Session 2010-11
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Representations heard in Public

Questions 1 - 44



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Taken before the Backbench Business Committee

on Monday 8 November 2010

Members present:

Natascha Engel (Chair)

Mr Peter Bone

Philip Davies

Jane Ellison

John Hemming

Mr Philip Hollobone

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Adam Afriyie, Mr Bob Ainsworth, Harriett Baldwin, Malcolm Bruce, David Davis, Nadine Dorries, Richard Fuller, Mark Garnier, Mr David Lammy and Mr Michael Meacher made representations.

Q1 Chair: Shall we make a start? As usual, the meeting is not scheduled and no appointments have been made, so it is a little ad hoc and drop-in.

I reiterate that we are looking for bids to make time for debates; we do not want to deal with the substance of the debate. Although we will want to know what it is about, the substance of the debate will be thrashed out once a slot is provided. Nevertheless, we shall want to know why you need a debate and what other avenues you have pursued-for instance, whether you have you put in for an Adjournment debate, parliamentary questions or a Ten-minute Rule Bill, and whether you were successful, whether you have cross-party support and whether many others are supporting you.

It would be really helpful to know how long you think the debate should be. We have slots for one, two or three hours, and slots for up to six hours. We have slots that we need to schedule for Westminster Hall, of which there are quite a few, and a few for the Chamber. The big difference between slots in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall is that in the Chamber they can be put as motions on the Order Paper that are amendable and divisible but in Westminster Hall they cannot. If you make your bids based on that, without going into too much detail about the debate itself, we would be grateful. I also ask you to be as quick as possible, so that we can bash through as many requests as we can.

Michael Meacher has said that he is waiting for some people, so we shall take him a little later. I shall start with Harriet Baldwin, who made a written submission last week. Will you take a seat at the front? Has anyone come with you? There you are; you were hiding.

Harriett Baldwin: Thank you. My colleague Mark Garnier and I have made a written submission for a full three-hour non-divisible debate on the regulation of independent financial advice in this country.

I was lucky enough to have a Westminster Hall debate on the subject. I was putting my toe in the water to see whether there was interest among colleagues and was amazed at how many people, representing the three main parties, showed up for that debate. What is completely astonishing is the number of independent financial advisers, from Scotland down to the Isles of Scilly, who have written to me and Mark: those letters fill a thick binder, and they raise their concerns about their livelihoods, given the changes in regulation brought about by the FSA, the independent statutory regulator.

It would be a very wide-ranging debate for the House. It is a subject of great immediacy. I believe that in the 10 years since the FSA was set up, there hasn’t been a great deal of debate on the Floor of the House on the impact of its decisions as the independent statutory regulator, and I think that the House would welcome the opportunity to scrutinise some of those decisions.

Q2 Chair: So, what you’re looking for is a three-hour Westminster Hall debate. You say that when you had your Westminster Hall slot lots of people turned up. Was that a one-and-a-half-hour or a half-hour debate?

Harriett Baldwin: It was only a half-hour debate.

Q3 Chair: And roughly how many people turned up?

Harriett Baldwin: We had 13 people who intervened during the debate.

Q4 Chair: Oh right, and that was people of all political parties?

Harriett Baldwin: All three major political parties.

Q5 Mr Hollobone: If you have had a half-hour debate, another solution to the problem might be a one-and-a-half debate in Westminster Hall. Have you applied for that and been unsuccessful? If there were 13 of you taking part in what I’m sure was a fascinating debate, I would have thought that the chances of one of the 13 of you getting a one-and-a half-hour debate would be fairly high.

Mark Garnier: I think that’s a very fair comment. What I would add to what Harriett has said is that the whole issue behind the independent financial advisers is a thing called the retail distribution review, which was undertaken by the FSA. What is interesting is that that is a monumental review that has gone through, and there has been only a half-hour debate on this since it started, which, when you think about the effects of it, is quite shocking in itself.

Three hours would, I suspect, be the right amount of time, for the simple reason that we are getting a number of letters from various people around the country, and we’re suggesting to them all that they get back to their local Member of Parliament to support this debate. As was certainly the case in Harriett’s very useful and very helpful half-hour debate, you of course get only 15 minutes, and the interventions can be very short indeed, as you know. Having spoken to a number of people on the Back Benches, I suspect that this has quite a lot of weight behind it and would justify a full three-hour debate.

