are not required to do any maintenance on the park, because the rent has increased under retail prices index inflation. As I said, Torbay council did not agree that not doing maintenance or making improvements on the park was acceptable. It is not acceptable simply to say, “We will not threaten to put up your rent, which means that we can get away with leaving you with a shoddy site.” Are there any rules governing this issue?

The last electrical certificate for the site was from October 2010. It was acknowledged by the council, and it was recommended that there be another inspection in 2013. The council have yet to see a certificate, and it has taken my prompting to get the council to ask for a copy of the updated certificate, which it now has. Speaking to Mr Golby today, I challenged him on that. He said that a recent electrical certificate was sent to the council for inspection. However, the council confirms that it has not had one. He also said it was on display in the office, but when I went there, the office was locked and people cannot see the certificate, if it is even there. Officer Erle Jackson said that as yet no certificate had been seen.

The council confirmed that the last inspection of the site was in 2011, but in the intervening time, there has been only one visit per year. It is not aware of the concerns about the electricity supplies. The meters are ancient. Someone described them to me as being like Methuselah. The site is not up to date and not up to standard. It seems that park homes are outside a lot of laws. One of the things that I found most amazing was that it is not one circuit breaker per van; they are shared between two vans. At one point, the circuit breakers were shared with the street lighting. A resident who switched off his electricity when he was going away on holiday noticed that the street light went out as well. He tried it a few times and realised that he was providing electricity to light the site as well as his home. When an adjacent park home that shared the circuit breaker had a fault, it switched off all the electrics in the adjoining park home, leaving its residents without freezers and heat. If the weather was cold, that would have left their pipes to freeze.

The park homes fall outside normal building regulations, and it cannot be acceptable that unscrupulous park home owners can link up anything to the meters. The one I looked at was pretty ancient and had a bit of blue tape inside. The meters are not changed as regularly as recommendations require. The park homes do not have their own circuit breakers because they do not have the same status as a home, but these are homes. These are not temporary caravans used for holiday lets, which people may go into regularly to see whether there is a problem; these are people’s homes, and I find it amazing that this is allowed to happen. It is dangerous. Dangerous electrical circuitry in one van could well result in another van setting on fire. I hope the Minister will look into the anomaly.

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On energy bills, residents have no confidence that they are paying the correct amount. How on earth do they access age-related discounts such as the warm home discount? The industry recognises that the majority of people on these sites are elderly, but if they are not able to get those discounts, a huge tranche of people are being abused when it comes to the amount they are paying for their heating.

Transparency would go an awful long way in this matter. I hope the Minister will say that there should be an obligation on site owners to do better than my site owners are doing. I ask that the family who own this site—they happen to be a Traveller family—show the same concern for residents that my council shows to Travellers and Traveller sites. I find it amazing that we have a Traveller liaison officer speaking up for concerns about Traveller sites, yet a Traveller family can run a park home site and no officer in Three Rivers feels the need to speak up for the ordinary residents who do not happen to have Traveller minority status. Those residents do, however, have minority status: they are poor, elderly and live in homes that fall way outside any obligations in the law.

4.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): In the four minutes or so that I have, I will try to answer as many of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) made as I can. Right at the beginning, she said that she had a shopping list, and she certainly raised a huge range of issues in the course of her speech. I thank her for the note that she gave me, which had some detailed questions. I undertake to write back to her and answer them all. They cannot possibly be done justice in the course of a half-hour debate.

First, I reiterate that the Government are committed to improving the sector so that those who run a professional, honest business can prosper without unfair competition from the rogues. From what she has said, it sounds like the family concerned may fall into the latter category. We want home owners, some of whom are vulnerable—my hon. Friend mentioned the plight of many of her constituents, some of whom are with us this afternoon—to be assured that their rights are respected, that their health and safety is properly protected and that they will not suffer the bullying and harassment that seems to have been a characteristic of the site’s management.

