All 7 Christopher Chope debates involving the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Domestic Building Works (Consumer Protection) Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 19th November 2021

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Very briefly, may I say that I very much welcome the proportionate response from my hon. Friend the Minister? He says that this issue goes back many years. I remember raising an Adjournment debate entitled “Cowboy Builders” in the 1983 Parliament. In the 1987 Parliament, I was rewarded by becoming the Minister for the construction industry. I remember the representations then, and I remember working with the Federation of Master Builders and others.

As a lawyer, one of the most difficult questions I ever had to answer was, “Can you recommend a good solicitor?” That is also a really big challenge for those who are engaged in or thinking about having building work done. I hope that, as a result of today’s debate, people will realise that they should look at organisations such as the Federation of Master Builders and Checkatrade, and go for people who have a reputation locally. It may be a little more expensive, but otherwise they could get into all sorts of difficulties. When I worked for Ernst and Young, my boss there, who I thought had the wisdom of Solomon, ended up getting a rogue cowboy to redo his driveway. He then came to me, as a non-practising lawyer, asking for legal advice about it, and I said that it was too late.

Anyway, that is enough from me. I am pleased by the Government’s proportionate response. The Bill does not seek to define “domestic building works”, which must obviously be the starting point for any regulations.

Climate Change Committee Progress Report 2021

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 21st October 2021

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd
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That is another important point. I think the Minister will accept my saying: I have been a Minister; never trust a Minister—partly because one day they will not be, and it will be someone else in the seat. Government should set the standards, but the delivery of that sort of information must be seen to be independent and to have sound validity for those involved.

When we look at delivery, one thing that is often missing from the conversation is the fact that central Government cannot deliver on many of these things. Central Government has to work through other agencies. That can be the private sector, but we need the strategic planning to take place at local, and sometimes sub-local, level. If we are going to not simply change attitudes but introduce the necessary infrastructure—the infrastructure of skilled training for the capacity to make the changes that we need—we must deliver locally. That does mean a much stronger partnership. Again, that is a recommendation in the report between central Government and local government. I say to the Minister that if that partnership does not include the proper transfer of funding so that local government can do this job, then we will be gifting the ambition but not delivering the tools with which to achieve it.

This is a very important report. Once again I congratulate the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire. He is trying to deliver a balanced judgment. He is probably a little more optimistic than I, but he did emphasise that the crisis is not looming; it is with us. This is a call now to move beyond planning. Words can be good in setting ambition, but it has got to be now about serious delivery on the ground. We have had so many wake-up calls. This call says, “Now is the time for action.”

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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This is a very interesting debate. There is a parallel debate taking place in the main Chamber, where there is a three-minute time limit on speeches, I suspect. Before calling the last Back-Bench speaker in this debate, if anybody in the main Chamber is following what is going on in Westminster Hall, I am happy to accept additional Back-Bench speeches if Members show up, notwithstanding the fact that they were not here at the beginning for the initial remarks.

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Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and clearly I agree with him. It is great that he has recognised the work that is going on to restore peat bogs in Scotland. As he said, the UK Government’s tree-planting target is welcome, but I am sceptical that they have a plan in place to meet that target. They have never met any target for tree planting to date, so the idea that they can scale up massively in a couple of years is beyond belief. I was going to mention tree planting in Scotland later on, but in 2019, 85% of trees planted in the UK were planted in Scotland via the Scottish Government’s scheme. The Scottish Government have aggressively pursued tree planting—they have led the way on it—while the UK Government have not yet put plans in place to meet their ambitions.

There are too many policy gaps to mention, even though we have a lot more time today than we expected. We need to see an impact from the net zero aviation strategy, for example. I am not convinced by the plans that are in place. As the hon. Member for Leeds North West said, there is a transport decarbonisation plan in place, but when it comes to hydrogen and conversion of HGVs, we have heard the hon. Member for Bristol East say that not enough zero-emission buses are being produced. We really need to move quickly on these matters.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire complimented the work that is being done on decarbonising the electricity system. That work is truly welcome, but there is still not a proper plan for ending unabated gas-fired electricity generation by 2035, nor a proper structured plan for the decarbonisation of the electricity grid to meet the 2035 target set by the Government. If they are going to meet the target of a net zero electricity grid by 2030, there are some things that I suggest the Minister needs to be cognisant of. The Government need to review the grid charging system, which will end the farce of Scotland having the highest grid charges in Europe. That system disincentivises the construction of renewable energy production in Scotland—puts it at a disadvantage compared with projects in England—but it does not help the UK to meet its net zero target, either. We need to make net zero a statutory consideration for Ofgem, and the Government need to review the capacity market to address its reliance on fossil fuels, and allow storage that is co-located with renewable energy to be able to bid into the capacity market. Bizarrely, that is blocked at the moment.

