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New clause 30, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and I tabled, is a small change that would allow smaller council areas and communities, which are unaffected by this legislation in many respects, to consider having an elected mayor in a simpler way and give their populaces the opportunity to vote on the prospect of an elected mayor. For example, there is an elected Mayor of London, but of the 32 boroughs underneath that, only about two have elected mayors.

I would like other boroughs to have an easier opportunity at least to consider the prospect of an elected mayor, and to extend that provision to other parts of the country. It is my view, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), that the hurdles that prevent such an opportunity from being made as easy as possible for local communities are currently too high. Requiring 5% of the local electorate to sign a petition to bring about a referendum is a high figure. One or two places up and down the country have achieved 5%—indeed, Copeland District Council in Cumbria managed to achieve that figure, and people subsequently voted in a referendum for an elected mayor.

New clause 30 is a small change that would enable local people—with the support of a reasonable but realistic number of members of the public—to bring about a referendum, and I suggest that the Government change the requirement in the Bill to 1%. That does not necessarily mean that there will be an elected mayor; it means that that community will get the opportunity to vote in a referendum on whether they would like one. I accept that some places will reject that opportunity, but if more such opportunities exist we will start to see more elected mayors in different parts of the country and it will become an established form of local government. I firmly believe that that is far more transparent and accountable, and it will provide real leadership in different parts of the country.

I look forward to the Minister’s response, and would be delighted if he accepts the new clause so that it can be incorporated into the Bill and mean that referendums can be held across the country over the next few years on a regular basis. I appreciate that he will probably want to consider the matter, and I will not be pressing the new clause to a vote. I ask him to consider the issue seriously, however, and to see whether he can reduce the 5% to a percentage that is more realistic and will enable local communities across the country to petition for a referendum and decide whether they wish to have an elected mayor.

Mr Betts: I wish to raise two issues that the Government and the Committee will have to deal with at some point. When I spoke on Second Reading, I indicated that I was generally supportive of the Bill. I have reservations about some aspects and details of it, but the direction of travel is essentially right, as is the idea that devolution will happen and is on the agenda, and there is a good deal of cross-party support for it. That is an important step change from how things were when I first came to the House in 1992, or in many subsequent years. We are seeing progress. Members of the House are standing up and talking positively about devolution, and no one is saying “Local councils can’t do that—they can’t be trusted”, which was very much the attitude a few years ago.

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I am comfortable and supportive of that idea, but we need a dialogue and debate about two important issues. The first has been raised continually by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who chaired the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the previous Parliament. He was a strong advocate for trying to codify or set in a more formal arrangement the powers of local government and its relationship with the centre. That is important because there is a danger that some powers and aspects of policy will be devolved to local councils, but that other powers—without talking about centralisation or taking anything back to the centre—will be removed from local councils, and more controls introduced in their place.

There are currently two Bills before the House, and I expect the Minister is considering them both fairly widely. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is about devolution. That is welcome, and we can discuss how devolution should take place. We also have the Housing and Planning Bill, and the Royal Town Planning Institute said that it was astonished at the amount of planning centralisation in that Bill. With starter homes, measures in the Bill are attempting to decide on the nature of section 106 agreements, which are essentially agreements about a particular site between a local authority and a developer. That is a particularly wide issue.

5.30 pm

In the last Parliament, the Government portrayed the stand-alone housing revenue accounts as a major mechanism of decentralisation—a means of devolving power to local councils—but look at the changes that are now going through. My concern is that measures before Parliament at the same time as this Bill will take control over rents from so-called high earners and, through rules on inflation increases, over the total rent charged. Those changes will row back on the policy in the last Parliament of giving local authorities powers over their housing revenue accounts on a stand-alone basis. What was given in the last Parliament will be taken back without recognising that it will reverse devolution and move back to a centrist approach.

Mr Steve Reed: As I understand it, the Local Government Association estimates that the Housing and Planning Bill includes some 30 new centralising measures. Given that that Bill is being sponsored by the same Secretary of State as the devolution Bill, does that not cast doubt on his commitment to devolution?

The Temporary Chairman (Mrs Anne Main): Order. I think the hon. Gentleman was trying to make a fair point about devolution and taking back powers, but the shadow Minister is straying down a path that will not be fruitful.

Mr Betts: I will try to get back on to the straight and narrow, Mrs Main.

My point is that we need a time of reflection, with a discussion between Government, local government and this House about the framework for the constitutional relationships between the centre and local authorities of whatever kind, including combined authorities, so that we can look at the balance of powers and perhaps put down some markers or mechanisms for ensuring that

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the devolution we all support today is not taken back tomorrow. We need something of that kind. A constitutional convention has been mentioned—the Government may not like those words, but we need some mechanism to enable that to happen.

My second point is about fiscal devolution. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) quoted the report from the Select Committee in the last Parliament, and the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) was a member of the Committee. We produced the report on an all-party basis. We followed the London Finance Commission, which was promoted by the Mayor of London and supported by the London boroughs. By and large, we agreed the report, albeit with some embellishments, with the London Finance Commission, and we had support from the core cities, but it was almost dismissed by the Government as an irrelevancy—something that they did not want to pursue.

I am pleased that the Government are looking at the total localisation of business rates. How they do that will be critical, including dealing with the issue of rewarding councils that get more development in their areas and at the same time protecting those areas where development is not as easy to achieve. Achieving some element of redistribution in the mechanism will be key. Nevertheless, the Government have accepted the need for some more fiscal devolution in principle. They now need to consider how it can be right that any increase in the one tax over which local government has total control—the council tax—is restricted by the need for a referendum. No other tax raised by central Government requires a referendum on any increase. I did not agree with the previous Government’s policy on council tax capping—I refused to vote for that on several occasions, as it is a very centralist policy.

The tax also has not been revalued for 25 years. That is nonsense. The council tax is the one tax over which local government has some degree of control, but it does not control the bands. There must be some flexibility there to recognise the extraordinary difference between amount of tax paid and the value of houses in the top and bottom bands. The difference in the values of the houses is much wider than the amount of council tax paid. Local councils need more flexibility and the ability to control that. As the London Finance Commission said, and the Select Committee agreed, let us also look at stamp duty and other property taxes. Let us consider giving local councils freedom to set business rates. I know that the Government want to bring in some freedoms, but they could go wider. Could local government have a right to be allocated a certain percentage of income tax?

Those are all ideas. All I am saying to the Government is that once this wave of devolution is going through, with cross-party support and local councils entering into it and putting in bids, can we at least have some indication that they will step back at some point and have a serious look at wider fiscal devolution? Ultimately, simply giving to local councils the power to spend money that has been handed out from the centre is not real devolution at all. It is power to spend the money the Chancellor gives out. What councils need for real devolution is the greater power to raise that money in the first place.

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Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): New clause 31 stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). It concerns the Government’s intent to devolve more powers to local representatives, but proposes pushing the boat out a little further into terrain that, nationally, we have been a little bit tentative about. Devolved powers are allowed to make a decision on Sunday trading. Whether local areas should be able to decide on Sunday trading, and other such issues, is a debate for another day—or, hopefully, not at all.

New clause 31 concerns the minimum unit pricing of alcohol. At one point, the Government and the Prime Minister took the view that the case had been made back in 2008 by the Department of Health. Such pricing would assist directly in tackling health harms relating to the excessive use of alcohol. At that time, the Government were consulting not on whether, but how much. However, the ups and downs of coalition government and other concerns, not least from those on the Government Benches, led to the measure not seeing the light of day. This is an excellent opportunity to bring it back to the light. We can allow local authorities to have the power to set a minimum unit price for alcohol sold within their areas.

As has been said, local authorities already have some degree of power to set a price under the licensing regime. I understand that in Newcastle two bars have become the first in the United Kingdom to be licensed to sell alcohol at a minimum price in excess of £1 a unit. I am not sure how popular those bars will be, not least because I am now publicising them, but that is part of the licensing regime in Newcastle. The bars have been licensed subject to a condition that alcohol is sold at set prices that equate to a minimum price of £1.25 per unit of alcohol—nearly three times the 45p per unit price that was subject to the Government consultation.

