Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 551: debated on Thursday 25 October 2012

House of Commons

Thursday 25 October 2012

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Food Prices

13. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on families of recent trends in food prices. (124660)

My Department actively monitors retail food prices and their impacts on household expenditure. We know that some households are seeing the amount that they spend on food increase. The Government provide safety nets through welfare to support those on low incomes and out of work. We also provide a number of schemes, such as Healthy Start, to help the most vulnerable in our society afford and have access to nutritious food.

The Minister will be aware that the Department’s own book of statistics states that there has been a 12% increase in food prices, and that people are going without fruit and vegetables. The Netmums website states that one in five women are going without food to feed their children. What discussions has he had with his colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that families can feed themselves?

I do not in any way minimise the hon. Lady’s point, but I talk not about food poverty but about poverty. The fact that food prices have gone up means that people are finding it more difficult to make ends meet. We need to continue to talk to colleagues in the DWP and others to ensure that we provide as much support as possible. We also need to do what we can with manufacturers, processors and retailers to ensure, for instance, that vegetables that are perhaps not the best quality are available at a lower price that people can afford. If we do all those things, we can help people through what is undoubtedly a difficult period.

I am pleased to hear the Minister talk about waste within the supply chain. I was much involved in a project called Ugly Food. Can we ensure that we do not just target retailers, who say that they have no waste within their system, but increase waste in the supply chain at the producer and consumer end?

The hon. Lady touches on an important point. Ugly veg is still tasty veg, and there is absolutely no reason it should not be sold. We need to bear down on waste at all points in the food chain. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign is dealing with exactly that and looking at whether we can improve products and practices right the way through the system, to ensure that we minimise waste and get the best possible value for the consumer.

Ebbw Vale food bank fed more than 1,000 Blaenau Gwent families last year, and each month my office issues more and more food vouchers. I am alarmed that low-income families are struggling to put food on the table. What representations has the Minister made to the Chancellor and the Work and Pensions Secretary about growing food poverty and the impact of universal credit?

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that, as I said earlier, what we are talking about is poverty. One thing that I have always stressed is that poverty exists right across the country, in rural areas as well as urban ones, and we need to deal with it. The Government have been taking action to help protect the most vulnerable, and we will continue to do so.

What message would the Minister give to my local authorities, which are taking land out of food production to develop on the green belt when there are perfectly adequate brownfield sites available in the borough?

Order. That is tangentially related indeed to the question, which is not to be encouraged. I am bound to say that a brief reply of a sentence will suffice.

I certainly was not going to touch on the planning issues involved, but I will say that food security ought to concern all of us.

Does the Minister accept that the Government’s plans for minimum alcohol pricing will make alcohol more expensive for hard-working, moderate, responsible drinkers while doing nothing to tackle problem drinking and the problems associated with it? It will also be devastating for the west country cider industry. Will he make representations to his ministerial colleagues to scrap that ill thought out scheme, which is not based on any evidence whatever?

I do not think I need any lessons on the west country cider industry, and indeed I was at apple day in Kingsbury Episcopi only last weekend.

I do not think this matter is directly related to the question asked by the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), but of course there is a continuing debate on the issue, which will involve the Home Office and the Department of Health.

We know that the spending power of hard-working families is being hit by the Government’s flatlining economy and wage stagnation. Shoppers are using self-imposed rationing, putting products back at the checkout and skipping meals to feed their children, yet the Secretary of State has urged shoppers to tackle his so-called “dessert deficit” by eating more UK-produced ice cream. Does he ever feel that he is living in a parallel universe?

This may come as news to the hon. Lady, but there are people in this country who still eat ice cream, and on the whole it is better if they eat British products rather than those imported from overseas. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is absolutely right.

The Minister’s right hon. Friend is in danger of becoming the Marie Antoinette of the Cabinet, but perhaps I should move on.

Last week, the Secretary of State announced the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, and the Minister has spoken about the existence of poverty, in particular rural poverty. More than 1,000 workers in the Secretary of State’s constituency will be worse off as a result of his decision, and his own impact assessment states that abolishing the board will take £238 million of pay over 10 years from rural workers and the rural economy—

Order. I must ask the shadow Secretary of State to relate her question to food prices, not wages, and in a short sentence.

The abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board will take money out of the pockets of workers and put it in those of their employers. On the Opposition Benches we believe that the person who picks the apple should be able to buy the fruit. Why does the Minister not agree?

The national minimum wage is doing a good job of putting a floor under wages in this country, and I see no reason to have extra bureaucracy on top of that.

Dairy Industry

The Dairy Supply Chain Forum and the Dairy 2020 initiative are focused on the future of the industry and opportunities to boost growth and exports. After months of hard work, not least by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice), the many beneficial terms of the industry code of practice can be translated into contracts. Implementing the EU dairy package will provide new opportunities for innovation and collaboration, and £5 million of additional funds from the rural development programme for England are available for high-quality projects from the dairy industry.

Dairy farmers in my constituency are facing high feed costs. Consumers are paying enough for milk, but not enough of that end price goes back to the famer. What more can we do?

I am optimistic that with the voluntary code we have for the first time the basis to be fair to producers, processors, retailers and consumers. I want to make that stick, and I believe that it can make a real difference. As I have said all along, if the voluntary code is not successful, we have the opportunity to bring forward a statutory code, and I will consult on that later this year if necessary.

Further to our discussions last week, what discussions has the Minister had with ministerial colleagues in the devolved institutions about the introduction of a similar voluntary code for the dairy industry in Northern Ireland, where prices are particularly volatile?

That is a matter for the devolved Administrations who have responsibility for agriculture and for what they feel is appropriate for their own jurisdictions. The Government will offer any support and help they can, and provide advice to further the objective of a voluntary code, is that is what is wanted. The Department maintains contact and has conversations with counterparts in the devolved Administrations, and will continue to do so.

In consulting on the European Union dairy package, will the Minister take into consideration the wish of dairy farmers to set up producer organisations to strengthen their hand in the milk market?

I am very aware of that issue, and once we have the final agreement and settlement, I hope to proceed in that area with the utmost possible speed.

Environmental Protection (Home Security)

3. If he will make it his policy to intervene when measures introduced by the Environment Agency or Natural England to enhance the natural environment threaten the safety and security of people’s homes. (124647)

15. How much his Department spent on flood alleviation schemes between (a) 2008 and 2009 and (b) 2010 and 2012 to date. (124663)

There are times when legal requirements to protect the environment could make it more difficult or expensive to protect people’s homes, such as properties at the top of eroding cliffs that are protected for their natural character. However, such cases are rare. If there is a conflict between meeting a requirement to protect the environment and protecting people, there are clauses that allow things to go ahead for imperative reasons of overriding public interest if there are no other solutions.

I do not know how well my hon. Friend knows the West Sussex coast, and the Pagham coast in particular, but over the past few years, a build-up of shingle and sand, known as a spit, has developed at the mouth of the Pagham harbour nature reserve. That spit is causing scouring of the beach through the action of the waves and the seawater trying to escape, and that is eroding the beach by up to several metres a year and beginning to put people’s homes at risk. One solution would be to carve a channel through the spit, but both the Environment Agency and Natural England are resisting that approach. Will the Minister come to Pagham so that I can show him at first hand the problem we are facing?

I had a premonition that Pagham might be mentioned, and therefore yesterday at some length I consulted Natural England and the Environment Agency. They assured me that there are no environmental reasons why solutions cannot be found on that part of the coast; I know that the coastline is extremely dynamic in that part of the country. I am keen to assist my hon. Friend, and I would gladly make such a visit if that would ensure that local people’s fears were allayed, and so that nothing done by any Government agency will be taken as a measure that puts people’s homes more at risk.

