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House of Commons

Tuesday 9 December 2014

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

National Audit Office

The Vice-Chairman of the Household reported to the House, That the Address, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Lord Bichard KCB to the office of Chair of the National Audit Office, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.

Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority

The Vice-Chairman of the Household reported to the House, That the Address, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Professor Sir Ian Kennedy to the office of Chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority from the end of his current term until 1 June 2016, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Infrastructure Investment

1. Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): What steps he is taking to encourage investment in infrastructure in west Yorkshire. [906508]

12. Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): What fiscal steps he is taking to encourage investment in infrastructure. [906520]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): Mr Speaker, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is at an ECOFIN council meeting today.

The Government have made huge progress in delivering the infrastructure that the UK needs, establishing the first ever national infrastructure plan, which now shows that more than 2,500 projects have been completed since 2010. West Yorkshire continues to benefit as part of this plan, which includes the M62 smart motorway westward extension—the first new trans-Pennine road capacity since 1971. As part of the city deal, a combined west Yorkshire authority is taking forward a package of investments in transport worth up to £1.6 billion over 15 years.

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Jason McCartney: I very much look forward to the northern powerhouse coming over the Pennines to west Yorkshire. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the new bidders for the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express rail franchises will commit themselves to getting rid of the antiquated Pacer trains that plague commuters in my constituency on their daily commute?

Danny Alexander: My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, which is raised by Members of Parliament and constituents from across the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchise areas. I can confirm that in the autumn statement we set out some changes that we would make to those two franchises. The packages for the new franchises will include a substantial package of upgrades, including new services and modern trains in order to phase out the outdated Pacer trains, which have also been raised with us under the Deputy Prime Minister’s Northern Futures programme.

Mr Spencer: If north Nottinghamshire’s coalfields are to feel the success of HS2, connectivity will be key. Will the Chief Secretary assure the House that once we have pulled together a bid for the Robin Hood extension to the villages of Ollerton and Edwinstowe, capital will be made available?

Danny Alexander: I am well aware of the importance of this connection to my hon. Friend and to other Members of Parliament in the area. As he will be aware, the east midlands has already benefited from investment of approximately £70 million to improve line speeds on the midland main line up to 125 miles per hour. Further electrification is due to be extended to Nottingham by 2019. A decision on the Robin Hood line is a matter for the local authority, but we would certainly look on the idea favourably.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The importance of infrastructure is surely a sign of the importance of Government investment as a way of growing our economy. Does the Chief Secretary therefore agree that one further way that we could move forward on this is to build at least 200,000 new houses a year to help to build our economy?

Danny Alexander: I totally agree with the hon. Lady. It is incredibly important to improve the rate of house building. I would set the figure at closer to 300,000 houses a year across the UK, rather than the 200,000 that she mentioned. She will know that in the autumn statement we extended the affordable house building programme for a further two years in order to build 275,000 affordable homes in the next Parliament. We are taking forward the idea of Government commissioning of housing, which would be a radical departure for this country, at Northstowe, and looking at it as a solution for the whole country.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I warmly welcome the infrastructure announcement, but does my right hon. Friend agree that we also need further devolution to allow the much-needed rail link to Leeds Bradford airport and the electrification of the Leeds-Harrogate-York line? Will he meet me and other interested colleagues who represent the area to discuss how we can take this forward?

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Danny Alexander: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that devolution, city deals and the growth plans we have put in place for every local enterprise partnership area are an incredibly important part of delivering infrastructure. He refers to two projects that are very important in the city he represents and I would, of course, be delighted to meet him and any other interested colleagues to discuss them.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): One hears the pious words of the Chief Secretary regarding house building, but has he not presided over the lowest level of house building since the 1920s?

Danny Alexander: In case the hon. Gentleman does not remember, he was present in the last Parliament when his party was in government and caused the most severe economic crash that this country had experienced for very many decades. The housing market, of course, gets affected by the economic cycle, which is precisely why this Government have presided over the highest level of affordable house building in this country for 20 years. Under the hon. Gentleman’s party, the number of affordable houses in this country fell by 421,000; under this Government, it has risen by hundreds of thousands.

Economic Growth (The Humber)

2. Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to support economic growth in the Humber. [906509]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): The Government have taken many steps to rebalance the economy and strengthen every part of the United Kingdom. In the case of the Humber, the growth deal was announced in July, building on the success of the city deal, which was announced in 2013. We have also just announced £80 million for flood defences for the Humber estuary. I am pleased to see that our investment in that part of the country is working. Employment in Yorkshire and the Humber is now at the highest level on record at 2.51 million.

Andrew Percy: Key to economic development in east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire are, of course, our tidal flood defences, which are so important. Last week the Government announced that the Environment Agency would undertake a review of the package proposed by myself, other local MPs and local authorities. Will the Chief Secretary ensure that Treasury and, if possible, Cabinet officials will also be involved in that process? It needs to be Treasury-led, rather than EA-led, to give us the result we require.

Danny Alexander: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The proposal by the local enterprise partnership is incredibly important and it needs to be assessed in detail by experts at the EA. The National Audit Office recently commended the EA on the way in which it carries out such appraisals. None the less, given the significance of the issue and the fact that it was announced as part of the national infrastructure plan, I shall make sure that Treasury officials are also involved in the process.

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23. [906532] Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Although I welcome the announcements in the autumn statement and the northern powerhouse initiative, too often in northern Lincolnshire in the Humber region we feel somewhat remote from the northern powerhouse. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that further initiatives will link the north-western part of the northern powerhouse to the Yorkshire and the Humber region?

Danny Alexander: Under this Government, there have been a number of initiatives in the Humber area that have helped to grow the economy, not the least of which is the enormous effort that Ministers in several Departments made in attracting the Siemens investment to Hull, which is an incredibly important part both of creating jobs in that area and of delivering our ambitions for renewable energy.

Income Tax

3. Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): What recent estimate he has made of how much the reduction in the additional rate of income tax to 45% is worth for a person earning £1 million a year. [906510]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The cost of reducing the additional rate of income tax to 45% is estimated at about £100 million a year. That is set out in table 2.2 of Budget 2013. We have not broken down the impact by income ranges, because there is a significant behavioural response associated with the additional rate of income tax. That behavioural response is estimated in aggregate and reflected in the costing.

Mr McKenzie: Christmas is coming and it is a time for giving, but the truth is that this Government have been giving to millionaires for some time. The average tax cut to millionaires is worth £100,000 a year. Will the Financial Secretary confirm that that figure for the Government’s tax giveaway to millionaires is correct? How many of my constituents in Inverclyde have benefited from that reduction in tax?

Mr Gauke: What is a fact is that the proportion of income tax paid by the top 1% for the years since the 50p rate was cut has in every year been higher than in any of the years in which the 50p rate was in operation. It is this Government who have made changes to stamp duty land tax—that was just last week—and to capital gains tax, and who have dealt with reliefs and exemptions, to ensure that the wealthiest play a greater share than they have in the past.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Is it not the truth that people are able to change their behaviours to reduce their tax liabilities, and is it not the case that if the Government want to raise more from the wealthiest, it is necessary to lower the rate to a point where it encourages them to earn and to pay?

Mr Gauke: As I said a moment or so ago, in the two years since the 50p rate was reduced to 45p, a greater share has come from the top 1% than in the previous three years. There is a lesson to be learned there. It is

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probably the reason why the previous Labour Government had a 50p rate for only 35 days out of their 4,758 days in office.

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): Will the Minister rule out a further cut to the additional rate of income tax for the top 1% of earners? Will he rule out another tax cut for millionaires?

Mr Gauke: The priority of the next Conservative Government will be increasing the personal allowance to £12,500, and the rate at which higher-rate taxpayers pay the 40p rate to £50,000 a year. The truth is that our focus is on ensuring that we can lift people out of income tax, which is not a record of which the previous Government can boast.

Shabana Mahmood: I will take that as a no. The Minister has failed to rule out another tax cut for the richest 1% of earners in our country. As he signalled in his answer, the Prime Minister has made £7 billion-worth of unfunded tax promises for the next Parliament. We did not find out in the autumn statement where the money is coming from to pay for these promises, so unless the Minister can stand at the Dispatch and categorically rule out raising VAT again, will not people just conclude that the only way the Chancellor can pay for his unfunded tax promises is with another Tory VAT rise?

Mr Gauke: Our plans do not require us to raise taxes. [Interruption.] The shadow Chief Secretary, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), is heckling, but I have to say that when he was asked that question on television last week, he refused to rule out raising VAT. Our plans do not require taxes to rise, unlike—I have to say—those of the Labour party.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that a fair tax system should see everyone contributing to reduce the deficit, with those with the largest earnings making the largest contribution? Am I correct that the top 1% of taxpayers actually pay nearly 30% of all income tax receipts at present?

Mr Gauke: My right hon. Friend is correct in that assessment. That proportion is higher than occurred in any year under the previous Labour Government or, indeed, when the 50p rate was in place.

Mr Speaker: I call Pat Glass. Not here.

Corporation Tax

5. Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): What estimate he has made of corporation tax receipts in each year since 2010; and if he will make a statement. [906512]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs publishes annual corporation tax statistics every August. They show that revenues from corporation tax, excluding the ring-fenced oil and gas regime, were £35 billion in 2010-11, £33 billion in 2011-12, £35 billion in 2012-13 and £36 billion in 2013-14. The Government have delivered

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major cuts to corporation tax, but increased growth and investment in the UK mean that revenues from the main regime were higher last year than in 2010.

Charlie Elphicke: Is my hon. Friend aware that non-oil corporation tax receipts have risen 16% over the course of this Parliament so far, compared with a rise of just 8% over the entirety of the previous 13 years? Does that not show that if you cut the rate, you up the take? [Interruption.] How will the diverted profits tax work?

Mr Speaker: Order. The question was simply too long. The hon. Gentleman should have cut it off when he was winning, instead of going on for too long, which is what he then continued to do.

Mr Gauke: It is right that we have reduced the corporation tax rate. Next year, it will give us the lowest rate in the G20. That is resulting in greater investment in the UK. It would certainly be a mistake to reverse that policy, as the Labour party intends. In terms of the diverted profits tax, I would point out that it will help to deal with aggressive tax avoidance. We will publish the draft legislation on that tomorrow, setting out the full details of how it will operate.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The House knows that I am an avid listener of the “Today” programme. Did the Minister hear the interview this morning, which showed how ineffective it is to have this great gap between the rich and the poor in our country? The tax system is increasing that gap, not helping it. What is he going to do about it, because it makes our economy less efficient?

