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In conclusion, I simply enjoin the Minister to take up Baroness Butler-Sloss’s recommendation, in line with the guidance of Families Need Fathers, and to work positively to ensure that children have a right of access to both their parents and that the amendment is not misconstrued.

Mr Timpson: I would like to thank all hon. Members who have engaged in this detailed—

Mr Speaker: I think the Minister has asked the leave of the House, has he not?

Mr Timpson: It almost passed my lips, and it has done now.

This has been a detailed debate of the amendments made to the Bill in another place. The changes are a testament to the dedication of both Houses to making the Bill the best it can be, and I completely understand the interest of hon. Members on both sides of the House in its implementation: it is an excellent Bill, and it is only right that we ensure its successful implementation. Provided we can find time for early and proper consideration of the secondary legislation, we expect to implement the Bill’s reforms quickly so that they can begin to make a real difference for children and families across the country.

I will seek to write to all hon. Members who have asked detailed questions in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) asked when the revised code of practice would be made available. It will be made available as soon as possible after Royal Assent, but I am sure he will appreciate that we want to get it right. My hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Northampton South (Mr Binley)—I hope that the latter heard my earlier praise for his involvement in this important clause—raised important points. As the Bill stands, the presumption is clear, and I do not share the scepticism of some hon. Members that it has been diluted to the point of having no effect. This is a considerable change and should not be underestimated.

The principle and purpose that the Bill enshrines in law, in conjunction with many other measures we are taking, both through the Bill and in non-legislative ways, will help to ensure that more children have the opportunity to have a relationship with both parents. To enable that to happen in practice, we have made sure that the Judicial College is aware of the provision in clause 11 and the Government’s objective behind it. Although it is for the judiciary to consider its required training itself, we will continue to work with it to ensure that there is clear information about the intended effect and operation of the clause, so that they can be reflected, if need be, in future training.

It is important to make it clear that this is about the right of the child. The reason we have set about introducing the provisions in this clause—over many years, both in opposition and now in government—is to put across a strong message to many of the families who find themselves at the door of a court: we are interested in only one thing, which is making sure that any children involved in a case get the opportunity to have their rights put first and, as a consequence, have a meaningful relationship with both sides of their parentage.

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Tessa Munt: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Timpson: Very briefly.

Tessa Munt: Will the Minister clarify absolutely that the presumption is that children should always have a right to have access to both parents, unless it is proven that it is not safe for them to be with one parent or the other?

Mr Timpson: As I made clear earlier in the debate, the paramountcy principle still holds in this case, as does the need to ensure that the child in question would be safe. That has to be the case, but what kicks in under those circumstances is the presumption that the child will have a relationship with both parents. That is an important change that we should all support.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to share some well deserved thanks.

Jim Shannon: On a day when 3.2 million diabetics are registered in the United Kingdom and we are seeing a rise in type 1 diabetes among children, will the Minister confirm that the duty to support pupils with medical conditions means that insulin pumps will be available and one or two teachers will be available and able to understand how to deal with diabetic hypos?

Mr Timpson: The clause in question puts the “Managing medicines” guidance on a statutory footing. That has long been called for and is a significant change. The equipment that will be available in schools is still a matter of discretion, but we look at these things carefully, particularly when it comes to defibrillators and the important role they play in schools, as well as other public spaces. However, I hope the hon. Gentleman is pleased with the advance that we have made on that aspect of the Bill.

It now feels like a very long time ago that work on the Bill began. The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) said at the end of Committee last April:

“We seem to have been scrutinising the Bill for months”.––[Official Report, Children and Families Public Bill Committee, 25 April 2013; c. 815.]

That was nine months ago, so it is fair to say that we have been working on this Bill for a long time now. However, it is only right to acknowledge the four Select Committees that conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill—the Select Committees on Education and on Justice, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Lords Select Committee on Adoption Legislation—and the great start they got us off to.

We have had some excellent debates in this House on the Bill. I would like to thank hon. Members for their participation and for how supportive they have been in helping the Government to develop the Bill. An illustration of how much work has been done is that, in both Houses together, 1,153 amendments have been tabled and debated. The Bill started off as a very good piece of legislation; with all the constructive and well-meaning work that we and Members of another place have done on it, I believe it is now a great piece of legislation. We should all be very pleased about that and the benefits that children, young people and their families will see as a consequence.

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I am sure we all appreciate the hard work of the Clerks of the House and the Hansard reporters throughout the passage of the Bill, which I know has involved some late nights for them, for which I take some responsibility. If it is any consolation to them, I have also had a fair few sleepless nights—not that my children and family have had much sympathy with that. I also thank the many organisations that have engaged with us on the Bill, all of which have made an important contribution. I hope that they will continue to work with the Department as we proceed with the key task of successful implementation. A good many Ministers have been involved in the various stages of the Bill, and they deserve thanks as well.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), who initiated this work with such vigour and aplomb. I thank my hon. Friend the Members for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), and the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), with whom I have had the delight of sharing the Front Bench as a minority male. Importantly, I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who shares my passionate determination to improve the lives of our most disadvantaged young people, and has not a capricious bone in his body: he has only compassionate bones.

I thank all our colleagues in the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who have done so much to put departmental boundaries aside in the interests of children and families. Finally, I particularly thank my friends in the other place: Lord Nash—who has been stoic, good-humoured and unflappable—Lord Faulks, Lord McNally, Viscount Younger and Earl Howe; and I thank my noble Friend Baroness Northover for picking up the baton from Baroness Garden with such prowess and nerveless enthusiasm.

It has been an undiluted and, as it has turned out, a long-standing privilege to work on a Bill which will make a real difference to children and families, and which we have been able to manage in this place in ways that have been very constructive and often even consensual. In that context, I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Washington and Sunderland West for their leadership during the Bill’s earlier outings in this House, and to the hon. Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who have continued to work in the same spirit today.

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Today we have recognised, and heard from, Members in all parts of the House who are passionate and committed in their pursuit of improvements for our most vulnerable children. Let me repeat my thanks to all of them, and particularly to those who were members of the Public Bill Committee between 5 March and 25 April last year: my hon. Friends the Members for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), for Erewash (Jessica Lee) and for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), and the hon. Members for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), for North West Durham (Pat Glass), for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), for Manchester Central, for Croydon North (Mr Reed) and for Corby (Andy Sawford).

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the pivotal roles of my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway) and my hon. Friends the Members for Guildford (Anne Milton) and for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) in securing the Bill’s safe passage by virtue of their professional and tactful stewardship. Numerous officials from various Departments have worked very hard on the Bill, and I am sure that the House will want thank them as well.

