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Commons Chamber

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012

House of Commons

Thursday 22 March 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—

Superfast Broadband

May I apologise for the Secretary of State’s absence from questions today and thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving him leave of absence? The whole House will be aware of the happy reasons for that absence.

We anticipate that the broadband delivery framework contract will be signed with suppliers in mid-April, and we expect the first three projects to enter procurement using the framework immediately after. We have set a target for all broadband procurement to be completed by the end of 2012, so that delivery can be completed by 2015.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Rural north Yorkshire is already benefiting from the Government’s investment in broadband, and after yesterday’s Budget cities will, too, but at higher speeds. How do we avoid a continued digital divide between rural and urban areas, but at higher speeds?

My hon. Friend has been a doughty champion of his part of the world in securing superfast broadband. All the country will benefit from superfast broadband, but it is quite right that we continue to invest in higher speeds, particularly for cities, to maintain our global competitiveness.

Will the Minister congratulate Worcestershire county council, which has set aside £8.5 million in these difficult times to secure superfast broadband? In Redditch we have a £300,000 project to enable residents to stay at home and work instead of travelling into cities. What can the Government do in these times to help local authorities further?

We continue to invest a substantial amount in broadband roll-out, and I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Worcestershire county council on investing alongside the Government. It is a great testament to the scheme that we have put in place that we have secured private funding and local government funding alongside central Government funding.

What progress has been made to overcome the issues of state aid in unlocking the rural broadband fund, which will help in counties such as Hampshire?

We have applied for a UK-wide scheme for state aid approval. We believe that we are close to approval, and we continue to work closely with the European Commission on the issue.

The cumbersome and expensive Broadband Delivery UK process appears almost to have eliminated competition, which ought to have had a very important role in it. Ministers made a big strategic error in supporting superfast broadband at county level, rather than regionally. Does the Minister recognise that it will be a scandal if the outcome of the process is that, in the end, all the money is just handed over to BT?

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, as a former telecoms Minister, does not understand that, if we had had a national or a regional scheme, competition would have been even harder to secure. As it is, three major competitors remain in play in terms of broadband roll-out.

How, in rolling out broadband, will we ensure that the people who undertake installation in different regions—rural areas as well as urban—do not simply move from London and then take their skills back to London, and that a skill repository is left among the work force where broadband is installed?

I cannot guarantee that the engineers who lay broadband will stay in the areas in which they work, but the key point about broadband roll-out is to ensure that all parts of the country benefit from the infrastructure so that we can base companies with high skills all over the country.

Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer found extra money to extend superfast broadband to small cities, but, as the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) said, the real digital divide today is between those with broadband and those without. Peter Cochrane, former chief technical officer at BT, giving evidence in the other place, described access as “a fundamental human right”. Two million people, mainly in rural areas, are still without broadband, and Labour pledged to guarantee 2 megabits to almost every household by 2012, but this Government will not achieve that until after 2015. Why are Ministers so unfair in their treatment of rural Britain?

I certainly reject the accusation that we have been unfair on rural Britain, and my glass, unlike the hon. Lady’s, is half full not half empty. I look forward to going on a tour with her to Belfast, Cardiff, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and so on and telling people that they are getting unfair treatment from the Government because we are investing in their broadband networks.

Rural Britain, in the shape of the small town of Bradford on Avon in my constituency, welcomed the news this week that it is to have superfast broadband with the conversion of its exchange. [Interruption.] In the Budget yesterday the Government announced pilots, including one in Wiltshire, for rural growth networks to address the barriers to economic recovery. Will funding from those networks be available to increase the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas?

I did not hear the entire question because of the continued carping from the Opposition at our support for our major and smaller cities. I will happily work with the hon. Gentleman to ensure that all broadband funding is used as effectively as possible in his area.

Superfast Broadband

We have now approved the local broadband plans for Durham, Warwickshire, Northumberland and Staffordshire project areas, which means that 24 of the 45 plans received by the 29 February deadline have been approved; that is more than half. All submitted plans, including Greater Manchester’s, will be approved by the end of April 2012.

We anticipate that the contract for the broadband delivery framework will be signed with suppliers in mid-April and expect the first three projects to enter procurement using the framework immediately following the contract’s being signed. We have set a target for all broadband procurements to be completed by the end of 2012.

Will there be any scope for transferring funds from the moneys announced for Greater Manchester —the city region—to fill in the gaps in rural broadband?

I will happily discuss that issue with my hon. Friend. I take his point—unlike the Opposition, he welcomes the investment in Greater Manchester.

The announcement last August also indicated a figure of almost £70 million to be used in Scotland. What contact, if any, does the Minister have with the Scottish Government about how services are being developed north of the border?

I have regular contact with the Scottish Government, who have welcomed the funding and are putting in their own funding to support broadband roll-out in Scotland.

It was once said that the entire empire hung by Lancashire’s thread. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Lancashire county council on prioritising superfast broadband? The entire county now hangs from its fibre optic cable.

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Lancashire on its superfast broadband. It is a very innovative and go-ahead authority, which has also been particularly pioneering in libraries.

Press Complaints Commission

3. What assessment he has made of the potential effects on local newspapers of the closure of the Press Complaints Commission. (101299)

The Leveson inquiry was established by the Government last July and will make recommendations to my Department about reform for the system of press regulation. The closure of the Press Complaints Commission is a matter for the industry, but the new structure will apply to all newspapers, local or national.

My local press are watching with interest to see what replaces the PCC. What measures are in place to defend or protect the general public when taking redress against, mainly, the national newspapers? Will the Minister share with the House how many meetings, if any, his Department has had with national newspaper editors or proprietors?

I do not have the details of meetings with national editors, but I am happy to share them with the hon. Gentleman by way of a letter. The Press Complaints Commission mediation procedures will continue during the transit to a new arrangement.

I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The Press Complaints Commission is engaging in a pretty ludicrous example of shenanigans at the moment; it is trying to bounce Leveson into some new plan that it is trying to put forward. Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that the only thing that the Government are interested in is what Leveson comes up with—not some shoddy deal struck by the editors?

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is being entirely fair. My understanding is that although the final answer lies absolutely with Lord Leveson’s inquiry, Lord Leveson has made it clear that he wants the press to begin to make moves to get their house in order while he considers all the evidence.

The harrowing evidence at the Leveson inquiry from victims of phone hacking and other abuse by the press means that we all want a new press complaints system, which must be independent of politicians and editors and able to enforce its rulings on all newspapers. Does the Minister recognise that the proposals being put forward by Lord Hunt, chair of the Press Complaints Commission, fail to meet either of those tests? Until they do, they will amount to nothing more than a change of name and business as usual. That will simply not be acceptable.

