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That Alison McGovern, Ian Murray, John Woodcock, Bill Esterson, Gregg McClymont and Barbara Keeley present the Bill.

Alison McGovern accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January 2015 and to be printed (Bill 79).

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Retirement of the Clerk of the House

1.52 pm

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague): I beg to move,

That Mr Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Robert Rogers KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of the House, this House’s gratitude for his long and distinguished service, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedure of the House and to public understanding and appreciation of its work, for his leadership and professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House Service, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.

It is a great pleasure, as my first duty as Leader of the House on the Floor of the House, to move the motion on the Order Paper and to lead the tributes to a highly respected Clerk of the House, Sir Robert Rogers, who is to retire at the end of August. He has been a distinguished presence at the Table for 10 years, the last three as Clerk, itself the culmination of an eminent career of 42 years in the service of the House.

Expertise, intelligence and authority are the essentials of a successful Clerk. Robert has these in full measure and combines them with an abundance of good humour, which at times he has certainly needed. He is both our Clerk and the chief executive of the House, and he has fulfilled each of those responsibilities with great assurance and imagination, for which we salute him. The two roles involve ensuring the highest quality of service to Members at the minimum cost to the taxpayer, and perhaps the greatest testament to his success in combining those goals is his stewardship of a challenging savings programme without detriment to the front-line services provided to Members.

Some might think from his dignified bearing and the immaculate performance of his constitutional duties that he represents only the formal, traditional nature of the House and, of course, he is, indeed, a doughty defender of the interests and traditions of the House— and few, if any, of his 48 predecessors have sported such a fine and constitutionally correct beard. This beard is beyond criticism, since he maintains he wears it by royal command, having been told many years ago to keep it by the Queen of Denmark. But it would be a great mistake to think this means in any way that he is wedded to outdated customs or averse to reform—in fact, quite the opposite, and I hope and believe it is true that the scale, scope and success of the House in scrutiny of the Executive and the relevance of the Chamber to those who elect us to represent them have increased in this Parliament, and his role in fashioning the ideas for this and steering reform has been instrumental to that success.

Throughout a career in which he has discharged all the principal Clerks’ roles, Sir Robert has demonstrated a readiness to enable positive change. Over a decade ago, he supported the Liaison Committee by drafting its report, “Shifting the Balance”, which set out its goal to disprove the notion that the House of Commons was nothing more than a

“toothless adjunct of an all-powerful Executive”.

Looking at the range and prominence of Select Committee activities today, a great deal has been achieved in that regard.

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As Clerk of Legislation from 2006 to 2009, Sir Robert implemented the changes in the legislative process agreed by the Modernisation Committee. In 2009 he drew up a 75-point menu of potential changes to the procedures and practices of the House, some of which, such as the appearances by the Prime Minister before the Liaison Committee and the more active use of urgent questions, have come to fruition and have improved the accountability of Ministers to this House.

As Secretary to the Commission and in his present role, he has supported the House’s adoption of new technology. Parliament is continuing to adapt to the digital era, including by the establishment of a Digital Office. Written questions are about to become fully electronic, and many Select Committees now operate on a paperless basis.

Sir Robert has embraced such changes himself. I understand that 1972, the year Robert joined the House services, was the last year in which quill pens could be seen on the desks of the Clerks. The current Clerk, we have all observed, by contrast taps away on a tablet at the Table, and I am assured it is not only to keep abreast of the cricket scores.

It is a further tribute to him that he has been an ardent and very visible ambassador for the House. He has also promoted the explanation of some of the mysteries of the House to the outside world. He has been a great supporter of the outreach service, which you, Mr Speaker, have also championed. He has laid on briefings for the media on complex procedural issues. He has given a large number of lectures and presentations each year. Behind the scenes, he has forged stronger links with both the Executive and the judiciary. He has also seen and embraced the hinterland of Parliament. Many hon. Members will have got to know him while singing in the parliamentary choir or participating in the armed forces parliamentary scheme. Still more will have enjoyed coming across him indirectly, through his two books on Parliamentary miscellany, which must have helped lighten many a constituency speech, and the more cerebral book he co-authors, “How Parliament Works”, which I suspect is not yet read as widely as it should be, even in this House. He has also led his staff well. His loyalty, leadership and support to them have earned him the admiration and affection of his colleagues, as has his unstinting generosity, in which the distillation of the fruits of his knowledge has apparently often been joined by regular baskets of apples from his orchard.

Members, too, have benefited from this largesse in many other ways, such as those on the Defence Committee, which Robert clerked in the mid-1980s. Prior to one visit to British forces in Germany, the Committee insisted they would rough it with the troops in “field conditions” rather than stay in a hotel. They arrived on a wet and windswept night, and found that their enthusiasm had evaporated. They discovered that the Minister for the Armed Forces was staying in a nearby castle with the local baron, and that the standard issue sleeping bags were not built for their bulk. Dealing with this mutinous Committee, Sir Robert apparently produced from somewhere about his person a bottle of fine malt whisky and plastic cups, and restored good order and temper all round. This is a very splendid Clerk indeed.

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Members will be familiar with his gift for anecdote and laughter. For every problem or predicament, he has an historical equivalent or amusing anecdote, or a few apposite lines from “Blackadder”. His customary response to any office disaster is a twinkling, “So that went well then.”

In retirement, our loss will be Herefordshire’s gain, where he plays the organ at his local church, is active in the local community and will find more time to indulge in sailing, shooting and watching the cricket.

So I believe I can speak on behalf of the whole House in saying that in all these things, from offering us his excellent advice to cheering us with his good humour, Sir Robert has been unfailingly helpful, patient and courteous, showing admirable and calm authority and finely honed diplomatic skills. In short, he has been an exemplary servant of the House, and I want to thank him, on behalf of us all, for his loyal service to this House and I wish him, his wife Jane, and their family all our very best wishes for the future.

1.59 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): First, I would like to welcome the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) to his new role as Leader of the House. There will be time on Thursday to pay proper tribute to his predecessor, who is in his new place, but I just wanted to acknowledge that this is his first outing in the House since the reshuffle and wish him well in his new role.

It is with great pleasure that I rise to support the motion in the name of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. Members to mark the retirement of Sir Robert Rogers as Clerk of the House. Sir Robert has been in the service of the House for more than 42 years, for the past three serving with great distinction as our 49th Clerk—and as chief executive. Since becoming a junior Clerk in 1972, Sir Robert has served in all of the most important roles. He has been Clerk of Private Members’ Bills, Clerk of the Defence Committee, Clerk of the European Legislation Committee, Principal Clerk of the Table Office, Clerk of the Journals and Clerk of Legislation. To all those important roles he has brought his formidable intellect, his insight and, as the Leader of the House has pointed out, his great sense of humour.

I think all Members will agree that Sir Robert has left his mark on this place. He has delivered a savings programme that has ensured that services to Members are protected and value for money is much improved. I know some of his proudest achievements are improving the outreach programme, expanding Parliament week and increasing efficiency by creating a single commercial division. He has also improved diversity by ensuring that the management board of the House contains a 50:50 ratio of women and men. He would be the first to admit that there is more to do on diversity, but he has certainly made a difference.

To serve as Clerk of the House is to occupy a position at the very heart of our democracy. The job description for his successor includes a recommendation from Sir Robert saying that the position is

“the best job in the world”.

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Perhaps that explains why in 1748, Jeremiah Dyson, who was to became the 25th Clerk, bought the role for a whopping £6,000 in old—very old—money. I would like to reassure the House that there will be no “Cash for Clerks” scandal to mar the recruitment of the 50th Clerk, which will be done strictly on merit.

While reading Sir Robert’s book “Order! Order!”, I discovered that in 1854 an exam was introduced as part of the selection for employment in the House service. Among the prerequisites were good handwriting and spelling; good knowledge of the history of England from 1603 onwards; and fluency in French, German and Greek. This long-standing requirement to be fluent in several languages stood Sir Robert in good stead when in 1977 he did three weeks on a Royal Navy fishery protection vessel as part of a Committee investigation into the fishing industry. During that stint of practical research, he was part of a boarding party on to a 1,300-tonne Russian trawler caught fishing illegally. Rather than be impounded, the Russians set course for Murmansk, with the boarding party kidnapped—cue international incident and the scrambling of quite a few of our military assets. When the Russians finally agreed to go into Plymouth late at night their officers refused to navigate the ship and so Sir Robert, who is an amateur sailor, took orders from the accompanying warship and translated them into German for the helmsman, who understood no English. The fact that Sir Robert has been with us for the rest of the time demonstrated how successful he was at steering the ship safely into port.

While at Oxford Sir Robert captained Lincoln college’s team on “University Challenge”, when it was presented by Bamber Gascoigne—I say that for hon. Members who remember as far back as I do. Having got in touch with the producers, I can reveal that, unfortunately, no TV footage survived, but with his typical flair Sir Robert led his team to the semi-finals. Over the past 10 years Sir Robert has managed to write three books—“Order! Order!”, “Who Goes Home?” and “How Parliament Works”, which is now in its sixth edition. I should tell the House that a parliamentary question from last year revealed that “How Parliament Works” is the most requested book in the Library— apparently, just ahead of Tony Blair’s autobiography.

Many Members will be aware that Sir Robert read old Norse, mediaeval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. So accomplished was he at his studies that he was offered a scholarship to study “Anglo-Saxon colour words”, but he clearly decided that he would pursue a study of modern rowdy behaviour in the Commons Chamber rather than waste his talents studying ancient swear words and their uses—Mr Speaker, we have reason to be very grateful that he did.

Sir Robert will be remembered as one of the most forthright defenders of this place and the work we all do here making democracy survive and thrive. His letter of resignation offered a typically eloquent case for Parliament’s role as the fulcrum of our democracy, which I know was greatly appreciated by many Members on all sides of this House. I know Sir Robert is a huge cricket fan, although age has dictated that spectating is all that is now left for either of us to do if we are to avoid the possibility of sustaining serious injury. So I hope he will follow the example of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who entered

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government in the same year that Sir Robert joined the House, and leave office to spend more time at the test match.

Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Opposition, I would like to extend our sincerest gratitude for 42 years of the most distinguished public service. May I add my thanks and best wishes to Sir Robert, and wish him, his wife, Jane, and their family all the best for the future?

2.6 pm

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): There can be few public offices with an unbroken history of over half a millennium, but the office of Clerk of the House of Commons is one of them. If Sir Robert Rogers had taken the Clerk’s traditional place at the Table at any time over the past 626 years, he would always have looked perfect for the role. I am also confident that had Sir Robert been there when King Charles I burst into the Chamber, with his troops in the Members Lobby behind him, he would have coped with the situation with as great aplomb as did John Rushworth at the time.

We went to the same school—I refer to Sir Robert, not the King. It was not a four-letter school calculated to cause concern; it was Tonbridge school. We were not contemporaries at Tonbridge. I am 20 years older than Sir Robert, as I seem to be of almost everyone nowadays, except of course our Sovereign. But what our school lives had in common was that at our time of leaving, the Worshipful Company of Skinners, who owns the school, bestowed on both of us an Andrew Judde Exhibition to Oxford—the school’s top academic honour—together with a golden quill pen, which both of us, in different ways, have put to good use.

At Oxford, Sir Robert was an all-round athlete at university level. As the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has told us, for his degree he studied old Norse, mediaeval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon, an almost uniquely challenging trilogy of academic disciplines. I am told that on the rare occasions he loses his temper, he breaks into incomprehensible old Norse—although its meaning is clear to the dimmest recipient.

