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The Prime Minister and his colleagues tell us that the answer is to switch suppliers. Well, 34% of my respondents told me that they had switched, but then found themselves paying more for their heating than they were saving. Most of the 66% who had not switched suppliers told me that that was not because they were happy with their current supplier, but because, “They’re all the same. I would end up paying more.” As for the Prime Minister’s advice on whether to wear a jumper, the response of 97% of my constituents was, “Wow, patronising or

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what?” I agree with them. His remarks encapsulate just how out of touch he is with the everyday lives of ordinary people in this country.

Many people told me how the rising cost of living is having a detrimental impact on their lives and those of their children. I was told, “In my household, we have to choose a room to heat and we all spend our time in that room.” How on earth do we expect young people to thrive academically in that environment, or even simply get the space to do their homework? I was told, “I don’t have the heating on as long as I’d like to, to save money”, and “We don’t heat our home until it’s nearly freezing inside.” Premature winter deaths soar in cold weather when people are not able to heat their homes. The most recent statistics show that Newham is ninth out of the 32 London boroughs for the number of excess winter deaths, despite it having the youngest population in the UK.

Paying the heating bills is only one part of the cost of living crisis. In the year to March 2013, rents increased by 2.7% on average across the country. In Newham, rents increased by 15% in the same period. That is an average of £135 more per month. Let us also put into the mix the lack of affordable child care, the difficulty in finding and holding on to employment, and the impact of zero-hours contracts on people’s ability to pay the rent. All those issues have become weekly or even daily concerns for people who live in Newham.

Under this Government, the cost of nursery places has risen by 30%—five times faster than pay. How do the Government think hard-working people in my constituency and in the other constituencies we have heard about, who are often on the minimum wage and are living in expensive private sector accommodation, can afford that hike? What advice would they offer my constituents who are working long hours just to make ends meet and who are worried about decent, affordable child care for their families? How would they advise people in my constituency who are struggling to pay exorbitant rents, but are living in overcrowded and often substandard private sector housing? What would they tell the young person who is struggling to find a decent, full-time job? I will tell you, Mr Speaker.

This Government offer empty platitudes. They are out of touch and have no clue what life is like for ordinary working families. They have allowed prices to rise faster than wages in 39 out of 40 months. And when was that halcyon month when wages rose more than prices? It was the month in which the bankers received their bonuses. Does that not tell us all we need to know about the Government? This Government put the wishes of the privileged before the needs of working people. Trust me, Mr Speaker, I could go on and on talking about the abhorrent impact that the cost of living crisis is having in my constituency. The only people who seem to be completely oblivious are the Members on the Government Benches. They care not about the consequences of their cavalier ignorance on the lives of ordinary people. Britain deserves better.

6.27 pm

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): I am not at all surprised that the Government Members who have spoken in this debate on the cost of living—all of whom, interestingly, are men, with the exception of the

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Minister who will respond—seem so delighted and thrilled that they can come here and talk about a recovery, because something very strange has happened over the past three and a half years.

In June 2010, the Office for Budget Responsibility made its first pre-Budget forecast before the emergency Budget that we were rushed into because we had to do something about the economy. It predicted that GDP growth would be 2.1% in 2010-11, 2.6% in 2011-12, 2.9% in 2012-13 and 2.7% in 2013-14. It was assumed that inflation would be at its highest at 4.1%. I seem to remember that it hit 5.2% or thereabouts. Of course, the higher-than-predicted inflation was the only reason why the Government were able to boast about record increases in pensions.

Something happened between June 2010 and now. The thing that happened was the Government’s economic policy. Instead of improving the economy over the past two and a half years—

Mr Newmark: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Sheila Gilmore: Time is very limited, so I will not take any interventions. During that period, economic growth has gone backwards and we have found ourselves in a position of stagnation—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) should calm down, relax, and lower the temperature. He should not get too excited; there is no need.

Sheila Gilmore: That stagnation is why so many of our constituents are suffering so much. I was astonished by some of the comments made this afternoon. The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) managed to suggest that unemployment was not down to the recession but down to the entire period of the Labour Government. In fact, when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, unemployment was a little over 5% at 1.6 million, but by the end of 2009 it had risen by 1 million to 2.5 million. The cause of that rising unemployment, so suddenly and over such a short period, was the economic recession, not the Labour Government. Such rewriting of history is constantly going on. Recently, however, that rewriting seems not just to be about what caused the recession, but tries to read back to the Labour Government and put things into that period that were not the case.

The stock answer from the Government on what they have done to help people in the cost of living crisis is to talk about the increase in the tax threshold. The problem with that policy is that it unduly helps those who are already better off, and does not help those with the lowest income levels in our communities. Two thirds of the billions of pounds that have been spent on raising the tax threshold has gone to people in the top half of the income scale, because the policy benefits people on higher incomes as much—if not more—as those on lower incomes.

