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Commons Chamber

Volume 481: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2008

House of Commons

Wednesday 29 October 2008

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Post Office Card Account

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the future of the Post Office card account in Scotland. (229804)

The contract for the new Post Office card account should be awarded to the Post Office because of its unrivalled geographical reach. If towns and villages across Scotland lose their post offices, they will often lose their shop, their only source of pensions and cash, and vital support for vulnerable people in those communities. Will the Minister make the Government understand that to take the Post Office card account away from the Post Office would be a betrayal of those communities?

I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but as he will appreciate, we are currently undergoing a tendering process and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on that process, which we hope will complete later this year. I remind him that 27 bank or building society accounts can already be accessed through the post office network. We are committed to the idea that the universal access criterion must have priority.

The Minister will realise that it is crucial that the Post Office is put on a sound financial footing. For the next four or five years, POCA must be instrumental in ensuring that that is the case. Otherwise, sub-postmasters will voluntarily close post offices and we will find that our financial inclusion targets will not be met as a result. Will the Minister keep those comments in mind when she is discussing the issue with her ministerial colleagues?

My right hon. Friend has a strong record of supporting financial inclusion and I certainly take his comments on board. The fact that we have spent nearly £2 billion on the post office network since 1999 and are committed to a further £1.7 billion up to 2011 shows that we want to ensure that there is a strong, sustainable post office network that will be maintained not only now but beyond 2011.

Is the Minister aware of the letter written by George Thomson, the general secretary of the National Federation of SubPostmasters, to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which sets out huge concerns about the delays in making a decision on POCA? POCA is important for sub-post offices, and the letter says that 10 per cent. of their income comes directly from POCA. The post offices are also the last financial institution in many of our villages following the withdrawal of the banks, which are receiving huge sums of Government money. Will the Minister impress on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the importance of a quick decision in favour of the Post Office?

The hon. Gentleman rightly indicates that the need to maintain universal access, particularly in rural areas, is important. That is why we have maintained a strong rural network: 95 per cent. of the rural population must be within 3 miles of a post office. However, it is also important that we have a sustainable network. The markets are changing and so are people’s shopping habits. That is why we are awaiting not just the tender process, which is required under EU law, but the Hooper review, which will point us in the direction that we must follow to ensure that we have a sustainable universal access network.

May I welcome the Secretary of State and the Minister to their offices? I want to place on record my appreciation of the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns). He was a helpful and able Minister, and I shall certainly miss him.

At this time, our post offices need certainty, stability and an indication that they have a financial future. The Government’s deadline to receive those bids finished in March and for eight months we have had no announcements. If the Post Office loses this contract, the real losers will be our rural communities and dozens of post offices up and down the country. Is it not the case that the delay in the announcement and the very scheduling of the Glenrothes by-election at the same time as the presidential elections have nothing to do with the good people of Fife and everything to do with saving the political skin of the Prime Minister?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm remarks of introduction and welcome, but I think that he got beyond himself. Last week, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions firmly rejected any suggestion that there was any coincidence between the tender process and the by-election. The tender process is a complex legal issue that requires appropriate time and consideration. It is inappropriate for any Minister to interfere with or comment on that process. Unlike the Opposition, who wish to slash public spending, we have shown firm public commitment to the post office network throughout our tenure in government. The fact that we have invested £3.7 billion in that network is plain proof of that fact.

Banking Sector

3. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the operation of the banking sector in Scotland. (229806)

I am in regular contact with the First Minister and discuss a variety of issues. The Scottish banking system is now well placed to combat these difficult times after the significant intervention by this Government to stabilise the market.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment? Does he recall that the First Minister said earlier in the year that an independent Scotland could look forward to an “arc of prosperity” based on Ireland, Iceland and Scandinavia and underpinned by Scotland’s “world class” banks? Will he remind the First Minister in a telephone call today that the Scottish banks would not exist today if the UK Government had not moved quickly, and if they had not been underpinned by English taxpayers in our constituencies? Will he also remind him that it is time for him to abandon completely his misguided campaign—

Order. When there are long speeches instead of supplementary questions, other Back Benchers are going to be squeezed out.

I wish to thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome for my appointment, and to place on record again my appreciation of the work done by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne).

Although this is my first time at the Dispatch Box as Secretary of State for Scotland, I know very well that I am not accountable for the words, deeds or actions for Scotland’s First Minister. However, I am aware that he has compared Scotland to Iceland, Ireland and Norway. Of course, Iceland is now bankrupt as a country, Ireland faces an austerity budget—[Interruption.] I hear an hon. Gentlemen shouting, “Tell us about Norway!” Well, the Norwegian Foreign Minister has today told us all about Norway, and said that the Scottish National party must stop making vacuous comparisons between Norway and Scotland.

Finally, the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) talked about English taxpayers subsidising Scottish banks, but he will be aware from his insight into his own constituency that the Royal Bank of Scotland-NatWest has four branches in his area, and HBOS has one. This is an international problem that needs international solutions. It affects all our constituencies, including his own.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his well deserved appointment. He has moved from defending an indefensible Union to upholding a vital Union. Does he agree that the Scottish banking sector has fared better in this financial crisis because Scotland is part of the UK than it would have done had Scotland been independent?

I absolutely agree. The UK has invested £37 billion in Scotland’s banking sector, and that is greater than the entire Scottish Government budget. The entire cost of the investment package is estimated at £100 billion, which is more than the annual budget for the whole of Scotland. I disagree, of course, with the hon. Gentleman’s earlier comment. We spent many long months debating whether the UK would be better off outside the EU, but I think we all now agree that Scotland is better off in the UK.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his active involvement in the banking crisis? Does he agree that the futures of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland are of huge significance to Edinburgh, the south-east of Scotland and to the Scottish economy as a whole? Will he continue to work with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to support the banking system and above all to sustain as many financial sector jobs as possible in Scotland for the long term?

My right hon. Friend has a long history of campaigning on these issues, and he has taken a close interest in the current difficulties faced by Scottish banks and banks throughout the UK. I look forward to discussing these matters with him in further detail over the weeks ahead. Unfortunately, however, some people involved in international banking and banking institutions in the UK took reckless decisions that put at risk other people’s savings and mortgages. While risk is an essential part of a market, taking irresponsible risks with other people’s well-being must come to an end.

May I first congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new appointment as Secretary of State for Scotland? I am delighted to see him at the Dispatch Box. Does he agree that the Scottish banking situation is so important that we cannot just leave it to Adjournment debates in the House of Commons? Will he therefore have a word with the Leader of the House to have a Scottish Grand Committee called as quickly as possible, so that we can discuss the matter?

Serious times call for serious measures. Where I can, I try to say clearly that as Secretary of State for Scotland I will work with anyone who is working on behalf of Scotland, which is why I convened the first ever gathering of CBI Scotland, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the First Minister to demonstrate that, where we can, we should be working together. That is the approach that I shall take every day in this job.

We have to look for additional ways to discuss the problems facing Scottish banks, and if my hon. Friend thinks that calling the Scottish Grand Committee is part of the solution, I look forward to his making that case. I would of course have no hesitation in appearing before the Scottish Grand Committee.

On behalf of my party, I welcome the Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary to their new positions and pay tribute to their predecessors. They left the Government in different circumstances, but they gave distinguished service to the Government in their time and I very much hope that they will continue to be part of Scotland’s political debate.

Has the Secretary of State seen reports in The Scotsman today, indicating new interest in parts of the HBOS group, namely from Clerical Medical and Insight Investment? Does he accept that that is a further alteration to the situation that pertained when the takeover by Lloyds TSB was first mooted and, accordingly, that it requires to be looked at again seriously? In that context, will he urge his right hon. Friend Lord Mandelson to publish the Office of Fair Trading report so that if we are to abandon competitiveness in the banking sector we at least know why?

We wish to see stability in the banking system in Scotland, throughout the United Kingdom and much more widely. Part of that stability would guarantee security for savers, investors, mortgage holders, staff and small businesses across the UK. The argument that HBOS’s business model would not be able to survive the current economic climate has been well rehearsed, but the fact is that only one concrete offer is on the table. That is an issue for the boards of the two banks and the shareholders—it is not for the Government to dictate—but although there is press speculation about other bids, there is only one firm bid on the table at the moment.

I, too, add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his new position as a full-time Secretary of State for Scotland.

I do not want us to underestimate the importance of the comments made by the Norwegian Foreign Minister, reported in today’s press. When my right hon. Friend next meets the First Minister, will he raise those comments and expose the credibility of the First Minister’s arguments? Perhaps he will go one step further and say not only that it is economically unsound to make those comparisons but that it is economically illiterate.

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. On behalf of everyone on our side of the House, I pay tribute to her for her brilliant work over nine years as a member of the Government in various posts. She is right to draw attention again to the comments of the First Minister. In his first speech as First Minister, he said:

“Scotland can…be part of northern Europe’s arc of prosperity. We have three countries, Ireland to our west, Iceland to our north and Norway to our east. We can join that arc of prosperity.”

It is no wonder that many commentators now talk about an arc of insolvency—the SNP vision of a North sea bubble has well and truly burst.

I begin by welcoming the right hon. Gentleman to his new role. It is particularly welcome on the Conservative Benches that there is once again a stand-alone Secretary of State for Scotland. Scotland’s interests cannot be adequately represented in the Cabinet along with those of the armed forces or any other nation or region of the United Kingdom.

May I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and briefly pay tribute to the two predecessors at the Department? The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne) played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Calman commission, which will benefit all the people of Scotland. The hon. Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns) lost his job for speaking the truth, and he is not the first Member of this House to have done so. In that vein, I share the Secretary of State’s views about the irresponsibility of the First Minister’s comments on the “arc of prosperity”, but does the Secretary of State agree that the Prime Minister was equally irresponsible to claim that boom and bust had been abolished? Did that not contribute to the devastating effect of the credit crunch on the Scottish banks?

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for putting on record his appreciation for the work of my predecessor, and for his kind words of welcome to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and me. The fact is that Scotland is stronger in the United Kingdom at times of difficulty, and more prosperous in the United Kingdom at times of economic prosperity. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the Prime Minister’s contribution. The fact is that the UK is showing the world

“the way through this crisis.”

