This page highlights debates during which Nick has made a speech or an interjection. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Nick on firstname.lastname@example.org
This page highlights debates during which Nick has made a speech or an interjection. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Nick on email@example.com
Full transcript from Nick's Westminster Hall debate on UK Trade and Investment.
A summary is here.
UK Trade & Investment
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Swayne.)
Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship on this fine early morning, Mr Hollobone. I know that hon. Members are rested and have slept well after a long night, so I am sure that the quality of their contributions will not be affected.
I am grateful to the Speaker for selecting today's debate, which comes at a most pertinent moment. Few would disagree that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, through its embassies, should be championing Britain and creating a stable, open, global environment in which Britain can succeed. Fewer still would disagree that foreign policy should support jobs, growth and prosperity. Indeed, the greatest threat to our country is actually economic in nature. That is why we are having this debate, which I hope will have a common sense of urgency and purpose. It is only the second debate on trade and investment in the past 12 months, the previous one being called by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). I will try not to be too partisan, but it is extremely disappointing that the official Opposition are again not well represented on something that, frankly, is crucial to our country's future.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): I know that it is an early morning, but my hon. Friend says that the official Opposition are not "well represented." Will he cast his eye around and do a quick headcount of Labour Back Benchers who have bothered to turn up?
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend is right to force me to highlight that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), is here unsupported by any Labour Back Benchers.
It is a pleasure to welcome the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) to the debate.
I cannot resist commenting that I am surprised that our coalition partners are not yet here. Perhaps it was the late night and we shall see them later. Let us be generous.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that small and medium-sized enterprises in the many constituencies represented by Labour Members will clearly be disappointed that their Members of Parliament have not turned up to this debate to find out how such companies can work with UK Trade & Investment to help them to export?
Nick de Bois: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's well-timed intervention. The fact is that trade and investment affects every single constituency. It is the one thing that unites us and the one thing that serves all our constituents, wherever they may work or whatever they
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may do, because without trade and without business we have no taxes, no hospitals and no infrastructure. Frankly, it is at the heart of our jobs, growth and prosperity.
As a nation, we import some $640 billion—I used dollars deliberately and hon. Members will see why as I refer to other figures—but we export approximately $480 billion only. This is a timely debate. The UK's share of global exports has declined sharply over the past decade from just over 5% in 2000 to a fraction over 4% in 2010—a 20% drop. We should not pretend that this country is alone in seeing such a drop, but some of our near neighbours have fared much better. Germany, to which I will be making further references during my contribution, managed to grow its share of global exports. Are UK companies slow to react to opportunities? Are there inherent uncompetitive disadvantages? Perhaps more pertinently, have we been tapping into the wrong markets? I will suggest later that that has been the case. Have we failed to reach the high-growth markets as a result, perhaps, of over-dependence on our European neighbours and the US? If one looks beneath the figures, one wonders whether there is a mismatch between the goods and services we currently sell and those demanded by high-growth economies. After all, we are not supplying high-capital goods to the booming markets in the BRIC countries for machinery, tools and equipment. Whatever the diagnosis, the treatment is the same. We have no choice but to increase exports and inward investment.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that there are some bright spots in our export market? In China, for example, our exports were up 19.5% from 2011 to 2012, and UK services exports were four places up in our market importance compared with the previous year, so our exports to China are doing well.
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend anticipates some comments I will make shortly. Even within that good news story, it is worth remembering that the success of our services exports perhaps masks an underlying problem in our not being successful in selling our capital goods to emerging BRIC countries. He is absolutely right, however, and since 2009 the volume of exports to the rest of the EU has probably risen by some 5%, but exports to the rest of the world have increased by 30%. The trend is definitely the right one. There are encouraging signs, and we should be quick to recognise that and to endorse such efforts.
We are coming together this morning as a constructively critical friend to the work of UKTI and the FCO. Since entering Parliament, I have found an admirable determination in Ministers and officials to deliver on the often quoted target for exports of £1 trillion by 2020. I have no doubt that this is the first Government to put trade and inward investment at the heart of government and, in particular, to make them a cornerstone of the wider economic resurgence of the UK. I count myself lucky, because there are Government Members present today—I welcome such a strong showing—who have witnessed the work of the Government after a career in business and are therefore qualified to fulfil the role of constructive friend. On that note, I remind the House that I spent 25 years in business, actively supporting SMEs and large corporations in their efforts to trade abroad, which involved working in the exhibition
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and events industry, which in turn involved working with trade associations and UKTI's predecessor, British Trade International. I remind the House that my wife runs the company that I was involved with, which still works with some trade associations, so I can put on the record both my experience and a declaration of interest.
Today, I want to deal with both the strategic and tactical aspects of UKTI-FCO work, and I am grateful for the support of the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and other organisations, not least SMEs and trade associations from whom I have gleaned advice. Let us start with a premise. One in every four SMEs in Europe is an exporter, but the figure in Britain is currently one in five. What is holding back a nation of entrepreneurs that has an enviable track record in trading and a history of unique historical ties with Commonwealth countries, and that is now host to large diasporas from many parts of the world? Many of our competitor countries would envy such a pedigree as a platform for exporting, so what is allowing our neighbours to outperform us?
As my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) said, there are some success stories, which should not be overlooked. Our service sector is buoyant, and that has hidden some of the goods sector's decline, although we have excelled in pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Sadly, however, manufacturing as a whole has declined.
Even when we are doing well in pharmaceuticals and chemicals, our rate of growth still compares unfavourably with that of Germany, because we have not sold to high-growth economies. However—I speak as a former owner-manager of an SME—where SMEs have the right goods and services for high-growth economies, the reluctance to export is a combination of risk management assessment, operating outside the comfort zone and, of course, fear of failure. That is often fuelled by what seem daunting and in some cases very real barriers to export, but also by a fair share of myths, without necessarily recognising the hidden and transparent benefits of export markets.
Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. Does he agree that the fears and concerns that he highlights among SMEs are more prevalent with micro-businesses, which, despite their smallness, have a lot to offer and have great potential up and down the land?
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that micro-businesses will be more inclined to stay in their comfort sector. When they are successful and they grow, it is hard for them to shed the fear of the unknown and of recognising the extra management time that would go into breaking down the barriers to export. Success as a micro-company often brings with it concerns about entering the export market. However, the answer is staring us in the face: engaging with those that have succeeded and letting them drive those that are inclined to go—or thinking of going—into the export market.
Recently, I went to an exhibition where I spent the day with SMEs exporting to the Gulf—I hasten to add that I went at my own and not the taxpayers' expense, en route to a delegation. I was hosted by UKTI for the
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day, and I spent the whole day with SMEs. A number of things came out that I thought were very encouraging, but let me focus on one issue.
When I asked SMEs how they broke down the barriers, why they were successful and what they were achieving, they all had innovative ideas, as we expect from SMEs in this country. They had all used the support of UKTI and the FCO, which, in the Gulf region, is exceptional. However, they all wanted more British companies to be there with the British pavilion, supporting a British presence in the region, because it was as much in their interests to have that greater commercial and intellectual capital in a region in which they were operating. When I asked, "Would you attend forums and speak to contemporaries that are either thinking of, or may not even have considered, going into export markets?", "Would you come and tell them about your experiences?", and "Would you help them learn the lessons that you have learnt?", every single company—these were small to medium-sized enterprises—was willing to do so.
My challenge is that perhaps UKTI should now seek to leverage the good will of the work that SMEs have been doing, where they have been successful, to reach new potential exporters. Why? Despite the success of UKTI, we are still not reaching enough people. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham will touch on that point when he talks about how UKTI's work must expand—I do not wish to anticipate him unfairly, but I have read his report, and he has done some excellent work on the future of UKTI. Therefore, with the companies that want to leverage more activity in a region, it is a win-win, no-cost option for UKTI and the FCO to capitalise on those who are successful in order to breed more success.
During the few parliamentary delegations that I have attended, I have always met local embassies, and local UKTI representatives and staff. Every time I visit, I ask the staff a simple question: "What are the top three UK companies doing business in this region?" I confess that the answer is often mixed. Some do not know, some waffle, while others are extremely well briefed. The picture is mixed, but what all have in common is that although the large exporters may be identified and known to them, very few of the SME companies, which might even be in the same supply chain as the well known prime contractors, are known. That worries me. At delegation level, led by senior Ministers, I cannot recall how often SMEs were included in the teams accompanying Prime Ministers or Foreign Secretaries.
My specific interest is with the "M" in SMEs. Medium-sized businesses will be crucial to driving export growth, because it is not realistic to presume that our export goals can be achieved by securing large, single-group contracts. The critical mass achievable by the vast swathe of medium-sized companies will lead growth and I suggest that UKTI overseas representation is spread more evenly across the company base to reflect that fact.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I promise my hon. Friend that this is my last intervention, because I am really grateful to him for securing the debate. He will be well aware that only 23% of our small and medium-sized companies currently export. Does he not agree that the excellent £1 trillion target that he has mentioned will
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only be met if we have a large increase in the number of medium-sized companies in particular, but also small companies, that export?
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If only one message is taken away today, it should be that across Government, across UKTI, and across parliamentarians, we have to make, as some in the Chamber have, excellent efforts to engage with medium-sized companies, and that is the only way that we will hit our goal, because of the critical mass, size and number of SMEs. However, let me be positive. My hon. Friend said "only 23%"—well, 23% can multiply that much quicker. The 23% that are active can reach out to those that are not active. It will not be politicians in suits telling people how to export; it will be the businessmen who have got dirty, been down there and done it, and can sell their expertise and encourage others. That would be my key message.
To achieve the critical mass in relation to the SMEs and particularly the medium-sized enterprises, we should start to engage more. I recommend that UKTI and the FCO have more trade delegations where medium-sized enterprises are engaged with, not only as an SME delegation, but as part of larger delegations. They can be integrated into the supply chains of prime contractors, and we can look at the supply chains of the high-growth economies and what they need. We should ensure that we give the political clout that we commit to larger groups.
I still remember, with absolute frustration, a meeting of the all-party group on trade and investment—of which I am lucky enough to be vice-chair, and which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James)—where I was told of a large hospital construction programme in Saudi Arabia. UKTI had gone out and sought suppliers to the hospital industry for equipment—diagnostic equipment. It was going to take suppliers out—it invited them to go—and the prospectus said that a Minister would be leading it to open the political doors and provide the clout it needed. There was a modest charge, in my opinion, to do it, and then at the last minute, the Minister was not available. How disappointing that was for those SMEs—not because they wanted to rub shoulders with the Minister, however attractive that may be, but because that Minister would have opened doors and allowed them to make the contacts that they needed. We must ensure that we deliver on our promise and spread that political clout beyond the larger groups.
I want to talk now about where we focus our efforts. To reflect the new commercial emphasis, the Government have rightly increased investment in personnel and resources. The debate has been about how we secure business from the so-called emerging—emerged, I think—economies and most notably the so-called BRIC economies. That is understandable and it is reflected in increased investment. We have put, I believe, 50 more staff into China and another 30 into India. There are also more staff in Brazil, Turkey and Mexico. However, those pesky Germans —perhaps that is an inappropriate thing to say with a Foreign Office Minister present; I take full responsibility for that. Those very assiduous Germans have already resourced up to 30% more staff, with a total of 1,700. France is already expanding its efforts into Chile and Argentina.
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There is no doubt that the potential growth for UK plc in the BRIC countries will, if developed, provide a much-needed boost to our balance of payments, jobs and prosperity. They are the immediate attraction when it comes to helping us to meet our challenges. It is interesting that in those economies there will now be a shift to a different market. As the infrastructure there changes and consumer demand increases—consumer spending is set to increase by about 12% per annum—we desperately need to be there. Although we are playing catch-up now, I remain optimistic that, particularly with the increase in consumer spending and infrastructure developments, British companies will be able to capitalise on the changes. My concern is that while we are focusing on the battle in those economies to fuel our immediate needs, we are possibly in danger of losing the next war.
Hon. Members may know that the CBI commissioned research that showed the poor penetration of the UK into what are described as the next generation of emerging economies, compared with the efforts of some of our competitors. For the N11—next 11 economies so identified—we will have to do the groundwork now to avoid playing catch-up in the future. That will ensure that we are strategically and politically aligned in such a way that British companies can capitalise on the increased spending by those economies. I argue that it is important for business and policy makers to identify those markets that will provide opportunities to exploit our comparative advantages in the future, so that we can capitalise on the growth dynamism in those regions.
If we plan now, the FCO and UKTI will generate greater diversification of our overall export presence across a series of high-growth markets, rather than our being over-dependent, as we have been in the past, on Europe and the US and potentially on the BRICs. We would not run a business on any other model, so why should we run a country in that way? We need to be ready to exploit the new markets now, even though the payback may come in 10 or even 15 years.
Let us take a snapshot of the next emerging economies. In relation to Bangladesh, which has been identified as one of the growth economies, we import seven times more than we export. We do not feature in the import statistics to Bangladesh, despite the major historical links between the two countries and, if I may say so, our international aid programme. In relation to Turkey, which is set to grow at a rate of about 8% a year and be the fastest-growing economy outside Europe, the UK has only a 1.2% share of the market. Those pesky Germans and, incidentally, the pesky Spanish and the pesky Italians are outperforming us to a great extent.
We have recognised that—I give credit to the FCO and UKTI—but again we are in danger of playing catch-up. We have talked about BRIC. Believe it or not, we now have MIST—Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey. Overall, those economies have more than doubled in size in the past decade. That is a warning sign for us. My recommendation and challenge to UKTI and the FCO is to look to run an N11 strategy in parallel with the emerging economies. We should entertain a presence in those countries at both strategic and tactical level to foster and engage with the influencers to ensure that we are positioned to capitalise on the emergence of those economies over the next 10 to 15 years. Let us avoid being a spectator and instead lead the team on to the pitch. That would be to the benefit of future generations.
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Would that take more money? Of course it might take some more money, but I would ask for some slightly out-of-the-box thinking and suggest that UKTI go further in making partnerships with professional bodies and trade associations that could help to share the load. After all, that is also in the interests of the companies that are their members. I thought that there were early signs of that. I ask the Minister whether the announcement in February 2012 of a strategic agreement between UKTI and the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe was a taste of things to come—an example of where Government can partner with trade associations and bodies that are experts in their field and, much like the Germans, use those bodies to provide support services and strategic planning in export markets. The House will be interested to know that the network of German chambers of commerce is already established in 80 countries, providing precisely those services. Can the Minister update us on how the strategic agreement reached last year is progressing?
UKTI rightly claims that it gains a £22 return on every £1 of taxpayer funding spent. With that rate of return, it is not unreasonable that although more funds have been allocated, we should consider whether to increase the allocation. Frankly, if someone had offered me those returns in business, I would have seized them, thank you very much.
I shall make just two final points to give other hon. Members a chance to speak. When I was at the exhibition event in the Gulf states, exhibitors said to me, "Look, we can't compete with the costs in China and India, but we can compete on added value." That becomes very important. They said, "What we want the Government to do is not to tell us how to run our businesses, but to sell the strategic value, the top-brand message, of what Britain is good at, which will support what we do." They said, "When you think of Germany, you think of engineering, technology, the motor industry—BMW. That reinforces the idea of quality and advanced engineering, and German companies trade on the back of that image." Drawing on my previous days in communications, I would say that the message is that in UKTI and the FCO we should be defining brand UK and reflecting that brand. We should remember that the brand supports everything we do, and everything we do supports the brand. Let us give businesses the platform from which they can have an added-value dimension.
Our trade envoys—I am delighted that the trade envoy to Azerbaijan, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), is present—have a crucial role, and not just in pushing that same message and opening the doors to trade delegations. I believe that they could help to support our efforts to drive new exporters to market. MPs have a role to play. My hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) led her own delegation to the Indian subcontinent. That was absolutely the right thing to do. We all have our part to play. I do not stand here saying that it is up to UKTI, the FCO and business to get on with it. We have our role to play, and that is important.
Finally, on a practical level, can we please see more focus on the ground? Access—getting into and out of markets—is crucial. I think that UKTI and the embassies in particular can do more than just advise. Sometimes
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they will need to get their hands dirty. Sometimes they will need to lobby and make the case as to why customs is a barrier in some countries and we need to overcome that. Sometimes they will need to take on the challenges of corruption if that is necessary to help to break down the barriers where we have markets.
I want us to take the initiative locally so that we can help our companies to do business on as level a playing field as is reasonably possible. Specifically, for the defence industry, and even beyond, UKTI and the FCO should look at simplifying the export licence application process, which many, including a company in my constituency engaged in large sales overseas, find slow and cumbersome.
In conclusion: much done, much to do. The FCO and UKTI have the full support of the House, but we need to make a realistic assessment of our strategic challenges and ensure that we are delivering the tactical support to meet them, so that my children and grandchildren will have the chance of a wealthy, prosperous life in the future.
Several hon. Members rose—
Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Order. After that excellent start, I shall call Mr Nigel Dodds in a moment. Six Back Benchers hope to speak. I will invite Mr Lucas to speak no later than 10.40 am, which gives us 40 minutes. If hon. Members could limit their remarks to no more than five minutes, we should be able to get everyone in. I know that it is going to be more difficult for some of you than for others, but if we all work together, no one will be disappointed. The batting order after Nigel Dodds will be Daniel Kawczynski, Priti Patel, Charles Hendry, Chris White and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown. For Mr Clifton-Brown's sake, please keep your remarks to about five minutes.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) on securing this important debate. We are perhaps now glad that not so many official Opposition Members have turned up, but I am glad that my hon. Friends the Members for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) are here for the debate.
I shall concentrate on the relationship between UKTI and FCO, and the work of Invest Northern Ireland, with which the Minister will be familiar, given his previous role in the Northern Ireland Office. When he was in that post, he usefully helped with trade delegations and Invest's work in Northern Ireland, and we appreciated his work.
Northern Ireland has a good story to tell with regard to foreign direct investment. Outside south-east England, Northern Ireland is the top region in the United Kingdom for foreign direct investment. That might be hard for some people to believe, but it is a fact. We have won 7% of UK foreign direct investment, despite having only 3% of the UK population. Invest and the overseas sales teams have done a lot of work over the years to make that happen. We have a good offer, and it is important that UKTI works with Invest to promote opportunities for investment in the Province.
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There are areas in which UKTI could do more, working with Invest to attract foreign direct investment and promote trade opportunities. None of the investments that have come to Northern Ireland in the past couple of years were identified or developed through the work of the UKTI network, over and above the work of the Invest teams. To date, there is a lack of project opportunities for Northern Ireland in the UKTI national pipeline of prospective investors, so I ask the Minister to consider, with his colleagues in other Departments, what more can be done. Is it appropriate to set proportionate targets for successful inward investment projects in Northern Ireland? Will he consider setting proportionate targets for inward investment visits to Northern Ireland? Will he commit, with colleagues, to a schedule of regular visits by UKTI overseas staff to Northern Ireland, organised on a sectoral basis, to update UKTI staff on Northern Ireland's product offering, because that would be significant for providing qualitative feedback?
Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Last week, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland were in Brazil targeting opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises. If UKTI is so minded, as I hope it will be, it can assist similar future projects to enable small businesses in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK to target BRIC countries and ensure that investment comes to the UK, and particularly Northern Ireland.
Mr Dodds: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have worked with Invest to visit a lot of the BRIC countries. Indeed, I have noticed criticism of their travelling the world recently, but it is important to visit places such as China, India and Brazil to show the opportunities in those countries and Northern Ireland.
I am conscious of your strictures, Mr Hollobone, so I shall deal quickly with a couple of other points. In recent years, the Prime Minister has led a global investment conference event in London for the chief executive officers of top global companies, and Invest provides input to such events. Communication regarding invitations and attendees is not always as it should be, and access to the events and CEOs is often limited. I ask the Minister to consider how UKTI can help Northern Ireland business leaders to gain greater access to the global CEOs attending such conferences. I am sure that that goes for other regions of the UK as well, because presently the concentration seems to be on London. Will he also have a word with the Prime Minister about the G8 summit? It is in Northern Ireland this year, which is very significant and welcome, and we could build on that opportunity. I suggest that the Prime Minister hosts a G8 investment conference in Northern Ireland, because that would be an opportunity further to maximise the spotlight on the Province.
With the Olympics, we had a very successful 2012. A lot of British companies did a lot of good business, which arose out of the games. The feedback has been positive, because of 40 companies in Northern Ireland, 24 have won £53 million of business, which is excellent. There are issues about marketing rights, however. In January 2013, all London 2012 suppliers were offered the opportunity to apply for licences to allow them to publicise the fact that they had supplied London 2012. Greater access to those licences is important so that people can build on the success.
