It is equally important for everyone that it is clear what the ombudsman can do on completing an investigation. Her ability to produce a report with findings and recommendations is fundamental to the view that many will rightly have about whether this new role really does have teeth. The Government amendments will also fill a gap that was left when amendments were made in Committee. We would amend new section 340L to make it clear that the ombudsman must, after carrying out an investigation, prepare a report setting out her findings and recommendations. After an investigation of a service complaint, the ombudsman will need to issue findings stating whether the complaint was well founded, and will need to make any recommendations

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to ensure appropriate redress. The Defence Council retains responsibility for responding to those findings and recommendations, in accordance with new section 340M. The Government amendments also clarify that the ombudsman must set out any recommendations as a result of a finding of maladministration or undue delay.

This group of amendments is a relatively large one, but it is necessary to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are clear. The amendments also ensure that the drafting is coherent and complete, while giving full effect to the amendments agreed to in Committee, which had cross-party support. In a couple of important respects, which I have outlined, they also improve the amendments which were agreed to in Committee.

We could have been, shall I say, a little bit naughty. When we saw what had been voted for, we could have left it there, knowing that it did not do the job that we knew the Committee wanted it to do. We accordingly went to our draftsmen and draftswomen and we have made sure that the spirit of the Committee is now being put into law.

Rory Stewart: Without being too pedantic or too pompous at this point, there is an important procedural point here when we discuss being naughty or otherwise. There is an important conceptual element in setting up an ombudsman, which is showing respect to Parliament, respect to the Committee system—respect to both the Bill Committee and the Select Committee. Rather than getting into the ins and outs of politics, I encourage the Minister to see this as a great success and a great model for the way such things can go forward in the future.

Anna Soubry: I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. We could have played politics, but I absolutely was not going to do that. My officials would not dream of such a thing, of course, but we could have done that because the amendments were not clear. I took the firm view that it was clear what the Committee wanted and that we should do everything we could to put it into effect. There was a good argument for waiting until the next armed forces Bill, but I took the view that that would not be right. It was clear what the Defence Committee wanted and what the Public Bill Committee wanted. That is why the Government have tabled the amendments. We know that that is, in effect, the will of the legislature. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) nodding.

The amendments will give us a Bill and a process that will help our people understand when they can approach the ombudsman, on what matters and at what stage of the process, and they will give the ombudsman the teeth needed to hold the services and the MOD to account. I therefore commend amendments 1 to 21 to the House.

Mrs Moon: Amendment 22, which is in my name, seeks to define “undue delay”. I pay respect to the Minister, who has taken time to meet everyone involved with the Bill. We had considerable discussion on the issue of undue delay and how it could be defined, and we agreed that, although I would not press the amendment today, it was important that there was a dialogue about delay.

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There are two things that one can say for certain about the current complaints system: delay is an endemic problem within the system, and everyone is aware of it. It came to the attention of the Committee many times that only 25% of cases are resolved within a 24-week target, and only 26% of complaints made in 2013 were closed during that year. The internal risk register looking at the implementation of the service ombudsman Bill within the MOD stated that there was a high risk that the system would lose further internal credibility if there was continuing media exposure of how powerless the ombudsman is. Rather than media exposure taking place, it is important that the system operates well so that there can be internal confidence.

There is a high risk that the system will continue to fail and that current delays will continue. There is a high risk that service personnel will be let down, damaging their mental health and leading to suicide attempts. None of us wants to see any of that, which is why the Defence Committee has worked as closely as possibly with the Minister to ensure that we move forward in a constructive and productive manner.

In January 2013, 325 complaints had a red flag. By December 2013 that figure had swelled by over 50% to 500. We have seen repeatedly how delay has been used to wear down complainants so that they go away. It is also used as a punishment for complaints being made in the first place.

Members have raised concerns about this being an attack on the chain of command. Let me say that, since the Bill Committee, I have taken time—I have spoken to the Minister about this—to talk to people in the chain of command and to ask them how they feel about the changes introduced by the Defence Committee. Every person I have spoken to has welcomed the changes and not felt threatened by them. They all felt that the changes were right and that they would focus people’s minds and attentions on complaints so that they are not put in a cupboard and regarded as an annoyance, but are seen as one of the parts of the job to be dealt with first, so that the unit operates efficiently and effectively. The bad pennies that exist would be dealt with quickly and a clear message would be sent that bullying and harassment, in particular, would not be tolerated anywhere in the chain of command.

Delay is caused in part by the labyrinthine system that was initially set up by the Ministry to process complaints. In his evidence to the Defence Committee, retired Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Field railed against the masses of paperwork involved. The abuse of process by those in the chain of command either to propel a dubious complaint or to hold up a legitimate but inconvenient one is also a worrisome cause of delay. Such abuses can have a devastating impact on individual complainants and on their mental health and well-being. When such cases come into the public domain, the system and confidence in it are undermined.

I raised the case of Tom Neathway on Second Reading and in Committee. Another concerning case that I would like to mention briefly is that of Sergeant Major Michael Booley, who was Prince Harry’s flying instructor. He accused the Army of gross mistreatment after a four-year dispute that ended his distinguished career. When reading about the case, it is very worrying to see that the service complaints panel found that Major Graham, who Sergeant Major Booley claimed had been

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acting deliberately and maliciously against him, was an unreliable witness and that his conduct not only wronged the complainant, but acted against the interests of his employers in the Army. I think that that is the big issue. Where there is bullying and harassment, it is against the interests of the Army, the RAF or the Navy. We must always keep that central to our thinking and our focus when looking at complaints. That is why the changes set out today are so important.

I think that it is important to have some sort of definition of undue delay, but I accept that it might not necessarily need to be in the Bill, or even in regulations. It can be something that the ombudsman sets out herself when setting out the definitions that will guide her judgments. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider and discuss with the ombudsman how we can move that forward.

Mr Kevan Jones: I give the Minister 10 out of 10 for her brass neck, because these amendments were tabled subsequent to her losing the vote in Committee, and the Government do not want to press them to a vote tonight for fear that she might lose again. The amendments are consequential to the major change that took place in Committee, namely that to the nature of the ombudsman. What the Minister originally proposed was a dry institution that would have dealt only with maladministration, but the ombudsman’s role has now been opened up to cover a wider range of complaints. I have been arguing for that for a long time, and the Defence Committee also argued effectively for it in its report.

5 pm

The Minister said that she could have left out the amendments, but, knowing her civil servants as I do, I do not think they would have thought highly of her if she had attempted to put through legislation that was not appropriately drafted, or if the amendments that were made in Committee resulted in bad law. Based on my experience, I think they would have taken a very dim view of the Minister if she had not tabled the amendments.

These amendments clarify the two major amendments that changed the nature of the Bill in Committee. Government amendments 1 to 6 make it clear that the ombudsman can only investigate a complaint received from an applicant, and they also address the issue of delays. One of the major frustrations for many of those who have made a complaint is that they have faced delays. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) has championed their rights, and she and the Defence Committee have highlighted their concerns. I think that the amendments will lead to a change in culture, particularly in the Army. The length of delays in some cases has frankly been ridiculous and that, as my hon. Friend has said, has caused huge grief to some individuals. The amendments may speed up the process and mean that some of the complaints will not end up before the service complaints ombudsman.

Amendments 7 to 15 ensure that it needs to be specified whether an investigation relates to maladministration, a service complaint or another type of complaint. They also make it clear that an investigation should recommend redress in cases of maladministration or delay. The ombudsman will be allowed to investigate any maladministration, not just that which is being complained about. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) and his Committee wanted the ombudsman

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to have those wider powers. I therefore welcome the amendments, which will put into effect the amendments we agreed in Committee.

The amendments will also allow the ombudsman to decide whether to investigate service complaints as a whole or whether to look at only part of a complaint. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) asked about frivolous and vexatious cases, but the ombudsman will strike out those that will not go anywhere. The amendments put in place ground rules similar to those that are already in place for the local government ombudsman and the parliamentary ombudsman, whereby we expect the internal processes to be exhaustive in themselves. The amendments will help address cases that are unduly delayed, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend.

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend’s amendment 22, but it is really difficult to define what is meant by a delay. The amendment would clarify that a delay meant longer than a year or any length of time that the ombudsman thought appropriate. I know why she has tabled it and it is good to discuss it, but I would prefer the matter to be left to the ombudsman.

A very simple issue should be dealt with very quickly—in a matter of weeks or months—so even if we specified one year, we would ask why it had taken so long. However, I understand the spirit behind my hon. Friend’s amendment. As I have said, the overall framework means that the Army will look at the way it deals with service complaints. In local government and other areas, performance indicators mean that deadlines for internal disciplinary procedures have to be met. I hope that such a culture will be driven within the armed forces to ensure that complaints are dealt with quickly and expeditiously, although I accept that in some cases investigations may take a long time, not only because of the complexity of the complaint but because of the nature of armed forces operations.

We support the Government amendments, which give credence to the amendment made in Committee. The recommendations for redress are covered in amendments 16 to 21. Findings on maladministration and the ombudsman’s recommendations will be brought forward within a certain time, which will give some comfort to many members of the armed forces who deal with these issues. If the internal chain of command takes an undue time over what should be a simple inquiry, they will know that there is another avenue available. The ombudsman may well need to highlight some of the complaints to the chain of command to ensure that the logjam in such cases is dealt with more quickly. I support the amendments to ensure that we have a system that will not only address the issue of undue delays, but, as we have hoped for a number of years, provide an ombudsman whose remit is wider than just maladministration.

Anna Soubry: I must say that I thought I had been rather gracious in defeat, so it was a little churlish of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones)—[Interruption.] He shouts louder than I do from a sedentary position. I have to say that it is to the coalition’s credit that all we are doing in the Bill, with the creation of the ombudsman, has been done in just over four years, while the Labour party did not do it in 13 years.

I want to address amendment 22. I know it is an awful expression, but the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and I are absolutely on the same page.

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We know that undue delays are the absolute devil of any system. It is not a widespread problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who has moved to a different place, has quite clearly and properly said, but when it happens, it is a real problem. The attitude is, “Oh, let’s prevaricate. Let’s put up some device. They’ll just go away, or they’ll give up in the end.” We must stop such an attitude, so I completely and totally understand what the hon. Lady is seeking to do. In that respect we are absolutely at one, but not on how we achieve it. I obviously accept the good intentions behind amendment 22, but I shall it because it is not the device to achieve what we both want.

The time taken in progressing a complaint can be affected by any number of events, such as illness, deployment, which I have mentioned, and training. Sometimes the complainant shows a lack of interest, even though the complaint is valued and should be pursued. A complainant might decide not to pursue it for a period but then come back to it, or they might not be going to pursue it and then realise that they should do so for reasons that we can imagine, but often because others have given them support. Of course, the need to find relevant information can also delay things.

