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The Leader of the House has no answers to these questions. He should have looked into these matters before bringing this debate forward. Perhaps the reason we are allowed a debate but not a vote is that he does not know what he is doing. [Interruption.] Clearly, he does not know what he is doing because he has deferred the matter. Perhaps he can look into some of these issues before we next consider them. I will give way to him so that he can explain what happens when a Barnett consequential comes before an English-only Committee? I will give way to the Leader of the House if he has an answer. Does he want to step up and answer the question? No, he does not have an answer.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The Leader of the House has not indicated that he wants to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s question, so it would be better if the hon. Gentleman continued with his own speech.

Graham Jones: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. What happened is on the record in Hansard—silence from the Government; they have no answers. I gave the Leader of the House the opportunity.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: I can say that Barnett consequentials do not impact on direct pieces of legislation, but I will explain more in my winding-up speech.

Graham Jones: I did not catch the first part of the answer. Will the Minister repeat it more clearly?

Dr Coffey: I said that I will explain further in my speech, but individual pieces of legislation do not have direct Barnett consequentials, as they are matters of the spending envelope. I shall explain more fully later.

Graham Jones: It would be nice to have that information. It is not present at the minute, but I am glad that the Minister is at least having a look at it. Perhaps the explanation she gives will be unsatisfactory. She may have just made some notes and intends to put it in her speech just because someone has raised it, reinforcing the fact that this is a complete mess. Amendments that have consequentials might go before an English-only Committee. What happens then? I leave that with the Minister and will be interested to hear what she has to say.

Finally, the Government do not seem to appreciate that if we end up in a situation where there is an English Conservative majority but a Unionist Labour majority, legislation could be stifled. The Government may say that there is a resolution to the problem or that that is how this place operates in our democracy. The Minister should be mindful of the fact that if the problems are not resolved, regions such as mine in the north of England will quickly get fed up with voting for a Labour Government, getting a Labour Government but not being able to pass Labour legislation because it is blocked by English Conservative MPs.

Mr Grieve: The one merit or demerit of the proposal is that the Standing Orders are voted on by everybody. If the circumstances described by the hon. Gentleman arose, I have no doubt that the Labour Government would change the Standing Orders.

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Graham Jones: That may be so. I would like to know whether there will be any safeguards in place to prevent such a change from occurring. People in the north of England will get fed up if they vote for a Labour Government and do not get the issues of concern to them resolved in this place because they are blocked by a majority of English Members. It could be said that that is democracy. I can accept that, but unfortunately, we will then be seeing the fragmentation of England—let alone the fragmentation of the United Kingdom—which is what these proposals are bringing about.

9.9 pm

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) has just described this as a mess. One of my favourite films is “Reservoir Dogs”; this, unquestionably, is a breakfast of dogs. When he questioned the Leader of the House and, indeed, invited him to intervene, I was convinced that he was phoning a friend. He had his phone at the ready, looking for an answer.

Graham Jones: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree—this is for Hansard to put on the record—that the Leader of the House looked vacant?

Alex Salmond: I could not possibly say that the Leader of the House looked vacant. What I will say is that the Leader of the House has shown a remarkable proclivity to flee the field during the past week of debates on this subject.

Last week, there was a rout in a vote, and of course we all came in to make our points of order. Normally, on such occasions, Members roust the Government by making points of order, and then the Leader of the House stands at the Dispatch Box and comes up with some explanation of what has happened. On that occasion, the Leader of the House did not come up with an explanation because he was not here. Now he is not here again, and it is very unfortunate that he is not here again—although I am sure that there is a good reason for it—because I was going to compliment the young hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) on not allowing himself to be patronised by him.

The Leader of the House said that the hon. Gentleman did not have parliamentary experience and that, when he knew more about the procedures of the House, he would understand these things. The hon. Member for Belfast East rightly drew attention to the explanatory notes—a misnomer, if ever I have seen one—that were distributed to us all yesterday and read out exactly what was in them. Let me just do that again. The explanatory notes say:

“Any bills that the Speaker has certified as England-only in their entirety will be considered by only English MPs at Committee Stage.”

It should be noted that they do not say, “will be considered by any Member of the House, but voted on only by English MPs”.

I had been in the House for 14 years before the Leader of the House was first elected—if we are going in for patronisation—so let us have a little bit of history. I was looking at my iPad earlier. Incidentally, if these ridiculous proposals are passed, iPads will become much more necessary, in the Division Lobbies as well as the Chamber.

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Graham Jones: Would not those iPads require a fairly complex template in the case of certain pieces of legislation, because of the number of options relating to double majorities and who is voting for what? I hope that the staff are given training.

Alex Salmond: Given the level of intelligence that features in the explanatory notes, I hope that the same people who were responsible for them will not be working out the programme for the iPads. I certainly hope that it will not be the Leader of the House.

I was about to engage in a little bit of history to demonstrate what happens if things are not written down properly and if people do not understand who has rights in this place and who has not. Because I wanted to get the year right, I searched on my iPad for a debate entitled “Conduct of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan”—the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan being a young Member, like the young hon. Member for Belfast East, who wanted to make sure that he asserted his rights in this place. Unfortunately, however, I could not identify the year in question, because such matters arose so often in those hairy days of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I am not entirely certain when the debate occurred, but I believe that the year was 1989, when the then Conservative Government, in their wisdom, set up a Standing Committee to consider Scottish education. The Standing Committee contained a majority of English Members of Parliament and not one single Scottish National party Member of Parliament. I nominated myself for membership, but the House decided that I should not be allowed to serve, so I just turned up anyway.

According to the formulation that the Leader of the House offered us earlier, I should have been welcomed into the bosom of the Committee—although not, of course, allowed to vote—but unfortunately I was not. Mr Michael Martin was in the Chair, and Mr Martin instructed me to leave the Committee. I decided that I could not follow Mr Martin’s instruction, so Mr Martin then ordered me from the Committee. I raised a point of order, pointing out that he did not have the powers to order me from the Committee. Mr Martin, as the Committee Chairman, then brought to the House for debate “Conduct of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan”, in an attempt to secure from the Education Committee the power to exclude me from the Standing Committee. That happened in a Standing Committee of this House of Commons, I think in 1989. So the Leader of the House, in his absence, will understand why I do not accept the blithe assurances that every Member will be welcome on the Committee but with only English Members voting. I rather agree with the hon. Member for Belfast East that we would like to see that written down, rather than have the explanatory notes which say exactly the opposite.

Turning to the recent history of the House, I served on the Scottish Grand Committee when, if I remember correctly, both English and Scottish Members were members. Then it was decided not to have English Members on the Grand Committee. I checked with the Clerks earlier, and I am certain that the current position in the Standing Orders is that only Scottish Members are allowed to serve on the SGC. Members may not recognise that, and that would hardly be surprising because the SGC has, I think, not met since 2003.

