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House of Commons

Thursday 20 November 2014

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Business, Innovation and Skills

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): What steps he is taking to support the manufacturing sector. [906133]

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): Our industrial strategy sets the long-term direction needed to give manufacturers confidence to invest and compete internationally. We are encouraging technology commercialisation, exports, investment, improving skills, and building UK supply chains. I am sure my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating Cumbria local enterprise partnership, which has been awarded £5 million under regional growth fund round 3 to support specialist manufacturers.

John Stevenson: A flourishing sawmill on the edge of Carlisle employs 120 people. Those in the timber industry are concerned that they are not included in the proposed relief scheme for the indirect cost of renewables, despite being accepted as an energy-intensive industry under the climate change agreement. That could give a competitive advantage to imported timber. Will the Minister look at the industry’s case and report back to me?

Vince Cable: I will certainly look at that—indeed, we already are. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the more general issue of energy-intensive industries, and we have sought to achieve relief through compensation under the European Union emissions trading system and the carbon price floor. We have recently consulted on how to extend that relief in respect of renewable obligations and the feed-in tariff. That consultation has just ended and will incorporate industries depending on their energy intensity and trading capacity. We will announce the results shortly.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): The steel industry is vital to manufacturing in the United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to tell the House exactly what has been happening with Tata Steel’s proposed sale of its long products division?

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Vince Cable: Members across the House are concerned about the future of the long products division in Tata Steel. As the hon. Gentleman may know, I have had discussions with Cyrus Mistry in India, chief executive of Tata, and I recently met Mr Klesch, who has an interest in taking on that business. We are in close touch with Members across the House on the progress of those discussions, and I will report back when developments arise.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): While the Secretary of State is right and the Government have set out a national industrial strategy, will he put on record his praise for the job creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs in Shropshire who have created more than 1,000 jobs in the last year in agri-engineering, food manufacturing, car parts manufacturing, and the manufacturing that is being brought back from Europe and put into Shropshire?

Vince Cable: The hon. Gentleman describes a powerful trend. I am delighted that it is operating in his constituency and I congratulate the firms concerned. He refers to the process of onshoring production that had gone overseas, and I believe that around one in 10 British manufacturers are now considering that process. I have recently come back from India where I met a company called Amtek that is bringing car supply chain and production back to the UK—it may even be in the hon. Gentleman’s county.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr Roy) has already mentioned the importance of the UK steel industry, which underpins much of our manufacturing industry. Is the Secretary of State also aware of cheap imported steel being dumped into domestic markets, failing British standards and raising question marks about quality, traceability and reliability? Reinforcing steel used in the UK is certified under the CARES scheme. Is he confident that that scheme is working as well as it could be? What steps is he taking to ensure that such steel is tested, compliant with British standards, traceable and safe?

Vince Cable: That issue has been brought to my attention by British producers and it is a legitimate question. I am in the middle of an inquiry into whether the testing process operates effectively and takes proper account of different standards as between UK producers and those overseas. We have no ideological view on anti-dumping. It is a matter of proof and fact and operates through the European process, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Small Businesses

2. Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): What recent support he has provided to small businesses. [906134]

The Minister for Business and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): The British Business Bank is now fully operational and has facilitated a total of £2.3 billion of new lending and investment to more than 21,000 businesses. The growth accelerator scheme supports just under 20,000 firms, and 22,600 start-up loans have been drawn

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down, totalling more than £199 million. More than that, we support small businesses by delivering on our long-term economic plan.

Robert Halfon: Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 2012 research by Experian for the BBC said that Harlow had the highest rate of business growth in the whole of the United Kingdom? I am holding my own business awards to honour some of Harlow’s best businesses. We have had more than 300 nominations and I will be announcing the result on small business Saturday. Will he congratulate the businesses that have been nominated and recognise the incredible contribution they have made to Harlow’s community?

Matthew Hancock: I do congratulate the businesses that have been nominated and all the businesses that have contributed to a fall in unemployment in Harlow of more than 40% in the past year. My hon. Friend’s jobs fairs have contributed to that and I have no doubt that his support for small business Saturday, which all Members should support, will help to ensure that businesses can thrive in Harlow and elsewhere.

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): Under this Government, small businesses have been hit by a £1,500 rise in business rates. With so many of our small businesses up and down the country on our high streets under pressure, especially at this time of year, why will the Secretary of State and the Minister not back Labour’s plans to cut and freeze business rates to help our small firms?

Matthew Hancock: We have gone further than that: we have cut by £1,000 business rates for all small retail premises. It is crucial to ensure that business rates work in the long term. They raise a lot of revenue and we have to be aware of that fact. There will be a review in the run-up to 2017, when there will be a planned revaluation. I understand the impact of business rates and we have to ensure that they work better.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): Access to banking support is vital for small businesses, yet in my constituency NatWest is closing its Stubbington branch and later this month HSBC will close the last bank in Lee-on-Solent. Will the Minister urge those banks to do more to keep these important local services open?

Matthew Hancock: Yes, of course. The changes in banking and the way most people bank—their use of technology—has an impact on how banks operate. Having visited Stubbington and Lee-on-Solent with my hon. Friend only this week, I know how important these issues are locally. Ultimately, this is a commercial matter for the banks, but we have to ensure that banking services are available in all communities, not least to make sure that vulnerable people have access to services if they cannot use the technology.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): Access to start-up finance is clearly very important for small businesses, but businesses also need growth funding. They need to be able to consolidate and expand their businesses. Businesses in Telford often tell me that they want to take the next step forward but find it difficult to secure finance. What more can the Government do to support them?

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Matthew Hancock: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The 22,000 firms that have received start-up loans have been supported, but the new British Business Bank, something that we have not had before, has supported £2.3 billion of financing, a lot of it to the scale-up firms that he is talking about. Ultimately, we need a strong banking system. After the chaos the banking system was left in, we have been turning that around with stronger regulation. Banking balance sheets are starting to improve and move in the right direction, but it has taken an awfully long time to turn the mess around.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): As we head towards small business Saturday, which enjoys the support of the entire House, one group of small businesses that will be feeling better supported and be looking forward with more optimism are the nation’s tied pub tenants. The run-up to Tuesday’s vote saw the Government mired in confusion, as last-minute changes and amendments were proposed and dropped with alarming speed. Will the Minister tell the House what steps he will be taking to ensure that this important change is delivered in a way that works for everyone who cares about Britain’s great pubs?

Matthew Hancock: We are considering and reflecting on the will of the House as it was expressed this week, but be in no doubt that it is this Government who support pubs and publicans more than possibly any Government before: the first cut in beer duty in decades, two cuts in beer duty, and support through ensuring there is community support for pubs. We will not rest in our support for British pubs.

Net Trade

3. Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the contribution net trade will make to GDP over the next four years. [906135]

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): In March, the Office for Budget Responsibility expected net trade to make a roughly neutral contribution to growth until 2018. However, since GDP data methodology has recently been revised we will not have a fully updated view until December, with the OBR’s new forecast.

Heidi Alexander: Recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that the UK’s trade deficit has risen to £2.8 billion in September, up from £1.8 billion in the previous month. In the light of that, will the Secretary of State confirm that since the Government’s direct loan facility was launched a year ago to help businesses to export, only one firm has benefited from such support since it was announced?

Vince Cable: The hon. Lady is horribly out of date; dozens of companies are now benefiting from that new suite of credit facilities, which is one of a range of activities we are putting in place to support British exporters. When we entered office, about 27,000 companies were helped by UK Trade & Investment, but that is now up to 50,000, and the impact is already being felt in the big emerging markets, such as China and India, where there is very rapid export growth.

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Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): The Investment Management Association told me last week that Asian investors were increasingly looking to mainland Europe because of the uncertainty over the UK’s membership of the European single market. What effect will this uncertainty have on the Secretary of State’s trade forecasts?

Vince Cable: My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of inward investment to job growth in the UK. Indeed, many manufacturers and banks in the City of London have made it clear that the expectation of being able to export to the European single market is fundamental to their decision to locate here.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State welcome the contribution that will be made to trade by the Ladder for the Black Country, a brilliant apprenticeship scheme established by the Vine Trust and the Express and Star, which is working with hundreds of businesses to provide thousands of apprenticeships and give young people the jobs and skills they need to develop careers? Is this not exactly the sort of scheme that should be copied nation-wide?

Vince Cable: On the basis of that quick précis, it sounds as if it is. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have seen a rapid expansion of apprenticeships, which we are very proud of, as they are fundamental to meeting the demand for skills, particularly higher skills. I would be interested to hear more about his local programme and to see what we can do to help.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the recent news that record amounts of British food and drink are now being exported—something that I was doing before I came to this place—and that great British food is now available in more than 150 countries?

Vince Cable: Yes, it is often forgotten when we talk about manufacturers that the food and drinks sector is the largest by a considerable measure. It is a considerable success and we are supporting it, not just through the work of UKTI, but through our work on agri-tech industries, innovation and the skills strategy.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): The Government promised an export-led recovery, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) mentioned, the trade gap is widening and exports are going backwards. Why, then, have the Government, mid-year, slashed the budget for the trade show access programme that helps small businesses new to exporting or new to markets to gain access to international trade shows? I have had sight of a private letter from the trade association, the Sponsors Alliance, to the Prime Minister asking him to reverse this dreadful decision. Will the Secretary of State support this plea from small businesses and not slash the funding they desperately need to support their exporting activities?

Vince Cable: First, there is no question of the budget being slashed; it has been substantially increased, and the question is how much it should have been increased by. I am aware of the concerns of trade associations,

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however, and have met them and discussed the matter with them, and we are endeavouring to ensure they have the maximum support.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Chris Ruane. He is not here; therefore, the grouping with Question 12 falls, and questioner 12 will have to come in at that point.

Minimum Wage/Living Wage

5. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to (a) enforce payment of the minimum wage and (b) encourage firms to pay the living wage. [906137]

9. Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to (a) enforce payment of the minimum wage and (b) encourage firms to pay the living wage. [906142]

16. Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to (a) enforce payment of the minimum wage and (b) encourage firms to pay the living wage. [906149]

20. Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to (a) enforce payment of the minimum wage and (b) encourage firms to pay the living wage. [906155]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): The Government are taking tough action on employers that break minimum wage law. We have made it simpler to name and shame employers that do not pay the national minimum wage properly, and have increased the financial penalty that employers pay for breaking the law. The Government will always support and encourage businesses to pay higher than the national minimum wage, where they can.

