House of Commons
Thursday 14 February 2013
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
After four and a half years of dedicated and outstanding professional service to the House, the Deputy Serjeant at Arms, Mike Naworynsky, is sadly leaving us shortly to take up a new role in Oxford. I am sure that the whole House will want very warmly to thank him for all he has done on our behalf.
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
Olympic/Paralympic Games: Legacy
I am sure that you will not find it inappropriate for me to wish you, Mr Speaker, a happy Valentine’s day, although I am sure that I am not the first person to have done so this morning.
The Government are clear about our vision to deliver legacy over the next 10 years, and we have already made substantial progress across the five core areas: sport and healthy living, economic, community, regeneration of east London and the Paralympics.
You took the words right out of my mouth, Mr Speaker.
For sport in our country, 2012 was a fantastic year, but it is vital that we follow it up over the next few years, especially with the young people we have the greatest potential to influence. In my constituency, a charity called Kids Run Free organises events to get young people passionate about exercise and sets up races that are available to school and pre-school age groups. The races have spread across the west midlands and the charity is eager to do more. What support are the Government giving to innovative charities such as Kids Run Free, and how can we ensure that they get the resources they need so that we can build a long-lasting Olympic legacy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to organisations such as the one he mentions in his community, which can inspire young people to get involved in sport and stay involved. The Government are supporting those organisations through our youth and community sport strategy, in which £1 billion is being invested over the next five years. Along with the work of Sport England, that makes us well placed to capitalise on the momentum from the Olympic and Paralympic games.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have read in the press that Ofsted has produced an important report, in which it found that there has been an improvement in the provision of school sport since 2008. Everyone in the House would applaud that, but clearly we want to do more to build on the momentum from the Olympics and Paralympics. That is why we are continuing to put forward investment for the school games, which we think is an important legacy project, but we will continue to look at how we can ensure that teachers are able to provide the physical literacy that we know young people need.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the Government’s work to achieve a lasting legacy, but I ask her to focus on the financial legacy, particularly the money that was left within the budget and not spent. She will be aware of the big lottery refund campaign, now supported by more than 3,300 charities, which is pressing for that money to be returned. I know that it is the Government’s intention to do so, but can she indicate when that will occur?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to bring that up. The lottery’s financial role in many organisations’ lives is pivotal. We cannot yet finalise the accounts, so it would be a little premature of me to give any indication about it or when it might happen, but I certainly understand the point he makes. Organisations want to know how that will work as we move forward.
I thank the Minister for her comments so far. Northern Ireland played a very significant role in participating and medal-winning for Team GB at the Olympics. What discussions has she had with the equivalent Minister in Northern Ireland to ensure that the legacy from the Olympics will also be in place for the young people in Northern Ireland who want a chance to be an Olympian?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that every corner of this great nation pulled together and supported the Olympics in a fantastic way. The Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), has a committee that looks particularly at sport participation, and the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy Cabinet Committee, which I chair, is looking at how we can make sure that that participation continues to grow over time in every part of the country. There are also local organisations dealing with this in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the United Kingdom.
The London 2012 games put women’s sport on the map, and we are committed to maintaining that very important momentum.
My hon. Friend is a very keen sportsman, and I am not surprised that he raises the important role that women play in rugby. I applaud the work in his constituency to make sure that that is happening. He may be aware that as a result of the Olympics and the Paralympics over 600,000 more women have participated regularly in sport. We can see no finer example of the contribution of women in sport than the women’s six nations tournament, which is going on at the moment. I am sure that every Member in this House will be supporting their home team.
The Secretary of State is right about the achievements of women during the Olympics. The figures show that 36% of medals won at the Olympics were won by women, yet women get less than 1% of the sponsorship. Will she do something to try to redress that significant imbalance?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: sponsorship can be crucial in not only increasing the prominence of women’s sport but in enabling more women to go to an even higher level within their sport. I have been looking at this with people who are setting up support systems. Importantly, I recently held a round table with the press and with governing bodies, because we need to create the demand for such sponsorship, and that is all about creating an increased profile for women in their sporting areas.
