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Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The Minister is exactly right. Those who would suffer due to the policy would be not the nanny-state elite drinking an expensive bottle of claret in their posh suburb of Leicester, but the poor. Why should we price the poor out of alcohol and why should we not trust them?

Mr Browne: There is a balance to be struck. We are introducing a floor involving VAT and duty to tackle the most extreme examples, while the industry is taking action by removing products such as White Lightning and Strongbow Black. I also note that Waitrose has removed its strong 8.2% cider brand. However, individuals also have to take responsibility for their choices and decisions, and we think that we are getting the balance right.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): Given that almost half of all violent crime is carried out by offenders who are under the influence of alcohol, what action is the Minister taking with his colleagues in the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice to ensure that there is a massive increase in the availability and provision of alcohol treatment for those in prison and on release?

Mr Browne: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The main crime statistics will be released tomorrow, but I should say to hon. Members that there has been a steady fall in violent crime over the three years of this Government, as has been the case for virtually every category of crime, which I welcome. He is right, however, that we need to ensure that prisoners who have been exposed to drugs, alcohol and other harms are rehabilitated, so we aspire to achieve that even more effectively in the prison system.

Sir James Paice (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on setting out a sensible package of measures and resisting the call for the easy answer that we have heard from Labour Members. No one would deny that such things as binge drinking represent a real problem in many parts of the country, but is it not clear that that should be dealt with locally? Measures to empower licensing authorities to deal with problems where they arise represent the right way to address this, rather than adopting the simple blanket policy that some advocate.

Mr Browne: Unsurprisingly, I accept my right hon. Friend’s point. Problems due to excessive alcohol consumption, especially at evenings and weekends, are much more pronounced in some parts of the country than others, which is because some towns have shown more imagination and initiative on dealing with social problems. However, those towns with particular problems have powers through which they can raise their game, so I hope that they will use them effectively.

Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Sunday’s edition of The Observer reported that the Faculty of Public Health had withdrawn from the Government’s responsibility deal. It has followed many other organisations, including Alcohol Concern. The president of the faculty, Professor John Ashton, said that many of his members would

“conclude that the government’s policies are putting the interests of industry ahead of improving people’s health.”

He is right, is he not?

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Mr Browne: Let me make a couple of brief points. When such consultations take place, respondents with a particular health perspective usually come from the angle of reducing health harms, but many contributors who want to retain the freedom to buy a wide range of alcohol without the state telling people how to behave will come from a different angle. Secondly—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but I say to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) that he is an illustrious figure in the House. He holds an extremely important position by chairing the Committee on Standards and the Committee of Privileges. I know that he feels extremely strongly about these matters, but he must not compete with other Members for the title of chunterer-in-chief.

Mr Browne: My brief second point is that the right hon. Gentleman is of sufficient means that if he feels that he does not want to buy low-cost alcohol, I can recommend he does not do so.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I welcome the scrapping of the vicinity test so that more people will be able to object to new off licences in their area? There was a case in Kettering of a person who wanted to object to a new off-licence but was unable to do so because he lived just a few hundred yards away from the premises. By getting rid of the test, more people will be able to object.

Mr Browne: My hon. Friend makes an important point about something that has perhaps not received the attention it deserves. There are many changes through Government policy to give local people in such circumstances more power and a greater say in their community. I am also pleased that we are relaxing the law so that it is easier for the community groups in all our constituencies that put on events that people enjoy in village halls and community centres to provide small amounts of alcohol in convivial circumstances. I am sure that many hon. Members will appreciate that, too.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): There is a widespread view in Wales that we should introduce minimum unit pricing immediately, irrespective of what happens in England. Has the Minister discussed the matter with the Welsh Government and will he enlighten the House of his views on that, if he can think of any?

Mr Browne: The consultation was held across England and Wales. We received about 1,500 responses and, as I said, the majority of people disagreed with a 45p minimum unit price, while about 75% of people—three quarters—expressed concern that the policy would affect people other than harmful or hazardous drinkers. Such a concern has been expressed universally.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that 56% of respondents disagreed with a minimum unit price of 45p, but does he know how many thought it should be zero and how many thought it should be higher, for example 50p? What extra concrete evidence do the Government want before a decision can be made on this policy?

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Mr Browne: My hon. Friend makes a typically astute point. People were asked whether they agreed with a minimum unit price of 45p. The majority said that they did not and only about a third said that they did, but we do not know whether the majority disagreed because they thought it should be twice as high or half as high; they just disagreed with the figure they were given. I think that it is important to look at the evidence from the legal developments in Scotland, if it is forthcoming in time, and from Canada to see how the policy works in practice. There are some other points that are worth bearing in mind, which I have tried to touch on this afternoon, about getting the balance right between how many harms a minimum unit price would prevent and the restrictions on people’s ability to live their lives freely and make individual choices. That is the balance we have tried to strike in today’s statement.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Thousands of babies are born damaged by alcohol every year, many with permanent genetic damage. Will the Government give further serious consideration to introducing legislation making it compulsory for all drinks containers to have a written health warning aimed at women of child-bearing age, combined with a pregnant mother symbol?

Mr Browne: The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about the terrible fetal damage that excessive alcohol consumption can cause during pregnancy, although I think that it would be better directed at Health Ministers, rather than Home Office Ministers. I know that some warnings exist to alert expectant mothers to the risks, but no doubt the Minister for Public Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), will take his words seriously and see what more can be done.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Given that the Government’s own figures show a 16% reduction in alcohol consumption since 2004 and the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts further drops over the next five years, should not the Government now be focusing on evidence-based solutions, for example proper enforcement and better education, and industry-led solutions such as community alcohol partnerships, which have led to a reduction in under-age drinking in tough areas such as Barnsley, where it is down by 30%, and Durham, where it is down by 37%?

Mr Browne: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Much of the criticism being directed at me is based on the premise that alcohol consumption and violent crime are going up, but actually both are going down. The one note of caution I would mention to him is that that is overall alcohol consumption across the population. The Government do not deny that there are problems with people drinking excessively or inappropriately. The question is how we deal with those problems. We have suggested many practical measures as a result of the consultation, which we believe will be helpful in that regard.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The Minister talks about improving education to promote safer drinking, something that everyone will welcome. Which of the Science and Technology Committee’s recommendations on that has he taken into account? Has he taken into account our evidence-based recommendation that there ought to be at least two alcohol-free days in the safety guidance?

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Mr Browne: Again, safe levels of alcohol consumption are more a matter for the Department of Health than the Home Office. With regard to licensing regulations, we have brought in quite a lot of restrictions. For example, it will no longer be possible to find the kinds of offers where a flat-rate fee is paid to enter a bar and one can then get unlimited free drinks, or where women are served free drinks but men are not. Such promotions, which we believe were irresponsible and encouraged irresponsible and excessive drinking, represent exactly the type of approach that we have been able to curtail using the lighter touch and more localised approach that I have recommended to Members this afternoon.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): Although I welcome much of the Minister’s statement, does he not accept that the community pub is not the problem, but the solution to problem drinking? Does he not accept that drink bought in supermarkets at cheap prices is the problem, which the statement will do nothing to address? Does he honestly think that this policy will put prices up on the supermarket shelf?

Mr Browne: I do not wholly agree with my hon. Friend’s conclusions. I will make three very brief points. First, I think that the measure will make a difference—I am not exaggerating its scale—by introducing VAT plus duty as the bottom threshold. Secondly, many supermarkets are taking voluntary action following the types of representations I have been talking about. Asda, for example, has removed alcohol promotions from the reception areas of its supermarkets, which some people thought were inappropriate. Thirdly, the Government reduced beer duty in the most recent statement from the Chancellor, which I hope will help pubs in my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the country.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): We know that domestic violence is often fuelled by alcohol. How will the Government’s craven climbdown on unit pricing help to keep women and children safe in their homes?

Mr Browne: I think that that is an offensive question. If not having a minimum unit price for alcohol meant that a Government were tacitly accepting that it was legitimate to be violent in the home, why did the previous Labour Government not introduce one? I just do not accept that. People have to make reasonable and rational decisions, and that is what we have done. We have not climbed down; we have put forward a package of measures that, as I have said, strikes the right balance between protecting people and reducing harm and protecting personal responsibility.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has been given a key role by our Government in assessing the efficacy of and evidence for public health measures. What did it say about unit pricing as part of the consultation?

Mr Browne: I do not have NICE’s specific representation to hand but, as I have said, the majority of respondents did not believe that we should go ahead with the 45p minimum unit price. As for the ban on multi-buy promotions, which we have rejected, the opinion was split about 50:50, but again the common concern—it was raised not just by institutions, but by ordinary

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people who want to live their lives without being micro-managed by the Government—was that moderate and sensible drinkers should not be unreasonably penalised, and I think they have a point.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): If Carlsberg did statements, we just heard it from the Minister. It is unfortunate that this Government are not following the fine example of the Scottish Government in pursuing minimum unit pricing for alcohol and plain packaging for cigarettes. We will go ahead with that, because we have no Lynton Crosby and no right-wing Tories in Scotland. Will the Minister assure me that he will do all he can to ensure that the Scottish Government can get down to the business of tackling our health problems?

Mr Browne: We have devolution, so nobody is suggesting that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues should not go ahead with that in Scotland, just so long as none of us sees him drinking anything down here during the week.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Is the Minister aware of the evidence from Sheffield that was published this morning and shows that the impact of having a threshold at duty plus VAT would be a decrease in consumption of one 400th of 1%? In other words, it will be meaningless. Meanwhile, doctors up and down the country, who are fed up with being lectured on how to reduce avoidable mortality in the NHS, see the one tool that they are asking for to reduce avoidable mortality through liver disease taken away.

Mr Browne: I do accept that it will have a more limited impact than introducing minimum unit pricing, but it will of course have some impact. Fundamentally, there are two different ways we can see politics; I say this to Opposition Front Benchers. We can either believe that the state has primacy and should impose its decisions on individuals, or say that individuals should be given some discretion about how they live their own lives. I think that individuals should be free to make some personal choices. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and the others who are shouting at me throughout this statement clearly disagree. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The wider point that the Minister makes about constant shouting is of course true. I have urged colleagues to calm down, and I hope that they will. We are getting towards the break, and a degree of tolerance would be appropriate. I do not think that the Minister has been notably provocative; he has just been giving his answers.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): According to Balance, a fantastic organisation campaigning on alcohol issues, north-east England has the highest rate of under-18s in specialised alcohol treatment as well as the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions in England. Why does not the Minister agree with every single local authority in the north-east and, it seems, every single health organisation in the country that a minimum unit price for alcohol is overdue and that the Government must not give in to the alcohol lobby in the way they have to the tobacco lobby?

