House of Commons
Monday 16 March 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Cross-boundary Local Authority Co-ordination
1. What guidance he provides for local authorities on co-ordination across local authority boundaries. 
We have abolished Labour’s top-down regional strategies, which built nothing but resentment, and replaced them with the Localism Act 2011, which asks councils to work together and co-operate on cross-boundary matters.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to have a word with West Sussex and Surrey county councils about the importance of constant liaison on roadworks? Is he aware that in East Grinstead, which has suffered terrible inconvenience for several years as a result of roadworks, it is becoming impossible to ensure that there is a free passage for cars at all times?
My right hon. Friend has made a very reasonable point. I will of course liaise with both council leaders, and will send them a copy of Hansard. The duty not just to consult but to co-operate is immensely important, and most local authorities co-operate very harmoniously. They have a responsibility to work together: after all, the people for whom they are working together are the general population who elect them.
As the Secretary of State knows, individual local authorities contribute to the Prevent strategy, but places of worship and community groups extend beyond local authority boundaries. How will he ensure that there is proper co-ordination between councils?
That is a very good question. The duty to co-operate was originally designed to apply to planning and to housing numbers, but it clearly has a much wider application in the context of both economic development and social policy. Any sensible authority—and metropolitan authorities in particular, given their proximity to each other—must recognise that religious establishments and community groups do not necessarily correspond with municipal boundaries.
Ellar Ghyll tip is just inside the Leeds city council boundary, but is next to Menston, in my constituency, and is heavily used by its residents. The council is happy to continue the existing reciprocal arrangement with Bradford council, but Bradford has refused to do so. That means that my constituents will have to pass a tip that is next door to them to visit one that is a number of miles away, and it will undoubtedly lead to more fly-tipping. Will the Secretary of State intervene and knock some heads together in order to reverse the ridiculous decision of the Labour council in Bradford?
I was in Leeds and Bradford on Thursday, and, had I known about it, I would have looked in on that tip.
It is immensely important to recognise the purpose of this arrangement, which is to ensure that members of the public receive a decent service. When I was leader of Bradford council, I enjoyed a very harmonious relationship with Leeds, and I hope that that relationship can be quickly restored.
In recent months I have been contacted by more than 20 parents, all of them with children who have been housed in the borough of Slough by other local authorities because of the workings of benefit caps and the like. Parents are having real problems getting their children to school, using family networks and so on. What will the Secretary of State do to help them, and help local authorities to communicate better with each other about families who are dumped from other boroughs?
I am sure that the right hon. Lady is familiar with the authorities in question. I urge her to contact them, and try to persuade them to co-operate. It is obviously not satisfactory for children to have to travel large distances to school. The whole point of localism is that local people should be able to make decisions, and, surely to goodness, it must be possible for two local authorities to reach a sensible decision without the Government having to intervene.
2. What support his Department provides for local authorities to encourage development of brownfield land. 
We have introduced a range of measures to support brownfield land development, including the provision of £200 million to help to create housing zones outside London and the release of enough public sector land for 103,000 homes, which is above the target that we set ourselves. The national planning policy framework encourages the reuse of brownfield sites.
The leader of Pendle borough council, Councillor Joe Cooney, recently announced that the council will introduce a new £1.5 million fund for brownfield regeneration, making brownfield sites attractive and viable to developers. Will the Minister join me in welcoming Councillor Cooney’s leadership on this issue and assure the House of this Government’s support for local authorities that take the initiative to prioritise brownfield, such as Pendle borough council?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and has spoken to me extensively about the excellent work being done by Councillor Cooney and that council. I am pleased to welcome their positive initiative, which will help to make the planning process faster and more certain for developers in Pendle. I am pleased that we have been able to make £5 million available to local authorities who pilot local development orders that grant planning permission for housing on suitable brownfield sites.
I welcome the Minister’s response. If what he says is true, why was St Leonard’s hospital in my constituency given to PropCo—NHS Property Services Ltd—in the NHS and why has the fire station, which was closed, been sold for a rumoured £28 million, and neither for local housing? Does he not agree that the best thing for public health in the local area would be good-quality affordable housing for local families, and would he not like to see that happen?
Our target is to have 90% of brownfield land developed by 2020. We have made great progress, particularly on affordable housing, supplying almost 220,000 in this Parliament, and we are now building at the fastest rate in 23 years, but ultimately the planning decisions are for local councils and the local authority.
Local Government Funding
3. What assessment he has made of the effect of local government funding changes on services since May 2010. 
Since 2010 councils have set balanced budgets and council tax has fallen by 11% in real terms. Public satisfaction with local services has been maintained and we have increased transparency so that residents can hold councils to account.
The Public Accounts Committee report in January looking into the sustainability of local government finance clearly stated that the 10 most deprived areas in England and Wales have had cuts 10 times greater than those of the 10 wealthiest areas. Does that prove that we are not all in this together?
Both the National Audit Office and the PAC report noted that all councils had managed to balance their budgets, and we should note that the 10% most deprived councils in the country receive 40% more than the most wealthy councils.
Of course local authorities rely a great deal on central Government funding, but they also rely on budgets granted by other organisations. Will my hon. Friend have a word with Crawley borough council, which is in danger of losing £50,000 of England and Wales Cricket Board funding for new nets in Langley Green as a result of minor planning authority bureaucracy?
I hope my hon. Friend raising that issue in the House today will buck up the council to respond in a more appropriate way.
22. Despite being ranked in the top 10 in terms of deprivation, Hull city council has funding cuts of £279 per head, but Beverley in the East Riding, which is ranked 202 in terms of deprivation, has a cut of just £89 per head. 
The reality is that every part of local government has had to respond to the disastrous economy left by the last Government, but this Government have ensured that, despite the fact that we have had to reduce the amount of money to local government, we have given councils the opportunity to grow their economy, with retention of business rates and a reward for building houses. I encourage the hon. Gentleman’s local council to do the same.
Despite cuts from Government to Shropshire council, council leader Keith Burrow has managed to freeze council tax for six years in a row. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the leader of Shropshire council on, despite the cuts and the freezing of council tax, maintaining and improving council services in Shropshire?
I will certainly compliment my hon. Friend’s local leader on making that choice. Despite the challenges local authorities faced over recent years, some 64% of them have frozen their council tax in this financial period.
17. Does the Minister agree with the conclusions of the Audit Commission, the National Audit Office and the International Monetary Fund, all of which say that the most deprived areas have been hit by the greatest cuts? Coventry is probably going to lose about 1,000 jobs and make cuts of about £75 million in the next two or three years, which will affect its basic services. 
This is now the largest growing economy in the G20. It is only through following a long-term economic plan in which we grow our economy, receive taxes for that activity, employ more people and have more apprentices that we can invest in public services.
Last week at the Local Government Chronicle awards, Cheshire West and Chester council was the runner-up for the council of the year award. Does this not show that if councils improve their efficiency and their services, they can deliver better services in a tough economic situation?
I compliment my hon. Friend’s council for taking the difficult decisions while at the same time delivering quality services. We should note that, despite the challenges that we have faced, public satisfaction with council services has remained constant during the term of this Government.
In December 2010, the Secretary of State told the House:
“I have sought to achieve a fair and sustainable settlement for local government”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 679.]
How does the Minister now respond to all the evidence from the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the Communities and Local Government Select Committee that those cuts have been neither fair nor sustainable? And will he come clean about the bleak future that councils would face if the Tories were to press on with their plan to return Britain to the 1930s?
Rather than just reading reports, I have been listening to lots of councils. During the local settlement agreement, I spoke to more than 100 councils, and not one of them said that they could not set a budget. Yes, these are difficult times, but they are difficult because of the failure of the last Government to manage the economy. We have now created the largest growing economy in the G20, with more people employed and more apprentices out there. More people are getting a job. That is the route that we need to follow, and we will deliver more spending in the public sector by having a strong economy.
4. How many people owned their own home in England in (a) May 2010 and (b) the latest date for which figures are available. 
9. How many people owned their own home in England in (a) May 2010 and (b) the latest date for which figures are available. 
The number of households in home ownership has remained relatively steady since May 2010. There were 14.45 million in the year 2010-11 and 14.32 million in 2013-14, according to the latest available data from the English housing survey.
Despite that response, the number has not remained steady. It has actually fallen by almost 4% in four years, and we now have 11 million people, including 1.5 million children, living in private rented accommodation. What are this Government going to do to support those families, and to support generation rent more generally?
The figures I gave did show a fall, so we are not disagreeing on that. The fact is that home ownership peaked in 2005 and fell dramatically in the five years of the last Labour Government. The private rental sector is an attractive part of the housing mix for a large number of people, and in the past 12 months this Government have put in place a huge number of reforms to regulate the sector. They include the regulation of letting agencies to ensure that they all belong to an ombudsman scheme, that they are completely transparent about their fees and that they publish a how-to-rent guide and a model tenancy agreement. That is a vast improvement on what we had before.
I hear what the Minister says, but what would he say to those young people in their 20s and 30s, one in four of whom are still living in their parents’ home? How is he going to provide for them, given that the Prime Minister said that he wanted young people to be rewarded with a home of their own?
The Government recognise that most people want to own a home of their own. That is one of the reasons that we have put in place the Help to Buy scheme, which has now helped 88,000 people around the country. In the hon. Lady’s own constituency, 81 families have used the scheme to buy their own home.
Will the Minister confirm that the number of first- time buyers is at a six-year high and that almost 192,000 households have been helped to buy or reserve a property through Government-backed schemes?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the full range of schemes have helped a rather large number of people to get their foot on to the housing ladder. Let us not forget the situation we inherited. There was a credit bubble, through a growth in mortgages until 2007, and lots of warnings were given, including by my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), who is now the Business Secretary, that the bubble would burst—it did. That was a catastrophe not only for the economy, but for a lot of people trying to get their foot on to the housing ladder. Our schemes have been a real help to people in buying their own home.
In 2010, the Government’s then housing Minister said in his first speech on the subject that the
“age of aspiration is back”.
But under this Government we have seen home ownership falling to a 30-year low; the lowest level of house building in peacetime since the 1920s; and a record number of young people living at home with their parents. Given that this Government have broken every promise on housing over the past five years, why should anyone believe their promises for the next five years?
I like the hon. Lady very much, but she has a tendency, as do quite a few people from her intake, to wipe the slate clean from the previous five years, or the previous 13 years when she was not a Member. The fact is that house starts and completions hit rock bottom in 2008-09, when there were just 88,000 starts. Since then, starts and completions have picked up: in the last year there were 134,000 starts; and the latest information we have, for 2014, shows there are now 253,000 new planning completions for housing. So there is a strong pipeline going forward.
We are most grateful to the Minister, I am sure.
5. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the views of local residents are adequately represented within planning processes. 
This Government have radically reformed the planning system into a genuinely locally led process. Most significantly, through neighbourhood planning we have given local people a real role in shaping the areas in which they live and work; for the first time community groups can produce plans that have real statutory weight in the planning system.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Ribble Valley borough council is a small yet beautiful local authority—Tory-controlled, needless to say. Although the core strategy has been passed, giving the local authority greater powers, it still fears that where a planning application is rejected and goes to appeal, the costs associated with that are disproportionate, especially to the smaller, rural authorities. Will the Department look at ways of ensuring that local authorities are not going to be clobbered in this way in future, ensuring that they are able to make the right decisions on behalf of local people?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Developers should be able to look at a local plan and have confidence that they can develop where land is allocated in that plan, but, as he rightly says, outside that they should find it the most difficult thing in the world to do if they have not got agreement with the local authority. It is absolutely right that his local authority has its local plan in place, and I encourage villages in the area and elsewhere to look at neighbourhood planning, to give even further protection to the areas over which people want to have control.
The Minister knows that of course we want local communities to be able to protect their environment when they are concerned about it, but the balance must be right—we need homes for people in this country today. There is a national crisis. We have young people in debt; thanks to the Liberal Democrats, some graduates are £42,000 in debt. Who is going to lend them the money? And where are the houses coming from?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that the previous Government’s top-down approach meant that everybody spent so much time arguing about numbers that very few of them got enough houses built, and that led to the position in which we inherited the lowest level of house building this country has seen since about 1923—that is a disgrace. Trusting local people to make the right decisions for their areas is paying dividends. In the last year, 2014, we saw an almost record level of 253,000 homes getting planning permission, proving that this Government are right: trusting local people to make local decisions is the way forward.
Local residents in Broughton Gifford finally had their views represented earlier this month when the High Court struck down a planning consent on which Wiltshire council had inadequately consulted. Does the Minister accept that that is meaningless unless the council is prepared to take enforcement action? At the very least, proportionate action would be to ensure that the development was not operational as long as it remained unlawful.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is vital that enforcement is dealt with properly to give people confidence that the planning system will deliver the right results. I will ensure that the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) who deals with renewable energy, looks at that case and makes contact with the hon. Gentleman directly.
In 2013, the Minister said to this House about the future of high streets that
“it is also quite right for local authorities to use the powers they have to make sure that their high street or town centre is vital and vibrant for the benefit of their communities.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2013; Vol. 571, c. 7.]
Will he explain, therefore, why he has taken all those powers away?
Well, we have not. I encourage local areas not just to take forward business improvement districts, but to take advantage of neighbourhood planning and business-led neighbourhood planning. I have seen that happen in a few parts of the country, including in Milton Keynes, where there has been some excellent work to take forward opportunities to develop the high street in a way that did not happen under the previous Government, as those opportunities just fell away or were ignored.
6. What steps his Department has taken to support local firms and shops with payment of business rates since May 2010. 
We have taken significant steps, including doubling small business rate relief, benefiting 600,000 businesses with 400,000 paying nothing; increasing retail relief to £1,500 for the forthcoming financial year; and giving councils powers to grant discounts, with central Government funding half the costs. Today, we also launched the business rates review—paving the way to modernising the system.
Business rates collected in Redditch are up by tens of thousands of pounds. Although we would all like to see business rates lowered, is that fact not further proof that, across Britain, our towns’ economies are benefiting under this Government’s long-term economic plan?
My hon. Friend is right that our town centres and high streets are enjoying a resurgence. Last year’s report by Southampton university showed that our high streets have been outperforming out-of-town areas since 2013. I congratulate both Redditch traders on their achievements and my hon. Friend on her support of them. I sincerely hope that those traders will consider entering the great British high street competition this year, which we launched last week.
Will the Minister give a guarantee to the House that the criteria for the recently announced review of business rates will include the fact that there will not be a single penny’s reduction in funding to local councils as a result of that review?
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that we are not in the business of giving rate relief to penalise other sectors, whether it is the business sector or the public sector. The relief that I have just outlined has been funded by central Government. We have not been penalising business. The hon. Gentleman can make submissions to the review, but I have to tell him that the review has been welcomed by business.
Businesses of all sizes will welcome today’s reports that there will be, as the Minister has just said, a review of the way in which business rates are calculated. Given that, may I urge her and her colleagues to rebalance the costs between small high street shops and large online retailers? I hope she agrees that it is time to re-tip that balance.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Despite being seen as the death knell of the high street, online retailers have helped to bring about a resurgence on the high street. Some 35% of all online sales are now picked up through click and collect. We have just published the Future High Streets Forum’s digital report, which outlines not only ways that big business and companies such as Google, IBM and others can assist the high street, but why it is in their interests to do so.
19. I am sure that the Chair of the Conservative party can remember when, as Minister with responsibility for local government, he promised a high street revolution. Does the Minister think that, given that the number of empty units on our high street is rising—on some high streets, up to 25% of units are empty—we are talking about a revolution or just a flat failure? 
The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. As well as the Southampton university report, which showed that high streets have been outperforming out-of-town areas on groceries, clothing and footwear since 2013, there is last year’s Deloitte study, which showed that re-occupancy rates are much higher on the high street than they are out of town.
Building of Homes for Social Rent
7. What assessment he has made of trends in the rate of building of homes for social rent since May 2010. 
Under our affordable rent model almost 143,000 affordable homes for rent have been delivered since April 2010. In contrast, between 1997 and 2010 the number of social rented homes fell by 420,000.
I notice that the Minister did not answer my question. At my advice surgery on Friday afternoon, I met Mr and Mrs Conning, who have waited years to move to a decent council or housing association property. Given that roughly 29,000 fewer social rented homes were built last year than in 2010, are the prospects of the Conning family securing a suitable home getting better or worse?
The rate of building council houses is at a 23-year high under this Government. One of the flexibilities that we have given for local councils at the top of their borrowing limits on their housing revenue accounts allows them to apply to the Treasury for up to £150 million extra assistance, and Lewisham council has £43.7 million headroom in its HRA that it could be using to build houses. I suggest that the hon. Lady has a word with her colleagues back home.
