11 Sep 2013 : Column 1121

Bob Blackman: Having served as a councillor on a local authority for 24 years before coming to this place, I can confirm what the position would be, and it would mean the local authority having to give planning permission for every single one of these charging points. A planning application would have to be taken out—at a cost, by the way, to the local council tax payer—and those considering the planning applications would then have to advertise locally and send to every local resident in the immediate area where the charging point was to be sited an invitation to lodge an objection. I suggest that that whole process would be extremely bureaucratic and unnecessary.

In considering implementing the charging points, any local authority worth its salt would consult individual residents as appropriate and advise them through publications or notifications what is going to take place. There would then need to be a process for finding a reasonable mix in respect of where the charging points would be. That would be preferable to requiring full-blown planning permission, which I think would be draconian, would slow the process down considerably and would lead to extremely high costs for the individuals putting in the charging points—costs that are completely unnecessary.

Mr Chope: I take my hon. Friend’s point that we do not want to have thousands of planning applications, but is there not a middle way? Could this not be done, for example, through permitted development rights? Putting a charging apparatus on the street could be granted permitted development unless there were objections from neighbours—a form of permitted development similar to what the Government have recently brought in for extensions to domestic houses.

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion. The key here is consulting the planning authorities on their approach to a particular area, but let me come back to the effect of the amendment. It would effectively require the local authority to go through the wholesale planning permission process. On that basis, I urge my hon. Friend not to press the amendment.

9.45 pm

Amendment 40 deals with the unlawful use of electric charging points. It should be borne in mind that such charging points will be in car parks run by local authorities, or on the public highway. My hon. Friend said that the issue of electricity theft was behind the amendment, but electricity theft nearly always takes place within the confines of property, and is perpetrated by people who bypass a meter or do something similar. What is needed in this instance is a provision that makes it an offence to interfere with devices that are on the public highway, or to misuse them in any way.

It should be made clear to members of the public that if they interfere with such devices, they will face a penalty in a civil court. I believe that the penalty has been set at level 3, which currently means a fine of up to £1,000. However, I understand that the Ministry of Justice is still consulting on an increase, and that the amount could rise to £4,000. Of course, every case will be judged on its merits, and, were someone convicted of such an offence, it would be up to the court to decide what the penalty should be. That, I think, is wholly appropriate.

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The promoters are keen to ensure that there is a designated offence in this regard, and I agree with them. There are to be at least 25,000 charging points in London. Given that local authorities are already experiencing severe problems with thefts from parking meters and similar devices in London, we must make it clear to the public that interfering with charging points could be dangerous. We need a specific deterrent rather than relying on the offence of electricity theft, because interfering with these devices would not just be theft. It could, for instance, be vandalism.

Mr Chope: Unfortunately, there is no reference to vandalism in the clause, which refers specifically to someone who

“uses charging apparatus in contravention of a sign”.

Someone who vandalises, abuses or interferes with such apparatus is not using it. My hon. Friend mentioned the problem of theft from parking meters. I imagine that that is dealt with not by a specific offence of stealing from a parking meter, but by the offence of theft. Surely exactly the same principle could apply to the theft of electricity, which is already an offence on the statute book.

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying his purpose, but I think we should make it clear that misusing a charging point, or using it without appropriate authority, is an offence, and that a penalty will be imposed if someone is convicted of such an offence. That is what the promoters want, and I strongly support it.

I urge my hon. Friend not to press his amendment to a vote. It is clear that the offence of electricity theft would not necessarily cover all aspects of unauthorised use of a charging point. Clause 19 makes that a specific offence, and makes it clear both to members of the public and to the courts what the penalties would be. I think that removing it would constitute a very dangerous precedent, because local authorities would have to use some other part of the law to enforce the rules. Given that there is to be a new basis for the provision and charging of private vehicles, we need sensible measures to deal with unauthorised use of the new devices.

Let me say on behalf of the promoters that we are happy to accept amendment 30. I urge my hon. Friend not to press the remaining amendments, but if he chooses to do so, we will oppose them.

