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Commons Chamber

Volume 568: debated on Wednesday 9 October 2013

House of Commons

Wednesday 9 October 2013

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Committee of Selection


That Mr John Randall be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Greg Hands be a member of the Committee until the end of the current Session.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Economic Policies

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effects of the Government’s economic policies on Wales. (900298)

Our economic strategy is designed to equip Wales and the United Kingdom with the tools they need to succeed in the global race, and to secure a stronger economy and a fairer society.

With the deficit down by a third and employment at record levels, does the Secretary of State agree that it is time for the Labour party to admit that our economic policy is working, not only in Redditch, but in Wales?

Indeed, it is working in Wales and in Redditch. There are clear signs that the economy is turning the corner. I am sure that all Members were pleased with yesterday’s forecast by the International Monetary Fund, which revised UK growth for next year up from 1.5% to 1.9%.

I put it to the Secretary of State that all economies recover from all recessions at some point, but that our recovery has come three years after those of Germany and the United States because his Government’s savage cuts turned Labour’s growth and recovery from the banking crisis in 2010 into three years of austerity. The current recovery is made in the south-east for the south-east. In Wales, there is no housing bubble, long-term unemployment is dire, as is under-employment, and personal debt is high. We need investment in Wales. His Government should be supporting the Labour Welsh Government, not hindering them with budget cuts the whole time.

It is rather rich for the right hon. Gentleman, who was a member of the Government who presided over the economic crash in 2008, to criticise this Government for the steps that we are taking to turn the economy around. Wales, as much as every other part of the country, is benefiting from the measures that we have taken. There are 67,000 more people in work than at the time of the last election. He should welcome that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our excellent national economic policies are being held back by the Welsh Assembly’s inward investment policies, which have led to a fall in inward investment in Wales? Wales has gone from being one of the top creators of inward investment to one of the lowest as a result of those policies.

There were modest improvements recently, but it is the case that the Welsh Assembly Government should give serious consideration to reinstating a body like the Welsh Development Agency, which was so successful.

Wales urgently needs job creation levers to boost our economy, as the Council for Economic Renewal said today. Last week, in an interview with Adrian Masters of ITV Cymru Wales, the Prime Minister refused to commit to a response from the UK Government to part 1 of the Silk commission before next year’s Scottish referendum. Why are the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister holding back the Welsh economy?

As I have just said, the Welsh economy is growing. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we recently held a consultation on the devolution of stamp duty land tax. We are considering the responses and will make a formal response in due course.

13. Housing construction is an important element of economic renewal and regeneration, and the Help to Buy scheme in England will make a significant impact in encouraging home ownership and new build. The situation in Wales is more confused. Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Welsh Government to follow the English model as closely as possible? Otherwise, we will run the risk that lenders will not be available to lend in Wales. (900310)

I was pleased that the Welsh Government recently announced a form of Help to Buy, and I hope, as my hon. Friend says, that they will align their policies with those of the United Kingdom Government to ensure that the recovery is spread across England and Wales.

The Government’s economic policies are leaving people in Wales struggling to make ends meet. With average energy bills up £300 since 2010, does the Secretary of State support Labour’s plans to freeze energy prices?

I am not entirely sure what those plans are, and I would be interested to hear about them from the hon. Lady. In fact, they unravelled less than 24 hours after the announcement. Under the previous Government we had 10 years of incoherence in energy policy, and as a consequence this Government have to take the necessary steps to keep the lights on.


The Government recognise the importance of exports to the economy. I was pleased to welcome the chief executive of UK Trade & Investment, Nick Baird, to Cardiff last month to underline the support that UKTI can offer to businesses in Wales.

That is further proof that the Government are taking action to increase exports, but what steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that Britain and Wales continue to benefit from opportunities in Europe by trading through and to Europe?

My hon. Friend is right. Wales is largely a country of small and medium-sized enterprises, and if more SMEs were to export at the European rate, that would wipe out the trade deficit altogether. I strongly encourage Welsh companies to engage closely with UKTI, as it has global reach and is able to maximise opportunities throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

What impact does the Secretary of State think that uncertainty over the UK’s role in the European Union—uncertainty created by his Government—will have on exports from Wales?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman engages closely with his constituents and will know there is general dissatisfaction with the current settlement in Europe. We think our position in Europe should be renegotiated, and it is right to take sufficient time over that negotiation. At the end of that period, by 2017, we will put the issue of whether Britain should be a member of the European Union to the people of this country in an in/out referendum.

All constituent parts of the UK ran trade surpluses in 2012—all except England. That puts paid to the caricature of Welsh business as failing in some way, and the surplus from Wales was £5 billion in 2012. What can be done to encourage micro-businesses such as those in my constituency to understand the value of exports and the opportunities they offer in the face of austerity from this Government, and indifference and incompetence from the Government in Cardiff?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that Welsh businesses have been successful, but we want them to be even more successful. I therefore encourage Welsh businesses of whatever size to engage closely with UKTI, which as I said has global reach and is in the best position to maximise opportunities throughout the world.

Wage Levels

Since this Government took office, wages and salaries growth have revived, and nominal growth in 2012 of 2.8% was the strongest since 2007.

I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, but average wages in Flintshire have fallen since the general election, and more than 300,000 people in Wales are currently earning less than the living wage. I support aspiring to a living wage. Does he?

What I support is creating the right conditions for the private sector to create new jobs in Wales. In the right hon. Gentleman’s area in north Wales we anticipate that 40,000 new jobs will be created in the next five years. He should get out and back the support for balanced recovery that will bring benefits to his constituency and across north Wales.

Real wages have gone down in 38 of the 39 months since this Government came to power. Zero-hours contracts, payday loans and flouting of minimum wage law, on top of rising energy, food, and transport bills, have left my constituents feeling vulnerable. Has the Minister any plans to deal with falling living standards?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is another Labour Member who does not welcome the fact that unemployment has fallen in his constituency since the general election. We recognise that wage levels are not where we want them to be, but most of the deterioration in wage levels happened in the last three years of the previous Labour Government. We are helping people in Wales on low incomes by taking 130,000 people out of income tax altogether, and by freezing fuel duty. Because we have taken the responsible decision to cut the deficit, we are able to keep interest rates low, which means that low earners in his constituency, and mine, can hang on to their homes.

12. Does the Minister agree that the Labour party should be celebrating the fact that unemployment in a constituency such as mine is lower now than it was in 2010, and that we have 69,000 new private sector jobs in Wales, compared with 2010? The Labour party should celebrate success, not play down the economy of Wales. (900309)

I totally agree with my hon. Friend—Labour Members should celebrate the progress we are making in Wales. There is a lot more work to be done, but unemployment is lower. Rather than criticising the private sector in Wales, which they do time and time again, they should be championing business growth in Wales.

Has my hon. Friend, as part of his assessment, carried out a full review of Welsh employment and unemployment since 2010? Perhaps he could share that with the House.

We see a lot of positive things happening in the Welsh economy—businesses are growing. I am particularly excited when I go to north Wales and see some of the dynamic things happening in the private sector there, but we believe that this is a recovery for the whole of Wales.

15. Wages are down by 10% in my constituency, unemployment is stubbornly high and energy prices are soaring, yet the Government do not have a plan to freeze energy prices. VAT has taken money out of the economy in constituencies such as mine. What plans do the Government have to restore pride and confidence in businesses in Ynys Môn? (900312)

I am surprised to hear that question from the hon. Gentleman. His constituency is set to benefit from a huge level of private sector investment. We talk about the exciting things happening in north Wales and his constituency is one of the places that will benefit the most. He should back that.

High Speed 2

The Wales Office is committed to ensuring Wales derives the maximum possible benefit from HS2. In addition to improved journey times and extra rail capacity that passengers across the nation will experience, my Department will be working closely with Lord Deighton’s HS2 growth task force to identify further benefits to Wales.

With respect, that is not a good answer considering the Minister knew of this question three or four weeks ago. Is there a robust cost-benefit analysis of this whole fantastical project?

The cost-benefit analysis indicates that there will be a positive impact of £15 billion, in which Wales will be a full participant.

With some spending projections for this vanity project topping £80 billion, will the Secretary of State commit to fighting for a Barnett consequential equivalent for Wales, which could be between £3 billion and £4 billion and make a huge difference to the Welsh rail network? Will he join his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), in pleading this case, as reported today in the Western Mail?

I think the right hon. Gentleman knows what my answer will be: HS2 is a UK-wide project from which every part of the United Kingdom will benefit. He is a north Wales MP. He knows that north Wales will benefit from improved journey times to London via the hub at Crewe, he knows that mid-Wales will benefit from travel times via Birmingham, and he knows that south Wales will benefit from connections at Old Oak Common. Of course it will be of national benefit.

Last week, the Welsh Government announced the reopening of the second line between Wrexham and Chester. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such investment in rail infrastructure, including HS2, has a massive role to play in encouraging economic growth in north-east Wales and west Cheshire?

Yes. I was pleased that the Welsh Government reversed their decision not to redouble the line between Chester and Wrexham. It plays an important part in the business case for north Wales electrification, which I am sure all Members would welcome.

14. The £44 million of Labour investment in the Wrexham-Chester line is not a reversal of the decision; it is part of continued investment to improve the network in north-east Wales. I know the right hon. Gentleman is interested in this issue. Will he meet me to explore specifically how HS2 will link to the new development in the rail network in north-east Wales to benefit the area? (900311)

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am always delighted to meet him to discuss rail matters. In fact, I invited him to a meeting only a few months ago to discuss the electrification of the Wrexham to Bidston line. I am entirely happy to keep meeting him.

Is there not a real danger that the economies of north Wales and northern England could be left behind if we rely solely on the existing north-south rail lines, which, by all predictions, will be full to capacity by the mid-2020s?

My hon. Friend is entirely right: it is a question not just of speed, but of capacity. In his area, journey times from Leeds to London will be reduced by about 60 minutes, which I am sure we would all welcome.

Housing Benefit

Will the Minister advise me where he thinks Flintshire county council and other local authorities are supposed to find these mythical one and two-bedroom properties? While he is at it, why does he think it is a good idea to force disabled people out of homes that have been adapted by councils at high cost?

We are not forcing disabled people out of their homes. On the hon. Gentleman’s question about Flintshire, we are making available to his local authority more than £240,000 this year in discretionary housing benefit. I ask him to ask his local authority why it has more than 275 empty properties in the social rented sector. That is part of the answer to the local housing problems in Flintshire.

Is the Minister aware that in Swansea two thirds of the thousands of people affected by the bedroom tax are now in arrears and that those arrears have doubled since April? Will he and the Secretary of State have an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to make the case for Wales, which is the worst affected area in the whole of Britain, with fewer smaller units and the poor being thrust into dire poverty and the arms of loan sharks?

