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Commons Chamber

Volume 556: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013

House of Commons

Thursday 10 January 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—


1. Whether she plans to reintroduce the gambling prevalence survey; and if she will make a statement. (136075)

I welcome the recent announcement by the Responsible Gambling Trust of a major research project into gaming machines. A new approach to collecting data on gambling prevalence and trends in problem gambling has been adopted by the Gambling Commission; this will be cost-effective and has the potential to provide more frequent information than the old gambling prevalence survey.

Compulsive gambling ruins lives and destroys families. The most addictive form of gambling is on fixed-odds betting terminals, or gambling machines, which are described as the crack cocaine of gambling. Are the Government seriously concerned about gambling addiction, and what are they going to do to address the problem?

Yes, the Government are seriously concerned about problem gambling. This is one of those quite tricky areas where common sense suggests that it is a major problem but there is a lack of evidence to back that up. I very much hope that the major research project that is being undertaken will give us the necessary evidence and, absolutely, once the problem is proved to exist, the Government will act.

Does the Minister agree that there is currently not much evidence to prove that fixed-odds betting terminals are the most addictive form of gambling? Although I applaud his concern for the problems caused by problem gambling, will he reassure the House that he will proceed only on the basis of firm evidence when that is available?

Absolutely, in accordance with the answer that I gave earlier. It is recognised that there is an issue in this area, but there is a lack of authoritative evidence to back that up, and that is precisely what we are looking for.

I completely agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). Concern is shared across the House, so we want to see the Government doing something about it. We all know—there is bags of evidence—that gambling is blighting people’s lives, and blighting our high streets too, given the prevalence of betting shops. We need only look down our own high streets; we do not need a research project to see what is going on. The Government say that they want localism and that they are in favour of local people having a say, so will they change the planning laws so that local people have the power to prevent any more betting shops from opening up on their high streets if they do not want them?

The answer to the right hon. and learned Lady is yes, if the evidence supports that, but no Government of any colour have ever produced a policy without the backing of real evidence to support it. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) was of course a Minister in the previous Government, so if she wishes to laugh that probably tells us rather a lot. She might wish she had kept her mouth shut. As I said, once we have the evidence we will proceed.

Public Libraries

2. If she will take steps to encourage use of public libraries and to discourage local authorities from closing or reducing the usage of such libraries. (136076)

We are doing a lot to support libraries. We have given Arts Council England responsibility for libraries and it has set up a £6 million fund to support culture in libraries. We have just appointed a specialist adviser. We have regular communications with councils. We have announced our e-learning review. Only at the end of last year we published our comparative reports on library performance.

Libraries provide a centre for deprived children to be able to study when there are no facilities at home. I highlight a case where Brent council closed six of its libraries last year. Since then, library visitor numbers have fallen by 130,000. The council attempted to save nearly £1 million by closing the branch libraries, but it has had to mothball them, which has cost it £500,000. Equally, £120,000 has been spent on legal fees. At the same time, it is negotiating—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. The question is simply too long, and it is not clear what it is.

No, the hon. Gentleman has taken far too long, and he has enough experience that he ought to be able to be more succinct. Let us have a brief response from the Front Bench.

Briefly, libraries are run and paid for by local authorities. I hear what my hon. Friend says. Perhaps it is best to point to good examples of Tory councils, such as Hammersmith and Fulham and Hillingdon, which have kept their libraries open and are reducing or freezing their council tax at the same time.

I wonder whether the Minister has had time to reflect on passing the responsibilities for library development to the Arts Council and whether he now regrets not using the money instead to create a perfectly formed, small library development agency.

In times of economic austerity one has to be careful with public funds, but in any event I think it is long overdue for the Arts Council to have responsibility for libraries, in order to join up responsibility for local libraries with local culture.

In my constituency, Sefton is proposing to close all the branch libraries, radically reducing access. Does the Minister think that that is the only or best way to deal with the budgetary squeeze and will he look into that particular case?

We always keep an eye on proposals by local authorities to reorganise their library services and we will certainly keep an eye on those proposals.

Football Stadiums

Current policy on safety at football stadiums in England and Wales has developed as a result of the Taylor report, following the Hillsborough tragedy. Thankfully, there have been no major incidents resulting from safety failures at those stadiums since then.

Unfortunately, safety is configured on what has happened previously, not on what could happen in future. Is it the case that all football stadiums in this country have been tested for mass evacuation on nothing other than a computer model that presumes perfect behaviour by all in the stadium?

Guidance is issued by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, which produces “The Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds”, commonly known as the green guide. That includes guidance on the importance of inspections and testing of contingency plans, including full evacuation procedures. The guidance is there. If that is not happening, that should not be the case.

Given the impossible task that clubs face to keep some fans seated at football matches, is it not time to carry out an assessment of whether it would in fact be safer for grounds to introduce safe standing areas rather than people continuing to stand in areas that are not designed for standing?

The requirement to have all-seater stadiums was, as the hon. Gentleman will know, one of the recommendations of the Taylor report. I undertook to look at this area when the coalition came to power in 2010. All the advice I received from the football authorities, the police and everybody involved in public safety was to make no change. For any Minister to make a change ignoring the prevailing safety advice would be extremely unwise.

Olympic Legacy

We are already seeing the positive impact of the Olympics and Paralympics across our legacy programme, clear benefits to our international reputation, shifts in the perception of disability, both at home and abroad, and, importantly, more people, particularly women, playing sport. Investment in grass-roots and elite sport is designed to maintain that important momentum.

I thank the Secretary of State and commend the Government’s work. The sad truth is that, in difficult economic times, with council bills rising, some community clubs, particularly boxing clubs, which are proven to do so much good work in the community, are struggling to stay open. Will she confirm that she will continue to support those clubs so that they can maintain our legacy and, indeed, furnish us with future Olympians?

Grass-roots clubs such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend are vital if even more people are to participate in sport. That is why we have given great priority to investing in local sports venues. This Government have also introduced the Places People Play programme, which is giving £150 million to upgrade 1,000 local sports venues. That is just the sort of action that I am sure my hon. Friend would see as positive.

Will the Minister pledge this morning to analyse how the legacy cascades to all the regions of Britain? She will know of the threatened imminent closure of the Sheffield stadium, which was built for the student games in a past era. The fact is that regions such as Yorkshire are not getting the benefits of the legacy of the Olympics seen in places such as the south of England.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Although the games were called London 2012, they were Olympic and Paralympic games for the whole country and it is important that those benefits come through at a regional level. I believe that we will enable that through all our programmes, including Places People Play, which I have mentioned, as well as many others. We will continue to look at regional benefits.

Team GB achieved great success on the water at the Olympics, not just in rowing, but through Bradford-on-Avon’s Olympic gold medallist Ed McKeever in the kayaking. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that sculler schools and canoeing clubs have enough access to rivers, and will she consider having discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about a possible right to roam?

The hon. Gentleman is right that it is important that people who are involved in those water sports have access to water. We have to balance that with the requirements of other sporting groups, such as anglers, but we will continue to monitor the access to important water facilities because I, like other right hon. and hon. Members, want to see further success at the Rio games.

An Olympic legacy must begin in our schools, yet this Government have cut school sport partnerships, the school sport survey and outdoor play spaces in our schools, and abolished minimum targets for school sport. We are still waiting for their announcement on school sport, which we all expected before Christmas. It is no wonder that less time is being spent doing sport in our schools. When will her Department get to grips with the Secretary of State for Education and lay the foundations that we need for a true sporting legacy?

The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on the importance of sport in the earliest years. I am sure that he will join me in applauding what the Government have done through the school games and the £1 billion youth strategy, and the role of people such as Ellie Simmonds and Jess Ennis at the Olympic games in inspiring the next generation. Perhaps he should focus on that positive record and applaud the work of the Government.


