House of Commons
Monday 21 June 2010
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Committee of Selection
That Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Tony Cunningham, Michael Fabricant, Mr Mark Francois, Mark Hunter, Helen Jones, Mr Frank Roy, Mr John Spellar and Angela Watkinson be members of the Committee of Selection until the end of the current Session.—(Angela Watkinson.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—
Local and Regional Media
It is a fundamental priority for this Government to reform the regulatory structure to allow the emergence of a new generation of local media companies, including high-quality local TV companies, which we have never properly had in this country, and I have already taken steps to make that happen.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on local media. We have a great tradition of local newspapers in this country, including in my constituency the magnificent Selby Times, and not forgetting The Press and Wetherby News. Does he see such local papers playing a role in the development of local television stations?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his position, particularly given his background in the telecoms industry. I hope he can contribute to a discussion of that policy area, given his understanding of convergence between telecoms and broadcast technologies. He is absolutely right that this is not simply about the future of local television, but about the future of our struggling local newspaper sector. He mentioned in glowing terms his local newspapers, but the truth is that for everyone in this country local newspapers are incredibly important as a focus for community activities and in holding locally elected politicians to account. I hope that by relaxing the cross-media ownership rules at a local level, local newspapers such as the ones in his constituency can develop into multi-media operations across different technology platforms.
What the Secretary of State just said flies in the face of the fact that one of his first decisions in government was to scrap the independently funded news consortiums that STV was depending on to deliver its news, which it finds increasingly expensive. STV is now very worried about the future of news, as are the people of Scotland, because we might be left with the BBC as the only pan-Scottish news deliverer on terrestrial television. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that STV can continue delivering news, and to ensure that a plurality of news is provided through terrestrial TV in Scotland?
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that it is absolutely essential that we have a plurality of news provision. However, the previous Government’s policy in that respect was to have two state-funded regional news broadcasters in every part of the country, which I think is the wrong way to ensure plurality of provision. What has worked very well in British broadcasting is that we have some broadcasters funded by the licence fee, others by subscription, and others by advertising. That is what we need to look at, which is why we have a much more ambitious model. STV is obliged to continue broadcasting in Scotland under the terms of the licence until 2014. We need to make sure that new models are up and running by that time so that it is possible to go forward with proper plurality of news provision.
Thousands of my constituents watch BBC’s “Midlands Today” and ITV’s “Central Tonight” news, and indeed, they read the most successful regional paper, the Express and Star. Given that the Government have scrapped independently funded news consortiums, what guarantee can the Secretary give me that ITV will continue to provide a quality regional news service for the west midlands?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her position—I believe that she also name-checked the Express and Star in her maiden speech. If we had Wolverhampton TV, she could name-check that as well, which she should welcome, because that is very much a part of the Government’s vision. ITV news providers are obliged to continue under the terms of their current licences until 2014, as I told the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Miss Begg), so we have a window between now and then in which to allow for the emergence of a new generation of strong, profitable, ambitious and successful local media companies. We are doing that by modernising the regulatory framework, which unfortunately was not done by the previous Government, and which was set up in the pre-internet era. That is why so many local papers are struggling. I hope the hon. Lady supports our plans, because I think that they would be good for local papers in her area and for a new generation of TV companies.
May I welcome the Secretary of State and his Ministers to the Front Bench? As everybody else is doing this, may I also name-check my local newspaper, the Huddersfield Daily Examiner? As someone who used to work in ITV regional news, I know the importance that Ofcom attaches to vibrant local and regional media for local democracy. Bearing in mind the current economic climate, what definite plans does the Secretary of State have for ensuring that ITV regional news provides strong competition for BBC regional news?
I also welcome my hon. Friend, and particularly as someone whose background includes working both as an ITV broadcaster and as a BBC journalist, because BBC journalists have often tended to be represented more on another side of the House. The answer to his question is that we have to ensure that BBC news provision has competition. That is essential, although it is not necessarily the case that that competition must come from ITV; it might come from more local news providers. That is why the plans that we are putting forward will be so significant.
I give a warm welcome to the Secretary of State and his colleagues in their new posts, but could he please explain to the House why he has allowed his Department to be downgraded, in that we have lost 15 minutes from our previously hour-long Question Time?
On regional news, is the reason why the hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster), who is an excellent Member of this House, has been excluded from this Front-Bench team—indeed, why all Liberal Democrats have been excluded—that they agree with us on this question and not with the Secretary of State?
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for the courtesies that he extended to me when I was in his position and he was in mine. He will be amused to know that local newspapers from his area are still being delivered to my private office, because it takes some time to cancel the subscription. I would like now to give him a copy of the Western Morning News, in case he is missing it. Let me tell him that under this Government, my Department has not been downgraded; it has been upgraded, because we are now responsible for the Olympics, which we were not before.
The right hon. Gentleman might like to know that tickets to the Royal Opera House for him and his wife have been delivered to my home in London—tickets that I have been foolish enough to send back to the Department. However, given what he has just said about local and regional news, can he point to a single other European country—not America, where market conditions, including in the advertising markets, are completely different, as he knows—where his model flies?
I cannot, because no other country in the world is trying to allow the emergence of truly cross-platform multi-media local media operators in the way that we are envisaging. If we look at countries such as France and Germany, we see successful local TV stations in places such as Paris and Lyon. I would ask him why, when he was Secretary of State, he did nothing to progress proper local TV in this country, when it is something for which communities up and down the country are crying out.
I welcome this question from my honourable colleague. He has been a long-term campaigner on this issue, and he makes an important point. He will know, because we have had discussions on the issue, that we are committed to moving as fast and as positively as we can towards better arrangements for the performance of live music in small venues. I hope to be able to make an announcement on that in due course. Specifically in answer to his question, we have received one representation from a Member of the House of Lords and one from a member of the public.
I congratulate the Minister and all the Front-Bench team on their appointments. Let me say how delighted I am that the Minister has confirmed that this Government are pressing ahead to improve the position for live music performance in this country, and particularly in small venues. However, I hope that he will agree, first, that no further consultation is necessary, and secondly, that we need to make the case more effectively for more reliable and trusted data on the current position of live music in this country.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the concerns about the quality of the data. I am told that the statistics produced by the Department are all compliant with Office for National Statistics guidelines, but there is a great deal of concern among live music performers in particular that although the data might be technically accurate, they do not represent the whole truth. However, if he or the industry has some specific examples of how they can be improved, I would be delighted to hear them.
I welcome the Minister to his post. Britain’s rich musical culture is still inhibited by restrictions on performances in small venues. Would it not be more rational to impose limitations on the volume of music—on amplification and decibels—and not on the numbers of musicians, and on where and what they play?
The hon. Gentleman has made the point during questions before—and very accurately—that it depends not on the number of people playing but on the volume to which the amplification machinery is cranked up. He is absolutely right. One of the crucial points that needs to be examined is whether there is a noise-nuisance solution as opposed to a solution to do with the number of performers, and that is one of the options that we will be looking at going forward.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee—that there should be an exemption for smaller venues of a capacity below 200—was supported by the previous Government, who were intending to introduce a regulatory order to provide an exemption for venues of a capacity below 150, and that there was widespread disappointment that that was not done? Will he confirm that he sees no need for any further consultation and that he will move to introduce the necessary order as soon as possible?
My concern is that my hon. Friend’s proposal goes for a particular solution when there might be a broader and potentially more radical solution that should also be considered. If we go for other alternatives, we will need to consult on them, but if we decide to go down the route of ideas that have already been thoroughly canvassed, I would obviously want to move as fast as possible and reduce the level of consultation to the bare legal minimum.
One thing that really irritates fans of live music, whether in large or small venues, is all too often having to pay £200, £300 or £400 on the secondary ticket market for a ticket that at face value costs only £20, and that none of the money goes either to the venue or to the artist. Will the Minister look again at the issue of secondary ticketing?