I draw attention to my interests in the register. As the Minister clearly has difficulty with the figures, may I remind him that the highly authoritative UK housing review, published last week, shows very clearly the figures for the number of new social rented homes started in this country in each of the years from 2009-10 to 2013-14? In 2009-10, the last year of the previous Government, 39,000 social rented homes were started. In 2013-14, 3,961 were started. Those are the figures, so will the Minister now own up and apologise for that appalling record?
No, I will not apologise at all. I am proud of the record of this coalition Government, who have a reinvigorated affordable homes programme which between 2011 and the end of this month will have delivered 170,000 extra affordable homes. This will be the first Administration since right to buy started in 1980 to leave office with more affordable rented homes in stock than when they started, which the right hon. Gentleman’s Government failed to do in three Administrations.
Ministers promised a 1:1 replacement for homes sold under right to buy, but in fact the replacement rate is in many cases 1:4 or worse. Why have the Government broken that promise?
Local authorities have about three years in which to spend the money and as I understand it some £730 million of proceeds have been raised under the reinvigorated right-to-buy scheme. That must all be invested in building new homes for affordable rent in the borough. The previous Government did not do that. In fact, their record was pretty appalling: for every 170 houses sold under right to buy between 1997 and 2013, only one new social home was built.
8. What progress his Department has made on resolving the dispute over firefighters pensions. 
The firefighters pension scheme 2015 will come into force on 1 April. The national employers have agreed to work with the Fire Brigades Union to ensure the fitness principles detailed in the national framework are incorporated into local policies. The dispute should now come to an end.
The Minister gave a promise that firefighters would be redeployed if they were deemed unfit at the age of 55 or over. Will she tell us once and for all how many redeployment opportunities exist for firefighters in that position in England?
Fire authorities are devolved organisations and we do not hold that information at departmental level. The hon. Lady is incorrect, as someone would be offered a redeployment if one existed or an unreduced pension if one did not exist. The working group on firefighter fitness considers those redeployment opportunities as part of its remit and I think that the shape of the fire and rescue service in the future and the many new things that firefighters will be doing will mean that there will be roles that are more suitable for those who are not fit enough to perform all the roles that a firefighter might.
The excellent Minister has again reassured the House that if a firefighter, through no fault of his or her own, fails the fitness test after the age of 55, they will be redeployed, given help to reach the required fitness level or given a full pension. I am afraid that chief fire officers up and down the country are saying that is untrue. We are the Government and we make the decisions, not chief fire officers. How can we get them to confirm that fact, which is true?
My hon. Friend is correct; since the statutory instrument was laid, a firefighter can no longer be dismissed simply for losing fitness. They must also have quality fitness support and six months of remedial training if they lose fitness but do not qualify for ill-health retirement. In addition, if fire authorities comply with the national framework, no firefighter will find themselves with no job and no pension. If a fire authority does not comply, the Secretary of State will intervene. Employers are now working on guidance to show how they will implement the new principles in the framework, and that will include the process with the firefighter and the principles on which an unreduced pension would be offered. That does give a guarantee, and it is a considerable improvement on what went before.
The Minister promised to negotiate with firefighters on pensions, but then she just laid the regulations regardless. She promised national fitness standards, but that has not happened either. She guaranteed either redeployment or a full pension to those who cannot retain their fitness, but fire and rescue authorities across the country are clear that that is a promise they legally cannot deliver. Broken promises, lack of action and lack of leadership: what a miserable record. Is she ashamed? If not, why not?
I shall run through the statutory instrument, but first I will just point out that if the hon. Lady thinks my record is shoddy, she might like to take a closer look at her own: she introduced working until 60 in 2006 without any protections at all. Since the statutory instrument came into effect, firefighters can no longer be dismissed for losing fitness, as the hon. Lady knows. They are now protected by the new principles in the national framework. [Interruption.] They are. The national employer guidance will add further weight to that. If she is still unsatisfied, I offer her this challenge: to write to me and outline a circumstance in which a firefighter would face losing their job for losing fitness and would not be protected if the fire authorities were following the national framework principles.
Neighbourhood Planning and Community Rights
10. What support his Department has provided to local communities on neighbourhood planning and community rights since May 2010. 
Our support programmes have provided nearly £50 million to help communities undertake neighbourhood planning and access community rights and associated initiatives, including £22.5 million for neighbourhood planning announced only a few weeks ago. That has funded a helpline, online resources, specialist support and grants. From 2015-16 we are investing a further £32 million to help communities take up the rights.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Leeds city council is currently producing a site allocation plan, but neighbourhood planning organisations in my constituency are becoming increasingly frustrated by the council’s lack of consultation with them on the issue. What measures have the Government put in place to ensure that councils work with and share the evidence with such groups, which, after all, are made up of people who will be directly affected by the plans?
My hon. Friend works hard to champion his local communities. I have enjoyed meeting some of the people working on the neighbourhood plans. They can have absolute confidence that a neighbourhood plan has weight in law. There is a duty on local authorities to work with a neighbourhood plan in an area. Indeed, the Government give them funding to do just that. If there are concerns about that, I will happily meet him and any of his constituents to see what we can do to ensure that the local authority does its duty.
Does the Minister understand the considerable upset and frustration from my constituents in Reddish, and indeed in Denton, at the decision by Liberal Democrat-controlled Stockport council to grant outline planning permission for luxury houses to be built within Reddish Vale country park, which is part of the Greater Manchester green belt? Is not that just another example of the Government talking the talk on community engagement but, when it comes to it, the public being locked out of the decisions?
Obviously, the green belt is protected and the Government have made it clear that it should be built on in exceptional circumstances only. Ultimately, local planning is a decision for the local authority, which is locally democratically accountable.
The Secretary of State kindly came to Colchester and saw how the planning process failed the residents in the Mile End area of Colchester. Can the Minister give some assurance that the same thing is not going to happen to the east of town, particularly as the land in question in partly in Tendring district and partly in the borough of Colchester?
As the hon. Gentleman appreciates, I cannot comment on a particular planning application, but in a general sense there is a duty for local authorities to co-operate, and they should be working together on these matters. Having a local plan—and even more so a neighbourhood plan—is the most powerful way for a local community to have absolute control over planning decisions in its locality.
11. What steps his Department has taken to minimise increases in council tax bills since May 2010. 
Under the Labour Government, council tax more than doubled. Under this Government, our council tax freeze is saving hard-working families up to £1,075 on a band D bill. In Labour-run Wales, there is no council tax freeze, and bills are going through the roof.
My constituency is served by two district councils. Conservative Rugby borough council has frozen council tax for the sixth year in a row, saving my constituents there more than £125 at a time when the council is investing in new facilities. By contrast, my constituents in Bulkington are being hit with an average increase of £30 a year from Labour-controlled Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council. Which authority does the Secretary of State believe is doing the right thing for its residents?
It is clear to me that those residents are very lucky and fortunate in their choice of Member of Parliament, who I am sure is serving them extremely well. If all the authorities were to accept the freeze grant, they would receive £3 million in freeze grant among them to help keep down the cost for taxpayers in my hon. Friend’s constituency. That seems a much better way. Why not take money from the Government rather than from their population?
Has the Secretary of State made any assessment of the additional cost that householders have to meet because of the cuts that have been implemented in council budgets resulting in people now having to purchase the services that they desperately need?
I do not think there is any evidence of additional purchasing. This Government have been pushing councils hard to cut back on, for example, the bin tax, the tip tax and parking charges. The hon. Lady should look to the Government for reducing the cost to her constituents.
Residents in my constituency benefited from a very welcome temporary rebate in their council tax after the floods of last year, but their houses have probably been permanently devalued and they also face very high insurance premiums. Should that not be reflected in council tax banding? Will the Secretary of State instruct the Valuation Office Agency to that effect?
It seems a good idea for my right hon. Friend’s constituents to seek a revaluation. The Valuation Office Agency is willing to consider changed circumstances and I urge him to look into that.
Social Care and Health Care
14. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on steps the Government are taking to improve co-ordination between social care and health care. 
I meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health regularly. The better care fund—now increased to £5.3 billion by local authority partner contributions—will transform the way in which health and social care services are provided.
I have been out several times with social services in Gravesend and I have been very impressed by the way in which those individuals often go way beyond the call of duty, yet in the House and in the newspapers we hear about them only when things go wrong. Often, that is when there is a dispute between social care providers and health care providers about who is taking the lead. How will the better care fund help this situation?
I applaud the fact that my hon. Friend has been out there doing that. He is right to recognise the enormous contribution that social services and councils make to the well-being of elderly people. He is right to point out that in Kent £100 million has been pooled. This is about making sure that local authorities, GP practices and acute hospitals work together. Historically there have been silos; now it is about making sure that the individual person is right at the centre of these services and that those services work far more effectively and efficiently.
The Minister will know that plans to co-ordinate health and social care across Greater Manchester have moved very quickly. In fact, the memorandum of understanding describes the plans as “groundbreaking” and “unprecedented”. He will also be aware that the national health service is built on the collaboration and co-operation of patients, charities, community groups and the public. Given how important this deal is to the people of Greater Manchester, why did he decide not to involve a single one of those groups in this decision; and what ongoing role, if any, does he see for local communities?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has missed the point. This is about devolving moneys to a council—in fact, a number of councils—that has the confidence to deliver services better and does not just look to Government to make decisions but stands up for people in its own community and wants to shape and deliver those services more effectively. Greater Manchester, through the devolution route it has followed, will deliver far more effective services. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady can shout as much she wants. The people of Manchester have taken control of delivering these services, and she is outside that network because she chooses to be there.
21. Given that local government is recognised as being the most efficient part of the public sector and that adult social care is one of the principal cost pressures on local authorities, are the Government not right to integrate in the way that is proposed in Greater Manchester rather than nationalise adult social care as proposed by the shadow Secretary of State? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. People and GPs on the ground in communities, and people who are running acute hospitals and councils, know better than Government, regardless of which colour. Over the period of this Government, the number of people who are extremely or very satisfied with support of adult social care has increased from 62.8% to 64.8%. That is a direct consequence of local people on the ground taking control and delivering better services.
15. What assessment he has made of the effect of local authority parking charges on town centre regeneration. 
The previous Labour Government told town halls to hike up parking charges and issue more parking fines. Such aggressive parking policies undermined local shops and high streets. That is why this Government have introduced a package of measures to support local shops that will come into law shortly.
Thousands of local people have signed my campaign to introduce three hours’ free parking to regenerate Stevenage town centre. Does the Secretary of State agree that in order to provide that regeneration it is time for Stevenage’s Labour borough council to stop ripping off local people by charging £3.5 million a year in parking charges?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Planning guidance issued by the now noble Lord Prescott told councils to hike parking charges and to issue more fines to discourage motorists. A former Minister for local government in the previous Government called for councils to charge more for services, including parking. Town centres suffer a disadvantage because of free car parking in out-of-town car parking centres. If we are to encourage people to shop locally, they have to be able to get there, and the measures we are introducing are designed precisely to do that.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
This morning my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary announced, as promised in the autumn statement, a review of business rates aimed at keeping the system fair, efficient and effective. The review will report by Budget 2016. Preparations for the 2017 revaluation will continue as usual. The review will be fiscally neutral. The current business rates system ensures that business rates do not increase in real terms. Local authorities now benefit by nearly £11 billion under the business rates retention scheme, which is estimated to deliver a £10 billion boost to national gross domestic product by 2020.
In the light of today’s admission by the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps)—or perhaps I should say Michael Green—that he continued with a second job after his election as an MP, is the Secretary of State satisfied that it did not continue while the right hon. Gentleman served as a Minister in his Department, and can he confirm that the ministerial code was followed properly in respect of declaring any registrable interests? [Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), wittering from a sedentary position, can leave me to handle these matters, which I shall do with no difficulty at all. The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) has put her point on the record, but I simply make the point that it is not a responsibility of this Secretary of State to answer. The ministerial code, rightly or wrongly, is the responsibility of the Prime Minister, but the point is on the record and Members can find other ways to raise these matters if they wish. They should not trouble Secretary Pickles with them at this time.
T4. Today an agreement will be completed for the stock transfer of its housing by Gloucester city council to Gloucester City Homes. The new charity will enable £390 million-worth of improvements and the first new social housing on our city council housing estate for a generation. I am grateful to the housing Minister and his predecessors for their help, as well as to the Treasury for writing off £50 million of housing debt. Will the housing Minister join me in congratulating my city council, Gloucester City Homes and its tenants, led by Andrew Harley, on their vision, hard work and attention in seeing through this vital change to bring about a new and bright era for social housing in Gloucester? 
Order. The hon. Gentleman’s erudition is equalled only by his length. This being the fag end of the Parliament, may I just remind Members that there is supposed to be a distinction between substantive and topical questions? The latter are supposed to be much shorter. I hope that point is duly noted by Members on both sides of the House.
In the true spirit of your comments, Mr Speaker, I entirely support and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who has campaigned hard on this issue with a lot of people who have done a lot of work locally.
Before the last election, the then Leader of the Opposition said:
“Any Cabinet minister...who comes to me and says ‘here are my plans and they involve front line reductions’ will be sent back to their department to go away and think again.”
Yet we now know that the social care front line has been cut, including the simple act of giving a hot meal to elderly people living at home alone, with 220,000 fewer elderly people receiving meals on wheels compared with 2010, when that promise was made. I have a very simple question for the Secretary of State: why is that?
The amount spent by councils in cash terms is roughly the same as it was in 2010-11 so far as adult social care is concerned. The net revenue on adult social care was £14.6 billion—about 30% of councils’ budgets. Individual councils have made various decisions and it is up to those councils to defend them. We have tried to ensure, with the better care fund, better co-ordination between medical care and social care, including domiciliary care.
If I may say so, that was an overly firm denial of the Secretary of State’s responsibility for what has gone on. Let me ask him about another promise to the elderly that was made in 2010—by him. In December that year, the right hon. Gentleman assured the House that the local government settlement was
“providing councils with sufficient resources to protect people’s access to care”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 680.]
Yet the National Audit Office says that spending on adult social care is being cut, most of all in the areas of greatest need, which have also seen the biggest reductions in Government funding. Is it not the truth that the Secretary of State has also broken his promise to the elderly people of England and that it has happened because in the past five years he has taken decisions about funding that have been unfair to councils and because, as many councils of all parties think, he has failed to stand up for local government?
Given that the right hon. Gentleman’s party is promising £52 billion-worth of cuts to local authorities, I do not see that he has a leg to stand on. I have to say to him that this coalition has worked hard to protect the elderly and to improve the better care programme. My desk is covered with requests from Labour councils demanding that we cease the exemption for elderly people on council tax relief and the like. Frankly, for the right hon. Gentleman to pose as a friend of the elderly is absolutely ludicrous.
Tessa Munt. Not here.
T8. Will Ministers give very serious consideration to a call-in request I have made relating to a planning application for 190 properties in Goostrey? It would generate detrimental interference to the radio telescopes and world-leading scientific work at Jodrell Bank, and is therefore a concern of national significance. 
My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot comment on a particular planning application, but any such request will be given full consideration. I know that she has campaigned very hard with local residents to protect what they perceive as an important piece of local infrastructure. I will obviously look at all the details that come in.
T2. Having concluded the examination stage of the Whitemoss landfill extension as a nationally significant infrastructure application, will the Secretary of State assure Skelmersdale residents, despite eight broken promises that the site would be closed, that their voices will be given equal consideration to that of the company as he considers the decision on the application, and will he say when he will announce his decision? 
As a planning case, that matter is quasi-judicial. Again, I cannot comment on a particular planning application. However, over the next couple of days, I will write to the hon. Lady with some idea of the timeline.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that councils, such as my local borough council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, with emerging local plans and a five-year supply of housing, will not be overruled on appeal or undermined by speculative planning applications?
Provided a neighbourhood plan has been submitted, then it has considerable weight, as has been confirmed by a recent court case.
T3. May I refer the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), to her answers to my hon. Friends the Members for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) and, on the Opposition Front Bench, for West Ham (Lyn Brown)? What actions is the fire Minister taking specifically to amend the statutory instrument along the lines suggested by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which has scrutinised the text, to ensure that the promises she gave at the Dispatch Box to safeguard firefighters pensions can be delivered, particularly if fire authorities tell us that they cannot or will not deliver them? 
The SI is effective: it has been in place since 12 July. I have had no evidence at all that fire authorities intend not to comply with the national framework, but if they choose not to comply with it, the Secretary of State has powers to act under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.
I would say to Opposition Members that it is incredibly important for firefighters to understand the facts. We are approaching April, and they will be making decisions that affect their financial future. If any hon. Member knows an instance of an authority which they think will not comply, or if they have concerns about how the SI will work, they can come to talk to me. I will be quite happy to explain it, but I have explained it several times on the Floor of the House. It gives firefighters the protections they ought to have, and it is a vast improvement on what went before.