What has been the quid pro quo? There have been cuts to benefit payments and tax credits, which has cancelled out the rise in the tax threshold for those at the lower end of the income scale. Not only have those paying no tax not benefited, but those at the bottom end who have apparently benefited a little have had that

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cancelled out. That is what we must all remember. Those with the lowest earnings have not benefited from the policy. Both Government parties constantly say that the tax threshold is being raised because they want to help the lowest earners. In fact, that policy has not benefited the lowest earners, because in order to pay for it—it is very expensive—there have been constant cuts to people’s benefits.

At the extreme end, those who say there has been no change should look around their towns and cities. I have never seen so many quick lenders, payday lenders, and companies such as BrightHouse spring up in such a short period. It was not happening before. Food banks are new in my lifetime—they were something I read about in the history books of the 1930s. One of the Prime Minister’s favourite statements about food banks is, “But usage of food banks went up tenfold under a Labour Government.” The problem with that arithmetic is that 10 times a very small number is still a very small number—from 4,000 in 2005 when the Trussell Trust started up, to 40,000 in 2010. Last year, that figure rose to 347,000, and in the first six months of this year, it has risen to 350,000. That very big number is down to the policies of this Government.

6.34 pm

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I will be brief, because time is short.

I listened to the debate with interest. Hon. Members can throw punches from now until Christmas eve about who is to blame, but the reality is that hundreds of thousands of people in the United Kingdom—men, women and children—are in poverty. It is estimated that 31,000 senior citizens will die because of the lack of heat or food in their homes. That is a tragedy for any country and for this modern-day United Kingdom.

Electricity and gas prices, and water charges, are increasing. People are finding it hard to repay their mortgages and, as we heard, interest rates could go up. People are being hit by the bedroom tax—others will use different terminology. The banks are, and have been, ripping them off. Food banks are increasing. In my constituency, which, at 200 square miles, is not the biggest in the UK, food banks are starting to increase, which never happened before. We are sending millions of pounds per year to fill Strasbourg’s coffers so that people there can waste it on some outlandish project and prop up other countries that have gone into bankruptcy.

Whenever the general public look at today’s debate, they will wonder what it is all about and ask, “Why should we bother to vote at all? We don’t seem to be getting much out of it.” I believe that, as elected Members, we should get closer to the general public and those who are going through serious poverty. It is a tragedy that people in this country have to choose between heating their homes or going out to buy their normal groceries.

A major problem we will have in future is personal debt. How that will be solved or dealt with we do not know, but it must be addressed. Millions of people will be in that difficulty.

Yes, vehicles are being exported to other countries. That is brilliant. Exports in general seem to be fairly good and moving forward, and business is looking fairly good, but the ordinary working-class general public currently do not see the benefit of any of it.

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We talk about rebalancing the economy. I agree that we need to do that—it is imperative—but hon. Members have been sent to the House to represent the people of the United Kingdom. It is important that we look at rebalancing the lives of the people who sent us here.

6.37 pm

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): The most recent GDP figures suggest that our economy might finally have started to turn a corner, which everybody, especially the Opposition, welcomes. We have had three years of flatlining growth under this Government. How much damage has that economic stagnation done? How long will it take the country, families and businesses to recover from a starting point that is so much lower than was promised back in 2010?

The Opposition motion states that

“growth of 1.5% is needed in every quarter between now and May 2015”

just to catch up on the ground that has been lost. Stagnation and no-to-low growth means that the Chancellor’s much hailed deficit reduction plan has been a failure, with borrowing rising—the coalition is set to borrow £200 billion more than it planned in autumn 2010. Will we get an explanation for that? That failure—the slowest recovery in 100 years—means that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor do not have a chance of meeting their promises to balance the books by 2015.

Mr Stewart Jackson rose—

Catherine McKinnell: I would be interested if the hon. Gentleman answered a question. Does erasing those promises from the Conservative party website mean that people will forget they were made?

Mr Jackson: The hon. Lady was doing so well. She is airbrushing the previous Labour Government’s record. If Labour is elected in 2015 and the economy is growing, does she recommend running a structural deficit, as the previous Labour Government did?

Catherine McKinnell: It is time for Government Members to take responsibility for the economy: three wasted years, lost opportunities and the loss of jobs and growth as a result of this Government’s failing economic policies.

Mr Newmark: It is an inconvenient truth for the hon. Lady that in the previous Parliament unemployment in her constituency went up by a whopping 88%. Under this Government, it has gone down 12%.

Catherine McKinnell: There are some inconvenient truths for Government Members. Personal debt has increased on their watch by 33% in my constituency and by a significant number in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Hon. Members are keen to refer to the previous Government’s borrowing figures. As of last week, the coalition Government have borrowed more in three years than the Labour Government did in 13 years of government—that is the reality. On every economic test, and on the test the Prime Minister and the Chancellor set for themselves, they have failed palpably. It is clear from the many contributions to the debate that the recovery, which appears to be taking place, has yet to touch the lives of millions of people, contrary to the

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impression given by Government Members. My concern is that things will get a whole lot worse before people see any signs of them getting better.