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Northern Ireland was originally excluded from UKTI's GREAT campaign because, as I keep saying in the House, Great Britain does not include Northern Ireland—it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am glad that progress has now been made, because Northern Ireland was included on the Prime Minister's recent visit to India, and the strapline and messages now include Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland must not be excluded from United Kingdom initiatives and measures, as we are part of the United Kingdom. It is easy to fall into a lazy way of describing or promoting the country, and Northern Ireland must be included as an equal part with England, Scotland and Wales.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): There is nothing more important than exports. The House constantly debates and argues over how to slice the cake—there are huge areas of difference between Opposition and Government Members—to provide for all the public services that we want to support, yet exports are about increasing revenue as a whole for the country and making that cake bigger. I am extremely disappointed that no Labour Back Benchers are present for the debate, but that is typical of debates on exports. They also table few written questions on this critical subject, so they clearly are not interested in engaging with it. I hope that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), will take a message to his parliamentary party about the importance of engaging in such debates so that we can work constructively together, across parties, on this critical issue.
My office and I have spent the previous few months interviewing people from hundreds of SMEs from all over the UK, who have come to the House of Commons to give us their experiences—good and bad—of UKTI. We presented our preliminary results at a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have repeatedly lobbied the Chancellor on the issue, and I very much hope that some movement, or some additional support for UKTI, will be spoken about on Wednesday.
During my interviews, I have got to know Mr Nick Baird, the chief executive of UKTI, who I think is doing a very good job, and I want to put on record my thanks to him for his professional leadership of the organisation. I am, however, disappointed that a number of companies that I have met have failed to get the support that they require from UKTI, so I have started to take them to Mr Baird to allow him to engage directly with them and provide support. Some of the companies are talking about hundreds of millions of pounds of investment into the United Kingdom, so that is very important.
I shall mention briefly, as I have to be very brief, three key recommendations that I would like the Minister to take on board, with which, by the way, Mr Baird agrees. The first is about the structure of UKTI. At the moment, personnel report into different Departments, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and sometimes to local ambassadors. What we want in the United Kingdom is one organisation that is fit for purpose, with reporting taking place directly to UKTI's board and its chief executive. We want an organisation that can hire, fire and reward on the grounds of performance and on a
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commercial basis. We want to encourage people in UKTI to go the extra mile and strive to do everything possible to help British businesses to export. Regrettably, the support is rather patchy; in some parts of the world it is superb, but in others it is poor. We therefore want a common theme across the world and a common reporting structure.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Daniel Kawczynski: No, I will not. I am sorry, but I do not have time.
My second point is about funding. Only 0.005% of Government spend goes to UKTI, and I am concerned that we will fall behind Scottish Development International, for example. That body receives far more pro rata, given the number of companies in Scotland, so it is able better to support its companies.
There is only a 49% awareness of UKTI among SMEs, and it is important that the body gets more funding from the Chancellor so that the message about what it can do for those companies throughout the world is better understood. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) made the superb point that for every £1 spent, UKTI generates £22 of revenue. If I was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my No. 1 priority would be to give UKTI more money.
My third point is that we need greater parliamentary scrutiny of UKTI. I am having to condense a 25-minute speech into five minutes, and this is only the second debate that has been held on UKTI in the past 12 months. This is a ridiculous way of scrutinising one of our country's most important bodies. I want ongoing parliamentary scrutiny, and even—dare I say it—a Select Committee that can interact with Ministers and the UKTI chief executive on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, and hold them to account about specific countries and projects so that we are always scrutinising how taxpayers' money is spent. When that parliamentary scrutiny takes place, we will be able to say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "Look at what UKTI is doing. Look how things are improving. Give it more money," and I cannot overemphasise the importance of that. I desperately want to work with colleagues to convince the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to give us a Select Committee of the House of Commons to allow those of us who are passionate about exports to work together constructively to hold UKTI to account.
Some 45 UKTI staff work in Brazil, but 52 opportunities are listed on the website. The website is not properly maintained, and no opportunities are listed for a huge number of countries. We might not be surprised that that is the case for some obscure, small countries, such as Cape Verde and Mauritania, but there are many larger countries that have no opportunities listed against them. If we are going to have a website and to communicate with SMEs up and down the country, we need always to be harvesting opportunities across the world and putting them on that site. We must ensure that information is disseminated daily to all nine regions in England, and that those regions then interact with their SMEs to find out which can best be tailored to each opportunity.
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Whenever I have travelled abroad, I have noted that the most important thing to remember, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North mentioned, is branding. The British brand is the gold standard. It is the best in the world, so many people across the middle east, and in the rest of the world, yearn to buy British. Give us an opportunity here in the Commons to scrutinise UKTI on an ongoing basis, and give us a Select Committee.
Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): I commend and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) on securing the debate.
I pay tribute to Conservatives in government who have refocused our foreign policy on prioritising the development of new trading links, the importance of which I cannot emphasise enough. As we have heard, the previous Labour Government had an inward-looking approach that left the UK economy at the mercy of the economic performance of the eurozone. We have lost a decade on trade and investment, and reaching out to the BRIC economies. I declare a significant personal interest in the issue, because before I became a Member of Parliament, I worked internationally across many markets, from the Gulf to Africa, Asia and south America.
Last month, I had the privilege of accompanying the Prime Minister and the Minister on the trade delegation to India, and I saw at first hand the role of UKTI, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, in particular, the British high commission and the exemplary team on the ground in identifying opportunities for UK businesses and supporting their endeavours to do business with Indian counterparts. Such trade delegations, under the leadership of the Prime Minister and other Ministers, do tremendous good by boosting the prospects of UK exporters. As my hon. Friends have said, they send out a strong signal that we are in a global race and that the UK is open for business. In addition to our expansion of diplomatic networks, with new embassies, consulates and trade offices being opened, we need to cascade opportunities down to all the UK's regions and all our constituencies.
I pay tribute to the work of the Essex chamber of commerce in reaching out to SMEs and other businesses in my constituency and the wider eastern region. I pay particular tribute to Lord Green, who has put great emphasis on entrepreneurship, supporting exporters and bringing forward inward investment through schemes such as the global entrepreneur programme. He came to Essex just last month and spent considerable time working with the chamber of commerce and holding out the hand of information and guidance through UKTI to Essex businesses.
It will come as no surprise to you, Mr Hollobone, that I want our businesses in Essex to reach global dizzy heights and to export more. Those are companies such as Crittall Windows, a winner of the Queen's award for enterprise, which is a world leader in the manufacture of metal windows; businesses such as Wilkin and Sons, which is based in Tiptree and makes the finest jams in the world; and small businesses such as Margaret's Frozen Luxuries, which makes frozen yoghurts and is based on the border of my constituency. That company recently lost an export order to France because of
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changes in the value of the pound against the euro, but it still has an opportunity because it is now looking to export to the middle east. That clearly demonstrates that the Government are right to focus their efforts away from the deteriorating situation in the eurozone and Europe, and on to restoring Britain's status as a great global trading partner by opening up new opportunities.
There are a number of additional opportunities to build on. We have already heard about parliamentary scrutiny, building greater links and strengthening the roles of UKTI and Members of Parliament, and there is also the 2014 international festival for business, which will showcase in Liverpool the best of British brands—the best that we have to offer—on the international stage.
It would be good to hear the Minister outline what further steps UKTI and the FCO are taking to showcase small and medium-sized businesses, and especially small businesses. One thing that I observed during my time in business and my involvement with trade delegations is that we need to increase the representation of small as well as medium-sized businesses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North said, and get our constituency businesses involved in such showcases.
Finally, I want to highlight the need for UKTI to do more to encourage greater foreign direct investment in the United Kingdom. Companies, as well as sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and other overseas businesses, should all be welcome to the United Kingdom. I particularly want to hear what steps UKTI is taking to bring in foreign investors who could, in effect, invest in not only companies, but the bricks and mortar—the infrastructure—of UK plc, especially in the county of Essex.
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): I put on record my interests as the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and as the chairman of the advisory board of the Russo-British chamber of commerce.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) on securing the debate. He was absolutely right to say that our future recovery lies not within the eurozone, but outside it. We must focus much more on countries where there are tremendous opportunities that we are often missing. From my experience of visiting them as a Minister and subsequently, such countries want to trade with Britain. The door is open, and the question we are most often asked is, "Why don't we see more of you?" I am delighted at the work being done by the Foreign Office and UKTI teams to try to ensure that we are in a strong position to do that.
There are very exciting developments in Russia, with which our trade has doubled in the past three years. It has moved from being our 19th biggest trading partner to being as large as our 11th biggest, which is a huge improvement in activity. We want such an approach to be replicated in many other countries.
I welcome the approach taken by the Minister for Trade and Investment, my noble Friend Lord Green, towards developing links with chambers of commerce. They are well established in their countries, where they are well known to their Governments, and they understand those countries well. It is much better to develop those relations than to put in place a new structure.
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Chambers of commerce are also well positioned to ensure that we go beyond the few cities that trade delegations usually visit. In Russia, there will be delegations to Moscow and St Petersburg, but there are exciting new opportunities and a real enthusiasm for doing business in Kazan in Tatarstan, and chambers of commerce should be our natural allies in making things happen.
At the end of last year, the Prime Minister appointed seven of us as trade envoys to some of the fast-developing markets, which are exactly the sort of markets that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North spoke about. We should recognise the extraordinary personal contribution that the Prime Minister is making in that area, with the success of his trade missions and his determination to get out there and win opportunities for British companies right around the world.
The role of trade envoys is to give an extra level of support, working alongside the FCO and UKTI. It is to focus purely on trade, not politics or diplomacy, and on taking that contact forward to a deeper and broader level of engagement. In the three countries in which I work, there are tens of billions of pounds of British investment in the oil and gas sector, and companies such as Shell, BP and BG have enormous departments that focus on improving such links. My focus therefore needs to be not only on working with them, but on seeing how to secure opportunities for the supply chain and service companies, of which Britain has some of the finest in the world.
Jim Shannon: The effectiveness of businesses is measured by export contracts. Does the hon. Gentleman think that we should do more for our skills and people skills in construction, for instance, so that people are able to go overseas to help companies to build?
Charles Hendry: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we have world-class skills in that sector. I find that people saw what happened in Britain in 2012, when we delivered the most successful Olympic games ever, and know that those involved often have a tremendous amount to offer to countries with big ambitions in such areas.
The Asian games are in Ashgabat in 2017, the European games are in Baku in 2015 and the Expo is in Astana in 2017. In all those areas, we are introducing British architects, engineers and construction companies—working alongside other partners—to ensure that they have the chance to compete. The issue is not only about the big companies, because my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North is completely right that it is also about SMEs. On the recent mission that I undertook to Turkmenistan, the majority of companies were SMEs with expertise in the sports sector that saw how they could work alongside others and realise the potential of the 2017 games.
We also have opportunities to attract more investment into the United Kingdom. These countries all have significant sovereign wealth funds. We can highlight the opportunities for them to invest in British businesses and infrastructure, and they should become our natural partners as we take that forward.
I believe that what really makes a difference is the relationship between trade envoys, and the Foreign Office and UKTI. We have excellent missions and ambassadors in those countries, but we also have
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outstanding UKTI representatives who are focused on understanding those markets and realising the opportunities. That means that we host good round tables to bring together a range of companies that are interested in investing here. For companies that are looking for where to export next, but are anxious about going to markets that are distant and new, we can help to make the process much easier.
I very much welcome the debate. Above all, the key message is that countries throughout the world that want to trade with Britain need to see us more. I am delighted that we have such an energetic Minister in post, because I know that he is tireless in taking that forward.
Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) on not only securing the debate, but his comprehensive remarks.
The UK remains the ninth largest manufacturer in the world, but over the past few years, our export performance has been poor. In 2000, our share of world goods exports was 4.4% but, unfortunately, that had fallen to 2.8% by 2009, which is quite shocking. Perhaps that is why so few Labour Members are in the Chamber.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Chris White: Unfortunately, I cannot, given the time available.
There are, however, now positive signs of improvement. In contrast to financial services, exports in manufactured goods have risen since the financial crisis. Fortunately, in the period between 2008 and 2011, exports of finished manufactured goods grew by more than 16%.
Ultimately, exports depend on good products and pioneering companies, such as DCA Design International. I will not go through a list, as my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) did of all the jam makers and so on in her constituency, but my constituency has similar manufacturers.
The Government have a role in supporting businesses to export, and I hope that they will use the upcoming Budget to provide additional resources to UKTI so that it can reach out to even more businesses. The Prime Minister has announced a national challenge for the UK to encourage more small and medium-sized businesses to export, which is essential. As has been mentioned, if the UK exported at the EU average of about 25%, rather than 20%, about £36 billion would be added to the UK economy.
Businesses need support if they are to export, particularly smaller businesses that do not have large teams and resources to enable them to get into such markets. Our competitors in Europe and America see potential growth in the BRIC countries, as has been mentioned, and their Governments seek to provide their companies with every single advantage. That is why collaboration between the Foreign Office and UKTI is so important. The Foreign Secretary has made it clear that he wants British embassies to roll up their sleeves and support British
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business. We must also ensure that officials have their ear to the ground for new trade opportunities and then feed such information back to UKTI. We need to create a dual hub-and-spoke system, with the UK's vast diplomatic opportunities feeding back information to UKTI and trade bodies in the UK, while they in turn have their own systems to feed back local information to chambers of commerce and business networks.
The Foreign Secretary has tried to reverse the decline in trade offices in consulates throughout the world, but we need to do more than merely reverse the decline—we need to expand, particularly in the emerging markets I mentioned earlier. Information is crucial in an age in which companies can communicate in minutes and deals can be won or lost through the smallest of delays. In the longer term, we also need to encourage businesses to make personal connections with emerging markets.
As a British Chambers of Commerce survey in 2011 pointed out, contacts are often key for businesses exporting into new markets. Businesses that had employees or directors who had lived abroad were even more successful. However, the most direct way in which we can support British businesses to export is by ensuring that our export products and guarantees are as competitive as possible. The Government should therefore commission a report into the comparative competitiveness of the UK's export guarantees and credits, and the effectiveness of our institutions such as UKTI, so that we can learn from the success of others, and accordingly improve our own standards and the way in which we work.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for chairing what should, in my view, become an annual debate. I urge the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee to pay more attention to exports and foreign direct investment, and to produce an annual report on the subject as an update of what has happened the year before. I hope that no offence was intended, Mr Hollobone, because I did write to Mr Speaker to ask whether I could speak in the debate.
I welcome the Minister to the debate. The Foreign Office plays a vital role in exports, so I am delighted that he is here. He and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have been opening embassies around the world, whereas the previous Government closed them. It is important that we have a really good embassy network throughout the world and that we use our contacts and all our strengths. A third of the world speaks English, for goodness' sake. The British Council is one of the best cultural organisations, and BBC radio is one of the best broadcasters. We should use all those strengths to help our exporting situation.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James). Her all-party group on exports, of which I have the privilege to be an officer, does fantastic work, and I urge her to keep doing it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) on securing the debate. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) highlighted high spots in China and Russia but, generally, our balance of payments is still sluggish, which is because the European market, where more than 50% of our exports go, is still in deep trouble. The situation in Cyprus has reminded us of how much
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trouble the eurozone is in. Barclays Bank has an exposure to Cyprus of £184 million, yet it has an exposure to Spain and Italy of £22 billion and £23 billion respectively, and those countries are still not out of the woods.
We need to concentrate on the BRIC countries. By around 2025, the whole of the eurozone and America will occupy only 40% of the world's GDP, whereas just four BRIC countries will occupy 41%. There are many additional emerging countries, so we need to concentrate more of our efforts on getting exports around the world in these high-growth markets. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North has said, this is about not only the BRIC countries.
I have very little time in which to speak, so I will concentrate on one or two areas. I am delighted that UKTI has got an extra 25% over the next two years, but I want to see it account for how it spends that money. Although it is now establishing a new regional trade adviser in every region, I still believe that there is a big gap. I was never a friend of the regional development agencies, and I did not think that they did a particularly good job. We abolished the RDAs and put in their place local enterprise partnerships, but their contact with business is still patchy. There is a huge job of work to be done by the regional trade advisors.
Mr James Hurley reported in The Daily Telegraph on 5 December 2012:
"Our research shows that nearly 70% of SME exporters are not aware of UKTI".
If that is correct, and I query it, it is a shocking statistic that UKTI needs to work rapidly to deal with.
Some 40% of our GDP depends on FDI, so it is absolutely vital that we take all steps necessary to protect that investment. We are still making strategic decisions that are wrong. We are making a strategic decision on where our major hub airport should be on the basis of which party wins which constituency at the next election. Can we not get an all-party agreement on where our hub airport is? It almost does not matter where it is, but let us make a decision. Also, to come up with the HS2 high-speed rail policy in isolation of where the airport will be is not a clever thing to do. At the moment, 70% of Europe's corporate headquarters are based within 75 miles of Heathrow, but we are losing those corporate headquarters by the day because of an incoherent policy, so we urgently need to do something about the situation.
There are one or two bright spots. The Chancellor is absolutely right to drop the rate of corporation tax and the Prime Minister is absolutely right to use the G8 to make sure that companies pay the appropriate amount of corporation tax. However, there is still a problem with finance for companies that wish to export. The Government have announced a £50 million UK export finance scheme, but it is still not up and running because agreement has not been reached with the banks on how it is to be operated.
A major director of a British FTSE company, who was in my office yesterday, told me that the Canadian equivalent of our Export Credits Guarantee Department had telephoned his firm to ask whether it wanted finance from that Canadian export department. One would never imagine a British export department doing that. I am not criticising the ECGD, but it and the Government need to get their act together and think about how we can help companies.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North was absolutely right to mention the target of 100,000 new companies exporting by the year 2020, which would represent £1 trillion in exports. If we are to meet that target, we will have to connect with many more SMEs. If my figure of 23% currently exporting is correct, that has to grow hugely, which means that awareness in UKTI has to increase hugely. It also means that we all have a role—the Government, the Foreign Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Members of Parliament. When I go round the world and visit companies in my own constituency, my brain is always working to see how I can increase opportunities.
I know how difficult it is to export, because I used to be the largest exporter of daffodils in the country—to the Dutch. If one can do that, one can do anything. We need to concentrate more on our exports. It is only through exports—and, above all, only through FDI—that we will grow the economy and get out of the economic problems that we are in.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I commend the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) for initiating this interesting debate and for making a valuable and interesting speech. I was particularly interested in his perception of working with the 11 developing economies, which was a positive suggestion. We are operating in a world economy that is growing in different parts of the world. Unfortunately, our own economy is not, but we are aware that there are opportunities, as we often heard often in the debate, in those emerging economies. Looking ahead in the way the hon. Gentleman suggested is important, as is his emphasis—this was a thread throughout the debate—on SMEs. I will return to that theme, because it is crucial to the success of British exporters.
The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) also made a valuable contribution in which he raised the important issue of devolved institutions and the relationship between UKTI and the devolved nations. More work can be done to ensure that those parties work together, both to promote investment in the UK and to sell the message about Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Also, within England, a more devolved approach within UKTI would increase the links between business and UKTI, which I sense from listening to the debate that many hon. Members feel are lacking.
The contribution made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) was interesting, particularly his suggestion, which is certainly worthy of consideration, that there should be a Select Committee to examine these important points. The hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) also emphasised the crucial importance of small and medium-sized businesses. We heard about the jam that is made in her constituency, which I am sure is excellent—I would love to experience it at some stage. I was also interested in the contribution by the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) and his reference to the Azerbaijan games.
In the debate so far, we have not touched on creative industries. Sport is obviously crucial. Last year was a wonderful year in which we projected Britain—sorry,
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the United Kingdom—to the world, in addition to our artistic merit. I am sure that it is true for all Members that the potential of the creative industries in our constituencies and the skills of our young people in those industries match the world's best. When we consider exporting, we need to talk much more about the creative industries than we do now and concentrate on that sector.
I almost got upset with the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) because of the misrepresentations he made about the previous Labour Government, but I will move on from that. I also learned from the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) about the daffodils that he exported, and as a representative from Wales, I commend him on his choice of flower. All Members who contributed to the debate did so positively.
We are, of course, in a difficult situation because despite the references to business expertise by Conservative Members, the reality is that this country's economic performance has been very bad since 2010, and far worse than the Government said that it would be in 2010. The Government said that they would base their economic policy on exporting, but I am afraid that that process has not been as successful as we would have liked. We need to up our game. On the eve of the Budget, it is quite clear that we need to do more.
We do have companies that are extremely successful at exporting. I do not want to be the bringer of bad news the whole time, so I will say that only yesterday we had an excellent announcement from Airbus, which has a factory just outside my constituency, that it is selling more than 200 new aircraft to Indonesia, which is one of the economies to which the hon. Member for Enfield North referred. That is an excellent example of the Government and the industry working together. That form of business is very successful, because we are the No. 1 exporting nation in Europe and we can outperform our competitors.
The UK automotive industry is also a successful exporting industry. It is doing extremely well and, again, that is an example of the Government, industry and—dare I say it?—trade unions working extremely closely for the benefit of the economy. That means that we can succeed when we work together, ensure that we reach out to development markets and make real progress.
