Andrea Leadsom: Yes of course I agree. My point was merely that child care comes in all shapes and sizes. My real point is that we should support the choices that families want to make, which are the best choices for them. That is particularly why I am so delighted that the

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Government have introduced shared parental leave. What more choice could there be for a woman who perhaps is earning more than her husband than to be able to decide to go back to work in the knowledge that he will be doing that critical early part of the child care? That is a huge tribute to the Government and many families will be delighted. It will be life changing for them.

Another area for which the Government deserve a lot of credit is the introduction of the early years professional status, particularly to deal with the quality of child care. I have been told by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson)—who is Minister for children—that early years professional status will require a great deal of training. It will involve learning about the importance of secure attachment, about how the brain of a baby develops, and about how vital it is for the baby to receive loving, attentive care, whether that care is provided by parents or in a formal setting. As the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) pointed out, when life at home is devastatingly awful because of domestic violence, bereavement or drug or alcohol misuse, the attachment needs of a baby may be far better met in a formal child care setting than at home. What is really important is choice and good quality.

Another enormous tribute should be paid to the Government for the creation of childminder agencies. I know that that has been a contentious issue, but I believe that children’s centres that adopt childminder agency status can serve as signposts for all families who seek child care. They can provide ongoing professional development for childminders, many of whom have felt unloved and uncared-for over the last few decades—which, along with over-regulation, has been their reason for leaving the business. The agencies can help childminders to understand regulation, to become established, and to provide the top-quality care that they so want to provide.

Meg Hillier: I thank the hon. Lady for being so generous with her time. Childminders have told me that their main fear is that childminder agencies could replicate the private sector company model for older people’s domiciliary care, creaming off a profit from childminders’ salaries and not delivering a good service. The hon. Lady has described an entirely different model. Does she have any inside information about what will be announced?

Andrea Leadsom: I do not, but I can tell the hon. Lady that I have been lobbying the Minister, and telling him that children’s centres could play a fantastic and very appropriate role if they became childminder agencies. I think that the support, encouragement, training and quality control that they could offer would be good for childminders, and it would certainly be good for families.

What else have the Government done for families? They have done an enormous amount. Child care tax credit has been given a huge boost: a contribution of up to £2,000 per child will greatly help families to make the right child care choices. Even more significant is the increase in the tax-free personal allowance, which has put an enormous amount of money back into the hands of taxpayers, and which will benefit working families of

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all shapes and sizes. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), the fuel duty freeze has made the cost of living for families lower than it would have been under the Opposition.

But what have we really, fundamentally done for our children—the children who are at the heart of everything that we do? We have paid down the deficit by a third, which is no inconsiderable feat. Why is that so important? As a result of the financial crisis and the Labour Government’s overspending, we put ourselves in a position in which we stole not just from our children, but from our grandchildren. We mortgaged their future. This Government have paid down the deficit significantly, with the intention of clearing it altogether so that we can start to reduce the debts that our children and grandchildren would otherwise be paying. We have been able to keep the cost of borrowing down, because we had a credible plan for returning strength to our economy. That has enabled all families with mortgages to keep down their borrowing costs, and has been a huge boost to families that is never talked about.

What is the payback? Our economy is the fastest-growing in the developed world. Wages are rising faster than they have done for seven years—that was announced today—and the private sector has created 1.6 million new jobs. That means that well over 1.5 million new families are finding work, and are able to meet the needs of their household budgets.

7.15 pm

Bridget Phillipson: I will make a brief contribution and put on record just how much progress was made under the previous Labour Government. Child care was previously regarded as something for families to deal with on their own. When Labour came to power in 1997, there was no guarantee that children had access to a nursery place. In many areas, nursery school provision was such that there simply were not the places available even when children wanted them. We should also remember the Sure Start children centres and all the work that went into them. It is important to acknowledge that a major transition was made. The fact that we are debating child care here today shows just how much progress we have made.

I recognise that Government Members want to deal with this issue. It is just unfortunate that the measures they are talking about will not come into force until after the general election, if they were to be re-elected. That is disappointing because families in my constituency need help now.