My understanding is that that price was agreed to keep the street as the city’s premier street. This initiative by the city council, with the full co-operation of the applicants, is designed to maintain the quality of the city centre, control crime and disorder, and improve health. It seeks to end the availability of irresponsibly priced alcohol by controlling multi-buy promotions that lead to irresponsible drinking. That is the approach being followed, in a somewhat limited way, by Newcastle. I understand that Ipswich also had a licensing and prices regime to tackle the impact of excessive alcohol, in particular in relation to super-strength ciders and lagers.

The Bill seeks to reduce the bureaucracy that gets in the way of empowering local areas to do what should be reasonable: to help to have a significant impact on the health harms affecting their local area.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I am interested to hear my hon. Friend’s speech. One of the main problems in my constituency is people preloading with alcohol: buying from a supermarket, drinking it at home and then going out for an evening. He talks about premium prices applying to bars. How would his suggestion work if I could drive literally just a couple of miles down the road to a supermarket, buy my alcohol, come back and drink it at home?

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Mr Burrowes: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I hope he will support me in calling on the Government to set a national minimum unit price to avoid that precise problem.

The argument has been made, in respect of Sunday trading and other issues, that if we let local areas decide, we might get a domino effect, but I would welcome it if areas without minimum unit pricing, for example, quickly realised that they needed to deal with the problem. These sorts of powers inevitably have a domino effect. It must be the intent of devolution to spread these powers around. The Government say they are keen to devolve such powers in a wide variety of areas. Given that there is real evidence—much more evidence, frankly, than on Sunday trading—of health benefits from minimum unit pricing, why not give local areas the power to decide for themselves?

Kevin Foster: Might not one slight problem be the potential incentive to do it the other way around, meaning that the one place without a minimum alcohol price ends up with lots of supermarkets looking to locate within it?

Mr Burrowes: My hon. Friend makes a good point, but the sad reality is that in all our communities we have an increasing problem with excessive alcohol consumption, and it is affecting all our local accident and emergency departments and health services. Evidence shows that minimum unit pricing tackles the problem drinkers on our streets who do not travel far to areas with cheaper alcohol. It has a particular impact on problem drinkers. It is not the only way of dealing with excessive alcohol drinking, but it is a particularly good one.

My proposal would tackle the problem of bureaucracy and red tape facing local areas going through the licensing regime and applying for permission from the Secretary of State to set a minimum alcohol price. This is unnecessary and unwelcome. The Government have said they want to remove red tape and regulation. Why not do so when it comes to setting minimum unit prices? I might be pre-empting the Minister, but he might say, “Sorry, we can’t do this because it’s not lawful. Scotland, which has devolved responsibility in this area, has tried minimum pricing, and it is being challenged in the courts.” I can assure him, however, that we need not worry about the legal issues in Scotland, because, as Aidan Robertson, a leading Queen’s counsel, said in response to the legal challenge, there

“are no valid grounds in EU law for resisting Minimum Unit Pricing”.

He continued:

“It is a matter of considerable regret”—

I agree—

“that implementation of the Scottish legislation has been held up by legal challenges from the drinks industry… The questions referred to the Court of Justice European Union do not…disclose any ground under EU law on which the validity of the legislation may be impugned. Minimum unit pricing for alcohol ought to be permitted as an innovative attempt to tackle a serious health and social problem facing Scotland.”

Scotland should not be alone in benefiting from this; minimum unit pricing is something for England, Wales and other devolved areas. Areas with elected Mayors should also have the power to introduce minimum unit pricing. I would be interested to hear

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whether the Opposition support the new clause, given that, as I understand it, minimum unit pricing was in their manifesto.

There is evidence, not least from Sheffield University, that setting the minimum price at 50p per unit could save up to 50,000 people from illness in a decade. We cannot ignore the evidence: we are all aware from our constituencies of the impact on individuals of excessive alcohol consumption. This issue is not going away. I implore the Government to seize this matter, to reconsider a national minimum unit price and to reactivate the consultation, which has been kicked into the long grass. In the meantime, perhaps they can look at what happens in local areas and establish a testing ground in areas under the governance of elected Mayors, instead of just relying on Scotland. That makes sense and the time has come. If the Government cannot see that the time has come, let local authorities be set free to get on with it.

5.45 pm

On a similar theme, new clause 32 recognises that devolving powers is often a good thing. It is not just about the fiscal and economic benefits, because when deals are struck with various authorities, there is a social deal as well as an economic one. That social deal is picked up by new clause 32, which is designed to put a family test on local authorities. It does so to help authorities deal with a situation that we are all too aware of: the cost of family breakdown. The Relationships Alliance has costed that at about £47 billion. We must find ways to tackle the problem, and one way is to test the powers that are devolved through to the mayoral or combined authorities.

Such a family test is referred to in new clause 32, and it lists similar headings that the Government have highlighted as important across all policy areas. No doubt the Ministers on the Treasury Bench have looked carefully at everything in the Bill to see how the family test is applied. The family test headings are listed, and the first is “family formation”, in which I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) would be interested. The other headings are

“families going through key transitions…all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life…with respect to parenting and other caring responsibilities…families before, during and after couple separation; and…those families most at risk of deterioration of relationship quality and breakdown.”

No doubt local areas could take those headings for the family test a stage further. It is important to do so.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. He will know that the Prime Minister said in August 2014, when introducing the family test, that he wanted every Government Department to be held to account for the impact of its policies on the family, ensuring that every single domestic policy that the Government come up with will be examined for its impact on the family. That is important for national Governments, but given that local areas are that much closer to families and the impact of their own policies on families, it is surely logical to continue the process into local areas and local governance.

That is why new clause 32 is designed to introduce a family test to put into practice what the national Government say they are doing. I understand that it takes time for the national Government to found a family test “with teeth”, to use the words of the Secretary

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of State for Work and Pensions on 22 June. We look forward to further publication of the family test to show the teeth. Let us make the teeth apply equally, though, to the family test in local areas.

I would like to encourage a positive response to new clause 32. Next month, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) is introducing a private Member’s Bill on the very issue of the family test—the Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) Bill, which will seek to put the family test into statutory form and ensure that local government has a reporting mechanism. If my new clause does not go through today—I am probably not going to press the matter, but look forward to a positive response from the Minister—there may be further opportunity through my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill.

New clause 37 takes us into a whole different area of governance, as it deals with disqualification for election and holding office as a member of a local authority. The present situation goes back all the way to subsection 1(d) of section 80 of the Local Government Act 1933, which provides that a person shall be disqualified from being elected or remaining a member of a local authority if during the preceding five years he has been convicted and sentenced to at least three months’ imprisonment, whether or not suspended.

I am grateful to Councillor Terry Neville, the Conservative group leader of Enfield council, for bringing this issue to my attention. He is a magistrate, so will know of the change in sentencing practice. He has not been a magistrate since 1933, but from his recent years of experience, he will know that it takes a lot for someone to be sentenced to over three months’ imprisonment. He brought to my attention—I was not aware of it previously—that an individual who has been convicted of such a serious offence that they have been imprisoned for more than three months can still remain a councillor.

This issue has particular relevance in Enfield. In my constituency, Councillor Nesimi Erbil was convicted of two offences of fraud under the Fraud Act 2006. On 28 August 2014, he used a fake taxi badge, claiming that it applied to an all-London green taxi licence when he was entitled to drive his cab only in Enfield, Haringey, Waltham Forest and Hackney. He was rightly convicted of an offence of fraudulence in relation to a licence, and received a four-week prison sentence, which was suspended.

Owing to the 1933 Act, that councillor continues to be free to sit on committees and have influence over the people of Enfield. He can sit on planning committees—and, indeed, licensing committees, on one of which he sat after his conviction for the fraudulent licence offence. That does not seem to match up with his having received a sentence of imprisonment. This amendment to the Act would ensure that any councillor convicted of an offence warranting a custodial sentence, whatever its length, was disqualified. We need that modernisation of a limit that dates back to 1933. I am not sure why the Act specified a three-month limit, but I think that we can do a lot better in 2015.

As we devolve more powers to councillors, it is important for public confidence to be maintained. Allowing people like Councillor Erbil to continue in their posts after being convicted of fraud and sentenced to imprisonment will not instil public confidence. The best that we can hope for at present is the establishment of a standards committee to look into such matters, and the operation

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of internal party discipline—although those concerned can still draw a councillor’s allowance and sit as independents.