The shadow Secretary of State guffaws at that comment, but those are not my words; a gentleman called Paul Krugman, the winner of the Nobel prize for economics, made those comments earlier in the week. Whose economic judgment should I accept—that of the hon. Gentleman or that of a winner of the Nobel prize for economics? I will let the House make that judgment for itself.

Economic Situation

4. What recent discussions he has held with Scottish Executive Ministers on the condition of the economy in Scotland. (229807)

I called a meeting last week with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and CBI Scotland to discuss the pressures in the Scottish economy. I also sit full time on the UK Government’s National Economic Council.

I am grateful for the fact that one of the Secretary of State’s first acts in his new post was to agree to come to Ayrshire to discuss with local businesses their concerns about the current financial situation. In his recent discussions with the First Minister, the CBI and the STUC, did they discuss support for those who have recently become unemployed, not just in the financial services sector but in places such as the coalfield area in my constituency, which suffered mass unemployment during the dark Tory years?

I look forward to visiting Ayrshire shortly. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that unemployment went up across many parts of the United Kingdom last week, after years of growth in employment. In response, the British Government published a £100 million training plan, the Welsh Government published a £30 million training plan, and the Scottish Government issued a press release. That is not the action of a serious Government. The fact is that there are enormous challenges, and one such challenge in the current economic crisis is to ensure that those who are economically on the bottom rung of the ladder do not become dislodged and take a generation to recover. I am determined to work with everyone and anyone, across Scotland, to make sure that that does not occur.

I welcome the meeting that the Secretary of State had last week with Scottish business leaders and trade unions. Is it planned that such meetings will be held regularly? Did he use the opportunity to ask Scottish businesses whether they would be better served by the Government borrowing to pay for increased spending on unemployment benefit, which is what his party wants to do, or by our taking the immediate practical steps on VAT and national insurance for small businesses that the Leader of the Opposition set out in his visit to Glenrothes?

Of course we intend to repeat the meeting, and CBI Scotland will host the next one; that is a welcome step. The fact is that net debt was 43 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1996-97, and today it is 36 per cent. The UK’s net debt is lower, as a percentage of GDP, than that in the euro area and in all G7 countries except Canada. It is important that we borrow to invest in public services. That is a striking contrast with what happened under a previous Government, who invested in failure. Unemployment was at 3 million; incapacity benefit trebled; and unemployment was considered a price worth paying. That price will never be paid, and is never considered worth paying, by a Labour Government.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position as Secretary of State. Given recent economic events, is it not the case that the First Minister of Scotland could be compared to an eight-year-old child with a bean rack?

HBOS and Lloyds TSB

6. What discussions he has held with ministerial colleagues on the proposed merger of HBOS and Lloyds TSB. (229809)

The merger of HBOS and Lloyds TSB is a commercial decision for the boards and shareholders of those banks. We want stability in the UK banking system and protection for savers, mortgage holders, staff and businesses.

I welcome the Secretary of State and the Minister to their new positions, and would like to put on the record the admiration that our party had for their two predecessors.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. The merger of HBOS and Lloyds TSB will, of course, have to be voted on by shareholders; I understand that the meetings will take place in mid and late November. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that all the information should be available to the shareholders before the votes take place. Will he impress on the noble Lord Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the need to publish the Office of Fair Trading report on competition in advance of the shareholder meetings?

It is important that we have a wide conversation about Scotland’s economy and Scotland’s future. Again, the matters mentioned are for the boards and shareholders of those two great institutions.

Until now, the Scottish National party’s argument about economics has relied entirely on oil and Iceland. Every family in Scotland knows that a household budget cannot be organised on enormous fluctuations in oil prices, which stood at $150 a barrel a year ago and now stand at $59 a barrel. Iceland as a country is on the verge of bankruptcy. On the particular point about the banks’ merger, I should say that it is important that information should be available and that shareholders should make their decisions in an informed way.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his new position. Will he work with the Unite union to make sure that the jobs of those in the banking industry throughout the United Kingdom are protected? Spivs and speculators have been destroying jobs in the industry, and we do not want to lose any more.

My hon. Friend is right: it is important that we should have such conversations with trade unions. That is why on the very day when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made his announcement about bank recapitalisation, I invited both the trade union Unite and the trade union Accord to meet me at the Scotland Office in Edinburgh. We discussed the type of issues that my hon. Friend has rightly raised today.

Is the Secretary of State not forgetting that British taxpayers are about to become a shareholder in HBOS and that they should have a view on the matter? Given that competition rules are being set aside, is it not important to ensure that every possible option—including maintaining HBOS as an operating entity in its own right—is considered, to ensure that consumers have the full range of choice in the future?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There has been enormous UK taxpayer investment in saving those two great financial institutions. I think he will agree that only through the power and influence of a United Kingdom Government and a UK economy are we able to make such enormous investment in those institutions. Lloyds has confirmed that the HBOS part of the business will continue to use the Mound as its Scottish headquarters and that it will continue to publish Scottish banknotes. I remind the House again that there is currently only one offer on the table which can be considered by the board and the shareholders—and that remains a fact, regardless of any press speculation.


7. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the energy sector on Scotland’s future energy needs. (229810)

Meetings are currently being arranged with the energy industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will also be attending the oil and gas UK supply chain conference on 12 November in Aberdeen.

I am glad to hear that because obviously the oil and gas industry is important for Aberdeen and the whole economy of the north-east of Scotland. I hope that there is a long future for the industry in the North sea—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I hope that there will be a long future for the offshore oil and gas industry, which is so vital to the economy of my constituency. However, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a mistake to base a whole economy on a very volatile resource?

My hon. Friend has a fine record of working for the oil industry in Aberdeen and for her constituents. As she rightly points out, the oil industry remains a vital industry in Scotland, but it is important that it has a stable investment and tax structure, which the UK framework currently provides. The oil fund to which the First Minister has made reference has suddenly disappeared from his press releases, and now we have the request for £1 billion regurgitated from six months ago. I think we can all draw our own conclusions.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Small businesses, which are essential to jobs in my constituency, are suffering from high raw material prices, high energy prices and, in some cases, reduced demand. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the support that we have given to the banks is reflected in the support that banks give to small businesses during this difficult time?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Central to the recovery of jobs is the resumption of lending by banks to businesses. I discussed that not only as a national problem, but a problem in many countries, with President Sarkozy when I met him last evening. We have all taken measures to recapitalise our banks and to ensure stability. We continue to work on increasing access to funding. Having recapitalised the banks, we want to ensure that they will extend availability of credit at competitive prices. Further announcements will be made tomorrow when we have a meeting with the banks.

We are also considering new mechanisms by which, for example, the European Investment Bank can give financial support where traditional institutions are not able to do so. We urge banks not to change the terms and charges for existing lending to small businesses in our country. The President and I also talked about the role of fiscal policy in the future. I have been discussing that with other leaders. It is right that fiscal policy supports monetary policy at this time.

If the Prime Minister wants to help small business, he can start by cancelling his plan for putting up the rate of corporation tax for small business.

In the past fortnight we have learned that housing repossessions are up 71 per cent., unemployment is rising at its fastest rate for 17 years and the economy is shrinking. Will the Prime Minister now finally admit that he did not abolish boom and bust?

I have already told the right hon. Gentleman: we have had the longest period of growth in the history of this country. We have created 3 million jobs during that period, and we have been able to double public investment in education, health and transport. If we had taken his advice, we would not have nationalised Northern Rock and we would not have taken the action to deal with the problems of HBOS and other banks—and he would have loosened the regulation on banks at a time when everybody is saying to increase it. I am not going to take any advice from the Leader of the Opposition on these matters.

How can the Prime Minister not admit that there is an economic bust when 120 homes are being repossessed every day and when the Bank of England says that 1.2 million people are going to go into negative equity? If he cannot admit what he got wrong in the past, why will anyone listen to him about the present or the future?

Let me turn to the Prime Minister’s fiscal rules, which allowed him to pile up this huge borrowing in a boom. He said that his fiscal rules were

“the basis on which I think people have seen this Government as competent”.

He said that they were right for every stage of the economic cycle, and he absolutely guaranteed—that is the word that he used—that he would not break them. Does he accept that the fiscal rules are now dead?

First of all—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] I think that the Opposition should listen for a minute, and maybe they will learn something. First of all, the cause of the crisis that we are facing started in the private banking sector, not with national Governments. If the Leader of the Opposition does not understand that that is the problem, he will not be able to come to a proper solution, because the solution lies in recapitalising the banks, then ensuring that they start lending again. If we could have a sensible debate about the matter across the Floor of this House, and he removed the partisan way in which he is dealing with it, as he promised to do—[Interruption.] He was the man who was going to end the Punch and Judy show, and he was the man who was going to have a bipartisan approach.

As for the fiscal rules, we have met them in the last 10 years. If I may remind the right hon. Gentleman, borrowing has been 1 per cent. under the Labour Government during the last 10 years; it was 3 per cent. under the Conservative Government. They broke the roof; we fixed it.

The Prime Minister says—[Hon. Members: “More!”] There’s plenty more.

The Prime Minister says that he wants us to listen; we have been hearing about his fiscal rules for 10 years. He stood there and lectured us about the brilliance of his fiscal rules. Why will he not now admit that they are dead? Let us just remember them—he used to be so proud of them. Rule 1 was, “Only borrow to invest”; now he is having to borrow to pay for unemployment benefit. That rule is dead. Rule 2—[Interruption.] They do not like being reminded about their own fiscal rules. They used to enjoy the lectures so much. Rule 2 was, “Don’t have debt over 40 per cent. of national income.” Even on his own fiddled figures, that rule is now dead. Why will he not admit that the rules failed to deliver responsibility in the good years and that, as soon as the bad times came, they collapsed completely?

May I just remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he said only a few days ago? [Hon. Members: “Answer!”] It is important to the issue. He said:

“Borrowing…is inevitable and you have to allow that to happen. Those automatic stabilisers as Keynes called them, those have to operate.”

He is saying that, but the shadow Chancellor said this morning in a newspaper that borrowing is the wrong approach. The right hon. Gentleman said a few days ago that it is the right approach. When will they get their act together and show that they have one coherent policy?

