29 Jan 2013 : Column 838

Ironically, before the last boundary change, my constituency was about the right size numerically. It was close to the UK average of 76,641 voters. Yet that did not save it. That is where my problem lies.

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): Perhaps my memory is failing me and the hon. Gentleman’s is better, but when the boundaries were stacked against the Labour party and in favour of the Conservatives in the 1980s, did the Conservative party demand the kind of changes that it is demanding today?

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman was not here in the ’80s and neither was I. I will carry on because time is short.

The problem I have is not with the theory behind the sixth general review, but with how it has been conducted in practice. We all want fairness and had high hopes that the Boundary Commission could do a better job. With hindsight, perhaps it should have been asked to respect county boundaries over ward boundaries. Despite agreeing to take existing constituencies into consideration as far as possible, the Boundary Commission for England recommended that the North Herefordshire constituency be dismantled and merged with Worcestershire and Shropshire to form a constituency with a minority part of each county. My hon. Friends and neighbours are fine people and there is little to be gained from Conservative Members fighting one another. At a time when people do not believe promises and when people vote for independents who have no manifesto, I believe that honouring the promises that I made to my constituents at the general election is very important.

The Prime Minister said at Admiralty house on 6 June 2011:

“We will help you through this”.

That was one of his best intentioned, least helpful and most worrying comments. What did he mean? What did he think would happen? How would help be offered? Did he really care about it at all? My sense of concern must have been felt by the Lib Dem coalition partners. How extraordinary it is in modern politics that one’s seat can be saved by one’s opponents who have spent the last 12 years trying to take it away.

There are more dilemmas in this vote for me and my constituents. What in the end would benefit them more: a future Conservative Government or a better alignment of boundaries? In 1884, my ancient forebear put the answer on the record. I will not bore the House with the details. He did say, however, that every elector should have two votes. I cannot agree with that.

Otherwise, little has changed. I do not believe that Herefordshire has received the respect that the Boundary Commission should have given it, but I will always put my constituents first; they will always be my priority. Whether the fairness and equality of a vote, and the corresponding chance of a Conservative victory, is more important than the boundaries of my existing and historic seat, is a decision worthy of deep deliberation.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, since I will not have the chance to make a speech today. Amendment 5 contains one important provision that shows why those who vote for the amendment are absolutely determined to wreck the Bill. The explanatory notes to the amendment state that

29 Jan 2013 : Column 839

“the Boundary Commissions would not have a discretion to consider inconveniences attendant on boundary changes”.

In other words, people would have grounds to argue against any boundary changes that the boundary commissions proposed.

Bill Wiggin: I am deeply sorry that my hon. Friend will not have the chance to say more this evening. He deserves to.

The economic and other damage left by the Labour party, and the need for equality in votes, shows the greatest good to my county and my country although it may cause me the most harm personally. Putting aside all temptations and fears, my conclusion is that the sacrifice made by the loss of my seat must be worth it for my constituents. They deserve promises to be kept, fairness and justice to be paramount, and for their vote to count as equally as any other. I therefore support the Government and disagree with their lordships.

Mr Bone: I want to make a few brief points. I voted against the original Bill on Second and Third Reading because I wanted to see boundaries equalised but not a reduction in Members. I lost that debate and that vote, and I accept the will of the House. I also accept that Labour Members have been consistent in their views.

I thought today that I would be speaking in support of the Government, but I have since learned that I am speaking in support of Conservatives in the Government, which makes me feel a little better. My problem is very simple. If one reads the debates on Second and Third Reading, the Deputy Prime Minister, who led for the Government on this issue, made sensible remarks about equalising the size of constituencies, with which I thoroughly agree. However, when something is said as a matter of principle—this is where I think politics is brought into disrepute—whether it is about an in/out referendum on the EU or voting against tuition fees, and when a deal is done and a pledge made in coalition that there will be a vote on the alternative vote and in return the boundary review will be supported, that pledge must be kept.

The only honourable thing the Liberal Democrats can do tonight if they do not vote with Conservative Members is resign from the Government and cross the Floor of the House. If they have any principle, any honesty, that is what they must do. I remember when the aspiring new Prime Minister spoke to the Conservative party in the 1922 committee when the coalition came into being. The only issue that the party had to decide on was whether it would allow a vote on AV in return for Liberal Democrat support on boundary reviews. That was the deal. The Conservative party kept to that deal but the Liberal Democrats have gone back on their part of it. They are a disgrace and should be on the Opposition Benches.

Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): I rise briefly to express my regret on three points. First, I regret that the other place has seen fit to ride through the conventions that have held it secure in its position for many centuries. It has done so on the basis of Members who have gone to that House, precisely—Opposition Members have referred to this—through a packing of the House of Lords under the previous Government. Those Members have then ridden through their conventions in order to place us in this position, with a constitutional change foisted on this democratically elected House.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 840

I also regret that we will not have boundary review until 2018 if we disagree to the motion. That will mean that many Members will not be equal. Mr Speaker, you said in response to an earlier point of order that all hon. Members are equal, but they will not be equal in the representation they bring to the House.

4 pm

My third regret is that Labour Members believe that some Members are more equal than others. The arguments they have deployed—quite apart from the typically graceless speech by the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan)—have been specious in the extreme.

The Liberal Democrats, whose arguments were put by one of their most noble Members, have exposed themselves—this is often the case with Liberal Democrats, as hon. Members who have fought them on the doorstep will know—as people who have one idea at one time and change their mind when it matters at another time. I understand their position and why they have come to it with heavy regret. I am a full supporter of the coalition, which is in the business of saving the country.

However, nothing can excuse the Labour party trying, by every kind of sophistry, to present arguments as to why one person’s vote should count for more than another person’s in different constituencies, including ones that neighbour each other. As a result, their position debases our democracy. Labour Members should answer to the electorate for what they are doing to our Parliament.

Greg Mulholland: Twenty-seven months ago, in October 2010, I tabled an amendment that said that the boundary changes were being rushed through and should be postponed until the next Parliament. I was right then and I am right now.

Hon. Members agree that this is a serious issue, and that we should look to try to have more equal constituencies, but the logic that has been followed does not do that. We need common-sense proposals for the next Parliament that hon. Members can unite around. We need constituencies that do not cross county boundaries and major council boundaries, and ones that are geographically commonsensical. The measure needs to be tied in with individual registration, as the Bill should have been.

If we are serious about reducing the number of MPs, we need a debate on what our role is. If we reduce the number, it will be more difficult for us to fulfil our myriad roles—our roles are different from those of Members of other Parliaments in the world.

The truth is that the Bill was based on a solid principle, but the reality was wrong. We have a duty to scrutinise it. I said that in October 2010, and I have not changed my mind. I will be voting the right way, as I did three years ago.

4.3 pm

Two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No.83F), That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 5.

The House divided:

Ayes 292, Noes 334.

Division No. 146]

[

4.3 pm

AYES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Alistair

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.

(Monmouth)

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Field, Mark

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Long, Naomi

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Greg Hands

and

Anne Milton

NOES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Danny

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baker, Norman

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Baron, Mr John

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brake, rh Tom

Brennan, Kevin

Brooke, Annette

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

Davey, rh Mr Edward

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

George, Andrew

Gilbert, Stephen

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hames, Duncan

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Harvey, Sir Nick

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Horwood, Martin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, Tristram

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lamb, Norman

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Laws, rh Mr David

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leech, Mr John

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Stephen

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Moore, rh Michael

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mudie, Mr George

Mulholland, Greg

Munn, Meg

Munt, Tessa

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reid, Mr Alan

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rogerson, Dan

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Russell, Sir Bob

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smith, Sir Robert

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Swales, Ian

Swinson, Jo

Tami, Mark

Teather, Sarah

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Thurso, John

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Ward, Mr David

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Webb, Steve

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Chris

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Wright, Simon

Tellers for the Noes:

Nic Dakin

and

Tom Blenkinsop

Question accordingly negatived.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 841

29 Jan 2013 : Column 842

29 Jan 2013 : Column 843

29 Jan 2013 : Column 844

29 Jan 2013 : Column 845

Lords amendment 5 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived.

Lords amendment 23 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived.

After Clause 17

Voters waiting at polling station at close of poll

Miss Chloe Smith: I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 7.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 10, 11, 1 to 4, 6, 8, 9 and 12 to 22.

Miss Smith: With your leave, Mr Speaker, I shall—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Will right hon. and hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber—[Hon. Members: “We’re celebrating!”] Will Members who are leaving the Chamber for whatever purpose please do so as quickly and quietly as possible so that I can call Minister Smith to speak to the motion? She should not have to fight to be heard, and we wish to hear her.

Miss Smith: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall speak to Lords amendment 7 and, with your leave, I shall speak to the other amendments in the group as well. It might therefore take me a few minutes to complete my speech, as it covers all the amendments.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 846

Lords amendments 7, 10 and 11 will enable voters waiting in a queue at close of poll to be issued with ballot papers and to vote, even if the time of close of poll has passed. Following debates on the subject, the Government have decided to accept the principle of the amendments introduced in both Houses, to ensure that people are able to exercise their right to vote if they are already in the queue at 10 pm on polling day. The measure has attracted cross-party support in both Houses, and the Government agree with the sentiment behind a change in the law to enable voters to vote.

The Government did not accept amendments previously tabled on this subject, and have instead introduced their own group of amendments to address some of the issues identified by the previous amendments. For example, the amendment tabled by Lord Pannick did not apply to Northern Ireland and would have resulted in an inconsistent position for voters across the United Kingdom.

In tabling their own amendments, the Government remain concerned that all potential consequences for other aspects of electoral law of any new provisions relating to close of poll should be dealt with at the point at which the new provisions take effect, to reduce the risk of unintended consequences. I will not dwell at length on those amendments; suffice it to say that the term “close of poll” is used in a number of electoral provisions, including those that determine when exit polls may be published and the point by which postal votes must be returned. Some of those provisions attract criminal penalties and it would not be right if the impact of a change were not considered and addressed, to avoid a position in which people might fall foul of the law inadvertently. The amendments therefore provide for a proportionately limited power that will allow the Government to make any such consequential changes that might be required on commencement.