I cannot end my speech without singling out for special mention the Bill team and other Government officials, led with such distinction by Jenny Preece. I thank Jamie, Alan, Lara, Helen, Ruth, Katy, Lizzie, the lead lawyers Sofie, Paula and their colleagues, Phil, Stephen, Jonathan and everyone in the special educational needs team, and all the officials and lawyers—too many to mention—in several Departments who have contributed to the development, drafting and scrutiny of the Bill. Their efforts usually go unnoticed and undetected, and are carried out without fanfare. I, along with other Ministers and all Members—as well as you, Mr Speaker—owe them enormous gratitude. It has been an absolute delight to work with each and every one of them.

I hope that the House will agree that all the amendments made by another place are beneficial to the Bill and, ultimately, to children and their families. If so, we can then move on speedily to the task of turning this legislation into something that has meaning and impact, and, above all, is able to make young lives better.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 120, 126 to 149 and 151 to 176 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 15, 17 to 20, 22, 25, 27 to 31, 33 to 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 44, 64, 66, 85, 88 to 90, 92, 94, 96, 97, 104 to 109, 115 to 118, 126 to 129, 135, 144, 149 and 176.

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Presumption of Innocence and EU Law

[Relevant document: The thirty-second report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 83-xxix, Chapter 1.]

9.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): I beg to move,

That this House considers that the Draft Directive on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at trial in criminal proceedings (European Union Document No. 17621/13 and Addenda 1 to 3) does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, for the reasons set out in the annex to Chapter One of the Thirty-second Report of the European Scrutiny Committee (HC 83-xxix); and, in accordance with Article 6 of Protocol (No. 2) annexed to the EU Treaties on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, instructs the Clerk of the House to forward this reasoned opinion to the Presidents of the European Institutions.

Tonight’s debate is about this House having its say on proposals from the European Commission that touch on matters at the very heart of our country’s justice system. The House has the opportunity to endorse the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee’s reasoned opinion that the European Commission’s proposal on the presumption of innocence breaches the principle of subsidiarity.

I want to be clear from the outset that this is a matter for the House and it is not the Government’s decision. The treaties give this House, and all national chambers, the right to issue reasoned opinions on the principle of subsidiarity, and that is what this debate is about: the question of subsidiarity. It is not about the question of the UK’s opt-in. I am happy to assure Members that the Government have offered time to debate the opt-in separately, ahead of the Government’s final decision. We look forward to hearing the Committee’s view on that in order to inform that decision.

The House will appreciate that questions of subsidiarity are finely balanced and we welcome the opportunity for this House to present its view directly to the European Union—a right this Government will defend and facilitate to the hilt. The idea of subsidiarity is that decision making should take place as closely as possible to the citizens whom those decisions affect. Under article 5 of protocol 2 to the treaties, the Commission needs to set out, among other things, a detailed statement on how its proposal complies with the principle of subsidiarity. The reasons for concluding that the objective of the proposal can be achieved at EU level must be substantiated by qualitative and, where possible, quantitative indicators. To underline the importance of this, the treaties provide that national Parliaments—and chambers within national Parliaments—can deliver reasoned opinions to the Presidents of the EU institutions where they consider that the Commission has breached the subsidiarity principle.

The proposal the Commission has put before us relates to the presumption of innocence, a fundamental principle of our country’s justice system, as it is of many other countries’ justice systems. No one in this House would seriously doubt our commitment to the principle. It stretches back as far as Roman times and is a central pillar of our common law system, as well as the common law systems in other countries. Moreover, it has been enshrined and developed in many civil law systems on the continent itself.

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The principle is set out in the universal declaration of human rights and in the European convention on human rights. It is contained in the French declaration of the rights of man, and countless other constitutions around the globe. The problem, and the issue for debate tonight, is specifically whether EU action in this area can be justified or whether this is a matter for member states.

The Commission bases its argument for the proposal on the fact that member states are being effectively barred from co-operating in criminal matters because of differing standards in this area. Here I can only endorse the view set out in the European Scrutiny Committee’s report that the case simply has not been made. The Commission itself admits that evidence is scanty. It may be true that specific rules vary, and that specific practices and laws will not be identical across our different jurisdictions. Indeed, it is worth noting in passing that specific rules vary even across the United Kingdom, but that has, to my knowledge, never acted as a barrier to the co-operation of our justice systems.

We should remember that all member states are bound by the European convention. All member states should be meeting those basic standards already. As the Committee points out in the draft reasoned opinion, if there are cultural issues at play in a country’s justice system, a further piece of legislation from the EU will not resolve them.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): The point that I am about to make will not necessarily appeal to all the Minister’s colleagues. Would it not be rather unsatisfactory if we found ourselves in a situation in which the right to a fair trial was justiciable in the European Court of Justice, rather than being dealt with in the European Court of Human Rights and by the application of the European convention on human rights in UK domestic law, which are the ways in which we have long agreed that such matters should be resolved?

Mr Vara: As always, my right hon. Friend makes a relevant point. For the purposes of today’s debate, however, I shall confine myself to the presumption of innocence. I am mindful that we have only 90 minutes for our debate, and many hon. Members wish to speak, including the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), who I am sure will want to have a decent say in the matter, in his own way.

Mutual trust and recognition are of course important in ensuring that European justice systems can operate together when crimes span borders, but without solid evidence, that mutual trust is in practice being adversely affected by these national differences. The Commission’s case for action has not been made. There is also a much broader issue at stake. As I said, this matter lies at the very heart of our justice systems as sovereign countries.

The presumption of innocence is at the core of the rights and protections we afford in our laws and traditions, and in our constitutions, to those accused of committing a crime. That instinctively feels like a matter on which member states themselves should be making decisions. In so far as we can conclude that minimum standards are a legitimate aim—as it seems the Commission has done here—action needs to be taken at EU level, but under the terms of the treaties that permit the setting of minimum standards across the EU, we need to be wary of the Commission bringing forward totally unnecessary

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proposals under the umbrella of securing mutual trust and recognition. It will always claim to have passed the subsidiarity test, even when others have their doubts.

The process from here is that the reasoned opinion, if approved by the House, will be presented to the Presidents of the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. If sufficient numbers of other Parliaments do likewise, the Commission will be presented with its yellow card and must rethink the proposal.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Given the great significance that my hon. Friend has rightly given to the contents of our report and to the substance of this issue, is he concerned that, as far as we know, the only other Parliament in the whole of the European Union to have tabled a reasoned opinion at this time is the Scottish Parliament?

