UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT

HOUSE OF COMMONS

REPRESENTATIONS

TAKEN BEFORE THE

BACKBENCH BUSINESS COMMITTEE

BACKBENCH DEBATES

TUESDAY 18 OCTOBER 2011

SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND, SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL, HAZEL BLEARS, MARGOT JAMES, MR DAVID NUTTALL, MARK RECKLESS, KELVIN HOPKINS, JIM SHANNON, MRS LOUISE ELLMAN, PRITI PATEL, ALEX CUNNINGHAM AND TRACEY CROUCH

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 40

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.    

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2.

Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

3.

Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.

4.

Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.

Representations

Taken before the Backbench Business Committee

on Tuesday 18 October 2011

Members present:

Natascha Engel (Chair)

Mr Peter Bone

Philip Davies

Jane Ellison

John Hemming

Mr Philip Hollobone

Ian Mearns

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Sir Menzies Campbell, Hazel Blears, Margot James, Mr David Nuttall, Mark Reckless, Kelvin Hopkins, Jim Shannon, Mrs Louise Ellman, Priti Patel, Alex Cunningham and Tracey Crouch made representations.

Q1 Chair: Let us get cracking, because we have quite a few people to get through. I appreciate that there are people who have other things that they must go to, which is why we have asked Hazel Blears, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Sir Menzies Campbell to go first. Have you been to the Committee before?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I have not personally, so I am happy to be guided.

Q2 Chair: We are not so interested in the substance of the debate, as-

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Why it should be given.

Q3 Chair: Exactly-why it is topical and why now; whether it is a votable motion, in which case it must be in the Chamber, or whether it is possibly a Westminster Hall debate; and how much time you are specifically asking for.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Thank you very much. We represent the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is a committee of parliamentarians of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords that provides oversight of the intelligence agencies in the United Kingdom. At the moment, we are not a Committee of Parliament, but a committee of parliamentarians appointed by the Prime Minister.

This is extremely timely, because tomorrow the Government will publish a Green Paper that will cover reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Our committee has made recommendations to the Government that it should become a Committee of Parliament and that its powers should be extended in a number of very important ways. Obviously, it is difficult to anticipate the Green Paper, but we understand it is likely to be very positive and quite radical in some of its proposals as regards our committee. Therefore, this is a matter of timely importance.

It has also been the tradition-indeed, more than a tradition; it has been virtually an accepted part of the procedure-that each year a day is given to a debate on the reports of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Up to now that has been provided in Government time, but as it is anticipated that we may become a Committee of Parliament a change in the procedure has been recommended.

The debate normally takes place on a Thursday. I understand that, in theory, it could lead to a Division, but normally there is not a Division; that is not something you can absolutely guarantee, but it is very unusual, and almost certainly there will not be one. It is an opportunity for Parliament-in effect, the only opportunity up till now-to have a proper debate on the intelligence agencies MI6 and MI5 and on degrees of parliamentary oversight. Considerable importance is attached-

Q4 Chair: Sorry, before you go on, are you saying that this is a debate that must be held in the Chamber with a debatable motion?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Yes. It has been held in the Chamber every year since the Committee was formed in 1994-95. It would not be practical or realistic, particularly this year of all years-

Q5 Chair: How much time are you anticipating?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Normally, it would be about a four-hour debate. That obviously depends on other priorities that Parliament has, but that would be the normal expectation. It is an unusual procedure. I, as Chair, would open the debate, but a Government Minister would take part and the House would have the normal opportunity to comment.

Q6 Mr Hollobone: To be blunt, Sir Malcolm, the world has moved on with the establishment of this new Committee. The fact that things have been done in the traditional way for many years is not sufficient; I am afraid times have changed. One of the main reasons that times have changed is that this Committee, while it decides what issues are debated, does not decide how many days are devoted to Back-Bench business. That is in the gift of Her Majesty’s Government.

Bluntly, the problem is that we are not being given enough days to talk about all the issues that everyone wants debated. It is not a 100% rule but a general rule, and unless there is a debatable, votable motion of substance in the main Chamber, the only time we have to allocate to general debates-yours is a general debate, although I accept it is extremely important-is to Westminster Hall. It is not as we would like it; it is just the realpolitik of Her Majesty’s Government not giving this Committee enough days to debate things in the Chamber. Unless there is a motion that will attract lively debate and exchange of different points of view on the Floor of the House-I speak for myself; I cannot speak for the Committee-I would think it unlikely that the Committee would allocate time.