Mr Nuttall: It is, as always, a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I thank him for the good-natured way in which he has steered this Bill through a number of sittings on the Floor of the House, and in particular for the very helpful way he has steered through these amendments, all of which relate to part 5 of the Bill dealing with charging points for electric vehicles. They were so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) at the outset of this brief debate.

This whole issue is important on a variety of levels and for a variety of reasons, but particularly because it addresses a growth area. As my hon. Friend made clear in his opening remarks, this is an area that will receive a great deal of attention in the months and years ahead. The sorts of issues we have debated this evening will be debated at length in the years to come and some of the

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problems we have identified will be applicable not only to London, but throughout the country, and I regard this Bill as a blueprint for what will follow.

I wonder if it might have been better for this whole issue of charging points for electric vehicles to have been dealt with on a national basis so that we could deal with it across the nation, with a single set of rules and regulations, rather than just dealing with it, as this Bill does, on a piecemeal basis for London alone.

What I call the first sub-group of amendments deals with the provision of charging apparatus within car parks and on the public highway. Essentially, the issue is this: who should have the responsibility for providing these charging points? Should it be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) suggested, purely the private sector, or should it be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch would have it in these amendments, purely the local authorities, or should there be a mix of the two?

If the amendments are agreed to, essentially a monopoly would be created for the London local authorities, in the sense that the permissive nature of clause 16(1) which says they

“may provide and operate charging apparatus for electrically powered motor vehicles”

would be changed, and the provision would state they “shall” do those things. Under clause 16(1)(a) they would be required to provide those charging points in every single “public off-street car park” and under subsection (b), on a discretionary basis, on the

“highway for which they are responsible as highway authority.”

In my view that goes way too far.

On this amendment and consequential amendments, I am entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and the promoters of the Bill in that I think the London local authorities should not be forced to provide these charging points. This part of the Bill is entirely superfluous. Given the Localism Act 2011, I question whether there is a need for specific provisions to give London local authorities the power to provide and operate charging apparatus for electrically powered motor vehicles. Under the general power that all local authorities were granted under that Act, they may already have these powers, should they choose to investigate the matter and make use of them.

This should be left for the market to decide, as was made clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East. We are talking about providing the energy to power vehicles. Nobody has ever suggested that local authorities should be responsible for providing diesel or petrol and setting up their own petrol stations, so why does this Bill contemplate giving them the power to provide charging points for electric vehicles? Why the difference? At the start of the 20th century were our forebears in this place suggesting that the local authorities of the day set up petrol stations for the newly invented combustion engine? I suggest that they were not. On that basis, I am suspicious about amendment 21 and the two consequential amendments, 22 and 23. I have to inform my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that if they are pushed to a vote, I would vote against them.

Amendment 24 would remove clause 16(2), which gives local authorities the power to provide for someone else to operate these charging points, and would mean,

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in effect, the nationalisation of this scheme. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch tabled this amendment, as it goes against what I would have thought were his normal instincts in these matters. Nevertheless, it has been tabled and we must consider it. It has a number of consequential amendments, all relating to “authorised persons”. Reference has been made to those, so, for speed of debate, I will not go through them again. The point is: if London local authorities are going to be given this power, it is entirely fair and reasonable that they should have permission to allow another authorised person, if they so wish, to do this work on their behalf and operate these charging points.

The next amendments deal with the issue of liability for these charging points, and we have heard a number of arguments tonight as to where that responsibility should lie. I can only assume that the objective of subsection (7), which would be removed if amendment 27 were accepted, is to try to absolve local authorities of responsibility. There can be no other reason for it. If they were not negligent, they would not have anything to fear; there would be no problem. I am suspicious about why the subsection is in the Bill at all and I agree entirely with amendment 27, which I would support if it were pressed to a Division later this evening.

10 pm

I would also support amendment 28, which deals with the determination of liability for someone using one of these charging points. The Bill states:

“For the purposes of determining, in any proceedings in a court of civil jurisdiction, who is liable for injury, damage or loss resulting from the presence on a highway or public off-street car park of a connecting cable at or near charging apparatus provided under this section, it shall be presumed that the person in charge of the relevant vehicle at the relevant time had responsibility for and control of the cable.”