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Pete Wishart: Yes, 2003.

Alex Salmond: My hon. Friend, who knows about all these things and has served on almost as many Grand Committees as I have, is undoubtedly correct. That Grand Committee has changed its complexion a number of times, and when it became Scottish Members only, members were not allowed to vote to stop or veto legislation; they could consider legislation on Second Reading and then the legislation came to the full House. In effect, it was roughly what the McKay commission recommended as the answer, although there is actually no answer to the West Lothian question.

My old friend Tam Dalyell posed the West Lothian question precisely because he believed from his study of constitutional history that the only answers to it were either Unionism, which he supported, or independence for Scotland, which I supported. Tam Dalyell did not, and still does not as far as I know, believe there is an answer to the question he proposed, nor, as he would be the first to say, was he the first person to raise that question.

The question was raised in the 19th century. Gladstone considered a similar proposal. I was going to say that it was exactly the same proposal, but the proposal Gladstone considered was much more sensible than the one before us today. None the less, he rejected it, and did so on two grounds. He thought it would be difficult to have a situation where Members of Parliament were going in and out of various votes depending on how they were defined, and he thought it would be too much for the Chair to bear—“for the shoulders of any one man to bear”, if I remember the quote correctly—for the Speaker to have to certify which votes were which and which hon. Members were allowed to vote on which Committees. They say there is nothing new under the sun. All this has been considered before and there is actually a reason why William Gladstone did not come up with this dog’s breakfast before us today.

Mr Hanson: That was also because Gladstone lived in Wales and represented a seat in England.

Alex Salmond: There are two reasons why William Gladstone did not come up with the dog’s breakfast before us.

Wayne David: I think, from memory, that the quote was, “It is beyond the wit of man.”

Alex Salmond: I thought that there was a bit of shoulder in there, but none the less I will accept the hon. Gentleman’s correction, which is well meant.

So these things have been considered before. First, given my experience in the House, to accept the blithe assurances that everything will be all right on the day of the Committee would be extremely foolish, and I am glad the hon. Member for Belfast East does not accept them, and rightly so. Secondly, these matters have been considered, and Tam Dalyell is correct: there are two absolute answers to this question. There is also a third, which my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has proposed and which is that we could have a federal situation under which we define what the federal Parliament does and what each national Parliament does. That would work as well,

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although the predominance of England as a nation within these islands makes federalism difficult, but none the less it could work in constitutional terms. What will not work is what is on the Order Paper.

We are told this is the burning issue—the great issue—facing English Members of Parliament, and not just English Members: we are told that the people across the nation of England talk about little else in the pubs, in football grounds or in their living rooms. They are all talking about EVEL, so we are instructed. We are also told this is the great issue Conservative Members have to face so early in this Session. Yet when we come to debate it—let us congratulate the Leader of the House on making the concession of having a debate—what happens? I have come into this debate a number of times through the day and—I shall try to put this as kindly as possible—the Government Benches have not exactly been overflowing with Conservative Members.

In fact, all the speeches in the past couple of hours have come from this side because of the paucity of Conservative Members in the Chamber. The explanation for that paucity could be that the state of arrogance that has set in among Conservative Members is such that the debate does not really matter to them because the result will go their way at the end of the day. They will see it all right in September and they will get their way, so why should they turn up today? An alternative explanation could be that this matter is not the great issue of state that we were assured necessitated the proposals before us.

I want to spend just a second illustrating the full enormity and absurdity of the document that has been distributed to hon. Members. The content of the paragraphs is bad enough. I have read the one headed “What about Finance bills” a number of times and I am none the wiser. However, I suppose that all the information is crystallised in the remarkable diagram on page 5, which is entitled “Outline of model”. This is meant to make everything clear and to help hon. Members understand the purity of the process. It has been pointed out that a further four stages could be added to the passage of Bills through this House. There is the potential for legislation to become frozen in aspic and totally stalemated. There is also the potential for ping-pong. That can happen between here and the House of Lords anyway, but the proposals seem to offer many more opportunities for ping or pong. The fact that we need a diagram that looks more like the Duke of Wellington’s formation at the battle of Waterloo than a serious coherent proposal for a legislative process should tell us that what is being proposed has not been fully thought through.

There was a reason why William Gladstone did not believe there was an effective answer to the Irish question in relation to the proceedings of this House, back in the 19th century. There was a reason why Tam Dalyell did not think there was an effective answer to the West Lothian question, short of having a unitary Parliament or independence for Scotland. There is also a reason why Bill McKay’s committee did not propose a veto for English MPs, and it is that such proposals will be injurious to the rights of hon. Members and, indeed, to the people they represent. That point was made earlier, and it is absolutely correct. These proposals will create different classes of Members of Parliament with different rights before the House. They will also put the Speaker

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in the invidious position of having to certify Bills in a way that will deprive certain Members of the rights that other hon. Members have.

I think that I know how the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons will sum up the debate, because she has given certain information to other hon. Members earlier. She is going to rest her case on the security that the financial estimates are within an envelope and are decided in accordance with the Budget resolutions. She will also say that that determines the Barnett consequentials, regardless of what happens. Having been the First Minister of Scotland, I can tell her that that is not the case. A range of things can happen that will alter the Barnett consequentials. Movements between departmental expenditure in the UK can alter them, because the consequential is different for each Department.

We have heard constant reference to the example of tuition fees for England and Wales. If that issue were voted on, the vote would not impact on that year’s financial envelope. A decision was made to raise the top-up fees for English students at English universities, and it was voted through by Scottish Labour MPs—to their great shame—in January 2004, if I remember correctly. The proposal was opposed by the SNP, the only party that has consistently opposed tuition fee increases for English students in England, but the vote was carried by a majority of six.

The argument put to us by the Conservative party and by the Labour rebels back in 2004 was that, if the Blair proposal went forward on tuition fees, it meant, as surely as night followed day, that direct expenditure on education and universities in England would decline and loan spending—loan allowances for students—would increase to enable them to pay the fees. There was not a direct Barnett consequential in that year within the financial envelope, but a policy decision that had been made affected the finances of the Scottish Parliament—of course it did; the logic is inescapable.

I am therefore glad to see the Leader of the House returning to his place. I hope that when he reads Hansard he does not think I have been too ungracious towards him. [Interruption.] He says surely not, but I was just reflecting that I thought it was unwise for him to attempt this patronisation of the hon. Member for Belfast East, because a number of examples from before the Leader of the House was a Member of this House tell us exactly why his proposals are inadequate. No Leader of the House should come here with a document that is clearly inadequate and blithely tell hon. Members to accept assurances that he cannot possibly give if he has not written them down on paper. The spatchcock nature of these proposals illustrates why if the Conservative party, without any great support from its Back Benchers and without any coherent argument, wanted to bring this forward, it should have done so as legislation to be properly scrutinised, not as this codswallop. We have been presented with it last week and re-presented with it this week, and unless the Leader of the House mends his ways and changes his tone and his direction, no doubt we will be re-presented with it in September. I do think that he will rue the day he ever got involved in this total, absolute nonsense.