To new Members this House may sometimes seem crowded, but after serving in a few Parliaments those of them who retain an inclination to think for themselves may find that the House of Commons can be the loneliest place in the world. Asquith said that Parliament is an institution that eventually destroys all friendships. He was thinking of Haldane and Grey, his closest friends, both of whom he sacked in reshuffles forced upon him—plus ça change. Harold Macmillan, in his old age, told me that, even after his four years in the trenches and his two serious wounds, there were times in the 1930s when he had to summon up all his courage to go into the Smoking Room or the Carlton club. The fact is that any worthwhile parliamentarian must be able to stand with a tiny minority, or alone if necessary, in the defence of their conviction of the national interest.

When friends are in short supply, I strongly advise a visit to the Clerk of the House of the day. There will be found kindness, comprehension, wise and disinterested advice and absolute discretion. That is part of the fine tradition of the clerkship. No one has been better equipped by temperament and experience to discharge it than Sir Robert Rogers. His countenance at the Table

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is of a granite detachment, unmoved by the funniest of jokes or by the most tedious misbehaviour. In private, he sparkles with vivacity and wit. He is, of course, a man of immense scholarship, steeped in a life dedicated to the rules, practices and conventions of this House. Any Clerk of the House who was not so equipped would leave the Speaker of the day hopelessly floundering in a crisis.

The Clerk is not a civil servant. He is appointed by the Sovereign on advice and owes his loyalty to this House and to none other. However, Sir Robert has not confined his energies to this place and its staff of 2,000—the size of three infantry battalions. He has always been passionate about getting people to understand the great contribution that Parliament makes to our national life. He has, as the Leader of the House told us, given many lectures around the country, not only about the history and procedures of Parliament, but over a wide range of legal and constitutional issues. Last year, when he addressed a seminar in the Lord Chief Justice’s court, he attracted an audience of 70 High Court judges and Lord Justices of Appeal.

I was shocked when I heard that he had decided to retire early. He has been an adornment to his historic office.

2.13 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): If I may, I will begin by paying tribute to the Leader of the House for his work as Foreign Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman will know from my interventions in the House that I have great admiration for the way in which he conducted that office and for his indefatigable energy. Few who have not held the office—still more who have not been married to one who has—appreciate its pressures. The Foreign Secretary—still more than, say, the Home Secretary—is never off duty and it can feel as though sleep is not allowed. There will be other occasions to pay such tributes at greater length, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the path from King Charles street to the office of the Leader of the House is now a well-trodden and, some may say, a distinguished one. It was begun by Geoffrey Howe, it was followed by Robin Cook, and is now taken—someone whose name I forget came in between—by the right hon. Gentleman. I wish the new Leader of the House very well.

The right hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) referred to Macmillan’s nervousness about going into the Smoking Room. I regret to say that in the bad old days when the hours were long, the collegiality was great and the Smoking Room did what it said on the door, I had no nervousness about entering that room to drink and smoke—not a huge amount, of course, just like the rest of the House. I remember being offered for the first time, by one of my smoking mates, a cigar from a packet. I looked at the pack and thought, “I recognise that man. He is in the Clerk’s Office.” It was only on further examination, when I discovered the name of the cigars, that I found that the fine portrait on the front of the pack was not of Sir Robert Rogers but was in fact of Edward VII, whose name was given to the cigars.

As the Leader of the House said, Sir Robert has a distinguished bearing, which I am sure is designed to give the appearance—and indeed does—that he is a 24-carat gold, wholly signed-up member of the British

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establishment who takes a similar view to the Duke of Wellington that the British constitution is perfect and needs no alteration—




I remind hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative Benches that the duke said that in the face of the Reform Act of 1832, in case they now propose to repeal what turned out to be a modest Act and return to rotten boroughs and much else besides.

However, Sir Robert’s appearance belies an intellectually adventurous mind and considerable radicalism—meaning not rampant, mad modernisation, but sensible reform—with regard to this place. As Leader of the House for a year, I saw his work and the careful advice that he gave to the Clerk of the Modernisation Committee when I chaired it and how he was able to steer the Committee’s bright ideas for timed speeches in the Chamber and topical questions and turn them into a reality that would work. It is never quite as easy as it would seem.

The Leader of the House spoke of the stronger links that Sir Robert forged behind the scenes with the Executive and the judiciary. It is worth saying a word about those, because from the feedback that I received from senior members of the judiciary I know just how valued they were. Previously, there had been an astonishing absence of real engagement by the Clerks responsible for legislation with those who had to form the legislation and those who had to interpret it—one of the hardest tasks in the world. Sir Robert put that right, and that demands great commendation.

In a country of which we are all immensely proud, with a vibrant democracy that still manages not to have a formal written constitution, there are some individuals on whom rests the working of our democratic arrangements and the responsibility for ensuring the proper balancing of the power of the state and the rights of elected Members and of the public. In that regard, there is no greater responsibility than that which rests on the Clerk of the House, who in many respects is the keeper of our constitution. No one has better met that role than Sir Robert Rogers.

2.19 pm

Sir George Young (North West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). One advantage of no longer being Chief Whip is that one can take part in debates rather than moving, from the Dispatch Box, that they be curtailed. I can think of no better way of resuming an innings on the Back Benches than by adding a brief and well-deserved footnote to the generous tributes that have been paid to Robert Rogers, who holds a post that 100 years ago was held by my great-grandfather, Sir Courtenay Ilbert.

Sir Robert joined the House at about the same time as I did and, as we have heard, he helped to guide the House through the changes that were necessary if we were to continue to do our job properly. He was on my radar in the 1990s when I was shadow Leader of the House, when he was secretary to the Braithwaite committee—one of many committees set up to consider the administration of the House—which considered the vexed question of whether the job of the Clerk should be split into two, a Clerk and a CEO. He navigated his way around those rocky waters with dexterity.

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That debate is for another time, but I endorse what the Leader of the House has just said: in my view, Sir Robert has all the qualities necessary to perform the job of both Clerk and chief executive and he has the energy to do both at the same time. His knowledge of procedure is legendary, but is backed up with some sensitive antennae that can assess the mood of the House, steer it through “Erskine May” and arrive at the destination that the House needs to reach. He has been a fantastic chief executive, which requires a totally different portfolio of skills from that of the Clerk. He has pioneered the introduction of new technology into this place and has been the accounting officer for a huge budget. He has taken his HR responsibilities very seriously and has helped to shape the debate about the long-term future of the building.

He has always been totally impartial. As Leader of the House and as Chief Whip, I have had frequent occasions to ask his advice and he always put the interests and reputation of the House at the heart of any advice. The Deputy Leader of the House at the time has asked me to say how grateful he was to the Clerk for his advice on the highly complex issue of privilege.

Sir Robert has been a great servant of Parliament. He is a civilised man, a successful author, a man with a mischievous sense of humour, legible handwriting and a delightful turn of phrase. He is excellent company, and he is a man with interests outside this place. We wish him and Jane all the best as he pursues those interests with the same commitment and enthusiasm with which he pursued the interests of the House, its staff and its Members.

2.22 pm

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, happily and heartily endorse everything that has been said so eloquently by previous speakers during this short tribute debate. In expressing our gratitude to Sir Robert for his decades of service to this House, I particularly thank him for the courteous, professional and ever helpful way in which he treated smaller parties such as ourselves and individual Members. I extend to him, his wife Jane and his family every best wish and blessing for a long and happy retirement.

2.23 pm

Mr Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I am very glad to have this opportunity to pay tribute to Robert Rogers, with whom it has been my pleasure to work during the last two years as Leader of the House. I heartily endorse everything that has been said and, in particular, what the Leader of the House said in tribute. I welcome him to his responsibilities. I know from personal experience that he will start out, as a previous Leader of the House advised me, not knowing precisely what his tasks will entail, but he will find that he enjoys it far more than he perhaps anticipates. One of the things that I have most enjoyed has been having the ability to work with Robert Rogers, the Clerks and the administration of the House. Many Members might not understand the complexity and demands of the tasks they have to undertake, and I was one of them before I was Leader of the House. I now appreciate the skill with which not only the Clerks but the whole House service manage to achieve that.

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I completely agree with all that has been said. Robert’s scholarship and knowledge are legendary and I have had the benefit of them. From my point of view, one of the things I most appreciated was his ability to take on problems, often of a complex procedural kind. I must say that I did not lack advice, often expert advice, but the problems with which one must deal as a business manager are sometimes deep. The quality of the advice one receives is not just the product of time spent in this House. It often depends on the quality of the intellect and the judgment that goes with it, and Robert has brought to the House in an exemplary fashion not only expertise and authority but the judgment and intellect needed to advise on how such problems might be solved. Just because things sometimes look easy does not mean that they are, and the nature of what the Clerk—and especially Robert over his career—can achieve involves making people believe that procedure can be dealt with readily whereas in truth it is the product of immense expertise and effort. He has demonstrated that to a remarkable and exemplary degree.

Let me add just a couple of points. From a personal point of view, many of the tributes illustrate that the relationship between Members and Clerks, particularly on the Committees on which we serve, is often a close one. At the heart of it—this has been the case for me over the past two years—is trust. Trust is a very precious commodity and I could trust Robert with every question, every issue and every problem that might arise, knowing that he would address it utterly impartially. I know that that was the experience of Government, Opposition and other parties in this House. He was utterly impartial among Members and parties, in a way that enabled one to have absolute trust in the integrity and authority with which he applied himself to issues. That has been tremendously important and I have greatly appreciated it.

I also appreciate, as I think we all do in the House, the ability to have such personal relationships, and the fun that we have had together. Over the past two years, I have particularly enjoyed many humour-laden conversations about issues that might not otherwise have been regarded as being that funny.

I share the Father of the House’s regret that Robert Rogers was not able to be persuaded to continue in post for longer. We have benefited immensely from his expertise, authority, integrity and honesty, and the trust we can place in him, which has been discharged so wonderfully over these past three years. I join others in wishing Robert, Jane and his family fun, enjoyment, humour and a very full life in Herefordshire and elsewhere in the years to come.

2.28 pm

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): First, may I add my welcome to the Leader of the House and wish him well?

I endorse everything that everybody has said in the past half hour or so, but I rise principally to speak on behalf of Plaid Cymru Members past and present and Scottish National party Members past and present who, as one, are very grateful to Sir Robert for all the years of assistance he has given us as minority parties—I echo what the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) has said—without fear or favour, always being fair and always doing his best.

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I am standing down from the House myself next year after what I feel has been a rather lengthy 23 years. The fact that Sir Robert has been here for 42 years should humble us all and bears testament to his wisdom, leadership and guidance, all provided to Members in an unfailingly courteous and helpful way. It also, incidentally, speaks to his stamina and his great patience.

I was recently reminded of his great humour and his kindly ways when at Christmas time, in the lead up to the festive period, he had on a red and white hat and was serving food to the masses of Westminster in Portcullis House. He looked not too unlike a certain other Christmas figure and was in a similarly jovial mood.

Aside from his duties in the Chamber, it is a continual wonder that Sir Robert is also chief executive of the House of Commons service, meaning that he is responsible for a budget of £220 million and a work force of more than 1,850. From a bit of reading that I did when I was considering this tribute, I understand that he put in action the decision to move Select Committees to paperless briefings. As someone who is still coming to terms with my iPad, I have to thank him for dragging me into the electronic age, much to the amusement of my staff, members of the Justice Committee and everybody who knows me. I am conscious that the aim is to save the House money and cut down on some of the 8.5 million pages printed annually.

Sir Robert is a moderniser, despite what has been said about his stately appearance, and he has always been keen to use technology and to bring in all kinds of people to ensure that the Commons really does represent the times we live in. As he has said,

“My aim is to enthuse people who would be put off by the look of the building and think they will never have the privilege of working for Parliament.”

That sums up much of his thinking.