Will the Department give a ruling on the circumstances in which a sale of a village hall should be prevented? The right of adverse possession should not be to the detriment of the local community that has used the village hall, and access across the land to the village hall should be permitted regardless of who owns the land.
National policy makes it clear that planning should promote the retention of community facilities, including meeting places such as village halls, but I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and look at the details of a case on which I know she has campaigned hard with her local residents.
T6. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government, if they remain in power after the election, intend to carry on with the same level of year-on-year cuts in the next Parliament as they have applied in this Parliament, and if so, will he or the Minister of State seriously consider whether in that situation it will be possible for all councils to remain financially viable and continue to deliver their statutory services? 
I share the hon. Gentleman’s optimism about the chances of there being a Conservative Government and look forward to answering him from this Dispatch Box for many years. I know, like and respect him as the Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, but he was making exactly the same points five years ago and it has proved to be perfectly all right. I cannot anticipate the levels of future budgets, but one thing is certain: whether there is a Conservative, coalition or Labour Government, because of the state of the finances, improving though they are, the level of support to local government will continue to go down.
Kettering borough council, of which I am a member, and Daventry district council share a common rural boundary, immediately on either side of which Gypsies and Travellers continue to make a series of controversial applications for inappropriate development. In those circumstances, would the planning Minister expect the Planning Inspectorate to consider the cumulative impact on the rural parishes that are bisected by that artificial boundary, rather than judge the applications against the individual plans of each authority?
Every planning application has to be considered on the merits of the case. However, I hope to make an announcement shortly on a consultation on improvements to the planning policy and guidance for Traveller sites to further strengthen the protection for the green belt and other sensitive areas, and to amend the definition of “Travellers” for planning purposes so that it refers only to those who travel.
T7. This will be the last Communities and Local Government question that I shall ask. May I therefore surprise the Government by congratulating them on introducing measures to require the installation of smoke alarms in all privately rented housing, but—there is a sting in the tail—may I also ask them to explain why it took them so long to reach that decision, given that their own impact assessment shows that the measure will save more than 20 lives a year? Is it because there are forces within the Government that are hostile to regulation, even when it saves lives? 
It is with some sadness that I come to the Dispatch Box. I had the honour of following the right hon. Gentleman when he made his maiden speech on his second appearance in the House, which was a daunting task. I am very pleased to be answering his question today.
These things take a little time. The private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) helped, but it took a little time to persuade colleagues. I wanted to give these alarms away for free. It makes an enormous amount of sense for firefighters to fit them. It seems to me sensible, rather than imposing a duty, to impose a charge. I wish the right hon. Gentleman and his family every success for the future.
In the light of the previous question, will the Secretary of State clarify that the measure will extend to carbon monoxide detectors, which were the subject of my private Member’s Bill that he mentioned? The subject of the Bill was chosen by the electors of the High Peak, so they will be grateful for this Government action, which I hope he will confirm for us.
It is with enormous pleasure that I confirm that that is entirely the case. I pay tribute to the difficult work that my hon. Friend did in taking that Bill through Parliament.
Back in February, Ministers criticised Birmingham for failing to collect 4.6% of the council tax that was due. I know that I will not get them to say anything nice about Birmingham, but I ask them to acknowledge that it did better than the Inland Revenue, which failed to collect 5.8% of the national insurance, basic tax and capital gains tax that was due.
I am very happy to put it on the record that I love Birmingham. It is a wonderful city. Sometimes I get a lot of pressure from its Members of Parliament, who criticise the fine council, but I try to resist that whenever possible. I look forward to visiting Birmingham again and looking at the magnificent art gallery.
Last Thursday evening, I attended the launch of Discover North East Lincolnshire, a private sector initiative that has been created in partnership with the local council. Will the Secretary of State compliment those involved and give an assurance that a future Conservative Government will build on the successes of the coalition Government in supporting such initiatives?
I congratulate my hon. Friend and his constituents on that fine initiative. That is exactly the kind of thing we should be doing, and I look forward to it going from strength to strength.
Will the Secretary of State explain why the East Riding of Yorkshire, with just over 1,500 troubled families, is getting a £200,000 grant from the Government, yet Hull city council, with nearly 3,500 troubled families, is getting exactly the same amount of money? How is that fair?
The hon. Lady should not confuse the amount of money that goes to troubled families with the amount that goes to local authorities in general. The troubled families delivery programme is based on payment by results, and she should urge Hull city council to take some of the advantages that its neighbours have taken—it is payment by results.
In August 2011 Denmead neighbourhood forum in my constituency received £20,000 from the Front Runners scheme to complete its neighbourhood plan, and it was passed on the Thursday before last with a resounding majority. Will the Minister congratulate Denmead neighbourhood forum on that fantastic achievement by local people for local people?
I am happy to do that. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Some 6 million-plus people in this country are now covered by 1,400 neighbourhood planning areas, and I want that to go further. The example in his constituency, where I know he has worked hard with the local community, shows how important it is to give local people a local say over local power and planning. That is absolutely the way things should be.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a sensitive point of order, but it affects all Members of Parliament. Traditionally, in my experience of the House, when a member of the royal family visits a constituency, the Member of Parliament is apprised of that fact. That became a convention, but it seems that with the proliferation of deputy lieutenants of counties—there are many of them these days—that protocol no longer holds. Will you hold conversations with whoever is in charge of these things to remind them that Members of Parliament expect to be told when a member of the royal family is visiting their patch?
I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. There is nothing new about that, but I put it on the record. I have heard the hon. Member for, and the voice of, Huddersfield. We will leave it there for today.
Intelligence and Security Committee
I beg to move,
That Dr Julian Lewis be removed from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament under Schedule 1 to the Justice and Security Act 2013 and Mr Keith Simpson be appointed to that Committee under section 1 of that Act.
Under the terms of section 1 of the Justice and Security Act 2013, members of the Intelligence and Security Committee are nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by the respective House. The current vacancy for a Conservative member arises from the resignation of the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). The Prime Minister has nominated the right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson), following the required consultations with the Leader of the Opposition. The House is now being asked to make the appointment in accordance with the Act.
I do not intend to detain the House for long. The Opposition support the motion on adding the right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) to the Committee. We pay tribute to the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who has been a hard-working member of the Committee and has worked constructively with colleagues across the House on intelligence and security matters.
I will detain the House for just a brief moment. I indicated some months ago to the Chief Whip that it was my intention not to apply to stay on the Committee if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected to another term in this House. I did so because, although the intelligence agencies are, for the most part, well-resourced, well led and do everything that we expect them to do, the situation is not so rosy for defence policy. In a choice between focusing on where I might be able to make a difference—on defence policy—and continuing with the pleasurable task of overseeing the intelligence and security services, I have opted for the former.
I should like to take this opportunity to say that it has been a fascinating five years, working with the excellent staff and under the outstanding chairmanship of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). The Committee has worked harmoniously on many issues. I should like to leave my term with the Committee by putting on the record just one thought. The intelligence agencies, the Security Service and GCHQ are damned if they do and damned if they do not. I saw this in relation to two inquiries. I shall make one point about each and then sit down to allow a great deal of unused time allocated for this short debate to be applied to other matters.
In relation to the Woolwich atrocity inquiry, people asked how the intelligence services knew that the people who went on to commit the atrocity had been radicalised, yet were unable to stop them. The answer is that—[Interruption.]
Order. Excuse me. The right hon. Gentleman is addressing the House. It is bad manners to witter away, Mr Simon Burns, when one of your own hon. Friends is addressing the House. Try—I know it is difficult for you—to learn some courtesy.
The question was often asked why it was that the intelligence services knew certain people had been radicalised and held extremist views yet were able to go on to commit attacks. The answer is that until people break the law they cannot be locked up. We really would be living in a police state if everybody with extreme views was followed 24 hours a day, which is the only way in which low-level and uncomplicated attacks can be prevented. There has to be evidence of attack planning. If not, some such things will inevitably slip through the net.
My only point on this matter is to say that, having tried to follow people, it takes 24 people to follow just one person. Just think of all the people in this country who we suspect of harbouring evil thoughts against us and imagine how big our security services would need to be.
That is exactly the case. It would take only a few hundred people with extreme views to exhaust the resources of any reasonably sized security service in a modern democratic state, and that must never be the case. Instead, we should look at how many complex attacks have been carried out successfully and how many have been thwarted. As far as I am aware, no complex attacks have been successfully carried out on British soil since the 7/7 atrocities.
Moving on to the inquiry on privacy and security, this leads one to the question of where to draw the boundary between the wish to preserve the people’s privacy so their innocent communications are not examined and the need to develop leads that can be investigated further. I was a little surprised—I hope you will indulge me for a moment or two, Mr Speaker—to see a short item in The Times on Saturday about a protest by some of the privacy groups that had given evidence to the ISC on this question. It reads as follows:
“Civil liberties groups demanded last night that a parliamentary committee correct its report on the surveillance state, saying they had been deliberately misrepresented. The intelligence and security committee criticised the pressure groups over their opposition to GCHQ’s collection of bulk data on communications”—
Order. I must just warn the right hon. Gentleman not to be too persuasive in his oration, because if he is, the House might vote against the motion, forcing him to remain a member of the Committee that he has declared his desire to leave. I say that by way of a cautionary note and gentle encouragement.
I assure you, Mr Speaker, that I am on my ultimate—not even penultimate—point.
The report continued:
“and suggested that they believed that terrorist attacks were a price worth paying for individual privacy. The report reprinted edited transcripts of evidence sessions with Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Justice and Rights Watch UK. Renate Samson, the chief executive of Big Brother Watch, asked the committee for an ‘immediate correction’ to its published report and said that the representation of the evidence session was ‘improper and false’. She said that the ISC’s portrayal of the evidence was ‘an attempt to undermine, discredit and damage our organisation’s reputation’. Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said: ‘Instead of attempting to put words into the mouths of privacy campaigners, the ISC should have put its efforts into scrutinising the agencies.’”
People interested in the matter can judge for themselves. If they go to the ISC’s website, at http://isc.independent. gov.uk/public-evidence/15october2014, they will find the full transcript, and I suggest that they examine questions 19 and 20, put by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears); questions 28 and 29, put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind); and questions 32 and 33, put by the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth). In there, they will find the following exchange. The Chairman asked:
“If evidence emerged through bulk interception that even you acknowledged had led to terrorists being arrested or prevented from carrying out their objectives, are you saying that, as a matter of principle, you believe so strongly that bulk interception is unacceptable in a free society that you would say that that was a price we should be willing to pay, rather than allowing intelligence agencies to use bulk interception methods?”
Isabella Sankey, of Liberty, replied: “Yes.” Dr Metcalfe, of Justice, replied:
“Yes. Just as you would solve a lot more crimes if you had CCTV in everyone’s houses, and if you opened everyone’s mail and e-mail and read it on a daily basis. Yes, you would solve a lot more crimes and a lot more terrorists would be in jail; that would be a good thing, but it would be bad for our society as a whole.”
The Chair then asked:
“And that is the view of your colleagues as well?”
The director of Big Brother Watch replied with one word: “Yes.”
It has been a pleasure serving on this Committee. When it was put to me that it would assist my right hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) to get his feet under the table, even for the last few days of this Parliament, I was only too happy to accommodate him. He will be a splendid successor, and perhaps he will not try the patience of the House as long as I have today.
I welcome the Opposition spokesman’s support for the motion and join him in congratulating the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for his sterling contribution on the ISC. I know that his expertise and commitment to these matters will be missed.
Question put and agreed to.
In thanking the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for his comments, let me congratulate the right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) on his appointment to the Committee. We look forward to his contribution based on the experience and wisdom in these matters that he possesses.
Counter-Terrorism (Statutory Instruments)
I beg to move,
That the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data: Code of Practice) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 4 March, be approved.
With this, it will be convenient to consider the following two motions:
That the draft Retention of Communications Data (Code of Practice) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 4 March, be approved.
That the draft Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.
Before I open the debate on the three statutory instruments, I should like to make a few remarks about the current threat related to Syria and the Government’s response to it. It has been reported that three young men were arrested at the weekend after attempting to travel from Turkey to Syria. This reflects the good working relationship that we have with the Turkish authorities. Hon. Members will understand that I cannot comment on the specifics because there is an ongoing investigation, but I will say that those seeking to travel to engage in terrorist activity in Syria or Iraq should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security, including prosecuting those who break the law.
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 brought forward important new powers to disrupt the travel of those seeking to engage in terrorism-related activity. That included introducing a strengthened authority to carry scheme; I will return to that when I speak to the Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015 in a few moments. Current events are a reminder of how important and relevant these counter-terrorism measures are.
It might help our consideration of these statutory instruments if I briefly outlined what the Government seek to achieve by them, and why we have brought them forward at this time. I would like to start by turning to the two communications data codes of practice. Communications data—the “who, where, when and how?” of a communication, but not its content—is crucial for fighting crime, protecting children and combating terrorism. The House will recall that last summer we enacted emergency legislation, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, to preserve our data retention powers, and these codes are directly consequential on that legislation.
Communications data policy can broadly be split into two areas: acquisition and retention. Acquisition is carried out by relevant public authorities such as law enforcement agencies, while retention is carried out by communications services providers. The House will immediately see that these areas are linked; if data are not retained, they cannot be accessed.
The two codes of practice we are debating today—a revised acquisition code and a new data retention code—set out the processes and safeguards governing the retention and acquisition of communications data. They are intended to provide clarity and incorporate best practice on the use of the relevant powers, ensuring the highest standards of professionalism and compliance in this important aspect of law enforcement. We are bringing these codes forward now to ensure that the important safeguards within them, some of which follow concerns raised by the European Court of Justice judgment last year, come into force before Parliament rises.
Let me turn to one of the most important new safeguards in the acquisition code: that of access to journalistic material. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, the Interception of Communications Commissioner recently conducted an inquiry into police acquisition of journalists’ communications data. The measures in the revised code are intended to give effect to his recommendations, which were accepted straight away by the Government.
The acquisition code that we are debating stipulates that, in seeking to acquire communications data to identify or determine the source of journalistic information, law enforcement must use production orders under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or its equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We are doing this because production orders require judicial approval. This will help to protect the freedoms that journalists enjoy in the UK.
Whenever law enforcement is seeking the communications data of a journalist to determine sources—this includes when police are seeking to confirm or corroborate other evidence of the identity of a journalist’s sources—the decision on the application will be made by a judge under PACE. However, that is only a stopgap until we can make the change through primary legislation in the next Parliament. We have therefore also published a draft clause that sets out how we would seek to enshrine the commissioner’s first recommendation in primary legislation.
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert).
I thank the Minister for giving way after choosing between the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and me.
I welcome the progress that has been made, because I think that it will help to protect journalists. The amendment that I tabled a couple of weeks ago referred to the protection of other communications, such as medical and legal information. Will the Minister say a little about why he is not seeking to protect such information in the same way? Would he at least be open to such a suggestion if he were involved in a future Government making the decision?
Our action reflected the recommendations of the commissioner himself. They were our lead and our guide. My hon. Friend will note, however, that the code of practice contains additional protections covering the consideration and assessment that must be undertaken by those who seek to make a request for communications data in respect of certain protected groups. An enhanced status has been conferred, in a number of ways.
I will, of course, give way to the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I meant no discourtesy by not giving way to him first.
I am delighted that the Minister chose the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) over me, because there is not a cigarette paper between us when it comes to these issues.
I warmly welcome the Minister’s decision, which was recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, but may I press him to go a little further? We also recommended a fundamental review of the operation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, because we felt that it was time for that to happen.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that David Anderson, the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, is examining the RIPA issue very keenly. We await his report, which we expect to be completed before May and which I sincerely believe will help to inform further consideration of the Act during the next Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman will also know that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 has an end date of 31 December 2016, which means that Parliament will have to return to the issue—informed, I am sure, not only by the independent reviewer’s report, but by that of the Select Committee.
I appreciate that we have the commissioner’s report, that the independent reviewer’s report is imminent and that there is a time limit of December 2016. However, given the grave concern that exists about, in particular, the powers and constraints affecting journalists, will the Minister assure us that he will keep the matter under general review, and that, if a problem arose, even with these orders, by the end of the year—or, indeed, within a matter of months—he would be willing to come back to the House and look at it afresh?
I assure my right hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on becoming a member of the Privy Council, that the matter will be kept under close scrutiny and review. We have published draft clauses, which could be enacted quickly in the next Parliament, to regularise the position. We recognise that this is an interim measure, and we want it to be enshrined in primary legislation that the House would have a full opportunity to debate. I should add that the code of practice provides for requests to be flagged up to the commissioner, and thus allows additional scrutiny to take place. I hope that that reassures my right hon. Friend.
The commissioner also recommended further changes to the guidance in the acquisition code, and we have sought to implement that recommendation. The code is now clear about the need to consider more than rights to privacy—in particular, the right to freedom of expression must be taken into account when that is appropriate—and it also contains new guidance on the considerations of necessity, proportionality and collateral intrusion, including unintended consequences.