The only other thing that I would add is that we are, as a country, facing a fairly big problem when it comes to personal savings, pensions and all the rest of it, and the role of an IFA is incredibly important in the context of the wider savings culture. So, this does go a lot further than just scratching the surface of how IFAs are regulated; it goes down to a number of other issues that are all relevant to the bigger problem.

Chair: Thank you very much for that.

John Hemming: May I refer colleagues to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which states that I chair a company called JHC plc, which provides services to IFAs, among others?

Q6 Chair: That’s fine.

Have they arrived, Mr Meacher?

Mr Meacher: I’m a bit concerned that one hasn’t arrived but that I shall lose one who’s got to go. Would it be possible to speak soon?

Chair: Of course. If you want to go now, that’s fine.

Mr Meacher: If that’s all right with you.

Q7 Chair: Absolutely fine. Michael Meacher and David Davis, thank you. You’ve made representation to us before.

Mr Meacher: I have. I apologise for my voice; I’m just recovering from a cold and it has obviously affected my larynx, but I’m still audible.

I did make a presentation to you last week, so I won’t repeat what I said, and I think that the question of banking reform speaks for itself. The fact is that it is now three years since the collapse occurred, and, in my view, no action has been taken that will effectively prevent a recurrence of the crash. There has been no debate in the House of Commons focused specifically on the subject, and about half the Government’s current deficit is associated with the banking collapse, as is about two-thirds of the national debt. So, it is an exceedingly important issue.

I think that the issue would be of interest to Members, and I have certainly spoken to a lot of Members who are very keen to participate in the debate. I have with me, as you can see, some very senior members of other parties. Geoffrey Robinson assured me that he would come; I’m sure that something is holding him up. So, I think that all the main parties have some of their main representatives who are very keen to have the debate. I am very happy for it to be a three-hour debate, and I’m sure that it can all be said in a three-hour debate, or at least the key points can. It was suggested that it would be helpful if I came with a proposed motion and perhaps I could just read that out.

Chair: Yes.

Mr Meacher: Obviously this motion could be subject to change. It states: "That this House, concerned that no action has so far been taken which would prevent a recurrence of the financial crash, calls upon the Government to establish a clearing house for approval of all financial derivatives and to set in place alternative mechanisms to remove the implicit taxpayer guarantee, other than to purely deposit-taking banks, in the event of any future banking collapse."

I commend the motion to the Committee.

Chair: Thank you. Are there are questions on that?

Q8 Mr Bone: There was, of course, the Banking Act 2009, during the passage of which we spent a great deal of time arguing about what would happen if banks collapsed in future. That took a lot of time in Committee and went through the House, but I suppose that it was really concerned more with what would happen if banks collapsed. You think that there should be a debate on reforming how they actually work. Is that right?

Mr Meacher: Indeed. There are many issues of banking structure that have repeatedly been raised. There is Basel III, and an international committee has been looking at that and produced its proposals. I will not go into the details, but most people think that those are thoroughly inadequate. In terms of preventing a recurrence, I do not think that anyone in any country would say that the kind of action that is necessary has so far been taken by any country, or internationally.

Malcolm Bruce: The Government have set up a commission to make recommendations on that, on which they will no doubt act, but Parliament really ought to have an input. The Government, after all, have a substantial shareholding in loss-making banks, so the taxpayer has an interest in how that will return. The banks are not lending and there is concern about their structure and whether or not there should be more transparency and separation. In that context, there are a lot of issues that every Member of Parliament will have received representations on from their own constituencies. Frankly, it would seem to be much more valuable to have a debate now, before the Government have formulated their proposals or had a report from the commission, rather than waiting until we are debating their proposals.

Q9 Mr Bone: One of the problems we have as a Committee at the moment is that the Government have given us Thursdays for debates on the Floor of the House, so it is almost certain to be on a Thursday. Personally, I would have thought that you would have enough Members to fill a six-hour debate, but even if we gave you a three-hour debate, do you think that Members would attend on a Thursday?

Mr Meacher: That is a matter of opinion. The first debate arranged by the Committee was on Afghanistan. I spoke in it, and I am sure that the Chair of the Committee was gratified to see that 50 or 60 Members attended. It would be much better if it wasn’t on a Thursday, but I believe that the matter is of such importance-it is absolutely integral to the future of the country, the Government and business-that we would get a very good turnout.