When places face flooding, it is important not to ignore the human cost. Fortunately, the floods in York a month ago were not as bad as 12 years ago, but I have once again visited constituents who were hacking plaster off the walls in their homes. They will be out of their homes for months to come and must pay for very expensive renovations. One café owner had to throw out tonnes of food. Can the Environment Agency take responsibility for providing advice to local authorities and for getting the insurance companies to move quickly?

I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. The residents of Water End in his constituency have waited long for a scheme, and it is due to start in the new year. I have huge sympathy for everybody who was flooded throughout the summer. I can assure him that the Environment Agency and any other Government body will take what steps they can to make life easier, including by providing advice to residents through the local authority or directly.

Farmers Markets

I welcome and support farmers markets. I and other DEFRA Ministers have been visiting local communities across the country and encouraging people to eat and drink local produce. I have recently visited a farm near my hon. Friend’s constituency, where I saw farmers produce wonderful food. In buying and eating local food, consumers will support rural jobs and help rural economies to grow. Farmers markets are an excellent way of bringing local producers and consumers together.

Farmers markets are very important to both rural and urban communities, and provide an opportunity for local people to purchase excellent local produce directly from source. The markets also provide a valuable opportunity for independent retailers to access new customers and help them to compete with their larger rivals. Will the Minister consider working with local authorities to champion the importance of farmers markets and promote awareness to people throughout the country of markets in their area?

I welcome what my hon. Friend says. The first successful farmers market was established in Bath in 1997, not a million miles from my constituency. There are some 750 regularly occurring farmers markets in the UK. The National Farmers Retail and Markets Association—FARMA—brings them under a membership organisation. I encourage local authorities to establish farmers markets wherever there is local demand. They make a valuable contribution to local choice, and to the vitality of our town centres.

Flood Insurance

The availability and affordability of insurance in flood-risk areas is an important issue for this Government. We are in intense yet constructive negotiations with the insurance industry on a range of approaches that could succeed the current statement of principles. In the meantime, the Government are continuing to invest in managing the risk of flooding. We are on course to exceed our target to provide better protection to 145,000 households by March 2015.

The statement of principles expires in June next year. It is extremely important that households and small businesses in my constituency get insurance cover and household insurance. They will find little comfort in the Secretary of State’s answer.

I am sorry the hon. Lady is disappointed. Within two days of taking office I had a meeting with Otto Thoresen, the head of the Association of British Insurers. We are engaged in detailed discussions, which I obviously cannot reveal, because we do not negotiate in public. However, I reassure the hon. Lady that the Government take this matter very seriously. We know that the statement of principles runs out next year and that it must be replaced—I hope by something that is more comprehensive and effective.

About 450,000 homes and properties in the country are at risk of flooding. People will find it increasingly difficult to obtain flood insurance, particularly for properties that are built on functional floodplains. Will the Secretary of State take a lead, with his colleague the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to end house building in totally inappropriate areas? Builders leave, developers go away and home owners are left with no insurance.

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is aware that it was agreed in the national planning policy framework that there would be no more building on floodplains. She is quite right that it is absolutely idiotic to build houses in such inappropriate places. However, I reassure her, too, that the Government take this matter seriously. We want to find a solution that follows from the statement of principles, but that is better and more comprehensive.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role as Secretary of State and to his first DEFRA questions. When he took up his new position, was he briefed by his civil servants that the number of schemes deferred had risen, that spending on defences had fallen, that climate change meant that flood risk had risen and that this announcement was dangerously overdue?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my new post.

We are spending £2.17 billion on flood defences. I have visited Nottingham and was in Northwich recently, and there is real value in these schemes, which is why, despite the difficult financial circumstances we inherited from the last Government, these schemes saw only a 6% reduction. They are really good value.

Many residents in Halesowen were badly affected by flooding in 2008 and are concerned about whether they will be able to obtain appropriate flood insurance in the future. Will the Secretary of State reassure them, as I think he already has, that they will be able to obtain appropriate flood insurance and that the Government are doing everything possible to ensure that they can do so?

I would like to reassure my hon. Friend emphatically that we are determined to arrive at a solution to this problem that—I repeat—provides availability and affordability to those who might suffer from floods.


6. What steps he is taking to ensure that rural areas have access to reliable and high-speed broadband. (124651)

I recently met my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to discuss speeding up the roll-out of the £530 million rural broadband programme. Together, we are determined to deliver this quickly in order to provide 90% of premises with superfast broadband at 24 megabits per second and elsewhere with standard broadband of at least 2 megabits per second by 2015. The Government’s £20 million rural community broadband fund helps extend superfast broadband in the most rural locations.

Many of the good people of Bracknell and Finchampstead have long had to suffer from poor broadband access despite my constituency being close to the heart of the UK’s IT industry. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that the Government make the right decisions so that all my constituents can take full advantage of the digital revolution?

I entirely sympathise with my hon. Friend. If he thinks it is bad in Bracknell, he should come to North Shropshire. This is an absolute priority for us. At one bound, broadband overcomes the centuries-long disadvantage of working in a rural area. We are determined to roll it out, which is why I am working closely with my Cabinet colleagues and why we have relaxed the planning constraints for five years—to get this through and done.

No, Secretary of State: come to Rathlin Island—the situation there is absolutely abominable. It is an island off an island that requires reliable broadband so that people who require medical scripts and everything else can get them quickly. I hope that he rolls out the new broadband service across the whole of the UK, including Ulster and Rathlin Island.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to Rathlin Island. He will be pleased to know that I was there a few months ago, in my previous post—it has the most wonderful puffin reserve, which is well worth visiting. He touched on health, which is an important element. We all think about the business angle, but there are real advantages in delivering health care in rural areas. Another key element is helping elderly people, for whom it is a boon, when they are isolated, to be able to contact their relations, shop online and stay in touch with the real world.

I am happy to focus on broadband across rural areas, Mr Speaker.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that all the programmes that the Government are funding, such as the one in Cornwall, which involves European Union structural funds, prioritise the areas that are still on dial-up? I am concerned that we are concentrating on superfast broadband—areas that some companies would have got to in a few years anyway—when we need to prioritise those still on dial-up.

I entirely sympathise with my hon. Friend’s comments about the problems in rural areas—I have already touched on the problems in my constituency. It is an absolute priority for us to get functioning broadband that works right across the country by 2015.

This week I met representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses, who were almost as eloquent as the Secretary of State in expressing the desire of small businesses in rural areas to play their part in reviving the rural economy. However, they cannot do so because of a lack of rural broadband. Will the Secretary of State admit that abolishing Labour’s universal broadband pledge—a pledge to bring broadband to everybody by the end of this year—was a huge mistake?

I am happy to accept the hon. Lady’s comment on my eloquence, but I do not accept her criticism of what we are doing. We think that what we are doing is going to work. We are working closely with the European Commission, with local government and with BT and the other providers. We have to get this done. We have a plan and we are going to deliver it.

Rural Businesses

A £165 million package of measures to support rural economic growth is being rolled out across England. Of that, £100 million of rural development funding is targeted at improving rural businesses, with 38 projects in Staffordshire already receiving funding under the farming and forestry improvement scheme and seven projects being actively considered for rural economy grants. Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent local broadband plan has also been allocated £7.44 million from the Government’s £530 million rural broadband programme.

Halfpenny Green vineyard in my constituency has over the past 30 years been producing some of the finest quality English wines. It has become an important local employer and is a perfect example of the importance of farm diversification. Indeed, Mr Speaker, the wine is so good that I am sure I would even be able to provide you with a bottle—if I was able to get called earlier in statements. [Interruption.] Maybe even two bottles. Can my right hon. Friend explain what steps he is taking to encourage rural diversification for farmers?

