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Points of Order

1.33 pm

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the replies from the Deputy Leader of the House to the urgent question, it was made clear that your signature would be required on the list of names before it could go to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Please could you advise the House on whether it is in your power to test the opinion of the House on the suitability of the names on the list?

Mr Speaker: The short answer to that is no. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He is correct to say that it falls to me to send to Strasbourg the list of those appointed to the Parliamentary Assembly UK delegation, together with important accompanying documentation. Rule 6 of the Assembly requires those credentials to be transmitted, if possible, at least a week before the opening of the session. I will of course consider the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Indeed, as he has already made it, I have essentially done so. That said, let me be clear that I interpret my duty as being to forward the names, not to offer a critique of them.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been drawn to my attention that Steve O’Connell, the London Assembly member for Croydon and Sutton, has been sending emails to my constituents in which he states that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), who is in his place, is happy to take up cases to do with rail services on behalf of my constituents. I seek your guidance on this, Mr Speaker. I will give the hon. Gentleman the benefit of the doubt on this, as he is a new Member and I want to have a good working relationship with him, but could you remind me whether there is a convention relating to these matters, of which it might be useful to remind the House?

Mr Speaker: I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman if I did not hear him correctly, but I assume, given that he is an experienced Member of the House, that he notified the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) of his intention to raise this point of order.

Tom Brake: Yes, I did.

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Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I also thank him for giving me notice of the point of order. I confirm that it is a well established convention that, unless otherwise agreed between the Members concerned, the interests of electors should be represented only by the constituency Member. It is not possible or appropriate for me to ensure that that convention is enforced, however. It is best to leave it to the good sense of Members to work out any problems between them. I know both Members involved, and I have every confidence that they can be relied upon to do just that.

Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given your customary helpfulness, may I please seek your guidance? You have rightly said in the past that the criteria for granting an urgent question should be that it is newsworthy and that people are talking about the issue in the Dog and Duck. As you will appreciate—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his attempt. Let me just say that the responsibility for determining whether a matter warrants an exchange on the Floor of this House in the form of an urgent question lies with the Chair. I discharge that responsibility assiduously. The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of the House and he knows full well that those decisions are not subject to questioning by Members. He has had a go, but I am afraid that he made a bit of a mess of it.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), you rightly said that you had to submit the names to the Council of Europe. However, you do not necessarily have to submit them immediately, given that the Council of Europe cannot act until the end of this month. It would be possible to have a debate on the matter in this House on a substantive motion that had not been laid by the Government. Would you perhaps consider laying such a motion, to enable such a debate to occur?

Mr Speaker: The safest and most sensible response for me to make to the hon. Gentleman’s serious point of order is that I will reflect on it. Rather than giving him an instantaneous reaction, it would be better for me to reflect on it. He has raised a point that has not been raised in recent times, and it warrants consideration and possibly, on my part, consultation. I thank him for what he has said.

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Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (Amendment)

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

1.38 pm

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (the “1990 Act”) to establish additional factors, including environmental performance, health and safety and maintenance costs, as matters to be taken into account by the Secretary of State in considering whether to include, retain or release a building, or part thereof, in or from a list compiled or approved under the 1990 Act due to its architectural or historic interest; to make provision about excluding parts of buildings and structures within their curtilage from such lists; and for connected purposes.

I moved into a farm that is a grade II listed building. Although a public footpath runs between my house and the cowshed, I believe I would require listed building consent to put solar panels on the cowshed roof as it lies within what is called the curtilage, even though the cowshed is not mentioned in the listing for the farm. It is a corrugated metal building of no historic or architectural interest and it smells strongly of manure.

In the light of that experience, I believe that the curtilage requirement is a piece of red tape that needs to be removed: for the benefit of the planet; for the people who occupy listed buildings and do nothing about the environment to have their excuse of curtilage removed; to free up more roof space for solar panels; and to fulfil our desire to be the greenest Government ever. Yes, of course, we need to protect that which is historically valuable, but we need to protect the planet. By including just the elements of the buildings we wish to protect in the listing, we will not put at risk the history we love and want to cherish. I am looking to make changes only to grade II buildings, as grade I and grade II* protect buildings deemed to be “of exceptional interest” and of “particular importance”. I have confidence that Historic England has listed carefully all the important elements in those buildings.

In 2015, there were 376,099 listed buildings in England, 92% of which were grade II—346,011 buildings. In north Herefordshire, we have 4,150 listed buildings, of which 81 are grade I, 233 are grade II* and 3,668 grade II. Historic England’s website says:

“Any omission from the list description of a feature does not indicate that it is not of interest. Objects, structures and buildings affixed to a listed building or within its curtilage may also be protected by listing. These rules may mean that considerably more may be protected by the listing than is obvious from the list entry alone and there can often be considerable uncertainty as to what is covered.”

It is a criminal offence to carry out works that require listed building consent without first obtaining the required consent. Ignorance of a building’s listed status cannot be used as a defence. The maximum penalty for carrying out works without permission is two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine—all to stop a few solar panels and some insulation! I know that Historic England understands the need for change, because according to its website:

“As from 26th June 2013 some new list entries or list entries amended after that date may expressly exclude such curtilage buildings from protection.”

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It is time to roll out that common sense to all grade II buildings.

Restrictions on listed status prevent environmentally friendly changes to buildings that are necessary to protect our planet. Older buildings can be enormously expensive to heat and have high maintenance costs. Their owners must face up to their environmental responsibility and save energy, and not just turn up the thermostat.

There are some social justice issues here, too. Many of the buildings do not belong to wealthy people who can afford more oil; even those who can are doing the wrong thing. It is far better to insulate and save fossil fuel.

We must make it easier for owners to make energy- saving changes, while protecting the sections of their historic homes that are valuable. They would then be able to spend more on looking after the buildings, which would become more affordable to live in, thus opening the market wider to members of society. It is therefore a question of balance: opening up the opportunities for grade II owners to do more for the environment, while saving the features of importance to Historic England.

If I may use Buckingham Palace as an example, although it is grade I, the listing goes into detail about many fine features both externally and internally. In reference to the roof, it says, “Slate and leaded roofs”. As the roof is mentioned in the listing it should be protected and solar panels would therefore require listed building consent. However, many other grade II listed buildings where the entry does not go into anywhere near as much detail should have only that which is listed protected, just the same as Buckingham Palace. Not every listed building is large or expensive; some homes just happen to be within the curtilage of a listed building. This curtilage “catch all” is a lazy and bureaucratic device that is out of date. One of the most important points is that it adds cost and workload to already overstretched council planning departments, particularly at a time when they are under enormous pressure—costs and constraints that in turn detract from protecting the valuable—as well as enforcement action, which is time- consuming and risky.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer often talks about mending the roof when the sun is shining. He never says we need to ask the council for listed building consent to be allowed to do so. However, we need to do more than simply mend the roof. We need to use it for solar panels, we need to insulate the roof and we need to be free to do so without having to ask permission. It is time to change the curtilage requirement. We need to be precise in what we want to preserve. We need to stand up for all that is good about our history and go forward protecting all that is good about our planet.

Question put and agreed to.


That Bill Wiggin, Mr David Burrowes, Mr Richard Bacon, Dame Angela Watkinson, Zac Goldsmith, Mr Stewart Jackson, Robert Neill, Sir Gerald Howarth, Mr Mark Prisk and Boris Johnson present the Bill.

Bill Wiggin accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March 2016, and to be printed (Bill 89).

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European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords]

Second Reading

1.45 pm

The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to approve two draft decisions of the Council of the European Union. For the UK to agree the draft decisions at Council, Parliament must first give its approval, as the decisions rely on article 352 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Article 352 allows the Union to take action to attain one of the objectives set out in the treaties but for which there is no specific power given. However, the European Parliament must give its approval, and unanimous support must be given by all other member states.

Section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 provides that a Minister may vote in favour of an article 352 decision only where a draft decision is approved by an Act of Parliament. I am setting out the draft Council decisions and will provide Members with the opportunity to debate and decide whether to approve the measures.

The first decision will enable the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to be granted observer status in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The agency is the EU body with the objective of providing assistance and advice on fundamental rights issues to the EU institutions and to member states when implementing Union law. It carries out the same role for EU accession states with observer status. This measure does not extend the competence of the agency.

The proposal has been in existence since 2010 and it cleared the UK parliamentary scrutiny process in place at that time. The Greek presidency lifted its block on the decision in April 2014 and the decision re-emerged last year with all other member states ready to vote in favour of the decision. However, the UK had to enter the scrutiny reserve for the decision pending approval by an Act of Parliament due to the requirements of the EU Act.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been an EU candidate country since 2005, but in recent years there has been serious backsliding on the reforms. A political crisis has been unfolding in the country in the past year, which has raised concerns about the rule of law and adherence to democratic principles. A European Commission report issued in June set out a series of recommendations needed to return the country to the path to EU accession. This included reforms related to freedom of expression and the rule of law. Observer status at the agency could allow the country to have access to advice and assistance on fundamental rights issues to help to tackle its reform challenges, and provide assistance and help to the country on human rights issues.

The second measure gives effect to a decision by the Council enabling the EU tripartite social summit to continue to operate. The summit is a meeting of representatives of European social partner organisations, the Commission and the Council, and it meets on the eve of the European Council in the spring and autumn for high-level discussions between the three parties on aspects of the European agenda for growth and jobs. The summit was established by a Council decision in 2003, but, under the Lisbon treaty,

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agreed in 2007, the legal basis for the summit—article 202 of the treaty of Rome—was repealed. The decision in the Bill re-establishes the legal basis of the summit.

The decision takes account of formal changes in the EU institutions since the last decision and name changes among the employer organisations. The Government can support the continuation of the summit because discussion of the need for jobs and growth can support the labour market reforms needed in other member states. In the intervening decade, during the existence of the summit, no apparent risk to the UK has emerged. The final agreed text of the summit measure has been published by the Council and has received consent from the European Parliament.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Are there any financial consequences from these decisions?

Priti Patel: I can assure my right hon. Friend that neither decision has any financial implications for the UK.

Finally, I do not consider that any of the Bill’s provisions engage the rights set out in the European convention on human rights, so no issues arise about the Bill’s compatibility with those rights. It is intended that the Bill will come into force on the day of Royal Assent. I look forward to hearing the views of the House.

