Mark Field: I cannot use ignorance of the law as an excuse, but my hon. and learned Friend knows considerably more about these matters than I do. He makes a relevant

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point, which is that we do not necessarily have to go entirely down that route. The ASBO legislation and this concurrent legislation is designed to look at the whole issue of antisocial behaviour in a constructive and codified way. The problems to which I have referred apply not simply to the City of Westminster, Southwark or inner-London boroughs. Increasingly, it will become apparent in places such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, so we should look at it fairly urgently. Without being overly negative about the potential open-door arrival of a significant number of people from Romania and Bulgaria, there is no doubt that some of the specific problems in central London in recent months have come disproportionately from groups who have already come to this country from those other EU states. We need to ensure that local authorities are given a chance to take action. As such, I feel strongly that the Bill should be amended better to reflect the circumstances that affect inner-city areas, recognise the particular challenges that are faced in the UK’s major cities and specifically enable a court to grant IPNAs with automatic powers of arrest in a wider variety of circumstances.

This matter will have to be dealt with in amendments in another place. To answer directly the question put by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), I hope that we will have a further amendment to clause 3 to add an additional subsection applicable only in major city centres or other designated areas, which varies the conditions under which a power of arrest attachment can be made to include wording such as “deliberately organised antisocial behaviour”. That will have to be dealt with in our further deliberations on the Bill.

I take this opportunity, Mr Deputy Speaker, to thank you for allowing me to make a brief contribution. I accept that the Minister is aware of some of the specific concerns for Westminster, but I also very much accept that he may wish to deal with this in writing rather than going into it in great detail this evening.

The Minister of State, Home Department (Norman Baker): May I take the opportunity of my first outing in my new capacity to thank Members on both sides of the House for their good wishes and congratulations. I am deeply grateful for the support that has been shown across the House over the last week following my appointment. I look forward to working constructively with Members on both sides of the House as we take this agenda forward.

I am also delighted to see my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), in the Chamber. I pay tribute to him for the significant work that he has done as a Home Office Minister. His attention to detail and his commitment have been exemplary, and I look forward to trying to emulate that in my role. I also welcome the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) to his new role on behalf of the official Opposition.

I will now deal with the various Government new clauses and amendments. Overwhelmingly, they follow up points raised in Committee, which is a testament to the effectiveness of the scrutiny the Bill underwent upstairs. There are a number of drafting and technical amendments in this large group. So as not to delay the House unduly, I will focus my remarks on the amendments of substance.

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The injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance and the criminal behaviour order are important new powers to deal with individuals who commit antisocial behaviour. Courts will be able to use them both to prevent certain behaviour and to require positive actions—for example, addressing a drug or alcohol problem that is an underlying cause of an individual’s antisocial behaviour.

The Committee agreed non-Government amendments tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) to clauses 1 and 21. These would require a court to avoid any conflict with a person’s caring responsibilities when attaching such conditions. This would be in addition to the duties that were already in the Bill, to ensure that conditions are suitable and enforceable and, so far as practicable, to avoid conflicting with a person’s religious beliefs, work, educational commitments or any other court order imposed on them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane said in Committee, we always expected courts to take account of caring responsibilities, which are clearly a relevant factor in ensuring that conditions are suitable and enforceable, and I repeat that for the benefit of the House.

There is a concern that references to caring responsibilities might weaken the new powers in practice. A number of the agencies that would use and enforce injunctions and orders tell us that there is a real danger that specifically including caring responsibilities in the Bill would make it more difficult to secure appropriate conditions, and that is not in the interests of the victims that these injunctions are designed to protect. I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that we do expect these matters to be taken into account by courts considering injunctions as they relate to caring responsibilities.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey—I think he has gained a north somewhere; Bermondsey North and Southwark—asked why the words on religious belief were qualified with the phrase “as far as practicable”. I am advised that it is similar to the right to manifest one’s religion set out in article 9 of the convention. The right is qualified and can be limited where necessary and proportionate. For example, it is not necessary for someone who professes to be a Christian to attend church every single day. I hope that is helpful and answers his point.

The Committee also agreed an amendment to clause 4, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), to add head teachers and principals of further education colleges to the list of persons who can apply to a court for an injunction. The intention was to tackle bullying in schools and colleges. I agree that it is vital that powers are in place to address that problem, which blights the lives of too many young people, but we need to get the detail right. She rightly referred to the consultation that has taken place and the responses to it, and I am grateful for her analysis and her decision on how to proceed. However, I want to assure her that we have drafted guidance to explain how the injunction could be used to address bullying, with the help of front-line professionals and the BeatBullying organisation, which has advised us on the matter. I entirely accept her point about online bullying, a matter I was considering only this afternoon in the Home Office. I can assure her that, as far as I am concerned, bullying will not be taken off the agenda.

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Amendments 10 to 15 to clause 12 relate to the power to exclude the subject of an injunction from their home. As I have said, the Bill provides for prohibitions to be attached to an injunction. In extreme cases where the antisocial behaviour has involved actual violence or the threat of violence against another person, or where there is a significant risk of harm, someone can be excluded from their home, but only if they live in social housing.

8.30 pm

During the Committee’s consideration of that provision, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) and others questioned the distinction between tenants in social housing and those who rent in the private sector or own their homes. The hon. Lady rightly pointed out that, from the victim’s point of view, which housing sector the perpetrator lives in is irrelevant, and there was broad support from the Committee for that view.

Having sought the views of professionals over the summer recess, we agree. If allowing someone access to their home puts the victim at risk of violence or significant harm, powers must be available to stop that. Amendments 10 to 15 therefore extend the power to exclude a person from their home beyond the social housing sector. Of course, that power should be used only exceptionally, which is why it is subject to a high judicial threshold and, in the case of renters in the private sector and owner-occupiers, applications are restricted to state agencies, meaning the police and the local council. I hope that hon. Members will welcome our response on those matters. The Government has listened carefully to the Committee and the experts.

Simon Hughes: My hon. Friend has said that his amendments deal with an issue that was clearly controversial: the ability to deal with social housing tenants but not others and the need for a level playing field. I hope that he will not forget to deal with amendment 166 from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which would add some additional requirements, and that he might be persuaded that they are useful additions.

Norman Baker: My right hon. Friend is as eager as he was when he first arrived in this House many years ago. If he will allow me, I will get to the Committee and the amendments he referred to in his opening remarks in due course.

Another important issue raised in Committee relates to the application of the new powers in relation to antisocial behaviour in or around a respondent’s home, this time in relation to the criminal behaviour order. The first condition that must be met before a criminal behaviour order can be made is that the court is satisfied that the offender has engaged in behaviour that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as the offender. In Committee the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) tabled an amendment to remove that limitation. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice made it clear at the time that the criminal behaviour order is not intended as a tool for tackling domestic violence, as other more suitable powers are available for that, and that remains the case.

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However, having considered the matter further, we recognise that there might be cases where antisocial behaviour is inflicted by one member of a multi-occupancy household on another and where the flexibility to apply for such an order could be helpful. Amendment 16 therefore removes that limitation.

I turn now to the amendments to clause 93, which relate to the community remedy. That welcome initiative gives victims of low-level crime and antisocial behaviour a say in the punishment of offenders out of court. Police and crime commissioners will work with the public and chief constables to compile a menu of out-of-court sanctions that can be used in appropriate cases following consultation with the victim. At the heart of the community remedy is our commitment to empowering victims and communities to say what is right for them. I do not think that that will include use of the stocks, which was referred to earlier.

We have brought forward amendments 45 to 48, which have three elements. The first two will put on the face of the Bill what had always been our expectation: the actions included in the community remedy document must promote public confidence in the use of out-of-court disposals and include an element that is punitive, restorative or rehabilitative. The third change is a power for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to which police and crime commissioners must have regard when preparing a community remedy document. A draft of that forms part of the document for practitioners, which we published last week.

The other Government amendments in the group are largely technical in nature, and I have placed a detailed letter in the Library. I commend the Government amendments to parts 1 to 6 of the Bill to the House.

I turn now to amendment 96, tabled by the shadow Home Secretary and spoken to today by the hon. Member for Croydon North. I am firmly of the view that antisocial behaviour still ruins too many lives and damages too many communities. There are, of course, problems in our inner cities, but there are also problems in our smaller towns, and that concerns all Members of this House.

Up to March 2013, 2.3 million incidents of antisocial behaviour were reported to the police and we know other incidents were reported to councils and social landlords. The previous Government tried—genuinely, I think—to address the problem, but after more than 10 pieces of legislation introduced before 2010 we have been left with a mishmash of powers that is confusing for the public and for the professionals who have to use them, and that is less and less effective. The antisocial behaviour order may have worked well in individual circumstances, but overall it has not worked well. Such orders are too often seen as a badge of honour and, as has been said, over 50% of them have been breached at least once and just over 40% have been breached more than once. Also, the number of orders issued has been falling year on year. People are losing confidence in ASBOs.

Mr Steve Reed: Why are the Government seeking to decriminalise antisocial behaviour when 80% of the public feel it is on the rise? How does that help?

Norman Baker: I will come on to the powers we are introducing, but the hon. Gentleman spent a lot of his contribution talking about the injunction to prevent

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nuisance and annoyance, which is one of the tools we are proposing, but we are also proposing a criminal behaviour order, a breach of which is a criminal offence. The CBO is in some ways most akin to the ASBO we are seeking to replace, the injunction being an extra tool.

I know Members on the Opposition Benches are still wedded to ASBOs, despite the evidence, but by any reasonable assessment the statistics show it has been increasingly failing. I want a system that is more effective at tackling antisocial behaviour and has the confidence of the professionals who use it. We know that agencies such as the police, local councils and social landlords are working hard to protect victims and stop antisocial behaviour, but they need the right powers to do this. That is why we are replacing the existing powers with six streamlined, more flexible, quicker and more effective ones to protect the public better.

Mr Reed: The Minister talked about trusting the police and local councils and adding more tools to their armoury, so instead of abolishing ASBOs why does he not leave them on the statute book so that police and councils can choose whether it is appropriate to use them or IPNAs, or any of the other tools the Government are providing in this Bill?

Norman Baker: First, ASBOs have been increasingly ineffective and have become a badge of honour in some cases; secondly, we want to streamline the powers so they are clear; and, thirdly, we want to use powers that are quick and efficient and that do the job, which is what Members on both sides of the Chamber want: we all want a swift reduction in antisocial behaviour.