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Mr Browne: It is up to local authorities and local areas to take action. If local areas are not taking sufficient action on alcohol licensing or public health in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the country, he should urge them to do so. He refers to under-18s, but it is not legal for them to buy alcohol or tobacco.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): I am pleased that the blanket approach has not been adopted because the target is heavy, not moderate, drinkers. Does the Minister agree that there is little advantage in lining the turnover of supermarkets when local initiatives can adapt to local needs? With a coalition of retailers, police commissioners, pubs and, above all, local authorities, we can have more impact locally, where the situation is of course different from area to area.

Mr Browne: My hon. Friend makes an important point and does so very well. I merely add that the position of Opposition Front Benchers who are shouting at me throughout this statement is, in effect, that they think that money should be taken from their poorest constituents and put towards the profits of supermarkets. That is an unusual position for Labour Members to take.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): In the debate on the Loyal Address, I asked the Prime Minister a question in which I referred to a minimum price for alcohol. In his response he said:

“On minimum pricing for alcohol, it is important that we take action to deal with deeply discounted alcohol”.—[Official Report, 8 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 24.]

The Prime Minister gave a commitment then, but unfortunately what we have today is selective unit price reduction. As alcoholism rises among young people with great vigour, as it has in the past, what steps will the Minister take, with Health Ministers, to initiate a strategy to address alcoholism among young people?

Mr Browne: We are working across Government to tackle the harms caused by alcohol. I have described many of those actions in my statement and in response to questions. The Prime Minister specifically said that we must deal with the problem of 20p or 25p cans of lager being available in supermarkets. In dealing with that today, we are taking the type of action that many Members will approve of.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): The Minister is rightly tackling those who sell alcohol below the level of duty plus VAT. Will he update the House on what the

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Government will do to tackle those who are not paying duty plus VAT and selling alcohol illegally? That puts a lot of money into the pockets of organised crime, as he well knows.

Mr Browne: My hon. Friend makes an important point. This does impact on organised crime. Responsibility for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs lies with the Treasury, rather than the Home Office, and it is clearly keen to take ongoing measures to prevent public harms and to increase the revenue to Government. Duty plus VAT is a perfectly reasonable competition measure that the Government are introducing. It is an uncompetitive practice for supermarkets or others to sell alcohol below the level of tax that they have to pay on that alcohol. Anybody who has a free-market perspective and does not want smaller retailers to be unfairly disadvantaged will see that as another reason to support this measure.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): I speak as someone with a relative who continually battles with being an alcoholic. The vast majority of people who drink do so responsibly. Therefore, rather than hiking the price, why not place an appropriate levy on the industry to guarantee suitable help and support for those in need?

Mr Browne: I am sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s relative; I think he has raised that personal case before in deliberations of this type. The industry is taking actions that I have sought to outline in some detail during our deliberations. The problem that confronts all Governments, or anybody who has to make a political decision, is how much they restrict the liberties of the majority to protect the minority from inflicting harm on themselves. There is a balance to be struck. The majority of people who responded to our consultation did not want the individual choices of the majority of responsible drinkers to be unfairly penalised because some people use alcohol irresponsibly.

Royal Assent

Mr Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act 2013

Finance Act 2013

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

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Points of Order

2.6 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that the House attaches importance to accuracy and establishing the accuracy of events as quickly as possible. In that context, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) raised at Prime Minister’s questions the case of Mr and Mrs Goodwin, which he had raised previously on 27 February. He asserted that the Prime Minister had not replied to a letter from, or on behalf of, Mr and Mrs Goodwin. May I inform the House that the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) wrote to the Prime Minister on behalf of Mr and Mrs Goodwin, who are his constituents, on 4 March, enclosing a letter on their behalf from a sister written on 28 February? I have here a copy of the Prime Minister’s reply to that letter from the hon. Member for Islwyn dated 11 April this year.

Mr Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair. The Leader of the House has offered helpful information that is now on the record, and we should leave it there. [Interruption.] There is no matter of order for the Chair. It is not a debate. Information has been volunteered and we will leave it at that.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): It was incorrect information.

Mr Speaker: Well, I will give the hon. Gentleman a chance, and he had better not abuse it.

Wayne David: I would just like to make the point that I chose my words carefully in my question, which has been confirmed by Hansard. What I actually said was that the family had written to the Prime Minister and had not received a reply. That is correct—they have not received a reply. What the Leader of the House said about the response to my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) was accurate. There was a response, but it made no reference to the case whatsoever. I stand by those comments.

Mr Lansley: I am sorry, Mr Speaker, if I may—

Mr Speaker: Order. We are not going to have a long debate on this; we have a lot of business to get through. I call the Leader of the House, briefly.

Mr Lansley: I have the Prime Minister’s letter of 11 April here. It is to the hon. Member for Islwyn, who wrote on behalf of his constituents, and I think we can assume that he passed it on to them. It relates specifically to Mr and Mrs Goodwin and replies to their circumstances.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. We are not going to have a protracted exchange on this matter. I think that people are perfectly capable of making their own assessment—those in the House and outside it. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) made a point about a letter from individuals who did not receive a direct reply. The Leader of the House has made the point that there was a letter from an hon. Member to which the Prime

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Minister replied. We really do not have to go into the interstices of this, and it would be a disservice to the House to do so when we have pressing demands on our time, and, before we even reach those other matters, more points of order.




I think that I have given a very fair hearing to both points of view on this matter, and I am grateful to participants.

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has in the past hour published the Government’s initial response to the Silk commission on the devolution of taxation to Wales, but you may not be aware that it was leaked to the media at about 7 o’clock this morning and appeared on the BBC website. I know, Mr Speaker, that you take very seriously the role of Ministers to inform the House first, so could you please offer some guidance on the appropriateness of the response and, given that the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), had committed to a full debate about these important matters on the Floor of the House, on whether it is appropriate that the Government should issue a scanty, one-page response on the penultimate day of this term?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order, to which I respond as follows. First, if material has been leaked to the media in the way he suggests, that is entirely inappropriate and I deprecate it in the strongest possible terms. Important announcements should be made first to the House and it is a discourtesy to the House of Commons if people have pursued alternative methods.

Secondly, as to the question of a prior commitment to there being a debate on the Floor of the House, that is not a matter for the Chair. I note the moral point that the hon. Gentleman is making in a sense. He may well seek to make it again in business questions tomorrow or, if for some reason he will not be available to do so, it will not be beyond his wit to ensure that the point is aired. It will be a question of airing it for a second time, given that he has done so for the first this afternoon.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have given notice of this point of order, as you are aware, Mr Speaker, and I am glad that the Leader of the House is present, because it relates to the accuracy of statements given to the House by a Government Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), who has responsibility for disabled people. On 4 July, in answer to a question of mine about Wrexham Remploy, she said:

“I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the Wrexham site is being sold with a view to making 10 to 20 jobs available for some of the ex-Remploy staff.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2013; Vol. 565, c. 1085.]

I had no knowledge about that transaction, so I wrote to the hon. Lady, who wrote back:

“I can confirm that the disposal of assets at the Wrexham site has the potential to create up to 20 job opportunities for disabled people including ex Remploy employees.”

Those two statements are not the same. In the interests of accuracy, the hon. Lady’s statement on the Floor of the House contradicts the letter that she subsequently

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wrote to me. I have corresponded with the Minister to give her the opportunity to deal with this matter. I wrote to her yesterday telling her that if she did not respond to me I would raise it on the Floor of the House. She has not had the courtesy to reply. What steps can I take, Mr Speaker, to ensure that the record that my constituents—ex-Remploy workers—heard from the Government Dispatch Box is accurate?

Mr Speaker: I want to make two points. First, no request has been made to me by the Minister to correct the record. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is in pursuit of salvation on this matter, but I think I might fairly make the point that he has found his own. He asks what mechanism is available to him to, in a sense, put the record straight, and the answer is that his ingenuity and indefatigability have enabled him to do precisely that through this point of order. It may well be that it would be more to his taste for the Minister to come to the House, but Ministers are responsible for their own words and decisions on whether to provide a correction. Some people might feel—I leave it to colleagues to judge—that the hon. Gentleman has now substantially achieved his objective of clarification. Perhaps we can leave it there for today.

Bills Presented

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Andrew Lansley, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Vince Cable, Oliver Letwin, Miss Chloe Smith, Tom Brake, Jo Swinson and Joseph Johnson, presented a Bill to make provision for establishing and maintaining a register of persons carrying on the business of consultant lobbying and to require those persons to be entered in the register; to make provision about expenditure and donations for political purposes; to make provision about the Electoral Commission’s functions with respect to compliance with requirements imposed by or by virtue of enactments; to make provision relating to a trade union’s duty to maintain a register of members under section 24 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 97) with explanatory notes (Bill 97-EN).

Selective Licensing (Housing Standards) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Graham Jones presented a Bill to allow local authorities to apply selective licensing conditions to improve housing standards.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 28 February 2014, and to be printed (Bill 98).

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Electoral Register (Access to Public Services)

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

2.14 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce a requirement that electoral registration be a condition of access to public services; and for connected purposes.

Registering to vote is about the nearest thing this country has to a social contract. It is recognition that we live in a democracy and abide by the outcome of that democracy. However, about 3.5 million people are not registered to vote. According to the Electoral Commission, these people are likely to be young, on low incomes, private sector tenants, ethnic minorities or people with disabilities. Their disengagement from democracy is a cause of great concern to me and many other Members. This Bill will ensure that they engage.

In future, if someone wants housing benefits, a state pension, a national insurance number or even a driving licence, they will have to be on the electoral register. I do not think that that is too much to ask. After all, if people need to be on the electoral register to get a credit card, why not to get a driving licence?

Linking public services to the register will increase participation and draw an explicit connection between democracy and the benefits we enjoy because we live in a democracy. If someone does not like living in a democracy, that is fine, but they should not expect all the good things that democracy offers in return.

The electoral register is important and deserves to be comprehensive. It is the source of deciding who does jury service, so everyone should be on it. As far as I am concerned, refusal to be on the register shows contempt for juries and contempt for courts. What is more, the electoral register is an important tool in the fight against crime.

The police routinely use the register if they want to get in touch with a suspect or someone who is at risk. It is what banks and credit companies use to prevent fraud. Councils use it to check that people do not commit council tax or benefit fraud. A failure to sign the register is therefore a failure to co-operate with the agencies that fight crime. I do not have a problem with reasonable sanctions being taken against those who do not sign.

