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Mr MacNeil: What I think the hon. Gentleman has been describing over a period of centuries has been the evolution of politics and the evolution of democracy right on to the granting of universal suffrage. I would argue that what the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is suggesting and wants us to move towards is the next extension in that evolution of democracy that started those 300 or 400 years ago.

Sir Edward Leigh: I know that that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park argues and I know that the new hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell) argues the same—that this place is somehow increasingly irrelevant, part of a Westminster political class or an elite and that we need rather to transfer power into some sort of referendum-based democracy. This, however, is a sort of Poujadist argument, and if we look at history, we find that it has often led to tyranny. Dare I say it, some insurrections that have come from the right—I shall not mention any political party that has been in the news recently—often result in stirring up a feeling in the country that things are really appalling. Then a particular group of people can be picked on—it may be Poles now, it might have been Jews in the last century and might have been Catholics in the 17th century—and popular opinion can be whipped up, followed by an attack on the so-called establishment or on particular MPs for what they are saying.

There is a lot of wisdom in this place. We are a parliamentary democracy; we discuss things among ourselves. That is not an elitist thing to say. We are having a good debate now, and we have heard wonderful speeches from the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who argued for one point of view, and from the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who has argued from a different point of view. We have heard different speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Bedfordshire and for Richmond Park. We will hear other speeches from the Minister, who might offer us a half-way case. We are discussing the issues in a rational and popular way, but we know that nothing we say here, no vote that we cast and no speech we make can ever be held against us until that awesome day—general election day—arrives, when we are exactly the same as anybody else.

We are not talking about any particular group who can spend vast sums of money—the hon. Member for North Durham reminded us again and again of what happens in the United States—to attack us on a particular issue and try to get rid of us on that basis. We stand with 650 other people. We are equal and the people vote us in or out on the basis of a broad range of policies.

I know that the Government will say that my amendment is not necessary, because it will involve the procedures of the Privileges Committee and all the rest of it. I think, however, that my amendment probably is necessary in this sense. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he would look on it with a kindly light. We live in a very judgmental age. We have had instances with the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway), who as usual is not in his place. He comes here and rants and says the most outrageous things. We have had cases in the past involving Tam Dalyell, that wonderful man, and Ian Paisley, that equally wonderful man. They were expelled from Parliament.

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The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned one of my own colleagues saying something in the Chamber that was frankly racist. If he had said it outside the House, he might have been taken to court. I do not want to use a cliché, but, although what he said may have been completely wrong, I, like Voltaire, may disagree with or hate what he said, but respect his freedom to say it in this place. If you cannot speak your mind here, knowing that you cannot be held to account, where else in our kingdom can you speak your mind?

What my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park is doing is fundamentally very dangerous indeed. It goes against centuries of our history. Is our history so very wrong? Have we not ensured that our country is the only country in Europe that has never been a police state, and has never had a police state imposed on it? Has not the House of Commons, through all those centuries, guarded by these privileges, protected fundamental freedoms? Is that not something to be proud of? For those reasons, I—along with Members in all parts of the House—will vote against my hon. Friend’s amendment. Freedom of speech—allowing Members of Parliament total freedom of expression, with a very few traditional exceptions, such as insulting the sovereign—has always been defended by Parliament.

Mr MacNeil: Oh, come on!

Sir Edward Leigh: If the hon. Gentleman wants to insult the sovereign, I personally am perfectly happy with that. I do not think that he should be recalled by a group of MPs for insulting the sovereign, or for anything else.

Mr MacNeil rose

Sir Edward Leigh: The hon. Gentleman has already intervened once.

Mr MacNeil rose

Sir Edward Leigh: All right, I will give way, just to please the hon. Gentleman.

Mr MacNeil: I am listening to what is quite an egalitarian speech. I am a monarchist myself, but I do not like the idea of separating one person from another in this context. The hon. Gentleman himself referred to the monarch coming into the Chamber. I think that the strand of history that we are talking about has featured the elites giving way when they have had to give way, and that is happening again now. The elites are giving way, or they should be giving way.

Sir Edward Leigh: The myth that is being propagated by some Members—not least by the new hon. Member for Clacton, whom I respect in many ways—is that we are an elite. We are not an elite. We have all been elected by people, and we can all be unelected by people.

We in the House of Commons must be prepared to be proud of what we have achieved. We must acknowledge all the appalling errors that we have made over Members’ expenses and a number of other issues; no doubt we have been found wanting in many respects; we are only human beings, and all the rest of it. But the argument that there is a better form of democracy—that some kind of participatory democracy based on referendums

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and people getting together and collecting petitions is more democratic than debate in this House—is fundamentally flawed. I realise that that may be an unfashionable opinion.

Zac Goldsmith rose

Sir Edward Leigh: As I have taken the hon. Gentleman to task so strongly, I think it only fair that he should have a chance to gainsay me.

Zac Goldsmith: I shall not seek to persuade my hon. Friend on the fundamental issue of principle that he is discussing. I think that he has correctly identified the line in the sand. People will have to take a view based on what he has said, or on what I and others have said, in relation to that fundamental principle. However, I have a question for him. He fears that my amendments open up the possibility of Members being held to account for things that they say in the Chamber, but surely that is even truer of the Bill. Plenty of Members have been sanctioned, thrown out of the House and suspended for considerable periods as a result of things that they have said and done in the Chamber. The Government’s programme would, at that stage, require a petition to be signed by only 10% of their constituents for them to be thrown out altogether. They would cease to be Members of Parliament. Yes, they might be able to fight back in a by-election, but they would be thrown out of their jobs. That is surely a greater threat to the principles that the hon. Gentleman is guarding.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Jim Hood): Order. That intervention was too long.

Zac Goldsmith: I apologise, Mr Hood.

Sir Edward Leigh: To be honest, I do not really understand that intervention. I have mentioned the hon. Member for Bradford West, Tam Dalyell and Ian Paisley, and I have done some research on which Members have been thrown out for expressing their opinions. Since the Bill of Rights, the only one to be thrown out has been John Wilkes, Before the Bill of Rights—this is quite important; people have always felt this to be a crucial part of the liberties of this country—it was quite common to throw Members out. For instance, one Member was thrown out for inventing orders from the Duke of York to down sail, which prevented England from capitalising on its naval victory off Lowestoft in 1665. Another Member, Edward Sackville, was thrown out because he denounced Titus Oates as a “lying rogue” and he disbelieved in the Popish plot. Another one was thrown out for associating with the Duke of York in alleged complicity in the meal tub plot, and so it goes on. So it was actually very common to throw people out for expressing opinions that the Executive did not like.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The early examples of people being thrown out were not necessarily because they offended the Executive, but often because they offended the House. The Popish plot was not popular with the Executive—they were reluctant to believe it—but the House of Commons was obsessed by it.

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Sir Edward Leigh: Yes, that is a very fair point. In those days some Members were thrown out because they held opinions that were wildly unpopular with the general public.

John Wilkes absconded to France after being charged with libel over issue No. 45 of the North Briton. He was convicted of libel and blasphemy and seditious libel. He was then returned to the House by his own electors, despite having been expelled, and he finally managed to establish his right to stay in the House. I think that was the last case of a Member who was expelled from the House for his views. So, in defence of the Government and of the present system, I think we can pretty fairly establish that nobody in the last 200 years has been expelled from the House, or had any sort of recall-type of procedure initiated, on the basis of just the speeches they made or the votes they cast.

I do think my amendment is important, however, and I am grateful that the Minister is prepared to look at it in a positive light, because, assuming the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park fails, and assuming the Government’s Bill goes through much as it is now, I think we will want it on the face of the Act, for the absolute avoidance of doubt, that no recall procedure can be initiated on the basis of what we say in this place or how we vote in this place. Somebody could say something that is so outrageous—it might be racist or it might be the sort of comments the hon. Member for Bradford West makes from the far left—and that goes so much against popular opinion that, strangely enough, the Privileges Committee might start initiating this procedure. I know we think that is unlikely. I am talking about a belt-and-braces procedure, but I just want to be absolutely certain that we defend our ancient privileges.