I turn now to Germany, to which the hon. Member for Enfield North referred, because I found some interesting statistics during my preparation for the debate. I was especially interested to learn that Germany's export credit agency, Hermes, provided €32 billion of financial support to German exporters in 2010, which is equivalent to 3% of Germany's exports. The UK equivalent, the Export Credits Guarantee Department, provided only £2.9 billion of support for exporters which, if my maths is correct, is less than one tenth of the support that Germany offers. It would therefore be helpful if the Minister examined that German budget and considered how a country such as Germany can fund such a seismically larger approach to investment abroad?
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: The hon. Gentleman has made what is perhaps the most important point that could possibly come out of this debate. The banks are
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still not lending to small businesses, there is still a problem with export finance guarantees and there is still a problem with currency instruments. If we can get ECGD at least to start backing instruments to help small and medium-sized companies to export, I believe that we could have a step change.
Ian Lucas: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I am a proponent of a much more regional structure in banking than the one that exists in the UK at the moment. The flawed reforms in the 1980s created a very centralised and uncompetitive banking sector that has not fundamentally changed in any way since 2007. The German Sparkassen model has been successful since 2007, and the Leader of the Opposition made a speech only last week in which he talked about introducing the concept of regional banking within the UK to try to link in with
Accident and Emergency Services
Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): I am not sure I can keep up with the pace of the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd), but I am delighted to follow him and I have some sympathy with one of his points. I felt compelled to write to the NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, having seen his comments about the role of politicians.
Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is 2-1.
Nick de Bois: It is true. As my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, the Evening Standard claimed, “Nick de Bois 2, Sir Bruce Keogh 1”, so I hope I wrote on behalf of all Members. The medical profession is at the root of this issue. If it wants to win arguments based on evidence, so be it, it can win those arguments against politicians, but it also has to win the hearts and minds of the people it serves. That is why we should not be taking lectures on the role of MPs and democrats.
I would like, unapologetically, to talk about my hospital, which has been introduced briefly by my neighbour, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love). As a hospital facing threats of change—not all good by any means—Chase Farm hospital must predate almost every Member present in the Chamber, perhaps with the exception of the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). Going back to the early 1990s, it was promised the proceeds from the disposal of the Highlands hospital. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said, the story I am telling crosses more than one Government, so I will try to tell it in a non-partisan way because my interest is in getting the best for my constituents.
After my constituents were let down by the promise of investment from the sale of Highlands hospital—now a pleasant residential area—no money was forthcoming, and in 1999 an administrative merger between Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals was proposed, which we were assured would lead to no clinical changes and have advantages. The effect of the merger was that the healthy balance sheet of Chase Farm was sucked dry to support a hospital that was bleeding payments—the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge may identify with that. Again, my constituents were let down.
Just before May 2005 we were told that we would have £80 million investment in our district general hospital. Sadly, that investment did not materialise, and shortly afterwards, in 2006, a programme of downgrade—reconfiguration, as it is known—was started, particularly in our maternity and A and E units. That was confirmed in 2008, but judicial review by the local council held it up. Hopes were just beginning to rise, and with the change of Government those hopes were raised again from the moratorium. I have said this before on the Floor of the House but I will repeat it for the avoidance of doubt: my constituents were utterly let down by the Secretary of State when we were again downgraded.
Hon. Members will therefore understand why my constituents—I am sure this resonates with hon. Members on both sides of the House and their constituents—and the public the acute hospitals serve are so sceptical when they are on the receiving end of advice and recommendations. It is a question of trust and transparency.
Like every hon. Member, I understand the full implications of the strategic drive for, and some of the benefits of, centralisation. However, I oppose the reconfiguration because of the inconsistency in what we have been told. There has been a clinical case for change, and a clinical and safety case for change, and yet in 2011, the Care Quality Commission said that Chase Farm hospital was running up to standards.
At that point, the PFI situation emerged. The PFI deal sealed for North Middlesex hospital—a neighbouring hospital in the south of the constituency—meant an investment of £129 million over 31 years, meaning a total repayment of £640 million. That £2 million a month comes off the operational budget. On 22 November, the then Secretary of State was quoted in the very reliable Daily Mail as saying that the recent downgrade was partly because of unsustainable PFI debt.
One reason often cited for the proposed downgrade of my hospital is that GPs support it. Three hospitals—Barnet, North Middlesex and Chase Farm—were part of the downgrade plan, and GPs from Haringey, Barnet and Enfield were asked about the proposals. The vote was organised like a communist meeting. If we ask people in Haringey or Barnet whether they have a problem with the downgrade in Chase Farm, I suspect they will say no if it benefits their hospital. The figures show that only 44% of Enfield GPs approved, but of 129 GPs asked, only 48 responded, so only a positive 16% recorded their support. I hope the Minister asks her officials to reflect on that point.
I oppose the reconfiguration but recognise that I need to fight for the best possible deal for Enfield. It is therefore important to examine the so-called pre-conditions of implementation of the strategy that we were promised —we were guaranteed that they would be put in place.
Mr Burrowes: I commend my hon. Friend for his continuous efforts, although perhaps he should take his seat since he has given way.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): That is my job, not the hon. Gentleman’s.
Mr Burrowes: My hon. Friend has continuously stood up, not just in the House but in his constituency, against the closure of the A and E in Chase Farm and for securing health improvement in Enfield. He has secured a cross-party delegation meeting with the Secretary of State, at which we want an assurance that the £10.6 million being invested in primary care in Enfield ensures we get effective primary care improvements before the reconfiguration.
Nick de Bois: That goes back to my point—it is a question of trust. It is vital that that promise is delivered, but it is already some four years since the change was envisaged, and very little has been put in. It is therefore right that we press the case for implementation and delivery on the ground if the strategic review goes ahead.
I welcome the opportunity to meet the Secretary of State—I hasten to add that a cross-party delegation will meet him—but I have some questions to put to the Minister on the Floor of the House. Is she aware of the growing health inequalities in the borough, which have increased since the original 2008 assessment? According to the latest census, the population is far removed from the original assessment—there are 40,000 more people.
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend’s remarks. Does he feel at this stage that he is pushing at an open door or a closed door?
Nick de Bois: I am sitting next to my hon. Friend, who shares a great interest in this subject, and I think she has been reading my notes. With a new Secretary of State and with such interest across the country, Chase Farm does not feel as if it is alone any more. There is a momentum and an opportunity to examine new issues, so I hope I am pushing at an open door. On cost and on how we treat patients, we need to bold and innovative. For example, we should be examining the impact of telehealth care on our acute centres. Such things will not just drive costs, but better health care. Can they have an impact on whether we retain more services at our acute centre in A and E, while more people are being treated in the primary sector?
I think that my constituents look at the Lewisham solution almost with envy. We should be able to at least guarantee to our constituents—[Interruption.] Bear with me here. As a minimum in Enfield, we would like to see 24/7 access to a doctor because the proposal for our urgent care centre is 12 hours. I think people need that comfort. I am not playing politics with Lewisham and I am not saying that the situation there is satisfactory—the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) knows well my position on that. However, I am saying how we look at it from Enfield. I hope the Minister will consider innovative ways, looking for providers be they from clinical commissioning groups or with direction from the centre, in which we can offer 24/7 doctor-led care to my constituents after years and years of frustration.
Nick held an adjournment debate on government support for pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE), on 18 October 2012.
PXE is a rare condition that causes the elastic fibres that are normally found in the skin, the retina of the eyes and the blood vessels to become calcified and break up, so losing their elasticity.
Nick held the debate in order to raise awareness of the condition which affects one in 100,000 people worldwide.
It affects women twice as often as men and, in most cases, symptoms tend to become apparent at about 13 years of age.
There's no cure for PXE but skin can be camouflaged with make-up, or some people may choose to undergo cosmetic surgery.
You can WATCH the debate.
Univeral Credit and Welfare Reform
[Opposition Day - 6th Allotted Day]
Nick de Bois: I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am not recognised for praising those on either Front Bench, but I must say that I am pleased that both sides genuinely seemed to take a workmanlike approach to the debate. Furthermore, I hope that there is a genuine consensus that the debate is about getting people back to work, rather than labouring on about welfare cuts and so on, which would be the more stereotypical debate. I think that the premise that it is about getting people back to work is genuinely accepted. At moments during the debate I wondered whether Opposition Members are fair-weather friends of that argument, but I hope I am generous in assuming that it is the main goal.
I will set out a little context before turning to some specifics. In 2010 around 5 million people—12% of the working-age population—were effectively trapped on out-of-work benefits. It is also true that many of them—about 1.5 million—had been receiving such benefits for a considerable time, which meant that we were dealing with not only a personal problem that was individual to each of those people, but a cultural problem that demanded change to help move them from a life of dependency to one of independence.
Reforming welfare is as much about driving cultural change as it is about the process. We are fighting something that has become intergenerational and almost institutional. Worklessness and welfare dependency are two evils that are very close together and they do not simply develop in difficult economic times; we have enjoyed long periods of growth, yet 11% of the working-age population—some 4 million people—were on out-of-work benefits during those years. It is interesting, although worrying, that during the last economic boom employment rose by around 2.5 million, yet a great deal of that was in the public sector and more than half was accounted for by non-UK nationals. This is not an immigration debate and I am not trying to make that point, except to register the huge challenge we face in driving the welfare system to help put people back to work.
The shift is now about moving from handouts being at the centre of the welfare system to putting work first. I know that we could look over the previous Government's time in office and say that they continually grew the welfare state—it is a fact; it happened—and I suggest
that they did so with entirely the right intentions, but it has led to this generational and cultural issue. I think that we can alter this cultural perception so that working becomes something to aspire to, rather than the exception in many families.
In that context, I should like to address one or two of the concerns that have been raised, starting with the question of managing money and monthly payments. This is about a practical need. If someone who is unemployed goes straight into a job, there is a strong chance that they will end up getting paid on a monthly basis, and not many employers will give a new employee an advance.
Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan, Scottish National Party): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that many people who work in part-time jobs, particularly women, are still paid on a weekly basis. That is not unusual among lower-paid workers.
Nick de Bois: That is why I chose my words carefully. Many people will be paid in that way. However, in this debate we risk letting the whole programme be driven by a group of individuals, be it those that the hon. Lady mentioned or those who are unfamiliar with computers, who may be in the minority but are none the less significant. That is not the right approach. I would turn the telescope round and look the other way, and help those groups to aspire to have control over their money on a monthly basis or to become computer-literate. That is the difference in emphasis that I would suggest. I see the hon. Lady shrug and sigh, but I offer those comments in the spirit of our all wanting to improve the quality of people's lives and their opportunities to move forward.
Managing money is also about individual responsibility. We have seen an attitude building up whereby people are almost saying, "The state will look after me and the state will do this for me." We cannot accept that any more; it is wrong. It does not encourage the right motivation to take responsibility for our lives, when we can. There must be a practical and moral drive to increase personal self-sufficiency.
The argument about computers is valid, particularly where broadband issues arise. I am pleased that Ministers have recognised the problem and will try to provide access to computers to overcome it. We have talked in terms of percentages. There are about 3,500 jobseeker's allowance claimants in my constituency; I am pleased to say that the number is slightly diminishing. We should not call into question the proposed universal credit merely because 700 of those people may not be able to get access to or use a computer. If 2,800 people can do it, we should work harder to help the other 700 to achieve it. Perhaps that is, again, another way of looking at the problem.
Like others, I am very cautious about IT systems. When I worked in my own company, we used to plan for a bill of £20,000 and it often came in a lot higher and with few of the results that we needed. That is a fact of life. It is daunting to see some of the Government projects that have gone wrong in the past, so I applaud the approach that this Government are taking, and I think that the House rightly gives it credit. This computer system is not going to be launched with a big bang on day one; it is being trialled and done in stages, and that is correct. To be fair, we should give credit to the
Secretary of State and his team for learning from the lessons of the past in trying to drive good value. I wish him well in his task, as I am sure that the whole House does. I note that Labour Members have some concerns about this, but from the perspective of the overall goal, they are manageable.
House of Lords Reform Bill
[2nd Allocated Day - 2nd Reading]
Nick de Bois: I am grateful for this opportunity to share a few words with the House. I made a simple promise to my electorate in May 2010. I said: "I will always put first my country; second my constituency and third my party and serve you in that way." There are few other causes than voting against the Bill that serve both my constituents and my country so well. I cannot support the Bill.
When I stood in 2010, I did not realise that it could be the last election when voters would elect a House of Commons in the knowledge that they were, in effect, electing the Government. In 2015, they could very well simply be electing one of two Chambers that will ultimately lead them to gridlock.
I am certainly not prepared to rush legislation on a major constitutional issue. I am pleased the Government have seen sense today and withdrawn their attempt to time limit the debate, but they must heed the House and not attempt to do that at a later stage. This is a constitutional issue, make no mistake about it. I hope the House sends a signal tonight that the Government do not have the authority to proceed on their timetable as opposed to the timetable of this House. That is another reason why I will vote against the Bill tonight.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh, Liberal Democrat): When the hon. Gentleman faced the electorate in his constituencyat the general election, did he draw attention to the fact that he disagreed with his party's manifesto on urging a mainly elected second Chamber? That is what the Conservative manifesto said.
Nick de Bois: Let me nail the myth that the Liberal Democrats continually present: there was no consistency among the three major parties in the House. We agreed to work for a consensus. If nothing else has been shown in the House today, it has been shown that there is no consensus for electoral reform—I suggest the right hon. Gentleman has not been listening.
I shall not detain the House much longer. My regret is that the debate has been about the composition of a second Chamber and not about its function, outcomes and what we want it to do. I was shocked to find myself agreeing withFrank Dobson, who used the analogy of selecting a team before knowing what game is to be played. We have spent time debating whether we should have an elected Chamber, but we have given no thought to its role and the relationship between both Houses and the Executive. Until we answer that question, it is impossible for us to determine the form of any proposals.
I support the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Mr Harper and draw attention to what he said in 2007. In saying that he could not accept the content of the Bill being debated at that time, he said:
"A democratic upper House would challenge...conventions, and because we would not have had a debate about the proper role of the two Houses and the relationship between Parliament and the Executive, we would not be in a good position to make decisions".—[Hansard, 7 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1587.]
I accept that, as result of the Bill, we have discussed some elements of what we expect from a second Chamber, but we are starting at the wrong end.
Sadly, to the many Opposition Members who declare how concerned they are about the Bill but who are not prepared to vote against it and then work to form a consensus on a Bill that we can all accept, I say, "Shame on you." This is a lost opportunity for our Parliament, our democracy, our constituents and, above all, our country.
New Clause 3 - Representation of the People Act 1985 (Amendment)
[Bills Presented - House of Lords Reform Bill]
Nick de Bois: I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend Mr Streeter. For one thing, he has more or less covered many of the points that I was going to make. I will not follow the traditions of the House by simply restating them, but will press on and make one or two observations.
When it was drawn to my attention that we had imposed a time limit on British citizens living abroad, it struck me that we were sending a rather perverse message. I think that if the Committee supported the new clause we could send a very different and positive message, as well as doing a service to the democratic process. I do not think that we should say to a British citizen who has served his or her country before going abroad, be it through industry, public service, civil service or the military, "At the end of your working life—at the end of the time for which you have served your country and paid your taxes—we intend to disfranchise you if you exceed a Government target." I am sure that none of us would wish to find ourselves in that position, and to feel that we had been effectively disfranchised for having done the right thing for most of our lives.
Why are such people disfranchised? It is quite a simple question, but I can find no convincing reason for it. I looked at the reports of some of the original debates about the issue in the House, going back as far as 1984, but none of them seems to have addressed the problem. In my opinion, ridding ourselves of the limit would involve no real cost to the Government, but only a benefit.
Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight, Conservative): urely the reason is that the system was built on a 19th-century rather than a 21st-century model. I should be grateful
to my hon. Friend if he would push for a system whereby people could vote in the countries in which they live, and the results could be telegraphed to this country.
Nick de Bois: That is entirely the point. We are living in a new world, and in a world that changes at a much faster rate than it has ever done before. There are no barriers to voting. There may be challenges for us as politicians when it comes to reaching the electorate, but that is for us to deal with. It is for the electorate to have free and fair access to the exercising of their vote. As a result of the changing world—the changing technologies, and of course the British consulates that are represented around the world—it is now possible for people overseas to vote in person.
I should like to make one important distinction. The Committee has an opportunity to move with the times by allowing overseas voters—I mean overseas British citizens; I am glad that my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley is not still present, as I should be in trouble if he were—to exercise their democratic right. I was struck by a paragraph in a public letter from a Mrs Margaret Hales, MBE, who lives in Spain. She sums things up rather well, and if the House will forgive me, I shall read out the full quotation. She wrote this letter to the Deputy Prime Minister, and said:
"I am immensely proud that one of my ancestors was Emmeline Pankhurst. One hundred years ago she struggled through arrest, imprisonment, force-feeding and the derision of the then Liberal government"—
I make no partisan point—
"finally to gain universal suffrage. Had she been alive today she would have supported the help given to free Libya, she would have been behind William Hague in his negotiations to secure freedom in Syria and his support of Aung San Suu Kyi. But she could never ever have dreamed that her relative would be writing to you today to remind you, the British Deputy Prime Minister, that universal suffrage is the ultimate goal of every democracy and that the government is there to serve its citizens and not to disfranchise them."
I rest our case.
Electoral Registration and Administration Bill
Nick de Bois: I apologise to the House for having been absent for some 90 minutes. I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr Speaker.
I entirely support the direction and aims of the Bill, but as the Minister will know from some of our earlier conversations, I want to press him on one or two matters and ask him for his thoughts. I should like him perhaps to go a little bit further.
Let us start from the premise that in many boroughs and districts throughout the country it is harder to obtain a library card than to exercise one's franchise, which is a state of affairs that has left us open to the possibility of fraudulent use of that franchise by people who are on the electoral register when they are not entitled to be. Indeed, people are sometimes encouraged to act in that way. A council employee may simply knock on people's doors between certain months of the year and take their details without requiring them to prove their qualification or identification.
Lee Scott (Ilford North, Conservative): A major problem at present is that the previous occupants of the home may be on the electoral register along with the current occupants—and, if they themselves have moved again, a third set of occupants. That problem has never been dealt with, but the Bill will remedy it.
Nick de Bois: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has anticipated a point that I shall be making later if time permits.
There has been a suggestion that there is limited evidence of fraud, and someOpposition Members have suggested that there is no such evidence. I remind the House that last year I took a random sample of 100 people who had been to my constituency seeking leave to remain, and who had absolutely no right to vote in this country. Of those people, 21 were on the electoral roll. I repeated the exercise this year, and it produced a similar result.
Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, Conservative): Might not this be one of the reasons: a piece of paper comes through the door, it looks official and people feel that they should reply? They think that they are being incredibly good and behaving themselves, but in reality they are filling in a form when they should not be doing so in the first place.
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend has far more experience of these matters than I have. I believe that there are a multitude of reasons, including that one. I do not believe that it is all about fraudulent intent, but it can lead to the exercise of a franchise by someone who has absolutely no right to do so. It is clear—and it has been raised—that some people deliberately seek to get on to the electoral register when they have no right to do so, perhaps to improve their chances of obtaining credit. The fact is, however, that the door is open for them to do so, and we must slam it shut.
Ian Swales (Redcar, Liberal Democrat): I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's argument. Does he recognise an experience that I had recently? I asked a female voter whether I could speak to the other two females in the house, only to be told that they were aged six and four.
Nick de Bois: I have not had such an experience myself. I am shocked to hear of the hon. Gentleman's experience, but not surprised. I am grateful to him for drawing it to my attention.
Our system currently depends on trust, and unsurprisingly that trust can and will be broken. The proposals for the use of national insurance numbers and individual registration are therefore a massive step forward, and I hope that they will be implemented as soon as possible. I shall deal shortly with the question of timing, but I should like first to raise four points with the Minister. I would be grateful if he responded to them, or at least considered them and then responded at some future date.
First, the co-ordinated online record of electors presents the possibility that people can move and remain on a multitude of registers. As we have heard, the population is increasingly transient, so there will be ever more such instances. I am not a great fan of the "database state", but I would like to know how theMinister proposes do deal with this problem, because without a record, there will be no central mechanism.
Under the current electoral system, signing up for a postal vote, and therefore being able to exercise the vote without going to the polling station, is easier, and there is potential for the use of false names. There will be some improvement in that regard, but we must consider the timetabling of the Bill, and the fact that many key elements, such as individual registration, will not be put in place until 2014, given the two years it will take for individuals to drop off the register. Therefore, the 2014 general election will be fought using fundamentally the same register as before, but with an increased possibility that it will not be as clean a register as we would like. I fail to understand why we are not trying to focus on the 2015 election. I realise that Ministers have been criticised for introducing these measures too swiftly, but I am trying to understand what trade-off has been agreed so that we are not seeking to put the changes in place for the next general election.
