There was a murder recently in a property in Erebus drive in West Thamesmead, not in the central area of Greenwich, which is perhaps more attractive to tourism, but an area to the eastern edge of my constituency. The matter is under investigation so I shall be cautious in what I say, but the evidence that I have seen is that it involved a very short letting—for only two nights, I think—and a party which attracted people from a wide

10 Mar 2015 : Column 217

area, including the west midlands. In the course of an altercation that evidently developed at the party, one individual lost their life.

Such a situation is hugely damaging to the community’s confidence in its homes if it finds that properties can be subject to such short-term letting with very little check on who has taken out the letting. These are short-term agreements and they are not subject to the kinds of checks that reputable landlords would carry out before deciding whether to let premises to an individual. That in itself is bad enough, but where individual lettings take place for a short period and properties are advertised, people come from far afield, resulting in huge antisocial behaviour with noise late at night, causing nuisance to residents. These are the consequences of what the Government seek to do. They are already a problem, but at least local authorities have powers at the moment to act. If the Government proceed with their proposals, those powers will be seriously restricted. It will not be possible to take action unless it can be established that the property has been used for this purpose for more than 90 nights. That in itself will be a difficult task to establish, as the City of Westminster made clear in its evidence to us.

This is a measure that has the seeds of all sorts of problems and difficulties, and I fail to understand why the Government are proceeding with it against the overwhelming views of the informed public in London. This is not a partisan case. Political parties across the board have agreed that proper regulatory arrangements need to be in place to allow the control of such lettings and to prevent the kinds of abuses that I have highlighted. There is also widespread support from residents groups in many areas of London, including my own. Against all that evidence and with an extraordinary lack of evidence to support what the Government are doing, I hope that common sense will prevail and that they will agree to pull back and accept the amendments, at least to allow greater control and safeguards, and to avoid some of the consequences that we fear will happen as a result of this ill-conceived measure.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I do not want to repeat what others have said but rather to address a specific local issue for me concerning the area around Heathrow airport. I have had representations from all the major hotels along the Bath road around Heathrow and from the local community, and I have seen representations from London Councils. I will describe the area as it now is, because I am worried that this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of retaining any form of community around the Heathrow villages. With the threat of the third runway, Sipson is already three-quarters bought by Heathrow Airport Ltd and rented out on licences of, I believe, no more than two years, which is destabilising for the community anyway. There is a massive expansion of buy-to-lets. All of us can identify buy-to-lets in our constituencies by their unkempt gardens, the lack of repair, and the occasional mattress dumped outside. With this legislation there will be further destabilisation of the community and further short-term lettings.

Who asked for this change in legislation? What was the enormous demand? Who was banging at the doors of the ministerial office to change the system, which

10 Mar 2015 : Column 218

may not be working brilliantly but which at least gives local authorities in their local areas some local tools that they can use against the adverse effects of short-term letting that we have had described today? I cannot see the benefits to any but a small commercial niche that seeks to profit at the expense of the wider community. I am fearful of the impact on legitimate traders as it is. I am worried about the impact on the hotels along the Bath road, which are a source of employment to my local community. But in addition to that, the average hotel in my area employs between 200 and 250 staff. Many of those staff live within the local community in private rented properties. I am worried that this will affect the private rented market in my area and have a knock-on effect on staff who are not the highest paid and sometimes fairly low paid.

4.15 pm

My greatest worry is the churning of the local community that results from the instability and blight in our area owing to the third runway and the buy-to-let regime. This proposal will create even further instability. I have also had problems with short-let properties regarding antisocial behaviour, parties and so on, and with cannabis growing.

If there is to be a new regime, it is critical that we follow the advice that we have been given by the local authorities—that these matters should be determined locally. It should be for local authorities to determine how they tackle the particular issues in their areas. This proposal seems to fly in the face of all the statements we have had from the coalition parties about the development of localism within policy making and within government.

I understand the argument about people wanting to let out their properties when they go abroad on holiday, but 90 days is beyond the length of a normal holiday. If there had to be a few exceptions, we could have some parameters around 30 days, which was a reasonable suggestion. This is opening up almost a cowboy market that is going to operate in many of our areas.

As I say, I fear for the area around Heathrow in particular. It would be helpful if the Minister gave us more advice on how a local authority can apply to have an area designated by the Secretary of State taken out of this regime and have the old regime continue to operate with regard to enforcement and supervision. It is hard enough to supervise at the moment, but this will render it almost unenforceable. We will have a free-for-all in the market and dire consequences for most of our communities.

I understand the Wimbledon argument, but there are better ways of achieving this which are designed at the local level by local authority members and officers who have had experience of this, over time, across London. We have reached a consensus across London among those in local government and our elected representatives, and, in my area, industry—the hotels—and local community representatives. This is the first time I have ever advocated on behalf of a new comrade, Councillor Roe, the leader of Westminster council.

A whole range of people with great depths of experience have argued with the Government that this is not the right approach, and I urge them to take that on board. If the Minister is not willing to concede this matter today, we will be back here in six or 12 months’ time trying to remedy the disastrous consequences of these proposals.

10 Mar 2015 : Column 219

Tom Brake: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will try to respond to most, if not all of the points raised in this informed and passionate debate about some of the matters in the Bill.

In response to the hon. Member for Corby (Andy Sawford), the Government do not believe that health and safety measures are bad. Clearly, when they are appropriate, the Government support them. We are pleased, and welcome the fact, that the Health and Safety Executive has recently, very vocally, pointed out to some organisations how badly they are interpreting health and safety rules in using them as an excuse not to allow things to happen.

The hon. Gentleman spent some time on the issue of private hire and subcontracting. If he feels that it is safer for a person who approaches a private hire operator who says, “Sorry, I can’t help you”, because they cannot subcontract it, then to go off and look online for an alternative provider, he is entitled to that view. I think that safety is actually enhanced by a contractor in an area having a relationship with another subcontractor who can work in another area. The hon. Gentleman called for precisely that—a relationship between the different providers—and that is probably a better guarantee of safety than someone simply looking online for people to do a job in the area. All such firms must be licensed, which also provides a safeguard for those seeking to travel in that way.

The hon. Gentleman referred to his party’s policy of introducing rent caps or rent controls. [Interruption.] He did, I believe. We can look at Hansard, but I think he used the term “rent caps”. The evidence is very clear that such caps lead to a reduction in the number of private rented properties, which I am sure is not what he is seeking.

Like other hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman thought that local authorities should be able to decide whether certain areas should be exempted. In the Government’s view, that would introduce inconsistencies in that different rules would apply in different parts of London; our proposals will provide consistency and be easier for people to understand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) talked about how insurance for whole blocks may become invalid. If he has such examples, I would certainly like to see them. Our view is that the reforms only affect the requirement for planning permission; they do not have any impact on insurance polices and tenancy agreements. If he can supply me with any examples, I will be happy to look at them.

My hon. Friend referred to Home Office concerns about the change from people staying in hotels to their staying in short-term lets, making it harder for the security services to monitor their activities, but that is clearly happening already. It will not happen as a result of our changes; it is already happening on quite a large scale in London, as other hon. Members have said. If the security services have identified such an issue, they will have called on the Home Office to take action. I am sure that the Home Office would respond positively to any such requests, but I am not aware of any.

Like other hon. Members, my hon. Friend asked whether local authorities could choose to exempt particular areas in relation to private lettings. As I have said, that is not our view. We want to provide local authorities

10 Mar 2015 : Column 220

with the ability to approach the Secretary of State if the amenity of a particular locality is affected, and we expect them to do so.

John McDonnell: Will the Minister elaborate on that point? Once the legislation has gone through, will local authorities be able to submit a bid to designate an area, or do they have to wait for problems to arise before making a submission?

Tom Brake: The honest answer is that we do not yet have such details, but they will be set out in regulations. I assume that a local authority would have to provide examples, such as a consistent pattern of noise nuisance or antisocial behaviour in an area, in a letter or submission for the Secretary of State to consider. The exemption will apply to a locality; Westminster could not apply for an exemption for the whole of the area covered by the council.

The hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) spoke about the proposal to make people report it to the local authority every time they let property on a short-term basis. I want to understand better the purpose behind that and how it would work in practice. What enforcement would there be if people did not report it? An individual who was going to rent out their property for a week would be very unlikely to do so. How would she ensure that it was done? What action would be taken against people who did not comply, given that short-term lets are already happening on a large scale in London and people are not taking notice of the existing law?

Ms Buck: The Minister has just conceded that he does not know how the system will work and that we will have to wait for the regulations. We will look at the exact operation at that time. Westminster city council has looked at this matter closely and is confident that it could have a simple online reporting system that would allow people to notify the local authority that they intended to have a short-term let, and that that could be matched up with the data on properties that were being advertised. That would enable the local authority to target enforcement against the properties that we are all saying we are concerned about—not the one-off short holiday lets, but the extensive commercial lettings that are permeating our residential neighbourhoods.

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Lady for expanding on how the proposal would work. However efficient Westminster city council is, there will be huge difficulties in identifying the people who are advertising short-term lets on websites and making a link with the local authority register where those who are doing it properly have registered.

The hon. Lady asked whether the Government’s proposals will remove the ability of local authorities to take enforcement action against illegal short-term letting. Clearly, if there is a breach, people will be at risk of planning enforcement action by their local authority. Although we want the legislation to remain light touch, we want to send the strong signal that in order to let property on a short-term basis legally, people must remain within the 90-night limit, otherwise local authorities will take enforcement action against them.

Ms Buck: How?

10 Mar 2015 : Column 221

Tom Brake: I assume that local authorities will be provided with the information—the hon. Lady and other Members have said in this debate that this is already happening on a large scale—and take the appropriate action. She referred to an explosion in the number of adverts for such letting. We are not aware that that has happened since the reforms were introduced. I understand her concerns, but the safeguards are in place to address them.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for saying that he will not press his amendments to a vote. Like him, I recognise that there are good and bad landlords. There are also good and bad tenants. No doubt the good landlord and the bad tenant and the bad landlord and the good tenant sometimes go to his surgery, as they come to mine, although not usually at the same time, to report each other to their Member of Parliament.

My hon. Friend referred to the 80,000 figure that I quoted for retaliatory evictions as “fantasy” figures. He prefers his figure of 6,000. I understand that the English housing survey does not give figures on retaliatory eviction, but just talks about the fact that 9% of tenancies are ended by the landlord. As I understand it, that does not provide the clarity that he wants on the numbers.

My hon. Friend said that the Government’s proposal is not deregulatory. Of course, we have made it easier for landlords to evict through the use of standard pro forma notices and by no longer requiring that the notice given in relation to a periodic assured shorthold tenancy ends on the last day of a period of the tenancy. Therefore, there are deregulatory measures, although I accept that there are also measures that do not fall into that category.