It is important for all concerned that no strict definition is applied. If one were, it might deter worthy cases from being raised or constrain the ombudsman’s discretion as to what is in scope. I am one who looks for discretion as opposed to fixed, determined dates or targets. It should be for the ombudsman to set out guidance on what individuals might need to consider if they believe that they have suffered undue delay in progressing their complaint.

This is not a matter for legislation. Putting the advice in the ombudsman’s guidance will ensure that there is the necessary flexibility to adapt it to reflect real experiences. With some complaints, undue delay might be six or nine months. We need that flexibility. That is why it is right to leave it to the ombudsman to set out her—or, in time, his—guidance.

Mrs Moon: To use the horrible expression that the hon. Lady used, we are on the same page. As of 26 January 2015, 1,033 complaints that had been open since 2013 were still unresolved. We are on the same page in that neither of us wants to see that continue. Let us hope that the ombudsman finds a way to deal with such undue delays.

Anna Soubry: Absolutely. I hope that the hon. Lady is comforted by the fact that we are looking at whether the complaints that are already in the system can be brought into the new system. I imagine that long delay is a matter that we will want to bring to the ombudsman’s attention. Again, it all depends on the nature of the complaint and what the circumstances are. The Second Sea Lord, Sir David Steel, made the point to me that he had seen some cases in the Navy that were huge because they were about complicated allowances and so on and so forth.

However, it struck me that the cases that the hon. Lady referred to were not particularly complicated. Those delays were absolutely unacceptable. It is often the person-to-person complaints or grievances that must

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be dealt with expeditiously. That is in everybody’s interests, not just the complainant’s. The person against whom the complaint is made also wants determination and justice. Not every complaint is well founded; there are cases in which false allegations are made. It is therefore in the interests of the person against whom the complaint is made that it is dealt with fairly, justly and with all due diligence and expedition.

For all the reasons that I have given, I resist amendment 22 and urge everyone to accept the other amendments.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendments made: 2, page 6, line 29, after “complaint”, insert

“, where the Ombudsman is satisfied that the complaint has been finally determined”.

This amendment makes a drafting change in consequence of amendment 9. It clarifies that the Service Complaints Ombudsman may not investigate a service complaint unless satisfied that the complaint has been finally determined.

Amendment 3, page 6, line 31, leave out from “complaint” to end of line 32 and insert

“(including an allegation of undue delay), where the Ombudsman is satisfied that the complaint has been finally determined;”.

This amendment makes minor drafting changes, including a change in consequence of amendment 9. It clarifies that the Service Complaints Ombudsman may not investigate an allegation of maladministration unless satisfied that the service complaint to which the allegation relates has been finally determined.

Amendment 4, page 6, leave out lines 33 to 37 and insert—

“(c) an allegation of undue delay in the handling of a service complaint which has not been finally determined;

(d) an allegation of undue delay in the handling of a relevant service matter.”

This amendment clarifies when the Service Complaints Ombudsman may investigate an allegation of undue delay in the handling of a service complaint or a relevant service matter (as to which, see amendment 6).

Amendment 5, page 6, line 37, at end insert—

“(1A) The following persons are within this subsection—

(a) in a case relating to a service complaint, the complainant;

(b) in a case relating to a matter in respect of which a service complaint has not been made, the person who raised the matter,

and, in relation to a case mentioned in paragraph (b), references in the remainder of this Part to the complainant and to a service complaint are to be read respectively as references to the person and the matter mentioned in that paragraph.”

This amendment makes provision about who may make an application to the Service Complaints Ombudsman for an investigation under new section 340H(1) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.

Amendment 6, page 6, line 37, at end insert—

“( ) For the purposes of subsection (1)(d)—

(a) “relevant service matter” means a matter of a kind about which a service complaint—

(i) may be made, whether or not at the time of the application to the Ombudsman such a complaint has been made, or

(ii) could have been made (but for provision made by virtue of section 340B(2)(c));

(b) the reference to the handling of a matter is to its handling before the making of a service complaint (if any) about the matter.”

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This amendment defines “relevant service matter” for the purposes of paragraph (d) of new section 340H(1) of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (see amendment 4) and makes provision about the reference to the handling of such a matter.

Amendment 7, page 6, line 39, after “writing,”, insert—

“() must specify the kind (or kinds) of investigation which the complainant wishes the Ombudsman to carry out (an investigation under a particular paragraph of subsection (1) being a “kind” of investigation for this purpose),”.

This amendment provides that an application to the Service Complaints Ombudsman must specify which type or types of investigation the applicant wants the Ombudsman to carry out.

Amendment 8, page 6, line 40, leave out “the” and insert “any other”.

This amendment is consequential on amendment 7.

Amendment 9, page 6, line 42, leave out from beginning to “a” in line 44 and insert—

“( ) For the purposes of this section, a service complaint has been finally determined where—

(a) ”.

This amendment converts new section 340H(3) for the Armed Forces Act 2006 into a general proposition about when a service complaint is to be treated for the purposes of new section 340H as having been finally determined.

Amendment 10, page 7, line 5, leave out “that”.

This amendment is consequential on amendment 9.

Amendment 11, page 7, leave out lines 7 to 11 and insert—

“( ) The purpose of an investigation is—

(a) in the case of an investigation under subsection (1)(a), to decide whether the complaint is well-founded and, if so, to consider what redress (if any) would be appropriate;

(b) in the case of an investigation under subsection (1)(b), (c) or (d), to decide—

(i) whether the allegation is well-founded, and

(ii) if so, whether the maladministration or undue delay to which the allegation relates has or could have resulted in injustice being sustained by the complainant.”

This amendment clarifies the purpose of an investigation under each paragraph of new section 340H(1) for the Armed Forces Act 2006.

Amendment 12, page 7, line 11, at end insert—

“(4A) The power to carry out an investigation under subsection (1)(a) or (b) includes power to investigate any maladministration in the handling of the service complaint where it becomes apparent to the Ombudsman during the course of an investigation that any such maladministration may have occurred.”

This amendment provides for the circumstances in which the Service Complaints Ombudsman has power to investigate maladministration in the handling of a service complaint (other than any maladministration that the complainant has specifically alleged).

Amendment 13, page 7, line 12, after “application”, insert

“in respect of a service complaint that has been finally determined”.

This amendment is consequential on the amendments to new section 340H(1) for the Armed Forces Act 2006 (in particular amendments 2 to 4).

Amendment 14, page 7, line 25, leave out “investigated an application relating to” and insert

“carried out an investigation under subsection (1)(a) or (b) in relation to”.

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This amendment confines new section 340H(8), which prevents the Service Complaints Ombudsman from investigating subsequent applications relating to a service complaint that the Ombudsman has already investigated, to cases where the Ombudsman has carried out an investigation under new section 340H(1)(a) or (b) in relation to the complaint.

Amendment 15, page 7, line 31, at end insert “;

(b) whether to investigate a service complaint, or an allegation, as a whole or only in particular respects.”

This amendment provides that the Service Complaints Ombudsman may investigate a service complaint, or an allegation, in whole or in part.

Amendment 16, page 7, line 44, after “investigation”, insert “under section 340H(1)(b)”.

This amendment is consequential on amendments to new section 340H(1) of the Armed Forces Act 2006.

Amendment 17, page 8, line 43, at end insert

“, and

(b) any recommendations referred to in subsection (2A).”

This amendment requires the Service Complaints Ombudsman to include, in a report under new section 340L, any recommendations required by subsection (2A) (see amendment 18).

Amendment 18, page 9, leave out lines 1 to 4 and insert—

“(2A) Those recommendations are—

(a) on an investigation under section 340H(1)(a) where the Ombudsman finds that the =-service complaint to which the investigation relates is well-founded, the Ombudsman’s recommendations (if any) on what redress would be appropriate;

(b) on an investigation under section 340H(1)(b), (c) or (d) where the Ombudsman finds that the allegation to which the investigation relates is well-founded, the Ombudsman’s recommendations (if any) as a result of that finding;

(c) where, by virtue of section 340H(4A), the Ombudsman finds maladministration in the handling of a service complaint, the Ombudsman’s recommendations (if any) as a result of that finding.”

This amendment provides for the recommendations which the Service Complaints Ombudsman can make as a result of findings on an investigation under any paragraph of new section 340H(1) or by virtue of new section 340H(6).

Amendment 19, page 9, line 5, leave out “(2)” and insert “(2A)(b) or (c)”.

This amendment is consequential on amendment 18.

Amendment 20, page 9, line 8, after “maladministration”, insert

“or undue delay to which the finding relates”.

This amendment is consequential on amendment 18.

Amendment 21, page 9, line 10, after “maladministration”, insert “or undue delay”. —(Anna Soubry.)

This amendment is consequential on amendment 18.

Third Reading

5.13 pm

Anna Soubry: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank the members of the Public Bill Committee, who did an excellent job of ensuring that the issues covered by the Bill were thoroughly looked at. The service complaints system is not one of which many Members of this House have first-hand experience. It is therefore to the credit of the members of the Committee

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that they quickly grasped the key issues behind the Bill. I am very grateful for the contributions that were made from both sides.

In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) for her involvement in these issues over a number of years. She played a key role in Committee and our debates this afternoon, and I know she feels strongly about the issues she raises. I commend her for her tenacity and for the passion with which she makes her case. I am delighted that she will continue to pursue all those matters and to scrutinise the Bill should it have the good fortune of reaching the statute book. She will not give up on her campaign to ensure that things are done properly by all those who serve in our armed forces, and the Bill is undoubtedly better because of her involvement.

I also thank the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). There is some rivalry between us, because we went to opposing schools—although not at the same time; he is much younger than I am. I like to think that that is the reason for some of our rivalry in our discourse in the House and Committee. He has approached these matters in a constructive and knowledgeable way. I wish to emphasise that, because he speaks on the basis of knowledge having served as a Defence Minister, and he therefore knows what he is talking about even if we do not always agree. He has done much to ensure that the Bill has been properly scrutinised, which is important in these proceedings.

I thank the Defence Committee and its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). He is no longer in his place, but I am sure he is about somewhere and hopefully he will read this debate. The Committee produced an excellent and detailed report on the Bill last year, which has done much to focus our debates on the most significant issues. I am delighted that my hon. Friend has made it clear that his Committee will continue to do the job that it has been doing over a number of years, to ensure that we have a good, fair, robust complaints system in the way we have identified. In that respect we are absolutely in agreement.

The Bill does two important things: it improves the system for handling service complaints, and—we seem to have forgotten this because it is not contentious, although it is incredibly important—it ensures that we can provide funding anywhere in the world to organisations, notably our great military charities, that support our armed forces community. It is clear from debates on the Bill that there is general agreement about the need to reform the services complaints system, and we all agree on the importance of having a system that is fair, effective, swift when it has to be, and efficient.

Having a robust complaints system is a key part of maintaining morale and therefore ensuring operational effectiveness—a happy crew, ship, team or whatever will work better. That is pretty obvious; unfortunately, it is not always obvious to some, although I hope it will be from now on. It is not a “nice to have” but an essential part of the covenant between our society and those who are willing to lay down their lives to defend it.