The revised acquisition code enhances the operational independence of the authorising officer from the specific investigation for which communications data are required. It includes new, enhanced protections for those who may have professional duties of confidentiality or privilege. However, it is important to remember that we are debating communications data, not the content of communications.
The retention code sets out how the Government implement the requirements in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 and the Data Retention Regulations 2014. It covers the following issues: the review, variation and revocation of data retention notices; communications service providers’ ability to recover their costs; data security; oversight by the Information Commissioner and safeguards on the disclosure; and the use of retained data by communications service providers.
The House will be aware that both codes underwent public consultation. The Government received about 300 submissions from organisations and individuals suggesting amendments and providing comments on the codes. I am grateful to all who took part. We have published a summary of the submissions received and how the Government have responded to them. The Department considered all the responses to the consultation and many of the suggestions have been adopted in the final drafts.
I would like to address briefly the final instrument in this motion: the Authority to Carry (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015. They establish a penalty regime for breach of any requirement of the authority to carry scheme 2015, which this House approved on 10 March. A carrier may be liable to a penalty for breach of the following: a requirement to seek authority to carry a person; a requirement to provide specified information by a specified time; a requirement to provide information in a specified manner and form; a requirement to be able to receive communications in a specified manner and form; or a requirement not to carry a person when authority to carry has been refused—this is an important part of the code.
The scheme specifies that it is the requirements set out in detailed written notices issued to carriers under the Immigration Act 1971 or the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 that must be met under the scheme, rather than those requirements being specified in detail in the scheme itself.
Does the Minister have figures showing how many airlines continued to carry passengers when the authorities—the Minister, the police or some other authority—required them not to carry those passengers?
The pre-existing authority to carry scheme has been used to prevent people from being able to travel to this country. It is important to note that the revised scheme deals with outbound as well as inbound, so this is an enhancement of the existing arrangements. Unfortunately, for operational reasons I cannot comment in detail on the use of the scheme, but I can say that requests have been made and carriers have abided by those requests to prevent people from travelling to this country. Therefore we have shown utility from the existing scheme on inbound legs, which is the point of the existing arrangement, but we are now seeking to extend it further in terms of various additional requirements, as well as also dealing with the outbound leg.
We know of the Minister’s eloquence when asked questions by Members in this House and in the Select Committee, but he did not really give me an answer. I am not after answers on operational decisions; I want to know how many times an airline has carried when we have asked it not to carry—I do not think that that would give away any state secrets about who those people were. It is a simple matter of, “Does he know the answer? If not, will he write to us?”
I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that the circumstances he describes have, certainly to my knowledge, never occurred. We would not wish to see that happen. That underlines the purpose and utility of having the authority to carry scheme in place, but we think it important to have a penalty in place none the less. We clearly have a scheme that sets out those requirements, but it needs to have enforcement and the ability to rely on that to ensure that there is good compliance with the scheme.
As I have described, a carrier may be liable to a penalty for breach of a requirement. The scheme specifies that it is the requirements set out in detailed written notices issued to carriers under the Immigration Act 1971 or the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 that must be met under the scheme, rather than those requirements being specified in detail in the scheme itself.
The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has reported these regulations to the House and drawn specific attention to them. It considers that the scheme imposes some requirements
“under which the relevant matters are all to be particularised subsequently in a way that is left unspecified in the Scheme itself”.
That is correct. The scheme identifies that the detailed specifications are in the requirements imposed on carriers under the 1971 Act or the 2006 Act. Carriers subject to specific requirements to provide information under the 1971 Act or the 2006 Act fully understand the information they are required to provide, the time or times at which it should be provided and the form and manner in which the information should be provided and received. In doing so, they comply with the scheme.
These measures are not about penalising carriers. The Government work with carriers to ensure the safety of their passengers and crew, the security of their aircraft, ships and trains and the security of the United Kingdom. However, there is a need for a civil penalty regime when carriers fail, without reasonable excuse, to comply with requirements of the authority to carry scheme. When a carrier fails to comply, we should have the ability to impose an appropriate penalty up to a maximum of £50,000. That is particularly the case if the failure results in a carrier’s bringing someone to the UK, or carrying someone from the UK, whom they had been or would have been expressly refused authority to carry. It is worth noting that these aspects of the regulations were not criticised by the Joint Committee.
The two communications data codes of practice outline best practice and ensure that the right safeguards are in place concerning access to, and retention of, communications data. It is important that we bring them into force by the end of this Parliament. The authority to carry scheme civil penalties regime will ensure that carriers comply with requirements imposed on them to prevent and disrupt travel by individuals who pose a threat to the public or, in the circumstances of children travelling to Syria, who are putting themselves at risk. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to approve these important statutory instruments.
I should like to start by thanking the Minister for setting out clearly what is behind the three measures before us today. I particularly want to thank him for his remarks about the action being taken against those travelling to Iraq and Syria to become involved in terrorist activities. I am sure that the whole House will support the work that he and his Government are doing in that regard.
I shall deal first with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data: Code of Practice) Order 2015. This reissued guidance has five laudable aims, which the Opposition support. They are: to enhance the operational independence of the authorising officer from involvement in the specific investigation for which communications data are required; to strengthen the protections for information that has professional sensitivity—particularly journalistic material; to reflect the additional requirements on local authorities to request communications data through a magistrate; to improve the record-keeping requirements for public authorities; and to improve best practice in regard to international co-operation and emergency calls.
We support those aims in the guidance, but I should like to ask the Minister a few questions about how we have reached this point in the code of practice. First, the draft guidance was put out to consultation late last year. Why has the response to that consultation not been published for Parliament to consider alongside this statutory instrument? The Minister said that it had been published, but I have had real difficulty finding it. The Vote Office could not find it for me when I requested it, and it is not next to the other documents on the Home Office website, so could the Minister tell me where I can find it? As he said during the passage of the Serious Crime Bill, there were more than 300 responses to the consultation, and it would have been useful to be able to see them.
Secondly, will the Minister explain the key difference between this guidance and that published just before Christmas? Thirdly, will he explain the timings of these changes? Why was a consultation launched while reports from the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, due out in a few weeks’ time, and further recommendations from the interception of communications commissioner were expected? I appreciate that the changes reflect some earlier recommendations from the commissioner, and there have been subsequent changes to reflect new recommendations, but why is the code of practice being treated almost like a work in progress? Why not have the recommendations first, then a full consultation and then a final code of conduct, with special interim measures, which I know we would probably all support, to protect journalistic sources? Perhaps the Minister will be able to explain how this process has worked.
Will the Minister also explain how the code of conduct has been written to ensure that it accurately reflects recent legislative changes? First, I was thinking about the recent orders extending the grounds on which the Financial Conduct Authority can access data. Is all that covered in this code? Secondly, the Serious Crime Act 2015 implements some of the recommendations from the interception of communications commissioner. Although it is welcome that the guidance goes some way to reflecting those changes, with a page added to give specific protection to journalistic sources, the Act introduced only partial and interim measures, so I want to know from the Minister whether the guidance will need to be reissued again when the final legislative measures are introduced.
On the second order before us, I want to ask about the definition of “communication” and “message”, an area where the code of practice does not address many of the issues raised during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, both in this House and in the other place, about how “communication” is defined. Paragraph 2.13 of the code of practice is very specific in relation to fixed-line telephony calls. That is fine as far as it goes, and it is probably all that was needed 20 or 30 years ago, but this code of practice is for 2015 and beyond. I am sure the Minister will accept that the way we communicate now is very different from when we just had fixed telephone lines.
Fixed-line telephone calls now are a small element of communications. When we look at internet-based communications, from e-mail to app-based messaging and social media, we see that the code of conduct is too vague in what it is trying to do. Paragraph 2.11 refers readers of the code of practice back to section 2(1) of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 and to the schedule to that Act. I am not sure why a code of practice supposedly designed, to quote from the code, to be
“readily available to employees of a CSP”
to use should refer them back to an obscure part of an Act that was criticised by some right hon. and hon. Members for not being as clear as it could be.
Paragraph 2.16 is the only one I could find in the code of practice that seeks to explain what DRIPA means for internet-based communications. The paragraph is headed “Internet email” and states:
“Internet email under DRIPA is considered to be any text, voice, sound or image message sent over a public electronic communications network which can be stored in the network or in the recipient’s terminal equipment until it is collected by the recipient and includes messages sent using a short message service.”
Is that simply a definition of internet-based e-mail providers such as Hotmail or Gmail, or is it meant to include social media? If it is meant to include social media, why does it not say that, so it is clear in the code of practice?
In Committee, I asked a series of questions about social media, which the Minister did not answer, and I do not think they were answered in the other place either. Let me ask the Minister again: does the code of practice include messages sent on social media platforms such as Facebook? If it does, why is there no section in the guidance devoted to social media? As I have said, the title “Internet e-mail” is not clear in this respect. If social media are covered, does a message extend to tagging another person in a broader post? Specifically, if a person is tagged in a Facebook or Instagram post, does that count as a message for the purposes of this code? What about a person included in a tweet? Does that count as well?
Perhaps the Minister will also respond to questions on the generic forms of interaction on social media sites. I am talking about where there is no user-generated content, but there is an interaction—for example, I “love” a photo on Instagram, “like” a post on Facebook, “favourite” a tweet, or “swipe” on Tinder. Do those come within this code of practice?
When I raised those issues in Committee, the Minister said that the code covered all communications, by which he meant anything that conveyed a message—as if a message was a self-evident thing that did not need a clear definition. That rather clumsy presumption has been applied to this code of conduct. Will the Minister explain, with reference to the social media sites, how paragraph 2.16 is meant to be interpreted? I hope he can shed some light on this matter.
I also want to ask about the relationship that this code envisages between the Home Office and the communications service providers. For example, the code of practice gives the Secretary of State total discretion over the review of retention notices, but it says that factors leading to a review could include significant technological change. Can the Minister explain how an ongoing dialogue with the CSPs operates, and how it is being maintained to ensure that the Secretary of State will be aware of major technological changes?
Moving on, will the Minister explain why no impact assessment has been prepared for this legislation? Last week, we found that the impact assessment prepared for the Prevent elements of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, vague and imprecise as they were, had not been signed off by the Home Office’s chief economist because the Home Office did not have the evidence base to support the legislation. Essentially, what that confirmed was that, after four years, the Home Office did not have that evidence about what works in terms of Prevent and so could not use that to inform and back up any legislative decisions. Is that the reason we do not have an impact assessment for the statutory instruments before us today? These codes of practice cover the process for decisions regarding compensation payments provided to CSPs, so they could have far-reaching cost and spending implications. They also have the potential to change significantly the compliance burdens on businesses.
I am very surprised that we do not have an impact assessment drafted for these orders. Perhaps the Minister can give us some background information; if he is not able to do so today, perhaps he could find it and place it in the Library. I have four questions. First, how many retention notices are currently in force, and how many are company-specific? Secondly, the code of practice talks about two years as the standard period for a review of a data retention notice. In practice, how many notices are reviewed before the two-year period? Thirdly, how many retention notices have been ended before the two-year period? Fourthly, what is the total spend on compensation agreed with the communications service providers in each of the past five years?
The Government’s explanatory memorandum to the Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015 states:
“Full guidance will be provided to industry on the operation of the Scheme. The Home Office and other agencies will continue to engage with industry on the detail of the Scheme to assist implementation.”
Will the Minister make it clear when he expects this guidance to be made available? The transport industry also made an observation in a number of responses to the consultation—I think that there were 28 in total. The memorandum states:
“The majority of carriers felt, however, that a proposed maximum fine of £50,000 was excessive and disproportionate, especially when compared to the possible fines imposed by other countries.”
Will the Minister explain why, despite the view taken by the transport industry, the Government decided to maintain the upper limit of £50,000 for a fine?
Finally, I also note that the 21-day rule was breached for introducing those regulations. I hope that the Minister will comment on why. I am sure that he will make a commitment that every attempt will be made in future to ensure that orders are introduced within the appropriate time.
I shall be brief. It seems clear that the House will approve the orders moved by the Minister today. He began by putting the situation and the reasons behind the orders in context. He knows, as Security Minister, that the country faces a severe threat.
Last week, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, in one of our last sessions of this Parliament, heard the evidence of the relatives of Shamima, Amira and Khadiza, three young ladies aged 16, 15 and 15 who left Tower Hamlets and went to Syria. Only this morning, I met the families of two of the young men who have just returned from Istanbul. The families are wonderful people, hard working and dedicated to this country, and were as shocked as any of us would have been that their children had left the country and, in the case of the girls from Tower Hamlets, reached Syria and, in the case of the three young men, been brought back yesterday. I commend the police for their work, and the Turkish authorities in the latter case.
The Turkish ambassador gave us very good evidence last week, with a timeline. The situation was much better second time around, with phone calls being made instead of e-mails being sent. We need to commend people when things go right and this is a good news story in the fight against terrorism. We do not have many of them, but everyone worked together and we commend them for what they are doing.
I am sure that we would all endorse what my right hon. Friend says and what the Minister said about the Turkish police and ensuring that the young people involved were returned to this country immediately. I cannot go further than that, as the Minister has stated. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to probe further, even though the numbers are very small, and ask why it is that young people like those he mentioned, whose relatives we saw in the Home Affairs Committee last week, should wish to join a group motivated by mass murder, savage beatings, beheadings and sex slavery? More needs to be done to find the reasons why such youngsters, born and educated in this country, should wish to travel in the way they intended.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Committee has taken evidence from all the stakeholders involved, but it is the people who have gone abroad who really matter as we need to find out why they went in the first place. We need to get into their minds in some way, as he has said and as his questions in the Committee’s evidence sessions have tried to do, to find out why they make that decision, what turns them and what the tipping point is. They are brought up in this country, and by parents who obviously love and support them, but then suddenly they decide to go abroad. If I have one regret from all my years of chairing the Committee, it is that we have never been able to take evidence directly from those who have gone abroad. Some have come back, of course, but they are reluctant to talk to us, either formally or informally. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I think that why people decide to go is something that successor Committees and the next Parliament will have to consider.
On the orders before the House, I fully support the instrument that brings into force the code of practice to enhance safeguards and ensure clear guidance on best practice with regard to the acquisition and retention of communications data. When the Committee took evidence from journalists on the matter—this is in the public domain, of course—we said that we believed there ought to be exceptions. The Government accept that the authorities need to be very careful when they stray into areas relating to freedom of the press. I think that the code does provide for that, so the Government are right to bring it before the House now rather than at some later date.
However, the Committee, in looking at the regulations before the House, strongly suggested that RIPA’s days had come and gone. Although it was acceptable at the time to pass that legislation, we felt that, frankly, it was being misused. Anecdotally, we have head about some local authorities using the powers in RIPA to spy on families deciding where to send their children to school. We felt that such misuse was probably going on in other areas, but we did not know because there was no proper and effective monitoring.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way—
Order. I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. I blame myself; I was immersed in conversation. It was a case of mistaken identity. The hon. Gentleman is wearing a delightful white shirt, not a checked one. He is not Mr Cairns; he is indeed Mr Stephen McPartland. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, and indeed to the other hon. Gentleman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I think the Minister has done an excellent job in bringing on side some of us who were not as supportive of these proposals as others, but I am still concerned about the number of organisations that will be able to use DRIPA to access information. Does the right hon. Gentleman know how many such organisations there are?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to be wary of that. I do not know how many other organisations can do that, and I think that there is a lack of monitoring. When Parliament passes legislation for a specific purpose and it is then used for other purposes—journalists say that this could be used to spy on them, for example, thereby giving up vital information about sources—parliamentarians need to pause and reconsider, and I think that is what we have to do. As he will know, given his great experience in home affairs matters, having in a previous life been so intimate with the workings of the Liverpool passport office, the state’s use of these powers does tend to creep. We need to ensure that we are vigilant in that regard.
The Minister says that he is waiting for David Anderson to report. One way of ensuring that David Anderson does a quicker job is to give him more resources. One of the things the Select Committee has noted is that the independent assessor does not have the kinds of resources that we would have expected. If the Government—whoever is in power after 7 May—help him along his path, we may be able to get a result much more quickly. We would therefore get the review of RIPA, which I think the whole House wants. The Prime Minister certainly wants it, from what I have heard him say about it. I hope we will be able to move that forward.
Finally, on the last set of regulations before the House, the Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015, I have no problem in principle with what the Minister proposes, but he told the House, in effect, that the situation in which these would take effect has never arisen—that a carrier, having been asked not to carry, has defied Government, either inbound or outbound, and said, “We are going to carry this person.” It was the previous Government who introduced the carriers’ liability regulations. I probably voted for the measure at the time—I cannot remember as it was so long ago. It was effective because the carrier tends not to put someone on a plane if that person has been told on departure from another country that they do not have the requisite visa to enter the United Kingdom, as it is the carrier that will pay the fine.