Of course, the electoral register should be supported for nobler reasons. Charities use it to help raise funds for countless good causes. When it comes down to it, however, its central purpose—to give people a chance to vote—is more important than anything else. For that reason alone, I think we can all agree that the electoral register should be as comprehensive as possible.

When I went to the USA last year to volunteer on the Obama for America campaign, some politicians engaged in what was called voter suppression, a deliberate attempt to ensure that poor people, ethnic minorities and the young could not vote. Surely none of us wants to live in that kind of country, where elections are won or lost because of who is denied a vote. My Bill is an antidote to voter suppression and it is needed, because the figure of 3.5 million is about to grow.

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I am assured that the Government are not committing voter suppression, but according to the Electoral Commission registration rates may soon fall from 90% to 65%. Mums and dads are about to be prevented from registering their children to vote. Individual registration sounds appealing, but when it was introduced in Northern Ireland, the register collapsed by 11%. The Electoral Commission says that this “adversely affected” disadvantaged groups—the people most likely to be disengaged.

Thankfully, the Government’s plan to make registering to vote optional was shelved and the annual canvass was reinstated. However, there are serious flaws in the new system of registration, especially with regard to how difficult it will be for local authorities to sign people up.

The challenge of getting people to register was belatedly recognised last month by the Minister for political and constitutional reform, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), when she offered £4.2 million for anyone who could come up with unspecified measures to reduce the number of people who fall through the gaps. However, as the Electoral Reform Society says,

“when you’re talking about trying to prevent literally millions of people from falling off the register, £4.2m is not a great deal of money. You need a lot more than that to close the gap.”

My council, Merton, is very good at promoting the electoral register. Before its annual canvass, only 65% of households have completed their form; afterwards, 97% have. That, however, is households. Like many of us, I knock on a lot of doors to talk to constituents, and there are homes where I see the same faces every year but miss the same individuals every time. Electoral registration officers will no longer be able to accept the word of the person they do see that the person they do not see still lives there, so those people will fall off the register, and because EROs will no longer be able to accept forms that are completed on the doorstep, but will have to rely on people to fill them in later, even good, proactive councils such as Merton will have to fall back on blind faith. We all know that many of those forms will never be filled in or returned.

The Electoral Commission reckons that a third of eligible voters will simply not register, and the figure will be worse in areas of deprivation. What we will see, if we are not careful, is that the people on the edges of society will slowly disengage—we will institutionalise the underclass. The electoral register will no longer be comprehensive.

The Government say that the new system will tackle fraud. Like everyone else, I am concerned about electoral malpractice, but we have to remember that, even according to the Government’s papers, fraudulent registration is

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“rare”. The Electoral Commission’s report on the 2013 elections lists a number of alleged malpractices:

“potential campaign or nomination offences, including alleged false nominations, false statements about the character or conduct of candidates, and allegations that some election materials failed to include the correct imprint.”

Fraudulent registration was not mentioned. Indeed, surveys show that 20 times more people are satisfied with how we register to vote than are dissatisfied. What is more, there is little incentive to register fraudulently because when councils look at the electoral register, it might lead to a higher council tax bill.

Instead of reducing the electoral register to tackle a fraud that does not take place, we should enhance it to fight bigger crimes. The problem with our electoral register is not that too many people are on it, but that 3.5 million people are not. There is a lot that we could do about that. The Electoral Reform Society wants steps to be taken to make it easier to register, such as people being able to register on election day. It also wants people to be able to register

“whenever people interact with government—for instance when they collect their pensions or benefits”.

I would go even further. Registering should be stage one in the process of interacting with Government. At a stroke, that would reinstate millions of people who are missing from the register. The vast majority of the missing people are eligible for benefits, tax credits, pensions and so on, and many are already receiving them. Bringing those people on to the register would ensure that even more people are engaged in the democratic process. The Bill is about living in a something-for-something society—public services in return for civic duty; the rewards of living in a democracy in return for signing up to democracy. Registering to vote is about engagement. It is a recognition that a person is not on the margins, but a full participant in society. It is our social contract.

Strengthening the register would tackle fraud and reduce social exclusion, but more than that, it would ensure more people had a chance to vote. Those of us who believe in democracy should all agree that that would be no bad thing. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Siobhain McDonagh, Ian Austin, Hazel Blears, Mr Russell Brown, Rosie Cooper, Nic Dakin, Mike Gapes, Mr Andrew Love, John Mann and Mr John Spellar present the Bill.

Siobhain McDonagh accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 January 2014, and to be printed (Bill 95).

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Opposition Day

[5th Allotted Day]

Paid Directorships and Consultancies (MPs)

2.24 pm

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House believes that, as part of a wider regulatory framework for second jobs, from the start of the next Parliament no hon. Members should be permitted to hold paid directorships or consultancies.

It is good to see your cheerful face in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, although it might not last for long.

There is a compressed time scale this afternoon, so I give notice that I will not take many interventions. That is a shame because I was looking forward to them given that, until an hour ago, not a single Government Back Bencher had sought to speak in the debate. Somebody who is very mischievous said to me that that was because they were all off doing second jobs. I totally reject that suggestion. They are not making speeches because they are afraid of the argument.

I hope that the debate does not descend into the usual finger-pointing exercise. I have no interest in denigrating the activities of any hon. Member. The House should be clear that Members who have second jobs at the moment have not broken any rule of the House. I am not suggesting that anybody is less diligent as a Member of Parliament because they have a second job.

I will start the debate, by way of context, with a number: 895. That is the number of young people in my constituency who have no job, and yet here we are talking about MPs continuing to have several jobs after the general election. Some of those young people or their families might be watching our proceedings.

The Commons has always allowed MPs to have other jobs, but all rules—and above all, this rule—ought to be reviewed from time to time. In reviewing the rules, it would be better to make progress with consensus across the parties. However, let me be equally clear that if there is no such consensus, the Labour party will ensure, by the time of the election, that there will be regulations governing our candidates once they are elected.

There is a strong case for change. We have moved a long way since the time of Hugh Dalton, who reputedly visited his constituency once a quarter.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): As much as that?

Jon Trickett: Yes, and it is said that when he arrived, it was such a special occasion that the station master put on his top hat and tails and rolled out a red carpet for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) (Lab): You get that every week.

Jon Trickett: Yes, I get the red carpet regularly, but only on the way back out.

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I will quote two Prime Ministers, neither of whom are from my party. I am not in the habit of quoting Prime Ministers from other parties, but these quotations are quite relevant. More than a century ago, Gladstone said that “an MP who does his duty to his constituents has very little time for anything else”. Of course, MPs were all men in those days. In 2009, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) said that it was

“necessary to demonstrate 100 per cent focus on Parliament, politics”.

We can all agree that being an MP is a profession that requires an enormous commitment of time and energy.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con) rose—

Jon Trickett: I will not give way yet.

Let us be honest: the demands on our time have increased dramatically since the time of Gladstone and, indeed, since 2009, when the current Prime Minister made the comments that I have just quoted. MPs are under more pressure than ever in their constituencies. Most of us spend more time than previous generations of MPs in the areas that we represent and our constituents rightly expect us to be there. I think that all Members on both sides of the House would agree that that is a positive development.

In addition to the work that we do in our constituencies, the role of Back Benchers in the Commons is changing. As reforms to the Select Committees, the modernisation of the House and the improved and increasingly intense scrutiny of legislation roll out, there is added pressure on our working week. There is also the fact that we live in an internet age of mass e-mails and 24/7 media. All that means that our work is increasing exponentially. In the mind of the public—

Several hon. Members rose—

Jon Trickett: Hon. Members should listen to the argument. I am not making a case against any individual. Just listen to the argument and I will give way shortly. Let me make the case. In the mind of the public it is clear that there is an overwhelming mood, which amounts to an expectation, that we should be working full-time for our constituents.

Several hon. Members rose—

Jon Trickett: The House needs to adapt its culture—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he is not going to take interventions at the moment. [Hon. Members: “Shame.”] No, it is up to the hon. Gentleman. I will decide whether it is a shame or not. He said that he will give way shortly. What we also do not need is a Whip on the Opposition Front Bench trying to antagonise Government Members.

Jon Trickett: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will give way in a moment or two.

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Apart from the pressure on our time, there is another issue: the deteriorating reputation of politics in the mind of the public. We all know, for whatever reason, that the public perception of our role as law-makers and public representatives has sunk in recent times to an all-time low, and we need to address that. No single reform on its own can restore the trust that we need to rebuild, but better regulation of second jobs would clearly help. Here is one reason why. [Interruption.] I will explain why if the Leader of the House can be patient for just one second. He has to hear the argument before he can rebut it. Here is a reason why that can help. The issue relates to the problem of perception—I use that word carefully—of potential conflict of interest. Our primary loyalty as right hon. and hon. Members is to promote the common good for our country and our constituents, rather than our personal, private interests.

I am not suggesting for one moment that any right hon. or hon. Member is allowing the pursuit of private interest to interfere with their duty to the wider public interest, but I am suggesting that there is a widespread perception that that is the case. In politics, as we know, perception is just as important as reality.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con) rose—

Jon Trickett: I will give way to the hon. Lady, but in doing so let me ask her this question. After the next election, Labour MPs will have no remunerated directorships or consultancies. Will she say the same for her party?

Harriett Baldwin: As the hon. Gentleman can see, I do not have any remunerated outside interests currently, but I did have one that carried forward after the election. He seems to making the case for separating the Executive completely from Parliament. Is he saying that none of those on the Opposition Front Bench would be prepared to be Ministers after the next election?

Jon Trickett: Let me say first that I note that the hon. Lady did not refer to the primary point, which is whether Government Members support reform. As regards the question of whether Ministers are somehow operating a private interest, that is a preposterous argument. Ministers work for the Crown on behalf of the public, because we live in a democratic society. For anybody to suggest that Ministers or a Prime Minister are somehow working for their private interests is a preposterous argument. I hope that when she reflects, she understands that that is the case.

If we stop to reflect for an instant, it is easy to understand how the perception I was describing might develop. The House will know that anyone who becomes a director of a company board, or consultant to a company, has a fiduciary duty—a legally defined concept—to that company. [Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We have already had the Opposition Whips intervening. I do not need the Government Whips leading the march of opposition.

Jon Trickett: Fiduciary duty requires the person who sits on a board, or who is a consultant to a company, to act in the best financial interests of that company. MPs

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swear an oath of loyalty to the country and to their constituents. Let me illustrate the problem as I see it. Were an MP to find themselves on the board of, or be a consultant to, a tobacco company—to take an example at random—they would be bound by a fiduciary duty to pursue the financial interests of that tobacco company. Let us imagine proposed legislation to improve public health, which would be damaging to the interests of the tobacco industry, being introduced in the House of Commons. The perception of a conflict of interest would arise in the public’s mind. An explanation would have to be sought on the way an MP chose to vote, particularly if the remuneration received—as is the case for some hon. Members—is two or three times greater than the remuneration they receive as an MP. The public’s perception would lead to only one conclusion.