We must remember that these are not privileges for us. These are not our privileges; they are the privileges of the people who demand that we have free speech here.

Stephen Pound: I appreciate the historical information we have got in this debate, which will certainly mean we are better educated at the end of the evening, but on the subject of Parliament exercising its own rights in terms of outrage, may I remind the hon. Gentleman—not that he needs reminding—of Charles Bradlaugh, who was a perfidious atheist representing the then borough of Northampton, and who was returned here four times, and the House dealt with it? It refused to allow him to take his seat on four occasions, and then decided, “Why not?” and let him in. It was dealt with in-house.

Sir Edward Leigh: It was dealt with in-house. He was a great man. He argued his case. He came here four times and finally, sensibly, we bowed to modern reality and we let him in.

Before I sit down, I shall give another historical example that shows how generous we have been. Arthur Alfred Lynch was an Irish nationalist MP for Galway city. He was tried and convicted for high treason. He fought on the Boer side during the South African war; he fought against us. He was sentenced to death, but it was commuted to life, and he was pardoned in 1907. As an astounding testament of our legacy of clemency and tolerance in this country, he was readmitted to the House in 1909 when West Clare returned him to

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Parliament. Indeed, the King even commissioned him a colonel in the Royal Munster Fusiliers during the great war.

I am sorry to give these historical examples, but they just show how extraordinarily generous we have been to people who honestly disagreed with us, and even fought against us in a war, but then were returned by their constituents. We said, “Yes, all right, you have made your point, but you are an honourable man so we’ll let you in.”

Dr Huppert: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Edward Leigh: One last time and then I must sit down to let others in.

Dr Huppert: It is a pleasure to hear the hon. Gentleman praise Charles Bradlaugh, a notable atheist, but he has not quite addressed the point that was made earlier. What would happen with cash for questions, for example, where an essential factor is the question in this House? How would his amendment deal with that?

9 pm

Sir Edward Leigh: The Minister dealt precisely with that point, and I am quite prepared to engage in discussions with the Government. I do not want to defend somebody who puts down questions for cash. That was not the purpose of my amendment. In fact, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome came up to me at one point and said, “If you inserted the word ‘properly’ in the middle of the amendment to make sure you were acting in a proper fashion, and you were just expressing a point of view that this procedure should not be started, we could resolve the issue.” So I am sure we can deal with this point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) has a very similar amendment that would kick in if that of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park is passed, so we are working in tandem on this. If the latter amendment is passed—I do not want to speak for my right hon. Friend, who can speak for himself—I urge Members on both sides of the House to think carefully about my right hon. Friend’s amendment. It would make it clear that, although we had accepted the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park that the process should be taken out of our hands entirely, this whole recall procedure could not be started just on the basis of how one speaks and votes. If, as I suspect from the speeches we have heard, we reject my hon. Friend’s amendment, I hope the Government will look kindly on my amendment so we can include it in the Bill and clearly preserve the freedom and liberties of this House, which we value so highly.

Sir James Paice: When my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) said that I can speak for myself, I was beginning to doubt whether I was going to get the opportunity, particularly as it is probably a couple of hours since the Minister replied to the speech that I had not then given.

I should start by pointing out that I am speaking with complete independence, because whatever happens to the Bill, it will not apply to me as I am not seeking re-election. I am therefore looking at it, I hope, as

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objectively as possible. As my hon. Friend has just said, my amendment (a) is to new clause 2, so if new clauses 1 and 2 fail, my amendment obviously falls. I have some sympathy with those amendments, although nothing like enough to make me support them as they stand.

My hon. Friend—he is a friend—the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) deserves credit for trying to find a way forward beyond the way the Bill goes, but nothing like as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) has gone. I am slightly in conflict with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) because, despite his brilliant historical exposition of the freedoms we have in this House, I think the time has come when we have to recognise that the public do not trust us to manage our own affairs. We have accepted that in respect of allowances, although I will not go down that road. We are not all particularly thrilled with what we have, but never mind: we have accepted it. I think we probably have to accept it in this context, as well, but in nothing like as wide open a way as the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park and others suggest. As I say, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome, and I was really pleased that the Government intimated that they will look at his proposals.

I want briefly to explain why I wanted to table this amendment. If the Committee is minded to support my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, it is crucial that we narrow down the field to which recall could be applied. I know that he and others take a different view—that the field should be wide open and we should entirely trust our constituents in that regard—but as many Members have said this evening, I seriously wonder whether we are creating a problem unnecessarily, and an opportunity for large pressure groups, probably backed with big money, to make a big impression on this House and to counter and influence the way in which Members vote.

The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who is no longer in the Chamber, cited his experiences, and the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) referred to when he was a Croydon Member—there seems to be a history of Labour Members representing Croydon marginals for short periods—with a majority of 81. Fortunately, I have not been in that position, but I fully understand why people with such a majority may feel pressurised about how they vote. This is not a party issue, and I am delighted that Conservative Members have a free vote, as is only right and proper.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): My right hon. Friend talks about Members who, like me, represent marginal seats. We must be careful that we do not give the public the completely wrong impression that we are not going for this idea because we are running scared of being destabilised in such seats.

Sir James Paice: I note what my hon. Friend says, but I would not be prepared to say that, if I had a majority in the order of 100, I would not be very concerned about what people thought about me. I am concerned anyway, but at least, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough set out, I am able to stand here and say whatever I like in the knowledge that I am protected by privilege. I would not wish to abuse

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that privilege—I do not think that I have ever sought to do so—but if what a Member said could be held against them, as might be the case if the amendments are agreed to, we could jeopardise their opportunity to speak with the freedoms that we rightly pride in this place.

Like other Members, I have looked up a couple of statistics. Only 207 hon. Members—less than a third—received over 50% of the vote. Indeed, 100 Members received the votes of less than 25% of their electorate, which demonstrates just how tight things really are. We can imagine the opportunity for well organised and probably well funded pressure groups to exert influence on Members with a small proportion of the vote—just enough to have scraped home—through the threat of recall. It is easy for Members to say, as some have, “I am far too strong-minded and I will not be bought,” but I challenge that. It would be a brave individual who faced such pressure yet did not feel that they might have to bend to it.

I will not add to what we have heard about vexatious cases, but those of us who have been here for a number of years know that all Governments, of all complexions, become very unpopular at sometime during their mid-term—some are unpopular for the whole term—yet despite that, they quite often get re-elected. However, during that mid-term period of unpopularity, it would be possible to have a series of recalls in tight marginal seats simply to change incumbency, and that could end up changing the Government. I do not have a problem with a change of Government between general elections—that is democracy—but it would be wrong if that were to arise because of a concerted effort targeted at specific MPs on the basis of things that they had said or votes they had cast. That was why I tabled amendment (a) to new clause 2, which would protect Members by not allowing reasons relating to their freedom of expression from being cited in a statement of reason.

In response to the speech I had not then given, the Minister said that my suggestion would work only to a certain extent, because it would not stop such issues being raised as part of a general campaign. However, if those issues could not be cited as reasons for seeking a recall petition, that might be enough to stop a campaign from starting, as other reasons would need to be cited in the statement. It is perfectly true that there could be other mechanisms for publishing the real reason, which is how the Member had spoken or voted, but I think that preventing that being promulgated as the official reason that goes out with the petition would offer considerable protection.

If there is a better way of doing that, obviously I, like other Members who have proposed amendments, would be happy to listen to it. However, if the Committee is minded to support new clause 2—as I have said, I could not possibly support it unless my amendment (a) is accepted by its proposers—I would have to oppose the whole raft of amendments standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park and other hon. Members.