Many of my hon. Friend’s amendments are covered in other legislation and so are not necessary. There will be a review of the legislation. That is automatic with legislation that is passed though this House.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) asked about short-term lettings and how many prosecutions there have been, but that is a matter for local authorities and we do not have that information to hand. He asserts that what the Government propose would be of no benefit to private owners. I would ask him—unfortunately time does not allow—to expand on how he knows that it would not benefit private owners, given that many people use—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The right hon. Gentleman has the leave of the House to speak for a second time in this short debate. Having spoken for 35 minutes at the beginning of the debate, the leave of the House was for a short conclusion to the debate. So far he has taken 12 minutes, which is not a short contribution. I appreciate that he is answering many complicated questions, but I am afraid that in order to behave properly to the House, which has given him leave to speak for a second time, he ought to conclude briefly.

Tom Brake: Thank you for the clarity, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will conclude and I apologise that I was not able to give simple answers to the complicated questions from Opposition Members. I urge the House to accept Lords amendments 1 to 37 and 39 to 123, and to reject the amendments to the Lords amendments.

10 Mar 2015 : Column 222

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 26 agreed to.

Amendment (g) proposed to Lords amendment 27.—(Andy Sawford.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 161, Noes 277.

Division No. 173]


4.31 pm


Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Begg, Dame Anne

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Buck, Ms Karen

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Champion, Sarah

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hilling, Julie

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Keeley, Barbara

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mahmood, Shabana

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McCrea, Dr William

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGuire, rh Dame Anne

McInnes, Liz

Mearns, Ian

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murray, Ian

Onwurah, Chi

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reynolds, Emma

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tom Blenkinsop


Bridget Phillipson


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, rh Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Sir Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, rh Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, rh John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Willott, rh Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, rh Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Gavin Barwell


Dr Thérèse Coffey

Question accordingly negatived.

10 Mar 2015 : Column 223

10 Mar 2015 : Column 224

10 Mar 2015 : Column 225

4.47 pm

More than three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).

Lords amendments 27 to 37 and 39 to 123 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendment 33.

10 Mar 2015 : Column 226

Counter-Terrorism (Statutory Instruments)

4.48 pm

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): I beg to move,

That the draft Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Authority to Carry Scheme) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): With this we shall consider the following motions:

That the draft Passenger, Crew and Service Information (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.

That the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Code of Practice for Officers exercising functions under Schedule 1) Regulations 2015 (S.I., 2015, No 217), dated 12 February 2015, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12 February, be approved.

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers and Review Officers) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 27 February, be approved.

That the draft Aviation Security Act 1982 (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.

James Brokenshire: The statutory instruments appear on the Order Paper under the names of the Home Secretary and the Transport Secretary. This secondary legislation has been introduced to implement measures in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The measures were debated by the House recently and the primary legislation was enacted on 12 February. During Parliament’s consideration of the legislation, there was widespread recognition of the threat from terrorism and broad support for the measures. The instruments bring to life some of those important provisions. In passing that legislation in February, the House accepted the need for those powers.

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Authority to Carry Scheme) Regulations 2015 bring into force the authority to carry scheme. The regulations are provided for in section 23 of the 2015 Act, and the purpose of the scheme is to prevent or disrupt travel to and from the UK by individuals who pose a terrorism-related or other threat to the UK. It also mitigates the threat of terrorist attacks against aircraft and, should the threat change, ships and trains expected to arrive in or leave the UK.

Authority to carry is now an important element of our counter-terrorism strategy. The new 2015 scheme allows us to respond to the changing threat and prevent individuals who might pose a terrorism-related or other threat from boarding flights from, as well as to, the UK. In order to remain responsive to changes in the threat, it is necessary to include international rail and maritime. The expanded scope of the scheme places outbound no-fly arrangements on a statutory footing and extends the operation of the authority to carry scheme to a broader range of individuals who pose a terrorism-related or other threat to the UK, including British nationals.

The protection of children assessed to be at risk of travelling abroad for the purposes of involvement in terrorism-related activity is clearly paramount. The new scheme will enable us to prevent the travel of minors considered at risk of going abroad to join terrorist groups. That might follow a referral from their family or

10 Mar 2015 : Column 227

it might be based on intelligence. The intention is not to criminalise children, but to enable the police to intervene before travel and use protective custody powers until they are able to return the child to their family.

In addition to the categories of individuals included in the 2012 scheme, authority to carry to the UK may be refused in respect of: individuals who are assessed by the Secretary of State to pose a direct threat to the security of an aircraft, ship or train, or to persons or property on board; individuals who are the subject of a temporary exclusion order made under chapter 2 of the new Act; individuals excluded from the UK or subject to a deportation order; and all individuals who are subject to international travel bans, as well as individuals who are using an invalid travel document or one that is being used fraudulently for the purpose of travelling to the UK.

The new scheme will, for the first time, require carriers to seek authority to carry individuals from the UK. The penalty for breaching any requirement under the scheme will be set out in further regulations, which we expect to debate next week.

The second measure is the Passenger, Crew and Service Information (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015. They establish civil sanctions that may be imposed upon carriers that fail to comply with a requirement to provide information under the Immigration Act 1971 or the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. They will complement existing criminal offences. The regulations allow the Secretary of State to impose a civil penalty not exceeding £10,000 for each breach, but a carrier may not be required to pay a penalty if it has a reasonable excuse or has otherwise been penalised for the same breach.

I will now turn to the regulations that bring into operation the code of practice in relation to the exercise of powers under schedule 1 to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. These powers are exercisable at the border area of Northern Ireland and at ports throughout the UK. They allow for the seizure and temporary retention of travel documents when there is reasonable suspicion that the person intends to travel to engage in terrorism-related activity outside the UK. Officers exercising the power are required to follow the code.

That statutory instrument was made and laid before Parliament under the made affirmative procedure on the day of Royal Assent and came into force the next day—13 February—bringing the code of practice into operation on the same day. The made affirmative procedure made that power available to law enforcement agencies as soon as possible, properly safeguarded by the detailed code of practice. I can confirm to the House this afternoon that the power has already been used. Obviously, I cannot give details of the particular circumstances, but I believe that this demonstrates that we were right to bring forward this piece of legislation and to bring it into force at the earliest opportunity.

The Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers and Review Officers) Order 2015 gives effect to a revised code of practice for examining and review officers who exercise powers under schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, as amended by the 2015 Act. As a result of amendments made to schedule 7 by the 2015 Act, changes have been made to the schedule 7 code of practice. The code before us today contains new guidance

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that reflects provisions in the Act concerning the location of goods examinations. The guidance includes express provision for where goods examinations may take place. It also provides the Secretary of State with a power to designate a location as a place where goods examinations may be carried out, if the Secretary of State reasonably believes that to be necessary.

Finally, the draft Aviation Security Act 1982 (Civil Penalties) Regulations create a civil penalty scheme for addressing non-compliance with certain security directions or information requests made by the Secretary of State under the Aviation Security Act 1982 in relation to inbound flights. The Secretary of State would have the power to impose a penalty of a maximum of £50,000. Specifically, penalties could be issued where, in respect of an inbound flight to the UK, a carrier has failed to comply either with a request for information or a direction requiring that certain security measures are applied, for example security screening. The threat to aviation from terrorism remains serious. The regulations will help to ensure that the Government can enforce their power to specify certain security measures for flights operating to the UK where necessary.

These instruments are needed to implement measures in, or consequential to, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. They will help the Government and law enforcement agencies to keep the country safe from terrorism. I commend these instruments to the House. They will assist in our response to the continuing threat from terrorism. I beg to move that they be approved.

4.55 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the statutory instruments before the House.

The Minister and the House will know that in August 2014 the joint terrorism analysis centre raised the UK threat level from substantial to severe, and that there are real concerns about the level of threat to the UK. The Minister will also know about the increased level of threat as a result of developments in Syria and Iraq in particular, where terrorist groups are planning attacks on the west. It is clear, from the discussions currently taking place on the alleged murderer Mohammed Emwazi, and the three schoolgirls who travelled from London to Syria, that there are still great concerns about movement and involvement in terrorist activity. The attacks in early January on Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the incidents in Sydney bring home to us the fact that such incidents could occur in the United Kingdom.

The Opposition support fully all five statutory instruments. In a time of heightened terrorist threat to our country, it is right that the Government take action to protect our country. The measures are proportionate and reasonable. We support the draft Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Authority to Carry Scheme) Regulations 2015. As the Minister said, the scheme specifies the classes of carriers to which it applies, and the passengers and crew in respect of whom authority must be requested. It is proportionate and reasonable.

We also support the draft Passenger, Crew and Service Information (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015. Again, we believe it is reasonable. My only comment relates to paragraph 3.1 of the explanatory memorandum, which states that the instrument was laid before Parliament

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less than 21 days before the proposed date that it is due to come into force. I accept and understand the urgency with which the Minister has brought the regulations forward, but I just want to put down a marker and say that it is good practice to ensure that we have confidence in statutory instruments by providing the appropriate time for discussion.

James Brokenshire: I entirely accept the right hon. Gentleman’s important point about scrutiny. It is certainly not the normal approach of the Government to breach the 21-day rule. However, I hope he appreciates the need to act with pace in this case, given the national security issues at stake.

Mr Hanson: I fully accept that and make no criticism of the broad sense of it. It is important for any future Government, whether it is the hon. Gentleman or I holding this ministerial post, to give due regard to process; otherwise, it will give rise to suspicion. I welcome and support the proposal. I also support provisions relating to passport retention and travel with passports. The Opposition have no problems with those issues.

My final comments relate to the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers and Review Officers) Order 2015. The order is helpful, as it clarifies information, gives proper powers and puts forward a proper code of practice. It provides an opportunity to clarify, in paragraph 7(1) of the Act, the type of power and when it is exercised. I am pleased that it is subject to review by David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, but given the sensitive nature of these issues, will the Minister assure me that David Anderson will be able to publish statistics on the use of the power and information on the designation areas? It is important that these statistics be presented to the House, if not the detail behind them, as the Minister has undertaken today.

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James Brokenshire: As he has shown in his reports on, for example, the terrorism prevention and investigation measures, David Anderson clearly provides details about when the powers have been used, and I expect him to take a similar approach to the review of these powers.

Mr Hanson: I am grateful to the Minister. We have a consensus on these issues. There is support across the House for the measures, and I hope that the House will support them.

Question put and agreed to.



That the draft Passenger, Crew and Service Information (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.—(James Brokenshire.)

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism


That the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Code of Practice for Officers exercising functions under Schedule 1) Regulations 2015 (S.I., 2015, No 217), dated 12 February 2015, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12 February, be approved.—(James Brokenshire.)