Any economic recovery needs to deliver rising standards for all, not just for the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and their friends at the top. We need a recovery that is balanced and built to last. Critically, it needs to benefit every corner and community in the country. Instead, the Government, and the Government Members who support them, continue to bury their heads in the sand. They remain oblivious to the living crisis experienced by millions of families, or, worse, they deny what they hear and see with their own eyes. It is the same old Tory party, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats. They are totally out of touch with the reality of life for so many in Britain today who find themselves increasingly out of pocket and increasingly in debt.

Kwasi Kwarteng: I will ask the hon. Lady the same question I asked her colleague, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie). What was the absolute level of the deficit in 2010 when this Government took over?

Catherine McKinnell: The hon. Gentleman is obsessed with statistics and keen to detract from the truth, which is that it is this Government who are borrowing £200 billion more than they planned. They have failed to reduce the deficit in the past three years to even a fraction of what they promised back in 2010. It is his Government’s plans that have failed. He should wake up to that fact.

I go back to the people who are paying the price. There is the single dad in my constituency who, to pay for the bedroom tax for the room he keeps for his children to stay in, eats barely anything all week and saves the money to buy food for his children at the weekend. The Chancellor would probably call that thrift. There is the GP and his staff who hand out, from their own pockets, the money for patients to get the bus to the local food bank. The Prime Minister would probably call that the big society in action. There is the branch of a well-known bank on the outskirts of Newcastle, where 80% of customers have only the most basic bank account. It has young mums coming in on a daily basis in tears because they cannot manage to feed their children and heat their homes. Citizens advice bureaux across the country saw a 78% increase in the number of people inquiring about food banks between February and June this year alone—little wonder, when gas and electricity bills have risen by an average of £300 a year on the Prime Minister’s watch. Households are spending 12% more on food bills than they were in 2007, despite purchasing 4.2% less food, as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) pointed out.

Several hon. Members rose

Catherine McKinnell: I would like to give way, but I really must make progress.

Let us cast our minds back briefly to 2010 and the Conservatives’ general election manifesto. They have attempted to wipe many previous pledges from their website and from the public’s memory, but I am afraid they cannot hide the blatant pledges printed in their manifesto. On page 8 it stated:

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“We want to see an economy where not just our standard of living, but everyone’s quality of life, rises steadily and sustainably.”

What about the Liberal Democrats? We know that their manifesto needs to be taken with a very large handful of salt. They stated:

“Liberal Democrats want to make the tax and benefits system fair, so that everyone, be they young or old, can afford to get by.”

They said that Britain was

“one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, where ordinary people struggle to make ends meet while the richest benefit from tax breaks.”

Well, we know who voted through the biggest tax break for top earners as soon as they got into power.

On the back of those election promises, what is the coalition’s record on living standards three and a half years into government? Under this Government, this Prime Minister, this Chancellor, this Deputy Prime Minister and this Chief Secretary, who is not here today, prices have risen faster than wages for 40 of the last 41 months. According to a report published by the TUC over the summer, of all the jobs created since June 2010, four out of five—80%—have been in low-paid industries. The stark reality is that average earnings have fallen in every region and nation of the UK on this Government’s watch. Indeed, the Prime Minister already has the worst record on living standards—none of his predecessors comes close to matching his singular failure on the issue. He is a record-breaking Prime Minister with a record-breaking Chancellor, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) put it so eloquently.

Let us just remind ourselves, particularly the Liberal Democrat Members previously so concerned about ordinary people struggling

“to make ends meet while the richest benefit from tax breaks”,

when the one blip in the Prime Minister’s dismal 40-month record was. In which one month of the last 41 did we see average wages rise faster than prices? Yes, it was April this year, when financial services firms deferred paying up to £1.7 billion in bonuses so that their staff could benefit from the 50p tax cut. At a time when average earnings for working people have fallen by £1,600 in real terms since May 2010, we have a Government who believed that it was right to prioritise giving a whopping tax cut to the highest earners in the country. At a time when almost 1 million young people are out of work, when long-term unemployment remains dangerously high and when the number of part-time workers wanting full-time hours stands at a record 1.5 million—another record for this Government—we have a Chancellor devoting his time and attention to taking legal action against the EU’s attempts to limit bankers’ bonuses to just one year’s salary. At a time when people are facing a genuine cost of living crisis, in the face of ever-increasing household bills and diminishing earnings, we have a Prime Minister who seems happy to sit on his hands and do nothing.

Only today, figures released by the Money Advice Service show that nearly 9 million people across the UK are living with serious debt problems. Staggeringly, 18% of Britons—8.8 million people—consider themselves to have “serious” financial issues. Many hon. Friends raised those issues on behalf of their constituents, including

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my hon. Friends the Members for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) and for Inverclyde, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) and my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore). We heard none of that concern from those on the Government Benches. We have a Prime Minister who is clearly happy to let ordinary people pay the price for his economic failure and that of his Chancellor. They are the people who, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister will never meet and whose lives he will never understand.

