“It is, on occasion, misused by those who use it as, effectively, a research tool to generate stories for the media, and that is not acceptable.”—[Official Report, 29 October 2015; Vol. 601, c. 522.]

I gather from one Conservative central office friend of mine—I have a few—that when in opposition CCHQ virtually drowned Whitehall in FOI requests, and when some nugget was found the name on the press release was always that of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). I do not know what the word for that is, Mr Speaker. The truth is that countless public interest stories have come to light only because of FOI. It is an essential part of a free press today. It is not FOI that the Government do not like, but legitimate opposition.

Chris Grayling: Let me start by echoing the hon. Gentleman’s words about events this Sunday. He is absolutely right to pay tribute to the veterans of past wars, and indeed to our current armed forces. My constituency has a cemetery commemorating a number of Commonwealth soldiers who came to Europe to fight the war and lost their lives. They are often forgotten as we commemorate those from this country who gave their lives. I would therefore also like to pay tribute to all those from around the world who came to Europe to fight a war in the defence of freedom and who lost their lives. In doing that, it is also particularly appropriate to remember those Indian soldiers who lost their lives, because next week we will be receiving in this building

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the Prime Minister of India, which is the world’s largest democracy and a friend of the United Kingdom. We look forward to welcoming him and hearing his speech. Although the House will be in recess, I very much hope that hon. Members from this House and peers from the other place will be able to listen to his words.

A couple of weeks ago the shadow Leader of the House said that this House should always be good at celebrating anniversaries, so I am sure that he will want to join me in celebrating in the coming days the 20th anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I am proud to be a member of a party that has steered through some of the great social reforms in the history of this country. We have delivered electoral reform, great social and public health reforms, and we were the first party to deliver a disability discrimination reform—[Interruption.]

Chris Bryant: This is your joke, isn’t it?

Chris Grayling: I am proud to mark that anniversary, and I am sad that the hon. Gentleman feels unable to join me in celebrating a moment when this House did the right thing. Of course, he does not even like remembering that we were the party that elected the first woman Prime Minister.

The hon. Gentleman asked about working tax credits. I will simply reiterate what the Prime Minister said yesterday, which is that he will have to wait until the autumn statement. We will of course provide the House with an opportunity to question the Chancellor about the autumn statement in the usual way, just as his party did over 13 years in government. He mentioned our armed forces. Let me just remind him that this Government have strengthened the military covenant and done more than any previous Government to celebrate and look after our veterans, and we will continue to do that.

The hon. Gentleman asked about driving test centres—he also mentioned Channel 4, so he has clearly not quite got over being moved from his Culture, Media and Sport brief—and I must say that, having seen the Labour party’s complete inability this summer to do an emergency stop in its leadership contest before driving into a wall, I do not think that Labour Members should be arguing that they know all about driving test centres.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of fracking. We have a statutory instrument passing through this House in the normal way and it will be voted on in the normal way. Yesterday the Department launched a technical consultation. We in Government do not simply stop talking to people when a matter is being considered by the House. We are talking to external stakeholders, and these matters will be brought before this House in the normal way. He said, extraordinarily, that this House would not be able to vote on universal credit SIs. Of course it will be able to vote. This House votes on every measure that comes through it, and this will be no different. It will come to the Floor of the House in due course. Every single statutory instrument that comes before Parliament is voted on by this House and this will be no exception.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned national trustees week, and I echo him in that. He is right to mention the very good work done by volunteers up and down the country. Indeed, this afternoon I will attend a meeting of the trustees of the National Portrait Gallery.

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I pay tribute to those who serve that great institution and those who serve other great institutions, as well as local trustees of local charities; they do a great job of work for us.

Finally, I wish everybody who is going out tonight, on 5 November, a great bonfire night. I have to say that this place can be slightly cruel sometimes. I think it was very unfair of one of our colleagues to suggest a few days ago that the hon. Gentleman will be spending 5 November out at a bonfire of the vanities.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): May we have a debate on helping people to save on their use of energy, on boosting tourism, and on cutting the number of accidents on our roads? Is the Leader of the House aware that all those things could be achieved if we started to use British summer time in winter? Is it not about time that in winter we stopped plunging this country into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon?

Chris Grayling: This issue has been brought before the House on a number of occasions. I suspect that there may be a slight difference between my right hon. Friend and those on the Scottish National party Benches. It is an argument that is often made and an issue that will, I think, return to this House on a regular basis. It should be a subject of continual debate to make sure that we get it right.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.

I associate my party with the remarks about Remembrance Day on Sunday. All my colleagues will be at services right across their constituencies in Scotland. I also reinforce the Leader of the House’s remarks about the contribution from overseas soldiers. On Sunday, I laid a wreath at the Polish war graves in Perth. This demonstrates that people fleeing Nazi persecution came to this country only to go back again in order that Europe be made free. It is a very important day that my colleagues will be sharing in.

On this inauspicious day for parliamentarians, I hope there will be a bonfire reserved for the Tories’ callous welfare reform plans, stoked up with the plans to curtail trade union rights, while the proposals for tax credits are shredded and continue to go up in smoke.

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House, without any great expectation, whether he could reserve more time for the Scotland Bill, which will be before the House on Monday, and of course he has not obliged me or my hon. Friends. It therefore looks as though we are going to have some five hours to discuss and debate over 100 amendments to the Scotland Bill—amendments that are critical for the resolution of the Scottish devolution settlement. This is so frustrating, because we had four days in Committee on the Scotland Bill where no amendments were accepted by the Government and they offered no amendments of their own. We were told in response to those four almost-wasted days that this is now a listening stage. Is this where we have got to in Parliament—that a Committee of the whole House is just a listening stage? Surely we would better off just going round to see the Secretary of State or writing to him about the things that were not picked up. Surely we must have real time to have real debates about real

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legislation. If a Committee stage of this House is just a listening stage, we are going to have to rethink how we bring business through this House.

This week there was a historic vote in the Scottish Parliament when Trident renewal was voted against by a majority of 96 to 17. The SNP combined with most of Scottish Labour to vote down Trident, which will defile our beautiful country by being placed there. They now join the 57 out of 59 Scottish Members of Parliament who are resolutely opposed to spending billions of pounds on this obscene weapon of mass destruction. How will the Leader of the House respond to this very clear call from Scotland and from Scottish parliamentarians? Will we see support from the Labour party when it comes to debating this in order that it gets through? We know that the Blairites have a difficulty and an issue with Trident renewal, but surely the voice of Scotland must be listened to in this respect.

This week, we had our first certified EVEL—English votes for English laws—Bill and it is been an absolute disaster thus far. We have heard of all sorts of panic in the Clerks Office and no one has a clue how this weird legislative hokey cokey will be played out as the Bill progresses through this House. Meanwhile, there is a dispute about the clauses that may be vetoed and uncertainty about whether or not they apply to Scotland. Mr Speaker, you said that this was an experiment. If it is shown at a very early stage that this experiment has become the dog’s breakfast we expected it to be, will the Leader of the House withdraw his EVEL plans and reinstate every Member in this House to the same status and class?

Lastly, at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions the exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition did not conclude until 12.16 pm, leaving less than half the available time for Back Benchers to ask questions of the Prime Minister. If PMQs are going to be so slow, will the Leader of the House agree to look at how they are conducted? As a starter for 10, perhaps we could limit the time available to the Leader of the Opposition to 10 minutes. He would still have a third of the available time and he could ask as many questions as he wants on behalf of whoever he wants, and then Back Benchers would have the opportunity to put their questions to the Prime Minister. If the Leader of the House agrees to that, the prospects of Back Benchers will be lit up as much as any firework display this evening.

Chris Grayling: Before I respond the hon. Gentleman, I will respond to the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House about the issue of gay conversion therapy, which I forgot to address earlier. It might be slightly unusual to pay tribute to one’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, but my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has done a really good job in raising this issue. He is establishing himself as one of this House’s foremost champions—possibly its foremost champion—of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and I commend him for that. The concept of gay conversion therapy is an insult to the LGBT community. It has no place in our society and I am very pleased that the head of the national health service has said that he also believes it has no place in the NHS.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned the time reserved for the Scotland Bill, which was debated extensively on Second

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Reading and will be debated again on the Floor of the House next week. It will give him and his colleagues in Scotland a substantial additional range of devolved powers. I cannot understand why they are so keen to continue debating the Bill rather than to get it through and start using the powers. Surely this is about giving extra power and responsibility. If I were in the hon. Gentleman’s position, I would want to get my teeth into that power and responsibility and get on with the job. I cannot understand why the Scottish National party wants to delay the Bill further rather than to turn it into law.

On Trident, I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, because he is right to identify the fact that the Labour party is all over place. I am at a loss to understand the situation whereby shadow Defence Ministers are saying that our independent nuclear deterrent is good for this country and necessary for our future defence strategy, and yet their party leader says he wants to get rid of it. I well understand the confusion of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire and I am sure that confusion is reflected in the Labour party in Scotland. I have to disappoint him, however, and say that it is the settled view of the Government—and, I think, of the majority of the United Kingdom Parliament —that, at a time when the world is a potentially dangerous and unstable place, the worst thing we could possibly do is get rid of our independent nuclear deterrent.

The hon. Gentleman’s faux outrage on EVEL made a return today. The truth, however, is that, privately—and, indeed, when he is away from this House—he has said on more than one occasion that he sees no reason why the English should not have an English votes for English laws-type system. That is what we have now got. I think the hon. Gentleman is uncomfortable with the decisions you have taken, Mr Speaker, over the certification of the EVEL measures. My view is that in this House your word is final. Whether we like it or not, we have to take your judgments on matters such as EVEL as the defining word on how they are to be handled. The hon. Gentleman may not like the certification, but the certification is the certification, and that is how it is going to be in future.

On Prime Minister’s questions, again I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, but Government Members cannot be responsible for the Leader of the Opposition and the amount of time he takes to ask his questions. As far as I can see, the Prime Minister is being as succinct in his responses as he has ever been. The reality is that is for Mr Speaker to decide whether the sitting is running too long, and he certainly does that.

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): Ahead of next Saturday’s world diabetes day, will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on what more can be done to help educate those with diabetes on how to manage their condition? Will he join me in congratulating Diabetes UK on its “Taking Control” campaign, which is already doing fantastic work in this area?

Chris Grayling: The whole question of diabetes has become much more of an issue in this country in recent years. There is greater awareness of it and of its implications for the health of individuals. The work done by

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organisations such as Diabetes UK, but also the teams of local volunteers—those who have experienced it themselves and those who suffer from the condition—is invaluable.

I commend my hon. Friend for raising the issue in the House. It is quite regularly brought up in Adjournment debates in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall debates, and I encourage her to think about such debates as a future opportunity for ensuring that the issue stays at the forefront of the considerations of Ministers and of society as a whole.

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): Many people across the north-east will be disappointed by the report of the quality contract scheme board on the future of local bus services in the region. The report puts at risk a key devolution commitment, made less than a fortnight ago, to give the north-east bus franchising powers once again. Will the Leader of the House clear up the confusion by arranging for a statement to be made, and will he offer some reassurance that our devolution deal is worth the paper that it is written on?

