“At this level of network utilisation, further measures are likely to be required to ensure the service can be operated punctually and reliably”.

Of the Windsor line, it says:

“Increasing the overall level of service into London Waterloo to 20 tph”—

trains per hour—

“on the Windsor lines may have a small negative impact upon the overall level of punctuality and reliability”.

On the option of adding two more long-distance services an hour, it states:

“Additional performance mitigation measures may be required”.

Punctuality on South West Trains is already below the national average. It would be helpful if the Minister explained what exactly the effect would be on existing trains if infrastructure improvements were not made.

Of course, the plans also require the purchase of new trains: 72 new passenger trains are required in the peak by 2024, and 156 new vehicles are required by 2043. There is also the possibility of running specialised double-decker trains from Waterloo to Basingstoke and Southampton. I am sure that passengers would welcome the increase in the number of seats, but the challenges of raising and widening bridges and tunnels on the route are likely to be significant. There have already been too many decisions about rolling stock that have not been co-ordinated with infrastructure changes. The technical challenges of the proposals in the document show up the need for a proper long-term rolling stock strategy that will bring together decisions about procurement and infrastructure investment.

Steve Brine: Does the hon. Lady agree that we are uniquely well placed within the rail industry to do some of the things she has mentioned, because the South West Trains and Network Rail alliance is the bringing together, as far as possible within the legislative framework, of track and TOC?

Lilian Greenwood: I think that the deep alliance on the Wessex routes provides interesting opportunities, although there is much talk in the industry about the fact that, although it sounds good, what it will deliver is not clear. We really need to break down the fragmentation to make sure there is symbiosis between the planning of infrastructure and the procurement of rolling stock, which of course falls outside the alliance.

2 Dec 2014 : Column 94WH

We also need to plan ways for the rail network to benefit from major projects, which, as the report states, include High Speed 2, Crossrail and, potentially, Crossrail 2. I am glad that HS2 Ltd is finally hiring an experienced operations manager to plan the options for integrating HS2 with the existing network. It would be good if the Minister updated us on the progress that has been made with that appointment. Crossrail 2 in particular could benefit the Wessex area, because some local services could enter the proposed tunnel at Wimbledon, freeing capacity at Waterloo. Whatever the Davies commission recommends, we want better rail links to Heathrow, Gatwick and regional airports such as Southampton. We need to know that that planning work is already under way and that decisions about allocation of that capacity are made fairly. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that point.

As the right hon. Member for Basingstoke, my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter and the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) said, it is also important to strengthen links between towns and cities outside London. For example, off peak, the Basingstoke to Portsmouth train runs at only 32 mph. Proposals for a faster Brighton to Bristol service are welcome, but, again, passengers will want to know the implications for existing local services.

The five-year control periods have been an important mechanism for funding the railways with a degree of certainty. A project that was due to be completed in control period 5 was the conversion of the Southampton to Basingstoke line from third-rail to overhead-line electrification, a project that could bring significant cost savings. It was included in the Government’s 2012 high-level output specification statement for this control period, but the route study says that conversion is intended

“between Basingstoke and the docks at Southampton at some point during CP6.”

There has been uncertainty about the wider electrification programme, with reported cost increases of at least £500 million, so will the Minister confirm today that the Basingstoke to Southampton project has been delayed?

Finally, but most important, passengers face ever-increasing travel costs, even when commuters are unable to board trains at stations and thousands are forced to stand every day. As the hon. Member for Winchester noted, some people’s season ticket costs almost as much as their mortgage. Fares have risen on average by 20% since 2010, even though wages have risen by only 5% in the same period, and they are set to rise again in January. Ministers’ decision to restore “flex” after the election has led to some fares rising even higher than the supposed cap. A season ticket from Basingstoke to London now costs £724 more than it did in 2010—an increase of 21.6%. There is evidence that “flex” has been used unfairly to target commuters who have no choice but to travel by train. The Government evidently agree, at least in principle, because they scrapped the “flex” for 2015—for one year only. I will finish by asking the Minister whether he will bring relief to commuters in Wessex and the rest of the country by implementing a real cap on fare rises, and scrapping “flex” completely.

3.25 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, and to be Rail Minister for a

2 Dec 2014 : Column 95WH

day! It is not the first time, as I have already performed once in that capacity, but I am delighted to do so again, particularly in response to the Adjournment debate of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller). I congratulate her on securing it.

My right hon. Friend has once again shown that she is a great champion of the interests of the people of Basingstoke. She has also brought to the Chamber’s attention some wider issues, which I shall attempt to address in the limited time available. Should I not be able to get to all the matters raised by hon. Members—and there were many—I shall certainly write to them with details afterwards.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said:

“The centre of every man’s existence is a dream.”

It was that spirit that led to the creation of this country’s railways; without the vision and the dream, the reality would not have happened. That spirit, vision and passion for railways is needed at the core of future policy. Of course utility matters, but we must not be constrained by facts. We must have a big view of what railways can be, and what we can achieve. I shall attempt to imbue all that I say today with that passion for what railways can be.

My right hon. Friend made it clear that we are going through a railways renaissance. She was right to highlight the doubling in passenger numbers and to say that the prophecies of the prophets of doom at the time of privatisation have been frustrated by the response of the railway industry and passengers to the opportunities provided by rail travel. I was grateful that she brought that to the attention of the Chamber.

Across Great Britain, railways are playing an increasingly important role in economic development, are they not? When we speak of travel and transport, we need to speak of well-being as well as the economic effect, although the economic effect is not inconsiderable. Rail links people to their homes, jobs and recreational pursuits. That is particularly true across the south-east commuter network, including the Wessex route. As my right hon. Friend said, passenger numbers have doubled across the country in the past 15 years, and the Wessex route is no exception.

It might be helpful to begin with if I were to explain that Network Rail’s Wessex route encompasses the long-distance routes of London Waterloo to Portsmouth, Southampton, Weymouth, Salisbury and Exeter. It also serves the north downs line, linking Reading and Guildford to Redhill and Gatwick airport. It is therefore a vital component of the railway network, transporting millions of commuters into London and providing essential links to Gatwick and Southampton airports. I promise the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) that I will deal with the south-west part of the network, as I attempt to address the range of matters raised in this important debate.