What could the Government be doing about this crisis? It is all about priorities. With the cold winter months now upon us, it is time to stand up for hard-pressed families by supporting our energy prize freeze. It is time to do something about the staggering rise in the cost of child care—up 30% under this Government—which is preventing people from getting to work. It is time to do something about housing and to ensure that as well as helping people to buy we help people to build. We also need to do something about unemployment and bring forward the compulsory jobs guarantee.

It is clear that the Government’s policies have failed on their own terms. On living standards, economic growth and the deficit, the Government have completely failed to meet the goals they set themselves in 2010. The Opposition believe that there are specific, urgent and costed measures that the Chancellor could take in the autumn statement next week to help hard-pressed families and small businesses. The Opposition call on the Government and the Chancellor to wake up to reality and do just that. I recommend our motion to the House.

6.50 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Nicky Morgan): I thank the 19 hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who have taken part in this afternoon’s debate.

It is said that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and the Opposition had a chance to admit they had a problem this afternoon. This debate has revealed the lack of an economic plan from Labour and the cost of a potential Labour Government. It is clear from what he said that the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury does not know the difference between a debt and a deficit. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) talked about household debt. She might like to know that household debt, as a proportion of income, was 100% in 1997, grew to 150% by 2007 and was 170% by the first quarter of 2008, but has now fallen by 30 percentage points to 141%, as of the first quarter of 2013.

Another falsehood spread this afternoon was that the Government had borrowed more in three years than the last Government borrowed in 13 years. Labour increased public sector net debt by £488 billion during their term in office, but the debt this Parliament has increased by £360 billion. The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury talked about record breaking. If he wants to talk about record breaking, how about talking about the record-breaking deficit that his Government left us? What about the broken promise of no more boom and bust.

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Remember that one? We do not hear that any more. The only honest statement we have heard from a Labour MP was from the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who left a note saying, “There’s no money left”. He could not have been more right.

So what is missing from the motion today? There is no mention of the jobs created by this Government, of the 2.7 million people taken out of income tax, of the council tax freeze, of fuel duty cuts, of the deficit falling by a third, of inflation falling or of employment being at an all-time high.

Robert Halfon: Does my hon. Friend not think it strange that the Opposition, who say they care about the cost of living crisis, voted against cutting taxes for lower earners and raising the threshold? Far from paying for those tax cuts for lower earners through other cuts, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) said, have we not raised taxes on the rich by increasing the capital allowance from 18% to 28%?

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is indeed right. I wanted to come to his speech, because he started by talking rightly about fuel duty and the wonderful campaign he has launched to ensure that households are not spending as much as planned under the last Labour Government. I heard his plea for a further cut. I take note, but I make no promises.

We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), who gave a characteristically positive speech. I note that unemployment in his constituency, including youth unemployment, is down by 20%, which is definitely something to be recognised. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) rightly talked about the recovering economy and about how debt had become endemic under the last Government. He is, of course, absolutely right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) coined a new phrase that I hope will spread across the Twittersphere and beyond about geeks bearing gifts. I wonder whether he would agree with Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, who said of Labour’s energy policy: “My criticism of that particular proposal is I think it is a one-off effort that does not deal with the overall comprehensive issue we have to address. I think there is even a case that some of the recent price rises we have seen might have been a response to the suggestion of a freeze”. That is absolutely correct.

We heard a wonderful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who talked about apprenticeships, noting the move from 430 to 690 apprentices in his constituency over the last year. He is absolutely right that for 13 years the last Labour Government failed to tackle the lack of skills necessary for our economy.

Mr Newmark: Is the Minister aware that every single Labour Government have left power with more people unemployed than when they arrived in power, while this Government are bringing unemployment down?

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Unsurprisingly, we did not hear that from Labour Members.

We heard an excellent speech, too, from the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales), and I would like to thank him for his remarks, particularly his comments about energy investment and support for manufacturing.

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Sheila Gilmore: Will the Minister give way?

Nicky Morgan: I am not going to give way to the hon. Lady, because she did not give way to anyone during her speech.

My hon. Friends the Members for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) and for Bedford (Richard Fuller) talked about work being the key to recovery, the need to create more jobs and making work pay, which is a critical part of our welfare reforms.

We heard from the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), who talked about breaking the stranglehold of the big six. It was the last Labour Government who left us with the big six; we started with more and ended up with six.

I listened carefully to the speeches of the hon. Members for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), of the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher), and of the hon. Members for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck). What struck me most—I have referred to it before in this place—was the collective amnesia and total lack of understanding among Labour Members of how we ended up with the largest deficit since the second world war, which this Government have tackled by taking tough and difficult decisions.

Alec Shelbrooke: I may be able to help out the Treasury team by suggesting that if the Minister were to visit a scrap metal dealer, she might be able to solve the deficit with all the brass neck from Labour Members this afternoon.