If we stopped people on the street and asked them about recall, most would say—if it registered at all—that it relates to misconduct and bad behaviour. Very few would relate it to votes, speeches or views. Nevertheless,

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I think that there is that risk, and I want to protect hon. Members from it. My amendment would prevent anybody giving as a reason for recall anything that fell under freedom of expression. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has tabled a similar amendment, but I will not repeat what he has said.

Having been a Member for more years than I care to remember, I fear that the idealistic way in which the amendments have been cast means that they are just too broad. As I said at the outset of my comments, I fully accept the need to go further than the Government are going, and I think that there is a need for popular involvement, but it has to concentrate on the real issues that cause the public concern: unacceptable behaviour by their Member of Parliament that devalues their role. We all agree that that is necessary. The issue is whether we extend that to matters relating to freedom of speech, which I think would be a step too far.

Crispin Blunt: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the end of the debate, presumably before my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) responds. It has been a really excellent debate. However, we need to remember where the Bill, and the amendments that have been tabled, come from. They arrived in all the parties’ manifestos in 2010 as a response to the expenses disaster. All of us who lived through that know how debilitating it was and understand the enormous damage it did to the reputation of this place.

We have here a collapse of institutional self-confidence. With regard to how we can regulate ourselves and prostrate ourselves in front of our electorate, almost nothing is good enough in addressing that lack of confidence and trying to regain some of our reputation with the electorate. I suggest that the proposition coming from the Government, in the form of the Bill, and the amendments proposed to it are a continuation of that. As an institution, we are like a whipped dog that is simply cowering ever lower.

Counter-intuitively, I think that it is about time we started making the case for this institution and for how it works, as political parties that are here to support an Administration that is able to put through a credible programme of government for four or five years—now five years, by statute—and to govern effectively in the interests of the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) put the populist case absolutely wonderfully in her brilliant polemic, but I am afraid that a rather difficult practical case must be put in opposition to it. If we all took her principled view about our duties in this place, we would not have an Administration for four or five years who were capable of putting together a coherent programme of government and addressing the issues of the country over the lifetime of a Parliament. I know that she does not like the Whips Office—I served in the Opposition Whips Office for about five years, so in that sense I am guilty as charged—but, as Enoch Powell said, Whips are the sewers of the system; they are absolutely essential to the general health of the entire system. She criticises her colleagues for doing “grubby deals” on this and that, but that is what we have to do in order to build a coalition either within a political party or between political parties to deliver coherent government.

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9.15 pm

I have given the example of the necessity that Liberal Democrat Members faced to jettison one of their undertakings to the electorate at the election in order to put together a coherent programme of government for the coalition. They did that honourably, and it has done them immense damage. They will hope that during this five-year period that decision will be vindicated by the fact that they can share some of the credit for the economic recovery that the country has undergone. Under my hon. Friend’s system, or under the proposals by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, they would not be in that position—they would be open to recall.

Nadine Dorries: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because not giving way is the maxim by which I live my life. I totally understand his point about the coalition. However, it has been reported tonight that the Prime Minister and the Chief Whip will not be voting for these amendments because the Liberal Democrats have asked them not to. How does that benefit government? How is that principled?

Crispin Blunt: I have absolutely no idea. The Prime Minister is trying to run a coalition. He has to keep within this coalition our colleagues who are helping us to govern and delivering a majority in voting for taxes that make for some form of fiscally sensible arrangement. Of course there are going to be grubby deals—they have to be done. My hon. Friend has possibly given an example, although I have no idea of whether what she says is accurate.

The proposals by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park open us up to the possibility of being subject to recall all the time. That would make it immensely more difficult to support a Government in maintaining a coherent programme. There is a reason why Governments do the difficult things in the first few years of the Parliament: it is because they know they are going to be unpopular.

Part of my hon. Friend’s argument was to say, “The key thing here is about public confidence.” I accept that there is a lack of public confidence in this institution; that is why the Government have finally got round to proposing this measure. However, we must ask ourselves whether that will be addressed by our cowering yet lower in the face of it, or whether we should get off our knees, have some institutional self-confidence, and make the case that we are, in fact, regulated to an enormous extent as Members of Parliament. We have the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the criminal law—which, if we are convicted, will result in our being thrown out—the Standards and Privileges Committee, the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and all the rest. An enormous number of bodies now oversee this place and our behaviour.

The question is whether this Bill is trying to address a real, practical problem about our behaviour, individually or collectively. The answer, I suggest, is no. Is there a reputational issue? Of course there is, and we have to work out the right solution to that. The Government’s proposals, which try to find a limited way of doing something to create the principle of recall, are not right and do not address the issue practically, while the

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proposals by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park are frankly dangerous. I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) about the dangers that they open up. Those arguments were also made by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones).

Mr Lansley: I put it to my hon. Friend that there is a gap in the regulation, which the Bill is intended to fill. When the public see instances of gross misconduct that result in either a court sentence or a substantial period of suspension from this House, they say that in any other normal profession people would lose their jobs under such circumstances. This Bill puts Members in that position when it might not have happened otherwise.

Crispin Blunt: Do we have an actual problem or a perception of a problem that does not actually exist? In practice, we do not have a problem. If a Member is sentenced to imprisonment for a period of less than a year, it is highly likely that they will choose to stand down, as has happened. Equally, the same thing is likely if Members receive a sentence from the Standards and Privileges Committee, as happened with our former colleague Patrick Mercer, who decided to stand down. There is not a practical issue that we are trying to address. I accept there is a perception issue, but we have to work out the right way to address it.

The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) made a further practical argument against the measures proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park. When I lost the executive vote on my reselection, the issue was put to a simple vote of the members of the Conservative party in Reigate, but take it from me: that occupied most of my attention for the two months it took to complete the ballot. I won by a margin of five to one, but the process was something of a modest distraction from my other work representing my constituents. The hon. Member for Swansea West made an absolutely valid point: the suggested process would be the most enormous distraction from the duties we are actually here to do.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has said, are we not already subject to recall? Every five years we have to face the electorate in a general election.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of points, but his speech is dominated by the idea that there is a battle between parliamentarians and the voters. He has questioned whether there are problems, but of course there must be problems if standards bodies such as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority have been set up. Perhaps those sticking plasters have been set up because adequate mechanisms have not been available to the electorate to get a hold of Members of Parliament and bring them to account in good time. That is all hidden under the blanket of the general election. That is why we are having this debate. This is revolutionary democracy. The cat is out of the bag. If this does not happen now, proper recall will come at some point. It always happens. The elites, the powerful and the parliamentarians of Westminster will always rail against it, but in the end they will have to yield.

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Crispin Blunt: I say in all candour that we need to pay attention to how we are going to stand up for Parliament as an institution, because things are changing out there. There are now very strong single-issue lobbies that were not there before, and new electronic media give them a way to come together quickly and run very strong campaigns.

The problem we face is the collapse of interest in political parties. All the political parties are suffering from a diminution in membership.

Mr MacNeil: Not at all—we’ve just trebled our membership!

Crispin Blunt: I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris). He told her that the thing that would stop endless petitions against individuals who were then targeted by particular lobbies was failure. I look forward to hearing about the dissolution of the Scottish National party after its failure in the referendum on independence. The party has failed, so is that it? Is the SNP going away and packing up its tents? I rather suspect not, and we can expect the same of single-issue campaigns, which will target Members—particularly those who are brave enough to stand up for unpopular causes—and continue to be on their tail, if we agree to the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park.