As I have said, the main replacements for the ASBO are the injunction under part 1 of the Bill and the criminal behaviour order under part 2. In drawing comparisons with the ASBO, they should be seen together, rather than be taken individually. The injunction is a purely civil remedy. That means it has a lower test than the ASBO on application, coupled with the lower civil standard of proof, so it will be quicker to obtain than the existing order. Front-line professionals will be able to use it as a preventive measure to nip emerging problems in the bud before they escalate into something more serious—which I think is good news for victims— but, crucially, the court could also include “positive requirements” in the order. That is missing from the ASBO arrangements; indeed, that is one of their major flaws. That has meant the focus has been on stopping the behaviour, but not on getting individuals to deal with the underlying drivers of their behaviour. If we are to prevent reoccurrences of bad behaviour, it is very important we address that.

Unlike for the ASBO, breach of the IPNA will not be a criminal offence. This means there is no risk of criminalising under-18s. It will also help to reduce the burden on the police and others in gathering and providing evidence. That does not mean that the injunction has no teeth if it is breached: it does. Adults can be imprisoned for up to two years for breaching the terms of the IPNA, and the court can detain an under-18 if it thinks that, due to the severity or extent of the breach, no other power available to the court is appropriate.

We must not look at the injunction in isolation. It is complemented by the CBO, which will be available to deal with the most serious antisocial behaviour. Breach

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of a CBO will be a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of five years in prison. That is the same sanction as is available for the breach of an ASBO, but the CBO will be more effective than the ASBO because, like the injunction, it can have positive requirements attached to it to help the offender turn their life around.

These reforms are about putting the victim first and providing streamlined, effective powers for enforcement agencies to do just that. Amendment 96 seeks to retain a discredited regime that has left people across the country suffering from antisocial behaviour. I therefore hope, perhaps optimistically, that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment in due course.

Mr Reed rose

Norman Baker: If the hon. Gentleman is going to withdraw it, I will gladly give way.

Mr Reed: I am not planning to withdraw it. I wonder whether the Minister is dismissing out of hand the views of the organisations that wrote a letter to The Times saying that this is “Ill-thought-out legislation” that will waste police time and clog up the courts. The signatories to that letter include the Standing Committee on Youth Justice, Barnardo’s, Liberty, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, JUSTICE, the Children’s Society, the Howard League for Penal Reform, UK Youth, the Prison Reform Trust, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England. It is disappointing to hear the Minister dismiss the legitimate concerns raised by those well-respected organisations.

Norman Baker: I am certainly not dismissing them, and they have been looked at carefully, but it is important to look at the IPNA and the criminal behaviour order in tandem rather than merely concentrate on one of them.

Stephen Phillips: Does my hon. Friend agree that rather then relying on letters from the great and the good, perhaps the best thing to do is to rely on the British people? He will no doubt remember that in 2012 Angus Reid conducted a survey in which only 80% of people said they thought that ASBOs had been effective in tackling antisocial behaviour. Is not that why we need to change the regime?

Norman Baker: That is exactly right. The shadow Minister said that the recent crime survey showed that 80% of people think that antisocial behaviour is increasing. That suggests to me that the current regime is not working and needs to be replaced by something more efficient.

Dr Huppert: The shadow Minister mentioned a list of people who have concerns about IPNAs. I think they would agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) and I that we could look at those concerns, and I am sure that the Minister will do so. They do not support ASBOs, as he suggests; they would like to get rid of ASBOs and have an improved, more sympathetic IPNA.

Norman Baker: I am grateful for that intervention, which puts the matter on the record.

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The shadow Minister expressed concern about the costs of dealing with IPNAs and the new regime that we propose to introduce. It is worth quoting the chief constable of Thames Valley police, Sarah Thornton, who said:

“So in terms of improving the effectiveness, yes we are going to have to train officers, but I think that is worthwhile…If there is a bit of additional training cost, it really would be well worth it in terms of additional effectiveness in tackling anti-social behaviour locally.”

In other words, the relatively modest amount spent on training on IPNAs will more than repay itself in terms of the results that accrue. It is also worth pointing out that ASBOs were not without their costs either; it would be foolish to think that they were. A cost was involved in dealing with breaches of ASBOs just as there is with anything else. If I remember correctly, the shadow Minister quoted a cost of £1.5 million for breaches of IPNAs—allegedly; I am not quite sure where that figure comes from—but ASBO breaches cost money as well. If he wants to make a fair comparison, he ought to include that in his assessment.

Let me turn to the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark North and Bermondsey—[Interruption.] I am sorry—Bermondsey North and Southwark. I want to call it Southwark and Bermondsey because that it is what it was for so many years. Anyway, I mean my very old friend who moved the amendments. His amendments and those of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) pick up a number of points raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is of course a very important Committee of this House. I am grateful to the Committee for its detailed scrutiny of the Bill. Taken together, the amendments would introduce additional requirements that professionals and the courts would have to meet in order to use the new powers. While I agree that we must ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place, I believe that those are already built into the Bill and fear that the Committee’s amendments would lose some of the benefits of our reforms in streamlining powers and processes to help victims and empower front-line professionals.

New clause 33 is concerned with the use of injunctions in cases involving children and seeks to place in the Bill a requirement that the interests of the child are treated as a primary consideration when imposing an injunction, any associated conditions or sanctions for a breach. In shaping our reforms, we have, naturally, carefully considered the needs and rights of young people, which are important, so that we get the right balance between enforcement and helping those who commit antisocial behaviour to turn their lives around. I am a little concerned, to be honest, about the use of the word “primary” in new clause 33 with regard to setting that balance.

8.45 pm

The injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance can be used to deal with a wide range of behaviours, many of which can cause serious harm to victims and communities, but it must not become a means of targeting young people simply for being young people. We have been explicit in the draft guidance to front-line professionals—it was published last week—that in deciding what is “nuisance or annoyance” they must be mindful

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that the injunction should not be used to stop reasonable, trivial or benign behaviours that have not caused and are not likely to cause harm to victims or communities. For example, children simply playing in a park or on a street, or young people lawfully gathering or socialising in a particular place, may be annoying to some, but those activities are not in themselves antisocial and should not be treated as such.

For cases where an injunction is sought and issued, we have included provisions for consultation so that youth offending teams, as well as any other agencies, such as local authorities and youth charities, are to be involved in the process.

The Bill also requires that the court must hear the views of the relevant youth offending team in breach proceedings. This will also allow the court to hear the views of the young person, in addition to the young person’s views being put forward through a legal representative. Moreover, the Bill explicitly specifies that a court can impose a detention order on a young person only as a very last resort—that is, where it determines that, because of the severity or extent of the breach, no other power available is appropriate.

As I said in response to an earlier amendment, given that the injunction is civil it will not criminalise young people. Indeed, it should prevent criminality, through the use of positive requirements. In these ways the new powers improve on the orders they replace in order to give young people who behave antisocially the best chance of addressing the underlying causes of their antisocial behaviour in the long term, which benefits both the perpetrator and the victims. I emphasise that normal behaviour is not being caught by this. I want to make it very clear that there should be no court orders for playing in the street.

On reporting, I accept there is a balance to be struck. Publicising orders can provide reassurance to victims and communities that action has and will be taken when they report antisocial behaviour. However, I agree that, when deciding to publicise an order against a young person, agencies must be satisfied that doing so is necessary and proportionate, taking into account the likely effect on the young person in question. We have made it clear in the draft guidance that agencies must carefully decide each case on its own facts. That is already the way the courts have approached these provisions and I expect them to be very careful in their use of this particular power.

Amendments 158 to 162 relate to the definitions in respect of the injunction, specifically to the test and the conditions that may be attached to them. I reassure my right hon. Friend that the injunction is an arbitrary or unreasonable power and that in my view it achieves much of what he seeks in his amendments.

The test for issuing an injunction has two stages: an applicant must satisfy the court, first, that an individual has engaged or threatened to engage in conduct causing nuisance or annoyance and, secondly, that it is just and convenient to grant the injunction. The test of “just and convenient” is well known to the courts, being the test that currently applies to the granting of an antisocial behaviour injunction. It is, therefore, supported by several years of case law. As part of the test, in deciding whether to issue an injunction the court must, as a public body bound by the Human Rights Act, have regard to the principles of proportionality and reasonableness before granting an application.

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Similarly, any prohibitions or positive requirements granted must be for the purpose of preventing the respondent from engaging in antisocial behaviour, so it would not be possible or right to impose requirements that were completely unrelated to the respondent’s antisocial behaviour. It is important not to import new requirements into the test that could set the threshold too high and delay providing relief to victims and communities.

John McDonnell: I wonder whether the Minister could re-read the script that he has just read. He spoke about an individual having

“engaged or threatened to engage in conduct causing nuisance or annoyance”.

The wording in the clause is

“conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance”.

That is the problem. That is where judgment enters into it. That is why amendment 158 was tabled. It would put the emphasis on reasonableness in that judgment.

Norman Baker: I understand entirely the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I make no promises, but I have a lot of time for his analysis of the legislation and will consider the point carefully.

I will turn to the amendments that my right hon. Friend has tabled to clause 12, which sets out the limited circumstances in which an injunction may exclude someone from their own home. I agree that the courts must consider whether it is necessary and proportionate to exclude someone from their home, regardless of whether they live in social housing, rent privately or own their own home. However, I am not persuaded that those principles need to be included in the Bill.

We have made it clear in the guidance that not only do we expect that the exclusion power will be used only rarely, but that the court will pay special attention to whether it is proportionate to use the power, taking into account the individual’s article 8 rights. As such, applications should be made only in exceptional cases that meet the high threshold set out in clause 12—that is, where there is a threat of violence or a significant risk of harm.

Several of my right hon. Friend’s amendments to clause 21, which provides for the criminal behaviour order, are similar to those that he tabled in respect of the injunction and are unnecessary for the same reasons. The draft guidance to the Bill makes it clear that we expect that the courts will follow existing case law from the House of Lords in relation to antisocial behaviour orders and that they will apply the criminal standard to criminal behaviour orders. The amendments to clause 21 are therefore unnecessary.