Mr Gauke: As it happens, the distributional analysis shows that our policies have narrowed the gap. The point is that we have made changes to our tax system to ensure a greater contribution from the wealthiest in terms of stamp duty land tax and capital gains tax. We have reduced some of the reliefs and exemptions that meant some high earners did not pay taxes. I am afraid that the idea that a 50p rate was effective in achieving such objectives—including raising revenue—is simply wrong.

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Further to the Minister’s answer on the diverted profits tax, will he confirm whether it will cover businesses that run substantial operations in the UK, but that invoice from Ireland or Luxembourg to avoid tax?

Mr Gauke: We are confident that the measure will be effective in targeting multinationals that use aggressive tax planning and contrived structures to avoid UK tax. The diverted profits tax will be charged at 25% and will raise more than £1 billion over the scorecard period.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): The current corporation tax rate is the lowest in the G7 and there are good reasons why that is the case. However, on small business Saturday last weekend, many of us were reminded of the heavy burden of business rates. Would it not be better, instead of reducing the corporation tax rate further, to use the same money to reduce business rates?

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Mr Gauke: I remind the right hon. Gentleman, who performed the role of Financial Secretary with great distinction, that in his time in office there were no measures to reduce business rates in the way that we have done in the last two autumn statements by putting in place a cap of 2%, bringing in a rebate for retailers and extending small business rate relief. This Government have an excellent record on business rates—a message that I am sure many hon. Members heard on small business Saturday at the weekend.

Uncollected Tax

6. Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): What estimate HM Revenue and Customs has made of the amount of uncollected tax in the UK. [906513]

14. Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): What estimate HM Revenue and Customs has made of the amount of uncollected tax in the UK. [906522]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): HMRC published its latest tax gap estimates on 16 October 2014. The tax gap in 2012-13 was estimated to be £34 billion, which was 6.8% of the total tax due.

Jim McGovern: Last week in the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced plans to address tax avoidance. If he and the Treasury are serious about that, why did they vote down an amendment that said that the quoted eurobond—I am sorry, but I cannot quite remember the words. They did not support that amendment, costing this country £500 million per year.

Mr Gauke: The reason we have not pursued that policy is that, having looked at it carefully, we do not believe that it would raise anything like the revenue that has been suggested, nor that it would do anything for the UK’s competitiveness. The Government have consistently taken action on tax avoidance, tax evasion and aggressive tax planning. I would happily list the measures, Mr Speaker, but I suspect that you would not allow me the time to do so. By 2015-16, we believe that those measures will be bringing in £7.6 billion a year.

Sarah Champion: I thank the Minister for his answers to Question 5 and to these questions. Will he explain why I am fighting against funding cuts for families in crisis in Rotherham because the council does not have enough Government funding to support them, while some big companies are getting away with not paying a penny in corporation tax?

Mr Gauke: Very difficult decisions have had to be made to deal with the deficit that we inherited. On the contribution from larger companies, as we have heard, the tax take from large companies through corporation tax has continued to rise and we have continued to take measures to deal with tax avoidance. As I have said, just last week, we announced that we would operate the diverted profits tax, the details of which will be set out tomorrow. That is an example of where the Government are taking tough, practical action to ensure that everybody pays what is required under the law.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm that, as a result of the investment and effort that have been put into tackling tax avoidance

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and evasion since the general election, a record number of people are being prosecuted, with 2,600 people having been prosecuted in this Parliament alone?

Mr Gauke: Yes, my hon. Friend is correct—we have substantially increased the number of prosecutions in that area. The yield brought in by HMRC as a consequence of its enforcement action has also increased substantially, and in the autumn statement it was announced that that yield is anticipated to be £26 billion in 2014-15—around £9 billion more than when we came to office.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister has made much of what the Government are doing on tax avoidance, but will he tell the House by how much tax receipts were revised down in the autumn statement?

Mr Gauke: It is the case that tax receipts were revised down, but so was expenditure on debt interest payments. This country continues to face the major challenge of living within our means, and it is important to have a Government who stick to the long-term economic plan that delivers that.

Cathy Jamieson: The Minister gave a very partial answer because he did not mention the fact that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that tax receipts have been revised down by £25 billion by 2018-19. Is one key reason for that the fact that wage growth has been revised down again, and that the Government’s failure to raise living standards for working people is why they have also failed to meet their promise to balance the books by next year?

Mr Gauke: The answer to increasing wage growth is not just to observe that it would be nice if wages went up but to have no policies to do that. If we want wage growth, we need investment in the UK, which we are getting. We want more people in jobs, and a record number of people are in jobs. We want to improve our training and education system, and record numbers of people are taking up apprenticeships. We want to improve our transport infrastructure, and the Government have committed to the biggest road building programme since the 1970s. If we want wage growth, we must stick to the long-term economic plan.

Employment Statistics

7. Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the level of employment. [906515]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): I am pleased to tell the House that employment is at its highest-ever level in this country with 30.8 million people in work. Since the coalition came to power, employment has increased by more than 1.7 million, meaning that on average an extra person has become employed every 80 seconds since the Government were formed in 2010. Last week the Office for Budget Responsibility published its latest forecast, estimating that an extra million people will be in work by 2019.

Jackie Doyle-Price: The Government can be proud of creating on average 1,000 jobs a day. That is not just a number; it is more people with the security of a job and a regular pay packet. Will my right hon. Friend reassure

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my constituents in Thurrock that we will stick to the policies that are creating record numbers of people in work?

Danny Alexander: My hon. Friend is right. It is incredibly important that we create jobs in this country as that is providing opportunities and incomes for people who did not have one previously. The Government should be proud of that. Today the 2 millionth apprentice has been recruited under this Government, and the young lady, Paige McConville of Oxford, will meet the Business Secretary to highlight that achievement.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Many people in my constituency who are in work are trapped in low-paid minimum wage jobs. Often they are not able to add to the hours that they work in order to earn more, and they rely on the state for prop-ups with housing benefit and tax credits. When will the Chief Secretary to the Treasury understand the cost of living crisis in the country, and what will the Government do about it?

Danny Alexander: I recognise that some people find themselves in the situation the hon. Lady describes, and that is precisely why we need a growing economy that creates more jobs, as it does in her constituency. The economy is creating more employment opportunities and allowing people to progress in work. The most recent figures showed that people who have been in full-time work for more than a year—85% of the jobs created in the past year are full time—have seen their wages increase by 4%.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): The UK has seen more net employment growth in the past four years than the rest of the EU put together. Has the Chief Secretary also noted that, according to the same figures, more of our young people are in work than in Germany, Ireland and France, and the position is far better than in Greece, where only one in four young people are in work? Does that not show that we need to stay the course and help more of our young people into work?

Danny Alexander: My hon. Friend is right. It is a fact that the United Kingdom has created more jobs than all the other countries in the European Union put together. That shows the success we have had in delivering economic growth by working through the balanced careful plan that we put in place at the start of this Parliament. She could also have mentioned the fact that female employment, at 73%, is at its highest-ever level.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): A couple with two children who are both working—the woman in part-time work on £10,000 and the man on £25,000—will have lost £9,417 in withdrawn tax credits in the autumn statement. The Chief Secretary talks about putting up the threshold, but he gets much more back from the poorest. When will he pursue a progressive policy that makes work pay for the poorest?

Danny Alexander: I beg to differ with the hon. Gentleman. The policy of increasing the income tax threshold to £10,600, which was put on the table by my party the Liberal Democrats back in 2010, is putting £825 back into the pockets of 26 million working people

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on low and middle incomes. Improving work incentives and earnings for people in work is something he should celebrate and everyone in the House should welcome.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Is the Chief Secretary aware that in the north-east of England we have the fastest rate of growth in private sector businesses in the autumn quarter and the most tech start-ups outside of London? Does that not show that the long-term economic plan is beginning to work?

Danny Alexander: Actually, I was not aware of either of those facts, but they do not surprise me because of the entrepreneurial spirit and the brilliant businesses we have in the north-east of England. I believe it is the only region of this country that is a net exporter to the rest of the world. Through the measures we are putting in place, including the investment in infrastructure, we need to continue to support that part of the country.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Does the Chief Secretary agree that we need to redouble our efforts to reduce the unemployment level for young people from 730,000, and that some 1 million young people are still not in training or education? Does he think that his Government could do much more to get them back to work?

Danny Alexander: I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to do more to reduce the level of unemployment among our young people, but I point out to her, and it would have been fair for her to point it out, that we have seen a very sharp fall in the level of youth unemployment and a very sharp increase in the level of employment of young people in the past 12 months. That suggests to me that the policy mix the coalition has put in place is precisely the right one to achieve those objectives.

High Street Retailers (Tax Levels)

8. Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): When he next plans to meet representatives of high street retailers to discuss levels of tax; and if he will make a statement. [906516]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): I met small business representatives in Inverness on Saturday as part of small business Saturday. In response to concerns expressed by small businesses, the Government have taken decisive action that has reduced employment and property taxes paid by high street retailers. As of April this year, businesses can claim a deduction of up to £2,000 in their national insurance contributions, and next year 300,000 shops, pubs and cafes will receive a business rates discount of up to £1,500.

Mr Bellingham: The Minister is probably not aware—there is no reason why he should be—that I have recently been visiting shops in the high streets of both King’s Lynn and Hunstanton. Is he aware that they are delighted—absolutely thrilled—with the business rate discount that is now being raised to £1,500? Can he give me an estimate of how many shops in my constituency will benefit from that?

Danny Alexander: I was not aware of my hon. Friend’s shopping habits, but I am very glad to hear that he has been spending time with small businesses in his

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constituency.I can tell him that in the King’s Lynn and west Norfolk area there are 1,280 small businesses that will benefit from the £1,500 discount. That is something worth celebrating in his constituency, as it is across the country.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Does the Chief Secretary agree that a further rise in VAT would be a hammer blow to small businesses in Wrexham and across the country? Does he also know that a Labour Government have never increased VAT?

Danny Alexander: I am not sure that last fact is absolutely correct. The level of VAT we have at the moment I think is the right one for the country and I certainly would not advocate any further increases. The right measures for small businesses are the reductions in business rates that we have put in place, which I would hope the hon. Gentleman would welcome. The fundamental review of business rates that we are now undertaking is an opportunity for every Member of this House, and small business across the country, to make the argument on how they want this outdated and outmoded system to be reformed.

