House of Commons
Thursday 13 September 2012
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before questions
Committee of Selection
That Geoffrey Clifton-Brown be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Bill Wiggin be a member of the Committee until the end of the current Session.—(Mr Randall.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—
Sport Participation (Children)
Before answering, may I record the congratulations of the whole House to everybody involved in London 2012?
Wait a moment—the hon. Gentleman is being slightly tedious. I congratulate in particular the athletes of Team GB and ParalympicsGB. Moreover, I would particularly like to record, on behalf of everybody, our congratulations to the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) on her contribution to the project over many years. I also congratulate—I know that this will please you, Mr Speaker —Andy Murray on his win in New York on Monday.
Through the school games, we are encouraging all schools to offer their pupils the chance to play more competitive sport. More than 14,000 schools have so far signed up to participate and, in addition, 1,600 of our best young athletes had the chance to compete in and around the Olympic park in the inaugural national finals in May. The national governing bodies of sports will use the inspiration of the London 2012 games to encourage more young people to take up their sport. One example is hockey’s “Give it a Go” scheme, which has now attracted more than 20,000 people at more than 600 sites across the country.
I echo the Minister’s words: the Paralympics and the Olympic games showcased all that is great about this country.
On building the fantastic Olympians and Paralympians of the future, it is vital to invest in the infrastructure, skills and facilities that our young people need, particularly in schools. What are the Government doing to that end?
Two things in particular. The new youth sports strategy, which has been announced and the figures for which will be announced in December, will involve an investment over the next four years to encourage sport governing bodies to make those precise investments. Separately, the Places People Play programme has now invested in improving more than 700 facilities up and down the country.
What prospect does the Minister, helped by his new Secretary of State, whom I welcome to her post, think he has of persuading the Education Secretary to reverse his disastrous decisions on school sport partnerships, on the two-hour target and on liberalising Labour’s very strict laws on disposing of school playing fields?
The new youth sport strategy is precisely designed to address a problem that existed even under the old scheme—the difficulties in getting people out of school and into community clubs. Steps are being taken. There is no doubt that in some areas school sport partnerships were extraordinarily effective; in others, they were not. I think the consensus is that they were an expensive way of doing things. I note, from what the shadow Chancellor said to the TUC last week, that the Labour party is not making any spending commitments. There is an opportunity now to work together for a new system that I hope will deliver the improvements we all want in school sport.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her new position; she has one of the best jobs in Government. I congratulate the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, the Olympic Delivery Authority, all the public servants across Government, the Government Olympic Executive, the city authorities and the thousands of people who gave their all to deliver a summer that the people of this country will never forget. A special congratulation goes, of course, to our Olympic and Paralympic athletes and to the games makers, who embodied the feeling of the people of this country that these were their games and that they mattered in the contribution to making them such a success. They really did belong to the people of our country.
In congratulating the Minister on his well-deserved promotion, I invite him to take forward one of the important means of delivering the success of the Olympics by continuing the commitment to cross-party working with a plan for sport that will survive for a decade. It should include more primary children playing sport in physical education, more children competing, and adults, throughout their lives, enjoying the pleasure of taking part in sport at all levels. A cross-party approach will guarantee stability. I commend that approach to the right hon. Gentleman.
Following that, I suppose that we all ought to pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for her comprehensiveness in dealing with this project from the moment the bid was launched, through to delivery. Everybody across the House genuinely would like to recognise her contribution.
The right hon. Lady is right that one lesson from the success of Team GB and ParalympicsGB is the importance of a strategy that is not constantly altered. When I came to office, I called the problem that has constantly plagued the sports world short-term “initiativeitis”. It is our intention to continue with the approach that has served us so well for the Olympics and to ensure, as I am sure everybody in the House wants, that we deliver a tangible legacy from the events of this summer.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games was responsible for appointing domestic partners for the London 2012 games, and the International Paralympic Committee is responsible for international Paralympic partners. All the partners provide vital funding, without which the games simply could not happen. Atos has been a key technology provider for the Paralympic movement since 2002, and became the official worldwide information technology partner for the International Paralympic Committee in 2008.
In contrast to the fantastic performances by the Paralympic athletes, the performance of Atos was slammed by the National Audit Office. The Secretary of State will be well aware of the anger that many disabled people feel towards Atos Healthcare because of its poor decision making and the high success rate of reconsiderations and appeals. Does she feel, in retrospect, that Atos has been an effective service provider and an appropriate sponsor of the Paralympics?
The hon. Lady will know that without money from sponsors we cannot stage such games. The involvement of the sponsors enabled us to ensure that more countries than ever before competed in the Olympic and Paralympic games. I am sure that she welcomes that.
I am sure that the whole House welcomes my right hon. Friend to her new position. Given her experience in the Department for Work and Pensions, does she agree that the key to all this is the work capability assessment? Is it not correct that the Government have accepted all the recommendations of Professor Harrington’s two reports on improving the work capability assessment? Is not a reasonable inference from the comments of members of the Labour party that it does not want people to be assessed to see whether they are able to work?
I, too, welcome the right hon. Lady to her new position. As she has already seen, her old position will follow her wherever she goes. I do not think that she will ever get away from that, because disability pervades all of society.
The Paralympics were a huge success and the Channel 4 coverage was wonderful. Does the right hon. Lady agree that it was particularly insensitive of Atos to sponsor not only the games but the lanyards, so that every Paralympian was forced to wear the name of Atos around their neck? Perhaps Atos had a perverse reason for doing that, because a much wider audience now knows how it has been treating disabled people in the work capability assessment.
The hon. Lady will know that such decisions are made by organisations outside of Government. She is right to say that the Paralympics were a fantastic opportunity to change attitudes in this country, and I think that they achieved that. We need to keep that going. She is also right to say that former Ministers for Disabled People retain a deep and passionate interest in ensuring that the needs of disabled people are catered for, whichever Department they work in.
I expect Lord Justice Leveson to deliver his report in the autumn.
I am grateful for that answer. During module 4, the final module of Lord Leveson’s inquiry, it became increasingly clear that the self-regulation of news content would work far more effectively if it were supported by some statutory underpinning. Given that the Government are already introducing statutory measures in areas such as defamation, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government retain an open mind on further statutory regulation in that area?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The reason we commissioned a report was to listen to what Lord Justice Leveson puts forward. We very much have an open mind and I would not want to pre-empt the inquiry by trying to second-guess its conclusions. Whatever we do in future, we need to ensure that we maintain freedom of expression, that we have a press that is suitably independent of government and politicians and that there are sufficient teeth in the sanctions that empower the system. It must command the confidence and respect of the public and the industry alike. We need to adhere to those important principles, but first and foremost we must receive the report.