Diana Johnson: The Sunday Mirror has reported that Greencore, which has a factory in Hull, is recruiting 300 Hungarians to undercut local jobseekers and is resisting a 6p an hour pay increase. It is part of a growing trend of low-paid work that removes people from the official jobless figures, but not from poverty. An estimated 300,000 workers earn less than the national minimum wage. How can Ministers claim to be serious about promoting the living wage, when they fail to enforce the minimum wage properly?

Jo Swinson: The hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of businesses and employers paying the national minimum wage properly. We absolutely agree. We have invested extra money in enforcement and are helping more employees. Indeed, last year, £4.6 million of arrears was secured for workers who had not been properly paid. We have also increased the penalties and the resources to enforce the penalties, and we are now naming and shaming companies that offend.

Mr Bain: Two weeks ago while campaigning in my own constituency for the living wage, I met a mother who told me that her son had been offered part-time work paying just over £2 an hour. With the Office for National Statistics showing yesterday that the proportion of jobs not paying the minimum wage has increased

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under this Government, does the Minister not regret failing to adopt the proposal from the Opposition to increase the fine for non-payment to £50,000 so that we could have proper enforcement of the minimum wage in this country?

Jo Swinson: The key is not only increasing the fine to £20,000, but enabling that fine to be levied per worker rather than per employer. The fine, which is of course linked to the amount of arrears, covers all but three cases found over the last year. None of the others would have reached the £20,000 maximum. We will be fining employers more when they break the law, because those responsible employers who abide by the law deserve to know that those who break the law will be properly punished.

Ann McKechin: Seatruck, which operates domestic ferries between Aberdeen and Lerwick and Ullapool and Stornoway, pays its Estonian national seafarers as little as £3.66 an hour, while it benefits at the same time from the tonnage tax scheme operated by this Government. Is it not about time that we tackled the people who are undermining the national minimum wage, particularly for seafarers, by ensuring that regulations are tough enough to capture this group of people?

Jo Swinson: The hon. Lady raises the issue of seafarers, which has been raised by other hon. Members. I know that my predecessor, when I was on maternity leave, was dealing with this issue, and we continue to look at it. I reiterate to all hon. Members who have constituents concerned about not being paid the national minimum wage that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will investigate every single complaint made to the pay and work rights helpline on 0800 917 2368. If people will please report instances of where the national minimum wage is not properly being paid, we can investigate and enforce it to ensure that people get what they deserve.

Mr Speaker: Wow! It is always useful to have a bit of information.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): When many large employers are making vast profits but charging the taxpayer by paying their employees the minimum wage, and when families are hit by the cost of living crisis, why will the Minister not follow Labour’s lead and our plans to incentivise employers to pay a living wage through “make work pay” contracts?

Jo Swinson: I do not think the proposals put forward by the Opposition stack up. Providing only a small incentive for only a 12-month period is unlikely to change behaviour, but it is important to encourage employers to pay more than the minimum wage where they can. It is important that we are cutting income tax by £800 for low and middle earners so that they can keep more of their hard-earned cash. That is why this Government will continue to build the stronger economy we need so that people can properly prosper.

Export Support Services

6. Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): What steps he is taking to raise awareness among businesses of export support services. [906138]

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The Minister for Business and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): United Kingdom Trade & Investment uses the brilliant “Exporting is GREAT” marketing campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of exporting and to encourage small businesses to export. Last week was UKTI’s national exporting week. Over 150 UKTI trade officers from posts around the world provided export advice to more than 5,000 companies.

Henry Smith: Since this Government came to office, UKTI has done a lot to support companies in my constituency to export, but what specific assistance can be given to the smallest firms, such as the members of Crawley federation of small businesses, to give them the confidence to make the most of lucrative export markets?

Matthew Hancock: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the goal of making sure that exports are done not only by big multinationals but by small businesses wherever they can. Some 89% of UKTI customers are small and medium-sized enterprises and nearly one in five is new to exporting or has been exporting for less than a year. I think we should do all we can to encourage this trend.


7. Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): When he next plans to meet the Construction Industry Training Board to discuss apprenticeships. [906140]

The Minister for Skills and Equalities (Nick Boles): I plan to meet the Construction Industry Training Board to discuss apprenticeships in December.

Mr Bellingham: Is the Minister aware that the Construction Industry Training Board and the National Construction college in my constituency have trained a record number of apprentices over the last year? Is he also aware that the current governing statute is not fit for purpose and needs to be updated so that it can enter into joint ventures with both the public and private sectors, training even more apprentices? Will he look at this important reform and have it on the agenda when he meets the chief executive officer, the chairman and hopefully me as well?

Nick Boles: As my hon. Friend knows, a triennial review of the training board is currently drawing to a conclusion. The issue that he raised is certainly one of those that will be considered, and one which I will discuss with the board’s members, not least because my hon. Friend has drawn it to my attention so insistently.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Will the Minister consider what more can be done to use and benefit smaller training providers such as Power in Partnership in my constituency? Such providers focus on helping young people who may not be attracted to a classroom-type environment into training and then into apprenticeships. Surely we can do more in this regard.

Nick Boles: I entirely agree. It is important for us to provide training opportunities through a range of organisations, including social enterprises, businesses and charities, as well as institutional further education colleges and the like. It is particularly important for us

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to provide training that is linked to work, either through the new programme of traineeships developed by my predecessor, who is now Minister for Business and Enterprise, or through apprenticeships. If there is anything that I can do to help any specific institution in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I shall be delighted to try to do it.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Will the Minister speak to his colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions about helping apprentices who are made redundant when a firm fails? A local training provider in my constituency has taken on apprentices who are in that position and is helping them through it, but is experiencing difficulties and is unable to give them any income. There seems to be a gap in the system.

Nick Boles: I met the Minister for Employment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), only yesterday to discuss a range of issues, and I should be happy to discuss that issue with her as well. There needs to be tight co-ordination between our two Departments, and we try to achieve it.

Student Loans

8. Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): What recent estimate he has made of the resource accounting and budgeting charge on student loans. [906141]

The Minister for Universities, Science and Cities (Greg Clark): The most recent estimate of the resource accounting and budgeting charge is about 45%.

Mr Bailey: I thank the Minister for that admirably concise response.

On Monday, the Higher Education Commission published a report which effectively endorsed the statement in the report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that the current finance system for higher education was unsustainable. The Government rejected the Select Committee’s report. In the light of the overwhelming evidence backing the report, will the Minister tell us what he is going to do about this?

Greg Clark: I do not agree with that report. Our system of student finance is in rude health. The OECD reviewed higher education systems throughout the world, and concluded that the

“UK is…one of the few”


“that has figured out a sustainable approach to higher education finance”

and that

“that investment…pays off for individuals and tax payers.”

This year more students are going to university than ever before, and that would not have been possible without the reforms that we introduced.

Mr David Willetts (Havant) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the resource accounting and budgeting charge is not a fixed cost, a cost that is being incurred today or public expenditure, but, essentially, a highly speculative forecast of what income tax receipts might be up to 2050? He is right: we have a system that is in

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rude health, with more people applying to universities, more funds for universities, and more applications from low-income families.

Greg Clark: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We take a very cautious view of the RAB charge. The OECD is amazed that we take such a conservative view. For example, we take no account of the fiscal benefit that results from people paying more taxes because they earn more as a result of having a degree. The average salary of a non-graduate is £21,000, but the average salary of a graduate is £33,000. The graduate’s salary means extra tax for the Treasury, but that is not taken into account. We are expanding student numbers, and we have a record number of students with the most disadvantaged backgrounds. It is a tribute to the work done by my right hon. Friend that we are able to say that.

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that the system is going bust, the Select Committee says that the system is going bust, and the Higher Education Commission says that the system is going bust. When will the Minister get the message? Let me ask him about uncapping student numbers this year. We were promised that the ceiling would be removed from places this year, next year and the year after. Earlier in the week, when I asked the Minister how he would pay for that, I received the immortal answer:

“The Department…has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period.”

Will the Minister tell the House now how he will pay for lifting the ceiling on student numbers this year? If he cannot answer that question, we shall have to conclude that it is a case of “Never mind a long-term plan; he has no plan at all.”

Greg Clark: First of all, the IFS did not say that the system was unsustainable. We have one of the best systems of student finance in the world, and it is achieving the results that we on this side of the House all want to see. I will give the right hon. Gentleman the answer to his question on how the removal of the cap is being paid for. The Treasury has allocated £550 million to pay for it, and it is fully funded. This has enabled us to implement the Robbins report, which was produced 50 years ago and recommended that anyone with the capability and desire for a university education should be able to have one. We are the first Government in 50 years who have been able to implement that.

Boardrooms (Ethnic Minority Representation)

10. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What his policy is on representation of people from ethnic minorities in boardrooms. [906143]

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): We believe that it is in the best interests of business to tap into the widest talent pool, resulting in a diverse and representative business leadership. I have therefore asked Trevor Phillips to start a new private sector-led campaign that will seek to address the lack of ethnic diversity in boardrooms. The purpose of the campaign will be to achieve success similar to our work on addressing gender diversity in boardrooms.

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Philip Davies: Some people, like me, believe that all appointments should be made on merit. Some believe in political correctness, and think that merit is unimportant and that boardrooms should represent the population at large. The Secretary of State seems to be in a league of his own as a politically correct champion who believes neither in merit nor in representation; instead, he believes that ethnic minorities should be over-represented in the boardroom. Will he explain why that is the case and why he, as a Government Minister, will not give out the message that jobs should be given on merit alone, irrespective of people’s race, religion or any other factor?

Vince Cable: I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman in his place. I thought he might have been in Rochester today, waiting to defect. On his question, I certainly do believe in merit; I do not believe in quotas. I know that he has written 19 letters to Mr Trevor Phillips on the subject of race and political correctness, which leads me to believe that he might have a problem with the concept of racial equality.

Skills Training

11. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to ensure that the UK’s system of skills training is relevant to the changing structure of work. [906144]

The Minister for Skills and Equalities (Nick Boles): The important thing is to put employers in control of the training system, as far as possible. We are doing that by putting employers in control of designing apprenticeship standards and of the funding that goes towards apprenticeships, and by ensuring that all vocational and technical qualifications have business recognition if they are to be approved for state funding.

