Speeches and parliamentary questions in the House of Commons in the 2005-6 sessionWhile speaking in the chamber of the House is a high profile activity for an MP, much other work is done elsewhere, in committee, as well as a large casework load for constituents.
17/10/06 Road Pricing
11/10/06 Crash not fault of Maglev
10/10/06 Injury at Work
21/06/06 Local Transport Funding
20/06/06 House of Lords Reform
12/06/06 Travel Perks
11/05/06 Regional Transport Infrastructure
03/05/06 What have the Labour Government done for us?
15/03/06 Deregulation Disaster
13/03/06 Pensioner Travel (Tyne and Wear)
02/03/06 Free Bus travel, Tyne and Wear
14/02/06 Health Bill (Smoking)
06/02/06 Local Government Finance
06/02/06 Free travel in Tyne and Wear
01/02/06 Cost of free transport
20/12/05 Free Bus Travel Scheme
14/12/05 Free Bus travel, Tyne and Wear (PMQ)
05/12/05 Free off-peak bus travel scheme
24/11/05 Western By Pass
09/11/05 Terrorism Bill, Schools
07/11/05 Council Tax (New Valuation Lists for England) Bill
27/10/05 Education White Paper
14/07/05 House of Lords reform
14/07/05 Travel Concessions
12/07/05 Flexible Opening Hours - Members' Clubs
11/07/05 Licensing Act
11/07/05 Travel Concessions
28/06/05 Tyne Tunnel
09/06/05 Consumer Credit Bill
24/05/05 Metro and free fares
17/05/05 Queen's Speech Debate
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): But what would be the point of introducing road pricing in a locality unless the local authority in the area concerned had some power to introduce alternative public service provision? Will my right hon. Friend guarantee to the House that no road pricing system will be brought in unless the local authority concerned has new powers to regulate bus services in its area?
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): In relation to the bids for the transport innovation fund, we have been clear that the kind of demand management measures, including road pricing, that local authorities are considering would be complementary to exactly the kind of improvement in public transport that my hon. Friend suggests. I have made it clear in recent weeks that I am concerned that the present free-for-all is not serving the public well in relation to bus services, and we will be publishing proposals on that in due course.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): ... This is perhaps an appropriate moment for me to take pause and offer my sincere condolences, on behalf of the Government, to the friends and family of the 23 people who tragically lost their lives in the accident at the German Maglev test facility last month.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): In referring to that tragic accident, will the Minister acknowledge that the tragedy had nothing whatever to do with the technology?
Mr. Harris: I am more than happy to accept that. In fact, I was in Berlin the week the accident happened and was told on my arrival about a plan by the federal and local governments finally to construct a commercial Maglev line - no longer a test line - in Munich. I was interested and glad to hear today that those plans have not been derailed. I also understand that two members of maintenance staff are being investigated for possible charges of manslaughter as a result of the accident, which had absolutely nothing to do with the technology.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Is the Home Secretary aware that in Saltwell park in my constituency there is a memorial to those who have died in the course of their employment? At this year's remembrance service, I was proud to be able to announce that the Government would be introducing this measure, so I congratulate the Home Secretary on speaking to the Bill this afternoon. However, he will also be aware of some concerns about weaknesses in the Bill as drafted - not least in the definition of senior managers and in respect of the range of available penalties. Will he assure the House that such matters will be thoroughly scrutinised in Committee and that any weaknesses will be corrected to firm up the Bill and make it even better than it is now?
John Reid: I can assure my hon. Friend that I am aware that, irrespective of our agreement on general objectives, some outstanding disagreements remain. I hope that we can remedy one or two of those today through my speech and we will no doubt debate and, if possible, agree others in the course of proceedings on the Bill. In either case, I assure him that we will be open to working with him and others to give the Bill the greatest scrutiny possible. I would have preferred to introduce the Bill earlier because of its importance to many people, not least many of my colleagues in the trade union movement. Whatever our differences and despite the delay, I hope that there is a welcome for the Bill after eight or nine years. I am delighted to put it before the House.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the total annual revenue from taxation was from season tickets and travel passes provided by employers to their staff in each of the last five years. 
Dawn Primarolo: This information is not available
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role. Has he recently experienced travelling in the North-East of England? If so, he will have noticed that the region has not a single three-lane motorway, and that the 40 miles of two-lane motorway that we do have are not even linked to the rest of the motorway system. That is severely restricting attempts to revive the region's economy and, combined with the Highways Agency's restrictive practices, is causing much difficulty in the region. May we have an early debate on regional transport infrastructure, and if not, a statement on how the Government intend to address the serious and continuing transport problems in the North-East?
