House of Commons
Tuesday 18 November 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Deputy Prime Minister
The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—
Twenty-eight city deals have now been concluded and each one is bespoke to the area that negotiated it. Together the city deals have brought about new investment in roads, support for small businesses, the regeneration of derelict sites, employer-led skills training and an expansion in the number of apprenticeships.
Southend is not just the alternative city of culture 2017; under this Conservative-led Government, it is also increasingly seen as the place to do business and to invest. Will my right hon. Friend share with the House what progress is being made on the delivery of the Southend city deal programme?
I will indeed. I had the great pleasure of visiting Southend in March with my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge). This is a very good deal for Southend and it is being implemented. Its focus is on supporting small businesses in Southend. Everyone knows that Essex has a formidable reputation for the entrepreneurialism of its people, and that is now supported in Southend. The deal will have the further side-effect of helping to regenerate the area of Victoria avenue, and I know my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) has long championed the need to improve that area.
The Minister said that city deals are bespoke entities and I certainly welcome the Greater Manchester devolution package. One of the benefits of the regional development agencies that this Government scrapped was that they brought in strategic thinking outside city region boundaries, but that has now gone. What is the Minister doing to make sure that we get proper strategic thinking and strategic planning in place so that we do not just end up with a patchwork of city deals, but get proper decisions that suit areas wider than city regions?
There is more strategic thinking going on in Manchester, in conversation with the Government, than ever took place when it was suppressed under the regional development agencies. It is a tragedy and a disgrace that a city of the eminence of Manchester should be suborned to a region that was designed in Whitehall and enjoyed no local affection. It is emerging from that and emerging strongly, which is much to the credit of the leaders across Greater Manchester.
The city deal with Glasgow was signed during the summer and it is proceeding apace. The medical research centre will be one of the most exciting, cutting-edge opportunities in the country. It involves a long-awaited connection to Glasgow airport and the city. I have received indications from other Scottish cities that they would welcome very much a city deal of their own. No decisions have been taken as to whether that is possible, but I listened very carefully to the representations.
The Minister will know that Huddersfield is part of the Leeds economic partnership area. We are not against city deals—we are very interested in them—but, strategically, what is their democratic content? What is the plan for long-term democratic participation? How are we going to attract good people to come in and be the democratically accountable people who run the city deals?
The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. One of the sadnesses of the tendency to suck power away from our great cities to Westminster and Whitehall is that it reduces the authority and the influence of the leaders of the cities, towns and counties. Empowering the cities and getting them to enjoy their renaissance is a powerful incentive for people to come forward with the ambition and aspiration to lead them, and that is what we are doing.
12. My right hon. Friend very kindly gave a city deal to Plymouth earlier this year. Does he agree that, in order to maximise it, we have to make sure that we have good transport links down into the south-west? (906057)
I agree. It was a delight to be at the Devonport dockyard to sign the Plymouth city deal in the company of my hon. Friend. Of course, the south-west relies on good transport connections. He will know that the south-west growth deal included a lot of investment in roads. He was kind enough to come to Exeter for the signing of that deal. I encourage him to work with his local enterprise partnership to put forward the best new projects for what I hope will be the next round of growth deals.
The Minister will not be surprised to know that I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) about Edinburgh being an ideal location for the next round of city deals, particularly for one focused on the regeneration of Leith docks, which happens to be in my constituency.
Local Growth Deals (Lancashire)
The first round of growth deals gave a major boost to local economies by investing in transport, skills and housing, and by helping businesses to create thousands of new jobs. I am determined to build on the momentum of the growth deals, so I have invited local businesses and civic leaders from across England to propose the next set of projects to be funded from the local growth fund.
On 15 October, I met representatives of the Lancashire LEP, and I have since made my views known to them about the importance of Brierfield mill and other projects in my constituency. I have also made my views known to the Minister. How does Lancashire fit into the Deputy Prime Minister’s Northern Futures project and the Chancellor’s northern powerhouse project?
Lancashire is absolutely fundamental to the northern powerhouse. For our country to prosper at its optimal level, every part of it needs to be firing on all cylinders, and that certainly includes Lancashire. My hon. Friend has made a powerful case for the Brierfield mill development. I look forward to having the chance to see it in person before long. I encourage him and all Members of the House to engage with their local enterprise partnerships. In my view, Members of Parliament have a pretty good idea of what the most important economic priorities are, so they should feed those priorities into the LEPs.
Political and Constitutional Reform
The Government have a full agenda for political and constitutional reform for the remainder of this Parliament. We are currently awaiting the recommendations of Lord Smith of Kelvin on the process of devolving further powers to Scotland, and we will publish draft clauses on that in January 2015. The Wales Bill, which will devolve further power to the Welsh Assembly, is continuing its passage through Parliament. Work continues to be done to investigate the impact of devolution on all nations, particularly in relation to the so-called West Lothian question. We have introduced a Bill on the recall of MPs. We are implementing legislation to deliver a statutory register of consultant lobbyists, which will increase transparency and help to drive up standards in the industry.
I am grateful for the fact that the Minister’s answer did not include plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 or to threaten to withdraw from the European convention on human rights. Does he agree that such plans would diminish our standing in the world, take rights away from millions of people in the United Kingdom, and cause great harm to the devolution settlement in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
The Prime Minister made very clear at the Conservative party conference the Conservative party’s position on the European convention on human rights. As I have said, we have a full agenda for the remainder of this Parliament, which will satisfy all the nations of the United Kingdom.
Given the recent announcement of a metro mayor for the Manchester area, it appears that elected mayors are fashionable once more. One barrier to having more elected mayors is the requirement that 5% of the local electorate must sign a petition to trigger a local referendum. Will the Minister therefore consider reducing the 5% threshold to 2% or 1%?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am advised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the Minister responsible for cities, that councils can resolve to have a mayor and go ahead on that basis, so the 5% threshold should not be a barrier.
9. I will give the Minister a second opportunity to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain). How are the Tories’ attacks on human rights and the removal of critical protections for citizens against the state meant to help the public? (906054)
The Prime Minister’s position and that of the Conservative party is very clear: the Human Rights Act should work in the interests of the British state and of British people, but it does not always do so. That is why, if there is a future Conservative Government, we will look to exit the Human Rights Act.
My right hon. Friend is well aware that a programme to reform the House of Lords was brought before this House and was unsuccessful. However, we have since reformed the House of Lords. The Steel Bill has brought some reform to the House of Lords, in that peers can be made to retire and, if guilty of serious wrongdoing, can be removed from the House of Lords. The Government remain committed to reform of the House of Lords in future.
Surely an obvious reform would be full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, not only to end the disproportionately greater Scottish contributions to the Exchequer that there have been for the past 33 years, but so that we in Scotland can arrange tax and spend to grow the economy, jobs and communities. Full fiscal autonomy for Scotland—there you go.
There was a clear referendum in Scotland and a clear result for Scotland to stay part of the United Kingdom. I advise the hon. Gentleman to wait for the proposals of the Smith commission, from which there will be heads of agreement at the end of this month and draft clauses in January, for the full answer to his question.
The Minister will know that last Friday the UK Youth Parliament met in this Chamber. Its priorities were shaped by more than 800,000 young people across the country. Does he agree that that shows again that many young people are engaged in politics? In learning from that and from the experience of the Scottish referendum, is it not time that we finally lowered the voting age to 16?
The hon. Gentleman has asked that question—[Hon. Members: “How old are you?”] [Interruption.] How old are you?
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) has asked that question a number of times. As he is aware, there is no consensus within the Government on the issue, and therefore there are no plans to lower the voting age in this Parliament. It is great to see young people taking an interest in politics—I was at the rock and roll event held in Parliament yesterday as part of Parliament week—but there is no consensus on lowering the voting age at this point.
I have made clear my support for a constitutional convention to ensure that a new constitutional settlement is robust, fair and engages the public. It is clear, especially in the wake of the Scottish referendum and the ongoing work of the Smith commission, that our current constitutional settlement needs root and branch reform, but it must come from the bottom up and be based on the views of the voters, not politicians. I very much hope that we will be able to secure cross-party agreement for a full constitutional convention in the near future.
The First Minister of Wales, the right hon. Carwyn Jones, has asked for a long time for a full constitutional convention, which would allow people from all parts of the UK to discuss a complex issue with the sobriety and time that it needs. Will the Deputy Prime Minister stick by that, or does he intend to jump on the bandwagon of the Prime Minister’s knee-jerk proposals?
I do not think there is anything knee-jerk about the constitutional questions that are now being examined, regardless of whether a constitutional convention is established. The Smith commission needs to, and will, proceed according to the timetable that has been set out in mapping out the next chapter of radical devolution north of the border. Within Government, we are of course looking at the arrangements in this House for debating and voting on matters that affect only English and Welsh MPs. However, all those things can proceed without disrupting the wider need to embrace the public and generate ideas across the country, so that we can introduce root and branch constitutional reform across the United Kingdom, which I think will be needed in the next Parliament.
The hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey) has reportedly asked the Deputy Prime Minister to do a deal with the Tories on English votes for English laws. I heard the Deputy Prime Minister’s earlier answer, but can he unequivocally rule out such a deal and promise that the question of devolution will be decided not in Westminster but by the British people as part of a constitutional convention?
I urge the hon. Lady’s party to engage in this issue of what is called English votes for English matters. It is difficult, and it is a dilemma. My party has been clear that what we want is for the people’s votes to be reflected in any arrangement in this House, not simply the allocation of votes to one particular party. That is where there is a difference of opinion between the coalition parties. We should grapple with that, and, as ever with constitutional issues, the more we can do that on a cross-party basis the better.
We have a great democrat at the Dispatch Box at the moment, and as usual he of course is right that we should get on with constitutional reform where we can. The House voted by 283 votes to nil for the European Union (Referendum) Bill. Not a single Liberal Democrat voted against it, yet some vicious rumours are going around in the media that the Deputy Prime Minister blocked the money resolution so that debate on the Bill would be halted. Will he take the opportunity to put that lie to rest and say that he was in favour of the money resolution?
I would be delighted. I was fully in support of the money resolution for that private Member’s Bill, and for the Affordable Homes Bill on the spare bedroom subsidy, which the Conservative party blocked. If the hon. Gentleman did not like what happened, he should address his own party’s leadership, not me—[Interruption.]
I was quite enjoying that, Mr Speaker.
The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware of the anti-Westminster mood around the country, and he has spoken of anomalies in the way our country is governed. I welcome his support for a peoples-led convention, which the Lib Dems, the Labour party and other parties all support. Why does he think the Conservatives are so against that proposal?
My understanding is that all parties are reflecting on this matter, but as the right hon. Gentleman says, many individuals believe that at this important juncture in the constitutional development of our country, we cannot just hoard the debate here in Westminster; we must open it up to the public and ensure that we look in the round at all the different bits of the constitutional jigsaw. I think—as does the right hon. Gentleman—that that can be done only through a constitutional convention, and I hope that all parties will agree with that in the not-too- distant future.
Leeds LEP (Devolution)
(Mr Mick Clegg) I am pleased to confirm that negotiations on future devolution to the Leeds city region are under way, and I am hopeful of an announcement in the coming weeks. These negotiations build on the growth deal that I recently signed on behalf of the Government, which devolved £573 million to the local enterprise partnership from April next year.
Although I welcome the move away from centralisation that was prevalent under the previous Government, a number of my constituents have raised concerns that devolution of power may still feel centralised from their communities by city centres. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give that the allocation of resources will be based on proven need?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the growth deal process that was agreed was based on the needs of the entire functional economic area—namely the £55 billion economy that covers both urban and rural areas in that part of the world. The significant transport fund worth £1 billion will lead to a step change in people moving not just between city centres, which he alluded to, but to moving around all of West Yorkshire. While it might be called a city deal, it radiates out to other non-urban areas in that region.
What can the Deputy Prime Minister do to ensure that local MPs have a formal role in the decision making process, particularly for transport funds in the Leeds city region, and that decisions are not just carved up by five Labour councils scratching each other’s backs to fulfil their priorities, while excluding other parts of the region that have equally important needs?
As Deputy Prime Minister I support the Prime Minister on a full range of Government policies and initiatives—[Laughter.] Oh yes I do—most of the time. Within Government I take special responsibility for the Government’s programme of political and constitutional reforms.
More than 1 million people in this country are now surviving thanks to food banks. Does the Deputy Prime Minister regret backing the Tories’ war on the poor, and bringing in things like the bedroom tax and changes to council tax that have put so many people in that plight?
Members across the House will be concerned to help those who need support, but before the hon. Gentleman gets on his high horse, he must remember that under his party’s stewardship and the previous Government, youth unemployment rose by 45% and the gap between the rich and the poor was larger than in the 1980s, and because they crashed the economy in 2008 £3,000 was wiped off the household budget of every home in this country. That is not a record to be proud of.
T2. I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his interest in Wiltshire and Swindon’s local growth deal. He will have seen our second round bid for the digital Corsham project. Can he assure me that in future these deals will go beyond our much-needed investment in local transport infrastructure and lay the foundations for the skills and businesses of the digital economy? (906089)
As my hon. Friend knows, growth deals are not just focused on transport; they very much respond to the proposals put forward by local areas and local enterprise partnerships. I was very pleased that we were able to agree, with the local enterprise partnership in round 1, almost £200 million for the Swindon and Wiltshire growth deal. As he will know, there was over-subscription in the first round. We hope to hold further rounds and I hope the proposal for a digital hub in Corsham will be included from his local area.
The Deputy Prime Minister and his Tory best friends claim that they have turned the economy around, but the facts are that under this Government more and more people are on zero-hours contracts, the income of people who are self-employed has fallen by 14%, and low-paid and insecure work is leaving more people reliant on benefits to top up their pay and to help to pay their bills. While millionaires enjoy a Tory-Lib Dem tax cut, everyday working families are on average £1,600 a year worse off and struggling to make ends meet. Will the Deputy Prime Minister tell us whose recovery this is?
Almost every time we meet across the Dispatch Box, the right hon. and learned Lady repeats the extraordinary suggestion that we have somehow been responsible for tax cuts for people in the higher tax bracket, when for 95% of the time that her party was in power the top rate was 40p. It is now 45p, which is 5p higher than it was under Labour. As I said earlier, the gap between rich and poor was higher under her party’s stewardship of the economy than it was in the 1980s, manufacturing declined four times more than it did under Margaret Thatcher, and we have taken more than 3 million people on low pay out of paying any income tax at all. That is the contrast between our records, of which I am very proud.
The fact is that the Government have cut taxes for millionaires while they have cut tax credits for everyday working people. The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government are borrowing £190 billion more than they planned. They said they would balance the books by 2015, but the deficit is likely to be £75 billion by then. Stagnant wages and too many low-paid jobs have led to a shortfall in tax receipts, meaning more Government borrowing. With thousands more people reliant on in-work benefits, it emerged last week that the Government have spent £25 billion more than they planned on social security. [Interruption.] At least the facts I am putting to the Deputy Prime Minister are accurate, unlike the facts he misrepresented. His Government have left hard-working families not knowing how they will make ends meet. Why will he not admit it? He says they have rescued the British economy, but this recovery is only for a privileged few.
Say that to the fact that there are now more women in work than ever before. Say that to the fact that youth unemployment is lower than it was when we inherited the economy from the right hon. and learned Lady. Say that to the fact that we are now days away from being able to confirm that 2 million new apprenticeships are being formed under this Government—twice as many as under the Labour Government. We have cut tax for people on the minimum wage by two thirds. During Labour’s time in office there was the ludicrous and unacceptable situation where stockbrokers paid less tax on their dividends than their cleaners did on their wages. We have changed that. We have fixed the economy. They messed it up in the first place.
T3. I was languishing on the Front Bench for some time, so I did not have the opportunity to ask the Deputy Prime Minister a question about consistency that has been bothering me. In 2010, he introduced a measure to equalise the electorates in each constituency. That seemed to me to be very fair and he was very eloquent in saying how important it was to be fair and for each vote to have the same value. Two and a half years later he voted against it. Please could he tell me, the House and the good British people why he did that? (906090)
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is now languishing—as he puts it —elsewhere and is able to ask his question. He appears to have forgotten that the proposal to equalise constituencies was part of a wider package of constitutional reform. A deal is a deal, and his party, having committed solemnly to the British people to push for House of Lords reform, flunked it. Quite understandably, therefore, the deal could not be proceeded with.
T5. Has the Deputy Prime Minister seen today’s report from the cross-party Higher Education Commission that shows how awful the situation is that students in debt face for the rest of their lives? Some 68% of them will never pay back their loan, and many will never get a mortgage, because he deserted them, broke his pledge and voted for £9,000 fees? (906092)
I am perplexed. When those controversial changes were introduced, the hon. Gentleman said they would be too harsh on students, but now he is criticising them because students will not have to pay off their outstanding loans. It cannot be both. He predicted at the time that fewer people would be going to university, but there are more youngsters on full-time courses now then ever before; he predicted that fewer kids from disadvantaged backgrounds would be going to university, but there are now more kids from poorer backgrounds at university than ever before; he predicted that kids from black and minority ethnic backgrounds would not go to university, but there are now higher rates of participation in university among kids from BME backgrounds than ever before. Why does he not stick with the facts?
I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I will have been in the same Lobby back in 2011 when we introduced legislation on behalf of the coalition guaranteeing in law something that could not be tampered with by future Governments and Parliaments: the circumstances in which a referendum on our membership of the EU would take place—when the rules next change and we are asked to endorse a new treaty. That was our view then, and it remains my view now. It is perfectly free to do so, but his party has decided to change its mind radically since then.