My right hon. Friend has also tabled an amendment to the new dispersal power to explicitly exempt all peaceful assemblies from its use. I agree that that is an important point, but I would argue that the safeguards that we have built into the legislation will ensure that the dispersal power is used proportionately, while maintaining the flexibility to allow the police to act quickly to protect victims and communities from antisocial behaviour. Where behaviour is lawful and is not causing harassment, alarm or distress, the test for using the dispersal power will not be met. Mere presence in an area is not itself a ground for dispersal, so the power could not be used. The test will be met only if someone’s

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behaviour is causing or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to members of the public, or crime or disorder in the locality.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and I both raised that last matter. I understand my hon. Friend’s argument, but I do not see how it is logical to protect picketing and processions in the Bill, as was done in Committee, but not the general right of free assembly. I do not think that the Bill should say that one can do certain things and not face a dispersal order, but not make it clear that one can do other lawful things without facing a dispersal order.

Norman Baker: There was particular concern about processions and picketing. That is why they were singled out for mention in the Bill. I have made it plain this evening that where a behaviour is lawful and is not causing harassment, alarm or distress, the test for the use of the dispersal power will not be met. I hope that that gives my right hon. Friend the reassurance that he seeks.

Amendment 177 would remove the ability of landlords in England to seek to evict tenants when they or members of their household have been convicted of an offence at the scene of a riot anywhere in the United Kingdom. The Government believe that clause 91 sends out the strong and important message that if somebody gets involved in a riot, whether it is near their home or not, there may be consequences for their tenancy. However, Members have asked me to reflect on that matter and I will, of course, listen to the House and reflect on it without prejudice to the outcome of that reflection. We will respond fully to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in due course. For now, however, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not press amendment 177 or new clause 33.

The shadow Minister and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), who is no longer in his place, spoke about amendment 82, which is a consequential amendment to the Government of Wales Act 2006. Provisions on antisocial behaviour orders are among the exceptions to the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales in respect of local government matters. Amendment 82 simply updates that exception to recognise the abolition of the ASBO, thus preserving the status quo with regard to the Assembly’s competence. The UK Government is firmly of the view that amendment 82 is purely consequential upon the abolition of antisocial behaviour orders, so a consent motion is not required. It is also difficult to wait for the outcome of the Silk commission, as a failure to amend the Government of Wales Act now would alter the legislative competence of the National Assembly. Our intention is therefore to preserve the status quo and no more.

Stephen Phillips: Is it not a difficulty, though, that even though the amendment may be intended simply to be consequential and to replace the provision relating to the ASBO, it is drawn so broadly that, as Opposition Members have pointed out, it might also have an effect in other areas in which the Assembly currently has legislative competence?

Norman Baker: The advice I am getting from officials is very clear—that this is an appropriate conclusion to reach. However, three Members have now raised

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that matter, and they have done so in quite strident or convinced terms, so I will write to them with a firm conclusion.

Mr Steve Reed: We are raising these issues because the Welsh Assembly Government have raised them. Perhaps, rather than driving something through after the UK Government have legal advice that is clearly different from the Welsh Assembly Government’s, the Minister will commit to speaking to the Welsh Assembly Government before taking further steps.

Norman Baker: As I understand it, we have spoken to the Welsh Assembly Government, but I think I have made a generous offer in saying that because Members have raised a constitutional point, although I believe the Government’s position is sound—that is the clear advice I am getting from officials—I will ask officials to set that down for me in writing, and I will write to the three Members who have raised the matter this evening. I think that is quite a good offer, if I may say so.

I hope that I have been helpful in responding to the amendments and new clauses that Members have tabled. I think we have a good Bill, and I commend it to the House.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for dealing with all the new clauses and amendments—those that I moved not on my own behalf but on behalf of the Joint Committee on Human Rights; the Opposition Front Benchers’ amendment; and his own Government amendments.

For the record, first, my constituency is called Bermondsey and Old Southwark. I know that it is the fourth formulation of the name in 30 years, but none the less, we have to keep up. Secondly, the Minister is still a good friend, but for him to call me “my very old friend” was not a way to get off on the right foot. He is not that much younger than me, although I accept that there is a gap between us.

On the substance of the new clause and amendments, I am clear that we are right to say no to antisocial behaviour orders, for reasons that Members of all parties have given evidence of. We are also right, as a Government, to introduce two options—a criminal order and a civil order. I hope that when the Bill becomes law, Ministers will produce something that makes clear the benefit to youngsters of not having a criminal record, because they will not have committed a criminal offence.

In relation to certain of the new clauses and amendments, I believe that the Joint Committee and other colleagues will not want to let the matter rest. I refer particularly—I am guessing, because the Committee will form its view collectively—to new clause 33, amendments 158, 165 and 166, and, most importantly, amendments 176 and 178.

John McDonnell: The last one is amendment 177. I think the right hon. Gentleman said it was amendment 178. On amendments 176 and 177, I do not think the Minister has gone anywhere near far enough to satisfy the concerns of the Joint Committee or other Members.

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Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; I meant amendment 177, which is the highest-numbered in the group. I apologise if I said amendment 178 mistakenly. I think the Joint Committee will hold the same view as him.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will realise that by not taking the opportunity of a lifetime to make concessions on the Floor of the House on Report of the first Bill for which he was responsible in the Home Office, he may have lost a reputation that could never have had a parallel. However, he has an opportunity to redeem himself and establish his credentials.

Seriously, however, some of the issues involved are important ones of civil liberties. The Joint Committee thinks so and Members from throughout the House think so, so I hope the Minister will persuade his colleagues that there need to be changes, and that the ones suggested in the new clause and amendments could be among them. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 1, page 2, line 7, leave out paragraph (b). —(Norman Baker.)

Clause 4

Applications for injunctions

Amendments made: 2, page 3, line 38, at end insert—

‘() the Natural Resources Body for Wales,’.

Amendment 3, page 3, line 39, leave out from ‘functions’ to end of line 43 and insert

‘, or a Special Health Authority exercising security management functions on the direction of the Secretary of State, or

() the Welsh Ministers exercising security management functions, or a person or body exercising security management functions on the direction of the Welsh Ministers or under arrangements made between the Welsh Ministers and that person or body.’.

Amendment 4, page 3, line 44, leave out paragraphs (h) and (i).

Amendment 5, page 4, line 1, at end insert—

‘( ) In subsection (1) “security management functions” means—

(a) the Secretary of State’s security management functions within the meaning given by section 195(3) of the National Health Service Act 2006;

(b) the functions of the Welsh Ministers corresponding to those functions.’.—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 8

Arrest without warrant

Amendments made: 6, page 5, line 21, at end insert—

‘(za) a judge of the High Court or a judge of the county court, if the injunction was granted by the High Court;’.

Amendment 7, page 5, line 27, leave out ‘(3)(a)’ and insert ‘(3)(za) or (a)’.—(Norman Baker.)

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Clause 9

Issue of arrest warrant

Amendments made: 8, page 5, line 38, at end insert—

‘() a judge of the High Court, if the injunction was granted by the High Court;’.

Amendment 9, page 6, line 3, at end insert—

‘( ) A warrant issued by a judge of the High Court must require the respondent to be brought before that court.’.—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 12

Power to exclude person from home in cases of violence or risk of harm

Amendments made: 10, page 6, line 24, after ‘lives’ insert ‘(“the premises”)’.

Amendment 11, page 6, line 25, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment 12, page 6, line 27, leave out ‘the local authority or housing provider’ and insert—

(i) a local authority,

(ii) the chief officer of police for the police area that the premises are in, or

(iii) if the premises are owned or managed by a housing provider, that housing provider,’.

Amendment 13, page 6, line 35, leave out ‘local authority or’.

Amendment 14, page 6, line 37, leave out ‘authority or’ and insert ‘housing’.

Amendment 15, page 6, line 40, leave out ‘authority or’ and insert ‘housing’.—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 21

Power to make orders

Amendments made: 16, page 11, leave out line 26 and insert ‘any person’.

Amendment 17, page 12, line 4, leave out paragraph (b).—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 32

Authorisations to use powers under section 33

Amendment made: 18, page 18, line 23, leave out from ‘if’ to first ‘that’ in line 25 and insert ‘satisfied on reasonable grounds’.—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 40

Power to issue notices

Amendment made: 19, page 23, line 1, leave out subsection (5).—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 43

Appeals against notices

Amendments made: 20, page 24, leave out lines 19 to 22.

Amendment 21, page 24, line 31, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

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‘(3) While an appeal against a community protection notice is in progress—

(a) a requirement imposed by the notice to stop doing specified things remains in effect, unless the court orders otherwise, but

(b) any other requirement imposed by the notice is of no effect.

For this purpose an appeal is “in progress” until it is finally determined or is withdrawn.’.—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 45

Offence of failing to comply with notice

Amendments made: 22, page 26, line 9, leave out ‘specified in’ and insert ‘alleged to constitute a failure to comply with’.

Amendment 23, page 26, line 11, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment 24, page 26, line 19, leave out paragraph (a). —(Norman Baker.)

Clause 60

Orders restricting public right of way over highway

Amendment made: 25, page 36, line 7, at end insert—

‘( ) Before a local authority makes a public spaces protection order restricting the public right of way over a highway that is also within the area of another local authority, it must consult that other authority if it thinks it appropriate to do so.’.—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 62

Challenging the validity of orders

Amendments made: 26, page 37, line 6, at end insert ‘, or

() a variation of a public spaces protection order.’.

Amendment 27, page 37, line 10, after ‘order’ insert ‘or variation’.

Amendment 28, page 37, line 11, after ‘order’ insert ‘(or by the order as varied)’.

Amendment 29, page 37, line 13, after ‘order’ insert ‘or variation’.

Amendment 30, page 37, line 15, after ‘order’ insert ‘or variation’.

Amendment 31, page 37, line 17, leave out ‘public spaces protection order’ and insert ‘order or variation’.

Amendment 32, page 37, line 17, leave out ‘its prohibitions or requirements’ and insert

‘the prohibitions or requirements imposed by the order (or by the order as varied)’.

Amendment 33, page 37, line 20, after ‘order’ insert ‘or variation’.

Amendment 34, page 37, line 21, after ‘order’ insert

‘(or by the order as varied)’.

Amendment 35, page 37, line 24, leave out from first ‘or’ to end of line and insert

‘variation, or any of the prohibitions or requirements imposed by the order (or by the order as varied)’.

Amendment 36, page 37, line 25, leave out ‘its prohibitions or requirements’ and insert

‘the prohibitions or requirements imposed by the order (or by the order as varied)’.

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Amendment 37, page 37, line 29, after ‘order’ insert

‘, or of a variation of a public spaces protection order,’.—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 63

Offence of failing to comply with order

Amendment made: 38, page 38, line 3, at end insert—

‘( ) Consuming alcohol in breach of a public spaces protection order is not an offence under this section (but see section 59).’. —(Norman Baker.)