Mr. Straw: I am in the North-East a lot, and although this was not an issue that much engaged me as Foreign Secretary, now that my hon. Friend mentions it, I realise that there are no three-lane motorways in that region. None the less, the problems that the transport infrastructure in the North-East, as elsewhere in the country, has to face are a consequence of high levels of economic growth and, therefore, of much greater transport movement. He will know that there has been a dramatic turnaround since 1997 in the economy, employment levels and economic activity, and a real rejuvenation in areas such as his. That said, I will of course pass on the point that he makes to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
David asking his question
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Apart from the minimum wage, statutory holidays, Sure Start, low unemployment, low mortgages, free eye tests, prescriptions, TV licences and bus travel, and the £200 winter fuel allowance for pensioners, 2 million children taken out of poverty, 2 million pensioners taken out of poverty, more teachers, nurses, doctors and police, and lower crime, hospital waiting lists and class sizes, what have the Labour Government done for us?
The Prime Minister: As the People's Liberation Front would say, there is doubled maternity pay and doubled maternity leave. There is extra child benefit as well. There is, of course, the case that we have spent more on pensioners than we would have done if we had relinked the basic state pension with earnings, and many other things. I can recommend to my hon. Friend the excellent booklet published by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers on 300 Labour achievements.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I will try to be brief. I must start with an apology. I have to go to a meeting with the Lord Chancellor, and he is not a man who likes to be kept waiting. I apologise to the Minister and to the Opposition spokesmen because I will not hear their winding-up speeches, but I will read them with great interest.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on securing this important debate. It is true that deregulation has been bad for public transport, and I agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh). I suspect that this is one of those debates where there will be a great deal of agreement across the Chamber, at least below the Gangway. We will get to hear what will be said at the other end.
It is certainly true that bus companies tend to have things their own way these days. I agree that something of a cartel is working. In the Tyne and Wear area, Stagecoach and Go North East seem to dominate all the bus services to the exclusion of anyone else. As a result of deregulation, bus use is in serious decline. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley pointed out, before deregulation, 48 per cent. of English bus trips took place in PTE areas and 27 per cent. in London. Now that has been reversed, with 27 per cent. of English bus trips in PTE areas and 44 per cent. in London. That has to have something to do with the fact that services in London continue to be regulated.
As a result, costs are rising. The price of new tendered local bus services is rising way ahead of inflation. Between 2003 and 2004, the price rose by 12.1 per cent., three times the rate of inflation. That was a marginal improvement on the 15 per cent. rise between 2002 and 2003. The result is cuts in services. Approximately 35 per cent. of local authorities planned to make cuts to supported bus services by the end of the 2004-05 financial year in order to stay within budget.
It is not all bad news: there has been very good news for profits. FirstGroup, made a £103 million operating profit from its UK bus division in 2003-04. UK bus operations account for 37 per cent. of FirstGroup's revenue and 48 per cent. of its operating profit. Returns of 11 per cent. on an investment are not unusual in the bus industry. My hon. Friend has referred to returns of as much as 50 per cent. It is indeed a profitable business.
Reliability and the provision of services have suffered, not least in Tyne and Wear. Services west of Gateshead have been cut and priority services have had to be introduced at public cost in order to provide a reasonable service to the people in that area. Passenger journeys in Tyne and Wear have gone down by 56 per cent. since the deregulation of buses. PTEs are struggling to continue to provide decent services for people, as opposed to the profitable services that the bus companies seem exclusively to be interested in. Nowhere is the budget being constrained more than in the Tyne and Wear area.
I refer my hon. Friend the Minister to the problems besetting Tyne and Wear PTE because of the Government's free fare system, which will be introduced in only a few weeks and is exclusively related to bus journeys. In Tyne and Wear, we are now £5.5 million short of the money needed to run free bus services next month. That is a serious problem. In order to make up the shortfall, the PTE will have to use £2 million of its reserves. It will have to cut concessionary fares for young people and students. Next week, it will have to announce cuts in services to pay for that Government-inspired scheme. That cannot be right and it is up to the Government to resolve the problem.
I congratulate the Department for Transport, which has done everything possible to assist. In fact, it has provided £1.7 million to ensure that the free fare system can be transferred on to the metro. If the free fares had exclusively been for buses, the metro system would have suffered badly. That has resolved a problem, but we still have the shortfall to resolve.