Chris Grayling: Devolution deals are very much worth the paper that they are written on. It is our intention to move powers away from Whitehall. On the buses front, that matter is subject to debate, discussion and planning in the Department for Transport. Clearly, when we are ready to make further announcements, we will do so.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Page 49 of the Conservative party manifesto for 2015 says:

“We have improved the operation of Parliament, strengthening its ability to hold the Government to account, with reforms such as the election of Select Committee chairs”.

It also says in very bold print: “We will reform Parliament”. Will the Leader of the House provide at least a written statement next week on all the reforms he proposes for Parliament?

Chris Grayling: I will certainly consider my hon. Friend’s request, but I would say to him that I tend to want to wait for Committees—such as the Procedure Committee, which I know is considering a number of different options at the moment—to bring forward proposals, so that anything we do in Parliament is driven not by the Government, but by Parliament itself. A number of Committees are looking at making recommendations about the way Parliament works, and I look forward with interest to seeing what they suggest.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): The Leader of the House can be assured that the Backbench Business Committee has enough on the stocks to fill the time allocated to us on 16 and 19 November. However, I am afraid I have to say again to him that the communication lines between his office and our Clerk are not brilliant. I was first informed that we had been allocated Monday 16 November by my Chief Whip on Monday of last week. I really wish we could get that line of communication to work better so that the Backbench Business Committee is the first to be made aware of the time allocated to it.

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the unveiling of a permanent memorial to Corporal Steven Thomas Dunn and Rifleman Mark Turner at Saltwell

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park in Gateshead. We also had the opening of the north-east field of remembrance there last Saturday to mark this Remembrance week. The Royal British Legion has the aim that, for the commemoration of the end of the first world war in 2018, the north-east field of remembrance will have a poppy or cross for every member of service personnel from the north-east of England killed in the first world war, with a target of over 120,000 poppies and crosses. Will the Leader of the House spare the time for a statement about the support that the Government are giving to the Royal British Legion in such endeavours all over the country?

Chris Grayling: I pay tribute not just to those involved in what is clearly an important symbol of remembrance in the north-east, but to all those around the country—in churches, local authorities, voluntary sector groups, the Royal British Legion and, indeed, other forces charities—who will play a supporting role in ensuring that the commemorations we will all be part of can take place. This is a really important moment in our national calendar, and I pay great tribute to all those involved in making it a reality.

With regard to the time available for the Backbench Business Committee, in a sense I make no apology for having tried to squeeze out a bit more time for the hon. Gentleman: he now has a day and a half in that week, rather than just a day. However, I take note of the points he has made.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): At this time of remembrance, may we have a debate about the right to wear medals? One of my constituents who serves with Her Majesty’s forces is the proud recipient of the NATO Africa medal. He has been told by the Foreign Office that it is a keepsake and he is not allowed to wear it. It seems extraordinary that at this time we can wear our poppies with pride, but people such as my constituent who have won the NATO Africa medal for their services against piracy are not allowed to wear it.

Chris Grayling: I do not approve of anyone who has served this country being denied the opportunity to wear a medal. I will ensure that my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence are aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): Today, 5 November, I would like to raise the question of fire safety—that is appropriate given the history of these buildings and fire, but it is a total coincidence. I have written to the Leader of the House to raise the disappointing number of parliamentary colleagues and our staff who have completed their online fire safety training, which is available on the intranet and takes less than 10 minutes. For the safety of ourselves, our staff and, more importantly, the visitors and guests who come to this place, I ask the right hon. Gentleman what he can do to encourage more colleagues to do their own training and to encourage their staff to do the same.

Chris Grayling: I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work in this area. When I took on this role and became involved in the restoration and renewal project, I took the cellar tour, as a number of colleagues will have done. I was slightly disappointed because, although the building burned down in the 1830s, I had an image

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of great medieval cellars having survived, where once Guy Fawkes and his team had hung out. As he will know, that is not the case. It was all rebuilt and we now have something that is not tall enough for me to stand up in. The fact is that this is an old and enormously complex building where fire safety is and should be a priority for us all. I commend him for his suggestion and encourage people on all sides of the House to take his wise advice today.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I join the shadow Leader of the House in calling for a debate on freedom of information? I take rather the same line as him on that issue. In such a debate, perhaps we could highlight the land deal done by the Labour-controlled West Yorkshire fire authority, in which it has given up two existing sites in return for one new site, which most people think is costing it in the region of £50,000 to £100,000. It refuses to release the valuations for the three sites, which would allow taxpayers to know whether their money is being used in an appropriate fashion. I urge the Leader of the House to hold a debate on freedom of information so that we can try to get to the bottom of whether my local taxpayers are being ripped off by the Labour-controlled West Yorkshire fire authority.

Chris Grayling: I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no changes to freedom of information without a debate in this House. I am sure that he will take part in that debate when it happens.

Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab): My constituents are extremely worried about the National Grid’s ability to keep the electricity supply going through the winter. Will the Leader of the House bring forward a statement on what the Government are doing to assure the electricity supply and bring forward his own plans to assure us that the lights will be kept on in this place throughout the winter?

Chris Grayling: That is clearly an important issue. We have been dealing with a lack of investment in energy generation in this country over the past decade. The Government take that enormously seriously and monitor the situation closely. We are trying to find the right balance between ensuring that we have sufficient generating capacity in this country and fulfilling our obligations under the climate change agreements we have reached. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will undoubtedly be available to the House throughout the winter and provide regular updates.

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): As we heard earlier, last week the Delegated Legislation Committee voted through the fracking provisions. Although there are protections for UNESCO world heritage sites, such as that in my constituency of Bath, the spa water that feeds into the spas sits outside the protected zone. My constituents are genuinely concerned about that. Does the Leader of the House agree that a debate is desperately needed on that issue?

Chris Grayling: That matter will clearly come before the House, and provisions for fracking include tight rules on the level at which it can take place. Through the Health and Safety Executive, we have probably the finest regulators of safety in the energy industry and

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workplace anywhere in the world. My hon. Friend should be confident that they will ensure that any fracking that takes place will be done with the utmost technological care.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): After Business questions last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), and others, raised a point of order. Many of us were expecting a Government statement on delays to the publication of the Chilcot inquiry, so that Members could express the views of our constituents. Given the allegations that delays are being caused by Whitehall Departments, will the Government make a statement or hold a debate in Government time, so that Members across the House can deliver a view on this serious matter?

Chris Grayling: I can only reiterate what I have said: the Government want the Chilcot report to be published at the earliest possible opportunity and we regret the delays that are taking place. This inquiry is outwith the control of Government—there is no benefit to us in the report’s being delayed, and we want it to be published as soon as possible. The Prime Minister has offered Sir John additional resource to try to bring forward the publication date, but the content and the publication of that report are a matter for Sir John. We will continue to inform the House, as we did when we published correspondence between the Prime Minister and Sir John last week.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): May we have a debate on the education funding formula in England? West Sussex local education authority is the second lowest funded, despite containing considerable pockets of deprivation, principally in my constituency.

Chris Grayling: There is a debate on education funding in Westminster Hall this afternoon, and I encourage my hon. Friend to take part. Funding is an issue around the country, and we endeavour to get it right and ensure that our education system is funded properly. We have sought to protect our schools budget, notwithstanding the tough financial challenges we face.

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): As a Unison activist before I came to the House, I warned against the privatisation of NHS patient transport services in Greater Manchester. This week it has emerged that the private provider, Arriva Transport Solutions, has systematically overstated its performance figures, and wrongly claimed huge amounts of incentive payments from the public purse. Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on that scandal, so that Ministers can confirm to the House whether there will be a police investigation?

Chris Grayling: As the hon. Lady will know, I take allegations of corporate fraud against the Government enormously seriously. When I was Justice Secretary I referred two of our major providers to the Serious Fraud Office, and I secured from them compensation of many tens of millions of pounds for events that were well recorded at the time. I will ensure that the Health Secretary is aware of her concerns. He will be taking

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questions in the House on Tuesday week, and I will try to ensure that he is able to answer her question if she puts it to him directly.

Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the opening of the new studio at Mercury theatre in Colchester. Does my right hon. Friend agree that great theatre and the arts are not just the preserve of London, and will he allow time for a debate on the important role that community and regional theatres play in bringing arts to our communities, cities and towns?

Chris Grayling: I pay tribute to those who run regional and community theatres. Many of our constituencies have theatres that attract local performers as well as those from around the country, and they are to be celebrated. I am sure that my hon. Friend will take advantage of his many opportunities—such as the Adjournment debate system or the Backbench Business Committee—to ensure that such theatres stay in the public eye.

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab): This week is living wage week. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Cardiff University in my constituency, which has won the 2015 living wage champion award for Wales—the only UK university to receive such recognition? Will he advise his colleague, the Chancellor, that his so-called national living wage is not a living wage?

Chris Grayling: I am afraid I do not really buy that, although I will commend Cardiff University. The Labour party was in power for 13 years and it did not seek to introduce a living wage. For the first time, we have brought forward proposals that will lead to a dramatic increase in the living wage to more than £9 an hour by the time of the next general election—another great Conservative social reform.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): On Sunday, I will be attending a very solemn Remembrance Day service on the Hoe in my constituency. Unfortunately, this year we do not seem to have had a debate on, or an opportunity to pay tribute to, those who fought in the world wars. My grandfather served in Jutland, which we will have ample opportunity to commemorate next year. May we have a debate to make sure that next year we pay tribute to those servicemen and servicewomen who gave their lives to defend our freedoms?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Traditionally, the House set aside five days for debates on different aspects of defence, armed forces and our veterans. That time has now been allocated to the Backbench Business Committee. He makes a strong case and I encourage him to make it to the Chairman of that Committee, because it should be a part of our calendar.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): May we have a debate or a statement on local government funding for the arts and museums? As a result of Government cuts, local authorities are finding it very difficult to fund the arts and museums.

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Chris Grayling: There is no doubt that it is tougher than it has been for those in the public sector to run services, because we have had to eliminate the largest deficit in our peacetime history. Up and down the country, local authorities are adapting to those changing circumstances and are still delivering high quality services. I feel confident that that will be true in the hon. Gentlemen’s constituency.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Aarhus convention establishes a number of rights for the public with regard to the environment. Will the Leader of the House think about having a debate in Government time on how it is being implemented in the UK parliamentary process to ensure fair and effective public participation in the preparation of infrastructure projects? We could perhaps at the same time examine why the Government have yet again called for a postponement of the hearing of a complaint relating to HS2 in front of the Aarhus convention compliance committee in Geneva. Perhaps we could ensure that the hearing takes place before the High Speed Two (London – West Midlands) Bill has completed its passage in this House.