Should Lord Justice Leveson call time on the last chance saloon and recommend a statutory underpinning for press self-regulation and a co-regulation model, what preparatory work have the Government done to prepare for such an option?
The hon. Gentleman outlines some of the options that may be taken forward. What we have to do at this stage is ensure that the inquiry runs its course. Those both within and outside the House have noted in great detail the evidence that has been given, and we will need to look at the report in detail.
Does the new Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that successive Governments have got too close to the media? Does she also agree that this Government, like previous ones, are still leaking information to the press before statements are made to Parliament? Should that not end immediately?
May I add my warmest and sincerest congratulations to the right hon. Lady on her appointment as not only Secretary of State but Minister for Women and Equalities? I look forward to working with her on both issues.
The right hon. Lady takes on her role at a crucial time. The Leveson inquiry offers a historic opportunity to tackle the long-standing problems of the lack of a proper press complaints system and the concentration of media ownership. We saw from the Hillsborough independent panel report yesterday, 20 years before the Dowlers, the ugly spectacle of collusion between the police and some elements of the press, inflicting pain and misery on innocent people who were already suffering. Will she ask Lord Justice Leveson to examine the implications of that for the media and to take evidence from the panel and the families? When his report is published, will she convene cross-party talks so that we can ensure that we have a press that is strong because it is free and clean, and that we can all work together to achieve that?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her kind words and look forward to continuing to work with her on these issues and those of women and equality.
The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right that there are issues within Leveson that have clear read-across to the report that was released yesterday. However, at this time I want to ensure that we continue to focus first and foremost on the importance of getting it right for the families involved. We will examine the report in great detail to ensure that any necessary actions are taken so that we do not have the same scandalous situation again.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her new job, but she has made one mistake already, because there is not to be one report by Leveson: there are meant to be two, and I believe that the second is the more important. It is to be on what actually happened at the News of the World. So far, Lord Justice Leveson and everybody else have rightly avoided the illegality, criminality and dodginess that went on between the police and the News of the World, for the simple reason that nobody wants to compromise criminal prosecutions. Will she ensure that, contrary to what Lord Leveson has been saying, he will produce a second report so that we know what went on?
I will, of course, always look to the hon. Gentleman to keep me right on these things. He is absolutely right that there is a part two to the inquiry and, as I think we have already made clear, the Government will make a statement on part two when part one has concluded. It is important that we take these things at the proper pace and that we have time to consider the initial report before we consider further work.
Heritage tourism in the United Kingdom accounts for £4.3 billion in gross domestic product, rising to £7.4 billion if heritage green spaces are included. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games and torch relay have provided a major opportunity to highlight our heritage assets.
Given that, only a Government of such awesome incompetence as this one could follow up the Olympics, when the eyes of the world were on Britain, by abolishing the post of Minister for tourism and heritage. We know that the Tory party did not like Danny Boyle’s wonderfully progressive vision of British history, but did it really have to seek revenge by scrapping the post? Why will the Government not support our national heritage and tourism industry, rather than abandon it?
Does the Minister agree that the £122 million that the Government are about to spend on the so-called GREAT campaign, celebrating all that is great about Great Britain—including, in my case, the great adventurers and great climbers, which will launch in October—is extremely good value for money? How much does he expect the country to benefit from that £122 million investment in inward tourism, and how does he intend to monitor the return?
We have used the GREAT campaign to try to drive incoming tourism into this country. The initial signs are that it has been a great success and that people are waking up once more to the delights of holidaying in this country. We are in consultation to ensure that the process rolls on, with further additions to the GREAT campaign.
Is the Minister aware that the Environment Minister in Northern Ireland recently commissioned an expert study that showed that heritage contributed substantially to the Northern Ireland economy? Does he agree that we must not only protect but invest in our heritage sector?
There is no doubt that London 2012 has been a fantastic achievement, demonstrating Britain’s unique character. Despite that success, there has been significant concern, especially outside London, that visitor numbers were below those that were predicted. Given that concern, given the Government’s recent commitment to increase the number of overseas visitors from 30 million today to 40 million by 2020 and given that at a time when they should be capitalising on the Olympic tourism legacy they have chosen, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) rightly mentioned, to cut the ministerial post focused on tourism and heritage, will the Minister explain how he will guarantee that every region benefits from UK tourism?
This has to be one of the silliest points made for a very long time. We had a thoroughly excellent Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who covered tourism, heritage and gambling. We now have a Minister who covers sport, tourism and gambling. I cannot remotely see that that is in any way a downgrade. There were three responsibilities before and there are three now—the maths are very simple.
5. Whether she has discussed with the BBC Trust the potential effect on the BBC of an independent Scotland. (120636)
I am in regular contact with the Culture and External Affairs Minister in the Scottish Government on a range of broadcasting matters. The Government encourage broadcasters to undertake production throughout the UK, but the future of individual BBC services and production in Scotland is a matter for the BBC and we do not seek to intervene.
The separatists tell us that a separate Scotland could replicate the success of Danish TV. However, looking at prime-time Danish TV schedules for this evening, I see few zingers ready to wing their way across to the United Kingdom, although three top-class independent UK productions are featured. Does the Minister agree that Scotland is much better off as part of one of the most successful TV industries in the world?
10. Network commissions from the BBC in London constitute £80 million to £85 million of investment in the Scottish economy, make up 78% of revenue from independent production companies and help sustain 15,000 jobs in Scotland. Does the Minister share my concern that if Scotland separates from the rest of the United Kingdom significant damage could be done to that section of the Scottish economy? (120643)
I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. Over the past few months I have been lucky enough to visit BBC Scotland’s headquarters and see the excellent work it does. May I record my gratitude to BBC Scotland for sending my children a photograph signed by Nina of “Nina and the Neurons”?
It is with a great sigh of relief that we see the Minister is still at the Dispatch Box, and I welcome the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The threat to the BBC comes not from an independent Scotland but from what is happening with the cuts now. How can that be justified in Scotland, which is a nation, not a region of the BBC? Given that we are about to make the biggest decision in our nation’s history, is it right that the BBC has been cut to the absolute bone? People need to be informed and the issues debated.
School Playing Fields
6. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Education on the protection of school playing fields. (120637)
School playing fields fall under the departmental responsibility of the Department for Education, but my Department is in regular contact with it over a range of issues relating to sport. For the first time, the Places People Play initiative has a specific programme for safeguarding and enhancing playing fields, and is operated in partnership with Fields in Trust.
In a sense, yes. After the Olympics, anybody who is interested in or involved with sport will want to ensure that those opportunities are available to as many people as possible. That said, the point of academies is that they enjoy freedom from central control and set their agenda as they wish. The issue is less about playing fields than about the provision of sports facilities. The key point is to build more 3G pitches, from which schools get 90 hours of use, as against four for an old grass pitch.
