Vaccine Passports

Mike Hill Excerpts
Monday 15th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 569957, relating to vaccine passports.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the petitioner, Mr David Nolan, and all the other signatories of the petition, which has reached 295,842 signatures. The wording of the petition is as follows:

“We want the Government to commit to not rolling out any e-vaccination status/immunity passport to the British public. Such passports could be used to restrict the rights of people who have refused a Covid-19 vaccine, which would be unacceptable.”

The petitioner wants me to make it clear that they do not represent themselves as anti-vaccination. In their own words, “We believe anti-vaxx people are in an absolute minority in Britain.”

The petition is not exclusively about those worried about discrimination if they refuse vaccination; it is more about the implementation of vaccine passports and their technology for everyone in society. In comparison with yellow fever, the petitioner wants it to be known that “comparing this certification alongside any proposed covid status certification is not a viable argument, as we are dealing with very different viruses. Yellow fever certification is only required for up to 30 African and 13 Latin countries.”

The petition is not difficult to understand and stems from genuine concerns among many of the petitioners. I state clearly for the record my support for the vaccination programme, and I encourage everyone eligible for their vaccination to take it as soon as they are offered it by our national health service, which is working so hard to deliver the programme on time.

It is easy to understand why a vaccine passport may appear to be a perfect option for the Government, who are trying to ease the lockdown as quickly and safely as possible. The idea that we could allow events to start taking place at which people who have some immunity to the virus could return to some level of normality is attractive. Like everyone else in the country, I look forward to the day when such things can take place again safely, and something that could possibly speed us along to that point is a compelling suggestion.

After almost a year of lockdowns and social distancing restrictions, anything that can help to get people back out into the community, back into their workplaces, back into their businesses and back with their families is something that we cannot discount. However, we must also consider the possible drawbacks that come with such a proposal, and we must consider the concerns with fairness. There are concerns about vaccine passports that go beyond the pseudoscience of anti-vax protesters and Twitter trolls. I therefore urge hon. Members to be mindful of some of these arguments in their contributions.

To date, the Government have not brought forward any concrete plans on vaccine passports or how they could work. However, as some countries and travel companies are beginning to require proof of vaccination as a precondition of entering their territory without the need to quarantine or of booking travel, some form of proof may be necessary at least to relaunch our tourism sector. If British holidaymakers and travellers are required to have proof for international travel, it will be difficult not to have some kind of Government-issued certification to back that up. Even if the UK opts out and opts not to use vaccine passports in the same way as other states, we may be required to provide some proof for those wishing to go abroad if other states require proof prior to entry.

If that were to be the case, how it would work domestically is unknown. I invite the Minister present to shed some light on that in their summary of the debate, as the domestic and international situations are very different and, even if domestic requirements remain low, international requirements may not give us a great deal of choice. The concept of using vaccine passports in domestic settings is of concern to some people as we go forward.

As Members will be aware, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has published priority lists, which will work their way through the population from those most vulnerable to covid down to the least vulnerable. Although it is not always the case, often that involves going from the oldest groups in society to the youngest—again, I must stress that that is not always the case. Therefore, introducing vaccine passports at present would exclude those who have not yet had the opportunity to receive their vaccine. There is a genuine fear that younger people who do not have any characteristics that place them on the priority list could be prevented from taking part in events or from taking certain actions, for no reason other than age and lack of pre-existing health conditions. Similarly, many people are concerned about how a vaccine passport would be properly managed, as anything that required a smartphone, as the current covid another place does, could bar many elderly people or people living in poverty from accessing such a system.

I must also stress at this point that although I encourage everyone to get their vaccination when they are offered it, people do have the right to choose not to be vaccinated if they so wish. Nobody can currently be compelled to take the vaccination under the law, despite it being our best hope in this national fight. The number of people currently indicating that they will not take the vaccine when offered it is currently very low, and it is my sincere hope that it remains that way, for the chances of our recovery. Nevertheless, the question that we must ask ourselves is whether such a policy would be fair to people who have the right to make that choice, however we who support the vaccination programme might personally feel about their decision.

If, as much media speculation indicates, proposals about domestic usage of vaccine passports are under consideration, I invite the Minister to clarify any of those proposals in their summary at the end of the debate, in the interests of openness and of the petitioners. I invite Members to consider carefully some of the arguments that I have set out in their consideration of the petitioners’ request. Even those in favour of such a system cannot dismiss counterarguments without proper and fair consideration, especially when it comes to ensuring that everybody in the elderly and vulnerable groups will have access to a vaccine passport, and that those who have not been vaccinated because they are further down the list are not excluded because they have not yet had their turn.

Once again, I thank Mr Nolan and all the petitioners for raising this important issue.

David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before I call the next speaker, I remind Members that, in line with Mr Speaker’s wishes—I am not being old-fashioned or stuffy—gentlemen, when addressing the House physically or virtually, must be properly attired with a jacket and tie.

--- Later in debate ---
Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
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I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their excellent contributions. Let us simply hope that the review, the terms of reference for which have been published today, progresses sensibly and in a non-discriminatory fashion.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 569957, relating to vaccine passports.

LGBT Conversion Therapy

Mike Hill Excerpts
Monday 8th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank my colleague the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for his wonderful introduction to the debate. I have been contacted by many of my constituents about the petition, each of them as shocked as I am that the Government have still not acted to outlaw the practice of so-called conversion therapy inflicted on LGBT people.

The petitioners’ aims are not difficult to enact, nor are they asking too much. Their requests are clear and simple: they simply want LGBT people to live in dignity without having their sexuality or gender identity questioned. Every human being should have the right to express their own identity without the judgment of others. It is clear from the evidence surrounding this practice, compiled by the charity Stonewall, that that is not the case for everyone who identifies as LGBT in the UK. According to Stonewall’s figures, one in 20 LGBT people living in the UK has at some time been subject to or recommended for therapies that question their very identity. That number rises to almost one in 10 among young LGBT adults aged between 18 and 24 and almost one in five for trans people.

In a modern, supposedly decent society, that should not even be an option, and it certainly should not be legal. Many of the people subjected to such practices have them forced upon them by their families. In some cases, LGBT people are sent abroad for treatment by relatives who believe it will somehow cure them, when there is nothing—absolutely nothing—to be cured. The only result is severe distress and untold psychological trauma.

Every recognised medical and professional body in the UK has described the practice as dangerous. Many other public bodies have signed a common pledge against the practice. However, substantial evidence still shows that too many people continue to believe, despite the evidence, that sexuality and gender identity can be cured in some way. Enacting legislation to end these so-called therapies and ensure that no practitioner in the UK can consider them an option to which they can refer a patient would contribute greatly to preventing people from persisting in that belief.

I appreciate that the Government have previously made supportive statements on the issue. The Prime Minister himself described it as “abhorrent”, and as something that

“has no place in a civilised society”.

He made that statement last summer, but nine months on there has been no movement. There is clearly cross-party consensus in favour of legislating to outlaw this practice. Every day that the Government delay legislation, another LGBT person could be subject to this continued abuse. We have the power to act and the support to pass the legislation. All we need is the legislation to put our words into action. We can prevent further damage to the lives of LGBT people in this country, but only if we act quickly.

