House of Commons
Thursday 9 February 2012
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—
Local Radio Franchises
We have made no assessment of the potential for radio franchises because radio licensing is a matter for Ofcom, which awards licences via a “beauty parade” mechanism, assessing individual applicants’ ability to deliver services for the local area.
Follow that, Mr Speaker!
BBC Radio Merseyside is the most popular radio station on Merseyside and is a lifeline for many elderly and disabled people. Rather than setting up local radio franchises, would the Government not do better to support much-loved existing local BBC radio such as Radio Merseyside?
The latest version of the Gambling Commission’s six-monthly industry statistics was published in December 2011. It showed that the number of category B2 gaming machines—fixed odds betting terminals, or FOBTs, as they are sometimes known—in operation in Great Britain as at 31 March 2011 was 32,007.
I am most grateful to the Minister for that answer. The FOBTs he refers to, through which punters can lose £100 a spin or £18,000 a year, have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling. As he said, numbers are exploding: some 32,000 such machines are in easily accessed high street betting shops, yet the evidence shows that they are causing real damage to individuals and families, including some of the poorest people in our communities. Does the Minister therefore not agree that a responsible Government should be taking urgent action to address this problem, including looking at the recommendations in early-day motion 2634, such as cutting the stakes and prize levels of these machines so that they are more akin to those in other adult centres?
I completely share my right hon. Friend’s concern about gambling addiction. Although it affects only a small number of people, it can ruin lives and is a very serious issue. Many colleagues on both sides of the House have raised it, as did Mary Portas in her recent review of the health of high streets throughout the country. However, my right hon. Friend will agree that we have to ensure that any policy or regulatory changes that might be considered are based not just on concern and anecdote, but on firm evidence and factual foundation. Therefore, my invitation to him and any other colleagues concerned about this issue—on either side of the House—is that if they can bring me hard evidence and facts, I will of course consider them extremely carefully.
Despite what the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) says, does my hon. Friend the Minister not accept that the percentage of problem gamblers using FOBTs declined from 11.2% in 2007 to 8.8% last year, and that the availability of gambling on the internet drives a coach and horses through the ridiculous limits we now have on the use of betting shop terminals? Given that people can use only one at a time—or perhaps two at best if they are particularly proficient—whether there are four, six or eight in a betting shop makes absolutely no difference at all to an individual’s problem gambling.
I accept that the causal link between FOBTs and problem gambling is poorly understood, which is why I asked for better evidence and facts to back up any suggested changes in regulation. I also agree with my hon. Friend that remote gambling is changing how people gamble. We need to make sure that such gambling is properly controlled and regulated, which is why we propose to introduce new regulations on it in due course.
3. What recent progress he has made on the roll-out of superfast broadband to rural communities. (94332)
Our plans for the roll-out of superfast broadband mean that—
With your humble permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to take this Question with Questions 5 and 6.
I wanted to say that our plans for the roll-out of superfast broadband will mean that conditions such as the common cold, even when held by Ministers, will be able to be diagnosed online. The roll-out continues apace, and broadband plans have now been approved for a third of local authorities.
I am going to Pembrokeshire next week on holiday, when I will personally be inspecting the rural broadband facilities and mobile coverage in my hon. Friend’s constituency, although I cannot promise to do the same for all hon. Members. He makes an important point, and we have made good progress this year. Our plans for superfast broadband will cover 90% of the country, but Ofcom’s plans, as announced in January, for the 4G spectrum auctions mean that the new 4G coverage will reach 97% of the country, and that will offer a broadband signal. That still leaves 3% to go, and we must work very hard to make sure that everyone is included in the broadband revolution.
With such a massive budget deficit, we cannot rely on extra Government spending for ever more, so it seems to me that we have no choice: we have to rely on innovation—both innovative industries and the innovation of our people—to bring economic growth to every region. Today’s satellites can beam high-speed internet access to every region of Britain, instantly opening up remote areas to economic activity. Does the Secretary of State share my vision for a connected Britain in which satellites bring jobs and the power of online public services to every region of our nation?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the Thames Valley local enterprise partnership, which covers his constituency, the broadband plans are still at amber, rather than green, and I would be most grateful for his help in getting the three unitary authorities to work together to get those plans into a state where they can be approved. He rightly says that we need to be technology-neutral about this; fixed-line fibre will go into the ground in some areas, but for the more remote areas we will definitely need wireless solutions, be they mobile, wi-fi or satellite, and we will keep all options open.
Residents of villages such as Hockliffe, Stanbridge, Tilsworth and Eggington often have to make do with broadband speeds of only 1.5 megabits per second, which is very restrictive for local people and severely limits the ability of local businesses to grow. So when can residents in these villages expect things to get better for them?
Again, I ask for my hon. Friend’s help, because the plans for Bedfordshire are also amber-rated, rather than green-rated. We have said that we want all local authorities not only to start procurement for their broadband plans, but to complete procurement by this Christmas, otherwise we will consider taking back the funds that we have allocated and putting them in a national contract. We are very keen to ensure that roads start to be dug up and solutions actually happen by the start of next year.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I think that the impact will be huge. The iPlayer is already a very big source of demand for broadband, and as YouView arrives many more people will use the iPlayer and other such services. I am pleased to say that Wales is making excellent progress. Its broadband plans have been given the green light and we have had a good partnership with the Welsh Government. I hope that his constituents will benefit from that.
We have had very good discussions. There is good news and bad news as far as Northern Ireland is concerned. The funding allocation has been quite small for Northern Ireland, but that is because it has one of the best superfast broadband networks in the UK and, in many ways, is a model for the rest of the country.
I would like to bring a little reality to this debate. My constituency covers rural Teesdale, so I know that farmers are being required to communicate online with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs even when they have no broadband. Given that the problem is in rural areas, why did the Secretary of State earmark £150 million of new money for cities? What is he going to do for people whose local authorities do not come forward with viable plans?
The hon. Lady ought to have a bit of humility, because when her Government left office, a quarter of a million homes still had no broadband whatsoever. We are going to sort that out. We have massively increased the investment in rural broadband. It is five times more than the amount that is going into urban broadband. Her party makes a big song and dance about opposing cuts, but in the interests of consistency, it might like to support increases in spending, particularly when they are much more than her Government ever promised.
Electronic Communications (Privacy)
We are very good Europeans on the Government Benches and we are one of the first countries to have implemented the e-privacy directive. Naturally, we are engaged in ongoing discussions with our EU colleagues. Several member states, including France and Germany, have had discussions with us about the best way to implement it.
This measure contains a number of sensible dimensions, as does the related data protection directive, but does the Minister agree that we should reject the idea of a freedom to be forgotten, which is what is being proposed by the European Justice Commissioner?
Does the Minister agree that things such as cookies and targeted behavioural advertising are of great benefit for both businesses and consumers, and that a lot of the fear of them is based on ignorance? What is his Department doing to try to increase understanding of these technologies so that decisions can genuinely be made as a result of informed choice?
When we implemented the e-privacy directive we made sure that we worked closely with business. There is a balance to be struck between implementing the law and ensuring that business still has the freedom to innovate. The e-privacy directive is about transparency. So long as consumers know what is happening to data, they should be comfortable with what is being done with them.
Olympics (Domestic Tourism)
In March VisitEngland will launch a new £4 million domestic marketing campaign to promote UK tourism throughout 2012. We are encouraging the tourism industry to sign up to a scheme that offers 20.12% off all sorts of different accommodation and attractions. The promotion will be supported by a high-profile TV campaign.
I am sure that the House will be delighted to hear the Minister’s enthusiasm, and to hear of the worldwide advertising campaign to encourage people to come to London. Will he also publicise the fact that many Olympic venues are outside London, such as the excellent white water centre in Waltham Abbey in my constituency? Will he encourage people to enjoy the wonders of the Lee valley park, the ancient town of Waltham Abbey, its beautiful church and, of course, the wonders of the beautiful Epping forest?