Mr Davis: If I may, I will pick up on both Mr Bone’s points. First, some of those matters were debated during the crisis and during the passage of the 2009 Act, but as you heard, Basel III is going through at the moment and is actually causing reactions in both directions. Some of us think that it is inadequate, but there is also pressure the other way, so there are new matters to debate in any event.

Secondly, the Vickers commission, which is the Government’s commission, has been to see me and some of the people who are supposedly experts on this, but it has not had a parliamentary input, and I think that it would be very useful if it did so. I think that the commission is the right thing for the Government to do, because its input will be very useful.

Thirdly, to be quite blunt, I think that in the minds of the public and the press there has grown a little complacency on this issue, which has the scope to break the country completely if it happened again. The only thing at the moment that is protecting us from that happening is fear and the memory of last time. The appointment of people such as Bob Diamond is a sort of symptom of a degree of complacency that is returning to the City. It would do no harm, in terms of public interest alone, for that matter to be aired as vocally as it can be.

Chair: Thank you.

Q10 Jane Ellison: I have a quick question to help us frame the topicality issues: when would be the ideal time for the debate, to be able properly to inform the review that is going on?

Mr Meacher: For the reasons Malcolm gave, it would be very useful to have it before the Vickers commission reports.

Mr Davis: That is some time off.

Mr Meacher: It won’t be until the middle of next year, or something of that order. As has been said, that would allow Parliament to give its view, rather than simply comment on what the Government, in the light of the report, will already have decided. I think that is the proper role of Parliament. As I understand it, this Committee exists to reassert the role of Parliament, and this would be one very good way of doing that.

Mr Davis: There is not a terrific sensitivity to one particular week. You could almost pick any time between now and March-not that I’m suggesting that, but you could-and the issue would still be topical.

Q11 Chair: Thank you. I call Richard Fuller to speak.

Richard Fuller: I did not come with anyone, although I guess that’s an important thing to do. The topic I would like the Committee to consider is the financing and funding of social enterprises and charities, but this issue is more deeply and more philosophically about the funding of public goods provision. I was drawn to it first of all by immediate issues in my constituency. The council announced it was going to close a respite home. People rushed around to try to save that service and were looking for alternatives in the community to fulfil those needs. Across the country, councils and local governments are making such decisions.

The Government have relied on social enterprises and charities to provide many of those services for a long time, and they find themselves in severe financial difficulties. At the same time, there is a lot of rhetoric and a lot of action on what is termed the big society, and therefore there is great hope. It struck me that there is something of a discontinuity between those two pressures.

There’s an enormous amount of activity in the sector. We have the pilot project for social impact bonds, which is being undertaken by the St Giles Trust, supported by Social Finance. We have the initiative by NESTA-the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts-to look at new initiatives for social financing. We have a private Member’s Bill from Chris White, looking at adding social value criteria into procurement. There was the publication last month or two months ago by ResPublica of new formats for contracting. I think it’s an interesting intellectual debate. The Government have issued their own consultations on building and supporting a stronger civil society, which are due to be completed by 6 January, and I thought it would be useful for Parliament to have a say.

Q12 Chair: Have you tried any other avenue for raising this issue?

Richard Fuller: No, I thought I would try here first. It’s going to be an interesting topic and it’s so broad that it’s difficult to fit it into 30 minutes, so I thought I would try here and see what you thought.

Q13 Chair: Do you have support from other-

Richard Fuller: Externally, yes. I’ve spoken to a number of organisations such as the Social Enterprise Coalition, NESTA and Triodos bank-that is a bank that provides funding for social enterprises and others-all of which have an interest in the issue.

Q14 Chair: Do you have support from other Members and other political parties?

Richard Fuller: I don’t know.

Adam Afriyie: I think it’s a nice idea.

Richard Fuller: I haven’t systematically put out an e-mail to everyone saying, "Do you think this is a good idea?" to see who responds.

Q15 Chair: Were you thinking of a Westminster Hall debate of one and a half or three hours?

Richard Fuller: I’m a new MP, so you will know this better than I do. I think that, on a philosophical level, this is one of the most profoundly important debates that we could have. From a practical point of view, I would be very surprised if Members don’t have experiences in their own constituencies of being called on by charities and social enterprises saying, "What are we supposed to do?"

Q16 Chair: This is absolutely not to put you off. We’re basically scheduling times. What we don’t want to do is give a three-hour slot in Westminster Hall and for only you to be there. Part of the reason why we look for people bringing supporters with them is to make sure that that debate time is filled. It might be an idea for you to see whether there are other Members who would support you in a debate in Westminster Hall and then come back to us.