There is nothing wrong with the principle, but we should legislate when we know that there is a problem. We finally got out of the Minister the fact that there has never been a situation where that has happened, so here we are, passing legislation to stop something that has never happened. His argument is that it is important to have that power in the back pocket because we never know when we might need it. It is important for the Minister to be able to wave it in front of carriers and say, “If you don’t do this, you will be fined.”
My objection to civil penalties is that the amount collected by the Government is lamentably small. To save us having to table parliamentary questions, as we are right at the end of this Parliament and we might not get the answers before we rise, I hope that the Minister will give us some figures when he winds up showing the percentage of civil penalty fines that have not been paid by those who are subject to them. I think unpaid fines owed to the Home Office will run into millions of pounds. The last time I looked, it was a pretty high figure.
All I ask the Minister to do is to reassure the House that he is a good collector of those penalties—not the hon. Gentleman personally, but his Department. I am sure that if he knocked on my door and asked for the penalty to be paid, I would pay it immediately. He is such a nice and charming man that I would cough up immediately, but we cannot spare the Minister for Security and Immigration for that kind of work. Others have to do it, or sometimes it is done by letter. All that happens is that the letter is put to one side. Perhaps he will have the figure for the amount of uncollected civil penalties currently owed to the Home Office. If it does not run into millions, I will buy him dinner in the Members Dining Room before the House rises on 30 March. On that cheerful note, I will finish my contribution.
I will not delay the House more than a minute. Over the past 12 months I have bored the House enough, like a needle on a cracked record, on the subject of the protection of journalists.
That started with a debate on the concerns expressed by the National Union of Journalists about the volume of production orders that were being used against its members, as well as the range of organisations using and abusing RIPA, and the police moving away from PACE to avoid accountability through the courts, and then using RIPA. In addition, concerns were expressed by the NUJ about the development of DRIPA.
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing the interchange of views between the NUJ and his officials. That has helped us to move forward clearly on the codes of practice, but those do not go far enough, nor do these regulations, to meet the NUJ’s position on the protection of journalistic sources. However, the draft clauses have been published. We are about to go into purdah. Whoever is in government after the election will have to address the issue fairly quickly, as the Minister knows. Can the lines of communication between the civil servants and the NUJ remain open during this period? Also, can further meetings take place with the NUJ’s legal advisers and the NUJ representatives to ensure that the eventual legislation, or the advice on the eventual legislation, that goes before the incoming Ministers will meet with the approval of all stakeholders, as well as journalists?
With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will try to respond to as many as possible of the various points that have been raised during this helpful debate.
Let me at the outset welcome the support that right hon. and hon. Members have given to these statutory instruments, even if, in a number of cases, they feel that further work may be required. Further debate and discussion is taking place about the communications data aspects and the report by David Anderson. I can tell the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, that David Anderson remains on course to report on time before 1 May. I underline the fact that the new privacy and civil liberties oversight board will give further support to David Anderson in his important work, which the right hon. Gentleman and many others in the House recognise in terms of the contribution that he makes.
The right hon. Gentleman highlighted the case of the three schoolgirls who travelled from London to Syria and the evidence that his Committee took last week. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specifics of that recent case, not least because the investigation is still ongoing. He rightly underlines the huge distress that is caused to families by these cases. We hope that this matter can be resolved and that the girls are able to return home to their families as soon as possible. I know that the whole House would wish to underline that.
There are continuing issues on which we need to challenge ourselves as regards why people seek to travel in this way. As the evidence that has been provided to various Committees indicates, it is a complicated picture featuring the impact of social media, peers, and other influences. That is why, as a Government, we have taken a very broad view in recognising the responsibilities that we all hold in seeking to prevent people from travelling and becoming involved in terrorist-related activity. We will be able to return to this again next week, I hope, when we look at further instruments and guidance that may need to be considered further before the House rises.
I look forward to looking at the Minister’s further instruments when they become available for scrutiny.
On the point about communities and families, having looked carefully at this subject, the lesson that the Committee has learned over the past 10 days is that they should not be afraid to come forward and speak to the authorities, because the authorities will deal with them sympathetically and they will not be stigmatised. We are all in this together to fight those who seek to seduce and groom young men and women and take them out of our country.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point that I entirely endorse. Indeed, that is why the Home Office has been keen to support initiatives such as that advanced by Families Against Stress and Trauma, which has campaigned to highlight the need to come forward and report to the authorities or to others who may be able to take action to safeguard and prevent such actions.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) raised again the position of journalists in relation to communications data. He and I have rightly debated that on a number of occasions in this House. He, and others, may not feel that this is the final settled picture. As I have said, we recognise that this matter needs to be further regularised in primary legislation, and we hope that the House will be able to return to it swiftly after the general election. In his report, the commissioner said that there had been no abuse, in relation to his investigations and his inquiry, into the manner in which communications data requests are made of journalists. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that we should ensure that there is continuing dialogue on this matter.
The draft clauses, and our desire to receive feedback on them, provide a further opportunity for those channels to be kept open. Although the House will head into purdah and Dissolution shortly, I hope communication will be maintained with officials to ensure that, when this House returns, the next Government can move forward quickly in the light not only of David Anderson’s report, but of the feedback we receive on the draft clauses. I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
I will go through as many as possible of the points raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), whose broad support I welcome. As the explanatory notes make clear, a full regulatory impact assessment was made of the effect of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.
On the difference between the consultative code and the final version, the key changes include the introduction of the requirements for law enforcement to use the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to acquire communications data in order to determine journalistic sources. Other changes include greater clarity on the additional consideration for those in sensitive professions and increased guidance on the necessity and proportionality that must be met by all applications for communications data. I assure the hon. Lady that we reflected carefully on the submissions. The codes reflect all recent primary legislation, but, as she will appreciate, if significant changes are made to primary legislation in the future, new codes may be required.
We do not provide details of which companies are the subject of data retention notices nor the detail of those notices, as it could be of considerable benefit to terrorists and other criminals if they knew which companies were under the data retention obligations, and they could adjust their behaviour accordingly. That is why we have maintained a consistent stance.
The responses to the public consultation have been published on the Home Office website and we have written to the Chairs of the relevant parliamentary Committees. I am sorry if the hon. Lady was not able to locate them and I am happy to write to her to point her directly to them, because I specifically made sure that they were published in advance of today’s debate. I am disappointed that she has not been able to locate them, which is what I wanted her to be able to do.
I am grateful that the Minister will write to me, but I made strenuous efforts to get hold of the responses, including getting the Vote Office to look for them and having a good search of the Home Office website myself. Perhaps it is time for the website to undergo a review to make sure it is as accessible as possible.
All I can say is that the consultation responses were published. I note the hon. Lady’s challenge and I will certainly point her in the right direction.
On 4 February the interception of communications commissioner reported on the issue of journalists’ material. We are introducing the codes as quickly as possible to give as full effect as we can to the commissioner’s recommendations. Frankly, we do not believe it would be appropriate to wait. The hon. Lady asked why we are doing it now and in this way. It is being done in this way to ensure that the codes and safeguards are put in place as quickly as possible. I judged that it was right to do the initial consultation and get feedback even though we knew that the commissioner was due to report, because if we had waited for the commissioner’s response and then done a full consultation on the full code, we would not be in the position we are in today. I think that was the right approach.
The hon. Lady also asked technical questions about social media. The provisions apply to relevant communications data generated or processed in the UK by communications service providers. The codes of practice give some examples of the data to be retained and the way in which the CSPs build their systems. The communications data generated differ among CSPs and the services they provide. It is important that the Government can work with providers to ensure that appropriate data are retained. The code provides that the Home Office may give further guidance to those implementing the requirements. In other words, there can be further drill-down to give further specificity. The Home Office works closely with providers to ensure that it is aware of future technological changes that may lead to a review of a data retention notice. I will reflect further on the points made by the hon. Lady and place any additional information in the Library.
Finally, the £50,000 maximum penalty for failing to comply with the requirement under the authority to carry scheme reflects the seriousness attached to a carrier bringing someone into the UK or taking someone out of the UK when refused the authority to do so. I certainly hear the point made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East when he asked why we should have a penalty if compliance is already enforced. Now that we are extending the scheme to both inbound and outbound carrying, having looked at different aspects of it under the code and reflected on the issues raised, it is appropriate to have a penalty or sanction to encourage and promote the positive behaviour that right hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and I want. We have brought in the penalty in that spirit.
The Minister is always generous in giving way, which helps the scrutiny of such measures. I am sorry if I missed this, but did he give the House a figure for how much is owed to the Home Office in civil penalties in total? I am eager to take him for supper before we close on 30 March.
I would tell the right hon. Gentleman that in respect of that particular provision—[Interruption.] I will come to his point. In respect of that provision, we clearly do not want there to be any unpaid penalties; we want compliance and therefore for penalties not to be levied in the first place. We are putting the penalty in place in that spirit of good compliance.
I normally try my best to meet the right hon. Gentleman’s requests for information as soon as possible, but I am afraid that I will have to disappoint him on this occasion. I note his request for the details of the various civil penalties levied under the civil penalties scheme, and I will certainly take it away and see what further information I can give him to assuage his clear desire for it.
With those comments, and given the broad welcome that the House has given to the measures, I hope that the House will be minded to support them.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data: Code of Practice) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 4 March, be approved.
That the draft Retention of Communications Data (Code of Practice) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 4 March, be approved.—(James Brokenshire.)
That the draft Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.—(James Brokenshire.)
I beg to move,
That the draft Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 5 February, be approved.
The instrument will include amphetamine, with a limit of 250 micrograms per litre of blood, in the new drug-driving offence of driving with a specified drug in the body above a specified limit. The new offence was provided for in the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which inserted new section 5A into the Road Traffic Act 1988. The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014, made on 24 October 2014, specified 16 other drugs and their limits, and the new offence came into force in England and Wales on 2 March. Indeed, the first arrest was made on that very day. I recognise the positive engagement and support of the Opposition in introducing the new regulations.
As hon. Members are aware, the review of drink and drug-driving law by Sir Peter North concluded that there was
“a significant drug driving problem”
and recommended the new offence. It also recommended the inclusion of amphetamine. The expert panel on drug-driving, in its report of March 2013, also recommended the inclusion of amphetamine in the new drug-driving offence. It quoted the European driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol and medicines project—the so-called DRUID project—which suggested that amphetamine caused a medium to high risk of a traffic accident. The DRUID researchers did not find an impairment effect at therapeutic doses, but a negative driving performance could be detected at high doses.
As hon. Members are probably aware, the Government have considered carefully what the appropriate level should be for amphetamine. The expert panel recommended a limit of 600 micrograms per litre of blood if our approach was to look at when the risk of a road traffic collision was most likely to occur. However, although there is significant medicinal use of amphetamine, the Government were concerned about the amount of illegal use. The expert panel described it as “an illicit substance” and
“a long standing member of the drug scene”.
The approach to setting a limit for the drug was therefore not as clear-cut as for the other drugs, because a zero tolerance approach was taken to illegal drugs such as cannabis and cocaine, whereas a road safety risk approach was taken to drugs that were more associated with medicinal use.
The Government used the consultation in summer 2013 to seek further views and evidence on what a suitable limit might be. Many of the responses proposed a limit that was much closer to the zero tolerance approach, so we re-consulted on a limit of 50 micrograms per litre from December 2013 to the end of January 2014. However, we received several objections from the medical profession to the proposed limit.
Specialists in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, for which amphetamine is a recognised treatment, argued that the condition affects the ability to concentrate and that, although patients represent an increased road safety risk when unmedicated, they are just as safe as the general population when taking their medication. Those respondents backed up their arguments with research. Their concern was that prescribers and ADHD patients must not be discouraged from prescribing medication or taking it. We recognise that adult ADHD often goes undiagnosed and that treatment is often stopped after people have had it as a child. That presents road safety risks that need to be addressed through treatment. We concluded that the limit of 50 micrograms that we initially proposed might discourage those with ADHD from seeking or continuing with treatment.
To be clear, the amphetamine treatment for ADHD that we are talking about is not Ritalin, which is often associated with ADHD. Although similar to amphetamine, Ritalin is a methylphenidate. Amphetamine drugs, including lisdexamfetamine, which is produced by Shire pharmaceuticals, tend to be used as a second-line treatment when methylphenidate is not successful.
It is therefore appropriate to set a limit that is above the therapeutic range that ADHD sufferers are most likely to be prescribed and below the level that is most likely to be the result of people abusing the medication. After holding extensive informal discussions with specialists in ADHD and the Secretary of State’s honorary medical advisory panel on alcohol, drugs and substance misuse and driving, we have agreed that 250 micrograms per litre of blood is the most appropriate limit. The advisory panel quoted the analysis of 2,995 blood samples that were taken between 2008 and 2012 across the UK in suspected drug-driving cases, which showed an average concentration of amphetamine of 456 micrograms per litre of blood. The Government concluded from their consultation with the ADHD specialists and the advisory panel that the level of 250 micrograms would successfully balance the legitimate use of amphetamine for medicinal purposes against its abuse by those who represent a risk on the road as a result of taking it.
The House may recall that in September last year, during the debate on the regulations that specified the 16 other drugs and their limits, the Government indicated that they intended to re-consult on a limit for amphetamine. Given the extensive discussions that we have held with medical stakeholders, we take the view that we have had sufficient opportunity to consider the views of all the relevant parties and that conducting a third formal consultation on a limit for amphetamine is no longer appropriate or necessary.
The new drug-driving offence commenced on 2 March, and the Government believe it important that amphetamine is added to the list of drugs as soon as possible, so that those who abuse amphetamine and continue to drive and put lives at risk can expect to be caught and prosecuted for the new offence. I acknowledge that there is no roadside screening device for amphetamine—currently only cannabis and cocaine have an approved device that tests saliva—but should there be any suspicion of the consumption of that drug or any other specified drug, a blood test can be carried out, and a blood concentration level above the specified limit will result in prosecution.
Specifying amphetamine will create certainty in the market and enable manufacturers to consider the research and development of roadside screeners for that drug, which is one of the most significant in drug-driving cases. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to support extending the regulations to include amphetamine at the limit proposed, to send a strong message that the House, Parliament and wider society will not tolerate those who persist in drug-driving and the threat they pose to other road users. I recommend that the House approve these regulations.
It is a pleasure to follow the Minister on this subject. He and I may have a sense that, if not groundhog day, it is perhaps groundhog piglet day because—he alluded to this—we discussed the closely related draft Crime and Courts Act 2013 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2015 only last Monday. I will therefore do my best to focus specifically on the amphetamine aspects of today’s debate, although as the Minister demonstrated, some points may overlay with the broader discussion from last Monday.
The Minister has rightly said that the order confirms the limit for amphetamines in the new drug-driving legislation—indeed, amphetamine was the only drug that the Government did not confirm the limits for in October 2014—and he spelt out in some detail and with considerable clarity the iterative process that led to the Government proposing that limit. I understand that, and the Minister dealt manfully with the various chemical substances that were referred to, and in the process he gave the House a useful insight into the risk-benefit analysis that must take place in such areas—I hesitate to call it a master class, but it was informative and useful.
I want to raise one or two points with the Minister, although as he will know the Opposition strongly support the broad thrust of these regulations and the previous ones. I do not propose to quote in detail from last week’s discussion, but he will recall that when I asked why the consultations on amphetamine limits had been cancelled, he replied that he thought the balance achieved was absolutely right. Today, he has given chapter and verse on that process and why he thought the third consultation was no longer necessary. However, that does not explain why the Department for Transport originally proposed to re-consult on the amphetamine limit, if it was already holding extensive discussions with medical stakeholders that it now says makes such consultation unnecessary.
Will the Minister clarify why the Department said in September that the consultation would take place, only to announce in March that it will not? If we had had an earlier statement, would there not have been ample time for a formal consultation to be held and still make the order today? I make that point not in a spirit of churlishness or to be slightly anorak, but because it is essential to have a broad breadth of consultation and agreement on this issue.
Will the Minister update the House on why, as amphetamine has to be treated differently from other illegal drugs, the advice of his own expert panel, which originally recommended 600 micrograms of amphetamine per litre of blood, was set aside?
I want to touch on the 50 microgram limit arrived at in the proposal. Will the Minister explain again, for the benefit of the House and Members who may not have been present at the more general discussion of the previous order, how this argument relates to the level set for the eight drugs used for medicinal purposes? Does that not perhaps occasionally undermine the Government’s continued statement that the medical defence provided to drivers on prescription drugs will be enough to ensure they will not be discouraged from seeking treatment?
