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Before concluding, however, I must make two final points. The first is that I must pay tribute to the petitioners. Richard Osband has been quoted at length and he is an absolute star. He is a constituent of mine and he was a property developer. He bought a house on the west Kensington estate, a large council estate in my constituency, because he liked the area and he wanted to live there, and he is utterly affronted by the fact that he is being forced out of his home—that, with the connivance of public authorities, his home is being compulsorily purchased and he is being chucked out of it in order to do this terrible deal. I must also mention Joss Bell and Anabela Hardwick. Anabela is also a constituent of mine and Joss is an environmental campaigner, and they are also petitioners, and the next stage with this will involve their formidable talents being ranged against TfL.

I shall end my speech in a moment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington is waiting patiently to speak, but I want to make one more point about the sale of land. Until recently, TfL owned Shepherd’s Bush market. Indeed, I think it still owns part of the freehold. The market is not only an iconic London market but a massively important asset to my constituents. It sells relatively low-priced and incredibly varied produce, with a wider range of ethnic produce than almost any other market in London. It is highly successful. The only thing that makes it less successful is the fact that its landlord, TfL, has failed to maintain it. Every stall is let, and it is very popular, but what has TfL done? Rather than take the revenue stream, it has sold it to facilitate the demise and destruction of the market and the building of 200 luxury flats on the site. I am pleased to say, however, that with the help of local residents and shopkeepers, the new Hammersmith and Fulham council is endeavouring to prevent that from happening.

How contradictory is that? Is this new policy of setting up these wonderful joint ventures instead of selling off sites, as we have seen in Earls Court, going to spread across London? It is a policy that TfL appears to have no control over but every liability for. The partnership in Earls Court is with a £2 company with no covenant strength based in Jersey. If things go wrong and the project goes belly up, that company could be dissolved and the parent company, Capco, which has all the assets, could simply walk away. Who would be left to pick up the tab? It would be TfL. In the meantime, however, it has sold off substantial assets—namely, the freehold of its property in Earls Court—for a 37% stake. In my view, the way in which TfL negotiated that deal is almost criminal, yet we are being asked to give it more powers to do more of the same. That is absolutely not on. In Shepherd’s Bush, TfL had an income stream from a successful market that needed just a little investment, but for political reasons, it sold the development to facilitate another developer making a mint out of it.

I put it to the hon. Member for Christchurch that TfL gets it wrong every time, whether it is selling property or entering into a deal. It needs rather more financial rigour and better financial officers. It also needs to be less ambitious about being a property developer and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has said, more ambitious when it comes to managing our money and providing reliable bus and tube services.

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If TfL focused a little more on that, rather than on spending four years getting this needless Bill through, we would have a better transport system in London.

7.7 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I have listened with great interest to my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), and in particular to all the ups and downs of the developments in Earls Court and Shepherd’s Bush.

This debate is taking place under the long shadow of public-private partnerships and private finance initiatives—two wholly misconceived financial fixes designed to achieve public sector good. I will take this opportunity to say that PFI is of narrow merit and normally suited to capital projects that have a natural revenue stream, such as toll bridges. I certainly did not support the vast extension of PFI that happened under my own Government; nor did I support the misconceived PPP for public transport.

I can understand the scepticism being expressed by Members on both sides as a result of local authorities trying to be clever with financial instruments. However, I was taken aback by the headlong attack on the management of TfL by my good Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. He accused them of wanting to go on a property development binge and of sacrificing the long-term strategic interests of transport in London to property development. That is a tiny bit unfair.

John McDonnell: Let me make this clear. TfL is working under the political direction of the current Mayor of London. This is about Boris Johnson selling off sites to speculator friends to try to bail himself out following the cuts that have been made by this Government. This is not an attack on the individual officers of TfL—far from it. There is political direction behind this.

Ms Abbott: I will come on to deal with political direction later. The point I make is that on the long-term strategic development of transport in London the key elements in the current TfL management have an exemplary record, be it under a Mayor for whom I did not vote or under a Mayor for whom I did vote twice. It is a little unfair to accuse them of not having any long-term strategic vision. A lot of what has been spoken about by my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Hammersmith, and the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) is the consequence not of malign forces within TfL’s management, but an overheated property market in London, predatory developments and a climate of tax avoidance generally among multinationals. The House must address such things. We need changes in planning law; enhancement of local authority powers; and fiscal measures to deal with issues relating to the overheated property market in London and some of the consequences.

Mr Slaughter: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ms Abbott: I will not, because I am mindful of the time and I believe there is a wish to close this debate at 7.15 pm.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said, much of what is happening is due to financial pressures from the Government—they would

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say that they are obliged to do this. It is important not to confuse TfL, which was named throughout this debate, with the Mayor of London. It is not my role to stand up to defend him, but I would want to defend the long-term, responsible, strategic approach taken by the management of TfL.

There is no question that there is a danger that TfL may be dazzled by the glories of the property world. I was looking on TfL’s website at what it says about itself and property development. It states:

“Transport for London is a brand that is recognised around the world and owns great properties in prime locations. Our unique selling point is the:

Location of our assets

Impressive property space”

and so on. Clearly, it sounds like people who are perhaps overly dazzled by the notion of being property developers, but I remind the House that it is not a question of TfL buying and selling property just to make a profit; TfL, in the course of its activity, has acquired assets that could be developed, be it airspace above tube stations, bus stations, disused depots, archways, surplus London underground land or large-scale transport projects. It is not as if TfL has been wilfully engaged in property development; it has these assets, which in some cases have transpired because of changes in the nature of public transport and in technical aspects relating to transport, and clearly it wants to do the best with them. I do not think TfL has any aspirations to be a property developer.