Let me make it clear that, although the Government are introducing these amendments, we remain of the view that proper planning by returning officers must be the first priority to reduce the risk of queues forming. However, this change to the law will provide an effective back-stop to supplement that planning. The Government have also consistently argued that administrative points remain to be addressed, and we will work closely with the Electoral Commission and electoral administrators on the best way to implement the amendments for voters. However, putting aside those points of detail, I hope that we can agree to support this change to the law for the benefit of voters.

The other amendments in the group relate to the transition to, and operation of, individual electoral registration. That is the core of the Bill, through which we aim to tackle electoral fraud and the perception of fraud. Under IER, electors will be required to register individually, rather than by household. In that way, we will be moving to a system in which individuals will have to provide information to verify their application, and so take responsibility for their registration to vote. That will modernise our electoral registration system, facilitating the move to online registration and making it more convenient for people to register to vote. Our aim is to tackle electoral fraud, increase the number of people registered to vote, and improve the integrity of the register.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 847

It falls to me to rebut a few points made in the previous debate, as they properly relate to the subject matter in this group of amendments. I was concerned to hear the Labour Front-Bench team whipping up scare stories. It felt to me that they had little else to say, and their opportunism led them to introduce some confusion into our debate. It is important to note that the figures occasionally quoted, as I understand it, by the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), who is not in his place, related to an opt-out that was included in the draft legislation published in June 2011, and not to the transition to individual electoral registration in general. The hon. Gentleman quoted the concern of the Electoral Commission about completeness, potentially leaving, in his citation, 16 million people unregistered. Those comments were, I suggest, a misquotation of the Electoral Commission’s chairwoman, Jenny Watson. She clarified her opinion in a follow-up statement. I hope that is of help to the House.

It is also important to rebut very firmly further comments of the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd. Sadly, I see that he is still not in his place, after having made the lurid suggestion that the Government are engaged in voter suppression. I cannot stand against that more strongly. I think it would be helpful if I noted that the Electoral Commission has been calling for the introduction of IER since 2003. It supports that introduction and believes

“it is the right thing to do because the current system is vulnerable to fraud; and it is right that people take responsibility for their own votes. The ‘household’ registration system means there is no personal ownership by citizens of a fundamental aspect of their participation in our democracy—their right to vote.”

I seek to support that right to vote. I am concerned that the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd, who is still not in his place to engage in debate, made such lurid comments.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister will be aware that 25% of people in Britain are functionally illiterate, meaning that they cannot handle a yellow pages directory effectively, and that many others cannot speak English very well. There is reason to believe that when others are helping people to register in households, this move could lead to a reduction in registration and the disfranchisement of many of those people.

Miss Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that thoughtful point. I would be happy to discuss that with him in more detail outside this place, as I fear that we will not have time in a full hour to deal with every way in which under-represented groups need to be assisted, supported and encouraged to register to vote. It is absolutely this Government’s intention and passion to get as many people registered to vote as possible. That would certainly include, using appropriate methods, the groups to which he has referred.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): Does that mean that it is the Government’s policy to support house-to-house canvasses to make sure that individuals register, and will such canvasses be resourced?

Miss Smith: Yes, it is the Government’s policy that the annual canvass is a valuable part of the process. The hon. Gentleman will, I suspect, know as well as I do that it is for local authorities to resource that in the

29 Jan 2013 : Column 848

sense of providing the people to carry it out. He will also know that it has been clear throughout the passage of the Bill that the Government will ensure that financial resources are available to local authorities.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Just as we want to make sure that anyone who is eligible to vote is able to do so, we also need to make sure that only those eligible to vote do vote. Will the Minister remind us what checks there will be on an individual to prevent that individual from registering twice under different names?

Miss Smith: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The innovation of data-matching will allow us to cross-reference, we hope, about 70% of electors against other sources of data held by the Government. That will, in large part, assist the endeavour outlined by my right hon. Friend. It will help to ensure that the register is both as complete and as accurate as possible, and that those who should not be on the register are not included.

4.30 pm

I recognise that the transition to individual electoral registration poses a risk to completeness rates. We are introducing safeguards which will avoid a drop in the number of registrations, but will also help us to ensure that the right people are on the register. Data-matching, which I have already mentioned, confirms the accuracy of the majority of entries. Most electors will not have to do anything in order to remain on the register if it is correct for them to be included on it.

We are moving the 2013 household canvass to early 2014 so that the registers used for the transition to IER are as up to date as possible. We are phasing in the transition over two years, carrying forward existing electors so that they are eligible to vote in the 2015 general election. We shall be writing to all electors in 2014 with reminders, and doorstep canvassing will take place as it does at present. We are working with the Electoral Commission to ensure that the public are informed about the change. We are also actively exploring ways in which we can make it as convenient and as secure as possible for citizens to register to vote, such as new channels including online registration.

I have already spoken about Lords amendment 7, and about the need to modernise our electoral registration system. As I have said, our aim is to tackle electoral fraud, increase the number of people registered to vote, and improve the integrity of the register. The Bill also includes provisions to improve the administration and conduct of elections, which will serve to increase voter participation, and to make a number of improvements in the running of elections.

Lords amendments 1, 2, 3 and 4 would require the forms of acceptable evidence used to verify entitlement to register to be prescribed in secondary legislation. The Government have always intended the evidence required in an initial application to be prescribed in regulations, although the Bill as introduced permitted Ministers to prescribe the types of evidence. The amendments were tabled in response to scrutiny by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform and Constitution Committees in the other place, requiring such evidence to be placed in regulations subject to the affirmative procedure.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 849

Lords amendments 6, 8, 9, 20, 21 and 22 would provide for an extended carry-forward of non-individually registered electors from 2015 to 2016 unless that was deemed unnecessary. The effect would be to postpone the final date for the transition to a register entirely made up of individually registered electors until December 2016. The Secretary of State would, however, have the power to take the final step in 2015—in keeping with the existing plans for implementation of IER—if he was satisfied that the transition to IER could be concluded at that point, by means of an order that would be subject to the negative procedure. I hope that Members will welcome the reassurance that that change would bring: the reassurance that following the implementation of IER, the electoral register will be as complete and accurate as possible.

Let me stress that the amendments do not alter our aim to deliver an IER-only register in December 2015. They simply add a safeguard so that Parliament has a say in the removal of electors from the register in that year. I note that the Electoral Commission agrees with us that it is necessary to encourage electoral administrators to work to that deadline.

The remaining Lords amendments are minor and technical amendments that would improve the smooth running of individual electoral registration. Lords amendments 12, 16 and 19 would ensure that the provisions on anonymous entries on the electoral register continued to work following the transition to IER. Lords amendments 13 and 14 would help to ensure that as many eligible applicants as possible are included in the revised register published on 1 December by removing a time limit that would prevent some applications from being added until the January update. Removing that restriction would not affect people’s entitlement to object to an application for registration, or the registration officer’s duty to determine objections.

Amendments 15 and 18 are intended to improve the functioning of section 49 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, ensuring that challenges to the eligibility of an entry on the electoral register do not result in an elector being unable to cast their vote. Under section 49, it is not necessary to set out the dates to which an allegation relates for there to be a successful objection to an elector’s registration. Amendment 17 would ensure that there is no ambiguity about the continued application under IER of the existing criminal offence relating to non-disclosure of information in response to the annual canvass or about providing false information in response.

The amendments in this group reflect the listening approach we have taken to the Bill as it has progressed from draft legislation through pre-legislative and other Committee scrutiny and into the debates in this House and the other place. That approach is to be welcomed—indeed, at key moments the Opposition Front-Bench team have welcomed it.

Following passionate and informed debate, significant changes have been made to the legislation to address concerns about the potential completeness of the register in 2015, for instance by stating that forms of evidence used to verify applicants’ identities must be set out in regulations and by allowing voters queuing at polling stations at close of poll to be issued with ballot papers and to vote.

I commend the Lords amendments to the House.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 850


Wayne David: I shall address amendments 7, 10 and 11 first, and then amendments 6, 8, 9, 21 and 22.

The Opposition have consistently supported the introduction of individual electoral registration. We agree with it in principle; indeed, we legislated for it when we were in government. We also support the twin principles of achieving maximum accuracy in the electoral registers and maximum completeness. I am pleased the Government have now accepted the arguments that we and others have put forward in this House on a number of occasions. I remember the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) being totally dismissive of them, but we welcome the fact that the approach taken by the other place is more rational and that the Government admit—although belatedly—that their initial arguments were wrong, and that they now agree with us. The Government have seen the light, on this issue at least.

I am also pleased that the Scottish Government have taken action and that the views of the Electoral Commission have been taken on board. I remind the House that, in the aftermath of the May 2010 general election, the Electoral Commission produced a report that identified four key factors in what had gone wrong. There was evidence of poor planning assumptions in some areas, and of poor conduct of the election on polling day. The use of unsuitable buildings and inadequate staffing arrangements at some polling stations were also an issue. It was said, too, that the contingency arrangements were not properly triggered or were unable to cope with demand at the close of poll—that was very evident. Finally, the Electoral Commission found that there was restrictive legislation which meant those in queues at polling stations at the close of poll were not able to be issued with a ballot paper. The Government were initially trenchantly opposed to that objective view. They now agree that it is necessary to accept it and to introduce corrective legislation. I welcome that; this House supports the Government’s conversion.

The second substantive issue is to do with the so-called carry-forward—or carry-over—and the commencement of full individual electoral registration in December 2015 or December 2016. We support the Government’s amendments in that regard and recognise that there has been a move, albeit a more modest one than on the other big issue, to try to accommodate the legitimate concerns expressed in the other place. However, the Electoral Commission has reservations about these amendments and, indeed, they are a rather convoluted set.

The Minister set out a convoluted process. I have to be honest and say that, on occasion, it sounded as though she was speaking double Dutch. The Bill is to contain a delay in the implementation of full IER from December 2015 to December 2016. We might think that that is fair enough, as it will allow greater parliamentary scrutiny, greater parliamentary involvement and a greater opportunity to get more people on to the electoral register under IER than would have been the case. But, unfortunately, the Government will not go the whole hog, and they are introducing a byzantine system whereby having a cake and eating it is the order of the day. They are saying, “Yes, that change will be in the Bill, but we reserve the right to contradict what is in the Bill by saying that our implementation plan stays in place. We will still want to do what we always intended to do,

29 Jan 2013 : Column 851

despite the amendment we put into the Bill.” If any hon. Member is confused, I do not blame them, because, as I said, the Government are speaking double Dutch.