Improvements in the coverage of women’s sport in the broadcasting or the press sector are up to the editorial control of those organisations. However, I absolutely believe that the Government can have an important role in voicing the nation’s belief that great women’s sport is going on out there that needs support. I have been working with press and broadcast organisations to highlight the great work that they are already doing, but also building on that further.
11. Last night a packed meeting here in Westminster heard from the inspirational Claire Lomas and Martine Wright, both of whom have overcome severe disabilities to take part in their sports. They found their own motivation, but there are many barriers to participation of women and girls in sport. What will the Secretary of State do to encourage the 87% of women in Salford who are not participating to get interested in sport and fitness activities? (143159)
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that it is important that we reach out to women to help to increase participation even further. I have already cited the dramatic impact that hosting the Olympics and Paralympics has had in raising participation among women. Some sports have had a particularly successful track record in this area. Netball is one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the country, with participation having increased from 110,000 in 2005 to 158,000 last year. There are also examples in cycling and hockey. There is some good success, but we need to make sure that it is echoed in other areas too.
We are investing some £680 million in urban and rural broadband. Taking into account local authority funding and private sector investment, more than £1 billion is going towards rolling out broadband.
I pay tribute to the Minister and the Government for prioritising the roll-out of broadband and for the significant sums of public money they have committed to it. Openreach has been successful in many of the contracts for extending broadband provision, but its modelling can be inaccurate. Some of my constituents have switched to fibre-to-the-cabinet, but they do not get speeds anywhere near the original commitments. Given those inaccurate models, is the Minister confident that some of the providers will not come back for further public money?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the assiduous work he does for his constituents. The average speed in Wales has gone up from some 7.5 megabits to 12 megabits. We are investing almost £57 million in rolling out broadband. I note what he says about speed. It is important that customers understand the speeds they will be getting.
12. Several organisations, including those involved in the delivery of the project, have said that the Government will not meet the target of 90% of households having access to superfast broadband by 2015. What does the Minister have to say to the 2.6 million households that will have to wait between three and five years extra to access basic broadband? (143160)
I say to the country as a whole that BT is undertaking the most ambitious roll-out of broadband almost anywhere in the world. We have the most ambitious rural broadband programme of any country in Europe and we are set on delivering superfast broadband to the vast majority of people in this country, which is a world-beating internet nation.
I pay tribute to the Government’s determination to roll out broadband, particularly in rural areas, including national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. However, some of the provisions in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill would remove protections that such areas have enjoyed for 60 years. Is it necessary to put in jeopardy those areas in order to achieve rural broadband roll-out?
It is absolutely essential that we strike a balance between protecting our rural environment and removing some of the obstacles that have slowed the roll-out of broadband, so that it can be laid more quickly, more cheaply and more efficiently. It is important to strike a balance and I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.
The House knows by now that it was Labour’s policy to roll out broadband across the nation by 2012. The Government put the target back to 2015 and BT now says that it will not be achieved until 2017. What will be the impact of the Prime Minister’s decision to agree the 90% cut in the European broadband budget last week?
We would not expect that to have any impact on our own proposals. We are well ahead of the game in rolling out superfast broadband. Most of Europe—in fact, all of Europe—sees us as a leader in that respect. I am delighted that we did not introduce Labour’s telephone tax on hard-working people. Instead, we are delivering superfast broadband to the vast majority of people in this country.
18. Rural villages in my constituency, including White Notley and Birch, are desperate to have the same standard of broadband as the urban centres in my constituency. Will the Minister guarantee that every possible effort will be undertaken to secure private and public investment to get the right levels of connections across my constituency? (143166)
Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service and to fund the service. My Department monitors the local authority proposals for library service changes in England and the annual Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy statistics, compiled from detail provided by the local authorities and published towards the end of this year.
