In Parliament – March

Education Questions – Monday 2nd March

Nigel Mills MP: On that subject, does the Secretary of State agree that improving the links with local businesses and schools is key? Will she therefore welcome the interest that David Nieper Ltd has shown in sponsoring Alfreton Grange arts college?

Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s points, and I would like to congratulate the company he mentioned on its sponsorship. Professional standards of governance in schools are vital, and we want to make sure that governing boards are focused on recruiting people with the skills for the role. People from business have valuable transferable skills and benefit from board-level experience. I want to see more employers encouraging and supporting their staff to volunteer as governors. This is something I have discussed with the CBI.

Transport Questions – Thursday 5th March

Nigel Mills MP: One issue with encouraging the use of Ambergate station in my constituency is the strange fare system. Even though a fare to the next station is relatively cheap, the cost of a fare to Birmingham from both stations can be very different. Is there any way that the Secretary of State can fix the fare system to get rid of its anomalies?

Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP: I know Ambergate station very well, as the line goes up to Matlock and down to Derby. There are indeed anomalies in ticket purchasing on that line, and I am only too well aware of such frustrations. My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I certainly want to look at. There are huge opportunities in ticketing, including with the development of smart technology.

Department of Work and Pensions Questions – Monday 9th March

Nigel Mills MP: What progress his Department has made on the roll-out of universal credit.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP: We have begun the national roll-out of universal credit. Those plans are on track, and universal credit is now available in nearly 150 jobcentre areas for single claimants and in nearly 100 areas for couples and families. Universal credit will be available in over 500 jobcentre areas—seven in 10—by the end of the year, and it will be rolled out to all our 714 jobcentres next year.

Nigel Mills MP: In contrast to some reports today, the staff in the jobcentres in my constituency are looking forward to the roll-out of universal credit because they know the advantages it will bring to local jobseekers. Has my right hon. Friend made a recent assessment of the benefits of universal credit following the roll-out so far?

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP: We have indeed. From what I have read of the reports my hon. Friend mentions, every single point made in them is wrong and misleading. We will be making our position clear on that. The analysis that he asks for has shown that the benefits of universal credit are statistically significant. Findings now show that, compared with similar claimants on jobseeker’s allowance, universal credit claimants spend more time looking for work, enter work more quickly and spend more time in work. They also end up earning more. 

Northern Ireland Questions – Wednesday 11th March

Question to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers on The Economic Pact:

Nigel Mills MP: What impact does the Secretary of State think another round of stalemate at Stormont will have on measures to attract investment and encourage growth in Northern Ireland?

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP: There is no doubt that the announcement by Sinn Fein on Monday was a significant setback for the Stormont House agreement, but it is inevitable that there will be bumps in the road with agreements of this nature. That has been the case in the past. I will be working hard to get things back on track and to help the parties get this matter resolved. Political stability is, of course, crucial when it comes to attracting inward investment. That is one of the many reasons why we need to press ahead with implementing the Stormont House agreement.

On Cross-Border Crime:

Nigel Mills MP: What impact does the Secretary of State think another round of stalemate at Stormont will have on measures to attract investment and encourage growth in Northern Ireland?

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP: There is no doubt that the announcement by Sinn Fein on Monday was a significant setback for the Stormont House agreement, but it is inevitable that there will be bumps in the road with agreements of this nature. That has been the case in the past. I will be working hard to get things back on track and to help the parties get this matter resolved. Political stability is, of course, crucial when it comes to attracting inward investment. That is one of the many reasons why we need to press ahead with implementing the Stormont House agreement.

Prime Minister’s Questions – Wednesday 25th March

Nigel Mills MP: Many hundreds of households in Amber Valley still suffer from noise from the A38 through my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that measures to reduce the noise should be brought forward, and that where development takes place which uses the advantages of being near the A38, the developers should use their profits from those sites to fund noise reduction measures?

The Prime Minister, David Cameron MP: Today is a good day to discuss noise pollution. It is probably appropriate that we quieten down and think about the subject for a minute. My hon. Friend has consistently campaigned on this issue. He is quite right to do so—it is a big concern to his constituents. We are providing £75 million for noise mitigation on our national road network. We are resurfacing 80% of that network with low noise surfacing. That can make a real difference, and I will look carefully at what we can do for my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Finance (No.2) Bill Debate – Wednesday 25th March

Nigel Mills MP: I do not wish to revisit old debates about simplification, but does my hon. Friend have a view about the future strategy on anti-abuse rules? I believe that when Graham Aaronson examined the general anti-abuse rule, he thought that after about five years we would be able to start to do away with individual anti-avoidance rules and rely on the GAAR. We could therefore remove some of the more complicated provisions and the loopholes that go with them. Does my hon. Friend think that could work, or does he think it should be ruled out and that we must have both the general and specific rules?

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke MP: My hon. Friend does not want to revisit old debates, but I tempted to give a response that I suspect I have given him before. The general anti-abuse rule is a big step forward, and it was absolutely right that this Government introduced it. Other Governments had considered it but felt that it was not the right thing to do. However, it is there to complement the existing measures, and we will want to see how the GAAR works over time rather than rush to judgment. I do not believe that a future Conservative Government would want to risk opening up new loopholes because of uncertainty about exactly how the GAAR applies. It is of course an anti-abuse rule and sets a reasonably high bar for behaviour covered by it, and I suspect my hon. Friend agrees that that is right because of its broad nature. We will have to wait and see before I make any commitment to repealing various targeted anti-avoidance rules.