On Sir Robert’s educational background, I was very pleased to find out that he had studied mediaeval Welsh at Oxford university, along with old Norse and Anglo-Saxon, as has been said. Therefore I consider it appropriate to quote from the laws of Hywel Dda, Hywel the Good, from the manuscripts of Jesus college. This section sets out the treatment of thieves in medieval Wales:

“Cynnen a Rhaith yn Erbyn Lleidr.

Ny dyly Kynnen vot ar leidyr a berthyno y werthu yny vo manac arnaw yn gyntaf (trwy twg) yn tri lle, megys y mae racdywededic kyn no hynn.

Ny dyly bot reith ar leidyr kysswyn yny vo manac ar(n)aw yn gyntaf yn llys.”

I had the privilege of studying mediaeval Welsh laws, and it is entirely possible that within the confines of this building only Sir Robert and I understood what I have just said. I hope I pronounced it correctly.

Mr Straw: What did you say?

Mr Llwyd: I quoted a passage about the treatment of thieves in mediaeval Wales, who were treated with a great deal more compassion than by some Ministers I could think of.

If I had known of his background before, I would no doubt have approached Sir Robert to discuss the golden period of Welsh literature—greats such as Taliesin and Aneirin, and the Mabinogi. I am sure he and his family will be very welcome at the National Eisteddfod or

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anywhere in Wales whenever he wishes to rekindle his interest in the field. I look forward to seeing him there if he does. I wish him a fond farewell and the best of luck to himself and his family for the future.

2.33 pm

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): I am grateful to have the opportunity to make a short appreciation of Sir Robert’s service to the House, although I am conscious that it may lack the erudition and eloquence that we have heard so far. However, compared with the speech of the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), Hansard may have less trouble with it.

When one enters the House, the clerkship is held in great awe. I remember the fear, almost, of going into the Table Office to put down a question, seeing one’s English mangled into proper form and leaving somewhat chastised. It is part of the tribute to Sir Robert over the years that it is a far less daunting experience now to go to the Table Office and generally to deal with Clerks who serve us.

It is a bit of a shock to me to realise that I entered the service of the House before Sir Robert, and I have had the opportunity to see him in many different guises. I suppose our relationship was closest first of all when he was Clerk of the European Legislation Committee. That is when I became aware of his scholarship, his organisational skills and his great good humour, particularly when having to shepherd a group of lively and not all like-minded colleagues to Brussels for the annual interrogation of UKRep. Then, perhaps his greater difficulty was to settle where we might all have dinner together.

On becoming the Chairman of Ways and Means, I developed regular contact with Sir Robert as he then occupied a series of posts which related to matters on which I had to adjudicate. That is when I became fully appreciative of the clarity and impartiality of the advice which our Clerks provide and of which Sir Robert was an outstanding exemplar. As Clerk Assistant it was part of his responsibility to liaise closely with the Chairman of Ways and Means. Within the bounds of propriety, I think I can say that that is when we became very good friends. Perhaps our shared love of cricket helped. I remember walking along the corridor, and from his door, which was ever open, I was beckoned. He proceeded to show me his smartphone which had all the details and scoreboard of every cricket match being played. My Nokia was dispatched very soon afterwards.

Mr Speaker, you will recognise as well as any that the performance in the Chair of those who are privileged to occupy it is dependent to a great extent on the instant availability of advice, particularly at tricky moments. These can occur at the time of handover from one occupant of the Chair to another. Just as I thought I might have developed some reputation for capability in that role, it took a severe knock when I took over from Sir Michael Lord at a moment when we were dealing with Lords amendments. The House will not necessarily appreciate that the documentation for that is particularly complicated, including paper A and paper B. It just so happened that we were proceeding to a question not on

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one matter, but on a whole series of matters, which I was unable to grasp as readily as I should have done. So I was conducted through that by Sir Robert sotto voce, which possibly helped to save my reputation on that occasion.

Since 2010 I have been Chairman of the Administration Committee, which has brought me closer to management and to understanding the responsibilities that Sir Robert has held so effectively as our chief executive. I have begun to understand some of the barriers which are in the way of decision making. The joy of dealing with Sir Robert—apart from delving into his rich experience of “How Parliament Works”, to give an extra plug to one of his publications—was his can-do approach in surmounting those barriers, and a determination to see that we could cut through some of the difficulties for the benefit of Members and the wider public that we serve.

Finally, during this last period, I have had the honour to be Chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Sir Robert is by no means the first Clerk of the House with a love of the Commonwealth and its parliamentary network, but Sir Robert again and again in my experience has demonstrated his support and understanding. There will be many other Commonwealth Parliaments, I believe—Parliaments, Clerks and parliamentarians across the Commonwealth—who will echo the sentiments being expressed in this House today. In the line of distinguished people who have served us as Clerk, I have no doubt whatsoever that Sir Robert will stand extremely tall.

2.38 pm

Mr Jim Hood (Lanark and Hamilton East) (Lab): I welcome the new Leader of the House to his place. I am delighted to support the motion that he moved, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the shadow Leader of the House, to say thank you to a very remarkable servant of this House.

I was the Chairman of the European Legislation Committee and its successor, the European Scrutiny Committee, for 14 years. For almost five of those years Sir Robert was the Clerk to the Committee. That is when I got to know Robert Rogers and as a Back Bencher to value him.

We have heard many tributes to him today, but I shall offer my experience as a Back Bencher of this remarkable man. As the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) said when he was talking about the trips to Brussels, Robert would have been with us when I was the Chairman of that very interesting Committee. I truly appreciate how he guided that Committee through difficult times and how he guided me as its Chairman.

When Robert first came to the Committee, I had one difficulty: I had word blindness to his name. I started off calling him Roger Roberts. Robert, being the man that he is, just ignored it. I am sure he would say that he never noticed. It was one of those moments where, if you ever have such moments of word blindness, you say to yourself, “I shouldn’t have done that,” and the more you concentrate on that, the more you do it. For the first few meetings, I was getting his name wrong, but I soon got to know how to work with Robert Rogers, and I enjoyed the four years that he was Clerk to our Committee.

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Robert has written two books. I could write a book on my experiences during those four years with Robert. I was just thinking of what wonderful memories I have, but I will give one. Just remember what the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden said about the Committee that we were with. When we went to Luxembourg to meet the Court of Justice, seven judges had agreed to meet the Committee and give us 45 minutes. It was a tribute to the Committee that seven of them accommodated us. We met the judges and one particular Member, who will be nameless, for good taste, was going on a bit, longer and longer, and taking up the time of the Committee and the judges who had kindly agreed to listen to us. Robert, who was famous for is post-notes—he would write a little post-note and pass it to you—sent one to me saying, “Chairman, you may wish to ask the hon. Member to ask his question.” At which, I turned round and said to the Member, “Shut up,” then I asked, “Is that okay, Robert?” He blushed, and he knew he had got his point across.

As well as understanding the fantastic service that this man gave to the House, we have to remember his expertise and the way it was given to us. Robert Rogers taught me to value the Clerks of this House. I am sure that any Select Committee Chairman will tell you, that the quality of the service that the Clerks give to the House is absolutely outstanding, and I am sure is incomparable with anywhere else in Europe or even in the world. It is excellent. I often say that there is no such thing as a bad Clerk; they are just better than others. Their service is immense, and Robert was rightly given the top accolades that could be given to them.

I want to finish by saying thank you to Sir Robert for all that he taught me about what goes on in this place. I have been a Select Committee Chairman for 14 years and I have had the honour to be on the Speaker’s Chairmen’s Panel for almost 17 years, and I know the value of the Clerks in general, and I know the value of the Clerk of the House to whom we are paying tribute today in particular. He was an outstanding public servant, and all the voluminous tributes that we will hear today could not give adequate compliment to what he has been able to do for us and for the House during his 42 years in the House. I say a personal thank you to him for his help and friendship. and I wish him and his wife, Jane, and his family all the best for the future.

2.44 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): It is an unusual retirement occasion when the man we are honouring hears tributes from two of those who have worked most closely with him who have demitted office in the preceding 24 hours. I pay tribute to both the former Leader of the House and the former Chief Whip. It has been a pleasure to do business with them, as it is sometimes said. I look forward with the same pleasure to doing business on behalf of Select Committees with the new Leader of the House, following his distinguished service as Foreign Secretary.

When I came to the House in 1973, Robert Rogers was already here, and it would come as no surprise to any of those who knew him then that he would emerge as being a particularly distinguished Clerk of the House. The fact that he had those qualities of leadership was obvious to many people even then.

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Reference has been made to the way in which the post of Clerk of the House combines that of being the chief procedural adviser to the House and to you, Mr Speaker, with that of chief executive, and it is not necessarily an easy match. But some people can do it, and Robert Rogers could do it very well. He led the House service very well, saw through changes—I will refer in particular to those that affect Select Committees—but continued to speak with authority on procedural matters and when giving procedural advice. It was very much easier to take his advice because it was rooted in such considerable knowledge and such wise judgment.

It is particularly Sir Robert’s work in relation to Select Committees that, as Chairman of the Liaison Committee, I want to mention. He served in the Select Committee role extensively from its earliest days. He was Clerk of the Trade and Industry sub-committee of the Estimates Committee, which was the nearest thing we had to a departmental Select Committee—or the House had, because it started even before my time. He was Clerk of the Defence Committee during the storm over the Westland affair. A colleague recalls that

“his efforts at this time kept the Committee on an even keel despite the political storms which threatened to capsize it”.

Some of us remember that well. He was Principal Clerk of Select Committees when the Liaison Committee produced the report “Shifting the Balance”, of which he wrote the first draft. That work began the process of strengthening Committees and foresaw the outcome—things that we have come to take for granted: pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills; confirmation hearings for major public appointments; an enhanced role for Chairs recognised by an additional salary; a more open system for choosing Committee members; and the creation of the extremely valuable Scrutiny Unit to support Select Committees. All these were envisaged in his earlier work, and he has led the House service during their implementation.

As several hon. Members have mentioned, Sir Robert has a hinterland both of academic knowledge and, over many performances, a formidable contribution to the bass section of the Parliament choir.

In his valedictory letter, Sir Robert referred to the House as

“the precious centre of our Parliamentary democracy”,

and, he said,

“with all my heart I wish it well”.

Promoting the work of the House, and making its work known to the public, has been part of the mission of a distinguished career. To the extent that we have been able to be successful in making the Commons more effective in its scrutiny of the Executive, we have built on the foundations that he put down, and we have enjoyed his continuing support and encouragement while we have done so. Those who follow him in this role, and those who follow us as Select Committee Chairs, will need to maintain that same determination to make this House effective. We thank Sir Robert, and as he has wished us well, we wish him well.

2.48 pm

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): It is a great pleasure to rise to support the motion and add my voice to those who have already expressed appreciation for the dedicated and superb service that Sir Robert has given over so many years. His knowledge

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of the House, its procedures, its tradition, its history, is without peer, whether as an author of both amusing and serious volumes, or in the advice that he has given from the Table or to us privately. If I may just mention one small personal example, we now regularly debate on a substantive and amendable motion our finances and financial plan. It was an idea that was conceived by the Finance and Services Committee, but we could not find a procedural way of doing it. It was Sir Robert who found the way through, and therefore has, through his advice, enabled a valuable tool to come to the House’s management that we would not otherwise have had.

Others have paid tribute to his skill in the procedural areas and I wanted rather to record my appreciation for his work as Chair of the Management Board and leader of the House service and Accounting Officer, a less seen but none the less vital part of what he has done. This has been a quite extraordinary Parliament for innovation and change. There has been a wellspring of renewal that has come from a number of sources. It has come from ourselves through the Wright report, it is has come from the Chair, through the Chair of the Commission and other areas, and it has come from the House service.