The Prime Minister cannot tell us whether his fiscal rules are alive or dead or in some sort of suspended animation. We have established that he has broken his fiscal rules, and we have established that he led the economy from boom to bust; now let us look at what he is going to do about it. Does he agree that you cannot spend your way out of a recession?

I just repeat what the right hon. Gentleman said. [Hon. Members: “Answer!”] If he said:

“Borrowing…is inevitable and you have to allow that to happen. Those automatic stabilisers…have to operate”,

that means we have to spend in a way that takes us through this economic crisis. If he does not understand what he said a few days ago, perhaps his meetings with the shadow Chancellor during the past few days have not been about economics at all.

I asked the Prime Minister whether he agreed that you cannot spend your way out of a recession. Why did he not just say yes? I have a quote for him. It is something that he said in 1997—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Oh, it was 10 years ago, so it does not count—is that the new rule? This was not some off-the-cuff speech; it was at the Labour party conference, as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said,

“we have learned from past mistakes…you cannot spend your way out of recession”.

Is not the truth that the Prime Minister has been going round telling everyone that he is the new John Maynard Keynes with a plan for a spending splurge? Meanwhile, the pound has fallen further than in any previous devaluation, and the Chancellor is having desperately to back off. So can he confirm: is he planning a spending splurge or not?

And he is quoting Keynes. I thought the right hon. Gentleman said that he supported Keynes on when the automatic stabilisers should work. Let me remind him again of the Conservative party position. The person who shadowed for the shadow Chancellor last week said in an interview to the BBC:

“To increase borrowing to deal with an economic downturn—that’s a perfectly sensible thing to do.”

A few minutes later, he said:

“Increasing borrowing is not a strategy for dealing with the recession.”

The Conservatives are nowhere on policy to deal with the problem.

So that is the new fiscal rule—never answer the question. The Prime Minister has been caught red-handed—he spun a line about a spending splurge to try to look as if he had a plan, but the Treasury Secretary said that the Government would not “increase” but “maintain” spending. He has been caught irresponsibly spinning about irresponsible spending. Is not the truth that he has got not a plan but a giant overdraft? Is it not the case that thousands of people are losing their homes and their jobs because the Prime Minister’s irresponsible boom has turned to bust?

The thousands of people in our country who are worried about their homes and their jobs will want to know that they have a Government who are prepared to take the action that is necessary to deal with the problem. The Conservative party says that borrowing is the wrong approach; I say that it is right to take the action that is necessary to lead us through the difficulties. The Conservative party has no policy. It is not prepared for government—it is not even prepared for opposition.

I know that the Prime Minister has a lot on his plate, but I would like him to know the outcome of the referendum in Stoke-on-Trent last Thursday. The people voted to go ahead to have a leader and a cabinet to run the council from next summer. In these difficult times, will my right hon. Friend give the people of Stoke-on-Trent his assurance that the Government will do everything they can to work in Stoke-on-Trent to draw a line, move forward and deal with all the economic issues that we face?

My hon. Friend has spoken to me about those things on several occasions. It is right that all parties work together to come through the difficult times. We will do whatever we can to help the industries of Stoke come through the difficult times that they face.

As we heard earlier, the Prime Minister does not seem to distinguish between good public spending and bad public spending. At a time when every penny of public money needs to be spent wisely, he wants to waste £13 billion on an NHS computer system that does not work, £12 billion on a surveillance database, which will spy on everybody in the country, and billions more on ID cards. He could redirect all that money to the things that people really need in a recession: homes for hard-pressed families; good child care, so that people can go out to look for work; and training for people who have lost their jobs. At a time when all British families have to rethink their spending plans, is it not time for him to rethink his?

I do not recognise the figures that the right hon. Gentleman gives us. The only figure that matters in this debate is that the Liberal party wants to cut £20 billion out of public spending. That would be the wrong course for this country.

This country is in much worse shape than I feared if it has a Prime Minister who cannot tell the difference between redirecting and cutting public money. Grandiose plans for public spending might help in the long term, but low and middle-income families need more money in their pockets right now. Why does he not have the courage to close the multi-billion pound tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthy? That way, he could deliver big tax cuts for people who desperately need help. It would not require extra Government borrowing, it is fair and it would be good for the economy. Why will not the Prime Minister give people on ordinary incomes some of their money back?

We have been closing tax loopholes in every Budget for the past 11 years. We are putting an additional amount of money into the economy: 22 million people are getting a tax cut of £120, the winter allowance will be £250 for over-60s and £400 for over-80s, and we are helping low-income families with their fuel bills. The right hon. Gentleman cannot wish away the policy that he announced at his conference: to cut public spending by £20 billion. That is the wrong policy for this country at this time.

Q2. Last week in Blackpool, I sat down with my further education college to discuss its £100 million Government-funded redevelopment and its hopes for higher education expansion, which are both key to Blackpool’s regeneration. What can the Prime Minister now do to accelerate investment in such projects, as part of his strategy to combat the economic downturn, as opposed to the Opposition, who do not have a clue? (231035)

We are continuing to spend huge amounts of money on regeneration and education, and that is the right thing to do—to prepare and equip ourselves for the global challenge that lies ahead. It is also right that we raise the education leaving age to 18, to enable people who are in work at 16 and 17 to get skills one day a week, to enable people to access part-time learning as well as full-time learning and to give opportunity to all, not just to some. I regret the fact that the Liberal party and the Conservative party seem to be for opportunity for some. We are for opportunity for all.

Q3. In his first statement to the House after becoming Prime Minister and in the Green Paper on the constitution that accompanied that statement, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to rebalance power between the Government and Parliament. He said that he wanted Parliament to have a greater ability to hold the Government to account. Two weeks ago, the Government announced that the House would sit for 128 days next year—the smallest number of sittings in a non-election year since the second world war. Does he see any tension between those two propositions? (231036)

We moved power from the Executive to the legislature; for example, in decisions about peace and war, and also decisions about treaties. That is what I meant. If the House of Commons can do its business efficiently in 128 days, that is the right course of action.

My right hon. Friend is very aware of the anxiety felt by many small investors in Icesave. We all have constituents with their life savings there. Mine have told me that they are anxious about developments and they are not being told very much, particularly about the structure of the scheme. Can my right hon. Friend confirm please that progress is now being made on the compensation scheme and that investors will be kept advised?

The Financial Services Authority has made an announcement about how it will deal with the problems that are faced by UK retail investors in those Icelandic banks. That statement was made last week and I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about these issues.

Q4. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is an absolute disgrace for the Black Police Association, which has been in receipt of substantial public funds, actively to discourage black and Asian people from joining the Metropolitan police? (231037)

We want to encourage more black and Asian people to join the police and we will continue to do that. Obviously I will look into what the hon. Gentleman says about the association, but it is important that the message goes out from all parties in the House that we want as many black and Asian people as possible to apply to join the police and to be recruited.

The Prime Minister will know that there is currently a large deployment of men and women serving in Afghanistan from Plymouth and the south-west. What assurances can he offer them, their families and the House that the Government will continue to invest in the equipment that they need to match the professional skills and dedication that they bring to the very difficult job that they do on our behalf?

My hon. Friend has done a great deal, visiting Afghanistan and representing many of her constituents in her area. One of the issues in Afghanistan that we have had to deal with is the provision of properly protected vehicles for our armed forces. I am pleased today to be able to announce the planned investment of more than £700 million to deliver new and improved protected vehicles to our armed forces, particularly in Afghanistan. We will be buying 700 new vehicles and upgrading more than 200 more. In the face of new and developing threats, that will mean that our armed forces have the best practical protection for the work that they do. I hope that all parts of the House will favour that.

Q5. Yesterday, along with other Derbyshire MPs, I met the chief constable of Derbyshire and the police authority. By their own admission, the Government underfund Derbyshire police by £5 million a year. As a result, Derbyshire is the fourth lowest funded police authority in the country and has the 14th lowest number of police officers per head of population. Will the Prime Minister order an inquiry into this travesty and ensure that the people of Derbyshire receive the funding and the police numbers that his Government say that they need to ensure public safety? (231038)

There are more police in this decade than at any time in our history, and more community support officers. That has been possible only because we have doubled the budget on police in the past 10 years. Not only do we have more police, but crime has come down as a result of their visible presence on the streets. We would not be able to afford the police services that we want in any part of the country if we took the advice of the Liberal leader to cut £20 billion out of public spending.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, between July and September this year, the BP oil company made a profit of £6.4 billion? When many pensioners and poor, vulnerable people in my constituency are suffering and wondering how they are going to pay to heat their homes this winter, is it not about time that the Government introduced a windfall tax on companies such as BP?

We have applied a levy to the utility companies to enable us to spend more on heating for pensioners and others in the winter months. The fact is that oil prices are coming down. Oil is now $60 a barrel, whereas it used to be $150, and it is important that those price cuts are passed on to all customers. We cannot take the advice of the shadow Chancellor on this matter. He resurfaced—or tried to resurface—with a statement that the price of petrol should go down, yet his fuel duty stabiliser would mean that the price of petrol would now automatically go up by 5p a litre—[Interruption.] He cannot deny it. That is why people doubt the judgment of the Conservative party.

Q6. In 1976, the United Kingdom was humiliated when the last Labour Government had to approach the International Monetary Fund to be bailed out. Should—God forbid —this Labour Government similarly have to go to the IMF for a bail-out, would the Prime Minister resign? (231039)

I think the hon. Gentleman should be remembering 1992, when the present Leader of the Opposition stood beside the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and, having tried to set interest rates at 18 per cent., they were unable to keep Britain in the European exchange rate mechanism. That led to 3 million unemployed, and that is the moment that the Conservatives should be remembering.

Q7. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that vulnerable workers should be free from exploitation, whatever the economic climate. Will he therefore join Labour Members in welcoming the adoption of the temporary agency workers directive by the European Parliament last week? That follows two private Members’ Bills in this House: my own and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), who has also pursued this issue. Will my right hon. Friend now outline to the House how and when the directive will be implemented into UK law, so that it can be of benefit to up to 1 million such workers up and down the land? (231040)

Members on both sides of the House should remember that the CBI was also supportive of this arrangement. We will bring forward legislation in the next Session of Parliament to implement it. As is the usual practice with EU directives, there will be a detailed consultation on the UK implementation. I think that, given the agreement that has been achieved across business in this country, both sides of the House should support the agency workers directive.

Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the decision by the Army to organise a homecoming parade in the city of Belfast? Does he recognise that the troops from Northern Ireland who have performed so well and so bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan come from both sections of our community? The decision taken by Sinn Fein to run a counter-parade and protest is therefore all the more preposterous, and has heightened tensions in Northern Ireland as a whole. Will the Prime Minister join me in urging people in Northern Ireland to ensure that we have a peaceful Sunday, and that everyone has due respect for the role that has been played by our brave troops, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan? I have seen the role that they have played in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the work that they are doing in mentoring the Afghan army. Will he urge everyone to do nothing to drag us back to the bad old days?

I want every Sunday to be a peaceful Sunday in Northern Ireland, and I want us to work together to ensure that we can undertake the remaining stages of the devolution that will make stability for the longer term possible. I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the troops in our armed forces deserve the support of every community from which they come. Where there have been parades in the different cities and towns of this country, not only have they been peaceful but large numbers of people have turned out because they want to give support to our troops and show them that they have the confidence of the British people. I want that to be a feature of our life in every part of the United Kingdom for many years to come.

Q8. In these difficult financial times, I know that we have to extract value for money wherever we can and that difficult decisions will have to be made. We also face the threat of climate change, which puts extra demands on the economy and what the Government have to finance. May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to my early-day motion 2351—“Climate change and the UK’s contribution to the Kopernikus satellite programme”? It is a very important scientific programme to monitor, given the impact of climate change—[Interruption.]—so would it be possible for me and a small delegation of British scientists to meet the Prime Minister to discuss the importance of this programme to the UK economy? (231041)

I am very happy to do so, and I must say that I thought climate change was an issue that both sides of the House wanted to take action on. We recognise the importance of understanding and monitoring climate change. No decision has yet been taken on the level of UK funding, but a final decision will be taken in advance of the ministerial meeting in late November. I applaud my hon. Friend for everything he has done to raise these issues—through the European Space Agency’s programme and the wider work that he does on the environment. I used to think that the Tories supported a green policy, but now I am not so sure.

Q9. The Prime Minister says that he wants a third runway at Heathrow, so why are his Ministers lobbying against that, yet remaining part of his Government? (231042)

We said as a Government that we supported a third runway in principle. After all, there are five runways in Amsterdam, five in Paris and four in Frankfurt—and we are talking about only a third runway at Heathrow. We also said, however, that we would look into all the environmental considerations, which is what we are doing at the moment. We will come back to the House in due course.

Q10. This morning, together with other hon. Members, I attended the David Black award, which is a celebration of the British pig industry and quality standard charter marks. They support farmers who are committed to high animal welfare, quality control and traceability of their products. Does the Prime Minister share my concern that Government procurement figures show that 76 per cent. of bacon products and 39 per cent. of pork products do not come from quality pork standard mark suppliers? As my right hon. Friend helps out different sectors of industry, will he ensure that procurement supports British farmers? If the Government do not stand up for them, why should anybody else? (231043)

I thank my hon. Friend for campaigning on behalf of that industry. Everybody knows that British bacon is best.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the widespread public concern about foreclosures on mortgage properties, particularly by banks such as Northern Rock. Is he aware that some other debts—unsecured debts such as those on store cards—are being purchased by debt factoring companies, which are then applying to the courts for attachment to properties, subsequently obtaining possession of them for trivial debt? Is that a correct interpretation of the law, and if it is, does not the law need to be changed?

I am aware of that problem; we are looking into it. I believe that changes will be needed in practice.

Q11. Representatives of small businesses in my constituency are still contacting me to say that new loan arrangements are either being refused by the banks or agreed on harsher terms. Will the Prime Minister assure me that he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will do what they can to ensure that the agreement with the banks feeds through to small businesses? (231044)

This is the central issue that must be dealt with in the next few days. We have given liquidity to the banks and recapitalised them, so now we must have their resumption of lending. If that can be achieved by their taking new decisions to lend, that is exactly what should be done. At the same time, we will look into other instruments through which banks or other financial institutions can give money to small businesses to increase their cash flow. We will look at everything necessary, so that further to the recapitalisation of the banks, we have the necessary resumption of lending.

I tried to phone Postwatch this morning to ask how to appeal against some of the post office closures in my area only to find that Postwatch had effectively ceased to exist—before the consultation had concluded. Is that fair?

I know that appeals made against closures have been successful in 44 cases. I will talk to the hon. Gentleman about how he can direct his own appeal.

Q12. On Monday, a family living in my constituency almost lost their home as a result of a 3 per cent. increase in their fixed mortgage rate, a bank that refused to negotiate, and a judge who told them to get it over quickly. Will my right hon. Friend, as a matter of urgency, redouble his efforts to make it clear to both banks and judges that we will intervene to safeguard homes, and that, unlike the Conservative party, we will not leave our families to sink or swim? (231045)

It is for precisely the reasons given by my hon. Friend that the judiciary have issued a new instruction that repossession must be the last resort, not the first resort, and that banks must consider alternative means of funding and other means by which mortgages can be paid over a longer period if necessary. I hope that we will also deal with some of the problems faced by people in the same position as my hon. Friend’s constituents.

We are changing the point at which unemployment benefit can be supported by mortgage interest repayment help. The new system will begin on 1 January, and will apply to people who have been unemployed for 13 weeks. We are taking the actions that are necessary, including, from the beginning of January, buying up old houses that are on the market so that we can encourage the housing market to move forward. I believe that we are taking the policy initiatives—[Interruption.] The Opposition may shout, but they have no policies.

Food Labelling

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for relevant information about food, including information about the country of origin, contents and standards of production of that food, to be made available to consumers by labelling, marking or in other ways; and for connected purposes.

The first occasion on which I sought the leave of the House to introduce a Bill to require clearer labelling of food was in 2004. I was certainly not the first Member to seek to introduce such legislation, and many Members throughout the House have supported the proposition that consumers should have clearer, more accurate and more honest information about the food that they buy than is currently required.

Since 2004, interest in local sourcing and local production of food has grown significantly. The issue of food miles has become more prominent in political discussion, and the importance to consumers of higher animal welfare standards has continued to increase. Only this morning, on the BBC Radio 4 programme “Farming Today”, an egg farmer spoke of his continued shift towards free-range hens for egg production, because that was what consumers wanted.

Attempts to improve the law continue. My own Bill has support from Members on all sides of the House, and I note that next week my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Helen Southworth) will seek leave to introduce her own food labelling Bill, which I understand focuses mainly on nutrition and health issues. It will complement my Bill, which, as well as providing information about the content and production standards of food, will ensure that information about the country of origin of different foods is included in labelling.

Consumers should have the information that they need to make informed decisions about the food that they buy. A wide range of issues may rightly concern them when they make their purchasing decisions, including the nutritional and calorific value of food, the salt or fat content, the animal welfare standards according to which food is produced, and the country of origin. Any food labelling regime must seek to address those various concerns. It is important that all food producers adhere to the same high standards applied to food labelling, and the best way in which to achieve that is through a statutory framework.

The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 require food to be marked or labelled with information such as the name of the food, a list of its ingredients, the amount of an ingredient that is named or associated with the food, an appropriate durability indication, any special storage conditions, the name of the business and manufacturer, and in certain cases, the place of origin, as well as the process used in the manufacture and instructions for use.

In July this year, the Food Standards Agency updated its guidance on the use of marketing terms such as “fresh”, “pure” and “natural”, but there was nothing new on country of origin labelling, although the guidance continues to draw attention to regulation 5 of the 1996 regulations, which requires

“particulars of the place of origin or provenance of the food if failure to give such particulars might mislead a purchaser to a material degree as to the true origin or provenance of the food.”

Currently, country of origin labelling must comply with the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, which make it an offence to label any food in a way that falsely describes it or which is likely to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality. However, neither Act defines how much British involvement is required before produce can be sold as British.

The specific expression “country of origin” is not defined in the 1996 regulations or in the food labelling directive 2000/13/EC. However, the approach taken in section 36 of the Trade Descriptions Act is that, for the purposes of the Act, goods are deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country where they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change. This is likely to include the manufacture of bacon or ham, for example. However, at present, consumers are being misled. Pork that has been imported from Denmark and then packaged in the UK may be called “Product of Britain”.

The problem can apply to other food products, too. Butter churned in England using milk imported from Belgium should not, supposedly, be labelled “English”, but it can lawfully be described as “produced in England from milk”. Norwegian salmon that has been smoked in Scotland should not, supposedly, be called “Scottish”, but it can lawfully be described as “salmon smoked in Scotland”. Slaughtering in this country would count, so that “British lamb” could mean imported lambs slaughtered and packaged in the UK. Products can be labelled as “produced in the UK” when all the ingredients come from outside the country. There is concern that some companies have taken advantage of these slack regulations, and label their products with the Union Jack accompanied by slogans such as “traditional British food” or “great British recipe” when, in fact, they are not produced in this country.

There is, obviously, a duty on consumers to read the labels in the first place, but there is also a need to prevent labels, presentation and other information from being misleading about the product. Country of origin is an area where there is particular potential for consumers to be misled. Clear mandatory country of origin labelling would significantly reduce the risk that consumers making a food purchasing decision would be misled, or in practice be unable to use their consumer power to support domestic producers if that is what they wish to do.

Country of origin labelling already exists for beef, and I believe it should be extended to cover other fresh meat. There are more complex issues in the labelling of processed meat and dairy products, where the sourcing frequently varies. I acknowledge that these issues would need to be considered carefully in Committee. Modern labelling technology has improved considerably in recent years, and I am persuaded that it would now be easier for processed food manufacturers to comply with country of origin labelling requirements than it was in the past, but I acknowledge that processed food does present greater difficulties in labelling than fresh meat.

