It was reported this week that when policy advisers in No. 10 were asked what was keeping them awake at night they said, “School fees.” Now, I know what keeps far too many people in Newcastle awake at night: the cost of living. The TUC recently compared actual wages in 2012 with what they would have been had they increased in line with inflation, to discover a localised pay gap. In the north-east, it is more than £1,100 a year, or £23 a week. In Newcastle, it is £7 a week. Not much, some might think—a couple of café lattes, and nothing

14 May 2013 : Column 597

in comparison with the private school fees keeping the Ministers’ advisers awake. However, for those getting by it makes all the difference between security and despair. That is something the Government do not understand. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s adviser on enterprise thinks that this is an excellent time for businesses to boost their profits on the back of falling wages. Such crass comments highlight the fact that the Government are a narrow clique with no idea of the real issues facing real people.

The hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) said recently that the Prime Minister’s chumocracy should be made up of old Etonians, because they have a unique “commitment to public service” that is not found in other schools. It is the voices of those experiencing this unprecedented squeeze on living standards that should now be heard. Instead of blaming those struggling to get by for not having jobs that are not there, the Prime Minister should listen to what they have to say.

The Government argue that by attacking the public sector, giving tax breaks to millionaires and reducing tax credits for working people, we will liberate individual entrepreneurship. I can testify to the entrepreneurship of many Geordies. As the birthplace of the steam engine in the 19th century and ScreachTV in the 21st century, we have a long history of innovation. However, crushing poverty crushes creativity, as I know both from my own childhood and from my surgeries. When every waking moment is spent worrying about making it to the end of the week; when the electricity bill means borrowing to buy food—as one in 10 people in Newcastle have had to do; when 50p on a pound of margarine means not being able to afford the bus to the library to e-mail CVs to prospective employers; when the bedroom tax means that the kids are not able to stay and there is a worry about how they are growing up, then unleashing one’s own inner market forces is next to impossible.

If the Government had advisers with that kind of experience, they would not have produced a Queen’s Speech so devoid of help or hope for those working hard just to get by, and who need only a helping hand to succeed and thrive. The Prime Minister should overlook the accents of his old school tie and invite the hard working and struggling to write a new Queen’s Speech.

6.34 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Given the time, I shall confine my comments to the biggest cost-of-living issue facing my constituents, which is the cost of housing, an issue that illustrates just how out of touch this Government of millionaires are from the lives of ordinary people.

I said earlier in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) that the average price of a house in my constituency was £650,000 and that renting a three-bedroom house would cost £800 a week. Well, it might as well be 10 times those figures—£6.5 million—because no one, not just people on benefits or low or average incomes, can afford them. No one can afford market housing in west London, unless they are a City or foreign investor, and yet Government policies are actually increasing prices, with an 8% rise in the last year. An independent study last week showed that the Help to Buy scheme could push up house prices by another 30% by the end of 2015.

14 May 2013 : Column 598

At the same time, Shelter says that two thirds of Londoners are either falling behind or struggling to pay their rent. The estate agents, who love all this of course, say that prices are

“going like a steam train”,

while the National Housing Federation says:

“Rents will continue to rise in London until we start building enough affordable homes. That won’t happen while this Government spends over £100bn on housing benefit in five years but only £4.5bn on building new homes.”

I know which of those versions I prefer. We thus have policies actually fuelling the rise in house prices, the lowest number of housing starts since the 1920s, and a 68% cut in the number of affordable homes being built. This is not just neglect; these are active steps. In my constituency, 10% of affordable homes that become vacant are immediately sold off at market prices, while whole blocks of council flats are kept empty until private developers can take them over and develop them and whole estates are knocked down. Some 20,000 new homes will be built in Hammersmith and Fulham over the next 10 years, but not one will be affordable to local people.

I briefly left the debate earlier to talk to Jobcentre Plus, which is busy tracking down the 800 households in Hammersmith and Fulham whose incomes will be reduced by £100 or £150 a week, in many cases, because of the benefit cap being introduced. We have families being forced out of their homes, therefore, and hundreds of flats standing empty. At the same time, according to the results of a freedom of information inquiry I received today, 365 families are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, costing local taxpayers £860,000 last year. The Government are not just out of touch; they are following quite extreme policies. How can they leave hundreds of good quality affordable homes standing empty, while, at huge cost to the taxpayer, putting families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and forcing others out of their homes and out of London entirely?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) made an excellent speech about the demonisation of migrant communities, which is another feature of the Queen’s Speech. Yesterday, the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), said this about the Conservative party:

“A party which was once pro-Europe is now anti-Europe, a party which was once anti-Powellite on immigration is now becoming very close to being Powellite on that issue. The party once for the welfare state now appears to be against it in so many aspects of the welfare state.”