I would be delighted to do that. In fact, that is one of the central aims of the campaign. We will use the torch relay, which I believe will go to my hon. Friend’s constituency on 7 July, as a way of promoting the different parts of the country that it will visit and all the things that can be done there, including, in her case, the Lee valley white water centre, as well as the Waltham Abbey church and its links with King Harold.
One of the great tourist attractions for 2012 visitors to the west midlands and north Staffordshire is the Wedgwood museum. It is facing the loss of its UNESCO-listed collection because of loopholes in pension protection fund legislation. The museum has had great assistance from the arts Minister, so will the heritage Minister now commit the Government to do everything possible to save this world-class museum?
I agree completely that it is a world-class museum. I am pleased to say that my colleague the culture Minister has already had close, detailed meetings with the administrators, and I understand that the hon. Gentleman has been closely involved as well. We will continue to help in any way we can.
Will the Minister cast his eye over the availability of reasonably priced hotel rooms during the Olympics? A number of my constituents have told me that they have been unable to book rooms. There seems to be a block-booking, or blocked-out, period during which these reasonably priced rooms are unavailable. The feeling is that they will be released late and charged at great expense to the punters.
My hon. Friend is right that there has been concern. I am pleased to say that the LOCOG—London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games—block booking, which was instigated some time ago, has released a tranche of rooms so there is now more supply on the market. The marketing campaign that I just mentioned is aimed at producing good value “20.12% off or better” accommodation offers not just in London, but in the London travel-to-work area and other parts of the country, so that people can get into London to view Olympic events if they want to. If they do not want to attend the Olympics but want to visit other parts of Britain instead, there will still be great offers for them to use.
There is a big problem here, and although I welcome the Government’s £4 million to encourage domestic tourism and yield the potential £2.5 billion Olympic tourism premium, does the Minister agree that the Government should act to address this scandal of extortionate price rises in London hotels during the Olympic and Paralympic games? We could take the case of Mrs Aileen Hamer from Exeter, for example. Having to pay £1,000 a night for a room with a track hoist to be able to take a disabled daughter to the Paralympics—a room which at Easter costs £375—would represent a 167% increase. Our research shows that the increase in prices across London is averaging at 315%, so will he act on behalf of those already struggling families across the UK who want to be able to afford to come to London and enjoy the Olympic and Paralympic games?
I agree with the right hon. Lady that it is vital that we have properly accessible attractions and accommodation. Indeed, a great deal of work has been done to make sure that the important legal obligations, as well as commercial opportunities, in respect of making accommodation available to people with disabilities are well understood and the opportunity is grasped. However, it has always been the case that prices alter during the season, as is entirely natural. What has happened in London is that the LOCOG block booking—she will be aware of it, as it was part of the original Olympics deal—meant there was a restriction in supply. That has now been eased as a result of the additional rooms that LOCOG has just released.
Sport England/UK Sport
The project board set up at the request of UK Sport and Sport England, which is chaired by Sir Keith Mills, has identified four key benefits: shared resources to reduce costs, co-location, increased commercial income and enhanced strategic co-ordination. We will discuss the future governance arrangements after the 2012 games.
I thank the Minister for his response. These two organisations have different articles of association and different objectives. It is almost like one of them services a Lotus and the other encourages Ford Fiestas to become Lotuses. Other than sharing back-office functions, can he say what the cost savings are?
Yes. The cost savings are considerable. The bodies both have entirely separate back-office operations, and they both live in central London offices for which they signed leases at the height of the market without any break clauses at £57 a square foot and £35 a square foot, I think. There is no co-ordination of commercial strategy to drive success at the elite end alongside the mass market and their strategies operate in completely different spheres. There are many different savings and a lot of possible synergies.
When the Secretary of State was the shadow Secretary of State he respected the different roles of UK Sport and Sport England. In a press release that is still on the Conservative website, he said he would retain
“the current split between UK Sport and Sport England”.
He said one thing before the general election and something completely different—that these organisers should merge—after it. No one opposes economies of scale such as sharing offices and back-office services, or co-ordination where it is necessary, but these two bodies serve two very different functions. UK Sport has taken us from 36th to fourth in the Olympic medal tables. Will he say something now so that we can end the speculation about a merger of governance, not dither until after the general election and allow these organisations to get on with their jobs?
Nobody has ever said that the two organisations are merging. I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstands what is on the table—probably because the briefing has led him to do so. There has never been any question but that the new body will contain two separate organisations, one of which looks after elite and high-performance sport and one that looks after community sport. I simply want central governance arrangements over the top so that we do not end up with boards all over the place. Actually, the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, when she was in the chair, was well known for having described the organisation of British sport—she will correct me if I am wrong—as a nightmare.
Mountaineering, Hill Walking and Climbing
Sport England has awarded £1.3 million under the whole sport plan to the British Mountaineering Council between 2009 and 2013 to grow and sustain participation in mountaineering, hill walking and climbing.
As one of the co-chairmen of the all-party parliamentary group on mountaineering—we like to think of it as the pinnacle of APPGs—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”]—I thank the Minister for Sport for his ongoing support of mountain-related activities and of the British climbing team. As part of the Olympic legacy, the Outdoor Industry Association, supported by the BMC, is planning to launch a major new campaign, Britain on foot, to promote outdoor activities and to get people outdoors and keep them fit and healthy. Does my hon. Friend support those objectives, and could one of the ministerial team meet the organisers in the months ahead?
I am having one of those days.
May I start by paying tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) both in the all-party group and as the parliamentary sports fellow? One of the key opportunities for mountaineering and hill walking lies in the tourism initiative launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and guided by the tourism Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose). Many people will want the chance not only to take part in the activity of hill walking but to see some of our fabulous countryside.
10. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the findings of the Woolf Review. (94340)
We welcome the International Cricket Council’s commitment to an independent review of its governance. It is a key Government priority to improve the governance of all sports, including those operating internationally—it does not say FIFA in my notes but it probably ought to—so we look forward to the ICC’s response.
The Woolf review offers a damning critique of the current governance structure of cricket and, to its credit, mentions aspirations for a national one-day Twenty20 cricket side in Wales, backed by 81% of those responding to a recent Western Mail poll. Will the Minister engage with the Woolf report findings and work towards reforming the global game?
Yes, I shall certainly work towards reforming the global game. The points the hon. Gentleman makes about the structure of the ICC are indeed correct. As far as Wales is concerned—I think Wales lies under his question—it is worth recording the very real contribution that many Welshmen have made to English cricket. At a time like the present, when independence is very much the political currency, it is worth noting that one of the men most closely associated with England’s rise to the top of the test rankings is Hugh Morris, who is of course Welsh.
11. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of new financing arrangements on the editorial and operational independence of S4C. (94341)
I agree with the assessment of the new independent chairman of S4C that financial and governance arrangements agreed between the BBC and S4C will
“safeguard the Welsh language services provided by S4C for the foreseeable future”
“allow S4C to maintain its editorial and managerial independence.”
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, but why have he and the BBC explicitly ruled out operational independence? The cut in grant is 24% over four years, but the cut against anticipated income is some 32%, which is really challenging. Is it not important for S4C to be able to manage its own business and have operational independence?
We do want S4C to learn from what the BBC does as a much larger broadcaster—it is one of the most successful public service broadcasters in the world, if not the most successful—in how it runs its operations, because S4C has been through a very difficult period. The most important thing is editorial independence, so that there is a choice of Welsh language services and plurality of news provision in Wales. I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the new agreement between the BBC and S4C is supported not just by peers from his party but also by Plaid Cymru in the other place.
