Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North) (Lab): I will put to one side a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State attacking the Labour Government for being slow to build nuclear

12 July 2011 : Column 184

reactors, which shows a capacity for humour that I admire. Do the Secretary of State and the Department now have contractual details from our gas supply companies, which used not to be the case? That would, first, enable him to assure himself about the security of supply, not least given that we often buy gas on the spot market or in the short term, and secondly, enable his Department to scrutinise those contracts to make sure that when companies increase gas prices they are doing so in ways that are fair to the customer.

Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point; he is expert in this area. The Energy Bill, which we hope will achieve Royal Assent in the autumn when we come back from the recess, contains provisions that ensure that we are able to be informed about these measures and ensure greater security of supply. He will have read in the press about long-term arrangements being contracted, for example, between Centrica and the state of Qatar. We have a number of these longer-term arrangements. Security of supply is important in physical terms, and we also think about it in price terms. The 30% increase in gas prices over the past year has been a significant shock to a number of consumers. One of the reasons we want to get to low carbon is to protect the economy and consumers against that sort of shock.

Mr Speaker: I always enjoy reading the Secretary of State’s book, but on the whole I prefer the abridged to the “War and Peace” version.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): As a Minister in the Department of Energy at the time of the privatisation of the electricity industry, I have watched with concern as a market that had 13 participants at that time has shrunk to just six under Labour. How will my right hon. Friend’s proposals drive competition?

Chris Huhne: I thank the hon. Gentleman. That is exactly right. The biggest feature of the market is the fact that 99% of British energy consumers are served by just six companies, and we desperately need to increase that number. The arrangements that we are announcing today are designed to bring new entrants into the market by providing certainty on price, because one obstacle that they have is in understanding how the market works. Many of the new entrants will therefore be encouraged to invest.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State referred to the need for a “strong, independent regulator” to protect consumers. Given the store he places by that, is it not time that Ofgem looked again at the practice of door-to-door selling, through which many vulnerable consumers are being ripped off by the big six?

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We continue to monitor that issue and are discussing it with Ofgem. We will bring forward any appropriate measures when we have considered the matter.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Carbon charging is a tax on jobs. Why are we retarding economic recovery by introducing what is in essence a carbon tax on business and job creation?

12 July 2011 : Column 185

Chris Huhne: I do not accept my hon. Friend's analysis. Nick Stern has described the failure to take account of the carbon consequences of our actions as the greatest market failure of all time. Sometimes we have to incorporate the consequences of our actions for the environment into the market decision. That is what we are doing.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Given that electricity market reform will lead to windfall profits for existing nuclear plant of at least £50 million a year and given the rising concerns about fuel poverty, of which the Secretary of State will be aware, will the Government introduce a windfall tax on nuclear and use the revenue to help those living in fuel poverty?

Chris Huhne: The hon. Lady is referring, I think, to the potential impact of the carbon price floor, which will of course begin in 2013 and then rise slowly. There will be no impact of the type that she is suggesting until its introduction. It must be considered alongside all the measures we are introducing to save energy and protect those in fuel poverty.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware of the amount of green tax that is already put on people’s energy bills. I am puzzled about why his Department will set aside £30 million of taxpayers’ money for a certain technology. Surely if we are encouraging the market, it should be the market that puts up the money and not the taxpayer.

Chris Huhne: There is a sound argument in economic literature for encouraging early-stage technologies. Many British Governments have done that for many years. Green taxes are much lower than the estimates that have been bandied about recently in the press. We are committed to bringing forward in the annual energy statements our estimate of the overall impact of all our policies—not only the low-carbon policies, but the energy-saving policies—on consumer bills. The last time we did that, it was estimated that in 2020 our policies would add just 1% to consumer bills, and that assumed a world in which gas prices are lower than they are today and in which oil prices are only $80 a barrel, instead of $118 a barrel. If we want to protect British consumers against the vagaries of these markets that are buffeted by events, such as those in Libya and the middle east, we have to move to low-carbon sources of electricity. That is good news for British consumers, not bad.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State has said little about the role of solar energy in future policy development. Representatives of the industry have told me that the Government’s feed-in tariff proposals have effectively decapitated the industry. What discussions has he had with industry representatives to overcome that and promote the industry?

Chris Huhne: My colleagues and I have had many discussions with the solar industry. The hon. Gentleman should know that nobody installing less than two tennis courts’ worth of solar panels has been in the least bit affected by the scheme announced by the Government whom he supported. For three years, the previous Government also made no allowance for those proposing to install more than two tennis courts’ worth of solar panels. I make no bones about the fact that we need to

12 July 2011 : Column 186

protect the consumer interest. If we had not acted, we would have taken so much money out of the budget that it would have affected not only small-scale solar, but other renewables. It is time to end boom and bust not just in the economy but in solar panels.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I will skip my own anti-nuclear preamble and just congratulate the Secretary of State on his plans for an emissions performance standard. Does he agree that that and other parts of his plans will in the end protect consumers from the price shocks associated with fossil fuels?

Chris Huhne: There is absolutely no doubt; my hon. Friend makes a very good point. Over the past year we have had a 30% increase in the price of gas, which has fed through exactly into consumers' gas prices and into electricity prices, too, because gas is such a significant part of how we generate electricity. By moving more towards low-carbon sources of electricity—renewables and nuclear—we will insulate ourselves against such price shocks. That is good news for the economy, good news for all businesses, whether they are in this area or not, and good news for jobs, and I hope that it will be welcomed in all parts of the House.

Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that a targeted capacity mechanism almost inevitably becomes untargeted as it chases lagging investment? That inevitably also leads to overcapacity, at a high price. Does he accept that a representation market, coupled with interconnection, storage and demand reduction arrangements, goes with the grain of a low-carbon energy economy and the electricity market reform measures that he is proposing? If he does, why is he holding a further consultation on capacity mechanisms outside the time scale of his main proposals? Does he have no idea what a capacity mechanism might look like, and is someone twisting his arm in the whole process?

Mr Speaker: I was not very good at maths at school, but I counted five questions there. I know that the Secretary of State will provide a pithy reply.

Chris Huhne: There is a clear description in the White Paper of the different models on which we are consulting, and we are clear that there are essentially two families. One is the strategic reserve, which is effectively bought by the Government and released into the market at a clear trigger point, and the other is a wider range of capacity that is bought through a generalised mechanism for the market as a whole. Either of those targets a particular level of spare capacity, because we have to avoid black-outs in future. If the hon. Gentleman reads the detail of the proposals, I think he will find them compelling. We will reach decisions by the end of the year.

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): I welcome this fundamental reform of the electricity market. To what extent do we believe we can attract the supply chain to the renewables sector, and is the Department working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that we see an industrial benefit, not just a carbon benefit?

12 July 2011 : Column 187

Chris Huhne: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and yes, we are doing that. We have an enormous potential market with a lot of expertise, particularly in offshore wind, as she well knows. I had the pleasure of opening in her company what was at the time the largest offshore wind farm, quite near to her constituency. We can have an enormous supply chain, and we have to send out clear signals of our commitment, as we are doing. We are also getting the costs down to £100 per megawatt hour, and we can have an enormous and effective industry.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): We all want to see an affordable, secure and low-carbon supply of electricity. On affordability and price, the Secretary of State will know that people who live in peripheral areas of the United Kingdom pay more for their electricity. Is there anything in the White Paper that can assist them, particularly as those areas produce the electricity in the first place?

Chris Huhne: That is a good point. One thing that Ofgem is currently examining is the transmission review, and we will have to wait and see. The point that I and a number of other people have been making is that in future, in a world in which electricity will not be generated very close to centres of population—we will no longer be siting power stations in the middle of our cities, like Battersea power station; they may instead be far away from cities, as they will have to be where the wind blows or where the tides are—we will have to reconsider transmission charging to ensure that renewable types of energy are not penalised. That will go for distant communities as well.

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): The Secretary of State may be aware of the proposals for a wind park of between 900 MW and 1,200 MW covering some 76 square miles just 10.2 miles off the coast of my constituency. Many people in our area are profoundly concerned about that. Given that the local authorities do not have any role in the process, is he prepared to meet me, and my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope), for Poole (Mr Syms) and for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), so that we might discuss it with him?

Chris Huhne: I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend on the subject. I caution him, however, against being too hostile to what is, after all, potentially a very interesting development that could have considerable benefits not just for the country as a whole but locally. Every single energy source has its detractors, whether it is nuclear, onshore wind turbines, offshore wind turbines, natural gas or fracking. The reality is that we need to find our electricity from somewhere, and that includes offshore wind farms.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am very encouraged by the Secretary of State’s response to the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on transmission charges. Does he recognise that such charges are fundamentally discriminatory against renewables in their current form? Will he give an undertaking that, as part of his electricity market reform, he will finally tackle that matter?

Chris Huhne: That is a responsibility for Ofgem, with which I have had good discussions on the subject. I have made my position very clear—I believe that I am in exactly the same place on this as the hon. Gentleman—and we look forward to Ofgem’s proposals with interest.

12 July 2011 : Column 188

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): The introduction of emissions performance standards is a welcome new policy, but may I ask the predictable follow-up question? Will the Secretary of State confirm that coalition Government policy says that nuclear power stations will be built only if there is no public subsidy, which means no greater subsidy for them, irrespective of subsidies that are given to other parts of the energy industry?

Chris Huhne: I have made it absolutely clear that there is no public subsidy for nuclear. Let me explain exactly what we are saying. At the moment, we have the EU emissions trading scheme, which is designed to encourage low-carbon forms of activity and to discourage high-carbon forms of activity. I do not regard that as a subsidy to nuclear. I do not regard the carbon price floor, which exists to support the EU emissions trading scheme, as a subsidy to nuclear—I do not regard a price guarantee that is designed to get certainty for low-carbon generation as a subsidy to nuclear. There will be no extra subsidy for nuclear.

The only justification for giving a subsidy to a technology when it is out there in the market is if it is an early-stage, pioneer technology, such as wave or offshore wind, that has not reached full commercialisation. Otherwise, there should be a low-carbon, level playing field right across the board to discourage carbon emissions and to encourage low-carbon activity.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who is on the Treasury Bench, has been kind enough to visit Hartlepool and has seen for himself the huge potential in new nuclear and offshore wind. The statement was good on the analysis of problems, but not so good on providing solutions. What practical, tangible support will the Secretary of State provide to ensure that Hartlepool can realise its vision as the European leader in energy?

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is being slightly unfair, given that our proposal provides precisely the certainly and clarity to investors that will mean a real increase in investment in all of those low-carbon technologies. I very much hope that his constituency benefits from that process.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I believe that this reform package could unlock billions of pounds of private sector investment, and that it is critical for our national security and new technology, including marine and deep geothermal energy. What analysis have the Government undertaken to estimate how much money will be unlocked by the reforms?

Chris Huhne: Ofgem’s overall estimate is that we need new energy infrastructure investment across all energy sources, including gas, of £200 billion. In terms of plant and grid connections alone for electricity, we are talking about £110 billion over the next 10 years. That is roughly double the normal level of energy investment that takes place in this country. That will be a significant source of demand to fuel the recovery, and of extra jobs, and there will be enormous opportunities for growth throughout the country.