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9.26 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): It has been an excellent debate, in which I believe 23 Members have taken part. I want to start by paying tribute to the two Members making their maiden speeches: the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), who spoke passionately about the area in which he has lived all his life and now represents with great pride; and the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), who gave us an excellent speech, bringing to life her constituency and recognising the inspiration running from the 1820 martyrs to where she is now and where she is going in representing her constituents.

As the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) said, to deal with 400 years in a 10-minute speech is difficult, given that this issue has been a challenge for a long time; he recognises the complexity of what we are dealing with. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), in a very good speech, drew attention to his real concerns about the way in which this debate can fracture relations in this House. I have been listening to the debate and I am afraid that it has been fractious at times. That is not a good thing. It is not a good way to make progress on a matter of such importance, not only to people within this House but to those without this House. Members representing six parties have spoken in this debate against the proposals and the method of the proposals that have been laid before the House tonight. Only one party, the Government party, has spoken in favour of them. If we are trying to progress in a cross-party way, the Government need to pause and think about that before they plough on.

The contribution from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) was a very good one. He said that the tenor of the debate matters as much as the content, and those are very wise words. He said that this is a “problematic issue” and that we need to proceed with “utter fairness to all sides”. He welcomes, as we all do, the opportunity for some space, which the Leader of the House has now given us, but he says that it is important that if proposals go forward, they do so in a way that does not create “two classes of citizen” and does not create a grievance anywhere. Sadly, in this debate we have heard a lot of potential grievance. The words of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden need to be considered as we go forward.

There was an interesting exchange when the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) intervened on the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart). She said that many people in Northern Ireland feel that their Britishness is being undermined and that this legislation is in danger of undermining the one nation Government that the Tories say they want to be. Those are wise words from a wise woman who fully understands the nature of division and discord, and where it can lead if it is not handled properly. Her words need to be carefully considered.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) spoke with great authority when he said that we must not pretend that a complex problem can be subject to simple solutions. He called for proper consideration of the legitimate grievances. I hope that the Government were listening to his words, too. My hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) forensically drew attention to the impact that these matters can have

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across borders. They said that as legislation goes through, matters can emerge that affect more than England. It is not clear how the Government will deal with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham used his own experience to give us a very good analysis of how, during the legislative process, things can impact more widely. That experience, particularly in relation to health, needs thinking about and reflecting on.

The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) said that this was a sad and alarming debate. He drew Members’ attention to the fact that discussions that he has had in the past around the Olympic project had Barnett consequentials. That will apply to other matters, too, so the proposals should be considered properly. My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said that what we were presented with today was a confusing answer to a confused question, and he wondered why the Leader of the House was going ahead with this political joyriding. He, too, drew attention to the problem of what he described as “karaoke legislation”—legislation that goes through this House that does not immediately have an impact anywhere else, but, because of the way that other parts of this United Kingdom operate, does in fact have a consequential effect.

The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) asked whether MPs from Scotland will be fully involved in Bills that have a financial impact on Scotland. That has not been properly answered to date. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) repeatedly pointed out that this matter is a dog’s breakfast. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) talked about shambolic proposals. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) described how MPs from outside England will be excluded from the debate. Those are genuine concerns. [Interruption.] The Leader of the House says from a sedentary position that I am saying things that I know are not true. Let me reference again the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, who said that the manner of the debate matters as much as the content. Obviously the content is unclear, as the exchange between the Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) has just shown.

The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) described the debate as divisive and fractious. He called for a constitutional convention to try to get this matter right in a proper way.

Neil Gray: The hon. Gentleman talks about this debate being divisive and fractious. Does he not agree that the very reason it has been divisive and fractious is that this proposal is divisive and fractious?

Nic Dakin: As I see it, the problem is that the Government are going forward in a way that excludes rather than includes people. I hope that they reflect on that. To be fair, the Leader of the House has done that throughout this process over the past couple of weeks, albeit kicking and screaming at certain times, but he needs to try to get this right because the consequences of not doing so could be quite terrible for our nation.

In a thoughtful contribution, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) drew attention to the fact that he is in danger of becoming a second-class MP as a result of these proposals. He asked what opportunity he will have to make representations to the

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Speaker. The role of the Speaker and the certification process concerned a number of Members who spoke. My right hon. Friend also noted the way in which the unelected lords would be able to table and vote on amendments, while Members of this House would not.

The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was equally anxious about that point. In a thoughtful and helpful contribution, he drew attention to the difficulties in the certification process for the Speaker. He also said that we are in the middle of a process and that this will not be a final settlement.

We heard another thoughtful and helpful contribution from the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones). He pointed to the two tests of certification: is the issue devolved, and is it an issue that relates exclusively to Wales, for example? He said that a mechanism would need to be devised to allow the Speaker to apprise himself of the views of Members as part of the decision making. The role of the Speaker, the process of certification and how the Speaker will be aware of what is happening in particular areas are crucial points that have been raised throughout the debate.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), in a suitably animated and passionate contribution, struck a note of irony when he turned to those on the Government Benches and said, “They are doing this to save the Union.” The Chamber erupted into ironic cheers, because that is not what will happen if we continue down this route.

With deepening devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is right that we look at changes in Westminster to strengthen England’s voice when it comes to English-only matters. We have made that clear all along and throughout this debate, and I make it clear again from the Dispatch Box now. In the previous Parliament the Government commissioned Sir William McKay to look at the issue. He recommended a balanced set of proposals to strengthen the voice of England on English-only matters while warning against creating two classes of MP.

We should look at Sir William’s proposal for an English or English and Welsh Committee stage, because it is right that English MPs should have a key role in considering such legislation. If it is done in the right way, that could be a sensible reform that would strengthen England’s voice without creating two classes of MP. However, the Government are ignoring Sir William’s warnings and are effectively proposing to give English MPs a veto over legislation, thus creating two classes of MP and risking at best legislative gridlock, and at most the creation of an English Parliament by the back door.

When the Prime Minister stood on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street on the morning of the Scottish referendum result, he chose to act not as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, or even as the leader of the Conservative and Unionist party, but as the leader of a primarily English Conservative party. By invoking English votes for English laws on that day of all days, he decided to take risks with the long-term future of the Union in the interests of temporary party advantage.

That continued into the general election, when the Conservative party, which ironically supported the Scottish nationalists to get budgets through Holyrood, used the spectre of a post-election arrangement between the SNP and Labour to frighten voters. It was a highly

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effective short-term strategy, as the Labour party struggled to reassure voters that it would not happen, despite all the evidence of past behaviour indicating that it would not.