Sport England/UK Sport
Ministerial and Sports Council colleagues from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been closely involved and the issue was formally discussed at the last sports cabinet. We all agree that the restructuring should be implemented in a way that maintains and improves the links that currently exist between the sports councils, and increases available funding for athletes across the UK, as a result of reduced administrative costs and increased commercial revenue. Everyone has agreed to move forward on the four key points I mentioned.
I very much welcome the Minister’s comments. We all recognise how important sport is in people’s lives, especially young people. Has he taken any specific action to ensure that young people in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland can continue to participate in school games, which are so vital to their development?
This is my first chance to welcome the hon. Lady to the House following her by-election victory.
We are of course supporting the creative industries. We have established the Creative Industries Council, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Creative England is supporting the creative industries throughout England. We have created one home for British film, with increased lottery funding, and established the film policy review, which has been widely welcomed. The computer science curriculum is being revolutionised as a result of the Livingstone-Hope review.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The global games industry is likely to see more than £50 billion a year in software sales alone by 2014. Having worked with much of Britain’s developer and publisher talent, it is clear that there is great potential for our interactive entertainment industry to provide much-needed growth to the UK economy. What assessment have the Government made of the needs of the interactive entertainment industry and how we need to respond?
The UK has a thriving video games sector; it is fair to say that we are probably the European leaders. As I mentioned earlier, we have conducted the skills review to ensure that kids can learn about computer science in school and be ready for the industry. We engage regularly with the industry on a whole range of issues.
In the last year of the Labour Government, UK television exports grew by 13%, which is further evidence of our creative industries’ global appeal and potential for jobs and growth. Can the Minister tell the House when we can expect a comprehensive strategy for increasing our international business with developing economies, especially Brazil, Russia, India and China?
We have regular discussions with the BRIC countries. I have been to Beijing to represent the creative industries and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been to Brazil. We obviously engage with India and Russia, and this week we met a delegation from Mexico to talk about the creative industries, so we are engaging around the globe on the creative industries and their huge success, which is admired around the world. As the House will be aware, last year the UK topped the US singles chart at Nos. 1, 2 and 3, more than 50% of the top albums in the UK were by British artists, and British films topped the UK box office for 20 weeks. We are doing extremely well in the creative industries, and the world recognises it, and 2012 will put the spotlight on that.
Broadband (Greater Manchester)
We are doing a great deal to promote the roll-out of broadband in Manchester, including a £100 million urban broadband fund, which has been warmly welcomed by Labour-controlled Manchester city council, if not by Opposition Front Benchers.
For residents in small villages such as Affetside in my constituency, the length and complexity of the procurement process for the delivery of high-speed broadband inevitably means that they are being prevented from enjoying the benefits of the internet that many of us take for granted. Is there anything my right hon. Friend can do to speed up the process?
Absolutely. We are doing everything we can, including insisting that all local authorities complete their broadband plans and have contracts signed by the end of this year, which is much faster than normal procurement processes. We want to ensure that we are able to deliver for my hon. Friend’s constituents well before the next election.
Football Club Licensing
15. What recent discussions he has had with the Premier League, Football Association and Football League on the licensing of football clubs. (94345)
The Secretary of State and I have had several discussions with the Football Association, the premier league and the Football League since we published our response to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s football governance inquiry last October. The football authorities are due to respond with their proposals to the reforms that we have called for, including a new licensing model for clubs, by 29 February.
We will have the opportunity to debate the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on football governance this afternoon in Westminster Hall, although, ideally, we would have wanted to have debated the report after the FA had responded. The Minister says that he still expects the FA to respond by the end of February, but that is not our understanding, so when does he really expect a response from the football authorities?
Child Protection (Internet)
The previous Government set up the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, which works very well in bringing together industry stakeholders to promote the safety of children online. This week we had safer internet day, and UKCCIS launched its advice on child internet safety. I am also delighted by the industry agreement to introduce active choice controls on websites.
Will the Minister look at the very good report that is out this week from the commission on stalking, of which I had the privilege of being a member? Cyber-stalking, like cyber-bullying, originates in schools, but there is not enough action to control the way in which children are exposed to danger, and if one visits schools, as I do, one finds that the number of children who are exposed to pornography, as well as to manipulation, is growing not diminishing.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and that is a very real problem. It is important that the Government work with industry and look at self-regulatory solutions first, because the answers will best come from industry, but there should be no doubt on the industry’s part that this is a very real problem, and we expect action from it to help parents to protect their children from every kind of inappropriate content, whether pornography or inappropriate behaviour, on the internet.
As my Department is proudly responsible for the diamond jubilee celebrations, I wish to add my congratulations to those of the Prime Minister yesterday to Her Majesty the Queen. All Departments are of course at the disposal of Her Majesty, but this Department is at her personal disposal in order to make sure that we mark this wonderful moment for the nation in the best way possible.
Two Sundays ago I rode 45 miles around Cannock Chase in a charity bike ride known locally as the Tour de Nock, a race only slightly less famous than the Tour de France. The event was organised by a local man, John Hibbs, and sponsored by Cycle Shack, Cannock, and it raised thousands of pounds for a local charity, the Hibbs Lupus Trust, which raises funds to support people with that incurable condition. In this Olympic year, what are the Government doing to encourage more people to take up cycling as a way both of keeping fit and of raising money for good causes?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his efforts, and we are doing a great deal, but perhaps the most significant thing that we have done in terms of grass-roots sport participation is the change that we made to the lottery, meaning that over the five years that follow the Olympics an extra half a billion pounds will go into boosting grass-roots and elite sport.
May I ask the Secretary of State about women in broadcasting? I am sure he will agree that it is a sorry state of affairs when the BBC sports personality of the year shortlist failed to identify even one woman, while its woman of the year shortlist somehow managed to include a panda, but we all know that what is on the screen is a product of what goes on behind the camera. There has been progress, and now there are many fantastic women in the industry, but they still face unequal odds. When even the BBC today acknowledges that there should be more women throughout the industry, why is the Secretary of State proposing to strip Ofcom of its duty to promote gender equality? Will he drop that proposal?
First, the right hon. and learned Lady, like me, knows that it is important that we respect the BBC’s editorial independence. There is cross-party agreement on that. I am sure that she will welcome the huge progress that the BBC has made, including the clear acceptance by the director-general of the BBC today that something needs to be done to address this issue urgently. The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) has made big efforts in this respect. We have arranged for my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) to meet the director-general to talk about this issue. I am hopeful that we will make progress without the need to resort to legislation or regulation.
T3. Each year, the Football Association raises a surplus of about £100 million, mostly from the England football team. By convention, 50% of that money goes to the professional game, where it is not needed, and not to the community and grass-roots game, where it is badly needed. I declare an interest as a director of Warrington Town football club, which badly needs the money. When will the Minister address this governance issue? (94351)
I can tell my hon. Friend exactly when we will address the issue. There has been a Culture, Media and Sport Committee report into the entire issue and we are awaiting a response that will come by the end of February. Only when the FA board has a better governance structure will it be able to tackle such issues. At the moment, it is simply divided on the basis of the vested interests inside the game.
T4. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) about the video games industry, given the success of the film tax credit in the UK, will the Minister reconsider introducing a tax credit for the video games industry, as per his manifesto commitment, to assist innovative businesses such as those in Dundee? (94352)
Dundee is, of course, the home of Abertay university, which is one of the world’s leading universities for the video games industry. The tax credit for the video games industry remains a lively topic, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will direct his questions to the Treasury.