That is how the Conservative party has changed within my lifetime, and there is no better illustration of that change from a mainstream to an extremist party—long before the rise of UKIP and completely unrestrained by the Liberal Democrats—and nothing bites deeper than the fact that the Government are no longer prepared to provide or invest in decent affordable homes for thousands of my constituents and millions of our fellow citizens across the country.

6.39 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): I draw the House’s attention to my indirect interest, previously declared and recorded in Hansard.

14 May 2013 : Column 599

We have had a good debate in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) made a powerful and forensic opening speech, in sharp contrast to the contribution of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. By my reckoning, 40 Members have contributed to the debate. I suppose that traditionally one would say it has been a wide-ranging debate, but certainly that term has been given new meaning by some of the contributions we have heard today. The right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) referred to High Speed 2, and we heard about UKIP from my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies). We heard two very contrasting speeches on climate change from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—who is, I think, right; 400 parts per million is a significant moment—and from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who railed against environmentalists in general.

The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) was, I think, at one point inviting us to send our tax contributions to him at home, but I do not think he will be very successful because he forgot to give us his address. We heard serious contributions on Syria from the hon. Members for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), as well as from the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who also touched on Europe and said, rather plaintively, that if we undermined the credibility of our Prime Minister, we undermined the Government. I would simply observe that it seems to me that the Prime Minister is doing a pretty good job of that himself.

We have also heard powerful testimony about to the impact on living standards of what is happening at the moment, most notably from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) who represents many people who are affected in that way and warned us of the dangers, especially in tough times, of those who would point the finger at others and try to blame them for their troubles.

We also heard strong speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), for Eltham (Clive Efford), for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), for South Down (Ms Ritchie), for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for North West Durham (Pat Glass), for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark), all of whom spoke with feeling about the experience of their constituents, as did Conservative Members, particularly the hon. Members for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris).

Given what we have heard, it is perhaps not surprising that there is a crisis of confidence in politics in this country. People are wondering if, as politicians, we have the answer. Are we on their side? Are we doing things to help make a difference? That is why there is a particular responsibility on Government to do the right things, to show that they are helping people in very difficult times.

14 May 2013 : Column 600

People want to see an effort being made and some action, even if all the problems cannot be solved immediately. It is precisely because of the absence from the Gracious Speech of any practical help with living standards—the “empty luggage” that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore described in quoting Nye Bevan—that we have tabled our amendment.

A number of Members referred to the housing crisis. We have had plenty of housing announcements over the last three years: 300 of them, and by my count four classed as major housing launches. If we look at the record, whether of starts or completions, we see that the story is the same: both are down. The rate of homeownership is falling and, as we have heard—particularly from my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter)—private rents have continued their relentless rise, made worse by some letting agents charging very high fees. On lettings agents, a redress scheme is welcome. I suppose that in the end the Minister for Housing realised that he could not argue with himself and against the points that he had made previously when calling for regulation. But redress helps only after one has been ripped off—we should be stopping it happening in the first place.

On housing supply, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) made a powerful case, not least because of the economic benefit that would be felt, for house building. We have called for the proceeds of the 4G auction to be used to build 100,000 affordable homes. What has been the Government’s contribution? They have cut the affordable housing budget by 60 per cent. No wonder starts and completions are down.

There have been lots of promises, but precious few delivered. On the Help to Buy scheme, I said at the time that we welcomed steps that would make a difference, but the Treasury Select Committee was not terribly impressed by it, was it? It found the Chancellor’s argument—that it would lead to an improvement in supply—unconvincing. The Secretary of State was asked in the Budget debate who would be eligible and particularly whether foreign buyers would be able to benefit from the Help to Buy scheme. He could not have been clearer in his reply. He said:

“This scheme will not be available for foreign buyers; this is a scheme to help people from this country.”—[Official Report, 25 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 1311.]