Money is also an issue, as the hon. Member for North Durham has said. My campaign to get reselected was targeted at about 500 Conservatives in Reigate. That campaign had minimal costs, but I then had to say thank you to all the people who campaigned for me and so on, and the cost of that non-campaign headed into four figures. Hon. Members should imagine having to campaign in their constituency. If they were standing up for an unpopular cause and their party did not roll in behind them—the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) gently predicted that his party might not be too keen to rally to his aid—they would be very exposed by recall. Some of us do not have the resources to fight such campaigns.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I feel that my hon. Friend is creating an Aunt Sally that does not exist. As I understand it, the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) require 20,000 people to go to a town hall to vote for a recall. That is very unlikely, even with outside organisations trying to stir things up.

Crispin Blunt: That was the superficial attraction of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park. I thought that I might even vote for them because they at least to some extent made the public relations purpose of the Bill more effective by meeting the challenge of involving the public in this exercise. The superficial attraction of his argument was the one expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), which is that recall will not happen away, because no one will be able to clear this hurdle. It has hardly ever happened in the United States, and we have made it so difficult to achieve that recall will not do anything in practice. We therefore need not worry because this is simply about public

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relations, and the public relations tricks are dealt with better by the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park than by the Government’s Bill.

Institutionally, we now need to make the case for this institution. It is wrong to address an issue of perception through legislation. We should make a case—the kind of case brilliantly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough—about what a representative democracy is about in principle. That is changing in this environment of much greater popular engagement. The problem we face is that we must, at the same time, produce coherent administration. We have to support a Government who have a programme and will vote the taxes and do the unpopular things required to administer this country effectively. If we give in to the kind of populist pressure coming from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire or my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, who spoke in a very principled way, we will create for ourselves a practical problem about what we are here to do, which is to ensure the sound administration of the United Kingdom.

Zac Goldsmith: Does my hon. Friend not agree that more or less every 30 or so years since the first Reform Act of 1832, the franchise has been expanded and democracy has been updated to adjust to social changes. That happened right up to 1969, but since then the world has changed beyond recognition for the reasons he has eloquently described, not least the internet, social media and so on. Does he not accept that there is a need for democracy to be updated again, or have we reached ground zero in the political history of democracy in this country?

Crispin Blunt: We have a practical problem about how we adapt as an institution—both the Government, and Parliament in holding the Government to account—and about how we as elected representatives manage it. Of course the temptation is to begin to go down the road of constant referendums or opinion polls by e-mail, but that does not put together a coherent programme for Government. That is the issue we must address, and I do not think that the Bill or my hon. Friend’s amendments will do the job.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) spoke to set out our case for our amendments and to respond to those tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and others. In my speech, I will focus on the cross-party amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) and others.

I want to restate the fact that Labour supports the principle of recall. It was in our manifesto, which the Minister quoted:

“MPs who are found responsible for financial misconduct will be subject to a right of recall if Parliament itself has failed to act against them.”

Against that test, our view is that the Bill is not strong enough. That is why we tabled the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife set out on lowering the suspension limits that might trigger recall and adding additional conditions, including on conviction for financial misconduct.

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9.30 pm

Clearly, we need to strike a careful balance between allowing our constituents to recall their Member of Parliament if they are guilty of serious wrongdoing and designing a system that might, however inadvertently, allow powerful vested interests to take action against MPs simply because they disagree with our views or dislike our politics. That would risk hampering our democracy.

It is for that reason that we are drawn to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, which would provide a public trigger for recall. He made a powerful and persuasive case for such an approach and admitted openly and candidly that further work needs to be done on the detail. Amendments 42 and 43 and new clauses 6 and 7 provide for a form recall that is independent of any parliamentary Committee. It would allow direct access to a petition for the public, but would allow recall only in cases of misconduct. Importantly, it seeks to avoid MPs adjudicating on the behaviour of other MPs or, as the Minister put it, MPs marking our own homework.

The amendments of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome would allow a recall process to be triggered if 100 electors petitioned an election court and the court was satisfied that there was prima facie evidence that the MP had a case to answer in respect of the criminal offence of misconduct in public office. Our view is that the proposal for an election court as a trigger of recall is a serious proposal that merits further consideration. Work needs to be done to refine the amendments between now and Report stage. I will give a couple of examples of how.

In new clause 6, the third recall condition would allow just 100 people to bring a petition to an election court. That is significantly lower than any of the thresholds proposed in the Bill or in the amendments of the hon. Member for Richmond Park. We need to consider whether the bar of 100 petitioners is too low. Is there not a risk that the courts would be clogged up with unlikely recall petitions? A possible change would be to add an earlier stage during which a court, on the basis of the papers, could filter out petitions that would be highly unlikely to succeed before deciding whether to hear the cases.

We believe that we need to consider the definition of “misconduct”. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome spoke about that himself. In new clause 7, the court is asked to consider the common law offence of misconduct in public office. In addition, it states that

“gross dereliction of duty as an MP may be considered misconduct in public office.”

The offence in common law is defined as a public office holder wilfully neglecting to perform their duty or committing misconduct to such a degree as to abuse the public’s trust in that office holder. I suggest that we should consider on Report whether that is clear and correct. Does the court need further clarification? Alternatively, could we use the code of conduct for Members of Parliament as the basis for the work of the election court?

The hon. Gentleman’s amendments allow for a recall petition without a conviction. As they stand, the MP need not be guilty of any offence. It is only that a prima facie case must be answered. Do we not want an opportunity

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for the Member of Parliament to have his or her case heard, or is it enough for a judge to find that there is a case to be heard and for the public then to be consulted? Alternative bars could be set, such as whether the election court is sure beyond reasonable doubt that the Member of Parliament is guilty of misconduct.

A significant refinement of the amendments is needed. In principle, giving the power to the people to bring a case against their MP before the election court is a good idea. It treads the fine line between undermining an MP’s constitutional role and giving power to the people to hold their Member of Parliament to account for his or her conduct. Labour Members will work with the cross-party group of MPs who have proposed these amendments to attempt to ensure that we can make them workable, and we look forward to returning to the matter on Report. As a result, we will not be pressing any of our amendments to a vote, and I urge other Members not to press their amendments to a vote today.

Mr Gyimah: This has been a good, if long, debate, and after four and a half hours of Committee we are still very much on clause 1. As the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) said, the Bill faithfully implements the commitment given at the last election to introducing recall for MPs for misconduct. Some colleagues believe that is unnecessary and that the House—and courts—already have sufficient sanctions. Others believe that what was promised should not have been promised, and that constituents should be able to trigger a recall of their MP for any reason at any time. Faced with those two alternatives, I think the Bill deserves support. It does what we said we would do, while safeguarding the right of MPs to speak freely without imperilling their position in this House before the verdict of their constituents at a general election.

As I summarise the points raised, I would like to get away from the distinction that some Members have tried to draw between bogus and real recall. As my right hon. Friend the Minister made clear, the Government have committed to considering how a number of the amendments can be reflected in the drafting of the Bill, including a means for constituents to trigger a route for recall from proven misconduct, and the link with convictions under the parliamentary expenses system. Those are all constructive ways of dealing with the shared desire across the House to make this a Recall Bill that is robust and commands the confidence of the electorate.

Let me turn to some of the speeches made today. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) spoke passionately—as he is known to do on these matters—and touched on the threshold, cost controls and the fear of endless harassment.

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Will the Minister clarify whether a threshold could be dovetailed on to another election—for example the Scottish referendum or a European election—as a way of distorting the achievements of that threshold, or whether it would need to be secured on a separate date?

Mr Gyimah: I think the answer is that a threshold could be on any date.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park said that the threshold, cost controls and endless harassment were technical issues that we could deal with quite easily. As we learned in Committee, however, such issues are germane to his recall proposal, and therefore to his argument.

Several Members made the point that not only was the threshold of 5% for the initial stage of recall too low, but it could be requested again and again, meaning that a Member could face several notices of recall during a Parliament. While those notices of recall may not be successful in themselves, as the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) pointed out, the sheer fact that a Member could face recall on any issue at any time again and again could serve to stop them performing their duties—apart from the fact that dealing with a recall could be a complete nuisance.