We are making very good progress. Nine local projects have agreed contracts, and I switched on the first street cabinet supported by the rural broadband programme at Ainderby Steeple in North Yorkshire on 13 December.

I thank the Minister for that answer. It is excellent news that Wiltshire council is now able to roll out superfast broadband. However, the Minister has to agree that a small percentage of households—typically 2% to 3%—will not be affected by the roll-out. What does he have to say about the small number of rural communities that will not take advantage of the roll-out of broadband across the county and across England?

Our ambition is to get 90% of premises connected to superfast broadband, but to get all premises connected to broadband speeds of 2 megabits per second. There should be a broadband service for almost all households and that will be technologically neutral, so it should be the right technology solution for them.

The Government were wrong to drop the previous Government’s commitment to deliver a universal broadband service of 2 megabits per second by last year. Has the Minister seen this week’s report by Policy Exchange, which re-emphasises the importance of finally delivering the universal availability of broadband of 2 megabits per second, particularly in rural areas, where businesses are so dependent on it?

The right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished former telecoms Minister, so I take what he says very seriously. I was at the launch of the Policy Exchange pamphlet, but I do not agree with him. I think that it is right that we have a superfast broadband commitment of 90% by 2015, which is realistic and achievable.

A considerable amount of money is being released from the sale of spectrum for reinvestment in broadband. Superfast broadband is important to business, but surely rural areas should also benefit. Is 2 megabits really too much to ask?

No, 2 megabits is not too much to ask, which is why we will deliver 2 megabits to the last 10%.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) said, Policy Exchange produced an important report yesterday, which I thought the Minister had welcomed. It said that the Government should stop

“pursuing speed as a proxy for progress”

and focus

“explicitly on economic and social outcomes”.

The report pointed out that 16 million people lack basic IT skills and that that is one of the major reasons that people give for not getting online. What specific action will the Minister take to help those people?

I hear what the hon. Lady says. It is good to hear her endorsing the work of Policy Exchange, a distinguished centre-right think-tank. I hope that she will continue to support its policy proposals. As I said at the launch of the Policy Exchange pamphlet, Go On UK is doing extraordinarily good work to encourage people to go online. Along with all the councils that are procuring superfast broadband, we have a strategy to encourage people to take up broadband.

Sport (Disabled People)

For the first time, access to sport for disabled people is at the heart of Sport England’s £1 billion youth and community sports strategy. UK Sport recently announced more than £70 million of funding for our elite Paralympic athletes, which is 43% more than the investment they received for London 2012. Last month alone, we invested more than £10 million in 44 community sports projects for people with disabilities.

Voluntary sports groups in my constituency have worked for a number of years with local special schools to provide coaching for disabled children. They are now working with sports colleges, developers and councillors to create a new sports park to increase and improve access for all. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is excellent work and will she commend those groups? Can her Department help us to make the dream a reality?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Such innovative working can make a real difference for disabled children, and help disabled adults get access to sporting facilities. I want the Department to do everything it can to support such work, and I point my hon. Friend towards the funding that the Government have already made available for such community sport projects, which I hope will help him.

It was great to see so many Paralympians recognised in the new year’s honours list, but does the Secretary of State share my disappointment that disabled sportsmen and women appear to have to do so much more than others to achieve similar recognition?

I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that this time around there has been much more recognition for our Paralympic athletes, and rightly so. We must continue to strive to do even better, but I hope he will agree with me that the sort of investment that the Government are putting into Paralympic sports will ensure that Paralympic athletes have better support in the future to achieve their very best.

Club Sport

7. What steps she is taking to ensure that participants in club-level sport have access to suitable and sustainable facilities. (136082)

Sport England’s Places People Play programme has already helped to upgrade and improve 732 local sports facilities as part of the London 2012 sports legacy, including three projects in my hon. Friend’s constituency. In addition, it has invested more than £20 million in 12 new large scale multi-sport facilities.

Does the Minister agree that local councillors have a big part to play, and will he join me in congratulating Councillor David Elvidge and other Conservative councillors in Beverley who are working hard to find additional football pitch availability in that area? Mike Bryan and other councillors in the Hedon area are supporting Eastside Community Sports, and many clubs are doing much good work, making a real difference and building on the Olympic legacy.

I absolutely agree, and the two important points are, first, that local councils prioritise that issue—we all know that the economic climate is tough, but they have had a fantastic launch pad through London 2012 and it is now up to them to make it work. Secondly, councils will need the support of local volunteers. I am delighted to add my congratulations to the people mentioned by my hon. Friend.

I listened closely to what the Minister said about local authorities, but in Liverpool, which has seen a £252 cut per head, it is challenging for the local authority to make such decisions to prioritise sport and to have that investment available. What will the Government do to help councils that have seen such drastic cuts to ensure that sporting facilities, particularly local clubs, are supported?

Nobody would pretend that this issue is easy and we all know the economic conditions. As I said, London 2012 has given sport in this country a fantastic launch pad, and a city such a Liverpool—which the hon. Lady represents—is synonymous with sport. My advice would be that the most successful projects I have seen are a combination of local authority funding, private funding and grants from Sport England. If the hon. Lady has projects that she wishes to promote, she should look to Sport England and the Places People Play initiative and see what she can do. I wish her every good fortune in doing that.

Leveson Inquiry

8. When the Government plan to announce what further steps they will take in response to the report of the Leveson inquiry. (136083)

Lord Justice Leveson’s report, which was welcomed by the Government, set out the need for independent self-regulation of the press. I believe the press will be setting out their new self-regulatory approach in line with Leveson later today. As all parties agree, the report did not provide a fully formed blueprint but rather an outline that requires further work and consideration. The Government are working on a cross-party basis and with interested groups, and I believe we are making progress.

I thank the Secretary of State for that positive reply. May I encourage her to ensure that the cross-party talks reach a conclusion before the end of this Session of Parliament, so that if we need to legislate not just on the difficult issue of statutory underpinning of press regulation but on clearing up the relationship between the police and the press, we can do so in the next Session?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Making progress and ensuring we have momentum is vital for two reasons. First, we need to ensure that we do not see the unacceptable treatment of victims again in future. Secondly, all who have watched this lengthy process want it to come to a speedy conclusion. I can give him a clear undertaking today that that is exactly where we are.

Hon. Members have heard the clichés about no more drinking at the last-chance saloon for the press, but can the Secretary of State assure us that the Government’s engagement with the press on this matter has not simply been a lock-in at the Long Grass Arms, where the Government’s order is, “Whatever you’re having yourself”?

The Leveson report clearly gives us a framework to ensure we make progress on the important issues that will make a difference to press regulation, and to ensure that we do not have the problems we have had and the same treatment of victims in future. It is not possible for us to do anything other than make progress if we are to implement Leveson, and that is what we are looking to do.


In the recent UK Sport and Sport England funding announcement, our elite boxers receive £13.8 million to help them prepare for Rio 2016, a 44% increase on the amount available at the last Olympics, which reflects their success. Under the whole sport plan, the Amateur Boxing Association of England will receive £5.8 million to drive up participation, an increase of 22% on the previous funding period. Boxing is a part of the school games, and schools are free to provide their pupils with non-contact boxing opportunities should they choose to do so.

As boxing is unique in rewarding participants for landing blows to the head and causing damage to that most vulnerable of human organs, the brain—damage that is serious, cumulative and irreversible—should the Government not encourage sports that measure athleticism without inflicting brain damage?