Let us consider what is now happening in Parliament: the election of Select Committee members and Chairs; the revitalised opportunities for scrutiny; the new rules of governance in the House service, which many Members might not be aware of; the savings programme and its successor, continuous improvement; the diversity challenge; and the education and outreach programmes. Any one of those taken on its own would be a substantive management challenge, but taken together they represent a comprehensive management challenge that has required leadership demonstrating integrity, skill and competence. That is precisely what we have had from the Clerk.

I have had the opportunity to observe at first hand, at meetings of the Commission and of the Audit Commission of the House and at staff gatherings, how Sir Robert has sought to lead by example and from the front, but using a collegiate and collaborative style. He offers both challenge and support. He has been open to new ideas and has sought to mesh those new ideas with tradition and innovation, to give the best to the House service. He is the diversity champion on the Management Board, and as such he sought to widen access to the House service. He said at the last Commission meeting that he was particularly proud of the fact that all the apprentices in the scheme had found full-time work in the House service.

It is not easy to change a culture or to adapt to new ways, just as it is not easy to adapt to stricter financial times. Similarly, it is always a challenge to keep the customers happy, and if there is a bunch of customers who are more difficult to keep happy than us, I don’t know who they are. Sir Robert has managed to do all those things with singular success. He has led a transformation in the governance and financial management of the House service, which has moved from what could be described as an era of gifted amateurism to one of thoroughly competent professionalism. That is no mean feat, and I add my thanks to those of other Members for all that he has done. I wish his wife and family the very best in his retirement.

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2.52 pm

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): When I first met Robert Rogers, when I first came into the House, I assumed that he was a 19th century duke, simply because he looked like one. He assured me that he was not, however. Since then, I have got to know him very well indeed, not least because his sister-in-law is my son’s godmother. Robert Rogers has led by example. He has shown himself to be a learned man, a kind man and a very great man. We will miss him terribly.

2.53 pm

Mr Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire) (Con): I rise briefly to support the motion. It is about someone with whom I overlapped at university, although he is self-evidently a great deal older than me.

Mr Speaker: Seventeen months, to be precise.

Mr Robathan: As always, Mr Speaker, you are a mine of information.

I just want to share a little story with the House. Hon. Members might not be aware that, at one stage, Sir Robert was thinking of joining the Army. I think that he wanted to join the Welsh Guards, but instead he decided to come and serve this House. I think we would all agree that the Army’s loss has very much been Parliament’s gain. However, he did not lose his interest in shooting, as we have heard. One day, when he was Clerk Assistant and I was the Opposition Chief Whip, I was walking past his office and I heard the sound of muted explosions. I went in and he showed me what he was doing. As we have heard, he embraced modern technology with great fervour, and he showed me something that one could play on the internet, which was a grouse shooting practice game, produced by Purdey. I am sure that he was not wasting his time doing that, and it was extremely helpful of him to show it to me. I have tried it since then, although only very occasionally. I remain a poor practitioner of the game and of shooting on grouse moors, but he is a fine practitioner of the game and of shooting in general.

When I was doing my job with defence personnel, Sir Robert decided in a sensible, pragmatic and compassionate way that he wanted to bring disabled service personnel—particularly those who had recently been injured in Afghanistan—to work in the House, especially in security. I do not think that the programme came to much in the end, but it was a really good idea. That was Sir Robert showing his compassionate side to people who might not have seen it before.

Not every Member of the House has brought it into good repute; indeed, some have behaved very badly. However, the Clerks’ department has been a rock and, in Sir Robert Rogers, we have had a fantastic exemplar of someone who can uphold the dignity of the House. For that, we should all thank him.

2.55 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I hope that the House will forgive me for following the line of distinguished right hon. and hon. Members who have just been speaking, but I thought that a Member from the 2010 intake might say a few words. Before this debate, I consulted the Clerk of the House to find out

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whether I could amend the motion. I thought it might be sensible to table an amendment to say that Sir Robert could not retire until he had exceeded the length of service achieved by one Paul Jodrell, who managed 43 years in the post. I am sure that everyone in the House would have wanted that, as his retirement is a matter of great sadness and regret. It is a loss to us.

Sir Robert is a walking “Erskine May”. He is “Erskine May” made flesh. He understands and appreciates every bit of that great document and gives us the benefit of his wisdom. As a new Member, I came into the House and saw this splendidly bewigged figure. There is a lot to be said for wigs, as I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker. I found him to be a gentle, amiable and knowledgeable person who was willing to help Members to find their way around procedures and help them to use those procedures to achieve their ends, rather than saying that precedent did not allow things to be done. When I asked him about a particular motion that I was thinking of tabling, he told me that it had not been used recently, by which he meant that it had not been used since 1751.

That is exactly what we want from a Clerk to the House. We want someone who is so steeped in the history that he understands where things have come from, and therefore how they can be used. When Sir Robert appeared before the Procedure Committee recently to discuss the concept of renewing petitioning and introducing e-petitions—a very modern idea—he took us back to 1305 and the origins of petitioning. Indeed, petitioning predates 1305. He explained how powerful petitioning had been in the earliest days of Parliament, and we drew the interesting conclusion that e-petitioning could be equally powerful in the new Parliament. That is where precedent can take us. It does not show us what cannot be done; it shows us what can be done. It is more a living aspect of this Parliament than a dead hand that does not allow change. Sir Robert saw that clearly; he got that right.

Sir Robert therefore enabled us to do things in a better way by ensuring that the powers of the House were there to be used, ideally, to keep a check on the Executive, which is what we are here to do. I am sorry that quill pens went out when he came in. Modernisation can sometimes come in too quickly and be taken too far. Finding that there is a precedent for exercising our power is at the heart of what we do, and the precedent of this House, which is vested in the Clerk, is the way in which we stop arbitrary uses of power. In Sir Robert, we had a man who was able to help us to hold the Executive to account, to stop arbitrary uses of power and to preserve democracy in this country. Whoever succeeds him will have a very hard act to follow. His departure represents an enormous loss, and I am very sad that he is not going to exceed the length of service achieved by Paul Jodrell. As a cricketing man, he will know that, although 42 is not a bad average, one will always want to carry on a bit longer in any individual innings.

2.59 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and I agree on most things, but not on everything, and perhaps I am a bit more in favour of modernisation than he is. However, I certainly agree with him when he says that this particular Clerk will be a very hard act to

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follow. The Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and others have rightly pointed out the great attributes of this Clerk. The motion also talks about his

“professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House Service”.

What it does not talk about, and perhaps what no one has mentioned up to now, is the deep affection that many of us feel for this particular Clerk. It is for that reason, and not just for his competence, that he will be greatly missed.

My first dealings with Sir Robert were on the Administration Committee—I was on the Committee when Stuart Bell was Chairman. I remember a particularly difficult issue to do with whether we should have straight or crinkly chips. Those chips were discussed in some detail and indeed it got quite stressful in the Committee. But, as ever, Robert Rogers was able to calm things down. A resolution was made and we decided on straight chips, and, as everybody knows, I support everything that is straight in so many ways.

As people have pointed out, Sir Robert is a moderniser and open to new ideas. If I can boast, I came up with an idea a short while ago, suggested it to the Clerk and it has now been incorporated in our practice. I do not see it on the Order Paper today, because it is not relevant. My suggestion was to do with the notes at the bottom of each motion where it makes it clear not just that something might be subject to a Standing Order, such as Standing Order No. 52(1)A, but that it is something that is not votable on when we reach the 7 o’clock or 10 o’clock finish time. He has not just been helpful to me in that way. When I, like my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, appeared on “Have I Got News For You”, he was instrumental in lending me a wig—in fact it might have been your wig, Mr Speaker—

Mr Speaker: Well it wasn’t that one.

Michael Fabricant: I was able to demonstrate very clearly what a wig should indeed look like.

I have already said that our Clerk is one of the most popular Clerks that we have had in this House—that is certainly the case in the 23 years that I have been here. His cheerful disposition, often under difficult circumstances, has been an illumination to many of us. As people have already said, his detailed knowledge of procedure is important. So this Clerk will be sorely missed by the House and by me personally. I wish him and his family well in retirement. Now, we do not know why he has chosen to retire early, though his working environment, behind closed doors, has not always been easy, as those in the know have already alluded to. In that respect, despite Sir Robert having studied Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, being told at least once in front of others to f-u-c-k off by you, Mr Speaker, would not have encouraged him to stay.

Mr Speaker: I will ignore the last observation, which suffered from the disadvantage of being wrong.

May I thank the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and all who have contributed to the exchanges on this motion for what they have said? Just before I put the question, let me record, for the benefit of the House, two experiences of my own. Within a small number of weeks of my election to this office, I had raised with me in correspondence by a

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constituent a knotty constitutional issue, the details of which I will not belabour the House. It seemed proper to mention it to Robert, as I happened to be seeing him on unrelated matters. I was immediately impressed by his response. He said, “Yes, Mr Speaker, the thesis that your constituent advances is interesting, but if I may say so it is not original. Moreover, it is open to quite straightforward rebuttal. You will recall that a fortnight ago, when you were elected the Speaker of the House, I presented to you a signed copy of the sixth edition of my book ‘How Parliament Works’ co-authored with Rhodri Walters. The matter in question is treated on page 46.” I checked, and sure enough it was on page 46.

Secondly, reference has been made by several people to the hinterland of the retiring Clerk. Robert has many interests, cultural and sporting alike, and several colleagues have referenced his interest in cricket. Unlike the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), I cannot claim to share that interest, but colleagues will know that I happen to be passionate about tennis. We discussed this question of our sporting interests, and I said, “I am afraid that I can’t play cricket with you, Robert, because I simply cannot play.” He said, “Mr Speaker, I am afraid that I am unable to play tennis with you, because it is not a sport that I can play. However, may I suggest a compromise?” I said that I was all ears. He said, “I am myself a past practitioner of real tennis, which has a considerable lineage in this place.” He would be prepared, he said, to play me at real tennis. I confess that I thought it prudent to allow a lengthy period of practice before subjecting myself to such a difficult task, and that period of practice is ongoing.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente,

That Mr Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Robert Rogers KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of the House, this House’s gratitude for his long and distinguished service, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedure of the House and to public understanding and appreciation of its work, for his leadership and professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House Service, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.

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Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill

Second Reading

3.6 pm

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill has two fundamental purposes, one of which is to help small businesses grow and succeed, and the other is to ensure that the UK continues to be regarded as a trusted and fair place in which to do business. It is an extensive Bill, and I fear that if I talked through the 12 parts, 149 clauses and 10 schedules, we would have a speech of Fidel Castro-like proportions from me now, and I do not want to stray in that direction. I apologise to the House in advance that I may therefore have to gloss rather superficially over what are some very complex and meaty issues. There will, as a consequence, be many happy hours spent in Committee. I am pleased to say that the Minister for Business, Energy and Enterprise, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who has just enjoyed a welcome and deserved promotion, will be leading our team in Committee.

I thought that the most useful way of introducing the Bill is not to follow through the mechanics of the Bill itself, but to dwell on four big themes that flow through it in different ways. The first relates to employment. We want to make changes to the legislation in a way that benefits both employees and employers to ensure that employees are not disadvantaged by unacceptable practices, be they exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts or underpayment of the national minimum wage.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC) rose

Vince Cable: I am coming on to that matter in detail. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will be happy to wait until we get to that section.

Secondly, I want to ensure that our companies are trusted and transparent, so that they cannot conceal ownership or control and that they engage in good corporate behaviour. Thirdly, I want to help our small businesses get access to the finance they need to grow and export, compete in public sector procurement and address some of the issues around late payment. Fourthly, I want to support the Government's regulatory reform agenda, ensuring that ineffective, out-of-date and burdensome regulation does not hold back our businesses. Those are the four basic themes of the Bill.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): There is so much in this Bill that many of us interested in small business welcome. However, there is an undercurrent of people saying, “Has it got enough teeth?” What is the right hon. Gentleman’s response to that allegation, which is being heard from all parts of the House?