I, too, congratulate the Minister on her term of office and I wish her well for the future. Perhaps she could perform one great last service. Next week the Chancellor will announce this year's Budget. As last year's Budget brought in the free fare system, perhaps he could resolve some of the unintended problems with the scheme in this year's Budget.
Not only is there a funding shortfall for the scheme in a number of local authorities, and most seriously in Tyne and Wear, but the scheme is related only to local authority boundaries. That is causing some difficulties. In this year's Budget, the Chancellor - the Minister might have a word with the Treasury - could introduce a national free fare scheme for pensioners. It could be administered by the Department for Transport. In one of its famous meetings with the bus companies, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley referred, it could negotiate to introduce a national system, so that pensioners could use the free pass wherever they went in the country on local bus services. That would be a great service. If the Minister can do that before she leaves, she will be remembered for ever.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown) on securing an Adjournment debate on such an important subject. As he intimated, I have taken a great deal of interest in the matter from the beginning. Like him, I have received representations from pensioners in Tyne and Wear who, for the first time in my 20 years' experience as a Member of Parliament, have said to me that they reject something that the Government have offered: free transport. They do not want free transport at the expense of transport for young people and others who currently receive concessions. Additionally, they do not want free transport at the expense of services, which will also be on the cards unless the problem is resolved.
My right hon. Friend referred to a possible long-term solution and reminded the House that the matter was initially raised by the Chancellor in last year's Budget. When the Chancellor announced the scheme, it was widely welcomed, not least by those of us in Tyne and Wear who had concessionary fares, but welcomed the idea of free fares for pensioners. However, we did not anticipate such an unintended outcome.
The long-term solution might well lie in next week's Budget. Even at this late stage, I urge the Minister to talk to the Chancellor and the Treasury about what that Budget might contain. It might well be that the Chancellor can resolve the problem by introducing a national scheme for free transport, rather than a local one. As I understand it, such a scheme would not cost a massive amount. It would be much easier to administer and would certainly resolve our problems in Tyne and Wear. It might also resolve the problems that are anticipated in other parts of the country. The existing scheme is restricted to local government boundaries. A national scheme could be introduced at low cost, so I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to raise the matter with the Treasury in the anticipation that next week's Budget might bring a resolution to the problem.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): The Leader of the House will be aware that next month sees the introduction of the Government's scheme for free bus travel for pensioners. Is he aware that a serious anomaly has arisen in Tyne and Wear, where there is a £5.5 million shortfall in funding the scheme? Given the urgency of the situation, can we have a debate next week to establish how it has arisen and what might be done about it, and, in particular, to make it clear that it is not local councillors, but Ministers and mandarins in Whitehall, who are responsible?
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I emphasise to my hon. Friend the importance that the Government attach to bus travel and bus services. That is why a significant amount of money has been made available right across the country to ensure that free bus travel and other concessionary schemes are available to our constituents. I will invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to respond directly on the specific issue in my hon. Friend's constituency.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). He has some knowledge of these issues, and I recall that he was one of the better Conservative Ministers for local government. However, what he has just said has demonstrated that, while Ministers and Governments may change, the civil service trundles on, and what he said about inflation was astounding in its audacity. I remember him and other Ministers standing at the Dispatch Box saying exactly what our Minister has said today, reading from exactly the same script. They said that local government had had a bigger-than-inflation increase and that there should therefore be no problem. I have been hearing that speech for the past 20 years, and it has not changed.
Michael Jabez Foster: This is only a suggestion, but were not the Ministers wrong on those occasions? In those days, they were cutting public spending.
Mr. Clelland: I accept what my hon. Friend has said, and also what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner). At least local government settlements have gone the other way since 1997, and authorities have benefited from some improvements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan also spoke of inequalities in the system, and those are what concern us in the North-East. The system is based on a flawed formula: we know that, because the Government commissioned the Lyons report in an attempt to come up with a different system and a new formula. The North-East continues to come out worst whenever a settlement is announced. This year the Minister has announced an average settlement of 3 per cent.; the average settlement in the North-East is 2.7 per cent. Along with that, we have to compete with our next-door neighbours in Scotland, who benefit from the Barnett formula. It is somewhat ironic that the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland produced a report today showing that the North-East of England is at the bottom of the league according to a series of key social indicators, while in most instances Scotland is above the average.