Mr Sheerman: I have a little secret, which is that I had a hand in the all-party Higher Education Commission’s report, which was soundly rejected even though it was based on good evidence. I also had a hand in “Still in Tune? The Skills System and the Changing Structures of Work”, which was published today. It is a good, cross-party report which points out that it is not just the employers but the people who receive the training who have the real stake in that education, because it will last them the rest of their lives.

Nick Boles: As usual, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The people who receive the training are the customers; they are the people on whose behalf we are making the investment, and it is crucial to take their opinions into account. However, that does not dilute the crucial importance of employers being the judge of whether training is worth anything or not.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the work being done by university technical colleges in training young people for trades and apprenticeships? Will he recognise the work of the Burnley UTC, which is training young people from the age of 14 to be engineers and to work in the construction industry?

Nick Boles: My hon. Friend does valuable work as one of the Government’s apprenticeship ambassadors. He has probably single-handedly persuaded more companies to offer apprenticeships to young people

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than anyone other than my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who is also an apprenticeship ambassador. UTCs are crucial, and we have many more coming through the pipeline. The Burnley UTC is absolutely a jewel in the crown.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Last month, I attended the groundbreaking ceremony at Humberside airport, where BAE Systems has invested £5 million in a training academy. The project is supported by North Lincolnshire council and the regional growth fund, and provides opportunities for 60 apprenticeships each year. Does the Minister agree that this is just the sort of project where the Government and local authorities should support private industry, in training for the future?

Nick Boles: I congratulate my hon. Friend’s local council on supporting that project and, in particular, I congratulate BAE Systems, which provides some of the best apprenticeships anywhere in Europe. A young lady recently secured a first-class degree through her BAE Systems apprenticeship. That is what apprenticeships can offer and we need to create many more of them.

Workplace Insecurity

12. Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): If his Department will undertake an assessment of the main causes of insecurity in the workplace. [906145]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): The workplace employment relations study, which the Department funds, shows that employees’ views on job security are related to their individual circumstances and also the underlying economic conditions of the time. Job satisfaction increased between 2004 and 2011, but, unsurprisingly, insecurity rose during the recession. However, the additional 1.4 million people in employment since 2010 will have improved that situation.

Andy Sawford: The Minister will know that many of those people are in very insecure employment. Will she investigate the experience of workers at the former Aquascutum factory in Corby? It briefly became The Clothing Works, under a man named Roger Gawn who has now been disqualified as a director, and has now become Korisby Ltd. Workers there tell me that they are waiting for up to eight weeks’ pay. One of them got in touch with me the other day and said that when they raise this with the new bosses, they are told, “Get on with it or leave.” How can that be right?

Jo Swinson: I do not know the specific facts of that case, but I am happy to look into it because, from what the hon. Gentleman says, that does not sound right. I will be happy to make sure that the appropriate authorities can look into the matter, investigate and take any action that is necessary.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): If my hon. Friend’s Department did carry out such an assessment, does she not agree that it might well find that the biggest risk to the security of British business is the election of a Labour Government, which would mean more spending, more borrowing and higher taxes?

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Jo Swinson: I certainly agree that that would be a particular risk to British business. I wonder whether my hon. Friend might also agree that another risk to British business would be on the question of whether or not Britain left the EU.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Has the Minister seen the recent campaign by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians about the activities of umbrella companies, where workers are often having to pay for their own holiday pay through deductions and also national insurance employer contributions. What action is she going to take to ensure that job security and workers’ security is increased by acting on umbrella companies?

Jo Swinson: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Work is already being undertaken by the Treasury on the tax-specific issue of what happens with umbrella companies. He may be aware that last month my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary announced an employment status review so that we can look in more detail at the different types of employment status and at how that system is working, between worker and employer, and with the use of self-employed contracts and umbrella companies. We are looking forward to the results of that review, which will be covering these issues.

Technology Cluster (Cambridge)

13. Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): What steps he is taking to support the technology cluster in Cambridge. [906146]

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): We are doing an enormous amount but, as I know you want Ministers to be brief, Mr Speaker, I shall simply highlight the £500 million Greater Cambridge city deal; the £71 million local enterprise partnership growth deal, which is investing in a biomedical innovation centre and agri-tech growth initiative; and, of course, the research partnership investment fund, which is investing £25 million in a therapeutic immunology and infectious disease institute.

Dr Huppert: I thank the Minister for all that. The Cambridge tech sector is doing well, directly employing 53,000 people and bringing in £13 billion, but we could contribute much more to the UK if given further support. May I press him to support our call for more localised power and funding towards a Cambridge promotions agency, and to implement the recommendations in Sherry Coutu’s scale-up report, which came out this week and contained advice for the whole country?

Mr Vaizey: The hon. Gentleman can always press me on those issues, and he rightly highlights the extraordinary success of technology in Cambridge, with 1,500 companies, two $10 billion companies and 10 $1 billion companies. Of course, we will look at Sherry Coutu’s report with interest.


14. Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to increase the number of apprenticeships. [906147]

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The Minister for Skills and Equalities (Nick Boles): We have a record number—about 840,000—of people doing apprenticeships, and we are on track to hit and exceed our target for this Parliament of 2 million apprenticeships. We are doing that by putting employers in control of the design of the standards and of the funding.

Andrew Bridgen: Apprenticeship starts in my constituency increased from 420 in 2009-10 to 1,020 in 2012-13, helped by community groups such as Whitwick Community Enterprises, which takes on an apprentice every month and runs two courses a months for NEETs—those not in education, employment or training—to get them work ready. Will the Minister congratulate community groups on the efforts they are making to halve youth unemployment in my constituency? What more can we do to empower such groups?

Nick Boles: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing to the attention of the House the fact that it is not just businesses that create apprenticeships, and that community groups like Whitwick community group can play a vital role. They are directly contributing to a very good piece of news we have had this morning, which is that the number of young people not in education, employment or training has fallen again, by 136,000 since last year.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): A sure-fire way to increase apprenticeships in the UK would be to treat the apprentices fairly in terms of wages. They have had an increase in the last five years of 23p per hour. They get £2.73 per hour in wages. It is an absolute outrage. Is it not time that we matched the fine words and rhetoric with decent pay for our young people?

Nick Boles: Of course the hon. Gentleman is right, which is why we introduced the apprenticeship minimum wage, which did not exist until we did so, but he is also right that we need to make sure that the level is fair. Nevertheless, the chief value of an apprenticeship for the young person is the training and the preparation it gives them to create a career, so we need to strike the right balance: we need to make sure we set this at a fair level, but also encourage more employers to create apprenticeships, so that more young people are in education and in training and not on benefits.

Swindon and Wiltshire Strategic Economic Plan

15. Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): What progress his Department has made on facilitating projects identified in the Swindon and Wiltshire strategic economic plan. [906148]

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): We are making great progress. I know you want Ministers to be brief, Mr Speaker, so I will simply highlight the £129 million we have invested in funding to support a number of projects, including the first phase of a new science park at Porton and a new service to help military service leavers.

Duncan Hames: That is very welcome indeed. Project 16 in the local enterprise partnership strategic economic plan is the reopening of Corsham station. How does the Minister see LEPs working with their neighbours, local

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authorities and industry on projects which, by their nature, require a solution that extends well beyond their boundaries?

Mr Vaizey: It is important for LEPs to work together, and that is why I was so pleased to attend a meeting along with my hon. Friend last night with the Secretary of State for Transport, to highlight the importance of a potential Oxford to Bristol rail link. I know that my hon. Friend disagrees with the Minister for consumer affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), on pub issues, but I will endeavour also to enlist her support for this important project.

Mr Speaker: Mr Ronnie Campbell. Not here.

Salary Deductions (Toilet Breaks)

18. Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): What steps he is taking to prevent employers deducting money from staff salaries for toilet breaks. [906152]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): The Government would strongly encourage all employers, as a matter of good management practice, not to make deductions in pay for necessary and unavoidable interruptions to work. Employers who do not pay for toilet breaks may find themselves in breach of the Equality Act 2010 or of individual employment contracts.

Mrs Moon: I thank the Minister for that reply. A young constituent of mine was alerted, having just been sent details of his salary to his mobile phone. He was not told what the deductions were for. When he inquired, he was told they were for toilet breaks. The company tells me it makes ad hoc deductions for breaks away from the work station. Does the Minister agree that this is unacceptable, and if ad hoc deductions are made, they must be detailed and explained?

Jo Swinson: Absolutely: workers have rights to rest breaks, which there is a requirement for under law, and if deductions are made from pay, they have to be very clearly outlined—and if they take somebody below the national minimum wage, the employer could find themselves in breach of that law. I very much encourage the hon. Lady’s constituent to seek advice from the pay and work rights helpline on 0800 917 2368, and I am very happy that she has raised this issue and awareness of it in the House.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Will the Minister update the House on how many businesses to date have taken up her Government’s unpopular and much derided shares for rights scheme, taking away people’s rights at work in exchange for shares?

Jo Swinson: There is an interesting link between the issue of toilet breaks and that question, but in answer to the point about the employee shareholder policy, there is no requirement for companies to inform the Government when they have undertaken that model of employment, and therefore accurate figures would not be available to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question.

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Mr Speaker: I was, frankly, too generous, but the Minister, being the accomplished parliamentarian that she is, was ready with an answer.

Machrihanish (Spaceport Proposals)

19. Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on proposals for Machrihanish to become the site of the UK's first spaceport. [906154]

The Minister for Universities, Science and Cities (Greg Clark): The Government set out in July their ambition to start hosting commercial spaceflights from the UK by 2018. The activity is being driven by a cross-Government team that reports to me as well as to Ministers in the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport. We have undertaken a public consultation on the potential locations—including the one in my hon. Friend’s constituency—and the criteria that will be used to select the location of a spaceport. Our response will be published shortly.

Mr Reid: I thank the Minister for his answer. When the Government take the decision on the location of Britain’s first spaceport, will they take into account the fact that Machrihanish, with its 3 km runway, all the facilities of the former RAF base and a location that is far from densely populated areas, satisfies the criteria perfectly and is clearly the obvious choice for Britain’s first spaceport?

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend has taken the opportunity to make a strong case for Machrihanish. He will not be surprised to hear that some of his hon. Friends make equally persuasive cases for their own constituencies. It shows that this competition has captured the public imagination and is a great one to have been launched.

