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Mr Hague: I very much agree that all lives are of equal value to us in our society and in this Parliament. That is absolutely right. Of course, we stress, as I did in my statement, the importance of more open access to Gaza and of stopping illegal settlements. The hon. Gentleman asked for a balanced approach, or for no imbalance, and it is right to call for those things. If we are doing those things, it is also right to assign blame or responsibility when it belongs elsewhere and not to give a totally one-sided picture the other way. On the humanitarian side, the help goes in every week but my colleagues in the Department for International Development have a budget of several hundred million pounds going in to help Palestinians. If the evidence is there for them to change or adjust that budget, they will look into that.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I would like to accommodate several more colleagues, but I shall have a better chance of doing so if hon. and right hon. Members would now confine themselves to single short supplementary questions without preamble, and we will have comparably succinct replies, as ever, from the Secretary of State.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): According to article 51 of the United Nations charter, Israel’s actions are in self-defence. May I therefore urge the Foreign Secretary and this Government to provide support to Israel in her sovereign right to defend her people?

Mr Hague: Some are not happy about it, but I have been clear about where the principal responsibility for this sequence of events lies. We also must be clear about the need to make progress more generally in the peace process and on Gaza. I am sure that that is the right position for us to uphold.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): What help have or can the British Government, either alone or with the United States Administration, give to Israel to ensure that the Iron Dome defence system that gives security to sections of Israel can be delivered for vulnerable parts of Israel that are not at present protected by a defence system?

Mr Hague: Israel, as I understand it, receives a good deal of help from the United States on its Iron Dome system, and it is American technology that has made that possible. The United Kingdom is not involved in that and I do not see any need for the UK to become involved. Israel and the United States have worked on it successfully together.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): It is now clear that far from homemade rockets being sent from Gaza, these are serious missiles supplied by Iran. What action is my right hon. Friend taking internationally to stop the resupply from Iran or anyone else to Gaza so that Israel can feel less threatened?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is right and it is clear, particularly in the case of longer range rockets, that they are coming from elsewhere. I mentioned earlier the involvement of Iran and of course we encourage all countries that might be transit routes for such weapons—whether they are Iranian weapons going into Syria,

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Gaza or Lebanon—to live up to their international responsibilities and stop the transfer of such weapons. We will intensify those efforts.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that in seeking to discourage a vote on observer status at the UN, he is undermining those Palestinians who seek a peaceful solution and bolstering Hamas and other extremists?

Mr Hague: What I am calling for in conjunction with that is a major effort by the United States and European countries to drive forward the peace process. That very much has at its heart strengthening Palestinian moderates and saying to Israel that this is a Palestinian leadership with which it can do business in our judgment. Although there is a legitimate difference of view and argument about tactics, I believe that that is the right way to go about it.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): I refer to my interest in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have just spent a week in Israel and I came back and spoke to Israelis and Palestinians alike. Despite prejudices in this House, I can assure hon. Members that everybody to whom I spoke has an absolute thirst for peace, but one of the greatest obstacles to peace is the Israeli dilemma of how to trade off intangibles for tangibles. Israel will happily give up land, but how can it have guaranteed security and peace?

Mr Hague: Of course, this is one of the challenges and the widespread perception in Israel. However much they might want peace, some Israelis argue that peace is not available. That is the importance of giving the support we give to the Palestinian Authority and of trying to ensure that progress is made in the coming months. As I was arguing a moment ago, there might not be a better Palestinian leadership for Israel to come to a peace agreement with than the current one.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Under normal circumstances the hospitals and medical facilities in Gaza operate without essential supplies, and that has been exacerbated in the past week. What efforts have the UK Government made to ensure that essential medical equipment and supplies reach Gaza urgently?

Mr Hague: Earlier I gave the information that I have about the operation of health centres as well as food distribution centres. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has just left the Chamber, but she heard all the comments that other hon. Members have made. If we think it is necessary for the United Kingdom to do more on that, do not worry—the United Kingdom will certainly do so.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): Do not my right hon. Friend’s comments about Iran supporting Hamas illustrate starkly the threat to Israel of an emboldened Hamas and Hezbollah if an anti-Semitic Iran becomes a nuclear armed power?

Mr Hague: Yes, absolutely. It is very important to prevent wider proliferation in the middle east and for Iran’s nuclear programme to be solely for peaceful

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purposes. That is the purpose of the negotiations that we are engaged in, as well as the sanctions that we are applying to Iran. My hon. Friend reinforces the importance of this very well.

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): In his response to the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the Foreign Secretary declined to say what he felt was proportionate. When an organisation such as Hamas gets international sympathy and support, and unprecedented support in the region, does he not think Israel’s approach is a mistake, and if so, is he willing to say so?

Mr Hague: I have made very clear my views about a ground incursion, but I have also said many times that Israel is making a mistake through settlement building, through not easing access into Gaza and through not, so far, making a more decisively advantageous proposition to the Palestinians about a two-state solution than it has made in recent years. So we are very clear about all of that and very clear about mistakes that have been made. Now we have to bring an end to the mistakes and make progress on a two-state solution before it is too late.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): On the Syrian opposition group and recognition, what discussions have been held with the United States to get it to recognise the opposition group? So far the United States has refused to recognise the group.

Mr Hague: The United States has so far used different wording from that which I used today. It has talked about the coalition being a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. It has not yet gone as far as we have, or France, Turkey or the Gulf states. It is for the United States to decide over the coming days or weeks but I believe, as I said, that other countries will add to the recognition that we have given today, and I hope that in due course the United States will be one of them.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab): I would be grateful if the House would note my recent employment with Oxfam. The Foreign Secretary will no doubt be aware that in the Cast Lead operation four years ago, there was significant damage to UN facilities and the operations of other humanitarian agencies in Gaza. What conversations have he and the Secretary of State for International Development had with the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other humanitarian agencies in the past week about the continued functioning of their operations?

Mr Hague: May I be the first across the Floor of the House to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on arriving in the House of Commons? I speak as someone who won a by-election for the governing party many years ago, although in my case there were not very many at that time. I welcome him to the House and so quickly speaking in the House. The issue that he identifies is important and other hon. Members have raised it. Ministers at the Department for International Development are in constant touch with UNRWA and with this problem. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is in

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the region now, is forming his own assessment of the situation in Gaza, and I will make sure that those contacts are properly followed up over the coming days.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): The blame game in the middle east can be taken back tens, hundreds, even thousands of years, but it will never bring us closer to peace. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that our focus now must be on an immediate ceasefire and ensuring humanitarian access so that we can end the unacceptable toll in civilian lives on both sides?

Mr Hague: Yes, we do need that, but we need a ceasefire that works, a ceasefire on both sides—that means an end to rocket attacks on Israel, as well as an end to Israeli military operations—and, of course, the proper humanitarian access of which we have all spoken.

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): The pictures on last night’s television of Palestinian children being put in graves is an abomination, but does the Secretary of State concede that the firing of rockets from Gaza means that the lives of innocent Palestinians have been used as pawns on the jihadist and Hamas chessboard, and that the only game in town must be an intensified effort for peace talks?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman puts it very well and places responsibility quite broadly for those tragic deaths. He is right to do that.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): One hundred per cent. of Hamas’s rocket arsenal is delivered across the Egyptian-Gaza border. Over the past year Egypt has lost control over a lot of the increasingly lawless Sinai. Is there any realistic prospect of Egypt securing its border with the Gaza strip?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend draws attention to a very important issue. When I met President Mursi a couple of months ago for the first time, we discussed security in the Sinai. It is crucial for Egypt to ensure that there is such security, and I believe that this situation and other incidents that have happened over recent weeks demonstrate clearly the need for that. Now it is extremely important for Egypt to attend to that, as well as to bring about the ceasefire for which we are calling.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Yesterday, 38 aid agencies asked for the help of the international community to put pressure on to get the crossings into Gaza open so that essential humanitarian supplies—clean water, food and medical supplies—could get through. I acknowledge that the Foreign Secretary has acknowledged the role of the blockade in this conflict, but notwithstanding the responsibilities on both sides for the recent escalation, does he believe that the actions of Israel have had a disproportionate impact on civilians?

Mr Hague: The hon. Lady invites me to get into the proportionate/disproportionate debate, which I am not going to take any further, but she makes a very important point about humanitarian access and what aid agencies have called for. The Government will pursue that in our contacts with Egypt and with Israel, and my colleagues

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in the Department for International Development will look particularly at whether further British assistance is required.

Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): Given the volume of rockets that have been fired from Gaza on civilian targets in Israel over a very long period indeed, and given the cost of intercept missiles, does the Foreign Secretary agree that maintaining a purely defensive strategy in Israel is neither effective nor economically sustainable?

Mr Hague: Clearly, such a strategy has not succeeded in reducing the number of rocket attacks. That has gone up over a long time, although it has protected many Israelis from the consequences of those rocket attacks. As we have said before and as I said in my statement, there is no military solution to the problem. There is only a political solution, and that is for the Israeli leaders, the Egyptian leaders and Palestinian leaders to concentrate on very hard over the coming weeks and for us to support them in doing so.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary earlier mentioned the fact that the window of opportunity was closing for a two-state deal. Is that because Israel will not lift the sanctions on the Palestinians and it would be impossible for Israel to dismantle the settlements?

Mr Hague: Certainly, the more settlements are constructed, yes, the harder it becomes for anyone to envisage a two-state solution working. That is the heart of the argument, particularly the expansion of settlements in east Jerusalem, which of course makes it harder for Jerusalem to be the shared capital of both states, as all of us envisage, in an eventual settlement of this issue. So yes, we are on the same lines.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): As the international community has failed the Palestinian people for the past 64 years, perhaps a new approach is required. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore contact the Jewish Voice for Peace based in Oakland, California? Perhaps its programme could be a catalyst for a peaceful future for Israel and Palestine.

Mr Hague: I will have a look at that. I have a lot of people to contact but if the hon. Gentleman gives me the details—he is looking rather mischievous about this, so I am not quite sure what is entailed—I will, as always, give due care and attention to his ideas.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): What discussions has the Foreign Secretary held with Secretary Clinton over Egypt’s role in brokering a comprehensive ceasefire agreement? Might such an agreement deal with issues such as border crossings and trade between Gaza and Egypt, which would help reduce Gaza’s economic dependence upon Israel?

Mr Hague: Yes, we are in close touch with the United States. I have regular discussions with Secretary Clinton and we are to have another very shortly. The wider solution for Gaza, not just an immediate ceasefire, is of

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course important. It includes the role of better access to and from Gaza and greater assurance that weapons are not going into Gaza—there are many aspects. We will discuss that with the United States as well as Egypt directly.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I declare an interest: I have just returned from a visit to the Palestinian authorities and to Israel. The Foreign Secretary’s statement that Hamas bears the principal responsibility for the crisis and could end the conflict by stopping bombardment of Israel was heard attentively, but does he agree with me that the use by Hamas of long-range imported missiles capable of striking Jerusalem has made that much more difficult to achieve?