The hon. Gentleman may wish to develop his thoughts at greater length in an Adjournment debate.

I am only mildly piqued that I have not been offered a bribe. I can assure my hon. Friend that this Government are serious about offering encouragement. For years, Ministers have been telling the farming community that it has to diversify its business, but then, in other directions, they have been putting up barriers to that. We are doing that work with highly focused grants, such as the ones I have described. We are also providing broadband, which is a key deliverer, and support across a range of other measures to ensure that businesses precisely such as the one that my hon. Friend describes can function and are economically effective.


8. What research his Department is conducting on the means by which honey bees are exposed to agricultural pesticides. (124654)

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs fully appreciates the importance of honey bees and other pollinators. We need to understand the possible threats in order to tackle them. To that end, we continue to fund a number of research projects on the potential impacts of pesticides. That will enable us to develop the way in which such risks are assessed and regulated. In addition, DEFRA contributes to the insect pollinators initiative, which supports research into the main threats to insect pollinators.

My hon. Friend will know that research at Stirling university has recently found that exposure to even low levels of neonicotinoid pesticides can have a serious impact on the health of bumble bees. Given the importance of bees, both to our farmers and to all those who are interested in pollinating crops, does the Minister agree that his Department needs to look again at the use of these pesticides?

Yes I do, and we are. The Health and Safety Executive’s chemical regulation directorate, along with the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and the European Food Safety Authority, have looked in detail at Stirling university’s research. They believe that it is interesting and adds to the debate, but that on balance the risks do not require a ban of neonicotinoids. However, in DEFRA we have commissioned further research, through the Food and Environment Research Agency, using expertise from Stirling university, which provided the original piece of research, because we want to make absolutely sure that we are getting this right.

The Minister will be aware that the Environmental Audit Committee is undertaking an inquiry into hive collapse, bees and pesticides. Will he undertake to ensure that his Department supports the inquiry to the best possible extent and also responds at the earliest possible date to its outcome?

I hope that in the reply I gave to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) I showed the seriousness with which we are looking at this issue. We know that pollinators benefit our economy by around £450 million a year. That is a service that nature provides. We want to make absolutely sure that we are protecting that, and we will work with any organisation that is doing research of that kind.

Badger Culling

The badger culling pilots, which we now plan for next year, will test the effectiveness, safety and humaneness of controlled shooting. Our plans for an independent expert panel to oversee the design and analysis of the data collection have not changed. Monitoring will include field observations and post-mortems. If monitoring indicates that controlled shooting is an acceptable technique, the policy will be rolled out more widely.

Obviously, I am aware that there will be a major debate on this subject later today, but may I ask the Secretary of State why DEFRA got the number of badgers living in each pilot cull area so wrong? Why did he undertake a survey only last month, weeks before the cull was due to start?

The answer is that we did not get the numbers wrong: we got them accurately and in a scientific manner, but the National Farmers Union, which had geared up for a lower number, requested that we postpone the culls. We and the NFU are following the science rigorously.

But if we do not proceed with the culls next year is not the risk that the impact on farmers’ livelihoods and mental health will continue? This is a dreadful disease and it is extremely distressing to farmers that they have to cope with it.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is not just the trauma of the appalling loss—26,000 cattle last year—but every time a herd is tested it is difficult for farmers. Some animals become violent, and the disease, not just the culling, is causing regular stress. It is essential that we go ahead with the culls next summer and prove that they work, so that we bear down on disease in wildlife and in cattle.

If the cull does not go ahead, what is the risk that the Secretary of State will be sued by farmers for the losses they will incur, and what will the chaos cost the taxpayer?

Will my right hon. Friend explain why circumstances next year will be different from those this year, enabling the culls to go ahead and reduce the incidence of bovine TB and not spread it?

I explained at some length in my statement the other day, in which I spoke for, I think, 90 minutes, that certain circumstances led to the NFU’s decision to request that we postpone. There will be time to prepare. There will be no hitches next year: we will deliver this policy.

The Minister might be aware that I made myself very unpopular among Labour Members when I voted against the ban on hunting with dogs. I therefore know what it is like to make an unpopular decision, but the badger cull is wrong: it is wrong because these wonderful creatures roamed this country before we did and it is wrong because it would destroy tens of thousands of living animals. There is no scientific evidence that it would do any good, so the Secretary of State should stop listening to farmers and listen to the great British public and Mr Brian May.

I respect the hon. Gentleman for his independence of judgment but—I am sorry—we disagree. The science is clear: after nine years there was a 28% reduction in the culled area. If we look at New Zealand, Australia or the Republic of Ireland—I talked to a farmer in France on Monday—we see that there is not a single country that is struggling with TB in its cattle industry that is not bearing down on wildlife and cattle, and we will do that.

The Secretary of State blames the NFU for stopping the cull and the media blame No.10, but either way we can all understand the Secretary of State’s reluctance to take responsibility for this setback. May I ask him, on a scale of one to 100—I know that is a risky prospect, as arithmetic is not his Department’s strongest suit—how likely it is that the cull will go ahead next June?

I am not blaming anybody. I have been working very closely with the NFU since I took office. I have been studying this issue since I was the shadow spokesman and put down 600 questions, taking a serious, detailed interest in it. This is the right policy. It is the policy pursued by every other country, as I have said. Unlike with the vapid pronouncements we have had from the Opposition, this Government will take on a deadly disease, which is a zoonosis, so if we do not get a grip on it, it will prove a risk to human beings.

In view of that and of my right hon. Friend’s answer, it is important to base things on sound science. If he has read the science and understands the answers he has received to the 600 questions, he will know that the 12% to 16% reduction has to be viewed against a rise elsewhere. It will not rise as much as it would have done otherwise, but it is still a rise in bovine TB. Does he not accept that?

No, I dislike disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman, with whom I used to work closely on the EFRA Committee and when I was the shadow spokesman. The evidence is absolutely clear: there was a 28% reduction in disease after nine years in the cull area. That is why we are going ahead next year.

Carbon Reporting

10. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Financial Reporting Council in respect of mandatory carbon reporting. (124657)

Officials are in discussion with the Financial Reporting Council ahead of the introduction of mandatory carbon reporting to ensure effective enforcement of this new requirement.

In a recent written answer, the Minister estimated that the benefits of mandatory carbon reporting stood at £741 million over 10 years compared with just £28 million in compliance costs. Given the clear economic, social and environmental benefits of mandatory carbon reporting, with he give the FRC the teeth it needs to crack down on companies that continue to flout the law?

My Department does not have responsibility for the Financial Reporting Council—the hon. Lady will understand that—but it has proved very effective at ensuring that legislation that applies to carbon reporting is upheld. We recently held a consultation on the draft regulation, which closed on 17 October, and we received about 100 responses. We will look very carefully at them.

Topical Questions

I remind Back-Bench and Front-Bench Members alike that topical questions and answers are supposed to be brief. We have a lot to get through; let us be brisk.

I begin by paying tribute to the great work done by my right hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice). I want to build on their efforts over the past two years by galvanising the rural economy while improving the environment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome this morning’s growth figures. We should not all jump at one set of figures, but growth of 1% is significant, and I really want the rural economy to play a part in future growth. Abroad, I will represent the United Kingdom in the European negotiations and I will promote British exports at every opportunity.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new responsibilities. Does he know that in my constituency the big water users such as textiles and brewers are now in decline—and many have disappeared—with the consequence that the water table is rising? Will he meet me, representatives from the city of Nottingham and the Local Government Authority to discuss sustainable urban defences against flooding? Would he please meet us soon?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Happily, I was in Nottingham during my first week in office, looking at a £45 million flood defence scheme. I thought it was brilliant, not only in protecting 16,000 houses but, more importantly—I did not realise this until I went there—revealing 500 acres of previously blighted land that is now open for development by the private sector. I am interested in what he has to say. I will work on this issue with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who is the big expert, so it might be better for him to meet the hon. Gentleman.