Does the Minister agree that the quality of coaching and facilities is just as important as the amount of space available? In Folkestone, the state-of-the-art redevelopment of Cheriton road sports ground was possible only because of the sale of a redundant piece of playing field land in the vicinity.
Local Community Sport
Through Places People Play, Sport England is investing £135 million in community sport facilities and local community sport, and to date over 700 community sport facilities have benefited from the programme. In addition, the new youth sport strategy includes funding to help local authorities improve sport provision and investment to enable schools to open up their sporting facilities for use by local communities.
That is absolutely the intention. Three initiatives are worth looking at in that respect. The new whole sport plans will include for the first time specific disability targets, as will Places People Play, and an inclusive opportunities fund is being run for the first time by Sport England to address exactly that issue.
The Government have set up a programme to encourage local sports clubs to engage young people and to get them involved in sports after school to create a sporting habit for life, but that will not work unless we have quality sports education in earlier years. In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), the Minister said that the delivery of school sports partnerships was patchy, but that is not what he said before the general election, when he said that we should be building on school sports partnerships. Sadly, in the past two years, there has been a 40% drop in school sports partnerships and a 60% drop in hours spent outside the classroom by teachers organising sport, and the Government’s PE teacher release money is due to end in August 2013. Will he admit that cutting £162 million from school sports partnerships was a mistake, and will he join the Opposition in calling for the Secretary of State to re-ring-fence that money so that we can have a sporting legacy?
All Members know why that happened, but the key issue is the deficit the Government inherited in 2010. It is absolutely pointless the hon. Gentleman whining unless the Opposition have another policy or are prepared to commit to restoring that money. The shadow Chancellor made it abundantly clear to the TUC last week that there will be no spending commitments of that sort, so it is utterly hypocritical to pursue this until you have an idea of how to put it right.
We are making good progress. Almost all areas have an agreed local broadband plan to deliver 90% superfast broadband and universal standard broadband coverage under our rural broadband programme. Five projects have completed procurement and we expect the remainder to have entered into contracts by next summer. Lead responsibility for rural broadband in Scotland lies with the Scottish Government, who have been allocated funding of over £100 million by my Department.
The Secretary of State will be aware that broadband coverage in Glasgow is, at 60%, well below the UK average, and that the recent application for superfast broadband was surprisingly rejected by her Department. Will she give me her personal assurance that she will work with the city council, the Scottish Government and other partners in Glasgow to ensure that it can benefit from superfast broadband, because without it Scotland’s economy will suffer?
I share the hon. Lady’s concern to ensure that more people have access to faster broadband as soon as they can. That is why we will shortly announce funding for the first 10 super-connected cities. Bids from up to 27 second-tier cities are due by 17 September. Edinburgh will be among the first 10 cities to which funding will be allocated, and Glasgow can apply in the second round. I urge her, too, to work with the Scottish Government on these matters.
Suffolk county council will announce its decision in the next few weeks, but the exciting development of 4G roll-out by existing operators is welcome news. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress that Ofcom is making on the other spectrum that will bring 4G nationally?
My hon. Friend will be aware that we continue to work with the Commission to clarify state aid details prior to our being able to proceed with that part of our programme. We anticipate Commission approval in the autumn and will continue as rapidly as possible to ensure that we make the necessary progress. Our country needs better connectivity to ensure that we are competitive in future.
May I add my congratulations to the right hon. Lady? The reshuffle was supposed to be the delivery reshuffle. At questions last week, the Prime Minister said he wanted the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to support the economy by focusing on broadband roll-out. Will the Minister assure the House that, by 2015, 90% of the country will have superfast broadband?
The hon. Lady will know that the reshuffle has delivered some very fast changes. We had announcements last Friday on freeing up the roll-out of superfast broadband from some of the regulations and red tape preventing us from moving forward as fast as we need to. I hope that she will join me in encouraging her constituents and others to support our measures.
The honest answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is none, because heptathlons generally take place in athletics stadiums, and the Olympic stadium will remain in use as an athletics venue as part of the sporting legacy of the London games and will host the London 2017 world athletics championships. In addition, Sport England is investing £30 million over the next three years to support new large-scale multi-sport facilities.
There is one planned. Emily Race is the top 11-year-old heptathlete medal-winning prospect in the country, but she has to practise on a grass football field. If my area can put together two thirds of the money, will the Minister join me in twisting the appropriate arms to ensure that the national sports bodies find the other third, so that her and others’ dreams and ambitions can be realised?
Particularly after the feats of Jessica Ennis earlier this summer, I am sure that everybody across the House will join me and the hon. Gentleman in wishing Emily Race all the best. The possibility of doing what he suggests through the Sport England fund is absolutely there, and I encourage him to make a bid.
I have made no assessment of Ofcom’s decision. The decision to allow the variation to Everything Everywhere’s licence to allow 4G services in its spectrum at 1,800 MHz is for Ofcom to make as the independent regulator.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but would he not agree that in an era when consumers are taking out 18-month contracts, it is essential that Ofcom moves quickly to ensure that monopoly power does not become entrenched and consumers can benefit from genuine competition in the 4G spectrum?
My hon. Friend is right about the importance of competition. Not only is EE, as we must learn to call it, about to roll out 4G services, but we are working with Ofcom to ensure that we can proceed with our auction as quickly as possible and bring 4G services to all mobile operators.
The thoughts of everyone in the Chamber will be with the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Before I turn to the distressing report published by the Hillsborough independent panel yesterday, I want to place on the record my sincere thanks to everyone involved in the organisation of the London Olympics and Paralympics.
As has been said, 2012 will be remembered as the best ever summer in our sporting history. At the start of the Olympics, Lord Coe said:
“These games will bring out the best in us”,
and our athletes answered that call. They did so through not only what they achieved but how they achieved it. They are incredible role models and they did the country proud. But they are not alone. The success of the games was due to thousands of businesses and organisations—
Order. I am sorry, but I must say to the Secretary of State that although I absolutely understand the spirit of her remarks, it is an abuse to use topical questions to make a statement. She must give a brief initial answer and then the supplementary will follow. That is the situation—always has been, always will be.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on coming to her new position and associate myself with her opening remarks.
Tourism supports 54,000 jobs in Essex and contributes more than £3 billion to our local economy. Will she join me in congratulating the tourism sector in Essex and attend the Visit Essex tourism conference on 14 November to see at first hand the excellent work done there and the contribution that these individuals make to our local economy?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Olympics also played their part in Essex, which hosted the mountain biking competition, at Hadleigh farm. The Government will continue to do everything they can to support tourism in Essex, and I hope to come along and see it for myself in the not-too-distant future.
