House of Commons
Thursday 15 December 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—
The provision of library services is the responsibility of local authorities but my Department keeps in close touch with them. Indeed, my officials have met representatives from seven local authorities to discuss their proposals.
Trafford council is withdrawing its mobile library service and axing 15 library staff, and it wants volunteers to run Old Trafford library in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that the expertise of professionally qualified library staff is important in getting people reading and improving literacy and English language skills, particularly in the most disadvantaged communities?
My hon. Friend and I are privileged to represent Oxford constituencies, and Oxford county council is managing to keep all 43 public libraries open notwithstanding a difficult financial settlement. Is not the reasonable inference that some local authorities have elected to make deep cuts in front-line services simply to make a political point and that it is perfectly possible, if local authorities put their minds to it, to keep libraries open?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Local authorities have challenging decisions to make, and my approach is to give them the space and time to make those difficult proposals. Local authorities are going about their provision differently but all have a strong commitment to their library service, and the Government are also strongly committed through maintaining the statutory duty.
Is the Minister aware that some very hard-pressed local authorities up and down our land have already put libraries in children’s centres to dual use? Now that the opening hours of those Sure Start children’s centres are being cut back, people are losing their libraries as well. Will he talk to other Ministers about this matter?
Will the Minister accept an invitation to come to the brand-new Canada Water library, which was designed and planned by a Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition administration but continued and opened under a Labour administration? Both groupings running the council have agreed that there will be no closures across the borough and have sustained services. Will he come and see what can be done when the will is there?
I would be delighted to visit that library, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting what cross-party consensus on libraries can achieve. It is worth reminding the House that although we tend to focus on library closures, it is also worth focusing on the fact that more than 40 libraries are opening or being refurbished across the country.
Libraries are places of great benefit to our country, educationally, culturally and economically, but Government cuts to local authority budgets have placed 600 of them at risk of closure. If they close, they will be lost to our communities forever. What does the Minister believe are his full responsibilities when it comes to protecting Britain’s libraries?
I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the hon. Gentleman on the award of his MBE for his distinguished military service.
My responsibility for library services extends to England, as it is a devolved matter in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I have a responsibility to superintend the library service, and local authorities have a statutory responsibility to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. Unlike the previous Government, we are not putting that statutory duty under review.
Women in Sport
Sport England is investing £480 million in 46 national governing bodies between 2009 and 2013 to grow and sustain participation. This approach is entirely inclusive and encourages opportunities for everybody to participate in sport regardless of their gender. Sport England also funds the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation to provide specialist advice and support to national governing bodies.
I congratulate the Minister on all that he and his Department are doing to increase participation levels, but does he agree that while women’s sport accounts for only 5% of all sports coverage, the profile of sports women will remain so low that not only will talented athletes not make it on to award lists, such as the BBC sport’s personality of the year, but many of our best role models will be totally anonymous, thus making it harder to inspire and encourage women and girls to participate in sport and physical activity?
But is not school sport the bedrock of participation, and should it not be a priority? If so, why have the Minister’s Government cut spending on school sports by 64%? Is that not sending the message that school sport no longer matters?
The first point is that, as the right hon. and learned Lady should know, this Department is not responsible for school sport, which is funded by the Department for Education. What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has championed personally is a school games competition that is intended to drive up participation across both genders.
The Minister talks about driving up participation, but will he tell us how he will monitor how much sport young people are doing in schools when he has scrapped the school sports survey? As his Government have cut the school sports partnership, it is even more important that we know what the effect on participation in sport is. [Interruption.] Is it not remarkable that Ministers are sitting there saying, “It’s nothing to do with us”? They really should be making an impact on Ministers in other Departments to ensure that they support school sport across the whole of Government.
I am afraid the right hon. and learned Lady is mistaken. The policy responsibility for school sport lies with the Department for Education, and she should know that all too well. This Department is playing its part by introducing a new school games competition. That has been extraordinarily successful, with 11,000 schools now signed up. We will also produce a new measure for those aged 16 to 24—precisely the point at which we take responsibility for young people—among whom participation has been falling year on year for most of the last 10 years.
Football Governance (Supporters)
3. What recent assessment he has made of the potential role of supporters in football governance. [R] (86783)
The Government’s response to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport’s football governance inquiry sets out a number of recommendations for increasing supporter representation and ownership at football clubs. In their response, the Government have challenged the football authorities to determine the best way of achieving the right changes, and we will be a key partner in those discussions.
I thank the Minister for that reply and declare my interest as the founder of the Fulham Supporters Trust, notwithstanding our result last night, which demonstrates that we are not the only people who have had a bad week in Europe. I am sure that he will be aware of the proposals published by Supporters Direct on football club licensing. Will he encourage the football authorities to engage with Supporters Direct, in line with his comments about the inquiry by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and his Government’s response to it, to ensure that supporters have a role in football governance in the future?
Yes, I will certainly do that. I am delighted that the premier league still funds Supporters Direct after the events of last year. The football governance reform strategy is about getting the key parts of the front end of the process right—the reform of the Football Association board, the link between the board and the council, and the new licensing system. As part of that licensing system, we expect those concerns to be addressed.
I do not know whether the Minister is familiar with that great football club AFC Bournemouth, which is due to enter the premier league in the next decade. Until that happens, Bournemouth, along with other non-premier league clubs, continues to struggle financially. What more can be done to encourage a greater distribution of wealth in English football?
The distribution of, broadly, the broadcast moneys that go into the premier league and football league is, of course, a matter for those leagues. However, we expect the governance of football to allow for a proper distribution of those moneys. I think everybody across the House is agreed that there is a considerable distance to go before that is achieved, but I hope that it will be as part of this process.
Football Governance (Football Association)
The Secretary of State and I continue to meet the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League collectively to hear their progress on the reforms that the Government have called for in their response to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport’s football governance inquiry. The football authorities have until the end of February to come forward with their proposals.
The Football Association is significantly more enlightened than either UEFA or FIFA when it comes to tackling racism in football. Would the Minister be prepared to meet the all-party group on anti-Semitism and community groups such as Community Security Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust and Searchlight to listen to our concerns about what more the Government, the FA and UEFA can do to tackle the potential for racism at the Euro 2012 championship?
Will the football governance report that the Minister talks about include football agents, because those parasites took £210 million out of the game in the last three years from the premiership alone? Just imagine how that money could be spent within the game, including on football in schools, if it was used properly instead of lining the pockets of these spivs.
Next year represents the biggest opportunity in our lifetime to profile the British tourism industry, and we have announced the biggest ever international and domestic tourism marketing campaign designed to attract an extra 4.5 million visitors to the UK in the years that follow the Olympics.
Continuing the sporting tourism theme, next year the Royal Liverpool golf club will welcome the women’s open golf championships with the first ever women’s day, so we will be developing tourism through our exceptional golf facilities while also ensuring youth engagement and celebrating women’s success. I would like to extend an invitation to one of the Ministers to come along.
I congratulate the Royal Liverpool golf club, and I would be delighted to attend—diary permitting. I agree with my hon. Friend that sport is a massive driver for tourism. Two million people come to this country every year to watch or play sport. I hope that sport in Liverpool will be helped by this week’s announcement of a new local TV station for Liverpool, on which I am sure my hon. Friend will be an early honoured guest.