Like many other Members, I welcome the extension of the election period to 25 days. However, if I have read the proposals correctly, it will be possible to apply for a postal vote up to six days before the general election. Does that not present some demanding challenges for electoral returning officers—I am happy to be able to say that we in Enfield have one of the best—in verifying those records, and if there were some organised fraud in postal voting, would that not present an even tougher challenge?
The Bill's provisions deal with fraudulent entries on the electoral register, but very little is being done to deal with the growing problem of personation—the act of turning up at the polling station and using someone else's details to get a ballot paper. We have already heard that Siobhain McDonagh could appear asElvis Presley. That scenario was entertainingly described by my hon. Friend Mr Jackson. The reality is that, however implausible that might be, it is highly possible if the name "Elvis Presley" is on the register.
I therefore ask the Minister to expand further on the reasons for not requiring some form of voter identification at the polling station. Predictably, OppositionMembers said the answer to the problem was to introduce their identity card scheme. As we know, that is not necessary, as illustrated in Northern Ireland, where perfectly acceptable methods of identification are available.
I was delighted that the chair of the Electoral Commission, Jenny Watson, who has been calling for voter identification at polling stations since 2010, has urged for such a change in the law to be considered, to
"help us all be sure our voting system is safe."
I am confused as to why the Government will not pursue this matter further. I understand that one objection might be that such a change is a step change too far, and may threaten voter turnout. However, within two years of its being introduced in Northern Ireland, the turnout was up to 62.9%, which was slightly higher than the average for a UK general election. I ask the Minister to share his thoughts with us.
Let me be clear, however, that I consider this Bill to be long overdue and extremely welcome. It has my full support, but I will be very grateful if I am able to offer it even greater support, with consideration being given to some of these proposed changes, so we can have full confidence in the register of voters.
UK Trade and Investment
[Westminster Hall Debate]
Nick de Bois: It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. Although I had not planned to speak, I have been inspired to make a few comments on a subject that is dear to me. I first came into contact with UKTI, or whatever it was called then, in my first six months of starting a business in 1988 or 1989—it was so long ago, I can barely remember. I approached it with some enthusiasm because I wanted to export and I did not know where to go. I am afraid that UKTI is in part responsible for me ending up in politics. [Interruption.] Mr Wright is allowed to groan, but they should not be doing it on the Government Benches.
It was with immense frustration that I realised that what was on offer was inadequate and ill-informed. Despite the attractive rhetoric at the time, the Government—I fully confess it was a Conservative Government—did not have much of a handle on how to help businesses grow and export. I resolved that one
day I would be in a position to do something about that. Although I am not in that position, I hope that I can influence thinking.
I am not here to join the list of people who are criticising UKTI; actually the concept of it is sound but the implementation could be better. The CBI report in 2011, which looked back over the previous decade—I will try to resist making any political points—rightly acknowledged that the UKTI had what can only be called the Marmite effect on many businesses. It was a love or hate situation. Some experiences were absolutely marvellous and terrific and others were not. I am sure that organisation and administration had something to do with it, but in the end, as everyone says, it comes down to people and how motivated and how good they are at their jobs.
There are two issues: the short term and the strategic. In a couple of interventions, I touched on the strategic. I am afraid that we have missed the boat on the BRIC nations. Yes, there are short-term opportunities, but we should have been building relationships a long time ago. We could have done that at Government and at business level. I am not sure whether Members are aware that we still do not have a direct route from London to Brasilia. That is not how we should behave if we want to establish ourselves with future growing economies. I hope that a strategy in that area will evolve and that UKTI, along with the Government, will play a leading role in helping us to engage with the N11 countries.
The report "Britain open for business", which I commend to Members, talks about some of the future target countries. It lists only six of the N11 countries. I am a little bemused by that. There may be good reasons, but why did it pick only those six as future target countries?
For the next 10 years, average growth in the eurozone will be pretty awful. The average growth for Germany is forecast at 1.4%, which does not make it a good place to invest money or to solicit sales. It is natural and right to look elsewhere. We have touched on many of the relationships that we have through diaspora or for historical and strategic reasons. I will be blunt; they love us in Kuwait. We came to its aid 20 years ago when we helped to liberate it from Iraq.
There are reasons why countries have an affection for us and wish to work with us, and they go right back to before the Commonwealth. However, it is not just a question of saying, "Oh, let's go and work with those countries." We must look for where the growth is. We have already heard about India's phenomenal growth and the shocking fact that we have such a small slice of it. Closer to home, we are one of the few countries that is supporting Turkey's membership of the EU. Turkey's growth currently stands at 8.9%. The UK is behind Italy and France. As Members will understand, with my name, I am utterly qualified to comment on the French without any fear of kickback. France's growth stands at 1.6%, Spain's at 1.9% and Britain's at 1.2%. It is a ludicrous situation. Government cannot do everything, but they can act as a facilitator.
If we look at areas outside the eurozone, and match them with our historical links, the links that I have raised and where there is growth, we start to see the basis of a strategy through which we could reach out and seek future growth. Indeed, many of the countries that I am talking about are in the Commonwealth. I am not ashamed to admit that. In fact, I can think of no
greater legacy in this diamond jubilee year than for the Prime Minister to make a formal, public, demonstrable commitment to boosting trade with the Commonwealth. What greater legacy could Her Majesty the Queen ask for? Let me remind hon. Members that we are talking about a common wealth, which was the foundation of the Commonwealth. There is no reason why we should overlook it now. Forgive me, if that sounds a little traditionalist, but it is probably also practical and something that we should seriously consider as an acknowledged strategy.
Looking well outside the Commonwealth, UKTI could quite reasonably look at the Gulf countries, for example. There was a time, when "Cool Britannia" was all the rage, that we overlooked many of the former colonies, for fear of not being very "Cool Britannia", but I regret that decision. I was on a trade delegation to Kuwait and Members will be surprised—I do not know for certain, but perhaps Opposition Members will be quite delighted—that 90% of Kuwait's economy is in state ownership. That is an unsustainable position for Kuwait. There is growth in Kuwait, mainly because of the very high price of oil at the moment, but Kuwaitis know that a programme of privatisation is absolutely essential to their future. Who better than this country, which led the way in turning the heavy hand of state corporations into successful and profitable private organisations, to help Kuwait with that programme? We now have to work hard to rebuild that relationship and position ourselves to be ready to do business with Kuwait, which will help our exports.
Once it has evolved its strategy, UKTI can play a significant role in that process. Let me try to explain why from the point of view of a potential exporter; I was a potential exporter and I am sure that many others in the House were too. Exporting is a journey fraught with difficulties. It makes the Cheltenham Gold Cup hurdle look remarkably easy—if horses go over hurdles at Cheltenham. I am not a horse racer, so I do not know, but it seems a reasonably good analogy. Measuring risk against return in exporting, there is high risk for potentially satisfactory or good return. Patience is a prerequisite, but there are so many hurdles to exporting that many people who start with the right intentions find it all too easy to pull out or fail before they have made any substantive progress. UKTI's work could be a very effective way of holding the hand of some of those early exporters as they go through the trials and tribulations of exporting. I know, because I failed at exporting. I have no problem admitting it, because that failure eventually led me to learn from those lessons and to succeed, both in north American markets and in some of the markets that we have discussed today; but it was a very difficult journey.
Where UKTI could help to fill the gap is both on a practical level and an advice level, but we need to do more. We have already acknowledged the need to build—on a regular basis—our relationships with Governments, agencies, finance houses and companies themselves. UKTI can help to do that, but it needs to do it with a little more power and oomph to its elbow, taking the companies with it. There is a role for UKTI in that process.
My next point is that we need to ensure that we can work with trade bodies here in the UK, by proactively going to them rather than waiting for them to come to
us. First, we must have matched British industries with markets in the growth countries and then put the case to them why they should export to those countries. There is practical help that we can offer British companies via UKTI, and we must persuade them about—indeed, sell them on—the merits of exports.
We must also offer companies practical ways to break down the barriers to exports. Many of those barriers are financial. For example, how does a company even open a bank account in some countries? We can help with that and other things, through to delivering companies the contacts in the first place that will allow them to go on and build a sustainable relationship. The job is as much about selling in Britain as it is about opening doors overseas. It is not rocket science to say that that is what we need to do.
I echo the call of my hon. Friend Priti Patel: parliamentarians—I choose that word carefully—can play an active role in that process. Parliamentarians from both Houses can do that; there are skill sets everywhere. Let me for a moment shower praise on Baroness Morris of Bolton, who I joined on a trip to Kuwait. In that part of the Gulf region, a baroness or a baronet—I am afraid that I do not know all the proper titles—is one of the most respected positions. I was walking behind Baroness Morris, having got out of the second car that had picked us up from the airport; the hotel manager and the director met us at the hotel door and I followed them in. I hasten to add at this point that I was carrying my own bags. When I got to the lifts, I was promptly shown into a different lift from the one that Baroness Morris was being escorted into. I had no problem with that, but it taught me a lesson. In different parts of the world, our parliamentarians are respected and valued; sad to say, they may be more respected and valued than they are in parts of this country. We should use their talents, whereby they are consistently able to build relationships, and consistently use—frankly, let us say what it is—the power of office and patronage to help practically in opening the doors and driving our business.Above all else, if we match not only the titles but the talent, skill and expertise of our parliamentarians with the abilities of UKTI, we can make a practical demonstration of effective support from Government to meet the real needs of business.
Nick de Bois: I am pleased to have secured this important debate to raise the tragic death of my constituent, Ricky Burlton, and to highlight significant flaws in the current process, under which unqualified drivers are able to procure motor insurance and vehicle excise duty, which in this case played a significant part in Ricky's tragic death. Aged only 20 when he was killed, Ricky was struck by a car on the A10 southbound exit near Hoddesdon on 4 June 2010. It is believed that an Albanian national, known as Georgios Tsoulos, who had been living in the UK illegally under a false Greek identity, was behind the wheel of the car that hit and killed Ricky.
Following the incident, Mr Tsoulos was transferred to hospital to receive treatment for injuries he sustained to his face. While awaiting a further transfer to Moorfields eye hospital, he absconded and has not been seen since. He is still wanted for questioning, of course.
Ricky's parents, Dawn and Mark, are in the Gallery. Although they know that nothing will bring Ricky back into their lives, they came to see me to highlight how an uninsured, unqualified driver with a false identity was able to drive a taxed and insured car. They wished to draw attention to the probable scale of the problem and, more poignantly, to help prevent others from experiencing such tragic events. I pay tribute to Ricky's parents for their determination to prevent other parents from having to go through what they have been through.
The chain of events that led to Georgios Tsoulos driving the car that is suspected of killing Ricky is, sadly, straightforward, so let me recall the narrative briefly. Having established an address, Georgios Tsoulos was able to purchase motor insurance, probably doing so online. Although his lack of a valid driving licence would have invalidated his insurance policy in the event of an accident, he was still able to procure it legally, as people can. It is not illegal to purchase car insurance without having a valid driving licence, even though most insurance companies I have spoken to have told me that they would not choose to insure an individual who did not have a driving licence.
This debate invites the Minister to become aware of this situation and, where possible, to answer the following questions: why would and why can someone without a licence, particularly someone using an illegal identity, gain insurance that enables him to drive a car with a very reduced chance of being apprehended? What is the scale of the problem? What steps could we take to mitigate this behaviour?
Why would an individual who had no legal right to be in the UK and no valid UK driving licence wish to purchase motor insurance, which would of course become invalid in the event of an accident or a collision? The answer is obvious: it is so that he can use the insurance to obtain road tax, with the combination of those two things minimising the likelihood of him being picked up by an automatic number plate recognition—ANPR—camera. This gives an unqualified and potentially dangerous individual the ability to drive unchecked and unstopped.
We encountered a few problems when we tried to look into how many people are driving without motor insurance. In respect of those driving with a false identity and without motor insurance, we are trying to establish and prove a negative, which is always difficult. We had previously written to ask theDepartment for Transport whether it kept figures on this. It does not, of course, but the Department referred me to a quote from the Motor Insurers Bureau stating that 23,000 people are injured and 160 killed every year by uninsured drivers.
It is not unreasonable to assume that a fair proportion of these people are driving taxed cars as a result of gaining—albeit invalid—insurance, and thereby avoiding early detection. We have no idea, of course, how many people are driving on a false identity, but it is reasonable to assume that a significant number are doing so. Those figures fundamentally suggest that the size and scale of insurance-fraud-related injuries and deaths caused by unqualified drivers is significant.
Insurance companies are not unaware of this problem. They are aware that people are using insurance policies to conceal their lack of licence and, thus, their illegal driving. The Association of British Insurers has told me that identify fraud, especially the growing use of fraudulent driving licence details, is a huge concern for the industry. The insurance companies have highlighted the fact that they have processes to try to deal with this issue. They will assume that a contract is entered into in good faith, but where they have doubts they will often, in order to reduce the level of policies taken out using fraudulent information, present photocopies of driving licences to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and pay a fee to establish whether there are any doubts about validity.
The number of insurance companies conducting these checks, however, still seems relatively small. For example, in 2010 more than 210,000 applications were made by insurance companies to access the DVLA database to check an individual's driving licence status, compared with total sales of 24 million new policies each year. I hasten to add that the vast majority of those policies will be for re-insurance, but even if less than 5% were first-time policies, checks are still proportionately small, leaving more scope for fraud and illegal driving to go unchecked.
The circumstances that I have outlined conspire to make it all too easy for illegal and irresponsible drivers to take to the road, and that is not helped by the lenient punishments when individuals are prosecuted for motoring-related offences in this category. Figures released to me by the DVLA show that as of26 September 2011, nearly 240,000 individuals on its database were classed as non-licence holders who had committed and been convicted of driving-related offences. That includes a staggering 1,218 people who have been convicted of 10 or more such driving offences without having a valid licence. I note that one individual is registered as having 31 driving convictions for not having a licence. It seems to me inherently wrong that we cannot prevent such people from reoffending at such levels.
Such individuals are aided by their ability still to purchase motor insurance policies without having their driving licence status checked. How can we seek to ease the problem of individuals fraudulently purchasing car insurance by claiming to have a full and valid UK
driving licence? I look forward to hearing the Minister's response, but the answer could be very simple. We could, I anticipate, grant insurance companies real-time access to the DVLA database to allow them to validate an individual's driving licence status, when considered appropriate, and require new policy holders to submit their details on their application, which is not yet required. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that some work had been undertaken between the DVLA and insurance companies to seek such a solution, but it appears that there might be some resistance from the DVLA. I would welcome any clarity that the Minister could provide either during the debate or afterwards.
It appears that from 2009 until August 2011 more than £840,000 has been spent by the DVLA on something known internally as the industry access to driver data project. I am told that the intention of the project is to allow prospective insurers access to an individual's driving entitlement and their current endorsement history, but it would also allow us to extend that benefit to rooting out possibly fraudulent applications. Although having already spent close to £1 million, the DVLA has been unable to confirm if and when such a system will be in operation. I am sure that cost-benefit analyses and discussions are under way with the insurance companies, but after such a long time, it would be useful to know whether it is anticipated that the plans will be developed any further.
As I draw to a conclusion—I thank the House for its patience—it is important that we remember the human impact of all this. Those driving without the skill, ability or right to do so, who either hide under a false alias or take out motor insurance so that they can obtain vehicle excise duty to minimise their chances of detection, are a serious threat to citizens anywhere in this country. Our citizens could be run down at any time as a result of a deliberate attempt by a person to take a car on the road when unqualified to do so, which results in that person being a dangerous driver.
Ricky Burlton paid a heavy price for that and his family continue to pay that heavy price. The loophole that allows individuals to purchase insurance without a driving licence and go on to tax their vehicles is creating the ability for dangerous, unlicensed drivers to drive freely across the UK. I hope that as a result of this debate, the wishes of Ricky's parents that this matter is taken forward, and that their campaign and concern are registered, are fulfilled. I hope also that we might make some progress in clamping down on this very dangerous loophole. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
[Westminster Hall Debate]
Nick de Bois: It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I congratulate my hon. Friend David Rutley on securing this vital debate. I also congratulate and welcome to his post the Minister. He may be interested to know that yesterday, by coincidence, I received an e-mail out of the blue from a very old girlfriend who happens to live in hisconstituency. Having finally realised after 18 months that I was an MP, her first words were, "We have the lovely Norman Lamb."
I am conscious of the time and the need for other hon. Members to speak, so I shall just highlight a few points. The recent euro debate focused on the fact—many people thought that this was a reason to tread very cautiously with Europe—that more than 40% of our trade is with the eurozone. My argument is that that trade is something to be respected, nurtured, looked after and, of course, developed if possible, but the reality is that no one would try to run a business with an over-dependence on one business partner for 40% of their trade. Therefore, it is vital that we look elsewhere.
I noted the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield about history. I do believe that we have relied on history, but I feel that we have failed to capitalise on a number of unique opportunities that reach far outside the eurozone and not just to the east. There are many countries that are growth economies where Britain is uniquely positioned to capitalise on its relationships, whether through historical links, the extensive diaspora that we have in this country from those countries or current strategic and political links. We need an analysis of where those factors merge with prevailing growth economies and economies that are deemed to grow in the future. We should take a snapshot of how we are doing and then realise the potential of what we can do.
Let me share one or two examples based on information from the Library. Britain is one of the few EU states arguing for active support for Turkey's membership of the EU. However, the fact remains that the UK's share of overall exports to Turkey is 1.2%, compared with Italy at 2.4%, France at 1.6% and Spain at 1.9%. If we
start to analyse where we have links that go beyond just trade, we can capitalise on that for the benefit of trade. In a Commonwealth country such as India, it is surprising to note that we are being outperformed by the USA—that is perhaps not so surprising—and Argentina, with Germany and France close behind, according to House of Commons statistics.
I have more examples, but the trend I am trying to highlight is that we are now forced to look outside Europe. There is a wealth of opportunity not just in the east, but in the countries that fall within the criteria that I have mentioned. For example, on a recent trip as part of a delegation to Kuwait, I was intrigued to find out that more than 95% of the population is employed in the public sector. The country is about to embark on a large nationalisation programme—[Interruption. ] Sorry, a privatisation programme—I stand corrected by the look on the face of Mr Wright, who clearly welcomed my mis-statement. However, the UK has unique experience and expertise. Kuwait is embarking on major power plant construction and massive infrastructure development, and our recent links with it should set us apart from many other countries, given that it wants to do business with us, shares a history with us and is open to our companies knocking on its door. That is a place we can look to go to.
How can we do that? The Government have a role to play, as do parliamentarians. What does business actually want from Government? Essentially, businesses faced with the prospect of exporting immediately face a number of barriers, and I experienced them myself. Those barriers will deter even many of the most hardened and determined individuals from reaching into export markets. Although I support the comments of UKTI, we need to be candid and to recognise, as the CBI said in "Winning overseas" in November 2011, that businesses see UKTI as having the Marmite effect: for some, it has been absolutely marvellous, but for many others it has not fulfilled its role or managed to match businesses' needs with the services provided by the Government. However, that is something that we can improve and build on, and I refer Members to the CBI's document, which I found extremely constructive and helpful.
From the Government, we are now seeing a commitment to leading trade delegations and opening doors in regions that have been ignored, and the Gulf countries are a good example. However, we cannot do these things through just one visit; we have to maintain a consistent, permanent and ongoing relationship, and I welcome Lord Green's work, as it is a major start. With all due respect, however, there is a wealth of talent across the Lords and the Commons that should be put to use in helping consistently to develop regions at a lower level. That should be done in a way that carries with it the respect and authority not only of the individual's heritage, but of the country that is opening its doors to them, as it sees them conscientiously rebuilding relationships.
Let us be candid: when we get to these other countries, we will need to break down the barriers to exports. We as politicians can reduce some of those barriers, such as customs and complicated legislation, in ways others cannot; we can fight our corner and support British companies. We also need to bring in contacts. I would be proud to say that I am a salesman for Britain and that I am opening doors by using the levers at our
disposal, as that will allow us to have influence and to bring delegations along, whether from prime contractors or from SMEs riding on the back of prime contractors. We can show companies what they can achieve and give them the contacts.
However, more needs to be done. I welcome Lord Green's initiative, and our job, in our country and in our constituencies, is to start emphasising the opportunities to export, while explaining how we can offer practical help. I do not want to be the same business man I was 20 years ago. When I first started, I wanted to export to Switzerland, although I will not bore Members with the details. I rang the embassy for advice, and the first thing I was told was, "The markets here are very good for ball bearings." That still sticks with me as the most useless piece of information that I received, because I could have found it out during my geography O-level all those long years ago. I want to feel that the Government can put in place people who have worked in business and who can actually help businesses to reach out, break down barriers, make contacts and sell. That, crudely, is what it comes down to, and that is how we can help.