Mr Vara: As always, my hon. Friend shows his great knowledge of this area, right up to the minute. He will appreciate that I can speak only for this Parliament, but I hear what he says. I am aware that my officials have been speaking to other Parliaments, but I do not know the position as regards those other member states at this time. He is quite right to suggest that, as far as justice and home affairs issues are concerned, a quarter of all member states need to have tabled a reasoned opinion in order for a yellow card to apply. In other matters, it is a third of all member states. On that note, it is worth noting that the Government wholeheartedly support the role of national Parliaments in supporting this reasoned opinion.

The Commission’s track record in this respect is not a good one. When presented with its first yellow card on the Monti II proposal, relating to the posting of workers and the right to take collective action, the Commission withdrew the proposal. However, it claimed that that had nothing to do with subsidiarity and that there was not the political will to pass the measure. More worrying was the occasion on which this House, the other place and 10 other Parliaments of EU member states issued a yellow card in respect of the proposal for a European public prosecutor’s office. The Commission barely flinched before continuing with its plans.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Does the story that the Minister has just told make him feel that, given the new landscape of the EU, we need to adopt a red card system?

Mr Vara: We need to consider a lot of things in terms of our future relationship and, as my hon. Friend will be aware, the Prime Minister has promised a major undertaking on reforming the way forward. It will be for the public to decide, in due course, whether there is a Conservative Government, with a referendum to follow on from that.

Mr Cash: On the red card, does my hon. Friend accept that, in line with the fourth principle of the Bloomberg speech, which is that national Parliaments are the root of our democracy, there are circumstances in the national interest where a mere collection—an aggregation; a small number—of countries coming together on a red card would not be enough and that, in line with

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precedents, it would be advisable for the United Kingdom Government to accept the idea of the disapplication of laws altogether?

Mr Vara: My hon. Friend, as always, makes a relevant and pertinent point, but he will appreciate that I am not going to give a definitive answer either way at the Dispatch Box.

Notwithstanding the difficulties, we must try to make our position known to the Commission. The Government will support this House and the other place in presenting reasoned opinions on subsidiarity, as and when they choose to do so. On the basis of what the Government have considered so far, we do not believe that the case for action has been made. However, as I said, this is a matter for the House to decide on, and I very much look forward to hearing what colleagues have to say.

9.56 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I will try to follow the Minister’s example and be commendably brief—I do not anticipate being intervened on by Labour Members very often this evening.

I begin by complimenting the European Scrutiny Committee and its Chair on the rigour and clarity that they bring to this matter, contrasted as it is—it saddens me to say so to this Minister—with the pusillanimous response of the Government until this evening. The Committee’s report rightly states:

“It is difficult to overstate the significance of the Commission’s proposal. It brings the law of the presumption of innocence, as laid down by the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and in the constitutional or national laws of Member States, into the realm of EU law, which has supremacy over national law, for all criminal offences. In so doing it sets out certain rights which go further than the interpretation of similar rights in the ECHR by the European Court of Human Rights, and so creates separate standards of procedural safeguard under EU and ECHR law. A domestic consequence of this is that UK laws on drawing adverse inferences from a failure to cooperate or from maintaining the right to silence, which are compliant with the ECHR, would be in conflict with EU law, and so subject to Commission infringement proceedings and severe financial penalty if not amended.”

That must be right. These are matters of central importance to the liberty of the subject, the rule of law and, above all, the right to a fair trial. This is a country where those seminal legal concepts have developed over centuries. It is right that the Secretary of State is commemorating 800 years of Magna Carta, although it is sad that his alienation of the legal profession means, as we learn today, that there may be a boycott of his global law summit next year. By the same token the law, specifically the common law, has developed differently here from how it has on the continent. There will be significant differences in our approach from that of Roman law jurisdictions. But that does not mean we should not try to establish certain minimum standards in areas as fundamental as the presumption of innocence and the specific requirements set out in the articles of the draft directive.

The matters dealt with in that directive—the right not to be presented as guilty; the burden of proof resting on the prosecution; the right to remain silent; and the fact that the scope of those should go from the very start of proceedings until the final judgment is delivered—are right. I hope the Committee and the Minister are as alarmed as I am to see that 11 member states appear to

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have fallen below the standards demanded by the ECHR. One reason for our strong support—I believe this is still shared by the junior coalition partner—for the convention is the levelling-up effect it has on human rights across Europe.

The problem with translating that alarm into this legislation is, as the Committee identifies, twofold. First, it is not the difference in standards or the falling short per se that provokes the draft directive, but the alleged effect that has on confidence in the judicial systems in states that are failing. There is anecdotal evidence to support that; indeed, much of the debate about the European arrest warrant focused on worries about the criminal justice system in the extraditing state. However, as the Commission itself concedes, there is “limited statistical quantifiable evidence”, and that is not a good basis for such a radical restructuring of European criminal law.

Radical though the draft directive may be—this is the second problem—it goes beyond what the ECHR demands. For example, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and subsequent legislation, it is permitted in English criminal courts to draw inferences from the silence of the accused. The burden of proof does not always lie on the prosecution, and the right to representation, interpretation and translation varies at different stages of the criminal process. I do not seek to defend the law in its current form by saying that, but I do say that the directive is not the means by which to open a wholesale review of those and other provisions of the criminal law.

The Commission has not made its case on subsidiarity, it has not produced evidence, and the consequences of the proposal go beyond what is countenanced in the Commission’s arguments. The Government, taxed by the European Scrutiny Committee, have fallen in line with that view at the eleventh hour, so the Minister, whether for a quiet life or because it is easier to adopt the arguments in the reasoned opinion, has taken the path of least resistance.

It is a pity, however, that legislation is being made in such a way. The Committee is trenchant in its criticism of the Government, concluding:

“We repeat again our disappointment at the poor quality of the Government’s EMs on the three proposals forming the Commission’s procedural rights package, particularly in the light of the time taken to draft and deposit them.”

This is not an isolated incident, as last month the regulatory policy committee described the Ministry’s impact assessment on court fees as “not fit for purpose” in a rare red report. Just before Christmas, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee referred to several explanatory memorandums accompanying statutory instruments as “less than satisfactory”. Last week, the new Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), at last conceded that the number of mediations taking place was falling significantly, which was something that the Justice Secretary repeatedly denied.

In the case of the draft directive, I appreciate that, as with the other examples I cited, we got our corrections eventually, albeit not without a lot of digging. It took a strongly worded letter from the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee on 15 January to elicit some but not all the facts needed from the Secretary of State. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), had to write

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to the Chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to apologise for and reissue the defective explanatory memorandums. Can he offer some explanation for the poor quality of legislation, statistics, reasoning and clarity coming out of his Department? I suspect it is due in part to the swingeing cuts in staff and low morale, but there might be other reasons that he wishes to offer.