In other words, the subsection is very serious, in that it makes a presumption that a charged person accused of having committed an offence under the Bill would find it difficult to rebut. There would be a statutory presumption that they were at fault, that they had responsibility for and control of the cable and that they were responsible for any injury, damage or loss resulting from the cable being there.

As has been evident from this evening’s debate, there is some lack of clarity about exactly what a connecting cable is and whether, for example, it would be connected to the charging point or the car. I suspect that that is the root cause of the confusion. I can well understand local authorities not wanting to be liable for connecting cables that come from the car but, as I tried to point out earlier, that is not the definition in subsection (11). “Connecting cable” is specifically defined as

“any cable…whether provided by the authority or otherwise, used to connect the charging apparatus to a vehicle and that is not permanently attached to the charging apparatus”.

There is some confusion and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch for drawing it to the attention of the House. I hope that his amendments go some way towards rectifying the problem.

The next amendments are all consequential on the removal of the words “authorised person”, so I will not deal with them.

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Let me turn now to amendment 37, which replaces the word “consulted” in line two of clause 18 with the words “obtained the consent of”. Clearly, that is an absolutely crucial change. There is no point in merely consulting another authority, and the much more clear requirement that the consent of the other planning authorities is obtained makes much more sense. For that reason, I have no difficulty in supporting that amendment.

As we have heard, the Bill makes no provision for consulting other car park users. It has been suggested that there would be no need for such consultation, but I disagree, because car parks are often full to capacity and if certain sections of a car park are to be cordoned off for use as charging spaces, that will affect other car park users. I could well envisage many disgruntled people who are trying to park driving past a lot of empty spaces that have been kept for use only as charging bays. I fear that the problem in practice will not be people making illegal use of the electricity, which I shall deal with when I speak to amendment 40, but people parking their petrol and diesel vehicles in spaces provided for electrical charging points, yet that is not covered by the Bill. Perhaps that problem has not been thought about, but it represents a real risk, so it would be sensible at least to carry out consultation with other users.

If I had to pick only one of the many amendments in the group on which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch should test the will of the House, it would be amendment 40. The amendment is simple, given that it would remove clause 19, which will create the new offence of the unlawful use of a charging point. The clause states that anyone found guilty of that offence would be

“liable on a summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3”,

which is currently £1,000, but might shortly increase to £4,000. I accept that such a deterrent would be sufficient to put anyone off making unlawful use of a charging point, but rather than putting people off, why not encourage them to use the points? Why not say, “Here is an electric charging point, so if you want to use it, do so”? When one pays for fuel at the pump with a credit card, after putting in one’s card and entering the number, a specific amount of fuel—usually up to £99—can be drawn down. There might be a technical reason, but why could we not do the same for electricity? Why could not people enter their card and code so that electricity up to a given amount could be dispensed? That ought to be the way forward because we then would not need to create an additional offence. That explains my rationale for supporting amendment 40, leaving aside the other good arguments that we have already heard, with which I entirely concur.

There is no need to create this new offence when it would already be an offence to damage or vandalise a charging point, as that would be covered by criminal damage. In any event, there is no specific reference in clause 19, as it refers to using the apparatus

“for any purpose other than charging a vehicle”.

I can only imagine what other uses it might be put to—perhaps charging a mobile phone or other equipment, such as a computer or laptop. Who knows what the charging points will be used for. Local authorities could use them as a money-making opportunity if they thought wider than vehicles.

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Those are my brief thoughts on this group of amendments. The House should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch for bringing the amendments before us today, not least because amendment 30 has been accepted by the promoters of the Bill. This is not the first amendment that has been accepted, so I am grateful to the promoters for having listened carefully to the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend and having paid due attention to his arguments. If I may make a closing bid, I think that of all the amendments, amendment 40 is the one that should be put to the vote. If it is, I can assure my hon. Friend of my support.

Mr Chope: This is a notable debate for a number of reasons, but one is that we have not heard from either the Minister or the official Opposition spokesman, yet we understand that the development of a network of charging points for electric vehicles is a key policy of both the Government and the Opposition. The way of implementing such a policy in London is what we have been discussing for the past couple of hours. I find it extraordinary, if not disturbing, that we have not heard from the Minister in response to the genuine questions raised during the debate.