Mr Hague: Yes, absolutely. It is clear that the armoury of rockets in Gaza has changed since the time of Operation Cast Lead; there are now longer range rockets, which have been launched at Tel Aviv and, in at least one case, at Jerusalem. Of course, that is an escalation of the threat to Israel, but it only underlines the importance of taking forward all the work on a negotiated peace and settlement in the middle east, which is supported across the House.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): In August this year, an UNRWA report found that Gaza would be unliveable by 2020. Already, because of the blockade, 44% of Palestinians in Gaza are food-insecure, and 80% are aid recipients. What recent conversations has the right hon. Gentleman had with his Israeli counterparts about increasing the flow of basic humanitarian goods into Gaza, and ensuring that that continues to increase, to meet the needs of the Palestinian people?

Mr Hague: That is a constant part of discussions with Israeli leaders. Of course we have put the case for that, and indeed more than that, by saying not only that humanitarian relief is required, but that a different and more open approach is required. In fact, tight restrictions often serve the purposes of Hamas, rather than directly the purposes of Israel, and sometimes help to fund Hamas through its operation of smuggling and the use of tunnels into Gaza, for example. We will continue to have those conversations, I hope more successfully, in future.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): The civilian populations of southern Israel and Gaza desperately need an immediate and effective ceasefire: that means no rockets, no air strikes and no land invasion. What hopes does my right hon. Friend have of the US Secretary of State being able to broker that immediate and lasting ceasefire?

Mr Hague: There are some hopes. I do not want to overstate them, because of course these things can go wrong. Anything at any moment can go wrong, endangering the process through some event on the ground or breakdown in what either side seeks from a ceasefire, but the UN Secretary-General has put energy behind this; Egypt is playing a strong role, which the visit of Secretary Clinton will bolster; and all of us in the EU countries are determined—a lot of effort is being put behind the ceasefire proposal.

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Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): May I press the Foreign Secretary to say more about future consultations with his fellow EU Ministers on Gaza, and what consultations he is having with the Quartet’s special representative to the region?

Mr Hague: We had the whole EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting yesterday, from which the conclusions are published. It made calls very much in line with what I have said to the House in terms of the need to end rocket attacks on Israel, but also stated our support for a negotiated ceasefire. The whole of the European Union spoke clearly together on that yesterday. Of course, we also regularly discuss matters with Tony Blair, the Quartet’s envoy to the Palestinians: most recently, I spoke to him about this nine or 10 days ago, and my colleagues are in constant touch with him. We will see whether there can be a role for the Quartet in the coming weeks in attempts to restart negotiations on the peace process.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): The Secretary of State has made clear his belief that Hamas bears the principal responsibility for the start of the crisis, but does he not accept that many people believe that the blockade of Gaza amounts to an act of aggression perpetrated by the state of Israel against the Palestinians every single day, whether a rocket or a shot is fired? How does he believe that assigning blame for the present situation will help the Government to work with both sides to achieve a peaceful resolution to the conflict?

Mr Hague: I think we have to speak clearly about these things. The hon. Gentleman is right that restrictions and blockades are part of the problem, not part of the solution, and we are always clear about that. The occurrence of yet another crisis in Gaza adds to those arguments, but we also have to be clear that the firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel certainly does not help and is no tactic designed to get rid of any blockade or restrictions; it is totally counter-productive in that respect, and it kills civilians. We should not hesitate to criticise that just because we want a wider solution.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Given the blocking stance taken by Russia and China on Syria, have they contributed any money to address the current humanitarian crisis in Syria?

Mr Hague: Contributions from Russia and China have been very small. I would have to write to the hon. Lady with the details, but they are not so large that I have them immediately in my mind, let me put it that way. We will encourage—I have done so previously—Russia to make a contribution to the UN funds, but the biggest contribution has been from the United States, the second biggest from the EU and the third biggest from the UK—of course we are also contributing to the EU money—so as things stand, the backing is heavily western.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary said that he did not want to get into a debate about disproportionate or proportionate, but while it is right that we condemn militant rocket attacks, should we not also condemn the loss of innocent lives and particularly children? Regarding the vote at the UN, is

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he wholly convinced that the UK Government, by taking the stance they have taken, do not risk undermining those who want a peaceful solution?

Mr Hague: That the Government and the whole country deplore the loss of life in Gaza and southern Israel, particularly children, was the first line or second sentence of my statement today, and I reinforce that now. As I think I have explained, the reason why we are so concerned about a vote at the United Nations General Assembly coming now is precisely that we think it will make it more difficult to advance the peace process. We will make every effort to prevent its damaging the peace process, but the likelihood is that it will.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): May I press the Foreign Secretary once again on the importance of ending the blockade if we are to make progress in the peace process? The impact of the blockade on the Palestinian people, in terms of the destruction of their economy, has been mentioned, but there is also an impact on Israel: there is a thriving tunnel economy and most of the weapons currently being used in Gaza come through it. There could be a win-win situation if we can make progress on the issue.

Mr Hague: I do not think I need pressing very much, because I just made part of that point myself when I talked about the tunnels and the way Hamas, rather than the security of Israel, profits from them through smuggling. For a win-win, there has to be a greater degree of trust and peace on the border, which has eluded us all so far, but if that can be brought about, then yes, there can a very big win-win for all involved.

Mr Speaker: After 23 years in the House, the Foreign Secretary well knows that the fact that a point has been made does not prevent it from being remade, usually on multiple occasions, very eloquently and sometimes at length.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Mr Speaker, I will try to raise an issue that has not been raised so far. Has the Foreign Secretary been able to assess whether UK-made components are being used in Gaza, as part of Israeli equipment, and what implications do the actions of recent days have for UK military links with Israel?

Mr Hague: The hon. Lady has raised an issue that no one else raised, which is pretty good going after one hour and 40 minutes, so I thank her for that. As she knows, we have very tight export controls, through our and the EU’s consolidated guidance. We always evaluate any arms export licences against the risks of misuse, of intensifying conflict and of being used for internal repression. That leads us to refuse some export licences for Israel, but to grant others. Of course, any future grant or refusal of licences will be considered against the background of recent events.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Foreign Secretary and colleagues for their assistance, which enabled 65 Back Benchers to take part in 66 minutes of exclusively Back-Bench time. I fear that there are points of order, but I am sure that they will be legendarily brief.

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Points of Order

2.10 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Legendarily brief though my point of order will be, it is about an anniversary of something that is legendarily long—65 years is a milestone by anyone’s reckoning. Could the House find some way to pass on its congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen on achieving 65 years of wedded bliss?

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has just done so, with admirable grace and succinctness. We thank him.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. For the avoidance of doubt, when I asked the Foreign Secretary my question I should have referred Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record.

New Member

The following Member made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law:

Lucy Maria Powell, for Manchester Central.

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Representation of the People (Members’ Job Share)

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

2.12 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable representation of a constituency by two persons sharing membership of the House of Commons; and for connected purposes.

The Bill would introduce job sharing for Members of Parliament. At the outset, let me thank all those who have helped to shape the proposal, particularly Debbi King from Disability Politics UK, the QCs Karon Monaghan and Gordon Nardell and, of course, our House of Commons Clerks for their advice.

The motivation behind the Bill is to contribute to fulfilling the objective so eloquently set out in the report of the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation in 2010. It stated:

“Justice requires that there should be a place within the House of Commons for individuals from all sections of society. If anyone is prevented from standing for Parliament by reason of their gender, background, sexual orientation or perceived disability, this is an injustice…While justice is the primary case for widening Parliamentary representation, there would also be real benefits for both Parliament and wider society if the House of Commons were to be more fully representative...We believe that a more representative House of Commons would be a more effective and legitimate legislature.”

The stark reality is that this House is certainly not fully representative of our society: more than 500 of the 650 MPs are male, so women are seriously under-represented; and there are only a handful of disabled MPs in the House, but there would need to be at least 65 if it was to be representative of disabled people in the population.

In recent years discussion has taken place about what changes could be made to remove barriers to people who want to become MPs and serve their country in that way. A number of organisations representing people with disabilities have expressed the view that there are some people whose particular conditions means that, although they wish to serve as MPs, they physically would be unable to do so on a full-time basis. Others representing carers and women’s organisations have explained that, although they might wish to serve as MPs, they did not want to give up their caring role and so wanted to combine the two jobs. That included not only parents with young children, but carers of elderly or sick family members. The reality is that the vast majority of carers in our society are still women, so not being able to combine more flexibly caring responsibilities and the role of an MP was seen as an issue that needs to be addressed if we are to secure greater representation of women in Parliament.

Over the past two decades, Members from both sides of this House and several civil society bodies representing people with disabilities and women have advocated the introduction of job sharing for MPs in order to assist more people with disabilities and more women to become MPs. I recall my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) raising the call in the 1990s. The new generation of Members has taken up the

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cause; my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) have all advocated change. The hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) summed up the issue eloquently in a recent debate when she said:

“I have always thought that job shares—potentially having a Cabinet position as a job share—would send a powerful signal, allow women to achieve their best and also recognise the complexity of many of our lives.”—[Official Report, 22 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 185WH.]

Many organisations across the political spectrum have urged consideration of job sharing, ranging from the Fabian Women’s Network to Women Liberal Democrats and the Fawcett Society. Two of the major charities that represent people with disabilities in our country, Radar and Rethink, included a call for job sharing in their submissions to the Government’s consultation, “Access to elected office for disabled people.”

Individuals have tried to stand for election to this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament on a job-share basis but have been barred on the grounds that the current law does not allow it. However, recent legal advice obtained by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has shown that that bar might be open to legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and various international conventions. In law, public bodies have a legal responsibility to make any reasonable adjustments to their operation to overcome such a bar. Job sharing could be construed as just such a reasonable adjustment.

Many Members have suggested that job sharing might be fine in principle but that there are real practical problems with its implementation. Let me deal with the practical questions. The Bill would be an enabling Bill establishing the principle of job sharing for MPs and dealing with the key questions of election, voting rights and the death or disqualification of a Member. That would leave further detail of implementation to secondary legislation that would be subject to the approval of the House.

The Bill proposes that the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 be amended to allow two people who have agreed to a sharing arrangement to stand for election in a constituency on the basis that, if elected, they would share the representation of the constituency between them and serve in Parliament on that basis. Each of the two Members elected for a constituency would be able to cast a half vote in votes of the House. If the two Members agreed and informed Mr Speaker or the person presiding during a vote, one of them would be able to cast a single vote. Not all the detail about the operation of the process are suitable to be addressed in primary legislation and would usually be the subject of secondary legislation or changes to the Standing Orders of the House.

