By Matthew Barrett
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In the Commons yesterday, a debate was held on whether to suspend Sunday trading restrictions for the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer. The Bill passed through the House, with only extremely minor rebellion from the Tory benches. This was surprising because there was some consternation felt by some sections of the backbenches about the proposals, with the suspicion that the period was simply softening the public up for a full scrapping of Sunday trading laws.
"Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my hon. Friend reassure a significant number of Harlow residents who have written to me that the Bill is just a temporary Bill for the Olympics, and that there are no plans to extend Sunday trading per se?
Mr Prisk: I am happy to give that assurance. I do not want to test the patience of the Deputy Speaker. The motion is about the proceedings of the House, but I want to make it crystal clear that the Bill will come off the statute book immediately after 9 September."
The first vote, which was merely a procedural vote concerning the passage of the BIll, was agreed to with 281 ayes, and 112 noes. The only two Tory noes on that vote were Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone, who voted with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party and many Labour MPs.
"Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He is being extremely generous very early on in his remarks. Will he give me some reassurance? What protection will be in place for, say, volunteer sports coaches or church workers with commitments on Sundays, if their volunteer commitments are threatened by having to work extra hours?
Vince Cable: Of course, they could opt out of the commitments, as is already provided for under existing legislation, which means that they will receive all the protections subject to unfair dismissal legislation."
Tuesday, May 01, 2012 in Andrew Selous MP, Fiona Bruce MP, Mark Field MP, Mark Menzies MP, Mark Prisk MP, Mark Pritchard MP, Nadine Dorries MP, Nick de Bois MP, Richard Drax MP, Robert Halfon MP, Roger Gale MP, Thérèse Coffey MP | Permalink | Comments
Rochford & Southend East MP James Duddridge (right) asked about the cost to taxpayers of assuming liability for the Royal Mail pension scheme:
"The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): We estimate that the Government will assume total liabilities of £29.5 billion and assets of £23.5 billion. That would mean the Government absorbing a deficit of £6 billion. This assessment of the liabilities in the scheme and the funding position is based on the most recent trustee valuation, from March 2008. However, we anticipate that the funding position of the scheme could well have worsened since that date, so when we have updated figures from the new valuation, beginning this month, we will finalise our assessment of the funding position of the scheme.
James Duddridge: Clause 20 of the Postal Services Bill will allow the Government to take the existing assets from the pension fund into the consolidated fund and spend it that very same year. Is it wise as part of addressing the pension funding crisis to take the existing inadequate assets and use them to rescue the Government’s current deficit, making the problem worse in the longer term?
Mr. McFadden: Our motivation is not about the public sector accounting impact. Our motivation is to give greater security to the hard-working men and women who work for Royal Mail, because the pension fund is an increasing burden for Royal Mail. At the same time, however, if we are to ask the taxpayer to take on those liabilities—I have set out what the scale of those liabilities is—it is equally right that we also give the taxpayer some confidence that the company can be transformed and modernised in the future. It is precisely those two things that are set out in the Postal Services Bill, which was published recently."
There may well be merit in the Government subsidising postal deliveries to far-flung parts of the UK, but I don't see why mail services as a whole should not be opened up to competition.
Shadow Corporate Governance Minister Jonathan Djanogly had a concern:
"The Minister has just said that the Government proposals would provide greater security for postal workers’ pensions, but can he confirm that clause 19(6)(b) of the Postal Services Bill provides that this or a future Government could waive the pension guarantee and vary the terms of the postal workers’ pensions without the approval of the trustees, who will lose their power to protect the pensions under the provisions of the Bill? Mr. McFadden: The changes that we propose to the pension scheme will mean that the deficit is handled on the same basis as the pension schemes serving teachers, nurses and civil servants. That will indeed give Royal Mail staff far greater pension security than they get at the moment, when the deficit appears to be increasing year on year."
"The Minister has just said that the Government proposals would provide greater security for postal workers’ pensions, but can he confirm that clause 19(6)(b) of the Postal Services Bill provides that this or a future Government could waive the pension guarantee and vary the terms of the postal workers’ pensions without the approval of the trustees, who will lose their power to protect the pensions under the provisions of the Bill?
Mr. McFadden: The changes that we propose to the pension scheme will mean that the deficit is handled on the same basis as the pension schemes serving teachers, nurses and civil servants. That will indeed give Royal Mail staff far greater pension security than they get at the moment, when the deficit appears to be increasing year on year."
Shadow Business Secretary Alan Duncan doesn't get to quiz Lord Mandelson directly in Parliament, because they sit in different Houses. Instead Pat McFadden, a minister of state, represents the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in the Commons.
Yesterday Mr Duncan, who is a formidable debator, piled on the pressure:
"The real truth is that businesses are increasingly desperate because their credit lines are drying up, the cost of borrowing has increased dramatically and credit insurers are refusing to underwrite the payment chain. Surely the Minister would agree that the recapitalisation of the banks has not yet filtered adequately, if at all, into the real economy. Why, then, has he chosen to reject our clear policy for a national loan guarantee scheme that would augment and underpin credit lines in a way that no Government policy yet does—or is he really saying that the Government have no ideas of their own and are simply rejecting it because it has on it the label, “Not invented here”?
Mr. McFadden: We announced a loan guarantee scheme in the pre-Budget report, based on a balance of risk sharing between the Government and business. As far as the hon. Gentleman’s proposal is concerned, as I have already said, the Conservatives have not made clear what proportion of the loans would be underwritten or what balance of risk will be shared between the Government and the lenders. It is important that proposals in this area are properly costed. That is what we have done and if further action is needed to help small businesses, we will not hesitate to take it.
Alan Duncan: But one thing the Government could definitely do to extend credit to businesses is to let them delay their VAT payments. Yesterday the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions that that was his policy and it should happen, but businesses are saying that, in fact, they are not being allowed to do that because Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says, among other things, “Oh no, it would give such a company a competitive advantage.” How can the Minister reconcile what the Prime Minister says one day with what is actually happening on the ground, and what instructions—what clear instructions—have the Government given to HMRC about the deferral of businesses VAT?
Mr. McFadden: The Chancellor announced in the pre-Budget report that HMRC would, on a case-by-case basis, allow businesses to spread their tax and VAT payments over a longer period of time. It is not the case that they have all been refused, as the hon. Gentleman claims that they have. It is judged, as I said, on a case-by-case basis.
In terms of policy—I know that the Conservatives like a leak—perhaps I should draw attention to the hon. Gentleman’s approach. I have an e-mail to him from his colleague, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk)—
It looks like the Speaker has had enough of a certain subject!
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