Hazel Blears: I understand entirely that we operate in different circumstances, and I personally welcome the Backbench Business Committee; we have had many more topical debates since it was established. I just want to draw attention to your first report. You had your provisional approach report, and in paragraph 6 you said that your first priority would be to the list of debates that had previously been in Government time, and one of those is the Intelligence and Security Committee report, which normally had a full day. So clearly we are conscious of time; we are trying to squeeze it into less time than that full day, but in your own report about what you would prioritise, the Intelligence and Security Committee was included.

My second point is more general. In the past, there has been criticism of the Intelligence and Security Committee for perhaps not being open and transparent enough in our scrutiny, and I think there is a huge interest on the part of parliamentarians and the public in making sure that our security agencies, which, by necessity, operate in secret, are subject to as much scrutiny as possible. I entirely accept the new system, but I still think we merit a debate on the Floor of the House, where hon. Members can take part and be involved.

Sir Menzies Campbell: The first priority of any Government, and also of Parliament, is the protection of citizens. One of the most important constituents of that responsibility is the intelligence services of this country. I think it would suggest that we were giving less than adequate priority to that responsibility if a debate on the report of the only Committee that has responsibility for scrutiny were to take place in Westminster Hall and not on the Floor of the House.

I want to make a second point. We are now approximately nine months away from the Olympic games. A very large number of security issues arise from that. I have no doubt that London Members in particular would like the opportunity to raise issues in respect of that, which will be of very considerable significance not just socially and in sporting terms but in terms of resources and the capacity of the intelligence services to fulfil their obligations.

Q7 Chair: I am keen not to get into too much of a to-and-fro. What we said in our report was that these annual set-piece debates had taken place year in, year out, and they had been scheduled by Government. It was very important to our Committee, because that is how the allocation of time was calculated in the first place. But we were specific in saying that these debates would be scheduled only if people came to us and demonstrated that there was support for them.

We do not want to undervalue the content of your debate. It is important to emphasise that we have one day in the Chamber on 27 October-and that’s it. So we have six hours, and any time that the Government schedule for statements is taken out of that. There is a huge demand on time. All we are saying is that, because the time available is so limited as to be ridiculous, sometimes the only option is a debate in Westminster Hall. That does not mean that we think that intelligence and security have diminished status.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Chair, I understand that, and I understand the difficult choices your Committee has to make-you, as well as we, have to make a judgment. However, this will be Parliament’s one opportunity to deliberate intelligence issues and the intelligence agencies. It is particularly important as it comes at a time when the Intelligence and Security Committee is to become a Committee of Parliament.

I make one final point, because I know that you are limited in time. The Green Paper that is being published tomorrow is not only about the reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee; it is about how intelligence material, which has been a matter of controversy in the courts, can be reconciled with the interests of justice, and whether the rules should be changed in relation to how such material is dealt with in the courts. Our debate will be the first opportunity for those matters that result from the Government’s Green Paper to be discussed in Parliament.

Q8 Mr Hollobone: I should have thought that your chances of securing a debate in the main Chamber would be enhanced were you to return to this Committee with a motion that would excite interest across the Floor of the House, that might be a little controversial and that might press the Government to do something. Perhaps a debate on one of the recommendations in your report would be preferable to the general debate motion that you have tabled so far.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I hear what you say.

Q9 Mr Bone: That is not an unusual procedure. Quite often, people come, pitch, go away, and come again with a revised pitch. Can I be clear in my mind: is a report about to be published by your Committee?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Our report has already been published, and the Government have published their response to it. What is coming out tomorrow is the Government’s Green Paper, which covers-

Q10 Mr Bone: For future reference, can I mention an option we have? If a report is about to be published, we can arrange for the Chairman to make a statement on that report as close as possible to the day on which it is released. You might want to bear that in mind.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: That is extremely helpful, although I suspect the main demand is not too much the statement; it is the opportunity for Members themselves to contribute, but I take your point.

Q11 Mr Bone: Yes, I understand. Basically what happens is you-rather like a Minister making a statement-get cross-examined.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Indeed. That is certainly a good, useful suggestion for the future.