Let me deal with some of the main questions that have been asked by Members about the practicalities of the proposal. Would the two job sharers have to be from the same party? It is proposed that that would be the case, and that would be covered in secondary legislation. What would happen if the job sharers disagreed on an issue and wished to vote accordingly? As the job sharers entered into a sharing arrangement before the election and were from the same party, one would expect them not always to agree on votes! I admit that finding a job

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share might be difficult at times. However, where there is a difference, they can each exercise their right to use their half vote. Frankly, single Members are often in two minds about something and end up abstaining.

What would happen if one of the job sharers left the party under whose banner he or she was elected? At present, there is no provision for forcing a by-election when a Member crosses the Floor of the House, but that is something Members might want to examine. It is not proposed in this Bill, but it would need to be taken into account by electors at a subsequent election. What would happen if one of the job sharers resigned, died or was disqualified? Because the job sharers were elected on the basis of a job-share arrangement, both would be treated as having ceased to be MPs.

Another question is what would happen in situations where electors were happy with the performance of one of the job sharers but not with the other and therefore would not want to vote. The job sharers would be standing as a team; that would be the job-sharing arrangement. The elector would still have one vote and be unable to split it, but would have to decide, in casting that vote, whether, on the basis of his or her overall judgment of their performance, the job-sharing team worked and whether he or she would vote for that arrangement in future. To be frank, there is very little difference between that and what happens at the moment, because electors will often take the view that because the person has stood for a party while, at times, not necessarily supporting the party line, they want to vote for the individual rather than the party.

What would happen if one of the job sharers became a Minister and were covered by collective responsibility? A job sharer would be able to fulfil a ministerial role to the extent of the time that they had to devote to the role on a job-share basis, and in appointing Ministers the Prime Minister would take that into account. This could, and eventually would, lead to job sharing for Ministers. With regard to collective responsibility, the job sharer assuming ministerial responsibilities would naturally cast his or her half vote in line with that requirement.

Would it be more expensive to have two Members per constituency? No, because the job sharers would share offices, facilities and staff. The parliamentary expenses of job-sharing MPs would be managed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 in exactly the same way as for a single MP.

Right the way across our society, in virtually every walk of life, in the public and private sectors and in most professions, job sharing is now a reality, and it has proved to be successful for the organisations and individuals concerned. In fact, there is substantial evidence that job-sharing arrangements are more productive than the employment of individuals. This House should not be the last bastion standing against a measure that could increase access for women and, in particular, for carers and people with disabilities being able to stand as Members of Parliament. We in this House should explore every opportunity we can to assist in promoting greater access for people who would like to serve as MPs. This would not be positive discrimination but simply the introduction of a practical administrative change to facilitate wider participation.

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As I said, the main thrust of this proposal has come from organisations that represent carers and people with disabilities. It is a minor, modernising reform that could improve the representativeness of the House of Commons. If it allowed just one more person with disabilities, one more woman or one more carer to have the opportunity to serve their country in this House, it would be a beneficial move.

2.22 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Every so often I hear a proposal that is so outrageous and unusual that I have to pinch myself to check whether I have heard it correctly, and I found this to be one such. There are many reasons why I believe that the idea is unworkable—so many that I fear that the 10-minutes rule will not provide sufficient time for me to do justice to them in this debate. I will therefore keep my remarks very brief.

This Bill is supposedly about increasing diversity. I do not accept that as a middle-aged white male I am unable to represent others who do not fit that description, be they female, from an ethnic minority, gay or disabled. It is nonsense to suggest that the composition of this House must exactly mirror the composition of the United Kingdom. I very much doubt that someone such as Winston Churchill would have ticked many boxes for diversity, and yet few would dispute that he spoke for the whole of our nation at the most difficult of times. We do not increase true representation simply by having people who look like others.

Nothing that I have heard today suggests that this idea, even if it could ever be made into a practical possibility, would produce the desired result. The plan to have a Parliament made up of Tweedledees and Tweedledums would open up a constitutional can of worms—and for what? For example, what if two heterosexual white middle-aged barristers decided that it would be quite a nice idea if they both shared the job of being an MP while continuing their practice at the Bar? How would that help to increase the diversity of this House? We hear much criticism of politicians who have jobs outside Parliament, yet this Bill would cement the practice into law and make it the norm.

If the Bill is supposed to be a measure to help disabled people, I fear that it is simplistic and, indeed, patronising to many current and former Members who have performed and continue to perform their duties with such distinction. Are the advocates of the Bill really suggesting that just because someone is female, black or disabled they are capable of doing only half the job on a part-time basis?

We have heard that Members would have half a vote each or a joint vote if there were agreement, but what if there were no agreement? What if both MPs took a different view and cancelled each other out, leaving their constituents unrepresented? But of course, as Members on both sides of the House will appreciate, our role is about much more than just voting. Who would constituents contact with a problem—one of them or both of them? What would happen with this dual approach as regards Select Committee membership? Would one half of the job-sharing duo hear some of the evidence and then the other half hear the rest, so that we finished up with

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neither of them having heard it all? Indeed, how would it be decided who was elected to serve on the Committee in the first place?

Next, what about debates in this House? Would both Members be entitled to be called? Would both be entitled to table questions? Would every constituency in the country be required to have two Members? If it applied only to some constituencies, then surely those with two Members would have an advantage over those with a single Member. As everyone will be aware, with 650 Members there is already insufficient space in this Chamber for them all to have a seat. How on earth would we cope with double that number?

As some Members may be aware, I think that it is particularly important that private Members’ Bills are properly scrutinised. Therefore, if I were to represent a constituency as one half of a job-sharing duo with someone else who shared my concern that private Members’ Bills should be properly scrutinised, we could together, on behalf of just one constituency, debate one Bill for a very long time.

Would those sharing the same role have to be from the same party? What would happen if two people from the same party were elected and then one of them decided to change parties? How would that work? Would there have to be some form of electoral pre-nuptial agreement? Would that become the norm? What would happen if the agreement were breached? Who would adjudicate in the event of a dispute?

I am not convinced by the “two for the price of one” argument. It is hard to see how two people would not, at some point, need extra staff or office space. They would need a bigger taxpayer-funded residence in the capital or even require two separate residences in London if they represented a constituency some way away from Westminster. At the very least, there would be two sets of travel expenses.

I think that most people want to see fewer politicians, not more. This proposal runs the risk of being the thin end of the wedge. I dread to think what would happen if the number of Members of the European Parliament were doubled, and how long would it be before we had double the number of councillors, elected mayors or, indeed, police and crime commissioners?

So far, despite considerable media attention, this proposal does not appear to have attracted much public support. Despite a letter to The Guardian in September, signed by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and more than 40 other influential people, urging people to sign an e-petition on this very subject, when I last checked it had only 403 signatories. Perhaps after today’s debate others will be tempted to sign it and, if it reaches the 100,000 barrier, who knows what will happen? We may return to debate this whole issue again.

The proposal starts off as a politically correct attempt to increase diversity, but ends up as a potentially dangerous attempt at constitutional meddling that would break the historical link between an MP and their constituency. I do not propose to divide the House on whether the hon. Gentleman should have leave to introduce the Bill, because, in view of the importance of these matters, I think that the House should have the time and the opportunity—ideally over several Friday sittings—to debate them at great length, so that the concerns that I have outlined can be expanded on.

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Question put and agreed to.


That John McDonnell, Dame Anne Begg, Robert Halfon, Lorely Burt, Caroline Lucas, Sheila Gilmore, Mr Virendra Sharma, Meg Hillier, Jeremy Corbyn, Jon Cruddas, Mr Frank Field and Mr Tom Clarke present the Bill.

John McDonnell accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Tuesday 27 November, and to be printed (Bill 91).

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HGV Road User Levy Bill

Second Reading

2.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As the House knows, the reason for this Bill is to enable the introduction of a new levy for all heavy goods vehicles weighing 12 tonnes and over that are kept or used on the UK road network. We plan to implement the levy from April 2014 for UK-registered hauliers. Subject to the completion of a procurement process, it will apply to foreign-registered hauliers from the same date.

We intend the levy to apply to all categories of public roads in the UK and to both UK and foreign-registered HGVs. Vehicles that cause wear and tear to our roads should make a payment that takes that into account. HGVs registered abroad are more likely to carry their weight on fewer axles than UK-registered vehicles, which means that foreign-registered vehicles cause more wear and tear to our roads. It is therefore more unjust that they do not make a contribution towards the maintenance of these roads. They leave the burden to fall entirely on the British taxpayer.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): What about foreign truck drivers who come over with large tanks full of fuel and who do not contribute to the ordinary wear and tear on our roads because they do not pay the fuel duty?

Mr McLoughlin: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. Under this Bill, we will at least charge them something to use British roads—at the moment, they pay absolutely nothing. Although I am not saying that this is the entire answer, we are moving in the right direction.

Foreign hauliers using roads in the UK have long enjoyed an advantage over our own haulage industry in that they do not pay to use the UK’s road network, while our own hauliers pay to use roads through tolls and other charging schemes when they travel abroad in Europe. For many years all main parties have wanted to introduce a measure to correct that imbalance and I am delighted that this Government are actually doing it.

I am sure that the House recognises that HGVs play a crucial role in our economy by supplying businesses and servicing customers. More than two thirds of all goods moved within the UK travel by road and, in the main, on HGVs.

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): The Secretary of State is right to pay tribute to the work done by HGVs in this country but, at a time when UK hauliers and other businesses that make deliveries are suffering economically, will he outline the rationale behind introducing the Bill now? What other things will the Government do to protect UK hauliers from additional costs?

Mr McLoughlin: The reason for introducing the Bill now is to try to level the playing field and to take action that the previous Government talked about but, I am afraid, never found the time to do anything about.

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I make no apologies for wanting to do this now. I wish it had been done sooner, but at least we are doing it at our first opportunity.

A key part of the movement of goods is provided by foreign hauliers and the Government recognise the important contributions they make to the economy. They make 1.5 million trips to the UK every each year, and we do not wish to discourage free trade with our partners in other countries. However, it is only right that we ensure that our own haulage industry has a fair chance to compete, and I hope that the Bill goes some way to achieving that. I met some hauliers when I announced the Bill and they said that it would lead to more jobs in this country.

As colleagues will be aware, any road user charge is subject to the strict conditions set out in the Eurovignette directive, which provides a framework for charging on roads and specifies the maximum daily charge as €11. That is likely to rise to €12 by 2014, which will mean that it should equate to the £10 a day that we intend to charge the largest vehicles that use our roads.

I also recognise that many trips made by foreign hauliers take longer than one day, so they will also be able to pay the levy for different periods, up to one year. In the case of the largest vehicles, this annual charge will be £1,000. Our estimate of the revenues that will be gained as a result of foreign hauliers paying a charge is between £19 million and £23 million a year. Although that is not enormous, it shows we are doing something that is clearly wanted. That is why the Bill is right. The Government are also committed to introducing other measures—principally vehicle excise duty reductions—that are not part of this Bill to ensure a fairer deal for HGV drivers.