It is invidious to make contrasts but I am going to do so. The way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has dealt with the debate is first class. The whole purpose of scrutiny in the House is for questions to be asked and answers to be given, and for that to be done in a civilised way. It may well be that people have misunderstood the meaning of the Bill. They may have made nonsense of an amendment, but the only way of testing that process is through a civilized exchange across the Floor of the House.

My hon. Friend has shown during today’s proceedings and in previous discussion of the Bill that if the Government are interested in bringing forward Ministers who are good at responding to debates, taking seriously the process of scrutiny and answering the questions, my hon. Friend is a model Minister in waiting. He has shown that he grasps the whole purpose of our Parliament, which is to scrutinise the Executive, and the purpose of the Executive is to respond to that scrutiny.

Having come in for a bit of stick tonight in relation to some of the amendments in the group, I remind the House that it is a long-standing convention that if one tables an amendment and it encounters quite a lot of opposition, one then downgrades one’s amendment by saying, “Well, after all, it is only a probing amendment.” By force of argument, not least from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, and from my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley and for Bury North, I have been forced to downgrade my lead amendment to a probing amendment. However, it has been very effective in probing and getting out of the promoters what they have in mind and why that amendment is ill-conceived, like many of the others that go with it. Had the Minister responded, I might well have been pushed back into a more aggressive mode and become a little more stubborn.

10.15 pm

To sum up the debate, leaving aside those amendments that were clearly probing, there is still disagreement between my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East

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and the three of us who have spoken from the Back Benches in relation to amendment 37, which relates to clause 18, and amendment 40, which relates to clause 19. He opposes amendment 37 on the basis that it would be demanding to expect local authorities to deal with potentially 25,000 planning applications, as we are talking about 25,000 charging points across London, and I conceded that that is correct.

On the other hand, I envisage enormous difficulties if the 25,000 charging points are installed in places where local residents do not want them to be. They are also a potential nuisance, because we do not yet know how much noise they will generate. Will they be as loud as a fridge freezer at night, or louder? We do not know how much of a nuisance vehicles coming to charging points will be, or how long the process will take. When there is a shortage of charging points, will there be queues of vehicles waiting to use them, and might that obstruct the streets? There are many big issues that could affect London residents.

Although clause 18 refers to consulting, it makes no reference to meaningful consultation or to local authorities having to listen to the views of residents. Without the wording being changed, all we can say is that if local authorities do not listen to the views of their residents on this, the whole means of bringing forward charging points to facilitate the expansion of electric vehicles in London will be inhibited and could become very unpopular. That is one of the concerns referred to during the debate. As I recall, clause 18 also refers to consent having to be obtained from Network Rail and London Underground, which is a result of the petitions that those organisations put in against the Bill. It is a pity that residents did not petition, as they might have been able to obtain a similar concession.

Amendment 40 would delete clause 19. If we are talking about creating new criminal offences, we need to be very clear that they are needed. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, in defending the Bill’s position, did his valiant best. He referred to the problem that many local authorities already have with theft from parking meters, but he did not suggest that that should be subject to a separate offence, because it is already covered by the Theft Act. He also said that he did not believe that the issue of interfering with a charging apparatus could be ignored when drafting a Bill such as this. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North made clear, that would probably be an offence of criminal damage. Do we need a new criminal offence under clause 19? The wording of the clause would not even cover interference, as it specifically refers to the use of

“charging apparatus in contravention of a sign displayed”.

We do not yet know, because the technology and designs are still being developed, whether the charging apparatus will be the kind into which an electric kettle can be plugged—a person might be able to have their tea. Surely, however, it is sensible to legislate on the basis that there is already a clear offence of theft of electricity. Anybody who uses the apparatus without authority will be stealing the electricity. That is clear. If they interfere with or vandalise the charging apparatus, they will be guilty of criminal damage. There is no need for the offence in clause 19; it would just litter the statute book, and we do not want to create more criminal offences.

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We then come to the additional point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, who said that clause 19(2) is badly drafted and makes it look as though we were dealing with the wrong person from whom permission would need to be obtained to establish a defence. That is a subsidiary argument against clause 19.