Somehow I did not expect the Minister to admit the grave situation his Government have created in the library sector. He should know that many councillors across the country are facing the prospect of closing the bulk of library buildings in their communities as Government cuts hit hard. How does that help the Minister fulfil the statutory duty to oversee the library service, and what message does he think he is sending young people and communities about the importance of reading and learning?
What message is the hon. Gentleman sending when he talks down our library service? Local authorities have always paid for libraries and have always provided them, and they fund them with more than £800 million a year. Thousands of libraries are open up and down the country and new libraries are opening. Our library service is in very good health.
The Minister does not have to shout when he is put in a corner. I wish him a very happy Valentine’s day. Opposition Members do not believe that there should be no change to the library service. We have to move with the times. However, libraries are the centre of a civilised community. They should be updated, but they are havens where people can go and where kids from poorer homes can do their homework. We should look at them as a setting in the community. It is the Government’s job to lead on this important issue.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I wish him a happy Valentine’s day and note his Valentine’s tie. I agree with everything that he said. That is why we have appointed a specialist libraries adviser and why we have set up a fund of £6 million at the Arts Council to support libraries. I could go on, but I do not want to take up too much time.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Devon county council has chosen to keep all its libraries open? Despite facing the same financial pressures as every other council, it has made a political choice to support the library service. Is that not the way forward?
I welcome the Government’s decision to fund six libraries to become business incubators, but it comes at a time when unfair local government funding solutions mean that, since 2010, 640 libraries have closed, are under threat or have been left to volunteers. Why are the Government not developing a survival strategy to support local authorities? Why are the Government not recommending alternatives for the delivery of services? Where is the vision? Where is the leadership?
I sometimes wonder whether the Labour spokesman looks at a single thing that I am doing. We have given responsibility for libraries to the Arts Council, we have set aside a £6 million fund, we have published the CIPFA statistics and we are piloting automatic membership for school children. He simply rolls over when Newcastle proposes to cut its culture and its libraries, and says, “I back Newcastle.”
The Prime Minister has established the Cabinet Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy, through which all Departments are working together to deliver a tangible and lasting legacy from London 2012. Sport is at the heart of that process.
It is evident that sport has a vital role in improving behaviour in schools and health outcomes, and in preventing youth offenders from reoffending, as I have seen at Ashfield young offenders institution near my constituency. Will the Minister pledge to work with colleagues from across Departments to ensure that such interventions are available to young people so that they can turn their lives around?
Absolutely. That process is already happening, as is evident from the work that the Department of Health does through Change4Life clubs, the work of the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, and the cross-departmental funding for the school games.
13. The Minister will be aware that betting on sport has always been central to the business model of betting shops, but a new development is the use of fixed odds betting terminals. Their high stakes and speed of play have led them to be described as the “crack cocaine of gambling”. In my constituency, there are more than 50 such terminals. What does the Minister intend to do about this problem? (143161)
I am not entirely sure what that question had to do with advancing the role of sport. The answer on FOBTs, which emerged in the middle of the question, is that they are subject to the triennial review of stakes and prizes, which has just been launched. The Responsible Gambling Trust is just launching the largest ever consultation into the effect of FOBTs. If, as I suspect, it shows that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, it will be addressed.
Today’s report by Ofsted on sport in schools calls on the Government to devise
“a new national strategy for PE and school sport that builds on the successes of school sport partnerships”.
Those partnerships have been totally undermined by this Government. It is unacceptable that six months after the Olympics, we are still waiting for the Government to deliver a coherent sports strategy. If they continue to delay, they will fail the generation that we should be inspiring. How many more damning reports need to be published before the Minister gets it and the Government deliver the sporting legacy that our children deserve?
First, the Opposition spokesman should not conflate sport legacy with a school sport policy. He is well aware that the sport legacy is going extraordinarily well. He tends never to mention that 1.75 million people are now playing sport who were not playing sport at the time of the bid. There is also a range of international events, and around the globe 14 million extra children have been touched by sport.