Clause 70

Duration of closure notices

Amendment made: 39, page 42, line 14, at end insert—

‘( ) In calculating when the period of 48 hours ends, Christmas Day is to be disregarded.’.—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 73

Power to court to make closure orders

Amendment made: 40, page 44, line 11, at end insert—

‘( ) In calculating when the period of 48 hours ends, Christmas Day is to be disregarded.’.—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 81

Reimbursement of costs

Amendments made: 41, page 49, line 17, after ‘owner’ insert ‘or occupier’.

Amendment 42, page 49, line 21, at end insert—

‘( ) An order under this section may be made only against a person who has been served with the application for the order.’.

Amendment 43, page 49, line 22, after ‘must’ insert ‘also’.

Amendment 44, page 49, line 26, leave out paragraph (c).—(Norman Baker.)

Clause 93

The community remedy document

Amendments made: 45, page 64, line 3, at end insert—

‘( ) For the purposes of subsection (2), an action is appropriate to be carried out by a person only if it has one or more of the following objects—

(a) assisting in the person’s rehabilitation;

(b) ensuring that the person makes reparation for the behaviour or offence in question;

(c) punishing the person.’.

Amendment 46, page 64, leave out lines 6 to 11 and insert—

‘(a) have regard to the need promote public confidence in the out-of-court disposal process;

(b) have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State about how local policing bodies are to discharge their functions under this section;

(c) carry out the necessary consultation and take account of all views expressed by those consulted.

‘( ) In subsection (3)(c) “the necessary consultation” means—

(a) consultation with the chief officer of police for the area,

(b) consultation with whatever community representatives the local policing body thinks it appropriate to consult, and

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(c) whatever other public consultation the local policing body thinks appropriate.’.

Amendment 47, page 64, line 16, at end insert—

‘( ) The Secretary of State must publish any guidance issued under subsection (3)(b).’.

Amendment 48, page 64, line 22, at end insert—

‘“out-of-court disposal process” means the process by which a person is dealt with under section94 or by means of a conditional caution or youth conditional caution.’.—(Norman Baker.)

New Clause 20

Functions of Scottish Ministers under Firearms Acts

‘(1) In section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 (weapons subject to general prohibition)—

(a) in subsections (1) and (1A), for the words between “commits an offence if,” and “, he has in his possession” there is substituted “without authority”;

(b) in subsection (4), for the words from the beginning to “the Scottish Ministers” there is substituted “An authority shall be subject to conditions specified in it, including such as the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers (as appropriate)”;

(c) in subsection (6), for the words before “revoke an authority” there is substituted “The Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers (as appropriate) may at any time, if they think fit,”.

(2) In section 5A of that Act (exemptions from requirement of authority under section 5)—

(a) in subsections (1), (2)(a), (2)(b), (3), (4), (5), (6) and (7), for “or the Scottish Ministers (by virtue of provision made under section 63 of the Scotland Act 1998)” there is substituted “or the Scottish Ministers”;

(b) in subsection (6), for the words after “without the authority of the Secretary of State” there is substituted “or the Scottish Ministers (as appropriate)”.

(3) In the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997—

(a) in sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7(1) and 8 (exemptions from prohibition on small firearms etc), for “The authority of the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers (by virtue of provision made under section 63 of the Scotland Act 1998)” there is substituted “The authority of the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers”;

(b) in section 7(3), for the words “or the Scottish Ministers (by virtue of provision made under section 63 of the Scotland Act 1998)”, in the first place where they occur, there is substituted “or the Scottish Ministers”.

(4) In the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 1999 (S.I. 1999/1750)—

(a) in Schedule 1, in the entry for the Firearms Act 1968, the words “5 and” are omitted;

(b) in Schedule 5, paragraph 3 and paragraph 18(2) to (6), (7)(a) and (8) are omitted.’.—(Damian Green.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

9 pm

Damian Green: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 4—Firearms’ licensing

‘(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 28A (Certificates: supplementary) insert—

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“28B Assessing public safety

(1) When assessing the threat to public safety under sections 27, 28, 30A, 30B or 30C the Chief Police Officer must ensure that a range of background checks are performed.

(2) Where these checks uncover substantiated evidence of violent conduct, domestic violence, mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse, the presumption is that the Chief Police Officer should refuse the licence application unless exceptional evidence can be brought forward by the applicant as to their suitability to possess a weapon.

(3) When assessing public safety within this section the Chief Police Officer must follow any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.”.

(3) Section 113 of the Firearms Act 1968 (power of Secretary of State to alter fees) is amended as follows.

(4) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Before making an order under this section the Secretary of State must consult with chief police officers to ensure the level of fees collected by the police under sections 32 and 35 are appropriate after considering the costs they incur through the administration and assessment of firearms’ licences made under this Act.”.’.

Government amendments 100 to 105.

Damian Green: The purpose of the amendments is to preserve the position of the authority of Scottish Ministers under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968. The new firearms offence of possession for sale or transfer of any prohibited weapon is committed where the conduct is undertaken

“without the authority of the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers”.

The existing functions of the Secretary of State under section 5 were transferred to Scottish Ministers by order under section 63 of the Scotland Act 1998 on devolution. Additional functions under section 5 need to be transferred to Scottish Ministers in relation to new offences created by the Bill. Therefore, new clause 20 revokes the entry in the 1999 order in respect of section 5 of the 1968 Act, and transfers afresh all the Secretary of State’s functions under that section to Scottish Ministers. Amendments 100 to 105 are consequential on new clause 20.

I suspect it will help the House if I respond to new clause 4 before the Opposition deal with it, in that peculiar way we sometimes have. The new clause has been tabled by those on the Opposition Front Bench and relates to two firearms licensing issues that we discussed in Committee and during the Westminster Hall debate initiated by the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) in early September. The first part of the new clause seeks to create a presumption that if an applicant for a firearm meets one of the stated criteria, the police should not grant a licence. The stated criteria include evidence of domestic violence, mental illness, and drug or alcohol abuse.

As I said in Committee, the police already have the ability to take those factors into account when assessing the risk to public safety. I understand that there are particular concerns about domestic violence and abuse, and in response to those, on 31 July we published specific guidance on that issue, providing greater detail on how the police should handle such cases. Just last week, we published a new consolidated guide on firearms licensing law. It is therefore fair to say that the Government have taken on board the many important points that were raised in Committee, and we have been quick to

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act. As the House will agree, decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, but guidance is clear that evidence of domestic violence will generally indicate that an application should be refused. That new guidance is being applied now by police forces up and down the country, which I hope will be welcomed across the House.

New clause 4 also seeks to introduce a requirement that the police must follow any guidance issued by the Home Secretary when assessing public safety. I consider, however, that guidance must remain just that. It is right that chief officers have discretion to assess applications for firearms in their local area, taking into account the merits of each case and the newly published guide. Chief officers are ultimately responsible for public safety at local level. The Government have sought to make decision making a local responsibility wherever possible. I do not want to undermine that, which is what new clause 4 would do.

We are ensuring that where national action can support local decision making, it does. We are working with the national policing lead for firearms and explosives licensing to ensure that police have a more detailed awareness and understanding of the Home Office guide. The College of Policing will be publishing authorised professional practice on firearms licensing, which will complement and cross-refer to our guidance. In order to assess standards, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has carried out a scoping exercise on how firearms licensing is conducted in practice, and we will use the findings from the exercise to drive up the consistency of decision making across the country. Again, that was a legitimate point made in the course of our debates and outside. People wanted greater consistency and, again, we have taken action. As I said, HMIC is now doing that work.

The second part of new clause 4 seeks to introduce a legal requirement for the Secretary of State to consult all chief police officers before revising the licence fees so that they achieve full cost recovery. I reiterate that consultation with the police is integral to the fee-setting process and we accept the need to consider the impact of licensing on police resources. That is why we are introducing a new online licensing system, which cuts the administrative burden of the old paper-based system. We do not need primary legislation to make this happen.

Until we have driven out the inefficiencies in the current paper-based approach to the licensing function, it would not be appropriate to raise the fees fourfold in order to achieve, in one giant step, full cost recovery, which I assume is the purpose of new clause 4. As I have said in other forums, we are considering proposals for an interim fee increase and I will make an announcement on that in due course.

In conclusion, I hope the Opposition Front-Bench team will acknowledge that progress has been made in all the significant areas where criticism of the system could legitimately be made a few months ago. I hope I have persuaded them that further legislation is unnecessary. On the off-chance that I have been unsuccessful in persuading the Opposition Front Bench that new clause 4 is unnecessary, I will have no hesitation in inviting the House to reject it.

Diana Johnson: I thank the Minister for setting out his amendments. The Opposition think these are entirely sensible and we support them. However, we depart from

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the Government on what more needs to be done. That is why I shall speak to new clause 4 tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson).

The new clause would do three things. First, it calls for a broader range of better background checks to be included as part of the licensing process. Secondly, it would amend the Firearms Act 1968 to introduce an explicit presumption that anyone with a history of domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or mental illness would be prevented from acquiring a firearms licence unless they could provide exceptional evidence to the contrary. Thirdly, it would introduce full cost recovery to ensure that the cost of a licence reflects the cost to the police of processing it.

Why is this needed? There are 146,426 people in the UK who have firearms certificates, covering 498,048 individual firearms, and 570,726 people who have shotgun certificates, covering 1,333,701 individual shotguns. Given that this involves nearly 2 million weapons, we should be thankful that gun crime is a relatively rare phenomenon in the UK. This is an indication that in most cases the licensing system does work and the overwhelming majority of members of the shooting community are very conscious of their responsibilities and of public safety. The problem is that when a gun crime does occur, its effects tend to be catastrophic.

We all know of the horrendous case of Derrick Bird, who killed 12 people, including himself, with a legally owned firearm. In the past five years there have been 43 female gun deaths in Great Britain and in at least 23 of them a legally owned weapon was used. In the past 12 months, 75% of female gun deaths occurred in domestic incidents. In 2009 that figure was 100%.

I want particularly to mention the case of Michael Atherton, to which the Minister referred. Michael Atherton killed his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull, her niece Tanya Turnbull and himself on new year’s day 2012. He did that with a legally owned shotgun. Michael Atherton had three legally owned shotguns despite a history of domestic violence, alcohol abuse and mental health problems. A note attached to Atherton’s first application for a firearms licence in 2006 said:

“Four domestics, last one 24/4/04, was cautioned for assault. Still resides with partner and son and daughter. Would like to refuse, have we sufficient info to refuse re public safety?”