This morning, I was pleased to attend the David Black memorial award breakfast in the House of Lords, celebrating the achievements of the British pig industry despite very difficult conditions in recent years, and particularly to honour the contribution to the industry of this year’s award winner, Ian Campbell MBE. I was also pleased to receive a copy of a film entitled “An Inconvenient Trough”, made by a group of pig farmers and launched this morning. It is an excellent follow-up to the campaign “Stand by Your Ham”, which last summer featured Winnie the pig in a stall opposite Downing street, where she drew thousands of visitors, including many Members. This film draws attention to the conditions facing pig farmers, notably that 70 per cent. of the imports of pork and pork products into the United Kingdom are produced to animal welfare standards that would be unlawful in this country. It is in that context that we must look at country of origin labelling. I must emphasise that this is not in order to prevent consumers buying products from where they wish, but, rather, to ensure that they are making informed decisions and that they cannot be misled.

Government can also do more. The pig industry has produced its own quality standard mark for pork, and for other pork products such as bacon and ham. The mark shows that the meat has been produced to higher animal welfare standards, yet 76 per cent. of bacon and 39 per cent. of pork served in Whitehall Departments is produced to the lower EU standards, not the higher standards of the quality standard mark.

I make no secret of the fact that I wish all consumers would buy British meat all the time, but achieving that is a matter for consumers and is not the purpose of my Bill. I just want to see a fair deal for British farmers. I want to ensure that they are given the chance to compete fairly with overseas products, that the lower animal welfare standards often applied to imported production are clearly marked for consumers as well as the higher standards of domestic production, that farmers are able to engage the consumer in supporting the high standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental care that lie at the heart of British farming and that they cannot be undermined by misleading labelling of competing products. A vital part of facilitating that shift in priorities will be to ensure that this country has far more rigorous and transparent food labelling. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Richard Bacon, Keith Hill, Mr. Keith Simpson, Andrew Mackinlay, Mr. David Heath, Mr. Stephen O’Brien, Mr. David Ruffley, Angus Robertson, Mr. Roger Williams and Sir Nicholas Winterton.

Food Labelling

Mr. Richard Bacon accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision for relevant information about food, including information about the country of origin, contents and standards of production of that food, to be made available to consumers by labelling, marking or in other ways; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 November, and to be printed [Bill 157].

Opposition Day

[11th Allotted Day—Second Part]

Olympic Legacy

[Relevant documents: The Sixth Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 104-1, London 2012 Games: the next lap, the Government response, Cm 7437, and the uncorrected transcript of evidence taken before the Committee on 7th October 2008, HC 1071-i, on London 2012 Games: Lessons from Beijing.]

I beg to move,

That this House congratulates the British team on its superb results in Beijing, which should provide an excellent platform for its performance in London 2012; notes with concern however the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Report of 23rd April 2008, which highlighted the inadequate preparations for an Olympic sporting legacy from London 2012; is disappointed with the Government’s legacy action plan which is largely a restatement of existing commitments; notes that the London Olympic Games will be the biggest sporting event in the history of the UK; and calls upon the Government to ensure that the UK lives up to the promise made in July 2005 in Singapore that the London 2012 Olympic Games will be used to leave a lasting sporting legacy.

The Opposition have been unstinting in our support for London 2012. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), when he was leader of the Conservative party, gave his personal assurance at the time of the bid that London 2012 would have the full support of a future Conservative Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), the shadow Olympics and Sports Minister, was in Singapore for the bid, stressing and underlining the cross-party nature of the support for the project.

The Government may say today that by initiating this Opposition day debate on the Olympic legacy, we are somehow breaking the Olympic consensus: nothing could be further from the truth. It is because we are passionately determined to ensure that London 2012 is a huge success that we have a duty to speak up when we think that things are going wrong.

May I bring to the hon. Gentleman’s attention some of the points that we heard earlier in Prime Minister’s Question Time? There was, frankly, very little support for borrowing. Would he concede that the Olympic programme is founded on a massive construction project, and that unless we make commitments of the kind that this Government have made to the construction companies, we will go belly-up and we will not have any Olympics full stop?

I agree completely with the hon. Lady that those construction projects need to go ahead, and within budget. The Opposition have totally supported the fact that some changes inevitably need to be made in a situation such as the financial crisis that we currently face, and I shall talk about those changes in a few minutes. My point is that when something goes wrong in a project of this scale, it is important to speak up. We did that over the appalling budget miscalculations that meant that the budget for the Olympics had to be virtually tripled, leading to hugely damaging effects on the national lottery good causes. We are speaking up now over the Olympic legacy, which is not only one of the most important elements of the 2012 project, but one of those most in danger of not being delivered.

Our concern is not primarily about the economic legacy, and our motion is not about that. We recognise that the project will bring huge and vitally needed regeneration to five of the poorest boroughs in London, although there are concerns about the possible reduction in the number of houses being built and the threats hanging over the money being invested in upgrading the North London line. Our motion is about the sporting legacy, which divides into two distinct areas. The first is the so-called hard legacy, which is the one that will be left behind by the venues built for the Olympics. The second is the soft legacy, which is the increase in sporting participation that should happen in not only the Olympic sports—that increase is welcome—but all sports. That will provide a challenge, because, as the Government’s own report acknowledges, participation in sport has decreased in a number of the host cities after they have held the Olympics.

Ensuring that the reverse happens is a challenge that we must meet, because these Olympics will cost every household—every family—in the country £500. They will cost the equivalent of £7 million every day from today until the opening ceremony, and that cost is being borne by taxpayers throughout the country. Thus, it is only right, proper and fair that the benefits should also be felt throughout the country. With a sporting legacy, the 2012 games can be a huge success; without it, they will be a gross betrayal of the promises made by Britain both to the world and to its own people.

The Government legacy action plan says that

“it is right that there is no separately costed London 2012 Games legacy plan.”

Of course legacy projects need to be integrated into the main projects, but the danger of not having a separately costed plan is that when the going gets tough, they are the bit that gets cut. We are concerned about signs that that is exactly what is beginning to happen. At the time of the bid, huge play was made of the fact that the facilities constructed for volleyball, basketball and water polo would be temporary and relocatable, so that after the Olympics they could be taken down and moved to another part of the country, which could then benefit from the Olympic legacy. That will not happen in respect of volleyball, which will take place at Earls Court, or fencing, which will take place at the ExCeL centre, and there are signs that Sport England is backtracking in respect of some of the other sports.

That has led the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport to say the following on page 37 of its sixth report of Session 2007-08:

“We are concerned at signs of a creeping reduction in relocatable venues. Every decision not to construct a temporary relocatable venue reduces the scope for the nations and regions to share in the…legacy”.

There was also huge concern when the shooting was moved from Bisley to the Royal Artillery barracks at Woolwich, where what will be constructed will be entirely temporary, leaving no legacy at all. The Select Committee report stated that it is

“highly regrettable that the site chosen for shooting events is not one which commands the support of any of the constituent bodies of British Shooting, and we believe that more should have been done to explore alternative sites”.

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the site for the shooting in Woolwich, in my constituency. Will he please tell the House whether his party is in favour of moving shooting to another location and, if so, to which one?

My party is in favour of exactly what the Select Committee says: that, wherever possible, we should ensure that there is a permanent legacy. The current plans for shooting do not allow any legacy to be created, and we think it highly regrettable that more research was not done into making possible some kind of legacy for shooting from the Olympics.

May I ask the Secretary of State about design? When venues are being built, it is important that the potential legacy tenants—the people who will use the venues after the Olympics have finished—have some input into the design. Can he explain why design decisions have been taken before legacy tenants have been confirmed? That makes legacy use more expensive and less attractive to potential tenants. I compare that with what happened during the 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester, when Manchester city was confirmed as a legacy tenant right from the outset, which meant that there could be a smooth transition and that a legacy could be assured.

This June, the Government finally published their legacy action plan—three years after winning the bid and following two warnings from the Select Committee that they needed to get a move on. If the plan had been even barely adequate, however, we would not be having this debate. However, the fact is that it contains simply a series of re-announcements and only one new idea. The Government re-announced the promise of five hours of sport per week. That is fine as an aspiration, but when unpicked it works out at £15 per school per week to increase the amount of sport from two to five hours a week for every pupil. They also re-announced the target of making 2 million people more active, which dates from March 2007, as well as the medals target, which dates back to the 2006 Budget. They also re-announced decisions in a Department for Transport plan to boost cycling and a Department of Health plan to encourage healthy eating by babies. We should not plan the 2012 legacy by cobbling together every single programme with vague links to sport and the Olympics. This is not about looking at what we are already doing, but about what we could do.

One new idea has been proposed: free swimming for under-16s and over-60s. Of course we welcome anything that encourages swimming, especially because it comes top of the list of sports that people say they would be interested in taking up. However, local councils say that not nearly enough money has been put aside to finance the plan. I would like to mention a matter that I brought to the Secretary of State’s attention during the last Culture, Media and Sport questions. He received a letter from the Labour leader of Stevenage council—in the Minister of State’s constituency—telling him that the average cost for a district council of implementing the scheme for the over-60s alone would represent a 2 per cent. increase in council tax. Is this really the time—when families up and down the country are struggling—for the Department to fund its schemes by bludgeoning its councils into back-door rises in council tax?

I introduced free swimming to the London borough of Newham when I was head of its culture department. We found that it did not increase our overheads or costs, because it brought in people who had not swum there previously. It also had the knock-on effect of advertising and promoting the other services available in the leisure centre that otherwise would not have been seen by that client group. Furthermore, those people spent additional money on food, drink and other services available in the centre, which subsidised some of the fixed overheads of the swimming pool.

In that case, will the hon. Lady speak to the Labour leader of Stevenage council, who has a very different view about the cost of the scheme? Will she also condemn the decision announced by Newham council on 14 October to cancel its plans for a leisure pool as part of the Olympic legacy, which will come as a huge disappointment to its residents?

Information that we have just received about the under-16s part of the scheme identifies the fact that the funding that the Government have put on the table accounts for less than half of the scheme’s total likely cost. The Secretary of State calls it a challenge fund—the only challenge is for councils to decide whether to cut services or raise council tax to fund it. That is an example of the Government over-promising and under-delivering at its worst. Even Labour councils are up in arms over what is happening.