Chris Grayling: As ever, my right hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for her constituency. I am not certain about the current state of play with regard to that complaint, but I will ask the Secretary of State to write to her in response to the issues she has raised today.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): Last weekend, the Metropolitan police had to apologise following the disproportionate and heavy-handed policing of the “Sikh Lives Matter” demonstration. During the demonstration, one of my constituents was beaten to the ground. His turban was removed and hair was ripped from his beard. He suffered concussion from the excessive force used by the police. Like the others present on the demonstration, he was released without charge. Given the recent urgent question on the policing of the China demonstration, will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to commission a review of the policing of demonstrations and to make a statement to the House, so we can get the balance right between security and protecting the freedom of our citizens, while ensuring the liberty and the freedom to protest?

Chris Grayling: It is obviously a difficult challenge for the police to deal with demonstrations. I, and the Home Secretary, would always counsel them to try to be as measured and careful as possible in dealing with them. But I would say that their job is made more difficult when we have people in our society who encourage race hatred.

Hon. Members: What did that mean?

Mr Speaker: Order. Individual Members can undertake their own exegesis of the words of the Leader of the House. That is a matter for them. It would be unfair, however, to delay the delivery of the question from the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen).

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The UK is facing a critical shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers. The average age of a lorry driver in this

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country is now 53 years old, with only 2% of qualified drivers under the age of 25 and 60% over 45. The overall shortage is already estimated at more than 50,000 job vacancies, which could have an immense impact on our economic growth. May we have a debate on how we can get more people into the logistics industry, perhaps through an HGV apprenticeship scheme?

Chris Grayling: It would be timely to have a debate on apprenticeships in the HGV sector, and on apprenticeships more broadly because they are a priority for the Government. I encourage my hon. Friend to apply for either an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business debate. It is also a matter to which the Government will be returning.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) ask the Prime Minister at last week’s Question Time to support Save the Children’s campaign to bring 3,000 unaccompanied minors to the UK. The Prime Minister said he would not because he was worried that some of those children had family. Now that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed that none of them has identifiable family, has the Prime Minister informed the Leader of the House of his intention to come to the House to explain that he is now willing to take those 3,000 children, as requested by Save the Children?

Chris Grayling: Of course the programme is being co-ordinated by the Home Office, and the Home Secretary will be here on Monday week taking questions. We are working closely with the UNHCR to bring to this country some of those vulnerable refugees to whom the right hon. Gentleman refers. The Home Secretary will be able to answer detailed questions about the state of those discussions when she is before the House in 10 days’ time.

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): As we await a ministerial decision on increasing runway capacity in the south-east, may we have a debate on night flights? While a certain Boris from Uxbridge sleeps soundly in his bed at night, Anissia from Edenbridge, who sleeps in my bed, wakes me up regularly to complain about the flights. As we debate Gatwick and Heathrow, please may we consider carefully the effect of night flights on the communities underneath the flight paths?

Chris Grayling: I understand the concern. This issue is now subject to discussion in relation to the Airports Commission report. I have no doubt that the report, and the future of runway capacity in this country, will shortly be a matter for debate in the House when the Government respond to its recommendations, and I know that night flights will be part of that debate.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): The Government recently issued a call for evidence on their review of the secondary ticketing market. As co-chair of the all-party group on ticket abuse, I pressed the Government on how they were publicising this call. I received a written answer from the Minister for Skills assuring me that all main stakeholders had been alerted, but I know from conversations I have

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had with major industry bodies and trade publications that in many cases I have been the first person to bring the matter to their attention. Will the Leader of the House urge all Ministers to make sure that when calls for evidence are launched, they are publicised fully and properly? If they do not, any recommendations arising from them will be the poorer as a consequence.

Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady makes an important point. The Minister will be here next week, and I encourage her to make that point directly to him.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): On 31 December, the Equitable Life payments scheme will close to new claimants. We have not yet had a chance to debate the scheme in this Parliament, although Members, on a cross-party basis, met victims of that scandal in the House on Tuesday, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is attending the annual general meeting of the Equitable members action group today. May we have a debate on the scheme soon, in particular to make the case that once the number of claimants has been crystalised, on 31 December, we must ensure that any surplus funds are paid out to identified claimants, rather than returned, for example to the Treasury?

Chris Grayling: The Treasury has sought to broaden its support to Equitable members as much as possible, and it has operated in line with the recommendations of the ombudsman. I know that this remains a matter of concern to Members on both sides of the House. We have allocated a significant amount of time to the Backbench Business Committee, and my hon. Friend may wish to raise this issue in one of those debates.

Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP): Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to update the House on the progress made by the three groups set up after the UK steel summit at Rotherham to find ways of supporting the UK steel sector in this time of crisis—a crisis reflected in my constituency with the recent announcement by Tata Steel of the imminent closure of the Dalzell works and Clydebridge?

Chris Grayling: I can assure the hon. Lady that this remains a matter of concern to Ministers. The responsible Minister will be in the House next Tuesday, and I encourage her to put this point directly at that time. I will make sure that Ministers are aware of her concerns and are properly equipped to give her the latest update.

Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con): I have been contacted by a constituent concerned that the abolition some years ago of the 15-year “long stop” rule for claims against independent financial advisers leaves open time-unlimited opportunities to pursue such claims. This situation applies to no other profession. Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate this important issue of fairness and the Financial Conduct Authority’s approach to it?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend raises an important point. Complaints should be brought in a timely fashion, although it is difficult to strike the right balance. It is

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important that complaints be made in a timely fashion and that people are not left hanging on forever at risk of a case being brought against them, but occasionally the full facts only emerge after some time, so we cannot have too tight a deadline either. I will make sure that his concerns are drawn to the attention of my colleagues in the Treasury, and I will ask them to respond to him.

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): Today in Cardiff, there is a steel summit with the National Assembly’s Business Minister. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement and a debate in Government time on what discussions the UK Government have had with the Welsh Government regarding the urgent crisis in the steel industry?

Chris Grayling: Those discussions are happening, and we are very focused on this issue. Many aspects of the support provided in such situations are devolved; none the less it is a matter for the UK Government to provide leadership on the steel industry, and that is what we are seeking to do. As I said, BIS Ministers will be in the House next Tuesday, and I will make sure they are ready to provide an update to hon. Members with constituency concerns.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Successive Governments encouraged people to buy diesel cars because they were low on carbon dioxide, but now it turns out they are high on nitric oxide. May we have a debate in the Chamber on how to reduce emissions from diesel fuel additives in cars? Millions of people cannot suddenly buy petrol cars instead.

Chris Grayling: The issue of diesel is absolutely shocking. For those of us who defend and believe in free enterprise, our case is not helped by extraordinary corporate malpractice of the kind we have seen at Volkswagen and in the diesel sector. I hope that those issues can be resolved as quickly as possible; and clearly if individuals lose out financially as a result, they should be compensated. The automotive industry has a duty to be open and honest, and when something like this happens, it damages confidence in corporations and their products, and it makes the life of the public much more difficult. It should never have happened. It is shocking.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Four towns in my constituency—Tregaron, Llandysul, Aberaeron and New Quay—have lost banks from their high streets. May we have a debate specifically on the retreat of the high street banks from rural areas? Many of those areas have inadequate broadband and cannot access internet banking.

Chris Grayling: Several hon. Members have raised this issue in the last couple of weeks, and I believe that the Backbench Business Committee is considering it for debate. Of course, banks are caught by the fact that more and more of us are banking online and that cashless systems are increasingly available, whether on our phones or through the cards in our wallets. Banks are finding it more and more difficult to sustain banking networks, but we do not want to lose key services in rural areas, so I suggest the hon. Gentleman adds his weight to those asking for a debate to bring a Minister to the House to discuss the matter.

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Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): Wingates brass band in my constituency has just celebrated a recording history of 100 years. Great bands need great venues. May we have a debate on securing better regional funding for our local arts venues, such as Bolton’s Victoria hall and Octagon theatre?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I congratulate the band on its centenary. There are some great bands in this country, as we said last week, and we celebrate the work done in local communities, the musical groups and the local bands that add such value to this country. I know that even in these difficult financial times local authorities and grant-giving bodies will do their best to sustain those bands.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): May we have a debate on business rates, and specifically the time it takes for the Valuation Office Agency to consider appeals? A brewing business in my constituency has been waiting for 10 months. We need a debate so that Ministers can exert some pressure on the Valuation Office Agency to support small and medium-sized enterprises to get these cases heard in a timely manner.

Chris Grayling: Clearly, we do not want any barriers to businesses operating successfully in this country. We are a Government who have pursued a deregulation agenda, and where problems arise we will seek to address them. As I have said, next Tuesday is business questions, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will take advantage of that opportunity to ensure that Ministers in the Department are made well aware of the concerns he is raising.

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): May we have a debate on the constitutional settlement and the relative powers of this place and the other place, particularly in the light of their lordships’ recent vote on tax credits? That would provide an opportunity for Ministers to explain why, while they are gnashing their teeth about defeats in the House of Lords, they are slashing the number of MPs in this place by the same number of new Lords they are going to appoint in the other place.

Chris Grayling: If Labour Members are concerned about appointments to the House of Lords, they should have a look in the mirror. Over their years in government, the rate of appointments to the House of Lords was far higher than it has been under this Government. [Interruption.] Yes, far higher. I said last week that I would ensure that a statement was made to this House about the Strathclyde review. Details of the panel were put forward yesterday before they were issued publicly, as I committed to do. I will ensure that after the review is completed, the House will be fully informed.

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Speaking as a former local councillor, I am generally supportive of the Government’s devolution agenda, as long as resources follow responsibility. Given the plethora of submissions and the lack of public awareness of the ongoing negotiations and implications of those bids, does the Leader of the House not think there is a role for this place to consider the agreements to ensure that they are consistent, transparent and fair?

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Chris Grayling: There are, of course, many opportunities to question Ministers about the agreements they are reaching. It is not simply a matter of resources following responsibility; it is about making better use of public money. The hon. Gentleman will be aware from his time as a local councillor that there are many pots of public money that tend to do the same thing. Part of the devolution agenda is to make sure that we make better use of the resources available to local communities by giving greater power to local authorities to co-ordinate and deliver high-quality services for the public.

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): Now that the Leader of the House has prosecuted EVEL on this place, and has created second-class MPs for those of us from Scotland, does he agree that ahead of the debate on the Scotland Bill on Monday, we should have Scottish votes for Scottish laws? Given that the 56 SNP Members will be tabling measured amendments that have the support of the Scottish people, will he make sure that English Tory MPs do not exercise a veto against us?

Chris Grayling: Well, we do have Scottish votes for Scottish laws: it is called the Scottish Parliament. I keep listening to the outrage from SNP Members, but let me remind them, first, that they will not be excluded in future from any vote in this Chamber that they currently participate in; and, secondly, that when they discuss these matters away from this place, they appear to be rather less outraged than how they come across in this place. That was clear from a quotation that I read out last week.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I am one of 11 million Britons who suffer from hearing loss. Yesterday, there was a parliamentary reception for Action on Hearing Loss, and it was revealed that some health authorities, including North Staffordshire, no longer prescribe hearing aids for people with moderate hearing loss. That can be incredibly isolating for them. One in six people in Britain has a hearing loss, and it is likely to be one in five by 2035, so may we have a debate in Government time about how health authorities and health resources can be used to ensure that people with hearing loss do not suffer unnecessary isolation?