Lord Hunt has put forward his proposals and I urge the right hon. and learned Lady to work with him if she thinks that they are not adequate.

Football Governance

4. What consideration he has given to the response from the Football Association, Premier League and Football League to the Government’s response to the report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on football governance; and if he will make a statement. (101301)

Before I answer, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our best wishes to Fabrice Muamba for a full and speedy recovery.

In their response to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry, the football authorities have proposed plans for a smaller FA board, a club licensing system, the establishment of an FA regulatory authority and a closer working relationship between clubs and supporter groups. I welcome all those moves, and I would like football to implement them as soon as possible.

May I, on behalf of the whole House, endorse the sentiments expressed by the Minister about Fabrice Muamba? I thank all the medical and club staff for their timely intervention in saving Fabrice’s life. The unity of support from fans across the country has been impressive and demonstrates the best of British values.

What action will the Minister take if the working parties recommend that further powers are needed to remove barriers to the co-operative status of football clubs?

We have decided to pass the initial report generated by the DCMS Committee back to it for further consideration and ask for its recommendations. I would not want to give the hon. Gentleman a firm commitment before I have seen the Committee’s recommendations, but I am absolutely determined to ensure that supporters are better represented and have a more central role in the running of their clubs.

Does the Minister agree that the proposed FA regulatory authority needs to have real teeth and that there should not just be a rebadging of rules that have failed, in some cases, to identify the ultimate owners of clubs or to protect communities from the impact of a club’s insolvency?

Fans’ organisations are concerned that the response from the governing bodies does not go far enough. We will have achieved nothing if we do not create greater opportunities for fans to become involved in the governance of the game. Football’s governing bodies have indicated that they are prepared to co-operate and work positively with the Government’s expert working groups. When does the Minister intend to set up those working groups and when does he intend to have them report back by?

I think that the debate has moved on as a result of the football authorities’ response in terms of a licensing system and an explicit commitment to supporters’ liaison officers. There has been a very considerable movement as a result of the Select Committee’s work. As I said, I want to wait to see what the Committee has to say. We will absolutely take on board its recommendations and also look at means to incentivise club owners to make shares available to fans.

14. The key issue is supporter ownership of clubs, which is absolutely crucial. At AFC Telford United, we have a superb model of club ownership by supporters. What more is the Minister’s Department going to do to model, with clubs and owners, new structures for supporter ownership of clubs? (101313)

I pay tribute to the work done at AFC Telford, which is a model of that sort of scheme. This is not an entirely easy problem to grapple with, because no two club ownership models are the same. Unlike, for example, the Spanish model and many other European models, the models in English football are very different from club to club and from division to division. We have to find ways to incentivise owners to place their shares in public ownership.

Creative Industries

We have introduced the Creative Industries Council and maintained existing direct support for film through the national lottery and film tax relief. Building on this success, I am sure that the whole House will welcome yesterday’s announcement by the Chancellor of the introduction of similar tax reliefs for the video games, animation and high-end TV production sectors. The UK has some of the world’s most successful creative industries, and yesterday’s Budget will ensure that they can continue to grow and support jobs up and down the country. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is almost as loud as his tie.

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer and welcome yesterday’s statement by the Chancellor in support of the creative industries. The advertising industry is one of the most creative and innovative in the UK economy, and it is worth £7.8 billion. Does the Minister accept, though, that constant threats of regulation and red tape can stymie that innovation and creativity, and that the pendulum might have swung too far and there could well be a need for a review of some of the regulations?

I never lose an opportunity to praise the advertising industry in the UK, which is one of the most successful, or its regulatory system under the Advertising Standards Authority.

I welcome yesterday’s announcement from the Chancellor about games tax relief. Does my hon. Friend agree that it will benefit companies such as Sega in my constituency, establish the UK as a world-leading games maker, and stop the brain drain of talented games developers to overseas?

I never lose an opportunity, when I drive over the flyover, to look at the huge headquarters of Sega in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Not only will that proposal stop the brain drain; it will create a brain import scheme.

Birmingham and the black country have a very creative software and hardware development industry, but it often finds it difficult to recruit the skilled people it requires from the region. What support can the Minister give to local centres of excellence, such as the Aston and Wolverhampton science parks?

We continue to focus on skills. The higher apprenticeships scheme will help to provide talent for the UK’s IT industry. May I take this opportunity to praise Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope for their “Next Gen.” report, which has led to a revolution in the computer science curriculum in schools?

I welcome the Government’s U-turn on support for the creative industries, but I note that there is less talk today about this being a “Downton Abbey” Budget. I wonder why that is. Will the Minister explain the exact difference between the support that he has announced for the video games industry and the support that the Labour Government introduced two years ago, which his Government scrapped in their first Budget?

The difference is that the new support includes help for television drama and animation. Fundamentally, the difference is between the ambition of the Government and the poverty of ambition of the Opposition.

The Minister will know that the Hargreaves review of intellectual property and the Intellectual Property Office consultation continue to exercise and concern our creative industries. Does he believe that having the maximum number of exceptions to copyright helps or hinders our creative industries? Will he come and give evidence to the inquiry of the all-party parliamentary intellectual property group in the next few weeks?

The hon. Gentleman has been a doughty champion for rights holders and the protection of intellectual property. As he knows, I ensure that rights holders’ views are expressed regularly during the Hargreaves consultation. I have not yet received an invitation to give evidence to the all-party parliamentary group, but I look forward to receiving it.

The Government want philanthropy and corporate giving to replace public subsidy for the arts. However, the excellent Nottingham Playhouse tells me that sponsorship and donations are falling due to the flatlining economy. Does this funding black hole not threaten the future of our regional theatres?

The hon. Lady is quite wrong. We do not want philanthropy to replace Government support for the arts; we want there to be a partnership between philanthropy and Government support for the arts, which is extraordinarily generous.

Hundreds of my constituents who work for Aardman Animations, Europe’s largest animation company, were delighted by the reference to Wallace and Gromit in yesterday’s Budget. Does my hon. Friend agree that the extension of film tax credits to the TV and animation industries is important not only for maintaining British talent and ingenuity in Bristol and other places in our country, but so that children grow up watching programmes that are made in Britain and sound as though they are made in Britain?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was privileged to visit Aardman’s headquarters. I gather that it has just held the premiere of “The Pirates!”, its new film. Those in the House with young children may want to go and see it. He is right that the proposal is about keeping talent in this country.