1.51 pm

Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for coming to the House to set out the provisions in the Bill, but people will find it surprising that such a relatively uncontroversial measure is being introduced through primary legislation, when tax credit cuts affecting 3.3 million working families were introduced through secondary legislation. The situation is actually worse than that. We have time today on the Floor of the House to debate the Bill, but we ran out of time on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, meaning that we did not reach the last group of 33 amendments, which included issues as important as cuts to social housing rents and changes to support for the mortgage interest scheme. Perhaps the greatest irony of all, however, is that the Government could not find more time to discuss the abolition of child poverty targets—the issue of child poverty in Britain no less—while the Bill actually facilitates similar European-wide targets on poverty.

Turning to the substantial measures in the Bill, I do, of course, welcome the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia being an observer of the work of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The agency’s work fighting racism, intolerance and xenophobia is crucial, and it is a positive step that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is to be an observer.

I was delighted to hear the Minister talk positively about the tripartite social summit. It was almost as if she had discovered her inner pro-European. How wonderful it was to hear her praising that body. The Bill continues the work of the summit and gives it a more specific remit on achieving the targets laid out in the Europe 2020 agenda. I welcome that because it is an important forum in which EU partners can discuss social and employment issues. Of course, part of the Europe 2020 agenda is recognising that the EU has a co-ordinating role to play in combating poverty by identifying best

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practice and national learning. The target has been set of reducing the number of people threatened by poverty and social exclusion by at least 20 million by 2020.

Will the Minister clarify what role the UK will play in the 2020 agenda? How do the Government propose to report on poverty, including child poverty, in an internationally comparable way, when they have decided to abolish their own domestic child poverty targets? Given the international context, which she set out, and the recent tax credit cuts, the abolition of the child poverty target is a remarkable anomaly. To put it simply: why are the Government scrapping poverty targets at home and then promoting them abroad? That is precisely what they are facilitating. [Interruption.] There is no point Ministers shaking their heads. That is exactly what the Europe 2020 agenda is all about.

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): It is what the Bill is about.

Nick Thomas-Symonds: Absolutely. It is great to witness this pro-European moment. Even the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) has come in for it. How great it is to see!

John Redwood: Given that the main purpose of the Bill is to endorse new procedures for discussing unemployment and the lack of growth on the continent, does Labour now think that getting countries out of the euro could help them price themselves back into work and get rid of the dreadful unemployment that now lies like a pall over much of the south of our continent?

Nick Thomas-Symonds: It is perhaps an indication of the paucity of my teenage years that I can remember watching the television in the mid-1990s and seeing the right hon. Gentleman ploughing his Eurosceptic furrow very finely, as he always does. In answer to his question, it is of course a matter for the countries themselves. I would not seek to dictate to them.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I agree with some of what my hon. Friend is saying, but, on the subject of countries digging themselves out of their problems, Greece was given a bail-out, but on strict conditions, including restrictions on public sector workers taking industrial action, and other such things. This is not a country making its own decisions, but a country that has had conditions imposed upon it by the EU.

Nick Thomas-Symonds: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am sure that across the House we have particular views about the conditions imposed. I have views, and I know that he does too.

On employment rights, I invited the Minister to praise the work on paid leave and equal treatment for part-time workers, as well as the EU’s work on fair pay for agency workers. I hope the House approves the changes to the tripartite social summit, but I also hope we can take this as an indication that the Government will not sign away the employment rights gained over many years for working people in this country through the European Union, and that decency at work will be a fundamental part of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation in the next few months.

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1.58 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I hope not to detain the House for long, but I wish to make a couple of points.

First, in answer to the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), we are having this debate because we foresaw, during the passage of the European Union Act 2011, issues that might or might not be controversial but that would be worthy of proper scrutiny on the Floor of the House. We rarely divided on that Bill on the Floor of the House because we wanted to ensure proper scrutiny of things being done in our name at the EU level. In today’s Bill we see the provisions of the 2011 Act coming through. On the comparison with tax credits, I understand where he is coming from, but it could be argued that previous changes to tax credits have been introduced under statutory instruments. However, we foresaw this coming, so we amended the European Union Act, as it was then, to make sure that we could scrutinise these sorts of matters on the Floor of the House. These two examples are not the world’s most exciting, but we will see more and more such measures coming forward, and we will have more and more time to talk about them.

I have visited Macedonia and I am a fan of the country. Having been a Member of the European Parliament, I have seen how a neighbouring country has done everything it can to stop the Macedonian accession to the European Union, and I have seen what Macedonia itself has achieved, taking massive strides forward towards EU membership. I am pleased that Macedonia has been able to become an observer in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

My only concern relating to the Bill and Macedonian entry is that the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has come out of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which had unbelievably difficult financial and administrative problems in the past. I would like to check with the Minister every now and again to ensure that the past problems of that organisation—which were responsible, among other things, for its name change—have been completely turned around so that the agency does what it is meant to do, without duplicating other problems.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend define “observer” for me? Does it mean the EU observes Macedonia or Macedonia observes the EU in respect of human rights, for example? I would like to know exactly what “observer” means.

Chris Heaton-Harris: It is a bit of both. The agency has the following main tasks:

“to collect, analyse and disseminate…objective, reliable and comparative information”

related to the situation of fundamental rights in the EU;

“to formulate and publish conclusions and opinions on specific thematic topics…on its own initiative or at the request of the European Parliament, the Council or the Commission”;

and it is also about

“the promotion of dialogue with civil society…to raise public awareness of fundamental rights”.

A debate is going on in this country about where those rights should lie, what sort of legislation should exist in relation to them and who should police them. Macedonia

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has had that debate in its own Parliament, has applied to join this agency and is willing to pay appropriations to it. I do not see why we should step in its way. As I have said, there have been problems with the agency in the past, but it serves an important function in that member states’ voting rights could be suspended, based on the findings of any of its reports. The agency has teeth in no uncertain terms, and it has a decent operating budget of over €20 million a year. Macedonia has made its own choice, and it is right for it to go down that route if it chooses to do so.

I want to speak briefly about the draft decision on a tripartite social summit for growth and employment. There is a new Council decision, following Lisbon, that allows the number of meetings to be increased from one to two a year, and allows the President of the European Council to attend. The European Commission is allowed to host and facilitate meetings, so there should not be too much of a cost to it. My questions are more about the direction of travel of this organisation, its duplication, its purpose in being and whether we can raise questions about what it does.

This is not the European Economic and Social Committee, whose abolition I have called for in the past because of the huge costs for members belonging to one of the three groups of employers, employees and various other interests. The employers group comprises businessmen, people from certain business lobbies; the workers group comprises members from 80 trade unions mostly affiliated to the European Trade Union Confederation; while the third group is made up of lobbies from civil society. Most of those groups are paid for by the European Commission to lobby it in different ways to get the Commission to do more. Many European countries have a national version. However, the organisation I am talking about is not that. It is a separate beast.

One important question is who are the EU’s social partners? A list of social partners organisations consulted under article 154 of the treaty of the functioning of the European Union includes Business Europe. Business Europe is quite an interesting organisation. Unsurprisingly, it has a particular view on the referendum we might be having here. It gets a small sum of money, nearly €457,000, as payment under a grant received for a project running over a couple of years, of which the total budgeted cost was €1.2 million. The members of Business Europe include our CBI—it is one of the ways in which the UK CBI receives some money from the European Union. It includes other organisations such as the European Trade Union Confederation, which I mentioned previously and which received €4 million from European institutions, spending over €1 million lobbying the EU.

Kelvin Hopkins: Given the sums that the hon. Gentleman mentions, is it not possible that these organisations will be more kindly disposed towards the EU—simply because they have received such substantial sums?

Chris Heaton-Harris: I would like to think that they would not be. If I were a leading light in the CBI or the ETUC, I would want to make sure of being in a position whereby I would not be accused of being biased in one way or the other. Receiving money from the European Commission that is then spent lobbying the EU to do things—whether it be business organisations

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lobbying for liberalisation or trade union organisations lobbying for workers’ rights or whatever—seems almost like manufacturing a market in this area.

Kelvin Hopkins: Just recently, there has been something of a controversy about the BBC receiving some millions of pounds from the European Union for educational purposes—no doubt educating us all about the wonders of the EU. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that if organisations that are supposed to be independent and impartial take large sums of money from the EU, it might have some influence on them?

Chris Heaton-Harris: Again, I would like to think not. I follow what the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends have been doing on the European Scrutiny Committee. There has been a long and ongoing dialogue with the BBC, as I know because I was a member of the Committee over the last five years running up to the mandate of this Parliament. I hesitate to look in the direction of my Scottish National party colleagues, because I have a feeling they might have a view on partiality and the BBC when it comes to certain matters.

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): Listening to the hon. Gentleman, I am wondering whether the BBC finds it more difficult when an organisation such as the European Commission gives it money or, in respect of human rights, when money is taken away, as is being done by the UK Government?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. In talking about the BBC, we are straying quite far from debating a narrow Bill.

Chris Heaton-Harris: Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I did rather provoke reaction from my SNP colleagues, because I wanted to prove the point that when questions are raised about the partiality of an organisation, either through its funding or its actions, it could devalue that organisation’s input into something important, such as a European referendum.

Let me return to the point about who our EU social partners are in this dialogue that we are facilitating through the Bill. As I have said, in 2014 the European Trade Union Confederation received €4 million from EU institutions and spent more than €1 million of that money lobbying those same EU institutions on legislation. In 2013 the CEEP—the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services—spent €120,000 lobbying the European Union and received €155,000 from the EU’s directorate-general for employment.

I question the added value of the dialogue at the tripartite social summit for growth and employment. Like many things in the European Union, its title is motherhood and apple pie. Who could possibly be against a tripartite social summit for growth and employment? However, if it delivers very little and if the only people who attend it and talk to the European Commission are actually paid by the Commission to do so, that will be a significant issue because the conversation will simply go round in ever-decreasing circles.

The EU social partners have agreed to a number of things in the recent past, and they wish to discuss important matters. They have agreed to

“negotiate an autonomous framework agreement on active ageing and an inter-generational approach”.

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That is obviously something we need to discuss at a national level, not to mention the European level. They have also agreed to

“step up efforts to improve the implementation of their autonomous framework agreements, with a specific focus on the 8-10 Member States where the implementation has been identified as insufficient”.

This group is going to lobby for more European regulation and harsher implementation of directives.

The social partners’ work programme also notes that they have agreed to

“highlight the importance of more public and private investments”—

I imagine that Labour Members would like to have a conversation about that, especially given their new leadership—

“in order to reach an optimal growth, to boost job creation and to revive EU industrial base”.

The joint working programme also wants to “prepare joint conclusions” on things that we would all wish to see, including

“promoting better reconciliation of work, private and family life and gender equality to reduce the gender pay gap”.