T2. The all-party group on women’s sport and fitness wants to see our fantastic women athletes in the media, inspiring girls and women of all ages to take part in sport. However, outside the Olympics, women’s sport gets 5% of the media coverage and less than 1% of the commercial sponsorship. Do Ministers agree that this must change, and will DCMS Ministers work with the all-party group over the coming months to ensure that it does? (120653)
The answer to that is absolutely yes. We were trying—[Interruption.]
I would have thought that my answering was encouragingly non-gender specific.
We were trying to work this out earlier, but I have a suspicion that the first medal at London 2012, the first gold and, indeed, the last medal were all won by female athletes. They made a huge contribution, both to Team GB and to Paralympics GB. All of us absolutely want to do everything possible to build on that and use it to encourage more young women to get into sport.
T3. I am sorry that the Minister responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), the shadow Minister, by accusing him of whining for raising genuine concerns about school sport. Does he not accept that the cuts to the school sports partnership will seriously undermine the 14-to-25 strategy? (120655)
Let me be clear about this. The point I am simply making is that hon. Members cannot criticise a policy if they do not have a policy, and the Opposition do not, at this moment, have a policy. [Interruption.] No, no; I think I heard the shadow Chancellor saying that there would be no restoration of funding and that the Opposition could not make wide-ranging funding commitments. If the Opposition do not have the money to restore the partnership, the better approach is to follow the advice very wisely offered by the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell), which is to ensure that we work together to deliver the improvements we all want to see in school sport and deliver a proper legacy from London 2012.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Sir John Major on his foresight in setting up the national lottery and direct funding of sport, which is seen as a major contributory factor to our amazing Olympics success? Does that not show that a good Government can leave a legacy that can be enjoyed for generations, whereas a bad Government just leave debts that take generations to pay off?
Absolutely, and it is noticeable that many of the legacy programmes from London 2012 are being run as a direct result of this Government’s decision to restore national lottery funding to the levels envisaged by Sir John Major. The figure was 13.7% when we took office; it is 20% now, and that is what is underpinning the legacy.
T5. In Northern Ireland we were immensely proud of the huge success enjoyed by Northern Ireland competitors in the recent Olympic and Paralympic games, including the rowing successes of Richard and Peter Chambers, and Alan Campbell. However, although officially they competed for Team GB and NI, it is all too frequently abbreviated to Team GB. Is there any prospect of the Government rebranding Team GB as Team UK, so that all four nations are fully reflected in the success? (120657)
This is a question that is raised on many occasions by people from Northern Ireland. The honest answer is no, because the decision is outside the remit of Government. Athletes are selected by the British Olympic Association. The team is called Team GB for historic reasons that predate the events that led to the formation of Northern Ireland, and I see no sign of that changing in the near future.
Many parts of Argyll and Bute have no mobile phone coverage, which is bad for business and can make it difficult to get help in an emergency. Will the Government please tell us what plans they have to extend mobile phone coverage in Argyll and Bute?
I am delighted to be able to tell my hon. Friend that we have the mobile infrastructure project, which we are currently procuring and which is putting £150 million precisely into bringing mobile phone coverage to constituencies such as his.
T6. Can the Minister for sport update the House on when the Government expert group on involving supporters in the governance of football will be convened? (120658)
The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), will recall a meeting to discuss the better regulation of DMOL, which organises channel listings for Freeview, at which he undertook to take a look at the matter. Will he update the House on any progress that has been made?
T7. Many of my constituents cannot even get moderately fast broadband. They are therefore desperate for the introduction of superfast broadband, but 2015 is too far away. Aberdeen will be bidding to become one of the superfast cities. Can the Secretary of State give us an assurance that the criteria will include not only ease of installation and density of population but factors such as the industries that will depend on having superfast broadband? Aberdeen is an important economic driver in the north-east of Scotland. (120659)
Ministers will be aware of the proposed changes to listed building consents. Can they give me an assurance that no radical changes to a listed building will take place without full consideration and positive consent having been obtained from a council, rather than following the absence of a response from a council?
The previous Minister for heritage, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), did an excellent job of consulting on this issue, and I pay tribute to the hard work that he has done to promote the heritage sector over the past two years. The consultation has now closed and we will consider the responses. The sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) are well made.
T8. The Football Association taskforce that I recently chaired highlighted a huge variation in the quality of stewarding at professional football matches. Will the Sports Minister pursue that issue with the football authorities, given the dangers inherent in that situation? (120660)
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Palace of Westminster: Refurbishment
1. What discussions the Commission has had with the Parliamentary Works Directorate on the possibility of vacating the Palace of Westminster to facilitate the renewal of the fabric of the building and an overhaul of its essential facilities. (120661)
I reassure hon. Members that no decisions have been taken as yet. Such a project would be a major undertaking, and a final decision will not be taken for some time and would probably be a matter for both Houses. This will clearly require careful study and planning.
Most of the current Palace of Westminster dates from the mid-19th century, and much of the external structure and weatherproofing has been untouched since then. Many of the utilities and services inside the Palace date back 60 or 70 years. There is a major backlog of remedial work, including that involving asbestos, which is being professionally assessed and must be remediated in accordance with regulations.
In January this year the Commission appointed a study group to examine all the possibilities, including a temporary relocation of Parliament. The group was assisted by two Members from each House. The report of the study group is not yet finalised, but it is expected to be submitted to the Commission and the House Committee of the House of Lords at the end of next month.
The Palace of Westminster is a place of work for thousands of people, yet the fabric and facilities in many areas of the building date back to the 1840s. Clearly, the cost of bringing the building up to modern standards could be billions of pounds. When is the House of Commons Commission likely to get its first estimate of the total cost of doing up the building?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. It is difficult at this stage to make a proper assessment of the cost, but we expect the report to contain an assessment of the various costs and, therefore, an indication of the best avenue to pursue. The Commission will ensure that it pursues the best value for money, which will involve a combination of the lowest-cost option and keeping Parliament functioning properly.
If Parliament is to be decanted, may I make a shameless bid for it to be decanted to Birmingham? [Interruption.] Why not? It is our second city. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the cost of doing the works over 10 years would be considerably higher than the cost of decanting and doing the work over two or three years?
On my hon. Friend’s suggestion about Birmingham, I cannot possibly comment. In regard to the costs, it is my experience from my past life that a decant and a quick contract are often preferable to a series of contracts with no decant, but that is a matter for the study, and we must be led by the evidence that is produced. We will follow that properly.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those answers. My concern is about decanting and its cost. Does he view the September sittings as a significant barrier to achieving the necessary repairs without completely closing Parliament? A contractor could be let in during the long summer period, and while I acknowledge what the hon. Gentleman said, this would be preferable to hon. Members.
