“The local rep visited at my request this May, only his 3rd visit and I now prefer to deal with him by email to have everything in writing.”

That supports the points that have been made about loss of trust. The letter continued:

“He first volunteered the figures from the brulines system, showing my doubling sales, food has also gone from nothing to a very good business and is the only way to make any money on this lease. I then put to him that at £5.5k breakeven I am paying about £23k rent and £50k through the beer tie. This equates to around 17% return on the value of the property while I will struggle to even repay my investment let alone make a return on it or pay myself an income. When I put to him that unless he rebalanced this I would be selling up and moving on he confirmed that I have a lease in order that I can do this.”

As my correspondent pointed out, the pubco representative would

“make a mean poker player.”

My correspondent continued:

“I’m waiting to see what comes from Westminster…Last resort is to sell up and move on.”

He points out that this is not just about the price of the beer either, saying:

“Aside from paying between 1.5 to 2 times wholesale value within the tie. Enterprise restrict what I can buy, for example I can not have Crabbies Ginger Beer”.

I have never heard of that. [Hon. Members: “Oh dear!”] Other hon. Members obviously have.

The letter continues:

“this may seem petty, but Crabbies is heavily marketed and is hence what customers ask for.”

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He concludes:

“With a monopoly to supply 7,000 pubs, the service is understandably poor, why would you offer more than a week or 2 payment terms, daily delivery, knowledgeable staff, sale or return, dependable deliveries, useful special offers, volume discounts, why would they? It’s not as if I can take my business elsewhere.”

That inequality in the power relationship between struggling small businesses and the major pubcos demonstrates my point.

Mr George Howarth: As I am ever anxious to be helpful, may I tell the hon. Gentleman that Crabbie’s ginger beer is made in Knowsley?

Martin Horwood: The right hon. Gentleman will have to buy me whatever the relevant quantity is in a pub sometime, if we can find one.

To be even-handed, I must say that I have had quite a lot of complaints and correspondence from lessees of Punch Taverns, too. One wrote:

“I am a Punch Lessee, I am at present on the biggest discount”—

in other words on beer price—

“that Punch can give me, I am paying what is in my view an extortionate rent, an example of pricing is as follows:

My buying price from Strongbow Cider at highest discount from Punch = £110 + VAT—Price from free-trade Moulton Coors = £64 +VAT.

This comparison is throughout the range. What chance have I got of staying in business. The truth of the matter is that the prices we have to charge to customers = empty pub.”

That is the unequal power relationship we need to have tackled, and that view is widely held across the trade.

The Minister should take credit for the positive steps that he is taking, but none of them really sort out the central issue, which is not the need to abolish the tie or even customer choice and competition among pubs for customer trade but the need to rebalance the relationship between publicans and the pubcos, and the lack of any real incentive for those highly leveraged businesses to offer better terms and avoid pub closures. It is increasingly clear to everyone in the trade, to the Select Committee, which has repeatedly considered it, and to Members across this House, that the only way to do that is to introduce a statutory code with a free-of-tie option. We should not force all pubs out of the tie, but give the pubcos an incentive to rebalance the relationship and offer more generous terms to those struggling small businesses. The pubcos have been drinking in the last chance saloon for so long that they must be under the table by now, and it is time for Ministers to join us all in saying, “Time” and “Enough”.

2.52 pm

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Although several Members have a lot of knowledge of the pub industry, I think I am the only Member who has spoken today who has operated under a tie. Admittedly it was an awfully long time ago, but the experience of operating under a tie is principally the same now as it was when the beer orders came in.

I agree with the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) that the tie is not the problem. In my view, it represents the symbiotic relationship between the company, which owns the pub, and the tenant, who puts his or her labour, blood, sweat and—often literally—

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tears into the equation. Landlords have always complained about the unfairness of the tie—they did it in my day and they do it today—but people should enter into tenancy agreements with their eyes wide open, not with the starry-eyed image of being “mine host” behind the bar obscuring the economic facts. I am glad to see that the new pub advisory services will be established to support would-be tenants and ensure that they understand what they are getting themselves into.

The difference today is that the vast majority of tied pubs are owned not by breweries but by companies whose purpose is not just selling beer but owning properties that they expected to accrue in value. Several changes over the years have made that a less and less attractive business proposition, including changes in drinking habits, drink-drive legislation and so on. The property bubble has now burst and the pubcos can no longer rely on increasing property values to square a decreasing profit circle. To their shame, some pubcos have resorted to imposing increasingly punitive terms on their tenants to make up the difference, including the full repairing and insuring leases that have been mentioned, along with many other examples.

Martin Horwood: Does not the point that my hon. Friend is making underline the difference between the kind of tie under which she operated with a brewer and those under pub companies, which have no incentive not simply to sell their pubs and take the cash, as that helps their balance sheets?

Lorely Burt: I agree with my hon. Friend to a degree, but the principle of the tie is the same. We need to make sure that the tie operates fairly.

These problems must stop, but should the answer be legally to require companies to offer a free-of-tie option? The balance has indisputably tipped too far towards the landlord, but I think we are tipping the baby out with the bathwater. For the breweries, what would be the point of having their own pubs if they could not impose a tie? Why would they go to the trouble of buying and refurbishing property and recruiting suitable tenants only for those tenants to start in competition against them, selling someone else’s beer? Breweries have been anxiously awaiting the Government proposals because they want to invest in the industry, but they will not do that if they cannot keep the tie.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady accept that one problem with the current situation is that it prejudices against local ales? I am thinking of McGivern ales in Ruabon. Its ale is hugely popular and I would like to see more pubs selling it, but the current situation prejudices against that.

Lorely Burt: Indeed, but the Office of Fair Trading report found that there was not detriment to the consumer in response to the tie. The pubs I go to tend to have all sorts of guest ales as well, so there is still that possibility.

Mr Davey: The OFT found that the total volume of beer sales by small breweries increased by 50% between 2004 and 2009 despite the shrinking of the beer market as a whole.

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Lorely Burt: I am grateful for that intervention.

As for the pubcos, those over-relying on the property model have become increasingly unviable and they are being hoist on their own petard. Punch is selling off 2,000 pubs and Enterprise is selling 500. Those that are left will be protected by the code of practice. Why should we wait for two or three years to introduce legislation, given that 98% of the industry has signed up to the code of practice today? The code of practice is stronger and is legally binding. Rents must be based on independent guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and unhappy tenants can appeal easily and cheaply to an independent mediation service and to the courts. On the whole, this is a good deal for landlords and customers. I can support the proposal in the motion for a review to ensure that the voluntary code and other measures are properly implemented and that they work, but I would be happier if a little more time were given to assessing whether they are working properly.

Where I think that we as a Government have failed is in not taking strong enough action against the supermarkets and their pernicious cheap alcohol policies. Several colleagues have mentioned that. I should like to say, “Well done,” to my hon. Friend the Minister for the safeguards and changes he has managed to wring from the pubcos, but can he now persuade his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Treasury to substitute for the lily-livered excuse for a minimum charge for alcohol of VAT plus the rate of duty, a proper minimum charge to protect our pub industry and the health of our nation?

2.58 pm

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): It is a pleasure to stand here at the culmination of this excellent debate, which has shown the House in a tremendous light. Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) on securing and opening the debate. I congratulate also the hon. Members for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and for Northampton South (Mr Binley) on their work on this issue. It is to the Minister’s shame that despite diligent research and the magnificent campaign fought by many interested organisations, we are debating how to put safeguards into a policy that was announced without proper consultation and in direct contradiction of assurances given by him.

I shall refer to the remarks of some Members during my contribution, but I must pick out specifically the brilliant and passionate speech of the hon. Member for Northampton South. He described how the Government have reneged on their undertaking, and pointed out that the problem was the major pub companies that have more than 500 pubs. The hon. Member for Leeds North West spoke brilliantly and exposed the shameful collaboration of the Government and the BBPA. That point was also taken up by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh).

My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) talked about the impact on jobs. That is a vital issue: every week hundreds of people lose their job as a result of the number of pubs that are closing.

The hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) spoke up for pub companies, but said that they were drinking in the last chance saloon—and my right hon.

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Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) rightly said that the last chance saloon sounded like a pub where time is never called.

Andrew Griffiths: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Toby Perkins: I am afraid I do not have time.

The hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) felt that on balance there needed to be some regulation. She defied those who think that a Member cannot make a serious speech wearing a scarf—something that may catch on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) talked about how, because of their flawed business model, the big pub companies are squeezing out unreasonable returns. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) said that the Prime Minister was dodging his round at the bar. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) reminded us of the role of the pub in uniting couples over the years. He reflected on the good fortune of Mrs Jones to have been drinking in the right pub at the right time.

There were interesting contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen and my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley). The hon. Members for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) and for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) spoke about alternative ways in which pubs might choose to improve themselves.

Today we have heard a lot about the history of this issue, but it is worth reminding ourselves that we have had seven reports and there have been four inquiries by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. The Government’s response has many flaws, which other Members have exposed, but I want to talk about two specifically.

On the issue of pub closures, which was exposed by the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), the Minister has swallowed the big pub company line that free-of-tie pubs are more likely to close. He must know that in general tied pubs do not close permanently, because, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) pointed out, they have a history of churning through huge numbers of landlords who try and fail—another business going under, another life unfairly ruined. One pub company had a churn rate of 65%, so although the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) says that people should go into such arrangements with their eyes open, that does not reflect the reality experienced by many tenants and lessees. Like the hon. Lady, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) was previously a landlord—for Enterprise—and has strongly made the point that many people’s lives were ruined because they were not aware of what they had let themselves in for.

In March 2010, a Federation of Small Businesses survey found that 84% of tied businesses believed that their relation with the pubco did not allow them to compete effectively, 90% believed that the arrangements meant that they could not make a fair profit, and 87% indicated that they wanted to be free of the tie. Despite that evidence, the Government say in their response, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) pointed out, that the debate over tied or free-of-tie status is a distraction. We think that is entirely wrong.

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The FSB is not the only organisation to study the issue. The Institute for Public Policy Research also questioned tenants and lessees, and its findings showed that free-of-tie landlords manage pubs longer, are more optimistic about the future, are less likely to be struggling financially, and earn more. According to that study, 46% of tied publicans earn less than £15,000 a year. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) noted that the IPPR found that 88% of publicans who claim to be struggling financially identified the beer tie as one of the most significant factors in their financial problems.

The Minister, in his written response, built a man of straw, claiming that the critics were calling for the tie to end completely. He must know that that is not the case. All the critics are saying is that if the traditionally tenanted arrangement is such a good deal, why can the big pub companies not offer both tied and free-of-tie options, and let their tenants decide?

The Select Committee discovered that at every turn the big pubcos had failed to take the actions they had promised. In desperation, the Committee said in March 2010 that it would give the industry a final chance to prove that self-regulation could work. It was supported by a sympathetic Government who promised to back its findings. When there is such knowledge and such commitment and when the industry has been given every chance to put its house in order, how can the Minister possibly write that the issue is more complicated than the critics realise?