As I touched on earlier, the Government need to end their nuclear obsession. Instead of spending another £20 billion on a new station at Sizewell, not to mention the billions they want to invest in small modular reactors and the mythical advanced nuclear reactors, they should be investing that money in renewable energy—in green hydrogen production and storage. The UK has now fallen behind France, the Netherlands and Germany in terms of hydrogen production proposals, so an urgent rethink of policy development is required. The 5 GW hydrogen target is not ambitious enough. The Scottish Government have a 5 GW hydrogen production target, so surely the UK Government need to up their game.

The UK Government should be investing in pumped storage hydropower—a proven technology that allows dispatchable energy to be added to the grid when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. This is something that can progress quickly. SSE is ready to progress with the Coire Glas scheme, and Drax is advancing plans to double output from the existing Cruachan dam pumped storage hydro plant. What is needed is a pricing mechanism to be agreed with the Government, like a carbon floor mechanism. I raised this with the previous Minister. Will the current Minister look at a pricing mechanism to allow pumped storage hydro to progress? It is a good use of renewable energy.

Wave and tidal turbine power—technology Scotland literally leads the world in— needs help to get to the next phase of scaling up. The industry requested a ringfenced sum of money in part 2 of the contracts for difference—round 4 is coming up shortly. Ringfencing money in part 2 has been done for floating offshore wind; all that the wave and tidal industry are asking for is the same ringfencing to allow them to compete and get a slice of the pie. It is believed that the Treasury blocked this ringfencing, which is ridiculous, considering that it would not have cost the Government any money. There is a risk that this technology will lose out and move abroad, and as happened with onshore wind, we will lose the opportunity to have the manufacturing set up in the UK and lose the export opportunities and growth that comes with that. Hopefully the Minister will listen the arguments. I would be more than happy to meet and discuss it, and he would be very welcome to meet industry representatives. Small changes could be made that will not cost the Government money, but could generate fantastic growth opportunities.

In Scotland’s commitments to the Paris climate change targets and net zero, we are genuinely leading the way. We were the first Government to set a net zero target with a date of 2045, the first to declare a climate emergency, and we have set up the Just Transition commission. Admittedly, we also did not meet our emissions target of a 55% reduction by 2020, a 51.5% reduction is still fantastic progress. In Europe, Scotland is second only to Sweden in terms of the scale of reduction achieved. Interestingly, one of the reasons Scotland missed its latest target is that the process under way of rewetting peatlands necessitates the removal of some trees. As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) pointed out, Scotland is doing fantastically with peat bog and wetland restoration, as well as having a fantastic tree-planting operation.

When it comes to energy production, Scotland has led the way in decarbonisation; last year, 97% of equivalent electricity demand was produced by renewable energy—this is absolutely tremendous. We have ambitious plans and we are making them happen; they cannot nor should not be blocked by decisions made in Westminster. I appreciate the UK Government does have ambitious targets, but as the report from the CCC shows, more policy and further intervention from Government are required—and they are required sooner rather than later.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Dr Alan Whitehead, I think you need to limit your remarks to 45 minutes.

Gas Prices and Energy Suppliers

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 23rd September 2021

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I do not think that it is relevant, because there is no way that any storage in the world will mitigate the effect of a quadrupling of the gas price in four months, as we have seen. The answer is actually getting more diverse sources of supply and electricity through non-carbon sources—through nuclear, on which I am still very unclear as to the Opposition’s view, and through other sources of decarbonised energy.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Why do we not reduce VAT on fuel as a temporary measure? We did it for the hospitality industry, which was badly affected by covid-19. Why do we not abolish VAT for consumers on fuel now?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My hon. Friend is quite right: we did a whole range of interventions to alleviate the burden on consumers and on businesses. Those were fiscal interventions that the Chancellor pursued last year, and I am sure that he is looking at a range of things this year, but that is a matter for him to decide ahead of the Budget.

Company Transparency (Carbon in Supply Chains) Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This takes me back to my days of being a Whip on the Treasury Bench. It is a great honour to speak to this Bill, which I introduced back in March. It was the very last thing that I was able to speak on before we went into a new normal, which we are still continuing to get used to, with covid. At the time of the debate, I recall the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth saying to me that we need to have more debates about such matters—Westminster Hall debates, Adjournment debates and so on. I had genuinely hoped that before I got to the point of speaking on Second Reading, we might have had more opportunities to speak about the Bill, but sadly events precluded that. I believe that the Bill is a simple measure that would provide transparency to the public about what companies are doing to tackle carbon in supply chains. It very much mirrors a measure that I introduced as the Minister responsible for tackling modern slavery and organised crime in the Modern Slavery Bill—now the Modern Slavery Act 2015—supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who was then Home Secretary, to make sure that companies took seriously the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery in supply chains.

We did that, because it is far too easy for people to hide behind the regulatory requirements to report on the measures that they are taking within their own businesses. Supply chains are different. What goes on in a long, complex supply chain can amount to abuse and include things that keep the costs low for the business in the UK and, ultimately, UK consumers but would not be tolerated if they were happening in the UK. Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act was incredibly important, and my right hon. Friend will know that we went to considerable effort as Ministers to secure Government sign-off.

The Government are not keen on new regulation. I am not in any way naive about that, but this is a unique type of regulation, because it does not say to business, “This is what you must do. This is how you must behave.” Instead, it says, “Tell us what you have done.” If the business has not done anything, it should say so. If, as a business, it does not want to find out whether there is human trafficking and modern slavery in its supply chain, it should tell us, by putting up a statement on its website, signed off at board level, saying that it has not taken any action. Consumers will be able to read that. People who might want to work in the business will be able to read it too, and can make an informed decision about whether they want to be involved or associated with it, or whether they want to be employed by it. If a business has not taken any steps whatsoever or any action, why would anyone want to have anything to do with that business?

This is about giving power to the consumer and the employee. It is about giving power to people who would not normally have that power to make a decision about whether they want to transact with that company. As I have said, the measure is important; it has to be signed off at board level. We all know from dealing with business that if decisions are made below board level, often the board does not know about them. The board needs to know about this, and it needs to take the right steps.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Can my right hon. Friend tell the House the effect of the measure on dealing with people trafficking and modern slavery registration? Has it resulted in less of that illegal activity or has it not made any difference at all?

Karen Bradley Portrait Karen Bradley
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I think it has begun to make a difference, but the measure was only introduced in 2015. It applies only to large companies with a turnover of over £36 million, and we have only just begun to see it being used. I know from friends I used to work with when I was employed as a chartered accountant that they are taking this matter seriously. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead and I were on a panel only yesterday—this Sunday is Anti-slavery Day—discussing exactly that point and the measures that businesses are taking to identify slavery in their supply chains. It is making a difference. More can be done, and I am pleased that the Home Office has taken more steps in that direction, but it is making a difference.

Amazon and SMEs

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 27th March 2019

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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I call Kevin Barron to move the motion.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered Amazon and the treatment of SMEs.

It is Kevin Brennan, actually, Mr Chope. I was once briefly knighted in the Mail Online by a journalist making exactly the same mistake, but I always consider myself more shovelry than chivalry.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate today about Amazon. I will tell a story about my constituent, Roland Brana, who this year should have been celebrating 20 years of his successful and growing family business, selling motorcycle protective clothing. He spent 11 years as a sole trader, then eight years as a limited company, and in each year he achieved continued growth. It was a successful, viable business with quality products that were competitively priced and in demand.

In 1999 his business, Bikers Gear, began importing self-designed own brand motorcycle clothing from a factory in Pakistan and sold it online via his own website and on eBay. In 2001 he opened a high street shop in Barry, south Wales, and in 2002 he accepted an invitation from Amazon to become a merchant on its newly launched non-video and book UK marketplace. His business continued to flourish. In March 2010, Bikers Gear UK was incorporated as a limited company and in 2013 the brand launched across Europe via Amazon’s European platforms.

In 2013 Bikers Gear registered for VAT in both Germany and France, and in 2014 a German and French speaking customer service team was launched, based in Leipzig. In 2015 Mr Brana completed EU-wide registration of the Bikers Gear trademark logo. This should be the story of a lad from a council estate and a single-parent family who made good. Instead, it is the story of a small businessman who finds himself having to start all over again, having had to close his business, because of the way that his small company, Bikers Gear UK, was treated by the global conglomerate Amazon.

The real problems started when Amazon approached Mr Brana in May 2016 for a retail manufacturer partnership. He accepted that as an opportunity for the business to go to the next stage. He would concentrate on expanding the manufacturing of the product and Amazon would concentrate on selling. Amazon forecast great potential for growth. He was aware that one of his manufacturers in Pakistan had a family relative trading in Australia, who sold similar motorcycle garments, so in 2010 he created an image user agreement to protect his online images from any potential infringement by this Australian brand.

Following the agreement, during 2017 Mr Brana began to receive offers of orders for more than €1 million from Amazon. To begin with he could not accept many of the orders because of delivery windows and not holding enough stock in south Wales. The problem lay with his main supplier in Pakistan, which was refusing many large purchase orders. He took action to drop this supplier. Because of this and complaints from Amazon regarding poor order acceptance rates, Mr Brana travelled to Luxembourg twice in 2017 and met Amazon buyers. Mr Brana reassured them that he would increase the stock in the south Wales warehouse to improve the order acceptance rate for 2018. He explained to Amazon buyers that the low acceptance rate was due to the problem at one particular factory, and explained that, to resolve the supply issue in 2018, he planned to introduce another supplier. He informed them that he would personally be investing £75,000 to increase his holding stock as he was fully committed to the Bikers Gear UK business, and that he would do so by re-mortgaging his home.

In 2018, Mr Brana approached Barclays Bank, obtained the mortgage and, as promised, began increasing the stock in his south Wales warehouse. All should have been well but, at the same time, he noticed that the Amazon order had by now almost stopped. He started investigating and noticed that the Australian brand had started selling its brand on the Amazon UK platform. At that point, it appeared to be offering different garments from the Bikers Gear UK garments and not selling products with his barcode or European article number—now known as the international article number—that delineated the product on websites. With the exception of the new 2018 range, however, no orders were being received from Amazon by Bikers Gear UK. Even its best-selling garments were not being ordered.

Mr Brana presumed that Amazon holding stock would run out and he would be able to return to selling the garments successfully, as he did prior to the 2016 Amazon agreement. He started checking the website stock level, which is clearly visible when someone makes a purchase on the Amazon website. It would state things such as, “Four left in stock—more on the way.” He checked back days later, and the stock available had gone up on his product from four to 18. It was clear that, even though Amazon had not purchased any new stock, its inventory was going up, not down. Something was clearly wrong.

University of London Bill [Lords]

Christopher Chope Excerpts
2nd reading: House of Commons
Tuesday 16th October 2018

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Karen Buck Portrait Ms Buck
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I believe that nothing is more important than to make the hon. Gentleman’s life easier, so I am pleased to broadly confirm—I hope—exactly what he is saying. There is a fundamental lack of clarity internationally. Many people in this country understand the importance of the University of London’s member institutes, which have fantastic reputations. However, particularly in the global marketplace for education, there is, as he describes, a lack of clarity about the overarching University of London structure and the institutes that are, in some cases, called colleges and schools. I went to the London School of Economics and some people will not understand the difference between that and a university, so the hon. Gentleman is completely right, as I will confirm even further as I work through my remarks.

The member institutes set their own academic criteria and in most cases have their own degree-awarding powers. In addition to the London Business School in my constituency, the colleges include University College London—called somewhat confusingly both a university and a college—King’s College, the London School of Economics, Birkbeck and the newest arrival, City University, which joined the federation only in 2016. Imperial College, on the other hand, left the federation in 2007, having no other option at the time for it to achieve university status.

The University of London provides a range of opt-in central services to its member institutions, including the university library at Senate House, in which I spent many happy hours, the careers service and collaboration with the university on its international academy programme, which provides distance learning to over 50,000 students worldwide. Members pay an annual subscription to the university and terms of federation membership are prescribed in the university’s statutes.

The key rationale for the Bill, as I said in response to interventions, is that it will facilitate the university’s member institutions becoming universities in their own right. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 changed the regulatory landscape for the higher education sector. It opened it up to new providers and shortened the process for obtaining degree-awarding powers and, crucially, for obtaining university title.

Without this Bill, relatively unknown higher education providers will be able to obtain university status while institutions such as the LSE, UCL and King’s will not. The Bill therefore ensures that such institutions are not placed at a disadvantage in the increasingly competitive market for students and teachers. Branding can matter, even for institutions with reputations as high as those I have mentioned, and some of the member institutions have found that their status as a college can cause confusion. The term “college” can suggest that the institutions are subsidiary bodies of the University of London, when they are in fact self-governing, setting their own entrance criteria and, in the majority of cases, having degree-awarding powers. They are therefore universities in all but name.

The process for institutions applying for university status is governed by the Higher Education and Research Act. Any member institution seeking to become a university in its own right will need to apply to the Office for Students for permission. How does the Bill facilitate that process? The 1994 Act described the University of London member institutions as colleges, and as I have explained, that is increasingly unhelpful, so clause 2 would define membership of the federation as including any University of London institution that has the “status of a university”. Not all member institutions will want or be able to become universities. Not all award their own degrees, for example, and that is a necessary condition of becoming a university. The definition of a member institution maintains the reference to an institution that has the status of a college under the University of London statutes. Whether a university in its own right or a college under statutes, all member institutions will enjoy an equal status within the University of London federation.

Twelve out of the 18 member institutions now wish to seek university status and are presently applying for such permission. As all 12 are long-established and high-quality providers of higher education, it is anticipated that the Office for Students will recommend to the Privy Council that the change of status be approved. The Government have insisted that Privy Council approval is dependent on the Bill obtaining Royal Assent, so to be clear: no member institution will be permitted to become a university in its own right unless the Bill is enacted.

I turn now to the provisions on the making of University of London statutes. These statutes set the objects and powers of the university and establish and define the powers of the university’s institutions. To explain the procedure for making statutes is immediately to identify why reform is needed. The prescribed procedure involves two defunct bodies and a procedure requiring the active engagement of the college governing bodies, which have made it clear that they do not regard such a process as appropriate to the modern federal relationship.

The power to make statutes is conferred on the council of the university—a body that no longer exists. The drafter of the 1994 Act anticipated changes in university governance, and the term used in the Act to refer to the council also applies to

“such other body as the statutes may from time to time designate as the governing and executive body of the University”.

Since 2003, the governing body has been known as the board of trustees, and so, in accordance with the flexible definition of “the council” in the 1994 Act, statutes may be made by the board. That is not clear, however, from the 1994 Act. Furthermore, under section 3 of the Act, the text of any proposed statutes must be sent to the University of London convocation, as the association of graduates of the university, but it ceased to exist in 2003. The Bill will ensure that the terms used in legislation reflect the actual terms now used to describe the various University of London bodies.

The 1994 Act allows statutory consultees a very generous period of four months in which to make representations on proposals. If the governing body then wishes to proceed to make the statutes, it must pass two separate resolutions, with an interval of not less than one and not more than six months, and the statutes only have effect following approval of Her Majesty in Council. That is how University of London statute is made. Whatever the virtues of the system, swiftness is not one. The university regards the process as cumbersome and unnecessarily protracted, and the college governing bodies do not wish to continue with a process that once made sense but which is no longer appropriate.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Is it right to say that the view of the university is that the other encumbrances in the process are what cause the delay, not the Privy Council stage, which is a very quick stage?

Karen Buck Portrait Ms Buck
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Absolutely. The cause of the difficulty is the combination of the length of the consultation and the notional involvement of bodies that no longer exist.

Quite simply, the ever-evolving relationship with 18 member institutions and the need to keep in line with the regular changes to higher education regulation mean the university needs to be able to refresh its statutes from time to time in a more dynamic way.

I want to be clear on one matter before I turn to the proposals for streamlining the statute-making powers. The university does not see the revision of the statute-making powers as an excuse to downgrade its obligations to consult. It is committed to undertaking effective consultation and understands this to be vital to the formation of statutes that command support and confidence. The Bill envisages that the initiative for making statutes will come from the board of trustees as the governing body of the university. Clause 3, however, also enables the collegiate council, which advises the board on all matters concerning the university, to submit its own proposals for consideration.

Ultimately, however, the board can reject the council’s initiative, reflecting the fact that it is the supreme decision-making body of the university. Statutes cannot be made unless the board has consulted the council—assuming they did not originate from the council—a recognised trade union and other bodies that the university considers appropriate. The explicit requirement to consult the trade unions was passed as an amendment in the other place and reflects the university’s commitment to ensuring proper consultation with all stakeholders.

I should emphasise again that all the member institutions were consulted on the Bill and have unanimously endorsed the proposal to legislate. As under the 1994 Act, the board does not have the final say. Reflecting existing arrangements, the Bill provides that the statutes will not be effective until approved by the Privy Council. The Privy Council’s remit over the approval of university constitutional arrangements was restricted under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. Once section 56 of that Act comes into force, English universities established other than by royal charter—those limited by guarantee—will no longer be required to seek Privy Council approval for amendments to their governing documentation. If the requirement for such approval to amendments of statutes of chartered universities is also ended, clause 4(2) of the Bill allows for the alignment of that.

That, in essence, is the main reason for the streamlining of statutes and the ability of member institutions to call themselves universities in their own right. I hope very much that the House will support this important but, as I have said, hopefully uncontroversial legislation.

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Gordon Marsden Portrait Gordon Marsden
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That is a good point. I do not have the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, but the Minister might be able to give him an indication. I would simply say that it is important that these processes are taken forward as economically and speedily as possible, which will obviously involve some degree of expense. I hope that no one would wish to see flights of enthusiasm for spending lots of money to promote new titles and logos, for example, especially at this time. That is not the official Opposition’s view; it is just my personal opinion.

I shall return to the question of amendments having to go out for consultation by recognised trade unions. This needs to be widely and substantially understood, particularly by the heads of the colleges and particularly in relation to the two unions involved—the University and College Union and Unison. It is important that the workforce should be involved in the process.

The second change relates to the Privy Council, and I understand the need for that change. As a general principle, however, we remain sceptical about the diminution of the role of the Privy Council in the position of universities. Members of the other place made that point when the Bill was going through. This goes back to the old Bagehot definition of the monarchy: it is not the powers that it confers, but the powers it denies. The Privy Council has historically been a useful backstop against the flights of fancy of higher education administrators, and I will be sorry to see its role entirely extinguished. That said, I understand the reasons given in the Bill.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I am with the hon. Gentleman on that. When evidence was given to the other place, every time there was a challenge that these new powers could be abused, the defence was that, ultimately, there was the safeguard that approval would need to be given by the Privy Council, yet clause 4 envisages a time when the Privy Council will no longer be able to exercise its power.

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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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This debate would not have taken place had I not blocked this Bill going through on the nod on Second Reading, and the contributions we have had today show that it has been a worthwhile exercise. I do not believe Bills should go through this House without being discussed, particularly when they are opaque. When the Bill was being debated in the other place, it was conceded that the foremost reason and key rationale for it was that it would facilitate universities becoming universities in their own right in London, and it was conceded that that was not clear in the Bill. If something is not clear in the Bill, how are we going to get to the bottom of it unless we start debating it? That is where the value of what we are doing this evening lies.

At the moment, there are 18 self-governing institutions within the University of London’s federal structure, a lot of which are, in many respects, regarded as universities in their own right. For example, if one looks at the 2019 university league tables, one sees that the London School of Economics is third, University College London, of which my late father was a graduate, getting first-class honours in Latin, is 10th—

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart
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Better than you then.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Far better than me. King’s College London is 26th, Royal Holloway is 28th, Queen Mary is 38th, the School of Oriental and African Studies is 46th, St George’s is 52nd, Goldsmiths is 62nd and City, which has recently joined the University of London, is 66th. The college to which my hon. Friend referred, Birkbeck, is 125th. We are told that other colleges, beyond the ones I have mentioned, are aspiring to become universities in their own right. They may include the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, which this league table puts top of the arts and drama institutions. The question I would like to ask is this: what is going to happen to the other colleges within the federation of the University of London? They are probably not going to be in a position to become universities in their own right, and may not even aspire to do so. What is going to be done to protect their position? Obviously, they operate on the basis that they are part of the University of London, with all the prestige that that brings to their activities. A number of the 24 Russell Group universities are in fact colleges of the University of London—King’s College, LSE, Queen Mary and University College. A lot of these colleges are already seen as universities in their own right, so is it really going to make an enormous difference when this Bill is enacted? I am not so sure about that.

I was disappointed that the Minister did not address one of the hot topics of the moment, which is grade inflation. To what extent are these 12 new universities, instantly created as a result of this legislation, going to engage in grade inflation? A report was produced by Reform, and Tom Richmond, the senior research fellow who was its author, has said:

“Rocketing degree grade inflation is in no one’s interest.”

It continued:

“Universities may think easier degrees are a way to attract students but eventually they will lose currency and students will go elsewhere, even overseas.”

It went on to say:

“Restoring the currency of degrees would also mean better value for money for the £18 billion that universities receive each year in tuition fees.”

That report recommended that universities are stripped of their powers to award degrees and that final-year students should instead sit new national assessments for each degree course. The Bill will do quite the reverse by increasing the number of organisations that will be able to award degrees, with the perverse incentive that they will want to be able to make their degrees easier and engage in the grade inflation about which so many people are concerned. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response to that point.

Sam Gyimah Portrait Mr Gyimah
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I thank my hon. Friend for pursuing this line of argument but suggest that he is making several leaps in his assumptions. The receiving of the university title, and in this case correcting an anomaly, do not in themselves entail the university lowering its standards. University standards are incredibly important, not only for new universities but for existing universities—indeed, for all universities. We can do a lot using the quality bodies, such as the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, to ensure that the problem of grade inflation to which my hon. Friend refers is dealt with, but grade inflation is not an argument against an institution gaining the university title when it does exactly the same work as another institution that has that title.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I am grateful to the Minister for responding to my point with that long intervention. I shall not engage in a long argument about it, but he is talking about all 18 colleges of the University of London being able to become universities in their own right. Why are they going to want to do that? Currently, the collegiate council can deal with issues relating to grade inflation within the University of London. I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Minister does not think that that is an important issue with which the council should be able to deal. In itself, the creation of a new university obviously does not mean that it will indulge in grade inflation, but when a report has been produced that suggests that fewer, rather than more, universities should award degrees, the Bill seems to me to be going in the wrong direction.

Sam Gyimah Portrait Mr Gyimah
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I remind the House that we are not talking about institutions that just arrived yesterday. All these colleges have already demonstrated fully, in practice, that they are compliant with the financial sustainability, management and governance requirements that apply to all directly funded higher education institutions. My hon. Friend should keep that in mind when he comments on these institutions and whether they may or may not indulge in grade inflation or should have the title of university.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Obviously I always take such things into account, but my hon. Friend has not actually told me what the Government are doing to counter grade inflation in universities. From what he has said, it seems implicit that he regards it as a serious problem. If he wishes to intervene again, I would be grateful if he told me what he is going to do about it.

Sam Gyimah Portrait Mr Gyimah
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I am trying not to be drawn into that particular issue because it is not germane to this debate, but a significant piece of work is currently being done on quality in higher education, looking into grade inflation, unconditional offers, the quality of teaching and value for money in degrees. All are important to ensure that we safeguard our world-class university system, but I have not dwelt on that because it is not the subject of the debate.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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It may not be the subject of the debate, but it would be very much a pertinent subject for each college that wishes to acquire university status in its own right.

Before I finish, let me refer to clause 4(2), which enables the disengagement of the Privy Council from having to approve what comes out of the collegiate council’s consultation process. It seems to me that what was said in the other place—I referred to it in an intervention—was absolutely germane. We are talking about relaxing the control of the governing body over what happens within the University of London federation. If the safeguard against abuse of that relaxed control is the involvement of the Privy Council, why does the Bill also legislate to do away with that Privy Council involvement? It would be helpful if the answer to that was available now.

We could perhaps also be told at some stage to what extent the Privy Council’s engagement in this process over the years has resulted in changes to processes that would otherwise have taken place without the approval of the Privy Council. Has the Privy Council’s involvement been a pointless exercise, or has it brought pressure to bear to ensure that the only changes carried through are those that are sensible and in the best interests of all 18 members of the University of London’s federal structure?

I fear that colleges in the University of London not becoming universities in their own right will have the consequence of putting tremendous pressure on the other colleges, which may be to their detriment. However, I have to accept that, so far, they do not seem to have complained about it, so all one can do in such a debate is to raise the issue and see what flows from it.