When my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) and I both tabled a written question to the Secretary of State on this matter—in particular, asking whether foreign nationals from the EU would be eligible for assistance from the Help to Buy scheme—we did not get that straight answer. Instead, we got a reply that frankly could have been drafted by Sir Humphrey:

“In our approach to revising the rules on access to such schemes, we are carefully taking into account the restrictions and obligations that stem from EU directives. We will be making a further statement in due course on the steps we will be taking.”—[Official Report, 25 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 1126W.]

That reply is eloquent, but as clear as mud.

I have a very simple question to put to the Secretary of State, and I will happily give way to enable him to answer it. Will EU nationals who have come to the UK to exercise their treaty rights be eligible for assistance

14 May 2013 : Column 601

from the Help to Buy scheme—yes or no? I will happily give way to him.




The reason I keep doing it is that the Secretary of State shows a remarkable propensity to be unable to answer the simplest of questions. If he cannot answer my question, I wonder whether the Minister for Housing can.




Perhaps even the planning Minister, who is so voluble, could come to the Dispatch Box and aid the House by giving a reply. Those watching will notice that there is no reply.

That brings me to the big question in this debate: are those with the broadest shoulders bearing the cost of dealing with the global crash, or is it those in society who have the least? A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with the hard-working staff at the local advice centre in Burmantofts in east Leeds to hear about the impact of the council tax benefit cuts and the bedroom tax. We talked about the estimated 41,000 people in Leeds who will be affected. There are eight constituencies in Leeds, but 30% of those 41,000 people live in one constituency, Leeds Central—12,600 of the least well-off families struggling to get by. What are the Government doing to help them? They are sending them letters telling them that they have to pay more council tax and letters telling them they have to pay higher rent, and that they must hand over £2.8 million from their pockets and purses to pay for those council tax bills and those rents. [Interruption.] The planning Minister finds that funny, but it is not very funny for my constituents who are in that situation.

What will be the consequences for those people? They will have less money to spend on food and heating and they will be at greater risk of ending up in debt to payday lenders or, even worse, loan sharks. There will also be rising council tax and rent arrears because, as the workers in the advice centre know better than almost anybody else, a lot of these people are desperate because they do not have the money. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change said in his opening remarks that the Government were about protecting the vulnerable, but those are words that will ring very hollow with my constituents.

What the Government are doing to my constituents fails the basic test of fairness. It will not help their living standards. When someone says to them, “These are tough times; we have to make tough decisions,” I point out that the number of poor people being hit is 12,600, which is almost exactly the same as the number of millionaires—13,000—who will benefit from the cut in the top rate of tax. That choice, which is the wrong choice, has defined the values that lie behind what the Government are doing, and it fails—

Andrew Selous: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Hilary Benn: No, I cannot give way; I would love to, but time is short.

What the Government are doing fails the fundamental test of what a Government should be doing in hard times, which is to help those who have least. We see that in the biggest cuts falling on the most deprived local authorities, in the lack of action in this Gracious Speech to help the rising number of long-term unemployed young people, in the lack of action to cap rail fares and in the Government’s failure to deal with the energy market, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley said. That is the judgment that will be made of

14 May 2013 : Column 602

the Gracious Speech. It does not rise to the challenges that we face, it will not restore confidence in the Government, it will not help those who need help most, and it reminds us why this coalition, as it ekes out its remaining two years in increasing disharmony, was not the answer to the crisis of confidence in the first place. I urge the House to support the amendment.

6.49 pm

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has said, this has been a full and wide-ranging debate, covering energy prices, climate change, housing policy, heavily fruited confectionery and a brief excursion into the world of J. R. R. Tolkien. The debate was opened by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey) who, among other things, gave the House a masterclass on Professor Hills’ theory of fuel poverty. That clearly demonstrated that my right hon. Friend is completely on top of the job.

The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) announced three Labour policies. Just like buses—you wait around for ever, then three come along in quick succession. She rather dampened the House’s excitement, however, when it was discovered that she was merely reheating some old policies.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) spoke knowledgeably about the need for biodiversity offsetting. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) reminded the House why the coalition was formed: it was to deal with Labour’s poor record in Government. He went on to speak with great knowledge about the current situation in Syria, as did my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke).

My hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing), spoke about conviction politics. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley) warned about an ever-closer union. My hon. Friends the Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) spoke of the effect of interest rates on the cost of living. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) spoke about climate change and the lack of sustainable development in Middle Earth. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) made some telling points about the impact of fuel duty on the cost of living, and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) talked about the need for co-operation between the private sector and local authorities.

We must congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), on being perhaps one of the most influential Back Benchers and on the marvellous work he has done on fuel duty. He spoke about the effects of taxation. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) said that he had grown up on a council estate under the James Callaghan Government, and that that was why he was a Conservative. I am slightly older than him, and I grew up on a council estate under the Harold Wilson Government. That is why I am a Conservative.

14 May 2013 : Column 603

As my hon. Friends the Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham) said, council taxes more than doubled under Labour, taking bills up to £120 a month for a band D home. The coalition Government have worked with councils to freeze the council tax, and bills have fallen by 10% in real terms. The freeze was opposed by Labour, however. The leader of the Labour group in the Local Government Association, Councillor David Sparks, said that councillors were wrong not to increase their taxes. Labour’s local government spokesman in the Commons, the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) said that the freeze was

“nothing more than a gimmick”.—[Official Report, 17 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 531.]

The Leader of the Opposition dismissed it as involving a “small amount of money”. Actually, the freeze has resulted in a cumulative saving of up to £425 on average band D bills over the last three years. For most people, £425 is a lot of money, but I recognise that, for Labour members, it is nothing. For the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, it is probably just an average morning’s takings in the tea room at Stansgate Abbey.

We have reformed council tax support as well. Spending on council tax benefit doubled under Labour, but we are getting it under control. Such benefits cost taxpayers £4 billion a year, which is equivalent to roughly £180 a year per household.

Geraint Davies rose

Mr Pickles: I wish I had time, but I cannot give way.

Welfare reform is vital to tackle Labour’s budget deficit. Under the last Administration, more taxpayers’ money was being spent on benefits than on defence, education and health combined.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr Pickles: I am sorry, but I do not have time. I always give way, but not when I do not have time.

Labour is not short of ideas on new taxes. Labour councillors such as Barnsley’s leader Steve Houghton or the Local Government Association’s Labour leader Councillor David Sparks have lobbied the Government to abolish the single person’s discount on council tax. This would increase tax bills on 8 million people—from elderly widows to young professionals. A Bridget Jones tax is not what I call one-nation government; it is the politics of division.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Pickles: No.

The Local Audit and Accountability Bill, as part of this Queen’s Speech, will further help deliver value for money. The abolition of the Audit Commission regime will save taxpayers up to £1.2 billion over the next 10 years. The Bill will help defend an independent free press from corrosive town hall pravdas that harm local democracy and waste taxpayers’ money.

14 May 2013 : Column 604

Huw Irranca-Davies rose

Mr Pickles: No.

These measures will save taxpayers’ money, cut waste and help keep council tax down.

Clive Efford: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Pickles: The Deregulation Bill will promote the right to buy by further extending eligibility and undoing John Prescott’s cuts. This complements our £20 billion affordable housing programme, our £10 billion programme for rented sector guarantees and our new help-to-buy scheme to help people up the housing ladder. By contrast, Labour’s alternative Queen’s Speech called for more red tape and would add costs to housing. The party that gave us home information packs now wants a £300 million a year tenants’ tax in the form of compulsory registration of all landlords. Those costs will be passed on to tenants in the form of higher rents.

This is the party whose Labour councils for years turned a blind eye to exploitation by rogue landlords building “beds in sheds”. It is a party that intentionally let immigration rip. Those buildings have been propped up overnight, with Labour councils such as Ealing and Newham doing nothing until it was too late to solve the problem. This Government have given councils clear guidance on the use of their already extensive legal powers to clamp down on rogue landlords, and have provided extra funding to target the problem areas.

What do we think of the alternate Queen’s Speech?

Huw Irranca-Davies rose

Mr Pickles: Perhaps the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) would like to think about this. We do not need an alternative speech; we need to look only at Labour in government in Wales. Let us look at Labour’s record on housing there. Labour has failed to boost house-building starts by a mere 1% as compared to 19% in England.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. As the Secretary of State has pointed out, he does not have time to give way. Voices can be saved for tomorrow.