South West Trains operates about 1,700 services a day, and about 222 million passenger journeys were made on its trains last year. In Basingstoke station alone, there are more than 5 million entries and exits a year. In debates such as these, I like to offer Members rather more than a litany of what we have already done and to give them the prospect of what we intend to do. I am delighted to tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke today that South West Trains is currently

2 Dec 2014 : Column 96WH

developing plans for improvements to the forecourt of Basingstoke station. Those works are yet to be guaranteed, but, if approved, they will start next year, with an estimated value of £30,000. We want to make the station as attractive as it can be and that work on the forecourt will do just that.

Crowding on services to Basingstoke and other destinations along the south west main line to London Waterloo, the UK’s busiest railway station, is, as my right hon. Friend said, a continuing challenge. One might say that it is a well known issue. Ensuring that there is enough capacity on trains is one of the highest priorities for passengers and it is one of the key issues that we are tackling head on. The matter has been raised by a range of speakers in the debate, including my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) and the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). I am pleased and extremely proud that the Government have pledged more than £38 billion in support for the rail industry in England and Wales over the period 2014 to 2019. That massive investment will significantly contribute to improving the capacity and quality of the network, which is seeing such a big growth in demand.

I will return in a moment to another aspect of what my right hon. Friend raised. She is right to say that, in anticipating capacity demand, we need to look across government at the effects of other policies: the consequences of our plan for growth and the relationship of that with transport and travel—rail travel, in particular. In that spirit, she will be happy to hear that the investment I described includes a significant commitment to the South West Trains network.

It may be helpful if I explain to my right hon. Friend and other Members the process for delivering capacity improvements, because that was raised by both my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester. Essentially, it is a two-stage process. In the first instance, it is necessary to tackle the issues that constrain the suburban network in order to create the extra platform capacity at London Waterloo station. That will allow the industry to address the mainline capacity issues, which will benefit my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, her constituents and other constituencies. As I pledged earlier, in providing that extra capacity at Waterloo, we will also look at the style and character of that station. In a sense, we raised the bar at St Pancras and King’s Cross and people now expect the look and feel of London stations to match the best. We can do more in those terms at Waterloo.

In September, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), announced the latest capacity enhancement to be contracted with South West Trains. As part of plans to provide capacity for an extra 24,000 peak-time passengers each day, 150 new vehicles are being manufactured by Siemens to be put into passenger use by the start of 2018. However, the hon. Member for Nottingham South—as she said, I know her constituency well—made a good point in saying that we need to ensure that our policy is coherent. We need to be certain that the changes we make to rolling stock are integrated with the other necessary engineering considerations. I will ask officials

2 Dec 2014 : Column 97WH

to look afresh at that to ensure that we are pulling together all the necessary decisions in the way she proposed.

On the introduction of the new fleet, I should say that existing trains will be cascaded, which will provide some additional mainline capacity, including one additional peak service from each of Basingstoke and Woking. That is in addition to the extra 108 carriages that are already starting to arrive and are being put into passenger service, to increase capacity each day by 23,000 at peak times. A similar cascade is also adding capacity to a number of peak mainline services that are not already operating at maximum capacity. That issue was raised during the debate and it is very much part of our thinking.

During the same period, Network Rail will carry out major enhancement and renewal works in and around the Waterloo area at a cost of several hundred million pounds. The signalling system that covers much of the suburban network needs to be renewed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire said. As part of that project, a new turn-back facility will be created so that an additional four services can operate at peak times from Hounslow to Waterloo.

By 2017, Network Rail will have carried out works to bring the remaining four platforms at the former Waterloo International terminal back into full operational use for scheduled domestic services, restoring a vital piece of the south western route infrastructure to domestic use. The availability of those extra platforms is essential to the plans to extend platforms 1 to 4 at Waterloo. Those platforms serve the main suburban routes and, once extended, they will be able to accommodate 10-car-length trains. That will remove the last constraint that has for many years hampered plans to increase mainline suburban capacity beyond trains with a maximum of eight cars.

All that takes time, and considerable effort in planning, to minimise impact on passengers. That point has been made and I recognise that people will have concerns—these are major engineering schemes and, as they are implemented, we need to ensure that disruption is minimised. There will be some disruption, however, so we have made it clear to the south-western railway that it will have to deliver high quality communication to its passengers about what that will mean to their daily journey as it makes its plans.

However, I have every confidence that the long-term capacity uplift will be warmly welcomed by passengers and the prospect of better services will make short term disruption more acceptable. My experience is that, when people know where they stand, they can adjust their arrangements accordingly, but it is important that we get the information out. I will endeavour to ensure that Members in affected areas are informed of the changes at the earliest opportunity so that they can act as one of the conduits for the dispersal of that important information. We will look at other mechanisms as well.

I understand that, even with this investment, some of the capacity issues on the main line remain and that that is a source of some frustration for my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and other Members. I therefore turn to the process for securing further investment in the railway.

2 Dec 2014 : Column 98WH

To begin with, it may be useful to explain that major investments in the railway are funded on the basis of five-year funding cycles known as control periods, as hon. Members have mentioned. We are currently in control period 5, which began earlier this year and will run until 2019. During this control period, the Government are providing Network Rail and the rest of the rail industry with more than £16 billion to upgrade and enhance the networks in England and Wales. It is from that funding pot, known as the Government’s rail investment strategy, that many of the capacity enhancements I have already referred to will be financed.

The right hon. Member for Exeter asked specifically about services to his area. As he knows, although the rest of the Chamber may not—you will know this, Mr Streeter, given your local expertise—Exeter has two routes to London. The great western line is being upgraded during control period 5. That will include a number of resilience improvements, but I will ask that they are considered closely again to take account of some of the points that he made. The second route, via Salisbury, enjoys less demand and has less capacity. I think, however, that the route study needs to consider longer-term options to increase capacity, with more passing places and options for electrification of that route. As a direct result of this debate and the right hon. Gentleman’s overtures, I will ensure that we look at that closely and communicate those thoughts to him.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire, speaking with all the expertise from his own involvement in this Department as a distinguished Minister many years ago, before I entered the House—I was going to say “when I was a child”, but that would be something of an exaggeration—raised any number of fascinating matters. I will make all kinds of commitments to him, because if one is the Rail Minister for the day, one can do just that. The civil service will be shaking in its boots as I make this speech.

Sir George Young: Go for it.

Mr Hayes: Ongoing developments for cycle space provision should be part of all franchises, in my judgment, and from today they will be.