If the hon. Gentleman is going to criticise sport provision on the back of the Ofsted report, he should wake up to the fact that it covers 2008 to 2012—throughout the period in which the school sport partnerships were operating. If he wishes to see them reintroduced, he has to explain to the House and others how they would be funded, about which we have heard not a jot from the Opposition since the election.
We have been clear, along with the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, that we expect the Football Association to reform the governance of the game as a top priority. As part of that, we expect the FA to show representative, accountable and strategic leadership and help develop football across all levels including the grass-roots, non-league and professional parts of the game.
I declare an interest as a director of Warrington Town football club, which would not exist were it not for dozens of donors and unpaid volunteers. Other non-league clubs are going bust, yet 50% of the money from our national team continues to be diverted to the professional game, which is really very wealthy. The Select Committee has mentioned that problem. Will the Minister update us on the progress towards fixing that allocation?
There is a fine dividing line here, because it is not for the Government to tell the sport how to allocate money that it raises itself any more than it would be for us to allocate the England and Wales Cricket Board’s broadcast income or the Rugby Football Union’s income from Twickenham. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the issue. If we can get the reforms at the FA that we and the Select Committee are pushing for, they will empower the board to take precisely the decisions that he advocates instead of relying on an arbitrary 50% split.
Non-league football is the bedrock of our beautiful game, and as the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) said, many community clubs face extinction. Bedlington Terriers, a community club in my area, faces a very uncertain future. How will the Government engage with the Premier League to ensure that the vast riches trickle down to assist the survival of non-league community clubs?
The Government are doing a number of things, and I entirely take the hon. Gentleman’s point. This is one of the key things that we discuss regularly with the Premier League, the Football League and the FA. The FA, of course, receives one of the largest whole sport plan funding awards of more than £30 million, which is there precisely for the development of the game and to encourage more people to play football. He makes a good point, and we will address it in the reform process.
Departmental Administrative Expenditure
My Department will have cut its original administration expenditure by 50% in real terms between 2010 and 2015, from £50 million to £27 million, while continuing to deliver across its full range of activities, including a successful Olympic and Paralympics games. Its actual administration budget will have risen from £50 million in 2010 to £55 million in 2015 as a result of the transfer of functions from other Departments.
In these tough times, private sector firms and public sector and voluntary organisations in the Kettering constituency are having to do more with less. Will my right hon. Friend insist that her Department is unrelenting in driving down its unnecessary administrative expenditure all the way through to 2015, to give the British taxpayer the best deal?
I can give my hon. Friend that absolute assurance. Across the board, all areas are expected to make the savings that I know he and his constituents would expect us to, whether within the original DCMS functions or in the new responsibilities that the Department has taken on—those from the Government Equalities Office and telecoms responsibilities from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That includes reducing accommodation costs from £4.9 million in 2010 to £3.6 million this year.
It is departmental policy to pay at least the national minimum wage to all employees, including interns.
The British Film Institute is due to review its policy on internships at the beginning of March. Will the Secretary of State commit to writing to it to encourage it to pay its interns so that the opportunities this publicly funded body provides are available to all without financial support?
The important thing for the hon. Lady to recognise is that work experience and internships are an incredibly helpful way for young people to get into employment, and evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions backs that up. The hon. Lady will know that the BFI wants to ensure that work experience is available to people from a cross-section of society, and it has advertised its internships in such as way as to ensure that happens.
Mobile Telephone Coverage
Only 0.3% of the UK population is not served by any mobile network operators. The mobile infrastructure project is addressing up to 60,000 premises in total, including not spots and the 10 roads announced in the 2012 Budget. When 4G services come on stream they should go to at least 98% of homes.
I thank the Minister for that response. Mobile 4G will be increasingly important in rural communities such as those around Salisbury. Will the Minister clarify the Government’s latest thinking on securing better access to BT networks by mobile operators, as that will be vital to the cost and speed of 4G mobile internet connection experienced across the UK, particularly in rural communities?