What the critics may have failed to understand is not the issue surrounding pubcos but the developing relationship between the pubcos, the BBPA and the ministerial team. As the hon. Member for Leeds North West said, the save the pub group has discovered, through freedom of information requests, that throughout the process the referee was getting changed in the same room as one of the teams.

Mr Davey: Not only does the hon. Gentleman not have any evidence of that, but he has asked me a number of written parliamentary questions, and the answers that I have given him show that what he has just alleged is not true.

Toby Perkins: The Minister’s colleagues, the hon. Members for Southport and for Leeds North West, were deeply uncomfortable about the relationship. The findings of the save the pub group, through freedom of information requests, show that parts of the BBPA’s report—including the typing errors—were just cut and pasted into the Government’s response. I do not know whether the Minister is still listening to me. It is difficult for him to say that there is no evidence when Members who sit on the same side of the Chamber as him feel that the relationship is deeply unhealthy.

It transpires that before the Select Committee report came out the Minister had made up his mind that he would not consider legislation. As I said, the Government’s response to the report is, in substantial part, the BBPA’s own report. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West said, it is now clear that the Minister has had no independent legal advice on the legality of the framework, and instead has relied on legal advice provided by the BBPA. It has become clear that his officials were assisting the BBPA with the wording of a press release as early as October, when as far as interested

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bodies were concerned the Minister was still sticking to his commitment to push through legislation. In fact he was merely paving the way for the BBPA’s preferred option. That is just what we know. Other information requested by the save the pub group has been hidden by the Government. How much worse can it be?

The verdict of the all-party save the pub group is damning. It says that the Minister has not been naive; the action is deliberate and, at best, a lazy response by him in the hope of clearing his desk. The verdict of the Federation of Small Businesses is equally clear. It is extremely disappointed by the Government’s response to the Select Committee inquiry and extremely concerned that this agreement appears to have been negotiated with the BBPA and the larger pubcos without substantial consultation with interested parties.

If a Minister were able to come to the House and create a policy that united opinion throughout the House, including the Select Committee, and among the numerous groups referred to by the hon. Member for Leeds North West, we would call him a genius. I have no idea what the word is for the opposite of a genius, but the Minister appears to have achieved the absolute opposite of that united opinion. Who else is calling for the Government to legislate on this issue? Who else does the Minister think simply does not understand its full complexities? Alongside the Select Committee, the Federation of Small Businesses and the all-party save the pub group, there is CAMRA, the Independent Pub Confederation, Fair Pint, the GMB, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, the Guild of Master Victuallers, Unite, the Society of Independent Brewers and the Forum of Private Business. If the Minister could leave the Chamber and come up with a policy that united all those people in his favour, he would take a huge step forward in his career.

As has been declared, this was an opportunity to take steps to resolve the problems faced by the 87% of landlords who indicated that they wanted to be free of the tie. The Minister has wilfully and deliberately set out to avoid living up to that commitment. He says in the Government’s response that the industry will waste no time in living up to these demands, given the parliamentary interest in the matter. As the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) made clear, that is a risible claim, as all the evidence we have seen from the pub companies over the years demonstrates.

Who has the Minister let down? He has let down the Select Committee, which worked so hard and which he promised to back, and all those who contributed to its hearings. He has let down the small family brewers who have been shut out of many pubs as a result of the pub companies’ market domination. He has let down the Federation of Small Businesses, which campaigned so strongly, and let down CAMRA and the Fair Pint campaign. He has let down the 25,000 publicans across Britain who run tied pubs. Most of all, he has let down the customers who were relying on him to secure a fairer balance between landlords and the pub companies.

Never before has there been such a concern about crony capitalism or such an expectation that the Government should stand up for small businesses. This issue confirms what we have always suspected: beneath the warm words, what we are getting from the Government

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is business as usual. They are on the side of the rich and the powerful, standing up for large vested interests and leaving publicans to fight for themselves.

Ultimately, this issue set three tests for the Minister. Would the Government intervene to ensure a fair relationship between big pub businesses and small business people? Would they keep their word and do what was right, even when a big, powerful lobby asked them not to do so? Would they listen to the voice of the people, the voice of small businesses and the publicans at the coal face of the industry or, when they were needed, just back down? On all those tests, the Government have failed.

This is not a party political issue. Everyone agrees that the Government have got it wrong, as we heard today from Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members. A huge opportunity has been missed and the pub lobby will not believe that this House is serious about action, but it is not too late. Members must ensure that the industry is held to account by supporting the motion, ensuring that an independent body is allowed to come in and monitor what actually happens. Only then will there be any chance of people having a serious hope that the House will take action. I commend the motion to the House.

3.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): It might surprise the House to learn that I am very grateful for today’s debate and for all the contributions made by hon. Members, not least because our deliberations will be read by the industry, including the pubcos, and because there is agreement on a number of issues. We all agree that, while we want to enable businesses to generate growth and jobs, we also want them to operate fairly. There is no doubt that the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee identified a number of concerns about how the pub industry is operating. I strongly agree with the importance the Committee and hon. Members attached to the role of pubs in communities the length and breadth of this country.

Before addressing some of the specific issues raised today, I would like to outline the reforms that the Government recently secured from the industry so that no one is in any doubt about them. The reforms deliver on our promise to take action and are much more significant than many Members have suggested today. The industry framework code is to be made legally binding, and I can tell the House that all six of the big pubcos, as well as a number of the smaller family operators, have already declared publicly on their websites that they are legally bound by this code and sent letters to their licensees setting out an open and unlimited offer to this effect. That already represents over 70% of the tied trade and 100% of the large pubcos.

A pub independent conciliation and arbitration service—PICAS—is to be set up. It will provide mediation and arbitration on any matter relating to the framework or company codes and the results will be binding on both parties. That will be done by the end of next month. There will be a three-yearly re-accreditation process for company codes, administered by the British Institute of Innkeeping benchmarking and accreditation scheme through examination of annual compliance reports and

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spot checks. A new pubs advisory service—PAS—will provide an initial offering of free advice to all prospective and current tenants and lessees. There will be a strengthened framework code, with a particular focus on full repairing and insuring leases and on issues such as rent, insurance, transparency and pre-entry training. This strengthened code was agreed between the BBPA, the BII, and the FLVA, which is a licensee organisation, on 22 December. Those reforms have the potential to deliver real change for tenants and lessees across the country, and they are being brought into effect far more quickly than legislation could achieve.

There have been suggestions of collusion, with allegations that in the process the Government listened only to the BBPA and were deaf to the voices of licensees. That is simply not true. I have met CAMRA three times over the past year; I have met my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West, the chair of the all-party save the pub group, four times over that period; I have met the Independent Pub Confederation; and I have met representatives of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, a licensee organisation, with which we were in detailed discussions while negotiating with the BBPA.

Toby Perkins: Did any section of the representations from the groups that the Minister has just mentioned find its way directly into the Government’s response, or was it simply the BBPA’s representation that turned up there?

Mr Davey: I heard the concerns of those organisations and the problems in the industry, and that is why we have taken action. The hon. Gentleman tried to say that this was not a party political issue, but he made it into one. He and his hon. Friends had 13 years to take action, but they took none.

During this process, I have read copious reports on and information about the concerns of licensees, and we have taken action to address their concerns when we have felt that action is appropriate. We will always listen—

Ian Lucas: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Davey: No.

We will always listen, but that does not mean that we will agree on every point, such as on the point about the beer tie, which I will discuss in due course.

Ian Lucas: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Davey: No.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): My hon. Friend is a former Business Minister.

Mr Davey: I will give way later on; I want to make some progress, because some serious allegations have been made.

Reference has been made to the freedom of information request, which is alleged to show that we just accepted the status quo and the views of the BBPA. The Government have now released more than 90% of the documents requested under the recent FOI request, and more than 500 pages of documentation can now be found on our website, including discussions and minutes of meetings

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with the BBPA, the ALMR and CAMRA. They show clearly that we listened to all sides and negotiated hard with the BBPA.

For example, there are the minutes of the meeting with the BBPA on 12 October, in which I laid down the conditions that any self-regulatory deal must satisfy. Otherwise, we would have had to consider regulation. The minutes show that the key conditions were those that I laid down—that the code must be legally binding, that the code must be strengthened and that there must be an independent dispute resolution service.

Following my initiative, the BBPA went away to write its report, which it sent to me on 20 October, and I can assure the House that in the meeting on 12 October the BBPA did not want to give the concessions that we wrung from it. Indeed, an e-mail on 20 October, which is in the FOI request, shows that my officials contacted the ALMR, a member of the IPC and a licensee organisation, within half an hour of receiving the BBPA’s offer in order to seek that organisation’s opinion. In the freedom of information request, there are e-mail exchanges in which we pressed the BBPA on how it was to make the code legally binding, and to give firm dates for implementing its commitments and establishing PICAS. That information is available on our website, and I am happy to place it in the Library.

Ian Lucas: Does the Minister agree that the Government’s response falls short of the undertaking given to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee in July 2010?

Mr Davey: No, I do not agree. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would take action, and we have taken action.

Ian Lucas: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Davey: No, and that action is a lot greater than any the Labour party took over 13 years.

Mr Binley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Davey: No, I want to make some progress. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a bit, because in two and a half hours’ evidence to the Select Committee he quizzed me for an hour, so let us be clear that I have answered an awful lot of questions from him.

Why did we not legislate? Some in this Chamber wanted the Government to step in and regulate, and some even believe that we promised to do so, but we promised to take action, and that is what we have done. We have had to consider all the evidence and the action that we would take, and I believe that the action we have taken is appropriate and effective.

We did not legislate because, first, we wanted to act now, not in two or three years’ time. To legislate, we would have had to carry out a lengthy process of consultation, of drafting and of pre-legislative scrutiny, and after that we would have had to fight for a slot in the legislative Sessions. It is highly unlikely that such a slot could have been found quickly.

Secondly, this is a deregulatory Government. Additional regulation should always be a measure of last resort. For the Government to intervene in the commercial contractual relationships between two parties, they must

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have very good reason. That is in line with the Government’s top priority of achieving strong, sustainable and balanced growth, and generating a climate that supports enterprise and creates jobs.

Thirdly, the Office of Fair Trading found in October 2010 that there were no competition issues affecting consumers in this market. That is a critical point, but I am afraid that the Select Committee report did not discuss it. I am aware that in some circles, it is believed that the OFT is wrong. That is not a view that I share. As Minister with responsibility for competition, I have high confidence in the rigour and accuracy of the OFT. Without evidence of competition issues, the rationale for Government intervention is significantly reduced. That is in contrast to the situation in the groceries market, where the Competition Commission found evidence of competition issues. The Government have therefore committed to introducing a groceries code adjudicator as soon as parliamentary time allows to ensure that large retailers treat their suppliers fairly and lawfully.

Hugh Bayley: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Davey: I will in a bit, but I want to make progress.