Mr Speaker: Chris White. Not here.

Topical Questions

T1. [906160] Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): My Department plays a key role in supporting the rebalancing of the economy through business to deliver growth while increasing skills and learning.

Andrew Stephenson: The town of Barnoldswick in my constituency won a great British high street award in November, and the town of Colne, where shop vacancies have more than halved in the past two years, has been branded “the capital of cool” by Tourism Lancashire. What recent support has my right hon. Friend’s Department provided to small business to help them to continue to grow and thrive?

Vince Cable: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the active role he plays in supporting his local commercial community. As the Minister for Business and Enterprise, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), described a few moments ago, we

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are actively involved in supporting small business through the start-up loan scheme, through credit flows to the business bank and by creating a deregulatory and favourable tax environment.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): It is essential that we give our towns, cities and regions the tools to be the masters of their own economic destinies to drive jobs and growth. The Secretary of State has said that he established local enterprise partnerships to help achieve that, and the LEP network was set up to support them and take forward their shared programme. Will he update us on their progress?

Vince Cable: Enormous progress has been made by the local enterprise partnerships since they replaced the regional development agencies, which, by common consent, were remote and wasteful. The most significant recent development was the growth deals, which all the LEPs now have and which have been enhanced by the specific programmes that have been developed for Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and other centres.

Mr Umunna: I am sorry, but the Secretary of State simply does not appear to know what is happening on a supposedly key part of the Government’s programme. I have here a letter from the chair of the LEP network. He says that the network will close in two weeks and that the CEO has resigned because there is no support to do the job. He says that the network is

“seriously under resourced for such a critical role at such an important time”

and that it is

“now officially overwhelmed and preparing to throw in the towel.”

Four years ago, the Secretary of State said that the regional policy was Maoist and chaotic. Does this not demonstrate that very little has changed?

Vince Cable: It demonstrates nothing of the kind. The LEP network is working exceedingly well. LEPs are voluntary organisations; some are outstanding and innovative and others struggle, as this one has done. It is much better that we have a regional network that is business-led and is related to the geography of the area, which was manifestly not the case with the regional development agencies.

T2. [906161] Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the family brand name Weetabix is closing its packet printers Vibixa in my constituency, with inevitable consequences for more than 100 employees and their families, after the company was denied the sales force that could have widened its customer base? Does he agree that when a profitable company closes a profitable subsidiary, it should offer the best possible redundancy terms to its employees, some of whom have served Weetabix for more than 35 years, and not something barely above the statutory minimum?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): I share my hon. Friend’s concern. I am sure that everyone’s thoughts will be with those individuals who face this very difficult decision at this time of year. He is right to highlight the fact that the statutory minimum is indeed just that; it is a minimum, a floor. It is not the best scenario. One

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would not expect a profitable employer that cares for its staff to go for the minimum when it can afford to pay more to recognise long-standing service.

T3. [906162] Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): The position of chief scientific adviser to the President of the European Commission has been abolished. Professor Glover has held that position with distinction for the past four years. One cannot have evidence-based decision making without scientific advice, so will the Government make the strongest representations to the European Commission to reinstate the position?

The Minister for Universities, Science and Cities (Greg Clark): I pay tribute to the work of Anne Glover, who has been a force for enormous good in Brussels. I am concerned at these reports and it is my view and that of the Government, which I think the hon. Gentleman shares, that it is important to have strong and robust scientific advice at the heart of European policy making. That has been provided in the past and I very much hope that it will be provided in the future.

T5. [906164] Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Every day in my constituency, 200 eastern European men assemble outside the local B&Q superstore on Honeypot lane. They tout their services aggressively for casual labour to people visiting the superstore, take money in cash and have no deductions for tax or national insurance for the work they do. What steps can be taken to ensure that people are employed properly and that the necessary deductions are made to support state aid?

Jo Swinson: Clearly, we are concerned about such scenarios, where people not only evade taxation law but do not have proper employment rights. I will happily look into the specific case that my hon. Friend raises and see how we can ensure that the rules are properly enforced.

T4. [906163] Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Is the Minister responsible for employment relations, consumer affairs and equalities, and the only woman in the Department, ashamed that since her Government introduced tribunal fees we have seen an 84% fall in equal pay claims, putting barriers in the way of justice at a time when the gender pay gap is increasing? So much for the sisterhood.

Jo Swinson: Although I share the hon. Lady’s desire for gender equality, I have to put her right on a couple of points. I am not the only woman in the Department: Baroness Neville-Rolfe plays an important role in the other place. The gender pay gap is falling and fell significantly in the figures announced only yesterday. That is good news, but of course more needs to be done. That is why we are ensuring that we support women in the workplace through initiatives such as “Think, Act, Report” and through our reforms of flexible working and shared parental leave. It is this Government who are introducing such initiatives, which her Government failed to do.

T6. [906165] Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): The decision of this House on Wednesday to vote to scrap the pub tie caused £350 million to be wiped off the share price of pub companies yesterday, and it continues

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to fall today. That of Punch Taverns in my constituency fell by 17% in one day. Jobs and businesses are at risk. What discussions is the Department having with those companies and what help is the Secretary of State offering? If he is not offering help, why not?

Vince Cable: As the hon. Gentleman knows, Parliament has spoken and we respect its views on the subject. All I would say is that the Federation of Small Businesses commissioned a study that pointed in a very different direction from the one he is describing. Of course, there has been extensive consultation with all the different parties on this issue.

T7. [906166] Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The Secretary of State has frequently said that he wants fairness for people on zero-hours contracts. Will he now, even at this stage, reconsider the amendments he opposed in this House this week, which would have given greater protection to people on zero-hours contracts, including care workers?

Jo Swinson: We had extensive debates on these issues in Committee and on Report. The Government have introduced legislation that will now go to the other place to ensure that exclusivity clauses are banned. We have also made a commitment to introduce sector-specific guidance to promote best practice in the use of these contracts. That is action from this Government where the hon. Lady’s Government failed to act.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): With several hundred job losses already announced in the north-east of Scotland as projects come to maturity in the North sea and costs rise, what are the Government doing to encourage further investment and exploration and to underpin many vital jobs across the UK?

The Minister for Business and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): The hon. Gentleman raises a vital point, not least because of the fall in the oil price we have seen in the past few weeks, which is good news for the consumers at the pump but tough in Aberdeen. With the Wood review, we are reviewing and making more business friendly the regulation of offshore oil drilling, and we also have a review of the fiscal regime, because our goal is to get every economic drop out of the North sea.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Yesterday the Prime Minister had a meeting with north-east Lincolnshire Members of Parliament about the Scunthorpe steelworks site and the wider Tata long products divisional issue. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for steel, I twice asked to attend that meeting and was twice refused. Will the Secretary of State please talk to the Prime Minister to see whether the APPG for steel can have a conversation with him so that the industrial divisional issue is not missed just because of the geography of Scunthorpe?

Vince Cable: A meeting took place with the Prime Minister, me and several steel MPs yesterday. That shows that the Prime Minister, other members of the Government and I are happy to keep Members up

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to date on this issue. We will establish a link with the community unions so that they can be kept fully informed too.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Secretary of State said this morning that appointments should be made on merit, yet to an earlier audience he said that boardrooms should have 20% of people from ethnic minorities, which led Lord Bilimoria to say, “I think for Vince Cable to say 20% is the right target when the ethnic minority population is 14% is going too far.”

I know that the Secretary of State is a Liberal Democrat and therefore used to holding two different opinions at the same time, but may I try to pin him down to one? Does he believe in quotas in boardrooms or appointment on merit?

Vince Cable: I do not believe in quotas for ethnic minorities, women or any other group. I have never ever said anything about 20%. If he reads the correspondence from Trevor Phillips, he will acknowledge that I never endorsed that view. However, there is a problem, which I hope the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, that more than half of the boardrooms in the UK have no non-white representation whatever. Only one in 16 senior managers comes from our very talented ethnic minority groups, and they should be better represented.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The Secretary of State mentioned earlier the importance of regional networks. I wonder whether he thinks the same when it comes to banks? Regional banks have the advantage of understanding their local community and economy and their customers. When banks are not lending to small businesses in my constituency and others around the country, are not regional banks the answer to the problem of getting the growth and support that small business needs?

Vince Cable: We warmly welcome challenger banks offering a service to small business. If they can be organised on a local and regional basis, so much the better. There is an organisation called Cambridge and Counties, which is performing this role in the east of England, and I know that Airdrie bank does so in Scotland. We would like to see many more. The liberalised process of licensing means that these things can come on stream rapidly when they are put forward.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Regrettably but inevitably, the pubcos trade association, the British Beer and Pub Association, is providing misleading information to the media and MPs about the London Economics report commissioned by BIS, including presenting figures for an immediate free-of-tie option for all tenants, which clause 2 is clearly not; it is gradual. The association’s presentation is therefore false. What assurances can I get from Ministers that they are aware of this, will scrutinise it and will ensure that civil servants also know that these misleading claims are just that?

Vince Cable: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the long and successful campaign that he has fought on this subject. I am inclined to let the matter rest, rather than continue a debate that he has won.

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Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Yesterday Royal Mail said again that there was a danger to the universal service obligation from increased competition. That is very worrying, especially to people in rural areas. Will the Secretary of State press the regulator to take stronger action to look at the state of competition and take appropriate action to ensure that the USO is not put in danger?

Vince Cable: I do not press regulators on this or other issues. The simple truth is that the USO is embodied in law. It would have to be changed by both Houses of Parliament. Royal Mail was put in the private sector to enable it to compete, and although it was little observed at the time, for the first time in decades it has been able to raise hundreds of millions of pounds in the bond market to reinvest. There is a success story there.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): The latest Office for National Statistics bulletin showed that manufacturing production had increased by 2.9% over the same time last year. These are encouraging figures. What more can I tell manufacturers in my constituency about further action that will be taken to support them?

Matthew Hancock: There will be continued further action to support manufacturers, and not only on the skills front, where it is vital to increase engineering skills. In April there will be a further cut in corporation tax to help companies to employ more people—something that is opposed by the Labour party.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the Secretary of State for his engagement with the all-party group for the steel and metal related industry. Its members are from across the whole of the UK and they are concerned about the Tata Steel situation. May I implore him again—this was raised earlier—to ensure that his Department’s engagement with the Klesch group is predicated on trying to secure as many of those jobs as possible for the long term? People in the steel industry in my constituency and across the UK are very concerned, given the Klesch group’s record in other parts of Europe.