Richard Fuller: Okay.

Q17 Jane Ellison: That is fair comment. There was a debate recently that we allocated time to and it fell a little short, because although a lot of people said they were interested, not everyone turned up to speak, so we’re really keen to make sure that, where these opportunities are created, a debate is sustained and it is a genuine debate. We’ve noted the rationale for the bid, but it might well be worth putting out feelers to see who else would want to come and speak in a debate. That would really help us to know about timings.

Q18 Mr Hollobone: When is Chris White’s Bill due to be debated? Is it likely to reach the Floor of the House?

Richard Fuller: That private Member’s Bill will have its First Reading later this month.

Q19 Mr Hollobone: Is it likely to be reached first on the Friday or is it way down the list? Is there likely to be a debate around those issues on the Floor of the House during the passage of the Bill?

Richard Fuller: Yes, although only on a small fraction of the area. That one area would be covered.

Q20 Chair: Perhaps an idea would be for us to meet up afterwards, look at how we can get the idea out to other Members and work with you on that. Without a doubt it is a good idea, but this is about filling space and perhaps bringing the issue back when more Members have expressed an interest. It is about garnering interest. Would that be all right?

Richard Fuller: Of course.

Q21 Chair: There is no time limit on this, is there?

Richard Fuller: No, I guess not.

Q22 Chair: Okay. The Committee sits every week, so if we work with you on that, it might be useful. Thank you very much for coming in.

Richard Fuller: Thank you.

Q23 Chair: Is anybody pressed for time? Bob Ainsworth.

Mr Ainsworth: Thank you, Chair and colleagues. I have not brought a supporting cast with me. I am just a vagabond; I have wandered in off the street. I am making a bid for one of your Thursday full-day debates and I think it would be very timely for us to discuss drugs strategy. The Government are in the throes of doing a review, which they are about to publish. I am not certain of the exact timetable on that.

An awful lot is going on across the world. Some legal changes have taken place in Portugal that are most interesting. Some legalisation, or decriminalisation, was on the ballot paper in California, and although it was defeated, there is widespread reporting that there will be changes in that area. There are countries from the west, such as Mexico and Colombia, and, moving east, countries such as Jamaica through to areas such as West Africa, Turkey and Afghanistan that are in complete convulsion as a result of the corruption and money that flows from illicit and illegal drugs. It would be enormously timely to have a debate on that.

In the past, albeit some time ago, we had debates on drugs on a Friday. It is always difficult to get Members to participate in such debates, particularly when there is not going to be a vote and they cannot prove that they have spent their time in the Chamber. However, those debates were pretty well attended. The issue is timely and enormously important, and one way or another, Parliament must find a way to discuss it.

Q24 Chair: When you talk about a full day, do you mean a full Chamber day?

Mr Ainsworth: I am talking about one of the Thursday debates.

Q25 Chair: In Westminster Hall?

Mr Ainsworth: No, in the Chamber. I cannot think of other topics-well, there are other topics, but this is one that ought to be under consideration for one of your earlier Thursday full-day debates.

Q26 Jane Ellison: One of the things that we are quite keen to do in the Committee is give exposure to topics that perhaps, for one reason or another, are not generally welcomed by those on the Front Benches, perhaps because such a debate would steer into awkward territory or whatever. Is part of your thinking to get some Back-Bench time to free people up from that and get genuine exposure for a different range of views?

Mr Ainsworth: Absolutely. Those on the Front Benches are generally very cautious-the politics is dynamite for Governments. Largely, those who have been involved in policy making are more adventurous, shall we say, and in search of some way forward or some way to improve the situation. One tends to find that Health Ministers with responsibility for drugs, or Home Office Ministers with such responsibilities, take those views. I think that there is a meeting of minds across the Back Benches that, generally speaking, is not all that welcome on the Front Benches.

Q27 John Hemming: Do you have an idea of a substantive motion that you wanted to put to the House?

Mr Ainsworth: I can draw one up for you, if you wish, but I think that "the Government’s approach to control of illegal substances and the treatment of those who become addicted to them" is a pretty good one.

Q28 Mr Hollobone: Is it your intention to table a motion? Is that what you want to do?

Q29 Chair: Or do you just want to have a general debate about the subject?