What we have delivered instead of regulation is a self-regulatory regime much stronger than we have had before. As a result of commitments made by the pubcos, they will be obliged to comply with the code and it will be delivered at least two or three years sooner than under an Act of Parliament. That is in line with the Government’s commitment to focus on delivering reform for small businesses right now, not in a few years’ time.

I have listened to campaigners on the issue of the tie, including the IPC, CAMRA and hon. Members. After careful reflection, I disagree with them. I say careful reflection because, like other Members, I have always been worried by the tie, primarily because I had assumed that it must be interfering with competition and was therefore against the interests of consumers. That is why, like others, I was keen for our independent competition authorities to consider the matter. The OFT’s investigation concluded that consumers are well served by British pubs, that there is choice and that a wide variety of beers is available. To override an independent competition authority would be a serious decision for a Minister to take and would require significant evidence that the authority had failed to deliver. As CAMRA decided not to challenge the OFT further, presumably it did not have further evidence; we certainly did not.

Martin Horwood: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Davey: No, but I will in a second.

Mr Binley: Will the Minister give way now?

Mr Davey: No.

Secondly, when one examines where the relationships between pubcos and licensees have gone wrong, it quickly becomes clear that the major problem is not with the traditional tied tenancy, but with full repairing and insuring leases, which are mostly, but not exclusively, used by the pubcos. There are problems with pre-entry training, transparency and rent guidance not being followed, but not with the basic question of whether a

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pub is tied for beer. That is why my solution targets full repairing and insuring leases and leaves alone the traditional tied tenancy model, which is used successfully, and for the most part amicably, by local and regional brewers alike.

Thirdly, the market is driving a solution. The figures show that since December 2008, slightly more free-of-tie pubs closed than tied pubs. That is true whether one uses the gross closure rate or the net closure rate, which CAMRA says is more important as it takes account of churning. Furthermore, big pubcos are selling off hundreds of pubs a year, many of which are being bought by family brewers or converting to being free-of-tie. Since December 2008, three times as many free-of-tie pubs have opened than tied pubs and a further 1,300 pubs have converted from being tied to free-of-tie. Where the market is working, the Government do not need to intervene.

Mr Binley: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. I remind him that I asked the Secretary of State whether he would uphold the undertaking given by the previous Government that they would act on recommendations from the Select Committee if they were meaningful and in its report. Will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State said that he would uphold that undertaking? Does he accept that that is the truth of the matter?

Mr Davey: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would take action, and we have taken action. Let us be clear that what the Select Committee wanted was legislation to deal with the problem. Through negotiation and using contract law, we have got legally binding codes of practice that are in the spirit of what the Select Committee asked for. More than that, the Committee asked for an adjudicator, and we will have PICAS to adjudicate on the code by February. Not only are we tackling the issues that the Committee raised, we are doing so far more quickly than expected. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.

Toby Perkins: It is one thing for the Minister to argue that what he is doing is better than what he undertook to do, but it is simply wrong for him to try to claim that he is doing what the Secretary of State and he undertook to the Select Committee to do. He must know that the commitment that the Secretary of State gave is not what he is delivering. Why does he not just be honest and say that?

Mr Davey: Throughout my speech I have shown that the hon. Gentleman was wrong in almost everything that he said to the House, and he is wrong again.

I recognise that some Members would want us to have gone further, yet our reforms, including the strengthening of the code, its establishment on a legally binding footing and the soon to be completed establishment of PICAS, will mean real change for licensees and tenants across the country.

Martin Horwood: I believe that Members can welcome the positive steps that the Minister has announced but still believe that they do not really tackle the key issues, which are not about compliance and competition but,

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as the debate has shown, more about the relationship between struggling small businesses and big pubcos. If we are to have one last drink in the last chance saloon, what time scale will he now unambiguously put on the self-regulatory regime before statutory action is taken?

Mr Davey: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We do need to give the self-regulatory regime time to work, and I pay tribute to him, and even to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West—[Hon. Members: “Even?”] I say “even” because we do not always see eye to eye on every measure. However, both my hon. Friends have campaigned very hard, and I can tell the House that in my meeting with the BBPA, my hon. Friends' campaigns and the Select Committee reports were critical to my being able to make it absolutely clear that, this time, the pubcos really had to come up with the toughest self-regulatory regime imaginable, or else Parliament would wish to take action. We have come up with the toughest self-regulatory regime imaginable, but it needs time to work. I commend our response to the Select Committee to the House.

3.27 pm

Mr Bailey: A lot of points have been raised in the debate, and I will try to respond to them in a very brief time.

First, a number of Members have raised the issue of regulation. I wish to make it quite clear that the Select Committee put the ball in the industry’s court to find an appropriate level of regulation to address the problems that we highlighted. It has had any number of opportunities to do that and failed.

The Committee is not instinctively a body of regulators. It has a coalition majority, and at the time of the report it included a former publican, a former pub company owner and, I believe, a former brewery regional manager. There was a level of expertise and historic involvement in the industry that meant the Committee would not favour excessive regulation.

There are issues to consider about the brewers and their tenants and about the pub companies and their licensees. An adequate consultation with all sectors of the industry would have enabled those issues to be teased out and the introduction of an appropriate regulatory regime that would have addressed them sufficiently. Now, the question is whether the Government will conduct such an inclusive consultation to ensure that that takes place.

Another issue that has been raised on many occasions in the debate is the OFT verdict, which is a red herring. The OFT did not give the pub companies clearance in their contractual relationships. It said that the matter did not come within its remit. The Government have used that as a basis for saying that we should not interfere. I find that rather strange, given the fact that Governments have historically introduced many statutes to deal with injustices and imbalances in contractual advantage.

The Government's response is therefore not sufficient, and I find the Minister’s approach to be somewhat incoherent. On the one hand, he says he cannot interfere, but on the other he argues in the House that he is taking

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action. Either he can interfere or he cannot, and he is either taking action or not taking action, but he cannot marry the two.

At the end of the day, the Government’s approach will be judged by the industry as whole, and not just by the BBPA. We will be able to judge the success of their approach by changes in the relative balance of income on the two sides of the dispute, which has implications for the rate of closure within the industry. In effect, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

The motion provides a mechanism for a professional, comprehensive and inclusive judgment of whether those changes happen. If that mechanism does not work, the Minister, whether he likes it or not, will have no alternative but to introduce a statutory code that will be inclusive and representative of all bodies within the industry.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House believes that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ proposals for reform of the pub industry fall short of the undertaking given to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee in July 2010 and that only a statutory code of practice which includes a free-of-tie option with an open market rent review and an independent adjudicator will resolve the contractual problems between the pub companies and their lessees; and calls on the Government to commission a review of self-regulation of the pub industry in the Autumn of 2012 to be conducted by an independent body approved by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker, of which I have given you and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) notice. Hammersmith flyover in my constituency has been closed for three weeks. Although we hope for good news as early as today about the reopening, it is clearly a serious matter for my constituents. The hon. Lady has convened a public meeting—nothing wrong with that—to discuss the matter, but she has advertised and convened it in my constituency. She has invited various public bodies, but not me, to the meeting to discuss these matters—she has not invited me to be on the panel.

This goes beyond the ordinary trespassing that Members sometimes commit. I have never heard of an event of this kind. In reality, it means that the public bodies may not attend, because the meeting is now party political. I ask for your guidance, Mr Speaker. The hon. Lady is a new Member and might not know the protocols of the House as well as others do.

Mr Speaker: I will restrict my understanding thus far, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for notice of his intention to raise the point of order. It will almost certainly not be a matter of order for the Chair, but, reserving my position, I think it only right before I say anything further—I am sure he will accept this—to ask the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) to offer her own thoughts, of which I have had some notice, on the Floor of the House.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. This public meeting is being held purely to help local residents. It is for Transport for London and Hounslow and Hammersmith councils to update local residents and help them. Frankly, that is what I came into politics to do.

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I am extremely disappointed that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) has attempted to threaten, intimidate and bully me into doing what he wants and play political games. He knew what was happening—I told him at the earliest opportunity. I invited him to the meeting verbally and in writing. He said initially that he was happy with the plans for the meeting.

I have worked well recently with my Labour Hounslow council and expect to have a very positive working relationship with the new hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). It is really sad that we cannot help our local residents without an hon. Member trying to stop us. We should work together for the good of our local residents and our constituencies.

Mr Slaughter rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I assume the hon. Gentleman’s point of order is on an unrelated matter. [ Interruption. ] Order. Before the hon. Gentleman jumps to his feet, let me say this: I am grateful to him for his notice and for his attempted point of order, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for what she has said to me via e-email and on the Floor of the House. I do not think this is a matter of order for the Chair; it concerns a matter that is operational, outside of the Chamber of the House. I would want to reiterate the exhortation to Members to co-operate on matters affecting neighbouring constituencies and to observe the customary courtesy of informing other Members about actions and visits proposed in another Member’s constituency. These are, however, not rules of the House; they are conventions. I intend to leave this matter here for today. I say this with no discourtesy to any hon. Member, but because there is pressing business of the House to which we need to move.

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Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: Before we do so, I must, of course, take what I gather is a totally separate and unrelated point of order from the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas).

Ian Lucas: On a point of order, Mr Speaker, that is indeed completely separate. In the previous debate, the Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, expressly contradicted the content of the motion in an intervention on me, but the Government did not oppose the motion when it came to a vote. Can you offer me guidance on ascertaining the Government’s position on this matter?

Mr Speaker: Thankfully, that is not a matter for the Chair. I have no influence over the conduct of the Government, the decisions they make about policy or the way in which they choose either to vote or not to vote. In saying that, I think that the hon. Gentleman will hear my expression of relief.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Notwithstanding what you have just said, it is a matter of order that it is the custom of the House for a vote to follow a voice. If the voice spoke in one direction, but did not follow that up with a vote, that would surely be disorderly.

Mr Speaker: I think if somebody says one thing and then votes in a different direction, that would be a breach of order. I think if an individual Member—be that a Back Bencher or a Minister—gives an indication of a view, but chooses not to vote in the Division, that is qualitatively in a different category. I have a sense coming on of a potentially stimulating but arcane and preferably delayable exchange on this matter with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). Perhaps we can now move to the second debate, which is of great interest to a great many Members, on parliamentary representation.

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Parliamentary Representation

[ Relevant documents: The Final Report from the Speaker’s Conference (on Parliamentary Representation), Session 2009-10, HC 239-I, the First Special Report from the Committee, Session 2009-10, HC 449, and the Government response , Session 2009-10, Cm 7824 . ]

3.37 pm

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the fact that there are now more women hon. Members and hon. Members from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities than in any previous Parliament; notes that the need for greater diversity in the House has been accepted by the leadership of the three main political parties at Westminster; is concerned that increased competition for seats at the 2015 General Election may leave under-represented groups more poorly represented among approved candidates, and in the House thereafter, unless mechanisms are employed to tackle continuing inequalities during candidate selection; and calls on the Government and political parties to fulfil commitments made in response to the Speaker’s Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) in 2010, including the commitment to secure the publication by all parties of diversity data on candidate selections.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us time this afternoon to debate the important issue of the representation of this House. If Parliament and, indeed, the Government are to be successful and to be able to make the best decisions for the country, the people taking those decisions need more closely to reflect the society we purport to represent. I make that point because the desire for a Parliament made up of Members from a wide range of backgrounds comes not from some political correctness, but from the belief that a Parliament that does not reflect society will not be effective.