That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers and Review Officers) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 27 February, be approved.—(James Brokenshire.)

Civil Aviation


That the draft Aviation Security Act 1982 (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.—(James Brokenshire.)

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European Commission: National Parliaments

5.3 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 12425/14, the 2013 Annual Report from the Commission on relations between the Commission and national parliaments, and No. 12424/14, the 2013 Annual Report from the Commission on subsidiarity and proportionality; recognises the importance of the principle of subsidiarity and the value of stronger interaction between national parliaments and the EU Institutions; deplores the failure of the outgoing Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship to respond to national parliaments’ concerns about the proposal to establish a European Public Prosecutors Office; looks forward to the European Commission responding to the call of national parliaments and the European Council to strengthen national parliaments’ role in improving EU legislation; and welcomes the Government’s commitment to increasing the power of national parliaments in EU decision-making by strengthening and, where possible, enhancing current provisions.

The motion stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who sadly cannot be with us because he is currently giving evidence before a Committee in the House of Lords. If he is unable to join us later, I will ensure that he is updated on the points raised.

Today’s debate relates to two European Commission annual reports for 2013—one on the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality and the other on the EU’s relations with national Parliaments. The question of subsidiarity and proportionality goes to the heart of the debate that national Governments and Parliaments around Europe are having on reform of the EU. They are fundamental principles that govern whether the EU should act, and if so, how.

Evidence provided to the Government’s recently concluded balance of competences review found that the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality had not been sufficiently rigorously applied and that that had contributed to undermining the EU’s legitimacy. Where these principles are not rigorously applied, it can also cost British business billions. Let me provide one example from the balance of competences review. The CBI assessed in its evidence that the prescriptive requirements of the agency workers directive undermined subsidiarity and cost UK employers £1.9 billion a year, largely in compliance costs and red tape. These concerns need to be addressed, and it is incumbent on all EU institutions to make sure that the treaty-based principles are applied across all aspects of EU business and throughout the legislative process.

In that respect, I welcome the early signs from the new Commission that it is going to take subsidiarity and proportionality more seriously. First, Vice-President Timmermans, who was here last week, has a strong and explicit mandate to promote a new partnership with national Parliaments. During his visit, Mr Timmermans said that national Parliaments should be at the heart of the debate on democratic legitimacy, as a bridge between the EU and its citizens, so there should be no repeat of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office yellow card debacle, which neglected the legitimate concerns of national Parliaments. Mr Timmermans has the overarching power to veto any proposals that do not meet the

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requirements of subsidiarity and proportionality. That means a mandate to say no to other Commissioners, to say no to the European Parliament and to say no to outside lobbyists. I take heart from the fact that we have in this powerful new role somebody who has previously gone on the record to say that the guiding principle should be:

“Europe where necessary, but national where possible”.

The EU must follow this principle to begin to address the public disaffection in so many member states, in part derived from a sense that the EU has intervened in matters better dealt with by member states themselves.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said in this House only yesterday, the Government are encouraged that the new Commission work programme has jobs and growth at its core, but the real test will be whether the Commission delivers on the early, promising signs and puts subsidiarity, proportionality and better regulation at the very heart of its work.

The reports for debate today focus on the mechanisms available to national Parliaments to update the subsidiarity principle through the so-called yellow card mechanism and to influence Commission proposals through political dialogue. In 2013, national Parliaments submitted 88 reasoned opinions to the Commission, covering 36 different proposals. That represented an increase from 2012, when 70 reasoned opinions were issued, but the overall number remains low, and the Government are concerned about the reasons for that. We do not believe that it is because there are few subsidiarity concerns.

Year after year, most reasoned opinions have come from the same few parliamentary chambers, with the Swedish Riksdag being the consistent front-runner. Some parliamentary chambers have issued very few, or indeed none at all. Here, the record is that in 2013 the House of Commons issued five reasoned opinions and the House of Lords three. I agree with those who argue that the existing mechanisms laid down in the Lisbon treaty do not work well enough or go far enough, but I note that the disparity in the number of reasoned opinions submitted by different national Parliaments is striking, and I hope that all national Parliaments, both individually and through COSAC, reflect on whether there is more that they can do to make full use of their existing powers.

There are, as I have said, flaws in the system. The tight time limit of eight weeks from transmission of a proposal to issuing a reasoned opinion is difficult, and it does not allow sufficient time for national Parliaments to share information with each other, which we all know is crucial to delivering a yellow card. The scope and threshold of reasoned opinions required to trigger a yellow card are also factors. Parliaments should have explicit powers to issue reasoned opinions on more than just subsidiarity. The mechanism should be explicitly extended to proportionality, for example. Normally, a yellow card is triggered when reasoned opinions represent at least a third of national Parliaments, which means 19 votes. This threshold is clearly too high.

How, then, do we change the process? The Commission's response to the yellow card on the EPPO—the second ever—was unacceptable. It decided quickly, without additional evidence and despite Parliaments’ concerns, to proceed with the original proposal. Along with a number of Ministers from other countries, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe—who I am pleased

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to see in the Chamber—protested strongly to the Commission at the subsequent meeting of the General Affairs Council. As the Government have argued before, we believe that the EPPO controversy makes a case for the introduction of a red card, which would allow national Parliaments to come together to block an unwanted proposal permanently.

I welcome the initiatives that have been launched by national Parliaments across the EU which are pressing for a stronger role. Twenty-nine parliamentary committees from 22 member states have written to the President of the Commission calling for the establishment of a working group to consider a strengthening of their role, and Parliaments have produced many good ideas that the Government support. They include enhanced political dialogue with the Commission, the introduction of a green card allowing Parliaments to work together to recommend to the Commission either new legislation or the amendment or repeal of existing legislation, and a Dutch initiative for a late card, which would allow Parliaments to look at a proposal again at the end of the legislative process.

We will continue to press for those reforms, and, working with Parliament, will hold the new Commission to its promises.

5.11 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): Last night we debated the similar issue of the Commission’s work programme for this year. The programme expresses commitments to better regulation and to focusing on the big things that the European Union needs to do, and that leads us to the issues of subsidiarity and proportionality. Over the years, there has been much talk in the European Union of subsidiarity—a concept whose origins lie in Catholic social teaching—but few would claim that the EU has abided by the notion that it should act only when it has to, and should otherwise leave things to the Governments of member states.

The Minister gave the example of the agency workers directive. In fact, the CBI reached an agreement with the TUC on that directive, and I think that the record should show their participation in order to present the complete picture.

As the Minister said, we are debating two reports, the one on subsidiarity and the one on relations with national Parliaments. They concern the interaction between the EU and national Parliaments, and, specifically, the use of reasoned opinions on EU proposals when, for instance, Parliaments come together to invoke the yellow card procedure—that is, to ask the Commission to think again about one of its proposals. According to the reports, 621 written opinions, including reasoned opinions, were submitted by national Parliaments in 2013, down slightly from 663 the year before. The most common subjects were the proposal to establish the European Public Prosecutor's Office, regulations covering the manufacture and sale of tobacco products, maritime spatial planning, access to ports, and matters relating to Europol. Opinions from 20 Parliaments were received on the EPPO proposals, of which 13 were reasoned opinions, triggering the yellow card procedure.

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The European Scrutiny Committee has understandably voiced its frustration that the triggering of that procedure did not result in the Commission’s either withdrawing the proposal or changing it radically. That has, of course, prompted further debate about a range of different procedures going by the names of differently coloured cards—not just yellow but orange, red and even green cards, which will allow Parliaments to initiate proposals if they so wish. If a system is established whereby national Parliaments are given a voice and can come together to lodge reasoned opinions or objections, it is important that those objections are taken seriously and not simply ignored.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Let us say that a really important issue to the British people causes them to vote in a new Government who promise to do what they want on it, and then that Government are advised it is against European law. What right should this House have to say, “This is the will of the British people”?

Mr McFadden: The procedures we are talking about here are in line with European law. I think what the right hon. Gentleman is driving at is the question of vetoes, and we do not have vetoes. It is important for clarity, as well as the political debate between us, to be clear that these yellow card procedures are not national Parliament vetoes of the kind he may be referring to, and there is a difference between the two.

The objections to the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office focused on the Commission’s own interpretation of subsidiarity, the comparison between the new proposals and the arrangements already in place and the question of whether this proposal would add value in combating fraud. The House of Lords has issued a report on this matter, and it gave the following verdict:

“We fear that under the Commission’s proposed model an EPPO enjoying exclusive competence for PIF crimes”—

financial fraud in the European Union—

“would be in danger of being overwhelmed by its workload, and its structure would not be sufficiently robust to enable it to monitor its investigations and prosecutions in the Member States. We see a similar problem with the Presidency’s alternative proposal. The evidence we received on the proposed introduction of a collegiate structure into the EPPO overwhelmingly suggests that this would complicate the prosecution of these crimes even further.”

Its reservations about the proposal were clear, and we shared many of them, although for the sake of clarity and completeness I should say that that does not mean that we on the Opposition Benches object to all European involvement in matters of criminal justice. Without rehearsing debates in the House on the European arrest warrant—that may be to the relief of all—we believe that that measure does have a useful role to play in combating crime both here and elsewhere in the EU.

Following all these exchanges and the rejection of the yellow card procedure by the Commission, there have been proposals from a number of Parliaments, including the Dutch and Danish Parliaments as well as our own, for reforms to the yellow card procedure. We welcome the Commission’s willingness, indicated by Mr Juncker, to establish a working group on the role of national Parliaments in the EU, but it is important that that is a serious process and that it takes the suggestions for

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different reforms seriously. We would also endorse the sentiment in the Government’s response to the reports about the value of Commissioners appearing before national Parliaments to explain and answer questions on the Commission’s actions and policies. We would like to see more of that in the future.

The important point is that, however many opinions are submitted or whatever the architecture of the yellow card procedure, it will be seen to be of little value if it is simply ignored. To refer to the question of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), we do not seek to turn the legal basis of the EU on its head or make demands which are incompatible with membership, but we do believe that dialogue between the Commission and national Parliaments must take seriously not only the sum of correspondence over the course of a year but its content.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is not about European laws, but about the fact that this House should be expressing the sovereign will of the British people, rather than our having a pale imitation of a referee’s code of conduct on the field of play? This process is farcical. This talk about red, yellow and green cards is an insult to the democracy of this country. This House should be making the decisions, as expressed in the democracy of this country.

Mr McFadden: I shall give my hon. Friend a similar reply to that which I gave the right hon. Member for Wokingham: in 40-plus years of membership it has been clear that sovereignty is pooled and is not complete and absolute for this House. That is the nature of our membership. Without going into too much detail, I would repeat that improvements should be made to this procedure but I do not seek to make demands that are incompatible with continued membership, although that is the agenda of some in this House.

