More broadly, has not this highly prescriptive league table measure, and its arbitrary subject selection, already damaged the deliverability of Professor Wolf’s vision by relegating vocational learning to second-division status in the public mind and in the minds of schools? The Secretary of State mentioned a two-tier system, but is that not precisely what this Government are creating—an

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elitist, two-tier system in which parents have fewer rights on admissions, making it more difficult for them to get their children into good schools? The parent voice is diminished. Creative and practical subjects are crucial to the quality vocational education that Professor Wolf advocates, but they are already a devalued currency in our schools because of the Secretary of State’s actions. Where is the creativity in his English baccalaureate? Student choice has been affected by the subject choice in the bac.

I say again to the Secretary of State that it is time he thought again about the English baccalaureate and allowed more breadth, flexibility and choice so that it caters for the talents of all students? A school system that works for everyone cannot be designed around the requirements of the Russell group. With 103 Members calling for RE at the very least to be added to the baccalaureate, is it not now time for another of the Secretary of State’s famous U-turns?

The deliverability of Professor Wolf’s vision is also affected by some of the Secretary of State’s actions in other areas. Professor Wolf rightly stresses the importance of a quality careers service to inform young people about their options—surely even more important in a world where young people are struggling to make their way. Yet as we speak, the careers service in England is simply melting away. We welcome the vision of an all-age careers service, but we ask again today: where is the long-promised transition plan to deliver it? That is yet another example of the Secretary of State’s trademark incompetence.

Given that careers advisers are being made redundant now, how will the Secretary of State secure the quality of service that Professor Wolf demands? Yesterday, we sought to amend his Bill to give young people a guarantee of face-to-face guidance in our schools. At a time when youth unemployment is at a record high and access to further and higher education is becoming more difficult, is not the web and telephony-based service proposed by the Government completely inadequate to the scale of the task?

The Government mouth platitudes about social mobility, as the Secretary of State did today, but they are systematically kicking away the ladders of support that help young people to get on in life. More young people in further education colleges on vocational courses are receiving education maintenance allowance than those in school sixth-form colleges, and they need that money to buy equipment for their courses. Will not the scrapping of the EMA hit those young people disproportionately hard, and, again, make Professor Wolf’s vision hard to deliver? Colleges and students are four months away from the start of the academic year, and are still none the wiser about what they will receive under the Secretary of State’s replacement scheme. Not for the first time, he has taken a successful policy and turned it into a shambles. Is it not time to listen to no less an organisation than the OECD, and reinstate the EMA scheme? Without it, how will the Secretary of State’s commitment to raising the school leaving age become a reality?

Professor Wolf’s report raises issues that go to the heart of the need to secure the prosperity of our country and a decent future for our young people, but by their actions the Government are taking hope away from our

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young people. Unless they change course quickly—on curriculum reform, the careers service, EMA and university fees—the Government’s legacy will be a lost generation of young people.

Michael Gove: I thank the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for his response, and welcome him back to the Dispatch Box, on day release from his other job as Labour’s election co-ordinator. May I say how much we on the Government Benches are enjoying the progress he is making in that job? From Dartford and Dover to Aberconwy and Pembrokeshire, from North Lincolnshire to Southampton, Conservative councillors who won last Thursday are delighted with the progress he is making, and so are we. The longer he stays in that role, the happier all of us will be.

May I also welcome the fact that, when the right hon. Gentleman returned to his part-time role as shadow Education Secretary, he found time to endorse many of our recommendations? I welcome the support he has given to our aims of improving numeracy and literacy and ensuring that students over the age of 16 who have not secured GCSE passes in English and maths have an opportunity to acquire appropriate qualifications in those subjects.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a good question about multiple measures and the importance of ensuring that we do not create an accountability system that is too complex, but as he himself acknowledged and as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chairman of the Select Committee, there must be a golden mean between having so many targets that teachers are pulled in different directions, and having only one target that distorts the performance of all schools. I believe that the balanced basket of accountability targets that we are introducing reflects what teachers believe—namely, that all students of all abilities need to have their achievements recognised, that the autonomy should be over how schools teach and how the school day is organised, and that in return for greater autonomy there should be sharper accountability.

Talking of sharper accountability, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the English baccalaureate. He seemed to suggest—or, at least, seemed to want to lead the House to believe—that Professor Wolf was unhappy with it. On Saturday 12 March Professor Wolf wrote in The Guardian:

“Andy Burnham… is quoted as saying”

that she had said there was

“a ‘serious risk’ that the English bac will lead to schools ‘simply ignoring’ less academically able students. This misrepresents what I said.”

She also wrote:

“For the record, may I also note that the English bac subjects would normally absorb less than 80% of a teaching week. Both it and many other ‘academic’ clusters are therefore perfectly compatible with my recommendations for curriculum balance for 14 to 16-year-olds.”

Professor Wolf deserves better than to be traduced in that way by the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to careers advice. Let me politely point out to him that the person appointed to lead on social mobility for the previous

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Government, Alan Milburn, said that we should move away from the failed connection system and adopt a new approach, giving

“Schools and colleges… direct responsibility for providing information, advice and guidance”.

Moreover, Professor Alison Wolf pointed out in evidence to the Select Committee that the “problem with careers guidance” had been the model that the right hon. Gentleman prefers: a model that was stuck in the past, with “one poor teacher” being expected to know about everything. That, she said, had been supplanted by a more modern measure enabling skilled careers advisers and “proper, online, updated information” to provide students with the right answers.

I am afraid that, not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman has been found out in his old Labour ways. He has been in office for 200 days. During that time he said that our academies programme would be divisive, but more than 1,000 great teachers have embraced it. He said that free schools would generate poverty and dislocation, but the best and brightest in Labour are now embracing their radical appeal. Today he has said that the coalition Government have got it wrong on vocational education. Given his record, I am delighted to find the right hon. Gentleman sitting opposite me today.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. I am particularly pleased about the apprenticeships. The fact that young people in my constituency are now able to apply directly to Rolls-Royce and Toyota for apprenticeships is a major step forward.

Michael Gove: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Having had an opportunity to visit Rolls-Royce just over a month ago, I can confirm that the apprenticeships it offers are highly sought after, and that students from all over Derbyshire and the east and west midlands recognise that it is precisely that kind of high-quality private sector apprenticeship that we should facilitate.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Like many others, I gave evidence to the Wolf inquiry. I approve of much of the report and consider it to be a breath of fresh air, but I remind the Secretary of State that he made his statement on a day on which we heard that a million young people are unemployed. We know that only 6% of kids aged between 16 and 18 obtain apprenticeships, and only 36% go on to higher education. Given the tremendous challenge posed by the participation rate moving to 17 and then 18, may we have Wolf mark 2, 3 and 4?

Michael Gove: As ever, the hon. Gentleman shows why he was seen as such a distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee. He is right to point out that the record of the last 13 years is not nearly as bright or as promising as Opposition Front Benchers would have us believe, and to suggest that we need more work from Professor Wolf and others to ensure that our vocational and academic education systems keep in touch with the 21st century. That is why I am so delighted that Professor Wolf will remain an adviser to the Government to ensure the implementation of the report and, indeed, the succeeding measures that we hope to take.

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Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Professor Wolf might not have thought that the English baccalaureate on its own could distort and harm outcomes for the poorest in our schools, but I have to say that the Chairman of the Select Committee feels that it could. However, I welcome what the Secretary of State has said today about building a balanced score card. Can we work to create a consensus across the House that what we need is an assessment and accountability framework that gives equal weight to the progress of every child? We do not want too complicated a set of targets, but we need a system that works, allowing schools to get on with it and deliver for everyone.

Michael Gove: That is a very good point. It is rather a shame that the view of some Labour Members—which is not shared by my hon. Friend—is that working-class children cannot achieve academic excellence. [Interruption.] I am afraid that that is the view of Opposition Front Benchers. Labour Members therefore feel that this is somehow an unfair and elitist measure, but I think that it is an aspirational measure. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need to ensure that all the abilities of all children are recognised, whatever their background. Labour Members need to return to the aspirational educational model that we saw under Lord Adonis, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and the former right hon. Member for Sedgefield, which was sadly abandoned three years ago.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I welcome Professor Wolf’s report, which has also been welcomed by the Association of Colleges. I note two points in particular: the suggestion that maths and English education should be continued for youngsters over the age of 16 who are on vocational courses and who did not achieve grade C at GCSE, and the suggestion that vocational studies in schools should be limited to 20% of the curriculum, with 80% devoted to traditional subjects. Will the Secretary of State make those statutory requirements, or will they have only advisory status?

Michael Gove: On the continuation of the study of maths and English after the age of 16, we will, in the context of raising the participation age, explore legislative and other options to ensure that all children have the opportunity to follow those paths,. On the related question of the 80:20 split, Professor Wolf says that to ensure the maximum chance of progressing along academic and vocational pathways, there should be an academic core up to the age of 16. She also argues that it is a good thing for all students to experience some practical learning. That is not prescriptive; it is a guide, and one of the points she makes is that university technical colleges, which have a longer school day and school week, can have a full academic core as well as a significant additional layer of practical learning on top.

Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con): Before coming to the Chamber today, I addressed a business breakfast on the edge of my right hon. Friend’s constituency and mine. Is he as concerned as I am about the finding in the CBI survey published this week that 40% of firms are not satisfied with the basic literacy of school and college leavers and that more than a third are not satisfied with

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basic levels of numeracy? Does he believe that the measures he has announced today will help to reverse that sad state of affairs?

Michael Gove: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He speaks very effectively for the businessmen of Surrey, who are doing so much to provide opportunities for young people, and I have to say that he is absolutely right: one of the major complaints from employers is that there are bright, intelligent, get-up-and-go young people who, sadly, have left the school system without the numeracy and literacy required to fit into almost any modern role. There is no more important task for this Government than to get those basics right, and I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Leigh for acknowledging that in the first part of his response.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): May I test the Secretary of State’s commitment to poorer students? Will he give a guarantee today that poor students in St Helens will get more money and support than under the old system?

Michael Gove: Yes.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that it is a sign of the last Government’s failure to improve education that more than 250,000 children left school last year without a C grade in GCSE maths and English?

Mr Speaker: Order. The short answer is no, and let me repeat to the hon. Gentleman what I have already had reason to say to him several times: questions must be about the policy of the current Government. I have made that point to him before, and he has breached the requirement several times. He will not do so again.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I want to follow on from the question of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts). Riverside college is a really good college in my constituency, but it has faced major funding cuts from the Secretary of State’s Government. Given that he has just guaranteed increased funding for students in St Helens, will he also give the same guarantee to students in my constituency of Halton?

Michael Gove: As soon as word gets out that we are engaging in one-to-one negotiations across the green Benches, I expect that the Chamber will rapidly fill up, even though there is a one-line Whip. I would repeat the point I made to the hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) to all Members: thanks to the coalition Government’s commitment to the pupil premium and to our reforms of 16-to-19 learning, the most disadvantaged students will receive more money. That is all thanks to our commitment to social justice.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and place on record my thanks to Professor Wolf for her excellent report? Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about the delivery of these very important reforms? In particular, has he looked closely at the US community college

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system, which has been extremely successful in delivering these kinds of reforms to very hard-to-reach young people?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend has campaigned for a better deal for poorer students ever since he first came to this House, and I agree that we must look at international models of good practice. The university technical colleges that this Government are committed to introducing provide a new model that caters for students of different aptitudes, and I believe we can learn a lot from some of the best practice in the United States.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State said in his statement that the purpose of his radical reform programme was to make “opportunity more equal”. Does he accept, however, that it is difficult to realise that aim while local authorities are not being treated equally? For example, in my local authority of Luton there are 3.1 pupils per family, compared with the English average of 1.9. Does the Secretary of State agree that, for Professor Wolf’s review recommendations to be successful, he must fund the measures properly?