No is the simple answer to that question. Many sports contain an element of risk—riding and cycling, both of which have much higher injury tallies than boxing, come to mind. At London 2012, the majority of injuries were not from boxing, but from other sports. Most young people like an element of risk, and boxing has a really important role to play in encouraging young people to take up sport, particularly in deprived and inner-city areas. I am keen to encourage them to do so.

It is clear that new ways to fund sports and the arts must be found, particularly for local and regional projects. In Darlington, Project Vane involves exciting private sector partners who want to invest in bringing an old arts centre back to life, which may well hold boxing too—

Yes, indeed, Mr Speaker. May I invite the Minister to look at our bid to the Arts Council for capital investment—there are no ongoing revenue needs requiring public sector investment—to help us to bring that project along?

The best thing to say is that I wish the hon. Lady every good fortune. I am not responsible for the Arts Council—I suspect that a submission from the Minister with responsibility for sports would get a fairly dusty response—but I wish her every good fortune.


10. Whether her Department has commissioned research into the effect of fixed-odds betting terminals on the prevalence of problem gambling; and if she will make a statement. (136085)

The Government are aware of the concerns that have been raised about these types of gaming machines and are committed to looking at the evidence around B2 machines and problem gambling. In addition, the Responsible Gambling Trust has recently announced the largest programme of academic research into gaming machines ever undertaken in Britain, which should provide a much better understanding of problem gambling behaviour.

I welcome what the Minister has said. We need an independent look at the seriousness of fixed-odds betting terminals in our country and their prevalence in independent bookmakers. May I ask him to look at the matter with urgency, and not to move forward quickly with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which would create an open season for fixed-odds betting terminals across the country?

I entirely acknowledge the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman puts so well. A response to the Committee’s report is due shortly—clearly, once we have that, I will be in a position to say more—but I acknowledge his concerns and the need for proper evidence to underpin our response.

I share some of the concerns expressed by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), and I urge those who have heard reports about what the Select Committee said to look at the report itself. The report did not say that there should be widespread liberalisation; it said that in specific areas local authorities that had concerns about the number of betting shops could consider whether they might be met by some flexibility in the numbers. I specifically agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the desperate need for more empirical evidence and research in this area. That must be addressed as a priority before we start taking decisions.


As I have already said, our aim is to have universal 2 megabit broadband available to everyone by 2014. Already, 89.9%—approximately 90%—of people have 2 megabit broadband.

I think it was Ofcom that reported recently that approximately 10% of broadband connections —about 2.6 million households—do not have access to 2 megabit broadband. Further to the answer the hon. Gentleman gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), given that access to broadband is vital to building a sustainable, modern economy, why will he not think about introducing a universal service obligation?

I do not think that a universal service obligation would be appropriate for broadband, but, as I have said, we have an ambitious programme, with £500 million going to ensuring that everyone has access to 2 megabit broadband by the end of this Parliament.

Women’s Sport

I am absolutely committed to seeing more coverage of women’s sport, and I support the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation’s call for more action in this area. The Olympics and Paralympics showed clearly that there is an appetite for women’s sport, for which the BBC and Channel 4 secured strong audiences. Rather than have an inquiry, I am bringing together broadcasters, journalists and women leaders in sport to ensure more coverage of all our sporting achievements by both men and women.

The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation says that the media devote about 5% of their sports coverage to women’s sport. However, about 20% of the BBC’s coverage is of women’s sport, which raises questions for other outlets. Some 36% of the medals won at the Olympics were won by women, but women’s sport receives only 0.5% of sport sponsorship. What will the Secretary of State do to tackle this unacceptable situation?

The hon. Lady has shown that this is not about asking what the problem is—she has clearly articulated it. There is an appetite to watch women’s sport and we need to ensure that it is followed up by more broadcasting and coverage in the press. I was pleased to hear the BBC announce in December that it will broadcast all of England’s UEFA European women’s championship games when the team heads to Sweden in July, and the semi-finals and finals, across BBC 2 and BBC 3. In addition, all other peak-time matches will be broadcast on BBC 3. That is the sort of action we want to see, and it will set a bar for the other channels and media to follow.

The coverage and reporting of women’s sport is incredibly important, but the issue should not be seen in isolation. Will the Secretary of State explain how we can encourage better commercial opportunities in women’s sport, as that will encourage girls and women to participate more?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I know she takes a deep interest in this matter. The sports marketing bureau, which will be launched shortly, will do exactly what she is talking about: highlight marketing opportunities in women’s sport and across the board. We want to see companies capitalising on the clear interest and appetite for women’s sport to ensure that it grows.


UK Sport is investing record levels into Olympic and Paralympic sport for the 2016 games. This includes more than £5 million for the wheelchair basketball team. Sadly, the elite Olympic basketball team did not meet the UK Sport investment criteria for this cycle. England Basketball has, however, received £6.75 million from Sport England, including £1.5 million of talent development funding.

I am sure the Minister is aware, first, that Team GB came within two points of beating Spain, who went on to win the silver medal, and actually beat China, who are top-10 seeded in the world, and secondly that it took hockey more than 20 years of elite-level funding before it received a bronze medal at this year’s Olympics. In the light of that and of my letter to him on 20 December, will he agree to meet me and other members of the all-party group on basketball to discuss this important matter?

I would make two points on that. First, hockey is a good example of what basketball needs to do. It had great success in 1988, with its gold medal, but then went bust and had its funding cut completely for lack of performance. It built itself back up, however, and got itself to the stage where it was medalling again, as it did in London. Secondly, I am aware that basketball has made an appeal to UK Sport. Once we know the result of that, I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady.

UK Sport funding is handed out in a four-year Olympic cycle. Does the Minister believe that that is the right way forward, or does he think there needs to be change?

I am sorry to say it to my hon. Friend, but that is not actually correct. The funding for the Rio cycle includes considerable funding for developing athletes that will take them through to the 2020 games.

Topical Questions

I am pleased that we have started the new year with such a positive set of announcements about the support in the honours system for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. I hope that all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, will join me in congratulating individuals who have received such honours.

Given that Government funding might not extend rural broadband to really isolated areas, what plans do they have to assist communities in putting in their own piping infrastructure and compelling successful bidders to make use of that?

In addition to the £56.9 million allocated to Wales as part of the rural broadband programme, a top-up of £4 million is available as part of the rural community broadband fund, which is designed for just the purposes that my hon. Friend has described.

The creative industries and tourism are hugely important sectors, contributing £88 billion each year, or 7% of the UK economy. It was astonishing, therefore, that the coalition’s mid-term review pledges for the remainder of this Parliament made no mention of either of those crucial industries. Which Minister—I do not mind which one—will tell the House why they have dropped the C from DCMS?

I think the hon. Gentleman needs to be a little more cautious in his comments. He knows absolutely our commitment to the creative industries and to having the infrastructure necessary to ensure that they thrive. The facts speak for themselves, given the progress being made in industries such as the film industry and the gaming industry. I would draw his attention to those facts when he considers this matter further.

T2. Earlier this week, a group of respected ex-journalists in Scotland expressed concern that the 120 jobs being cut at BBC Scotland would cause “real damage” to the quality of news and current affairs it is able to produce. Does the Secretary of State agree that this could not happen at a worse time, when the people of Scotland need a fair and well informed debate leading up to the referendum, and will she raise this matter with the BBC Trust? (136096)

It is important—I am sure the hon. Lady will agree—that the BBC is independent of government in these matters, and it is for it to make these decisions. I hear what she says though—it is important that we have a strong BBC in Scotland—and I am sure that her comments will have been noted.