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend makes a characteristically colourful intervention and speaks wonderfully, as always.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) made a point about child care and called for action from this Government. This Government are taking action on that matter, with tax-free child care, increased provision for two-year-olds and increased provision for three and four-year-olds. I would have thought that the hon. Lady welcomed that. I noted her welcome of this week’s announcement on payday lenders by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

I noted the confession from the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton when he said that the problems did not start with this Government. He is absolutely right about that, but that was the only thing with which I could agree in his speech.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) talked about being on the side of Welsh people. In that case, I am sure he would welcome the 4,560 people in his constituency who have been taken out of income tax entirely since this Government’s changes.

The only way to deliver sustained improvement in living standards is to take the difficult decisions that this Government have taken to tackle the economy’s problems head-on, delivering a sustainable, long-term recovery for all. The Labour party has demonstrated comprehensively today that it is not up to taking those decisions. I therefore ask the House to reject this motion.

Question put.

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The House divided:

Ayes 245, Noes 297.

Division No. 140]

[

6.58 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

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

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

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

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

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

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

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

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Stephen Doughty

and

Julie Hilling

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blunt, Mr Crispin

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

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

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

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

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

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Scott, Mr Lee

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, 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

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Claire Perry

and

Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived.

27 Nov 2013 : Column 372

27 Nov 2013 : Column 373

27 Nov 2013 : Column 374

27 Nov 2013 : Column 375

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

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

European Union

That the draft European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Colombia and Peru Trade Agreement) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 21 October, be approved.—(Gavin Barwell.)

The Deputy Speakers opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 4 December (Standing Order No. 41A).

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

Housing

That the draft Redress Schemes for Lettings Agency Work and Property Management Work (Approval and Designation of Schemes) (England) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 25 October, be approved.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Petitions

Gas and Electricity Bills

7.12 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): People in my constituency are worried about the rising cost of their energy bills. As the winter looms, they are looking for the Government to take action to protect them from rising prices.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Scunthorpe,

Declares that the Petitioners support gas and electricity bills being frozen.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to introduce legislation that will freeze gas and electricity bills.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.

[P001300]

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The petition states:

To the House of Commons.

The Petition of a resident of the UK,

Declares that under Prime Minister David Cameron gas and electricity bills have gone up by £300 for the average household and further that the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband will freeze gas and electricity bills until 2017.

The Petitioner therefore requests that the House of Commons supports Labour's proposals to freeze energy bills.

And the Petitioner remains, etc.

[P001301]

27 Nov 2013 : Column 376

Administration and Insolvency

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

7.14 pm

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): It is a pleasure to lead this debate on administration and insolvency. It is worth mentioning that the empty green Benches are a reflection not of the relevance or importance of the issue but of the incredibly busy lives that most parliamentarians lead.

The purpose of the debate is to try to persuade the Minister that there should be a

“mandatory requirement for licensed insolvency practitioners to give greater consideration to the social consequences of companies in administration”

rather than the current situation where perfectly viable businesses are simply sold to the highest bidder to be disassembled, with their assets flogged off and their work forces devastated.

The Minister will be aware that I met the Secretary of State to discuss this very issue. I fully appreciate that administrators are under a legal duty to ensure that they get a maximum return for creditors, but there is little, if any, cognisance of the detrimental effect that that can have on the very survival of a company if other factors are not explored, often with a resultant effect on a local community or a negative impact on UK plc. In other words, administrators almost invariably accept the highest bid, which is not always the best bid.

Before I begin my speech in earnest, I should like to place on record my thanks to both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State for their co-operation in September when I contacted them in a desperate attempt to save as many jobs as possible when Trigon Snacks in my constituency went into administration.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Before the debate, I received his permission to intervene. Does he think that in the first year of trading, before a business gets into difficulties, the Government or the Minister could give them some indication of what to do when it comes to banks, regulations, skills and rates? Those four things are so critical in the first year of any business to ensure that it gets a second and a third year and that it stops insolvency.

Steve Rotheram: I am certain that those four factors are important, but start-up credit is a major impediment to the long-term success of smaller, micro-businesses. One in six small and medium-sized enterprises goes bust in the UK. In 2011-12, something like 120 SMEs per day were going into administration or liquidation. Anything that Parliament can do to assist those businesses to grow and to take on additional staff can only benefit the country as a whole.

I also want to put on record my thanks to Unite the union, which, despite the Prime Minister’s constant jibing, works tirelessly to support its members and which was as determined as I was to see production remain in Liverpool. I know the Minister and her Department are aware of this case, and it is this recent episode on which I wish to focus much of my contribution tonight as it clearly illustrates the issue at hand.

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Trigon Snacks was a nut production factory with an annual turnover of approximately £30 million. The company produced peanuts for pub favourite brands such as Big D and Planters, and the business had profitable contracts with a number of large supermarket chains.