Michael Gove: I am not sure what levers I have at my disposal to ensure that other parts of the country can enjoy the same family size as Luton is blessed with. On the broader point of making sure there is funding for Luton, as the hon. Gentleman knows, Luton is blessed with many excellent schools, such as Denbigh high school, which Dame Yasmin Bevan leads, and the Barnfield group of academies and studio schools. I look forward to visiting Luton shortly, when I will have an opportunity to talk to head teachers there. I hope I might also have an opportunity to talk to the hon. Gentleman about what more we can do to help continue the success stories in his constituency.

Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): De Vere catering academy in my constituency offers dozens of aspiring young people the opportunity of a high-quality, employer-led apprenticeship. Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about what is being done to ease the path for other employers to follow its lead?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There is cross-party commitment to apprenticeships. Unfortunately, however, while they are well intentioned and justifiable in themselves, some of the bureaucracy surrounding the way in which the Skills Funding Agency has supported apprenticeships, some of the requirements that have been placed on apprenticeship frameworks, and some recording responsibilities of employers in respect of the individual learning record, have together added up to a significant burden that means that many small and medium-sized enterprises in particular find it expensive or burdensome to take on an apprentice. My hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills are taking forward a programme to reduce that bureaucracy, and I hope it will be welcomed on both sides of the House.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): As the Secretary of State is well aware, modern business needs people who can make, do, create and invent things, as well as

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people who can analyse things, and even if Professor Wolf is right that her recommendations are compatible with the English bac if 20% of the curriculum is made available for those kinds of skills to be developed, the Secretary of State knows—as we all do—that, in practice, this is not happening in some schools. Will he therefore consider the following request, which I have made before: that he add to the English bac at least one qualification that is about making, creating or doing, such as in electrical engineering or making music?

Michael Gove: I take on board the hon. Lady’s point. I think the intention behind her request is admirable, and it is reflected in what Professor Wolf says. However, it would be wrong for me to prescribe what additional qualification or course might be appropriate to encourage people to acquire those practical skills. One of the points Professor Wolf makes is that there are many courses of study, or pursuits at school or beyond, that might not necessarily lead specifically to a qualification but can provide people with the skills required. It is crucial that we support qualifications that are robust and, where possible, invest in developing them to reflect what employers need, but we must also ensure flexibility and autonomy so that schools can do the right thing for their students.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I particularly warmly welcome the announcement that 16 to 18-year-olds who do not achieve a C grade in English or maths will continue to study those subjects. Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker), how quickly will the Government be able to take action, so that we can end the practice under the previous Government of hundreds of thousands of children leaving school without the requisite qualifications?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend reminds us of the dreadful fact that only about 50% of students manage to leave state schools with five good GCSEs including English and maths. That means that hundreds of thousands of young people simply do not have the opportunity to move on to the jobs they deserve.

I see that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) is present. One of the great things he did when he was an FE college principal was develop courses that ensured that students could very quickly resit GCSE English and maths, or follow courses that would lead them, in due course, to acquiring a broadly comparable level of literacy and numeracy. I want to work with great FE principals, as he once was, to ensure we get the right courses for the right students.

Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): I wholeheartedly support the move to abolish equivalence for low-quality qualifications, which has effectively been a mis-selling scandal to young people for more than 10 years now. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that low quality GCSEs and A-levels are also not counted in our league tables?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend has been a fantastic campaigner for rigour in state education, and she is right that, as Professor Wolf points out, many qualifications were mis-sold to students on the basis that they would lead to progression. The right hon. Member for Leigh talked about students being coerced into courses that

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were not appropriate for them. We know that employers and universities welcome the courses in the English baccalaureate, but some of the courses that had an inflated value in league tables in the past, under the Government of whom he was a part, were not valued by employers or by higher or further education institutions.

My hon. Friend also made a point about GCSEs and A-levels. We are working with Ofqual to make sure that every GCSE awarding body is appropriately rigorous, and we will work with universities to ensure that A-levels are even stronger.

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that focusing narrowly on one measure of school performance, particularly five A* to C grades for GCSE—I personally insist on those including maths and English—creates perverse incentives for schools and encourages them to focus on borderline C and D grade students to the detriment of other students?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. Ultimately there will never be a single perfect accountability measure. The one he mentioned on floor standards has helped us to raise attainment in schools, but one measure does not fit all. I therefore welcome his support for developing a more sophisticated way of analysing attainment, so that students with lower ability but real commitment can be recognised, and in particular so that schools that take students with low levels of previous attainment and transform their outlooks can be properly recognised and applauded.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I welcome Professor Wolf’s report and the Government’s response. I was on the Education Select Committee that discussed the baccalaureate and was left in no doubt that Professor Wolf thought it was consistent with her interest in ensuring a proper academic basis to the measurement of pupils’ performance. Does the Secretary of State agree that the baccalaureate will enable pupils to make sensible, informed choices and give them the confidence to implement those decisions when opportunities arise?

Michael Gove: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Hon. Members on both sides of the House listened attentively to his question. We should pay particularly close attention to him, given the role he has played in further education. We know—every nation knows—that if students can reach a solid academic level by the age of 16, they will be in a strong position to choose which academic and vocational pathways they can move between later. Having a solid academic core creates no tension. In fact, it is an absolute precondition to success in vocational education.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Over the past year, I have visited numerous manufacturing and engineering firms across Pendle that are keen to expand and recruit more, where managers have told me that they are not satisfied with the levels of literacy and numeracy among job applicants. Does my right hon. Friend believe that today’s proposals, along with some of the other measures outlined by the Government—for instance, for university technical colleges—will help to address this problem?

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Michael Gove: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I know that east Lancashire has no better champion, and in particular that he speaks up effectively for young people and businesses in his constituency. We can help by ensuring that there are the opportunities for those young people who in the past might not have had an education fit for their talents to succeed in English, maths and the world of work.

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Personal Statement

12.53 pm

Mr David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me this early opportunity to respond to the Standards and Privileges Committee report on my expenses. I am also grateful to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and his staff for their thorough and professional handling of this inquiry following my self-referral. The inquiry has found that I broke a number of important rules. I take complete and personal responsibility for the mistakes I made, and apologise without reservation to the House and my constituents.

The commissioner found that there was a conflict between my personal interest in privacy and the public interest in openness and accountability. He concluded that I should have immediately resolved that conflict in the public interest, and I agree with that judgment. I have made it clear since this matter first became public that my motivation was solely to protect my privacy, and not to benefit in any way from the expenses system, and I am pleased that the commissioner has clearly supported my view about my motivation and that he has stated that there is no evidence that I made my claims with the intention of benefiting myself or those close to me. The commissioner has also concluded that if I had kept to the rules, including by correctly designating my main home, my total expense claims would have been considerably higher than they were. This is not, as the commissioner made clear, an adequate justification for breaking the rules, but it demonstrates that there was no adverse consequence for the taxpayer.

This last year has been a difficult one for me, and I am grateful for all the support I have received, particularly from my constituents in Yeovil, who have been extremely generous in their understanding, tolerance and encouragement. Each of us should be our own sternest critic. Everyone in this place wants to see the reputation of the House restored after the past few disastrous years. If by my actions I have contributed to further undermining the House’s reputation, I can only apologise without reservation.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

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Points of Order

12.55 pm

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to my earlier question, could you provide me with some advice? Is it in order for a Minister to ask his Department not to provide him with information to avoid having to pass that information on to an MP seeking to clarify something that affects his constituency?

Mr Speaker: The short answer is that Ministers are responsible both for how they provide information, and for what information is, or is not, available to them. However, the hon. Gentleman has registered his point forcefully on the record.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to register my disappointment that the House has been denied the opportunity to thank and congratulate the Prime Minister on his reported decision to seek the withdrawal of 450 British troops from Afghanistan. That decision could be taken this month. It clearly suggests, first, a withdrawal from the Government’s over-optimism and, secondly, a determination to recognise the futility of the present operation and to bring our soldiers home to the safety of our shores.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman’s guileful if slightly inappropriate use of the point of order procedure to register his political point is further evidence of why he is the acclaimed author of a tome entitled, “How to be a Backbencher”.

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Backbench Business

[27th Allotted Day]

Review of Parliamentary Standards Act 2009

12.57 pm

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I beg to move,

That it be an instruction to the Committee on Members’ Allowances established under Standing Order No. 152G (Committee on Members’ Allowances) that it review the operation of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 and make recommendations, giving due consideration to ensuring:

(a) value for money for taxpayers;

(b) accountability;

(c) public confidence in Parliament;

(d) the ability of Members to fulfil their duties effectively;

(e) fairness for less well-off Members and those with families; and

(f) that Members are not deterred from submitting legitimate claims.

I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their support in crafting today’s motion and ensuring that it was tabled and supported. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for supporting Back Benchers in having their voices heard in this place, and the Leader of the House for his robust defence of the functions of the House and for making it known to the external bodies that deal with our expenses that we are keen for the system not to impede the work that MPs do on behalf of their constituents.

None of us wants to be discussing expenses, and it is sad that we have to, but given that the expenses system has caused so much trouble over the years, and the current expenses regime continues to raise concerns for many Members and for democracy at large, it is our duty at least to consider a measured, sensible and calm way forward in which we can review the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 to consider whether it is achieving the goals set for it. I want to make clear, therefore, what we are aiming to do today. The motion is about considering ways of cutting the cost of Parliament to taxpayers in the long term, and about giving MPs’ time back to their constituents, rather than allowing them to be waylaid by bureaucracy beyond what is necessary for accountability. It is also about reviewing whether Parliament can be a place open to people from all backgrounds, including less well-off ones. Irrespective of our own personal positions—in many cases—it is important that Parliament does not become a place where only wealthy people can serve and thrive without damage to their public reputation.

The motion is part of the process of cleaning up our politics. It is right that this debate should be held in Back-Bench time, because the terms and conditions of Members of Parliament in serving their constituents and doing their duty within a democracy are rightly for this place to determine rather than for the Government to take the lead on—unless, of course, the taxpayers’ purse is affected. Then the Government must take a very robust position.

Let us be clear: it is Parliament that holds Government and the Executive to account, not vice versa. That is why I want to thank the Chairman of the Backbench

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Business Committee, the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and others for recognising that this is an issue that should really be raised, as it is being, in Back-Bench time.

Today’s motion says that MPs take their responsibilities seriously. What does it do? It instructs an existing Committee to review the Parliament Standards Act 2009, as amended in 2010. It not only instructs the Committee to review the Act, but asks it to make recommendations to the House about any changes that it thinks might need to take place, giving due consideration to the important issues about which we are all concerned, such as accountability.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on all the hard work that he has undertaken over many months on this very important issue. There is now a person in the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority called the compliance officer, and as a consequence of my having a very small logo on my website—a tiny little thing with “Labour” on it—I received two recorded delivery letters and was summonsed to respond within a certain time. When I phoned, I asked why they did not just lift the phone to me and say, “Look, this is against the rules. Why don’t you remove it?” It was the way that it was done. The bureaucracy involved in that process needs to be considered, along with many other things.

