7.15 pm

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I want us to deal with the amendments, not worry about London or Brick lane.

Philip Davies: I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich makes a good point, however, in that the amendment, which would delete the clause on touting from the Canterbury Bill, raises the question: what is so special about Canterbury? If the House agrees to the amendment, we will remove the restrictions on touting from the Bill. It might well be that people want controls on touting in Canterbury because of its particular circumstances. We ought to listen to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury during an earlier stage of the Bill. Notwithstanding the offer he eventually made, he made it clear, at that point, that the restriction on touting was an essential part of the Canterbury Bill. He said that Canterbury suffered from huge problems, with which I am not familiar, of people touting for business in certain—perhaps historic—parts of the city. Perhaps people felt that touting took something away from the city.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are people in the House who speak Middle English as if it were their first tongue. We all know that the word “tout” comes from the Middle English word “tuten”, meaning “to look out for”, but may I warn him that in Northern Ireland the word has a very specific and very dangerous meaning? It will frequently be found written on gable ends. I appreciate that Northern Ireland is not Reading, and it is certainly not Canterbury, but it is a word we ought to be careful with.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. We do not need to tout for interventions either.

6 Feb 2013 : Column 382

Philip Davies: I guess that the hon. Gentleman is merely highlighting the point I am making and which the Select Committee started out with, which is that the term “touting” has different meanings to different people. I am grateful to him for accepting that point.

In considering whether to support the Lords amendments, it is important that Members decide whether they think that touting is a perfectly acceptable practice or an unsavoury practice. Of course, there are some unsavoury parts of touting—they are not specific to touting itself, but go along with it. For instance, people associate the selling of counterfeit tickets with touting. As it happens, however, that is already a criminal offence. It is not a good excuse for banning touting anywhere, given that legislation is already in place to deal with it. It might well be that people feel it clutters up a town or city and that it would look better without such people making a nuisance of themselves. It might well be that people think the nuisance is worth stopping. Perhaps they are being pestered by people handing out leaflets or trying to drag them into their restaurant against their wishes with a lasso or whatever mechanisms it is they use.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I have a feeling that my hon. Friend is talking about false imprisonment—people being dragged into restaurants against their will—and surely that is against the law anyway.

Philip Davies: As ever, my hon. Friend makes a good point. He is renowned in the House for defending individual freedom. Of course, if people wish to be encouraged into a place, that is a matter for their free choice, but if people go too far, they would be breaking the law. Those practices may well lead people to want to stop touting altogether.

Some people think that touting acts against the interests of the general public. This brings us to the crux of the argument about whether in principle we should find touting acceptable or unacceptable, as well as back to the point my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds made about the touting of tickets for sporting events. Touts mop up tickets for extremely popular events at a low price or at face value and sell them on at an inflated price to the general public who could not get their hands on them because the touts were buying up all the stock. In effect, the general public—the fan or the person who genuinely wants to go—end up having to pay above the odds for their tickets, which people find unsavoury. The Select Committee took a great deal of evidence on that. Indeed, there has been a great deal of concern about this issue and interest in it.

As it happens, it was not just the Select Committee that looked into the issue. The Office of Fair Trading has also investigated whether ticket touting should be stopped because it acts against the interests of the consumer. After many months of inquiry, the Office of Fair Trading found—this was consistent with the evidence it gave us during our inquiry—that, on the whole, touting acts in the best interests of the consumer, and it does so on a number of levels. In many cases, someone who has bought a ticket for an event that they genuinely hope to go to, but who finds that for some reason they cannot go, will be refused a refund by those who sold them the ticket because it is non-returnable. That person is left with a ticket—it could be an expensive ticket—that they cannot do anything with. What are they expected to do? Their only hope is what is known as the secondary

6 Feb 2013 : Column 383

market, which is what is known colloquially as touting. Indeed, I am rather surprised that clause 11 is entitled “Touting”. I think that “Secondary market” would probably be a fairer name.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: As I have listened to this debate my understanding of the word “touting” has been considerably expanded. I want to test what it means in the context of this Bill. If I were a pedlar in Canterbury and I started distributing leaflets on people’s doorsteps, would I be caught by this Bill for touting?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend asks a fair question. In effect, he stumbles—whether intentionally or not—on to quite an interesting point about this Bill. In many respects, this part of the Bill has nothing to do with pedlars, because it need not be a pedlar who is selling the tickets. The term “pedlar” has a legal definition—it refers to someone who needs a licence—whereas the Bill as it stands, if Lords amendment C15 was not accepted, would apply to anybody, whether a pedlar or not.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. In the past, we have concentrated on the definitions of “street trading” and “pedlars”. Is he now suggesting that there is a third category—neither a street trader nor pedlar, but someone who is simply operating in the secondary market for tickets?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Clause 11 stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the Bill, whish is pretty consistent in being about pedlars and street traders, as he rightly says. I pay tribute to the scrutiny he has given the Bill during its passage through this House. Clause 11 stands alone in that it can apply to anybody. It should be an acceptable part of life—it would be acceptable to me, as well as the Office of Fair Trading and the Select Committee, which looked at this—for someone in Canterbury who happened to have purchased a ticket for an event they could no longer attend to sell their ticket on to somebody else. Once people have bought their ticket, it is their ticket. If they want to sell it on to someone else, that should be a matter for them.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Surely this should be a matter of contract. If the ticket prohibits the purchaser from selling it on, they should be prohibited from so doing, and if it allows the use of the secondary market, that should be allowed. Purchasing a ticket is a contractual activity; the ticket is not an item of property.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point but, interestingly, it is not made clear in the provision that that would be the case. Many tickets state that they are not to be resold, or that they are non-transferable. The promoter of an event could take the matter to court to test the contract, and the court could find against the person who had sold the ticket on, whether for a profit or not.