I will now go through the Bill’s points of interest.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I have a question about something that I genuinely do not understand. The new levies will be welcome, but why will there be a delay, as I understand it—I may be wrong—between their imposition on UK hauliers, who will have to pay first, and on non-UK hauliers?

Mr McLoughlin: I very much hope that there will not be a delay. As I have said, I intend the levy to be introduced in April 2014, subject to certain procurement measures. Once it is introduced in this country, there will be a reduction of a similar amount in VED charges, so our lorry drivers should not pay anything extra. Foreign drivers will be charged from, I hope, April 2014. I hope that that addresses the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Robert Flello: The Secretary of State is being extremely generous with his time. Will he clarify why overseas hauliers are not required to pay for a year up front, but can pay on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? Is there a legislative reason why they cannot be asked to make an annual up-front payment, as with VED?

Mr McLoughlin: Overseas hauliers will pay in advance of coming to this country. However, asking somebody who is bringing a lorry over for a day to pay for a full year would be quite unfair. We are therefore allowing them to pay daily, weekly or yearly. Most HGV drivers

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who come to this country regularly will find it much more convenient and a lot cheaper to pay for the year than to pay for each individual day. I hope that that clears up the hon. Gentleman’s point.

The Bill states that HGVs weighing more than 12 tonnes will have to pay a duty of excise levied by the Secretary of State if they are used or kept on a public road within the United Kingdom. It will be known as the HGV road user levy. It will be charged to allow both UK-registered and foreign-registered vehicles to use our roads. The levy applies to all roads in the UK. However, clause 3 provides the power for the Secretary of State to exempt specific roads from the charge by way of statutory instrument, should the need arise.

Clause 4 sets out the liability for the levy. For HGVs registered in the UK, liability for paying the levy will lie with those in whose name the vehicle is registered and with the person keeping the vehicle. That applies the principle used for vehicle excise duty in section 1 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994. That allows for the levy on UK-registered vehicles to be paid at the same time as vehicle excise duty. For non-UK-registered HGVs, the person who holds the Community licence for the vehicle and the person who keeps the vehicle are liable to pay the levy. For both UK-registered and non-UK-registered vehicles, when two or more people are liable to pay the levy, they are jointly and severally liable.

Clauses 5 and 6 set out the methods of payment for UK-registered and non-UK-registered vehicles. For UK-registered vehicles, the levy will be paid either yearly or half-yearly at the same time as vehicle excise duty. Where appropriate, rebates may be made for vehicles that are stolen or destroyed. The circumstances under which a rebate will be available and the method of calculating the value of a rebate, together with other conditions that must be met to make a claim, are covered in clause 7.

Some types of rigid vehicle weighing less than 12 tonnes will be exempt from the charge. The Bill also provides powers to allow the Secretary of State to make regulations that exempt some categories of HGV from the charge.

Collection and enforcement of the charge, and related elements, are covered in clauses 9 to 16.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Before the Secretary of State continues, will he clarify one point? Again, I am happy to be corrected. I believe that the Bill sets out that different and potentially higher levels may be charged for weekly or monthly payments for non-UK HGVs. I am not against that. However, will he give a cast-iron guarantee that it does not infringe any anti-discrimination trade provisions within the EU?

Mr McLoughlin: Yes, we have covered that. The hon. Gentleman is obviously going to take part in this debate and may well find himself on the Public Bill Committee in due course, so he will be able to cover that point in much more detail. I am glad that the Committee is tempting and am sure that the Opposition Whip has made a note of his details. [Interruption.] Was the hon. Gentleman making a request to be on the Committee? Perhaps he would like to share it with the House.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Regrettably, I have to inform the House that I am on another Committee.

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Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab) rose—

Mr McLoughlin: I give way to the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick).

Jim Fitzpatrick: We are grateful to the Secretary of State for trying to recruit our members of the Committee. Much as I would love to see my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on it, I think that the Secretary of State should leave it to us and the Whips.

Mr McLoughlin: I apologise to the Opposition. I was going back to my old territory, which I must not trespass on any longer. I am glad that we have managed to smoke out the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) as to his willingness and availability. I am sure that he gives distinguished service to the other Committee. I must check which it is after this debate.

The level of vehicle excise duty evasion among UK hauliers is extremely low at less than 1% of vehicles. I have no reason to anticipate that that will change once the levy is introduced. To reduce the administrative burden, the levy will be paid at the same time as VED. We have looked at ways to make the introduction of the levy cost-neutral for UK hauliers. To do that, we will reduce the level of VED to take account of the new charge. That reduction will mean that an estimated 94% of UK hauliers will pay no more than they do at the moment and that 98% will pay no more than an additional £50 a year. Clause 15 allows the Secretary of State to refuse to issue a tax disc when the appropriate levy has not been paid. That will lead to vehicles being unlicensed, which brings the associated penalties of immobilisation, removal and disposal.

For foreign-registered hauliers, a system will be procured to allow the levy to be paid online before the vehicle enters the country. The levy is based on the length of time, so visiting hauliers will have to select the period for which they will be using UK roads. The options will go from a single day to a year. Once a haulier has paid the right fee, the payment record will be entered automatically into a database, allowing enforcement agencies to check the status of any HGV using UK roads. Information relating to whether a vehicle has paid the levy will be made available publicly.

There is a risk of foreign hauliers evading the new charge. We will ensure that the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, which will enforce the charge in England, Wales and Scotland, and the Driver and Vehicle Agency, which will enforce the charge in Northern Ireland, are properly equipped to do the job from the start.

Huw Irranca-Davies: May I take this opportunity to invite the Secretary of State to join me on the Groceries Code Adjudicator Public Bill Committee at his earliest convenience? Does he foresee any problems in enforcing this wonderful measure owing to the Government’s decision to opt out of the EU directive on cross-border enforcement?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for sharing with us which Committee he is sitting on. The Committee on this Bill will really miss his attention to detail. I have no reason to believe that there will be any of the problems that he mentions. I have assured myself that what we are doing is wholly within the law and within EU competition rules.

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For non-UK hauliers, there will be no physical sign of the levy having been paid. I believe that paper discs or similar signs would impose a needless burden and open the door to fraud. One of the main methods that we will use to detect vehicles that have not paid the charge is by linking our automatic number plate recognition cameras to the payment database. The use of that technology will enable quicker checks to be made on all HGVs. The power to install such equipment where it does not exist is being introduced in the Bill by amending the Highways Act 1980, the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 and the Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1993 in clause 16.

Robert Flello: What will be the situation if an overseas haulier, either deliberately or by omission, does not purchase a sufficient amount of time? What will happen to the load that a vehicle is carrying if it is seized by one of the agencies?

Mr McLoughlin: Drivers will know that they have to pay the levy before they come into the country. If they fail to pay, the measures available to the enforcement agencies will be used. I make no apology for that. If they think that they will be here for three days, they should pay for three days.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr McLoughlin: Very briefly.

Michael Connarty: Who will be fined? Will it be the driver or the owner of the vehicle? If it is a hired vehicle, who will suffer the fine?

Mr McLoughlin: The driver is responsible for ensuring that the vehicle that he is driving is covered. He is in charge of the vehicle.

The penalty is currently set at £200 and would also be paid in situations where the levy had been underpaid—if someone had declared a lower vehicle weight limit, for example, or the wrong number of axles. Clause 13 inserts the offence in schedule 3 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, which lists the offences for which fixed penalties can be given.

Where there is frequent non-compliance by a specific vehicle or haulage company, clause 11 will allow for the imposition of a fine up to category 5 on the standard scale—currently £5,000—when someone is convicted of failing to pay the levy. I hope that those measures, coupled with active enforcement, will be seen as a suitable deterrent. Collected fine revenues will be paid into the Consolidated Fund; there was a lot of debate on that when we discussed the Ways and Means resolution.

I am sure the House will agree that by creating fair competition for the UK haulage industry, the Bill will help finally to put right a wrong. I commend the Bill to the House. It is well overdue and should have been introduced some time ago.

2.50 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is good to see the Secretary of State in his place for this Second Reading debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and I are delighted to see all three Conservative Ministers from

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the Department for Transport here this afternoon. By leaving a Liberal Democrat Minister in charge of the shop, the coalition Government have made a statement of their trust and confidence—or perhaps he has been given the afternoon off.

Mr McLoughlin: I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), is responding to a debate in Westminster Hall.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I am sure he would be under suspicion—no, I beg your pardon—I am sure he will be watched wherever he goes, because of the excellent job that he does as the senior and longest-serving Minister in the Department for Transport, having survived from 2010. I welcome his new colleagues to their places.

The Secretary of State took something like 18 minutes to move the Second Reading, which is par for the course. According to Hansard from 23 October 2012, column 861, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Lewes, took a minute to move the Ways and Means motion—it actually felt like a lot less than a minute, but he was just procedurally introducing that debate.

The Secretary of State graciously said that both main parties have wanted to introduce this legislation, and I am sure he is aware that in my speech on the Ways and Means motion, I commended the coalition Government for finding a way to introduce this welcome measure.

I do not want to detain the House too long, because I spoke for 18 minutes during the debate on the Ways and Means motion—that was my Second Reading speech and is contained in columns 861 to 865 of Hansard from 23 October 2012, should anybody wish to look at it. We covered a lot during that debate, including road exemptions that the Secretary of State is implementing in clause 3(2). We covered hypothecation at length, and I am sure we will return to that in Committee. We spent a bit of time on road safety—particularly cycle safety—and whether the money raised from the scheme could be devoted to that. We also raised the Secretary of State’s discretion in clause 7(9), and asked questions about short sea shipping and moving freight from road to rail—we will continue to ask about that. We asked questions about the contract for running the scheme, the technology involved, and who is making the arrangements. Cross-border enforcement, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) raised a moment ago, was also part of the discussion.

A number of issues were raised during that debate. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) answered most of those points, although some were left without a response on the basis that they were detailed matters. I am sure we will look at those in Committee. In principle, however, the Opposition support this measure. We will want to look at the detail when the Bill goes to Committee, but we welcome its arrival in the House this afternoon.

2.54 pm

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): As has been suggested, this Bill has wide cross-party support. I want to make a number of observations on the legislation,

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and commend the coalition Government for getting a grip on this matter and providing an answer. As the Secretary of State suggested, they are trying to create a level playing field between UK haulage businesses and foreign operators. My constituency is within the M25 and has close links with the M3, M4 and Heathrow airport, and transportation and logistics are at the heart of what we do in Spelthorne. As the Member representing that constituency, I am particularly gratified to commend the Bill and recommend that it proceeds. Several haulage firms in Spelthorne have made representation to me, including Cummins haulage in Shepperton and others, and they will be gratified by this measure. I am pleased to recommend and support the Bill in the House today.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) was right to suggest that we will have to consider a number of details in Committee. For now, however, I am happy to lend my support to the Bill, and gratified to see such wide support across the House for this sensible measure.