Women’s Sport (Media Coverage)
As the hon. Lady will realise, it is not for the Government to intervene in the editorial policy of individual media organisations. However, the Government can help through investment to promote women’s sports, as they have through London 2012—I remember the hon. Lady’s contribution to the Committee involved—the Whole Sport plans and the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Research by the Women’ Sport and Fitness Foundation showed that 61% of girls find that watching successful sports stars inspires them to be more active, but while we have male sport stars all over our screens, there is far less coverage of women’s sport. Will the Government include some women’s sporting events on the free-to-air list to help promote female sporting role models to the nation’s girls?
The answer is in two parts. We have called for independent economic analysis on the listed events review. That is due in the Department this week. We will look at that carefully before coming to any formal decision. I absolutely agree with what the hon. Lady says about the positive promotion of female role models through sport. London 2012 is a fantastic opportunity for that, and I very much welcome the decisions made about women’s boxing and the equalisation of events in cycling. That, I believe, is the way to move forward.
I add my congratulations to the ministerial team on the Front Bench. It is good to know that the Government are to make a decision on the listed events—in the very near future, I hope. It is right that we have seen a massive increase in the number of sportswomen who have achieved success, and they have done that through bodies such as the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. Can the Minister assure me that the funding for that organisation will continue? How can we have role models when the Government are doing things like cutting free swimming?
Free swimming was, of course, a mass participation scheme, not an elite scheme, so it is completely different. As far as the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation is concerned, we will know after tomorrow’s Budget what the overall funding envelope will be and will then be able to make a decision about that scheme.
2018 World Cup
I know that, as this question is about the World cup, the whole House will want to wish Fabio Capello and the England team every success in the crucial match on Wednesday night. With your permission, Mr Speaker, as this is the first day of Wimbledon, we also wish Andy Murray, Laura Robson and all the British competitors success.
The 2018 World cup bid is an extraordinary opportunity for this country; the Government are wholly committed to it. The Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport and the Olympics and I have spoken to or met the FIFA executive committee members who will make the decision.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. If I had not had the joy of being elected to this House, I would have been in South Africa right now, watching the games. [Hon. Members: “Ahh.”] I know it is sad, but I would rather be here representing. I hope to enjoy being able to watch the games here in 2018. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the people of England on their display of fervour for our team—including my local paper, the Evening Star, which for the World cup rebranded itself the “England Star”?
I am sure that the Minister is aware that Newcastle is one of the cities bidding for the 2018 World cup, and that it is immensely proud of its premiership football team. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that the supporters of teams such as Newcastle United—I should say that I am on its supporters trust—can take steps for the co-operative ownership of their football teams? Will he meet me to discuss the matter?
I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that issue, which we are committed to exploring in a great deal more detail. If we win the 2018 World cup bid, Newcastle will be one of the successful host cities, which will be brilliant for her and fellow supporters of Newcastle United.
5. What his policy is on the future of the national lottery; and if he will make a statement. (2998)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his long-term interest in sports and local sports in his constituency. We will reform the lottery so that more money goes to arts, heritage and sport, and we will examine the case for moving to a gross profits tax. We will also stop wasteful spending, by banning lobbying activities by lottery distributors and by driving down their administration costs.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that response and I congratulate him on his appointment. I am sure that he will do a tremendous job. There have been concerns about the distribution of funds, however, and it has been alleged that the previous Government siphoned off funds from the national lottery to pay for their pet projects, with the result that some worthwhile groups have missed out. Will he assure us that the matter will be looked at, to ensure that the good causes and groups that need the funds actually get them?
In his answer, the new Minister did not mention the Big Lottery Fund. It has contributed to many good causes across the country, including the Peter Pan special needs nursery in my constituency, which takes profoundly disabled children from birth. Will he give the House some comfort that that sort of cause will continue to be supported as he conducts his review?
I am delighted to make that commitment, although I cannot make promises for individual good causes, as that is rightly a question for individual lottery distributors. However, as a result of the share changes and tailing-off of the Olympic top slice from the lottery funders, the total available to voluntary and community sector organisations of the kind he mentions, within the Big Lottery Fund, should increase over the next two to three years in cash terms.
May I welcome my hon. Friend to these Benches and say what a delight it is to have such a distinguished author among us? I understand that her latest novel—
I thank the Minister for his welcome. May I say to him that my constituents have been dismayed to see national lottery funding for the arts, sport and heritage cut by more than 50% under Labour? Will he expand a little on how he intends to return lottery funding to its original purpose, so that it will help grass-roots organisations in my constituency?
I share my hon. Friend’s concern. In opposition, we campaigned against the cuts to national lottery funding imposed by the previous Government. I am delighted that we are bringing forward measures to increase the funding available for the arts from the national lottery: in two years’ time it will have increased by £50 million a year.
The Minister will know that the Heritage Lottery Fund was a major contributor to the award-winning Wedgwood museum in Stoke-on-Trent. He will also know that, as a result of Pension Protection Fund legislation, the museum is in real danger of closure and threatened with a dispersal of its collection and archive. Will he meet my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) and me, so that we can ensure that the Government have a proper solution to the impending court case?
We have restored lottery funding to 20% of good causes money for sport, which will be of enormous benefit to community sports projects and the encouragement of competitive sport in schools.
Given that the Olympic stadium was built in substantial part with the taxes of Londoners, can the Secretary of State assure me that as part of negotiations with any London premiership team over its future use, as a key part of the sporting legacy of the Olympics, he will ensure that a representative of the football supporters trust will be on the board of any such team using the stadium in the future?
We are strongly in favour of supporters’ trusts being set up and represented on the boards of football teams, and of the presence of a football element in the legacy of the 2012 stadium. Most of all, however, we want to ensure that there is a sporting legacy that touches every school in the country, whether or not it is within travelling distance of the big Olympic venues.
I welcome the Secretary of State and his colleagues to the Front Bench. As I think the right hon. Gentleman will recognise, the achievement and ambition of the sporting legacy for the Olympics are widely acclaimed and appreciated by the International Olympic Committee. There has been sustained investment in sport in schools, an improvement in facilities, the introduction of free swimming, an unprecedented level of investment in elite sport, and lottery funding from more than just the sports lottery. A signal has already been sent that free swimming is to be abandoned. Will the Secretary of State give us a commitment that the sporting legacy—so clearly in place and so widely acclaimed—will be protected?
Let me take this opportunity to thank the right hon. Lady for her outstanding contribution to the Olympic project to date. I hope that she will be able to continue to contribute as the project reaches its final two years. I must tell her, however—while expressing the greatest respect for her efforts—that although some elements of a sporting legacy were in place, we do not believe that enough was in place. I am thinking particularly of the creation of a sporting legacy in schools throughout the country. We very much hope that we will be able to work with the right hon. Lady to ensure that every child in every school in the country is able to be touched by, and be part of, the Olympic dream, not just in 2012 but in every year thereafter.
Olympic Legacy (Wales)
The Olympic Delivery Authority has met over 10,000 businesses as part of its engagement programme across the United Kingdom. To date, 10 businesses registered in Wales have won work supplying the ODA, and more are winning work in its supply chains, including one— B and W Tunnelling—in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
Indeed. I welcome the Minister to his post. Does he agree that the Olympic motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius”—swifter, higher, stronger—should apply not only to constituents of mine such as David Guest, who at the age of 20 has just become the highest-achieving decathlete apart from Daley Thompson, but to private companies such as Turfgrass Enterprises Ltd, which provided the turf for the Beijing Olympics? What more can he to do encourage excellence in the Welsh private sector?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his positive words about the process. The short answer is that the Olympic Delivery Authority has devoted a huge amount of time to taking the message around the country and encouraging firms to bid for contracts, and the organising committee is about to go through exactly the same process. I hope that he and other Members across the House will encourage firms in their constituencies to get involved. This is not a matter of party political difference: it is a huge opportunity for everybody and I encourage him and others to take it up.