But this is a high-risk Conservative strategy, and it risks the Union. The risky strategy has continued since the election in this headlong rush to bring these measures forward. It is not surprising that things have descended into chaos, with the Leader of the House appearing to make things up as he goes along. Having initially sprung a statement on the House indicating a very fast process, he was forced to retreat in a Standing Order No. 24 debate, when Government MPs stayed out of the Lobby and he left the Chamber before the result was announced. At last week’s business questions he promised a two-day debate, the first day of which was scheduled for today after the timetabled statutory instrument on foxhunting. He made a commitment to bring forward revised Standing Orders on Monday this week so that right hon. and hon. Members could give full consideration to the revised changes before today’s debate. He failed to deliver on that commitment, and the paperwork was not available in the Vote Office until midday yesterday. Yesterday, he changed the business again, dropping the item on foxhunting through a point of order in which he gave no compelling explanation for the change.

Frankly, it is legitimate, however much we may not like it, for the Scottish National party to pursue its objective of independence. It is not reasonable, however, for the Conservative and so-called Unionist party to play fast and loose with the Union for short-term political advantage. That is reckless and risks the Prime Minister’s legacy being the break-up of the Union. If he carries on as he is, he will go down in history as the Prime Minister who failed to keep Scotland in the Union, so it is the true Unionist parties—Labour and the Liberal Democrats—that are having to make the arguments for getting right an English voice in this Parliament on matters of concern. Ironically, and to their credit, SNP Members are also arguing that this be done in a right and proper way.

That is why we are asking the Government to learn from their mistakes and proceed in a genuinely cross-party way that allows all interests to be properly examined. We need to go back to the McKay commission report, commissioned by this Government, which properly and thoroughly examined the issue. That should be our starting point. As this issue has far-reaching implications for the way in which this Parliament operates, it is well worth seriously considering taking things forward through a Joint Committee of the Commons and Lords. That would be a proper way to proceed with a constitutional issue of such significance.

If we take as our reference point what was in the Conservative manifesto, we see that there has been a failure to carry out its commitment to get the views of the Procedure Committee before bringing measures forward for consideration by the whole House, which would have been a sensible way of proceeding. Instead, the initial statement came before the Committee had sorted out its membership. The good news, though, is that the Committee is now in place and met yesterday under the excellent chairmanship of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). It is going to have a timely look at the Government’s proposals from a procedural perspective,

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taking evidence as appropriate. It would be helpful if the Deputy Leader of the House confirmed that the Government will not bring forward the second day of this debate until after the Committee has completed its deliberations.

9.42 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Dr Thérèse Coffey): It is a pleasure to reply to this debate, and particularly to hear two maiden speeches. The first was by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), who showed that he will be a powerful champion for south-west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. I enjoyed holidays in Mousehole as a child. I now recognise in my own constituency some of the challenges he identified in his, particularly the pay gap in some of the industries there. I am sure he will work hard to rectify that.

We also heard an excellent maiden speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), who mentioned the resilience of the people she represents and the proud history of those who have served them, as well as the people who got her into this place. I am sure that she will go down as the biggest swinger in town, but it will be for her dramatic effect as well as for her result. I was very impressed by her late brother’s encouragement to run for Parliament. That has been justified, and I am sure he would have been very proud of her today.

I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for their considered contributions, and I will try to address as many points as I can. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I continue to be happy to hear the views of colleagues outside the Chamber too. I am grateful to the all of two Members who attended the drop-in sessions, and for the meeting I had with MPs from north Wales to discuss matters in further detail.

Certain themes arose in hon. Members’ contributions, including the solution of an English Parliament, a constitutional convention, whether we should have legislation, the McKay commission, and the process we are going through and its timing. Some Members felt that this is a non-issue, saying that it is partisan and would lead to gridlock. There were important discussions about Speaker certification, spending consequentials, and, of course, the impact on the Union. I will address those points in turn.

It is fair to say that Conservative Members do not believe that there is a need for an English Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) was annoyed that people who do not represent English constituencies felt that was the solution to the issue we face today, and I agree with her. Indeed, when the English Democrats have stood in elections, they have not managed to get any MPs elected, so there is not much appetite for that among English constituents.

I know that the constitutional convention has been discussed widely. It was voted down in Committee when it was tabled as an amendment to the Scotland Bill. Again, I am not sure that we need to have one to address this issue. I am concerned that it would be a handbrake on some of the devolution agreed to in the vow before the Scottish referendum. Other people have talked about things such as a written constitution, but we do not believe that that is necessary at this time.

Alex Salmond: Will the Minister give way?

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Dr Coffey: I want to get through my speech and perhaps take interventions a bit later if that is okay.

Legislation has been mentioned. We genuinely have concerns, as do the Clerks of the House, about whether this risks being justiciable. That said, several representations have been made in debates. The Government are not ruling it out, but we do not believe that it would be the right vehicle to do this. That might be something for the Procedure Committee to look at. If it does not necessarily do so in its short investigation, it is more likely to do so during the one that will take the 12 months before we review the process, as we have agreed to do.

Alex Salmond rose—

Dr Coffey: I will give way briefly.

Alex Salmond: On the subject of reflection, and in the interests of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and me, the explanatory notes distributed yesterday state:

“Any bills that the Speaker has certified as England-only in their entirety will be considered by only English MPs at committee stage.”

Given what the Leader of the House told us earlier, does the Deputy Leader of the House want to make a drafting amendment to that claim?

Dr Coffey: I will come to that point during my speech, and I hope that my response will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.

The McKay commission was established, and the Government replied to it in their Command Paper issued in December 2014. The Conservative party laid out a range of options, which we subsequently put in our manifesto. We are now debating a simplified version of option 3. The key principles of McKay referred to two things. When he reported in 2013, his main conclusion was that decisions

“with a separate and distinct effect for England (or for England-and-Wales) should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs for constituencies in England (or England and Wales).”

That is from paragraph 12 of the executive summary of the report, which concluded:

“This principle should be adopted by a resolution of the House of Commons and the generalised principle endorsed.”

We believe that that is fulfilled by these Standing Orders. The McKay commission gave a variety of options.

Ian C. Lucas: Will the Minister give way?

Dr Coffey: I will not if that is okay, because I am trying to respond to the points made in the debate. [Interruption.] It is not an unfair quote; it is from paragraph 12.

I just want to be clear because I am a little confused by what the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) said. He seemed to accept the principle of an England-only Committee or an England and Wales-only Committee, despite having agreed earlier with the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) that that would exclude him from something, so I am a little confused about that.

Ian C. Lucas: Will the Minister give way?

Dr Coffey: I will not give way at this stage.