The proposal in the coalition agreement to give anonymity to people charged with rape horrified female MPs from all political parties, who united to force the Government to back down. If only one or two MPs had objected, would the coalition have changed its mind? Probably not—but the critical mass of female MPs, speaking with a common voice, made the Government realise they had got things badly wrong.

There should be a place in this mother of Parliaments for individuals from all sections of society. We should ask ourselves why certain groups are under-represented. The reason is not that the electorate will not vote for women, people with disabilities, people who are gay or people from ethnic minorities—they clearly will; otherwise many of us would not be here—but that political parties do not choose enough candidates from diverse backgrounds to fight winnable seats. Furthermore, if not enough of those candidates want to become an MP, we must examine how we do our business and how we run our politics and our Parliament to identify the barriers. Many of those people would make excellent MPs, and the loss of their expertise and talents results in a diminished Parliament. Such a Parliament could lose legitimacy; indeed, it might never have had legitimacy because it had never been properly representative.

Why are we having a debate on this subject, more than three years away from the next general election? The timing is pertinent for three reasons. Two years ago yesterday, the final report from the Speaker’s Conference on representation was published. One of its

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recommendations was that there should be a debate on the Floor of the House every two years to review progress. Well, we are one day out, but in parliamentary terms I think that that is pretty close.

The second reason for holding the debate is that, although this Parliament is more diverse than previous ones, we still have some way to go before the House of Commons reflects the population more closely. Only 22% of MPs are women and only 4% are from an ethnic minority, and the proportion of those who have a disability or are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender falls far short of the numbers in society. Establishing a lasting improvement in the diversity of Parliament, however, requires cultural change. There is no quick fix: it is necessary to keep making the arguments and to keep refocusing people’s minds on the need to tackle under-representation.

The third reason for the debate is that the gatekeepers to the selection of MPs, the political parties, have already begun to select their candidates for the 2015 general election. That election will be accompanied by a reduction in the number of MPs, and it is therefore important that the leaders of the political parties are reminded of the commitments that they made to the Speaker’s Conference to take action to improve the diversity of candidates. At the 2015 election, established MPs will have to fight each other for their seats, and those who lose in the selection process could be promised a vacant seat elsewhere. The parties might therefore be tempted to suspend their attempts to select candidates from different backgrounds, preferring instead to look after existing MPs. It could therefore be harder for candidates from under-represented groups to be selected. As a result, the next Parliament could be even less diverse than this one.

Members who do not think that could happen need look only at the 2005 election in Scotland, when we faced the abolition of 13 seats. The Labour party’s use of all-women shortlists was suspended in Scotland, and the number of women MPs dropped. At the UK election that year, however, for the first time in history more than 50% of the new Labour intake were women. That shows that mechanisms such as all-women shortlists work, and that when they stop operating the number of women who are selected, and consequently elected, drops.

Fiona O’Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): As someone who benefited from an all-women shortlist, I wonder whether my hon. Friend would go further and address the issue for working-class women. Does she support my view that we should have a ceiling on the amount that a candidate can spend during the election process, and that they should have to declare donations?

Dame Anne Begg: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are enormous economic barriers that prevent not only women but people from lower socio-economic groups from getting into Parliament. The political parties should certainly look at her suggestion in relation to their selection process, and consider capping the amount that can be spent. At the moment, it can get into the thousands, and that can rule out many candidates.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I want to add some statistics to those that my hon. Friend has given. In Wales, in 2001, when all-women shortlists legally had to be suspended, the Labour party had to select 10 candidates

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for seats in which the sitting Member of Parliament was retiring. In every single case, it selected a man. Does not that highlight the problem of what happens if there is not an all-women shortlist?

Dame Anne Begg: Indeed. That ties in with my fear for the 2015 election—that the advances we have made could start to be reversed. While huge advances were made on the representation of women in the 1997 Parliament because of the use of all-women shortlists, the number of women in Parliament dropped after the 2001 election. That happened not just in Wales but across the whole country, because this mechanism was not available to the Labour party to use in its election process.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): Our constituents tend to be interested in the skills and experience of Members of Parliament and candidates, and they are interested in their occupational background—perhaps even more than in their membership of particular social groups or minority groups. In that regard, why does the hon. Lady think that the number of MPs from manual worker groups and from professional groups has declined since 1979, and what can we do about it?

Dame Anne Begg: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. This is a problem not just for the lower socio-economic groups, for whom the economic costs of putting themselves forward as a candidate can be prohibitive. Those working in the professions are often too busy doing their daily work, so they might not have enough time to invest in politics, making it difficult to build up the reputation they need to become the kind of candidate of whom the “selectorate”—the party members—would approve. The professionals might not have been seen knocking on doors or delivering leaflets, which puts them at a disadvantage in the selection process.

I strongly believe that we should have a Parliament of all the talents, with people from different and varied backgrounds. Although this Parliament might be more diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender, there might have been a narrowing of the routes whereby people are able to get into Parliament—perhaps a drift towards the professional politician. Those involved in politics are more likely to be selected than those who have been getting on with their life by doing another job.

I believe that the key to getting more people from under-represented groups into Parliament is to improve the supply side, which perhaps answers the question of the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). This means identifying and encouraging people from these groups to think about a life in politics. Some welcome progress has been made in dealing with some of the supply-side barriers—for example, the establishment of the Commons nursery, making Parliament more accessible both physically and culturally and the Government’s commitment to develop a strategy for access to elected office. Further progress is still required, however, on the House’s sitting hours and on recognition of family life in the rules operated by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Normal people with normal family lives have to feel that they, too, could be an MP. I think we are still some way from achieving that.

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A key recommendation of the Speaker’s Conference that remains unresolved is on political parties publishing diversity data relating to candidates’ selection. It is worth setting out again the reason the conference thought this was so important.

We recommended the creation of a formal monitoring scheme, requiring political parties to publish anonymised data on the gender, ethnic background and other characteristics of candidates selected. The work people did before putting themselves forward might be one of those characteristics. Knowing that the parties already hold this type of information, the conference gathered it from them and published it in the six months preceding the general election. We are very grateful for the support of the parties and their leaders in enabling this to happen, which shows that it can be done easily.

We also secured an amendment to the Equality Bill—now section 106 of the Equality Act 2010—to make such monitoring permanent. Since the election and the end of the conference, however, the central publication of data has stopped. Section 106 of the Equality Act has not yet commenced, and the Minister might want to reflect on that. I still believe that a formal publication scheme for this data is essential. Transparency forces the issue up the agenda as it enables the parties to compare their performance and challenge each other to do better. The mechanisms of publication require comparatively little effort, and there is a consensus that greater transparency would be helpful. To make the process effective, the monitoring scheme needs to be structured so that it is clear that the data from each of the parties is directly comparable, that precisely the same information is given in each case and that it is reported within the same time scale.

I have been trying to obtain information from the political parties for nearly six months, with few results. An honourable mention should go to the Green party, which provided information following the initial request, although the fact that the party has only one MP may have made that easier. My most recent letter was sent to the party leaders just before the Christmas recess. I thought that if I went to the top I might receive an answer, but to date I have received only one substantive reply, from the Deputy Prime Minister: all credit to him.

Given that, I am sorry to say, the Liberal Democrats’ record in terms of the diversity of the MPs is the poorest among the main political parties, it is heartening to know that the Deputy Prime Minister is taking seriously the need to rebalance his party’s parliamentary representation. It is also good to know that the Liberal Democrats finally recognise that work needs to be done on the supply side, and that mechanisms are needed to encourage people from a variety of backgrounds to put themselves forward. I hope that the 40 candidates identified by the Liberal Democrats will eventually be selected for seats where they have some prospect of being elected—for it is not good enough to select candidates for all the unwinnable seats; they must be selected for the winnable ones as well—and I hope that, having been named and shamed, the other party leaders will respond soon with commitments to do all in their power to demonstrate that they too are taking the issue seriously.

Given that the Speaker’s Conference no longer exists, central management and guidance are required in regard to the provision of this information. It would be helpful

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if the Minister could tell us what progress has been made in that regard, and whether her Department might be able to act.

I believe that parties must adopt specific mechanisms to improve the diversity of their MPs. Although I think the Labour party has proved that all-women shortlists have been effective, I appreciate that that may not be the way in which other political parties wish to proceed—which is fine as long as they develop their own mechanisms to address the shortfall, rather than arguing that candidates from the under-represented groups would somehow suddenly appear if only they were good enough.

As has already been mentioned, one category in particular is still under-represented in this House. I refer to members of the lower socio-economic groups. It is likely that disabled people will also belong to that category. The cost of putting oneself forward for selection is prohibitive for anyone who does not have a reasonable income, and I urge the political parties to address that issue as well. I hope that some suggestions will be made later this afternoon.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that both people with manual backgrounds and those in the professions are discouraged from putting themselves forward by awkward economic considerations? Those in manual trades cannot afford the whole process of campaigning, taking time off and so forth, while those in the professions cannot afford to give up the salaries to which they have become accustomed.

Dame Anne Begg: That is an excellent point, which may explain some of the narrowing of the backgrounds of some of the people who are now trying to stand for Parliament. It is crucial for work to be done to deal with that. We, as political party animals ourselves, should be spotting people’s talents and encouraging them. Many people out there have never dreamt of being Members of Parliament, but we know that given the right chances and the right encouragement they would make excellent MPs, and we diminish this place by not giving them such encouragement. Some women are a bit more diffident than many men, and may need that extra push. Once they have bitten the bullet and put themselves forward they may make excellent candidates and excellent MPs, and be a credit to their parties.

I congratulate the Government on going some way to helping disabled people to overcome the financial barrier which may exist by means of their access to public life fund, which I understand is due to be launched next month. The Minister may want to say something about that as well. However, although the fund will provide financial help with the extra costs of having a disability, there will still be the basic cost of becoming and being a candidate, which can be prohibitive for many people.

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): My hon. Friend is clearly immensely passionate and knowledgeable about this subject. She mentions the different socio-economic backgrounds of people entering Parliament, and she will be aware that nowadays one of the main routes to becoming an MP is working in Parliament, perhaps on an internship, many of which are unpaid. Does she therefore support the access to public life fund, which could offer financial assistance to help people to come and work in Parliament?

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Dame Anne Begg: I am aware of the work my right hon. Friend has been doing in encouraging people from lower socio-economic groups to put themselves forward, which does, of course, take money. I would like to see how the access to public life fund works for disabled people. Perhaps the Minister will tell us a little more about how it will work in practice. All these routes should be open, but that is not a responsibility of Government alone; political parties might also look at how they finance candidates, and they might be funded in order to do that work. We suggested that in the Speaker’s Conference report.