As I said, clause 4 has attracted less interest because it is not contentious, although it is important. It will allow us to support organisations that help our armed

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forces community anywhere in the world, which we all agree is a good thing. The amendments will mean that the proposed service complaints ombudsman will have a wider role than first envisaged. He or she will be able to look at the substance of complaints and at any maladministration in the way it has been handled, not just that alleged by the complainant. The ombudsman will also be able to investigate allegations of undue delay at earlier stages in the process, whether or not a complaint has been made, and that is a good thing.

I will not pretend that this is what the Government initially wanted, but we have listened to arguments from all sides and we have accepted them. I emphasise that on balance I believe that the changes have left us with a stronger and more robust system of oversight with more protections for the individual. The Bill now delivers the right complaints system for our servicemen and women, and on that basis I commend it to the House.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Kevan Jones: Portland school, as opposed to Hartland school, but both rejoicing in their being in or close to Worksop.

5.19 pm

Mr Jones: We at Portland were always better at snowball fighting than Hartland, Mr Speaker.

This is a very important day. The Bill brings into being an armed forces ombudsman, something that is long overdue. I have been involved in this issue since I came to Parliament, both as a member of the Defence Committee and as a Defence Minister in the previous Government. This day will be pleasing to those who have campaigned over many years for a system of oversight and redress for our armed forces. I am thinking of the families of those involved in Deepcut and the recommendations of Mr Justice Blake’s report. People have campaigned over many years to get to this point today.

The Minister asked why the previous Government did not introduce this measure during our 13 years in office. We did: we set up the Armed Forces Service Complaints Commissioner. Did some of us at the time want to go further? Yes, we did. I argued for that very strongly, along with other members of the Defence Committee, including my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) who was on the Opposition Whip’s Bench a moment ago. He made very strong representations to try to get to this point in 2006. I have to say that the people who argued against it were the conservative elements of the chain of command and the Conservative Front-Bench team of the time, who said that it would be the end of the world if we even had a Service Complaints Commissioner.

Those same voices thought that this next step would be a step too far, which is possibly why the Government were initially resistant in Committee to the changes. I said in Committee and I say it again now: I do not think there is anything in the Bill that senior members of the chain of command in our armed forces should be fearful of. If we look back to when we introduced the Service Complaints Commissioner, there was an argument that people would be interfering with the chain of command. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, what has happened is that senior military

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personnel now see that the way in which Susan Atkins has carried out the function of Service Complaints Commissioner has added not only to the process of accountability and transparency, but with the recommendations that she has brought forward. I put on record my thanks to her for how she has carried out the job. She saw the limitations that she was acting under right from the start, but like any good regulator she pushed where she could and brought about change within the system.

Bob Stewart: Just to back up what the hon. Gentleman is saying, it is the way Dr Atkins has carried out her duties that has encouraged everyone—even dinosaurs like me—to think that this is a seriously good thing and a step forward. I am delighted to say that the people who, like myself, were against the idea to start with, have been totally converted by the work of Susan Atkins.

Mr Jones: That is the change. I am glad to see dinosaurs still alive and kicking on the Conservative Back Benches, and long may they live.

I wish Nicola Williams all the best in the job she has before her. The Bill sets out a new era, but I think it will be very rewarding for her to ensure that the issues we have raised during the passage of the Bill are addressed.

One of the issues to be addressed, and which the armed forces have to wake up to, was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon): the delay in dealing with complaints. Most organisations, whether companies, local councils or even central Government these days, would not put up with the delay in dealing with complaints. The armed forces need a performance mechanism to enable complaints to be dealt with simply, quickly and effectively, and the

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nearer to the source of the complaint the better. Even if they do not like the outcome, at least early resolution avoids the added injustice of people thinking they are being messed around by the system. I just hope that the armed forces, particularly the Army, will take that on board and that we can ensure the speedy resolution of some complaints.

Of course, the perfect position would be if the ombudsman did not have anything to do, but that is not going to happen—there is already a backlog. Over time, however, not only will she be able to suggest improvements to the system, but I hope that slowly we can educate people in the chain of command that a more effective way of dealing with complaints and disciplinary action in general would be a better way forward.

I thank the Defence Committee for its work on the Bill. As I said, it is a good example of a Select Committee—the current Committee and its predecessors over several years—taking a keen interest in a subject, ensuring parliamentary scrutiny and not letting go of an issue. It has kept on pressing for this type of redress system. I also think that the changes made in the Bill Committee have improved the Bill—the Government were wise to accept the amendments, because had we not done that now, we would have had to return to the issue in four or five years’ time—and I wish the Bill Godspeed through its remaining stages. We must support our armed forces not only with our words in the House, but with an effective system that supports armed forces personnel on the rare occasions—as the Minister said, they are rare—when things go wrong and which gives them the justice and support they deserve.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Third time and passed, with amendments.

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Consumer Rights Bill

Consideration of Lords message (Order, 28 January)

Mr Speaker: I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 12M and 12S. If the House agrees to those amendments, I shall cause the appropriate entry to be made in the Journal.

I have selected amendment (a) to Lords amendment 12Q, which stands in the name of Philip Davies.

After clause 32

Secondary ticketing platforms

5.28 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 12J.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to debate the following:

Lords amendments 12K to 12P.

Lords amendment 12Q and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 12R and 12S.

Jo Swinson: It is a veritable alphabet soup of amendments, Mr Speaker.

On 24 February in the other place, the Government agreed with amendments tabled by Lord Moynihan to introduce light-touch regulation of the online secondary ticketing market, alongside a statutory review of the market. The Bill has therefore returned to us for further consideration. It sets out a simple, modern framework of consumer rights that will promote growth through confident consumers driving innovation and more competitive markets. Consumers, knowing their rights are protected if things go wrong, will have greater confidence to take up new products and switch suppliers, which will help to create a competitive and thriving economy.

The Bill contains important new protections for consumers alongside measures to lower regulatory burdens for business. All this together will make markets work better, which is good for consumers, good for business and therefore good for growth. It will have an impact across all sectors of the economy and address many of the concerns we hear daily in our own constituencies.

Chapter 1 gives consumers a new right to a refund on faulty goods within 30 days. Chapter 2 protects consumers in law for the first time when they buy digital content, while schedule 5 means business will get more notice of routine inspections by trading standards. These represent an important package of reforms that businesses and consumer groups have been waiting for and preparing for. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, we will alert business to the forthcoming changes well ahead of the Act coming into force.

Since December, there has been one outstanding issue to resolve before the Bill can be sent for Royal Assent—how to address issues in the online secondary ticketing market. This is the market where fans sell tickets they can no longer use to fans who missed out on

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tickets the first time round. It is a much safer and more convenient environment for fans to buy and sell tickets than dealing with shady individuals in the backstreets around venues.

There are some concerns, however, about how this relatively young market is working, as I explained when we last considered this issue in January. I know that many hon. Members have been following this area very closely, and I appreciate the keen interest in this issue. I know that several members of the all-party parliamentary group and of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport are in their places today, and I pay tribute to their extensive work on this issue over a number of years.

The Competition and Markets Authority has also been active in this area. I warmly welcome its announcement last week that it has secured further protection for consumers. This work makes an important contribution to our parliamentary debates. To deal with them, there has been general agreement across the House on two central points: we agree on the importance of a safe and secure environment for fans to buy and sell tickets; and we agree on the need for event organisers, the marketplaces themselves and enforcers to play their part in combating fraudulent practices in the resale market.

We were not, however, able to support an amendment made by the House of Lords in November. While that amendment aimed to increase transparency in the market, we were concerned about privacy and unintended consequences for the secondary market. We did not think that that amendment would allow the secondary market to continue to thrive or to be a proportionate and appropriate response to concerns that had been raised. Since December, we have been working intensively with all the relevant stakeholders to see if a compromise could be reached—a compromise that allows fans to resell tickets they cannot use, but one that also tackles some of the known issues in the market.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Minister in the House of Lords said that the Government were accepting these amendments on the basis that people would still be able to sell on their tickets at any price they could command, and that the sports bodies concerned could not blacklist anybody who decided to do that. Will the Minister confirm that that is the Government’s position and the basis on which they are accepting the amendments?

Jo Swinson: I am certainly happy to confirm that position. There is already protection in the unfair trading regulations, and any unfair terms can be challenged in law, so they should not be included. There would be many circumstances in which the terms surrounding the cancellation of ticket reselling would be deemed to be unfair. My only caveat would be that, in some circumstances, such terms might be appropriate. If, for example, a particular category of ticket aimed at a particular sector such as a youth audience were sold at a discount and it was important to increase access to such events for a particular group, some restrictions on resale could be justified and the terms deemed to be fair. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will reassured by what I have said.

On 24 February, the other place agreed to add provisions to the Bill to protect consumers in the secondary ticket market. Those addressed the concerns I raised during our last debate and, importantly, they achieved cross-party

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welcome and support. The provisions cover four main issues. First, they put on a statutory basis the review that I announced here on 12 January. They also give more details on what the review will cover and how it will be conducted. It will be a full review of consumer protection measures in the secondary ticketing market.

As I explained during our last debate, this will be an independent review and it will be presented to Parliament. The review will start this summer and be presented to Parliament within a year of the duty coming into force. The review will look at the current law, including any new provisions, and assess how best to protect consumers. It will be an invaluable opportunity to gather evidence on how the market works and how consumers can best be protected when operating within it.

Secondly, there is a requirement that online ticketing marketplaces report criminal activity on their sites. Where they are aware of such activity—for example, fraud—they must report it to the police and the event organiser. This new requirement addresses an issue many hon. Members raised during the Bill’s passage. There is criminal activity and fraud in this market, as there can be in any market, and we should be concerned about that.

Philip Davies: The Minister is being typically kind in giving way. What measures exist to prevent people from setting up online sites offshore, and how would the law apply to an offshore internet site that was selling on tickets in a secondary market?

Jo Swinson: The hon. Gentleman has identified challenges that exist in regulation of all kinds that applies to the internet and to foreign sites and companies. I do not think that those challenges can be the basis for an argument against trying to make the market fairer. We have built a consensus with the key players in the industry, and have arrived at proposals that they believe to be workable. We have a secondary ticketing market that works very successfully for many consumers in this country, and because there are existing, established providers, it is unlikely that there will be a sudden exodus of tickets to sites abroad. Consumers will also be aware of the protections from which they benefit when using sites in the United Kingdom. The legislation will cover sites with which they are already familiar.

There is no benefit in making crimes “doubly” illegal, but it is important for us to improve reporting and enforcement, and the new requirement to report fraud will help in that regard.

The final two changes that we are making address the issues of transparency and consumer protection directly. To improve transparency, those who sell tickets online must give buyers some basic information. That information, when applicable, consists of the face value of the ticket, the seat number, and any restrictions relating to the person who can use the ticket. When those in the secondary market, event organisers or certain other connected persons are selling the tickets themselves, they must make that clear. The provision is complementary to, and supplements, existing law. It ensures that buyers will be given some of the most important information that they will need in order to make an informed choice.