I cannot believe that any Member of this House would not want to achieve that. However, given that the European Commission pays indirectly for this group of people to turn up once every six months to talk about these things, and given that they have already done so for quite some time without any concrete achievements—in fact, some of those ideals may have gone into reverse during that time—perhaps we should question the validity of supporting such a social summit for growth and employment.

Another of the work programme objectives—this did not become controversial until quite recently—is to

“contribute to the efforts of the EU institutions to develop a mobility package, to address loopholes and enforcement issues on worker mobility and to promote mobility of apprenticeships.”

This country is currently having a debate about mobility and, indeed, the freedom of movement of workers and others. It is interesting that we are promoting such a debate—our European partners are also having a big debate on the very same issue—while at the same time funding a summit of the worthy and the good to discuss the same thing.

Kelvin Hopkins: The great constitutionalist, Walter Bagehot, said that there are two parts to the constitution: the decorative and the effective. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the body under discussion is one of the more decorative rather than effective parts of the EU constitution?

Chris Heaton-Harris: I probably do, yes. I hate to beat around the bush: I do not think it is worth funding this organisation. It is duplication for duplication’s sake. Given the number of other direct opportunities available to the bodies that will attend the summit to influence the thinking of the European Commission, member states and others, I really do question the value of the group. Obviously, that is why I am on my feet asking the Minister why it is, when we have an opportunity to prevent duplication and to prevent some of the European budget from being spent, we do not actually take it.

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I want to ask a number of questions along those lines. Article 152 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union states that the EU will set up the social dialogue while respecting the autonomy of the organisations, but can those organisations and bodies that attend the summit truly be autonomous when they are funded by the EU? Will they not be a taxpayer-funded echo chamber?

What authority has the EU had until now if the former decision on hosting summits was based on an old article treaty? Article 152 states that the EU should respect the “diversity of national systems”. Given that our national system does not include such summits, can the Government guarantee that the outcome of the meetings will not have an effect on the European Commission’s work programme—in other words, the very programme to which the summit wants to provide input? Is there an estimate of how much the six-monthly meetings will cost, and will the UK choose to host them when it takes over the presidency of the EU in 2017?

The Commission’s directorate-general for employment, social affairs and inclusion has regular dialogue with all the parties that will attend the summit, and there are other EU bodies that do exactly the same thing. When voting on such matters, this place has been almost unanimously in favour of cutting the duplication of European spending. We need to make sure that this country’s massive contribution to the European Commission and Europe is spent more wisely. Given that I have some form in this area—I was a Member of the European Parliament for 10 years and raised many budgetary questions about the issues under discussion—I question the value of approving the Bill.

2.17 pm

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): It is interesting that this Bill underlines some of the positive work of the European Union. I am sure that Members across the House will welcome that, particularly at a time when we are debating our future in that Union.

First, may I associate myself with some of the excellent comments the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) made about child poverty? He also made an excellent point about the way in which tax credits were debated last week.

This debate is about the draft decision on the Republic of Macedonia becoming an observer in the work of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, as well as the decision on the tripartite social summit for growth and employment. I am sure that Members across the House will agree that the European Union’s expansion in 2004 was one of its great triumphs. It was a triumph both for Europe and, through our contribution to it, for the United Kingdom, and it has been good for us ever since.

Although they are not there yet and a great deal is yet to be done, I look forward to Macedonia and the other countries of the western Balkans joining the European Union, and hope that the decision on observer status is a step along the way. We have a great deal of work to do, but plugging the gap between Greece and Croatia will be welcome.

Giving Macedonia observer status may give it the help it currently needs. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) spoke earlier today about refugees, and I and others

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have pointed out that those countries that are least able to deal with the influx and weight of refugees to Europe are those that are taking the greatest strain, not least Macedonia. It is clear from the current refugee crisis that some front-line states can be helped in that regard. It would, of course, be a great help if the United Kingdom could take its fair share of refugees. That does not seem to be forthcoming, but access to the work of some of the EU agencies could also help. It would be interesting to hear from Ministers what assistance the UK is giving the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, with particular reference to the refugee crisis faced by the western Balkan countries.

Secondly, I want to say a little about the tripartite summit. I am sure Members on both sides of the House will agree that, given the positive impact that the European Union has had on social issues for many years—my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) is likely to comment on that point—the summit will play an important role in emphasising the social dimension of growth and employment between states, and the impact of EU policies on workers as well as executives. An approach that includes trade unionists, businesses and many others can only be a good thing, and in that respect the European Union has led the way in the past.

Finally, let me make a broader point. I think that the Bill shows us how the European Union brings added value to our daily lives. It helps to promote fundamental rights, and today’s debate is especially pertinent in the light of the refugee crisis. I also think that the Bill underlines the need for us to remain part of the European Union, and—this was touched on by the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)—the ability of the UK Parliament to scrutinise European Union legislation. I often think that politicians, here and elsewhere in the EU, can be a bit lazy sometimes in hiding behind decisions that the EU has made. We must bear in mind the role that the UK Parliament ought to play, and I should welcome an increased scrutiny role for the devolved Administrations as well.

John Redwood rose

Stephen Gethins: I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, if he wishes to take up my point about parliamentary scrutiny.

John Redwood: What does the hon. Gentleman think would happen if we said no?

Stephen Gethins: We shall have to see whether the people say yes or no, but I think that the scrutiny—

John Redwood: What would happen if our Parliament suddenly decided to vote this down? Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that that is a possibility?

Stephen Gethins: I can only speak for Members on the SNP Benches, who will not be voting no. I know that the right hon. Gentleman cannot speak for those on his side of the House—in fact, the leaders of both sides of the House can barely speak for those on their own Benches at the moment—but at least we are unified on our Benches. We will not be voting against the Bill today.

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As I was saying, we can be lazy when it comes to European Union decisions. We must adopt a more honest approach: we must become more critical, and when we have backed EU decisions, we must be more open about it.

2.23 pm

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): We have just been given a wonderful illustration of why our democracy does not work in relation to any European subject. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) pretended not to have understood my question, but what would happen if the United Kingdom Parliament suddenly voted against a solemn decision of the European Union? Because the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to countenance that idea, he simply says “I do not want to”, but many of our constituents would like us to stand up to the European Union and start to change it, and one of the reasons why they would like us to change it is the very topic of this debate.

We are being invited to agree to a change in the arrangements whereby we debate and consult, and try to grapple with the huge problem of mass unemployment and austerity which is so visible in the south of our continent, and which was largely brought about by the euro scheme. Today, all that we hear is the usual nonsense: “Because one or two things that the European Union does are fine, we will not grapple with the real issues.” Where are the voices against European austerity on the Opposition Benches?

Stephen Gethins: The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point, but does he agree that the devolved Administrations should also be given greater powers of scrutiny as part of this process?

John Redwood: That is a debate for another day. We are not here to debate the relative powers of the different parts of the United Kingdom. At present, the member of the European Union is the United Kingdom, and we are in the United Kingdom’s Parliament. It is part of my case that we have precious few powers left to make major changes in relation to things that really matter on the continent. I want to explore, briefly, what we can do to engage with the problems of mass unemployment and the huge migrations of people who are unhappy with their lot in other European Union countries, and what we can do about the austerity policies that are so deep and vicious in parts of the European Union, having been visited on countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal by the European Union and the euro itself.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for taking him back to the beginning of his speech, when he said that he would like this Parliament to vote down something from the European Union, or at least try to do so. Had he anything specific in mind, or was he just looking for a genuine fight with the European Union? I ask that question, quite openly, for the purpose of illustration.

John Redwood: The illustration that I was using was that there are now large areas in which this Parliament is not allowed to vote against something that the European Union is doing—because it has been pre-agreed, because

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we have been out-voted, because it is a consequence of a treaty that some previous Government signed years ago, or because it is the result of a decision by the European Court of Justice. Do Opposition Members not see that we are losing our democracy? We are losing our right to disagree with European decisions in this place, and we are losing our right to assert our wish to do things differently. I do not want to choose any one particular thing, but I could name at least 100 things which come from the European Union that I wish were better and different, because I think that they get in the way of prosperity, better wages and a better lifestyle for my constituents and others in my country.

That, however, is not the point. The question that we are debating today is whether, by means of the minor set of improvements contained in the Bill, we can have any impact on the hugely important issues of the breakdown of employment, the denial of opportunity to half the young people in large swathes of the south of our continent, and the effect that the euro scheme is having on people’s prosperity and life prospects. I find it extraordinary that an Opposition who are—sometimes rightly—full of passion on behalf of anyone in Britain who does not have enough income, cannot bring themselves to say a single word for the tens of millions of people on our continent who are being very badly affected by this dreadful scheme. They should think about all those young people who are out of work. How would they like to represent constituencies in which young people knew that they had only a one in two chance of getting a job?

Alex Salmond: Was not the right hon. Gentleman’s political heroine the late Lady Thatcher, who pursued majority voting—which, by definition, means accepting some decisions with which one did not agree—in order to complete the European single market?

John Redwood: She did indeed, but she was not my heroine. I have great admiration for the late former Prime Minister, and I gave her a great deal of advice. Part of my advice was that she should not surrender those powers under the Single European Act, for the very reason that the right hon. Gentleman has correctly identified. Unfortunately, although she accepted a lot of my advice, she did not accept my advice on two very important matters: majority voting in the European Union, and the poll tax or community charge. However, I do not think we have time to explore the question of what would have been better outcomes in the case of those two issues.

I just hope that our Ministers, if they insist on whitewashing this through, as no doubt they will—no doubt they will have the votes to do so—will also ensure that this body does something useful for a change. As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) has already demonstrated, it is obvious that although they can range very widely, and can lobby and discuss a number of fundamental issues that matter to people throughout the European Union but especially in the euro area, they have been unsuccessful to date. Clearly this “social committee” has not been a voice against austerity policies in Greece, Portugal or Spain that has had any resonance. Clearly it has not been a voice for more employment. Clearly it has not been

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a voice for dealing with the problem that a great many southern countries are locked in a currency union with Germany at the wrong exchange rate, which has put them into poverty and unemployment.

Mr MacNeil: The right hon. Gentleman is making a fantastic speech as a Greek nationalist against the evils of a Union Parliament that is holding all the powers to itself, and, indeed, against anti-austerity. I do not want to castigate or to pigeonhole him, but we are seeing great progress in the debate. If the European Union is achieving one thing, perhaps it is achieving that.