I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about housing issues in Swansea, but he should be aware that there are about 300 empty properties in the social rented sector in Swansea. That should be part of the answer to the problems he is talking about. I am concerned to hear about the large increase in the number of people he says are suffering from rent arrears. We are making available substantial resource to Swansea borough council, and we should be asking how it is using those discretionary housing payments to assist people through the difficult transition.

One of the best ways to help those affected by changes in housing benefit is through the provision of new single-person housing, but that has not been helped by the reduction in social housing built by the Welsh Government or by the extra Welsh-specific building regulations, which have impacted on the private sector and driven it out of Wales altogether.

We have seen the comments by Redrow Homes and Persimmon Homes. These are important Welsh builders who need to be building new homes in Wales, but who are not building as many as they should be. The Welsh Government are responsible for the supply of new housing in Wales, and I think that serious questions need to be put to Welsh Ministers in Cardiff about that.

It is truly extraordinary that the Minister continues to defend the bedroom tax. Will he confirm for the record whether, according to the Government’s own figures, Wales is hit harder than anywhere else in the UK? As he mentioned the disabled, will he tell us how many disabled households in Wales are hit by the bedroom tax?

We have had this question before. Wales is not hit harder—to use the hon. Gentleman’s terminology—than other parts of the United Kingdom. What is remarkable is that he still clings to the mythical economics of plan B. More than anybody else in the Opposition, he argues for more spending, more borrowing and more debt, all of which is a road to poverty for people in Wales.

The Government’s own impact assessment states that 46% of households in social housing in Wales have been hit by the bedroom tax, which is a higher proportion than anywhere else in Britain. Those are the Government’s own numbers. The bedroom tax will also hit 25,000 disabled families. The Minister should confer with his colleague the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who said only yesterday that the bedroom tax was not working in Wales. It is not working for those 25,000 people—25,000 reasons why we need a Labour Government to scrap the bedroom tax and deliver justice for those people in Wales.

I did not see the specific remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), but we are making available to Wales more than £7 million in extra money for discretionary housing payments. On top of that, we are making money available for rural borough councils in Wales to assist with the transition. We recognise that it is a challenge and a difficult period for people going through our changes to housing benefit, but we are supporting local authorities in Wales to help Welsh people through that transition.

Cardiff to Manchester Rail Line

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport about capital investment in the Cardiff to Manchester railway line. (900304)

I regularly meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss rail infrastructure priorities for Wales, and I am meeting him again soon. I will raise the important link that my hon. Friend mentions as part of that discussion.

The new enterprise zone at Rotherwas in Herefordshire offers a superb opportunity to reopen the rail link to Hereford and establish a parkway station, which would assist local people and the many Welsh people who work in my county. Will the Secretary of State support those plans?

The Herefordshire enterprise zone is extremely important, and my hon. Friend will know that the important thing with rail infrastructure improvement is to build up a coherent business case. I will certainly raise this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport when I meet him, and my hon. Friend’s question will form an important part of that business case.

May I take this opportunity to support the suggestion from the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) and to ask the Secretary of State to ensure that he reiterates the importance of the electrification of the railway line to south Wales from London and of the valley lines? Will he take the opportunity to do that now?

Yes, indeed. The announcement that we made last year is still very much on track, and we are hoping that the link to Swansea will be completed by 2018. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many persistent and very noisy conversations taking place in the Chamber. I know that colleagues will want to listen to Susan Elan Jones.


8. What assessment he has made of the potential effects on charities in Wales of the provisions of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. (900305)

The Government have published impact assessments to accompany the three parts of the Bill. The assessment for part 2, which covers non-party campaigning, evaluates the potential effects of the proposals on third parties in the United Kingdom.

With respect, is not that answer a complete load of nonsense? The Wales Council for Voluntary Action has said that the Government’s proposals are entirely unworkable and undemocratic. Is there any serious charitable or faith group that agrees with the Government on this mess of a Bill?

The hon. Lady is making a point that has already been made, and that argument has now been discounted. She will know that the Government have tabled amendments to the Bill and have now reverted to the wording of the existing legislation, which defines controlled expenditure as expenditure that can

“reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidate”.

That is precisely the same wording as applied in 2005 and 2010, so her fears are entirely unfounded.

Under-occupancy Penalty

The removal of the spare room subsidy, which already applies in the private rented sector, has brought fairness back into the system. This Government are prepared to tackle this long-standing inequality and are taking the tough decisions to deliver a recovery that works for all.

I have contacted many housing associations in Wales in recent weeks, and the information so far points to the fact that—[Interruption.]

Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but I want to hear her question from start to finish, and to hear the answer. The House deserves to hear her question from start to finish.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I have contacted many housing associations in Wales in recent weeks, and the information collected so far points to the fact that about 45% of those who were previously able to meet their rent payments are now in arrears. Given that the discretionary housing payments are clearly not enough, what message does the Minister have for those who are falling into arrears?

I have not seen the information that the hon. Lady has brought to the House today, but I will gladly sit down and go through it with her. I would be concerned if, as she says, there has been such an increase in the number of people suffering rent arrears. That is not what we are planning for, and we are making available to Welsh local authorities the resources to ease families through this difficult transition.

An extraordinary thing has happened. The appetite for interrogation of hon. and right hon. Members seems to have dried up. We have completed all the questions and we have had the answers. The principals are here, and we are ready to go.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in offering our condolences to the families and friends of those people who lost their lives in the appalling terrorist attack in Nairobi, and in particular the six British nationals who lost their lives. This was a despicable attack, and it demonstrates how we must continue to do all we can to defeat international terrorism.

I am sure the House will also want to join me in paying tribute to PC Andrew Duncan, who died on 21 September while on duty—a reminder of the sacrifices that police officers make on our behalf every day of every year.

On a happier note, I am sure the House will wish to congratulate Professor Peter Higgs, who is sharing this year’s Nobel prize for physics. This is a richly deserved recognition of his lifetime of research and a tribute to the UK’s world-leading universities, where this research was carried out.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

May I associate myself and my constituents entirely with the tribute that the Prime Minister made to the victims of terrorism in Nairobi and to PC Andrew Duncan and, of course, offer our congratulations to Professor Higgs?

Can the Prime Minister confirm that less than a third of families in Britain will benefit from his marriage tax break?

What I can confirm is that all married couples paying basic rate tax will benefit from this move. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman why I think this is important: it is not about the money; it is about the message. I think marriage is a great institution and I think we should support it, including through the income tax system.

With the disappearance of the minimum practice income guarantee, many doctors’ surgeries serving remote rural areas such as the one in Slaidburn in my constituency face death not by a thousand cuts, but perhaps by one cut. They serve many elderly residents and a number of children who do not have access to great public transport to go into neighbouring Clitheroe. Will the Prime Minister investigate this issue and ensure that my constituents will not be isolated and will continue to receive the excellent service that they do now from their doctors’ surgery?

I will look carefully at the case the hon. Gentleman makes. I, too, represent a large rural constituency where there are still small practices. It is the case, however, that many more doctors’ surgeries are offering many more services with practice nurses and other assistance given to patients. We want to see that growing, not least to make sure that people can go to GP surgeries rather than accident and emergency units if it is a GP that they need, but I will look at the specific point that he makes.

I join the Prime Minister in sending my condolences to the friends and families of the British nationals murdered in Nairobi and of all those killed in that cowardly act. It was a heinous act of terrorism and reminds us of the importance of combating terrorism at home and around the world.

I also join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to PC Andrew Duncan, whose death is a terrible tragedy and a reminder of the bravery shown by our brave policemen and women day in, day out, on our behalf. I send my condolences to his family and friends.

On a completely different note, I join the Prime Minister in celebrating the tremendous achievement of Peter Higgs in winning the Nobel prize for physics. He is a great British scientist. And while we are about it, Mr Speaker, I wish the Prime Minister happy birthday.

On Monday, the Prime Minister said:

“There’s a certain amount you can do freezing prices”

of energy, while the Chancellor said in his conference speech that it was something out of “Das Kapital”. Can the Prime Minister tell us: is freezing energy prices a good idea or a communist plot?

I will leave the communist plots to him.

First, let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks; of course, there is nothing I would rather do on my birthday than this. What this Government are doing is legislating to put people on to the lowest energy tariffs; I think that that is a real step forward. I have to say on this issue, however, that just promising a freeze is a classic case of him saying one thing and doing another. Month after month, he stood at this Dispatch Box as Energy Secretary, producing policy after policy, regulation after regulation and target after target, all of which put energy prices up.

What is clear from that answer is that the Prime Minister has no answer on Labour’s energy price freeze, and what is clear is that it will not happen under him, but would happen under a Labour Government.

The Prime Minister mentioned his policy on tariffs. He said that it would put everyone on the cheapest energy tariff. Can he explain why at least 90% of the country will gain no benefit from his policy?

First of all, let us deal with Labour’s new energy policy. Let us spend a little bit of time on it. First of all, let us examine the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is committed to a new decarbonisation target that would add £125 to the bills of everyone in the country. Perhaps he would like to mention that when he next gets to his feet.

The right hon. Gentleman also did not mention the fact that, just 12 hours after making his pledge, he said that he might not be able to fulfil it because of international wholesale gas prices. Is it not the case that what he is promising is a price increase before a promise, a broken promise, and then a price increase after a promise? One price increase, one broken promise and another price increase: that sounds like every Labour Government since the war.

What is clear is that the Prime Minister is floundering around, and has no answer to Labour’s energy price freeze. He did not even defend his own policy, which will not benefit 90% of the country. He has no idea. He says that he wants to bring energy prices down; can he confirm that energy prices have gone up by £300 since he became Prime Minister?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman first of all that energy prices doubled under Labour. Electricity prices went up by 50%. And let me make this point to him: there is one thing that Governments cannot control, and that is the international wholesale price of gas.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman would like to live in some sort of Marxist universe in which it is possible to control all these things, but he needs a basic lesson in economics. Perhaps he should remember what Labour’s own industry Minister said. This is what was said by a Labour Minister who sat with him in the last Government:

“in an effort to appeal to tribal socialism and a minority in the country, he has put at risk millions of jobs. He has put a sign up over the country, don’t invest here”.

That is the new left-wing Labour party.

I suggest that the Prime Minister should go away after Prime Minister’s Question Time and try to work out his position on the energy price freeze. Initially, he said that the policy was “nuts”. Then, on Monday, he said that it “struck a chord”, and that freezing energy prices could make a difference. He has no idea what he thinks about this policy.

Why are energy prices so high? Once again, the Prime Minister did not answer the question. Let me remind him of the words of a previous Leader of the Opposition, who said that when the gas prices go up, they will rush to pass the costs on to us, and yet when the gas prices are coming down, we wait a very long time before we see anything coming through on our bills. It was the Prime Minister who said that. Why has he changed his mind?

What we need is a more competitive energy market so that consumers benefit. What the right hon. Gentleman seems to be suffering from is complete amnesia over the fact that he used to be the Energy Secretary. Let me remind him of one of the first actions that this Government took. We inherited from him an energy policy that would have added £179 to every single bill because of his renewable heat initiative, and we cancelled it.

