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'(6D) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 10(5) of Protocol (No 36) on Transitional Provisions annexed to TEU and TFEU that the United Kingdom wishes to
participate in an Act that has ceased to apply to it pursuant to Article 10(4) of that Protocol, unless the notification in respect of the Act has been approved by Act of Parliament.'.
Mr Jenkin: Amendments 82, 83 and 84 concern what the Minister set out in a statement last week, in which he described the arrangements for the Government to give formal notification of whether they wished the UK to opt out of certain justice and home affairs matters by 31 July 2014. He made it clear in the statement-I think this is welcome-that the Government intend to allow the House of Commons and the other place to table a formal resolution to approve or disapprove of the action the Government take in these matters.
While we are listening to this debate, it is worth reminding ourselves of the magnitude of what we are talking about: a complete rearrangement of the civil and criminal legal system of our country that will move the whole civil and criminal system on to an entirely new basis. I hear what my right hon. Friend the Minister says about the number of advocates-general and about maintaining four judges in the European Court of Justice who represent common law jurisdictions, but that is a completely meaningless reassurance in the face of all the other judges and the history of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, which simply is not interested in the common law basis of the jurisdictions of its member states.
Having fought against the Lisbon treaty in principle and most particularly on the basis of its potential to interfere in the criminal and civil law of this country, it is astonishing that the Government, since the election, have, for example, approved the directive establishing the European investigation order. Let us be clear: that allows another member state to oblige the United Kingdom to carry out almost any investigative action in the UK, including searching a house, intercepting telephone calls and obtaining DNA for the purpose of criminal proceedings in the requesting member state. The UK has supported the directive on the right to interpretation and translation of criminal proceedings, ceding jurisdiction in that area to the European Court of Justice. This all happened before the European Scrutiny Committee was sitting, so it was all unscrutinised by this House. Any weasel words from the Government about strengthening the scrutiny of the House of Commons should carry a health warning. The Government have decided to opt in to the Council decision on the conclusion of an agreement between the European Union and Georgia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation, which makes binding on the UK as a matter of European Community law an international agreement between the EU and Georgia and means that the UK cannot conclude its own readmission agreement with Georgia, should it wish to do so. I just point out that had any of those decisions been in an international treaty outside the European Union's jurisdiction, they would have required an Act of Parliament, but these things are done by the stroke of a Minister's pen under the powers in the European Communities Act 1972.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall what the Minister said about the European Affairs Committee of the Cabinet, and the fact that we have two thirds Conservatives and one third Liberal Democrats. For practical purposes, there cannot be a vote; otherwise, if we were to comply with our manifesto commitments,
we would win the vote every time. It must be, therefore, that the Government are willing to agree with the Liberal Democrats' proposals, which makes it even worse.
Mr Jenkin: I thought the exchanges between the two Front Benchers about the real nature of the coalition agreement were very revealing. We have all known about this from the minute that the coalition agreement was first mooted. That is why I was one of the newly elected Members who went to see the then Leader of the Opposition, just after the election, and said, "Do not do this; let us have another election in short order so that we can deliver our mandate and our promises to the British people." We knew that we were being bound into an arrangement that would mean having to swap our obligations to our electors-let us face it, handing criminal jurisdiction over to the European Union is not exactly a popular thing to do-for a mess of pottage: a compromise with the Liberal Democrats. The Deputy Prime Minister took great interest in these matters, particularly justice and home affairs, when he worked for the European Commission and I understand that he is personally extremely committed to the creation of a federalist criminal justice legal order as part of the state building of the European Union. We are now actively participating in that.
Martin Horwood: In the spirit of coalition, which the hon. Gentleman so obviously and positively espouses, does he accept that the Liberal Democrats have moved quite a long way in accepting this Bill at all and that many of the strictures it puts on the progress of proper government at European level are things that do not come particularly naturally to Liberal Democrat Members?
Mr Jenkin: I am perfectly prepared to accept that some Liberal Democrats have compromised considerably on the Bill.
What does the Bill add up to? The problem is that it does not change anything. It does not change the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom one comma or dot. It is about the arrangements between the British Government and the British Parliament. We all know that it is designed to give the impression that this and future Governments will somehow be locked down by the referendum lock and will be obliged to have referendums as never before. It is certainly useful to create that expectation because the disappointment when no referendum occurs will then be much deeper, but what does the Bill actually mean?
Clauses 2 to 7 make a lot of legal arrangements to ensure that decisions taken by the Government are approved by referendum or Act of Parliament. There are certain exclusions that we have already argued about, such as whether the treaty on fiscal union will somehow be exempted from referendum even though it is probably one of the most significant European treaties we will see in our lifetimes. That is the state of the Bill, which has some remarkable tripwires-so many that the Opposition spokesman has been saying, "This is getting too particular and detailed; we will have to have Acts of Parliament and referendums on all kinds of things that are patently ridiculous." That is why I think that future Governments will wriggle out of the obligations without much difficulty.
My amendments concern the opting-out proposals. In order to make the Lisbon treaty, which establishes the European Union's authority over criminal and civil law, more palatable, there was an arrangement that the United Kingdom could opt out at a later date. One would have thought that a party and a Government who were elected on a platform to repatriate powers from the EU, and who fought against the Lisbon treaty on the principle that the European Union should not have jurisdiction over our criminal law, would be keen to ensure that any coalition agreement reflected that policy, particularly as they have talked about a sovereignty clause, a referendum lock and so on.
We know that there will probably never be a new treaty amendment that meets the test that triggers a referendum. Indeed, the Minister made it clear that he has no intention of letting a Bill through the House that would trigger such a referendum during the lifetime of this Parliament. The Lisbon treaty has made the EU self-amending. The Liberal Democrat MEP, Andrew Duff, who is chair of the Federal Trust, said on the BBC World Service: "The treaty of Lisbon is in force and it won't be unpicked by the British. It can't be. It is the statute which will probably govern the Union for some time." As I said in the debate on Monday,
"The problem is that this is not the 'thus far and no further' Bill; it is the 'locking the stable door after the horse has bolted' Bill.-[ Official Report, 24 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 116.]
We do not know whether the next five years will see any changes to the EU treaties-I suspect they will-but there is one area in which the Government will have to make a very significant decision: whether to give more powers to Brussels or to bring them back to Britain. I remind the House that were the measure outside the jurisdiction of the European Communities Act, there would be no question but that there would be hundreds of pages of Acts of Parliament to implement this stuff, instead of its automatic inclusion in our law and implementation. It is fundamentally undemocratic to reorganise our constitution by the stroke of a Minister's pen in this way.
In crime and policing, EU measures which were passed under the pre-Lisbon third pillar arrangements are in this transitional period. Under the Lisbon treaty, there is a period in which we can opt out en bloc, as the Minister said. These measures include the European arrest warrant and the recognition of the trial of UK citizens in EU countries held in absentia. I have in my passport something about the protection of UK citizens, and here we are, handing over the possibility that UK citizens can be tried in other European jurisdictions without even being there. That is something that we do not do in our own jurisdiction.