John Redwood: If the hon. Gentleman was interested in my views and had read any of them, he would know that I have consistently over the years wanted more work, better paid work, people to own shares, and people to own homes. I believe in prosperity, not austerity, as I regularly try to remind him. I want that for our continent, but we are not going to get it for our continent under the system we have today—I am beginning to stray a little wide of the detail of this Bill.

In summary, I urge our Ministers to make sure of two things: first, that there genuinely is no extra cost to British taxpayers because so far this body has achieved nothing and is part of the problem, not of the answer; secondly, that, if they can, they start putting on the agenda of Europe the scandal of unemployment, the scourge of austerity, and the dreadful mess the euro is making of the economies to the south, because they are our friends and potential market, but I do not want them to be our country.

2.30 pm

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): The SNP will support this Bill today for the reasons most eloquently set out earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins). We will support it in practice as these are sensible and straightforward matters, but we also support the principles behind the legislation.

First, we support the work of the EU and the important role it plays through the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in protecting our rights as European citizens. I particularly look forward to the opportunity of going through the Lobby today alongside many Government Members, united in our full and unambiguous support for the work the European institutions are doing in this vital area. It would be remiss of me not to comment on the fact that it is a little ironic, however, that as other countries are knocking on the door of the EU, looking to benefit from the work it does on our behalf, this Government are committed to providing the means for the UK to leave the most successful union of states in the world today.

Secondly, the SNP wholeheartedly supports the work to improve dialogue between European institutions and employers and workers’ representatives through the tripartite social summit for growth and employment. Working in partnership with trade unions and employers is fundamental to improving our economic foundations and driving economic growth. If only the Government took this advice when drafting the current Dickensian Trade Union Bill before us. I agree with President Juncker who recently stated that he desires a recovery based on social fairness. This summit will play a key role in delivering this and that is why it will have our support today.

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2.32 pm

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for squeezing me into this vastly over- subscribed debate. That brings me to one of only two points I wish to make. The purpose of the Bill is to fulfil the requirement in section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 that EU legislative proposals made on the basis of the catch-all article 352 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union be approved by an Act of Parliament before the UK Government can support them in the Council of the European Union. That is presumably why the debate is so vastly oversubscribed.

Despite the clear lack of interest in the debate, as evidenced by the relatively sparse attendance in the Chamber, the usual channels have chosen not to timetable the Bill. We could speak until 7 o’clock. I could do so—I really could—and be perfectly in order, and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) could have spoken for far longer if he had chosen to do so. Yet we have this open-ended timing today—there is no regulation that says a Second Reading has to take even a half-day—whereas next Monday Scottish Members are expected to cram in Government amendments to the Scotland Bill and its Third Reading. The contrast between the two timetables indicates the Government’s total lack of respect for the need to prioritise the House’s business in accordance with Members’ interest in contributing. I hope that the Government will take that on board.

John Redwood: Does it not also illustrate that the official Opposition never have anything to say about the EU and never want to say anything about it? However, should they not have a view on it?

Alex Salmond: The fact that the Bill is so full of motherhood, apple pie and things that even the right hon. Gentleman finds difficulty in disagreeing with, as we heard in his speech, illustrates that even the serried ranks of Euroscepticism could scarce forbear to cheer this particular piece of legislation.

Nick Thomas-Symonds rose

Alex Salmond: I give way to one of the few Labour Members who are here.

Nick Thomas-Symonds: The right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) raised the issue of the official Opposition’s view on the EU. I am sure he heard that at the conclusion of my speech I praised the work the EU has done in improving workers’ rights. I would say that without the EU we would not have the workers’ rights in the UK that we have today.

Alex Salmond: My estimation of the official Opposition is that they are currently unified in their disunity and have, indeed, raised disunity to an art form, the latest example being over the Trident missile system on the River Clyde. I must congratulate the official Opposition on how they relish that aspect of disunity. There is an outbreak of debate and discussion in the Labour party that certainly was never allowed during the Blair years. We should relish the freedom of speech the Opposition now have, even if we note that there are very few Labour Members here to exercise that freedom in the current debate.

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Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is always amusing, but before he started scoring party political points he was making a significant constitutional point about the power of this House over our own schedules and timetables. Does he agree we should return the control of our own agenda to the House and take it off the Government?

Alex Salmond: As somebody who has been in government, I have to say that views on such matters can undergo a transition. There was debate earlier about representation in the Council of Europe, on which I would think Members throughout the House would be wise to insist on greater control and discretion. I think the Government would benefit from that; they may not realise it initially, but I think they would. That might be a good illustration of what the hon. Gentleman says, and there are a number of mechanisms by which it could be done. Also, I do not think he should underrate party politics; most of us have been engaged in it at one time or another.

The second point I want to make concerns the explanatory notes that accompany the Bill. With regard to the European convention on human rights, it is stated:

“Priti Patel has made the following statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998:

In my view the provisions of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [HL] are compatible with the Convention rights.”

One reason why the Bill is relatively non-controversial is that we recognise and welcome the progress that Macedonia is making under the observation of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, located in Vienna. In welcoming that development, it occurs to me that that is another illustration of how foolhardy it would be for the Government to proceed with their plans to withdraw from the European convention in some form or other. We would find ourselves in an invidious position not just when debating issues such as this but in making representations on a range of issues. As First Minister of Scotland I did not just have to sign certificates saying that legislation was in accordance with the European convention; every act of a Scottish Minister has to conform to the European convention on human rights. Of course there are occasions when that can be inconvenient or even frustrating, but, significantly, my experience has told me that that is actually a very good and useful check on the actions of Government.

Earlier today we witnessed a most astonishing display of arrogance from a Minister at the Dispatch Box. In Justice questions, a Minister was asked specifically about withdrawal from the European convention and waved the question aside on the basis that it is up to the House and the Government to decide whether or not to be in the convention, and for the devolved authorities to administer it once that decision is made. I think the Government will find that that sort of attitude comes back to apply some severe retribution to them. The Government might be noted for that sort of insouciance and arrogance, but it does them no credit or good whatever. The devolved authorities, not just in Scotland but in Northern Ireland and Wales, are not in accordance with the Government’s view on the European convention, and the idea of watering down our commitment to it in some form is going to be totally unacceptable to the devolved nations. I suggest to the Government that they should think again.

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My last point is that given the lack of interest and participation in this debate in the House, the very reasonable proposition put forward by my colleagues that the Scottish Parliament should be given more scrutiny power over European Council or European Parliament decisions is an excellent one. If people do not have the appetite to scrutinise those decisions in this Chamber, why not send the legislation to Parliaments and Assemblies where that appetite and desire exists?

Mr MacNeil rose

Alex Salmond: I give way to the Chair of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change.

Mr MacNeil: It should be noted for the record that as my right hon. Friend said that, there were nods from some Tory Members, which should be taken as encouragement for Scotland to take that scrutiny forward.

Alex Salmond: Not only that, but my hon. Friend is an excellent example of how someone can pursue duties as a Select Committee Chair and contribute massively to debates on the Floor of this Chamber. If we all followed his example, the House and Parliament would be a better place today. With that, I shall bring my remarks to a close, unless anybody wants to tempt me with another 30 interventions.

2.40 pm

Priti Patel: I thank all Members for their contributions to the debate.

The Bill will approve two draft Council decisions, the first of which, as has been discussed, relates to the participation of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as an observer in the work of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s objective is to become a member of the European Union, but it needs to implement key reform priorities, as set out by the Commission. The Government want to encourage it on the path of reform, and granting observer status in the agency is consistent with that approach. The decision will allow the agency to collect, analyse and disseminate data on the human rights situation in the country. It will also allow the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to participate in the agency’s activities. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should be supported to increase its human rights awareness and the promotion of fundamental rights within the country.

The second measure relates to the tripartite social summit. The summit has met for a number of years, and the draft decision will re-establish the legal basis for it. Just to be clear, it does not confer any new rights or competence on the EU. I want to restate that there are no financial implications, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) highlighted.

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Bob Stewart: But there must be financial implications, because EU civil servants will be working and someone will probably be appointed to supervise this activity. That is a financial implication.

Priti Patel: There are no new financial implications, as I said clearly in my opening remarks. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords] (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords]:


(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Proceedings in Committee, on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

(2) Proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.

(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.

Programming committee

(4) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to other proceedings up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(5) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any message from the Lords) may be programmed. —(Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.

National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)


That the following provisions shall apply to the National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Bill in place of paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order of 15 September 2015:

(1) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion, at today’s sitting, two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

(2) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion, at today’s sitting, three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.—(Guy Opperman.)

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National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Bill

Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

2.44 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have now reached the final stage of this House’s deliberations on this Bill, which implements our manifesto commitment not to increase national insurance contributions—NICs—for employers and employees. On Second Reading, hon. Members were reminded of the Government’s strong record of significantly reducing the burden of NICs on employers. At Budget 2011, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a £21-a-week above-inflation increase to the employer NICs threshold. In 2014, we introduced the employment allowance to support businesses and charities across the UK by reducing their employer NICs bills by up to £2,000 every year, and this has already benefited more than 1 million employers. The Government are now going further; hon. Members will recall that the Chancellor announced at the summer Budget that this would be increased to £3,000 from next April. From April 2015, the vast majority of employers employing under-21s were lifted out of employer NICs. This NICs exemption will be extended to cover apprentices who are under 25, supporting employers to provide young people with valuable workplace skills. The Bill enacts the Government’s commitment to provide certainty on NICs rates for the duration of this Parliament. Hon. Members will be aware that the commitment contained in the manifesto was not to increase the main rates of income tax, VAT or NICs. The Finance Bill contained measures to deliver that commitment for income tax and VAT, and this Bill delivers on that commitment for NICs.

Let me now deal with the detail of the Bill. First, it provides that the rate of class 1 NICs paid by employees and employers must not exceed existing rates. Secondly, it has been the convention that the level of the upper earnings limit for NICs is aligned with the level of the higher rate threshold for income tax. This Bill formally limits increases to the UEL so that its annual equivalent amount cannot exceed the level of the HRT for income tax. Both the restriction on NICs rates rises and changes to the UEL come into force on Royal Assent of this Bill, and apply until the start of the tax year following the date of the first parliamentary general election to take place after Royal Assent.

This Bill provides certainty for employers and employees: that the NICs rates that affect millions of employees and employers across the UK will not rise for the duration of this Parliament; and that the UEL will not exceed the HRT for income tax.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My hon. Friend will agree with me that more jobs would be a very good thing and that better-paid jobs for people are a very good thing. He is saying that there will not be any increases but he is presumably not ruling out cutting taxes on jobs, because the less we tax, the more jobs we might have.