2.55 pm

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, support this Bill, which is about backing the UK haulage industry and helping to create a level playing field. The impact of the freight industry on the UK economy is strong—the turnover for road freight is £23.9 billion a year; it adds gross value of £10.7 billion a year; and employs 299,000 people in 30,000 enterprises. The sector is important and its impact on the economy is great. The issue concerns disparities in cost between UK-based hauliers and foreign hauliers, and relates to differential fuel and road charging costs, as well as what are often seen as different safety standards, which also impact on cost. The legislation also deals with cabotage, which is the subject of ongoing European Union negotiations. The Transport Committee has taken up this matter—indeed, it first considered it a long time ago in 2009 when we looked at road charges and taxation. The issue was taken up again in 2012, and we returned to it this July with a session of the Transport Committee on road freight.

In 2008, the Government started to take action and proposed a vignette. Much to the Committee’s regret, however, that was not pursued and no real action was taken. An alternative to taking action on charges was the allocation of an additional £24 million to the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency to enforce safety standards for foreign—and domestic—vehicles. Something was done, although it was not the action for which the Committee was hoping.

I have one or two points that I hope can be considered today or—perhaps more likely—in Committee. Will the impact of this legislation and the cost for UK hauliers be monitored? We heard in the Transport Committee, and the Secretary of State repeated today, that the overwhelming majority of British hauliers will not face any extra costs. Will that be monitored to ensure that that intention is realised? Will the agencies charged with implementing and enforcing the scheme—DVLA and VOSA respectively—have sufficient resources to do their job properly? Will debts of overseas hauliers be collected, in view of the Government’s decision not to sign a cross-border agreement on enforcing debt? What is the current position on cabotage, which I know is giving some concern to UK hauliers? Those points are important

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although I know they will be discussed in Committee. I support this Bill, and agree with the Secretary of State that it has been a long time coming.

2.59 pm

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I welcome the cross-party support for this Bill which, as the Secretary of State pointed out, has been under discussion for many years. However, if we look at the background to this issue, it is interesting that more than a decade ago, the previous Government looked at a scheme that aimed to restore fairness between UK and foreign lorry drivers. The consultation document published in November 2001 considered two forms of charge—a time-based system and a distance-based system. The former was a cheap and simple solution, and the latter was a complex-to-administer, Big Brother-type charge, which sought to raise yet more revenue from the UK haulage industry. True to form, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), went for the latter.

More than 10 years later, after much indecision and delay, the coalition Government are finally delivering a workable scheme. Had the previous Government taken note of the Conservative party economic competitive policy group in 2007, which recommended the swift introduction of a lorry user charge, balanced by a reduction in vehicle excise duty, the problem could have been resolved far sooner. We could also have protected our domestic haulage industry from unfair competition earlier, and raised hundreds of millions of pounds for the Exchequer from foreign hauliers. I congratulate the Government on introducing this long-overdue, important legislation.

I note from the consultation document that a large HGV currently pays between €35 and €46 for a 100-mile Autobahn journey in Germany. That highlights the disadvantages that UK hauliers face against European competition—European HGVs currently make no contribution whatever when they travel on UK roads. The proposals have been welcomed by the haulage industry, which was rightly in favour of the time charge rather than the distance charge. As I have pointed out, the distance charge would have become a stealth tax. The Freight Transport Association says that the Bill delivers on its requests that the scheme should be fair, that it should not add administrative burdens, and that it should come with heavy penalties for non-compliance.

Clause 3 makes an exception so that the congestion charge zone and the M6 toll can be charged as well as the levy—they are congestion measures. Any future toll roads to be built in the UK are highly likely to be classed as congestion measures, so can the Minister confirm that EU prohibitions on double-charging will not prove to be a problem should any new toll roads be proposed in future in the UK?

Clauses 5 and 6 relate to the rate at which the levy will be set, which is governed by an EU directive. As pointed out by the Secretary of State, the daily maximum was originally set at €11, but is set to increase to €12. That will mean that the daily rate is low compared with the sums that UK hauliers pay to use toll roads in other

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European countries. Perhaps the Secretary of State or the Minister will confirm whether there is any scope for the UK Government to request an increase in the rate, especially if other European countries increase their toll rates significantly ahead of inflation, which will further damage our competitiveness.

It is estimated that the levy will raise around £20 million per annum. Clause 9(4) states that the revenue from the levy will go into the Consolidated Fund. Will the Minister confirm that the revenue raised will not be hypothecated for transport?

Clause 13 establishes an efficient and effective way of enforcing payment on foreign lorries that fail to comply with legislation, as does clause 15, which allows the Secretary of State to refuse to issue a vehicle excise duty licence for which a levy has not been paid. Those measures underline the effectiveness and simplicity of the legislation.

Clause 16 allows highway authorities to install equipment for the detection of non-payment of the levy. Will the Minister confirm what equipment exists that can be used for the purpose of detecting non-compliance, and what new equipment will be requested? I understand that the set-up costs are estimated at between £3 million and £6.7 million. Will he also confirm the prosecution procedure if a foreign lorry that has not paid the levy is detected by a system other than a roadside check? How will the prosecution be enforced?

To sum up, the Bill has been a long time coming. It is another example of this Government delivering on things the previous one only ever talked about. It makes a more level playing field between UK hauliers and European hauliers, who for many years have made no contribution whatever to the UK road infrastructure and have cost the UK economy a huge amount of money owing to the accidents they cause on our motorways. The Bill will help to ensure that our domestic road haulage industry remains competitive, which is more important than ever.

3.5 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am pleased to make a declaration: I have no interests apart from looking after the interests of my constituents. Hon. Members have said that it is time to level the playing field for road haulage in the UK, but to use more thematically correct imagery, it is time to smooth out the anti-competitive bumps faced by UK haulage companies on the road to European markets.

The Bill will not deal with many anti-competitive burdens placed on the many road haulage companies in my constituency and many others. Grangemouth, which is in my constituency, and which is the only EU-recognised inter-modal transport hub in Scotland, and the many communities along the M9, M8 and M876 triangle with employment in road haulage suffer from damaging high taxation on road fuel. Competitor haulage companies from mainland Europe use that fuel price advantage to collect and deliver in the UK, even in Scotland. The Government must look at that seriously if we are really to level out those bumps.

I know hon. Members want to get on with the debate quickly and that they have discussed the Bill between one another many times, but my constituents probably do not know the Bill’s contents. They know that, currently,

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operators of UK-registered heavy goods vehicles pay charges or tolls in most European countries—as they tell me every time I meet them—but that foreign-registered HGVs do not pay to use the UK road network. The imbalance is unfair to UK HGV operators.

The Bill will seek to address that by introducing a levy for using UK road networks for all HGV vehicles weighing 12 tonnes and over. The requirement to pay the levy will apply to all categories of public road in the UK and to both UK and foreign-registered HGVs. The levy will range from £85 a year for the smallest HGV to £1,000 for the largest. The idea is to link the charge to the amount of damage caused on the roads by different types of HGVs.

The Bill states that UK-registered HGVs will pay the levy for the same period and in the same transaction that they pay vehicle excise duty, which means that they will pay annually. However, foreign-registered vehicles can pay the levy daily, weekly, monthly or annually, which strikes me as an imbalance, because road haulage companies do not have their vehicles on the road all the time. If paying only when they are on the roads is good enough for foreign vehicles, why should that not be so for UK vehicles?

The Bill states that there will be an associated reduction for UK-registered HGVs in the amount of vehicle excise duty that is payable. That is intended to mean that the vast majority of UK-based hauliers will pay no more than they pay currently. However, if 10 million vehicles use the road and pay the levy, and suddenly 15 million or 20 million start to use the roads, why should the 10 million not pay less than they paid previously? Is this just another way for the Government to make money for the Exchequer, and not a way to advantage current road users?

Robert Flello: The intention is that UK hauliers should not pay more, but one of my concerns is that there is no guarantee of that. Some of the numbers I have seen suggest that some UK hauliers will end up paying more. That hardly seems like smoothing out the bumps—quite the reverse.

Michael Connarty: I do not know whether my hon. Friend is looking over my shoulder from a distance, but I was about to express that exact concern. The Government have failed to devise a scheme that protects all UK-based hauliers, because EU rules mean that vehicle excise duty cannot be set low enough to compensate all Britain’s HGV users.

I have a number of other concerns, which I am sure will be addressed in Committee. The Bill states that no British road haulier will be worse off as a result of the reform, but I would like to see detailed figures on how much the Government expect to raise from the exercise and on how it will be disbursed. Could some of the money be disbursed to keep vehicle licence duty down for UK heavy goods vehicles? Clearly, the Government need to look at whether they can reduce vehicle excise duty in some way.

Why are UK hauliers set to pay the levy one year before non-UK hauliers?

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond) indicated dissent.

Michael Connarty: The Minister is indicating that that is not the case. If he is about to tell me that the levy will come in at exactly the same time for everyone, that would be a vast improvement.

Stephen Hammond: The Secretary of State confirmed that this afternoon in his opening remarks, and I confirmed that in the Ways and Means debate on 23 October. The only possibility of that not happening would be if there is a minor delay to the procurement of the database, but the reality is that we have moved it so that there will be simultaneous introduction.

Michael Connarty: I congratulate the Opposition Front Bench on winning that battle before it has even begun. That was a cause for concern for the Opposition, so I am pleased if that has now been swept away by their good offices and oration. It was an issue only a few days ago.

Will the Minister look again at whether there is a way to enable UK-based drivers to have the same options for payment as non-UK-based drivers? I made this point earlier. Why should it be that those not based in the UK will pay weekly, monthly or daily, but UK owners will pay every day, whether they run a vehicle or not? That seems to be somewhat strange.

Returning to the question of how to police the Bill, I have serious concerns. How does the UK guarantee collection of the fines—a point I made to the Minister? He indicated that it would be the driver who would be responsible. The reality is that the driver will be changed the next time the vehicle is sent into the country. The driver could be changed again, again and again. We are talking about a massive permutation of drivers. I have been attached to the police scheme twice in this place and have spent time with the Serious Organised Crime Agency. One difficulty we have is that people come into the country with the deliberate intention of stealing. They are brought to court, bailed and then disappear—they never come back to the country. Someone else will turn up in that or a similar vehicle to steal once again.

Is the Minister trying to tell us that they will be able to catch the driver, and that the next time the vehicle comes into the country it will not have a different driver? It is all right when there is a family car, and either the Minister or the Minister’s wife could have been driving the car when they were fined, as happened in the case involving a former member of the coalition Government, but it is not the same with a heavy goods vehicle. The owner can change the driver every single day, so why is it not the owner of the vehicle who gets fined? The fine would not be able to be avoided then.

Robert Flello: Does that not come back to the point that if the owner of the vehicle lives in another country, then without the cross-border ability to pursue the owner of the vehicle, the money will be collected from nowhere?