Families across the country are facing a reduction in the number of places at the same time as costs are rising. Those of us with children know just how difficult it can be to find child care that meets the needs of families now. As has been pointed out, we in this House are very fortunate in having the luxury of being in well-paid jobs that allow us to make choices, but for many of my constituents who work shifts or who are on zero-hours contracts or have insecure employment those choices simply are not available.

We have had an interesting discussion about the role of informal child care, with some useful points being made on both sides. Many families, mine included, rely on grandparents and other friends and family to help out, and they provide invaluable support and play a very

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useful role. I do not in any way denigrate that support, but children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds benefit the most from having access to high-quality formal child care.

When I visit nurseries and primary schools in my constituency, it becomes clear just how important for their development it is that children are given the best start in life and have access to early years child care. That enables their vocabulary to develop and gives them access to a whole range of different experiences that sometimes are not available in the home for one reason or another, whether it be poverty, domestic violence or mental health.

We have a long way to go on this issue. Labour’s policies are on the right lines. This is a sensible new clause, and I hope the Government will take action now to help families, rather than waiting until later. Families need action now.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Nicky Morgan): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess, and I thank all Members who have spoken in this debate. After a rather partisan opening speech, the debate improved and we had a genuine discussion of views, which will no doubt carry on throughout the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. We will also be able to discuss child care measures in greater detail later in the year.

I take on board the comment of the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) that there is a certain irony in the fact that all of us in the Chamber debating this matter today have children yet we are discussing this rather than spending time with them. If my son were here at the Dispatch Box, he would be very opinionated and have plenty to say on the subject of what I get up to, and I suspect that applies to the children of other Members.

New clause 1 asks the Government to conduct a review of the affordability of child care, but while Opposition Members are proposing yet another review, this Government are taking action, and have taken action, to address the rising costs of child care faced by families.

Before I address the Opposition new clause, let me briefly set out this Government’s approach to supporting parents with their child care costs. As the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch said, we on this side of the House believe in the importance of flexibility. We do not want to prescribe any further the number of hours that families should have. We want there to be full flexibility, and that is one of the advantages of the tax-free child care provisions this Government are suggesting. Parents and families will be able to build up credits in accounts and will then be able to spend them in the way that suits them best.

Meg Hillier: The flexibility of provision is as important as the flexibility of payment. It is no good talking about flexibility if the child care provider does not provide it or does not provide the number of hours and length of day needed, whether long or short. What are the Government planning to do about that?

Nicky Morgan: I take that point on board. I shall come on to talk about the number of child care places, but the hon. Lady is right: flexibility in all sorts of

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different ways is what is important. Having the money in an account that the family can decide how to spend is an important part of the policies we have introduced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) was absolutely right to say that this was all about choice. The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) talked about maternal employment. That is a debate that we need to have in this country. We know from various surveys conducted by the Department for Education that some mothers want to work, and some need to work. Many of those who need to work find child care costs a barrier to going to work. That is why it is so important to have this discussion.

Child care costs are a major part of most working families’ budgets. Figures from the Family and Childcare Trust show that, between 2002 and 2010, child care costs increased by around 50%. The Government have therefore taken action to tackle those rising costs. We have funded 15 hours a week of free child care for all three and four-year-olds, and extended that offer to the 20% most disadvantaged two-year-olds. We are now extending it further so that, from September 2014, about 40% of two-year-olds will be eligible. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) pointed out, the Government have also increased child tax credit to £3,265 a year, which is £420 a year more than it was at the last election, representing a rise significantly above inflation. We have also introduced shared parental leave.

