June 2009 Monthly Archives

Heathrow Airport Expansion

June 16, 2009

Nick Hurd questions the inconsistent message sent out by the Government who are arguing that climate change is the most important risk of our time whilst at the same time forcing through the expansion of Heathrow airport.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): My hon. Friend is focusing on NOx, but he will know that the elephant in the room is carbon and climate change policy. Does he understand the confusion in my constituency? People are coming up to me to say, “Hang on a minute. On one hand, the Government are telling us that climate change is the most important risk of our time, and on the other, they’re giving a green light to the fastest-growing source of emissions. How do we make sense of this?”

Adam Afriyie: There can be no greater contrast, especially as the Government do not even attempt to say that the building of a third runway will help towards their goal of reducing carbon emissions in the short term. It seems rather bold and impressive of the Government to tie us into targets 40 years from now, when—I had better be careful what I say—many hon. Members may no longer be in this place. On the other hand, the Government’s actions in the short and medium term will lead to an increase in CO2 and nitrogen dioxide emissions. We recognise that technology moves on and that some of the new aircraft in development, although not the fantasy aircraft that have been mentioned, will improve emissions. However, there is no way, looking at the charts and calculations, that they can deliver those improvements in time to meet the goals that the Government have set.

Mr. Hurd: Following on from the issues of noise and increased road congestion, particularly on local roads in Hillingdon, there are also health implications. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there has been no local health impact assessment and that Hillingdon primary care trust has not been consulted on the expansion of Heathrow?

Adam Afriyie: Absolutely; this is a fascinating story is it not? It is bizarre that every Government who wish to appear to be caring and to work in the interests of the economy and people’s quality of life fail to consider the health impacts. I hope that the Minister has a sensible and reasonable answer as to why the Government do not wish to look into the health of people in and around the airport.

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Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Bill

June 12, 2009

Speaking on behalf of the Conservatives, Nick Hurd welcomes the Bill, which is aimed at reforming the law governing mutual societies.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): It is, as always, a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), who made a thought-provoking speech.

Until now, I have had no dealings with the Bill, so I should start by reassuring the right hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks) that my presence at the Dispatch Box reflects the day of the week rather than any U-turn on behalf of the Conservative party, because we welcome what is a useful Bill. On a personal note, I would like to extend heartfelt congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman for taking the Bill so far. I have had the pain or privilege of taking a private Member’s Bill through Parliament: it eventually became the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. Notwithstanding his understandable frustrations at the process, I hope this is a part of his political life that he will look back on with great pride, and perhaps reflect on the irony that so far it has proved easier to change the law of the land as a Back Bencher than it proved to install renewable energy in his home in Croydon despite being Energy Minister at the time.

We welcome this useful Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) spoke in support of it on Second Reading. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) made an entertaining speech—although I noted how difficult it was for her to get her mouth around the words, “my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton”. She reminded us that the Bill should be seen as the latest in a series of private Member’s Bills sponsored by Members from both sides of the House that seek to update the legislation on mutuals.

We value the work of mutuals. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Croydon, North keeps a copy of the “Mutual Yearbook 2008” by his bedside, but it is a good read, and it reminds us of the economic importance of this sector. It employs close to 1 million people and has annual revenue of more than £84 billion. It is therefore a sector that has significant economic weight, as well as an important social impact in the country.

It is probably wrong to pick out any particular sector, but I happened to meet housing association representatives yesterday and they were keen to remind me that they are not just about bricks and mortar; they are also about providing community services through employment, health and education projects. They are important partners of regeneration. A recent audit of those services found that they annually invest at least £435 million in that work.

Whether the bodies in the sector are building societies, housing associations or football supporters’ clubs, they need the right legislative framework, and one that is suited to the 21st century, and this Bill provides that. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Bill addresses four key issues. First, it requires new industrial and provident societies to register as co-operatives or community benefit societies. Secondly, it calls for the renaming of the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts; it has been agreed that the term “industrial and provident society” is arguably an outdated term, and hides the wide range of bodies that can be constituted as mutuals. Secondly, it applies the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 to industrial and provident societies. It is my understanding that there was no outstanding reason why officers of mutual societies should not be dismissed for negligence, as they can be under company law. Thirdly, it gives the Treasury powers to apply to community benefit or co-operative societies the company law on investigation of companies, company names and dissolution and restoration to the register. Finally, it gives the Treasury powers to make provisions for credit unions corresponding to any provisions applying to building societies. The clear theme is one of recognising the contribution mutuals have made to our economy by passing legislation that updates the framework within which they operate.