Michael Connarty: My hon. Friend must have unbelievable eyesight, because I am just about to come on to that very point. It is clear that some Government Members argue that we should extract ourselves from

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arrangements such as the European arrest warrant. In reality, however, whether it is the vehicle owner or even the driver it may be that we have to extract the person, who is a criminal if they are breaking the law, from another country by using the European arrest warrant. If we withdraw from the European arrest warrant agreement, how will we pursue such people among the 500 million people who live in the EU?

Andrew Bridgen: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Connarty: I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman who declared his interest earlier.

Andrew Bridgen: If the driver is not fined, it should not necessarily be the owner, but the registered operator of the vehicle. The registered operator may or may not be the owner—it is a technicality.

Michael Connarty: In the same way that I am pursuing the idea of looking at the supply chain so that human trafficking and modern day slavery can be eradicated by looking at the companies who eventually get the goods, I also think that the owner of the vehicle should discipline and instruct their employees to ensure that they do not break the law. There has to be some way of dealing with this so that we can pursue the vehicles. We have a major problem if we stick with the driver.

Andrew Bridgen: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Connarty: I will not take another intervention—people want to get on to other business today. These matters must be discussed in some detail in Committee. If we have a situation where there is no European framework through which we can arrest people—the European arrest warrant—then the Bill will come to naught.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank my hon. Friend for being gracious in giving way. I want, through him, to give the Minister the opportunity to answer the question I asked in the Ways and Means debate, the same question the Secretary of State perhaps misunderstood and answered, when I raised it earlier, by referring to European trade rules. I hope that the Minister, in his response to my hon. Friend’s very good point, will be able to clarify what will happen now that we do not have cross-border enforcement, because the Government have opted out of it.

Michael Connarty: There will be a lot of things that, if the Government opt out of them, will collapse around our ears. I hope, in making these points, that I am providing positive criticism, because I would like to see the Bill emerge in a perfect form, or as perfect as it can possibly be. I welcome the Bill in principle, and hauliers in my constituency welcome the idea behind it, but we must make sure that it comes out of Committee in a form so that it will do what is intended to do, and is not just a precursor to road pricing for everyone in the UK.

3.16 pm

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Like hon. Members on both sides of the House, I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. In particular,

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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) who, as roads Minister, met with me and listened to the complaints of my constituents regarding the previous charging scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) made a good point about the Conservative policy group’s proposal in 2007, which set out a scheme similar to the one in the Bill, to introduce HGV road charging. It is a shame that that scheme was not looked at more seriously by the Government of the day, and that more progress was not made. This Government should be congratulated, because a view was expressed that it would not be possible, under EU law, to introduce a charging scheme, but the Bill demonstrates that it is possible.

Most hon. Members have made the point about fairness—fairness to the UK haulage industry and fairness to the UK taxpayer. It is not fair when large HGVs can fill up with cheap fuel in Europe—typically, in somewhere such as Luxembourg—and make an entire tour of the UK before returning home having made no direct financial contribution to the UK at all. They are not buying fuel, and they are not paying any other charges or tolls here. Typically, our lorry drivers have to do that when they visit the European continent, so it is fair that the measure is put in place to redress the balance.

The issue is of keen interest to my constituents. As the Member for Folkestone and Hythe—I am looking at the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is in his place—I am probably the MP with the closest thing to a land border with the continent of Europe and the EU, as the channel tunnel is in my constituency. The idea of enforcing this measure and these charges across jurisdictions is particularly important, both here and for hauliers operating from outside the United Kingdom. My constituents feel particularly strongly because of our proximity to the port of Dover, and because of the presence of the channel tunnel. We see the costs of the road haulage system on our roads and infrastructure as well. It is a concern that financial compensation is not extracted from foreign hauliers for the road network that they use so freely.

Robert Flello: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not just a matter of the wear and tear that overseas hauliers have on our road infrastructure, but that they also cost British hauliers money by congesting the roads? That means that our British hauliers are more inefficient when driving on our roads, because of the added congestion. That is costing our drivers more money in fuel.

Damian Collins: The hon. Gentleman’s point underlines how important it is to have a system that creates a level playing field of charging. One set of hauliers who are not paying UK vehicle excise duty get a free rein, while UK hauliers pay for the impact on the infrastructure that they use in common.

There are other issues that make this particularly important. I want to touch on an issue common in areas with ports that service the UK and the continent of Europe. In my constituency, when the port is closed, owing to bad weather or—typically with the Dover-Calais link—industrial action in the port of Calais, Operation Stack comes into action. This means that lorries are stack parked on the motorway, normally closing the

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coast-bound carriageway of the M20 at different stages. This is very expensive to enforce for Kent police and adds to wear and damage not only on the motorway network but on the roads surrounding it. It is not unusual to see lorries parked on minor roads and roundabouts and in lay-bys, often creating mess and causing damage.

One reason my constituents have pressed for these measures is that there should be some means of extracting payment through a charging scheme and—I hope—through the measures in the Bill to create a register of hauliers licensed to use our roads, which will be published on the internet. That way we will know who these lorries are owned by and where they are coming from, and it might make it easier to enforce other charges, not just the charge for taking out the vignette to use the UK motorway network. I would like more action taken to follow up lorries that cause damage on the roadsides, that litter and that might be associated with other accidents or problems caused while they are here. Creating this database and register of foreign hauliers using our roads will be a good first step towards taking such action.

I do not share all the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). The important thing is that there is a system of fining, and that the fines are enforced. Hauliers that come here frequently and are fined frequently will soon realise that they would be better off taking out the vignette in the first place. If action has to be taken against the lorry driver while they are in the country, and if their progress is delayed, it will often have considerable financial consequences for the hauliers, which operate on a tight schedule while completing their tours. They will not want to be delayed. If lorries are clamped or taken off the roads while the driver waits for someone to pay the fine, that, too, will have financial consequences for the haulier. The important thing, then, is that the charging scheme is in place, that it is enforced equally and that foreign hauliers are made to pay the charge for using the road or receive a financial penalty for not doing so, either directly or indirectly, through the lorries being clamped or taken off the road.

I mentioned earlier the cost of Operation Stack. I am sure that all colleagues will have a view of what the Government could do with the money raised from this charging scheme. Earlier in the debate, the Secretary of State estimated that it would be between £19 million and £23 million a year. I hope that the Government will be mindful of some of the pinch-points in the motorway network, particularly where the cost from the haulage industry—the impact on the roads and the infrastructure —is particularly great. That can be seen in Kent with Operation Stack, especially in the winter months, when the effects are extremely acute. Let us consider whether some of the funds raised could be given, on a discretionary basis, to alleviate some of the damage and problems caused by the haulage operating on some of these major pinch-points, particularly the one running through Kent in my constituency.

I congratulate and thank the Government for bringing forward a Bill that introduces the level playing field that we want and introduces fairness not only for the UK haulage industry but for the UK taxpayer.

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3.23 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): As the Member for Strangford in Northern Ireland, I know the importance of a viable freight industry that can deliver all the products we have. The UK freight industry has supported the principles in the Bill for the past few years, and there is a consensus in favour of the Bill. Members on both sides of the House are of that opinion, and the freight industry is telling us the same thing as well. The industry is vital to Northern Ireland and my constituency in particular. Some hon. Members, their families and their constituents will enjoy the vegetables and potatoes that come from my constituency, because 70% of our food is exported to the rest of the United Kingdom. So when Members sit down to the humble Comber spud on Sundays, quite possibly it has come from my constituency. It is important, therefore, to have a viable freight industry.

I have a couple of quick questions. The Bill makes it explicit that the vehicle excise duty will be the means by which the rebate will be made. Can the Minister give us the precise reductions in the duty that could bring that about? I rather think that they will not be known until the Budget statement of 2014, when they will be included in the Finance Bill. The levy is to be introduced for UK operators from May 2014, but the process must be operational in time for the vehicle excise duty renewals. Will he assure us of that time scale? It is vital for the industry.

Figures released by the Department indicate that about 6,500 vehicles fall into bands for which vehicle excise duty rates are already too low to offset the cost of the levy. I understand that half of these vehicles—about 3,250—are 28-tonne 2x2 articulated vehicles. Will the Minister indicate, either today or later, the breakdown of operators using vehicles requiring a higher net charge than at present? In particular, where do they operate from? Are they one-man bands or small companies that need a bit of help? It would help if consideration could be given to that. It is unclear whether the 2% of vehicles identified in the money resolution debate as facing significant extra charges as a result of the change are to be found largely in a particular sector or sub-class of vehicle.

It is important that the Minister considers another matter. Businesses need to plan ahead and have some indication of what the costs will be for the future. That is particularly important, as down-plating might not be possible for some operations.

I would like to focus on one final point touched on by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins). I would like the Minister to clarify a few points for Northern Ireland Members in particular—given that we have a land border—about how this will affect us. How will the charging work in Northern Ireland across the land border with the Republic of Ireland? I ask because I understand that the Irish Government have already begun discussions with Ministers about the amount of cross-border trade. If that is the case, could Irish vehicles be regarded as a special case? It would be useful for Northern Ireland MPs and the House as a whole to know whether the UK Government are minded to permit this exemption. Finally, how will holders of reduced pollution certificates be compensated through replacement grants?

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We are moving to a better place with this Bill. We have a chance to do something that is important for the freight industry in the area I represent and the many companies that depend on it. It is also important for the produce that is moved from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic. The Bill will have an important impact on those industries. I want to see the Bill go through and the benefits that come from it. I understand that I will not be on the Committee, but others will, and I will keep a watchful eye on it.

3.27 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to make a further short contribution to this debate, following the Ways and Means debate on 23 October. I will not detain the House by repeating all the points I made then, but I want to put on the record my support for the Bill on Second Reading, and add my congratulations and thanks to the Government for bringing it in. It is a long, long overdue measure.

My interest in this subject stems partly from my membership of the Select Committee on Transport—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) set out in detail why we have taken an interest—but I also have a constituency interest. Milton Keynes is home to many hauliers and large logistics and distribution companies. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned that most potatoes in the country come from his constituency. At the top end of the scale in my constituency we have the national distribution centre for John Lewis, so if Members buy their Christmas gifts from John Lewis—other department stores are available—the goods will very likely start their journey in my constituency. I paid a visit to those at the John Lewis distribution centre a couple of weeks ago and asked their opinion on the Bill. They told me: “Our view is that the Bill is a positive step, because it is helping to address the unfair balance of foreign trucks coming into the country with lower diesel costs. In that regard it is very welcome.” I believe that is the typical view of the haulage industry.