On a previous occasion, I alluded to the fact that the essential element is not simply the passing of an order, but the ability to enforce it and the resources to go with that enforcement process. I do not propose to repeat the concerns we raised last week. However, the Minister made much of the fact that, although the main screening in police stations was going to cost about £3,000, 35 of the 42 police authorities—if I have the figures right—already had them, so I was not to be too concerned about the postcode lottery issue, which I had raised. He also said that the roadside tests for these substances, the so-called use-once Drugwipe device or the electronic Dräger device, would be available, quoting the figure of £20.
On enforcement, the Minister’s hon. Friend in the other place said that in most cases it was not necessary for this to be done in the station, but on roadside screening devices. However, she also said that it was up to manufacturers to market them and the police to purchase them. It is therefore still by no means certain that roadside screening for drugs will become routine across the country. How has this significant uncertainty been factored into the Government’s estimates of how many more convictions for the offence there will be, how many crashes may be prevented and how many lives may be saved?
We join the Government—and, I think, all Members—in wanting the new regulations to be imposed as speedily and effectively as possible. It is therefore incumbent on the Government to ensure, insofar as is humanly possible, that the resources and quality of enforcement across the country are adequate and sufficient.
I served on the Committee that considered the related order. I should like to put on record my appreciation to successive Governments for legislation that has resulted in the number of deaths on our roads being today approximately one third what it was 50 years ago. The regulations are a step along the road of reducing that number still further.
We all need to emphasise that we are talking here about drugs in the round: drugs prescribed for medicinal purposes and existing illegal drugs. We need to ensure that people who are prescribed drugs realise that they could, just possibly, be in breach of the law. We need to stress that point.
I do have a regret. As we approached the 2010 general election, we were looking forward to a reduction in the level of alcohol with which people were allowed to drive legally. Unfortunately, that was never implemented, so the drink-drive limit in England is still too high. I hope that the Minister will indicate whether the next Government might want to reduce it.
I welcome the measure, but I stress again the importance of getting the message across that we are talking about drugs prescribed for medicinal purposes and that people need to ensure that they do not break the law unwittingly. The message should be, “If in doubt, don’t risk it.”
I thank the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) for raising several questions, some of which we covered in Committee last week. He asked why we did not re-consult on the level. Although we decided that 50 micrograms was not the correct limit at the end of March 2014, we had to consult informally with a range of medical experts to ensure we got the number right, and that took time. Most importantly, we are confident that 250 micrograms is correct, as it successfully balances the legitimate use of amphetamine for medical purposes against its abuse by those who represent a risk on the road as a result of its use. Given our extensive discussions with medical stakeholders, we think that we have had sufficient opportunity to consider the views of all relevant parties and that conducting a third formal consultation on the limit for amphetamine use is no longer appropriate or necessary. No additional significant risk is associated with going from 50 micrograms to 250 micrograms, as advised by the Secretary of State’s advisory panel.
Importantly, the level we have set for the eight illegal drugs effectively represents a zero-tolerance approach. We have set the level sufficiently high so that there can be no opportunity for loophole lawyers to get people off or for people to use the defence that they were accidentally exposed to drugs by, for example, sitting next to somebody who was smoking cannabis or handling an item that had been used for cocaine.
It is important to remind the House that existing legislation on impairment remains on the statute book, and many prescribed drugs will carry a warning indicating that people should not take them if they feel drowsy or their vision is blurred. That has not changed, so people taking prescription drugs below the levels set in the regulations will still be committing an offence if they are impaired. If they take levels above those set in the regulations, but are not impaired, they will have the medical defence. The advice has gone out to pharmacists, doctors and patients that if necessary they should carry evidence of their prescription as a medical defence.
I want to make a point about notices on prescription drugs. Many years ago, the message that cigarettes were harmful to health would have been smaller and much less obvious than it became. That seems to apply now to prescription drugs. Does the Minister have a view on whether the message about the danger of taking prescription drugs, even below the levels he has mentioned, should be much more obvious to users?
We have issued specific advice to pharmacists on the nine drugs we are specifying, but there is a general warning to patients as well that taking prescription drugs can affect them. In the case of the drugs specified in the regulations, we have issued stickers to pharmacists and doctors to provide an additional reminder.
On the cost of screening, it is true that although a breathalyser now costs about 17p to administer at the roadside—we now have breathalysers that are evidential—the cost of these new roadside tests will be about £20. Of course, we want more competition in the market in terms of the number of devices available and the number of drugs that can be detected. As we get more competition and more players in the market, the cost will come down. I am sure that police forces and police and crime commissioners will take decisions based on where this equipment is deployed. Even if it is not in every police car, it will be important, particularly for fatal or near-fatal accidents, that the equipment is available, to ensure that a screening test can be quickly taken. Of course, if the two drugs that we can currently test for are not detected, there will be the option of going to the police station to take the test there. The blood test, not the roadside test, will form the basis of the prosecution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) said that this is a further step made by the Government towards improving road safety. Personally, I am pleased that we have now reached, I hope, the end of the road on this; I personally insisted that the issue should be put in the Conservative manifesto at the last general election. With a couple of weeks to go, we have finally got the matter completed and on to the statute book.
Drink-drive limits were mentioned. I shall not be tempted to speak at great length on that issue because it is not within the terms of today’s debate, but it will be interesting to take account of the experience in Scotland. It is important to note that when the drink-driving legislation came in, many people thought that drink-driving was acceptable, but we subsequently saw a great cultural change take place on this issue. If we read about the horrendous accidents that occur because of drink-driving, we often find that the driver was three or even four times above the existing limit. As I say, it will be interesting to see how things develop in Scotland. We will, of course, keep everything under review. I conclude my comments there.
Question put and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
Financial Services and Markets
That the draft Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 29 January, be approved.—(Damian Hinds.)
Question agreed to.
Transport for London Bill [Lords]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Committee
New Clause 1
TFL assets for development (disclosure)
(1) Within 3 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, TfL shall publish a list of non-operational assets held by itself or a subsidiary that it regards as eligible for development, banded by value.
(2) Thereafter, TfL shall publish each year a list of non-operational assets that are under consideration for development where steps towards such development are planned to commence within the next 12 months.
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—TfL assets (constraints on developments)—
“(1) Tfl, or any subsidiary of TfL, shall not lease land to third parties which:
(a) has been used in the preceding 10 years,
(b) has been considered by TfL in the preceding 10 years as suitable, or
(c) is adjacent to land in use or in use in the preceding 10 years, for the provision or maintenance of transport services for passengers.
(2) Before TfL, or any subsidiary of TfL, enters into a contract involving the development of land for other than the provision or maintenance of transport services for passengers, it must carry out a public consultation seeking views on the impact of so doing.
(3) Any consultation under subsection (2) must include consultation with:
(a) local communities likely to be affected
(b) the Greater London Authority
(c) London boroughs
(d) the City of London
(e) relevant trade unions.”
Amendment 21, page 6, in schedule, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph (c), at end add
“subject to the Secretary of State’s satisfaction that TfL has undertaken, or caused to be undertaken, an effective risk assessment in respect of the impact on public heath of such use.”
Amendment 22, in page 6, paragraph 1, leave out sub-paragraph (d).
Amendment 23, page 6, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph (i), at end add
“provided such property is not located within the curtilage of a bus, rail or underground station.”
Amendment 24, page 6, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph (o), at end add
“provided such property is not located within the curtilage of a bus, rail or underground station.”
Amendment 25, in page 6, paragraph 1(k), line 19, after “machines”, insert
“and other property which is exploited for commercial purposes other than within stations.”
Amendment 26, page 6, paragraph 1(k), line 19, leave out from the first “stations” to the end of the sub-paragraph.
Amendment 27, page 6, paragraph 1, leave out sub-paragraph (k).
Amendment 28, page 6, paragraph 1, leave out sub-paragraph (m).
Amendment 29, page 6, paragraph 1, leave out sub-paragraph (n).
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests with particular regard to donations from trade unions to my constituency party. We are now in a long campaign period and although these donations are to my constituency party and are not personal donations, I wish to declare them. They will pay for leaflets in the election campaign bearing my photograph—that will probably cost me votes! I thought I had better declare those interests tonight.
Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and on behalf of myself and colleagues who drafted amendments to the Bill, I would like to thank and congratulate the Clerk on the advice he provided to us throughout. He took our original ideas and my own poor drafts and turned them into the amendments that have been selected today.
I will happily curtail this debate right now if the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), representing the Bill’s promoters, can inform us whether Transport for London is willing to accept all the amendments. If it is, we will not need to spend any further time on the issue this evening. I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman if he is willing to advise us of TfL’s position.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to intervene at this point. The sponsors of the Bill have been through the various amendments, and I have been taking advice today. The sponsors reject every single one of the new clauses and amendments.
That is disappointing—in fact, I am absolutely shocked. I thought we might have been able to see some movement on at least some of these issues, given the dialogue that has taken place and that this Bill has been travelling through the House since 2011. Elements have been dropped from the Bill and the Committee insisted on having amendments at some stage.
I was very disappointed to hear the answer from the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I am not one for re-telling rumours, but I heard tell that TfL wanted to discuss some of these issues with us. Perhaps the promoter of the Bill could tell us at what point TfL expects to have serious discussions through which constituency MPs can deal with the often very detailed concerns that we might have to raise in this debate.
I am concerned about the Bill’s implications for all our London constituents and constituencies. As I have said, given that the debate has lasted for four years, I would expect a dialogue to have taken place by now, along with acceptance of some of the arguments, to allow at least a degree of compromise to be reached.
I was shocked, but not surprised, to hear what was said by the Bill’s sponsor, which was symptomatic of the arrogance that TfL has shown towards the House. The Bill’s progress began in the other place on 29 November 2010. I think that the summary dismissal of every single one of the amendments is symptomatic of not only TfL’s attitude but the faults in the Bill, which is why I have added my name to a number of the amendments.
I will not labour the point. Let me now deal with the amendments. I shall begin by outlining the general justification for the group, and will then deal with them individually.
This group of amendments was prompted by the raising of a number of issues on Second Reading, in the Opposed Private Bill Committee and in the other place. None of those issues seems to have been taken on board bar one, and that only because the Committee forced it on the promoter after its consideration of the representation of petitioners who included members of community organisations, a member of the Greater London authority and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that point. I am sure that he will pay tribute to the objectors, who painstakingly gave their time in several meetings that I attended with representatives of TfL, and who were given the same short shrift that my hon. Friend is being given today. Two of them are constituents of mine, and they have become experts on this subject. They have been entirely reasonable throughout the process, but they have been treated with a large degree of disregard. Had it not been for the Bill Committee, we would not have secured even the concession to which my hon. Friend has referred.
I do indeed pay tribute to the petitioners. The amendments that are in my name and those of others—and those tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), which I support—arise from the views expressed by the petitioners on particular issues.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a great deal of respect for him and for the work that we do together in opposing a third runway at Heathrow. However, it seems to me, especially given his opening remarks, that the best thing that he can do is ensure that the question is put as soon as possible, rather than elongating matters, so that Parliament can make its judgment.
The hon. Gentleman and I have worked and campaigned on the third runway issue in close co-operation. I am grateful to him for all his support, and respect him for it. However, I think that the responsibility of a Member of Parliament is to reflect the concerns expressed to him by his constituents, and in this instance—given that we have a general accountability to Londoners overall—by the Londoners who have petitioned against the Bill. That is why the amendments have been drafted very specifically on the basis of the views expressed in the Opposed Private Bill Committee, which were not fully taken into account following the Committee’s recommendations. I had to draft the amendments, in consultation with some of the petitioners, to ensure that I captured their main concerns.
I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, and congratulate him on his elevation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have some sympathy with the broad thrust of his views. There is a risk that Transport for London could become over-leveraged and that land, which is very scarce in London, might be misused when it could be used for purposes connected with housing in particular.
I have a wider concern, however. I fear that there will be increasing hostility in other parts of the United Kingdom towards large-scale infrastructure investment here in London. Whether we like it or not, Transport for London is the only mechanism that allows us to drive that vital infrastructure forward, for the good of the capital and the good of all its residents, current and future.
That is a valid point, which I will try to address when we turn to the specific amendments. I thought there were issues on which we could have had compromise; the main thrust of the first group of amendments is to secure openness, transparency and, most importantly, a consultative decision-making process. I have sat down with each of the petitioners. The whole point of these amendments is the need for consultative engagement by TfL and its subsidiaries when dealing with sites in their areas.
May I, too, add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field)? I do not think anyone objects to sustainable responsible development by TfL, but this Bill permits not that type of development, but the type that I have seen in my constituency—irresponsible development that is in hock to developers and that, to use the parallel with the Heathrow proposal, can lead to huge damage to communities: 750 homes would be destroyed in my constituency as part of the Earls Court development, similar to the number in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as a consequence of the third runway.
That is it exactly. That is what new clause 1 seeks to address to a certain extent, as I will come on to. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) has got a valid point, however, in mentioning concerns about antipathy to investment in London and that we need a balance in terms of non-London infrastructure investment and infrastructure investment in London. However, I do not think that this Bill solves that—in fact, I do not think it even addresses it. It makes matters worse.
The prime principle behind this group of amendments is accountability. Why are those key elements of openness, transparency, a consultative decision-making process and accountability so important to the petitioners who have come to us and so important to our constituents who have raised these matters with us—the genesis of these amendments? It is because the Bill extends the power of TfL—and, via TfL, the Mayor of London’s power—to use an immense range and quantity of assets.
Members may wish to correct me on this, but when we last asked how many sites could be identified as being such assets, I think the figure I was told was about 3,000 sites in the ownership or control of TfL. As a result of this legislation, those sites could be used for the placement of charges and mortgages to guarantee indemnity, and therefore for borrowing to raise funds.
We will come to the other issue to arise from these amendments largely in the second block of amendments, but it relates to the first block as well. It is the concern about the vehicles that will be used, or which are proposed in this legislation. It is why new clause 1 is so crucial to the way forward. There are concerns about the range of vehicles, from the limited partnerships, which I think are the most worrying vehicle, as identified in the evidence to the Opposed Private Bill Committee, to the limited liability partnerships.
What we have in the Bill, and what this group of amendments addresses, is potentially the largest use for generations of public assets in the capital to raise funds. It amounts to an immense mortgaging of London’s future, but also, more dangerously, as has been put to us in discussion after discussion with the regional petitioners, it opens up what one has described as a speculators’ bonanza in our capital city. New clause 1 would address that to some extent, as would the other amendments.
The Bill puts at risk the finances of Transport for London, as well as its operations and its supply of transport services to London, including the tubes, the buses and even, I have to say, the Boris bikes. In the event of the catastrophic failure of some of what can only be described as the Mayor of London’s escapades, the burden would fall on London fare payers, London council tax payers, London business rate payers and, eventually, the general taxpayer. That is the risk behind this Bill if it goes through unamended tonight, and this group of new clauses and amendments has been tabled to ensure that we have a proper debate. I hope that the Bill will not go through unamended, but if it does, the new clauses and amendments will at least form the agenda for a dialogue between our communities and their elected representatives and Transport for London.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. The Bill as currently drafted will be bad for the fare payer, and for the taxpayer in general, but it is also likely to be bad for those who work for Transport for London and for the communities in which the developments are likely to take place. This extraordinary cocktail of poor ideas is being pushed through, and I am not surprised to hear him say that it is being done in an atmosphere of secrecy.
I come at this objectively, without any party political motivation. I am sure that the hon. Member for Harrow East and the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster will remember when the last Government imposed the public-private partnership on London, the GLA and the then Mayor. At that point, a few of us in this House warned that it would put at risk the future of London Transport if it was forced on it, and it nearly did. This Bill has the same dangerous implications. I remember the debates on the PPP, and I think I was the first Member of Parliament to raise those concerns in the House. I urged new Labour, as it then was, to pull back. The then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, sought to ensure that the PPP would not be imposed. I have tabled new clause 1 to try to ensure that we do not go down the same route.
Members will remember that the scale of the PPP extended to £3 billion. That was the extent of the bail-out as a result of that poor legislation being imposed on the then Mayor of London against his wishes and, I believe, against the wishes of the GLA on a cross-party basis. We subsequently discovered that the cost of the imposition of that £3 billion was £400 million in accountancy and consultancy fees alone. That money was wasted, and it was an absolute scandal. The Bill that we are discussing tonight will have the same implications if we cannot amend it. I do not say this with any arrogance, but those of us who opposed the PPP were proved absolutely right, and I believe that we will be proved right about this Bill if it is allowed to go through unamended.
My hon. Friend does not need to speculate—if I may use that word—about the outcome of this Bill. He has already been proved right by the scheme that is the begetter of the Bill, the Earls Court and West Kensington scheme. It is demonstrably a terrible deal for the taxpayer and the fare payer, yet it is being used as the basis for institutionalising that type of development in legislation.