Vince Cable: Many provisions that we will discuss are about enforcement, which in everyday language is what we mean by having teeth. When we get to the relevant

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sections, the hon. Gentleman will see that much of this Bill is about tough enforcement of regulation, not simply about creating rules for their own sake.

Let me just deal with the issues around employment. I think we saw today some of the remarkable and positive developments that are taking place in the labour market. We now have unemployment down to 6.5%, which is one of the lowest rates in the developed world. More than a million jobs were created in the past year, which is a record. That is an extremely positive outcome of the recovery, which is now clear and well-established.

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): Although it is welcome that those jobs have been created, will the Secretary of State accept that many of them are insecure and low paid? If people do not have money in their pockets because they are working on zero-hours contracts, that will have a negative impact on the long-term economic recovery of our country—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We do not need Back Benchers to join in at this stage. We are all right; I am sure the Secretary of State can handle it himself.

Vince Cable: Indeed, I believe that in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency unemployment has fallen by 46%, and he is gracious enough to have acknowledged that. We are in the first stage of the long-term recovery. There are, of course, issues around low pay and low productivity that will require investment, and that is where our long-term commitment to growth and industrial strategy is important. We want employment that is high-quality and secure, and all the evidence suggests that, compared with most parts of Europe, British employment in this recovery is more permanent and secure than elsewhere, although clearly there is more to be done.

That leads us to zero-hours contracts, which as far as we can establish apply to around 2% to 4% of jobs. The issue has aroused a great deal of concern because of its implication that many people are insecure in their work, and on the back of those concerns I initiated a call for evidence and a consultation on how we should deal with the problem. Two contrasting views came to light. There were indeed shocking examples of abuse, many of which are captured in the problem of exclusivity clauses that we have now committed to end. At the same time, it was clear that zero-hours contracts have a genuine positive role in the labour market and are appreciated by many individuals because of the opportunity they provide, as well as the advantages to employers. Indeed, recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which has done much of the authoritative work in this field, contrasts satisfaction levels in zero-hours contracts with other work, and whether people are treated with respect by their senior management. It shows that zero-hours contracts are marginally better in both those criteria than other forms of employment.

Jonathan Edwards: The measures in the Bill to prohibit exclusivity in zero-hours contracts are to be welcomed, but why not just ban zero-hours contracts? Is the Secretary of State seriously saying that the only way to have a flexible labour market is to have zero-hours contracts?

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Vince Cable: Absolutely not. That is merely one aspect of a positive feature of the UK and a reason why companies wish to invest here. As I said, we want to maintain the best of flexibility while dealing with abuses. The evidence that we gathered led us to reject calls for an outright ban on zero-hours contracts, which some campaigning groups have argued for. Where we deal with abuse, we want effectively to ban exclusivity contracts when those do not guarantee any hours. There are two reasons for doing that. First, it is unfair to the individual that they are prevented from earning, but it also makes a nonsense of flexibility if employers prevent workers from migrating to work. Those are two good and powerful reasons for rejecting exclusivity arrangements, and they came through quite unambiguously in the consultation. Some 83% of 36,000 responses—a large number of responses—argued that such a ban should take place, and we will consult during the passage of the Bill on how we make that effective. Banning zero-hours contracts of any form is not straightforward, and some unscrupulous employers could simply shift to one-hour, two-hour, or three-hour contracts. We want to ensure that whatever we introduce is absolutely guaranteed.

Chris Williamson: The Secretary of State has addressed one of the points that I was going to make about the penalties associated with employers who exploit their employees and try to get round the restriction on zero-hours contracts by migrating people on to a one-hour or two-hour contract. He seems to be moving in that direction, so will he give a commitment that meaningful penalties will be imposed on employers who seek to exploit and get round the measures that he is bringing in, so that a financial penalty is imposed on employers if they step outside the law?

Vince Cable: If the hon. Gentleman reflects on this matter, he will see that it is not about penalties. If the exclusivity ban is made effective—as we are determined it will be—the simple remedy for somebody who is affected is to go somewhere else. The issue of penalties is not relevant; we want to ensure that the ban is effective, which is why we are consulting on the best mechanism for making that happen.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): One of the most significant issues in employment is the massive amount of corporate welfare in the form of tax credits for people on low incomes. A move to promote the living wage across a wide range of industries would have a positive impact on employment. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what thoughts he had in this Bill for promoting the living wage, and say why he did not include those in the provisions under debate?

Vince Cable: Anything that raises wages takes people out of the tax credit net. There are, of course, other ways of dealing with this problem, one of which is taking people out of tax, and that is what the Government have been doing through their tax threshold. This Bill builds on the minimum wage system—I will say a few words about that in a moment—and does not relate to the living wage. The living wage presents all kinds of practical problems, not merely that it is way in excess of the current minimum wage and therefore presents problems for employment levels. There is a perverse feature that the recommended level of the London living wage,

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which would introduce a regional differential, is highest in London, which is an area with the highest levels of unemployment. If we are concerned with maximising employment, pursuing the living wage may not be the best of way of doing that. None the less, I have given guidance to the Low Pay Commission on how we increase real wages, and that is a major policy objective. I think we are better doing that by strengthening the minimum wage regime.

I assure the House that the Government are taking a series of steps to ensure proper penalties for employers who fail to comply with the minimum wage. In 2013-14, 650 employers received penalties totalling £815,000 for failure to comply with minimum wage law, and we have increased the penalty percentage from 50% to 100% of underpayment. A naming and shaming regime has come in since the new year, and we have increased the maximum penalty from £5,000 to £20,000, which came into effect in March. The Bill goes one step further. The maximum penalty will now apply on a per worker basis, rather than per notice. As a result, in future overall penalties will be substantially higher for employers that owe high arrears to multiple workers.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): I appreciate the points that the Business Secretary is making, but is he aware just how vulnerable some of the workers affected by these arrangements are? Constituents have come to me who dare not go to an employment tribunal. They are already in a vulnerable position because of their employment and dare not pay the costs of that tribunal in case they are unsuccessful. Has the Business Secretary really considered the reality for workers affected by the policies he is introducing today?

Vince Cable: The point of access for people who have such concerns is the pay and work rights helpline, which is free, so the first stage of remedying those faults and getting an investigation into illegal activity does not cost anything. The tribunal is a different process as that involves dismissal, but if we are concerned with remedying abuses of the minimum wage, we have a system in which complaints can be made free of charge—there is access to the system—and in which there is effective and prompt enforcement.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Is the Business Secretary aware, though, that the number of employment tribunals has decreased by 80% since the introduction of these charges?

Vince Cable: Yes, I am aware of a substantial fall in numbers. There are several reasons, which we are currently investigating, one of which could be connected with fees. Another reason is that earlier legislation sought to introduce an arbitration mechanism through ACAS as a first port of call. As I am sure that the hon. Lady will realise when she studies the figures, there has been a very big increase in the number of cases going through ACAS, as I recently discussed with its chair. That is exactly as we wished; to ensure that we headed off a legalistic process and that people were able to remedy their disputes in a more successful way.

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Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): I totally applaud clause 136, which will penalise people who do not pay what they are due when they lose a case at an employment tribunal. One of my concerns, though, is that it is not clear that the employer pays the penalty to the employee who won the case before going to the state. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend clarified that.

Vince Cable: Perhaps I can correct a matter of fact. There is a penalty, and that is absolutely right: it is outrageous when somebody who has had a tribunal award made against them simply does not pay it. There will be a penalty, but it will go to the Government, not to the individual.

Stephen Lloyd: My concern is that given how the provision is framed, it is possible that the recalcitrant employer could pay the penalty to the Government and not pay the employee what they should have received.

Vince Cable: Any employer foolish enough to go down that route would find themselves subject to multiple penalties and, eventually, to contempt of court if they were clearly malicious in their intention. I understand where my hon. Friend is going with this, and he might wish to pursue it in more detail in Committee.

The final employment aspect of the Bill relates to whistleblowing. If something is amiss in a company, those who step forward and blow the whistle take risks by doing so, and they want an assurance that action will be taken. Last year, a report by the university of Greenwich and Public Concern at Work found that 75% of whistleblowers expressed frustration that nothing was being done about the wrongdoing they reported. This is clearly unacceptable. The Bill will require “prescribed persons”—usually regulators—who deal with whistleblowing to report annually on reports received and actions taken, while maintaining confidentiality obligations for the whistleblower. In that way, we want to improve the general standard of best practice around whistleblowing procedures.

Company transparency has been one of the key themes of our work in Government over the past few years, including in relation to reforms of narrative reporting, reporting on executive pay, and, more recently, the directive relating to the declarations on natural resource payments. I now want to introduce measures that strengthen the provisions on corporate transparency. I will start with an area for which we have not previously had an opportunity to prepare the House. We have discussed the Bill with Opposition Front Benchers and with others, but this issue will be new to them, and it is important that we show them that courtesy. The issue relates to takeovers. I have made it clear publicly that we need to take action in this area that may well—not certainly, but very probably—involve legislation for which this Bill would be the vehicle. The approach we are adopting is that we continue to welcome inward investment as being good for the country.

We also continue to welcome merger activity as a normal part of market processes, although I have to say that the evidence on the benefits of mergers is somewhat ambiguous. What emerged as a result of the recent high-profile case of AstraZeneca and Pfizer was a lack of clarity around the enforcement of assurances. The approach we adopted in Government was to talk to the

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company where issues of wider public interest were involved—it was clearly involved in extensive research and development activity—to seek assurances. That is what should happen, but then the issue arises of how we make sure that any commitments given are clear and, absolutely crucially, binding. In order to ensure that that aim is realised, we are currently talking to the Takeover Panel. Legislation may well also be necessary to underpin cases where a commitment is not honoured. I will bring these proposals back to the House in due course.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for expressing his views on this important subject. Does he agree that although Pfizer put forward commitments that it regarded as unprecedented, it was by no means explicit about the number of employees it would have taken on should the takeover have gone forward? This sort of legislative approach—or at least a tightening of the takeover code—would help to improve the situation in future.

Vince Cable: I recall the major role that the hon. Gentleman played in trying to obtain commitments in relation to the north-west and, in particular, his constituency. The same issue will arise in other cases. He is right. Although commitments were made, there is an issue of enforceability. That is what we now wish to address by strengthening the rules.

Let me move on to company transparency. The OECD has reported that

“almost every economic crime involves the misuse of corporate vehicles”.

There are staggering sums of money involved. Organised crime costs the UK alone about £24 billion a year. The European Commission estimates that global criminal proceeds are in the order of $2 trillion. Of course, not all crime flows through companies, but much does. More specifically, in 2011 the World Bank carried out an exercise that suggested that 70% of grand corruption cases involved at least one corporate vehicle to hide beneficial ownership and the true source of funds. Very often, criminals create complex corporate structures spanning multiple jurisdictions to hide the involvement of a company. That is why the UK pushed the agenda for greater corporate transparency during our G8 presidency last year. We obtained agreement from G8 members that all would take action to increase corporate transparency. That is what we are now doing, thus demonstrating our commitment.

We wish to help to deter, identify and sanction those who hide their interest in UK companies to facilitate illegal activities, as well as generally creating a more trusted business environment. That is why we are going to require companies to keep a register of the people who have significant control over that company—their beneficial owners—and provide this information to Companies House, where it will be publicly available. We will lead the way within the developed economies in having an open register. Alongside that, the Bill abolishes the use of bearer shares, which can change hands without any record and have been open to abuse for tax evasion and money laundering purposes.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the vast majority of beneficial owners are absolutely legitimate and are

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not involved in crime, and that his regulatory proposals will significantly attack privacy and reduce the amount of investment going into British companies?