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Mr Gauke: To be very clear, this is a cap, not a freeze. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to make that point.

I thank the hon. Members who have participated in our debates on this Bill, both on the Floor of the House on Second Reading and in Committee. The Bill has not detained the House for any great length of time, but I am grateful for those contributions. The Bill demonstrates the Government’s commitment to provide certainty on tax rates for the duration of this Parliament, and I commend it to the House.

2.48 pm

Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): As we have heard, this Bill enacts the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge not to increase NICs in this Parliament. It is part of their wider pledge to cap income tax, VAT and national insurance contributions. The Bill contains only three substantive clauses and, as we have heard, no amendments have been tabled for consideration today. Clause 1 creates a “tax lock” for employee NICs, capping the rates of employee class 1 NICs to 12% and setting the additional percentage to 2% for the duration of this Parliament. Clause 2 freezes the rate of employer NICs by setting the maximum secondary percentage payable by employers at 13.8%. By doing so, it also fixes the class 1A and 1B contributions. Clause 3 links the upper earnings limit to the higher rate income tax threshold by setting out that it shall not exceed the weekly equivalent of the proposed higher rate threshold for that tax year. In practice, that means that employees stop paying class 1 national insurance contributions at the 12% rate when their income reaches the higher rate income tax threshold. Thereafter, the rate of national contribution is 2%.

As the Minister is aware, my Labour colleagues are not opposed to the principle of maintaining the rates of national insurance contributions. Indeed, it was Labour that, on 25 March, first committed to halt any increase, and I am pleased that the Conservatives heeded our wise advice. It is just one of our many pre-election pledges that the Chancellor has chosen to implement.

However, without wishing to repeat what has already been said by my colleagues in previous debates, I question the need to implement legislation that forces the Government to keep their own election pledges—surely they should do that anyway. The Chancellor also seemed to share my sentiments back in 2009 when he stated:

“No other Chancellor in the long history of the office has felt the need to pass a law in order to convince people that he has the political will to implement his own Budget.”

Indeed, he went on to suggest that only two conclusions could be drawn from such an occurrence:

“Either the Chancellor has lost confidence in himself to stick to his resolution, and is, so to speak, asking the police to help him, or he fears that everyone else has lost confidence in his ability to keep his word”. —[Official Report, 26 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 708.]

John Redwood: I thought that the previous Labour Government enacted legislation to bring down the budget deficit, because they could not trust themselves with the money, and they were perhaps wise about that.

Rebecca Long Bailey: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but I am citing what the current Chancellor has stated.

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I question which of the scenarios the Government feel is applicable. The Government have argued during the passage of this Bill that legislation is required to ensure that the market has confidence in their keeping their election promises. It leads to the question why the Chancellor thinks that the electorate and businesses will not simply trust his word. In addition, the Government promised before the 2010 election that they would not raise VAT, but then proceeded to do quite the opposite. Indeed, in the previous Parliament, the Chancellor raised taxes 24 times despite waxing lyrical about creating a low-tax, high-pay economy. The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said of the most recent Budget:

“The figures are quite clear though—this was a tax-raising Budget.”

Perhaps the Chancellor has lost confidence in himself. That is not surprising given that he has missed all of his deficit reduction targets for the past five years.

I fear that legislating in this manner is only a political gimmick to convince the market and the electorate that the Government are not increasing taxes when, in fact, tax policy measures in the Budget are expected to raise £5.1 billion by 2018, rising to £6.5 billion by 2021.

Putting that issue to one side, I must once again stress my concern that the Government are severely limiting their options should the economy take a turn for the worse. This summer, the Bank for International Settlements stated simply that this is

“a world in which debt levels are too high, productivity growth too weak and financial risks too threatening.”

The feeble recovery that we have seen thus far is built on private debt, which leaves us with a ticking time bomb. The IFS predicts that house prices will rocket across the whole of the UK, most drastically in London, leading to levels of household debt exceeding those of 2008 at the time of the credit crunch.

The warning signs are there and I harbour grave concerns that the Government are simply not paying attention. My sentiments are shared by many commentators, including the director of the IFS, who said that it would be

“extreme to tie your hands for such a long period of time with the main rates of the three largest taxes.”

Particularly worrying is the fact that the Chancellor’s spending plans are predicated on

“a forecasted rise in revenue yield from NICs.”

That fact was highlighted by the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie). However, should the yield be less than forecast, due to an economic downturn, what will the Chancellor do? He cannot, according to his own legislation, raise VAT, income tax or national insurance contributions. Would further cuts be imposed on public expenditure at precisely the time economic stimulus would be needed?

In Committee, the Minister assured us that, in such a circumstance, the measures before us today would not endanger the fund or be an excuse to undermine the NHS. However, he did enter the caveat that such an assurance was predicated on the Government making “difficult choices” on public spending and

“identifying savings in the welfare budget”.––[Official Report, National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Bill Public Bill Committee, 27 October 2015; c. 18.]

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I fear that what he meant was that far from legislating on their election promises on the Government’s tax credit work penalty, they have ripped them up within months of taking office.

In conclusion, we will not oppose this Bill as before the general election we also committed to capping national insurance contributions. However, it is not an effective use of precious parliamentary time and resources, and I do hope that the Minister will bear that in mind for the future.

2.54 pm

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): If the European Union Bill was undersubscribed, this is even more so. Is it such an important Bill, or will we discover that it is not really necessary at all?

The Bill is designed to prevent any increase in the current rates of class 1, class 1A and class 1B national insurance contributions paid by employees and employers for the duration of this Parliament. The Minister said that it would also provide that each of the annual upper earnings limits could not exceed the higher rate threshold—the sum of the personal allowance and the income tax basic rate limit.

As I said on Second Reading—I am happy to put it on the record again today—there is absolutely nothing wrong with any Government providing certainty in the tax code for the duration of their term in office, but let us be clear that we do not need legislation to do that. Legislation is simply a gimmick.

I also said on Second Reading that these proposals should not have come as a surprise because, as the Minister has just said, they were included in the Conservative election manifesto. In many ways, this small three clause Bill is utterly pointless. The real failing with it is that it represents a wasted opportunity.

In July, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury commissioned the Office for Tax Simplification to review the interplay between income tax and NICs. He said:

“I would like the Office of Tax Simplification to look at what the impacts, costs and benefits of closer alignment would be and to set out what the necessary steps would be to achieve closer alignment.”

But this Bill does nothing to help deliver the perceived benefits of closer alignment, and does not offer any real progress towards tax simplification overall.

John Whiting, tax director of the OTS, gave evidence to the Committee. He argued that, although the maintenance of rate levels represented a simplification of the system as it removed some uncertainty, it could represent a complication of the tax system overall if the Government were to make changes to other taxes to compensate for the tax lock. The measure also introduces an inherent inflexibility.

Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has been quoted before, in particular his comment that the pledge not to increase the main taxes

“considerably reduces our flexibility if things turn out different from expected. This is why I have absolutely no doubt that Treasury and Bank of England officials were tearing their hair out at this.”

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Yet I am not aware—and I have asked the question before—of what discussions, if any, the Minister or the Chancellor have had with the central bank about these proposals.

I also explained on Second Reading the complexity of the NICs regime. I will not go through that all again, but there is a complex series of employee, employer and self- employed NICs. There are class 1, class 2, and class 4 profit-related contributions, with primary and secondary thresholds, small profits thresholds and lower and upper profits limits. In all of those, the limits and thresholds are different and the rates paid above and below the various thresholds are different. Surely this Bill should have been the opportunity to iron out those inconsistencies in the NICs system. It is yet another wasted opportunity to make the whole system more straightforward.

I also said on Second Reading that individuals may be entitled to make voluntary class 3 contributions to avoid or fill gaps in their national insurance record to ensure that they qualify for basic retirement pension and bereavement benefits. But as yet there appears to be no answer to the question of whether more or fewer people will make additional voluntary contributions as a result of this so-called tax lock.

It is also the case—and this point was alluded to by the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey)—that most NICs receipts are paid into the national insurance fund, which is separate from all of the other revenue raised by taxation. The fund is used exclusively to pay for contributory benefits. If the revenue yield from NICs does not rise in the heroic way planned, can we expect to see cuts directed at the contributory benefits for which people have already paid? That is an important question given that the Minister was quizzed in Committee on the impact of the freeze on the national insurance fund.

It is doubly important given that the Centre for Policy Studies reported in 2014 that the surplus in the national insurance fund had fallen from £53 billion in 2009 to £29.1 billion in 2013. It warned that, as a result of persistent negative real earnings growth, fund exhaustion could transpire as early as 2016. That was echoed by the Treasury’s own figures, which have shown that the fund was able to cover 71% of liabilities in 2009 but that that fell to 25% in 2014. Perhaps the Minister can confirm whether, as is being speculated, the fund might fall below 16.7% of its liabilities this year, which is the minimum recommended by the Government Actuary’s Department. The measure might actually be storing up problems for the future and we still do not know for certain what behavioural change, if any, might be likely following these measures. We have also not yet heard any confirmation of the consequences for spending and other taxes that flow from this measure.

We know the level of discretionary consolidation tax rises and cuts being planned by the Minister and how they are meant to be paid for, but the entire spending plan is predicated on NICs bringing in £115 billion this year and £126 billion next year, rising to £152 billion in 2020-21. That is a forecast rise in revenue yield of 9.6%, 4.3% and 4.7% the year after that, so, even at this late stage, there is one question that the Minister must answer. Given the arbitrary freeze on NICs and other taxes, should the forecast yield be significantly less than expected, will other taxes rise, and if so, which ones, or will the Chancellor take the axe to yet further spending,

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perhaps pensions? Or will borrowing rise and will the deficit reduction forecast simply be abandoned, delivering the same failure as we saw in the previous Parliament?

We will not oppose the Bill, even though it is rather pointless, but finally, and most importantly, I said a moment ago that the majority of NICs receipts are paid into the national insurance fund, which is used exclusively to pay for contributory benefits, so may we have a cast-iron guarantee that this Bill is not the start of an attack on the contributory principle that applies to NICs in the UK?

3.1 pm

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I welcomed the manifesto pledge and am very pleased that we know that for five years there will be no increases in the major tax rates. I listened carefully to the Labour response, and one of the worries expressed was what would happen if there were a cyclical downturn or if the economy hit a bad time because of a world recession or something similar. As I am sure the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) knows, it is common policy between the major parties in this House that if that happens we will normally borrow more. If revenues fall because people have lost their jobs and are not earning so much, and if costs have gone up because more people are out of work, which we do not foresee and do not wish, it is quite sensible to borrow a bit more to help the economy through the difficulties. Fortunately, the official and external forecasts say that we can look forward to several years of continuing progress and growth, as we have had since 2009, so, we trust, the problem will not arise. I think that that answers her point.