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Ian C. Lucas rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Lady has said that she will not give way. It has been a long debate, and the hon. Gentleman could have intervened at some earlier time.

Alex Salmond: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister is claiming support from the McKay commission for her arguments. Is it possible for the House to ascertain from the McKay commission whether or not that is the case, because many of us believe that it is not the case?

Madam Deputy Speaker: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter for debate. There is clearly disagreement in the House. That disagreement will have to stand.

Dr Coffey: I am simply quoting directly from the report.

My understanding is that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), as part of his oral evidence, recognised that if all Scottish MPs chose not to participate on English-only matters, the commission was not necessary. He said that given that that does not happen all the time—admittedly, that was under a different electoral scenario—there is

“a procedure and a process which is part of the rules of how we engage in issues which are English-only”.

He felt that the commission needed to answer that.

It has been claimed that this is a rushed process, that it is a non-issue and that these are partisan proposals, but the thrust of the proposals has been in our manifesto for the last three elections. The journey started with McKay, it continued with the Command Paper and the proposals were in our manifesto. Since coming back to the House, we have listened, reflected and given extra time for debate. There will be at least two months between the initial tabling of our proposals on 2 July and the decision by this House. In comparison, the Smith commission, although convened in September, started on 22 October and managed to conclude its significant piece of work within six weeks. That is the basis of the Scotland Bill in which the UK Parliament is transferring powers to the Scottish Parliament.

This is not a non-issue; it is an issue for several of my electors. We are ultimately addressing a question of fairness. It is claimed that the proposals are partisan, but it so happens that every Government elected since 1997—back when the Labour party used to win elections—have had a majority of English MPs, although in 2005 Labour received fewer votes in England than the Conservatives. We are trying to address an issue of fairness. I know that the Library papers say that only a few Divisions have happened where this would have been an issue, but we are still trying to address that issue.

There is no need for there to be gridlock. If it is evident that explicit consent will not be granted in the Legislative Grand Committee after Report stage, it would be a perfectly rational expectation that the Government would listen to the voices of those MPs for England or England and Wales, and would not try to impose something against their will in respect of those devolved matters.

I will turn to the subject of Speaker certification.

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Ms Angela Eagle: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr Coffey: I still have quite a lot to get through, but I will give way on the gridlock issue.

Ms Eagle: If the distribution of English local government grants is not voted for, no money can be distributed. The Government’s proposals will allow an English minority, who may be in opposition, to prevent a Government from distributing money to local government. How is that a recipe for anything other than gridlock?

Dr Coffey: We believe that it is a fair response to say that when the matter is providing finances for English councils, the majority of English MPs should agree to how that is done. I recognise that the hon. Lady may not like that, but when she was in government, it so happened that her party had a majority of English MPs.

Turning to Speaker certification, a lot of people have mentioned the burden—

Graham Jones: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr Coffey: I will not give way.

On Speaker certification, which the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) referred to in his contribution, the Speaker already certifies money Bills and selects amendments. I am sure that, as he does now, he will take advice on what should be a technical decision.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire said at the McKay commission on behalf of the SNP:

“We look at each bill, as we get the business for the week, we assess it for the Scottish interest. If there is none or if it’s insignificant, we take no interest… We have never had the problem. 12 years since the setting up of the Scottish Parliament, we have had the self denying ordinance and found it about the most easiest thing possible to do and we do not see what the fuss is.”

I recognise the cross-border issues that have been raised by hon. Members from north Wales. We met yesterday and we debated the issues the other week. There has been a request to amend Standing Orders to set out the timing of decisions and the ability to make representations. Those parts of the process are not detailed in Standing Orders for other certification processes, but I understand why hon. Members raise this point. I understand that such things happen in practice and they may be in “Erskine May”. I am not sure that it would be appropriate to put them in Standing Orders, but it is up to hon. Members to make their suggestions.

Mark Durkan: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr Coffey: Not at the moment, because I am making progress in responding to the debate.

The position on reasons is in line with that for similar decisions the Speaker makes. That will preserve the authority and impartiality of the Chair.

Mark Durkan: Will the Deputy Leader of the House give way on that point?

Dr Coffey: Of course I will give way on that point.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Lady will remember that when the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill was being discussed in the last Parliament there were proposals for the Speaker to make determinations about what would or would not be a confidence motion that could or could

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not effectively terminate the Parliament, and it was argued by Conservatives that the Speaker should not be put in the position of making a politically sensitive determination.

Dr Coffey: I think the Speaker is more than well equipped and will certainly have the advice available to do that.

Let us turn to the spending consequentials. As a result of discussions and debate, we have listened and tabled Standing Orders that we believe clarify the situation. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said earlier, we have done this to give comfort to all Members. Spending is voted on through the estimates and, yes, in answer to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), amendments can be made to the estimates, though only to lower spending because Crown Ministers have the right of financial initiative. Estimates are given effect by law, by the Supply and Appropriation Bill, both of which we have all voted on in the past 24 hours.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) referred to income tax definition. Aspects of income tax which have not been devolved, whether they are reliefs or the definition of taxable income, would continue to be UK matters. It is the rates and the thresholds that are in the process of being devolved.

On Bills and Barnett consequentials, many individual pieces of legislation lead to some changes in funding, but that does not necessarily mean that the funding for that UK Government Department changes. It does not follow that it has a directly identifiable impact on the block grant to the devolved Administrations, so efficiencies in one area could be redirected to front-line services, without Barnett consequentials. That is why Barnett consequentials are calculated on changes to overall departmental spending at spending reviews, and that is why we end up voting on them through the estimates voting process.

The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) referred to tuition fees. I think he was probably referring to the resource accounting and budgeting charge—the RAB charge. That is a non-cash item so it does not affect the spending power of the Scottish Government.

Alex Salmond: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr Coffey: I will not give way any more as I am trying to address the other points. [Interruption.] We have another day of debate, as has been said.

The hon. Member for Wrexham wanted to talk about Welsh votes going further. We are talking about matters that have been devolved, not matters that are still reserved in this Parliament. The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who is not in his place, referred to parades. Again, those are still a reserved matter, not a devolved matter. He also spoke about the Olympics funding. The Olympics funding was excluded from Barnett calculations because it was deemed nationally important for the entire United Kingdom. The joint ministerial council subsequently reached agreement to allocate some additional funding. Funding then went through estimates and, as the hon. Member for East Antrim mentioned, he was the Finance Minister at the time.

Ian C. Lucas: Will the hon. Lady give way?

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Dr Coffey: The lords are peers of the United Kingdom and a sovereign House, so they should determine their own Standing Orders. They are not elected to represent constituencies. There are no peers of Scotland or of Wales.

There was quite a lot of reference to the Scotland Bill. I remind hon. Members that it is a constitutional Bill through which we are transferring powers from this UK Parliament and this UK Government to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. That is why it is appropriate for everybody to vote on that.