The hon. Gentleman also touched on cost controls, and something my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park did not explore in great detail is the point that before the notice of petition is given under his scheme of recall, a lot of money could be spent that is not recorded anywhere at all, in order to destabilise an MP and make it difficult for them to fight the recall when it happens. The hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) noted that compared with the main parties, minor parties do not have the funds to fight even one recall petition, and the same applies to Independent MPs. Cost control is not a simple, technical issue, but is central to the argument for full recall and something that I do not believe has been addressed today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park spoke of MPs in the context of their role as legislators. MPs are not just legislators; some are members of the Executive. How will the Minister for planning, the Minister for fracking, the Minister for benefit reform or the Minister for austerity deal with a situation in which recall can be initiated against them on a 5% threshold? In other words, it would be almost impossible for certain MPs—[Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The Minister will be heard.

Mr Gyimah: It would be very difficult for certain Members, especially those with relatively small majorities, either to serve in the Executive or to take the unpopular decisions that Governments must take. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) said, to govern is to choose.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) came up with an interesting mechanism to deal with wrongdoing and giving the public a say. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, we will consider that interesting idea on Report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) demonstrated why is he is such a valued Member of the House. He expounded on why our history is important, but why we cannot dismiss what the House stands for, and the privilege of an MP to speak and take unpopular positions. At the same time, we must deal with the needs of our electorates and respond to their concern about wrongdoing.

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My right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) made an empathetic speech about Members who have very small majorities. He was very honest in saying that, with the size of his majority, he could afford to take some unpopular positions without worrying about going back to his constituency one weekend to find a notice of a petition against him on a 5% threshold, and that his constituents had begun proceedings to get rid of him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate made the passionate case that the House of Commons suffers from a collapse of institutional self-confidence—it was the kind of case that Sir Humphrey might describe as “very brave”. He said that MPs must make the case for the status quo without responding to the public’s desire for a mechanism to bring MPs to account when there is serious wrongdoing, which the Government and all the main parties recognise.

Crispin Blunt: I can see from my Twitter feed that my courage is already a matter of comment, but my question to the Minister is this: are MPs not already held to account? He implies that we are not, but we are massively held to account by any number of different bodies.

Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that oversight is exercised over MPs and that MPs are held to account in a number of ways, but there is a gap within the existing framework, namely the opportunity for constituents to get rid of an MP in a case of serious wrongdoing. Currently, the Representation of the People Act 1981 allows an MP to be automatically disqualified if they are convicted and sentenced to a period of more than a year. However, if the period is less than a year, the MP can decide to stay in post. The Bill gives the public a route at that point to get rid of the MP. The Act does not allow an MP who is given a suspended custodial sentence for any period to be disqualified from the House. The Bill fills that gap. The Mental Health Act 1983 provides for disqualification if an MP is imprisoned or sentenced under the mental health provisions for more than a year, but if the term is under a year the MP remains in post.

9.45 pm

The Bill seeks to address those significant gaps in the framework while maintaining the balance between dealing with wrongdoing and an MP’s ability to speak their mind.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): As I understand the Bill, it proposes that in the event of a custodial sentence of less than 12 months the recall mechanism can be triggered. Many offences are punished not by custodial sentences but by serious community penalties. Why have the Government taken the view that offences punished by such sentences should not trigger the ability to recall the Member?

Mr Gyimah: I must correct my hon. and learned Friend on a point of detail. Recall would—not can—be triggered if a Member received a custodial sentence of less than 12 months. What drives the Government’s recall process is the level of seriousness. So, for example, a fine for non-payment of the television licence is not in the same category as serious assault or theft. However,

27 Oct 2014 : Column 137

a community sentence that brought the House into disrepute or for conduct in breach of the Members code of conduct could trigger the second recall petition under which the Member may be suspended for 21 days at the recommendation of the Standards Committee. That could result in recall and a by-election if the 10% threshold was reached.

Stephen Phillips: The Minister is right: that could trigger the Standards Committee to act, but it might not. Is not the difficulty that it looks again as though the House is seeking to regulate itself rather than hand power to our constituents?

Mr Gyimah: We are looking at the operation of the Standards Committee and how it can be strengthened, as the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells said earlier. I assure my hon. and learned Friend that, even under the current terms of the Bill, if a Member is reported to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, it would have to investigate. If the Member has breached the code of conduct, the Standards Committee can make a recommendation to the House of a suspension for 21 days, and that could trigger a recall petition. So a Member receiving a non-custodial sentence could still face recall.

Amendment 1 deals with the point that recall could be triggered over and over again. New clause 2 concerns the 200-word statement by the promoter of the recall petition. That makes sense if someone brings a recall petition against a Member under the scheme proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park—they should be able to put their accusations on paper and the Member should have the right of reply—but it risks accusations that are unfounded getting into the public domain and being given credence because they have been distributed by the local authority. Damage to the Member’s reputation could be done just by allowing people to promote their reasons for recall.

Steve Baker: The point was made earlier in the debate that leaflets seek to undermine our reputations in every general election. What is the difference?

Mr Gyimah: The leaflets that are put out at the general election are not paid for from the public purse, nor are they distributed by the local authority. In this context, the leaflet would be drafted by a member of the public, paid for by the taxpayer and distributed by the local authority, which could be seen to endorse those views. That could damage someone’s reputation.

Amendments 42, 43, 44, new clause 6 and new clause 7 deal with the cross-party amendment and focus recall on misconduct. As I said, we will consider that in detail. Amendment (a) to new clause 2, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice), focuses recall on causes not conduct. As tabled, it would not stop people campaigning for recall and would not act as a safeguard to Members’ free expression. We therefore urge him to withdraw his amendment.

Amendments 34, 6, 7, 10, 35, 12 to 18, 20, 21, 36, 37, 8 and 9 are consequential amendments on the recall process and so are not worth touching on in detail now. Amendments 39 and 40 deal with retrospectivity. The

27 Oct 2014 : Column 138

House tends not to favour retrospectivity. In general, the courts impose punishment for offences that are current, so I urge the withdrawal of those two amendments.

Amendment 46 covers historic offences which, although committed at the time of the MP’s election, are not known to the electorate at the time. This makes an important point on the electorate’s ability to judge a Member’s misconduct and we will return to the amendment on Report. Amendment 47 deals with criminal abuse of the expenses system, which would lead to judgment before constituents as well as the court. There is a technical deficiency in the way the amendment is currently drafted, but we will reflect on this matter and return to it on Report. [Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The Committee should be listening to the Minister. If Members wish to chat they can go elsewhere.

Mr Gyimah: In summary, we are dealing with two different conceptions of recall. The Government believe that recall should be on the basis of serious wrongdoing and conduct and not on causes supported.

Mr MacNeil: Is it not the reality that, after manifesto promises, a mealy-mouthed recall Bill will be considered with disdain by the public, and will set the reputation of Westminster even lower?

Mr Gyimah: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point that we have to respond to the real need, especially post-expenses crisis, to allow the public to kick MPs out after wrongdoing, but we have to do that in a way that is consistent with our democratic arrangements. We have a parliamentary democracy in which the legislature is fused with the Executive. The three other countries similar to us, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, do not have recall. A lot has been made of the United States of America, which has recall but, as the hon. Member for North Durham pointed out, it is often used there for politically motivated reasons. We wish to respond to the need for the public to be able to get rid of their MPs, but the Government want to do so in a way that is consistent with our democratic arrangements while preserving some of the best aspects of our system, for example MPs being able to speak their mind and campaign for unpopular causes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park argues that recall will be very rare under his scheme, while giving people real power. He has to decide whether his recall mechanism will give real power and be effective in getting rid of any MP the public want to get rid of, or that it is rare and therefore not effective. It sounds to me like his argument tries to have it both ways and that is not the way that recall should work. If we are to have a recall system, it should be one that the public can trust and understand. They should know that when they engage in it, it will end in a Member being booted out of this House if need be.