What is the Secretary of State doing to support the tourism industry to attract more people to smaller conurbations like Halton, which has the excellent Norton Priory museum and the Catalyst science centre, which is currently struggling. What is he doing to attract more people to the, shall we say, less obvious tourist areas?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is part of our commitment—and, indeed, his party’s commitment—to make sure that next year benefits the whole country and not just big cities like London. We have announced that next year we will have the biggest ever campaign to boost the domestic tourism industry, including a nationwide promotion of a 20.12% discount for hotel rooms booked in 2012. I urge him to encourage hotels and attractions in Halton to take part in that promotion, which is a big way to get people to take a holiday at home, as there is so much to see here next year.
Many tourists visiting this country earlier this month would have been horrified when they turned on their television sets in their hotel room only to find a highly paid public presenter advocate that British citizens should be taken out and shot in front their families. What does that say about the future of Britain and what kind of message does it send to the rest of the world?
Eight local authorities have moved to the procurement stage for the roll-out of rural broadband. I will write to all local authorities this week to tell them that as a condition of receiving public funding for their rural broadband programmes, we will need them to move to procurement by the middle of next year and to have signed a contract for the roll-out of broadband by the end of next year in order to make sure that we have the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015.
North Yorkshire is making good progress in its procurement process, but EU procurement rules make it very slow, which is frustrating for many businesses and constituents. What message would my right hon. Friend give them? Will he commit to coming and launching the north Yorkshire pilot once the procurement process is complete?
I would love to, as I recognise that north Yorkshire has gone further faster than many parts of the country and the £18 million grant that it received has helped that. We have tried to make the European regional development fund rules simpler to enable local authorities to tap into them for their rural broadband programmes. I would certainly be happy to help my hon. Friend and every local authority speed up the process of getting these contracts signed.
May I urge the Secretary of State to look very closely at his definition of rural? Many areas that look urban, such as former mining constituencies, actually feel very rural in relation to broadband because businesses still need fast broadband but, because of the contention rate, find it very difficult to get a decent service.
The hon. Gentleman is right. Let me reassure him that our commitment is to 90% coverage of superfast broadband for the whole country. We talk about rural broadband because that is where there are particular challenges, but we are not forgetting semi-rural areas. We want it to apply to the whole country and, indeed, we want our cities to go even further with a faster broadband offering, as announced by the Chancellor in the autumn statement.
I commend the Minister on this initiative but, as he explained, it still leaves perhaps one in 10 households and premises without the prospect of faster broadband. What consideration has he given to the contribution that could be made by innovative wireless technologies, such as the WiBE—or wireless broadband extender—designed by the British business Deltenna in Chippenham, to improving broadband using mobile spectrum networks in rural areas?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Wireless and mobile solutions will be very important in dealing with that final 10%. We are strongly encouraging local authorities, as part of their broadband plans, to come up with a way of reaching that 10%, even if it is not the same mechanism by which we reach the 90%. The kind of technologies he talks about might well have an important role to play.
Work Visas (Musicians)
I have had no such meetings but the arts sector, my officials and the UK Border Agency meet every quarter as part of the arts and entertainment taskforce to have such discussions.
The Minister might be aware that on 6 December some Congolese musicians who had been working with Damon Albarn and Oxfam on a project were refused entry to the UK to perform at Rough Trade Records. I appreciate that there was some confusion about the type of visas they needed to apply for and about the process, but can anything be done to make it easier? It is a valuable, worthwhile project, and it is a shame that they were not able to perform.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her question and for the good work she does to highlight the issues for musicians coming into the UK and for British musicians who wish to travel abroad. My understanding is that those musicians applied for a tourism visa when they should have applied for an entertainment visa, which applies even if someone is performing pro bono. I would happily take any recommendation she has to improve the website and pass it on to colleagues at the Home Office. I shall also ensure that it is discussed at the next arts and entertainment taskforce.
Participation in Sport
Sport England is investing £480 million in 46 national governing bodies between 2009 and 2013 to grow and sustain participation. In addition, we have introduced the new Places People Play lottery-funded legacy programme and will be launching a new sports participation strategy aimed at 16 to 25-year-olds in the new year, to ensure we create a real lasting sports legacy after London’s games.
Sportsmen and women need to have confidence in the governing bodies of the competitions they play in. Will the Minister send a message to FIFA that following the resignation of Mr Havelange from the International Olympic Committee, Sepp Blatter can and must allow the publication of the Zug court report into the $100 million bribery case involving FIFA officials and International Sport and Leisure—that is, ISL?
The Minister knows that one of the main reasons we won the Olympics was our promise on the participation rates, but the target of involving 2 million more people in sport and physical activity has been dropped. I have the greatest respect for the Minister, but further to his earlier answer on school sport, what discussions has he had with the Department for Education about the cuts in school sports and school sports co-ordinators?
No one who is involved in sport wants to see money go out of sport, but the question completely overlooks the economic backdrop that sits behind that. If Opposition Front Benchers are seriously going to say that the level of funding that has been invested in school sport against an economic backdrop in which £120 million is paid out in debt interest payments every day can be maintained, they should tell us what else in sport should be cut instead. I have not heard a single constructive suggestion of that sort.
The person who launched the school games was the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport—it was not the Department for Education. Ministers have been using the figure that one in five children are involved in inter-school competitive sport, and they will know that that figure comes from the PE and sport survey that is carried out in schools every year. That figure is measured on the basis of children taking part in nine competitive sport events against other schools in a school year. We know from what the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said in a Westminster Hall debate that that is not an ambitious target. How is the Minister going to measure the impact of the school games on increasing participation in competitive sport? Is the benchmark nine times in a school year or more?
Let me answer this in two parts. First, a number of schools want to sign up, and I am delighted to say that we have got 11,000 schools signed up, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would welcome. On the part of the equation for which this Department is responsible—the cadre of people from 16 to 25—we will make an announcement in the new year.
I recently visited the Desborough indoor bowling club, which has benefited from an investment via the landfill tax, and I was pleased to see a large, enthusiastic and mainly retired membership. At the other end of the age spectrum, what can the Department do to encourage the participation of retired people in sport?
The next round of whole sport plans will have a concentration of young people, particularly those aged between 16 and 25, but that is not exclusive. I probably ought to be slightly careful about how I say this but for sports such as bowls, which might appeal more to those at the other end of the spectrum, it would be entirely within the remit of the new whole sport plans for the bowls governing body to put in a plan that drives up participation at that level.
It is very important that local authorities take into account the needs of their local communities when assessing their comprehensive library provision. That is why I have written to all local authorities to remind them of that.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the duty to superintend the library service is devolved to the Welsh Government. What I would say to Caerphilly borough council, which I believe is led by Plaid Cymru although there is no overall control, is that I am delighted it is investing in its library service and that it has opened or refurbished six of its libraries.
Hunmanby library will stay open if volunteers man it, but will the Minister intervene to assist with at least a part-time library presence from North Yorkshire county council to enable it to put a business plan in place in the interim?