Chris Grayling: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work he does on an issue that transcends party lines. Good work is done by all political parties in raising awareness of the challenges faced by people with hearing loss. Rightly or wrongly, of course, we have taken a decision to devolve responsibility to local areas for commissioning and spending decisions on healthcare matters. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s advocacy will encourage those parts of the country that might have taken a decision with which he disagrees to change their views. It is a consequence of devolution that there will sometimes be different decisions in different areas, whether we support them or not.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): Yesterday, I attended a parliamentary event at which businesses that pay the real living wage showcased their products. From micro-breweries to organic food suppliers, they all talked about the benefits of being a living wage employer—from better staff morale to improved public

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perception. May we have a debate on how to encourage more employers to sign up to the real living wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation, and thus achieve the high-pay economy this Government talk so much about?

Chris Grayling: Clearly, we want to see wage levels rise. That is why we have taken the steps that we have. This matter will be debated constantly in this place. We have seen the introduction of our own national living wage, and we have different economic debates at different times of the year, so the hon. Lady will have plenty of opportunities to raise this issue. I encourage all employers to look hard at the challenges faced by their employees and to look to try to pay the right wage for the environment in which those employees are working. The more we see employers paying a higher rate for jobs—not just a basic rate or just a living wage, as we want to see wages rise above that—the better it will be for this country. That can happen, of course, only if the economy is growing strongly, as it is now.

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): May we have a debate on the use of children as suicide bombers? I recently had a Westminster Hall debate on the subject. The situation continues to deteriorate, not least for orphaned children who are often kidnapped in places such as Syria. It is estimated that somewhere close to 1,000 children are now in training as suicide bombers. Please may we have a debate on the topic?

Chris Grayling: The responsible Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), happens to be sitting alongside me, and I know he has taken note of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. It is indeed shocking and it is a sign of a barbaric ideology that has no place in a modern world. That is what we are seeking to resist in the north-west of Iraq and the east of Syria. The sorts of extremist views that can send a child with a bomb attached to their body to blow themselves up in pursuit of a warped and perverse ideology are ones we should all continue to find abhorrent and do everything we possibly can to resist.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): May we debate prime ministerial hubris, which is a disease that afflicts all Prime Ministers when the war drums start to beat? The symptoms include strutting like Napoleon and talking in the language of Churchill. It makes Prime Ministers susceptible to the “Give War a Chance” party. It also has an effect on Prime Ministers because writing their own bloody page in history often unhinges the balance of their minds. While the damage of this disease is not permanent to Prime Ministers, it can be lethal to the tens of thousands of soldiers ordered into battle to fight unaffordable, unwinnable wars.

Chris Grayling: I see the hon. Gentleman is paying tribute to the former Member for Sedgefield, our former Prime Minister. It is an interesting fact that while Conservative Members celebrate the Prime Minister who led us to three general election victories, Labour Members prefer to brush theirs out of history.

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Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab): It transpired that last winter the South East Coast Ambulance Service trialled a new triage system, which put 25,000 patients in danger and could well have led to the loss of life of up to 25 people. Will the Leader of the House bring Health Ministers before us to answer questions about what they knew and when they knew it, and ensure that this has not occurred in any other ambulance trust in the country?

Chris Grayling: We share the same ambulance trust, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The Secretary of State for Health will be here on Tuesday week, so I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to put that point directly to him. I will make the relevant Ministers aware that this is a matter of concern to Members.

Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): The Government have chosen to exclude community energy from sustainable investment tax relief. This decision will severely undermine the growing co-operative and community energy sector right across the country. Will the Leader of the House agree to allocate Government time on the Floor of the House to debate this perverse decision?

Chris Grayling: We have made a number of decisions not only to encourage and support the growth of renewable energy so that we can keep the lights on—an issue that was raised earlier—but to meet the financial challenges that we face. However, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. The Energy Secretary will be in the Chamber the week after next, and he will have an opportunity to put it to her directly then.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): The Commons European Business Order Paper lists details of legislation and other documents which, although their source is the European Union, the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has deemed to be of sufficient legal and political importance to merit a debate in either the House or its Committees. It shows that there is currently a backlog of 24 documents awaiting debate, to only one of which even a provisional date has been allocated, and that no provisional date has been allocated to any of the 12 documents that have been deemed important enough to be debated on the Floor of the House by all Members. Will the Leader of the House tell us who is responsible for this lack of respect for the due process of parliamentary scrutiny?

Chris Grayling: I am happy to update the House. The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee raised the matter with me recently, and the Government have just written to him setting out plans for a series of further debates. There are enormous pressures on time in the House—as we have heard today, there are many demands for the use of its time for debates on a variety of subjects—but we take this issue very seriously. We have just made additional time available, and we hope to provide further time as the Session progresses.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Can the Leader of the House assure me that when the Government present their proposals to settle the contaminated blood scandal, a statement will be made in the House and Members will have an opportunity to ask questions? Will there also be a debate in Government

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time? Given that these are Government proposals, we should not have to make an application to the Backbench Business Committee.

Chris Grayling: We have, of course, made statements on the issue before, and I see no reason why any further statement would be different.

Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Halifax on the launch of its new Fair Trade Towns campaign? Given that this is a big year for international development, will he consider finding time for a debate on how the parliamentary estate could do more to support fair trade, while also encouraging more towns and cities throughout the country to start their own campaigns?

Chris Grayling: I commend Halifax for its work. It is great to see local initiatives of this kind, and I hope that others will learn lessons from it. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady will want to share her experience of that work as it continues.

Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): Businesses in my constituency have recently expressed concern about the export of plastic waste, such as silage waste, to the far east. I understand that it is a breach of regulation, and it has been detrimental to the recycling industry. May we have a debate to discuss this important matter?

Chris Grayling: It is a matter that would be very fitting for an Adjournment debate. There are many opportunities to bring Ministers to the House to discuss such matters, and I advise the hon. Gentleman to seek one of those opportunities.

Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I receive complaints about late, cancelled or overcrowded Southeastern train services nearly every day. Given the

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importance of a reliable transport system for my constituents and other Londoners, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the merits of further devolution of local metro services from the Department for Transport to Transport for London?

Chris Grayling: We are investing a record amount in our rail system. The substantial growth in the number of passengers brings its own challenges, but they are challenges of success rather than failure. The one thing that we do not need to do is shake up the industry all over again through a renationalisation of the kind that the Labour party is currently advocating. If Labour Members honestly think that returning to the days of British Rail would be good for our transport system, heaven help us if we ever have a chance to see the country go down that route, because I think it would be disastrous for rail passengers.

Wes Streeting: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Points of order normally come after statements, but I think the hon. Gentleman wants to make a point of order that relates specifically to something that was said during business questions, so I will exercise my discretion on this occasion.

Wes Streeting: I want to make my point of order before the Leader of the House scurries away. In response to my perfectly reasonable question about the “Sikh Lives Matter” protest, he seemed to make an unrelated remark about the incitement of racial hatred. I wonder if it would be possible for him to clarify whether he was referring to me in relation to such incitement, to my constituent, or to the people who attended the protest, because his response seemed to me—and, I think, to others—completely unrelated to my question.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record. Fair enough.

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Aviation Security

12.34 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the Government’s recent decisions following the loss of the Russian Metrojet flight on Saturday.

I know that the House will wish to join with me in expressing condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. A total of 224 lives were lost. I was able to express our deepest sympathy to the Russian ambassador yesterday, when the Foreign Secretary and I signed the book of condolence.

We still cannot be certain what caused the loss of the aircraft, but we are reaching the view that a bomb on board is a significant possibility. Were that to turn out to be the case, it would clearly have serious implications for the security of UK nationals flying from Sharm el-Sheikh, and we therefore decided that it was necessary to act. Our decisions were based on a review of all of the information that was available to us. Some of that information is sensitive, and I cannot go into the details of it, but the House can be assured that we made that decision on the basis of the safety of British citizens.

There are two stages in this process. We are working with the airlines to introduce short-term measures, which could include different arrangements for handling luggage. Beyond that, we are working with the Egyptians and with airlines to introduce long-term, sustainable measures to ensure that our flights remain safe. We very much hope that it will be possible to declare that it is safe to fly to the resort, and to resume normal flight operations, in due course, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced yesterday evening that the Government were currently advising against all but essential air travel to or from that particular airport. All UK-operated flights to and from the airport have now been suspended. We are working with the Egyptians to assess and, where necessary, improve security at the airport.

More than 900,000 British nationals visit Egypt every year, and most of those visits are trouble-free. As my right hon. Friend said yesterday, we are grateful for the continuing efforts of the Egyptian authorities to work with us on these vital tasks. The Government are working with the airline community to establish interim arrangements for getting people home. This is clearly a very difficult situation for travellers and their families. I thank the airlines for their support during this difficult time, and I thank holidaymakers for their patience. In parallel, specialist teams will be working intensively with the Egyptian authorities to allow normal scheduled operations to recommence.

The decision to suspend flights is very serious, and was not made lightly. The safety and security of the travelling public is, of course, the Government's highest priority. We will need to be confident that security standards meet our expectations, and those of the public, before we allow services to resume. I recognise this is a stressful time for British tourists, but we have not changed the travel threat level for the resort itself. People should keep in touch with their tour operators. We have consular staff providing assistance on the ground. We also have aviation security experts on the ground, and arrangements

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will be made to bring people home safely in due course. The airlines are working with us to bring their passengers home, but no UK-bound aircraft will take off until it is safe for it to do so. We do not expect flights to leave today, but we hope that some will leave tomorrow.

12.38 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement. I echo the condolences that he articulated, and I know that those sentiments will be shared by the whole House. Let me also place on record the Opposition’s support for the prompt precautionary action taken by the Government yesterday. There can be no doubt in these circumstances that the safety of British citizens must be the highest priority.

I understand that the Secretary of State is necessarily constrained in respect of the information that he can give the House today, but will he tell us when his colleagues in other Departments will update the House on the matters involved? Given that the Government believe that the Metrojet flight may have been deliberately targeted, will he reassure the House on how he reached the conclusion that there was no threat in the wider Sharm el-Sheikh resort? Will he also update the House on when he expects the security review of Sharm el-Sheikh airport to conclude, and can he give any further information on the possible new long-term measures he referred to in his statement?

It has been reported that up to 20,000 UK citizens and nationals are currently in Sharm el-Sheikh. Do the Government have their own estimate? What consular support are the Government providing to UK citizens and nationals who are currently in Egypt, and will the Secretary of State ensure that consular services remain available outside the resort? What steps is his Department taking to ensure that regular and prompt updates are provided at UK airports and by airlines and tour operators that serve Sharm el-Sheikh?

Given the level of cross-departmental work involved, what arrangements will be put in place to provide individuals with a simple process for seeking official assistance? Will the Secretary of State clarify how Members of this House can most effectively raise their constituents’ cases with the Government?