The hon. Lady makes a good point about the September sittings. I have given evidence on the subject. Again, there is a balance to be struck between the cost of a day’s sitting and the advantage one might gain on a contract, but in this case we are into something of a quite different magnitude. There is already estimated to be £1 billion-worth of backlog, and these are not contracts of 10 or 11 weeks; they are seriously big contracts, so all options to ensure best value for the taxpayer and allow the Commission to make the right choice must be looked at.
If the House of Commons Commission gets its skates on, we have a fantastic facility in Hackney in east London—the Emmedia centre. While it awaits a tenant, it could happily house Parliament while the work is done. There is a seven-minute shuttle to St Pancras, City airport on the doorstep, excellent transport links and it is 20 minutes to Westminster, so will the House of Commons Commission consider a temporary relocation of Parliament to “Eastminster”?
I am delighted to reassure the hon. Lady that at this stage, with the Commission not yet having received the report, all options can be placed on the table. However, the option that is ultimately chosen will follow best practice, best value and the best advice that we receive.
It would be totally unacceptable for the House not to sit for three months, so I hope we will continue with September sittings. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the patching-up work is going to be very costly and possibly carry on for years, it would be far better to reach a brave decision and do the job properly from the start?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. As I said, from my experience in another life, I have found that it is usually better to take two or more years and get the job done than to be inconvenienced and unable to work properly for 10 years. I stress, however, that we are at a very early stage; it is for the professional advice to be given first, and then for the Commission to make a decision in the light of that advice.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman’s answer on asbestos is much too complacent. It is incredible that we are being brought back here when every day I go into my office, I meet men in white coats—[Laughter]—wearing protective clothing and gas masks. We have staff wandering around in this building, yet we have reports on the dangers of asbestos here going back to 2005. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should take this matter far more seriously.
I can assure the right hon. Lady that I take asbestos extremely seriously, as does the Commission; but more importantly, the Parliamentary Director of Estates does, too. Asbestos is not dangerous if undisturbed. All areas of the Palace have been properly surveyed. Where remedial action is taken, the work force operate within full health and safety dictates and do so as safely as possible. I am constantly reassured by the House authorities in this area. My answer was necessarily short, given that I had to answer three questions and given the orders for brevity issued from the Chair. I assure the right hon. Lady that this matter is taken extremely seriously.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
As Leader of the House, I want to ensure that the public see the Government reporting to and being accountable to this House. As a Government, we have increased the number of ministerial statements in comparison with the previous Government; given more time for the Report stages of Bills; and published more Bills in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny. We are also encouraging public engagement in the House’s scrutiny, with public reading stage pilots and, as I have announced today, a new 10,000-signature threshold for e-petitions to trigger a Government response.
I understand that the Government plan to introduce a business Committee by the end of 2013. Will the Leader of the House tell us how he views the proposal at this stage, and whether he thinks that such a Committee will improve scrutiny by giving Back Benchers more of a say in, for example, the timetabling of Bills and opportunities to vote on amendments?
As the House will know, I have the greatest admiration for the reforms introduced by my predecessor, including the creation of the Backbench Business Committee, which has provided substantial opportunities. The hon. Lady rightly drew attention to the Government’s commitment in the coalition programme, and I look forward to constructive discussions about it.
The Leader of the House could improve the quality of scrutiny immediately by making the post of Chairman of the Committee of Selection an elected post. Would it not be totally absurd if an independent Chairman of that Committee were replaced overnight by a former Whip?
Again, I pay tribute to my predecessor. The introduction of elections to membership of Select Committees represents a considerable step forward in terms of Members’ ability to determine the shape of decision making in the House. However, it is also important for the Committee of Selection to reflect the interests of the parties—
7. I welcome the Leader of the House to his new position. May I ask him to consider improving scrutiny of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by extending the time allocated to oral questions to its Secretary of State? (120667)
It is two and a half years since the Wright reform of the election of Chairmen of Select Committees was introduced. At that time there were very few candidates for some of the posts, and in the case of one Committee there was only one candidate. Would this not be a suitable time for the existing Chairmen to resign, so that all Members, including new Members, could have a chance to have their turn, in order that the work of Select Committees could be refreshed?
I hope that it will be possible to respond rapidly to petitions with 10,000 signatures. I cannot tell the hon. Lady at this stage how quickly we will do it, but I hope that we will do it in a matter of weeks. I want members of the public to feel that they have a genuinely interactive relationship with scrutiny of the Government in the House, which involves direct responses to their use of the website and, indeed, to their e-mail addresses.
3. Whether the Government plan to impose penalties on Ministers who fail to observe the House's expectations in regard to statements. (120663)
The Government are committed to making key policy announcements in Parliament, a principle that is set out clearly in the Ministerial Code. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the House had an opportunity to debate the issue in December last year. The premise that specific penalties should be imposed by the House over and above those already available was considered and rejected during that debate.
I congratulate the Deputy Leader of the House on delivering that reply with a straight face, but let us be honest: we all know that announcements should be made in this House first, but the temptation of a quick headline and some media coverage trumps virtue almost every time, especially within the walls of No. 10. Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that Ministers need to know that there is a certain penalty for that, such as promotion to the Whips Office or being hung by their toenails from the Elizabeth Tower, in order to ensure that virtue prevails?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. He is an experienced and respected parliamentarian, and he will be aware of the range of measures available to put a Minister on the spot over any alleged failure to make the most important policy announcements to this House: urgent questions, Select Committee investigations, Prime Minister’s questions, points of order and raising matters in the Backbench Business Committee. I hope he agrees that that is an impressive list of effective sanctions against errant Ministers.
The Government have increased the number of ministerial statements made to this House, and you, Mr Speaker, have increased the use of urgent questions to hold the Government to account, which is also welcome. However, it sometimes feels as if there is not much point in attending events such as the Budget debate or the Queen’s Speech debate, as one has read all about them in the previous Sunday’s newspapers, which shows that not enough is yet being done. Will the Government consider making use of Westminster Hall, or elsewhere, in order to have far more ministerial statements and, crucially, far more opportunities for Back Benchers to scrutinise what Ministers are up to?
It is worth pointing out that over the recent period there have been 32 statements by the Prime Minister. We are making more statements per day than under the previous Government. I agree, however, that it would be a good idea to allow Westminster Hall to be used for oral statements, and the Leader of the House has expressed support for that.
The fact that we have both a new Leader and Deputy Leader of the House presents us with an excellent opportunity to establish higher standards in how the Government report matters of concern to this House. Will the Deputy Leader therefore take this opportunity to give a guarantee that the Government will report statements to this House before briefing the media?
The Government are committed, wherever possible, to publishing legislation in draft with a view to pre-legislative scrutiny. We have published nine sets of draft measures so far this Session and will publish more as it progresses.