Durham constabulary decided that it could not refuse; in fact, Michael Atherton was allowed to keep his weapons despite the police being called to domestic incidents on another two occasions, including one in which he threatened to blow his head off with his own guns.

Since that tragedy, Alison Turnbull’s son, Bobby Turnbull, has been campaigning for a change in the law to prevent such tragedies from happening again. I pay tribute to Mr Turnbull for the brave and committed way in which he has gone about his campaign. I know that the Minister has met Bobby Turnbull and that the Minister, along with all members of the Public Bill Committee, received a letter from Mr Turnbull supporting Labour’s new clause.

There were multiple police failings in the case, but, as I have pointed out, it was not a one-off and the Durham coroner, the Independent Police Complaints Commission

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and the Select Committee on Home Affairs have all proposed tougher rules to prevent people with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness and violence, especially domestic violence, from acquiring firearms. That is why Labour is proposing new clause 4 to enshrine a clear principle that there should be a presumption that anyone with a history of domestic or sexual violence, drug or alcohol problems, or mental illness should not be allowed a firearm. I do not agree with the Minister that that undermines local decision making; it helps and strengthens it.

Never again should the police, looking at the file of a violent offender, think, “I would like to refuse this application but I am not sure whether I can.” Owning a gun is a privilege and not a right. In Committee, a number of hon. Members were very concerned about using mental health in such a way. We have had a number of debates to discuss mental health and the discrimination that might be faced by people who have had mental health problems. I reiterate that the proposal is to set down a presumption that can be rebutted if there is good evidence—for example, if someone had mental health issues many years ago but has not suffered recently. We are also not saying that people with a history of mental illness cannot take part in shooting. They can, but at registered clubs, not with their own guns to which they would have access at home.

The Government claim that the introduction of the new guidance, which the Minister mentioned, addresses that issue. The Opposition question whether that is enough. We know that the Gun Control Network has said:

“The Home Office says it is issuing new Guidance to the Police on Firearms Licensing but the new draft does not change the ethos. There is no statement anywhere that gun ownership is a privilege and not a right.”

The problem is not just whether the new guidance is sufficient but whether guidance could ever be sufficient. Let me share with the House the case of Mr X, in which the police attempted to block a firearms application only for that attempt to be turned down on appeal.

Mr X’s shotgun licence was seized after he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault against a 17-year-old woman. The police thought the allegation was plausible, but the young woman did not want to appear in court so the charges were dropped. That was not the first allegation against Mr X. Other women had previously made complaints about him. His GP also reported that he was suffering from acute stress. The deputy chief constable of the relevant police force took the decision to revoke Mr X’s shotgun licence. However, despite the deputy chief constable’s taking a day to appear in front of the court, Mr X had his shotgun licence returned by the court. I appreciate that the Minister will not want to comment on individual cases, but I would like him to confirm to the House that the outcome of that case would not have been altered by the new guidance.

The Opposition have tabled new clause 4 because we believe that the firearms licensing system, particularly for shotguns, needs to be more robust to protect the public, but we also recognise that the system could be better. I pay tribute to the work of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the constructive way in which it has engaged in the debate on gun licensing. It has considerable expertise and I am grateful for its assistance. The association is right to point out that the firearms licensing system often fails to serve the

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shooting community. There are big discrepancies between police forces and sometimes big delays. It is not uncommon for a renewal to take many months. There is a general consensus that the system needs to improve.

9.15 pm

I have been impressed with the Association of Chief Police Officers and Chief Constable Andy Marsh on that, but, obviously, there is only so much that ACPO can do. One reform to which the Minister referred was the introduction of the electronic application process. However, my understanding is that only a few forces have signed up, and its effect will therefore be minimal. Will he, in his final comments, say how many police forces have signed up to the new application process? Will he explain what progress is being made to encourage more forces to sign up?

The final part of new clause 4 deals with full-cost recovery and would require the Home Secretary to consult the police before setting a fee, to enable police forces to recoup all the costs they incur in the administration and assessment of firearms licences. Currently, a firearms licence costs just £50 for five years and only £40 for a renewal, but if an application is processed properly it takes up a considerable amount of time, including home visits and background checks, which is not reflected in the cost of the licence. The cost of administering the firearms licence is much higher, and therefore the taxpayer is currently subsidising the firearms licensing system to the tune, the police tell us, of £18 million a year. The cost is particularly high for some forces. The net cost for Thames Valley police was £780,000.

Paragraph 6.2.1 of the Treasury document “Managing Public Money”, which was published by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to explain the Government’s approach to cost recovery and resource allocation principles, states:

“The standard approach is to set charges to recover full costs. Cost should be calculated on an accruals basis, including overheads, depreciation (eg for start up or improvement costs) and the cost of capital.”

Will the Minister explain whether that paragraph applies to firearms recovery? Can he justify the £18 million a year net subsidy currently provided to the licensing regime when front-line police officer numbers are being cut by 20%? Many police and crime commissioners do not believe that the current situation is acceptable. In the current public spending climate, can the Government justify attacking what they call the “spare room subsidy” while defending the spare gun subsidy?

All hon. Members want improvements in the firearms licensing system, which means that we want investment in infrastructure and new systems, but also that we want the police to conduct more background checks. However, the Government need to start explaining where they want the funds to provide that to come from. Do they want funds to come from general policing budgets—money that could otherwise be keeping bobbies on the beat? Will the Minister explain why, at £50 for five years, the annual cost of a firearms licence is barely a third of the cost of a fishing licence, which costs £27.50 a year, or why it is the equivalent cost of a Criminal Records Bureau check, which costs £44 and requires only a name to be checked against a database?

The Government’s current position is, as the Minister has said, that they will aim to introduce a fee regime under which 50% of the cost is recovered by the police

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by 2015. Why only 50% and why will that not come into effect until after 2015? It seems fairly shambolic of the Government to introduce a 20% cut in police budgets in 2010 and then to introduce a 50% fee recovery five years later. The Government have claimed that they want to improve the system of background checks associated with a firearms licence, even though they will not commit to putting this in legislation. But can the Minister confirm that he is asking police forces to move resources from front-line policing into licence applications?

On the basis of the case I have put before the House, I would like to test its opinion on this matter, because I think that it has widespread support.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I want to focus my remarks on new clause 4. Part 8 of the Bill deals with firearms, and I broadly welcome the Government’s proposals on sentencing, but I urge them to go further on checks and fees. Following the Dunblane shootings in 1996, in which 16 children and one teacher lost their lives, the Labour Government were right to ban handguns and introduce tough new licensing laws, but it is also right that we, as parliamentarians, periodically review such laws. I therefore commend the Minister for the introduction of these proposals.

Despite the UK having one of the lowest rates of gun deaths in the world, it is no secret that there are pockets of the country in which the criminal use of firearms remains a problem. It is often most notable in large cities, where gangs can plague communities. However, it would be wrong to assume that the sale or transfer of prohibited firearms is the only consideration that Parliament should look to reform.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not right to pursue legislative change against law-abiding citizens who do not transgress? Would it not be better to focus attention on the lawbreakers instead?

Steve Rotheram: I suppose it would depend on the aim of the legislative change. The community that I represent needs a strong message to be sent from this House that the current level of gun crime is unacceptable and that we will give the police every power possible to tackle the blight on our neighbourhoods.

In recent years, we have also seen a rise in the use of firearms, breaching police and public safety, by individuals with track records of domestic violence and mental illness, leading one coroner to call for “root and branch changes” to gun licensing laws. For instance, in the last 12 months, 75% of female gun deaths occurred in domestic incidents, and 53% of female gun deaths in the last five years have involved the use of a legally held weapon, so the improved guidance that the Minister has provided for the police on this issue is to be welcomed.

Such statistics reinforce Labour’s call to ensure that applicants do not have a history of domestic violence or violent conduct as a statutory requirement and not just as a discretionary guideline. While the last Labour Government went a long way to reducing crime and encouraging safer, stronger communities, and introducing tough sentences for gun crimes, too many people still believe the use of guns to be an occupational consequence of their criminal activity. Perhaps the most high-profile incident of gun crime was the appalling murder of

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11-year-old schoolboy Rhys Jones in Liverpool in 2007. Sean Mercer was sentenced to life in prison, but what made the incident even more sickening and unpalatable was that Mercer was just 18 years of age. That is why the Government are right to be tough on those who possess prohibited firearms and who sell or transfer them to criminal gangs, which blight neighbourhoods in so many of our major cities.

In my own city, we have tried many innovative approaches to tackling gun crime. Across Merseyside, the police and the local media deserve enormous credit for the campaigns they have undertaken on firearm detection and recovery. This is not just some right-wing tough-on-crime agenda; this is an issue that primarily affects the lives of ordinary people up and down the country, something that Parliament must ensure is reflected in the strength of the laws that govern gun control licensing and in the length of imprisonment. That is why I support clause 100, which seeks to separate the existing offence in the Firearms Act 1968 into two parts, and, in doing so, make it an offence to possess prohibited firearms for sale and transfer, and introduce a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

It is also right for the clause to increase the maximum penalty for the existing offences of manufacture, sale or transfer, or the purchase or acquisition for sale or transfer, of unauthorised firearms from 10 years to life imprisonment. Speaking with Merseyside police and the governors of local prisons, it is becoming increasingly clear that the tactic deployed by gangs is to use the same firearm for different shootings, but then to redistribute the gun to different members of the gang as and when it is “needed”, so to speak. By making the transfer of a firearm a crime punishable by a life sentence, I am positive that this will act as a stronger deterrent, and that those who ignore this change and are later prosecuted will receive severe custodial sentences.

I support clause 101, which seeks to amend sections 50 and 170 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 to increase the maximum penalty for the unlawful importation of firearms, prohibited under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968, from 10 years to life imprisonment. This is particularly important for an area such as Liverpool, with our revitalised docks now shipping record tonnage of trade. Inevitably, there will be those who wish to import illegal firearms into the port. The clause sends a strong message to people involved in the smuggling of weapons into Merseyside that if they are caught, this activity will carry a life sentence.

I support clause 102 in its efforts to allow British Transport police officers to carry firearms without requiring an individual certificate, giving them the same powers as officers of other police forces. Many incidences of gun attacks have taken place on public transport in Britain over the years. It is therefore right that we remove this anomaly and give the transport police the powers they require to combat this specific threat.