A list of Bills was mentioned. Amendments were made on Report stage of the Modern Slavery Bill, which could perhaps have been made in the Scottish Parliament separately. That triggered the need for the legislative consent motion, but they were not included at the time of the introduction of the Bill.

Strengthening the Union is probably the most important point. I know that SNP members respect the fact that their fellow countrymen and women voted to stay as part of the Union. The Government’s proposals seek to strike a careful balance. They are a modest step but we will give a clear and distinctive voice to the representatives of English and Welsh constituents on issues that are devolved, and preserve the right of MPs across the House to play a role in shaping that legislation. The Government continue to listen to the views of the House and we look forward to returning to this after the summer recess. We hope to implement an important change to give voice to England and to strengthen the Union, I hope, with cross-party support. From some of the things that have been said today, it is clear that the Labour party needs to make up its mind on the issue. It does not seem to want to do that, but we will vote for these proposals with great confidence in the autumn.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of English votes for English laws.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): We now come to motion No. 4 on the Order Paper.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have noticed that the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) has been missed off the list of names in motion No. 4 on the Order Paper. I believe that to be an accidental clerical error, but I understand that he cannot be part of the Committee, despite being elected by his party and having been passed by the Committee of Selection. Could you use your good offices to ensure that he is able to get the papers necessary for the European Scrutiny Committee to meet on Tuesday so that he can do his homework?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s annoyance at there being a mistake on the Order Paper. As Mr Speaker would always say, there should not be a mistake on the Order Paper, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), and both Committees, will receive an apology for that mistake. The solution to the matter is for a further motion to be submitted, which I understand is on the Order Paper for tomorrow. Therefore, the matter can be raised again tomorrow, and the hon. Gentleman duly added to the Committee.

Business without Debate

European scrutiny


That Sir William Cash, Geraint Davies, Richard Drax, Peter Grant, Damian Green, Nia Griffith, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Calum Kerr, Craig Mackinlay, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, Alec Shelbrooke, Kelly Tolhurst, Mr Andrew Turner and Heather Wheeler be members of the European Scrutiny Committee.—(Bill Wiggin, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)

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London’s Licensed Taxi Trade

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the House do now adjourn.—(Charlie Elphicke.)

10.2 pm

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): It is a great honour to have secured this debate. I am also delighted to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I know that in your capacity as Member of Parliament for Epping Forest you have done a great deal for the licensed taxi trade, and particularly the black cab licensed taxi trade. Indeed, you and I have worked closely together on this matter over a number of years, and we will continue to do so.

The much-loved London black cab is not an overnight sensation. Hackney coaches first appeared in London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and Captain John Baily, a veteran of Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions, is thought to have established the first Hackney rank by the Maypole on the Strand—a site from which four coaches worked. The first laws governing what is now known as the taxi trade were introduced nearly four centuries ago, with London’s cab trade being continuously licensed since 1694. Control is now in the hands of Transport for London. The practice of displaying an identification number goes back to 1654 and despite a number of modifications, the principle of that practice remains consistent to this day—isn’t tradition a wonderful thing?

At the age of 45, James Howe, an experienced cabbie, was chosen to drive London’s first motor taxicab. He enjoyed a long association with both horse-drawn and motor cabs and, in 1933, at the age of 75, he was awarded a special badge commemorating a career that began when he earned his licence in 1884. You and I love the concept of hands across history, Madam Deputy Speaker, and at least two Members of this House were alive at the time that James Howe received his long-service medal. Is that not a wonderful thought?

The fitting of taximeters was made compulsory in 1907 and the inventor of these meters was a German noble called Baron von Thurn und Taxis. A taximeter is by definition what makes a cab a taxicab, and taximeters in London calculate the fare payable as a combination of time and distance. I thought that it would be useful in my opening remarks to set the scene for the House.

Transport for London licenses taxis and their drivers under the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 and the London Cab Order 1934, so there is not a lot of modernity there. The minicab trade in London is licensed by regulations made under the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, which is very recent history. I thank Addison Lee for the useful briefing it provided me on the regulation of its private hire business and those of its competitors.

As we know in this place, all licensed London black cab drivers are required to do the knowledge. We see those amazing men, and now women, beetling around London on their scooters with a clipboard in front of them, learning all these wonderful routes around our wonderful capital city. That is a gruelling three, four or five-year exercise undertaken by aspirant black cab drivers, most of them while holding down a full-time job. They show extreme dedication. It is an extremely gruelling process, with drop-out rates between 70% and

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75% on average, and those that pass the test have covered approximately 20,000 miles worth of routes. These men and women are the best of the very best that London has to offer. Having passed the knowledge, a newly qualified driver needs to buy or lease a cab. The cost of new taxis is quite high, often in excess of £42,000, so that is a major investment.

No vehicle over 15 years of age is licensed and the Mayor is keen to see that number reduced to 10 years, as he wants to promote a clean air environment in our capital city. The Mayor has a duty to ensure that he only grants licences to those people who are “fit and proper” to drive a taxi. Drivers are required to be insured and CRB checked and to have a financial standing check. How many of us in this place could cope with the level of scrutiny needed for a financial standing check? My word!

All London taxis—this is very important—are wheelchair accessible and have been required to be so since January 2000. That 100% accessibility compares with only 3% of private hire vehicles. Importantly, licensed black cabs are the only taxi service permitted to pick up passengers without advance booking and the only service permitted to use a meter, with Transport for London setting the level of fares that can be charged. Of course, there are problems. If there were not, we would not be here this evening. This is not a totally good news story.

In its recent review of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing, the Law Commission called for the retention of the two-tier licensing system, and I strongly endorse that.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I sought his permission to intervene before the debate. My introduction to the London taxi was when I became a Member. Taxi drivers in London—I am sure that they are the same across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—have an opinion on all the things that are happening in the world. It is obvious to me from conversations with the London taxi drivers that they are very concerned about the changes to licensing. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concerns on their behalf and agree that a full consultation must take place with the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association to find a way forward that can bring them on board?

Mr Walker: The hon. Gentleman makes a precise intervention. The Law Commission also called for significant changes to the legal distinction between taxis and private hire vehicles on the grounds that the current system relies too heavily on an imprecise concept of “plying for hire”, which is not defined in statute and has become the subject of a body of case law that is not wholly consistent. In that lies a multitude of problems.

Victoria Borwick (Kensington) (Con): I declare a slight interest, as my husband was running the company that made the taxis when they became fully accessible to the disabled. I have spoken before about my concern for the disabled, so may I ask first whether my hon. Friend agrees that only fully accessible taxis should be allowed to ply for hire on the streets of London? Does he also agree that all vehicles should be subject to the same stringent standards and regulations as our gold standard taxi fleet?