T6. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to reform the bedroom tax, so why did the Deputy Prime Minister and his colleagues not support the Bill brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) to exempt the 60,000 unpaid carers being hit by this unfair policy? (906093)
The hon. Lady is right that, on the basis of research we commissioned in government, we think that amendments need to be made so that new social tenants receive only the housing benefit they need for the number of bedrooms they have, but the Liberal Democrats feel that disabled adults should be treated the same as disabled children and that those offered an opportunity to downsize should have the provisions applied to them. That was the subject of the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George). If we had been granted a money resolution, we could have voted on it in this House.
T9. May I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for recently visiting my constituency to promote the northern futures initiative? Does he agree that the idea of giving real power back to the great northern cities is long overdue, and will he give the House an update on recent progress? (906096)
As ever, it was a great pleasure to visit my hon. Friend in his constituency. He is right that through city deals and local growth deals we are finally loosening the clammy grip of Whitehall that for too long has stifled innovation and autonomy in our local communities, particularly our great cities, in the north and the elsewhere, which should be powerhouses able to make up their own minds, rather than being hamstrung by Whitehall red tape.
T8. On Friday, the UK Youth Parliament held its sixth annual sitting in this Chamber. Last year, its members chose votes at 16, and this year they chose mental health services and the living wage, as their main campaigns. Could the House mark the importance of the Youth Parliament perhaps by having an annual debate on the subject chosen by it? (906095)
Of course, I defer to you, Mr Speaker, and the usual channels, but I hope we can take up that idea. In selecting mental health for debate, the Youth Parliament was right to shine a spotlight on the sometimes awfully under-resourced and badly organised children and adolescent mental health services around the country. They need reform and improvement, and it was right to push the House to do that. I hope we can take up the hon. Lady’s suggestion of an annual debate on the topics the Youth Parliament selects in the future.
T10. My right hon. Friend made it very clear that he would grant a money resolution necessary for the EU referendum to proceed once the same facility was in place for the first private Member’s Bill that dealt with the bedroom tax or spare room subsidy. What can he do to make sure that the Prime Minister respects the decision of Parliament and does not abuse the privilege of Executive power? (906097)
On the private Member’s Bill and the Prime Minister’s decision to withhold the money resolution, the Prime Minister will need to reply directly to my hon. Friend. But the convention of granting money resolutions to private Members’ Bills is a long-standing one that, broadly, should be respected.
T12. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that with so many different constitutional processes under way and so many different views being expressed on our country’s constitutional future, we are in danger of creating an even bigger dog’s breakfast than we already have? (906099)
As I explained, excessive neatness—the idea that we have everything rolled into one single process and decided simultaneously—is probably unrealistic and undesirable. But especially in the wake of the Smith commission and the debates we are having about how we administer votes in this House on English and Welsh matters, we need a wider constitutional convention stretching into the next Parliament to bring all the different threads together in the way that the hon. Gentleman implies.
T11. I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for the energy that he has put into making the northern futures project work. Does he agree that growth in investment in infrastructure is a fundamental part of that? Does he also agree that getting the second phase of the Hazel Grove by-pass in my constituency has to be a part of that process? (906098)
I am sure that the Hazel Grove by-pass weighs heavily on the mind of the Chancellor, much as it does on my right hon. Friend’s and mine. He is right to say that revamping our national infrastructure, particularly those parts of our transport infrastructure that are still Victorian and in some cases somewhat dilapidated, is a major national mission that we must persist with over many years.
T13. Talking of great northern cities, I know that Hull is outside the Deputy Prime Minister’s golden triangle. Will he explain to my constituents why, in his statement of 6 November, he did not back Hull’s privately financed bid to get rail electrification to Hull in time for 2017 and the city of culture and why he said that we would have to wait until the 2020s? (906100)
The hon. Lady says I did not respond at all. As she will have noticed this morning, there are many Members of this House who have local infrastructure projects and who, quite rightly, want to see them advanced. I defer to nobody in my zeal to see road and rail improvements across the country. I know that this is an alien concept to those on her side of the House but affordability is something that one must attend to. If she is saying that there is a fully formed and fully affordable means by which electrification can be provided, of course that is something that all of us would back.
T4. Across London, and in my constituency in particular, some 10% of the adult population now come from eastern Europe but only about 3,500 appear on the electoral register as EU citizens not eligible to vote. There are now 4,000 EU citizens registered to vote who may think that they have a vote in the general election. Could my right hon. Friend do something to clean up the electoral register so that those who are entitled to vote can vote? (906091)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this but we are not aware of individuals from EU countries being on the electoral roll for UK parliamentary elections. EU nationals are entitled to vote in the UK in European Parliament elections and local elections, and EU nationals on the electoral register have a separate mark against their name to indicate that they cannot vote in UK parliamentary elections. That system has served us well, but I and other Ministers will look at the issue that he describes.
As I said, all constitutional issues are always best dealt with on a cross-party basis. More than that, I think it is best dealt with when we embrace the public rather than make it just for politicians sitting in this Chamber—including, dare I say it, for such an anti-establishment figure as the hon. Gentleman. That seems to me to be the real thing that we should be doing—opening up this constitutional discussion to involve as many members of public as we can in the years ahead.
I think a fair amount is being done. The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the time limits that operate with respect to people exercising their right to vote here if they live abroad, but British citizens who live abroad will be very mindful of their rights and can take them up very easily. Many British citizens living abroad do take them up on a regular basis.
I am not aware that we are planning to do that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have progressed with individual voter registration—first advocated by Labour when in government—and we have transferred data from other databases on to the individual voter registration database to ensure that the vast majority of voters are transferred on to individual voter registration without having to do anything themselves.
I welcome the work of my right hon. Friend and others to support the Greater Cambridge city deal, which will make a huge difference for transport and housing needs in the Cambridge area, but does he accept that if we had more devolution of powers to Cambridge we could do better—not just for ourselves, but in our contribution to the rest of economy? Will he look very carefully at what other powers could be given?
My hon. Friend is quite rightly proud of the astonishing economic dynamism of Cambridge and the surrounding area, which was of course reflected in the first city deal. I think it is a good thing that there is now such ambition to build on that city deal and go further. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has listened very carefully to my hon. Friend’s representation and is keen to push this further.
The Attorney-General was asked—
Unduly Lenient Sentences
I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of matters, including the effectiveness of the unduly lenient sentence scheme. In the year to 30 October, the Law Officers considered 362 cases under the scheme and referred 100 offenders to the Court of Appeal. Some 69% of those offenders then had their sentences increased by the court for some of the most serious violent and sexual offences, including murder, rape and sexual assault.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply, and welcome the fact that many sentences have been increased. My constituents, however, find many sentences passed by the courts to be far too lenient. It is clearly important to maintain public confidence in the sentencing process, so what other steps does my right hon. and learned Friend intend taking to ensure that that is the case?
Of course, this is a remedy for those exceptional cases where the judiciary pass what are considered by the Court of Appeal to be unduly lenient sentences, and I think it is right that we have that mechanism available to us. I believe that the judiciary generally get it right, but that when they do get it wrong it is important to have a mechanism to correct things.
I raised with the Attorney-General’s predecessor the case of Elena Fanaru, a young woman who was killed by a driver who did not have insurance and got a shockingly lenient sentence. The key is keeping in touch with either the victims or, where they are deceased, the families of the victims. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman reassure us that that is happening throughout this process?
Yes, I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. As he says, it is important that people affected by offences of this kind have an opportunity to invite the Law Officers to consider the matter. As he will know, not every offence is currently included in the scheme and not every case that is referred to the Law Officers will subsequently be referred to the Court of Appeal, but I think it important that those people have an opportunity to raise their concerns, and that others who have no connection with the case have that opportunity as well. I emphasise again that only in exceptional cases will the matter be taken further.
My constituent Mr Christopher Adams pleaded guilty to three offences of sexual activity with a young woman in my constituency who had the mental age of a child. Although he had pleaded guilty and had been told by the judge that he should expect a lengthy custodial sentence, he actually received only a community order—not even a restraining order to keep him away from the young girl concerned. That case cannot be referred under the unduly lenient sentence scheme because it does not qualify: the system does not consider it a serious enough offence. My constituents feel that it is a serious enough offence. Is it not time that we examined that case and others of its kind with the aim of enabling them to be reviewed if the sentence imposed was not strict enough?
I commend my hon. Friend not just for raising that case today, but for communicating with me about it more than once. He feels very strongly about it, and I understand why: it is clearly a very terrible case. At present, as he will know, the balance is struck between a manageable system that enables us to pass truly exceptional cases to the Court of Appeal and ensuring that people have an opportunity to raise their concerns. I can tell him, however, that I am looking at the unduly lenient sentence scheme again to ensure that its scope is appropriate and that it is coherent and sustainable, and I will take careful note of what he and others have said as I do so.
As the Attorney-General knows, I refer a number of cases to him for appeal against unduly lenient sentences, and I am very grateful to him and to the Solicitor-General for the way in which they consider them. The Solicitor-General has now begun to view the behaviour of offenders after their conviction to establish whether they have gone on to the straight and narrow as a factor in the decision on whether to appeal. On that basis, is it not time that we increased the period during which people can appeal against unduly lenient sentences from 28 days to perhaps double that, so that everyone has more of a clue about the path on which the offender has embarked after he has been sentenced?