Mr Pickles: I am most grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Labour in Wales hit the housing market with extra red tape, adding £13,000 to the cost of building a new home in comparison with England. Labour has cut the right to buy, abolishing it completely in parts of Wales. Labour has failed to introduce support for new home buyers. Their new-buy scheme will not start until next year.

Whether it be in England or Wales, Labour’s economic policy could be summed up, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, as “If it moves, tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it; if it stops moving, subsidise it”. Labour wants to tax enterprise and hard-working people to pay for the same old borrow-and-spend policies. It wants to regulate small business, high streets and landlords—

14 May 2013 : Column 605

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby. There seems to be some type of blockage that he needs to remove.

The House having divided:

Ayes 254, Noes 316.

Division No. 1]


6.59 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheridan, Jim

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tom Blenkinsop


Heidi Alexander


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Greg Hands


Mr Robert Syms

Question accordingly negatived.

14 May 2013 : Column 606

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14 May 2013 : Column 609

7.17 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.


Access to Eculizumab

7.17 pm

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): I rise to present a petition on behalf of the sufferers of atypical haemolytic uraemic syndrome, known as aHUS, a rare disease that causes irreversible kidney failure. Until recently there was no effective treatment for this condition, which has 139 known patients in England, of whom 20 live in Devon. I am presenting the petition to press for aHUS sufferers’ access to Eculizumab, a new drug that has been proven to cause a dramatic improvement in kidney function and, indeed, in the quality of life of patients diagnosed with aHUS. The petition has received almost 30,000 signatures nationally and is presented on behalf of the national group, aHUS Action. It was brought to me by one of my constituents, Elena Lilley, who suffers from aHUS. She received Eculizumab as part of a clinical trial three years ago and it has transformed her life, avoiding the need for her to be put back on dialysis and enabling her to resume a full-time job.

The Advisory Group for National Specialised Services has recommended that Eculizumab should be nationally commissioned by the NHS, emphasising its life-saving potential and ability to improve the quality of life of all

14 May 2013 : Column 610

aHUS patients. However, earlier this year health Ministers decided to refer Eculizumab

to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for a further review of its affordability. Some patients have already been waiting over 18 months for a decision, and an announcement is not expected until December. The petition urges that action should be taken to ensure that all aHUS patients, including those already on the drug, should be given access to Eculizumab

without delay pending the outcome of NICE’s review.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of Miss K Bazzichi and Miss E Woodward Trustee Officers of aHUSUK,

Declares that aHUS patients should be given access to Eculizumab when they need it, without delay, and not be disadvantaged by the Ministers' decision not to implement the AGNSS recommendation ahead of a review by NICE.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons issues instructions to the NHS CB to take such action, whilst waiting for NICE's decision.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


7.19 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey). The 500 signatures on my petition should be added to the 30,000 signatures on his. I was approached by my constituent, Trevor Murby, of Abbots Road, Leicester, because his grandson, Finley Murby, was having great difficulty in accessing this drug. As a result of the work of Trevor Murby and so many other people involved in the campaign, he was able to get the drugs that he needed. I concur with the hon. Gentleman that it is really important that everyone who needs this drug has access to it and that action is taken immediately to help those who are disadvantaged.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of Mr T Murby and Mr Finley Murby Trustee Officers of aHUSUK,

Declares that aHUS patients should be given access to Eculizumab when they need it, without delay, and not be disadvantaged by the Ministers’ decision not to implement the AGNSS recommendation ahead of a review by NICE.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons issues instructions to the NHS CB to take such action, whilst waiting for NICE's decision.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


14 May 2013 : Column 611

Council Sport Provision

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

7.21 pm

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): I want to raise the issue of councils inflicting an enforced monopoly, run by a private sector provider, on the community, often crushing successful and voluntary provision. The specific case that I will discuss relates to sport—specifically swimming—which is relevant to my constituency and others, including that of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). I would be interested to hear of any other such cases. The Minister responded to yesterday’s Adjournment debate, so I am particularly grateful to him for his presence for the second day running. I reassure him that this debate is not about sport as such—although the subject has a powerful impact on sport—but is far more about procurement and tendering practice.

I declare an informal interest in this subject, which centres on the crushing of swimming club provision, in that I used to be a swimmer, but sadly I am not as fit any more. As a youngster I ploughed up and down swimming pools at silly o’clock in the morning for four hours a day—and sometimes 10 times a week— in my unfortunately thwarted hope of becoming an Olympian. My skin would smell of chlorine when it rained and I had perpetual goggle marks. For many years I swam under the excellent supervision of one of Bristol’s finest coaches, Eric Henderson.