While we are dealing with quotations, let us have a guess at who said this:

“to deal with the problem of climate change, energy bills are likely to rise.”

Who said that? Does anyone know? It was the last Energy Secretary, who stood here and pushed up prices again and again and again. Everyone wants low prices. We will get them by dealing with the causes of the high prices, rather than by means of a gimmick that collapsed after 12 hours.

The Prime Minister says that he wants low prices, but prices are going up on his watch. That is the reality.

Can the Prime Minister confirm that while his energy policy, his so-called cheapest tariff policy, benefits almost no one—a fact that he did not deny—a 20-month freeze in bills would save money for 27 million households and 2.4 million businesses across the country?

The problem is that 12 hours later the right hon. Gentleman said that he might not be able to keep his promise. This is not a policy; it is a gimmick, and the reason it is a gimmick is that he is in favour of a decarbonisation target that would add £125 to everyone’s bills. It is obvious why he wants to talk about the cost of living: it is because he does not have an economic policy any more. He told us over and over again that if we cut spending we damage public services. Now even the BBC disagrees with that. And he told us over and over again that if we cut spending the economy will not grow. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor says keep going. Let me tell the House the best birthday present I could have: the shadow Chancellor staying in the shadow Cabinet.

The Prime Minister said something very interesting: he said he does not want to talk about an economic policy; he wants to talk about the cost of living. Doesn’t that say it all? He does not realise that an economic policy is about the cost of living and what hundreds of thousands—millions—of families are facing in this country. Whatever we may say about him, he is true to form. We have a cost of living crisis in this country, and energy bills are rising, and he supports the energy companies, not the consumer. We have a Prime Minister who always stands up for the wrong people.

We know what the right hon. Gentleman’s cost of living policy is: more spending, more borrowing and more debt, which would lead to higher taxes and higher mortgage rates. That is the double whammy that would hit every family in this country. Not only have I got the birthday present of the shadow Chancellor staying in post—and, incidentally, also the birthday present of the shadow Health Secretary staying in post—but I also have this special birthday treat. The shadow Chancellor yesterday revealed the Opposition’s election campaign: he said it all depended on the two of them together as—I am not making this quote up—they would win because of their “experience”, their “track record” and their “credibility”. That is like the captain of the Titanic running on his safety record.

Millions of people have chosen to collect their pensions and benefits at the post office using a Post Office card account. That contract is due to expire in 18 months’ time. It is vital for these people and the future of rural post offices that either the Post Office card account or a similar Post Office product continues after 2015. I hope the Government will ensure that it does.

The Post Office card account has been a great bonus for many people. I think it has really helped not only our post offices, but particularly elderly people who have access to those sorts of accounts, and I will look very carefully at what my hon. Friend says.

Q2. Why is market intervention by the state in mortgages okay, but market intervention in the energy market is not? (900324)

We are intervening in the mortgage market because banks are failing to provide mortgages so young people can get on to the housing ladder. We are also intervening by putting everyone on the lowest energy tariff, but what the Leader of the Opposition cannot control, although he would like to, is international gas prices. He needs a basic lesson in economics, and it sounds like the hon. Gentleman does, too.

Industrial chemicals, herbicides and plant food are used in a variety of diet pills that are banned for human use but are widely advertised on the internet for such use. Does my right hon. Friend agree that action needs urgently to be taken to prevent the importation of these substances in capsule form, which can only be planned for human consumption?

There have been some extremely serious cases of young people in particular suffering from such medications that can be ordered on the internet. I will look carefully at what my hon. Friend says about whether further legislative or regulatory action can be taken in order to protect people from substances that may be safe in other circumstances, but should not be marketed in this way.

We are putting in more support for children. We are providing the child care offer now not just for four-year-olds and three-year-olds, but for two-year-olds. We have introduced for the first time a pupil premium, so children from the poorest homes are going to get more money following them into schools. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Frankly, he should be sitting there in shame at the OECD report that came out yesterday that showed that after a lifetime in education under Labour our young people are bottom of the league in terms of results. That is what he should be focused on.

May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the recent report by Imperial college about the detrimental effects on health of aircraft noise? Will he make sure that when the Government look at and decide on the Davies commission’s report on aviation in the south-east, health and environmental considerations are paramount?

My right hon. Friend has not had the chance to speak from the Back Benches in the way that he just has, and I look forward to hearing many other contributions from him—he brings a huge amount to this House. He is absolutely right to raise the issue of environmental noise, and I can tell him that it will be included in the report by Howard Davies and he will be making a speech about the issue soon.

Q4. Does the Prime Minister think it is acceptable that since he came to office the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than two years has increased by 390%? (900326)

What has happened since I became Prime Minister is that the number of workless households has gone down to its lowest level and the number of households claiming benefit has gone down. While we are at it, if the hon. Lady looks at what is actually happening in the north-west, she will see that since the election 18,000 more people are in employment; 45,000 more people are employed in the private sector; unemployment has fallen in the north-west by 7,000 since the election; and, as I said, the number of workless households has gone down by 26,000. She should be talking up her region instead of talking it down.

Has the Prime Minister seen today’s BBC ICM report showing that despite reductions in spending, a majority of people think that services provided by local government, such as bin collections, parks, libraries and recycling, have got better? Does he agree that that shows we can get more for less?

When I woke up this morning and heard that the BBC was reporting that you can cut public spending and make public services better, I thought I had died and gone to heaven for a moment. This is worth looking at and it is one of the many pillars of Labour’s policy that has collapsed today. The Opposition thought that public spending cuts would lead to a lack of economic growth, but the International Monetary Fund has shown them that that is wrong. They thought that public spending cuts would lead to worse services, but the BBC—let us praise the BBC for once—has told them that that is wrong. That is what has happened today.

Q5. Labour’s child care guarantee will be great for working parents, so says Boris Johnson. Does the Prime Minister agree? (900327)

We are helping working parents with child care, and that is what the tax relief on child care that this Government will be introducing will be all about.

Q6. In January, my constituents Ross and Clare Simons were tragically killed when they were hit by a driver who had more than 10 previous convictions for dangerous driving and was disqualified from driving at the time. He received a sentence of just over 10 years for his crime. More than 8,000 people in Kingswood have signed a petition, “Justice for Ross and Clare”, calling for the law to be changed so that drivers convicted of dangerous driving while disqualified should receive tougher sentences. Will the Prime Minister receive the petition at Downing street? Does he agree that the law in this area should be looked at? (900328)

I will certainly look at the petition that my hon. Friend talks about, and I would like to join him by offering my condolences to the friends and families of Ross and Clare.

This is the most appalling crime: someone with 10 previous convictions, as my hon. Friend says, and who was disqualified at the time driving dangerously and killing two people, snuffing out their lives. The sentence was 10 years. As I understand it, the maximum sentence available for a crime like this is 14 years. The Government have introduced a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, so we are looking at this whole area. I can also tell him that the Justice Secretary has asked the Sentencing Council to review the sentencing guidelines for serious driving offences, and we should look at this specific case in the light of that.

Q7. A family in my constituency earning £18,000 a year are paying a massive £3,276 in energy bills, so why is the Prime Minister siding with energy bosses charging inflated prices, rather than with hard-pressed families? (900329)

I want to see people’s energy bills come down. That is why we are legislating to put people on the lowest tariff; that is why we will go through to see what regulations and rules, put in place by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Energy Secretary, we can change to keep bills down; and that is why we need a competitive market. But simply making promises that you admit the next day you cannot meet is not proper politics.

Does the Prime Minister agree with the director general of the CBI that whether a business is small, medium or large it must grow as a business and invest and that high taxes do not allow that?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. What we heard at Labour’s conference is that Labour will put up taxes on some of Britain’s biggest and most successful businesses. Labour’s message to business is, “Don’t invest here, don’t bring the jobs here, don’t expand here—go somewhere else. We want to fight some petty socialist campaign against successful big business.” That is absolutely wrong for our economy.

Substantive Reply to Letter

Q8. When he plans to give a substantive reply to the letter from the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East, sent on 3 July 2013. (900330)

Local growth is a priority across Government. The regional growth fund is helping to create some 66,000 jobs with specific investment in the north-east of £330 million. We do not want to go back to the previous Administration’s system, but obviously the Local Growth Committee in the Cabinet brings together the Secretaries of State from all the key Departments.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Department of Health is now consulting on changing the funding formula for health care in the north-east and Cumbria? That will have the effect of taking some £230 million out of the health care budget for the region. Who in his Government stands up for the north of England?

The whole Government stand up for the north-east of England. If the right hon. Gentleman wants some news about the north-east of England, you have Hitachi building the new train plant, Nissan expanding in Sunderland and the new Tyne tunnel. There is plenty of good news in the north-east.

Let me answer the right hon. Gentleman’s specific question about NHS funding. This year’s funding for the north-east clinical commissioning group is going up by £170 million, a 2.3% increase. That is what is happening under this Government. Of course, under Labour’s plans health spending would be cut. The shadow Health Secretary, the man who they have decided—inexplicably—to keep in the shadow Cabinet has said that increasing health spending is “irresponsible.” That is the Labour view. We do not agree with that and that is why we are spending more money, including in the north-east.


I congratulate the Government on ending the unfairness in free school meals for 16 to 18-year-olds. Will the Prime Minister look to end the similar unfairness whereby sixth-form colleges have to pay VAT whereas schools or academies with sixth forms do not?

I will look carefully at what my hon. Friend says. It is good that we will now have the same system for free school meals for sixth-form colleges and for secondary schools and I also think that it is very welcome that children in infant school will not have to pay for school meals. I will look carefully at his point about VAT.

Q9. The Prime Minister will know from his script that I am an extremely proud member of the trade union movement, which seeks to stand up for millions of workers in the public and private sectors and whose living standards have been drastically reduced under his watch. What personal sacrifices have he and his family had to make during these austere times, given that we are all in this together? (900331)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman stands up as a proud trade unionist and, just as I welcome the reshuffle, I am sure that Len McCluskey is delighted with it. Len McCluskey and the Leader of the Opposition probably would not call it a reshuffle—they would call it a purge, because Len McCluskey asked for the Blairites to be purged and they have all gone. The fact is that it has been tough and difficult in our country because of the appalling deficit and debt that the hon. Gentleman’s party left from when it was in government.

In my constituency, a school called Skerton is under threat of being closed down by the county council. I spoke to the Education Secretary about that and it has been generic over four years. Will the Prime Minister assure me that his office will look into the fair play on this subject, given that the county council education portfolio holder has said that in his opinion the school should close, even though the first part of the consultation has only just been completed? That was a few months ago.

I shall certainly look at the case my hon. Friend makes, but under our education reforms there are greater opportunities for schools to gain their independence and for new schools to establish themselves. I hope that he will consider all the structural changes we have made to education, because they might help in the specific case of this school.