There are shortcomings in the reports; they revolve more around the volume of correspondence than the content. If dialogue is to be real, the exchanges have to be taken more seriously and they have to be about content as well as volume. That is what we have to look to in the future.

5.20 pm

Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): This may be my last contribution in the House, after 18 years here. I have always believed that we are, to coin a phrase, in Europe but not run by Europe. I have always believed that one can be a good European but a pragmatic European who believes that this debate goes beyond red, yellow and green cards, and so on, as the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said. I discovered in 12 years serving on delegations to the Council of Europe and the Western European Union that many of the opinions expressed in this House are expressed by our colleagues right across Europe in other national Parliaments.

I spent the years running up to the dissolution of the WEU arguing with the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council about what the right form of parliamentary scrutiny over European common security and defence policy is. Europe does not, whatever Mr Juncker might have said in the past 24 hours, have an army or a

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defence budget. It has a foreign policy courtesy of its 28 member Governments, not one of its own. There was a rightful role for national Parliaments to play there, but, sadly, we have lost that kind of effective parliamentary scrutiny over even that collective action. Today, we are asked to take note of two documents. That is all we can do.

We should remind ourselves how we got to this situation. The Laeken declaration brought about the current treaties—the so-called Lisbon treaty—and it was a document signed by the leaders of all the European Union member states in 2001, explaining what they considered to be good about the EU and what problems it faced. It recognised at that time the disillusion and wish for reform that was widespread across Europe. Those were the terms, in that declaration, that were given to Giscard d’Estaing’s Convention on the Future of Europe and it set out how he should work to respond. Unfortunately, he did not comply with the instructions he was given and he produced a European constitution. That was discussed, modified and eventually signed in October 2004 as what we now know as the Lisbon treaty.

Let me just read out what the Laeken declaration said about the democratic challenge facing Europe:

“Within the Union, the European institutions must be brought closer to its citizens. Citizens undoubtedly support the Union’s broad aims, but they do not always see a connection between those goals and the Union’s everyday action. They want the European institutions to be less unwieldy and rigid and, above all, more efficient and open. Many also feel that the Union should involve itself more with their particular concerns, instead of intervening, in every detail, in matters by their nature better left to Member States’ and regions’ elected representatives. This is even perceived by some as a threat to their identity. More importantly, however, they feel that deals are all too often cut out of their sight and they want better democratic scrutiny.”

That was in 2001, and we are here today debating those very questions about the division of competences between the Union and the member states.

As we take note of these documents, we should look at how we can improve relations between the Commission and national Parliaments and how we can make subsidiarity and proportionality mean what they say. These will be matters for the next Parliament; but as a first step, we can improve our own relations. Scrutiny of legislation, which is done marvellously by our European Scrutiny Committee, is all very well, but it is generally too late. The laws have already been made. They are already set in stone. We can huff and puff and have debates and discussions in this Chamber or in the various European committees, but what we really need to do is to be involved in the formation of policy at a very early stage.

We need to engage with our colleagues in the European Parliament. They are elected by the same British electorate as we are. To start with, we need to give them back their passes for this building, so that they can come and meet us. It is clearly ridiculous that their passes allow them to move around the House of Lords but that they are not allowed to move around the House of Commons. They have to stop where the red carpet ends.

When we have the next Conservative Government after the election, we need to make sure that we engage with the leaders across Europe in seeking to redress the balance of power between Brussels and the member states. We will call for engagement not just with the Commission and with the European Parliament—with

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the Brussels elite—but in the national capitals of Europe. Members of this House may need to brush up on their French, German or Italian and engage in dialogue with our colleagues across Europe. They may be surprised that the frustrations expressed here about the lack of subsidiarity, the lack of proportionality, the lack of any real dialogue with national Parliaments are shared across Europe.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will lead that charge, and I believe that that will end in a decisive referendum that will result in our future inside the European Union, but inside a reformed European Union with a balance of competences between the Brussels elite and the member states that all the people of Britain and of Europe will respect.

5.28 pm

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): This debate is central to what we do here in Parliament and to the promises that various parties will make to their electors as we leave this place shortly and go into a general election.

It used to be a fundamental principle of the House of Commons that no House of Commons properly elected could bind a successor House of Commons. That was a fundamental part of the British people’s liberties, because they have to trust a House of Commons for up to five years to legislate and govern on their behalf, and they can do so safe in the knowledge that if we—those in government—do not please, they can dismiss us at the following general election and elect a new group of people who can change all that they did not like about the laws and conduct of government of the Government whom they have just removed. But our membership of the European Economic Community, now the Union, has increasingly damaged, undermined and overwhelmed that essential precept, which was the guarantee of our liberties as the British people, because now there are huge areas of work that are under European law and European control. Those parties that go out from this House into the general election and, for example, offer a better deal on energy may well come back and discover that what they have offered is quite impossible under the strict and far-reaching rules on energy that now come from the European Union.

Yesterday, we did not have time to debate in the House the energy package, but within the proposals we were being asked to approve in the Commission’s work programme was a strategic framework for energy policy that, in turn, will spawn an enormous amount of detailed regulation and legislation, making energy a European competence almost completely. Therefore, more or less anything that the main political parties say about what they wish to do on energy policy during the next five years will be possible only if it just happens that what they wish to do is entirely in agreement with and legal under this massive amount of law and regulation that is partly in place already and will come forward in ever-increasing volumes under the strategic framework and further legal policy, and that is but one area.

A couple of other big areas that will be much debated in the election are welfare and border and migration policy. Again, anything that parties say in our general

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election has to go through the European test. Will changes in benefits that parties wish to see be legal or possible under the European Union? May we not find that we are completely bound by predecessor Parliaments because they have signed up to legal requirements under European law that make it impossible for the House any longer to control our own welfare policy?

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe encouraged me with his optimism because he said that welfare remained a national UK matter, but there is plenty of evidence that it already is not in many respects. All sorts of policies have been looked at that I am told would fall foul of European law and regulation. It is quite obvious, again, looking at the European Union’s work programme, that it will intensify its activity in this area and make it even more difficult for a national Parliament to express the wish that it wants in its laws on welfare. The same is true of border controls, where we are signed up to the free movement of peoples and that is now being ever more generously interpreted as giving the EU carte blanche and substantial control over border and migration policy throughout the EU.

We find ourselves in the position of debating today yellow cards and red cards to try to assert the will of national Parliaments, but it comes nowhere near the task that we need to undertake as we seek to reshape our relationship with the EU. Even having a red card, where national Parliaments collectively can block a new proposal, does nothing to tackle the problem that we have this vast panoply of law already agreed, sometimes many years ago, which may prevent a national Parliament from reflecting the will of its people. If we have to get all or most of the other member states’ national Parliaments to agree, that could still be extremely difficult, and an individual member state, which had an overwhelmingly strong national view on the subject, might be thwarted because it just did not happen to be something that worried the other member states.

We need to pause over this. I remember the excellent words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his Bloomberg speech. The Bloomberg speech wisely said that the fount of political authority in any European member state, but certainly in the United Kingdom, rests with the national electorate through the national Parliament, and that, I think, is still right. We see that in the recent conflicts and rows in a country such as Greece, which is under even more European control than we are by being part of the euro. The Prime Minister reasoned that this country needs to negotiate a new relationship with the EU that recognises that on really important things—I would have thought that welfare, borders and energy were really important things—if necessary, the national Parliament can assert and interpret the will of the British people. There should be some mechanism by which we can then do as we wish, reflecting the will of the people.

We see at the moment the tragedy of Greece, where these conflicts are much further advanced because the European Union is much more intrusive on a euro member than on the United Kingdom. We have witnessed some very interesting things. Those on both Front Benches need to listen to and study this very carefully, because their futures, as well as the future of our country, are very much at stake. The first remarkable thing is that in the most recent Greek general election the two former traditional main parties—the equivalents of Labour

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and Conservative—polled 33% between them. Those parties, until recently, alternated in government. They had got into that parlous state because whatever they wanted to do in the interests of Greece was blocked, modified or amended because, in practice, decisions were made by the euro group, the European Central Bank and the troika they came to hate. So the Greek people said, “It doesn’t make any difference which of you two we have. The socialists can’t be socialists and the capitalists can’t be capitalists. You all end up with the same euro policy that is driving the Greek economy into the mire.” The poor Greeks have lost almost a quarter of their national output since 2007. That this can happen in an advanced western country is mind blowing. Half their young people are out of work as a result of these policies.

The two main parties had nothing to offer because they either had to go along with the euro scheme in all its details or promise to disagree, but only in the full knowledge that they would not be allowed to do so and do anything different. Then the Greek people elected into government a challenger party, with no experience of government, saying that it intended to break the rules of the euro: it did not want the troika arriving and telling them how to govern their country and did not intend to accept the bank details and loan packages that had been drawn up by the previous regimes. We now see this gripping and gruelling conflict where the euro area and the EU are telling Greece, “Well, we’ve got news for you: these are the rules. We don’t mind that your electorate have just rejected it all. We don’t care that you’ve elected into government a party that completely disagrees with us. You have no power in this. You the Greek people, you the Greek Parliament and you the Greek Government have to accept these rules, because those are the club rules.”

We heard a mild version of that attitude from the shadow spokesman, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), when I asked him whether, on a mighty issue that matters a great deal to the British people, there should be a right for us in this House to reflect their view and legislate accordingly. He said no, there should be no such right, and we have to follow all the rules of the European scheme.

Throughout past years, when those rules related just to trading arrangements or industrial regulation, they could be irritating or vexatious, but they were not going to become game changers that mobilised the whole British people against the whole scheme of the European Union. However, when the European Union rules start to influence things that matter a great deal to people—their welfare system, their benefits system, their borders or their migration—that might start to create a much bigger reaction. When European rules and requirements have a devastating impact on an economy and employment prospects—fortunately not in this country, because we have kept out of that bit—that completely transforms the politics of that country, and we see the politics of impotence, the politics of protest and the politics of frustration.

I do not want our country to go down that route. That is why I say that we need to negotiate now, before we get to that stage, an arrangement—not just a yellow card or a red card in conjunction with other member states—for us, the United Kingdom, to say that we are still a vibrant democracy. We need to be able to say that if something matters a great deal to the British people

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and if it has been approved in a general election, this House can take action even if it means disagreeing with the rules of the European Union. By all means, we can try to negotiate an arrangement case by case, but where we cannot do that, we need an override—an opportunity to say, “This thing matters too much to our democracy.” If we do not have that very simple change, we no longer have in this country a successful and vibrant democracy that can guarantee stability and guarantee to deliver what the British people want.