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Vince Cable: I can give the hon. Gentleman exactly that assurance. We should listen to what he has to say. Of course, we are concerned that the British steel industry should succeed.

Mr David Willetts (Havant) (Con): With the extraordinary technical achievement of the Rosetta landing last week and the announcement of crowdfunding for Lunar Mission One this week, will the Minister responsible for science take this opportunity to congratulate the British space community on its scientific excellence and its enterprise?

Greg Clark: I will indeed do that. I had the great pleasure of visiting Stevenage earlier this week to congratulate in person many of the scientists and engineers who worked on that brilliantly successful Rosetta mission. They demonstrated the Mars Rover, which is going to be the next source of excitement.

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): And Harwell in my constituency!

Greg Clark: My ministerial colleague quite rightly calls on me to mention the signal role played by Harwell and, indeed, many other space and scientific establishments across the country. It was a great day for UK science.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): In response to my earlier question, the Secretary of State boasted that a number of firms were already benefiting from the Government’s direct lending facility. Will he name the firms, in addition to Carillion, that have benefited to date?

Vince Cable: I cannot name the firms, but I am happy to write to the hon. Lady with the names. UK Export Finance, which she asked about, is now providing a substantial range of export finance facilities, which were not available before and are contributing substantially to export growth.

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Business of the House

10.31 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague): The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 24 November—Remaining stages of the Recall of MPs Bill.

Tuesday 25 November—Remaining stages of the Pension Schemes Bill, followed by a motion to approve resolutions relating to the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill, the Local Government (Review of Decisions) Bill, the Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Bill and the Control of Horses Bill.

Wednesday 26 November—Opposition day (10th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.

Thursday 27 November—Debate on a motion relating to inequality, followed by a general debate on progress of the historical child sex abuse inquiry. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 28 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 1 December will include:

Monday 1 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 27 November and 4 December will be:

Thursday 27 November—Debate on the second report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on food security, followed by a debate on the 11th report from the Environmental Audit Committee on plastic bags.

Thursday 4 December—General debate on small business Saturday.

It may assist the House to be made aware that the calendar confirming the dates agreed by this House until the dissolution of Parliament next year is now available from the Vote Office.

Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. A week on Monday we will debate the Government’s defeats on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill on their plans to curtail severely the use of judicial review. With their cuts to legal aid and their gag on charities and campaigners, is it not now obvious that this Government started off promising a big society but have ended up stifling civil society? Does the Leader of the House plan to allow the modest amendments from the other place to remain in the Bill?

I am getting a bit worried about the Tory Chief Whip. The first thing he did when he got his job was get stuck in the toilet, and I am afraid to say it has all gone down the pan since then. He has misplaced two MPs, he keeps losing votes, and this week he presided over the first-ever Commons defeat for this Government on their own legislation. This was the fourth time that the House has

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voted to introduce a statutory code to end unfair beer ties. The Leader of the House has some relationship with beer and he used to tell us about it a lot, so will he confirm that he will now finally accept the clearly expressed will of the House and not try to reverse this decision? Is it not obvious now that the Chief Whip cannot even organise a vote in a brewery?

Light was shed yesterday on the Tory Chief Whip’s mysterious absence from this place every Thursday morning. I note that once again he is not here. Apparently he has written to Tory MPs to tell them that this Government are so out of ideas that they are no longer required to be in Parliament on a Thursday. I am glad to see that so many are disobeying him, but 40 years ago a previous Tory Government introduced the three-day week. Only this nostalgia-obsessed former Education Secretary could possibly think of bringing it back. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether we can now expect to be holding our debates by candlelight? Does he support the reintroduction of the three-day week? It seems that this zombie Government are grinding to a halt. Their legislative programme is threadbare, the House sits for less and less time, they have lost and then ignored a record number of votes, and now the Chief Whip has told Tory MPs that they do not need to show up at all.

Is it not the case that the Government treat this place with contempt? Just look at what happened with the European arrest warrant. The Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and promised the House that we would have a vote on the European arrest warrant before today. The Government botched the drafting so badly that the regulation was rejected by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. They brought a motion to the House which masqueraded as a vote on the European arrest warrant when it was no such thing. This caused outrage on all sides. The Home Secretary was left filibustering while frantic junior Whips rang round Government Back Benchers to bring them back from their lobster dinners, and although the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor were forced to rush back from their white tie banquet with their City friends, the Chief Whip was nowhere to be seen.

The following day’s newspapers were full of a vicious blame game between the Home Office and the Tory Whips, and later in the week we learned that the unelected Chamber was going to be granted a say on the European arrest warrant when the Commons had been denied one. It took yesterday’s Labour Opposition day to give this House the debate on the European arrest warrant which the Prime Minister promised us four weeks ago. After witnessing this farce, I have a suggestion for the Leader of the House. He likes outsourcing, so why does he not just give up and let the Opposition handle the rest of the legislative programme in this Parliament? There is no question but that we would make a better job of it.

There are only two other men in the Government who came close to the Chief Whip for having a bad week. One was the Prime Minister, who has been savaged by Dominic Cummings for having “no political priorities whatsoever” and being unable to

“manage his way out of a paper bag”.

Cummings revealed a real truth when he went on to say:

“There is no long-term priority. There is no long-term plan.”

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And what about the Chancellor? This week we learned from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that they have gone from drinking whisky together in those early heady days to the Chancellor putting a padlock on the Treasury fridge filled with treats and milk. What would Mrs Thatcher say if she knew that it was the Liberal Democrats who are now the milk-snatchers?

Mr Hague: She would have believed anything about Liberal Democrats. Unlike me—I am very fond of my Liberal Democrat colleagues.

The hon. Lady asked about judicial review. As we come to the debate on Lords amendments a week on Monday, the Government will set out what we propose to do about the amendments in the other House. On the question of civic society and volunteering, the hon. Lady ought to have mentioned that the number of people now volunteering in the big society in this country has gone up to 74%, from 66% five years ago. That is the change that has taken place over the past few years.

On the vote on pubs—and I yield to no one in my expertise on pubs in Yorkshire in particular—the Business Secretary set out the position just a few moments ago at Business questions, because he congratulated the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and told him he had won, and that can be taken as an official statement of Government policy. Let us hope that some of the feared consequences of that do not come to pass, but we will see.

The hon. Lady asked whether we were now on a three-day week. I have to tell her that if we sit the days that are indicated on the calendar now in the Vote Office, this Parliament will have sat for more days than any of the three Parliaments of the last Government, so we need no lectures on that. On the question of turning up, she asked about the issues of judicial review in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. I seem to remember that when that was first debated in this House only three Opposition Members took part, and one of those was a Whip who was sent to the Back Benches in order to speak, so we do not need any lectures about turning up.

On the votes on the European arrest warrant, the result of this week’s vote was remarkably similar to the result of the vote on Monday last week, because the House was voting on essentially the same issue. But it is quite right that the Opposition provided time, because it was their motion to move the previous question that denied the House the opportunity to have a debate a week last Monday. Either way, that has now been resolved.

The hon. Lady said that the Prime Minister had been savaged. It is not a very good week for Opposition Members to talk about leaders of parties being savaged after what happened to the Leader of the Opposition the other night. This is a week where the Prime Minister stood up to President Putin and the Leader of the Opposition could not stand up to the other guests on an evening television show. If we are going to trade comments about leadership styles and behaviour, we should remember that barely a day goes by without, in this case, a senior Labour MP stating that

“this is not one or two backbenchers—there’s an angst across the Labour party. We are desperate.”

Another senior figure is quoted as saying that

“there are two deficits—the deficit he ignores and the deficit of economic competence.”

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That is very true.

Once again, the real gap in the demand for debates from the Opposition is on economic questions. Since our last business questions, newly published figures have shown more people in work than ever before in the history of the country, youth unemployment at its lowest since the 1970s, redundancies at a record low, the UK new car market enjoying its longest period of continuous growth, and the difference—I am surprised the hon. Lady did not raise this—between the average earnings of men and women in the UK narrowing to its smallest gap since records began in 1997. When the gender pay gap widens she wants to ask about it, but when it narrows there is not a mention of it from the Opposition, and that is the result of a long-term economic plan that we will continue to pursue.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): The European Scrutiny Committee is concerned about the lack of progress in scheduling its recommended debates, one of which relates to the European police college, on which my Committee reports this morning. The Government have failed to schedule a debate on whether to opt in to the measure, despite that being recommended by my Committee at the beginning of September, and the opt-in deadline is next Monday. Will the Leader of the House now take urgent steps to live up to the Government’s rhetoric on the role of national Parliaments and schedule all the debates that we have recommended on such matters as free movement of EU citizens, the ports, and, most importantly and urgently, the European police college?

Mr Hague: Given the number of days between now and the end of this Parliament, and certainly between now and the end of the year, I cannot promise that all these matters will be discussed, but my hon. Friend makes important representations about them, and I will take a look at what can be done.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 499, in my name, regarding Manchester primary care trust?

[That this House condemns Manchester Primary Care Trust for failing over a period of months to reply to correspondence from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton concerning complaints from a constituent with regard to appalling service from his general practitioner; regards it as disgraceful that a publicly-funded organisation should be so slack and negligent; and asks the Secretary of State for Health to investigate and, if appropriate, bring about the dismissal of those responsible.]

My early-day motion sets out the trust’s negligence in totally and utterly failing to respond to repeated letters from me over a period of months on behalf of a constituent who has serious grievances. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health to look into the situation and, if need be, bring about the dismissal of the officials concerned, who, whatever they are paid, are overpaid?

Mr Hague: The right hon. Gentleman feels strongly about this, as any of us would in this House about our letters not being replied to. It is very important that public authorities reply to letters from Members of Parliament in a thorough and efficient way. He will have

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a further opportunity to raise this point, if he wishes, because there are questions to the Secretary of State for Health next Tuesday. He may be able to catch your eye again then, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Indeed he may. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) will be in his place.

Sir George Young (North West Hampshire) (Con): Later today, the House will debate devolution and the Union. The debate takes place before the report of the Smith commission is published, and before the Cabinet Sub-Committee on English votes for English laws, which my right hon. Friend chairs, has completed its work. Does he agree that we really need a debate once we have both those documents, and will he use his best endeavours to secure one?

Mr Hague: Yes, I do agree with that, absolutely. There is no harm in having debates on the subject even at this stage, and I welcome the Back-Bench business debate on devolution and the Union that will take place later today. However, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right: it will be necessary for us to have further debates. The Smith commission is committed to reporting before the end of this month, the work of our Cabinet Committee continues, and the arguments on these issues develop, so I am sure that the House will need a major debate on them within the next couple of months.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The motion for the debate to which the right hon. Gentleman refers was signed by 80 of his Back-Bench colleagues. Among other things, it calls for a review of the Barnett formula. He, I and everyone else know that the Prime Minister is a signatory to a vow—a solemn promise and guarantee to the Scottish people—that includes a reference to the Barnett formula being maintained. Can we expect the Government to join the Scottish National party in voting down the motion today, and if not, why not?

Mr Hague: The Government’s position is already very clear and will not change, although it may serve the interests of the Scottish National party to keep pretending that it will change. This is a very clear commitment indeed from all three leaders of the main pro-UK political parties. Our position on this is absolutely clear, and I will restate it in the debate this afternoon. The Prime Minister is before the Liaison Committee at this moment, and if he is asked about this, he will restate the position, too, so there is no doubt about it, and the Scottish nationalists should stop pretending that there is.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): A road sign at Tarnock on the main A38, which marks a junction leading to the village of Mark, fell apart some two years ago, and is still lying by the roadside, completely obscured by undergrowth. May we have a debate on why Somerset county council’s highways department feels that it has to consult 14 different statutory authorities and wait nearly two years for their responses before it can fix a road sign? Does the Leader of the House agree with me that it sounds completely barmy?

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Mr Hague: It does sound fairly barmy, if they have to consult so many people, but my hon. Friend has used this opportunity to raise the issue in the House. I doubt that we will have a debate in the House on the decisions of Somerset county council, but she is obviously pursuing the matter energetically, and is no doubt encouraging the council to debate the issue itself.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): In Heywood, 123 people are employed by Capita to handle the distribution and filing of Department for Work and Pensions claimants’ files. Capita has refused to pay those staff a living wage, and even pointed to other examples of employers in the area that pay poverty wages to justify that decision. May we have a statement, or even a debate, on the Government’s attitude to the payment of the living wage to those working in outsourced services?

Mr Hague: Debates on subjects such as the living wage can be held, and the Backbench Business Committee listens carefully to requests for such debates. In addition, the hon. Lady can pursue the matter directly with Work and Pensions Ministers; they do not have questions next week, but she can raise the matter in correspondence and in the House.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed that he was in favour of money resolutions for two private Members’ Bills that have had a Second Reading in this House. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Leader of the House to make an urgent statement next week on how it can be that money resolutions have not been brought forward, even though the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister want them to be? The Executive appears to be blocking the will of Parliament. Can we have the money resolutions urgently?

Mr Hague: I can assure my hon. Friend, although this will disappoint him, that there has not been agreement in the Government on those money resolutions, as I explained to the House a few weeks ago. Otherwise, they would have been moved. There has not been agreement in the Government on money resolutions on the Affordable Homes Bill or the European Union (Referendum) Bill, and that remains the position.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): As a fellow Yorkshire MP, would the Leader of the House be interested in having an early debate on health trusts in Yorkshire? As he may know, the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust has been one of the most successful for many years, but it has now been plunged into real difficulties as a result of the reforms that his Government have introduced, and the capricious behaviour of clinical commissioning groups means that we are facing ruin in a health area that has been so good at providing excellent health care for so many years.

Mr Hague: The House regularly debates health matters, when issues from across the country can be raised. As I mentioned earlier, we have questions to the Secretary of State for Health next Tuesday, when there will be an opportunity to raise such issues, but I think that it has to be borne in mind that under this Government we have seen the number of nurses go up by 2,500 and the

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number of doctors go up by almost 8,000, so very important improvements are taking place in our health service.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): The Post Office card account contract between the Department for Work and Pensions and Post Office expires at the end of next March. It was used to pay out pensions and benefits. I hope the card account will be replaced by a Post Office product that has more facilities, but time is clearly running out. May we have an urgent statement from the DWP regarding its intentions for the contract?

Mr Hague: No decision has yet been made on the future of the Post Office card account contract, but discussions are taking place between DWP, Post Office Ltd and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, considering the future needs of customers beyond 2015. Further announcements will be made once a decision has been reached.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Paddy Ashdown—Lord Ashdown—has said that the Afghan war rewrote the text book on how not to conduct a war. As there is a possibility that we might send troops into battle again in future, is it not right that we decide whether it is the Prime Minister who is correct in saying that the Afghan war is “mission accomplished”, or others who say that it was a series of blunders? When are we having the debate and the inquiry?

Mr Hague: There is a great deal of continuing work to do in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister has not said that it is “mission accomplished” in the sense of everything being perfect in Afghanistan—he has absolutely not argued that. He has of course thanked the troops for the excellent work they have done and for the many things that have been achieved, particularly in southern Afghanistan. I hope that there will be further opportunities for the House to discuss these matters, for example during Defence questions next Monday. I know that the Defence Secretary will want to address these issues. We have been waiting a long time for the report of the Chilcot inquiry on Iraq. Of course, we have to learn from all the conflicts we have been engaged in.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on oil prices? Crude oil prices have dropped by 30%, but the price of heating oil has not come down by the same degree, and neither has the price of diesel or petrol. Many of my constituents live in hard-to-heat houses and have oil-fired heating, and we really need to get them the benefit of lower prices on oil.

Mr Hague: It is very important that price reductions are passed on to consumers. My hon. Friend is right—there has been a dramatic drop in the price of crude oil. The Government have already made representations to ensure, for example, that price reductions in petrol occur at filling stations. It is also important that oil for domestic heating purposes is reduced in price. I will remind my colleagues in the Treasury of the point that he has made.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): A disproportionate number of people claiming asylum are being placed in Rochdale, not least from some London boroughs. Public services have been cut dramatically, and Rochdale’s

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council tax payers are unhappy with this burden. Will the Government make a statement on the issue or even provide a debate on it?

Mr Hague: I can understand why the hon. Gentleman raises that point. There is no immediate debate to be had, but it is the type of subject on which he can apply for an Adjournment debate or put to the Backbench Business Committee. He can also raise the issue directly with Home Office Ministers, and I will certainly alert them to the fact that he is concerned about it.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Labour-run Derby city council is using a message on its answerphone to smear the Government for the necessary savings that we have had to impose on council services. When people phone up, it says, “Sorry we can’t get to the phone—it’s the Government-imposed cuts.” Like my right hon. Friend, I am sure, I am appalled at this politicisation of a public service. May we have a debate on council funding and how it is used for party political purposes?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Councils ought to be able to answer the telephone to the people who live within their district or county. Perhaps her council should have an answerphone message referring to the £5 billion that the Government have supplied for council tax freezes for five successive years in order to keep down council tax, which doubled under the previous Government. That would be a good message to send out to the whole country.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): It is becoming increasingly clear that we need a debate on the role of the Chief Whip, because he is clearly not up to the job. Surely a better job for him would be Lord Privy Seal, not just because his first act as Chief Whip was to be sealed in the privy, but because it is the fifth highest order of job in the state and yet has absolutely no functions whatsoever attached to it.

Mr Hague: I can see that Labour Members have a thing about the Chief Whip—I do not know whether it is an obsession, paranoia, stalking, or what it is. My right hon. Friend will be fascinated to hear these references to him. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that we already have a very capable Lord Privy Seal in my right hon. and noble Friend—

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): It says here.

Mr Hague: No, it does not say it here; I am saying this off the top of my head. I do not have to have everything written down, I can tell the hon. Gentleman. The Lord Privy Seal is my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Stowell of Beeston, the Leader of the House of Lords. There are a few functions attached to the job of Lord Privy Seal, and she discharges them with great distinction.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): Warwickshire college is one of the many excellent further education institutions in this country. More than 16,000 students are able to study more than 1,000 courses at six different centres, and in excess of 1,200 apprentices are trained there every year. May we have a debate on the important contribution that further education colleges make to the wider economy?

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Mr Hague: That would be a good subject for a general debate, and my hon. Friend might wish to put it to the Backbench Business Committee. Such a debate would highlight the many excellent further education institutions and new initiatives in this country and the huge expansion of the number of apprentices that has taken place under this Government, with 1.8 million apprenticeships started over the past four years, and help the House to reflect on the important contribution that further education colleges make to our economy.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): As a fellow Yorkshire MP, the Leader of the House will be aware that a year ago today Hull was announced as the city of culture for 2017. May we now please have a debate about whether there is enough urgency and joined-up thinking across Whitehall to ensure that this national status for Hull is used as an opportunity to get national arts, cultural and sports events to Hull, redress the unfair funding balance between the north and the south and, most importantly, ensure that Hull gets our privately financed rail electrification scheme by 2017?

Mr Hague: It is very important that we all join, as I know everyone in Hull will want to do, in making that a success. The hon. Lady has raised several issues, and has therefore brought them to the attention of the House. Culture, Media and Sport questions on Thursday, a week today, would be another good opportunity to raise these matters. I am not sure that it is necessary to have a national debate, but it is important for the Government and local authorities to work well together on the status, and her point will be taken.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Education to make a statement at the earliest opportunity on Ofsted and its ways of marking schools? Middle Rasen primary school was judged not to be outstanding, and the reason that Ofsted gave in its report was:

“Pupils’ cultural development is limited by a lack of first-hand experience of the diverse make up of modern British society.”

Is that now how the Government think schools should be judged on whether they are good or outstanding? Will the Secretary of State come to the House and explain herself?

Mr Hague: I am sure that my hon. Friend is able to pursue his concerns directly with the Secretary of State for Education. She will be at the Dispatch Box to answer questions on Monday 1 December, at the beginning of the week after next, and he may wish to seek to raise his concerns then, as well as in correspondence with her.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): An increasing number of constituents are contacting me with concerns about how they have been treated after becoming victims of internet crime. With internet fraud taking over as the crime of choice, fraud not appearing as a crime statistic, and a lack of information about prosecutions and the effectiveness of Action Fraud, may we have a debate on internet fraud and the performance of investigators and prosecutors?