T2. I was encouraged by the Secretary of State’s earlier comments on fixed line broadband, improving accessibility, reducing red tape and speeding up the planning process. Will he reassure me that that action extends to mobile communications in rural areas, as we need to extend the mast size and reduce red tape in this sector, too? (124665)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is dealing with this matter at Cabinet level. This is vital to the roll-out of the broadband scheme. We have already made a decision to relax planning for a five-year period to make sure that nothing can get in the way of the roll-out of broadband 2 for the most remote rural communities.

T6. In response to the recent statement on the badger cull in the House of Lords, the noble Lord Krebs urged Ministers to gather together scientific experts and rethink the Government’s strategy altogether. Why does the Secretary of State not do just that? (124669)

We have been over this ground on several occasions during the last few days. We are absolutely clear about the fact that the scientific analysis of the trials conducted by the Government that the hon. Lady supported show a 28% reduction in the culled area. That is the information that we are going on, because it is scientifically based.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. There were reports on the radio this morning about the horrific danger to our 80 million ash trees. We have already launched a consultation on the ground, involving a detailed investigation into whether the disease has taken root in the country. The results of that consultation will be reported to me tomorrow, and I shall discuss it over the weekend with the head of the Forestry Commission. However, on the basis of the evidence that we have seen so far, I intend to introduce a ban on imports and tight restrictions on ash movements in Great Britain on Monday.

T7. We were told that the Government would help local authorities with the costs of the floods. Now we have been told that those in Newcastle do not count, and that the city council will have to find £10 million from a budget that is being halved by the Government. Why is it that in Newcastle we have the wrong sort of water? (124670)

An improved scheme called the Bellwin scheme kicks in when spending related to flood damage hits a certain threshold, enabling local authorities to apply to the Government for extra funds. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise specific concerns with me, I shall be happy to consider them, but the Bellwin scheme has been accepted for many years.

T4. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the impact of onshore wind farms on local environments such as Frodsham Marsh in my constituency? Plans for a wind turbine farm there have just been confirmed.

Along with the Department for Energy and Climate Change, we are conducting a review of policies relating to onshore wind. I hope that my hon. Friend will contribute his concerns and those of his local community to that review, because we want to ensure that local communities work with the Government and do not feel put upon by them when it comes to renewable energy systems.

T8. In 2009, the Minister said :“any weakening of the Agricultural Wages Board or its abolition would further impoverish the rural working class, exacerbating social deprivation and the undesirable indicators associated with social exclusion”.What has changed, and how would he explain that change to the 1,020 workers who were previously protected by the board in his constituency? (124671)

I think I know rather more about workers in my constituency than the hon. Gentleman. I am aware of the circumstances in the agricultural industry, and I am also aware that there are now many protections for low-paid workers. I would not be proceeding with the consultation unless I was convinced that this was in the interests of those who work in my constituency and throughout the country.

T5. Forty-eight animals have been slaughtered in the port of Ramsgate owing to the resumption of live animal exports. What procedures have been introduced to deal with the crises that we have been experiencing in Thanet? (124668)

As my hon. Friend knows, the circumstances in Ramsgate—about which we have spoken—were entirely unacceptable. I want to make that absolutely clear. I immediately asked for a report to be drawn up by officials who were working on animal health regulation, which they will submit to me shortly. I shall be happy to share their findings with my hon. Friend.

We have no power to ban live exports, but I do have powers to ensure that the regulations that are in place are enforced strictly and rigorously, and I shall do so.

When I introduced my Food Waste Bill earlier this year, I thought that I was making good progress in convincing the then Minister in the House of Lords of the need for legislation to protect good-faith donors of food to charities from criminal and civil liability, but I now have the impression that DEFRA is trying to hide behind EU food safety standards. What are Ministers doing to move things forward?

On the day I was appointed, the hon. Lady very kindly twittered that she did not like me. However, I shall put that aside and say that I shall be happy to discuss the background to her Bill with her if she wishes, and see if the Department can do anything to help.

Order. So that the Minister does not feel sorry for himself, I should point out that the Speaker likes all hon. Members. I call Mr Bob Blackman to ask Question 9. He is not here.

T10. Although Thurrock is an urban constituency on the edge of London, a large proportion of it is rural and lacks decent broadband provision. In light of the Minister’s previous answer, can he confirm that villages such as Bulphan, Orsett and Horndon-on-the-Hill will be in line for improved broadband provision? (124673)

My hon. Friend might like to encourage those villages to apply for the third round of the rural community broadband fund. That will be running from January, so there is time for his communities to get their bids in. He makes a good point: instead of talking only about the most remote communities, we must remember that there are rural communities close to urban areas that have appalling broadband, too.

Towards the end of last week I met a constituent whose new insurance premium has gone up by some 8%. She lives in an area that has occasionally been flooded, and the massive increase plus the excessive excess means this lady will have to abandon her home. Does the Minister know how many businesses and residential properties are now being abandoned because people cannot afford flood insurance?

The hon. Gentleman makes a highly pertinent point. The statement of principles is not working at present, and affordability is a key part of that. I have meetings coming up shortly with the Association of British Insurers and I will establish its latest figures, but we want to resolve this: we are determined to get to the bottom of it, because I totally sympathise with people such as the hon. Gentleman’s constituent.

Can the Minister confirm that the moneys available in the rural community broadband fund that come from the European Union will not be subject to European state aid rules?

We hope in the next few weeks to make an announcement about satisfactory conclusions in respect of negotiations with the European Commission. That will be a major step forward.

The Secretary of State should have banned the import of ash seedlings the minute disease was found in nurseries in this country. He will not be forgiven for any delay by the people of this country, who so value the ash trees. Will he ensure that the Forestry Commission has all the resources it needs to be able to confront this terrible threat?

I think the right hon. Lady is being pretty unfair. The minute we heard about this, we launched a consultation. That will report tomorrow. On the basis of evidence—[Interruption.] All the right hon. Lady’s colleagues are shouting at me about evidence and science-based information, and from tomorrow evening I will look at the evidence, and if it is sensible to ban imports, I will take that decision and make restrictions on Monday.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his Department’s announcement last week of the launch of an agricultural science strategy. Does he agree that British agricultural science has the potential to boost our great industry and support emerging markets around the world?

I very much welcome the initiative, which is a joint venture between ourselves and our colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I believe we have an enormous amount to offer in both growing our own industry and offering technology which is of value across the world in dealing with issues of food security.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Diocese of Leeds

1. What annual savings the Church Commissioners expect to make from the creation of the Diocese of Leeds? (124674)

Before I answer the question, may I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Stuart Bell, who served as Second Church Estates Commissioner for some 13 years, the longest period anyone has served in that post since Parliament created it in the mid-1830s? He did so with considerable diligence and sensitivity. He will be much missed, and may his soul rest in peace.

Following consultation on its initial draft reorganisation scheme for the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield, the Church of England Dioceses Commission expects to publish a revised draft scheme on 29 October. Accompanying its report will be a statement on the effect of the proposals, if implemented, on the mission of the Church of England and a detailed estimate of their financial impacts.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. We all appreciate that savings need to be made, but with the proposed abolition of the Bradford diocese and its incorporation into a larger Leeds diocese, what steps will be taken to ensure that the communities across the Bradford district will not be given less priority in the Church of England?