12 July 2011 : Column 189

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Four million families heading for fuel poverty does not constitute affordability; a £200 billion shortfall in infrastructure does not constitute security of supply; and a new dash for gas does not constitute low carbon. The Secretary of State knows, as the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) certainly does, that vertical integration in the big six is the biggest single problem. Why did the Secretary of State not address that in his statement, and when will he do so to break up the monopoly of the big six?

Chris Huhne: I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman’s expertise in this area, but slightly less respect for the passion with which he tries to hold this Government to account. Given that no type of electricity-generating plant can be built in less than 18 months—if I am not entirely incorrect, the Government in power 18 months ago were a Labour Government—the idea that any enormous shortfall in infrastructure investment is down to this Government is far-fetched.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): Given the Secretary of State’s comments about fluctuations in the price of imported fossil fuels, does he recognise the strategic importance of UK Coal and the market to delivering flexible electricity via carbon capture and storage? Will he undertake to work with the UK coal industry so that it can assist in solving the problems in which we find ourselves?

Chris Huhne: The ministerial team are committed to bringing on CCS, which will provide a place in the long term for coal to continue to meet our energy needs. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who has responsibility for energy, is meeting representatives from the coal industry tomorrow to discuss precisely this matter.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): In addition to what has been said about the British deep-mine coal industry, does the Energy Secretary agree that it will play a crucial role in future electricity generation in the UK? If so, what sort of assistance can he give to ensure the survival of the UK coal industry?

Chris Huhne: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that coal is an important part of our energy mix now and going forward, which is why we have found £1 billion in the comprehensive spending review to fund CCS. Indeed, there has been a substantial increase in deep-mine coal over the past year.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): My constituents in Suffolk Coastal, which I christened the “green coast” in my maiden speech, will be very happy with the announcement of these reforms. Given those announcements, will the Secretary of State indicate when something such as Sizewell C might be built?

Chris Huhne: The first of the new power stations is at Hinkley Point—construction of the earthworks is already under way—and the others will arrive in fairly short order after that. There will be a further opportunity to consider that in detail during the debate on the national policy statements on Monday.

12 July 2011 : Column 190

Jon Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): Many of my constituents are understandably angry about increased electricity and gas prices—British Gas is a striking example—so can the Secretary of State guarantee that these reforms will not contribute to increased energy prices in the short to medium term?

Chris Huhne: It is inevitable that, given that we need the new investment that we have been discussing today, there will be a cost. The energy companies are not the Salvation Army. They do not do things out of altruism; they do them because they are going to reach a rate of return on capital. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman of this: if he looks at the detail in the White Paper, he will see that our proposals will reduce costs to the consumer compared to leaving the market as it is. Central to our ambition is ensuring that we have affordable, low-cost electricity and that we protect British consumers from the vagaries of past years—with the 30% increase in gas prices and a corresponding increase in electricity prices.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the successful Pulse Tidal project in the Humber. Will he assure the House that, as the Government move forward, tidal will remain a key priority for them and that funding will be secured for investment so that that investment does not go overseas?

Chris Huhne: Tidal power is exciting and has great prospects. We have some enormously important potential sites for tidal stream—for example, the area around the Severn barrage—and I am confident that as the technology progresses it will play an important part in our energy mix.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): In the Secretary of State’s statement, there is one mention of nuclear power, but I do not recall him mentioning it at all when he delivered it. Putting that aside, does he not accept that the industry needs certainty? Otherwise there is a danger that the investment will go elsewhere.

Chris Huhne: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Investors need certainty and clarity, and that is what we are giving them today.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. On decentralised energy, does he agree, particularly with regard to onshore wind, that the sooner it is enabled, the sooner we can overcome the innate reluctance of many communities to accept it. and ensure that they can share in the benefits?

Chris Huhne: I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of community schemes. That message has come clearly from the successful schemes, particularly those north of the border. He is absolutely right to point out that when the community has a clear stake in a proposal, it is much more likely to back it.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The United Nations Environment Programme has found that investment in large-scale renewables in China reached $49 billion last year, whereas in Europe it fell by 22% to $35 billion. Where will the Secretary of State find the capital to drive the expansion in the offshore wind sector, given that the green investment bank is having its borrowing and lending powers so badly restricted by the Treasury?

12 July 2011 : Column 191

Chris Huhne: The achievements in the low-carbon sector in China are quite extraordinary, and the hon. Gentleman has cited one of them. However, I do not agree that we will have a problem with capital shortage. If we provide the certainty and clarity that we are providing, we will find the investment. It is also very noticeable—I hope that he has noticed this—that the green investment bank will begin to borrow and lend from 2015, and that the biggest investment in many of our renewables programmes will come in the latter part of this decade, so the green investment bank will be there in time to help.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Many of us believe that there is currently an over-dependence on onshore wind to achieve the Government’s low-carbon targets. The mid-Wales uplands are under threat of being desecrated through industrialisation by a plethora of multiple wind farms. Does the Secretary of State agree that cumulative impact and high landscape value should be material planning considerations in deciding on onshore wind projects?

Chris Huhne: I accept the position that my hon. Friend has taken on the particular proposals that affect his area. All I would say is that by comparison with other renewable technologies, onshore wind is a tested, effective and affordable technology. It is the lowest-cost renewable technology available in these islands, and it produces electricity at a similar cost to first-of-a-kind nuclear power stations. However, I return to what I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) about energy sources. It so happens that every energy source has its detractors. As I view wind turbines as beautiful, I hope that we will not find opposition all over the country to what is a cheap and effective source of energy for our consumers.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Post Fukushima, many of our competitor countries in Europe are planning nuclear-free futures, mainly because of the increased cost that Fukushima has created, by making nuclear reactors uninsurable, with a possible bill of hundreds of billions of pounds afterwards. Is it not irresponsible to go ahead with the plans in Britain without any reassessment of cost? Weightman is not allowed to consider that. Can the Minister really say that he is going ahead without subsidy? He seemed to be saying today, “We’re going to have subsidies for old nuclear and new nuclear, but call them something else.”

Chris Huhne: No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong on that. We are setting out a framework to discourage high-carbon activities and encourage low-carbon activities. We do not make any technological judgment about how those particular things proceed. The hon. Gentleman is right that Germany, Italy and Japan have all announced either moratoriums or pauses for new nuclear construction. However, it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that costs will necessarily increase in those circumstances, because obviously if there is less demand for some of the components in nuclear power stations, the normal economics would tell us that their price might fall, so the process might become cheaper. However, I can assure him that we will bear safety in mind first and foremost. That is what I asked Mike Weightman to

12 July 2011 : Column 192

address, and that is what he has answered in the interim report and will answer in the final report.

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): I wonder whether the Secretary of State is aware that there has been a proposal in my constituency for a tidal barrage for the last 20 years. Is there anything in the proposals that will finally allow such developments to compete on a level playing field with proposals for wind?

Chris Huhne: That is one of the technologies that we are taking forward in the renewables road map, and I want to make progress on it. We have a considerable resource in that technology, which we want to develop further right the way around the United Kingdom’s sea frontier.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Whatever other concerns the Secretary of State might try to refute in relation to the carbon floor price, he cannot dispute the fact that if levied in Northern Ireland, it would have a hugely distorting impact on the single electricity market—which is based in statute—north and south in Ireland, with its own regulatory framework, and remove the very certainty and clarity for investors, the need for which he has said his reforms are addressing. Does he recognise not only that the carbon floor price will harm consumers and industry in Ireland, but that distorting the single electricity market at this stage would damage the prospect of this island harnessing offshore energy from Ireland in the future?

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the electricity market arrangements in Northern Ireland are quite distinct from those in England, Scotland and Wales. There is effectively a single market between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and we need to be aware of and respect that. I gather that discussions are ongoing at official level and elsewhere to ensure that there are no unintended consequences of the changes that we introduce.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Feed-in tariffs are proving effective in encouraging people to generate their own renewable energy. Will the Secretary of State look at how they could also be used to encourage the use of negawatts—that is, energy saved—to give people an additional cash incentive to ensure that their homes are warm and snug, and well insulated, so that they do not waste energy?

Chris Huhne: We have been clear in the White Paper on electricity market reform published today that we want to encourage demand-side response. My hon. Friend makes the good point that, in an ideal world, we would move beyond the temporary switching off of demand in order to close the gap between demand and supply and adopt the practice of paying people to reduce overall demand at all times. We are working on that, and we show awareness of that matter in the White Paper. This is a holy grail, however, and we have not yet found a way of doing that without opening up the possibility of wholesale fraud and other problems, but it is a good, interesting idea and we would like to look at it further.

12 July 2011 : Column 193

Points of Order

5.11 pm

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 7 March, the Prime Minister stood with the chairman of Bombardier and said:

“I am bringing the Cabinet to Derby today with one purpose—to do everything we can to help businesses in the region create the jobs and growth on which the future of our economy depends.”

People are now asking whether the Prime Minister already knew that his Government were planning to give the Thameslink order to Germany, costing thousands of jobs, so I asked the Prime Minister in a written question when he knew the outcome of the procurement. His reply, tabled yesterday, does not answer the question, but refers to an irrelevant answer to a different question tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). Is there anything that you can do, Mr Speaker, to get the Prime Minister to give a factual answer to a factual question, or should we assume that he has something to hide?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving me advance notice of it. He came into the House long before I did; he is a seasoned campaigner and a man of great wisdom and experience. He will therefore know that I am not responsible—I say this with some relief—for anything that the Prime Minister might say or do. That is well beyond my ken. The right hon. Gentleman has placed his concerns on the record, and I am sure that he will find other methods, through the use of the Order Paper and other parliamentary processes, of further registering his views and probing the Prime Minister.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seeking your guidance because we are due to have an Opposition day debate tomorrow whose title is as yet totally unspecified. That means that members of the public who wish to attend the debate will have had no notice of the subject, and hon. Members who might wish to prepare for the debate have no cognisance of it. I understand that 48 hours’ notice is normally given of such debates and their titles. May we seek your guidance on why that courtesy is not being extended to us?

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: If it is on the same matter, I call Mr Oliver Heald.

Oliver Heald: Thank you, Mr Speaker. For some hours, the PoliticsHome website has been reporting details of the wording of tomorrow’s motion, yet when I went to inquire where the motion was, I found a queue of Members doing the same thing and we were told that it had not yet been tabled. Should not the rule be that the motion is tabled here first and then put into the media? Is it not time that the recommendation of the Wright Committee that 48’ hours notice should always be given was referred to the Procedure Committee?

Mr Speaker: I note what the hon. Gentleman has said in support of the point of order raised by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main). There is inevitably

12 July 2011 : Column 194

a certain amount of letting off steam in points of order, but the simple factual position is that this is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman asked a normative question about what the rule should be. That is a matter for the House to decide; I have no power in these matters. It is commonplace for some notice to be given, but that is not an unfailing practice. It is for the Member in charge of the motion to decide on the timing of its tabling, in keeping with such rules of the House as apply, but there has been no breach of order in this case. The concern has been registered and will have been heard—

Oliver Heald rose—

Mr Speaker: In a moment. The hon. Gentleman has had one bite; he must not be too greedy. I call Mr John McDonnell.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A letter has gone from the Ministry of Justice today to chief probation officers around the country informing them that the core functions of probation services are to be put out to tender. This is the wholesale privatisation of probation services—possibly the most significant change in probation practice in this country since the service’s foundation. There has been no ministerial statement or written ministerial statement, so may I through you, Mr Speaker, suggest to the Government that this matter is of such import that there should have been at least a written ministerial statement on it?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for advance notice of it. The short answer to the query he raised and the concern he expressed is that I have not been informed of any oral statement on this matter today. I had understood—and, at the time of speaking, I do understand—that there will be a written ministerial statement from the Ministry of Justice about public bodies, but I have not seen the contents of it. I say what I do with some care because it is my best understanding at the moment. If I am wrong or if the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied, he can return to the matter. I am sure that he will in any case find other ways of pursuing it.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: No day would be complete without a point of order from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash). We will come to him; I am saving him up; we look forward to hearing him.