Mr McLoughlin: I thank the hon. Lady for the Opposition’s general support. She is absolutely right that the decision was not taken lightly; it was taken after careful consideration of the details that the Government had received.

The hon. Lady asked about numbers. It is estimated that there are 20,000 in the Sharm el-Sheikh area, but that is not a specific, accurate figure and there will be some people there who are not on package holidays and the like. We have a consul team, which is being expanded, at the airport and available to give the sort of information she wants. Also, obviously, the contact details of the Foreign Office are available to all Members of Parliament.

The hon. Lady asks how we will keep the House updated. I will give further consideration to that. As I said, I hope to see some flights leaving tomorrow, but that will not include people flying out to Sharm el-Sheikh; it will be people being brought back home. We are in discussions with the airlines at this very moment about

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the implications and the safety measures we will take, and those meetings are ongoing. I will look at ways of keeping her and other colleagues in touch.

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): Having once had to witness the possibility of my young son’s teddy bear being slit open at airport security, one understands that levels of security can vary according to the perceived level of threat, but should not this terrible tragedy remind us that a common standard of security has to apply across all the airports of the world, so that whoever we are—from whichever country, travelling to or fro—we know what the standard is, what to expect and that it will be applied?

Mr McLoughlin: I completely agree with my right hon. Friend: in an ideal world, that would be essential. We are of course reviewing security, as far as our security inspectors are concerned, at a number of locations. We will continue to do that, as we have done in the past. That is an important part of our job. I also think it is for other countries to understand that it is in everybody’s interests that we have as much security as is necessary at all the airports around the world.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): I thank the Transport Secretary for early sight of his statement, and add to his the condolences of SNP Members.

There have been conflicting reports of the number of tourists affected in Sharm el-Sheikh and the surrounding area and resorts. Can the Transport Secretary confirm the number of people whom he believes are affected? As this is a very concerning time, information will be key, with many people getting their information from websites. Can we get an assurance that the consular assistance on the ground will be providing people with practical support? Finally, many resorts are distant from Sharm el-Sheikh airport; can the Secretary of State confirm that security measures on bus transfers are being considered as well?

Mr McLoughlin: I would like to say yes to most of the questions the hon. Gentleman put to me. The Foreign Office has deployed people—and is deploying more today—to the airport and is working with the tour operators as well. I understand what he says about websites, and indeed social media, giving information which can sometimes be misleading; some of the information put out has turned out not to be correct. It is therefore important for people to check with tour operators and Foreign Office officials there. We are working to ensure that everybody can get home when they wish to do so.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I do not believe the British Government had any alternative but to take the action they have taken. However, as he knows, it will affect the economy of Egypt. Does he agree that the enhanced security measures will serve to boost confidence among tourists, tour operators and airlines in the belief that Sharm el-Sheikh is a safe place to go? If we are providing British security advisers to help the Egyptian authorities, may I suggest that the air accidents investigation branch based in Farnborough in my constituency—the finest air accident investigators in the world—help the Russians and the French in their

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analysis of the wreckage of this aircraft, because all the experience they had with the 747 at Lockerbie would be highly relevant to this investigation?

Mr McLoughlin: My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will be meeting the President of Egypt very shortly and will be discussing such issues. I fully agree with my hon. Friend about the expertise in the AAIB. There are set rules for international investigations of aviation accidents, but I will certainly offer any help that the AAIB can give.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): This is an horrendous situation and I hope we will be kept informed of future developments. The Secretary of State has taken the correct decisions in these awful circumstances, but can he give us an absolute assurance that he is receiving full co-operation from all the parties involved? Are there any international lessons to draw from international arrangements in order to protect British passengers flying home from abroad?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s support. I know that as Chair of the Transport Committee she may wish to return to this subject in due course. We have received excellent co-operation not only across our domestic Government, as she would expect, but from the Egyptian Government, who are dealing with this with the seriousness that it requires.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I welcome the candour and transparency in the statement, so far as the Secretary of State has been able to give it, as well as the actions taken. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) pointed out, this has very serious implications for the Egyptian tourism industry, and plainly some of the Egyptian sensitivity relates to the significant potential damage to its interests. Will my right hon. Friend impress on his Egyptian opposite numbers that providing the same candour and transparency in this investigation, rather than dissembling and cover-up, will probably be the quickest way to restore confidence in travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh?

Mr McLoughlin: I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think there is any desire on anybody’s part to dissemble or cover up, because others are also involved in the investigation—the Irish, for instance, because that is where the plane was originally registered. This is not just being investigated by one party; there are much wider investigations.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): This is of course the right decision, but it has parallels with what happened in Tunisia, where the advice was that people should not travel there. They are two hugely popular destinations; 1 million British citizens visit Tunisia or Sharm el-Sheikh. As colleagues have said, this will have devastating consequences for the economies of those two countries. It was a Russian plane with Russian citizens and the right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned what Russia is doing. This is a big opportunity for Russia, the United States and Great Britain to work together to try to find out what happened and to deal with those responsible.

Mr McLoughlin: The right hon. Gentleman makes several good observations. It is the Prime Minister’s intention to speak to President Putin this afternoon—that

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call is going to take place. The right hon. Gentleman is obviously right to say that people who try to do these things to aircraft put all Governments under a huge amount of stress and pressure, but we have to take the right decisions to protect our citizens.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I echo the comments made by my hon. Friends the Members for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). Travel and tourism provide 8% of Egypt’s GDP. About 900,000 UK tourists, particularly scuba divers, contribute to that figure, and there are many British companies whose diving businesses are sustained during our winter months by running guided overseas tours around the Red sea. What advice can the Secretary of State give to those companies on alternative routes that they could fly to reach that same destination?

Mr McLoughlin: The resort remains open, and we are working as quickly as possible to reassure ourselves about the security at the airport there. When that is done, we will be able to say more.

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and I, too, offer my condolences to the families of those who have been killed in this tragedy. I share the concerns of the holidaymakers whose holidays have been ruined by what has happened, and I also share the concerns expressed by hon. Members about the wider implications of this and other aviation incidents. What assessment are the Government making of the risk to flights over the UK, particularly those flying over built-up areas?

Mr McLoughlin: Of course we take any threats very seriously indeed, but one of the reasons that we have such high levels of security at British airports is that we know from experience that people have tried to smuggle bombs on to planes.

Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for taking this action to ensure the safety of British nationals. Does he agree that Birmingham international airport has a standard of security that we should expect from all international airports across the world?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend never misses a chance to promote her local airport. I would add that that standard applies to airports across the whole of the United Kingdom and to other countries as well. All countries give such security a very high priority, but when we see one failing to reach the high standards that we expect, we must point that out and hope that action will be taken. If no such action is taken, the Government have no alternative but to stop flights going to that destination.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I echo the words of condolence to the Russian families, and the words of solidarity for the British passengers who are stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh. The Financial Times has reported that a UK military team is to be deployed there. Is the Secretary of State able to say whether that team is already in place, whether it is checking all

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UK-bound planes and whether it will be able to stay there as long as is required to ensure the safety of returning passengers?

Mr McLoughlin: We have deployed people from several Departments, not least the Department for Transport and the Foreign Office, so we are not short of the kind of officials and professional advice that are needed in the immediate situation. As I have said, the long-term aim is to re-establish the flights as soon as we possibly can.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I commend the Government for taking this very difficult decision, which has ensured that no British citizen is knowingly placed in danger. I know of many people who have holidays booked in Sharm el-Sheikh and who fully intend to travel there once the flights resume. Will the Secretary of State tell me what the position will be regarding their travel insurance? Will recent events invalidate or alter it in any way?

Mr McLoughlin: I would advise those people to talk to their travel agent or tour operator in the first instance. The advice that we have set down is quite clear: we do not believe that any flights from the United Kingdom should go to Sharm el-Sheikh at this stage. That will obviously have implications in regard to certain insurance claims. We are reviewing the advice regularly.

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): What support, if any, are the Government offering to people in the UK who have family, friends and loved ones stuck in this dreadful crisis?

Mr McLoughlin: We are trying to help them, and there are helplines available, including through the tour operators, but our first action must be to help those people who are actually stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh and to get them home. Communications are not down.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Do not these tragic events underline the importance of being able to counter terrorism on the sea, in the air and on land, and the importance of being able to intercept electronic communications in order to keep British citizens safe?

Mr McLoughlin: It is a matter of paramount importance for any Government to be able to get information that protects and ensures the safety of British citizens, and that is something that all members of this Government, from the Prime Minister down, take very seriously indeed.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab): The focus at the moment is rightly on the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, but now that it is suspected that ISIS is targeting aviation, is the Secretary of State undertaking a review of security at British airports?

Mr McLoughlin: We are always reviewing safety at British airports; that does not stop. Indeed, people who use them sometimes complain about the level of intrusiveness in those airports. Of course we keep security under review. As I have said, in this particular case we were not satisfied about the way in which some of the security measures were being carried out.

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Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I commend the Government for putting the safety of British citizens first by stopping flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh after the Russian air incident. What advice is the Secretary of State giving to airports such as Gatwick, in my constituency, and to the air operators that fly to the region from there, such as EasyJet and Thomson, to enable them to give better help to their passengers?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend mentions two airlines, Thomson and EasyJet. When I left the Department for Transport to come here, representatives of both those companies were at the Department going through the arrangements that we need to put into operation. They are being kept very much informed, as they play an important part in what we are doing, and they are being extremely helpful. I should like to place on record my thanks to the airlines for responding so quickly to the situation we found ourselves in yesterday.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): I also thank the Secretary of State for his statement. What work will his Department undertake to ensure that the advice given to UK citizens will be fact based? Or does he believe, as has been stated in the media this morning, that a more precautionary approach is required in this instance? Would that signal a shift in the nature of the travel advice given by the FCO?

Mr McLoughlin: We do not give any such advice without having due cause to do so. We consider all the different streams of information that we get and feed them into our decision-making process—of that, the hon. Lady can be certain. These decisions are not taken lightly. They worry the people who are in the resorts, and they worry their families who are here, but it is right that we should take them if we feel that it is necessary to do so.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): May I associate myself with the sympathy expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? I should also like to thank him and his colleagues for the action that they have taken. He talked earlier about looking for and pointing out cracks in the security at airports around the world, which is extremely important, but will he also commit to working with our friends and allies around the world to ensure that, when we do see those cracks, we take action proactively rather than waiting until these tragic incidents happen before doing anything?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I have no doubt about the importance of trade to these countries. I can confirm that we do what he has outlined; we are in constant talks with our ambassadors and the like, as they, in turn, are with the Governments in those countries. If we have concerns, it is right that we flag them up.

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): The action taken today by the Secretary of State relates only

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to flights to Sharm el-Sheikh. Can he confirm to the House that other airports in Egypt are meeting the standards that we would expect of them? Will he do that if only to reassure the hundreds of thousands of tourists who still want to go there?