Q10. Under this Government the cost of child care is rocketing, while wages have stagnated. Families are facing nursery costs that have risen six times faster than wages last year. When is the Prime Minister going to take action and adopt Labour’s plan to extend free nursery provision to 25 hours? (900332)

We have extended the hours that people get for four-year-olds, extended the hours for people who have three-year-olds, and for the first time introduced child care assistance for people who have two-year-olds. That has changed under this Government. We are also introducing for the first time proper tax relief on child care, so that people who work hard and do the right thing can get help with their child care. I hope that when there is a vote on it, the Opposition will support us.

Q11. One month ago I installed call-blocking technology in a partially deaf constituent’s home. This has shown that in the past month 65% of the calls that Mrs Moffat has received have been nuisance calls. Will my right hon. Friend commit the Government to do all they can to remove this menace, including looking at whether telephone providers should be profiteering by charging to provide information vital to trace these calls? (900333)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am sure he has advised his constituent about the Telephone Preference Service—TPS—through which one can stop some of the calls that come through, but it is a real bane in some people’s lives so I am sure we can look further at what else can be done.

On reflection, does the Prime Minister agree that allowing more time for further diplomatic discussions to take place over Syria was preferable to rushing in and bombing the country?

I think the fact that America was so clear that it would take action is what brought about a change of heart on the part of the Syrian Government. That is the real lesson that we should learn.

Q12. One of the biggest factors for many young people’s budgets is the cost of their mortgage. Will the Prime Minister tell us what would be the effect on mortgage rates if the Government were to increase borrowing by £27.9 billion, as the Opposition have called for, since promising iron discipline? (900334)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the most important aspects of people’s bills is the mortgage payments that they have to make. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor is shouting that it is not true, but he is committed to increasing borrowing. If you borrow more, you risk interest rates and mortgage rates going up. Families across the country understand that and they understand that you only get to grips with the cost of living and living standards if you have a proper economic plan for getting the deficit down, for getting growth, for creating jobs and for cutting people’s taxes—four things this Government are doing; four things the Opposition would never do.

My constituent Khuram Shaikh was brutally murdered and his girlfriend gang-raped while on holiday in Sri Lanka nearly two years ago. Justice continues to be denied and the key suspect is a close ally of the Sri Lankan President. Is the Prime Minister comfortable meeting this President at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit next month, and what will he say to him?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. I think it is right for the British Prime Minister to go to the Commonwealth conference because we are big believers in the Commonwealth and in making that organisation work well and, indeed, work for us. But I think it is right that in going to the Commonwealth conference, we should not hold back from being very clear about those aspects of the human rights record in Sri Lanka that we are not happy with. If the hon. Gentleman gives me the details of that case, I will make sure that, along with other cases and along with other arguments, those points are properly made. Of course, those are points that we cannot make if we do not go.

Q13. Will the Prime Minister welcome the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, which came into force last week? It has the support of the Church, extra taxes will boost the Treasury revenues, and it will make the trains run on time. Can he say that about any other piece of legislation? (900335)

First, may I say what pleasure it gives me to refer to the hon. Gentleman as my right hon. Friend—an honour he fully deserves? I welcome the effect of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, which has helped to bring revenue into the Treasury. It is also helping to deal with this scourge, which is a crime that we have seen grow in recent years, particularly because of the growth in the price of metals. The lead off the Witney church roof was stolen recently, and I know that the Act will help to make sure that that does not happen again.

Q14. Eighty-three per cent. of the beneficiaries of the Government’s proposed marriage tax break will be men; just 17% will be women. Why does the Prime Minister have such a blind spot when it comes to women? (900336)

I think that it is worth supporting marriage through the income tax system. Let me make this challenge to the Labour party: in government it gave a married tax break through the inheritance tax system; it gave a married tax break to the rich. I want to give a married tax break to everybody.

Does the Prime Minister believe that when the European Union forces my constituents to buy 20 cigarettes at a time, rather than their current 10, it will reduce the number they smoke?

It does not, on the face of it, sound a very sensible approach. I was not aware of the specific issue, so let me have a look at it and get back to my hon. Friend.

Q15. Why has the Prime Minister told members of his party behind closed doors that forcing through same-sex marriage legislation was a terrible mistake? (900337)

I have not. I am very proud of the fact that we passed same-sex marriage in this Parliament and very proud of the role I played in bringing it forward. As I have just been saying, I think that marriage is a wonderful thing, and that goes for a man and a woman, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. It is a great reform that makes our country fairer. I hope that is clear.

With even Boris now admitting that his Thames estuary airport plan has no support, does the Prime Minister welcome Sir Howard Davies’s statement that some plans will not even pass first base environmentally?

I do not want in any way to interfere with what Howard Davies is doing. I think that he is the right person to carry out this report. I think that it is very important that we try to build cross-party consensus on the basis that it is a good report and a thorough process so that all parties will be able to endorse it when the report’s conclusions come out.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I just go back to the Prime Minister’s answer to the Leader of the Opposition on the marriage tax break? When asked whether it was true that a third of married couples would benefit, the Prime Minister said that all married couples who are basic rate taxpayers would benefit. Would he like to correct the record, because that is just not true?

The right hon. Gentleman has made his point. I allowed it as a point of order. If the Prime Minister wants to respond, he is perfectly welcome to do so. [Interruption.] Order. Question Time is—

The point is that the married couples allowance is available to every basic rate taxpayer. I think that is something to celebrate in our country. I stand up for marriage, even if the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk it down. I thank him, once again, for his tenacity, because even though he has been proved wrong on every major economic question, he is still in his place. He is the great election winner for us.

I trust that the appetite has been satisfied. Question Time is definitively over. In a moment we will move on to the next business, but I am happy to take other points of order.

The hon. Lady is in a state of high excitement in anticipation of her point of order, which I am keen to hear, but I would like some order in the House first. Members leaving the Chamber should do so quickly and quietly, demonstrating the same courtesy towards other Members that they would want to be extended to them in comparable circumstances. We will take the hon. Lady’s point of order first, because I am saving the hon. Gentleman up.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I spent this morning trying to keep up with the obfuscations and excuses emanating from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the application to extend the badger cull in Somerset, and I understand that an application will soon be made to extend the cull in Gloucestershire. I know that we will have DEFRA questions tomorrow, but do you agree that we really need the Environment Secretary to come to the House and make a full statement so that we can have the opportunity to question him, because there are so many unanswered questions about why the Department has agreed to go down that path?

A variety of mechanisms are open to the hon. Lady and other Members to ensure that such rigorous and detailed scrutiny takes place. In the meantime, however, the hon. Lady can satisfy herself with the thought that tomorrow will indeed be the occasion for DEFRA questions; I confidently predict that she will be in her place. Thereafter, all sorts of things can happen. To judge by the experience of the House, they probably will.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is becoming increasingly clear at Prime Minister’s questions that the Prime Minister refuses to answer the simplest questions. Instead, he answers questions that have not been asked. May I ask you to use your influence to remind the Prime Minister that he is there to answer the questions asked, not those he thinks should be asked?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that attempted point of order. He has put his concerns on the record. I say in all seriousness that I listen intently to everything that is said in this Chamber because that is my duty. From time to time, I will intervene if I think that we are off piste or that exchanges are taking too long. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other Members will feel confident that I am attending closely. I am aware that the session is entitled “Questions to the Prime Minister”. We all accept and everybody understands that the clue is in the title. We will leave it there for today.

Coroners and Justice (Amendment)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend section 62 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 so as to apply additionally to the possession of pornographic written material about children; to make consequential amendments to the Act; and for connected purposes.

Section 62 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 is entitled “Possession of prohibited images of children”. The prohibited images in question are obviously pornographic. They may be in various forms—photographs, pseudo-photographs, cartoons, computer generated images and so on. They may be moving or still. The link between the possession and viewing of such images and actual action taken against children is generally accepted.

The ludicrous situation is that an individual will be liable for prosecution for possession of photographs, pseudo-photographs, computer generated images or cartoons of graphic child sex abuse, but cannot be prosecuted for written words describing child sex abuse in pornographic and often lurid detail. All such things, including the written word in this form, are designed for sexual stimulation resulting from the sexual abuse of children. An individual could write from his or her imagination a graphic description of child sexual abuse, which could be more emotive and more graphic than any picture of any form, but they could not be prosecuted.

For many, the written word is more powerful; I shall give a simple example, which the police have given me. A gentleman from Kent wrote describing his wish to kidnap an early-teenage girl, strip her naked, sexually abuse her and then in an appalling way, which I will not detail, murder her. Horrifically, having written and stimulated his imagination, he did exactly that. Fortunately, he has been caught and is in prison—hopefully, for a very long time. However, the teenager is dead. In theory, the police could have found those writings, but if they had they could have done nothing about them because they would not have been illegal. I understand that the distribution of such stuff is illegal, but its possession is not.

Some years ago, I went through one of the early parliamentary police programmes with the London Metropolitan police; I highly recommend the course. I spent one of the days with the Metropolitan police paedophile unit. I was shocked; I could not believe that people could do such appalling things to children, including babies. I found the police estimate of the number of active paedophiles in the UK way beyond any level I could have imagined and I was stunned at the estimate that approximately 20% of them were female.

Following the course, I had a meeting with the full Metropolitan police team and it was apparent that some major and some minor legal changes were required. I became a member of the then Home Office taskforce which led to the introduction of parts of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 relating to child sex abuse. The Act introduced the offence of child grooming. At that time we led the world in such legislation. Additionally, either on my own or with others, and with the co-operation of the Government of the day, I have helped to introduce about a dozen changes in this area. As a Home Office Minister, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) was particularly sympathetic and helpful. That explains why he is my only backer, although I would expect considerable support throughout the House.

This small Bill would close a loophole—an anomaly. Last year the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre published a research document on paedophile cases. The report mentions, but almost as a sideline, that some offenders possess graphic notes or writings on child abuse for their own benefit. I have been shown some examples of these by then Detective Chief Inspector David Marshall, who was head of the Metropolitan police paedophile unit. He is an expert in this area and has drawn this loophole to my attention. Following that, I have had the support of the current head of the Metropolitan police paedophile unit and of CEOP. They have seen volumes of this material, but they have seen it coincidentally, while looking through material for illegal child abuse photographs or images. As possession of such written material is not illegal, the officers generally disregarded it because they were looking only for images.

In referring to child abuse I am not referring to writings such as “Lolita”, and the Bill would make that quite clear. The written material that I am targeting is absolutely vile. It can be as shocking as images described as level 5 based on the classification used by the courts. Section 62 of the Coroners and Justice Act, in referring to prohibited images, describes it as

“pornographic…grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise…obscene”


“of such a nature that it must be reasonably assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.”

This could apply to the written-word material that I am targeting. The distribution of such material is prohibited but its possession is not. It has been expressed to me that such a change would contravene EU legislation. I understand, however, that a number of our EU partner countries have such legislation now. If it works for them, it could and should work for us.

Question put and agreed to.