Mr Nuttall: I appreciate that my hon. Friend is completing his summary. Is he as surprised as I am that, notwithstanding the courteous and careful way in which the amendments have been considered, only one has been accepted?

Mr Chope: Having one amendment accepted is more than was achieved during the earlier business—today, yesterday and the day before yesterday, with all the might of the Opposition forces against the Government. I am grateful for small mercies. In fact, two amendments will have been accepted this evening, and that is pretty good. As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East should be made a Minister; perhaps I might have a role in the official Opposition. We might be able to make more progress.

I intend to withdraw amendment 21, move amendment 30 formally so that it can be accepted by the House and test the opinion of the House on amendment 40. It would be a pity if those who have listened so attentively to this debate were deprived of the opportunity of participating in a vote before we reach the appointed time.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 30—(Mr Chope.)

Clause 19

Offence of unlawful use of charging point

Amendment proposed: 40—(Mr Chope.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 4, Noes 36.

Division No. 89]


10.25 pm


Bone, Mr Peter

Davies, Philip

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Christopher Chope


Mr David Nuttall


Baker, Norman

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Blackman, Bob

Bradley, Karen

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Cairns, Alun

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

Ellis, Michael

Fovargue, Yvonne

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Greatrex, Tom

Hands, Greg

Harrington, Richard

Hughes, rh Simon

Jones, Andrew

Lefroy, Jeremy

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Menzies, Mark

Pincher, Christopher

Pound, Stephen

Reid, Mr Alan

Rosindell, Andrew

Roy, Mr Frank

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Stewart, Iain

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Syms, Mr Robert

Williamson, Gavin

Wright, David

Tellers for the Noes:

Paul Uppal


Nigel Mills

Question accordingly negatived.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1129

10.36 pm

More than three hours having elapsed since the start of proceedings, the business was interrupted (Order, 3 September).

Bill to be read a Third time tomorrow.

Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill [Lords]

Bill to be read a Second time on Tuesday 8 October.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

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

Legal Aid and Advice

That the draft Legal Aid (Information about Financial Resources) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 20 May, be approved.—(Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

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


That the draft Armed Forces (Alcohol Limits for Prescribed Safety-Critical Duties) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 1 July, be approved.—(Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

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

That the draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 2 July, be approved.— (Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

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

National Health Service

That the draft Health and Social Care Act 2012 (Consequential Amendments) (No. 2) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 5 July, be approved.—(Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1130

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

Senior Courts

That the draft Court of Appeal (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 8 July, be approved.—(Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.


Beecroft Road Car Park Redevelopment

10.37 pm

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): I have great pleasure in presenting this petition that calls on Labour-led Cannock Chase district council to listen to the people it represents and to scrap its controversial proposal to redevelop Beecroft road car park as a shopping and leisure complex.

The petition, along with a petition on similar terms, has been signed by more than 2,600 of my constituents and the constituents of neighbouring colleagues—a number that is far higher than the mere 963 respondents to the councils narrow consultation. I pay tribute to Allport Action Alliance and, in particular, to Helen and Robert Blaikie for all their hard work in collecting signatures and standing up against these horrendous plans, which would see their family homes demolished for this vanity project of the council.

Local residents are already suffering from falling house prices due to the ongoing uncertainty. I strongly believe that it is unfair and unreasonable to leave local people worried about the future of their homes. No interest has been shown in the site by retailers or developers. Now is the time for the Labour council publicly and formally to scrap its proposal.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Cannock Chase,

Declares that the Petitioners do not support Cannock Chase District Council’s proposal to redevelop Beecroft Road Car Park for shopping and leisure; further that the Petitioners believe that the existing town centre needs support and the District Council should focus on this instead with a more creative approach to existing empty units; further that any proposals which risk the demolition of Allport Road homes are unfair to residents and should not be pursued; and that the present car parking space is necessary for visitors to the town centre and Cannock Hospital, and it should not be reduced.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to intervene in Cannock Chase Council’s planning for this redevelopment.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


11 Sep 2013 : Column 1131

Public Health England (Porton Down)

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

10.40 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): The purpose of this debate is to seek an update from the Minister on the discussions on the future of Porton Down in my constituency. Since the debate I called in June 2010, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) responded, I have had numerous interactions with Public Health England, formerly the Health Protection Agency, about the future of the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, which is located at Porton.