There is a cross-party commitment to use the games next year to have a lasting sporting legacy for young people. That will partly be through the school games, which my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and the Olympics has talked about, as well as through the extraordinary sports facilities that will be built next year and a new youth sport strategy that is designed to boost participation among young people, which we will be announcing in the new year.
I saw first hand the real difference that a school sports partnership was making to the participation rates and, indeed, the performance of young people in Bolton West. Now that it has gone, how will the Secretary of State ensure that my constituents benefit from the Olympics?
Some school sports partnerships did an excellent job but, overall, participation among young people fell under the last Government—it has fallen from 58% to 54% over the last four years, three of which were under the last Government. That is why we are looking at the whole business of how we reduce the drop-out rate among people leaving school, so that we can have more people who have sport as a habit for life, including in the hon. Lady’s constituency.
12. What recent discussions he has had with the organising committee for the 2014 Commonwealth games on disabled sports. (86797)
The sports programme for the 2014 games is being determined by the Glasgow organising committee in consultation with the Commonwealth Games Federation and the International Paralympic Committee.
My constituent Jemma Morris is an aspiring paralympian in archery, and the county of Carmarthenshire has high hopes that Jemma will fly the flag for Wales next autumn. She will reach her sporting prime in the Commonwealth games in 2014; however, there will be no archery competitions for disabled sportspeople. Will the Minister raise the issue with the Commonwealth Games Federation so that disabled archers are able to showcase their skills on the global stage?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is in the GB squad, but I visited the paralympic archery squad at Lilleshall last year, so I may have met her. The position with the paralympic mix in the Commonwealth games is that four sports are necessarily included, and the local organising committee is allowed to select another four. I suspect the problem may be that Glasgow has not selected archery. Clearly, since this is a devolved issue, my remit over the Glasgow organising committee is limited, but I will certainly raise the issue when I next see the Commonwealth Games Federation.
This week we announced the first cities that will be getting licences for local TV. They are Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Preston, Southampton and Swansea. We hope to award a further 40 licences in the following year.
Ministers are aware of the considerable concern that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ treatment of VAT on five-a-side league football is causing businesses such as the Trafford soccer dome in my constituency. What steps can Ministers take to support this popular sport and ensure that it continues to thrive?
The hon. Lady is from a constituency with fantastic sporting traditions. We want to do everything we can to get more young people playing sport next year of all years. If she supplies us with more details, we will happily make representations to the Treasury, although it is a very difficult climate in which to get concessions on things such as VAT.
T2. Two of my constituents, Audrey Cole and Colin Maddever, live in Doddy Cross, where there is no broadband. Superfast broadband is being rolled out across Cornwall, but these constituents still have to use expensive dial-up, which is frustratingly slow, blocks their incoming calls and increases costs. Furthermore, there are many farmers in that area who have to file their VAT returns online but find that they are unable to do so. What message of help does the Minister have for the 33% of people in South East Cornwall who have no broadband access at the moment? (86737)
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point very powerfully. There are still 250,000 homes in this country with no broadband access at all. We are absolutely committed to making sure that we deal with that problem by the end of this Parliament, which is why we have announced very ambitious plans. Cornwall, like the rest of the country, is being asked to submit a broadband plan that deals with all the broadband “not spots” as well as providing superfast broadband to 90% of its residents. I hope very much that at the next election my hon. Friend will be able to go back to her constituents and say that the problem has finally been addressed.
Today the Indian Olympic Association meets to condemn Dow Chemical’s controversial sponsorship of the 2012 Olympic stadium wrap. Will the Secretary of State join me in reaffirming the Indian Olympic Association’s view that a boycott of the Olympics would merely make Indian athletes the innocent victims of the ongoing controversy caused by the continued debate about liability for the Bhopal gas disaster and ensuing contamination? However, have the Government carried out a risk assessment of Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the 2012 stadium? If not, will he commit to doing so and sharing the results so that an agreed course of action on a cross-party basis can be taken to mitigate any assessed risk of the sponsorship?
Of course I welcome what the Indian Olympic Association has said about a boycott. As the right hon. Lady will know, boycotts are illegal under the Olympic charter. With the greatest respect to her, because of the enormous role she has played in the 2012 project, she is a member of the Olympic board and shares some responsibility for all the decisions that have been made. We look to her to play a constructive role in resolving this difficult situation, not exacerbating it.
T3. Two weeks ago Transparency International cut its ties with FIFA. The corruption watchdog objected to the lack of independence in FIFA’s new outside governance committee and to the fact that its remit will not extend to allegations of past wrongdoing. What pressure will the Minister and the Football Association exert so that we can shine a light on the serious allegations of systemic corruption at FIFA both past and present? (86738)
We will do everything we can, both internationally through our European counterparts and elsewhere, to ensure that FIFA becomes what we all want it to be: a properly transparent and accountable body that is capable of fulfilling the remit it is supposed to have to govern the global game.
T7. It is some time since John Robb of Louder than War approached me about the problems musicians have when trying to get visas to tour the United States, and we brought a delegation to see the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who has responsibility for culture. Will he update the House on the progress being made in talking to the Americans about this and, in particular, whether we can persuade them to look at reciprocal arrangements and adopt measures similar to those that we have here whereby organisers of big events can help to facilitate the visa process? (86743)
Officials from my Department have had constructive discussions with the United States embassy, which has taken on board our points, and those discussions continue. Obviously the US will continue to want to implement its regulations, but it has heard the hon. Lady’s concerns via my officials and we are continuing a constructive dialogue with the US.
T4. I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement of local television and the greater media diversity that it will bring and note with interest the impressive list of cities involved. Crawley finds itself on the cusp of two television regions, so may I put in a bid for it to be considered as a future centre for local television? (86739)
I am sure that Crawley would be an excellent place for a local television station and that my hon. Friend would make a very good contribution to it when it happens. Our plans for superfast broadband, which we talked about earlier, mean that it will be possible to launch a local television station in Crawley with no transmission costs by the end of this Parliament, so I hope that he encourages local media groups in his constituency to take advantage of it.
Further to the Secretary of State’s earlier answer to the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) on tourism, has he made any regional assessment of the number of visitors likely to visit the UK regions as a result of inward tourism for the London Olympics and the jubilee celebrations next year? In particular, has he had any discussion with the Welsh Assembly on how we can attract additional visitors to my area?
Because of the way the 2012 project has been constructed, with the progress of the torch relay across the whole country, including it spending a significant amount of time in Wales, and because of the cultural Olympiad, which is happening across the whole country, we are absolutely determined that next year will be a bumper year for tourism in all parts of the country. We have a big domestic tourism marketing campaign, which is fully supported by Visit Wales, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will encourage businesses in his constituency, which has some particularly beautiful scenery, to take part in that promotion to encourage more people to have a holiday at home next year.
T5. In my constituency, we are busy pioneering the “Stroud Special” train, which is designed to take up the slack on the route from London and to encourage people to come and benefit from Stroud’s hugely impressive environment, pubs and all the rest. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a good initiative, which certainly justifies infrastructure expenditure? (86740)
Of course, we encourage any organisation—any local tourism body—to lay on the kind of facilities and product offerings that my hon. Friend describes. It is absolutely essential that we secure better local marketing and ownership of the local tourism visiting experience, and I am glad to hear that Stroud is leading the way.