John McDonnell: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The only statement that has come out today has been the consultation paper on reforms proposed in the Public Bodies Bill. The probation service is not covered by that Bill or by the paper itself. I want to emphasise again, through you, Mr Speaker, that this is a significant matter that warrants a ministerial statement of some sort.

Mr Speaker: There are other ways of pursuing the matter. The hon. Gentleman can do so through the use of the Order Paper. I add that we have business questions on Thursday, so if there is no route before then that satisfies the hon. Gentleman, I will look out for him on that occasion.

12 July 2011 : Column 195

Oliver Heald: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that the Opposition motion is likely to be

“That this House believes that it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB”,

would it be in order for the shadow Leader of the House to rise and tell us whether that is the case, as doing so would be a courtesy to the House?

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is a persistent and indefatigable fellow, but I need to say two things to him. First, that is not the way we go about the confirmation of business in this place. Secondly, although it is extraordinarily generous of the hon. Gentleman to refer me to the PoliticsHome website, I am not among those who browse it with any frequency. [Interruption.] “Very wise” says a Government Whip on the Treasury Bench; I suppose Government Whips know about these matters. I think it was the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) who volunteered that helpful advice to me.

Mr Cash: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have the problems with the Division bells in Portcullis House been sorted out? Would you be good enough to look into the matter, Mr Speaker, as last night a number of problems led to significant delay. Has it been sorted out; is the root cause being investigated?

Mr Speaker: I was not aware that there was a problem; I am now. I hope that there is not still a problem. I have known the hon. Gentleman for at least 13 or 14 years and the thought that he might, as a result of some failure, miss a vote is something that saddens me. Whether the same would be said of him by the Government Whips is a matter of legitimate speculation and conjecture. We will leave it there for today.

12 July 2011 : Column 196

National Debt Cap

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

5.19 pm

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to set a legal cap on the amount of outstanding net Government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product; and for connected purposes.

Before I came to this House, I worked as an international bond trader and structurer. One of my roles was to advise Governments that had gone bust. The Governments of Mexico in 1994, Thailand and Indonesia in 1997, Russia in 1998 and Argentina in 2001 believed that investors had an insatiable appetite for their bonds, regardless of their ability to pay. The consequences were devastating.

For the benefit of Members who might be tempted to write off sovereign defaults as a developing world problem, let me cite Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and—very soon, perhaps—Spain and Italy. Had we not had a change of Government 14 months ago, we could have been engulfed in a sovereign debt crisis of our own. Although the coalition Government have restored fiscal probity, it would have been far better if we had not been taken to the brink in the first place. That is why I believe that one idea that we could usefully pinch from our American friends is that of a debt ceiling. Despite the political debate that America’s debt ceiling has provoked in Washington—indeed, precisely because of it—Britain should set a cap on its net national debt as a percentage of GDP.

As in the United States, net public debt has soared in the United Kingdom over the past decade, rising from £312 billion to £920 billion, or from 31% of GDP to 60%. Of course, some of that was due to fiscal stabilisers resulting from the recent financial crisis, but most of it was due to a failure of government. Instead of trying to find solutions to long-term challenges to the public finances, the previous Government took the easy way out, believing that the answer to every problem was to spend more money.

Had that excessive public spending led to hugely improved public services, perhaps the previous Government could have been forgiven, but in many cases it made things worse rather than better. Under the previous Government, welfare spending increased from £149 billion to £218 billion, yet the number of workless households increased from 3.7 million to 3.9 million. Under the previous Government, health spending increased from £58 billion to £117 billion, yet England shamefully lags behind virtually every other European country for cancer and stroke survival rates. Under the previous Government, education spending increased from £50 billion to £87 billion, yet, according to the OECD’s world rankings, over the past decade Britain fell from seventh in the world for reading to 25th, from seventh in the world for maths to 27th, and from fourth in the world for science to 16th. In short, under the previous Government Britain has had Scandinavian levels of public spending but Mediterranean levels of service. Such an attitude to excessive debt was not only economically wrong, but morally corrupt. Politicians have no right to pass the buck to the younger generation by ducking the tough decisions now. Why should our children pay for our mistakes?

12 July 2011 : Column 197

Britain would not be the only country in Europe to adopt legal fiscal constraints. Germany passed a debt brake law in 2009 to cap the federal deficit at a conservative 0.35% of GDP by 2016. Switzerland also has a debt brake, and France’s lower house voted just last month to pursue a similar idea. According to the International Monetary Fund, as many as 80 countries now operate fiscal rules, whereas just seven operated them in 1990. Some Governments, however, are determined to learn the hard way that the markets will impose a limit on state borrowing, just as they do on individuals and companies. The recent bail-outs of Greece, Ireland and Portugal show what happens when Governments ignore that fundamental truth, and act as though investors had no choice but to buy their bonds. Clearly, market discipline is not enough to hold back reckless state spending. By the time the market itself says no, it is too late.

Despite the Government’s efforts, Britain’s inherited economic problem is such that it will take at least another four years to eliminate the structural budget deficit. As a result, net national debt will peak at 71% of GDP in 2014. The coalition Government have not shied from tough decisions and have embarked on a major programme of public sector reforms, but what is to stop a future Government reverting to unrestrained borrowing? Thankfully we do not live in a one-party state, and it is possible that one day we may have a Government who are less economically literate than the current one; so why do we not make it harder for a future Government to create a mess in the first place? A debt cap is no guarantee against fiscal irresponsibility, but it will certainly make it harder for politicians to rely on their favourite ruse of “Buy now, pay later”.

Although my Bill would leave it to the Treasury to set the cap level, I think that fixing it at about 40% of GDP would be appropriate. There is nothing particularly significant about that figure, but, given my 20 years of experience, I believe it would be a sensible place at which to begin the debate.

The start date for the cap would have to be set at some point in the future, perhaps 10 years from now, but that would in no way diminish the effectiveness of the cap. Indeed, knowing the goal a decade in advance would provide the Government with a clear and consistent downward target.

Ideally, the cap should include off-balance-sheet liabilities such as unfunded public sector pensions and private finance initiative schemes. Following the creation of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, this Government are leading the way in trying to assess the amount of such “hidden” public debt. Indeed, tomorrow the OBR is set to publish the whole of Government accounts for the first time in Britain’s history, and that is likely to estimate such debt at over £l trillion. Once a suitable method to measure such liabilities becomes more commonly accepted, perhaps they, too, can be included in a revised cap.

Without proper enforcement, good intentions count for little, so the OBR should be given the task of monitoring compliance with the cap. Should the cap be violated, the Government would be given a fixed period to remedy the situation. Failing that, the Government would be forced, by law, to repurchase Government bonds early, thereby reducing net outstanding debt. Nevertheless, critics will say that faced with the prospect of cutting spending or raising the cap, a Government

12 July 2011 : Column 198

will always opt for the latter, but my Bill would require the Government of the day to make their case openly in Parliament and to explain to the nation as a whole exactly why they believe they need to borrow more. There will need to be a vote, and MPs will have to explain their decision to their constituents. For any Government conscious of their duty, let alone their popularity, the disincentive to doing this should not be underestimated. My Bill will, at the very minimum, force a national conversation where previously there has been only stealth and obfuscation.

Nation states have rightly used public debt as a fiscal tool for centuries. Britain’s debt has been both far higher and far lower than it is now, but it has never been more unsustainable. I believe that restoring Britain’s fiscal rectitude is the calling of this generation of politicians, and the time to start is now.

5.28 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): It is always a joy to listen to new Members coming up with old ideas, or old Members coming up with new ideas, and here we have a new Member eagerly supported by many of the new generation of Tory MPs—a generation who fundamentally hate the concept of the public sector and Government. The tradition they—

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): There’s no one behind you, John!

John Mann: Well, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) is one of the few who would be able to pray in aid the key point I am about to make about previous debates. I am sure the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) would love to pray in aid some of the past figures of the right, such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill, but unfortunately for him there is only one politician whom he can pray in aid on the proposition of capping the national debt, and he is a Labour politician; or rather, he was a Labour politician but he switched sides. His son was once the MP for Bassetlaw, and his name was MacDonald: Ramsay MacDonald. At that time, a failure to understand basic economics led to the formation of a national Government and to John Maynard Keynes having to rescue those who were stuck in the failed logic of the gold standard and everything that emanated from that. A similar constraint on Government action was rejected between 1980 and 1984 by Ronald Reagan, who in fact did exactly the opposite. Such a constraint was also rejected by Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and the end of the 1980s. Although she did many things wrong, she did not accept this fundamental concept and she failed to shrink the state.

Such a constraint was also rejected by Winston Churchill, and that example is perhaps the most relevant. Can we imagine being sat here in 1939? Luckily, Keynes had by then won the argument against Ramsay MacDonald and the Labour traitors who formed the national Government on the flexibility of economic policy. Hitler was determined to invade this country, as well as the rest of Europe, and we were required to spend to defend ourselves. Can we imagine our being hamstrung by a requirement to change legislation to allow this country to spend money from the public purse in order, rightly, to defend ourselves? Now we see the shaking of heads

12 July 2011 : Column 199

by those on the Government Benches, because the argument has been lost—I will demonstrate precisely why they have lost the intellectual and economic argument.

In 1999, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) decided to pay off some of the national debt. Which bits of it was he paying off? He was paying off national debt from the Napoleonic wars, which went back nearly 200 years, to a time when, again, there was a national crisis and a wise Government determined that this country should spend to defend itself. So, we see the naivety of the would-be Reaganites and Thatcherites, who are, in fact, the MacDonaldites. They would restrict our ability to act at times of crisis on the economy, they would reject the wisdom of Keynes and they would opt purely for the logic that Milton Friedman adopted and tried out in 1973 in Chile—the people there were the only ones after Ramsay MacDonald to attempt this economic philosophy. That is what the motion proposes.

I have learned over the years in this place that it is sometimes best that these arguments are had and then left to rest, particularly as we reach the summer recess. This is such an unwise proposition that I shall resist even the temptation of allowing a vote on it and, thus, giving it credibility.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Sajid Javid, Mr Frank Field, Mark Garnier, Matthew Hancock, Joseph Johnson, Mr David Laws, Andrea Leadsom, Jesse Norman, Claire Perry, Mr John Redwood, Mr David Ruffley and Nicholas Soames present the Bill.

Sajid Javid accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012, and to be printed (Bill 218).

12 July 2011 : Column 200

Sir Malcolm Jack KCB

5.34 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): I beg to move,

That Mr Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Malcolm Jack KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of this House, the House’s gratitude for his long and distinguished career, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedure of the House and to close understanding among the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, for his leadership and professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.