Leveson Inquiry

7. Whether he plans to submit evidence to the Leveson inquiry on culture, practice and ethics of the press. (101304)

Following a request from the inquiry, the Secretary of State will submit evidence as part of the elegantly named “module 3”, which is considering the relationship between the press and politicians. In addition, my Department is working constructively with the Leveson inquiry by providing background information where possible.

In that evidence, will the Minister at least say that the replacement for the Press Complaints Commission should be politically independent and independent of what used to be Fleet street?

As is well known, the desire is to see independent self-regulation that is independent of the press and independent of the Government.

London Olympics

The new £130 million tourism campaign to showcase Great Britain in 2012 aims to deliver an additional 4.6 million visitors, £2.7 billion of extra spend and the creation of about 60,000 job opportunities. The UK is already benefiting from the games, with 98% of the £6 billion-worth of contracts for the “big build” and 90% of the £1 billion-worth of contracts for staging the games going to UK businesses. If we add to that the £1 billion boost to British business that is expected through trade and investment, it amounts to a strong economic legacy from the games right across the UK.

Some of us will have already had the good fortune to see the fantastic work that has been done at the Olympic park, and millions of visitors to this country and British residents will see the work done by British companies, workers and engineers to develop and produce that fantastic park. What more can we and the Government do to ensure that we get the message out that it is British engineering and British construction workers who have delivered such a fantastic venue?

The answer is the GREAT campaign, which targets our 10 major markets around the world. It goes out to them on the back of the success of the Olympic park and tells them to come this country, do business and drive our tourism industry.

After the Olympics and Paralympics, will the Department continue to play a role in the legacy arrangements, or will that pass to the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Mayor of London? What structure will there be for overseeing the continuing delivery of the Olympic project?

That is a very good question and quite a difficult one to answer, because much of the park will of course pass to the mayoral development authority, so much of the area around the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will come under the ambit of the Greater London authority. The DCMS will continue to have overall responsibility, but each Department will have particular responsibilities for the part of the legacy related to its work.

Does the Minister agree that one economic legacy will be the tourism legacy? Does he see that there would be real benefit in allowing tourist information centres to have access to the footage made by the BBC of the torch relay, which will travel the length and breadth of the country, so that they can use it for future advertising? Will he work with me to ensure that the International Olympic Committee allows the BBC to make that footage available?

Yes, of course we will. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who is responsible for tourism, tells me that both VisitBritain and VisitEngland have access to a large number of images already, which we clearly want to promote on the back of London 2012. We will do all we can.

Nearly 1,500 businesses from across the UK have built the Olympic park and will equip the Olympics. That is a great British achievement. Does the Minister therefore share my concern that those businesses, which have done so well, are too tightly constrained by the marketing rights protocol, which prevents them from publicising the part that they have played? Would not every Member, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), whose constituency hosts one of those businesses and who has talked to me about the issue, want to promote, praise and thank those businesses for their efforts?

Does the Minister agree with me, with the “Building 2012” campaign and now with Sir John Armitt, the chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, that we should seek from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and from the IOC the necessary concessions to ensure a national celebration of our great British businesses that built the Olympic park on budget and on time?

The right hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. She knows, as I do, that those regulations date back to the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 and were put in place to give us the best possible chance of raising as much sponsorship as possible from the private sector. The result, of course, was that the organising committee was extraordinarily successful in raising £700 million of sponsorship, which brings with it intellectual property issues.

That said, I absolutely recognise the issue that the right hon. Lady has itemised. Because the process has been such a success, we want the country and individual businesses to go out and tell that story. The regulations, of course, apply only until just after the games, and we will do all we can to ensure that they work.

Digital Economy

My Department is delivering a number of programmes and initiatives that will support growth and innovation across the digital economy and the economy more generally. We are investing up to £830 million in digital communications infrastructure by 2015 and working with Ofcom to deliver the 4G spectrum auction this year, and we will shortly publish a Green Paper setting out proposals for a regulatory framework for the communications and media sectors aimed at providing a thriving environment for growth and innovation in the UK.

I was delighted to read earlier this week that Britain leads the world in e-commerce, with 10% of all business taking place online. However, I am concerned about getting more young people involved in the industry, given that the number of people studying computer science is lower now than it was a decade ago and the proportion of women doing computer science has gone down to only 14%. What are we going to do to get more young people involved in the industry?

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. As she is probably aware, e-Skills, the sector skills council, had a specific computing for girls scheme to encourage girls at school to study computing, but the Secretary of State for Education’s important speech on revolutionising the computer science curriculum in January shows that this Government are committed to ensuring that more people study computer science. We are working with industry to ensure that more children choose that option.

Order. I am sure that that is an immensely amusing and informative reply and we are grateful, but the House will want to hear Mr Weatherley.

Will the Minister welcome with me and the digital economy in Hove the news yesterday that Hove will be included in the next round of superfast broadband bids?

May I say, if you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, that I find it odd that Opposition Members have such distaste for Morocco? What is wrong with Morocco getting superfast broadband? Why is that seen as some kind of weird phenomenon? [Interruption.] Perhaps I am channelling my inner Boris.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on how well he has campaigned for superfast broadband in his part of the world in Brighton and Hove? We will ensure that we work with him to ensure that the generous Government funding that is available supports his constituents.

London Olympics

16. What information the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games has provided to his Department on ticketing arrangements for the London 2012 Olympics. (101315)

Ticketing for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games is a matter for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, a private company independent of the Government. LOCOG, however, has made public a wide range of information about the sale of London 2012 tickets to guide those who wish to purchase them and will make public a full breakdown after the final tranche of tickets is sold.

Rachel, my constituent, purchased her family’s Olympic tickets last year. Subsequently, she found herself pregnant, and expects to have a few-week-old baby at the time of her events. When she contacted LOCOG, she was told to purchase an extra seat for the baby, but that the seat could not be guaranteed to be next to the parents. Given that airlines allow babes in arms at 35,000 ft, surely it is possible in a stadium. Will the Minister intervene? [Interruption.]

I will not even attempt to defend that one. However, as a result of the campaign run by Mumsnet, the organising committee is considering that exact issue. The situation the right hon. Lady describes is clearly an absurdity and a solution will be found.