We look across the piece at ensuring that we remove any regulatory obstacles to the roll-out of mobile phone infrastructure. As my hon. Friend points out, getting backhaul for mobile phone masts is incredibly important, and I would be happy to hear his concerns. We do, of course, work constructively with Ofcom and BT to ensure that that is effective.
I am pleased with the progress that the Government are making and the Minister’s commitment. In a vastly spread out rural area such as Argyll and Bute, many communities do not have access to mobile phone coverage. Will the Minister tell the House when he hopes to appoint a supplier for the mobile infrastructure project?
15. What steps she is taking to tackle silent calls; and if she will make a statement. (143163)
Under the Communications Act 2003, the Office of Communications —Ofcom—has responsibility for tackling silent and abandoned calls through its persistent misuse powers. It has an ongoing enforcement programme targeted at companies that breach those rules and can issue a penalty of up to £2 million. In the previous year, Ofcom issued fines of £810,000.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but many of my constituents, and those of other hon. Members, say that despite registering with the Telephone Preference Service, they still receive silent and other nuisance calls. Will the Minister meet concerned MPs so that we can discuss some of those issues and look at what more can be done to help stop constituents suffering that nuisance?
I have already met a number of MPs to discuss the issue and I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady and any hon. Members she wishes to bring with her. I share her concerns. This is important and there are two regulators—Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office—and I meet them regularly to discuss this issue. I would happily bring them to the meeting.
City of Culture
We expect to announce the result of the competition for UK city of culture 2017 in November.
Although I fully appreciate that my hon. Friend must go through the formalities of the bidding process as to which city should be city of culture in 2017, he could save his time and the work of his officials by announcing now that Southend should be the city of culture.
Arm’s Length Bodies: Appointments
Ministerial public appointments to my Department’s arm’s length bodies are made on merit, under fair, open and transparent processes, regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments under the commissioner’s code of practice.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but there is a crisis in the museum and arts sector as a result of political interference and incompetence in Downing street—a number of heritage bodies and museums have waited months for decisions on trustee appointments only to have them vetoed by a busy-body Prime Minister on political grounds. Will he tell the Prime Minister to butt out of matters of which he has no knowledge and stop gerrymandering our cultural institutions?
As the hon. Gentleman well knows, all such appointments are made under very strict Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments guidelines and can be challenged. In the appointments for which I have been responsible, we have worked extensively across boundaries. We appointed the former Minister with responsibility for the Olympics to the Olympics board and I kept the former Minister with responsibility for sports as a trustee of the football foundation. That arrangement was not extended to the Conservative party when it was in opposition.
Mr Speaker, I am sure it has not escaped your notice that today is local digital radio switchover day in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, meaning better local radio services for local residents, including those in your constituency. I also welcome the One Billion Rising campaign, which is today highlighting the importance of eliminating violence against women and girls around the country.
Just to take the Valentine’s theme a little further, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport ministerial team are very much in love with the musical artists who achieved success in the recent Grammys—Adele, and Mumford and Sons—and with Daniel Day-Lewis, who triumphed at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards.
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of local radio in our constituents’ lives, but the BBC makes the decisions on how it uses its money. I am sure it has heard loudly his comments. He will welcome the appointment of his former right hon. Friend James Purnell to a prominent position in the BBC—perhaps he will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
T3. News in January that Seedhill athletics track and fitness centre in Nelson has been awarded a £50,000 grant by Sport England to resurface the running track followed similarly great news for Colne and Nelson rugby club, Belvedere and Calder Vale sports club, and Pendle Forest sports club. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the volunteers involved in those excellent Pendle sports clubs on securing their part of the Olympic legacy? (143170)
I join my hon. Friend with pleasure in congratulating those volunteers. I should add to his excellent question by saying that more than 1,000 local community sports clubs have benefited from funding under Places People Play. The funding was made available by the reforms to the lottery introduced by this Government and opposed by the Labour party.