There is some good news to report, but there is still a long way to go in achieving a fully representative Parliament in this country. It will not happen by accident or because large numbers of people from disadvantaged groups suddenly have a burning desire to be an MP and will be able to leap over all the economic and practical barriers to get selected as a candidate for one of the political parties, which to many remain secret societies, and then arrive here in Parliament in a blaze of glory.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the biggest disadvantages a man from a working-class background in one of our large inner cities might face is the existence of all-women shortlists, as they may well feel that their route to joining us in this place is closed before they even start?

Dame Anne Begg: I would accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument if every seat had an all-women shortlist, but only 50% of Labour seats has an all-women shortlist, so the man to whom he refers has access to 50% of the seats. This issue is not just about women or people from ethnic minorities; it is also about people with different backgrounds and life experiences. The political parties should therefore be encouraging that man and helping him, and perhaps providing some funding to allow him to get selected in the seats that are available. That is not happening at present, but it should happen.

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): My hon. Friend might also say to the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) that historically it was the practice of the Conservative party to have all-male shortlists. What was the disadvantage to the men with manual skills in those all-male shortlists?

Dame Anne Begg: Indeed, and work has been done on the all-male shortlists of all political parties in the last general election.

It will take a culture change and a lot of hard work before the people out there can look at us in here and say, “They represent me.” I hope Members will agree that that work needs to continue.

Mr Speaker: In view of the extensive interest in this debate, I have had to limit the time for Back-Bench speeches still further, from eight minutes to six.

3.59 pm

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): First, may I thank you, Mr Speaker, for convening the Speaker’s Conference and giving it your support? I think that has made a huge difference. I also thank the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) for the careful tone in which

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she presented the conference findings and for recognising that parties may strive in different ways to achieve the outcome that all Members want, which is a more diverse, representative-looking Parliament. That Parliament might not be proportional to the exact numbers of the various groups in society, but we must have a Parliament that is in touch with the people it serves and that is able to understand and feel the issues that are important to the public.

I made a pledge to myself that I would seldom talk about issues of race, ethnic minorities and diversity in front-line politics, and I made that commitment for two or three key reasons: first, and not least, because I do not think that race actually exists in biological, genetic or evolutionary terms anyway. Above that, categorising people into clear groups can often be more divisive than allowing things to evolve to begin to reflect a nation over time.

I have broken that pledge today because, as the first black Conservative MP in the party’s history, I thought I would share one or two insights into my journey here, the barriers and obstacles I have met, and the approach that can be adopted by political parties and Parliament in future. I shall try to do so as quickly as I can within the six-minute limit. I am happy to take one or two interventions—which may help to some degree.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend. He does a fantastic job for his constituents and I hear fabulous reports about him at all times.

Adam Afriyie: I am sure I would flush up if I was able to; I thank my hon. Friend very much for his intervention.

As I said, I want to share some insights and experience, but if the House will bear with me I will make a couple of points very crudely because I do not have time to put them more subtly; I hope the House will understand that they are well intentioned, and that if I had more time I would elaborate slightly further.

A key reason why I joined the Conservative party, about which I will say a few words in a moment, is that I felt that during the ’80s the Labour party was quite patronising towards ethnic minorities. There was a sense on the part of the incumbents in politics—those with power—that ethnic minority groups were somehow hapless and weak and needed all the support and help they could get, and all sorts of extra support in order simply to compete. I rejected that prognosis—[ Interruption. ] Please bear with me: I am putting this very briskly; with more time I would put it more subtly. I rejected that notion because, irrespective of which group in society one comes from—whatever one’s physical or socio-economic characteristics, whatever one’s background or heritage—everybody is equal. It is a question of whether the opportunity exists to get involved in the political process and to be recognised for ones innate, equal abilities. That is part of the reason why I joined the Conservative party, and something to reflect on.

Chris Bryant: By way of counterpart, I joined the Labour party because I found that the Conservative party was not just patronising about homosexuals, but downright dismissive and aggressively so, and used the full force of the law and of Parliament to legislate that homosexual relationships were nothing other than “a pretended family relationship”.

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Adam Afriyie: We live in a wonderful world where both parties have progressed enormously.

The Conservative party is interesting, in that it tends to take slightly more time to respond to society and to the change in social mores, which is partly because we are conservatives by nature—with a big C and a small c. However, over time the party does seem to progress quite rapidly, once it gets the gist of things and begins to respond to and reflect the society around it. It is interesting to note that the Conservative party was the first party to elect a Jewish Prime Minister, and a bachelor as a leader of the party; and of course, it elected the first female Prime Minister and leader of the party. We will see what the future holds, but interestingly, despite some of the criticisms of the party, in many ways it has been quicker to reflect the make-up of society, certainly in its leadership.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I wanted to help the hon. Gentleman slightly by pointing out that he omitted to mention that his party was also the first to elect an out gay woman as the leader of any party within the UK. It became that when Ruth Davidson was elected as the Scottish Conservative leader.

Adam Afriyie: That is absolutely spot on. Sometimes the image projected is not quite the same as the reality of how the Conservative party functions and, more importantly, the results it delivers.

At the last election, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) and I were the only two ethnic minority—if hon. Members wish to box us in in that way—Conservative Members of this House, but our number has now increased significantly to 12. That occurred not through positive discrimination—it was not done through all-black, all-black-and-ethnic-minority shortlists or all-female shortlists—but by an organic process; it was an evolution that gradually reflected the society around us, and I am delighted at those results. There are now 49, rather than 17, women representing the Conservatives in this place, which is a huge step forward, and it has been made without the need for those draconian, divisive and often counter-productive measures.

However, there is a generational lag, which we must, to some degree, accept. Equally, if any hon. Member here was to move to another country and seek, as an adult, to become a Member of the Parliament of that nation, it is unlikely that that would happen or it would be exceptional if it did. There are so many ways in which we can split society into groups—by gender, skin colour, sexuality, disability, socio-economic background and so on. Hon. Members from all parties in this House have a joint desire to see this place be more representative of the country we serve. My biggest plea today is that we do not rush in and embrace quotas—all-women or all-black shortlists, or shortlists with only people with disabilities on them—because such an approach is counter-productive. In a way, it ingrains a sense that there is an elite and that somehow these hapless groups have to have this extra special support, and it alienates others. That form of “groupism” in society is, in many ways, more dangerous than a short-term under-representation over a period of a few years.

I do have a dream that this place will be more representative of the nation at large—that is happening at a rate of knots in most parties and I hope it will

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continue. But if I was to urge anything, from my own experience, I would urge us not have a knee-jerk reaction and have exclusively feature-based shortlists at this time.

4.7 pm

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) on securing this debate. May I say to the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), for whom I have great respect, that the Fawcett Society estimates that at the current rate of progress it would take 14 Parliaments—nearly 70 years—to get equality, so he may need to reconsider his view?

I understand that there have been 4,897 MPs since 1918, of whom just 366 have been women, including the 142 serving today. When I was elected in 1987, this place was not a comfortable place for women. Sexist behaviour and intimidation were rife, as was documented by the redoubtable Tory MP Teresa Gorman, who had to put her age back by 10 years to get selected. There were no shrinking violets in the 1987 intake, but there was no women’s agenda either. The House was clearly deeply unrepresentative of society as a whole, and I often said that it was a cross between a boys public school and a working men’s club.

So some of us were very much committed to making great changes, and we encouraged others to stand. During the 1980s and 1990s the number of women candidates did rise significantly, but of course they did not get elected because they were in the unwinnable seats. We Labour women knew that we had to get our hands on the seats where sitting Members were retiring or the seats that were targets for our party and likely to be won. For that sole reason, we adopted the all-women shortlists. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) said, when they were challenged, the number of women MPs of course fell back in 2001 after the tremendous progress of 1997.

Following the 2001 election a report was produced by Laura Shepherd-Robinson and Joni Lovenduski, and I want to refer to their findings as they are so relevant. They stated:

“Although fewer women than men come forward for selection, women are not selected in proportion to the numbers…Instances of overt discrimination…occurred to a greater or lesser extent in all the political parties…There exists a self-perpetuating male candidate syndrome whereby selectorates choose candidates that match their pre-conceived idea of what an MP ‘should be like’—i.e. like the last one…‘Favourite sons’ who are virtually guaranteed selection before the process even starts were reported as a problem in all the political parties…Ethnic minority women faced additional problems…Justification for this was…that voters would discriminate against the candidate and selecting them was therefore ‘too much of a risk’.”

Those findings are highly relevant today, because we still have female representation of only 22% from a population of 51%, and ethnic minority representation of less than 5% from a population of more than 10%. People with disabilities are hardly represented at all, even though they are provided with the incredible role models of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett).

As the motion says,

“increased competition for seats…may leave under-represented groups more poorly represented”

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in future. It is more than likely that under the pressure for places, parties will revert to the type described in the study I cited, and there will be an expectation that progress on equality should be delayed.

What can be done to increase the representation of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities? First, this House must continue to reform itself so that it becomes a place in which ordinary people feel that they can be productive, effective and able to sustain a private life alongside a parliamentary and constituency life. Further reform of the hours, the calendar and procedures must be undertaken, and I am glad that we will have an opportunity to do that this year.

We must also ensure that our parties remain resolute in the aims they have all espoused of greater equality of representation. That means constant vigilance and analysis of how selections are progressing, financial help for those who need it, and the creation of level playing fields so that people from diverse backgrounds can come forward, attend all the selection conferences and stand a fair chance.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): As a new Member, I sat in the Members centre and beside me was another new Member, from the Opposition. I watched and was alarmed that she spent two and a half hours on the telephone from the Members centre trying to find accommodation and failing. In the end I said, “What’s the problem?” and she said, “I’ve just got no money left and I can’t live.” That is wrong and we must put it right as soon as possible.

Dame Joan Ruddock: I support the hon. Gentleman absolutely. Of course, we had the MPs’ expenses scandal and of course there were abuses, but we have gone in a direction that means that it is very difficult for people of ordinary means to support a second home and everything that goes with being an effective MP. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that that is yet another reason why it will be increasingly difficult to get the equal representation in this House that we all seek.

Recent experience from all parties demonstrates that only determined positive action can produce the results that we need. When sitting MPs are displaced as a result of the boundary changes and the reduction in numbers, that will be much more difficult. All-women shortlists will have to continue in the Labour party and, frankly, I think it must be obvious to the other parties that that is the only mechanism to have delivered really big numbers.

There are two possible ways in which a group’s interests can be represented—by the presence of its members in the decision-making process or simply by having its interests taken into account in that process. History shows that the interests of women, ethnic minorities, other minorities and those with disabilities have not been fully taken into account at any time, and if we do not continue to assert our rights to direct representation, our numbers will fall and our democracy will be much the poorer.

4.15 pm

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), who has long been a campaigner on this issue. I warmly welcome the debate,

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which comes at a timely juncture two years after the publication of the Speaker’s Conference report. I was proud to serve as a member of the Speaker’s Conference and would like to place on record my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, and to your predecessor, for your chairmanship of it. I thank also the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who was a marvellous vice-Chair and did so much work to produce the report and body of work that resulted.