Adam Afriyie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. I noticed just the other day that 40 hon. Members have been reported and may well be investigated for some very minor and seemingly almost irrelevant matters. I have seen newspaper coverage of Members’ being criticised for claiming £3 here and £4 there. It seems to me that the public standing of this place is not necessarily enhanced by some of the practices in place at the moment, and that is why we need calmly to take a step back and review the situation. We need to review the 2009 Act and ask whether it is improving and restoring the integrity of Parliament and its hon. Members through its operation.

Clearly, some disgraceful acts happened in the past and no one is condoning that. We needed to make changes and I welcome the progress that has been made, but we must now calmly review the Act, its operation and the current arrangements.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech, but is it not a fact that the vast majority of Members in this House never did anything wrong and never broke any rules—I am talking about more than 600 of us—but have been rewarded by having our job of serving our constituents and checking on the Executive made much more difficult? My job here is to serve my constituents and call the Executive to account, and I am finding it much more difficult to do that under the new rules.

Adam Afriyie: That is the observation of many Members, I think. I have to say—I hope I will not get a hiss for this—that the media and those who really understand how this place works are beginning to recognise just how difficult it is becoming for Members of Parliament on both sides of the House who want to go about their

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duties of holding the Executive to account, representing their constituents and picking up issues, but they are constantly being harangued over issues regarding which, one might argue, they should not necessarily be under pressure.

I shall not go through the litany of the crimes of the current system, much as I would love to. Anybody reasonable and anybody who knows how this place operates—the people who voted us into this place last May clearly recognised that the people being elected here were people who wanted to serve—will know that the overwhelming majority of Members are desperate just to get on with their job and to perform the duties for which they were elected. I hope that this motion is carried today so that we can have a calm look at whether the 2009 Act is performing the function that, with all the good intentions and good motivation in the world, it was intended to achieve.

My heart goes out to the new Members who came in in 2005. Many were elected on a ticket saying that they abhorred the expenses crisis, and they were right to campaign on that ticket—

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): It was 2010.

Adam Afriyie: That is right; I meant the 2010 intake. My heart goes out to them, because they have been as meticulous and careful as they can not to overclaim and not to make erroneous claims; I know this because I know many of them personally. In fact, 92% of people here are not claiming what they are entitled to claim, just so they can be as careful as possible, yet every eight weeks their names are run through the press, which presents any claim at all as being in some way illegitimate. I do not entirely blame the press for that. In some ways, it might be the workings of the 2009 Act that are perpetuating that perception, which in the majority of cases is not a reality.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making a very thoughtful and considered speech. Does he agree that there is now a worry that IPSA is straying into areas where it was never intended to go? For example, two colleagues who have recently been injured had great difficulty in getting IPSA to allow them to claim taxis to come to the House, although they were not allowed to use public transport. At one point, a member of IPSA asked them why they were going to work. We cannot have people who are there to regulate expenses deciding when Members of Parliament should or should not be able to come to the House.

Adam Afriyie: The hon. Lady raises a key point that is at the heart of our democracy. In a parliamentary democracy, Members are elected in order to make or change the laws. Parliament is sovereign in our nation within the way that our unwritten constitution works. One has to ask whether it is right for an external body to be able to determine the way in which Members of Parliament, who are elected by the public, do their work. It is not just a question of the level of remuneration, as we understand that and accept the need for independence. I think most people are comfortable with that. If such a body determines the way in which we do our work, however, tough questions must be asked about the arrangements. I hope that as the Committee carries out the review some of these questions will be raised.

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There is an opportunity for the Committee calmly to consider not only the current difficulties—the level of accountability and whether it is full enough, whether receipts need to be published and all those detailed issues that affect us on a day-to-day basis—but the constitutional position. It might also consider some of the issues to do with tidying up the omissions and other small errors that we made in our haste as we rushed to make the changes, which we were right to do.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I welcome the establishment of the Committee. Will my hon. Friend confirm whether the membership of the Committee has been determined yet, and if it has not, whether he would be prepared to serve on it? It seems to me that he would be an ideal candidate.

Adam Afriyie: My interest in this issue has been on the public record for many years, and I would be very happy to play a part in any Committee established for this purpose, but naturally such a Committee should have no special privileges. I hope that it would be set up in the same way as other Committees are established, but of course I am interested in this issue and would like to do my best to try to assist Parliament and hon. Members of all persuasions in doing their jobs without unnecessary obstacles being placed in the way.

Let me make some quick observations on some of the stresses and strains. I make these observations not necessarily to make judgments at this moment but simply to flag up some of the areas that cause concern, and which any future review might wish to consider. The first such area is cost. One of the mandates for the Committee is that it must have due regard to the need for value for money for the taxpayer. The budget for IPSA seems quite high, and was certainly significantly higher in the first year than that for the previous year’s arrangements. That is something we need to look at. Those costs might be appropriately high; it might be right that it is very expensive to operate what should be a relatively simple system, but any review must look into that.

Secondly, we have to consider the impact that the 2009 Act is having on the time that MPs have available to perform their duties. There is no doubt, from my own experience and that of hon. Members who were here before 2010, that the level and work load associated with the expenses systems and such matters have escalated enormously. Literally days are taken away from constituents as the time of Members and their staff is taken up. There is an enormous level of stress associated with the IPSA system, and we need to take a calm look at the impact that is having on our democracy and on Members’ ability to represent their constituents.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): The hon. Gentleman is making a very thoughtful speech. Like many Members in Wales, I have joint offices with Assembly Members and I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about stress. The stress for staff of dealing with expenses for Westminster is far higher than the stress of dealing with expenses for the devolved Administrations. Does he think IPSA should look at the systems in Scotland and Wales and see whether we could adopt a similar system?

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Adam Afriyie: From my observations of the system in Scotland in particular, and the system in Wales, I think there are certainly some virtues in the way they operate. I have also conducted a review of 27 different systems around the world, including those in Canada, Denmark, some of the Scandinavian countries and particularly Germany, and it is clear that they take a very different view of how expenses and remuneration systems should operate for members of their Parliaments.

That was not a scientific review, but there were certainly some very clear patterns. In Germany they have said it would be utterly ridiculous to lumber the taxpayer with the cost of receipting tiny claims, because the cost would be disproportionate to the benefit to the taxpayer. That is something that a review would need to consider, but I do not wish to pre-empt where it might go. It would need to take evidence and take a very careful look at comparisons from around the world. One or two other nations have what are called sessional indemnities and different, very simple arrangements for office accommodation and housing for their members. That is something we need to look at.

A key area that I hope the review will look into is the situation of Members who are not of independent means—those who do not have large outside incomes, trust funds or inherited wealth, and those who did not have incredibly successful businesses or professional careers before arriving here. In many ways, I think we have to consider whether the expenses system is penalising such Members for not being wealthy. There is a danger that if, as I have said, 92% of Members are not claiming what they are entitled to claim, this place will become a place only for those who are wealthy.

The motion simply asks the Committee to conduct a review of the 2009 Act. I hope there will not be dissent today. This issue of expenses is incendiary, but it is our duty in this place to act without fear or favour in the interests of democracy, our constituents and the taxpayer. A calm, methodical review of the 2009 Act is a very important step, and is part of the process.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is critical that the House should uphold the fundamental importance of independence in these matters, which is absolutely crucial to restoring public confidence after all the scandals?

Adam Afriyie: It is my personal view, and that of many Members, that it would be a very strange day if we were to start determining our pay or rations once again. I do not think that anyone wants to head in that direction, and I have not heard of many people wanting to do so. The independence of the body setting the level of remuneration is a good thing. Whatever any review sets out to do, it must ensure that that independence is maintained. Indeed, it could even be enhanced. With those remarks, I urge Members to support the motion. Let us have a calm and sensible review of where we are.

1.15 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I want to paint a picture of two different parliamentary expenses schemes. One is bureaucratic, difficult to understand and administer, expensive to run and universally loathed by those whom it seeks to serve. The other is relatively inexpensive, easy to understand and universally

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accepted by those whom it seeks to serve. It might surprise some to know that both those schemes currently exist in the UK. The first is our good friend IPSA, and the second is the scheme that operates in Scotland without fuss, issues or any difficulty whatever.

A year on from IPSA’s creation, we are here again discussing its many and manifest failures, while the system in Scotland works without any issues or difficulty. No one cares to hear about it, and even the press are bored with it. They lost interest in the tea and biscuits stories years ago and they have gone on to other things, but it was not always like that in Scotland. In the early days of the Scottish Parliament there were a number of alarming stories, but nothing on the scale of what happened in this House. Initially, the Scottish Parliament more or less copied in full the parliamentary scheme from this place, but then there were difficulties, so it patiently, constructively and conscientiously fashioned a new system, which has worked. That system has the support of MSPs and the public, who know it is fair and transparent, and the press no longer have any particular interest in it.

One way of illustrating the difference between the two systems is by looking at them through the eyes of the staff who have the misery of dealing with them on our behalf. I share an office with a Member of the Scottish Parliament. We share staff and our office manager looks after our office issues for us jointly, so she is responsible for paying all the bills and making sure that all the offices work effectively. When she does the expenses work for the MSP, it is over in minutes: the direct debit for office supplies—done; a few receipts for the travel required—finished. But then we almost hear her groan of anguish when it is time to turn to the MP’s expenses. With a heavy heart, she draws down the IPSA website again and the hours of misery start. Is it the four hours to be spent on the travel reconciliations for last month, or the trying to sit through the quadruplicate reconciliation that IPSA requires for travel that causes the misery? Is it the endless phone calls to IPSA Towers, trying to understand and decipher the new, panicky rewrite of some of the rules? Or is it the stress of possibly getting a claim wrong—of something going into the wrong column or category and the claim being returned or, worse, refused and opened up for the ritual press humiliation that comes when those expenses are published every two months?

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that having an IPSA-type body is a good thing for MPs, but that it is so over-bureaucratic that it stifles what we are here to do? Speaking from personal experience, I think that if it were not for Philip from IPSA having come around and helped out many of the Members who are present today, we would all be in a world of pain.

Pete Wishart: I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which gives me the opportunity to say that there is nothing wrong with the staff who work for IPSA, most of whom are courteous and very helpful. They do all they can to try to resolve some of the difficulties and issues that confront us and our staff day in, day out. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the

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problem is the mind-numbing bureaucracy of the thing. I do not want my staff sitting there on the phone to IPSA Towers. I do not want them wading through the quadruplicate reconciliations that are required. I want them to work to help my constituents; that is what they are there to do. Why are they wasting their precious time, which should be spent on my constituents, on that mind-numbing useless bureaucracy? It is time that we addressed that question properly.

The Scottish system and IPSA have one thing in common—one that we all want to see: transparency. That is what it should be about; transparency is the key to the way forward. The system used by the Scottish Parliament is even better, because receipts are put on each MSP’s website and are available at the click of a mouse, so we achieve transparency without the massive difficulties caused by the bureaucracy of filling in all those forms.

IPSA has had a chance to try to resolve those issues. Unfortunately, I missed the debate secured by the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) before Christmas. I do not think that I have yet congratulated him on securing this debate, and on his diligence in pursuing the issue. After the first debate, IPSA was charged with the task of getting some of those difficulties in order. There have been some improvements, which we are all prepared to welcome, but the culture and the institution are still very much in place. There has not been a cultural shift in the way in which IPSA deals with MPs’ expenses, so we are right to try to pursue the issue along the lines that the hon. Gentleman was prepared to suggest. Let us see if we can look at the 2009 Act again to try to get something different.