Stephen Pound: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Philip Davies: I will in a moment.

The striking thing is that, to the best of my knowledge, no promoter of any event in this country has ever had the courage to test such a provision in court. I could be

6 Feb 2013 : Column 384

wrong, but I believe that that has been done in Australia, however, and that the Australian courts found against the promoter of the event. They found that it was unfair to attach the condition to the ticket that it should not be resold.

I suspect that we are now discussing the provision on touting because the promoters of events are not satisfied that the law of the land will help them in the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) suggests. If what he said were true, there would be no need for any of these provisions on touting. Clause 11 would be redundant, because an event promoter could simply take their grievance to the courts. However, if the courts are not going to help, as I understand is the case at the moment, clauses such as these need to be incorporated into Bills so that touting can be dealt with, not because the touts are selling tickets but because people do not like them and want them to be moved off the streets and given fixed penalty notices.

Stephen Pound rose

Philip Davies: I have not forgotten the hon. Gentleman—

Jacob Rees-Mogg: He is unforgettable.

Philip Davies: Indeed he is.

Notwithstanding the question of an individual’s freedom to do what they want with a ticket that they have bought, it seems unacceptable to include the clause in the Bill, as it would provide for imposing a further penalty. Let us imagine that someone had bought a ticket to an event but could no longer attend it. They would lose their money because they could not get a refund, but if they tried to resell their ticket, they would also face being fined for so doing. They would lose out financially.

Stephen Pound: I do not know how they order these things in the city of Christopher Marlowe, but this matter has now been tested in cities that have premier league football teams. There is now a non-profit-making organisation called Seatwave that enables anyone who has a ticket for any English or Scottish premier league match to resell it through that organisation. The key point, however, is that the prohibition on the resale of tickets has been sustained in court. I do not know about the case in Australia, but in Fulham, that is the law.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I have given hon. Members a bit of leeway, but I am worried that we are now getting into retail matters that have absolutely nothing to do with the Bill, as we all know. I hope that we can now stick to the matters in hand, and have fewer interventions; otherwise, we are going to drift into areas where I do not need to be.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I shall try not to be sidetracked by people trying to lead me astray. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) is always trying to do that, but I shall resist the temptation.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I want to ask my hon. Friend a question on the specifics of the amendment that we are considering. As I understand it, someone with a ticket in Reading would need to go to Canterbury to do their

6 Feb 2013 : Column 385

touting, because it would be illegal in Reading but not in Canterbury thanks to their lordships wise amendment. Is that correct?

Philip Davies rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The good news is that we are dealing only with Canterbury. I am not worried about Reading, and neither is Mr Davies.


Philip Davies: I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, and you are right that I am not worried about Reading—except in the sense of trying to find some guidance about why their lordships decided that this particular clause should be deleted from the Canterbury City Council Bill but not deleted from the Reading Borough Council Bill when they are virtually the same. All we can do is consider how the detail in this particular clause is different from the other one.

7.30 pm

When people decide whether this is a good amendment to support, the first question they will consider is whether they support touting. I hope I have been able to make the case that ticket touting is, as far as I am concerned, a perfectly legitimate part of the free market and people’s freedoms. People should not be prohibited from touting per se. As the Office of Fair Trading found, touting acts largely in the interests of consumers, and if somebody asks a price way in excess of the face value, people do not have to pay that price if they do not want to. Nobody is forcing them to; it is their free choice. I hope that people will not object to this amendment on the basis of principle, because I hope people will think that touting is a principle worth supporting.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman makes the point that with ticket touting it is acceptable to charge an added value or premium, but that income and revenue belongs to the artist, performer or whomever the person buying the tickets has paid to see. Does he not agree that that is denying them an income?

Philip Davies rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are certainly not opening that issue. I am sure the Whip has better things to do at this stage.

Philip Davies: I am very grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, but if I may be allowed—I do not want that comment to be left hanging on the record—I would like to say quickly that the touts have already bought the tickets, so the artist already has their income. It makes no difference to their income whether it is resold at a different price. I do not wish to pursue that line of argument any further; I just wanted to put that on the record in passing.

I hope that when people are considering whether to support the Lords in their amendment, they will not object to it on the principle that they do not like ticket touting, as I think that would be very unfortunate. It would fly in the face of all the evidence received by the Select Committee and reflected in its conclusions. We

6 Feb 2013 : Column 386

were unanimous in thinking that the secondary market was a perfectly legitimate one, and the Office of Fair Trading believes that it works in the best interests of consumers, too.