Sporting Activity (Young People)
Increasing opportunities for young people through sport is one of my personal, top priorities. We have already announced an increased lottery share of 20% to sport to finance that, and further details of the Government’s plans for young people’s sport, including a schools’ Olympic-style competitive sport competition and a community sports legacy plan, will be announced shortly.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but I am somewhat confused. He has said, while chopping free swimming for under-16s and over-60s, that 73% of under-16s and 83% of over-60s would pay because they already swim, but his Department says that more than 50% of the people who use free swimming were non-swimmers before they started. Where does that lie in relation to the answer he has just given?
That is an extremely good question—[Interruption.] The Opposition should try asking it themselves. Promoting competitive sport in schools is absolutely this Government’s key legacy objective for school sport. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is taking the lead in the Department’s initiative in that regard and he will make an important announcement about it next Monday.
Is the Minister aware that the schoolchildren of Shirebrook are only too anxious to help the sporting legacy of Britain on a brand new playing field, but unfortunately it is linked to the Building Schools for the Future programme. Will he ensure that it is built this year, so that we will have a sports field as well?
We will do everything possible to ensure that sports facilities are built up and down the country. That is a key part of the community sports legacy plan that we are working on. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot today, before the Budget, give him a firm commitment on Building Schools for the Future, but the direction of Government strategy, and of this Department’s in particular, is very clear.
No estimate has been made of the future level of demand for FM radio, which will depend on a number of factors. However, FM radio remains a popular medium and currently plays an important part in UK life.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there are more than 100 million FM radios, enabling people to enjoy music and speech in their cars, in the various rooms of their houses and on their hi-fi equipment? It would be a tragedy if all that were switched off simply because even the majority of homes had bought one digital radio.
14. What steps he plans to take to reduce the level of ticket touting at major sporting and music events. (3007)
The Government have no plans to extend existing legislation covering the resale of tickets. However, those protections are in place under the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 and under most legislation involving major sports events.
I am sure the Minister is aware that it is increasingly difficult for genuine sports, music and theatre fans to buy tickets, especially at the last minute, and even within days of tickets going on sale. He says that there is coverage for the Olympics, but does he agree that this cover should be extended? Does he agree that we should consider introducing legislation to tackle the practice of buying tickets in bulk and selling them to people at huge profits, as that takes the price of tickets totally out of some people’s reach?
The hon. Lady makes a fair point. Indeed, I looked at the issue in view of quite a lot of the work that was bequeathed to us by the previous Administration. There is a practical problem relating to the police. I am afraid that it is very rare that ticket touts ever come to court, even when the police catch them, because the amount of police time involved in bringing the prosecution makes that very unlikely. I think that the previous Administration adopted the correct approach, which is to encourage a much more vibrant secondary ticket sale market and much more vibrant exchange market, so that fans who buy tickets but cannot attend the event can readily exchange them.
Does the Minister agree with the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport in the previous Parliament, which found that the secondary market for tickets was perfectly legitimate, and with the Office of Fair Trading, which found that it often works in the consumer’s best interests?
British Summer Time
I am delighted to confirm that, in line with my hon. Friend’s long campaign and, indeed, with the support of both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party when it was in government, we are committed to examining this issue tremendously carefully, and I have already had conversations with my opposite numbers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Today is the longest day, and no one needs to be a visitor to Stonehenge or, indeed, a great reader of the Bournemouth Echo to realise that this is a very popular move that has cross-party support. Does my hon. Friend agree that the tourism industry at least would like such a change? Indeed, it has been calling for it for a number of years.
I agree that the tourism industry would like such a change, but some people have very grave and important concerns that we would do well to listen to as well. Notably, people who live in the north of the UK, particularly in the northern parts of Scotland, are deeply worried about the issue, and we need to ensure that we take their valid concerns into account.
In my first month as Secretary of State, I have established key priorities for my Department, including boosting philanthropy to the arts and culture, introducing a network of new local TV companies, promoting super-fast broadband, creating an Olympic tourism legacy for 2012 and setting up an Olympic-style school sports competition, and we have made good progress in all areas.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place; I am delighted to see him there. He will obviously be aware that a school tennis tournament is taking place in my constituency this fortnight. He will also be aware of the Davies review of listed events. Will he please ensure that the Davies review’s proposal to alter the status of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which both the Lawn Tennis Association and the All England Club have decried as affecting investment in grass-roots sport, will be looked at by his Department before it proceeds?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are looking at the independent analysis of precisely the factors that he mentions. We have a strong desire not to do anything that would restrict investment in grass-roots sport, and we will announce a decision by July.
We have heard a bit about the legacy for sport in the Olympics, but in my constituency we are seeking the legacy of skills post-2012. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with other Departments, because decisions taken by his Department now could have a major impact on the legacy delivered by others after 2012?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. Indeed, it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) in this regard. Someone told me about a month or so on from the election that, in terms of the greater legacy, it is not that nothing is happening but that we have possibly not got it into the right sort of story that people can understand. We are looking at all the different components of the legacy. We are working out how best to bring them together, and we will certainly take on board the points that the hon. Lady raises.
T2. I welcome the recent speech given by the Secretary of State on improving internet access right across our country, especially in rural areas. That is particularly welcome to my constituents in Suffolk who suffer from not-spots and slow spots. Will he meet me particularly to discuss the fact that fibre optics are available across parts of our country, but they have been paid for by the state, and there are concerns that European state-aid rules are blocking access to something that could be used to the benefit of people right across our country? (3015)
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I completely take on board the point that she makes. Indeed, I have raised it with officials. My understanding is that this is a grey area on which local authorities need some clarity.
Earlier, the Minister claimed that free swimming did not represent value for money, but in Wythenshawe, where many people are at the wrong end of health inequality, there has been a 56% increase in the use of the local pool by young people. Where is the value in cutting a scheme that helps to keep them healthy?
I think that I said, when the figures were announced at the end of last week, that the scheme was a luxury that we could no longer afford. The fact remains—[Interruption.] I could get political about this. [Interruption.] Okay; right. One might ask some questions about a Government who, as the main plank of their sports legacy, approve a scheme that, when independently audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, is shown to have an 83% dead-weight figure.
T3. In the careful discussion of the summer time issue that the Minister mentioned, will he bear in mind not only the needs of northern Britain, but the unacceptability of a time zone boundary at Berwick, despite the potential advantage of my being able to arrive at my daughter’s house at a time before I had set out? (3016)
Such a thing would never do. I am happy to confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that the issue is not a delegated matter; it is therefore the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and we agree that it should stay that way.
We did not put that in our manifesto, but why did the hon. Gentleman’s party not put in its manifesto that it had £50 billion of uncosted spending commitments? If his party wants schemes such as free swimming, which in principle we like, the best thing that it could do is have a sustainable financial basis for this country.
T4. The Secretary of State was right to refer to the football World cup and the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which are taking place at the moment. May I remind him of the sport that attracts the second highest number of spectators in the country—horse racing? It continues to produce a magnificent sporting product, including the Cheltenham gold cup in my constituency and Royal Ascot, which was last week, but horse racing does not get the publicity that it deserves. Is there anything that the Secretary of State can do to help it to increase its profile, because it has many good— (3017)
Despite the fact that horse racing does not directly fall into my brief, I can answer my hon. Friend’s question, for the simple reason that many of the races that attract the largest television audiences are, of course, part of the listed events review. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we have called for an independent economic analysis and are looking through it at the moment, and we hope to make an announcement at the beginning of July.