The four-stage recall mechanism proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park starts with a 5% threshold and then moves to a 20% threshold, then a 50% threshold and then a by-election. I would hazard a guess that constituents would be fed up by the end of it. Someone who signed the notice of petition at

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the first stage would think, “I thought I’d got rid of that MP five months ago”, but the process would still be ongoing. On the other hand, the Government’s proposal would be as speedy as possible. I therefore urge Members to reject the amendment and the following consequential amendments.

Zac Goldsmith: The technical concerns—thresholds, costs, frequency—can and will be dealt with on Report and should not be an excuse to reject the amendments as a whole. At stake is a matter of principle. Do we trust our voters to hold us to account? The public today are better informed, better educated and less deferential than at any time in our history, and recall is not radical, but merely a nod to those changes that would be used rarely and only in extremes. It might even be described as a gesture, but that does not make it a trivial matter; sometimes a gesture is the most important thing—a signal from one party to another that starts the process of healing and reconciliation. I fear that if we play games, constructing a bogus alternative to recall, voters will see through it and, sooner or later, begin seeking more drastic solutions. I therefore press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.




Ayes 166, Noes 340.

Division No. 63]


9.56 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Anderson, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Baker, Steve

Banks, Gordon

Barclay, Stephen

Barron, rh Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Bebb, Guto

Begg, Dame Anne

Benyon, Richard

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Bray, Angie

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Bryant, Chris

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Coffey, Ann

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creasy, Stella

Crouch, Tracey

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Dorries, Nadine

Dowd, Jim

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Ellis, Michael

Elphicke, Charlie

Engel, Natascha

Evans, Mr Nigel

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flynn, Paul

Fuller, Richard

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goldsmith, Zac

Green, rh Damian

Griffiths, Andrew

Halfon, Robert

Hancock, Mr Mike

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Henderson, Gordon

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hoey, Kate

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Lee, Jessica

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Loughton, Tim

Lucas, Caroline

Lumley, Karen

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Main, Mrs Anne

Mann, John

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McDonnell, John

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, Grahame M.


Morris, James

Mundell, rh David

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Donnell, Fiona

Owen, Albert

Pawsey, Mark

Pearce, Teresa

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Reed, Mr Jamie

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Ruffley, Mr David

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stuart, Mr Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walley, Joan

Weir, Mr Mike

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wright, David

Wright, rh Jeremy

Tellers for the Ayes:

Douglas Carswell


Mr Peter Bone


Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baker, rh Norman

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Balls, rh Ed

Barker, rh Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benn, rh Hilary

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berger, Luciana

Berry, Jake

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Blunt, Crispin

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brennan, Kevin

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, rh Annette

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burnham, rh Andy

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Champion, Sarah

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, rh Yvette

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doughty, Stephen

Doyle, Gemma

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Dromey, Jack

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fallon, rh Michael

Farrelly, Paul

Flint, rh Caroline

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francis, Dr Hywel

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Gapes, Mike

Garnier, Sir Edward

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Green, Kate

Greening, rh Justine

Greenwood, Lilian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffith, Nia

Gummer, Ben

Gwynne, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Mr Tom

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Havard, Mr Dai

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Hendry, Charles

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lamb, rh Norman

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leech, Mr John

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Chris

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Long, Naomi

Lopresti, Jack

Love, Mr Andrew

Luff, Sir Peter

Macleod, Mary

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Malhotra, Seema

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McDonald, Andy

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McInnes, Liz

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Miller, rh Maria

Milton, Anne

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Moore, rh Michael

Morden, Jessica

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, David

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mudie, Mr George

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Onwurah, Chi

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Osborne, Sandra

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Paisley, Ian

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perkins, Toby

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pound, Stephen

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Steve

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robertson, John

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Rudd, Amber

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sarwar, Anas

Scott, Mr Lee

Seabeck, Alison

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simmonds, Mark

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Julian

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stewart, Iain

Stride, Mel

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, rh John

Timms, rh Stephen

Tredinnick, David

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vaz, Valerie

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Watts, Mr Dave

Webb, rh Steve

Wharton, James

Whittingdale, Mr John

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williamson, Chris

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, Mr Iain

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Andrew Robathan


Ian Swales

Question accordingly negatived.

27 Oct 2014 : Column 140

27 Oct 2014 : Column 141

27 Oct 2014 : Column 142

27 Oct 2014 : Column 143

10.12 pm

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 21 October).

The Chair put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).

Clauses 1 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again tomorrow.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

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

House of Commons Members’ Fund

That pursuant to section 4(4) of the House of Commons Members’ Fund Act 1948 and section 1(4) of the House of Commons Members’ Fund Act 1957, in the year commencing 1 October 2014 there be appropriated for the purposes of section 4 of the House of Commons Members’ Fund Act 1948: (1) The whole of the sums deducted or set aside in that year under section 1(3) of the House of Commons Members’ Fund Act 1939 from the salaries of Members of the House of Commons; and (2) The whole of the Treasury contribution paid to the Fund.—(Harriett Baldwin.)

Question agreed to.

27 Oct 2014 : Column 144

JTI Gallaher

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

10.13 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): On 7 October, my constituency received the devastating news that a 150-year-old manufacturing industry was to be brought to an end.

JTI Gallaher employs 900 people in Ballymena. It has existed in Northern Ireland since its foundation 150 years ago in the city of Londonderry, and it has been a mainstay of employment in Northern Ireland. It has stood along with key industries such as linen-making, textiles, rope-making and shipbuilding, and it has itself been part of one of the key industries in Northern Ireland. In my constituency, it alone employs those 900 people. It is regarded as one of the largest employers in the constituency, and, indeed, in Northern Ireland as a whole.

Let me put this into a local perspective. In a country of 1.8 million people, that employer’s wage input into my local economy is £60 million, and it puts a further £100 million into the entire Northern Ireland economy through transport, packaging and other associated industries.

In philanthropic terms, the company supports—and indeed is the lifeblood support of—key charities, including Age UK, the Harryville partnership in Ballymena and the Ulster orchestra. We are hearing much locally about the future of the Ulster orchestra. Let us be absolutely clear about this: without JTI Gallaher there would be no Ulster orchestra.

I want to put the 900 jobs into a UK-wide perspective. If those jobs were lost here on the mainland of the United Kingdom, it would be the equivalent of 32,000 people being told that their jobs are over. I welcome the fact that we have a Minister at the Dispatch Box, but I have been totally underwhelmed by the response of this Government to that blow to our economy. There has been no statement from that Dispatch Box about it. The Secretary of State has not come to that Dispatch Box. To say the sense of betrayal in my constituency is palpable would be an understatement.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have surrendered to the lobby from those who oppose smoking? They have put people out of jobs and yet their very objective will not be achieved, because all that will happen is that people will move over to an illegal market, with far more dangerous tobacco products and the financing of criminal gangs?

Ian Paisley: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.

There are three reasons why this factory is going to be closed. The first of the two main reasons is over-regulation. I am the first to say that smoking needs to be regulated—I do not smoke, I do not want my children to smoke, and the product is harmful so it has to be regulated—but to over-regulate it to such a degree that we close the industry down without stopping people smoking is just foolishness.

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The second key issue is the illicit trade. As a result of over-regulation—my hon. Friend pointed to this—one in four cigarettes smoked across the whole of the United Kingdom is an illicit cigarette that has been smuggled in. That damages not only the economy and the country, but these jobs.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government’s absurd proposal for plain packaging of tobacco will not only be dangerous to tobacco smokers, but is partly instrumental in the loss of jobs in his constituency?