It seems to me therefore that, given what their lordships have done, this was not a question of principle. If it were a question of principle, I presume that the provision would have been removed from the Reading Bill as well. It can only be, then, a matter of practicality. That brings us back to the detail in clause 11 of the Canterbury Bill, which is about the location in which people can sell their tickets. That is the only bit that is different. Only subsection (1)(b) is different, and it relates to where people can sell.

Here I think my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is right, in that it would be helpful if Members had some explanation of the local circumstances in Canterbury. I have been to Canterbury once. Unfortunately, it was not to visit the charms of the city and its history, but to visit the Asda store when I worked for Asda. I am not particularly au fait with the city centre, although I am sure it is a fine place.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way so generously. I am listening to the construction of his argument on the issue of the location in Canterbury. While I consider the merits of his argument, will he shed any light from his reading of their lordships debate on whether they considered the evidence base relating to location in Canterbury or whether there are any third-party evidence bases that the hon. Gentleman himself has read that would allow the House to make an informed decision?

Philip Davies: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I think raises a good point. As far as I understand it—the question might be more helpfully answered by the Bill’s promoter or the Minister when it comes to an explanation of the pretext for this—that appears not to have been a great factor in their lordships discussions. By that, I mean the situation as it stands in Canterbury. Where people tend to be located, how many people are engaging in this activity, what nuisance might be caused to local residents and whether tourists have been put off from coming into Canterbury because they have had a bad experience and do not want to return again are all potential reasons for the strength of Canterbury’s feelings about the inclusion of clause 11, but I am not aware that any of them were considered.

John Mann: The hon. Gentleman is not confusing the argument, but the argument is confusing me. I have received many representations about matters of concern to the House, but I have received none about this matter. The hon. Gentleman has suggested that it may have been important to the people of Canterbury in the context of what he describes as a possible motivation for the Bill, but they do not seem to have written to me about it. Has he received any correspondence from the people of Canterbury recently, explaining why it was important for the House’s time and votes to be spent on this Bill?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I do not think that we need worry about Members’ mail boxes while we are dealing with clause 11. I am sure that

6 Feb 2013 : Column 387

the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is desperate to stick to the point, and he certainly need not worry about other Members’ mail boxes.

Philip Davies: Of course I accept your wise counsel, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will say, however, that their lordships do not appear to have focused too much on the niceties.

When we began our debate on the Bill, we were told that clause 11 was crucial. When my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and I tried to have it removed, our attempts were resisted, and it is because their lordships had to intervene that we are debating it now. The promoters, who were originally adamant about the inclusion of the clause, are now satisfied that it can be removed as their lordships wish. Earlier, I commended the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury had listened to the arguments. What I do not understand is why the amendment could not have been dealt with earlier.

I urge Members to reject any views on the principle of touting, and to consider the practicalities. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury will know much more about this than I do, but it seems to me that there is not a great deal of difference between a provision relating to streets and one that also includes parades and promenades.

Mr Nuttall: I think that I may have identified a crucial difference between the three Bills that contain a long description and the Reading Borough Council Bill, which uses the one word “street”. All the other Bills relate to city councils. The Canterbury Bill is one of the three city council Bills, and in that respect it differs from the Reading Bill.

Philip Davies: I am—I think—grateful to my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) may have been becoming confused, but I am beginning to think that I am becoming confused as well. I am not aware that the extra description in subsection (1)(b) has anything to with the fact that this is a city council Bill, as opposed to a borough council Bill. My understanding was that this particular difference related only to the different natures of the places concerned. I presumed that in Reading there was no promenade, parade or esplanade to which the Bill could apply. I could be wrong but my hon. Friend seemed to be arguing that, in effect, it is the same provision but there is a local difference based on the fact that one is a city council and the other is a borough council. My understanding, however, is that it is essentially the same, but it reflects the different nature of the towns and cities concerned. Clause 11 of the Canterbury Bill mentions “parade”, however, and I find it difficult to imagine that there is not a parade in Reading. That would lead me to ask why it is so important to ban selling on a parade in Canterbury, but not on a street in Reading.

Mr Chope: Is not this whole situation complicated by the fact that we have now agreed to Lords amendment C9, the consequence of which is to have designated areas rather than streets? The area set out in clause 11 of the Canterbury City Council Bill could now be regarded as a designated area under amendment C9.

6 Feb 2013 : Column 388

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right in that some of the earlier amendments that were so enthusiastically accepted by the House might have implications for this part of clause 11, which is about the designation of where people can or cannot tout their tickets and other goods and services.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend is on to a good point, however, particularly when we take into account the potential impact of the decision in Cooper v. the Metropolitan Police Commissioner of 1986, where the courts decided that somebody who was working as a tout for a Soho club was guilty of obstruction. The obstruction provisions as amended by amendment C9 could be used against touts, notwithstanding this amendment, which takes out clause 11.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point. He tried to do something about the issue of causing obstructions in the previous group of amendments. Amendment C9 has been agreed to, and we must consider clause 11 in relation to provisions already accepted. My hon. Friend may well be right that that amendment could make clause 11 redundant, as we have already got the job done. I am not entirely sure whether that is the case, but I am not a lawyer, whereas my hon. Friend has the considerable advantage over me of being a very distinguished lawyer, so I bow to his superior knowledge. These points should be taken into account when Members decide whether to agree to the Lords amendment under discussion.