John McDonnell: Come to Earls Court.

Ms Abbott: I do not think TfL has any aspirations to be a property developer; I think TfL would argue that it does not simply want to sell off assets in a one-off manner, as some Members have suggested. It wants to construct a way to have long-term revenue streams to pay for things, such as bus service enhancement. TfL can get capital, but revenue is harder to come by.

I listened with great care to what was said about Earls Court and it seems to me that the Earls Court deal may have been misconceived; it may be one of those unfortunate instances where the public sector was out-negotiated by private developers. The only point I wanted to make in

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this debate is that, in addition to the undoubtedly passionate attacks on TfL, we must give TfL credit for its stewardship of London’s transport system over the years. I hope that in Committee the Bill can be improved, so that whatever vehicles emerge from it ensure fairness on both sides of the agreement. Given the constraints under which TfL operates and given an overheated property market, which is not its responsibility, Members would be unreasonable in not seeing the need for TfL, and in not allowing TfL, to go forward with measures that it hopes will provide it with ongoing revenue. As for this being a quick fix, it surprises me that Members can say that a Bill that has taken five years to get this far is a quick fix. I understand what my colleagues are saying, and I am particularly concerned about what I have heard about Earls Court, but let us give the management of TfL just a little credit going forward.

7.14 pm

Bob Blackman: We have had a full and reasoned debate on the principles of the Bill. The hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) have raised reasonable concerns that need to be considered in detail in Committee. On behalf of the promoters of the Bill, let me say that the key is allowing Transport for London the opportunity to borrow money at lower interest rates and to reduce the risk for Londoners as a whole, and that is something of which we should all approve.

The issue of ensuring that Secretary of State approval is given for any such venture is a concession to be taken in Committee. The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) raised a series of legitimate issues that need to be considered. I thank the Minister for his support and contribution. The hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) set out what was almost a mini-manifesto for a bid possibly for another position in the future.

I hope that the Bill is given a Second Reading. I trust that it will proceed now to Committee and then to law in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

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Buckinghamshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill [Lords]

Second Reading

7.16 pm

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I thank Members involved in the previous Bill for allowing me to come in as the bridesmaid after the main event. I was worried that we would not get our chance, so I am grateful to all the Members concerned for the constraint that they showed when debating a very important Bill for London.

The Bill was first introduced in another place, and has gone through all its stages there. It is a private Bill promoted by my own county council in Buckinghamshire. During the course of consultation, no petitions were deposited against the Bill by interested parties in either House, so we are talking about a modest and uncontroversial measure.

I pay tribute to Mr Emyr Thomas of Sharpe Pritchard, our parliamentary agent, who has provided commendable professional advice on the passage of this Bill. The Bill’s overall objective is to assist the council in continuing to encourage the film industry to produce films in Buckinghamshire by formalising the legal position as regards the closure of highways for the purposes of filming and to enable objects to be placed on the highways and used for those purposes. The Bill is precedented in private Acts promoted first by the London boroughs and Transport for London in 2008, by Kent county council in 2010 and, most recently, by Hertfordshire county council in 2014. The film industry that is referred to includes not just movie makers but the producers of television programmes and advertisements. It also includes film-making by charitable organisations and film students.

Most Members know how important the film industry is to the UK. The industry directly employs about 43,900 workers and contributes about £1.6 billion to our GDP and £490 million to the Exchequer.

Buckinghamshire has a long tradition of film-making, and the county council supports the film industry, which it considers to be an important part of the Buckinghamshire economy.

Buckinghamshire is located in the so-called super-region of the south-east of England, which accounts for approximately 60% of the UK’s film and television production. It is home to 22 production companies that serve different sectors of the industry, including feature films, animation, TV, digital production and corporate films. One of these, of course, is Pinewood studios, which is renowned as a leading provider of studio and related services to the film and television industry.

Pinewood studios opened back in 1936 and over the past 78 years it has played host to several huge blockbuster films and numerous iconic television series. Most people watching the debate will know that the “Carry On”, “Superman”, “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” series were all produced at Pinewood, as were “Alien”, “Batman”, “Love Actually”, “Mamma Mia!” and, of course, 20 James Bond films, and I have had the pleasure in the past of being on a film set in Pinewood for one of those James Bond films. Pinewood is the home of the largest sound stage in Europe—it is called the Albert R Broccoli 007

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stage, and it truly is magnificent—as well as of the Richard Attenborough stage, which is dedicated to the late Sir Richard’s large body of work in film and television. May I say, having worked for two years with Sir Richard Attenborough and David Puttnam on British film year back in the ’80s, that he was a treasure to work for and will be much missed? It is fitting that we have a stage at Pinewood named after him. In June 2014, there were reports that a £200 million expansion plan for Pinewood studios, which will make it rival the Hollywood sets, had been approved. That will be a great jewel in the crown of Buckinghamshire.

Adjacent to Pinewood studios is Black park, a popular film location offering large areas of heath and woodland. The 500 acre site is used extensively for filming. Recent productions include “Casino Royale”, “Snow White and the Huntsman”, “Jack Ryan” and Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming film, “Cinderella”, which will be released in 2015. Over the past year or so, West Wycombe park, the Ashridge estate, Waddesdon manor, Basildon manor and the Hughenden estate have hosted productions such as “A Little Chaos”, “Maleficent”, “The Monuments Men” and “The World’s End”. They were all filmed in Buckinghamshire.