I want to use a little example to flesh out the reasons why UK hauliers are currently at a competitive disadvantage. The point has been well made that fuel prices on the continent are lower than in the UK. As of last month, the average UK diesel price after adjustments was around €1.72 a litre. That contrasts with €1.37 in Belgium, €1.35 in France, €1.30 in Luxembourg and €1.44 in the Netherlands, so foreign hauliers coming to this country stand to make a gain of 20-odd per cent. When fuel represents up to 40% of the operating costs of an HGV, that makes a critical difference to the operating margin for many haulage companies. I have had many representations from hauliers, as I am sure other Members have, about the disadvantage they face, not only from international competition, but from cabotage, whereby trucks fill up overseas and can then cherry-pick short-haul domestic journeys in this country. That can create huge employment uncertainty for HGV drivers in this country, which is a problem that I do not think has been mentioned in the debate thus far. I have had representations from constituents who have been HGV drivers for many years who have found it more and more difficult to get long-term permanent jobs because of the competition from overseas lorries. This measure will go a long way to creating some certainty and security in that employment market.

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I will not detain the House any longer—I do not want just to go over all the points I made in the Ways and Means debate. I support the Bill and wish it a speedy passage today and in Committee, and I look forward to it becoming law sooner rather than later.

3.31 pm

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): This is indeed a great day for UK business and for small and medium-sized enterprises. Combined with the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill yesterday, today’s Bill represents a stamping of this coalition Government’s commitment to small and medium-sized enterprises and to solving some of the problems they face. That goes not only for small and medium-sized enterprises, but for our consumers and constituents, who pay for the costs and the bureaucracy that are built into business. Anything we can do to solve some of those problems will be of benefit to them.

I want to take a few moments to seek clarification on one or two points. I am sure some of them will be thrashed out in Committee, but I will start by being a little pedantic. Can the Minister say how he will define “a day”? Is it 24 hours from the point of entry into the country, or is it a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday, and so on? When does “a day” begin? Does it begin when someone has cleared customs, when they leave the port or when they exit the ferry? If someone is caught in a road traffic accident or in a queue caused by one and they miss the deadline by five minutes, the definition could become quite an issue. I hope that ANPR technology will assist the authorities in ensuring that people are registered and are paying the levies. I hope that the Minister will confirm that ANPR will be installed in all our ports and at all entrances to the country.

Damian Collins: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Does he agree that consideration would need to be given to lorries that get caught up in Operation Stack, which I mentioned in my speech? Sometimes lorries may be held for two or three days when they are only a few hours away from the port.

Mr Spencer: Absolutely; I acknowledge that point, which is particularly applicable in my hon. Friend’s constituency, where the driver, for reasons beyond his control, may find himself missing the deadlines. Indeed, that point is vital, because if the police are to have access to ANPR data, those data need to be live and in real time, because any vehicle might be complying with the levy at that moment, but not in half an hour’s time. I hope that those data will be live and available.

We have heard quite a bit about enforcement today, and about whether it should apply to the driver or the owner. I want to caution the Minister to ensure that it will not involve the owner. The identity of the owner could be the source of some debate. It could be a leasing company, or a hire company. It could well be someone who is not connected to the way in which the vehicle is being operated. I hope that that point will be clarified.

Finally, will impounding be used as the ultimate sanction to ensure that these vehicles do not continue to move? That could give rise to issues if the goods on the vehicle were perishable or, even worse, if the vehicle were carrying livestock. How would we deal with impounding an articulated lorry full of bees, for example, or sheep or pigs? We need to think those issues through.

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Broadly, however, I welcome the Bill. It represents a great step forward in levelling the playing field and assisting the hard-working HGV companies in the UK. The Minister and his Department are to be congratulated on it.

3.35 pm

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I will not detain the House for long, as there is further business that we want to get to. I want to add my voice to those who have paid tribute to the Government for introducing the Bill. It is long overdue and very welcome. I am also pleased to see that it has gained cross-party support.

My constituency has a large number of haulage contractors because we have a lot of quarries. Those contractors run many wagons up and down the country, and the Bill will help and support them. They move the finest limestone in the world to various parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) mentioned John Lewis products being in everyone’s Christmas bags this year. I dare say that most hon. Members’ houses contain a little piece of High Peak limestone somewhere.

Those hauliers have been operating under more and more pressure as a result of foreign hauliers coming into the country. They use our roads, which results in wear and tear. We hear the thunder of wagons trundling down the roads in the High Peak day and night, and many of those wagons come from abroad. There has been much talk about levelling the playing field to give our own hauliers the competitive edge that they need. I believe that the Bill will achieve that, and I applaud it.

When our hauliers go abroad, they pay tolls and user charges on foreign motorways such as the autoroutes in France, the autostrade in Italy and the autopistas in Spain. Our hauliers pay to help with their upkeep. I am not wont to quote anything European, but when European HGVs come here, the French pay rien, the Italians pay niente and the Spanish pay nada—that is, nothing. The Bill will address that issue. As we have already heard, foreign haulage contractors also use cheaper fuel.

This is a great Bill, so let us speed it through. Let us give our hauliers and the wagon drivers they employ a level playing field. I used to supply haulage companies with machinery, and I know that other people’s jobs rely on those companies. They include mechanics, suppliers and those in the oil industry. The Bill is a great thing for British hauliers and the British economy, and, together with the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill that we debated yesterday, it shows that this Government are serious about helping small and medium-sized enterprises up and down the country. They are not just talking about it; they are actually doing it. I commend the Bill to the House.

3.37 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): As my right hon. Friend Secretary of State for Transport said in his opening speech, the intent of the Bill is absolutely clear. It will help to deliver a fairer deal for UK hauliers, going some way to correct an inequality that has existed for too long.

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On 23 October this year, we held an extensive Ways and Means debate, and I was urged to make a contribution that owed more to quantity than quality. Today, I have been urged to make my speech one of quality rather than quantity, and I will obey that stricture. I should like to thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for the points he raised today and during the Ways and Means debate. He rightly said that the Bill was to be welcomed. I tried in the previous debate to answer some of his questions, and I shall try again to deal with points that he has raised, along with those raised by the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman).

Vehicle excise duty rates will be published in the draft Finance Bill towards the end of 2013, so they will be known well before the start of the levy. There has been a great deal of discussion about enforcement today, and about whether opting out of cross-border enforcement arrangements would hamper enforcement. Let me make it clear that the cross-border enforcement directive is only about data exchange. As we said in the Ways and Means debate, and as my right hon. Friend said earlier today, there is therefore no question of enforcement being hindered by our not being involved in the directive. Outstanding fines and penalties can be pursued even if they are not in the directive.

Questions were raised about who is paying the fine. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was exactly right: it is the driver, but the registered vehicle keeper is jointly liable, so VOSA—the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency—or the Driver and Vehicle Agency can act against both, including by impounding vehicles and by taking drivers and operators to court. Drivers without a satisfactory UK address will be required to pay a financial penalty deposit on the spot by a VOSA enforcement officer. This enforcement strategy is designed to overcome the problem, raised by several Opposition Members, of foreign drivers fleeing back to their own country and out of UK jurisdiction. The question of enforcement has been well dealt with, and there is always the option of a prosecution in the magistrates court for the offence, as set out in clause 11.

Questions have been raised about what would happen if the load was seized and how much of it could be seized. The Bill makes it fairly clear that the whole load is seized. I will consider the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) about a lorry that might be carrying bees, locusts or whatever else, and about what needs to be done at that stage. Let us none the less be clear: the Bill contains the power to seize the load.

As I said in the Ways and Means debate, the Welsh Government were seeking a legislative consent motion at that stage. Since then, after further discussions with departmental officials, they decided that they did not need to do this. Scotland and Northern Ireland had already said that. Let us be clear that the HGV levy is a tax, so it is a reserved matter, but we have no intention of limiting the power of any of the devolved Administrations to introduce charging if they so wish at some future date, and the Bill allows for geographic coverage of the HGV road user levy to be amended by order to allow this, if necessary.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) asked about Northern Ireland. As I said in the Ways and Means debate, Ireland already has road charges in

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the form of tolls. The new UK charge applying in Northern Ireland is about the same as existing Irish tolls, so this would be relevant to a round trip from Belfast to Dublin and back again. It would be difficult to exempt Northern Ireland, because the Government are introducing this by means of reducing VED. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I am sure we can explore the issue further in Committee.

To return to the main aims of the Bill and the key point about the level of charge, we consider our plan to charge large vehicles £10 a day or £1,000 a year to be fair, proportionate and compliant with relevant EU legislation. For the daily amount, we are seeking to charge the highest level permissible while remaining compliant with EU law.

Robert Flello: Does the Minister agree that it might be worth the Department going away and looking again to see if there are perhaps more creative ways of raising that amount? As Government Members themselves have said, a driver from the UK going across the channel and perhaps using an Autobahn or paying a toll in Germany might end up paying a great deal more than £10 a day.

Stephen Hammond: I will look at that again, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we have already looked at it in some detail. The clear requirement is to ensure that the Bill remains compliant with EU regulations and law about the vignette; at that level of charge, it does.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, asked how many UK hauliers would not be better off. I can tell him that 94% of UK hauliers will pay no more than they pay now, and 98% will pay no more than £50. There are effectively two classes of vehicle for which there may be small problems. First, there are the conventional HGVs—either articulated or rigid vehicles without a trailer. For them—a relatively small number of vehicles, perhaps 6,000 out of the 260,000 in the UK fleet—the maximum calculated loss is £79. Then there are a small number—about 7,000 of them on the road—of rigid vehicles with a trailer. Of those we estimate—the Department has done some analysis—that fewer than 50 will face potentially more than £300 extra in costs. There is, however, a relatively simple remedy for them—re-plating. I am sure that that can be explored further in Committee.

The Bill is not designed as a precursor to increased charges for businesses or road users more widely, as some have speculated. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, our intention is clear: it is to introduce legislation that will level the playing field in order to help UK hauliers.

I am delighted that the Bill has been received so positively today, because I think that it presents an opportunity to correct an injustice that has persisted for far too long; I am delighted with the support that we

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have had from Members in all parts of the House; and I am delighted that the Bill is to be given a Second Reading today.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

HGV Road User Levy Bill (programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the HGV Road User Levy Bill:


1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 13 December 2012.

3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

4. Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Mr McLoughlin.)

Question agreed to.

Civil Aviation Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Civil Aviation Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 30 January 2012 in the last Session of Parliament (Civil Aviation Bill (Programme)), as varied by the Order of 25 April 2012 in that Session (Civil Aviation Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

1. Proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.

Subsequent stages

2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Mr Simon Burns.)

Question agreed to.

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Civil Aviation Bill

Consideration of Lords Amendments

Clause 1

CAA’s general duty

3.47 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments 2 to 72.

Mr Burns: In an increasingly globalised world, air travel is fundamental to the long-term competitiveness of the United Kingdom. However, much of the legislation that governs aviation dates from the 1980s, and it is therefore imperative for the legislative framework to be brought up to date. The Civil Aviation Bill introduces, and makes possible, reform in four key areas: the economic regulation of airports, the legislative framework of the Civil Aviation Authority, the air travel organisers’ licence scheme, and aviation security. The Bill has secured wide support, and we have worked hard to address issues that have raised concern in this House, in another place, or in the industry.