Following the company’s success at winning an increased order book with Sainsbury’s, Trigon doubled its production, introducing new shift patterns for the work force. That resulted in negotiations between management and the union to reward staff with a pay rise, which they had forgone for many years to secure the viability of the company. Indeed, some of the loyal work force had given more than 30 years of service to Trigon. Everything in the garden looked rosy.

To meet the new targets, Trigon stepped up production but soon encountered cash-flow problems, due to the purchase of extra plant, material, raw stock and associated manufacturing costs. To meet that short-term liquidity problem, Trigon approached the Royal Bank of Scotland for a loan totalling approximately £1.2 million. Given the developments this week with RBS, this might be another case that requires further scrutiny from the Secretary of State as it is clear that, for whatever reason, the company, despite being profitable, was not awarded the loan. When that loan could not be guaranteed, the business was destined to fail. RBS’s decision came in August and just a month later the business was put into administration. It is also worth noting that at the time of entering administration the company’s stock value alone was £2.7 million.

Disgracefully, 64 members of staff were handed immediate redundancy notices without prior warning, consultation with their trade union officers or even the courtesy of the administrator writing to me as the local MP. That still rankles with those who lost their jobs. Those employees had given decades of service and yet they were called to the works cafeteria for a routine meeting, had their names read out and were then told not only that they were losing their jobs but that they had to go promptly to clear their desks and lockers before being escorted from the premises by security guards who had been hired specifically to oversee that draconian act.

Having met Unite officials and staff at the factory immediately after the redundancies were announced, I became aware that numerous cases of unfair dismissal were set to be lodged alongside claims for protective awards by the union. Many of those shown the door have found it extremely difficult to find alternative employment despite being skilled factory workers with a wealth of experience.

I should make it clear that I am not suggesting the administrators did anything illegal, but I believe it was certainly unethical and I told them so. It remains likely that Unite will seek 30 days’ pay for its members through protective awards, a cost that is likely to be borne by the Exchequer. However, once Trigon was in administration only two outcomes were likely. First, the administrator could look to keep the business operational by selling it as a going concern. Although that would not absolutely guarantee the future of the business, it was hoped that those who bought the going concern would maintain production at the site, look to restructure the business, re-launch the brand and invest in improvements. There was another option: it would result in the administrator accepting a bid from a company

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that would close the factory, sell the stock, plant and machinery, transfer production to another site and make the whole work force redundant. In other words, the fear was that an asset stripper would decimate the business for a quick profit.

In the case of Trigon, despite my best efforts and those of Unite it looked likely that the doomsday scenario would be the most probable outcome and that the administrators, Duff and Phelps, would complete a sale that would maximise a better return for creditors but that would inevitably result in the loss of production at the Liverpool factory.

That is where I think that the balance is all wrong. I know that the closure of any factory is a tragedy for that particular business and work force, but when it makes no economic sense it is even harder for those facing redundancy to accept. When the result also lands the Treasury with a hefty bill for workers’ redundancy payments and increased benefit bills—not to mention the devastation to the local jobs market, the loss of business rates and the blight of a large empty factory—questions need to be asked. I believe that the need to ensure that administrators take greater control of the social impact of the bids they accept is now even greater.

The cold reality is that none of those factors could, in law, be taken into consideration by the administrators, and I believe that that is fundamentally wrong and needs to change. Some people may argue that administrators indirectly take all those factors into consideration as they look to keep businesses alive as going concerns, but they do not have a mandatory requirement to consider the social consequences. The law only directs them to make the biggest return for creditors, no matter what the consequences might be for communities.

At the end of the day, the potential to asset-strip the Walton factory collapsed, as only one bid remained, which set out to retain production locally, and this is where I do give some credit to the administrators for working with myself and the Unite union throughout the evening to secure a deal as a going concern.

We were lucky. The Trigon factory was saved. It still exists today, in the guise of a new company called Natco, but minus the 60-odd staff originally sacked. I have not given up hope of restoring the work force to its full complement, and getting those workers who were wrongly dismissed back on site. I know that many of them are facing a bleak Christmas for the first time in 30 or 40 years, through absolutely no fault of their own, with, yes, the fiscal costs borne by the state, but the human cost is much more difficult to measure. All that is because the initial shortfall loan could not be agreed with the banks.

I am aware that when it comes to the process of administration, nothing about what I have described is extraordinary, or dissimilar to the experiences of many others in this place. This is where I believe that reform should be considered, even though I appreciate that it is a complex area of law. The primary legislation governing insolvency is the Insolvency Act 1986. As the Minister is no doubt aware, the last Labour Government radically reformed legislation in this area to modify insolvency laws through the Enterprise Act 2002.

The raison d’être of our reforms was as PricewaterhouseCoopers explains:

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“The Government’s intention was to create a shift in insolvency culture, with a greater emphasis placed on company rescue and rehabilitation, fairness for all creditors and making it tougher for offending directors”.

Those reforms achieved a great deal. Indeed, as PWC went on to say, the

“insolvency landscape transformed; administrations have now largely replaced administrative receiverships as the primary insolvency procedure, and many businesses have been preserved via this route. Furthermore, other solutions have evolved to facilitate the turnaround, restructuring and rescue of businesses”.