To make matters worse, the Government have introduced a procedure—the negative assent procedure—involving both Houses, and that will make the situation even more complicated. Let me try to be helpful to the Minister, as always, by suggesting what the Government might do to resolve their internal contradiction. She began by sensibly saying that the implementation date will move from December 2015 to December 2016, but there remains a right for the Secretary of State or Lord President of the Council to make an order to remove those carried-forward entries in December 2015. Given the mood of the House and what has been said generally this afternoon, I suggest that the Government give a firm commitment not to implement that, so that everybody will be clear that the implementation date will be 2016. We will support these amendments, but it would be enormously helpful if the Minister responded positively, recognising the mood of both Houses, by saying, without any equivocation, that there will be a delay in the implementation of IER until December 2016.

Mrs Laing: I was totally taken by surprise to discover that the Minister is urging the House to accept Lords amendment 7 on voters waiting at polling stations at the close of poll. On 27 June 2012, I introduced this very amendment—it was almost word for word—which was known then as new clause 4. I will not repeat the speech I made then. We had a long debate and I was supported in my arguments by the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith)—that is all on the record in Hansard,at column 359 and onwards. That is lucky, because we do not have time to debate that all again this afternoon, and I am delighted that we do not have to do so.

In that debate, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) stood there and told me how everything I said was wrong and that I was silly to waste the House’s time by introducing my new clause, which he said was total rubbish and totally unnecessary. He said that returning officers could deal with all the problems and that this was merely a matter of management.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab) indicated assent.

Mrs Laing: I am glad that the hon. Lady agrees with my recollection of what happened on 27 June. I believe she also agrees with my arguments that these matters should not be left up to individual registration officers, especially given that their ability, resources, experience and enthusiasm vary considerably from one part of the country to another.

Mr Redwood: I remember my hon. Friend’s speech and she made her point very well at the time. I suggest that she claims credit and congratulates the Ministers on realising that she had a better Government policy than they did. We can then be one big happy family.

4.45 pm

Mrs Laing: I thank my right hon. Friend for that point and am coming to it.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 852

I am very glad that the Minister recognises what I and other Members said on 27 June 2012 was right, but, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree, this is also a very good example of why we need a revising Second Chamber rather than another House at the other end of this Palace of Westminster that challenges everything we do and makes things difficult for the process of government. We need a House that looks again at what has been said and done in this Chamber and makes sensible suggestions. In this case, the suggestion made by their lordships is almost exactly the same as the suggestion I made on 27 June; I am delighted that their lordships agree and I am extremely delighted that the Minister is urging the House to accept the amendment.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) on her foresight and vision. It is great that the Government are taking on her suggestion, because there is no doubt that if a queue of people is waiting at the polling station to vote, it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to put a polling clerk or somebody else in the line to act as a marker between those who arrived before 10 o’clock and those who arrived afterwards. I cannot see any great argument for saying that that would delay the whole process, because at the count many boxes come in from all over the constituency and some will arrive first, meaning that their contents can start to be counted, whereas others will arrive later. We got ourselves into a bureaucratic nightmare that could be fixed quite simply. I am delighted that the Government have accepted the Lords amendment, and I congratulate my hon. Friend again on her foresight.

Miss Chloe Smith: I am grateful for the opportunity to add a few comments in response to what has been said. I suspect it comes as no surprise to anyone that this is the quieter end of this afternoon’s work and that we might finish rather sooner than the programme motion suggests.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), if I understood him correctly, urged me to take a slightly different approach to the programme’s implementation date. Let me deal with that first. I stress again the points I made in my opening speech: like the hon. Gentleman, we want the transition to IER to be as clear and easy as possible for electors and administrators. The Electoral Commission is a key part of that work through its delivery of both the nuts and bolts—that is, the forms and operational guidance—and the publicity campaign that will accompany the transition.

It is important that we are all clear on the implementation plan. As my noble Friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire stated in the other place when outlining these amendments, we expect the transition to IER to take place on the time scale set out in the implementation plan published last July. I reassure the House, the Electoral Commission, administrators and electors that we are committed to implementing the transition to IER during 2014 and 2015, resulting in a register published in December 2015 that includes only individually registered electors.

Wayne David: If the Minister is reiterating the point that the Government are committed to the original implementation plan, why are they proposing to change the Bill? She cannot face both ways; it is one or the

29 Jan 2013 : Column 853

other. We all agree that we want clarity, but it must have a firm base. She cannot have her cake and eat it, as I said earlier.

Miss Smith: I humbly suggest that the other place—the revising Chamber that it indeed is—thought that this was a sensible way to go. I simply note, of course, that although I would have liked things to be as originally proposed—2015, with no further detail—this is a concession tabled in response to concerns expressed in the other place.

Wayne David: As the Minister belatedly says, of course this Government amendment was proposed in the other place. What I am suggesting is that, rather than having clarity as the prime motivation, the Government were quite keen to have a grubby little compromise and the Bill deserves better. It is far too important in principle to have a convoluted, contradictory implementation date. What we need, again, is clarity and straightforwardness. The people on the ground—the electoral registration officers—require that.

Miss Smith: I give the hon. Gentleman clarity and straightforwardness, as I have done several times now and will happily do again. The implementation plan for IER remains exactly the same. The Government amendment was tabled in response to concerns expressed in the other place. It strikes a sensible balance, and I note again all the benefits of a two-year transition that we have planned for, such as two canvasses and, of course, a general election where interest in politics will be high, starting in November 2013—that is, the transition, not the general election—backed up by our national campaign with the Electoral Commission to maximise registration. All those elements will now proceed apace, to the plan that we have set out, and I think that that is absolutely clear. I welcome the Electoral Commission’s direct confirmation that

“For practical planning purposes, the Commission’s view is that it will…advise EROs to plan on the basis that the point of removal is likely to be 2015”.

That answers the point and makes things as clear as possible.

Wayne David: The Minister is generous in giving way, but given that she has been unwilling to accept my reasonable suggestion, does she agree that at the end of the day the implementation date of IER will depend on the result of the next general election?

Miss Smith: It is no surprise to anyone to learn there will be a general election in 2015, and it is no surprise to

29 Jan 2013 : Column 854

anyone who reads the detail of the amendments to learn that a key decision will take place in the summer following that election. I make no secret of that. In fact, it is as well for me to have the chance to talk briefly about that because what we see is the ability for the then Government to take a reasoned and data-driven view of the completeness and accuracy of the electoral registers as they will then exist. For that reason, I have faith in the approach of the 2015 stop point being the right one, because I am confident that our plan will have delivered the completeness and accuracy that we all seek.

Wayne David: We are coming to the close of our parliamentary proceedings on the Bill, and I accept what the Minister says: the Government have a principled position, as I believe that we do, in wanting to ensure that as many people as possible who are entitled to be on the electoral register are indeed on it. As was mentioned earlier this afternoon, there is a great deal of concern that the Government might not be doing as much as they could to get groups that are traditionally under-represented on the electoral register engaged in the new process. In the Minister’s concluding remarks, will she reassure the House that that work is under way and will continue apace?

Miss Smith: I certainly do seek to give that reassurance, but not—I would like it noted—in response to the frankly lurid accusations that have been made this afternoon by Members who are no longer present in the Chamber. The Government’s aim is to tackle electoral fraud and to improve the integrity of the register. We are indeed undertaking a programme of activity to get the maximum number of eligible people on to the electoral register. That is vital. The Bill enables the introduction of a modernised electoral registration system that makes it easier for people to vote. It will improve the integrity of the register and, therefore, of the electoral processes that are based on it.

I welcome the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) in seeking for voters to be able to cast their votes at polling stations. I am well aware of the history of that debate, both in this Chamber and in the other place. I recognise that in the course of the Bill we have been able to take a pragmatic approach to the concerns of both Houses and, I hope, to accommodate them in a way that delivers a sensible implementation programme and a Bill of which we can all be proud.

Lords amendment 7 agreed to.

Lords amendments 10, 11, 1 to 4, 6, 8, 9 and 12 to 22 agreed to.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 855

HGV Road User Levy Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

4.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I beg to move,

That the Order of 20 November 2012 (HGV Road User Levy Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on Consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

I wish to put on record the helpful, constructive and conciliatory approach of the Opposition to the programme motion.

Question put and agreed to.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 856

HGV Road User Levy Bill

Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee

Clause 7

rebate of levy

4.57 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 1, page 5, line 4, leave out subsection (3).

I had the opportunity to have an informal chat with the Minister earlier today about the amendment. Although I am aware that technically it may not do the job exactly as required, I shall outline its intent and the background, and I hope the Minister will address both the intent and what is proposed, and deal with the requirements in due course.

The background to the amendment is correspondence from the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, from Miss Amanda Brandon, the legal and policy executive of the BVRLA, and the legal director, Mr Jay Parmar. The BVRLA, as the Minister and colleagues who were on the Committee will know, gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee on 4 December. In response to a question from the Chair of the Committee, Mr Parmar said:

“However, we have some serious concerns about the drafting of the Bill and the impact it could have both financially and economically on our members”.

He went on to say:

“To give the Committee a feel for the figures, we have estimated that our members tend to dispose of around 20,000 trucks every year, so if we look at a typical fleet that is being disposed of being between band E, as proposed in the Bill, and band G, we believe that, under band E, with two months unused lorry road user fee available, the figure is around £1.06 million, and for band G it is £1.6 million. That is the amount that we would not be able to reclaim under the Bill, which would result in a loss of around £2.7 million each year to UK operators. That starts to give the scale of our concern.”––[Official Report, HGV Road User Levy Public Bill Committee, 4 December 2012; c. 35-36, Q87-88.]

I am sure that the Minister has seen the correspondence received this week from the BVRLA, which says:

“The BVRLA is fully supportive of the Bill’s key aims of creating a level playing field between UK and foreign hauliers and ensuring foreign operators make a fair contribution towards using UK roads. However, clause 7(3) will impose a new cost burden on UK owners as they will be restricted in the amount they are able to claim as a refund for the unused proportion of the levy. A vehicle owner today is able to obtain a VED refund without such a restriction when it is being sold or SORN’d”—

a reference to an off-road notice, as the Minister knows. We had this exchange in Committee, so he is very familiar with this territory.

