In Parliament – January

Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill – Friday 27th January

Nigel Mills MP: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the data which suggest that almost twice as much will be raised from companies moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland than from those moving into Northern Ireland from overseas? If that is the case, does she think it fair that Members from Northern Ireland may vote on the UK-wide corporation tax rate as well as their own, when they are effectively competing with our constituents?

 Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: I emphasise that the new system is designed to deal with artificial avoidance. A number of measures are in place to prevent abuse of the new system; I will come to those in a moment. In relation to voting on taxation matters, my hon. Friend will be aware that ensuring that the devolution settlement is fair to the English as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom is an important matter under consideration by the House and by the political parties. I am sure it will be extremely important that we get the right outcome to ensure that the devolution settlement is fair across the board, but it is also crucial that we have a coherent and unified tax system.

Treasury Questions: Defined Contribution Pensions – Tuesday 27th January

Nigel Mills MP: What assessment he has made of the further steps which are necessary to ensure the fair treatment of defined contribution pension customers in response to the recent market reports published by the Financial Conduct Authority; and if he will make an assessment of the potential merits of introducing second line of defence protection for such pension schemes.

Andrea Leadsom, The Economic Secretary to the Treasury: We welcome the Financial Conduct Authority’s announcement yesterday that it will introduce new rules in April to protect consumers accessing their pension pot. The rules will introduce a second line of defence, with pension providers required to give consumers wanting to access their pension pot very clear risk warnings and to highlight the fact that guidance from Pension Wise or regulated advice can help them to avoid making a poorly informed decision.

Nigel Mills MP: I thank the Minister for that answer. I welcome the fact that the FCA, perhaps at the last minute, recognised there was an issue and took the right action yesterday. What more will she do to ensure that when people make free choices about their investments after April, they buy the right thing, not make a terrible mistake in that situation?

 Andrea Leadsom, The Economic Secretary to the Treasury: I congratulate my hon. Friend on expressing the importance of a second line of defence. The Government are determined to give pensioners the opportunity to make their own decisions about what to do with their pension savings. Nevertheless, it is vital to ensure that they have reasonable protections.

Urgent Question: On-The-Runs Scheme – Tuesday 27th January

Nigel Mills MP: We all want to see people with a strong case against them standing trial to see whether a jury will convict them. Will the Secretary of State revisit her legal advice on her statement that these letters should not have any great effect on a trial, to make sure that, in the light of this new decision, it remains correct and there is no need for further action by this place?

Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: I am certainly happy to do that, and I discussed the matter with the Chief Constable yesterday. Just to reiterate, the Northern Ireland Office stands ready to take any further steps that might assist in removing barriers to prosecution. My current view is that the best way to guard against future problems in relation to abuse of process is a clear statement that these letters should not be relied on, and that is what I have made and issued to this House in September.

Work and Pensions Questions: Work Programme – Monday 26th January

Nigel Mills MP: What more can the Minister do to get a better relationship between jobcentres and Work programme providers so that they can provide a warm handover when claimants move into the Work programme and when they return from the programme at the end of their two-year period?

Esther McVey, The Minister for Employment: My hon. Friend is right. This is all part of the Oakley review. It is about ensuring that communications are better, that that hand-holding is understood, that people get a copy of the claimant commitment, and that they can understand a good cause and work together. At the end of the day, we are trying to get some of the most vulnerable people, who have been unemployed for a long time, into work. What is needed is that communication and that support from Jobcentre Plus and prime contractors.

Foreign Office Questions: EU Reform – Tuesday 20th January

Nigel Mills MP: What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on reforming the EU to make it more competitive and accountable.

Philip Hammond, The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: I have already visited 18 member states to discuss EU reform with my counterparts—most recently from Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia last week. Leaders across Europe agree that the EU needs to change. We are setting out the case for Britain’s view of the reforms required to make the EU fit for purpose in the 21st century. We have already made some progress: the June European Council agreed that EU reform was necessary and that the UK’s concerns should be addressed.

Nigel Mills MP: Mr Juncker yesterday appeared to rule out reform of freedom of movement as a way of reinvigorating our loveless marriage with the EU. Is there more hope from my right hon. Friend’s discussions with his counterparts that real reform of that can be achieved?

Philip Hammond, The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: As the Prime Minister has set out on more than one occasion, we have increasing agreement across the European Union that we need to address abuse of free movement. Free movement to work is one of the principles of the European Union; free movement to freeload is not one of the principles of the European Union. Britain is not the only country affected by this problem and not the only country determined to address it.

Foreign Office Questions: EU Referendum – Tuesday 20th January

Nigel Mills MP: I am grateful for the earlier confirmation about the EU referendum if the Prime Minister remains the Prime Minister. Is there now an update on what the date of that referendum might be? Will it be earlier than 2017?

Philip Hammond, The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: The Government’s position is that we will negotiate a reform package in the European Union—that will take some time—and then present it to the British people before the end of 2017 for their endorsement or otherwise. The British people will have the last say, unlike under the position of the Labour party, which is apparently that the European Union is perfect. Let us remember that the Leader of the Opposition said on the BBC that, in his opinion, Brussels does not have too much power, and therefore he does not have a European Union reform policy.

Statement on the Stormont House Agreement – Wednesday 7th January

Nigel Mills MP: I welcome the fact that an agreement was reached, but will the Secretary of State set out exactly how much extra money has been given to the Northern Ireland Assembly to make the deal happen? Does she regret that, yet again, we have shown that if the parties of Northern Ireland hold out for long enough, Westminster will eventually cave in and send more money over?

Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: I can outline the financial package, but it is a fair one. It was not a blank cheque. It recognises that Northern Ireland faces specific problems that the rest of the United Kingdom does not. In outline, it involves £150 million over five years to help to fund work on the past; flexibility to use £700 million of capital borrowing to fund a voluntary exit scheme for four years; a contribution of up to £500 million over 10 years of capital funding for shared and integrated education; £350 million of borrowing for capital infrastructure projects; and the flexibility to use the receipts from asset sales and capital funding to repay the welfare shortfall payments.

Home Office Questions: Mental Health – Monday 5th January

Nigel Mills MP: What steps she is taking to improve the approach of the police to working with people with mental health problems.

Theresa May, The Home Secretary: We have taken a number of significant steps in this area: we have launched schemes including street triage, and liaison and diversion; we have reviewed the Mental Health Act 1983; and we have introduced an agreement supported by more than 20 partners nationally to improve the way the police and their partners deal with people with mental health problems. Police cells are now being used less frequently as a place of safety, and I am pleased to say that our work is already having an impact.

Nigel Mills MP: May I urge the Home Secretary to make it absolutely clear that there is no place at all for children with mental illnesses being in our police cells? I believe she has confirmed that that is the case, but I would be grateful if she would do so again.

Theresa May, The Home Secretary: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that a police cell should not be a place of safety for a child with mental health problems—we are very clear about that. That is one issue that has emerged from the review we have undertaken, with the Department of Health, of sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act, and I am clear that in future we should not see children being held in a police cell as a place of safety when they have mental health problems.