Being part of a club was part of my identity when I was growing up. It was a proper community and I am still proud of and treasure my first swimming club tracksuit from Thornbury swimming club. It was very much part of what has made me who I am, and it all started when my mum took me to a club to learn to swim.

Learning to swim and making progress with clubs is not for everyone, but it is a vital part of a choice of provision. It is particularly vital for producing our next generation of competitive swimmers, and it is also important—as illustrated by the Portway swimming club in my constituency, which will feature heavily in my speech—for non-competitive swimmers who want to swim slightly more than is possible under council or private provider provision.

The good news is that clubs are generally thriving and many have waiting lists for their Learn to Swim programmes, particularly those for beginners. That is why the phenomenon of some councils acting to stifle successful club provision is so perverse, as the situation in Bristol illustrates.

In 2007, Bristol city council secured a contract with Sports and Leisure Management to run eight leisure centres in the city for 10 years. So far, so good. That was supposed to be done in partnership with the city council, which, despite the fact that it had outsourced provision to a private provider, still took it upon itself to prescribe in some detail how the provision was to be made.

Swimming in Bristol has not had a particularly happy history, as a Google search or a trawl through newspapers from the mid-’90s will reveal. A recent attempt to reshape the city’s swimming came in the form of the now slightly notorious—in Bristol swimming circles—Rick Bailey

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report. One recommendation was that the council provider’s chief responsibility should be to provide levels 1 to 7 of the Amateur Swimming Association’s Learn to Swim pathway. Again, so far so good.

However, Bristol city council interpreted that recommendation—I believe perversely—as meaning that only the private provider should provide levels 1 to 7 of Learn to Swim. That recommendation did not have the support of the local swimming clubs, but they were pushed into accepting it largely because they did not have any choice or voice to change the decision, despite rather cosy talk in all the documents of “partnership working”.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this matter to the House. In my constituency, Ards borough council has a very good relationship with the local swimming club. They work together to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to swim. The council owns the premises and Ards amateur swimming club does the renting. Does she agree that that is a prime example of what can happen if a council and a club work together for the benefit of all, so that some young people can become champions, whether provincial, Commonwealth or Olympic?

Charlotte Leslie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. What is so sad about this case is that, as he said, when clubs, councils and private providers work together, they can become more than the sum of their parts and there can be huge success stories. All parties should have the interests of children and swimming, or whatever sport it is, at their centre. What is so tragic about this case is that for some reason that I am yet to fathom, Bristol city council has been stubbornly determined to stifle good provision and not to work in partnership with clubs. When any objection is raised, it says that the clubs should know better and that it does work in partnership. However, as we know, partnership is not just a word in a report, but involves communication, liaising and understanding from both sides. This situation does not need to exist and we should all be thinking about the good of the swimmers.

The council and SLM set about ensuring that even clubs that had been providing a successful and valued Learn to Swim programme, with high demand and waiting lists, no longer did so in council-run pools. That has led to an extraordinary situation at swimming clubs such as Portway in my constituency that hire an agreed amount of pool time from SLM in which intermediate and Learn to Swim swimmers both train. Following the ruling that came into force on 1 April, the club is forced to vacate the area of the pool that is used for Learn to Swim. The children, many of whom have older siblings in the more advanced swimming lessons, are forced to sit on the side and not enter the water because they cannot be taught to swim, even though the qualified volunteer teachers are present and the pool space is not being used by anyone else. If the young children were doing another activity, such as attending a children’s party, and were not being taught to swim, it would be okay for them to use the pool. That does not seem very sensible.

The club has been forced to take its Learn to Swim programme to a pool in a neighbouring local authority, South Gloucestershire, which has a slightly less perverse

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and draconian attitude towards Learn to Swim. That means an extra journey for parents to a pool that is much further away, which is very difficult for single parents. That may also clash with the commitments of other siblings, swimming or otherwise, and many parents are forced to choose which of their children’s commitments to honour.

The key thing to note is that the small number of children who are being taught to swim in a club environment, which cannot be replicated by a private provider in terms of the continuity and focus that are provided by the teachers, does not impact on SLM’s market share of Learn to Swim children. The number of children in Bristol is increasing and there are certainly more than enough children who need to be taught to swim to go around.