Those who have heard me opine about HS2 will know that it is no word of a lie that the county contains a rich diversity of landscape that is frequently used by film-makers for location filming. There are quiet country lanes, picturesque towns and villages and urban settings. The proximity of those locations to the studios and the fact that the county is on London’s doorstep help to ensure that Buckinghamshire remains a popular filming location and a place to which new films will be attracted.

The Beaconsfield film studios, which opened back in 1922, were the site of the first British talking movie but are now the home of the national film and television school, headed by Nik Powell, whose credits include “The Company of Wolves”, “Mona Lisa”, “Scandal” and “The Crying Game”—for those who are interested, they were all Oscar nominated. He runs the school, which employs about 30 industry professionals, including Stephen Frears. Its 220 or so students produce about 100 films a year in and around Buckinghamshire and the school has some notable alumni, including the director of “Harry Potter”, David Yates, and, of course, Nick Park, who was the creator and director of our very own “Wallace and Gromit”, a set of characters that is familiar to those on the Opposition Benches, at least, and on which we all look with much affection.

Filming is very good for our local economy. For instance, a considerable proportion of the film budget is spent on local facilities such as hotels, restaurants, retailers, transport companies, florists, construction materials, location fees and directly employed local people. It is estimated that for every £1 spent on production, £2.50 goes into the local economy. It is therefore really important that Buckinghamshire retains its position as an attractive place for the film industry that offers genuine advantages. As part of the council’s commitment to increasing economic investment in the county and ensuring that Buckinghamshire benefits from the film industry’s presence, the council is keen to encourage more location shoots and investment in our studios.

In November 2013, the Bill was deposited in the Lords, and it has cleared all its stages in the other place. Why is it needed? The existing position in law is that it is

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an offence wilfully to obstruct free passage along the highway. Coupled with that, a highways authority has a statutory duty to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway for which it is the authority. What constitutes an obstruction is a matter of fact and degree in each case, but it is safe to say that if a film-maker prohibited people from proceeding along a road either on foot or in a vehicle for anything longer than the briefest period, that would be likely to amount to an obstruction. If the stopping up of or interference with a highway is authorised by statute, that provides a defence to any prosecution for obstruction. Utility companies have such powers, as do the police and local authorities, but the provisions are always drafted so that the powers allow interference with the highway for specific purposes. It is important to note that the council’s proposals are fully supported by our local police.

Why is it important to allow the closure of our highways? It is not the case that there is just a perception that film-makers might go elsewhere to shoot without proper powers to allow the council to close roads, because I can give hon. Members an example of that happening. Vodafone recently wanted to film an advertisement in Buckinghamshire involving the closure of a road. The council explained that it did not have the power to close the road as the company wanted, so I am afraid that Vodafone went elsewhere. The council is worried that Buckinghamshire could lose its locational and competitive advantages, and economic benefits through the supply chain, unless it is covered by legislation similar to that enjoyed in London, Kent and Hertfordshire.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): As most films, and indeed adverts, are months or years in the planning, why would clause 3 give the council the power immediately to make a prohibition of traffic order?

Mrs Gillan: My right hon. Friend made interventions during the House’s consideration of the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2014. It is not rocket science; it is simply weather, weather, weather. The inclemency of the British weather means that there is sometimes a need for film crews immediately to take the opportunity to film on our roads. The immediacy for which the Bill provides offers great assistance.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I have heard the measure referred to as a “sunshine clause”, which explains exactly why it is in the Bill.

Mrs Gillan: I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful little ray of sunshine in our debate.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which she is setting out the case for the Bill. As someone who has lived in a home where filming takes place on the road once or twice a year, I have never yet heard a neighbour complain if they have been given reasonable notice, which is to be expected, and if the time of filming is limited to hours or even days.

Mrs Gillan: I am grateful for that helpful intervention and I think that the people of Buckinghamshire feel exactly the same. Indeed, people are always delighted to

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see our towns, villages and streets on screen not only in some of our wonderful television productions, but as locations in big feature films. The Bill also offers protections.

Sir Greg Knight: My concerns are about not the local person, who might well be aware that a film crew is in the area, but the motorist who is travelling through the area but might not have received adequate notice that a road will be closed. What attempts will the council make to ensure that motorists travelling through the area are given adequate notice that they should use an alternative road?

Mrs Gillan: May I commend my right hon. Friend, who takes a great interest in motoring matters and who I know has a fine collection of cars himself? The council has a code of practice, readily available on its website, entitled, “Filming on Highways: Buckinghamshire County Council Code of Practice”. The council has already drawn up draft proposals in the eventuality that the Bill is passed by the House. When consulting the Department for Transport, it has entered into provisions and given undertakings about placing well-sited notices and giving as much warning as possible. Like my right hon. Friend, I know how annoying it is to find one cannot go somewhere, and one can see all the film vans. I therefore hope that the notices will have been adequately covered in the rules and guidelines that will be readily available to the public, and the council gave the Department for Transport assurances about notification to fire, ambulance and police services, and so on. We hope that the disruption will be minimised and a great deal of thought will be given to road users, as my right hon. Friend wants.

Mr Christopher Chope: (Christchurch) (Con): The film order can last for five days—or is it seven days?—and there can be six film orders each year, adding up to 42 days a year. If someone can find ingress and egress from their home interrupted for 42 days a year, is that proportionate?

Mrs Gillan: Before I reply to that intervention, may I thank my hon. Friend for the helpful advice he gave when he was approached by Buckinghamshire county council to discuss the Bill? His expertise in opposed private business has always been invaluable, as was his contribution to the Bill prior to that.