I urge the Minister to look favourably on the clause, and to confirm that what may have been appropriate in 1933 cannot be right in 2015.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Those of us with long local government experience never expected any Government to deliver devolution to this extent. I welcome what the present Government are doing, and I know that it is welcomed in local government throughout the country. For many years Governments of both colours drew more and more powers to the centre, and it is extremely pleasing to see that being reversed.

I have been a supporter of elected mayors for many years. In my own authority, I tried to secure a petition with the required 5% support 12 or 13 years ago. The problem is that that percentage is very difficult to achieve if a small number of people are involved, and particularly difficult to achieve within the 12-month period that is specified in the current legislation.

Elected mayors are often very unpopular with sitting councillors, who see them as a threat to their cosy arrangements whereby the roundabout turns and either the Tories or Labour take over. I think that where that resistance still exists, we need to allow residents—the general public—to initiate a petition with the modest threshold of 1% that is proposed in new clause 30, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson). I think that that would encourage local people to support an elected mayor, or at least to kick-start the journey towards securing one by initiating the referendum process when resistance is high in the local authority.

We may be seeing proof of the rule that if Back Benchers remain consistent, some Government at some time or other will eventually agree with them. Over the last 15 years or so we have seen both sides of the House run hot and cold on the issue of elected mayors, but those of us—such as my hon. Friend and me—who remain consistent can now put up the flags and welcome the fact that the Government are moving towards the idea of not just elected mayors, but elected mayors with even more power than we anticipated. I hope that the Government will at least give a clear indication that they will look favourably on our proposal to reduce the threshold and give power to local residents.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): That is all very well, but in the case of a large rural county such as Lincolnshire, it would be quite wrong for the Government to say, “If you want devo-max, you must have a mayor.” It makes sense to have a mayor of London, Birmingham or Manchester, but it does not make sense to have a mayor of a large rural county.

Martin Vickers: I see the logic of that, but my hon. Friend will know that in greater Lincolnshire the authorities have already come together and put a proposal forward, although they have not gone for the full package. I hope they eventually will, just as I hope that eventually the combined authorities emerging from this process will evolve into a super-unitary authority headed by an elected mayor. My hon. Friend would make an admirable mayor of Lincolnshire—governor of Lincolnshire, even.

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Sir Edward Leigh: High commissioner.

Martin Vickers: Yes, high commissioner for Lincolnshire.

When I was reading the amendments, I was struck by new clause 32(3)(c) which talks about

“all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life”.

I shall therefore conclude by praising the Government for withdrawing their proposal to devolve powers on Sunday trading to local authorities or elected mayors. It would have been a retrograde step that would have hit many hard-working families that run the corner shop, the newsagents and so on—just the sort of people the Government should be looking after. I welcome that and praise the Government—and praising the Government is a good point to conclude on.

James Wharton: We have had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion on this group of amendments. I have listened to the debate and, while I understand a number of the points raised, I am afraid I cannot support any of the new clauses, as I will endeavour to explain.

I will begin with new clause 24, which would require the Secretary of State to set out a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers. By the end of this Parliament the local government sector will retain 100% of local taxes to spend on local government services. For the first time in decades, local areas will see the full direct benefit of business rate growth in their area. We wish to end the merry-go-round of clawing back local taxes to Whitehall and handing them out again in the form of grants. We will, of course, however, maintain redistribution between councils so that local authorities do not lose out.

We will be working with local authorities over the coming days and weeks on this ambitious agenda. It is our intention to devolve far-reaching powers within a framework of strong, accountable, transparent governance, and strong delivery capability. We will be setting out our detailed proposals in due course and, in light of this, I hope all parts of the House would agree that this new clause, which would require the Secretary of State to set out a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers, is unnecessary. I recognise the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) on this new clause, and his desire to see at the end of this process a period of reflection and consideration. I think there is merit in what he says. We will see how things progress, but certainly we will need to look at the totality of what has been done before deciding what next steps may ultimately then follow.

New clause 29 and accompanying new schedule 2 would provide for a local government independence code, defining the relationship between central Government and local authorities, and would make provision about their financial independence and conduct. Such codification is somewhat contrary to our constitutional traditions, and I do not think we need to go down the route set out by this new clause. We always want clarity in the deals we do—we always want to have discussions with local government about the future they see for themselves—but we see no need for what would be a very restraining and unnecessarily legalistic approach to the relationship between central and local government. We will, of course, look to the future, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) asked. He is an ambitious advocate of

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devolution in all its guises and where it can go, and I look forward to having, I am sure, many more debates in future about this topic with him.

New clause 30 seeks to reduce the minimum percentage of local government electors in a local authority area required for a petition to trigger a referendum on its governance model. My hon. Friends the Members for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) have spoken eloquently on this issue. It is an issue that I know they care about. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes, famed for his consistency, is of course someone who stands by his beliefs and is, I think, in line and in tune with the sentiment of what the Government are doing in this area on this occasion. However, I cannot suggest we should support his new clause because the Local Government Act 2000 gives both the Secretary of State, and Welsh Ministers where relevant in Wales, a power to make regulations concerning public petitions in relation to whether a local authority should hold a referendum about changing its governance arrangements, for example to adopt a directly elected mayor. The regulations can already specify the minimum number of electors who must sign a petition for it to be valid, and the default position if the regulations do not specify any such threshold is 5%, which is also the current threshold for England. I have listened to hon. Members’ arguments, and I am happy to have further discussions about the actions the Government should take in the exercise of those powers, but I do not think it necessary to make this amendment to the Bill at this time.

New clause 31 would allow the Secretary of State, by order, to give power to the mayor of a combined authority to set a minimum unit price for alcohol sold in the combined authority area, with the mayor’s power being exercisable only following consultation on the proposed level of that price. The Government have recently undertaken a nationwide consultation on the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol, which raised a number of issues, including the potential economic impact of minimum unit pricing and the possibility of unintended impacts on businesses. The new clause’s proposed piecemeal, localised minimum alcohol pricing would risk consumers simply travelling outside the area of the authority to purchase cheaper alcohol in a neighbouring area.

I understand that in Scotland the policy of minimum unit pricing for alcohol has been legally challenged, and that the European Court of Justice has yet to express a final view. The introduction of a minimum unit price therefore remains under consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) has made clear his desire to see the policy pursued, but for the reasons I have outlined we have no plans to devolve the matter at this time. We will therefore oppose the new clause.

New clause 32 seeks to introduce a requirement for mayoral combined authorities to publish annual reports about their performance in applying elements of the family test. The family test applies to the development of central Government policy. It recognises the fundamental impacts that central Government decisions can have on families and introduces an explicit family perspective into the policy-making process. However, it would not be devolutionary to start prescribing in detail how mayors or combined authorities should go about exercising their functions. We therefore have no plans to require

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mayoral combined authorities to apply a family test—a test that was in fact designed to be applied to policy decisions with national impact.

Turning to new clause 33, I want to start by saying that we value the important role of parish councils and that we support local government in innovating and achieving value for money, especially when such money is reinvested into communities. The hon. Member for Nottingham North asked some specific questions, which I shall now answer, on the powers of parishes to sell electricity that they generate. A specific example would involve electricity generated from renewable sources.

There is no need to amend the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to enable the sale of electricity generated by parish councils. Through the general power of competence in section 1 of the Localism Act 2011 and through section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, it is already possible for parish councils to sell the electricity they generate, depending on the circumstances. I suspect that the new clause was tabled to seek clarity, and should my comments not provide sufficient clarity I shall of course be happy to speak to interested Members after the debate to ensure that any concerns are properly addressed.

I turn now to new clause 36, tabled by Labour Members, which would require a combined authority with devolved functions to consider the impact on neighbouring local authority areas. I do not believe that this amendment is necessary or appropriate. The statute provides that combined authorities must exercise their functions in relation to their area. That area, of course, is the area that Parliament has approved when establishing the combined authority. It is an area that equally has enabled the combined authority to satisfy the statutory tests—that is, it is an area in which, if functions are exercised, that exercise of functions will result in an improvement compared with what would otherwise be the case. Indeed, the Bill provides that functions cannot be devolved to a combined authority if the Secretary of State does not consider that that would lead to an improvement in the exercise of statutory functions in the combined authority’s area.