T3. I am pleased that the creative industries Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), is planning to visit silicon spa in Leamington, which is one of our country’s leading centres for the video games industry. Video games contributed £1.4 billion in exports to the UK economy in 2010, but we often do not promote the sector in the same way as we do our country’s successful film industry. Will he inform the House of what steps the Government are taking to better support this growing sector? (136097)

I am delighted to reiterate this Government’s commitment to the creative industries, with the establishment of the creative industries council, the video games tax credit—as well as for high-end television and animation—and the visit of the Minister for creative industries to Leamington Spa in the near future.

T5. How does the Secretary of State expect to inspire the sporting habit for a lifetime in our young people if we are cutting back on spaces where children can play sport in our schools? (136099)

T4. May I thank the Minister, who has responsibility for broadband, for meeting me yesterday and for understanding the true complexities in the provision of broadband in Northumberland? Surely the true broadband nirvana for all rural MPs will be when we have the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, BDUK—Broadband Delivery UK—BT and county councils working as one, in joined-up government. (136098)

I had a very enjoyable meeting with my hon. Friend yesterday to discuss the roll-out of broadband for his constituents in Northumberland. I assure him that I will work closely with my DEFRA colleagues to deliver nirvana.

T6. Given increased concerns about the safety and security of betting shops, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Association of British Bookmakers about how it can improve its guidance to shop workers, many of whom are women and many of whom work alone? (136101)

I entirely acknowledge the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises. I have met the Association of British Bookmakers on two occasions. I have to say that on neither occasion has it raised that as a concern—[Hon. Members: “You need to raise it!”]—but once the cheap seats have piped down, I might finish by saying—[Interruption.] Actually, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) is extremely expensive—that St Paul’s education cost a fortune, didn’t it?

If the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) would like to write me a letter, I will take the matter up with the Association of British Bookmakers.

T7. The blue plaque scheme in London is greatly loved. I remember serving on the historic buildings committee of the Greater London council 35 years ago with Sir John Betjeman. When it was abolished, we were given an absolutely firm commitment, by a Conservative Government, that the blue plaque scheme would carry on. Now that it is in danger, will the Minister intervene to stop the silly games between the chief executive officer and the chair of English Heritage and tell them to get a move on and carry on with this much loved scheme? (136102)

Before the Minister answers, I say to the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson) that, for the avoidance of doubt, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) is neither cheap nor expensive; she is simply priceless.

My hon. Friend is right to point out the important role of the blue plaque scheme. The chairman of English Heritage made it clear yesterday that the scheme is continuing, but I am sure that my hon. Friend, in his many roles in the House, would want us to look carefully at how it is run in future, because at the moment we are spending some £250,000 a year, employing four people putting up six plaques a year. I am sure there are different ways that we could run the scheme; and I am sure that consideration will be given in the future to him having his own plaque.

In Hackney there are more than 70 betting shops and last year £167 million was spent gambling on fixed-odds betting machines. What further evidence does the Minister need to take action on reducing either the number of machines or the frequency of bets that can be laid, which are taking money from my poorest constituents?

As I have said on a number of occasions today, I recognise the issue that the hon. Lady raises. I assure her that once we have sufficient evidence, if action needs to be taken, it will be, but it has to be taken on the basis of national evidence, not just evidence from individual constituencies.

T8. Given that the grand départ of the Tour de France is coming to God’s own county—namely Yorkshire—in 2014, may I ask the Minister to say what pressure the Government are bringing to bear on UK Sport to support fully Yorkshire’s successful bid to host the start of the world’s biggest annual sporting event? (136103)

The Government have to be careful about this, because the money used to support such bids is national lottery funding and so is not open to the Government to direct. My hon. Friend will also be aware that despite the excellence of Yorkshire’s bid, it chose not to be in a position to share the commercial details of the bid with UK Sport before it made it. Now that Yorkshire has won, it is meeting UK Sport. I very much hope that a way will be found to achieve precisely the end that he is advocating.

To discourage the closure of libraries such as Aintree library in my constituency, the Government need to ensure that the money is available to keep them open. Will the Secretary of State speak to her colleagues across Government to ensure that the necessary funding is in place to safeguard library services such as those in my constituency that are under threat from cuts to council funding?

This is a time when everyone is having to tighten their belt, and we are clearly having to make savings. If Labour wants to make it clear which cuts it would reverse, it should by all means do so, but these crocodile tears are pointless. The council needs to run its library service; it is responsible for doing that. It should look at Hammersmith and Fulham council, which has closed no libraries and is reducing its council tax.

T9. Returning to the question of broadband roll-out, the Minister has reaffirmed the 2015 deadline, and the Policy Exchange report that he commended states that no public money should be made available after that date. Is he aware, however, that there are real practical considerations as to whether it will be possible to complete the programme by 2015, owing to a lack of capacity on the part of BT, even though the funding has been allocated? (136104)

We have set aside more than £15 million for broadband roll-out in the hon. Gentleman’s area, and we are confident that we are still working towards our target of 2015. Of course, we have money allocated for broadband after 2015. We have not decided specifically how that money will be used, but we will make a decision on that in the fullness of time.

What representations has the Secretary of State made to the Football Association to request that it issues clear guidance to support players at local and national level who are the subject of homophobic, sexist and racist abuse?

Let me join the hon. Lady in saying that everyone who follows football, and indeed many of those who do not, have been extremely concerned by the increase in the prevalence of racist incidents over the past six months or so. The Football Association has just produced a comprehensive 92-point plan, which has been welcomed by many of those involved in the game, and I very much hope that it will play a significant role in bringing this unfortunate chapter to a close and improving the situation rapidly.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Equal Marriage

1. What discussions she had with the Church of England prior to her oral statement of 11 December 2012 on the equal marriage consultation. (136066)

Full discussions have been held with the Church of England over the past year, first by my predecessor as part of the public consultations, and by officials, in confidence, as the proposals were being finalised, before my statement to the House. We continue to work with a range of religious bodies, including the Church of England, as the legislation is finalised.

Will the Minister consider what opportunities an examination of civil marriage and partnerships might bring to those who are not in such a relationship but who share their lives, such as siblings who live together or widows who share a home?

I understand the importance of the question that my hon. Friend asks, but I would say that the legislation that we are working on is about how we can ensure that marriage is broadened, in terms of the number of people who can participate in it, rather than about broadening civil partnerships.

In those discussions, will the Minister be able to raise the issue of the vote in Synod on not allowing women bishops? I am sure that she would like to assist the Church in making progress on that issue.

We have already had debates in the House on the role of women in the Church, and I note that there are now more women than men being ordained in the Church, which is very important. It is a matter for the Church of England to put forward proposals in this area, to ensure that its role is as relevant to our society today as it always has been.

In the course of her discussions on equal marriage, did the Minister discuss with the Church of England the fact that it would continue to bless marriages, whether of same-sex or opposite-sex couples, that have taken place elsewhere?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that many churches already offer the opportunity for couples who are in same-sex relationships to have their marriages blessed in church. These are matters for the Church to deal with, whether they relate to the performance of marriages in church or to blessings. The Church must deal with these issues itself.

Is it not unfortunate that the Minister has said that same-sex marriage will be “illegal” in the Church of England and the Church in Wales, when the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he will carefully consider his stance on the issue and the archbishop of the Church in Wales has said that there is no single Christian opinion on the matter? Will she ensure that, should those Churches wish to marry same-sex couples at some time in the future, she will have legislation prepared to enable them to do so without the need for further primary legislation?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of the role of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Our stance throughout has been to protect those organisations to enable them to make their own decisions. We are talking to them on an ongoing basis about the best way to do that. As to her question about whether they would be able to undertake these duties in the future if they decide to do so, the answer is absolutely yes.