The Government are also taking action to drive up the supply of high-quality child care provision—for example, by legislating for childminder agencies, which will make it easier to set up a childminding business; making it easier for schools to change their school day and encouraging primary schools to open for longer; and reducing bureaucracy and red tape for providers. Encouragingly, the most recent information shows that costs in England have stabilised. The National Day Nurseries Association has reported that the average fee increase across all nurseries was 1.5%, which was well below inflation. The latest survey from the Family and Childcare Trust shows that the cost of after-school clubs in 2013 was £49.71 per week, and that in 2014 it is £48.40. Also, the cost of childminders’ after-school pick-up was £72.79 in 2013 and it is now £64.75—a 12.8% reduction in real terms. Opposition Members have talked about the availability of child care places, but it is worth noting that the number of child care settings rose from 87,900 in 2010 to 90,000 in 2011. This equates to 2 million early-years places, or a 5% increase on 2009.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate talked about informal child care, and he was right to suggest that that is an important subject. A number of families rely on grandparents and other family members to provide child care, and it is important that we recognise that. However, I also have sympathy with the view that formal child care settings are important. We need to know that our young children are ready and able to go to school. I am not saying that that cannot happen in an informal child care setting, however. As I have said, it is a question of choice and flexibility.

Let me now turn to new clause 1, which asks the Chancellor to publish a review of the affordability of child care costs. We believe that such a review is unnecessary,

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because in addition to the actions I have already outlined, the Government announced a new scheme in Budget 2013 to help working parents with their child care costs. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch really meant it, but she said that the review would “not tie anyone to anything much”. Actually, that is part of the problem with the proposal. We want to get on and bring in our provisions as soon as possible.

Meg Hillier: What I meant was that the review would not require the Government to act on its findings. However, it would give us all a basis on which to argue about what was best for local people and, I hope, reach consensus. It would not stop the Government doing what they were already doing, but it could open up other opportunities.

Nicky Morgan: I believe that some of those policy issues will come out in the debates that we are going to have on tax-free child care. Rather than postponing our activities while we have yet another review, I want to get on and make progress. I want families to know that we are serious about listening and helping them with child care costs and the availability of places.

We have consulted widely on the detail of the scheme. More than 35,000 responses were received to last year’s consultation, and we have listened to that feedback. On 18 March this year, we published our response to the consultation on tax-free child care. This was welcomed by families and child care providers around the country, and as a result of the consultation, we are rolling out tax-free child care more quickly than had previously been announced. It will be launched in autumn 2015 and rolled out to all eligible families with children under 12 within the first year of the scheme’s operation. That is significantly faster than previously announced, as children under 12 would have gradually qualified for the scheme over a seven-year period.

The Government will also now provide 20% support on child care costs up to £10,000 per year for each child via a new simple online system. The cap had previously been set at £6,000. That means that families could receive up to £2,000 child care support per child—two-thirds more than originally planned.

We expect that tax-free child care will be open to at least twice as many families as the current employer-supported child care scheme. At the same time, we announced that all families eligible for universal credit will benefit from additional support at 85%, rather than just taxpayers as previously consulted on. We have also announced £50 million for an early-years pupil premium to help improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged three and four-year-olds in Government-funded early education. Taken together, the Government’s child care offer will provide flexible support for all eligible working families while maintaining free, universal early education support.

The Government are also taking wider steps to support hard-working families. The income tax personal allowance will rise to £10,000 in 2014-15, and in the Budget we announced a further increase to £10,500 in 2015-16. That is a tax cut for 25 million people. Since 2010, this Government will have taken 3.2 million people on low

8 Apr 2014 : Column 236

incomes out of paying income tax altogether. It is worth noting that of that 3.2 million, 56% are women, which is something to be recognised and welcomed.

The Government have also helped local authorities freeze council tax in every year of this Parliament, and we have taken action on fuel duty, saving a typical motorist £680 by 2015-16. The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury talked about the fuel duty cut being a theoretical cut. Perhaps he would like to chat to the shadow Economic Secretary who quoted from the Asda Index, which showed that families now have slightly more discretionary income to spend per week, and it attributed that to a fall in motoring costs—[Interruption.] I suggest that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) read the press release, as it made encouraging reading.