The Radio 1 programme “Introducing…in Scotland” has helped launch the careers of fantastic Scottish artists such as Paolo Nutini, Calvin Harris and Frightened Rabbit, yet it is threatened with cancellation. Campaigners are coming to London on Monday to deliver a petition to Radio 1, and the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) has kindly agreed to meet them, but does he agree that it is exactly the kind of programme that we need in order to introduce new British music talent to the British public?
T6. Many constituents have contacted me with their concerns about the increase in spending on the Olympics opening ceremony. Will the Minister take this chance just to explain the extra value that we will receive for that money? (86741)
With pleasure. We expect that 4 billion of the world’s 7 billion people will watch the opening ceremony, which will be the biggest single opportunity in our lifetime to showcase this country, its history, its culture and its tourism to the whole world. I want it to be of great benefit in places such as the Peak district and my hon. Friend’s constituency, and that is why I went to the east midlands and had a very positive session with the local tourism industry on how it can harness the amazing opportunities that we will have next year.
When Lord Coe decided that Dow Chemical was a suitable ethical partner for the Olympics, was he aware that earlier this year, in May, it had been blacklisted by the Indian Ministry of Agriculture for five years for bribing officials to get the chemical Dursban fast-tracked before the growing season—a chemical that has been banned in the United States for some years because of its health risk to human beings?
That is why next year we will have the biggest ever marketing campaign to encourage people to take a holiday at home. It is designed to encourage the whole UK not to take for granted what we have on our doorstep. I know that my hon. Friend has great local stories, such as the Pendle witches, which he would like the whole country to find out more about, and next year is the moment to do so.
What discussions has the Olympics Minister had about the security implications of the cuts to police funding and the changes to control orders, which will allow very dangerous people back into the capital in the months leading up to the games?
We have had extensive consultations with the Metropolitan police and all the security agencies about security for London 2012. The Metropolitan police assistant commissioner with responsibility for that area, Chris Allison, gave a presentation to the organising committee before the passage of the recent London Olympic and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Bill, and the Met has raised no such concerns.
May I thank the ministerial team and the Opposition parties for their support for my Live Music Bill, which passed through its entire Committee stage yesterday? There are, however, fears among some residents associations that it will reduce protections against noise and antisocial behaviour. Will the Minister confirm that that is not the case and that, although we wish to see an explosion of live music in small venues, we want to continue to protect residents who live close to pubs and clubs?
May I join everybody in the House in congratulating my right hon. Friend and, indeed, his compatriot Lord Clement-Jones at the other end of the corridor, who have been instrumental in guiding the Bill through both Houses so far? I can reassure him, as he said, that protections for local residents and local residents groups will be maintained as they are.
In a sense, the hon. Gentleman has answered his own question. The two figures are in no way comparable. The amount of money that goes into school sport—[Interruption.] I have to say to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) that even she might have worked out that £160 million each year is a great deal more than £40 million once.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Tomorrow is the deadline for schools to register for the Get Set network, part of the Olympic legacy that can cover every school in our land. Will the Minister encourage children, parents and teachers to ensure that their schools are registered and take full advantage of the values and benefits on offer?
I most certainly will. More than 20,000 schools up and down the country have now signed up to the Get Set programme, and I absolutely encourage every school across the country to do likewise. It is also great news that another 11,000 schools have signed up to the school games project, and I encourage many more to do that.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Since the launch of the site, more than 3.2 million signatures have been submitted. The signatures and the debates that have stemmed from them have shown that we are indeed building a successful bridge between people and Parliament. Last Wednesday, I gave evidence to the Procedure Committee on the e-petitions system. I look forward to reading the views of the Committee when it publishes its report.
I thank the Leader of the House for that answer. Will he outline how the Government are taking account of views in forming policy from the e-petitions, particularly given the excellent news in the autumn statement following the fantastic campaign run by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on fair fuel prices?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Six petitions have gone through the 100,000 threshold, of which four have been debated. The Hillsborough debate, one of the best that we have had this Parliament, obliged the Government to clarify their policy on the documents that they held. My hon. Friend referred to the autumn statement following shortly on from the debate on fuel, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). We have also had two debates on extradition and the Government have undertaken to have a look at their policy on extradition.
I joined the Leader of the House in giving evidence to the Procedure Committee investigation into e-petitions and their short-term future. The Committee will shortly produce a report on the future of e-petitions. Will the Leader of the House guarantee that any short-term proposals for e-petitions will not be imposed on the House without a debate and vote, to avoid the problems that we had in introducing e-petitions in the first place?
It was a pleasure to give joint evidence to the Procedure Committee last week with the hon. Lady. The Government would not want to impose any new arrangements on the House without going through the usual process of consultation. I await with interest, as I am sure she does, the outcome of the Committee’s deliberations, when we will see its proposals about how we handle e-petitions in future.
The Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, will know that the big green bag on the back of your Chair is for citizens of this country to petition their Parliament to do something. Given that precedent, should not the e-petitions initiative be to Parliament, and not to the Government?
That question was put to me by the Procedure Committee last week; my hon. Friend might like to read the response that I gave. The coalition Government made a commitment to introducing an e-petitions system. At the moment, it is run by the Government and the moment a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, I transfer it to the Backbench Business Committee, which considers whether the petition should have an opportunity for debate. That can take place only if the petition is then sponsored by a Member of Parliament. We have a system unlike the previous one, which ended at No. 10 and went nowhere. The system that we now have ensures that the petition does reach Parliament once it has gone through the threshold.
2. What representations he has received on whether correspondence between hon. Members and their constituents is subject to parliamentary privilege. (86675)
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has received no representations other than in the course of the Westminster Hall debate on the Bill of Rights, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), to which I responded. As I said then, although Members’ correspondence may be subject to qualified privilege for the purposes of the law of defamation, the House has never sought to assert that such correspondence is a proceeding in Parliament. Therefore it is not protected under article 9 of the Bill of Rights.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware of the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the draft Defamation Bill that correspondence between Members and their constituents should clearly be the subject of qualified privilege. It is critical that our constituents can correspond with us freely and frankly. I hope, therefore, that he can assure the House that the Government will bring forward legislation in that regard.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. The Government will examine that recommendation in making their response to the Joint Committee, of which he was a distinguished Member. I hope to update the House shortly on our related work on the draft parliamentary privilege Bill.
I rather agree with the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) about parliamentary privilege and Members’ correspondence. In the wider context, the concept of parliamentary privilege is in a bit of a mess. We are relying on rather antiquated concepts at the moment. In the light of what has happened this year, when I believe that many witnesses, in giving evidence to two Select Committee, have lied to Parliament, I suggest that we now need a criminal offence of parliamentary perjury for when people lie to Parliament.
The courts have always recognised the right of each House of Parliament to regulate its own affairs. I accept that there are legitimate questions about the House’s enforcement powers and the punishments available to it. It is right to look afresh at whether the powers of each House are appropriate. That is part of the work that we are doing to bring forward a draft Bill on parliamentary privilege. If the hon. Gentleman is a little patient, he will see shortly that we are considering that matter.