I hope the Minister will take on board the fact that the Government are setting the right direction and starting to break down doors, but let us do that consistently and permanently. Relationships are not born out of one visit, but out of a commitment to a region over a period of time. We need patience, and we need to use it to help businesses to meet the cultural and business demands of a variety of regions and to take on markets where we are being beaten, when we should actually be streets ahead.
[Westminster Hall Debate]
Nick de Bois: I shall be brief. I intended to make two points, but I will now make only one, in the interest of enabling other hon. Members to speak. I want to talk about the role of education and of finance and how help can be provided to people. I fully confess to being heavily influenced by a constituent of mine, who has been working under the scheme led by Virgin Media. In the past year, she has taken steps to establish a competitive business. In fact, while she was at college, she was so entrepreneurial that she decided to use some of her student loan to help to fund the website that is driving her business. The entrepreneurial spirit is to be admired. I have no idea whether she was allowed to do that, so I will not name her, but it shows that with some lateral thinking, perhaps some of the young talent that exists can be put to good use.
I myself did not go to university. I went to a technical college in Cambridge, which I am told is now a university. The business studies course that I did was a sandwich course. It struck me that the only choice that I had during that sandwich course was to go to a placement that was put to me by the college, very helpful though it was at the time. Why cannot we set up an arrangement whereby we allow a sandwich year, even in a course of reduced time length, to become an opportunity for someone, under mentoring and guidance and with the ability to use student finance at their disposal, to take their first steps towards running a business?
If we think creatively, we can not only foster the educational and mentoring skills that are so vital; we could even allow people access to finance, perhaps on
the same terms as those of the student loans scheme. I suspect that it would not be able to extend its remit to do that and we may have to look elsewhere for other sources of financing. However, if we are genuinely saying, "Let's educate and let's motivate," and we have students who are showing character and willingness by seeking out the courses, there could be a useful match with an existing system in order to help them. At the end of the day, the payback to them as individuals will be substantial—the payback to the economy will be vital.
I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give the initiative that I have described some consideration and not to lose sight of something that we all too glibly talk about—
John Hayes (Minister of State - Further Education, Skills and Life Long Learning, South Holland the the Deepings, Conservative): I have given that some consideration and I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think we will do it. I think it is a very good idea and I will ask my civil servants to work something up.
Nick de Bois: I say, when you're ahead, quit. I thank the Minister.
Future of Town Centres and High Streets
[Backbench Business - Unallotted Day]
Nick de Bois: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, and I commend my hon. Friend Mr Jones and the Backbench Business Committee on securing this important debate.
Much has already been said so I shall concentrate on two issues, time permitting. The first is my constituency. Many Members know that the town of Enfield, which is at the heart of my constituency, has a recent history, sadly, of being caught up in the riots. It has been fraught with that difficulty and the current economic climate that faces so many of us.
The wonderful "I love Enfield" campaign, which was started by Fast Signs, one of our local businesses, immediately after the riots tore through the high street, is a prime example of how local businesses, close to their community, are entirely in touch with the individuals and locations for which they provide services. Subsequently, our local Labour council started a "Love your high street" campaign, which I was fully behind, to try to bring traffic to the high street. It is thus all the more baffling that the council has persisted in introducing a steep hike in parking charges, including for Sunday parking, that is causing economic distress to traders and frustration to residents and is penalising churchgoers. It is not acceptable. As one of the local businesses said:
"If the council...are serious about regenerating town centres...then they need to consider one of the most simple ways of encouraging people to stay and shop in their community."
At the heart of that is parking.
Since its election, Enfield's Labour council has sought to force through drastic changes to parking regulations throughout the borough. Its initial proposals to increase parking charges, in some cases by more than 100%, and to increase the number of charging days to include Sundays and bank holidays, have created a difficult climate for local businesses. The changes faced massiveopposition from residents, traders and our local newspapers—The Enfield Advertiser, which has launched a campaign, and the Enfield Independent. Despite that, the cabinet member for environment, Councillor Chris Bond, still claims that "fairness" is "at the heart" of the decision. However, as the Emma Claire hair and beauty spa salon says:
"All we constantly hear from our clients is that they no longer wish to shop or use our facilities due to the excessive amount of parking charges that Enfield council has implemented."
It is worrying that Enfield council has refused to explain where the extra income generated will be spent. The cabinet member for finance, Councillor Andrew Stafford, claims that it will be used "to gain additional revenue" for the council's coffers. I question that judgment, because the guidance for the Traffic Management Act 2004 stipulates that merely raising revenue should not be an objective of parking charges. I support the campaigns by residents and newspapers to try to overturn the decision. The council must withdraw its plans, cancel Sunday parking charges, repeal the increases and help, not hinder, Enfield's shops and businesses.
The issue is not all about parking, but we have heard consistently across the House that it is a problem that faces everyone. Our high streets will benefit in future from a long-term strategic view of how to take on our present-day challenges, but I fear that there is disconnect between landlords, retailers and local authorities in achieving a strategic view. To face the challenge for the future, a long-term, investment-led and holistic strategy will be needed that will drive people—with relief, I believe—away from their computer screens and internet shopping. If they see their high street become a destination of choice for social and cultural events, and not least for shopping, we can help to promote our town centres. In Enfield under the Conservatives, between 2002 and 2010, there was a commitment to expand the shopping precinct, and they moved the library and the museum. Now we can take things a stage further. Recently, even volunteer dance groups have appeared in the streets of Enfield, making it a good place to do business and I invite all Members to come and see what a great job our retailers are doing.
[Opposition Day Debate - Unalloted Day]
Nick de Bois: Given the constraints on time and the number of people who wish to speak, which shows how seriously Members on both sides of the House take this issue, I will try to limit my remarks.
The obvious route to improving living standards is to help as many people back into work as possible. Instead of focusing on the points that have been made about some of the very good schemes that have been introduced, I should like to start with structural issues to do with employment. There is no question but that the Government are introducing measures that will help to increase employment. For example, they are looking at rebalancing out-of-work incentives. We are trying to make work pay through the very welcome introduction of higher personal allowances, which will help people at the lower end of the scale. We are also, as the Secretary of State outlined, looking at the bigger picture of welfare reform.
However, we have to consider matters beyond that. As a former employer who started a business with one or two people and ended up with 100 people, I saw, and shared, the intense pleasure of recruiting someone into a new job or their first job. I also understood, and felt, the enormous pain, and sometimes shame, of people who underwent redundancy through no fault of their own. In the last two years of my working time before I came into Parliament, I was very worried by the level of the CVs that were being produced and the failure of candidates to articulate themselves with even basic English or a basic education. That was a clear sign that some people were being failed by their education. I am sure we all agree on the common goal to improve education and raise standards, but there is no question but that the structural changes that we are introducing will improve people's chances and lead to a fundamental generational change for the future. If those changes fail, we may be back here in 10 years, still talking about the problem.
Peter Jackson (Peterborough, Conservative): Has my hon. Friend, like me, noted the lack of contrition from the Labour party in its failure to apologise for driving many people into welfare dependency through its policy of unrestricted immigration over the last 13 years?
Nick de Bois: I welcome my hon. Friend's comments on the complex issues that he raised. We have to consider the consequences of both those issues, but I shall continue to examine the structural changes I was discussing.
The welcome sign for the future is that we have rightly shifted the emphasis from a purely academic route and are now pushing vocational routes, whether through apprenticeships or through further skills and training, giving people a choice from the age of 14 or 16 that will meet the skill needs of employers. Otherwise, we could be back here in 10 years discussing many of the same issues.
With the changes that are being introduced, we need to look at the tactical areas where we can help people get into work that will meet the immediate challenges of improving both their life chances and their living standards. I have met work programme providers and witnessed how they are determined to provide long-term jobs for those who are unemployed and going through the new system. These programmes are to be welcomed because they seek to provide a long-term, rather than a short-term, solution.
I am particularly impressed by the early results of the work experience programmes, working with the jobcentres, where people who had little chance of breaking the dependency culture and moving to independence are put into a work environment and employers are encouraged to take them on. As a result, over half of those who have been in such employment for three months are getting full-time work. I do not subscribe to the theory that so many people just wish to sit on benefits. The road to work is through breaking the cycle of dependency and putting people into an environment where they relish the challenge and want to work. That is the very life chance that they will be able to see, given the chance to improve their opportunities, shaped around the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Much has been said about the debt interest. It is shocking that this country pays about £46 billion a year to service debt in return for nothing. The worst thing is that that money is going to our competitors. The people who are lending us money are the people who will make it harder to help people in this country improve their life chances.
Extradition - Back Bench Business
Nick de Bois: I am conscious that I will be the last person to contribute before the winding-up speeches. A lot has already been said, and I will not repeat points for the sake of repetition, as I believe may have happened previously. Having read the Scott Baker report, my goal is to seek assurances from the Minister that he will engage with the report so that we avoid a passive and compliant acceptance of it. I am sure that he recognises the strength of feeling among hon. Members.
The reason for my concern is summed up in point 1.11 on page 11 of the weighty document that is the Scott Baker report. It simply says:
"Apart from the problem of proportionality, we believe that the European arrest warrant... has worked... well."
Given the lack of evidence submitted in relation to the Scott Baker report from those who have been on the receiving end of miscarriages of justice—that is how I regard the way they were treated—we would do well to urge the Ministerto take into account anecdotal evidence and to lend more weight to it than it seems to have been given in the report.
One reason why I was keen to speak is that I wanted to give voice to my constituent Andrew Symeou and his family, whose nightmare came to an end only earlier this year following a three-year process in which Andrew was finally extradited in 2009 after an arrest warrant had been issued in 2008. He subsequently spent one year in jail in Greece, where he was refused bail simply because he was a foreigner. On top of that, by the time he was rightly found innocent of all charges, there had been a massive cost to his family, whom I have been privileged to get to know very well. They put their lives on hold when they went to Greece to support their son while he was in jail for a year. That gross misuse of the European arrest warrant meant that Frank Symeou's business inevitably suffered; indeed, he no longer has that business. There was a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the two things. I place on the record my immense admiration for the way they stood by their son, fought bureaucracy, fought their corner and ultimately won the justice that Andrew deserved. Andrew is determined, rightly, to see that we get changes to a system that he believes should not be allowed to administer justice of the sort that he went through.
Sir Menzies Campbell, who is not in his place, said that he felt that hon. Members were not ready for a forensic, detailed analysis of the 480 pages in Scott Baker's report. That means that I have wasted a lot of my bedtime reading, but I would like to draw attention to two or three things that point to why the report is wrong to assume that, apart from the problem of proportionality,
"the European arrest warrant scheme has worked reasonably well."
I shall draw again on real-life anecdotal evidence. I feel that, throughout the review, Scott Baker managed to overlook that anecdotal evidence and has all but rejected many of our concerns.
Let us first examine the concerns regarding the mistreatment of a fugitive's fundamental human rights. For example, quite important in a trial or a prosecution process, as I am sure hon. Members agree, is the right to
have proceedings carried out in one's own language or with a full translation. I hope that hon. Members share my shock that, although Andrew Symeou was given a translator on the opening day of the trial, it was clear when opening statements were being made that the translator could not even tell the difference between the words "juror" and "witness". Worse, the translator summarised one set of remarks by saying, "Well, it was something like that. I hope that that will do for you." That is not the best method of giving confidence to a defendant and it does not meet the requirement to provide a full translation of proceedings. It should be noted that the translator in question was being paid barely £14 a day. I am forced to conclude that that does not necessarily buy the best translation services.
In point 5.53 on page 138 of this weighty volume, Scott Baker says:
"We are also of the view that as a starting point it is not inappropriate to begin with an assumption that surrender to another Member State of the European Union will not involve a violation of human rights."
He therefore assumes that everything will be okay because the countries that sign up to the European arrest warrant have signed up to the charter of human rights. I submit that that is repeatedly highlighted as a failing.
Let us examine one other area of the review. It does not necessarily relate directly to my constituent, but it points to one of the weaknesses in the report. I am referring to the question of dual criminality. I will not bore hon. Members by going into that in detail—I will assume a degree of understanding—but essentially, under the European arrest warrant scheme, people can be extradited for acts and behaviours that, no matter how abhorrent we may consider them—xenophobia is the most well known example—are not criminal offences in the UK. That flaw has already been highlighted in the work done by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, but Scott Baker's conclusion is, "Well, yes, we note that"—I paraphrase of course—"but given that it has not been an issue in the last few years, we're not worried about it." It worries me that people recognise that something is not quite right, but because nothing has really gone wrong in the past, it is okay. That is like a mechanic noticing a flaw in an aircraft's landing gear but not taking corrective action, because as far as he is concerned, up till then the plane has always landed safely with the wheels coming down. It does not build confidence.
I am surprised, as I am in relation to other matters—I will not go into them, given the time—that we have not used the review to think about other possible problems that have been highlighted, but, because we may not have come across them, have been dismissed. That is not a satisfactory way to proceed.
I endorse what was said about the nonsensical situation of a court not needing to examine prima facie evidence before a fugitive is extradited. That is considered by the review, but no alternative is reasonably suggested. Again, my concern stems from the case of my constituent, Andrew Symeou. My hon. Friend Mr Raab highlighted the fact that there were clear discrepancies in the evidence. Clear evidence was presented to the court that showed a change in the statements of witnesses—witnesses who were first in Greece and put under a lot of pressure, but
then returned to the UK and immediately withdrew their statements. There was some evidence of abuse as well.
The court noted that, but made it clear that, with the European arrest warrant, this is simply a tick-box exercise—so long as the boxes are ticked, it is not within its remit to pass judgment on the quality of that evidence. Therein lies the problem; that is where we should try to raise the bar. Much has been said about the opportunity to do that. I endorse the support given for a forum bar. That must be examined to introduce a level of security for our citizens in what is a critical affair for them.
My overriding sense and concern is that the European arrest warrant scheme has—not by malicious design; I understand why it was set up—made a particular substitution in the interest of expediency. Of course, we all know the flaws that existed long before it came along. I am thinking of the Costa del Sol—Costa del Crime—and so on. However, in the interest of expediency, the scheme is prepared to accept it as reasonable that there will be disproportionate effects and potential miscarriages of justice. I submit that we should not tolerate that. Not one British citizen should have to go through what my constituent and the others whom we have heard about went through in the interest of expediency and process, however well motivated and well intentioned it was.
I had hoped and expected that the Scott Baker review would be a wholesale rethinking of the UK's extradition arrangements. Going by today's debate, it does not appear to have lived up to anyone's expectations, which I am disappointed by. I remind Members of a comment made before the election that indicated what members of our Front-Bench team thought—that the UK's extradition arrangements were "a mess". It is reasonable to conclude that our hopes for Scott Baker now are that while we can learn, listen and take on board what he has said, we must not lose sight of our duty to ensure that our citizens have the right process of justice. That must not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency and process, no matter how successful those might have been with some serious crime. We must find a way through the problem so that we do not end up with fundamental abuses of individuals' rights, such as those of my constituent, Andrew Symeou.
I hope that we reform the UK's extradition arrangements so that they are fair and balanced. I am not saying that there is no need to have in place a system that speeds up an extradition process, but fundamentally, I urge Ministers to protect British citizens, rather than sacrifice them on the altar of expediency.
Health and Social Care (Re-committed) Bill
[2nd Allocated Day]
Nick de Bois: I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. I wish to speak to amendments 1172 and 1173, in my name, which require the Secretary of State to collect haematopoietic stem cells. The issue is, of course, that of the collection of umbilical cord blood and cord bank policy, which was first raised in the last Parliament.
I pay particular tribute to the work of the all-party parliamentary group on stem cell transplantation for its work under the leadership of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), and to the enormous contribution and determination of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). My previous lack of knowledge of the subject was probably no different from that of many other people, but after giving my hon. Friend and neighbour a lift home on several occasions I became a speedy convert. Quite simply, the collection of cord blood can be life-saving. I pay tribute to the work of the Anthony Nolan trust in that regard.
In 1974 the Secretary of State was not obliged to facilitate stem cell transplantation from unrelated donors. Because the Governments of the day took that position, advances made took longer to achieve, which undoubtedly cost lives. The situation is different now: both the Government and the Opposition support expansion of the practice, and in particular of the more modern use of umbilical cord blood for such purposes. However, it would be fitting for the Minister now to make it clear in the Bill that this issue is important, to lock in the bipartisan support while it is strong, and to send a message to future Governments and civil servants that for as long as the Bill remains on the statute book, the issue is not to be lightly disregarded or de-prioritised at a future date.
The amendments involve no financial or political cost, but they are not merely symbolic. They could be described as an insurance policy against the risk of thoughtlessness or distraction on the part of future Governments—a risk that would ultimately cost lives.
David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate, Conservative): It will not surprise the House to learn that I strongly support what my hon. Friend has said about the importance that should be attached to the life-saving cause of collecting cord blood and transplantation. As he has said, the Government are wholly committed to investing in and improving collections and to transplantation, but is it not important for us to consider whether that should form part of the duty of the Secretary of State? Is it not a priority, given that one in five members of black and ethnic minorities cannot obtain a match for the purposes of the transplantations that are sorely needed for life-saving operations?
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend raises a key point. If we were to make prospective parents aware of the possibility of donation, we could address the major deficit in the BME community.
I will not take up too much of the House's time, but I hope Members will bear with me as I reiterate some of the important points that drove me to table these amendments. Patients in the UK requiring a bone marrow donor have a one in four chance of survival. Only 50% of those looking for a donor will find one, and of those who do so only 50% will survive. Many of those who find a bone marrow donor do so too late for the treatment to be successful, which contributes to the failure rate. Greater provision of cord blood could help patients get treatment faster and improve the chances of survival.
Greater provision of cord blood would give many who currently have no bone marrow donor a potentially life-saving option. The baby's blood that is left behind in the umbilical cord contains many different types of cells, and some of them are stem cells, which have been shown to have a number of medical applications. Over the past 20 years, collected cord blood has been used for transplantation in the same way as bone marrow, so we can square the circle and see the advantages of drawing attention to the benefits of collecting cord blood and requiring the Secretary of State to ensure that this is done consistently and banked accordingly.
Researchers believe that cord blood has the potential to treat many more diseases once adult stem cells are properly understood. Trials have shown that cord blood may be helpful in treating brain injuries in children. It has also been developed for other possible treatments, including for testicular cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes, and for regenerating damaged heart cells. The potential is exciting, therefore. It is particularly valuable in the treatment of leukaemia. It can be used as an alternative to bone marrow transplantations.
Collection of umbilical cord blood is a far less invasive procedure than extracting bone marrow, and the units can be collected, frozen and stored for years, which leads to fewer complications and makes transplants more readily available than for bone marrow. More importantly, it is easier to find matching stem cells from cord blood than from bone marrow. If we can develop a proper infrastructure for the collection and storage of cord blood, that will do much to alleviate the severe shortage of life-saving stem cells.
David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate, Conservative): Is it not also important to ensure, through the Bill or other means, that commissioners are able to make the right decisions? Evidence of some commissioners questioning the economic value of proceeding with stem cell transplants was brought before the all-party group on stem cell transplantation. It is important that we pursue commissioning excellence.
Nick de Bois: I understand that the UK Stem Cell Strategic Forum recommended to the Government that there should be a regional centre of excellence, and I hope Ministers will let us know by letter if that policy is indeed being pursued, as I think it might deal with the issue that my hon. Friend raises.
Cord blood is a natural, safe, ethical and sustainable resource, and it offers many advantages over using traditional bone marrow transplants. We in this country should be proud that the NHS was one of the first bodies to recognise the potential importance of cord blood and significant breakthroughs were made in Britain. In 1996 an NHS cord bank was established, which is now working alongside the Anthony Nolan trust. At a time when the health service is mindful of the need to inform patients fully about their health care, the issue of the collection of a mother-baby's cord blood does not seem to get the same degree of attention. The principles of full information and consent do not seem to apply to cord blood, which is, in general, treated as a waste product, unbeknown to parents, apart from in exceptional circumstances. By agreeing to my amendments, we can change that situation and the Government can demonstrate that they are giving a lead in the dissemination of information to expectant parents.
Last year academic research said that in order to have a truly effective operation we should strive to obtain 50,000 units of cord blood. I congratulate the Government, who have already committed £4 million to reach the first benchmark of 20,000 cord blood units. I commend the work of the Anthony Nolan trust and the NHS, which have also been sharing in building up to this target. Of course this is only the start, and I know that the Government have already expressed their commitment to helping to develop this very important work.
We have an opportunity for more lives to be saved, for valuable scientific research to be undertaken and for the UK to become a centre of excellence in cord blood. We can avoid the current situation whereby every day two people die waiting for a stem cell transplant, and 65,000 litres of cord blood are discarded every year. I welcome the Minister's words of support and I appreciate the sentiments behind the Government's thinking. I urge them to continue to get behind this valuable cause.