So progress can be made—it has already been made—to change the culture within this field and I am sure that this kind of independent analysis is welcomed across the House. But now I think it is time to go further.

In the list of responsibilities laid down on licensed insolvency practitioners we need a further mandatory requirement that consideration should be given to the social consequences of every bid they receive and, critically, that they should have the ability to award a sale of the asset that offers the most protection for staff, local communities and the taxpayer.

My contention is that greater consideration is needed of the impact on the public purse and our manufacturing capabilities. It seems nonsensical to me that greater consideration is not given to the impact that insolvency has on the Exchequer—and, equally importantly, the area in which the closure is proposed. I am not suggesting that those two factors should be exclusive, or that they should be given pre-eminence in deliberations, but there must be some reflection of the wider social impacts of each bid. I am acutely aware that this will not always ensure that asset-strippers are not awarded businesses. I am also aware that it will not always ensure that British workers stay in work and that their jobs will not just be exported overseas once the sale is completed.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend is coming to the end of his speech, but he is absolutely right about social responsibility being an important part of the way in which insolvency is handled, and I welcome that point. Does he agree that, bearing in mind the example he gave of the way in which the bank has behaved, it is vital that banks change their behaviour so that they take greater responsibility to stop insolvency in the first place?

Steve Rotheram: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, because that is exactly the scenario that I am painting with this company. Trigon was a viable, profitable company with a short-term cash-flow problem that could not get a bail-out from the banks, which, we should not forget, are owned by the people of this country, who rely on those companies to provide them with suitable jobs.

We must ensure that there is a chance, as in the case of Trigon, where a factory was at the heart of one of the most economically deprived areas in the UK—that is true of Liverpool, Walton and there are areas of social deprivation in my hon. Friend’s constituency too—that other bids are considered that would keep people in work and maintain UK production.

Liverpool city council has been successful in attracting new industries to our city. In north Liverpool, we continue

27 Nov 2013 : Column 380

to work to attract inward investment and businesses, and do all that we can to ensure that our workers are in full-time employment, but that is incongruous if the net result is that we haemorrhage jobs from profitable companies, which we give to asset strippers to break up, and sell brand names for products that are manufactured abroad, then import the same products back into the country.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Was there any opportunity for the company to access moneys from the Government to prevent that situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency?

Steve Rotheram: The Secretary of State and the Department—I spoke to some officials—were as helpful as they possibly could be. If we had had a longer lead-in period or the company was in administration for a longer period there might well have been investment or pots of money—local enterprise partnership moneys, for instance, or regional growth moneys—that could have been used. Unfortunately, things happened very quickly and it was not possible to access moneys to ensure that the shortfall of £1.2 million was covered.

If the Minister is not willing to hear my request for a mandatory requirement for administrators to consider the social consequences of each bid, will she not consider the requirement in regard to the consequences for UK industries? That is not protectionism but pragmatism. We simply cannot afford to do nothing and watch good British businesses suffer. For instance, since the global financial crisis, the impact on the retail industry has been severe. According to the Centre for Retail Research in Nottingham, in its update entitled “Who’s Gone Bust in Retail 2010-13”, since the global financial crash, 249 medium and large-sized retail businesses have failed financially, affecting more than 22,100 stores and close to 250,000 employees. We all know the names of those companies—most of them are household names, but they have become infamous for going out of business.

Not all of those companies were profit-making enterprises in the way Trigon was, but undoubtedly some businesses were wound up that produced a short-term return for asset strippers but that, in the long term, could have been kept alive, and there was no consideration of the long-term social consequences for everyone affected by closure. In other words, I contend that some creditors will have done well out of these administrations, but the workers, the local communities and the economics of the area will have suffered most from their failure, and we must do more to protect society and British industry.

In conclusion, I expect that the Minister might try to explain that this is a very complex area of law and that it would be difficult to introduce changes as there would undoubtedly be knock-on consequences. I do genuinely understand the problems of best intentions—I spoke to the Secretary of State about this—and the law of unintended consequences, but I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that it would be wrong not to look at what could be done to improve current legislation. The status quo is not good enough.

7.35 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on securing the debate, and, if I may say so, on his

27 Nov 2013 : Column 381

rather fantastic contribution to Movember. As we are now nearing the end of the month, I implore him, perhaps on behalf of other hon. Members, not to get the razor out on Sunday so that we can continue to enjoy his fine moustache. What a fantastic cause to raise money for.

I recognise the interest that the hon. Gentleman has shown in insolvency issues, and in particular his concerns about the impact that insolvency has on local communities when jobs are unfortunately lost. He outlined particularly eloquently the human cost that is paid by those involved in such businesses when they unfortunately enter insolvency. This is especially keenly felt in the run-up to Christmas. In the example he talked about, Trigon Snacks, those 64 individuals are in a very difficult situation, having, sadly, lost their jobs. I extend my full sympathies to those individuals and their families.