The creation of the European public prosecutor will happen under the arrangement. The Government will have a straight choice between expanding the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over the British justice system, or opting out of the measure. It is a rare opportunity that we have in the treaty to repatriate power. One would have thought that we would want to do it, but the Bill as it stands does not include any control whatever over that decision. All we have is a personal assurance from the Minister that he will bring it to the House for a decision. That is welcome, but it not the kind of democratic control that is needed.
The Government have just announced the revision of control orders, which will require legislation. That is subject to democratic control. Imagine if the control orders decision was announced by the Government and required no legislation. That is what we are being offered in the Bill.
Mr David: The hon. Gentleman is making a logical, coherent argument. The Government's position on the Bill, as I was led to believe, was that if there were a significant move towards powers being transferred from the UK to the European Union, there should be a referendum. We have referred to a number of cases when there would be small changes, on which there might be a referendum, but he is talking about a very significant change. Does he not think there should be a referendum on that?
Mr Jenkin: The hon. Gentleman is right. The Bill is completely inconsistent. Relatively tiny matters covered by the Bill and caught by its provisions will have to come to Parliament and may even have to be the subject of a referendum. But this incredibly significant change to our legal system that is taking place now is exempted from the Bill. It is totally illogical. If there is anything that makes a complete nonsense of the Bill, it is this total exclusion of the 2014 decision.
Mr Clappison: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and some telling points. Does he agree that the EU is being honest about what it wants to do? It wants, en bloc, to create an area of freedom, security and justice, and to have EU authority over that whole bloc. It is not a question of our Government looking judiciously at the odd measure here or there and whether things will be made better or not. We are confronted with an attempt by the EU to carve out jurisdiction across the piece in the area of freedom, security and justice. That is its stated ambition.
Mr Jenkin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are going into this with our eyes wide open, except that this Bill has its eyes wide shut. The Bill pretends that there is no decision to be made between now and 2014 about this momentous change to our criminal justice system and the way the law is conducted in this country-to the protection that Parliament can currently afford to UK citizens but is now already being eroded.
So I have tabled a series of amendments. There are some choices for the Minister, and I would be interested to know which he prefers. Amendment 82 would mean that the Government have to gain the approval of a referendum before they decide that the UK should not opt out of these laws. Amendment 83 would require the approval of at least an Act of Parliament for the Government to do so. Amendment 84 is quite modest; it would require an Act of Parliament before the Government could opt back in to any of the laws that had ceased to apply following the 2014 opt-out decision.
This is a question of more or less power being transferred to the EU, which would fundamentally alter our criminal justice system, but it is being left entirely up to Ministers.
In the light of my hon. Friend's intelligent observations, does he also agree that the process of Europeanisation, not merely by default, but by activism,
despite our manifesto and despite the common sense and the wishes of the people at large, who vote for us by the way, will mean that we increasingly hand ourselves over to an entity, a European Union, not Europe, which is manifestly failing on all fronts, with protest, riots, the whole place imploding-Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland? The whole situation is moving entirely in the wrong direction. That is the big landscape, and that is where the Bill fails.
Mr Jenkin: I fully agree with my hon. Friend, but I will try to avoid being drawn into that. The great skill in Committee debates is to avoid making the same speech over and over again. However, I will be guilty of repeating something that I have said before, which is that the EU is made up of democracies, but it is not itself a democracy. It is anything but a democracy; it is a bureaucracy. It has some institutions that purport to be democratic, but they have only the most tenuous link with the real aspirations of the peoples they seek to serve. The unaccountability of the most powerful institutions of the EU, namely the Commission and the European Court of Justice, is legendary. They spend money like water and they have yet to have their accounts formally approved by the Court of Auditors for the last 14 years. That is how unaccountable the institutions are to which we are handing over the jurisdiction of our criminal law. That is why I am mystified by the Government's complacency, except, as the Minister has now admitted, for that fact that we traded away our principles for power. Moreover, we did that not just in the national interest for a short period, but for five years. I am pretty certain that before five years have passed this country will be crying out for a general election. When a country finishes up with a Government who have no mandate, except an agreement that was invented between two political parties, we are in a dangerous situation. It was not for nothing that Benjamin Disraeli said that England does not love coalitions; if a party is an organised hypocrisy, I dread to think what the correct term for a coalition should be, except an expedient in an emergency.
Ms Gisela Stuart: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful speech and his amendments are sensible. If his colleagues on the Conservative Front Bench do not accept any of them, will it be his view that that will have been entirely due to power brokering with the Lib Dems, or might it just be a frolic of their own?
Mr Jenkin: I am not sure how to answer that question. If the hon. Lady does not mind, I will continue my remarks, because I intend to sit down shortly so that other Members can take part. All I will say is that those decisions should be reserved not only for Parliament, but for an Act of Parliament. They are of such significance that I would prefer the Government to accept amendment 82 so that a decision on those matters is made by referendum.
I remind the Minister that we originally stood on a manifesto commitment to have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats, with whom we sit in coalition, wanted a referendum on the EU as well. Given that common ground, I cannot for the life of me understand why we should not have a referendum on at least this aspect of the Lisbon treaty. If the Liberal Democrats want to call it an "in or out" referendum,
they may do so, but the question on the ballot paper should simply be: "Do you want the criminal justice system of this country to be controlled by the European Union?" I know what the answer would be. If the Government were to hold that referendum, I think that they would be very popular. In fact, it might even make the coalition popular. I recommend it to the Minister.
A few moment ago I checked to see whether there is a copy of the document that I am holding on the Table. There are all sorts of things on the Table, including Vacher's, the Standing Orders, Erskine May and documents relating to the proceedings of the House. There is the guide to standards of conduct in public life and all sorts of things that direct the behaviour and conduct of Members and what we do in the House. However, this document is not there. It, of course, is "Consolidated Texts of the EU Treaties as Amended by the Treaty of Lisbon", as published by the Government. I have to say that the index is a little thin, which makes it difficult to find one's way through it. This is the document that now governs this country. Unless we change our relationship with the EU, this will be the constitution of the United Kingdom, as we have no written constitution of our own. These are the laws by which we are governed, but it is not even on the Table. That underlines how this House, 20 years after we signed the Maastricht treaty, which began to establish European governance, is still sleepwalking into a European federation.
There are those who wishfully believe that the argument has somehow been won by the Eurosceptics. It is an argument that they do not want to have. They want to avoid it because in order to resolve the democratic government of this country, we will have to confront the EU. There will have to be a disagreement with our European partners, because there is so much pride invested in the document, and other member states have so much pride in having drawn the United Kingdom into those arrangements. They will have to be confronted with the humiliation that they were wrong. As the euro collapses around our ears and the peoples of Europe rise up in the streets of their capitals, there could be no better time to do that; and there could be no better time to do it than when the EU itself is asking for new powers and asking us to agree to things for which they need our consent. That is the time we should be asking for our powers and our governance back on a mutually agreed basis. It is lamentable that the Government have not even the willpower to ask for those things.