I think the hon. Lady and the House will recognise that it is not possible for all Bills to have pre-legislative scrutiny, but as I said, the Government have published a substantial number of such measures. When I was Secretary of State for Health, we published the Care and Support Bill in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny—I look forward to its commencement this autumn—and it has also been the subject of both consultation and a public reading stage.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be:
Monday 17 September—Second Reading of the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill.
Tuesday 18 September—Motion on the conference recess Adjournment, the format of which has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee. Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on this day.
The business for the week commencing 15 October will include:
Monday 15 October—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill.
Tuesday 16 October—Remaining stages of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (day one).
Wednesday 17 October—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.
Thursday 18 October—A debate on a motion relating to the disbandment of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the use of intercept evidence in courts and inquests. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 19 October—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 22 October will include:
Monday 22 October—Second Reading of the Public Service Pensions Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 17 September and 18 October will be:
Monday 17 September—A debate on the e-petition relating to the west coast main line franchise decision.
Thursday 18 October—A general debate on community benefit for major infrastructure projects.
It is also my intention to provide time for a debate on Hillsborough, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during his statement yesterday.
Colleagues will also wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver the autumn statement on Wednesday 5 December.
The whole House will be shocked and saddened by the murder in Libya of the US ambassador and three other members of the United States diplomatic staff. It will inevitably raise concerns about the safety and security of our own diplomats in Libya and elsewhere in the region. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary on what action the Government are taking to protect Foreign Office staff in the region?
We welcome the publication yesterday of the Government’s papers on the Hillsborough disaster and the report by the Bishop of Liverpool—that was a process we began in government. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said yesterday, those of us in the Opposition fully associate ourselves with the very welcome apology the Prime Minister made to the families and to the people of Liverpool.
The contents of the report are scandalous. There is shock and anger at the revelations that an opportunity to save the lives of so many was missed. There is shock and anger at the despicable and self-serving lies told about the fans’ behaviour on the day. There is disbelief that the truth has been concealed for 23 long years. I pay tribute to the families who have campaigned for justice for so long—without them yesterday would not have been as it was. I also pay tribute to the work of all Members of this House representing Merseyside seats and others who have campaigned for justice, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), and my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) and for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram). Does the Leader of the House agree that this shows the value of Members of Parliament who represent and fight for the communities they serve?
Last night, the chief constable of South Yorkshire police said that it looked on the face of it as if some police officers had broken the law. This morning, the ex-chief constable of South Yorkshire, Richard Wells, said that it is “absolutely essential” to pursue prosecutions in the Hillsborough case. At the same time, one of those officers who appears to have been involved in orchestrating the cover up is currently a serving chief constable.
Yesterday, the House was united in its response. May I assure the Leader of the House that we stand ready to co-operate in any way that is helpful in finally achieving a just resolution? Will the Leader of the House explain what the Government’s course of action will now be to hold to account those who did wrong and deliver justice for the families, now that we finally have the truth? On setting aside the flawed coroners’ verdicts, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Attorney-General to make a statement before recess on the next steps? We welcome the fact that there was a statement yesterday and the commitment to a full debate in Government time. I note what the Leader of the House said in his statement, but many members will want to contribute to the debate, so could he be a little more forthcoming and update the House on when it will take place? I hope that it will take place on the Floor of this House and not in Westminster Hall.
The Chancellor has finally plucked up the courage to come to this House at the start of December to make his autumn statement. We know that the new Environment Secretary is a climate change sceptic, but the Chancellor clearly thinks the climate is warming because in his mind autumn now extends well into December. Given that this Government have decided that autumn now extends into December, can the Leader of the House assure us that the Prime Minister has no plans to cancel Christmas?
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister about the Government’s target to cut debt by 2015. Given that borrowing is up 25% and that the Government are briefing that the Chancellor will abandon his debt target completely, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Chancellor to make an urgent statement in this House on whether the Government are still committed to the target?
The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) gave an interview to The Spectator this week in which he compared himself favourably to Churchill, Pitt and Disraeli. Now, we all share his joy at his appointment to ministerial office after striving so hard to be noticed, but it is not immediately apparent to me, or I suspect to anyone else, why the Under-Secretary of State for Skills thinks he has quite matched the achievements of some outstanding British Prime Ministers. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the hon. Gentleman to make a statement before the recess to enlighten us on his obvious powers?
I think we share across the House a sense of outrage at the attacks on US diplomatic staff in Libya. As the hon. Lady rightly says, the Foreign Secretary, who was in Cairo, responded and made clear the Government’s condolences to the US Government. The attacks of course remind us of the dangers our diplomatic staff run, which we know very well from other such incidents. I know that the Foreign Secretary, if he can, will update the House on how arrangements to secure our staff around the world are being pursued.
Having sat here yesterday and heard the report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel, I share the House’s sense of shock and outrage. From my point of view, as a former Secretary of State for Health, I know that people might not always be able to achieve the standard in professional and public service responsibilities that so many of us believe they would want, but it is shocking that some would go to such lengths to deny the truth, spread misinformation, not follow the evidence or the science and, in those circumstances, leave the families with no awareness of what the post-mortems genuinely meant or what the possibilities had been. I completely share the hon. Lady’s sense of shock that that occurred.
As the hon. Lady rightly said, what has happened is very much to the credit of the families and Members of this House. In response to her question, it does indicate the value of Members of Parliament, and I pay tribute to the way Members have pursued the issues over many years. It says something about the value of this House that we are not part of the establishment, and should not see ourselves as such; we are beyond it, with people being accountable to this House. We should use this House and its powers and privileges to deliver that sense of accountability. In following up the panel’s report, we must continue to make the House exactly that kind of forum for achieving that sense of accountability.
Clearly, Ministers and other authorities must follow up the panel’s report. I know that the Attorney-General will keep the House informed, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, and I will of course keep in close touch with him about keeping the House updated on whatever decisions he might reach. I have announced a debate, which will take place on the Floor of the House, and I am sure that, with the usual channels, we will expedite that so that it can take place as soon as possible, and talk about when the appropriate moment for the debate will be.
The hon. Lady asked about fiscal policy. I have to tell her that the Government’s fiscal policy is very clear, and it enables our plans to meet the targets. With regard to forecasts, the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast, for example, is due at the autumn statement, which I announced today will take place on 5 December.
I am in favour of Christmas. Oliver Cromwell, when Lord Privy Seal—an office I now have the privilege of holding—abolished Christmas but, although we are fond of precedent in this place, I have no plans or intentions to do the same.
Although many tributes were paid to him last week when I was in my constituency, may I, as Father of the House, thank the previous Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), for his service to the House? I have known every Leader of the House since Harry Crookshank in the 1950s, and to my mind my right hon. Friend ranks high among the best of them.
May I add my voice to those who support the statement and campaign of the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster? The campaigners used the then-new e-petitions system to take their campaign to the House so that Members could bring forward yesterday’s statement. That points out the importance of e-petitions to the House.