James Gray Portrait James Gray (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Physically speaking and back from her maternity leave, we have Alicia Kearns.

Covid-19

Mike Hill Excerpts
Monday 11th May 2020

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab) [V]
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Each death brings unimaginable pain to families, and my heart sinks when I learn of the passing of constituents such as the wonderful Dorothy Clark MBE, from Greatham—my thoughts are with all the families. On the covid-19 wards and the intensive care units operated by the North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, however, miracles are happening every day; thanks to the tireless efforts of our frontline NHS workers, lives are being saved and families are being reunited with their loved ones. I pay tribute to all our key workers, who keep us all going—they are all heroes. Those working in our hospitals, ambulances and care settings, putting themselves in direct risk to care for others, rightly deserve our highest praise. I am thinking of people such as my good friend Tony Traynor, a paramedic, who was admitted to hospital with covid-19 and is now, thankfully, at home recovering.

At the beginning of lockdown, and for weeks after, the shocking lack of PPE, the movement of non-tested patients out of hospitals into care homes and the appalling lack of tests themselves made the situation even worse. As of last Saturday, 154 frontline and social care workers had, sadly, died from this terrible virus. As we know from the Turkish PPE consignment fiasco and the Government’s persistent failure to achieve their daily target of 100,000 tests, we are still not getting it right and we continue to fall short of the mark. Our country has the second highest death rate in the world and, while we are past the peak in most places, the number of deaths in care homes is rising. That is not a record or situation we can or should be proud of. In addition, we are not past our peak in Hartlepool; we are behind the national trend, and our death and infection rates are still rising. To date, we thankfully remain bottom of the table in the north-east, but our rates are accelerating upwards. My concern is that any relaxation of the lockdown will have an adverse impact on my constituents and undermine their efforts to suppress the virus and keep rates down.

As with every MP, my mailbox has been full of covid queries since day one of the lockdown, and people remain worried. The Prime Minister’s statement yesterday has added to the confusion, particularly about returning to work. Thankfully, the return to work order has been delayed until Wednesday, rather than being implemented as of today, but the same problems apply in respect of people returning to work: how are they going to get there if public transport is to be limited? Will their workplaces be safe? Will the necessary measures be put in place? What childcare issues will arise because schools and nurseries remain closed ? What about the issue of social distancing in the workplace? We all want to see an end to the lockdown, to return to work safely and to get back to normal, but not at any cost, and certainly not at the risk of the virus spreading further. For my constituents, the Prime Minister’s statement has raised more questions than it has answered. He is acting too early in his encouragement, and he is acting in the interests of the economy, rather than of public health.

Transport for Towns

Mike Hill Excerpts
Tuesday 19th February 2019

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Caroline Flint Portrait Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered transport for towns.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. The presence here of so many of my hon. Friends and other parliamentary colleagues shows the strength of feeling on the towns that we represent and on the importance of transport to our communities and their survival. There is no successful town that cannot move people around it efficiently, moving workers from homes to places of work at all hours, visitors to hospitals, patients to GPs, students to schools and colleges and even people on trips to the pub, cinema or leisure centre.

I represent a constituency of just over 100,000 people living in more than 30 towns and villages. Apart from one suburb, all those communities are detached from Doncaster town centre, many with open countryside in between. Undertaking my monthly surgeries across seven wards involves a 62-mile round trip. Reliance on cars is essential for many in those outlying communities, as public transport has failed them. Effective transport is central to revitalising our post-industrial towns and giving new life to our smaller town communities.

We often hear about connectivity, but that is all too often about links—massive infrastructure projects costing many billions of pounds—to major cities such as Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester in the north. No matter how right those projects are for our regions and for the country, they jar with people frustrated by the everyday transport problems that they face.

This is not new. When Tony Benn was MP for Bristol South East, he received a letter from a constituent that read:

“Dear Tony, I see the Russians have put a space vehicle on the moon. Is there any chance of a better bus service in Bristol?”

I want those voices to be heard. Like many of my colleagues here, I have fought against post office and bank closures. I have been exasperated by the last-call attitude to providing mobile phone and broadband coverage to our homes and businesses in towns. I struggle to understand why new housing developments are built without broadband.

The reality of transport for Britain’s smaller towns is very different from our cities. Our communities are often the places travelled past, not to; communities that no longer have rail services, or a bus service on certain days of the week or in the evenings. Last year, Joseph Rowntree Foundation research found that unaffordable and unreliable public transport cuts off the poorest families in the north of England from crucial job opportunities, making it harder for them to attend job interviews or to hold on to paid employment. Poor transport entrenches poverty.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend is making an important speech. A lot of people in rural villages around Hartlepool, such as Elwick, are getting older. Does she agree that improvements to bus services, which can be vital links, are important not only to keeping those communities going but, from a social and welfare perspective, to keeping those older people connected to the towns that serve them?

Five Year Forward View for Mental Health

Mike Hill Excerpts
Tuesday 30th October 2018

(5 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is an excellent point; some training packages are available for MPs’ staff. I encourage all colleagues to take advantage of that.

The vast majority of people severely affected by mental illness will receive support within a community mental health team, which is the type of core service that provides help to around 700,000 people in England, often with quite complex needs. Although some specialist services have benefited from additional funding and targets, core services for adults severely affected by mental illness have stood still. Core community services did not receive any funding under the five year forward view, and we found that only £50 million was allocated to other core services nationally.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

In Hartlepool, there is no drop-in centre for people in crisis. Crisis teams are stretched to the limit, and often people wait for two hours or more to access them. Given the current funding review, does my hon. Friend agree that we must urgently resolve such situations?

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, that is an excellent point and I strongly agree. The report makes it clear that core services are underfunded and under pressure. There has been great success in getting people better access to psychological therapy, but while IAPT is an excellent service it is not designed for people with severe mental illness. Core services are too overstretched to provide timely talking therapies to people with more complex needs, so those who are most ill often have to wait the longest to get help. Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, said at the Global Mental Health summit that he believed that we must restrike the balance between new talking therapy services for patients with less severe conditions and the core services for those with long-term and severe mental health needs.

We heard many examples of people with severe mental illness struggling to get therapy. One service user came to us; they had a history of psychosis and were told by their GP that if they wanted to access psychological therapy quickly, they should lie to the IAPT team about having psychosis to avoid being rejected for treatment, because it was too difficult to get the treatment they needed for their condition.

In the worst case scenario, people can be hit with the double whammy of being told they are too ill for IAPT but not ill enough for a core mental health team. People are then left struggling. Another service user, Dani, who has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, spoke at our parliamentary launch and contributed to the report. She said that she felt it was strange to be called a service user because her experience was mostly of being told that she was not suitable for services, rather than actually using them.