It is in order to tackle this problem that my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) has taken decisive action. From 2015, all Labour MPs will be banned from having directorships or consultancies for third-party commercial interests. I hope that other party leaders will see the sense of what we are proposing and move in the same direction.

Charlie Elphicke: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jon Trickett: I will on that point. I invite the hon. Gentleman to set out what he would say to the hundreds of young people under the age of 24 in his constituency of Dover who have no job, when he defends the right of MPs to have several jobs.

Charlie Elphicke: I would say to them that I do not have outside paid jobs. I am a Member of Parliament. My only job is as a Member of Parliament. Why did the hon. Gentleman, in 2009, vote against a ban on outside interests? Why is he doing a U-turn?

Jon Trickett: The House will have noticed that the hon. Gentleman has not said that he will vote with the Opposition to regulate second jobs. He acknowledges that there are hundreds of young people without a single job, and he has failed to address the central moral question. I would like all-party agreement on the Opposition’s proposal, but it looks like Government Members will not respond to it.

There are those who will make the valid argument that Members of Parliament need to remain connected to the world beyond Westminster. The problem is to my mind best resolved by having a set of MPs who represent far more diverse backgrounds than we have at the moment. For example, about 60 MPs went to 13 fee-paying schools.

Helen Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem with second jobs and the connection with the outside world is that we seldom see Members taking low-paid jobs? They usually take very highly paid jobs. If they spent their time in their constituencies talking to their constituents, instead of working for firms in the City, they would know more about the real world.

Jon Trickett: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. If we believe that we need to connect, then the choice of jobs that some MPs take is intriguing. I will come on to that point in a moment or two, because I have some

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thoughts on it. Having a more diverse set of MPs would be a better way of connecting the Commons to the world than simply saying that we should all take second, third, fourth or even fifth jobs.

I have spoken to Labour MPs who were involved in business activities before being elected and who remain closely interested in the corporate world in which they worked, but who, shortly after being elected, voluntarily ceased to take remuneration because they believed that being an MP was a full-time commitment. I have also spoken to many Labour candidates for the next election—a new generation of Labour MPs, I hope—and I have not yet met one who believes that being an MP should be anything other than a full-time commitment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) said, when hon. Members say that having a second job somehow connects them to the outside world, what they generally mean—I am not talking about everyone—is a top, well-paid job. Not a single MP has recorded in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests a second job as a manual worker, a hospital porter, a cleaner or a call centre worker.

Today’s motion deals with remunerated directorships and consultancies. Beyond those activities, the motion talks about regulating other sources of income. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North has announced that we are considering a cap on other forms of outside income, such as earnings from journalism or media appearances, that would apply to all parties. An hon. Member might belong to a profession—normally we talk about lawyers, doctors or perhaps dentists—and need to retain their professional qualifications, but I remind the House that a gas fitter also needs to do so many hours a year to retain his CORGI certificate and an electrician needs to keep in touch with the regulations of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Nothing we are proposing would prevent such a thing.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s exception. I ought to be a gas fitter; I would be better off financially than I am in my current profession. He seems fixated on the paid part. Many Members have jobs on boards and organisations that are unpaid but which occupy the same amount of time and effort as those that are paid. Is his problem with the paid part?

Jon Trickett: I think the hon. Gentleman has been persuaded by my argument and might decide to join us in the Division Lobby. I hope others do, too, because, on this question of fiduciary duty, if an MP is remunerated, sometimes very substantially, it will create the perception that they might be tempted to calculate the impact of a particular proposal on that income before deciding how to vote. I do not suggest that any MP has ever done such a thing, but in the public mind, that is a widespread view. If we cannot agree this afternoon, Government Members should at least reflect on that.

MPs’ other activities, including remunerated activities, can be taken into account in any new rules we might agree. For the vast majority of MPs, our proposals should be very simple and make no real changes to how they go about their work. Without robust regulation, however, the perception will continue that politics works for a tiny closed circle of people at the top of our

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society, but not for the millions of hard-working people who play by the rules yet find it increasingly hard to get by, and that brings me to the kernel of my argument. Millions of people play by the rules, but feel that they are getting a really rough deal, while also believing that there is a different set of rules for others, particularly those at the top. We politicians must take account of that public mood. It is time we stepped up to the mark. Precisely because it is we who set the rules, the rules have to apply to us above all.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jon Trickett: No, I have almost finished and others want to speak.

Every single one of us feels great pride whenever we enter or leave the Chamber, and we all believe that if politics works properly, we can make our world a better place.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that there is something requiring a remedy, but he keeps telling the House that the problem has not occurred. Does he know of any circumstances in which the problem he purports to be trying to solve has actually arisen?

Jon Trickett: As I have said many times, the problem is the public perception that when an MP is earning several hundred thousands of pounds a year from a third-party commercial operation, they will take that into account when making a decision. I do not allege that any MP has so behaved, but the public believe—[Interruption.] Government Members can protest, but they will know, assuming they knock on doors at election time—perhaps they do not—what people say about us.

Working as an MP is the highest honour a democracy can bestow on us, so there should be no doubt in the public’s mind that we are placing every ounce of our intelligence, energy and loyalty at the service of the common good, not being diverted into defending our own private personal interests. For that reason, I hope the House can have a sensible debate, not a finger-pointing one, and even at this late stage support the motion.

2.46 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): On behalf of the Government, I ask the House to reject the motion.

I am interested in the contrast, which could not be more obvious, between this Opposition debate and the Bill we have just published. On the one hand, the Bill, the aim of which is to tackle a real issue, focuses on a specific potential problem concerning the transparency of third-party lobbying and third-party influences on the political system. By contrast, the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) has presented a flawed motion to which the House should object regardless of whether Members agree with the principle he has tried to enunciate. It also turns out, however, to be nothing other than an effort to fling mud. He says he is not trying to impugn anybody’s motives, that nobody has done anything wrong, that everything is absolutely fine and that the House has behaved wonderfully, but then he says that the House should be constrained. It makes no sense.

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It was interesting that the hon. Gentleman did not tell the House the reason for the motion. It is chaff. As the Leader of the Opposition knows, what matters is the perception that the Labour party is in the pay of the trade unions, which control its policies, candidacies and leadership, which it bought; so to divert attention from that, which goes to the heart of this issue, the Labour party throws up this chaff.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Where they are aware of it, my constituents are concerned not about the perception, but about the reality: that the current Leader of the Opposition was not put there by a one man, one vote process and that Labour MPs were outvoted by the trade unions.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is right. Not only Labour MPs, but the Labour party membership, were outvoted by the trade unions, and nothing that the Leader of the Opposition is saying will change that. As far as I am aware, one third of the electoral college for the leadership of the Labour party will continue to be trade-union controlled, so if they can get a sufficiently large majority, they can control the leadership of the Labour party.

The speech of the hon. Member for Hemsworth made no sense. I tried to listen to it and hear the argument, but if he wants to intervene and explain, even at this stage, I would be glad of that.

The motion is about regulating the ways that Members of the House work. As Leader of the House—that is one reason why I am responding to this debate—it is my view that proposals adopted by the House to regulate how Members behave should be the product of consultation across the House, and considered on the basis of proper scrutiny by relevant bodies, either in the House or externally. In this case, the Labour party has put forward a proposal without any such basis or advice to the House; procedurally it has gone about it the wrong way.

What is the real objective behind the motion? We should proceed in this House on the basis of trying to solve real problems. If the hon. Gentleman wants simply to talk about the issue, and the Labour party wants to get rid of the perception that those who are paid in this House are controlled by their paymasters, I have a simple proposition for the hon. Gentleman, which involves not taking money from the trade unions. That is not just a perception; the reality is that Labour’s interests are controlled by the trade unions. What is the hon. Gentleman trying to solve?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to reach a conclusion and bring the debate together, but I do not think he wants to be dependent on the policies and funding of the Labour party. This debate is about remuneration and second jobs in this House. I am sure the Leader of the House is desperate to get to that point.

Mr Lansley: I am trying to get to the argument, as I understood it, of the hon. Member for Hemsworth, and his point about the public perception that where Members of the House are in receipt of money from outside organisations, they are in the control of those organisations. I do not think that is true and I want to know what the motion is trying to achieve. It does not ensure that Members spend any given amount of time working

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with their constituents. A paid directorship or consultancy for one or two hours a week would be ruled out by this motion, but if a Member was engaged in travelling the world, for example, to undertake speaking engagements on behalf of some other organisation, which took them away for weeks—




Apparently in the view of Opposition Members that is absolutely fine and would not interfere with their ability to look after their constituents at all.

The motion does not stop Members having second jobs; it simply tries to stop them having certain kinds of second jobs, which is rather bizarre. It imposes no limit on the amount of money Members can earn outside politics; it simply wants to stop them earning money in particular ways.

Charlie Elphicke: My right hon. Friend has set out how what he considers to be the conflict issue has not been made into a real issue by the Opposition; it is just a hypothetical issue. There is also the issue of time. What is his view of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw)? He said:

“I devote around 60-70 hours to my duties as an MP, both national and constituency-related…After allowing for sleep, and family/social activities, there are another 30-40 hours available for my other work.”

Mr Lansley: My view is that as a result of the reforms, Members are accountable through the transparent registration of interests, which includes the amount of time they spend on those interests. They are accountable to their constituents through the register in a transparent way, and their constituents will judge them. The implication of what the hon. Member for Hemsworth was saying is that none of that has caused any problem and all is fine.

David Miliband was a director of Sunderland football club and engaged in other consultancies, and the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) may also be engaged in activities. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) is a consultant to a company, which apparently is absolutely fine, as is the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford), who is in his place. I refer to those right hon. Members because apparently it is fine for them to do those things and it does not impinge on their constituents or responsibilities, yet the hon. Member for Hemsworth wants to stop them doing that. How absurd is that?

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House confirm that he notified each of those Members that he planned to refer to them in the debate?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I have done that.