The Government are determined to root out continuing bad practices in the industry. Local authorities and other agencies should be using their powers effectively to protect home owners. That is why we will be bringing together representatives from across the sector to identify evidence of poor practice and investigate how best to raise standards further and tackle abuse. The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), responded to a debate in the Chamber last week and said that we would look further at these issues. We are hoping to convene a round table of various interested Members and other representative groups shortly, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans will receive an invite to come along and take part. The work we are doing will significantly help in shaping the review of the Mobile Homes Act 2013 that will be undertaken in just

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over two years’ time. We are making a start on that now with the round table, and I hope that she and other colleagues from throughout the House who have concerns will participate in that.

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government were pleased to support the 2013 Act, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), and ensure that it passed through both Houses. The objective of the 2013 Act was to put in place measures that will enable the park home industry to develop on a sustainable footing, so that site operators who run a decent and honest business can prosper while those who abuse their home owners and have no regard for health and safety issues on the site will no longer be able to profiteer. The 2013 Act is the biggest shake-up in park home legislation in 30 years, and it marks our commitment to ensuring that park home owners are protected and their rights respected.

My hon. Friend asked several questions, so I will try to deal with those now rather than continue to refer to my prepared remarks. She specifically asked what would happen if a residents’ association is not recognised by the owner. I understand that if that is the case, the residents have a right to go to a tribunal to ask for that association to be approved. There should be a proper address for home owners to communicate—

Mrs Linda Riordan (in the Chair): Order.

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Transient Ischaemic Attacks

4.38 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I am glad to have the opportunity to debate transient ischaemic attacks, or TIAs. They are also known as mini-strokes, but we should be careful with our terminology, because a TIA is a serious matter; it is a warning of a possible future stroke. Because it is a serious matter, I am a bit perturbed that no one is sat on the Government Front Bench. I hope that the Minister will join us shortly. A possible future stroke could kill or incapacitate someone temporarily or permanently, and the risk is greatest in the first few days after a TIA. In fact, one in 12 people will go on to have a stroke within a week of a TIA, yet TIAs are often not taken seriously by members of the public and are sometimes not recognised by health staff.

We have known for some time, however, that dealing with TIAs urgently can prevent future strokes. In fact, research published in The Lancet in 2007 indicated that 10,000 strokes a year could be prevented if all TIAs were treated urgently, but that still does not happen. Those strokes could be prevented, people could avoid serious disability and the NHS could save a huge amount of money.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I intervene only to apologise most profusely for not being here at the start of the debate. We checked with the Doorkeeper following the Division and were advised that a quarter of an hour would be added and that this debate would start at quarter to 5. I would never be so discourteous to the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones). I really am extremely sorry, but that was the advice that we received. We were only next door.

Mrs Linda Riordan (in the Chair): Order. The sitting was suspended at 4.15 pm, but Members were back shortly after the vote. The rules are that we start again as soon as the Minister, the Member who proposed the debate and the Chair are back. As long as three Members are here, we can resume, which we did, and the debate finished at 4.38 pm. Helen Jones began her debate then.

Helen Jones: I of course accept the Minister’s apology. I am sure that she would not be deliberately discourteous to any Member of the House.

Part of the reason why action is not being taken is that public awareness of TIAs is low. A 2012 poll for the Stroke Association found that few people understood the symptoms. In a recent survey of people who had experienced TIAs, the association found that 44% had no knowledge of TIAs prior to having had one and, astoundingly, 61% did not know that it was a warning sign of a possible future stroke. Those were people who had already had TIAs, so it is unsurprising that a third of people take no action following a TIA. Others do not realise that it is a medical emergency and wait for appointments. Astonishingly, the Stroke Association found that a quarter of the people surveyed did not take any action even though they had had TIA symptoms more than once. People may not know where to go for help, and some think that nothing can be done.

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When people do seek help, however, it is fair to say that the service that they receive is variable. The all-party group on stroke heard from two former patients, one of whom had been treated quickly and efficiently, but the other had had the opposite experience. The Stroke Association found that while many people have a great deal of praise for how they were treated and for the care provided by health care staff—it is important to put that on the record—16% felt that they were not taken seriously and 25% said that their symptoms had been misdiagnosed. One person at the all-party group meeting had actually heard a paramedic say those classic words, “It’s just a funny turn.” Another person told the Stroke Association:

“Our GP has told us not to bother to attend GP surgery or A and E as it is not worth it for TIAs.”