We do not need to look too far afield, although I would be fascinated to learn about other international examples. We need look only 500 miles up the road to find a system that functions perfectly well, supported by those whom it serves and by the public, and without any issue or interest from the press whatsoever. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; we just need to strap a Caledonian one on to the House and get on with it. That is what we should do now, as we have an opportunity to try to resolve this. When the issue of expenses came before the House a couple of years ago, we strongly suggested that people should take a look at the Scottish system. That proposal was rejected in favour of IPSA, and the House probably realises that it made a dramatic and drastic mistake in going down that route—but there is still time to try to achieve a change. Let us not do something radically different. Let us just do something that works, and something works just up the road.

1.22 pm

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on tabling the motion, and on the diligent work that he has done on behalf of Parliament and the taxpayer. I have been asked to chair the MPs’ side of the committee liaising with IPSA, and we have done our honest best in recent months to try to put MPs’ views to IPSA. Our meetings are courteous and lengthy. We have covered the entire ground but, at the end of the day, many of our suggestions are simply not acted on. The motion will provide further impetus to IPSA to listen to Parliament. Everyone accepts that we must have an independent body that sets the overall levels of remuneration, but we

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still have a fantastically bureaucratic system that employs 70 staff and which costs upwards of £6 million just to do the expenses of 650 people. It is an absurdly bureaucratic system that must be reviewed, not for our sake but for the sake of the taxpayer.

It is perfectly possible to devise a system that can command public confidence and result in a much lower cost to the taxpayer. Our first priority is cutting the cost to the taxpayer, who has to pay for all of this. It is an expensive way of doing things. Secondly, we want to minimise the possibility of fraud and error. As we have seen with social security, one of the best ways to do that is to simplify the system as much as possible. Thirdly—this point was made by my hon. Friend and others—we want to open Parliament up, and ensure that it is an attractive place for people of all types, from all regions, of all levels of income, and all the rest of it, who want to come here.

I mentioned all regions, because disincentives are built into the current system. For instance, is being a Member of Parliament, with our existing expenses regime and the way in which families are still treated, an attractive option for a lady GP working in Newcastle upon Tyne? I do not think so. We should encourage in particular women with families who want to serve as Members of Parliament, which means that we must have an expenses regime that understands Parliament and the fact that many people who come to the House are not just coming to London for an occasional business trip. It is often a life sentence, as people have to spend half their time in a constituency that may be a long way from London, and the other half in London. Younger Members of Parliament with young families, in particular, want to be with their families, so ultimately we need an expenses regime—we have to keep repeating this—that is not too bureaucratic, which is attractive, minimises fraud and error and cuts the cost to the taxpayer. The present system does not do that.

We have those meetings in our liaison committee, but we have no power whatsoever. We can make suggestions on all the points that are made to me in e-mails and letters from colleagues, but ultimately we can still be ignored. There has been some progress, particularly on how we run our offices. The way in which IPSA originally tried to set up the expenses regime for MPs’ offices was absurd. It was ludicrously bureaucratic, but we have made progress, and MPs can increasingly use the IPSA debit card to ensure that the money they need to run their offices does not go through their personal bank accounts. The fact that MPs were forced to subsidise their offices from their bank accounts was almost a throwback to the 18th century, when Ministers had to pay for government from their own personal bank accounts. The situation was ridiculous, and we have made progress.

We have also made progress on travel, but accommodation remains a bugbear. I hope that the motion will be approved today and we can make progress. Let us be quite honest about this. MPs’ accommodation has been the kernel of the problem for the past 30 years. It has proved difficult because successive Governments have not wanted to bite the bullet. My hon. Friend originally tabled another motion for the Order Paper, but I understand that there were Government sensitivities about allowing it to go through. However, it would have maximised pressure on IPSA to reach a reasonable settlement on accommodation.

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What is the way forward? So many of the problems with which we deal in public life are utterly difficult and intractable, as we know when we deal with the NHS, social security and the economy, but there is a simple solution staring us in the face on this issue, and there always has been. Although the old expenses regime was much criticised, when it began it was not an expenses regime but an allowances regime, effectively providing a flat-rate allowance. As long as it remained a flat-rate allowance, it worked. It began to go wrong when it became the expenses regime. The moment that we began to ask MPs to maximise their so-called expenses by submitting receipts, we ensured that sooner or later a Member of Parliament would end up in prison, which is what has happened. If it had remained a flat-rate allowances system, we would not have had all the issues that we have had.

I cannot prejudge what the Committee will do, but it is worth putting a marker in the sand, because we have made the point continuously in the regular liaison committee meetings with IPSA. People nod their heads, but our points are ignored. I just hope that if the evidence from the new Committee supports my point of view, and if the matter returns to the House, the new Committee will not be ignored. If it makes a sensible proposal that has been worked through for many months, with hearings of witnesses who have expressed their views, and offers a proposal to the House, I hope that at that stage the Government will not try to block it once again, just as successive Governments have always blocked every sensible resolution on the grounds that it is not acceptable to public opinion, they are not ready, and all the other issues. I think that public opinion is ready. All members of the public I talk with say, “Why can’t MPs just be allowed to get on with it? They should be paid a proper salary and left to live their lives.”

Some people claim that IPSA has made progress, but its latest reforms almost make the situation worse, because it is getting more involved in the family life of MPs. We are paid extra if we have children, and a slightly increased allowance when the children are between certain ages. What happens when the children grow up, which they always do? There are all those sorts of issues. We are going down the same track as our social security system, with more interference in people’s private lives. Frankly, how an MP lives their private life is none of IPSA’s business, nor anyone else’s. All we have to accept is that all MPs have to live some of their lives in London and some of their lives in their constituencies.

I have always thought, as was said time and again in the liaison committee, that the obvious solution was to build on the old London weighting allowance, which was a flat-rate, taxable allowance. If it is flat-rate and taxable, it is not the business of the Inland Revenue and there is no possibility for fraud or error. I am not suggesting that we can move to such a system immediately, as many MPs have now made arrangements for renting and should be allowed to continue with that very bureaucratic expenses regime, with receipts and all the rest of it, if they wish to do so. However, MPs must have some opportunity to opt out of that bureaucratic system and into a flat-rate, taxable allowance system. Otherwise, we will create perverse incentives. We also said in the committee that the more rules we have, the more perverse incentives there will be. For example, there is a perverse incentive for MPs who have been paying for their second

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homes with mortgages to rent those homes out and then rent themselves a flat, at greater cost to IPSA. How does that help the taxpayer? It is ludicrous.

I very much hope that the Committee will be set up, take evidence and come back with simple solutions that ultimately protect the taxpayer. That is what we are about. It should also ensure that MPs have the maximum amount of time to hold the Executive to account, which is why we are here. We are not here to have our staff spend hours every week enmeshed in some bureaucratic expenses regime. The only reason for our existence is to hold those people on the Front Bench to account in an independent and satisfactory way. I have to say that IPSA is still not there yet. I hope that, with the Committee being set up, we will finally make progress, cut the cost to the taxpayer and do the job we were elected to do.

1.33 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): As one of the youngest Members of the 2010 intake, I remember sitting in the Members’ centre a few days after my election and listening to a young lady—much younger than me, surprisingly—who was speaking on the telephone and trying very hard to arrange accommodation for herself in London. She happened to be a member of the Opposition. Each time she spoke with an estate agent, it was clear that she could not do it, and after two hours she gave up. I quickly soused that—

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Sussed. You souse a herring.

Bob Stewart: Souse a herring—are we not moving on to that debate in a moment?

I quickly sussed that the expenses system was not working very well. I have spent most of my adult life in public service, but I have also been in business in the private sector. In those jobs, there was a very clear principle that if one spent money doing one’s job, one should be properly recompensed. It was simple and effective. It seems to me that IPSA makes difficulties when it should not do so. I am lucky, because my constituency is close to Westminster and I can travel home each night—22 minutes from Victoria station to Shortlands—except when we have an absurdly lengthy, late-night sitting, when I am told I am allowed to go to a hotel. Members should rest assured that on such occasions I do not cost the taxpayer any money, because I get out my army camp bed and kip in my office, illegally. It is a damn sight easier that trying to check into a hotel at 12.30 at night.

Helen Jones: Especially on what IPSA allows.

Bob Stewart: Exactly.

It is clear that IPSA puts colleagues off claiming a lot. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) noted that 92% of Members do not claim what they are entitled to, which I think is pretty dreadful. If they do not claim it, that means they are paying for it from their salaries, and we are not that well paid, considering some of the commitments that we are not allowed to claim for.

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I understood the intricacies of Balkan politics when I was the British commander of forces there much better than I understand the intricacies of trying to get a claim from IPSA. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is a parliamentary hero for what he is trying to do. His determination is in the highest traditions of this House. We need a simple, fair and honest system that is cheaper for the taxpayer—if that is possible—and allows us to do our jobs properly. I fully support the need to review the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. I am not sure that IPSA should go, but I am sure that the system should be reviewed as soon as possible.

1.38 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): My constituency is one of the furthest from the sea, so the next debate on fisheries has no real relevance for jobs there—we merely eat the product—but I put it to the House that that debate is of far more consequence to my constituents than wasting parliamentary time on the self-indulgent obsession of some MPs with the expenses system, which, along with pay, should be determined by an independent body away from this House. That is what should remain.

1.39 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I, too, will not detain the House for long. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) that there are many other things we could be discussing, but we must not lose sight of the fact that many hon. Members on both sides of the House are forced, as a result of the overly bureaucratic IPSA system, to spend hours and hours dealing with something that should be relatively straightforward.

Before becoming a Member, I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), was in private practice, and my organisation had an expenses system that was simple, clear and straightforward. If someone paid something out of their own pocket for which they needed reimbursement, they produced the receipt, took it to the cashiers at the accounts department, and they checked that it was in order and paid a cheque in recompense.

I appreciate that the affairs of Members are far more complicated than that, but in essence the procedure ought to be fairly simple, yet it is difficult to conceive of a more complicated system than our current one. I trust that when the existing Committee is re-established, the membership will find time to look at all aspects of the expenses scheme but, in particular, two matters that I think are of specific concern.

First, no distinction seems to be drawn between expenses of a capital and of a revenue nature. The revision has addressed that to an extent by providing a new allowance for new Members, and that is great for Members who are elected in the future or as a result of a by-election, but the new scheme will be of no benefit to Members elected, like myself, in the 2010 general election, many of whom face having to purchase capital items out of budgets that were set for revenue.

That leads me to my second point, the publication of expenses figures on an eight-weekly basis. This provides a constant feed of information for the newspapers, which not surprisingly then use it to form league tables. Again, not surprisingly, if someone has paid a large

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amount out in that eight-week period, they will go straight to the top of the league table. It will be all over the newspapers that they are “Top of the league table,” yet they will have done nothing wrong. In fact, over the whole year their expenses may well come bottom of the table, but people will remember and focus on the fact the Member was top for that period.

We are not comparing like with like if we issue figures for such a short period, so I hope that when the Committee is re-established, it will find time to look at those two matters.

1.42 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity that the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) has given us—I, like others, think he made a very thoughtful speech—to assess what progress has been made in addressing the concerns that were last debated here in December.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I strongly support an independent and a transparent system, because publication is the best safeguard and there can be no going back on that at all. I know that that view is shared across the House, but I do share the feeling of Members that, despite the outcome of the recent review and the progress that we have made, which I want to touch on, dealing with IPSA takes up far too much time. Time, whether of Members or our staff, has an opportunity cost, and that means we have less time to do our job.