I hope that we will now move on to more consensual territory.

It is a pleasure to move the motion and lead the tributes today to Sir Malcolm Jack. A hundred years ago, my great-grandfather, Sir Courtenay Ilbert, was Clerk of the House. Among the tributes that were paid to him as he stood down in 1921—coincidentally, the last time the House applauded the services of an outgoing Clerk during a coalition Government—was this, from Asquith,:

“he has sat in that chair, the duties of which are more arduous, more responsible, and more delicate than the world outside knows, and I am sure that I am expressing the universal opinion of the House when I say that he has worthily maintained its great traditions”.—[Official Report, 15 March 1921; Vol. 139, c. 1258.]

Those words ring as true today as they did then.

Sir Malcolm was appointed Clerk and chief executive of the House in 2006 and has seen the House administration through a period of great change. The recommendations of Sir Kevin Tebbit’s review of the management and services of the House were challenging, but Sir Malcolm saw immediately that half measures would not do: the challenges had to be tackled immediately and it was his persuasion and energy that ensured that considerable structural change took place that streamlined the House’s governance, reduced the number of House Departments and resulted in a more efficient service for Members and indeed members of the public.

That reflected the administrative half of the twin responsibilities that we give the Clerk of the House. The ancient role of the Clerk is to be our principal constitutional adviser and our chief expert on all aspects of our business. I say “the ancient role”, but more recent events have shown the importance of the Clerk’s independence. Sir Malcolm’s grave warnings that provisions in the Parliamentary Standards Bill in 2009 might lead to judicial incursion into matters that are exclusively ours, and his measured advocacy of an alternative course, obliged the then Government to withdraw that whole part of the Bill.

“Parliamentary privilege” is an often misunderstood term but we all understand how important it is to our right of free speech. Sir Malcolm is acknowledged as a great authority on such matters and I have no doubt that his expertise in all the procedures of this House will be on show in the eagerly awaited 24th edition of “Erskine May”, of which he is the editor and which will be officially published tomorrow—yours, Mr Speaker, for just £267.

Sir Malcolm’s family and background have been cosmopolitan. He was educated in Hong Kong before university in the UK. He is one of the few of our Clerks

12 July 2011 : Column 201

who speak Cantonese. He cuts an elegant figure, no doubt partly attributable to the many lengths he swims almost every day at 4 Millbank. Indeed, when he was Clerk of the Agriculture Committee he was known as “the most elegant man ever to don Wellington boots”.

He has been a great champion of our links with overseas Parliaments, particularly within the Commonwealth and especially in Africa. He deserves our thanks for the links that he has nurtured with many African Parliaments and the support and guidance he has given them, which I know they have much appreciated, most recently in the seminars in Malawi last year and Tanzania earlier this year. About Sir Malcolm’s appearance in a Masai warrior’s robe at the Commonwealth parliamentary conference in Nairobi last year perhaps little should be said, but I am told that photographic proof is available for a modest fee.

By profession Sir Malcolm is a philosopher as well as a Clerk and has published learned books and articles on philosophical subjects. He has put this into practice here. When he was a Clerk in the Table Office, a Member trapped his hand in a filing cabinet. Others present in the room looked on with interest. “Can’t you do something?” the unfortunate Member asked, “I’m in physical pain.” Malcolm decided to be helpful, “Ah,” he said, “metaphysical pain is far worse.”

He is also credited with what his colleagues know as “Jack’s law”, which states that mentioning the name of a person ensures the appearance of that person and, moreover, the speed of the appearance is in direct proportion to how disparagingly the person has been described.

Sir Malcolm’s “Who’s Who” entry gives a remarkable list of recreations, including,

“thinking for oneself…empires adrift, Johnsoniana”—

Samuel, I think, rather than Boris—

“oriental ceramics, Africana, escaping southwards.”

We rejoice with Sir Malcolm that escaping southwards will soon be much easier. We thank him for his 44 years’ devoted service to the House, culminating in five years as Clerk of the House, and we send him and his partner Robert Borsje our warmest good wishes for the future.

5.40 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): It is with great pleasure that I rise to support this motion on behalf of the Opposition, although it is a pity that Sir Malcolm is not here, for obscure reasons of tradition, to savour our praise. Oppositions do, from time to time, create a bit of trouble for the Government of the day, and in doing so we are always very helpfully advised by the Clerk of the House, who equally helpfully advises the Government on how to avoid the trouble. That is the skill of the Clerk—to offer guidance without fear or favour in the interests of our democracy—and that is exactly what Sir Malcolm has done with resolute distinction and great wisdom.

In addition to the achievements that the Leader of the House has recalled, Sir Malcolm has seen this place in and through turmoil—no more so than two years ago, but however bad that was, some of his predecessors have had a much tougher time. At the end of the 1500s, the Clerk had his own expenses troubles: he was so out of pocket that Members had to pass round the hat to

12 July 2011 : Column 202

pay his salary. In 1723, Thomas Ward made some extremely disobliging comments about King George I and for his pains was whipped around Palace Yard—the ancient equivalent of appearing before one of our more vigorous Select Committees. Later that century, Lucas Kenn was attacked in Cornhill, losing his wig and hat in the process, by a group who had just given evidence to a House Committee and wanted their documents back. I am glad to say that since then the pen and the tongue have replaced the fist and the whip but they are just as sharp in their own way.

Having joined the Commons Clerks Department straight from university in 1967, Sir Malcolm has seen it all—from the Agriculture Committee, as we have just heard, to the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, and from Ways and Means to the House of Commons Commission. Sir Malcolm’s perspicacity and that watchful eye of his, peering over the table—that is what I will always recall—will have escaped few Members’ notice over the past 44 years. As we have heard, he has been very keen to share our experience with parliamentarians across the Commonwealth and the world, and to learn from them. His influence may be greater even than we suppose. I am advised that when attending the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Arusha in 2009, he was being driven by the Clerk of the Kenyan Parliament from Nairobi—an extremely gruelling journey—when in the middle of nowhere they had a flat tyre. While gloomily contemplating the problem, they were astonished by the sudden appearance of a priest, who had presumably been summoned telepathically by Sir Malcolm. As well as providing spiritual guidance, the priest managed to change the tyre and they continued their journey.

Throughout his career, as well as giving sound advice and service, Sir Malcolm has found time to write widely on subjects far removed from Parliament. He has written about the 18th-century politician and philosopher Bernard Mandeville, who first talked about the division of labour, and about Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who once wrote a political periodical entitled the “Nonsense of Common-Sense”, which I am sure Sir Malcolm will have heard from hon. Members of the House from time to time. Yet, from his seat at the desk he has offered quiet, wise and courageous advice—never more so than in the wake of the expenses crisis, as the Leader of the House has recalled. At that time, he reminded us all that our freedoms as a Parliament—for that is what privilege is for—should not be cast aside in haste. Those freedoms are far too precious for that. I hope that he will cast an eye over the draft Bill on parliamentary privilege when it finally makes its appearance.

In his letter informing the House of his intention to step down, Sir Malcolm said that

“members’...duties…will necessarily ruffle and disturb the peace of consensus”.

I hope that we will promise Sir Malcom that we will all do our best to heed that advice, aided and abetted by the new edition of “Erskine May” that we are all eagerly anticipating.

I am sure that the House will agree with what Sir Malcolm said recently:

“One of the best features of the job is that I never know exactly what the day will bring”.

That is one of the joys of this place, and I am sure that the same will be true of his retirement. It is with great

12 July 2011 : Column 203

and heartfelt thanks that, on behalf of the Opposition, I join the Leader of the House in offering our best wishes to Sir Malcolm and his partner, Robert Borsje, for their future.

5.45 pm

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): I have had the honour of serving in this House for a high proportion of the years in which our retiring Clerk has served, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to attest to the enormous work that he has done at various levels, giving sagacious and good-humoured advice throughout. His knowledge of this place is such that we should perhaps hope that his memoirs will be confined to the next edition of “Erskine May”, rather than branching out into any other form.

I pay special tribute to Sir Malcolm for the devotion that he has shown to a matter beyond the immediate needs of the House: the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. To take up what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, Sir Malcolm has understood, during his time as Clerk, that Parliament is seen very much as a central feature of the whole Commonwealth parliamentary structure. He has put himself out at all times to ensure that the Clerks department and hon. Members are actively engaged in discussions and liaison with other parliamentary associations across the Commonwealth. That is an important part of parliamentary activity, though not, perhaps, the one most noticed by the public. He has played a great role in strengthening those parliamentary connections, and we should be grateful to him for that. It is fitting that towards the climax of his parliamentary career he will, alongside you, Mr Speaker, play a pivotal part in the centennial conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in London later this month.

5.47 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): I apologise to the House for departing as soon as I have spoken, but I am due to give the Gareth Williams memorial lecture in Gray’s Inn at 6 o’clock; I shall be late.

The Clerks of the House are the guardians of our procedure and—with you, Mr Speaker—our rights and privileges. Happily, we take the work of the Clerks for granted, their encyclopaedic knowledge as a given, and their efficiency as the norm. We would, however, soon notice the difference if the Clerks did not excel at their work. None has excelled more in his dedication, commitment and skill than Sir Malcolm Jack, Clerk since 2006, to whom we pay tribute this afternoon.

I have been in this place for long enough, but Malcolm had been a Clerk for 12 years before I arrived. In the 32 years in which our services have coincided, I have come to know Malcolm well, and to regard him as a friend. The Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House were sensitive enough not to mention which fool was Sir Malcolm’s adversary over the Parliamentary Standards Bill in 2009, but it was I. I had, in good faith, judged necessary a modest little provision putting a gloss on that most sacred of rights, parliamentary privilege, to ensure that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority could work better.

12 July 2011 : Column 204

As many will recall, Malcolm weighed in tenaciously with objections. Even with the usual assistance available to Ministers to enable them to take the intellectual high ground in debate—heavy whipping, arm-twisting, promises to recalcitrants of overseas trips—my task was doomed to failure. To every argument that I advanced from the Dispatch Box, the advice of the Clerk of the House was quoted back at me as holy writ. It was a hopeless task. The result of the Division was Straw, Jack 247; Jack, Malcolm 250. He won, I lost and the Bill, it must be said, was much better for it. If ever Malcolm had needed, which he did not, an expression of complete confidence in him by the House, that was it.

I know, too, from my many friends among the staff in the House that Malcolm is held in enormous respect and affection by them. He has carried his duties with a light touch and ready humour. I have great pleasure in endorsing the motion of gratitude to Sir Malcolm, and I offer him my deep personal thanks and every good wish in his retirement.

5.50 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): It is a pleasure to offer, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, support for the motion in recognition of the work of Sir Malcolm Jack. Forty-four years is an extraordinarily long time in the service of the House. I always find it worrying when people who have been here longer than I have leave, for one reason or another. Like policemen getting younger, it is a reminder of things one does not want to know about.

Sir Malcolm arrived here from a background which was, in those days, not conventional, and all the better for that. He had been educated at school in Hong Kong and attended Liverpool university where he got a first- class degree. It is a model not sufficiently followed, perhaps, even in subsequent years and one to which we should return to draw a wide breadth of talent into the service of the House. It was certainly not a mistake to recruit that Liverpool university graduate—quite the contrary. It was a very wise move.