While we share some of the Commission’s concerns about the standards adopted by a number of EU countries regarding the matters dealt with by the draft directive, we do not think the directive is the route by which to correct them. We will not oppose the reasoned opinion, but we note that it is the European Scrutiny Committee, not the UK Government, that has led on the issue, and that does not bode well for sound governance.

10.3 pm

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am glad to say that the two Front-Bench speeches have combined to encapsulate all the arguments. While I have some comments to make about the Government’s position, I commend the speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), because he drew out several of the European Scrutiny Committee’s concerns. I am sure that the Minister, having somewhat belatedly reached the conclusion that improvements were required, will acknowledge that, and that everyone will be satisfied, given that we are now considering a motion on forwarding a reasoned opinion.

As I pointed out in an intervention, for all the brickbats, congratulations and backslapping that might be coming from either side of the House, as things stand there is a more worrying matter to consider. If the Minister has received late information that more member states are prepared to deal with the matter properly, that would be useful for me, as Chairman of the Committee, to know. The hon. Member for Hammersmith rightly quoted the Committee as saying:

“It is difficult to overstate the significance of the Commission’s proposal.”

Against that background, and knowing the number of member states required for the yellow card procedure—we currently have the United Kingdom Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, unless some others have come into the framework and I am not yet aware of that—there is clearly no prospect of this reasoned opinion receiving the kind of attention from other member states that it should receive. I say that because we still have a window in which to sort the matter out, but it is not a very long one, and I must say that it does not bode well given the significance of the issues at stake.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): On that point, surely the Commission will not regard the Scottish Parliament’s submission as relevant to this matter. Surely only a submission from this Parliament will be regarded as relevant.

Mr Cash: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I rather agree with him. Whatever the aspirations of the Scottish nationalists and those campaigning for independence, I am afraid that at this juncture what they have to say, however worthy it may be, will not be within the criteria set out for reasoned opinions under the yellow card system.

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I ought to say that I have had grave reservations about the yellow card system from the very beginning. I have never thought that it is a matter that should be decided by an aggregation of member states—if they choose number X, why not choose number Y? The fact is that if a member state wishes to act, in its own national interests—the Minister, judging by what he said, regards this as a matter of critical national interest—I suggest that the reason for disapplying or vetoing laws should rest with one member state, as my Committee’s report made clear, because it becomes invidious to choose a particular number rather than another.

The real question is whether the matter is sufficiently important in the interests of the democracies, the legislatures and the constitutional arrangements of a given country for there to be a veto. Indeed, I must commend my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who vetoed a treaty only a few months ago, and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. For this purpose, I think that there is a very strong case, where it is sufficiently important in the national interest, to go beyond the yellow card system.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): While my hon. Friend is talking about the yellow card system, is it not worth pointing out that the judge of whether the threshold is well enough argued once it has been met is the European Commission itself, so it ends up judging its own decision?

Mr Cash: My hon. Friend, as ever, is completely correct. In the case of the European public prosecutor, the threshold was actually exceeded, and what did the Commission do? It just said that it would go ahead anyway, with complete contempt for our Parliament and the others. That is really what is at stake in these circumstances. It is extremely disturbing. There is no need to enlarge that argument, so I will leave it at that.

We have had a fair description of what the measure is about from those on the Front Benches, so I will simply draw the House’s attention to the fact that, with regard to process, it is unreasonable to expect Parliament to come to an informed view on compliance with subsidiarity within the eight-week time frame allotted for issuing a reasoned opinion without the benefit of an analysis by the Government. The Minister, who may have been drawn into this somewhat at the last moment, would perhaps agree with that; I hope so.

Why was it only at the second time of asking, in a letter sent four days before this debate, that the Government gave a clearer indication of their view on subsidiarity? To put it bluntly, the Government have been prevaricating; they were not clear about their position until very recently. On the substance, however, I welcome the fact that in that letter the Government have belatedly accepted that

“a lack of evidence of necessity renders a proposal in breach of the subsidiarity principle”.

I would have thought that that was an unexceptional circumstance, but I nevertheless welcome it. I also welcome the fact that, given that the Government have accepted that the Commission has not complied with the procedural requirements placed on it to provide a detailed statement appraising compliance with subsidiarity, the Commission

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has agreed with the European Scrutiny Committee. We relied on both those arguments in our reasoned opinion, and we are therefore grateful and glad that the Minister has decided to support our proposal.

We note—I would be grateful if the Minister responded to this point—that the Government’s view is still conditional. There is a little bit of fudging going on. They use the phrase,

“if in principle the need were to be established”.

From what source—other than the impact assessment, which lacks the necessary evidence—do the Government think the Commission will be able to establish evidence of need? We also note that the Commission recognises that there is—believe it or not, in relation to a matter of this importance—

“limited statistical quantifiable evidence on insufficient mutual trust between the Member States”.

How, therefore, can there be the slightest justification for action at EU level? These are not mere words; they are about the application of the presumption of innocence in relation to EU law.

On a technical point, the legal base of article 82(2) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union specifically requires evidence of necessity to facilitate mutual recognition. On the difference between the approach to the European convention on human rights taken by the EU and by the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, I ask the Government to what extent they agree with the paragraph in the Commission’s impact assessment cited in the draft reasoned opinion, as follows:

“The ECtHR’s reluctance to lay down prescriptive requirements in these areas, which can be seen as a rationale for an EU measure. The approach of the ECtHR has not been especially activist in developing detailed and prescriptive rules in the area of Article 6(2) of the ECHR. It has left a margin of flexibility for presumption of innocence and related rights in light of the requirement to balance the fair trial rights of suspects”—

I know that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who is Chairman of the Justice Committee, will appreciate that—

“or accused persons with the general public interest, as well as the diverse legal traditions of Member States.”

The Committee concluded that not being “especially activist” was a trait that we strongly welcomed and should inform the decisions of any supra-national court.

We have produced our report and we are grateful that the Government have somewhat belatedly come to the right conclusions on this. We regret that it is only in the past few days that we have got fully engaged with this subject, but we are now glad that the reasoned opinion will go from this Parliament to the European Commission with the support of the sole Member on the Opposition Benches as personified by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. It is important that we do it, but what worries me is that it looks as though it will be doomed unless other member states come forward. If they are not as interested as we are in the matters raised by our Committee, that will be very sad for the European Union as a whole.

10.15 pm

Sir Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I just want to add a few words to this conversation. I commend the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) for setting out so well the anxieties

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many of us will feel. It is not very long ago in our history that we were enormously proud of both our constitution and our legal system. It is, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, a common law system that covers Northern Ireland, England and Wales in our own domestic competence.

We should not ignore the simple fact that the legal system is an intimate facet of nationhood and the lines by which we govern ourselves. Ours has been a very long march to get where we are today. I think it was with Edward III—I have no doubt I will be corrected if I am wrong—that we started the separation of the judiciary from the monarchy, which led to the development of our judicial system. I think that is how most schoolboys of my generation understood its development.