I recognise the efforts and discussions that the hon. Gentleman has had with the administrators and the union in this case. He was right to highlight the positive role that unions can play in such situations. It is all too easy for unions to be demonised in industrial relations, with headlines that tend to focus on circumstances where industrial relations break down and are negative, whereas the day-to-day experience is often of a much more positive and constructive working relationship, helping to create future success for a business that is going through difficulty. Although clearly for the 64 individuals who have lost their jobs there is a heavy price to pay, it is worth noting the success of at least making sure that 110 of those 174 jobs have been saved as a result of the business being sold as a going concern. The input of dedicated constituency Members of Parliament in such cases is not to be underestimated and is cause for congratulation.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about some of the practices surrounding administration, and I will try to set out what the Government are doing to address some of them. He said that the social consequences should be explicitly recognised in the objectives of administrators, and he rightly highlighted concerns where it is the case, or sometimes the perception, that a company is asset-stripped and sold off to the highest bidder without any apparent concern for the wider consequences.

I would like to provide reassurance by going through the hierarchy of objectives for administrators. The top priority that they have to bear in mind is business rescue—to rescue a financially troubled company as a going concern. That is well aligned with the wider social objectives that the hon. Gentleman seeks to promote, including the interests of employees and other stakeholders. Generally, the best way of making sure that creditors can be paid and jobs can be saved is to ensure that the business can continue as a going concern. If that is not possible, the administrator is required to achieve a better result for the creditors of the company as a whole than would be achieved in an immediate winding-up. Only if neither of those things is possible is it their duty to realise the property and the assets for the benefit of the secured or preferential creditors. We have a system that places priority on business rescue, which is incredibly important and ultimately the best way to secure the jobs of the individuals who are working for a company.

Regrettably, to have a chance of rescuing a failed company, urgent and robust action sometimes needs to

27 Nov 2013 : Column 382

be taken to restructure and to reduce costs. That does not necessarily mean that it is the fault of the administration procedure per se; it may be a reflection of the economic reality of a company that cannot meet its obligations. Thankfully, the number of administrations and liquidations has been on a downward trend in recent years. In the 12 months that ended in the third quarter of this year, there were 2,303 administrations, which is about 300 fewer than in the previous 12 months, and the number of liquidations was about 8% lower over the same period.

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) asked about the behaviour of the banks. This is not only about what happens when an administration procedure is reached but what we can do to prevent businesses from getting into this situation in the first place. The hon. Gentleman outlined the scenario of Trigon Snacks, where so much stemmed from the declining of a request for a loan. I am sure he will understand that I cannot necessarily comment on the specifics of that loan application, but this is an issue on which we share some general concerns. In fact, this week the BIS entrepreneur-in-residence, Lawrence Tomlinson, published a report in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken a great interest and has referred to the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority, which looks at the role of banks particularly in relation to the support they give to business. The report focuses on significant concerns about the conduct of the Royal Bank of Scotland. We are looking carefully at the evidence in the report to see whether further issues need to be raised within the regulatory bodies regarding insolvency practitioners and whether any legislative framework issues need to be addressed in relation to the behaviour of banks.

Generally speaking, our insolvency regime is highly regarded internationally. A recent World Bank report rated it seventh—above those of the US, Germany and France—on resolving insolvency. That is partly a reflection of the flexibility of our regime for prioritising business rescue, which helps to preserve value and jobs. That focus, rather than any specific obligation to consider particular affected parties over others, helps to balance everyone’s interests and to create a better business environment, which improves the prospects for preserving these jobs in the long term. However, I absolutely recognise the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises about this case and others.

Let me turn briefly to some of the other issues raised about insolvency. On the effectiveness of the regulatory regime, we believe that stronger oversight powers would help to improve confidence in it. We will therefore introduce proposals, when we can find time in the legislative programme, to strengthen the powers of the Secretary of State as oversight regulator.

Concerns have been expressed about the pre-pack administration process, particularly where there are sales back to connected parties. In the light of these concerns, I announced in July that Teresa Graham had been appointed to undertake an independent review of the pre-pack procedure, which we expect to be completed by the spring next year. There have also been changes to introduce a revised practice standard for pre-packs, known as SIP16, which is now in place. The complaints mechanism has been streamlined, with a new single

27 Nov 2013 : Column 383

complaints gateway to help to make the complex array of regulatory bodies easier to complain about.

The issue of fees charged by insolvency practitioners has been raised. Professor Elaine Kempson recently provided a review of fees that was published earlier this year, and we intend to make an announcement on the way forward in due course.

The hon. Gentleman said that in recent years significant progress has been made on insolvency to improve the

27 Nov 2013 : Column 384

situation. I hope that he is reassured that this Government are very aware of the issues he raises and are taking action on a number of fronts to make further progress in various areas to ensure that all insolvency procedures can deliver the best possible outcomes in difficult circumstances—

7.44 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).