I welcome the announcement that the 10,000-signature threshold will now trigger a response from the Government. Will the Leader of the House work with the Backbench Business Committee to ensure that every single instigator and signatory of an e-petition will eventually get some kind of response from us?
I enjoyed listening to the work of the Backbench Business Committee this week. I intend to work with the hon. Lady and Members across the House, including my colleagues in the Government, to ensure that those who give their time and energy to bringing issues before the House feel that they are responded to properly and timeously.
Order. A large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but it is highly unlikely that I shall be able to accommodate them all today. There is a statement on Afghanistan to follow and two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. I seek to maximise the number of contributors, so there will be a premium on brevity from the Back Benches and Front Benches alike.
May we have a debate on the future of the Shoeburyness-to-Fenchurch Street line, which is currently under tender? Specifically, can the Government give my commuter constituents reassurance that good rolling stock will not be replaced with old, dirty rolling stock without air conditioning?
May we have an early debate on the marking of GCSE English exams this summer? It is clear that tens of thousands of young people went home in June, confident that they had done everything that their teachers and the examiners asked them to do, only to get devastating results in August. As Ofqual is accountable to the House, should we not have the chance to debate whether the damage being done to those young people’s careers far outweighs any impact of regrading in line with the January assessments?
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have seen that the Education Committee is pursuing precisely those issues, and it is right that it should. The Secretary of State for Education was absolutely right to say that Ofqual is an independent regulator. He did not interfere with its decisions, and, frankly, the Welsh Education Minister is wrong in seeking to substitute his own judgment.
I am in favour of marriage and I do not think we need to debate bigotry because in the House we seek to engage with all our affairs in a way that respects good language. If my hon. Friend is referring to the draft of a speech for the Deputy Prime Minister, I reassure him that the Deputy Prime Minister did not make the remarks and nor did he intend to.
May we have an urgent debate on the situation in Yemen? On Tuesday, the Yemeni Defence Minister narrowly escaped assassination and today 5,000 Yemenis have stormed the American embassy in Sana’a. The country is sliding into civil war. Please may we have an urgent statement?
The right hon. Gentleman has raised an issue that we all recognise is both urgent and increasingly difficult. I will, of course, talk to my colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about it. I do not have knowledge of any immediate opportunity for debate, but I will talk to them about how they might further report to the House.
Yesterday I hosted a meeting for MPs about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. We heard numerous tales of aid not getting through to the people who really need it. When we return from the conference season, may we have a debate or statement on the effectiveness of aid and what changes need to be made to make sure that it is getting to the people who need it?
I will of course ask my colleagues how they might further report to the House. However, I remind hon. Members that the UK is the second largest bilateral donor to the Syrian people, and that it is helping to deliver emergency food aid to 80,000 people a month, shelter for 9,000 families, and urgent medical care for over 50,000 people affected by the fighting.
We do need to have the debate about GCSE marking that was requested. Why will not the Government and Ofqual listen to Mike Whiting, the Conservative cabinet member in Kent county council who said that regrading should take place? Do we not need an urgent debate in the House in Government time?
I will not repeat what I have said other than to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is absolutely right to say that there was no political interference. Ofqual is an independent regulator, and we should respect its independence and its determination to maintain standards.
Four incredibly brave women of the Special Operations Executive were murdered by the SS in Ravensbrück concentration camp on or shortly before 5 February 1945. Their names were Denise Bloch, Cecily Lefort, Lilian Rolfe and Violette Szabo, who was later awarded the George Cross. Former Member of Parliament, Nicholas Bennett, recently visited Ravensbrück and can find no obvious memorial to those real heroes. I am sure that my right hon. Friend, and all Members of this House, will join me in calling on the Government to rectify this situation.
My hon. Friend is right. The courage of the men and women of the Special Operations Executive was remarkable. Members of the House will recall that three years ago that courage was recognised with a memorial on the Albert embankment, including a statue of Violette Szabo. None the less, what my hon. Friend has said about Ravensbrück camp will no doubt have been noticed by the German embassy here.
When, and from whom, may we expect a statement indicating that the Honours Forfeiture Committee is going to look at the honours attached to the names of anyone who was implicated in the scandalous syndicate of deceit that was exposed yesterday? When it does so, will it also consider the case of Derek Wilford, who was clearly indicted by the Saville report?
The Backbench Business Committee has been an outstanding success, and I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) for her leadership in it. However, does the Leader of the House agree that an excessively large number of set-piece debates that used to take place in Government time are now held in Backbench Business Committee time? Is there now an opportunity to increase the amount of time given to Backbench Business Committee debates or, alternatively, to bring back Government-time debates for defence and other things?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his recognition of what a step forward the Backbench Business Committee is. We look forward to it continuing to do its work. As I understand it, part of the intention following the Wright Committee was that some of the debates that were scheduled in Government time should be treated as part of the responsibility of the Backbench Business Committee.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to come to the House before we rise for the recess to clarify the Government’s intentions if, as expected, the United Nations General Assembly is asked to vote before we reassemble on the admission of Palestine as a non-member state of the UN? Last year many hon. Members found it inexplicable, given the UK’s policies, that we should have abstained on the motion at the Security Council. At that time, the Foreign Secretary said that in the event of a motion at the UN General Assembly, different considerations would apply. As this matter could be resolved one way or the other before we reassemble, may we have a statement so that we can respond before the House rises?
The House will be aware of the Government’s view, which I think is widely shared, that the right route is to a two-state solution through negotiation. That will continue to be the Government’s approach. Indeed, depending on the events at the UN General Assembly, Her Majesty’s Government will be seeking to promote such a negotiated solution.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 489?
[That this House notes that the Charity Commission has formally recognised druids as a religion and granted them charitable status, even though they have just 300 members; questions why therefore the Charity Commission has not recognised the Christian Brethren church, which has 16,000 members and more than 300 churches across the country; further notes the extensive community and charitable outreach that the Brethren church does, which has significant public benefit; and finally calls on the Charity Commission to stop the discrimination against this Christian church and to have a level playing field for all religions.]
May we have a debate on the Charity Commission and the recognition of religious groups to find out why it recognises druids but does not recognise the Christian Brethren, who have 16,000 members and 300 churches across the country?
A high street payday loan broker in my constituency has been standing outside a primary school handing out balloons to children and leaflets asking whether they are struggling to afford a school uniform. May we have an urgent debate on effective regulation of this predatory sector?
The ongoing saga of Post Office procurement is getting rather out of hand. There is still no information coming to sub-postmasters from the Post Office. If the Post Office loses the procurement bid, rural post offices will disappear. May we please have a statement or a debate in this House to discuss what is plan B should this go wrong?