I think that closure for 42 days must not be taken in isolation. Do not forget that the council has to consider section 122 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which also applies. That section puts a duty on the council

“to secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of vehicular and other traffic”,

including providing adequate pedestrian access to people’s homes and taking into account the needs of the disabled. In practice, because the council must give consideration to the provisions of section 122, closure of such duration would be unlikely and would probably not be demanded.

The provisions of the Bill have the effect of extending, with modifications, the existing powers of the highway authority to close roads for special events. Those powers were brought in specifically to enable a wonderfully successful event—the Tour de France—to be hosted in England for the first time in the 1990s. I am sure we all saw the great success of the recent Tour de France in this country. The relevant provision of the 1984 Act

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also allows closures to facilitate the holding of “a relevant event”, which is defined as

“any sporting event, social event or entertainment which is held on a road.”

The council takes the view that, sadly, that does not include film-making. The Bill would have the effect of categorising the making of a film as a relevant event, thereby allowing the council to make the subsequent closure orders.

The Bill goes a little further than that, in the same way as the Acts for London, Kent and Hertfordshire, by allowing what will be known as “film notices” to be issued where it appears to the council that it is expedient for the closure to come into effect without delay. As I mentioned, that is particularly useful in the film industry because of the unpredictability of our weather. The existing restriction, which allows special events orders to continue in force for up to three days, is altered to allow for seven days for a film order. Similarly, a restriction on the number of orders that can be made in any year on any stretch of road is relaxed to allow for up to six film orders. Under the existing rules, only one special event order can be made per annum, but that number can be increased with the consent of the Secretary of State.

How will our residents who are affected by this legislation be treated? As I have indicated, whenever the council exercises the powers under the Bill, section 122 of the 1984 Act protects the users of the highway. That, I am sure, is the safeguard we would be looking for, because it requires the council to have regard to the desirability of securing and maintaining reasonable access to premises.

As I said, the council has made a commitment to the Department for Transport that it will follow the procedures that it has to follow for temporary street closures under other legislation. I referred to the code of practice for location filming in Buckinghamshire, and I want to give the House a bit more detail on that. It includes, for example, provisions about litter removal, historical or cultural and protected locations, night filming, noise and nuisance, and parking. It also contains a section about residents, including disabled residents, and businesses requiring consultation. The code has recently been updated, as requested by the Chairman of Committees when the Bill was considered in Committee in the Lords. As I understand it, we would be perfectly prepared to place a copy of the draft rules and regulations, and the code, in the House of Commons Library if that was wanted.

Mr Chope: Does this require consultation with residents associations? Is there any provision to ensure that residents associations can be compensated for the inconvenience that their members encounter? There is a lot of filming in the area where I live, and there is provision for residents associations to receive money from the film company.

Mrs Gillan: I will place the code and the terms and conditions in the Library so that my hon. Friend can read them, because I am getting to the end of my speech and I want to allow enough time not only for any colleague who wishes to speak but for the Minister to respond.

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In order to understand whether there was support for the proposed Bill, throughout the summer of 2012 the county council held a six-week consultation, and a huge number of bodies were consulted. A total of 19 responses were received. Nine responses were absolutely positive, seven were positive but expressed some concerns which have been addressed, one was neutral, and two were negative. It was considered that none of the concerns raised was significant enough to prevent the promotion of the Bill. Given that no one has objected to the legislation, it is good to see that it is welcomed by the people of Buckinghamshire as much as it has been in Hertfordshire, Kent and London.

I hope that I have done justice to Buckinghamshire county council in sponsoring this Bill. It is a simple Bill that has precedent. I hope that the House will find favour with it and give it fair passage.

7.38 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I thank the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) for the way in which she introduced the Bill. She opened her remarks by saying that she was worried she was going to be the bridesmaid to the main event tonight. I do not think I would ever accuse her of that. Certainly, as regards the encyclopaedic knowledge of the British film industry that she demonstrated, she squashed any suggestions of that absolutely. I was a little worried, I have to say, when she told the House that she had spent an interesting time on the set of a James Bond film. I hope that that was instructive, but I am a little worried about what it involved. If it involved car chases, Beretta pistols or self-defence courses, I, for one, will be watching my step a little more carefully when I say anything at all about HS2 in future.

I am very pleased that, in commenting on the strength and importance of the UK film industry, the right hon. Lady took the opportunity to say a few words about Richard Attenborough, whose passing is mourned by us all. He was a giant of the UK film industry. Obviously, we on the Labour Benches had a special affection for him, given his politics, but nobody can take away the contribution he made over so many years and we will all miss him.

As the right hon. Lady has said, the Bill is pretty much identical in logic and purpose to the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2014, which we debated last November. We understand why it is important for Buckinghamshire to have clarity on rules and regulations, in order for it to be able to sustain and, indeed, to continue to attract the film industry, which, as the right hon. Lady has made clear, is a significant contributor to local jobs and the local economy. It is also a significant contributor to jobs across the country, given the national significance of the UK film industry.

The Bill enables the council to prohibit or restrict traffic on roads for the purposes of making a film. Those powers are already available to local authorities in London, Kent and Hertfordshire. Like the Hertfordshire Act, this Bill will enable the council to close roads, including, where necessary because of the weather, with only 24 hours’ notice. It aims to deal with unpredictability, which is something that obviously has to be dealt with if we are going to sustain the film industry. After Hertfordshire gained those powers, Buckinghamshire wanted to retain its competitive position as a filming location.