It is absolutely vital that we address these issues of representation, for some of the reasons that have already been outlined, such as the legitimacy that this Chamber can have in the real world out there. There is also the loss of talent from which we suffer because there are people out there who would make fantastic Members of Parliament but who at the moment do not think they could come here. The evidence from business and elsewhere shows that diverse teams work better, and that is as true here for MPs on Select Committees and in Government and Opposition teams as anywhere else.

Let me touch on some of the developments we have seen since the Speaker’s Conference report and highlight some of the areas that have not yet been acted on. A few Members have spoken about the background of people who come to this place as Members. In 1979, 3% came from a political organiser background, but that figure rose to 14% in 2010.

Thanks to the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) and the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), whom I have worked alongside, there is now the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme. We are grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for supporting the scheme and to the House of Commons Commission for finding some initial seed funding, which has been backed up by generous support from the private sector. Of course, we would still encourage more private sector companies to get on board and support the scheme, which is enabling us to open up internships and parliamentary placements to people who would not otherwise have the means to come here and experience working in Parliament. I hope that some of those individuals will go on to work in different roles within politics. Indeed, I look forward to the day when one of them sits on these green Benches.

I am fortunate to be participating in the scheme and I have a wonderful young woman in my office, Nyree Barrett-Hendricks, who is bright, personable and hugely enthusiastic, but who would never have had the opportunity to come and work in Parliament otherwise. I very much hope that the scheme will be able to expand in future and be part of the solution to dealing with the issue of background. Clearly, however, much more needs to be done.

Dame Anne Begg: Will the hon. Lady also pay tribute to organisations such as Operation Black Vote, which does a very similar thing to help people gain experience who might then consider standing for Parliament?

Jo Swinson: The hon. Lady makes a very good point; I certainly pay tribute to Operation Black Vote, with which I have also worked in previous years and had people shadow me, and I know that many other Members have done the same.

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There has been a lot of progress that we should celebrate. Recommendation 56 that civil partnership ceremonies should be allowed to be held in the House has been actioned. Indeed, I think the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) might have been the first to take advantage of that change. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps he was not the first but there have been several, which is great.

Recommendation 51, about having a nursery and crèche within the House of Commons, has been implemented. That facility is used by many Members I know, and is very welcome. Even the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which does not always have a good reputation in the House, has implemented recommendation 52, which allows Members to take part of their salary in the form of child care vouchers. Previously, that option had long been open to other members of staff in the House but not to MPs.

There has been progress through the coalition agreement on the establishment of a disability democracy fund, but I hope the Minister will say more about where exactly that has got to. I know there was a consultation last year and it would be good to know when that will come to fruition.

There is also the recommendation that section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 should be abolished to prevent discrimination against Members who have mental health problems and have been sectioned, who currently are not able to retain their seat. I understand that there is a private Member’s Bill before the other place, but I should welcome any response from the Government about their commitment to the issue.

Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): I welcome the points the hon. Lady is making about what Parliament as an institution should be doing to lower the barriers for entry to the House, and to teach people who want to be Members of Parliament the rules of the game, but does not the prime responsibility fall on political parties? They need to make sure that they improve representation. On the Conservative side the numbers of women, and certainly of non-white candidates, increased substantially at the 2010 election, but that was because of the efforts of the party rather than of Parliament as an institution.

Jo Swinson: The hon. Gentleman is right. That point is vital, and I shall refer briefly to parties later.

Progress has been less good on other recommendations. Recommendation 4 is that Parliament’s education service should have its objectives changed so that it explicitly encourages a wider range of people to become candidates. Unfortunately, that recommendation has not been accepted by Parliament; a response to a parliamentary question was that it could be effected under existing objectives. That does not go far enough. When someone comes here for a tour of the House it is one of the most opportune times to ask them why they do not consider standing for Parliament and becoming an MP. That is the moment when there may be the most inspiration, and we should make that an explicit objective of the education service.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen South touched on recommendation 5; she talked about political parties being honest in publishing exactly where they are at in terms of candidate selection. That monitoring data should be in the public domain so that researchers can

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analyse it and use it to show where some of the issues are. That still has to be put into action by all the parties, although some have made more progress than others. I hope that today’s debate may encourage more movement, although we should congratulate the hon. Lady on managing to say something positive about the Deputy Prime Minister—I hope she did not find it too difficult—and I am delighted that he responded in full to her letter.

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way; I could not resist intervening. She will be aware that the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme has been included by the Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition’s social mobility strategy. On that basis, does she agree that if the Government wish to take some credit for that, they might also consider making some financial contribution?

Jo Swinson: As usual, the right hon. Lady puts her point eloquently. I believe there is an event for the social mobility strategy this evening, so I may have the opportunity to bend the ear of individuals about it.

I want to talk a little about what the Liberal Democrats have been doing, because I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South that we do not have good enough representation. I have been working on the issue in the party for 10 years, with some success, but equality guarantees are not always guarantees of seats. In the last Parliament, half the seats where a Lib Dem MP was standing down selected a woman candidate, without positive discrimination mechanisms, but that did not result in the election of those individuals. That is certainly one of the difficulties with the measures that are implemented, but I am looking forward to attending, on Sunday, a candidate leadership programme weekend to meet 40 inspiring candidates, whose biographies I have read. I am sure that will help to yield results in future.

What next? I shall briefly make two points, because I know time is pressing. First, recommendation 54 of the Speaker’s Conference urges changes in our sitting hours. Over the next few months the House collectively has the chance to do something about that, when the Procedure Committee report comes before us for debate. I very much hope that Members will bear that recommendation in mind and vote accordingly.

Secondly, as well as a debate every two years, we need to go further and think about a mechanism for regularly holding the Government, the House and the parties to account. For example, we might consider something like the questions we have in the Chamber to the Electoral Commission and the House of Commons Commission on a five-weekly basis.

4.23 pm

Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, to the Minister and to the House if I am not able to be here at the conclusion of the debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), not only on securing the debate but on the work she did under your patronage, Mr Speaker, leading the Speaker’s Conference. Some of us in the House today spent well over a year of our lives—not full-time, but it seemed a lot—on the Speaker’s

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Conference and I hope that the recommendations can be followed through and that it will be possible to make progress.

In order to avoid repetition, I say at the beginning that the issues surrounding the next general election, not only the lower number of Members of Parliament, but the dramatic boundary changes, present a challenge for all political parties. We need to appeal to them to take the matter very seriously if we are not to take a step backwards on gender, on sexuality, on ethnicity and on disability. I am genuinely deeply worried. I hope that the access to public life fund and the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) on internships will assist.

On a lighter note, I think that we have made progress in the 25 years since I came to the House. I was asked when I first came in with my dog whether there would be a problem with animal noises, and I gave an assurance that the dog would not be disturbed at all by the kind of thing that he was likely to hear in Prime Minister’s questions at that time. I did, however, face the enormous problem of persuading people that additional resources would make it possible to work on equal terms. It was a fiasco. We had a working party between the two Houses under the chairmanship of Lord Jenkins, as he became. The recommendations had to be voted on on the Floor of the House. We have come a long way since that terrible embarrassment. One Member, who is still in the House, said to me, “You’re very lucky to get these extra resources.” I said, “I’ll swap you any time.”

Chris Bryant: My right hon. Friend may be interested to hear that when I was helping to organise the memorial service for John Smith at Westminster abbey and I said that we would need a bowl of water put out for my right hon. Friend’s dog, the usher said, “I’m not putting a bowl out for any bloody socialist’s dog.”

Mr Blunkett: All I can say is that I wish he had not discriminated on political grounds.

There are major challenges facing us. The nature of the Palace of Westminster has changed to some degree, but not enough. It is not quite the old boys’ club that it was when my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) and I joined in 1987, but people still have in their minds a major psychological barrier about what they will experience here. There are also practical barriers, which have been referred to, in the procedures of the House. I hope that we can be more radical in the next three and a half years than we have been in the 25 that I have been here. Unless we change the way we vote, the knowledge about votes, the way in which the day is organised and the support for families, we will not have the diversity and the reflection of society that all of us in this House want.

I congratulate those who have broken through even bigger barriers than I have been able to challenge in my life. To win a by-election as a member of an ethnic minority is a real step forward. Reflecting on the years gone by, I think that it has been shown that the way in which society gradually changes is reflected here, but we have a role in accelerating that change by the way we behave.

The thing that I have probably done best in my public life and am most proud of is not something from my eight years as a Cabinet Minister or from my time as leader of a council. It is having changed attitudes outside—

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the way that people perceive not only others but, sometimes, themselves. That is a comfort when things go badly wrong.

I agree that we need to revisit the way in which we encourage diversity in supporting Members. I have to pay tribute—I know that it is not fashionable—to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in relation to disability issues. It has been extremely understanding and helpful in a way that I hope will be reflected in further revisions to support family life, particularly in terms of gender challenges. I look forward to IPSA responding to that challenge.

It is important that the Government are able to respond too. I think that Departments have improved. I hope that the Office for Disability Issues will continue and will be able to make progress, along with the access to public life fund. However, there are still ingrained challenges in terms of covert discrimination. There is no question but that people are sometimes grumpy about being expected to go the extra mile to help those facing a challenge that is perfectly manageable and can be overcome with a bit of thought. People do not like to talk about it; they do not even like to think about it; but, believe me, they do behave in quite extraordinary ways.

What I want to emphasise this afternoon is that we must go right back to the way we develop an understanding of citizenship in schools and persuade the Secretary of State for Education, even at this late stage, not to downgrade the programme we put in place 10 years ago and instead to build upon it. It would be an irony indeed if newcomers to this country who were becoming naturalised were more savvy about politics and better able to get to this House than the population as a whole because they had experienced the necessity of passing the dreaded test. Once we have done that and we have continued to change the nature of our politics and the way we speak to each another, we might get even more progress within political parties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) has kindly indicated—I have no buzzer—that I have only a few seconds left, so I will bring my comments to an end. Political parties have made progress, as has been mentioned this afternoon, but, my goodness, there are still major blockages. Unless the political parties take a lead, how can we expect the nation as a whole to do so?

4.30 pm

Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I feel very strongly, as I know do many fellow Members, that it is important to raise diversity issues constantly in the House in order to get a better outcome for everyone. I saw a very good film this week about a young woman who was very clear and focused on what she wanted to achieve, despite the obstacles in front of her. She became a Member of Parliament and then Prime Minister. As we reflect on the issues we can address in order to raise diversity in the House, I feel certain that many people who see that film, whatever their politics, will be as shocked as I was at the sight of one woman among so many men. The film shows very clearly the difficulties she faced but nevertheless

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I now have to put my glasses on—my diversity is something to do with age as well as gender.