Mr Lidington: The decision on whether to exercise the bloc opt-out is important and sensitive for the United Kingdom. On that point at least, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). Its implications for the whole range of complex, technical and often interrelated measures concerned will need to be carefully considered, and they ought to be carefully considered by Government and Parliament. I agree completely that Parliament should give its view on a decision of such national importance. That is why the Government have committed publicly to having a vote in both Houses before making a formal decision on whether we wish to opt in or out.
As outlined in my written statement on 20 January, we will
"conduct further consultations on the arrangements for this vote, in particular with the European Scrutiny Committees, and the Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees".-[ Official Report, 20 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 51WS.]
The 2014 decision, however, concerns measures that the UK agreed pre-Lisbon, and in most cases they have already been transposed into United Kingdom law and implemented.
I shall respond briefly to a couple of points that my hon. Friend has raised. Civil justice measures are already subject to European Court of Justice jurisdiction-and were so prior to the Lisbon treaty. The measures falling within the scope of the 2014 decision on criminal justice were not subject to section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 before the Lisbon treaty; the majority of those items of legislation, which are in force in this country, required their own separate Acts of Parliament in order to be implemented, including the Extradition Act 2003, which implemented the European arrest warrant, and about which hon. Members on both sides of the House have many concerns.
If the UK were to decide to remain in the pillar three measures, no new transfer of power or competence would therefore be associated with that decision: it would be neither a treaty change nor a ratchet clause. The decision for 2014 is therefore different in kind from the decisions that we propose, in the Bill, to subject to either a referendum or a primary legislative lock.
Until the Government have decided what to propose on the bloc opt-out, it is difficult to reach any decisions about what to do on subsequent opt-ins, but such decisions seem to have similarities with the decisions on post-adoption opt-ins to new pieces of JHA legislation, with the important difference that this country will already have participated in the measures in question.
The Government will pay all proper attention to the need for parliamentary scrutiny of any such opt-in decision, should that prove to be necessary and should the Government wish to opt back into selected measures; but, just as the arrangements for enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of current JHA opt-ins are a matter to be agreed outside the confines of the Bill, so too are decisions on the parliamentary scrutiny of those other decisions.
In light of the Government's commitments to more powerful and enhanced parliamentary scrutiny, and because of the nature of the decisions that we will face by 2014, we do not think that the matters in question should be covered by the Bill. I therefore urge my hon. Friends not to press their amendments to the vote.
Chris Heaton-Harris: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: 82, in clause 9, page 8, line 16, at end add-
'(6A) A Minister of the Crown may not make a formal decision as to whether to exercise the right of the United Kingdom to make a notification to the Council under the terms of article 10(4) of the Protocol (No 36) on Transitional Provisions annexed to TEU and TFEU, unless-
(a) the decision is approved by Act of Parliament, and
(b) the referendum condition is met.
(6B) The referendum condition is that set out in section 3(2).'.- (Mr Jenkin.)
Question put , That the amendment be made.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 7 December).
The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).
Clauses 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Amendment made: 59, page 10, line 12, leave out from 'treaty' to end of line 15 and insert
'that is subject to a requirement imposed by Part 1 of the European Union Act 2011 (restrictions on treaties and decisions relating to EU)'.- (Mr Lidington.)
Clause 14, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The occupant of the Chair left the Chair (Programme Order, 7 December).
The Speaker resumed the Chair.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again tomorrow .
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab):
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that at lunchtime the Prime Minister informed the House that
the Member for Belfast West (Mr Adams) had resigned his seat. After checking my copy of "Erskine May", I have discovered that it states on page 57 that
"a Member...cannot relinquish his seat"
"office under the Crown, which legally vacates his seat and obliges the House to order a new writ."
"These offices are...purely nominal and are ordinarily given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to any Member who applies for them."
It is my understanding from press releases by Mr Adams that he neither applied for nor has accepted either of those two offices of the Crown. Can you confirm therefore that no such resignation is in order and that the Prime Minister has-inadvertently, I am sure-misled the House?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice of his point of order.
I can inform the House that I have received formal notification from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Gerard Adams has been appointed to be steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. Under the terms of section 4 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, for the purposes of the provisions of this Act relating to the vacation of the seat of a Member of the House of Commons who becomes disqualified by that Act from membership of that House, the office of steward or bailiff of Her Majesty's three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, or of the Manor of Northstead, shall be treated as included among the offices described in part III of schedule 1 to the Act.
The hon. Member for Belfast West is therefore disqualified from membership of the House by virtue of section 1 of that Act. The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, in referring to pages 57 and 58 of "Erskine May", causes me to comment on the matter to which he referred. "Erskine May" describes the course of events in cases in the past, but as I have ruled, the law is clear. Appointment to one of the two offices to which I have referred, under section 4 of the Act, results in disqualification. With reference to the observation that the hon. Gentleman made about the comments of the Prime Minister, I am sure that the Prime Minister would never intentionally mislead the House, but the point has been heard on the Treasury Bench and perhaps the Leader of the House will wish to reply.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): May I reiterate what you have just said, Mr Speaker? Of course my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would never intentionally mislead the House. The House will be aware that the only way to enact a resignation is to appoint the person to one of the relevant positions. The Prime Minister was aware of the process to appoint Gerry Adams to be steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. It might have been better for my right hon. Friend to have said "is being appointed" instead of "has accepted", and I am happy to make that clarification for the record.
Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP):
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. No doubt the fact that Gerry Adams has now departed this place will be
greatly welcomed, given that he will no longer be able to claim the large amounts of money that the Government said he would not be allowed to claim, but that he nevertheless went on claiming as a result of being in office here.
A Treasury statement today says that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken the public statement by Gerry Adams that he is resigning from Parliament as a request to be appointed as steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead and granted him that office. As a result, there arises a question about in what circumstances the Chancellor may take a statement or other indication of resignation as an excuse or reason to make such an appointment- [ Interruption. ] These are serious matters, because the normal procedures have not been followed, in that Mr Adams did not apply in the normal way and did not accept in the normal way. Can you, Mr Speaker, investigate the role of the Northern Ireland Office and other agencies in this matter?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has exercised his responsibilities, and I do not think that it is either necessary or seemly to dilate upon how he has done so. He has done so in an entirely orderly way. I would simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that I think that the House will want to rest content with the thrust of what has been said to it. It is not necessary to get ahead of ourselves and engage in hypothetical scenarios. We do not need to do that. However, I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman with the care and respect with which I always listen to him.
Thomas Docherty: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On the specific issue of whether Mr Adams has accepted an office of the Crown, can you confirm that this is the case? As of late this afternoon, Mr Adams was still claiming that he had not accepted the office, which was so graciously offered to him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Mr Speaker: I have ruled on the matter. The appointment has been made; the disqualification is a fact. Beyond that, I do not think that I can realistically or reasonably be expected to elaborate.
Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. There is quite an important issue here about the nature of an application, because if, for the sake of argument, a Member were to express the view that they might feel like resigning from the House, the Chancellor might then appoint them and they would find themselves disqualified. Surely there must be a clear procedure for making it transparent that the Member in question has applied for the Chiltern Hundreds. The question that is being asked-a question to which the House would like an answer-is: was an application made in this case specifically for the Chiltern Hundreds which then led the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make the appointment, and was it accepted?