May I suggest to my hon. Friend that he discuss his concerns with the Bishop of Bradford, who I am sure will be able to reassure him that the Christian and Church of England mission in his constituency will in no way be diminished by these proposals? One of the greatest threats to the Church’s mission in his constituency is the continuing theft of lead from churches. No fewer than six churches in his constituency have had lead stolen from their roofs—St Peter’s church in Shipley has had lead stolen on four separate occasions, notwithstanding protections such as SmartWater. So may I take this opportunity to entreat my hon. Friend, as I know the Bishop of Bradford and the Archbishop of York will, not to frustrate the Third Reading of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill when it comes before the House soon?

Women Bishops

2. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the likelihood of the Church of England making a decision on women bishops in 2012. (124675)

3. What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have had with Church of England bishops on the Women Bishops Measure. (124676)

The General Synod will resume on 20 November the final approval debate on the legislation to enable women to become bishops. I will be voting for the Measure, and I hope and pray that at least two thirds of the members of every house of the General Synod will vote to ensure that, at last, we can have women bishops in the Church of England.

May I associate myself and my colleagues with the thanks and the tributes to Sir Stuart Bell for his service in this area?

The message I hope this House will send via my hon. Friend to the Synod is that not only do we want the Synod to make a final decision this month that clearly says women can be bishops in the Church of England, as a legacy of the outgoing archbishop and as a tribute to his work, but we need the Church of England to catch up into the 21st century if it is to do a good job for everybody. I hope that there is no more shilly-shallying, that the Synod gets on with it and that we get a clear decision so that we can move to having women bishops.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. May I commend to his attention, and to that of other right hon. and hon. Members, an article written by the Archbishop of Canterbury in last week’s Church Times, which is available in the Library? He stated that

“a Church that ordains women as priests, but not as bishops, is stuck with a real anomaly, one that introduces an unclarity into what we are saying about baptism and about the absorption of the Church in the priestly self-giving of Jesus Christ.”

We have been waiting far too long to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England—now is the time to take action and resolve this issue, once and for all.

In his conversations with the bishops, will the hon. Gentleman tell them that just because House of Lords reform has been abandoned they should not feel any less pressure to do this and that a failure to agree a Measure that gives women bishops equal status with male bishops would still lead to a severe constitutional crisis between Church and state?

In fairness, I think that the House of Bishops recognises that, and when it met last it amended the Measure in a way that should commend support. Indeed, the bishops took a lead on that from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in the same article, made it clear that he thought the ordination or consecration of women as bishops was good for the whole world. He said:

“It is good news for the world we live in, which needs the unequivocal affirmation of a dignity given equally to all by God in creation and redemption—and can now, we hope, see more clearly that the Church is not speaking a language completely remote from its own most generous and just instincts.”

There is clear leadership from the House of Bishops and from the archbishops that we now need to consecrate women bishops.

May I say how much Sir Stuart Bell will be missed by all in the House?

I hope that a strong message will go out from this House that we support women bishops and that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be drawn from the widest possible church in this regard.

I wish to associate myself with the comments about Stuart Bell, who is very badly missed.

The Church has spent many years avoiding this issue, so if the Synod fails to do the right thing, what does the hon. Gentleman think the consequences will be for the future of the Church of England?

I think that the consequences for the Church of England will be very grim indeed. I hope that the General Synod, and those who might be tempted to vote against this Measure in it, will reflect on that point.


4. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the contribution of Church of England cathedrals to the UK’s cultural and spiritual life. (124677)

The evidence of a recent report shows a 30% increase in attendance at cathedral services in the Church of England over the last 10 years. The Church of England’s figures estimate that 12 million people visited an Anglican cathedral or royal peculiar, such as Westminster abbey, last year. A recent report confirms that finding by stating that more than 27% of England’s adult population made such a visit in the last 12 months.

I assume my hon. Friend is referring to the recent Theos report, “Spiritual Capital: The Present and Future of English Cathedrals”. Does he agree that cathedrals are much more than vital tourist destinations and play an important role in building social and spiritual capital? They act as a hub to connect communities through social action work, such as that of street pastors or homeless projects, and also allow many people to feel, as the report states, that

“the cathedral gives me a greater sense of the sacred than I get elsewhere”.

I entirely agree that cathedrals are centres of spirituality, reflection and history. Some 300,000 children visited cathedrals last year and 15,000 people are regular volunteers at cathedrals. They are a fantastic resource for England and are much to be celebrated.

Richard III

5. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the potential Church sites available for the reburying of King Richard III. (124677)

10. What discussions the Church Commissioners have had on laying to rest the remains of King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral. (124683)

The remains that are thought to be those of Richard III are at present with Leicester city council’s museums department and the university of Leicester’s archaeological department, which are carrying out tests to see whether it can be demonstrated that the remains are indeed those of Richard III. Once those tests are concluded, the nature, place and marking of any reinterment will need seriously to be considered.

Will the hon. Gentleman let it be known to the warring factions of York and Leicester and to the Church Commissioners of the Church of England that the great priory of Worksop, which is halfway between the two cities at the end of the road through the forest, and which is at the centre of the kingdom of Richard III, can provide the most appropriate final resting place for the king?

I can see that there will be quite a lot of competition. If there is conclusive evidence that these are the remains of Richard III, the tradition would be that they would be reinterred in the nearest Christian church or cathedral, which happens to be Leicester cathedral. In such circumstances, I hope it would be possible to arrange a meeting with the dean of Leicester to see how that could happen.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I am sure that Worksop has many fine qualities, but given that it was the Grey friars who took the body of Richard and buried him at what was then the Greyfriars church—a site just a stone’s throw from Leicester cathedral—and that he has been in Leicester for 500 years, is it not most appropriate that he should be finally laid to rest at Leicester cathedral?

I understand that point of view, and once we know the provenance of the remains I shall seek to use my best offices to arrange a meeting with the dean of the cathedral and others to ensure that this can be done in a proper and timely way.

I was concerned about how many other kings might come up, as I never thought my career would involve the question of how we might bury kings. I am glad to say that the Church can account for all of them. I am afraid to say that the head of Charles, king and martyr, is still separated from his body, but they are both at St George’s, Windsor. The only one still missing is Henry I, who seems to have got lost somewhere in Reading after the dissolution of the monasteries. I can account for all the other kings and queens being properly and Christianly buried.

I must say to my dear and hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) that it is not 500 years but 527 years since Richard was killed. Despite that passage of time, he is still very well regarded in York. [Laughter.] We have a museum to Richard III—

My hon. Friend should not tempt me down that path.

We respect Richard III enormously. But to argue on the Floor of this place over his mortal remains is more like medieval cathedrals fighting over saints’ relics. I do not think it is appropriate. I have heard what the spokesman for the Church Commissioners says, and they are wise words.

War Memorials

6. What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to prevent metal theft from war memorials in church grounds. (124679)

The theft of metal from war memorials is a distressing and despicable crime and an affront to the memory of those who gave their lives to the service of this country.

The Church of England has been active in its support of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, which will shortly have its Third Reading in the House. At a local level, the Church of England continues to offer advice and support to help churches to implement security measures that will make the theft less attractive while allowing the public to visit memorials without hindrance, and the Church is also working at local level with communities and the War Memorials Trust to preserve the names recorded on memorials and to clean, renovate and repair memorials in advance of the centenary of the commencement of world war one.

All of us welcome the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill to deal with this heinous crime, but does my hon. Friend agree that the churches themselves need to engage with local scrap metal dealers so that there is not the repetition of this offence on a local basis?

Yes, and dioceses and churches are already doing that. Responsible scrap metal dealers should be conscious of their responsibilities in that regard as well.

electoral commission

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter Registration

8. What steps the Electoral Commission is taking to increase voter registration (a) in general and (b) among young people. (124681)

The commission runs public information campaigns before elections and referendums to encourage people to register to vote. The campaigns are targeted towards groups less likely to be on the electoral register, including young people. The commission also provides guidance and sets standards for awareness to be raised locally by electoral registration officers, for which it has provided a range of resources to help them to do this, including template posters, press advertisements and press releases. Where underperformance is found, the commission provides EROs with targeted support.