The new clause seeks to provide some further requirement about how, once established, a combined authority should go about the exercise of the functions devolved to it. As with local authorities, combined authorities must take their decisions having regard to all relevant considerations. Just as local authorities cannot be blind to the impact of their decisions beyond their boundaries, nor can combined authorities; and just as local authorities are able to form joint committees with neighbouring authorities to manage activities that could have an impact beyond their areas, so can combined authorities. Hence, as I have said, the proposed new clause is neither necessary nor appropriate for inclusion in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate has also tabled new clause 37, which would amend section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 so that a councillor who received any sentence of imprisonment, including a suspended one, would be disqualified. At present, a councillor is disqualified only if they have received a sentence of imprisonment, suspended or not, of not less than three months without the option of a fine.

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Previous Governments have recognised that section 80 needs to be updated, not least to take account of modern sentencing guidelines, and we agree that change is necessary. Many things have changed since 1972, and this section is in need of amendment. At the beginning of this year, the Electoral Commission’s report “Standing for election in the UK” recommended that the Government clarify and update the law relating to the qualifications for local government elections. Our strong preference is to consult on change, and to work with colleagues in the local government sector and the Electoral Commission in considering the scope of section 80, rather than make piecemeal amendments through this Bill. This work will include not only reviewing and possibly amending the rules of disqualification relating to sentencing, but reviewing other rules about the qualification for standing for election, including rules about employees standing for election and about residence. I would like to thank my hon. Friend for bringing this proposal to the attention of the Committee. I know that he has a pressing constituency issue, which he explored in his comments and which highlights the need to make progress. I hope, however, that he will recognise that it is important that that is done in a considered and sensible way, as well as in a timely way, and that an amendment to this Bill is not the appropriate way to do that at this time.

New clause 38 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) and it relates to London. I recognise the work that has gone into it. It is an interesting clause that clearly seeks to raise an important point that matters not only to him but to Members from across the House who take an interest in devolution and such matters in London. If accepted, the clause would enable ministerial functions to be devolved to voluntary joint committees of London councils and to such committees acting jointly with the Mayor of London. I understand from his explanatory statement that the purpose of the amendment is to provide

“for decision-making arrangements to enable operational delegation to groups of London local authorities and for the strategic governance of devolved responsibilities to be shared between London authorities and the Mayor through an appropriately constituted joint committee.”

We have always made it clear that for functions to be devolved to local authorities arrangements ensuring strong and clear accountability must be put in place. The new clause appears to be an attempt to formalise joint committee arrangements, while making it clear that London authorities will have the freedom to enter into their own constitutional arrangements for joint committees, including arrangements involving the Mayor of London. We do not believe that the informal nature of the proposed arrangements provides the strong and clear accountability that would support the devolution of the functions of either a Minister or a Department to a joint committee. However, I do recognise that giving more substance to multi-borough partnerships, which are already delivering innovative pilots in the areas of health, employment and skills, could help provide clearer lines of accountability and enable them to take on more ambitious programmes in the future. I am happy, therefore, for departmental officials to work with London further to explore options and I am of course happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend after the progress that we hope this Bill will have made today.

17 Nov 2015 : Column 635

Finally, new clause 39 seeks to place in the Bill a specific requirement for the Secretary of State to prepare guidance for combined authorities on effective strategic planning for environmental problems and green infrastructure no later than three months after the passing of this Act. As with some of the other amendments we have discussed today, providing for central prescription in this way goes against what this Bill is about; we are engaged in the business of reversing many years of centralisation.

With that, and the explanations I have given on the other provisions in this group, I hope that hon. Members will not push their amendments to a vote. The Government intend to resist them. We have had another interesting, useful and productive discussion on a wide range of issues in this group. It has informed the debate about devolution more generally in a helpful and productive way. On that basis, I hope we can continue to build consensus, can deliver this Bill and can deliver on our commitments.

Mr Steve Reed: I agree with the Minister that this has been a good, interesting and productive debate. He says he is in listening mode. I am not sure he is hearing quite as much as we might have hoped, but I recognise his intention to build consensus, which is necessary for the important, incremental, constitutional change we have before us this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) put forward some proposals that have cross-party support and that would enable further and faster devolution for London. I hear what the Minister says, and I welcome his intention to work with London government and London councils to find a way to make these proposals work, because otherwise the complexity of London government will pull London back from the forefront of progress towards devolution across the country. We cannot consider London as a job done just because London was out there first.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) made some very important points about fiscal devolution, which must be a central part of any devolution package; otherwise, what we are doing is merely a charade. Even if the Minister is not able or willing to bring forward proposals in this Bill, we hope that the matter forms part of future legislation as we move towards a more devolved settlement across the country.

I regret the Minister’s comments on new clause 36. Our proposals aim to help devolution to work better. Areas on the periphery of combined authorities should not be excluded from decisions that directly affect them. Our proposal merely creates the right to be consulted, which the Government have conceded when it comes to transport. They should consider it for matters of equal importance such as health. We will seek to push that new clause to the vote, but not new clause 39.

I note that the Minister did not respond to the issue of whether he would rule out Sunday trading from any future stages of this Bill. His silence will lead Members to draw their own conclusions about what is coming.

Having reflected on all the comments in the debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw new clause 24.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

17 Nov 2015 : Column 636

New Clause 36

Regard to Neighbouring Authorities

In exercising a devolved function, combined authorities must have regard to any significant direct impact on the population of neighbouring authorities.”.(Mr Steve Reed.)

This clause raises the concerns of some authorities which neighbour devolved authorities and ensures that combined authorities which have devolved functions give regard to the possible impact on neighbouring populations, particularly over issues such as transport and health.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 186, Noes 282.

Division No. 126]


6.12 pm


Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, Heidi

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Barron, rh Kevin

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brake, rh Tom

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burgon, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Butler, Dawn

Cadbury, Ruth

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Julie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, rh Jeremy

Cox, Jo

Coyle, Neil

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dowd, Peter

Dromey, Jack

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Elliott, Julie

Elliott, Tom

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farron, Tim

Flello, Robert

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Foxcroft, Vicky

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mary

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Greenwood, Margaret

Griffith, Nia

Haigh, Louise

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Carolyn

Hayes, Helen

Hayman, Sue

Hendrick, Mr Mark

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hollern, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Hussain, Imran

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Gerald

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kinahan, Danny

Kinnock, Stephen

Lamb, rh Norman

Lavery, Ian

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Clive

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lucas, Caroline

Lynch, Holly

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McInnes, Liz

McKinnell, Catherine

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morris, Grahame M.

Mulholland, Greg

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Onn, Melanie

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Jess

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees, Christina

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Ryan, rh Joan

Saville Roberts, Liz

Shah, Naz

Sherriff, Paula

Shuker, Mr Gavin

Siddiq, Tulip

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Cat

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smyth, Karin

Spellar, rh Mr John

Starmer, Keir

Stevens, Jo

Streeting, Wes

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, rh Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turley, Anna

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

West, Catherine

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Mr Mark

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Wright, Mr Iain

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Ayes:

Judith Cummins


Jeff Smith


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Carmichael, Neil

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donelan, Michelle

Dorries, Nadine

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duddridge, James

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollingbery, George

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Paisley, Ian

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mary

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, David

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Graham

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Tredinnick, David

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Simon Kirby


Sarah Newton

Question accordingly negatived.

17 Nov 2015 : Column 637

17 Nov 2015 : Column 638

17 Nov 2015 : Column 639

Clause 22

Minor and consequential amendments

6.27 pm

James Wharton: I beg to move amendment 16, page 19, line 8, after “of” insert “, or made under,”

This amendment provides that the power to make regulations under clause 22 of the Bill includes a power to make provision that is consequential on instruments made under the Bill.

The Temporary Chair (Mrs Anne Main): With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 22 stand part.

Schedule 4 stand part.

Clause 23 stand part.

Clause 24 stand part.

Government amendment 17.

Clause 25 stand part.

James Wharton: Knowing as I do that hon. Members are familiar with the content and scope of the amendments and that there is, I believe, broad agreement across the

17 Nov 2015 : Column 640

Committee, I have no desire to speak at length unless Members wish me to do so. I hope that the amendments will secure the approval of the Committee.

Amendment 16 agreed to.

Clause 22, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4

Minor and consequential amendments

Amendments made: 26, page 34, line 22, at end insert—

“Local Government Act 1972

A1 The Local Government Act 1972 is amended as follows.A2 In section 100E (application of Part 5A to committees and sub-committees), in subsection (3) after paragraph (b) insert—

“(bba) a committee in place by virtue of section 107D(3)(c)(ii) of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009;

(bbb) a joint committee in place by virtue of section 107DA of that Act;”.”