Tax and Benefits

2. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies on women of recent tax and benefit changes. (136067)

Departments always take full account of the impact on women of their policies, and the Government are supporting women and their families, for example by extending child care through universal credit and by lifting 2 million of the lowest paid workers—of whom six out of 10 are women—out of income tax altogether.

Research from the House of Commons Library shows that women will be hit four times harder by incoming direct tax, tax credit and benefit changes. Will the Minister tell us why she allowed the Chancellor to get away with treating women so unfairly in his autumn statement?

The hon. Lady needs to look at the total package of measures brought forward in the autumn statement. We are absolutely mindful of the need to make sure that we support those who find it most difficult in today’s society. That is why 1 million women have been taken out of tax altogether and why we are putting £200 million more into child care for people who are working the shortest hours. Those things have never happened before, and I hope the hon. Lady will applaud and welcome those measures.

On 5 January last Saturday, BBC Radio 6 Music made history when three consecutive daytime programmes were presented by female DJs for the first time in the BBC’s 45 years of music radio. While less than 20% of the BBC’s music radio programmes were presented by women in 2012, will the Secretary of State please continue her discussions with the BBC to correct that imbalance?

I am wondering how that question relates to tax and benefit changes, but I will of course always encourage the BBC to make sure that women have a full role in the work they do.

The Minister will agree that it is really important for pregnant women to be able to afford to eat healthily and to take their full maternity leave when the baby is born, so why is she cutting £180 from maternity pay, cutting more than £1,000 in tax credits and, according to the House of Commons Library, even including the tax allowances that she mentioned, cutting a total of £1,300 from new mums on low income, yet giving a £13,000 tax cut to someone—usually a man—who is earning over £400,000 a year? In her role as the Minister for Women and Equalities, did she even try to stop the Chancellor hitting women, especially new mothers, so hard?

The right hon. Lady will have heard my response to her colleague earlier—the Treasury is looking at the detail of how its policies impact on various groups and has made it an absolute priority to give support to those who need it most, ensuring that more families are able to get into work and that work pays for more people. Above all else, it is making sure that our children do not have to deal in the future with the record levels of deficit left by the right hon. Lady’s Government.

Does my right hon. Friend share my astonishment that Opposition Members always want to emphasise the plight of women? Is she as delighted as I am about the growing numbers of health visitors, the growing numbers of nursery places for disadvantaged two-year-olds and the tax-free allowances that directly affect so many women and make their lives so much better under this Government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to target support effectively in our communities, and I think that, whether we look at the role of Sure Start centres or the role of health visitors, the changes that have been made are plain to see.

7. According to the impact assessment relating to the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, 2 million lone parents, 90% of them women, will be affected by this measure. Why does the Minister think it fair for millionaires to be given a tax cut of more than £2,000 a week while 1.8 million women bringing up children lose an average of £5 a week? (136073)

An impact assessment relating to a benefit that is predominantly claimed by women will, of course, predict the impact that the hon. Gentleman has described. We need to ensure that families across the board receive the support that will enable them to get into work that pays, and the support that they require for the future.


The Government are committed to reducing the pay gap and guaranteeing equal pay for women. The latest figure, based on median earnings, shows that the pay gap continues to narrow and currently stands at 19.7% for all employees, but there is, of course, much more to be done, because the existence of a pay gap is unacceptable.

We are making good progress with “Think, Act, Report”, which promotes gender equality and transparency. More than 60 major companies have signed up to it, representing more than 1.2 million people and more than 11% of the target work force.

What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on the retirement incomes of low-paid women of excluding all those who earn less than £9,440 a year from the new workplace pensions? Does she realise that 1 million people who could be saving for the future are being left out in the cold, and that 77% of them are women?

Saving for pensions is very important. That is why the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), has been promoting workplace pensions. We are introducing the system gradually, because suddenly having to pay money into their pensions that they have not previously had to pay could have a real impact on people’s current incomes, but our plan is, over time, to ensure that everyone saves for a pension.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the introduction of shared parental leave will lead to more equality in the workplace, including equality in incomes? Men will be encouraged to take a greater share of child care, which will allow women to return to work earlier if they wish to do so.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Shared parental leave is crucial in not just enabling families to share the care of their children in a way that works for them, but dealing with some of the inequalities which, sadly, persist in the workplace. We know, for example, that maternity discrimination still goes on. One of the positive side-effects of shared parental leave will be the reduction of incentives for employers who have been tempted to break the law, and who may now decide that that is not a sensible thing to do.

Same-sex Marriage

5. What representations she has received from the Church of England on the proposed prohibition on that organisation offering same-sex marriages. (136071)

The views of the Church of England were considered during the finalising of the proposals on equal marriage. The Church has made it clear that it does not want to permit marriages of same-sex couples to take place according to its rites, but, should it change its mind, it will be able to make any amendments that are necessary to its canon law and to the relevant primary legislation in order for that to happen. We continue to engage in constructive dialogue as we prepare to introduce legislation to Parliament.

It seems that we are shortly to have gay bishops in the Church of England, but not women bishops. The gay bishops will be able to conduct marriages between opposite-sex couples, bisexuals and transsexuals, but will not be able to marry same-sex couples or, indeed, get married themselves. Is not our established Church in a bit of a mess on these issues?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I think that what is important when it comes to thinking about equal marriage, particularly as we proceed with our legislation, is that we show respect for all views in all our debates. It is for the Church of England to ensure that it has in place the proposals that are right for it.

Many of us can fully rationalise and justify voting for civil marriage between same-sex couples, and also for removing the legal impediment that prevents any Church that wishes to do so from marrying same-sex couples, but how can we also be asked to justify voting for a legal impediment in relation to one Church alone? Does that not invite all of us to add personal absurdity to all the anomalies and anachronisms to which the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) just referred?

The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that not all Churches have the same governance structures in place. Therefore, the legislation we introduce needs to recognise the different position of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. I am sure that when he looks at the legislation he will see that we are amply dealing with the question of the important protections each of those individual religious organisations require.

This question of religious safeguards is an issue of conscience that will rightly be determined by free votes across the House. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proper way to address such an issue of conscience is through a Committee of the whole House, as has happened in the past?

My hon. Friend is right to say that from the start our party has wanted to listen to all views on this issue. Questions to do with the proceedings of the House are matters for the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House, and I am sure they will have heard his comments.

I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). I do not think the Minister understands the policy in relation to the Church of England and the Church in Wales. It is ludicrous to introduce a complete prohibition in respect of these two Churches. Would it not make far more sense to do what the Matrimonial Causes Acts did? They just said that no minister of religion shall be required to marry a divorcee, and in this case we should say they shall not be required to conduct a same-sex marriage.

We have, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, spent a great deal of time talking to the different religious institutions, including the Church of England, and they have very clearly said that at this point in time they do not wish to be able to perform same-sex marriages. We are protecting the Church of England and its particular position with regard to common law and canon law, and making sure that it can opt in at a later time if it thinks that is right.

Autumn Statement

6. What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect of the autumn statement on women, black and minority ethnic groups and older people. (136072)

Colleagues have had discussions with the Chancellor and others on the impact of tax and benefits changes. The Government are committed to fairness and look very closely and carefully at the effects of their decisions on different groups, including women, black and minority ethnic groups and older people.

Evidence from the House of Commons Library contradicts what the Minister has said, because it shows that women are shouldering almost three quarters of the cumulative impact of the net direct tax, benefit, pay and pension changes pursued by the coalition Government. Does she believe this blind spot on women reflects the fact that there are so few women in the Government?

We have lifted 1 million women out of having to pay tax and put an additional £200 million into child care support, and under this Government we have seen the highest number of women in work. That proves beyond doubt our commitment to women and their families.