T6. Ministers will know that a group of concerned MPs and peers recently concluded a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into online child protection. Without wishing to front-run the conclusions of the report, it is clear that the current protections are failing. We know that 93% of women are extremely concerned about the ease with which online pornography can be accessed by children. The “active choice” response of the internet service providers targets only new customers and will not be rolled out fully until October. Given that 80% of British households are already ISP customers, does the Secretary of State really think that that response is enough? If he does not, what is he going to do about it? (94355)
It is a great pleasure finally to hear from my hon. Friend. I have a great deal of sympathy for her point. She has campaigned assiduously on this issue. I do not want to pre-empt the Green Paper that we will publish shortly. I hope that that will address some of the concerns that she has raised.
T5. Will the Sport Minister give an update on the participation of a British team in the Olympic football competition? As a Welsh Member of Parliament, I recognise that the Football Association of Wales has difficulties. However, does he agree that it would be a travesty if the British team comprised only English players? (94353)
The composition of the team is properly a matter for the selectors and, through them, the British Olympic Association. I hope that the BOA has sent out invitations to young men and women up and down the United Kingdom, and that politics will not stand in the way of their having the opportunity to represent their country in a home Olympics.
May I return the Secretary of State to the issue of rural broadband? My constituents in northern Lincolnshire, in particular in the villages of Kirmington, Croxton and Aylesby, have severe problems with their connection. That is a key issue for the rural economy. Kirmington is the home of Humberside airport and is therefore a vital area. May I wish the Secretary of State a good holiday in Pembrokeshire next week and suggest for future holidays that he might like to taste the delights of Cleethorpes?
I gratefully accept my hon. Friend’s kind invitation. As soon as the diary permits, I will race to Cleethorpes for my next family holiday. He is right that broadband is incredibly important for rural communities. That is why, unlike the previous Government, we have secured a £530 million central Government investment, through the licence fee, to transform the situation. I am pleased to say that north Lincolnshire has been at the forefront on this issue and that I have given the green light to its local broadband plan. I am optimistic that the problems that he talks about will be addressed very soon.
T7. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.Members will know that those who have taken civil action, which is now complete, against the News of the World have faced legal bills of some £300,000, £400,000 or £500,000, yet the most that has ever been awarded by a court in a privacy case is £60,000, and many settlements have been for much less. Given the changes to the conditional fee agreements that the Government are pushing through, may I suggest that it might be a good idea to have a small claims court for privacy and libel cases? Would the Secretary of State support that? I do not want him to say, “Let’s wait to hear what Leveson and the Justice Secretary say.” We want to know what he thinks. (94356)
I can. We have looked into that very closely following the phone hacking and BSkyB merger issues, and it is absolutely the case that when Ofcom considers the application of the fit and proper person test, under law it must consider whether a company is a fit and proper organisation to hold a broadcast licence, because licences are held by companies.
T8. The arts Minister may well be aware that next Thursday marks the start of the Glasgow film festival, which, fortunately for me, coincides with part of the recess. Will he undertake to consider the role of film festivals, including the Glasgow one, in promoting British film? They play a vital role that is sometimes under-appreciated. (94357)
I declare that I am a parliamentary fellow to the Football Association.
Does the Minister agree with the leadership of David Bernstein in recent days on matters of judgment, and will he condemn Fabio Capello’s decision to walk out on the England team with only a few months to go until Euro 2012?
The FA had absolutely no option but to strip John Terry of the captaincy, not to prejudge the court case but simply because it would have been impossible for him to discharge his responsibilities as captain of the England team with that hanging over him.
It is a very great shame that Fabio Capello has acted in the way he has. If a player in his team had behaved in the way he has behaved to the FA, he would have taken the toughest possible action. I am delighted that the FA has agreed with him that he should no longer be manager.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will share my excitement about the recently announced concert to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee. How confident is he that the measures being put in place by his Department will tackle the scourge of ticket touts and prevent them from getting their hands on, and profiting from, tickets for a publicly funded celebration?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on brilliantly linking the diamond jubilee to her personal commitment to improve how tickets are sold. I commend her determination to improve the situation.
There will be more tickets to more events this year than at any time in our history, with the diamond jubilee, the Olympics, the Paralympics, the cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 festival. It will be a very good year to see whether the touting problem needs to be addressed in legislation, or whether changes in technology can do the trick.
Last week, I took part in a panel auditioning for participants in a new production of “Swindon: The Opera”. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Janice Thompson Performance Trust on an admirable project that will help to showcase the cultural richness of Swindon?
On something slightly different, will Ministers explain how they intend to turn the enthusiasm to volunteer to help with the Olympics into long-term volunteering in our communities, given the decision to axe funding for the national volunteer service?
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
2. How many e-petitions have attracted more than 100,000 signatures. (94321)
In the six months since the launch of the site, more than 3.5 million signatures have been submitted to more than 11,000 published petitions. Those statistics underpin my view that e-petitions are connecting the Government and Parliament with a remarkable number and range of people. So far, eight e-petitions have passed the 100,000 signature threshold. They remain viewable on the site, including the Government response.
May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House for his opinion on the report from the Procedure Committee, which is chaired so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight)? The report suggests that e-petitions should be debated in Westminster Hall, which would be opened up so that we have more time for such debates. I welcome that proposal, but my constituents would be very concerned if they thought all e-petitions would be shuffled off to Westminster Hall. Will the Deputy Leader of the House reassure them and me that we will still have time to debate e-petitions on the Floor of the House?
I agree with the hon. Lady. It is important that the Backbench Business Committee can choose where it holds debates, including on the Floor of the House and in some cases on a substantive motion. Last year’s debate on the release of Hillsborough papers is a good example of just such scheduling of a debate that showed the House at its best.
The Committee should also continue to be able to decide that e-petitions are not appropriate for debate, or that they have already been considered, and not schedule them for debate. Members should be free to seek Adjournment debates on e-petitions if that is felt to be the best route. I note that there will be such a debate in Westminster Hall on 22 February relating to the e-petition on the death of Kevin Williams at Hillsborough.
I am sure the Deputy Leader of the House has looked at the report of the Procedure Committee, of which I am a member. One issue that the report looks at is how expectations have been raised because the wording on the Government website suggests that every petition that gets more than 100,000 signatures will be debated on the Floor of the House. If the Committee comes up with an amended form of wording, will he undertake to look at it and to implement changes suggested by the Committee quickly?
The Government will respond in due course. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I generally support the thrust of the Committee’s report, but we will respond in the normal way, shortly after the Hansard Society seminar on e-petitions, which I welcome. That is due to take place on 6 March.
Is the Minister aware that many of us feel that the Government should be congratulated on introducing for the first time an e-petition system that can trigger a debate in Parliament? However, does he also agree that any new system needs examining, refining and improving in the light of experience? Because of that, will he try to secure a Government response to the Procedure Committee’s report as soon as possible, so that the House can debate this matter sooner rather than later?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee for their work on this matter. No system in the world is incapable of refinement and improvement by looking at it over time and I am grateful for the points he makes. I did not think there was any doubt in what we have consistently said. We have said that e-petitions are eligible for debate once they reach the threshold, not that they will necessarily be debated. The system is working well, but the Procedure Committee has made some fair points on how we can better manage the process in the House. We will certainly respond to the Committee as soon as is appropriate.
The Procedure Committee report was not only excellent; it was done in record time to ensure that we could have a timely debate and to ensure that the e-petition system works as well as it possibly can. Will the Government ensure that their response to the Committee’s e-petitions report comes before 6 March, so that we can consider it in the Hansard Society seminar?
We will do our best. The seminar to which the hon. Lady refers will help to inform the work of the Procedure Committee. The results of the seminar plus the Government’s response will—I hope—enable something to be laid before the House that will improve how we deal with e-petitions. With co-ordination and co-operation from everybody involved, we will ensure we get the right response.