First, we ought to recognise that setting up IPSA was a very big task. Parliament asked for it to be done in a very short space of time, and Professor Sir Ian Kennedy and his senior colleagues, who have been unfailingly generous in the time they have given to listen to us, himself acknowledges that IPSA did not get everything right. I agree with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who said that IPSA staff continue to be unfailingly courteous and as helpful as they possibly can be in trying to assist us, but the concerns that bring us back here today are not about them but the system itself.

I said in December that if we asked Members, “Is IPSA helping you to do your job?”, we would find that the answer was overwhelmingly no. That was certainly reflected in the survey of parliamentary Labour party members that we undertook in submitting evidence to the review, and frankly that ought to be the test. We should not be spending any more time than is necessary on discussing the matter, particularly when it ought to be a relatively simple task.

The issue is about making sure that we as Members have the means that we need to do the job. “Expenses” is a terrible misnomer, because it is about the means to do the job. They include staff, loyal and incredibly hard-working, who support us in our work and without whom we could not manage; an office; paying the telephone, electricity and stationery bills; the travel costs between Westminster and our constituencies; and, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) rightly said, the cost of having to live and to work in two places, which is in the nature of the job of being a Member of Parliament.

On the review, we should acknowledge the progress that was made on, for example, support for MPs with family responsibilities—in relation both to travel and to accommodation; a start-up budget for new MPs, learning from the experience that our new colleagues faced a

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year ago; the definition of London; and the merging of the budgets for constituency office rental and for general office costs.

There has been an increase in the staffing budget, although it still does not take account of the costs of the pension contribution that was passed on to MPs’ budgets a year ago, or of the additional work load that dealing with IPSA places on Members and on their staff. That situation will leave a number of MPs having to go back to the contingency fund again this year in order to continue to employ the staff they already have and need, and that really does strike me as unsatisfactory.

There is now greater use of the payment card, but that is not an unalloyed blessing: it is still not available for all costs—as I understand it, it can be used for business rates but not for office rent, and for stationery but not for photocopiers; and reconciliation is still far too time-consuming. I can say from personal experience that accounting for train travel takes much longer than under the old system, when I have to take account of finding the tickets, going on to the IPSA website, typing in destinations repeatedly, copying everything and then posting off the form having made the details available online.

What would really help and, I think, deal with a lot of frustration is either if more details could be obtained from the credit card company to satisfy IPSA, if IPSA could just agree with the House of Commons travel office that buying a ticket through the office would provide the assurance that it was we who bought it, and that it was a ticket between Westminster and our constituency or back. I use that as an example, because it should be a relatively simple thing to do, and I think it would take away a lot of the frustration that has been expressed in today’s debate and before.

The second issue I wish to raise is about what is allowed and what will be approved, because IPSA has realised sensibly that there is a balance to be struck in relation to increasingly prescriptive rules. IPSA has come face to face with the way in which we do our job, with Members saying, “What if? This is what I do. Is it okay?”, and it has thought about the issue and realised sensibly that we can either have an increasingly long rule book, with an increasingly lengthy “frequently asked questions” page on the website, or let Members exercise their judgment, in the context of the rules as they are laid down and subject to the sunlight of publication.

The review has moved more in the direction of the latter, but may I offer some advice to the Committee that we are going to establish on the work that it is going do? There is still a process in-between through which a Member may choose to exercise their discretion and IPSA may second-guess that when deciding whether to approve a claim. We are betwixt and between a more sensible approach.

Thirdly, we have heard today about how Members feel the system treats them in individual cases and on case work, and I hope that the review will dig into the detail and draw on the experience of the liaison committee, so that the issues which the hon. Member for Gainsborough raised might be looked at.

Fourthly, there is the question of value for money, something that the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is looking at. Indeed, as Members will know, the National Audit Office is carrying out a value-for-money review.

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Finally, I say to the hon. Member for Windsor that I welcome the transformation in the motion before us from that which was on the Order Paper yesterday. If we have learned one lesson, it is that legislating in haste on this matter can create difficulties.

I support the motion because it seems to be a very sensible way forward. We should take the opportunity to review the effectiveness of the system that Parliament established, and we should assess progress as well as identifying what more needs to be done. I, for one, look forward to the result of the Committee’s work.

1.49 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on securing the debate and on his revised motion, which the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said he can support, and which the Government can also support. Setting up a Committee to carry out post-legislative reviews to see how legislation actually takes effect is something that we are always being urged to do in the House, and it is welcome. It will provide Members with the opportunity to put forward facts and the Committee with the opportunity to take evidence and then to come back to the House with its recommendations for consideration. I thank my hon. Friend for his thoughtful and measured speech, which was referred to by Members on both sides of the House.

My hon. Friend’s motion is very sensible in focusing on the important things—value for money, accountability and public confidence. It also refers to the need to ensure

“that Members are not deterred from submitting legitimate claims.”

I want him to clarify one part of his speech because I am not sure that I heard it correctly. I think he said that 92% of Members do not claim for things for which they are legitimately allowed to claim, but I would be grateful if he could confirm that. I have not seen that data published, and I would be grateful if he could provide some detail.

Adam Afriyie: I certainly will. This is based on the evidence that I have received and that the 1922 committee demonstrated some time ago—that is, that 92% of hon. Members are not claiming for all the categories for which they are entitled to claim. That would need to be examined; I make no judgment on it right now.

Mr Harper: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying that, which is very helpful.

As my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, several things have happened since we last debated IPSA in December. At that time, IPSA had not carried out its review of the scheme, and many Members took the opportunity of that debate to put on record their specific concerns not only about the operation of the scheme but its rules. One or two Members have done that today, but in December the comments were much more focused on individual circumstances. IPSA has listened to some of those concerns. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it recognised when it set up the scheme that it did not get everything right in terms of its rules and how it operated. To be fair, it has acknowledged

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that and put some of those things right, particularly as regards enabling us to do our jobs properly. The Government, and all Members, are concerned about ensuring that the system helps rather than hinders.

As the right hon. Members for Oxford East (Mr Smith) and for Leeds Central said, it is important that we have an independent body that oversees the expenses system and how it operates. We must also have a transparent system. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, it is the sunlight of transparency that helps to ensure that it works properly.

Adam Afriyie: My hon. Friend is talking about the Brandeis doctrine; Brandeis was a Supreme Court judge in the early 1900s. The review will also need to look at what subsequent academics have said about this. Sunlight is a great disinfectant, but it is conditional on the information that is provided being comparable and on it being disaggregated, so that not only grouped claims or information are published. It is also conditional on the information being standardised, and any review will need to look into those issues.

Mr Harper: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is a good opportunity to leap forward to a point I was going to make later, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) when he talked about the publication of data. I know that it can be uncomfortable for hon. Members when information is published, but we are going to have to get used to it, and there is no going back.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is a debate to be had, and these are matters that IPSA can think about. There are ways of publishing information that make it comparable and deal with the league table problem, but also make it very matter of fact and not very interesting to the press. There is an argument that if we publish the information in real time as we go along, and do not save it up and publish it in lumps—the point made by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire—it becomes normal, matter-of-fact, routine business that is not of interest to the media. I think it is fair to say that it has become much less interesting to the national media; we do not tend to see the front page stories any more. I know, however, that individual hon. Members often have to deal with local newspaper stories where their papers drill down into particular claims that, in isolation, take a fair degree of explanation but are perfectly reasonable claims for carrying out their work.

Adam Afriyie: I conducted a review of regional and local newspaper publications. The evidence is pretty conclusive. The bimonthly publication we looked at had about 28 million readers. We found that 97% of local newspaper stories were negative towards MPs, and 63% of the stories made unfair or misleading comparisons about MPs and their claims. A lot of this was generated by the way in which the information was being provided to the media under the current scheme. Again, that is something we will look at.

Mr Harper: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is an opportunity to acknowledge that, as other Members have said, he has done a lot of analytical work. Depending on what the House decides about who serves on the Committee, I am sure that his research will be of great help as it carries out its work.

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Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I would add that it is not just about the local media; the BBC in the north-east has taken the approach of doing league tables rather than any analysis of the information. Even though I have tried to FOI the expenses of the journalists on the “Politics Show” in the north-east, the BBC has refused to release them, and I now have an appeal with the Information Commissioner. If this is about public money and transparency, should not other bodies such as the BBC also have their expenses published?

Mr Harper: The hon. Gentleman is trying to draw me into a much wider debate about public transparency, but this is not the right time for that. He will know that there are ongoing discussions between the BBC and the National Audit Office about various issues, and I am sure that they will carry on. I am not going to take his invitation to dwell on those issues today.

I want to return to the annual review that IPSA undertook. I think it is fair to say that it made some changes to the scheme and has made it better and easier for Members to operate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor said, it has effectively given us more discretion about judging what things are relevant to our parliamentary duties and carrying out our responsibilities. That then raises some other questions, which is welcome. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), who chairs the liaison committee, acknowledged the progress that has been made on office costs and on travel, although he acknowledged that there was work to be done in other areas of expenses. It is worth saying that there has been progress, although I know that many Members think that there has not been enough and needs to be more.

Members referred to value for money, which is specifically mentioned in the motion. It is worth setting out a little more detail. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central referred to the NAO report. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has received a letter from the Comptroller and Auditor General setting out the details of that. The NAO is going to carry out a study of IPSA, and the report will be produced before the summer recess.

An interesting fact of which Members should be aware is that the NAO is going to survey all serving Members of Parliament asking about their experience of IPSA and the expenses scheme. It is moving quite swiftly on the study. It is going to send out questionnaires this coming Monday—16 May—allowing us a fortnight to respond before the Whit recess, and it has asked for Government support in encouraging Members to participate. I do not think, having listened to the debate, talked to several of my colleagues and heard what the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said about his conversations with the parliamentary Labour party, that Members will need much encouragement to send back their responses. They should take this opportunity to focus on how well the scheme is working, including value for money and ease of use, so that the NAO can take that into account.

Helen Jones: It is encouraging to hear that the NAO will survey Members. Will the NAO’s value-for-money audit include the cost of the vast amount of time spent by Members and their staff doing work that was previously done elsewhere?

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Mr Harper: The Comptroller and Auditor General makes it clear that all the NAO’s work will be independent and evidence based. The answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that it is for Members to provide the NAO with that evidence. The NAO has a brief to look at the public sector as a whole; as its masthead says, it is “Helping the nation spend wisely”. If Members feel, as a number have said today, that there is a problem not just with the bureaucratic system, but with the time spent administering it by them and their staff, who are employed at public cost, they should take the opportunity to furnish the NAO with that information. I might be going a little beyond my remit here. I do not know how detailed the questionnaire will be. There might not be a specific question about this matter, but I suspect that there will be. If Members provide this information, the NAO will be able to take it into account. It is no good the NAO just looking at the scheme and the direct costs incurred by IPSA. If, because of the way IPSA is operating, it is putting an extra burden on our offices, which are funded by the taxpayer, the NAO should take that into account. The hon. Lady’s point is therefore very helpful, and Members should give the NAO as much information as possible, so that it can write a sensible, evidence-based report with recommendations. No doubt those recommendations will then be considered by the Public Accounts Committee, as is the usual process, and the Committee that we are setting up.

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which was passed in the last Parliament, amended the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 to give IPSA a general duty to behave in a cost-effective, efficient manner, and to support MPs to carry out their work efficiently, cost-effectively and transparently. IPSA therefore has a statutory duty to do what it does transparently and independently, and cost-effectively. The NAO report will help to advise IPSA on whether it is complying with the duties it has to carry out under the law that set it up.