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Mr Walker: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Disability access is fundamental to the licensed taxi trade and marks it out, which is to be celebrated and promoted.

The Law Commission recommends a single consolidated legislative framework throughout England and Wales, including London. As I have said, many of the regulations governing the licensed taxi trade—the black cab trade—are well over 100 years old, and even the most recent regulations covering private hire vehicles are 17 years old.

The Law Commission is pressing—this goes to the heart of my hon. Friend’s intervention—for the introduction of common national minimum standards for vehicles, drivers and dispatchers, and those standards would be determined by the Secretary of State. In essence, the shorthand of the Law Commission’s report is that the current system is a mess and is being abused.

This debate is underpinned by an absolute and inescapable truth, namely that if we want a regulated black cab and private hire vehicle trade that is both sustainable and commercially viable, we have got to enforce the regulations we create. If we do not enforce them, we create a virtual free-for-all where the unregulated and the unscrupulous prosper at the expense of those whose professional livelihood depends on them following the rules. London is an example of what that free-for-all looks like, with illegal taxi ranks, unlicensed vehicles, unlicensed drivers, uninsured drivers and illegal touting for business. That does not reflect well on our great city.

The Mayor is trying to do something about it. He deals with 1,200 new minicab licences a month. I spoke to him this evening and he told me that there were 450 just last week. This is an overwhelming challenge. His Transport for London compliance team and the Metropolitan Police Service cab enforcement unit have few of the powers they need to make a real difference, such as powers of arrest and the power to seize and destroy vehicles.

Throughout the first 21 days of TfL’s ongoing crackdown, it has advised 2,625 private hire vehicle drivers to move on and keep the roads clear; reported 151 for not having a badge; reported a further 999 for not wearing their badge; issued 439 parking tickets; reported 15 private hire vehicle drivers for plying for hire; and reported 210 for parking on taxi ranks.

Those are impressive numbers, but I am afraid they are not backed up by impressive sanctions. For example, the 151 drivers reported for not having a badge were prevented from working for the remainder of the evening. Did they stop? I doubt it. Are the sanctions I have just listed a deterrent to illegality? Of course not. In New York just a few weeks ago, they seized 500 Uber vehicles for breaking the law, but that does not happen in London.

Into this maelstrom of collective regulatory failure rides Uber. Of course, a lot of PR nonsense is being talked about Uber and its “disruptive” technology changing the face of travel in London. Disruptive technology sounds glamorous and exciting, and if I had a choice I would always prefer to have my activities identified as being disruptive, as opposed to borderline illegal. In reality, all Uber is doing is equipping another fleet of barely regulated and unqualified drivers to ply their trade in the capital, with little or no thought given to how the drivers it enables conduct themselves.

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To be fair, who can blame Uber’s savvy business leaders for recognising lax to non-existent regulatory enforcement and then exploiting it? What is the downside? There is none, because the rules are not enforced, but they should be because they say that only licensed black cabs can operate a meter. “To hell with that,” says Uber: “We’ll operate a meter but cunningly, like Baldrick, not call it a meter.” The rules say that private hire firms must have physical premises. “We’ll ignore that rule, too,” says Uber. The rules say cars for private hire must be pre-booked via an office. “No, that’s one not for us either,” says Uber. The rules say that private hire firms must have systems in place to protect customer and driver data. “So what?” says Uber, “Who’s going to check up on that?”

I want to be clear. I want to derive reassurance from a licensed and regulated black cab taxi trade. Of course it is not a perfect trade, but it is a very good one. I want to know that when my children are out in London they will always have the option of easily finding a black cab to take them home or back to the place they are staying. I want to know that they will pay the price on the meter, not a meter price artificially inflated through surge pricing, as Uber drivers did during the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis and in London by 300% during last week’s Tube strike—thank you, Uber, thank you for nothing.

I want to know that my children are being driven by a professional with four years of training, because my children’s safety is important to me. I want to know that my children are being driven by someone who is CRB checked and insured. I want to know that London will become, and remain, increasingly disability friendly, so that people in wheelchairs are not left on street corners waiting for the 3% or less of private hire vehicles that can take a wheelchair.

I accept that there may be others who do not hold to these values. So let me be clear: if they want a free-for-all, let us have a genuine free-for-all. Let us release black cab drivers and Addison Lee drivers, for example, from the cost and burden of regulation. Let us allow them to drive any cheap piece of rubbish they can lay their hands on. Who cares if London is no longer home to a fleet of disability-enabled taxis? Surely that is a small price to pay for the benefit of Uber’s “disruptive” technology? Let us scale back CRB checks and any other safety requirements. It is the passenger’s tough luck if things go wrong—my children, perhaps, should have made a wiser choice. Why should fares not be left to the discretion of the driver? Only the fools will pay the higher rates and that is their punishment for being stupid, weak, old or frail. What does it matter if London’s reputation starts to suffer internationally? There are plenty of suckers out there who will not be deterred. Let me be clear: that is not the London I want to live in, but unless we take regulatory enforcement seriously, I fear it is the one we are going to get.

Finally, I say this: if we want a regulated environment that creates costs to entry and considerable costs of operation, but with the benefit of significant safeguards and high levels of service, we have to allow those that we regulate the space in which to make a return on their investment of time and capital. For 400 years, London has recognised the need to have properly regulated and licensed taxi services. I suggest that our illustrious predecessors were not fools in this matter. London cannot have it both ways. It can try, but it will end in tears.

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10.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on securing this debate on London’s licensed taxi trade, which he presented in his usual passionate way. I know that many taxi drivers reside in his constituency, as indeed they do in yours, Madam Deputy Speaker. By the way, before we get any further, may I make it clear that I will be travelling home tonight on two wheels? The only carbon dioxide I will be producing will have come from my own lungs.

Before I respond to the points raised by my hon. Friend, it is perhaps worth taking the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on regulating the taxi and private hire vehicle industry. The Government are responsible for creating the legislative framework within which local licensing authorities license taxis and private hire vehicles. In London, responsibility for licensing rests with Transport for London. It is Transport for London’s responsibility to decide who is a suitable person to hold a taxi or private hire vehicle driver’s licence, or a private hire operator’s licence.

Jim Shannon: Just last Thursday, in the middle of the tube strike, I took a taxi from here to Paddington. The taxi driver informed me that on eBay it is possible to purchase a driver’s licence and permit without any regulation. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said the same in his speech. Is the Minister aware of this and, if so, what steps can be taken to stop it?

Mr Goodwill: That would be illegal. Criminal record checks, and all the other checks that need to be made before somebody can ply their trade as a private hire driver, need to be carried out, so that would certainly be an illegal transaction.

It is the job of Transport for London to ensure that all its licensees comply with the rules and regulations that govern their industry. I understand my hon. Friend’s desire to raise these concerns on the Floor of the House, but as licensing is the responsibility of TfL, while I might be able to address his points, it is within TfL’s remit to act if necessary.