I think I am right in saying that virtually every e-petition a Member has brought to the Backbench Business Committee that has reached 100,000 signatures has been debated in one way or the other. The Government should be enormously congratulated on bringing the public in line with Parliament. The Leader of the House has not had enough praise for that. Without this system, we would not have had the EU referendum debate.
I am always grateful for praise and congratulation from the hon. Gentleman. I genuinely think the e-petition system has been a great improvement. The old Downing street e-petition system, under the previous Government, had no mechanism for questions ever to get on to the Floor of the House. The most memorable thing it ever produced was a suggestion that Jeremy Clarkson be Prime Minister. I think our system works an awful lot better.
Ministers take seriously the requirement in the ministerial code that when Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance to Parliament. My hon. Friend and I do not hesitate to remind colleagues of that requirement.
I thank the Leader of the House for that, but he knows only too well that concern is all too often expressed in the House about Ministers speaking and leaking to the press. Can he assure the House—I think he can, from what he has said this morning—that he and the Deputy Leader of the House take this issue very seriously? Should he not, as a belt-and-braces exercise, issue written guidance to Ministers?
My view is that the problem has been less acute in this Parliament than in previous Parliaments, partly because the Government are making more statements to the House than previously: we are making 0.7 statements per day in this Parliament, as opposed to 0.4 statements per day in the previous Parliament. I take on board what the hon. Gentleman has said. There is already written guidance in the ministerial code, and I do not hesitate to remind my ministerial colleagues of the imperatives in the code on every appropriate occasion.
The Leader of the House will be aware that there are 18 written ministerial statements on the Order Paper today. Given that the House is now rising for recess, it will be impossible to debate them. Will he publish the policy criteria determining whether written, as opposed to oral, ministerial statements are made?
My hon. Friend asks a good question. There is a balance always to be struck between the imperative of making an oral statement and the need to preserve time for the House to debate the issues before it on that particular day. We try to strike the right balance. Today, we have an oral statement from the Foreign Secretary and an important debate thereafter on Somalia. It would have eroded the time for the statement and the debate if, on top of that, we had scheduled for oral statement some of the written ministerial statements to which my hon. Friend referred. We try to get the balance right, but we are always open to fresh suggestions.
Statutory Register of Lobbyists
The Government published our initial proposals in the form of a consultation document on 20 January. Any effects on Standing Orders would best be considered in the light of what emerges from that consultation and subsequent legislation.
Does not the fact that there are links between serving parliamentarians and certain lobbying firms imply that there would be a need to change Standing Orders in some way? Does not this exchange reinforce the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister should have made an oral statement on the Floor of the House to launch the document, rather than fobbing us off with a written statement?
I really think we need to understand that the House is not being fobbed off with a written ministerial statement, particularly when there is a consultation paper the hon. Gentleman can contribute to in the same way as every other Member. Consultation papers are there to consult, and it is perfectly appropriate to let the House be aware of a consultation paper that has been issued by issuing a written ministerial statement—a point you, Mr Speaker, have also made in recent weeks.
Let us make a comparison on dithering. We have brought before the House, within 18 months, firm proposals in a consultation paper with draft clauses. In 13 years, the Government that the hon. Gentleman supported did nothing whatsoever, despite being asked several times by Committees of the House to bring forward a statutory register of lobbyists. I think that we are making progress where his Government did not.
Because, believe it or not, it is rather a difficult thing to define, which is why the consultation paper invites responses on precisely that issue. Some people would take an all-encompassing definition, which would require every one of our constituents who comes to see us in an advice surgery to register as a lobbyist before attending. I think that that would be an over-extensive definition.
The Government’s proposals, inadequate as they are, will require primary legislation. Will the Government now commit to pre-legislative scrutiny, which might encourage Ministers to come up with more substantial proposals?
Pre-legislative scrutiny requires the publication of draft clauses, and that is what we have done. The hon. Lady might have noticed that. Of course, if, as a result of consultation, a very different proposal is put before the House, that too will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, because it is important that we get this right. Again, though, I really cannot take seriously the hon. Lady and her colleagues, who were incapable of doing anything about this problem, now complaining that we are doing something, which we are.
The tentacles of the corrupt and semi-corrupt lobbying system have sunk deep into the body politic. If politics is to be reformed and confidence in the House and politics restored, major reform is essential. Unfortunately, the consultation document shows that instead of listening to what the Prime Minister said when in opposition, the Government have spent their time listening to lobbyists lobbying about lobbying.
The Government have shown themselves willing to make changes to the order of oral questions for the convenience of the House. For example, they responded positively to a request from the official Opposition to extend the length of questions to the Deputy Prime Minister to 40 minutes. The status of the oral questions rota is kept under review.
The Deputy Leader of the House will recall that a couple of weeks ago the Chancellor was unable to make it to Treasury questions because he was at ECOFIN, That was a perfectly reasonable and acceptable excuse, but given what is happening in the eurozone and given that ECOFIN usually meets on a Tuesday, does it mean that the Chancellor will miss future Treasury questions and should we not consider changing the time of Treasury questions, perhaps back to Thursdays, which is when they used to be a couple of years ago?
The hon. Gentleman raises a perfectly proper question. From my experience, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer never knowingly loses an opportunity to debate matters in the House or to answer questions. He is no Macavity. He has attended 11 of the 13 Treasury oral sessions since he took office, which compares well to the previous Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman might have a point, though, and I will discuss the matter with Treasury colleagues, if there is a problem. I believe, however, that we will see the Chancellor the Exchequer regularly here answering questions on economic matters, as he would wish to do.
I hear what my hon. Friend says. The trouble is that we cannot extend one Question Time without reducing another or lengthening the interval between them. I know that the House wants to hold Ministers and Departments to account and to fulfil its scrutiny role, and we have to find a balance in order to ensure that that is done efficiently and effectively, but I hear what she says.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State cannot be here today. He is in Cumbria opening the world’s largest industrial offshore wind farm—another big step forward in the deployment of renewables under this coalition Government.
The Government have today announced ambitious plans to ensure the future of the feed-in tariffs scheme and make it more predictable. The reforms will lead to a bigger scheme, providing better value. The feed-in tariffs scheme provides a subsidy, paid for by all consumers through their energy bills, to enable small-scale renewable and low-carbon technologies to compete against higher-carbon forms of electricity generation. The unprecedented surge in solar photovoltaic installations in the latter part of last year, owing to a 45% reduction in estimated installation costs since 2009, has placed a huge strain on the feed-in tariffs budget. That threatened the Government’s ability to roll out small-scale low-carbon technologies over the next few years in the numbers that we had wanted. We therefore acted as swiftly as possible to respond to the threat, through the changes we are now making to the tariffs for solar PV. Today is a turning point for the feed-in tariffs scheme.
The right hon. Lady might care to listen, because she clearly knows nothing about it. Rather than cackling, perhaps she will just listen for a change. The Opposition asked for a statement and I am giving it.
We have looked at the feed-in tariffs budget and made the most of the flexibility available under the levy control framework to ensure that we can keep the scheme going, but we want to do much more. The reforms I am announcing today are designed to make that budget go as far as possible to maximise the number of people able to benefit from feed-in tariffs. With the new reform package, we aim to give plenty of TLC—transparency, longevity and certainty, which were absent from the old scheme that we inherited from Labour. The reforms will provide greater confidence to consumers and industry investing in exciting renewable technologies, such as solar power, anaerobic digestion, micro-CHP, and wind and hydro power.