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for his point of order, but the matter to which he has just referred-whether an application for the Chiltern Hundreds has been made-is, I am afraid, not a matter for me. The matter has been addressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the execution of his
responsibilities, and this is one of those occasions on which it is right for me to communicate the facts of the situation, but not to wallow in the realms of metaphysical abstraction, if I can put it that way.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. "Erskine May" makes it quite clear that someone should apply for an office under the Crown. Should I, as the Member for East Antrim, in a fit of despair when I see who will replace Gerry Adams, express publicly the view that I wished that I was not a Member of a House that contained such a person, would the Chancellor take that as an indication that I should no longer be a Member of this House and therefore appoint me to an office of the Crown? That seems to be the implication of the ruling that you have made.
Mr Speaker: Once again-I fear that I am being repetitive, but it is necessary for me to be so-let me say that I have made the factual and legal position clear. The hon. Gentleman has raised a point of order, and it seems to me that the matter that he has raised-a matter relating to what could or could not now ensue-is essentially a hypothetical matter upon which it is neither necessary nor possible for a ruling to be made this evening. I believe that the position is clear: the disqualification has happened. If there are Members who are dissatisfied with the procedure-a very senior Member and others have indicated some level of dissatisfaction-it is perfectly open to them further to pursue the matter through other quarters, on other occasions, but I do not think that there is profit in dwelling further on them this evening.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Much has been said in the past 12 months and more about modernising the House of Commons. You made great reference to this yourself in your campaign speech. I hope that this will not seem too revolutionary, but would it not be appropriate for the Procedure Committee to look into these matters? Why should it be necessary, in the 21st century, to apply for an office of profit under the Crown? Why should not it be possible for an hon. Member to resign his seat? I suggest that there is a case for this matter to be looked at. People watching this might consider it rather farcical.
Mr Speaker: I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I hope that he will understand that I respect what he has said, but that it is not for me to speculate from the Chair on what the future position might be. It is absolutely open to the hon. Gentleman and to any other hon. Member to request that the Procedure Committee study this issue and make recommendations. I am not in any sense dying in the ditch as a matter of principle in favour of the status quo; nor am I arguing for a change to it. I am exercising my rather limited responsibility to report to the House what has happened and the facts of the situation. I hope that that is helpful.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is indicating that he wishes further to pursue the matter; I respect that.
Mr Winnick: I shall write to the Procedure Committee.
Mr Speaker: I note what the hon. Gentleman has said from a sedentary position.
Sammy Wilson: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You are absolutely correct to say that, whatever the future might be, things could be different. Can you confirm to the House now, given the shabby way in which this has been handled in order to avoid the embarrassment of Sinn Fein, that it is now no longer necessary for a Member to apply for an office under the Crown if they wish to resign?
Mr Speaker: The short answer is no, I am not confirming that at all. What I have done, and what I am doing again, is reporting the facts of the situation and the appointment that has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of which I was, perfectly courteously, notified.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It appears that a major constitutional change is taking place, and I feel sure that the House would welcome a statement tomorrow from a Minister, so that we can question them about this matter.
Mr Speaker: I note the point of order. It will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench and it is a matter for any Minister to make a statement if he or she so wishes.
Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The House will have heard with respect everything that you have said, and will have been interested to hear your view that you are neither defending the status quo nor advocating a change from it. I know that people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), will say that a constitutional change has occurred to the point at which people will roll their eyes and smile, but this is a very serious matter. The eminent father of the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), used to say that people thought procedure was boring but that it is not; it is our safeguard. If what appears to have happened today is confirmed as being an acceptable way forward, that would mean that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could decide whether someone should be a Member of Parliament or not, without their say-so. That is not acceptable.
Mr Speaker: I do not think that I should make any further comment beyond what I have said about the appointment that has been made, the communication of it by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to me, and my communication of the reality of the matters to the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman is as articulate a spokesman for his point of view as can be found, and he has given further evidence of that this evening. We are grateful to him for that, and he might even wish to join in making representations to the Procedure Committee. That is a matter for him. I really do feel that these matters have been exhausted this evening-[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for that sedentary assent to that proposition.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): I beg to move,
That the following appointments be made to the Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in pursuance of Schedule 3 to the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, as amended-
(1) Hilary Benn in place of Ms Rosie Winterton, until the end of the present Parliament, in accordance with paragraph 1(d) of the Schedule; and
(2) as lay members of the Committee, in accordance with paragraph 1(e) of the Schedule-
(a) Dame Janet Gaymer DBE QC (Hon.), for a period of five years;
(b) Elizabeth McMeikan, for a period of four years; and
(c) Sir Anthony Holland, for a period of three years.
I hope that we can now move into calmer waters, Mr Speaker, though as the motion affects the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, that might be a forlorn hope. It seeks the appointment of members to the Speaker's Committee for IPSA. I move this motion to facilitate the decision of the House.
The Speaker's Committee for IPSA is a statutory Committee, set up under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, and its role and membership are determined by that statute. It has two key responsibilities: to consider the candidates proposed by the Speaker, following fair and open competition for the posts of Chair and members of IPSA, and to approve IPSA's annual estimate of resources.
The current membership of the Speaker's Committee includes Mr Speaker, the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee and myself-by virtue of our offices. It currently has five other members who were appointed by the House in June 2010. To this membership, we must now add three lay members. I will deal substantively with the issue of the addition of lay members in a moment, but let me first briefly outline paragraph (1) of the motion. This was added, at the request of the Opposition, to remove the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton) and add the shadow Leader of the House in her place. This is a matter for the Labour party, and I am happy to facilitate it.
As a member of SCIPSA, I would like to thank the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central for her work on the Committee, helping us through some challenging meetings at the beginning, and I look forward to welcoming the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), should the House agree this motion. I know that he, too, will add great value to our proceedings.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended the addition of lay members to the Speaker's Committee in its report of November 2009, and this was enshrined in statute through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. As a former Chairman of the Members Estimate Committee, I can speak first hand on how useful I have found it to have external members on Committees that focus on the workings of the House. The House will also remember that it has only recently approved the addition of lay members to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life set out its reasoning behind the addition of lay members, specifically reflecting the growing practice in self-regulatory bodies such as the General Medical Council and the General Council of the Bar, which have accepted lay membership as a way not only of mitigating charges of being "parti pris", but of widening their horizon, increasing their experience base and strengthening their legitimacy with the public. There is no reason why similar principles should not apply to the Speaker's Committee.
These appointments are made by resolution of the House. The statute requires that the motion is tabled with the agreement of the Speaker; I can confirm that Mr Speaker has signified his consent.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): My question is no reflection on the three distinguished people involved. Fortunately, after many years, we have managed to reach a position where hon. Members have to declare all their outside interests-something for which I have fought for many years. Once appointed, will members of the Speaker's Committee also have to declare their outside interests-or, rather, their total income? Again, I emphasise that this is no reflection on the people involved.
Sir George Young: I think the answer is yes and no-yes to the outside interests, but no to the declaration of income.
As recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, these lay members will have full voting rights on the Committee. The competition required by the statute was conducted at the Speaker's request by a board chaired by the Clerk Assistant, Robert Rogers. Following a tender exercise in July last year, a specialist recruitment agency with experience in the successful management of high-level public appointments, Saxton Bampfylde was employed to support the process.
Members will wish to know that there was a very high level of interest in these posts. A total of 166 applications were received; a longlist of well-qualified candidates was considered by the board. Seventeen candidates who were selected by the board from the longlist received a preliminary interview by Saxton Bampfylde. Following report of these conversations, eight candidates were selected for interview by the board. After these final interviews, the Speaker met four candidates recommended by the board, from whom he selected the three individuals whose names appear on the Order Paper.
Dame Janet Gaymer has recently retired from service as the Commissioner for Public Appointments in England and Wales, and as a civil service commissioner. She was previously senior partner at the law firm, Simmons & Simmons. Elizabeth McMeikan has also served as a civil service commissioner, and is a member of the State Honours Committee. Before taking on these roles, she was the human resources and change management director on the main board of Tesco Stores plc. Finally, Sir Anthony Holland, a former chairman of the Law Society has held a number of public appointments, including as chair of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission and chair of the Standards Board for England. He currently holds an appointment in the office of the complaints commissioner of the Financial Services Authority.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab):
The Leader of the House has described the people who are being proposed for lay membership. They are clearly eminent
and successful, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider for a moment whether they are representative. I think that many Members of Parliament are becoming increasingly tired of hearing people whose incomes are clearly way above those of Members opine on what is appropriate in relation to Members' standards of living. I wonder whether any trade unionists were considered for these posts.
Sir George Young: The members of SCIPSA's board do not undertake the function to which the hon. Lady has referred. They do not decide the remuneration of Members of Parliament or, indeed, their allowances. However, the hon. Lady has raised a serious issue about how a diversity of applications was secured. During the tender exercise, applicant companies were asked to prove a commitment to diversity as one of the criteria that would be considered in the assessment of their suitability for appointment. It may also reassure the hon. Lady to know that lay members will make a determined effort to gain an insight into the work of Members of Parliament and the challenges that confront us by observing the way in which Members work in their constituencies and, indeed, in the House.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, but there is a little bit of concern about the nature of the people who have been recruited. Do any of them, as far as he is aware, have any knowledge or experience of the workings of Parliament?
Sir George Young: SCIPSA contains a large number of Members of Parliament, including myself and, if the House approves the motion, the shadow Leader of the House and four or five other colleagues. Input from Members of Parliament already exists on the board, and we would not expect it to come from the lay members.
Although the Act provides for a maximum appointment length of five years, the motion provides for each lay member to be appointed for a different duration, reflecting the placing of the candidates in the final report of the board to the Speaker. Thus Dame Janet Gaymer will be appointed for five years, Elizabeth McMeikan for four years, and Sir Anthony Holland for three years. All three of those excellent candidates could quite reasonably be appointed for the maximum period, but if we did that, the Committee would probably lose the expertise and experience of all three simultaneously.
Mr Winnick: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. May I expand on what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and, to a certain extent, by me in an earlier intervention? Is it not important for us to have some knowledge of the incomes of people who make judgments about the incomes of Members of Parliament, and their remunerations as a whole? It is not a question of trying to interfere in their lives. They have volunteered to be part of the IPSA establishment and to be in the public domain, and I cannot for the life of me see why there should be any secrecy about their own total incomes.
Sir George Young:
The hon. Gentleman is seeking to introduce a wholly new principle to people's appointments to bodies that have some involvement with the House of
Commons, or indeed some outside bodies. It was not one of the terms and conditions of these people's appointments that they should declare their outside interests, and I think it would be quite wrong to require them to do that. It would be an unnecessary intrusion on their privacy.
Helen Goodman: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way again. I understand that to accept the suggestion advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) would be to adopt a new principle, but I nevertheless feel that we should know what remuneration the lay members will receive specifically for their work on the Committee.
Sir George Young: I can satisfy the hon. Lady in that regard. The Act entitles lay members to remuneration and allowances to be determined by the Speaker and paid by IPSA. The daily rate of pay has been set at £300, which is comparable to the rate paid to those fulfilling similar roles elsewhere in the public sector.
I am happy to assure the House that the competition was fair and open, as the statute requires, and I am sure that Members will agree that the three candidates who have emerged from the process have a wealth of relevant public and private sector experience to support them.
I think it worth reminding the House that the scope of the Speaker's Committee is limited, and that it is not intended to serve as a forum or liaison for dealing with hon. Members' issues with the organisation. That is why you, Mr Speaker, announced last week the creation of a separate liaison group, which I know the House will welcome.
I commend the motion to the House.
Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): As the Leader of the House said, this motion has two parts, the first of which deals simply with the appointment of my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House to the Committee to replace the former shadow Leader of the House, who is now the Labour Chief Whip. I am sure that we can rely on him to speak up for Members' interests in that Committee, as we can on its other members.
The second part of the motion appoints the lay members of the Committee, in line with the House's decision when it passed the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. That being the case, Labour Members do not intend to oppose the motion, but I wish to raise a few concerns, which I believe are shared by other hon. Members. The first, while being no reflection on the probity of the members appointed to the Committee, relates to how the public appointments process in general, which is simply reflected in this motion, seems always to appoint people from the same charmed circle to various public appointments. We do not have an appointments process that encourages people from all walks of life to apply. The House will need to consider this matter if this Committee stays in being, because we need a more balanced set of appointments here, as we do in many other walks of public life.
As the Leader of the House has mentioned remuneration, I should like to put my second concern on the record. The House is getting very concerned at the level of remuneration afforded to those who help scrutinise the work of this House compared with that afforded to Members of Parliament. That is a concern. I do not know how that level of remuneration was arrived at, and perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us when he sums up. It seems to me that the daily rate considered appropriate for Members of this House should also be considered appropriate for lay members of the House's Committees. I hope that in due course the House will turn its attention to that, because we tend to forget it. Many Members do not necessarily wish to stand up and say that, but this is a concern for Members from all parts of the House.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): May I suggest that any reasonable claim for travelling expenses related to the work should be submitted through the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority process, thus giving the members of the Speaker's Committee a full appreciation of how that process works or malfunctions?
Helen Jones: The right hon. Gentleman tempts me to go down a route that is far away from this motion. However, I have said, as have others, that many of the problems with Members' remuneration and expenses would be solved if other people in the public sector were tied to the same rates as Members of Parliament. I doubt very much that that will happen.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Is it a requirement for appointment that one has to be computer literate so as to be able to fill in forms and so on online? Is that part of the qualification for appointment?
Helen Jones: I am not aware that that is the case, but I am not sure that even those of us who are reasonably computer literate can cope with a system that seems designed perversely to put as many obstacles in the way as possible. That being said, it is important that we continue with the process that the House has agreed. Labour Members will support the motion.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones). I think, however, that she misunderstood the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), because if anybody on the Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority or the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority had to apply for their own expenses in the way that Members of Parliament are required to, they would have a greater understanding of either the problems that IPSA had in setting up a scheme under time pressure or the mistakes that were made when it was set up.