Tax Avoidance

9. Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): What recent steps he has taken to reduce tax avoidance. [906517]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): We set out the next set of steps in our plan to tackle tax avoidance in the autumn statement last week. We are introducing a new diverted profits tax from 1 April 2015 using a 25% rate to counter the use of aggressive tax planning techniques used by multinational enterprises to divert profits from the UK. We are also strengthening the disclosure of tax avoidance schemes—DOTAS—regime, coupled with a further suite of measures that build on the work we have already done to tackle marketed tax avoidance such as accelerated payments of disputed tax in avoidance cases.

Stephen McPartland: My constituents work hard and pay their taxes and rightly expect other people and businesses to do the same. Does the Minister agree that the autumn statement last week showed that it is Government Members who are serious about delivering fairer taxes for all?

Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend is entirely right. As a Government, we believe in competitive taxes but we also believe in a system in which people and businesses pay those taxes.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): If the Government are serious on tax avoidance, why has the much-heralded Swiss tax deal brought in only a third of the projected income?

Mr Gauke: That particular measure has not brought in as much as was forecast, but I can point to others that have brought in more than was forecast. One example is disguised remuneration, which the Office for Budget Responsibility highlighted last week and has brought in more than was anticipated. We anticipated that it would

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bring in £750 million a year; it will bring in more than that. By the way, that measure was opposed by the Labour party.

Housing Market

10. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the housing market on the economy. [906518]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrea Leadsom): The Government are committed to making the aspiration of home ownership a reality for as many households as possible. The Government’s Help to Buy scheme and last week’s stamp duty reforms will continue to support housing market activity and new housing supply is already responding with housing starts growing by 16% in the year to 2014 in quarter three.

Mark Lazarowicz: The recent measures are no doubt welcome, but would the Minister care to confirm that annual house completions have been lower in every year under her Government than in every year of the last Labour Government?

Andrea Leadsom: The point is that we believe in the aspiration to buy your own home. We have seen house prices recover but they are still in real terms lower than they were at the peak under the last Government. This Government have delivered housing starts at their highest since 2007 and our Help to Buy scheme, which has helped 77,000 people to get on to the property ladder, is a very important measure.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I am pleased that the Government’s stamp duty reforms are already helping more first-time buyers in Macclesfield. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the effect the stamp duty reform plus the Help to Buy scheme will have on helping more people to get established on the housing ladder?

Andrea Leadsom: My hon. Friend is quite right. Our stamp duty changes have meant that 98% of the people who pay stamp duty will receive a cut, which will enable more people to get on to the housing ladder. Our Help to Buy scheme will also encourage more aspirational young people to buy their first home.

Tax Credits

11. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): What proportion of recipients of tax credits are in employment. [906519]

13. Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): How many employed people are in receipt of tax credits. [906521]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Priti Patel): Tax credits provide financial support to low-income households. In April 2014 there were 3.3 million families in work receiving tax credits. That had fallen from 4.8 million in April 2010. In total there are 4.7 million families receiving tax credits, 71% of whom are in work.

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Mr Speaker: Formally the group of questions falls if the Member with the lead is absent but I dare say we can improvise.

Chris Ruane: Thousands of hard-working families in my constituency have been bit by tax credit cuts, a £300 increase in their energy bills, the bedroom tax and the increase in VAT. This Government offer tax cuts to millionaires and porridge and food banks to low-paid workers. When will the Government allow British workers to share in the wealth of this country?

Priti Patel: It is fair to say that this Government ensure that people are better off in work, in stark contrast to the failed dependency policies of the Labour party. We are the party in government that has taken action to support people on low incomes by increasing the personal allowance, taking 3.2 million people on low incomes out of tax altogether and increasing the national minimum wage. We should all remember which party was responsible for the cost of living crisis; it was Labour’s great recession. We are the Government who have frozen fuel duty and council tax and it is our policies that are now leading to growth in the economy.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The latest figures show that the number of individuals classed as being in in-work poverty has fallen by 300,000 since this Government came to office, at the same time as an extra 2 million people are in work. What Government measures does my hon. Friend think have contributed to this rise in people’s income?

Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is fair to say that this Government are not returning to the failed policies of the past as seen under the Labour party. The key measure explaining why we have had so much growth in our economy is our focus on our long-term economic plan, which is securing a better future for our economy, for the country and, of course, for hard-working taxpayers.

Yasmin Qureshi rose—

Mr Speaker: The hon. Lady’s opportunity is now. Her moment has arrived; her voice should be heard.

Yasmin Qureshi: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister confirm that 10 million households will be affected by the two-year freeze on tax credits and benefits and that the average household will be £974 worse off? This will hit working people the most, and women in particular, so will the Government reconsider their position?

Priti Patel: I come back to my earlier point about employment increasing and more women being in work than ever before. When it comes to tax credits, universal credit will go on to replace the current complex and broken system of means-tested benefits—introduced by the Labour party, by the way—and we are the party that has supported people to get into work and reduce dependency rather than confining them to dependency and welfare.

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Pensioners and Savers

15. Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): What steps he has taken to support people with savings and pensioners. [906523]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrea Leadsom): This Government are determined to support savers and pensioners—unlike the last Government who gave them miserly increases in state pensions. Since 2010, we have delivered the biggest-ever increase in the individual savings account allowance and for pensioners the triple lock means that they will receive about £560 more in 2015-16 than under the last Government’s policy. We have also given pensioners the freedom to choose how and when to access their own pension.

Henry Smith: My hon. Friend is right that the previous Administration caused the great recession, which has meant that savers in Crawley have suffered considerably. Last week’s autumn statement proved that this Government stand up for the aspiration of passing on savings to our children.

Andrea Leadsom: My hon. Friend is quite right. He will be as delighted as we are that we are now allowing people to pass on their unused ISAs to their spouse or civil partner free of tax, and their defined contribution pension schemes are also to be free of tax to their successors. This was a great move, allowing people to decide what they do with the money they have saved during their lifetimes.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): Most pensioners in my constituency do not have enough savings to put money in an ISA, but can the Minister confirm that owing to recent measures announced by the Government, those who receive the savings element of pension credit will, because of its interaction with pensions, receive only an 87p rise?

Andrea Leadsom: The hon. Lady should welcome the fact that this Government introduced the triple lock for pensioners to ensure that, instead of under the last Government when they received only the increase in average earnings, pensioners under this Government will receive an element for inflation, average earnings or 2%, whichever is the higher.

Government Borrowing

16. Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the introduction of new fiscal rules to limit government borrowing. [906524]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrea Leadsom): The Government will shortly publish the revised charter for budget responsibility, which will set out new fiscal rules in detail. As the Chancellor said last week, there is more to do, but our long-term economic plan is working. The deficit is forecast to fall this year, down from what the Office for Budget Responsibility described as the post-war record deficit of 10.2% of gross domestic product in 2009-10 to 5% this year—cutting it in half.

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Mr Ruffley: I thank the Minister for that reply. I commend the autumn statement, in particular chart 1.9 therein, which makes it clear that any Government who wish to reduce debts as a share of GDP to under 40% in the next 20 years will not merely have to balance the budget, but to run a surplus of 1% of GDP on the budget. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that it is essential that new fiscal rules are created and voted on frequently to achieve this massively important debt reduction?

Andrea Leadsom: My hon. Friend is right. The Opposition talk about balancing the books, but in fact what they are talking about is borrowing more once their current budget is in surplus, and that is a complete fabrication, because what the Opposition need to recognise is that the only way to return this country to prosperity is not just to deal with the massive debt left by Labour but also to get our economy back into long-term growth and long-term surpluses. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. It is very disorderly for Members to yell at the Minister from a sedentary position, and I remind you, Mr Lucas, that you have still got to complete your apprenticeship to become a statesman. I keep updating the House on progress, but there is still a little distance to travel.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Many people in work are relying on benefits just to survive, and they are not paying tax, all of which contributes to the reason why the deficit has gone up more than the Minister, and her Government when they came in, promised. Today’s OECD report says countries that promote equality will grow and prosper. Will she accept that her Government have got it disastrously wrong for so many people and adopt the policies suggested by the OECD, including a higher rate of top tax?

Andrea Leadsom: I find it absolutely extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman can talk about the under- achievement of this Government. It is not by chance that our economy is the fastest growing in the G7; it is not by chance that there are 2 million more people in work in the private sector; and it is not by chance that there are now 2 million apprentices, as of today. It is extraordinary that the Opposition do not see that it is all about economic recovery, not interfering and borrowing more.

Mr Speaker: As usual we are pressed for time, but I cannot allow excessively long early questions and answers to deny Members who have been waiting patiently, so we will now hear, I hope, from Mr Philip Hollobone.

Personal Tax Allowance

17. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What the basic rate personal tax allowance was in May 2010; what that rate would have been in May 2015 if indexed to inflation; and what that rate will be in May 2015. [906525]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The tax-free personal allowance was £6,475 in May 2010. It would have risen to just £7,485 by May 2015 through inflation, but the Government announced

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at autumn statement 2014 that the personal allowance would be increased to £10,600 from April 2015, and this is being legislated for in the Finance Bill 2015.

Mr Hollobone: By next May how many people does my hon. Friend estimate will have been taken out of paying income tax altogether in (a) Kettering, (b) Northamptonshire, and (c) the country as a whole?

Mr Gauke: By April this year the Government’s measures, including increases in the personal allowance for those born after 5 April 1948, are estimated to have taken about 3.4 million individuals out of the income tax system altogether. Some 248,000 of these individuals live in the east midlands region, which of course includes the constituency of Kettering in Northamptonshire.

Topical Questions

T1. [906533] Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): The core purpose of the Treasury is to ensure economic stability, promote growth and employment, reform the banking system and restore sanity to the public finances.

Fiona O'Donnell: On Wednesday I asked the Chancellor about public registers of beneficial ownership in the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. He replied that

“they are all consulting, right now, on the creation of these registries.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 328.]

The fact is that two are not consulting and the others have all finished their consultations, although none has published its submissions or its policies. Will the Chief Secretary now set the record straight?

Danny Alexander: I will set the record straight. The record shows that under the previous Labour Government the Crown dependencies and these bodies did not make any progress on registers of beneficial ownership. Progress is being substantially made now because of the lead this Government showed at the G8. By the way, these same places have also now agreed to the automatic exchange of tax information, to make sure that for the first time—this is something the Government of the hon. Lady’s party never did—we can get tax from people who are trying to hide it in these jurisdictions.