The Minister has announced a 3 to 3.5 per cent. increase, but Gateshead in the North-East has ended up with 2.5 per cent., even less than the North-East average - although according to all the indicators it needs support from central Government, and although it is a beacon council that the Government constantly cite as an example of good local government. Westminster, with all its high-value properties and high incomes and all the advantages of the lucrative business that surrounds it, has received an increase of 2.9 per cent. that is set to rise to 4.6 per cent. next year. Gateshead's increase is set to rise to only 2.7 per cent. How can that possibly be equitable or right?
Ministers have tried to resolve some of the problems. They have made adjustments in an attempt to iron out some of the anomalies. As the settlement demonstrates, however, the inequities have not been removed. I believe that that is because Ministers have found the system to be so skewed that ironing out the unfairnesses in one fell swoop would require a huge shift of resources from authorities that were favoured under Tory Governments in the past, with all the political consequences that would ensue.
Ministers have therefore introduced what my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan describes as damping. The aim was to avoid the political fallout, but it also means that the full benefits of a fairer system, and of the changes that Governments have made, are not passed on to the local authorities that need them most. It is estimated that that has cost metropolitan authorities £250 million in social services funding alone, and a further £180 million has been lost to metropolitan education services.
Those inequalities have been further aggravated by a new factor in the formula: households with residents aged over 90. Unfortunately, the North-East is very low down in the league when it comes to health inequalities, and few of our households contain residents over the age of 90. We therefore cannot benefit from that change in the grant, but our old people still need support. Indeed, they may need even more support because of the health equalities to which I have referred.
Young people are also affected. After all that the Government have said about "Every Child Matters", how can it be right for councils in London to receive up to three times more for each child than those in the North-East? What possible justification can there be for that?
The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon mentioned the population issue. It is a key factor in grant distribution, but it too can work to the disadvantage of the areas in greatest need. If half the people move out of a street, we do not see half the paving stones being removed or half the street lights being turned off. The same services must be provided, even if the population has been halved. Falling populations are tied too closely to the allocation of resources, and too little consideration is given to the continuing need for services even when a population is in decline. Indeed, the need may be greater in such circumstances: it is often the economically active and the skilled workers who depart, leaving behind vulnerable people who require even more support.
The projected figures show that the population in the North-East is actually rising by 2,000 a year, but according to figures from the Office for National Statistics - as was acknowledged earlier, they are incorrect - the population is falling. So as a result of the population factor, we are suffering yet again in terms of grant allocation.
The other issue, which I am afraid the Government have ducked, is revaluation. Revaluation is important in an area such as mine. Ministers often talk about the difficulties of being in government - about how being in government is about making tough decisions and not being afraid to make unpopular decisions - but they backed away from revaluation only too quickly.
The Minister mentioned the free bus travel scheme that is due to be introduced in April - an issue that I have raised in the House several times. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a £350 million fund to pay for the scheme and by all accounts, that should be enough money to finance a free bus fare system across the country. However, some genius decided that the money should be distributed through the revenue support grant system, which is in no way related to the specific issue of the concessionary fare-travelling public. I do not know which civil servant made the suggestion or which Minister took that advice, but both should be surplus to requirements. The result was that this issue got lost in the system, and areas such as Tyne and Wear, where the population is relatively low but the use of public transport and concessionary travel is relatively high, therefore lost out. However, areas with greater car ownership - where more people travel by car and fewer travel by public transport - got more money than they need to run free bus services. Tyne and Wear ended up with £7.5 million less than it needs to run the scheme.
I have raised this issue with the Minister in the past few months and to be fair to him, he has listened carefully and done the best that he can to resolve it; however, it has not been resolved. He referred earlier to the extra £1.7 million that Tyne and Wear has been allocated by the Department for Transport, which will help to provide free fares on the metro light rail system. We cannot have free fares on buses and not on the metro, because if we did, the metro would suffer a loss as a result of people switching to the buses. Secondly, a lot of people, particularly in the east end of Newcastle, rely on the metro rather than the buses, so it would be unfair to them if they had to pay and others did not; the situation has to be equal.
So funding free travel on the metro cost £1.7 million, but we are still more than £5 million short of the money needed to run the free bus service. That means that at next Wednesday's budget meeting, the passenger transport authority will have to cut concessionary fares for young people generally, and specifically concessionary fares for those attending college. I have been a Member of this House for 20 years and a public representative for some 34 years. I do not know how many advice surgeries I have run in that time, but it is certainly a lot. Last Saturday, for the first time ever, at two separate advice surgeries two completely different representations were made on the same issue by people who were completely unconnected. They were pensioners, and they told me that they did not want something that the Government were going to provide: they did not want free bus travel in Tyne and Wear to be provided at the expense of concessionary fares for young people. However, this is what we are having to do, because the Government have failed to resolve this issue.