London Olympics

The Olympic Park Legacy Company aims to create a thriving commercial district on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park that will generate several thousand job and training opportunities. In January, it announced a shortlist of three organisations from the fashion, technology and leisure sectors as potential long-term tenants of the press and broadcast centres. It aims to appoint those tenants later this summer.

In reference to the Minister’s previous answer, I hope the Department retains an interest in this matter even though it falls under the legacy company, because my constituents and the many businesses in my constituency are keen to see incubator and creative business spaces. Given that two of the bidders may now join forces, leaving only two, I hope that the Department is vigilant to ensure that we get that creative business thread running through the new Olympic park.

To correct the hon. Lady, the responsibility for this matter will pass to the mayoral development corporation when it comes into being. It will have responsibility, and she will therefore have direct access to it through local councillors elected to the Greater London authority.

Topical Questions

Yesterday the European Hockey Federation announced that London, and the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic park, had been selected as the venue for the 2015 European hockey championships, the first such event on the park. This is in addition to the Commonwealth games, the rugby league, rugby union and cricket world cups, a world athletics championship, world championships in triathlon, gymnastics and canoeing, and bids out for a youth Olympics, rowing, swimming and eventing championships. It is an extraordinary success story for British sport and a hugely positive legacy from London 2012.

Google is failing to enforce privacy rulings online, dragging its feet when told to take down offending material and prioritising websites that carry illegal, unlicensed content at the top of its search results. When will Ministers act to ensure that Google prioritises legal sites over illegal sites?

We have regular discussions with Google on all these issues. It is better than the hon. Gentleman suggests at taking down illegal material, and those discussions will continue.

T2. We, the taxpayers, have spent £9 billion on the Olympics and we are very proud of them. But everybody I talk to, including myself—I occasionally talk to myself—[Laughter.] Calm down, calm down. Will the House come to order, please? Nobody has actually got a ticket, apart from a chap I was talking to last night who had applied for £8,000-worth of tickets. He is the only person I have met recently who has got a ticket. I have raised this before with the Minister and it is a serious point. The Minister has told me in the past that he has to satisfy the corporate people because they have put in hundreds of millions of pounds, but we have put in billions of pounds. What more will he do to get tickets to ordinary people so that this becomes a people’s games? (101318)

The problem to which my hon. Friend alludes is caused by the simple fact that 6.5 million tickets were available and 26.5 million applications were made. The fact is that demand massively outstripped supply. Some 75% of those tickets have gone to the general public, and a full breakdown will be available as soon as the next tranche of ticketing is over. The advice to him and everyone else who wishes to apply for tickets is to apply in the next tranche, which will go exclusively to those who were involved in the process earlier.

Given the recent presentation by the WI of a 70,000-signature petition against library closures, demonstrating the strength of public support, and with no vision, no strategy and no urgency from a Minister who is fast becoming the Dr Beeching of libraries, does he share my view that he has a responsibility to act as a champion for libraries across government? If so, how would he assess his performance to date?

The trouble is that the hon. Gentleman has no view. When I was in opposition I gave my view on Wirral. What is his view on Labour-controlled Brent closing libraries? Has he got a view? When he gets a view, he can start talking about libraries.

T4. All local authorities in England, bar one, and certainly the Conservative local authority in Wales, publish details of invoices in excess of £500. I raised the matter with the BBC as I believe it should do the same, and Mark Thompson rejected the idea on the basis of the benefits of confidentiality and competitive tension. Does the Minister agree that it is time that the BBC followed the example set by others? (101320)

My view is that the BBC is quite rightly independent from Government, but my hon. Friend may wish to take that point up with Mr Thompson’s successor who should be appointed some time later this year.

T5. The Minister will not be surprised that I am delighted that a cross-party campaign has resulted in the announcement of £50 million for a competition for small cities, such as Brighton and Hove, for ultra-fast broadband. When will we get the bid information and what timetable does the Minister have in mind for the competition? So that we might welcome him for the second time and the Secretary of State for the first time to see first hand what Brighton and Hove’s digital cluster is already achieving, will they accept an invitation to come to Brighton’s digital festival in September? (101321)

We will publish our consultation on this issue as soon as possible, and that will detail the chronology for awarding the £50 million. I am so pleased that the hon. Lady welcomes this funding, unlike the Opposition, who continue to carp about it. Of course I will come to Brighton, for the second time, for this wonderful digital festival.

T6. In north-west England, we have BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire, but no BBC Radio Cheshire—it is an outrage. Furthermore, the community station, Cheshire FM, has recently closed down. What are the Government doing to encourage local stations and other local media to flourish and succeed? (101323)

I could be here for hours talking about the success of local television, community radio, BBC local radio and commercial radio, but I will address the specific point about BBC Cheshire. The BBC is independent of Government and my hon. Friend may wish to take the matter up with the successor director-general when they are appointed later this year.

T3. I am sure that by now the Minister has seen the recent “Dispatches” programme “The Great Ticket Scandal”. If he and, in particular, the Secretary of State have not, they can have my DVD copy. It makes for good watching and I recommend that he watch it. As he knows, the programme provides the most damning proof yet that consumers are being ripped off—or at least priced out of cultural events —on an industrial scale. Will he now please commit to examining the secondary market again with a view to ensuring that we put fans first? (101319)

The hon. Lady and I have debated this issue for many long hours in this Parliament. The matter raised in the programme to which she refers is now the subject of an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading, so I had better be careful. I simply say what I have said before: during the last Parliament, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the previous Government looked into the matter, and we have looked at it again. I think we are satisfied with the position as it currently sits, but should further evidence of criminal activity come forward, we will certainly reconsider the matter.

T8. Leaving aside the special rules relating to the Olympics, does the Minister agree that it is not the place of the state to interfere with the freedom of an individual or company to resell tickets for sporting or cultural events? (101325)

The position at the moment is that we grant a ban on ticket touting for major events where it is a requirement of bidding for those events. That has become the settled position under successive Governments and as a result of the work of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Until there is evidence of widespread criminal activity, that will remain the position.

T7. Last year, Arts Council funding was cut by £71 million, local authority funding was slashed and investment in the arts by private business fell by almost £10 million. Would the Minister like to have another go at providing a credible answer to Nottingham arts organisations about how to fill the funding gap that his Government have created? (101324)

Overall funding for the Arts Council will be reduced by less than 5% because we have given it back the lottery money that the Labour party robbed from it to pay for the Olympics. The answer for Nottingham Playhouse is to have an MP who champions its work and talks it up, not down.

Would the Minister be surprised if I joined other Brighton Members in saying that Brighton and Hove would be an excellent place for ultra-fast broadband and that we look forward to bidding as soon as possible?