In our parliamentary democracy it is well established and accepted that many MPs have responsibilities beyond those of individual Back Benchers representing their constituents. There is nothing unusual about that. We do it as Ministers, as Chairs of Committees, and even in the distinguished role of Deputy Speaker of the House. Such responsibilities do not in any sense constrain Members of the House in being effective advocates and representatives on behalf of their constituents. I have not heard a serious suggestion that MPs should be barred from taking on responsibilities that go wider

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than their role as a constituency MP. The motion does not preclude Members from maintaining second jobs or paid outside interests; it merely sets out to impose a ban on a very specific type of employment.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the powerful point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) that our main task is to restore the standing of politicians in the country? Most people in the country regard our wage as very handsome, and they expect people to do a full-time job if they are getting a full-time wage. It cannot be done the other way round if people are part-timing.

Mr Lansley: My view, and I think that of the hon. Member for Hemsworth and Members across the House, is that it is perfectly possible in addition to one’s responsibilities to one’s constituents, and to the House, to undertake additional activities. We do that as Ministers, as Chairs of Committees, and in our constituencies in all sorts of ways. We do it in charitable work and, as has been said, when engaged in authorship and advisory positions, looking after charities and in all-party groups. If one looks at the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, one sees that people the length and breadth of this House are engaged in a wide variety of additional activities. It was held to be in the interests of the House that that wide range of activities should not be unduly constrained, but that Members should be completely transparent about their activities and interests, whether they are or are not remunerated, and how much time they take.

This issue was previously considered by an independent expert body—the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Opposition Front Benchers may like to recall that that Committee argued that those who wished to be full-time Members should be free to do so, but that it considered it

“desirable for the House of Commons to contain Members with a wide variety of continuing outside interests. If that were not so, Parliament would be less well-informed and effective than it is now, and might well be more dependent on lobbyists.”

The Opposition’s proposal could lead to the very thing that on this very day we are trying better to control.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): The motion mentions two types of corporate structures, but the hon. Member for Hemsworth was talking about payment as a principle. That ignores partnerships or self-employment. The motion is flawed. I know the hon. Gentleman was introducing it as best he could, but does that not show the lack of understanding of corporate structures and business overall among Labour Members?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I fear Labour also misunderstands the nature of the relationship of a director to a company, and, where a director is a Member of Parliament, the relationship between those two responsibilities. Someone may act as a director and have a responsibility to the company as a whole in certain areas—I freely admit that for one year in the more than 16 years I have been in this House, I was a director of a company while also a Member of Parliament. I entered into an explicit contract that I would not undertake any activities for

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that company that drew on my interests and responsibilities as an MP—




No, we did not publish the contract, but I entered into a contract that made it clear that where there was any conflict of interest, the company would expect me to declare it and remove myself from any activity with the company concerned. I was very clear about that, so the question of a conflict of interest between my responsibilities as a Member of Parliament and to the company would not arise.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has described beautifully how the contract he drew up with the company protected the interest of the company, but not how it protected the interests of this House or of his constituents. Even the right hon. Gentleman must know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. That is the point.

Mr Lansley: On the contrary, I was explaining to the House how it is perfectly straightforward not to prejudice one’s responsibilities as a Member of Parliament. Members in this House are very clear about that and that is why such matters are published in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The fact that the hon. Lady has stood up and said that he who pays the piper calls the tune will be an entertaining thought for us to take forward and I look forward to my hon. Friends making that very clear.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth knows that I have written to the Leader of the Opposition about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, published today, to say that if he and his colleagues wish to follow through on the principle initiated by the Leader of the Opposition that members of trade unions should be able to exercise a deliberate choice about their participation in a political fund, the Bill is available. I invite the hon. Gentleman to come forward and say whether or not he will do that. If he does not, we will know that it was all rhetoric with no follow-through.

The conclusion of the Committee on Standards in Public Life was that Members of Parliament should remain free to have paid employment unrelated to their role as MPs. That was widely accepted, and I have seen no evidence or argument that questions the validity of the conclusion and the hon. Gentleman mentioned no individual case that prejudiced that conclusion. We have clear rules on lobbying and the registration of interests that were put before the House by the previous Labour Government and agreed in April 2009. As we heard, the hon. Member for Hemsworth, who was on the Government Benches at that time, supported that and was against the exclusion of other earnings. The then Government did not go further down that path and they were right not to do so.

We have mechanisms for investigating any alleged breach of the rules and proper procedures for taking action where necessary. The Chairman of the Standards Committee, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) is in his place and if he wished, he could take action—although I suspect he would not need to do so, as no case arises. I do not think we have any lack of rules that would enable us to act when any conflict of interest took place. We do not need new and arbitrary rules.

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Mr Graham Stuart: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Leader of the Opposition shows through today’s motion that he does not really understand how business works? He said a year or two ago, if I remember correctly, that he would like more entrepreneurs on the Labour Benches. When we look across the House, we have to ask how many people on those Benches started a business and got it going. There is a small number, but not many. It is quite clear from the motion that they do not understand. I have been a publisher since the age of 25 and I am a director of the company I set up then; I do not think that that harms my ability to represent my constituents in this House.

Mr Lansley: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I was rather disappointed because the implication of the motion seems to be that if someone is in business, they ought specifically to be excluded from being able to pursue those interests in this House. The hon. Member for Hemsworth was perfectly happy for people in all sorts of profession to continue—doctors, farmers, lawyers and, presumably, architects. There are all sorts of partnerships and a sole trader or partner would be able to continue to work in their interests, but a director of a company would apparently not be able to do so. I presume that he would exclude paid directors of companies that are limited by guarantee, which are often not-for-profit organisations. I fail to see why so many such organisations, which do good work, should be precluded from having any Member of Parliament participating in them.

The motion refers to the

“wider regulatory framework for second jobs”.

I failed to hear in the hon. Gentleman’s opening speech what he meant by that, so perhaps we will hear some more about it from the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) when he concludes the debate.

There are practical issues that mean that the proposal is flawed. It refers to a director but not to an employee of a company, and it does not refer to partners—trustees have been mentioned. A range of circumstances have been ignored and left out, and the effort is to preclude directorships specifically. It refers to “consultancies”, although that is undefined, and apparently being an adviser would be okay. Or would every adviser be treated as a consultant? If we put the word “adviser” into the motion, instead of referring to consultants, it would no doubt extend widely among those on the Labour Benches, but apparently that is okay—[Interruption.] I will not go through every entry in the register, as I have already done that, but there are many circumstances in which Members are advisers to organisations. Apparently, I do not understand whether they are consultants or not.

As I have said, many professions, including many that are very time consuming—there are Members in the Chamber who consume quite a bit of time in writing books and articles and taking part in broadcast activities, but that seems to be perfectly okay—are ignored.

I cannot see from the motion who would police the new rules. Who would define who was a director for this purpose? Who would undertake the difficult task of deciding what was a consultancy? I cannot imagine the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards would welcome the task of monitoring the provisions—we might hear whether she would. Do we need a new quango? Would

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Members rather the function be given to IPSA—




I think that was an ironic cheer from Opposition Members. IPSA considered the matter in its latest report and stated, perhaps with a moment’s regret, that it was not within its remit. It then made an ex cathedra statement about it anyway—

Ian Lucas: Ex cathedra?

Mr Lansley: Well, IPSA is a bit cathedral-like, is it not? A bit papal, really.

IPSA considered the issue and, although it decided it was not within its remit, said that

“the proportion of MPs with significant outside earnings is small.”

At least IPSA agrees with the hon. Member for Hemsworth that there is not a problem, but, like most people, it imagines that when there is no problem it is not necessary to find a solution.

The solution—the key to which is in the Bill published today—is transparency. Members are free to divide their time between their different and varied responsibilities. They represent constituents, scrutinise legislation, hold the Government to account and pursue the interests of their party—all those things take up a lot of Members’ time—but they must judge how to balance and allocate their time. Individual Members will be accountable through the register for where their interests lie and to their constituents for how they undertake their responsibilities.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): Should this not be an issue for the electorates and constituencies concerned? It seems to me to set a dangerous precedent to try to impose some sort of central authority.

Mr Lansley: Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Transparency is key. If there is any adverse perception to which the hon. Member for Hemsworth is referring, we should make it clear that the register is absolutely transparent and that people can look to see that Members do not undertake activities that conflict with their responsibilities to their constituents and in this House.

We can dismiss the issue of earnings, because clearly Opposition Members are very happy for people to earn a great deal of money if necessary, as long as they do not earn it in specific ways. We can dismiss the question of time, since no argument is being presented that Members are incapable of undertaking other activities and that they would not have sufficient time to look after their constituents. Clearly, they do and, if anything, all the evidence suggests that Members are devoting more time to their responsibilities in this House and using the advances in communications technology and elsewhere to provide improving services. Opportunities are increasing, added to by IPSA’s proposals for Members to have an annual report, to set out for our constituents how we do that.

It seems to me that no issue arises on the motion. The issue before us is how to achieve the greatest transparency and our Bill, published today, is the only relevant action taking place. It meets the objective of being more transparent about third-party influences—whether that is about lobbying or non-party campaigning at election times or about the scrutiny and accountability of trade unions.

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There is an issue, of course, about “who pays the piper calls the tune”, as the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) said. That is an issue in relation to the Labour party and the influence of the trade unions, and the Labour party really has to respond to that. I suggest to Labour Members that they cut the chaff and stop trying to divert from where the real issues lie, and instead respond to the offer we have made for there to be a change to the legislation that begins to tackle the real issue that the public care about, which is that he who pays for the Labour party calls its tune.

The motion is flawed in practice and pointless in its content. Whether or not one has sympathy with some of the arguments presented by the hon. Member for Hemsworth, I urge Members to recognise that the motion should not be supported by the House and to reject it.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. There must be a five-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions in order to ensure everyone can participate in the debate and we have time for the wind-ups.

3.10 pm

Mr Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): May I, appropriately, at the start of this contribution refer to my interests as listed in the register? I should also at the outset make it clear that I have had second jobs throughout the time that I have served as a Member of Parliament. Before I was elected as MP for Greenwich in 1992, I ran a small business offering housing consultancy services—so the Conservative Member, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), who believes Opposition Members do not have business experience is not correct—and that reflected my own career in housing over the previous 20 years. I sold that business when I was elected to the House, but remained as a consultant to the organisation that bought the business until I became a Minister in 1997. From 1997 to 2005 I served as a Minister in the Department that is now known as the Department for Communities and Local Government—it would take up too much of my five minutes to list its various names when I was a Minister there. That was the hardest-working second job I had by a long way during my time here.

After I left Government I accepted invitations to undertake work—some paid, some without remuneration— from organisations operating in fields in which I had previous professional experience or relevant skills. All were referred to, and approved by, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which considers applications from former Ministers proposing to take on outside interests. It is worth quoting the opening paragraph of the guidance issued by the Committee at the time:

“It is in the public interest that former Ministers with experience in government should be able to move into business or into other areas of public life.”