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I understand the concerns that have been expressed today—the same concerns were expressed about the Hertfordshire Act—about the possible impact of sudden road closures on local people and, indeed, on motorists passing through the area. That is why a code of practice is important. I am pleased that one has been agreed and think it would be an excellent idea for a copy to be placed in the Library of the House of Commons. I detect no desire from anybody—certainly not from the film companies themselves, the right hon. Lady or the Opposition—to restrict anybody’s rights unnecessarily. For the film industry to survive and prosper, it needs the support and confidence of local people. It would not make sense for any company to ride roughshod over any concerns.

That is why it is important that we discuss the Bill in a measured way. It is also why the code of practice is so important, and if anything in it needs a bit of tweaking, that can be looked at—that is one of the great things about a code of practice. If we are able to do that, building on the experience in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, this Bill will be a positive contribution enabling the UK film industry in Buckinghamshire and elsewhere to go from strength to strength.

7.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on moving the Second Reading of this private Bill, welcome the opportunity for this debate and endorse the comments that have just been made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). I am very pleased to put the Government’s position on the record, particularly as I have appeared in an Oscar-winning motion picture.

Richard Burden: Tell us more, please!

Mr Goodwill: If the hon. Gentleman watches a film called “The Iron Lady”, which is about one of the greatest ladies ever to have lived on this planet, he will see me playing the part of a Government Whip. That is about as far as my acting goes, but I am in the credits, which counts, as I understand it.

I want to make it clear from the start that the Government do not oppose the Bill, which largely replicates previous Bills such as the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2008 and the Kent County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2010, and closely mirrors the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2014.

During the passage of the Hertfordshire Bill, we had some initial reservations about the limited procedural protection that it offered to property owners and the travelling public. However, following discussions with Hertfordshire county council, it reassured us that it will follow procedures similar to those set out in the Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Procedure Regulations 1992 when it puts film orders in place. We are grateful to Buckinghamshire county council for agreeing that, to the extent that that there are no mandatory requirements in law, it will also follow the procedures in those regulations.

My only surprise is that we have not yet had a North Yorkshire County Council (Filming on Public Highways) Bill, but I suspect that it is only a matter of time.

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Mr Chope rose—

Hon. Members: Too late.

7.45 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): It is a pity that I was too late to intervene on the Minister, but perhaps he will intervene on me.

The leader of Buckinghamshire county council, who knew that I had concerns about the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill, wrote to ask me what I was going to do about the Buckinghamshire Bill. I said that I thought it would be much better if Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire got together to promote a joint Bill, because that would be much less expensive, but Hertfordshire did not want to play ball. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) said on introducing the legislation and as the Minister has just mentioned, there is now a competitiveness issue.

Mrs Gillan: Perhaps I may tell the Minister that the idea of bringing forward a Bill for the whole country is perfectly sensible, because the issue is important. I appreciate that such locations are not just in Buckinghamshire, although Buckinghamshire is best. The Road Traffic Regulation (Temporary Closure for Filming) Bill, which has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), would cover the whole country, although as a private Member’s Bill it may not get through and as yet no Bill has been published. As there is only one day a year on which a Bill of this nature can be published, Hertfordshire went ahead and published its Bill, so Buckinghamshire had no choice but to publish its own Bill on the due date the following year. That was a long intervention, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her short intervention, but in a sense I am even more disappointed. Why did the Minister not refer to such a private Member’s Bill? It might well deal with the issue by giving all local authorities a power to introduce such provisions without the need to use the private legislation route.

Sir Greg Knight: Does my hon. Friend not agree that if we had a Bill covering the whole country that perhaps gave councils the power to preserve outdoor film sets by banning unsightly wind farms, the House might pass it with acclamation?

Mr Chope: I look forward to supporting my right hon. Friend’s Bill on that topic. I think that there may be a chance to present such a Bill even on Friday if he gives notice of it tomorrow.

To return to the point about the private Member’s Bill, the Minister did not say whether the Government will support it, which is rather a missed opportunity, if I may put it like that. Whether in relation to pedlars—we know all about such iterative Bills—or filming on highways, it is much better to try to have general legislation to which local authorities can opt in if they wish, without the need to engage in the expensive and often protracted process of private legislation.

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Having said that, because there are no petitions against the Bill, it will go to an unopposed Bill Committee and will not even come back on Report unless the Committee finds some reason to amend it, and it will then go straight through on Third Reading.

However, that is an expensive process. I hope that by the time the Bill returns for Third Reading we will have more news about the private Member’s Bill to which my right hon. Friend referred. [Interruption.] I see the Minister nodding in agreement. Private Members’ Bills are often rather extensive in ambit, and therefore controversial and difficult to get through, but it sounds as though that Bill will have a narrow ambit. If it is supported by the Government and the Opposition, it could have a fair wind and result in our spending less time looking at private legislation.

Sir Greg Knight: If this Bill goes ahead, is there not a case for giving the council more powers? Clause 6(2) allows it to impose a charge for placing objects on the highway, but only to cover its reasonable expenses. Taking into account my hon. Friend’s earlier point about local community groups, perhaps the council should be given the power to levy a fee that includes a donation to the local community.

Mr Chope: I am against that, because I do not see why we should burden the blossoming British film industry with additional stealth taxes. However, I support film companies working closely with residents and residents associations and, where appropriate—I think that this is best practice in the industry—making ex gratia payments to compensate them for the inconvenience.

That happened recently in a street that I am familiar with where a company is shooting a film about the Krays—“Legend” is the working title—which I think will be very popular. The buildings in the ganglands where the Krays operated have long since been demolished, so the company had to find some lookalikes. They came along to the street in question and painted all the houses grey in order to make them look as dingy as they must have done in the 1950s. This is not an advertisement for “Legend”, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I wanted to explain that the film company, in order to ensure that local residents did not feel that they had been taken advantage of, made a donation to the local residents association as well as to individual residents who were particularly inconvenienced. If you would like to speak with me afterwards, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will give you the details of the residents association and the fantastic Christmas parties it can throw as a result of the donations it has received, and not only from that film company, but from many others.