A3 In section 101 (arrangements for discharge of functions by local authorities)—

(a) after subsection (1C) insert—

“(1D) A combined authority may not arrange for the discharge of any functions under subsection (1) if, or to the extent that, the function is a mayoral function of a mayor for the area of the authority.

(1E) “Mayoral function” has the meaning given by section 107F(7) of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.”;

(b) after subsection (5B) insert—

“(5C) Arrangements under subsection (5) by two or more local authorities with respect to the discharge of any of their functions cease to have effect with respect to that function if, or to the extent that, the function becomes a general function of a mayor for the area of a combined authority.

(5D) Subsection (5C) does not prevent arrangements under subsection (5) being entered into in respect of that function by virtue of section 107DA of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (joint exercise of general functions).

(5E) In subsection (5C), “general functions” has the meaning given in section 107D(2) of that Act.”

This amendment provides for the cessation of existing joint committee arrangements where a combined authority function becomes a mayoral function in the combined authority, and for a committee established by section 107D(3)(c)(ii) or 107DA of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 to be treated as a committee of a principal council for the purposes of Part 5A of the Local Government Act 1972.

Amendment 62, page 34, line 22, at end insert—

“Local Government Act 1972

A1 The Local Government Act 1972 is amended as follows.A2 In section 100J (application of Part 5A to new authorities etc)—

(a) in subsection (1) after paragraph (be) insert—

“(bf) a sub-national transport body;”;

(b) in subsection (3), after “(be),” insert “(bf),”;

(c) in subsection (4), in paragraph (a) after “joint authority,” insert “a sub-national transport body,”.

A3 In section 101 (arrangements for discharge of functions by local authorities), in subsection (13) after “combined authority,” insert “a sub-national transport body,”.A4 In section 270 (general provisions as to interpretation), in subsection (1) after the definition of “specified papers” insert—

““sub-national transport body” means a sub-national transport body established under section 102E of the Local Transport Act 2008;”.

17 Nov 2015 : Column 641

Local Government Act 1985

A5 The Local Government Act 1985 is amended as follows.A6 In section 72 (accounts and audit), for subsection (5) substitute—

“(5) Any reference in this section to a new authority includes a reference to—

(a) the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority;

(b) a sub-national transport body established under section 102E of the Local Transport Act 2008;

(c) a combined authority established under section 103 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.”

A7 In section 73 (financial administration), in subsection (2) after “reference to” insert “—

(a) a sub-national transport body established under section 102E of the Local Transport Act 2008;

(b) ”.”

This amendment makes consequential amendments regarding Sub-national Transport Bodies to make provision about the admission to the meetings of these bodies; to allow them to make arrangements for the discharge of their functions; and to impose a requirement to keep a general fund and to appoint a chief finance officer.

Amendment 63, page 34, line 31, at end insert—

“Local Government and Housing Act 1989

1A (1) The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 4 (designation and reports of head of paid service), in subsection (6)(a) for “, (ja) and (jb)” substitute “and (ja) to (jc)”.

(3) In section 13 (voting rights of members of certain committees: England and Wales), in the definition of “relevant authority” in subsection (9), for “(jb)” substitute “(jc)”.

(4) In section 20 (duty to adopt certain procedural standing orders), in subsection (4)(a) for “(jb)” substitute “(jc)”.

(5) In section 21 (interpretation of Part 1 of Act), in subsection (1) after paragraph (jb) insert—

“(jc) a sub-national transport body established under section 102E of the Local Transport Act 2008;”.

Railways Act 1993

1B (1) Section 24A of the Railways Act 1993 (Secretary of State franchise exemptions: operator agreements) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (4)—

(a) in paragraph (a), after sub-paragraph (i) insert—

(ia) an STB,”;

(b) in paragraph (b), after “Executive” insert “, an STB”;

(c) in paragraph (c)(i), after “Executive” insert “, STB”;

(d) in paragraph (c)(ii), after “Executive” insert “, STB”.

(3) In subsection (5)—

(a) in paragraph (a) of the definition of “relevant company”, after “Executive” insert “, an STB”;

(b) in paragraph (b) of that definition, after “Executive” insert “, an STB”;

(c) after that definition insert—

““STB” means a sub-national transport body established under section 102E of the Local Transport Act 2008.”

Local Government Act 1999

1C In section 1 of the Local Government Act 1999 (best value authorities), in subsection (1) after paragraph (hb) insert—

“(hc) a sub-national transport body established under section 102E of the Local Transport Act 2008;”.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

1D In Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (public authorities), in Part 2 (local government: England and Wales), after paragraph 28 insert—

17 Nov 2015 : Column 642

28A A sub-national transport body established under section 102E of the Local Transport Act 2008.””

This amendment makes consequential amendments regarding Sub-national Transport Bodies so that the requirement to designate a head of paid service and a monitoring officer, and in relation to political balance of committees, will apply to these bodies; to make provision in connection with railway asset protection etc; and to provide for these bodies to be best value authorities and to be subject to the FOI regime.

Amendment 30, page 34, line 35, leave out “In section 91 (exercise of local authority functions),” and insert “(1) Section 91 (exercise of local authority functions) is amended as follows.

‘(2) ”

This makes a technical drafting amendment to the provision in paragraph 3 of Schedule 4 to the Bill which amends section 91 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

Amendment 31, page 34, line 36, at end insert—

‘( ) In subsection (4)—

(a) omit “or” at the end of paragraph (a);

(b) after paragraph (b) insert—

“(c) for the function to be exercisable by the EPB and the local authority jointly, or

(d) for the function to be exercisable by the EPB jointly with the local authority but also continue to be exercisable by the local authority alone.”

This amends paragraph 3 of Schedule 4 to the Bill to add new provision in subsection (4) of section 91 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The amendments enable an order under Part 6 of the 2009 Act conferring local authority functions on a combined authority to require that both authorities exercise the functions concerned jointly.

Amendment 27, page 35, line 43, at end insert—

‘( ) After subsection (1) insert—

(1A) In relation to an order under Schedule 5B, subsection (1) has effect as if the reference to the Secretary of State were a reference to the Secretary of State or the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.”

This amendment provides for an order made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster under Schedule 5B to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 to be able to make incidental, consequential, transitional or supplementary provision in support of such an order.

Amendment 28, page 36, line 2, at end insert—

10A In section 116 (consequential amendments), after subsection (1) insert—

(1A) In relation to an order under Schedule 5B, subsection (1) has effect as if the references to the Secretary of State were references to the Secretary of State or the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.”

This amendment provides that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster can, in consequence of an order made under Schedule 5B to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, make provision in consequence of any provision made.

Amendment 64, page 36, line 27, at end insert—

“Equality Act 2010

12A In Schedule 19 to the Equality Act 2010 (public authorities), in Part 1 (general), after the entry “A joint authority established under Part 4 of that Act for an area in England (including, by virtue of section 77(9) of the Local Transport Act 2008, an Integrated Transport Authority established under Part 5 of that Act of 2008)” insert—

17 Nov 2015 : Column 643

“A sub-national transport body established under section 102E of the Local Transport Act 2008.””

This amendment makes a consequential amendment regarding Sub-national Transport Bodies so that these bodies will be subject to the public sector equality duty.

Amendment 65, page 37, line 8, at end insert—

“Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014

18 (1) The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 40 (access to local government meetings and documents), in subsection (6) after paragraph (j) insert—

“(ja) a sub-national transport body,”.

(3) In section 44 (interpretation of Act), in subsection (1) after the definition of “special trustees for a hospital” insert—

““sub-national transport body” means a sub-national transport body established under section 102E of the Local Transport Act 2008.”.

(4) In Schedule 2 (relevant authorities), after paragraph 28 insert—

28A A sub-national transport body.””

(James Wharton.)

This amendment makes a consequential amendment regarding Sub-national Transport Bodies so that the transparency requirements for accounting and auditing and access to meetings and documents will be applied to these bodies.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 23 and 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 25

Short title

Amendment made: 17, page 20, line 3, leave out subsection (2)—(James Wharton.)

This amendment removes the privilege amendment inserted by the Lords


Clause 25, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.