The inquiry saw the consequences of what happens when people do not get timely support in the community. First, there is a rise in inappropriate out-of-area placements. At the end of June this year, there were 645 inappropriate out-of-area bed placements. Secondly, there is a rise in mental health crises. The report notes that attendances at A&E for a mental health problem have risen 94% since 2010. In our inquiry, we heard from service users who expressed their frustration at turning up at A&E and waiting hours to be seen, before being sent home after a brief chat with a professional. Extra services in A&E, as we were promised yesterday, are positive but a much better solution would be intervening so people do not have to go to A&E. A model already exists where mental health calls to 111 or 999 are redirected to a specialised 24/7 support service staffed by experienced psychological wellbeing coaches, social workers and mental health nurses, who can provide assessments and real-time support. That is successful and it could be rolled out as a national standard approach, which is something the report recommends.

Mental health crises should not be considered an inevitability for people severely affected by mental illness. It is entirely possible to stop people having to go to A&E in a crisis if community services intervene early enough to support them. Support across the country is patchy, unfortunately, as core services struggle to meet the increased demand on budgets. We should not be creating a system that steps in only when people reach breaking point. That is why the report recommends that NHS England should increase resources for core mental health services, such as community mental health teams. Will the Minister set out how the Department of Health and Social Care will help people with severe mental illnesses who are being left without support?

Secondly, I would like to focus on the issue of workforce. Will the Minister set out how we will ensure that we have the staff to meet the needs of everyone with a mental illness? Throughout the inquiry, we heard regularly that the issue of workforce is the biggest barrier to achieving the five year forward view. When workforce and funding for them do not meet demand, the thresholds for accessing treatment rise. That is a problem not just in core services, but in child and adolescent mental health services and across the board.

Racehorse Protection

Mike Hill Excerpts
Monday 15th October 2018

(5 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 211950 relating to setting up a new independent body for the protection of racehorses.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I should start by saying that I speak as a member of the Petitions Committee and am therefore impartial. This is not my motion; I speak on behalf of the petitioners.

Animal Aid is one of the largest animal rights organisations in the UK. I met its representatives in September to discuss the issue, as it has campaigned on issues of animal welfare for almost two decades. I also met the British Horseracing Authority to get its perspective.

All sports carry an element of risk for participants. A human athlete makes a conscious decision to participate in their chosen sport and should understand the potential risks of injury. In horse-racing, jockeys have the choice whether to participate. The horses that they ride do not have that option; they are bred and conscripted into a billion-pound commercial industry. With that fact comes, or should come, a responsibility towards the animals involved, whether they are among the breeding population, the horses in racing and training or the thousands removed from the industry every year.

According to the petitioner, the BHA bears that responsibility by its own choice. In its diverse and demanding role of governance and regulation, it has to make often conflicting decisions to promote horse-racing and maintain its integrity as part of its remit to foster a healthy horse population that, by any moral, let alone legal, standard, should be kept safe from harm.

Transparency and accountability should be key features of any authority—all the more so where animals are involved, because of the public interest in the sport and the public’s ever-growing concern for animal welfare and rights. We are all stakeholders, from punters, racehorse owners, trainers, bookies, farriers and racecourse admin assistants to MPs, campaigners for animals and the thoroughbred racehorses themselves. People should be assured that the best possible welfare practice is at the forefront of racing policy. Without it, the integrity, veracity and legitimacy of racing fall at the first hurdle. Sadly, racing has fallen at that hurdle and is stricken by its own ineptness at getting up to the task in hand and protecting horses from harm.

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that a number of organisations in the racing industry cover these areas. He also mentioned the BHA and the imperfections that it has had. I am not opposed to an independent body, but could not the BHA be changed and improved to take on the responsibilities of one?

--- Later in debate ---
Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
- Hansard - -

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and will come to it later. I have heard the voice of the BHA and it has tried to effect change.

According to the petitioners, nearly 200 horses are killed on racecourses each year. Others are taken away injured and die later, but do not appear in any industry figures. Horses are whipped as normal practice. Rule-breaking abuse with the whip runs to more than 500 offences a year, committed by 260 jockeys or more. That alone is a damning indictment of the BHA’s failings, and there are other issues, which I will come to. A point of progress noted by the BHA at our meeting was the fact that it now counts horses that have died off the racetrack.

The BHA has lacked urgency and has failed to take pragmatic steps when horses have been killed. If racing has a bad name in the media, that has been brought on by a failure to acknowledge and act. Let me read just a few headlines that expose the deficiencies: “‘Record’ number of thoroughbreds being slaughtered for meat”, “Jockey banned after…punching horse”, “Three horses die within 30 minutes at Hexham races leading to calls for an inquiry”, “Worcester Racecourse is among worst venues for horse safety”, and “Plumpton described as ‘death trap’…six horses died in just nine days of racing”. Of course, there was also the recent Cheltenham incident. Such headlines are written because of the public interest in animal welfare, which is ever growing—a point that the petition’s signatories have made clear.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is making extremely good points. Many people, including me, think that the BHA has many qualities and many good people, and serves an important role. However, does he agree that the BHA has so many responsibilities, of which animal welfare is only one, that it is very hard for it to exercise that responsibility as well as it might? Put bluntly, the conflict of interest between promoting the sport and protecting animal welfare ought to lead us to conclude that there should be an independent body.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
- Hansard - -

Yes. The petitioners’ point is that there is a conflict of interest.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A whole number of realms of life are subject to scrutinised self-regulation by people who actually know the profession, industry or walk of life in question. We may look for improvements, but why would we want to take regulation away from the people who have a long-term interest in sustaining the industry and who have the support of the millions who follow racing, either by going to races or by watching them on television?

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
- Hansard - -

That is, of course, a perfectly appropriate point to make, and the BHA in particular would agree. As I said, I have sat down with the BHA and it has made improvements in areas where it recognises that they are required.

I will cite examples to make the case that racehorses have been failed by the BHA, and set out why the BHA should lose its horse welfare remit and be replaced by an independent body that has horse welfare as its only concern.

The problem is nothing new; it is historical. The rich and politically influential people in racing have always had their hands on the reins. They have controlled all aspects since they chose to self-regulate the sport back in 1750, just a few streets away from here, in a Pall Mall gentlemen’s club called the Jockey Club. Their stranglehold on power, and for a short period that of jump racing’s National Hunt Committee, existed until this century, when it married for a few years with a fledgling authority, the Horseracing Regulatory Authority. In 2007, those authorities gave birth to the current incumbent, the BHA.

This is a blue-blooded family who maintain power. Their relatives maintain control too. Weatherby’s, racing’s private administrator and registrar of thoroughbred births and deaths, has since 1770 and for seven family generations enjoyed direct involvement in the fully integrated sport of breeding, racing and disposing of thoroughbreds. Much of the information that it gathers on racehorses is kept private, but in some circumstances it can be bought.

According to the petitioners, this is an exclusive old boys’ club run like a masonic lodge with friends in Government. Through the ages, the Government have left this racing club in full control, rarely intervening in horse welfare matters. Parliament has seen few discussions on the subject. The last time any serious debate took place here was in 1954, when Lord Ammon rose to ask

“whether the attention of Her Majesty’s Government has been directed to the disaster on the Aintree racecourse during the Grand National Steeplechase on Saturday, 27th March when 29 horses started, of which 20, including four killed, failed to finish the course; whether the law concerning cruelty to animals applies in such cases, and to move for Papers.”