Stewart Hosie: The right hon. Gentleman would be right in normal circumstances, but we now have the fiscal charter. Given that it has a rolling four-quarter on four-quarter comparison, if forecasts begin to fall the automatic stabilisers might not necessarily kick in in the way that he has described, which was traditionally the case.

John Redwood: I think that we would make a judgment at the time, but fortunately we do not have to make that judgment now. If we should get into that awful position, I am sure that there will be a lot of debate in this House. The hon. Gentleman and I might even share the same view, or we might have a difference of view. We would have to judge it on the figures and on the merits of the case.

On this side of the House, we regard having more people in jobs as a very good thing and want to promote better pay, particularly for those whose pay is very low and needs topping up with benefits. I buy into the Government’s vision that we want more people in work and more people in better-paid work, with less benefit top-up needing to be paid. They should be better off as a result of these changes.

In the course of proceedings this afternoon on this Bill and on the European Union (Approvals) Bill, we have been told that not enough time has been allocated to debate tax credits. I recall that we have had three major debates on that subject quite recently, and three votes, and the House has come to the same view on each occasion. This is another such opportunity. I note that Opposition Members have not come to the Chamber,

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but it seems to me to fall quite within the remit of the Bill, which is about how to tax work and what people keep as a result of work, to discuss tax credits as another part of the equation. I see the Bill as an important part of the Government’s strategy of making work pay.

We regard work as a good thing, as I trust all parties do, and we do not really want to be taxing good things. Unfortunately, however, we live in a world where we need a lot of revenue, so we end up taxing good things as well as bad things. However, where we have the chance to shift the balance, surely it makes sense to tax the good things less, such as work and earnings, so that people can have more opportunity of finding a job and of keeping more from a better-paid job. We can then find less desirable things that we are more prepared to tax, as well as running sensible value-for-money government so that the overall demands are not too great.

The danger, if one went down the route of opposing the Bill, is that it might become all too easy to put an extra 1% or 2% on national insurance. One might say that people would not notice it, but it would have two immediate adverse effects. First, there would be fewer jobs as it is a direct tax on jobs and, secondly, employees would be worse off because of the effect on their contribution and we would have to find more money under our scheme for tax credits or other top-ups.

In conclusion, it is excellent that my party intends to keep its clear promises to keep these tax rates down, which I fully supported and campaigned on. We must see it as part of the wider debate, and today is another opportunity to debate national insurance in the context of tax credits. If we keep taxes down or reduce them more, there is more scope to deal with the tax credit problem.

3.6 pm

Mr Gauke: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to respond to the points raised by right hon. and hon. Members in this short debate. Before I do so, may I reiterate the main purpose of the Bill? It introduces the final aspect of the five-year tax lock, which is further proof of the Government’s commitment to provide certainty on tax rates for the duration of this Parliament and the commitment to low levels of taxation made in the Conservative manifesto for the general election in May, which resulted in a Conservative majority in that election. The commitment was that the rates of income tax, VAT and NICs would not increase. The Finance Bill introduced legislation to deliver that commitment for income tax and VAT, whereas this Bill delivers on the commitment for NICs. The benefits are that it provides certainty for employers and employees that for the duration of the Parliament NICs will not rise and the upper earnings limit will not exceed the higher rate threshold for income tax.

We have heard the argument that it is not necessary to legislate in this regard, but I remind the House that it was a Conservative manifesto commitment to legislate and we are fulfilling that commitment. Concerns were also raised that the measure might restrict flexibility for future Governments, and the comment made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) about the circumstances that might apply in such cases was very good. I do not think that anybody

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would advocate in the teeth of a recession that we should put these rates up. Fiscal credibility is very important, of course, and our determination in that regard will be demonstrated at the spending review on 25 November. It is important that we bring borrowing down, but we do not believe we should do that by putting up national insurance contribution rates, which is what the Bill prevents us from doing.

Future funding for contributory benefits, should NIC receipts prove insufficient, is a matter for the Chancellor and a decision to be made at the relevant fiscal event based on the latest projections available at the time and taking into account the NIC rate ceilings that we are introducing. The Government Actuary recommends a working balance of one sixth of benefit expenditure for the national insurance fund and there is provision to top up the national insurance fund from the Consolidated Fund to maintain the balance at that level. For the 2015-16 tax year a top-up of £9.6 billion has been provided for in legislation.

Let me point out, though, first, that this Government are committed to meeting our commitments in terms of the state pension and spending on the NHS. Secondly, the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) raises concerns that the projections might not be accurate. These projections in relation to national insurance contribution rates are made by the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent body. I can understand why the hon. Gentleman might have concerns in general about projections for tax revenues, given that he fought a referendum not that long ago assuming that the tax revenues from North sea oil would be very much more substantial than they have turned out to be. In those circumstances, I can understand his sensitivity to the fact that receipts might not be what had been anticipated. However, this is based upon an independent assessment and, in the round, is nothing like the fiscal risk that the Scottish National party was offering the Scottish people just over a year ago.

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): Has the Treasury Minister forgotten that the North sea oil revenues go to HM Treasury and that the recent fall in income from the North sea proves the point to the Treasury that its forecasts can be wrong?

Mr Gauke: The proposition of the independence movement was much more optimistic about receipts than the OBR at the time of the referendum. Most important of all, the United Kingdom is more easily able to absorb a volatile oil price than an independent Scotland would be—a point that I would have thought anyone looking at this fairly had to accept.

Stewart Hosie: I will not be tempted by the Minister, however generally he put it, other than to say that he is wrong and that the UK Government’s barrel price for gas was higher than that used in Scotland. That is not the point. I completely understand the technical answer that the Minister has just given, but will he please answer the specific question: does this pose a threat to the contributory principle which applies to many of the benefits that people in the UK receive?

Mr Gauke: Let us be clear that the OBR’s projections for oil prices—those are the ones that the Government use—were much, much more cautious than those of the

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independence movement. The black hole that would be the finances of an independent Scotland, had the SNP succeeded in obtaining independence, would have been very considerable, and it is about time that those who campaigned for independence were straightforward with the British people and the Scottish people about what has happened.

The Bill makes no change to the structure of national insurance contributions that would undermine the contributory principle. I am happy to make that explicit to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that is helpful to the House, and I hope the House will support the Bill before us.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

3.13 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (George Freeman): I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.

The House debated the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill on Friday 16 October, when it received its Second Reading. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for the huge amount of work that he put in to get the Bill to a point where it can enjoy majority support in this House and the other place, and for his open approach to dealing with all the stakeholders with an interest in it.

I want to reiterate what I said on Second Reading. Although the Government support the intention behind the Bill to promote access to medical innovation—an intention which sits four-square within my ministerial responsibilities—the mechanisms of any Bill need to be considered on their merits. We are neither supporting nor opposing this Bill, but working with those with an interest in it and the sponsors to do what we can to help to get it to a place where it could contribute to the landscape for medical innovation that we are putting in place.

This money resolution is not a signal of Government support or otherwise for the Bill; it is merely a convention of the House once a Bill has received its Second Reading. We have brought forward this resolution to allow the Bill to progress to Committee stage, reflecting that convention, and the will of the House for further debate.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Government to be neutral on a Bill if the payroll vote is whipped for that vote?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): That is a matter for the Government, rather than for the Chair.

George Freeman: The debate on Second Reading raised a large number of issues, which clearly need to be addressed and I have no doubt will be addressed in Committee. We cannot second-guess where that Committee will get to or the shape of any Bill that might subsequently return to the Floor of the House.

The costs associated with this Bill, were it to be implemented in its current shape, arise from the establishment and maintenance of a database by the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Early discussions on costing with the HSCIC, which is leading on the construction of a number of databases and data streams crucial to the operation of the NHS, have provided an indicative costing of between £5 million and £15 million for developing the database of innovative medicines that the Bill anticipates.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): My hon. Friend has implied broad Government support for the Bill. Can he provide any evidence to suggest that

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litigation is preventing doctors from innovating in medical science and practice generally? That is the premise on which the Bill is based.

George Freeman: My hon. Friend makes a good point. That is the premise on which the Bill introduced by Lord Saatchi in the other place earlier in the year in the previous Parliament was predicated. My hon. Friend is right that it is a controversial proposition that fear of litigation for medical negligence is putting clinicians off innovating. The evidence that the Government received through the consultation was that some clinicians do feel that that is a problem, but very few saw it as the principal problem or the principal obstacle. A number of clinicians made the point that several factors have acted in recent decades to slow down the rate of innovative prescribing and other procedures in surgery and elsewhere, not least increasing central control of procurement from NHS England, which puts in place very tight procurement guidelines, as well as a general sense of an increasingly litigious society, which is just one of a number of factors cited in an extensive range of barriers to innovation.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): Does the Minister not recognise the concern of the Association of Medical Research Charities and many within the profession about what the Bill opens up? The position when I started 30-odd years ago was that doctors could do what they liked. We have spent decades protecting people, slimming down the ethics paperwork to run trials, and I do not see that the Bill is necessary. I think it is dangerous. The problem is that people think it is about access to new drugs. It is not. Any drug that is licensed we can prescribe. This says that doctors can try what they like. That is quite scary.

George Freeman: The hon. Lady makes a series of interesting points. Her criticisms would perhaps apply more to the Bill introduced by Lord Saatchi in the other House. Let me confirm that this Bill has nothing at all to do with clinical research. It is to do with clarifying the freedoms that she is right to say that clinicians enjoy today. Clinicians are free to prescribe any treatment for their patients that they feel is appropriate on the basis of the clinical evidence.

The specific problem that the Government recognise, whether or not this Bill is the appropriate mechanism to deal with it, is that in order for clinicians to feel confident in making an innovative prescription or adopting an innovative procedure, the biggest barrier is the lack of information on what innovative procedures are out there already and being used by other clinicians. It was with that in mind that the registry was originally proposed in the Bill introduced by Lord Saatchi. It was originally intended as a registry of innovative practices that clinicians adopted under the procedures in the Bill, which merely clarify the existing protections already afforded by medical negligence law. It was felt that that registry would be a helpful innovation in itself.