Government Equalities Office

8. What steps she is taking to improve cost-effectiveness and value for money in the Government Equalities Office. (136074)

In light of the 38% reduction in the equalities budget in the 2010 spending review, the Government Equalities Office is pursuing efficiency measures, enabling it to do more with less resource while maintaining high quality.

What progress has been made in ensuring equality in the Government Equalities Office since June 2011, given that a report found then that there was a gender imbalance of two-thirds in favour of women and women in the office were on average paid 7.7% more than men? Are men not equal to women?

As I am sure my hon. Friend would expect, I want to make sure the GOE is doing what it needs to do to promote equality in its own ranks, and I will certainly look in detail at the points he has raised.

Business of the House

Mr Speaker, may I wish you and the House a happy and peaceful new year?

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 14 January—Second Reading of the Crime and Courts Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 15 January—A motion to approve the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2013.

Wednesday 16 January—Opposition day [14th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 17 January—A general debate on Atos work capability assessments, followed by a general debate on the nuclear deterrent. The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 18 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 21 January—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill.

Tuesday 22 January—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House on the Succession to the Crown Bill.

Wednesday 23 January—Opposition day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 24 January—Debate on a motion relating to reducing the voting age, followed by a general debate on the Holocaust memorial day. The subjects for those debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 25 January—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 24 January will be:

Thursday 24 January—Debate on the first report of the Justice Committee on post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

May I also take this opportunity, on behalf of the House, to offer our congratulations to the Members of this House whose public service has been recognised in the new year honours? May I also say how pleased we are by the awarding of Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath to the Clerk of the House? That reflects his fine public service and leadership, and is a tribute to the House service as a whole.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, and may I join him in wishing you, Mr Speaker, all Members of this House and all the staff who work here a happy new year? I would also like to join him in his congratulations to those who were recognised in the new year’s honours list.

The ongoing disturbances in Northern Ireland concern Members from all parts of the House. More than 3,000 people were killed during the troubles. The peace process has brought to Northern Ireland hope and greater security, and has helped to attract much-needed investment. Those whose only aim is to bring down the peace process are exploiting events in Belfast, and we must not let a small minority undermine all that has been achieved since the Good Friday agreement. May I thank the Leader of the House for arranging a statement from the Northern Ireland Secretary following business questions? Will he undertake to ensure that she keeps the House regularly updated?

On Tuesday, the House considered the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, and there is more of it to come. The Government have refused to let the Bill have pre-legislative scrutiny and are intent on forcing it through the House in just one more day. Ministers are running scared of scrutiny because they do not want the facts to get in the way of their nasty little caricatures of those who rely on social security. The facts are that 7 million households affected by this legislation are in work; and the Government’s own impact assessment, published at the last minute on Tuesday, thus preventing Members from scrutinising it before the debate, shows that those who lose the most from these measures will be the poorest 10% of households. So can the Leader of the House explain why there is no pre-legislative scrutiny for this Bill, unlike almost all other bills this Session, and look again at the timetabling of this legislation?

Did the right hon. Gentleman find time this morning to tune into the Deputy Prime Minister’s new, gripping, radio show? No doubt, like all Conservative MPs, he has cleared his diary so as not to miss a broadcast. I am sorry to say that expectations were not high among Government Back Benchers, with the view of the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) being:

“Having sat and listened to him at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions, he has never answered a question yet so he isn’t likely to break the habit of a lifetime on radio.”

Having listened to the broadcast this morning—it was half an hour of my life that I will never get back—I have to report to the House that the Deputy Prime Minister did not break the habit. However, I have discovered that, strangely, although the Deputy Prime Minister is keen to do a London phone-in, yesterday he refused to appear on a Radio Sheffield show to answer questions about the impact of Government cuts in his own constituency. As the Deputy Prime Minister clearly has time on his hands, could the Leader of the House make a change to future business to accommodate a statement on why the Liberal Democrat leader is hiding from the people of Sheffield?

I pay tribute to the former Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde, who has decided to leave the Government because he is fed up of having to deal with the Liberal Democrats. If every Conservative Member who was fed up with the Liberal Democrats abandoned politics, the only Tory left in the Government would be the Prime Minister.

This week, the PR Prime Minister managed to bungle his own Government relaunch. First, two Ministers resigned because they had had enough of the coalition and then we had the shambles of the Government’s self-audit. Having put together a document allegedly auditing their first two and half years, Ministers realised, as the memo put it, that it had “problematic areas” that would lead to “unfavourable copy” as a result of identifying “broken” promises. On Monday at the relaunch, there was no audit. It is a unique interpretation of Government transparency first to decide against publishing a so-called audit, only to have to retrieve it from the waste paper bin after a bungling aide inadvertently revealed its existence to the media. I have had a look at what is actually in the document. There is no mention of the cost of living going up, nurse and police numbers going down and the economy flatlining. Who is the Prime Minister trying to kid? Seventy broken promises is just the start. It does not say Ronseal on this tin; it says whitewash.

There you have it, Mr Speaker, in one week: a botched relaunch, a cover-up and a whitewash. This just proves that with this Government an omnishambles is not just for Christmas.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. Perhaps it should fall to me to express our appreciation of Lord Strathclyde and his fabulous service over many years. He was leader of the Conservatives in the Lords for 14 years and Leader of the House since the election; he has an exemplary record of public service and we in this House, although we do not normally comment on matters in another place, have benefited many times from how he fostered co-operation between the two Houses. We should certainly thank him for that.

The shadow Leader of the House is right that it is the Government’s intention and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to keep the House fully informed. My right hon. Friend has made statements and she will do so again today. I share with the shadow Leader of the House the view that those engaging in violence in Northern Ireland are attacking the character and nature of Britain and the flag that represents the United Kingdom as a whole. As the Prime Minister rightly said in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, we should be working towards a shared future. There is a tremendous opportunity of which we have seen evidence in Northern Ireland and I hope the statement today will further reiterate this House’s support for those in Northern Ireland who are making that shared future a reality.

The hon. Lady asked about the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill. It is a short, simple Bill and what it sets out to achieve is very clear. I do not see any case for pre-legislative scrutiny of a Bill with such a character. More to the point, I think the debate the other day was not about scrutiny of the Bill but about differences of view about how to take forward deficit reduction. The Government recognise that it is a necessity, that everybody must play their part and that it was not acceptable for out-of-work benefits to continue to increase at twice the rate of increases for those who were earning. We are supporting those in work, giving them opportunities by reducing taxation. Some 24 million people have seen their tax bill come down as a consequence of the increase in the personal tax allowance and those on the minimum wage have seen their tax bill halved. That is the right way to go—it is about everyone participating in deficit reduction, but those who are most in need should get the greatest support.

I must confess to the shadow Leader of the House that I did not have an opportunity this morning to listen to LBC and the Deputy Prime Minister because I was preparing for questions in this House. However, I regularly attend and listen to the Deputy Prime Minister as he responds to questions in this House, as he did earlier this week. I thought he did so admirably.

Finally, the Government were always going to publish the audit. It is obvious that, compared with the previous Government, this Government have been transparent, clear and accountable both in what we have set out to do under the coalition programme and in what we have achieved, and 90% achievement in just over half of a Parliament is a record that we can be proud of.

Further to the question raised a few minutes ago in Women and Equalities questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), has the Leader of the House considered the importance of holding the Committee stage of the House’s deliberations on changes to the marriage legislation in a Committee of the whole House, bearing in mind that this is a free vote conscience issue?

It is not the case that issues of conscience in a Bill are always considered in a Committee of the whole House. It is a matter for further discussion on how we take the Bill forward, as we have not yet introduced it. I am sure that, at that time, I will have the opportunity to inform the House about our plans for effective scrutiny of the legislation.

