House of Commons
Thursday 8 September 2011
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—
Sports Projects (Nottinghamshire)
Before answering, on behalf of the whole House may I congratulate the England and Wales cricket team on becoming the No. 1 test playing nation in the world? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] That was a popular one. I also congratulate our rowing and athletics squads on winning 14 and 17[Official Report, 12 September 2011, Vol. 532, c. 5-6MC.] medals respectively at their world championships last weekend, and William Fox-Pitt on a record sixth victory at the Burghley horse trials.
The figures for the 2011-12 funding period are not yet available, but I am pleased to report that Nu2Sport, in conjunction with the university of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent university and Sport Nottinghamshire, secured a grant of just under £250,000 in national lottery funding from Sport England to help more students participate in sport. Nottingham will also benefit from funding invested throughout the country by the national governing bodies of sport. I will write to the hon. Gentleman once the full figures are available.
We hear a lot about the legacy of the Olympics. Can the Minister reconcile talking up the legacy of the Olympics with the whole sport plans, which will at the same time reduce expenditure across 46 sports by about £70 million, including in deprived constituencies such as mine? Will he look again at the future funding to maintain what we do at the Olympic level?
Yes, certainly. I would need to look at the figure that the hon. Gentleman has produced and understand how he has got to it. One thing that we have used the increase in lottery funding to do is to preserve funding through the whole sport plans. I need to understand exactly what is behind his figure. We have also produced Places People Play, which includes the iconic and inspired facility funds that are designed specifically to invest in facilities to draw more people into sport. I hope that any clubs in his constituency that are affected will apply to those funds, but I will certainly look at his figures.
I spoke at the launch of the Football Association’s new women’s super league in April. In June, I attended a reception at Downing street for the England women’s team ahead of the World cup in Germany. At the junior level, we made strong representations to the FA to increase the age at which girls can play in mixed teams from 11 to 13. I am delighted that that will happen from next year.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he join me in congratulating all the teams, especially my own team, Lincoln Ladies, on the successful first season of the FA WSL? Lincoln Ladies’ attendance rose on average by more than 400% compared with the previous year. Does he agree that the first season laid an excellent marker for future seasons and that it highlights the continuing growth of the women’s game in Lincoln and throughout England?
Of course I do. My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that I had the opportunity to meet a number of the Lincoln Ladies players during a visit to the city on 14 June. There is no doubt that the new league has been a fantastic success and I hope it will be a great driver of more women playing football.
Will the Minister raise with the FA its girls’ talent development programme, which has meant that my constituent, Jaime Gotch, who used to go to the Watford centre, is now left without any support for her very talented football career?
Women and girl’s football is a growing sport and is one of the fastest growing sports among girls. As I am sure the Minister is aware, it is enormously important to have women in coaching and being trained as coaches. What is being done to get more women into coaching?
I am glad to say that there is a very simple answer to that question: the development of St George’s Park, the FA’s new centre of excellence in the midlands. Its specific remit is to drive up the number of coaches, both male and female, across the community game. Many football writers, who have been urging this for a long time, think that it will be the single biggest seminal change to English football over the next decade. I hope that it will make a huge contribution to sorting out this situation.
Broadcasting (Commonwealth Games)
We have had no discussions with the BBC Trust or Ministers in the Scottish Government on this issue, which is a matter for the rights holders and broadcasters, but we welcome the recent announcement that the games will be broadcast on BBC television.
I am obviously disappointed that the Government do not think it important that the BBC lives up to its responsibilities to all nations and regions and acts as the host broadcaster. Will he explain why he has had no such meetings? Does he not accept that we are losing millions of pounds of training opportunities through the Government’s failure to act?
Last month I announced that 65 locations in the country could be pioneer locations for a new generation of local TV services, and we will be laying three orders before Parliament before Christmas to make that happen.
I thank the Secretary of State for his reply and for driving forward local TV with such belief; that is all credit to him. May I draw his attention to a bid for a local TV licence that is being put together in my constituency, which places the media and journalist facility at the university of Winchester and Southampton Solent university in Southampton at its heart? Does he agree that if local TV is to work this time around, and the next generation of Dimblebys is to be found, we must draw on the technical expertise within our universities and the students and what they have to offer?
I agree with my hon. Friend. He of course knows about this as a former journalist. Those at universities have been among the most enthusiastic people about local TV, not least at Birmingham City university, which has hosted two events on local TV in the past year. The reason is that they see this as an opportunity to found a new sector in the creative industries, which employ more than 50,000 people in the United States. That makes the opposition of the Labour party all the more extraordinary.
May I give the Secretary of State half a cheer for his proposals? The town of Mold in my constituency has been chosen as a potential hub, but it is the same town where a BBC TV and radio studio has closed, in part because of financial pressures. What guarantees can he give that the capital and revenue streams will be there to develop that network of local television services, and that any advertising will not diminish the ability of local print media to have such advertising and make them viable as well?
All the evidence from other countries shows that having local TV stations actually grows the local advertising markets. I am sure that the Flintshire Chronicle and The Leader will continue to thrive in Mold. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman appearing on Mold TV, but for reasons of consistency we expect the shadow Culture Secretary to boycott his own local TV station.
Channel 7, a local TV station based in Immingham in my constituency, is, I believe, the sole surviving local station from the initial batch, and it has been a success due to forging its partnerships with institutions such as the Grimsby institute of further and higher education. People at Channel 7 have asked me to convey an invitation to one of the ministerial team to visit them and benefit from the success they have had. May I pass that invitation on and look forward to a visit?
In response to the Secretary of State’s plans for local TV in Wales, a senior BBC source was quoted in The Western Mail as saying that he is
“an advertisement for the devolution of every aspect of broadcasting policy to Wales without exception”.
Will he unburden himself and agree to such a sensible proposal?
Over the past year, we have increased the share of lottery funding for sport across the United Kingdom and invested £135 million in a mass participation legacy programme and more than £100 million to increase competitive sport through the school games. Increasing participation will be a challenge, and it is one that no previous host city has achieved, but it is our aim to deliver on the pledges made at the time of the bid.
I welcome what the Minister has said. I am delighted to hear that the Secretary of State is going to Belfast tomorrow; I am sure that he will be warmly welcomed there. I hope that he has discussions, along with his colleagues, on the issue of increasing participation in sport across the regions and in Northern Ireland. I would be grateful if he could say what discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive specifically on increasing participation in Northern Ireland in sport as a result of the Olympics.
I am delighted to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I visited Belfast on 9 March. I visited the university of Belfast and Sport Northern Ireland and saw a number of participation schemes that I thought were being well run and had every chance of increasing participation across the Province. Indeed, it is the first time that I have been there since I was a soldier 20 years previously, and the change in the whole place was remarkable. He absolutely has that commitment and I will do everything possible to help.
Yes, I absolutely do, and there is now a really effective triple lock on playing fields: all planning applications have to go before Sport England; under the Localism Bill people will have the opportunity to designate playing fields as local community facilities; and there is now a specific fund, administered by Sport England, for the improvement of local playing fields.
The Minister knows that no one measure can increase participation in sport. Does he accept that what has happened in London, and the leadership shown by the Mayor of London in ensuring that money gets down to the grass roots, is crucial? If we really want to increase participation, we all have to work together in partnership across the whole of sport.
I could not agree more, and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work that she has done in London to bring that about. London is an extremely good example of what can be done at community level to meet the policies coming down from Government. Without real inspiration in different areas to meet different needs, we will not achieve that.
Let me add my congratulations to the sports teams and British sportsmen and women whom the Minister listed earlier.
What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the decision by his colleagues to withdraw the funding for school sport partnerships, which have led to more than 90% of children doing at least two hours a week of sport in school, compared with less than 25% eight years ago? Is it not the case that sports facilities across the country are being closed, that fees and charges are being increased and that, despite the Olympics, the risk is that the outcome of his Government’s decisions will be fewer youngsters and adults taking part in sport across the UK?