I presume that my hon. Friend is talking about the vehicle excise duty contract. That is a live procurement and, as such, it would be incredibly difficult to have any kind of a debate about it. I assure him and the House that last year Government business passing through post offices increased in value, which it had not done for a number of years previously. I reiterate that, as I said last week, the post office local model is giving post offices additional possibilities and business opportunities, and I hope that that will continue.
May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 523?
[That this House deplores the decision of HSBC to close its branch located in Shildon, County Durham; notes that in light of this decision the town of Shildon, home to over 10,000 residents, will be left without any banking facilities meaning residents will be forced to travel several miles to get to their nearest bank; further notes that this decision is especially deplorable in light of the fact that HSBC made a pre-tax profit of £13.7 billion last year and paid their Chief Executive just under £8 million; and finally calls for HSBC to review urgently its decision to close its branch in Shildon.]
The disgraceful proposal to close the HSBC bank branch in Shildon will leave 10,000 people without any banking facilities at all. Will the Leader of the House make time for us to have a debate on how the banks treat ordinary people?
I have every sympathy with the hon. Lady. I remember that in my own constituency, some 10-plus years ago, branches of HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds shut down in villages. As the years have gone on, much of that closure programme has made it increasingly difficult for people to obtain cash and to undertake some of their business. I know that this concerns the House, and I will raise it with my colleagues. It may come up again when banking reform proposals come before the House.
May we have an early debate on restoring public trust in the police? The majority of police are professional, hard-working and honest, but an increasing minority are not, and too often they are pensioned off after internal disciplinary procedures rather than going before the criminal courts, even when they are known to have committed a criminal act.
I think that that is one of the many reasons the whole House will have been shocked by the concerted effort, including by police officers, to misinform and mislead people about the nature of what happened at Hillsborough. This is, in a sense, part of a wider issue about culture. I hope that in discussions with my hon. Friends and the new Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice we may be able to address, together with the police service, further changes in culture. I would not say that there have not been substantial changes. I know personally many of those who feel that over the years there have been substantial changes in the right direction in the police service, but we must look critically at whether more can be done to make sure that there is a culture of openness, transparency and accountability.
The Leader of the House will recall from his previous position the importance of physical activity in promoting the health of the nation and programmes such as Move It that deliver it across the spectrum for thousands of young people. Will he therefore consider a debate on the Olympic legacy, particularly in relation to what that legacy can mean for the health of the nation?
Yes. I share the hon. Gentleman’s view. I hope there will be an opportunity for the House to debate not only the physical, economic and related legacies, but the legacy of promoting sport, which we will do through competitive games in schools, by extending the school games, by improving engagement with community sports clubs, and by promoting physical activity as well as competitive sport. That is what the Change4Life and Games4Life programmes have sought to do and will continue to do.
Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to all the athletes who took part in the British Transplant games, which were held in my constituency? Linked to that, may we have a debate on organ donation and transplants, which help save lives?
I will, of course, look at whether opportunities will emerge for a discussion about organ donation and I recognise that there is an ongoing debate in Wales about the character of the organ donation programme. I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the Transplant games. Papworth and Addenbrooke’s hospitals in my constituency probably conduct more transplants in total than anywhere else in the country. I never fail to be amazed by what is achieved by those who provide transplant services.
Following on from the Business Secretary’s answer to an urgent question on Monday, may we have a debate about this country’s industrial policy? It is hugely important. It is about how we pay our way in the world, how we ensure that we have a robust tax base and how we will provide high-paying jobs in the future, so it deserves a major debate in this House.
The hon. Gentleman may wish to raise with his Front-Bench colleagues their choice of time for debates. What the Business Secretary said clearly is that not only are the Government focusing on an industrial strategy to deliver growth, but the range of measures and our ability to do so are increasing all the time.
Yesterday the Department of Health announced the warm home scheme. May we have a debate on the wide range of measures that the Government are introducing to tackle fuel poverty, so that Members of this House can work with their communities to make sure that the people who most need the help get it this winter?
I am pleased that my colleagues at the Department of Health were able to follow up last year’s initiative of a warm homes healthy people fund and support local authorities and charities with further provision, which was announced earlier this year. It is all about taking practical steps to ensure that people who are vulnerable and frail can be supported by community action.
May we have a debate on ever-increasing energy costs? It is clear that neither we as politicians nor the regulatory bodies are doing anything to protect our constituents. Will the Leader of the House look at what powers this House has to say to major energy companies, “As long as you are recording record profits and as long as you are awarding yourselves £1 million bonuses, you are not doing it at the expense of our constituents”?
The hon. Gentleman will recall how the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Secretary focused on the issue of energy costs more than a year ago. They, along with the regulator, Ofgem, have been focusing on how we can ensure that energy costs and opportunities for those who are at risk with regard to fuel costs are able to access the best possible price for energy.
When pre-legislative scrutiny takes place on the draft Care and Support Bill, how will my right hon. Friend ensure that every Member of the House will be able to engage in the detail, rather than its being a Second Reading debate on a grander scale?
Our intention is that the pre-legislative scrutiny will be undertaken jointly between the two Houses—I hope that that is what will happen. As with any pre-legislative scrutiny, all Members of this House will have an opportunity to make representations about the Bill’s character to the Joint Committee.
The GCSE fiasco is of major national significance. It affects the lives of thousands of young people in their ability to get apprenticeships and jobs and to go on to further study. We need a debate in this House and should not just leave it to the 11 members of the Education Committee. We owe it to the 376,000 young people who took their GCSEs this year to have a debate in this House.
If the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about that, he may wish to talk to his Front-Bench colleagues about how they choose to use Opposition time. I listened to my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary giving excellent answers when he gave evidence to the Education Committee, and I would think that that provides it with a very good basis for its own inquiry.
May we have an urgent debate on community health services? In Milton Keynes the strategic health authority has advised the primary care trust to progress with an NHS-only competitive procurement for our community health service. This goes against a strong local wish for a managed transfer and potentially undermines the innovation and benefit our integrated service is delivering.
My hon. Friend and his neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), have discussed this and I had intended to meet him. I hope that this might be able to be pursued with my successor as Health Secretary. We are always clear where such changes take place that, while it is important to make progress, to do so quickly and to have a system that is viable, it is vital that it carries the confidence of the local decision makers—the council, the public and the clinical commissioners—in how we go forward.
May we have a debate about donations to political parties and their influence? I and many colleagues are concerned about the unions that are calling for co-ordinated action to bring the country to its knees and the amount of money that they donate to the Opposition.
Yes, of course. As Leader of the House, I do not engage in any partisan activity, but it is important that all parties recognise on whose behalf we make representations to the House—we make them on behalf of our constituents. We should not do so, whether as individual Members or as parties, on the basis of outside vested interests, and that applies to the Labour party with regard to the trade unions.