The Government’s view is that, as we build an infrastructure for the provision of information to clinicians to support off-label use of medicines and access to the latest information on innovative treatments, that registry

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could provide a much more interesting function of providing to clinicians, at the click of a mouse, an up-to-date registry of innovative medicines that are available and off-label and other treatments that other clinicians are already using. I want to stress that this Bill, which has a very different structure from the original Bill introduced by Lord Saatchi, has nothing to do with research at all. It is purely to do with supporting innovative prescribing by clinicians by providing them with information on innovations that they might consider.

Dr Whitford: Does not this undermine our existing structures of clinical research? Those protect the patient through ethics and research being reviewed, whereas this allows a couple of doctors to say, “We’re going to give you liquorice for your cancer”, and that can get put on to a database. Many in the profession are anxious about this.

George Freeman: I want to make two things absolutely clear. First, this Bill, in law, would have no impact at all on clinical research. We in the Department have been very clear about that. If it in any way changed the basis on which clinical research is regulated, it would be a very serious matter, because we lead the world in terms of our ethical and regulatory controls on research, and it is vital that we do not affect that.

Secondly, it would be a matter of very serious concern if this Bill were to undermine patient or public trust and confidence in our NHS, our research medicine and our clinical trials infrastructure. I flagged up on Second Reading the fact that I do have some concerns. Some of those relate to the way in which this debate is conducted, although I am not making any comment about the hon. Lady’s intervention. It is very important that we explain to people what this Bill does and does not do. If we mislead them, it is not surprising that we will get a lot of unnecessary fear. It is very important that we clarify that this has nothing to do with clinical research.

Dr Wollaston: Does the Minister accept, however, that the Association of Medical Research Charities, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, the British Medical Association, and an A to Z of other organisations involved with medical research are very clear that this does undermine participation in medical research? He should listen to those concerns and acknowledge that they are genuine.

George Freeman: Yes, indeed; I have listened. I acknowledged those concerns on Second Reading and said I was concerned about them. This is merely a debate about the Bill—there is no change in the law—and it is only this debate that is upsetting people at the moment. It is therefore very important that we carry it out in a way that makes it clear to them what this Bill does and does not achieve.

I am concerned that the passage of the Bill, the conduct of the debate, and any legislation that may survive the process of parliamentary scrutiny do not in any way undermine public or patient trust and confidence in clinical research or mainstream medicine. Were it to do so, I would be very concerned and the Government would be unable to support it. I have made it very clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry that that

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is the No. 1 consideration, and as this is his private Member’s Bill, it is his task to get it to a point at which the Government would feel able to support it. Public trust and confidence in our NHS and in our clinical research infrastructure is crucial.

Mr Baron: May I add to the voice of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and suggest that not just the bodies she mentioned but many of the cancer bodies, charities and communities are very concerned about this Bill? Let me bring the Minister back to the issue of evidence. The pursuit of justice starts with evidence, and there is no evidence that litigation is deterring doctors from innovating. This Bill, in many respects, addresses a non-existent problem. If it is not necessary to legislate, it is necessary not to legislate.

George Freeman: As my hon. Friend knows, I have a lot of respect for his logic and his position, so let me be very clear again. As I tried to explain, I accept that if one were setting out a list of the biggest barriers to the uptake of innovation, fear of negligence would not be No. 1 on the list. However, it is equally true, as has been put to us during the consultation on this Bill, that it is a consideration. It is very important that the mechanism is proportionate to that obstacle. I think that that is the point he is really making, and I could not agree more. I signalled on Second Reading, and signal again now, that for the Government the most interesting part of this Bill is about access to information on innovative medicines and treatments for clinicians, who already have the freedom to innovate.

The second part of the Bill, as we understand it—we have taken substantial legal advice—does not in any way change the law on medical negligence; we would struggle if it did. Rather, it sets out a clear pathway for doctors seeking to enjoy the freedoms that are already in law to make it very clear what the procedure would be. People might say that these are fairly marginal improvements and ask whether they really merit the time of the House, but it is not for me to judge what is or is not an appropriate use of Parliament’s time. However, I do understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry is trying to tackle, through a small measure, something that we all have an interest in, which is increasing access to innovative medicine.

The focus on provision of information that is reflected in the Bill’s new title and structure has the potential for an interesting mechanism. That is why we have looked at what the costs might be of putting such a database together. The figure that I have given is based on the understanding that further significant scoping work would be required were the Bill to become law, including consideration of the modification of existing coding systems to capture an innovation in medical notes, the data flow and the searching capability before the information centre—the HSCIC—was able to provide a robustly costed solution. Until proposed options and variables undergo additional policy refinement, including the development of a proper specification, it is not possible to offer a further estimate of supporting costs. The affordability of any specific proposal and future investment in technology more generally will also need to be considered in the light of the forthcoming spending review settlement, and the work of the National Information Board, which is putting in place a broader framework for the flow of information in the NHS.

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Medical practitioners are already required to comply with the General Medical Council and BMA guidance on record keeping, and the recording of an innovation for front-line staff is therefore based on existing practice. Thus no additional costs are foreseen for medical practitioners or their own organisation. Officials in the Department of Health are currently drafting an impact assessment to examine the estimated impact of the Bill and to understand better the likely costs and benefits of the proposals.

The database proposed by the Bill—should it survive parliamentary scrutiny—may ultimately improve the flow of information to clinicians on the range of innovative treatments that are already available. Those treatments might include off-label uses of medicines, about which the House is interested in connection with another Bill. In our view, the biggest barrier to the flow of information through the system is the lack of incentives or proper reward for innovation. That is to do with how we reward patterns of activity, rather than the promotion of health and healthcare. The lack of availability of data and information is one of the biggest barriers. Subject to whatever scrutiny and changes the Bill may undergo in Committee, we think that there is a potential prize worth winning, but I appreciate that the Committee will need to go through the Bill in some detail.

3.29 pm

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I will not detain the House for long, as my hon. Friend the shadow Health Secretary set out in detail our concerns about the Bill on Second Reading. I will say in summary that the Opposition believe the Bill to be at best unnecessary, and at worst a danger to patients.

The Bill is strongly opposed by a number of medical royal colleges, including the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. There is strong opposition from several medical research charities, including Cancer Research UK, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the British Heart Foundation. There is also strong opposition from bodies such as the Wellcome Trust, the Patients Association and Action against Medical Accidents.

Given the range and depth of concern, I do not understand how the Minister can be so comfortable in supporting the Bill, even though he contends that he is not supporting it. I ask him to reconsider the Government’s position. We will see very shortly whether the point made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) is correct, and whether the Government are as neutral on the Bill as they state.

George Freeman: The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the procedures of the House, but I just want to confirm that once the House has given a private Member’s Bill a Second Reading, the convention is that the Government, even when they robustly oppose it, always table a money resolution so that the Committee need not concern itself with that matter. Doing so is not a signal of Government support; it is absolutely in line with the convention of the House with all private Members’ Bills, whether we oppose or support them.

Justin Madders: I am grateful to the Minister for his clarification. As I say, we shall see very shortly whether that is the case.

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I understand that the part of the Bill to which the money resolution primarily relates will give the Secretary of State the power to set up a database. As the shadow Secretary of State set out on Second Reading, we consider that unnecessary because, under section 254 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, the Secretary of State and NHS England have the power to direct the Health and Social Care Information Centre to establish and operate a system for the collection or analysis of information. I note that, in a recent letter to the shadow Health Secretary, the Minister said:

“Under section 254 of the Health and Social Care Act the Secretary of State has the power to direct the Health and Social Care Information Centre to establish and operate a system for the collection or analysis of information of a description specified in the direction.”

I understand that the Minister’s argument is that he thinks it is appropriate to give the Secretary of State an express power, but I am not convinced by that and neither are many in the medical profession, including the Royal College of Surgeons.

We believe that the Bill attempts to address a problem, namely the fear of litigation, that simply does not exist and for which the profession has provided no evidence. There is a risk that it will undermine the methodical and reasoned approach to research that already exists. In the context of the £30 billion challenge that the NHS faces and the financial problems that are taxing us all, we note that the Bill may prove to be a step in the wrong direction. We will vote against the money resolution for the Bill, and we will no doubt see what the Government make of it when they have considered their research on the costs.

3.33 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I thank the Government for introducing, as is the convention of this place, the money resolution on my private Member’s Bill.

Several colleagues have expressed their concerns about the Bill, as the Opposition spokesman has just done. I must say to them, and to the Association of Medical Research Charities and other bodies, that many of the briefings seem to relate to the previous iteration of the Saatchi Bill that went through three Readings in the other place and have not been changed for this Bill, even though this Bill is massively different from that brought forward by Lord Saatchi in the House of Lords.

The Bill has two elements. It proposes that a database of innovation be established for only registered medical practitioners to use when they innovate or depart from standard medical practice. As we have already heard, doctors and surgeons say that they regularly innovate.

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): I would never question my hon. Friend’s intentions in this area, but the AMRC’s summary states:

“we do not see the need for this legislation and do not believe the Bill will achieve its aim of encouraging medical innovation.”

It goes on to say that

“this Bill…as it stands is unnecessary and may adversely impact on patients and medical research”.

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That view is supported, among others, by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. Does that not give him pause for thought before he proceeds with the Bill?

Chris Heaton-Harris: Yes, it does. I have talked to those organisations constantly from the conception of the idea of stealing these two ideas from the Saatchi Bill, and I will continue to talk to every organisation that wishes to talk to me about the Bill. If that was a bid to be on the Bill Committee to offer an alternative view and help me pick through the details of the legislation to ensure that it does what I intend it to do, I welcome my hon. Friend’s approach because a couple of people who would have added great value to the process and the Bill are not able to sit on the Committee.

I gave the example on Second Reading of a surgeon who had innovated and saved the life of his patient, but who was unable quickly to communicate that to his peers as there was no comprehensive means of doing so. The database has been called for by many of the medical colleges, as is acknowledged in the briefings that my hon. Friend will have read. The database is important in spreading the best innovations, because it will include not just the successes of any innovation, but its failures. That will allow best practice to spread quickly and for other registered medical practitioners to learn from any innovation. It will not be available for patients to access and will be held by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, as we have just heard, which is where the money resolution directs the money towards.

The database will not cover research and will not hamper recruitment to clinical trials. Nothing in the Bill will allow doctors to bypass any process or requirement that has been set by their trust in relation to undertaking innovative treatments in the NHS, including the requirement to ensure that commissioners will fund any treatment that is not provided by the NHS. As we all know, individual innovation is incredibly important, but it is not a suitable substitute for medical research, which usually tests the efficacy of treatments in a systematic way. I hope that successful innovations will lead to systematic research projects as the evidence builds around a particular specialty and that they will thereby encourage more clinical trials.