That is certainly one of the criteria that are considered, but it is not the only one. Most consideration concerns whether the judge applied the information that was available to the sentencing judge appropriately in determining whether a sentence was unduly lenient.
The issue of the time limit for making a reference under the scheme is a vexed one, and I know that my hon. Friend has raised it before. I think it is important for there to be certainty and a fixed end point, and for defendants to understand clearly that after a fixed period they will know what sentences they will be serving. For that reason, I am not currently minded to extend the time limit, although, as I have said to my hon. Friend, I am considering other aspects of the scheme very carefully.
Pro Bono Work
The Attorney-General and I are the pro bono champions for the Government, and part of our responsibility is to uphold the rule of law. I am helped by two pro bono co-ordinating committees, which bring together the leading organisations dedicated to the delivery of pro bono legal help and representation both here and abroad. The Attorney-General and I attended a number of events as part of the recent national pro bono week to highlight the importance of pro bono, and to encourage the profession to continue its engagement with pro bono initiatives.
Let me begin by declaring an interest, which is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a solicitor.
I commend the Solicitor-General for encouraging members of the legal profession to do pro bono work. Does he agree that we should encourage other professionals, such as accountants and surveyors, to do likewise?
As a non-practising Scottish advocate, I congratulate and pay tribute to the legal profession for its generosity in the pro bono work it does. Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House that we are reimbursing all the costs in particularly costly family law and custody cases? I have had a number of difficult ones in North Yorkshire, which has been a pilot scheme for early adoption. We must make sure the full costs are awarded for legal representation in these very difficult emotional cases.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The amount of money or financial equivalent now being generated by pro bono work is about £601 million-worth of work. A number of family case judgments have recently caused a lot of interest. In two of them in particular I am glad to say civil legal aid was awarded after full information was obtained. In another case, there were particular difficulties with the application of the threshold test in an application to discharge an adoption order. I know those matters are concerning the Ministry of Justice, and I am sure my colleagues in that Department will be able to deal with the issues as they arise.
The firms and individuals who engage in pro bono work are to be commended, but we in the UK are not alone among continental neighbours in being behind the curve in terms of our pro bono offer at the same time as legal aid has of course been cut. Does the Minister, as pro bono champion, anticipate that pro bono will now fill the gaps left by the withdrawal of legal aid?
Pro bono work is never a substitute for legal aid. It is an adjunct to legal work, but not a substitute. That has applied throughout the development of pro bono work, and at various times we have seen previous Labour Governments make changes to legal aid. I think it would be wrong to correlate the two.
I work with a man called Glyn Maddocks, who puts an enormous amount of pro bono time into miscarriages of justice, and many solicitors and legal people do that. Does the Minister share my concern, and will he talk to the Law Society about this, at increasing evidence of lawyers—solicitors—working in a grey area where I believe they are becoming very suspect in the way in which they handle their affairs?
I listened very carefully to the hon. Gentleman. The Solicitors Regulation Authority deals with professional misconduct and I know that it takes all complaints very seriously indeed. The solicitor profession has a long and honourable tradition of quality work and I know solicitors would want that to be maintained, so if there are any particular cases, I urge they be taken up with the SRA.
Hate Crimes (Disabled People)
The proportion of successful outcomes of disability hate crime cases increased from 77.2% in 2012-13 to 81.9% in 2013-14. To build on this improvement, as recently as last month the CPS published a new disability hate crime action plan further to improve the prosecution of disability hate crime and the experience of disabled victims and witnesses.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that response. In my constituency, I have worked with various organisations and individuals who have highlighted to me the fact that from a BME community background this can often be a culturally taboo subject to talk about. May I impress upon my hon. and learned Friend the importance of being mindful of that? We should send a strong, robust message on hate crime, through not just his own good offices but those of other organisations as well?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question and I hear very much what he says, and I am sure the CPS hears it too. All discrimination cases should be treated equally. It is troubling that disability hate crime remains the lowest strand of offences prosecuted, which is why the CPS action plan is a vital step forward.
My thoughts are with the family and friends of Erick Maina, who was tragically found dead over the weekend after apparently taking his own life. Shockingly, racist graffiti referring to Erick appeared in my constituency in the days after his death. Will the Minister commit to reversing the recent decline in prosecutions so that appalling acts of hate crime such as that linked to Erick’s death are dealt with in the strongest possible way?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a grave and serious case, and it is one of a number that are concerning us as constituency MPs. The 10-point disability hate crime action plan will help to reinforce the message to prosecutors and to the police that hate crimes can take many forms. An example is people who befriend individuals with learning difficulties, then use coercive control to commit crimes against them. That is a hate crime.
As a member of my local Mencap organisation, I am well aware of the concern about disability hate crime. I hear what my hon. and learned Friend says about the progress being made on conviction rates, but is he confident that he will continue to make progress in that regard, and will he say a bit more about how an improved conviction rate can be achieved?
My hon. Friend has mentioned Mencap, whose “Hear my voice” campaign is playing an important part in raising awareness of disability hate crime. In the prosecution of these cases, it is important that we widen the ambit to consider the entire experience of people with learning difficulties and lifelong conditions in the criminal justice system. Frankly, it has not been a good one, and I will do all I can to offer leadership to ensure that real change in the criminal justice system can be obtained for people with learning difficulties and disabilities.
Prosecutions for hate crimes are down, compared with the figures for 2010-11, even though the Home Office evidence and our own postbags show that incidents of hate crime— particularly disability hate crime—are increasing. What is the Solicitor-General doing to determine the cause of the drop in prosecutions, and to improve the response of the law enforcement agencies?
Order. I am sorry to embarrass the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal), but I must make this point because this is the second time today that this has happened. An hon. Member must not leave the Chamber while the exchanges on his or her question are in train. Members really ought to know that, and I think that most do. The hon. Gentleman is normally the most courteous of individuals, but he must stay, whatever other commitments he might have, until those exchanges have been completed. That is the courtesy that we expect of Members.
Coming back to the question from the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), she is right to make that point. It is encouraging to note that prosecutions have increased from 150 or so five years ago to between 400 and 500 now, but the action plan contains provisions to offer further training to prosecutors and the police so that they can be fully aware and put themselves into the shoes of people with learning difficulties. There was also a high-level management conference last week at which a service user with disabilities came to speak to prosecutors and to lay it on the line about their experience.
The proportion of cases being successfully prosecuted is impressive and increasing, but the overall number of convictions is still very small. I reckon that it is nine a week, out of a population of 63 million. Which parts of the country are doing this best, and how can the other parts of the country learn from them?
I do not have the specific figures, but I know from a recent report from Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate that there have been examples of best practice in the north-west and the north-east. Those examples could be followed by other CPS areas to help to increase the number of prosecutions.
7. What recent assessment he has made of how effectively police and prosecutors co-operate in securing convictions of perpetrators of child abuse. (906109)
The Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes child abuse cases robustly. In 2013-14, the number of child abuse prosecutions rose by 440 to 7,998 and the conviction rate rose to 76.2%—the highest ever, and a reflection of the close co-operation between the police and the CPS.
I thank the Attorney-General for his response. The excellent recent report produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) raised concerns in relation to child sex exploitation and grooming in the Manchester area that negative comments by the CPS about the victims’ behaviour had influenced the decision not to bring charges. Will he ask Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate to review those charging decisions made by the CPS to ensure that the new guidelines—which do not allow prejudices and stereotypes about the victims to be taken into account—are now being adhered to?
Yes, I have seen the report by the hon. Member for Stockport and I agree that it is an impressive and particularly striking piece of work. I hope the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) will be relieved to know that updated guidance for Crown prosecutors on this type of offence is already available and makes precisely the point to which she refers. A number of myths need to be addressed, and not only in the minds of prosecutors; there needs to be communication with courts and juries to make sure that some expectations that some jurors and some prosecutors have of how victims of this type of offending ought to behave are challenged and dealt with. That guidance is in a much better place now, and the CPS is serious about it.
The excellent report by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport showed that there had been 13,000 complaints of serious sexual assault against children in six years but only 1,000 convictions. Is it not time to review not only the guidance for prosecutors but how the police handle these cases, how they deal with victims and the kind of evidence they collect, to ensure that these crimes are taken seriously and that they realise that these are children who cannot give consent, whatever their circumstances?
Yes, the hon. Lady is certainly right about the last point she makes, and it is important that everybody keeps that in mind in these cases. As she will understand, I do not take responsibility directly for what the police do, but it is important that Crown prosecutors have the earliest possible interaction with investigators to make sure these cases develop in the right way. Again, that forms part of the updated guidance and we are keen to see that it happens. In addition, it is important that we have specialist prosecutors who understand these cases well. The CPS is now taking that approach and it is a positive move forward, which will mean that these cases are prosecuted in the most effective way.
These statistics are shocking and I am grateful for the Attorney-General’s reassurance that they will be reviewed. Will he be discussing with the Home Secretary today’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary about the non-recording of 200,000 reported sexual offences?