Indeed, and I again congratulate the work of all the Brighton MPs, but particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), on their campaigning skills.

In Manchester, as in Morocco, a digital economy requires a digital infrastructure, but more than 2 million people are excluded from that because they live in rural areas. Will the Minister reassure the House that he recognises the importance of geography by reinstating Labour’s universal broadband pledge?

The hon. Lady mentioned Morocco. It is an interesting fact that Morocco has less than half the population of the United Kingdom.

Now that BT has lost its challenge to the Digital Economy Act 2010, when will the Government publish the initial obligations code and statutory instrument?

There has been lots of bombast this morning, but does the Minister appreciate that for working-class children, two to three libraries closing a week, the withdrawal of arts education in our schools and a £71 million cut to the Arts Council are significant? Does he understand the intrinsic value of the arts to young people in this country?

Okay, the right hon. Gentleman has thrown down the gauntlet. Let me tell him a few facts. First, two or three libraries are not closing. Fewer than 100 libraries have “closed”, and many of those have been transferred to communities. More than 40 libraries are opening, but Labour does not talk about that. We have just published our cultural education plan, the first such plan this country has ever had. Overall arts funding will be reduced by less than 4% over the next four years, so the right hon. Gentleman should stop talking down what is happening in the arts and talk about the huge success we are having.

The parents of young people suffering from eating disorders are often distressed to find a hoard of press and magazine articles with graphic images and details of low weights and tiny amounts of food eaten, which have been used as inspiration. The media are rightly very careful when reporting on suicide. In a similar way, will the Minister urge media outlets to take cognisance of the media guidelines created by the eating disorder charity B-eat, to avoid the sensationalism of this illness, which can be very damaging?

My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously on this important issue. Magazine editors take their responsibilities extremely seriously, but I would be happy to meet her to discuss her campaign and also to work with her to engage with magazine editors.

The Minister said that competition is still in play for superfast broadband procurement, but as he knows, many of the projects have only one bidder, BT. As far as I know, only one other bidder in the whole country is still in the frame for those projects. Will he confirm that, and say why he thinks the exercise has been so unsuccessful in engaging the degree of competition that we would all have wanted?

We engaged a great many companies, but we cannot invent competition. However, at least three organisations are still involved in the bidding, and I firmly believe that the way we went about it—ensuring that local government had a say and that the contracts were awarded across local government areas, rather than regionally or nationally—promoted competition and offered up the opportunity for community broadband providers, for example.

How many jobs does the Minister expect to be created or lost in the gambling industry as a result of the changes in the Budget, how many online betting businesses that are currently offshore will come back onshore, and how many jobs will come back with them?

I am delighted to have a chance to answer at least one question. Unfortunately, the answer is that I do not know, because this is an issue for the Treasury.

None the less, could the Minister, who is responsible for tourism, please have a word with the Minister responsible for broadcasting and arts, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), and explain to him the geography of Morocco? It is twice the size of this country, and when it comes to expanding rural broadband, it is the size of the country that matters. Not very many people live in Blaenrhondda or Blaencwm, which are a long way from cities, but they are the people who really matter if we are to get our economy going.

I am enjoying busking this one. The short answer is that the population of Morocco, I am told by many people on the Benches behind me, is only half that of the UK—it is also economically smaller—and as I am sure everybody will appreciate, the density of population is also relevant when it comes to connecting people to broadband.

Whitefield’s tabernacle is Kingswood’s only grade I listed building and has important religious significance in the history of non-conformism, yet it is in a severe state of disrepair, despite featuring on the TV programme “Restoration” several years ago. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how best to preserve this precious building?

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Parliamentary Privilege

1. What plans he has for consultation with hon. Members on the Government’s proposal for a draft Bill on parliamentary privilege. (101327)

Which particular aspect of the current system of privilege does the Minister feel is in most need of reform and why?

I am going to have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he will need to read the paper that we are producing, because it will, I hope, be a comprehensive survey of everything that relates to privilege and ask some pertinent questions about whether reform is necessary and whether it would be helpful to Members of this House in going about their business. He will have to be patient and wait for the paper, which we hope to publish before the end of the Session.

I hope that whatever the Government produce will indeed be a “green” paper, because there is one key issue that has to be resolved before we move any further, and that is: should we be putting anything about parliamentary privilege into statute? The danger is that the courts would then choose to interpret our actions and proceedings in this House, which would rather undermine the Glorious Revolution.

For once, I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Green Paper will ask the specific question whether the case has been made for legislation. We have approached this issue with an open mind, and we want to seek the views of both Houses on whether legislating further on parliamentary privilege is either necessary or desirable.

Legislative Programme

2. What criteria were used to determine the Government’s legislative programme for the next Session of Parliament. (101328)

The Government intend to introduce a legislative programme in the next Session to deliver deficit reduction, boost growth, support aspiration, reform public services and implement the priorities in the coalition agreement.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. That same coalition agreement described the introduction of a groceries code adjudicator as a “first step” in protecting the interests of consumers and farmers, not least those in the hard-pressed dairy industry. I do not know of any Member who represents as many dairy farmers as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), so will he use his influence with the business managers to ensure that a Bill to introduce a groceries code adjudicator makes its way into the next Session?

Obviously I cannot pre-empt what will be announced on 9 May, but the Government remain committed to introducing the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. I am pleased that the draft Bill has received pre-legislative scrutiny and that it has been warmly received across the House. As my hon. Friend rightly says, I have a clear constituency interest in the progress of that particular piece of legislation.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House confirm that the Committee stage of the House of Lords (Amendment) Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House? Will he also ensure that the Government will not ram the legislation through the Commons, as they did with the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, and that there will be sufficient time for debate?

The House of Lords (Amendment) Bill is a constitutional Bill, and it is normal that the Committee stages of such Bills are taken on the Floor of the House. I have no reason to suppose that this Bill will be an exception. We will of course provide adequate time for debate.

May I propose a change for the Government when they are considering their legislative programme for the next Session? Will they bear it in mind, just for a change, that they are in coalition with the Conservative party?

Public Reading Stage (Government Bills)

The Government conducted an experiment with a public reading stage on the Protection of Freedoms Bill. Following an evaluation of the experiment, we intend to conduct trials in the second Session to determine the best ways for members of the public to comment on specific details of legislation. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I will update the House on our detailed plans early in the next Session.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he tell the House from whom he will seek advice on how best to push this measure forward?