The changes suggested in new clause 1 are unnecessary and would not help hard-working families with the cost of child care. The Government have already reviewed how best to improve child care through the Childcare Commission, which was launched in June 2012. We do not need another review. We need to take action now to support hard-working families, which is why we are supporting parents through tax-free child care and universal credit. More people than ever before will be eligible for that support. We have consulted widely on these changes, and our proposals have been welcomed by families and providers around the country. I therefore request that new clause 1, which was tabled by Opposition Members, be withdrawn.

Catherine McKinnell: This has been a well-considered and well-argued debate, but the essential facts remain. This Government have presided over soaring child care costs and have cut tax credits for thousands of families, meaning that even when their proposed long-grass support is eventually introduced, most families will still be worse off than they were in 2010. Parents and working families need help now, not in 18 months’ time, so I urge hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to back new clause 1, which would secure a review of action that the Government can take to provide the support that hard-pressed families up and down the country so desperately need today.

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

The Committee divided:

Ayes 226, Noes 286.

Division No. 248]


7.28 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Barron, rh Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

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

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Bridget Phillipson


Susan Elan Jones


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Andrew, Stuart

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evennett, Mr David

Fallon, rh Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

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

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Greening, rh Justine

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

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

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Sir Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Gavin Barwell


Harriett Baldwin

Question accordingly negatived.

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8 Apr 2014 : Column 240

The occupant of the Chair left the Chair (Programme Order, 1 April).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again tomorrow.

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to apologise for failing to inform the Register of Members’ Financial Interests of financial donations to my local Conservative party in a timely fashion. I discovered this in August last year, and immediately acted to register these donations, which were already registered with the Electoral Commission. I have today been alerted to the fact that because of this I have asked three written questions, made my maiden speech and one intervention and asked a Select Committee witness a question, all without declaring a potentially relevant interest. I can confirm, however, that I have in no way personally financially benefited.

Although I am registered dyslexic and sought to put in place additional administrative support as a result, I take complete responsibility for this. I am unspeakably sorry that despite all the efforts that I made as a new MP to get things right, I have nevertheless made this very serious error, and I want to reiterate my heartfelt apologies to the House and have sought the earliest possible opportunity to do so.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I thank the hon. Lady for that point of order. It is not a matter for the Chair, but I am sure that the House has heard, and the record will show her comments.

8 Apr 2014 : Column 241

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With the leave of the House, we shall take motions 3 to 7 together.

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

Dangerous Drugs

That the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Ketamine etc.) (Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 5 March, be approved.

County Court

That the draft County Court Remedies Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 10 March, be approved.

Local Government

That the draft Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland Combined Authority Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 13 March, be approved.

Financial Assistance to Industry

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118 (6), and Order, 31 March),

That this House authorises the Secretary of State to undertake to pay, and to pay by way of financial assistance under section 8 of the Industrial Development Act 1982, in respect of certain British Business Bank programmes, sums exceeding £10 million and up to a cumulative total of £100 million in respect of the Business Angel Co-investment Fund; and sums exceeding £10 million and up to a cumulative £380 million in respect of the Start-Up Loans programme.


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

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That the draft Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 10 March, be approved.—(Mark Lancaster.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(1)),

Europe for Citizens Programme 2014-20

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 18719/11 and Addenda 1 and 2, a draft Council Regulation establishing for the period 2014–2020 the programme Europe for Citizens; further notes that the remembrance activities with which it is concerned will include the commemoration of those who died in two World Wars, including the Holocaust; further notes that the programme also supports citizens’ more active civic participation in the EU institutions for the purposes of education, accountability and transparency; further notes the success that the UK has achieved against its key priorities, and in particular the reduction in budget to just under €185.5 million from €215 million for the 2007–13 programme; further notes the potential value of the programme to UK citizens and organisations at the time of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I; and supports the view of the Government that it is right for the UK to support the draft Regulation and enable its implementation.—(Mark Lancaster.)

Question agreed to.

The Posting of Workers

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(1)),

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 8040/12 and Addenda 1 to 3, a draft Directive on the enforcement of Directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services; supports the Government’s efforts to ensure protection for workers posted to the UK from other Member States and for UK workers who are posted to the EU; and further supports the Government’s active co8 operation with other Member States to ensure that there are limits on the administrative burdens on UK businesses who post or receive posted workers, whilst encouraging growth within the single market.—(Mark Lancaster.)