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Mr Deputy Speaker, I can see that you feel that there comes a time when all the points that need to be made have been made. I made many of the points that I would like to have made on this Bill when I spoke to the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill. In conclusion, I hope that this is the last time we have to deal with the Second Reading of an individual local authority Bill for filming on the highways and that in future they can all be dealt with under delegated legislation.

7.53 pm

Mrs Gillan: I am grateful to the Opposition spokesman for his support for the Bill, to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has indicated the Government’s support, and to the two hon. Friends who have intervened to make their points gently but who have also been supportive of the Bill. It would be otiose for me to say anything more. Mr Deputy Speaker, that’s a wrap.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With the leave of the House, we shall take motions 7 to 10 together.

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

Representation of the People

That the draft Political Parties, Elections and Referendums (Civil Sanctions) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 5 June, be approved.

Legal Services

That the draft Legal Services Act 2007 (Approved Regulator) (No. 2) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 23 June, be approved.

Licences and Licensing

That the draft Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) (Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 23 June, be approved.

Road Traffic

That the draft Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 19 June, be approved.—(Alun Cairns.)

Question agreed to.

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North Wales Police and Anonymous Blog Site

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

7.54 pm

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): I am pleased to have secured this debate on the relationship between North Wales police and a local anonymous blog site. I suspect that I am not the first or last MP to highlight issues of internet trolling and online harassment, and I suppose there will be further debates of this nature in the House in due course. In this debate I hope to the hear the Government’s views on what police forces should do when complaints are brought to their attention. I will also highlight concerns about the lack of consistency across police forces, where the stated manner of dealing with such issues in the Hertfordshire constabulary, for example, can be contrasted with the manner in which North Wales police have dealt with numerous complaints about a rather vicious and nasty local blog.

I do not want to detain the House for too long with details of the sordid site in question, but a quick overview of the content will give the House a feel for what we are dealing with. The site is called “Thoughts of Oscar”, and it is probably best described as a small-town poison pen letter blog, with an added interest in politics—mostly local politics, but it has a rather remarkable interest in Welsh Conservatives, wherever they may be located in Wales.

Over the years the site has harassed, abused, libelled and generally targeted a series of individuals, businesses, council officials and local councillors. All that, as would be expected, has been done behind the cloak of anonymity, while claiming the moral high ground of being the purveyor of free speech. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) said in a previous Adjournment debate:

“Trolling is not about normal social discourse, or even about disagreeing vehemently with someone who has a contrary opinion. The test should be quite simple: would someone be happy to put their name to what they have said under a false identity?”—[Official Report, 17 September 2012; Vol. 550, c. 758.]

I will describe that as the Liverpool Walton test on trolling.

There are circumstances under which free speech and protection of an individual from identification is both right and proper. However, I would be hard pressed to argue that such protection is justified to protect the identity of the authors of a website that runs a vicious campaign against a councillor who has breached planning rules on double glazing, or a food vendor who found themselves under such vicious assault that even the reputation and integrity of their deceased family members were called into question. Such harassment of individuals in the public domain is an electronic replication of the poison pen letter of old, and has nothing to do with the principle of free speech.

Such articles were the staple of this rather sad and bitter website, which in my view fits perfectly with what I have described as the Liverpool Walton test. If the authors want to be anonymous, what are they ashamed of? Is it the power to put others through a degree of mental anguish and concern that gives them a kick?

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Despite being MP for Aberconwy since 2010 and knowing of this site since before then, I have attempted to ignore the blog as far as I could. On occasion the authors have been complimentary about me, but more often than not I have been attacked. Such attacks, on the whole, need to be expected and accepted by a politician as part and parcel of the decision to become a public figure. Councillors are also, to an extent, in the same position—indeed, even the family home of the Deputy Speaker has been subject to online comments.

However, the attacks made by this site against my colleague, Assembly Member for Clwyd West, Darren Miller, and subsequent vitriolic attacks on my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), which included despicable comments about his cancer treatment, were rather too much in my view for even a politician to accept, although accept it they did. To have the skin of an elephant is apparently part of the job description for any politician these days.

For me the turning point came this summer when the site published a number of libels against me that were picked up by the press in Wales and by other websites. My inbox was flooded with abuse and accusations of a very serious nature. Emotions were high because the original article referred to my position on the Israel-Hamas conflict and as such some of the e-mails received were of the “we know where you live” variety. All e-mails referred to the article printed by this anonymous website.

With five children at home, I had no choice but to contact North Wales police to highlight my concerns and to seek advice on the precautions I should take. I would like to pay tribute to Chief Inspector Moses from North Wales police for his calm and assured support, which allowed me to reassure my family. In addition to taking such precautions, I had to engage a solicitor to highlight where the claims were inaccurate, but legal action was impossible. How can anyone sue an anonymous website? It should also be noted that despite the legal letter highlighting the libellous inaccuracies, neither Google, the site owners, nor Twitter, which hosts the Twitter account, were co-operative.

I was therefore left with no means of redress. However, what I had not counted upon was my constituents. As the vitriol on the site increased, a number of individuals came independently to my office to highlight their concerns about their treatment at the hands of this website. It became apparent that constituents, councillors, small business owners and residents, after being harassed and abused online, had taken their complaints to North Wales police. All had been told that nothing could be done and that the police could take no action. I find that response surprising.