Q12 Jane Ellison: My question has been partly answered. Generally speaking, it is right that motions secure time in the Chamber-or are more likely to. But equally, one of the factors of very big issues is timeliness. We had a general debate on famine in the Horn of Africa recently, because of the timeliness of that important issue. For the sake of clarity, can you focus in on the timeliness of having a debate now, and on what you think the window of opportunity is in relation to the debate’s relevance?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Timeliness is two specific things. First, the debate will be the first, most important and perhaps only opportunity for the House of Commons to express a view on the future of intelligence and security parliamentary oversight. That has been in the Government’s control until now. Our committee, of which we are three members, recommend that we should become a Committee of Parliament, with a much greater parliamentary involvement. In this year of all years, for us to be sent to Westminster Hall would, frankly, send a very negative message.

Secondly, it is also the first and perhaps only opportunity in the period until Christmas to debate the Green Paper that will be published tomorrow, which is on the handling of intelligence information in courts of law and how that should be reconciled with the interests of justice.

Q13 Chair: Just one last point: if a Green Paper is published tomorrow, presumably it will eventually be followed by a White Paper that will have a Second Reading.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Maybe, but the objective is to influence-

Q14 Chair: Is the issue the creation of a parliamentary Committee or the content of the Green Paper?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: It so happens that this is a unique situation. We have not only our usual annual report, about which I accept Mr Hollobone’s view that things have moved on; but in addition, we have what is likely to be the most radical reform of a committee towards a Committee of Parliament since the 1990s. Plus, by coincidence, the Government’s proposals on the handling of intelligence material will be published tomorrow.

Q15 Ian Mearns: Can I ask, Sir Malcolm, whether you have asked Sir George whether they would do this in Government time?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Yes. That is what we started off by doing, because that is the way it has normally been done. We were informed that things have moved on, as Mr Hollobone has pointed out, and that the proper procedure was to come to this Committee.

Q16 Chair: Thank you very much for coming. We will let you know this afternoon.

Briefly then, Margot. Yours will presumably be much shorter.

Margot James: Yes, I hope so. Thank you very much for letting me speak at this point. It was very kind of you to consider the rest of my commitments, which carry on while I am here.

I have applied, as you can see from the proposal, for a debate on NHS care of older people. The first argument that I want to advance is that it is very timely. Everybody is aware of the report by the Care Quality Commission, which found that 20% of the 100 hospitals it reviewed failed older people on dignity, privacy and respect. Some 49 of those 100 hospitals were failing to provide good, all-round nutrition. The other criterion it meets is that it is an ongoing problem. It happens to be timely because of last week’s report, but it comes hot on the heels of other reports.

Q17 Chair: Before going into that sort of detail, is this Westminster Hall or Chamber? Is this something that you want to have a vote on? How many hours do you want? What other avenues have you explored to get this issue raised and have not succeeded? Why are you bringing it to the Committee?

Margot James: Well, the reason is that although I have had one Westminster Hall debate some time ago on older people and housing, which was rather specific, this is a much broader topic on the NHS care of older people. There are numerous reports, all of which should cause Members alarm. That is why I have come to the Backbench Business Committee. I had hoped to apply for it in the Chamber with something votable, but I feel that the situation is so critical that I would be happy to accept Westminster Hall if that could be provided. We need at least two hours, although I would like three. We have many Members, whom I have listed in the proposal, who are keen to have this debate. Since I submitted the proposal yesterday lunchtime, more Members have come forward. This is something that affects huge numbers of older people. It is very relevant to all Members, I would have thought.

Dr Coffey: Can I say I support it as well?

Margot James: Thank you very much. I think Richard Drax is here as well.

Richard Drax: Yes, I support it.

Margot James: Jolly good.

Chair: That is straightforward and clear, so thank you very much for that.

Q18 John Hemming: Can I ask everyone who is here to support this to put their hands up? That is an indication of who is on the list here.

Q19 Chair: Thank you very much, Margot, and thank you for keeping it so brief. Can we have David Nuttall and supporters?

Mr Nuttall: Madam Chairman, I know that there is much pressure on the time of the Committee, so I will be as brief as possible. As you will recall, my application is for a debate on whether the United Kingdom should hold a national referendum on our membership of the European Union. Various organisations have organised both paper and online petitions calling for such a referendum. Between them they have collected more than 100,000 names. I have prepared a motion, which I understand has been circulated, although I am happy to read it out, if you wish.

Q20 Chair: Yes please.