T2. [906534] Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): My constituents in Peterborough who work at Thomas Cook and many families with young children will have been delighted by the announcement on children’s air passenger duty in last week’s autumn statement. Will the Exchequer Secretary give an undertaking that she will continue to monitor the impact of air passenger duty on tourism and the family budget and not rule out further cuts in the near future?

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Priti Patel): I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The reductions in air passenger duty announced last week are to be welcomed not just by his constituents and by Thomas Cook but by hard-working families across the country. As with all other taxes, air passenger duty will be kept

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under review, taking into account our commitment to creating sustainable public finances alongside helping households and, of course, the tourism industry.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Chief Secretary confirm that table 2.3 on page 67 of the autumn statement shows that total managed expenditure will fall to 35% of GDP by 2020? According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, that is a level not seen since the late 1930s. Does he stand by the autumn statement or not?

Danny Alexander: The way in which the autumn statement is constructed is that the OBR is given an assumption about the path of the public finances over the course of the whole of the next Parliament. As I explained yesterday to readers of The Daily Telegraph—perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not count himself as one of them—a neutral assumption is built into the public finances post 2017-18 which assumes that spending will stay flat in real terms. That enables the OBR to construct its forecast. In my view, when we have finished dealing with the structural deficit post 2017-18, public expenditure will be able to grow faster than that.

Chris Leslie: It does not sound as though the right hon. Gentleman stands by the autumn statement much, Mr Speaker. On Wednesday, the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility wrote to the Business Secretary confirming that the autumn statement and all the policy assumptions leading to this figure of 35% were

“signed off by the ‘quad’”.

Is the Chief Secretary still a member of the “quad”, and is that actually true? Why is he now pretending to distance himself from his consistent record of Tory collaboration when he has been as thick as thieves with them in vote after vote, year after year, time and time again?

Danny Alexander: I guess it is a tough job being shadow Chief Secretary: he has to deal with the shadow Chancellor. I saw a quote from the previous Chancellor just this weekend, in Alan Cochrane’s diaries. It said, “I don’t think Miliband gets much of a look-in on the economy now. He’s a difficult man, is Balls.” I guess that is what they mean by a zero-zero economy: one Ed has zero influence; the other has zero credibility. Let me say this to the Labour party and to the Conservative party: both of them, in different ways, are advocating relentless austerity for the whole of the next Parliament, and it is only the Liberal Democrats turning around the public finances after 2017-18 who offer any hope of a change in the future.

T3. [906535] John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Public Health England at Porton Down in my constituency is at the centre of the global life sciences industry and works with 250 partnerships across the globe. The outline business case is currently before a number of Government Departments. Will the Minister assure me that the fullest range of options will be considered, including a proposal to set up a UK centre for a global response to infectious diseases, which I believe would reduce the call on the British taxpayer?

Danny Alexander: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is an important and, I understand, sensitive decision, which Public Health England is considering in

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all its aspects. The outline business case is currently with Treasury officials for scrutiny. I know that this work is incredibly important, not least given the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa, but it would be inappropriate for me to give any further details on the business case until the review has been completed.

T4. [906536] Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): I am sure that those on the Government Front Bench will be aware of just how important the video games industry is to Dundee and to my constituency. The Chancellor said last week that he would support exports. Businesses in the video games industry are often started by university graduates with little or no financial support, yet they end up employing people. What will the autumn statement mean for the video games businesses in Dundee?

Danny Alexander: I absolutely recognise the importance of the video games industry to Dundee and other parts of the country, and indeed to many hon. Members. I do not know whether Candy Crush was developed in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but it is clearly very popular in the House. The package of measures in the autumn statement to support exporters will benefit the video games industry, as will the improvements to tax relief for research and development, which will particularly benefit small and medium-sized enterprises. If he has further ideas for measures that might benefit that industry in his area, I would be glad to hear them.

Mr Speaker: I know that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury will not want to talk out opportunities for his own hon. and right hon. Friends. I call Mr Roger Williams.

T6. [906538] Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): On small business Saturday I visited retail businesses in Brecon, Llanwrtydwells and Talgarth. They told me how pleased they were with the employment allowance, which gave them a reduction of up to £2,000 in their employer national insurance contributions. More than 1,000 businesses benefit from that in my constituency, but up to 500 that are eligible have not applied. What can we do to encourage them to take up this important measure?

Danny Alexander: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to highlight the importance of these changes. As a local Member of Parliament, he has a particularly important role to play in promoting them, as he has done for the businesses already taking them up. I encourage him to continue to do that and to talk to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about whether there is more we can do to get that message across.

T5. [906537] Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Last week, the Chancellor said:

“What I reject is the totally hyperbolic BBC coverage on spending cuts. I had all that…four years ago and has the world fallen in? No”.

At my surgeries, I meet mothers dependent on food banks to feed their families, fathers desperate at lost Sure Start services, and disabled pensioners choosing

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between heating and eating. They tell me that their world has fallen in. Does the Chief Secretary agree with the Chancellor that they are being “hyperbolic”?

Danny Alexander: I am sure the hon. Lady explained to those constituents that the severe economic problems this country is experiencing and recovering from were caused on her party’s watch when it was in office. Although I share the view that these are difficult issues, I hope she would also highlight the fact that her constituency has seen 5,200 jobs created in the past 12 months.

Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): The confidence to create a new business is a true barometer of the progress this Government are making on the long-term economic plan. Will the Chief Secretary join me in welcoming the 1,000 new businesses that have been created in my constituency in the past 12 months? What is he doing to encourage more people to find their entrepreneurial spirit?

Danny Alexander: The right hon. Lady is right about that, and I join her in congratulating all 1,000 of those businesses in her constituency and millions more nationwide. We are talking about people who have set up their own businesses and are working hard to create wealth, jobs and growth for this country. That is why a range of the tax and regulatory changes we have put in place have been designed precisely to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.

T7. [906540] Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): A few weeks ago, the Chancellor rushed off to Europe to try to get the cap on bankers’ pay lifted. Will he do the same for public sector workers, and, in particular, nurses?

Danny Alexander: I am not sure that that is a matter for discussion at a European Union level.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Rebalancing the economy has been crucial in delivering the coalition Government’s economic plan. Delivering skills for the future is vital. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the funding of professional careers advice must be part of the plan, to ensure that the growth in manufacturing is secured for the future?

Danny Alexander: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend on that. He has done more than most Members of this House to promote apprenticeships, the creation of skills and the manufacturing industry, and I pay tribute to him for his work. I ask him to look at what we have said about this in the autumn statement, which contains particular measures to promote the provision of better careers advice in schools.

T8. [906541] Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): This week, growth forecasts for the eurozone economies have again been downgraded, but the European Central Bank is refusing to adopt counteracting measures of quantitative easing. What plans do the Government have for protecting Britain’s economy in the event of a full-blown euro crisis?

Danny Alexander: The best protection for the UK is to stick to the economic plan that is creating jobs and growth up and down this country. That is what the

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coalition has done and will continue to do. The OBR’s forecast, published last week, showed that it expects the UK, despite the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman refers, to continue to have economic momentum over the next few years.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Rural communities are clearly not part of the city regions and possibly will not form part of the northern powerhouse. What assurances can the Chief Secretary give us that rural communities will benefit from the increased prosperity from the long-term economic plan?

Danny Alexander: My hon. Friend makes an important point, although I would say to her that rural communities are part of local enterprise partnership areas that benefit from the growth deals announced last year. The city deals and the devolution process we are engaged in benefit all parts of the UK. I highlight to her the investment this Government are making in transport and in broadband as particularly important in driving growth in rural communities.

T9. [906542] Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that individual unsecured debt will rise over the next five years by a staggering £360 billion, which is a record 55% of total household income. More people will be thrust into poverty and forced to go to food banks, and that will not be because more of them know about them or that poor people cannot cook. Does the Chief Secretary agree with the Chancellor that the best way to reduce his borrowing is to increase everyone else’s debts?

Danny Alexander: That same economic forecast suggests that an extra 1 million people will be in work from the record levels that we have at the moment; that there will be a consistent rise in real incomes over the next five years; and that the United Kingdom has the strongest economic growth of any developed country in the world and the strongest job creation. Those are the facts about the United Kingdom and the hon. Lady should welcome them.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): May I put it on the record that I support the Government’s drive to create a northern powerhouse? What assurances can the Chief Secretary give me that constituencies such as my own in Fylde will benefit from such a move?

Danny Alexander: I can honestly say to my hon. Friend that his constituency will benefit. It has already benefited from the growth deals, and it is benefiting from investment in energy infrastructure, which is a particular interest there. It is also benefiting from the transport investment, and as we take forward this agenda to improve the economy in the north of England, we will ensure that every part of the north of England, including his constituency, benefits from that process.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Was the Chief Secretary as alarmed as I was by this morning’s comments by the Northern Ireland Attorney-General that the Royal Bank of Scotland has been involved in “criminal fraud” with regard to its banking treatment of those who fell behind in their mortgages? If that is the case,

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will he make a statement to the House, telling us how he intends to deal with the matter so that we can bring back certainty to customers?

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrea Leadsom): This Government take very seriously any accusations of wrongdoing by the banks. We will be looking at this case. As the hon. Gentleman knows, those comments have been strongly denied by RBS, and we will certainly be taking advice on the matter and looking into it carefully and taking appropriate action.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott) would have been called earlier, but she was not here. She is now, and she can have a go if she prefers asking a question to talking to a Government Whip, albeit a distinguished Government Whip.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central) (LD): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and my apologies. I wanted to ask about tax avoidance. At a time of falling incomes when many people are finding it difficult to make ends meet, does the Minister agree that those on high incomes should avoid using expensive lawyers—if they can afford to use them—to assist with tax avoidance? Does he share my hope that tax avoidance, like drink-driving, will become a moral taboo?

Danny Alexander: I agree with my hon. Friend. This Government have taken consistent action to tackle tax avoidance and to reduce tax evasion, raising billions of pounds to help avoid some of the pressures to which she refers. Dodging taxes is as morally reprehensible as claiming the wrong benefits or doing what she described. Those are all things that we, as a society, want to see stopped, and the Government are taking action to see that they are.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): On infrastructure spending, the Government’s claims earlier this year that flood defence spending had increased were rubbished

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not by insignificant people but by Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, the Channel 4 “FactCheck” programme and many others. On that basis, what confidence can we have that spending on flood defence will increase, when it went down £200 million in the first four years of this Government?