The other amendments are all consequential, so we do not need to worry ourselves with them. I shall therefore conclude my brief remarks, which took us on a quick canter around the course on touting in general. My hon. Friend said at the end of his speech that he was minded to accept this Lords amendment but would reserve judgment until he had heard what I had to say. Given that the House may choose to vote on this group of amendments, Members will be pleased to know that, as far as I can see, it would be sensible for the House to accept the amendment. It is a sensible amendment and it defends people’s freedoms. I remain curious, however, as to why it applies to Canterbury alone, and not to Reading, and I would prefer it to apply to both, but we will just have to live with that on this occasion. However, I advise the House to accept this Lords amendment, as it makes the Bill much better.

Mr Chope: I am sure that the House is greatly indebted to my hon. Friend for the expertise he has brought to this discussion.

Philip Davies: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that. We have reached this stage, where we are in a position to vote for an amendment that improves the Bill and protects freedoms, which for me is what this place is all about, only because of the tenacious way in which he has approached the Bill. We should all be indebted to him for the work he has carried out, because when we accept the final group of Lords amendments, as I hope we will, the Bill will be in incredibly better shape than it was when it first came to this House six years ago. So I support these Lords amendments.

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7.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): As the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has just said, this Bill has been discussed over the past six years, although this is the first contribution I have been able to make to it. Last Thursday, the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) was an able contributor to the debate. As he said then, the Government do not usually seek to intervene in private legislation and we have done so on this occasion only in order to clarify the issues relating to the European services directive. The Government believe, and have already said to the House, that some aspects of the Pedlars Act 1871 are inconsistent with that directive. We therefore launched a consultation on a change in the national law concerning street trading, and the consultation includes a proposal to repeal that Act. As my hon. Friend told the House on Thursday, the four local authorities whose Bills we are discussing—in this group, this applies to Canterbury in particular—are aware of the consultation. The House will be interested to know that we have decided this week to extend the consultation by a month to allow more time for people to respond, so it will now close on 15 March. The four authorities are aware that they may need to amend their legislation to take account of any changes that the Government propose on street trading. Having provided that useful information to the House, I just say that the Government are content for the Bills to proceed and for these Lords amendments to be made.

Lords amendment C15 agreed to.

Lords amendments C16 to C26 agreed to.

After Clause 17

Provision of Information by the Council

Amendment (e) proposed to Lords amendment C27.—(Mr Chope.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 6, Noes 156.

Division No. 157]

[

7.48 pm

AYES

Davies, Philip

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Leigh, Mr Edward

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr David Nuttall

and

Mr Christopher Chope

NOES

Aldous, Peter

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bain, Mr William

Baldwin, Harriett

Banks, Gordon

Barwell, Gavin

Bayley, Hugh

Benn, rh Hilary

Benyon, Richard

Berry, Jake

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman, Bob

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brake, rh Tom

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, Mr Alan

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Connarty, Michael

Crabb, Stephen

Crausby, Mr David

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Dakin, Nic

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

Doyle, Gemma

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Edwards, Jonathan

Ellis, Michael

Evans, Chris

Evans, Graham

Evennett, Mr David

Fallon, rh Michael

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fuller, Richard

George, Andrew

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Grant, Mrs Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Griffith, Nia

Gummer, Ben

Hames, Duncan

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Healey, rh John

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hilling, Julie

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kris

Howell, John

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Joyce, Eric

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lee, Jessica

Lefroy, Jeremy

Lidington, rh Mr David

Long, Naomi

Lord, Jonathan

Mann, John

McCartney, Jason

McClymont, Gregg

McDonnell, John

Meale, Sir Alan

Menzies, Mark

Milton, Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morden, Jessica

Morgan, Nicky

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Mosley, Stephen

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Ian

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Nokes, Caroline

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Onwurah, Chi

Opperman, Guy

Owen, Albert

Patel, Priti

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pound, Stephen

Prisk, Mr Mark

Randall, rh Mr John

Reid, Mr Alan

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Sawford, Andy

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Owen

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Stephenson, Andrew

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tami, Mark

Tomlinson, Justin

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Uppal, Paul

Vickers, Martin

Watts, Mr Dave

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Chris

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Phil

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Iain Stewart

and

Stuart Andrew

Question accordingly negatived.

6 Feb 2013 : Column 390


Lords amendments C27 to C31, C2 and C1 agreed to.

6 Feb 2013 : Column 391

Leeds City Council Bill

Lords amendments L1 to L19 agreed to.

Nottingham City Council Bill

Lords amendments N1 to N20 agreed to.