Mr Nuttall: "This House calls upon the Government to introduce a Bill in the next Session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union, leave the European Union, or renegotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation." As you will be aware, it is more than 36 years since the United Kingdom had a referendum on this matter. This matter has already generated widespread public and media interest.

My proposal for a debate on this topic has cross-party support. In addition to Conservative Members, Labour Members and colleagues from the Democratic Unionist party also support the application. Several of them are here with me today-Mark Reckless and Jim Shannon, as well as Kelvin Hopkins and Austin Mitchell, who are obviously from the Labour Benches.

Q21 Chair: It would be good if you could put your hands up if you are here supporting the debate.

Mr Nuttall: Madam Chairman, due to the inexplicable temptations of the delights of lunch at the Saudi Arabian embassy, many supporters are unable to be here, but I have prepared a list, which I am happy to circulate to Members, of lots of other Members who have genuinely said that they would support this application.

Q22 Chair: Thank you very much for that and thank you for reading out the motion. The only day that we have available in the Chamber is 27 October. This is obviously a votable motion. Would you be interested in looking at that day?

Mr Nuttall: I would be happy with any day that the Committee felt able to provide for the debate. I will be honest and say that if something comes along that is more important than this, I cannot argue that this matter, after 36 years, must be dealt with by the end of the month. It would be strange to try to argue that after this length of time, so I appreciate that the debate could get put back some time.

Already, at this early stage, I anticipate that in the region of 30 or 40 Members on both sides of the House would wish to speak in such a debate. It perhaps goes without saying, but for the record there is a wide divergence of opinion on the issue and I trust that the motion before the Committee would produce a lively and productive debate. I believe that as the Government are opposed to holding a referendum, the only way the motion can be debated is through the auspices of your Committee. Therefore I respectfully request a full day’s debate on the matter. Thank you.

Q23 Jane Ellison: I must admit that I was slightly confused; I read press reports saying that the debate was happening on 27 October. I think we have all been a bit confused about that. I wondered whether I had missed a Committee meeting, but somehow there seems to have been a misunderstanding.

This is a big issue and it is absolutely right that it is one for parliamentary debate. If you secured a debate and Parliament expressed a view, would you regard that as Parliament’s having expressed its view for this Parliament and therefore be unlikely to come back to this Committee for a further debate on this particular subject in this Parliament?

Mr Nuttall: I suspect that it would be open for any Member, regardless of the outcome, to come back and it would be up to the Committee to decide whether it wanted another debate.

Q24 Jane Ellison: I suppose so. You are making a very strong case that Parliament should be able to express its view, but what I am trying to understand is whether, if you secure the debate and Parliament expresses its view, you will believe that, having been given a chance to express its view on holding an in-out referendum, Parliament will have a settled will for this Parliament.

Mr Nuttall: Well, as I say, my view is that I cannot envisage circumstances in which I personally would come back before the Committee. However, I cannot speak for any of the other 649 Members, who might think that they could do a better job than I have-and I am sure they could.

Q25 Mr Hollobone: You have an impressive array of parliamentarians with you at the top table and in the audience and a very large number of signatories. I understand that that comes from several petitions calling for the House of Commons debate. I understand from your motion that you are calling for Her Majesty’s Government to bring forward a Bill. To follow Jane Ellison’s question, if the motion were passed, there would presumably be further debate in the next Session of Parliament, to go through the details of any Bill that came forward.

Mr Nuttall: There would. The Bill would naturally have to go through the full parliamentary legislative scrutiny process in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. That would enable all the details of the precise wording, and exactly how and when the referendum should be held, to be debated.

Chair: Okay. Anybody else?

Q26 Mr Bone: This Committee does not look at the subject matter, but at boxes that we need to tick. One box that you have is supporting petitions-electronic petitions and the Daily Express petition, which has several hundred thousand names on it, which adds to the support.

We do not make the decision on the petition; we make it on the issue. So we have to check whether either of the Front Benches will bring forward this Bill. That seems unlikely. Are we asking the Government to do something that they have not done in the past? Of course, they introduced a Bill for an AV referendum when they did not agree with AV, so I suppose that box is ticked.

Is there division in Parliament? I think that is clear. But is there division within the parties? I think that is also clear. I also think that people could support this who want to come out of Europe and who want to stay in Europe and have renegotiations. So there are a lot of different views. I actually think you have probably ticked all the boxes and I shall certainly support the debate. I think it would make a very good one.