The right to have a legal form that has withstood that number of centuries is not a casual thing. It is the most extensive, worldwide system of justice: one thinks of India, Australia, Canada, the United States and South Africa. It is a huge range, yet the way in which the Government have come to their conclusion confronts us with a clear loss of confidence in the very essence of what this Parliament is about and who we are. We cannot divorce ourselves from that tradition and one cannot accept that it will be swept aside by mandates from bureaucrats on the European continent. This is not an attack on them; it is an argument for confidence in our own constitution and legal system.

I believe, although some will disagree, that, by and large, the people of this country have confidence in our legal system and the fact that it will secure their liberty. The equal recognition of different judicial systems is a very alien concept. The rules and laws of Roman law and civic law are different from our laws. We do it case by case, and from that we found a tradition of what enforces the things that matter to this country—the defence of something absolutely essential to the development of our freedoms and liberty.

I wish the European Union well, but I do not think it should trespass into areas that are absolutely central to the sovereignty of the British people. That is why I am pleased that the report so assiduously crafted by the European Scrutiny Committee is central to this debate.

I have dealt in mere generality, but a profound concept is under attack. Our judicial system—the biggest and most important in the world—should not be subservient to a bureaucratic administrative system designated and designed elsewhere with the central purpose of consolidating the power of the European Union. That is why I am pleased that the Government have at last woken up to the very fact that this is about our law, our legal system, our freedoms, our independence and the right of the people of this country to determine what systems they should live under.

10.19 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Let me start, Mr Speaker, by apologising for missing the Minister’s opening comments.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and the members of his Committee for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. It is yet another example of the fine work that they do in scrutinising and painstakingly going through the masses—hundreds and hundreds—of EU regulations and directives

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that emanate from Brussels to identify those that are worthy of consideration in debate on the Floor of the House.

This is such a measure and, frankly, it goes to the very heart of the British legal system—the presumption of innocence. Quite frankly, it is staggering that the EU should try to lecture this country. That is what it boils down to: the EU is trying to tell this country how to run its justice system, and trying to interfere with what we determine about the innocence of a subject until they are proven guilty in a court of law. This is just a further building block that the EU Commission sees as a stepping stone on its way to building an EU-wide common system of criminal justice, but it is one that we ought strenuously to oppose.

I am quite happy that we are being asked to approve the Government’s proposal to send a reasoned opinion back to Europe about why the measure fails the test of subsidiarity. In my mind, it certainly does fail that test, but like other hon. Members, I am extremely concerned that it appears that we will once again stand alone in our opposition to it. My understanding—I look forward to hearing from the Minister whether it is correct—is that the deadline for objections from member states is 12 February. If that is the case, there is very little time for this Parliament or any others to lodge objections. It therefore seems likely, although I wish it were not the case, that the measure will pass.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Does my hon. Friend take the comfort that I do from the Government’s firm stance, in that even if no other Parliament sends in a reasoned opinion against the proposal, it would be eccentric of the Government, because it is subject to our title 5 opt-out, to opt in to one that is thought not to meet the test of subsidiarity?

Mr Nuttall: Absolutely. I for one certainly hope that the Government will not feel that it is necessary to bow to the will of Brussels on this measure. Although I am at one and in accord with the Government on their proposal this evening, I would have to depart from that course if they tried in future to suggest that we should adopt it given that the European Commission seems likely to pursue it. Bearing in mind this country’s proud history of establishing our own system of common law and the rights of an individual to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty, I see no reason why we need lecturing from the EU on this matter.

Mr Cash: Has my hon. Friend noticed that this matter has received almost no coverage in the media, particularly the BBC? Perhaps they will rectify that as a result of this debate. This is a serious matter and the British public must know what is going on, but there are limited opportunities for them to find out about it. If this proposal were in a Bill that dealt with the abolition of trial by jury, it would have to go through at least three stages in each House and would be subject to amendments in both Houses. Because it is in a directive, all we are left with is putting up a reasoned amendment that will be doomed if other member states disagree.

Mr Nuttall: The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, as ever on these matters, is right. This proposal has not received adequate scrutiny in the media. There may be many reasons for that.

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This is another example of the EU interfering in matters that are a million miles away from the areas that the vast majority of the British people want us and our European neighbours to deal with. The British people want us have free trade with our European neighbours; they do not want the European Union to interfere in matters of criminal justice. This is just one example of why, when it comes to a referendum, I believe that millions of my fellow citizens will agree with me that we would be better off out of the European Union and that we should simply trade with our European neighbours on a free trade basis.

10.26 pm

Mr Vara: I am grateful to the Members who have contributed to this debate. It is good to see that there is agreement, because often there is not on this subject.

I made it clear at the outset that this was a matter for the House and that the Government were facilitating its consideration. Members have said loudly and clearly that they support the reasoned opinion of the European Scrutiny Committee and its submission to the European Union institutions.

I will address some of the points that have been raised by Members. When the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) spoke, he had no support from the Opposition Benches. However, he has a reputation for more than making up for that through his use of words. He did that today, as he always does. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr Cash), for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) for their contributions.

I want to respond to the point that was made about the explanatory memorandums that were submitted. Five instruments were received at the outset, which was a lot of information. We tried to supply the House with as much information as possible within the time constraints that were on us. We provided the explanatory memorandums and there was criticism of them. Letters were passed between the European Scrutiny Committee and the Department. We subsequently provided further information. The Justice Secretary has apologised for the delay and given an assurance that we will try to provide more full and more timely responses in future. I have no hesitation in reiterating that apology.

The red card system is difficult to use in practice because Parliament cannot simply rid the UK of its obligations. Under the European Communities Act 1972, as the law stands we cannot pick and choose which EU law to implement beyond the terms of our opt-in for justice and home affairs matters.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Is it not open to the House to amend the 1972 Act?

Mr Vara: Given the Prime Minister’s assurance that we will try to renegotiate a whole series of measures, I think the best way forward is to have that engagement with the European Union, get a series of proposals, and then go to the country for people to have the final say. The 1972 Act has existed for a long time, and there is not long to go from now.

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Mr Cash: I am bound to point out that the 1972 Act was passed in pursuance of the 1971 White Paper. The 1972 Act itself has not changed materially, but the number of functions and the invasion of the United Kingdom legislature has continued inexorably since then. That 1971 White Paper specifically guaranteed—and therefore that guarantee would seem still to be valid—that we would never give up the veto because it was in our vital national interest. To do otherwise would endanger the fabric of the European Union, which appears to be doing a very good job of destroying itself.