He went on to say:

“Nor is that all the story; hundreds of the horses who fail are not heard of again. It is difficult to get news about them”.

He was talked down by Earl Winterton, who—with the support of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lord Lloyd—rejected Government intervention, stating that

“it would be a pity if it went out from your Lordships’ House that there was undue criticism here. Surely we should leave the appropriate authorities”

—by which he meant racing’s self-regulating National Hunt Committee—

“to consider what has been said…and decide what course they should take”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 April 1954; Vol. 186, c. 1041-1049.]

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the self-regulators did not take any course of action.

I mention that historical debate because, importantly, the same scenario is being played out today. Like Lord Ammon, I ask whether Her Majesty’s Government are aware that three horses died just weeks ago in a single afternoon’s racing at Perth racecourse. Is the horse welfare regulator—the BHA—going to make any changes to the racecourse or to the conditions of the races at Perth, to prevent this from happening again? Were the Government or anyone else aware that, more alarmingly, this is the second time that three horses have died in a day’s racing at Perth? After their deaths in August 2016, the BHA failed to act, making no changes and learning no lessons. As a consequence, horses have had to be killed yet again. Just as its predecessor for jump racing, the National Hunt Committee, walked away from horse deaths back in 1954, the BHA is doing the same—and this, of course, when the deaths do not make the headlines.

One might think that horses are racing’s most valuable assets. That is perhaps so for horses such as Frankel, Galileo or Kew Gardens, who are making millions of pounds for their owners, but maybe not for elderly brood mares and former racehorses such as Maidment or Marilouise. These are just two of 23 thoroughbreds, some pregnant and one with a foal at foot, who were taken at the eleventh hour from a bankrupt stud in Newmarket—the beating heart of British racing. Those horses were not saved with the support of the racing industry or the BHA but by Hillside animal sanctuary, a rescue centre that relies on public donations to feed and care for unwanted animals. Had Hillside not taken them into its care just a few weeks ago, on 17 September, those horses, including the foal, would have been destroyed—they were pre-booked for 18 September at 11 am. Fortunately for the BHA’s high-profile public image campaign, The Horse Comes First, and its flagship Retraining of Racehorses scheme, ROR, that desperate rescue of 23 vulnerable racehorses and broodmares, who were down on their luck, did not hit the national headlines.

That highlights the major welfare issue of overbreeding, and likewise what to do with the thousands of horses who face ejection by the industry each year, which in effect is the very same problem. In 2008, the Irish Republic, which is the supply centre of half the horses who are trained and raced in Britain, was hit by the global economic recession. British Racing, led by the BHA, stood by and watched an exponential rise in slaughter figures, from just over 2,000 in 2008 to 24,000 in 2012.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My recollection is that the global financial crisis also led to a crisis in horse-owning more generally, quite apart from horse-racing. I am not clear whether the perfectly legitimate line that my hon. Friend is taking is, actually, to oppose horse-racing.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
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I remind my right hon. Friend that I am a member of the Petitions Committee and I am quoting the facts and figures of the petitioners on this occasion.

Abattoirs sprung up almost overnight to cater for the demand for the disposal of unwanted horses. In the crudest terms, Irish and British horse-racing had gone from a sport to a food producer. Young foals and those at the end of the careers, the injured or slow, poor-performing stallions and mediocre brood mares similar to Maidment and Marilouise, who Hillside took in just weeks ago, were turned into meat for human consumption or fed to hunting hounds, while others were rendered down to be mixed into everyday products. That massacre of the sport’s equine competitors was the result of a lack of foresight and strategic planning for the future, the ignorance of potential outcomes and the sheer apathy of a self-regulated industry. The average punter and Royal Ascot celebrity would never know this secret, because of a lack of transparency and a closed door to freedom of information.

Since that animal welfare disaster, the BHA has failed to put limits on breeding numbers. One hundred years ago, a top stallion would cover—a polite way of saying mate—with 15 mares. Around 35 years ago, stallions such as the ill-fated Shergar would cover 40 at best. This year, we are seeing single stallions cover 100, 200 or even 300 mares. It is irresponsible, and the BHA stands by and lets it happen. It is as bad as any unscrupulous dog breeder who has hit the news in recent years—behaviour that eventually brought about a change to the law.

The burgeoning racing fixtures list, drawn up to accommodate the swell of horses being bred, will be the biggest ever in 2019, with over 1,500 meetings. It will not meet the needs of a huge number of horses who will not win a race and will earn little or no prize money, and who will then be quickly cast out and replaced by another on the conveyor belt of horses that pass through the industry, which brings me on to racing itself.

When a horse steps on to a British racecourse, its welfare and protection from potential suffering should be paramount. Yet each horse has about a one in 50 chance of not surviving a year in racing. The BHA likes to minimise that alarming figure by stating that just 0.2% of runners die in racing, although if a horse runs 10 times and dies, that is classed as one in 10 runners. It is confusing and deliberately misleading. The disrespect shown by classing horses’ deaths as a percentage of runners, and the BHA’s unwillingness to name individual horses who are killed in an understandable and comprehensive list, as is done in Ireland, led the campaign group Animal Aid to launch its own online website, Race Horse Death Watch, where one can see the names of ill-fated horses and the racecourses where they died. It has become an endless list and makes for disturbing viewing.

Why do horses die racing? Is it by accident, as the BHA cited in the death of a two-year-old colt last month at Doncaster, or are horse deaths to some extent preventable? In the case of the two-year-old, the BHA shamefully absolved itself and the racecourse of any responsibility for the young horse’s death. I will go through the account of an eyewitness who saw this tragedy unfold. An inexperienced two-year-old colt known as Commanding Officer entered an enclosed starting stall from which to race. The horse became frightened and reared in an attempt to free himself from the all-enveloping stall. Instead of removing this panic-stricken, novice horse from the race, it was decided to blindfold him in the hope of eventually getting him to run. Without his vision, and with natural equine fear, he reared again in the starting stall. The poor design of stalls enabled Commanding Officer to trap a foreleg between the front gates. As he pulled back, blind, to free himself, his foreleg snapped into two as the gates held firmly shut. By design, there is, surprisingly, no quick-release mechanism on the gates to free individual horses from stalls. As a consequence, the colt’s hoof and five inches of bare cannon bone—his shin—were hanging off the end of his leg, held by just a tenuous flap of skin.

The horse was eventually destroyed, but not without immense suffering. The eyewitness described the horse’s destruction as “unbelievable”, and a load of empty syringes were thrown over the screens—those would have contained a deadly cocktail of drugs in a vain attempt to inject the scared and injured animal. The race was held up but still went ahead. As the other horses set off running, Commander Officer’s dead body lay in a white horsebox parked next to the stalls. He was two years old—just a baby.

Shockingly, the BHA stewards’ report of events stated that

“the BHA’s Equine Health and Welfare department…found that the starting and loading procedures were followed correctly, and that the injury sustained by Commanding Officer was an accident.”