I appreciate what the Minister said about the legal problems that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister faces in trying to dish out money to different local authorities. I said some time ago that if Ministers cannot resolve this issue, we will ask the Prime Minister to do so. He has responsibility across the whole of government, and not just for one Department. But I am now told that I cannot speak to the Prime Minister because discussions are ongoing. Well, I hope that the Minister can resolve this issue, because so far as I am aware, discussions that might resolve it are not in fact ongoing. The ODPM has given us the definite answer that no further money will be forthcoming. The problem therefore remains, so I hope that the Minister will unblock the situation and allow us to have our meeting with the Prime Minister.
The Government hope that the Lyons review will point the way in solving the problems associated with local government finance. However, there is absolutely no way that any review can come up with a solution that will produce a fair system that does not involve a massive shift in resources between regions, nations and local authorities - that is unless the Government provide huge extra resources to correct the anomalies that have been allowed to build up.
I await with interest the outcome of the Lyons review, but I am not optimistic that Ministers of any Government will ever have the guts to do the right thing.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): On Wednesday, during Deputy Prime Minister's Question Time, my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) specifically asked whether discussions were ongoing about free travel in Tyne and Wear. We were told on Wednesday that those discussions were still ongoing. Unless I have got it wrong, my hon. Friend now suggests that they are not. Can he please advise us?
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): Discussions are still going on with the passenger transport executive and other authorities. My remarks relate to the funding formula distribution. My hon. Friend's area faces the problem because it involves a cluster of five local authorities with a passenger transport executive, and discussions are taking place there. We have been able to find £1.7 million for the metro in Newcastle upon Tyne, but that is a separate subject.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge):Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Woolas: I shall give way briefly on that point. I think that you would want me to conclude my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that hon. Members on both sides of the House can have a chance to contribute.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge):The £1.7 million that the Minister mentions came from the Department for Transport, not from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. On the point that he makes about ongoing discussions, that is not my impression, having spoken to the director of the passenger transport executive only an hour ago. There have been no further discussions since the meeting that he had with the Minister last week.
Mr. Woolas: Let me be very clear, to help my hon. Friend and the House, and repeat what I have said about the settlement. Of course my remarks relate to the distribution of the formula grant. I have not found that the proposals were particularly unfair to any type of authority, nor that the extra cost of free fares, in so far as they can be estimated at this stage, place a burden out of proportion to existing public transport on any authority.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): How important are social mobility and public transport to inner-city regeneration? How can they help inner-city regeneration on Tyneside when the passenger transport authority has to fund a £5 million deficit to finance the Government's free bus fare system from April?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I understand my hon. Friend's point. However, he knows that our commitment of £350 million for free pensioner passes means that all transport authorities receive considerably more. I understand that the matter is critical in the North-East, where the transfer from rail to bus may create anomalies, but nobody knows for sure and discussions continue. However, pensioners in this country have a free pass service, which they did not have previously.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many local authorities have a forecast shortfall in excess of £1 million in relation to allocated funding for the free bus travel scheme following announcement of the local government revenue support grants. 
Phil Woolas - Minister for Local Government: Expenditure on concessionary fares is funded via the formula grant settlement. Formula grant is an unhypothecated block grant. This means that councils are able to spend the money on any services. It is not therefore possible to calculate how much funding has been allocated to each authority with respect to concessionary fares. Budget estimates and decisions are for councils themselves to make.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): The Prime Minister will recall the jubilation last year when the Chancellor announced that from April next year, pensioners and the disabled would receive free bus travel. But is he aware that there have been unintended consequences for Tyne and Wear, where there is a £7.3 million shortfall between the cost of running the scheme and the money being provided through the revenue support grant? If, at our meeting with the relevant Minister next week, we are unable to resolve this problem, will the Prime Minister agree to meet Tyne and Wear MPs to see whether he can find a way through this situation?
The Prime Minister: I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues. I know that he has a meeting with that Minister next week, and I hope that the situation can be resolved.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I welcome the extra measures that the Minister has announced to assist local authorities with the introduction of new free off-peak bus travel schemes from next April. I thank him for the sympathetic way in which he listened to those of us who lobbied him on the matter over the past few months. Will he assure the House that the measures he has announced today will ensure that no local authority will have either to increase council tax or to cut services in order to introduce the new system, and that no eligible traveller will pay more after its introduction than they do at present?