Mr Ainsworth: I came with a view of making a bid for one of your general debates. The only one that I have participated in so far was the one on Afghanistan, where Mr Bone moved a pretty anodyne resolution, as I recall, in order to put the ball on the park.

Mr Bone: Well, actually, no.

Mr Ainsworth: But I would be more than happy to put a proposition, if the Committee felt that that was appropriate, and I am certain that I could get others from different political parties to co-operate with me in putting it all together.

Q30 Chair: But really what you are asking for is for us to provide time for the debate, as opposed to specifically having a Division?

Mr Ainsworth: Yes.

Chair: Did you want to follow that up, Philip?

Q31 Mr Hollobone: Yes. In many respects, the ideal Back-Bench motion is something that, when the Government read it, they might feel uncomfortable with it but they will go along with it. It nudges the Government to do something that, if there was not the Back-Bench business committee providing time for it, the Government would not do. An Opposition motion is full-frontal warfare; the Opposition know that they are going to lose and everyone is whipped through the Lobby.

A Back-Bench motion is a different kettle of fish and I think that this Committee takes that difference quite seriously, and in deciding whether or not to allocate time to this very serious subject the Committee will decide, "Well, does Mr Ainsworth want just a general debate, so we can air the views, or is he looking to actually achieve something that will push the Government in one direction or another?" And I am a little uncertain at the moment as to what your intention is.

Mr Ainsworth: I am looking to influence the Government to move more heavily into the area of sustained treatment for drug addicts. I fear that the Government are about to move to a position where they believe that people ought to be moved through programmes and cured-don’t we all? Wouldn’t we all support that? However, that is not the way the world is. So I fear that we are about to make some mistakes that will mean that we are making the problem worse and not better within our towns and cities the length and breadth of the country by the policy that is about to be introduced.

To tell you the truth, I’m not dead sure how widespread that will be and whether or not that will be what comes out of the Government, because I think that there are contrary views within Government. There is a pretty traditional view that gets expressed that, you know, "Drug addicts ought to be treated and cured and not maintained on these substances, which they must enjoy, mustn’t they?" Then there is a more pragmatic approach that recognises that these are very serious addictions and people must be treated as individuals. So I think that that struggle is going on within Government and that they are probably taking expert advice, but at the end of the day the politics will rule.

Chair: Okay. I think we have got most of that. Did you want to add anything?

Mr Ainsworth: No.

Q32 Chair: Brilliant. Thank you very much.

Can we have David Lammy and then Adam Afriyie? I will leave you until last, Adam, just because you have made a representation before-I am not picking on you.

Mr Lammy: Chair, we discussed this briefly and I was informed that there is some space for a debate on health issues. So it is not the matter that I discussed with you.

I think that many of us here will have met recently the leaders and chief executives of our local authorities. The spending cuts that were announced will fall more heavily on local government than the cuts in relation to any other Department.

I think it is important that we have some opportunity-not in Opposition time, although the Opposition obviously takes a position on this, as you would expect-for a general debate on local government spending over this next period.

We have had announcements of mergers of local authorities. This is a time when there are concerns about the arts or museums, including how they get funding in a local arrangement-usually they are the first thing to get cut-and social care, and all those issues are hugely important. We have had the announcement, but we have had very little time-none actually-to debate local government spending.

There has been much concentration in the House on housing benefit changes, of course, but issues of local government are broader than matters of just housing. I think it is right that Back Benchers from whatever party, who are definitely engaged with their local authority leaders at this time, are able to air their views from their different perspectives in the country.

I have not been able to bring other colleagues with me, but I have a feeling that the Committee will recognise that these are the kind of issues we would expect colleagues from different regions and political parties to attend. I simply want a general debate in Westminster Hall on this matter. I don’t think it needs to be three hours, it could actually be an hour and a half-we had a very good debate last week on higher education funding-but I do think that this is an important issue.

Q33 Mr Bone: Mr Lammy’s presentation is exactly what we have been thinking of with the comprehensive spending review. What we are doing in Westminster Hall is trying to take a Department, in this case local government, and having a three-hour debate, for the very reasons that you said-I think you made out a case well. There has been some criticism from Members that you should wait until the actual-

Mr Lammy: Settlement?

Mr Bone: Yes. What would your reaction to that be?

Mr Lammy: I think it is hugely important that we have the debate before the settlement. All of our local authorities are working through scenarios-how they are going to play it-and entering into discussions. Let us actually have the debate before the settlement. No doubt there will be debates as a result of the settlement, but in the run-up, I think that the country needs to hear us say something, from different perspectives, about what our views are of local government. I am very worried that we will have it after the settlement, when the cuts have been made and all the rest of it. That is my view.