I agree. It was with some sadness that I listened to the representations of the opponents of the Bill when they presented their petitions to the Opposed Private Bill Committee and, more importantly, when they held an open meeting in this House to explain the consequences of the scheme for their homes, their businesses and their environment. It was a scandal. The problem is exactly as has been described, which is why new clause 1 is so crucial and why we have tabled amendments to the scheme. As Transport for London said in its letter to the general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, if this legislation had been in place this vehicle would have been used for that scheme. This vehicle, under this legislation, would have been more precarious than even the existing arrangements under the Earls Court scheme.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. It has not stopped TfL selling a majority interest in the site for a minority stake; and it has not stopped TfL going into a partnership where the fare payer takes all the risks and the developer takes none, and the developer is indeed represented by a £2 company that, for tax-avoidance reasons, is domiciled in Jersey. But at least we know some of the facts of that case. The deal before us is the type that TfL wishes to make the norm, rather than the exception, and wishes to hide from public scrutiny.
I absolutely concur, and I do not need to labour the point. All I can say to the hon. Member for Harrow East, with whom we have worked over the years on a range of issues in the interests of London, is that if this Bill goes through without my new clause 1 and the subsequent set of amendments, it will make the PPP look like an accounting blip. The Bill is extremely dangerous.
In addition to the financial risks involved in what some have described as a speculator’s charter, we face another potential loss. The mortgaging and development of sites could, in some cases, result in a loss of assets, particularly the land sites essential or invaluable to the future development of the improvement of London’s transport network and services.
I am not a London Member, but I am a London resident and have been for 35 years, and I am listening with mounting horror to the narrative being developed by the hon. Gentleman. I was one of those who opposed the disaster that almost sank—I hope hon. Members forgive the pun—the London underground last time out. What I am asking myself as I listen to him is: where are all the other London Members of Parliament? Why is this Chamber almost deserted, on both sides?
It is because people have not woken up to the consequences of this Bill yet. Unless someone has gone through the experience that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) has in Earls Court and seen the consequences, people do not fully understand this. The Bill is short—
The hon. Gentleman says that a number of people have not woken up to the consequences. Would that include the right hon. Members for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) and for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who all aspire to be Mayor of London?
People cannot help but introduce a bit of knockabout in all of this. I have not intervened in the mayoral election yet; I have not made any comment about any candidate so far—
I have not intervened in the London mayoralty yet either, but I keep reading of the very Members the Minister has just adumbrated. Is it a coincidence that absolutely none of them is here?
Let me abide by parliamentary convention, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understand the point being made, but if someone is to be referred to in the House, it is best to inform them in advance. Let us abide by that convention tonight. I wish to make it very clear that I am not intervening in the mayoral elections, full stop, other than to pass a few comments on issues such as the one before us.
Let me get back to the amendments and the new clause. I want to emphasise not just the financial risk but the potential loss of sites for the use of our future transport system. That is one of the main points made in the RMT’s representation to the Opposed Private Bill Committee.
These are highly technical matters. My hon. Friend has a record of getting his head round such matters, and we have had excellent briefing from the RMT and support from the petitioners in this. I am not surprised that other Members are not on top of the matter. In all fairness to those who could not be present today, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), we should not pick on individual Members. However, I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend is holding back on his endorsement of a mayoral candidate—I am sure that all the candidates are waiting for it with bated breath.
I never said—
Order. No, I know that the hon. Gentleman has not said anything. Let us take it as read that nobody in this Chamber will declare in which election camp they are. Can we now move on, as the hon. Gentleman is struggling to do, to the main point of his proposed new clause 1?
I am very, very grateful for that protection, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Let me make my final general point about this group of amendments, because the next group contains some technical details in which we will need to involve ourselves. Decisions made by Transport for London may, if this Bill is enacted, result in sites being lost to private developers that could, at a later stage, be judged essential for future transport improvements. That is the view expressed to me by people working on the front line at London transport—I am talking about RMT and other union representatives. The cost of retrieving those sites, even through compulsory purchase powers and arrangements, would then fall on the fare payers, the council tax payers, London businesses and, eventually, the general taxpayers. If this Bill goes through unamended, it will not just create enormous financial risk but put at risk the long-term development of our transport infrastructure and reduce the flexibility of Transport for London to improve services in the long term.
Let me turn now to the detail of the individual clauses. I wish to indicate now that, at some stage, I would like to press new clause 1 to a vote. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North is concerned about a whole batch of amendments, and I believe that the House should also take a view on amendment 29.
In the context of the potential enormity of the scale of charging on TfL subsidiary assets—that is, the mortgaging of these assets—and the extent of the partnerships, limited or otherwise, it is important that Transport for London and, indeed, the Mayor are absolutely open about their intentions to enter into ventures for the development of these assets. That was clearly put to us time and again by the petitioners and others.
New clause 1 contains a come-clean list and tries to ensure that people are fully informed of the Mayor’s intentions. It requires Transport for London to publish a list of non-operational assets that it holds—I will come back to the definition of non-operational because it is a slippery one that could be used in many forms in the future if we do not tie it down very tightly—or that are in the hands of a subsidiary, which it regards as eligible for development, and to band them by value.
I think that some Members will be surprised that such a list has not already been published. This is a public authority. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend has often had occasion to wonder who owns particular pieces of land. That may be for any reason to do with public nuisance, neglect, development or other matters. Should TfL not be publishing a full list of its assets, including operational and non-operational assets, whether or not they are ready for development?
Somewhere deep in the heart of TfL’s offices, there will be a list. It is not a list that has been published in this form. Individual community groups, passenger groups and trade unions have been pressing for a clear list showing TfL’s intentions for those sites.
The question of property ownership, the public listing of it and its future use is central to TfL. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) will probably want to get on to the question of Earls Court during his contribution, so may I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) to consider another example? Archway tower, next to Archway station, was built by London Transport in 1967, and the building was rapidly leased to the Department of Social Security and various other Departments. The building has now been sub-leased several times over, and a long lease has been purchased by a company called Essential Living to convert it into 120 luxury flats. We thus have 120 luxury flats adjoining a tube station with no consideration whatever having been given to the housing needs of people in the area, yet we are apparently powerless to do anything about it.
I urge Members to obtain a copy of Transport for London’s annual report and statement of accounts, to look at them and some of the documents linked to them and to identify in them a list of TfL’s assets. I have tried it. When some of the assets have been identified, we need to link the individual assets to the Mayor of London’s strategy and plan, going down from the macro policy to the micro level, to find out what will happen to a site in our constituency, but that is impossible. That is why I tabled the new clause. We just need openness and transparency.
Back in 1967—better days in many respects—in the era of Slater Walker and the rest, was not this kind of thing called asset stripping? Is the Bill not just an asset-strippers charter?
That is a valid point, but I do not want in any way to insinuate anything about the intentions of the Mayor of London, TfL and so on. Our fear is about the unintended consequences. The fear that I and some others expressed on Second Reading concerned the inability in some instances—this might have happened with Earls Court—of Transport for London officers and those directing them to negotiate effectively with people who are ruthless in the development of sites and the maximisation of their profits from those sites. That brings me back to new clause 1.
I want Transport for London to be completely open and transparent and publish a list of the properties and assets it holds and that its subsidiaries hold which it considers eligible for future development, banding them by value so that we can assess the individual values of the properties and the potential borrowing against them. The new clause requires TfL to undertake this exercise every year, because the intentions of TfL and the Mayor will change. It is therefore important that the asset list is updated as well as the list of plans associated with those assets.
Each year, the new clause will insist that Transport for London must inform Londoners of the non-operational assets it holds as well as those that are under consideration for development in which action leading to development is under way or planned in the next 12 months. Part of the problem arising from Earls Court and some of the other discussions is that some people did not even know who owned some of the site and the Mayor and Transport for London were never completely open about their intentions. The new clause will ensure that we know who owns the sites and what sites TfL has, and will also ensure that TfL comes clean about what it intends to do with those sites, whether it be development with a partner, selling the site off or using it to borrow money, as specified under the Bill, to indemnify itself against costs.
The new clause is extremely sensible, for the reasons that have been set out. It may well also assist TfL as I suspect that, despite my hon. Friend’s confidence, TfL probably does not know where some of its assets are. In my experience, it certainly does not know their value, and that is the cause of mistakes in how it disposes of property. Notwithstanding the fact that I have put my name to the new clause, I would quarrel with the reference to commencement within the next 12 months. In some instances—I shall expand on this point if I have the opportunity to do so—development is planned and proposed but for operational or other reasons the plans are made several years ahead.
Okay, let us have that argument. The reason I specified 12 months is that I think it is a realistic timetable for concretising the plans that TfL and the Mayor have for a site, so that they are more focused on being absolutely clear about what is imminent. I agree that it would be good to have a longer-term plan, but I think that 12 months is more realistic, given that the Mayor has a five-year period in office.
I understand what my hon. Friend says, but the example I was thinking of is Lillie Bridge depot, which is the third element of the Earls Court site. At the moment we are being told that development might happen in five or six years’ time, but I fear that in the interim—it is not only a major employment site for skilled labour, but a manufacturing site and a key site for TfL—it is being run down or that other changes are being made that will make unsuitable development a fait accompli.
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I am trying to be as realistic as possible about the burdens we place on Transport for London and the Mayor. I say to the hon. Member for Harrow East that it is worth looking at the Lillie Bridge site, and speaking with some of the workers there, to see how it is being degraded over time, which I think is with a view to selling it off and bartering with a developer.
I know that I am a signatory to new clause 1, but I must press the point about 12 months, which I think is wholly inadequate. If we look at just one aspect of London Underground, the Victoria line, we see that the number of trains on the line is now double the amount that it was originally planned to take, which means there is great difficulty packing those trains on to the sidings at Northumberland Park, and the same applies to every other line. We need far more than a 12-month look ahead; we need to look ahead 10 or 20 years for the continued growth of transport in London and the need for land and facilities to accommodate it, rather than doing nothing now and spending a lot of money buying them back from the private sector at a later date.
I understand my hon. Friend’s argument, and I do not want to fall out with him—it is a good job that I did not announce my candidature, because I would have expected him to nominate me—but I am just trying to be as realistic as possible. He makes a valid point: there has to be some display of Transport for London’s medium and longer-term intentions for individual sites.
I, too, am a signatory to the new clause, but I, too, am persuaded by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) in this regard. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) is being unusually moderate and reasonable, and he keeps saying that he does not want to insinuate anything about TfL or about the Mayor, so I wonder whether this is indeed a mayoral election speech we are hearing.
Credibility is sinking in this House. I will not rise to that comment, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I hope that the Bill does not go through tonight, so that we can address the amendments we have tabled. That will give us the opportunity to look at the new clause and see—let me put it this way, in order to be helpful—whether we can ensure that information is provided by Transport for London and the Mayor on both a short-term assessment of the use of a planned asset or site and a medium-term option within at least the lifetime of a mayoralty. I think that might be a useful compromise—I do not want to be accused of going soft on these issues. I raise that point with the hon. Member for Harrow East because I think it is important.
The purpose of clauses 4, 5 and 6, we are told by the Bill’s promoters, is to enable the Mayor and Transport for London to enter into deals with private sector partners. These are development companies, and the aim is to develop TfL’s or its subsidiaries’ sites to secure a revenue stream to compensate for the 25% cut in Government grant to Transport for London and eventually for the complete loss of all central Government grant. How do we know that? It was raised on Second Reading and we sought confirmation from the Minister, who said:
“The outcome of the 2013 spending review was a 25% cut in TfL’s operational funding from central Government, and we have been clear that the Government’s aim is to reduce TfL’s operational funding over time to zero.”—[Official Report, 9 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 853.]
So the purpose behind the Bill is to ensure that TfL raises another income stream to compensate for the Government’s cut in grant.
We need to examine the scale of the grant cut, which will be reflected in the potential scale of the use of the asset base. That is another reason why it is crucial that we get a definition and a list of TfL’s asset base on a value banded basis, as set out in new clause 1. I worry about the scale of income that TfL is looking to deliver from its asset base in proportion to the loss of grant.
I have no objection to TfL developing its non-operational land or retaining a stake in that land and deriving an income from it. What I object to—I think my hon. Friend agrees with me on this point—is the vehicles that TfL is using for doing that, and the underlying secrecy and inconsistency. Having set that out as a policy, in cases where it suits TfL—I am thinking of another site in my constituency, Shepherd’s Bush market—it simply threw up its hands and said, “We’re going to sell the asset anyway.”
I disagree. I agree about the importance of new clause 1 requiring a list of assets, but I inserted the identification of their value by band because I am worried about the scale of the overall risk if, for example, as in the Bill, all or any of these assets can be used against borrowing—can be charged or mortgaged to secure borrowing. The scale of that risk is enormous. If we look at the scale of the loss of grant, which is the funding gap that Transport for London and the Mayor are trying to deal with, that will give us an idea of the scale of the use of TfL’s assets for borrowing purposes and development deal purposes, and the risk that Londoners could then face. It is enormous.
I have looked at Transport for London’s annual report and accounts. They are not easy reading. For 2013 the total amount of grant aid from central Government, excluding Crossrail, for general and capital grants was £3.2 billion. On page 140 of the annual report and accounts for 2013-14, table 9 shows the entitlement of grant income which identifies the non-ring-fenced grant from the Department for Transport to Transport for London, which is £632.8 million. Non-ring-fenced grant to fund capital from the Department for Transport is £1,578.4 million. So when the Minister talks about reducing the Department for Transport grant to Transport for London to zero, the magnitude of the sum that the Mayor and Transport for London want to raise from these deals with private developers or to borrow against these assets becomes clear. It is staggering. It is enormous—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is drifting into a debate that is the subject of the second set of amendments, which is borrowing. I understand that the two arguments are linked, but I caution the hon. Gentleman that he more he does that, the more it reflects on the second group.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Because Transport for London is using sites to enter into a relationship with developers from which it can get an income stream, and linking that to a mortgage to cover borrowing as well, the two activities are integrally linked. I understand what Madam Deputy Speaker is saying and I will try to separate my remarks about them, but that is difficult because the same clauses cover both.
Order. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I simply caution him that although one debate reflects on another, that may lead to repetition, which we want to avoid later in the evening, so please stay focused on the first group of amendments.
Thank you for that advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will abide by it, of course.
I do not want to go off the rails that Madam Deputy Speaker has just set, but this “Mind the gap” that the hon. Gentleman is crying goes to the heart of the matter. Is not new clause 1 the place to deal with this? The Bill is driven by the gap that the Government and the Department for Transport have indicated to this Mayor of London—any Mayor of London—and the Mayor and TfL are being driven to asset-strip public assets. Left-wing thinking has moved on. Even the hon. Gentleman’s left-wing thinking has moved on. In principle we are not against public bodies earning money from non-performing assets that they hold, but we are not prepared to do so in secrecy and using dodgy vehicles in the Channel islands or parts even more exotic than that.
Let me focus on the issue that Madam Deputy Speaker raised. TfL is trying to bridge a gap as a result of loss of Government grant. We will come on to the borrowing issues on the second group of amendments. One of the methods, as in Earls Court, is to enter into deals with private developers to secure some form of revenue income from the asset that is then developed.
I understand all that. I was chair of finance on the Greater London council. At 29 I was responsible for a £3 billion budget. What we did was exactly that. We had a capital fund that was agreed on a cross-party basis, secured against the assets of London overall. That is not a risk. We had the assets, we could go to the City and borrow from the City. We would put it into a pool. I think the system was established by a Conservative administration and inherited by a Labour one. We had cross-party agreement that that was the way in which we would go forward. It was not on the basis of mortgaging the individual assets and going into a link-up with a private developer, and it was certainly not about the development of sites to give revenue income in that way.
The point of new clause 1 is that I do not object in principle to going into some forms of partnership for the development of a site that will secure a valid revenue income. The issue is exactly as the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) said—it must be open, transparent and agreed with the local community, London boroughs and all the other stakeholders: the passenger representatives, the trade unions on behalf of their members, and so on. It has to be a way of going forward together and that is not happening. That is why new clause 1 is so relevant.
Is my friend aware that up till the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, any sale of land by a public body had to be offered to another public body first and had to fit into the local district plan? It was the abolition of that which set us into this dangerous area where freehold land is often sold on and it is therefore impossible to develop, for example, railway infrastructure.
I recall that that legislation operated almost on the basis of giving first refusal to another public body—often another local authority. Then, if the land was genuinely surplus to requirements, it would be offered for sale, or, in some instances, there were joint initiatives. I remember the GLC working with the London boroughs on that basis.
My hon. Friend is getting to the nub of the issue that his new clause seeks to address, which is that, frightened by the idea that it will lose substantial amounts of grant, TfL is rushing into deals to try to maximise its income. At the Earls Court exhibition centre site, all that will be built is luxury housing, with no affordable housing. At the Shepherd’s Bush market site, the market will be lost and luxury flats will be built. The one redeeming factor—that TfL might raise some money—is mitigated by the fact that it is entering into terrible deals. It ruins the communities where it develops and does not benefit the fare payer in the way that it intends.