I am keen for the laws on firearms to be as tough as possible. New clause 4, tabled by the Labour party, will help the Government to achieve this common aim. New clause 4(4) notes the rising cost to police forces of administering the current firearms licensing regime. According to the Minister, more than 170,000 firearms licences and approximately 620,000 shotgun licences have been issued. The current fee for a firearm or a

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shotgun licence is only £50 for five years, yet the cost to the administrating force is, according to the Gun Control Network, about £200. Considering that the firearms licence averages out at just £10 a year, it is cheaper to own a gun than it is to own a fishing licence. That is absurd. I cannot see why the taxpayer is being asked to subsidise a large number of gun licences that are being issued to and used by a minority of individuals who wish to use guns for recreational sport. I am not aware of any other licensing system that subsidises to that degree.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): In a rural area such as mine, a number of people have to hold firearms licences because they deal with fallen stock. I assume that that would be a legitimate business expense that they could claim to do their job. Putting the firearms costs at the correct level so that the police do not have to ask other taxpayers for some sort of subsidy would be a logical thing to do, and would not cause problems in rural areas where these firearms are needed.

9.30 pm

Steve Rotheram: The hon. Lady is absolutely right that if the burden can be transferred to another expense and taken from the police force budgets to subsidise this practice, it could only be good for law enforcement in the country. Last year, Devon and Cornwall police estimated that they spent a total of £1.2 million on completing firearms licence applications, but recouped only £514,000 in fees—phenomenally disproportionate.

Unsurprisingly, I am very much of the opinion that we should implement full cost recovery in the UK. In 2012, the police spent almost £20 million on administering firearms licences. I do not believe that the public would deem that to be a good use of declining police resources. I understand that the Government are in the process of implementing a new fees system, to which the Minister just referred. Unfortunately, it represents a missed opportunity because it will not include a full cost recovery proposal, only an increase in the fees.

I shall finish by sharing with the House the remarks of Lord Justice Openshaw who, in April this year, sentenced seven members of the notorious Croxteth Crew gang to a combined total of 113 years in prison. The Crocky Crew and the Strand gang from Norris Green terrorised parts of the border between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). Lord Justice Openshaw’s words paint a picture of how crimes can escalate and how the pattern of crime develops in parallel with continued feelings of social isolation. In all too many cases, criminal activity is a graduated process.

Obviously, only a minority progress to the most serious crimes, but for many it starts as antisocial behaviour and becomes more serious with burglary, violent assault and drug use. Then, before long, it becomes gun crime, punishment shootings and murder. What is more startling is that this pattern is developing quicker than ever before, and the accused are often mere teenagers or predominantly young men in their early 20s when they are caught and prosecuted.

These words should make us all think about how we vote and about the message that this Bill sends to criminals across the country. The judge said of the gang:

14 Oct 2013 : Column 559

“Their days were spent posturing outside…shops dealing drugs. It is as if they belong to some sort of outlaw tribe which has rejected all society’s moral standards and conventions. Their minds are spent towards feuding and prosecuting vendettas against former associates.”

Central to this gang’s dominance was an arsenal of weapons, including several pistols, a double-barrelled shotgun and grenades—in this country! While the fear of crime is much greater than the likelihood of being a victim of crime, firearms are a major problem and we should never be complacent about them. That is why the whole House should support the Government’s reforms and the Opposition amendments. Together, we can redouble our efforts to get guns off our streets.

Damian Green: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) for his very thoughtful speech. I am also grateful to Opposition Front Benchers for their support for new clause 20.

It is clear from today’s debate that there are three separate issues to be discussed. There is the illegal use of guns that are held illegally, there is the illegal use of guns that are held legally, and there are the costs associated with guns that are entirely legally held and legally used. The first thing that we must do is ensure that those issues do not become confused with each other. Each of them relates to an extremely serious area of public policy, but the response to each of them needs to be different.

I cannot improve on much of what was said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton about how tough we need to be on the criminal use of illegally held guns. I am grateful to him for his support for clauses 100 and 101 and the amendments to those clauses. They plug loopholes in the existing law, which will hopefully make policing the criminal use of illegally held guns—and illegally distributed guns, to which he rightly referred—less difficult.

As was made clear by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and by me in my opening remarks, the illegal use of legal guns can lead to terrible tragedies. The Atherton case, which was raised by the hon. Lady, left a huge scar on a family and, indeed, on a whole area, and gave rise to a number of recommendations. In my view, all that divides the two Front Benches on the issue is how effective we consider each other’s proposed methods of dealing with it would be. I shall not weary the House by repeating a speech that I made at the outset of the debate, but we have thought long and hard, and, moreover, have taken significant action since the Committee stage, when we last debated the issue. We published the new firearms guidance at the end of July.

Let me address directly the points that the hon. Lady reasonably made about individual court decisions. As she rightly said, I cannot comment on such decisions, not least in view of the fact that her comments were slightly opaque because, understandably, she could not mention names. I can only reiterate that the new guidance makes it absolutely clear that evidence of domestic violence and abuse will generally indicate that an individual should not be permitted to possess a firearm. It would be difficult to make it clearer that that is the way in which the court should interpret the guidance in the event of an appeal.

14 Oct 2013 : Column 560

One of the other lessons that the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the coroner drew in the Atherton case was that police enforcement needs to be more effective. We can write laws or guidance, but ultimately it is the human beings who execute those laws that make the difference. We are working with the national policing lead for firearms licensing to ensure that police all over the country, in every police force, have a more detailed awareness and understanding of the Home Office guide. As I have said, the College of Policing will publish authorised professional practice on firearms licensing, which will complement and cross-refer to the Home Office guide. In addition, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has been conducting a scoping exercise, and will use the evidence from that to decide whether a full firearms licensing inspection should take place.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I hope that, in the course of his deliberations, the Minister will consider some of my constituents who, although they are by no means wealthy, enjoy participating in target practice or clay pigeon shooting. I hope that, as a result of this process, shooting will not become the preserve of the rich.

Damian Green: My hon. Friend has made a good point. I shall deal shortly with the third issue that I identified earlier, namely the costs of legally held guns.

Jim Shannon: What guarantees or safeguards will be in place for husbands or partners who are firearms holders but who have had malicious allegations made against them? What legal protections will be in place for them when the investigations by the police are completed and the malicious allegations are found to be untrue?

Damian Green: The protections are the new guidelines, the new professional standards issued by the college and any recommendations that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary comes up with from its inspection. Those things will make the whole system more robust, so that the specially trained individual police officers who will be making those investigations will be better trained than ever before to judge whether, for example, an accusation is malicious or whether it is a genuine accusation and there is evidence of domestic violence or abuse and that therefore the individual should not be permitted to possess a firearm. Clearly, what one can expect and demand in such cases is that the individual officer taking the decision is as well trained as possible and is operating to very clear guidelines. That will be the case, and it is the best protection against malicious accusations. Equally, or perhaps more importantly, it protects those who may have been victims of domestic abuse and who may be victims of something worse if a gun is left in the wrong hands. That is what hon. Members on both sides of the debate are seeking and, as I say, it is an argument about practicality.

The third aspect to this debate relates to the costs. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North asked a number of questions, and the answer to her question about e-commerce and the new system is that 24 forces are already signed up to phase 1, which comes into force either this year or next year, with eight other forces involved in phase 2. Thirty-two forces have therefore already agreed to do this, and I know that the national

14 Oct 2013 : Column 561

policing lead on firearms is energetically going around the country to ensure that all other forces eventually sign up.

The hon. Lady made the point, quoting the Treasury document, about full cost recovery. It is true that, in principle, full cost recovery within the Treasury’s policy on managing public money does apply to firearms licensing. Of course, we are in discussion with the Treasury on the subject of firearms fees. As I said, we are working towards full cost recovery as our ultimate objective. However, in this period our commitment is to increase the efficiency of the licensing process, as a first step. That is essential to achieve a balance between increased income and increased efficiency. The trick—this is true in all areas of public spending—is not to regard full cost recovery as a given, because we can always bring the costs down. We have already seen in the early pilots of the use of an electronic system for licensing not only that people get a quicker and better service, but that it is considerably cheaper for the police to operate, and so there is a benefit all round. One hon. Member cited a figure of £200 from the Gun Control Network, and I know that the police have come up with a figure of about £190 for full cost recovery, but the figure will be much lower under an e-commerce system. That is to the benefit of the police and of those applying for licences, be it for working purposes, as is the case in many rural parts of the country, or for recreation, which various hon. Members have mentioned.

Diana Johnson: Given that such huge cuts are being made to public services these days, does the Minister feel entirely comfortable saying that he thinks it is acceptable for the public purse to subsidise people who want to have a gun and get a gun licence to the tune of £18 million? I understand what he is saying about the future, but the reality today is that lots of police forces are under pressure, so should the full cost recovery not be brought in now, rather than at some future date?

Damian Green: The point that I am making is that it is today; the use of an electronic licensing system is available. Some police forces are piloting this already and this will lead to a much more efficient system. As I say, our ultimate aim is full cost recovery. We are moving towards that, but at the same time making sure that the full cost that is recovered is much less than it was before, not just to save the money but because that will lead to a much better and more efficient system.

Tessa Munt: Surely, using e-commerce for firearms licensing will still involve police time in investigating in detail the circumstances of an applicant, including a visit to ensure that the premises can hold firearms in a secure and safe fashion, hidden from general view, and certainly from young people and those who are less able. Surely the standard charge of £190 or £200 cannot be reduced that much.

9.45 pm

Damian Green: The short answer is that it can. Yes, the police will want to do thorough checks of the premises and so on, but the more that one can reduce the work of processing pieces of paper, which is a lot of

14 Oct 2013 : Column 562

what is involved now, with all the attendant inefficiencies and expense for the police, the more the police can do the checks that the hon. Lady and I both want to see happen.

Tessa Munt: Can the Minister give me some idea of what the police feel the cost would be if they were to use the e-commerce system? I remind the Minister yet again that the cost of a morning’s shooting—clays—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) referred is not cheap. This is leisure and recreation.

Damian Green: The hon. Lady may be right, but the more people use electronic systems, the more savings there are, so it is quite difficult to put an exact figure on it, particularly with a network system, where the costs will be considerably lower than the figures we have been quoting. I can tell from the hon. Lady’s face that I will not necessarily convince her on this matter, but I hope that I have convinced the House. I urge the House to reject the Opposition’s new clause 4, and I am grateful for the general support for the Government’s new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 20 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 4

Firearms’ licensing

‘(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 28A (Certificates: supplementary) insert—

“28B Assessing public safety

(1) When assessing the threat to public safety under sections 27, 28, 30A, 30B or 30C the Chief Police Officer must ensure that a range of background checks are performed.