With the Arts Council cut by 30%; with regional development agencies, which did so much to support the arts in the regions, abolished; with arts donors smeared as tax dodgers; with the Education Secretary trying to squeeze arts out of the curriculum; and with local government, especially in hard-pressed areas, which does so much to support arts in local communities, facing the biggest cuts in a generation, does the Secretary of State not realise that it is her job to fight for the arts for everyone? Will she therefore withdraw her shameful assertion that the arts community is disingenuous and that its fears are pure fiction?
The right hon. and learned Lady will know that the arts and culture in this country are at the heart not just of making this a great place to live, but of the growth strategy. That is the work that our Department is doing. It is important to show that arts and culture are not just on the periphery, but at the heart of making this a great country. I am glad she has decided to show an interest in this area—I welcome that. I hope she will underline the importance of sending messages to local authorities such as those in Newcastle that the arts are important.
T4. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Devon and Somerset county councils on recently signing a new contract for superfast broadband? I urge him to bring forward any announcements about future and remaining available funding so that momentum is maintained. (143171)
We were delighted with the procurement for Devon and Somerset, which is one of the largest programmes under the rural broadband scheme. We hear what my hon. Friend says, and we will do anything we can to help him in any way he wishes.
T2. A middle-aged constituent of mine, with no previous history of gambling, lost her family’s life savings after being seduced by clever marketing by a television gambling programme. There is a new pestilence of high-speed, high-stakes gambling that has cost my constituents in Newport West at least £2 million. What are the Government doing to stop it? (143169)
The hon. Gentleman raises concerns that are felt by a number of hon. Members across the House. The Responsible Gambling Trust has primacy in this area and is in the process of conducting the largest piece of academic research ever undertaken. If further action needs to be taken as a consequence—he and many other hon. Members have made this point powerfully—then the Government will take that action.
T5. I hear from many constituents who are subjected to a barrage of unsolicited telephone calls on a daily basis, despite the fact that they are registered with the telephone preference service. Will my hon. Friend undertake to look carefully into this situation, because it is causing a great deal of stress and anxiety, particularly to my elderly constituents? (143172)
As an Essex girl born and bred, I urge the Minister not to be swayed by the hon. Members for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and for Southend West (Mr Amess). May I instead invite him to taste the delights, and to look at the art and culture, of Plymouth?
Tomorrow marks the start of London fashion week. Are the Government willing to work with the British Fashion Council, which is announcing a mapping exercise of manufacturing in the industry to help to support jobs and growth for all of our constituents?
T7. The Minister will be aware of the work of the Magna Carta cities of Salisbury and Lincoln to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. Will he meet Salisbury’s Magna Carta project team, including my distinguished predecessor Robert Key, to discuss the role of the British Library and UNESCO in planning for these important events? (143175)
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. The anniversary of Magna Carta is extremely important. May I also use this opportunity to recall with great fondness my visit to one of the libraries in my hon. Friend’s constituency? I am so pleased that Wiltshire’s libraries are thriving.
T9. Many remote rural communities in Scotland do not have access to any form of broadband, far less superfast broadband. What discussions has the Minister had recently with the Scottish Government to ensure that this issue is tackled effectively? (143177)
Access to resorts, particularly seaside resorts, is one of the key issues that will drive domestic tourism. The numbers are increasing considerably, but one of the great challenges facing domestic tourism is getting more tourists out of London and into coastal resorts. That is one of the issues we are seeking to address.
I am sure the Minister will share my disappointment that libraries have become a political football between national and local government. Does he agree that perhaps the best way of safeguarding our libraries is to define more clearly what constitutes a statutory comprehensive library service?
We have issued clear guidelines to local authorities based on the Charteris review, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that libraries should not be a political football. It is important that local authorities be free to make decisions about the future of their library services. The decisions taken by the Labour council in Brent were based on proposals that were six or seven years old and not related to cuts.