Q34 Chair: Thank you. Does someone else want to ask any questions? Okay, thank you very much, David Lammy.

Now we have Adam Afriyie-are you with Adam, Nadine? And Julie Hilling, did you want to make a representation as well?

Julie Hilling: I haven’t come prepared. I have come to see what happens.

Q35 Chair: And you’re the same, Andrew Turner. So, Adam Afriyie and Nadine Dorries, please.

Adam Afriyie: At my last presentation, there were two clear points that came out. Number 1 was, "What would the substantive motion be?", and number 2 was, "Are there really enough people who are interested in this subject, who would come along and debate it and who would put forward the motion?"

So, I have drafted a motion-carefully worded. Shall I read it to you? "This House deplores the excessive cost to the taxpayers arising from the expenses system introduced by the IPSA, further regrets that its bureaucratic nature restricts the time available to Members, and their staff, to serve constituents in the conduct of their parliamentary duties for which they were elected."

I am sure a lot of people will contribute to that section. The substantive part is as follows: "The House recognises the potential need for a revision of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 to enforce the original mandate of the IPSA to be cost-effective and efficient, and we call on Her Majesty’s Government and political party leaders to allow the House the opportunity to put forward and debate measures and to come to a decision on these matters"-there is one caveat at the end, which I suspect the Government and party leaders might be interested in-"provided there is no additional call on the public purse."

I think that this motion is pretty clear. I think that it will get most Members of Parliament interested, considering that they feel hindered and impeded by the current system but don’t necessarily feel empowered to do anything about it, because they’re hoping that party leaders and perhaps Governments will come forward with schemes that will sort it out, which don’t seem to be evident right now.

My pitch for a debate and this substantive motion with the Backbench Business Committee is that, A, the Government have prevented discussions from going forward by objecting to a private Member’s Bill on the subject on a Friday; B, there are no substantive proposals coming forward from party leaders or Government; and C, it is incredibly important that this motion, or some action, is at least begun now, because it will take time for it to be enacted. Unless we’re going to wait another 18 months for any change, it would take at least four weeks for a scheme to be prepared and at least four to six weeks for a Minister or a Leader of the House to put some statutory instrument in place. It needs to happen now. Otherwise, if we miss this gap, we’re talking about 18 months. It can’t really come in any more quickly than that, due to the way that payroll and administration work.

I ask the Committee to think very seriously. There is no question but that every single MP-we all know it; in the Tea Room or wherever two MPs are gathered-is talking about this. We also know that the Government are not particularly keen to pick it up, but I am hoping that this motion is a way through and that the Government can stand aside and let Parliament come to a conclusion.

Q36 Chair: Would you like to add anything?

Nadine Dorries: I’m supporting this. I’ll give the reasons why. As we all know, every MP has a completely different set of circumstances, and they involve luck. The luck is whether or not you are near London or whether you have good, affordable child care or a good, supportive family that can help with your child care. Unfortunately, luck is a non-transferable commodity. If you happen to be a mother or a single mother and your constituency isn’t near London, you’re now no longer allowed to have your children with you when you’re in London. That has put a large number of female MPs who have primary caring responsibilities in a very difficult position, inasmuch as you now can no longer bring your children with you.

An example: my daughter’s been sent home from university at 18 years of age with a chest and throat infection. They’re querying meningitis; there’s an outbreak of viral meningitis at the university. I’m not allowed to bring her to London with me, but I’m on a three-line Whip. I think there are a number of female MPs in exactly the same position, I think the present system is very family-unfriendly and I think that in order to encourage everybody who cannot have the non-transferable commodity of luck depending on circumstances to have an equitable approach to this job and be able to do it exactly the same way as everybody else, we need a system with IPSA which is more equitable for more MPs.

Adam’s absolutely right: certainly every MP I’m talking to is both frustrated and angry, and despairs of the system being able to sort this out. It isn’t getting any better. There’s another reason why I’m supporting it. IPSA has been refusing a large number of claims which MPs have been putting forward, not because they’re inappropriate claims but because they’ve missed out a field or incorrectly completed a form. We all know that another expenses scandal is coming at us like a train. It will be along the lines of "MPs are still claiming inappropriate expenses, because there have been this many refusals" or "MPs got the train at 8.58 rather than 9.01 when it was cheaper". We know it will happen again, and the only way we can both retain Parliament as a place of some integrity-because it’s lost that very much over the expenses scandal-and as a place where everybody will have an equal right to be here and an equal opportunity to be here, not only the wealthy or the childless, something like this motion needs to be put in place to take the pendulum back a little bit, because it has swung too far with IPSA.