The business decisions of train operators on the issue of first and standard class balance has been raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester. We need to ensure that we make best use of space on trains. That use will vary from time to time and I do not want to make any prescriptive judgment, but discussion of that issue needs to take place regularly, based on a proper analysis of use. If, as has been described, some carriages are empty and others are full to the point of bursting, we need to respond to that situation.

The argument about Heathrow southern access was a really good one. We need to have a new study on that issue, which should begin this autumn and which should be published as soon as possible, ideally—indeed, at the latest—by early next year, and we need to consider what more can be done.

On the issue of car-parking capacity, it is important that we identify demand and sites for car parks, and I am more than happy to commit to working with local

2 Dec 2014 : Column 99WH

councils to do that. Perhaps we just need to drop a line to those local authorities to remind them of our willingness to have that kind of dialogue, particularly where we know, from Members across the House, that there are pressing problems. There is a history at certain stations of parking issues, so perhaps we can initiate some new thinking on that.

When they think of railways, everyone thinks of Stephenson; some, with a more curious turn of mind, think also of Hodgkinson; and all romantics—such as you and me, Mr Streeter—think of Jenny Agutter and John Betjeman, do we not? We think of “The Railway Children” and Betjeman’s advocacy of the romance of rail. To that end, I would be very happy to facilitate contact with Network Rail to allow the steam train that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, who has ministerial responsibility for rail, has pressed for. Indeed, the case for that train was amplified today by my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire. Let us allow this to happen, and in that spirit let us look again at the historic estate. We have many old railway stations, some of which could be brought back into use. We also have many glorious signal boxes; more of them should be listed. Let us once again be bold and ambitious to have our dream of the romance of rail, and turn that dream into a reality.

My right hon. Friend talked about the capacity issue. Of course, his area will benefit from the commitment to increase capacity at Waterloo during the period between 2014 and 2019, and from proposals to “grade separate” working junctions in control period 6. I will come on to that in a moment, because it is important to say first that the process for identifying possible investments and upgrades for the next control period—between 2019 and 2024—began recently. As such, there are opportunities for my right hon. Friend, other Members and the public in general to contribute to this process and to influence the Government’s next rail investment strategy.

When these drafts are issued, it is important that right hon. and hon. Members understand that they can play a part in shaping the final outcomes. When I last spoke on railway matters, I emphasised that these things are not set in stone. The whole process is by its nature consultative, and drafts should not be deemed to be the final word on these matters, but instead a catalyst for fresh thinking, with right hon. and hon. Members playing a vital role in the process.

I return to the specific part of the railway under discussion today. Network Rail recently published its draft Wessex route study for just that kind of consultation. It highlights the network constraints in the area of Basingstoke, which include a mix of speed limits and the confluence of several lines. Due to its location on the south-west main line, Basingstoke suffers from the convergence of several routes further up the line at Woking, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke suggested.

For those reasons, two of Network Rail’s emerging priorities for the next control period are, as I said earlier when dealing with my right hon. Friend’s questions, to “grade separate” the junctions at Woking and Basingstoke. For the benefit of those Members who do not speak in railway terms, as I myself did not until very recently, that term refers to the lifting, via a bridge, or dropping, via a tunnel, of a track over or under another, which

2 Dec 2014 : Column 100WH

means that trains moving in one direction do not get in the way of trains going in the other direction, preventing some of the frustrating stopping and starting with which many rail travellers are familiar.

In addition, the draft route study sets out options for the possible introduction of double-decker trains between Basingstoke and London; such trains were mentioned earlier in the debate. Although they are a common sight in other European countries, they have not really appeared on the British rail network, partly due to the height of some of our Victorian tunnels and bridges. As I have said, because I value the historic estate I would not want to see those tunnels and bridges being disregarded. Nevertheless, while the introduction of double-decker trains would necessitate the adaptation of the network, Network Rail is of the view that they may be a viable option on certain lines, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend and her constituents would relish the chance to lead the roll-out of such exciting technology on their line, becoming early beneficiaries of the additional capacity that it would bring.

Let me reiterate that these ideas are some of the emerging views for control period 6. The draft route study has been articulated and published by Network Rail, based on the information available to it at the time the route study was published. Indeed, the document acknowledges that the dominant issue is the need to provide sufficient capacity in peak periods, and consequently it has focused on developing choices to address that issue where needed, such as options to increase peak main-line capacity through use of new technology and “grade separated” junctions.

To that end, Network Rail is working with Transport for London, local authorities along the route and other stakeholders better to understand their views on these matters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke eloquently and clearly outlined the other pressures that are likely to affect capacity. I know that she is concerned that the housing growth that is planned in and around her constituency will have a dramatic impact on that demand-supply balance.

I want my right hon. Friend to know today that I understand that concern, and that the Government appreciate the point she made about the importance of ensuring that wider policies are fully taken into account when capacity on this line is being planned. The case she has made has been heard by the Government and will be built into our further considerations.

Maria Miller: I thank the Minister for giving way; he is generous with his time. It is incredibly reassuring to hear what he is saying, because at this point in time it appears that house-building levels are not taken into account when future capacity is determined, and indeed that capacity is more likely to be determined by the number of new jobs generated in London than by the number of houses being built in my constituency, or indeed in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young). We need to make sure that this issue is taken into account, so that we can ensure that the proper increase in capacity on the line is put in place now.

Mr Hayes: My right hon. Friend needs to know that Basingstoke, North West Hampshire and Winchester are never far from my mind, and that they have been

2 Dec 2014 : Column 101WH

brought to the forefront of my mind today. As a result of this debate, I will ask my officials to take into account the views she has articulated and to make it perfectly clear that—in a proper, joined-up and coherent way—we consider some of the effects of growing population and the likelihood of that growth increasing demand for rail use. It would certainly be a fitting tribute to her and to the debate she has stimulated today for me to deliver that fresh thinking for her, which is precisely what I will try to do.

I think that the issue of ticketing was raised by my right hon. Friend—my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester mentioned it as well—and I am open to further consideration of the options, in terms of technological changes, that would speed up the ticketing process. I am also mindful of what my right hon. Friend said about fares. My commitment on fares is very clear.