Online trolling has become a key issue for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service, and they and other law enforcement agencies have highlighted guidelines on how such issues should be dealt with. Perhaps the best of these is the guide to online abuse and harassment published by the Hertfordshire Constabulary. It appears to be a guide that has not been read by North Wales police, where an Inspector Verberg, now a member of the professional standards team, is reported to have told no fewer than four constituents that nothing could be done about online trolling, harassment or abuse, which is the daily staple of this blog. He was wrong.

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As numerous debates in the House have highlighted, there is plenty of legislation on the statute book that could be used to protect victims from such harassment—for example, the Telecommunications Act 1984, section 4(a) of the Public Order Act 1986, the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. These are all options for the victim and should be understood as such by the police. In view of the failure of North Wales police to investigate my constituents’ claims, does the Minister believe that the Home Office guidance is sufficiently clear? Does the fault lie with North Wales police?

Although the lack of action by North Wales police is a significant failure, two further meetings at my constituency office resulted in much more serious questions being raised. Two constituents, both local businesses, came to see me with evidence collected on their behalf by a private investigator. Both had been subject to a significant amount of online abuse and harassment from the blog in question, and their complaints to the police had been met with the same response as previous complaints: “It’s nothing to do with us.” They therefore decided in 2012 to hire a private investigator who, utilising IT skills that I do not understand let alone could explain, traced pictures and other content on the blog to a domestic dwelling in Deganwy and a solicitors practice in Trinity square, Llandudno. Three names were identified as a result of his work.

The private investigation company, Lewis Legal, is a north Wales-based civil and criminal evidence-gathering service that numbers among its clients local authorities in North Wales and which has worked with and for some police forces. I met Mr Michael Naughton from the company to discuss the names mentioned in his report and the nature of the evidence gathered. On a scale of one to 10, with one being “no confidence” and 10 being “absolute confidence”, I asked him how certain he was that a Mr Nigel Roberts, a local business man, and Mr Dylan Moore, a solicitor at David Jones and Company, were involved. In both cases, he stated that he would rate both names as a 10 and would be confident in his evidence in any court of law. Indeed, this morning, I received an e-mail from Mr Nigel Roberts confirming his involvement with the blog site in question. The third name mentioned was classed as being rated at eight on a scale of one to 10 and despite parliamentary privilege, I do not intend to name this individual.

The names in question were not a huge surprise to me since a local journalist had previously provided me with the same names, but had not furnished me with any supporting evidence. I did, however, highlight these issues with the Whips Office some two years ago since Mr Dylan Moore is the business partner of my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones). I want to reassure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have informed my right hon. Friend that I would be mentioning this connection in passing.

What disturbed me about the statement made by Mr Naughton was that within 20 minutes of visiting the premises of Mr Dylan Moore and Mr Nigel Roberts, identifying himself as a private investigator and explaining his interest in the blog site—he was told to leave on both occasions and promptly did so, leaving a business card—he received a phone call from a Superintendent Humphreys

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of North Wales police, asking why he had visited both premises. When the nature of the inquiry was explained, he was told in a friendly but clear manner that the blog in question was being monitored and he should leave it to the police.

I think that the whole House will be intrigued by the contrast between the quick response of the North Wales police to a perfectly legal visit by a registered investigator to two premises in my constituency and the complete lack of interest shown in supporting constituents who brought reasonable complaints about harassments and online abuse to the same police force. To be perfectly honest, there are victims of actual crimes in my constituency who would be pleased to receive a police visit on the day they contacted the police force, let alone a call within 20 minutes by a superintendent.

My final point is that evidence received yesterday by another constituent would indicate that North Wales police are well aware of the names of the people behind this blog. Mr Michael Creamer, a constituent and by his own admission no angel, visited my office yesterday. He was convicted and sentenced to four years for his part in a mortgage fraud. During his trial at Mold Crown court, material that appeared on this “Thoughts of Oscar” website about him was serious enough to potentially prejudice the trial. According to a written statement provided to me by Mr Creamer, the presiding judge, Judge John Rogers requested assurances from North Wales police that the material published would be removed and that no other material would be published during the trial. Within two hours, DC Kenyon of North Wales police provided such assurances to the judge under oath, and the trial continued.

This raises a significant question for North Wales police. If, during a Crown court case back in October 2010, North Wales police were able to speak to, and receive assurances from, the authors of this website within two hours that no further comments would be made, why have they been so unwilling to support my constituents who have brought legitimate concerns about online abuse, trolling and harassment to their door? When this question is coupled with the rather bizarre speed at which North Wales police responded to a call from two of those named as being involved with this site after a visit from an investigator, it is in my view clear that North Wales police have significant questions to answer.

This debate has highlighted two important issues. First, what powers are available to the police to deal with the harassment and abuse that my constituents have suffered at the hands of those hiding behind a veil of secrecy that an online blog affords them? Are those powers sufficient? Are they simple enough for victims to understand and, for that matter, are they clear enough for police officers even at inspector level to understand? Can the Minister offer me assurances that the failures I have highlighted in north Wales are not a result of a lack of clarity from the Home Office, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service? It is, I think, important to identify whether this is a north Wales problem or a wider issue that needs to be looked at.

Secondly, and even more concerning, is the fact that I have many constituents who are now adamant that the reason why the police in north Wales did nothing was that this site was being afforded a degree of protection.

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I would be distraught if that was the case. I am a supporter of the North Wales police service and I know that officers across north Wales do an important job in difficult circumstances and are available at all times. However, there are in my view clear questions that demand a response from the police and crime commissioner for north Wales and the chief constable. The oft-stated claim that the North Wales police force had no evidence as to the authors of the blog and could offer no support to the victims can be contrasted with their ability to obtain, within two hours, assurances in regard to any future postings that might prejudice a Crown court trial.