Kelvin Hopkins: At least one of our parliamentary colleagues who supports membership of the European Union supports a referendum as well. Just recently, there was a Eurobarometer suggesting that every country in the European Union wants a referendum, which is interesting. But there was also an opinion poll recently showing a majority for a referendum in every part of the United Kingdom and in every group as well.

Jim Shannon: I am representing the DUP here along with my hon. Friend. This is an issue of some importance in the whole of Northern Ireland. It is in the provincial press every day or every week-both for and against. It is important that we have the opportunity to debate the matter in the House. It is very controversial. It has caused deep interest. It will also cause a very lively debate in the Chamber and will challenge the Government. I think that is what we are about.

Mark Reckless: To confirm the range of people backing this from different perspectives, I have just secured the support of Keith Vaz, who was previously the Minister for Europe. He wants to make the pro-European case at a referendum.

In terms of urgency, I think it should be the 27 October or certainly by the end of the year-perhaps something in November, depending on what is available for the Committee. What is happening in the eurozone is very important. It is forcing us into a choice of whether we will be part of a more integrated Europe, where there is a eurozone caucus and there is much more economic governance-that is the way that Europe and the motor force of integration is going-or whether we need to develop a different relationship to reflect that change. I would make that case.

Q27 John Hemming: So although a lot of people want to speak, would you settle for a half day with a votable motion?

Mr Nuttall: I personally think that the issue is so important that it could easily complete a full day’s debate in the Chamber and that is my request if that is possible.

Q28 Chair: Okay. Thank you; that was very clear. Thank you very much for coming back.

Can we have Louise Ellman, please? Thank you very much for the supporting documentation. This request is on behalf of the Transport Committee?

Mrs Ellman: Yes. Thank you very much for hearing this request for a votable motion on the topic of the rising cost of motor insurance. This is a topic of major public interest, with premiums for young men currently at £3,000 and rising. It has a lot of cross-party interest as well.

The Transport Committee produced a report on this topic and because there was such a phenomenal public response to it, plus additional work by Jack Straw, we decided to have an additional session. That, too, has produced mounting correspondence. There is a time factor in this debate because the Government have already stated that they intend to do one thing in relation to referral fees, which is one aspect of this issue which they will be looking at next week. Our report identifies a whole range of different actions that need to be undertaken and the issue involves a number of different Government Departments.

Our motion calls for a cross-departmental ministerial working group to be set up to look at the issue and produce proposals this Parliament. We are seeking action rather than simply a debate to air the issues. This has very widespread public support.

Q29 Chair: Okay. Thank you. You are asking for a half day in the Chamber?

Mrs Ellman: Yes.

Q30 Chair: In terms of time limits, we have got a date in the Chamber only on 27 October and, as you have seen, there is a lot of call on that day and we do not know when we will have a day after that. Suppose you are not scheduled for 27 October-is the debate time-limited?

Mrs Ellman: We would like it to be in October because it is an urgent matter. If that is not possible, however, we would accept another date. It is essential that something is done about the issue, rather than it being debated as a topic.

Q31 Chair: Is there an absolute necessity to have a votable motion, or is it possible to have a Minister respond in Westminster Hall?

Mrs Ellman: We asked for a votable motion because we want something to happen. If that is denied, we will consider whatever you are able to offer us. Essentially, we want some action to come from this.

Chair: Okay. Thank you.

Q32 Mr Hollobone: I congratulate you and the Committee on your presentation and the way you have put together your case. That is exactly what every person who comes before this Committee should do. You have a motion asking the Government to do something, you have cross-party support, and it is a topical issue. I note that at the end of your submission you say that a three-hour debate would leave time for 13 10-minute contributions, which is not in our gift. I would have thought that if that were to be halved and become 26 five-minute contributions, there would be a lot of interest from both sides of the House and it would enable a lot of Members to contribute.

Mrs Ellman: I want as many Members as possible to get involved in the debate so that we use whatever time is allocated effectively. I am sure that a lot of Members will want to speak on their views and on those of their constituents, who write to us about this topic in a very big way.

Q33 Chair: That was very clear. Thank you very much. Priti Patel.

Priti Patel: Thank you. Committee members will have seen my written application. I am basically here to pitch for a debate on the UK’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe and all matters associated with human rights. I believe that the issue is quite time-sensitive because in three weeks’ time, on 7 November, the United Kingdom will assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe for a period of six months. As there are 47 members of that organisation I see this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have a debate on the subject because it will be another quarter of a century before we get the chairmanship again.