The Bill has been widely consulted on, and the mutual sector is broadly happy with the proposals. It is customary now to thrash out any issues left hanging after Committee stage, but this Committee stage lasted 14 minutes, at least two of which, I understand, were taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) praising the Bill’s sponsor for his integrity and experience. Given the career implications of that, it must have been the longest two minutes of the right hon. Gentleman’s life, but I am glad to see that he has recovered from the experience, and has been here today to guide us through proceedings at a steady pace.

At this point, however, we must sound a note of caution. Cross-party consensus must not become an excuse for lack of scrutiny. The Bill is important. It will modernise the legal framework of co-operatives and protect the interests of their members and industrial and provident societies through the provisions. It is not simply a tidying-up exercise. There are instances where co-operatives should be considered as companies and credit unions should become more like building societies, but mutuals are not companies and credit unions are not building societies and should not strive to be. We need to make sure that these legislative reforms are able to deliver the necessary modernisation while protecting the unique status of societies and credit unions. They are not the solution to all our problems either. There have been many casualties in the mutual sector throughout the financial crisis. It is not the case that all mutuals are well managed and it is in the interests of the members and customers of mutuals that their directors are brought within the remit of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. As a result, although support for the ethos of mutuals is unanimous, so should be the recognition that they need effective regulation and the right legislative framework in which to operate. The Bill is principally an enabling one, and much will depend on the secondary legislation and the legislative reform orders that will follow. The standard of scrutiny that we have seen thus far must be maintained. The one thing that did emerge from the Committee was the news that the secondary legislation is yet to be drafted, and even what that has happened, it will be subject to extensive consultation. It is vital that those changes have the support of the sector, and that can be achieved only by proper consultation.

In conclusion, Conservative Members welcome the Bill, which should help mutuals to achieve their full potential through a more modern legal framework. We welcome both the protection that it gives members of mutuals from poor directors and the modernisation of credit union legislation. We wish this welcome Bill well.

10.40 am

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Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill

June 12, 2009

Nick Hurd supports a Private Member’s Bill to remove restrictions on the employment of foreign nationals in the civil service.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): On this groundhog day, may I, too, start by congratulating the new Minister on her appointment? I am sure our future exchanges will be more focused on the role of government in unlocking the potential of the third sector to help more people, but today we are rightly focused on what is a stubborn Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), not least for his tenacity. I have always been grateful to him because he showed relative benevolence to my private Member’s Bill, which became the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, although I suspect that that generosity had something to do with the fact that his own Bill was next on the Order Paper. I have always been grateful that he kept his assassin’s dagger in its sheath that day and I wish him well with this Bill. I congratulate him on the speech that he delivered, but there is no surprise in that because he has delivered it enough times. I suspect that he could recite it in his sleep, and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) could probably do the same. We believe that the Bill deserves to receive a Second Reading.

Like the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, who speaks for the Liberals, Conservative Members regret that today we are looking at just one small corner of the painting and not at the wider canvas of the role and status of the civil service. We have consistently stated our view that this reform should be placed in the larger context of a civil service Act that defines the role of the civil servant in law. That has been promised since 1997 and is yet to be delivered. At a time when public confidence in the way in which we are governed is at such a low ebb, the case for such an Act grows even stronger. We now look to the Constitutional Renewal Bill to deliver it and we urge the Government to get on with it. I recognise the argument that private Members’ Bills should be focused on relatively modest and concise objectives, and we accept that the principle of this Bill is right.

The law on who is eligible to work in the civil service is rooted in a different age and it is complex, it has been amended on many occasions and, unsurprisingly, it is a mess. It throws up plenty of anomalies, and those were described well by the hon. Member for Hendon. They must be irritating to work with and the provisions are no longer rooted in any logic. Foreign nationals can be employed by the Crown abroad, if that is considered appropriate, but in the UK non-reserved jobs are limited to Commonwealth citizens, British protected persons and nationals of European Union member states. In 2009, it makes no sense that someone from Nigeria can apply for a job in the civil service here, but someone from the United States cannot do so. In the past, the law might have been justified by concerns about securing allegiance to the Crown, but that justification evaporated with the relaxing of eligibility for members of the EU. In any case, the oath of loyalty to the Crown is now a question of contract, above all, and the Bill does nothing to change the right of Ministers to reserve sensitive posts for UK nationals.

There appears to be an opportunity cost to this muddle, because at a time when we want to be attracting the brightest and best to the civil service and we want our public servants genuinely to reflect modern Britain and its growing ethnic complexity, not least in London—I, too, am a Greater London MP, so I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman is saying in this context—it makes no sense to leave a group of people totalling 800,000, on his numbers, outside the tent. All those people have a legitimate right to be here to make a contribution in appropriate roles. We think they should be given that chance and we are therefore happy for the Bill to be receive a Second Reading.

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