Graham Stringer: I agree with the basic thrust of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument, but is not most of what he is suggesting impossible? Most of the rules governing the European Union are bound up in treaties that require 28 countries to decide to change them, and that is simply not going to happen. Much as I agree with his aspirations, I am afraid that they will not come about, will they?

Mr Redwood: The hon. Gentleman may be right, so I hope that the British people have a referendum in which they may decide that they cannot live under such a regime without change. I would certainly vote to leave if flexibility cannot be built into the system along the lines that I have mentioned. He is a distinguished politician both locally and nationally, and surely he recognises that when we need fundamental change, we have to make the case for it and be optimistic.

I am not completely pessimistic because I do not believe that only Britain needs such a change. If this were just Britain being difficult—the island nation, on the edge of the European Union, whose traditions are old-fashioned and whose idea that Parliament really matters is now old hat because we have moved into a new world—I do not think we would win, but this is live, desperate politics for very large parts of the euro area.

The issue is live politics for what remains of the governing parties of the euro area because the path trodden by the two leading parties in Greece, whose jobs have been taken by Syriza, could be trodden by the two leading Spanish parties given the rise of Podemos and by the Italian parties given the rise of the Five Star movement and all the other pressure movements in Italy. Those countries are not immune to an insurgency challenge like the one in Greece. That sort of thing can start to concentrate the minds of other member states of the European Union and their Governments. One thing I have learned about Governments over the years is that they quite like staying in power. When they feel that there will be a very strong electoral challenge to them, they may begin by condemning it—saying it is irrational, unpleasant and all those kinds of thing—but if they think it is going to win, they have to do a deal with it, understand why people feel as they do and make some movement.

My strong advice to the whole European Union is that it needs to do a deal with the people who disagree with it, because the scheme is not working for all those people in the euro area. It needs to change policy, and it should do so before politics changes it. I do not want our country, which matters most to me, to get anywhere near such a point. I am pleased to have been part of the forces in this country that kept us out of the euro, which meant that we missed the worst—this country has a reasonable economic recovery that is completely unrelated

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to the continent, with its long recession and deep troubles in the southern territories—but as I see my country sucked into common policies on energy, borders, foreign affairs and welfare, I think that we might be sucked in too far and have exactly the same problems on those issues that the euro area is already experiencing on the central matter of economics.

I urge Ministers to take this seriously and to re-read the words of the Bloomberg speech. I urge the Opposition to join us, because they aspire to govern this country. One day they may come up with really popular policies and be elected on that basis, and what a tragedy it would be if they discovered that they could not enact those policies because they were illegal under European law. That could happen just as much to the Labour party as to the Conservative party.

These are not some private arguments among Conservatives in some secret club of Eurosceptics held in the privacy of the House of Commons; these are mighty arguments about the future of our continent and our country and about the nature of democracy itself. Accountability still rests with a national Parliament, not with the European institutions. If there is to be trust between politicians and the people, the national Parliament must be able to deliver when the people speak. We are in danger of that no longer being true, which is why a yellow card and a red card are not sufficient. It is also why we need to answer the question: how do the British people vote for what they want and how do an elected Government in Britain deliver it if it disagrees with European rules?

5.44 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): May I apologise, Mr Speaker, for arriving after the beginning of the debate? I was detained elsewhere. I want to say a few words, but will not speak for too long.

When I was a student, I read the works of Walter Bagehot, the 19th-century writer on constitutional matters who distinguished between what he called the decorative and the effective parts of the constitution. Much of what happens around the European Union is decorative. The real power resides not with the elected bodies, but elsewhere. Many people among the political elites of the various members of the European Union go to great lengths to ensure that the European Parliament and their own Parliaments have a comfortable majority of Euro-enthusiasts who will just go along with what the political class wants.

However, Euroscepticism is a major force. It is not effectively represented in many Parliaments, but it is among the populace. I remind hon. Members of the referendums that the French and Dutch held on the proposed constitution. The Socialist party in France went to the extreme of having a ballot of its members and encouraging them to vote yes for the constitution, which they duly did. It was assumed that the conservative parties would vote in favour of the constitution anyway. In the referendum, the great majority of working people voted no. It was the working class and those on the left—and, no doubt, some people on the right—who voted no because they did not think that the constitution was in their interests. Euroscepticism was therefore found to be quite a strong

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force when a referendum was held, but it is not necessarily a strong force in the elected Parliaments. The same thing happened in Holland.

From time to time, I attend meetings of COSAC with other members of the European Scrutiny Committee. COSAC is an organisation for representatives of the national Parliaments and it includes some Members of the European Parliament. However, Members of the European Parliament are rather irritated that they have to listen to Members of the elected national Parliaments, because they see us as interlopers in their preserve or realm. They think, “We are elected European Members and we do not want these other Parliaments having their say.” Nevertheless, we go to the meetings. Even there, the overwhelming majority of Members are docile supporters of the European Union and all its works.

It is interesting that the British voices from the House of Commons are often very distinctive in being outspoken and critical, and just raising issues. We were in Italy not so long ago and I said, “Well, what about the 13.2% unemployment rate in Italy? What about those who are arguing for the restoration of the lira?” Those voices are not represented at COSAC, but they are represented in the street outside. When politicians stop listening to the voices in the street outside, they are in danger in the longer term.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I was just reflecting on how much I miss the time my hon. Friend and I spent together on the European Scrutiny Committee. Without wishing to entice the opprobrium of Government Members, I was also reflecting on my time as Minister for Europe, when I worked on the Lisbon treaty. In his conversations with colleagues in COSAC, has my hon. Friend discussed the fact that a quarter of the written opinions of national Parliaments relate to 15 legislative proposals? Does he accept the logic that objections from the UK Parliament have greater validity when the legislation applies to the UK, as opposed to when the UK already has an opt-out? When it comes to the written objections from the UK and the conversations that he has in COSAC, does he distinguish between issues that apply to the UK and those that do not?

Kelvin Hopkins: I have not had conversations about those specific issues. However, there is everything to be said for making strong objections to anything that we disagree with and for trying to overturn proposals for legislation if we do not find them acceptable. We would probably find quite a lot of support among the electorates of many member states, even though we do not find it among their politicians. Even in countries that have voted against joining the euro, one will find that the political class privately wants to join it.

One country that has voted time and again—twice now—to stay outside the European Union is Norway, yet for a long time the political class tried to pressure its own people to vote to join it. I am a member of the all-party parliamentary British-Norwegian group and at a recent meeting the Norwegian ambassador said that support for joining the EU had dropped to 11%, which is pretty decisive. Nevertheless, it is vital in any meaningful democracy that elected parliamentarians listen to the voices of their constituents—to the people outside.

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One reason I disagree so strongly with systems of proportional representation is that they break that link with electors. In a national list system, the only people who matter are those who put candidates on that list—the party leaders—and not the people outside who vote for them. We have personal relations and contacts with our voters in single-Member seats, and as I mentioned in a debate yesterday, last weekend I spent six hours knocking on doors in my constituency and listening to what people had to say. That link is important in a democracy.

I mentioned Bagehot, but more recently essayists from our own Chamber have contributed to a new book, “What They Never Told You about Parliament and How It Should be Put Right”. Some of our colleagues from this House and another place have made a lot of suggestions for increasing the democratic power of this House in holding the Executive to account, which is absolutely right. I would also like more democracy within parties to hold their leadership to account, but that is perhaps a dangerously radical view that would not be shared by some of my colleagues on the Front Bench. I have always believed in democracy being something that comes from beneath, rather than from the top.

When I was studying politics at university we covered political constitutions, including the Soviet constitution that was written in the mid-1930s, no doubt by friends of Stalin. Clearly, a great democratic panoply of organisations and structures meant absolutely nothing because all power resided in Stalin’s office. It is where power resides that really matters. If power is with the people, that is what democracy should be about; if power is with the elite and people have to do what the elite tell them, that is not democracy. All sorts of structures may look like democracy, but if there is no power in the hands of ordinary people, voters and their directly elected representatives, that is not true democracy. I am not talking about anarcho-syndicalism or anything of that kind; I am talking about representative democracy of the kind we have now.

I believe that in the European Union power really resides in secret councils and the backrooms of the Commission. I heard a story from a Member of the European Parliament who some years ago stumbled by mistake into an office in the Commission building, and found themselves with a group of officials who were deciding who was going to hold a certain post. They wanted a commissioner on social affairs. That sounds very socialist and left-wing, so they wanted somebody weak. They thought, “Ah yes, we’ve got this rather feeble commissioner from one of the smaller east European countries. They won’t cause any trouble so let’s put them forward”, and that is what happened. That is not democracy either. I think we ought to elect our commissioners directly from Parliament. That would be a good idea because we would have a say in who our commissioner is, rather than them being appointed. These issues are fundamental.

Today I had a meeting with an academic researcher from Germany—a very charming, intelligent person. She said, “You’re a critic of the European Union. What would you like it to be like?” I said, “I am passionately European in the sense that I love Europe as a continent of wonderful peoples, countries, cultures—everything about me shrieks ‘Europe!’. I love the music, art, wine, peoples, languages—everything about Europe I love, but not the European Union, which is a political construct imposed on Europe; it is not Europe.”

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When people talk about Europe but mean the European Union, they are trying to con us into thinking that Europe can only have the European Union, but there are alternatives. My alternative, which I put to the academic researcher, was that we should have a loose association of democratic member states with elected Parliaments that meet and agree on issues for mutual benefit, but that there should be nobody above those Parliaments telling them what to do. We could no doubt have joint ventures on military aircraft, for example; we have done that from time to time. Concorde involved a joint agreement between France and Britain. We could have bilateral and multilateral international agreements on all sorts of things. We could even agree to standardise the way in which we do things, but these should all involve mutual agreements between the various member states, rather than having something imposed from a very undemocratic bureaucracy above the member states of Europe.

It would be a splendid idea to have a loose association of member states coming together to agree things that are of mutual benefit, and I would love to see that happen. In a few months’ time, I shall be taking a holiday in Italy. I normally go to France, but this year it will be Italy, and I shall enjoy Europe in all its glory. However, I shall continue to be critical of the European Union, which is not Europe.

5.55 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who speaks such sense on these matters. It was also interesting to hear about his holiday plans for the summer, and I hope that he will tell us more about them in future debates.

I turn immediately to the wording of the motion. Her Majesty’s Government like to say all the right things and do all the wrong ones. Let us look at the end of the motion, which proposes that the House

“welcomes the Government’s commitment to increasing the power of national parliaments in EU decision-making by strengthening and, where possible, enhancing current provisions.”