Mr McLoughlin: The answer to that is yes. Obviously, we are looking at security at all the airports where we have any concerns whatsoever, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the information and the warning from yesterday being specific to one airport. I very much hope that we can work with the Egyptian Government to make sure that the measures that would give us confidence about screening and the like are undertaken and that this advice will be removed as soon as possible.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for immediately coming to the House to explain the situation in great detail. The one thing we can be sure of is that the British travel industry is second to none in response to a crisis like this. It is also true to say that we would not be flying to a country if we were concerned about the security systems there, so this must have been a lapse in the security. People should be reassured by the fact that we would not allow our aircraft to fly into a country where the security was deemed to be poor. Does the Secretary of State agree?

Mr McLoughlin: Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), I would like to thank the travel industry and the airline operators for the way in which they have responded in helping us to work out the solutions that we will be putting in place over the next few days and in the interim and then to look to the longer-term solutions, so that this airport can be regarded again as one where we can remove the current travel advice.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): I thank the Secretary of State for his comments. He will be aware that holidaymakers from across the UK have been impacted, and he will also be aware of the offer of help and support from Scotland’s First Minister made in the Scottish Parliament today. What measures are being put in place to liaise with the devolved Administrations?

Mr McLoughlin: I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that for the past 24 hours we have been heavily involved in talking to the airlines and doing what we needed to do immediately, especially given that the Egyptian President is in the country. The hon. Gentleman is right about information getting to devolved Ministers, and I am pleased to hear what he says about the Scottish First Minister. I look forward to working with all the devolved Administrations if there are other things that we need to do as far as they are concerned.

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Points of Order

1.2 pm

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I rise to seek your guidance as to the way in which Members of this House should approach correspondence with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Earlier today, we saw the release of further correspondence between the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), to whom I have given notice of my intention to raise the point of order, and the DPP and previous DPP. What guidance can you give as to the propriety or otherwise of Members of the House seeking to influence the conduct of specific criminal cases by the DPP or the Crown Prosecution Service, bearing in the mind the DPP’s constitutional independence and the importance of the CPS adhering to the statutory-based code of conduct for Crown prosecutors? Is it therefore appropriate for a Member of this House to seek to ask the DPP to have a named senior Crown prosecutor removed from an investigation and from doing all other child sex abuse cases until an investigation has taken place, and to seek a review of all such work that had happened since they had been in the CPS—all on the basis of matters found by the CPS, upon investigation, not to be borne out by the evidence? Secondly, is it appropriate for Members to do that in cases where the complainant or those involved in the case are not the Member’s constituents?

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: If it is on this matter, I will take the hon. Gentleman’s point of order and then respond to the two as a group.

Andy McDonald: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We have a special responsibility to our constituents, but as Members we also have a responsibility to act for everyone in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) was approached by alleged victims and survivors of sexual crimes who were unhappy at how their cases had been handled. He acted to ensure that the proper procedures were followed. It is right and proper that complaints of this kind are dealt with properly by the criminal justice system, and where Members of this House can assist with that, they should.

Mr Speaker: Let me say the following in response to these points of order. First, I understand that there are strong feelings on this matter, and sometimes feelings that are contrary to each other, and they have been articulated on the Floor of the House this afternoon. About that, I make no complaint whatsoever. In response to the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who, with his usual courtesy, kindly notified me in advance of his intention to raise the point of order, what I would say is this: it is not for the Chair to seek to advise Members on those with whom they should or should not communicate. That is a matter upon which they can and will make their own individual judgment. The DPP will decide what course of action, if any, to follow in response to representations, written or otherwise, from a Member of Parliament. I do not doubt the good intentions of the hon. Gentleman, a distinguished lawyer

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who of course chairs an important Select Committee in this House, but I feel that it is not for the Chair to be drawn into these matters. I hope that, upon reflection, people will feel that there is a certain logic to what I am saying. Colleagues, make your own judgments about these matters.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As I said in business questions, the Government recently announced a call for evidence on their review of the secondary ticketing market, with a very tight deadline. I pressed the Government on how they are publicising this call and received a written answer from the Minister for Skills assuring me that all main stakeholders had been alerted. However, I know from the conversations I have had with major stakeholders that in all too many cases I was the one who had brought this to their attention. May I therefore ask your advice on what steps a Member can take to investigate the substance—dare I say truth—of an answer to a written parliamentary question? What steps can be taken to urge Ministers to check the content of their written answers, as all too often, especially recently, it appears that answers are either questionable or far too brief to be of practical use to anyone?

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Lady for that point of order. It is a well-established principle in this House that ministerial answers to questions should be both timely and substantive. In reference to the latter point, colleagues will appreciate that what I am stressing is that a reply that simply says, “I hope to respond shortly” is not regarded by most Members as in any way helpful and that to comply with the spirit of the obligation upon Ministers to reply to answers it is important that those answers should be substantive.

As the hon. Lady will fully appreciate, the Chair has no responsibility for the content of answers. Every Member is responsible for the veracity or otherwise of what she or he says in this House. Ministers are certainly responsible for the content of their answers. My advice to the hon. Lady is that if she is dissatisfied with the answers, because she thinks either that they are uninformative or incorrect, she should table further probing and specific questions, based on those answers she has received, seeking to track down the precise particulars that she wants to establish. If that is unsuccessful, there is always the recourse of oral questions to the relevant Secretary of State and the opportunity to apply for Adjournment debates. I have not noticed, over the past 10 years, the hon. Lady displaying a noticeable reluctance to explore those avenues.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was great interest earlier in the urgent question debate on the subject of human rights in Egypt. We know that the Prime Minister is meeting President Sisi today. Would it be a breach of the rules of this House if perhaps on Monday—certainly at the earliest opportunity—the Prime Minister did not just come to the House, but set out, either by way of an oral statement or a written statement, precisely the content of those discussions, specifically in relation to human rights in Egypt?

Mr Speaker: If I understood the terminology and construction of the right hon. Gentleman’s inquiry correctly, there would be nothing disorderly in the Prime

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Minister providing such information to the House. The matter of whether to make any such statement is a judgment for the Prime Minister, as is the judgment over what form that statement should take. Knowing the right hon. Gentleman’s experience in the House and the senior office of a parliamentary kind that he has held as a former Deputy Leader of the House, I think that he will expect that his words will at least have been noted. If he is dissatisfied with the response, he will pursue it with the Prime Minister. We will leave it there for now, and I thank all those who have taken part in the exchanges thus far.

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Backbench Business

Royal Bank of Scotland

1.10 pm

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That this House calls on the Government to consider suspending the further sale of its shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland whilst it looks at alternative options; and believes that this should take place in the context of a wider review of the UK’s financial sector and that such a review should consider the case for establishing new models of banking, including regional banks.

On behalf of the House, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us the opportunity to debate this issue in the main Chamber today. This is the first time that I have led a debate, and I am grateful to all hon. Members from both sides of the House who have agreed to participate in it today. I will keep my speech reasonably short so that as many Members as possible will have a chance to speak.

The selling of RBS shares is an important issue that deserves detailed discussion, and this is the first time that it has been formally debated since the Chancellor announced his intention to begin reprivatisation at his June 2015 Mansion House speech. He provided no opportunity for public discussion of the decision; he did not even present the decision himself in Parliament the following day, but rather sent the Economic Secretary to the Treasury on his behalf.

Today’s motion, signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, touches on three themes. First, the Government should consider suspending the further sale of their shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland while they look at alternative options. Not enough evidence has been considered to give the Government a mandate to rush through the sale of shares. Secondly, such a review should take place in the context of a wider review of the UK’s financial sector. We need to look at the implications for our economy of the make-up of the UK banking sector, which is unusually large, unusually concentrated and uniquely lacking in diversity in comparison with other countries.

Thirdly, the review should consider the case for establishing new models of banking, including regional banks. Reforming RBS into a network of local banks would increase financial stability, help decentralise the economy, boost lending for small and medium-sized enterprises, maintain local branch lending and help restore faith in British banking. There is also a strong case for saying that such a move would be beneficial to the taxpayer and the economy—certainly enough to justify examining this option before pressing ahead with a fire sale.

In this opening speech, I want to set out the errors of process behind the sale, and the case for reforming rather than selling RBS. I call on the Government to halt the sale of RBS shares until a full and independent review of all the options has been conducted. As a result of the emergency bail-out package in October 2008, the British public effectively acquired 82% of RBS and 43% of Lloyds. The total cost to taxpayers of our stake in RBS has now exceeded £45.5 billion. The recent sale of a 5% stake in the bank has already resulted in a loss of £1 billion. Selling the entire Government stake at a similar price would result in losses of £13 billion or more—almost a third of the original bail-out.

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The size of the expected losses, and the impossibility of meeting the Chancellor’s previous assurance that we would get our money back, reinforce the case for a broader review to establish whether this is really the best that we can do, taking into account all the economic costs and benefits of the different options available.

In 2013, the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out the following objectives for the future: maximise the ability of the banks to support the UK economy; get the best value for money for the taxpayer; and return the banks to private ownership as soon as possible. Privatisation is presented as the answer to the first two objectives and as a foregone conclusion rather than one of a number of options, each of which deserve consideration. A whole host of experts have suggested that we can do better with RBS—better for the taxpayer and the economy—than return to the pre-crisis business as usual. That is not a fringe view; it is a view expressed by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, the former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the previous Government’s own entrepreneur in residence.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab) rose

Kate Osamor: May I make some progress?

Martin Taylor, a member of the Bank of England’s federal policy committee, said:

“I would like to have a feeling that the Government recognises there are policy options and is thinking along those lines rather than saying our job is to get the business back into the private sector.”

Unfortunately, the rushed nature of the sale, the lack of evidence provided to support it and the lack of discussion surrounding it suggests that the contrary is the case.

The Government’s decision to sell off RBS shares in the summer without any published evidence that they have considered alternative options raises important questions about public accountability and process. It signals a return to business as usual and an unquestioning faith that the private sector is the right direction for British banking.

The Chancellor argued that it was the

“right thing to do for the taxpayer and for British businesses”

and that the sale

“would promote financial stability, lead to a more competitive banking sector, and support the interests of the wider economy.”

To support those claims, the Government have relied on a 13-page report by the investment bank, Rothschild, and a two-page letter from the Governor of the Bank of England. Neither of those presents any concrete evidence to support the Chancellor’s assertion. Opposition to the sale has been voiced by the public, hon. Members and independent voices in the field. Nearly 120,000 people have signed a petition calling for an independent review of the options for the bank’s future before any shares are sold.

A survey commissioned by Move Your Money shows that only 21% of people agree with the current conditions of the share sale; 82% agree that RBS should act in the public interest and 67% agree that we should have a full independent review. Many alternative options have been put forward for RBS, including breaking it up into a

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series of challenger banks, turning it into a state investment bank and converting it into a network of local or regional banks.

I want to focus on the last of those options, which has been advocated by, among others, the New Economics Foundation, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Civitas, Respublica and the former Treasury Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey). It is modelled not on an untested economic theory but on the German Sparkassen, a network of local public savings banks owned in trust for the public benefit, accountable to local people and with a mandate to support their local economies. The Sparkassen are the powerhouse of small business lending in Germany and are an important part of the success story of the German economy.