In the course of Sir Malcolm’s time here, it has been a pleasure to be able to talk to a scholar of achievement and repute, which marks him out, and that has been of great benefit to us. But the line in the motion that most appeals to me is the reference to his “courteous and helpful advice”. If the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) self-deprecatingly described himself as the fool who started the argument with Sir Malcolm Jack, I was the slightly wiser man who sought his advice. It was the Justice Committee which asked the Clerk of the House to give us evidence, took that evidence from him, published it in a report and made it available to the House so that it had a powerful effect on the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. I think we all acknowledge how important it was to protect the rights of our constituents that are embodied in that unhelpful phrase, “parliamentary privilege”, a subject on which he has a surpassing knowledge.

While supplying that “courteous and helpful advice” and doing the things that Clerks traditionally do, Sir Malcolm was continuing a process by which the Clerk of the House became the chief executive of the House—a pretty challenging process and one in which he has helped us significantly. It is a process that will

12 July 2011 : Column 205

continue under his distinguished successor, and its difficulties and challenges must not be underestimated. The fact that Sir Malcolm coped well with those is a mark of the respect in which we now hold him and is a further and particularly compelling reason why we should thank him for his service to the House and wish him much happiness, enjoyment and scholarship in the future.


5.53 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who was a member of the House of Commons Commission for 17 years. I did not get anywhere near his record. I served only 10 years on the Commission.

It is a pleasure to catch the Speaker’s eye because this is a parliamentary occasion, as well as a memorable occasion. It is memorable because Sir Malcolm Jack has served 44 years in the House and by my reckoning he has served through seven Prime Ministers, one of them, Harold Wilson, being a retread. As was touched on by the Leader of the House, Sir Malcolm also served as Clerk to the Agriculture Committee—wellingtons and all—for eight years. If anything shows assiduity, devotion to duty and attachment to the House, it is serving that Committee for such a lengthy period. He moved on to become Clerk of Supply and Clerk of Standing Committees. He also served the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform from 2002 to 2003. If he believes in déjà vu, he has only to close his eyes, open them again and see that House of Lords abolition or reform, however one wants to describe it, is back on the agenda.

Sir Malcolm has managed to combine his duties in the House with being a philosopher, a scholar and a writer, whose books had not only to be written but to be researched. I surmise that the research was as arduous as the writing. One of his works which will be worth looking at is the saga, “Corruption and Progress: the eighteenth-century debate”. It should be read again by all the cognoscenti in our present era. They may find that, if I may quote French, plus ça change, plus ça reste le même: the more it changes, the more it stays the same. Many of those in the news at present might have a good look at that. Sir Malcolm would understand more than anyone that progress and change are not the same.

On reading the various publications of Sir Malcolm, I came across a book entitled “The Turkish Embassy Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu”. My ears pricked up and, I went chasing down to the Library. I thought journalists from the tabloid newspapers might have got there before me, but I am happy to say that they did not. The book is a very interesting account of what went on at the end of the 1600s and into the 1700s and is well worth the read.

That book mentions Sir Malcolm’s vocation as an independent scholar. His book on Lisbon published in 2007 is certainly also worth a read for those who love Portugal, as he does, and its beautiful capital city. I note, as did the Leader of the House, that in “Who’s Who” one of Sir Malcolm’s recreations is listed as “escaping southwards”. I imagine there are many in the fourth estate who might look to him for advice on how they might make an early escape southwards.

12 July 2011 : Column 206

Forty-four years of service. Can one understand that? Sir Malcolm was in the House under the Speakership of Horace Maybray King, who was in the Chair when I first came to the House in the 1950s. Sir Malcolm sat on the House of Commons Commission for almost five years. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to the fact that Sir Malcolm moved from Clerk of the House to become its first chief executive. He understood that the Commission is an intrinsic part of the workings of Parliament under your chairmanship, Mr Speaker. Its work is, for the most part, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will understand, unsung and unnoticed, but none the less invaluable.

As the Leader of the House said, Sir Malcolm saw the need for the changes recommended by Sir Kevin Tebbit and he brought them about. His work might have been unnoticed until the famous expenses scandal. As a member of the Commission he became a focal point for us all. He gave us his advice wisely and discreetly. He saw the House through turbulent times and as the Leader of the House said, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) graciously recalled, Sir Malcolm played a major part in steering the House away from losing its privileges under the Parliamentary Standards Bill. With Sir Malcolm’s help, the Leader of the House and I hijacked the Bill and made it a better Bill in the interests of Parliament. So he used that time of crisis as a time of opportunity.

Sir Malcolm was also accounting officer with overall responsibility for the House’s finances, resource accounting and internal controls. All these had a great impact on this sovereign Parliament for a sovereign nation.

In the letter that Sir Malcolm wrote to the Speaker, which was mentioned by the shadow Leader of the House, he stated:

“Unwarranted and unfounded criticism from whatever quarter should not deflect Members from their duties which will necessarily ruffle and disturb the peace of consensus.”

Sir Malcolm was one of those unsung Officers serving the House of Commons Commission who was instrumental in assisting the House to make a much-needed transition.

While talking about transition, I hope that you, Mr Speaker, will not mind my saying that Sir Malcolm had to lead the transition from one Speaker to another mid-Session. I can testify from my own experience and observation to the friendship and camaraderie he extended to you, Sir, and the advice he offered on so many new areas, which I am sure you appreciated and valued. That is an important and significant point that ought to be made. The Leader of the House referred to the 24th edition of “Erskine May”. Although it is to be published tomorrow, a copy is already available in the Library and has been read many times by many Members in the short time it has been there.

I will end my remarks with a quotation from the famous poet Andrew Marvell, though it might be out of context:

“He nothing common did or mean

Upon that memorable scene”.

We should make it “this memorable scene”. Sir Malcolm retires from the House with his honours thick upon him, and deservedly so. I salute him, as does the House and Parliament, and as should the nation.

Several hon. Members rose

12 July 2011 : Column 207

Mr Speaker: I hope that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) will imitate the quality of “Erskine May”, a copy of which he is clutching, but I feel modestly confident that he will not seek to equal its length.

6.1 pm

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am extremely grateful, Mr Speaker, and note that the latest edition of “Erskine May”, the 24th, produced by Sir Malcolm Jack, is dedicated to you:

“To The Right Honourable John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, and to the Lord Speaker, Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth Parliaments, on whom fall the great responsibilities of guardianship of the parliamentary system.”

In the words of Maine’s “Ancient Law”, justice is to be found in the interstices of procedure, so it is a proper reflection on your role that Sir Malcolm makes that dedication in this excellent book, which I am glad to point out is somewhat shorter than previous editions. I have had occasion in the past to read out certain passages, for example in relation to the Maastricht treaty, to remind Members exactly of their responsibilities, but I do not need to do so on this auspicious occasion, nor would I wish to.

The remarks that have been made about Sir Malcolm, whom I have known since I first became involved in the processes of the House in 1967, are that he is a man of enormous integrity, a great scholar and a purveyor of the wisest advice, based on his knowledge of philosophy and history. He has been a remarkable Clerk and has been in our service. One thing I recall most specifically about his great career is the fact that he has been a persistent defender of the sovereignty of this House. The case mentioned by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) in his fulsome tribute occurred in adversarial circumstances but demonstrates that those involved realised upon reflection that the advice Sir Malcolm gave was of such quality that it needed to be followed by a successful vote, which shows that we owe him a great debt. Questions of parliamentary privilege are not merely esoteric—the expression is greatly misunderstood—but relate, as others have said, to the defence of the rights of those whom we represent.

Furthermore, Back Benchers rely heavily on the advice of the Clerk, and I have had reason to be deeply grateful for the wise and impartial advice that Sir Malcolm has given periodically on great matters of parliamentary and constitutional importance. I have no doubt whatever that his successor, Mr Robert Rogers, will follow in his footsteps and that we will have the advantage of his wise advice as well.

In conclusion, I want to put on record my appreciation—shared no doubt by many other Back Benchers—for the tremendous work that Sir Malcolm has done. It is enormously important that we, as Back Benchers, have access to impartial and wise advice, particularly against the blandishments, manoeuvrings and machinations of the usual channels, the Whips. I have experienced more than my reasonable share of that in the 27 years for which I have had the honour of being in this place, but I have always had the most tremendous help from those like Sir Malcolm, and from him in particular.

12 July 2011 : Column 208

6.5 pm

Mr Frank Doran (Aberdeen North) (Lab): I am delighted to have the opportunity to add my thoughts on Sir Malcolm Jack and his career to those that have already been expressed. Like many Members, when I arrived in this place I had no idea who was who or how it was run, and I stayed that way for many years, but Malcolm Jack always stood out as someone I recognised. The Leader of the House has referred to his dignified bearing, and I first became aware of him as a much younger Clerk, when I was an even younger Member. He clearly stood out as someone of importance, even though I did not know what position he held; that was the impression he gave. I got to know him much better when I became Chair of the Administration Committee and, subsequently, a member of the House of Commons Commission. This place produces many exceptional people, but Malcolm Jack is particularly exceptional. Many colleagues have commented on the advice he has given regularly to the Commission, often in difficult circumstances, and how valuable it is.

In trying to pull together a picture of Malcolm Jack, I picked up one or two things from various political websites. I found an interesting description in a column following an appearance Dr Jack made before the Liaison Committee last year. He was described as

‘the grandest panjandrum in the palace. He is so clever that he makes David “Two Brains” Willetts look like a village simpleton. Friends call him “Three Brains”, or at least they should. Dr Jack appeared in his full outfit, including a tailcoat and gigantic comedy white tie. He looked like a brilliant scientist winkled out of his lab in order to accept a Nobel prize.’

I see that philosopher’s frown every time he is thinking, particularly when chewing over the difficult issues that might have led that reporter to think that of him.

I want to concentrate on two aspects of Malcolm Jack that stand out in my experiences of him. The first is that he has always been available, as many have said, and not just to Members or important commissioners and holders of grand positions, but to his staff. I had many discussions with him through the crisis that we all dealt with. I know of no Clerk, with the exception of those in the 1500s who could be flayed in New Palace Yard if they got things wrong, as the shadow Leader of the House mentioned, who has had to deal with such challenges. In virtually every discussion I had with him one of his key concerns was the effect that the crisis was having on the morale of the staff. He protected his staff, many of whom are paid much less than they would be outside this building, and was always available to them as much as he was to anyone else. He understood the loyalty they felt to this place and that they were severely damaged by the crisis. We thought that we were the ones who were damaged, but many others were damaged in that process. His concern about the impact on the staff was extremely important, and he knew that the reputation of the House was extremely important to them.

The second area where I think he distinguished himself, and which has also been highlighted by the Leader of the House, is in his attempt to modernise this place, which I think has been very important. The Leader of the House mentioned the Tebbit report. I remember asking a senior Officer of the House, shortly after becoming Chair of the Administration Committee, how decisions were made about repairs and improvement to the building. To summarise, the answer was basically,

12 July 2011 : Column 209

“It’s what your Committee wants, Sir.” There is a culture of deference in this place, although I think it has reduced over the past four or five years. It is important that it reduces, because we do not make the right decisions when deference is the motivation behind the advice that is given to Committees and others in this place. In the conversations that I have had with Malcolm Jack, he recognised that.