Instead of a scheme for the few, the new, improved scheme will deliver for far more people. Our plans will see almost two and a half times more installations than was planned by the Labour Administration, and that is just by 2015. That is good news for consumers and good news for the sustainable growth of the industry. We are proposing a more predictable and transparent scheme, as the costs of technologies fall. That will ensure a long-term, predictable rate of return, which will closely track changes in prices and deployment. Make no mistake: this will be a challenging package. The tariff degression mechanism that we will propose will not allow for fat profits or excessive rents, but it will show a serious ambition. Under our new plans, we believe that by 2020 we could see up to 20 GW of solar installed in the UK. That is a huge increase in our ambition for decentralised energy. This coalition wants to see a bright and vibrant future for small-scale renewables in the UK, in which each of the technologies is able to reach its potential and get to a point where it can stand on its own two feet without the need for subsidy, sooner rather than later.
In opposition, we promised a decentralised energy revolution, bringing power to the people. Today we take a huge stride forward to making that dream a reality.
I understand that the Minister was due to give a press conference at his Department at 11 am to announce his plans for feed-in tariffs. I hope that Her Majesty’s Opposition have not inconvenienced him too much by forcing him to come to this House to defend his plans. Nor will it have escaped the House’s notice that, faced with the first opportunity to deal with this chaotic policy, the new Secretary of State has ducked the challenge and gone AWOL. I do not think that is a particularly encouraging start. I received a copy of the Government’s statement only 20 minutes ago, so we shall have to look closely at the details of the announcement.
Last night, the Minister tweeted that he had an ambition for 22 GW of solar capacity to be installed by 2020. That is all very well, but not if his policies do not get us anywhere near the figure. Will he confirm that he is today proposing a further cut in the tariff level for solar power to 13.6p from July of this year? That would be a 70% cut in six months, which would be out of all proportion to the falling costs in the industry.
The Minister mentioned the analysis that his Department had commissioned, but will he confirm that the study was commissioned on 10 January and asked to report back just three days later? In those three days, how many businesses were consulted? Will he also tell us whether his plans will result in a contraction in the solar industry in the next four years and cause people to lose their jobs? The Minister tried to claim that his original plans would create an additional 1,000 to 10,000 jobs in the solar industry, but we have found out that that was the total number of jobs that the industry would support, not the additional number of jobs, which would in fact mean 15,000 to 20,000 job losses. I suppose that he will try to tell us that even deeper cuts will create even more jobs.
For months, I have warned that the Government’s plans to change the eligibility criteria would exclude nearly nine out of 10 families from having solar power. Moving the energy efficiency requirement from band C to band D is a welcome retreat, but will the Minister tell me how many people will still be excluded from having solar power, and how much they will need to spend on improving their property before they meet the revised eligibility criteria?
Finally, one of our deepest concerns with the Government’s proposals is that they will exclude everyone in social housing and community groups from having solar power. What have the Government done to enable people in social housing and community organisations to access solar power? More than 80% of the people who responded to the first consultation told the Government that they had got it wrong. The appointment of a new Secretary of State was an opportunity for them to change course. Today, we can see that they have failed to take that opportunity.
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady constantly sees the glass as being half empty, and carps at a very ambitious scheme that will be very good news for the industry. She clearly wants to invest her political capital in failure. If she looks at the consultation, she will see that we are proposing a further cut in the tariff for solar power. She mentioned one of the options, but there are actually three. The proposals for smaller schemes, which typically involve installations on the roofs of average homes, include the options for 16.5p, 15.7p and 13.6p. We will consult on those options. She clearly does not understand the big dynamic that is driving down costs. We welcome the fact that costs are coming down, and we are determined to ensure that tariffs come down with them. If she wants to stick to, and defend, the old scheme, she is welcome to do so.
I welcome the right hon. Lady’s acknowledgement that we listened to the consultation—that rarely happened under her Government—and that we are going for band D. More than 50% of homes in Britain already meet the band D criteria, and, when the green deal is launched in the last quarter of this year, everyone in the country will be able to access measures to improve their home at no up-front cost. We have also announced today that we are going to consult on a community scheme, which the Labour Government failed to introduce when they launched this programme. For us, communities are at the heart of the renewable energy revolution, and we want to do far more to encourage and enable communities to come together to generate low-carbon and renewable energy. We expect to be able to achieve exactly that under this scheme, which will be bigger and deployed to give better value for consumers and householders.
The Minister’s statement is welcome in that it restores a degree of order to a situation that had become increasingly chaotic. I am afraid that the chaos was aggravated by the nature of the consultation process on solar feed-in tariffs before Christmas. Does he agree that the new package will be judged on whether it offers more predictability for investors, thus bringing down the capital costs, and on whether it will give value for money to the consumers who are required to contribute to the development of the renewables industry?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those two things are right at the heart of this new scheme: better value for money and greater predictability, with a regular, predictable degression, particularly for solar PV, allowing us to anticipate, and take advantage of, the falling costs of this exciting technology. I think he will see that industry broadly welcomes these measures.
I agree with the Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee that the previous FITs debacle has tarnished the industry, but we have not had an opportunity to discuss this new scheme; had it not been for today’s urgent question, we would not have known about it. Will the Minister print two schedules—one on the FITs that are currently available and another on those that are likely to be introduced in the future—so that business, individuals and community groups can have certainty about what they are entering into?
Earlier this morning, I placed a written statement in the Library, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to download the full consultation document. If he does so, he will find all the proposed tariffs, with the various options, set out very clearly. We would welcome his, and all other, contributions to this discussion.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the subsidies are paid not by the Treasury but by consumers as a whole—by other electricity users—and that we must therefore strike a fair balance between the consumers who are benefiting from the subsidy and every other electricity consumer?
That is absolutely right; my hon. Friend is spot on. Under the scheme we inherited from Labour, a very small number of people were enjoying bumper returns. Our improved scheme is much fairer. Under it, there will be far more deployment and at a fairer rate, which will be better news for consumers—who, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, pay for this through their bills.
Given the shattered consumer and business confidence following the fiasco before Christmas, has the Minister conducted any analysis of how many people will take up the FITs on a 13.6p return? I am also concerned that this new scheme might exclude a lot of people who are not in a position to have loans out for a very long time and who need to get the money back more quickly.
We expect to see two and a half times more installations by 2015 than under the original scheme introduced by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Energy Secretary, and we also expect that that higher level of deployment will be delivered for far less money. We therefore believe we have struck the right balance between consumers and having a higher level of ambition. Our scheme will be predictable: it will offer greater transparency, and it will offer certainty to the industry.
I welcome the move on the eligibility of domestic properties, widening the scheme to a wider group of potential consumers, and the move to widen it to community groups. What will the Government do to ensure that community groups, and especially housing estates, are made aware of this great opportunity, and what reassurance will the Minister give to organisations that might be approaching this sector for the first time?
A couple of weeks ago, the Department launched a new project to help communities build local energy schemes and programmes, and many communities across the country have responded very positively to it. They will be ideally placed to help inform, encourage and drive forward local programmes. We take the issue of communities very seriously, which is why we are consulting on a new community tariff. We are also considering introducing a community tariff guarantee to make it easier for communities to plan ahead, recognising that it sometimes takes them a little longer to get their plans in place.
Does the Minister intend to increase the proportion of the levy cap that is provided for FITs up to the end of the spending round in 2015? If so, how much will he increase it to—and why could he not do this before the recent fiasco?
We will substantially increase the DECC resources that are made available for this scheme. We are happy to do that now because this new scheme offers much better value for money than the scheme we inherited. We expect that about £1.3 billion will be made available for this scheme over the spending period, but there will not be any increase in the cost to consumers, and the total sums will still be within the overall levy control framework. This will be achieved through better budgetary management by DECC, and our conviction that the new scheme offers better value for money than the one we inherited from Labour.