It is my view that the question of collusion is left hanging over this entire sordid affair.

8.10 pm

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): It is a privilege and an honour for me to take this first opportunity to respond to a debate as the new policing Minister. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on securing a debate that concerns an enormously important issue. As he knows, there are aspects of that issue on which I can comment openly, and others in regard to which I am subject to a degree of restriction.

The part of Wales that my hon. Friend represents is so beautiful, and so brilliantly represented by him, that some of my constituents continue to leave my constituency for the area around Conwy. Indeed, some of my friends have retired there. My friends are still my friends, but I am envious of those who have gone to my hon. Friend’s constituency, and envious of the fact that he represents them and I do not. That must indeed be a very beautiful part of the world. I also know that my hon. Friend is enormously popular there. The fact that his constituents stood up and spoke out against the accusations that were made about him shows what a fantastic constituency Member of Parliament he is. If only more constituents recognised the hard work and dedication of MPs, perhaps we would have a better reputation around the country.

Let me add, Mr Deputy Speaker, that no matter what the job is—whether you are a Member of Parliament, a member of the Government, a doctor, a nurse or a policeman—no one has the right to level pernicious accusations against you. No one has the right to threaten your family, no one has the right to “troll” you, and no one has the right to create the atmosphere that has clearly been created in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

My hon. Friend raised several questions in his short speech. The best news that I have heard today is that the site is now down and is no longer operating. Let us hope that continues to be the case—not least, perhaps, as a result of some of the comments that I am about to make.

Let me also take my first opportunity as policing Minister to praise the police throughout this great country of ours, both in the devolved parts of our Union and in England and Wales. The fact is that 99.9% of the police do a fantastic job for us day in, day out, on 365 days of the year. I think that more politicians should stand up and say the sort of things that my hon. Friend has said today, although he is obviously concerned about the actions of some—and it is always the “some” whom we talk about: those who have let us down, let

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themselves down or let their forces down, rather than the vast majority who, as I have said, do such a fantastic job for us day in, day out.

My hon. Friend asked me whether harassment, or trolling, was an offence. It is, and there are myriad pieces of legislation to deal with it, including those to which my hon. Friend referred on the basis of his research. We have the Defamation Act 2013, the Communications Act 2003, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Malicious Communications Act 1998, to name but a few. It is therefore probably inaccurate to say that nothing can be done should evidence be there—although I stress that it is up to the police to conduct their investigations and to decide whether a criminal act has taken place—and I can answer one of my hon. Friend’s most forthright questions by saying “Yes, the legislation is there, on the statute book.”

Let me now turn to the guidance that is provided for the police, and the question of whether the way in which it is used in north Wales is different from the way in which it is used in other parts of the country. I do not know exactly how it is being interpreted in north Wales, but it is being interpreted around the country, and prosecutions have taken place, and continue to take place, on the basis of the guidance that has been issued to police authorities. A lead chief constable is responsible for these matters through the Association of Chief Police Officers. It is clear to me that, if prosecutions are taking place in other parts of the country—I personally have not seen anything like this in my constituency; I have come close but not anything like what has been described today—I would expect, as a constituency MP, the police to do a full investigation in my constituency, and in any other part of our great nation.

To answer directly again the question: is the guidance in place? Yes it is. Do I as the Minister for policing feel that that guidance is robust and simple and has been explained? Yes I do, clearly, as other forces are ensuring that it is being used in that way. Nothing is perfect and I am sure that we can find other examples around the country where people think a prosecution should have taken place and it has not. We are not in a perfect world. It is not for politicians, rightly, to tell the police what they should and should not do. The Crown Prosecution Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions are involved in the ongoing discussions that we have on this area. Online jurisdiction and what can and cannot be used is a very difficult issue.

I always do this when I stand at Dispatch Box. I am now in my fifth role in this Parliament so I must be doing something wrong. I think I have broken all records—five Departments in four years in one Parliament. I try to stand here sometimes and think to myself, “What would I think if I were the constituency MP who had raised this issue today?” First, I would be on the Back Benches raising the issue in an Adjournment debate. It is absolutely right and proper that this issue has been brought to the House this evening. What would I do? I would be complaining on behalf of my constituents and of myself; my hon. Friend represents himself in his constituency as the MP for that constituency. I would make a formal complaint with my concerns to the chief constable in North Wales.

I know that sounds complicated sometimes. Often constituents say to me and the Department, “You are complaining to the people who you think have done

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something wrong.” That is right. It is right and proper that, if mistakes have been made and concerns exist, any force, whether that be the police force or the local health authority, has the opportunity to address the concerns of our constituents. If we are not happy, in this particular case, it should go to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. That is, in my opinion, where this should go, if my hon. Friend is not happy, and clearly he is not, with the response that he has had from North Wales.

It would be difficult for me to go further than that because the Independent Police Complaints Commission is what it says on the tin—independent. I have met the chairman and chief executive only in the last couple of

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days, naturally. Although we have a review on the ongoing role of the IPCC and what sort of complaints it should deal with, in my opinion, that is exactly where this complaint should be going.

To sum up, I am really sad that my hon. Friend has had to raise the issue. He has done the right thing in doing so. It is a tiny minority of police in this country who cause problems. If that is the case in North Wales, and it has not been addressed by the correct complaints procedure, my hon. Friend has the right and should take it to the IPCC.

Question put and agreed to.

8.18 pm

House adjourned.