The purpose of the new clause is to provide a list of assets and the intentions, or ambitions, that the Mayor has for the development of those assets to secure additional income. Another reason for the requirement to publish such a prospective asset development list is to ensure that these potential development sites are known to all interested parties. It has emerged in the discussions so far—Earls Court is the best example, but there may be others—that unless there is an open and transparent process and lists of available assets are produced, the information becomes almost private and there is an arrangement with an individual developer rather than a proper open, competitive process whereby others can make proposals for the site. In addition, unless there is clarity about the sites that TfL has and its intentions for them, local authorities, for example, are prevented from coming forward with their views about how they could work together with TfL on using the sites for the better development of the whole community as well as transport.
That is exactly so. I wonder whether, in drafting new clause 1, my hon. Friend intended—I think he has now explained that he did—to address these other evils: first, with all the sites we have mentioned, a deal is made with a single developer, without advertisement or competition, so we have no idea whether the market has been tested; and secondly, the developer then enters into a deal, usually a master-plan agreement, that then dictates to the local planning authorities how the land should be developed. That is exactly the wrong way in which local development plans should work.
That sort of process is a scandal, to be frank. We would not tolerate it in other public bodies, and I do not understand why we are allowing it to happen with TfL.
The whole purpose of having the lists proposed in new clause 1 is to make sure that the information is genuinely public. At the moment, even some of the people living on these sites are unaware of TfL’s ambitions. They were certainly not consulted about, or, at some stages, even aware of, the Earls Court development. I want to ensure that those who live on or have businesses on the sites or near them and the London boroughs and the communities in which they are located are fully aware of, fully conversant with, and fully informed about TfL’s asset base and its intentions for the assets within their area. If an asset is listed by TfL publishing information in this way, those stakeholders, including TfL’s employees and subsidiaries, will have at least an early warning of the development prospects of the site or asset in question.
This is one of the critical issues raised at the Opposed Bill Committee hearing on Tuesday 13 January 2015. I refer in particular to the evidence provided by Greater London Assembly member, Mr Murad Qureshi, on the basis of whose statements I tried to draft the new clause. Paragraph 115 of his evidence contains a startling example of the lack of information being provided by TfL. He said that his concerns about the whole Bill, particularly clause 5, relate to TfL’s transparency as a public body. Further on in his evidence, it emerged that the GLA had had to go through a freedom of information process to obtain information about TfL’s land holdings. It cannot be right that a public, democratically elected body has had to go through that process. In paragraph 116, he cited the Earls Court development as a perfect example of a TfL asset being developed with a lack of transparency on its decision making. In paragraph 122, he said that, to gain information on TfL’s planned investment programme, the GLA’s budget and performance committee—not individual members but a committee—was forced to make a freedom of information request. In paragraph 241, he sums up the fears that GLA members have about the secrecy and lack of transparency of TfL’s activities. Throughout the evidence session, petitioners gave examples of the difficulties they faced in securing any information about the plans that TfL and the Mayor had for the development and use of TfL’s and its subsidiaries’ assets. That was raised continually.
The new clause would ensure that at least one report is published that brings together all the information to which Londoners, London boroughs, the City of London corporation—if we have not abolished it by then—passenger groups and TfL’s own employees can refer when they want to know what assets TfL and its subsidiaries hold, but more importantly, what plans TfL and its subsidiaries, and therefore the Mayor, have for the development or use of these assets. This is a simple exercise in openness and transparency, and I cannot see why anyone, least of all TfL and its subsidiaries and the Mayor, would object to it.
I think that people would be shocked to find that the GLA has had to use quasi-legal processes to obtain information from TfL. There is nothing new about TfL being a secretive body. I remember dealing with it 30 years ago over the appalling development of Hammersmith centre. I hoped that the GLA and the Mayor would provide some democratic accountability in that regard, but my hon. Friend’s example shows that that is clearly not happening. It is therefore all the more necessary that we put into statute the responsibility that TfL should have.
As I said, this is a simple exercise; it is not difficult to do. In fact, most local authorities regularly undertake an asset base review that is published, and will often be translated into a link with their planning policies as well, so that people can know about these sites.
The new clause was drafted in the context of the deep suspicion that has arisen about the Mayor’s and TfL’s intentions with regard to linking up with private developers on grandiose development schemes that could curtail or impede the use of TfL’s land holdings and other assets for the long-term improvements of London’s transport network. Londoners, especially London’s elected representatives on the GLA and the London boroughs, have expressed their concerns about whether the rush to use TfL’s and its subsidiaries’ assets to bridge the current projected funding gap is overriding sound investment and operational judgments—indeed, at times, common sense—in relation to the use of those assets.
On Second Reading, hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed concern about TfL’s capacity to negotiate these schemes. At the evidence session on 13 January, people questioned whether TfL and its subsidiaries and the Mayor have the expertise to exercise sound judgments in the necessary negotiations with developers and development partners to determine what use an asset will be put to. They queried what ratio of benefit will be allocated to TfL and its subsidiaries, as against the benefit derived by the private sector partner, and what value for money TfL, and therefore London council tax payers and fare payers, will achieve in these deals.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point, which was also raised on Second Reading by myself, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and others. We keep coming back to the Earls Court site, but it is a £12 billion development—the largest in London—and TfL jobs, affordable homes and one of London’s premier exhibition centres are being lost to provide, in effect, safe-deposit flats that probably no one will live in. TfL’s judgment has to be seriously brought into question even before we turn to the finances.
New clause 1 will inform all stakeholders and interested parties that an asset held by TfL is being considered for use in a development deal and that action is under way or being planned over the next 12 months to use it in some way. That information will trigger the interest of stakeholders and enable them to gear up for discussions and consultations with TfL about the development and use of that asset. If the new clause is agreed to, no more would we see communities and local authorities shocked and surprised to find, late in the day and contrary to their wishes, that a site in their area has been included in a development deal with a private development company.
The proposal for the publication of a list of TfL’s and its subsidiaries’ assets and a statement of TfL’s intentions for them also goes to the heart of the concern of many hon. Members and others in relation to clauses 4 and 5. They are anxious about the Mayor’s ambition to use the vast range and magnitude of TfL’s and its subsidiaries’ assets to secure borrowing, which we will come to in the second group of amendments. There is concern that TfL’s standing could be put in serious jeopardy.
This is simply about ensuring that people are properly informed about the intentions, so that they can calculate the risk involved. The proposed report would be an invaluable tool in enabling all stakeholders to hold TfL and the Mayor to account if they launch a new venture as part of large-scale property development deals. Hon. Members should not underestimate TfL’s massive asset base—it has 3,000 properties across London—and in particular the assets located in central London. Those historic inherited sites are located in the most lucrative parts of the city, which private developers have an interest in developing. In fact, it is widely known in property circles that property developers from across the world are desperate to engage in dialogue with TfL on the prospect of gaining access to those sites and, to be frank, of running rings around TfL and the Mayor and walking away with massive profits.
There is a risk in so many TfL sites and assets coming into the market as part of such development deals. A report requiring TfL to identify the value of the assets, in bands, and its plans for the asset sites over the next 12 months would at least result in a proper assessment taking place. The report would shed critical light on both the quantum and the timing of the potential risk to TfL, Londoners, passengers, employees and council tax payers. That is why new clause 1 is so fundamental to the Bill.
The parallel with the requirements on Network Rail to consider the effect of disposed-of land assets on future rail usage is interesting. Despite its being a private company—albeit Government-owned—Network Rail protects future rail usage and rail lines, even to the extent of protecting land on disused lines. Such a requirement does not appear to fall on TfL with regard to its own use of development sites in future. Will my hon. Friend comment on that?
We will come on to that issue later, and I am sure my hon. Friend will take it up when he speaks to his own amendments.
Without the publication of information about the ownership of sites and the intentions for them, there is real uncertainty about the Mayor’s intentions for specific sites. That is what we are worried about.
In conclusion on new clause 1, this new clause is fundamental to the Bill if Londoners are to be protected against the flights of speculation of TfL under the direction of, and perhaps pressure from, the Mayor, whoever he or she may be, and speculative developers from across the globe, including some—this has been mentioned with regard to the Earls Court site—who are linked to tax-avoiding companies and corporations, including oligarchs with doubtful histories and backgrounds.
On the agreement entered into on the Earls Court exhibition centre, the publication of such a list might reveal that, on Earls Court 1, which is the largest piece of land, the developer held a relatively short lease on the property and the freehold and the reversion remained with TfL. However, TfL has a 37% stake in that joint venture company, which means that it has a minority of votes on the board. Effectively, it has surrendered all decision making on the site to the developer, but, should the developer of this £2 company go bust, the taxpayer would be left with the liability.
I would hope that a publication in which TfL indicated its plans for specific sites would include information about which companies and corporations it is dealing with as partners. On the Earls Court development, there are real concerns that TfL has got into bed with a company that is based in a tax haven, and I believe that some directors of individual companies have been prosecuted. That allegation has been made before on the Floor of the House and I think it is accurate.
Order. Before you make your next intervention, Mr Slaughter, do you think you could make them a bit shorter? They are getting very long. It is obviously short-hand intervention except when it is a Slaughter intervention. Please be brief.
Shorter, not Slaughter—I appreciate that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I simply want to say, for the avoidance of doubt, that it is true that some of the partner organisations involved in the Earls Court development have been convicted of fraud, but not on the TfL-owned land and not including Capco, which is the major developer. It has many faults, but that is not one of them.
In developments of TfL assets, it is important to have full transparency on the relationship with individual companies. I say that in the light of the report published last week, which stated:
“Hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of UK properties held in secretive offshore companies have been used to launder the proceeds of international corruption”.
That has been identified by Scotland Yard. The report went on:
“The scale of the problem has been revealed by Transparency International on Wednesday, with the anti-corruption campaign group warning that the UK has become ‘a safe haven for corrupt capital stolen from around the world’.”
It is absolutely critical to ensure openness and transparency on the proposals for individual sites to guard against TfL and others entering into relationships with companies and corporations that we do not consider appropriate.
I now turn to new clause 2, which is another attempt to safeguard the assets with regard to landholdings that may be required for the development of the transport network in London. In its submission to Members of the House, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has publicly made a point with which I fully concur. Its briefing quite clearly sets out the anxiety about the loss of potential sites, saying that new clause 2 will therefore ensure that when TfL or any subsidiary seeks to lease or develop such sites, there is full consultation with the local communities likely to be affected, the Greater London Authority, London boroughs, the City of London and relevant trade unions. That consultation has to take place before Transport for London or any subsidiary enters into a contract involving the development of land other than for the provision or maintenance of transport services.
I fully support new clause 2 and, indeed, all the amendments tabled in my hon. Friend’s name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I fear that this is my last intervention. Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will think it no discourtesy to the House if I say that an unbreakable constituency commitment means that I am unable to participate further in the debate or to join my hon. Friends in the Lobby. Nevertheless, I put on the record my great concerns about the Bill. I hope that it will be fully debated tonight, and that it will not pass in its current form, because that would do a serious injustice not only to my constituents, but to all Londoners.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interventions.
claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 29).
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now proposed.
16 March 2015
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Question accordingly proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.
Minister, do you want to speak?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I will explain to the House what has happened before I take the point of order. The procedural motion that we just agreed to was that the motion be proposed, because the mover was on his feet. That means that the motion on new clause 1 has been proposed and the debate continues. It was not a closure motion, but what is called the Golding closure. The Minister needs to decide whether he would like to speak on new clause 1, because we are now debating new clause 1 and the other amendments on the selection list. Are there any takers?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Okay. This is very unusual, but I call Mr Corbyn on a point of order.
I am unclear from the response you are getting from those on the Treasury Bench, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether the Minister intends to speak. Can you make that clear or ensure that it is made clear for the benefit of the House? After all, we are considering the disposal of a vast amount of public assets in this Bill and I would have thought that, at the very least, the Government would have a view on that.
That is not a point of order for the Chair. I cannot make the Minister speak.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a zombie Parliament and this is a grand—[Interruption.]
Order. Let us not—[Interruption.] Mr Kawczynski, please! Just one moment. Can we deal with this point of order, make sure that every Member knows what they are doing and try to proceed with the business? I would like to hear what Mr Galloway’s point of order is.
This is a grand theft auto Bill concerning billions of pounds of public assets. A closure motion was moved after just over an hour, which the Opposition did not turn up for, except in the case of 14 people, and now the Minister will not even speak on the matter. What kind of Parliament is this? [Interruption.]
Order. [Interruption.] Just one moment, Minister. That is not a point of order for me. Let us be clear that we are now debating new clause 1 and the other amendments in the group.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Just one moment, Mr McDonnell. Please allow me to make sure that everybody understands; perhaps then there will be fewer points of order. We are on new clause 1 and the other amendments on the selection list. The next speaker is the sponsor of the Bill.
I rise to respond to the very long and detailed speech made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell).
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Not yet—I have not even started my speech. I expect to make some progress before taking an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.
The Bill started in the other place in November 2010. It has gone through Second Reading in this place and an Opposed Private Bill Committee, where there was the opportunity to make many interventions and many changes. After Second Reading in this place, the proposers approached all those who opposed the Bill, as I suggested they should, to encourage them to develop their concerns so that there was an opportunity to understand those concerns and to amend the legislation, if necessary. The reality is that they have moved substantially and I want to respond on the details.
The coalition Government have moved towards devolved government in London and across the country. Amendments 21 to 29 would take power away from the Mayor of London and require the Secretary of State to intervene. That is a centralising move that the House should reject absolutely, as more power is being devolved to the regions and to London in particular.
Briefly on new clause 1, the disposal of non-operational assets is covered by section 163 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, which was introduced by the last Labour Government and has been added to since. The review that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington proposes in the new clause would be extremely expensive. That cost would fall on the taxpayer and the fare payer.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
I will give way after I make this point. On the visibility of Transport for London’s property portfolio, there is already a searchable website that any hon. Member, member of the public or interested party can search to establish what property holdings Transport for London has right across the capital. I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to look at that website and see the opportunities that exist.
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, he argues that it is too expensive to produce a list under new clause 1, but on the other he says that a list exists. The new clause will ensure that Transport for London publishes a list not only of its assets, but of its plans for those assets. That is the whole issue in this debate—the lack of openness and transparency from Transport for London about the development of its intentions for individual sites, as we have seen with the disastrous consequences for Earls Court, where 700 homes were lost to the local community. Do the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of Transport for London, and the Mayor of London oppose new clause 1 to maintain that level of secrecy in their relationship with private developers?
The reality is that the Greater London authority and assembly exist to scrutinise the work of the Mayor and Transport for London. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that they are not doing their job, he should condemn the members of that assembly. We should be placing power in the hands of Transport for London to carry out the functions we want, and to open up capacity for housing that is desperately required by Londoners. We must then ensure that that work is subject to scrutiny by the GLA and assembly members.
Has the hon. Gentleman read the witness account from the Opposed Private Bill Committee? At that Committee, as I said earlier, a Greater London assembly member reported that the assembly’s own budgetary committee had to use freedom of information requests to gain information from Transport for London about the use of its moneys and assets. The lack of scrutiny is a result of the impediment placed by TfL in the way of Greater London assembly members. Will he read the transcript of evidence to the Opposed Private Bill Committee that was presented to the House?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is a shame that the details he cites were not reflected in the amendments that were finally tabled only a few days ago—if that—so that the sponsors of the Bill and Members that support it could analyse them.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said that the amendments were tabled late—I think that is the allegation—and that the sponsors of the Bill could not respond. The amendments were placed before the Clerks in time—[Interruption.]
Order. One second. Do not worry; relax. Let me have a little look at this. I assure the House that the amendments were not tabled late by the hon. Gentleman. There was a mistake in the Table Office, but that has absolutely nothing to do with what is being said. We do not need any more points of order on that as we have clarified the matter well. I am sure, Mr Blackman, that we will proceed in a courteous way.
Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker.
On new clause 2, the issue of securing consent for the disposal of land owned by TfL is well established in section 163 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. It includes a statutory regime for the disposal of former operational land, including requirements for the Secretary of State’s consent. The sponsors of the Bill therefore consider that further consent would be unnecessary and undesirable.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned housing in London and the disposal of assets to meet housing needs. Is he aware that under permitted development rights, the conversion of office or industrial property does not require local planning consent so there is no social housing content to it? Does he accept that the Bill would be strengthened no end if there was a requirement that the disposal of property for housing purposes must reflect local housing needs in the area where that property is disposed of?
Order. Let me help with the debate, which we want to get under way. Mr Corbyn, I want you to save your speech for when you seek to catch my eye, rather than use it now on an intervention.
I reject the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and the point behind it. On behalf of the—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not take any more interventions, as we have gone on long enough—[Interruption.]