Further to an answer that I received in September, in which the House of Commons Commission said that it costs the public purse a further £1.5 million for us to come back for the two-week September sitting, is it not time that we looked carefully at the programme of sittings of the House so that we are not constrained—
Allocation of Business Hours
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will announce the business for January and February 2012 in the usual way, during business questions on a Thursday.
It is obvious to all of us that this coalition has run out of steam when it comes to legislation and everything else. Given that many Back Benchers on both sides of the House have good and sensible proposals for legislation, why does the Leader of the House, instead of bed blocking debating time, not give us the opportunity in January and February to bring forward that legislation?
What a load of nonsense. I am afraid that I do not agree. Over the past two weeks, the House has had the opportunity to debate important and topical issues, including the economy, Europe and immigration. This afternoon, thanks to the Government’s establishment of the Backbench Business Committee, the House will debate financial education in schools, an issue that has received more than 100,000 signatures on the Government’s e-petition website. I believe that this Government have placed Parliament back at the centre of our national life.
There is a slight sense of déjà vu about that question. This is matter that the hon. Lady ought to put to the Procedure Committee, which is currently looking at the calendar of the House of Commons. She will be able to present her case to that Committee, and we look forward to its report in due course.
Despite this being the longest Session in post-war history, the Government’s legislative programme is a shambles. While we twiddle our thumbs in the Commons, the Lords are taking apart the Government’s ill-conceived, badly drafted and mean-spirited welfare reforms. Just yesterday, the Government’s policy of imposing a bedroom tax was defeated by an all-party alliance that included a former Conservative Secretary of State for Social Security. Is it not time that this Government listened to reason, dropped the more punitive parts of the Welfare Reform Bill and instead built a genuine consensus to make real progress on welfare reform?
I make no apology for Bills receiving proper scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament, and we are committed to that. When legislation is receiving that scrutiny in the other place, it is right for us to wait until it has finished its deliberations, listen to what it has to say and then, in due course, address it in debate in the normal way.
The Government recognise the value that pre-legislative scrutiny can add and are committed to seeing more measures published in draft. This week the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), published for pre-legislative scrutiny draft measures on the recall of MPs. In addition, so far this Session we have published draft measures on Lords reform, financial services, defamation, the detention of terrorist suspects, individual electoral registration and electoral administration, civil aviation and a groceries code adjudicator. The Government expect to publish further measures in draft this Session, including on parliamentary privilege.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and for Bassetlaw (John Mann) have indicated, the Government’s legislative programme has ground to a halt. Would it not be sensible for us to spend some time scrutinising the draft Detention of Terrorist Suspects (Temporary Extensions) Bills now, rather than wait and debate them in a hurry when we are faced with an emergency?
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
There are currently no apprentices employed by the House service, although two are employed by Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology as software developer apprentices. The last group of three apprentices in the Parliamentary Estates Directorate completed their training in 2010 and have subsequently been appointed to permanent posts. Catering and Retail Services has offered a two-year apprentice chef scheme, but there have so far been no successful applicants. The House service is keen to employ more apprentices and continues to take steps to do so.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. Employment by MPs is not a matter for the Commission, of course, but certainly the House will do everything it can to assist in such efforts. I am sure that as he has put the matter on the record, colleagues will be aware of his very sensible suggestion.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Bills (Third Reading)
Any Bill first published in this House must currently pass through all its stages, including Third Reading, before it is sent to the House of Lords. We are aware of the suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), but the Government have no plans at present to bring forward proposals to change the current arrangements.
Currently, Members in this House are forced to decide on a Bill when it is not in its final form, and in many cases Government amendments have been promised that we have yet to see. Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that the primacy of this House would be strengthened if our Third Readings always happened last, and will he consider how that could be brought about?
I understand the principle behind my hon. Friend’s question. No Bill can become law until this House has agreed to all its provisions, including any amendments proposed by the House of Lords to a Bill first published in this House. I am not sure that I immediately see the value that would be added by a further general debate on a Bill, but I advise my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark that if they wish to pursue the matter, it should perhaps be considered by the Procedure Committee and by the other House.
Since taking office, this Government have made substantial progress on implementing the coalition’s commitments on parliamentary reform, which have helped to make the House more effective, transparent and accountable. Measures have included establishing the Backbench Business Committee, launching the e-petitions system and transferring responsibility for Members’ pay and pensions out of our hands and into those of the independent regulator.
Working with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), we have also piloted a public reading stage for the Protection of Freedoms Bill, published proposals to allow the recall of Members of Parliament and started work to establish a commission on the West Lothian question. We will also shortly bring forward proposals on how we will proceed with the draft parliamentary privilege Bill.
There certainly has been a great deal of parliamentary reform. One commitment in the coalition agreement was to establish the West Lothian commission. A written ministerial statement on 8 September said that that would happen in the weeks following October, but certainly by the end of the year, so exactly when will we get that commission?
I should first congratulate the hon. Lady, who since her election has demonstrated her commitment to this issue, not least during the passage of her private Member’s Bill, the Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill. As she correctly says, the coalition programme for government set out our commitment to establishing a commission to consider the West Lothian question, and my hon. Friend the Minister who has responsibility for political and constitutional reform updated the House in a written statement in September. The Government intend to publish the make-up and terms of reference of the commission shortly.
The Deputy Leader of the House obviously could not list all the Government’s parliamentary reform achievements because that would take up a great deal of parliamentary time. One that he missed was the commitment to introduce a Business of the House Committee. When will that happen, and what process will the House undertake to scrutinise it? Will he define “shortly” if he uses that word in his response?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Time simply does not permit us to set out all the important reforms that this Government have introduced to the House, and there is much still to be done. One of those things is the establishment of the House Business Committee. We are clearly committed to doing that during the third year of this Parliament, and are happy to ensure that that is the case. We are looking forward to introducing proposals after we have listened to those on both sides of the House who have an interest in the matter.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 19 December will be:
Monday 19 December—General debate on apprenticeships.
Tuesday 20 December—Pre-recess Adjournment debate. The format has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee.
Colleagues will also wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on 20 December.
The business for the week commencing 9 January will include:
Monday 9 January—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 10 January—Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill.
Wednesday 11 January—Opposition day [un-allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 12 January—Motion relating to a statutory code of practice for pub companies, followed by motion relating to parliamentary representation.
The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 12 January will be:
Thursday 12 January—Debate on the Home Affairs Committee report on “The Landscape of Policing”.
May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and all right hon. and hon. Members a very happy Christmas and new year, and thank all those who have kept the House running smoothly during the year, including the Clerks, the Officers and staff of the House, the Doorkeepers and the cleaners? A merry Christmas to all with peace and good will.
Many of us are incredibly relieved that we have finally spotted a Government Bill arriving in the House, even if we have to wait until next year to see it. May I take this opportunity—the last business questions before Christmas—to echo the Leader of the House’s Christmas wishes? I wish you, Mr Speaker, your Deputies, the staff of the House, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House, and all Members and their staff a very happy Christmas and contented new year.