Steve Brine: On ticketing, I specifically mentioned part-time season tickets, which constituents constantly raise with me. It is a smart-ticketing issue, but is that solely down to the train operating companies or is there a regulatory issue that the Government need to intervene on before part-time season tickets can be made available? Perhaps he will write to me on the subject.

Mr Hayes: I will write to my hon. Friend about the detail, but my view about all these things is that there should be a dialogue between the Government operating companies, because there we need lines of accountability for all public services to Government and, through the Government, to this House. When hon. Members raise such issues, it is important that there are means by which they can be communicated to the people who make the decisions. It is right that we have that dialogue, and I assure my hon. Friend that that will take place.

We understand the issues about housing and why my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke introduced this debate, and we understand the implications of her argument. Responses to the consultation will, as I said, feed into the final version of the Wessex route study, which is due to be published next year. That will then help to inform the Government’s priorities for the next rail investment strategy for the period 2019-24.

Finally, as I reach my exciting peroration, may I explain that as well as looking at potential funding priorities for control period 6, the Wessex route study is looking at much longer-term funding priorities for this route? I spoke about vision and dreams. We should be ambitious for this route and, in looking ahead to 2043, we need to think about long-term changes to supply and demand and about rail travellers’ changing expectations, including considering increasing capacity—extra tracks—on key sections closer to London or, indeed, Crossrail 2. Again, on those matters of longer-term funding, all hon. Members and all interested parties are encouraged to respond to Network Rail’s consultation before 17 February next year.

2 Dec 2014 : Column 102WH

My right hon. Friend has done the House a great service in bringing these matters before it. The Government are wholly committed to the railways and to rail investment. We published our investment strategy for roads yesterday. That, and our approach to rail, is indicative of breadth of thinking and a long-term approach in respect of a transport strategy that is, I think it is fair to say, unprecedented in its ambition. It is right that we should think in those terms, because infrastructure and investment only serve economic purpose—they feed the common good—by adding to individual and communal well-being. To that end, my right hon. Friend made an important contribution—

Lilian Greenwood: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hayes: As I am on well-being, I am delighted to give way.

Lilian Greenwood: I am interested in the Minister’s comments about the need for long-term vision and certainty. There has been a remarkable lack of long-term vision on the issue of fares. When his Government were elected, they were talking about raising fares by the RPI plus 3%, and we had announcements taking it down to RPI plus 1%, then to RPI. I am sure that is incredibly welcome for the hard-pressed commuter, but it does not give any certainty either to operators or to passengers. His scrapping “flex” for 2015 is welcome, but why is not there a long-term commitment to scrap “flex” altogether, to take the pressure off people who have had 20% fare rises in just four years?

Mr Hayes: Again, Chesterton said that how you behave when you lose determines how long it will be before you win. The hon. Lady’s thinking about fares may herald her party’s eventually winning: it will not be for many decades, but it will happen. It is absolutely right that she presses me on this issue and, because I am the Rail Minister for today, I make this commitment: fares will not go up by more than inflation. I will also commit to something else, which will cause some excitement in her constituency, which I know well, and feel that I owe it this obligation. We are committed to electrifying the midland main line between London and Sheffield via Nottingham. She knows the difference that will make, as someone who, like me, travels regularly on that line.

What a great debate this has been. It has provided an opportunity for hon. and right hon. Members to advance the interests of their constituents in the context of that bigger vision of the significance of rail. This debate has shown that the party divides in this place are small compared with our shared commitment to do our best by the people we represent.

3.55 pm

Sitting suspended.

2 Dec 2014 : Column 103WH

Textile Manufacturing

4 pm

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): It is very good to be here before you today, Mr Streeter. I am not his personal assistant, but I feel I should offer the apologies of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who most people know would want to be here today. Unfortunately, he cannot be here. He sent his apologies to me, which I felt I should pass on.

Allegedly, Mark Twain once said something along the lines of rumours of his death being greatly exaggerated. Based on my experiences over a long period of time—it has certainly been my experience as an MP for the past four years—I can strongly confirm that rumours of the textile industry’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Not only that, but the industry is alive and thriving. Coming from Bradford, I have seen the high quality of the manufacturing work taking place across the whole of the West Riding.

That might seem an odd point to begin on, but it is important for me to say, because even many of those living in Bradford, where so many good things are going on, have a false belief that textile manufacturing in Bradford and the West Riding is a thing of the past. It is true that 11,000-odd workers no longer pour out of Manningham mill, also known as Lister’s mill, or Salts mill. The huge volume of production that once made Bradford the wool capital of the world might have gone, but scouring, carding, dyeing, spinning, weaving and finishing still take place to the highest standards. From Huddersfield to Keighley and across to Pudsey and Shipley, companies are not only still producing yarn and cloth, but doing so with great success. Such firms as Abraham Moon—if one is mentioned, Hainsworth and Laxtons and everyone else has to be mentioned—are producing for Dolce & Gabbana, Paul Smith and Burberry and doing exceptionally well in growth markets across the world, in Japan, Europe and America.

It is of course not just about wool, much as I would love to spend all day talking about it. I forgot to put my Campaign for Wool badge on, but it is in my bag. Reshoring or onshoring is beginning to happen on a large scale, as “Made in Britain” once more becomes a sign of real value and a badge of quality. That is good news. UK retailers such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer with its “Best of British” range have been falling over each other to announce plans to bring back production on an ever increasing scale. Volume manufacturing will never return to its previous scale—the cut, the make and the trim will always be cheaper in the far east or Turkey—but there does seem to be a successful future at the premium end of production, where short lead times reduce the risks of markdowns for retailers. According to the manufacturing advisory service, one in six UK manufacturers have brought back some production from overseas in the last 12 months, and that process continues apace.

A further consideration is the ethical and sustainable dimension of much overseas production. We all know about the Dhaka factory collapse, which should have sent a sharp reminder to many UK retailers about the full cost—not just the financial cost—of some overseas sources of production.

2 Dec 2014 : Column 104WH

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I commend the hon. Gentleman on bringing this debate to the House today. He and I have both purchased the Yorkshire suit. Does he agree that if anyone wants to support textile manufacturing in Yorkshire, one of the best things they can do is buy a Yorkshire suit, the brainchild of Mr Yorkshire himself, Keith Madeley? It uses material from Yorkshire, is manufactured in Yorkshire and is of the highest possible quality.