Porton Down is a world leader in high-quality microbiological research and testing, playing a vital role in preparing, co-ordinating and manufacturing responses to health care emergencies. It is at the forefront of the UK’s research into infectious diseases, holds four international culture collections and has an international reputation as a centre of excellence.

Public Health England’s site at Porton Down is therefore unique. It possesses two distinct world class capabilities: first, the translational research facility, which partners with academia, international agencies and companies seeking specialist expertise in turning research concepts into tangible products; and, secondly, the production, development and manufacturing capability, which represents about a third of current operations. It is important to emphasise that, although the facilities are separate, their co-location means they work closely together and ensures that there is a cohesive resource to support the Government in the event of a national microbiological emergency.

Immediately adjacent to Public Health England’s facilities at Porton are the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s new multi-million pound headquarters. Some DSTL functions are complementary and contribute to the overall emergency response capability. Indeed, originally, the PHE and DSTL sites worked under the same banner. They continue to work closely together. DSTL chose recently to relocate its headquarters to Porton Down as a result of its own estate consolidation, which was a vote of confidence, and a demonstration of the value that the Ministry of Defence attaches to being close to the CEPR.

As was acknowledged in the debate three years ago, the laboratory facilities are in need of modernisation, both because of wear and tear and in order to reflect the increased demands placed on Porton owing to the expanded responsibilities of Public Health England. It was to address those problems that Project Chrysalis was created in 2008 under my predecessor. The project was designed to investigate the cost of refurbishment and subsequently to explore the possibility of moving some of Porton’s facilities to a new site in Harlow, where they would be consolidated with other laboratory sites in the Public Health England portfolio.

In theory, this would create a single science hub for Public Health England. In practice, the complexity of a move has generated as many questions as it answers. The geographical distance between the various PHE sites has never been raised as an issue before. This is because there are few functional dependencies between the different agencies, so I still maintain that the assumed

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1132

advantage of geographical proximity will not, by itself, validate the business case for a move. However, there is a natural synergy between the research conducted at DSTL and CEPR. A single hub proposal also potentially loses the advantage of a site surrounded by Ministry of Defence land, which minimises the risks of working with animals and the most dangerous diseases in the world.

I was therefore relieved when, in August 2012, the decision was made to delay the conclusions of Project Chrysalis because the Treasury believed that considerably more work needed to be done on the outline business case to demonstrate value for money. At this point, Public Health England also commissioned a review by Professor George Griffin to look at whether the concept of a single science hub was worthy of further investigation. He concluded that it was, and in April this year Public Health England began a further review into how the business case fits with its vision for the future of its facilities overall. Running in parallel with this review, I understand that the Cabinet Office has recently instigated a separate examination of the future of the development and production facilities at Porton. It is these two reviews that have prompted me to seek this second debate today.

Although I fully accept that it is not for me to dictate the outcome of any studies examining the options for Porton Down, it is imperative that decisions are made on the basis of the evidence and have the broadest possible terms of reference. My concern is two strategic projects are now under way, both of which have implications for the wider scientific infrastructure of the UK, and we must get those decisions right.

The first piece of work, now termed the single science hub, is essentially examining the business case for a consolidated PHE facility in Harlow. Public Health England, as an arm’s length body of the Department of Health, has a specific core mission to secure and improve the health of the population. From that perspective, it is understandable that the wider commercial activities around translational research may not be deemed integral to PHE’s core purposes. However, from a UK plc point of view, they are critical for the growth of the life sciences industry in the UK. Some of the projects being carried out by this team include the largest pre-clinical TB vaccine evaluation in Europe, and supporting the US human health services with vaccine development. I have no wish to see the UK’s expertise dispersed across the globe in future due to the fact that it conceivably exists within PHE but has ended up under the umbrella of a Government Department with a narrower mission, where the skills could be seen as no longer entirely fitting.