Yes, and clearly this matter is of great concern. The hon. Lady will understand that that report was commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who I know will wish to take up some of its recommendations very clearly, and I will certainly discuss with her what more the CPS can do to assist. The hon. Lady will also understand that, notwithstanding the point I made to the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) about the need for Crown prosecutors to be engaged at an early stage, these prosecutors cannot be engaged right from the outset. It is important that once they are, they engage properly and prosecute these cases effectively.
Edward Graham, a retired serviceman, was recently sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for 23 counts of sexual abuse, after a trial by a court martial. I understand that a court martial should be used for service personnel only for matters of military discipline, so will the Attorney-General have discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice and the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that all future cases not involving matters of military discipline are investigated by the police and tried by the civilian courts?
Let me be as brief as I can, Mr Speaker. I understand that the only way of prosecuting this man was via a court martial, because the offences took place before the law had changed to allow for the prosecution of this type of offence in a civilian court in this country. So if a British court was to take it, it had to be a military court. It was a good example of the effective prosecution of historical abuse claims.
There have been several recent instances of victims of child abuse being subjected to intimidatory and vicious cross-examination by defence barristers, which will be a deterrent for those people coming forward in the future. Is there more we can do to raise standards in this regard?
Yes, I hope there is. First, I should say it is right that the defence case is put to prosecution witnesses and to complainants, and that will often be a difficult experience. However, aggressive cross-examination is not necessarily the same as effective cross-examination, and it is important that defence advocates as well as prosecution advocates understand that clearly. I know that the Lord Chancellor is interested in talking to the legal professions about the best way to ensure the necessary training is delivered, and, as I have said, as far as prosecutors are concerned that is already being done.
My view is that the Crown Prosecution Service should pursue cases where the evidence exists to wherever the evidence leads regardless of the position held by the person being investigated. If evidence is brought to light to justify such an investigation, I would expect it to be carried out.
Rape and Domestic Violence
The Crown Prosecution Service has taken a number of steps to prioritise effective prosecutions of rape and domestic violence. In June 2014, the CPS published, with the police, a national rape action plan to improve the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. In addition, in May 2014, the CPS launched a public consultation on legal guidance to prosecutors on cases involving domestic violence.
Although it is important to improve conviction rates, we must also look at why so few rape cases make it to trial. Today, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary published a critical report, which contained some really troubling findings, especially in relation to the handling of sexual offences. The inspector found that serious sexual offences were not being recorded. They included 14 rapes where offenders had simply been issued with an out-of-court disposal, and in many of those cases they should have been prosecuted. I have been expressing concern for some time that there needs to be far greater CPS oversight of police decision making in cases of rape and other serious sexual offences. Does the Solicitor-General agree that this report illustrates that that plan is the right one to take, and will he support Labour’s proposals to ensure that before a rape case is dropped a CPS lawyer must look at it?
The hon. Lady makes proper points about a report that raises serious concerns. It is right to note that, in the year ending June 2014, the Office for National Statistics recorded a 29% increase in reported and recorded rapes, so progress is being made, but much more needs to be done. The national rape action plan is a vital part of ensuring that more is done by police and prosecutors to monitor why cases are not followed through. We know that sometimes the reasons for that are quite complex and varied.
Apprenticeships (Child Benefit and Tax Credit Entitlement) (Research)
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 provide for a programme of research into the costs and benefits of extending eligibility for Child Benefit and Tax Credit entitlement to young people completing apprenticeships; and for connected purposes.
The Government have made excellent progress over the past four years in increasing the take-up of apprenticeships. Across England, more than 1.9 million apprenticeships have started since 2010, with the number of apprenticeships overall having more than doubled in this Parliament. In my own constituency of Hereford and South Herefordshire, between 2010 and 2014, 2,210 apprenticeships were started compared with 2,340 in the previous four years, which is an increase of 80%. But that terrific growth has largely been due to increasing numbers of over-25 year-olds starting apprenticeships. The number of 16 to 19-year-olds starting apprenticeships has remained relatively flat. In 2011-12, there were some 130,000 apprenticeship starts among 16 to 19-year-olds. That fell to 114,000 in 2012-13. The provisional figures for 2013-14 indicate that apprenticeship starts for 16 to 19-year-olds rose slightly to 118,000. So the huge increase overall in apprenticeships does not seem to be getting much traction among school leavers, and it is worth asking: why not?
At my local jobs fair in Hereford last March, a friend who works in the local jobs club pointed out to me a serious inconsistency in how the benefit system treats young people. If a 16 to 19-year-old stays in education, their family can continue to claim child benefit and tax credits for them. But if that same young person takes up an apprenticeship instead, they are counted as being in work and their family can no longer claim benefits on their behalf.
Clearly, apprenticeships are work, but as the apprentice minimum wage is just £2.73 an hour, the youngest and most poorly paid apprentices will often be earning less than their family could receive in benefits for them. The minimum wage for under-18s not in apprenticeships is £3.79 an hour, rising to £5.13 an hour for 18 to 20-year-olds, so the young apprentice ends up neither receiving benefits nor earning the normal minimum wage.
Of course, there are many reasons why an apprenticeship is highly worth while even with the relatively low apprentice minimum wage. Many employers invest heavily in high-quality apprenticeships, and an apprenticeship serves as a stepping-stone between training and full employment, but we must also consider what benefits are lost to the family of someone who becomes an apprentice at this early age. The area is extremely complex, as the House will know, but I have checked the following numbers with the Library.
First, the family will lose child benefit. If the apprentice is the only child in the family, that will be £20.50 a week. If the family is in receipt of child tax credit, they will also lose up to a further £3,295 a year, or £63.37 a week. Indeed, colleagues have reported that they might also lose housing benefit. If a person aged 16 to 19 works 30 hours a week at the apprentice minimum wage, they will earn £81.90, on which they will not pay tax or national insurance, so the net effect of a 16-year-old’s going into an apprenticeship on minimum wage could be a drop in family income of just under £2 a week, or a little over £100 a year.
How, then, do these young apprentices fare relative to someone who is in full-time education? The family of a 16 to 19-year-old in full-time education will continue to be eligible for child benefit and other benefits for that child, even when that child is in paid work. They might also be entitled to a 16-to-19 bursary, or the education maintenance allowance if they live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. We must not forget that full-time education is defined as more than 12 hours a week of supervised study, and that many apprentices will do seven hours a week in their work.
I am highly sympathetic to the Government’s position on this issue, which is that
“When a young person takes up an apprenticeship, they are classed as in employment with training. From that point, benefits for the young person paid to their parents cease.”—[Official Report, 28 January 2014; Vol. 574, c. 757.]
But as the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has pointed out in supporting the Bill today, the notion that a young apprentice should be considered a non-dependent in relation to benefits would be challenged by many parents, to put it mildly.
Apprentices are caught in the middle between training and employment. As the idea of an apprentice minimum wage implicitly recognises, what matters is not the classification but the human consequences for those affected by the loss of benefits, and the deterrence from taking up an apprenticeship that results. This is an injustice that affects the least well-off in our society and we need to fix it, and that is why I urge the House to support the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
That Jesse Norman, Angie Bray, Jim Shannon and Mr Graham Stuart present the Bill.
Jesse Norman accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 9 January, and to be printed (Bill 121).
Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Order of 16 July 2014 (Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:
1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.
2. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken on the days shown in the first column of the following Table and in the order shown in that column.
3. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 4
4.00 pm on the first day
New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 1; New Clauses, new Schedules and
amendments relating to Part 2; New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 3; New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 5; New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 6
7.00 pm on the first day
New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 11; New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 7; New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 8; New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 9; New Clauses, new Schedules and
amendments relating to Part 10; New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 12; remaining proceedings on Consideration
Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration on the second day
4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration on the second day.—(Matthew Hancock.)
We felt at the time of the original programme motion that the Government were in a bit of an unseemly rush to get through all this, and debate on the Bill has showed that although the Government might be in a rush, there was a lack of attention to detail on some of the key points that the Government might have thought important in putting together a Public Bill Committee. Not unlike proceedings today, Committee proceedings started with the Minister for Business and Enterprise racing in just after we had started.
Some things that one might usually expect a competent Government to have got together in advance of a Bill Committee did not appear to be there. For example, they did not have Members on the Committee who supported significant parts of the measure, and they clean forgot to vote against some amendments.
Everything was rather slapstick at first, but since Committee the Government’s approach has taken a slightly less savoury turn. Report was brought forward, apparently to reduce the time available for campaigning on important issues such as the measures on pub companies; there was a significant amount of public opinion that further changes were needed to those.
At 6 pm yesterday we still did not have the order in which matters would be debated today. That impacts on the capacity of hon. Members and those who want to follow the proceedings of the House to be involved. It is a disappointing turn for democracy that the Government should behave in such a shabby manner, given that we will discuss important issues.