It went on to talk about the necessary safeguards to ensure propriety, but that statement of the public interest was very clear and the Leader of the House referred to it in his comments about the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

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I have never allowed my outside interests, which are all properly declared, to interfere with, or inhibit, my parliamentary and constituency work. They certainly demanded a lot less time than my responsibilities as a Front-Bench spokesman for my party in Opposition and as a Minister between 1997 and 2005.

As I am standing down at the next election, my party’s proposals, as referred to in the motion and described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), will not affect me personally, so I hope I can offer a reasonably impartial analysis of their likely impact. It is certainly right that we should be debating this issue as there is genuine public concern that MPs should act in the public interest, and should not abuse their position by undertaking inappropriate activity on behalf of lobbyists or organisations seeking improperly to secure an advantage. I stress the word “improperly” because it is also right that organisations, whether commercial or not, which want to influence Parliament should be able to speak freely with MPs and have relationships with supporters in this House. I myself, in the voluntary sector before I was elected in 1992, had frequent contacts with MPs and Ministers in order to pursue issues relating to the voluntary organisation I was involved with, which was promoting policies and practices to achieve better housing outcomes and more effective relief for the homeless.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I agree with every word the right hon. Gentleman says, and I congratulate him on his involvement in so many other activities which are a great help to his work in this Chamber. What advice would he give to somebody who owns a business that they cannot sell, however? I am a farmer, and the only way for me to remove myself from the business completely would be either to sell the farm completely or move out of it all together. What advice would he give people like me?

Mr Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman has raised a specific issue and I will refer later to one or two circumstances that seem to me to be not well covered by the terms set out in the motion. I hope he will bear with me until I get there.

When I was in the voluntary sector, one of the observations often made by my colleagues working in the housing world was that MPs, as generalists, had only a limited knowledge and understanding of the often complex and technical rules that applied to their clients—members of the public—and the frequent refrain I heard was “If only they could spend time working with us, then they would better understand the issue.” I therefore want to emphasise at the outset the importance of not acting in ways that might inhibit or restrict proper links and relationships between MPs and the wider world.

The motion states that, as part of a regulatory framework for MPs’ second jobs, following the next general election no MP should be permitted to hold “paid directorships or consultancies.” It is not clear to me what the logic of that is. What is the difference between a paid directorship or consultancy and a contract to write a book or an article, or a payment for practising as a lawyer or a doctor, or a fee for providing a piece of expert advice? Is it the payment that is the problem? If so, the motion is far too narrow as it would leave open

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all kinds of opportunities for MPs to receive payment for remunerated activities other than those described as directorships or consultancies. If the problem is not the payment but is instead the relationship implied by the directorship or consultancy, why should a paid directorship of an organisation with a remit that clearly involves public interest objectives, such as the construction of social and affordable housing, be banned whereas a remunerated relationship other than a directorship or consultancy with a profit-making organisation pursuing entirely private interests would appear to be acceptable?

One of the arguments advanced by those who wish to curtail MPs’ outside interests is that the MP’s job is a full-time one and their constituents deserve their full-time attention. I wholly agree.

Charlie Elphicke: The right hon. Gentleman’s expertise in housing is well known. Does he find that he can bring that expertise to bear in the House?

Mr Raynsford: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention, and I was going to come to that point, although my time is very limited.

I wholly agree that MPs should be working assiduously for their constituents and putting in the necessary time to fulfil all their constituency and parliamentary responsibilities. In my experience the vast majority of MPs do that; they work hard and conscientiously, putting in far longer hours than would be expected in most other jobs.

Over my 20-plus years in this place, I have consistently worked very long hours, dealing with a huge volume of constituency correspondence, holding six advice surgeries every month, and sustaining a busy programme of visits and activities in the constituency. We all, I believe, try to do our best to represent our constituencies and constituents and are probably doing more such work today than at any time in Parliament’s history. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth referred to Hugh Dalton in his introductory remarks. I am told that when Lord Palmerston was invited to become a Member by the landowner who controlled the constituency he was “elected” for, it was on the condition that he never, repeat never, appeared in the constituency.

Things have moved on a lot since then, but if it were truly suspected that MPs were not adequately pulling their weight, we ought to have measures to restrict the demands of their parliamentary second jobs such as Front-Bench and ministerial responsibilities or chairmanships of Select Committees. That would be absolutely absurd, and I genuinely do not think that it is an issue.

My final point is about the representativeness of this House. People have expressed real fears that we are increasingly becoming a professionalised House of Commons with fewer opportunities for people in mid-career to come into this House bringing expertise from outside. I fear this measure would accelerate that process.

3.18 pm

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford). Indeed, I would happily donate my time to allow him to continue for a further five minutes, because he outlined many reasons why both this motion and the thinking behind it are flawed.

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The shadow Front-Bench team is, I think, trying to address the concern among the wider public about politicians, their position and trust. As one of the 240-odd Members who entered the House in 2010, I recognise that the seat that I managed to secure was a victim of that affair. I recognise the need to ensure that the public trust politicians, but I wanted to share with the House my own experience.

In the selection for the constituency of Bracknell there was an open meeting—a caucus. There were seven of us, most of whom had had jobs before and one of whom is now a Member here. During that selection process I pointed out to the meeting that I would continue working in a second job as a doctor. This was a meeting that everybody who was on the electoral register in Bracknell could attend. Approximately 50% of the people there were non-Conservative members. Despite that, I was selected in a very competitive field. My hon. Friend who is now the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) was second. I like to remind him of that on a regular basis. As an aside, I am rather pleased that he is here. He has written some fantastic books and I want him to continue writing books while in the Chamber.

I went on to the election and I was interviewed during the election campaign. The only time I was mentioned on the BBC website was because I called for an increase in MPs’ wages. That is significant. I thought it rather perverse that I was taking a £50,000 pay cut to come here to be an MP from being a GP. We should all reflect on that before making political points on either side of the House. I also said that I would continue working as a GP. I met more people on the doorsteps of Bracknell and the surrounding area who congratulated me on that fact than people who said, “No, you shouldn’t be doing that. I want a full-time Member of Parliament.”

David Morris: Does my hon. Friend agree that carrying on practising as a GP enhances his work in the House and keeps him in regular touch with his constituents?

Dr Lee: I think it does and I will come to that.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Can my hon. Friend help me? Is it the case that as a doctor, he has to practise a bit in order to keep his licence going?

Dr Lee: Yes, it is true. With reference to the comments from the shadow Minister, I point out for the record that I applied to the Speaker’s office this morning at 10 o’clock to speak in the debate. On medicine and maintaining professional skills, yes, one has to practise but it is not actually prescribed, so there is a difficulty in determining how many hours I would have to practise as a GP. Indeed, I am currently going through revalidation.

After I was elected, I appeared in that esteemed organ, Private Eye, under the “New Boys” column, which listed my income and suggested that this was wrong. I was challenged at a public meeting—I hold regular public meetings in my constituency—by somebody waving the article at me and telling me that I was a part-time Member of Parliament. I pointed out to him that like most Members in the House, I do upwards of 50, 60 and sometimes 70 hours a week. It is rather

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different from any other job I have done in my life because I do not feel that I stop working. I am constantly thinking about this role and the challenges that we all face.

I asked the man a series of questions. I asked whether he was a parent, to which he replied yes. I asked, “Do you think that is a full-time job?” and he said yes. I asked him a second question. I said, “In the unlikely event that I am asked to be a Minister, should I say yes or no?” He said, “You should say yes.” I said, “Do you think it is a full-time job being, say, the Defence Minister, the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister? Do you think those are full-time jobs?”—not that that is on the horizon. He said, “Of course they are full-time jobs.” I said, “So what you are saying is that being a Minister is a full-time job, being a father is a full-time job, and you are having a go at me for doing about four hours a week as a GP, when I am doing about 60 hours a week as an MP. I think your argument is flawed.”

With reference to whether I should be paid for that or whether I should volunteer, I get the impression that I should be giving my time for free. I think that is a perverse argument. There are Members who want to do voluntary work in addition to their jobs and I congratulate them on that, but the idea that I should not be paid to be a doctor is, I believe, not widely held in my constituency or across the country. Most people would say that I should be paid to undertake that work.

Moving on to the question about what I bring to the Chamber as a doctor, I shall give one example, which is very relevant today. The Care Quality Commission issued a report today on the Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, a trust that rather bizarrely secured foundation trust status in 2007. The trust is financially unviable and has significant clinical problems, according to the report. I highlighted this at the Department of Health shortly after arrival. My continuing work at the time was in Slough. I was working as a GP and I knew there was a problem. I contacted Monitor, I contacted the CQC, I spoke on the telephone to that fantastic individual, Cynthia Bower, and pointed out to her that there was a problem. I am slightly surprised that it has taken three years for the CQC to conclude that there is a problem, but the fact that I was still working in the area gave me evidence and first-hand experience of what was going on, and my constituents recognise that.

The other example that I can give the House is of the hospital that I would like to see built in the Thames valley. That is based on the experience of working throughout the constituency. In the register of interests, I have various entries because I do not work in just one practice. I work all over the place—whoever will take me—and from that experience I have a regional perspective on the health economy in the Thames valley, a perspective that is almost unique, particularly if one adds to it the fact that I am also a Member of Parliament in the Thames valley. The two together make me a better Member of Parliament for the Bracknell constituency. So although I recognise what the shadow Front-Bench team is trying to do, this is the wrong way to go about it. I ask the Front-Bench team to reflect on that.

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3.26 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): May I start by saying to the Leader of the House that it seems to me that, in his opening remarks, he was being deliberately obtuse when he said that he did not understand the motion? For clarity, let me read it to him. It seems very clear indeed. It states that

“this House believes that, as part of a wider regulatory framework for second jobs, from the start of the next Parliament no hon. Members should be permitted to hold paid directorships or consultancies.”

It could not be clearer. I do not understand the claim from the Leader of the House that the motion is flawed.

Mr Graham Stuart: Can the hon. Gentleman tell us the definition of “consultancy” so that we can all refer to it?

Chris Williamson: Here we go again. I was going to go on to say that the Leader of the House accused my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) of putting up chaff, and here we have yet more chaff from the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart). There is a clear legal definition of a consultant and if he needs to check that out, I suggest he look up the dictionary definition. I am not going to waste the limited amount of time I have explaining it to him. He knows very well what a consultant is.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth pointed out, perception is key in this agenda. We know that Parliament and MPs are held in very low esteem by many of the electorate and it is our duty to try to repair the trust of the electorate. I say that because I have spoken to many constituents—people have also written to me—who have said, for example, that the top-down reorganisation of the national health service was done only because many senior Conservative MPs stood to benefit financially from the 49% privatisation. Surely none of us, on either side of the Chamber, can allow that sort of perception to persist among the wider electorate. People need to have trust in their Members of Parliament. The motion would go a long way towards re-establishing that trust with the electorate at large.