We have come a long way since Lady Thatcher, but there is still a lot to do, which is why we are having this debate. Each party is addressing diversity in its own way, but it is absolutely clear to me, having listened to the debate this afternoon, that everyone is committed to it. It is important to say that it is not right to think that there can be one solution for all parties. Each party has different political philosophies and it is inevitable that we will have different ways of approaching the diversity issue. The Labour party has dealt with it through all-women shortlists and quotas and has had its success as a result—of course it has; they are all-women shortlists—but I do not believe that that is a desirable way of introducing more women into Parliament.

Adam Afriyie: In all frankness, had there been all-black shortlists or anything of that sort in the Conservative party, I can honestly say that I would never have applied and made my way to this place, because one’s whole life is based on achieving things through one’s own abilities, talents and effort, and I would have found it very difficult indeed to have been put on a list based on a physical characteristic.

Amber Rudd: I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution—it is always nice to have one’s views confirmed in so eloquent a way.

Where are we now? Some 16% of Conservative MPs are women. Only 12% of Liberal Democrat MPs are women, but it is nice to hear that the Deputy Prime Minister has that in his sights. The figure for the Labour party is 32%, which brings us to an average of 22%. I believe that the figures for the parties masks a very significant success for the Conservative party in introducing more women. It was suggested earlier that the Conservative party effectively had all-male shortlists before, and those of us who have followed party selections and elections to Parliament for some time were slightly surprised at the 2001 general election when only one of the 26 new Conservative Members elected was a woman. However, from that very low base the party has made a tremendous change, and I think that the evidence for that change is the fact that we could achieve it by persuasion, nudge and training.

Between 2005 and 2010, we had a clear strategy to deal with the issue. We had an organisation called women2win—

The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Mr Brooks Newmark): Hear, hear!

Amber Rudd: It was ably supported by my hon. Friend—who is here and a man; it is always nice to have a man stand up in support of more women in Parliament—by Baroness Jenkin and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who is of course the Home Secretary. That organisation did an enormous amount in mentoring and training and, if I may say so, in persuading the Conservative party to improve the training of those who make the selection, because they also need to understand that there are different types of MP.

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Dame Anne Begg: I appreciate that all-women shortlists are not for the Conservative party, and that great strides forward were taken at the general election, but the lesson from the Labour party is that if such pressure is not kept up, and if the mechanisms that the hon. Lady describes, which the Conservative party put in place ahead of the 2010 election, are not repeated at the next election and the one after that, the danger is that things will go backwards.

Amber Rudd: I agree. It is absolutely essential that the item remains at the top of the agenda for all political parties, but my point is that my political party will not, I believe, be introducing all-women shortlists. Most of my colleagues agree with that, because it is not the only way to achieve this much-needed increase in the diversity of representation.

After the 2010 election, we had 147 new Conservative MPs, of whom 36—or 25% of the new intake—were women. Now, 25% representation is a big step up from the 9% that we had before 2010, so that approach has been a tremendous success, and we have achieved it without the undemocratic approach of all-women shortlists.

The problem that we are trying to address is not just to do with Parliament, however, because there is a problem with women’s representation not just at Westminster but, as we have discussed in previous debates, in public companies, at the top in boardrooms and in different elements of life. I picked up a copy of The Guardian recently, and it stated that

“78% of the UK’s newspaper articles are written by men, 72% of Question Time contributors are men, and 84% of reporters and guests on Radio 4’s Today show are men.”

Women and ladies, we need to do something about that.

Margot James: I wonder whether my hon. Friend noticed on the “Andrew Marr Show” at the end of last year its review of 2011. It was a wonderful canter through all the year’s political highlights, and approximately 20 politicians featured—but not one woman.

Amber Rudd: I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for improving on my case.

My point is not to hide from the important problem that we have to address in Parliament, but to say that it is a wider problem that the Government as a whole need to address in order to ensure that we get all women to the top of the ladder, and to demonstrate to young women that they, too, can achieve and get to the top. As we have heard, it makes good business sense, and in public life it is absolutely essential, because if we want to be truly democratic we have to reflect the diversity of the whole country. It is more important in Parliament than anywhere else.

It is an incredible privilege to be a Member, but we have a responsibility to ensure that Parliament as a whole reflects the diversity of the country. We should not, however, have a system of mandatory quotas beyond each individual party deciding to make its own case for them, because each party must have its own approach.

To me, and to my colleagues in the Conservative party, all-women shortlists are a form of surrender, because what do we admit if we introduce them? We admit that somewhere the problem is so ingrained that we have to impose a shortlist. It is far better to ask,

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“What is the problem? Why are we not getting more women, more people from ethnic minorities and more disabled people? And what can we do to support them so that they are equally valued and equally selected in a selection process?” Let us not surrender. Let us not approach the matter in terms of quotas. Let us look at the root of the problem and, in that way, try to encourage more people to come through and, like us, become Members of Parliament.

4.39 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I was proud to serve as a member of the Speaker’s Conference. I apologise to the House for the fact that I will not be here at the end of the debate, because I shall be chairing a charity function.

All hon. Members have agreed that a more representative Parliament is better for politics, above all because of the issue of justice and so that everybody has an equal chance of being elected. It builds people’s confidence in democracy to see people such as me in Parliament. It also, and I do not think that we have talked enough about this, leads to better decisions. That is at the heart of the matter.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) told me that when she was first elected child care was not regarded as a political issue and Parliament never debated it. She and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) were among those who made sure that the issue was normalised in politics.

Shortly after I was elected in 1997, I telephoned the Clerk of the Select Committee on Defence to research how much of a difference women had made in politics. In its 17-year life, that Committee had never had a woman member. There were two women members after the 1997 election. The Clerk said, “Fiona, of course there is a difference. We always used to talk just about weapons and ammunition, and now we talk about the families of the soldiers.” We know now how critical the family members of those who are fighting in battles overseas are to their success. Having different voices in Parliament changes the terms of the debate.

In the 1997 Parliament, which recorded the biggest difference in the number of women, we saw our effect in the Budgets. In the Budgets of ’97, ’98 and ’99, the amount of money in women’s purses increased by £5.30 a week, compared with an increase of £2.30 in men’s wallets. Having more women does not automatically bring that result. We can see, depressingly, that the cost of recent Budgets and the last comprehensive spending review to women has been £8.80 a week, compared with a cost of £4.20 for men.

This issue is not just about representation but about power. Women can have power, but we need to ensure that we have it. One thing that I admired the Prime Minister for saying in opposition was that he aimed for 30% of his Cabinet to be women. There is not enough progress on that aim. In Parliament, one has much more power when one is a Minister. I am shocked that 11 out of 24 Departments have no women Ministers. I urge the Minister for Equalities, who will respond to the debate, to take action on that. Many of the women Ministers are in the other place. There is a shortage of women’s voices in Departments, and not just in the little Departments. In the Ministry of Justice, the Department

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of Energy and Climate Change, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office there are no women Ministers. I urge the women on the Government Benches to do whatever they can to change that. If they do not, we will carry on having stupid decisions.

This debate has been partly about the problem of women-only shortlists. I do not regard them as a problem. The only person who has ever called me a quota woman is the woman who stood for the party that held the seat before I took it. Nobody has called me that since. Women shortlists are a tactic, but that does not mean that people who have got here in that way are diminished. There are other tactics that can work, but I do not share the optimism of the women on the Government Benches about the progress that their parties have made.

The hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) has something to be proud of in the representation of ethnic minorities on the Conservative Benches, which has changed enormously. I respect the Conservative party for that change. It did not happen through quotas or anything like that, but through a psychological change in the Conservative party, which I genuinely welcome.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) for her work on the internship programme. We need to consider the fact that, as The Daily Telegraph put it, the main qualifications of people in this House are having gone to public school, having gone to Oxbridge and having been in a profession. Two of the three apply to me, although the representation of my profession, school teaching, has reduced. We need more progress on getting more people from manual occupations into the House.

In that regard, I would say that Conservative Members tend to disrespect not only women-only shortlists but the trade union movement. The working-class members of the House have overwhelmingly been able to come here because of the work of the trade unions, and we need to respect the ability of the movement to bring people into politics. It will be one of the ways in which we can get change in the future.

4.45 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I am very glad to have an opportunity to participate in the debate, and I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) on helping to secure it. I support the motion, although I must express slight disappointment that it omits to mention one fact that we should celebrate, in which I declare an interest—that in this Parliament we have a record number of Members who are openly gay or lesbian.

Dame Anne Begg: The remit that was given to the Speaker’s Conference did not specifically include that matter—it included “other connected purposes”, but interest in the issue was implied in everything that we did.

Iain Stewart: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, and I acknowledge that she mentioned the matter in her speech.

Relatively recently, declaring one’s homosexuality was completely taboo. It is only just over 25 years since the now Lord Smith publicly declared himself as the first

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out gay Member, although I think there were quite a number of Members of that persuasion before that who chose not to say so, especially on the Conservative Benches. It is significant that for the first time the majority of LGBT Members are on the Conservative Benches, which represents an enormous transformation for our party. It would not have happened even relatively recently.

There is still sometimes a stigma, however, and some negative campaigning still goes on. Although all parties are signed up publicly and at leadership level, at constituency level there can sometimes be discrimination in subtle or unsubtle ways. I personally had no problems at all in my campaign in Milton Keynes. My opponents did not make any reference at all to my sexuality, and we had a completely fair and open contest. However, I know that in other constituencies where there were openly gay candidates, some fairly nasty comments were made. Other candidates would proclaim their family credentials, or there would be mentions on commuter trains that a particular candidate happened to be gay. Little things like that still represent a barrier, and we all have a job to do to ensure that such prejudice is stamped out.

I agree with much that has been said in the debate about how we can widen the diversity of this place so that it is representative of the nation as a whole. One of the most powerful things that we can be is role models. That applies to people who are of a visible minority and those who represent diverse backgrounds, be they professionals, carers or people from modest council house backgrounds. People who might be inspired to go into politics need to be able to see that there are people like them in Parliament. That is one of the most powerful ways of getting more people involved in politics.

We should not underestimate the role of individual Members in being ambassadors in our constituencies and encouraging people to engage in politics and come forward as candidates. I do a lot of work going around schools, both primary and secondary, to make pupils aware of politics and Parliament. Sometimes that can lead to some awkward questions in primary schools—I went to one school and the first question I was asked was, “Why are you here?” The supplementary was whether I had met Doctor Who. We have to be prepared for such eventualities. Engaging with schools, being visible as an MP and talking about the role of Parliament are incredibly important. I also organise a schools parliamentary debating competition each year and bring the finalists here to give them experience of Parliament.

With my colleagues in the constituency, I have set up a community engagement group to make myself accessible to the different minority ethnic and religious groups, so that they feel that I have direct contact with them. Through that, they can be inspired to come forward as council or parliamentary candidates. There is a lot that individual MPs can do.

Jo Swinson: I am listening to my hon. Friend with great interest. He is absolutely right that MPs have a role and responsibility to encourage others to get involved in politics. Does he agree that asking a women whether she wants to be a parliamentary candidate is perhaps the sole occasion when if a woman says no, it does not always mean no? Sometimes people need quite a bit of nudging and encouragement before they feel they have the confidence to stand for election to this place.