There was no mention of the inability to quickly open the stall gates to free the horse. That might have been the end of the story, but it is not. At a previous meeting at the very same racecourse, Doncaster, an identical fatal injury happened that was similarly caused by the poor design of the stalls. An experienced horse known as Mukaynis caught his left foreleg in the starting stall gates when, yet again, the horse’s vision was compromised by a hood. Mukaynis, with restricted vision, was startled by a stalls handler. The gelding reared, the gates trapping a leg. Perhaps the BHA thinks that lightning cannot strike twice and crosses it fingers—it did not act after Mukaynis lost his life, and the young Commanding Officer has now lost his life, too. Both horses were failed by poor practice that could have been resolved with basic insight and cost-effective physical changes to starting stall gates.

That is not the only problem. The BHA’s crude reporting of events should also be scrutinised. The race-day stewards, who are mostly amateurs, are commissioned by and under guidance from the BHA, and are meant to monitor the races, take action, note any concerning matters and report them in the official BHA documents. The stewards reported that both horse victims were “unruly in the stalls”. Their report did not even acknowledge that Mukaynis was dead. The BHA allows anthropomorphic terms to be used to describe fear in an equine that is confined in an unnatural manner and unable to escape when panicked.

I could talk into the night about other heart-wrenching cases in which stewards failed to monitor or report welfare issues. Many racehorse deaths could easily have been avoided if the tired horses that had no chance of winning were simply pulled up. Horses are literally run into the ground: they are forced to race without having time to recover from the previous races.

I have spoken to the BHA, and it has talked about making improvements in the areas that I have condemned. It says that it reviews deaths, but its Cheltenham review came about only because of the public and media outcry over the death of six horses at this year’s festival meeting. It published no review of the 2017 festival and did not even mention the five horses that died during it, or the seven that were killed in 2016. The media failed to pick up on those deaths, so the BHA remained silent. It takes the wrath of public opinion to make it look into deaths, let alone take responsibility for them.

The BHA states that it has spent £33 million since 2017 on veterinary research and education. That sum may sound reasonable, but the BHA grossed more than £1.8 billion during that time, and it equates to less than 2% of expenditure. It is about £150 per horse—less money than a jockey’s riding fee for one race. Racing is a rich industry and can afford to increase its welfare budget. If it does not, horses will continue to pay the price of the underspend with their lives.

The petitioners call on the Government to act by removing the British Horseracing Authority from its role as welfare regulator for racehorses, while allowing it to retain its other roles in racing, and to replace the BHA with an independent body that is responsible only for horse welfare.

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Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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I do not accept that. Racehorses are not just trained to race—they are bred to race, and they naturally want to race. That is their natural state of being. I do not accept the hon. Lady’s premise that racehorses, if they were not in a trainer’s yard, would have no interest at all in racing one another. That is what they naturally want to do, and it is what they naturally do.

Someone mentioned the whip. I encourage people to get hold of a whip and hit themselves with it quite hard. They will find it does not actually hurt at all. Whips are not used for that purpose. If someone wants a horse to run faster, they do not hurt it. By definition, a hurt horse will not run faster, just like someone who is injured while running will not run faster as a result of being hurt. Yes, the whip is used to encourage a horse. It is often used for safety reasons, to ensure that a horse runs in a straight line and does not deviate and put other horses and riders in danger. There is a lot of misunderstanding about the use of the whip in horse-racing. Again, a horse will not run faster if it has been injured.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool said racing was run by the “blue-blooded” brigade. I do not know whether more than a few of us have met Nick Rust, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, but I am not sure he would recognise that description. Perhaps he would—perhaps I do him a disservice—but I think most people in the Chamber would accept that he is from a very humble, modest and down-to-earth background. Describing people such as him as “blue-blooded” does them a gross disservice.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
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Of course I recognise that horse-racing is not only the sport of kings—allegedly—but the sport of the working man. However, as a member of the Petitions Committee, I reflected the views of the petitioners. To answer the hon. Gentleman, yes I can ride a horse, but I missed out from my speech the fact that both the BHA and the petitioners recognise that there are issues with the weighting of saddles, which means the weight of the jockey is not natural.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for distancing himself from the description of the BHA as “blue-blooded”, which, as I said, I do not recognise.

The BHA puts animal welfare at the heart of everything it does. Anyone who has read its business plan for 2017 to 2019 will know that the first of its six strategic objectives is “equine welfare leadership”. I do not think anyone can doubt the BHA’s commitment to animal welfare. It has already started a huge animal welfare programme led by David Sykes, the BHA director of equine welfare.

I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury is, like me, a regular reader of the Racing Post. I am sure the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) is, too. He is a fantastic joint chairman of the all-party racing and bloodstock industries group. I am merely a vice-chairman, but I am proud of that none the less. I have to say that the two joint chairmen do a fantastic job. Anyone who has read the Racing Post recently will know about the BHA’s interesting initiative with Exeter University. They have been looking at how horses’ vision affects how they see and respond to their environment. They have looked at the visibility of fences and at what colours make horses more careful when they jump them. As a consequence, a trial will soon be run in which a yellow band appears across the hurdles, because the evidence from Exeter University is that horses are more careful when they see the colour yellow. That was news to me, but it goes to show how the racing industry is leaving no stone unturned to try to make the sport as safe as possible for horses. A padded hurdle design is being trialled at 11 jump racecourses, with the objective of reducing fallers.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool talked about the breeding industry. On 1 January, the BHA introduced 30-day notification for thoroughbred foals born in Great Britain so there is greater transparency and information about the whereabouts of foals born into the racing industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury made clear the number of people who are employed in the racing industry and the industry’s importance. Having owned horses—modest ones on the whole, as I said—I do not believe anyone is more passionate about the welfare of horses than owners, trainers and in particular the stable staff who look after those horses daily. Of course, from time to time, something happens to a horse that goes racing. No one disputes that that is tragic, but the people who are most upset about it are the owners and trainers, and the stable staff who look after those horses every day.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool clearly met various people and did some research before opening the debate. I genuinely commend him for that. I hope everyone present tries to take the opportunity to visit a racing stable and see how well horses are treated in those stables—how well they are pampered and how loved they are by the stable staff who look after them, the trainers who train them and the owners who own them. I often wish I was as well-pampered as a racehorse. No stone is left unturned in looking after them. They have saunas, swimming pools—you name it. They are rightly treated like kings and queens in those stables.

We should be immensely proud of how well racehorses are looked after in this country. I suspect that we compare very well with any other country anywhere in the world and I would be amazed if any other country had as proud a track record in looking after racehorses as we do. The Horserace Betting Levy Board has supported nearly 500 research projects on animal welfare since its foundation. Since 2000, the levy board and third parties have invested about £35 million of veterinary research funding.

Rightly, we are a nation of animal lovers, nobody more than me. As someone who has been closely involved in the racing industry all my life, I can look people in the eye and say that I think that the racing industry in this country is the best in the world and the one most interested in animal welfare. The BHA does a fantastic job in regulating. I am not entirely sure what an independent regulator would do that the BHA does not already do, given some of the things I have mentioned. Anyone can see that it leaves no stone unturned in trying to ensure that we have as few horse casualties as possible in the racing industry. Unfortunately, accidents happen to horses, but they happen when they are out in a field, not when they are racing. Many injuries happen when horses are just loose in the field; they do a lot of damage to themselves. It is terrible, awful and heart-breaking for everybody, but unfortunately those things happen.