5 pm

Mr Parmar goes on to say:

“To put our concerns into perspective, we estimate that our members alone stand to lose up to £2.7 million each year as a direct impact of the restrictive impact of clause 7(3). This cost impact will be greater if the entire affected UK HGV parc is taken into consideration.”

Finally, he says:

“We are unable to mitigate against this loss as the vehicle may be de-fleeted for a period of time before being able to find a buyer

29 Jan 2013 : Column 857

and when a new buyer is found, then due to market conditions, it is not possible to expect the buyer to pay towards the cost of any unused portion of the levy.”

On 6 December in Committee, I moved amendment 4, a probing amendment that sought to delete subsection (5) of clause 7, which says:

“The Secretary of State may specify conditions with which a person must comply before making an application for a rebate.”

At that time, I had the pleasure of making reference to West Ham United’s great win against Chelsea. Sadly, West Ham has won only one game since we were in Committee, and the Minister knows how long ago that is, so it is not a matter of any satisfaction to me to remember that. This was the Minister’s response to the amendment:

“It is important to retain subsection (5) for administrative purposes. It means that the Secretary of State…will be able to set conditions around making applications for rebates”.––[Official Report, HGV Road User Levy Public Bill Committee, 6 December 2012; c. 94.]

With that reassurance, we withdrew the amendment, because the Minister had clearly said that the matter was covered. The BVRLA’s letter of this week supported our tabling that amendment. It remains concerned because it thinks that the British road haulage industry will take a £2.7 million hit. The ambition on both sides of the House is to help British road haulage against foreign competitors, and yet the BVRLA is still dissatisfied and unhappy with the Government’s response.

Technically, the amendment may not address precisely the issue that the BVRLA wishes to address. However, it has continued to raise the issue of the £2.7 million deficit, and we are keen to hear what the Minister has to say on the matter.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for tabling his amendment. I hope that I will be able to persuade him that it does not deal with the concerns raised by the BVRLA, which I should like also to address. I want to try to prove to him that his amendment would potentially, if we were not careful, give a free £200 to an awful lot of people. I hope he will agree with me on that. We discussed the point about clause 7 in Committee when the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) raised the issue of 10 monthly and 12 monthly payments.

Removing clause 7(3) would remove the annual rebating formula and mean that all the rebates would be made under subsection (4), which applies to all periods of time over one month and less than one year. Under the European directive, the charges and rebating formula must be the same for both UK and foreign-registered vehicles.

In selecting the charges for different time periods, we have chosen to offer the annual levy at a discount compared with the purchase of 12 monthly levy payments. That is also compatible with the Eurovignette directive, which states that the annual charge may be no less than 10 times the monthly charge.

The hon. Gentleman’s amendment would not have its intended effect, which I believe is to ensure that UK hauliers would be able to claim the rebates in twelfths rather than tenths, as proposed by the Bill. As he has rightly pointed out, I am aware of what the BVRLA has

29 Jan 2013 : Column 858

put together. It has been lobbying for a change to the calculation because at the moment it estimates that a UK operator could incur a small loss when it delicenses a vehicle—typically when it is sold—compared with the existing rebating regime for vehicle excise duty, which rebates in twelfths. The BVRLA has identified that a small extra cost to operators could be introduced by the way in which the levy is rebated compared with how VED is rebated.

Currently, when a vehicle is delicensed—typically when it is sold—the previous owner can claim back the outstanding whole months of VED, with the rebate calculation done in twelfths. From the introduction of the levy in 2014, UK operators will only be able to reclaim VED on the same basis that the levy can be reclaimed, namely in tenths. Setting the annual rate at 10 times the monthly rate complies with EU law and will maximise the revenue from the monthly charges. That means, in effect, that it is discounted when compared with the cost of the 12 monthly levy charges.

The decision to offer rebates in tenths was made, as I explained in Committee and as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, to prevent foreign hauliers from paying for a year, using a vehicle for a month and then reclaiming 11 months. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment would have the effect—although this is not its intent—of removing that.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I accept the explanation about tenths and twelfths and that we do not want to give an advantage to foreign hauliers, but the question that was raised in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) has still clearly not been answered to the satisfaction of the BVRLA. When someone surrenders VED—a tax disc—they can claim back, but if a vehicle is off the road while it is in the process of being sold, which could take two or three months, and is accruing the levy charge, can that be claimed back? If it can, I think that will answer the problem.

Stephen Hammond: I hope that I am about to address exactly that point. I welcome the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk to his place, because he raised the point about the levy rebate, which I hope my opening remarks have addressed.

The BVLRA estimates that rebating the charge in tenths rather than twelfths might cost its members, as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse has said, up to £2.7 million a year. That estimate is on the high side, to say the least, because the BVRLA assumes that half the refunds would be for vehicles in the most expensive levy band, whereas, in fact, only 4% of the UK fleet is in that band. Most UK vehicles—83%—are in bands costing between 36% and 65% less. I would therefore question whether the cost is as high as estimated.

The BVRLA also assumes that all refunds are claimed in the 10th month of the VED cycle for each vehicle, which is a worst-case scenario. In fact, there is a peak in vehicle disposals at around month three or four of the cycle, reflecting the fact that vehicles are often purchased in September and sold in January, to deal with Christmas business. The loss for any vehicle at this point is some 60% or 70% less than the worst-case figure.

We estimate that most vehicles will lose in the region of between £30 and £50 when delicensed. That is not a

29 Jan 2013 : Column 859

regular event, but it would happen, for example, when a vehicle is sold. The loss therefore needs to be set in the context of the vehicle’s whole lifetime, which can be about 10 years. For example, a typical vehicle that lasts 10 years and is sold twice during that period at a typical stage in the VED-levy cycle would incur between £60 and £100 in rebate costs over its life, because the loss is incurred only when the vehicle is sold or delicensed for other reasons. That cost equates to about £6 a year. Operators can avoid that cost by selling the vehicle taxed or by disposing of it only at the end of the VED-levy cycle so that there is no amount to reclaim.

As the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse said, the BVRLA gave oral evidence to the Committee and raised this point, but it did not give it the prominence that it has been given subsequently. I am pleased that we have been able to discuss it today because it did not feature in our discussion about levy rebates. I am pleased that I have been able to clear the point up. The BVRLA could have submitted written evidence on this point to the Committee, but it did not. It is helpful that it has been raised by way of amendment this afternoon.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): The point I raised on instinct, on looking at the Bill, was that this was not a level playing field between those who come into the UK and pay the levy, and those who are in the UK and pay duty and now the levy. Although the Minister has said that the loss will be 70% less than the worst-case scenario and only about £6, it is still not a level playing field. There will be a loss for the leasing companies in the UK. The companies say that the loss will be £2.7 million a year. If it is 70% of £2.7 million a year, it is still a large hit for British business.

Stephen Hammond: As I have said, the figure of £2.7 million is predicated on half the vehicles in the fleet being in the largest band, whereas only 4% are in that band. There will be a very small loss, if there is a loss at all. The £2.7 million figure is clearly an overestimate.

I seek to persuade the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse that under the amendment, all rebating would be done under clause 7(4), which is designed for shorter periods of time than one year. Rebating the annual levy under that subsection would not resolve the tenths versus twelfths issue, but it would allow some foreign operators to drive on the UK’s roads for free for up to two months when they purchase an annual levy. That is because, as we discussed in Committee, they would be able to claim a rebate for whole outstanding months at the monthly levy rate, rather than at the discounted rate.

As well as the potential for free use of the roads, a further consequence of using clause 7(4) as the rebating mechanism would be to allow anyone to make a claim for more than they had paid, without ever driving on the UK’s roads. For example, if an operator purchased a levy starting at a future point in time, say 1 February, and immediately asked for a rebate, they would be able to claim 12 times the monthly rate because the levy period would not have started. That would contrast with the actual cost of the 12-month levy, which is discounted to 10 times the monthly rate.

The consequential amendments would mean that clause 7(4) could also be used for annual rebating and would remove the references to clause 7(3) in clause 7(8),

29 Jan 2013 : Column 860

which deals with the level of the rebate. Given the unintended consequences of providing updates only through clause 7(4), and given the relatively small value of the typical loss, which is incurred only if the vehicle is delicensed or sold, we do not propose to change the rebating formula from tenths to twelfths.

I will keep the situation under review. I hope that with those reassurances, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse will withdraw the amendment.

Jim Fitzpatrick: We are very grateful to the Minister for his response. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) raised this matter strongly in Committee. We supported the inquiry by the BVRLA because this seemed to be an issue that was slipping through the cracks. The Minister reassured us in Committee. He has said solidly that he will keep the matter under review. We do not want to see this develop into a disadvantage for British road haulage.

Given the assurances that the Minister has reaffirmed today, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Third Reading

5.14 pm

Stephen Hammond: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As the House knows, this Bill introduces a new levy for all heavy goods vehicles that weigh 12 tonnes or more and that are kept on, or use, the UK road network. The levy is aimed at recognising the damage that HGVs do to our roads, so that a contribution is made for that.

The Bill has, I am pleased to say, enjoyed cross-party support as it has proceeded through the Ways and Means motion, Second Reading, Committee and now—I hope—Third Reading. With some exceptions and questions it has been broadly welcomed by industry, with agreement on the fundamental point that vehicles that use and cause wear to our roads should make a payment to take account of that. The HGV road user levy will, for the first time, require foreign-registered HGVs to make a contribution to the costs of maintaining the road network that they use.

Subject to the Bill being passed in the House today, although the financial burden of road maintenance will be largely borne by UK taxpayers, from April 2014 it will no longer fall solely to them. Our intention is for the levy to apply to all categories of public road in the UK, and to UK and foreign-registered HGVs equally. The Government plan to implement the levy from April 2014 for UK and foreign-registered hauliers, and I am working to ensure that the process to procure and develop the necessary vehicle payment systems is completed. That is being done to a short time scale, but as I stated in Committee, I am confident it can be achieved.