Malcolm Jack was not the initiator of the Tebbit report—the Commission had ordered it before his appointment—but he made sure, as the Leader of the House pointed out, that it was implemented very speedily. This House is a better place for that. It is much more structured; there is planning. For example, six or seven years ago there was no long-term strategy for the maintenance of this building; now there is a 25-year strategy with five-yearly reviews. Simple things like that make a difference to this place, and Malcolm Jack has been responsible for seeing that through.

I had a brief discussion with Malcolm when I heard about his retirement—he may not thank me for saying this—and we were talking about his successor. I believe quite strongly that one day the position of the Clerk and that of the chief executive will be separated and we will see much more outside influence. Malcolm is probably the exception to the rule, but 44 years in one place is not the best training to run that place. One needs outside influences and to know what is happening in the outside world. I think he understands that. He may be a bridge between the old-style Clerk and the new-style chief executive of the future.

There are lots of things that I wanted to say, but what we all want to do is to offer him and his partner all best wishes for the future. I know that he has a lot of plans to do more writing; “Erskine May” is not the limit of the opportunities that he sees for himself. I add my congratulations to him on the service that he has provided to this House and wish him and his partner all the best for the future.

6.12 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Sir Malcolm Jack is proof that the United Kingdom’s largely unwritten constitution is not only unwritten but living. The mark that he leaves on his office and on the institution of the Clerks in this House is perhaps, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) suggested, a lessening of their deference, not only to Members but in relation to their position in the British constitution. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), referred to the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which challenged the supremacy and privileges of this House. I believe that Sir Malcolm was innovative in his approach in taking on a more public role than his predecessors by being a less deferential part of the British constitution.

That is a reminder of the fact that this House and Parliament does not just depend on what we say about ourselves, and on what judges say about us and the laws that we make; we depend, as an institution, for our sovereignty, on the institution of the Clerks themselves. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North say that the role of chief executive should be separated from that of Clerk of the House. Part of the strength of the institution of the Clerks is that they

12 July 2011 : Column 210

combine the two elements. Every aspect of this House is subordinate to the work that the House does, which is supervised by the person who ensures that our procedures are fit for purpose.

I pay tribute to Sir Malcolm for the innovations that he has brought to the British constitution and for the way that he has strengthened this House throughout a very difficult period.

6.14 pm

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) is leaving the Chamber, I want to say that I am very pleased that he has a new copy of “Erskine May”. On our occasional bus journeys in the morning, I look forward to him to reading out what will no doubt by then be a heavily annotated version of his copy of “Erskine May” to the general enlightenment of myself and the other passengers on the bus. That volume will indeed be a continuing tribute to the Clerk of the House, Sir Malcolm Jack.

A great deal has been said about Sir Malcolm Jack and the public role that he has played in shaping the way that this House has operated in recent years. I certainly endorse all of that. The quality that he had was also, at the same time, an old-fashioned one, in that he was always available to provide very wise advice to any Member who wanted to use the procedures of the House for a good purpose. I am personally grateful to him for having done so on many occasions—in a quiet way, but guiding one through the procedures as they applied in the particular circumstances. I like to think that the wisdom and great scholarship that has been attested to is a testament to the time that he spent at Liverpool university; so many people who went to that university share those qualities.

Let me conclude by saying that I hope that he and his partner enjoy a long, happy and fulfilling retirement.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente,

That Mr Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Malcolm Jack KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of this House, the House’s gratitude for his long and distinguished career, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedure of the House and to close understanding among the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, for his leadership and professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I rise to seek your guidance on an incident that occurred in Westminster Hall earlier today. We were in the middle of a debate discussing poverty and housing dereliction, and the Minister, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), described the contributions of hon. Members as bringing sob stories to the debate. Interestingly, we queried it at the time. We have a Hansard copy of the debate in which the word “sob” has been removed. Clearly, that is very politically sensitive, because we felt that it was somewhat insulting. Is there any way, Mr Speaker, that you or your good offices could check whether we had misheard the Minister? Having watched back the video, I have to say that it does not look like he mispronounced any word. If so, how do we find out how that word was removed and who authorised its removal, because clearly the record would appear not to be factually correct?

12 July 2011 : Column 211

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The reality, as some Members will be aware, is that the Editor of Hansard does have some discretion in the compilation of the Official Report, and marginal adjustments can be made, although ordinarily one does not expect adjustments to be made which change the meaning of what has been said. I think the safest thing that I can say to the hon. Lady on this occasion is that I will look into the matter and revert to her when I have done so.

Royal Assent

Mr Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Sports Grounds Safety Authority Act 2011

Estates of Deceased Persons (Forfeiture Rule and Law of Succession) Act 2011

Wreck Removal Convention Act 2011

Police (Detention and Bail) Act 2011

12 July 2011 : Column 212

Public Bodies Bill [Lords]

[Relevant documents: The Fifth Report from the Public Administration Select Committee, Smaller Government: Shrinking the Quango State, HC 537, and the Government response, Cm 8044 .]

Second Reading

Mr Speaker: I inform the House that the amendment has been selected. To move Second Reading, I call the extremely patient Minister, Mr Francis Maude.

6.19 pm

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It seems almost unseemly to move a Second Reading in the wake of the august tributes to the retiring Clerk of the House. It is actually quite appropriate, because many of the tributes to Sir Malcolm, which I heartily endorse, talked about his understanding of and commitment to the powers of this House. Central to those powers is the House’s power and right to hold the Executive to account. That is essentially what the Bill is about. It will enlarge the scope of the state—the public realm—which this House and Parliament can hold to account, and reduce the scope of quangos and non-departmental public bodies and the range of public state entities that are not accountable to a democratic authority. That is long overdue. The Bill will put in place a mechanism that will enable this Government and future Governments to change the landscape of those bodies without the need for separate primary legislation whenever anything is sought to be done.

The public are right to expect a system in which Ministers are accountable for what the Government do and for how taxpayers’ money is spent. For too long, there has been the proliferation of a complex network of public bodies, which has worked against that expectation by blurring the lines of accountability and disguising inefficiency and duplication in the delivery of public services. It is for that reason that last summer the Government conducted an intensive review of public bodies, which was stimulated and led by the Cabinet Office but conducted by the relevant Departments across Whitehall. It was the most comprehensive interrogation of the role of such bodies for decades.

We subjected each body to four tests. The first was existential and asked whether the body needed to exist and whether its functions needed to be carried out.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): When the review was carried out, what environmental appraisal was there of the proposals?

Mr Maude: In conducting the reviews, the Departments will have considered the environmental implications. One example that I am about to refer to would have carried no environmental implications. Obviously, the Departments would have considered the environmental implications in every case. Before any action is taken under the powers in the Bill, there will be an opportunity for further detailed scrutiny.

The first question was whether the functions had to be carried out at all. In some cases, the answer was no. We decided fairly rapidly that the Government probably

12 July 2011 : Column 213

did not need an independent non-departmental public body to deliberate on the purchase of wine for the Government. That is of course an important function that must be carried out properly, but there does not need to be an NDPB to do it.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): One body that is widely thought to be necessary and desirable is a chief coroner to provide leadership to the coronial profession. It would be possible to create that post without creating the kind of elaborate body that the Government are rightly anxious about by designating an existing coroner to have that leadership role with just a small amount of additional support.

Mr Maude: We rather agree with what my right hon. Friend says. There is concern that a whole new apparatus and bureaucracy should not be set up, with all the associated costs, which the previous Government’s plans would have entailed. However, we understand the concern that not proceeding with the establishment of a chief coroner would look insensitive, and would perhaps be insensitive in the circumstances. I will say a word later about the detail of our plans in respect of that office.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): What has changed from when the Minister was in opposition, when he voted for the chief coroner and his party’s Front-Benchers spoke in favour of it in Committee? The Minister spoke about cost and there is an issue about cost. Why has he not yet published what savings will be made by not having a chief coroner? If, as he recognises, certain functions have to be carried out in the Ministry of Justice, at what cost will those functions be carried out?

Mr Maude: It will cost very much less. The set-up costs for the office of the chief coroner, as planned under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, would have been £10.9 million and there would have been running costs of £6.6 million a year. I will tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what has changed. A Government have come to office and inherited the biggest budget deficit in the developed world. We had to take urgent steps to control and eradicate the deficit. As a result of that, he will be glad to know, despite having a budget deficit roughly the same size as that of Greece, we now enjoy interest rates roughly the same as Germany’s.

Mr Jones: The Conservative central office spin is wearing a bit thin. Will the Minister break down the costs? The other place was disputing the one-off set-up cost. Included in the so-called £6 million a year is nearly £1 million for contingency, which is 20% of the supposed running costs. Would it not help to justify his arguments if a detailed breakdown was printed, which the Ministry of Justice has signally failed to do and he has not done today?

Mr Maude: I will, of course, ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor hears what the hon. Gentleman has said. There will be plenty of opportunities, such as at Question Time once a month, for the hon. Gentleman to ask those questions of Ministers at the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Jones: You don’t know.

12 July 2011 : Column 214

Mr Maude: Do I have every single detail about every single body contained in the proposals? No I do not. I can answer in detail on the bodies that are within the responsibility of the Cabinet Office. This is an enabling Bill, which will enable the House of Commons and the House of Lords to scrutinise the detail of the proposals in each case. There will be plenty of opportunity for that to be done in the case of the office of the chief coroner, because the Government will introduce amendments in Committee, where the issue can be explored in great detail. I am confident that all the questions that are springing up can be answered at that stage.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Minister is trying to evade collective responsibility for the decisions that the Government are taking. He is also ignoring the fact that there was widespread consultation on this matter and that it was supported by the Opposition. It was found that, almost without exception, nobody disagreed with this. This is far and away the cheapest and most effective way of getting consistency into the inquest service. The cost of the inconsistency is both human and monetary. The costs that the Minister talks about need to be offset against the costs of the judicial reviews that are brought regularly against the current system. He knows that this is the most preposterous U-turn. The suggestion that the coronial service should be accountable to this House is also a disgrace. It should be independent. It can therefore only answer to one of its own. That is why the creation of the office of chief coroner is so necessary.

Mr Maude: The office of chief coroner will be brought into existence. It will not be set up in the elaborate way and with the extensive additional costs embodied in the proposals of the previous Government. The office will exist. The functions, to the extent that they are needed, will be exercised in a way that is affordable in the current circumstances. If the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have considerable respect, is really suggesting that we should spend this amount of extra money on this matter, he needs to tell the House what he would cut to enable that to happen.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Surely the concern is not just over the amazingly expensive offices that many quangos like to equip themselves with, but over the amount of pay that they receive. People at the UK Film Council get more than £150,000 a year, the British Waterways chief executive gets £230,000, and a similar amount goes to the chief executive of the Dover Harbour Board, dare I mention it? Surely we should ensure that the cost of each individual is reduced to a sensible amount.

Mr Maude: One of the benefits brought about by this Government is to make all that more transparent. We have exposed for scrutiny by the public and the House what those high salaries are, and it is right that we should do so. They may be completely justified in many cases, but they ought to be justified and scrutinised, so I make no apology for introducing that degree of transparency.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): While the right hon. Gentleman is talking about salaries, perhaps he will address the abolition of the Agricultural Wages

12 July 2011 : Column 215

Board, which protects the incomes of the poorest people in the countryside. Its abolition will mean that those workers lose more than £150 a week in sick pay straight away. How can he defend that?