Mr Vara: My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I repeat that there is not long to go. If there is a Conservative victory, we will renegotiate, and the issues that he raises, as well as a whole series of other issues, will be put to the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills talked about the European Union trespassing into matters that have been so important to our judicial system over centuries, and I could not agree with him more. As always, he was passionate about what he said, and almost—no, not almost, I think everyone in this Chamber is in agreement about the presumption of innocence, which has existed since Roman times. The case for the directive simply has not been made by the Commission.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North also mentioned the tight deadline of 12 March. I am reliably informed that the date that is important is the date when the reasoned opinion is actually sent, so if it is approved today and sent immediately, it will be valid and we will have met the deadline. He also mentioned the opt-in. He said that he was not present at the start of my speech and it may be that he missed my comments, but the Government have promised a debate on that specific issue in due course.

Mr Nuttall: I am grateful for that confirmation but I wonder whether the Minister misspoke. He said 12 March. Did he mean 12 March or 12 February?

Mr Vara: I did indeed mean 12 February and my hon. Friend is right to pick me up on that.

This is an opportunity for the House to make it clear to the Commission that it should listen to the views of national Parliaments. I can only repeat the wish that the European Commission listen carefully to and treat with respect the concerns of this House and any other national Chambers that express a view on this important subject. That is required by the treaties, it is political good sense, and it would be an important demonstration that the Commission is indeed listening to the views of elected representatives and member states.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House considers that the Draft Directive on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at trial in criminal proceedings (European Union Document No. 17621/13 and Addenda 1 to 3) does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, for the reasons set out in the annex to Chapter One of the Thirty-second Report of the European Scrutiny Committee (HC 83-xxix); and, in accordance with Article 6 of Protocol (No. 2) annexed to the EU Treaties on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, instructs the Clerk of the House to forward this reasoned opinion to the Presidents of the European Institutions.

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Business without Debate

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

Road Traffic

That the draft Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) (Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 16 December 2013, be approved. —(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

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

Town and Country Planning

That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 18 December 2013, be approved. —(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

EU Support for Governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo

That this House takes note of Unnumbered European Union Document, the European Court of Auditors Special Report No. 9/2013–EU support for governance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; welcomes the Report as an important assessment of the management of EU funds which will help to ensure effectiveness; and supports the Government’s efforts in encouraging the European Commission to address the weaknesses identified in the Report to ensure improved governance programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Business of the House (12 February)


That at the sitting on Wednesday 12 February, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents), the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on–

(1) the Motion in the name of Secretary Theresa May relating to the Police Grant Report not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on that Motion, and

(2) the Motions in the name of Secretary Eric Pickles relating to Local Government Finance not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on that Motion or six hours after the commencement of proceedings relating to Police Grant Report, whichever is the later; proceedings on those Motions may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply. —(Gavin Barwell.)

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Rural Bus Services (North Yorkshire)

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

10.35 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I am delighted to have secured the debate. “The wheels on the bus go round and round” is a well known expression and I hope our bus service continues.

I should say something about the history and context of the debate. Free bus passes were started in the late 1990s under the previous Government. Initially, they were provided locally for concessionary fares, but then went national. As many hon. Members will remember, the problem was that they were not adequately funded. When they were initially rolled out locally, North Yorkshire county council and other shire counties could support them, but when the free passes for concessionary travel were rolled out nationally, there was a problem for Scarborough borough, including the ward of Filey, which is in my current constituency, and the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency. Notably, they are leisure destinations in their own right and attracted far more visitors than we had ever bargained for.

In my view, North Yorkshire county council is acting entirely properly and responsibly in that regard, but it faces a double challenge. The first challenge is that the bus subsidy is being reduced, and the second is that it faces the national Government austerity programme. Government Members support that, but the grant to local councils is being reduced by it.

I should like to come up with a solution to the problem and put a question to my hon. Friend the Minister, my distinguished constituency neighbour. Obviously, those to whom I have spoken in the Ryedale forum for older people, in the Filey and Hertford parts of Scarborough borough council that I represent, and those living in Thirsk and Easingwold and the parts of Hambleton district council that I represent, believe that there is no point having the free bus pass if there is no bus for them to take. I believe that the way forward is to put concessionary travel by bus on the same legal footing as travel by rail. That would allow concessionary travel to continue, but enable those who wish to avail themselves of the concessionary fares to pay a contribution.

My understanding is that concessionary rail travellers can and do pay a contribution towards the fare, whereas bus travellers on concessionary fares will not be permitted to make a contribution, and we risk losing the service. The proposed reduction of bus services is causing great anxiety, particularly among the elderly and less mobile passengers. Buses provide a lifeline to constituents in rural communities, with many relying on those essential services to access their work—people living in rural communities often work in the towns. The elderly and more vulnerable rely on the bus services to access vital services such as doctors, hospitals and shops.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on her fine speech. By making repeated cuts to services—there have been repeated cuts to the 401 service from Selby to Goole in recent years—we make the routes unsustainable in the longer term. The Selby to Goole route is important for local students, but the more services are cut, the less attractive they are to use.

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Miss McIntosh: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I hope that the Minister and North Yorkshire county council have heard it.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful point, and older people at many of my surgeries have offered to pay for bus travel. I demur slightly in that I believe that North Yorkshire county council could have consulted much more with the communities of which she talks. I urge her to urge the council to talk more to the people.

Miss McIntosh: My hon. Friend has a point. I have been copied in to correspondence with East Ayton parish council, representing the Saxton area, which felt that consultation was insufficient and that that led to the decision that was taken being flawed. The parish council says:

“These bus services are vital to both Parishes”—

of East Ayton and West Ayton—

“and are crucial to ensure that there is no isolation for those who are elderly and infirm.”

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): My hon. Friend has made a powerful point about how important bus services are for the elderly and more vulnerable in our community in rural areas. North Yorkshire has a great rural presence, but it is not entirely rural. Buses are important in towns too, and I wonder whether we can broaden the debate to include all of our county.

Miss McIntosh: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I used to represent a small part of his constituency, and I know how dependent the people there were on accessing Harrogate town.

In Filey, Mike Cockerill, an independent councillor, is on the record as saying that he is especially concerned by the proposal to withdraw the existing Filey town service on both the Sycamore and Wharfedale routes. The county proposes to have a dial-a-ride service, but the problem with that is that it is not practical for collecting passengers and dropping them off around towns such as Filey, Harrogate and others. Dial-a-ride services are far more expensive and are generally meant for trips from A to B, rather than town tour-type journeys. The operator of that service, Olympic Coaches, is well liked and respected and goes the extra mile. If a regular passenger does not turn up, the operator will dismount from the bus and call on the resident—often elderly—to check that they have not been taken ill. They also take time to assist people with their shopping bags when they board and disembark, even taking the shopping to the passengers’ front doors if they are not able to carry it.