Another said:

“I had numerous TIAs that were misdiagnosed as migraine.”

Such comments are worrying, particularly given that parts of the NHS deal with the matter well and show great examples of good practice. The south-western ambulance service, for example, has pioneered direct referral of suspected TIA patients to a TIA clinic. It has invested in training its staff and all ambulances carry details of TIAs, of the referral pathway and, importantly, information for patients. I have also heard a great deal about what has been done at Southend university hospital, which went from having a Monday to Friday TIA clinic to having an online rapid referral system, using new technology, that helps GPs and health care staff to assess patients and to transmit information directly to the clinic or even to the consultant’s mobile. It trained more clinical staff to do ultrasounds and changed the protocol for MRI scans, so that patients can been accommodated in between the normal list. As a result, its service operates seven days a week and sees all high-risk patients within 24 hours and others within a week, as recommended. That service saves lives and enables tests to be done and treatment to be begun on the same day. If that can be done in Southend, it can be done elsewhere. The first problem is actually getting patients to realise that they need treatment.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and I appreciate her bringing this matter before the House. The Government run the FAST campaign, which covers symptoms similar to those of TIAs. Could the issues be addressed through that campaign? The Government, officials, GPs and families could use it in the same way. That might be a way forward.

Helen Jones: The hon. Gentleman takes the words right out of my mouth. I was going to put it to the Minister that the FAST campaign has been excellent and has raised awareness of stroke symptoms and of the need to call an ambulance. We need to extend the campaign to TIAs, because people still wait for treatment or do not access it at all. There are also people who go to the wrong person for treatment, such as an optician, because they mistake their symptoms for something else.

Investment in staff training is vital, in particular for front-line staff, because TIAs are difficult to diagnose. Often when a patient is seen, their symptoms have gone and health care workers rely on reports of what happened. It is also true that TIAs can mimic other illnesses, such

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as epilepsy, migraine or visual disturbances, which is all the more reason why front-line staff—the first point of contact for patients—should be trained to recognise the symptoms. We must also ensure that referral systems are in place, so that people can access treatment rapidly. I hope that the examples I have given show that it is possible to meet the guidelines contained within the national clinical guidelines for stroke, so that people can be treated quickly and easily. However, the Stroke Association found that 22% of people wait more than a week for their first appointment, which is quite outside what the guidelines recommend.

The provision of information is absolutely vital. The Stroke Association’s report, “Not just a funny turn”, contains many examples of people who have changed their lifestyles and diet after being given proper information following a TIA, so that they hugely reduce the risk of a future stroke, but that does not always happen. Some 40% of people say that they are given little or no information following an attack, and some 50% do not know about the risk of a possible future stroke. The report contains some worrying comments. One person says:

“After TIA I had no support or advice or information… I didn’t know about risk of stroke—was not told this by anyone.”

I find that profoundly shocking. It is not even a case of spending a lot of money; it is simply about having information to give to patients. What will the Minister do to ensure that that actually happens?

My next point, which the Minister and I have debated with regard to stroke, is about the provision of emotional support after a TIA. Like a stroke, a TIA is an event that someone does not expect or plan for. Many people lack support afterwards, but with support they can make changes that reduce their future risk. Some people feel that they need counselling, others simply want to talk to someone who has experienced a TIA and others want to be in contact with patients’ groups or organisations such as the Stroke Association. If people are given the right information, they can do all that, but the information is often not given to them at all. That, too, could be done with little expense.

We have some good care in the national health service—some excellent care—but it is patchy. I want to hear from the Minister how she plans to raise public awareness of TIAs and to extend the FAST campaign to cover them, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said.

What will be done about training front-line staff so that we bring everyone up to the level of the best? That is a difficult matter. We cannot blame staff for misdiagnosis if they are not trained properly. We need to train them. What will be done to ensure rapid access to treatment everywhere in the country, not simply for those who happen to be lucky and live near an excellent hospital? The NHS works best when its organisations co-operate and learn from one another. We need to ensure that that co-operation takes place.