Vince Cable: I do not accept any of those propositions. It will be possible to devise a register—we have devoted a great deal of thought to this—to ensure that individual privacy is respected. We do not want the kind of invasion of privacy that occurred, for example, with life sciences companies in respect of animal testing. That is exactly the kind of problem we wish to avoid. We have discussed this extensively with business groups. We do not believe that it will have a negative effect on investment; we think that the opposite is the case, because honest, transparent transactions will be acknowledged. Indeed, moving to an open register is a process that many organisations, including business organisations, welcome. The hon. Gentleman’s starting point is quite right: the vast majority of companies are completely honest and therefore have absolutely nothing to fear from an open register.

Sir Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): Somewhat contrary to the previous intervention, I strongly welcome the proposition, which includes a provision for exemptions in certain circumstances. That is no doubt a desirable legal provision, but will my right hon. Friend assure that House that it will not simply be the gateway for mass exemptions, particularly of the kinds of apparatus and companies to which he has referred?

Vince Cable: Yes, I give that assurance. We have thought hard about the balance that must be struck between the protection of privacy and openness. Many of us have had examples in our constituencies—I certainly have—of individuals who were shareholders in companies that were targeted because of animal rights issues and suffered enormously. Naturally, we wish to protect people’s individual addresses, for example, and we will take steps to ensure that the exemptions are carefully thought through and are of that kind. In general, however, the principle of openness is absolutely right.

The final element in the transparency agenda will be to prohibit companies from acting as directors—again, with exemptions—because in the past that was often used to conceal illegitimate transactions.

Catherine McKinnell: I thank the Secretary of State for the work that has been done in this area, but one concern that has been raised is that, although the penalties in relation to maintaining the records of the person of significant control are relatively high at a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, the sanctions for not providing that information to the public register are relatively low at £250 a day, given, as the Secretary of State has said, the staggeringly high amounts of money that are potentially involved. Has he considered whether the deterrent is sufficient?

Vince Cable: We will obviously consider the hon. Lady’s points, but it is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of companies that register are extremely small and that sums of money that may seem trivial for a big international company may be quite onerous for a small company. We need to keep that proportionality in mind.

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Before I leave the issue of transparency, let me deal with two other issues dealt with in the Bill, the first of which relates to director disqualification. We want to modernise and strengthen the disqualification regime, giving the business community and consumers confidence that wrongdoers will be barred as directors. To give an example of the kind of problem that currently arises, it is very difficult in disqualification proceedings at present to take into account serious abuses that have occurred overseas when individuals have been directors of companies abroad. In other cases, directors have often had multiple failures, which is perfectly reasonable in entrepreneurial culture, but some have done it with bad intent. We are familiar with the problem of phoenix companies, which deliberately fail in order to be reborn and exploit consumers. We want to make sure that those considerations are borne in mind in the director disqualification regime.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I have had a lot of involvement with companies that have suffered at the hands of such directors, who subsequently set up again, perhaps by using a pre-pack or some other way. The unsecured creditors are the people who suffer and they may have to absolve their company. One suggestion is that we should have a register to track the record of a company’s directors so that any company wishing to supply could look it up and see what is going on.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Twenty-four Members want to speak, but the Front Benchers have already taken 30 minutes and we have only just begun. We want to get everybody in. I am sure that interventions are helpful, but they may be holding up the end of the speech.

Vince Cable: I was trying to be helpful to Back Benchers by taking their points, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I do not mind the Secretary of State taking interventions, but he will understand that, if Back Benchers cannot get in, it will be because of the amount of time the Front Benchers have taken. He must choose which he prefers—interventions or Back-Bench speeches.

Vince Cable: That is a choice I would rather not have to make.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who makes a useful point and we will reflect on its practicality. She also mentioned pre-packs. She will have noticed that there are measures in the Bill to deal with bad pre-packs. Of course, many of them provide satisfactory outcomes, but some do not. We are going to try to differentiate them in a more structured way.

The final issue in relation to transparency is the insolvency regime. We are going to introduce measures to give greater confidence to the regime when companies enter insolvency. We will remove administrative burdens, which I hope will save creditors substantial amounts of money. We are talking about having a less complex system of regulation. I think there are eight or nine

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separate regulatory bodies in the insolvency area, and there are issues regarding insolvency fees and fairness. It is a complex bit of legislation, but an important one.

Moving on to help for small business, I will start with an area that has preoccupied a lot of people in the House, namely pubs. There are 20,000 or so sole traders and small businesses that run tied pubs across England and Wales. In recent research, the Campaign for Real Ale found that 57% of tenants who are tied to large pub companies earn less than £10,000 a year, compared with just 25% of tenants who are free of tie, and 80% of them earn less than £15,000 a year. In other words, a very large number are taking home less than the minimum wage. Through the Bill, we want to address the imbalance in bargaining power between pub companies and their tied tenants, to ensure they are treated fairly by their pub-owning companies.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab) rose

Vince Cable: Bearing in mind Mr Deputy Speaker’s comments, I will take a limited number of interventions, although I am sure there will be a lot of interest in this particular issue.

Grahame M. Morris: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and I will be brief. Although many of the proposals are welcome, may I ask him a simple question? Why does the Bill not give the tenants of large pub companies the right to a fair, independently assessed rent-only option? That was the recommendation of the cross-party Select Committee and it was the outcome of the consultation. Why is it not being offered by the Bill?

Vince Cable: I will explain in a moment our proposal in relation to rents. The hon. Gentleman will know that a considerable variety of views emerged from the consultation. I know there are strong views that we should perhaps have done more—there will be plenty of opportunity to air them—but we have taken a big step forward. Let me briefly describe what it is.

The Bill will introduce a statutory code of practice, which I think has been the House’s basic demand over the years, to govern the relationship between companies and tied tenants. It will establish an independent adjudicator to enforce the code that will build on the experience of the groceries code adjudicator, which is building a track record in addressing similar problems. That should result—this is our objective—in getting transparency, fair treatment and the right to request a rent review for all tied tenants if they have not had one for five years, and the right to take a dispute to an independent adjudicator under the enhanced code.

Richard Fuller: Why did my right hon. Friend not exempt small pub companies, given that the problem is with large pub companies?

Vince Cable: As the hon. Gentleman will now have realised, we envisage a two-tier code system. There will be an enhanced code, with more demands on the bigger pubcos. Of course, other people are concerned that the provisions are not extensive enough. We have tried to identify the problems presented by the large pubcos, where we fully accept the major problems lie.

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Let me give an example of a case that was drawn to our attention recently that in many ways exemplifies the issues. After seven years with a large pub company and a personal investment of £50,000, a tied tenant was renewing his agreement. His pub company presented him with a rent increase and reduced discounts on the price of beer. That means that, in effect, he will be paying £60,000 to his pub company for a year. Under our measures he would expect a detailed justification for the rent and, if he thinks it unfair, he will be able to go to the adjudicator for independent arbitration.

From the submissions that I have received, I am already aware that there are many concerns about the details, including of how the code will be formulated once the Bill goes through Parliament, as we hope it will. I am certainly very happy to receive any representations that Members want to make about those crucial details.

Another provision affecting small business is the public sector procurement market, which is worth £230 billion. Many small businesses have found it very hard going in the past, with bureaucratic and time-consuming processes. Under this Government, we have attempted to make the burdens less onerous—for example, by lifting the need for pre-qualification questionnaires—and, as a result, we managed to increase the direct spend in central Government procurement from about 6.5% to 10.5% between 2009-10 and 2012-13. It is our firm intention to lift that figure to 25% of central Government procurement next year.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for giving way in the short time he has available. He will know that I welcome the measures, to which I contributed during my time at the Cabinet Office. Is it not a shame that Labour Members left no clear data on such procurement when they vacated office, and does he agree with the journal of Spend Matters, which has said that their proposals are “meaningless manifesto fodder”?

Vince Cable: We started small business procurement in central Government from a very low base, which I guess reflects the previous Government’s lack of attention to the problem.

The Bill will provide the Government with a series of measures to help us remove the barriers for small business across the entire public sector—pre-qualification questionnaires in bits of the public sector, such as foundation hospitals, and so on—and it will now be possible to open up procurement much more widely. Moreover, we want to increase the power of the public procurement mystery shopper, by giving it more teeth and ensuring that it has the capability to identify and address poor business contracts.

Another set of critical issues for small business that the Bill deals with involve access to finance. There has of course been an enormous problem of small business access since the banking crisis. We are now beginning to see really positive changes, including the emergence of challenger banks and crowdfunding, and the business bank, which we operate, is making a significant difference, but it is a slow process.

Some things can be helped through legislation. For example, all businesses depend on cash flow, and even successful businesses can run into trouble if there is a long gap between completing a job and receiving payment.

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Small and medium-sized businesses are currently owed about £40 billion in late payments, and there is a lot of evidence that it is a particular problem for the small business sector. More than 50% of companies experience late payments, but the figure for big companies is much lower. That distinction is not completely clear, but the preponderance is obvious. We will enable a requirement to be placed on large businesses and quoted businesses to report on their business payment practices, thereby giving greater confidence to small businesses entering into new contracts and providing a boost to larger businesses that pay on time by attracting the best suppliers.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): When I met small businesses in Longton a couple of days ago, one point that they made was that whenever they did not pay money to the Inland Revenue on time, there was a penalty, and they asked whether they might please have the same arrangement whenever people do not pay them on time.

Vince Cable: We have looked at the idea of penalties. Certainly one country in Europe—Sweden—applies a penalty system. The problem is that it is often difficult to distinguish between those who “can’t pay” and those who “won’t pay”. Sometimes a large company is in arrears of payments because it is itself struggling, and we need to be careful to identify such matters. We therefore judge a penalty regime to be inappropriate, but greater transparency will certainly help.

There are issues concerning the banks. Despite the emergence of competitors, the four large banks still account for 80% of lending to UK small and medium-sized businesses. To try to broaden competition and choice, we will require larger banks to share data on their small and medium-sized business customers with credit reference agencies, and we will require the credit reference agencies to provide equal access to those data for challenger banks and alternative finance providers, which will make it much easier for businesses to seek loans. We are also looking at the possibility of mandatory referral, whereby banks who pass over a customer must refer them to others, including challenger banks.

Sir Andrew Stunell: I very much applaud what the Government have done with funding for lending, but will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that the banks have reduced their lending to small businesses while sucking up all the Government money to support that lending?

Vince Cable: The issue is complex. Some banks are now undertaking substantial net lending—that is certainly true of Lloyds and Santander. RBS is the big contributor to net lending being negative, and there are specific issues in relation to the deleveraging that is taking place there. I think that my right hon. Friend is referring to the fact that, as a result of the guarantees we have given, we are now managing to encourage an emerging crowdfunding sector, which is expanding rapidly and replacing the banks.

There are specific issues for export finance. A survey suggests that about 80% of small businesses find it very difficult to get export finance from the banks. For that reason, I introduced some time ago a whole tranche of trade finance provisions for UK Export Finance, which

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hon. Members may recall as the Export Credits Guarantee Department. As a result, 130 exporters won overseas contracts worth £2 billion last year. Most of them are small enterprises, and we want to go further. Provisions in the Bill will give UK Export Finance broader powers to support small business, react more quickly to changes in the market and offer a suite of products comparable with those on offer overseas.

Lastly in this category, there are two very specific but important provisions. One will remove the legal barriers to invoice finance, which is important for small businesses wanting finance for their cash-flow demands. The other will make it easier to clear cheques. Nine out of 10 businesses still extensively use cheques—I recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull fought a battle to keep cheques—with sole traders and small and micro-businesses. The Bill will make provision for cheque imaging, so that cheques can be paid more quickly and easily, reducing the clearing time from six days to two days or less.