Question agreed to.

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Transparency and Public Trust in Business

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

7.45 pm

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): Six years after the peak of the global financial crisis there should surely no longer be disagreement among any of us that businesses are bound by the same ethical and social responsibilities that bind us all. As the financial crash showed, business transparency is absolutely essential to society. The lack of it in the financial sector in recent years continues to have huge repercussions for people in my town of Wigan, in the UK, and across the world.

We saw in the recent horsemeat scandal that lack of transparency can have major implications for consumers in the UK, but it can have even greater implications for the lives of people across the world, as in the horrific loss of life in Bangladesh with the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex. As business has become increasingly complex, it is very hard for consumers to know, first, whether they can trust the product they are buying, and secondly, whether the business they are supporting is operating ethically. Little wonder, then, that there is increasing public appetite for action. I was surprised to hear recently that the Edelman Trust Barometer found that the public want greater regulation of business by a margin of 4:1.

But it is not just the public who want action; companies and business leaders are also behind the call for higher business standards. The Minister will be aware of the B Team, an alliance of thinkers and business leaders, including Richard Branson and Paul Polman, the chief executive of Unilever, who are calling for a plan B that, in their words, puts

“people and planet alongside profit”.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, they called for companies to implement the highest standards in their core operations and across their supply chains, including greater transparency as a matter of course and as good business practice.

There is good reason for this. Business needs to command the support of the public, of investors and of shareholders in order to survive and to grow. However, public trust is low. Last year, an Ipsos MORI poll found that only 34% of the people questioned trusted business leaders to tell the truth. We need to see this in context; I would hate to think what they had to say about politicians. Research by Goldman Sachs and KPMG has shown that companies that have implemented responsible business practices such as transparency throughout their operations often lead on stock market performance and attract a wider and more loyal investor base from investors who are increasingly looking at these issues and want to invest in companies that have a long-term, not a short-term, outlook.

There are many examples of business leading the way in this field. As chairperson of the all-party parliamentary group on corporate responsibility, I have been pleased to meet and work with many such business leaders over the past four years. However, the Government need to play their part too, because, as many of these business leaders have told me, operating transparently is not always easy. They do so in the glare of public attention, they sometimes get it wrong, and it is incredibly complicated.

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Companies are often involved in extremely complex supply chains. That was brought home to me and to the wider public after the Rana Plaza disaster, where some of the multinational companies involved did not even realise at first that they had been contracting from suppliers who were based in the complex. It was only after campaigners and the media got involved that they realised they had been doing so.

Some companies are making efforts to operate to the highest ethical standards in terms of human rights and the environment—and to be open about it—but their problem is that they are in competition with businesses that do not do that. Many such businesses are based in the UK and listed on the London stock exchange, but they face no penalties whatsoever for breaching the standards the Government say they want them to meet. Like so many others, I believe it is time that the playing field was tilted in favour of those that are operating to high ethical standards, not against them.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I asked the hon. Lady beforehand for permission to intervene on her. Does she agree that greater transparency of who owns and controls companies is necessary and that, in addition to addressing the issues she has mentioned, any new measures must address tax evasion, money laundering and the financing of terror?

Lisa Nandy: That is absolutely right. This goes to the heart of public trust in business, which is about transparency and a commitment to tackling such issues.

The business and human rights action plan was published jointly last September by the Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The UK was one of the first countries to breathe life into the United Nations’ guiding principles on business and human rights. I am proud of that and congratulate Ministers for taking a lead on it. “Good Business” sets out the standards it expects companies to uphold, but so far it does nothing to demand those standards of them. We have had a decade of voluntary corporate social responsibility. Given the experience of the past year and previously—when John Ruggie set out the guiding principles, which were unanimously endorsed by the UN—it is time for the Government to take a more proactive approach.