Mr Ward: I hope that that intervention results in a significant discount for the hon. Gentleman on the cloth. I should find out what he paid. The fabric is available in lengths of cloth for women, if they should want to make up a suit. We are all selling here tonight.

It is all good news for the industry, but that creates significant challenges, particularly in the availability of skilled labour. A high proportion of the sector’s skilled work force is nearing retirement age. I have been to Haworth Scouring, which deals with 100 tonnes of tops a week—large scale work is still going on. A gentleman was working in the sorting area and, were the business to lose him, it would lose one of the only sources of that skill across the whole area. That is how near we are to losing precious skills. On that same visit, it was good to see a young apprentice learning the trade from scratch and helping to provide the much needed next generation of skilled people who are required for the industry’s continued success.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I too congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He mentioned Abraham Moon, which is in my constituency. It has just spent £3 million on expansion, but it needs a skilled work force to meet demand. Does he agree that we need to put greater emphasis on apprenticeships, so that such mills can succeed?

Mr Ward: Absolutely. With another hat on, as a member of the Education Committee, we are exercised by the problems of careers advice and ensuring that there are real careers for people, not only in textile manufacturing, but in manufacturing and in business. We need to ensure that fantastic jobs are available. Many parents will not even know that they exist, and one important part of the debate is making more people aware of them.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I wish I was able to say that in my area we have had a massive increase in the number of jobs available, but the reverse is true; we have lost 15 or 16 factories over a number of years. Even now, however, we still have people with the skills to be involved in the factories and to take the opportunities. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that with the opportunities available in Yorkshire—in Bradford and elsewhere—direct contacts should be made with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland to ensure that job transfers can take place and that those skills are retained?

Mr Ward: Absolutely. One of the big difficulties that the industry faces is that it is not pharmaceuticals, the automotive industry or aerospace, where big companies can provide supply chains in local areas, which feed the skills back through to the big companies. In textiles, it is a lot of small businesses. Even the big mills exist without long supply chains, which would provide skilled jobs that offer that continuity. It is a serious issue, but do not

2 Dec 2014 : Column 105WH

despair. Many of the things I am saying on the potential for reshoring and bringing back production from abroad apply to other constituencies.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and on his work with the all-party group on textile manufacturing. As he knows, there are 62 textile firms in Huddersfield, employing thousands of people. We are proud that the green jacket worn at Augusta by the winner of the Masters golf tournament is made in Huddersfield. Soft furnishings in the White House are made in Huddersfield. The crimson upholstery on Boris’s new Routemaster buses is made in Huddersfield. Talking about skills, the company that produced that fabric, Camira Fabrics, is working with the Entice Project to employ new apprentices. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the way to get the new skilled work force moving up? Will he join me in congratulating—I am proud of this—the 4,200 new apprentices in my constituency since 2010?

Mr Ward: This is all excellent news, but how many people really know about it? It is a good news story of which more and more people need to be made aware. There are particular implications for energising parents to go out and find something other than the traditional route for their children and to discover the other options that are available. It has the potential to inspire young people into a manufacturing career.

As John Miln of the highly successful UK Fashion & Textile Association said:

“Volume manufacturing may never come back but there is significant interest in what we do make and whether we are able to grow it”.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referred to growing it everywhere. That is the big challenge we face. In addition to all that I have said about traditional textile manufacturing, the global technical textiles industry is growing at four times the rate of home and apparel textiles and now includes medical textiles, geotextiles, agrotextiles, protective clothing, textiles for the automotive and aerospace industries, construction textiles and many others.

Returning to John Miln’s comment, the big questions are how we get the sector to grow and what future it has. All that I have said so far is really good news and many miles away from the era of closure after closure, but at this time of great opportunity what strategic support are the Government giving to textile manufacturing? Back in 1998, after representations from clothing trade associations and unions, John Battle, a Minister at the then Department of Trade and Industry, encouraged the formation of the textile and clothing strategy group to consider in detail the issues and challenges facing the sector. It was recognised that the industry made a major contribution to the UK economy and that a strategic approach was necessary if it was to improve its competitive position. A report called “A National Strategy for the UK Textile and Clothing Industry” was produced and, as its name suggests, it provided the basis for a collaborative plan for the future development of the industry.

The purpose of today’s debate is to ask the Minister whether a similar plan exists today. I am aware of many worthwhile initiatives, and he may refer to the textile

2 Dec 2014 : Column 106WH

growth programme, about which I certainly know far more than I did an hour ago, after speaking to the project director, Lorna Fitzsimons. She told me about some of the fantastic investments that are being made through the programme, but I am interested in finding out whether there is a national strategic plan that underpins such initiatives and where the sector fits in with the Government’s overall industrial strategy.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I concur with what my hon. Friend says and congratulate him on securing the debate. I agree that the sector needs a strategic vision, but will he reaffirm his welcoming of the Government’s textile growth programme? It has so far engaged with 68 companies in Lancashire, eight of which are based in Pendle and two of which have benefited from £200,000 in grants and are now on target to create 104 jobs. I agree with what he says about the strategic vision, but the textile growth programme is delivering for many companies across the north of England.

Mr Ward: Absolutely. I hope to meet the programme’s project director next Tuesday in my constituency, but I already know the extent of the programme’s success from previous conversations.

However, a programme or initiative in itself does not amount to a national strategy, which is the point that I am trying to make today. Textile manufacturing is not a priority sector. There is no longer a textile team within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The manufacturing advisory service and UK Trade & Investment are working together as part of the “Reshore UK” initiative, which is considering how to bring production back to this country, but the initiative is not specifically for the textile industry. Again, where does that fit in with the overall strategy? I am concerned because of the industry is fragmented, which has been a weakness over the years.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that we need support for the textile industry’s supply chain? Burnley is home to a company called boohoo.com, which is one of the biggest online fashion retailers in the country and perhaps Europe. Its problem is that it buys 70% of its products in the UK and yet the supply chain is not supported by the Government in any way. The aerospace and automotive supply chains receive Government support. Does my hon. Friend agree that to help the textile supply chain would create hundreds of jobs and stop a lot of this country’s imports?

Mr Ward: That is exactly the point. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he does as the apprenticeship tsar. As has already been indicated, apprenticeships have developed fantastically over the past few years, but they need continuous pushing so that parents, children and young people see them as a viable alternative to the traditional academic route—although apprenticeships do of course contain academic provision.