As the Minister knows, I am a patron of ONCORE—Oxford North Community Renewables Limited—a community group in my constituency that has built a photovoltaic array on a local school in partnership with community investors, a local climate group, and the school itself. I am sure he agrees that ONCORE is exactly the kind of group that we want FITs to encourage, but unfortunately under Labour’s scheme it was impossible to distinguish between community groups and businesses, and as a result it has been impossible to treat community groups differently under the review. What action is he taking to deal with that?
The owners of Trusted Solar, a company in my constituency, contacted me this morning to say that they were appalled by the way in which the statement had been sneaked out. They told me that they had had to lay off staff, and would not be able to go ahead with their plans for jobs and growth. How will any firm be able to trust this Government—or to plan for jobs and growth—if this is the kind of action that we are going to see from them?
Issuing a written ministerial statement and a full consultation document hardly constitutes sneaking something out. Later this morning I shall meet dozens of members of the industry and all the major trade groups at a stakeholder round table at DECC, which will be extremely open and very inclusive.
The message I am receiving from those in the industry is that they welcome the predictability we are providing. They will find the tariff reductions challenging, but there is a great deal that they will be able to bank on, and invest in, as a result of the improvements we are making to Labour’s failed scheme.
I welcome the Minister’s statement, and in particular his announcement that band D properties will be eligible for solar panels. A number of older properties on Exmoor and in the Blackdown hills in my constituency have solid walls and are very expensive to insulate. Can the Minister provide any extra help for those owners of those properties?
Under the green deal and its supporting energy company obligation, a significant subsidy will be available for homes that are hard to treat, and I imagine that those cottages on Exmoor are exactly the sort of homes that would benefit from additional subsidy for solid-wall insulation.
Businesses and consumers in my constituency will assume that the Minister’s “TLC” stands for “turbulence, losses and chaos”. The Government have already spent £66,400 on fighting this case in the courts. How much more public money will they waste before they put solar energy on a sustainable footing?
The proposal we have presented today means that we are indeed putting solar energy on a sustainable footing. What we are not going to do is give up trying to save the consumer £1.5 billion, which is what it would cost if our appeal to the Supreme Court did not succeed. We think that it is right to stand up for hard-pressed consumers, and we do not think it is right to over-inflate rewards for the few people who receive unnecessarily high rewards of 43p.
Green technology leaders such as Worcester Bosch in my constituency will welcome the increased transparency and certainty and the increase in eligibility, but they will particularly welcome the increase in support for combined heat and power. Does the Minister agree that given the continuing prevalence of gas central heating in this country, CHP is a key technology in encouraging microgeneration, and will he do everything in his power to support it?
Absolutely. We are very pleased that as a result of our reforms we shall be able to increase the tariff for micro CHP. So far there has been relatively little deployment of such exciting technologies, but I hope that the industry will now grasp the opportunity with both hands and that we shall see a greatly increased uptake.
The Minister will recall that in December he met my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and me to discuss the terrible impact of his changes on my constituents who work for Carillion, which has announced 4,500 redundancies. I hope that the measures announced today will safeguard jobs. I shall study them in more detail, but what measures will the Minister take to ensure that the uncertainty created by his actions does not spread to the green deal?
I think that people will take confidence from the fact that we are managing the budget responsibly, and introducing budgetary mechanisms that allow the available subsidy to be spread over the whole budget period. We shall no longer see the boom and bust in feed-in tariffs, and indeed in the green deal, that we saw under Labour’s scheme.
What advice can the Minister give the thousands of householders throughout the country who, as we speak, are receiving direct mail shots from the solar industry offering them the opportunity to benefit from the 43p per kWh tariff? I am not sure that that is an entirely honest way of doing business, but will the Minister advise people on how they should respond?
May I ask the Minister to answer the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), and tell us how many people will lose their jobs if the Government proceed with a further cut in the solar tariff to 13p in July?
There is to be a dramatic reduction in the tariff for small-scale wind. We had to take a hard look at it on a value-for-money basis, and as a result we are having to reduce it substantially to 21p. We must make it clear that we can justify paying a significant subsidy to individual technologies only if there is a real chance that they will reach a point at which they are cost-competitive with other mainstream renewables, and indeed fossil fuels, in the relatively near future. Unfortunately, that case has not been made so far in relation to small-scale wind, but I hope that the industry will respond with proposals for innovation and plans to make its technologies more cost-competitive.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is talking absolute rubbish. We in DECC have really good engagement with the industry. The stakeholders will be in my office in about an hour and a half, and I look forward to a sensible, grown-up, constructive discussion with them.
I was grateful to the Minister for arranging a meeting just before Christmas to discuss the Harlow community scheme, which was to benefit 1,500 houses by providing them with solar panels. Will he explain how his new, revised proposals will help to ensure that the scheme continues?
I hope that my hon. Friend will contribute to our consultation on how we should define a community scheme. We obviously want to make the scheme as inclusive as possible, but the more narrowly it is defined, the greater the differentiation from other large-scale schemes we shall be able to offer. There is a balance to be struck. We are genuinely interested in receiving feedback, and I think that, as a real community champion himself, my hon. Friend will be well placed to help us.
Why do the Government move with the speed of a striking cobra when they are slashing support for essential renewable energy, but with the speed of an arthritic sloth when it comes to recognising the subsidies that will be essential for nuclear power in future?
First, we are not subsidising nuclear power. Secondly, we are introducing a very dynamic system of tariffs that I think other countries will now try to copy. I think that rather than being the slow man in Europe in renewable deployment, we shall be in the fast lane.
The Minister will be aware that in the last year of the previous Government, we were 25th out of 27 European countries in the use of renewables. I note his target of 20 GW, which seems quite heroic. Can he confirm that meeting it would put us at the top of the league and not in the relegation zone position he inherited?
The Secretary of State is in Cumbria today to open the world’s largest offshore wind farm, which will help to push us up the table, and I certainly believe that solar has the potential to push us higher still. Whether that will take us to the top—given the progress being made in Europe, and the severe disadvantage we inherited owing to Labour’s record in government—I do not know, but all I can say is that things are going to get better.
My hon. Friend knows, given the representations I have made to him, among others, about the desperate need for stability on the question of solar installations. Will he assure me that the outcome of the consultation process will represent the Government’s settled policy on this matter for the years ahead?
Absolutely. The good thing about this scheme is that, unlike the one we inherited from Labour, it will not depend on arbitrary decisions or interventions from politicians. Rather, it will clearly set out the mechanics of how we will degress tariffs not just this year or next, but for years to come, and will provide the stability and longevity that investors are crying out for.
We are very lucky today in having an urgent question answered by the greenest Member of this House; nobody here is more committed to renewable energy. The Opposition attacking the Government for not leaking in advance a written statement is also novel. However, will the Minister look into the problem with the Nene valley hydro scheme? It is an excellent scheme that I know his Department supports, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is dragging its feet.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 20 February will be:
Monday 20 February—Motion relating to Iran. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 21 February—If necessary consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a European document relating to the remuneration of European Union staff.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.
Wednesday 22 February—Opposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion including on the publication of the NHS risk register.
Thursday 23 February—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2012, the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2012, and the draft Pensions Act 2008 (Abolition of Protected Rights) (Consequential Amendments) (No. 2) (Amendment) Order 2012.
The provisional business for the week commencing 27 February will include:
Monday 27 February—Estimates day (4th allotted day). Details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: Funding for the Olympics and Paralympics: Oral evidence taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 14 and 21 December 2010, HC689 i and ii, 17 May 2011, HC689-iii, 15 November 2011, HC689-iv, and 24 January 2012, HC689-v; Forensic Science Service: 7th Report from the Science and Technology Committee of session 2010-12, HC 855; Government Response – The Forensic Science Service, Cm 8215]
Colleagues will wish to be reminded that they will have the opportunity to pay individual tributes to Her Majesty the Queen on 7 March during the debate on the Humble Address, marking the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 23 February will be:
Thursday 23 February—Debate on cycling.