Q37 Mr Hollobone: Mr Afriyie, could you talk us through the sensitivity of the timing of this so the Committee understands? Are you saying that you need a debate in November? When would be your cut-off?

Adam Afriyie: To be frank, the ideal would have been if it had come up this Thursday, even as the last half an hour or hour of the economic growth debate. The reason is that in order to prepare any change to the scheme, the IPSA would have to take a minimum of four or eight weeks to do that. To get any statutory instrument through this place-I am not suggesting in any way, shape or form that we necessarily get rid of IPSA or stop its independence-would take another minimum of say six to eight weeks. Something has to move now to hit the 1 April deadline. The debate at least has to happen to see where the will of the House is. If that doesn’t happen, even if you have the debate after Christmas, yes, we’ll have a great debate, but there will still be another year of the drip-feed of the receipts that, as has been described, can be mistaken or misread in so many different ways.

Q38 Mr Hollobone: So when is your cut-off? Is it mid-December or early December?

Adam Afriyie: Frankly, I’ve tried to work out every single day the House is sitting. It looks to me like this debate absolutely has to take place this side of Christmas, so that the Government know that if there is a private Member’s Bill or something is coming through from the House, they can allow it to go through. The sooner, the better, but ideally in November, because otherwise we get into the closed period when the House isn’t sitting.

Q39 Mr Hollobone: We had a debate last time about how long you might need, and you were saying not very long. I was suggesting that perhaps lots of people might want to speak. Do you think that a three-hour debate would suit your needs?

Adam Afriyie: I think that a three-hour debate would be absolutely fine but, once again, I come back to the fact that I have looked through the early-day motions and 31 people have signed an EDM that virtually echoes what is in this motion. I think there are about 24 signatures on one for people who are concerned about families. A lot of people want to say something. I am sure we could fill not only three hours, but probably 12 hours. There is no issue with that. The point of having this substantive motion is so that people can express themselves through the Lobbies, or so that the Government or party leaders are able to express themselves by standing back and allowing something to happen. That is the nub of this. It is not about having more chatter. We all know where we are on this. It is about creating an opportunity for something to happen that would not come from the Government Benches.

Q40 John Hemming: What you’re saying is you want the resolution put to the House, even if it only takes half an hour?

Adam Afriyie: Yes. That’s right.

Q41 Mr Bone: The leaderships of both parties have not really been totally helpful to Members over a period of time. In all the debates we have arranged so far, we’ve provided time for Ministers and their shadows to speak. This seems to be entirely a House matter. Would it be right to exclude them from speaking in this debate?

Adam Afriyie: I would hope that, given the nature of the motion that has been drafted, that would be a distinct possibility. That would certainly set a precedent and give the party leaders, political parties in general and the Government an opportunity that they have not taken for 100 years: to stand back from this, allow Parliament to decide and only veto it at the last minute if they think it’s going to be more expensive or in some way completely shocking and reprehensible. I hope that this will be a great opportunity to do just that and to ask the Government, "Do you really want to put Ministers forward to argue against this, to argue something different or even to support it? Or would you rather not be there at all and leave it to Back Benchers to come to a sensible judgment about what happens next?"

Q42 Mr Bone: The second point is that a number of Back-Bench MPs have lobbied for your debate quite forcefully. But when I asked them to come along and say that in public, they said, "No, I’ll leave that to someone else because I’ve had trouble in the past."

Nadine Dorries: With the media.

Mr Bone: With the media, yes. One of our concerns, of course, is that we schedule a three-hour or six-hour debate or whatever, and very few MPs turn up. That would be a disaster for everyone.

Adam Afriyie: Absolutely. I will make two observations: first, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Anybody who has had any inkling of an expenses problem and who has been here since before the current Parliament will be incredibly reluctant to speak. Indeed, I support them in that reluctance, because they will be torn apart if they are not incredibly careful. On the other hand, a lot of new MPs are slightly more willing to speak because they have not felt the force of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. The way I would put it is this. The reason I am not overly concerned about the length of the debate is because once Parliament, through the Backbench Business Committee, has expressed its support for this motion and shown that actually Parliament can deal with this, that releases the tension in the situation.