It is very important that, before we undertake further pilots of public reading stages, we have an opportunity to reflect on any improvements that could be made to the technology and the processes involved. That will involve talking to many people. Hon. Members may have seen the recent announcement that Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has agreed to advise the Government on improving open government, and we will want that work to influence how we proceed with public reading stages.

I welcome what my hon. Friend says about improving public engagement, particularly with regard to public reading stages. Does he agree that we need to make it easier for the public to follow Committee stages of Bills, too, once the public reading stage is over? Will he have discussions with Jimmy Wales and others, particularly those involved in social media and online engagement, on how we can demystify the legislative process in this country, so that more members of the public can contribute their views?

My hon. Friend highlights the purpose of what we are trying to do, and she rightly says that we are trying to demystify the process. The more that members of the public can interact with the House and understand how we go about our business and how they can influence the progress of legislation, the better. I can certainly give her a commitment that we will be looking at that. We will be looking at a variety of innovative ways to help the public to understand the process of legislation and the legislation itself, when it is presented to the House and to the public.

Legislative Scrutiny

The Government recognise the value of parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. We have ensured that Bills have adequate time for proper scrutiny in the House. The Government are also committed to publishing more legislation in draft to enable pre-legislative scrutiny.

In this Session, five Bills have had a Report stage taken over two days. Indeed, both the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill and the Finance (No. 3) Bill were considered over three days. This is more than in any Session of the previous Parliament, when there were none whatever in the first and last Sessions.

How many Bills had pre-legislative scrutiny in the last Session, and how did that compare with this Session? Will the Deputy Leader of the House make a statement on plans for the future?

The Government have published nine draft measures this Session, and are committed to publishing more measures in draft in the next Session, with a view to pre-legislative scrutiny. Further specific announcements will be made at the start of the new Session. In the last Session under the previous Government, two Bills—just two—were published in draft.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House say more about the Government’s plans for post-legislative scrutiny?

Like their predecessor, the Government are committed to reviewing every Act of Parliament three to five years after it has passed. Government Departments publish Command Papers, allowing Commons Committees to decide whether or not to conduct further post-legislative scrutiny of each Act, when it is appropriate to do so. Forty-four of these memorandums have been published since this system was introduced in 2008. We welcome the work undertaken so far by Select Committees to examine such memorandums, but it is up to the Select Committees to decide whether they wish to do more.

I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee which receives a thick bundle of policies and proposals from the European Union each week. What measures can be taken to ensure that more of these can go before departmental Select Committees, as they cover the whole vast area of UK national policy?

Of course I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. The Government are keen to explore possible ways further to improve the effectiveness with which this House deals with European legislation. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is in discussions with Select Committees and others about possible changes.

The effectiveness of scrutiny of legislation is important, and so is the cost of the effectiveness of such scrutiny. One mechanism that arguably assists with that scrutiny is that of early-day motions. I congratulate the Government on reducing the annual cost of early-day motions by 38% since 2010, but I hope my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the Procedure Committee’s announcement that it will carry out a fresh review of early-day motions in the near future.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and the fact that he recognises that the House of Commons Commission is looking across the House to establish where savings can be made. The interest of Members in the hon. Gentleman’s recent Adjournment debate, to which I responded, highlighted the variety of views on this issue. It is quite right that, if there is a swell of opinion for further reform in this area, it would be appropriate for the Procedure Committee to consider the issue of early-day motions.

Further to the question put by the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), will the Leader of the House look again at establishing permanent membership of European Standing Committees? The ad hoc approach, frankly, does not work.

Again, I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The Government are continuing to explore ways to improve scrutiny, and there remain areas that we need to explore. One issue to bear in mind is whether hon. Members would be willing to serve on such a Committee. If that is the case and if we can make satisfactory arrangements, we will of course bring them to the House.

If there is a new look at early-day motions, will the Deputy Leader of the House ensure that Members will not be deprived of one of the rare opportunities to criticise parliamentary answers? A recent EDM suggested that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), gave a parliamentary answer that reached a new low “in evasiveness and vacuity”, and recommends that in future Ministers should read the question before answering parliamentary questions.

Order. I am sure we are talking about these matters with reference to the scrutiny of legislation.

Yes, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s question was about the scrutiny of legislation. I have already set out our position on EDMs. We recognise that they have value, but sometimes some can, shall we say, come close to an abuse of the House in terms of their cost compared with their benefit. On the subject of questions to Ministers, the hon. Gentleman knows that if there are deficiencies in the responses Members receive, I and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House are always happy to take that up with the Departments and Ministers concerned.

What plans does the hon. Gentleman have to extend the time available for the consideration of Bills on Second Reading? It has become traditional for Second Reading debates to be considered on a single day. May we extend the time available, as many Members, especially Back Benchers, want to contribute on Second Reading?

First, let me make the important point that the scrutiny of legislation is an essential part of the business of this House. People often talk about Government time as if it were unrelated to the business of the House when, in fact, it is Parliament’s time in order to scrutinise legislation. I merely make the observation that the more time that is eroded from so-called Government time by consideration of other matters that are no doubt of enormous importance—such as urgent questions and emergency debates—the less time is available to the House to scrutinise legislation properly.


5. Whether he plans to submit evidence to the commission on the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons. (101332)

I welcome the announcement by the Minister for political and constitutional reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), of the terms of membership for the commission, and I will be following its work closely. Although I have no plans to submit evidence to the commission myself, it will no doubt wish to take account of the authoritative works and voices on this issue, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be among them.

When in opposition, the Leader of the House produced a distinguished pamphlet on the topic that the McKay commission will be studying. Does he propose to send that work to the commission? Also, does the commission intend to take written evidence, and to meet in public to take oral evidence?

The commission will be meeting in public and it has asked for evidence. My hon. Friend is too kind about the work of the democracy taskforce to which I contributed when I was on the Back Benches, but I am sure this exchange will have drawn the commission’s attention to the existence of that important work.

Is not the easiest and most elegant solution to the West Lothian question for Scotland to become a normal, independent, self-governing nation?

“Bring it on” is what we on the Government Benches would say. That particular issue is beyond the remit of the commission, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will do what he can to bring forward the date when we can resolve it once and for all.

Budget Leak Inquiry

(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on whether he will instigate a Budget leak inquiry, in view of the accurate pre-reporting of a number of the detailed proposals in his Budget statement, including one of the matters that was agreed under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act.