The crux of the issue is that Porton’s complexity means all its combined capabilities do not sit comfortably with one Government Department or agency. The work of translational research scientists is perhaps more in keeping with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills agenda to drive growth in the life sciences industry, while other work, in partnership with DSTL, is of interest to the Ministry of Defence. Existing departmental delineations of responsibility must not inhibit the right decisions about the future of translational research being made.

The second piece of work under way is confined to the potential of the production and development facilities alone. It might be suggested that Public Health England

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1133

could remove the need for investment in refurbished facilities by entering into partnership arrangements or other commercial propositions, but that could entail the UK losing its sovereign capability to produce vaccines in a biological emergency. Key public functions must be safeguarded, including the only anthrax vaccine licence in Europe, as well as the emergency response training undertaken across the public and private sectors. I recognise the financial options for the production and development facilities, but their relationship with translational research scientists is an operating reality of what currently goes on at Porton and is of wider value to the UK economy. They do not just generate new products for market; they also maximise the potential receipts from the development of new ideas.

Exploring the future of production and development separately means that there is a risk that this valuable translational research capability could be lost to the UK, because its role is not about short-term commercial receipts, but about generating value for UK plc through high-level research that requires a degree of investment and flexible, innovative collaboration with other bodies and scientists abroad. The partnership between translational scientists and co-located production and development colleagues must therefore be fully analysed. Any recommendations for the future must neither damage the wealth creation potential of scientists at Porton nor put at risk the public health protection capabilities that currently reside there. Critically, the ongoing discussions must consult fully the expert staff on the ground, to get an accurate reflection of their roles, whom they interact with internationally and the ideas they have to catalyse Porton’s development.

I fully understand the logic that leads some to believe that it makes sense in principle to aim for a single science hub—as I note the project has stealthily been renamed—to create a single site of expertise for PHE. It is a neat concept on paper, but as I have stressed for the past three years, Porton Down is a unique strategic asset for the UK, and there is little sense in duplicating capability that exists elsewhere across government in a time of austerity. The need for new containment level 4 facilities at Porton could be reduced if DSTL’s similar facilities next door could be shared—something that I know DSTL is willing to consider.

My suggestion this evening, as I described in a slightly different way three years ago, is to look at a new model of ownership, based on the principle that stronger partnerships are possible between the public and private sectors without compromising important public health requirements. Porton has become a globally recognised brand that generates £18 million of royalty revenues every year through its high-quality research licences and products. It generates five times more external income than it receives in core funding from PHE and remains a pioneering example of the best public sector expertise generating growth for UK plc. The Government should therefore consider ways to capitalise on this.

I urge the Minister to examine the potential of a public-private partnership, which would give scientists at Porton the ability to leverage new facilities through their royalty income stream, as they themselves have suggested. Such a role would also enable Porton to operate more strategically, providing a cost-effective way to protect the UK’s microbiological emergency

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response capabilities. In peacetime, it would operate as a national translational research facility, with a key role in delivering the Government’s life sciences strategy. This overall vision represents a commercialisation of the facility’s scientific potential, while protecting its public role in emergencies.

As the Department of Health’s antimicrobial resistance strategy set out yesterday,

“the relevant Research Councils, industry and third sector should work together to establish a range of new mechanisms to facilitate greater collaborative working”.

Porton is one of the best-placed sites in the country to develop

“coalitions between academia and biopharmaceutical companies”

and has a proven track record of doing so. Without doubt, the scientists at Porton Down are world class. A unique relationship exists in the Wessex Life Sciences Cluster, which includes PHE and DSTL’s capabilities, alongside Salisbury district hospital, Wessex Genetics and the university of Southampton. This makes it ideally located to work with others and to take products from concept to market, as the Department of Health strategy sets out. The strategy goes on to state that the Department of Health wants to

“stimulate the development of new antibiotics, rapid diagnostics and novel therapies”


“ensuring excellent science is developed and has a clear route for translation”.

That is precisely what Porton does, and this emphasises why the translational facilities must be supported in the best possible way.

Perhaps the strongest indicator of Porton’s potential for a PPP is the proposed regional growth fund investment of £8 million in a new science park. This will provide much-needed space for emerging bioscience enterprises in an industry that generated £1 billion for the UK last year. Crucially, it will also create opportunities for spin-out companies based on products conceived at Porton, which have previously moved away from the site due to lack of space.