The other thing-I have been trying to explain this to MPs who are completely supportive but who are a bit nervous about speaking too overtly-is that it is very easy for an MP to stand up and talk about someone else’s circumstances. An MP would be able to stand up and talk about how they believe in openness, transparency and a reduction in costs, but that they believe there are some problems with the system. There are all sorts of ways that one can approach this, but the current nervousness is also partly because I believe that the party leaders are equally as nervous-and rightly so, which is why I think it is better that political parties do not get involved in this.

Q43 Chair: Last week, we had had a bit of a debate about the number of people that you thought would be supportive of having a debate on the matter versus the amount of time that you are actually asking for-a large number of people but a small amount of time. It seems to me that you are much more interested in having a votable motion on the Order Paper than you are in having a debate, because we all know what the debating points are. Am I right in that? That is the key point.

Adam Afriyie: I would like to hear the debate. If you give me a three-hour slot, I am certain that we will fill that three hours, largely because it will be on the order paper and because I can say, "Here’s the slot," and give people an indication of whether it will be combative or straightforward. I have no problem in saying that we will fill three hours. However, as I said, the key point of coming to the Backbench Business Committee is that it is a Back Bench matter, and I want to give the Government the opportunity, through a substantive motion-they may not oppose it-to allow the House to come to some sort of conclusion, without creating a really heightened toxic political subject.

Nadine Dorries: It is to be hoped that MPs would have confidence-because the motion reduces the cost of IPSA, it would give them a fair degree of confidence-that the overall bill at the end of the day will be less than it is today. Therefore, the media may pick that up.

Adam Afriyie: I am not sure of your timing on this. You should have had some e-mails from people who couldn’t be here-Gisela Stuart and others. I hope that we have had quite a few of those. If you look at the early-day motions that have been laid on the subject, I do not think that there will be any problem with the number of people who would say something. The assurance that I have been giving people as I have been running through Members and this particular Back Bench business is that I do not want any MPs to raise their head above the parapet just to have it chopped off. I do not mind if I am beaten senseless, but I do not want them to raise their heads at this stage unless we know that there is an opportunity such as this debate, where something will happen afterwards-not just talk, where an MP gets himself into trouble and there is no outcome, but where something happens afterwards.

Q44 Jane Ellison: When we are asking people how they would pursue a more classically political motion, we often ask what other avenues have been tried, such as an Adjournment debate. Whenever I log on to IPSA, it seems that we get a little update saying how the scheme has changed, or whatever, almost every week-although the changes are arguably not that substantive. However, putting the same question to you, do you feel that there are no other avenues for you to pursue in seeking change and revision to the scheme? How do you argue against the criticism that, at this early stage, those avenues have not been fully explored?

Adam Afriyie: I am absolutely certain that the only avenue open is Back Bench business or private Member’s Bill. The latter has clearly been cut off because of the Government’s objecting to the general Bill. I feel that this is the only option open.

As for how else IPSA might be changed, simply having this debate-by having a motion saying that potentially we are going to meddle with it-will be enough to pressure it to look at its systems and potentially move on and change them more quickly. If we don’t have this debate, if even the Backbench Committee cannot find the-I don’t want to use language that is too strong-if the Committee decides that the subject is not important enough to be debated in Parliament, I fear that it will probably be me, as lone wolf, dealing with the media and making my points in the Chamber day in, day out, until at some point it is so painful, and so many will begin to leave this place, that people will finally realise that we ought to do something about it.

I am trying to create the opportunity to do something about it-for Back Benchers to do something. Whether something comes from it afterwards is something for another day. The question whether MPs should discuss a system that is clearly impeding their ability to do their work, and which is costing the taxpayers a fortune-there is no disagreement on that-is a no-brainer.

Chair: Thank you. Did you want to add anything?

Adam Afriyie: I just emphasise the timing. The other side of Christmas will not help, because we will have lost an entire year.

Chair: We understand the timely nature of the debate. Unless Andrew Turner or Julie Hilling have changed their minds, I think there is no one else.

Julie Hilling: Is it possible to make a bid without having done the paperwork?

Chair: We meet every Monday at 4 pm.

Julie Hilling: So it would be better to do it next week?

Chair: Yes, and if you get some support, that would be really helpful. Thank you very much.