Danny Alexander: This Government’s investment in flood-risk management has increased in real terms by 5% compared with spending in the previous five years. We will be spending more than £5.2 billion over the course of this Parliament on flood and erosion risk management compared with £2.7 billion in the previous five years. That is a record of which I am proud.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry but demand always exceeds supply. Last but not least, Stuart Andrew.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): As my right hon. Friend heard earlier, there is currently a connectivity study on Leeds Bradford International airport. As someone who has been campaigning for that rail link, because the road network is always so congested, may I urge him to look at that study in great detail, as it will help us to contribute to that great economic powerhouse in the north?

Danny Alexander: The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of the study. We noted it in the national infrastructure plan as something that has produced some new arguments about that link. Clearly, the case must be developed locally, given the more devolved framework in which we are now operating. If he wants to join my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) in the meeting that my hon. Friend suggested, I would be delighted to talk to him about how we can take this important project forward.

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Points of Order

12.34 pm

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are very concerned about good behaviour in this Chamber, but I think you share my view of the importance of good behaviour in Select Committees, too. Is it not time that we had some sort of rules on the use of electronic gizmos in Select Committees? Otherwise, the House of Commons will fall into disrepute if, during an important Work and Pensions Committee hearing, a Member of Parliament is seen to be playing electronic games. Could we make it clear that the use of electronic devices at certain times, both here and in Select Committees, is not appropriate?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, the answer to which is as follows. There are rules on these matters. I think it is fair to say that it is quite within the competence, in the literal sense of that term, of the Chair of the Committee to take charge of the matter and to rule accordingly. Therefore the expression of legitimate interest by a Member of 35 years’ standing in the House is greatly appreciated, but I imagine that although the Chair of the Committee will be encouraged to enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s support, he or she is probably able to handle the matter without further assistance—but the point is on the record, and I thank him.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you assist me in obtaining from the Department for Work and Pensions information which I have been trying to obtain for over a year? In a written answer in March last year, the then Employment Minister told me that the amount of jobseeker’s allowance withheld in fixed sanctions had gone up more than tenfold between the election and October 2012. In October 2012, a new, harsher, sanctions regime was introduced, and I have been trying to obtain an updated answer to my question ever since. I have been given various reasons why the question cannot be answered, none of which I think is convincing. Can you give me advice or assistance in obtaining the information I seek?

Mr Speaker: I fear that the right hon. Gentleman, in his point of order, may be investing me with powers and wisdom that, sadly, the Chair does not possess. I do not think he will object to my communicating to the Chamber the fact that he has sent me a substantial academic essay on the matter, which I had the opportunity this morning to digest. The nub of the matter is that the right hon. Gentleman received what he regarded as a more expansive and informative answer to a previous question; he is now displeased that, on tabling a similar question and

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seeking that greater elaboration, it is being denied to him. Sadly, it is not within the power of the Chair to prescribe the level of expansiveness of ministerial replies.

I can say only two things: first, Ministers should attend to the terms of the question and seek to inform, rather than to avoid informing; and secondly, the right hon. Gentleman is both a doughty fighter and a cerebral character, so he will know that there are many ways of achieving one’s objective. If seeking the information through written answers does not avail him, he can always seek an Adjournment debate on the matter, and the ballot being operated in the Speaker’s Office might yield fruit for the right hon. Gentleman. We will leave it there for now.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you are an avid listener to everything that happens in this place, and you will, like me, have noticed that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has admitted that he only believes in collective responsibility a little bit, and it is pretty evident that it might not last until May. Would you, Mr Speaker, find the appropriate words to describe what is happening to the Government? Do you, like me, think that the Lib Dems are preparing to leave the Government before May and the general election, or do you think they are going to hang on? Do you, the Speaker, have any responsibility for people who do not really believe in Government, but do so only a little bit? Can the Speaker comment? You have access to all those wonderful words, so I give you a chance.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. In the run-up to elections there tends to be a degree of spontaneous creativity on the part of individual members of different parties. My first point to the hon. Gentleman is that there is a coalition Government; it is somewhat different from previous animals. My second point is that the hon. Gentleman ought to know me well enough to know that my ambitions do not stretch to a detailed interpretation of ministerial nuance. My preoccupation is with Arsenal playing Galatasaray tonight. The third point I would make to the hon. Gentleman on the strength of my respect for his 44 years’ uninterrupted service in the House is that on Sunday afternoon I hugely enjoyed finishing reading his autobiography, and shortly my copy will wing its way to the hon. Gentleman in the hope that he might be gracious enough to sign it for me.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In my question to the Treasury I may have inadvertently named the Royal Bank of Scotland instead of the Bank of Scotland, and I would like to set the record straight.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has achieved his objective, and we are grateful to him.

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Funeral Services

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

12.40 pm

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to undertake a review of funeral affordability and costs; to require the providers of funeral services to offer a simple funeral service; to require the Secretary of State to make certain arrangements relating to funeral payments; and for connected purposes.

Losing a loved one can be one of the most devastating experiences we face. Everyone who loses someone close to them wants to give them a decent send-off, but sadly fewer and fewer people are now able to afford even a basic funeral. We do not hear a lot about this problem: because of its deeply personal nature, funeral poverty remains taboo. Today I am proposing measures to end that taboo and to ensure that no one has to endure the agony of worrying about funeral costs at the same time as grieving.

A report released this month by Royal London shows that of the 500,000 families who are bereaved each year, one fifth struggle to afford the cost of a funeral. This is a problem that will only get worse, as the price of a service is accelerating far faster than inflation. Royal London’s research shows that the average cost is now £3,551 pounds, nearly twice the level of a decade ago. Depending on where someone lives, and the availability of burial space, costs can approach £7,000. The rising cost of a service, alongside squeezed household incomes and a failing system of state support, means that many people have to borrow from friends or family, sell possessions or take on credit card or payday loan debt to make up the shortfall. This often means finding themselves in serious financial difficulty.

One woman from my area approached the citizens advice bureau with unmanageable debts. She had been unable to get the money together to pay for a headstone for her brother’s grave. She ended up applying for a payday loan, and the cost of repaying this debt quickly got out of control. Sadly, her story is not an isolated one. Royal London estimates that 110,000 people are living with funeral debt, with each person owing over £1,300 on average. People are also turning to alternatives to the traditional funeral. Some are holding do-it-yourself funerals, and even having to bury relatives in their back garden. A number of companies are offering cut-price funerals, including “direct” cremations that have no formal service attached to them.

Increasingly, bereaved individuals who simply cannot afford a formal service are faced with having to opt for a public health funeral, or what used to be referred to as a pauper’s funeral. When nobody else is able to take responsibility for handling a person’s remains, the local authority has to step in. People have no control over the service, and of course there is a cost to the local authority as well.

My Bill has two main objectives. The first is to identify ways of reducing funeral costs by requiring the Secretary of State to conduct an over-arching review of funeral affordability in the UK. The second is to take immediate steps to help hard-pressed households facing funeral poverty, via specific measures to reform the

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funeral payments social fund system, and by introducing a simple funeral. The reason for an overarching review is the huge number of factors that contribute to rising funeral costs. We need to consider the amount of burial space available, how deaths are registered, the impact of competition between private and local authority crematoria, and the benefits system that supports those who are unable to afford a service. Addressing affordability will require careful thought and collaboration between several Departments, so the issue needs cross-departmental consideration.

The review would need input from those working in the funeral sector. Funeral directors, for example, are seeing their costs rise because of flaws in the funeral payment system. The amount that can be awarded towards what are called “other funeral expenses”, which include directors’ fees, is capped at £700. This amount was set more than a decade ago and has not risen with inflation, so it has not kept up with funeral directors’ own costs. This means that directors are seeing customers who cannot pay the full cost of a service.

The National Association of Funeral Directors tells me that many of its members are now offering funerals on credit, with no guarantee that the client will be able to pay back the full amount. Even those who can pay face the difficulty of having to return to their funeral director every week to pay back the cost of the funeral in instalments. This is unsustainable, it is awful for those families, it puts businesses at risk and it can lead to higher charges, which are eventually passed on to customers. This is just one example of a serious flaw in the funeral market, and that is why the review proposed in the Bill would need to include consultation with funeral directors, local authorities and other interested parties to look at affordability as a whole.

Outside the overarching review there are measures that could make a difference to funeral poverty right now. The state support available through social fund funeral payments is long overdue for reform. These are payments available through the Department for Work and Pensions, which are supposed to help those on low incomes with the cost of a funeral, but the system does not function well and even encourages some households to get into debt. Applications are lengthy and confusing, especially for someone who is just bereaved, and the outcome may take 17 days. The DWP requires an invoice to process a claim, which means that people who want to arrange a funeral quickly must agree their costs before they know whether they qualify for help. This is worrying when we know that 50% of claims are rejected—about 30,000 a year. These people will have bought a funeral service under the impression that they qualify for help, only to be rejected and left with thousands of pounds of costs that they cannot pay.

Changes to the way the system is run, such as removing the requirement for an invoice, could reduce the number of rejected claims, by allowing people to check their eligibility before they commit to funeral costs. This would help them make a more informed decision about the kind of funeral they can afford, and it would help them avoid debt. The DWP needs to look at how it could streamline the way such claims are processed so that decisions are made more quickly.

The second measure is the creation of a “simple funeral”, which would help people buying a service to understand how much they can expect to pay, and help

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them make sure they do not pay more than they should. At present many people do not have a good idea of how much a funeral should cost, and this measure would help them make a judgment about the kind of service they want. Funeral directors would be required to let people know how much a simple service would cost if it was bought through them. This would not stop people choosing the service they want; it would just be a clear, easily understandable option available if they wanted it. A simple funeral is already offered by many funeral directors. It helps people make an important decision at a difficult time in their lives, and it helps them choose a funeral that is affordable and right for them. It should be available to everyone.

These measures could make an immediate difference to the households that already struggle with funeral poverty, but the motion needs to be the start of a bigger conversation about how we plan for the future. We need to talk about addressing a failing benefits system, a lack of burial space, and challenges facing the sector overall. But we also want to encourage members of the public to have conversations about planning for the future and how to make sure that there is money set aside to pay for their funeral. I understand that these are difficult conversations, but they are important ones, and I hope that today’s motion can break the silence on funeral poverty. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck, Steve Rotheram, Ian Mearns, Julie Hilling, Meg Munn, Pat Glass, Ian Lucas, Andy McDonald, Mr David Anderson, Graeme Morrice, Jim Shannon and Sir Peter Bottomley present the Bill.

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck 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 133).