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): In the run-up to the settlement, there have been several representations from authorities across the country, including my hon. Friend's transport authority. The measures that I announced today reflect a change in the proposed formula for allocations, especially in areas where there is high usage by pensioners and disabled people. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that the change has been made in response to representations from both sides of the House, and I look forward to pensioners benefiting from free bus travel in his area.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Highways Agency is blocking much-needed development of business and housing in my constituency on the basis that that would add to congestion on the A1 western bypass around Gateshead and Newcastle? Can we have an early debate on the powers of the Highways Agency, which has failed over many years to take any action whatsoever to relieve congestion on that trunk road and is now using its powers to block much-needed development and redevelopment in my constituency?
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what is obviously an important issue for him as a constituency Member of Parliament. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is made aware of his concerns and responds accordingly.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): May I tell my right hon. Friend that I, for one, will support the Government in the Lobby this afternoon? Does he agree that those who oppose the Government may well end up with something a lot more tragic than egg on their faces? However - there is always a "however" - I cannot offer the same support for the Government's proposals on schools. Does he agree that there should be the same discussion, consultation and willingness to listen on that issue as there has been on the Terrorism Bill?
The Prime Minister: I think that I shall take those one at a time. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support on the anti-terrorism measures. On schools, we will have an opportunity to talk to people about the implications of the proposals, which are essentially about empowering schools and parents to do the best for their children. That is the right thing to do, and it builds on the specialist schools programme, which has been immensely successful in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I am interested in the direction that this conversation is taking. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Minister recently said that property-based taxes were introduced at a time when services - such as water, electricity and sewerage services - were based on property, while services today, including education and social services, are based on people? Do the Minister's comments suggest that the reason for the delayed revaluation might be that, in the minds of Ministers, there might not be any need for a property tax in future?
Mr. Raynsford: I have listened carefully to the comments made by my ministerial Friends, and they have made it clear that they do not intend to move beyond the remit of the Lyons review, which is to consider changes to and reform of the council tax, but not a replacement for it. That was the remit given to Sir Michael Lyons, and that is the premise on which we are proceeding. If, in future, alternative plans are put forward, hon. Members will obviously wish to consider them very carefully, and with considerable scepticism. The experiences of previous attempts to change from a property-based tax to a person-based tax are not happy. The poll tax was one of the most unhappy experiences in the entire history of local government finance, and very few people would want to go back in that direction.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): The Secretary of State will be aware that many Labour Members have grave concerns about her proposals and cannot possibly support them in their present form. There is no question but that she and the Prime Minister have the best interests of young people at heart, but many of us fear that the proposals could be damaging to many young people in Tyne Bridge and similar constituencies up and down the country. Will she undertake to enter into meaningful discussions with colleagues, particularly on the Labour Benches, before she pins her colours too firmly to the mast in this White Paper?
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. The proposals in the White Paper are about driving up standards across the board, but they are particularly about meeting the needs of the most disadvantaged pupils in our schools in the most disadvantaged areas. We will do that by ensuring that those schools have the opportunity to get really professional help, to federate with successful schools, and to develop a sense of purpose and mission. If we combine those measures with really good choice for all parents and with the extension of free school transport rights, we will serve the needs not only of the nation but of disadvantaged pupils in particular.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 571 on House of Lords reform, which has been tabled by some eminent right hon. and hon. Members?
[That this House welcomes the Government's commitment to a free vote on the composition of Parliament's revising chamber; believes that the House of Lords should be replaced by a chamber which is predominately elected; and believes that the Second Chamber of Parliament Bill, presented in February by the then honourable Member for North Cornwall, endorsed by the Right honourable Member for Livingston, the Right honourable Member for North West Hampshire, the Right honourable Member for Rushcliffe and the honourable Member for Cannock Chase, and supported by other leading Members of both Houses, provides a valuable basis for further discussion and decision.]
When can we expect a debate on House of Lords reform? Does he agree that despite the right hon. and hon. Members of great intellect who have sat in this place over the years, there are many examples of their getting things completely wrong?