Finally, what will the Minister do to ensure that people get the right information following a TIA, as well as support afterwards to deal with the emotional issues and to help change their lifestyles to lessen the risk of stroke in future? That would be a sensible investment for the NHS. It would ensure not only that we saved a great deal of money, but that we prevented a great deal of disability and heartbreak and even deaths.

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I look forward to hearing the Minister tell us what is to be done about the important issue of TIAs. We could save lives if we invested in it properly.

4.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): Once again, my apologies to the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for missing the first two minutes of her contribution, because of a misunderstanding on our part.

The hon. Lady is a great expert on the subject and, as she said, we have debated it in the past—in fact, it was the subject of the first debate that I responded to as a Minister, about a year ago. It is good to see her commitment. As the chair of the all-party group on stroke—she is one of Parliament’s great champions of the issue—she also takes great interest in transient ischaemic attacks. The debate is timely, because it was world stroke day last Wednesday, which this year focused on the impact of stroke on women.

As ever, I will try to respond to as many of the points that have been made that I can, but the matter is obviously the responsibility of the NHS. In a debate of this nature, I always undertake to draw to it the attention of the key people in NHS England, in particular the national clinical director—

Helen Jones: I am sorry to interrupt, but Ministers are in the end responsible for what happens. If they are not, there is no point in them being Ministers. A huge bureaucracy has now been set up, but it is still open to a Minister to pull the strings to ensure that the things that need to be done are done. I hope to see the Minister doing that.

Jane Ellison: I note the hon. Lady’s comments. NHS England is the lead on the subject, because it is ultimately a clinical matter. I always draw the attention of our clinical leaders to the views of Parliament and, where I need to underline them, I of course do so, but it is also important to recognise that in a large organisation the views and leadership of senior clinicians are vital. I will refer to that.

Helen Jones: The Minister is gracious to give way, but I am sorry, I had to intervene at that point. The clinical details are not in doubt. We know what works and what best practice is; the problem is that best practice is not always followed.

Jane Ellison: I note the hon. Lady’s comments.

Turning to the Act FAST campaign, when people have a TIA, getting medical attention quickly is key, as the hon. Lady said. Ensuring that the general public are familiar with the signs and symptoms is important. Public Health England continues to run the highly impactful Act FAST stroke awareness campaign, which covers similar signs to those of a TIA—I note that she is right to draw the distinctions—and the simple message to call 999 if such signs are witnessed. The campaign was run again in March this year, and new adverts feature an Afro-Caribbean man to underline the fact that people from some ethnic groups, whether south Asian, African or Caribbean, are at higher risk of TIA

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and stroke than others. PHE plans to run the adverts again later in the financial year. Over the summer, the Stroke Association also ran a campaign to raise awareness of TIA, “Not just a funny turn”. It was welcome and many of us saw it.

The hon. Lady also referred to front-line staff and to raising awareness of signs and symptoms. Act FAST and the Stroke Association’s campaign were aimed at public and professionals alike to ensure that everyone acts swiftly. PHE plans to run its adverts, which do not only face the public, again before April 2015.

In addition, NHS England has produced a resource for clinical commissioning groups, to support them in setting and delivering on the level of our ambition to reduce premature mortality. TIAs form an important part of that. The resource includes information on the most high-impact interventions that CCGs can consider commissioning to reduce premature mortality, and TIAs fit into that description. One such intervention is to increase the proportion of patients suffering a TIA treated within 24 hours from 71% to 100%. Let us recognise that TIAs sit right at the core of all the resources being distributed to our front-line staff and produced by NHS England.

NHS England has also been working with the 111 service to ensure that the protocols and triaging systems on the phone lines are used to identify as many people with stroke and TIAs as possible. We recognise that there is more to do and that such work is ongoing.

On getting patients the treatment that they need, quite a lot of work is under way in many parts of the country to reorganise services. That involves reconfiguring care for patients with TIAs as well as acute strokes. For example, in Birmingham and the black country, Warwickshire, Surrey and Sussex standards for TIA care have been set and services are being redesigned to ensure that patients with high-risk TIA can be seen and managed within 24 hours.

The reorganisation of vascular surgery services into a smaller number of higher-volume units is also improving the efficiency of the provision of surgery for TIA. There have been huge improvements in TIA patients’ access to neurovascular clinics in recent years. That is important because, as the hon. Lady said, we know that the risk of stroke in the first four weeks after a TIA can be as high as 20%. It is vital that people are seen urgently and their symptoms investigated, and that a management plan is put in place.