Reading Borough Council Bill

Lords amendments R1 to R23 agreed to.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

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

National Health Service

That the draft National Health Service (Clinical Commissioning Groups—Disapplication of Responsibility) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 5 December 2012, be approved.—(Mr Syms.)

Question agreed to.

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

That the draft Health and Social Care Act 2012 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 14 January, be approved.—(Mr Syms.)

Question agreed to.

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

6 Feb 2013 : Column 392

Social Security

That the draft Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 13 December 2012, be approved.—(Mr Syms.)

The Deputy Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 13 February (Standing Order No. 41A).

business of the house

Ordered,

That, at the sitting on Wednesday 13 February, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents), the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on—

(1) the Motion in the name of Secretary Theresa May relating to Police Grant Report not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on that Motion,

(2) the Motions in the name of Secretary Eric Pickles relating to Local Government Finance and Council Tax not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion or six hours after the commencement of proceedings relating to Police Grant Report, whichever is the later, and

3) the Motions in the name of Secretary Iain Duncan Smith relating to Pensions and Social Security not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion; proceedings on any of those Motions may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Mr Syms.)

sittings of the house

Motion made,

That this House shall sit on Friday 22 March.—(Mr Syms.)

Hon. Members: Object.


6 Feb 2013 : Column 393

National Assembly for Wales

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

8.4 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a great pleasure to rise at this slightly later than anticipated hour to debate the Green Paper on the future electoral arrangements of the National Assembly for Wales.

I do so against the background of the Government’s wanting to reduce the number of MPs in Wales from 40 to 30 as part of a broader remapping of boundaries which has, I am delighted to say, failed in its attempt to reshape the political map, particularly in Wales but across the country, for party political gain. One of the key problems with that proposal is that it would break the coterminosity in Wales between MPs and Assembly Members. In the knowledge that they were doing that, the Government produced a Green Paper that said, in effect, “Don’t worry about it—we’ll reintroduce the coterminosity as a sort of Trojan horse to bring about a 30:30 arrangement, reducing the number of democratically elected AMs, increasing the list numbers, and changing the prospective balance of power in the Assembly.” That was done without any consultation or collaboration with the Assembly itself—a complete disgrace.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he think that given the Prime Minister’s assurance to the First Minister that any changes in Wales should have the consent of the Welsh people, it was pretty outrageous that he just went ahead regardless, which does not say much for any kind of respect agenda?

Geraint Davies: I will be mild in my criticism, but I thought it was completely disgraceful. It showed a great lack of respect for the blossoming new democracy that we have in the nation of Wales, with a Welsh Government doing very good things and the road of devolution moving forwards. Where important decisions can be made locally by the people they affect most, that is what should happen. It was very unfortunate, to put it mildly, that the Prime Minister showed such disrespect to the leader of the Welsh Assembly Government.

The other propositions in the Green Paper include the idea of a five-year cycle for the National Assembly for Wales detached by a year from Westminster’s five-year cycle. That might be quite sensible on the grounds that it would be unfortunate to have both elections on the same day because there could be confusion in Wales as a result of the media carrying more about UK policies of the Labour party and other parties that may differ from those in Wales. It is important in the interests of effective democracy, and effectively communicating democracy, that the elections do not occur in the same year, and I am therefore minded to support the idea of moving to a five-year cycle displaced by a year.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Would he not argue that extending the Assembly’s term—I agree with what he said about the longer-term prognosis for that—so that the elections did not clash was an example

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of the respect agenda in practice? I have some sympathy with what he said earlier, but in this instance we saw the respect agenda in practice.

Geraint Davies: It is a good idea, but that does not mean that it is about the respect agenda. I think that perhaps the idea came from this place without proper consultation and it just so happened that the Welsh Assembly Government agreed with it. Will the Minister tell us whether there was consultation on that part of the Green Paper. My understanding is that there was no consultation on any of it. Was there, in any sense, an element of the respect agenda, or was it just a blind coincidence of view?

There is also a move towards the resurgence of dual candidacy whereby somebody can stand in a first-past-the-post election and, should they fail, reappear like a vampire figure through the list mechanism and find themselves transposed into the National Assembly without a mandate, having failed to win in the first place. In other words, losers will be winners; I will be talking about Bob Dylan later.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): The hon. Gentleman holds the strong view that the Green Paper was an attempt to gerrymander the political system in Wales. However, the implementation of the double jeopardy rule that prohibits people from standing in the list and in a constituency was the worst kind of gerrymandering by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) when he was Secretary of State for Wales. Is the hon. Gentleman proud that the electoral system that we now have for the National Assembly for Wales is mirrored in only one country in the world—Ukraine?

Geraint Davies: It is a shame there is no one from Ukraine present to speak up for themselves—no disrespect to Ukraine, but that matter could be taken up in another place, namely Ukraine.

On double candidacy, the proposition was put in a manifesto which was voted for in an election. There was a White Paper and it went through a proper system. Of course, it is possible to disagree with something that has been properly considered and passed in a democratic way—I respect that and I am sure that we all share that view—but we are complaining about proposals that were put through in a one-sided and seemingly political way without proper collaboration with the institution that would then have to run the situation, namely the National Assembly for Wales.