Mr. Hoon: Having studied the second volume of the diaries of my distinguished predecessor, Richard Crossman, which covers the period in which he sought to find ways to reform the House of Lords from the position that I currently hold, I recognise the difficulties of achieving the right result. The Government made progress by removing the overwhelming majority of hereditary peers, a change for which great intellects from Tom Paine onwards have argued. The Government are committed to continuing to establish a consensus on the way forward, because a single political party cannot drive through such reform. We must achieve a wide consensus on the way forward and establish constitutional arrangements for the United Kingdom that are consistent with the requirements of a 21st-century democracy.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 11 July 2005, Official Report, column 699W, on travel concessions, what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the contribution to the relief of traffic congestion that might be made by abolishing the taxation applied to employer-provided travel concessions. 
John Healey: There have been no specific discussions on the relationship between traffic congestion and tax relief for employer-provided travel concessions. However, the Treasury continues to discuss a range of transport issues with the DfT on an ongoing basis.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): What we need are more flexible opening hours, and that is one welcome aspect of the Act. Flexible opening hours will certainly be a big improvement on the current position. Few if any establishments will want to open for 24 hours. Indeed, I think the Minister confirmed that none had applied to do so. A more flexible system to replace a single chucking-out time will probably lead to a more staggered leaving of pubs and clubs - if that is the right term to use in this context. It would not work if some pubs closed at 1 am, some at 2 am and some at 3 am, because people would simply move from one to another, but I think that the later such establishments stay open, the more likely people are to disperse gradually. The current thinking of the Tyneside police is that the appropriate time is 3 am. I do not know whether that is the case, but it is probably about right.
The Act will be an improvement on the current system because of that greater flexibility and because there will be a single licence rather than the six for which people must often apply nowadays. After the initial registration, there will be less red tape. The Act will also bring more local control and more consideration of the needs of local communities.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Given the concerns of many chief constables, might it not have been better to trial the arrangements in certain towns to establish whether they would indeed reduce binge drinking and the violence that results from it?
Mr. Clelland: So far as I am aware, this proposal has been trialled throughout Europe, and notably in Scotland, for many years. The experience is that flexible opening does lead to less binge drinking and to less trouble on the streets.
The Act will also give local representatives more power to control licensed premises in their area in the interests of the local community, and to tailor activities and opening hours accordingly. For instance, local authorities might treat pubs and clubs on housing estates differently from those in city centres. But there is no doubt that implementation has led to some problems and I hope that the Minister will look again at how some of them might be alleviated. I do not share in the doom and gloom and cries of "Chaos!" from Opposition Members, but there are some issues that need to be addressed.
Last week, I had the honour to be elected joint chair of the all-party group on non-profit making members' clubs. There are more than 5,000 of these private clubs throughout the country, and they are covered by the Working Men's Club and Institute Union and the Committee of Registered Clubs' Associations. Such clubs include working men's clubs, Royal British Legion clubs, RAF clubs, and Labour, Conservative and Liberal clubs. They are run for, and by, the members themselves. The members elect the committees and the committees elect the secretaries. They do not have the resources or the professional expertise of the big organisations. They are run by - dare I say it? - amateurs, although often very professionally. Some do have full-time secretaries, but they are not the professionals whom we expect to see in the big organisations.
There is no doubt that many club secretaries have found filling in the 18-page form daunting. I agree with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) - that does not happen often - that, regardless of the number of boxes that club secretaries eventually need to tick, they still have to read the entire form to decide which need to be ticked and which do not. I spoke to one of my local club secretaries - a very intelligent man who runs an excellent club - as recently as last Saturday, and on first receiving the form, he found it daunting and put it away in a drawer. On looking at it carefully some time later, he discovered that it was not as daunting as he first thought. On the other hand, club secretaries are often elderly and not necessarily computer-literate. They have found dealing with these issues difficult, which may explain why less than 25 per cent. of clubs have returned their applications to date. Of course, the rate of return is increasing as 6 August appears on the horizon, but that in itself could cause problems as local authorities struggle to deal with an avalanche of applications. The Minister will doubtless want, as he has said, to stick to the deadline, but it is obvious that there will have to be some flexibility.
I am afraid to say that there has also been a considerable increase in the associated costs for clubs. A £16 licence will now cost £190, and to that must be added the cost of solicitors. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead said that solicitors have a licence to print money, but they have never needed a licence - they do it without one. Architects' plans are very expensive and we should also consider the cost of advertising. Some newspapers have capitalised on the situation by doubling the cost of such advertising. Clubs are having to fork out as much as £1,000 - that is not an unusual sum - to comply with the administration associated with this legislation, so this is a problem. The Minister said that the legislation will save the industry some £2 million a year, but it will not save working men's clubs and non-profit making members' clubs that sort of money. They do not make a profit, so the extra costs will have to fall on the members.