T5. As we seek to host the World cup, will the Minister ensure that FIFA focuses less on excluding women in orange dresses, and more on including ordinary spectators, who are increasingly priced out of watching the beautiful game? (3018)
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. He is absolutely right that the great opportunity in hosting an event such as the World cup is the opportunity for people to go to these hugely exciting events who may otherwise not have the opportunity to do so. We talked about that to FIFA, and the big strength of our bid is that it will mean that 4.5 million more people play football; that every girl in the country gets the opportunity to play it; and that we have a disability football centre set up. So there are huge strengths in getting more people involved in the game.
Cycling fans like me will be glued to the television over the next few weeks, cheering on Britain’s competitors in the Tour de France. With more road races in this country being cancelled than ever before as a result of out-of-date regulations and other problems associated with police support and the rest of it, will the Secretary of State or the Minister with responsibility for sport, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), meet representatives from British Cycling and me, and make ironing out those problems their top priority?
Not only can I give the hon. Gentleman that undertaking now, but I have already given it; British Cycling wrote to me as soon as I was appointed—it was a very nice letter, as he would expect—and asked if it could come and meet me to discuss exactly that issue.
It is 15 years since the publication of the Bannister report, which looked at the vital role played by student sport in the Commonwealth games, which Glasgow will host, the London Olympics and the future World cup. What plan does the Secretary of State have for a second Bannister report to develop student sport?
I have not had the chance to do so since becoming Minister, but in the five years in which I shadowed this brief in opposition, I met a number of university sports groups, although none of them asked me for a new review. What they wanted was a higher profile for their sport and increased opportunities. With London 2012, we have a magnificent opportunity, when this country’s sport is in the eye of the world, to do precisely that.
T7. My constituency of Kingswood in Greater Bristol is excellently served by the Bristol Evening Post, whose local reporters are well established and can get into the issues that matter to the local community, particularly people who do not often use the internet to get their news. Will the Minister assure us that we can support local print media better? (3020)
The best way for us to support local print media is by not constraining them with regulations that prevent them from evolving new business models that work in the digital age. Those are exactly the plans on which my colleagues and I are working right now.
Will the Secretary of State commit his Government to pursuing the measures agreed in the Digital Economy Act 2010, or will he take advice from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster), who rejected the measure with his hon. Friends and now have it as Liberal Democrat policy to repeal large sections of it?
The Act remains on the statute books, and it will be implemented. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the next stage, when Ofcom may decide to suspend connections, requires a decision by the Government. Parliament has to be consulted in that process. We will look at the progress of the earlier measures before deciding whether to proceed to that critical next stage.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Backbench Business Committee
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House heard the views of hon. Members from all parts of the House in the debate last Tuesday.
I am delighted that the Backbench Business Committee has been set up, and pay tribute to the Minister and to his colleague for doing so. Something that can be immensely frustrating for Back Benchers is having to take a ten-minute Bill or a private Member’s Bill through the ludicrous shenanigans of a Friday morning. Will the Minister undertake to make sure that private Members’ Bills are looked at by the Committee, so that we consider them on a Wednesday evening, for the greater convenience of all hon. Members?
Again, as the hon. Gentleman may know, that was debated last Tuesday. We all share the frustrations of having private Members’ legislation blocked in the extraordinary procedure that we use in the House for such legislation. The Chair of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), suggested that he wished to look at the whole process of private Members’ legislation, and I hope that his Committee can do so as a high priority. We will certainly keep in touch with that Committee and with the Backbench Business Committee in the hope of finding a better way of doing that particular area of business.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Several trials of LED technology have been undertaken in the House of Commons, and LED lighting has been installed in the upper Committee corridor, the Commons Library, the Lower Waiting Hall, the New Palace Yard turnstiles and other places. Following those trials, we have included further installations of LED lamps in Parliament’s low-energy lighting programme, such as at 1 Parliament Street and Derby Gate stairwells.
I welcome the progress made by the House authorities. Given the fact that LED lighting uses just 5% of the electricity used by normal bulbs, hardly ever needs to be replaced, and contains no mercury, so it can be recycled very healthily, have they given any consideration to lighting Big Ben with LED technology?
That is an intriguing question so early in the parliamentary Session, and one that the Commission would be happy to look into. As the hon. Gentleman knows, incandescent lighting on the parliamentary estate has been gradually replaced with lower energy lighting over the past five years. The majority of these replacements have occurred during routine lamp changes. Due to the size and complexity of the estate, detailed records of light bulbs are not kept and the proportion of low-energy lamps is not known. However, on the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, we keep developments in lighting technology under review and we will adopt low-energy solutions as they become available.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
The House has already agreed to a sitting in September this year. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I would welcome Members’ views on how the pattern of sittings should be organised.
May I make an early bid for a pattern of fixed and family-friendly sittings that allows colleagues to be away some time for school holidays in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as in England, and that gives us an annual regular cycle, with the wash-up at the end of the Session in September before the conferences, and a fixed date for the start of the parliamentary year every October?
I recognise the issue of Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish school holidays. Different local education authorities have different term dates, so it would be impossible to align the sittings of the House completely with the school terms, but I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. There is a case for a more fundamental review of the annual sitting patterns of the House.
Will the hon. Gentleman also take into account the extra-curricular activities of MPs of the better kind, such as contributing to VSO overseas? I have reluctantly cancelled a two-week engagement with VSO this summer because of the uncertainty. It is undoubtedly the case that the additional activities that MPs undertake—for example, on promoting workers’ rights overseas—are to be protected. Will the hon. Gentleman take that into account as well, in looking at how we manage our timetable?
I am not sure that we can guarantee to protect the timetable for all the extra-curricular activities of hon. Members, but the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We indicated at the earliest opportunity what we would be doing this summer, but hon. Members want a degree of certainty about the parliamentary calendar, so far as that is possible. I hope the hon. Gentleman will contribute to the review that we will set up to look at that.
Public Confidence (House of Commons)
We will bring forward powers for public petitions to trigger debates in the House of Commons and to initiate legislation, and we will introduce a new public reading stage for Bills. The House has also voted for significant new powers to hold the Government to account through the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his answer, and a good answer it was too. Does he agree that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has been a bit of a shambles? We brought it in without thinking about it. Can we make sure that there is consultation with Members and staff, to ensure that the reputation of the House is upheld, rather than the way it is at present?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, and I know that a number of colleagues have had difficulties in accessing the system. The whole purpose of allowances is to facilitate and enable MPs to represent their constituents and hold the Government to account. I am considering whether we can have a proper channel of communication between the House and IPSA to get a sensible dialogue under way. I hope he welcomes the announcement a few days ago that there will be a review of the scheme later this year.
Since the start of this Parliament, the coalition Government have repeatedly ignored the House of Commons when making major policy announcements, thus avoiding scrutiny in the Chamber. There have also been some major leaks. Today we have the BBC announcing that the Chancellor will freeze council tax in the Budget, and the Department of Health announced major changes to the NHS operating framework to the media hours before a written ministerial statement on those changes. The Government’s discourtesy also means that copies of statements are delivered late to the Opposition Front Bench, often with only minutes to spare. Will the right hon. Gentleman, who I think believes that good scrutiny leads to good government, assure us that statements will be made first to the House and not to the media, and that the Opposition Front-Bench team will receive a copy of the statement at least an hour before it is delivered?
Of course, statements should be delivered to the Opposition on time, and during the last Parliament Opposition spokesmen did receive copies of statements later than they should have, but I wholeheartedly reject the hon. Lady’s allegation about statements. By the end of today, Ministers will have made no fewer than 10 statements since the Queen’s Speech, and I think that she will find that that is a higher strike rate than was achieved by the last Government. Of course, the House should be the first place to hear of any changes in Government policy.
Business of the House
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to deal for a second with future engagements, in offering my congratulations to my hon. Friends the Members for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) on their announcement at the weekend of their coalition arrangements.