The hon. Lady said that services can be inconsistent. We want to ensure that we work towards making all services as good as the best, but part of that work is to define what the best standards are and to disseminate best practice. I will talk about some of the ways in which that is done.

The 2012 national clinical guidelines for stroke recommend that patients who have had a TIA are seen, investigated and treated in a neurovascular clinic within one week. A few years ago, such clinics were relatively unusual and waiting times could run to weeks or months. Information from the latest Sentinel stroke national audit programme organisational audit published in 2012 shows a picture of real improvement. According to the audit, 100% of trusts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland now have a TIA or neurovascular clinic, with a median of 20 clinics held in each four-week period. There has been a really big improvement in access to those clinics.

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The same audit also said that there are very few areas of the country where a high-risk TIA patient would need to wait more than a week, and that over half of high-risk in-patients could be seen the same day, seven days a week. We are waiting for an update of that audit, which is due to be published quite soon. I hope to see further improvement.

In the mini-exchange I had with the hon. Lady at the beginning of my contribution, we touched on best practice. The strategic clinical networks are important for that. They bring together clinicians from across health care settings and the wider health and care system in 12 geographic areas. The SCNs share best practice and promote initiatives on their core service areas, which include cardiovascular disease. The networks hold regular meetings to enable communication and information sharing. As an MP for a London constituency, I saw the benefit of bringing that clinical excellence to bear in the reorganisation of stroke services in London. Such work is ongoing, to make sure that best practice is disseminated around the country.

Jim Shannon: One problem I am aware of—I suspect the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) is as well—is that TIAs pass in two or three minutes and there is no real understanding of what is happening among friends, relatives or others who are close by when they occur. The hon. Lady is trying to push for raising the level of awareness, and I am sure the Minister would wish to achieve that as well. How can we better achieve that within the Act FAST campaign? That was what I was hoping the Minister would set out.

Jane Ellison: I am happy to put that issue on the agenda for my next meeting with Public Health England, which puts together such campaigns. We all wish to raise awareness of the symptoms of a lot of different conditions, but one has to be realistic about how many public information campaigns we can run and how those can be organised. However, I am happy to have that discussion with Public Health England, because we are pleased with the way in which the Act FAST campaign has been received. There is clearly something to build on. I also know that the Stroke Association feels strongly about the issue. I am happy to discuss it and perhaps feed back in due course.

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Hon. Members might be interested to know that the National Institute for Health Research has recently funded research on TIAs to look at the pathways taken by patients, from symptom onset to specialist assessment. That research found that factors contributing to delay included incorrect interpretation of symptoms and failure to involve the emergency services. The research is something else we can build on in order to understand what needs to be put in place so that we can do better.

Work is under way, and I am happy to look at what has been said today about public information. However, we have made a really good start. The picture for stroke care is also really improving. Sometimes I respond to debates on issues where we have not seen improvements of the kind that I set out on specialist clinics and surgery. We can see some real momentum, so it is case of building on that and on awareness of symptoms. I pay tribute to the work of the Stroke Association and its report. I saw the “Not just a funny turn” campaign over the summer, which I thought was well judged and was put across well. It did a good job of attracting publicity to stroke and TIA, so I congratulate the association on the campaign.

I hope that what I have said will reassure the hon. Member for Warrington North that the Government and the NHS both recognise that it is vital to ensure that people who have had a TIA receive the right treatment and care to help them to recover. I have not touched on the issue of psychological support, which was the subject of our debate last year, at which time there were encouraging signs. I will write to her about how those have been built upon over the past year and whether we have continued to make progress.

The picture is improving, but we recognise that there is more work to do. I congratulate the hon. Lady on keeping this issue very much at the forefront of Parliament’s attention. As ever, I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for contributing to this debate on health in the way in which he always does. We are all keen to see the best possible services for people to ensure that TIA care is of the highest quality and that we minimise the number of people who go on to suffer a stroke.

Question put and agreed to.

5.4 pm

Sitting adjourned.