Mr Hague: The hon. Lady raises an important issue. The development of the internet is bringing immense social and economic benefits, but it is also bringing

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dangers and more crime is moving on to the web. As a result, people need to know how to deal with such crime. That would be quite a good subject for a debate, but I encourage her to put it to the Backbench Business Committee or for an Adjournment debate. I cannot offer her Government time, since a lot of our time has been given to the Backbench Business Committee for such subjects, but I encourage her to put it forward.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): May we have a statement on planning laws and protecting the rights of villagers? Many villagers in Nazeing in my constituency are concerned about a development of 45 houses on green-belt land, and have been urging the local authority to listen to them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that villagers’ rights should be protected, and will he write to the planning Minister about this case?

Mr Hague: It is very important to protect the green belt from development, and I will of course tell Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government about my hon. Friend’s question. The Government have already taken much action to protect villages in the situation that he describes, including by abolishing the previous Government’s top-down regional strategies, selling surplus brownfield land for redevelopment and introducing more flexible planning rights so that empty and underused buildings can be brought back into productive use. We have done a lot on this, but I will of course refer what he says to the relevant Ministers.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): On 9 October 2013, six former British soldiers were arrested in an anti-piracy security vessel off the coast of India. Despite the fact that all charges have been dropped, the six former soldiers are still being detained in India. They include Nick Dunn from my constituency, who has just been badly assaulted by the Indian police. I am sure that the Leader of the House understands this case quite clearly. May we have an urgent debate on getting the soldiers back to this country so that they do not spend a second Christmas away from their families?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman has been assiduous in pursuing this case, and I fully sympathise with what he is saying because one of my constituents is one of the six. I raised the matter as Foreign Secretary with the Indian Government, as did the Deputy Prime Minister on his recent visit to India at the end of August. Our high commission in India continues to work hard on the matter, and the British Government are doing everything they can to help in what seems to be a lengthy, legal process. We will continue to do that, and I will ask Foreign Office Ministers to keep the hon. Gentleman informed.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I am delighted to hear about my right hon. Friend’s passion for pubs. As he knows, I share that passion, including for pubs in Osmotherley, Northallerton and Stokesley in his constituency. Perhaps we might meet for that pint—for example in the Oddfellows Arms, a former Enterprise Inns pub that is now thriving under local ownership. I thank him for confirming that the Government will accept new clause 2 to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill. May I ask for an urgent debate on the scandal of permitted development rights that

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continue to allow pubs, including the Kings Head hotel in Bedale, to be turned into Tesco without local people having a say? This will be the most pro-pub Government ever if we change that as well. Can we please do it in the last few months of this Government, and may we have a statement?

Mr Hague: I am delighted for the hon. Gentleman to advertise pubs in my constituency, as well as elsewhere, but I will resist the temptation to advertise individual pubs, because as the local Member of Parliament I might get into a lot of trouble with the other pubs. I am aware of the situation in Bedale that he describes, and it is a legitimate subject for debate. Following his success this week, the hon. Gentleman might want to suggest it to the Backbench Business Committee.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Last week I had the pleasure of visiting James Gillespie’s high school to speak to modern studies students about Parliament and democracy, and they wanted me to raise with the Leader of the House the issues of votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. During our discussions I was made aware of one student, Sakina Abbas, whose grandfather is Mohammed Asghar, the British national who has been jailed in Pakistan under blasphemy laws, despite being diagnosed with significant mental illness. May we have an urgent statement or debate on how we can get British nationals who have been diagnosed with health concerns back to this country so that they can be treated with their loving families?

Mr Hague: Those are both important issues, and Ministers have raised with the Pakistani Government the way that blasphemy laws in Pakistan are interpreted. The high commission in Islamabad takes up individual cases. I am sure it is aware—I will check that it is—of this case, and will continue to pursue it.

I remind the House that last Friday in this Chamber the UK Youth Parliament took place, consisting largely of 16 and 17-year-olds. It was a tremendously positive example of the engagement and good sense of young people in the affairs of our country.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have a debate on the Syrian refugee crisis? Last January the Government announced the vulnerable persons relocation scheme. They said that they would allow refuge for 500 refugees from Syria, but to date there have been fewer than 100. Given that there are many orphans, maimed children and widows as a result of that conflict, will the Government do far more, more urgently, to provide a safe refuge for some of those most vulnerable people?

Mr Hague: The vulnerable persons relocation scheme is working, and between March and June 50 people were relocated to the UK. Syrians continue to be brought to the UK on a regular basis under the scheme. As my hon. Friend understands well, our prime focus in Syria is on helping people in the region. The United Kingdom has committed £700 million in total, and we are the second largest bilateral donor in the world to give help to Syrian refugees. The commitment and generosity of this country to those displaced by the fighting in Syria is not in doubt.

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Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): At a meeting at the Department of Health this week, kidney charities were stunned to be told that Ministers had decided that kidney dialysis was no longer to be a prescribed service, and that a period of consultation of six weeks would be held by the Department after which a Bill would be introduced in February and changes to clinical commissioning group commissioning would commence on 1 April. May we have an oral statement from a Minister from the Department of Health, so they can hear from Members of all parties what a dangerous decision that would be and how kidney patients would be placed at risk by that decision?

Mr Hague: I do not think there is any immediate need for a statement, because there will be Health questions in a few days, which will include Topical questions. The Secretary of State for Health and the ministerial team will be here on Tuesday to answer questions, so there is an early opportunity for the hon. Lady to pursue this issue.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): The Crawley Town Community Sports Foundation and Autism Sussex are finalists in the south-east People’s Millions for a project called Capers, which helps to encourage young people with autism to get involved in football. Voting takes place next Wednesday. As well as wishing the project well, may we have a debate on local community involvement in such volunteering projects which, as my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier, has increased in recent years?

Mr Hague: I hope that at some stage we can have a debate on how to encourage further volunteering. My hon. Friend speaks up very well, as always, for his constituents and for that project helping with autism in his constituency. There is, as he says and as I said earlier, a very clear rise in the number of people volunteering and trying to make a difference in so many ways. I am pleased that he is encouraging that too.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House and make an urgent statement on the extent to which police stations should be open to the public? Despite the Prime Minister promising that there would be no cuts to front-line services, spending cuts are forcing West Midlands police to close to the public police stations right across the west midlands, including in my constituency. Dudley would be the biggest town in the country with no open police station. My constituents are furious about that, because they want to be able to speak to police officers face to face.

Mr Hague: People want to be able to speak to police officers, and the latest prediction is that the proportion of police officers working in operational front-line roles will increase from 89% at the beginning of this Parliament to 92% by early next year. Victim satisfaction with their experience with the police has also gone up, from 82% to 85%. The number of neighbourhood police officers is up by nearly 6,000 under the current Government. These are all important improvements. Of course, when the Home Secretary is here answering questions, the hon. Gentleman will be able to ask about the particular issue he has raised.

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John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): The Government rightly believe that investment in infrastructure is vital to the long-term economic success of our country. Cumbria has good north-south connectivity, but transport infrastructure within Cumbria is poor, particularly on roads such as the A595. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the required investment for Cumbria in the next few years, particularly as there is a prospect of a new nuclear build in Cumbria?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend always speaks up very effectively for Cumbria. He will know that last year the Government committed to trebling investment in major new road enhancements from today’s levels. The Highways Agency has been consulting all concerned since then. The Chancellor is due to announce the roads investment strategy in the autumn statement in two weeks’ time. That will cover infrastructure requirements for strategic roads in Cumbria.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) and I held a meeting with our local clinical commissioning group and representatives of the patients monitoring group to address the historical underfunding of health services in Harrow. We were pleased that there was a plan to address this issue, but sadly we will be into the third term of this Government before we actually achieve parity of funding compared with our neighbours. May we have an urgent statement on the funding of CCGs across the country so that we can address issues of fairness and equality?

Mr Hague: I am sure there will be many strong feelings in different parts of the country about relative levels of funding for CCGs, including in north Yorkshire in my constituency, and of course it is a legitimate subject to put forward for debate, including through the Backbench Business Committee. My hon. Friend could also pursue it with Ministers during Health questions next Tuesday.

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Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): In March, a new £9 million urgent care centre opened at Burnley general hospital; in July, a new £4 million health centre opened in Colne; and soon we will see a new £6.3 million accident and emergency department opening at Airedale hospital. May we have a debate on investing in our NHS so that I can highlight these improvements, which were made possible by the decisions taken by this Government?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend has already been extremely effective in highlighting those investments, which are an example of what is happening in many parts of the country. I know from visiting his constituency how strong and effective a champion he has been for additional investment in health care facilities there.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Last week, I visited Resimac, an industrial coatings business based in Boroughbridge in my constituency, which is seeing excellent export growth, reaching 40 countries in just four years of operation. It highlighted a Government finance scheme called EUREKA as an indicator of its success. May we have a debate about the support for small businesses and exporting and what more can be done to help companies such as Resimac get out there and sell their products across the world?

Mr Hague: That is an important issue, and although we might not be able to have a debate in the immediate future, I can tell my hon. Friend that last year UK Trade & Investment supported 48,000 companies, versus 27,000 just four years ago, 89% of which were small businesses. In addition, there are new programmes, such as the passport to export and the gateway to global growth services, while UK Export Finance has doubled its number of advisers. As his question highlights, it is important that small businesses know that such services are available.

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Point of Order

11.17 am

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. To ensure that the House was not inadvertently misled, may I put it on the record that the BBC, The Telegraph and The Times have reported that on a visit to Camp Bastion, on 16 December 2013, the Prime Minister, talking about the Afghan war, described it as “mission accomplished”?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who, through a point of order, has put the facts, as he understands them, on the record.

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Backbench Business

Money Creation and Society

11.18 am

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered money creation and society.

The methods of money production in society today are profoundly corrupting in ways that would matter to everyone if they were clearly understood. The essence of this debate is: who should be allowed to create money, how and at whose risk? It is no wonder that it has attracted support from across the political spectrum, although, looking around the Chamber, I think that the Rochester and Strood by-election has perhaps taken its toll. None the less, I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Friends from all political parties, including the hon. Members for Clacton (Douglas Carswell) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher), for their support in securing this debate.

One of the most memorable quotes about money and banking is usually attributed to Henry Ford:

“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”

Let us hope we do not have a revolution, as I feel sure we are all conservatives on that issue.