I can see that there would be advantages to hon. Members in announcing the business further in advance, but decisions about the business for three or four weeks’ time is usually too provisional to be helpful to the House.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words.
Most other workplaces manage to make some plans more than two weeks in advance, albeit on the understanding that sometimes plans have to change. Publishing greater information about future business would help hon. Members to manage their time more effectively and lead to a better functioning of the House. Will he consider experimenting with more advance notice about the business of the House?
I certainly agree with the principle that my hon. Friend sets out, but this place is not quite like other places in that business on the Floor of the House is subject to many factors, including the progress of business in Committee and in another place, and decision making within Government. It is not always possible to schedule business with any certainty more than two weeks in advance, and there is a risk that providing the House with very provisional information that is subject to change could frustrate rather than inform hon. Members in their diary planning. In addition, we always seek to be topical, and that might be lost if we planned too far ahead. However, I certainly take my hon. Friend’s point.
Programming of Business
The Government intend to provide adequate time for consideration of Bills on Report, when the most serious problems occurred in the last Parliament.
The Minister and I regularly used to vote against the previous Government’s routine use of programme motions in the last Parliament. What will be different about this Government, so that we do not have the situation where people in opposition complain about programme motions, but in government routinely use them?
The hon. Gentleman remembers well what happened in the last Parliament, when very often huge parts of Bills were not considered by the House, which was a disgrace. What will be different is that there will be fewer Bills, better drafted Bills and an end to the automatic guillotine of the Report stage. However, that depends on all parts of the House having a grown-up attitude to how we consider business. [Interruption.] I hear the grown-up attitude evinced by Opposition Members.
Is not the answer to remove timetabling, or at least relax it, so that it no longer strangles debate in the House? For years now, Bills have gone through with very little debate on key parts. The answer is to go back to a time before the Jopling proposals, when we had full and free debate, and when the House could sit as late as was necessary.
This is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the House. I am very pleased to see him here.
Yes, we want to ensure that the bits of Bills that need longer scrutiny receive that scrutiny, and that we have a sensible dialogue with all Members of the House—the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee will help us in non-legislative areas—to ensure that the House has its say on matters about which it is concerned, and that we do not waste time on areas where no one has a genuine interest. That is what I mean when I talk about a grown-up way of looking at the business of the House. Let us hope we get it.
A number of Members have raised issues surrounding ministerial statements in the House in recent weeks. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I are always happy to continue to take representations on that and other issues.
When in opposition, the Deputy Leader of the House, like his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, was very concerned about the leaking of statements, the overuse of written statements and the lack of advance notice that was given to shadow Ministers. When will the hon. Gentleman and his colleague practise what they preach?
The Government wholeheartedly agree that we should take all the steps that we can to increase diversity in Parliament, and that there is a real need to make political parties reflective of the communities that they serve. We are considering the Speaker’s Conference report and recommendations very carefully as we develop policies and agree priorities. As part of our coalition agreement, we have already made an early commitment to introduce extra support for disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials—one recommendation of the Speaker’s Conference.
Women now make up 22% of the House—notably, the majority are Labour Members. At the start of a new Government, perhaps we ought to look at the issue with fresh eyes, so will the Deputy Leader of the House look again at the over-representation of middle-aged, middle-class white men in the House?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have to say that my party is, very sadly, under-represented in terms of women in the House, and we deeply regret that. The ministerial responsibility for the issue lies with the Minister for Women and Equalities, and I hope that she will make very swift progress on bringing proposals before the House.
Free Schools Policy
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for this opportunity to update the House on our progress on reducing bureaucracy in the schools system, giving more power to front-line professionals and accelerating the academies programme, which was begun with such distinction under Lord Adonis and Tony Blair.
During the Queen’s Speech debate, I outlined in detail our plans to extend academy freedoms. I mentioned then that we had more than 1,000 expressions of interests from existing schools. I can now update the House by confirming that more than 1,700 schools have expressed an interest in acquiring academy freedoms, with more than 70% of outstanding secondary schools contacting my Department—a remarkable and heartening display of enthusiasm by front-line professionals for our plans. As I have explained before, every new school acquiring academy freedoms will be expected to support at least one faltering or coasting school to improve. We are liberating the strong to help the weak—a key principle behind the coalition Government.
As well as showing enthusiasm for greater academy freedoms in existing schools, teachers are enthusiastic about the opportunities, outlined in our coalition agreement, to create more great new schools in areas of disadvantage. More than 700 expressions of interest in opening new free schools have been received by the charitable group the New Schools Network, and the majority of them have come from serving teachers in the state school system who want greater freedom to help the poorest children do better.
That action is all the more vital, because we inherit from the previous Government a schools system that was as segregated and as stratified as any in the developed world. In the most recent year for which we have figures, out of a school cohort of 600,000, 80,000 children were in homes entirely reliant on benefits, and of those 80,000 children only 45 made it to Oxbridge—less than 0.1% and, tellingly, fewer than those who made it from the school attended by the Leader of the Opposition.
Given that scale of underachievement, it is no surprise that so many idealistic teachers want to start new schools, such as those American charter schools backed by President Obama, which have closed the achievement gap between black and white children. In order to help teachers do here what has been achieved in America, we announced last week that we would recreate the standards and diversity fund for schools, started by Tony Blair and abandoned under his successor. We are devoting to that fund £50 million saved from low-priority IT spending—less than 1% of all capital spending allocated for this year—and we are sweeping away the bureaucracy that stands in the way of new school creation, with the reform of planning laws and building regulations.
Five years ago, the then Prime Minister said outside this House:
“What we must see now is a system of independent state schools, underpinned by fair admissions and fair funding, where teachers are equipped and enabled to drive improvement, driven by the aspirations of parents.
We have pushed higher standards from the centre: for those standards to be maintained and built upon, they must now become self-sustaining to provide irreversible change for the better.”
That is the challenge that Mr Blair laid down, and this coalition Government intend to meet it.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for coming to the House, because his free school policy raises important issues of funding, fairness and standards—and it should not have been smuggled out in a Friday morning press statement. I should also say that Lord Hill has written to my colleagues in the other place confirming that the Academies Bill will, in fact, be enabling legislation for free schools. The Secretary of State should have the courtesy to inform this House, and those on the Opposition Front Bench, of his plans in that regard.
On funding, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm not only that his free school policy will establish a free market in school places, in which parents will be encouraged to set up taxpayer-funded new schools at will, but that he has secured no new money at all from the Treasury to pay for it? Will he confirm that he is using savings from cutting free school lunches for poorer children to fund his announced £50 million of start-up support, and that that is a drop in the ocean compared with the billions involved in the actual cost of his new policy?
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm Professor David Woods’s finding that the proposal for a new parent-promoted school in Kirklees would
“have a negative impact on other schools in the area in the form of surplus places and an adverse effect on revenue and capital budgets”?
The question is whether existing schools will see their budgets cut and lose teachers to pay for the new schools, and whether the Building Schools for the Future programme is now on hold to fund his new free schools policy. On fairness, does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Swedish Schools Minister that
“free schools are generally attended by children of better educated and wealthy families making things even more difficult for children attending ordinary schools in poor areas”?
How will he ensure that the losers from the budget cuts will not be the children of middle and lower-income families?
It is important that the right hon. Gentleman should answer this question. Has he put in place clear safeguards to stop existing private schools from simply reopening as free schools, with taxpayers taking over the payment of school fees? On standards, can he confirm that since the Swedish free schools policy was introduced, England has risen to the top of the TIMMS—Trends in Mathematics and Science Study—league table in maths and science, but Sweden has plummeted to the bottom?