At the risk of boring you, Mr Speaker, I just want to mention the first fact, which is relevant to SCIPSA. When we do our own expenses, we have to get a barcode on a screen. It takes more than the number of fingers on my hand to get it printed out, but everyone has to have it printed out. What most people do not know is that when that gets posted with the receipts to IPSA, the
first thing IPSA does is generate another barcode to stick on the bits of paper that we put a barcode on in the first place. I suspect that SCIPSA should be interested in following a claim from a Member's PA through the Member to IPSA and in asking the IPSA members whether they tried the scheme before they imposed it on people in the House of Commons.
The second point on which I want to disagree with the hon. Lady is that I do not think that those who appoint the members of IPSA should necessarily be paid the same as us. It is quite clear-I say this just to make friends-that there cannot be a serious pay increase for Members of Parliament during this Parliament, but we ought to have a system to ensure that people who are elected after the next general election get a level of pay whereby being a general practitioner in politics is equivalent to being a general practitioner in medicine. If a Member of Parliament is not worth it, we should change the Member of Parliament, not lower the rate of pay.
I believe it is wrong to say that the lay members of SCIPSA should be people who represent a range of jobs throughout the economy. It is far better that they should have had the experience of being the human resources and personnel director of a major company. It is important that they have had some experience, as a civil service commissioner would have had, of seeing what appointments are like. The fact of making appointments matters most and my personal belief is that if the hon. Lady, I or any of the other right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber had been in charge of appointing members of IPSA, they would have the same kinds of talent as the present members but would not have made the same decisions. IPSA had a virtually impossible job to do to begin with and it did not do it brilliantly. I hope that SCIPSA will say to IPSA, "What do you think you've done wrong and how can we ensure that the wrongs get righted and that further wrongs are not created in the future?" The present system, frankly, would be better put in a wastepaper basket and I hope that the members of SCIPSA help to do that.
That Dr Stella Creasy, Mr Edward Leigh, Mrs Anne McGuire and John Pugh be appointed, and that Dr William McCrea be discharged as members of the Public Accounts Commission under section 2(2)(c) of the National Audit Act 1983. -(Mr Heath.)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
That the draft Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 29 November, be approved. -(Mr Vara.)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Mr Vara.)
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I draw the attention of the House to my entry in this year's Register of Members' Financial Interests.
The Burton's food factory in Moreton is the largest private sector employer in my constituency and has been a mainstay of employment in the communities of Moreton and Leasowe for well over half a century. The site currently employs 342 people on permanent contracts, but biscuit making is a seasonal activity so there is the potential for an extra 200 seasonal workers during busy production times. It is not unusual for seasonal workers to work for up to 10 months of the year. During the production peak last year, for example, 566 employees were working in the factory.
Last year the company announced a supply chain review, but only days into the new year it announced the shocking news that it intends to close down the entire site by the end of 2011 with the loss of all jobs. It wishes to outsource chocolate refining for Cadbury, a specialism long performed to a very exacting standard in Moreton, to an unspecified supplier. It plans to invest £7 million in two other sites, Llantarnam in Wales and Edinburgh, as well as consolidating its distribution operations, again to an unspecified place.
We are at the beginning of the statutory 90 days of consultation that must by law precede redundancies. The work force, their representatives and I are determined to use that period in the most constructive way that we can to try to persuade Burton's Foods to change its mind about this disastrous decision. My first priority is to work with all interested parties to win the battle to save these jobs, which why I am so pleased that the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), is here to answer the debate tonight. I have given him advance notice of the questions with which I hope he can help me, so that we can give the work force the best chance of saving their jobs and avoiding the devastating effects that closure would have on the communities I represent. I shall return to those considerations, but first I want to deal with the developing situation in more detail.
I am grateful to Burton's Foods for agreeing to make available the information on which it is basing its decision, but unfortunately it has not yet delivered on that commitment. The so-called data room that will house the information was due to be opened by Monday of this week, but the most recent information I have is that it will not be open until Thursday. That means that two weeks of the 90-day consultation period have already been wasted in waiting for the promised information to be provided. There are also serious worries that the quality, accessibility and level of detail of the data will not be good enough to facilitate a testing analysis of the company's approach to the closure decision. I make this plea to the company: for speed and transparency, please co-operate with us and make available all the information in an easily accessible way. We aim to generate different proposals that offer a viable alternative to the decisions that the company has made in its supply chain review.
Sadly, we have been in this position before with Burton's Foods. In 2007, the company earmarked the factory for total closure, but that was just months after the expiry of legal obligations it had agreed to in 2001 to access £4 million-worth of regional selective assistance from the regional development agency and rates rebates from the local authority. After that closure announcement, the work force were escorted off the site by security guards who had been hired specifically for the purpose. After that rather difficult beginning, we, together with the work force and their representatives, and after a successful campaign in the local community and this House, persuaded the company to change its mind. On 15 August 2007, a memorandum of understanding between the management and the Unite union, on behalf of the employees, was signed, saving manufacturing at the site and safeguarding a total of 437 jobs. In exchange for an undertaking that there would be no major restructuring on the site before May 2012, the work force accepted the proposed changes, some of which were painful, including new working practices. More painfully, there were 500 job losses despite evidence that the company's productivity had been increasing consistently year on year.
The Moreton work force have more than delivered on their side of the deal in the MOU. They have increased their productivity still further, despite having had pay freezes in four of the past 10 years and very modest increases in the other years. They have delivered £12.7 million-worth of cost reduction to the business and have agreed major changes in working practices to achieve that transformation. Let me give two examples that illustrate the nature of their commitment.
The Moreton factory produces the Christmas selections at the high-value end of any biscuit manufacture, and have been responsible for increasing the sales of seasonal products by 16%. That is four times greater than for Burton's main competitor and is an astonishing achievement in a tough and competitive environment. Likewise, the new Duels product, which was introduced relatively recently, was first made in Moreton and is now manufactured at the factory. The plan was for that new product to break even in 18 months, but due to the hard work and commitment of the managers and the marketing team, as well as the undoubted skills of the work force at Moreton, it has grown from nothing to a £20 million turnover business in just 12 months. None of the work force could have done any better-and what is their reward? The sack.
There are serious issues about whether the memorandum of understanding has been honoured by the company. No one is saying that conditions are anything other than tough in the £2.2 billion biscuit sector. Commodity prices have risen substantially and the retail environment makes it difficult for manufacturers to pass on extra costs to their customers. The company has changed hands in the year following a restructuring that converted into new equity £137.7 million of borrowing that had been loaded on to the company by a string of private equity owners. That has reduced the group's interest burden to a manageable level. The previous private equity owners, Duke Street Capital, passed ownership on to a number of parties, none of which now individually has a controlling interest, but I understand that they include the Canadian Imperial Bank and Apollo Asset Management.
Although the company is clearly experiencing difficulties in the market, the 2010 annual report shows positive figures over the past year. Its turnover was up 4%. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were up slightly, as was its gross profit margin. Although that was a modest performance, I note in passing that the directors' remuneration increased by a staggering 97.5%, with a 119.9% increase for the highest paid director. That makes a startling contrast to the years of wage freezes inflicted on the work force at Moreton.