(2) Where these checks uncover substantiated evidence of violent conduct, domestic violence, mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse, the presumption is that the Chief Police Officer should refuse the licence application unless exceptional evidence can be brought forward by the applicant as to their suitability to possess a weapon.

(3) When assessing public safety within this section the Chief Police Officer must follow any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.”.

(3) Section 113 of the Firearms Act 1968 (power of Secretary of State to alter fees) is amended as follows.

(4) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Before making an order under this section the Secretary of State must consult with chief police officers to ensure the level of fees collected by the police under sections 32 and 35 are appropriate after considering the costs they incur through the administration and assessment of firearms’ licences made under this Act.”.’.—(Diana Johnson.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 215, Noes 298.

Division No. 97]


9.48 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

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 Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watts, Mr Dave

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Nic Dakin


Seema Malhotra


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Alistair

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

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

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

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

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

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

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCrea, Dr William

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robertson, rh Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, David

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

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Amber Rudd


Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived.

14 Oct 2013 : Column 563

14 Oct 2013 : Column 564

14 Oct 2013 : Column 565

14 Oct 2013 : Column 566

10.3 pm

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

Clause 100

Offence of possessing firearms for supply etc.

Amendments made: 100, page 71, line 37, leave out ‘follows’ and insert ‘set out in subsections (2) to (6)’.

Amendment 101, page 72, line 2, leave out from ‘without’ to end of line at line 4 and insert ‘authority’.

Amendment 102, page 72, line 12, at end insert—

‘( ) For subsection (3) of that section there is substituted—

(3) In this section “authority” means an authority given in writing by—

(a) the Secretary of State (in or as regards England and Wales), or

(b) the Scottish Ministers (in or as regards Scotland).”’.

Amendment 103, page 72, line 12, at end insert—

14 Oct 2013 : Column 567

‘( ) In section 5A (exemptions from requirement of authority under section 5)—

(a) in subsections (1), (3), (4), (5), (6) and (7), the words “subsection (1A) of” are omitted;

(b) in subsections (1) and (3), for “any prohibited weapon or ammunition” there is substituted “any weapon, ammunition or missile specified in subsection (1A) of that section”.’.

Amendment 104, page 72, line 30, at end insert—

‘( ) In section 1 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 (extension of section 5 of the 1968 Act to prohibit certain small firearms etc), after subsection (7) there is inserted—

(7A) In sections 2 to 7 below any reference to subsection (1)(aba) of section 5 of the 1968 Act shall include a reference to subsection (2A) of that section as it applies in relation to a firearm specified in subsection (1)(aba) of that section.

(7B) In section 8 below the reference to subsection (1)(aba), (b) or (c) of section 5 of the 1968 Act shall include a reference to subsection (2A) of that section as it applies in relation to any weapon or ammunition specified in subsection (1)(aba), (b) or (c) of that section.”’.—(Damian Green.)

Bill to be further considered tomorrow.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

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


That the draft Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Amendment: Qualifying Offences) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 8 July, be approved.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.

Mr Speaker: Before we come to the petition, I appeal to colleagues who are leaving the Chamber to do so

14 Oct 2013 : Column 568

quickly and quietly, displaying the same courtesy to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) as they could be assured of from her if roles were reversed.


Train Services (Brighton and Hove)

10.4 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): This petition has been signed by almost 1,300 individuals, the vast majority of whom are residents of my home city of Brighton and Hove. All are rail users who are united by concerns at the rising cost of rail travel and the poor quality of train services. They are particularly concerned that since privatisation the cost of train travel has risen by 23% in real terms and the cost to the public purse of running the railways has risen by a factor of between two and three times. My constituents want to see the public money invested in the railway used to deliver a better service for passengers, while also achieving wider social and environmental goals and real consideration given to bringing rail back into public ownership.

The petition states:

The Petition of rail users and passengers from Brighton and Hove,

Declares that they are concerned at the extremely high cost of tickets for train services provided by Southern and First Capital Connect, which are often overcrowded and unreliable.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Department of Transport to take the necessary steps to ensure rail fares are significantly reduced; to introduce minimum standards for on-train facilities; and to deliver a railway run to a high standard, designed as a public service rather than one primarily run to generate a profit.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


14 Oct 2013 : Column 569

Pub Company Business Models

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

10.5 pm

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Before I start, I want to say that I will take interventions only from Members who have told me that they want to intervene, one of whom is the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), the vice-chair of the all-party save the pub group. Moreover, given that the Secretary of State will be able to say very little in response to the debate because of the current stage of the consultation, I have been told that I can speak for 23 minutes, so I will try to conclude at 10.29 pm.

We have all heard about, and many MPs have experienced first hand, the effects of the leased pub company model and how it has destroyed pub businesses, families and lives, but tonight it is the cold, brutal, harsh economic reality of this model that I am going to expose. I will also expose how not taking the right action now would be a disaster not only for many pubco publicans and the communities that stand to lose their local pubs, but for the recovering UK economy.

Perhaps a better title for my speech would be, “The Great British Pubco Scam”, for this whole sorry saga is a tale of one of the worst examples of reckless, irresponsible capitalism this country has ever seen—a get-rich-quick scheme for a greedy few that has marred lives and closed thousands of pubs and that has caused losses of billions for the UK economy, pension funds and the Treasury.

Turning to the history, the large, leased pubcos are not pub companies in any real sense. They are highly leveraged property companies whose business model is based on charging unreasonably high rents and outrageously high prices for beer to their tenants. This goes back to the beer orders. Prior to 1989, most pubs were tied to the large brewers. It was believed, rightly, that this led to a substantial restriction in the choice of products available to consumers, so the beer orders restricted to 2,000 the number of pubs that could be owned by and tied to a brewer.

The beer orders, however, failed in one spectacular way, which the Campaign for Real Ale and others spotted: they clearly should have prevented any company, not just breweries, from owning and supply-tying more than 2,000 pubs. That was the tragedy and disaster of the beer orders.

A loophole was exploited by many and the anomaly was quickly spotted by bankers, speculators and financial engineers such as Hugh Osmond, Roger Myers and Guy Hands. The result was the formation of a number of so-called pub companies, such as Punch Taverns, Enterprise Inns, Unique Pub Company and Admiral Taverns. Those at the helm had little if any connection to the sector and very little empathy with it. Everyone wanted a piece of the action, and they all piled in to make money, with little interest in the pubs, the people who ran them, the communities that used them or the wider economic impact.

Aided by investment bankers, pub company bosses produced financial models and projections that assumed practically perpetual growth in the rents and beer prices

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that they could charge their captive market of tied licensees, who would be unable to resist such aggressive pricing strategies. Through securitisation and more conventional debt, large sums of money were raised to acquire a large number of pubs from brewers who were obliged to dispose of them and, after that, from other pub companies.

Seeing that they were on to a good thing, the pubcos, led by Punch, went on an acquisition spree, buying up pubs for more than their actual value, simply to inflate their share value artificially. In valuation terms, the same yield or multiple was applied to inflate portfolio values, with hypothetical wet rents being used, rather than actual numbers. To maintain the wet rent at as high a level as possible, beer prices have been increased year on year, substantially above the rate of inflation. So as to inflate artificially the pub and estate values, and then to borrow vast sums against that imaginary valuation, the companies were adding to the dry rents the profits achieved by wholesaling beer to create an overall rent. That led to the values being falsely inflated.

During the period of growth, Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns found themselves in the FTSE 100 as their share prices peaked. However, it was not to last for long. From 2007, with the credit boom in fever pitch, retail investors kept piling in. Even though a prudent chief executive officer must surely have seen the writing on the wall, Ted Tuppen at Enterprise Inns was handing himself dividends and using company funds to buy back shares, including his own, at a rather fuller price. A quick look at the share prices of Enterprise and Punch, and to some extent even Greene King and Marston’s leased operations, reveals the profile of a classic pump-and-dump operation, with a huge surge like a giant heartbeat, then failure and the resultant flat line.

With positive broker comments and heavy financial public relations, the insiders exited and the gullible lost money. Pension funds, choosing to believe the hype from the companies and the endless positive messages of house brokers, stayed in and lost fortunes for pensioners. Naive retail investors did the same. The winners were the insiders and the directors; the losers were the publicans, their communities and the pensioners whose funds unwisely left money in the pubcos.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I pay tribute to the excellent work that the hon. Gentleman, who is my hon. Friend in this matter, has done with the all-party save the pub group. I associate myself and the Labour party—not only the Back Benches, but the Front Bench—with the excellent case that he is putting forward on the completely unsustainable nature of the pubco model, which exposes licensees to the double whammy of inflated pub prices and excessive rents.

Greg Mulholland: I thank the hon. Gentleman and hon. Members from all parts of the House who have seen this practice for what it is and supported the response to it.

Favoured funds were the providers of much of the debt funding. At the peak of the madness, as much as £600 million a year was being removed from UK pubs and paid, much of it overseas, to hedge funds in the US and other debt providers. I wonder whether the Secretary of State and his officials were aware of that.

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Famously, Larry Robbins of the $7-billion fund Glenview Capital Management described Punch Taverns’ hapless tenants as the source of ever more money for Punch and his fund. David Einhorn, the wealthy manager of Greenlight Capital in New York, was also a heavy investor in pubcos. Following a taped conversation between him, a broker and Punch Taverns’ CEO, Giles Thorley, it became apparent that his track was a little too inside and he was fined £7.2 million by the Financial Services Authority. I wonder whether the Secretary of State knew about that.

When someone has seen the writing on the wall and wants to get out with their bag of swag, what do they do? They find somebody else to hand it on to. Giles Thorley was the perfect foil for Guy Hands, who seduced him into running Unique Pub Company just as it was being sold to Enterprise. Hugh Osmond, also by now looking for the exit door, poached Thorley to Punch Taverns. As the share price was pumped in 2010, Giles Thorley, clearly seeing the writing on the wall, sold out and made his fortune, albeit a smaller one than those of his mentors. Mr Tuppen at Enterprise, with a lacklustre career prior to forming his pubco, could not believe his luck as he was courted by the City with seemingly unlimited money to buy more and more pubs.