Let me say at the outset that the reason why the funding decisions were taken was to tackle the deficit, which would have had to happen whoever was in power. There is a political argument about the scale and speed of it, but the fact is that there would have been cuts under any Government. To mitigate that, we have increased the amount of money that sport gets through the lottery and put in place a specific mass participation programme under Sport England. I have been watching the matter very carefully, and there is as yet—I do not say it will not happen—no evidence that there are mass closures across the country. There is a dichotomy between local authorities that hold facilities in leisure trusts, which are not affected, and those that hold them directly, where they are under threat. We will watch the situation closely.
Brighton Digital Festival
Very sadly, neither the Secretary of State nor I will be able to attend the festival this month. I must say, it looks absolutely fantastic and we wish it well, and I am delighted that the Arts Council is giving it £50,000.
I am disappointed that the Minister cannot make the festival this time, and I hope very much that he will next year. Will he give a boost to the city’s growing digital sector by using his good offices and those of other Ministers to support a move towards all public sector contracts of less than £100,000 being given to small and medium-sized enterprises, and larger public sector contracts being broken down so that SMEs, particularly in the digital sector, have a much better chance of getting them?
If I am still in this job, I will certainly try to attend next year—and even if I am not, I will try to attend. I will be in Brighton at the beginning of October for the Museums Association conference, at which the hon. Lady is the keynote speaker. I heartily endorse what she says, because we must do all we can to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises can get Government contracts.
High-speed Broadband Scorecard
We published our initial proposals for a broadband scorecard just before Christmas. We are absolutely committed to having an objective way of measuring how to get the best superfast broadband network in Europe, and we will continue work to ensure that we can do that.
But the right hon. Gentleman did say, I think, that the scorecard would be published in the summer, and we have not seen it yet. Will it cover progress towards universal broadband as well as high-speed broadband? It has been reported that the 4G spectrum auctions, which should have taken place early this year, are now going to be delayed further beyond their revised date of the beginning of next year. Is that correct, and is he dismayed, as many of us are, by what looks like a yet further delay?
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, as a former broadband Minister, will know that we have committed ourselves to universal broadband coverage, which will be one of the things measured in the broadband scorecard. However, before he criticises this Government’s progress he should show a little humility. He might like to know that the first thing that broadband officials told me was that the amount of money that had been allocated for universal broadband roll-out was half what was necessary.
Does the Secretary of State recognise the strength of feeling that exists for a 98% coverage clause in the 4G auction that is to come? Will he urge the mobile operators to think long and hard before launching any legal challenge that would merely delay the process and affect the economy?
I am very keen to get on with this auction, because it is clear that the high-speed broadband revolution that we need must also be a mobile revolution—we must assume that most people will access the internet through mobile devices going forward. We are looking very carefully at the possibility of increasing the coverage requirement to 97% and will await Ofcom’s findings, which we expect shortly.
Digital Transmitter Sites
I meet the main parties of the digital switchover programme regularly to review progress. The distribution of digital transmitter sites is part of the digital TV switchover process, which is progressing well and is on track.
I thank the Minister for his correspondence with me on this matter, but the fact remains that following the digital switchover, my constituents who receive their television signal from the Milburn Muir transmitter get an inferior TV service. Will he please commit to looking at ways to incentivise companies to provide an equitable service? Alternatively, will he consider a grant scheme for my constituents, who would have to fork out something in the region of £200 to get the same service?
The hon. Lady and I have been in extensive correspondence on this issue, and she is a formidable advocate for her constituents. I hope she will come to the video relay service conference on 15 September. Perhaps we could talk about this issue there and arrange a meeting to discuss it further.
I am looking forward to switching from having four channels to having 15 channels to view in two months’ time, when the Tacolneston transmitter switches over. One thing that concerns me, however, is that ITV3 will not be available on the relay transmitter from Aldeburgh, which is a great shame. Licence fee payers should be the ones who choose the channels they receive if they are not to have the full range of services.
I am afraid that about 10% of the population does not get the full range of services, but the core 15 channels. As I have said, that is a commercial issue for the people who operate the transmitters in this country. That issue certainly concerns some Members of Parliament, and if my hon. Friend wishes to join the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) and me for a meeting to discuss this further, I would be happy for her to do so.
Broadband (Rural Communities)
In August, I announced indicative funding for all parts of the UK for our ambition to have not just universal 2 megabit coverage, but 90% coverage of superfast broadband.
North Yorkshire is grateful for the Secretary of State’s Department’s support, and we are getting on with our project, but may I press him further on the 4G auction? It seems that the auction is a Treasury as much as an Ofcom issue, and I would be grateful for any update on any discussions that he is having with the Treasury. I believe that we must nail that issue for north Yorkshire to get the broadband that it needs.
I should first like to congratulate my hon. Friend, because north Yorkshire and Cumbria are two of the regions of the UK that have made most progress—they have pretty much moved to tender stage on the 90% superfast broadband ambition. I have a lot of sympathy with his view on coverage, and we are having many discussions inside the Government about how best to handle that. That matters because on all the projections that we see at the moment, the amount of mobile internet data will triple every year, and over the next four years we expect it to increase twenty-sixfold.
The unfortunate truth is that many rural areas, including Kirkliston, South Queensferry and Ratho in my constituency, are still crippled by poor broadband services, with speeds significantly lower than the 2 megabits per second minimum target. Will the Secretary of State update the House on any discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on matching the £68.8 million investment recently announced by his Department?
We had what can best be described as a rather curmudgeonly response from the Scottish Government about our broadband allocation. That is not a total surprise, but given that the amount of money allocated to Scotland took account of the additional costs of rolling out broadband in sparsely populated rural areas, and that the amount was much greater than it would have been under the Barnett formula, we were expecting a little more enthusiasm. However, now the challenge is on for the Scottish Government to match what the UK Government have contributed, and to ensure that we deliver universal broadband access to my hon. Friend’s constituents, and 90% superfast broadband access as well.
I accept that the Secretary of State has gone some way to providing resources, including to the Scottish Government, but does he agree that to ensure universal broadband coverage some of the most rural communities will require access to affordable satellite broadband? Will he consider bringing forward some of the unallocated money currently in his budget to operate a pilot project in Scotland—in conjunction, I hope, with the Scottish Government—on that very issue?
I am a localist. That is why our broadband strategy does not prescribe how local authorities and devolved Administrations meet their targets. However, we have calculated the costs and provided half the money, and we expect them to match-fund. I am pleased to say therefore that in all the areas on which we have had discussions so far there has been a willingness to provide that match funding. If satellite is the right solution in Scotland, we will support that, but we want to leave it to the Scottish Government to come up with the right solution.
Public Service Broadcasting
We are considering the future of public service broadcasting as part of the Government’s communications review.
I do not know whether the Minister is a physics graduate, like I am, but does he expect a slimmed-down BBC to maintain excellent science programmes, such as those presented by Professor Brian Cox, which have been credited in part for the 20% increase in the number of students taking physics A-levels?
It is not for me to tell the BBC what programmes it should make, but I know that Brian Cox’s programmes, which I have seen, have been enormously successful. The BBC’s power to make a difference in this area is significant, and I hope now that it will find a charismatic presenter for a history of computer science, so that we can increase interest in computer science education.
Does the Minister remember when, two years ago at the Edinburgh festival, James Murdoch said that he wanted Sky to replace the BBC as the most trusted broadcaster? He might well recall that. Given the events of the recent weeks and months, can this ministerial team and Government start embracing and supporting the BBC, both at home and abroad, as so many viewers in my constituency do by listening to it?