That Sir Paul Beresford and Paul Goggins present the Bill.

Sir Paul Beresford accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 October and to be printed (Bill 107).

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has tabled a motion for debate on a matter of privilege which I have agreed should take precedence today.


I beg to move,

That the Police Information Notice from Sussex Police addressed to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, dated 4 September 2013, be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to raise a matter relating to a breach of parliamentary privilege by Sussex police and briefly to provide the context to this motion to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges.

You will recall, Mr Speaker, my Adjournment debate on 13 March when you kindly sat in the Chair to hear the extraordinary story of the six-month investigation into me by Sussex police on account of a single e-mail I had sent to a constituent in which I had endorsed the right of my local council, Adur council, to refer to a particularly troublesome resident as “unkempt”. Subsequently the constituent complained that as he claimed to be of Romany Gypsy origin, unbeknown to me or anybody else, this was in some way racist. When the case was rightly thrown out six months later, I questioned the bizarre behaviour of Sussex police in wasting so much time and taxpayers’ resources on an obviously vexatious complaint from a serial complainer. I also raised the implications this had for the right of other hon. Members to correspond with their constituents without fear of the police knocking on their constituency doors.

The account I gave during the debate raised, unsurprisingly, disbelief and indignation in equal proportions. However, what has transpired since will, I am sure, top that and, again, has implications for the way in which all hon. Members go about their business. I believe it represents a clear breach of parliamentary privilege by Sussex police, and in the full knowledge of the Chief Constable Martin Richards.

In the debate, I stated that such was the vile abuse that had been aimed at me and my staff by the constituent and his attempts to have me prosecuted that it was no longer tenable for me to act as his MP. I said, therefore, that I would no longer be responding to his correspondence or abusive phone calls, which had left my staff in tears. I proposed to write to him to that effect but, given the spurious grounds on which he had previously referred my correspondence to the police, I first sought the assurance of the chief constable that such a straightforward and innocuous letter would not again lead to their involvement. In a singularly obstructive meeting, in which he repeatedly stated that he had complete confidence that the police had handled the case perfectly correctly, Chief Constable Martin Richards refused to comment on my proposed letter.

Subsequently I sought guidance from the Clerk, who in contrast has been singularly helpful. He advised me that I should send a complete copy of the Hansard record of 13 March, including the report of the debate, to the constituent, with a compliment slip and without any need for a covering letter, and that that would be protected by parliamentary privilege. That is exactly what I did. Subsequently I have had no communications with my ex-constituent, have made no public statement and have not responded to or initiated any social media to do with him.

In contrast, the constituent has stepped up an onslaught of vile abuse since 13 March, primarily against me as well as the leader and the chairman of Adur district council, his ward councillor and assorted others who cross his path. Yesterday he abused the organisers of Worthing mental health awareness week, which I launched, and to date he has posted on his blog and sent tweets to or about me and my councillor colleagues on well over 200 occasions.

Many come under the heading of political abuse, which, however offensive it may be, we all know is part of our job. However, what is not part of our job is that they have included doctored photographs of my children, taken from their social media sites. What a man in his 40s is doing trawling the social media sites of teenage girls, I do not know. They were eventually taken down, but he then attempted to blackmail me, saying he would put them up again unless I complied with his demands. He has posted doctored pictures of the council leader’s young children regaled with Nazi insignia. He has posted vile, contorted accounts of my parents’ divorce, forged tweets, posted references to my neighbours and photographs of my home, and most recently a direct tweet urging me to commit suicide, along with assorted lies, made up stories and pure fantasy. He has also recently sought to disrupt our regular street surgeries and pour his abuse on anyone who happens to be in the vicinity, and to menace guests at the chairman’s charity dance. I guess we all sometimes have to deal with very nasty people, but this one wins all the awards.

Despite my complaints—which have led to the man’s arrest on just one occasion—the police have failed to secure any charges and he carries on harassing, bullying, stalking, trolling and abusing me, my family and colleagues. However, on 4 September, out of the blue I had a formal police information notice served on me by Sussex police for harassment. Other hon. Members will probably have come across these notices when used on constituents in anti-social behaviour cases. The notice stated that the police had received an allegation of harassment against me by the aforementioned constituent, making me aware that if the kind of behaviour described were to continue I would be liable to arrest and prosecution. The specific single incident of behaviour that gave rise to this PIN was the act of sending a copy of Hansard to my ex-constituent. Apparently this had caused him alarm and distress. That came as a surprise to me and various others, particularly given that on his blog on 14 March that ex-constituent had described how he had watched my Adjournment debate on television with “great amusement.” Therefore, apparently, Hansard is a cause of alarm and distress, and Sussex police believe that our deliberations are a potent weapon of abuse.

I will not give way, if I may.

For good measure, the leader of Adur council, the chairman of the council and my constituent’s ward councillor were also issued with PINs for supposed harassment, as was my constituent. Clearly, that has only fuelled his vile crusade.

Apparently, a gold group led by Assistant Chief Constable Robin Merrett met on 3 July to approve those PINs at the highest level. Two months later, they were served on me and my councillor colleagues without my knowing that a complaint of harassment had even been made against me, or that I was under any investigation, in clear breach of the police guidance, which states that I should be given the opportunity to be interviewed to account for my actions and show that they were reasonable and lawful. No such interview took place. There is no appeal against the PIN, which remains on file for at least one year.

The increasingly hapless Detective Chief Inspector Wardley-Wilkins, who has led the investigations, having failed to secure vital evidence, having misled me about the earlier investigation and the current one and having failed to explain why he has breached police guidance, has offered me instructions on how I should correspond with constituents without risking a PIN. That is the police telling us how to do our job.

The chief constable, who has been copied in on all the events, has been content to waste taxpayers’ resources on this nonsense while the senior management of his force is brought into disrepute. He has clearly lost the plot when it comes to distinguishing between the victim and the perpetrator. I know that my local police officers, whom I rate highly, are as embarrassed and gobsmacked as I am at this action by their bosses.

Such a sequence of events would offend against natural justice were it suffered by any of our constituents, and we would rightly raise the matter in the House. However, in this case, the events are an intolerable affront to the rights of the House and hon. Members to go about their business of representing their constituents without fear or favour. If it goes unchecked, any constituent with a grudge against his or her Member of Parliament could claim harassment. Any hon. Member exposing any dodgy organisation in Parliament could find themselves being questioned by the police, or, with reference to DCI Wardley-Wilkins, being given advice on how to do their jobs. Indeed, Abu Hamza could well have a case against the Home Secretary for being rightly beastly about him in Parliament and she could find herself on the receiving end of a police information notice.

Therefore, for all hon. Members, I propose that we pass the motion and refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges.

Question put and agreed to.

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

[2nd Allocated Day]

[Relevant documents: The Seventh Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, on the Government’s Lobbying Bill, HC 601, and the First Report from the Committee on Standards, on the Government’s Lobbying Bill, HC 638.]

Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Committee

New Clause 2

Commencement of Part 2

‘Part 2 of this Act shall not come into force until the Electoral Commission and the Minister have laid a report before both Houses of Parliament containing—

(a) an assessment of the separate and specific impacts of Part 2 of this Act on third-party engagement in elections to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and to the House of Commons in respect of constituencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and

(b) an assessment of the impact of Part 2 of the Act on referendums held or to be held in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.’.—(Wayne David.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

New clause 3—Cost and impact of Part 2

‘Within one month of Royal Assent, the Electoral Commission must lay before Parliament—

(a) full cost projections of the impact of Part 2 on their running costs;

(b) their assessment of the administrative impact on third parties.’.

Amendment 65, in clause 41, page 47, line 40, at end insert—

‘(A1) None of Part 2 shall come into force until the report of any inquiry undertaken by a Committee of either House of Parliament during the passage of the Act into the impact of the Act has been published.’.

Amendment 66, page 48,line 2, leave out subsection (1)(b).

Amendment 4, page 48, line 3, leave out sub-paragraph (i).

Amendment 5, page 48, line 6, leave out sub-paragraph (iii).

Amendment 6, page 48, line 7, leave out sub-paragraph (iv).

Amendment 67, page 48, line 17, leave out subsection (3)(b).

Amendment 10, in clause 42, page 48, line 37, leave out subsections (3) to (6).

Amendment 11, page 49, line 18, leave out subsections (7) and (8).

Amendment 12, page 49, line 29, leave out subsection (9).

It gives me no great pleasure to move new clause 2, because, essentially, the Opposition are concerned about the lack of prior thought to, or prior serious consultation on, the Bill’s impact on the devolved institutions. When I mentioned the devolved institutions in Committee, there was a blank look on the Minister’s face. Some people believe that the legislation applies only to preparations for UK general elections, but it has an impact on devolved elections, too. New clause 2 seeks to focus on devolved institutions and the referendum, so that proper consideration is given to the Bill’s impact and so that there is proper planning for the legislation’s implementation phase.

I mentioned the lack of prior consultation. My understanding from the Office of the First Minister of the Welsh Government is that there was no prior consultation at all—the Assembly Government were asked for their comments on the day that the Bill was published in the House. I expect that there was the same lack of consultation with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. That is very worrying. One of the Opposition’s concerns from the beginning is the hurried way in which the legislation was put together.

I can underline my hon. Friend’s point. All Welsh Assembly Members received a letter from the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, which would have been involved in any consultation with the Welsh Government. What he says is absolutely right and confirmed by wider civil society in Wales.

I thank my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, for that accurate comment, which strongly reinforces my point. He suggests that, if there had been prior consultation, the Welsh Government would have wanted properly to consult civil society in Wales. In a sense, that underlines a wider point. The Electoral Commission’s comments on Second Reading, which were circulated to all hon. Members, state:

“It has been suggested to us that”

the effects of the legislation would

“be particularly significant in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where civil society has often had a prominent role in the development and discussion of new policy and legislation in recent years.”

We are therefore not talking about mechanical consultation; there was a desire for meaningful prior consultation with civil society in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend refers to Wales, but the Government generally lack realisation of how important civil society engagement is in Northern Ireland. In fact, civil society engagement is a cornerstone of the peace process. That is one reason why great progress has been made in Northern Ireland. It is extremely worrying that the Bill undermines that process. It does so not deliberately, but unintentionally. However, that is indicative of a lack of any real understanding or desire to ensure that there is a holistic, consensual approach to such legislation.

I stress the word “consensual” because Labour Members hold very firmly the view—we adhered to this in government—that we need not only cross-party consultation and discussion, but agreement, so that we can proceed consensually, in the interests not of any political party, but of democracy as a whole. That concept of democracy is not confined to the House; it also involves consultation with the devolved institutions and civil society throughout the UK. That is my first point—the lack of engagement.

My second point relates to the technical impact of the legislation. The following changes will apply to all the devolved institutions: clause 26 and schedule 3 on the wider scope of regulated spending; clause 27 on the reduced registration thresholds; and clause 31 on the new notification requirements for relevant participators when registering with the Electoral Commission. Those three crucial aspects of the Bill will apply to the devolved institutions.