Crucially, the list of information that must be provided does not include the name of the individual seller, so individual consumers will not have to give their names

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when they sell online. As was pointed out when we considered the earlier amendments in January, that is an important way of protecting sellers from identity theft. We are providing a finite list of the most important pieces of information that a consumer will need to make an informed purchasing decision, thus ensuring that there is compliance with relevant EU law.

I know that some Members—including the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)—fear that the new information will allow event organisers to cancel tickets or blacklist sellers. That might, of course, be unfair on fans, and give those event organisers unfair control of the market. We share those Members’ concern, which is why our provisions build in consumer safeguards. An event organiser will not be able to cancel a ticket or blacklist a seller merely because the ticket is resold or offered for resale, unless there is a term in the original sales contract that allows for that, and, perhaps more important, the term itself is fair. Terms that prohibit resale are not always fair, and those that are not fair do not bind the consumer. Similarly, terms that seek to prohibit resale at or above a particular price are not always fair, and not always binding on the consumer.

The combination of transparency and consumer safeguards will allow the secondary market to flourish. It will ensure that no one, including event organisers, has a monopoly on resales, or an unfettered ability to set prices in the secondary market. The new system of light-touch regulation will make buyers and sellers confident about using the market. It will make the market more dynamic, and will benefit consumers further by creating competition in relation to price and quality of service. The review that I mentioned earlier will ensure that that outcome materialises in practice. If other issues arise, or if the new legislation has any unintended consequences, the review will pick that up.

The hon. Member for Shipley has shown great interest in the Bill, and has brought a great deal of energy to our debates.

Philip Davies: Is that a compliment?

Jo Swinson: It is indeed a compliment, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman takes it as one.

If the hon. Gentleman’s amendment were passed, chapter 3B would cease to apply two years after coming into force. The Government share his fear that regulation of the resale market could threaten the current online ticket marketplaces. That is why chapter 3B makes it clear that tickets cannot be cancelled or their sellers blacklisted merely because the tickets are offered for resale, unless certain strict conditions are met. The consumer protection that amendment 12Q seeks to introduce is already part of these provisions. Striking this down after two years would neither help nor protect consumers.

Philip Davies: The Government have set great store by the review they are going to carry out after the election and after the legislation has been introduced. Surely a sunset clause of two years will give that review much more power, because it will mean that by the end of the review the Government will have to make specific proposals to implement its recommendations, rather than just a review taking place and dying?

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Jo Swinson: My hon. Friend clearly takes that view. However, I think that two years after the legislation has come into force is not very long at all. It would be very shortly after the review had concluded and the Government had issued their response. Indeed this would already have pre-empted the outcome of the review by saying it should be sunsetted, because if the review finds that the new provisions are working well, it will be required to take action to make that continue. The review might recommend removal of the provisions, but in that scenario we would also want the benefit of the advice on the best timing in which to do so, rather than some arbitrary date being imposed. However, what I would say to reassure my hon. Friend is that if such action was required as a result of the review, the Government could use primary legislation to repeal chapter 3B without needing a sunset clause.

Finally on amendment 12Q, we should take a step back and look at how it could impact on the market. I am sure I do not need to remind this House of the disruption caused by changing the law too often. Changes and reforms are necessary and important, but there are costs to business in implementing a new regime, and to have it repealed wholesale after two years would incur significant costs.

We must also consider the major events we host in this country. Amendment 12Q would mean that fans of some such events benefit from the new regime, but others do not. For example, fans buying and selling tickets for events such as the world athletics championship in 2017, possibly the biggest athletics event we will have hosted since the Olympics, would lose out. That would not be fair on those fans.

In conclusion, we believe the provisions agreed in the other place create a proportionate, light-touch regime to protect consumers and the secondary market. I encourage Members to support them and allow this important Bill to move to Royal Assent.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): I am delighted that this issue has now come back to this place, as we have always believed that the Consumer Rights Bill gives an opportunity to provide real protection against rip-off practices, particularly in the secondary ticketing market.

We all know that healthy, fair and competitive markets are vital to building an economy that works for both consumers and businesses. We also know that well-informed consumers make for better customers and better-informed citizens get better outcomes in dealing with both the public and private sector. Ticket touting is a classic example of a market where a group of traders are colluding to restrict supply and so push up prices, ripping off consumers by overcharging them and as a result shattering the dreams of many fans. We have argued this throughout the passage of the Bill and, while we are pleased that Ministers are now in agreement, they have been dragged here kicking and screaming to make these changes.

I was delighted that in the last sentence of her speech the Minister agreed with the Lords amendments, but it has taken her three years to do so. That sums up this Administration. They rail against good ideas from Opposition Members, charities, non-governmental organisations, trade bodies, trade unions, the public and others, and then they are eventually embarrassed

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into having to bring forward the very provisions they have railed against. We have witnessed that with regularity, first on allowing the Groceries Code Adjudicator to fine people, and also on giving tied landlords a better deal with pubcos and better enforcement of the national minimum wage to name just a few, and they even had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do something about zero-hours contracts.

Now we have the secondary ticketing issue, where the Minister and the Government are arguing against their views of just a few weeks ago. On 21 January 2011 the Culture Secretary told Parliament:

“Ticket resellers act like classic entrepreneurs”

and that concerns about touting represented

“the chattering middle classes and champagne socialists”.—[Official Report, 21 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 1186, 1187.]

That is obviously not the case now.

On Friday 6 February 2015 the Daily Mirror quoted the Culture Secretary as saying unscrupulous websites have every right to hoover up sought-after tickets for football matches and pop concerts and flog them at five or 10 times the asking price. He said:

“There’s nothing wrong with a healthy second market”

and went on to say

“I don't have any problem with it.”

He obviously does now.

5.45 pm

On 12 January 2015, the Minister herself argued:

“There is a more substantive issue of principle. Is it right for Government to tell consumers that they cannot sell items that they have bought second-hand at above the price that they paid for them?”—[Official Report, 12 January 2015; Vol. 590, c. 661.]

She obviously thinks that that is now okay, just a few short weeks later.

Labour MPs have been campaigning on this issue for several years, and have supported amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill right from the start of its progress through this place, but it has taken the Government more than a year—during which time they lost one vote and voted against the measures on three occasions—to admit that they were wrong.

I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). When, in future, people buy tickets on the secondary market to attend that cup final they have always dreamed of—just a dream for many of us—or for that concert by the band they always wanted to see or that festival on their bucket list, they will be able to thank her for her courage and perseverance in getting us here today and for her role as the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse. Her co-chair, the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), also deserves a great deal of credit for the way in which he has cajoled his colleagues to come this far and brought his considerable experience of the industry to this place. I wish him well in pastures new after he steps down at the general election. The all-party group recommended

“greater transparency in the secondary market, in particular on whether the seller is a professional or occasional seller, and what the face value and individual characteristics of the ticket are.”

This is a huge issue, as the secondary ticketing market in the UK is valued at more than £1 billion a year. We must protect consumers in that marketplace, and that is

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why we have pressed so hard for these amendments. Let us look at two recent examples of why the measures are needed. In November 2013 there was outcry after all 20,000 tickets for Monty Python’s reunion performance sold out in three quarters of a minute, only to reappear on secondary ticketing websites at more than 15 times their face value. That was not the work of the Messiah; it was the work of a very naughty boy. High-profile concerts by the Stone Roses at Heaton Park in July 2012—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) went to all of them—were being advertised on secondary ticketing websites for more than £1,000 after tickets had sold out, having had an original face value of just £55.

The Government amendments, although late and forced, are very welcome. We agree with the new clause creating a duty to provide information about tickets. This covers the information that sellers of secondary tickets will now have to provide when reselling tickets. That information includes the seat number, or detailed location if the event is standing only, and any additional restrictions on the use of the ticket. For example, information will have to be given on whether the seat has a restricted view—I am sure we have all ended up in restricted view seats; perhaps I do so because I go for the cheap seats—or whether admittance is restricted to over-18s.

The information will also have to include the face value of the ticket and the original selling price, and state whether the seller is employed by or linked to either a secondary seller’s site or an event organiser. On 12 January, the Minister spoke against the notion of transparency, but it is difficult to see how the proposal now being put forward by the Government, agreeing with the Lords amendments, overcomes her previous concerns.

We agree with the new clause on the prohibition on cancellation or blacklisting tickets. This will mean that event organisers will not be able to cancel tickets arbitrarily just because they are being resold. When we debated this matter on 12 January—a date that will no doubt be etched on the Minister’s mind—a similar amendment was tabled by the Opposition to protect fans from being unable to sell their tickets on. The Minister said that she could not support the amendment, yet the Government have now backed an amendment on the exactly same issue.

We also agree with the new clause providing for a duty to report criminal activity. This places a duty on the secondary ticketing websites to report it to the police when they discover that a seller is using the site to commit fraud. We have significant concerns, however, that the measures will not be properly enforced, given that we have heard recently from the Trading Standards Institute that trading standards departments have been cut by an average of 40% since 2010.

We agree with the new clause creating a duty to review measures relating to secondary ticketing. There must be a statutory review of the consumer issues in the secondary market within 12 months of the Act coming into force, as the market moves so quickly. This will offer an opportunity to review whether the requirement for companies to provide more information about the tickets being sold has enabled action to be taken to tackle ticket touts.

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There are a number of things that we want the Government to do in any such review. Having said that, it will probably be my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) sitting on the Government Benches and taking these matters forward after 7 May, but I will put these points on the record none the less. The review should consider: the enforcement of consumer regulations; online software—the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) mentioned enforcement for companies based outside the UK—especially the kind that can hoover up large volumes of tickets in a short space of time and push up prices; tickets that never reach primary markets; lost tax revenue to the Treasury; and additional charges.

We have seen the Competition and Markets Authority take action on additional charges, but they still seem excessive. Lastly, we would like that review also to examine collusion, as there is widespread concern that some “secondary ticket sales” are actually event organisers seeking to use these sites to sell tickets at higher prices without being accountable to fans for doing so. We hope that the review will examine such issues.

We very much welcome the Government U-turn on this issue but just wish it had happened a lot sooner. As for the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), does he not want to stand on the side of his constituents who are being ripped off by secondary ticket sites? Perhaps it would have been better if his amendment had introduced a sunset clause on this Government, meaning that they expired five years after their introduction—perhaps that is what we should do on 7 May.

We have managed to get to a position where we can protect consumers when they buy tickets on the secondary market. Be it a ticket for a popular west end show bought as an anniversary present, a ticket for your beloved Arsenal or for my club, the famous Heart of Midlothian football club, a ticket for a sold out One Direction concert—do they actually sell out?—or a ticket for an iconic sporting event such as Wimbledon, we can now buy our secondary tickets with confidence, protection and transparency. That is why we agree with the Lords amendments.