Could the Minister confirm whether the boundary changes are now dead and buried in the aftermath of the vote here, particularly in the light of a Wales Office spokesperson saying that it is now not in anyone’s interests to change the boundaries as proposed by the Green Paper?

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): The proposed parliamentary boundary changes have been abandoned, which means that £1.5 million has been wasted by this Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that, should the Minister confirm, as is likely, that the review of the Assembly boundaries is dead and buried, they will have wasted even more money?

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Geraint Davies: That is completely right. For a Government who are obsessed with cost cutting, they are wasting money on completely unnecessary new things. Had the changes been made, the lack of coterminosity, the confusion and the bedding in of various challenges would have cost enormous sums of money. The money would have been better spent in Wales on services and jobs for Wales, instead of on administrative expense for the sake of it that has now hit the dust. I want a reassurance that the Government do not plan, certainly in this Parliament, to re-tamper with the boundaries.

What is the Government’s position on the fixed term? Is the Minister at last consulting and collaborating with the National Assembly for Wales, and do the Government intend to press for five years, which I support in principle?

I am interested in the issue of double jobbing. There are examples of Assembly Members, MPs and peers who do two of those three jobs at the same time. What is the Minister’s position on that? My instinct is that one should do one job well and that it is very difficult to be in Cardiff and Westminster at the same time, even given modern media. Other people can fill different positions and one can meet up with them to compare notes.

I have already mentioned double candidacy—what is the Minister’s position on that? Is he hurtling ahead with it without consent or collaboration? Will he push it forward irrespective of the Welsh Assembly Chamber that it will affect?

This is about balance. There was no consultation on the boundaries, co-determination could have happened, and it is possible for a movement of competence, under the respect agenda, to the Assembly itself. The Silk report is being discussed, so the Minister might want to talk about that. I am sure there will be active engagement in the question of the future arrangements for competence over these issues or, at least, for co-determination. We should move towards giving that competence to the place where the impact of these decisions will be felt, which is, of course, Wales. I want a general reassurance that there will be no further unilateralism that could be construed as gerrymandering.

Our great forefather Aneurin Bevan saw political economy as a struggle between private property, poverty and democracy, and that at times of economic difficulty democracy would be compressed and would suffer and be undermined by private property stopping poverty getting its fair share. In the pit of this recession, which is being made worse and worse by the Conservative-Liberal alliance, we have seen an attempt on a number of fronts to undermine democracy, to pick away at it and to increase the odds of the retention of power by the incumbents.

That attempt has included the boundary gerrymandering, the attempt to impose voluntary registration for voters, which was disgraceful and eventually had to be withdrawn, and individual registration. There has been cross-party support for the last measure, but I think that it is unfortunate because 25% of people are functionally illiterate and some households contain many people who cannot speak English, so people often need help to register and participate. The Green Paper, which comes on the back of the attempted boundary changes, is another attempt to change the political balance when things had settled down after a proper democratic process.

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Wayne David: My hon. Friend has used the word “gerrymander” a couple of times and he is right to use that term. Does he agree that the bottom line is that the proposed boundary changes for Wales were all about preventing the election of another Labour Administration in Wales? That was the motivation and it has been stopped.

Geraint Davies: The evidence certainly points in that direction. Thankfully, there are different institutions in the United Kingdom that can take forward different policies and ideas. For example, in Wales people can go to university for £3,000 a year or about £10,000 across three years, rather than pay £30,000. In this place, the Conservatives say, “It is impossible to have lower fees. Where would the money come from?” That idea and many others show that there are different ways of doing things. That is healthy for democracy.

The attempt to use the power that this place has had historically to blunt the blade of innovation in Wales is quite wrong. Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests that these changes are being proposed for party political gain.

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman is being very gracious in giving way. I am sure that he will be glad to hear that Gareth Bale has just scored for Wales and that we are beating Austria 1-0.

There has been cross-party consent in Wales on creating a fairer electoral system. The Richard commission published its report in 2004 and argued for 80 Assembly Members elected by single transferable vote. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that parties across the divide, both here and in the National Assembly, should come together and look again at those proposals?

Geraint Davies: There is a case for having a broad debate about the best way forward. That is part of the Silk discussion and I agree with that. I am surprised that Plaid Cymru’s position is that there should be co-determination as opposed to devolution on these matters. Perhaps that is a change in its position and it is now less devolutionist than I appear to be. That is there for the record.

I will be helpful and give the Minister time to respond and to answer any questions that other Members may have. Clearly, there are more questions than answers in the aftermath of the great boundary victory—a constitutional change for which we can thank the Liberal Democrats, who are here in abundance. I can barely see the green leather, there are so many of them here tonight!

We need to move forward with effective democracy. It would help to have coterminosity of seats for Assembly Members and MPs. Obviously that could change in the future. It would be good to have stability in our relationships with constituents and for decisions increasingly to be made where they have the greatest impact.

8.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing this Adjournment debate on the Green Paper on future electoral arrangements for the Assembly.