I chaired the recent county sports partnership meeting in Leicestershire. We have asked all our local authorities to work together to ensure that we put together a Leicestershire-wide bid, rather than individual ones. The figures that came back varied enormously and had no basis—literally, they were almost made up. I fear that, in some circumstances, the hon. Gentleman’s figures come from people just flying a little kite. Will he join me in expecting much more detailed work from local authorities, rather than the usual scare story that local authorities need more money?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s involvement in county sports partnerships, which are extremely positive initiatives. I got my information from a freedom of information request. We received responses from hundreds of councils about the expected costs.

The hon. Gentleman has again displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what we seek to achieve through the free swimming scheme. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) said, it began in local government. Councils were doing this themselves using funds at a local level, from primary care trust and council funds. We have put in place a national fund to help an initiative that began in local government. The logic of the system now in place for local government means that councils can set their own priorities. Eighty councils have selected the sports participation indicator as a priority. This is entirely in keeping with the system of priority setting in local government, at local level. The hon. Gentleman seems repeatedly to fail to understand that point.

If it was a partnership with local councils, why was it spun to the media when the announcement was made as a promise that the Government would deliver free swimming for the over-60s and under-16s? That was the message in all the headlines.

The best comment on the Government’s legacy action plan came from Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the Central Council of Physical Recreation. In a statement issued this morning he said that, apart from the swimming proposals,

“The rest of the proposals”—

in the legacy action plan—

“are little more than existing plans which have been re-badged…there has been a real poverty of ambition about the Government’s thinking.”

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves his point about swimming, does he agree that although we would all support opportunities, if properly funded, to get those who can swim to do more of it, the plan seems to have forgotten about getting more people to learn to swim? Would not the money have been better targeted at more swimming teachers and ensuring that swimming pools are available at times when pupils can learn to swim, rather than filling them up with those who can swim already outside those times?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I do not think that any of the schemes can work in isolation. The coaching and teaching is very important. I completely accept that making something free can excite public interest. We do not criticise the principle of local councils deciding that they want to boost swimming participation by making it free; we criticise the fact that it was announced as a big Government initiative to make it free for the over-60s and under-16s, when in fact that tab is being picked up through the back door by council tax payers.

Is not the fundamental point that this is a cobbling together of initiatives that would have existed already, at a national level? Only London government under the Conservative administration has recognised that if the legacy issues are not dealt with, we risk losing support for the whole Olympic project in London, particularly in south London where my constituents are becoming strongly opposed to the Olympics because there is no prospect of a legacy. For example, places such as Crystal Palace are not being invested in at all.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the first things that the new Mayor of London did was to set up a legacy board of advisers and ring-fence money from the London Development Agency to be used for creating an Olympic legacy, boosting participation in sports and increasing money for coaching. The Conservatives are interested in action, not words.

Although encouraging people to swim is vital, a swimming pool in my neighbouring constituency of Ilford, South has just closed down for health and safety reasons. Does my hon. Friend agree that it might be beneficial for the Government to help replace that swimming pool to ensure a true legacy? It could also be used as an Olympic training facility.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. People have also been concerned about the cloud of misinformation about the number of swimming pools open. The Government have released figures that included swimming pools at private clubs among those considered open to the public.

I understand completely why my hon. Friend emphasises swimming and the sporting legacy, but he will know from his other responsibilities that many people are fearful that one of the legacies of the Olympic games, because of the diversion of resources, will be leaking cathedrals, crumbling churches and other cultural assets being put at risk. Will he briefly address that point?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the House’s attention to an extremely important consequence of the appalling budget miscalculations that the Government made with regard to the Olympics, which meant that they had to dip into national lottery funds, with an appalling cost to lottery good causes. I agree with him. We do not want this to be a legacy just for the Olympics, and that is why the Opposition have a proposal to return the lottery to its original four pillars, which will restore that much-needed money to the arts, heritage and charities sectors, which are also extremely important when it comes to the overall legacy of 2012.

Can we concentrate on the positive? I had a lot to do with the 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester. One of the outstanding successes in the legacy of those games was the velodrome in Manchester. I believe that the recent success of our cyclists in the Olympic games in Beijing was based on that legacy. I have two constituents who between them won five gold medals for cycling in the Paralympics. To my mind, the example set in the Olympic games can produce that legacy. Surely the Government should concentrate on allowing people to use the facilities that will be built in order to stage a grand and successful Olympics. Is that not the way to proceed, rather than expressing the negative attitudes that are coming from both sides of the House about what the Olympics in 2012 can achieve for the UK?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I entirely agree with him. The example set by people such as Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy and Rebecca Romero is very inspiring. I believe that since those successes, the sales of bicycles have doubled. My hon. Friend will also be interested to know that 73 per cent. of the funding for our top cyclists came not from the Government but from the national lottery. That is why the national lottery plays such an important role.

My hon. Friend has been very kind about the Select Committee, which, as I am sure he will agree, is ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). Does my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) agree that it is not just crumbling churches that have suffered as a result of the lack of control over the Olympic budget? Grass-roots sporting organisations are having their funding taken away from them. The sporting legacy will not be delivered by the people watching the Olympics on TV, as most people will do. It can be delivered only by organisations such as those in my constituency—if they continue to receive lottery support for grass-roots sport, so that kids get involved in the first place.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Since the Government came into power, 80 per cent. of the funding for grass-roots sport has come not from the Government but from the lottery. Ministers’ consistent raids on lottery funds for their pet projects have meant that the amount of lottery money going into grass-roots sports has declined from £397 million in 1997 to £209 million. It has nearly halved, so my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Let me draw my hon. Friend’s attention to another responsibility of the Select Committee, which is tourism. There is virtually nothing in the report about the tourism legacy. It is true that the Government have never prioritised tourism, and it is worth reminding the Secretary of State that it is an £85 billion industry that employs 2 million people.

Last year, we were promised a four-year marketing campaign that would welcome the world to Britain. What has happened? The VisitBritain budget has been cut by 18 per cent. over the next three years, and our tourism market share, which has gone down by 10 per cent. since the Government came to power, continues to decline. We are missing a golden opportunity to set the tourism industry right and to allow it to embrace the huge opportunity offered by the fact that the eyes of the world will be focused on this country and this city in 2012.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is even more important that we have a good legacy for tourism? Those whom I represent in my part of Warwickshire are unlikely to receive a direct legacy from the sporting events and are unlikely to see a significant increase in grass-roots sports. They might see an increase in tourism from those who come to London and are then persuaded to leave London and to visit the rest of the country. If they do not see that legacy, it will be harder to persuade them to get fully behind the Olympic ideal, as we would all wish them to do.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course the challenge of the Olympics, as far as tourism is concerned, is that in the year of the Olympics it is not necessarily the case that more visitors come to the country. Sometimes, people are put off because they think that everyone else is coming, and it will be difficult to get flights and hotels. In fact, in Beijing this year hotel bookings were significantly down compared with last year because of the Beijing Olympics. My hon. Friend is right, and that is why we have to ensure that we identify the opportunities offered to showcase the whole of Britain to the world, grasp the bull by the horns and do something to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That is not happening.

Since my hon. Friend mentions the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I am sure that in his wide-ranging and impressive speech he will be planning to cover the cultural legacy, which is an important feature of the Government’s proposals. They are short of ideas. Does he agree that an outstanding idea from the Opposition, which I hope the Government will take away, would be to recognise the important contribution that this country has made to the Olympics by choosing a suitable site in the Olympic park to recognise the contribution of Dr. William Penny Brookes and the Wenlock Olympian Society to the origins of the modern Olympics?

I thank my hon. Friend for that important contribution, and agree entirely that we need to do more to recognise the Wenlock Olympian Society. The cultural Olympiad must be an important part of what London offers the world in 2012.

Let me return to what my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) said about the way in which the performance of our top athletes can inspire people to take up sports. It is not just sales of cycles that have doubled. Sales of swimwear at Tesco have doubled since the success of Rebecca Adlington. Athletes need financial support, so will the Secretary of State explain why his Department has virtually broken the promise made in 2006 to raise £100 million from commercial sources to support our top athletes? Is it not the case that when the Government made that commitment they totally failed to understand what they could and could not raise from sponsorship? Is it not also the case that they failed to do anything for two years when economic conditions were much more favourable, and that now that the economic tide has turned there is a risk that that money will not materialise?

How different the Government’s approach is from that of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, which is organising the games and last week signed up Cadbury as a tier 2 sponsor. The committee has to raise a lot more money, but it has already managed to raise two thirds of the money that it needs, four years ahead of schedule. Paul Deighton, the chief executive of LOCOG, said:

“If ever a strategy of going early was borne out it’s now.”

The Government, who had to raise only £100 million, sat on their hands. Three Culture Secretaries later, not a penny has been raised. Once again, they failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining.

The Secretary of State knows the power of British sporting performance in inspiring grass-roots participation.

The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way. I have listened patiently to him and I am afraid that his argument is a long way away from my understanding of the impact of the Olympics. I represent a constituency 200 miles away, near Liverpool, yet our local authority has applied for funding for the Olympics, and has received it. Our health authority is introducing a huge number of initiatives on the back of the Olympics programme. We are feeling the benefit, and we are miles away. We feel really excited about the programme. We do not get any of the big buildings, but we have seen the development of community centres, swimming pools and an integrated health plan to support health. I wanted the hon. Gentleman to know that, because it is my experience, and I would guess that it is not unique.

I want the Olympics to inspire every schoolchild in every school in Crosby. That is a vital part of our Olympic legacy. That is why we are having this debate. We are concerned that what the Government have published does not amount to anything substantive. It is because we are concerned that there will not be a substantive legacy for the schoolchildren in her constituency that we are having this debate.

Let me tell the Secretary of State that the failure to understand the critical role of the national lottery is an essential factor in why it has been so difficult to secure an Olympic legacy. This January, the Government were forced to raid another £675 million from lottery money for good causes. That was described as a “cut too far”—not by us, but by Derek Mapp, the chairman of Sport England. He was promptly sacked, presumably for what he said, and that created turmoil in the very organisation charged with boosting mass participation in sport.