As with every Budget, we have seen a vast amount of speculation, and, as ever, a vast amount of it has proven to be unfounded. As the Chancellor has said, a Budget produced within a coalition is different. The days of the Chancellor coming up with a Budget in secret are gone. This was not a Conservative or a Liberal Democrat Budget; it was a coalition Budget. In the course of coalition Budget negotiations, various proposals were raised, discussed and debated. That occurred more widely than in the past, when the Chancellor told the Prime Minister what was in the Budget the day before or, as in even more recent days, when the Prime Minister told the Chancellor what should be in the Budget the night before. The Treasury does make announcements throughout the year. For my own part, people will have seen the work on tax transparency and personal tax statements, which was in response to a consultation on this very issue laid before the House in November and subject to a ten-minute rule Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer).

On the specific question, it is a long-established practice of the Treasury not to comment either on whether a leak inquiry has been established, or on its conduct or outcome. There will be ample opportunity to debate the Budget over the coming days. Today is the second of four days of debate on the Budget. It is perhaps an unfortunate consequence of this urgent question that this is being delayed, and so is delaying the shadow Chancellor, from whom I am sure the House is eager to hear.

Coalition government is absolutely no fig leaf for these very serious breaches of the ministerial code—[Interruption.] Government Members may wish to listen. Paragraph 9.1 of the code states:

“When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament.”

There have been clear and flagrant violations of this crucial principle. It is a significant insult to the primacy of Parliament and this House of Commons, to whom the Chancellor should be accountable. It is a shame he was not able to come here to answer for himself on this matter.

Our constituents expect that Members of Parliament should be the first to hear and question policy announcements from the Chancellor, and hold him directly to account. The Chancellor is treating Parliament as a peripheral afterthought, and that is totally unacceptable. But this is not just about the sovereignty of Parliament; if the Chancellor and his acolytes are prepared to pre-brief and leak key information about very sensitive tax changes, that risks handing privileged information to those who can take advantage of any advance knowledge.

The ministerial code is enforced by the Prime Minister, who should instigate a leak inquiry if the Exchequer Secretary refuses to do so. He did not say whether he was or was not going to have an inquiry—at least he could leak that little bit of information for us today. It is also necessary, of course, to include an investigation of conversations between the Chancellor’s special advisers and the civil service and the media. Of course, civil servants are guided by the civil service code. It is unlikely that newspapers will reveal their sources, but Ministers and special advisers should be interviewed and asked who they spoke to, when the conversations occurred and who sanctioned those conversations. If information was released pre-Budget without approval from the Chancellor and was leaked, it is a very serious breach of security and of the civil service code.

Yesterday’s Budget was described by The Economist as

“more of a newspaper review than a Budget”.

Another view was that

“the Budget has had all the leak-free qualities of a teabag in a sieve.”

It might be quicker to list what the papers did not publish before the Budget, but for the benefit of the House I shall list some of those measures that did come out: the reduction in the 50p rate appeared in The Guardian last week and in the Financial Times; the changes to the personal income tax allowance appeared on ITV News on Tuesday night, when the exact figure was given; the stamp duty land tax changes appeared very precisely in the Financial Times and in basically all the newspapers on Wednesday morning; the changes to stamp duty land tax on residential property associated with capital gains tax changes appeared on the “Andrew Marr Show” at the weekend; and the North sea oil and gas commissioning certainties appeared in the Herald Scotland on Saturday 17.

The one Budget change that was not leaked was the £3 billion raid on pensioners, now dubbed the “granny tax”. Some 4.5 million pensioners are to lose an average of £83 next year. In times gone by, Chancellors did the honourable thing when it was revealed that their Budgets had leaked. In contrast, when asked about the Budget leaks on this morning’s “Today” programme, the Chancellor said:

“inevitably the days when the Chancellor dreamt this all up in secret, shared it with the PM 48 hours before he delivered his speech...are gone”.

Well times are not so different that they give licence to the Chancellor to fling around the contents of the Budget red box to any passing journalist, regardless of the consequences. Mr Speaker, we have heard the usual dismissive indifference from the Minister to these serious concerns, so perhaps I need to ask you, as a point of order, for general guidance about how the rights of this House, and the public’s expectations of orderly policy announcements, can be protected? Can you take steps to ensure that the Chancellor does not treat Parliament and the wider public with such utter contempt in the future?

I was not entirely sure whether that was a question or a point of order, Mr Speaker, and at one point I was not entirely sure whether the hon. Gentleman was complaining about measures not being briefed in advance or being briefed in advance. He referred specifically to the 50p tax rate. In the days running up to the Budget there were various reports about the 50p rate and it was public knowledge that the Chancellor had commissioned HMRC to undertake a report on the 50p rate and how much that tax was raising—an issue that I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to debate for very long. In that time, it was very clear that the Chancellor was going to make a statement, but what did we see in the press? We saw stories that it was going to stay at 50p, be cut to 45p or be cut to 40p. We saw press reports that it was going to happen this year or next year. There were at least five different versions of what was going to happen on the 50p rate, so it is not surprising that one of them turned out to be correct. However, it is also the case that four of them turned out to be incorrect.

The hon. Gentleman asked about sensitive numbers. I can assure him that the numbers on the stamp duty land tax—the increase to 7%—which I am sure he welcomes, certainly did not come from the Treasury, and neither did the exact number regarding the personal allowance as far as I am aware. We also heard from the hon. Gentleman that in days past these things did not happen. May I remind him what happened when he was last a Government Minister? In the 2005 Budget there was a leak about tax credit increases that turned out to be correct, a leak about alcohol duties that turned out to be correct, a leak about fuel duty that turned out to be correct, a leak about inheritance tax that turned out to be correct and a leak about stamp duty that turned out to be correct. There were also leaks about council tax refunds and the winter fuel allowance, all of which were entirely correct.

I could look at more recent announcements such as those about VAT in 2008, about the green bank, the youth jobs package, fuel duty and schools, all of which turned out to be accurate. I am sure that Government Ministers would then have said that that was speculation and I am sure that in many cases they were absolutely correct. It is difficult to give full credit to the hon. Gentleman given that detailed information about Budgets has been put into the public domain by previous Governments for many years, but he has only now suddenly become very upset. I am not surprised that the Labour party wants to focus on an issue of process rather than on the substance because this Budget is going to get the country growing again and is reforming the tax system in a sensible and growth-friendly way.

Order. There is extensive interest in this subject, which I am keen to accommodate, but that requires brevity, a great example of which can now be provided by Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend notices the incongruity of those who oppose openness in the Budget but were all in favour of it in terms of risk registers. Does he agree that the criticism is either muddled or synthetic?