However, some provisions in the Bill will not apply to the devolved institutions. The reduced spending limits in clause 27 will apply only to UK parliamentary general elections. The spending limits for the devolved institutions will remain the same, as listed in schedule 10 to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Several provisions will apply only when a devolved election overlaps with a general election—a so-called combined period. Those provisions include the application of the new constituency spending limits in clause 28, the new controls on spending that supports a single party in clause 29, the new pre-poll donation reporting requirements in clause 32 and the new requirement for “true and fair” statements of accounts in clause 33.

In essence, what I am saying is that the relationship between the Bill and the devolved institutions is not straightforward. Some provisions will apply to them, but others will not. There will inevitably be some confusion, but it is vital to ensure that there is not excessive confusion about what does and does not apply to the devolved institutions, and about how the legislation will work in practice. We therefore call for a report to be laid before both Houses with a proper assessment of the impact that part 2 will have on third-party engagement with the devolved institutions.

There is a complex relationship between the devolved and non-devolved institutions in this country. We all know that an important referendum is taking place in Scotland next year. We also know with near certainty, because of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, when the next general election will be. The two periods concerned are bound to overlap and there will inevitably be a great deal of confusion about which measures apply, what moneys may be spent, what moneys apply to one campaign but not to another and what moneys apply to both campaigns.

These matters are not easy. There is a need for careful consideration, discussion and agreement. New clause 2 calls for these matters to be considered properly. It would have been nice if the Government had recognised from the start that these are complex issues and that a consensual approach is necessary if the provisions are to be successful. However, to use a horrible phrase, we are where we are. I ask the Government to give serious consideration to the points that I have made and to the new clause.

I referred to this issue in general in Committee. The response from the Government was frankly inadequate. That is why we have tabled the new clause with such detail. We took advice from the Electoral Commission about when it would be appropriate for an assessment of the impact on the devolved institutions to be made. The new clause therefore states:

“Part 2 of this Act shall not come into force until the Electoral Commission and the Minister have laid a full and comprehensive report before both Houses of Parliament”.

Only when such a report is satisfactorily concluded will we have any reassurance, modest though it may be, that these complex issues have been considered properly and that the inevitable disruption will be minimised.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government propose to postpone the Northern Ireland Assembly elections from 2015 to 2016. If the House supported the new clause, would part 2 of the Act not come into force until after the Assembly elections in 2016 or have I misunderstood him?

The fact that the elections in Northern Ireland are being postponed will provide a greater opportunity for these matters to be considered carefully. The hon. Lady’s question is essentially one for the Government. How they respond to this situation is up to them. What is clear is that this work has to be done in preparation for all the elections to the devolved institutions. We want to be satisfied that the Government have considered carefully all the Bill’s implications before it is approved.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I did not want to throw cold water over the new clause. I want to reinforce his opening remarks about Northern Ireland. Since the Good Friday agreement 15 years ago, civil society in Northern Ireland has been able to participate willingly and openly in responding to Government proposals. A lot of that activity has been done by groups from different denominations and all communities in Northern Ireland working together. Those groups are extremely worried about the impact of part 2 on that activity because of the reductions and limitations on expenditure and because of the span of activities that will be caught by the Bill. I did not want to deter the hon. Gentleman from pursuing the new clause, but wanted clarification on the date until he wanted part 2 to be postponed.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question about the delayed election in Northern Ireland and for her extremely important comments from first-hand experience about the important role that civil society plays in Northern Ireland. That role is sometimes not fully appreciated by politicians in Great Britain.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) mentioned, the participation of civil society in Wales has been increasing. The same is true of Scotland. However, the participation of civil society in those countries is not nearly as important as in Northern Ireland. It is not to put it too strongly to say that the engagement of civil society is one of the anchors of the peace agreement. It is a key reason why so much progress has been made in Northern Ireland over the past few years. I reiterate that that has been accepted by the Electoral Commission and by many politicians of all political affiliations in the north of Ireland. This is not a party political issue, but a question of how democracy can best flourish and function.

I am involved in civil society in Wales in a modest way. My background is in the youth service, and I am the president of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services, which, through the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action, has made representations on the Bill. Its concern is first that the stipulations are onerous—I will come to that in a moment—but also that there has been no prior consultation with the devolved institutions or civil society. That sends out a negative message about the lack of thought and, as some might say, the less than benign intentions behind the Bill. All those points have been well made, and I thank those who have reinforced them.

I will now move on to consider new clause 3 if I may—[Interruption.] I was just making sure that you were hanging on my every word, Mr Speaker, and I am pleased to say that you are. New clause 3 is short but important:

“Within one month of Royal Assent, the Electoral Commission must lay before Parliament—

(a) full cost projections of the impact of Part 2 on their running costs;

(b) their assessment of the administrative impact on third parties.”.

The new clause is straightforward but underlines that, frankly, not enough work has gone into the Bill, much of which gives the impression that it was written on the back of an envelope in a rush, and there has been no proper consultation, drafting or consideration.

As many have noted, the Electoral Commission is extremely critical of the proposed legislation for a number of good reasons. One of its concerns is the lack of consideration given to the technical implementation of the Bill, and how much it will cost to be implemented properly in practice. The Electoral Commission is not a party political body; it is truly and genuinely impartial, and considers the technical implementation of a piece of legislation with regard to regulation and elections. Its responsibility is to ensure that elections are conducted properly and fairly, according to the law.

There have been various estimates of how much the proposed legislation will cost the Electoral Commission to implement. A conservative figure is £390,000, although others have said it will cost a heck of a lot more. It has even been suggested that the legislation would be so complex, and the burden on third sector organisations so great, that it is unlikely it could be implemented properly in practice, and certainly not to the extremely short time scale envisaged. This is not about all elections being delayed, as in Northern Ireland, but about the first impact and the general election in May 2015. To get this complex Bill up and running, not just here in the centre of the process but to have a proper understanding of all the things that voluntary and campaigning organisations must do to comply, will be extremely difficult. In essence, the new clause asks the Government to pause and realise that it is all well and good to enact the Bill and say that this or that will happen, but they must also have cognisance of what it will mean on the ground, both for the Electoral Commission and for third parties.

The hon. Gentleman’s last point is precisely not dealt with by the new clause. The new clause asks for an assessment to be made within one month of Royal Assent, and then lets the matter stand on its own. It does not require the Government to take any action as a result of that assessment. Does that not make the new clause rather nugatory?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but this is a modest new clause and we are not attempting to solve all problems not of our making. We hope that in all common sense, if it is clearly shown that the implementation of the Bill is far more complicated than the Government appear to recognise, they will hold back and perhaps delay its implementation, or provide massive increased resources so that it is effectively implemented by the Electoral Commission. Above all, the new clause flags up the issue in a big, simple and straightforward way.

Does the hon. Gentleman imply that perhaps the Bill will not be ready by May 2015 and should, if necessary, be pushed beyond that date?

If necessary, yes. In all fairness I cannot believe that the Government would seek to soldier on with a piece of legislation when all objective evidence shows that the time scale is so tight, and the difficulties to be faced so enormous, that it cannot be introduced effectively in time for the run-up to the next election. I stress the run-up because we must not talk only about the general election but the period before it. If the new clause is accepted by the Government—I genuinely hope it will be—it would be part of the legislative base. As a consequence, if the objective information is provided, the Government will do what is necessary to prevent a ridiculous and farcical situation from developing. Such a situation would harm not the Conservative or Labour parties but democracy itself, and it would further undermine people’s support, involvement and engagement in our democratic process.

The hon. Gentleman argues in favour of new clause 3, and he has—rightly—mentioned the excellent work done by the Electoral Commission. Whatever problem he has defined, however, the solution proposed in the new clause is one the Electoral Commission does not support. Is it the case that whatever argument he is making, the solution he proposes is not the right one?

I am not here to answer for the Electoral Commission. Its emphasis has been on identifying the problem, and it is up to us as politicians to identify the solution.

I hope my hon. Friend does not dispense with that point too quickly. If we are in the business of accepting the views of the Electoral Commission—in light of comments made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), I feel we could accept one or two of its views—perhaps we should accept its views on virtually every other paragraph in the Bill, which, almost to a clause, have been disparaged in the most polite civil service language by the Electoral Commission. If the hon. Gentleman is in the position to make such an offer, I think my hon. Friend should negotiate and get a good deal.

That is a telling intervention from the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, and to return to a point I made earlier, it is sad and unfortunate that the Electoral Commission, like everyone else, was not consulted about the Bill. That makes for bad legislation and poor electoral administration, which is worrying.

Does the hon. Gentleman have the benefit of knowing how many people in the Electoral Commission are engaged in looking after controlled expenditure relating to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, and how many would have to be recruited to deal with the extended range of activities by the extended group of people and campaigners who will be caught by the Bill if it is passed unamended?

The honest answer is that I do not know. I asked the Electoral Commission if it would like to elaborate on its submission, and perhaps the Chair of the Select Committee can help in that respect.

Just by chance, the Electoral Commission came to the House yesterday and offered its services, knowledge and advice to all Members. I am delighted to say that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) was present. I believe that the EC said it had 12 people—I will stand corrected if I am wrong. Although they have not been consulted, they will be required to police the provisions in the clauses that relate to freedom of speech. They may be required to act between contending parties. Let us imagine that there is a bit of a bust-up between the League Against Cruel Sports and the Countryside Alliance in the constituency of the Leader of the House—if he were to get wind of such a thing he would of course report it to the Electoral Commission. Presumably, the EC would have to get some big lads—I do not know if they have any—to take down the bunting, intervene in the debate and stop the bad things, as defined in the Bill, being done. If that happens, 12 people will not be enough to police even one constituency, so a recruitment campaign might be necessary.

I thank my hon. Friend for his informed comments. I am sure Members will appreciate that in the past few days my mind has been elsewhere, but he makes a valid point.

I refer Members to the Electoral Commission’s written evidence:

“The regulatory burden created by the Bill is likely to be significant. The Impact Assessment states that the estimated cost of compliance with the Bill changes for registered campaigners will be in the range from zero to £800. This assumes among other things that campaigners will need two hours to become familiar with the new definition of regulated activity since it is ‘a relatively clear and simple requirement’—

the Government are tabling an amendment on this, which might change things slightly—

“and that a day of additional information recording will suffice to deal with the new requirement. On the basis of our experience of the effort that campaigners need to make to comply with the current rules, and of our discussions with organisations that may be affected by the new rules, we do not think these estimates are credible.”

That is strong language. The Electoral Commission recognises that it will have a huge new burden, and that there will be a huge new burden on voluntary organisations, charities and campaigning organisations. To say that the estimates are not credible is a strong use of language: it does not say that they are underestimates or not correctly thought through, but that they are not credible. It worries me that the governmental body, the impartial organisation charged with the implementation of the Bill, says that the Government’s estimates of the costs and burdens on voluntary organisations are not credible. In the interests of democracy, the Government need to swallow their pride and recognise that more work needs to be done. That is what new clause 3 seeks to do.