Will the Secretary of State amend the Academies Bill to prevent parents from delegating the entire management of free schools to profit-making companies? Alternatively, can we look forward, as in Sweden, to the grotesque chaos of private companies scuttling around the country touting to parents, saying that they will set up a new school for them, and make a profit, at the expense of the taxpayer and other children’s education?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. May I seek to put his mind at rest? He asked whether the Academies Bill created the provision for the creation of free schools. I confirm now, as I confirmed during the Queen’s Speech debate, that it absolutely does. He specifically asked about free school meals and their funding. It is interesting that he should have asked that, because when he was at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, he did not secure the funding for the extension of free school meals; in fact, figures from the Treasury confirm that that was an underfunded promise, which raised the hopes of the poor without the cash being there to sustain it. It was a cynical pre-election manoeuvre, typical of the right hon. Gentleman.
I confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that under no circumstances will I take for the free schools programme money intended to extend free school meals to poor children. That money will go towards raising attainment among the poorest children. I rejected the idea that the right hon. Gentleman has attempted to advance. As I pointed out in my statement and on Friday, the money for the programme comes from low-priority IT projects. If he had simply read the press statement, rather than relying on unsubstantiated and unsourced reports, he would know that.
If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about saving money and making economies, may I ask him this? Two weeks ago, I wrote to him asking whether he would help us to find economies in the education budget by releasing the Handover report, which he commissioned when he was in office to try to find economies in the schools budget. If he is serious about bearing down on costs and greater efficiency, will he now confirm that he will allow us to read that secret report on saving money? His silence is eloquent in itself.
The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to refer to the words of the Swedish Schools Minister, Mr Bertil Östberg. Let me just say that the Swedish Schools Minister—[Interruption.] What a tongue twister that was. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, Swedish is a language, particularly given the diminution in the number of people studying modern languages under his Government, that fewer and fewer people can translate properly. He clearly cannot, because the Swedish Schools Minister said that the article from which Labour are quoting was
“very biased. It is taken out of context…I have not warned the British Government against introducing Free Schools. I clearly said to the newspaper that the Swedish Free Schools are here to stay and that is something positive”.
All the academic evidence from Sweden shows that more free schools mean higher standards. All schools improve when the number of free schools increases. A second study found that in a given municipality, the higher the proportion of free schools, the more standards rise all round. The evidence not only from Swedish free schools but from American charter schools shows that such schools help to close the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest children. It is that innovation in the cause of social mobility that lay behind the original academies programme introduced under Tony Blair, traduced by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), and brought back under a reforming coalition Government.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State, but just as a point of clarification—because we must not mislead the public—Ministers do not ask questions but answer them. It would be wrong to give people the impression that the shadow Secretary of State has a right to come back to the Dispatch Box during this exchange. He has not—he has had his say—and we must not mislead people to the contrary.
Has the Secretary of State had a chance to meet people from the neighbourhood school campaign in my constituency, who have already made considerable progress towards the establishment of a new secondary school in Wandsworth—a campaign that I note that the shadow Secretary of State supported prior to the election?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I have had an opportunity to meet that idealistic group of parents, and others in Wandsworth. I want to pay tribute to Mr Ron Rooney, Mr Jon De Maria and the other members of the group, who have done so much. My hon. Friend is right: the right hon. Gentleman was warm towards that group when he was in government. Warmth towards the group has also been extended by the local authority—Wandsworth borough council—and its leader, Edward Lister. Like so many other local authorities, it has warmly welcomed this initiative to introduce pluralism, diversity and high quality in the state education system.
Does the Secretary of State agree that admissions policy is at the heart of any policy in terms of opening up schools to pupils in a fair way? Does he have any plans to change the admissions code or the power behind it that ensures that it works?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I know how committed he is to improving education in Reading and elsewhere. We are ensuring that we reform the building regulations that hold schools back at the moment. Under the previous Government, we saw the absurdity of schools having to measure the distance between cycle racks before they could go ahead with construction; unless that was between 600 mm and 1 metre, the school could not be built. It is that sort of absurd, pettifogging, centralising bureaucracy that we need to sweep away so that money goes where it needs to go—towards the front line and towards children in Reading and elsewhere.
If the funding for academies and free schools is to come from the cancellation of low-priority IT schemes, does that mean that the Secretary of State is firmly committed to the Building Schools for the Future programmes and other financial support that was promised in my constituency to tackle the shortage of school places that exists, not only in primary and secondary schools?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I know that in Camden, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat-led council has been working incredibly hard to ensure that there are sufficient school places. I am grateful to her for her support for that programme, and to University College London for doing so much to help to support an academy. We are doing everything we can to ensure that we guarantee school places for children in Camden.
Will the Secretary of State apply a wider interest or public interest test when considering applications for free schools, and can he guarantee that he will give due consideration to local authorities’ views, whether they be favourable or unfavourable?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for announcing the number of schools that have expressed an interest in the project. Will he publish the list of schools so that we can see what the national picture is, and will he explain why not, if there is a problem with doing that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One of the most heartening things has been the enthusiasm that teachers have shown for our extension of academy freedoms. Just last Friday I was talking to Jodie King, an inspirational assistant head teacher in Ealing who wants to set up a free school, and I have spoken to the Sutton Trust, which represents the interests of teachers who are keen to promote social mobility, and which wants to see free schools established.
I have talked to Mr Heath Monk, the head of Future Leaders, the programme that has done more than any other to encourage great young people to become head teachers, and found that it wants its alumni to support the extension of the free schools programme. I was also able to talk to Brett Wigdortz and a number of Teach First alumni, all of whom want to join in extending the free schools programme. That is all on top of the more than 2,000 head teachers to whom I spoke at the conference of the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services last week, who gave me a cordial response.
I hope that the schools will be set up in a variety of new buildings—[Interruption]—and in some old buildings as well. If we examine what has happened in Sweden, for example, we see that many new schools have opened in libraries, disused university buildings and observatories. They are model buildings, but I am sure we all agree that the most important thing about education is the quality of teaching and learning. That is why the enthusiasm of the teaching profession for the changes that we are making is so hot.
Could my right hon. Friend tell me what measures he will take to prevent the loss of land usable for education and schools, which we have seen over the past decade, so that free schools can be set up on the land of schools that have closed down?
I used to be an education barrister, and my last case, in March 2010, was on behalf of the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. It was probably his last ever success.
Does the Secretary of State see a place for rural schools in Northumberland receiving proper funding in future, as they have been underfunded for so very long?
The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood was lucky to have had such an effective brief to act on his behalf.
I appreciate that in Northumberland, as my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) have pointed out, there are real problems with the state of the fabric of school buildings. One problem that we had with the Building Schools for the Future programme in the past was that far too often money did not reach the front line with sufficient speed. Local authorities had to spend an average of £7 million each before a single brick was laid or builder contracted. That degree of waste and bureaucracy was scandalous, and we will end it.
Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that when a successful primary or secondary school wishes to pursue Government policies, the Government will support it even if the local authority decides not to do so for ideological or other reasons?
Given the Secretary of State’s very welcome assurance that before a free school or an academy is agreed to, the wider public interest test and the views of the local education authority will be considered, does he believe that in addition there may be a role for the schools adjudicators to evaluate areas of concern?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his point. I know that he, as someone who used to lead for the Liberal Democrats on education, is particularly concerned about the impact of changes on his area of Bath and North East Somerset. We have had fruitful conversations about the position in that local authority, and I hope that we will continue to have such constructive conversations.