It sounds splendid that we in the national Parliaments should have an increased role and that there should be proper scrutiny within this House. But let us look further into the Order Paper, where we find the European business and the debates set down to take place on the Floor of the House. We had one yesterday. How generous of Her Majesty’s Government to allow us, after months of delay, to debate an issue that had been suggested for debate by the European Scrutiny Committee!

Turning to the future European business, however, we see that no time or date has been set for the first debate in the list, on the free movement of EU citizens, despite its having being asked for more than a year ago. Debate No. 2 would be on strategic guidelines for EU justice and home affairs to 2020. Debate No. 3— [Interruption.] Bless you! Debate No. 3 would be on the rule of law in EU member states. Debate No. 4 should be on ports, a highly controversial matter awaiting the discussion that was suspended in the Committee because the Government had not got their act together. No. 5 is the topic that we are discussing now. No. 6 should cover the EU budget 2014, which is not a minor matter. Indeed, it is rather important. When we discuss our own Budget, we have four days of debate on it, yet we are

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not even given 90 minutes for the EU budget. No. 7 on the list is the EU charter of fundamental rights. So there are six further debates that we have not been given, yet today we are debating the Government’s wonderful commitment to increasing parliamentary scrutiny of European matters.

There is a saying that fine words butter no parsnips. We get a lot of fine words from Her Majesty’s Government but the parsnips remain distinctly unbuttered, and as I represent a dairying constituency, I think it is about time we had some butter and got the debates that the European Scrutiny Committee has been asking for. There is a considerable lack of wisdom in this approach—this contumely towards the House. These debates take place in an atmosphere of considerable cross-party consensus. Those on the Opposition Front Bench rarely cause any trouble in European debates, and the motions that are tabled are normally so anodyne that it is hard to oppose them. The Government broadly say that they are in favour of motherhood, apple pie and democracy while giving away as many of our freedoms as they can, as quickly as possible. Furthermore, these debates do not end up being front-page news.

Where the Government get into trouble, however, is through their lack of willingness to go along with what the European Scrutiny Committee has asked for. At that point, they run into procedural difficulties. We saw that in spades over the European arrest warrant, and we thought that the Government might have learnt the error of their ways and realised that trying to obstruct the procedures of the House of Commons is an error. They might have found from yesterday’s experience, when an amendment was tabled on a subject that the Government did not want us to discuss, that the House would get its way in the end. It did so because, fortunately, we have a robust Speaker who ensures that the House gets what it wants in the end. That is much to be welcomed. However, there should not be this constant battle between the European Scrutiny Committee and the Government to get that which the Standing Orders of the House of Commons require. The Government come out with ridiculous promises and fine words but simply fail to deliver on their promises.

Mr Redwood: Could it be that the Government believe their own propaganda? We are faced with having two Governments for the price of three in this country, a European Government and a United Kingdom Government, but the Government fondly believe that they are the sole Government and have not recognised that there is a much bigger Government over there doing a lot of their work for them. They do not want us to look at that.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My right hon. Friend makes the interesting suggestion that the Government are naive and foolish, and that is one way of looking at it. My view is that they are deliberate in their attempt to subvert the will of the House of Commons and its efforts to debate things. My right hon. Friend is a generous and kindly figure, for which he is renowned across the land, whereas I am afraid that I am perhaps rather more hard-nosed on this occasion and think that there is a desire to run away from debate. I do not know

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where that desire comes from. It is fundamentally unhealthy and undemocratic and the Government must understand that many of us will complain if this continues to happen.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (UKIP): Does the hon. Gentleman recall the Prime Minister stating expressly at the Dispatch Box that he would deliver a vote on the European arrest warrant before the Rochester and Strood by-election? What happened to that promise?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who knows only too well about that by-election. It is extraordinary that other people within government try to subvert the will of the Prime Minister. Our constitution works well as the Prime Minister, as the head of the Government, shows leadership. However, there are then people, minions—I do not know who they are, as they will not emerge or admit the role they play in undermining parliamentary scrutiny—who deliberately undermine what the Prime Minister has promised. That is the most extraordinary state of affairs, Mr Speaker, as the Prime Minister needs your help to deliver on his promises. Your impartial help is needed to get the Prime Minister out of a hole dug for him by his own officials. This is a quite extraordinary and regrettable state of affairs.

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is making liberal reference to the Chair, to which I have no objection, but in so far as he is foraging in the undergrowth to try to find a solution to Parliament’s difficulties as we approach Prorogation and then Dissolution, he might find that the shortage of allocated time is such that his only recourse is to seek a debate under Standing Order No. 24. He should not be put in that position, but he can always have a go, with no promises and no advance undertakings. We should not be reduced to this state of affairs, but needs must.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I was worried when you said that I was making liberal reference to the Chair; I hope that I was making Conservative reference to the Chair. Other than that, I am much obliged for your helpful reminder of the Standing Orders of the House.

I do not want to go on for too long, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) has an important debate that will follow this one. In that context, I note that when I sit down before the full time for the debate is complete the Government will once again say that the debate did not run for its full time and that the desire for such debates is therefore not as great as we might think, so they do not need to give them in future.

Kelvin Hopkins: I know that the hon. Gentleman is being respectful to the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), but the obvious solution would be for him to spin out his speech to the end of the time. I would certainly enjoy listening to it.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I would hardly have begun my speech if I were going to go through all the intricacies it might be necessary to cover, but I do not want to upset my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, who has a serious matter to discuss that concerns my constituency.

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The Government must bear in mind the fact that the debate is truncated thanks to the good nature of members of the European Scrutiny Committee and the Whips scurrying around asking whether we would be kindly. It has not been truncated because there is not a great deal to discuss. When the answer comes back that we are not interested as we do not take the full time, that will be an untruth. I am glad to see that the Minister for Europe is looking in my direction and notes that, because he never says anything other than the truth. I have great confidence in his intellect, if not always in the answers that come from it.

Proportionality and subsidiarity are of considerable importance. I am slightly suspicious of subsidiarity because, as the shadow Minister the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) has said, it comes from the teaching of the Catholic Church. The holy mother Church, to which I belong, is a great, illustrious and historic institution, but if it is known for one thing other than its piety, it is its centralisation of power. It therefore strikes me that, if subsidiarity has been thought up by the holy mother Church, it is more likely to be to do with reinforcing the authority of the Holy See and of the papacy in particular than with spreading it far and wide. I happen to think that, in the case of the Church, that is a thoroughly good thing.

Mr Redwood: Is it not the other way round? We want this House to be able to do the big things. We do not want to be left with the crumbs from the table—we want the main meal.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend and I was coming on to that.

The heart of the matter is the question of where we think democracy lies in the European Union. Does it lie in the Commission? The answer, in fairly short order, is no. Every country has a commissioner and, as the hon. Member for Luton North has said, commissioners from very small countries sometimes get very important briefs. It was the Maltese Commissioner who finally decided whether neonicotinoids could be legal across the whole of the European Union. Malta has a population of about 250,000—which is tiny in proportion to ours, let alone that of the whole of the EU—and it was someone representing them who made a decision for all of us without any democratic accountability because the Council could not come to a decision.

There is no election for European Commissioners—they are appointed by their home Governments. The President of the Commission represents Luxembourg, which is hardly the great bulwark of population and importance for which one might hope. It is not exactly the Texas, or even the Illinois, of the European Union. Relatively minor figures from their own domestic functions are put forward as commissioners, with no support from, or knowledge of, the people living in the other member states. Before he became a commissioner, very few people in the United Kingdom could have named the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg. There is no democratic accountability in the Commission.

Perhaps there is democratic accountability in the European Parliament, but, if there is, it is of a most extraordinary kind. The d’Hondt system for electing people is most unsatisfactory and means that most people have no clue who their MEP is. It is very difficult

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to seek redress of grievance through the European Parliament in the way our constituents can seek redress of grievance through this House. Indeed, one of my concerns about the whole European project is that it denies our constituents that proper redress of grievance that they can get through the House of Commons.

Crucially, the European Parliament cannot have democratic accountability because it does not represent a single people. When the issue of unemployment in Greece, Spain and Portugal came up in yesterday’s debate, it was absolutely instructive that there was a complete lack of concern for unemployment in the other member states of the European Union. There is not a feeling that somebody unemployed in Greece is as important as somebody unemployed in Newcastle. Until we have that fellow feeling—the feeling that they are one people with us—there cannot be a proper democracy. The jargon, clearly, is that without a demos there cannot be democracy and there is not a single European people. Therefore, even if the European Parliament had Members who anyone knew about, and even if it was elected on a system that anyone thought was a reasonable system to elect people on, it would still not have proper democratic representation because it does not represent a single people.

That brings us to the Commission, which I think is the closest we get to democracy in the European Union. The Ministers represent their Governments and those Governments have to command majorities in their respective Houses of Parliament. That brings us back to exactly where we want to be: the democratic rights of Parliament and what Parliament should be able to do within the overall system and context of the European Union. Ultimately, democratic accountability within Europe—that thin thread of accountability that exists—is through the Commission to Parliaments.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I hate to interrupt my hon. Friend in mid-flow, but I believe that he is talking about the European Council, not the European Commission.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am so sorry. I do indeed mean the Council. The Council has that thin thread to the Parliaments, which provides that democratic accountability.

We then look at what those Parliaments can do. They can have a limited amount of scrutiny but, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) said, that mainly comes after things have been decided; the European Scrutiny Committee gets to look at things that have already reached a far stage in the approval process within the whole European system. It is very hard to stop anything at that point, so we then move on to yellow cards.

Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman, as ever, is making an interesting and illuminating speech. Is not one of the travesties and caricatures of democracy in the European Union the fact that the only body that can propose new legislation is the European Commission, not even the Council?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is part of the control of the Commission and part of the anti-democratic set-up of the European

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Union, and I do not think that is accidental; were it genuinely democratic, it would never have evolved to its current state.

We get these sops, with this business of the yellow cards, of which only two have been accepted by the Commission, and one of those was immediately dismissed—it said that the one for the public prosecutor was not a matter of subsidiarity anyway and so it would push ahead regardless. We have a threshold that is very hard to reach, and as a result of which nothing need happen, and a two-month period that makes it incredibly difficult for national Parliaments to get their responses in within the limited time available. The red card would be little better.

What we actually need is for our constituents—the people of the United Kingdom—to take back control of their own Government. That might be possible through renegotiation if the Government are robust, but the problem is that at the moment the Government show no sign of being robust or willing to push back to the European Union. They come out with platitudes that support the continuing accretion of power to the EU. They come forward with the fine words I have mentioned but never push on the difficult decisions. Yesterday the Minister for Europe told us that Switzerland wants to pull out of one of the treaties and that it has to take it all or leave it all, but that is an outrageous position to take if we are in favour of renegotiating for ourselves.