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Hon. Members will recall that we debated the Green Paper in Westminster Hall on 3 July last year. I was not in Westminster Hall for that debate and I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was. I have watched the video and read it in Hansard and neither makes for a particularly edifying experience. It was not a particularly good debate, so it is worth revisiting some of the issues this evening.

Some hon. Members from Wales participated in the consultation and are keen to know where we have reached, particularly, as the hon. Member for Swansea West said, in the light of the vote last week on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill—I will come to that in a moment. I was going to say that this debate is timely given that vote, but I will not congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that because, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) has reminded us, it is keeping us all from the football. We are, however, grateful to him for keeping us updated with scores. That might prove to be one of the more interesting points of the debate this evening.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has made it clear that following last week’s vote in the House the Government will not now take forward the Green Paper proposals on Assembly constituency boundaries. I hope that answers one of the questions raised by the hon. Member for Swansea West. Indeed, the Government have been clear all along that the changes to the make-up of Assembly constituencies proposed in the Green Paper—either reinstating the link between Assembly and parliamentary constituencies, or retaining 40 Assembly constituencies but making them a more equal size—would be predicated on Parliament approving the proposals of the four UK boundary commissions for new parliamentary constituencies.

The hon. Gentleman opened his remarks by stating his delight that the proposals for revised parliamentary constituency boundaries were defeated, but I thought he gave the game away as to his agenda this evening. I think he is throwing up a smokescreen for the vote that he and his colleagues took that evening, which was not only a vote against fairer-sized parliamentary constituencies across Wales and the UK, but a vote against cutting the cost of politics.

Wayne David: The Minister says the motivation was cutting costs but will he explain why his Government are in the process of creating 50 extra peers for the other place?

Stephen Crabb: We will not take any lessons from the Labour party on spending money. The hon. Gentleman was a distinguished Minister in the previous Government and perhaps bears more responsibility than most, in terms of collective responsibility, for some of the decisions taken by that Government with such disastrous financial consequences for this country. We will take no lessons from the Labour party on the good use of resources.

I think that the hon. Member for Swansea West and his colleagues will come to regret the vote that they took last week, which was, as I have said, against fairer-sized parliamentary constituencies and cutting the cost of politics. Voters want more out of democratic system; they want more value for money and to know that their

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votes count. The hon. Gentleman’s constituency has an electorate of 60,000 or 61,000, but some of his colleagues have 94,000, 95,000 or 96,000 constituents. He should be able to see as well as anyone the inbuilt unfairness in the current system of parliamentary boundaries.

Jessica Morden: Has the Minister made any assessment of how much the abortive boundaries review in Wales cost, as well as the mess-up over the ballot papers, the police and crime commissioner elections and the Green Paper process? How much has that all cost Wales in total?

Stephen Crabb: The hon. Lady asks a direct question about the cost of the Green Paper consultation and I will give her a direct answer. The consultation on the Green Paper cost just over £3,000. If she or any of her colleagues are tempted to say, “Isn’t that now a waste of money because we are not proceeding with changes to Assembly constituency boundaries?” I remind them that the Green Paper was about a lot more than the shape of constituency boundaries for Assembly elections. Important parts of the consultation still need to be considered, and I will come to that in a moment.

Geraint Davies: The Minister seems to suggest that the Government’s plan was to improve democracy. He will correct me if I am wrong, but the plan that has been mentioned was, in essence, to reduce the number of directly elected MPs from 650 to 600, and increase the number of peers by 50. In other words, to substitute 50 elected Members of Parliament for 50 unelected Members. How can that be democracy? It is ridiculous.

Stephen Crabb: I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman has been for the last year, but he will know it was this Government’s serious intention to see a substantial directly elected proportion of the House of Lords, and there is still a huge appetite for that. As a result of Parliament’s decision to defer the reform of parliamentary constituencies until 2018, it would not be in anyone’s interest to proceed with that aspect of the Green Paper at this stage.

Geraint Davies: Will the Minister give way?

Stephen Crabb: I am going to make some progress. I am disappointed but not surprised that the Labour party is using this opportunity for point scoring and attempted grandstanding, rather than for a serious discussion of the issues.

While the Labour party engages in what has become characteristic negativity, and in the absence of any constructive contribution to the debate from Labour Members, the Government will consider how to take forward the other important proposals in the Green Paper. First, should Assembly terms be increased from four to five years? Secondly, should the prohibition on standing as a candidate in both a constituency and a region be lifted? Thirdly, should Assembly Members be prohibited from sitting in Parliament and from having multiple mandates?

Geraint Davies: Before the Minister answers those important questions, will he confirm that the boundary changes are dead and buried and that there is no plan to introduce further boundary changes in Wales before the

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next election? Following his point about the Lords, will he confirm whether there is a plan to introduce a change to the House of Lords before the next election? I would be very glad to hear that there is such a plan.

Stephen Crabb: I have been clear about the consequences of the vote taken in the House last Tuesday—I was disappointed with the outcome—and that we will not proceed with the aspect of the Green Paper that deals with changes to Assembly constituency boundaries.