Mr Maude: I justify it on the basis that the Government of the hon. Lady’s party introduced a minimum wage, which was voted through by the House. The Agricultural Wages Board was introduced at a time when there was no national minimum wage. It now exists, and we take the view that an independent body with the AWB’s powers no longer needs to exist.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): The point about the Agricultural Wages Board is not just that it pins down a minimum wage for agricultural workers but that there are six scales of pay and other protections for those workers, who have a very weak voice in the labour market. The Minister talks about transparency, but the rural voice will be lost unless transparent decisions are made in the Chamber about each of the bodies involved, including the Rural Advocate, who speaks up on behalf of the most vulnerable in rural communities.

Mr Maude: On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Rural Advocate, it seems to me that rural areas are very well represented in this House. It seems odd that a separate body should be created to be a rural advocate, because it seems to me that it is the duty of Members of Parliament to be the advocate for their constituents. There are many very effective advocates of rural residents and constituents.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposes to consult on the AWB in the autumn. It will be part of a wider consultation package on the future of the agricultural wages committees and the agricultural dwelling house advisory committees.

Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): I fear that the Minister is being led down the path of discussing every public body covered in the Bill. Is it not the case that the public bodies identified in the Government’s review form a significant layer of state control, and one from which people can only feel distant? Bringing accountability to bear on that layer is the most important aspect of the Bill for him to focus on.

Mr Maude: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. These bodies are rarely discussed in the House, and that is part of the problem that we are seeking to deal with. Unless there is a compelling reason why a state function should be carried out by a body that is independent of any democratic accountability, the presumption should be that it is accountable. That is the test that we apply.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con) rose

Mr Maude: I will give way to my hon. Friend, and then I will make progress. I am conscious that this is going to end up being a rather short debate on Second Reading of a large Bill, and I know that a lot of Members want to contribute.

12 July 2011 : Column 216

Rehman Chishti: I am grateful to the Minister. Between 2007 and 2008, public sector organisations spent about £4 million on hiring political consultants to lobby Government, which is totally unacceptable. What steps are being taken to ensure that it does not happen again?

Mr Maude: The guidance has been tightened up considerably. Taxpayers find it quite offensive that a body that is not democratically accountable should use taxpayers’ money, in some cases, to hire lobbyists to lobby Government to give it more taxpayers’ money. We have taken urgent steps to ensure that that does not recur.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Maude: I will give way once more; then I really will need to make progress.

Alun Cairns: I am very grateful. I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend about lobbyists, but does he also accept the danger that many public bodies will start to employ internal lobbyists directly rather than commissioning and contracting them? That would also be a waste of money.

Mr Maude: My hon. Friend’s point simply amplifies the case for the presumption that we are instituting in the Bill that there needs to be a really compelling case for a state function being carried out in a way that is not accountable. That is the purpose of the Bill.

Charlie Elphicke: Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr Maude: My hon. Friend will forgive me, but I really do need to make progress. A great many Members wish to contribute to the debate.

Our first test of a body was the existential test—does its function need to be carried out at all? If, as in most cases, the body’s functions were deemed necessary, we then sought to establish whether the functions should be carried out independently. We had three tests. If a body carries out a highly technical activity, if it is required to be politically impartial or if it needs to be able to act independently to establish or measure facts, it is right for it to remain outside direct ministerial or other democratic accountability. That is clearly the case with bodies such as the new Office for Budget Responsibility, Ofgem and many others.

Any body that does not meet any of those tests will either be brought back into a Department, where it can be held accountable to the House through a Minister, or devolved to local authorities. In both cases there will be democratic accountability. Or in some cases, a body’s functions could be carried out outside the state altogether in the private or voluntary sector. We went through an extensive process to determine the outcome of the review.

The first task was simply to establish how many quangos there were and what they did. It may sound absurd, but it was and remains incredibly difficult to get firm information on that. Many do not publish accounts, there is no central list and there are many different types of quango with different statuses. The official list of

12 July 2011 : Column 217

non-departmental public bodies contains 679 bodies, excluding those in Northern Ireland, but that does not include non-ministerial departments, Government-owned public corporations or trading funds. Our review covered 901 bodies, and we believe, but cannot be certain, that that is the true extent of the landscape. I stress that departmental executive agencies were not within the review’s scope. They are directly controlled by Ministers, who are accountable to Parliament for what they do.

At the end of that review, I announced our proposals to the House on 14 October last year. They were that 481 of the bodies should be substantially reformed, including 192 abolished entirely and a further 118 merged. Since that announcement we have concluded consideration of a number of other bodies, and I can tell the House that the current total is that 495 bodies will be reformed, including 200 abolished and 120 others merged into 59 successor bodies. We have moved quickly to implement that programme, and I am pleased to tell the House that 45 bodies had been abolished by the end of April this year. Overall, we expect to make administrative savings—I stress that they are administrative—of £2.6 billion from public bodies over the spending review period. That money will be better spent on protecting public sector jobs and on front-line services.

Mr Kevan Jones rose

Mr Maude: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am going to make progress. I have given way a great deal, and I do not want this speech to go on too long. I am sure that is a sentiment that the House will support.

I note that the previous Government’s intention, set out in 2009, was to abolish 120 bodies, saving the conveniently round sum of £500 million. Yet in the six months following that announcement, they did not even manage to abolish half of them—a clear demonstration that, as ever, they had a better knack for the headline than for the hard work of implementing what had been promised.

Where public bodies have been retained, they will be subject to a process of rigorous triennial review, to ensure that they remain fit for purpose, that the need is there, and that the justification for them remaining independent is still valid. Far too often, bodies have been created and left well beyond the time when they are needed, partly because there has been no means to reform or disband them—any such change would have required primary legislation, time for which is, as we know, at a premium in the House.

The Government’s response to the Select Committee on Public Administration report outlined the principles of that review process, and I look forward to giving further details to the House in due course. The review process for individual bodies will be led by the responsible Minister in each case, and co-ordinated and supported by the Cabinet Office.

The House will be aware that the Bill was brought from another place, where it has received substantial scrutiny, resulting in a number of important amendments. I thank noble Lords for their constructive engagement in this process, which has helped the Government to produce an even more coherent and well-structured Bill—it was fairly coherent and well-structured to begin with. I hope that it will command the support of this House and the confidence of the public. I pay particular

12 July 2011 : Column 218

tribute to my noble Friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach for his skilful stewardship of the Bill in the other place.

The Bill is centred on a series of order-making powers that enable Ministers to make changes to public bodies through secondary legislation, subject to the approval of Parliament. That mechanism creates a coherent and efficient procedure for reform, while properly giving Parliament the ability to scrutinise both the principle and the detail of the proposals.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Maude: I will give way once, if the intervention is on scrutiny.

Mark Lazarowicz: Although there is no doubt nothing wrong with dealing with some of those bodies by order, can the right hon. Gentleman not understand the concerns many of us have about the fact that bodies such as the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission can simply be merged by order, when there were hours, days or weeks of debate in the House, including in Committee, to set them up? Is not that a dangerous precedent for the Government to set?

Mr Maude: Powers to amend primary legislation by secondary legislation are not unprecedented. An amendment made in the other place, which the Government supported, will mean that either House can require an enhanced affirmative procedure. Such a procedure not only requires consultation before a draft order is laid, but allows a further period for reflection on, and analysis and scrutiny of, the proposal. It is reasonable to have a reasonably accelerated process for the reform of public bodies. Otherwise, we will end up in a position in which we have a wholly incoherent landscape of public bodies. I confess that even at the end of the process that we are currently proposing, that landscape will still be quite muddled, but it will at least have been cleared up to some extent.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr Maude: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will make progress.

Gavin Shuker rose—

Mr Maude: Oh, well, I give way to the hon. Gentleman’s blandishments.

Gavin Shuker: Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on the OFT and Competition Commission, is that not an odd state of affairs? There are reports that one of those bodies will take responsibility for NHS contracts worth more than £70 million, yet today we are discussing the changes to them abstract from Monitor’s responsibilities.

Mr Maude: The functions will continue to exist, but there will be a rationalisation of the landscape of the bodies. A single competition authority will be created. A number of the consumer advocate functions will be given to citizens advice bureaux, which will strengthen their role and bring welcome additional funding to

12 July 2011 : Column 219

them—

[

Interruption.

]

I would hope that hon. Members welcomed the enhancement of the role of CABs that the Bill brings about.

The Bill provides an ability to make further changes as need arises in future. Each order-making power is limited in its application to those bodies that are listed in the relevant schedule to the Bill. Clause 1 creates a power for a Minister to abolish a body or office by order. Such an order may either abolish the body’s functions if they are no longer required, or transfer some or all of them to another eligible party, such as a Government Department, a charity or another public body.

In some cases, an order under clause 1 will be motivated by the principle of accountability—that a Minister should be directly accountable for Government actions within their sphere of influence. For that reason, we propose to abolish the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and to return its functions to the direct control of the Department for Work and Pensions. In other cases, a body will simply be abolished to halt unnecessary expenditure and duplication. For example, clause 1 will also be used to introduce orders to abolish the Valuation Tribunal Service, the functions of which can now be performed by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, and which therefore no longer needs to be a separate entity, with its own overhead costs.

The next four clauses of the Bill create a complementary set of powers to merge groups of bodies, to modify constitutional or funding arrangements, or to modify or transfer a body’s functions. The breadth of those powers is a reflection of the breadth of the Government’s reform agenda. We aim to enhance the scope of civil society by the creation of a new waterways charity to replace British Waterways. Our agenda spreads to the modification of regulatory bodies such as Ofcom and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that they are fully focused on their vital regulatory functions.

In total, 294 bodies currently appear in the schedules to the Bill, demonstrating the importance of this measure to the reform agenda. Details of our proposals for each of those bodies are available in a document that has been placed in the House Library. I can assure the House that that document will be updated regularly throughout the passage of the Bill, and I hope it forms a valuable basis for debate in Committee.

In addition, the Bill creates specific powers for Welsh Assembly Ministers to take forward a number of changes to public bodies operating in Wales. Those will assist the Welsh Assembly Government as they seek to simplify their public bodies landscape and to deliver further savings, and I hope that those measures also enjoy the support of the House.

As I have indicated, the passage of the Bill through the Lords saw a number of modifications to the mechanisms of the Bill. The modifications tighten the purposes for which those powers can be used and ensure the appropriate balance between speed and scrutiny in the reform process. Those changes mean that the Bill that was introduced in this House strikes a carefully crafted balance. It will enable Ministers to make much-needed reforms to public bodies without recourse to specific primary legislation, an innovation that I believe will support efficient management of public bodies both now and in the

12 July 2011 : Column 220

future. Yet at the same time, the Bill requires Government to make the case for their proposals to stakeholders and to Parliament, guaranteeing that proper consideration is given to the exercise of important public functions.

I should tell the House that the Government intend to introduce a number of amendments in Committee. In particular, the House will be aware that following the written ministerial statement on 15 June by the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), who has responsibility for business and enterprise, the abolition of the regional development agencies will now be taken forward in primary legislation through the Bill. Abolishing the RDAs in the Bill will ensure that the Government can meet our timetable for the development of a new framework for regional growth, providing clarity and opportunity to businesses across the nation.