A number of Members want to debate the issues before us, especially pub companies, so I do not propose detaining the House with a vote on this programme motion, but I do want to put on the record that the way in which this important issue has been approached, and specifically the way in which everything has been left so late, and the last-minute changes to what was to be debated and when, reflect poorly on the Government.
I will be brief. I want just to clear up a couple of inaccuracies. There was time to spare in Committee; the Committee reported to the House earlier than planned by a few hours, and several of the sittings ended at 4 o’clock, rather than 5 o’clock, as agreed. It is important that the House notes and the record shows that in Committee we considered the Bill in full and had more than enough time; we did not use it all up.
Secondly, as always and as is normal, we have agreed the timings of Report through the usual channels. It is absolutely right that we should spend plenty of time on the issues on which there is the most interest. By changing the timings of Report, we have managed to expand the time available to debate pubs, not least because that seems to be the issue in the Bill that is of the greatest interest to Members. We have more time, and we would have had more still had the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) not chosen to use some of it debating how much time we should have to debate these important issues, so I think we should get on with it.
Question put and agreed to.
Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill
[1st Allocated Day]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 6
Power to grant exemptions from Pubs Code
‘(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that the Pubs Code does not, or specified provisions of the Pubs Code do not, apply in relation to—
(a) the dealings of pub-owning businesses—
(i) with tied pub tenants of a specified description, or
(ii) in relation to tied pubs of a specified description;
(b) the dealings of a specified pub-owning business or pub-owning businesses of a specified description—
(i) with their tied pub tenants or tied pub tenants of a specified description, or
(ii) in relation to their tied pubs or tied pubs of a specified description.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may, in particular, specify a description of pub-owning businesses or tied pub tenants by reference to—
(a) the nature of the tenancy or licence, or
(b) the nature of any other contractual agreement entered (or to be entered) into by the tied pub tenant with the pub-owning business, or a person nominated by that business, in connection with the tenancy or licence.
(3) The regulations may provide for circumstances in which a tied pub of a specified description is to be disregarded for the purposes of section 64(2) and (3) (determining whether a business is a large pub-owning business).
(4) In this section “specified” means specified in regulations.” —(Jo Swinson.)
This amendment gives the Secretary of State a power to make regulations exempting from the Pubs Code dealings with a particular type of tenant, or in relation to particular types of pub premises. The regulations may set out circumstances in which a particular tied pub is not counted for the purpose of calculating whether a company is a “large pub-owning business”.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Pubs code: market rent only option for large pub-owning businesses—
‘(1) The Pubs Code shall include a Market Rent Only Option to be provided by large pub-owning businesses in respect of their tenants and leaseholders.
(2) A Market Rent Only Option means the right of the tenant, or leaseholder, of a pub owned by a large pub-owning business, to be offered such tenancy or lease in exchange for an independently assessed market rent paid to the pub-owning business and, for the avoidance of doubt, not thereafter being bound by “a tie”, meaning an agreement meeting, in whole or in part, Condition D as defined in section 63(5) of this Act (obligation to buy from the landlord, or from a person nominated by the landlord, some or all of the alcohol to be sold at the premises).
(3) For the purposes of this section, the definition of Condition D in subsection (2) is to be interpreted to include an obligation to buy or contract for goods and services other than alcohol.
(4) For the purposes of this section, the definition of a “large pub-owning business” is a business which, for a period of at least six months in the previous financial year, was the landlord of—
(a) 500 or more pubs (of any description); and
(b) one or more tenanted or leased pub.
(5) The Pubs Code may include provisions to permit a brewery which qualifies as a large pub-owning business to continue to require that specified brands produced by that brewery (required products) are sold within its tenanted or leased pubs—provided that such tenants and leaseholders are free to purchase such required products from any supplier.
(6) The Pubs Code shall contain provisions requiring that the offer of a Market Rent Only Option to a tenant—
(a) at the point of lease, tenancy contract or other agreement renewal, or at rent review or five years from the date of the previous rent review;
(b) when the large pub-owning business gives notice of, or imposes, (whichever is the earlier) a significant increase in the price at which it supplies products, goods or services (falling under subsections (2) or (3)) to the tenant;
(c) when a large pub-owning business implements, or gives notice of, a transfer of title;
(d) when a large pub-owning business goes into administration; or
(e) upon an event outside of the tenant’s control, and unpredicted at the time of the previous rent review, that impacts significantly on the tenant’s ability to trade.
(7) The terms of an offer under subsection (5) shall include provision for a 21 day period of negotiation, commencing from the tenant giving notice of an intention to pursue a Market Rent Only Option, in which the large pub-owning business and the tenant may seek to negotiate a mutually agreeable Market Rent Only settlement.
(8) Following the negotiation period under subsection (7) there shall follow a 90 day period of assessment. In this period—
(a) an independent assessor shall be appointed with the agreement of both parties by joint private instruction and on the basis of an equal apportionment of costs; and
(b) under arrangements and criteria that the Adjudicator shall establish, such an assessor shall be—
(i) independent of both parties; and
(ii) competent by virtue of qualification and/or experience.
(c) if the business and tenant cannot agree on an appointee then a person shall be appointed, on the application of either party, under arrangements established by the Adjudicator;
(d) the appointed assessor shall then assess the market rent for the property operating as a pub with no “tie” as defined in subsection (2) and submit to both parties the resulting sum for such a rent; and
(e) at the time of the three month assessment period, the tenant shall have the right to pay no more than the sum determined under paragraph (d) to the pub-owning business and, if previously one party to a “tie” as defined in subsection (2), shall no longer be bound by it.
(9) The Pubs Code shall contain such measures as ensure that—
(a) the Market Rent Only Option is conducted in accordance with timing provisions and procedures, in accordance with RICS guidance, as specified in the Pubs Code; and
(b) large pub-owning businesses are prohibited from acting or discriminating against any of their tenants who choose the Market Rent Only Option.
(10) The Secretary of State shall confer on the Adjudicator functions and powers in relation to the Market Rent Only Option, that include—
(a) determining what constitutes a significant increase in price, as mentioned in subsection (6)(b) in the event of a dispute between tenant and business;
(b) adjudicating in disputes concerning the process or outcome of the market rent assessment; including the power to set the market rent if the Adjudicator deems the process or decision to have been flawed; and
(c) receiving, investigating and adjudicating in relation to complaints made under subsection (9)(b).
(11) The Secretary of State shall make provisions for the implementation of the following measures in this section by regulations amending the Pubs Code. Such regulations shall be made under negative resolution procedure. The Secretary of State may make provisions changing the types of agreement that fall under subsection (2) by regulations. Such regulations shall be made under negative resolution procedure.”
Government amendments 29 to 41.
Amendment 5, in clause 6, page 47, line 19, leave out “tied” and insert “tenanted, leased or franchised”.
Government amendments 42 to 58.
I am glad to be able to get on to the debate on part 4 of the Bill, which is about pubs. There was considerable debate in Committee on the measures to introduce a pubs code adjudicator and a pubs code, and I am sure that we will have another lively debate today. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business and Enterprise has already mentioned, there is considerable interest in this matter in all parts of the House, and it is important that we have good scrutiny of the Bill.
New clause 6 ensures that the definition of a tied pub does not inadvertently capture restaurant or hotel premises, which was a concern raised in Committee. We are aware of one fish and chip restaurant chain that could meet the conditions set out in clause 63, and it is possible that there are others. We all know a pub when we see one, and we all know the difference between a pub and a fish and chip restaurant, but defining that in legislation can prove difficult, particularly given increased food consumption in pubs, which is in large part the result of the hugely successful smoking ban making the experience much more enjoyable. That is a new way in which pubs have diversified, and indeed increased their income, but it makes separating them by legal definition more complex.
New clause 6 therefore provides the Secretary of State with a power to exempt a particular type of tenant or premise from the pubs code in secondary legislation, so that we can ensure that it is only pub premises that are in scope. For the avoidance of doubt, amendment 58 sets out that regulations created through the exercise of that power will not be subject to the hybrid instrument procedure.
There are two other big issues addressed by the amendments in this group. Our discussions today obviously follow many years of consideration by the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, which has, along with its predecessor Committees, looked in particular at problems in the tied pub sector—I think that there have now been four reports. I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), who I see is here, as well as to his Committee and its predecessors for all their work to ensure that the problems were heard, investigated, documented and addressed.
We heard concerns from Members on both sides in Committee about smaller companies and family brewers being covered by the statutory code and adjudicator. We also heard assurances, through the evidence submitted by smaller companies and family brewers, that they would continue to fund the voluntary regulation system, which I know many hon. Members feel strongly about.
Absolutely. We have been considering how best to respond to those genuine concerns. This Government have no wish to overburden small business. Indeed, we have done a huge amount to reduce regulation on business, particularly small business. Of course, this is a small business Bill. We are trying carefully to strike the right balance between helping smaller pub-owning companies and helping individual tenants and small business people who are struggling with some of the difficulties documented in the Select Committee reports.