How is it done? The process is so simple that the mind is repelled. It is this:

“Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money.”

I have been told many times that this is ridiculous, even by one employee who had previously worked for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation of the United States. The explanation is taken from the Bank of England article “Money creation in the modern economy”, and it seems to me it is rather hard to dismiss.

Today, while the state maintains a monopoly on the creation of notes and coins in central bank reserves, that monopoly has been diluted to give us a hybrid system because private banks can create claims on money, and those claims are precisely equivalent to notes and coins in their economic function. It is a criminal offence to counterfeit bank notes or coins, but a banking licence is formal permission from the Government to create equivalent money at interest.

There is a wide range of perspectives on whether that is legitimate. The Spanish economist Jesús Huerta de Soto explains in his book “Money, Bank Credit and Economic Cycles” that it is positively a fraud—a fraud that causes the business cycle. Positive Money, a British campaign group, is campaigning for the complete nationalisation of money production. On the other hand, free banking scholars George Selgin, Kevin Dowd and others would argue that although the state might define money in terms of a commodity such as gold, banking should be conducted under the ordinary commercial law without legal privileges of any kind. They would allow the issue of claims on money proper, backed by other assets—provided that the issuer bore

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all the risk. Some want the complete denationalisation of money. Cryptocurrencies are now performing the task of showing us that that is possible.

The argument that banks should not be allowed to create money has an honourable history. The Bank Charter Act 1844 was enacted because banks’ issue of notes in excess of gold was causing economic chaos, particularly through reckless lending and imprudent speculation. I am once again reminded that the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I welcome today’s debate. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about learning from history. Does he agree with me that we should look seriously at putting this subject on the curriculum so that young people gain a better understanding of the history of this issue?

Steve Baker: That is absolutely right. It would be wonderful if the history curriculum covered the Bank Charter Act 1844. I would be full of joy about that, but we would of course need to cover economics, too, in order for people to really understand the issue. Since the hon. Gentleman raises the subject, there were ideas at the time of that Act that would be considered idiocy today, while some ideas rejected then are now part of the economic mainstream. Sir Robert Peel spent some considerable time emphasising that the definition of a pound was a specific quantity and quality of gold. The notion that anyone could reject that was considered ridiculous. How times change.

One problem with the Bank Charter Act 1844 was that it failed to recognise that bank deposits were functioning as equivalent to notes, so it did not succeed in its aim. There was a massive controversy at the time between the so-called currency school and the banking school. It appeared that the currency school had won; in fact, in practice, the banks went on to create deposits drawn by cheque and the ideas of the banking school went forward. The idea that one school or the other won should be rejected; the truth is that we have ended up with something of a mess.

We are in a debt crisis of historic proportions because for far too long profit-maximising banks have been lending money into existence as debt with too few effective restraints on their conduct and all the risks of doing so forced on the taxpayer by the power of the state. A blend of legal privilege, private interest and political necessity has created, over the centuries, a system that today lawfully promotes the excesses for which capitalism is so frequently condemned. It is undermining faith in the market economy on which we rely not merely for our prosperity, but for our lives.

Thankfully, the institution of money is a human, social institution and it can be changed. It has been changed and I believe it should be changed further. The timing of today’s debate is serendipitous, with the Prime Minister explaining that the warning lights are flashing on the dashboard of the world economy, and it looks like quantitative easing is going to be stepped up in Europe and Japan, just as it is being ramped out in America—and, of course, it has stopped in the UK. If anything, we are not at the end of a great experiment

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in monetary policy; we are at some mid point of it. The experiment will not be over until all the quantitative easing has been unwound, if it ever is.

We cannot really understand the effect of money production on society without remembering that our society is founded on the division of labour. We have to share the burden of providing for one another, and we must therefore have money as a means of exchange and final payment of debts, and also as a store of value and unit of account. It is through the price system that money allows us to reckon profit and loss, guiding entrepreneurs and investors to allocate resources in the way that best meets the needs of society. That is why every party in the House now accepts the market economy. The question is whether our society is vulnerable to false signals through that price system, and I believe that it is. That is why any flaws in our monetary arrangements feed into the price system and permeate the whole of society. In their own ways, Keynes and Mises—two economists who never particularly agreed with one another—were both able to say that currency debasement was the best way in which to overturn the existing basis of society.

Even before quantitative easing began, we lived in an era of chronic monetary inflation, unprecedented in the industrial age. Between 1991 and 2009, the money supply increased fourfold. It tripled between 1997 and 2010, from £700 billion to £2.2 trillion, and that accelerated into the crisis. It is simply not possible to increase the money supply at such a rate without profound consequences, and they are the consequences that are with us today, but it goes back further. The House of Commons Library and the Office for National Statistics produced a paper tracing consumer price inflation back to 1750. It shows that there was a flat line until about the 20th century, when there was some inflation over the wars, but from 1971 onwards, the value of money collapsed. What had happened? The Bretton Woods agreement had come to an end. The last link to gold had been severed, and that removed one of the most effective restraints on credit expansion. Perhaps in another debate we might consider why.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the end of the gold standard and the increased supply of money enabled business, enterprise and the economy to grow? Once we were no longer tied to the supply of gold, other avenues could be used for the growth of the economy.

Steve Baker: The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, which has pre-empted some of the questions that I intended to raise later in my speech. There is no doubt that the period of our lives has been a time of enormous economic, social and political transformation, but so was the 19th century, and during that century there was a secular decline in prices overall.

The truth is that any reasonable amount of money is adequate if prices are allowed to adjust. We are all aware of the phenomenon whereby the prices of computers, cars, and more or less anything else whose production is not determined by the state become gently lower as productivity increases. That is a rise in real living standards. We want prices to become lower in real terms compared with wages, which is why we argue about living standards.

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Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an incredibly important speech. I only wish that more people were here to listen to it. I wonder whether he has read Nicholas Wapshott’s book about Hayek and Keynes, which deals very carefully with the question that he has raised. Does he agree that the unpleasantness of the Weimar republic and the inflationary increase at that time led to the troubles with Germany later on, but that we are now in a new cycle which also needs to be addressed along the lines that he has just been describing?

Steve Baker: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What he has said emphasises that the subject that is at issue today goes to the heart of the survival of a free civilisation. That is something that Hayek wrote about, and I think it is absolutely true.

If I were allowed props in the Chamber, I might wave this 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note. You can hold bad politics in your hand: that is the truth of the matter. People try to explain that hyperinflation has never happened just through technocratic error, and that it happens in the context of, for example, extremely high debt levels and the inability of politicians to constrain them. In what circumstances do we find ourselves today, when we are still borrowing broadly triple what Labour was borrowing?

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He will be aware that the balance between wages and capital has shifted significantly in favour of capital over the past 30 years. Does he agree that the way in which we tax and provide reliefs to capital is key to controlling that balance? Does he also agree that we need to do more to increase wage levels, which have historically been going down in relation to capital over a long period of time?

Steve Baker: I think I hear the echoes of a particularly fashionable economist there. If the hon. Lady is saying that she would like rising real wage levels, of course I agree with her. Who wouldn’t? I want rising real wage levels, but something about which I get incredibly frustrated is the use of that word “capital”. I have heard economists talk about capital when what they really mean is money, and typically what they mean by money is new bank credit, because 97% of the money supply is bank credit. That is not capital; capital is the means of production. There is a lengthy conversation to be had on this subject, but if the hon. Lady will forgive me, I do not want to go into that today. I fear that we have started to label as capital money that has been loaned into existence without any real backing. That might explain why our capital stock has been undermined as we have de-industrialised, and why real wages have dropped. In the end, real wages can rise only if productivity increases, and that means an increase in the real stock of capital.

To return to where I wanted to go: where did all the money that was created as debt go? The sectoral lending figures show that while some of it went into commercial property, and some into personal loans, credit cards and so on, the rise of lending into real productive businesses excluding the financial sector was relatively moderate. Overwhelmingly, the new debt went into mortgages and the financial sector. Exchange and the distribution of wealth are part of the same social process. If I buy an apple, the distribution of apples and money will change. Money is used to buy houses, and we

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should not be at all surprised that an increased supply of money into house-buying will boost the price of those homes.

Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): This is a great debate, but let us talk about ordinary people and their labour, because that involves money as well. To those people, talking about how capitalism works is like talking about something at the end of the universe. They simply need money to survive, and anything else might as well be at the end of the universe.

Steve Baker: The hon. Gentleman is quite right, and I welcome the spirit in which he asks that question. The vast majority of us, on both sides of the House, live on our labour. We work in order to obtain money so that we can obtain the things we need to survive.

The hon. Gentleman pre-empts another remark that I was going to make, which is that there is a categorical difference between earning money through the sweat of one’s brow and making money by just creating it when lending it to someone in exchange for a claim on the deeds to their house. Those two concepts are fundamentally, categorically different, and this goes to the heart of how capitalism works. I appreciate that very little of this would find its way on to an election leaflet, but it matters a great deal nevertheless. Perhaps I shall need to ask my opponent if he has followed this debate.

My point is that if a great fountain of new money gushes up into the financial sector, we should not be surprised to find that the banking system is far wealthier than anyone else. We should not be surprised if financing and housing in London and the south-east are far wealthier than anywhere else. Indeed, I remember that when quantitative easing began, house prices started rising in Chiswick and Islington. Money is not neutral. It redistributes real income from later to earlier owners—that is, from the poor to the rich, on the whole. That distribution effect is key to understanding the effect of new money on society. It is the primary cause of almost all conflicts revolving around the production of money and around the relations between creditors and debtors.

Sir William Cash: My hon. Friend might be aware that, before the last general election, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and I and one or two others attacked the Labour party for the lack of growth and expressed our concern about the level of debt. If we add in all the debts from Network Rail, nuclear decommissioning, unfunded pension liabilities and so on, the actual debt is reaching extremely high levels. According to the Government’s own statements, it could now be between £3.5 trillion and £4 trillion. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is extremely dangerous?

Steve Baker: It is extremely dangerous and it has been repeated around the world. An extremely good book by economist and writer Philip Coggan, of The Economist, sets out just how dangerous it is. In “Paper Promises: Money, Debt and the New World Order”, a journalist from The Economist seriously suggests that this huge pile of debt created as money will lead to a wholly new monetary system.