Finally—I apologise for the Castro-like length of my speech, Mr Deputy Speaker—I will deal with the issues of regulatory reform. We want to ensure that businesses no longer have to wade through ineffective and burdensome regulation, and a series of specific provisions will help to guarantee that. Since the Government introduced the one-in, one-out rule, which we strengthened to become the one-in, two-out rule, we have reduced the net burden of regulation by £1.5 billion, while safeguarding the essential protections for consumers, workers and the environment. We have aggressively tackled ineffective and out-of-date regulation, and have scrapped more than 1,000 regulations.

That work must continue. That is why, under the Bill, we will set a deregulation target for each parliamentary term, with transparent reporting against that target. The Bill will also ensure that new regulations that affect business contain a review provision. Finally, some businesses are subject to poor regulatory decisions, such as those that we have discovered through the focus on enforcement reviews. There have been some really shocking examples of regulators giving rise to problems for which there is no satisfactory complaint. For example, a blue cheese maker was told that they could have absolutely no mould on their cheese. There are numerous examples of that kind. The Bill will require non-economic regulators to have a small business appeals champion to ensure that complaints and appeal processes are fair and accessible for all businesses.

There is a variety of other measures, which I will not go into, on child care registration, the work of employment tribunals, which has been mentioned, and education evaluation to provide better information about skills training.

To summarise the provisional reaction to the Bill, the national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses has said that it

“reflects the growing recognition of the role small businesses have to play in driving forward the economy and the need to do all we can to support them”.

The Bill will make the UK a much better place for business and, therefore, I commend it to the House.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I warn Members that the time limit is now down to five minutes.

I now have to announce the result of the deferred Division on the question relating to the draft Gangmasters (Licensing Authority) Regulations 2014. The Ayes were 294 and the Noes were 200, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: I call the right hon. Chuka Umunna.

3.50 pm

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The Minister for Business and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): Have you been to see the Queen?

Mr Umunna: No, I have not been to see the Queen yet.

I will be as quick as I can, Mr Deputy Speaker.

It is good to see the Secretary of State back in his place after the reshuffle, leading this debate. I note that he has acquired some new Conservative minders. He no longer has three, but five. [Interruption.] Somebody behind him says that he needs them.

Vince Cable: I’ve got seven.

Mr Umunna: For the record, the Business Secretary says that he has seven minders. I am sure that he will not let them get him down.

It is also good to see the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) back in her place. I know that her shadow, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), has missed their exchanges and looks forward to the lengthy exchanges that they will have in Committee.

The Bill is a long one and comes in 11 parts. The House will be glad to know that I will not go through all 11 of them, but I will deal with the key parts in turn as quickly as possible to allow the maximum time for other Members to get in. First, I will address the purported purpose of the Bill, which was set out by the Secretary of State.

Our wealth creators—our entrepreneurs and particularly our small businesses—are fundamental to growth in this country and create almost two thirds of private sector jobs. They are crucial to the success of large firms and vice versa—the relationship between the two is symbiotic. We recognised that in government and were determined to build an environment in which business could flourish. I am proud to say that by the time we left office, the World Bank ranked the UK the best country in Europe for the ease of doing business and the fourth best in the world, ahead of the US. I am glad to see that where we led, this Government seek to follow with this Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.

We are told that the Bill is designed to reduce the barriers that hamper the ability of small businesses to innovate, grow and compete, and that it seeks to pave

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the way for the Government to be more supportive of small business. After four years of this Government, it is about time too. We support the purported general purposes and principles of the Bill—how could one not?—but the detail is everything and we will scrutinise it.

However, the Bill and the Government’s policy more broadly do not resolve the underlying structural issues, which I have discussed on many occasions with the Secretary of State, that hold businesses and employment back in our economy. He and I agree that we need a different model of capitalism—one that is more inclusive, productive, responsible and long-term in outlook. The fact is that our economy is still grossly unbalanced by sector and region; short-termism is still endemic in business and government; we still have a dysfunctional finance system; and we have a stubborn and increasing trade deficit. Meanwhile, the use of food banks has soared and many people still struggle. In some wards of my constituency, one in three children is living in poverty.

The recovery is not what we would want it to be, and it looks a lot like the model of growth that we need to get away from. It is a business-as-usual recovery, based on a rising housing market and consumer spending; it is not the export and business investment-led recovery we were promised. Therefore, now is the time to intensify the pace of reform of the economy to build a better-balanced, sustainable economy. It should also be said that the Bill is not just about building an economy with flourishing businesses. We must remember that, if we want to be pro-business, we cannot continually beat up on the rights of the people who work in businesses. I will return to that later.

The first key element is access to finance. Any scheme that helps small businesses to access finance is welcome, but the Government’s record in getting the banks to lend to small businesses is lamentable. Flagship scheme after flagship scheme, from Project Merlin to funding for lending, has failed to deliver. Net lending to businesses is down by £14.2 billion in the past 12 months. In fact, net lending to businesses by banks participating in the funding for lending scheme fell by £2.7 billion in the first quarter of this year.

If part 1 of the Bill does anything to help affairs, for example by making it easier for businesses to seek loans from challenger banks, and lenders other than high street banks and by opening up access to credit data, such measures will have the Opposition’s support. Equally, the measures to ensure that support is available for those who wish to export are welcome, particularly given our need to get more of our small businesses exporting—it looks like the Government are nowhere near reaching the target of getting 100,000 more companies exporting by 2020.

However, we know that increasing late payment, to which the Secretary of State referred, is becoming a more significant challenge than access to finance. In a recent Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales survey, almost twice as many businesses cited late payment as a bigger challenge in managing their cash flow than access to finance. We must end the national scandal of small businesses being effectively forced to bankroll large customers that persist in refusing to pay them on time. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, 51% of the invoices of its members are persistently paid late by large companies. That is

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wholly unacceptable. The Forum of Private Business has cited the example of Marks & Spencer, which extended payment terms to some suppliers to 75 days, for no apparent defensible reason.

In 1998, the Labour Government responded to that growing problem by introducing the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998. Towards the end of our time in government, we worked with the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Credit Management and others to get FTSE 100 companies signed up to the then new prompt payment code, but we need to go further, because for all our hard work, we were not successful in fixing the problem, and this Government have also not been successful. At this juncture, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), who is in the Chamber, on her work as chair of the all-party parliamentary inquiry on late payments, along with other members of the group. The two measures in part 1 of the Bill are good, but the problem is that, when there is late payment, it is still for the business to pursue and have a row with its customer for payment, potentially losing the customer in the process. We must square that circle. We will return to that provision in more detail in Committee.

I will not say much about the regulatory reform in part 2. Of course, the Opposition support the general principle that we need to be mindful of the quantity of regulation we impose on business, but equally important is ensuring that the quality of the regulation is up to scratch, and that it is written with the small guy in mind, so that they do not need to employ an army of accountants, lawyers and risk managers to tell them what they need to do to comply. We support the publication of a target for the removal of regulatory burdens in each Parliament, which is provided for in part 2. We also support the proposed statutory review provision for new regulations that affect businesses. However, unless the Secretary of State addresses the way in which the Department for Work and Pensions—I spoke to him about this the last time we were in the House—is massively increasing the burden on people in receipt of benefit who wish to start a business, the Government’s credibility will be sorely lacking.

We were told that part 3 aims to remove barriers and help small businesses to gain fair access to the £230 billion of Government procurement contracts through a more efficient process that is more small business friendly. We are broadly supportive of these measures. It is a shame that the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) is not in her place. It is deeply disappointing, and she might recognise this as a former Treasury Minister, that one of the worst offenders in ensuring that small businesses get a look-in on Government contracts is the very Department she used to work in. Just 5% of the Treasury’s direct procurement spend is with small business. If this measure kicks the Treasury into touch, then good.

Before turning to part 4 and measures relating to pubs, I would like to pay tribute to the shadow small business Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), and the coalition of people, including Government Members—the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) is in his

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place—who have worked on this too. It has to be said that I can think of no better day for a pint in a pub beer garden, given the hot weather.

The Opposition have had to force three votes on this issue in the House since 2012, demanding a statutory pub code to put the relationship, between tied pub licensees in England and Wales and the large pub companies, on a fairer statutory footing. Every time we did this most, though not all, Government Members voted against, and in the meantime 28 pubs a week have closed. We are pleased that the Government have finally accepted the need to legislate for a statutory code. We will work with them to help to protect our community pubs, which are national institutions, but we are far from convinced that what they propose goes far enough. We are not convinced that the limited transparency envisaged by the Bill will deliver the Government’s own principle that no publican should be worse off than if they were free of tie. We will also seek to ensure that the Secretary of State gets the right to introduce the mandatory rent-only option for tied tenants in the near future, if these reforms do not deliver.

Part 7—I am trying to go as fast as possible—seeks to increase transparency on who owns and controls UK companies. I very much welcome the measures to create a public register of beneficial owners of companies. A prerequisite to maintaining a register of beneficial owners, of course, is knowing in the first place that companies exist. The Business Secretary and I have had exchanges on this. Never mind the new measures that are envisaged, it is very important that we ensure compliance with existing requirements, for example on disclosing overseas subsidiaries. The Secretary of State kindly wrote to me last year, outlining how 40% of the FTSE 350 had failed to disclose overseas subsidiaries in the first instance. Enforcement is therefore key to ensuring that data are accurate and up to date, and that sanctions of sufficient gravity can be applied to ensure that people comply in the first instance. We must do all we can to persuade others around the globe to comply and adopt public registers too, particularly UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Let us send a clear message: what our overseas territories and Crown dependencies do in this area affects the UK’s reputation as a whole, and we will not sit idly by while our reputation is damaged.

Part 9 seeks to strengthen the rules of disqualification for directors, and we have no problems with the measures suggested here. As I think the CBI has said, they will help to boost the UK’s internationally recognised company law regime and promote even higher standards of corporate governance.

That brings me—it is connected—to the measures the Secretary of State mentioned on streamlining insolvency law. Among the changes the Government intend to implement is a measure to abolish the requirement to hold physical creditor meetings in an insolvency situation. I have to say that R3, which represents insolvency practitioners, and a number of creditor representative groups have very serious concerns that this will reduce creditor engagement and undermine the insolvency regime.

Creditor meetings serve an important function, as I know from my professional experience. For example, the insolvency practitioner engaged may have limited knowledge of the company’s history at the outset, but

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in a creditor meeting they can get useful information about the company and its financial affairs that it might otherwise not have occurred to them to think about. We are therefore not convinced that the proposal to do away with creditor meetings is at all sensible, so in Committee we will carefully scrutinise these proposals and the others on insolvency.

Before I finish up by looking at the employment law reforms in part 11, I want to turn to the measures on public sector workers receiving large pay-outs if they go on to work in other parts of the public sector. Let us be clear what has prompted the inclusion of that measure in the Bill. The Prime Minister promised that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS and then he broke that promise. When the Government embarked on that top-down reorganisation, we warned them about the huge amount of taxpayers’ money that would be wasted, but we were told that our claims were unfounded. What happened? More than 4,000 have been made redundant and then rehired in the NHS since 2010. As the shadow Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), has said, that has meant the Government handing out cheques like confetti to people who were rehired. Some £1.4 billion has been spent on redundancies in the NHS alone, at a time when NHS budgets are stretched. That is a complete disgrace. Pay-offs for managers and pay cuts for nurses—that is what we are seeing.

The Secretary of State will no doubt say, “This has got nothing to do with me, guv. It’s not my brief; it’s those terrible Tories sat behind me.” Well he can say what he likes, but everyone knows that he voted for all the changes in the Health and Social Care Act 2012—in fact, he was a sponsor of it—when it was going through Parliament, and now he is having to clear up the mess in this small business and enterprise Bill. What a total and complete shambles.