The House rises on Tuesday. The Government will no doubt be tempted to slip out as much bad news as they can in the last hours when they think that no one is looking. With 27 written ministerial statements on today’s Order Paper alone, can the Leader of the House assure me that any announcement of significance will be made as an oral statement to this House?
Last week, I said that the Prime Minister was isolated in Europe, but I did not know then quite how alone he would end up. Last Friday, the Deputy Prime Minister was apparently firmly behind the Prime Minister’s premature use of the veto at the European Council, saying that he was fully signed up to it. A few hours later, as his own party erupted in outrage, he let it be known that he was “bitterly disappointed” by it. He claimed that he told the Prime Minister that his actions were bad for Britain.
As the Prime Minister came to the House to make a statement, his Deputy got into a gigantic sulk, went to the gym and then straight on to Sky News to moan about his own Government before drowning his sorrows at the Ministry of Sound. The Business Secretary was apparently furious with the situation. The Scottish Secretary has publicly denounced the Prime Minister’s use of the veto and the Energy Secretary has claimed on the Floor of the House that in Europe
“if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”—[Official Report, 12 December 2011; Vol 537, c. 574.]
On Tuesday, all Liberal Democrat Ministers and Whips, including the Deputy Leader of the House, and five members of the Cabinet refused to support a motion congratulating their own Prime Minister. The Ministerial Code says:
“The principle of Collective Responsibility…requires that Ministers should be able to express their views frankly in the expectation that they can argue freely in private while maintaining a united front when decisions have been reached.”
What a joke. Is it not the case that in this Government, the Liberal Democrats have got it completely the wrong way round? They argue in public, but in private they will not stand up to the Tories no matter how much the Prime Minister humiliates them. Will the Leader of the House now confirm that the Prime Minister does not need to get a doormat for Christmas because he already has one?
While the Deputy Prime Minister hosts a European re-engagement event for business, the Prime Minister is busy fomenting opposition to the deal to appease his Eurosceptic Back Benchers. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Prime Minister is going to amend the Ministerial Code so that it more accurately reflects the cynically choreographed “licensed dissent” which is becoming more obvious by the day?
Unemployment has risen this week to well over 2.5 million, which is the highest level for 17 years and includes more than 1 million young people, who are now in the growing dole queue. The Employment Secretary spent yesterday saying that the figures had stabilised, but the Prime Minister told his party last night that
“2012 will be the worst since the 1980s”
On Tuesday, the Justice Secretary admitted that Britain was facing
“a long period of youth unemployment.”
Will the Leader of the House tell us why the Government have resigned themselves to a long period of high youth unemployment and a wasted generation? Instead of planning for this, would the Government not be better doing everything they can to stop it by adopting Labour’s five-point plan for jobs and growth, which would give 1 million unemployed young people some hope for an otherwise bleak 2012? Should not the voters of Feltham and Heston reject this do-nothing Tory pessimism and vote for Labour’s excellent candidate in today’s by-election?
As Christmas approaches, many of us are racking our brains to think of appropriate gifts for friends and family, but with the Cabinet it is very simple: flip flops for the Deputy Prime Minister; a shredder to be shared between the Business Secretary and the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office; and an espresso machine for the Justice Secretary so that he does not doze off in the Chamber again.
I was having trouble thinking of ideas for the Prime Minister until I discovered the Eton college online gift shop, where I found a very appropriate gift for him: “decision dice”. For those who are not familiar with the finer gifts available from the Eton college catalogue, the dice are described as:
“The ideal gift for the indecisive or those who just can't make up their minds.”
They are presented in a stylish chrome box engraved with the college coat of arms. For just £14.75, the dice are the ideal present for a Prime Minister whose U-turns this year have included: the sale of England’s forests; cuts to school sports; anonymity for those accused of rape; and the scrapping of the office of the chief coroner.
I know that the Leader of the House with his usual gallantry will be trying to think of a gift for me. May I tell him that all I want from him for Christmas is the date of the Queen’s Speech?
I am not sure that there was a lot there about the business of the House, but let us have a go.
The hon. Member for Wallasey welcomed—I think—the announcement that a Bill would be given its Second Reading after the recess. I remind her that the House is not simply a legislation factory. We are not going to make the mistake that the last Government made of imposing too many ill-considered, ill-drafted Bills on the House. The Chamber has other things to do: the Chamber is here to hold the Government to account, to debate matters of national interest, and to represent the views of Members’ constituents, and we are determined that it should have adequate time in which to do those things.
The hon. Lady spoke of written statements being rushed out before the recess. It was precisely in order to avoid making the mistakes made by the last Government and to avoid a last-minute rush that 27 written statements were issued today, days before the House rises.
As for our being isolated in Europe, on my way to the House I just happened to see a headline in The Independent which read “EU 26 fight to stop pact unravelling”.
In response to the hon. Lady’s lengthy thesis on relationships, I simply make the point that the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister is stronger than the relationship between Tony Blair and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who were members of the same party. [Interruption.] Several autobiographies chronicle the weak relationship between Tony Blair and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The unemployment position has indeed stabilised, as the hon. Lady will see if she reads what was said in the House yesterday by the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). It can be found in column 844 of Hansard. My right hon. Friend told us that in the last month employment had risen by 38,000 and unemployment by 16,000, that the youth unemployment figure had remained static, that the jobseeker’s allowance claimant count had risen by 3,000, and that the number of people who had stopped claiming incapacity benefit and income support as a result of the Government’s welfare reforms was 10,000. The figures cover only one month, but they do show some signs of stabilisation in the market.
The hon. Lady referred to today’s by-election. I hope that voters in Feltham will use it as an opportunity to reveal whether or not they approve of the stand taken by the Prime Minister last week, and I hope that, if they endorse it, they will go out and vote for the Conservative candidate.
The hon. Lady said that her Christmas wish was to know the date of the Queen’s Speech. I admire her bravery, because it was not until 5.30 pm on Tuesday this week that the House was informed of the business for the following day, Wednesday, when the Opposition held a one-day debate. The Opposition give the House less than a day’s notice, and the hon. Lady wants me to give the House months’ notice of the date of the Queen’s Speech.
Observing who is sitting next to the hon. Lady, let me end on this note. Like the leader of her party, the shadow Leader of the House has a sibling who is also a Member of Parliament, and whom I welcome to the Front Bench. According to an interview with the shadow Leader of the House and her sister, published earlier this year,
“they haven’t had a… row in decades.”
The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) said
“we do know how to be with each other. It doesn't mean you can’t disagree, but you know—you’re sisters”.
Given that admirable expression of family affection, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Wallasey might be able to give the leader of her party some advice on how to manage relationships.
May we have an urgent debate on the activities of parking enforcement companies—particularly Citywatch and Securak—which could be likened to demanding money with menaces, racketeering and extortion? May I make a final plea on behalf of a constituent? Toyin Lawal’s car was pinched by Citywatch from a car park that it was not even licensed to patrol, and it wants eight grand to give it back to her. I want the police to go round and get her car back off these criminals.