We have listened to all the concerns put to us and, on further reflection, have decided not to press amendments 29 to 33, 41, 43 and 44, which were designed to reinstate smaller pub companies within the scope of the statutory pubs code, albeit with lesser requirements. Instead, we will bring forward amendments in the other place to change the exemption to those companies that own fewer than 350 tied pubs. We think that strikes the right balance between preventing overburdening of genuinely small family brewers and ensuring adequate protection of tied tenants in a way that is proportionate.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) made the point in Committee that a threshold of 500, which would have been set out in the Bill, would not have ended up capturing some groups that perhaps would have been expected to be captured. This change will ensure that the adjudicator’s attention, and indeed the costs of compliance with the measures, is focused on the largest companies in the sector and on the end of the market where most complaints originate.
I just want to clarify what the Minister said. I think that I might be seeing the deft hand of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business and Enterprise, who seems to be the only one in the Department who understands small businesses. Can the Minister explain to the House what the big difference is between 500 and 350, or is she just grabbing at a number that does not look like 500, which she said in Committee was the right one?
The hon. Gentleman could recognise and welcome the fact that the Government have responded to the concerns he raised and have moved on the issue, but he has chosen not to, given his comments about colleagues in the Department, with which I wholeheartedly disagree. We must ensure that we consider those concerns, but they were raised not only by his colleagues, but by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), who was a member of the Committee, and by Opposition Members concerned about the issue.
That is a fundamental part of this. The Government lost the vote in Committee, and now they say that the Bill will go right through to Third Reading as it is, but that they have some vague idea of doing something about the matter in another place. As we have been through Committee and are now on Report, that does not give this House much opportunity to debate whether we are happy with these eventual changes.
We have between now and 4 o’clock to have that discussion. What I have clearly set out is in line with what the hon. Gentleman wanted in Committee, which was for smaller companies to be excluded. As I have said, he made the very reasonable and rational point that there were some companies—this deals with the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller)—that had in excess of 400 tied pubs, for example, and it might seem strange to people that such companies would not be covered. We listened in Committee and now propose that the threshold should be 350 tied pubs, rather than 500. I think that it is a positive thing that the Government have listened to the views of hon. Members and responded accordingly.
I am grateful to the Minister for listening to the will of the Committee. It is reassuring that the Government listen when amendments, such as the one that I tabled, receive cross-party support. Will she please clarify whether, when she talks about tied pubs, she is referring to tied pubs excluding managed pubs—in other words, short-term tenancies and leases excluding managed houses?
The definition is as set out in the Bill. Where a pub is directly managed, it does not meet the definition of a tied pub. I hope that gives the hon. Lady the reassurance she seeks.
As I have said, the Government have listened and recognised that the largest number of concerns originate at the end of the market with the largest pub companies, which is why we will focus the pubs code adjudicator on those companies. We recognise that there are concerns about other parts of the market, but clearly the House can return to those issues in future if it so wishes. We think that focusing the adjudicator’s attention in that way will resolve the vast majority of the issues that we have identified in the market.
We have listened to the concerns about smaller pub companies and family brewers. Of course, later this afternoon we will discuss another issue about which hon. Members from various parties have expressed strong views. It is clear from the number of hon. Members who have put their name to new clause 2 that there is a strong desire in the House for the statutory code to go further and to introduce the market rent only, or MRO, option.
We ran a consultation on that whole issue. As I pointed out in Committee, and as was said on Second Reading, it was one of the most popular consultations the Department has run in a very long time.
It received a huge number of responses because tenants, individuals and campaign groups take a great interest in the issue. Many representations were made on whether there should be a market rent only option and there was support from many quarters for that approach, but we recognise that there could be uncertain outcomes from such an approach. We would not want unintended consequences to harm the sector and the people we are trying to protect—
I will finish my sentence, then I will give way to my hon. Friend, who has such a strong record of campaigning in this area.
We recognise that many hon. Members worry that the pub companies need the very real threat of tenants going free of tie before they will offer their tenants a good tied deal. I can commit today that the Government will bring forward amendments in the other place to respond to this. Following the many Select Committee reports and the campaigning by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and others in all parties in the House, we have listened to those strong representations and we plan to add to the Bill a power to introduce a market rent only option after two years if a review concludes that the measures have not delivered sufficiently for tied tenants.
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work she has done. I will respond to that last point when I make my speech. She commented on the popularity of the consultation; two thirds of all who responded backed the market rent only option. None supported what the Government are proposing—a parallel rent assessment—so what was the point of the consultation?
The point of a consultation is to explore the issues and, if necessary, to make changes to the Government’s proposals in response. That is exactly what we have done. The parallel rent assessment responds to some of the concerns expressed in the consultation about the initial ideas that we had outlined. It is right that the Government should be flexible enough to respond to a consultation. If the Government go into a consultation with a set of plans and come out of the consultation with exactly the same set of plans, that means either that the plans were perfect—sometimes that may be the case—or that the Government refuse to listen. That was the point of the consultation on this issue.
My hon. Friend makes the point that there was great support in the consultation for a market rent only option. He is right. The Government recognise that. Although I appreciate that he will be disappointed that that will not culminate in the Government accepting his new clause 2, it gives a great fillip to campaigners who have worked on this issue and shows that the Government are serious. We think that the parallel rent assessment approach that we have outlined will deliver the “no worse off” principle, which we should all be able to agree is what we want for tenants. We will make sure that with the further power, the market rent only option is still on the table if, for any reason, the parallel rent assessment proposal does not deliver the intended outcome.
I will not dwell on the fact that the Minister is suggesting that a consultation is a success if the Government change their view and conclude that something that no one was asking for is the right answer. The industry is desperate for certainty. If we come out of the process proposing another review in two years which might change the whole landscape yet again, does the Minister agree that we will have failed to give the industry the certainty it requires?
We recognise that a significant number of companies appreciate the beer tie. For many tenants and companies it is a model that works well, as Members on all sides would agree. Therefore, we do not want to undermine it. There is a danger that that could happen under the market rent only option. Equally, I understand that many people advocate that as a market-based solution to deal with the issue. We are trying to forge a way forward that will have the confidence of the industry and will allow the market rent only option to be introduced two years after commencement of the Bill if a review finds that the parallel rent assessment is not working. It is clear that the “no worse off” principle is paramount and needs to be delivered. We believe that the parallel rent assessment will deliver that, but if it does not, we do not want to have to introduce another piece of primary legislation. We want the Government to be able to act swiftly.
I have listened with interest to the discussion of issues relating to new clause 2 and I agree that it is good to hear that the Government have moved on these matters. However, two years is a long time into the future. Another Government will be in office and a review would be toothless unless we are very clear about the criteria for judging whether the Government’s current proposals have succeeded. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified she is proposing. It needs to be concrete and specific to have any value.
We are proposing a power for the Secretary of State to introduce the market rent only option following a review that finds that tenants are not sufficiently protected by the system that we put in place. An important point that should reassure my hon. Friend is that we are creating a pubs code and putting a pubs code adjudicator on a statutory footing, so there will also be a significant individual who is independent, who is an expert and who has great experience of dealing with disputes. If cases go to arbitration, the adjudicator may be involved in investigations as well. The pubs code adjudicator will have a substantial amount of information at his or her disposal. We will not be in the situation that we have been in up to now, where it would be more difficult to assess the position. The adjudicator will enable us to make that assessment and to have an independent voice to set out what may need to happen further.
Does the hon. Lady accept that, in an industry that employs thousands upon thousands of people and creates millions of pounds-worth of wealth for this country, there will be incredulity that amendments are to be made within hours of the Bill leaving this House? We have had four BIS Committee inquiries into this and years to discuss the issues, yet the Minister comes scrabbling to the Dispatch Box just a few hours before we are due to vote on the measure. How can that give the industry any confidence?
I regret the fact that my hon. Friend is disappointed, but he was often disappointed in the Public Bill Committee when we were not able to accept his amendments on a range of issues that, if taken together, would have undermined the purpose of the Bill. I know that he speaks up for his constituents and he represents one of the larger pub companies that has its base in his constituency, so I understand where he is coming from. His view of what needs to happen to address the problems and injustices in the industry is very different from that of many, and perhaps most, Members of Parliament. We want to make sure that we get the details right. We want to listen to the House. That is what a responsible Government do.
Perhaps I was unchivalrous earlier when I said that the Minister does not understand business. It is clear that the Government are on the run. This is the second issue on which they are proposing changes. What role has the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills played in these last-minute shenanigans?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman was unchivalrous and I am not sure he rescued the situation with that intervention. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business and Enterprise, who is my fellow Bill Minister, and I discuss these issues as the hon. Gentleman would expect, as we try to make sure that we give the right response to the concerns raised in Committee.
I have said that I will make some progress and then I will be happy to give way.