The second part of the Bill, which I fully acknowledge is much more controversial, will give registered medical practitioners a supplementary method of demonstrating that they have acted responsibly while innovating. It closely mirrors the existing legal test, the Bolam test, that is used when clinical negligence proceedings reach the court stage. It brings the test forward and enables doctors to use it to demonstrate that they have acted responsibly before they enter the courtroom. It does not change the common law.

Mr Baron: I fully respect the good intentions behind the Bill and those of my hon. Friend. I suggest to him that his last point perhaps misses the more fundamental point that it is the fear of litigation that may deter doctors and medical professionals generally from innovating, and thereby put patients at risk. Does he accept that that is at least a valid concern?

Chris Heaton-Harris: I am not convinced that that is the case because doctors and registered medical practitioners innovate daily across the national health service. Litigation

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might be a consideration in the back of their minds, but they are all responsible doctors doing the best for their patients. I do not quite see my hon. Friend’s point.

Doctors have to demonstrate that they have acted responsibly and that remains the case under my Bill. If they have not acted responsibly, they will be subject, as they are now, to the full force of medical negligence law and bodies such as the General Medical Council.

I would argue that my Bill provides extra safeguards to protect patients from medics who peddle treatments that are dangerous or misguided. First, any doctor must act responsibly and in the best interests of his or her patients. They must also be able to demonstrate that they have done so—as they do now—if it gets to a court of law. Secondly, when an innovation is listed on the database, its successes and failures have to be listed. If a rogue doctor’s peers are able quickly to see the exact results of their innovation, would that doctor not be almost exposing themselves and their quackery to their peers?

My Bill has massively evolved from Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill from which many of the criticisms levelled against it come. I have been working with the Department of Health, and others, to ensure that the Bill achieves its central aim, and I know that I have a long road ahead should the Bill get through Committee and its other stages. I fully intend to work with everybody who wishes to make suggestions and help constructively so that we can get to a point where we have a database of innovation that can help spread best practice across our NHS.

3.40 pm

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): There are many ways for a surgeon to share their experience if they have carried out an operation in the heat of the moment to save someone’s life. The BMJ publishes things on a weekly basis and can share interesting cases. The danger of the Bill is that the database is being used as a fig leaf to make it sound like access to innovative treatments. The hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) said that a doctor would have to prove that something was safe, but the first person prescribing liquorice for cancer has no method of proving that it is safe. That is the basis of research.

Phase 1 trials involve a small group of patients who fully consent to undergo treatment and know what they are taking on, based on pre-clinical research. Phase 2 is larger, and phase 3 involves multiple hospitals. We have that process to avoid a couple of doctors in a canteen saying, “That’s not a bad idea. I’ll back you if you back me”, and patients being given something dangerous. The Bill would not, of itself, undermine research in some way, but if patients and the public feel that they are guinea pigs for any old treatment that someone wants to have a bash at, that will undermine research.

It has taken decades to get to our current level of safety, checks and balances. That has been streamlined, and single ethical permissions are carried out once for the whole country, and then recognised in all health boards and areas. That has made things a lot easier, but it is crucial that patients who sign up to a treatment know that there has been a degree of rigour before they are given that drug.

If someone is bleeding to death in the middle of the night, of course a surgeon can innovate because every operation is slightly different, but we are talking about

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access to medical treatment that will predominantly involve drugs that have not had sufficient pre-clinical work. That is of concern to research charities and the royal colleges—I am a member of the Royal College of Surgeons—because of patient safety. The absolute concern is not even the secondary impact on research; it is the impact on patient safety and people finding that they are being given something totally unproven.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The hon. Lady is making a good point, and I agree with everything she says. As a lawyer rather than a doctor, I think the problem with the Bill is that—unintentionally, I am sure—it also undermines carefully constructed jurisprudence on clinical negligence, and it is dangerous for that reason.

Dr Whitford: Of course the Bill is well intentioned, and its title will attract support from people who think that it means getting access to drugs to which we do not currently have access. It is not that any doctor can prescribe anything—we cannot. We can prescribe drugs that are licensed and recognised, and have a basic safety profile. In Westminster Hall we often debate access to expensive, innovative, brand-new treatments, but that is not about our right as a doctor to prescribe them; it is about who will pay for them because some of those drugs are expensive. As the Minister has said, that would still be an issue. In what sense would a commissioning group have evidence to allow a doctor to prescribe a drug that has absolutely no basis, but that would have to be funded?

The Bill is basically a bit of a mess. What problem is it trying to answer? People think it means that they will get earlier access to new drugs, but drugs should be taken forward on the correct path to protect patients and doctors. Doctors need to know that what we are doing is right, and not some random thing that has been on a database after somebody tried something once and it seemed to work. We know that there are placebo and random effects.

Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con): I support everything the hon. Lady has just said. I was a research nurse in cancer care for more than 10 years. We observed good clinical practice standards, and the standards of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and the FDA, because mistakes happened. Those safeguards are in place for a reason. The No. 1 reason is to protect the patient.

Dr Whitford: I did my MD thesis in the late ’80s on the use of monoclonals in breast cancer, which was then totally blue-sky thinking. What became Herceptin was found at that time. I remember speaking at a conference in America where people presented their research. At that time, they thought they had to put a toxin on the back of an antibody to make it work. They were using ricin, which was used in the Bulgarian umbrella murder, and—surprise, surprise—almost all their patients died. They got around that in America by going to Mexico and to prisons. It is not the case that everything a doctor thinks might work will be good for patients. We have developed a safe system over decades and we give it away at our peril.

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3.46 pm

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I rise to oppose the money resolution because this is bad legislation. It is unnecessary and could undermine essential protections for our patients. That is why an A to Z of medical royal colleges and research charities oppose the Bill, as does Action against Medical Accidents, the British Medical Association and so on—the list goes on. This is the time at which the House must bring the legislation to an end.

I am concerned at the selective misquoting of a number of bodies. Many of the medical royal colleges have objected to being selectively misquoted during debates on the Bill. I will quote from just one of the royal colleges; the president of the Royal College of Physicians, Jane Dacre, would like to put the college’s views on the record. She says:

“The RCP does not support the progression of the Access to Medical Treatments Bill through Parliament. The primary objective of the Bill to create a parallel innovation process may result in unforeseen consequences that negatively impact on patient safety. The Bill may further undermine and overcomplicate the established existing process for conducting innovation, damaging the UK’s innovation process. As the RCP has previously stated prior to previous readings of the Access to Medical Treatment Bill and the Medical Innovation Bill it is unclear how the legislation will improve upon the existing innovation process or address the real barriers to conducting innovation. The RCP does not support the Bill’s progress through Parliament.”

We should also be clear that the Minister does not need the legislation in order to introduce the processes that all hon. Members would support to facilitate communication between research bodies about genuine innovations. We need to simplify the processes by which patients understand which research trials are out there from which they could benefit. When I started in medicine 24 years ago, many of the children I treated for leukaemia were dying. Children today with the same conditions survive not as a result of a series of unconnected, anecdotal, have-a-go treatments, but because of the medical research that built the foundation for the treatments from which they now benefit.

Our patients and our constituents want to contribute to research that benefits future generations, but they cannot do so through an unconnected database of anecdotal treatments. A series of anecdotes does not constitute evidence. We need to be careful of that. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). He has good intentions, but I simply do not agree with the Bill.

3.49 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I, too, have concerns about the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). I agree in principle about the need for quick, easy and affordable access to effective treatments for patients, and new developments and initiatives that improve access to innovative treatments should be encouraged so long as they do not have a negative impact on patient safety. The hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) made that point, as did other Members.

Questions and concerns have been raised by a number of prominent UK charities—the British Heart Foundation, Prostate Cancer UK and Alzheimer’s Research UK, to name but a few. We must be careful not to confuse

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intention with outcome. The main concern is the potential risk to medical research, and the Association of Medical Research Charities, which represents a large number of prominent and well-respected medical charities, has expressed concern that

“the bill may inadvertently act to discourage patients from participating in robust research studies”.

That is important, and we must be clear that we are concerned about introducing legislation that has perhaps not been fully thought out.

Further concerns include the vagueness of certain definitions in the Bill. For example, what exactly can be described as “accepted medical treatments”? Well-respected UK charities in the sector have expressed concern about the vagueness of that definition, and it is just one of many concerns.

The Bill is loose and it is not definitive. It is also unclear. With great respect to the hon. Member for Daventry, we need to go back to the drawing board with this one. In addition to concerns about unintended consequences, there is the question of whether the Bill is really necessary. I reiterate my support for innovation as a principle—it should be encouraged and welcomed—but I want the House to note the comments that many hon. Members have made today and be mindful of the concerns that have been raised, because we do not want the Bill, however well intended, to have unintended negative consequences.

3.51 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I, too, wholly support the purpose of the Bill and the good intentions behind it, but I am opposed to the Bill itself. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on cancer.

Parliamentary scrutiny demands evidence. The Bill is based on the false premise that doctors are somehow deterred from innovating because of a fear of being sued for negligence. I am not aware of any evidence to support that. Doctors can and do innovate without the proposed law. The innovative response to the Ebola crisis was one example of that. Lord Woolf, a leading supporter of the Bill in the other place, wrote in The Daily Telegraph in April 2014:

“What I do know about, from sitting as a judge, are the cases where doctors are sued for negligence because they have innovated in the treatment they offer, rather than following generally accepted medical standards.”

A member of the public then questioned him and asked him to produce evidence of such cases, to which he replied:

“I am not prepared to be cross-examined further”.

Lord Woolf did not cite a single case to support his position. Surely the pursuit of justice starts with evidence. With respect, that sort of judicial paternalism has no place in the modern world. Nowadays, the public expect and deserve better. I am informed by the joint editors of the leading text “Clinical Negligence” that they are not aware of any such cases. Doctors are sued for poor practice, not for innovative practice.

The supporters of the Bill need to provide evidence that doctors are being sued for innovative practice. They need to identify the cases in which that is happening. There cannot be any informed debate until they provide that information. So far, they have not produced any

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shred of evidence to support their position. The Bill addresses a non-existent problem. If it is not necessary to legislate, then it is necessary not to legislate. Moreover, there is a duty not to pass bad law. This Bill, like the Medical Innovation Bill before it, proposes law that is not only unnecessary but would turn out to be bad.

3.54 pm

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I will be brief. The hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) may be beginning to think that he had a lucky Friday when he got the Bill a Second Reading. When one looks at it in detail, it has a number of flaws.

Action against Medical Accidents, a reputable organisation that I have worked closely with, has stated: