Video: Does the Minister of State fail Government 101?

Second Delegated Legislation Committee - Monday, February 22, 2016

Kevin Brennan: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, which will undoubtedly save us time. Although we are content, as I said earlier, to let these regulations pass without asking for a Division, I would like to put it on record that it is important to get accurate figures on the impact assessments and the cost to business when we discuss such matters. Who knows; inspiration might come to the Minister while I am on my feet. However, if she is unable to clarify that matter now, I would welcome an early communication from her, as I am sure would other Committee members, about the correct figure. We are content to let the regulations go through on trust because we think that they are good measures, but nevertheless, it is important when we debate such things that the Minister has the correct information before her—it is not her fault—so that the Committee can discuss them with the full information before it.

Anna Soubry: I apologise for being unable to give the definitive figure. I can tell the Committee only what I have been given, and it is not the same as the figure that the hon. Gentleman has. However, there is some indication that he might be right and that, for reasons that I do not understand, the figure that I have been given is not. Either way, we will sort out the matter, and I apologise. One would think from the abundance of papers and officials that I have that somebody might be able to give a definitive answer. Notwithstanding that, these are important regulations and I am pleased that they have cross-party support. I commend both statutory instruments to the Committee.

Enterprise Bill (Lords) Committee - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Kevin Brennan:  I will interpret that in an extremely generous way and take it that the Minister is promising not to rely in future on a letter in this way without sharing it with the Committee, as per the usual conventions and normal courtesies of the House.

I return to the Government’s desire to remove the clause from the Bill. I am not satisfied—I sense, looking around me, that my right hon. and hon. Friends are not satisfied either—that that is the right thing to do at this stage. Not least because of the issue around the letter, we should at the very least be given time to cogitate further between now and Report on the protections in the clause. The Minister is confident on this; she always displays confidence, so there is nothing unusual about that, but it is still not a guarantee.

I cannot say in all honesty that I am convinced the special share proposal—interesting though it is; I am certainly not ruling it out—provides a guarantee that the green purposes of the bank will be protected, without a clear indication from the Office for National Statistics, rather than the coded message the Minister has given the Committee. On that basis, I will resist the removal of the clause from the Bill at this stage, so that we can consider it on Report. If Government Members choose to exercise their majority and the clause is removed from the Bill, despite the debate we have had, we will certainly want to consider that further on Report.

The Chair:  The Question is that clause 32 stand part of the Bill. As many as are of that opinion say “Aye”.

Hon. Members:  Aye.

The Chair:  To the contrary “No”. I think the Ayes have it.

Anna Soubry:  I move that the clause does not stand part of the Bill.

Kevin Brennan:  On a point of order, Ms Buck. The Question was that the clause stand part of the Bill. The Committee voted that the clause should stand part of the Bill. The Minister cannot then move that the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

The Chair:  For clarity, I will put the Question again.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 11.

Enterprise Bill (Lords) Committee - Thursday, February 25, 2016

Kevin Brennan:  The Minister is right to remind us that we debated apprenticeships two weeks ago, at the appropriate point in the Bill. People may have forgotten the reason we are debating this now, so it is worth reminding the Committee that it is because the Government were not able to get their amendments in on time to debate it at the appropriate place in the Bill. At that time, we tabled a new clause to create an institute for apprenticeships and we are still of the view that our proposal is better than the Government’s and that it is more comprehensive, inclusive and extensive. That is why we are disappointed by the Government’s proposal, although we will not vote against it as it is right to create this institute. It could be improved by some of the suggestions that we made in amendments (a), (b) and (c) that we tabled to the Government’s new schedule 2.

Amendment (a) to new schedule 2 would ensure that progress made in increasing the opportunities for disadvantaged groups to access apprenticeships under the framework was reported and monitored. To avoid the risk of being tedious, because we discussed that earlier I will not rehearse those arguments again. I will simply refer anyone reading the record to our earlier debate.

Amendment (b) to new schedule 2 would confirm reports produced by the institute for apprenticeships are read and reviewed by the relevant Committees, which we list, and enable them to raise directly with Ministers any issues arising. We think that is important because Select Committees with responsibilities for apprenticeships must have the opportunity to scrutinise and recommend action based on the institute’s work. I am interested to hear the Minister’s view on that.

With amendment (c) we return again to an earlier discussion—we have had to debate this at the end because the Government’s proposals were not ready in time. The amendment is intended to ensure that there is a broad membership of the board of the institute for apprenticeships. We discussed that extensively earlier so I will not repeat those arguments.

I would be interested to hear the Minister give the Government’s response to our suggestions in amendment (b) before we conclude.

Anna Soubry:  I do not think I am in a position to be able to do that, Ms Buck. I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman because I do not have that amendment in front of me, unfortunately. I do not think it is actually in the document I have, so I apologise for that. I am more than happy to take an intervention, which might enable the hon. Gentleman just to hand it over to me. I do not think he has it either.

The Chair:  To help the Minister, we are on page 45.

Anna Soubry:  I am not sure whether that is terribly helpful.

Kevin Brennan:  On a point of order, Ms Buck. Is there any means by which we could perhaps return to the matter this afternoon, to give the Minister and her officials an opportunity to provide the answer we were looking for to the amendment, which we tabled in time, and which appeared in the appropriate part of the amendment paper?

The Chair:  I believe that the Minister may now be in a position to respond.

Anna Soubry:  My hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood is sitting behind me, standing in for my normal Parliamentary Private Secretary and doing an excellent job, because unfortunately my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby is extremely poorly at the moment—and now, by magic, I can assist the hon. Member for Cardiff West. The view of the Government is that we do not need legislation to send the reports to Select Committees. It is as simple as that.

That relates to what I said about the fact that the procedures already exist. We do not need legislation, because we can already do it. If we need to do it we will. I am sorry that something so simple has taken so long for me to answer.

Kevin Brennan:  May I gently say to the Minister that a lot of give and take is always required in Committee, and we have our job to do in scrutinising the Bill and proposing Opposition amendments? The Government have their job, and the minimum requirement is to turn up prepared to discuss with the Committee every clause and every amendment that has been selected. That, if I may say so, is government 101.

It is becoming a little bit of a pattern that that preparation has not been done, and I do not know why it is so, but there have been a number of occasions where it seems as if the Minister does not have the full briefing that she should have in front of her. If I am being unkind I will withdraw that, but it is for other Members who watch our proceedings and for Committee members to decide what they think about it. However, it is the minimum requirement, if I may put it as gently as that, that we should receive a response to our amendment from the Government. We are trying to do our job and the Minister is trying to do hers. We need the preparation to be done in advance of our proceedings. On that basis, and to save further embarrassment, I will not press our amendment.