The parallel rent assessment process will enable tenants to get the information they need to assess the deal that they are being offered by their pub company—to look at the figures and decide whether they are being offered a good deal or would be better off under a free-of-tie option. Of course, the pub companies would hope that if, as they say, they are offering a genuinely good deal under the tied model, then very many tenants will be very happy to continue in that vein. However, if the parallel rent assessments show that they are worse off, or if there is a suggestion that the parallel rent assessments are not being properly and accurately completed, then the adjudicator has the power to ensure that the assessment is done again or, if necessary, to provide for a different rent to be set. The parallel rent assessment has the potential to revolutionise the experience of tenants, and it should reassure them that we are serious about this. If the pub companies do not reform and their behaviour continues as it has, we will be able to legislate further to introduce the market rent only option to ensure that tenants get a good deal.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West and those supporting his new clause will be reassured by this commitment. It is right that we give the new system a chance to deliver a fair deal, with an added power for Government to introduce a market rent only option should pub companies fail to do as they should. I think that that will focus minds. I am keen to listen to the debate that will take place on this issue.
I wanted to intervene on a specific point, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for eventually giving way. Will she please confirm what dialogue she has had with the industry, since the Committee stage just a couple of weeks ago, about the new measures of which she is informing the House today?
This is not the first intervention that my hon. Friend has made, and I am obviously happy to respond to it. The industry has made significant representations in writing and had the opportunity to contribute at the public evidence session, which is an excellent, fairly new innovation in this House from which we all benefited in Committee.
I would like to finish my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) before I take another intervention.
In Committee, we had the opportunity to hear from and to have these discussions with the industry, as well as with campaign groups—we must recognise that both sides are important in this. Since then, written correspondence has taken place, to which I have responded to deal with some of the issues raised. Of course, as Minister, I will continue to do so.
Our concern is that a lot of pubs could close over two years. We want assurances that there has been lots of dialogue with the industry and with pub owners who are going through these difficult times to make sure that they are happy with the proposal that the Minister is now bringing forward.
During the process of developing this legislation, there has been significant dialogue and consultation on the whole area through the formal consultation that Government held, to which we had the response earlier in the summer. I have met, through various round tables, members of companies that own pubs, family brewers, and tenants’ groups.
Order. I appreciate Members’ interest in these matters, but it is a little unseemly for them to try to intervene on a Member—in this case, the Minister—who is already responding to an intervention. Timing is of the essence in these matters. Be patient—the Minister is a most gracious and accommodating Minister.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott)—who did her job so brilliantly during the six-month period when I was on maternity leave—and I have had various face-to-face meetings and held round table and discussion events. I have met some of the individuals who have been through the PICAS and PIRRS— pubs independent conciliation and arbitration system and pubs independent rent review scheme—processes. We have had those meetings face to face. There has been significant correspondence—reams and reams of correspondence—between me, as Minister, but even more so, in terms of the level of detail and volume, between my officials and these companies and campaign groups. I therefore do not think that the hon. Member for Pudsey can suggest that there has not been consultation. Equally, it would be impossible for me to stand here and say that everybody is entirely happy with these proposals; that was never going to be possible. I am sure that even the BIS Committee would recognise that there are very strong views on this issue, often in contradictory directions. We are trying to find the right way forward that best protects tenants while not imposing unnecessary burdens on businesses.
I now give way to the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths).
I thank the Minister for giving way, because this is a very important issue. Investors will be looking at her statements today. This could affect the viability and the profitability of businesses, together with thousands of jobs. She has announced a brand-new element—the introduction of the free-of-tie option but with a two-year wait. Can she confirm whether she has spoken to a single member of the industry about the implications for their business of that two-year delay—to one person, yes or no?
I would like to correct the hon. Gentlemen’s characterisation of what is happening. He is saying that this is the market rent only option but with a two-year wait. To be absolutely accurate, it is a power for the Secretary of State to introduce the market rent only option after a period of two years if a review finds that that is necessary. That is not exactly the same thing. It is important to put that on the record.
Throughout this process, the Government have been engaging with companies and with individuals. The market rent only option was extensively covered and discussed within the consultation process. I have had very many such discussions with companies over the course of the past 18 months. As was put to us forcefully on various occasions, some large pub companies will not welcome this and are very opposed to it. At the same time, we recognise the issues that have been raised in successive BIS Committee reports about the tenants who are suffering and the need to do something about it. We think that our parallel rent assessment is a proportionate and sensible way forward that will deliver for tenants, but we are keen to make sure that if that does not happen we do not end up at this stage again; we need the ability to act swiftly to introduce a market rent only option.
Let me try to clarify this. In the last few moments we have discovered that there is to be a two-year review before fundamental change to the industry, leading to two years of uncertainty. Is the Minister saying that she has discussed a whole series of things over 18 months but has not spoken to anyone within the industry about the new development that she is presenting to us today?
I am saying that we have had plenty of negotiations and discussions about all the different options, but specific round tables have not been reconvened with the industry since the Committee stage. We know where the industry stands on this. My officials are in regular contact with the industry and with campaign groups, who have been making their cases fervently. Many Members represent tenants and also have pub companies and family brewers in their constituencies. Ministers have had many discussions with those hon. Members on behalf of their constituents who have raised these issues over the past couple of weeks since the Committee stage. Indeed, we also had such extensive debates in Committee. There has been plenty of consultation.
In relation to the Minister’s discussions with the Federation of Small Businesses, it estimates, according to the information that I have, that implementing the market rent only option would boost the economy by £78 million, and that over 90% of pubco tenants would have much more confidence to invest in their businesses, helping local economies to grow.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. As I have said, a range of different of views and issues have been raised and it is impossible to please everybody. Although some of the larger companies oppose the introduction of a market rent only option, organisations such as the FSB, as the hon. Gentleman points out, are campaigning to implement it.
The review was always built into the process, because we wanted to look at how the measure was working. What is new is the introduction of the power to introduce a market rent only option, and when that proposal goes before the other place, supporting documentation, such as impact assessments, will also be submitted. Clearly, different quarters have opposing views on what it will mean: some say it will be excellent for business, while others say it will result in concerns for business. People will not necessarily concur and agree about what the exact impact will be, but the Government will produce the documentation to go alongside that amendment when it is tabled in the other place.
The Government’s technical amendments—amendments 34, 35 and 55—deal with the particular issue of franchises. Clause 40 already makes it clear that tied pub agreements are in the scope of the pubs code where tenants pay some sort of fee, such as a turnover fee, rather than rent. Such agreements are often called franchise agreements and it is right that they are covered. The same potential for the abuse of a tie exists, and if franchises were not in scope there would be a sizeable loophole by which companies could evade the code.
Amendments 34 and 35 therefore ensure that franchises are covered by clause 42, which refers to rent assessment and rent review arrangements, which the Secretary of State may rule as void or unenforceable. Amendment 55 provides the Secretary of State with a power to define parallel rent assessments in regulations so that we can ensure there is appropriate flexibility in the approach to cater for franchise pubs. That will allow the final design of parallel rent assessments to take account of further engagement with the industry and public consultation, and through that we will ensure that those assessments are available to all tied tenants of large pub-owning companies.
Amendments 40 and 56 ensure that agreements where the tenant is tied for some or all alcoholic drinks are still covered, even when the tenant does not purchase those drinks from the pub-owning company. We are aware of some franchise agreements where the tenant does not technically purchase drinks from the pub-owning company. The tenant is still contractually obliged to sell those drinks on behalf of the pub-owning company and cannot source them elsewhere, so the amendments are important to avoid a loophole in the legislation.
The Opposition’s amendment 5 seeks to clarify that franchise agreements are in scope of the legislation. I absolutely agree with that view and hope the hon. Member for Chesterfield will be reassured by the Government amendments, which make that crystal clear and address the point by ensuring that no loopholes are being created.
Amendments 38, 39 and 47 to 53 seek to ensure that tied agreements are covered by the protections of the pubs code, whether the tenant occupies the pub under a tenancy or under a licence to occupy. This is another measure to ensure that all tied tenants are protected. Amendments 36, 37, 42, 46 and 54 are technical clarifications to ensure that the provisions of the Bill apply to pub-owning companies and any subsidiary companies they may own.
Finally, amendment 57 provides that all regulations under part 4, other than regulations under clause 61(1)(c), are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which, given the sensitivity surrounding the issues and the interest in them, is absolutely appropriate. I hope the Government amendments will be supported and that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be reassured by our commitment to make further changes in the other place in order to address any concerns.
It is always a singular pleasure for this House to gather to discuss what we can do to support our great British pubs, which are crucial institutions, bedrocks of our community and vital economic and social hubs, as well as really important employers, particularly of women and young people—two groups who are underrepresented in the workplace. Pubs and brewers also make an incredibly important contribution to the economy as taxpayers and employers, and our communities take tremendous pride in these institutions. The industry is watching this debate with tremendous interest and concern, in the hope that we in this place will do justice by everyone involved in it.
The Government are creating a spectacle by changing the Bill as we speak. These are incredibly important issues, but the Government’s attempts at debating this part of the Bill are rather like attempting to mount a moving bus: the moment we think we know what we are going to discuss, the debate suddenly focuses on something completely different. It is a complete and utter shambles.
I am conjuring the image of the hon. Gentleman mounting a moving bus. On the new clauses and amendments under discussion, however, is it not the case that he himself intends to move the bus? Is that not the very purpose of our having a debate in this place?