Amendment made: 66, line 5, after “functions;” insert

“to confer power to establish, and to make provision about, sub-national transport bodies;”—

(James Wharton.)

This amendment makes consequential amendments to the long title of the Bill to incorporate a reference to establish and make provision regarding Sub-national Transport



The occupant of the Chair left the Chair (Programme Order, 14 October).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill, as amended, reported; Bill, as amended, to be considered tomorrow.

Business without Debate

Business of the House


That the Motions in the name of Chris Grayling relating to the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the Electoral Commission, and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England shall be treated as if they related to instruments subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice has been given that the instruments be approved.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

17 Nov 2015 : Column 644

Michelin Factory: Ballymena

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

6.30 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate about jobs in my constituency of North Antrim.

Tuesday 3 November was a sad day that will be remembered by up to 1,000 people in the Ballymena area. The Michelin factory, which is one of the few public limited companies in Northern Ireland, has produced tyres in my constituency since 1969, and the news that it was to close broke on 3 November. The 860 directly employed workers—dedicated manufacturing staff—learned of their fate that day. More than 500 other people who are indirectly associated with the factory are also affected by that apocalyptic news.

I want to put the issue in context. If my constituency happened to be called Northampton rather than North Antrim, or if Ballymena were called Birmingham, we would be talking about the loss of 30,000 jobs. That is the job loss equivalent. It is important to put the announcement in its national context. That is why I welcome the fact that it is the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, not a Northern Ireland Office Minister, who will respond to the debate. I would, of course, have welcomed a Northern Ireland Minister to the Dispatch Box, but it is important to view the job losses in their national context.

A few weeks ago I expressed concern that Northern Ireland was in danger of being viewed by this House as a place apart. Our Province’s peculiar employment issues are sometimes regarded as unrelated to the national picture and national politics.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend agree that Northern Ireland is not that different, and that what is happening in Northern Ireland—whether it relates to Michelin in his constituency or to Caterpillar in my constituency—is no different from what is happening in other parts of the United Kingdom? Energy intensive industries are being hit by an energy policy that is making energy much more expensive for them than it is for our competitors, and that is putting us at a competitive disadvantage.

Ian Paisley: Many of the employees of the Michelin plant in Ballymena hail from East Antrim. My hon. Friend has put his finger on one of the key issues, which I hope to return to in a little more detail during the course of my speech. He has identified one of the key reasons why this issue is of national importance and has to be addressed nationally. It would be very easy to say that it is a matter for the devolved Administration and that they should sort it out, but this matter is beyond their reach. It would be a mistake to think that our employment policies are a place apart. They are of national importance.

A year ago, the loss of 1,000 jobs in another factory in my constituency was announced. In the wake of the two announcements—and, indeed, of the Caterpillar announcement in my hon. Friend’s constituency—several hundred jobs are being lost year in, year out in the

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manufacturing sector. That is why I described the announcement by Michelin on 3 November as apocalyptic not just for my constituency, but for the Northern Ireland manufacturing sector.

Before the closures, my constituency boasted of plus 20% of Northern Ireland’s total manufacturing jobs, but come 2018, when the factories close, it will be sub 20%. That will have a devastating impact on local employment, local confidence, local spend, local schools, local businesses all around the district. By 2018, more than £100 million of wages will have been taken out of my local economy, meaning that £100 million will no longer be spent in local shops and the local community. The local economy is renowned for its thriftiness and the local community is renowned for being very proud of its work ethic, but those huge pillars of employment have been slowly but surely knocked down. That will have an impact on confidence, and the Minister does not require me to spell out the effect of that on a community or the impact of such a loss.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): The hon. Gentleman will be well aware, as will other hon. Members, that we have just had the final Committee stage of the new Trade Union Bill. Will he give us an insight into how helpful—not otherwise, I hope—trade unions have been in the Michelin factory and how positive they have been in looking after their workforce?

Ian Paisley: That gives me the opportunity, on the back of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), to pay tribute to Unite the union for the great work it has done in my constituency. I have had regular meetings with Unite over the years since I became a Member of Parliament, and I have a very good working relationship with it. It is dedicated to ensuring that manufacturing is maintained there, which is why it has been incredibly flexible about the workforce agreeing to reduced hours over the years. It has been very helpful about working conditions that people would not normally tolerate: it has been prepared to work with companies and help them to bring working conditions up to a standard in their own time through investment on their own terms. It has been incredibly helpful, so this gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the unions with which I have worked both on this factory closure and on other serious issues. In fact, what has been very helpful has been the sense of warmth—it is hard to find another word for it—felt by some of the employees from their union actually standing up for them, and coming out and saying, “Look, how can we help? How can we embrace this situation and try to address some of the key issues?”

Another organisation that also stands out for praise, particularly with Michelin, is the Prince’s Trust. It has already made itself available to all the employees in the factory concerned. It has identified 80 people between the ages of 18 and 30 who were probably looking forward to a lifetime career of making tyres in the factory for the next 40 years, as their fathers did before them, but are now expecting not to have a manufacturing job. The Prince’s Trust, along with the unions, has been very useful in trying to say: “Let’s see if we can find a way of helping these young people become entrepreneurs and to find new jobs in the years ahead.”

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Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this matter before the House for consideration, and I commend him for the hard work that he does on behalf of all his constituents all the time, but especially on this occasion. One of the things that concerns me is the redundancy packages. Will he confirm that the redundancy packages offered will be such as, first, to allow people to retrain, but secondly, to be equally as helpful for those on the factory floor as for those at managerial level? I am a wee bit concerned that management sometimes get better redundancy packages than workers.

Ian Paisley: That is a very helpful intervention because it allows me to put on the record that the first thing I raised with the employer when the announcement was brought to my attention was, “How are you going to look after the workers that have made you billions of pounds as an international company over the years?” I am pleased that Michelin put into its statement on 3 November a commitment that the support from the factory will include enhanced redundancy payments and a retraining package, as well as the deployment of what is called the Michelin development community fund. I have managed to help to secure an additional £5 million for my constituency, which will allow for the retraining of people and will help them to set up local businesses. That fund has been used over the years to create an additional 400 jobs that are not associated directly with Michelin. I hope that the deployment of that fund over the next 10 years will see job opportunities slowly created for these people, who would otherwise be told that they do not have a job.

It must be stressed that Michelin will make job offers to those who feel able to travel to Dundee or Stoke on the mainland, although those jobs will not be in the manufacturing of large truck tyres, which is what we have done in Ballymena. I imagine that very few people will do that, but at least those job offers will be made.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. If this was happening in any constituency on the mainland, it would be a huge story. Can he explain very simply why Michelin has decided to close the factory and move to two other parts of the United Kingdom, rather than to move out of the United Kingdom?

Ian Paisley: I thank my hon. Friend, who shares my passion for the North Antrim constituency, given her roots in County Antrim. She will have been contacted by friends and family who have been affected by the closure. I appreciate the support and encouragement she regularly gives me to continue to fight for the interests of my constituents.

Michelin has identified three key reasons why it has to close the factory, and they are sad reasons. As I have said, I am glad that the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise is here and that the Government see that there is something that they can do for us nationally. The Michelin statement put three key reasons into the public domain.

The first reason was as follows:

“The proposal to run down the truck tyre factory in Ballymena has been made in the light of the significant downturn in demand for truck tyres in Europe since the financial crisis of 2007”.

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That is beyond the control of anyone on these Benches. It is a fact of life that there has been an economic downturn. For 20 years, the factory in Ballymena made truck tyres for the north American market. That market was taken from it through an internal decision by Michelin and those truck tyres have since been made elsewhere in the Michelin portfolio. After losing that market, Ballymena was solely making truck tyres for Europe. The downturn then hit us with a vengeance and we are reaping the consequences. The demand for truck tyres has decreased by more than 5 million tyres a year. That has had a catastrophic effect on the business.

The second reason Michelin put into the public domain was

“the huge influx of tyres made in Asia, which have doubled in the last few years, and increased competition.”

Most of those have been made in Korea. The workers in my constituency never feared competition or the need to be competitive. They believed in the quality of their product, which was of award standard. However, when a cheap tyre comes in during an economic downturn, it has a devastating effect on business.