I am concerned by the fragmented nature of the industry. I worry that it may be overlooked as other manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals and the auto industry dominate Government thinking. If that were the case, it would be a shame and it would be wrong. It would be good to hear today that the value of clothing and textile manufacturing in its widest

2 Dec 2014 : Column 107WH

forms—I mentioned technical textiles—is understood by the Minister. Beyond that, it would be good to know that the sector features in the Government’s long-term plans for the growth and development of the UK’s manufacturing base.

May I conclude by referring to the new all-party parliamentary group for textile manufacturing that was formed last year? We already have the successful all-party parliamentary fashions and textile group, and the aim is not to duplicate its work but to provide a clearer focus and concentration on UK textile manufacturing. It is still early days for the new group, but we are looking at our work programme, in which the textile growth programme will certainly feature. We will report back on that in the new year when the all-party parliamentary fashions and textile group’s major report is finished. I hope the Minister will take an interest in and see the importance of the new all party group and that he may find the time to visit us to discuss Government support for textile manufacturing in this country.

4.18 pm

The Minister for Business and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) not only for securing this important debate, but for his chairing of the all-party group for textile manufacturing, which he worked so hard to set up as a champion for the sector. I also pay tribute to other hon. Members and hon. Friends for their contributions.

The manufacturing of textiles at scale has a long and proud history in the UK that goes right through the industrial revolution and the industrial development of Lancashire, Yorkshire, the east midlands and elsewhere. Today, it plays a leading role even in my constituency in Suffolk, where Gurteen, a company set up in the 1700s and still run by the same family, continues to thrive making high-quality clothing mostly from wool. I pay tribute to the firm and its work in the industry. Over time, much of the UK’s production moved overseas, and the numbers involved in manufacturing fell. It is true that an impact was felt from the switch to lower-cost countries. Nevertheless, in 2013 the textile manufacturing industry contributed £2.4 billion gross value added in the UK, and 60,000 jobs.

The hon. Member for Bradford East asked what our strategy was. We are clear that the textiles growth programme, which several hon. Members mentioned, is a crucial part of the overall strategy. He asked what our goal was. Our goal is support for the textiles industry to grow and expand here in the UK and, in particular, to support companies that are thriving through supplying high-end, niche products. He mentioned especially the technical textiles sector, which is growing fast internationally and in which the UK is at the cutting edge of research. We can benefit from that so that we are also at the cutting edge of some of the production.

On the specific question of an overall strategy, of course the textiles growth programme is an important part of it. We have been clear—I have been very clear—that where an industrial strategy is required and demanded for a sector, we should work with the sector to develop one. If that means that we need to expand what is already available, I look forward to working with hon. Members to achieve that.

2 Dec 2014 : Column 108WH

The textiles growth fund has invested millions to support the development of textiles capability and to capitalise on the reshoring mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Reshore UK, which is our overall scheme through UKTI to support the reshoring of jobs back into the UK, is gathering pace. It provides support for companies that are reshoring jobs in all sectors. That is best done on a cross-economy basis, because many companies that sent production overseas now want to bring it back, often so that they can have shorter supply chains, with shorter distances, and maintain a tighter grip on quality than is possible when exporting jobs. They face many of the same issues in lots of sectors, whether textiles, high-value manufacturing or other areas.

The overall target of the textiles growth fund is to create or safeguard a further 1,000 jobs and to leverage in private sector investment on a ratio of 3:1. By the end October more than 60 grant applications had been funded, with total project value in excess of £25 million. The projects are expected to fulfil the jobs goal and to create at least 70 apprenticeships, demonstrating the money behind the Government’s clear objective of supporting UK textiles manufacturing, in particular high-quality manufacturing.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the skills shortage, which is an important issue. In Bradford, including his constituency, unemployment has fallen by 27% over the past year, according to the claimant count; in Huddersfield, it is down by 29%. Those are good figures, but with a tightening labour market, we are getting increased reports of skills shortages. The broader reforms to strengthen and improve education in the UK are an important part of the answer, but not an immediate one, because it takes time for children who are benefiting from an improved education to come through, so the importance of on-the-job training and apprenticeships cannot be overestimated.

On skills, however, we are improving our support to ensure that it is more focused on what employers need. Employer-led trailblazers are paving the way by writing new standards for apprenticeships, including in the textiles industry where standards are being developed in fashion and design to ensure that we capture the high-end market, although not in the manufacturing of textiles, which might be an area that we wish to address. As with industrial strategy as a whole, the invitation is open to sectors to approach and work in partnership with the Government to develop the apprenticeship standards required.

Jim Shannon: As I asked in my intervention on the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward), is the Minister aware of the skills that we have available in Northern Ireland since the closure of many factories? Will he agree to contact the responsible Minister in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, to see whether some of those skills could be transferred from Northern Ireland to that area where there are vacancies at the moment?

Matthew Hancock: Yes, I work regularly with the Northern Ireland Executive, including Arlene Foster, on such issues. We should take up the question of the transfer of skills. Northern Ireland’s apprenticeship reforms are similar to our own, and we share the thinking about the need to ensure that the skills taught are the ones that

2 Dec 2014 : Column 109WH

companies need. The same direction of travel is being taken in Northern Ireland, so I will take that point away with me.

The employer ownership pilots are about putting funding for skills training directly in the hands of employers. The Huddersfield and District Textile Training Company has a multimillion-pound project that includes a textile centre of excellence to help improve skills and, again, to ensure that we in the UK are adding to high-value manufacturing in textiles and in other areas, because we recognise that that is where we can add value and create the highly paid jobs that we want to see.

In addition, through the local response fund, two textiles projects have been approved in Manchester. For example, the north-west’s NWTextnet was awarded £75,000 for dynamic portfolio management to achieve integration of new product development with reshoring manufacturing capacity. Again, that is trying to drive up the skills in textiles production into the high-end, high-spec skills, which is where we see the UK market.

We therefore have a clear strategy. If further work needs to be done, I am up for that, and the Government are clear that we want to work with the sector to ensure that we get the benefits at the high end, where the UK can add the most value. We need to deliver on the skills and the supply chains; we need to put the support in place where it is appropriate to spend taxpayers’ money, which is usually best defined as where the companies are themselves willing to participate side by side with us, so that we can support the textiles industry, much as we are doing in many other industrial sectors. We need to ensure, as the hon. Gentleman said, that “Made in Britain” is a highly esteemed badge of high quality. We need to build the small and medium-sized businesses in the textiles sector so that we can bring them together.