So there are tough conditions to contend with in the market. We all know that this requires an imaginative response, but I do not believe that the supply chain review is the right one. There are good grounds for believing that the production costs at the Moreton site have been overestimated, whereas the closure costs have been underestimated. There is much in the company's figures to contest.
Since the factory opened in 1953, it has been a dominant employer in the Leasowe and Moreton area. It is not uncommon for entire families to work at the factory, sometimes with more than one generation on the production line at the same time. If the closure were to go ahead, it would be devastating for many of my constituents. It would decimate the local economy at a time when it is already fragile. The human cost cannot be overestimated.
Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I applaud my hon. Friend for initiating this debate and for her concentration on the impact on Wallasey, but despite the divisions between our two areas, people move over the borders from Birkenhead to work. My plea to the Minister is that he does not address only the points that my hon. Friend is making. The Government have a welfare reform programme and want people on long-term benefit to move into work. It is difficult anyway to achieve that. It is doubly difficult if the job market disappears for those wishing to make the transition.
Ms Eagle: My right hon. Friend is right. I shall come to that.
There are many local families who would lose more than one breadwinner and face serious hardship if the closure goes ahead. A closure would cause the local economy great difficulty. As an article in the Wirral Globe recently pointed out, many local small businesses benefit from the custom of so many employees on the site, and others, such as Abbey Supplies, deal directly with Burton's.
My first priority is to do all I can to save those jobs. That is why I am glad that the Minister is here, listening to the debate. It is important that in parallel I work to safeguard the interests of those whom I represent, which is why I have written to the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) seeking a meeting with him to discuss the implications for our local employment market, should the closure go ahead. However, I would prefer the Minister to work with me to stop that happening.
Any potential closure of the site would have ramifications beyond the workers and their families who work at Burton's Foods. Two other companies, Manor Bakeries and Typhoo Tea, share the site with Burton's. These factories between them employ 620 more people. Executives
at Typhoo Tea have highlighted how any potential closure of the Burton's factory could cause them at least £1.5 million in extra costs as they have shared agreements on electricity, gas, drainage and stock rooms. It is crucial to avoid a domino effect on the site, and I wish to know what the Government could offer in the way of support to prevent that from happening in the event of a closure going ahead.
The week before Burton's Foods dropped the jobs bombshell on Moreton, the Prime Minister and Michael Heseltine had been visiting the docks in Wallasey. Indeed, the Prime Minister referred to that at Prime Minister's questions today. The visit was part of their growth tour. Although the Wirral Waters development is potentially very exciting, it is a plan which by its nature cannot make progress quickly. The Government's contention has been that the private sector will grow to fill the gap caused by the decision to cut public spending so quickly and deeply, but I am sad to report to the House that we are already experiencing public sector job cuts announced locally. Wirral borough council has decided to cut 1,100 of its employees this year-one sixth of the total-but the private sector has not filled the gap. By its announcement, Burton's Foods has piled on the agony.
Even prior to these announcements, Wallasey was suffering high unemployment. In December, Government figures showed that 2,173 people were claiming jobseeker's allowance. For every job vacancy, there are now 17 applicants, and that is before the job losses announced by Burton's and the local authority have taken effect. That is why it is so important to fight to save these jobs. I implore the company to think again and work with the employees to develop an alternative proposal that can allow it to remain competitive in the market while securing jobs at the site.
I would be grateful if the Minister could lend his support by dealing with the following questions tonight. Work is going on to formulate alternative proposals that will meet the company's requirements without closing the Moreton factory. Similar exercises have succeeded in the past, but only with active Government support. What support can the Government offer if we are able to put together a package that will convince the company to rethink its decision? What grants has the company applied for from the Scottish and Welsh Governments to support its proposals to move jobs from Moreton, and can the Minister promise to match any grant offered to secure those jobs in England? The company accounts for last year show a credit of £418,000 for
"the release of Government grants".
Can the Minister explain what these outstanding grants are? Can he also explain what leeway, if any, the outstanding moneys may give in encouraging the company to think again?
As I have already mentioned, two other businesses remain on site, Typhoo Tea and Manor Bakeries, which employ 620 people between them. They have indicated the extra costs that they face if the Burton's factory were to close. What support can the Minister pledge in order to prevent a domino effect, putting those jobs at risk too, if the closure were to go ahead?
The Moreton site is the only land in the area suitable for industrial development and zoned for that use. If there were a closure we would need significant public investment to ensure that it could be developed to create
the potential for future jobs growth and enhance local job prospects. What support could the Department offer in those circumstances?
My constituents who work at the plant will fight for their jobs. They will not roll over, but they need the support and help of the Government to ensure that there is a level playing field in grant support in all areas of this country. We heard the Prime Minister today promise to support private sector businesses throughout the country, but particularly in Merseyside, and workers at Moreton are looking to the Government to keep the promise that the Prime Minister made earlier today and support private sector jobs and promote growth.
At a time when families in Moreton and Leasowe are desperately worried about rising unemployment, I ask the Minister to work with me to help save the Moreton site and to secure the jobs of one of Britain's most established, dedicated and successful work forces.
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) on securing the debate. She has raised a number of important questions, which I will seek to answer. I know from looking at the history of the site that this has been a vexed site and plant, so these are not necessarily new problems with this particular business or location; she rightly alluded to that.
I was sorry to hear of the decision, which I first learned about from the media, and then heard about from the hon. Lady when she raised the matter in the Chamber last week. Clearly, the concern that she has rightly shown for the 342 employees will be shared in the House. It is very unwelcome news and it is inevitably a worrying time for both the employees and the families, let alone the community. Having been through that experience myself, I understand how people often take this as very much a personal issue.
Since the company announced the factory closure earlier this month, Jobcentre Plus has been in contact to offer the support of its rapid response service. The company has accepted that offer of help and the details of the tailored support package that will be offered to the work force are currently being worked out. That support will focus on helping Burton's employees find alternative employment as quickly as possible and will take a number of forms. In addition to offering advice on writing CVs and doing job searches, depending on what is required, the support package might include matching the employees made redundant to known job vacancies and helping individuals to identify their transferable skills and training needs to help them find work in the local labour market.
Ms Angela Eagle: Will the Minister give way?
Mr Prisk: I will give way on that point, which is a precursor to the broader issues.
Ms Eagle: I understand that, but I hope that the Minister has listened with some sympathy to the fact that 17 people are currently chasing every vacancy in Wallasey. It is not a question of writing CVs; it is a question of demand and the existence and supply of jobs. What he describes would be important if the plant were to close, but I hope that he will help us to keep it open.
Mr Prisk: Certainly, and my purpose in elaborating on this is for people to understand the broad packages available. I will then move on to the questions the hon. Lady has raised.
In addition, the support package will set up an action fund to help workers take up a new job, for example by giving help with travel-to-work expenses, which relates to the point made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). As I said, redundancy can be a personal tragedy for every individual and their families, so the Government are committed to helping people find alternative employment as soon as possible.