Will the Leader of the House find time to have a debate on the impact that benefits, housing and tax changes will have on poverty in the UK, and will he tell us when the Prime Minister will visit a food bank?

It is interesting that, when it comes to tackling poverty, the hon. Gentleman might have included in his list of things that impact on poverty the extent to which people are in work. The level of poverty in this country is not simply a product of the redistributive changes by Government. It is about getting people into work, and one of the central achievements of this country over that past two and a half years has been—we can see it in the contrast between the United Kingdom and many other European countries—the extent to which the private sector is creating jobs and people are going into work. As has been acknowledged by Labour Members, although they appear not to follow through the logic, work is the best means of escaping poverty.

When he considers business for next week and the coming few weeks, may I urge my right hon. Friend not to rush bringing forward the legislation on same-sex marriage until Government officials and officials in the Church of England and other faith groups have agreed the draft clauses that will give protection to Churches and faith groups that do not wish to perform same-sex marriages, and have agreed that those clauses will do what they say on the tin? Whatever the views of the Church of England and other faith groups might be on same-sex marriage, I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that it is in everyone’s interests that we get the quadruple lock provision properly sorted, and that it will not help the Government’s handling of the measure if there is any confusion about these provisions on Second Reading.

It is absolutely our intention to ensure that the legislation that comes forward is clear and will carry support. To that end I am grateful not only to my hon. Friend but to representatives of the Church of England for enabling us to have those conversations before the Bill is introduced.

May I push the Leader of the House to arrange an early debate on post-natal depression, which affects about 20,000 women a year in this country? It is the most likely cause of death in young women between the ages of 18 and 40 by suicide. It is a very neglected area and the sooner we tackle it and give it higher visibility, the better.

The hon. Gentleman may recall that in the summer of last year, when I was Secretary of State for Health, one of the things that I set out as part of the further measures to improve maternity services was a focus on post-natal depression. I entirely share his view. There is still, as I know from my knowledge of the health service, variable access to specialist services for some of the most severe cases of post-natal depression. I know my colleagues will be looking at that, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise the matter at Health questions next Tuesday, I am sure that would be helpful too.

Will it be possible to have a debate next week on collective ministerial responsibility? I tabled a number of questions to the Prime Minister on the subject, which have been ducked. Surely it is important that there should be clarification of what we mean by collective ministerial responsibility, and how and to what extent the Prime Minister feels obliged to enforce the provisions of the ministerial code in relation to collective ministerial responsibility.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have not had the opportunity to see the questions to which he refers, although I would be glad to. As far as I am aware, collective ministerial responsibility continues to apply as it always has done, as has the ministerial code.

On the question of keeping the House informed, before Christmas I asked the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice about proposals for new prisons in north Wales, but he refused to meet Members of Parliament from north Wales. As we speak, the Department is briefing journalists on new prisons and on a super-prison that might be placed in north Wales. Why are the Government so disrespectful of Members of this House that they are briefing Lobby journalists, rather than Members of Parliament, on the matter, which is of profound concern to my constituents?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that a written ministerial statement was laid before the House this morning—[Interruption.] He says that he wants an oral statement. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice laid a written ministerial statement that is very full and detailed, and there will, of course, be opportunities in future, for example during Justice questions, for Members to ask questions on that.

In the past half hour my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) have all questioned the length of time there will be for discussions on the Bill to equalise marriage, and it seems to me that a Committee of the whole House is the answer. Previously, when the Leader of the House, as shadow Health Secretary, was involved when a conscience issue came before the House, it was considered in a Committee of the whole House, so will he reconsider his position and ensure that the Bill is considered in a Committee of the whole House?

I reiterate that in the past conscience issues, including those that have been the subject of free votes by virtue of that fact, have not necessarily been considered by a Committee of the whole House. There is a job to be done in scrutinising legislation, which can sometimes be best achieved in Committee, and all Members have an opportunity to participate in the debate on Report, particularly if sufficient time is available. I am not prejudging the question of the equal marriage Bill at all, as it has not been introduced and I have not announced how we propose the business should be taken forward.

Next Tuesday we will discuss the important section 30 order, which will allow for a legally binding referendum on Scottish independence to be determined by the Scottish Government. Many of the Leader of the House’s hon. Friends are not particularly well disposed to that idea and might be tempted to vote against the measure. Can he assure me that there will be a three-line Government Whip for attendance to ensure that any rebellion is defeated?

If I may say so, it is sufficient that I deal with the business of the House, rather than attempting to answer questions relating to the whipping arrangements of each individual party. Suffice it to say, the matter will be brought forward on a Government motion.

Many of my constituents contact me about asylum and visa applications, and when my office investigates with the UK Border Agency we see that the personal data held by the agency are woefully out of date. Will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to explain what the Department is doing to ensure that UKBA is not only fit for purpose, but keeps up-to-date personal records?

My hon. Friend will know that the UK Border Agency is developing a strategy to identify and resolve data issues, not least in response to a recommendation of the chief inspector of borders and immigration. That should ensure the quality of data and assist the agency in cleansing the data records on the system. If my hon. Friend has specific examples of constituents affected, I am sure that it would be helpful if he raised those with Home Office colleagues. We know that the UK Border Agency had a poor record in the past. The process of turning that around has begun and is progressing, but it will take time.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts), any time a Minister is asked about food poverty, their response is that we have seen jobs created in the private sector. I am shocked that the Government are not aware that working people are accessing emergency food aid in this country. When will the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor, or a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs actually visit a food bank so that they can give more informed responses to the questions asked by Labour MPs?

I am surprised that the hon. Lady should think that we have not done that, although I can speak only for myself; I have not checked with other Ministers. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and I visited a food bank in her constituency in the early part of last year or thereabouts. I completely understand the concern, of course. Access to food banks has been increased, and that is absolutely right. It is right that people should have access to food banks, and there is better access than there used to be in the past. We are setting out to ensure that those who are in the greatest need get the greatest support. However, it is not simply a matter of public sector support; it is about giving people the opportunity to have the dignity and independence that comes with work and earnings.

Following the recent announcement by the would-be state nannies in the Labour party that they think that the content of breakfast cereals should be regulated, which will put our Sugar Puffs and our Frosties under threat, may we please have a debate on how we can best protect these great British cereals from this unwarranted attack before anyone starts suggesting that they should be put in plain packages?

At the weekend I was rather staggered by the effrontery of Labour Members, who, in the course of their 13 years in office, presided over what was, in effect, a doubling of obesity, in then saying that something should be done and, in particular, proposing legislation when in those 13 years they proposed no such legislation themselves. They are clearly amusing themselves with the luxuries of opposition. The fact is that in government we have done more in two and a half years to tackle these issues than the Labour party did in 13 years.

On the question of cereals, the evidence is that a voluntary approach can make more progress more quickly, and that is what the responsibility deal is doing. We have achieved that in relation to salt. In particular, it has enabled us to take full account, in a practical and effective way, of consumer preference and consumer taste. We can shift consumer taste and reduce salt in cereals, and the public will continue to buy them. Even Mr Speaker might buy cereals in the morning and not notice that the salt content has been reduced. Reducing sugar is tough because it impacts on taste, but it does not get us anywhere—[Interruption.] I did not even have Weetabix this morning. Reducing sugar in cereals through legislation does not get us anywhere if the consequence is that people simply start sprinkling sugar on their cereals. If we tackle the problem in a way that works effectively through the responsibility deal, that is a more long-term and sustainable approach.