Of the three questions I have highlighted, the most pressing is on the length of Assembly terms. Hon. Members will be aware that, as a result of concerns expressed by the Welsh Government during the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the Assembly election scheduled for May 2015 was deferred by one year until 2016 to avoid a clash with the next general election. That is a good example of the UK Government listening to the concerns raised by the Welsh Government and, to address another point the hon. Gentleman raised, collaborating with them. That is a one-off change. The two elections are set to coincide again in 2020 unless provision is made to prevent it.

A majority of respondents to our consultation favoured a move to five-year terms to reduce the likelihood of elections coinciding in future. The decision is a finely balanced one—good arguments have been made in support of both options—but however we decide to proceed, we are mindful that electors in Wales should be clear on how long they are electing their representatives for. Importantly, all four political parties in the Assembly favoured a move to five-year terms. It is worth putting that on the record.

In the Green Paper, the Government set out our intention to repeal the prohibition on a candidate at an Assembly election standing in both a constituency and a region. All three Opposition parties in the Assembly favoured removing the ban, but I acknowledge that, overall, a small majority favoured retaining the prohibition in their responses to the consultation. A significant majority of respondents agreed with our proposal to prevent Assembly Members from sitting in Westminster.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned competency—that issue was discussed at length during the debate of 3 July 2012. I should point out that the Government are simply operating within the framework that the previous Government set out in the Government of Wales Act 2006. As he knows, the Act states that competency and responsibility for electoral arrangements for the Welsh Assembly resides at Westminster. There is a Silk process—part 2 was launched recently, which provides a great opportunity for people who have concerns and other ideas to contribute. The Government have made it clear that we will listen and read very carefully all submissions to Silk part 2. We will announce our response in due course. The hon. Gentleman was not in the House at the time, but other hon. Members in the Chamber were, and I remind him that they supported the previous Government’s legislation and the framework that retains competency and responsibility for Welsh Assembly elections at UK level.

Wayne David: The Minister indicates that a large part of the Green Paper is redundant because of last week’s events in the House. Will he issue another Green Paper? If not, the consultation was on a largely flawed document.

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Stephen Crabb: I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. We have said that we are not proceeding with one aspect of the package that we consulted on in the Green Paper because of the outcome of last week’s vote. As I have said, Labour Members will, in time, come to regret that vote—it was a vote against fairness in the electoral system and against reducing the costs of politics at a time when the electorate demand more from our democratic system. There are still some very important issues. I highlighted three a few moments ago that we will consider further. It is right that we do that, and we will be making announcements in due course.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The Minister intends to introduce legislation to this House on those three points on the consultation he has already had, which was to do with the fourth point as well—is that how he foresees taking this measure forward?

Stephen Crabb: The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian and I think he is trying to tempt me to say more than I am able to at this stage. The Green Paper presented a package of changes and proposals. As hon. Members recognise, one significant part of the package is not being proceeded with, so we now have to look at the other elements on their own terms and decide how we can proceed with them, and, if we proceed with them, what would be the best legislative vehicle for them. I am not, therefore, in a position to give him all the information he is looking for this evening, but I am sure we will come back to it.

Wayne David: The Minister mentioned that £3,000 had been wasted because a large chunk of his document is now totally irrelevant. Does that £3,000 include the time civil servants spent on the element that has been ditched?

Stephen Crabb: If ever there was a false premise to an intervention, that was one. It was not wasted at all. We had extremely valuable responses to the consultation that will feed into our deliberations about the other parts of the Green Paper package. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman laughs. If we were not consulting, he would be the very first Member to stand up and complain about a lack of consultation. We can never win with the Opposition: there is either too much consultation or not enough consultation, or we are going too fast or going too slow. Actually, we think we have the balance right. We are taking the time to do this properly. We know that the most timely part of the changes will be, as I said earlier, the need to make a decision about the length of the Assembly term—whether we move from four years to five years—and we will proceed on that in a timely manner.

Geraint Davies: The Minister may have already answered this, but just to clarify the point about the list and dual candidacy, he mentioned he has had some feedback. I think he said that the feedback was that there should not be dual candidacy. What is his instinct about the way forward, and how will he be collaborating with Cardiff?

Stephen Crabb: The responses to the consultation were mixed. I acknowledged that a majority of correspondents appeared to say that there should not

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be dual candidacy—where somebody is both a candidate on a list and a candidate in a constituency. However, when I read through those responses I have to say that a large number of them seemed to come from the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues and seemed to bear a remarkable degree of similarity. They got hauled up recently for copying each other’s press releases. Far be it from me to suggest that some of his colleagues might have been doing that when they responded to the Green Paper.

In conclusion, I reiterate that the decision not to proceed with changes to Assembly constituencies does not mean an end to all the proposals in the Green Paper. We do not intend to let the significant work we

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have already undertaken go to waste. The work is not wasted—I refute that suggestion made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David). These are issues of real importance. We can joke about them as we have done a little this evening, but we need to get them right. It is right that we consulted the people of Wales, and we are considering how best to proceed before announcing our plans. In light of the Commons vote last week, we will announce how we intend to move forward in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

8.33 pm

House adjourned.