On Monday, I asked the Minister whether he would include a representative of clubs on the licensing fees review panel, which Sir Les Elton will chair. The fee structure is a very important issue for clubs, so I hope that he will look at it and that more can be done to help clubs through that vehicle. Will he also look at the way in which local authorities are handling this matter? There is evidence to suggest that some councils and some police forces are pressurising clubs into applying for a premises licence, rather than the club premises certificate. That might make matters easier for local authorities and the police, but it will not be advantageous to clubs. They would be well advised not to take that course and to stick to the premises certificate.
There are some advantages for clubs in the new legislation. One is that they will be able to hold up to 12 special events in which non-members can participate without having to apply each time for a special licence. That will apply to weddings, christenings, birthdays and so forth and is to be welcomed. That was the intention. However, we now find that some local authorities take the view that if "The Dog and Duck" darts team visits the local club for a game of darts, that represents one of those special events. If that happens, all the special events in most clubs will be taken up in the first month, which I am sure is not what the Minister intended. I hope that he will look further into the problem and ensure that local authorities are advised that that is not the intention behind the Act.
In its operation, once up and running, the Act will be an improvement on the legislation that it replaces. It contains many welcome provisions and will make for a more flexible and less bureaucratic system. However, for whatever reason, it is causing initial difficulties and could lead to some smaller clubs and organisations losing their rights to trade after 24 November. I realise that that is not what Ministers want or intend and, with a little readjustment and a little rethinking, I am sure that the problems can be overcome.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): The Minister will be aware of much local concern about the possible effects of the Licensing Act on local clubs. I have looked at the membership of the licensing fees review panel, under the excellent chairmanship of my old friend, Sir Les Elton, but I notice that no one on the panel seems to have any expertise in non-profit-making private members' clubs. Will the Minister extend the membership of the panel to include a member of the Committee of Registered Clubs Associations, so that the 5,000 private clubs in this country can be represented?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and, indeed, representatives of the club movement. There are only five people on the panel, so I do not think that it will be possible to extend the membership, but we would be happy to look at any evidence that is presented. When the Act was passed by Parliament, we made a specific exemption for members' clubs, so that they do not need a personal licence holder. If there is evidence to show that we should do anything else to help the club movement, we will do it.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will abolish the taxation applied to employer-provided travel concessions. 
Dawn Primarolo: Employees who receive free or cheap travel concessions from their employer, for themselves or members of their families, will generally be taxable on the benefit by reference to the cost to the employer. We have no plans to change this.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): The Minister might also be aware that I have made the case in this Chamber, even before 1997, for action to be taken to relieve congestion in the Tyne and Wear area, particularly on the A1 western bypass. The second tunnel will greatly help in that direction, so will he listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn), who has been putting the case well over many years, and take urgent action to get this scheme under way as early as possible?
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): From our point of view, we will make the decision as quickly as possible, and I certainly expect it within the next few weeks. All that I can say is that I have heard what my hon. Friends have said, and all comments will be taken into account.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this measure, which I know is very close to his heart; indeed, he has been desperate to get to the Dispatch Box to move this Second Reading. Getting in over one's head and into debt that one can no longer afford to pay drives some people into depression and, in other tragic cases, even to suicide. A main cause is the high interest rates that some companies can charge, over which there is little control. Can measures be introduced - if not in the Bill then perhaps by future ministerial order - to control interest rates, so that people do not get into such trouble?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention; he has a good track record in assisting constituents who get into such difficulties. The question of interest rate capping accompanied our pre-election discussions of the Bill and of the consumer credit White Paper. The Government do not consider capping to be the way forward, because there are many other hidden charges that can equally cause such misery. But I did undertake to keep the capping issue under review, and to examine it in the light of future developments and of our efforts through this Bill. However, at the moment there is no need for such caps.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Is the Minister aware that passenger use of light rail systems, such as the Tyne and Wear Metro and its counterparts in other conurbations, may suffer an unintentional reduction? That will happen if the free travel service to be introduced next year is not extended to such systems. That free service is welcome, but private bus operators will profit at the expense of publicly run services. What consideration is being given to representations made on this point?
Derek Twigg: Local passenger transport executives will have to consider what more they can do to tackle that problem.
Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO
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