Philip Davies: It is difficult to know where to start, but I shall begin by saying that there was one thing on which I very much agreed with the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), which was when he said at the start that the Government had in effect done a massive U-turn—they clearly have. My colleagues ought to be aware that in a few minutes’ time, or whenever it may be, they will be encouraged by the Minister to vote for something that they have twice been invited to vote against. I should say to the hon. Gentleman that if his party is lucky enough to be in a position to put a coalition together after the election and he is thus thrashing around for coalition partners, he will have seen at first hand what happens in coalition with the Lib Dems: they find it easy to change their view on something within a few weeks, and usually it does not take them that long.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): On changing minds, perhaps the hon. Gentleman should look closer to home, as the Prime Minister seems to have changed his mind about TV debates.

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Philip Davies: You would rule me out of order if we got into a slanging match about TV debates, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is an affable chap and I am happy to have a cup of tea with him afterwards so we can discuss the merits of the TV debates. I do not think this is the right venue for such a discussion, as I would rightly be ruled out of order if I were to go down that route. I knew it was a mistake to give way to him.

Once upon a time, as you will recall, Mr Speaker, the Conservative party used to believe in the free market. It appears to be an increasingly alien concept these days, but I am wedded to the idea and I always thought it was what the Conservative party believed in. I am talking about the idea that if someone owned some property, they were free to sell it on to somebody at a price they were happy to sell it for and others were happy to pay. That is the whole essence of the free market, and it happens with every possible thing we can ever buy, including houses—they are in short supply at the moment too, with much more demand than supply. But I worry that Government Members seem to have given up completely on the free market.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab) rose

Philip Davies: I am happy to give way to someone who never believed in the free market.

Kelvin Hopkins: Indeed; the hon. Gentleman has a point. The free market operates where supply can actually be increased. Where there is a limited supply, the price simply increases and people are exploited.

Philip Davies: I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not want to rehearse all the arguments we have had in the past, but what we are talking about does not just happen with tickets. For example, limited edition products are sold all the time—there is a limited number of them. When a painting is sold, there is just one and the demand for it may well outstrip the supply. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that wherever demand outstrips supply and the supply cannot be increased, nobody should ever be able to make a profit? That may well be the policy the Labour party is arriving at: nobody is ever allowed to make a profit. That is a perfectly respectable position for the hon. Gentleman to hold, and he holds his positions consistently, and with great vigour, honour and determination. I do not blame those in the Labour party for being in favour of these kind of restrictions: because they are socialists, they do not want people to make a profit and they want to regulate every aspect of people’s lives. That is fair enough; I respect them for that, although I do not like it. What I object to is the fact that Conservative Members are being asked to give up on the free market.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I always have great respect for anything the hon. Gentleman has to say. I have to tell him that the UK Independence party has adopted the free market mantle now, as his party has gradually eschewed it.

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman kindly said that he had a great deal of respect for what I had to say, which is certainly more than can be said for most people on the Government Benches, so I am very grateful to him for that kind comment. It probably will not do

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much for his reputation within his party, but I am grateful for it, because I have a great deal of respect for him, too.

I believe in the free market and am not ashamed of doing so. I believe it acts in the best interests of the consumer. The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) said he was surprised that I was not standing up for my constituents as consumers, but I am. I believe in the free market; I believe that people should have the right to sell on their ticket if they buy one and then find that they cannot go to the event or that somebody else is prepared to pay a higher price for it. I will happily take my chances with my electorate at the general election, to see whether they are happy that I look after their interests, just as he will put his record before his electorate at the general election—we shall see how we both get on.

The Minister glossed over the fact that the Government have done a complete U-turn on this issue. I do not know whether she is embarrassed about that or not, but I would be if I were in her shoes.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I am surprised to hear about the extent of the U-turn. Can my hon. Friend explain why there has been such a U-turn? Surely the Government are normally consistent—or try to be consistent—from one week to the next.

Philip Davies: I congratulate my hon. Friend on keeping a straight face when he said that, but it is not for me to explain it. I have certainly kept my position consistent, and I have to congratulate the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on maintaining a consistent position on these issues. I can only presume that the interference of our Liberal Democrat coalition friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has led to this about-turn.

We have an issue here, because the Minister seems to be arguing that nobody in the secondary market has anything to worry about and that their industry is going to thrive, prosper and flourish, yet all the sporting bodies and events organisers, and some of our hon. Friends, are cock-a-hoop about this. They are not cock-a-hoop because they think the secondary ticketing market is going to thrive and prosper as a result of this Lords amendment being accepted; they are cock-a-hoop because they think the exact opposite will happen. I have to congratulate the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who has been very persistent on this issue, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley). They obviously knew what they were dealing with in Liberal Democrat Ministers; they knew that they were always in the game for a U-turn whenever the Lib Dems were involved, and I congratulate them on their industry and initiative in that regard.

The question nobody has asked is why are the sporting bodies and events organisers so keen for the full details of the ticket—the row number, the section number, the ticket number, the seat number and the whole lot—to be published online? Let me give hon. Members the answer. They are so desperate to have that information so that they can see who bought the ticket, cancel the ticket if it gets sold on to somebody else, blacklist the person involved and prevent them from ever buying a ticket in

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the future. The only reason they want this information is so that they can use that information to stop this market.

The Government have said that these bodies will not be able to do that—the law will say they cannot do that—but I would like to know from the Minister who is going to police that? When somebody turns up to an event with a ticket bought from a secondary ticketing site and the event organiser says, “Sorry, I’m not going to let you in. We don’t like the look of that ticket. We saw it in the secondary ticketing industry”, who is going to be there from the Government to say, “No, this chap should be allowed into this event”? Nobody will be there. That person will be sent away and never get to see the event they wanted to see—the Government will have let them down. Even if the person went to court and won the case, they would still have not got to the event they particularly wanted to see. It is an absolute con if consumers think this will protect their interests when they buy a ticket from the secondary market. The sporting bodies know it and the hon. Members here who have been agitating for this measure know it, and that is why the sporting bodies and the events organisers are so keen to have this information. The Minister says that people cannot be blacklisted, but who is going to police that? Who is going to stop it? What resources are the Government putting in to make sure that does not happen? The answer is none. Basically, there are just warm words. The Government are repeating what they did on immigration, which is making a promise that they know they are in no position to keep. It is that kind of thing that brings politics into disrepute.

The Minister said that consumers could now have confidence in the market, but where is the evidence that consumers do not have confidence in the secondary ticketing market? Consumers have confidence in the secondary ticketing market, but the sporting bodies and the big event organisers do not. If people did not have confidence in it, they would not be buying tickets there in the first place. The problem for these big bodies and these multi-millionaire music organisers is that too many people do have confidence in the secondary ticketing market, which is why they want to damage it. That is why we should reject these Lords amendments this evening.

6 pm

What will happen is exactly what I predicted in an intervention on the Minister. We have a successful online secondary ticketing industry in this country. Lots of people are employed in it and it works very well. When the regulations come in and the things that I describe happen, the companies will have no alternative but to up sticks and locate themselves in a foreign jurisdiction, taking their jobs with them. They will set up their sites and advertise their tickets in offshore territories around the world. It will make absolutely no difference to the consumer. In fact, as the Minister said, it will weaken the consumer protection that we currently have in the secondary ticketing market and it will make absolutely no difference to people selling on their tickets at a profit. This is just a job export scheme from a successful industry in this country for no good reason at all. It is an absolute travesty that the Government are giving in on this particular issue.

Amendment (a) would introduce a sunset clause to the Bill. A few weeks ago in a parliamentary question, I asked how many Government Bills had contained sunset

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clauses in recent years. I am pleased to say that hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of legislation have contained sunset clauses. The Government are quite happy to put sunset clauses in legislation. In fact, we should have more sunset clauses in legislation to see how the provisions work in practice.

There is a huge divergence of opinion over the impact of the legislation. The Minister says that the secondary market will flourish and expand, that everything will be fine and dandy and that nothing will change. The sporting bodies, music event organisers and secondary ticketing market do not agree. Undoubtedly, we will end up with some kind of court case to determine what terms and conditions are fair or unfair. Who will decide that? It will not be this House; it will be unelected judges, and all because the Government do not have the guts to put in the Bill what they consider to be fair or unfair.

When those court decisions are reached, surely this House and the House of Lords should revisit the issue to see whether everybody’s intentions have been met. The Government said that they will review the industry after this legislation comes into effect, but we all know that that is the old civil service talk for kicking it into touch or the long grass. That promise is designed just to get us over this debate. Afterwards, it will be, “Well, we won’t worry about that review.” It will just end up in the quicksand somewhere. Everybody knows what happens with these so-called reviews: they die a death and nothing ever happens. My amendment would ensure that that review was meaningful, that something positive would come out of this, and that we could start again.

This legislation is a fundamental infringement of the free market. Whether or not people agree with the Lords amendment, we are making a very big change. We have barely any time to debate it. It was not debated on Third Reading, because it was not even in the Bill. It is most unsatisfactory to pass serious legislation in this way. Before this amendment, I supported this legislation. I have voted for a Bill that now contains something I would have voted against. I have no opportunity to say that I do not agree with this particular Bill. That cannot be the way to pass important legislation. A sunset clause would allow us to come back to this matter properly in two years’ time, and to start afresh with a Government Bill in which everything is debated properly right from the word go.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give me some idea of how much damage might be done to the industry during a two-year phase?

Philip Davies: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The Minister argued that two years was very short. In two years’ time, the whole industry could have upped sticks and gone abroad. It may well be that my two-year sunset clause is too long. I will happily be chastised for that, but I thought it was important that we put a line in the sand. I thought that two years would give us a reasonable time to see how the legislation worked with different tournaments and different music events. It is ample time for people to consider the effects. If those people who are in favour of the Lords amendments are so confident in their arguments, they have nothing to fear from a sunset clause. If everything is fine and dandy and none of my fears comes to

9 Mar 2015 : Column 67

fruition, the Government will happily reintroduce the legislation and it will sail through because it has been shown to have worked. They do not like the sunset clause because they know that the point I am making is the real agenda behind this Bill, and they do not want to be rumbled.

Once the Bill is on the statute book, the Government think that that will be it and nobody will bother or have the courage to revisit it, and I suspect that they are right. That is why I have tabled my amendment. I understand that there may be some difficulty in having a vote on it, even though it is sensible, and I am sorry that the Government have refused to accept it. This is an unfair and unnecessary intrusion into the free market. Who knows what consequences will flow from this legislation? I shall urge my colleagues to do what they have done twice in recent times already, and vote down the Lords amendment. I shall be interested to see how many of my colleagues vote for something that they have happily voted against in recent weeks and how, as a general election is coming, they will justify their action to their constituents. I shall happily be able to tell my constituents that I stuck to my guns, that I did not change my mind and that that is why I do not want to be in coalition with these wishy-washy Liberal Democrats any more.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): As many in the House are aware, I have been interested in the secondary ticketing market for many years now, and, alongside the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), I have co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, the report of which spearheaded the former amendments to those we are debating today.