My hon. Friend’s constituent is fortunate to have such a proactive Member of Parliament championing her interests in the House. He might know that legislation has now gone through making it illegal to clamp cars on private space. I think that it comes into effect in March next year.
There is only one full year before the Government have to introduce proposals on the establishment of a House business committee. Will the Leader of the House therefore consider early next year establishing a time-limited Select Committee like the Wright Committee, on which he and I served, to consider proposals for what such a House business committee would look like? It could inform the Government and the House on how to move forward.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who reminds the House of the commitment in the coalition agreement to establish such a Committee by the third year. She has proposed one way of implementing that commitment. There might be other ways, but I can assure her that I am actively considering how we deliver on that commitment, and at the appropriate time I would very much like to involve her in those discussions.
Christmas is a time when we think about the most vulnerable not only in the United Kingdom but abroad. Although Syria is not Libya, does my right hon. Friend agree that we need an urgent debate to discuss Syria and to ensure the end of the killing of thousands of innocent men, women and children?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I cannot promise a debate before the House rises, although there is the pre-Christmas Adjournment debate on Tuesday. I shall pass on his concerns, however, which are widely shared on both sides of the House. We have made clear our view that the President should step aside in the light of what is going on and allow a democratic Government to take over. I shall pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate before the House rises on the importance of buying goods made in the United Kingdom? There are about 10 days of shopping before Christmas and we have a £30 billion trade deficit with China. I have conducted an experiment that shows that it is possible to buy presents made only in the United Kingdom, or, at a push, Britain and Europe. May we have a campaign and debate to get people to buy things made here, because it provides employment for young people and creates jobs?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has already launched such a campaign with his questions. I hope that all those tuned in will do what they can to promote jobs and prosperity by, where possible, buying goods made in the UK. On the trade deficit with China, he will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and many Cabinet members have made repeated visits to China to promote inward investment and to help companies based in this country to win export orders from China, so we hope to make progress in reducing the trade deficit between the two countries.
May we have a debate on the Portas report into our towns and cities, particularly recommendation 9, which states that in-town car-parking charges are too high, act as a deterrent to in-town shopping and should be abolished? Unless that debate is soon, will he circulate that recommendation to all Labour-led local authorities so that they know that their anti-car policies are putting local shops out of business?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who might have seen the written ministerial statement accompanying the publication of the Portas review earlier this week. There were several recommendations, some of which were aimed at local authorities, particularly the one to which he referred, and others of which were aimed at the Government. The Government will respond in the spring to the recommendations, and in the meantime I shall ensure that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is aware of my right hon. Friend’s strong views about the disincentive effect that high parking charges can have on the prosperity of high street shops.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 2527, standing in my name and those of several other hon. Members, which expresses revulsion at the murder by Israeli soldiers of a peaceful demonstrator, Mustafa Tamimi, at whose head they fired point-blank a tear gas canister, and following which they manhandled his grieving sister?
[That this House expresses its revulsion at the deliberate killing by Israeli soldiers of Mustafa Tamimi, aged 28 years, while the Palestinian was taking part in a peaceful demonstration at Nabi Saleh on Friday 9 December 2011; notes that an Israeli soldier specifically and deliberately aimed a gas canister at Mustafa Tamimi's head, which hit him point-blank inflicting horrific injuries; further notes that these Israeli soldiers blocked access to an ambulance, pushed around Mustafa Tamimi's sister, who was deeply distressed by her brother's appalling injuries, and laughed and gloated at her; and calls for international action, rather than mild remonstrances, to prevent further Israeli murder of innocent Palestinians.]
Is he aware that at the funeral, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and sewage through hoses at mourners? Will he ask the Foreign Secretary to tell the Israelis that they have to stop this sadistic thuggery, which no doubt they will resume again tomorrow?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question and for raising that issue. He may know that there was a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on Government policy on Israel, which would have been an appropriate opportunity to raise the matter. Given that he might have been unable to be there, I shall of course pass on his concern to the Foreign Secretary and ask him whether, if appropriate, representations might be made to the Israeli ambassador.
This House welcomed the Arab spring. May we have a debate in the new year on the Arab winter? I am referring to the Bedouin of Palestine-Israel, 30,000 of whom, or thereabouts, face the prospect of being removed in the new year from lands that they have occupied from before the formation of the state of Israel. This is ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Let us debate the Arab winter.
The answer I give my hon. Friend may be the same as the one I have just given to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman). There was an opportunity to raise the issue in the House of Commons yesterday, in Westminster Hall. We have arranged fairly regular debates on north Africa, the middle east and Afghanistan. I hope that there will be other opportunities in the new year to have similar debates, which will provide my hon. Friend with a platform to raise the legitimate concerns that he has just brought to the attention of the House.
May we debate the Russian winter? I am not referring to the weather; I am referring to last week’s elections, which were profoundly corrupt. All who went to witness the elections say that there was massive vote-rigging. In Chechnya, for instance, 95% of the vote came in for Mr Putin’s party, despite the fact that everybody noticed massive vote-rigging. May I also suggest gently to the right hon. Gentleman that he take this matter up with his colleagues? There are Members of this House who sit on the Council of Europe in the same grouping as members of Mr Putin’s party, and there is no reason why we should hide from the fact that there has been corruption in Russia. We need to ensure proper democracy.
The hon. Gentleman will have seen the protests in Russia over the weekend about the conduct of the election. I am not sure whether this gives him any satisfaction, but I understand that President Putin has ordered a review of how the elections were conducted, although one should perhaps not set too much store by that. I shall draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to the concern—I suspect shared by those on both sides of the House—about the conduct of the elections and, again, see whether appropriate representations might be made to the Russian ambassador.
Small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency have very much welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement of the £20 billion national loan guarantee scheme to get cheaper loans to businesses. That is particularly important in parts of the country such as Cornwall, where there are many seasonal businesses involved in, for example, tourism. May we have a debate on this excellent new scheme and find out more?
I hope all of us can remind businesses in our constituencies that £20 billion, which is a huge sum of money, is available through the national loan guarantee scheme. These are loans that the Government will stand behind; therefore, the banks can offer them at a lower rate of interest to companies in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We all have a role to play in promoting the scheme and in enabling businesses to take advantage of it and go ahead with investment projects that they might otherwise have been unable to afford.
Westminster city council’s proposed new evening and weekend parking charges have aroused universal condemnation, with genuine fears about the impact on job losses in the west end economy. The Secretary of State for Transport has gone on record as saying that she believes that such charges are a fund-raising measure, in which case they would be ultra vires. May we have an urgent debate, not only about the impact of such parking charges on the west end economy, but about the extent to which some local authorities are using parking charges to plug the black hole in their finances?
I am a strong believer in local democracy, and I believe that it is for Westminster city council to take decisions about the appropriate level of parking charges. I am sure that the hon. Lady will make her own representations to the city council, although I would be surprised if it did anything that was ultra vires. However, at the end of the day, this is a matter for Westminster city council, not the Government.
Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the regulation of service charges for residents of private retirement accommodation who are on fixed incomes, such as those of Wright Court in Nantwich, in my constituency? Often they are not properly consulted by the providers of such accommodation about either the services that they require or the services that they can afford.