We should not castigate an industry that does so much for animal welfare either because of ignorance or because people just do not like a sport or people in that sport. We should all congratulate the British Horseracing Authority on everything it does for animal welfare; without doubt, it is a world leader, and I hope that the Minister will echo that point.

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David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Rutley)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) on speaking up for the petitioners, which he did extraordinarily well, while also adding in some of his own views along the way. It has been a useful and stimulating debate.

I am the newly appointed Minister for Animal Welfare, and hon. Members on both sides of the House can be assured that this issue is very important to me. Like other Members, I have also received several emails from constituents who have signed the petition; there were 176 from Macclesfield. It is clear from the contributions made that racehorses spend many weeks training hard to compete in races so that many people across the country can enjoy the thrill of horse-racing, which, as set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), and others, is the second-best-attended sport after football. That is why we should rightly expect that racehorses are looked after to the highest standard and that their welfare needs, as required by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, are met.

The BHA is responsible for the safety of the tracks, for both horses and jockeys. I am pleased that it works hard to put in place the necessary safety measures for horses and works collaboratively with welfare experts from the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare to continuously improve its work in this vital endeavour, which is important.

As the new Minister, I wanted to understand what these welfare organisations—as well as my colleagues—had to say, so I read with interest the views of the RSPCA, which is supportive of its working arrangement with the BHA. The charity’s deputy chief executive, Chris Wainwright, said:

“We work really closely with the BHA and we think that relationship has resulted in lots of really good improvements, whether it’s the use of the whip”—

we will come on to that again in a moment—

“hurdles design or the review of Aintree.”

It is clearly open to further reviews, but it has a positive working relationship with the BHA.

World Horse Welfare says that it has worked constructively with the BHA for many years, which has resulted in a number of positive changes to further advance racehorse safety and welfare.

The BHA has a dedicated team who inspect the 60 racetracks in Great Britain. There are four inspectors of courses, who have an allocated number of racecourses. I will not go into all the detail of their work, but it is clear that they do preliminary inspections of the racecourses; they are involved at the start of every season. Throughout the season, racecourses continue to be monitored, and then any improvements that are required get acted on. On race day itself, as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) has seen for herself, a huge amount of activity goes on to ensure that there are high standards then as well.

How do we think that the BHA is performing? There were differing views across the Chamber today. The BHA maintains statistics on the number of horses involved in fatal accidents, and it is really important to see the level of fatalities and the trend. Mention has been made of this, but let me put it on the record for clarity: clearly, each fatality is absolutely tragic. The continuing decline in fatalities from the years 2012 and 2013, when there were 211 and 196 fatalities respectively, to 167 in 2017 is encouraging, but I am keen to see the number of fatalities decline still further. From contributions in today’s debate, including a very useful contribution from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), I think that that ambition is shared across the House. The BHA needs to recognise that and respond to it, and I will come in due course to how I think it could be recognised.

As has been highlighted, there is always a degree of risk in any sport or activity, whether to the humans or animals involved. With 91,000 runners at tracks in 2017, the fatalities represented 0.18% of all runners. It is positive to see the percentage also declining since 2012. That is very welcome, given the work that the BHA is doing to put in place the necessary safety measures. I have to state again that that is done on a collaborative basis with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare. That approach is vital. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr Cameron) that more needs to be done to ensure that the figures are transparent and available to the public more readily. I will raise that when I meet the BHA.

A good example of a result of the collaboration between the BHA and the RSPCA is the redesign of fences and other aspects of the Grand National course, as the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) will appreciate, given his constituency interests. It resulted in the inner frames of fences being replaced with more forgiving flexible plastic. That has led to a sharp decline in the number of fatalities in that iconic race; indeed, there has been none since the work was completed in 2013. That is good news, and more needs to be done to learn from these important lessons to reduce fatalities further in other races.

There have been very notable contributions to the debate. Some were incredibly supportive of the status quo, although I think that everyone wants further change and improvement. Worth highlighting are the intervention early on from the right hon. Member for Warley and the contributions from the hon. Member for St Helens North and my hon. Friends the Members for Tewkesbury and for Shipley (Philip Davies). They highlighted how much horse-racing means to many people across the country and that the welfare of racehorses is vital, not just for the industry’s sake but for the horses’ sake. They are wonderful animals and their welfare should be paramount. Hon. Members spoke strongly in support of the BHA’s work, but I did not detect complacency. I recognised that they felt that racehorse welfare needed to continue to be a real priority.

We were able to see during the debate what it is like to go to York racecourse on race day. We had a behind-the-scenes view of what goes on from a contribution by the hon. Member for York Central that was characteristically thoughtful and, as always, as I have noticed in these debates, well researched. She raised a number of issues and, with the permission of hon. Members present, I will go through as many as I can. She raised the important issue of starting gates, which was also raised on the petitioners’ behalf by the hon. Member for Hartlepool. It is clear that the BHA needs to look very carefully at the tragic incidents that have been raised, such as the one involving Commanding Officer. More needs to be done to tackle this issue. Again, I will raise it with the BHA when I meet it in the near future.

The use of whips has been much discussed—by the hon. Members for York Central, for East Kilbride and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. I have to tread pretty carefully on this subject: I am a Government Whip and I have also been the Whip for my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley—I do not think any more needs to be said there. [Interruption.] I have sometimes found that a carrot can be more effective than a stick, but we will not go too far down that track.

None the less, important issues have been raised about use of the whip. In this country, strict rules are in place. Stewards are empowered to hold inquiries and to ban jockeys. The BHA rightly keeps those rules under review, and of course lessons should be learned from places such as Norway. It was interesting to read the report produced by the RSPCA for this debate. It has obviously been monitoring use of the whip and working closely with the BHA on this issue. According to its records and review, between 2012 and 2015 there was a 40% reduction in use of the whip. The RSPCA welcomes that, as I think we all do, but we would probably all say, “Let’s go further down that track.”

On the subject of retired racehorses, it sounds as though New Beginnings, in the constituency of the hon. Member for York Central, is doing great work and it is to be commended. We need to learn from the positive work that is going on to retrain racehorses, which was also highlighted by the hon. Member for St Helens North. Indeed, £750,000 is being made available to see what can be done to facilitate the rehoming and retraining of racehorses. I am really encouraged to see that there are successful second careers for racehorses.

The hon. Member for York Central talked about a number of EU-exit-related issues, including that of skilled staff. The Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to review the shortage occupation list, and I am sure that the racing industry will want to make its contributions to that important review. She highlighted equine movement; that is one of several issues that need to be considered as we look at leaving the EU. The continued movement of equines between the UK and the EU, with the minimum of delay, is very important to the industry on both sides. It is therefore in both sides’ interest to ensure that that is maintained. Technical notices were put out on 12 October about what arrangements will be put in place in a no deal scenario, but obviously what we are working towards—we have heard more about it today—is securing a deal. The negotiation, as we are all too aware, is ongoing.

The hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) took a different track with his view of the BHA’s track record. None the less, it stimulated a lively debate. Even he did not want a ban on horse-racing. I think that what we are all saying here, although from different positions, is that we want to see the welfare of racehorses put centre stage. I will take on board the points that he made.

The hon. Member for East Kilbride and several other communities—I can never remember them in order, so I will stick with just East Kilbride—made, characteristically, such a reasonable contribution that it is hard to disagree with many of the things that she said. Further improvements are required. She felt that there was a conflict of interest with regard to the BHA’s role. I do not particularly share that view, but I will go into that in more detail. She did set out some issues to tackle, notwithstanding the figures that we have talked about for the Grand National, and she talked about what can be done to address issues in relation to the whip.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, who also made an important contribution, highlighted the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which came into place under a previous Government, under his party’s leadership. That is a very important Act. I, too, welcome the fact that the present Government are looking to increase the sentences. We are looking to bring that into place as soon as possible when parliamentary time permits. We are seeking the Bill necessary to make it possible, and I know that he would welcome that moving forward as quickly as possible. He also highlighted the fact that this subject is very much about an ongoing journey. I share his ambition; in fact, I want to go further. As the Minister for this area now, I need to press hard on these issues.

I will now wind up and give a few concluding remarks. I would like to stress again that we must do all that we can to reduce the fatalities of horses while racing on a track. I am grateful for all the contributions in this debate, which show the keen interest that is genuinely felt in the welfare of racehorses.

The Government welcome all the work the BHA has done, and continues to do, for the safety of horses and riders and as a functioning and transparent body, which has the key responsibility in this area. With the work the BHA has done to further reduce the number of fatalities at racetracks, the Government do not see a need to take a different approach by creating a new body, as was set out in the initial response to the e-petition. That does not mean that the BHA should not continue to be held to account. It should continue to have to explain what it does in an open and transparent way, as has been set out clearly in this debate.

I am looking forward to meeting the BHA in the near future. The welfare of racehorses will be at the top of the agenda and will continue to be at subsequent meetings. I am particularly interested to discuss with the BHA its review, which is due to be published soon, of the tragic deaths of six racehorses at Cheltenham. I think that will be an important vehicle to understand its commitment and ambition, which—as has been set out clearly in the debate—other hon. Members share. It provides an opportunity to look at what more can be done at the Grand National. Let us use that report as a moment for reflection. I hope that the BHA is listening to this debate.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
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My understanding from the research I have done is that the count at Cheltenham was six horses on the racecourse and one off of the racecourse and that the seventh horse has now been included in the overall count.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I will seek clarification myself, based on what he said. Whether six or seven, it is a tragic number of horses to have died in one event. That review is important and timely, particularly for me as a new Minister. I look forward to that meeting, which will be testing and challenging, quite rightly, because of what has been set out in this debate.

I will also continue to monitor the reports of future fatalities and review associated action plans, to ensure that further progress is made in the months and years ahead. As previously stated, I am pleased that the BHA has an open and fruitful relationship with the key welfare bodies in this area—the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare—and that it takes advice on animal welfare from those organisations. I am sure that that will continue; it should be encouraged.

While the Government may not agree with those who signed the e-petition on the need for a new body, I hope that we can all agree that more can and should be done to work collaboratively, to keep the spotlight on reducing fatalities and improving the welfare of racehorses. I look forward to playing my part in this important work.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
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I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. I thank the e-petitioners and Animal Aid, representatives of which are here, for bringing this e-petition. I thank the Authority, which is also represented here, for meeting me. Finally, I thank the Petitions Committee support team for its programme of online engagement on the subject in the run-up to this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 211950 relating to setting up a new independent body for the protection of racehorses.

Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill (First sitting)

Mike Hill Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd January 2018

(6 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
None Portrait The Chair
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Q I can get everybody in if they are really quick. Does anybody else on the panel want to quickly respond to that?

Gordon Tutt: There is everything in the Bill that we need in terms of whatever the solution is. There are already provisions within that legislation to allow flexibility, to prevent goods from being detained at the border and to allow them to be moved up into inland examination points under controlled mechanisms. That already exists within that legislation.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab)
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Q You have already answered the question I was going to ask; I represent the port town of Hartlepool. A quick question: do you have an estimate of how many retail businesses will be drawn into customs arrangements for the first time?

Anastassia Beliakova: I believe the figure has been cited as being 130,000 businesses who are dealing with customs declarations for the first time—that is, those estimated to be currently trading just with the EU. Of course, there will be businesses of different sizes. If you are a very large business, you will be working directly with the new system’s CDS and then you need time to integrate into that. If you are a smaller business, you are dependent on the provisions that your intermediaries, your freight forwarders, have put in place. A whole host of businesses will be affected that depend on a number of different bodies and Government putting the right measures in place with sufficient notice.

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Just a very quick one. There are quite wide-ranging issues here today. How about the actual hard costs for your various organisations and the companies you represent of the introduction of the new processes, new liaison arrangements and new engagement processes?

Anastassia Beliakova: It would be very difficult to assess, because there are a number of factors. One is just the cost of a customs declaration. That will perhaps be more challenging for a smaller business that is trading ad hoc. If you are a large business trading at big volumes, the cost will be quite marginal for you.

But then there are other considerations. There is the time issue. Are you going to factor in any potential delays? If so, does that mean you have to provide for more warehousing facilities? Does that mean you have to keep an inventory? All those things are very difficult to quantify for a median figure, but they are things we know our members are starting to consider—some quite actively.

William Bain: If you move away from a just-in-time supply and sourcing mechanism, you have to look at stockpiling. That means you have to look at extra warehousing capacity. You have to change IT systems in terms of VAT and customs. All that comes at a cost for businesses, at a time in which we see the pressures in terms of footfall and retail spending.

Peter MacSwiney: As a software supplier, we support about 350 companies in probably 800 locations. We estimate that making the necessary changes, just to roll out our system, is going to cost in excess of £250,000 over the next two years. I do not know whether that is any help to you.

Gordon Tutt: One of the other issues is underwritten by the fact that some of the changes being introduced to the software systems would have been required anyway as part of the requirements to meet the UCC—new data set, new message types, more engagement in terms of electronic transactions. In addition, we are already working on CHIEF replacement, so the costs of that are already borne as part of the decision to replace CHIEF. As high as these costs are for some of the software suppliers and some of the trade sector, some of that cost would have already existed had we decided to remain within the EU.

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Douglas Chapman Portrait Douglas Chapman (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I would like to ask an additional question. In the previous session we heard that, for example, in terms of SMEs, 130,000 small businesses would be affected by this kind of legislation for the very first time. Does the panel have a view on the particular challenges that the Bill might bring to small business and its impact, especially if Mr White’s book has to be trawled through every time some decision has to be made? What is the panel’s view on that?

Barbara Scott: I work a lot with SMEs who currently find it very hard to understand the Community legislation on customs and international trade law. It is complex and there are a lot of different strands to it. Trade is complex. Things are different depending on what you are doing, whether coffee from Colombia or bicycle parts from China. The legislation and the effect on business is very different, unlike other laws, such as VAT or corporation tax, which generally impact in the same way on most businesses.