It is my long-standing belief that for a long time things have needed to change in the sector, as more and more fans are being ripped off and exploited by unscrupulous touts, and ordinary people are being priced out of seeing the artists, shows, or teams that they love. The full extent of the problem was clear last week when the Competition and Markets Authority, after consulting the major ticket re-sellers, published a new code of conduct—an agreement for which the CMA was happy to take all the credit, somewhat ignoring all the hard work and campaigning over many years of Members, peers and other industry bodies, and on which we are now legislating.

However, that small gripe aside, on the very same day that the new code of conduct was announced, a person could go on some of those companies’ websites and find tickets, guaranteed, for the upcoming boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas. On one site, the cheapest came in at just under £4,000, and the most expensive floor seats at more than £32,000. That was despite the fact that last week there were no official tickets yet on sale and original ticket prices had not even been agreed. That is a ludicrous situation which leaves the public totally misinformed about the marketplace and serves only further to inflate prices when the tickets become available.

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that it was bizarre that the CMA came out with guidance only days before Parliament was debating the

9 Mar 2015 : Column 68

issue and passing laws in this House? It seemed almost to usurp what we are doing.

Mrs Hodgson: I totally agree. As I have mentioned, I was surprised that in the press coverage the CMA was taking all the credit for the new measures given that Parliament has been pushing for this in both Houses. As the new authority, which is replacing the OFT, has now agreed with Parliament, the CMA should perhaps have mentioned that fact in some of its press coverage.

Sadly, the example I have given is one of many hundreds of thousands that routinely happen every day. It is only through measures such as the Lords amendment that we can hope to tackle the worst excesses of the industry and put the genuine fans first.

Let me be clear that the argument and the fight have never been about stopping the resale of tickets. The legitimate resale of tickets is not the problem and those who have claimed that clamping down on ticket touts and increasing transparency will harm true fans know very little about the problems and even less about what needs to be done to address them. Greater transparency is never a problem for a market operating properly and it is only in the interests of illegal ticket touts to sit back and do nothing to change the law. Others say that this is a licence for event organisers to cancel tickets, but the amendment clearly sets out that event organisers cannot cancel tickets simply because they have been resold, and can do so only in very specific circumstances. I am glad that that safeguard is in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has tabled a characteristically unhelpful amendment that would insert a sunset clause for the provision—an act that is as misguided as it is obstructive. I know that the Opposition will vote against it and I am sure that the Government will too, as it is our intention to work on behalf of the fans and not the touts. Any further debate on that point gives it merit that it simply does not deserve.

Before I consider the specifics of the amendments proposed in the other place, let me praise Lord Moynihan for his diligent cross-party work and for succeeding in achieving such an important step towards strengthening the regulations in the sector. As a former Sports Minister, he knew first hand how pernicious the practice is. It has been an extremely productive experience working with him, as it has been with many other colleagues in both Houses who care just as passionately about the rights of fans as he, the hon. Member for Hove as my co-chair on the all-party group, the members of the all-party group and I do. I know that Lord Moynihan worked tirelessly over the last recess to secure a compromise with Ministers across two Departments—a feat few could accomplish—and event goers and fans across the country owe him a debt of gratitude for the amendment.

As has been said, the amendment will do three key things to help stop the exploitation of fans. First, it will boost transparency, as from the time the Bill is enacted, ticket resellers will have to provide a seat number, any restrictions or limits on the ticket and the original face value of the ticket to all those they hope to sell it to. That will give fans far more knowledge about what they are buying and will give event managers more information about the tickets that are being resold.

Secondly, the amendment will place a duty on ticket resellers to report criminal activity if they suspect it, making the enforcement of the law much more proactive

9 Mar 2015 : Column 69

and effective and discouraging the secondary market platforms from turning a blind eye and letting the worst excesses of these practices continue.

Finally and crucially, the amendment compels the Secretary of State to review measures relating to the industry in a report to Parliament after 12 months, and that is what I would like to use the remaining time to speak about. The improvements in the amendment are a crucial first step, but they do not solve all the problems we can see in the sector. The review process will be absolutely vital in taking representations from the industry and making proposals that can build on the legislation and get to the heart of what is wrong with how things operate.

There is much that needs to be considered in the review, but I shall limit myself to a couple of key points that must be investigated if we are ever properly to understand why the problem is so persistent and deep-rooted. The first is the speed at which secondary ticketing sites get access to tickets in the first place. Secondary ticketing platforms can have hundreds if not thousands of tickets on their sites and ready to be sold within minutes of their first going on general release and in some cases even before they have gone on sale. How can that happen without sophisticated software, such as bots, harvesting them, without certain so-called power sellers working alongside the platforms to get tickets on their behalf or without inside trading, such as behind-the-scenes deals in which premium tickets are not sold on the primary market but given straight to the secondary market to be sold at huge mark-ups?

6.15 pm

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that in some circumstances those people never have tickets in the first place but are chancing their arm to see whether they could get inflated prices?

Mrs Hodgson: I agree. Sometimes they are following through on a fraudulent transaction and sometimes the listing is speculative, as they might try to get a ticket later and want to see how much they can sell it for.

Given that there is no lawful way to harvest large numbers of tickets and that behind-the-scenes deals are at best duplicitous and immoral, we must ask just how the situation can take place and continue. Further to that point, if the tickets showing on the system have not been acquired, how can the sellers guarantee their sale on their sites? An investigation of those guarantees must be central to the review, because if that approach is found to be misleading, it would directly go against consumer rights, which are of course the entire purpose of the Bill. One way the all-party group on ticket abuse thought of to solve that would be to publish the seller’s identity when reselling tickets. I am sure that that will also be considered in the review.

The duty under the new amendment to report criminal activity is welcome, but we must also ask why past instances of criminality have been so largely unreported in the sector, even when the secondary platforms have been the victims and have had to pay out large sums in compensation. Has that been seen simply as collateral damage? It cannot be a continued coincidence and questions must be asked in the review.

9 Mar 2015 : Column 70

In conclusion, the review is crucial and much needed and will have to be handled carefully and expertly so that we understand how best further to protect the public. That is why the choice of chair is so important. The marketplace is so complicated that it will need somebody who understands it but who is fair minded enough to listen and engage with all parties while keeping the rights of the fans at the heart of the entire process. If I may be so bold as to venture a suggestion, I think that my all-party group co-chair, the hon. Member for Hove, would be an ideal candidate to take up the challenge after he leaves Parliament. I do not know what his plans are—he might be hoping to travel the world and have a normal life for a while—but I can think of no one better. Whoever is chosen, however, I am confident that they will ensure that the right questions are asked, the right leads are pursued and the right outcome is achieved so that at last we can be sure that the market will put fans first.

Mike Weatherley: It is an honour to follow my co-chair on the all-party group, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). The amendment is the culmination of four years of hard campaigning and it is a little ironic that we have only about two minutes to squeeze in all our comments. I will not go through all the points that have been made so admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West, as there is no point in doing so, other than to say that the bots have made the free market untenable and something needs to change.

I want to make two particular points. The first is about the review, which is crucial. I thought at first that that would be like kicking the issue into the long grass, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, but it is an essential part of the reforms. The critics of the reforms are screaming about the potential problems, as we have heard, whereas those who want more action are screaming that more should be done. That is a lot of shouting, but time will tell and the review, which will report in a relatively short period of time in parliamentary terms, will closely consider both claims and at last come up with a proper analysis and recommendations.

The legislation specifically states that terms and conditions need to be fair, and making sure that they are fair must be part of the review. The terms and conditions that event organisers attach to tickets are there to protect fans—not to take advantage of them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley indicated they might be. Where fans have bought tickets for genuine use, and have a genuine reason for resale—that is, where they have bought tickets not just to make a profit—I am fully behind their ability to resell. I will make sure that that is a fundamental principle in the review. Equally, I will make sure that the insertion of “fair terms” in the amendment is not the secondary ticketing industry’s way of undermining all these changes to the law. I am pleased that groups such as the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Rugby Football Union are fully behind the amendments.

As with all compromises, neither side is fully happy with the solution, but on balance, this is a good step in the right direction. The review will be key. With this review, the UK, with its rich cultural heritage and world-leading position, will once again be the focus of

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world attention. I suspect that the review will act as a blueprint for many countries around the world—both those that have enacted secondary ticketing legislation, and those considering doing so.

Ian Murray: The hon. Gentleman has put so much effort into ensuring that we got to this point today. Will he, with his experience of the industry, say what he would like the conclusions of the review to look like? What questions should be asked to make sure that the secondary ticketing market works best for both consumers and businesses?

Mike Weatherley: I thank the shadow Minister for his intervention. The review must be balanced. Obviously, I am pushing for more regulation, because I feel that the free market has fallen down, but we should consider experiences around the world. There are states in America that have repealed secondary ticketing laws, and we need to look at why. Was it because the legislation was badly drafted? Norway and Denmark have laws under which tickets cannot be sold above face value, but they have never been enacted. Is that because, as someone mentioned, trading standards teams do not have enough teeth to implement such measures? All of that needs to be in the review; that is absolutely essential. There are so many aspects to the review that it will be quite an exciting one.

To summarise, and to misquote E.M. Forster on democracy, two cheers for the amendment, but not quite three. However, I am really pleased that we will enact this law before the end of this Parliament, and before I step down. This is very much a good step forward.

Jo Swinson: I congratulate the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) on their tireless work on this issue. They should be pleased with the outcome that they have managed to achieve. I want to address two points that came up in the debate. The first was the question, “Why now?”, and the second was about the CMA.

On the question of why now, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) seemed to suggest that we had voted for something and will now be voting against it, or some such thing. The amendments that we are considering differ in two respects from the ones that we considered in January. First, on privacy, the amendments in January stipulated that the name of those selling tickets would have to be a piece of information that was made transparent. We thought that there were privacy concerns about that. Secondly, there were concerns about compliance with EU law—the technical standards directive—and that could unfortunately have rendered all the provisions unenforceable. That was because of the de facto price cap in the amendment put forward by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West. For those reasons, although we understood the concerns brought forward, we could not accept the amendments in January. Of course, those concerns have now been addressed; that is why we are able to accept the Lords amendments today.

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Last week’s announcement by the CMA has been mentioned. The CMA in no way sought to usurp the work done in this House. It had done a long-running piece of enforcement work against four sites. The announcement covered the transparency elements of amendment 12J, but the amendment puts things on a statutory footing and should be very welcome.

The CMA does, of course, have significant power. To address the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, it would be able to stop an organiser cancelling tickets. The CMA has shown that it is willing to act in this market should there be any concern that tickets were being cancelled, and I am sure that it would be happy to do so in future. On the international point, as the provisions apply to marketplaces and sellers targeting the UK, enforcement action can take place elsewhere. Indeed, the CMA recently pursued successful enforcement action against several websites, including viagogo, which is of course based in Switzerland. That shows that we have the enforcement to back up these consumer protections, which are proportionate, and which do not give rise to the privacy concerns that we had before. They will help to make sure that the secondary market can genuinely thrive and work better for consumers.