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Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill

[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 3 December 2014, on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, HC 838; written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, reported to the House on 3 December 2014, HC 838; oral evidence taken before the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 26 November 2014, on counter-terrorism and human rights; written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on counter-terrorism and human rights, reported to the House on 26 November 2014, HC 836; oral evidence taken before the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 3 December 2014, on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill; and written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, reported to the House on 3 December 2014, HC 859.]

Considered in Committee

[Dame Dawn Primarolo in the Chair]

Clause 12

TPIMs: overnight residence measure

12.51 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 4, on page 8, line 11, leave out subsection (3).

This would remove the 200-mile limit on the Home Secretary’s ability to relocate people.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clauses 12 and 13 stand part.

Amendment 7, in clause 14, page 9, line 33, at end insert—

‘6B Regulated Activity Measure

(1) The Secretary of State may impose on the individual restrictions on taking part in regulated activity relating to—

(a) vulnerable adults;

(b) children; or

(c) both.

(2) In this section “Regulated Activity” is as defined in Schedule 4 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults Act 2006.’.

This amendment would allow the Secretary of State to prevent an individual on a TPIM working (including voluntary work) with children or vulnerable adults or both.

Clause 14 stand part.

Amendment 6, in clause 15, page 10, line 8, at end insert—

‘(3) Appointments required under subsection (1) may include appointments with persons involved in delivering programmes established under Part 5, Chapter 2 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2014.’.

This amendment would make clear that the Secretary of State can instruct an individual on a TPIM to attend de-radicalisation programmes.

Clauses 15 and 16 stand part.

Diana Johnson: Part 2 of the Bill relates to terrorism prevention and investigation measures. This grouping includes clauses 12 to 16 as well as Labour’s amendments,

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so I intend to use my contribution to address all the issues concerning TPIMs in part 2. The amendments are all probing, as we are broadly supportive of the changes the clauses introduce, especially the U-turn on relocation powers, which clause 12 reintroduces.

The Home Secretary introduced TPIMs in the first Session of this Parliament to replace Labour’s control orders. She claimed at the time that that was a fundamental rebalancing of security and liberty. In fact, there were only two major differences between control orders and TPIMs, or control orders-lite, as they have been called: the relocation power and the two-year limit. She also said that she had been forced to introduce TPIMs because too many control orders were being challenged in the courts. Although judicial oversight was of course a key element of the control orders regime, the courts had continued to find that control orders, including the power to relocate, were both necessary and proportionate in a number of cases, including all those that were later transferred to TPIMs.

I think that every Member of this House would agree that it is always better to prosecute individuals, wherever possible, for terrorist offences. No one wants TPIMs or control orders; we would all much rather see prosecutions for those involved in terrorism activity. However, in a very small number of cases evidence is inadmissible, for example because it would compromise security, and therefore prosecutions cannot be brought. That means we need an alternative measure to deal with the threat those individuals pose.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Does the hon. Lady recognise that TPIMs have never led to a terrorism-related prosecution and that they are therefore not only against human rights, but counter-productive and ineffective?

Diana Johnson: If the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will move on to that point shortly, because one of the claims that the Government made was that the new regime would lead to more prosecutions.

It is worth remembering that we are talking about a very small number of individuals, but they pose a serious danger to the public and we need some powers to manage that risk. David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has made it clear that those who are subject to TPIM notices are accused of terrorist activities

“at the highest end of seriousness, even by the standards of international terrorism.”

TPIMs are a set of restrictions imposed on an individual who is suspected of, but has not been convicted for, involvement in terrorism. A TPIM order, like a control order, is imposed at the behest of the Home Secretary, with judicial oversight, but can be appealed to the High Court, which must find that the TPIM and all the measures it includes are both necessary and proportionate.

When the Government scrapped the control order regime, they argued that their new regime would allow more suspects to be prosecuted—this relates to the point just made by the hon. Lady. The Security Minister has repeatedly said that the aim of the regime was to secure more prosecutions and that extra resources were being provided to achieve that. I wonder whether he could confirm today exactly how many successful

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prosecutions for terrorist-related activity there have been for individuals on TPIMs. Like the hon. Lady, I understand that there has not been one successful such prosecution. David Anderson has commented that the TPIMs regime has not aided the prosecution of individuals, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights has stated that it

“failed to find any evidence that TPIMs have led in practice to any more criminal prosecutions of terrorism suspects.”

All three of the prosecutions attempted in 2012 for breaching the conditions of TPIM orders collapsed. When Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed absconded, he had just answered bail on 20 charges relating to breaches of his TPIM. Some of those breaches lay on the file for 18 months. Given that prosecutions were meant to be a priority, as the Government had said on numerous occasions, perhaps the Minister can explain why he thinks there was such a delay in taking that case to court and whether the Government actually opposed Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed being granted bail. Will he also confirm how he believes the changes proposed in part 2 will deliver what he had attempted to do when the TPIMs regime first came in—secure more prosecutions?

The number of people on TPIMs, as with control orders, has remained very small, but they are believed to pose a serious threat. There were nine people on the control orders regime when it ended in January 2012, all of whom were British citizens, and the Crown Prosecution Service has consistently said that none of them could be prosecuted. All those individuals were transferred to TPIM orders, and another individual was subsequently put on a TPIM order. We believe that there is currently just one person on a TPIM order. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that when he speaks.

There are other concerns about the TPIMs regime. In January 2014, the Joint Committee on Human Rights stated:

“We are left with the impression that in practice TPIMs may be withering on the vine as a counter-terrorism tool of practical utility”.

I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response to those comments and how he feels that part 2 will deal with some of the criticisms raised.

I now turn to clause 12 and the issue of relocation, and amendment 4. As I said, the key difference between control orders and the TPIMs regime was the power of relocation, which was removed. It is helpful to give specific examples of how the relocation power was used under the control orders regime and the effects of the changes introduced by the coalition through the TPIMs legislation.

1 pm

I want to refer to two particular cases, the first of which is that of Ibrahim Magag. Magag is a British national with links to Somalia. He was previously known as BX. He was first placed on a control order in October 2009, when Lord Justice Collins ruled:

“it is too dangerous to permit him to be in London even for a short period”.

Magag was a member of a UK-based network linked to terrorism in east Africa, as was the other person I want to comment on, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed. According to High Court papers from 2010, Mr Magag had a history of tampering with his monitoring equipment and lying about why he was late reporting home for

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night-time curfew, and he had used a computer in breach of the terms of an order designed to protect national security. Despite this, the surveillance of Magag seems to have been fairly lax. He was able to abscond simply by getting into a black cab on Boxing day 2011, and has not been seen since. He started off on a control order that included the relocation power, was moved on to a TPIM, and managed to disappear.

Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed is also a British citizen with links to Somalia. He was previously known as CC, and is closely associated with fellow TPIM suspect CF. When he was first placed on a control order, the judge described the national security case against him as “overwhelming”. Mohamed was first placed on a control order by the current Home Secretary, and that included a relocation provision. A year later, James Eadie QC, acting for the Home Secretary, argued:

“Notwithstanding that CC and CF have now been subject to controls for longer than a year, it cannot be said that either of them has renounced his commitment to terrorism, nor has the passage of time significantly diminished the risk they present.”

Mohamed absconded by putting on a burqa while inside a mosque, where he also apparently removed his tag. He had a long history of tampering with his G4S-provided tag. On the morning before he absconded, he had appeared in court charged with 20 counts of tampering with the tag and breaching the terms of his order. Despite this, he was granted bail and does not appear to have been under any direct surveillance. It now also seems that the Home Office had neglected to seize Mohamed’s British passport when he was placed on a TPIM, despite this being the normal practice. In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Charles Farr, Home Office director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, said:

“when a TPIM is issued it is standard practice for the subject of the TPIM to have his passport withdrawn and it is surrendered to the police and held by the police. In this particular case, an assumption was incorrectly made that that had happened in the case of Mr Mohammed.”

When the Government introduced TPIMs, they removed the relocation provision, against the advice of many learned individuals, including the former Conservative Home Secretary, the noble Lord Howard, who said:

“If you ask me my personal view…I would have preferred the relocation provisions to have remained.”

Lord Carlile QC, the Liberal Democrat peer and former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said:

“With my experience from the beginning of control orders until early this year, I wonder why we are troubling to replace a functioning system with another that has almost entirely the same arms, body and legs, but…there is one leg missing from the Bill, and for now, in my view, it gives this legislation a distinct limp. It is the continuing power to order relocation, subject, of course, to the usual court procedures. On the evidence available, I am persuaded firmly—I choose my words carefully—to the view that it would be negligent to remove relocation from the main provisions.”

He went on to say that the fact that

“Magag did not abscond while subject to a judicially approved relocation order, and that he absconded when that was removed, is in itself clear evidence of the poor decision to remove relocation orders…nobody absconded while subject to a relocation order.”

David Anderson QC said:

“The possibility of relocation has now been removed. That step was not required by the courts…which had indeed shown themselves generally supportive of relocation as a deterrent to”

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terrorist-related activity. In his annual report on terrorism in 2011, he said of relocation:

“those changes…are unlikely to further the requirements of national security—rather the reverse.”

When Stuart Osborne, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police and senior national co-ordinator for terrorism investigations at the Association of Chief Police Officers, gave evidence to the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill Committee, he said:

“Previously, with relocation, it was easy to identify the environment in which associations may happen. If a lot of people who are on the orders live in one close environment, managing that and looking at those associations is potentially more difficult.”––[Official Report, Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Public Bill Committee, 21 June 2011; c. 4, Q3.]

He went on to say:

“The relocation issue has been very useful for us being able to monitor and enforce at the current time. Without that relocation, and depending on where people choose to live, that could be significantly more difficult.”––[Official Report, Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Public Bill Committee, 21 June 2011; c. 5, Q10.]

Labour opposed removing the relocation element from the TPIMs regime. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the shadow Home Secretary, made a powerful case for its retention, as did several other right hon. and hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), a former counter-terrorism Minister and a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee; my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth), a former Home Office Minister and member of the ISC; and the late Paul Goggins, another former Home Office Minister and member of the ISC. They all recognised that relocation is important because TPIM suspects tend to be facilitators and organisers, and the danger they pose is diminished by removing them from their networks. Once individuals return to London, it is impossible to monitor all their contacts. That makes absconding more likely, as shown by the cases of Ibrahim Magag and Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, as well as involvement in terrorist planning.

Let us be clear about this: no individual absconded while subject to a relocation order. The Minister might say that in the early days of control orders there were cases of absconding, and that is correct, but at that time relocation was not part of the control orders regime.

In a letter to the Home Secretary dated 12 November 2013, the shadow Home Secretary said:

“No terror suspect under a relocation order ever managed to abscond. Now two terror suspects who were previously relocated and then returned because of your decision have absconded. Your decision, against advice and warnings, to end relocations has made it much easier for two dangerous men to disappear.”

She continued:

“You told Parliament explicitly that under the new regime, ‘forcible relocation will be ended…They will have greater freedom to associate’.

In Parliament you argued the purpose of TPIMs was about ‘re-striking the balance between national security and civil liberties’. You also claimed that TPIMs would allow suspects to ‘take part in what is regarded as normal activity’ through a system that ‘clearly provides no power for individuals to be relocated to another part of the country’.

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After the absconding of Ibrahim Magag, you said to MPs ‘I am confident in the TPIM package that was available—the TPIM measures plus the extra resources’. You were also asked seven times whether removing relocation had weakened the controls, and seven times you defended the regime.”

She concluded:

“As a consequence of your decision, Mr Mohamed’s family have said: ‘It was a lot worse when he [Mr Mohamed] was on a control order’, said a close relative. ‘They used to follow him. But now [under a TPIM] it was more laid-back.’ So laid-back that he and his associate Ibrahim Magag, have both been able to easily abscond.”

We therefore very much welcome the reintroduction of relocation in clause 12, which amends the overnight residence measure and allows the Home Secretary to require individuals to live in a residence and locality in the United Kingdom that she considers appropriate. I want to ask the Minister a few questions about the clause.

Clause 12 amends paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 to provide that the Secretary of State may either agree with an individual a locality in which that individual must reside or require an individual to live in a residence in a locality that the Secretary of State otherwise considers appropriate. If there are premises that are the individual’s own residence at the time when the TPIM notice is imposed, the Secretary of State may require the individual to live in a residence that is more than 200 miles from those premises only if the individual agrees. Clause 12(5) provides that the specified residence may be provided by the Secretary of State, but there is no requirement that it must be.

I wonder if the Minister can help me with a few issues. We have established that, in essence, the clause restores a power of relocation to the TPIM regime, for which Labour and others have been calling for several years. We accept that the Government have reintroduced a relocation power, but, under the clause as drafted, the individual can be sent either to an agreed locality or, if they do not agree, to a locality that is up to 200 miles from their residence.

Do the Government now accept that TPIMs without relocation powers were of limited value? Why have they decided to make this decision at this time when, as I have said, it appears that only one person is currently subject to a TPIM order? Is the Minister concerned about other people whom he thinks should be relocated? If so, why are they not already subject to the existing TPIMs legislation? We know that TPIMs are imposed only when there is specific intelligence—hard evidence—that the person is a threat. They are not a general power to be used as and when we choose; they are specific and we recognise the importance of getting this right. Why is this change required now? What has happened to make the Minister feel that he needs to reintroduce the measure?

The Minister has said that additional resources would be made available under the TPIMs regime because of the additional surveillance activity that would have to be carried out when relocation was not available. Have the costs of that surveillance become prohibitive, and is that why the Minister is moving towards relocation?

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire) indicated dissent.

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Diana Johnson: The Minister is shaking his head. It would be interesting to hear his views about the resources available to carry out surveillance and what additional resources might be needed for the relocation power proposed in the Bill.

I want to turn to the practical issues involved when someone is subject to a TPIM, and where they would actually live. Clause 12 allows for the Secretary of State to provide a residence, but there is no requirement. Presumably, the Home Secretary would find somewhere for an individual to live if they did not have a place to stay. What would be a local authority’s responsibilities if there was a power of relocation several miles away from where the individual usually resides? Would local councils have a responsibility to provide accommodation? What standard of accommodation would the Minister expect to be provided to somebody subject to a TPIM relocation order? What type of accommodation would it be? Would the Home Secretary consider a prison to be a suitable place to accommodate an individual? If the individual lives in the private rented sector, who would meet the costs of that accommodation? Would the individual be able to make a claim for and obtain housing benefit? Concerns have also been raised in the past about immediate close family members, including children, young children, husbands and wives. Would accommodation be provided for them?

1.15 pm

Our amendment 4 seeks to probe the 200-mile limit on the Home Secretary’s ability to relocate people. Why has the Minister chosen 200 miles, which is an arbitrary figure? What if the person subject to a TPIM order lived in Newcastle and the suitable accommodation that the Home Office had available was in Cornwall, which is more than 200 miles away? What does the Minister think about the practicalities of a 200-mile limit?

There is no requirement for the Home Secretary to agree a locality, but the courts may determine whether the Home Secretary has acted proportionately if the individual requests a locality and the Home Secretary disregards it. That locality agreement is not in the Bill, so will the Minister explain why not? Will he also address the issue of compensation, which has been raised in one of Liberty’s briefings? It is concerned that where a relocation order may be quashed, a compensation claim could be payable. Does the Minister believe that to be correct, and could it actually happen?

Clause 13(1) and (2) amend section 2 of the TPIMs Act to provide that the Secretary of State must publish factors that he or she considers are appropriate to take into account when deciding whether to impose restrictions under paragraph 2 of schedule 1 to the TPIMs Act. Factors could include proximity to airports, prohibited associates and other TPIM subjects, and the variety and number of services within the restricted area. Clause 13(3) and (4) amend section 23 of the TPIMs Act, which makes it an offence, without reasonable excuse, to contravene a measure. Clause 13(3) provides that an individual subject to a travel measure under paragraph 2 of schedule 1 to the TPIMs Act who leaves or travels outside the United Kingdom will not be able to rely upon a defence of “reasonable excuse”.

Why has the Minister decided to remove the defence of “reasonable excuse” at this point? It seems that that should have been done some time ago, as it is very hard

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to leave the country without meaning to do so. Will the Minister explain why that was not in the original legislation before everyone started to abscond? I hope I am correct in thinking that the ability to claim “reasonable excuse” still applies for a person who has to travel within the UK if, for example, there is a family emergency, such as a child being taken seriously ill. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that.

Clause 13(4) increases the custodial penalty on conviction on indictment of contravening the travel measure from a term not exceeding five years’ imprisonment to one not exceeding 10 years. Liberty said in its briefing:

“Criminalisation of those that breach an Executive imposed civil sanction turns our justice system on its head.”

Will the Minister respond to that point?

Clause 13(5) amends paragraph 2 of schedule 1 to the TPIMs Act. Under the travel measure in the Act, the Secretary of State may impose restrictions on a person to prevent them from leaving a specified area, which could be Great Britain, Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom. That change allows the Secretary of State to impose restrictions on an individual to prevent them from leaving a specified area, which may be either the United Kingdom or any area within the United Kingdom, in which the individual’s place of residence is located. The restrictions imposed may include a requirement not to leave a specified area without receiving permission from or, as the case may be, giving notice to the Secretary of State.

We accept that the travel restriction seems sensible, but there is no point in moving someone from east London to Norwich or Ipswich if they can return to east London every day, so it is important that the Bill state how specific an area the provision will apply to. Will the Minister explain how the restriction will work? What size and type of travel restriction will be used? Will the restriction be on leaving an area as small as a village, or will it be a bigger geographical area, such as a town or even a county?

Clause 14 allows the Secretary of State to impose on an individual subject to a TPIM notice prohibitions on making an application for a firearm or shotgun certificate, or on possessing an imitation firearm, offensive weapons or explosives. That all seems sensible, and many people will be surprised to find that that has to be set out in the Bill. They would be concerned because it seems strange for those subject to TPIMs to be able to apply to their local police force for firearms and shotgun licences.

In its brief, Liberty states:

“It is entirely sensible that people the authorities suspect of involvement in terrorism do not have access to firearms but it is also a revealing indictment of the internal chaos of the regime and lack of monitoring that the Home Secretary fears a firearms certificate may be granted by police.”

Will the Minister share with the Committee why that issue has arisen? Have people subject to TPIMs been trying to obtain firearms licences from police forces up and down the land? It would be helpful if the Committee understood what information police forces have access to. Does a firearms licensing officer know whether someone applying for a licence is subject to a TPIM? Is that information on the police national computer? How does a police officer or firearms licensing officer find out about that person’s background?

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I assumed that it was an offence to possess explosives and offensive weapons, so I wonder why that has to be spelled out in this part of the Bill. Is a person subject to a TPIM who has access to kitchen knives in their residence—a kitchen knife that someone takes out of a residence and carries around could be seen as an offensive weapon—in breach of their TPIM under the clause? I want to be clear about that because the provision may be confusing and worrying for members of the public.

Our amendment 7 relates to activities that can be undertaken by a person subject to a TPIM. The Minister is likely to say that the change on firearms has to be spelled out because it is being added to an exhaustive list. The amendment would give the Home Secretary another power on the exhaustive list to prevent a person subject to a TPIM from having access to children, young people or vulnerable adults by making such access a regulated activity.

The Disclosure and Barring Service makes sure that people who are a threat or a concern to the authorities cannot have access to children, young people or vulnerable adults in a school setting or a regulated activity. Does the Minister think it appropriate for a TPIM suspect to apply to be a school governor, and should the DBS have a view about that? Equally, is it appropriate for a TPIM suspect to volunteer at a youth club, youth centre or school? Should the DBS have access to information about whether someone is subject to a TPIM? Exactly what information about a TPIM is flagged up to the DBS: is it given that specific information, or is it referred to an officer in one of the counter-terrorism units around the country?

People will be interested in that matter, especially whether those on TPIMs can have access to schools and youth clubs. In fact, should schools and youth clubs be made aware that such a person should not volunteer or work with young people? That all relates to amendment 7, which is a probing amendment.

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): I am certainly not an expert on this area, but is the shadow Minister suggesting that an organisation’s standard Criminal Records Bureau check fails to pick up the people to whom she is referring?

Diana Johnson: That is the very question I am asking. The Disclosure and Barring Service obviously keeps records of people who should not have access to children in a regulated activity, such as working as a teacher in a school. However, because of the coalition’s changes, volunteering at a school is not considered a regulated activity, so no information would necessarily be given by the DBS. Most people would be concerned if someone subject to a TPIM had access to young people. Will the Minister help us to be clear about what exactly that means?

Clause 15 allows the Secretary of State to require an individual to attend meetings with such persons as the Secretary of State may specify, at such locations and at such times as the Secretary of State may by notice require. The specified persons may choose the time and place of the meeting.