The Leader of the House implied that agreeing the motion would impose some terrible, onerous obligation on Members, as though this idea had somehow dropped from space, from Mars or somewhere. However, if we look around the world, it becomes clear that the restrictions imposed on fellow parliamentarians in other countries are much more stringent than the restrictions in the UK. Our friends in America have imposed strong, stringent restrictions on the elected representatives who serve in that country. This motion contains a reasonable and measured proposition that would put us on a par with many of our international colleagues.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I do not understand why, under the terms of the motion, the hon. Gentleman would be happy with me doing what I did a few years ago, when I spent five months doing a fraud trial as a barrister, but would apparently not be happy with me attending 12 board meetings a year, all properly declared. How can attending just 12 board meetings a year prevent me from doing my job in this place? I do not understand the terms of the motion.

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Chris Williamson: I think the hon. Gentleman is being a little obtuse, because there is a way round that. The earnings from that work could perhaps be capped. That might be the way forward. As a Member of Parliament, I know that my time is taken up almost entirely with being an elected representative. How he finds time to go and represent clients in court is beyond me, but that is a matter for him. One way round that problem would be to put a cap on earnings.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech. I seem to recall an hon. Member from the Government Benches who went on “I’m a Celebrity” and got into a lot of trouble because she absented herself from this House. How does that compare with five months on a fraud case?

Chris Williamson: My hon. Friend makes an apposite point. Indeed, one wonders what Conservative Members have to say about that, because that hon. Member had the Whip withdrawn from her for having the temerity to spend her time during the recess on “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” It seems to me that Conservative Members are applying double standards.

Our democracy is indeed in crisis. We have to do something about that. Politics is a noble thing. It is the way in which we introduce things such as the national health service, the welfare state, equal pay and the minimum wage. It is absolutely key that people have confidence in what we are doing.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that poking fun at the motion sends out the wrong message to the public—that we are not taking this issue seriously?

Chris Williamson: It sends completely the wrong signal.

The obtuse way in which the Leader of the House approached the debate is extremely regrettable, particularly when our democracy is in crisis, as I have said. We have an obligation to restore the standing of politics in our country, because—as I was saying before my hon. Friend intervened on me—politics can and does make a difference to people’s lives. I have talked about things such as the national health service, the minimum wage and many other wonderful, progressive leaps forward that were made as a direct consequence of the political process. If we undermine our politics and do nothing to restore faith in it, people will hold us in contempt and it will be so much more difficult to make the progressive changes that are desperately needed in our country to get young people back to work, tackle the crisis of low pay and deal with the problems of ill health and the ageing population. There are so many things that we need to address, and we need a strong political class to be able to deliver those changes. We can get that by restoring faith in our political process and, as a start, agreeing to this motion.

3.33 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I would like to apologise to the House for the fact that I was doing a second job earlier. I had to pop off and sit on a statutory instrument Committee. I shall have another second job in a bit, which involves sitting on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The quorum is two Members of Parliament and I believe that I am needed, so I shall pop over there for two minutes later

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on. All sorts of conflicts exist in the demands on Members’ time, but, to pick up on the demand made by the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), I do not believe that having a “political class” is the solution.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The motion is badly drafted, in that it would trap one of the businesses that I have created, but not the other. I shall talk a bit about my history. I first fought a general election in 1983, when I was the youngest Liberal candidate in the country. Later that year, I founded a business called John Hemming and Company. I fought the general election in 1987, and I was elected to Birmingham city council in 1990. I became the group leader and deputy leader of the council in 2004. During all that time, I have also chaired my business, which is now called JHC.

Speaking of conflicting demands on Members’ time, I went to chair my board meeting yesterday. It took two hours. I came into the House of Commons early, at about 7.30 in the morning, and at about 10 o’clock I got on the tube and went to my office. I chaired the meeting and was back here by noon. I have to ask: what is the big danger in my popping off to London Bridge for two hours, once a month? What mischief is created by that?

Paul Flynn: If there were a crisis in one of the hon. Gentleman’s businesses involving large sums of money, and he had to make a choice between dealing with that and an important constituency matter here, which way would he go? That illustrates the problem of dual loyalties and dual wages.

John Hemming: I am lucky, in that I am able to arrange things so that that does not happen. I am in control of the timing in the business. Obviously, my priority is with Parliament. My duty is to Parliament, as is quite clear under our constitution and, like most hon. Members, I work seven days a week performing that duty. Admittedly I only did half a day on Sunday, and I might finish by 4 o’clock on a Saturday, but I do work the standard 60, 70 or 80 hours a week, depending on what is going on.

It has been suggested that it would be reasonable to pay people like me who have large external earnings a lower rate of pay here. I do not mind that, as long as no one says that I am not a full-time MP. This is what I resent about the motion. Its argument is that I am not doing this job correctly for my constituents because I happen also to chair a business that I have run for many years.

Chris Williamson: Would the hon. Gentleman accept that there is an issue of perception involved? The perception is that hon. Members’ directorships or consultancies could influence the way in which they vote on certain issues. As I mentioned in my speech, people feel that certain Members voted for the national health service reorganisation so that they could gain financially from it.

John Hemming: I accept that this is about conflicts of interest, and there is a problem when external bodies control what Members of Parliament do. I am a member of a trade union, so I am not anti-trade union, but if the unions are controlling what the Labour party is doing, that is not a good environment.

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Similarly, there is a problem with having a second job as a Minister. That really creates a conflict of interest, because Ministers can lose their ministerial salary if they do not vote along party lines in Parliament. We accept that as part of our constitution, but it clearly involves a conflict of interest, in that Ministers have to support the Government. I am lucky as a Back Bencher; people say that I can afford to be independent. I will not lose any income if I happen to rebel against the party.

Oliver Colvile: Does the hon. Gentleman remember that, at the beginning of the 20th century, people had to resign their seat if they wanted to become a Cabinet Minister? That must have been pretty devastating at the time.

John Hemming: The last such resignation was in the 1960s, when the practice went against the then Government and was brought to an end. The second job of being a Minister is clearly demanding, and it undermines that Member’s constituency activity.

The wording of the motion is absolutely dreadful in that it would pick up one of my businesses but not the other. Why is that? What is the sense in picking up one structure of ownership and not another? The Opposition are also suggesting that we should not take the earned money, but they have no problem with those Members who are shareholders taking unearned income. Traditionally, Labour Members thought that earned income was more acceptable than unearned income, but they now seem to be arguing that we should have our unearned income. That is easy enough for me to structure, as I am in control of my corporate structures, but it is difficult for other people in other circumstances. The whole thing is frankly absurd. It drives us on again to what I think the hon. Member for Derby North was arguing for—the development of a political class. He did say that. He said that the Labour party wants a political class—a concept according to which we work only in politics and do not have any experience outside it.

Helen Goodman: No, no, no, no—the hon. Gentleman completely misses the point. It is perfectly possible to do as I did and have three different jobs before entering this House. That gave me more than 20 years of working experience in different institutions, which I can bring to bear on the politics—without having another paid job alongside being a Member of Parliament.

John Hemming: The point I am making is a very simple one: I do not think we should have a political class. An Opposition Member has called for a political class—he said those words, and I see nods around the Chamber—but I think that is very dangerous. It is dangerous to have a situation where external bodies beyond the Government, who do control votes in Parliament, control people in Parliament. Apart from being extremely badly drafted, the motion drives things further towards a political class. Thus people who have not had real jobs go through the special adviser process and all that sort of thing, ending up not being in the real world. That moves against the concept of people being able to be Members of Parliament for a short period of time, and what do we gain from it? Nothing.

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3.41 pm

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): This is turning into a navel-gazing debate, but it should not be, because it is not about us but about what the people who elect us think about us. It is about real engagement and representation in the world, so I want to provide some examples of what is happening in the real world of work.

A young lady in my part of the world told me today that she has got two jobs—or she has almost got two jobs. After 30 years as a machinist, she was made redundant, so every day she sits at home at 7.20 in the morning waiting to see whether she will get a phone call inviting her to get in her car and go to work at 8 o’clock. If she does not get that phone call, she rings the local newsagents to ask whether they have any work for her in the shop. She does not get any pay for either of those things. That is how she is living.

Her partner is on a zero-hours contract at a big factory in a town called Peterlee. He was told three weeks ago, “We want you to come to work on Sunday morning at 7 o’clock.” He and 11 colleagues went to work that Sunday morning, but when they got there, they were told, “Sorry. We don’t need you. You can go home.” No money.

I welcome the fact that unemployment rates have gone down today, but in my part of the world they have gone up again. We in the north-east now have people who have been in long-term unemployment longer than for any time since 1996. An average of £1,350 a year has been lost in the north-east since 2010. In fact, living standards are back to where they were in 2000.

Back in the unreal world, we have George Entwistle getting £450,000 for 54 days work—something like £8,500 a day. About 2,500 bankers, we were told this week, are paid more than £1 million a year; and all the millionaires in this country have had a £100,000 tax handout from the rest of us. That is estimated to apply to at least 8,000 people. Here is a number for this place: if that tax had not been handed out, 70,000 people could have been employed on the national minimum wage.

And then there is us, stuck in the middle. We get £67,000 a year—three times the average salary, which is much more than the average salary in my part of the world. More than a quarter of Conservative MPs do not think £67,000 is enough, so have outside earnings; only 6% of Labour MPs do not think it is enough and have outside earnings. No doubt it is the same for some Members across the parties. There are multi-millions of pounds between the lot of us, because we are unhappy with £67,000 a year.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman, but does he share my concern that the motion does not cover a Scottish MP, for instance, who has spoken in three debates, voted in only 30% of votes, yet earns £100,000 or £200,000 from outside interests? Why is that not covered?

Mr Anderson: I agree with the hon. Gentleman; I do not think the motion is wide enough. The motion says, “You’re a full-time MP and you’re nothing else.” Whether or not someone votes 30% of the time or 100% of the time, they should not be paid any more than the basic salary of an MP. That is what the people of this country

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want us to be: full-time Members of Parliament. They are sitting out there asking, “Why on earth do these people need to do more than they are doing already? Why should they be so different from us?” For at least the past five years, they have been asking, “Are these people on the same planet as us? Do they go to the same shops? Do they live in the same world?” They think that the answer to those questions is no, and unless we can convince them that we understand how they feel, they will not be interested in democracy. That is a long-term worry for the House. If we continue to be so unlike those people, they will become less and less likely to get off their backsides and vote for any of us, let alone those we are discussing today.