I urge the Government to be robust, to support democracy and to make sure that, for once, what they say and what they do match.

6.12 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I am grateful to all Members who have taken part in this brief but interesting debate. Like my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), I am conscious that there is other important business to follow, so I will keep my remarks very brief indeed.

I take note of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset about remaining outstanding debates, but I point out that there have so far been 51 debates on European Union matters on the Floor of the House during the course of this Parliament, whereas previously the custom was to have perhaps two such debates a year.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) referred to the tensions that exist between national democracy and the reality of how decisions are made at European Union level. Of course, European Union law is operative and has direct effect in this country only because Parliament has decided, through the European Communities Act 1972, that that should

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be the case. It is clearly open to this or a future Parliament to alter those arrangements should it choose to do so. However, although that is constitutionally possible, it would bring about an immediate crisis in this country’s relationship with the European Union.

I think that it is important for us to remember that although there are some things that we find objectionable and frustrating about European Union decisions, sometimes the things that we find most valuable and beneficial to our interests are those that other EU countries resent the most. It is for that reason that I think the idea that one could simply have a unilateral right of veto for any of the 28 member states simply does not work if the European Union is to exist in a meaningful form.

I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset when they talked about the lack of a European demos. After all, that is the very reason why, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, the eurozone countries are finding it so hard to reconcile an economic imperative towards greater integration with the political reality that national electorates want to hold economic policy decisions nationally accountable through their own national democracies.

What the Prime Minister said in his Bloomberg speech, which I read and re-read constantly, is that this is a challenge not just for the United Kingdom—as it is—but for every member of the European Union. It is the Prime Minister’s commitment and intention to negotiate a settlement between the United Kingdom and the rest of the EU that is good for us and good for our partners, and which achieves a balance between membership of the European Union and a need for a measure of collective decision making there, with the need for national accountability and for the British people to feel that they are comfortable about their place in that European organisation. That is something to which the Prime Minister committed himself in January 2013. I know he is completely determined to deliver that.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 12425/14, the 2013 Annual Report from the Commission on relations between the Commission and national parliaments, and No. 12424/14, the 2013 Annual Report from the Commission on subsidiarity and proportionality; recognises the importance of the principle of subsidiarity and the value of stronger interaction between national parliaments and the EU Institutions; deplores the failure of the outgoing Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship to respond to national parliaments’ concerns about the proposal to establish a European Public Prosecutors Office; looks forward to the European Commission responding to the call of national parliaments and the European Council to strengthen national parliaments’ role in improving EU legislation; and welcomes the Government’s commitment to increasing the power of national parliaments in EU decision-making by strengthening and, where possible, enhancing current provisions.

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Backbench Business

School Funding Formula

6.16 pm

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House believes that, given the continued fiscal pressure on the schools budget in the next Parliament, the speedy implementation of a fair and transparent school funding formula is more urgent than ever.

It is a pleasure to open this debate and to speak on an issue that I have raised during each year of my time in Parliament, and one that still needs addressing and never more urgently than in the run-up to a crucial general election. I hope today’s debate can inform the manifestos of all the main parties and lay down a challenge for the next Government to deliver on.

Today’s motion has cross-party support: more than 64 Back Benchers from across the House have signed it. I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for recognising that it is an urgent and important enough matter to merit debate in the main Chamber. I am also very grateful to the two vice-chairs of the F40 campaign, who are both in their places: the hon. Members for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey) and for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). We are here to correct a long-standing injustice, and it is a credit to Parliament that there is such a strong turnout.

We have seen some progress on this issue, but the key decisions on the shape of a new national funding formula have been delayed until after the 2015 spending review. To say that that was disappointing in a place such as Worcestershire, which has lingered at the bottom of the funding table for far too long, would be an understatement. One local head teacher, in a letter to our local paper, recently described it as “immoral” that the issue of fair funding has been unaddressed for so long.

Local MPs have repeatedly made the case for a new formula that is based more on activity and the characteristics of schools and their catchments, and less on accidents of geography. We have attended debate after debate on this issue, and not just in the current Parliament. Colleagues with experience of previous Parliaments have often regaled me with their efforts to press this issue and point out the glaring disparities that affect their schools and constituents.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have been here since 2001 and this has been a thorny problem since then. I was in the same intake as the Minister, who is in his place. I hope that when he gets the chance to speak he will address the situation in Somerset, where we face the same problem as Worcester.

Mr Walker: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen the gap between the best and worst-funded authorities continue to widen long after the flaws which caused it were acknowledged.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for leading this debate. In Devon, we have now seen £193 in extra funding per pupil. That is great news, but there is still a big gap to fill, especially with so many small rural schools and a sparse population. We do a very good job with very poor funding. I look to the next Parliament to do better.

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Mr Speaker: Order. May I point out to colleagues that in addition to the hon. Member for Worcester and the Front Benchers, who need briefly to speak, there are on my list nine colleagues who wish to speak? The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to make a full contribution, but I know he will find that helpful to weigh in the balance.

Mr Walker: I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who has always been a great champion for rural areas.

F40, the cross-party campaign formed more than 20 years ago to represent the lowest-funded areas, used to rail against a gap of hundreds of pounds in funding between rural areas and their urban areas, and in Worcestershire, local MPs spoke out against a gap that doubled during the 13 years of the previous Labour Government. Until the current year, it had never once narrowed. When the gap started, there was no justice in the fact that similar schools serving similar catchments with similar levels of deprivation on different sides of a random border could receive wildly different funding. As the gap has widened, so the challenge for schools to raise the attainment of all their pupils has become greater and the challenge to hold on to their best teachers bigger. Although the pupil premium has helped some schools in F40 areas, it has also added to the disparities by piling targeted funding for deprivation on top of the untargeted funding that went before.

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is particular difficultly in fast-growth areas, such as Devon, where there are large distances to take children back and forth to school?

Mr Walker: My hon. Friend is undoubtedly right that there is a problem in fast-growth areas. As I shall explain shortly, per-pupil funding is crucial to this debate.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I want to draw the House’s attention to Ofsted’s excellent report on the long tail of underachievement, which identifies rural and coastal areas among those parts of the country facing difficulties, as is precisely reflected in the F40 group. Is that not one of the reasons we have to tackle this problem?

Mr Walker: I agree.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Yet again, my hon. Friend is leading off the debate—in 10 years in the House, I have raised this matter only eight times, so I stand behind him in that respect. Does he agree that the Government did the right thing last year by closing the gap a little but that we need all parties to commit to a new funding formula in the next Parliament, as the Conservative party has done, to ensure that we have a fair and just settlement, not just in rhetoric but in reality?

Mr Walker: I absolutely agree with the Chairman of the Education Committee and join him in that plea to all parties to deliver a fair funding formula, as has been promised.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): The other point that surely needs addressing is the pupil premium. Although we all support it as a principle and in its effects, is it not a blunt instrument, because it skews an already unfair system? Does that not need reviewing?

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Mr Walker: What needs reviewing is the underlying system of school funding to create something fairer and more transparent. I believe that the pupil premium can play a role in such a system, but my hon. Friend makes a good point.

I welcome the fact that last year saw the first real step forward. The schools Minister, with help from the Chancellor, was the first person to provide funding to address the funding gap. His announcement of what started as £350 million and then grew to £390 million of extra funding to help the lowest-funded areas was a genuine step forward and the first concrete sign that real change was on its way. At the time, Members spoke of a down payment and welcomed the benefits for those who stood to gain. We queried elements of the allocation and pushed for F40 areas to receive more of it, and between the initial allocation and the second, the F40 areas did indeed receive more—so the parliamentary pressure made a difference.

This first small step will mean £6.7 million for Worcestershire schools this year—an additional £97 per pupil—which will make a real difference from April onwards, and it will mean that this year, for the first time in decades, the gap between schools on our side of the border with Birmingham and those on the other side will grow smaller rather than wider. However, cost pressures on our schools will make these victories seem minor. We will all have heard from teachers and head teachers in underfunded areas who say that costs are running ahead of their funding. I have written to Secretaries of State and Ministers countless times with local examples.

There is not time in this debate to enter into the complexities of the funding system itself—a system so devilishly complex that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) compared it to the Schleswig-Holstein question—but fortunately, F40 has a dedicated team of governors, teachers, heads, councillors and council officers who have worked up their own proposed changes to the funding formula. Their analytical work has been robust, and their proposals would achieve a formula based on the nature of the school and its catchment, funding a small lump sum for secondary schools and a slightly larger one for primary schools to help smaller schools; providing a proportion of funding for deprivation; and providing smaller proportions for low prior attainment, English as an additional language and sparsity—there is more work to do on sparsity.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): On the question of sparsity, the rural schools of South Dorset are trying to form multi-academy trusts, and what is so extraordinary is that the funding is different for each pupil, depending on which local authority they come from. This is another anomaly that we must sort out.

Mr Walker: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The emergence of multi-academy trusts provides another argument for fairness in the funding system.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Walker: I am afraid not, I am sorry.

The F40 finance group recently met Department for Education officials and discussed these proposals. The initial feedback was very positive. It was clear that under F40 proposals there would be more gainers and fewer losers than under the current formula.

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The only challenge now appears to be the political will to deliver. We are beginning to hear from all the parties what they will be offering in their manifestos. We hear that the Conservative party would protect the cash settlement for schools in per-pupil terms. The coalition is already targeting money per pupil numbers. The Labour party seeks to protect the overall schools budget and the Liberal Democrats to protect the whole of the two-to-18 education budget. The problem with any protection for budgets as a whole is that it might produce a reduction in per-pupil funding, as pupil numbers are set to grow rapidly. It has been argued that Labour’s promise of an inflationary increase in this era of low inflation could deliver lower per-pupil funding than the Conservative proposal of flat cash per pupil.

Whatever the outcome of the election, it is clear that there will be ongoing fiscal pressure on all our schools. It is perhaps understandable in that situation that Ministers are keen to avoid turbulence, but avoiding turbulence has been the main reason for not going further and faster on school funding reform in the lifetime of this Parliament. It can no longer stand. We need to make it clear that to translate any freeze in per-pupil spending overall into a freeze in the unfair formula that currently allocates it would be totally unacceptable.

We can see all too directly the pressures on schools in all of our constituencies. We know that those pressures have built up not just in a few short years of tighter budgets, but over decades of comparative underfunding. It is simply not possible in these circumstances to justify the £900 per-pupil gap between Worcestershire schools and those in neighbouring Birmingham; the £700 gap that used to exist between Leicestershire and Leicester; or the £550 gap between Devon and Bristol—still less the mind-bogglingly vast gap between the best funded and worst funded authorities. In rich London boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea, the per-pupil funding is £5,866 and it is £6,221 in Islington, while in poorer northern towns such as Barnsley it is more than £1,700 less.