I do not have a rigid view of what the future should look like, but it is important that Porton’s fate is not decided on the basis of any short-term capital receipts through the incentive of removing refurbishment liabilities or an overriding desire to consolidate Public Health England’s estate. It is clear that there is no silver bullet solution involving relocation to Harlow or the straightforward commercialisation of the production and development facilities. It is critical that any decisions should be in the best interests of the preservation of public health in this country as well as of the proven commercial potential of translational research scientists, even if that necessitates a realignment of organisational boundaries within the agencies of Government.

10.57 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry): I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) on securing this debate. I also thank him for helpfully providing me and my officials with advance details of his speech. That has been of great assistance to us, because it enables us to provide answers to some of his questions and to address the many points that he has quite

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properly raised on behalf of the people who work at Porton and of his constituents and others who are interested in the future of the facility. I know that he is an active supporter of the work of Public Health England at Porton, and that he has worked tirelessly with Wiltshire county council and others to create a science park there. I will spend a few minutes outlining the work that Public Health England is doing on behalf of the Government to secure high-quality facilities for public health. I shall then try to respond to the points that my hon. Friend has quite properly raised.

The Government created Public Health England just a few months ago, in April 2013, with the aim of creating a national expert body charged with protecting and improving the public’s health and reducing health inequalities. The services provided at Porton are essential to the work of PHE in protecting the nation’s health and preventing disease. Porton provides some of the most specialist and high-technology microbiology facilities in the country. However, the main building at PHE Porton, as it is now known, was built 60 years ago, and the Government are committed to replacing those ageing facilities with modern state-of-the-art buildings through the submission of a revised business case some time next year.

I should add that the idea of consolidating health protection facilities on a single site to make best use of scarce skills from both Colindale and Porton is not new. What is new is the vision to develop a national centre with a much broader remit, reflecting the wider purpose of PHE to improve the public’s health and to reduce health inequalities. I understand that senior staff from PHE have met my hon. Friend about this work, as he described, and they have promised to meet him again and to engage with other interested bodies, including the county council

Let me address some of the points that my hon. Friend raised. The Government are committed to retaining some public health facilities at Porton as part of the planned science park. I know that the chief executive of Public Health England wrote a letter of support for the science park earlier this year at my hon. Friend’s request. I fully agree with my hon. Friend that it is vital to maximise the commercial potential of the services at Porton—unfortunately, that probably has not been done for some time, and the Government are absolutely committed to doing it. PHE is fully committed, too, as

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part of the programme on which my hon. Friend has also been briefed, and this opportunity can be grasped now. The other review is about the 15 to 20-year future for a wider range of services, currently not only at Porton, but at Colindale and elsewhere.

My hon. Friend mentions the distance between sites. The case for change that was submitted in 2011 focused on the additional benefits that can result from co-locating services on a single site. The position is not dangerous now, but there are significant opportunities for new scientific ventures and collaborations from a new national centre.

My hon. Friend asks why PHE does not simply share high-containment facilities with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. We need to be clear that although PHE and DSTL will continue to collaborate closely, PHE needs dedicated high-containment facilities to ensure that public health work can proceed in the event of the DSTL facilities being fully occupied. This will provide resilience if DSTL’s facilities are closed for any reason.

In conclusion, the Government have asked PHE to lead work on the creation of state-of-the-art facilities to protect the public’s health and to prevent disease. There is a well-established programme in place, overseen by the Department of Health and the Government’s Major Projects Authority.

It is really important to finish by stressing that Ministers have yet to make a final decision on how best to create future facilities for national public health science. PHE is on track to complete the business case for a ministerial decision by September 2014.

I hope that I have answered all the points so properly raised by my hon. Friend. If I have not answered any, he can be quite sure that I will respond in the normal manner by way of letter. My door is always open, and it would be a pleasure to meet him on any occasion to discuss this matter further and to provide any further assurances that I can to him and, perhaps most importantly, to the staff at Porton, who we would all agree do an outstanding job.

Question put and agreed to.

11.3 pm

House adjourned.