The Government’s amendment asks us to welcome the “reform” of Sport England, but will the Secretary of State confirm that no successor to Derek Mapp will be appointed until well into the new year? If so, that would mean that that critical organisation will be without a leader at one of the most important times in its history.

The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he would not break any cross-party consensus on the Olympics, but he has gone on to make a series of what I would call nit-picking points. Can he say, at that Dispatch Box, what he would have done differently on funding the Olympics?

Yes, I can. We would have returned the lottery to its original four pillars, which would have meant much more money going into legacy. We supported the Olympic budget, but this debate is about the Olympic legacy. One way that we could secure much more money to create a sporting legacy is to return the lottery to its original four pillars.

In Scotland, we are set to lose up to £200 million of lottery spending, and that will have an impact on good causes and grass-roots sports in every constituency. We are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, so does the hon. Gentleman think that there is a case for us getting back some or all of that money to pay for our legacy in Glasgow?

I think that creating support for a sporting legacy is as important for the Commonwealth games as it is for the Olympics. Returning the lottery to its original four pillars could create an extra £400 million for grass-roots sport in the decade following 2012. That would mean that more money would go into sport in Scotland, Wales and every corner of the country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one problem with how the budget is being implemented is that the Government are spending far too much on consulting, advising, mentoring, watching and auditing, and not enough on just delivering the facilities?

My right hon. Friend makes a telling point, as I would expect. It is true that the amount of money spent purely on consultancy is huge—at more than £400 million, it has raised a lot of eyebrows. Many question marks have been raised about the amount spent on consultants for the Olympics project, and for many other projects that the Government have set up.

The construction of venues is the responsibility of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and that is on track. The organisation of the games is the responsibility of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, and that too is on track. The legacy of the games is the Government’s responsibility: it is a critical area, yet the Government are failing to deliver. One reason for that is that the legacy responsibility has fallen between the cracks, having been divided between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Government Olympic Executive and the Minister for the Olympics.

It could be so different. We could start by returning the lottery to its four pillars, and we could have credible, achievable objectives for every child in every school in the country.

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman very carefully, and I paid special attention to his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Is he saying that he would like Scotland’s lottery money to be returned to Scotland, especially given that Scotland is building for the Commonwealth games and hoping to create its own legacy from them? Would he go further and increase funding for Scotland from other parts of the lottery, as is happening with London in respect of the Olympics?

The point about the national lottery is that it is played throughout the country, so its benefits need to be felt throughout the country. The Government have had to raid good causes because of their miscalculations over the Olympics, and that has meant that the lottery is not operating as it should. We want to return it to its original four pillars so that lottery players in Scotland can benefit from their contributions, just as lottery players throughout the country do.

The hon. Gentleman has just used a phrase that is incorrect. I heard him say that we should return the lottery to its “original four pillars”, but the previous Conservative Government created it with five pillars, one of which was the millennium fund. Has he forgotten that?

No, but the Culture Secretary may not have noticed that we are a long way past 2000 now. As a result, it is possible to wind up the Millennium Commission. I am not sure that many people in this House would say that how the commission spent its money was an especially good example of how lottery funding can be spent. Both sides of the House bear responsibility for what happened with the dome.

I shall conclude by saying that we need vision. Where is the plan to send Olympians and Paralympians to every school in the country to fire up children with the Olympic vision? Where is the curriculum material that will mean that the Olympics can be integrated into what children are taught? We had such material for the Commonwealth games in Manchester, but there is no sign of it for 2012.

Where is the plan to link sports clubs better to their local schools, so that we can reduce the current high drop-off rates when people leave school and stop playing sport? Most importantly, where is the imagination and determination to make sure that we get a legacy in the constrained and difficult financial circumstances in which we find ourselves?

When the Olympics have gone, we are unlikely to see them back in this country in our lifetime. Therefore, let us use them to inspire a lifetime of sport and sporting values, because we have only one chance.

I beg to move, To leave out from “House” to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof :

“applauds the British Olympic and Paralympic teams for their superb performance in Beijing which should provide an excellent platform for their performance in London 2012; recognises that the increase in public funding for elite programmes has helped contribute to this success; notes that a decade of sustained investment at every level of sport–school, community and elite–has laid the strongest possible foundations for this Olympic period; welcomes the recent School Sport Survey which shows that 90 per cent. of children are doing two hours of sport a week; further welcomes the reform of Sport England that will build a world-class sport development system; and endorses the Government’s Legacy Action Plan, including measures that will make a reality of the promise made in Singapore in 2005 to make two million people more active by 2012.”

It is not something that I do often, but I shall begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) for calling this debate. Sport matters greatly to millions of people in this country, yet the occasions when their national Parliament focuses on it and debates it in detail are rare indeed.

The Secretary of State paid tribute to the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) for calling this debate, but does he nevertheless feel that this is a missed opportunity? We are playing politics with this important subject rather than working together to build a positive legacy for people. An example of what I mean is the proposal to build a bike track at Hadleigh in my constituency. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should work together to build a legacy based on the wonderful achievements of our Olympians and Paralympians, and on the great achievements made by men and women in sport across our country?

I am glad that the full parliamentary strength of the UK Independence party is behind the Government’s efforts to build a successful Olympics. Like the hon. Gentleman, I picked up a churlish note in the speech by the shadow Culture Secretary. That was disappointing, because although I congratulated him on calling this debate, I was not encouraged by the tone of his remarks.

I was about to say that the next four years present us all, as Olympic hosts, with a unique opportunity. Indeed, it is a one-off opportunity as we will not again in our lifetimes get this chance to change permanently the place of sport in our society.

I agree that today should be an opportunity to try to rebuild a consensus about the Olympics. I shall come to my criticisms of the legacy plan later, but I wanted to intervene on the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) towards the end of his speech, as I was waiting for the bit when he would announce the Opposition’s plans. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the hon. Gentleman’s speech was heavy on analysis but very light on policy specifics?

That is a perfect summary. The hon. Gentleman’s speech was a series of nit-picking points about the Government’s proposals, but not once did we hear a substantive suggestion about what the Conservative party would do differently to alter the place of sport in this country.

The right hon. Gentleman and I have played football together a number of times in a very consensual manner for the parliamentary team, so perhaps I can start my intervention from that base. Does he accept—

Does the Culture Secretary accept that, because of the decline in spending on sport after the raids on the lottery, it is the role of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt)—

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey is absolutely right to point out that spending decline to the right hon. Gentleman, as we must make sure that the legacy is good and proper.

Order. We must not have continued interventions from the Back Bench—

I fear I agree with the sedentary interventions, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are funding an Olympic games that will be the biggest boost that sport in the UK has ever received. The Olympics will lift sport to a place in our national life that it has never occupied before.

The shadow Culture Secretary’s remarks were light on analysis. When the available lottery pot for Sport England is combined with the extra Exchequer investment available to Sport England in the current spending review period, Sport England will be operating with an increased budget for school and community sport during that period, rather than a diminished one.

My right hon. Friend and I have a keen interest in one of the best sports in the world—rugby league. How will he ensure that rugby league benefits from the legacy and how will he ensure that Sport England takes seriously the importance of rugby league and moves away from the sports it always seems to support?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend who makes the case for rugby league, which is a sport important to his constituency and mine. I am sure that he will join me in wishing the England rugby league team success. We congratulate them on their winning start in the rugby league world cup at the weekend. We will see a benefit for rugby league. Under the leadership of Richard Lewis, the sport has made great strides recently in investing in its club structure. I am lucky that Leigh Centurions and Leigh Miners rugby clubs are two of the strongest amateur clubs in the country. Rugby league is agreeing a whole-sport plan with Sport England, which will give the league the wherewithal to develop the sport during the Olympic period, as others wish to do.

I shall give way to the shadow Culture Secretary and to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) but then I want to make progress.

The Culture Secretary has just said that total funding for grass-roots sports has increased, so can he explain why answers supplied by his Department to my parliamentary questions show that the amount of money going to sport from the lottery and from grant in aid is £135 million less than when his Government came to power?

I will supply the hon. Gentleman with the exact figures for the total spending over the three-year period, comparing the last spending review with the current one. He mentioned grant in aid, but I think he may have missed out the extra money given to school sport to fund the five-hour offer in schools. Much of that money will go into developing sport in the further education sector and school-club links. I will clarify the figures because it is an important point, but I am confident of my statistics.

We have heard how people were inspired by watching British Olympic success in Beijing. They watched those games on television and the vast majority of people in the UK will watch the London 2012 games on television, so can the Secretary of State explain why there will be such a big increase in sporting legacy after a London Olympics compared to the Beijing games? The only difference is that organisations such as the lottery will have less money to distribute to sport.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is not fabled for his imagination, but he should try to think of the possibility of an Olympic team training on his doorstep, at a local training camp. Can he not imagine what that will do to inspire—[Interruption.] I am sure that national teams will train in west Yorkshire. He should think about how positive that will be and not be so cynical. His constituents under the age of 25 will not be anywhere near as cynical as he is about the Olympic games.

The Secretary of State talks rightly about increased investment in sport in schools, but the uncomfortable fact is that Britain has the highest post-school drop-out rate for participation in sport. We have heard about the cut in funding for grass-roots sports, so what are the Government doing to plug the gap between schools and the 125,000 sports clubs across the UK? Most of those clubs are voluntary organisations and we all know from our constituencies that they have great potential to keep our young people fit, active and engaged.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which relates to a large part of the substance of what I want to say. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics has just reminded me that part of the funding package I was outlining to the hon. Member for South-West Surrey includes a guarantee of three hours of sport for 16 to 19-year-olds. It is an important aspect and I shall address it during my remarks, but I am glad that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) raised it.

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) but then I shall have to make progress.