The NEF has proposed that RBS could be broken into 130 local banks based on local authority areas, of a similar size to the Sparkassen. They would be carved out of the bank’s high street operations, with its investment banking and private banking arms being sold. Like the Sparkassen, they would be able to share risks and resources to achieve economies of scale but, crucially, each local bank would be independent. By refusing to consider this option, the Government are missing a golden opportunity to fix the structural problems of UK banking that were exposed in the crisis.

Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con): I hope that the hon. Lady would accept that the German banking system also had its problems during the financial crisis. The Sparkassen to which she refers were often lending very inappropriately, which helped to pump up the credit bubble, and they were investing in southern Europe in a way that helped to cause the eurozone crisis.

Kate Osamor: The hon. Gentleman’s example covers what happened in a short period of time. Over a long period, the system has been tested and has worked, so I beg to disagree.

The UK has the most concentrated and homogenous banking sector in the developed world. Just 3% of our banking system is locally controlled, compared with two thirds of that in Germany. We are also uniquely reliant on shareholder-owned banks at the expense of other ownership models. This lack of diversity makes us uniquely vulnerable to financial crises. To put it simply, it makes it more likely that our banks will all suffer the same problems at the same time, as they did in 2008.

Breaking up RBS and localising our banking system would make us more resilient to future shocks. Local banks also provide a means through which we can rebalance the economy, as the UK has the most regionally unbalanced economy of any European country. Studies find that local banks in other countries help prevent capital from being sucked into big cities, and spread jobs and lending more evenly across the country. This change would also ensure that more people had access to bank branches. Whereas commercial banks are shutting at an increasingly rapid rate across the country and in Europe, local banks in Europe have prioritised maintaining good access for their customers.

Local French co-operatives, for example, typically locate between 25% and 33% of their branches in sparsely populated areas. Local banks also lend more to the real economy, particularly small and medium-sized

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enterprises. That would greatly benefit my constituency of Edmonton and those across the country who struggle to obtain loans. That is made possible not just by the banks’ local focus but by their ownership structure and public interest mandate. Across Europe, banks run for more than profit devote 66% of their balance sheets to high street banking, compared with just 37% for commercial banks, which tend to lend for more profitable activities, such as derivatives trading. Local banks could therefore reduce our vulnerability to crisis, help rebalance the economy and boost the real economy. Analysis from the NEF suggests that that should have been done in 2008, as UK GDP could have benefited from an immediate boost of £7.1 billion, with an additional £30.5 billion over three years. Reforming RBS is in the interests of the taxpayer and the economy.

I want to end with a statement from the Tomlinson report, which highlights how selling off RBS shares represents a wasted opportunity for significant publicly beneficial reform in UK banking:

“Returning RBS and Lloyds to full private sector ownership in their current form would be a return to the banking landscape of 2003, possibly with even less competition…Given the lack of any real change in the banking sector, there is nothing that will stop 2018 being the same as 2008 unless radical action is taken now.”

Without reform of any banking structures, there is a risk we could witness another crash.

We must learn from the events of 2008. By failing to provide evidence justifying the sale and to consider alternative options, the Government are putting ideology above what is best for the economy and the taxpayer. I ask the Government to conduct an independent review of all the alternative options and urge Members on both sides of the House to support the motion.

1.25 pm

William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, particularly as today we commemorate a most significant day in the history of Parliament. Although I have not signed the motion and am minded to abstain, I understand entirely the perspective from which it has been approached.

The financial crisis of 2008 did much to rock public confidence in the UK’s financial sector, with the collapse of several household names in banking. It could be argued that to a great extent the banks brought that fate on themselves. Years of overambitious and risky lending practices led to kegs of bad debt being piled up around the foundations, so it all came unstuck in an explosive fashion. Members will be pleased to hear that is the end of my joke this afternoon—[Hon. Members: “Shame.”] We might, perhaps, be able to discuss the punishment inflicted on Guy Fawkes, which some Opposition Members would like to see replicated for the bankers.

The Government in 2008 had to perform significant bail-outs and interventions and introduce stimulus packages, leaving us in with large state-owned holdings in financial institutions, most notably the Royal Bank of Scotland, in which the Government have a share of 73%.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): The National Audit Office issued a highly critical report in September on how the Government manage their £222 billion of assets in RBS and 53 other financial institutions. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that a

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transparent portfolio approach should be taken towards the management of such assets, as recommended by the NAO, and that a fair share of the profits arising should be directed to the areas most in need of real economic investment, such as Wales?

William Wragg: I am glad that the hon. Lady, representing Plaid Cymru, managed to refer to Wales in her question. I am not sure whether it is quite within my remit to say how the Government should direct such profits towards Wales.

The return of RBS to private ownership is an important first step, but the motion provides the opportunity to debate some particulars of RBS’s business and some important aspects of the aforementioned lending practices, which occurred both before and after the crash. I am sorry to say that RBS, in particular, was found wanting in that regard.

I want to highlight certain negative practices that have been shown by independent sources to have occurred in RBS that affected its small and medium-sized business clients, particularly one business in my constituency. I want to place my concerns on the record and am keen to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister how such practices will be investigated and what action will be taken to restore public trust in RBS and the banking sector more widely in the run-up to any further share sales.

The Government will no doubt be aware of the report by the businessman Lawrence Tomlinson, to which the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) referred. It was published in 2013, when Mr Tomlinson held the position of entrepreneur-in-residence at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Mr Tomlinson’s report considered the lending practices of banks and in particular the treatment of businesses in distress. It considered several banks in general, but took a particularly in-depth look at RBS’s turnaround division, the global restructuring group, or GRG. Tomlinson received large bodies of evidence on RBS’s practices, including from its business customers. The report found

“very concerning patterns of behaviour leading to the destruction of good and viable UK businesses”,

all for the sake of profit for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about some of the business practices, but does he accept that the motion is a reasonable and moderate proposal, and the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) that we should consider other models, such as the Sparkassen model in Germany? Does he agree that bankers’ bonuses have been a significant factor in driving the misbehaviour that led to the downfall and the financial crash in 2008? Is it not true that the German banking system is geared towards supporting jobs and the real economy, and it would be a far better approach altogether if we did the same?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Interventions need to be a little bit shorter. I am bothered that hon. Members are all down to speak and they will have nothing to say because everything will have been covered in interventions.

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William Wragg: Following your lead, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will address one of those points, on bankers’ bonuses. Of course, bonuses should not be used to reward wrongdoing. I make my remarks and quote from the motion in the context of the UK’s financial sector.

Further examination of the report revealed that many businesses across the country, at least those among RBS customers, found themselves in circumstances in which the bank unnecessarily engineered default to move them out of local management and into its turnaround division, in order to generate revenue through fees, increased margins and devalued assets.

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is not a practice restricted to RBS, but applies also to Lloyds bank? I raised this in a Westminster Hall debate. My constituent Mr Kash Shabir was a victim of exactly that practice. Does the hon. Gentleman have any observations on that?

William Wragg: I agree entirely that the practice was not restricted to RBS. The case of my constituent involved RBS, but the hon. Lady’s constituent no doubt had a similar experience with other banks.

Tomlinson said that the practices at RBS’s turnaround division were typical. Once placed in this division of the bank, businesses were trapped, with no ability to move and no opportunity to trade out of their position. Good, honest and otherwise successful businesses were forced to stand by and watch as they were sunk by the decisions of the bank. The bank could then extract maximum revenue from the businesses, beyond that which could be considered reasonable, and to such an extent that it was the key contributing factor in the businesses’ financial deterioration.

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): I am struck by the comments made a moment ago by the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) about Lloyds TSB. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must learn from the bitter experience of the merger of the Halifax Bank of Scotland with Lloyds—a significant loss to the taxpayer, despite a spirited challenge in the Scottish courts? Does he further agree that it is not good enough to pour taxpayers’ money down the drain by short-selling our banks in a short-sighted manner, at a time when the austerity cuts are hitting the poorest and innocent taxpayers the hardest?

William Wragg: If I may strip away the rhetoric from the hon. Lady’s intervention, of course I would disagree with pouring away taxpayers’ money in such a fashion.

Tomlinson’s evidence showed that the process was not open or transparent, nor was it a proportionate response from the bank. During the process, businesses were completely in the dark as to what was happening around them until it was far too late. Most worryingly, the businesses affected were often perfectly viable, and, but for the action of the bank, would have made a positive contribution to the UK economy. If the businesses concerned had had more options for moving their banking facilities, and there was more transparency before entering this process, they would have been better protected

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from the bank’s opportunistic behaviour through which it manipulated the businesses’ financial positions for its own gain.

The reported practices of RBS’s global restructuring group, if accurate, were, on a generous interpretation, dubious and questionable, but it may be fair and truer to say that they were unethical and scandalous. If the findings of the report that I have just summarised sound shocking or alarming to colleagues, they should do. However, consider how much more shocking and alarming it was for the victimised businesses and business owners involved—for the honest and hard-working businessmen and women and their employees, who saw their hard work and investment, often spanning years, eroded from under them; for those who lost their businesses, their jobs, their reputations, and in some cases their homes.

This, unfortunately, was the case for a business in my constituency. Pickup and Bradbury Ltd was owned by a constituent of mine, Mr Eric Topping. It was a medium- sized, family-owned construction firm operating out of Romiley. It engaged in mainly commercial construction contracts, with clients including large retailers, shopping centres, schools, HM Prison Service, several NHS sites, and a host of other local businesses. It was a well recognised and respected name in the construction industry across Greater Manchester. However, in 1998 Mr Topping and Pickup and Bradbury Ltd fell victim to exactly the kind of practices I have outlined. I shall not detain the House with the full details of the case, particularly as Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are aware of the full details, which I have passed on to them.

It may be of benefit to the House, though, if I briefly outline the example. Pickup and Bradbury was forcibly moved by RBS into the global restructuring group after the bank claimed that the business owed it a significant debt in excess of £700,000. My constituent acknowledges that the business had some debt, but it was perfectly capable of managing and servicing it. However, the crux of the case was that although the business balance sheet at the time showed assets of over £1 million, after the restructuring group process RBS placed a valuation on the business at negative £1.1 million—a discrepancy of over £2 million. The upshot was that this led to the forced liquidation of Pickup and Bradbury, costing the jobs of all its employees and forcing Mr Topping to sell his home. He contends to this day that the business was viable, and would still be trading if it were not for the actions of RBS, or if he had been given time to switch to another bank.

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): I think of a similar situation in which a small businesswoman had borrowed from and had a wonderful relationship with the bank manager, but the bank branch closed and the bank manager went. Suddenly the loan was called in and she lost her business on the high street selling children’s clothes, then had to go on benefits and had other financial difficulties. What a knock-on effect that has had not just within the sector, but in the wider local economy.

William Wragg: I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Lady’s remarks. The pattern has no doubt been repeated across the country in different circumstances, but with the same sorry result.