The Bill will now obviously go to an Unopposed Bill Committee, because there are no petitions against it. In recent Unopposed Bill Committees, pertinent questions have quite often been asked about private Bills. I hope that that process will be gone through again, and that, if the Bill needs to be amended in any way, that process will not be avoided but will be facilitated as a result of today’s debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

Maternity Discrimination

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 15th March 2017

(4 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Margot James Portrait Margot James
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I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I hope the situation has improved since she used the service but, in case it has not, I will write to the chairman of ACAS to convey her concerns.

The hon. Lady also asked about the time limit and how it is interpreted. The three-month time limit applies from the date the discrimination happened but, when there is a series of events, the time limit runs from the end of that series. There are flexibilities, and time limits can be extended where it is equitable to do so, such as if it is not reasonable to expect a woman on maternity leave to have been aware of events while she was away.

We are keen to help mothers return to jobs that make full use of their qualifications and experience, and to enable them to progress. Part of that is about removing specific barriers. We know that from the EHRC research, and we have brought in the working forward campaign, which intends to improve advice and share best practice, calling on employers to make workplaces the best they can be for pregnant women and new mothers. We have some way to go on that.

However, more than 100 employers, representing 1.2 million employees across the UK, have signed up to the initiative, which is an important milestone. Many of the employers pledging action such as Barclays, Nationwide, Royal Mail and Ford are putting in place returners programmes and means of staying in touch with pregnant women and new mothers on maternity leave, which is another point that was made.[Official Report, 23 March 2017, Vol. 623, c. 11-12MC.] I am pleased to say that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has joined the campaign and I hope that more employers will be inspired to sign up.

I said I would return to the ways in which we are helping to address the barriers. Couples can take advantage of shared parental leave and pay, and the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees with 26 weeks’ service can help mothers among others to combine work with caring responsibilities. I accept that people sometimes feel inhibited about requesting flexible working arrangements, but as that becomes more commonplace and as we put more behind campaigns to raise awareness of how easy it can be and how it can improve productivity and make companies more competitive, I hope that people will feel less inhibited and the situation will improve.

We are now introducing the entitlement to 30 hours’ free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds as well as tax-free childcare, enabling more children than ever to benefit from Government-funded childcare. To help monitor progress, we require large organisations to publish their gender pay gap and bonus pay gap data. We are committed to supporting mothers and fathers to balance work with family life in a way that works for them and their circumstances. I echo the remarks made by the shadow Minister that it is disappointing that the only man who has participated in the debate—from a sedentary position—is indeed the Chairman. We need to get male colleagues involved in these debates and discussions, because mothers’ issues are not just the preserve of mothers.

Several hon. Members raised the issues for self-employed women. In fact, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) talked about her position as an MP, which brought that home to me. Of course, she is not alone. The reason she found herself in that unacceptable position when she was pregnant last year was because MPs are not employees. We are workers, and in this area we have fewer rights than we would if we were employees.

That brings me to Matthew Taylor’s review—several hon. Members asked for an update. The review is fully under way and one of the issues on its agenda is to consider the different employment rights afforded to workers and employees. That very much includes rights to maternity benefits—and indeed paternity benefits. The review is consulting around the country. There will be a series of town hall meetings—I will attend one in Glasgow next month—and he will report back to the Government in July.

There are many factors to consider when it comes to enhancing rights funded by the public purse. Having carefully considered the issue, we have concluded that it is right to look at the case for having greater parity in parental benefits between the employed and self-employed. The Chancellor announced last week that we will consult on that specifically, independently of the Matthew Taylor review, during the summer.

A number of other questions were asked, and I am sorry if I cannot do justice to all of them in the time remaining. At the beginning of the debate, we heard a recommendation for employers to be required to undertake an individual health and safety risk assessment for pregnant women. Employers must already safeguard the health of women who are pregnant, so I was disturbed to hear about instances where that was patently not the case. Legally, employers should safeguard the health of women who are pregnant. The Health and Safety Executive has at least updated and strengthened its guidance in that respect. We dealt with the redundancy matter, at least as it stands at the moment.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central talked about incentivising employers to take on part-time workers and consider flexible working. That is an extremely important issue, which I have dealt with, as I have dealt with existing flexibilities for maternity. I will turn to the issue—

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Order. I hope the Minister will give the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) time to respond.

Margot James Portrait Margot James
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Yes. How long?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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It is normally a maximum of two minutes, which means she should start now.

Margot James Portrait Margot James
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Right. I will end my speech. Thank you, Mr Chope. I will write to the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West on anything outstanding that she raised in her opening speech.