Similarly, we will seek to amend the Bill to modify the Broadcasting Act 1990 to revise the funding arrangements for S4C by removing the retail prices index link, while securing the channel’s independent future status and delivering significant savings.

I can also inform the House that the Government will seek to reintroduce the office of the chief coroner and the Youth Justice Board to the Bill’s schedules, overturning votes in the other place. As I said earlier, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor has listened to the concerns raised in relation to the important functions that those bodies are designed to carry out, and I believe that our revised proposals will gain wide support. We have agreed that the office of the chief coroner should remain on the statute book, and our amendments will propose adding it to schedule 5 to the Bill to enable some of its functions to be transferred to the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor.

The Government will propose a number of more technical amendments to the Bill, including measures to clarify the requirements of the consultation process in clause 10, to ensure that any orders made under the Bill in relation to the funding arrangements of bodies or offices require the consent of the Treasury and to modify the list of taxes subject to variation in their provision as part of a transfer scheme made in connection with an order under the Bill.

The Government are committed to bringing about radical change in the administration of government in the UK—change that responds to the public’s demand to place the principles of transparency, accountability and value for money at the centre of what the state does. Quango reform has been long promised by parties on both sides of the House and is long overdue, but we have now taken the difficult decisions necessary to make it possible and to make it happen. By enabling a comprehensive and overdue reconfiguration of the landscape and by creating a framework to support better management of public bodies in the future, the Bill gives the Government the essential tools with which to turn this commitment into reality. I commend it to the House.

6.51 pm

Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House, while agreeing that there needs to be a constant reassessment of the role, effectiveness and relevance of public bodies, declines to give a second reading to the Public

12 July 2011 : Column 221

Bodies Bill because it fails to provide a full and comprehensive plan for the reform of public bodies; regrets that Ministers have failed to properly cost reforms and identify savings, have failed to understand the important functions performed by some of the bodies affected by the Bill and therefore to provide for credible successor arrangements, have failed to consult properly on proposed reforms with the public and the bodies themselves, and have failed to undertake a proper impact assessment of each affected body; and considers that the overall effect of these failings has been that the House has been presented with legislative proposals which undermine the credibility of the proper processes of government.

It gives me great pleasure to move the reasoned amendment in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I have listened closely to what the Minister has said. He was courteous and kind about the treatment of the Bill in another place, but to describe the scrutiny process in the terms he did was an understatement. In fact, the Bill, which in its original form gave him licence to meddle on an unprecedented scale in the affairs of bodies discharging functions on behalf of the public, was not just overhauled, but was mauled by the scrutiny of another place. Lord Woolf said that it was

“a matter of grave concern to the judiciary.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 November 2010; Vol. 722, c. 75.]

The Lords Constitution Committee said that it struck

“at the very heart of our constitutional system”,

and Baroness Royall was not alone in saying that

“this is a bad Bill. It is badly thought out, badly structured, badly executed, bad for the constitution, bad for public bodies and bad for government.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 November 2010; Vol. 722, c. 68.]

I listened closely to what the Minister said were his intentions for the scrutiny of the Bill in the House, and I would like to put him on notice: we will fight with every available argument to ensure proper protection for the Youth Justice Board, which has led to such a dramatic fall in youth crime, and we will fight to honour and see implemented the commitment to the office of the chief coroner. The Minister can deploy a parliamentary majority to vote down the decisions taken in another place, but, as has been indicated already by my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as other right hon. and hon. Members, he will not be able to defeat the argument in the country over the chief coroner—an argument supported eloquently by the Royal British Legion. I therefore hope that, with humility, he will take heed of the debate and judge it on its merits.

The original Bill, as published by the Tory-led coalition, planned to sell off our forests. I would like to pay the warmest tribute to the campaign so excellently and eloquently led by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), which rightly saw a climbdown by the Government and brought together 600,000 people in a campaign against the sale of our national heritage. The original Bill also left 150 organisations in the organisational limbo of what was then schedule 7 of the Bill—sounds innocuous enough, does it not? But Channel 4 was listed, as were the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Charity Commission, the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the independent Judicial Appointments Commission. All were placed in a schedule that would have left them open to being axed at the stroke of a Minister’s pen.

The process of these reforms has been deeply flawed, and the Government still lack detailed plans for many of the bodies that they are seeking to change, merge or abolish. They have produced a Bill before a plan, rather

12 July 2011 : Column 222

than a plan before a Bill. Having said that—by way of introduction—of course we support the reform of public bodies and public services. Indeed, before the election, the previous Labour Government had put in place a programme to reform public bodies. That programme must be constant and continuing.

Nevertheless, these organisations carry out an enormous range of important public functions and play an important part in the life of the people of this country, providing support for our universities, our sports culture and the arts, standing up for vulnerable people, holding Governments to account, upholding minimum standards and helping to improve our public services. As the Institute for Government, of which I am a fellow—an unremunerated position—wrote,

“public bodies are now fundamental to the function of Government.”

The needs of the country constantly change and our public bodies must change too, which is why every Government need constantly to reassess their role, effectiveness and relevance. We did that and the Government are doing the same. That is not the issue. When we came to power in 1997, there were almost 1,130 public bodies, and by the time of our 2009 review, we had cut their number to about 750—a reduction of almost one third.

Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): The right hon. Lady claims that her Government reduced the number of quangos, but actually spending went up in real terms by about 50%. How does she explain that?

Tessa Jowell: We ought to take into account the reduction of bodies at the Department of Health, link to that the significant reduction in the number of bodies announced by the Haskins review of Natural England and consider the systematic reduction in the number of other bodies, as well as the fact that some were merged and others increased their functions. However, in March 2010, we announced plans to go further and faster and to reduce the overall number of bodies by a further 123.

Mr Maude: Does the right hon. Lady accept that the biggest reduction in the number of public bodies came through their devolution to the Scottish and Welsh Governments?

Tessa Jowell: I do not necessarily accept that that was the largest reduction. However, devolution was one of the most significant policies introduced—and proudly so—by the Labour Government, and of course previously reserved powers were then devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

A 20% reduction would have saved £500 million from next year. The Minister jibbed at that, but we viewed the process of altering, closing down and merging public bodies as one that should take place systematically over time. Those £500 million of savings would have been realised by next year.

Mr Kevan Jones: Does my right hon. Friend agree that a lot of what is being proposed is window dressing, in the sense that even closing down bodies such as the Audit Commission will cost some £400 million in pension liabilities and winding up other assets? When we look at some of those organisations in detail, we see that the payback period might not come for, say, 10 years.

12 July 2011 : Column 223

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is obviously correct. I intend to make some progress now, but I will come to precisely that point in a little while.

We would have saved £500 million by 2012-13 as a result of planned and properly costed change and reform. We also accepted that there is scope for further reform. We agree that the Railway Heritage Committee should be reformed and that the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts should enter the voluntary sector. We also support the reform of a number of other significant bodies. The problem is not with reform, nor is it with the tests that the Minister has set for that reform, as I will set out in a moment; the problem is with his ill-thought-out and rushed through Bill. There has been confusion about what the Minister’s motives are. First he told us this week that the Bill was about, as he put it, “sound money”; later we were told that it was about underpinning good government. However, whether the issue is money or good government, the Government’s proposals in this Bill are certainly not the answer.

The Government are asking the House to agree to the abolition of important bodies such as those raised by my hon. Friends in interventions—they include Consumer Focus, the Commission for Rural Communities and the Football Licensing Authority—but the right hon. Gentleman cannot yet tell us what he will put in their place. He has also claimed £30 billion in savings when the reality is that the Government will save £1.6 billion—or less, when redundancies have been paid for.

Andrew George: I hope that the right hon. Lady would agree that rather than trading figures for partisan purposes, we need to have a proper audit of what is going on. A moment ago she mentioned the Commission for Rural Communities. As that body is being brought in-house by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—that is probably a sensible thing to do—we do not necessarily know whether that will be counted as a saving or whether the costs will be lost from the overall audit of what quangos cost the country. At the end of the day, however, the important point is the one that I made earlier. We need a rural advocate that is independent of all the partisan debate that we have in this place.

Tessa Jowell: The hon. Gentleman has set out the precise nature of the debate that will need to take place in Committee, because losing the independence and the advocacy role of a number of these significant bodies will harm the proper process of representing interests that often get too little hearing in this House.

Helen Goodman: Does my right hon. Friend agree that what is exposed by the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board and the Commission for Rural Communities —as well as the proposals on forests, on which there had to be a U-turn—is an attitude of arrogance towards the countryside and the idea that it is not necessary to listen because the Government think that they know best?

Tessa Jowell: I certainly hope that the Minister will accept my invitation to rethink some of the Government’s proposals and ensure that the Committee stage involves genuine and proper scrutiny of some of the compelling individual cases. I also hope that he will show proper respect and understanding, not for, as it were, the headline description of a clutch of quangos, but for the

12 July 2011 : Column 224

vital functions that many such bodies perform—as my hon. Friend has so clearly described—in protecting the quality of life for people across the country in a variety of different ways.

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Tessa Jowell: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I am going to make some progress, as there are lots of Back Benchers who want to speak in this debate.

The approach that the Government have taken in this Bill is the opposite of the clear and costed plan that was produced by the last Government. They are abolishing and merging bodies, in some cases without any idea of what their functions are. Again, I hope that a greater understanding of those functions will result from further scrutiny. Even now, more than 10 months after the review of public bodies began, we are still in the dark over what the Government have planned for a number of the bodies in this Bill. A number of consultations have begun, but the Government are not even waiting for the results. Consultation was eventually promised on the regional development agencies, but it has now been withdrawn because it would disrupt the process of disassembling RDAs that is already under way. Today the Secretary of State for Justice has announced a public consultation on all the bodies that affect his Department, but this will report after the Bill has gone through Parliament. Therefore, the Minister here today is effectively asking this House to give its permission fundamentally to change or to abolish those bodies before his colleagues have decided what will be put in their place.

While the Government cut quangos in this Bill, they are adding hundreds of bodies elsewhere. Let us take the national health service. As a result of the Government’s chaotic approach to the NHS, they have tripled the number of statutory bodies in the NHS, which now number 521. There will now be new shadow commissioning groups and authorised commissioning groups, primary care trust clusters, strategic health authority clusters, clinical networks and clinical senates, all of which will be overseen by the NHS commissioning board, which the chief executive of the NHS has described as

“the greatest quango in the sky”.

The question that we now have to ask the Minister is whether, even with the passage of this Bill, he believes that there will be fewer public bodies in 2015 than when he first entered his Department. What is his baseline number and what will be the number of quangos in 2015? I am happy to give way to him if he wishes to speak at the Dispatch Box. Okay, the House will note the absence of an answer to that question. The Government do not even know how much money they are going to save. In an article in The Sun—the Minister’s newspaper of choice for these purposes—in March, he claimed that the Government would save £30 billion in spending on quangos,

“so we can protect jobs and frontline services”.

What he failed to mention was that the majority of those savings were from cuts to the very front-line services that he had pledged to save. Almost £25 billion are from cuts to housing and universities, with almost another £2 billion from our arts, our sports and our museums. Only £2.6 billion of the claimed savings were from actual administration, and even that figure has now come under scrutiny.