For the convenience of the House, I would like to provide additional information on the parliamentary calendar. The House will return from the conference recess on Monday 15 October. In addition to the dates already announced, the House will rise at the close of play on Tuesday 13 November and return on Monday 19 November. The House will rise at the close of play on Thursday 20 December and return on Monday 7 January 2013.
As previously announced, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement on Wednesday 21 March. As is usual, the Budget debate will continue for a further three days. I will bring forward a motion to allow the continuation of the Budget debate on Friday 23 March. This will also facilitate the Backbench Business Committee’s usual pre-recess Adjournment debate prior to the Easter recess on Tuesday 27 March.
The House will also want to be aware that the private Members’ Bills Fridays for the next Session will be: 6 July, 13 July, 7 September, 14 September, 19 October, 26 October, 2 November, 9 November, 30 November, 18 January 2013, 25 January, 1 February and 1 March. All these dates are contained in a revised version of the calendar, now available for Members and staff from the Vote Office.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and for announcing yet another packed week.
The Government’s legislative incompetence has reached new heights with the announcement the Leader of the House has just made of a Friday sitting for the Budget. Did Government business managers forget to schedule the time they needed to debate the Budget, or did the Chancellor not bother to inform them when he announced the date? They certainly know how to manage the legislative factory, although I note that once again, the House is rising on a Tuesday so the Prime Minister can dodge his Question Time.
Yesterday, the Government were defeated in the Lords on day one of the Report stage of the Health and Social Care Bill. In yesterday’s Financial Times a Conservative Back Bencher was quoted as saying:
“No Tory MP knows what the point of these reforms is”.
Let me reassure Conservative Members: they are not alone. No one—with the possible exception of the Health Secretary—understands the point of these reforms. However, what doctors, nurses, the royal colleges, patients’ groups—in fact, just about anyone working in or using the health service—do understand is that this disastrous Bill is damaging our NHS. As the massive increase in the number of people waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment shows, it is patients who are suffering.
The Health Secretary may have presided over the biggest legislative shambles and policy disaster in recent history, but apparently the Prime Minister still has confidence in him. I do not imagine he feels particularly reassured, given that one No. 10 insider is quoted in The Times as saying that the Health Secretary
“should be taken out and shot”.
That was followed by a story in The Daily Telegraph with a headline saying that No. 10 does not want to shoot the Health Secretary. Given that the Prime Minister cannot even get his story straight on whether or not he wants to shoot his Ministers, is it any wonder that they have made such a mess of running the NHS? Will the Government recognise reality and finally drop the Health and Social Care Bill?
Ever willing to help the Government out, the Deputy Prime Minister briefed this week that he thought about vetoing the Health and Social Care Bill, but decided against it “for the sake of coalition unity”. So there we have it: the Liberal Democrats in government—power before principle.
The Health and Social Care Bill has become the latest Government Bill to run into trouble in the Lords. Over the period of the Labour Government, when we lost about a third of whipped Divisions in the Lords, the proportion of Labour peers reached a maximum of 30%. Representation on the Government Front Bench in the Lords is already at 39%. Will the Leader of the House therefore rule out stuffing the House of Lords any further with Government peers?
The Deputy Prime Minister also said this week that he was asking Liberal Democrats “day in, day out” to vote for things they
“wouldn’t do in a month of Sundays”
if there were a majority Liberal Democrat Government. It might have escaped his notice, but we have not been voting for legislation “day in, day out” due to the Government’s shambolic mishandling of parliamentary business in this House. The few votes we have had were clearly too much for the children’s Minister, who fled London rather than going into the Division Lobby with the Conservatives to vote for the Welfare Reform Bill. Does the Leader of the House agree with his own Back Benchers who said that the children's Minister should have the courage to vote for the Government’s business, or the guts to resign?
Labour called for the RBS chief executive not to take his bonus; it happened. Labour called for the board of Network Rail not to take their bonuses; it happened. On Tuesday, Labour initiated a debate on bankers’ bonuses and not a single Cabinet Minister could be bothered to speak for the Government. The Chancellor, speaking to the Federation of Small Businesses, even seemed to think it was anti-business to be talking about executive pay at all. Had he deigned to come to this House on Tuesday, he would have realised it is actually about fairness.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that as a result of quantitative easing, every bank in the country has benefited from taxpayer funding, and does he agree that it is not fair for the bosses of all the banks that have benefited from taxpayer support to earn in one day many times more than most people in this country earn in a lifetime? Every time I have raised this matter, the right hon. Gentleman has ducked the question. Given that Barclays is due to announce its bonus round, will the Leader of the House now send an unequivocal message to banking bosses about what the Government consider fair?
I want to pay tribute to two remarkable women. Her Majesty the Queen has reigned for 60 years, and her commitment to the nation and the Commonwealth has rightly earned respect across the country and around the world. Florence Green, who died this week at the age of 110, was the last known surviving service member from world war one. Mrs Green was one of 100,000 women to serve this country in the great war. Will the Leader of the House now agree to schedule the traditional debate to mark international women’s day, so that we can pay tribute to the service of those remarkable women and many others who enhance our public life in this country?
The Government are anxious that we should have the normal pre-Easter recess Adjournment debate, which is normally scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee, and that is why we are scheduling an additional day’s debate on the Friday after the Budget; if we did not do so, there would be a risk that that popular occasion would be squeezed out of the calendar.
The Prime Minister relishes Prime Minister’s questions—probably more than the Leader of the Opposition does. If the hon. Lady had been listening to what I said, she would have heard me announce that the House would be rising on a Thursday in December, not on a Tuesday. As for the upper House, the Labour party has more peers than any other party and if there was representation on the basis of votes at the previous general election, Labour would clearly not be entitled to that number of peers.
There are three principles in the Health and Social Care Bill: more control for patients; more power for professionals; and less bureaucracy. Those are three principles that the previous Labour Government were embarked on following when they were in power; they were establishing foundation trusts, they were promoting choice and they were promoting practice-based commissioning in the mid-2000s. We take forward that agenda. In addition, I say to the hon. Lady that it is called the “Health and Social Care Bill”—everyone agrees that social care must be linked more closely to the NHS, and the Bill promotes better financial and professional integration. As for the independent sector, I just remind her of what her manifesto said:
“We will support an active role for the independent sector working alongside the NHS in the provision of care”.
We are actually precluding the sort of arrangements that Labour promoted, whereby independent treatment centres were parachuted into the NHS with no powers for the NHS to compete.
On the point about the education Minister, the shadow Leader of the House was a Minister and she knows perfectly well that Ministers are occasionally away on ministerial business. That was the issue for my hon. Friend. If the shadow Leader of the House looks at the voting register, she will find that a large number of her colleagues did not take part in that particular vote.
On taxing the banks, the shadow Leader of the House will know that our annual levy on the banks brings in more each year than Labour’s one-off tax—that deals with that issue.
On international women’s day, that debate is one of the fixed events now allocated to the Backbench Business Committee, but I can say in response to the hon. Lady’s question that we will seek to allocate to that Committee a day so that it can hold the traditional debate on international women’s day roughly on the date when it occurs in March.
May we have a debate on the purpose of confirmatory hearings by Select Committees, particularly those into public appointments? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is very unwise for Ministers to disregard the autonomy and authority of Select Committees, particularly the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills?
I am sorry to say that a student present at a lecture given yesterday by a holocaust survivor has complained about the conduct during that lecture of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley). Is it not about time that the Government sorted this whole affair out by publishing the outcome of the inquiry and organising a debate on the investigation that the Prime Minister announced into the hon. Gentleman’s involvement—[Interruption.]