Mr Leigh: Will the Minister assure that House that when all this excellent work has been done and the Committee makes its recommendations, the Government —I know that he cannot give any absolute promises—will seek to give us a fair wind so that we can implement them?

Mr Harper: As with all reports from Committees of this House, the Government will look carefully at the recommendations. I do not think that my hon. Friend would expect me, given that the Committee has not even been set up, let alone started its work, to give assurances that the Government will carry out its every recommendation. The Government will of course study its recommendations. If its recommendations are about process, the scheme and how IPSA operates, they will be for IPSA to consider. Only if they are recommendations for legislative change will they be for the Government to recognise. Every Member who has spoken in this debate has confirmed that they are in favour of an independent and transparent scheme for paying our costs. Clearly, even if Members thought that there were issues, they would not immediately want the Government to rush into legislating. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central said wisely that when this House legislates on such matters in haste, it often comes to repent it.

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The Government will look carefully at the considerations that the Committee makes, and I hope that IPSA will look carefully at them. If the review is carried out in that spirit, I think that it will be very productive.

Mr Andrew Smith: I want to underline the importance of the point that the Minister has just made. Will he assure us that the Government’s response will scrupulously and absolutely uphold the independence of IPSA?

Mr Harper: Yes; I have said that several times and it is important. Although this House has many new Members, it is important that we remember why we got to this position. We have to ensure that we move things forward, and focus on independence and transparency. We have had debates recently on our pay, and the consideration of our pay will be moved across to IPSA in the not-too-distant future. Its independence is important so that people have confidence. The Committee, when it is set up, will have to remember that the recommendations it makes about the scheme and the operation of the scheme will be made to IPSA.

Mr Charles Walker: Does the Minister accept that when we legislate in haste, as we did in 2009, such legislation sometimes has to be revisited and amended with the benefit of hindsight?

Mr Harper: I made a distinction in my remarks. Clearly, if the Committee, or indeed the National Audit Office, makes recommendations about value for money and cost-effectiveness in the way IPSA operates, IPSA will pay attention to them, as with all its recommendations. It may be that the Committee makes recommendations about legislative change. However, we do not want to go back to a system in which the Government—heaven forbid—or the House start to micro-manage the details of the scheme. We have an independent system with transparency, and it is important that we stick with that. The Committee needs to bear that in mind. There will be two important audiences for what the Committee recommends. In the same way that we should not legislate in haste, we should not re-legislate in haste and change things further. The Committee needs to bear that in mind when it considers this matter, and should not immediately leap to the conclusion that we have to change the entire structure of the system.

Mr Leigh: There is a third audience: the taxpayer. Ultimately, nobody is independent of the House of Commons, because the House of Commons is not for us, but for the people—we represent the people and the taxpayer. If serious recommendations are made and IPSA ignores them, the House of Commons has a right to vote on its estimates and to reduce the amount it spends on administration.

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Mr Harper: My hon. Friend makes the position very clear. A structure has been set up with the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which heard evidence from IPSA this week and questioned it about its estimate. More work is being done to deal with the hon. Gentleman’s point about cost-effectiveness and IPSA’s budget to ensure that at this difficult time for public expenditure, IPSA is as efficient and cost-effective as possible. However, it would be a mistake if we immediately leapt away from an independent, transparent system, which is what the Government, the Opposition, and every Member who has spoken in this debate supports. We cannot have an independent system and simultaneously give it instructions on how to do its job.

The Government look forward to the Committee’s work and give a commitment that we will look at its recommendations with great care. I will obviously not make any commitments about what we will do until we have seen the report. The Committee should do a thorough job and we look forward to its report. We also look forward to seeing what the NAO has to say. I think that that is a sensible way forward. On that basis, the Government are very relaxed about the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor.

2.8 pm

Adam Afriyie: I am delighted that the Committee is being set up. I expressed an interest in that Committee. It is time for us to have a calm, careful look at the 2009 Act, as amended in 2010. I hope that all hon. Members, in a non-partisan fashion, will support me and the House in establishing this Committee. We must ensure that the review is thorough, that it is consistent with decisions that have been made, and that the recommendations are robust in defence of the taxpayer and in the pursuit of openness and accountability for Members. Above all, we must ensure that this place and parliamentary democracy function correctly, and that the schemes that are put in place for Members support the work that they do and, preferably, are a lot less costly than they are at present. I urge Members to support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That it be an instruction to the Committee on Members’ Allowances established under Standing Order No. 152G (Committee on Members’ Allowances) that it review the operation of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 and make recommendations, giving due consideration to ensuring:

(a) value for money for taxpayers;

(b) accountability;

(c) public confidence in Parliament;

(d) the ability of Members to fulfil their duties effectively;

(e) fairness for less well-off Members and those with families; and

(f) that Members are not deterred from submitting legitimate claims.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Before I call Zac Goldsmith, may I suggest that I am minded to increase the time limit to 10 minutes, or possibly 12 minutes, depending on how long the opening speeches last?

2.10 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the Fish Fight campaign; and calls on the Government to vote against proposed reforms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy unless they implement an ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management, end discards in relation to all fish and shellfish with derogation only for species proven to have a high survival rate on discarding, require that all fish and shellfish are harvested at sustainable levels by 2015, ensure the involvement of fishers and other stakeholders in decision-making processes and enable the UK to introduce higher standards of management and conservation in respect of all vessels fishing within its territorial waters, taking into particular account vessel size and environmental impact.

The motion has been tabled my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), for Clacton (Mr Carswell) and for St Ives (Andrew George), the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) and myself. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us an opportunity to have this very important debate.

The motion is about the scandal of fish discards. Up to half the fish caught in the North sea are thrown back into the water either dead or dying, as a direct consequence of perverse EU common fisheries policy rules. Members will know that there was an overwhelming public reaction following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign. More than 600,000 people signed petitions calling for an end to discards, and many of them wrote to their Member of Parliament calling for immediate action. Their concerns are clearly mirrored here in Parliament, where the second most supported early-day motion since the general election calls for a discard ban. In addition, we have a Minister responsible for fisheries and a Prime Minister who have both recognised the absurdity of the current rules.

The time is right for a debate of this type because CFP negotiations are at a crucial stage. The European Commission is to make formal proposals in June or July, and decisions are to be taken some time in October, so now is our chance to give the Government a mandate to take the strongest possible line in those negotiations.

It is difficult to know exactly how many fish are being thrown away, because records are not kept and discards are not monitored. However, the EU estimates that in the North sea, between 40% and 60% of the total catch is discarded. The research of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs more or less backs up that figure. In other UK fisheries, the total is probably even higher. For instance, in the west of Scotland area, the Scottish Government believe that as much as 90% of the total cod catch is discarded. Partly because of that horrendous and mind-boggling waste, the European Commission’s own scientific advisers estimate that 72% of assessed EU species are now overfished.

It is grossly unfair that so often the fishermen get the blame for that madness, because most of the discards are the inevitable and unavoidable consequence of decisions

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imposed on them by politicians. To add insult to injury, those laws are supposed to be about conservation.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am very glad to hear what the hon. Gentleman says about fishermen, because Scottish fishermen in particular have spent a great deal of time and effort to try to have measures introduced to minimise discards. However, the current CFP works against them in many ways.

Zac Goldsmith: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Fishermen all around our coast are trying very hard to avoid this appalling waste, and I have yet to meet a fisherman who supports the current rules, so I echo what he says.

As all Members will know, reform of the CFP is complicated and hugely contentious, but whatever reforms are agreed, they must include a discard ban. We know that there are alternatives. For example, we could replace landing quotas with catch quotas so that by-catch that would otherwise be discarded had to be landed. The UK has already been piloting a scheme for cod involving six vessels in England and 17 in Scotland, and results so far suggest that it is working. Discards of cod are down to, I believe, between 1% and 7%. In addition, fishermen are using more selective gear and managing to catch more valuable fish.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I entirely support the hon. Gentleman’s point. I do not wish to sound pedantic, but I hope he agrees that when we talk about fish discards, we are primarily talking about the discard of dead fish. There are many fisheries in which the poor fish, although they are no doubt traumatised, can be slipped back into the sea. Many of them are juveniles and capable of further growth.

Zac Goldsmith: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point, and in fact the motion suggests a

“derogation only for species proven to have a high survival rate on discarding”,

so that would include the type of catch that he mentions.

In addition to the pilots in our own waters, a discard ban has been operating since 1987 in Norway, where over-quota or unwanted species are landed for a guaranteed minimum value and sold to the fishmeal industry, with the proceeds used to reinvest in and support the fishing industry. To make a discard ban easier, we will have to do everything we can to help fishermen access and use more selective gear so that they can avoid the unwanted fish in the first place.

Consumers also have a clear role. A significant percentage of fish are discarded because there is no market for them, and the Government can boost that market through their vast procurement programme. We spend £2 billion each year on food for the wider public sector, and that is an obvious tool that the Government can use. However, there are obviously limits to what a Government can do to shape a fashion, and it is worth mentioning non-Government initiatives such as “Hugh’s Mackerel Mission”, which is intended to help stimulate new markets for less popular species. It is a valuable campaign, and I urge Members to support it.

Discards are the most visible flaw in the CFP regime, but they are only part of the problem. In addition, the motion calls for radical decentralisation, and I wish

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briefly to focus on that. One of the key demands from our fishing communities, and in particular from the under-10 metre fleet, is that we assert our control over what are wrongly described as our sovereign waters—the 12 nautical miles surrounding our coastline. I say “wrongly” because whereas the British Government can legally impose whatever rules and regulations they want within those waters, from six to 12 miles out those rules will apply only to British vessels. It is clear that higher standards are a good thing, but only if they are fair and we have an even playing field. That is categorically not the case in our waters.

For example, in 2004 the UK banned pair-trawling for bass within 12 miles of the south-west coast of England, to protect dolphins and porpoises. Although our own fishermen adhered to the law, the ban did absolutely nothing to prevent French and Spanish trawlers from continuing to catch bass in those waters, which was both wrong and unfair. If those rights for foreign vessels are to be retained, it seems to me that they should come with an absolute and non-negotiable obligation to adhere to our own rules. That is why the motion demands, among other things, that any reforms of the CFP must

“enable the UK to introduce higher standards of management and conservation in respect of all vessels fishing within its territorial waters”.

That is an absolutely fundamental issue. If we reassert our control over those waters we will not only provide welcome relief for our smaller boats against the onslaught of the factory fishing vessels, but we will be able to establish an intelligent, ecosystem-based management system and ensure the health of our fisheries indefinitely.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman feel that it was a mistake almost 40 years ago when the fishing grounds were used as a bargaining chip for entering the European Economic Community, as it then was? What will he do to ensure that his Government reverse that and give us 200-mile control rather than 12-mile control?

Zac Goldsmith: The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my concluding remarks, so I will ask him to hold on for a few moments.

If we were able to reassert control over our waters, we would also be able to set the rules on science. With the active involvement of those who depend more than anyone else on the viability and health of our marine environment—the fishermen themselves—we would be able to get the policy right. That would also allow us to do something even more important—to recognise in law and in our regulatory regime, finally, the difference between smaller, traditional fishing vessels and their giant industrial competitors. It is an absolute mystery to me why successive Governments have always chosen to view the latter, the so-called fishing lobby, as the true voice of fishermen.