The hon. Lady cited the disappointing GDP figures in support of a claim that the Government are somehow pursuing the wrong economic strategy. In fact, the Office for National Statistics has made it perfectly clear that the fall in GDP was largely driven by the weather late last year, when we experienced the coldest December since records began. In looking at the figures, it is noticeable that the manufacturing sector, which we are talking about today, was in fact performing well.
Ms Eagle: Will the Minister give way?
Mr Prisk: I am happy to do so, but I am trying to get to the hon. Lady's points.
Ms Eagle: I understand that and thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. In the spirit of trying to work together to find a positive solution, I did not play politics with the issue and did not mention the GDP figures. I am trying to see whether the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be able to offer positive help to save the jobs. We all know what has to happen, and I would wish to discuss that with the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who is responsible for employment, if the worst happens and the factory closes. However, I wanted this Minister to be here so that we could try to save the jobs, and I deliberately did not mention yesterday's GDP figures because I did not want to get into a party political argument about economics. I am trying to help my constituents to get by and to save local jobs, and I am a little disappointed that he has claimed that I mentioned the figures.
Mr Prisk: I am trying to set out the context of where we are, because it is important for understanding why some factories are closed and others are prospering. It is important to remember that we are seeing record output levels in manufacturing as a whole, although clearly there will be individual factories, to which the hon. Lady has rightly alluded, where there are specific circumstances, such as the way own-brand goods are damaging the food and drink industry's manufacturing side, that might lead them to close. We need to understand the reasons behind individual factory closures and why some parts of the manufacturing sector are prospering in the north-west and others are not. That is the context that I am trying to set out.
We feel at this stage that the crucial thing that industry needs more than anything is certainty and clarity on the overall picture. That is why we are cutting the corporation tax rate from 28p to 24p, which will result in the UK having the lowest corporation tax rate of the G7 nations. That matters for an important reason: by 2016 it will
unlock £13 billion of investment that industry and business can reinvest. When we look at the past problems of the Moreton plant, which has received £3 million in direct grant assistance from the public sector, we must recognise that if the business itself says that it cannot make the plant viable, there is a challenge as to what the Government can then do to change that. On the broader picture, I must say that we are focused on investing in programmes such as the manufacturing advisory service, which is expressly designed to help strengthen and improve manufacturers. We are also putting £200 million into an enterprise capital fund, which is good for growth businesses. The hon. Lady referred to Burton's existing account balance, and that might be relevant, but we would also point to the importance of the enterprise finance guarantee, which seeks to generate up to £2 billion of additional lending-again, an important issue in that sector.
On the broader issue of adult apprenticeships, the additional investment of £250 million is very important, because, as the north-west economy restructures and we see good success-for example, in the aerospace and automotive sector-the need for more adult apprenticeships will be crucial. That is why we are seeking to expand their number, so that the opportunity for the hon. Lady's constituents and those in neighbouring areas is significant, enabling them to retrain where other businesses cannot prosper.
Mr Frank Field: Will the Minister give way?
Mr Prisk: Yes, then I shall move on to the specific issues that the hon. Lady raised
Mr Field: One key point that my hon. Friend made was that, in the situation under discussion, we have a very specific group of employers who are very clever at managing public sector support for their industry; and one question that she asked was whether the Minister knows whether the Welsh Assembly Government or the Scottish Government are issuing support to entice the firm away from Moreton, because it enjoys taxpayer support. If they are, can the Government-the English Government-match what the Welsh and Scottish Governments are offering?
Mr Prisk: I am going to address the specifics of the hon. Lady's questions, but I wanted to ensure, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly points out, that we looked at the context, because there are good manufacturing stories to be told in the north-west, and it is important to stress that.
The hon. Lady referred, first, to the alternative proposals, in which I know she is actively engaged, and she asked what might happen if they were successful. We have a problem, because Burton's has decided to wind down its business and to reinvest elsewhere. I shall turn to the Scottish numbers in a moment, because we have made specific inquiries. It is therefore very difficult, at this moment, for the Government to try in any way to override a decision if the company wishes to move from that location to elsewhere-however frustrating I am sure that will be for the hon. Lady. If the company does not wish to remain on that site, it is very difficult for the Government to change the fundamentals of that particular business.
On the Scottish Government grants that have been allegedly applied for, we have made specific inquiries to try to help the hon. Lady, and at the moment we understand that no detailed discussions have taken place between the company and the authorities. There has been an initial discussion, but no business plan, details or finance plan have been discussed. The location in question in Scotland would not qualify for regional selective assistance, however, so we wait to find out what the discussions may or may not be about between Burton's and the Scottish authorities. I have asked my officials to monitor the situation closely, and if we receive that information we will of course share it with the hon. Lady, so that she is able, in her local discussions, to deal with it. She will appreciate, however, that at this moment and at this Dispatch Box it is very difficult and, indeed, probably inappropriate for me to second guess what may or may not be offered.
On the question of the company's accounts for last year, which show a credit of £418,000 for, as the hon. Lady put it,
"the release of Government grants",
we have spoken to the Northwest Regional Development Agency, and I am disappointed to tell her that, as of an hour ago, it has not been able to provide us with that information. I have pressed upon the RDA the need for it, and the moment I receive a reply I shall of course share it with the hon. Lady, so that she can understand the background to the situation and what
"the release of Government grants"
The hon. Lady referred to two other businesses, Typhoo Tea and Manor Bakeries. She asked whether there is a danger of a domino effect because the security and amenities on the site are shared. I am concerned that the closure of the plant should not have unreasonable adverse effects on the neighbouring businesses. I am not familiar with the exact site and with what those effects might be, and I am not sure whether it would be £1.5 million, £2 million or £3 million. However, we are in direct contact with the RDA to establish the specific
facts and itemised numbers on that. She said that the data centre that the company offered is not yet operational. If we get that information from the other companies through the RDA, we will bring it to her. It is difficult for me, in the circumstances, to make a commitment at this moment, but I am happy to come back to her in due course when we have more information on that issue.
The hon. Lady said that the Moreton site was effectively the only land in the area that is suitable for industrial development and zoned for that use. She asked what the situation would be if there was a closure, because it could be serious. A number of avenues are open, and I urge her to work with business and civic leaders in this area, as I know she already is. She mentioned the regional growth fund, the first round of which closed today.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) rose-
Mr Prisk: We are in the last minute of the debate, so I will not give way.
The £1.4 billion regional growth fund has been set up. The first round has closed, but the second has not. The hon. Lady might want to consider that. In addition, there is the £1.5 billion business growth fund that the banks have established to deliver investment. As I said, if things do not work out, Jobcentre Plus help is available.
I appreciate the difficulties in the hon. Lady's area, and it is important that we remain in conversation and contact on this matter. It is early days, but I hope that a satisfactory conclusion can be reached. At this moment, it would be unwise of me to make a carte blanche offer of help in monetary terms, because we are not fully conversant with the facts. When we are, I will be happy to have further conversations with her, or her neighbouring colleagues if that is appropriate. On that note, I will draw my remarks to a-
House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).