I am aware that many initiatives focused towards young people involve the use of social media, and I can twitter with the best of them, but will the hon. Gentleman give me the assurance that these social media tools will not be used as a replacement for more practical ways of getting young people to sign up to vote?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is important to target public awareness campaigns towards young people in a way that is most likely to attract their attention, for example, by using TV and radio advertising, but on channels that they are likely to watch, which you and I, Mr Speaker, are probably not likely to watch.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—


9. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the potential support which they can provide to Christian communities in Syria. (124682)

Lambeth Palace and the Church of England are in regular contact with Christian development and mission agencies as to how best the Church might support vulnerable communities in Syria. However, the nature of the conflict in Syria means that it is proving incredibly difficult to give support to those communities in most need. The Archbishop of Canterbury remains in regular contact with religious leaders in Syria as well as with religious leaders from neighbouring countries.

The Christian community in Syria is one of the oldest in the world and one of the largest in the middle east. Indeed, was it not St Paul himself who was converted on the road to Damascus? Is there not a very grave danger that if the wrong people come out on top in the present conflict in Syria there could be a bloodbath of Christians on a biblical scale?

Yes, and that is why the Church of England is using such influence as we have to talk to the Russian ambassador and others here and in other countries around the world to present humanitarian concerns arising from the conflict in Syria and to encourage the Russian Government to play a more constructive role in resolving the conflict to try to seek to avoid a bloodbath of Christians and others.

Business of the House

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 29 October—Second Reading of the Public Service Pensions Bill.

Tuesday 30 October—Second Reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.

Wednesday 31 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to EU budget simplification and the multi-annual financial framework.

Thursday 1 November—A debate on a motion relating to the beer duty escalator, followed by a debate on a motion relating to air passenger duty. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 2 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 5 November will include:

Monday 5 November—Second Reading of the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill.

Tuesday 6 November—Second Reading of the HGV Road User Levy Bill, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to banking union and economic and monetary union.

Wednesday 7 November—Opposition Day [8th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. The subject is to be announced.

Thursday 8 November—A debate on a motion relating to the medium-term financial plan for the House of Commons administration and savings programme. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 9 November—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 8 November will be:

Thursday 8 November—A debate on regulation of claims management companies.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. We welcome the fact that Britain has finally emerged from recession, but we should never have been in a double-dip recession in the first place. It was a recession created in Downing street by a part-time Chancellor who cut too far, too fast.

The Jimmy Savile case has rightly caused widespread disgust. There are serious questions for the BBC to answer, questions that were not answered during the director-general’s unsatisfactory appearance before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, but the issue goes much further. As happened in the Rochdale scandal only this year, it appears that in the Jimmy Savile case victims’ complaints were not taken seriously. We need to learn these lessons and, for the sake of the victims, uncover the truth. An independent inquiry is needed, so may we have an urgent statement from the Home Secretary?

I have been keeping a list of the occasions when Ministers blame the weather for the omnishambles. So far, the Government have blamed the poor performance of the economy on the snow, before deciding that the reason was in fact too much rain. Then the Immigration Minister blamed the chaos at Heathrow border control on the wrong type of wind. Now the Environment Minister has blamed too much rain for the U-turn on the badger cull. We have seen the badger U-turn, the Energy Bill shambles, the west coast main line fiasco, plebgate, and only today it appears that Ministers have got their sums wrong on tuition fees. It is not the weather that is to blame; it is the Government’s incompetence. Ministers need to get a grip, so may we have an urgent statement on what has gone wrong from the man who is meant to be in charge of Government competence: the Deputy Prime Minister?

The abolition of child benefit for higher earning taxpayers was one of the Government’s first shambles. The complex rules introduced by the Chancellor mean that from January an estimated half a million households will have to complete self-assessment tax forms for the first time. Many people have raised concerns that, weeks away from this change, Revenue and Customs has not written to families to warn them. There are those who have suggested that the Government’s reluctance to send out those letters might have something to do with the upcoming elections for police and crime commissioners. May we have an urgent statement from the Chancellor setting out how his Department will let families know of impending child benefit changes?

Only a few weeks ago, following the Prime Minister’s botched reshuffle, at business questions I paid tribute to the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), saying:

“Over the years, he has surprised political pundits with his Lazarus-style tendencies, and perhaps even this time he is merely on a sabbatical and will be back.”—[Official Report, 6 September 2012; Vol. 549, c. 383.]

And he is back! It is a miracle. Given my predictive powers, the House might be interested to know that my tip for the 4.25 at Doncaster tomorrow is Flashman. I also predict that there will be another omnishambles along soon.

May we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on fare dodgers? Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the conductor on the Virgin train service who refused to let the Chancellor have a free ride? The hapless part-time Chancellor was bundled out of the goods exit at Euston to avoid the waiting media, and it was left to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) to bat for the Government. His explanation was that “train tickets are so confusing it is easy to get into the wrong carriage.” No wonder this Government have gone off the rails.

This week the man in charge of crisis management in No. 10 emerged from the bunker, blinking into the light of day, to offer his own explanation for the shambles. In a bizarre interview, he said that

“you’ll get surprised by what’s going on”

and that he was

“surprised on a day-to-day basis”.

But Government Back Benchers will be pleased to know that Mr Dowden—for it is he—has a strategy:

“the first thing I do in the morning”,

he said, is to

“turn on the Today programme and hear what’s going on”.

So two and a half years into office, the Government are divided, Back Benchers are in revolt, and Government policies are unravelling daily, and the best strategy that No. 10 has come up with is to listen to the “Today” programme. We just can’t go on like this.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House; I enjoyed that. I am not a betting man, but if I were I would never bet against my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young)—that’s for sure. It is a pleasure to have him back among our colleagues, although I have always valued my right hon. Friend the former Chief Whip as a colleague and pay tribute to his time in Government. We should all reflect on what a tremendous contribution he has made around the world as International Development Secretary.

To pursue the hon. Lady’s analogy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, indeed, the Government are on the right track. The figures published this morning for quarter 3 growth, to which she referred for about 12 seconds, are a reflection of the right approach being taken by this Government. I understood her to say that we should not have been in this position; indeed we should not. We were in this position because we inherited an economy that was close to bankruptcy from a Government who had spent without thought and put us into enormous debt. The debt has been at the heart of this, and Labour Members seem never to learn. They never seem to understand that the answer to this country’s problems in resolving the deficit and the debts is not more borrowing.

What the shadow Leader of the House said was entertaining, but, when it comes down to it, it was, frankly, trivia. What really matters is what is actually happening in this country, and she neglected that. This morning’s growth statistics are very encouraging and illustrative of the progress that is being made. The Chancellor said at an early stage that the recovery would be choppy, and indeed it has been, but these figures illustrate where we are going.

Another illustration of our being on the right track is that the employment situation is so much improved. The latest statistics show that there are over 1 million more people in private sector employment since the election, that youth employment is improving, that the number of people on out-of-work benefits is down, that inflation is down, and that new company creation in 2011 was the best ever, with over 1,230 new companies being created per day.

Beyond the economic sphere, the latest figures show that crime rates are down by 6%. In the NHS, which is of course closest to my heart, waiting times are among the very best we have ever seen, including a reduction in the number of those waiting over a year for their treatment in the NHS, which was some 18,000-plus at the time of the last election and is now down to nearly 2,000. I hope that the shadow Leader of the House will reflect on the realities across the country rather than on Westminster trivia.