Business without Debate - Sittings of the House
Nick de Bois (5:45pm): May I use some valuable seconds and take this opportunity to enjoy a decent moment in this difficult debate, and say congratulations to Heidi Alexander on her recent wedding and that I am very sorry that her honeymoon was interrupted?
I made a solemn promise to my constituents at half- past 9 on Sunday 7 August, having spent four hours witnessing what was happening to ourconstituency. That promise was simply that at the first opportunity I would come to this House so that Members could hear first hand what had happened and the views of my constituents. I will therefore focus entirely on that in the few minutes that I have to speak. It is important that those views are represented, because they are also reflected elsewhere.
At around 6 o'clock in the evening, as youths—generally under the age of 25—gathered in our town centre, it became clear that this had been built up by social media throughout the day. The first outbreak occurred at about 7 o'clock, when those youths—150 of them—took to the high street, having gathered together, and then started their rampage down Church street in Enfield town. Sadly, although that outbreak was contained relatively quickly by good police work, it led to the destruction of some very good shops that have been there for more than 30 years. Mantella, the jewellery store, which has been a sole trader for more than 30 years in Enfield, lost more than £40,000 of stock. Pearsons, one of the few independent retailers with a long legacy in Enfield, was damaged front and back. And what was stolen? It was the good quality leather handbags. With a clear target in mind, high-quality goods ware taken.
We lost many, many stores down our high street, but at that point it was not over. For about an hour, the youths increased their numbers. As I stood among them, I heard them on their phones organising to bring other people up and talking about what trains they should take. Indeed, some of them hinted at where they may be going next.
Adam Adams (Selby and Ainsty, Conservative): Is my hon. Friend aware that there were riots recently in a holiday resort in Spain where the police used very robust tactics? We have heard talk about water cannon, but they used rubber bullets. Does my hon. Friend think that if the people rampaging through hisconstituency had seen pictures on TV of rubber bullets or water cannon being used, they would have had the incentive to go out and commit copycat crimes?
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Indeed, he reflects the views of my constituents in advance of what I was going to say. Of course they were very distressed, and one of the questions—one of the wishes—was, "Why do we not use water cannons or rubber bullets?" They have proved effective in other locations. I accept that they are limited in their effectiveness in some parts—indeed, around London it would be difficult—but this case was a classic example of a wide town centre where dispersal could have been achieved, which might have changed things. Indeed, I believe that the mere threat would also restrict any future activity.
Unfortunately, later in the evening, when the outburst grew more serious and the thugs attacked a police vehicle containing a territorial support group unit, they would disperse and run up nearby residential streets—quiet, detached streets. It was there, at around 9.30, that 30 or
40 of them ran past me, pushing a 70-year-old man out of the way. We were face to face with them in the garden of some neighbours, and as they ran past, with their foul-mouthed abuse—these brave individuals, hidden behind their hoodies across their faces, clutching their expensive mobile phones—they embarked on finding their rather souped-up cars, which were parked in the same residential street. This was no moral crusade. This was not a campaign for social justice; this was simply criminal activity by those determined to profit from it. My constituents are furious at what happened to their town, but what is worrying was the extreme arrogance of the individuals involved. They had no fear of being recognised and no sense of right and wrong. As a country we now have to address this issue, and we will look at how to deal with such issues in the future.
David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate, Conservative): My hon. Friend describes the high street that we share as constituencyneighbours. On the subject of what we will do about it, he will go home on the tube with me and we will see the headlines about the fury at the soft sentences being handed down to the latest offenders. Does he share my concern that the punishment must fit the crime? If it is not to be prison, it must be proper restitution, paying for their plunder and repairing the damage that they have done to our communities.
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend and neighbour, who suffered similar problems, identifies a key point. One of the other wishes of my constituents was that justice should be seen to be served. It is not unreasonable to expect that the thugs involved should receive custodial sentences and be put to good use in repairing some of the damage that they have done. We must take them out of this cycle of crime and make efforts to reform them.
I have three questions and I would be grateful for answers. The railway line ends at Enfield Townstation. During the course of the day, the trains were packed with people coming to cause mayhem. A request was made to Transport for London to stop some of those trains, and the buses that were coming from other parts of London. It never happened, and my constituents would like to know why.
Secondly, we believe that the vast majority of these criminals were not from Enfield, as I saw first hand myself. If we share information from CCTVand YouTube with the education authorities and the police, they can work together to identify more of them. Thirdly, why were we not able to disperse the more than 100 people who were there in the early hours?
Let me pay tribute to the borough commander, Dave Tucker, and his team, and to Enfield council, who are now working together. Enfield is open for business. It has recovered well and our last legacy sadly—
Missing Persons (Cyprus)
Westminster Hall Debate
Nick de Bois: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. This issue affects families right across the island. Does he not think that with the right level of commitment and a speedy resolution, massive confidence-building measures could be delivered for the future?
Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green, Conservative): My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is not specifically about the politics of the negotiations over the reunification of Cyprus. Both sides in that negotiation are looking to build confidence. There could be no better confidence-building measure than the return of the remains of the 1,500 missing people or information on what happened to them.
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend knows that my constituents in Enfield North will very much welcome the mandatory proposals on using a knife in a threatening way, but is he aware that, of those cases followed up involving individuals carrying a knife or using a knife offensively, more than 30% involved people under 18, and that the legislation before us will not apply to such people? Perhaps that is something we should press for.
David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate, Conservative): My hon. Friend may be making an early bid to be on the Public Bill Committee, but we certainly need to recognise, particularly in areas such as Enfield, that such behaviour is prevalent, that sadly all too often those under 18 are involved in gangs and possess knives, and that clause 113 does not apply to them.
Higher Education Policy
Opposition Day - [15th allotted day]
Nick de Bois: Does the shadow Secretary of Statenot understand that he is fuelling fears for those who wish to go university by constantly referring to what students have to pay? They do not. In the words of a former Home Secretary, it is graduates who pay and who benefit. That is the difference. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman thinks carefully about the damage that he is doing to the potential of young individuals.
Nick de Bois: I am staggered that I should have to make this comment - no one in the House is suggesting that we should take that 1%.
David Heath (Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat): In that case I am extremely pleased, as it means that we will quickly move to a conclusion of this difficult matter. The commitment to independent review is retained. The anomalous position this year is recognised. We do to ourselves what others have had done to them. It is not a decision for Government; it is a decision for the House. Members must make up their own minds, but in my view- and I do not think I am alone-it is a no-brainer. I hope all right hon. and hon. Members will support the motion.
Opposition Day - [11th Allotted Day]
Nick de Bois (3:03pm): It is a pleasure to follow Ian Lavery. I hope that he will understand if I return to some of his more outrageous comments a little later. First, let me say how pleased I am that we are debating youth unemployment: it is a major issue, and it is clear that Members on both sides of the House understand the need to discuss it.
Before I came to the House, I derived real pleasure from being able to offer someone a job in our company. I also understood the absolute nightmare of having to make someone unemployed in difficult times. I hope that Members on both sides of the House have approached the debate with the shared goal of alleviating what are very difficult circumstances. I also feel, however, that the debate should be put into context. It takes place against a background of economic failure, a legacy of banks that were not supporting business, a massive decline in manufacturing, and an essentially unbalanced economy.
Governments can take a wide range of measures to ease the problem of youth unemployment, but in my view nothing is more important than enabling the economy to grow at a sustainable level so that business can expand, create those much-needed jobs and, indeed, flourish. That is why difficult measures are being taken: vital measures to deal with deficit control, and positive fiscal measures to support investment. We are seeing changes in employment law, export support for small and medium-sized enterprises, and a review of many of the welfare schemes and benefits out there to encourage people to move from a life of dependence to one of independence.
I am therefore somewhat disappointed by the fact that the debate is focusing almost entirely on the future jobs fund. It was, I am sure, a project born of good intentions, and I admit that there are good stories about it from various parts of the country. The fact is, however-this brings me back to the hon. Gentleman's speech-that we were creating a large number of temporary jobs, predominantly in the public sector, which did not offer a sustainable solution to the problem of youth unemployment. I hope, indeed I know, that I speak for Government Members when I say that any suggestion that we were disparaging public sector workers is utterly unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he has had his say, his say was wrong, and the House should not accept it.
What is wrong, and what we do challenge, is the temporary nature of many of those jobs. We intend to deliver permanent, sustainable jobs, and I believe that most of them will have to be in the private sector. If Members are not willing to take my word for it, as I am sure some are not, let me tell them what the Confederation of British Industry said to the Work and Pensions Committee.
"We are concerned the programme for the most part failed to deliver a long-term strategy to tackle youth unemployment. While there are undoubtedly some successes within the programme, the CBIargued there needs to be better business involvement and a greater focus on long-term job sustainability with future programmes. The Work Programme is the way to deliver this."
I am surprised that the Opposition have not raised some of the other measures that we have had to consider to help employers take people on. It is beyond question that employers who feel restricted by the heavy hand of all the employment legislation that has grown up over the last decade will think twice not just about employing people, but about retaining them. They may feel that someone who has worked for the company for nearly a year-just before the employment legislation protection kicks in-needs more training or help because he is not quite up to the job. At that point they will seriously consider whether it would be better to lose that employee immediately, before the rules kick in and cause difficulties in future, than to invest more time in him. That is a trade-off governed by excessively burdensome regulation. Such a restriction is not acceptable, and I am pleased that the Government are loosening it to provide flexibility for both employers and employees. [Interruption.] If Mark Hendrick wishes to intervene, all that he need do is ask, rather than chuntering from a sedentary position. I should be more than happy to take hisintervention; otherwise I shall press on.
There is, I believe, evidence that we will produce more long-term sustainable jobs through apprenticeships. What evidence is there for this? I witnessed the hunger of those who wish to work and the appetite for recruitment in the private sector when I held a jobs fair in my constituency. It was put together without any cost to the state, and we managed to engage with local businesses and those who were looking for work, either immediately or in the near future. We brought in the voluntary sector too, so that those who wished to keep their CVs active and engaged could do so. We brought more than 40 companies together after a two-month period. Hundreds of visitors turned up and companies such asJohnson Matthey offered apprenticeships. That company is running a programme of apprenticeships which is not supported by the state but which will offer sustainable, long-term jobs to some of those who successfully get through. We had people willing to go to work in the voluntary sector, such is their appetite to keep their CVs active. I admire them and their hunger. Above all, we should note that at this jobs fair the jobs fundamentally came from the private sector in the local economy, thus keeping local jobs for local people. That is the future, which is why I believe that the combination of our enterprise economies, our welfare reforms and our support for apprenticeships will lift us out of this situation and help tackle youth unemployment.
Opposition Day - [11th Allotted Day]
Nick de Bois: Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that there is one significant distinction in respect of the figures he is discussing, in that there was massive over-reliance on putting people into the public sector through many of these programmes as a result of the legacy of economic failure that we have inherited? Therefore, there is naturally now some shrinkage in the public sector. That is the big difference. We have to create real jobs in the private sector for the long term.
Liam Byrne (Birmingham Hodge Hill, Labour): I genuinely appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman is making and the argument he is rehearsing. Perhaps he could intervene again to let me know whether a job in the public sector is better than no job at all.
Nick de Bois: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his invitation. A job is very important to the individual, no one doubts that; but we are talking about dealing with youth employment by creating work in a real sector that will last. That is the difference. We will only deal with the problem when the private sector has the opportunity to deliver long-term sustainable jobs-however well intentioned the programmes to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
Voting by Prisoners
Backbench Business - [20th Allotted Day]
Lorely Burt (Solihull, Liberal Democrat): When we take away a prisoner's human rights, we deny their humanity. We are telling them that they are worthless and reinforcing their isolation from the world.
Nick de Bois: I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady and to her last suggestion that we are taking away prisoners' human rights. Are we not simply taking away a civil right, rather than a human right?
Health and Social Care Bill
Nick de Bois: I am very grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the debate. It is a great relief to note that we are now having a debate, having passed the stage where people, such as the previous Government, believed that pouring in more money improved outcomes. We are now debating reform, and we should welcome its scale, so that we can head towards what patients want-improved outcomes.
Whatever the good intentions of the previous Government, there is no question but that, unfortunately, their measures led to reduced productivity, a massive increase in bureaucracy and a distortion of clinical priorities, which meant that, on the outcomes that we seek, patients were not satisfied. I have been more concerned about health outcomes and the fact that patients were becoming remote from the thing that mattered to them most. That is what the NHS is about. Whom do patients trust? Do they trust a remote primary care trust or their local doctor? There really is no contest, so I welcome these reforms, because they will give commissioning powers to GPs and bring their patients closer to the decisions about their future.
I do not recognise the picture painted byOpposition Members who say that GPs do not welcome the proposals. Already more than half the country is working under the pathfinder shadowconsortia, and in Enfield we are already rushing to sign up. We have agreed our consortium, which I warmly welcome. It is keen to seize the opportunity.
Let us turn to local accountability, which goes hand in hand with local commissioning-based services. In the past, it has proved impossible to have genuine local accountability as the NHS processes ultimately all led directly to Whitehall and theSecretary of State. I agree with the Nuffield Trust that the widening involvement of independent providers, the use of social enterprises and community services, and the increase in foundation trusts mean that local accountability mechanisms should indeed be robust.
Malcolm Wicks, who, sadly, is not in his place, and Rosie Cooper expressed concerns that the mechanisms would not be robust, but I refer them to clause 170, on independent advocacy services, and to clause 175, which emphasises the scrutiny role of the local health authorities, not to mention the local representation of councillors.[Interruption.] Liz Kendall says, "One" from asedentary position, but I shall not take lectures from a member of a party whose Government carried out no consultation as they tried to reconfigure services in Enfield against the wishes of the public. I shall turn to that now.
It makes no sense that the people who want to hold the health care community to account for their local services should have to go to an intransigent bureaucracy and ultimately up to theSecretary of State. That process is removed from where the local decision making takes place. As I said, in my constituency we are reaching a critical stage now in the future configuration of our acute hospital services. The decision prompted by the previous Government, to downgrade and rip out our vital A and E service and axe the consultant-led maternity services that see 3,000 births a year, is being relentlessly pursued by those same bureaucrats and officials from the health services, despite the fact that the decision will cost lives.
In ignoring the wishes of thousands who took to the streets and the view of the majority of Enfield GPs, those same PCT officials, even at this late hour, are effectively trying to bully the residents into accepting the changes without the consent or consultation of the people. No such arrogance would have been evident if this Bill had been in place. Local people would have been engaged in a genuine process of change because such a proposal would have had to have been agreed by the local health and wellbeing board. As theSecretary of State said yesterday morning, any possible future changes would have to be agreed in the health and wellbeing board of the local authority, which is publicly open and accountable. Gone is the "Whitehall knows best" attitude, to be replaced with local accountability, local engagement and local decision making.
Had the Bill been in place as law, I do not believe that we would have reached the 11th hour for this critical decision in Enfield. The four tests that theSecretary of State rightly requires would have kicked the issue into touch long ago because of genuine local accountability. The local authority, local GPs and, above all, local residents have spoken with one voice. I am grateful that we have a Secretary of State who believes in local accountability and decision making. In future, the voice that was ignored by the Labour party will be enshrined in this legislation. For years, we have suffered from a lack of local accountability in the health service.
Henry Smith (Crawley, Conservative): Had the Bill been law 10 years ago, Crawley hospital would not have lost accident and emergency and maternity services. It seems that my hon. Friend thinks the same about hospital services in his constituency.
John Bercow (Speaker): Order. Nick de Bois is being generous in giving way, but I remind him that the Front-Bench winding-up speeches begin at 9.39 pm.
Nick de Bois: Thank you, Mr Speaker.
For years, we have suffered from a lack of local accountability in the health service. The Bill delivers that accountability. For the health service, the Bill is evolutionary, building on the successes and correcting the failures of the past, and leading to improved outcomes. This revolutionary Bill decentralises power to local people.
Clause 9 - Approal required in connection with Title V of Part 3 of TFEU
European Union Document
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend has touched on a matter of great importance. I welcome the safeguards. It seems to me that justice in other countries is very different from justice in ours, principally on the basis of mutual recognition that many things are the same. It concerns me that we must keep as divorced as possible from the system in France, for example. Even a former French Justice Minister said, "The assumption here is that one is innocent until one is proven guilty, but in reality, with our magistrates courts, it is the other way around." That will be difficult to reconcile and we must have very strong safeguards.
Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative): I thank my hon. Friend for thatintervention and I agree entirely with him. We can already see an example of that in the European arrest warrant. We have jumped in and we are now reviewing its domestic implementation and the potential for the international instrument. The presumption of innocence is just one area, as my hon. Friend has suggested, where we have a fundamental difference of legal cultures. I do not think that either party should show that any disrespect.
Clause 9 - Approal required in connection with Title V of Part 3 of TFEU
European Union Document
Nick de Bois: My right hon. Friend is well aware of my long-term interest in matters pertaining to the European arrest warrant and the European investigation order. By that explanation, he has demonstrated the importance of, and the need for, the EAW and the EIO. I hope he will reassure us that the Bill gives the House the chance to debate and pass judgment such things, and to facilitate decisions on opting in or out.
David Lidington (Minister of State [Europe and NATO]; Aylesbury, Conservative): My answer to that is on two fronts. TheEAW is, of course, a pre-Lisbon, pillar three arrangement. It was not subject to post-Lisbon scrutiny, let alone to the detailed scrutiny and discussions with Committees and other representatives of Parliament that the Government are proposing. On the European investigation order, I can give comfort to my hon. Friend. It is the Government's view that the decision to opt in to the order is one of the matters that would not only have attracted significant parliamentary interest, but which would also have raised questions of political and legal importance that would fully justify a full debate being held in Government time. With that debate would obviously come the opportunity of a parliamentary vote.
Clause 1 - Interpretation of Part 1
European Union Bill
Nick de Bois: I am very attracted to amendment 11, but I am struggling to understand one thing. It has been debated, but perhaps my hon. Friend can give me some clarity on it. He rightly says that an Act of Parliament will be required, but a Bill that is whipped will surely get through. Why does he believe that hisamendment will be any more successful here?
James Clappison (Hertsmere, Conservative): For the same reason that placing something in a Bill is a stronger defence-it has stronger legislative authority-than leaving it to chance in the future. My amendmentis a safeguard in addition to the Act of Parliament that will be required, and including in the Bill requirements on a referendum would make things legislatively stronger.
We come back to the question outlined by my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin, "Why put any of these requirements in the Bill and why provide these 44 situations where a referendum is required, given that each time we have an Act of Parliament for a treaty change, as we would have to have, we could simply do the same thing then?" That argument is being run in certain quarters, but it makes a mockery of the whole Bill. I do not want to be too unkind to those who promote that argument, but I merely say that it was fully ventilated during theEuropean Scrutiny Committee's deliberations and it was dismissed, and not only in one report. We produced a majority and a minority report, which disagreed on almost everything but agreed that a change needed to be made on the significance test. When one understands the two spectrums of opinion in the European Scrutiny Committee, one can see the measure of achievement in uniting the two.
Clause 4 - Holiday for new businesses
National Insurance Contributions Bill
Nick de Bois: Will the Minister advise whether he envisages any problems from perhaps less than scrupulous companies that might go into pre-pack administration? Would they be able to claim the benefit if their new business started after a pre-pack administration, for example? If that is the case, will he take some measures to consider what can be done about this?
David Gauke (Exchequer Secretary, HM Treasury; South West Hertfordshire, Conservative): As we discussed in earlier stages of the debate, it is right that we look at this closely to see that the scheme applies where we believe it should, that we do not have artificial creations, that there is a proper need for this, and that the compliance capability of HRMC to address the matter is adequate, and we are ensuring that that happens.
European Union Bill
Safe Standing (Football Stadia)
Nick de Bois (8:54pm): I am privileged to follow my hon. FriendJacob Rees-Mogg, who does justice to the House, as he does justice to the sentiments that he expressed and the cause to which he spoke. That makes it harder for me to follow him. I realise that that is usually a challenge for Members, but I will do my best.
I echo my hon. Friend's sentiment and I will support the Bill because I regard it as the first serious attempt to stop the erosion of power from Westminster to Brussels. I say "serious" because it is legislation before the House, and I say "attempt" because I recognise that it does not go as far as I and other Members might like. EU interference has dogged us for many years. We as a sovereign nation have been bled dry of powers, which has increased the frustration of the public with an institution that is so remote yet so influential on their lives.
I support the attempt to introduce a referendum lock. For too long, the people have been sidelined as dodgy deals are done and negotiated across Europe, stealing our sovereignty. How? It has been done through treaties such as Lisbon, Amsterdam and Nice. The previous Government handed over so many of our powers during the past 13 years. When the former Prime Minister,Tony Blair, said that he wanted to be at the heart of Europe, he was not kidding. He effected one of the most powerful transplants ever of so much power to Europe from Britain. We all sensed the betrayal that the British people felt as a result of the Lisbon treaty.