First, I have been deeply concerned by reports from non-governmental organisations and others that companies have been given conflicting messages by different parts of Government. Although the Foreign Office has consistently warned about the dangers for UK-based companies in knowingly or unknowingly breaching human rights overseas, it appears from anecdotal evidence that BIS has been acting in direct conflict with the commitments made in the action plan.

I want to draw the Minister’s attention to one concrete example where there is evidence of that happening. The Kiobel case was brought by a group of Nigerian activists who claimed that Shell had helped the Nigerian military to systematically torture and kill environmentalists in the 1990s. The cases against Shell were filed under the US alien tort statute, which applies extraterritorially, so it enables non-US plaintiffs to bring claims against foreign companies in the US courts for acts that occur in a third country. Shell challenged that use of the alien tort statute and the UK Government intervened to support the company’s position. The court then ruled in

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Shell’s favour, which limits the ability of communities in developing countries to challenge corporate malpractice in the US courts in future. The Government’s intervention ran contrary to the commitment made by the Prime Minister to implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, which were unanimously endorsed by Governments in 2011.

Will the Minister give an assurance that her Department is completely committed to upholding the principles in the action plan, without qualification, and that it will commit to the same openness in its dealings with business as the Government say they want to see from business itself? In particular, will she ensure that businesses receiving export credit support or development partnership funding have to show that they are meeting the standards of the UN guiding principles?

Secondly, the entire action plan is predicated on the principle of transparency—none of it can be monitored or enforced without it. Nowhere is that more true than in one of the central pillars of John Ruggie’s principles, namely the access to remedy. Without transparency, people whose lives and communities have been destroyed have no effective way of getting justice. As we saw with the South African miners who took a case against Cape plc, companies will often seek to cover the impact of their actions, creating enormous difficulties for communities and their lawyers in gaining the evidence they need to put before the courts.

I must tell the Minister that without transparency requirements, there is no way to prevent such injustices. I recently met representatives of the Afro-Colombian Community Council of Opoca in Colombia. After an 11-year struggle to acquire a collective land title, it was finally granted the right to 73,000 hectares of collective land titles in September 2011, which affected about 17,500 people. They had an 11-year struggle only to discover that a mining concession, covering approximately 55,000 hectares of their ancestral territory, had been granted to AngloGold Ashanti, which is a company registered on the British stock exchange. A proactive duty on companies to disclose information would prevent such harm, while a greater commitment to transparency and—crucially—penalties for those who do not comply is the only way to enable people to access justice.

Finally, I want to tell the Minister:

“To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

That principle in Magna Carta has formed the basis of law, liberty and rights in this country for centuries. In this area at least, we are falling well short. Will the Minister commit to improving transparency and access to justice for communities harmed by the actions of British businesses abroad? At present, I and many other hon. Members in the Chamber are approached by so many people who have such a different story to tell. This is an issue of morality, good business and consumer confidence, but above all of national reputation. We should promote not the worst but the best of British business to the world. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

7.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jenny Willott): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing this very important debate. I completely agree with her

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about the importance of getting this issue right. As she said, it has very wide repercussions not just in the UK, but in communities across the world. British companies work in so many countries. It is critical to get it right here, because it may have such broad repercussions on thousands, ten of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people. This important subject is not debated enough in the House, so I congratulate her on securing the debate today.

Business should be, and often is, a force for good in society. However, as the hon. Lady highlighted, the financial crisis a few years ago revealed severe shortcomings in corporate governance and caused widespread and understandable loss of trust for many people in relation to not only the financial sector, but business more generally, and we need to tackle that. At the same time, there was a realisation that companies had grown so powerful that their activities could have an impact on even the largest economies. The development of such a situation was a real wake-up call to many Governments.

Among the lessons that we have learned from the financial crisis, I want to highlight three areas on which the Government are taking action, and which relate to the points emphasised by the hon. Lady—greater transparency, accountability to both shareholders and wider society, and businesses and shareholders taking responsibility for the impact of their actions.