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Edinburgh festival, which reminds me that I should have said how pleased all the festival organisers were with the extensive coverage that the BBC gave them. They were full of praise for it. May I also take this opportunity to praise BBC Radio Oxford, which I praised last night in the House and which incorporated my remarks in its breakfast programme jingle this morning?
On public service broadcasting, will my hon. Friend condemn the decision by the BBC to stop broadcasting the Israel Philharmonic orchestra at the Proms? Will he also take this opportunity to condemn those extremists who disrupted the Proms and attacked the orchestra?
I was present at the Israel Philharmonic orchestra’s performance at the Proms. It was an occasion when one realised how wonderful the Proms and the promenaders are. It is salutary to remember that even in 1968, when the orchestra from the USSR was playing at the Proms and the USSR had invaded Czechoslovakia, the music was not disrupted. There should be a separation between art and politics, particularly in this case given the astonishing history of the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, which saved so many Jews from death at the hands of their Nazi oppressors.
What representations has the Minister received from Scottish Ministers about setting up a Scottish digital channel, and what resources and support does his Department intend to give to this fantastic cross-party initiative?
If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Scottish digital network, I discussed the matter with the Scottish Culture Minister at the Edinburgh festival. I know that she is a strong advocate for it. However, I also know that our plans for local television are as exciting for Scotland as they are for England.
It will not surprise the House to know that I received a number of representations over the News Corp BSkyB bid during its progress and considered them all carefully.
Does the Secretary of State now agree with the Opposition that one of the lessons of the phone hacking scandal and the attempted takeover of BSkyB is that new, tougher cross-media ownership laws are required in this country and that no one media organisation should have such a concentration of power again?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to look carefully at cross-media ownership laws. I agree with him as well that this needs to be done on a cross-media basis; it is not about the dominance of any individual platform any more. We also need to look at whether the merger rules for media takeovers work as effectively as they might. We will listen very carefully to the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson before taking action.
Let me say to the Secretary of State that I may have included the words “Ministers” and “waste of time” in the same sentence, but not in the context of local television. I appeared on Channel M, the example of my local TV station, but the project ended in tears because it was simply not viable.
Throughout the BSkyB process, the Secretary of State maintained that he could consider only plurality and that allegations about phone hacking and other illegal practices were not covered by the relevant legislation. Is he now willing to work with me and the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) to introduce amendments to the current legislation on an all-party basis to include a wider public interest test and to allow regulators to apply a “fit and proper person” test? That would close loopholes in advance of the longer-term reform of media ownership that will come as a result of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations. Is the Secretary of State willing to work with me and the right hon. Gentleman on an all-party basis to bring forward those amendments?
Of course I will listen to all representations made, but I do not think that the shadow Culture Secretary quite understands the way the law works. If the bid were re-presented, under the Enterprise Act 2002 it would count as a new bid and, as Secretary of State, I would have the power to refer it to Ofcom on the basis of broadcasting standards, media plurality or, indeed, national security, so safeguards exist. However, if what the hon. Gentleman is really trying to say is that Rupert Murdoch and his children are evil and must be stopped at all costs, just wait until he sees “The Godfather”.
I think the Secretary of State should speak for himself on those issues. It is absolutely clear that if there were to be a new bid, the only basis on which he could consider it would be plurality and broadcasting standards. He could not ask regulators to look at the wider public interest, nor could he insist that they apply a “fit and proper person” test. That is why we urgently need action now.
Let me turn quickly to a related issue. Can the Secretary of State clear up once and for all whether he discussed News Corp’s proposed acquisition of BSkyB with the Prime Minister at any stage during the quasi-judicial process? To be clear: I am not asking whether he consulted the Prime Minister on any decision that he had to make, but whether they discussed it during that period.
As I have told the shadow Culture Secretary, the decision was mine and mine alone, and I did not consult the Prime Minister about that decision. Not only that, but I consulted Ofcom and got independent advice, which I followed. However, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that he still does not appreciate that section 3 of the Communications Act 2003, which was passed by his Government, gives Ofcom the duty to ensure that all holders of broadcast licences are fit and proper at all times and the duty to remove them at any time, so these powers exist. We want to strengthen them in specific areas, and we are working hard to ensure that we make the right changes to avoid what happened before happening again.
Regular Olympic briefings take place between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, me, Home Office Ministers and the Olympic intelligence centre to discuss threats to the games, including human trafficking. Although there is currently no evidence of an increase in human trafficking linked to the games, the Government are aware of the threat, which is real, and will remain vigilant.
I thank the Minister for that full response. The danger of modern-day slavery at the Olympics is great. I appreciate that the Government have recognised that in their new strategy on human trafficking, which talks about the intelligence leading up to the games, but can he tell us a little more about how that works?
Yes, of course I can. We have a bespoke Olympics intelligence centre, which looks specifically at intelligence leads surrounding information of all sorts feeding into the Olympics. As my hon. Friend correctly says, there is evidence that hosting world-class sports competitions can, in certain circumstances, lead to an increase in human trafficking. As yet there is no hard evidence that that is happening, but the threat remains and we will remain vigilant.
Just to remind the House, today is Paralympics day—a day of celebration up in Trafalgar square of the extraordinary achievements of Paralympians and of achievements to come.
The Minister will have seen the March 2010 report published by London Councils which examined the potential impact of the games on trafficking. I know that he shares my long-standing concern that the games should be safe for women and that London should be a no-go area for evil exploitation by traffickers. The London Councils report suggested that there was a particular risk that the number of Roma people trafficked for begging would increase. Have there been discussions with the Romanian Government and others to ensure that this risk does not materialise?
That is a good question. I have not myself had discussions with the Romanian Government because the information I receive is channelled through the Olympic intelligence centre. I can give the right hon. Lady my absolute assurance—I believe she will get a security briefing within the next couple of weeks, so she will have the opportunity to ask that question herself—that I, too, will ask that specific question. As I say, there is no hard evidence to date that anything of this sort is occurring. As I said earlier, the threat is there and we will remain vigilant.
I regularly receive representations on sports broadcasting—I doubt whether that will surprise anybody—including on Formula 1 races.
The whole House will be aware that Formula 1 and motor sport more generally in this country is a multi-billion pound industry, with household names such as Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Paul di Resta, McLaren-Mercedes and Red Bull effectively becoming great British brands. Following the shameful decision of the BBC to sell out to Sky, may I ask what the Minister will do to protect this industry so that it is not sold out in the same way that the many fans who will have poor-quality coverage for the next decade are being sold out?
The decisions taken by the BBC about how to spend its own sports budget are, of course, matters for the BBC alone. The Government’s remit extends to the free-to-air television regime. Formula 1 has never been on that list. I was the Minister in charge of looking at the matter last time it came up, just after the election. There was no significant pressure at that point to put it on the list. At this time, therefore, it remains a matter for the BBC, which has to decide how to spend its sports budget, but we will, of course, review all these matters when the list is next reviewed in 2013.
T1. If he will make statement on his departmental responsibilities. (70608)
I should like to echo what the shadow Olympics Minister said about today being international Paralympic day. The Paralympics have a special place in our nation’s heart because it started here in Stoke Mandeville in 1948. We want to welcome more than 100 chefs de mission from Paralympic teams to London this week, wish the organisers success and, particularly, wish our brilliant Team GB Paralympian success next year. At the Beijing Olympics, they thrashed Australia; they thrashed America; they thrashed Russia; they thrashed every single country in Europe and came second in the world only to China.
I add my own congratulations to our Paralympians and would like to return to the question asked by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) about why the Scottish Government have not matched the UK Government’s broadband funding? Does the Minister agree that this is a short-sighted decision, which is inimical to Scotland’s long-term prosperity?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman because all the evidence on economic growth shows that it is the more remote, dispersed communities that benefit most from having a good broadband connection. This can stop villages losing their economic lifeblood; it allows people to work from home; and it helps disadvantaged, elderly and disabled people to gain access to services that they would not otherwise be able to receive. I strongly encourage the Scottish Government to respond positively to the extraordinary generosity of the UK Government and to get Scotland connected.
T2. I was pleased to see Members of all parties and of the other place take part in the parliamentary archery competition on Monday afternoon on Speaker’s Green, courtesy of you, Mr Speaker. Thank you. I was certainly all of aquiver that I, with my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), managed to win the competition. Will the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers tell us what plans are in place to ensure that British archery and other less well-known sports receive adequate funding and, perhaps, media coverage in the run-up to and beyond the 2012 Olympics, thus giving Team GB the best chance of medal success across a plethora of events? (70609)
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I strongly agree that we need to support all Olympic events, which is why we are preserving the funding for the whole United Kingdom elite sport budget for the training of Olympians and Paralympians despite a very difficult spending round. I have been to see our Olympic and Paralympic archers train at Lilleshall, and I know that we all wish every success to gold medallist Dani Brown and bronze medallist Alison Williamson, who are our big medal hopes for next year.
I have asked the United Kingdom national lottery operator, Camelot, to give me a constituency breakdown showing where lottery tickets are purchased, but it has refused to do so. Does the Minister agree that, for reasons of transparency, it is important for such information to be in the public domain, and will he help me to put it there?
It is not quite clear why this information is so important, but I am very happy to try to understand why. The destination of lottery funding has long been readily and transparently available, and can be found in the Library. However, I do not see why there should be a direct correlation between potentially richer constituencies where a large number of lottery tickets are bought, and constituencies that are in more need and receive a large amount of lottery funding. If the hon. Lady can explain why that direct connection is important, I shall of course be delighted to help if I can.
Yes, we certainly intend to ensure that the move towards digital radio does not discriminate against local commercial radio stations.
T6. There is a world of difference between a journalist who bribes a police officer for information and a journalist who gets information from a police officer, freely given. The former corrodes our democracy, while the latter protects it. In that light, is the Secretary of State concerned about the recent arrest of The Guardian journalist Amelia Hill? (70613)
As I know the hon. Gentleman will understand, it would not be right for me to comment on a police matter, but I agree with him that there is an important difference between off-the-record briefing and the payment of money by or to the police in return for information. Journalists must operate within the law, but, as the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee, as we go through this entire process we must be careful not to overreact in a way that would undermine the foundations of a free society.
T4. Pendle Leisure Trust sport development manager Joe Cooney is working closely with Colne football club in helping it to apply for iconic facilities funding for new changing rooms at its stadium, which is currently in a poor state of repair. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that bids are encouraged from other groups in Pendle and east Lancashire? (70611)
Part of Sport England’s Places People Play initiative involves investment in inspired and iconic facilities. In a sense my hon. Friend has answered his own question: the fact that the club is making the application suggests that the promotion is about right. However, I will certainly ensure that Sport England takes every possible measure—indeed, I know that it has done so—to enable everyone to benefit from this £135 million investment opportunity.
T7. At the last reckoning, some five companies from Northern Ireland have been successful in first-tier contracts with the Olympic Delivery Authority, and some 43 have won contracts with the supply chain of tier 1 contractors. However, there is grave disappointment in the Province about the level of contracts won by Northern Ireland companies, and also about the failure properly to allocate Barnett consequentials to Northern Ireland and the other regions. Will the Minister undertake to work with the Northern Ireland authorities and with the Treasury to try to increase the number of contracts won, even in the run-up to next year’s Olympics? (70614)
Yes, of course I will. When I was in Northern Ireland earlier this year I visited a number of the businesses that have won contracts, Ulster Weavers being a good example. As the ODA has to award the contracts on a commercial basis there must be a good value-for-money case, but I will certainly do all that I can.
T10. My constituent Bethany Gutcher-Dunn is fascinated by England’s heritage, and is now studying the reign of Henry VIII at Aloeric primary school in Melksham. She has entered into correspondence with Her Majesty the Queen about the prohibitive cost of visiting the historic royal palaces. Will the Minister consider extending his support for the free museum entry policy to enable educational visits to these historic palaces? (70617)
The Historic Royal Palaces organisation is very successful at popularising its various buildings around the country and encouraging people to visit them, and I know that it makes every effort to reach out to educational organisations. Unfortunately, if we start to introduce additional subsidies, that would require additional money, and, as my hon. Friend will know, there is not much money available given the awful financial position we inherited. I will, however, be delighted to discuss this matter with him.
T8. I welcome the earlier comments of the Minister for Sport and the Olympics about the state of football governance. When considering the Select Committee’s welcome report, will the Department work with not only the football authorities but Supporters Direct and other football supporters’ organisations to ensure that football supporters have a role in the future governance of football? (70615)
We greatly welcome the Select Committee’s comments, and we will publish our official response in due course. We recognise that now is the time for change in football governance, and one important issue we want to look at is what can be done to boost the role of supporters. I note the Select Committee’s comments on changes to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to make it easier and less bureaucratic for supporters to build up stakes in clubs so that they can have real ownership.
As the sun is setting earlier every day over the beautiful beaches of Thanet and my seasonal businesses are closing down, what representations will the Department make to the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about the Daylight Saving Bill and the impact it will have on tourism and jobs?
As I said before, the essential point is that while many people, especially in the tourism industry and in the south of the country, are enthusiastic about this move, it is important that we take the entire country with us. In particular, it is important that we do not seek to impose a situation on, for instance, people and businesses in the north of Scotland unfairly and without their consent. We will therefore take great care not to proceed without the consent of all parts of the UK.
T9. I thank the Secretary of State for his recent letter to me regarding tourism ahead of the Olympics. I was concerned, however, that he listed the Lake district as a local treasure of the Wirral, until I realised that the same letter had been sent to all the north-west MPs. So that he can learn a bit more about the geography of north-west England, will he visit one of our actual treasures in the Wirral with me: Port Sunlight village, whose festival in July attracted 20,000 visitors? (70616)
I will be delighted to do so as soon as my diary permits. A key part of our tourism strategy is promoting regional tourism and encouraging people to visit what is on their regional doorstep. It was in that spirit that we sent the hon. Lady that letter.
The position of channels on the television electronic programme guide influences what we watch. Will the Secretary of State therefore explain why we allow some EPGs to list American cartoons way above the British content, given that we want our children to watch more UK-originated content than American cartoons?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Position on the EPG will probably be the Government’s single most important lever in protecting our tradition of public service broadcasting. We are actively looking at how to make that situation better, if necessary using legislation.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Preliminary estimates for the first quarter of 2011 suggest that we are well on track to achieve the initial savings of some £12 million which were identified this time last year. The HOCC is committed to reducing spending by at least 17% by 2014-15, and the detailed work on that stage of the savings programme is currently under way, with a consultation taking place during the autumn of Members, Members’ staff, House staff and others.
I am most grateful for that answer, and I know that both you, Mr Speaker, and the hon. Gentleman are committed to the House doing our bit. Has the HOCC had a chance to study the Administration Committee’s report on catering and retail services, and does the hon. Gentleman agree it is vital that we not only raise more revenue where we can but save costs by, perhaps, trying to merge those services from the two Houses?
I have indeed had an opportunity to look at the report, which contains many good proposals. On the two specific points, I can tell the hon. Gentleman, first, that raising income will be a vital part of our future plans. Secondly, on shared services, this already happens in respect of both Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology—PICT—and estate services. I am sure that the authorities of both Houses will be looking to maximise this, as it is a sensible way to save money.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
The Welsh Grand Committee and the Northern Ireland Grand Committee have a valuable contribution to make to the work of the House, and I am pleased that the Northern Ireland Grand Committee will be meeting again in November, following the agreement of the House on Tuesday.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his answer. Given the advent of devolution, opportunities for Members from Northern Ireland—I can speak only for them—are somewhat limited, so it is important that meetings of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee take place. Will he ensure that there are more frequent meetings at which matters of relevance to the Province can be debated in more time than is available on the Floor of the House?
I certainly hear what the right hon. Gentleman says and I am happy to speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to see what arrangements can be made. Obviously, there are limits to the number of times that any Grand Committee can sensibly meet, but I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says.
Earlier this week, my excellent Whip informed me that on 20 October the Welsh Grand Committee will be meeting in my constituency. Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that it was extremely discourteous of the Government not even to have told me about the meeting and for that information to have been conveyed to me by my Whip rather than by somebody acting on behalf of the Government?
I am sure that no discourtesy was intended. Of course the decisions of Grand Committees to meet are presented to the House, and so the hon. Gentleman would be aware of it by that means. I would have thought that any discourtesy was more than outweighed by the convenience to him of having the Grand Committee meet in his constituency.
The average cost to the taxpayer of a question for written answer is estimated at £239. In the financial year 2010-11, a total of 46,825 written answers were published, at an estimated total cost of about £11.2 million.
We would all agree that written parliamentary questions are an important way of holding the Government to account, but what steps is the Deputy Leader of the House proposing to take to limit exposure to the public purse? Should hon. Members be in more control of this process?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, but I really do not think it is for the Government to limit or try to ration the supply of questions, because, as he says, it is very important that hon. Members have that opportunity to hold the Government to account. However, I do think that hon. Members, like other public servants, should consider the impact of their activities on the public purse. It is particularly important to recognise that the right to table questions belongs to hon. Members, and hon. Members alone.
Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that if he is to fulfil the Prime Minister’s pledge to
“increase the power of Parliament”,
he should be worrying less about the quantity of questions and more about the quality of the answers? What is he going to do to ensure that Ministers give full and timely responses to Members, and that they end the increasing practice of giving holding answers to named day questions and transferring orals at very little notice? Or is this going to go the way of other prime ministerial pledges, such as those for more free votes on Bill Committees and text updates on the progress of Bills?
The hon. Lady has a very short memory span if she really thinks that this Government are performing worse than the Government of whom she was a member. I recall that many times her Government were quite incapable of providing timely, or indeed adequate, responses to questions. We always try very hard within the Departments to make sure that people get their questions answered properly and on time. If Departments fall short of those ideals, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I are very happy to chase up those Departments to see whether we can improve the performance. However, I have to say that I do not think the performance is lacking at the moment.
4. What steps he is taking to increase the transparency of the lobbying of hon. Members. (70621)
As my hon. Friend the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform announced on 18 January, the Government remain committed to creating a statutory register of lobbyists and are working towards developing proposals for that register. The Government hope to hold the consultation exercise later this year before bringing forward any necessary legislation in due course.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Given the erosion of trust among the public in politics and politicians over the past few years, will he ensure that that process proceeds as quickly as possible and tell the House precisely when the register will be in place?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman and I entirely agree with him. This is a priority issue and we need such a degree of transparency in the arrangements for lobbyists. As I said, we have a consultation exercise and it would be wrong for me to prejudge it, but it is certainly our hope and intention that we will be in a position to introduce legislation on this matter in the next Session of Parliament, as has been indicated by my hon. Friend the Minister.
House of Commons Reform
This Government successfully implemented the recommendation to establish a Backbench Business Committee, which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomed. The majority of the remaining recommendations of the Wright Committee are a matter for the House rather than Government. The Government will be bringing forward a Green Paper on intelligence and security later this year in which we will make initial proposals on how to reform the Intelligence and Security Committee. As set out in the coalition agreement, the Government are committed to establishing a House business committee in 2013.
I congratulate the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House on the swift way in which they brought before the House for decision the Wright Committee proposals on the election of Select Committee Chairs by the whole House and the election of Select Committee members by their parties as well as on the speedy creation of the Backbench Business Committee. Will they sustain this great record by bringing forward the pledge to create a proper business committee for this House so that we in this Chamber control the business in future rather than the Government we are meant to be holding to account?
I am happy to repeat the assurance I have already given. It is in the coalition agreement that we are committed to establishing a House business committee in 2013. We look forward to wide consultations with the hon. Gentleman and others about the best way of delivering on that commitment.
Westminster Hall debates are an important mechanism for holding the Government to account. Secretaries of State do participate in debates in Westminster Hall, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development did recently.
May I make the Leader of the House aware that the Backbench Business Committee is keen to allocate as many days to Backbench business in Westminster Hall as he will give the Committee? That task would be made easier were he to encourage his fellow Secretaries of State to attend, listen to and respond to those debates.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government have no ownership of the days in Westminster Hall—that falls between the Liaison Committee and the Backbench Business Committee—but I take to heart what he has said. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, who attends Cabinet, will be speaking in a debate in Westminster Hall next Thursday.
Following on from that, if Secretaries of State attended Westminster Hall, perhaps Monday afternoon could be opened up for Westminster Hall debates, and the general debates we used to have in this Chamber on defence and Europe could be held there?
That is a helpful suggestion from my hon. Friend. He will know that the Procedure Committee is at the moment undertaking an inquiry into the calendar. Whether or not we open up Westminster Hall on a Monday afternoon is a proposition that my hon. Friend could usefully share with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), who chairs that Committee.
So far this Session, there have been 139 oral ministerial statements and more than 1,500 written ministerial statements made to the House. My assessment is that this Government have a much better record than the previous Government.
The right hon. Gentleman has something of a reputation as a parliamentary reformer. Is he not concerned that that reputation is now under threat given his churlish and I have to say uncharacteristic response to the Procedure Committee regarding ministerial statements?
I presume that the hon. Lady is referring to the response from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I can remember not a single occasion on which he has even hinted at churlishness, let alone expressed it in response to a Select Committee. Of course we look carefully at what is proposed by Select Committees, and there will be times when we do not entirely agree with them for very good reasons, but that does not mean that we do not respect what they say, while being prepared to argue our case in due course when relevant matters are debated in the Chamber.
I am not sure that I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman. He is a new Member of the House and I hope he will not consider it patronising when I say that he may not know why Westminster Hall sittings were first proposed, which was to allow for non-legislative and non-contentious business to be taken in a parallel Chamber while the House was sitting. It was not meant to create impossible dilemmas for Members in having to attend two important venues at the same time. Having said that, if we can make better use of Westminster Hall we are certainly open to doing so. If we can find other ways of reducing the pressures on this Chamber then it is better that we do so. The biggest difficulty that we have is the huge appetite that the House understandably has for hearing Ministers make statements and its proper appetite for scrutinising legislation fully and properly.
The Leader of the House’s office is constantly monitoring the effectiveness of the e-petitions site. Following its launch, the site now hosts more than 6,500 petitions, which have received more than 1.5 million signatures. This unprecedented interest in the site is a useful indicator of its effectiveness. For the first time, the e-petitions website is not just graffiti, but offers the public an effective route for engaging with Parliament.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that answer—I was going to ask him about the overall visitor numbers to the site and the number of petitions already hosted on there. Will he comment on the decision of the Backbench Business Committee about the most popular two petitions not being discussed until we reconvene in October?
I think it would be entirely improper for me to answer on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, but let me make it clear that we have provided a way for the public to engage with Parliament. What the petitioners want, presumably, is for the topic they have raised either to be dealt with effectively by the Government or to be debated in due course by the House when the opportunity arises. The idea that when a petition reached the threshold there would be an immediate debate is not the purpose of the site, but it does mean that proper consideration is given to whether the matter has been debated or will be debated in another form or whether the Government have changed their policy to meet the concerns, which may be the case in relation to at least one of the petitions that has already reached the required threshold.
But does the Minister agree with the Daily Mail, which says that this amounts to an e-petition con? The Government said to the public, “If 100,000 of you sign one of these petitions, there’ll be a debate.” What discussion did the Government have with the Backbench Business Committee about how the time for those debates would be allocated?
May I caution the hon. Lady, first against reading the Daily Mail, and secondly against agreeing with what it says? The Government have never said that when a petition reaches the threshold it will have an automatic right of debate. It will be considered with a view to seeing whether the matter raised has already been debated or is already going to be debated in a different context or whether the request has already been met by the Government. If there is then a need to debate something that the public have registered as an interest, the Backbench Business Committee will respond to that request. That seems to me an entirely proper way of doing things and it is a huge improvement on the old No. 10 petition site on which the petitions went precisely nowhere.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 12 September will be as follows:
Monday 12 September—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.
Tuesday 13 September—Opposition Day [20th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 14 September—Remaining stages of the Energy Bill [Lords].
Thursday 15 September—Motion relating to food security and famine prevention in Africa, followed by general debate on human rights in the Indian subcontinent. The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
The provisional business for the week commencing 10 October will include:
Monday 10 October—Remaining stages of the Protection of Freedoms Bill (day 1).
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply, and I welcome him and Members on both sides of the House back from a busy summer.
As this Sunday will mark the 10th anniversary of the 11 September attacks, I am sure that the whole House will wish to remember all those who lost their lives, including the 66 British citizens. Our thoughts are with them and their families.
The inquiry on the recent riots will produce an interim report in November. Will the Leader of the House assure us that the Government will provide time for it to be debated? Can we be told how many police officers’ jobs could be saved by not spending £25 million on a delayed poll for costly police commissioners—just, it seems, to placate the Liberal Democrats?
We welcome the opportunity that e-petitions will give the public to get things debated in Parliament, but the Leader of the House will be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, says that there are quite a few problems with that. Will he allocate more time for those and other Back-Bench matters to be debated?
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the autumn statement is when the Chancellor will finally announce plan B, because plan A clearly is not working? The Government’s growth forecasts will have to be downgraded yet again, consumer confidence has never been lower and the head of the International Monetary Fund has just warned countries to adapt their austerity programmes by taking steps to improve growth, but the Chancellor is not listening. Indeed, the only thing he seems keen to do is abolish the 50p tax rate. Does not that send a clear message to hard-pressed families—that this Government are more interested in millionaires than they are in middle England?
As we have seen this week, despite its famous pause, the Health and Social Care Bill has failed to win the confidence of those working in the NHS. Meanwhile, more patients are waiting longer for operations, and yesterday the Prime Minister was completely unable to explain why. Is it because attention is being diverted elsewhere?
On that subject, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on reports that the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has considered selling off St. Mary’s hospital in London—the place where penicillin was discovered—for property speculation? It seems that it went as far as to start a tendering process involving six architects. How much NHS cash did that cost?
Something else that is not safe in the Government’s hands is our countryside. After the forests sell-off fiasco, we now have the planning punch up. It takes a special talent to make a sworn enemy of the National Trust, but calling critics “nihilist” and “semi-hysterical” was not very clever, was it? When can we expect a statement on the further revisions to that guidance, which are now inevitable?
Yesterday, a delegation from Bombardier came to the House to plead with the Government to reconsider their decision to award the Thameslink train contract to Germany instead of Derby. The Government’s refusal once again to listen, even though they have now admitted that they can reopen the process, has angered Derby city council. Its Conservative leader, Philip Hickson, was blunt:
“I do not think they have grasped the widespread anger… the Government have simply got things wrong”.
Finally, in recent months the Prime Minister’s strategy chief, Mr Steve Hilton, has proposed scrapping maternity leave and health and safety laws, closing jobcentres and replacing Government press officers with bloggers—there could be an opening there for the Leader of the House—all ideas that have been slapped down by No. 10. This week it is reported that Mr Hilton secretly asked a QC to advise on how to challenge new employment rights for temporary workers being introduced by the Business Secretary. The Business Secretary was distinctly unimpressed. A source in his Department said:
“Vince makes decisions on this policy… not Steve Hilton”.
A Lib Dem observed:
“Hilton is just a renegade.”
I had thought that Mr Hilton was the Prime Minister’s chief special adviser, but when I pressed No. 10 on this I was told that the Prime Minister knew nothing about it. Could we be told how much this legal freelancing cost and who exactly Mr Hilton works for? He seems to come up with so many bad ideas, so may we have a statement from the Prime Minister listing his good ideas? I am sure that that would appeal to you, Mr Speaker, because it would not take very long.
May I begin by thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome back, which is reciprocated? He clearly spent the summer recess further honing his skills of performance at the Dispatch Box, and we had another sparkling example this morning.
With regard to 9/11, he may know that there will be a commemorative service at Grosvenor square tomorrow, at which the Government will be represented, which will provide an appropriate opportunity to remember the UK citizens who died in that tragedy. On the riots, we need an appropriate opportunity to discuss the aftermath. The Government have established a number of groups to look at some of the implications, and I know that the House will want to revert to that subject in due course.
There will be an opportunity on Monday, when we debate the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, to consider the Government amendment to postpone the elections for police and crime commissioners until next November, and I am sure that he will want in principle to support the idea of the electoral accountability of the commissioners. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we are not quite clear why the Labour party is so frightened of having elections.
On e-petitions, I have regular discussions with the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, and am of course happy to have further discussions with her so that we can make e-petitions a success. I was pleased to see in the press notice that the Committee put out yesterday that it thinks that
“the e-petitions site is a very welcome initiative.”
I want to work with her to ensure that this really takes root.
On the autumn statement, I would have thought that the one thing that had become absolutely clear during the summer recess is that those Governments who did not take a firm grip of the fiscal situation ran the risk of losing market confidence and then paying a very high price to regain it. One of the things the coalition Government have done is avoid the loss of market confidence by taking firm action last year. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to go down the route of plan B, he runs the risk of losing market confidence in the same way other European countries have done.
On the question of tax, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that in the last Budget and the next one, around 25 million taxpayers will benefit from the increase in personal allowances and over 1 million people will have been taken out of tax entirely.
On waiting lists, I followed the exchange yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions. Overall there has been very little change in waiting times since the general election. In one case, that of in-patients, waiting lists have gone up, and in the case of out-patients they have gone down, but overall there has been a huge increase in the number of people being treated, thanks to the extra resources we have put into the national health service, which Labour would have denied it.
On planning, the right hon. Gentleman will know that there is a document out for consultation, the national policy framework consultation, which ends next month. In the meantime, discussions are being held with the National Trust and others. He will have read the article by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, which made it absolutely clear where we stand on planning.
On Bombardier, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the tender process was initiated and designed by his Government. We used the criteria they set out to assess the tender, and on those criteria it would clearly benefit passengers and taxpayers to allocate the tender to Siemens. I was pleased to see that some 2,000 jobs will be created in this country by Siemens doing part of the work here.
On Steve Hilton, I am happy to say that he is a fellow cyclist, and therefore I am normally happy to defend what he says, but at the end of the day I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is Ministers who make policy, not special advisers.
Can the Leader of the House tell us why in the near future we are to go through the ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back by one hour, thereby plunging parts of the country into darkness by mid-afternoon? Can we have a statement on what the Government intend to do to make better use of daylight hours? If, as I suspect, the only opponents of change are a handful of Scots, should not they be told, “Look, you’ve got your own Parliament, if you don’t like it we’ll give you the power to set your own time zone”?
My right hon. Friend will know that the issue is the subject of a private Member’s Bill, and I personally have form on it, in that I supported a private Member’s Bill in a previous Parliament, proposing reform in that direction. I am not sure whether he was in Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport questions, when my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) raised the same issue, but in response the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), spoke on behalf of the Government in advocating a slightly more cautious approach than that advocated by my right hon. Friend.
The Government launched the e-petitions website on the last day before the summer recess, with little consultation, debate or agreement by the House. All of us warmly welcome the e-petitions initiative, and there is clearly a public demand for it, but, although the Government have raised public expectations, they have passed responsibility for what to do with that expectation to the Backbench Business Committee.
We are delighted to be involved with the initiative, and we very much want to ensure that it is a success, but we want to make it work properly and meaningfully. The problem—and I address this point in part to the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson)—is that we cannot schedule for debate subjects raised by e-petitions unless the Government give us time to do so. Will the Leader of the House therefore meet not just me but the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), to discuss allocating extra time specifically to debate e-petitions in the short term, and to look at options such as setting up a dedicated e-petitions committee in the long term?
I am grateful for what the hon. Lady said at the beginning about e-petitions, and for making it clear that she wants the new e-petitions website to be a successful way for people to trigger debates in Parliament. We were in fact delivering a coalition agreement in going ahead with the website, which is an improvement on the No. 10 website, in that it links into the democratic process instead of ending simply at No. 10.
I am conscious that over recent weeks and months we have not been able to allocate to the Backbench Business Committee as much time as the hon. Lady would like, but that is due in part to the way in which the legislative programme impacts on the parliamentary Session. I very much hope that in the weeks and months ahead it will be possible to allocate more time to the Backbench Business Committee, and to give it the headroom that it needs to accommodate debates about e-petitions.
Two e-petitions have so far gone through the threshold, and in one case, as my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House said in response to an oral question, the Government have responded. On Hillsborough, we have made all the papers available from the Cabinet Office to the independent panel, and we have made it clear that we have no objection to them going into the public domain, so it may be that on Hillsborough the petitioners have achieved what they wanted.
On the e-petition concerning riots, somebody may present themselves on Tuesday to the hon. Lady’s salon, and I hope that in due course it might then be possible to debate the other one that has gone through the threshold.
In light of the strong interest in Parliament and from the public about all matters European, will my right hon. Friend consider making Government time available for a full debate about Europe and about the repatriation of powers to Britain?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the debate, which I think she had yesterday in Westminster Hall, on precisely that subject. We did discuss at some length the European Union Bill, when there was extensive debate about the repatriation of powers, and there are fairly regular debates, thanks to the European Scrutiny Committee, on European-related issues. I cannot at this stage promise a full debate about the matters that she has raised, but I hope that the House will have an opportunity from time to time to listen to her views on Europe.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 2138, which stands in my name and the names of a number of hon. Members?
[That this House notes that those in Fallowfield applying for bar staff posts at Vodka Revolution, Wilmslow Road are required to work for a full day for no pay under the practice of trying out and are promised that they will be paid if appointed, then are not appointed; believes this practice to be unethical and possibly illegal; and further believes that both potential employees and customers of Vodka Revolution, Wilmslow Road should be made aware of its policy on non-payment of those who work a trial day and are not subsequently employed.]
The motion describes how the Vodka Revolution drinking den in my constituency has the corrupt practice of telling job applicants that they should work for a day and will be paid if they are appointed, but then does not appoint them. It thereby has a stream of free labour. Will he condemn this corrupt practice by these swindlers, and will he ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to investigate these disgraceful activities?
I am sorry to hear about what is happening in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Of course I deplore any exploitation of labour of the type that he has described. I will draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to see whether any effective enforcement action can be taken to stop this undesirable practice.
I encourage the Leader of the House to find time for a full debate in this Chamber on cutting the higher rate of income tax. If we are all in this together, where is the fairness to the rest of society in ensuring that Wayne Rooney gets an extra half a million pounds a year?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will know that issues relating to taxation are matters for the Chancellor at the Budget, and are therefore usually matters for the Finance Bill. He may have heard at Treasury questions on Tuesday the exchange in which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear that the 50% rate was temporary and subject to a review by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to see how much revenue it raises. That review will not be completed until early next year. I know that my right hon. Friend will take the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) into account, along with others, before he comes to his Budget judgment.
Today is the launch of the It’s Liverpool, I’m Liverpool campaign, which shows why the city is such a vibrant and exciting place to live, work and study. It is also the friendliest city in the country, according to a recent travellers’ survey. Will the Leader of the House join me in backing the campaign, and can we have a debate on how the Government can support great British cities such as Liverpool?
I endorse what the hon. Lady said about Liverpool. In a former Administration, along with my right hon. Friend Lord Heseltine, I was part of an initiative to assist Liverpool in the difficult time it went through after the riots. I applaud her campaign and will see what more can be done by my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to assist the regeneration that is under way.
As the Leader of the House is fully aware, the ongoing saga over village greens and the upgrading of footpaths to bridle paths is not only costing the country a massive amount of money, but causing legal hurdles that go a long way back. In Somerset, there is a 22-year waiting list to try to get these matters through. Can we please have time in this Chamber to discuss the ramifications, costs, complexity and legal ambiguities of the way in which people, with no user evidence, get bridle paths and village greens put into planning applications right across the United Kingdom, such as in Bristol where it has caused problems?
I am sorry to hear of the problems in my hon. Friend’s constituency and I suspect that they may be replicated elsewhere. I will certainly raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to see whether there is a simpler way of resolving it than the way he has just outlined.
Can we have a full statement on what compensation is available for businesses and organisations affected by the riots and the looting? We have had a few hints, including from the Prime Minister, but a number of businesses, including some in my constituency, face a pretty insecure future because of the looting. Can we have a full statement so that we can question the relevant Minister?
Rather than a statement, I think that what we want is practical assistance for the businesses that have been affected in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He will know that a number of funds have been set up with the specific objective of assisting firms that are in difficulties after the riots. I will draw the attention of the Home Secretary to what he has just said and see whether we can get some practical assistance to the firms that are suffering in his patch.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the e-petitions initiative, but can he arrange for a statement to describe how the paper-based petitions signed by more than 100,000 people that call for a debate on High Speed 2 can be qualified as an e-petition, so that the issue might be debated in this Chamber and so that the many thousands of people who perhaps do not have access to the internet do not feel disfranchised?
That is primarily a matter for the Backbench Business Committee, but my understanding is that if somebody goes along on a Tuesday morning and says that they are speaking on behalf of a petition, it will be neutral whether the 100,000 signatures are on an e-petition or an ink-and-pen petition. I am sure that the process is neutral, but it does require somebody to be present on a Tuesday morning to place the bid.
The House will know that 18 October marks anti-slavery day. In light of the huge public concern about modern-day slavery and, in particular, the fact that more than 735,000 people in this country have recently called on the Government to implement a system of guardianship for child trafficking victims, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is an important and appropriate occasion for Ministers to come before the House, respond to the petition and set out their position on child trafficking?
The Government are firmly opposed to child trafficking. I will certainly contact the Home Secretary to see whether we need to make yet further progress. We have had debates on anti-slavery days in previous years that have been well attended and well supported. The Backbench Business Committee might like to consider such a debate as an option for October.
Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging, the RAF Red Arrows pilot who sadly lost his life after the air show in Bournemouth on 20 August? Rather than eject from his stricken aircraft, he was able to manoeuvre it away from a built-up area—an action that probably cost him his life. He will be missed by his family, his friends, the RAF community and indeed the nation.
I am sure that the whole House will associate itself with the tribute that my hon. Friend has paid to Jon Egging, who sadly lost his life a few weeks ago. In addition to his work for the Red Arrows, he saw active service in Afghanistan, which I think should also be remembered.
Will the Leader of the House set the Bombardier decision in context? There seems to be no apparent manufacturing plan or strategy for this country. Manufacturing is still vital to our well-being and future, but there is no sign that this Government understand that a long-term strategy for manufacturing is essential.