It is no surprise that of the brands that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, where UK textiles in fashion play an important part, he included the top-end brands that are among the most demanded and most expensive, because that is where the UK can add value, reshore jobs and ensure that such jobs are high quality. If we can turn that from a summary of what is happening on the ground into a strategy for how to make textiles strong in the UK—how to make an optimistic future—in Bradford, Huddersfield and throughout Yorkshire, Lancashire and the east midlands, the traditional heartlands of the UK textiles industry, and indeed in Northern Ireland, we will take an historic and proud industry and ensure that it continues to generate jobs and prosperity in the UK for many years to come.

2 Dec 2014 : Column 110WH

Anti-freeze Products (Protection of Animals)

4.29 pm

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): When MPs stand up to speak, it is traditional for them to say that they are delighted to give a particular speech, but I can honestly say that on this occasion I am not delighted to be here. I would rather not be discussing this issue at all.

We have had a traumatic summer in Sherwood. Calverton, a village in my constituency in Nottinghamshire, has to our knowledge suffered the loss of at least 22 cats due to poisoning with anti-freeze. Most of those losses were in the month of August, and people tend not to use anti- freeze in the middle of a heat wave; it is something they consider using at this time of year, when their car could become frozen. However, anyone malicious who wants to cause harm to animals—wildlife or cats—can use anti-freeze intentionally to cause an enormous amount of devastation. The product can also cause that devastation accidentally.

I am grateful for the support of Nottinghamshire police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in trying to catch the perceived perpetrator of those poisonings. At this moment in time we are no closer to catching an individual who may be acting maliciously in that way, but we are working hard to educate the public in and around Nottinghamshire and to make sure that people are on the lookout for anybody doing something suspicious or inappropriate.

I will outline the issue. Anti-freeze contains a product called ethylene glycol. It tastes quite sweet to small animals, and to mammals in particular, but it is extremely toxic when consumed even in small doses. Once EG has been consumed it is difficult to prevent the animal from dying because it is so toxic. It forms very small crystals in the kidneys, leading rapidly to kidney failure, then death. The moments between consumption and death are very traumatic for the animal, and owners of pets—cats or dogs—see unpleasant symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhoea and extreme stomach cramps. Indeed, it is one of the worst ways in which a pet can lose its life. The trauma that that causes families and individuals, particularly families with small children who have become attached to the family pet, cannot be overstated.

We might think that such poisoning is a rare occurrence and that Calverton’s loss of 22 cats is a one-off—some individual in the village is causing trouble, but it does not happen anywhere else. Well, to my surprise that is not true. After putting our issue on social media and in the local press, I was inundated on Facebook and Twitter with messages from people all over the country who are experiencing similar issues and are concerned that their pets have been injured in that way. Cats Protection told me that it has been monitoring the media since November 2012 and is aware of 1,197 reports of such poisoning elsewhere in the country. That equates to 50 deaths a month, or more than a cat and a half—if we could have a cat and a half—a day suffering that terrible trauma. That sends a simple message to us as a Government: we have to do something to help and to try to prevent that from happening.

A lot of the debate on forums and on social media is about a product called Bitrex, which makes products such as anti-freeze very bitter and unpalatable. Bitrex

2 Dec 2014 : Column 111WH

makes anti-freeze so unpalatable that one very small taste or sniff would prevent an animal—and we are not just talking about cats and dogs; it could be hedgehogs or other small mammals in our countryside—from consuming it at all. If someone was malicious enough to try to mix such a product with chicken or tuna, the bitter taste would remain in the anti-freeze and, we hope, would prevent a pet from consuming it.

I ask the Minister and his Department for four specific things. First, will he explore the mandatory inclusion of Bitrex in anti-freeze for purchase in the UK? It is possible to buy anti-freeze and other products that already contain Bitrex, and some reputable retailers sell only those anti-freeze products that contain it. However, other retailers sell the quality products but also a cheaper version, at 50p less per bottle, next to them on the shelf. We should look seriously at making manufacturers include Bitrex in all anti-freeze products available in the UK.

I also urge the Minister to talk to his colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills who can ask the manufacturers of such products—anti-freeze screenwash and also anti-freeze for radiators—to look at manufacturing alternatives that do not contain ethylene glycol. There are products out there available for purchase that do the same job but do not contain that toxic chemical. Of course, they are more expensive, which can mean retailers are not over-enthusiastic about stocking them, but that price is worth paying if we can prevent animals from suffering in the way that they currently do.

Thirdly, we should encourage better labelling on bottles, so that members of the public are aware of how toxic anti-freeze can be to small mammals. If someone is draining their radiator, or it springs a leak, and it is filled with an anti-freeze product, they should be informed about how toxic the product is to animals. I have been told by professionals that if a cat were to walk through a spillage of neat anti-freeze, get it on its paws, then go home and lick its paws clean, that would unfortunately be enough to lead to its death. Fourthly, and just as importantly, we should educate the general public so that we are all aware of the issue.

I do not intend to detain hon. Members much longer. The message is very simple: this is an enormous problem that leads to a great deal of trauma, not only for the animal but for those people who lose their pet in this way. I implore the Minister to encourage his Department to look at the issue seriously. I pay tribute to Blue Cross for Pets, Cats Protection and the RSPCA for their support on this issue. I am sure that this will not be the last occasion on which the Minister hears about the topic but I hope that in the near future we will be able to save pet cats, dogs and small mammals from suffering this most traumatic of deaths.


4.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) on raising awareness of the problems that can arise from the misuse of anti-freeze products, especially at this time of year. As he said, he takes no joy in having to come to this Chamber to raise the issue. I completely understand that the death by poisoning of such a large number of cats in Calverton has caused immense stress to the

2 Dec 2014 : Column 112WH

families involved. Every one of those 22 cats would have been a loved family pet. The situation is made all the worse by knowing that, as he pointed out, death by poisoning by this particular product is quite painful—that will have caused a great deal of stress to the families concerned.

I understand that the RSPCA is investigating the case and that a meeting was held recently with police and villagers to discuss the issue. The cause and circumstances, as my hon. Friend pointed out, are not clear at this stage, but the high number of deaths in one village during the summer suggests something more sinister than a simple accident.