Can the Secretary of State tell us the position of the national curriculum in those so-called free schools? Do the proposals mean that religious extremists will receive state funding to carry out education not in accordance with the national curriculum?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to fighting extremism in all its forms, and I pay tribute to the role that he has played, both as a constituency MP and on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, in drawing attention to the dangers of extremism. He will be aware that as an Opposition Member, I was insistent that we do not give public money to extremist groups. That is why I have said that no school can be established unless the individuals who are setting it up do so with an ethos and curriculum that are in accordance with the democratic values of this country. More than that, we will operate according to the principles that were laid out in the Policy Exchange report, “Choosing our friends wisely”, which was endorsed by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), as a means of ensuring that not only violent extremists, but extremist groups, do not receive public funds and are unable to exploit the generosity of the state.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that one of the first applications he received for new academy status was from the outstanding St John’s comprehensive school in Marlborough, which has just had an enormous, £25 million rebuild without a penny of Government money? Does he agree that the model it is proposing of a rural federation, whereby it has a suite of primary schools, is incredibly important in large rural constituencies?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head, as ever. It is critical that people realise that outstanding schools are going on the journey to acquiring greater academy freedoms in order to help other schools. That may mean underperforming primaries, or nearby faltering or coasting schools, and the example of St John’s, Marlborough, and everything it has done, is inspirational.
Will the Secretary of State tell us why he is going to give £500,000 to the New Schools Network, an organisation run by his former special adviser?
I am giving that money to the New Schools Network because it is the organisation that is best placed to carry forward our programme of ensuring that we provide support. May I say that I am proud of the fact that the New Schools Network has among its trustees Geoffrey Owen, the former editor of the Financial Times—and a former employer of the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood. If Geoffrey Owen’s judgment is deficient in any regard, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will tell me all about it.
My hon. Friend is passionately committed to improving the education of the very poorest, and therefore I am sure he will be interested to know that in New York, charter schools, including the Knowledge is Power Program charter schools, have closed the attainment gap between children from African-American and white backgrounds, and that the Harlem Children’s Zone, an inspirational project led by Roland Fryer, has ensured that the gap in attainment between the very poorest ghetto children and white children in New York has been closed successfully. For those who argue that charter schools, academies or free schools cream, skim and select only the most aspirational or talented, the work of Caroline Hoxby and other academics proves that such schools recruit the very poorest children and then ensure that they go to the very best universities. That is an inspirational model that I hope to see established here.
Will the Secretary of State give some reassurance to Babington college in my constituency, which I visited on Friday, and which has just become a national challenge trust school? As part of the bid to become such a school, it was promised money to provide extra one-on-one tuition, which is beginning to make a real difference in one of the most challenging and deprived parts of my constituency. Will he reassure that school that it will get that funding so that it can provide the necessary tuition?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on being elected as secretary of the Labour party’s Back-Bench education committee. May I extend an invitation to her and other members of the committee to come to the Department, so that we can talk not just about the issues in Babington, but more broadly? We want to ensure that national challenge trust schools and those schools that have been in difficulty continue to receive funding and, more importantly, that they continue to receive the support that they need from national leaders of education, in order to drive up standards.
The Secretary of State knows that I have spent the past five years trying to persuade the councils responsible for Dudley school to transform standards by introducing academies and producing a decent bid for Building Schools for the Future. Before the election I was promised that the Department had funds available if the councils were able to produce a decent bid. Does that promise still stand?
I know how passionate the hon. Gentleman, who is the son of a head teacher, is about ensuring that that school moves towards achieving academy status, and he knows how keen I am on academy status. I suggest that he come into the Department, so that we can talk about exactly how we can advance that programme.
There is a desperate shortage in some of the schools in my constituency. In particular, the other day I met a Navy wife, like myself, who has five kids who go to four separate schools, which must be an absolute nightmare logistically. Will the Secretary of State give more details about the planning changes that will be made to ensure that schools can set up quickly and easily to meet parental demand?
I am hugely sympathetic to my hon. Friend. The number of children born in the past few years has risen dramatically, and as a result of that welcome baby boom, there is pressure on school places across the country—in Slough, in south and west London, and in Hampshire, too. We will ensure that we remove some of the obstacles that exist with regard to the use class order system so that buildings that can be transferred to school use are transferred more quickly. We will also change some of the onerous building regulations that currently inhibit the effective use of handsome buildings that could be brilliant schools.
The Secretary of State explained earlier that the free-market schools programme was going to be paid for by savings from lower priority IT programmes, and he seemed to indicate that he had an idea of how much they would cost. Can he therefore tell the House what the budget will be in this financial year for that venture?
Yes, we are devoting £50 million from the harnessing technology fund from lower-level IT projects, in order to recreate the fund that was set up by Tony Blair—the standards and diversity fund—which was abolished under the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). I know that the hon. Gentleman was a keen Blairite before he became the previous Prime Minister’s campaign manager. Let me say to him that his earlier allegiance to standards and diversity is now being upheld by this coalition Government.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Trooper Ashley Smith from the Royal Dragoon Guards, who was killed in Afghanistan last week. He died serving our country, and our thoughts are with his family and friends. We have also heard news this morning that a member of 40 Commando Royal Marines has died from his injuries. He is the 300th member of the British armed forces to lose his life as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan.
When such a tragic milestone is reached, we should re-emphasise our support for our armed forces and for all that they do. Inevitably, some will use this moment to question our mission and our purpose there. We are paying a high price, but let me be clear: we are in Afghanistan because the Afghans are not yet capable of securing their own country from terrorists. It is for our own national security that we help them. When they can do it alone, we will leave. In the meantime, we must give our armed forces everything they need to get the job done, and that includes our unequivocal support right across the country.
With permission, I should like to make a statement on last Thursday’s European Council. It was rightly focused on securing the economic recovery, and it was unanimous that this required early action on budget deficits. The Council also dealt with Europe’s growth strategy, the need to sort out the problems in the eurozone and our approach to the G20. It also delivered important progress on Iran. I would like to take each point in turn.
On deficits, the conclusions from the Council could not be clearer. Delaying action would entail “major risks”, and the Council called on member states to meet budgetary targets “without delay”. Since the last European Council, the problems in Greece and the scale of the sovereign debt crisis have become apparent to almost everyone. That is why there is such unanimity across the EU for early action. It is also why President Barroso paid tribute to the efforts the UK Government, saying:
“Consolidation is necessary for confidence and without confidence there will be no growth.”
On growth, the Council agreed a new strategy called Europe 2020. This follows on from the Lisbon agenda, the aim of which was to make Europe the most competitive market in the world. The document has some worthwhile objectives, including raising the level of research and development and improving education. This should not interfere with national competencies, so I secured explicit agreement that the new strategy must be
“fully in line with the relevant Treaty provisions and EU rules and shall not alter Member States’ competences”.
We should be clear that all the strategies in the world cannot conceal the fact that EU countries all need to get to grips with the real problems that harm our competitiveness—not by endlessly setting targets, but by taking action. This includes action on the extent of our debts, on the affordability of our pensions and on the scale of our welfare dependency. Europe has never lacked strategies, but European countries have frequently failed to deliver them.
We will also continue to press for the real stimulus that European economies need—that is, more trade, more international investment and more action to break down the barriers to business. This means pushing for agreement on Doha, reforming and completing the single market and making the process of trade easier. Even without Doha, there is a huge amount that countries across the world can do to facilitate trade. I want Britain to be one of the driving forces in helping to bring this about.
Next is the eurozone. Britain is not in the euro, and, let me be clear: we are not going to join the euro—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—but a strong and successful eurozone is vital for the British national interest. Already, about half our exports go to the EU, four fifths of them to the eurozone. As this House is aware, however, with the situation in Greece and the need for a support package from the other eurozone members, there is no doubt that the eurozone as a whole faces real challenges. So I was generally supportive of the Council’s efforts to strengthen the eurozone governance arrangements, but I was equally determined to ensure our national interests are protected.
On budget surveillance, let me be clear: the UK Budget will be shown to this House first and not to the Commission. Of course, we will share projections and forecasts, just as we do with the International Monetary Fund and other international bodies: so, co-ordination and consultation, yes; clearance, no, never.