That brings me to the employment aspects of the Bill, covering employment tribunals, the national minimum wage and zero-hours contracts. If anything demonstrates that this Government have run their course and are running out of steam, it is the employment provisions in part 11. The Government have done the minimum in this part that they thought they could get away with or that they could reach agreement on. I will deal with the points of agreement first. There are measures in the Bill seeking to limit the number of postponements that parties can be granted in a case, with judges being given the power to make cost orders where late applications for postponements are made. Based on my experience of practising as an employment lawyer, I think those measures are sensible, as do others, such as the TUC, which points to the difficulties that witnesses face in getting time off work to attend hearings.

However, improving the process once people get to tribunal will be no more than an academic exercise for those claimants who frankly cannot afford to pay the tribunal fees instituted by this Government. What the Government have done with those fees is erect a barrier to justice for some of the lowest-paid people in the country. They have simply priced them out of the system. That is the reason for the 79% drop in employment tribunal claims that was referred to earlier. It is women and low-paid workers in particular who seem to be the principal losers.

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Catherine McKinnell: My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. Further to the Secretary of State’s response to my inquiry about a constituent who came to me, I just want to clarify that she had already gone to the helpline and been told that she had to go to tribunal, but she did not want to do that because she was frightened of the costs.

Mr Umunna: That is an example of the effects of what this Government are doing, which I think is truly reprehensible.

The other issue about tribunals is that there is a serious problem of non-payment of employment tribunal awards. We therefore welcome clause 136, which will allow for the imposition of financial penalties on employers who fail to pay the compensation that is awarded at tribunal. Indeed, the Department’s own research indicates that in 2013 just 49% of people successful at tribunal were paid all the compensation due to them, with 35% receiving none of their compensation at all. However, I am not too sure how these provisions are intended to be enforced or what will happen to those seeking redress from a company that has gone insolvent, for example. That is another issue for Committee.

Let me move on to where I believe there will be real disappointment at the modesty of the Government’s proposals, starting with the national minimum wage. We know what the Conservative party’s argument is going to be at the next general election—all this nonsense about Labour ruining the country. Let me remind Conservative Members that, when we entered government in 1997, some people in this country were earning as little as £1 an hour. We are proud to be the party, along with an entire labour movement, that saw to it that a national minimum wage was introduced. For that reason and many others, I am more than happy to debate our record and the real difference we made to the country when we were in office. We left it in an immeasurably better situation in 2010 than we found it in 1997. [Interruption.] As I said to the new Minister for Business and Enterprise, I am happy to debate these matters with him in future.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): My hon. Friend speaks of people earning as little as £1 an hour. I wonder whether he can recall that at the Conservative party conference before the 1997 election, a prospective Conservative party candidate stood up and boasted that in Conservative Britain, he could get away with paying 74p an hour.

Mr Umunna: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution, which is a reminder of the huge difference our Government made during our time in office and of why we should be very proud of what we achieved.

The Bill will increase the fines for employers who fail to pay the minimum wage and amend the maximum penalty, as I think the Secretary of State mentioned, so that it can be calculated on a per worker basis. We have been calling for that for some time, so of course we support it. The fact is, however, that the Government should be going much, much further as it is estimated that more than 250,000 people who should be in receipt of it, still do not receive the minimum wage. It is disappointing that the Government have refused to

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match our plans for more robust enforcement, including by giving local authorities new enforcement powers and increasing maximum fines—not to £20,000 but to £50,000.

Robert Flello: We should also bear in mind those people on zero-hours contracts, who do not get paid for travelling between care jobs, for example, which means that their wages are effectively below the minimum wage.

Mr Umunna: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; I shall quickly be coming on to zero-hours contracts.

In the context of the national minimum wage having become disconnected from levels of growth and productivity, there is a wider problem, because it has led to a squeeze on wages and a fall in the real value of the minimum wage. That is why we would set a long-term ambitious target for the Low Pay Commission to increase the minimum wage to a more stretching proportion of median earnings over the next Parliament. It is a shame that the Secretary of State has set his face against that. We also want to promote—I think the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) mentioned it—the payment of a living wage through “Make Work Pay” contracts, but there are no provisions at all that touch on the living wage, which is disappointing once again.

Let me turn to zero-hours contracts, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) mentioned. There are 1.4 million such contracts in use in the UK at present.

Richard Fuller: Before the hon. Gentleman moves on from the living wage and in the context of the important issue of Government contracting, will the Labour party table amendments to ensure that, when local authorities contract, there is the potential for companies to pay the living wage?

Mr Umunna: I may have the figures wrong, but I think that at least 29 Labour-run local authorities have become living wage employers, and I think we should absolutely do all we can to encourage them to pay the living wage. That may take time because current contracts are left to run, but the more who sign up to become living wage employers, the better.

On zero-hours contracts, it is worth reminding Members what we are talking about. Let me quickly tell the story of a lady I met last year who was on such a contract—I have, of course, met many others, including my own constituents, since. She worked in the care sector and had to be available to visit clients in their homes on at least six days a week, including evenings. Her rota could change in a flash. If visits were cancelled at short notice, she would often not be paid. If visits were added at the last minute, she would have to manage her child care commitments as best she could. That was because she had a zero-hours contract which did not oblige her employer to offer guaranteed hours of work.

Thankfully, that lady has managed to find a permanent job, but she has left behind several hundreds of thousands of other care workers who are still on zero-hours contracts in England. She featured in an excellent report produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth), and my hon. Friend the Member

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for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). Her experience illustrates the reality of life on zero-hours contracts for many people. Such contracts put a strain on families who cannot plan and do not know when the next pay cheque is coming. They create a huge obstacle for people who aspire, for example, to obtain mortgages so that they can own their homes and do things that many others take for granted. And what is the Government’s answer to all that, in the Bill? To ban exclusivity clauses.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Umunna: I will give way shortly.

The Government’s answer is simply not good enough. Do they really think that, on its own, that will stop the exploitative use of such arrangements?

As well as ensuring that the terms and conditions of employees on zero-hours were made clearer and that they were free to work for other employers, we would give employees the right to demand regular contracts if they were, in practice, working regular hours for a certain period, with an automatic right to a fixed-hours contract after a year. We would also ensure that employees on zero-hours contracts were not obliged to make themselves available outside contracted hours, and that they had a right to compensation if shifts were cancelled at short notice. That is what the Government should be doing. If they did what we are proposing to do, they would be able to clamp down on these exploitative practices.

Jonathan Edwards: I am heartened by some of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but can he explain why, during recent deliberations in the Welsh Assembly on the Bill that is now the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, the Labour Government voted down my party’s proposals to ban zero-hours contracts in the social care sector in Wales?

Mr Umunna: We, as a party, have made it very clear that we want to end the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts.

Stephen Mosley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Umunna: No. I must make a little progress, because otherwise the hon. Gentleman’s speaking time will be reduced to three and a half minutes, and he will blame me.

Let me now say something about takeovers, which I had absolutely no idea would feature in the Secretary of State’s speech. He made two announcements on the BBC’s “The Andrew Marr Show” over the weekend. First, he said that he wished to introduce measures that would ensure that commitments given by bidders for British companies had some teeth, and that a sanction could be applied if those commitments were reneged on. Secondly, he said he believed that the Government should have a backstop power to strengthen the existing public interest tests if that proved necessary.

I support the thrust of the Secretary of State’s proposal in relation to commitments given by bidders in takeover circumstances. As I said earlier, I suggested at the

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weekend that he should include such measures in the Bill. According to the legal advice that I have received, primary legislation would be required; simply amending the City code would be insufficient. I think that that is sensible, and I am happy to work on it with the Secretary of State in the context of this Bill.

As for the proposal to strengthen the public interest test, my own view—based on the legal advice that I have received—is that, if the Secretary of State wishes to change the current set of criteria, there will be no need for primary legislation. He has expressed concern—as did we, some months ago—about the need to protect our science and research and development bases in the national interest. Obviously, the way in which any provisions were crafted would be important—in particular, we would need to ensure that there was clearance from the European Commission—but, as I have already said on several occasions, we are happy to work with the Secretary of State on that.

I think that I have gone on for long enough. The Bill contains other measures—relating to company filing requirements, child care and schools, and education—with which we have no major issues, and the details of which we will examine in Committee.

This is not a terrible Bill but, to refer to what the Secretary of State has said about the Government’s economic policies before, it is all rather piecemeal. Given the challenges we face as a country—a country with huge potential—our constituents were entitled to expect a bit more from this Government in this Bill. The only way to get that is to change the Government and vote Labour next year.

4.20 pm

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I declare my interests as they appear in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and I shall be using my precious five minutes to discuss the clause 70 proposals for a register of people with significant control.

The Government have spoken about anonymously owned companies having connections with terrorist groups and being used to hide shadowy funds, and they suggest that transparency of ownership is the best cure for that. These proposals are, of course, a departure from current English law, where transparency of ownership relates to whether a company is public or private. If it is public, there are various disclosures that have to be made as to ownership—for instance, once a shareholder owns 3% or more of a company’s shares. However, in situations where the public are not involved—say, a family company or a private equity company—privacy can be maintained.

There are four issues at stake here: the first is fighting crime; the second is the right to privacy; the third is the increasing regulation; and the fourth is encouraging investment in British private companies. I doubt that the first ambition will be much satisfied through this measure, while I do have significant concern about the loss of privacy and investment that could result and the increased regulation. Moreover, if criminals have concerns that this legislation will stop their money laundering potential, they will simply buy other assets. There is no beneficial register of stamp collections, for instance, or blood diamonds, but the family business that legitimately wants privacy of ownership will suffer as a result. We need to know how many of these private companies are

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being used for crime, compared with the hundreds of thousands that are legitimate—in effect, are these provisions worth it?

The provisions apply to those with more than 25% ownership or control, and I foresee many court cases arising over whether someone actually exercises significant influence or control over a company. Shady players will give stakes in companies to third parties to go beneath 25%—that is, of course, if they ever own any of the shares at all. Families, likewise, will split shareholdings between them, often making it impossible to determine control. Should we not be concentrating on the legitimacy of the money going into and out of companies, rather than the shares being held?

I know that the finance industry also has concerns. The problem here is that fund structures will often mean that those who are defined by the legislation as having significant control over a UK company may, in fact, have delegated management to a fund manager. It will be important for the legislation to navigate the complexity of private fund structures to arrive at an appropriate result.

If the impact of these regulations is to put off institutional or angel private equity investment, this would be a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water, but I think from my own practice experience that there are also some serious privacy issues here. People have a right not to show their wealth, and if they cannot do that by buying shares, they will buy gold or art or put their money abroad. Some people do not want their shareholdings to be known to other people with whom they work or live. Many foreigners want anonymity for legitimate reasons, and we should not just assume that their private companies are fronts for dirty money laundering. Some have ethical issues; Muslims come to mind in respect of investing in companies that may conduct lending or brewing.

During the passage of the Companies Act 2006, I presented amendments aimed at protecting legal, rather than beneficial, shareholders who were under threat from animal rights terrorists, who were taking their names and addresses off the share register and persecuting them. The fear of this will only increase with these proposals and broad exclusions are going to be needed.

I see from the House Library that significant concerns have been raised by the Association of Pension Lawyers, the British Bankers Association and the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association. Let me add my concerns on behalf of the thousands of family businesses that are going to be affected by this. I think we should remove these clauses, but if we go ahead, I would suggest some system whereby people could avoid the register and maintain their right to privacy if they show the authorities that they are legitimate and of previous good character.

With my remaining time, I shall turn to director disqualification. I understand the need to have overseas offences included in the grounds for disqualification, although the technicalities of this could be very complicated. However, I have concerns about the proposal to increase the time limit for starting disqualification proceedings from two to three years. Sometimes the investigation will indeed require more time, but I do not think we should be giving the authorities more time to delay their processes and so it may be better if the extra year were to be provided for upon application to the court.