The Electoral Commission’s written evidence goes on to state:

“The Impact Assessment also estimates that the changes to registration thresholds will lead to between zero and 30 additional campaigners needing to register in 2015 compared to 2010. It is difficult to estimate the likely level of additional registration…but again this appears likely to be a severe under-estimate on the basis of our recent discussions with campaigners.”

Not only is there a lack of credibility, there is now a severe underestimate.

The uncertainty and the burdens the Bill will place on campaigners could be mitigated by recasting the definitions of what is covered, and the Government are making some—only some—attempts to do that. That is not a straightforward process, however, and the complexity of the situation is, if anything, being made worse and the legal uncertainty greater. It will require careful testing for those potentially affected by the definitions.

The shame of the Bill is this: many of us suspect that the level of burden and complexity will be such a disincentive for campaigning organisations that they simply will not bother. If campaigning organisations absent themselves from the democratic process, democracy will be the loser. In the run-up to all elections—in devolved elections, as well as general elections—civil society increasingly plays a positive role in asking candidates where they stand, putting political parties on the spot, asking the difficult questions that us politicians sometimes do not want to answer and raising issues that the general public might not have thought of.

My hon. Friend is making an important and non-partisan point. The campaigning by the Royal British Legion was welcomed by all political parties, because so many Members—probably all of them—endorsed the military covenant.

My hon. Friend makes a truly excellent point. Sadly, the criticism levelled at those of us who have strong reservations about the Bill is that we somehow want to promote extremists or those in our political camp. The truth is a long way from that—it could not be further away.

The example of the Royal British Legion is a very good one. I think, largely due to its excellent work in support of the covenant, that there is consensus in the House on how we need to give the greatest possible support to former members of the armed forces who have given so much to defend this country. That consensus was in large part achieved due to the work of the Royal British Legion in the run-up to the general election. All of us received representations, and long may it be able to do that kind of work. The Royal British Legion is one of the organisations that has made representations to MPs to express concerns about the Bill, even though the Government have made some concessions. I welcome those concessions, but even the Royal British Legion thinks that there is a heck of a long way to go.

It is my understanding that if the House accepts the Government amendments, which reflect those I tabled in Committee, the Royal British Legion’s concern will have been met. If that is the case, is there not a danger that we are looking at the wrong point in the Bill? What we do not want, and what part 2 is designed to deal with, is something like the National Rifle Association in America or the Tea party movement. That is the danger we need to guard against far more than a potential unintended consequence that the Government are trying to mitigate.

There has not been broad agreement—in fact, there has been very little agreement—that the Government’s amendments are anywhere near enough. I said in Committee that I welcomed the fact that the Leader of the House had had discussions with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and given certain verbal commitments. Since then, however, the NCVO has said, “Hang on, we’ll see what is actually proposed,” and now it has considered the proposals in detail and, more importantly, taken legal advice, there is a consensus among most voluntary organisations that the proposals are not sufficient and arguably create further complications, which underlines the point that we have made consistently: this is the wrong way to approach this kind of Bill. We should not be in this position, but unfortunately we cannot turn the clock back, which is why it is important to focus on new clause 3 and at least recognise the need for the Government to take stock of the implications, many of which they have not given proper consideration to.

Had there been a general election in November or December 1913, would the South Wales Miners Federation, on this day 100 years ago, have been prevented from campaigning for a health and safety at work Act following the explosion in Senghenydd, when 439 miners were killed?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point and refers to the Senghenydd disaster, in my constituency, of October 1913. I will not speak at length about it, but the point is that historically all civil society organisations have been able to campaign on issues of concern to them and their members, and today’s health and safety legislation came about through the active campaigning by men and women in places of work. As a direct consequence of what happened in Senghenydd in 1901, when 81 men lost their lives, legislation was introduced, but unfortunately it was not implemented by the coalers and so there was another horrific explosion in the same colliery a few years later, when 439 men and boys lost their lives. Of course, things have improved enormously since those days, but the point is that many great social advances come about not because politicians decide in an ivory tower that something is good for people, but because in a democracy people have the ability and wherewithal to campaign for measures that will improve their and their communities’ lives. Our fundamental concern about part 2 is that the encumbrances created are so great that a raft of civil society organisations might think that things are far too complicated and onerous for them to bother to engage in the democratic process.

It is arguable that the Labour party itself would not have been created had these measures been in place. It is the only party created outside Parliament, rather than as the product of splits among those already in Parliament. It was created by people who we might say today were part of the big society. The Labour Representation Committee—a joint committee of the kind covered by the Bill—created a new political party in order to do certain things in Parliament, and I would speculate that while legislation in the 1900s made the birth, funding and advancement of the Labour party incredibly difficult, even with the help of our good friends in the Liberal party—perhaps we could reinvent that pact in the near future—this Bill would have made its creation impossible. We should take that into account, in view of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis).

I am sure that my hon. Friend makes a good point—and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, who is a professional historian, is smiling and probably agrees. It is not just about the Labour party, however; other parties have been formed recently as well, and who knows what the future holds? The point is that society has changed. The Labour party might have been the precursor to a new kind of politics in this country, but increasingly we are seeing politics from the bottom up, rather than the top down, which is to be encouraged in society.

I do not want to stray from the point, Mr Speaker, and talk about the nature of democracy. [Interruption.] You are nodding that I should, Mr Speaker. In this day and age, it is of fundamental importance that democracy should not be seen as something involving just the highest echelons of society or handed down on a plate for consumers to accept or reject. Politics is about the creation of a healthy democratic society, which is why the involvement of the third sector is fundamental to the health of modern Britain. We hope—we have seen it in Northern Ireland—that this can be a permanent, developing and organic future for British democracy.

I am about to resume my seat, but I will first refer to human rights. It is my understanding that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon is the Chair, is considering the human rights implications of the Bill, and its report will be concluded in time to be properly considered when the Bill goes to the other place. When talking about democratic engagement, we are talking about human rights in the broader sense of the term. A number of people have drawn my attention to the severe reservations of people who rightly believe in the importance of human rights and who think that the Bill might infringe the human rights of many people in the third sector, which is another reason we are making our case so strongly. For goodness’ sake, let us pause and properly assess all the Bill’s ramifications and implications, and let us do it before it is implemented.

Many of us in this place are privileged to spend time in developing countries, and when we do so, we often meet civil society and third sector organisations, and recognise, particularly in parts of Asia, Latin and South America and Africa, the importance they play and sometimes how undemocratic Governments seek to assert control over civil society. We have quite rightly spent endless hours in this House debating press freedom. In that context, it is important that we should take the time to give due consideration to the brakes that the Government are strongly perceived to be putting on the third sector and civil society in our own country, and to the handicap that Ministers will receive in the months ahead if we proceed in this way.

Indeed. We are coming to the end of the rather truncated process of deliberation on the Bill in this House, but my right hon. Friend makes a powerful point in underlining our concerns about this part of the legislation. We are concerned about democracy. We like to say that this is the mother of Parliaments and to regard Britain as a beacon of democracy in the world, and it concerns me enormously that so many people—ourselves included—believe that the Bill will take us backwards rather than forwards by undermining the principles and relationships that are fundamental to our concept of modern society.

I want to ask the hon. Gentleman a question about this point of principle. His party, when in government, passed the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. That Act accepts that the regulation of third parties is desirable and necessary. Is he now saying that his party got it wrong, or does he accept the principle and are we now arguing only about the detail?

That is a good question, and I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has asked it. He is right to say that we introduced that legislation in 2000. We are not saying for a moment that it is perfect, however, or that it does not need to be modified in the light of subsequent practice. In fact, the Electoral Commission has been conducting a review and has produced more than 50 recommendations for improving the legislation. We strongly believe that it needs to be improved; we are on record as saying that we need to find a way of taking the big money out of politics. We are not defending the status quo. We want change, but we want it to be introduced properly, systematically and on the basis of dialogue and consensus, not on the basis of this Bill, whose rushed, back-of-an-envelope proposals have been pursued—some would say—on a partisan basis. We have to be careful and say yes to change, but for goodness’ sake let us work together. What is wrong with working together to ensure that we achieve a proper consensus? That would work not to our own political advantage but to the political advantage of society and democracy as a whole.

We know that those who are fundamentally concerned about part 2 of the Bill do not have any running anxieties about the existing legislation. They are concerned about the imposition of reduced caps, the wider scope of the controlled expenditure and the absolute minefield of difficulties—the veritable twilight zone—that is being created in and around the devolved regions, in relation not only to the conduct of elections there but potentially to the conduct of Assembly business in Northern Ireland. For example, people could well say that the Assembly should not be in the business of legislating on same-sex marriage in the same year as a run-up to a Westminster election, as that could be deemed to be a re-run of the debate here, which could influence the election. None of this has been properly considered by the Government.

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. He has referred succinctly to a large number of issues, which serves to crystallise the multitude of concerns that people have about the Bill.

We have had a useful exchange of views, but we should not be in this position now if we want to consider these issues properly. We are in this position, however, and in new clauses 2 and 3, we are saying that we should for goodness’ sake allow the Electoral Commission and others fully and properly to assess the Bill’s implications before it reaches the statute book. Let us do that now, before it is too late. It is much better to take such action in a measured, systematic way than to rush into something and repent at leisure. I ask the Government please to give sympathetic consideration to new clauses 2 and 3.

I should like to address my remarks to amendments 4, 5, 6, 10, 11 and 12, which have been included in this group with the new clauses. I am grateful that they have been so included, because they were tabled in Committee but were not reached because we ran out of time. It is therefore an agreeable surprise that I have this opportunity to speak to them today.

My concern has always been that the House should introduce legislation that is clear and precise. That is particularly true of legislation relating to electoral law, which is becoming increasingly complex in this country. It could almost be argued that it now presents a barrier to entry to new people who want to start a political party, to engage in the political process or to contribute to an established party.

Before I address the amendments, I should like to put on record my appreciation of the work of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, whose Chairman, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), is here today. I have had the privilege of serving on the Committee since it was first set up at the beginning of this Parliament. It is frustrating at the best of times to serve on a Select Committee, but it is doubly frustrating when a Committee produces reports to which the Government say they will respond but never do so, and merely bring forward their own legislation, ex cathedra, as they have done with this Bill.

The Committee met in early September to try to deal with these issues, as well as at the end of July, soon after the Bill had been published. We raised a lot of questions with the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), some of which have resulted in the welcome tabling of Government amendments in Committee and now, on Report. It would have been far better, however, if this had been done the other way round. We should have had proper pre-legislative scrutiny, consultations and exchanges of views with bodies such as the Electoral Commission, which were established specifically to advise Parliament and the Government on issues of electoral law.