The hon. Lady made an important point about the investigations relating to Jimmy Savile. Independent inquiries are being undertaken by the police, as a criminal investigation, and by Kate Lampard on behalf of the NHS, and there are two BBC inquiries led by Nick Pollard and by Dame Janet Smith. All those inquiries are independent and I see no reason at this stage for us to think that there would be any merit in seeking to overturn those inquiries, which are making progress. We must simply make sure that, as I know they will, they all respect and understand the fact that the police’s criminal investigation must take precedence.

The shadow Leader of the House also asked about business relating to—[Interruption.] Actually, perhaps she did not ask any other questions, so I will leave it there.

Order. A very large number of hon. and right hon. Members are, as usual on this occasion, seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that business under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee will follow. There are two pieces of such business, both of which are of intense topical interest. The second piece is a debate and I can tell the House—because I have the list—that it is extremely heavily subscribed. If I am to accommodate colleagues now, within a limited time frame, brevity from Members on the Back and Front Benches alike is essential. We will be led in that by Caroline Nokes.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will no doubt be aware of the announcement by Ford today of the closure of the Transit factory in Swaythling in my constituency, with the loss of 500 manufacturing jobs and potential further losses in the supply chain. Will he please find time for a debate on this serious matter, which affects not just my constituency, but the surrounding constituencies of many right hon. and hon. Members?

I am sure that the whole House will share my hon. Friend’s regret at the loss of any jobs, particularly those in a major plant in her constituency. She will know that Ministers will be focused, as they have been elsewhere, on trying to provide whatever help and support they can. She will also know that this is in the context of many very positive announcements in recent months by the motor vehicle industry, including that this country is a net exporter of cars for the first time in many years, and of investments at Honda, Nissan, BMW and Jaguar; but that does not take away at all from the distress that today’s announcement will no doubt have caused in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I undertake that Ministers will respond and keep the House informed on action to support the staff affected.

May we have a debate on early-day motion 607?

[That this House notes that Ministers have recently repeated the claim that the lives of British soldiers should be put at risk in Afghanistan to counter the alleged Afghan Taliban terrorist threat to the UK; believes that there is no truth in this claim and that the lives of British soldiers should not be sacrificed when no threat to the UK exists; and calls on the Coalition Government to adopt an independent foreign policy.]

Canadian and Dutch soldiers have returned to their own countries from Afghanistan with their heads held high after large sacrifices in blood and treasure. We have heard today the dreadful news of two further deaths of British soldiers. There will be many tributes to them that will be sincere and heartfelt, but will not history judge that their epitaph should be, “They died to protect the reputation of cowardly Ministers”?

The House knows not only that we will pay heartfelt tribute to service personnel, including the two who it was announced yesterday have tragically died in Afghanistan, but that the people of this country and this House will take the view that they have died in defence of the interests of this country and to protect this country and that we are in Afghanistan to combat a terrorist threat and, alongside that, to help put in place in Afghanistan a sustainable and more democratic country for the future. That is why they are there and we should honour and value the contribution that service personnel make.

May we have a debate on the £1 billion-plus of losses in derivative trading by Network Rail? Some of us would like that money spent on trains and bridges over railway lines instead of in a second-grade investment bank.

I do not have an immediate opportunity for a debate on that subject, but if I contact my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, he may well be able to give a reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood).

After nearly 11 years of being held without charge or trial, British resident Shaker Aamer is still in Guantanamo Bay, in spite of the fact that both US and UK authorities have said that he can be released. May we have an urgent debate to try to understand what the obstacles are to getting this man released and make that a real priority?

I know that hon. Members of all parties have taken a close interest in the situation of those who are at Guantanamo Bay. The hon. Lady may care to consider raising the matter at Foreign Office questions next Tuesday, but it also seems to me to be a subject on which she might like to seek a debate on the Adjournment.

May we have a debate on the independence of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? You will recall, Mr Speaker, that in February I established through a written question that Ministers had met IPSA on nine occasions in the previous four months. I suspect the dead hand of the Treasury, because I asked a question in September, and the answer given this Monday at column 636 of Hansard refused to give information on the number of occasions on which the Treasury and Treasury Ministers had had discussions with IPSA.

I can tell the House that I have met IPSA since becoming Leader of the House, and nobody at that meeting would have regarded it as in any way compromising IPSA’s independence. I regard it as my responsibility to be fully informed, not least as a member of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, so that we can express views to IPSA. Members have rightly taken the view that there should be independent scrutiny of their pay, pensions and terms and conditions through IPSA. It is important that having established that independence, we make it real.

The Government’s council grant cuts, housing benefit cuts, welfare benefit cuts and health funding cuts are having the worst effect on the poorest families and individuals. May we have a debate on the overall impact that all the Government’s cuts are having on the poorest families and communities?

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that our policy is about the reform of the benefits system. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is making clear today, if we can encourage people into work, that is the best route out of poverty. The benefit reforms will change the culture for good.

May we have a debate on university technical colleges? They have been a great success story, and Members have not had an opportunity to examine what drives that success so that we might see more and more of them.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Many Members might envy the position that I am in, because a university technical college is being established in Cambridge, which is enabling many young people to come forward and acquire training in skills that will support the life sciences industry. That is a tremendous step forward, and I pay tribute to the Baker Dearing Educational Trust and those who have taken the initiative forward. I hope that many Members, like my hon. Friend, will encourage UTCs in their area. She might like to raise the matter with our colleagues at Education questions on Monday.

In 2010, the Government decided to defer a decision about sport on free-to-air television, because they were waiting until digital TV came fully into operation. It is now fully operational, but Culture Ministers have told us that there will not be a discussion on the matter. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate? After all, top sport should be for the masses, not the few.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. I must say, I was struck last week at business questions—perhaps it will be true again this week—that there is a lot of interest in sport, from governance through to the Olympic and Paralympic legacy and on the point that he raises. That might make it appropriate for issues related to sport to be debated in the House at some point. Perhaps those of us who timetable business can discuss that.

May I ask my right hon. Friend a question in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner? The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill will soon have its Third Reading debate. It has had two years of hard work put into it, with consultation with Home Office officials and other Departments, and there is support for it throughout the House. If it is frustrated and talked out on Report or Third Reading by just one Member, will he undertake to find Government time for it to complete its passage through the House? Churches, communities and the transport system up and down the country cannot allow Back-Bench filibustering to prevent the Bill from passing into law.

I heard what my hon. Friend said when he responded to questions on that matter on behalf of the Church Commissioners. He knows that the Government fully support the Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway). Members throughout the House will know, as I do from my constituency, of the damage, distress and expense caused by metal theft. That is true not only in relation to churches but perhaps particularly in relation to the theft of metal from memorials in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday. I cannot give him the undertaking that he seeks, not least because I am hopeful that the Bill will attract the House’s support on the day in question.

Has the new Leader of the House seen the Chartered Management Institute’s commissioned report on the quality of management in Britain, which shows that 38% of managers—public and private sector—are awful, and that only 40% of managers in our country have any training at all? Does he find it worrying that very few of those GPs who will be running clinical commissioning groups have any management training?

The hon. Gentleman may like to look at the composition of clinical commissioning groups with great care. They combine managerial and clinical expertise, and he should not diminish the importance of clinicians being directly involved in the commissioning process. Securing the right medical and clinical services for patients in an area is not simply a managerial task; it is both managerial and clinical.

May we have a debate on equal pay for women? That request arises first out of yesterday’s landmark decision on the issue by the Supreme Court, but also because county councils up and down the country are facing a problem caused by a failure to pay the women they have employed over the years. In Northumberland, for example, hundreds of my constituents face a five-year delay to be paid.