I want to be positive because I view the 2012 games with huge optimism. We have referred to the Commonwealth games in 2002. May I ask the Secretary of State two questions? First, what conversations and discussions has he had with those who were involved in the Commonwealth games about the legacy of the games? In an earlier intervention, I mentioned the velodrome and my constituents, Sarah and Barney, who won five gold medals at the Paralympics. They did wonderfully well. Sarah won gold—

Order. The hon. Gentleman will have to content himself with one question. Interventions are getting longer and longer and many people want to participate in the debate, so the Secretary of State should respond—

I will take the question, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and then I will make progress.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield made an excellent point. Experience in Manchester directly informs how the London games are being brought forward, but the same cynical points that his Back-Bench colleague made about the Olympic games were made about Manchester. People said that we were building white elephant facilities that would have no legacy. The gold medals for cycling in Beijing were made in Manchester from the investment in the velodrome and all the associated infrastructure for British cycling. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to get these things right, but he makes the point very well indeed. I speak regularly with Sir Howard Bernstein, Richard Leese and others who were pivotally involved in the decisions about the Manchester Commonwealth games. We got it right then and we will get it right in London 2012.

I hope that we can use today’s debate to agree across the House that the Olympic period should be used to raise the place and prominence of sport in national life and debate, and that by doing so, we will make Britain a more active and world-leading sporting nation. It is precisely because of the scale of our ambition on that point, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics has reminded us many times, that we were successful in Singapore in winning the games for Britain. Today, I shall update the House on our progress in delivering a permanent sporting legacy. However, although I shall focus on sport, it is important to remind the Olympic cynics that our legacy goes much wider—tourism, skills, culture and regeneration.

Given that there is now a lot of unused capacity in building and construction, can we look forward to a fall in the advertised prices of facilities that are not yet under contract? That will relieve some of the pressure on the sporting legacy budget.

We can be assured that in the Olympic Delivery Authority we have a team of professionals who are managing the projects with skill and precision. They have already been commended for the tremendous progress they have made so far, and the right hon. Gentleman can be assured that they are taking every step necessary to secure the best value for the public money involved.

In a moment. I want to make some progress and go through the four key elements in our Olympic sporting legacy.

First, our over-arching and ambitious goal is to have 2 million more people active by 2012. Secondly, every young person in England should have the opportunity to participate in five hours of sport in and out of school. Thirdly, we shall create a world-class community sport system and an improved club structure through a refocusing of Sport England and an enhanced role for our national governing bodies. Finally, we shall have an enhanced system for funding elite sport through the creation of a mixed economy of three funding streams—lottery, Exchequer and private sources. That will be the permanent legacy from our Olympic games. Taken together, those measures represent a coherent sports policy with investment at every level. Success at elite level will drive more participation at the grass roots, and improved facilities and coaching at the grass roots will keep young people active in sport and expand our talent pool.

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. He took an intervention from the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) about consultants, and I want to return to that point. Allegedly, £400 million has been spent on consultants, but does the Secretary of State not agree that we need to employ consultants to secure the very best contracts and the best value for people? Moreover, what is the point of securing a contract if one does not put in place a structure to monitor compliance with that contract? I happen to think that the spending was a good investment, and I hope that the Secretary of State does, too.

We should not be at all shy of saying that we will make use of the best expertise and professionals to ensure that we get the best possible value. These are complex projects; they need to be managed properly. At times, that will involve bringing in the best in the business to make sure that we get the best possible value. We should not be at all coy on that point.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he has been very generous with his time. He mentioned the lottery. In Scotland, we are set to lose £150 million for good causes involved in grass-roots sports at the very time we are trying to create a legacy from the Commonwealth games in Glasgow. Does he agree with all parties in the Scottish Parliament—and with the Secretary of State for Scotland, who agrees with this position—that the money should be returned, so that we can ensure a legacy from Glasgow 2014?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will continue to have incredibly close dialogue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to make sure that Glasgow 2014 is as successful as London 2012 and Manchester 2002. That is what we want. I give him a commitment that I will maintain that dialogue, but I must remind him that the Olympic games is a British project, for which Great Britain bid, and it will benefit all of Great Britain. Indeed, the football will take place in Scotland. Surprisingly, his party took advantage of the Beijing games to call for a Scottish Olympic team. I do not think that that was in line with the mood of the country at the time. It wants a British team to have a successful games in the capital city. However, we will make sure that the Commonwealth games in Glasgow are a success, too.

I want to draw the Secretary of State’s attention to concerns that local authorities are expressing about their ability to brand programmes that they are already running. I understand that my local authority has just had it confirmed that it can use the term, “Team Sutton”, but concerns remain about the fact that it cannot use the term “London 2012”, which will mean that the programmes remain relatively low-profile.

Of course, we have to ensure that the money that we need to raise privately to fund the Olympics and the building of the Olympic infrastructure is not compromised, and that there is not an overcrowded field in which everybody seeks to use the association with the Olympics. Local authorities can be associated with the Olympics through the “Inspire” brand that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics has been so creative in bringing forward. I hope that that will give local authorities the marketing that they need.

I must make progress, but I will give way later. Before we address the elements of the legacy, it is important to reflect on the changes and the progress that we have made in the past 10 years. I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating the British Olympic and Paralympic teams in Beijing on their tremendous success. Britain won an incredible 102 medals in the Paralympics and 47 in the Olympics; it was Britain’s best medal haul in more than a century. Every single one of those medals was won by the hard work of athletes, with support from their coaches, who are often forgotten, and sacrifices from their families. Again, that is too often forgotten when we celebrate the achievements of our fine athletes.

Public funding helped, and it is important to remember that Olympic success is built not just on funding at elite level, but on a decade of investment at every level of sport—school, community and elite. That has not always been the case, and for all the lectures that we heard this afternoon from the Opposition, let us remind ourselves of where sport was back in 1996. At Atlanta in 1996, Britain won one gold medal and was 36th in the medals table. It was our worst Olympic performance ever. That was not just bad luck; it is what we get when we neglect and under-invest in this country’s sporting infrastructure at every level over a long period. The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) shakes his head, but I saw first-hand—

I will not give way just now, because I am making an important point. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman needs to listen to this point. I saw it—[Interruption.]

Order. We must not have interventions from a sedentary position. Interventions must be made in the proper way, otherwise the debate is totally disrupted.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I saw it with my own eyes: after-school competitive sport was simply allowed to crumble away, and it was not the fault of loony left councils. Competitive sport has always been a bedrock of community life in areas such as St. Helens, where I went to school. That change was the result of failure to respond to one of the key elements of the teachers’ dispute of the mid-1980s. We saw the collapse of an informal, ad hoc, voluntary system of providing after-school sport, and no alternative was put in its place, which deprived millions of children of a quality introduction to sport during their school years. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent wants to dispute that record of events, he should stand up now and do so.

I will. First, the Secretary of State just criticised us for making so-called party political points. Looking at the Olympic medal tables in the 1980s and early 1990s, we see that we came ninth, 11th, 12th and 13th in those years; he knows that perfectly well. He, of course, has picked the one year in the last 30-year cycle to suit his argument, which was a rather silly party political point. He also knows that it was overwhelmingly left-wing Labour councils that pursued an anti-competitive-sport agenda that did huge damage to the competitive sport system in this country.

I just do not accept that that is correct at all. If the hon. Gentleman looks back, he will see that the effect of the teachers’ dispute was that after-school sport ended. I do not believe that that was the result of political ideology, as the Conservatives always claim. It was the effect of the teachers’ dispute, and experts in the field will back me up on that. Not only were there fewer opportunities for young people to play sport, but there were fewer places where they could do so. Playing fields were sold off in their thousands. It was an era when this country’s sporting fabric, in schools and at community level, went into serious decline.

No record was taken of the number of playing fields sold before 2000, and since 2001 well over 50 playing fields have been sold every single year. In 1999, the Government abolished compulsory competitive sports for the over-14s. At the time, the Secretary of State was special adviser to the then Secretary of State. Was that the right decision or the wrong decision?

On the point about playing fields, tests were put in place by the new Government in 1997 to ensure that there was no net loss of sporting amenities. Every application since then has been checked by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, or by Sport England, to ensure that if a playing field was disposed of, the proceeds were reinvested so that the community was provided with equivalent or better sports provision. That is a much better system than the one that was left to us by the hon. Gentleman’s party in 1996. Is he defending that record? I do not think that he is.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, it may introduce a note of harmony if I remind the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) that you and I remember the 1948 Olympics. What we really want as the major sporting legacy of the 2012 Olympics is a love of sport for its own sake, without regard for filthy lucre. We want sportsmen and women who can inspire young people at school, as we and our fellows were inspired all those years ago. That is what we want.

I agree wholeheartedly. We need to encourage a sense of the simple joy of sport among young people. A quality introduction—coaching and competition—for all young people will encourage them to find a joy in sport for life.

I will give way to my hon. Friends in a moment.

We are providing just such an introduction. The steps taken to put school sport back on its feet have been mentioned; in the past decade, £4 billion has been invested in school, community and elite sport, and in the past five years more than £1.5 billion has gone to physical education and school sport alone. We are seeing the results.

Let us look at the headline statistics from the school sport survey, published just two weeks ago. Some 90 per cent. of pupils now participate in at least two hours a week of high-quality PE and sport; only a quarter of pupils did so in 2002. Competitive sport is on the increase. Some 66 per cent. of pupils are involved in intra-school competitive activities, which is up from 58 per cent. last year. Some 41 per cent. of pupils are involved in inter-school competition—up from 35 per cent. last year. On average, each school offers 17.5 sports —up from 14.5 in 2003-04.

To answer the previous point about school-club links, I should say that 32 per cent. of pupils participated in a local club linked to their school, up from 19 per cent. in 2004. Forget the exchanges that we have had—those are the facts. School sport is back on its feet, and I am incredibly proud of those statistics.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our paltry number of Olympic medals in the years that he has not mentioned today came on the back of investment in private facilities? Sport was then very unegalitarian, but this Government have extended opportunity to all. My school grounds are now safe for my children to play in; they have not been sold for development. In addition, my teachers are well paid as a result of the Government and they are prepared to do what the Conservative party denied them the opportunity to do when it was in government.

I agree entirely with that assessment. I should say in praise of John Major that he recognised the importance of sport and—belatedly—tried to put measures in place to benefit it. It is important that that should be recognised, and I do recognise it. The difficulty for Conservative Members is that that came right at the end of their 18 years in government and they did not leave sufficient time for any appreciable impact to be felt. John Major came with the right instincts and good ideas, but they were not made into reality. It was left to this Government to pick up the threads and turn the situation around. The statistics tell us that the situation in schools has been turned around.