On sanctions, for those who breach their economic obligations, the Council agreed that
“Member States’ respective obligations under the Treaties will be fully respected”.
Because of this, and because of the special opt-out negotiated by the last Conservative Government, sanctions cannot be applied to the UK under the current framework.
Sorting out the eurozone and adding to its governance arrangements is clearly vital for Europe. There may well be significant changes coming down the track. Whether they require treaty changes or not, our position will be the same: we will back measures that will help sort out the eurozone; we will not back measures that pass power from the UK to Brussels. As we are not members of the euro, we will not back measures that draw Britain further into financial support for the euro area.
On the G20, the EU Council discussed our priorities for the upcoming meeting. As well as taking action on the deficit, the Council also agreed about the importance of reforming the financial system. It is vital that the meeting in Canada back the right action on reserves and on capital.
On the issue of a banking levy, the European conclusions were helpful. We wanted the Council to endorse the idea of countries introducing a levy on financial institutions to ensure they make a contribution to rebuilding public finances. We did not want the Council to mandate a particular form of levy or how the money raised should be used. I am pleased to say the Council conclusions reflect that approach.
On Iran, we argued that it is time for action, not just words. The Council conclusion refers to measures, including restrictions on trade, banking, transport and the oil and gas industry. Final agreement will be reached at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting.
The Council also reached important conclusions on Iceland’s application to join the EU. This country should be a good friend to Iceland and a strong supporter of continued EU enlargement. But Iceland does owe the UK £2.3 billion in respect of the compensation paid by the Government to UK investors, following the collapse of its banking sector. We will use the application process to make sure that Iceland meets its obligations, because we want that money back.
Finally, it is important that even in difficult times we support people in the poorest countries who suffer from the most severe poverty. The European Council reaffirmed its commitment to achieving development aid targets by 2015 and, supported by the UK, to review that annually.
The Council delivered good outcomes for Britain. Our citizens do not want new structures to talk about things, but a new resolve to do things, such as getting a grip of our massive budget deficit, developing the single market and building the conditions for strong, sustainable and balanced growth. That is what the Council was all about. I commend the statement to the House.
May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the two soldiers who have lost their lives: Trooper Ashley Smith from the Royal Dragoon Guards; and a Royal Marine from 40 Commando Royal Marines. As the Prime Minister has said, 300 members of our forces have now given their lives in Afghanistan in the service of our country. We pay tribute to their bravery and honour their sacrifice, and our thoughts are with their families. I strongly agree with the Prime Minister about the cause for which our soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan: they are fighting there to keep our streets safe here. That is why the Opposition join the Government in support of our troops and their mission. As we approach Armed Forces day, let us remember all our servicemen and women, whether they are stationed abroad or at home. Their skill and courage are unsurpassed.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. First, may I endorse his support for the summit’s declaration on Iran, which again shows that on issues of international concern, we who are EU member states have a bigger impact when we combine our efforts? Does he agree that while the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran remains a matter of the utmost concern, the international community is now more united than ever before in searching for a peaceful solution, and that the active EU diplomacy we have seen in recent years has played an important part in that? Will he tell us whether there is a timetable for further EU action on Iran? Will he confirm the importance not only of sanctions and diplomatic pressure, but of international engagement with the people of Iran? Will he therefore give an undertaking that the BBC Farsi service will be protected from any threats to the budget of the BBC World Service?
Secondly, may I also welcome the EU summit’s strong commitment to meeting the millennium development goals by 2015 and the Prime Minister’s endorsement of that? The terrible crisis of drought, food shortages and starvation in Niger is a vivid reason why we must have international action on development. Will he not be a stronger voice in the EU, for the whole of the EU to make development a priority, if his Government continue to prioritise development? Following the Labour Government’s commitment, the European Commission recommended that all EU member states should consider legislating to enshrine the 0.7% aid target, which the Labour Government established. Will the Prime Minister take forward in this Session of Parliament the Bill that we introduced to make that target legally binding?
Is it not the case that we can only be effective in Europe if what we say and do there is matched by what we say and do at home? In that regard, may I commend the Prime Minister on his reference in his pre-summit article to what he describes as the
“shocking inequality of women in many parts of Europe”
and what he says is the “urgent need for change”? If he recognises the “shocking inequality” of women elsewhere in Europe, can he act on it here? Will he show Europe that he means at home what he says in Brussels by committing himself to implementing the Equality Act 2010 as soon as possible and to pressing on with the plan to make employers publish the gender pay gap?
What will the Prime Minister do about his Tory MEPs who clearly have not got the message at all and abstained in the vote on the millennium development goals, and who voted against measures to combat gender inequality only last week? He thinks it is “shocking”, but they seem to be all in favour of it.
The Council focused on economic growth, and I welcome the summit’s adoption of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth, which stated that
“priority should be given to growth-friendly budgetary consolidation strategies”
“increasing the growth potential should be seen as paramount to ease fiscal adjustment in the long run.”
In other words, it said, “Don’t undermine growth when you’re cutting borrowing”, and, “You need growth to be able to bring borrowing down.” According to the official summit conclusions, one of its main objectives is
“to unlock the EU’s growth potential, starting with innovation and energy policies”.
We agree with that. That is what the Prime Minister signed up to in Brussels. However, he is doing something very different here at home. How does it help growth to cut business investment support, and how does it
“unlock the EU’s growth… starting with… energy”
to cancel the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters allowing it to build the next generation of nuclear power stations? Does this not mean that Europe, as well as the United Kingdom, will lose out as South Korea and Japan proceed with that work?
Let me turn to the important question of financial services. We welcome the intention to implement a new system of levies and taxes on financial institutions, and to explore an international approach. May I ask the Prime Minister to say more about the progress report on the work of the taskforce on economic governance? There is a British representative on it, and the taskforce has implications for the United Kingdom as well as for eurozone countries. Which, if any, aspects of enhanced economic governance might be applied to the United Kingdom?
This was the Prime Minister’s first European Council. He is now representing our country in Europe. So is it not time for him to have a sensible rethink about the wisdom of continuing to exclude himself from the grouping of centre-right political leaders? The European People’s party includes President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel, and the Prime Ministers of Sweden, Italy, Poland and many other countries; but instead of meeting them to prepare for the summit, the Prime Minister has a meeting with one Polish MEP to prepare for Britain’s contribution.
The general election is over. The right hon. Gentleman is Prime Minister now. Will he put aside his pandering to his Europhobic Back Benchers and agree with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners on this point? That is what would be in Britain’s interests.
Well, the right hon. and learned Lady is right about one thing: the general election is over.
The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right about Iran. We do need great unity on this issue; and Europe forging ahead together with a very strong statement about sanctions, then introducing sanctions, is right. She asked when it would be finalised. That will happen on 26 July, at the Foreign Affairs Council, and the sanctions should come into effect in October.
The right hon. and learned Lady asked about the BBC service in Farsi. I can confirm that it will continue to be funded well, because it is important. We should be looking at all the elements of soft power and how we project our influence in the world, and that is clearly one of them.
The right hon. and learned Lady mentioned the millennium development goals and the importance of prioritising development. We agree with her about that. It was on the insistence of the British, among others, that we put the annual review of development assistance into the Council conclusions, partly so that we could ensure that other countries are living up to the obligations under which they place themselves. We will continue to do that, although we are clearing up the most almighty financial mess at home. As for making it legally binding, we agree with that, and will produce plans to make it happen.
The right hon. and learned Lady spoke about consistency, and about the importance of recognising the gross inequality of women. We will set out measures for greater transparency, including transparency in pay. We are in favour of that.
The right hon. and learned Lady mentioned our MEPs at great length. I can tell her that I will be keeping a careful watch on what Labour MEPs vote for, because they do not always vote in a sensible way.