The routes are used by 3,500 local residents every month, so they have a substantial uptake. Without the rural bus services serving towns such as Thirsk, Easingwold, Malton, Pickering, Filey and many other smaller towns and villages, those residents will be disconnected from their rural hinterlands.

I welcome the fact that North Yorkshire county council’s scrutiny committee took the opportunity to review its decision to reduce the services after several councillors called it in. As a result, I understand that a task force will be set up to look at the cuts that have been agreed— £1.7 million from a total budget of £4.4 million.

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Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important Adjournment debate. The bus services are really important in a county such as North Yorkshire, and we all have communities that will be affected by the proposed cuts. She makes a sensible suggestion about those pensioners who can afford to pay for their travel.

My concern, which is shared by some of my constituents, is about North Yorkshire county council’s priorities. My hon. Friend has just mentioned the size of the cuts, but the council spends—I believe—almost £250,000 on salaries for union representatives. It seems to think that it is okay to spend that on salaries for union reps, but it would go a long way to saving some of these rural bus services.

Miss McIntosh: The problem is that in every other respect, the county council has behaved very responsibly. It has pared back library services. Many of us visited local libraries on Saturday and through the week to celebrate the services provided. My hon. Friend might like to secure his own Adjournment debate to pursue the valid points he makes, and which need to be looked at in greater detail.

I personally welcome the leadership given by County Councillor David Jeffels. The county council has set up a task group that will meet for the first time a week today, on Monday 17 February. It will look at ideas, including—I hope that in summing up the debate the Minister will give us some creature comfort here—looking at the Department for Transport’s £78.5 million for local sustainable transport, the possibility of using the new homes bonus money through the district and borough councils, the dial-a-ride that I mentioned, community transport and car sharing. It is incumbent on all county councils facing cuts to try to provide solutions and share best practice.

I would like to draw the strands together by saying that those of us who live in and represent rural communities need to ensure that we do not have a significantly worse service than those living in urban conurbations across the Yorkshire region; that young people who do not have their own transport are able to access buses to get to work; and that the elderly and less mobile can continue to access the rural bus network to go to the doctor, the dentist and the hospital. I have been given a very clear message, particularly by the Ryedale forum for older people and those I have met in Filey, Thirsk, Easingwold and across the piece, that they do not want to lose the service. They want to be in a position to continue to enjoy a concessionary fare, but pay something towards keeping the bus service running.

I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will take the opportunity to ask why bus passengers are treated on a different legal basis from railway passengers. Is there some way forward that would help North Yorkshire county council to make the savings we know we have to make, but allow the bus service passengers living in rural areas—and semi-rural areas like Harrogate—to continue to enjoy the current level of service?

I pay tribute to the commercial bus operators who, in Selby, Ripon, the villages in outer York, Goole and the outskirts of Harrogate, operate an outstanding service. The services are currently operated by commercial bus operators, with a bus subsidy administered by North Yorkshire county council. I believe that what I am

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proposing this evening is a solution that is perfectly legal and will allow the service to continue to be enjoyed by all bus users currently living in rural North Yorkshire.

10.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) on securing this debate. Buses play a vital role in our economy. More than 2.2 billion bus journeys were made on local buses in England, outside London, in 2012-13. Buses are essential for many people to get to work, to education, to doctors and to hospitals, as my hon. Friend remarked. For many, particularly those in rural areas, the bus is a lifeline and without it they would not be able to access those essential services or go shopping and socialise.

Over half of those who rely on buses outside London do not have access to a car. Customer satisfaction with bus journeys is high—84% are satisfied with their service—and under-21s make up a third of bus passengers, while use among the over-60s is increasing as a result of the national concessionary pass. Furthermore, a recent study by the university of Leeds has reinforced the importance of buses to a healthy, growing economy.

The Government remain committed to improving bus services, and expenditure on buses reflects that: this year, we will spend more than £1 billion on the concessionary travel entitlement and more than £340 million in direct subsidies to bus operators in England; more than £300 million has been allocated to funding major bus projects in the past year; and outside London 42% of the money that goes to bus operators comes from the taxpayer by one mechanism or another. We have provided £70 million through the better bus areas fund to deliver improvements in 24 local authority areas and £20 million to support community transport.

In addition, many bus improvement schemes have been funded as part of the Government’s £600 million local sustainable transport fund, while a total of £95 million has been provided for four rounds of the green bus fund to improve environmental performance. All this demonstrates our commitment. Moreover, as a local North Yorkshire MP, I am pleased that North Yorkshire county council has received more than £5 million in local sustainable transport funding in 2012-15, including for bus improvements in Harrogate and Knaresborough and to boost tourism in Whitby and the Esk valley.

My hon. Friend made the point that initially, when the concessionary scheme was introduced, boroughs such as mine in Scarborough and other popular tourist hotspots felt they were being unfairly treated because they were paying for journeys that started in their area. People going from Leeds or Hull to places such as Scarborough, Malton or Kirbymoorside found that although the council in Hull paid for the journey to the resort, the council in the resort paid for the return journey. The situation has been a lot better since we moved to county-level funding, however, as it means that journeys within North Yorkshire are paid for by North Yorkshire county council.

The central question posed by my hon. Friend was, should pensioners be charged to use their concessionary passes? I believe that this would undermine the basic principle of the concessionary scheme, and many would

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probably see it as a step too far. Were any Labour Members present for this important Adjournment debate, I believe they would also underline how the principle of the concessionary scheme should be written in stone, not undermined.

Nigel Adams: Has the Minister assessed the cost of means-testing to see who can afford to pay?

Mr Goodwill: As with other benefits, such as the free television licence and the winter fuel allowance, it would be prohibitively expensive to means-test people. Also, if people had to apply for the pass, as with other means-tested pensioner benefits, we might find a much lower uptake.

Miss McIntosh: My central argument is that if it works for rail passengers—they buy a concessionary rail card and get the concessionary travel—why can it not work for bus passengers? I have been led to believe that it cannot work because the law prevents it, so I am asking the Government to change the law. It need not be means-tested—it is not means-tested for rail passengers. We just need to put rail and bus passengers on an equal footing—problem solved.

Mr Goodwill: I recently attended a meeting of my own older people’s forum in Scarborough, and the very same suggestion was made. People said, “We’ve got these bus passes, but what’s the point, if there’s no bus to use. We’d be prepared to pay a nominal charge to use some of these services, if we could retain them.” However, that would require a fundamental change to the way the system works, and it could be the thin end of the wedge, as services up and down the country—not just the ones that needed help to survive, but some of the more commercial ones—might also demand payment. It would change fundamentally the whole basis of the concessionary scheme. We do not at present have a scheme of free travel for pensioners on the railways. The discount available to pensioners or the railcards they can use are something completely different.