More than three quarters of the UK fleet is made up of vessels of 10 metres and under, which represent about 65% of full-time employment. Under the previous Administration, the 5,000 or so 10-metre and under vessels were given just 4% of the national quota, compared with the staggering 96% that was given to bigger boats,

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which number fewer than 1,500. It is staggeringly unfair, and if we were able to organise ourselves in the way that we chose within those 12 miles, we would be able to recognise the madness of that system in law.

It is an obvious observation that the smaller vessels are restricted in where they can go and what damage they can do, simply because of their size. The tools that they use do not compare with those available to the industrial factory fishing vessels, some of which have lines that would stretch from Parliament to Brighton, and purse seine nets that are big enough to swallow two millennium domes—which is a nice thought in some respects.

Whereas the interests of the smaller fishing communities are necessarily aligned with conservationists and consumers, the tools of destruction used by the mega-trawlers are fundamentally incompatible with any kind of sustainable future. That has finally been recognised at EU level, in word if not in deed. The new EU Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, has said:

“We…believe, based on scientific information, that small-scale fisheries are more sustainable and have a lower environmental footprint…Small-scale fisheries are also…more friendly to employment, and this is a key issue. We also recognise that small-scale fisheries are very important for the survival of coastal communities, for their identity, culture, history and way of life.”

Hear, hear to that, but let us see that finally translated into law. It is time for a clear and forceful policy distinction between the interests of the small-scale, more traditional fisherman, and large-scale operations.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Is it possible for us to have small-scale fishing out to 12 miles, and to ban factory fishing within, or am I being slightly naive in this modern age?

Zac Goldsmith: I can only tell my hon. Friend that I would like to see a system biased in favour of the small-scale, traditional fisherman, but that is an academic discussion until we reassert our control over those 12 miles. When we have done that, we can raise standards. Lobby groups that represent the fishermen who use smaller vessels are very much in support of his message.

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree with me about the current restrictions on the 6 and 12-mile limits? The 0 to 6-mile limit is restricted to UK fishermen only, but in the 6 to 12-mile zone, we share access with vessels from member states that have historical fishing rights.

Zac Goldsmith: My hon. Friend makes an accurate observation. That was exactly my point in my opening remarks. The zone between 6 and 12 miles is described as sovereign or territorial waters, but we are unable to apply our rules to foreign vessels, which is deeply unfair. I know that she will speak on that issue with much greater experience than I could ever hope for.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this measure before the House. Like his constituency, my constituency can hardly be described as coastal, but we have both had a large amount of correspondence on this subject. I believe that that is informed not only by concern for the

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environment and our fishing industry but by an instinctive dislike of wasting food, which is very deep in the national psyche.

Zac Goldsmith: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. In normal circumstances reform of the CFP would be regarded as a nerdy issue, of interest to very few, but fish discards have caught the public’s imagination, for all the reasons that he identifies. No one likes the idea of waste, and no one welcomes the obliteration of our marine environment. People also instinctively recognise that this is also about fairness.

I shall conclude shortly, because I know that there is great demand among hon. Members to speak. For all Ted Heath’s “pure brilliance”—his words, not mine, as no one will be surprised to hear—he was wrong to surrender our fishing rights as a price worth paying for our entry into the European Economic Community. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) about that. However, we have an opportunity to empower our brilliant fisheries Minister to right some of those historical wrongs. We can end discards, restore control over that key 12-mile zone, and set rules that allow both our fishing communities and our marine environment to survive and flourish. I strongly urge all hon. Members to support the motion.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I should let the House know that the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) have been selected. She may move them later.

Before I call Mr Austin Mitchell, I remind the House that I have extended the limit to 12 minutes.

2.24 pm

Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) both on his record on conservation issues and on securing this important debate. It is marvellous that the grumbles and grievances of Members about the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority have subsided so much that we have time for a full-length debate on this matter. I hope that all the hon. Members for inland fishing ports who are round about me in the Chamber are gathering to give us their ports’ views on the CFP. Fishing rarely gets such an opportunity for a serious debate. We are usually squeezed in at the end of another serious discussion, but today we have time, and I hope all fishing Members use it.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall certainly did a useful and important job, but we should draw attention to the iniquities of the CFP, which causes the problem of discards in the first place. The CFP puts marine wildlife, seaweed and all forms of sea life into the European constitution. It is the first constitution to include seaweed, marine life, algae and all the other things. That is a great achievement in constitution making: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. Marine life has a right to be part of the European constitution, to be dealt with only by European vessels!” That is Stalinism at sea—the last vestige of the Stalinist state—and it is being imposed on the waters around Britain, where it has been most damaging.

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It is my contention that it is impossible to deal adequately with the problem of discards as long as the CFP remains, because it is the major cause of discards.

Mr MacNeil: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of a European consultation paper on the CFP. The paper admitted the failure of the CFP and that the areas where it worked were those under national control. Surely if people want the CFP to continue, they should allow national control to 199 miles, and apply the CFP between 199 and 200 miles—a minimal ribbon. The CFP has failed and will continue to do so, but there are no milestones by which we can correct the CFP in future. We will bumble on for years with the CFP unless European Governments get their acts together and get rid of it.

Austin Mitchell: I hope that that becomes part of Scottish National party policy and that it is implemented by the new SNP Government in Edinburgh—it certainly needs to be. I hereby renew my application to become the SNP fisheries spokesman. My previous applications over the years have been consummately rejected.

The important point is that the CFP allocates catches by quota to fishing vessels in mixed fishing grounds, which waters around the British coast are. As long as we control catches by quotas, there will always be discards, because fisherman who put to sea for haddock or cod will catch species that are not in their quotas.

Mr MacNeil: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one other main problem with the CFP is the single-species stipulation, which often applies to the species that are most under threat? That causes distortions in the catching of other species and leads to discards. There are better models than the EU model, such as those in Norway, Iceland and the Faroes. The CFP model is the worst of the lot. That is why those countries will have nothing to do with Europe.

Austin Mitchell: I agree, absolutely—this speech is becoming a duet between me and the Scottish National party, which is an interesting state of affairs. The problem that the hon. Gentleman points to is that simplistic solutions will not work. The problem with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s proposals is that they are simplistic. The EU has responded to them with another simplistic solution, which will not work either. It took the Norwegians 20 years to develop their techniques, and they did it in very different fisheries, with an emphasis on conserving the young, immature fish. Norway’s job has therefore been much easier, but it has taken it 20 years to eliminate discards. We have had 10 years of working to reduce discards, in which they have been reduced by 50%. That has happened partly, it has to be said, as a result of decommissioning, but also because of other measures, such as square-mesh panels, which were developed by the industry as a means of conservation.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Norwegians’ use of temporary real-time closures of areas when by-catch becomes excessive has served as an incentive for fishermen to use more selective gear? Does he also agree that selling fish caught illegally, without quota, through fishermen’s sales organisations—where the fishermen are entitled to only 20% of the revenue to cover the costs, thereby avoiding

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wastage and maintaining incentives to use selective gear by channelling profits back into fisheries—has been a key measure in achieving what he describes?

Austin Mitchell: I agree, absolutely. We have a lot to learn from the Norwegians, but the point is that the Norwegians control their own waters in the 200-mile limit around Norway, just as we should control the 200-mile limit—or the median line—around the British coast, but we do not. Therefore, we cannot enforce such measures. That is the problem with all these arguments.

The television programmes that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall did were fantastic. The great innovation—the great gimmick—of landing discards at Hastings and throwing them to the crowd on the beach, because landing them would have been illegal, was marvellous, because people took those fish home and cooked them. I wrote to Fearnley-Whittingstall and suggested that he should hire a cruiser and follow the fishing fleet around, picking up the discards and serving them as expensive meals to a wealthy clientele on the North sea coast. That kind of experiment would have been useful. However, his solution is simplistic; therefore, it will not work.

Following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s pressure on fisheries policy—on which I again congratulate him—the EU has put forward another simplistic solution. What it is doing—I suspect rather cynically—is setting out the problem, throwing it back to the nation states and telling them to solve it with a ban on discards, which will not work and cannot work. The Minister cannot solve the problem, so we are in deadlock. The EU proposes measures that will not work and forces them on the nation states, which cannot enforce them because of the common fisheries policy, and nothing happens, which is likely to remain the outcome.

The British reduction of discards by more than 50% over 10 years was achieved through square-mesh panels, video observation of the fishermen, closing grounds in-season and cod recovery plans, which were submitted by the fishermen and approved by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. They were all painstaking, laborious techniques, but they have worked. That is the only way to do it, not through a simplistic ban, because fishermen will continue to discard.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): There have been lots of European ideas to enable the cod recovery plans. However, on many occasions scientists put forward regulations and suggestions when fishermen were saying that there were schools upon schools of cod in the sea. Therefore, there is perhaps a difference between the scientist and the fisherman when it comes to who knows best.

Austin Mitchell: That is certainly true, and again, it illustrates the difficulties that we face. One attempt that Europe has made—the cod ban—has proved disastrous for enforcement and protecting stocks, not to mention avoiding discards. That is control from the centre. What we need in the EU now is a policy to address that, yet power is being taken away from the Council—at least we have an opportunity to put up a fight against any proposals in the Council, and to bargain and improve our position in negotiations—and transferred to the Commission. However, the commissioners have never

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knowingly handed power down to the nation states—or, in the case of fishing, to the regional advisory councils. The North sea RAC is doing a splendid job. If the power to manage stocks was conceded to it, it could eliminate discards. However, it is not doing that because in the final analysis, the EU will never hand over the necessary powers to allow the RACs or nation states to deal with the problem adequately. In those situations, discarding will continue because, under a discard ban, what is a fisherman who catches fish that are not on his quota supposed to do with them? It is inevitable that he will chuck them overboard, if he can do so unobserved. We cannot monitor every ship by satellite or closed-circuit television; that is just impossible. So this is an impossible plan and it will not work.

That is why I was loth to give my support to the early-day motion. There is a continuous conflict between the conservationists, whose aims I admire, and the needs of commercial fishing. We see this in the marine conservation areas. There is now an argument to make them areas in which there is either no fishing or very restricted fishing, but we must not turn the waters around the British coast into a patchwork quilt, with some areas where fisherman can catch and some where they cannot, or with different quotas for different areas involving limits on species. It is appalling that there is a proposal to ban fishing in the experimental areas that are being set up. We cannot do that.

Barry Gardiner: Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the 2006 reorganisation of the Manguson Stevens Act in the US required the end of over-fishing by 2010? In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service has now heralded the fact that that has taken place in US waters. That policy’s success was due to the requirement for new annual catch limits in every fishery, and the establishment of strict scientific guidelines on the limits of sustainability, within which annual catch limits could be set.

Austin Mitchell: That is so. We have set up our marine conservation areas, and I support them, but I do not support them as a means of restricting the opportunities for fishing.

I suppose that I had better bring my remarks to a conclusion, enthusiastic as I am to go on for hours, preventing all the other Members who want to raise matters from doing so. I shall simply say that the fishing industry has the greatest and the closest interest in proper conservation, because it has an interest in the sustainability of stocks. It wants the stocks to be there to hand on to the next generation of fishermen. That is why it was always important for us to have 200-mile limits to protect our fishing, in the way that Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, America, Canada and many other nations have been able to do. We cannot do that now, however, because Ted Heath foolishly handed these powers over, just like that, without argument, to Europe. The fishing industry wants sustainable catching as well as conservation measures, and it is the only body that can enforce them and ensure that they work, because it is in the interests of the fishermen to do so.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): Although the industry might have the desire to be involved in conservation measures, would the hon. Gentleman agree that, as a result of the quotas and the ridiculous policy on discards,

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there is no incentive for fishermen to take that long-term view? Anything we can do to align the stewardship incentives with the incentives for the industry would be extremely welcome.