Given the failure of Ministers to admit whether they will benefit from the cut in the top rate of tax and the description by the Chancellor of tax avoidance as “morally repugnant”, will the Exchequer Secretary now ensure that all Ministers’ tax arrangements are published?

We do not have a tradition of politicians publishing their tax affairs, but I have to say that for a Labour politician to say that in the context of the current mayoral election takes some nerve.

Order. May I remind the House that this is a narrowly focused urgent question seeking a leak inquiry? It is a matter of great importance, but it is on that matter that exchanges should be focused. This is not a rerun of the Budget debate, which will be continued, but is about the subject of the urgent question.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there will obviously be wild speculation before any Budget, much of which turns out to be wrong, and that we do not need any lectures from Opposition Members, who leaked everything all the time when they were in government?

I do not think that we can draw a conclusion that there has been a decline in the standards of journalism just from the fact that in 2005 the predictions of what was in the Budget were more consistently accurate than in 2012.

Surely a leak is an unauthorised or inadvertent publication of restricted and confidential information. On that basis, this could not have been a leak, because it was clearly not inadvertent and it was clearly authorised. It was none the less in severe conflict with the ministerial code, and that surely is what the Prime Minister should investigate.

I am not sure that there was a question there, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for his views. The Government clearly authorised some information to be put out in advance of the Budget. For example, there was a speech by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister makes speeches from time to time; I am not sure that people should be getting upset about that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is rank hypocrisy on the part of Opposition Members to accuse this Government of leaking? Can my hon. Friend remember how many times the Labour Government held inquiries into leaks about their Budgets?

Order. Let us be absolutely clear about this. The hon. Lady can make a general charge. She cannot and will not make a personal charge against an individual Member in any part of the House. I trust that the hon. Lady is not accusing the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on the Opposition Front Bench of hypocrisy.

I, too, want to be very careful and not accuse the hon. Gentleman of hypocrisy, but there are dangers of inconsistency.

On Monday the Home Secretary came to the House and confirmed that there would be a leak inquiry into the Hillsborough media reports. Why is it that the Home Secretary has that grace, but the Minister does not?

Let me repeat what I said earlier. It is a long-established practice of the Treasury not to comment on whether a leak inquiry has been established or on its conduct or outcome.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Labour’s record of leaking is as long as its record in office. Not only did the last Govt leak like a sieve but Hugh Dalton, a previous Labour Chancellor, was forced to resign for leaking Budget secrets—

Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. I made the position clear. This is a set of exchanges about a specific and narrowly crafted urgent question. It may be about many things within that context, but it is not about 1947. We will leave it there.

The previous Labour Government leaked worse than the Titanic. Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever the Labour party’s budgetary policies may be—we are not quite sure—they would be an equal disaster?

Will the Minister concede that the Chancellor has shot himself in the foot with such widespread leaks, because all that he had to announce yesterday was the tax grab on grannies, which he hoped people would not notice? Will he concede that the leak inquiry that may or may not be going on now in the Treasury should consider the leaks of Office for Budget Responsibility judgments, and that now is the time to put the OBR on a proper independent basis similar to that of the Office for National Statistics?

Of course the OBR is independent, and that may be some irritation to Opposition Members, given its conclusions about the failure of the 50p rate.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the only possible explanation for the general hypocrisy on the Opposition Benches, given their own leaking of this urgent question before the Speaker’s Office announced it, is their desire to avoid the good news of GlaxoSmithKline’s investment announced this morning?

I am interested to learn that this story was apparently briefed before any decision emerged. [Interruption.] I understand that that is incorrect and that it was not announced on Twitter before your decision, Mr Speaker. If it was, I am sure that there will be an internal Labour party inquiry.

The reference to Hugh Dalton in 1947 is of course wrong, because he resigned and the leak had been reported in an evening newspaper before he sat down. What we are talking about now is the ministerial code and the accurate and extensive reporting of what was in the Budget across the media the morning before the Budget statement. That is the difference, and that is what we want to be investigated. Are we going to have an investigation or not?

I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s first point. I should also reiterate that we have a coalition, which means that there are negotiations and discussions involving both sides. It also means that the Budget tends to be finalised some days in advance of the Budget speech. That is quite a contrast to previous years, when revisions were made, documents pulped and decisions taken at the last minute. I think that we have a much better process, thanks to the discussions within the coalition and the involvement of the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Does the Minister believe that the Opposition would improve by getting some consistency on whether information should or should not be released?

Leeks are normally very popular in Wales, but given that only 4,000 people in Wales pay the 50p rate of tax, compared with 94,000 in London, taken alongside the regional pay leak, this represents a massive transfer from poorer people in Wales to richer people in London. Does the Minister not agree that spreading that sort of fear through leaks ahead of the Budget announcement is disgraceful, and has he not admitted that he has given leaks by referring to our alleged leaks?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s analysis is wrong, because the rich will of course be paying five times the amount as a consequence of the Budget measures. I am afraid that his analysis is no better than his jokes.

Will my hon. Friend accept that he made a mistake in saying that part of the Budget was leaked by the Labour Government in 2005? In fact, the whole Budget was leaked to the Evening Standard.

One of the reasons why Budget leaks are particularly serious is that they facilitate tax avoidance. When the Budget speech was leaked in 1984, Lord Howe instituted a police inquiry and everybody working on the Budget was interviewed by the police. Why does the Chancellor of the Exchequer not do the same?

I know that the hon. Lady speaks with great knowledge on this issue. I agree that it is very important that sensitive information is protected and can assure her that, on the one potentially sensitive area of stamp duty, the Treasury was not involved. If something is announced in the morning, even if it comes into effect at midnight, people still have the opportunity to exchange contracts in the interim period, as indeed was the case when previous Governments raised stamp duty.

I was an avid reader of pre-Budget commentary in the newspapers and found that there was plenty of new content in the Chancellor’s presentation yesterday that had not been covered at all and plenty that the media had got wrong. Is this not a complete waste of parliamentary time, and will my hon. Friend ensure that none of his official time is wasted in the pursuit of this phantom leak?

If the intention is to keep the shadow Chancellor’s speech off the lunchtime bulletins, I suspect that it will succeed, and who would blame the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) for wanting to do that?

Would the Minister describe it as a coincidence that the £3 million stealth tax on pensioners was one thing that was not leaked?

I am not sure whether we are now getting complaints that we are briefing too much, or too little.