Mandatory reporting requirements are the key lever that the Government use to increase transparency. At its best, the narrative section of a company’s annual report allows investors to make informed choices through a proper understanding of the company’s strategy, the risks that it faces and its long-term sustainability. There is also the wider public interest to consider. As I have said, companies can have a significant impact on communities and the natural environment in which they operate. Requiring businesses to report fully and openly is therefore the first essential step towards social responsibility and accountability.

As the hon. Lady highlighted, shareholders have responsibilities as well as rights. As owners of a company, they have a duty to understand its operations and hold the board accountable, which is a very important role for them to play in our economy. That is especially the case for investment companies that place funds on behalf of savers and pensioners who are not in a position to exercise their ownership rights directly. They can be incredibly powerful in their role in influencing the direction of the company and how it operates.

The Government are not just talking about transparency but have taken action to ensure that we see greater transparency. Last October, the Government’s new reporting reforms came into force, increasing the transparency and quality of disclosure by both listed and private companies. The new reporting framework requires companies to set out clearly in their new strategic report how they operate, where they are heading and how they are managing risk.

In addition, we introduced important new reporting requirements in three areas related to the issues that the hon. Lady highlighted. On the environment, companies are now required to report on their greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. On gender

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balance, they now need to state the number of men and women on their board, in their senior management team and in the work force as a whole. I know that she has an interest in that issue. Finally, they need to report on human rights issues, which were at the heart of some of the examples that she gave.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I commend my hon. Friend on the work that she and her team are doing in the Department. One point that the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) rightly made was that there are still voluntary arrangements in place on human rights and the environment in the supply chain. As the hon. Lady said, the risk of voluntary arrangements is that the best companies comply but those that we want to do better are allowed to get away with competing unfairly with those pursuing best practice.

Jenny Willott: I reassure my hon. Friend that the UK’s requirements already go beyond a lot of the voluntary principles that have been in place. We have agreed in the EU stronger mandatory reporting requirements for large companies to disclose their policies in a number of areas, including in their supply chain, which my hon. Friend highlighted and in which I know the hon. Member for Wigan is interested. That is a huge step in enhancing transparency, and for many member states of the EU it is the first time that they have had such broad requirements. The UK has traditionally been further ahead in mandatory requirements on businesses. I personally feel strongly about the issue, and it was one of the first that I raised in the Department when I took on my role. I will come in a minute, if my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) will bear with me, to some of the reasons why I believe there is a driver in the UK economy for businesses to act voluntarily.

The requirement to report on human rights issues is in line with the Government’s implementation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, which the hon. Lady highlighted. The first annual reports under the new requirements are just being published, and early signs are encouraging. I am proud that, as I have just said, the UK is leading the way in high-quality company reporting, which will really make a difference. For example, the clothes retailer H&M now not only publishes a list of all its suppliers but sets out the standards and codes of practice that it expects them to meet. Marks and Spencer uses a social enterprise technology provider, Good World Solutions, to gather feedback directly from 22,500 workers in its clothing supply chain in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, ensuring that they can raise concerns without fear of reprisals or discrimination. There are companies in the UK that are doing a significant amount to tackle some of the problems that exist.

As I highlighted to my hon. Friend, we have been negotiating with our EU partners on a related proposal to improve companies’ reporting in general. The EU non-financial reporting proposals have now largely been negotiated and broadly mirror our own regulations, and I hope that they will be adopted before the European parliamentary elections in May. They will start to drive behaviour change in the EU more generally, which will provide more of a common platform for companies

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operating in the EU. British domestic regulations led the way and have given our companies and shareholders a head start.

Lisa Nandy: As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) said, the problem is that although some companies are leading the way, there are also companies that, frankly, are not paying this the blindest bit of notice. Will the Department commit to monitoring the impact of those tougher regulations to see whether they produce the results that we seek, not for those companies that are already doing it but for those that are not?

Jenny Willott: Absolutely. We have the firm basis of mandatory requirements because it is important that companies provide such information. I have mentioned the measures that impose compulsory requirements and, as the hon. Lady said, it is extremely important that those measures are enforced and monitored. However, we cannot change business culture through legislation alone, which is one reason why I actively encourage businesses to go beyond the regulatory requirements and consider what more they can and should be doing.