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Iain Stewart: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Another way we can do that is by bringing young people into our offices, whether that be for a short period of work experience or for a longer period as interns, to give them an insight into what we do.

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman mentions parliamentary internships. Does he recognise that it is often difficult for people from working class backgrounds who do not have money or financial backing, or people who do not have parents who live in London, to be interns in Parliament? Would he support a campaign to ensure that there is sufficient financial support so that we can redress that balance?

Iain Stewart: I agree with that—and it leads me very neatly to my next point, which is on support for people who want to stand for Parliament.

I was very lucky. I was a candidate for three general elections before I got in—[ Interruption. ] I got here in the end. I was lucky as I did not have a family to support, and I had a relatively well paid job and an enlightened employer who was willing to give me the time to do all the work a parliamentary candidate must do. Many people who would come forward as parliamentary candidates are inhibited because they do not have the financial wherewithal or the time because of their employment. That is an important aspect.

I am running out of time, but let me highlight one thing that we should do and two that we should not. Parties should use professional head-hunters more to encourage people who might not otherwise think of a parliamentary career. I used to be a head-hunter, but no longer, so I do not have to declare an interest. Part of my role was to find people for commercial companies and the charity and public sectors to make boards more diverse, so that they reflected society as a whole. That should be extended to the political arena.

Let me quickly put on record a couple of things that I do not think would be helpful. Although I accept that it should be for each political party to decide, I do not agree with quotas. I would hate to be here because I was elected from an LGBT-only shortlist. I would find that incredibly patronising. I got here on my own merits, because I competed with anyone else who wanted to go for the seat.

In my last few seconds, I should sound a discordant note on reforming the hours of the House to make them more family friendly. Such reform is a red herring. If we want to tackle the hours of the House, we should look at the resources we have and the work that Members have to do, not at chopping and changing the order in which we do that work.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I should point out that it is a coincidence that I am in the Chair for this debate, but I guess it could not be more appropriate.

4.54 pm

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg). I have rarely been in the Chamber when there has been

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such agreement and such good-humoured and good-tempered debate. It is very encouraging to see that, because we want to make progress.

I was thinking about why it is important for Parliament to look like the communities we represent, which is something we have been talking about for what seems like decades. It is important in terms of fairness and justice, but, more and more, it is about good governance, competence and making the right decisions for the future of this country. I have always believed, including in every job I held before I came to Parliament, that if we get a good range of people with different life experiences around the table, we often make the right decisions.

If we think about some of the decisions we make in relation to politics, education, social services, transport, jobs and the economy, it is clear that nothing can be more important to the lives of individuals, communities and families than political decisions. That is why I feel passionately about the fact that this House is not representative. It will take us a long time—decades, we have heard—to get where we want to be in terms of equality between men and women.

We should talk about these issues, and the report provides an excellent anchor which will enable us to do the monitoring and the evaluation and really to push this agenda. However, we can talk all we like—what we need is practical action to make sure that we make progress on this agenda, and that is what I want to talk about.

It is important that we recognise how far we have to go. Research at the last election showed that 10% of the 2010 intake of MPs came from just 13 schools, while 33% of all MPs were privately educated, compared with just 7% of the total population. All three party leaders were educated at Oxford or Cambridge, which is no fault of theirs. The Government contain a preponderance of people from a very similar background. I am not criticising the Government, because the same applies to all political parties, and we have seen that trend increase in recent years. That is one reason people outside think Parliament is not full of people like them or a place where they can go and make their contribution.

Another trend is making politics even more exclusive. During the past 20 years, one route to becoming an MP has become increasingly common. People come to work for a Member of Parliament in Westminster and perhaps go on to become a special adviser, before being selected for a safe seat in pretty short order. Of course, it took some of us 12 years to get to Parliament, which is something I have in common with the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South. After that, people might become Ministers, before ending up in the Cabinet. That means that a very narrow group of people make some of the most important decisions in this country.

Three years ago, when I was in the Cabinet, I made a Hansard Society speech, in which I said I was very worried about the health of our democracy because of the growing trend I have described. In 1970, 3.4% of MPs said they had a background as a political adviser. In 2005, the figure had gone up to 12%. In 2010, it was 24%—a quarter of Members of Parliament, from all political parties, had come through this political route.

One thing people do is to get internships in Westminster, but that is difficult for those who do not live in London or do not have parents to provide financial backing,

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because many internships are unpaid. Recommendations 15 and 16 of the Speaker’s Conference report say that there are several problems. Often, internships are not advertised, and people find out about them by word of mouth—it is about who you know. If internships are unpaid, that is difficult. It is also difficult for people to plan things, because internships are sporadic, and it is not clear when they will arise.

I have therefore spent the past year with the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson)—she is my hon. Friend in this context—and the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) working on fundraising so that we can have a paid internship scheme in Parliament. We have the enthusiastic backing of Mr Speaker, who has been marvellous. The Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme has a small seed fund of £25,000 from the House of Commons Commission. We have now raised several hundred thousand pounds from organisations such as Morrisons supermarkets.

Amber Rudd: I am fortunate enough to have one of those interns in my office. He is a huge asset to the office, so I congratulate the right hon. Lady and the other hon. Members who have pulled this off, because it makes an incredibly important contribution to democracy in this place.

Hazel Blears: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that comment. I am also grateful to hear of the excellent role model in her office. All the reports I get back are positive.

As I said, we have had support from Morrisons supermarkets, which has been great. We have also had support from Clifford Chance lawyers, Prudential, AXA, Aviva insurance, Diageo and Sahara Group. We are constantly on the lookout for more people who would like to support us, so if any hon. Members are aware of possibilities, it would be helpful to hear about them. We have had help with housing from the Broxbourne housing association. It is virtually impossible for people to come and work here in Parliament if they do not have housing. We also have a firm of head-hunters, Ellwood and Atfield, helping with CV-building and interview techniques.

The interns work with their MPs from Monday to Thursday, and the House authorities are providing a brilliant training programme for them on Fridays. They are working in education and outreach, and in statistics and research. They are learning how the House works, and how we get a Bill through the House, for example. It is a fantastic, life-changing experience for them.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): May I also add my congratulations to the right hon. Lady on working so tenaciously on that important scheme? Would it be possible for MPs to top up the scheme with any left-over Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority allowances? I have a bit of money left, but it is not enough to employ a full-time intern. However, I would like to contribute to the pool. Is that a possibility?

Hazel Blears: That is an excellent idea. The more innovative ideas on this agenda we have, the better. Money is tight, and Members of Parliament often have

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hardly enough money to run their offices, but if any small amounts are left over, it is a great idea to use them to enable us to create more placements.

We have 10 interns this year. They started in November, and they are amazing people. They have been through a rigorous selection process. The Social Mobility Foundation is administering the scheme for us, and I want to place on record my thanks to David Johnston, its chief executive, and, in particular, to Katharine Sanders, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in organising housing and passes, for example, and giving pastoral support and genuine personal support to the interns. Neeta Patel, who is working on the House training scheme, is also doing a marvellous job. All the interns will also get placements within the sponsor companies, which will give them commercial and business exposure. The Deputy Prime Minister has also agreed that they can have placements in Government Departments, which will give them experience of what it is like to see Ministers at work, as well as learning about the work of the House.

I want to mention a few of the people on the scheme. They might well be watching the debate. Deborah has a background in retail—she has worked in Marks & Spencer—and she has worked in the charity sector. Abdul, another of our interns, was kidnapped at the age of eight in Liberia and forced to be a child soldier. He has since worked his way through university and now wants to make politics less brutal than the politics that he has experienced. James was an unemployed joiner in Glasgow, and he is now working with the Leader of the Opposition, so his life has changed quite dramatically as well.

The scheme will change people’s lives. Some of those involved might want to work here full time; others might want to stand for office. It is a small scheme, but we are hoping to take on more people next year and the year after. I want to put it to the Minister that, as the Government have put the scheme into the social mobility strategy, they should have a responsibility to provide at least matching funding for it. The private sector contribution should continue—it is a great way of getting industry and commerce involved—but the Government need to stand up and get behind the scheme. I would very much welcome the Minister telling us today that it is their intention to do so.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. We have exactly half an hour left for Back-Bench contributions, so, in the spirit of this consensual debate, will Members please remain conscious of the time?

5.3 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), and to the Speaker’s Panel as a whole, for putting the report together. I also note, as have others, that we have had a general election since it was published, and that that has given rise to a more diverse Parliament.

I have listened carefully to the concerns about what might happen in 2015, but I have to say that I do not share them. I have tremendous respect for the Labour

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party as an institution, but I have never attended a Labour party meeting. I pray to God that I never will! Culturally, Labour has a very different attitude to the Conservative party, and I think it is fair to say that what works for Labour would probably not work for us. I love the Conservative party dearly, but I sometimes think that, in regard to candidate selection, there is a bit of push-me, pull-you involved. The more people try to tell us what to do, the more we rebel against them. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) made it clear that there was a sea change on this side of the House at the 2010 election, and I do not think that we will go backwards from that point. We are an evolutionary party. Changes occur gradually and then suddenly, whoosh, they start to occur very rapidly. I therefore have much more confidence than some hon. Members.

I am reluctant to serve up cold maiden speeches from two years ago, so I will not do so, but I made the point that, although I did not want to dwell on my physical disability, my cerebral palsy or my epilepsy, I was likely to end up as a role model, whether I liked it or not. That has certainly been the case.

Many people come to me saying that they want to get more involved in public life generally. I think this is a fundamental issue that has been missed in the debate so far, as it is not just about getting more diverse Members of this House. I was at a RADAR—Royal Association for Disability Rights—reception at Downing street, and I pay tribute to the work it does in this field. It told me that it wanted more leaders in public life as a whole, not just in this Chamber. It is vital that more diverse people act as counsellors, as these are the people who will be acting on selection panels to select our successors and our candidates. By broadening the political base, we are contributing to broadening the membership here.

I echo what the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) said about section 141 of the Mental Health Act. People might think that it is a rather abstruse measure or small print in legislation that needs to be tidied up at some point. However, I think it is fundamental, and the longer I think about it, the more strongly I become convinced of that viewpoint.

I am one of two MPs who have announced in the Chamber that they have epilepsy. This is the first Parliament to include MPs who have been open about that. In the past, for reasons I have never quite understood, people were concerned not to talk about it. Because my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and I have been able to talk about it, we have seen a more rapid change in Government attitudes towards epilepsy. When I spoke about my own personal experiences in a Westminster Hall debate—not just about my epilepsy, but about speech therapy, cerebral palsy and all sorts of other issues on which my life gives me a unique perspective—I was surprised when other Members came up to me afterwards to say, “That’s a really useful contribution you made.” It struck me that what I said was utterly unexceptional and that I was just filling time in the parliamentary schedule, as it were, yet others were saying, “That was fantastic; that was wonderful.” It really makes a difference. If more people are able to talk about their experiences, it will improve policy. I think that echoes a point made by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears).