House of Commons
Thursday 3 November 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—
Since our last session of DCMS questions, Iain Sproat, a former sports Minister, has passed away. On behalf of all Members, I should like to convey our condolences to his wife Judy—who, incidentally, is a former parliamentary reporter—and to his family and friends.
Let me also, on behalf of the ministerial team, welcome the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) and the rest of the new shadow team to the Opposition Front Bench.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games is making up to 100,000 free tickets available to schools and colleges throughout the United Kingdom which sign up to the Get Set network by 16 December. In addition, the Mayor has purchased 75,000 tickets to be allocated to young Londoners through the network. Lord Coe has recently written to the schools and colleges that have not yet signed up to encourage them to do so, and 1 fully support him in that approach.
It is disappointing that after 14 months, 75% of tickets for schools outside London have not been taken. Will the Minister assure us that every effort will be made to ensure that young people, not just in the home counties but throughout the United Kingdom, are given this one-in-a-lifetime Olympic opportunity?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, because it gives me a chance to encourage Members on both sides of the House to get out in their constituencies and encourage as many young people as possible to go. The involvement of young people was one of the central tenets of the London bid, and I am sure that Members in all parts of the House want as many schoolchildren as possible to have that opportunity.
Children have been heavily involved in the “pass the passion” celebration in Dover, where the torch will stop on the way to London. Is it not particularly important for children to have access to free tickets when they have played a real role in the torch’s progress around the country?
I welcome what the Minister has said. Obviously there is not a single Member in the House who will not want young people to have access to every available ticket, and we will support that fully in every possible way. However, does the Minister share my fear that the excitement stimulated by the prospect of young people going to the games is being undermined by the gradual disappearance of school sport from the lives of children throughout our schools? Does he agree that, as the school sport partnerships are dismantled and redundancy notices handed out, we should at least establish the desired levels of continuing participation, and take advantage of the chance that still remains to fulfil our legacy promise to transform a generation of young people through sport on the strength of London 2012?
School sport is a vital part of the base of the sporting pyramid, and most young people in the country will have their first experience of sport at school. I make no bones about the fact that it is difficult for us to deliver our commitment against the current public expenditure background, but the right hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that we should make every effort to do so.
My Department’s funding is confirmed for the next four years, and 8,000 schools are now signed up for school games, which is a much better result than we had expected. We are engaged in discussions with the Departments for Health and for Education about the further support that they will provide, and we fully intend to make this a key tenet of London 2012.
We have heard about the schools and colleges that have not taken up their allocation, but aspiring young Olympians in sports clubs such as the Melksham school of gymnastics are disappointed not to have been able to secure tickets. What provision is the Minister making for young members of sports clubs to attend the Olympic and Paralympic games?
The problem is simple: we had 26 million applications for 6.5 million tickets. Even the most basic calculation will make it clear that one will not go into the other, and that there will be a lot of disappointed people. The good news is that I am sure some members of that gymnastics club will have obtained tickets, or will obtain them in further rounds. We should also bear in mind the fact that one of the successes of the last six months has been the securing of the world gymnastics championships, which are coming to this country in 2015.
Creative Industries (Young People)
The Government support young people wishing to enter the creative industries at all levels through apprenticeships, careers advice, degree courses and business start-up schemes. We are expanding apprenticeships, including those in the creative industries, and the National Skills Academy, which was set up by Creative and Cultural Skills, has been successful in increasing the number of career opportunities for young people.
I am sure the Minister will be aware that the television media company Tinopolis, which is in my constituency, is a significant employer of young arts graduates. Vice-chancellors up and down the country are worried about what arts courses they will be able to provide. Can the Minister tell me how many students are taking such courses this year, and how that compares with the number last year?
When young people do manage to get a job, if they choose to listen to the radio in their workplace they may be subjected to hounding by PPL. That company is repeatedly phoning a constituent of mine to demand money for a radio licence when he is working at home in his garage. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this case and the behaviour of the company more generally?
As the Minister will know, the Hargreaves review of intellectual property will result in many opportunities for young people in the creative industries, but there are also some wild and fantastic assumptions, including the claim that if all the recommendations are implemented it will bring £7.9 billion into the economy. That amounts to almost 0.6% of GDP. The Business Secretary now calls this a ballpark figure, as these estimates start to unravel. What is the DCMS view of that figure of £7.9 billion?
The creative industries are incredibly important for jobs and growth, but I am sure the Minister agrees that websites that illegally give access to copyright material are a major problem. Will he assure the House that he will play an active role in discussions between rights holders, search engines and internet service providers in order to tackle these illegal websites, and does he believe an agreement will be reached?
First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his Front-Bench position? I look forward to exchanging views with him for many years to come.
I wholeheartedly endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am working with rights holders and ISPs to achieve a self-regulatory solution. It is also important to work with credit card companies and advertisers; Indeed, later today I shall speak to the Internet Advertising Bureau on this very subject.
3. What progress his Department has made in rolling out superfast broadband to rural communities. (78172)
We have already announced plans to roll out superfast broadband to 90% of the country by 2015. Good progress has been made, with nine parts of the country already at procurement stage, including Highlands and Islands, Lancashire, Cumbria, Wales, North Yorkshire, Rutland, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, Surrey, Kent and Medway.
Broadband Delivery UK has allocated £8 million to Hampshire for the delivery of rural broadband. Although that is very welcome, and much more than was received under the last Government, residents in the rural Test valley are still concerned to know not only when they will receive faster broadband but how long it will take to get there. What can be done to speed up the process?
Absolutely. First, we need Hampshire to submit a broadband plan explaining how it will get broadband access to 100% of Hampshire residents, with 90% of them getting superfast access. We are strongly encouraging councils to look at the 10% who will not get superfast immediately and to make it as easy as possible for them to get superfast access by 2015, especially by those communities finding their own community solutions.
I recently met the Leicestershire county council champion for broadband, Mr Byron Rhodes. He is very grateful for the financial assistance he is getting from the Government, but he has asked me to make the point that councils would appreciate having the maximum flexibility in delivering their own solutions. Does the Secretary of State agree that councils are best placed to deliver maximum connectivity, as they know their own areas best?
I absolutely agree. We have quadrupled the amount of money going into superfast broadband roll-out. When £530 million became available following the BBC licence fee settlement, we could have signed one big contract with BT for a national roll-out. Instead, we parcelled it up into 40 lots, and made it available to councils so they can take ownership of solving broadband problems in their areas. The response has been superb and there is enormous enthusiasm, so that was a good localist solution.
Many of those in rural communities who use superfast broadband will log on to Amazon to buy books and other artefacts, but does the Secretary of State agree that Amazon needs no help from the British Library? Will he look into the worrying development that the British Library is allowing users browsing its online catalogue to click through to Amazon, which will potentially have a major effect on the book retail market?
We obviously want to support the retail book market, but as a Government we have to be neutral about whether people obtain their books through the internet or by going to bookshops. However, I will certainly look into the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises. The reality is that companies such as Amazon are doing a great deal to promote reading. I think that partnerships with organisations such as the British Library can have a positive impact. I will happily look at what he says.
This week’s “Communications Infrastructure Report” by Ofcom reveals that 14% of British homes still do not have access to decent broadband. By delaying Labour’s universal broadband pledge by three years, are not this Government letting down rural businesses and communities?
I gently remind the hon. Lady that we have quadrupled the amount of money available for superfast broadband; we have brought forward the roll-out of superfast broadband from the next Parliament, which was and still is Labour’s policy, to this Parliament; and in October the Chancellor announced £150 million to get rid of mobile coverage gaps and increase mobile coverage to 99% of the population. I think that our record is pretty good.
Visit Britain’s tourism marketing activities have been refocused to include a stronger emphasis on promoting the UK to potential EU visitors. That is in contrast to the previous Government, who took this important market for granted. Our most recent initiative is GREAT, a major international campaign announced by the Prime Minister on 21 September, which will promote the UK globally as one of the best places to visit, study, work and invest.
The exhibition of the Staffordshire hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold in Washington DC is a great success and will encourage tourism to the UK. Will my hon. Friend work with the owners of the hoard to encourage the promotion of similar exhibitions in European cities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the Staffordshire hoard is a glittering jewel, both literally and figuratively, in the British crown. It shows our history in a completely new light and transforms our understanding of a particular period of our nation’s story. It will indeed draw many tourists to this country, and I hope that it will be involved in many international tours to spread that message more widely.
The vital south-west tourism industry says that the single measure that would make a difference to it would be an extra hour of daylight, particularly in spring and autumn. When will the Government fulfil their promise on this, and why is the Department not pushing much more vigorously within Government for the change?
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that a private Member’s Bill on that issue is going through Parliament. He will also be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that the Government do not want to move forward on this without the consent of people from the whole of Britain. That means that the people of Scotland, for example, must be comfortable with the move before we take it forward.
I congratulate the Government on the boost to tourism that will be achieved with the extra money from the regional growth fund. I also commend the Secretary of State for the amount of time that he is devoting to taking an around-Britain tour to promote tourism. Does the Minister agree that it is not just his Department that needs to prioritise tourism? It is essential that Departments such as the Department for Transport and the Home Office, in relation to visa policy, also recognise the importance of tourism to our economy.
I could not agree more. This is quintessentially a cross-departmental role that we have to fulfil. The Government’s tourism policy, published in March this year, deliberately included input from all those Departments to ensure that we were all speaking with one voice.
The most prominent 2012 cultural festivals and events will come under the cultural Olympiad umbrella. Since my appointment, I have taken every opportunity to work with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in arranging a cultural Olympiad of which we can be proud.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he share with the House how much of the cultural Olympiad budget has so far been spent in Scotland? Will he assure the people of Scotland that when the follow-up programme is announced later this month, Scotland will get its fair share?
I am certain that Scotland will get its fair share. In fact, I have recently had a meeting with the Scottish culture Minister and we are going to have a cultural policy meeting of all Ministers. Ministers from around the world will go to Edinburgh after the Olympics. The Edinburgh international festival will play a prominent part in the cultural Olympiad. There were 70 events in Scotland at the last open weekend in 2011. Scotland is fully on board the cultural Olympiad, and quite rightly so.
Next year also provides an opportunity for a grand national festival and celebration because of the Queen’s diamond jubilee. May I tell my hon. Friend that in Banbury and Bicester we are already planning for that event, and in Banbury we intend to hold the largest street party in the country?
The Minister spoke of an Olympic year in which we can be proud. How does he propose to deal with the current dispute between the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and those campaigning on behalf of the 25,000 victims of the Bhopal disaster, and Union Carbide/the Dow Chemical Company having been given the wrap for the stadium? That does not fit with the sustainability and corporate social responsibility criteria of LOCOG.
I am aware of the dispute, which is obviously on the desk of my colleague the Minister for Sport and the Olympics. I would say that the Dow Chemical Company is a top sponsor of the International Olympic Committee and my understanding is that it has been for many years.
Stadiums (Disabled Access)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will link questions 6 and 17.
We are working hard to bring all stadiums up to the necessary standards—
Order. May I say to the Minister that it is a courtesy for the Department to seek clearance of such groupings in advance of the sitting? Exceptionally, I will allow it today but it is a rank discourtesy to the House simply to announce it in that way without prior notification.
I can only apologise, Mr Speaker. I thought that that had been done.
We are working hard to bring all stadiums up to the necessary standards. The Sports Grounds Safety Authority, formerly the Football Licensing Authority, has published “Accessible Stadia”, which has made an important contribution to delivering better facilities for disabled spectators, not just at football grounds but at all sporting venues. However, much needs to be done and we are working closely with the Football Association and the professional leagues to achieve this.
I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. I invite him to congratulate the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign on its Trailblazers campaign on promoting better access to stadiums. Will he meet a delegation of young people from the campaign to discuss their aims?
I am very happy to acknowledge the campaign in the way that the hon. Gentleman asks. If he would allow me, I would rather those young people met the Football League first. If he has any difficulty in fixing that meeting, I would be happy to do that. If there are any issues that cannot be resolved or that arise out of that meeting, I will of course be happy to meet them in due course.
I thank the Minister for his answer. The Liberal Democrats and, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster), have been campaigning on this issue tirelessly. A large proportion of the 30,000 disabled supporters who regularly attend matches in England still encounter a range of problems related to access, so I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what additional spend may be possible in the next year or so in support of the Trailblazers campaign.
Directly, Sport England has earmarked £8 million of lottery funding for disabled sport issues, but there is an opening at the moment in a way that there possibly has not been before. As a result of the Select Committee’s report on football governance, the football authorities are consulting on a range of licences that will govern the running of the leagues. This is an extremely good moment for the hon. Gentleman and others interested in this campaign to feed into that process and make recommendations.
But the Minister will know that this is long overdue; as the previous sports Minister, I tried, as he has done, to push the FA into making sure that access was available. Is this not about the role of the FA too? Can he update us on its reorganisation?
Yes, of course I can. I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman did on this during his time in office. As a result of the Select Committee report, we produced a response in September. That has set a straightforward deadline to the three football bodies—the FA, the Football League and the Premier League—to come back to us with firm proposals to address the three central tenets of that report: the FA board, the licence, and the link with the councils. I expect that work to be completed by the end of February.
In this day and age it really is not acceptable that only 13 football grounds in the country meet the minimum standards and I am sure the Minister would agree that we should be moving towards a time when people with disabilities should not be turned away from a football ground because they cannot be accommodated. In its evidence to the Select Committee, Level Playing Field highlighted a number of horror stories. Its representatives talked to me about a gentleman who had turned up on crutches and been turned away because, he was told, his crutches might be used as a weapon. What is the Minister doing actively to move the FA to improve the situation and increase the number of grounds that provide at least the minimum facilities for people with disabilities?
The former sports Minister nods. There is therefore somebody at the head of the FA who understands this agenda. As I said in answer to an earlier question, there is an opportunity now with the new licensing system, and I will certainly encourage the FA to take every available step.
Ofcom is consulting on its plans for the auction of 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum by the end of 2012. The Government are also committed to releasing 500 MHz of spectrum, which is currently used by the public sector, over the next 10 years.
Will the Minister confirm that he will undertake that sale by the end of 2012 and that that will be a firm commitment to the House? May I also, in passing, urge him to examine very favourably the recommendations that have been issued today by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport about ensuring that private companies do not make windfall profits from what were once public assets?
The right hon. Gentleman makes very valid points. This is an independent process that is run by Ofcom, but he is right to indicate that if mobile phone companies decide to litigate this process, as they have in the past, that will seriously hold it up and be of great detriment to the consumer.
The Minister’s focus on delivering broadband through mobile technology and fibre is commendable and the investment is very welcome, but will he join me in calling on mobile operators and Ofcom to deliver the will of the House by delivering 98% broadband coverage through mobile technology in the 4G network?
I very much welcome the Select Committee report that was published this morning. The House will be aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced an additional £150 million to invest in mobile networks in order to cover many of these not spots. We certainly wish to get much greater mobile phone coverage, particularly because of its importance to broadband.
When the Labour Government left office, the sale of the 4G spectrum was scheduled for 2010, but it has been delayed twice since the general election, which has meant a loss of £300 million a year in fees and a delay of at least £2 billion in auction receipts. If Ministers had pressed Ofcom to do this to the original timetable, they would have needed no cuts in their departmental budget and they could have handed over a surplus to the Treasury. Why have they been so lackadaisical?
I welcomed the hon. Lady to her new position at two very lively Westminster Hall debates last week, but may I welcome her again, to the Dispatch Box? It is hard to know where to start in pointing out how wrong the points she makes are. First, any receipts would have gone to the Treasury; and secondly, the delay was caused by the previous Government, who could have done this five years ago. They left us an order on their last day in office at a time when Orange and T-Mobile were separate companies, but when those companies merged that had to change. We have got on with this whereas Labour delayed for five years.
The Arts (Expenditure)
Cuts are a challenge for all arts organisations and we have tried to mitigate the situation with four-year budget settlements and an increase in lottery funding of 43%, with the result that we have been able to preserve free admission to museums.
I could thank the Minister for that very complacent answer, but the arts have faced huge cuts of 29% and the Government say that the cuts will be replaced by “philanthropic giving” although the level of donations always falls in a downturn. How much of the 29% cut in the arts has been replaced by philanthropic giving?
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman. Philanthropic giving to major arts organisations stands at £250 million and went up 6% last year. Lottery funding changes that we introduced, which his party did not support, will add £80 million a year to the arts budget by 2013—so, more philanthropy and more lottery. His party was talking about cuts of 20% across the whole of Government whereas we have limited cuts to 15%, so there are lower cuts as well.
I welcome the shadow Secretary of State and her team to their new posts.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the biggest threat to funding for the arts is anything that damages income to the national lottery, such as the so-called society lottery set up by Richard Desmond and his newspapers? Does the Secretary of State believe that that lottery abides by the spirit and letter of current legislation? If not, what is he going to do about it; and if he believes it does, should we not change the legislation?
My right hon. Friend is well aware of my concerns about anything that challenges or threatens the important income that goes to good causes from the national lottery. He will know that the Gambling Commission and the National Lottery Commission are looking at this, and we await what they have to say with great interest.
Electronic Programme Guides
It is the duty of Ofcom from time to time to review and revise the electronic programme guide code. We will consider the electronic programme guide as part of the communications review.
I add my condolences to those expressed by the Minister to the family of Iain Sproat who, when he represented Aberdeen South, was my MP for a short time. Will the Minister ask the Department and Ofcom to look at guaranteeing front-page prominence for public service broadcasting channels such as the UK’s highly successful children’s channels, and extending that prominence so that children’s services are as easy to find on on-demand TV as they are on live TV?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, the EPG is the most important lever to protect public service broadcasting going forward. We are reviewing it as part of the communications review, and we may legislate to protect public service broadcasting.
Rugby League Four Nations Tournament
Sport England is providing £27.5 million to the Rugby Football League to support the grassroots in the period 2009-13. We are also providing up to £1.5 million to help with the hosting of the rugby league world cup in 2013. As with the six nations tournament in rugby union, we do not provide direct financial support for the Four Nations cup in rugby league, but I wish it every success.
I thank the Minister for his answer and for his support. The all-party rugby league group is delighted to host the Rugby League International Federation board today, and I am sure that he will want to join us in welcoming the return of international rugby league to Wembley with the Four Nations double header on Saturday. Does he welcome the fact that there is going to be a statue of a rugby league player at Wembley, and will the Government assist in making that a success as well?
I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the international board. That is a fantastic achievement, and yes, it is right that an appropriate way to mark that connection should be found at Wembley, which is a stadium that resonates with rugby league history as well as football history. I will of course do anything that I can to help.
In the other rugby code, rugby union has just seen a successful world cup in New Zealand. The next tournament will be in England in 2015, and the town of Rugby in my constituency is already preparing to receive visitors to the home of the game. Will the Minister lend his support to that work?
Sports Clubs (VAT)
A range of tax benefits is available to community clubs under the CASC—community amateur sports clubs—scheme, including 80% mandatory rate relief, gift aid on donations, and exemption from some levels of corporation tax. I wrote to the Economic Secretary on 10 August to ask that tax exemption thresholds be increased in line with inflation. To date, just over 6,000 clubs have registered and have benefited from an estimated £100 million in savings since the launch of the scheme.
I thank the Minister for his response. Will he look in particular at an issue that has been raised with me by Powerleague, a five-a-side organisation that believes that the tax arrangements on VAT, which had been in place for the past 20 years but have recently been changed, will have a heavy impact on its membership?
I wrote to the Treasury to take that issue up on behalf of a number of small five-a-side providers. The issue is not that the regulation has changed but simply that its interpretation has been clarified. Some providers were paying VAT, but others were not. That conversation is ongoing, but the point of the intervention by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was to level the playing field.
I thank the Minister for his answer to the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). I would like to raise the same issue: playfootball.net in Stopsley in my constituency is facing challenges to its finances as a result of the changes. Surely if the regulation has been applied in a certain way for the past 20 years, suddenly to change it now would be a silly idea.
The issue is fairness in the tax system. If some providers are being taxed in a certain way and others are not, that provides a competitive advantage that many would argue is unfair. What is important is that the same rules apply, whatever they are. As I said, we are in discussions with the Treasury and we will continue those discussions. The important thing is that the rules are applied equitably to all providers.
My Department fully recognises the economic and cultural value of dance to the UK. The performing arts, including dance, contribute more than £3 billion to the UK economy.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response, which shows the economic benefits of dance to the UK, although he did not mention the cultural benefits. I declare an interest, as my son is a dancer and works in that industry. Does the Minister agree that injured dancers are unable to contribute to that cultural and economic benefit? What is the Department doing to assist the sector to get dancers who are injured back to health, fitness and work?
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to inform the House that on Monday we will be announcing the route of the torch relay for next year’s Olympics. The torch arrives on 18 May. It will be travelling for 70 days, going through 1,000 communities. Unfortunately, it will not go through every hon. Member’s constituency, but I can assure the House that 99% of the population will be within 20 miles of the torch route.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We focus heavily on growth through our broadband agenda, our tourism agenda and the economic boost of the Olympics next year, but I would not want to deceive him by saying that it is not fun as well. He could be part of that fun by coming along regularly to DCMS questions.
Sorry to spoil the fun. With mounting evidence of the Murdoch empire knowingly using illegal phone hacking, and with the Press Complaints Commission appointing a Tory peer, former Thatcher Cabinet Minister Lord Hunt, as its new supposedly independent chair, it is ever more evident that radical change is necessary and must not be kicked into the long grass. Will the Secretary of State tell the House when he expects to be in a position to bring forward his Green Paper, and when he expects to be able to introduce legislation?
I welcome the right hon. and learned Lady to her position. I hope that she agrees with me that this is the best job in government and that it has some fun in it as well as the serious issues that she mentions. I agree with her entirely. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is making comments from a sedentary position. Let me remind him that 300 breaches of the Data Protection Act were brought to the attention of the previous Government by the Information Commissioner and they did nothing about that. We have had one, and we are overhauling the system of press regulation. We do not want to go too far in the opposite direction and stop the press being free, vibrant and robust. That is very important. The independent inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson will be reporting on press regulation and the relationship between the press and politicians by September next year, and we hope to be able to bring to the House a White Paper before the end of next year, which will include what we think should happen on the basis of his recommendations.
T2. I welcome what the Government have already done to enhance super-fast broadband opportunities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a clarion call to all businesses and communities, especially in rural areas such as Gloucestershire, to make sure that people understand that there is a strong demand for enhanced service? (78194)
I completely agree with my hon. Friend and thank him for his excellent work. I have been to Gloucestershire, where the county council is on fire with excitement, which I was not expecting, at the prospect of super-fast broadband getting to the most remote villages. It has a big role, he has a big role and we must do everything we can to bang the drum.
T3. Has the Minister seen a demonstration of TalkTalk’s HomeSafe system, which enables families to keep their children safe not only from internet porn, but from sites on suicide and on bomb-making, and all sorts of unsuitable sites? Does he agree that unless internet service providers do more to enable family-friendly systems to protect children, the Government will have to legislate? (78195)
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I have seen the TalkTalk system. I have said to ISPs again and again that I prefer self-regulation to legislation, but the mood of the House is for action and legislation. This is not about censorship, but about giving families the tools to protect their children from inappropriate content, and we rely on ISPs to come up with solutions.
T4. Is the Minister aware of concerns over the quality and frequency of subtitling services on television? A constituent of mine who relies entirely on subtitling feels that the service could be significantly improved and that in the 21st century it should be 100% accurate. (78196)
In 2007, News International’s lawyers, as we now know but have recently learned, wrote to senior management at the News of the World, including James Murdoch, to make it explicit that the “sole rogue reporter” line was completely untrue. Does the Secretary of State really believe, with BSkyB’s annual general meeting coming up on 29 November, that James Murdoch is a fit and proper person to chair the company any longer?
The hon. Gentleman has campaigned extensively on this. The most important thing is that the truth comes out. James Murdoch is speaking to the Select Committee, Lord Justice Leveson is conducting an inquiry and there are extensive police inquiries. It would be inappropriate for me to make specific comments on who should do what job before the inquiries are completed, but this Government launched the process to resolve this and are doing everything possible to ensure that we end up in the right place.
T7. Will the Minister commend the work of Attitude is Everything, which works extremely hard to promote disabled access to music venues? Going to a music concert is brilliant for the morale of many disabled people and people in wheelchairs, and access— (78199)
I received my hon. Friend’s invitation and immediately sent it to my officials with a note stating, “This invitation comes from one of the most important Members of the House and a rising star, and we must take his concerns seriously.” He raises the important issue of disabled access, which we have already discussed in relation to sport.
The Government have spent the past year attacking FIFA following the World cup bidding process, but does the Minister think that a flimsy assurance from the organisation’s president is sufficient guarantee that a Team GB Olympic football team will not compromise the footballing independence of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England?
The key thing with FIFA is not what it says but what it does, and as far as the larger reform programme is concerned we will judge FIFA by its results. It has been absolutely categorical about this issue, and it is about time everybody stopped playing politics with it and remembered the athletes, who have an unbelievable opportunity to compete in a home Olympics. Can we get behind the athletes and stop playing politics?
My constituent Julia Donaldson is the author of many much-loved children’s books, including “The Gruffalo”, and she is also the children’s laureate. As a passionate advocate of the benefits of reading for children, she is also concerned about the possible impact of library closures. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet Julia and a group of campaigners to discuss the issue?
On the question of Olympic security, most competing nations will have training centres and cultural homes or houses. May I ask the Minister whether the list has finally been published, and seek an assurance that those venues will be protected during the course of the games?
The final list has not yet been published, because negotiations are still ongoing and there is quite a long tail in Olympic terms, with smaller nations and so on and so forth; indeed, some of the larger ones are split between a number of venues. It is the responsibility of those nations to tie up security with the local police force, but that is very much part of the agreement and will be done.
Now that the International Association of Athletics Federations has received an assurance that the athletics track will remain in the Olympic stadium, what has been done to help promote London as an outstanding city for the world athletics championships?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which is a good one at the end of Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport questions. We have already had the evaluation commission in London; the Mayor and I spent two days with it. The bid comes up next week, and I am sure that everybody in the House will want to wish UK Athletics and the bid team—and probably even me as part of it—all the very best of luck, because it would be a fantastic tournament to bring home to this country.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
The Government are committed to strengthening the opportunities for hon. Members to hold the Executive to account. We have introduced a number of measures to increase Back Benchers’ power, including establishing the Backbench Business Committee, helping to facilitate the election of Select Committee Chairs and members, extending Select Committee powers over public sector appointments and relinquishing the Executive’s power to call general elections.
I obviously did not make my question clear enough; I was talking about free votes. Quite rightly, the Government have reformed a lot in Parliament and have done a very good job, but as a reformer, here is just a suggestion: between now and the end of the Session, could we have free votes in Committees to test out what the Prime Minister promised us in May 2009 and see how it works?
For my hon. Friend, every vote is a free vote. The speech that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made referred to Public Bill Committees and suggested not total free votes but more free votes; and we have had more free votes in the House on certain issues which, in the previous Parliament, were whipped. Having said that, I hope my hon. Friend will understand that most of us got here wearing a party label, and that it is wholly legitimate for the party to expect some loyalty to the manifesto on which the Member stood.
Since gaining the keys to No. 10, the Prime Minister has alienated at least 81 of his colleagues over the vote for the EU referendum and is yet to deliver free votes on other issues. Is it not the case that here we have a Government led by a cavalier Prime Minister, who is abandoning his cheap promises more quickly than he is distancing himself from his unhappy Tory Back Benchers?
The hon. Lady would be speaking from a position of strength had her party not divided on precisely the same issue as the Government. It is an issue on which all parties were divided last week, and my right hon. Friend has not alienated 81 Back Benchers.
Since the launch of the site in July, five petitions have reached the threshold of 100,000 signatures, and three out of those five have already been allocated time for a debate. I am not able to predict precisely how many more petitions will reach the threshold by July next year, but the current rate demonstrates the significant interest and support that e-petitions have created.
There is, indeed, a significant interest. I am glad that the Backbench Business Committee has been able to schedule a debate on the FairFuelUK campaign’s petition later this month, and I look forward to a debate now that our campaign for financial education in schools has reached 100,000 signatures on the e-petitions site. Given that petitioners will naturally expect to secure a debate once they reach that threshold, will my hon. Friend keep under review the amount of time that is allotted to the Committee this year?
We have already made it clear that, in the light of the extended first Session of Parliament, the intention is to provide extra days for the Backbench Business Committee, which is doing a very good job of reflecting interests outside. The threshold is one of eligibility—making a petition eligible for debate. It is then for a Member of the House to take that forward, and for the Backbench Business Committee to decide whether it is a matter that has not been debated in some other form.
The Deputy Leader of the House says no, but many of my constituents believe that to be the case. If that is so, and it is the Government’s intention, will they make available such business in Government time, rather than relying on my colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee?
That was never our intention for the petition site. It is a mechanism for allowing members of the public to express an interest in a matter, and it is for the Backbench Business Committee, which has the time available, to consider that. If we find that there is a huge oversubscription, of course we will have to look at it, and I think the Procedure Committee will want to do that in due course. It makes sense to do so. However, we must not lose the capacity for the House properly to consider legislative business as it should, or to consider matters raised by hon. Members, which is also important.
I pay tribute to all hon. Members and staff of the House who are contributing to the excellent array of events in Parliament week. As part of that, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will meet members of the UK Youth Parliament, and will speak at the beginning of its debate in this place tomorrow.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and associate myself with his remarks about congratulating all the staff involved in making the events possible. Parliament week is a fantastic initiative, with events around the UK, the BBC’s “Question Time” in Westminster Hall, and the excellent UK Youth Parliament debate here tomorrow. What does my hon. Friend think can be done to extend the spirit of Parliament week in promoting democratic engagement to the other 51 weeks of the year?
I commend my hon. Friend for her contribution; I understand that she took part in a young people’s “Question Time” event on Monday evening before an audience of more than 200. That was excellent. Engagement with the public, particularly with young people, is extremely important. The programme takes place not just in this place in Westminster; the whole point is to take that engagement out to the country, using a variety of methods. My hon. Friend makes a very good point that it should not be just for one week a year. We must make sure that the general public understand what the House is for, and how they can engage with it. We are determined to make that a reality every week of the year.
Following on from what the Deputy Leader of the House has said, as part of Parliament week I gave a tour of Parliament for sixth-formers from Landeau Forte college this week, and next week I will see students from Rawlett college. What can the Government do every week of the year to make sure that students learn more in schools about our Parliament and its history, so that they are more engaged with Parliament and the democratic process?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his involvement with young people. As I said, we must build on the extremely good work being done by the Department for Education, the education services in the House and others to make that a reality. A variety of things are happening that may engage the interest of young people. For example, there is even a parliamentary week app for tablets. I have downloaded it, and it is very good. The only drawback is that for some obscure reason, it has a 12-plus rating on the grounds of mild or occasional sexual content, nudity, fantasy violence, alcohol and drug abuse, profanities and crude humour—all of which are far from the normal life of hon. Members.
I took the opportunity to write to all the schools in my constituency to inform them about Parliament week and the excellent resources that were available to them. As a result, I was at a school last Friday and I will be visiting another school tomorrow. Does the Deputy Leader of the House know how many hon. Members have actively taken part in promoting and attending Parliament week events? How will he encourage those who have not participated on this occasion, to make sure that they do so next year?
The honest answer is that I do not know how many hon. Members have taken part, but from speaking to colleagues around the House, it seems that a significant number have done so. Those who have not done so have missed an opportunity, and let us hope that they will do so at different stages, not only during Parliament week next year but throughout the year, as the hon. Lady suggests.
The promotion of Parliament is of course a noble cause. However, does the Leader of the House agree that the continuation of allowing Members who do not take their seats in this place to claim expenses from this place, to claim offices in this place, and to claim salaries from this place is a scar on Parliament? When is he going to bring a comprehensive statement to this House—
The Government recognise the value that pre-legislative scrutiny can add and we are committed to seeing more measures published in draft. So far this Session, we have published draft measures on Lords reform, financial services, defamation, detention of terrorist suspects, individual electoral registration and electoral administration, and a groceries code adjudicator. The Government expect to publish further measures in draft this Session, including on parliamentary privilege.
I am seriously grateful to my hon. Friend and to the business managers for arranging more pre-legislative scrutiny, which is very important. Can he assure us that, as the plans are laid for the next parliamentary year, starting next May, all Departments understand the benefit of, and the priority for, pre-legislative scrutiny and the disbenefit of introducing Government changes to Government Bills after they have been published?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. That is exactly the point that we repeatedly make to Departments: it is in everyone’s interests including theirs that we have proper scrutiny, because better legislation has an easier passage through the House. Increasingly, we have dealt with measures rather than whole Bills, because when a measure is ready for publication it makes sense for the House to have an opportunity to scrutinise and improve it prior to the publication of a Bill.
Can the Deputy Leader of the House therefore give a guarantee that in future all Bills will have had pre-legislative scrutiny before they get on to the Floor of the House, so that we do not have the debacle that we had over the Health and Social Care Bill?
I cannot give that guarantee any more than the previous Government, of whom the hon. Lady was a supporter, could give it. There will, for instance, be Bills that start in the Lords, where there is a different procedure, which means that they would not be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny in this House. However, it is our intention, wherever possible, to ensure that it happens. Inevitably, there is a slightly different position with an incoming Administration, when it is in no one’s interests for the House to do absolutely nothing for six months while we await Bills for pre-legislative scrutiny.
Access to Ministers
The Government are committed to hon. Members having access to Ministers and, where appropriate, Government officials. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has recently taken up a number of cases with his ministerial colleagues where it was felt that meetings with Ministers were not forthcoming. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific concerns, my right hon. Friend and I will be happy to take them up on his behalf.
I am grateful for that reply. I have never been admitted to a Government Department—at least, not since I was a Minister—without having a prior appointment, showing my parliamentary pass, and being accompanied by a pass-holding civil servant. How was Adam Werritty able to avoid those restrictions? Will the Government regularly publish details of all official meetings between Ministers and other people to reassure Parliament that access to Ministers is transparent and not partisan, and based on need and Government policy?
The report from the Cabinet Secretary has been published, and changes in the ministerial code have been put in place. Clearly things happened in this instance that have been regretted and have resulted in changes, but I do not think we should have free access to Departments. It is very clear that that is also the Prime Minister’s view.
The Leader of the House is aware of my interest in having access to Ministers taking decisions in Europe, and particularly in Back Benchers having the power to amend draft regulations. Rather than being able to amend a motion to hold Ministers to account, may we please have the power to amend the actual implementing regulations?
I think we have strayed a little far from the original question, which was on access to Ministers, but—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) says more from a sedentary position than he does standing up, and that is saying a lot. [Interruption.] He is carrying on doing it now. [Interruption.]
I am so glad somebody does.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) raises an important point. She may like to approach the Procedure Committee, because it is really a question of procedure, rather than one of access to Ministers, on which I might reasonably be expected to have some impact.
This issue could be considered as part of the review of the operation of the Backbench Business Committee. The hon. Lady knows, because we have had discussions, that we hope that will be undertaken fairly soon.
The hon. Lady will recall that she sat on the Wright Committee. I did not, but she did and so did my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and we were committed to putting into effect the recommendations of the Wright Committee. She will recall that the Committee stated, in paragraph 214 of its report, that
“it could be left open to a process of regular discussion and negotiation as to which day of each week would be devoted to backbench business. This would avoid the rigidities referred to above.”
We have simply taken that recommendation—she may or may not have agreed with it, because I know she did not agree with all of what the Wright Committee recommended—and put it into effect. I have to say, there are advantages to having that flexibility.
Civil Society Select Committee
8. What plans he has to bring forward proposals for a Select Committee on Civil Society; and what representations he has received on the remit of any such committee. (78813)
In light of the recommendations of the Wright Committee that the House should reduce the number of Committees and end overlapping or duplicate remits, we have no plans to do so.
It is very interesting that the Cabinet Office website, which announced with great passion that that Committee would be provided, does not record the withdrawal of that offer. Why has the Government’s decision been reversed, and why is it being kept secret?
The establishment of Committees is a decision for the House, not the Government, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware. The Cabinet Office is scrutinised by the Public Administration Committee, which is currently undertaking an inquiry into civil society entitled “Smaller Government: Bigger Society?” I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and his Committee for their work on that matter and on other issues that are important to the Government. The matter is being looked at by a parliamentary Select Committee.
Hon. Members will be aware of recent developments in the eurozone. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are at the G20 meeting in Cannes as we speak, and we understand that the Greek Cabinet is due to meet imminently as well. We will not be providing a running commentary on the market and media speculation of those events, but I can reassure the House that the Prime Minister will be making a statement to the House on Monday.
What is clear, however, is that the instability in the eurozone continues to have a chilling effect on the rest of the European, the UK and the entire global economy. As the Chancellor has said, a resolution to that crisis is in our vital national interest. It is vital that the eurozone members reach a solution that is coherent, comprehensive and lasting. Last week, European Heads of State reached an outline agreement that laid out a blueprint to resolve the crisis. It was a three-pronged strategy. First, weak European banks should be recapitalised. Importantly, in the assessment of the European Banking Authority and our own regulatory authorities, no British banks require additional capital, which is an important expression of confidence in the country’s banking system.
Secondly, the unsustainable position of Greece’s debts should be resolved. In particular, a headline agreement was reached to reduce the Greek debt to gross domestic product ratio to 120% by 2020, through an additional €30 billion of euro area money and private holders of Greek sovereign debt being asked to accept a nominal write-down of 50%. Thirdly, eurozone member states should reinforce the bail-out fund to create a firewall, either by using the fund to insure new debt or by attracting public and private investors through a special purpose vehicle. Both mechanisms are designed to have the capacity to leverage around €1 trillion. This package demonstrated the commitment of the euro area member states to stand behind the single currency. It was progress, but more details are needed on how it will work.
Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, however, of developments in Greece since that agreement was reached last week. There is no doubt that the decision by the Greek Prime Minister has added to the instability and uncertainty in the eurozone. Ultimately, it is up to Greece to make its own decisions, but it is critical that all parties stick to the deal that was agreed last week. That agreement is an important part of the economic recovery here in the UK, across Europe and across the global system. If the euro area collectively does not decisively sort out its ongoing problems, the uncertainty that that creates and its impact on global confidence will continue to undermine economic recovery across the world.
This is uncertainty that the global economy can ill afford, and uncertainty that has been a drag on all our economies for months. We will continue to urge our euro area counterparts to press for a decisive resolution of the crisis at the G20 at Cannes over the coming days, but at no point have we committed any British taxpayer money—not to Greece, not to the bail-out fund.
I want to address directly the question of UK commitments through the International Monetary Fund. Britain has always been one of the largest shareholders in the IMF, and there may well be a case for further increasing the resources of the IMF to keep pace with the size of the global economy. We stand ready to consider the case for further resources if necessary, but let me be clear: we are only prepared to see an increase in the resources that the IMF makes available to all its members. We would not be prepared to see IMF resources reserved only for use by the eurozone. The IMF can use its expertise to help administer its fund, but it can only lend to countries with a programme for adjustment. A potential special purpose vehicle for the euro area bail-out fund does not fit that bill.
Last week’s announcement, however, was only the first step to resolving the immediate crisis. In the long term, it is vital that the euro area members follow the remorseless logic to closer fiscal union. It is equally vital that we work together to improve competitiveness in the peripheral countries of the eurozone, as well as the overall competitiveness of the European bloc in the world economy.
The ongoing instability in the euro area is a vindication of the Government’s decision to get ahead of the curve, cut our own deficit and improve our economic competitiveness. Our decisive action to cut the deficit means that the UK has stayed out of the storm, and is the reason we have gilt yields close to the likes of Germany, rather than similar to those of Greece, Italy or Spain. We will encourage our euro area counterparts to do the same over the coming weeks. As I said, the Chancellor and Prime Minister are in Cannes. It is vital that leaders commit in Cannes to increase confidence in the global economy, agreeing the detail of the euro area rescue. The Prime Minister will update the House on Monday.
I thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker, and the Minister for his full response.
It has long been argued by Conservative Ministers that retaining the pound and allowing it to float in line with market conditions has enormous benefits for the British economy. If the British economy is having a difficult time, the value of the pound will fall, which makes exports cheaper and foreign companies’ imports more expensive, thereby increasing growth, jobs and prosperity in the United Kingdom. Equally, Conservative Ministers have always argued that the Bank of England’s ability to set UK interest rates allows the country to encourage growth in a recession and control expansion in a boom.
Both those powerful economic weapons are being denied to Greece, as it is in the euro straitjacket. Will the Minister explain why it is the Government’s policy to deny Greece a way out of its economic crisis by allowing it to withdraw from the euro and re-establish the drachma? Does he think it was a mistake for the German Chancellor and the French President to increase the crisis by making the Greek referendum on the bail-out a referendum on whether Greece remains in the euro? Does the Minister agree that the Greek Government were right to consult their people on the proposed austerity measures, so that if the country votes yes, they will have a mandate to drive through the reforms? What other countries does he think would come under market pressure because of the instability of the euro? Were the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany right to say that they wanted to save the euro at any cost, rather than putting the interests of Europe first? Finally, do the Government have a comprehensive contingency plan for when the euro collapses?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and his response to my statement. He is absolutely right: it was right for this country to stay out of the euro. That is the settled position of the coalition Government, and it is the right position to adopt. However, that was a decision that the people of this country made. It was not made under duress from other countries; it was a free choice that we made. On that basis, it is better for the Greeks to make their own decisions than for us to offer them advice.
My hon. Friend asked about contingency planning. He would expect every good Government to have plans in place to cover a range of eventualities, and this Government are well prepared for any eventuality.
The Minister should at least have the grace to admit that the reason we are not in the euro is because of decisions by the Labour Government.
Clearly there are major ramifications from the uncertainty in Greece. With the Greek Treasury due to refinance €8 billion on 19 December, time is of the essence. The Minister has told the House that UK banks have more than £2 billion of direct exposure to Greek sovereign debt, so what assurances did the Prime Minister seek from his Greek counterpart at last week’s summit about the implementation of that deal?
The market pressures on the Italian Government are now considerable. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Treasury is preparing for all eventualities? Will he confirm that UK banks have an estimated €10 billion of exposure to Italian sovereign debt? The Italian Government have been unable to agree a deal on structural reforms ahead of this week’s G20 meeting. While the UK has in the past offered bilateral loan aid to Ireland, clearly we would want to avoid being drawn into more significant loans to larger countries. Will the Minister therefore explain whether, in general, the Treasury will entertain support only via the IMF, or could bilateral loans be on the agenda on a case-by-case basis?
Does the Minister believe that the €1 trillion bail-out fund will be sufficient if other eurozone countries are drawn into the danger zone? Will the Greek referendum delay the establishment of the fund?
On the IMF, the Minister knows that many people are anxious to safeguard the interests of British taxpayers, and it would be wrong for the British people to pay twice over—through temporary, ongoing EU funds and the IMF. Does he therefore agree that the eurozone should not rely principally on IMF money for the bail-out and that there can be no excuses for eurozone countries not putting up their own resources? If we are to see a full and permanent euro bail-out fund, we agree that our role should be through the IMF, but what does the Treasury expect will be the scale and timing of any further increases in IMF funds for the eurozone, however they are described?
Finally, with our own growth so weak and with unemployment rising, the Chancellor must surely be regretting his claim that the UK is a “safe haven”. When will the Government take urgent steps to bolster the strength of our own economy to insulate us properly from this international turbulence? Is it not now abundantly obvious we need an immediate plan to boost jobs and growth here in the UK and across Europe? What will the Prime Minister be proposing to boost growth when he meets his G20 colleagues? The Government continue to play a dangerous ideological game, but it is time that they stepped up to the mark and opted instead for a proper strategy for jobs and growth.
Let me first tackle this issue of who kept us out of the euro. The fact that a previous Conservative Government secured an opt-out from the Maastricht treaty meant that we were not going to join the euro. Also, one of the things that we did when we came into office last May was to close down the euro preparations unit in the Treasury. We are taking action on contingency planning for a whole range of outcomes, and that work is under way in the Treasury.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether work would be put on hold on the three legs of the deal that was agreed last week. It is important that the euro area continues to work on those three legs, particularly on the ring fence and on the recapitalisation of the banks. They are important parts of the package, and they are needed to ensure that the eurozone is stabilised. He talked about the various European mechanisms that are in place to support finance. He will remember that the Greek bail-out was originally paid for purely by the eurozone; the UK did not contribute to it and has not contributed to subsequent parts of the bail-out package for Greece. We have negotiated that when a permanent mechanism is put in place to replace the one that the previous Government signed us up to, which we do have to contribute to, that permanent mechanism will not require UK participation. That is an achievement of this Government, getting us out of the mess that the Labour Government put us into in May last year.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the IMF. He will have to remember that it was he who led opposition to increasing our subscription to the IMF—[Interruption.] He says that that was to safeguard Britain’s subscription to the IMF, but it would in fact have marginalised the UK in international debates on tackling the global economic problems that we face today. Labour should think very carefully about its repudiation of the legacy left to it by the previous Prime Minister, who agreed to a trebling of resources for the IMF. We need to take action to stabilise the situation in the eurozone. The uncertainty is casting a chilling effect on the UK economy, and it is important that those issues are tackled as soon as possible.
I wonder how much we can reasonably learn from the Minister, given that the negotiations are taking place in Cannes and that he is here with us today. Anyway, there are one or two questions that we might ask. What assurance can he give us about the UK banks’ exposure not only to Greece but to other eurozone countries at risk? What confidence does he have that the eurozone banks have the capital strength required to withstand a eurozone default?
My hon. Friend asks some interesting questions. I think that I would rather be here in the House than in Cannes at the moment—[Interruption.] It is important that Parliament should hold Ministers to account on these matters, and I am here to answer its questions. On my hon. Friend’s first question about the strength of the UK banks, there has been a process with the leadership, through the European Banking Authority, which is based here in London, and it concluded that the UK banks did not need to be recapitalised. That is partly a consequence of the measures taken over the past two or three years to increase banks’ holdings of capital and highly liquid assets, which have helped to ensure that they are to an extent insulated from the problems in the euro area.
On my hon. Friend’s wider question about the strength of the European banks, I can tell him that, in calculating the amount of additional capital that banks should hold, the EBA determined that they should hold 9% core tier 1, and that, crucially, their holdings of sovereign debt should be marked to market rather than held at face value. That led to the calculation that banks across Europe need to hold an additional €100 billion of capital.
May I urge the Minister not to join others who are criticising Greece for its decision to hold a referendum? George Papandreou is a decent and honourable man, and at the end of the day, if he wishes to put this to the Greek people, it is a matter for them. Whatever their decision—I hope that they will vote to accept the bail-out—we should accept it. This is a country that has voted with us on the European Council on many occasions over the last 20 years.
The Minister will know that the presidency conclusions last week set out 10 new areas of European economic governance. What is the legal basis in the existing treaties for the creation of these new areas of governance and for the creation of a euro summit? Was the Prime Minister asked to give UK consent? Did he give his consent or were the Government bypassed? As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I would be grateful for specific answers to those questions.
My hon. Friend will be aware that a number of actions have been taken throughout this crisis intergovernmentally rather than through the institutions of the European Union. That applied to the creation, for example, of the European financial stability facility. There are ways in which actions can be taken that do not depend on the treaty because they are done between Governments rather than between Governments and the European Commission.
The Minister said something very interesting earlier. He used a phrase that I do not think I have heard a Minister of either side ever use before, which was the remorseless drive towards fiscal union—and, as I understood it, in an approving sense. The danger of that, of course, is that we will end up supporting for the first time a two-speed—a two-tier—Europe, with us very definitely at the second speed and in the second tier. Is that really what he wants?