With the securitised money washing through the pubcos, all that was left was a largely debt-ridden sector paying interest rates of up to 8.5% on billions of pounds. As we all know, the money was to be made by squeezing the life out of hard-pressed tied tenants, sucking others into the scam and then, when all else failed, closing and selling off run-down pubs for alternative use.

A key part of the scam was mis-selling, which the other vice-chair of the all-party save the pub group, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley), has previously raised. Enterprise Inns, for example, conducted an in-house study of sales, profits and costs in a sample of its estate, and despite establishing a much higher level of costs from that quoted to tenants, it maintained utterly unrealistic low levels of business overheads that barely allowed for repair and maintenance, let alone staffing, training and business promotion. As we know, many tenants took on unsustainable businesses, losing their entire life savings before inevitable business failure. The situation was akin to loan sharks, with the misleading presentation of the proposition, attractive terms of entry and often initial discounts, but without the cold, hard, unsustainable reality and the wholly unrealistic future that went with signing up being spelled out.

Then there was the role of valuers. It is odd that Humberts was the chosen valuer of both large pub companies, Punch and Enterprise. It also helps them to have their own man inside the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors writing the valuation guidelines for the properties in their sector so that they can be applied in their favour. Yes, it is Enterprise Inns’ very own national rent controller, Rob May, who has been overseeing the process since 2005. At one time he was the chairman of the valuation party. Despite the obvious conflict of interest, the interpretation of the new guidance is still controlled by the group that Mr May participates in. Select Committees and the Government have identified that there was confusion in the interpretation and application of the new RICS guidance, and despite requests even from the Department for Business, Innovation

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and Skills, RICS has simply referred the matter to Mr May’s group. Did the Secretary of State and his officials know that?

Then there was another wheeze, involving rating. Knowing that most tied pubs turn over little money, would it not be advantageous for the pubcos to have a system of rating where all the usual rules were ignored in favour of a special scheme whereby the rates paid by a company’s tenants were artificially lowered using a scale based on turnover rather than the usual method of looking at rent? Of course, if the company’s tenants are paying lower rates, it can increase the rental burden at rent reviews and, of course, increase the capital value of its pub estate. Just £5,000 per annum per pub amounts to £25 million per annum across 5,000 pubs, and the capital value increases by up to £300 million all of a sudden. That was all helped, unwittingly, by the taxpayer. Did the Secretary of State and his officials know that?

Then there was the issue of full repairing and insuring leases. Suddenly, the company that owned a building did not have to pay anything for maintenance, inside or out—it was like a tenant renting a house or flat and then having to maintain the entire property. Of course, the pubco was heavily protected to ensure that it had as good an investment as possible by passing on as many costs as possible to the tenant.

The key to the scam, of course, is double-overcharging. The pubcos derive two rents. The dry rent is the fixed income for the property, the wet rent the large profit derived from selling beer to the tenant at inflated prices. In the recent Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers survey, we see that far from being lower than open-market free-of-tie rents, the dry rents alone that pubcos charge are higher. That is a de facto abuse of the tie. Worse than that, in a tied pub, with wet rent added to dry, rather than the usual rent of 10% of turnover, the aggregate rent is fast approaching 20% of sales, hence the incredibly derisory income derived by many tenants.

Perhaps the most suspicious part is the so-called wholesale price of beer—an artificial instrument maintained to ensure that excessive profits, over and above those that can be gained in the open market, are available to companies that own pubs. No one in the free trade pays the full wholesale price, or anywhere near that amount, for any beer, and only unfortunate tied publicans are subjected to that excessive pricing. Far from being a discount, in reality tied tenants are paying more than any right hon. and hon. Member would by going to their local brewery.

To give one stark example, in six years an 11-gallon keg of Foster’s from Enterprise has gone up from £107, excluding VAT, to £151—an increase of £44. Data from wholesalers show that in the free trade that keg cost £77 six years ago and £87 today—an increase of £10. The same duty rates, and the same increased manufacturing costs and overheads apply, yet the price increase to a tied tenant has been nearly four and a half times that of a free-of-tie publican over six years for the same product. If that is not a manipulation of pricing, I do not know what is.

We then come to the enforcers—Brulines, or Vianet as it was recently rebranded, knowing its already damaged reputation. It is pertinent to note that the company was started by Derrick Collin, who was convicted for blackmail and conspiracy in 1986. He devised the flow monitoring technology that was to become Brulines. It is a rudimentary

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system, but instead of being used simply to check flow as a helpful tool, it is used, through intimidation, to threaten tenants and provide calculations for “buying-out fines.” It has not been tested in situ by any formal agency, and is shown to be highly inaccurate in several reports by experts, including one from a trading standards officer. It could be considered to be in use in trade, but at the moment it is not regulated under the Weights and Measures Act 1986. It has no CE mark, no other certification, and the lease documentation signed by lessees means that if they are threatened by such fines, they risk legal costs of their own to defend those charges. To be clear, no independent expert evidence as to the accuracy of the system has yet been heard in court, and I ask the Secretary of State to look at the issue again.

The situation is clearly a disaster for tied publicans, but also for the UK economy. Look at the collapse of share prices: 95%, 98%—perhaps only an 80% collapse from Enterprise. Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns have arguably been in a form of passive administration for several years. They are zombie companies that do not pay dividends, and they have no growth plan or export potential. They just about pay the cost of their debt by selling off their assets. That asset stripping is happening now—slash and burn. Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns, the two largest pubcos, collectively disposed of more than 5,000 pubs between 2008 and 2012—one third of all of their pubs. No other part of the sector has experienced anything like that level of disposal and failure.

A common technique used to generate even more profit is the use of “churn”, which involves forcing the failure of tenants over time and replacing them periodically. That enables the pub company to retain rent deposits, pursue personal guarantees, take new deposits and ingoing costs, and perhaps charge a higher rent over time to the new tenant. Data leaked from Punch in 2009 and released to the media showed that the pub company “churns” as much as 25% of its entire estate in any one year, and that average individual tenants might be expected to last no longer than three years in their pub. Enterprise Inns’ 2013 interim results reveal that of its 5,720 pub tenants, 1,463—more than 25%—have been in occupation for less than a year.

Such a situation is also bad for the taxpayer. The taxpayer-owned Lloyds bank had to write off some £600 million when Admiral Taverns went into administration in 2010. Similarly, Royal Bank of Scotland acquired just over 1,000 pubs in 1999 and sold them at a loss to Heineken—effectively the same people from whom it had bought them—in 2011.

The situation is clearly bad for the economy, but is it bad for everyone? The obvious and sad answer is no. Despite the share prices tumbling, pubco bosses still managed to find the resources to pay themselves astonishing returns. Last year Ted Tuppen of Enterprise Inns received a basic salary of £640,000, as well as a bonus of £329,000 and pension contributions of £160,000, resulting in his taking home more than £1 million. This is clear and grotesque reward for failure—something that my right hon. Friend said he would stamp down on.

There is some very worrying lobbying going on. There is baseless, hysterical and thoroughly dishonest scaremongering to try to persuade my right hon. Friend

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and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), and also the officials. Much of that, I am glad to say, has been dealt with through the Fair Deal For Your Local “Setting the Record Straight” report. I gently remind the House that in its report of 2008-09 the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee commented about pub company bosses that

“in evidence to us both Mr Thorley of Punch and Mr Tuppen and Mr Townsend of Enterprise Inns made assertions which, on investigation, proved to give a partial picture, or on one occasion were positively false.”

Even this year we have had the chief executive of the so-called British Beer and Pub Association—in truth, the big brewers and pubcos association—making two factually incorrect statements when appearing before the Committee on 11 June, and then saying on “Sunday Politics South East” on 9 June that the Government had their own figures on pub closures, which they clearly do not.

The solution is clear and it is what people are afraid of. The solution suggested by the Select Committee is for tenants and lessees of the large companies—I stress that this applies only to large companies; it would not apply to family brewers—to have the option to pay an independently assessed market rent only. That is the only way to stop the endemic overcharging. I was delighted and the House was delighted, having made clear its views in a unanimous motion, that the Secretary of State made clear the Government commitment when he said in a letter to the Chair of the Select Committee in January that

“the Government's proposals would address abuses of the tie, through enshrining the principle that ‘a tied licensee should be no worse off than a free of tie licensee’ in the Code”.

The only way to do that is the Select Committee solution—the market rent-only option, also known as the free-of-tie option with open market rent review. There is a positive future with that—increased certainty and confidence for brewers, more jobs and investment in brewers, good news for smaller brewers, who would have greater access to market, and good news for consumers, who would see a greater choice of beer and a cheaper pint in pubcos. I ask my right hon. Friend to look out for the new research coming from the Federation of Small Businesses tomorrow, and I ask him to sit down with his officials and look at that before he makes any final decisions.

The market rent only option would save pubs because it would stop the kind of asset stripping that is going on around the country. The provisions of tied leases and tenancies enable pubcos and others to circumvent the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 security of tenure protection. When sites are very valuable for development, pub companies are changing terms and applying pressure to drive tenants out. I can show my right hon. Friend cases—there are some close to him—where that is clearly happening.

In conclusion, pubs will continue to be viable businesses, despite changing times, but they will no longer be a guaranteed source of over-rentalisation for property companies, whether they brew or not. That model is gone. It is nearly dead, but without the market rent only option it will take down thousands more pubs in its death throes. The great British pubco scam has done

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huge damage to pubs and the UK economy, but as long as the overcharging is allowed to continue, this will happen. I gently point my right hon. Friend, for whom I have great respect, in the direction of his 2010 speech about “spivs and gamblers” and the reckless behaviour that brought the UK banking sector to its knees. Having heard what I have reported tonight, can anyone think that that is not a perfect description of what has happened in this sector?

There is clear support for reform in the House, as 81 coalition MPs have signed the early-day motion or expressed their support for the Fair Deal For Your Local campaign, which is calling for a market rent-only option. My right hon. Friend can be clear that we can and would win a vote in this House. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) has indicated that it would be assured of the support of the Opposition and we would also have the support of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who represents the Green party.

In 1969, a Monopolies Commission report recommended the market rent-only option. It was needed then and it is certainly needed now. I believe that my right hon. Friend can and will be the person who has the courage finally to do it. The choice for him and the Government is stark, although they could ignore the campaign, not introduce a market rent-only option, let things continue and be blamed for the continual asset-stripping of pubs and the destruction of other small businesses. We need action now not just to assist thousands of publicans and save pubs but to provide a boost to local economies and to the UK economy.