Nobody is suggesting that clubs should have a monopoly on provision or even preferential treatment, only that they should be allowed to meet the significant demand for their services, which they have hitherto met very successfully. The result is that children are denied the choice of the benefits that club swimming at an early level provides, such as community and continuity of teaching. One club coach put it well in saying that the two lessons a week at the club not only give children the ability to swim, but inspire them to become a swimmer.

Of course, the impact on competitive swimming will be significant, too. To put it in perspective, in a recent Bristol schools competition, it was estimated that despite there being about 3,000 children who were taught by SLM compared with only 200 who were taught in clubs, club swimmers made up about 50% of the finalists. In other words, if my maths is correct, club swimmers were about seven times more likely to be finalists than non-club swimmers, which is significant.

There are other impacts. Many coaches come through a club system and then go on to coach either in their parent club or in other clubs, or with private providers such as SLM. Clubs are also vital social and community hubs, raising money for charity and, as I have said, providing youngsters with a sense of special identity and pride, as Thornbury, Southwold and City of Bristol swimming clubs did for me.

However, the Minister will be pleased to hear that this debate is not specifically about sport. It serves to demonstrate to him the possible perversity of a council monopoly that is imposed with such odd determination. Indeed, the clubs, the provider, a representative of Gloucester ASA and the councillor with the relevant cabinet brief had a meeting about the matter, at which the councillor, Simon Cook, was extremely good. He brokered a proper, common-sense solution to allow one of the clubs to keep offering Learn to Swim in a council pool until some kind of common-sense compromise had been reached. I was alarmed that his decision was completely ignored, which shows us something about the accountability there. It was ridden roughshod over, particularly by one council officer, Colleen Bevan, who I understand has now gone off to work for a private leisure provider. The private providers told the club that contrary to what had been agreed in the meeting, it could not continue with its pool time. I should mention that we have set up a petition at www.keepclubswimming., in case anyone wants to sign it.

14 May 2013 : Column 614

I finish by saying to the Minister that we all believe in localism, but this case demonstrates some of the perverse behaviour of councils that, instead of facilitating the big society, are crushing it. I am pleased that our new elected mayor, George Ferguson, who inherited the difficult situation, is sympathetic to the clubs’ plight and fully understands the perversity of such a council-enforced monopoly, whether in sport or any other service. I look forward to working with him on this extraordinary situation.

I ask that the Department examines such instances in which smaller providers of any sort, not necessarily in sport, are literally bullied out of existence by local councils that act in every way contrary to any conception of the big society.

7.32 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) for securing the debate, and I congratulate her on putting her case so clearly and succinctly. She not only outlined the specific issue of the club in Bristol but gave us a chance to highlight a wider potential problem with how local authorities deal with procurement, which is important for us to note. I will try to touch on both issues.

My hon. Friend set out the case involving the Portway swimming club, which feels that it has been frozen out of opportunities to teach beginners’ swimming lessons at Bristol’s public pools due to the contract that she mentioned. I know that she is an accomplished swimmer herself and feels passionate about sports provision, and I know that her community will appreciate all that she is doing to support the local swimming clubs.

I understand that guidance on who should teach Learn to Swim lessons has been issued by the ASA, and that it is recommended that clubs seek support from their county and regional ASA boards on how the scheme operates locally. The boards will be keen to support the sustainability of their clubs and offer support for the relationships between clubs and operators. In time, that can serve to protect their future membership income.

I understand that my hon. Friend also has more general concerns about how local authorities use their procurement practices to create monopolies of service provision with private providers. My Department holds policy responsibility for local government, including promoting best practice on commissioning and procurement processes and strategies. I would expect any procurement exercise to engage effectively with and examine the impact on community groups and the voluntary sector. Indeed, the best value guidance published in September 2011 set out clearly how councils should work with the voluntary sector when facing difficult funding decisions.

Statutory guidance states that local authorities should actively engage with organisations in the community on the future of a service and any knock-on effect on assets, and allow them to put forward options on how to reshape the service. Good local authorities will therefore work with their local voluntary sector at all stages of service design and delivery, to make best use of their local knowledge and influence.