We think that clause 15 is rather vague and very broad, and we have tabled a probing amendment. Amendment 6 is designed to tie down the clause on the specific issue of Channel—the deradicalisation programme —which we will come on to later. It is important that

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the Secretary of State can make people attend Channel meetings and appointments, and possibly those relating to other parts of the Prevent programme. The probing amendment is an attempt to tease out exactly what such appointments are about. We certainly think that the appointments such a person is required to attend should cover the Channel and Prevent programmes.

Clause 16(1) amends section 3(1) of the TPIM Act so that, to meet condition A, the Secretary of State must be

“satisfied, on the balance of probabilities,”

that an individual is or has been involved in terrorism-related activity. That changes the current wording for the test under condition A, which is that

“the Secretary of State reasonably believes that the individual is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activity”.

As I have set out at great length, the Secretary of State spent four years arguing that relocation was unnecessary and impossible, because courts kept overruling it. We know that the independent reviewers of terrorism legislation have always taken a different view on that point. The relocation power is now being reintroduced, and the Home Secretary has toughened up the test.

I want to make it clear that Opposition Members have always been comfortable with having robust oversight of TPIMs, because we think that good and strong evidence—such evidence ensures that TPIMs are used only in exceptional cases—would pass the test the Home Secretary is now introducing in clause 16. It is important not only to have such a test, but to continue to have judicial oversight so that TPIMs are always considered in the courts.

1.30 pm

Finally, clause 16(2) amends section 4 of the TPIMs Act so that, for the purposes of that Act,

“involvement in terrorism-related activity does not include conduct which gives support or assistance to individuals who are known or believed by the individual concerned to be involved in conduct which facilitates or gives encouragement to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, or which is intended to do so.”

Will the Minister explain why he feels that measure is appropriate at this time? Most people would be surprised to hear that somebody who is involved in supporting and assisting terrorism-related activity might not be subject to a TPIM.

Those are all my remarks on part 2 of the Bill.

Caroline Lucas: I will say only a few words, but I want to explain why I will not support amendment 4.

My opposition to TPIMs and their predecessors, control orders, is on the record. The latest proposals do nothing to address my long-held concerns. The measures before us will take us back in time to when the Secretary of State could require an individual to live in a residence and locality in the UK that he or she considered appropriate. That was a feature of the previous Administration that was abandoned by the current Home Secretary for good reasons. She has now taken a step backwards. Given that these measures will make it possible for individuals to be removed from their families and communities and placed, effectively, in isolation, I do not share the pleasure that is apparent on the Opposition Front Bench, nor the view of the Opposition that it is acceptable to allow people to be relocated without any limit on the distance.

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The courts have ruled on a number of occasions that internal exile, in conjunction with the imposition of other restrictions, constitutes a violation of article 5 of the European convention on human rights. That stands whether someone is relocated 50 miles, 150 miles or 250 miles away from their home. In one case, Mr Justice Mitting ruled that, on the basis of evidence provided by the wife of the individual who was subject to a control order, the threat that the detainee posed would be reduced if he were able to remain with his family. That brings us to the crux of the matter. There is not a scrap of evidence that such a brutal and punitive regime plays a role in countering terrorism. In fact, it may well be counter-productive.

When a suspect is subjected to a TPIM, it tips them off, making it much more difficult to gather evidence of terrorism-related activity. TPIMs exacerbate the potential for increased alienation and radicalisation, because they can be made against those who pose no direct threat to the British public. Moreover, as Liberty and others have reported, and as the shadow Minister just said, TPIMs have never led to a terrorism-related prosecution. If the purpose of such proposals is to counter terrorism and make us more secure, TPIMs have little to recommend them and neither did control orders before them. I believe that we should move forward, rather than take a step backwards, as the amendment would have us do.

Clause 13 removes the defence of a reasonable excuse for those who breach a TPIM and leave the UK. The measures in the Bill undermine some of the basic tenets of our justice system. Clause 13 will allow for somebody to be imprisoned for up to 10 years for breaching a TPIM, even though a TPIM can be imposed without any need for them to be arrested, charged or convicted for a terrorism offence. In other words, it will allow somebody to be criminalised and locked up for 10 years for breaching a civil sanction. That move will turn our justice system on its head. It is at odds with everything we ought to hold dear. I hope that Members will not stand by and let such a draconian measure pass.

One former Law Lord, referring to the control order regime, said:

“They are, and always have been, a blot on our jurisprudence.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 March 2010; Vol. 717, c. 1528.]

That criticism stands, with or without the changes that have been outlined today. I am disappointed that the Home Secretary is advocating more of what Justice calls

“an ineffective and draconian diversion from prosecution of criminal behaviour.”

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): These are terrible amendments. They are so sadly and typically new Labour. The control order regime was the centrepiece of what is commonly described as the new Labour anti-civil libertarian state. It had all the usual new Labour features: suspicion, restrictions without trial and sweeping powers for the Secretary of State to make up her mind about convictions. New Labour was always on the wrong side of the crucial balance between making our nation safe through security-related legislation and upholding civil liberties. The control order regime was part of the central agenda that new Labour constructed, which included the suggestion that suspects should be locked up for 90 days without trial, ID cards and

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national databases. Under new Labour, we became probably the most restrictive, anti-civil libertarian state anywhere in the European Union.

As Members have said, there have been no prosecutions of people on control orders or TPIMs. That suggests that they are either really good or really rubbish. I supported the Conservatives when they moved against control orders. They did the right thing in abolishing control orders. We did not like TPIMs because they had features that were sadly reminiscent of new Labour’s control order regime, but the Conservatives seemed to be rowing back from the anti-civil libertarian state that had been constructed by new Labour and we supported them on that basis.

Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman have an alternative proposal to put to the Committee?

Pete Wishart: The hon. Gentleman hits the nail on the head. These measures are counter-productive in trying to make our country safe. All they do is tip people off that there is a particular issue with an individual. If there is a terrorist community, the first thing that they will take note of is the fact that somebody has been the subject of a TPIM or a control order. It alerts them to the fact that something is going on. I am all for making our country safe, but have there been any prosecutions? No.

The saddest and most bizarre feature of control orders and TPIMs is that they are all about suspicion. There is never enough evidence to test these matters in court, to take them to trial, to have a judge and jury decide whether something is going on. It is all about suspicion. That is the critical feature of TPIMs, as it was of the control order regime. How can anybody try to secure their innocence when they are subject to such measures? They have no opportunity to do so at all. They just have to accept the situation.

Unfortunately, the relocation measures will bring TPIMs right back to where we were with control orders. That was the defining difference between TPIMs and control orders. It is therefore particularly depressing that relocation is a feature of the new TPIM regime in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will resist Labour’s call to extend the powers further by making relocation even more restrictive and having another list of qualifications in the TPIM regime. I know that he will resist that and ensure that Labour, in its new Labour guise, will not have its way.

Diana Johnson: I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. He should have listened to what I said, which was that these are probing amendments to allow us fully to understand the Government’s thinking. They are intended not to extend the powers in the Bill, but to seek clarification. I hope that he will take that on board.

Pete Wishart: I am a bit more satisfied, but on the face of it, the amendments do call for further restrictions. If they are just probing amendments, that is fair enough and we will hear the Minister’s response. Regardless of whether the amendments are probing or active, I hope that he is not convinced to back anything that Labour is suggesting, because that would make matters worse.

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It seems to me that the Labour leopard has not changed its new Labour, anti-civil libertarian spots. Labour still wants further restrictions. It still wants the Government to go further, despite the critical balancing act that we always have to consider between the necessary steps to keep our nation safe and the civil liberties that we cherish and value in a democracy. New Labour got the balance drastically, appallingly wrong. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are moving on to that territory once again. I hope that the amendments are resisted. I understand that they are just probing amendments, and that is fine, but I hope that the Minister will not be probed into accepting what is being suggested by the Labour party.

Ian Swales: I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech. Does he remember that the previous Government introduced a raft of new offences under terrorism legislation, and therefore the gap that TPIMs or control orders are there to fill should be, and indeed has proved to be, negligible? Are they needed at all?

Pete Wishart: I think I took part in practically all the debates in this House on these issues—indeed, the hon. Gentleman and I would have sat on the same Benches when arguing against what new Labour was trying to create with these measures. He is right: are such measures necessary? One individual in the country is subject to a TPIM, yet we are discussing the issue in Parliament and ensuring that what will probably be expensive resources are allocated to ensure that this new restrictive measure goes through. Is it worth while?

I do not like TPIMs—the Minister knows that—and I disliked control orders even more. Are they necessary? I suspect not. Do they do anything to make our nation safe? No, they do not. Should we be doing other things to make our country safe? Yes, we should, but unfortunately no amendment has been tabled that will deal with those issues. I hope that the Minister is not in the mood to accept Labour’s suggestions—

James Brokenshire indicated dissent.

Pete Wishart: I see by his response that he is not. I hope the amendments are rejected and that in future we do something that will make our country safe without having to resort to measures such as TPIMs.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): I wish to take slight issue with the hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). The hon. Gentleman’s speech seemed to play to a particular event that will take place over the next few months in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and it was more about distancing the Scottish National party from the position taken by Labour. That is fair enough; he is entitled to do that but he seemed to be putting rather more heat than light into the debate. To be slightly more serious—as I am sure he intended to be—the problem with the approach taken by him and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion is that they describe a black and white world where either we have the evidence, in which case we go through the court system, prosecute someone and if that is successful they receive an appropriate sentence, or else there is not enough evidence to bring forward a court case so someone is not controlled at all. The difficulty is that the world is not black and white in that way.

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Suppose one of our intelligence agencies has information from a liaison partner—the United States, for example—about somebody’s connections, or plans that they may be involved in with a third party elsewhere in the world to commit an act of terrorism in this country. There is a problem with taking such a case through the courts because the information it is based on is governed by the control principle—namely that that information is the property of the other agency, which in this case is in the United States. To allow that information to appear in a court case as evidence would undermine the relationship between the UK and that liaison partner.

Caroline Lucas rose—

Mr Howarth: There is an argument against that, which I suspect the hon. Lady is about to make, but an inescapable choice has to be made.

Caroline Lucas: No one is suggesting that the issue is black and white. There are shades of grey and balances of judgment, but the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and I are saying that with TPIMs and control orders, that balance of judgment is wrong. If we look at things such as intercept evidence, we can see that there will be other ways of bringing evidence to bear to help us reach a solution, rather than the draconian and counterproductive measures suggested by those on both Front Benches.