As a former Housing Minister, I am aware of the problems facing many leaseholders, who find themselves confronted with service charges that they believe to be unreasonable. There are a number of protections in legislation, but my hon. Friend may know that there is also the Leasehold Advisory Service—which I set up when I was Housing Minister—a specialist body sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government that can perhaps advise his constituents in dealing with the challenges that face them.
May we have a debate about the impact of the disastrous consequences of the Prime Minister’s decision to isolate the UK from the rest of Europe on the ambitions of the devolved nations? The Leader of the House and other hon. Members refer to “separatists”, but are not the only real separatists in this House the little Englander separatists on the Conservative Back Benches?
I think that that charge might be made against the hon. Gentleman. One might think that his was a separatist party, if I might say so. However, we had such a debate on Tuesday, on an Opposition motion, when he would have had the opportunity to raise the matter, although as I said a moment ago, it is by no means clear that we are isolated in Europe.
Last Monday the Design Commission launched a report called “Restarting Britain”, which is about the importance of design in the UK. Given the importance of design in securing growth, particularly in partnership with manufacturing, will the Leader of the House give some Government time for a debate on design and its importance for our economy?
As my hon. Friend may know from the Localism Act 2011, design is one of the key issues that we think should be taken into account, and I thank him for his well designed question. I cannot promise an early debate on the issue, but when the House returns, he might like to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall or see whether the Backbench Business Committee can allocate a debate on this important issue.
May we have a debate on the behaviour of the energy companies? My constituent Mrs Larkin, from Hyde, has seen her monthly tariff rise from £65 to £79—an increase of more than a fifth—despite having always been in credit, and the energy company will not take any lesser amount as a more reasonable compromise. Given these times that we are in, when living standards are being squeezed, surely the energy companies should be behaving more responsibly.
One of the initiatives that the Government took a few weeks ago with the energy companies was to make it easier for consumers to shop around and get a better supplier. That is an option that the hon. Gentleman’s constituent may like to reflect on. In the meantime, however, I will pass on his concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and see whether he can play any role in resolving the issue that he has raised.
May we please have a statement updating the House on when the driving test centre in Bury is likely to reopen? The centre was damaged owing to the ingress of water last Christmas. In the summer, driving instructors and their pupils, who were being greatly inconvenienced by the closure, were told that the centre would be reopened this year, but it is clear that this will not now happen.
Given that the Leader of the House seems to have some time to play with, may we have a debate in Government time on the landscape for Government support for carbon capture and storage? The inability of the Chancellor, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Energy Secretary to make clear how much of the £1 billion previously allocated will now be available following the announcement in the autumn statement is causing uncertainty in the industry. We need to get ahead with this if we are to maximise the export potential of that crucial industry.
May I reiterate the call for a debate on the Portas report? In my constituency of Aberconwy, the town of Llandudno is still doing comparatively well, as the main retail centre for north Wales, but other towns, such as Llanrwst and Penmaenmawr, are seeing a decline in the retail sector, which might be combated by adopting some of the proposals in the Portas report.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who adds weight to the representations made a few moments ago for a debate on that important report, which is also something that the Backbench Business Committee might like to consider if representations are made. The report was published alongside our own research and showed that some high streets are weathering the downturn—he referred to one in his constituency—whereas others have seen 40% less retail spending. We will respond to the recommendations in due course—probably in the spring—but in the meantime, I agree that the House might like to debate the issue.
I thank the Leader of the House for his assiduous answering of my questions over 2011. I want to ask him for one more urgent debate or urgent statement on behalf of my constituent Sheila Wither, who is disabled and has to pay £1.20 for a return journey on Ring and Ride, whereas the able-bodied over-60s can travel free by bus. Centro has consulted, but Sheila tells me that she agreed to the slight charge only because she feared losing the service. The Department for Transport cannot intervene. Will the Leader of the House do the right thing so that people with disabilities can travel free, just like their able-bodied counterparts?
May we please have an early debate on value for money in the Metropolitan police? It has emerged that for its most senior staff alone—those on salaries of between £80,000 and £260,000—the Metropolitan police has paid just under £70,000 for private health insurance. It is hard to justify that money, which could be spent on providing constables to fight crime on the front line.
My hon. Friend will know that the ultimate decision rests with the Metropolitan Police Authority, but I agree with my hon. Friend’s message that, at a time of downward pressure on public expenditure and the need to preserve resources for the front line, this issue should perhaps be given careful scrutiny before it is decided to carry on with it.
May we have a debate on the effectiveness of the Health and Safety Executive? A recent report highlighted that approximately 1,500 people die in work-related accidents every year but that the Health and Safety Executive investigates only one in 19 cases. Will the Leader of the House seek clarification of those figures and, if they are correct, what more will the Government do to protect people at their workplace?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to a quite impressive statistic on the numbers investigated and the total numbers reported. I will raise the matter with the appropriate Secretary of State and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.
Most of my constituents in Dover and Deal work in small and medium-sized enterprises. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how to help SMEs expand and on what the Government are doing for those enterprises to encourage more jobs and money?
There was an opportunity in the debate on the autumn statement to put in the shop window some of the schemes that the Government have initiated. I remind my hon. Friend of the £1 billion business finance partnership for investing in exactly the type of businesses to which he refers, but through non-bank channels. That might be an appropriate avenue for my hon. Friend to explore for directing funds to mid-sized businesses in his constituency. The process of allocating those funds will begin early in the new year.
Now that the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill has been scrutinised by both the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills and the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is it not time that it was brought before the House so that this measure, which is very popular with the public, can become law?
As the hon. Lady rightly says, this Bill has had consideration in draft and it was a popular measure welcomed on both sides of the House. There will be a second Session of this Parliament, and the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill is a strong candidate for consideration as part of it.
May we have a debate early next year on social care and paying for the costs of care homes? We have been promised a White Paper in the spring, but it appears that this is going to be no more than a progress report and will not contain substantive policy decisions. It is sometimes argued that it is difficult to establish cross-party agreement on this issue, but if we were to have a debate, we could see whether there was cross-party agreement on the funding of social care and the cost of care homes. As co-chair of the all-party group on carers, I very much hope that this issue can be resolved before I leave Parliament. At the present rate of progress, however, I will be contesting further elections in Banbury before this matter is resolved.
Regardless of whether the problem is solved, I hope my hon. Friend will continue to fight a large number of elections in Banbury. He will know that one of the first actions we took was to establish the Dilnot commission, which reported in July. There is a commitment to publish a White Paper in the spring, which will outline the Government’s response to the important issues. There have been a number of debates on this important subject, but I would welcome a further one. We inherited a situation in which there were lots of White Papers but no action was taken during 13 years.
Can we have a statement from the Leader of the House—or whoever he delegates it to—on how we can hold the Government to account over participation in school sport? We put questions to the Secretary of State at DCMS Question Time this morning, but he refused to answer any about how we are going to monitor participation at school age. The Secretary of State has put £11 million into school games: it was announced by him and it is on his Department’s website, so it is not unreasonable to expect answers to DCMS questions about it. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on who is going to be accountable for answering questions on this subject in future?