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I know that the case in my constituency is not an isolated one, and the Tomlinson report suggests that the bank’s practice was widespread and systemic. RBS has failed to resolve the case of Pickup and Bradbury, and I am sure the same can be said of many hundreds of cases across the country. This is about more than just the numbers on a balance sheet; it is about people’s businesses, their jobs, their homes and their lives.

In addition to raising the issue on the Floor of the House today, I have previously written to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise about this case. This is obviously a cross-departmental issue covering both the Treasury and BIS. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm, on the record, that she is aware of my constituent’s case and similar cases across the country? Can she give an indication of how many small businesses it is estimated fell victim to RBS in a similar way?

The Business Minister has told me that the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority have been established by Parliament with legal powers to investigate this situation. I am also aware that two accountancy and consultancy firms, Promontory Financial Group and Mazars, have been appointed to carry out a skilled person review of the allegations against RBS. The FCA review is ongoing and I understand that it is not expected to report until the end of this year. Given that it is two years this month since the publication of the Tomlinson report, and in view of the fact that some of these cases of forced liquidation and destruction of viable businesses are over a decade old, that is an awfully long time to wait for justice or closure.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): My hon. Friend will be disappointed to hear that at a meeting with RBS this morning it was confirmed that it is not expecting the FCA report until the new year, so the hope of having something in our Christmas stocking has been taken away.

William Wragg: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and naturally I am disappointed to hear its content. Can the Government give any assurance about the timeliness of the report from the FCA?

The recommendations of the Tomlinson report call for more competition to remove incentives to make short-term decisions purely in favour of bank profit, rather than in the interest of longer-term customer relationships. When do the Government expect to produce their own full response to the Tomlinson report?

What steps are the Government taking to improve the lending practices and reputation of RBS in the light of what has happened? Let us not forget that they still own over 70% of the bank. I also want to give my hon. Friend the Minister an opportunity to give any message that she feels would be appropriate to the former owners of now liquidated businesses, including my constituent Mr Topping, while we await the reviews of third parties.

In conclusion, the motion before the House concerns the potential sale of further Government shares in RBS. I said at the outset that this is, on the whole, a positive direction, but my question still is this: how can we be comfortable proceeding while this long shadow still hangs over RBS’s reputation? I therefore call on the Government, while they still hold a large controlling stake in RBS, to use their position of influence to

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ensure that these matters are fully investigated, to deem what admission of wrongdoing is appropriate and, if necessary, to facilitate compensation and the issuing of apologies to those business owners affected by the scandal. I am at present minded to abstain on the motion, pending the Minister’s response, and I look forward to what the Government have to say.

1.40 pm

Jon Cruddas (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) on introducing this important debate and thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for it. My take on the motion is fairly simple: what is there not to like? It suggests that the Government should

“consider suspending the further sale of its shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland”

and calls for

“a wider review of the UK’s financial sector”,


“the case for establishing new models of banking, including regional banks.”

That suggests a mixed economy in the banking sector that does not simply result in a massive loss to the taxpayer—some suggest as big a hit to the public purse as £14 billion.

That does not seem to me to be an especially political suggestion. Indeed, organisations on the right of the political spectrum such as Civitas and ResPublica have suggested turning RBS into a network of local banks, and regulators such as Adam Posen and Martin Taylor have also suggested turning it into smaller challenger banks. The motion therefore appears sensible and not particularly political, so I find talk of abstention quite strange.

In my brief contribution I want to make a few points about the question of alternative ownership models. As far as I can see—my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton pointed this out—there appears to be a distinct lack of evidence for the Government’s assertion that banks perform better when located solely within the private sector. I want to point out evidence suggesting that other ownership models—what we might term “stakeholder banks”—should have a role to play in fixing our broken banking system.

My basic departure point is this: as far as I can see, in justifying their policy on RBS, the Government have leaned heavily on a two-page letter from the Governor of the Bank of England, which states that

“all the evidence suggests that commercial organisations are more efficient, more innovative and more effective”

in the private sector, and that a privately owned banking system is

“best able to allocate capital efficiently and competitively to grow jobs, investment, and income”.

That is pretty clear and unequivocal, so let us start with some basic questions.

Where is the evidence for those assertions? Neither the Government, nor the Bank has provided any. When questioned, the Minister has simply pointed back to the Governor’s letter, which appears to be a pretty lazy feedback loop. It is not really good enough when we are talking about the future of a major national asset, one

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of the UK’s biggest banks, with huge implications for our economy and the resilience of our financial system, and indeed our livelihoods and those of our constituents.

Were we to listen only to the Government, we would think that there is simply no alternative to an economy dominated by large, privately owned banks, except perhaps some kind of monolithic Government bureaucracy—a simple either/or choice between a big shareholder bank and a big state bank. However, there is a whole range of other ownership models that work in other countries, from local savings banks accountable to local communities, such as the German Sparkassen, to co-operatives, mutuals and state investment banks.

Actually, as far as I can see, it is the UK that is the odd one out, because it relies exclusively on shareholder-owned banks. For example, research by the New Economics Foundation has found that nearly two thirds of German bank deposits are with so-called “stakeholder banks”. In France the proportion is about 50%, and in the Netherlands it is around 40%. In the UK it is just over 10%, the lowest of almost any developed economy.

Jeremy Quin: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that building societies also suffered from problems through the crash? We had our own equivalents in this country, and I am afraid that they fared no better than some of our major banks.

Jon Cruddas: I will come to the question of demutualisation in a moment. I simply suggest that Government Members read a book called “The New Few” by Ferdinand Mount, who happened to be Margaret Thatcher’s head of policy. He argued for a more resilient capitalism, including a mixed economy in banking provision, with mutuals, local regional banks and a wider distribution of banking products for communities such as mine in east London. Therefore, I do not think that this is necessarily a left-right debate. I argue that this is a live debate on the right, which suggests that simple neutrality or abstention on the motion is not necessarily going with the grain of more innovative thinking across the right of the political spectrum.

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab): My hon. Friend is a renowned economist, but even before we get into the alternative models of banking, does he agree that one does not have to be an economist to see that buying something at one price and then selling it off for next to nothing—at the current market rate, shares are £3.21 each—does not make good economic sense? That from a party that prides itself on its so-called long-term economic plan. It is more like what George Bush senior called voodoo economics.

Jon Cruddas: A collective hit of £14 billion on taxpayers does not seem to be good, rigorous or empirically grounded economics, so my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Let me return to the question of bank deposits. Apart from anything else, the lack of diversity in the UK’s banking system leaves us extremely vulnerable; all our eggs are literally in one basket. If we look at the international evidence on how those different types of bank perform, it quickly becomes clear that the Minister’s claims simply do not stack up.

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Let us take shareholder owned banks first. Let us not forget that in 2008 it was shareholder-owned commercial banks that brought the global financial system to its knees. Yes, they were “innovative”—they created some of the most innovative toxic financial instruments the world has ever seen—but much of that innovation was what Adair Turner has termed “socially useless”; it served no real economic purpose except to inflate the profits of the banks that produced them while quietly spreading dangerous levels of risk to every corner of our financial system.

Members do not have to take my word for that. The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards concluded that the shareholder model itself had a large part to play in the story:

“Shareholders have incentives to encourage directors to pursue high risk strategies in pursuit of short-term returns... In the run-up to the financial crisis, shareholders failed to control risk-taking in banks, and indeed were criticising some for excessive conservatism.”

In other words, the ownership model to which the Government are so keen to return RBS is the same model that helped to bring the bank down in the first place.

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could remind the House which party was in government when the financial crisis took place and what it was doing with the regulator.

Jon Cruddas: Labour was in government, and many of us were arguing that we should have created this opportunity to diversify forms of banking products. The hon. Gentleman might have meant the debate about the future of the Post Office, and many of our colleagues were involved in trying to articulate the case for a Post Office bank that could offer robust, bona fide financial products to communities such as mine, which were being vacated by the big commercial banks. We have a consistent theme developing among the contributions from the Opposition side of the House, and it is not an either/or political point-scoring exercise.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): My hon. Friend will no doubt recall that the bank that backs the Post Office bank is Ulster Bank, which is owned by RBS.

Jon Cruddas: My hon. Friend is exactly right, so let us talk about stakeholder banks and look at some of the evidence. I refer colleagues to the NEF document “Reforming RBS” and some of its findings. First, stakeholder banks tended to be better capitalised and less volatile before the crisis, and they were less exposed to the risky and speculative activities that caused it. Co-operative banks suffered just 8% of the total losses incurred during the banking crisis, despite accounting for around a fifth of the European banking market. To put that in context, HSBC alone was responsible for 10% of those losses. Secondly, stakeholder banks were also more likely to keep lending after the crisis. In fact, German public savings banks, Swiss cantonal banks and credit unions in the US and Canada all kept expanding their lending to businesses right through the crisis and the resulting recession.

Jeremy Quin: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that our own experience with the Co-operative bank has not been that happy?

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Jon Cruddas: I agree. I was talking about co-operative banking across the whole of Europe, not the specific case of the Co-operative bank here in the UK, which does have problems. [Interruption.]

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): It never had to be nationalised.

Jon Cruddas: Point taken. The stakeholder banks across Europe kept the real economy going while commercial banks’ lending was crashing.

The third point is that in the UK we paid the price for having deliberately dismantled stakeholder banks in the 1980s via demutualisation. We left ourselves with nothing to break the catastrophic fall in lending by the big banks, and since the crisis we have done next to nothing to address that fatal structural flaw. I would have thought that we could all agree that a more resilient capitalism is a desirable outcome.

Catherine West: Does my hon. Friend agree that Government policy has helped the larger players? According to commentary in the financial pages in the past few months, there are things that the Government could have done to help mutuals, but instead they just continued to play with big business and help it at the cost of mutuals. What are they doing to help the mutual sector?

Jon Cruddas: That is a good point. What are they doing to build a more mixed economy that is more resilient and is not prone to the catastrophic speculative attacks and collapse in lending that we saw at the back end of 2008?

It is not just in times of crisis that we suffer from our lack of a stakeholder banking sector; it is a problem for us in good economic times too. Research by NEF has found that stakeholder banks devote twice as much of their balance sheets to real-economy lending as commercial banks. Meanwhile, commercial banks invest more than twice as much in derivatives trading. Stakeholder banks also outperform commercial banks on lending to small businesses in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, perhaps because they are rooted in local communities and can invest in local relationships, or because they do not have to worry about satisfying shareholders with double-digit quarterly returns. All this might help to explain why the UK banking system is the least effective in the G7 at supporting the real economy, with just over 20% of bank lending going towards productive activity, compared with more than 60% in Germany. Obviously, financial crises are the other side of the same coin, since the types of unproductive and speculative lending that dominate our banking system will tend to blow up bubbles which inevitably burst.

I could go on to list many other measures on which stakeholder banks appear to do better: higher customer satisfaction, higher deposit rates, lower loan rates, bigger branch networks, more job creation, and so on. Suffice it to say that if we want banks that put customers first, support the economy and manage risk sensibly, we could do worse than look to our European neighbours. I invite the Minister to publish the opposing evidence. Let us lay it out and have a discussion about the comparative views on the evidence underlying our public policy.