Question put, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 12J.

The House divided:

Ayes 353, Noes 5.

Division No. 172]


6.25 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Allen, Mr Graham

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Balls, rh Ed

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Barron, rh Kevin

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berger, Luciana

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brennan, Kevin

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, rh Annette

Brown, Mr Russell

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Bryant, Chris

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burnham, rh Andy

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Byles, Dan

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Sir William

Chapman, Jenny

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Creagh, Mary

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Dakin, Nic

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Geraint

Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doughty, Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Field, Mark

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flynn, Paul

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fovargue, Yvonne

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Green, Kate

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hamilton, Mr David

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, rh Greg

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Healey, rh John

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hilling, Julie

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kelvin

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Mr Marcus

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kawczynski, Daniel

Keeley, Barbara

Kelly, Chris

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, rh Norman

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Lavery, Ian

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Chris

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Sir Peter

Lumley, Karen

Mactaggart, Fiona

Malhotra, Seema

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maude, rh Mr Francis

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McInnes, Liz

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McKechin, Ann

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

Mearns, Ian

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Andrew

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Moore, rh Michael

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, Grahame M.


Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Munn, Meg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Ian

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Onwurah, Chi

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Parish, Neil

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Phillipson, Bridget

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruane, Chris

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Seabeck, Alison

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, rh Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Nick

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spellar, rh Mr John

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tami, Mark

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vaz, rh Keith

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Watson, Mr Tom

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, rh Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, rh Jenny

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Ben Wallace


Lorely Burt


Bone, Mr Peter

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Stewart, Bob

Tellers for the Noes:

Philip Davies


Mr Christopher Chope

Question accordingly agreed to.

9 Mar 2015 : Column 73

9 Mar 2015 : Column 74

9 Mar 2015 : Column 75

Lords amendment 12J agreed to.

More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the Deputy Speaker put the remaining question to be decided at that hour.

Remaining Lords amendments agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 12M and 12S.

9 Mar 2015 : Column 76

Commission Work Programme 2015

[Relevant documents: Thirty-first report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC219-xxx, Chapter1]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of Sir William Cash.

6.40 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 5080/15 and Addenda 1 to 4, a Commission Communication: Commission Work Programme 2015–A New Start; and supports the Government’s view that the most significant initiatives are those that focus on the strategic priorities set out by the European Council in June 2014 to promote jobs, growth and investment in the EU.

This is the fourth such debate in which I have taken part as Minister for Europe, but I think it is the first time I can say that the European Commission has sent a strong message that it intends to do things in a different fashion from how its work has been carried out in the past. The clear message from President Juncker and his team is that they want to focus on a smaller number of key priorities and that they wish to set limits on the degree to which the Commission, and the EU collectively, can interfere in matters that are often better handled at national or local level.

Of course, the test of that message will be what happens in practice; it is actions that will count, not words. However, I am encouraged by the creation of the powerful post of First Vice-President of the Commission, which gives Frans Timmermans, the former Dutch Foreign Minister, an overarching power to veto any proposals that do not meet the requirements of subsidiarity and proportionality. He is already making it clear that a key element of his responsibility is to say a firm no to fellow commissioners, to the European Parliament and to outside lobbyists and to focus only on those matters where the Commission judges that European action would genuinely give Europe added value that could not be achieved by other means.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I have spoken with Mr Timmermans a number of times in COSAC meetings with the chairmen of the 28 member states. On the question of national Parliaments, which is the key question in relation to subsidiarity—it is the question of what should be done best at the appropriate level—is not it the case that, for all the words about involving national Parliaments, we will not get much change out of Mr Timmermans, any of the Commissioners or the European institutions if we insist on national Parliaments at the expense of the European Parliament?

Mr Lidington: I do not want to pre-empt tomorrow’s debate on the European Union’s relations with national Parliaments and the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. My hon. Friend is right to identify this as a challenging agenda and to indicate that the European Parliament, in particular, is likely to be resistant to the idea of a stronger voice for national Parliaments, but I think that he is too pessimistic in his assessment of Frans Timmermans. After all, it was during Mr Timmermans’s tenure as Foreign Minister of the Netherlands that the

9 Mar 2015 : Column 77

Dutch came forward with a number of specific proposals for strengthening the role of national Parliaments in holding EU decisions to account. I take heart from the fact that we have in this powerful role within the Commission somebody who has previously gone on the record to say that the guiding principle should be, “Europe where necessary, but national where possible”, and who has been very sympathetic to ideas for strengthening the role of national Parliaments.

The Commission has set out a clear intention to be more strategic and to act in a smaller number of areas where there is real added value for the EU. It has also said that it wants to demonstrate a particularly strong focus on jobs, growth and European competitiveness, which are objectives that the Government strongly support. The Commission has pledged to create a closer partnership with member state Governments and national Parliaments. We can see some evidence of the Commission’s approach by looking at some of the numbers in the work programme. The work programme includes just 23 legislative and non-legislative policy initiatives and—importantly— 80 measures proposed for either withdrawal or modification.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Does the Minister not note that most of the measures being withdrawn are either obsolete, having been superseded by a measure that has already gone through, or being withdrawn in favour of a more ambitious proposal? It is complete nonsense to say that the Commission is giving up power and wishes to do less. This is a massive work programme and the 80 measures are just a con trick.

Mr Lidington: I think that my right hon. Friend is being too pessimistic. As I said earlier, the test will be whether at the end of five years we can look back and say that the Commission has delivered in practice what its words indicated at the start of its tenure. I completely accept that there is a real problem with the Commission’s working culture, which, to be fair, like many national Government Departments, tends to judge success by the output of new law and new regulation, rather than the quality of what is actually done on a number of core priorities.

I was pleased to note that the Commission confirmed this weekend that 73 of the measures proposed for withdrawal have now been formally withdrawn. By comparison, the 2014 work programme proposed 29 new initiatives and prioritised a further 26 measures for adoption, and in 2010 there were some 300 new measures proposed. This work programme is focused on fewer measures, and on measures that will encourage growth and jobs, deepen the single market, conclude trade agreements and improve regulation, freeing up business from unnecessary regulatory burdens. The Government welcome that new focus.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend. Of the 73 proposals being withdrawn, 71 are either obsolete or have already been blocked by the Council. Of the 79 actions being withdrawn under REFIT, 58 are evaluations or studies, five are proposals to codify, two are proposals to simplify, one is a proposal for a simplified framework and two are proposals for an update or a review. There is only one that would reduce something, against 452 Commission

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proposals, less the 73 that are sitting on the table. He tells us that this is a great success for Europe. What would be failure?

Mr Lidington: Failure would be Europe failing to give priority to job creation, economic growth and competitiveness at a time when a horrifying number of people, particularly young people, are out of work in this continent and when European competitiveness is not only slipping behind that of the United States, but is at risk because of the global shift of economic power to Asia and Latin America. The answer to those economic challenges lies in Europe raising its game dramatically as far as competitiveness is concerned.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman most warmly on lasting the whole Parliament as Minister for Europe, which must be a first. I understand that he and the Government received this Commission work programme some time ago, so why has it take so long to get it to the Floor of the House? I might be wrong about that, so will he clarify when the Government first received it?

Mr Lidington: I can check the precise date and let the right hon. Gentleman know. There has been a delay, which I regret, because it has taken time to get collective agreement on this and on a number of other debates that the European Scrutiny Committee has referred. Originally, we considered having this debate in Committee, but, having discussed the issue with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House after he had given evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, the Government decided to have a debate on the Floor of the House. I am just glad that we are having this debate relatively early in 2015.

Sir William Cash: I suspect that that is an invitation to say that the amendment that I and many other members of my Committee have tabled, which I hope the Minister will accept, deals with free movement—a massive issue that affects immigration. The fact that it has been not merely delayed, but stalled for more than a year must have been a coalition decision, but we have not been told who was behind it, so who was it?

Mr Lidington: As I told my hon. Friend when I last gave evidence to his Committee, the Government take decisions collectively and it would not be right for me to go into detail about internal Government communications. I will come to the issues raised by the amendment shortly, but first I want to say more about the importance of the proposed work on economic affairs and competitiveness.

The United Kingdom has long argued for ambitious trade deals. The ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and EU-Japan negotiations could benefit this country annually by more than £15 billion, so the comprehensive stocktake of trade policy proposed by the Commission is welcome.

The EU’s greatest achievement—the single market—is still very far from complete, so we are pleased that the Commission plans to push liberalisation in sectors that could boost GDP the most, such as construction and professional services. We want EU legislation to enable the dynamic development of the future economy by

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supporting and not hindering a continent-wide digital single market. If that is done right, in a way that encourages the growth of online trade—both retail and business to business—it could generate €250 billion over the lifetime of this Commission.

We also support the Commission’s vision of a well-regulated and integrated capital markets union of all 28 member states that maximises the benefits of capital markets and non-bank financing for the real economy. Lord Hill’s recent Green Paper on the subject spelled out the approach he plans to take, and the Government will, of course, engage with his team as the policy is developed further.

We welcome the fact that the Commission intends to consider a range of approaches, and not just legislation, to develop Europe’s capital markets, and that much of that will be delivered through member state and industry action, rather than through EU-level law or regulation.

Mr Redwood: Will the Minister comment on the investment programme, which is said to be significant? How much of it is a spending commitment by the European institutions from their levies on member states, and how much will be done by gearing and leverage through guarantees and loans?

Mr Lidington: If I get the chance, I will give my right hon. Friend the exact figures at the end of the debate, but only a relatively small amount of the European fund for strategic investments—the so-called Juncker package—is derived from reallocating parts of the existing EU budget. The majority of the proposed €315 billion for the EFSI relies very much on private sector input on the basis of gearing.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be reassured to know that when I visited the European Investment Bank recently to discuss its approach to the programme, it was very firm in saying that it took very seriously its responsibility to its shareholders—the member states—and that it would exercise its responsibilities as a bank, that there would be due diligence, that it was not prepared simply to wave projects through on the basis that any sector or country deserved a particular slice, and that it would look at the real economic benefit that each proposal for capital investment offered to Europe as well as to the member state.

One of the sectors that we think could benefit from the EFSI is energy, where there is a need for work on interconnectors that would not only make more possible a genuine single internal market in European energy, but meet the strategic objective of trying to reduce European energy dependence on Russia. We think that the Commission communication on energy union is an important step towards not only strengthening Europe’s energy security, but decarbonising our economies and deepening the internal energy market.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On trying to reduce dependency on Russia, how does President Juncker’s recent proposal for a European army to stop President Putin in his tracks fit into the work programme?

Mr Lidington: In fairness to President Juncker, with whom I do not agree on that point, it is not a secret that he has held that view for a long time and I suspect it is

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held by pretty much every leading politician in Luxembourg.