The third reason was that the tyre building machines at Ballymena were not capable of making the new standard of tyres. An investment of at least £50 million was needed to reappoint the factory. The company had to decide whether to make that investment or cut off the Northern Ireland arm and move everything to the mainland. That goes to the heart of the point that my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim made. Energy costs are so astoundingly high in Northern Ireland that they forced the hand of the company when making that decision. I will come on to energy costs in a moment.

The Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said that if this had happened in any other part of the United Kingdom, there would be huge interest. I welcome the fact that there are 16 Members in the Chamber for this debate. I salute every one of them for being interested enough to turn up. Usually when we come to the Adjournment debate, apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), no other MP makes a contribution. I know that, at times, the Minister feels as if she is being stalked by the hon. Gentleman. I pay tribute to the fact that there is wide interest in this debate, and I am delighted that the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who has visited my constituency, is also here.

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Did we get any early indication that this cut was going to happen? Had the company spoken about the workings behind this move? Did the Minister in Northern Ireland know that it was happening, and was he able to offer any support? What was going on between the Minister and the company that allowed this to happen without any of us knowing? The hon. Gentleman has already indicated that there are many good reasons for why it was happening, but we did not seem to know when or exactly why at the time.

Ian Paisley: I want to be gentle in the way I respond to that. It would be easy to stand here and blame people. I could blame the local Minister, Invest Northern Ireland and everyone else but ourselves, but that is the coward’s way out, and we must make that clear. That is

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not the response that employees in Ballymena, North Antrim, South Antrim and East Antrim need. My constituents will not be bought off with the cheap excuse that this is someone else’s fault. They are intelligent people who understand the word “market”.

In the last year, my constituents have witnessed a Goodyear tyre factory close on mainland Britain, and they know the pressure that the industry was under. At one point they were reduced almost to a three-day week. This was not a shock; what was shocking was the fact that eventually the decision was made on the day it was made, but there was a lot leading up to that decision. What people want now is a comprehensive strategic response to get things moving again, and it is important that we hear that from the Minister.

The hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) made a number of points that it is important to address. The key issue behind why this factory has been under so much pressure is electricity prices in Northern Ireland—the underlying issue is energy costs. To give one stark statistic, it is 15% more costly to manufacture in Northern Ireland because our electricity costs are 15% higher. That point has been made to me over and over again, and it has driven the issue home.

The hon. Gentleman asks why this closure was such a shock and whether discussions were going on. I have an email that was sent to me in 2013 from the then Ballymena plant manager, Wilton Crawford. I raised this issue with him, and he said that the

“No.1 cost threat to our long-term sustainability”

for manufacturing in Ballymena was electricity prices. That issue must be urgently addressed.

Sammy Wilson: Energy prices and energy policy are national issues that must be addressed by the Government centrally. Does my hon. Friend accept that the Northern Ireland Executive were looking for what they could do locally? Indeed, today’s deal, which will result in corporation tax being reduced to 12.5% by April 2018, is one way in which the Executive are seeking to help industry in Northern Ireland. However, there must be a national response to our current mad energy policy that forces firms to use expensive renewables.

Ian Paisley: In 2013, with that point in mind, I wrote to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister about this issue. I said that I feared not only for the future of this company in my constituency but for other large energy users if we cannot get a national policy to resolve the problem. This issue has been identified time and again—including in 2013, half way through the last Parliament.

The cost differentials are staggering. In 2013, I wrote to the then Minister in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, my colleague Arlene Foster, and I said that the changes that Michelin was being asked for would increase its electricity costs by 44%—that is a 44% increase due to the new charges mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim.

The Minister was brilliant in her response. By that point, Michelin was already paying £1.2 million a year to its electricity provider. The climate change levy would have seen an increase of £350,000 on top of that, but the Northern Ireland Government were able to hold off those charges between 2001 and 2007. I went back to

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them in 2007 and said that the increase still needed to be held off. The additional charges on the use of electricity—the distribution use of system and transmission use of system charges, or DUOS and TUOS—would have hiked the cost to the factory by 46%. The Minister went back again in 2007 and made sure that those charges were held off. That saved the company an additional payment of £212,000 for the next four years.

Unfortunately, in 2013 the bullet had to be bitten. The Minister wrote to me to say:

“Article 5 of Directive 2003/96/EC (‘Restructuring the Community framework on the taxation of energy products and electricity’) dictates that the lower rate of CCL for supplies of natural gas in Northern Ireland must end at 31 October 2013.”

As a result, the company saw its electricity prices go from £1.2 million to more than £2 million a year.

No company can sustain that level of increase. That was not the fault of the Northern Ireland Government or the lobbying by local politicians who were working with the companies. It was not the fault of Invest Northern Ireland, which was campaigning hard behind the scenes for a change in policy. It is a national issue that must be addressed.

Jim Shannon: I understand that it was announced this week that Shorts Bombardier will build a new energy-efficient plant in Northern Ireland that will reduce its costs dramatically. It is one of the biggest employers in Northern Ireland, with 5,500 employees, and the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Industry helped to make that happen. The example of Shorts Bombardier —at least in the building of the plant—could be followed across Northern Ireland.

Ian Paisley: Shorts Bombardier is a case apart because of its scale and the amount of money it has to invest. Michelin, a plc, invested in two huge wind turbines to reduce its energy costs, but although they saved the company between £100,000 and £150,000, that was nowhere near sufficient to cut its electricity costs.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I congratulate the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) on obtaining this debate on an important subject for his constituency. Can he confirm the nature of the meetings and lobbying that took place between Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive and the then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and his Ministers on this subject?

Ian Paisley: The hon. Lady has read my mind. On 25 November 2013, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers) visited the plant at my invitation. She met the plant owners and recognised the huge issue of electricity costs. The suggestion made at that meeting was that because Michelin has plants in Scotland and England, as well as Northern Ireland, a united front was needed from the Scottish Secretary, the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Business Secretary to ensure that some special pricing code was put in place to assist the company. I put that point in writing to the company, saying that

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“we should make a very direct approach at Cabinet level with the help of the Secretary of State and our own Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment along with other Michelin Plants in the United Kingdom for a special case for a high energy user like Michelin to have some sort of special status when it comes to the cost of energy use.”

I am glad to say there was a response from central Government: the Energy Intensive Industries initiative, which the Prime Minister introduced a short while ago. In an answer to a question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) in Prime Minister’s Question Time just last week, the Prime Minister indicated that EII is something companies such as Michelin should look at. I seized on EII some time ago. I wish the Prime Minister had not used that argument, because Michelin, by its structure, is actually excluded from benefiting from EII. EII is framed so narrowly that one of the single largest energy users is actually excluded from using it.

Michelin has explained to me in some detail that it would have to go away and re-establish itself as a company, and go through a lot of red tape, to have a chance of qualifying for EII. That would be quite difficult. I think the Minister would accept that the legal due diligence alone for a plc would be costly and put it out of remit.

Danny Kinahan: Should we not also be concentrating on the supply of electricity to Northern Ireland? The Moyle interconnector is not working well at the moment. The underground cabling we were hoping to get for the new interconnector is not coming in due to differences of political opinion. Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that, on a bigger scale, we need to try to find ways to get these problems sorted out, and that we need the help of Westminster to do so?

Ian Paisley: I agree wholeheartedly and that is why I wanted this debate. I am delighted the Minister is here, because this is not just a matter for Northern Ireland but a matter for us all. The issue also faces our colleagues in England. It is why Tata Steel and SSI are closing and why there is such anger from Members, who are seeing the livelihoods of many people go.

Remember, the tough decisions have to be taken by us. This is what the tough decision is going to look like: ultimately, we will have to vote on whether we want jobs or cheap electricity prices for consumers. If we want to have jobs and cheaper electricity for the employer, consumer prices have to go up. That is a tough decision. Some of us are prepared to take it. Some of us have argued that if we want to keep jobs in Northern Ireland prices will have to go up for ordinary consumers. It is not a popular thing to say, but we have to face the reality.

Sammy Wilson: rose

Ian Paisley: I will give way very briefly, because I know the Minister will, at some point, want to speak to me.

Sammy Wilson: Does my hon. Friend not accept that there is another way, which is to rely less on costly energy from windmills and solar power, as it is about three times dearer than energy produced by coal?

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Ian Paisley: I wish I had another half an hour to agree in detail with my hon. Friend. I absolutely accept that there is a madness behind the policy that forces electricity generators to pay more for electricity generated by windmills and then sell it on to consumers. That is absolutely wrong.