I have heard the other pitches and I am conscious of the debate time and dates allocated. I am not necessarily looking for time in the Chamber or to divide the House. The issue at stake concerns the UK Government’s priorities concerning the chairmanship of the Council of Europe. There is also a lot of topicality surrounding the whole issue of the European convention on human rights and how human rights legislation affects decision making in this country and the laws of our Parliament-whether that involves prisoners’ rights or the fact that we cannot deport foreign prisoners.

I am keen to have the debate during the early stages of our chairmanship-not necessarily the debate that has been discussed thus far-and I would be happy for the debate to be held in Westminster Hall. I have outlined a motion and been in touch with the Minister for Europe, and I have raised the issue several times on the Floor of the House. I have asked frequently for Government time, and I have submitted written parliamentary questions asking for a debate. I have written to all members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and members of the all-party human rights group.

The important thing is to have a debate that will bring in all views, irrespective of whether they are sceptical or in favour of human rights legislation. I believe that we have not yet had such a debate-certainly not in this Parliament, so that is particularly the case for new Members of Parliament.

Q34 Jane Ellison: It is such an important topic, especially what you said about all views coming out in the course of the debate. At the moment, however, I think that supporting Members come only from one party. Can you give the Committee a feel for what support there is for a debate among other parties to ensure that such a debate would go back and forth and be interesting and engaging?

Priti Patel: The support is there; in fact, I wrote to all members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the APPG to get cross-party support. Some of them have now left the room, because of the debate taking place on Europe, but the support is there. The key thing is not to have a motion that divides the House, so that we can have a full and frank debate, with all views and persuasions.

Q35 Mr Bone: What an excellent presentation! It is nice to have a Member here who recognises that Westminster Hall has the same status as the main Chamber. Most Members do not know enough about the Council of Europe-I do not know enough about it. A Westminster Hall debate would not come from the Government, because this is not an issue that they would naturally bring forward, but it is one that we should seriously look at.

Chair: That was very concise. Thank you very much for that.

Q36 Jane Ellison: I agree with Mr Bone, but it would be good just to demonstrate the support with some names.

Priti Patel: I can do that. Absolutely.

Q37 Chair: We definitely need to do that, because we have scheduled debates in the past where there have been only a few people.

Priti Patel: I will absolutely do that. I will provide Committee members with a full list of names.

Q38 Chair: Thank you very much for that. Alex Cunningham, please.

Alex Cunningham: Thank you, Chair. A submission was put forward in support of this debate, which is supported across the House. Sadly, Damian Hinds has had to leave.

Q39 Chair: Can you give us the subject of the debate?

Alex Cunningham: Sorry. It is about the debt problems that people face and the arrangements to help them cope; that is the gist of it. We are looking for three hours. We recognise the importance of Westminster Hall, which Mr Bone mentioned, and we would be very content to be there. As I said, we have cross-party support.

The debate is timely for a number of reasons, including the progress of the Legal Aid Bill and its effect on individuals. There is also the transfer of the financial inclusion fund to the new Money Advice Service. People need to be directed to free advice, as well as to paid advice, because many cannot afford paid advice, given that they do not even have a minimum income. We want to be able to discuss those issues in the House and to challenge the Minister on how debt management services will be properly funded and properly promoted.

Q40 Chair: How urgent is this debate?

Alex Cunningham: I would have hoped to be able to have it this side of the new year, but with the Bill still progressing, any time during its progress through the House would be good.

Tracey Crouch: We have had many debates in the House-indeed, in both Houses of Parliament-about the regulation of loan sharks and the high-cost credit lending industry, but we have not had the same emphasis on the debt management side of the issue. People who suddenly find themselves in a lot of debt thanks to lending have to pay additional costs to get themselves out of that debt. The Government are looking at the issue of debt management companies, but they are doing so incredibly slowly. This is perhaps an opportunity for us to hurry them along a bit so that they pay a bit more urgent attention to this issue, which affects my constituents and others across the country.

Chair: Thank you. Does anybody have any questions? I thought that was very clear. Thank you for keeping it brief. Sorry to keep you waiting. Does anybody else want to make representations? No? In that case, thank you all very much.

Prepared 18th October 2011