We have always accepted that the remorseless logic of monetary union is closer fiscal integration. I believe that this crisis demonstrates that monetary union needs to be underpinned by closer fiscal integration. That is not a new expression on my part; I said nothing novel; the Government have taken this view for some time. We need to ensure that the institutional arrangements are in place to support that. What I think hon. Members on all sides of the House want is a stable eurozone because it will contribute towards economic recovery in the UK.
My right hon. Friend will recognise that the agreement that was reached in the European Council last week and then later in the summit of eurozone Governments was on what size the bail-out for Greece should be and what the ring fence should be around that. We welcome last week’s announcement. What is very clear, however, is that more work needs to be done on those questions—particularly what the size of the overdraft will be and who will pay for it. We need eurozone leaders to move that forward as quickly as possible.
Part of Europe’s plan to get Europe and the eurozone out of this mess is the introduction of a financial transaction tax. Will the Minister confirm from the Dispatch Box that such a tax could be introduced through qualified majority voting and that this is essentially own resources, just by another name?
I have to tell the hon. Lady that I am not entirely clear what role a financial transaction tax would play in resolving this crisis. The EU’s own impact assessments on that tax demonstrated that it would lead to lower employment and lower growth across Europe. I do not think that that is in any way going to help tackle the problems in Europe when what we need is more investment, more jobs and more growth.
I think we all heard my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) advocate Greece’s withdrawal from the euro, and a worryingly large number of his Conservative Back-Bench colleagues seem to will the destruction of the euro area. Does the Minister agree that a fragmentation or break-up of the eurozone is not in our economic interest or indeed the national interest?
We have made it very clear that the instability and uncertainty in the eurozone has a chilling effect on the UK economy. What our actions have been driving towards over the course of the last few months is encouraging our partners in the eurozone to take the action needed to tackle the problems so that we can see economic growth strengthened across the whole of the European Union.
I wonder whether the Minister has seen the film “Groundhog Day”. I was here in the early ’90s with another Tory Government, another euro crisis and another Prime Minister battling for his life—the same players, only this time there are about 40 more Tory rebels. It finished up with a Prime Minister being kicked out of office.
Why are the Government advocating fiscal union? I put it to the Minister that the words “remorseless logic” are, in fact, a cover for a policy preference, and that the remorseless logic of the present situation is that fiscal union will be economic dictatorship, that it will fail and that we had better be planning for something else.
I think my hon. Friend would recognise that if a monetary union is to be successful, it requires closer fiscal integration. That is a precondition of the success of monetary union. When the decision was made to opt out of the Maastricht treaty and to keep sterling, one reason for doing so was that monetary union had to be underpinned by fiscal integration. One follows the other as surely as night follows day. That is why I think we were right to take that position then and we are right now to encourage the eurozone, if it wants the euro to be successful, to move towards closer fiscal integration. Frankly, if it does not, it will cause huge economic damage to all of us.
Is it not a matter of plain fact that the Government’s negotiating position and therefore the protection of our national interest is hamstrung because all the time this Minister and his colleagues have to address the Eurosceptics? Britain has got to be involved in these negotiations through the IMF and at Cannes. The Minister needs to face down his Eurosceptics and explain why, if the euro goes down, we lose.
I find the position adopted by Labour Members quite curious. They want us to be at the top table, yet they voted against the increase in our subscription to the IMF, so we would not be at the top table. I believe we have played an important role through European Councils by trying to push our eurozone partners to make progress on tackling problems in the eurozone. We are very clear that matters such as the completion of the single market, competition and financial services should be dealt with by all 27 member states, not by the 17. I believe that this Government are punching way above their weight.
That takes us back to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—that when it comes to discussions about future institutional changes in the EU, we need to ensure that Britain’s interests are safeguarded. Matters such as competition, financial services and the single market should be dealt with by all 27 member states, and we will be relentless in our pursuit of the national interest in that context.
Does the Minister agree that condemnation of the Greek people’s right to have a referendum is entirely incorrect and that they do have that right to hold a referendum; that the people of Greece have suffered greatly through cuts, wage reductions, cuts to pensions and everything else—and they are due to suffer even more—and that it is entirely wrong for the eurozone leaders to try to impose a Government of so-called national unity on the people of Greece to drive through an austerity package without giving the people a choice to decide themselves on their own future?
We would lose our seat on the IMF board; we would lose credibility in international economic debates; and we would lose our influence on measures to solve global economic problems. We would become marginalised—rather like Labour Members when it comes to their contributions to economic debates.
In 2009, when the world faced economic catastrophe after the banking collapse, there was real leadership at the G20 summit in London, which helped to avert a disaster and put Britain back on to a path of growth. Where is that leadership now, and where is the plan for growth?
I thought that the outcomes of that G20 summit were very impressive. I particularly welcomed the achievement of the previous Prime Minister in agreeing a commitment to treble the resources available to the IMF, but the right hon. Gentleman, along with his colleagues, voted against that commitment.
According to the BBC’s economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, the European Commission said this morning that any country that left the euro would also have to leave the European Union. Is that the Government’s understanding of the EU treaties?
It is obvious that, like many other Members in the Chamber, the Minister has not read the Lisbon treaty, because the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) is right. I give way to no one in my support for the IMF—as is clear from the way in which I voted—and my support for the recapitalisation of the banks, but the reality is, surely, that the ordinary people of Greece will go through a massive amount of pain, whereas the bankers, both here and there, will walk off with the money. We are looking after the banks, not the people, so is it really surprising that the Greek people may want to reject the proposal that the Government were involved in placing on their backs?
We all recognise that difficult decisions are involved in the tackling of fiscal deficits, and those decisions must be made. It is owing to this Government’s actions that our interest rates are similar to those of Germany, while our deficit is at the same level as that of Greece.
May I suggest that my hon. Friend should not listen too closely to what is said by Labour Members, given that this crisis is about debt, and given that the last Labour Government more than doubled the national debt? [Interruption.] Yes, they did.
Having said that, may I ask whether my hon. Friend agrees that the set of measures put together by the euro leaders are nothing more than a sticking plaster? They do not address the central cause of the problem, which is a lack of competitiveness. If countries cannot pay their way, this issue will come back to haunt them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need fiscal entrenchment across the eurozone to take place in the same way as we are tackling a fiscal deficit here in the United Kingdom. However, we also need measures, in Europe and elsewhere, to promote growth. That is one of the key areas in which the Prime Minister has been influential, shaping a debate in Europe and persuading European leaders to recommit themselves to improving measures to promote growth and bring about the recovery that the eurozone economy needs.
The money that nations contribute to the IMF goes into its general resources. I believe that there are currently 53 IMF programmes, only three of which are in the eurozone. We have made clear that if the IMF needs to increase its resources to tackle some of the global issues that face economies at present, we will listen to its requests.
While I strongly support my hon. Friend’s tough domestic stance on fiscal matters, may I suggest that, in view of the borrowing problems in Italy, the 20% fall in the monetary base in Portugal and similar problems in Spain, there is a strong case for moving the Cannes conference to the gardens of Versailles?