The Government very much support equal pay—yesterday’s decision seemed a bit of a “Made in Dagenham” moment, did it not? Although the circumstances of that case are particular to it and relate to time limits and jurisdiction, I hope that it conveys a message about how to ensure equality and equal pay in every work force, which should be in every employer’s mind.

May we have a debate on plans by the NHS in south-west England to introduce regional pay? Those plans are opposed by south-west MPs from all political parties, and we are still waiting for a delegation to see the Minister. I have asked for a debate several times, and we need to have one urgently.

I attended Health questions earlier in the week, and thought that that issue was ably responded to by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter). What he said is clear: the Government support the “Agenda for Change” framework and, like NHS employers, we support the reform of that agenda to provide the flexibility that employers are looking for, so that it can be achieved within a national framework. That is what we are looking for.

Given today’s excellent GDP figures, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on whether plan B is now redundant?

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, the debate scheduled for next week on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill will no doubt afford an opportunity to demonstrate that the Government are on the right track, as demonstrated by the GDP figures. Quarterly figures have been, and will be, choppy, but it is important to establish the right framework for the longer term. That is about achieving investment in infrastructure, and instilling confidence so that we can see that investment coming through. It is about deregulation and ensuring that business has a lower-cost environment, and recognising that we are in a global race and must ensure we are competitive in terms of tax, regulation and skills. The Government are making positive progress on all those things.

The children and families Bill will be a significant piece of legislation in a complex area, and I fully support its aims. Will the Leader of the House ensure that when it reaches Report, sufficient time will be made available so that hon. Members who may not have been on the Bill Committee have a full opportunity to discuss the legislation’s complex provisions?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, since the election we have been able to timetable more opportunities for debate on Report, and I pay tribute to my predecessor and the Whips for ensuring that. Often, not just one but two days have been allocated for the Report stage of major Bills. As the hon. Lady says, the children and families Bill is very important. It has not yet been introduced, although we look forward to that.

May we have a debate on the issues faced by older people who are seeking to save money for retirement? The all-party group for ageing and older people has just launched a report on older savers which shows that £13 billion is lost through poor advice and a failure by banks to switch accounts.

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. People feel strongly about that very important issue. We will of course look at the business, and no doubt the Opposition and the Backbench Business Committee will also consider the matter. It could be considered in the context of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and the approach taken by banks to their customers.

Will the Leader of the House investigate the delay in publishing the results of the pilot scheme on recording Atos assessments, and ensure that they are published as soon as possible?

I cannot answer the hon. Lady’s question at this moment, but I will ask my colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions to respond to her.

With the economy growing, inflation lower than expected, public borrowing lower than expected and more people in work than at any time in our history, I am sure the Opposition will use the next Opposition day to talk about the economy, but if for some inconceivable reason they do not, will the Leader of the House ensure that Government time is made available?

Yes; I reiterate my hon. Friend’s extremely good point and commend it to the shadow Leader of the House when she considers the business on—I believe— 7 November, when the Opposition will no doubt take the opportunity to debate the latest positive figures on growth, employment and the reduction of inflation, and the simple fact that since the Government came to office, we have cut the deficit we inherited by a quarter.

I understand the Leader of the House used to have an interest in health. In that case, will he use his influence with the current Health Secretary to persuade him either to have a debate, or at least to make an oral statement, on access to radiotherapy? There was an announcement at the Tory party conference, which the Health Secretary mentioned in question time, but it would be a courtesy to the House if we were allowed to understand the detail. The issue is about not just capital, but revenue.

The hon. Gentleman might like to know that the Leader of the House still has an interest in health, and I was at Health questions this week. He is right that the Health Secretary made it clear that he has made an announcement relating to a new radiotherapy innovation fund, which will support hospitals to ensure that patients have intensity-modulated radiotherapy if it is appropriate for them and that there is more access to stereotactic ablative therapy, both of which the hon. Gentleman has asked for and both of which this Government are now supporting.

Northern Lincolnshire has had some promising announcements recently to boost the local economy, but yesterday Kimberly-Clark announced the closure of its factory at Barton-upon-Humber in my constituency with the loss of 378 permanent jobs and 120 others. Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement to give details of additional Government support that might be made available to benefit the local economy?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), that is further evidence of the choppy waters through which the economy is moving, which are a consequence of global competition. The investment that is coming to this country, which is positive, and contrary announcements that cause us considerable regret, are both a consequence of global competition. Our job is to ensure that, whenever we can, this country is the best possible place for investment. This is about rebalancing the economy, which is bringing additional investment into manufacturing. Rebalancing is important, but I entirely take my hon. Friend’s point that it will also mean that we ensure we give support to individual businesses to maximise their activity in this country—as we are doing, through, for example, the regional growth fund and local enterprise partnerships. I will ask my hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to respond on the issues my hon. Friend raises.

May we have an early debate on the emergence of two-nation Britain, because, although the figures are good for London and the south, according to House of Commons figures given to me today, in Barnsley unemployment is up 6% on last year, in Bradford 9%, in Leeds 3% and in my own constituency 1%? We are now seeing an emerging disconnect between the north and the Tory and Liberal Democrat shires of the south. We need a one-nation Government, not this Government of the south, by the south, for the south.

As a one-nation Conservative, I believe that we are a one-nation Government. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted any more evidence of that, he would have paid more attention to the announcements made by the Deputy Prime Minister last Friday, I think, on regional growth 3, which will support the kind of innovative investment in the north of England that is integral to its economic development.

Not only has the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Stafford fallen by 14% since April 2010, but we have just had the welcome news that a record 272 new companies were formed in the first six months. May we have a debate on how to support these new companies, so that they create the jobs and pay the taxes we need?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am happy to say that those figures are reflected in many constituencies across the country. Stafford is clearly working well, and I applaud what they are doing there. Yes, I hope we will have the opportunity, not least in the debate on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, to see how we are creating that kind of environment. I would draw particular attention to the work being done through the youth contract and apprenticeships to ensure that young people are finding the kinds of jobs with skills training attached that will enable them to support industrial development in the future.

May we have an urgent debate or statement from a Minister to explain why the Minister with responsibility for welfare reform, Lord Freud, has agreed that in Northern Ireland payment of housing benefit directly to landlords will continue, while in the rest of the country payment must be made directly to tenants—despite all the problems, highlighted by many people, with that—and to explain the unique circumstances for this decision?

I will of course talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions, so that they reply specifically to the hon. Gentleman, but my understanding is not that the changes to universal credit rule out the possibility of direct payment, but merely that it is important that they be assessed and examined to ensure they are appropriate. Wherever possible, we want those in receipt of universal credit to feel like they are in work. We do not want to change the sense of that, so that they get their pay and it is their responsibility to live within their means.

Earlier this week, I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Glasgow. One issue discussed was that of marine and renewable energy. It appeared that few people were aware of the role that the south-west was playing in delivering that. May we have a debate on this important issue, so that we can promote the south-west and its contribution in this area?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not least for attending the BIPA, which I know is valued on both sides of the Irish sea. I hope that we will have the opportunity for that debate. He might want to look to have it when we consider the Energy Bill. The Government attach considerable importance to this matter and have invested more than £17 million in testing and academic facilities for marine energy in the south-west, and are encouraging the region to become the first UK marine energy park. I am sure he will want to illustrate that contribution to our future energy requirements and security during our debate on the Energy Bill.

Last week, the quiet rituals of Friday afternoon in west Cardiff were shattered by a series of hit-and-run incidents that left a young mother dead, her three children motherless and many more injured and traumatised by the events. Will the Leader of the House find a slot where I can put on the record my thanks to the emergency services—the police, the fire service, the ambulance service and the NHS—whose swift and well-co-ordinated actions undoubtedly saved many lives?