Over the weekend we read a great deal of what was provided to lobby journalists about the Government’s plans for the future of child care, yet when the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister relaunched the Government on Monday afternoon we heard no detail about their plans. When will a Minister come to this House to lead a debate or make a statement so that Members can contribute on the issue of the future of child care, which is such an important one for most of my constituents?

The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister were very clear on behalf of the coalition Government in setting out some further directions, one of which, rightly, was investment in the future of child care. They made it very clear that over coming weeks further announcements will be made, and of course they will be made, as is proper, first to this House.

Will the Leader of the House note my sorrow to hear today that Shepton Mallet prison is to close—a prison where most prisoners are working? The most recent report and several previous reports have said that it is a settled and remarkably safe prison for prisoners, staff and visitors. Will he recognise the leadership of Andy Rogers, who is the governor, and his team of very dedicated staff, and note that such decisions on closure affect not only money but jobs in the prison and for those who serve it in an area without many alternatives?

I know that my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice will read what my hon. Friend has just said in response to this morning’s written ministerial statement and there will be opportunities in the future to discuss these issues. I will take this opportunity, as she has asked, to pay tribute to not only Andy Rogers, but to those working in the Prison Service, who do an often thankless and difficult task very well.

There is an urgent need for prison places in north Wales and today’s statement indicates that it is a possible option for a super-prison, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), I am concerned that we do not have the opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Justice today. May we have an early debate on the provision of prison places, and could the Leader of the House gently suggest to the Justice Secretary that, given that he was at the Dispatch Box yesterday talking about rehabilitation and prisons, he may have had an opportunity to make these announcements then so that we could have questioned him in this House?

As I said to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), a written ministerial statement setting out what are, frankly, detailed and substantial issues was placed before and announced first to the House. There will be both formal and informal opportunities for Members to get together with Justice Ministers to discuss how to take this forward.

At this time of year, local authorities are determining their budgets. Harrow council, uniquely in London, is increasing its council tax by 2%, while Hammersmith and Fulham is reducing it for the sixth time in seven years. May we have a debate in Government time about what is happening to Government money in local authorities and expose the wastage in Labour-run authorities?

If I recall correctly—I will correct myself if I am wrong—we have had a debate on the local government finance settlement. It is important that we in the House vote for resources to support local government, but it is the responsibility of local government to use those resources effectively and to secure value for money. I know that many authorities are achieving that, but others—I look to the Labour party to explain some of them—are not achieving value for money in what are, frankly, tough financial times. I hope that all authorities will achieve best practice in terms of value for money.

The Academies Commission has released disturbing evidence of the selection of some pupils at the expense of those from disadvantaged communities. At the same time, we hear reports of academies being run for profit, which the Education Secretary has previously denied. May we have a debate about the future of academies so that both those very important issues can be addressed in this House?

Following the passage of the Academies Act 2010, the expansion in the number of academies is a great success of which this coalition Government are very proud. The hon. Gentleman says that the Academies Commission has produced evidence. I have not had an opportunity to read it myself, but the press reports that I have seen do not suggest that it was more than limited, anecdotal evidence. I am not sure that there is any substantial body of evidence. On schools and profit distribution, the position is exactly as my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has said: they are not permitted under the legislation to distribute profits.

May we have a debate on the integrity of Government consultations? Following representations from my local Sikh community, will the Leader of the House inform Members how Sikhs up and down the land were consulted on proposed legislation for same-sex marriage?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend had occasion to catch Mr Speaker’s eye in order to ask that question of the Minister for Women and Equalities earlier. He will know that the consultation on theses issues was substantial and attracted hundreds of thousands of responses. I have no doubt that the Sikh community will have been represented in those responses, but I will gladly ask my right hon. Friend at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to secure a specific reply.

May we have a debate on Government transparency, because the Government are telling us not what we need to know, but what we do not want to know? The Department for Education has answered only one freedom of information request in the past nine months, yet on “Call Clegg” this morning the Deputy Prime Minister felt the need to tell the nation that he owned a green onesie, although he has not yet worn it. Is that the sort of information that the public really need to know? How many Ministers own a onesie? The nation should be told!

I am beginning to think that the best preparation for business questions would be to listen to LBC radio on a Thursday morning. I clearly missed out. I find it incredible that the Department for Education could have responded to only one freedom of information request. Any Department that I have been in has replied to freedom of information requests by the dozen on a weekly basis.

At a time of great change in the EU and in Britain’s relationship with it, has my right hon. Friend given any thought to improving scrutiny in this place, for example by improving the use of specialist Select Committees to scrutinise EU legislation, promoting the post of Minister for Europe to a Cabinet position and periodically considering European business in this Chamber, rather than always considering Westminster business?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the European Scrutiny Committee is conducting an inquiry into European scrutiny, which Her Majesty’s Government have welcomed. She makes an important point about the wider use of the expertise of departmental Select Committees in European scrutiny. I hope that that will be taken forward. We look forward to seeing the report of the European Scrutiny Committee. Questions on European business may be asked of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In addition, European legislation impacts on the policies of many Departments and so can be raised at many Question Times.

As the nations of Britain have waited three centuries for an opportunity to reform the undemocratic anachronism of the choice of Head of State, is it not unseemly to rush the legislation through both Houses in a single day, thereby denying the House the opportunity to give the nations a choice over the next Head of State by referendum, so that they can choose whether they want Charles, William or Citizen A. N. Other?

The Government have no intention of doing what the hon. Gentleman asks. I reiterate that from the business that I have announced, it is clear that we are proposing that the Succession to the Crown Bill should be considered on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House on the first day. There will therefore be two days of debate in this House, each of which will have proceedings that are amendable.

In April, the Government will cut income tax for 33,340 working people in Pendle and lift 1,570 of the lowest-paid workers out of paying income tax altogether. That is in stark contrast to the previous Government, who abolished the 10p tax rate. May we therefore have a debate on supporting hard-working families and ensuring that they can keep more of the money that they earn?

My hon. Friend makes an important point admirably. I hope that in our further debate on the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, people will recognise that the changes to personal tax allowances will take a lot of low-income workers out of tax altogether and reduce the tax bill for many millions of people.

I attended Culture, Media and Sport questions this morning in the hope of asking a question about the gambling prevalence survey, but there was so much interest in that matter that it was oversubscribed. I therefore ask the Leader of the House to consider having a debate in Government time on the proliferation of betting shops on the high street in the hope that the concern will ensure that the Government put into action their rhetoric on localism and allow local authorities the right to control the number of betting shops on their high streets.

If I may, I will ask my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government to respond. I am aware that it has considered issues relating to the licensing of betting shops in local areas, so it is perhaps best that it replies on that specific matter. Given the comments from across the House, this might be an issue that the hon. Lady and other Members would like to invite the Backbench Business Committee to pursue.

Perhaps other Members, with the hon. Lady’s support, would like to ask the Backbench Business Committee whether this issue can be brought forward for discussion.

May we have a debate about attacks on public service workers, particularly teachers, people in the NHS, and police officers? Over Christmas we had the appalling example of a thug who violently assaulted a headmistress, abused and punched her, but simply walked away with a community service order and having to give her £100 in compensation. Surely such crimes should always be dealt with by a prison sentence. May we have a debate to find out what we can do to protect public servants from such attacks and ensure that the perpetrators of such violence are always sent to prison?

I completely understand, and my hon. Friend makes an important point very well. I recall, particularly in relation to the health service, how strongly we felt that on many occasions too few attacks had been followed up, and that too few cases had led to appropriate action. The Government were looking at the extent to which such issues were taken into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing, but I will ask my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to look at the issue and respond to my hon. Friend.

Sixty per cent. of agricultural land in countries such as Burma and Indonesia that have serious hunger problems have been subjected to land grab. Given that the UK has the presidency of the G8