Mr Jim Cunningham: The miners at Daw Mill lost their jobs recently. I wonder what they think about Members of Parliament having two jobs.

Mr Anderson: On Saturday I spoke to miners from Maltby colliery, which has closed in the last three months because of geological problems, and they were disgusted by the fact that Members of Parliament were making multi-millions of pounds. We are told that a Member once earned three quarters of a million pounds, and those miners are 35-year-old guys who face having no more work for the rest of their lives. They have dedicated themselves to an industry and worked hard for that industry, and now they find themselves ruined. What is happening to them is absolutely disastrous.

How can our constituents be confident that we are committed to them—to their issues, their problems and their concerns—when we are focusing on outside work? Is being an MP not an honour and privilege, and is an MP not worthy of respect? If not, why not? Should that not be the case? How can we expect people to believe that we care for them, that we understand them, that we feel for them, if at the same time we are checking our diaries to see whether we are late for our next board meeting or court appearance?

Robert Flello: My hon. Friend is making an extremely good speech. Another issue is conflict. How would it be if we said to the police, for example, “You can take any other job you want?”

Mr Anderson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We tell members of the police force and people in local government, “You cannot do certain things in life because of the nature of your job.” But we say that we in the House of Commons should have carte blanche. Should I be able to go back down the pit on Saturday mornings—not that I can do that, because the pits have been shut—or do a job as a car worker? My constituents expect me to represent their interests. This job means total commitment in return for the utmost respect.

During the last few weeks, in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and during our consideration of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, we have committed ourselves to doing away with double-jobbing. Members of Parliament used to go to Holyrood, Stormont and Brussels as well as coming to the House of Commons. It is right that we put a stop to that, and we should stop all the other kinds of double- jobbing as well, because the people of this country will not understand it if we are anything other than full-time MPs, dedicated to working in the House of Commons and in our constituencies on their behalf.

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3.47 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson),who, I know, speaks from the heart on this and many other subjects. I agree with his analysis of the pressures faced by many working people who have one, two or even more jobs to do during the working week, but I must point out to him that the motion does not do what he wants. It is very narrowly defined. It deals with particular types of financial relationship, but it does not deal with partnerships or with contracts of employment. In his powerful speech, the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) demolished the basis for the motion.

Sir Edward Leigh: Apart from the obvious point that the motion is defective—it does not mention earnings from, for instance, rented property—it constitutes an attempt to create a political class. The only way in which such people can express themselves, earn more money, or gain more power or prestige is to become Ministers, and that plays into the hands of Front Benchers. It gives them more and more power, and puts us more and more in their pockets.

Mr Buckland: If we breed a political class that enters this place with a diminished and diminishing knowledge of the outside world, the walls of the Westminster bubble will become thicker and thicker and we will genuinely create two nations, one of which will be entirely ignorant of the other.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I spent 23 years working for a citizens advice bureau—outside Parliament—before I came to this place, and I continue to have regular meetings with citizens advice bureaux, in addition to my constituency surgeries. I believe that keeps me in touch with the real world sufficiently, without having another job operating a fraud trial.

Mr Buckland: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that, and I sincerely pay tribute to the work she does. She understands that by keeping in touch she is making sure that her considerable knowledge does not go out of date, which is a very important point. A lot of Opposition Members and Government Members bring knowledge and work experience to this place, but there is a danger that once we enter the House we start to lose touch with our job experiences. That is why I decided after the election not to carry on practising at the Bar, but to sit part-time as a Crown court recorder, where I do 15 days in the year. That is the minimum required, and the appointment was made just before I was elected to this House.

Paul Flynn: Does the hon. Gentleman surrender his salary during the time he is away from this place, as would happen in any other job? Another hon. Member said that he was away on a court case, but should he not have his wages here reduced, as would happen in any other occupation where someone is not available to do the full-time job for which they get a full-time wage?

Mr Buckland: I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman. I do not do that, but I do keep fully in touch with what is going on, as with my work as a

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Member of Parliament. The fact that I, on 15 days of the year, choose to serve the public interest—that is what sitting as a part-time judge involves—keeps me in touch with the work that I used to do as a lawyer. It makes me keep up to date with sentencing law and the law of criminal justice, and it enhances the contributions I can make in this House. What is wrong with that?

Andrew Griffiths: I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. My hon. Friend is making a case in his usual reasonable and considered way. Does he agree that the experience and knowledge he gains in carrying out his role is hugely valuable, and is a great benefit and boon to the constituents he helps daily?

Mr Buckland: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I am not the first person to do this—many former Labour Members, including a number of distinguished ones I can think of, did exactly the same and brought great experience to this House. They probably brought greater learning than I do. If we lose touch with that experience, this place will become the poorer. In the race to the hair shirts, we will throw out a lot of the beneficial influences that can be brought into this place.

Oliver Colvile rose—

Mr Buckland: I had better not give way any further because I am running out of time. I accept that it is for individual Members to make judgments about the balances they have to strike—believe you me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I view it as a great honour and privilege to serve the people of my constituency, and I think about that every working moment. However, I do feel that I strike a fair balance in the work I do. I am available for my constituents and I work as hard as any other MP to fight for their interests. Bringing into this place the work that I have done in the past and the experience that I have gained, and keeping in touch with it in the way I do during the recess is beneficial.

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman, too, is being sincere in what he is saying, but does he not think it slightly incongruous that this House is the last place where what he describes is possible? Even in the other place people are not allowed to be part of the Chamber and part of the judiciary.

Mr Buckland: I do not think that is actually right, because the office of recorder was not included in the exemptions in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which, of course, was passed by the previous Labour Government. I make no apology for that, because I believe that individual—

Jon Trickett: Separation of powers.

Mr Buckland: I hear the words “separation of powers”, but we do not have an American system, and nor should we have. If we follow that to its logical conclusion, we turn ourselves into something not at all in keeping with the understood and learned traditions of the British constitution. It can be a good thing that several colleagues in this place have the sort of experience that I have, although I would be the last person to say that we want an identikit House full of lawyers. My hon. Friend the

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Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) made a powerful speech about his medical practice, so people’s experience in many walks of life enhances our debates.

If the spasm of emotion that underlies what we hear from Labour Members is taken to its logical conclusion, the House will be diminished. Their proposal would not enhance the quality of the legislation that we pass. It would only make the public look at us once again as a rather odd set of individuals of diminishing relevance who contribute less and less to the public life of this country, so we should oppose the motion.

3.55 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): This is hardly a spasm on my part. I greatly respect the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), but may I tell him that it was 16 years ago that I wrote in a book that all MPs’ additional earnings should be put into a charitable fund or used elsewhere? I repeated that in another splendid book that I published a short while ago. All the considerable royalties from that book go to charity—why not, because I already get a full-time wage for what I do?

I am sorry that I picked on the hon. Gentleman during his speech, but for five weeks last year I could not act as an MP. I did not receive any salary during that time—quite rightly so. We forget that we live in a little bubble with a system that we are used to, but people watching the debate and tweeting are baffled that anyone can say, “I have a job paying £65,000, but other jobs get my priority and attention at certain times.” If Members have to perform outside work, it would be easy—and absolutely right—to deduct the money earned from their parliamentary salary.

John Hemming: Should unearned income also be deducted from a Member’s salary?

Paul Flynn: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but it is part of a different argument.

The public will not see this subject in subtle tones or have regard to the lawyers’ arguments we are hearing. In 2009, after the great screaming nightmare of the expenses scandal, our reputation was at rock bottom, but now it is even worse—it is subterranean. We saw the reaction to the suggestion that MPs’ salaries should be increased: all the old resentment was churned up.

The Daily Telegraph did democracy a reasonable turn by submitting a freedom of information request that demanded to know the most popular book that wicked MPs were borrowing from the Commons Library. I am sure that its journalists were desperate for another negative story about MPs and that they prayed in their offices that that book would be “Fifty Shades of Gray”, “How to Keep a Moat”, or “Duck House Owning for Beginners”. However, the book in greatest demand at the Library was the improving tract that I wrote, which recommends that MPs live off their salary.

We must look at this from the perspective of outsiders, not by considering subtle points about what is unearned income and what is a salary. If Members want to get outside experience, there are splendid institutions in the House through which we can go off to join the Army, Navy or Air Force, or secure a fellowship with a commercial firm over many months. Those experiences are marvellous,

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but the important point is that they are not paid. The great resentment among the public arises because we receive a full-time wage and so we should be doing full-time work.

Sir Edward Leigh: The hon. Gentleman talks about resentment, but the public are angry about MPs’ expenses and salaries because they pay for them. Is he really suggesting that the public are furious that a Member of Parliament attends 12 board meetings a year? Does that really make them angry when they are not paying for it?

Hon. Members: Yes!

Paul Flynn: The answer is a resounding yes. I am sure that members of the public will write to the hon. Gentleman, because he explained earlier that he left Parliament, playing truant, to go to court and defend someone in a case, and no doubt he was paid a huge sum to do so, but for that period he was paid to be an MP, even though he could not possibly have performed his duties to the full extent that he should have done. Do the public resent that? Yes they do.

Oliver Colvile: Earlier this year I had to appear in the jury at the Old Bailey and so had to be away from this place for a week—[Interruption.] Some Members might think that I was there on trial, but I was actually doing my civic duty, and Members of Parliament are now required to do that.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Mr Colvile, I am not sure that quite fits with paid directorships and consultancies, so I think we will let your good duty in court go—[Interruption.] Sir Edward, I do not think we need any help from you either.

Paul Flynn: Again, there is a great gulf between what is happening in this Chamber and what is happening outside. I believe that it is entirely reasonable for Members who wish to go off and do other work to do so under certain circumstances, but let us get away from the idea that MPs, who get a handsome salary as far as most of our constituents are concerned, should greedily look for other earnings. Of course it is an advantage also to work as a journalist, a writer or whatever else, but when it comes to the crunch and there is a crisis, when Members know that they should be here writing to Ministers, demanding answers, making a case or meeting people, if someone comes along and says they’ll pay them 10 grand to write an article in the next 24 hours, what choice will they make? If there is no money involved, there is no real choice, as we know where our loyalties lie. We must escape from that. I appeal to Members: do they not know how low the public’s regard for us is?

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Would it not be clear, if we on the Government side of the House recognised that the people who would vote Labour believe that the amount of money going to them should be capped and the money should not go beyond £65,000, while we on this side of the House generally—not in my case, actually—do not feel that it is necessary to limit us and we can keep the money?