As stated in previous discussions, UK hauliers will pay the levy in a single transaction with vehicle excise duty—VED—when it is renewed from April 2014. Foreign hauliers do not currently contribute to road maintenance through a vignette or other form of payment, even though such charges are common in other countries and our hauliers pay them when they use roads overseas. Foreign-registered hauliers who have long enjoyed an advantage over our own haulage industry will now have

29 Jan 2013 : Column 861

that advantage removed. All main parties have wanted to introduce a measure to correct that imbalance for many years, and I am delighted that this Bill, which will go a long way towards addressing it, is receiving its Third Reading.

HGVs play a crucial role in our economy by supplying businesses and servicing consumers. More than two thirds of goods moved within the UK travel by road on an HGV. It is estimated that foreign hauliers make around 1.5 million trips in the UK annually, and the levy will ensure that they pay a fair amount when they use UK roads, and increase opportunities for UK hauliers in international trade.

As colleagues in the House may be aware, any form of road user charge is subject to strict conditions set out in the Eurovignette directive, in which the maximum daily charge is specified as €11, which is likely to rise to €12 by 2014 to compensate for inflation. By that stage it will equate to about £10 per day, which is what we intend to charge to the largest foreign vehicles that use roads in the UK. I recognise that many trips by foreign hauliers last longer than one day, so they will also be able to pay the levy for different periods—daily, weekly, monthly or annually, for up to one year. For the largest vehicles, the annual charge will be £1,000, and proportionately less for the smallest vehicles. Overall, most vehicles that come to the UK are in the heaviest two bands.

The Government have estimated that the revenue gained by charging foreign hauliers will probably be between £18.7 million and £23.2 million annually. I appreciate—this was discussed in Committee at some length—that that may not be an enormous sum in the grand scheme of things, and I am sure some of my colleagues would like it to be higher, but the levy is set at the highest level allowed by the Eurovignette directive. Other measures—principally the reduction in VED—mean that nine out of 10 UK vehicles will pay no more than they do now. That will ensure a fairer deal for UK-registered HGV operators, who should not, and will not, have to bear an additional financial burden as a result of the levy. As we have announced previously, details of vehicle excise duty will given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in due course.

With those brief comments, I hope that the House supports the Third Reading of the Bill.

5.19 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick: I delighted that I have been joined on the Opposition Front Bench by the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), and by the newest member of the shadow transport team, my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue).

Despite the previous debate, this is a good Bill, and the Opposition welcome it, as we did on Second Reading. I commended the coalition for introducing it to support British haulage, and I commend the Minister and his predecessor, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who was the architect of the Bill—he built on that which Labour left him when it left office. It is clear from pre-legislative scrutiny and debates in Committee that the Bill has cross-party and cross-industry support.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 862

The Opposition raised a number of issues in Committee: hypothecation, visible evidence of payment, rebates, meandering Irish cross-border roads—an issue covered by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and others—and road safety. We also dealt with the Bill’s timetable, enforcement and reduced pollution certificates. On all those issues, I am happy to say that the Minister was able to respond so positively and provide enough reassurance that none of the amendments we tabled was pressed to a Division. It is to the credit of the Minister and his officials that they responded so positively to the probing to which we exposed them. He reassured both sides of the Committee that the Bill should be supported.

I should make one or two brief comments on the issues we have raised. The Minister made a stout philosophical defence against hypothecation, and the Opposition could not argue against it because we too would have opposed hypothecation. He therefore made a lot of sense when he said that hypothecation was not an appropriate way forward.

On enforcement and the question of using some of the money as supplementary funds for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, the Minister reassured us on his confidence in the system. We have moved on a lot—we have the success of the congestion charge in London and the technology for automatic number plate recognition cameras—and the Committee was reassured that we have the technology to ensure that the system works.

The one question on which those on both sides of the House have raised concerns was road safety and the disproportionate number of crashes caused by foreign vehicles. Perhaps the Bill will deter some foreign hauliers from coming to the UK, which might in turn reduce the number of crashes caused by foreign hauliers. In that respect, the Bill will have an impact on road safety.

The Opposition also raised the question of giving a tokenistic measure of support for road safety. We suggested using some of the money raised—either from fines or the levy—for road safety purposes. It was suggested that The Times cycling campaign, which has been championed by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State and other hon. Members, was an appropriate campaign to benefit from the levy. That was clearly not going to happen, but we considered it and demonstrated cross-party support for the campaign and for road safety in general, and so indicated that we need to maintain our rigour in respect of trying to reduce the numbers of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. This measure ought to help in that regard.

The Bill is a good Bill. It will make a contribution to rebalancing the playing field for UK hauliers. The previous Government should have introduced it. I discussed the matter with the Treasury Minister responsible at the time, and he too could not work out why we did not introduce it. I assume it was too late in our legislative cycle. That is slightly embarrassing, but Labour has none the less supported the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee, as we support it on Third Reading.

We appreciate the efforts of officials and my hon. Friends who supported the official Opposition in Committee. We also appreciate the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), the Chair of the Select Committee on Transport—she was in the Chamber on Second Reading and is here

29 Jan 2013 : Column 863

again on Third Reading—whose Committee helped in our deliberations. We want the Bill to make progress and are pleased we are debating it today.

5.25 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I very much welcome the Bill. I understand that the Minister is bound by the vignette-type legislation from Europe, which means that we can charge a maximum of €11 a day, and in the future we must look to increase that significantly. Someone running a heavy goods vehicle from France is helped significantly by the fact that the diesel is 10p to 20p a litre cheaper. A lorry coming over here can have a couple of tanks of diesel on it and deliver goods all over the country using it—so there is still a very big advantage to be had. Moreover, a British lorry using motorways all the way to the south of France will have to pay nearly €1,000 for a return trip at the péages. It is bad enough with a domestic car, let alone the charges for an HGV.

This is a good start to making the playing field more level, and I recognise that the shadow Minister was graceful in accepting that it should have been done on Labour’s watch. I am glad that he supports the Bill. I welcome the Bill, but our hauliers have suffered greatly over the years from unfair competition, with lower-priced fuel coming across in the lorries, which then do a lot of business in this country because they can outbid our hauliers. I look forward to seeing this levy rise substantially.

I have one final point. Many foreign lorries that come over here seem to have a sat-nav system for domestic cars, and they end up going down some of our rural roads, taking out bridges and walls—even cottages. It is very hard to reverse those huge HGVs when they have gone down a tiny country lane or through a very small village. That also needs to be looked at seriously.

5.27 pm

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, welcome the Bill and I agree that it has been a long time coming. The Transport Committee first looked at this issue midway through the last Parliament, which is quite a few years ago. We continued in the present Session, and we looked at the issue in two ways. First, we looked at it in relation to the haulage industry, including fair treatment of and fair competition for the British haulage industry. Secondly, we looked at it in relation to road safety. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) has said, we noted the high proportion of accidents caused by lorries from the continent. We attributed that to lower safety standards, and noted issues that we felt needed to be addressed and action that should be taken.

The Transport Committee in the last Parliament certainly shared the frustration that no action was taken. It did appear at one stage that a Bill would be brought forward on the subject, but it did not happen. I am pleased that the matter has been taken up in this Parliament. It is important that the Bill should have been looked at in such detail in Committee, and it is stronger as a result. I give it my full support, and to those who question the worth of Select Committees, I say that it might have taken at least two Parliaments and many years, but we have got there in the end.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 864

5.29 pm

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I, too, join the welcome for the Bill from both sides of the House. Until now, foreign-registered lorries using our roads have not paid anything towards their construction or maintenance, whereas UK hauliers pay tolls and other charging schemes when they travel around the rest of Europe. Clearly, foreign vehicles cause a lot of wear and tear to our roads on the approximately 1.5 million trips they make to the UK each year, and it is not right that the UK taxpayer has to foot the Bill for all of that wear and tear. The Bill will change that by introducing a levy on all heavy goods vehicles. For the first time, foreign-registered hauliers will make a contribution towards the wear and tear they cause to our roads.

The introduction of the levy will help to level the playing field between UK hauliers and those from the European mainland. I accept that, because of the European directive that limits the daily charge to €11, the effects of the Bill will be limited, but it is still a welcome step in the right direction and I hope that the €11 limit will be increased significantly in the future. I also welcome the Government’s intention to make consequential reductions in vehicle excise duty to ensure a fair deal for UK HGV drivers. It has been estimated that 94% of UK hauliers will pay no more than they do under the present arrangements.

From a constituency point of view, I welcome the Government’s decision to exempt islands’ goods vehicles—goods vehicles restricted to working on a small island—from the levy. Given the appalling state of the roads on the small islands in my constituency, it would not be right to impose on them the same levy as for those using motorways on the mainland—that aspect of the Bill is certainly fair.

The Bill has gone through the House without amendment—indeed, without any Divisions—so I am sure that Third Reading will be unopposed. I wish it a speedy passage through the Lords.

5.31 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I want to raise a couple of issues just to put them on the record. We have had a debate, and eventually an agreement, not to press any of the worthy amendments to a vote. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said, the Bill has been a long time in gestation, going back to our time in office. People wanted to see something done, a point made by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and felt strongly that there was an imbalance and a disadvantage to the UK haulage business for many reasons, including diesel prices and the lack of any contribution to our road network.

Some of the points that have been raised are sound. Kent county council made an excellent contribution to the argument for hypothecation on the basis that a large percentage of the vehicles coming into the UK use its road system that it then has to maintain. Given that the Government are now in the ludicrous position of rate-capping every council—they call it council tax freezing; it is rate capping—the money available to Kent through the normal levy powers is diminishing, so it was looking to see whether this measure would bring some money

29 Jan 2013 : Column 865

into its coffers to help it to maintain its roads. However, we are told that it will all go into the Consolidated Fund—into the back pocket of the Treasury.

A colleague from the north-east of England made a good case for the need to upgrade the poor quality roads in the north-east of England. The point was made very well that to drive from Scotland to Tyneside, a major European hub for roll-on/roll-off transport and tourism, it is necessary to drive down what is virtually a country road for about 20 or 30 miles. I have done that journey and can verify that feeling of having lost my way because there is no decent road network leading to that major port. I can see why hypothecation would make a lot of sense. I made a bid for hypothecation for a major bridge project in Avon gorge in my constituency, a choke point where accidents happen all the time. It was decided, however, that there would be no hypothecation.