The vast majority of the amendments made since the Bill was last in this House are minor and technical, including Lords amendments 23 to 27, 29 to 36 and 44 to 71. I shall refrain from entering too deeply into the details of those amendments at this stage; suffice it to say that they are predominantly concerned with improving the drafting, clarifying the wording, removing areas of ambiguity, or excluding doubt to ensure that our policy intentions are properly met and delivered in full.

Let me deal briefly with three notable issues on which amendments have been agreed in another place: the imposition of environmental duties on the CAA, the efficiency of the CAA, and the Secretary of State’s powers to make regulations relating to the ATOL scheme.

The environmental impact of aviation has been raised during the Bill’s passage through both Houses, and the Government take it very seriously. In particular, there has been a great deal of focus on giving the CAA additional duties to take account of it. Lords amendments 1 to 4 respond to that concern by giving the CAA a supplementary environmental duty to which it must have regard in performing its airport economic regulation functions. The amendments are intended to make it clear that in conducting those functions, the CAA must have regard to the ability of the regulated airport operator to take reasonable measures to reduce, control or mitigate adverse environmental effects that are generated by the activity of the airport—and aircraft using the airport—to which the licence relates. For example, a reasonable measure could be a cost-effective energy saving investment project, such as the installation of solar-powered lighting in terminal buildings, which would lower the airport’s future energy costs. Environmental issues in this context would include noise, vibration, emissions and the effects of works carried out at the airport. The amendments also provide clarity that reasonable costs of environmental

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measures undertaken by licence holders may continue to be taken into account in the regulatory settlement, where the measures are in the interests of passengers and owners of cargo and to do with the provision of airport operation services.

We have always been clear that airport operators, whether or not they are subject to economic regulation, should be able to invest in appropriate environmental measures. For example, if an unregulated airport undertakes investment in environmental measures that benefit passengers, the Civil Aviation Authority will be able to look to this and approve a reasonable similar investment in the regulatory settlement at a regulated airport.

The Government do not believe that the absence of an environmental supplementary duty would prevent the CAA from approving environmental investment where that is in passengers’ and cargo owners’ interests. However, following detailed consideration of the matter, the Government decided there is a benefit to making this clear in the Bill. Certainly, the Bill should not be seen as placing a restriction on investment in environmental measures at licensed airports where they benefit passengers and freight owners in the provision of airport operation services.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I am sure departmental officials will have briefed the Minister that we debated at length in Committee whether an environmental duty should be placed on the CAA in respect of the operation of airports. There was a subsequent debate about the suggestion of the Minister’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), that such a measure would apply only to Heathrow. There is therefore a debate to be had about whether the environmental duty should cover all airports, or just Heathrow. Will the Minister confirm that the proposed CAA environmental duty that the Government have accepted will operate across the entire aviation industry?

Mr Burns: The hon. Gentleman is right: I have been extremely well briefed by some excellent civil servants, who have had to play catch-up, because I am a Johnny-come-lately to this debate as a result of the events of 4 September this year. I confirm that this duty will apply not just to Heathrow, but also to the other regulated airports of Gatwick and Stansted. I hope that reassures him.

A regulated airport should not be required to spend on environmental measures where a competitive airport would not do so, because that could create market distortions by placing greater burdens on regulated airports than non-regulated airports. Furthermore, not only have the Government sought to address these concerns through their own amendments, but on Report in another place Opposition amendments to the proposed Government amendments strengthening the wording of this duty were also accepted. I hope the House will recognise that as a genuine effort to reach an agreed position on including appropriate environmental considerations in the Bill. We are confident that we have struck the right balance on the environment, and that the CAA will be better placed than ever before to take environmental matters seriously.

On CAA efficiency, we agree with industry stakeholders that it is important to hold the CAA to account. There are a number of provisions in existing legislation that

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require the CAA to carry out its activities efficiently. Lords amendment 22 inserts a new clause that will provide for greater transparency and accountability in the CAA’s efficiency measures. Section 21(3) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 already requires the Secretary of State to lay before each House of Parliament a copy of the CAA’s annual report on its performance and its functions in that accounting year. If Lords amendment 22 is accepted, in future this annual report laid in each House will include an efficiency statement by the CAA and an assessment by the independent auditors of that efficiency statement. The provisions will give the CAA a further incentive to secure value for money and to be as efficient as possible in performing its functions. I am pleased to say that the amendment was welcomed in the other place, where the Opposition commended it, saying:

“This is an excellent proposal, which will guarantee that the efficiency of the CAA will be subject to scrutiny”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 November 2012; Vol. 740, c. 1062.]

I hope that the new clause will enjoy a similar level of support in this House.

Lords amendments 17 to 20 provide the Secretary of State with further powers to close down potential ways around the ATOL scheme. The Secretary of State already has the power to regulate businesses that make available flight accommodation and, under clause 94 of the Bill as introduced, will have the power to regulate businesses acting as an agent for the consumer. However, after the Bill was introduced, the Government and the CAA found possible loopholes that needed to be addressed in further powers.

The first loophole concerns a potential business model whereby a business argues that it is neither making available flight accommodation nor acting for the consumer but is instead merely facilitating making available flight accommodation. That business could then argue that it is not in the scope of either the existing ATOL regulation-making power or those in the Bill as introduced. Lords amendments 17 and 18 address that loophole by giving the Secretary of State powers to include businesses that facilitate making available flight accommodation in the ATOL scheme.

Secondly, amendments 19 and 20 give further necessary clarity to the regulation-making power in instances where goods and services sold alongside flights, such as accommodation or car hire, can be protected under the ATOL scheme. By closing potential avoidance approaches, those four amendments will help the Government meet our stated objectives of providing greater clarity for consumers about what holidays and flights are included in the ATOL scheme as well as a more consistent regulatory framework for businesses.

I have dealt with the main substantive issues covered by the Lords amendments. The remaining amendments, as I alluded to, are the majority and are technical and drafting amendments that clarify issues so that there is no shadow of a doubt about the Bill’s intentions.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Like the Minister, we welcome the Bill and the Lords amendments. We supported much of the Bill in Committee and continue to do so today. This is my first opportunity to welcome the new Minister of State to his position and to face him across the Dispatch Box, so I wish him well in his new role. It is probably good to be meeting on relatively friendly terms on our first outing.

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We are very pleased that the Government have accepted a number of amendments. In the other place, the noble Earl Attlee said:

“The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, is very insistent and persuasive. He is clearly convinced that his amendments will improve the Bill. My Bill team manager will probably kill me, but I can accept”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 November 2012; Vol. 740, c. 1003.]

Clearly, I need to take advice and lessons from my noble Friend on how to be insistent and persuasive, because we tabled those amendments, a number of which were accepted in the other place, in Committee and raised the subject again on Third Reading. We were spectacularly unsuccessful in persuading the Government to accept a single amendment, so we obviously need to speak closely to our colleagues in the other place to see how they were able to secure agreement.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): It might be some consolation to my hon. Friend if I say to him that it might not be his powers of persuasion. It sometimes takes time for things to sink in.

4 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his understanding of the difficulties that the coalition sometimes has, and I am sure coalition Members are also grateful for that empathy.

I will not speak for long. I know that there is an important debate on autism to follow, and that a number of colleagues want to get in on this brief debate. I refer specifically to amendments 1 to 4 and 22, which cover the environmental issues and the CAA duty of efficiency. It is disappointing that the eloquent Lord Davies was unconvincing on the issue of emissions, especially as the European Union emission trading scheme has folded. We had a discussion in Committee about emission targets. In his closing remarks the Minister might want to comment on where we go on that. Aviation emission targets were a matter of some concern, but the amendments in the other place were not accepted. There is also nothing on passenger welfare, which we pressed in a number of ways.

On amendments 1 to 4, we spent considerable time in Committee, from column 112 onwards in the Official Report, trying to persuade the Government of the merits of the environmental duties. Fortunately, they have seen some of the light. On amendment 22, at columns 343 and 344, we argued the case, for the aviation industry, that the Civil Aviation Authority should have a duty to operate efficiently.

In response to our requests, the Minister’s predecessor said:

“Sadly, the shadow Minister will think me hard-hearted, because I cannot support new clause 2”.

She went on to say:

“I can only re-emphasise that my understanding and interpretation of the Bill is that it does indeed require the CAA to act in an efficient way.”––[Official Report, Civil Aviation Public Bill Committee, 13 March 2012; c. 343-44.]

Fortunately, it seems that she was wrong, and we welcome the Government’s change of heart.

We welcome the Government amendments on ATOL and the opportunity to debate the subject, and the Government’s intentions, more thoroughly in Westminster Hall on Thursday. As I said, this is essentially a good

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Bill. It could have been even better, but as a result of the good sense of our noble Friends in the other place, it is at least in better shape now than when it left here, and we support the amendments.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I welcome the Bill and the amendments before us today, particularly amendments 1 to 4, which deal with the protection of the environment. For the Liberal Democrats it is extremely important that a duty of care for the environment is written into the Bill, and the amendments achieve that. This was an issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) raised on Second Reading and continued to raise as the Bill went through its Commons stages, so I am delighted that the Government have listened to him and to the Liberal Democrats and tabled their own amendments in the Lords.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I hate to disillusion the hon. Gentleman, but we had some good exchanges with his hon. Friend, who managed to wriggle out of supporting any of the environmental duty amendments that we tabled. I would have referred to him in my speech, but I had not given him advance notice and I would not do him the discourtesy. We give credit to the other place for the amendments, not to the hon. Member for Cambridge.

Mr Reid: An interesting intervention from the hon. Gentleman. I discussed the Bill with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge before today, and I understand that he felt there were some technical deficiencies in the amendments tabled by the hon. Gentleman in Committee. It is important to stress that Liberal Democrats are in government, and we are able to influence the Government because we are part of the Government. It was the Government who tabled the amendments in the Lords. Having spent nine years on the Opposition Benches, I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. Without civil service advice, it is difficult to get an amendment right. Being on the Government Benches, Liberal Democrats are achieving successes and this is one of them. As a result of our influence, care for the environment is now on the face of the Bill.

Huw Irranca-Davies: We are always willing to learn, so will the hon. Gentleman enlighten us about what those technical deficiencies were, so that in future we can table better amendments?

Mr Reid: The amendments in question are not on the amendment paper today. What we have before us today are the amendments made in the Lords, and I would probably be out of order if I spoke to amendments that have not been tabled. The hon. Gentleman could have tabled amendments to the Lords amendments, but chose not to do so, so we cannot discuss them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I may be wrong, but I doubt I am. I quoted Earl Attlee accepting amendment 2 and adding:

“My Bill manager will probably kill me”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 November 2012; Vol. 740, c. 1003.]

Amendment 2 was tabled by Lord Davies and accepted by the Government. We tabled that amendment in Committee and on Report. The hon. Member for Cambridge had ample opportunity to table his own amendment, but nothing was forthcoming.