My concern about new clauses 2 and 3 is that, although they recognise the reality of the situation, they would not provide an effective remedy. It is no good saying that there should be a report on the implications of the legislation within a month of its receiving Royal Assent. Nothing would happen as a result of that, because it would be too late to change the law. Regulatory impact assessments should be produced while legislation is being considered by this House, so that we can respond to them by tabling appropriate amendments.

My amendments—modest as they are, as always—were designed to bring clarity to the question of commencement. At the moment, clause 41 provides for the Bill’s provisions to come into effect on the day in which the Act is passed, but with a whole lot of exceptions, some of which are set out. I am seeking to remove those exceptions through my amendments 4, 5 and 6, which would leave out sub-paragraphs (i), (iii) and (iv). Thus clauses 30, 34 and 35 would come into effect on the day the Act is passed rather than on some subsequent day when a Minister might decide to bring forward a commencement order.

Obviously, if a Bill that becomes an Act of Parliament makes certain provisions, which are not implemented immediately but might be implemented at some stage in the future, that in itself creates doubt. Clause 30, for example, to which my amendment 4 refers, deals with

“Extension of power to vary specified sums”

under section 155 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, enabling the Secretary of State, “by order”, to

“vary any percentage for the time being specified”

in that Act’s provisions. That amounts to an order-making power. Why does the order-making power itself need to be made subject to another order-making power? If clause 30 came into effect and into law on the day the Bill received Royal Assent, its provisions would still be subject to the Secretary of State’s having the power to make a variation. If we want to give the Secretary of State that power, why do we need to cover it by saying, “Well, we won’t give him the power to make an order until he has brought forward an order giving himself the power to make the order”? By including sub-paragraph (i) in clause 41, we are making the provisions less direct and more confusing. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s explanation of why he thinks clause 41 is so vital.

Similar arguments relate to my amendments 5 and 6, which would ensure that clauses 30, 34 and 35 came into effect directly on the date of Royal Assent. Looking at those clauses, one again wonders why the Government are nervous about allowing these provisions to take legal effect from the day of Royal Assent. Clause 34 deals with

“Third party expenditure in respect of candidates”,

changing the limit from £500 to £700. If that is a good idea—I am not disputing that it might be—why not include it and implement it from the day of Royal Assent? Why leave everybody guessing about whether the provisions might be brought forward at some subsequent stage through an order-making power? Again, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s explanation.

Similarly, clause 35, dealing with

“Functions of Electoral Commission with respect to compliance”,

changes the general function and substitutes the expression “duties”. It deals with legislation relating to the Electoral Commission. If that is a good thing—obviously, the Government think it is—why is it not such a good thing that it cannot be brought into effect on the day of Royal Assent?

The way in which the Government do legislation nowadays seems to me to be about leaving as many opportunities as possible for further order-making, when the statute book and our democracy would be enhanced if we were able to have greater clarity so that the provisions enacted were actually implemented from the commencement of the Act, alongside all the other provisions. Again, I would be interested to hear what the Minister thinks about that.

My second group of amendments—10, 11 and 12 —relate to clause 42. Amendment 10 would leave out subsections (3) to (6); amendment 11 would leave out subsections (7) and (8); and amendment 12 would leave out subsection (9). Clause 42 is quite important, because it deals with “Transitional provision”. It is quite complex. The explanatory notes state that because of the interaction of the European Parliament elections in the latter part of May next year and the fixed-term Parliament provisions that assure us of a general election in May 2015, we need special provisions to cover that scenario. As explained therein:

“Clause 42 makes provision to deal with this situation by creating”

what is described as

“a bespoke regulated period…that will apply only in relation to the next UK general parliamentary election.”

I am instinctively suspicious of “bespoke” regulated periods or of anything brought into statute in order to deal with a particular scenario; I am much more in favour of general principles that can be applied whatever the circumstances. We are getting into dangerous territory whereby the Government are taking transitional powers, interfering with existing law, and doing so on the grounds that the situation is complicated by the European parliamentary elections next May, while at the same time not dealing with the situation of the Scottish referendum in September next year. I do not understand why there are no transitional provisions for that Scottish referendum; perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us. If we are to have strict limits on spending by registered political parties during a period that includes what amounts to a national referendum in Scotland on whether or not Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom, surely we need some special provision to deal with related expenditure.

I do not understand what these provisions are all about, but the Bill would be better if these specific provisions were excluded from it. In a sense, my amendments could properly be described as probing amendments. As I say, I cannot really understand all the detail of clause 42, but I think the Bill would be better without the provisions which my amendments would remove. I would certainly be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about why we have a bespoke regulated period for one particular scenario, while such a bespoke period will not be necessary in the future. Why has no provision been made for the interaction of the general election and the proposed Scottish referendum?

I thank the hon. Gentleman and would like to put on record my thanks to other colleagues who sit on the Select Committee, some of whom are in the Chamber today. We faced incredibly difficult conditions, providing a report for this House at very short notice, which meant being called back during the recess. I compliment the hon. Gentleman and the rest of my Select Committee for doing that and for giving the House half a chance to debate this issue seriously.

The hon. Gentleman seems surprised that stuff that we are meant to have in front of us—on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—is not in front of us, while we are halfway through the Bill’s proceedings. However, he answered his own question in his opening remarks when he referred to the Government’s failure to provide the proper amount of time, consideration and consultation that we should expect in the House. Let me quote, very briefly, what has been said by the Electoral Commission:

“We await confirmation of the Government’s view of the impact of the Bill on the referendum on independence for Scotland.”

I am perfectly sure that had that impact been known, even today, a great many more Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would have been present. This is an outrageous attempt to push a measure through with great speed, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to emphasise that in his speech.

I was wondering whether at some point the hon. Gentleman might wish to make a speech on the matter, but then I realised that he had in fact just done so. We are grateful to him, and I remind those who are attending to our proceedings beyond the Chamber that his celebrity status should now be universally known. He is, of course, the Chair of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, and it is, I know, in that capacity that he seeks to advise the House. Even so, he will want to ensure that the subsequent interventions that he will make from time to time are moderately briefer.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his succinct intervention, and also for his generous comments. The points that he has made are exactly the points that caused me to vote against the programme motion yesterday. I think the least that can be done if a Bill has not been given sufficient pre-legislative scrutiny is to ensure that there is sufficient time for it to be scrutinised properly in the House. I may be wrong, but I doubt very much whether we shall have time even to debate all the groups of amendments and new clauses that have been tabled for debate today. As I said earlier, we were not able to reach some of the amendments that were tabled in Committee, although fortunately some of them were tabled again on Report, and are being debated now.

I do not think that I need to make a meal of this, and I am sure that the House will wish to hear further from the Chairman of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, but I will say that I do not think that new clause 2 really cuts the mustard. All that it says is:

“Part 2 of this Act shall not come into force until the Electoral Commission and the Minister have laid a report before both Houses of Parliament”.

That in itself introduces a concept of indecision. People looking at the legislation will want to know when part 2 will come into force. If things are found to be wrong with part 2 as a result of

“an assessment of the separate and specific impacts of Part 2…on third-party engagement”,

and so on, that will need to be put right before Royal Assent, rather than being left to a post-legislative assessment on a time scale that is imprecise and unspecified. I understand why the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) is frustrated by this whole process, but I beg to differ with him on whether his proposed solution is the right one.

Similarly, as I said earlier in an intervention on the hon. Gentleman’s speech, I do not think that the requirement in new clause 3 for

“Within one month of Royal Assent…full cost projections of the impact of Part 2 on their running costs”

from the Electoral Commission, along with an

“assessment of the administrative impact”

is any good. It would, at best, be closing the stable door after the horse had bolted, and it would not be a helpful substitute for dealing effectively with the substance of the Bill before we give it final approval and it receives Royal Assent. The time to do that is now, and we are doing it. Obviously we hope that those in the other place will do even more of it, and that when the Bill returns to the Commons, it will be much better than it was before.

I end as I began, by regretting that this process has caused us to deal too much with the form and the process rather than with the substance, which is what we should be dealing with in this House.

Before the hon. Gentleman—who is a distinguished member of the Select Committee—ends his speech, may I return, very briefly, to the question of the controlling of expenditure of non-party campaigners? Will he underline the fact that the Electoral Commission does not know what impact the Bill will have on the referendums in Scotland? Are we not in danger of jumping straight into a hornets’ nest if we do not consider that before the Bill is passed, rather than saying “Let us see what happens”?

If I were a member of the Government faced with such advice from a body on which the Government rely to give them advice, I would say “We will withdraw the Bill, or at least delay further consideration of it until we have received a proper response.” That, I think, would have been the mature way in which to deal with the matter, if I may put in it in a somewhat patronising way.

There are many examples of Bills that have been held up between their Committee and Report stages. Normally they have been held up for a good reason, namely that the Government have been having a rethink, discussing with third parties and other interests what is the best solution. Here we have a glaring example of something else. Effectively, the statutory adviser on these issues has said to the Government “We do not know what the implications are. Please help us. We can help you, but we need a bit of time if we are to do so.”

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am always an optimist. I hope that, before the end of this evening’s proceedings, we shall have heard the Government say that they wish not to press the matter to the end, but to give the House a chance to engage in further debates, and that they will table further amendments.

As the hon. Gentleman implies, there is nothing to stop the Government from saying, at any stage, “We have listened to the concerns of Members on both sides of the House, and we have listened to what people outside the Chamber are saying. We will withdraw the legislation, and will engage in full consultation.” Labour Members can give a cast-iron commitment that if that were to happen, we should be only too happy to engage with the Government, the Electoral Commission and others in an attempt to achieve a consensus on how our electoral law can be modified and made appropriate for the modern age. That is a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and I only hope that the Government will feel able to respond to it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it represents a good way forward?

Obviously I do. I am often suspicious of the word “consensus”, but I think that when we are dealing with changes in electoral law, consensus is very important.

In my capacity as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I go off and monitor a fair number of elections, and the most difficult cases with which to deal are those in which a Government have used their majority to introduce changes in the electoral law, and, in some cases, have used a politically motivated electoral commission to support their actions. That brings democracy into disrepute, especially in some of the emerging democracies in eastern Europe. I think that this is an instance in which we should be aiming for consensus, and if consensus could be achieved by the Government’s withdrawing the Bill, or not continuing with it at the current pace, I should be all in favour of it.

The hon. Gentleman’s approach is precisely the approach adopted by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We said as much in our meeting this morning, and I was delegated to convey that sentiment to the House this afternoon.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is invidious to make comparisons, and I know that his is a Joint Committee of both Houses, but I think it a pity that the Committee has not been able to present a report to the House by this stage. If our Committee could do it, I am sure that his Committee would, or should, have been able to do it as well. It is very sad that his Committee’s no doubt excellent report will be available to their lordships, but is not available to Members of this House. This is not a criticism of the hon. Gentleman, but I hope in future he will cancel all leave when necessary and bring his troops back.

I note the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the word consensus, but is it not sad that there is broadly common agreement which could be arrived at if the will were there?