The hon. Lady highlighted that there is real consumer demand for this approach. There is increasing awareness of the power of the money that we spend in shops and on services, and of the broader impact that that spending can have across the world. Consumers have the power to influence company behaviour. People choose not to purchase clothes that they believe to have been made in a sweatshop and instead spend a bit more money somewhere else, which drives company behaviour too.

The voluntary approach is also important. Last year, we carried out a consultation to assess what Government, business and others should and could do to realise the full benefits of good corporate responsibility. One of the key findings from that consultation was that businesses increasingly see corporate responsibility as a source of competitive advantage because consumers are driving that behaviour. Businesses see corporate responsibility as essential to managing long-term success, which is positive.

Initial reporting of performance was limited, being produced by just a few pioneering companies, but that has now been replaced by more substantial reports with clearer business relevance. There has been huge growth in the number of organisations that are reporting and taking responsibility for the impact of their activities. There is a balance to be struck between ensuring that we have a solid baseline of mandatory reporting with which all companies must comply and encouraging businesses that want to go further. It is good that businesses see reporting as a competitive advantage and that there is a strong business case for reporting because it encourages more businesses to act in that way. Progress has also been driven by the work of international organisations such as the OECD and its guidance for multinational enterprises.

The hon. Lady talked about the business and human rights action plan, and the importance of business impacts on human rights is increasingly recognised, not least through the action plan. As she said, the UK is the first country to publish an implementation plan for the UN guiding principles in this area. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are working together to deliver that implementation plan, and I reassure her that BIS is

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completely committed to the plan and is working closely with the FCO to ensure that we deliver. The implementation plan is important to me and to the Department, and in it we encourage UK companies to adopt due diligence policies to identify, prevent and mitigate risks to human rights, to understand the full extent of their supply chains in the UK and overseas, and to emphasise to businesses the importance of behaviour in their supply chains that is in line with the guiding principles to ensure that we see progress throughout the supply chain.

Supply chain relationships are just one example of where businesses can take positive action that will have a greater impact than UK or even EU regulations. The hon. Lady highlighted how badly things can go wrong with the absolutely shocking example of the Rana Plaza fire. The British public’s awareness of the importance of such action has increased. The business and human rights action plan provides a framework for businesses to engage with their supply chains overseas, and it equips UK companies to give their suppliers both the information they need and the commercial incentive to act in accordance with UN guiding principles, which is important for driving behaviour.

I am proud of the Government’s record on transparency. The UK company reporting framework is proving to be an example to others. When the EU non-financial reporting proposal is finally adopted, we will implement it to improve company reporting still further. Those reforms will need time to prove their worth. We will continue to engage with businesses and civil society in the debate on transparency and reporting, so that we continue to anticipate events rather than react to them. At the same time, we will continue to work with businesses that choose to go beyond regulatory requirements in taking responsibility for the wider impact of their actions, including the activities of their supply chains.

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Lisa Nandy: Before the Minister finishes, will she commit to look at export credits? If she cannot answer now, I will be more than happy if she writes to me later.

Jenny Willott: I am happy to write to the hon. Lady on export credits.

I agree with the hon. Lady on access to justice. That is a key plank of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills action plan on human rights. We support access to an effective remedy for victims of human rights abuses involving business enterprises within UK jurisdiction—that is the wording. We are working with the FCO and will report on progress by the autumn. That is an important element of the action plan.

I have asked businesses, business organisations such as the CBI and the British Retail Consortium, and Which?, Business in the Community and other non-governmental organisations and consumer groups to work with BIS to make it easier for businesses to do more and go further, as the hon. Lady highlighted. Together, we will consider what further steps will enable UK businesses to engage with their global supply chains, act on human rights issues and report on the action they are taking to make it more transparent.

The Government remain fully engaged—I hope the hon. Lady is reassured by my commitments this evening—and will continue to take action. I look forward to updating the House on progress later this year.

Question put and agreed to.

8.12 pm

House adjourned.