Ian Paisley: The European tobacco directive has undoubtedly helped to kill this industry, but let us be absolutely clear: the betrayal of the Government in putting in place plain packaging has said to an entire industry, “There’s no point staying in this country. There’s no point continuing to manufacture in the United Kingdom.” All it has done is driven—and it will continue to drive—those jobs to eastern Europe while cigarette smoking continues in Northern Ireland.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Europe clearly has a reason for the directive that is coming through, but does my hon. Friend recognise the good work MEPs Diane Dodds and Jim Nicholson did on behalf of JTI? Does he think Europe could have done more, and does he feel that the Minister should have more interaction with Europe?

Ian Paisley: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point which I want to address slightly later by talking about how Europe has played a devastating role in this development.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government caving in on this one, and indeed leading the charge on plain packaging, interferes with the intellectual property of companies, which is a dangerous precedent, and that we will end up not with more people giving up smoking, but with the exporting of jobs and the importing of tobacco products?

Ian Paisley: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he says that plain packaging will not do what it sets out to achieve. It will not reduce consumption; it will simply help to destroy an industry.

I appeal to the Government tonight. They could help me to save jobs in my constituency and help me save this industry by indicating firmly that they will review immediately their decision to implement plain packaging, allowing me to go back to the company and argue that it is worth its while staying in a country that wants to encourage, not discourage, manufacturing.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not just his constituency that would feel the economic impact of the closure of the JTI factory, but the whole of the north-west of England? Located in my constituency is Heysham port, which is the reserve port for JTI’s goods. My port will lose out on business from JTI should the factory close.

Ian Paisley: It is not only that the 900 directly employed people in my constituency will lose their jobs. The hon. Gentleman mentions associated companies. Yes, I will lose £60 million from my local wage economy, but

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approximately a further £100 million will be lost from the local economy in terms of the costs associated with transport, haulage firms and packaging companies. All those other aspects of associated business and trade will be gone. It is therefore no wonder that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the impact that the closure will have on employment in his constituency.

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree not only that the decision by JTI, based on the tobacco products directive, shows why the Government must immediately cancel their plans to proceed with plain packaging for tobacco products, but that all the evidence from Australia shows that this will simply drive more customers into the illegal trade, where there are none of the health benefits the Government want to see and none of the money coming into the Exchequer that they would wish? Moreover, it will lead to even more of the job losses he is suffering in Ballymena.

Ian Paisley: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Government policy should be based on evidence. If there were evidence to show that plain packaging will reduce consumption, the Government would have every right to attempt to implement the policy. But given that it is basically guesswork, and that the trial on the ground in Australia shows that consumption is not decreasing as a result of plain packaging, but that illicit trade is increasing, the Government should take stock immediately.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con) rose—

Ian Paisley: I give way to the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Mr Robertson: As a fellow member of the Select Committee, does the hon. Gentleman remember that when we looked into the illicit trade issue and interviewed the head of the relevant department in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, his view was that plain or standard packaging would actually increase counterfeiting and the illicit trade?

Ian Paisley: The hon. Gentleman is making my case for me. He is clearly demonstrating, through his knowledge of this subject and what HMRC has told him that the Government’s policy is wrong-headed and will not prevent people from smoking. I say again: I want to see a reduction in smoking, but we have to have a policy that works and is proven to work. The evidence is not there to achieve the Government’s policy.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that when this Government sent their draft regulations to the EU indicating their intention to introduce standardised packaging, that created the uncertainty in the industry that has affected Gallaher so badly—it is now unable to forward-plan—and yet no ministerial decision has been made and no debate has taken place in this Chamber? We have passed enabling legislation, but we did not make a final decision.

Ian Paisley: I thank the hon. Lady for bringing me on to a key point—the impact of the European directive and, importantly, the Government’s betrayal of this

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industry. The Prime Minister answered a parliamentary question earlier last year on minimum pack size, which is what the tobacco directive is all about. He said:

“It does not, on the face of it, sound a very sensible approach. I was not aware of the specific issue, so let me have a look at it and get back to my hon. Friend.”—[Official Report, 9 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 160.]

The Prime Minister was answering a question from a Government Member, and I believe that he has been let down by a failure of his party and colleagues to negotiate the matter appropriately in Europe.

While the then public health Minister, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), had control of tobacco products directive negotiations for the UK Government, she was required to keep Parliament informed of developments via the European Scrutiny Committee. When she was brought to that Committee on 17 July 2013, she had to apologise for poor political practice, saying:

“I do not hesitate to apologise for the fact that this Committee has not been fully informed. I only wish that, as a Minister, I was aware of all the things that happen within my portfolio.”

That is an appalling indictment of a Minister who took her eye off a brief and allowed the policy to be rammed through with the consequences that we are feeling today. We will reap a terrible harvest in Northern Ireland as a result.

The provisions under the TPD on the minimum pack sizes that may be manufactured have the direct impact that 82% of the output of my constituency’s factory will be made illegal. The Government have done that with the sweep of a pen—it is little wonder that 900 people are being told that it is over for them. The Government could have said, “Let’s continue to manufacture, but not sell in the United Kingdom,” or looked at other options, but instead they implemented a policy even though their Minister said that she was not fully aware of what was happening. That is a betrayal. It is a scandal that the Government were not paying proper attention.

The Government cannot say that they were not warned. I have spent three years in the House warning the Government about their actions. I was able to attract 82 signatures to an open letter to the Secretary of State for Health from Members on both sides of the House, including former and current Cabinet Ministers. The letter stated that if the Government continued with the tobacco directive and plain packaging, it would have

“disastrous consequences for independent retailers, consumers and those employed in the legitimate tobacco supply chain.”

It said that the products affected involved

“a very significant level of employment in UK factories.”

It said:

“Should these packs disappear, the machinery needed for them will be made redundant alongside the workforce who are employed to operate them. In the current economic climate, can the Government afford to put so many UK manufacturing jobs at risk?”

My constituents got the answer on 7 October: they were told by this Government that they could be put at risk, that they did not matter, and that their jobs and livelihoods were over.

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What frustrates me most is that the Government had warning upon warning upon warning from not just me but colleagues. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee visited my constituency and the factory to find out about smuggling. The shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland visited the factory, as did the previous Northern Ireland Secretary. The Minister’s predecessor has visited the factory, as have my Northern Ireland colleagues and other MPs, including members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. However, when I asked the Government to come and to say, “This fight is on. This is about saving jobs,” I got the terrible message that they did not want to be associated with the industry. I can represent jobs in my constituency without being associated with smoking. It is a pity that there was not just a wee bit of strength—a wee bit of backbone—in the Government when it was needed. They could have stood up to Europe and said, “We’re not implementing that. That’s the end of our jobs.” Instead, they have stubbed those jobs out, just like a fag end, and my constituents are facing the terrible consequences of that tonight.

There are some things that the Government could do, and I want to turn to those briefly in my closing remarks. First, I think that they could look afresh at the issue of plain packaging and recognise that it offers them a negotiating opportunity with the company. Removing the proposals for plain packaging and the threat to the industry for the next five years would provide an opportunity to stretch those jobs out a little longer. I have managed to help negotiate a two-year stretch for those jobs. If we could push that to five, six, seven or even eight years, because the Government are prepared not to roll over on plain packaging, that would help considerably in defending and keeping those jobs.

Dame Angela Watkinson: Like my hon. Friend, I am a non-smoker, but I never miss an opportunity to ask smokers whether their tobacco purchasing habits would change if plain packaging were introduced. They find the idea laughable, so the whole thing is based on a false premise.

Ian Paisley: I agree with my hon. Friend.