That is the reality. A small European country would see an obvious benefit to its national interest from that sort of greater European action. The British Government do not share the view that a European army would be helpful or necessary. We believe that NATO is and should remain the centrepiece of our collective defence and security arrangements.

Were there to be any move towards establishing greater European military integration, it would first require consensus among member states, because such matters cannot be determined by a qualified majority vote under the treaty. Moreover, as I am sure my hon. Friend will recall, in passing the European Union Act 2011, this House required that there would have to be both an Act of Parliament and a referendum of the British people before any British Prime Minister could give consent to a proposal for the establishment of an EU army or armed forces in some hypothetical future.

Sir William Cash: Of course, if we were no longer members of the European Union by that time, we would not need to give consent because we would not be in the position to do so.

Mr Lidington: We can argue about all sorts of improbable hypotheticals, but the key point is that, while President Juncker was expressing a view that he has made no secret of holding in the past, this is not a live issue for debate around the table in Brussels at the moment. In fact, both President Juncker and others who have spoken in support of a European army or defence force have said that they see it as being a very long-term objective.

Turning to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend and a number of other members of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Government recognise public concerns about immigration from other member states and the need for the Commission to do much more to address the abuse of free movement rights and the problems to which it gives rise. That is why this Government have gone further than any previous Administration to try to tackle the problems associated with free movement both domestically and at the European level.

We have acted domestically to tackle abuse and ensure that the rules governing access to our welfare system and public services are as robust as possible. Only today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has laid regulations in Parliament to ensure that EU jobseekers have no access whatsoever to universal credit.

At European level, we secured language in last June’s European Council conclusions on the need for the Commission to support member states in combating the misuse of free movement. We continue to work both with member states and the Commission to reform EU social security co-ordination rules so that they better reflect current migration patterns and the divergent, diverse nature of member states’ welfare systems, while ensuring that member states can maintain effective control of their own welfare systems. Welfare provision is of course set down in the treaty as belonging to the competence of member states, rather than that of European institutions.

We welcome the proposal in the work programme on the labour mobility package—it covers several such items—which will assist us in carrying forward our ideas. However, we are very clear that there is much

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more to do, as my right honourable Friend the Prime Minister made clear in his speech on 28 November. I therefore have no problem in welcoming the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), which will be agreed to at the end of the debate.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I commend my right hon. Friend’s wisdom in accepting the well thought through amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). In relation to the debate on free movement, will Her Majesty’s Government reconsider their stance on Switzerland? If we are serious about renegotiation, it seems to me that we must take a sympathetic view of its effort to get out of the principle of free movement. If that is one of the four fundamental principles applied to Switzerland, which is not even a member state, how can we have a thorough renegotiation?

Mr Lidington: The challenge the Swiss Government face is that they have entered into a series of bilateral agreements with the European Union linking a number of different elements together. For example, in the Swiss bilateral treaties with the EU, access to some of the EU’s single market provisions is explicitly linked to accepting the principle of freedom of movement. At the moment, it is written into that package of bilateral treaties that if one is revoked or renounced, all of the agreements will fall by a certain deadline. That is the challenge the Swiss Government face following the referendum early last year. We remain in close touch with Switzerland, a friendly country, and we hope that we can find a satisfactory way forward.

Jacob Rees-Mogg rose

Mr Lidington: If my hon. Friend will allow me, I am conscious that the debate is time limited, and I want to let other Members speak.

Before I conclude, I want to refer to the question of regulation. During his hearing in the European Parliament, Vice-President Timmermans pledged to conduct a review of pending legislation, which was completed in late 2014; to launch a revised inter-institutional agreement on better law-making in spring 2015; and to conduct a review of better regulation by October 2015.

We are continuing to work with other member states to implement the recommendations of the Prime Minister’s business taskforce on EU regulation—the introduction of EU burden reduction targets, even greater use of lighter regimes and exemptions for small and medium-sized enterprises and micro-enterprises, and greater independence and powers for the Commission’s Impact Assessment Board.

Thirteen of the 30 recommendations of the Prime Minister’s taskforce have been fully implemented at European level, and progress is being made on others. The Commission has set out its intention to review, recast, merge or replace some 79 EU Acts as part of its Refit programme. We have long pushed for EU legislation to minimise unnecessary costs to business, particularly SMEs, and it is positive to see that reflected in the work programme and what appears to be a reinvigorated approach by the Commission to better regulation.

Overall, the work programme shows encouraging signs that the Commission wishes to take the EU in what we consider to be the right direction, at least on

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the economic priorities. It is important to judge the Commission by what it now does in practice. In our view that means implementing the work programme in a way that respects the principle of “Europe where necessary, but national wherever possible”, reduces the burden of European regulation on business and eliminates barriers to growth, and supports increased competitiveness, trade and the completion of the single market. If that is the outcome, it will demonstrate important progress in the Government’s EU reform agenda.

During the past five years, we have already secured the first ever reduction of the EU’s budget; significant reform of the common fisheries policy, including a ban on discards; the launch of talks on an ambitious transatlantic trade deal; and important protections for non-eurozone countries in respect of banking union. Just five years ago, it would have been unthinkable for the first work programme of a new Commission, which would want to demonstrate its ambition, to contain just 23 priority initiatives. That is evidence that this country’s messages are being heard and acted on.

We launched this debate, and today there is growing consensus across Europe in favour of reform. We will continue to work energetically to ensure that the EU becomes more competitive and democratically accountable, deepens the single market to enable free movement of services and capital, and tackles abuse of the principle of free movement. I commend the motion to the House.

7.5 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): This is the first of two debates on the European Union over a couple of days—a double-header, as it were. It is a bit like Davis cup tennis, the only difference being that those involved are playing exciting, edge-of-the-seat tennis, and we are discussing the work programme of the European Commission.

As the Minister was speaking, I was struck, as I have been before, by how often such debates are taking place inside the Conservative party rather than more widely. It seems to me that the debate inside the Conservative party has governed much of our positioning in recent years, but not to our national advantage.

Sir William Cash: Is the right hon. Gentleman effectively saying to UKIP in his constituency that he does not regard the free movement of people and immigration as of any interest to his constituents?

Mr McFadden: I do not believe that that is what I said. I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because I thought that the issue for him was principally parliamentary sovereignty, rather than the free movement of people. Perhaps he has shifted his position, and I should stand corrected.

The Minister outlined the position on the numbers in the measures. I noted the scepticism with which the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) greeted the numbers. I do not propose to go over that ground as the Minister has done so, but on the face of it the Commission is proposing a narrower, more focused programme—under 10 headings and 23 specific measures —than it has in the past.

At the top of the Commission’s agenda is something we would all welcome—an emphasis on growth and jobs. In a continent still struggling to recover from the

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financial crisis, it is right to have such an emphasis and focus on the very high level of youth unemployment, on doing what is right on the big issues, and on less interference in and over-regulation of issues that do not need it.

In his speech in London last week, Mr Timmermans, the vice-president of the Commission, said:

“It is incredibly important that we follow through on limiting the initiatives we take to those areas where EU action is urgent and needed. For too long we worked on the premise of doing things because they were nice to do; I want to work on the premise that we do it because we need to do it, because Member States can’t do it by themselves alone. There needs to be added value of acting on a European scale.”

I very much welcome that emphasis from Commissioner Timmermans, and I hope that it is followed through in reality as well as in the written plan.

Mr Redwood: As the right hon. Gentleman is such a fan of all this interference, will he say which of the 23 measures will actually reduce the shocking levels of youth unemployment, which are the curse of Europe thanks to the idiotic policies of this Union?

Mr McFadden: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for painting me as a fan of all the measures before I have even spoken about them. One measure that could help to create jobs would be a properly negotiated free trade agreement between the EU and the United States. That has the potential to help our exporters and create jobs.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I gently say to my right hon. Friend that there is a range of views in our party, as well as in the Conservative party, but I shall not dwell on that.

I heard Mr Timmermans speaking in Rome fairly recently, and to hear him one would have thought there were no problems at all. He was speaking in Italy, where unemployment is at horrendous levels—not as horrendous as in Spain or Greece, but still horrendous. He said that countries could not act on their own. The reason they cannot act on their own is that they are cemented into the euro and have no control over their exchange rates or interest rates. If they had control over macro-economic policy, they might be able to act on their own, but they cannot do so at the moment.

Mr McFadden: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Certainly in the speech that I heard last Thursday, the commissioner was not saying that there were no problems at all. He acknowledged many of the problems and said that he was determined to take a different approach in responding to them from that taken in the past. It is perfectly fair for Members to say, “We’ll see how that works out. Let’s see if he’s serious about what he says.” However, that certainly is what he says, and that is reflected in the work programme.

There has been legitimate frustration about over-regulation in the past. If the Commission is serious about weeding out proposals that are not going to go anywhere, that have been lying on the table for years without prospect of agreement or that have been bypassed

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by events, we should welcome that. I welcome the emphasis on growth and jobs and on regulation in the work programme.

The other measure on growth and jobs, to which the Minister referred, is the Juncker package of investment. As the right hon. Member for Wokingham said, it is a combination of real new money and the encouragement of private sector investment and loan guarantees. If the Minister has a chance to respond to the debate, will he say what bids this Government have made for any proportion of that money? What investment projects have been brought forward and where are they in the country?

Specifically, will the Minister say how that proposal is to be organised in England? There has been concern among local authorities and local enterprise partnerships that they are not permitted to put in bids and that they all have to go through Whitehall. In an environment in which we are discussing devolution to various parts of the country, it is important that areas in England get a fair crack of the whip in terms of submitting bids to this fund for their projects. I hope he will say something about that.

The Minister said that the work of the UK’s commissioner, Lord Hill, on the capital markets union was important. It has long been said that SMEs are too reliant on bank finance and that we need to encourage more forms of finance. What input can this country, with its expertise in financial services, have in those proposals and in the development of the capital markets union, not only from a Government point of view but from a private sector industry point of view? Nowhere in Europe is better placed than the UK to contribute to ideas on financial innovation and financial services.

Of course, some of the work programme does not apply to us. There are measures that apply only to the eurozone. It is important that countries outside the eurozone, such as the UK, continue to play a full part in the EU.

If the Minister responds to the debate, will he update the House on progress on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? In the question and answer session that followed Commissioner Timmermans’ speech last week, he was asked about TTIP. He said that if it was to be done, it would have to be done by the end of this year. He did not spell this out explicitly, but I think he meant that after that, the timetable of the American presidential election would make it more difficult to negotiate an agreement. Is it the Government’s view that if TTIP is to be done, it has to be done this year? If it is, what input are we having to ensure that that happens, provided that the important concerns about public services and investor-state dispute settlement procedures are worked through and considered properly?

This debate about the work programme reminds us of the way in which we debate these things. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked when the Government received the programme. It always strikes me that we debate these things after they have been adopted. Parliament’s method of scrutinising European affairs is not the subject for tonight, but this debate reminds me that these things can be overtaken by events.