It is important to recognise that deliberate poisoning is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and is punishable by a fine of up to £20,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment. I do not know why anyone would want to poison cats deliberately by using anti-freeze, but there have been such instances in the recent past and they have been dealt with using the full force of the law. For example, in July a man was convicted of using anti-freeze to poison five cats and was fined £1,600. In April, another man received a 12-week suspended prison sentence for poisoning a cat with anti-freeze. As my hon. Friend said, it is too early to know whether the poisoning in Calverton was intentional or accidental.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Constituents have come to me when their cats have been the victims of anti-freeze poisoning, and I have met representatives of groups such as International Cat Care. I have also met Marc Abraham, the television vet who ran the successful Pup Aid campaign. They all say that this is a problem and that many cats that die of this poisoning are not identified as such.

I have tabled written questions about this issue. The Government say that the fact that alternatives are on the market that would not kill cats and that there is a focus on better labelling is enough to stop people from accidentally poisoning cats. However, as the Minister just said, some people are poisoning cats deliberately and those things will not stop them.

George Eustice: The hon. Lady makes a good point and I will come back to it. Ultimately, if anti-freeze included a bittering agent and if that deterred animals from taking anti-freeze in any circumstances, that still would not deal with the problem of people deliberately setting out to poison cats and other animals. They would simply find a different weapon of choice. We must recognise that and be very clear first and foremost that when deliberate poisoning takes place, that is a clear breach of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and we should prosecute accordingly.

Mr Spencer: I am pleased to hear of the £20,000 fine and the six months’ imprisonment, although I am not sure that they are high enough. There are products on the market to deter cats; some squirt jets of water or emit a sound wave that distracts cats. There is no excuse in any way, shape or form for causing an animal harm when there are products that move them on or send them to a different property.

George Eustice: I could not agree more. The deliberate poisoning of cats is indefensible. It is a crime and should be punished as such.

2 Dec 2014 : Column 113WH

It is too early to tell whether the poisoning was intentional in the case in my hon. Friend’s constituency. To avoid accidental poisoning, it is vital that people are careful when handling and storing poisonous products, particularly around children and animals. They should be especially careful when pouring poisonous liquids, which can spill easily. As my hon. Friend said, it does not take much anti-freeze to get on the paws of a cat and become hazardous. Anyone using products labelled as hazardous or poisonous should read the manufacturer’s instructions before using them and take note of the warning labels.

Anti-freeze and windscreen de-icer are a necessary part of our everyday lives, particularly at this time of year, but people must take great care when handling and disposing of them. Poisonous liquids that have spilt on the ground may seem innocuous, but animals, whether domestic or wild, may find them attractive, or at least be curious to try them.

A third phenomenon that I have been made aware of and which has the potential to cause poisoning—my hon. Friend did not touch on this—is that some people may be using anti-freeze in their garden water features to stop them freezing up in winter. There are reports of that and internet chat forums discussing whether that is sensible. It could result in animals, whether pets or wildlife, being inadvertently poisoned. We do not know for sure whether that is a cause of poisoning, but it could be; that caused me some concern when investigating the matter ahead of the debate.

Anyone in doubt about whether a household product is particularly toxic to animals should consult their vet or ask the RSPCA or groups such as Cats Protection. Many organisations provide helpful advice on their websites about animals and anti-freeze, and that is to be applauded. Their role in raising public awareness is important.

In common with most chemical products supplied for domestic use, anti-freeze is covered by the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009—the CHIP regulations. They are being replaced from the beginning of January 2015 by the EU classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures regulation. The CHIP and CLP regulations require suppliers of dangerous chemicals and products containing those chemicals to give information about the potential hazards to their customers. That is usually provided on the packaging.

Ethylene glycol, which is the chemical causing the problem, is the main ingredient of most anti-freeze. Manufacturers must label the product as a health hazard, which means placing the exclamation mark pictogram, which is replacing the current black “X” on an orange background, on the label. They must also include the following risk and safety phrases: “Harmful if swallowed” and “Keep out of the reach of children”. The regulations are enforced by local authority trading standards and are the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive, an agency of the Department for Work and Pensions. The product is clearly labelled “Harmful if swallowed”

2 Dec 2014 : Column 114WH

so there is no excuse for people who use it inappropriately. They should take great care in how they handle it.

The classification of ethylene glycol, and hence the legally required hazard warning, is determined by its toxicity to humans, so it would not be appropriate to impose a stricter warning. However, the regulations allow manufacturers of anti-freeze to add supplementary information on the label as long as it does not contradict the legally required phrases and is placed separately from them. It would be possible for the labels on anti-freeze to warn about the particular risk to pets, for example, and to make it clear that it would not be right to use it in garden water features. That might be a step forward. Many domestic products for use around the home can be harmful to animals and measures to control them must be proportionate and targeted.

My hon. Friend called for manufacturers to be required to add bittering agents, such as Bitrex, but some people who have followed the debate closely have asked whether that would be effective. Cats Protection, which he cited, wrote to the Government earlier this year pointing out that although some people have called for the addition of a bittering agent to anti-freeze, research in the United States has cast doubt on whether it would be entirely effective and suggested that it would not necessarily deter children from ingesting it.

Cats Protection also said that the same research had shown that ingestion of ethylene glycol by dogs and rats tended to be influenced more by a motivational state, such as hunger, rather than by its sweetness. Adding a bittering agent is not necessarily a solution in itself, but it is an interesting suggestion and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight it.

I would encourage manufacturers to consider the case for adding bittering agents on a voluntary basis. I am aware that at least one high-street retailer—Halfords—already includes Bitrex in all its branded products. However, I understand that adding ingredients could cause problems related to, for example, the effectiveness of the product and it may have some impacts on the vehicle. The debate is not straightforward, but I would nevertheless encourage manufacturers to consider what my hon. Friend has said today.

Finally, to come back to a point made earlier, we have to bear in mind that if the case that my hon. Friend mentioned involved deliberate poisoning, no amount of bittering agents or caution by people using anti-freeze would get away from that fact. If that happened in the Calverton case, it is very important that we have a rigorous investigation and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

We have had an interesting discussion. I will draw this debate to the attention of my noble Friend Lord de Mauley, who is the portfolio holder for these issues, because my hon. Friend has raised some important points and made some very interesting suggestions.

Question put and agreed to.

4.50 pm

Sitting adjourned.