I dispute what the hon. Gentleman has just said. He may have seen the evidence given by the Transport Secretary yesterday. It was the criteria set by the previous Government that led to this conclusion. The Secretary for State for Business, Innovation and Skills is now looking at the whole design of tender documents to see whether they can be in any way adjusted so that the sorts of considerations that the hon. Gentleman wants to be taken into account can be taken into account, perhaps in the way that other countries seem to be able to do.
The privately owned port of Liverpool received more than £20 million of public money from this country and Europe to develop a cruise liner terminal, with the explicit provision that cruises should not start or end there, but only call there. It now proposes to repay a quarter of this sum over 15 years if the provision that it cannot have a turnaround facility is lifted. That would adversely affect the port of Southampton. May we have a statement from a Transport Minister on what seems to be a calculated case of unfair competition now that it has been revealed that Liverpool city council planned from the outset to get the port built and then renege on the condition on which it was being done?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern on behalf of the port of Southampton. He will know that a consultation exercise is currently being carried out by the Department for Transport on the proposal to allow turnaround cruises, to which he has just referred. The consultation closes on 15 September. If he wants to respond, his views will be taken into account along with those of other respondents.
During the summer, the Department for Work and Pensions sneaked out direction 23 on the operation of crisis loans. It specifically excludes any claims by parents to help towards the purchase of school uniforms and simple school equipment such as pencils and pencil cases. Was that discussed with the Department for Education, and what is the view of the Leader of the House?
On 30 September we will see the start of the 2011 Ilkley literary festival. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Thank you. May we have a debate on the positive impact of such highly successful festivals in bringing the pleasure of reading to young people?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on drawing the House’s attention to this. I hope that he might submit an entry to the festival so that his work can be considered along with that of others. I applaud the work of his constituents, and his own work, in taking steps to promote and drive up standards of literacy in this country.
Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for an urgent statement from the Housing Minister on the consequences for social housing tenants of the Government’s new rules on under-occupancy? In Manchester on 1 April 2013, 14,000 families will either have to find a smaller home or pay up to £18 a week more towards the cost of their rent. As a highly regarded former Housing Minister himself, the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that this is not only unjust but unworkable.
I have looked at the copy of Inside Housing where the survey that the right hon. Gentleman carried out in his constituency was reported and given some prominence, and I read the article. I will convey his concerns to the Housing Minister so that he can be aware of the possible impact of the change in the rules and the introduction of the cap and see whether any additional measures are necessary on top of the ones we have already put in place.
In 2010, 27,500 crimes were committed by EU nationals. In response to a parliamentary question, it emerged that only 1,400 of those were sent home, with many having agreed to go. Is it not time that we had a debate not only on the free movement of labour but on how we, as a country, treat foreign nationals who come to this country and commit crimes and whom we allow to stay living in this country?
I think I am right in saying that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration has taken steps and we are now increasing the number of people repatriated after committing crimes. However, I will draw my hon. Friend’s remarks to the Minister’s attention to see whether there is further action that we might take.
After months of campaigning, only two of the big six energy companies are still maintaining the practice of cold sales on the doorstep. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate so that Parliament can put real pressure on E.ON UK and Scottish Power, which are being so recalcitrant over this important issue?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the profile of this issue. I will certainly see what action can be taken further to discourage the sort of cold-selling tactics that he has outlined, and I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to write to him.
Croydon college in my constituency has formed a partnership with the university of Sussex and is looking for accreditation as a university centre so that young people from across south London can study for a good degree, while living at home, for fees much lower than most universities are charging. May we have a debate on what more we can do to ensure that young people from deprived backgrounds continue to have access to university?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is appalling that of the 80,000 pupils eligible for free school meals, only 40 went to Oxbridge. We are committed to enabling more people from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds to get to university by raising the maintenance grant, introducing a new national scholarship programme, and making the graduate repayment scheme much more progressive. On top of that, we are writing to sixth-formers to draw attention to the financial support that is made available to students. I hope that we can improve on the figures that I mentioned.
Yesterday the Prime Minister told us that the extra cost of moving the election of police commissioners to November would be £25 million, yet on Tuesday, Lord McNally, in a reply to Lord Grocott, said that the cost of the alternative vote referendum, held on the same day as other elections across wide areas of the country, was £89 million—and that is without the cost that falls on the Electoral Commission. May we have a statement to clarify the real cost of this ridiculous November election and whether it will be borne by central Government and not fall on hard-pressed local councils?
Last month, I had the privilege of joining the Metropolitan police on active patrol, and that increased my admiration, which was already great, for the sterling work that the police force does on a day-to-basis to keep us safe. May we have a statement on the impact on the Metropolitan police of the work that has had to be done since the riots? My understanding is that they have been doing constant 12-hour shifts with no rest days and all leave cancelled. The bill for that has come to some £62 million already, and the impact on police morale is dramatic. It is essential that we ensure that that money is paid for by the Government and not by London council tax payers, and that we lessen the load on the Metropolitan police.
My hon. Friend will know that a Select Committee inquiry into the riots is going on; my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave evidence to it today. We have made it clear that we will support the police regarding the additional costs they face to ensure that front-line services are not hit. I will pursue with the Home Secretary the specific issue that my hon. Friend has mentioned of the impact on London.
The Leader of the House will know that today the Deputy Prime Minister slipped out a written ministerial statement on the establishment of a commission on the West Lothian question; this was presumably to pre-empt the private Member’s Bill that will be debated tomorrow. Given the importance of this issue for Members across the House and in all parts of the UK, may we have an oral statement on the Government’s intentions and thoughts behind that commission rather than leaving it to some kind of backroom deal between the Government and a rebellious and recalcitrant Back Bencher with a private Member’s Bill? This is an important issue for all of us and I hope that the Leader of the House can do something about it.
Written ministerial statements are not slipped out; they are put on the Order Paper and they are in the public domain for everyone to see. This one delivers on a commitment of the coalition Government to establish a commission to look at the West Lothian question, and it should have come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that we are taking it forward. If he looks at the WMS, he will see the timetable envisaged by my right hon. Friend in announcing its membership and terms of reference, as well as the time scale in which it will report. I hope that the hon. Gentleman might feel minded to give evidence to the commission when it is set up.
Given that local authorities are currently preparing their electoral registers for the forthcoming year, will the Government make a statement to address the problem of individuals who make multiple applications at different addresses by registering at a property they own but at which they do not reside, even when the property is occupied by others who are legitimately registered?
It is an offence to provide false information to electoral returning officers, and if that happens I hope they would pursue it. As my hon. Friend will know, we are introducing individual electoral registration, which will reduce the opportunity for fraud because people will have to provide some evidence of identity before they are added to the register. I hope that that will reduce the sort of practices to which he refers.
Further to the answer that the Leader of the House gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), we know that the moving of the elections of police commissioners to November is going to cost an enormous sum of money. May we have a statement on how the Government reached the decision to make this amendment to the proposal in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill? We are told that that was done to appease Liberal Democrat councillors. If that is how the Government are making decisions and wasting public money, is it not a matter that should be discussed on the Floor of the House?
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that this year the Royal Mint is striking a commemorative coin to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, yet, unlike many other commemorative coins, it will not be available in general circulation. Obviously there are many different and varied religious faiths, but the Bible’s publication represents a significant point in the history of the English-speaking world. Can representations be made from the Government to the Royal Mint?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I will raise this with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom I suspect has overall responsibility for it, and ask him to write to my hon. Friend with a response to his representations about making the coin legal tender.
You are aware, Mr Speaker, that sometimes in this House wheels grind extremely slowly, but I was delighted to see that action had been taken on an early-day motion that I tabled in July 1996 followed by a number of letters, including to your good self. Will the Leader of the House congratulate those involved, including Bob Hughes, who is now in the House of Lords, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran), Mr Speaker and all those involved on getting a commemorative plaque for Nelson Mandela in Westminster Hall? It is absolutely right that we commemorate the visit to this place of the greatest statesman of our time.