I still question the decision that the money raised should all go to the Consolidated Fund. There are two points about that. One of those points is to level the playing field up in terms of making charges on those from abroad who use the roads, and who at the moment do not do pay. However, everyone who gave evidence from the Freight Transport Association made a bid for some, if not all, of that money to be put into the road network. The idea that some of that money will go into the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency and some into registration recognition cameras is a small point in policing, but that does not raise the quality of the road network, which is what the transport companies were speaking about.

The question we need to ask over the years is whether the money going into the Consolidated Fund comes out at the other end so as to benefit the road user in any way, particularly heavy goods vehicles, which deliver goods to the shops, homes and companies in this country. That is one question that I leave to be considered over time. It should be looked at in the review that the Minister kindly offered during the debate on the amendments. I like the idea of reviews, because although I am sure the Bill is grand and well thought through, there is always the law of unintended consequences to be taken into account.

The second thing I want to address is the question dealt with by our amendments today. In reading the Bill, one thing was clear to me. I do not know the kind of transport detail that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton and others seem to know—including, possibly, the Chair of the Transport Committee—but I have a large number of heavy goods vehicle depots in my constituency, in and around Grangemouth, which is the only recognised totally inter-modal hub in Scotland. It has road, rail and a major shipping port—the biggest container base in Scotland. People tell me that cashing in their HGV licence at particular times can be sensible business; the problem now is that they have to work out how to cash it in at the same time as not losing money on the levy. I know that the Minister said that the figure of £2.7 million that the leasing companies gave us was high—possibly every vehicle had to be in the worst category, and so on. The point I was asking about was the principle and what, on first look, I thought was a dislocation between the fact that someone who does not come into the UK and does not pay their levy—because

29 Jan 2013 : Column 866

they are not coming in—faces a zero sum and the fact that someone with a British-registered vehicle who pays the levy but cashes it in at the wrong time will be out of pocket.

The Minister says the figure turns out to be only £6 a year. That may be the case, and that may all right for the industry. However, the industry would not have rung the alarm bells—it perhaps rang a bigger bell that it should have—if it had not felt that there was some justification being made for the concept of placing an imposition on UK hauliers. That was not the point of the Bill; the point was to place an imposition entirely on non-British-registered vehicles coming into the country. If, as a consequence, we put an imposition on what is an already very burdensome industry to work in, with the cost of diesel and all the regulations that have to be faced—I get it all the time, and I sympathise with Malcolm’s, Russell’s and all the others based in my constituency who tell me they carry small amounts, but over a large number of vehicles and a large number of trips, which makes them uncompetitive compared with others coming into the country—we will have failed in what we set out to do. We set out to level the playing field up, not push UK road hauliers up a bit further so that they do not bridge the gap to the point intended by the levy.

We need to ensure that the review is a serious promise from the Minister—that he will look at the consequences and at the figures at the end of the year, and that every year he will talk to the people in the road haulage industry and see whether we have got it right. I commend him and his team for bringing the Bill forward. I know it is difficult—it was difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse when we were in government to do this—and the Minister has marched a long mile. I just hope that he will continue seriously to review the unintended consequences of the clauses that we were concerned about and that, at the end of the day, if they need amending, he will come back and amend them on the Floor of the House.

5.38 pm

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I, too, commend the Minister and the Government for bringing this Bill forward. I fear that it will be lost in the media tomorrow, given the previous business in the Chamber today. However, the wider population would welcome the Bill. When I speak to hauliers across my constituency, I know that they are grateful for the freezing of fuel duty, but this Bill starts levelling the playing field up.

I hear what the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) said about hypothecation and Kent, and all the rest of it, but I would make this argument. People might think that the High Peak is a little rural backwater, but believe you me, they probably all walk, sit and drive on the limestone that comes from our area. If we are going to hypothecate, which I do not think we should, I would argue for more money because our roads get so much stick from the wagons that carry that limestone.

Michael Connarty: The hon. Gentleman can be assured that I support him on that point, because the roads are in a terrible state throughout the whole country.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 867

Andrew Bingham: That was what we inherited in 2010, but we will do what we can.

I welcome the proposals, as I have said. We have lots of haulage in the High Peak. I know that the local quarries try to use rail when they can, but road is the best option because of the rurality of the area. I see more and more foreign wagons coming in and out. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who is no longer in his place, made the point about foreign wagons not following their sat-navs. On Saturday night, I was trying to get through part of my constituency and, lo and behold, a huge wagon was blocking the road for the umpteenth time. It had got stuck under a low bridge, and the driver had probably not seen the road signs. That seems remarkable to me, as Derbyshire county council does everything it can to divert those wagons, but it still does not seem to work. The big operators in the High Peak, many of which have dozens of wagons, and even the small owner-operators who cart stone will welcome the measures, given the amount of foreign wagons that are coming in. This is all about supporting our local British businesses, and the Bill goes some way towards doing that.

I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton about what we can charge. I would like to charge more, provided that the discount on vehicle excise duty was available for our own wagon drivers, and I hope that one day we will be able to do so. We shall have to see how the EU goes on that one. There is unfair competition at the moment, and the foreign wagons have the advantage, which is wrong. When our wagons go across to Europe, the drivers have to pay road tolls. That applies, for example, to those who drive the length of France, unless they avoid the main autoroutes. These measures are trying to straighten some of that out. As I have said, I would like to see the maximum charge increased if possible. We have also talked about the damage to the roads. Those wagons are big, and many of us will have had people come into our surgeries to complain about the noise of them going past at all times of the day.

I welcome the Bill. We had a good Committee stage, with quite a few amendments and some good discussions. It was quite a pleasant Committee to be on, actually. I applaud the Minister for bringing forward the Bill. I will resist the temptation to go on about how nothing happened for 13 years, but I have got it on the record anyway. I thank the Minister and everyone involved in the Committee. Let us now bring it on and get the measures up and running by next April, or as soon as we can. I can assure the Minister that I am not saying all these nice words just to get my bypass, but will he bear it in mind?

5.42 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I should also like to thank all the Committee members, the Minister and the shadow Minister for working together so well to get this Bill through. It is always good to see positive work coming out of the House. We all like to see that happen, and this is a good example of it. The House can be proud of this good work.

I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland in which road transport is, to put it simply, the key to the economy. It is also the key to the economy of Northern

29 Jan 2013 : Column 868

Ireland. The Freight Transport Association and the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association have collectively expressed concern about clause 7(3), which deals with the cost burden. They felt that there had been a clear undertaking that there would be no extra costs for UK hauliers. The FTA has stated that there will be a cost of some £2.7 million, but I understand that the Minister has given an assurance that that figure has been greatly overestimated. If that is the case, it will be good news. I hope that he can give us confirmation of that, and reassure the FTA and the BVRLA that the provisions will not adversely affect their industry. It will be important to get such an assurance on the record in

Hansard

, because the people out there who contact us will want to know the final word on the matter.

The FTA has identified three issues

“where current details are sparse or under review and where further consultation is expected”,

and I would like the Minister to give us some clarification on them. The first point is that the arrangements for the operation of the levy in Northern Ireland involve the only UK land border with another EU member state. The second point is about compensation arrangements for holders of RPCs—reduced pollution certificates—which will be withdrawn following the introduction of the levy. The third point is about the mitigation of the disproportionate increase in charges for operators of 2x2 axle, 28-tonne articulated vehicles—commonly referred to as “urban artics”—used for deliveries to pubs and retail stores in town and city centres. I ask this question because I have some of them in my constituency, and I suspect that other Members will have them in their constituencies as well. We are not being awkward; we are just looking for the necessary clarification. I am sure that the Minister will give us the reassurance we need in his response.

It is not often that all the political parties work together to initiate legislation on behalf of an industry. There seems to be a real willingness to make sure that it all happens—for my constituents in Strangford and for those involved in the freight trade business. There are many of them. I wish to represent them at the highest level in this House. I therefore seek reassurances from the Minister.

5.45 pm

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): It is a pleasure to join the voices welcoming this Bill. I remember that when I was elected, the very first oral question I was selected to ask about was on this very topic. Sadly, it was too far down the Order Paper to get heard that day, but we are now three years on and we have finally tackled this problem. It is a big issue when haulage businesses small and large feel that there is unfair competition whereby overseas hauliers can use our roads without paying anything. As we heard earlier, they sometimes do not even buy fuel over here, while our hauliers pay a large amount of money. I think this Bill takes us towards the fairness whereby those who use our services and our roads should pay for them. The Government could do further work in different areas to get to the same place, but that is not for today’s debate.

My view is that vehicle excise duty has had its day, and that its long-established purpose is now usurped by different ways of enforcement. We could move to a

29 Jan 2013 : Column 869

stage where we do not need the duty and have a separate charge for all hauliers to use our roads. That would probably be a lot easier to administer than the scheme we are going to end up with, but I guess that the Minister will say that it is a Treasury decision so we cannot get into it today, but I think that is the direction in which we should travel.

I have never been a fan of hypothecation, but I see logic in using this revenue to address some of the issues affecting our main trunk roads. If someone happens to live near them and is blighted by the noise and the pollution, that presents a real problem, and there has been a lack of money to deal with it. I have two sites on the A38 in Amber Valley, which are down as priority sites for noise remediation work. Unfortunately, that means that it will not actually happen until something like 2020, so this money could be used to accelerate that sort of work. The Minister is more than welcome to come and hear how much noise is created. I think it would be a positive step to say, “It is lorries that cause that noise; here is some extra revenue taken from lorries; let us tackle that issue.” That could take away the blight from which nearby residents suffer.

Overall, I give this measure a warm welcome. It is long overdue. I look forward to April 2014 when we will start to see it in place. I wish the Minister all the best for getting in place everything that he needs to progress the Bill.

5.48 pm

Stephen Hammond: With the leave of the House, I would like to make a few concluding remarks and to respond to some of the points made in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) made the case, as did several other Members, about the size of the fee charged. As I have explained earlier on Third Reading, on the Ways and Means motion and on Second Reading, we are limited to what level of fee we can charge. I am sure that we will, as with other aspects of the Bill, keep it under review. My hon. Friend went down the line of suggesting that sat-navs be used for HGVs, but I am going to leave that issue for another day.