The Bill moves to give Parliament more say over Europe. The Government will have the opportunity to pass primary legislation before we have more self-amending clauses. There is good stuff in the Bill. As for sovereignty and clause 18, I know that there are many learned Members in the House and I dare not question their judgment, but when lawyers say to me that something is enshrined in common law, I am immediately concerned that common law and precedent mean that it could change over time. I have no problem with an attempt to establish clause 18, but I acknowledge, as my hon. Friend Mr Cash said, that it carries some risk with lawyers in the future.
My main concern is that the Bill may be seen as the end of a process, rather than as the beginning of a process to ensure that the present or any future Government cannot continue to transfer powers to the EU. My hon. Friend Richard Drax spoke eloquently of wiggle room. There is wiggle room in the Bill, and that is not good because we are attempting not just to pass a Bill, but to rebuild trust between the British people and the Government by challenging the transfer of powers in our relationship with Europe.
The existence of wiggle room raises the question of who decides what is material and what is not. Ministers clearly have the right to determine what constitutes a transfer of powers, and mechanisms spelled out in the Bill make it clear in many cases what constitutes a transfer of powers, but it is the little grey areas of wiggle room that are, in effect, a Trojan horse that can be exploited and undermine the genuine attempts of the Bill to protect any transfer of power.
I tried to apply a test. Had the Bill been in place when the European arrest warrant was introduced, would we have had a referendum on a significant directive from Europe? I attempted to find out. I am grateful to the Minister's staff, who spent some time briefing me on the Bill. I raised the question, but I have to say that I am still confused-not because of their lack of effort, but because of the potential greyness surrounding the issue.
What is more illustrative of our sovereignty than the fact that the courts in an individual's own land cannot protect him, but could lead him to be extradited merely by ticking boxes in a process and undermining the right of a British court to pass judgment on him?
The Minister knows that, until recently, one of my constituents, Andrew Symeou, languished in jail for many months after being subjected to a European arrest warrant, and the Minister is kindly trying to make representations to the Greek Government to assist him. The family keenly await any outcome, and I thank him for that. But my constituent would believe that the sovereign power of his country had not served him well by agreeing to transfer those powers outside the jurisdiction of our courts and to Europe. I think he would say that his Government had not protected him.
Will the Minister look closely at the wiggle room in the Bill and see how we can reconcile the conflicts that no doubt will lead to other issues over transfer of power? Yes, of course, issues can come to Committee, to scrutiny and to Parliament, but ultimately a Government can get their way, and however much we may protest, a Government may get a motion through and the people will not have had their say in a referendum on a transfer of powers.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend Mr Carswellwhen he suggests that we may be shutting the gate after the horse has bolted, but on balance that would not be a reason to oppose the Bill, because it marks a massive step forward for Britain and her relationship with Europe. It is a confidence-building measure for the British people in their relationship with what can only be described as an empire-building EU, and it is an important marker in the sand for this coalition Government to rebuild trust with the British people. We must not breach that trust.
Decisions have been remote from the British people. Yes, Parliament does have more say. I accept that the Bill only draws a line under the past, but it still leaves the future somewhat grey. It could be tightened further, and that is in the interests of constructive engagement, which I hope we will have the chance to debate at length in Committee, but I have no hesitation in supporting it, and I believe that my constituents will also seek to take advantage of engaging in future European debate if they have the opportunity to have their voice heard should the Bill be enacted.
Opposition Day - [5th Allotted Day]
Nick de Bois: As an outer-London MP with the 13th highest proportion of LHA claimants, I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate, in preparation for which I met representatives from Shelter and other interested parties. I had looked forward to this debate, but I must say that as the afternoon has grown longer and I have grown a little wearier, I have been disappointed that, apart from some notable contributions, we seem to have heard a lot of cant, hyperbole and soundbites from manyOpposition Members, which has done little to improve the quality of the debate.
I have sat here for so long that I started looking for some fresh ideas, and at one point Mr Bettssaid that there was no strategy. Well, strategy there is, and strategy is the point that has been missed by Opposition Members, because it is a mistake to look at housing reform in isolation. That is a mistake that we have seen all afternoon. To do so is to miss the point of what the Government are trying to do. This Government's strategy is to try to lift people out of poverty, taking them from dependency to independence-something that theOpposition have neither embraced nor understood, but even at this late hour I hope that they might just reflect on it. They are missing the point of what the Government are doing, but by understanding my constituency they will see what we can do for our constituents.
Enfield North has 7% unemployment, higher than average youth unemployment, and pockets of poverty, mainly in the eastern area. Those are issues that I want to conquer, and that requires reform. Doing nothing is not an option, but constructive suggestions have been notably lacking from the Opposition. Of course the decisions are difficult- [ Interruption. ] I welcomed the conversion of Ian Austin to the cap for London, which was seriously missing from everything that the Opposition had said previously. Of course the changes are difficult, but that does not mean that they are wrong. They will drive out poverty by the most reliable means of helping people and contributing to getting them back into paid employment.
The Secretary of State is sensitive to many of the demands. He was quick to point out the discretionary funds that are available and to which due acknowledgment has not been given today. Is it right to have a system-
Eiidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan, Scottish National Party): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Nick de Bois: I will not give way until I have made some progress. I am sure the hon. Lady will understand that I have been here for many hours, and I am not sure whether there is anything new coming from the OppositionBenches.
Is it right to sustain a scheme that works against employment? No. What do I say to the employer who came to my surgery only last week and told me that people are queuing up for jobs, but they want to work for only a limited number of hours for fear of losing their house? How absurd is that? Whatever the Labour party's good intentions when it was in government, its reforms produced a grotesque situation. What do I say to the people who come to my office and want to work, but are caught in the poverty trap- [ Interruption. ] I am sorry that hon. Members do not want to listen, but week after week in my constituency I see the evidence of a failed policy on my doorstep, and it is absolutely right to represent my constituents' interests not only of where there has been failure, but where there is an opportunity for success. That is what this Government are trying to do, and rightly so.
What will the changes mean? We are talking about the LHA, not social housing. Rents are high. There has been a 25% increase over seven years in the LHA sector compared with 15% in the private sector. It was interesting when an OppositionMember-forgive me, I cannot remember hisconstituency-said that the 40% share of the LHA market that the Government are driving is not influencing rents. It is utter nonsense to think that such a massive contribution can have no impact on the level of rents. Opposition Members may deceive themselves if they wish, but I assure them that in the real world that is definitely the case.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn, Labour): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Nick de Bois: I will not give way at the moment. I want to finish my speech, but if there is time I will happily take a furtherintervention later.
A four-bedroom house will allow almost £20,000 ofLHA, which is equivalent to a substantial amount of gross income. We talk about fairness, but it must work both ways. Hon. Members should come with me down the Hertford road in myconstituency to meet those who are working hard to pay their rent and trying to look after their family on a low income. They should try to understand the frustration of living next door to people who may be living in a bigger house, subsidised by the state. We must bear that in mind when making judgments. We are all in this together, and we must reform and change.
The Labour Government believed that the answer to defeating poverty was to use targets and money-some £20 billion of our money in housing benefit. They rationalised that that was how to fix the problem, but it failed. It did not help; it hindered. Instead of releasing those in poverty and suffering inequality, it imprisoned many in a spiral of unwelcome state dependency. The time has come to change. Our proposals are part of a holistic, joined-up programme.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley, Labour): My understanding is that nearly 7,000 people will lose out as a result of the cuts in Enfield. What does the hon. Gentleman have to say to them?
Nick de Bois: The hon. Lady should change the end of the telescope she is looking down. She should look at what she can do to encourage employment and encourage people back to work, and start to take people out of real poverty. That is the contribution that she could make, and I hope that I can welcome her to such a conversion later this evening.
Our proposals are part of a holistic, joined-up programme to reform the Labour party's policy of surrender to dependency to a future of independence free from poverty. I understand that hon. Members do not want to hear that, but they have heard and perhaps they will learn.
Hon. Members: Follow that!
European Arrest Warrants and Extradition
Nick de Bois: I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Gyimah on securing this importantAdjournment debate. In the time permitted, I cannot review all the aspects of this matter, but I must focus on the key points as pertaining to my constituent, Andrew Symeou. Enfield has a unique and specific interest in the European arrest warrant and extradition, given that two of the current most high-profile cases exposing the system's failings involve Enfield residents-Andrew Symeou and, of course, Gary McKinnon. I and my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, hope and expect that the review of Gary McKinnon's case will mean that he is not the last victim of an imbalanced process, but the recipient of a new, just and proportionate approach. Perhaps the Minister can update us on that review.
My central premise today, however, is that for the last decade the European Union has been driven by procedural safeguards and processes, not defendants' rights, as moves to enhance speed and efficiency do so at the price, in this case-I believe-of a potential miscarriage of justice. Those who support the European arrest warrant do so because they believe that more criminals get caught. That is a noble goal, and one that I and, I am sure, all Members of the House fully support, but the performance of the warrant is flawed.
Sadly, those who criticise the operation of the European arrest warrant are often cast as apologists for wild European extremists, or organised crime and terrorism. That, of course, is arrant nonsense. For me, it is a question of balance. I do not believe that a system that produces potential miscarriages of justice at one level should be tolerated in the interests of speed at another. The application of the warrant without proper procedural guarantees has in some cases led to the denial of justice. One of those cases concerns my constituent Andrew Symeou. Andrew was in prison in Greece for 10 months awaiting trial on a charge of manslaughter. Until his final release on bail, the charge was one of manslaughter, although as testified by our High Court, there is sufficient evidence of what I can perhaps describe as the over-enthusiastic interrogation of witnesses. Indeed, there even appears to have been a case of mistaken identity. In Andrew's case and others, surely the European arrest warrant has been misused.
Let me summarise Andrew's experiences. In doing so, I hope in parallel to illustrate how the European arrest warrant has failed, and perhaps thereby help the review by Lord Scott Baker. In short, there has been a failure to scrutinise the case by British courts for prima facie evidence; a lack of bail or euro-bail; a failure of mutual recognition; and, we must never forget, delayed justice for the family of the victim of that tragic incident, which led to the death of Jonathan Hiles-a delayed process that, three years on, leaves us with no one having come to trial yet. As much as anything else, that is not good for the family of the victim.
I cannot address all those issues, but let me turn to the point highlighted earlier, about submitting prima facie evidence prior to extradition. In British law, the Crown Prosecution Service makes the decision to charge individuals with criminal offences in complex cases. The decisions must be made fairly, independently and objectively. It is the duty of the CPS prosecutors to ensure that the right person is charged for the right offence. The key point is that when making a decision, the CPS will always decide whether there is enough evidence against the defendant. Therefore, the quality and reliability of that evidence will also be investigated, and cases progress only if there is considered to be a realistic prospect of conviction.
However, the EAW is based on one of 32 listed crimes in respect of which there is no need for a dual criminality test or any obligation to ensure that prima facie evidence is provided by the member state requesting extradition. Essentially, it requires us to go through a tick-box exercise. All that is required is that the judicial authority in the member state requesting extradition should detail the criminal offence believed to have been committed-that is, ticking the box-and indicate the length of sentence to be expected. In Andrew's case, he contested the request for extradition between 27 June 2008 and May 2009, but the court was able to examine only the process, and at no stage the facts of the case.
How powerless has British justice become when the High Court dismisses the appeal by the Symeou family even though in some instances it agrees that the evidence submitted shows that the local police investigation was flawed and when it could not rule out the possibility that the police were guilty of the manipulation and fabrication of evidence? How futile is our justice when it is decided that a young British man's future is not under our control, but is instead an argument to be had in Greek courts? Leave was granted to appeal to the House of Lords, but the House of Lords in turn rejected it.
The second point that I would like to consider in the time available is the issue of bail. When the European arrest warrant was agreed in 2002, it was with the understanding from all sides that this measure, which would have the effect of causing EU citizens standing trial to be held in prison in another member state, would be swiftly followed by measures guaranteeing their fair trial rights, as well as guaranteeing that there would be no miscarriages of justice. That promise was betrayed by member states when they failed to agree in 2004 to a proposal for a framework decision on procedural rights. All we can hope for now is, at best, a piecemeal approach.
The European Council is promising only to consider, not to legislate on, a so-called euro-bail, which would have helped my constituent who had been explicitly refused bail because he was a foreigner. Several years ago, Lord Lamontpredicted with characteristic foresight the plight of my constituent when he said:
"In some countries, bail is frequently refused to foreigners for fear they will abscond. In fact, there are several hundred British citizens on remand in Europe's prisons many of whom would have been released on bail if they were nationals of the country holding them."
Is it any wonder that my constituent and his family feel the UK Government have repeatedly let them down? Andrew was forced to languish in jail on remand for 10 months until June this year, yet with the existing EAW, one member state could all too easily have returned him, if he had been able to serve bail over here-under the European arrest warrant.
The emotional and financial cost to the family, who have remained supportive throughout, has been extraordinary. They have had to decamp to Greece to be with their son when he was first extradited 16 months ago. Their ability to continue to run their business and provide an income has been seriously compromised, but despite that, the family members have remained united and passionate in their campaign for justice for their son. They want him to have his day in court. I pay tribute to their courage and resilience in the face of this huge adversity.
To conclude, we should have an agreed framework of extradition for member states within the European Union-I accept that. The process needs to be fast, but should not be carried out without respect for an individual's right to a fair trial and a fair judicial process. At the heart of these flaws is the expected notion of mutual recognition between the judicial process in member states. The process of mutual recognition allows for miscarriages, as we have discussed. I suggest that a system of mutual understanding would suit the process of a European arrest warrant far better. Such a process would allow for reasoned debate before EAWs were acted on rather than allow European law simply to supersede our law. This would allow European warrants to be declined if the acts were viewed as non-criminal in the UK or the evidence was insufficient.
It seems perverse that hon. Members on both sides of the House were up in arms over the 42-day detention provisions of the last Parliament, yet we are willing to have our own citizens held in foreign prisons for far longer as a result of a flawed piece of legislation. Should we as a House accept that liberty and justice be sacrificed for expediency?
Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill
Nick de Bois: I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. In effect, we have a situation in which every cause will have an effect. My hon. Friend outlines admirably the fact that in this case, if the processes are not followed and a strike subsequently takes place, many people outside the immediate target of the strike action are affected. They have no recourse. They have nowhere to go. When I was running my company, we were in the unfortunate position of having to make a small number of redundancies. We had to go through-and rightly so-a strict but nevertheless somewhat burdensome process and, as a result of a minor technical error, there was the right for redress for those involved. It strikes me that in this situation, the process should be adhered to as strictly as possible because there is no form of redress for those outside the immediate consequences of the action. Does he agree?
Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative): I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I know that he is a great advocate for rail commuters in his constituency-he has even had Westminster Hall debates on the problems that his commuters face. He is a great champion for his constituents and I agree with him. This is a very interesting point. If the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington wants to make it easier to have strike action, perhaps, as a quid pro quo, he might consider what my hon. Friend Nick de Bois says and introduce into his Bill a provision that some statutory consultation must take place with all affected parties before any strike action, so that people can understand the full consequences of that action. It might well be that when a union decides that it wants to go out on strike because of a grievance with a particular employer, it does not take into consideration the wider impact it will have on innocent third parties who are no part of the dispute at all. My hon. Friend makes a very good point-perhaps that is an anomaly that should be addressed in legislation. I hope that theMinister was listening carefully to hisintervention, because he is in a far better position to do something about that than I am. It is certainly worth considering.
Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill
Nick de Bois: The Minister touches on a point on which I would welcome some clarity: the consequences of industrial action go far wider than have been mentioned so far, as my hon. Friend Philip Davies highlighted. There is no call for redress for those who are affected outside of the immediate action. Therefore, surely it is responsible for the law as it stands to require the maximum process to ensure that strike decisions are not taken lightly. In that way, those who will suffer as a consequence of that action can at least draw some grim satisfaction from that maximum process. They have no other form of redress.
Edward Davey (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Business, Innovation and Skills; Kingston and Surbiton, Liberal Democrat): My hon. Friend puts his finger on it. We need to weigh in the balance not just the rights of ordinarytrade union members, but the rights of the business, the shareholders, the public, customers and other businesses that are affected by strike action. That is why the law has evolved as it has. It is a balancing act. Sometimes people say that the democratic result of a ballot was clearly in favour of strike action but ignore the fact that the procedural way in which the ballot was conducted was against the current law. They fail to understand why the procedures are there. They are there for good reason.
Elections and Returning Officers
Nick de Bois: Is not part of the problem, as I found during the election, that if someone wishes to challenge a household's electoral registration there are only 21 days in which the returning officer can do so? In the heat of the work in the run-up to an election, that is effectively impossible.
Brian Binley (Northampton South, Conservative): My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Minister should consider, and I hope that he noted it.
Nick de Bois: May I add my congratulations to the hon. Members for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) and for Livingston (Graeme Morrice), and to my hon. Friend Priti Patel, on their maiden speeches? I was advised early on that one should wait some considerable time before making one's maiden speech. I foolishly chose to ignore that advice, and today was a perfect example of why it was such good advice.
I want to take this opportunity to articulate the frustrations of many commuters in myconstituency of Enfield North, who, frankly, have been ignored for years. I have campaigned for at least five years to try to improve the level of commuter services. The rail operator that serves the bulk of the constituency-National ExpressEast Anglia-and its predecessor brand both failed to recognise something that they should know: that the conditions on the trains are frankly unacceptable, and that their frequency and reliability are generally poor. I even had a National Express manager tell me that, although it had rolling stock, it had chosen not to put the required additional stock on some of the Enfield North local lines because we were bottom of their list of priorities. That is no comfort to my constituents, who pay zone 6 fares.
We also suffer from generally ill-kept stations which could do with a deep clean. Staffing at stations is limited and often non-existent; late at night, of course, that does not encourage a feeling of safety and security. Sunday services are non-existent. Many loyal Tottenham Hotspur fans travel regularly to see their team-is that not suffering enough? [ Interruption. ] I will not be forgiven for that comment, but to add to that the indignity of an unreliable service on a Sunday, when engineering works are scheduled to coincide with important travel days, just does not make sense and reflects the attitude of neglect towards my constituents.
I do not want the House to take my word for it. The statistics show that Network SouthEast had the lowest satisfaction ratings of all the services in the south-east and London. That is not good enough, but what do some of my constituents say? With perfect timing, I received a letter from some constituents only yesterday. They say that
"our local trains seem unable to move, therefore leaving us stranded on platforms, and"-
when they finally get on to the train-
"having to travel like cattle in sweltering carriages."
All that they request is more carriages and an increase in the number of timetabled trains, which is not unreasonable. They even ask-this shows how bad things are-for a
"replacement bus service to Tottenham Hale when the line is closed for work".
How many of us groan when we are offered a replacement bus service? My constituents want one because they see it as an improvement-how shocking is that? As I have said, they have to pay the most in our area, which is in zone 6.
National Express's reply was most illuminating, because after several paragraphs of basically saying, "No change", it said, "Please go to our improvement plan on the website." Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that that link, which I tried only this morning, does not work either. The frustration is all too evident. [ Interruption. ] As my hon. Friend Gordon Henderson says from asedentary position, it is much like the website of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
I wish to be constructive, because I am confident that my constituents will welcome the steps that were announced by the Minister of State,Department for Transport, my right hon. FriendMrs Villiers. It is encouraging that we will ensure that new rail franchising systems will impose demanding performance requirements based on passenger outcomes and satisfaction. It is also good to know that if operators do not meet those requirements they could ultimately face the serious sanction of losing their franchises. We believe and welcome the idea that longer franchises will lead to greater investment and perhaps to greater improvement in services. That is vital.
I understand the role of the carrot and the stick, but I urge the Government, in the spirit of localism that I am keen to embrace, to consider one or two other opportunities. In particular, as we approach the round of new franchises, we have the chance to consider two important possibilities. First, should we consider allowing greater local control over train services operating in the London area? Secondly, and more importantly, should there be greater local input into the new franchise negotiations?
What could we gain from that? A locally accountable transport authority would know how vital transport is to the local economy and would understand the micro-issues affecting local commuters far better than does a rail operator. Such bodies answer to voters and can respond more effectively. There is an incentive for them to have issues fixed, to ensure rail performance, to ease overcrowding, to address safety in unsafe stations and to put those issues up the agenda. Significantly, they would also be ready to provide input into future negotiations. I am very keen that the experiences of my constituent commuters in the past five years should not be wasted. Instead, we could gain real intelligence about many of the shortcomings on the ground, which could then be considered when dealing with services. This issue is of great importance to people who spend two to three hours a day getting in and out of work.
Who could fulfil that task? Is there a role forTransport for London or the local authority? Should we give statutory weight to such a body? I put these ideas on the table because in areas such as health, education and housing, we are leading the way on greater devolvement locally and greater local involvement and decision making. However tempting it might be, I do not propose that local people should write the timetables or decide the level of rolling stock, but I do propose that the people of Enfield North and elsewhere should have the opportunity to have their local say on a matter of such great local importance.
Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill
Nick de Bois: I am grateful to the Minister, who has been very generous with his time. Given the small number of applications for injunctions, would the Minister like to speculate on the motives behind this Bill? It strikes me that it is simply a device to allow and encourage more industrial disharmony at a time when we clearly cannot do such a thing, as well as to cover up the failure of unions to get their act together when they wish to follow this process.
Edward Davey (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Business, Innovation and Skills; Kingston and Surbiton, Liberal Democrat): I always like being invited to speculate, but the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is an hon. Gentleman, so I could only ascribe honourable motives to him.
Nick de Bois: I would not wish to suggest otherwise; I was merely asking about the situations that might arise at a time we can ill afford them.
Edward Davey (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Business, Innovation and Skills; Kingston and Surbiton, Liberal Democrat): I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that were we to pass this Bill, it would not help the economy, in its current fragile state, to recover. There would be a danger of more strike action and that is not something that we want.
Rail Services (Enfield)
Nick de Bois: I was delighted to hear that this is the first time that you have chairedWestminster Hall, Mr Bone. I can confirm that this is my first debate in Westminster Hall. I am sure that you will agree that at our respective ages, it is good to be maidens in anything.
I am grateful to have secured the debate. I requested it because of the significant disquiet about delays and overcrowding from Enfield Town, Turkey Street, Southbury, Enfield Lockand Brimsdown railway stations. Unlike in other parts of north London, there are barely any alternatives to rail for commuters in Enfield. I am grateful to have had my right hon. Friend the Minister's time on many previous occasions, when she has shown considerable interest in commuter services for my constituents. I also welcome my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, who has worked closely with me on the issues under discussion today.
I am keen to show that the new franchise agreements could be used positively to support wider community objectives as well as to deal with the immediate transport issues, but to understand that opportunity, we need to appreciate the local geography and how the railway is organised. That will enable us to learn from past mistakes and look to the future.
Let me start with the local area. Enfield as a community is already changing. There are, of course, classic suburbs, but it is worth noting that across the wider borough, there are six of the most deprived areas not just in London, but in Europe. However, there are also opportunities, particularly in the Lea valley, where we can succeed in regenerating and place shaping for the future. Such plans exist, but they will depend on the right infrastructure. In theory, the Lea valley and Enfield as a whole are linked by the umbilical cord of the railway system. Clearly, there is commuting straight out of London, through Enfield and up to Cambridge, Stansted and beyond. We can attract, but also need services to attract, inward commuting to help to support regeneration.
What is the railway offer? In our part of London, we have one main line from Cambridge and Stansted that goes through the eastern corridor of Enfield and the Lea valley to Tottenham Haleand Liverpool Street. It is run by National Express East Anglia. That franchise also runs the suburban line through central Enfield, which serves two end points-Cheshunt and Enfield Town-running through Seven Sisters. There is a second suburban line, run by First Capital Connect into Moorgate via Finsbury Park, which serves western Enfield.
Both suburban lines are overcrowded. There is no question about that, particularly for the underground interchanges, and the train capacities are limited. In particular, from Cheshunt and Enfield Town via Seven Sisters, there are at best six trains an hour, with perhaps six to eight coaches. In the off-peak period, there are at best two services an hour from Enfield Town. Such services can hardly be described as underground or even metro standard. The problems have been compounded by limited investment in recent years. I should add that only five stations across the whole west Anglia network are gated, and revenue is being lost as a result.
As for the main eastern Lea valley line, which goes through Enfield Lock and Brimsdown, we have a mix of limited-stop and local trains, governed by 15-minute scheduled Stansted Expresses. West Anglia is one of the most demanding and pressurised rail corridors in the country. There is no place for a fast train to pass a slower one until Broxbourne, some 17 miles from central London, with the obvious result that the faster trains do not go fast enough and the slower trains are going slower than required and are not able to stop and serve all the stations. That leads to immense frustration for commuters on platforms, who are quite keen to get on those trains. There are no winners at the moment.
The railway area that I am talking about is predicted to grow, in passenger transport terms, by up to 37%. Admittedly, we may see some variation in that, given current economic circumstances, but it is a fast-growth area. It is true that over the whole franchise, there will be up to 120 new carriages in 2011-12, but they will principally be focused on the 12-coach train fast services. The losers will be Enfield suburban services. So it really is a case of when, not if, we can invest in additional track and signalling as well.
I now turn to the wider national picture, examining the linkage between Government rail policies and the franchising process. As we know, National Express operates under a franchise awarded by the Strategic Rail Authority in 2004. The specification focused on improving performance, but it also allowed more Stansted Express trains, which, as I have explained, did not do Enfield services any favours. At best, we were marking time, but services were made worse on the eastern Lea valley line.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the franchise agreement did not deal with the underlying problems, but just worked the existing railway harder. Of course, that has not necessarily been to our advantage. It shows that we have lacked investment and are still waiting for that investment. In that respect, the previous Government cannot avoid the blame, because they had been controlling the SRA since 2005.
Latterly, the Labour Government had three simultaneous desires: to maintain a command-and-control process in relation to the railways, to move the taxpayer to fare-payer ratio from 50:50 to about 30:70, and to try to breathe life into a money-go-round of fares generating profits for investment. That led to the unacceptable highly leveraged bids for a number of franchises. The most notorious was the east coast bid by National Express, which failed commercially in 2009. Sadly, the record shows that that was not the only failure; there was one in 2006 as well. I am no great literary scholar, but as Oscar Wilde might have put it, to lose one operator is a misfortune; to lose two is somewhat careless. Unfortunately, it proves that the franchising money-go-round is not working.
That brings us to the national position on franchising. If the money-go-round is not working, the funding rules must change, but that depends on how franchises are constructed. The basis of franchising has a history of always changing. Objectives have focused on lowest net subsidy, highest premiums or achieving specified service performance and quality for passengers. That meant increasingly that although operators might have been working in the private sector, they had a straitjacket on them that prevented them adding the value that passengers and commuters want.
In parallel, the contractual length of franchises had been adjusted. Sometimes they were on a bespoke basis. A franchise was longer if a railway needed more investment in trains. However, in recent times the norm has been about seven years, sometimes with an extension for good behaviour. Fundamentally, as many of us recognise, that short-termism does not incentivise major investment by the private sector.
Furthermore, the franchising rules did not achieve the right outcomes for National Express East Anglia lines in Enfield. Passengers' overall satisfaction is measured by the national passenger survey. The operator has consistently performed below the London and south-east sector average and well below the highest franchise in the sector. That is despite punctuality having improved.
I noticed today-I trust that the Financial Times is correct-that an announcement has been made to grant a temporary extension to the franchise for another seven months. I understand the reasons behind that and accept it fully, but what concerns me is that many passengers might interpret that as an endorsement of what has happened in the past. That clearly is not the case. It is designed ultimately to allow us to have a better system for the future.
The new franchising reform consultation suggests that future franchise bids will be judged on the quality of the overall package of proposals. My constituents will welcome that. Let us look to the future. Public funds are tight. We must look to a new partnership between the Government and the private sector to secure long-term funding by train operators to leverage better services and facilities. That is good news. Enfield is awaiting a new franchise; it will be one of the first. The Government emphasis on outcomes and long-term franchises presents us with short and long-term opportunities.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative): Does my hon. Friend think that this new franchise might be a model for other franchises, such as in south-east London?
Nick de Bois: I am grateful for that intervention. In fact, I will go on to address such issues-particularly local ones in London, which I am sure my hon. Friend faces in hisconstituency. That is exactly my point: now is the time to be bold and imaginative, notwithstanding the constraints that we are all working within.
I shall turn to the priorities that commuters wish to see. These include refurbishing trains, so that we can get consistent appearance and quality, and improving security by introducing ticket barriers, and perhaps increasing CCTV as well. More stations protected by ticket barriers will lead to better revenue protection. In addition, investing in the key interchanges of Seven Sisters andTottenham Hale, which service Enfield, will be crucial in making them more accessible. A fundamental priority is train frequency.
I accept that, in the short term, infrastructure will largely be as it is now, which limits what can be achieved. I commend to the Minister an interesting recent report from the London borough of Enfield showing a positive case for a more frequent local train service between Enfield andLiverpool Street in the off-peak. That analysis is based on journey-time savings and does not include the other expected community and economic benefits. I believe the benefit-cost ratio, as the report demonstrates, would be under current rules of 1.46:1. That is before we take into account the greater community and economic benefits. I understand that 1.5 is the guideline for investment. There is a strong case.
As an aside, many stakeholders regret that the current official proposals for four trains per hour to Stratford from the Lea valley line through Enfield will only exist for the 2012 Olympic games. The Enfield report shows how a revision to train-stopping patterns on the Lea valley line could regularly achieve four trains per hour, peak and off-peak, to the busiest stations in the areas requiring regeneration. I am happy to commend the report, on which much work was done, to theMinister.
Other short-term matters must be highlighted, including work to solve passenger crowding at the Victoria line interchanges. I look to action on the local level crossings, which are a source of risk-all too tragically, in Enfield, very recently. I also look to action on performance delay. Improving disability access, particularly at the key interchange routes, is a must.
Further progress on studies about expenditure during the new investment periods is needed. For example, a long-term franchise should be able to address the broader spectrum of opportunities, including the case for partial four-tracking on the Lea valley line, which will improve the service, as I have explained, as previously it was two-track.
To conclude, I fully support the approach taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he said that he will involve all elements of the rail industry more fully in the decision-making process. I support the decision, and regard it as vital to accelerate the rail value-for-money review under the leadership of Sir Roy McNulty. It is vital that we look to improve our existing infrastructure even in these hard times and his work should help drive that forward.
For Enfield, it is crucial that franchise agreements set out not just clear performance indicators but levels of investment and service agreements that can be benchmarks, and that they send a clear signal that economically important areas served by railways-such as my constituency and neighbouring areas-are open for business and that we can help rail services to support that and regenerate the area. Our business community and developers will be keenly watching franchise agreements before making investment decisions.West Anglia will, as my hon. Friend Bob Stewartpointed out, be a test for the new Government of the new rail management and franchising system. Those routes could be exemplary and even a fast-track trial area for a new approach to delivery. A new franchising policy presents us with such an opportunity, delivering, as it says in the coalition agreement,
"the improvements that passengers want-like better services, better stations, longer trains and better rolling stock".
Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation - Capital Gains Tax (Rates)
Ways and Means
Nick de Bois: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall do some immediate live editing to meet your request.
As a relative newcomer to the Chamber, let me say that we need to remember that there is no such thing as free money. The vast sums that we are discussing have had to be earned by people, and those same people will pay the price for the failed policies of the previous Administration. We should bear in mind the fact that they will be making sacrifices because of Labour's mistakes.
In a former life, I was fortunate enough to be able to run my own business. During 20 years in the private sector, I have enjoyed the ups and downs that go with that territory, as well as sharing the challenges and opportunities that all families face. Given that reality, I recognise that this Budget, and the legacy we have inherited, will hurt people, and will hurt some in their pockets. Obviously, noChancellor would wish to give such a Budget, but it is the one that any responsible Chancellorwould have to give.
We are like the receivers coming in to clear up the chaos left by the previous owners. It falls to us to tell the shareholders, the staff and stakeholders what must be done to save them from bankruptcy. In government, Labour Members were always keen to hold company directors to account for their mistakes, and would often pursue criminal prosecution. I notice that there is not the same alacrity to do so with the right hon. Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) and forEdinburgh South West (Mr Darling).
In the limited time available, I want to focus on enterprise in the Budget, because my constituents in Enfield North will welcome steps to protect jobs and create an enterprise environment that can create new jobs-and why not? Given the 15% annual increase in the number of jobseeker's allowance claimants under 24 and the 30% drop in the number of vacancies, jobs are clearly a key issue in our area.
By reducing the burden of taxation and regulation, the Budget will give business the confidence to invest in the long term, which is crucial. Toby Perkins suggested that the tax cut for companies would be of no value and would do nothing except, perhaps, create extra profits for those involved. That is nonsense. According to a survey of its members by the Federation of Small Businesses, 42 per cent. of small firms will use savings from tax cuts to invest in growing their businesses, 20% will use them to employ more staff, and some 22% will try to invest in new services and products. We must allow our companies to invest and, in doing so, create jobs.
I welcome the benefits to increase the level of business rate support temporarily for new businesses. We are trying to introduce help in the regions, and the exemption from national insurance for the first 10 employees will certainly be welcome. Let me, however, introduce a note of caution, and ask my colleagues to bear it in mind. I do not want to see the emergence of a series of phoenix companies that may wish to take advantage of the exemption as an aside. This is not the occasion on which to discuss the merits of phoenix companies, but they have the potential to abuse what is otherwise a very welcome policy.
Above all, I welcome the Government's commitment to urging banks to promote small and medium-sized enterprises in particular. That too is crucial. Many people in my constituency and-I declare an interest here-in my own experience have seen the abject failure of banks, some of them owned by the people, in that regard. Many pursue a twin-track approach: they tell us that they are publicly committed to lending to SMEs, while in the real world actively discouraging them from applying for loans. Such disgraceful behaviour should not be allowed to continue without comment. I for one will be watching the banks carefully and holding them to account in the future. Their behaviour explains why, according to the FSB report, only 18% of its SME membership apply for loans, and only 9% are awarded them. SMEs are being discouraged from applying, and that is distorting the certificates.
Andrew Bingham (High Peak, Conservative): I agree with what my hon. Friend has said about the banks. Will he also acknowledge that hard-working counter staff are being criticised by members of the public although they are not to blame for the difficulties that the banks have caused? They have been working very hard, and they are being unfairly criticised.
Nick de Bois: I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that distinction. Indeed, it does not apply only to those working on the shop floor. Many senior managers are clearly being directed to follow a policy which-I am extremely pleased to note from the Budget-we are prepared to challenge. The Red Book refers to a review of the way in which banks should respond to the need to lend in the future. I realise that Britain needs its banks, but the banks need to play their part openly and honestly, and I look forward to seeing that happen. It is a key part of the proposals outlined in the Red Book.
This is a necessary Budget. It is a tragedy for our country that every 20 years or so Conservative Chancellors must make difficult decisions and accept public unpopularity for sorting out the mess left by their opponents. That has now happened again. I dislike many of the measures in the Budget, but I support them because I dislike even more the idea of our country literally going bankrupt. I hope that many of the tax rises that have been announced will eventually be reversed as our economy grows over the coming years, but our priority now is to stop the country slipping into a spiral of debt-driven decline, to rebuild our businesses, and to create jobs and opportunities to turn our economy round.
Jobs and Unemployed
Opposition Day - [3rd Allotted Day]
Nick de Bois: Will my hon. Friend add to that the outrageous attack on many SMEs, with banks inflating margins for captive customers with nowhere else to go? Does he welcome the opportunity for competition in that marketplace?
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon, Conservative): My hon. Friend is right, and that is one of the areas I am passionate about.
Energy and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Debate on Address
Nick de Bois (5:05pm): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I congratulate all hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches, but my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris raised the bar even higher with his speech. Not only was it entertaining, but it had depth and content, and I warmly congratulate him on that. I also congratulate the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on leading today's debate on the Gracious Speech, which represents a triumph of localism over centralisation and prescriptive government. That will be particularly welcome in my constituency, as I shall explain a little later.
First, I wish to say a word about my predecessor, the right hon. Joan Ryan, who served theconstituency from 1997 with such distinction and with such a commitment to campaigning on behalf of her constituents. I am sure that she would wish to hear no better message of thanks than that she was a fine and welcome constituency MP. Hon. Members may recall that her predecessor prior to 1997 was the right hon. Tim Eggar, who served Enfield, North from 1979 and served for 12 continuous years as a Minister. Tim was kind enough to support me during all my campaigns-those of 2001 and 2005, as well as the more recent one in 2010. People who remember Tim will recall him as the eternal optimist, with an outgoing and friendly nature; I did not know a day when he appeared a little down. Unfortunately, his optimistic outlook was put to the test in 2001 and 2005. With that same optimism, commitment, determination and self-belief he had assured me that we would win those elections with vast majorities, so it was extremely notable that in the most recent campaign he stayed silent.
As tradition requires, I shall spend a few moments telling the House about my Enfield Northconstituency, which I am so proud to represent. It is a constituency of contrasts. It is London's most northerly constituency and it boasts some of the largest areas of green-belt land in its west. Many people say that it has the finest landscapes in the Greater London area. I agree with that view and I intend to work hard with local groups such as the Enfield Society, the Federation of Enfield Residents and Allied Associations-FERAA-the Crews Hill Residents Association and Friends ofHilly Fields, which, along with others, have worked so hard to preserve the character and nature of our constituency. Enfield Chase and areas such as Forty Hill have been blessed with many royal visitors during the past 400 years, the most regular of whom was Henry VIII, followed byElizabeth I. The visits continue to the present day, but I can confidently say that nowadays most of our visitors come from the region; the area is very accessible, as it neighbours the M25.
Enfield town is, at heart, a traditional English market town, but I hasten to add that it has one unique distinction: it boasts the world's first automated teller machine-it was known as "the cashpoint" in those days. I must say that it has been far more reliable in dispensing money than some of the banks that we got used to in the last couple of years, and it is still there to this day.
Eastern Enfield, by contrast, is a much more urban scene. My constituency has a diverse population. Diversity is evident in culture, ethnicity, language and religion. More than 40 languages are spoken by children attending schools in Enfield North, including my own school, Chesterfield, of which I have been fortunate enough to be an active governor for the last four years. The same local communities bring a vibrant economic and social mix to the area, with a wonderful sense of entrepreneurial spirit. The spirit of our Cypriot, Turkish, Greek, Asian, Kurdish and Somali communities is evident if one goes down the Hertford road. As someone mentioned earlier, hon. Members are most welcome to do so, so long as they are willing to part with some money to support our local business.
Above all else, Enfield is shaped by industry. Indeed, its motto is "By industry ever stronger". This part of Enfield gave the world such things as Belling cookers, Scrabble and the first manufactured colour television, and it is of course famous for the Lee Enfield rifle, which, I believe, served the British Army until 1957. The subsequent disappearance of much of eastern Enfield's old manufacturing industry has brought its challenges and its problems. Much of that industry has been succeeded by other entrepreneurial efforts but at the heart of my ambition for Enfield is the wish to ensure that we capitalise on the strategic advantages of theconstituency to attract new businesses and a new economy, to support new local jobs and, above all, to deal with the plague of youth unemployment, which is far too high in myconstituency. We have particular strengths, including an advantageous location next to the motorway network, direct connections into London on the trains and, of course, Stansted airport nearby. We have excellent communications, a reliable and skilled work force and a resilient enterprise culture with a burgeoning small business sector.
We have to create and attract new industries from the high-skilled sectors. We have to attract the creative industries that will be tempted to move from London and, of course, industries from the green economy that can and should come to Enfield. If, during my term-however long it might be-I can demonstrate that I can be the No. 1 salesman for our constituency, I will be a very happy MP as I would have improved the quality of life of many of my constituents.
On taking full advantage of the strategic location of Enfield, I noticed earlier that the Minister of State,Department for Transport, was in the Chamber. Perhaps she would have anticipated what I am about to say, because she is familiar with the need for us to compete, when the finances are right, for a northern gateway access road that that will link from the M25, and take mainly industrial traffic down through our eastern corridor. I join my colleagues who spoke earlier in knowing that this will be on our agenda. It will be a win-win situation, as it will help to develop our eastern corridor for business and take away one of the harshest environmental blights in the north of theconstituency where the traffic goes along Bullsmoor lane-at its peak, 150 heavy goods vehicles a minute pass residential housing. Such a measure would be a win-win for the economy and for the local environment. I am sure that that is a subject that my constituents will ask me to revisit in due course.
One of the many qualities that Enfieldians have is that they are proud-proud of their area and of their neighbourhood. Many residents have grown up and spent all their lives in Enfield. They have strong views on their home town, and yearn for strong independent minded representation that will genuinely put their interests first and protect the environment and public services.
The localism that is evident from the Gracious Speech is one that I know the people of Enfield will welcome, so that they, and not remote politicians, can shape and influence the neighbourhood as they see fit. We were honoured when that localism was made acutely evident when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health visited our hospital, Chase Farm, within 14 days of thegeneral election. He immediately stopped the top-down, London-led, unwelcome and unpopular reconfiguration plans for our hospital and returned the control and direction of our health care needs to residents and GPs, removing the threat of forced closures. That was a welcome demonstration of localism and of the new Government in action. That same localism is proposed across other key areas that dominate people's day-to-day lives, including planning, which can literally have an impact on the street they live on. The Queen's Speech marks the first real opportunity for an MP to work with his constituents, local authorities and public bodies to shape their neighbourhoods, services and environment and thus deliver real improvement to quality of life for all. I welcome that challenge and opportunity, as will my constituents. Mr Speaker, thank you very much for allowing me to speak today.