Overall, local authorities are having to reduce costs and we encourage them to follow the example of leading councils that are taking the opportunity to think creatively,

14 May 2013 : Column 615

re-design their services, and commission intelligently and co-operatively with all sectors of their local community, not just large private providers. Local areas need the freedom and flexibility to innovate and commission services that best fit the needs of their communities. We cannot, and will not, prescribe from Whitehall how individual local authorities should conduct each procurement exercise, because it is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Neither will we intervene in local issues or specific contracts, which, as I am sure hon. Members will appreciate, is simply not appropriate.

We believe that local authorities can and should use their procurement processes to improve efficiency while also achieving better outcomes for service users. We know that poor practices and long-held myths can slow down the procurement process and lead to bad decisions, costing taxpayers money and affecting the standard of service. Councils such as Bristol must be sure that they are doing everything they can to remove those barriers, in consultation with local providers. I am pleased to hear that the new mayor is going down the road of working with the community, as my hon. Friend outlined. In my meetings with him he has been keen to do that, which is a good sign for Bristol in the future, and probably a real endorsement of how the local accountability of a directly elected mayor can work for a city.

Opening up procurement practices to all local providers can make a massive difference, and councils have a duty to their residents to act now. Councils should publish their tenders and contracts online, which would allow everyone to see clearly the procurement opportunities available and helps councils to get better deals with taxpayers’ money. Contracts Finder is one way of doing that, and as a secure, central and well-recognised website it is already accessed by hundreds of thousands of businesses and organisations. Bristol city council uses an e-procurement portal, Twitter, and a blog to advertise contracts and engagement opportunities. That is a positive step and I encourage more councils to be as open and transparent as possible with all data and procurement decisions.

Myths often surround European Union procurement rules, but those rules apply only once a contracting authority has made a decision to procure goods or services. Such rules are often used or misunderstood to prevent any form of communication, but they do not and should not. Council officers can still work with all sectors and providers prior to the bidding process, and support diversity in the supply chain by skilling-up and improving potential tenders. The Government would always encourage local authorities to procure wherever they can and wherever is appropriate locally. That can create new jobs and sustain existing ones, support the creation of new businesses and clubs, help to tackle worklessness and low skills by supporting apprenticeships, and boost spending locally, as well as help develop and build a community through its clubs and organisations.

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Contrary to popular myth, councils can support local growth at the same time as delivering efficiency savings and improving services—those things are not mutually exclusive. Council officers should embrace transparency on spending, tenders, contracts and property assets. That can help clubs and businesses better understand the services being tendered, thereby allowing them an opportunity to submit better proposals.

I would always encourage local authorities to hire the best—not necessarily the biggest—firms, and they should assess organisations on their ability to get the job done for the benefit of the community, rather than on their turnover. Markets can be narrowed, as my hon. Friend outlined, by contracting only with big organisations, because that puts those organisations in control, rather than the council. A diverse supply side promotes competition between suppliers and gives the council and—importantly—its residents, more choice. Breaking up contracts into smaller bite-sized chunks, or sub-contracting, can open up procurement by introducing more competition on price and attracting smaller firms. That can lead to even more local job creation, specialisation and innovation in service delivery.

I appreciate my hon. Friend giving me the chance to outline general aspects of procurement and what councils can do to involve local community organisations and small businesses. However, I want to be clear that localism means doing everything at the most direct possible level, with residents fully involved in making decisions about their areas. Central Government should be involved only when absolutely necessary. The Government’s approach to localism is to pass power down to citizens—greater power to hold local authorities to account and to help them to make a difference in and for their communities. As we have seen recently, local communities hold their councils to account ultimately through their voting power in local elections. In voting for a directly elected mayor, the community in Bristol has hopefully made a decision that will mean Bristol has a better future, with direct, clear local accountability.

The Localism Act 2011 introduced the community right to challenge, which enables communities and the voluntary sector to question how services are provided, to have the ambition to challenge that, and to make plans to take services over. As my hon. Friend will realise, I am unable to comment on the specifics of a contract—as she has said, I have not seen the specific details. Hopefully, I have taken this chance to set out the Government’s approach. I hope I have outlined how local authorities can act to ensure that such situations do not happen. I support her concern. Local authorities should embrace local community groups and the voluntary sector during any procurement process, and in their policy on sports provision and access. I congratulate her on raising the issue in this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

7.41 pm

House adjourned.