I welcome the support of hon. Members across the House, and I particularly welcome the support of the Chairman of the Select Committee and the points she made about road safety. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) mentioned those reports, too, and I think road safety is one issue that has cross-party support, with all of us determined to continue the UK’s good record on road safety and never to be complacent about it. We all want to see it continually improving.

I remember that I was glad in Committee to satisfy some of the concerns of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) about some parts of his community. I also noted his plea for a higher charge.

I was not entirely surprised to hear the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) refer to the Tory Chancellor’s back pocket, as he had used the same phrase several times in Committee. Although

29 Jan 2013 : Column 870

he expressed sympathy for Kent, he will be unsurprised to learn that I have little. If it were to exchange its proportion of these sums for a hypothecated amount, it would be considerably less than the Chancellor made available for local road maintenance in the autumn statement, and continues to make available.

However, the hon. Gentleman was right in saying that I had promised to bear in mind the views of the BVRLA. I understand the concern that the organisation has expressed about size, but the analysis shows that the number of vehicles likely to be affected is relatively small. Even when the “urban artics” mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) are taken into account, it is clear that 98% of the fleet in the United Kingdom will be less than £50 worse off. In fact, very few people will be worse off as a result of the Bill.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) enjoyed the experience of serving on the Committee. I think that it was an enjoyable experience, although I am not sure that all Bill Committees are quite as enjoyable or, indeed, give Bills such a speedy passage. I am glad that my hon. Friend did not press the point that he raised on Second Reading about the Mottram-Tintwistle bypass. I know that the Highways Agency owes him a letter, and I have chased that up today. He will receive letters from both the agency and me, but no promise that the bypass will necessarily arrive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) may not have been able to ask the oral question that he had tabled, but he certainly made his points eloquently this afternoon, and I thank him for his contribution.

The hon. Member for Strangford raised a couple of issues that we also considered in Committee. Our discussions about criss-crossing of the border continue, but I am convinced that we shall reach a satisfactory conclusion with the Government of southern Ireland. As for the small “urban artics”, the hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that although some are in lighter weight categories, they often have fewer axles and are therefore disproportionately damaging to the network.

Vehicles with reduced pollution certificates pay lower rates of VED. Because some are paying the minimum levels set by the Commission, we cannot reduce the levels further. Our solution is to change the nature of the benefit provided for vehicles holding RPCs. In future, such vehicles will receive a grant to the current value of the VED discount. I hope that that addresses the concerns expressed by the Freight Transport Association.

I thank all Members who have taken part in our informed, constructive debates, not just this afternoon but throughout the Bill’s earlier stages. I also reiterate my thanks to the Chairmen of the Committee and the Clerks who supported it. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse for acknowledging that the Bill deserved all-party support. His scrutiny was constructive and sensible, and I was delighted to have his support for the Bill. I wish it a speedy passage.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 871

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Terms and Conditions of Employment

That the draft Parental Leave (EU Directive) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 18 December 2012, be approved.—(Greg Hands.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Rating and Valuation

That the draft Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 8 January, be approved.—(Greg Hands.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Dangerous Drugs

That the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 8 January, be approved.—(Greg Hands.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Defence Procurement

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 14596/12, a Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on transposition of Directive 2009/81/EC on Defence and Security Procurement; notes the Government’s approach in the timely implementation of the Directive; and

29 Jan 2013 : Column 872

further supports the Government’s proactive engagement with the Commission and our European Allies in the development of a ‘Comprehensive strategy for the defence sector’ while protecting national security interests.

—(Greg Hands.)

Question agreed to.

petition

Home to School Transport

5.54 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): First, may I congratulate two of my constituents, Michelle Bainbridge and Stephen Guy, on running such an excellent campaign in Sherburn village against the home to school transport arrangements, and on discovering that the problem lay not with the local authority, Durham county council, but with national legislation? I also thank them for introducing this petition, which has attracted hundreds of signatures.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Durham,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the Home to School Transport Guidance and Education Act 1996 does not make adequate provision for children travelling safely to and from school and that it should be amended to set a new statutory threshold of 2 miles to access free school transport; to properly define a safe route to school as one that considers issues of lighting topography, degree of isolation and other relevant matters and defines a safe route as one that can be walked safely by secondary school aged children without being accompanied by an adult.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to amend the Home to School Transport Guidance and Education Act 1996 accordingly and ensure that all households in receipt of any earnings replacement or means tested benefit or tax credits shall have access to free home school transport.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.

[P001153]

29 Jan 2013 : Column 873

Epilepsy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Greg Hands.)

5.56 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I thank Mr Speaker for granting this Adjournment debate, which serves to give the relevant Minister—who I am pleased to see has just arrived in the Chamber; perhaps I rose to speak a little too quickly—an opportunity to update us on how some of the changes to the health service locally and nationally, such as in respect of commissioning, will help to improve the lives of those who suffer from epilepsy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) secured a Westminster Hall debate on epilepsy in November 2011 and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) introduced an excellent ten-minute rule Bill on epilepsy in November 2010. I am pleased to see that the chair of the all-party group on epilepsy, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys), is present.

As is the case for all Members, hundreds of my constituents suffer from epilepsy, and I am grateful to many of them for their input into this debate. I am especially grateful to Ashleah Skinner, who has a great deal of knowledge of and interest in epilepsy and disability issues. No one understands the difficulties and challenges that face epileptics better than those who suffer from the illness.

For the record, I should point out that epilepsy is defined as a tendency to have recurrent seizures, sometimes called fits. The seizure is caused by a sudden burst of excess electrical activity in the brain, causing a temporary disruption of the normal messages passing between brain cells. Epilepsy is, of course, not one condition but a composite of about 40 different types of seizure and up to 50 different syndromes.

An epilepsy diagnosis can be a shattering blow to the individual concerned. All sorts of things that have been taken for granted are no longer automatic: they might lose their driving licence, for instance, or their employment, which might in turn lead to benefit dependency. Approximately 600,000 people have epilepsy, which is about one in 100 people, and every day about 87 people are diagnosed with it, which amounts to 32,000 each year.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this very important health issue to the Floor of the House. One other issue relating to epilepsy that my constituents raise with me is holiday insurance. Does she think we should be doing more about that, whether directly with the insurance companies, with the overall body or with individuals?

Kate Hoey: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I know of his continuing interest in this issue and the contributions he has made in the House. If we were to get into a discussion about insurance and travel, I could talk a great deal about the discrimination that some travel companies display, and obviously he has particular expertise in this issue. Such discrimination is all part of a lack of understanding and knowledge of

29 Jan 2013 : Column 874

epilepsy among the general public, which runs through this whole debate. That perhaps applies to travel companies as well.

About 1,150 people a year die from epilepsy, with three dying every day, and about 40% of all these deaths and 59% of the childhood deaths are potentially avoidable. However, the new research shows that the level of epilepsy mortality is rising. Achieving absence of seizure—freedom from seizure—is key to saving lives and saving money, as well over 100,000 people are living with avoidable seizures. Just last week, Epilepsy Action, one of the important charities within the Joint Epilepsy Council, which brings together all the campaign groups on epilepsy, published a new report “A Critical Time for Epilepsy in England”. Its launch was hosted in the House of Commons by the all-party group on epilepsy, which is chaired by the hon. Member for South Thanet. I recommend the report to anyone who wishes to find out more about what more needs to be done.

Between April and September 2012—the report is very up to date—Epilepsy Action carried out a survey of clinical commissioning groups, acute trusts, local authorities and people with epilepsy. I have read the report and it backs up a number of the trends that I have heard about and a number of the concerns that individual constituents have raised with me.

Jim Shannon: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Kate Hoey: I will. We have slightly more time tonight, although I know that perhaps not all Members here want to stay until 7 pm.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Lady for her graciousness in giving way again. Some 20,000 people in Northern Ireland have epilepsy, which is one in every 90 people. Does she feel, as I do, that the immensity of the scale of epilepsy in the population is unknown? How can we raise that profile and make more people aware of what is happening?

Kate Hoey: I was pleased to see just how much discussion there had been in the House of Commons on this issue, and it is crucial that we, as individual MPs, raise it more with our local authorities, health acute trusts, hospitals and GPs, as understanding is so important in this matter.

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con) rose

Kate Hoey: I of course give way to the chair of the all-party group.

Laura Sandys: It is excellent that the hon. Lady was able to secure this debate, particularly in the light of the recent report. As an epileptic, I find that one of the issues we face is that although the condition affects half a million people there is a stigma around it, and that has stopped clinicians and society in general addressing the underlying issues we face. It is incredibly important that we have this sort of debate and ensure that we are more public about what epilepsy is if we are to give it the right level of attention.

Kate Hoey: I thank the hon. Lady for that. She, along with the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who unfortunately could not be here today and who has also raised this issue as an epileptic, has shown that it is very important that the public

29 Jan 2013 : Column 875

understand that people can have epilepsy and still carry on living a normal life—if being a Member of Parliament is indeed a normal life.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I have dealt with epileptics who have collapsed in front of me and had a fit. Does the hon. Lady think that we are doing all we can to educate our children at school on how to recognise epilepsy and, just as important, what to do with someone who is suffering a fit?

Kate Hoey: Although things may have improved, the position in education authorities across the country is patchy. I hope that the Minister might refer to that in his speech.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South, who introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on this matter, is now in her place. I know that she will want to say something at some stage.

I referred to the Epilepsy Action report, and it is important that people look at it because it showed some worrying results. I am sure that the Minister will have read it. Two thirds of the clinical commissioning groups—66%—do not have or do not intend to produce a written needs assessment of the health and social care needs of people with epilepsy. Only 27% of the 113 out of 149 local authorities that replied included a section in their joint strategic needs assessment mentioning the care of people with epilepsy. Only 17% of the clinical commissioning groups have appointed a clinical lead for epilepsy and only 20% of acute trusts stated that the average waiting time for an adult with suspected epilepsy to see an epilepsy specialist consultant was two weeks or less.

Crucially, only half of the people interviewed by Epilepsy Action told the interviewer that they had seen an epilepsy specialist nurse. I cannot overestimate the importance of specialist epilepsy nurses, and I am sure that other hon. Members will agree. Specialist nurses are vital and there is still concern that there are not enough of them. In its guidance, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence said that they should be an integral part of the medical team providing care to people with epilepsy, but it seems that in 2013 half of our acute trusts and primary care trusts in England still do not have that provision.