This is a huge step change for SMEs and particularly for those who have only traded within the EU. It will be a tough challenge for HMRC to reach out to those people, get them involved and explain how the new legislation will work. There is clearly going to have to be a lot of propaganda and information out there. It is a huge challenge for the state.

Jeremy White: And there is a cost. The SMEs will have to employ agents, because they will not be able to employ in-house staff. I have been told that SMEs will sell out to someone who does have the assistance. The only frictionless trade known to man is customs union. Anything else is costly and can only be managed—just—with all the simplified procedures of the UCC in operation, plus all the information systems that are there to support them. That is big money.

Barbara Scott: When we talk to customs about this, we are constantly hearing, yes, they are being given more resources and will be employing more staff, but can business afford to do that—suddenly to employ new people and understand these new processes? It is a huge cost. People ask, “What is that cost?” It is very difficult to measure. I do not think anyone has attempted to do so yet. It will be a very difficult time for SMEs in particular.

Sue Davies: I cannot comment on SMEs but I want to make the point that if there are additional costs for businesses, they will feed through and lead to increased prices for consumers. That is why it is really important that we have as efficient a system as possible, which still maintains the right level of protection for consumers.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
- Hansard - -

Q I shall ask a question on behalf of my colleague, Grahame Morris, who has lost his voice. He has not lost his question. His voice is somewhere in Dover. Do you have any concerns that the Bill may create opportunities for tax avoidance or evasion?

Jeremy White: Uncertainty always produces that, doesn’t it? A little bit of background: all my professional life has been using EU-type rules, EU language and structure. Through all its iterations—when I was a Government lawyer working on the implementation of the Community customs code, then when we began to do work on the Union customs code, then I went back to practice—it is still very similar. It is well known that the opportunities for avoidance are few. There have been some, obviously, in terms of customs valuation. There have been customs valuation schemes in the past. Most of them have been dealt with.

This is just an example—we do not know, and it could be handled very well—but in a recast there is always an opportunity of bringing in some uncertainty. Is this exactly the same provision as we had before? Will it prevent a customs valuation scheme? The answer to that is that we do not know because all we have seen in the Bill is a very small, framework principle rule provision, but it still does not adopt exactly the language of the World Trade Organisation customs valuation agreement. That would be beneficial—that is another point in our report. The way it works is this. All the customs authorities in the world are obviously interested in preventing evasion and avoidance. They have their own legislation, they have got together for a world agreement on how customs valuation should be—taxation based on movements of goods—that is adopted generally, and their Supreme Courts have ruled on it for many years now, or at least since everyone adopted the same since 1994. We have all that body of work, help and certainty. If we then have an English law recast that abandons that language, we do not take the benefit of leveraging off of any of the international law or any of the international judgments.

The answer to your question—that was really all background—is that we do not know until we see what the statutory instrument looks like, if we still go down this road. It would be better not to, but if we do still go down the road of the recast for all purposes, we will see what the statutory instrument says. I would have thought that the advice will be that the statutory instrument has to adhere to the WTO customs valuation agreement.

None Portrait The Chair
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We have a little over 10 minutes to go and three people to ask any further questions.

Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill (Second sitting)

Mike Hill Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd January 2018

(6 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you very much. Who would like to start on the Committee? Mr Mike Hill.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab)
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Q Brexit with no deal is likely to massively increase the number of customs declarations required for transporting goods through ports. What impact do you think that will have on your members?

Tim Reardon: Our members are carriers of goods. The obligation to submit a customs declaration falls on the importer—it does not necessarily fall on the carrier, although the carrier can do it as part of the service that he offers to his customer. Our concern is that unless the process for submitting and processing those declarations does not interrupt the physical movement of the goods, then the movement of the goods off our ships, through the terminal and into the domestic market will be interrupted. Similarly, leaving the country we would want to be able to ensure that those vehicles, particularly in a ferry context, are able to drive straight through the docking gate, through the terminal and on to the ships in the same seamless way as they do now.

Richard Ballantyne: Following Tim’s points, it is probably fair to say that the majority of UK port authorities are relatively calm about Brexit, but we have the operational interest. Tim alluded to the ro-ro ferry terminals, such as Dover, Holyhead, Portsmouth and many others, which provide and facilitate around 10,000 lorry movements a day between the UK and the EU. It is a substantial part of trade. The operational impact—how those customs processes will be facilitated at the border—is a big concern for a large portion of my membership.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

The witnesses are free to answer if you would like to add something, but do not feel obliged to.

Robert Windsor: My members are heavily involved in the provision of customs entries. I am sure that you have seen the figures of what the new numbers could be—they are substantial. It would depend largely on the type of customs entry—whether it was a simplified or non-simplified entry that had to be submitted at the frontier—and on how that will impact on trade.

Back in 1992, we had 125 members in the Dover area alone doing customs entries. We now have 24 members and they take care of all aspects of it. My members are quite categorically saying that we cannot go back to 1992: that would gum up the thing completely, and the impact on my members would be more staff, facilities, time taken for training, and how all that will work. There is the big impact of the re-imposition of VAT on goods coming in to the country, because if you have a duty deferment with customs, you have to fund it. The point is that you fund two months’ deferment, not one. Those elements are definitely concerning my members.

Public Sector Pay

Mike Hill Excerpts
Monday 4th December 2017

(6 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I wish to declare an interest; I used to be employed by Unison, which brought forward the petition and also donated to my general election campaign, together with Unite and GMB.

The Government’s austerity agenda has not only done great damage to our public sector services but brought our NHS to the brink of collapse. Indeed, in Hartlepool, our local hospital is at risk of haemorrhaging services, which is unacceptable to the people. I know from experience that relentless cuts and redundancies have led to remaining staff being over-stretched and under extreme pressure. For more years than I care to remember, those same workers have suffered pay restraints and pay caps. In the light of inflation, that has meant, in effect, that they have suffered a real-terms pay cut. It is a sad indictment of the situation created by this Government that health workers and other public sector workers in my constituency are resorting to food banks.

Things have got so bad that Unison gives out school uniform grants and other welfare provisions for those trapped in in-work poverty, and local branches increasingly issue food bank vouchers to their members who are in need. It is unacceptable that this situation has arisen and that NHS and other public sector workers are struggling to get by on low pay. The pay cap has been cited as one of the reasons why nurses have been leaving the profession in droves, yet its main purpose—addressing Government debt—has failed. Since the cap was introduced, Government debt has grown by around 50%, to reach £1.7 trillion in May this year. Our hard-working NHS staff should not suffer the burden of propping up—

Jim Cunningham Portrait Mr Jim Cunningham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend has probably heard Ministers say how wonderful our public services are and that what staff and our emergency services do is wonderful. But does he agree that the best thing that the Government could do is to improve on the recommendations of the wages board for a big increase—not the one that the Government might be proposing? More importantly, does he agree that that the Government should put their money where their mouth is, and give those staff a decent increase?

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Government’s words are hollow when they say that they will look at the pay review bodies but they have not committed to the recommendations of those pay bodies.

Our hard-working NHS staff should not suffer the burden of propping up the Government’s failed and farcical fiscal policy. They deserve a pay rise and they deserve it now.