Some of the other services, such as the 118 from Filey to Scarborough via Flixton, have three or fewer passengers, so even if we charged passengers an additional £1 to use their passes on those journeys, that would mean only £3 on some of them. Indeed, some of the services in North Yorkshire have no passengers at all. We need to be more intelligent in the way we approach this. For example, the intention is for the F1 and F2 in Filey to be dial-a-ride services to replace the buses. Indeed, there is a successful dial-a-ride service in my constituency which, let us not forget, picks the pensioners up from their homes and takes them to where they need to go. Many people with mobility problems therefore find dial-a-ride to be a superior service to the bus, which requires them to get to a bus stop and wait, often in inclement weather.

Similarly, the 195 from Hovingham to Helmsley via Ampleforth will be reduced to three days a week, running only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but again, that service currently carries only three or fewer passengers on some of its journeys. Interestingly, I had a telephone call last year from one of my constituents in Sleights—a lady who was a pensioner—who was concerned that the bus service there would be changed and would no longer be adequate. I asked how often she used it and

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she said, “Well, I don’t use the service myself—I’ve got a car—but the day may come when I do need a service and I’d like it to be there.” There is therefore, to a degree, an aspiration or wish to have a service in case of emergencies or if that person can no longer drive. However, may I suggest that it is not the job of the taxpayer to subsidise a service in case people might want to use it one day?

Julian Smith: Does the Minister agree that this is a difficult matter for schools such as Upper Wharfedale and Nidderdale High, which rely on children being sent by parents who are out of the catchment area? Public subsidy is needed for those parents and children, yet the council is ripping those services and that subsidy away, causing big trouble for those highly rural schools.

Mr Goodwill: I am aware that that is a problem. Indeed, the problem becomes more acute where there are no spare places on the school bus service, so that those who do not qualify for access to the free bus service—whether they be sixth-formers or people coming from out-of-catchment—find they cannot get on the school bus even if they want to pay. Therefore, cuts to services, particularly those early in the morning or in the evening, can be a problem.

Miss McIntosh: As my hon. Friend knows, Welburn school falls into that category—the bus passes it, but people are not allowed to access it. Has the Department made a comparative assessment of the cost of dial-a-ride, which I understand is much more expensive than the current Filey service? As we have established that there has been a lack of consultation, would it not make sense to sit down with the residents and see which we need to keep and which we can dispense with?

Mr Goodwill: As I understand it, North Yorkshire council has been conducting an extensive consultation and also has the ridership figures. I have looked at some of the figures for some of the services, and one of the big problems is that services are being provided that are not being used by large numbers of people. I understand that North Yorkshire is keen to maintain some sort of service wherever possible, so there might be alternative routes to use or the frequency of some services might be reduced. In one or two cases in Ripon, the operator has considered that it is able to continue to provide a service without subsidy.

The Government also recognise that improvements can and must be made. In March 2012, our “Green Light for Better Buses” paper set out our plan for buses. The proposals include reforming bus subsidy, improving competition, incentivising partnership working and multi-operator ticketing, and making access to bus information and ticketing easier for all. There is no doubt that we are all operating in challenging economic times. The Government want to ensure that the bus market is still attractive to all operators, large and small, urban and rural, by ensuring that funding is allocated in the fairest way, while giving the best value for money to taxpayers.

The bus service operators grant, or BSOG, paid to bus operators, has been provided directly to them in a fairly blunt and untargeted way, relating to fuel

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consumption. We need to be more intelligent in the way we target some of the support we are giving. Some local authorities have told us that they can make bus subsidy deliver better value for money by working in partnership with their bus operators to grow the bus market. That is what the five better bus areas are intended to do, and the top-up fund available to them will give them an additional incentive to innovate. One of the trailblazers is York. I will watch its progress with interest. I think Bristol would be a good comparator for rural North Yorkshire, given that the Bristol better bus area has a rural hinterland more similar to parts of North Yorkshire.

The policy relies strongly on partnership with commercial bus operators rather than contractual relationships, which is why better bus areas are quite distinct from quality contract schemes, in which all bus services would be tendered and the bus service operators grant automatically devolved to local authorities.

The Government are committed to protecting the national bus travel concession, which is of huge benefit to about 11 million people, allowing free off-peak local travel anywhere in England. The concession gives older and disabled people greater freedom, more independence and a lifeline to their communities, gives them access to facilities in their areas, and helps them to keep in touch with family and friends. It can also bring wider benefits to the economy. The Government recognise that the issue of young people’s travel and the level of fares is a complex one, but, although there is no statutory obligation to provide discount-price travel for young people, many commercial and publicly funded reductions are available.

Bus services in rural areas are not just concerned with levels of public funding. Commercial operators will provide services in areas where there are enough passengers, and overall commercial mileage in very rural areas of England is increasing. However, the Government accept that when that is not feasible, local authorities play a vital role in supporting rural bus services. Indeed, about 28% of bus mileage in predominately rural authorities is operated under contract to them. Authorities such as North Yorkshire county council are best placed to decide what support to provide, in response to local views and need and in the light of their overall funding priorities. It is therefore vital for them to maximise the return on every penny of the funding that they provide. To help with that, in October last year my Department met its commitment to publish revised guidance for local authorities on best practice in the procurement of local bus services and other types of road passenger transport. While I recognise that much innovation and hard work is done by councils all over the country, I believe that there is scope for them to do more, not least by highlighting and sharing some really good practice on which other authorities can draw—and I strongly urge them to do so.

Providing bus transport solutions in rural areas also requires effective use of all available options, whether they be traditional fixed-route bus services, community buses, dial-a-ride, or other types of demand-responsive transport such as taxis. My Department is currently undertaking further work in examining the barriers to better procurement of such services.

Julian Smith: May I urge the Minister and the Department to analyse the performance of organisations, such as the Dales Integrated Transport Alliance in my

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constituency, which have been given grants as part of the local sustainability fund, which he mentioned, and to think about whether they have provided value for money?

Mr Goodwill: That is exactly the point that I was trying to make when I spoke of sharing best practice and assessing the effectiveness with which different local authorities have deployed the funds that they have been given

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The Government believe in buses. Our vision is of a “'better bus” with more of what passengers want: punctual, interconnected services; greener and more fully wheelchair-accessible buses; and widely available smart ticketing. A more attractive, more competitive and greener bus network will encourage more passengers, cut carbon and create growth.

Question put and agreed to.

11.3 pm

House adjourned.