I want to salute the efforts of Invest Northern Ireland and its chief executive, as that organisation always gets it in the neck. On this occasion, it has got it in the neck from the usual suspects and critics in Northern Ireland who claim it is not doing enough. I know that behind the scenes the company, and the chief executive in particular, have worked their socks off to try to get investment in County Antrim. It is incredibly helpful. It is, effectively, trying to roll a massive boulder up a hill, fighting for jobs in a crowded space and against the many unfair competitive advantages of others.

If devolution is to be sustainable, it must be given the tools to fight and to see its energy costs reduced for its employers. That can happen only if a decision is taken here to help us. We in Northern Ireland require a national response to these national issues. This is on a par with the 15,000 job losses at Tata and SSI in the north of England. For the devolved Government to begin to compete and to replace this number of manufacturing jobs, we need support from the Prime Minister, UKTI and the Business Secretary. We need them to pull with us, batting for Ulster and batting for jobs for us around the world, so that whenever UKTI or the embassies are open for trade missions in the east, the far east or the United States, they are not just thinking of mainland Britain but Ulster too, and asking how a particular proposal could fit in with the Northern Ireland region. We want to see more of that and hear more about it, because Northern Ireland is crying out for that assistance.

I call on the Government to step up to the plate and tell us what they can do. We have a stable regime and a highly educated young workforce with advanced skills, and we are a cheaper region to invest in.

7 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

Ian Paisley: In 2018—it should have been sooner—our corporation tax rate will reduce to 12.5%. We need to offer hope to employees facing redundancy. The company is starting its official consultation with employees next week, on 23 November, and I have already mentioned that the Prince’s Trust has been incredibly helpful in offering support to the younger employees in particular.

The unions, too, have been very helpful. There have also been helpful comments in our local media, including from Wrightbus, a large employer just down the road, whose managing director, Mark Nodder, has said he is optimistic about the manufacturing sector, despite the job losses. He should know, because he employs people in County Antrim. He also referred to the University of Ulster’s economic policy centre, which predicted last week in a report that manufacturing employment in Northern Ireland was likely to grow over the next decade. It has suggested a figure of between 8,000 and 14,000 jobs. These things offer hope in a picture that

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otherwise would be entirely gloomy. I hope the Minister can encourage us tonight and respond to some of these key points.

7.1 pm

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): I begin by paying tribute to those who work at the Michelin factory in Ballymena and their families during this extremely difficult time. The loss of 860 jobs in a small community is a serious and significant blow, and one that is certainly not lost on me or the Secretary of State. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) on securing the debate. Frankly, I was surprised he did not get the urgent question. That is not a criticism of the Speaker—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I know it was not intentional, but we cannot go into that or mention the urgent question.

Anna Soubry: I was trying to say that the hon. Gentleman and others made an excellent point about how, had these job losses happened on the mainland, there might have been a bit more noise in this place—although not from him, I hasten to add, because, as ever, he does a fine job fighting for his constituents. I also pay tribute to all the interventions from the hon. Members for North Down (Lady Hermon), for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—as ever—for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan), for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). I will come on to the specific point about energy prices later.

The loss of 860 jobs was indeed a serious blow. By pure chance, the hon. Member for North Antrim and I were sharing a taxi on the night of this dreadful news, and we did at least begin the conversation. I know he has also spoken to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), about the situation. They share the great concern about this blow to a small community and its onward effect through the supply chain. It comes, of course, at the same time as the Gallaher factory in Ballymena is set to close—in 2017—with the loss of many jobs.

I normally try not to read from a prepared speech, because I do not think it is right, but I will in part tonight, because there are lots of facts and figures that it would be helpful to mention. I want to deal specifically with the question of energy prices. It is sad and unfortunate that we are where we are, having this debate about energy prices at this point, with Michelin having decided to go. I am aware of the statements it made, and the hon. Gentleman has already identified the reasons it gave. The cost of energy has been a difficulty for some time. As it happens, the manufacturing of tyres does not fall into the category of electricity or energy intensive industries. We could have a discussion about why. It is unfortunate that it does not do so, because we know that some form of compensation is available. Most importantly, we still seek to persuade the European Union to sign off the full compensation package, so that we can make sure that industries that use huge amounts of electricity—not just the steel industry, but a large part of our manufacturing sector uses extraordinary amounts of energy—receive compensation.

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My view—and these concerns are certainly shared by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills—is as follows. What industry wants is a level playing field—that applies to the steel industry, to ceramics, to cement or whatever. When, frankly, we are in tough times, competing not only in what we call the global race but within the EU, all people ask when margins are so tight is that we all operate on a level playing field. It has been a feature and it is a fact that a number of our businesses bear an onerous burden of what we can call carbon taxes in their various forms.

What I can say to the hon. Member for North Antrim is that this is not lost on the Government, me or the Secretary of State. We make the case for British industry—and when I say British industry, I mean all industry across our United Kingdom, obviously including Ulster—that there should be a fairness, a level playing field. If I had my way, I would go so far as saying that energy intensive industries should not have to bear any burdens excessively, although I appreciate that would not include Michelin. If we are to make the changes that we all want—I very much hope we are—the burden would therefore have to fall right the way across, including on consumers and perhaps other businesses. I agree with the hon. Member for North Antrim that people would pay that price.

There has been support for employees. The immediate focus in this situation is, of course, on the workers themselves. I join in paying tribute to the Unite union. It is astonishing—no, it is not astonishing for any of us who know trade unions; I am a former trade union official—that yet again we see trade unions and their leaders really stepping up to the mark, acting in a responsible and sensible manner and with great realism. Sometimes people think that workforces and their leaders are somehow stupid, but they are not. As the hon. Gentleman identified, they knew what was going on and they feared the worst. Unfortunately, their fears were confirmed.

I understand that Northern Ireland Executive Ministers at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, together with Invest Northern Ireland, the Department for Employment and Learning and the wider Northern Ireland Executive have said that they will do all that is possible to limit the impact of the announcement. The Department for Employment and Learning will be engaging with the company management to offer redundancy clinics to employees. Northern Ireland’s Redundancy Advice Service works in partnership with a range of bodies, including the further education colleges and HMRC to provide advice on alternative job opportunities, access to training courses and a range of other issues.

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the £5 million development fund package launched by the company to support the retraining and redevelopment of the staff to find new work. Those are the actions of a

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company that understands its responsibilities towards its employees. We can be confident that it will do the right thing by all of that.

If I may say so, the hon. Member for North Antrim makes a very important point about the huge skills and abilities of the Northern Ireland workforce. It matters not that I have been over to Northern Ireland only once, because one picks up a lot, and in any event the fine reputation has been earned by all the workforce. They are extremely able, highly skilled, well-educated and, most importantly, extremely well motivated. Those are important features.

The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues made a crucial point about UKTI. I take away with me from this debate an absolute promise to him that I will speak to Lord Maude, and through him to UKTI, to make sure that UKTI does everything it can to promote Northern Ireland in all the work we do in promoting Great Britain. The hon. Gentleman made a very good point that there is always a danger that in some way Northern Ireland might be forgotten. It may seem impossible to believe that, given the abilities and strengths of all the Members who represent it, but the hon. Gentleman made a very good point none the less.

Let me emphasise that there are opportunities in Northern Ireland. As many Members will know, the picture is not all bleak. A medical firm, Randox, has said that it will create 500 jobs in County Antrim over four years; in July, Texas-based OneSource said that it would create 289 jobs in Londonderry; and, as recently as September, Intelling Ltd announced plans to establish a contact centre in Belfast, creating 250 new jobs. So there is some good news, although, as I said at the beginning, the effect on a community of the loss of so many jobs is not lost on me.

There is more of my speech, but I am not going to read it all, because I believe—and I hope they will agree—that I have addressed the points made by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. As I have said, the scale of this is not lost on me. I will think further about the important points that have been raised, and I should be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to discuss what more can be done. The main point is, however, that given the effect of high energy prices, the need to ensure that we have a good supply of cheap energy has never been more critical. We know what the consequences may be if we do not address that need, which is not lost on anyone in Government.

As I have said before, in my experience—such as it is, at present—all that people ask for is a level playing field. That strikes me as a very fair ask, and it is something that this Government are determined to achieve.

Question put and agreed to.

7.11 pm

House adjourned.