Secondly, I want the Government to help the work force via the European globalisation fund, because many of my constituents currently in employment will need to be retrained. The skilled engineers, for example, could work on oil rigs or do other engineering work, but the certifications needed cost thousands of pounds. The globalisation fund, if accessed by Her Majesty’s Government, would allow for those certificates to be paid for and help those employees under a restructuring deal.

Finally, if the work force come up with an alternative plan to help save some of those jobs, I want the Government to assist them by allowing them access to Invest Northern Ireland and other skilled business planners so that they can put in place an alternative plan that will hold water and can be put to the company’s headquarters in Geneva. That way, they can see for themselves that there may be a viable alternative. If that happens, we might be able to postpone what is happening in Northern Ireland, but I am really concerned that the Government have put out these jobs for ever.

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10.32 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr Andrew Murrison): I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) and congratulate him on the robust way in which he has put the case. His constituents will be very pleased with that, and I think that it does him great credit. The closure of the JTI Gallaher factory in Ballymena and the loss of hundreds of jobs and some £60 million from the town’s economy, and indeed from the whole economy of Northern Ireland, is a major blow. He is quite right to put that in proportionate terms, making a comparison with Great Britain and how we might view such losses on the mainland. He is quite right that this is indeed a major blow for the whole of Northern Ireland. I will do what I can to assure him that the Government are doing what we can, under the terms of the 1998 agreement, to protect jobs in his constituency and promote the prosperity agenda in Northern Ireland at this difficult time.

As my hon. Friend said, the factory in his constituency has been producing tobacco for 150 years and is the last tobacco manufacturing concern in the UK. I recall my own visit to one of the last tobacco factories in the UK, in Bristol 30 years ago—ironically, I was at medical school. Cigarette factories then were commonplace, and I think that he would admit that their decline is in some respects a good thing, since it tracks the fall in smoking, but not if production is simply shifted abroad. Of course we would all much rather have those jobs here in the UK and, specifically in the context of this evening’s debate, in Northern Ireland.

The announcement takes place against the background of the Northern Ireland economy continuing to move away from its reliance on industrial production. It is still too reliant on the public sector for jobs, as he knows. The economy in Northern Ireland is rebalancing, with the generation of creative industries, life sciences and the knowledge-based sector, which accounts for the large majority of all foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland. Aerospace, for example, continues to perform well in a very competitive market.

I accept, of course, that it is cold comfort for JTI employees to be told that software and financial services are experiencing the fastest growth or that Belfast is the No. 1 destination globally for financial technology investment. My hon. Friend will be aware, however, that the prospects for the tobacco industry overall are not very good. Indeed, they point to long-term decline as demand for cigarettes continues to fall and smoking rates edge downwards all the time. This is of course good news for health, but very bad for jobs in his constituency.

In 1974, almost half the UK population smoked—a remarkable thing to reflect on now. Last year, the figure had fallen to 18.7%. About 68% of smokers want to quit and are increasingly aware of the dire health implications of smoking. The tobacco industry has recognised the declining market caused by consumers’ health concerns and is diversifying into electronic cigarettes and associated technology that is deemed to be safer.

Sammy Wilson rose

Dr Murrison: If my hon. Friend wants to intervene, I ask him to do so briefly as I do not have much time.

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Sammy Wilson: Does the Minister accept that while there may be a decline, the irony is that while the Government are encouraging the private sector to grow in Northern Ireland, in this instance Government policy has squeezed the private sector?

Dr Murrison: I think that is a little unfair. Perhaps as I go through my remarks, my hon. Friend will be somewhat assured that the Government are doing what they can to promote the private sector, in particular, in Northern Ireland. I think he should know that from his experience of Northern Ireland overall, where the private sector is doing relatively well and the economy is, without a doubt, rebalancing, albeit at a rate that is perhaps not as fast as we would have liked.

There have also been job losses from the mechanisation and streamlining of tobacco production, and that has had a greater impact on jobs than tobacco control measures implemented by this Government. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim would probably accept that, given the changing nature of this industry, which he will have seen over many years.

On the tobacco products directive, my hon. Friend should know that I am generally loth to accept anything that comes out of the European Union, particularly when it results in regulation. However, it is fair to say that the tobacco products directive aims to protect health—that of his constituents, my constituents, and all constituents. Tobacco use is responsible for an estimated 700,000 avoidable deaths in the EU every year, and smoking accounts for over one third of respiratory deaths, over one quarter of cancer deaths, and about one seventh of cardiovascular disease deaths. I have seen these cases; I saw them day in, day out when I was practising regularly. I am sure he would agree that if we are to make any progress in improving public health, we have to cut the consumption of cigarettes. I do not think there is any difference between us on that.

Mr Burley: Will the Minister give way?

Dr Murrison: Very briefly.

Mr Burley: Does the Minister accept that smoking is not illegal in this country, and unless he is proposing to make it illegal, it makes no sense to regulate the industry into the hands of organised crime, whereby money will not be going into the Exchequer and there will not be the health benefits he is talking about? It is not an illegal activity, and we have a duty to protect jobs in manufacturing products involved in a legal activity.

Dr Murrison: It is clearly not an illegal activity, and I hope it never will be. For as long as people wish to smoke, they are entitled to do so. HMRC has the control of tobacco smuggling in Northern Ireland as its joint No. 1 priority. In my view, people are entitled to smoke if they want to, but if we are interested in improving public health, there are measures we can take to reduce consumption. Tobacco consumption is in long-term decline, as I described, and we need to try to work out what that means for the industry in this country, particularly in Northern Ireland, and how we can diversify it to create new jobs to replace those that are being lost. In the very few minutes that I have available, I will try to describe how the Government propose to do that.

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No decision has yet been made on standardised packaging of tobacco products. Ministers at the Department of Health will review the results of the recent consultation before taking a position. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim has read Sir Cyril Chantler’s report and it does not give him much comfort, but I am sure that my colleagues at the Department of Health will note the contents of this debate very carefully and that they will be mindful, as all Ministers are, of the particular impact this issue is likely to have in Northern Ireland, for the reasons my hon. Friend has elegantly laid out.

It is important that we find new and sustainable work for JTI employees. Obviously, the Executive are in the lead, notwithstanding what my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) has said about the Westminster Government in his typically robust terms. I know that Arlene Foster, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and Dr Stephen Farry, the Minister for Employment and Learning, have conducted a skills audit at the factory.

I have spoken to Arlene myself and she is very much on the case. Stephen Farry is on record as saying that his priority is to re-skill the work force and to ensure access to training courses, particularly in further education and especially at the Northern regional college. My own constituency experience very much suggests that the focus and priority in situations such as these has to be re-skilling and up-skilling the work force, and I am very pleased that that work is under way. The Government will, of course, support that wherever they can, but I must emphasise that, under the devolved settlement, it

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is first and foremost a matter for the Executive, which I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim knows full well.

The auguries are good—my hon. Friend knows that. Northern Ireland continues to do well in respect of inward investment. Indeed, under devolution it has attracted more than twice its share of UK incoming jobs and investment. Since the start of 2014, Invest Northern Ireland has announced more than 1,250 new jobs from 11 new inward investors. That is an incredible achievement of which Northern Ireland should be very proud indeed. The future looks bright and maintaining that momentum has to be the priority of both the Executive and the Government. My hon. Friend can be absolutely certain that we will do whatever we can to support the prosperity agenda in Northern Ireland and make sure that his constituents benefit fully from that, given what has happened recently in relation to JTI Gallaher.

The economic pact published last year represents a different approach to delivering the Government and the Executive’s shared aims of rebalancing the economy and building a shared future. It recognises that working together can deliver better results for the people of Northern Ireland. “Building a Prosperous and United Community: One Year On”, published in the summer, makes for good reading. It is a backdrop against which I hope the work force in my hon. Friend’s constituency will emerge well from the setback that he has so ably brought to the attention of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

10.43 pm

House adjourned.