Austin Mitchell: I agree. That is a very important point, and well put—said he, unctuously. This comes back to my point that the only way of enforcing these measures is if the industry enforces them itself, because it is the only one who has such an interest in them. At the moment, the regulations work in a contrary direction, but if they could work with the grain of the industry, and if the industry could be involved in formulating the measures, we could get a proper, effective conservation measure that would work. That is the aim, and we should not look for measures from Europe. We should aim for a handing down of power to the industry, so as to involve it in creating sustainability and pursuing its own interests.

2.39 pm

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): For the second time today, I declare a special interest as the custodian of an under-10 metre commercial trawler, although she is not fishing at present. May I also thank all hon. Members for the support and kindness they have shown me following Neil’s death? It is a great comfort to me and my children that so many people have been thinking of us.

I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee and to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) for securing this debate. Europe’s fish stocks are shared out according to Council regulation 2371/2002, which must be reviewed by 31 December 2012. This is the third review we have seen. I will not dwell on the history, although I will go back over a little of it. In 1972, the UK accession to the European Economic Community agreed equal access to a common resource. In 1976, the UK declared a 200-mile limit or median line, even though we had by then ceded control of fisheries to the EEC. In 1983, the total allowable catch—TAC—and quota system was agreed, along with the principle of relative stability, which is a mechanism of sharing out the European TAC among the member states according to their historical record of fishing. That agreement was reviewed in 1992 and the fishing industry was looking for some change, but it never came. In 2002, we were given a promise of change, but still TACs and quotas continued, with this Minister’s Department and, more recently, devolved Administrations responsible for the domestic quota management. So much regulation has been heaped on fishermen over the past 40 years, is it any wonder UK fishermen feel they have been served a very bad deal? I agree with their view.

There are several parts to this motion. An ecosystems-based approach to fisheries management is sensible, and I am pleased the Minister is already looking at marine protected areas. However, I have grave concerns that despite in excess of £4 million being spent since 2009 on consultation, my local fishermen in Looe and Polperro feel that the information that they have supplied has been completely ignored by Finding Sanctuary and Natural England. Scientists, environmentalists and fishermen should work together, but to make this work fishermen must be confident that they are equal partners. I hope that the Minister will confirm that no marine protected area will be imposed upon the south-west

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unless and until there is buy-in from the fishermen. I attended one of the Finding Sanctuary consultations with my husband, and we were asked to give details of where the fishermen worked so that the marine protected areas would not prevent them from earning. I am shocked to be told by those very same fishermen today that those very areas are now identified for closure or restriction.

Socio-economics must be a major factor when marine environmental measures are introduced. The discarding of fish is a wicked waste of nutrition. I congratulate Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on bringing the issue to the attention of the public and to that of the European Commission. In the early 1990s, south-west fishermen covered Royal parade in Plymouth with plaice to illustrate the waste caused by the quota, but 20 years on we are still talking about the problem. There are anomalies to a discard ban. Lobster and crab survive capture. Crab pots are not size-sensitive, yet if all the babies were landed, it would lead to the extinction of the species.

I think that 2015 is a realistic target to ensure we fish sustainably. British fishermen do not intentionally set out to catch baby fish; they continually adapt their nets with square mesh panels and separator grids to avoid catching small fish or the wrong species. I understand that only two days ago discussions at a meeting north of the border centred around introducing a trial of a net to reduce discards in the nephrops fishery. I have been told that it would take only half a day to adapt an existing nephrops net to this design. Fishermen cannot avoid capturing unwanted fish and, in my constituency, they sometimes find their nets full of undersized red gurnards. Those are non-pressure stock and, according to the Marine Conservation Society, the data have shown an indication of their stability in recent years. We need to find a use for these fish, however.

Scientists and environmentalists will often talk about fish without considering the fishermen. Many people forget that a fishing skipper needs expertise in a number of fields: engineering, fish biology, navigation and weather forecasting, as well as the usual requirements for running a small business. Imagine how soul destroying it is to tow gear for hours, haul in a net and find the cod-end full of the wrong species, then throw them back and return to port with a massive fuel bill and no money to pay for it! It angers me when I hear scientists dismiss out of hand the fishermen’s assessment of the stocks. The fishermen—and some fisherwomen; we have at least one in Cornwall—are experts and should be treated as equals.

Let me move on to deal with fishing within territorial waters. According to paragraph 2 of article 17 of the basic regulation, fishing activity is restricted in waters up to 12 miles from the baseline under the sovereignty or jurisdiction of member states to local fishermen or those from other member states with historic rights—until the end of 2012 when the limits that have been in place for 30 years could be abolished.

I believe that abolition of this protection would be a move too far. We have a referendum lock in place for new EU treaties, so why not have a referendum if the protection of our sovereign territorial waters is threatened? I believe the 12-mile limit should be reserved for small inshore UK vessels that are unable to migrate to fishing grounds further from their home ports. These vessels support coastal communities. Small vessels—even small trawlers that operate with a single trawl, many fitted

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with rockhopper foot ropes and vented trawl doors to avoid damaging the sea bed—have a lower impact on the marine environment than more powerful vessels or vessels towing two nets at the same time.

Under 10-metre vessels have been disadvantaged by the UK system. The underestimation of the quota came to light under the last Government, who failed to resolve the problem. We now find that the very vessels that caused the least amount of damage to the stocks are struggling to survive.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I praise my hon. Friend not just for the knowledge and expertise she brings to this debate, but for the dignified way in which she has spoken. I speak as an MP for a landlocked area, and we are lucky that a number of fresh fish sellers come daily into my local villages in Colne Valley and West Yorkshire. We also have Fairtrade shops, so we know what kind of chocolate or coffee to buy. Will my hon. Friend advise my constituents on what kind of accreditation marks they should look out for if they want to make a knowledgeable purchase of sustainable fish products?

Sheryll Murray: Yes, the Marine Conservation Society accredits species of fish caught in an environmentally friendly way—pole fishing for tuna, for example, or mackerel handlining, which is particularly important in the south-west. I understand from a question put to the Minister earlier that there is cause for concern in Cornwall about the cost of accreditation for mackerel handline fishermen.

Andrew George: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowledging the point I put in a question this morning. For Marine Stewardship Council accreditation, the 200 Cornish fishermen who benefit from this particular fishery have to pay £12,000 plus VAT a year in registration costs. In addition, they see that a number of rather high-impact fishing methods used elsewhere have also received accreditation, which they view as altogether downgrading the significance of MSC accreditation.

Sheryll Murray: I thank my hon. Friend, who has great expertise in that subject. I applaud the way in which the Minister is trying to resolve the matter, but ask him to take a further look at the impact assessment accompanying the present consultation.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Earlier in her speech, my hon. Friend mentioned the marketing of fish. Is it not important for us to seek innovative ways of marketing them? The humble mackerel is really a tuna. Should it not be called the north Atlantic tuna? I know that in my hon. Friend’s constituency the pilchard is in reality a Cornish sardine and that the pollack has been renamed a colin, but surely we should consider other innovative ways of putting unpopular fish on the slabs of fishmongers, or at least into some form of fishfinger that people would want to eat.

Sheryll Murray: Marketing necessities in the United Kingdom certainly include the need to attract the British housewife to other species of fish as well as just the traditional cod and haddock.

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I assure Members that I have tried a variety of fish in my time. Perhaps at this point I should pay tribute to my local fishermen. When my husband came home with a fish for me, it was usually a damaged fish that he could not put on the market for sale. Since his death I have received carrier bags full of fish, and I now have a huge amount in my freezer. I thank the fishermen in my constituency for considering my family in that way.

Several assumptions have been made on page 13 of the impact assessment that accompanies the recently published consultation document. May I ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether his Department has conducted a sensitivity analysis to test the effect of those assumptions on under-10-metre vessels?

Let me end by thanking my hon. Friend for the way in which he has approached his brief. Having been involved in fisheries for almost 30 years, I have dealt with quite a number of fisheries Ministers, and it is really refreshing to have a Minister who cares about the marine environment, fish stocks, and—most important to me—the fishermen themselves. I wish him well in the negotiations over the coming months, and hope that he can secure a deal in the Council to secure the real change for which the industry has been calling since 1983. I hope that all Members will join me in supporting the motion, and that the Minister will have the backing of the House in seeking the outcome that we all want to see.

2.52 pm

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who brings a great deal of expertise and experience to this and other fisheries debates as well as to DEFRA parliamentary questions dealing with fisheries issues. I do not have the same amount of personal experience. Indeed, I believe that I was one of the only three Members who spoke during a fisheries debate in Westminster Hall in December whose constituencies did not contain fishing fleets; the others were the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain).

I note that many more such Members are present today. That may demonstrate the power of television in focusing attention on the issue of discards, which those who are involved in fisheries issues have been discussing for many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) mentioned the action that has been taken by fishing fleets around the United Kingdom. That too has been happening for many years, although it is in danger of being overlooked in the debate. It is assumed that the issue has only just come to public attention and that people are now suddenly caring about it, but that is far from being the case.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park on tabling the motion and initiating the debate. He has hit on an issue that many of our constituents have raised. However, we should not see dealing with discards as a panacea for all the problems connected with fisheries, especially as we head towards the period from July onwards when the Minister will be discussing reform of the common fisheries policy.

In the fisheries debate in December, I said that about 10 years had passed since I worked at the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the

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same arguments are being made now as were made then about the pressing need for reform of the common fisheries policy.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): My hon. Friend says that there were calls for reform many years ago, but nothing has substantively changed. I think we should abolish the CFP and return to having national fisheries, but in any case is it not time that we got rid of the word “reform”? It is used by Front-Bench spokesperson after Front-Bench spokesperson as a get-out for doing nothing in reality.

Tom Greatrex: I share some of my hon. Friend’s frustrations about the lack of progress over many years. Often in European discussions, issues get traded off against each other; certain issues that should have been dealt with are not addressed, as other issues are seen as more pressing concerns. Fisheries have suffered as a result. Perhaps because I am slightly younger than my hon. Friend, or perhaps because I am a little naive in this respect, I am more hopeful than he is that the documentation from the Commission and some of the comments from the commissioner may give us cause to think that we have a serious chance of getting decent reform of the CFP on this occasion.

We will certainly have further discussions on this topic, but it is right to offer the Minister who will handle it in Europe our encouragement. We all understand that the negotiations will be very complex, as they will involve various different states and lots of different interests. One of the consequences of the increased interest in discards and other issues is that that has provoked the commissioner into saying some interesting things recently. While just saying things is not necessarily an indication of future action, there is now an opportunity, and we would be foolish not to try to take it.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): Is it not noteworthy that the commissioner has referred to the sheer scale of the public outcry and demand for action in the United Kingdom, and does that not point to the need for us to sustain this admirable campaign—I congratulate all those who have been leading it—and to broaden it to other European countries?

Tom Greatrex: My right hon. Friend makes an important point, which I alluded to when talking about the power of the television documentary and the campaign.

I want to address the wider issue of CFP reform, as well as discards. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) must know a lot about the discards issue, as some of the fleets in her constituency have tackled it in innovative ways, such as through employing different nets. As that shows, fishing fleets have taken action, but we must address discards within the context of the CFP as a whole, and there are other important issues that will also need to be taken seriously in the negotiations.