The taxi industry has played a key role in keeping London moving for many years and has a fine heritage. The addition of the private hire sector has helped to ensure that this form of transport is available to all, particularly supporting those who cannot rely on other public transport services. TfL licenses some 22,200 taxis and 66,200 private hire vehicles making 300,000 trips every day. These vehicles make a vital contribution to London’s economy and help to keep the city moving 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The availability of both taxis and private hire vehicles offers the travelling public real choice. They can either instantly hire a taxi on the street or at a taxi rank, or they can pre-book a taxi or private hire vehicle. When pre-booking, passengers can make an informed choice based on factors such as price, availability and quality.

Victoria Borwick: The Minister makes an important point about quantity. We are talking about the free flow of London traffic, and although we have seen this explosion in the number of private hire vehicles, it cannot be said to contribute to the smooth running of

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London or to reducing pollution levels in London. When considering legislation or regulation, I hope he might consider whether we need all these private hire vehicles. Are they not just polluting and clogging up our streets? As he said, he is fortunate to be healthy enough to ride a bicycle, for which I commend him, but he will be breathing in the fumes of all these private hire vehicles.

Mr Goodwill: Some local authorities limit the number of licences they issue, but that is not the case in London. My hon. Friend makes a valid point about how the number of vehicles circulating looking for trade can increase congestion and pollution—and let us not go into the issue of bicycle rickshaws.

London’s tax service is recognised as one of the best in the world, with high vehicle standards, including disabled access and skilled drivers. By learning the world-famous “knowledge” of London, London taxi drivers earn the unique right to ply for hire on the streets of the capital. Private hire vehicles offer a different service, also with high standards, but allowing the customer to choose who they travel with. This combination of taxi and private hire ensures that the needs of as many Londoners as possible can be met. Indeed, while it is easy to flag down a taxi in central London, one would have to wait a long time for a black cab to drive by in some of the suburbs.

The traditional London taxi, or black cab, has become an icon of the city, but time does not stand still and the market is changing. New technologies are providing new ways of engaging taxis and private hire vehicles, and the industry must adapt. Smartphone booking apps are now available for both taxis and private hire vehicles, offering passengers real choice, including faster pick-ups and options for sharing, which can reduce the cost for travellers.

With change, however, come challenges, and TfL, along with other licensing authorities in the country, is faced with the challenge of accommodating 21st century technology in 19th century legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne might be aware that TfL has recently completed a consultation on the regulations that govern private hire vehicles in the capital. This was in response to the developments in the industry I have described, including advances in technology and changes to how people engage and use private hire vehicles. The outcome of the consultation will be known later this year, and some of TfL’s proposals might address some of his constituents’ specific concerns. I hope they do.

I am aware of the major challenges to established businesses being presented by Uber and other new entrants to the market. I can understand the concern of my hon. Friend’s taxi-driving constituents. Like many people, I was made aware of Uber, following the taxi drivers’ protest on 11 June 2014—unfortunately providing priceless publicity for Uber. Indeed, some used Uber for the first time during that protest.

Uber London Ltd has been licensed by Transport for London as a private hire vehicle operator in London since 2012. The company has now applied for and been granted licences in 25 other licensing authorities in England. In order to be granted a licence, Uber must meet the same standards as any other privatised vehicle operator in the local authority area. Therefore 26 different authorities have decided that Uber is a fit and proper company.

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I know that the London taxi trade fundamentally disagrees with the view of Transport for London on how Uber calculates a fare. Many members of the taxi trade consider Uber’s smartphone app to be essentially a taxi meter. Taxi meters are, of course, forbidden in London’s private hire vehicles. My hon. Friend may be aware that Transport for London has recognised that the law in respect of this issue is unclear and has applied to the High Court for a declaration. We must now let the court make its decision as the next step in the process.

My hon. Friend may be aware that last year the London Assembly transport committee began an investigation into taxi and private hire services in London. This scrutiny resulted in the transport committee making a number of recommendations to the Mayor and Transport for London on steps they could take to improve taxi and private hire services in London.

The committee was in some cases critical of the role of the taxi and private hire section of Transport for London and I understand that members of both London’s taxi and private hire vehicle trades gave evidence to this committee as to their dissatisfaction with Transport for London’s actions as the licensing authority. This committee is responsible for questioning and scrutinising the actions of the Mayor, and it is not for the Government to comment on local licensing matters or the actions of the committee.

My hon. Friend will be aware that in 2012 the Department for Transport asked the Law Commission to conduct a review of taxi and private hire vehicle legislation. This was against the backdrop of the Government’s red tape challenge and legislation dating back to the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign and the age of horse-drawn Hackney carriages. As we have heard, the advent of the cab was very much earlier. Since that time, there has been additional legislation to allow for the regulation of private hire vehicles, but the law remains complex and outdated.

The Law Commission undertook a very comprehensive review and last year published its final report, which contained recommendations for a modern and simplified structure. The Law Commission’s report provided not only crucial analysis of the problems posed by the current law, but solutions designed to make a difference to both the travelling public and those who work in the industry. Updated and simplified legislation will provide

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a modern and simple framework, which will in turn ensure public safety and provide the trade with certainty, therefore making growth and competition easier. The Government are currently considering the Law Commission’s recommendations, and we will respond in due course.

It has to be said that the traditional London taxi is not the greenest or the most sophisticated vehicle on the road. Indeed, in April this year, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles announced the launch of a £45 million fund to support the roll-out of ultra-low emission taxis across the United Kingdom. This included setting aside £25 million specifically for the Greater London area to help taxi drivers cover the cost of upgrading to a greener vehicle. The Mayor of London has pledged an additional £40 million, which creates a £65 million fund to encourage the development of the cleanest and greenest taxi fleet in the world.

At the same time, Geely, the company that owns the iconic London Taxi Company, announced plans for a new £250 million state-of-the-art facility to produce the next generation of low-emission London taxis in Ansty, near Coventry. Geely was awarded £17 million from the Government’s regional growth fund to build the facility, which will create 1,000 new jobs and ensure that the London taxi continues to be designed, developed and made in the United Kingdom.

Those measures demonstrate the Government’s support for the taxi trade throughout the country, and mean that the London taxi trade will play a leading role as we meet our climate change obligations.

The Government are aware of the changing landscape of the taxi and private hire vehicle industry, and of the impact that new means of engaging services are having on traditional business models. The Government also support innovation in all sectors of business, including new ways of running businesses, the use of technology, and the sharing economy. There is room in this industry for small and large businesses alike, but, whatever their size, all new market entrants must operate within the legislative framework, ensuring safety and security for the travelling public.

Question put and agreed to.

10.30 pm

House adjourned.