The report contains many more worrying statistics, but I shall not go through them all. All in all, however, there seems to have been no major improvement in services although I stress that, as with so many other matters, the provision is patchy, with some excellent services in some parts of the country. My local trust, Guy’s and St Thomas’, does an excellent job with the resources it has. Dr Michael Koutroumanidis leads the team and as well as running the tertiary clinic runs a first-time seizure clinic once a week. Much more could be done, however, with more resources and if greater priority were given to those services.

I have some questions for the Minister. If he has read the report, perhaps as his bedtime reading last night, he will be aware of some of them. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Health to refer the whole of epilepsy services to the National Audit Office and invite it to conduct a value-for-money inquiry? That is one of the key requests from Epilepsy Action. Way back in 2007, the all-party group estimated that the avoidable cost of

29 Jan 2013 : Column 876

providing the current poor NHS service was £189 million a year based on the NICE figures. The main reason that such money could be seen as wasted is the shocking misdiagnosis rate, which is 20% to 30%, and the poor access to specialist skills. The financial consequence is that patients receive inappropriate, costly and ineffective treatment at the expense of the NHS and the public, never mind the personal consequences of their true condition not being treated. I hope that the Minister can say that that might be a useful piece of work for the Audit Commission.

I ask the Minister to ask the NHS Commissioning Board to include outcomes indicators in the NHS framework. I hope that people can get to the bottom of what all these terminologies mean. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) has previously referred to the NHS using terms that mean little to the average member of the public, but it is important that we have the statistics to address the unacceptable number of avoidable deaths and the still unacceptable rates of seizure freedom.

Another issue that I want to ask the Minister about is the revised NHS constitution, where the word “pledge” will be used. We want to give people the right to involvement in discussions about the planning of their care and the right, as opposed to a pledge, to be offered a written record of that agreement. Again, published research shows that only 14% of people with epilepsy have a care plan. All those things are important. If the current review of the NHS constitution recommends making care planning a pledge from the NHS to patients, that should be toughened up to encourage a programme of care planning and by making it a right for people.

The Minister could ensure that as a matter of urgency the chief executive of the NHS raises the lack of engagement by the clinical commissioning groups in assessing the needs of people with epilepsy. It seems that that has been ignored by many of them, or lumped together with a number of other health issues that do not necessarily cover epilepsy’s particularly special nature.

There is a whole debate to be had about children with epilepsy, and not just in relation to their school education. There is a long history of children with epilepsy not achieving their full educational potential, yet with the right support there can be huge improvements. Epilepsy can affect the child’s education either because of the underlying cause or because they might have to miss lessons or interrupt them to take medication.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate, and I congratulate Epilepsy Action on producing the report. This is a wonderful opportunity to remind the Minister of my ten-minute rule Bill, in which I ask for two simple things. First, immediate referrals from GPs to specialists are needed. That is where the costs arise—both monetary costs and the cost in lives. If people can be referred directly to a specialist, they need not go through an interim stage to someone who is not a specialist. This covers a wide range of conditions, although it manifests itself as epilepsy—other related conditions might not manifest themselves at all—so anyone might have absences, and they need to know why. Secondly, we need an action plan for children in schools that is similar to that under the Autism Act 2009.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 877

Kate Hoey: I thank my hon. Friend, and I referred to her ten-minute rule Bill. As the Minister has slightly longer than he thought for the winding-up speech, it would be helpful if he referred to progress on my hon. Friend’s Bill. I appreciate that he is a Health Minister, but I want to raise some issues that relate to employment, welfare and benefit rights. If he cannot answer my questions, I hope that he will ensure that the responsible Minister does so.

There is no doubt that most people with epilepsy want to work, but many of them require additional support. Government schemes, such as Access to Work, can be beneficial to people with epilepsy by getting them off benefits and into work, which should always be a top priority.

I was surprised to learn from a recent parliamentary written answer that the Access to Work scheme in England and Wales between May 2010 and 30 June 2012 helped just 1,360 individuals with epilepsy. In my constituency no one with epilepsy was helped by the Access to Work scheme. There seems to be a lack of awareness of the scheme and inadequate information being given to people. I hope the Minister will continue to address the problem. Many constituents claiming sickness benefits want to work, but have ended up on benefits because they did not have the proper support when they were in employment. The Access to Work scheme could have prevented them from leaving employment. It is in the Government’s interest to take the matter seriously.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Lady has been very kind in giving way. I know she is trying to get as much time on the subject as she can. There is another important issue: disability living allowance for those who have epileptic fits and may need extra help. Does she think that one of the Minister’s colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions may be able to do more for those with epilepsy to ensure that they get all the benefits that they are entitled to, particularly DLA?

Kate Hoey: That is an area that I am coming to. It is extremely important. I appreciate that the Minister responding to the debate is a Health Minister, but I know he can multi-task on some occasions.

I was disappointed to learn from another parliamentary written answer that between June 2011 and July 2012 only 20 individuals in receipt of employment and support allowance—incapacity benefit—whose reported primary medical condition was epilepsy received what is called a job outcome as part of the Work programme. There are cases in which individuals with epilepsy are unable to work, but it falls upon the Government to provide unconditional support through welfare, such as employment and support allowance.

The NICE guidelines on epilepsy make it clear that epilepsy may sometimes result in significant disability, social exclusion and stigma, which many Members have mentioned, and that people with epilepsy would commonly encounter problems in employment. According to the work capability assessment handbook, the Atos working group panel on epilepsy was clear that if a person has epilepsy which occurs less than once a month, that is unlikely to impact significantly on their ability to work. I urge that consideration is given to the effects of the disorder on each individual, rather than making such a blanket ruling.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 878

From another parliamentary question I discovered that in February 2012, 12,510 people in England with epilepsy as their primary medical condition claimed ESA, which equated to approximately 30 people in my constituency, and during the same period 32,090 people in England with epilepsy claimed either incapacity benefit or severe disability allowance, which equates to 70 people in my constituency. Finally, during the same period, 59,070 people in England with epilepsy claimed disability living allowance, which equates to approximately 100 in my constituency. There is concern that such figures are not always based on knowledge of the person and of epilepsy.

There are obviously cases where an individual who may drive as part of his job, for example, subsequently has a seizure. Under current Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency regulations that person would be prohibited from driving for 10 years without medication. That sometimes means that he would lose his job and end up on benefit. The whole employment and support allowance system is insufficiently sympathetic in such scenarios and ends up worrying the individual with numerous mandatory schemes, sanctions and loss of benefits. It is one of the flaws in the system that needs to be dealt with to show that people are taken seriously and treated as individuals.

Laura Sandys: I welcome this debate, because the hon. Lady is covering a very wide spectrum of issues. She said at the beginning that a third of people with epilepsy do not have the right treatment, are not on the right medicine or have not seen the right specialist, and that is the Minister’s responsibility. Some of the other problems she mentioned, such as seizures at work and people not being on ESA or DLA, might become less prevalent if, right at the beginning of the process, we make sure that people get the right diagnosis and see the right people at the right time.

Kate Hoey: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The earlier the true diagnosis is made and the person is referred to a specialist, the sooner they are seen as having an illness that can be treated and have the chance of a positive future. I am sure that everybody in the Department of Health feels like this. However, something more needs to be done at the local level among clinical groups and PCTs, and even GPs, to create this sense of understanding. The hon. Lady heard the very moving testimony from Jemma, who spoke at the launch about the difference between having a good doctor who understands and gets someone the right referral immediately and another doctor who perhaps does not understand and does not take the time to do so.

The hon. Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery) asked me to mention that he has a constituent who has very mild epilepsy but has not lost their job because the company they work for, Hambleside Merchandise, a business in Meon Valley, has been understanding about the situation. It is keen for the Government to change the law so that it complies with the European Union change on whether people with mild epilepsy can drive again. It was confirmed in a ministerial answer last year that these changes would happen. I ask the Minister to follow up on that to see what can happen and how quickly.

29 Jan 2013 : Column 879

Someone in London who cannot drive because of their epilepsy may be eligible for the disabled person’s freedom pass. The Epilepsy Society, backed by other disability organisations, is campaigning for the Government to make changes to the pass in London and to the disabled person’s bus pass offered by the national Department for Transport under the English national concessionary travel scheme. In particular, the organisations call for the pass to include travel during peak hours, which is very important if someone is trying to keep a job. In some cases, a free companion pass may be necessary, as is already possible in Scotland and in Wales. If the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) were still in his place, I would ask him whether that also applies to Northern Ireland. The Epilepsy Society also says that regional variations are confusing. People move around and it would be much better if there were an overall, agreed way of doing it.

All this comes back to a lack of awareness about information on many of these schemes. There is a lot of help and support around, but people need to be very savvy or to have a very savvy parent, or to have a link into one of the organisations that provide support, to find out all the information. Government cannot do everything, but there may be ways in which they can ensure that local authorities and others with responsibility do a little bit more. For example, people with epilepsy who get continuous anti-convulsive therapy may be eligible for the NHS medical exemption certificate. They have to fill in a form at their GP surgery to get this, and it allows them to get free prescriptions for five years. One would think that anybody in this position would automatically know about that, but it is amazing how many people do not. Perhaps GPs do not always think that they have to tell people about these things. Where it is useful to do so, we can continually raise these issues in a cross-party way within Parliament regarding our own areas.

I will conclude by thanking all the agencies and campaign groups involved for helping people with epilepsy and their carers, who do so much to help their relatives or friends. I also pay tribute to the Joint Epilepsy Council, which continues to provide information and guidance for those affected by epilepsy. Finally, before the Minister responds, I pay tribute to our own all-party group on epilepsy for the valuable work that it has undertaken over the years.

6.25 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Norman Lamb): I think I must have broken the record for the time it takes to get from Committee Room 11 to the Chamber. It took under a minute, even though I bumped into our Chief Whip on a staircase and came off worse.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) on securing this important debate and on setting out the issues so clearly. I also thank hon. Members for their valuable interventions, which have been helpful. Occasions such as this are valuable because they expose to public attention issues that do not get debated enough in this place. They also force Ministers to think about particular conditions and their consequences. If I do not have ready answers to all of the issues that the hon. Lady has raised, I would be very happy to write to her to ensure that everything gets a proper and full response.