I say to Ministers and shadow Ministers that F40 has made detailed proposals for change and I hope that they can accept them. They should deliver us a fair formula and help us to close the gap between schools that have missed out for far too long and those in the best funded areas. Overall, the allocation we have put forward would be more even, fairer and would target deprivation more effectively. The pressure on the education budget makes the timetable for delivering this new formula more urgent than ever. F40 members recognise that minimum funding guarantees may be needed to smooth out the introduction of a new formula, but we are not prepared to wait for ever while they are applied. We therefore call for the move to be conducted in a maximum of three years.

We have come a long way. The argument for fairer funding has been accepted on all sides. We must now be clear that its non-delivery—whether it be for political or administrative reasons—would be totally unacceptable. To entrench the progress made, I urge the Minister to ensure that the £390 million already secured for the lowest funded areas should be baselined in the education budget for 2016-17 so that the move to a new formula will start with that downpayment taken into account. I challenge all parties to address that challenge and to deliver the fair and transparent formula that our constituents deserve.

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Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I propose that the Front-Bench spokesmen should be called at or as close as possible to 6.50, which would allow five minutes to each. That leaves 22 minutes and there are nine people on my list. I will leave hon. Members to do the arithmetic themselves. It is not binding, but I invite Members to help each other.

6.28 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) on his leadership of this debate and on his leadership on this issue during this Parliament. He sets an example to us all.

It is clear what the motion is asking the next Parliament for:

“the speedy implementation of a fair and transparent…funding formula”

on an acceptable time scale. Of course, what is fair and transparent to one person is not necessarily so to another—and therein lies the challenge for the Front-Bench team when it is time to deliver. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chairman of the Education Committee, is right when he says that this needs to be fair and just. We can all sign up to that, but, as the hon. Member for Worcester says, it should not be an accident of geography that determines how much funding a school, a pupil or a student gets. It should be done fairly and transparently.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as we now have an extra chunk of money from the last Budget, it should be put on the baseline, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker)? At least that would give future Governments a fairer point from which to start.

Nic Dakin: Any progress should certainly be built on by a future Government. North Lincolnshire, the area that I represent, is historically underfunded. We stand to benefit and to be a potential winner, but the change must be smoothed for those who are less advantaged, and I think that the F40 principles will help in that regard. Core entitlement at pupil level is the main building block that will give schools access to similar resources for basic classroom costs, wherever those schools may be, but pupil needs beyond the core entitlement will also be recognised. Factors such as deprivation, special educational needs and the existence of small schools in small communities should be taken into account. That is the second building block. As for the third, the existing dedicated schools grant structure should continue to be part of the framework. I think that those three principles will be helpful to any future Government.

When we talk about school budgets, we should recognise that funding for those over 16 has been particularly badly affected in recent years.

Richard Graham: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is hardest for schools with sixth forms, and those that do not have a very large percentage of disadvantaged pupils who receive the pupil premium. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential to get the core funding right for the F40 group, so that those schools can balance their books in the next few years?

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Nic Dakin: It is indeed. We should focus on giving young people equal opportunities wherever they are.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, debates about the school funding formula have been continuing for many years. I remember them taking place about 25 years ago. What is more important is that a quarter of the further education budget is to be cut at Coventry City college.

Nic Dakin: My hon. Friend has made a good point, which illustrates the complexity of the issue and the challenges that it poses. For example, sixth-form colleges currently receive no VAT relief, whereas other institutions do. One political party is going into the next election promising to create 500 new institutions. We have to ask ourselves whether that is good value for money when there is pressure on the basic budgets for young people who are in our existing institutions. It is a simple observation, and with that simple observation I shall end my speech.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Will Members now try to stick to a two-minute limit?

6.33 pm

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow both the excellent speakers whom we have heard so far. We all agree on the need for a fair and transparent system. As has been said, much of that is in the eye of the beholder. However, the Ministers in the last Government whom I lobbied knew perfectly well that the system was not fair, although they did not have the political courage to face down their own people and say, “We are going to have to redistribute your funds to areas that we do not typically represent, because that is obviously fair.” This is not just about perception. I have never heard anyone attempt to explain why the present system is fair, because they cannot do so. The system is not fair. It is time for someone to recognise the need to do the right thing regardless of party-political interest, which may be something of a challenge.

I am delighted that the Conservative party is committed to a new national funding formula, and I am also pleased that the F40 group is presenting detailed proposals. Its members have worked out who will be losers and who will be winners, to narrow the gaps. Whichever party is in government, whichever system is used to fund schools and regardless of whether 16 to 19-year-olds are protected, money will be tight, so we must have the courage to do the right thing, and then find a way of explaining it to people and carrying them with us.

The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) was right to say that we must do what all fair-minded people would recognise as the right thing. I say that on behalf of the people in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the area I represent. It is rural, coastal and absolutely has the problems the chief inspector of Ofsted has identified, yet from this coming year, although it will have slightly more money thanks to the £390 million, it will be the lowest-funded area in the country. If the Minister gets a chance to do so in his time-limited five-minute speech, perhaps he will say something about the technicality by

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which, because of our high needs block funding, we got a disproportionately small amount of that £390 million, to add to our existing inequities.

6.35 pm

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I just want to make one point building on the description of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) of the disparities between local authorities. My local authority, Solihull, has £1,300 less per capita than neighbouring Birmingham, but we school 7,000 pupils over our borders from Birmingham and Coventry, and unlike the principle in health where the money follows the patient, the money does not follow the pupils over the border. I fully support F40’s pursuit of a fair funding formula, but I specifically impress upon the Minister that this irregularity between health and education needs to be sorted out in the short term before the schools that are trying to educate pupils from over their borders with less money find it impossible to do so.

6.36 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): May I very briefly, in the two minutes available to me, pay tribute to my teachers and governing bodies in the schools in Gloucestershire, that often with very little money and at the bottom of the F40 league, achieve outstanding Ofsted results? Gloucestershire gets a dedicated schools grant of £4,200, compared with nearly £6,700 for Camden. That cannot be equitable.

We have to end this system. We should have a national funding formula with special needs and all the other factors—rurality, deprivation—taken into account, arguing up from the minimum. Unless we start somewhere and start soon with a floors and ceiling system, we are never going to get an equitable system. To enshrine the current system under a capped budget is simply unfair, and I ask the Minister to recognise that unfairness. It is quite wrong that there is a postal code lottery, so that where someone lives determines how much funding their child has. Please can he end this unfairness?

6.37 pm

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): This problem has grown up over several decades. It is not something which has sprung up under this coalition, nor even under the last Labour Government. It has come on over a period of decades—since the second world war, really—and I am delighted that this Government, and the two parties represented in this Government, have committed themselves to a new funding formula to be implemented in the next Parliament, and I hope we will hear from the Labour Front-Bench team that they are committed to that as well.

As this has not happened in this Parliament, we are reliant, as a short-term measure to get ourselves through the interim, on the down-payment colleagues have talked about of some £390 million for the coming year. That is most welcome. My local authority of Devon is the sixth-worst funded in the country, and it will receive about £200 per pupil as a result of this uplift. I mention in passing that F40 put to the Department for Education some alternative proposals on how this money might have been dispensed, which would have given pupils in Devon £400 per head, but the money is nevertheless welcome.

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It is essential that this money is now baked into the formula for the years between now and a new formula coming in, first, to ensure that the baseline is in a healthier place, but secondly, so that the schools that will now receive this money can have the confidence that it will be there not just one year at a time but for the next few years, so they can with confidence go out and employ additional staff with the resources available.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, and we are both co-signatories of this timely motion, but does he share my frustration that this gap widened at a time when schools were receiving the more generous settlements and that it is hard to conceive how a set of Ministers will be able to rapidly close this gap in the context of flat cash per pupil funding settlements in the future?

Sir Nick Harvey: There will be a continued period of tough public finance and that undoubtedly makes it even more difficult to perform these sorts of adjustment, but it is vital that these changes take place. To have the confidence to do that we need to get them right and ensure that sparsity actually means something and does not have a completely perverse set of effects, as it does at the moment, and that the money will be there to phase this in until it can be completely done.

6.39 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I shall be very brief. First, may I, too, pay tribute to all the local teachers in my constituency, who do a fantastic job in a lovely rural area? My local education authority has three points that it is especially concerned about and it agrees with all the points raised by F40. First, on sparsity, our area contains little schools struggling to survive in rural parts of the country, and if those schools went, our children would simply not get the education that they deserve or need. Let us not forget that children are the next generation; they are the future of this country and we must value them equally. Secondly, fairer funding should be achieved by the end of the next Parliament, at the latest. Lastly, opportunities should be equal for all children. The children in South Dorset, wherever they come from, should be valued the same as every other child in the country, and the money that goes towards them should represent that fact.

6.40 pm

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): As I walk out of Heddon-on-the-Wall St Andrew’s Church of England first school and go down the hill into Newcastle, I lose £1,000 per pupil over the course of 300 yards. That is utterly illogical, and the disparity cannot be continued. I endorse all the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) and others. On the pupil premium, I make the point that although we all of course support it, it is genuinely skewing an unfair system and giving us a system that is manifestly not acceptable. I pay tribute to all the schools, governors and teachers in my region of Tynedale and Ponteland, who produce outstanding education, despite the great disparity. They helped me to lobby Ministers, not least the Minister for Schools, who came to Hexham and met many of them approximately 18 months ago.

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The additional £390 million allocation of minimum funding levels resulted in £12 million-plus going to Northumberland, which is genuinely a lifesaver for our schools. We need a firm commitment from all parties in this House that that level of minimum funding increase will form part of the baseline funding for 2015-16, so that at the very least all schools can then plan for the future.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I completely agree with my hon. Friend. There is a massive disparity in my area, which is sandwiched between Leicester, Coventry and Birmingham which get hundreds of pounds extra in funding a year per pupil. Does he agree that that needs to change—it is vital that that happens—because my local schools are trying to get staff in a market where those other schools have far higher levels of funding?

Guy Opperman: I endorse what my hon. Friend says. He should try coming to the most rural and sparsely populated constituency in England, Hexham, in Northumberland, where he would understand the complex difficulties we face; the situation he describes is exacerbated in spades there.

Although the 7% budget increase that the schools will enjoy on 31 March or 1 April is clearly very helpful, we need to plan and go forward. We have yet to hear from the Labour party, which was in government for 13 years and did nothing about this, but the argument appears to be won, because when we look at the co-signatories of F40, we find that they come from across the House. While strongly urging that we get an increase and that the sparsity factor is addressed, I entirely endorse the motion.