Does the tourism Minister have a view on recent proposals by the BAA to raise the per-passenger charges at Heathrow and does he have plans to make representations to other Whitehall Departments to address the potential effect on the tourism industry?
Yes; as my hon. Friend is well aware, if money is raised in one area and there is a cut, it generally has to be found from somewhere else, and of course raising these duties has the perverse effect of encouraging people to take their holidays in this country. There is a balance to be struck, however, and that is what we are trying to do.
Next week, it is the Brit awards, when we will once again celebrate the massive success of our music industry. I am sure the Minister will be in his usual place. He will know of the usual challenges facing the music industry, particularly from illegal downloading and piracy. When can we expect to see the provisions agreed in the Digital Economy Act 2010?
The Digital Economy Act was a good example of a piece of rushed legislation that was not properly scrutinised, but we are doing our best to get it back on track. There have been bumps in the road, but we continue to work with the music industry and the internet provider industries to crack down on advertising, payments and illegal piracy sites.
I do not believe I have an interest to declare, but if anybody wishes to crawl over my register of interests and come to a different conclusion, I am happy for them to do so.
Is it the Government’s plan to regulate and tax the gambling industry on a point-of-consumption basis? If so, what steps will the Minister take to ensure that the Gambling Commission is prevented from empire building and using that as an excuse to hike up its fees?
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
We now have more women in work than ever before, using their skills to gain economic independence. To see sustainable economic growth, we need to ensure that working mothers can take advantage of the full range of opportunities available in the workplace. We continue to tackle the barriers that might prevent them from reaching their potential.
The Secretary of State speaks warm words, but in Newcastle alone 1,768 women will be affected by the Government’s mummy tax. Low-paid new mums stand to lose £180 in maternity pay and more than £1,300 in total from the Government’s cuts to benefits and tax credits. We know that life is hard enough for working mums. In too many sectors, too many women do not return to work, and we lose their skills and contribution, so why are the Government making life even harder for them?
I have to challenge the hon. Lady’s assertions. It is clear that the Government are giving women the tools and support to become economically independent. The facts speak loudly. This year, we will have taken more than 1 million out of tax altogether. That is the sort of action we want to see—women coming out of tax, being lifted out of poverty and being given the tools to be economically independent.
What working mothers need from employers most of all is flexibility, but employers find it difficult to be flexible when lots of working mothers are thrown into chaos, through no fault of their own, when schools are closed during snowy weather. As a nation, we are not tackling this problem nearly enough. Will my right hon. Friend hold discussions with the Department for Education to see whether we can nail this problem once and for all?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that, as working parents, we rely on certainty in regard to child care and to schools. The decision on whether a school is open is one for head teachers—they can assess things better on the ground—but his point is well made and I will certainly ensure that it is brought to the attention of my hon. Friends in the Department for Education.
Yesterday, six mothers wrote to The Guardian to object to the Government’s real-terms cuts to maternity pay and other pregnancy and child-related benefits. Having babies costs money, and low-paid mums are set to lose £1,300 during pregnancy and their baby’s first year as a result of the real-terms cut to statutory maternity pay, cuts to other pregnancy support and cuts to tax credits. The real-terms cut to SMP alone equates to the price of 24 nappies a week to a low-paid mum. The Prime Minister said that his Government would be the family-friendliest ever, but does not that promise sound hollow now that they are helping millionaires more than mums?
The hon. Lady has to realise that, in a time of difficult economic circumstances, which is certainly what the coalition Government inherited, we have had to make some tough decisions. The tough decisions that we have made are about helping women into work, and helping them to get the skills they need to ensure that their families are financially independent. She will of course be aware that, in April 2011, the child element of the working tax credit was uprated by £180 above inflation, and that the reforms to the tax system have already set us on the path to taking 1 million women out of tax. Surely she should be supporting those changes.
Judicial Review: Disabled People
I routinely meet my colleagues in Government to discuss the impact of policies on disabled people. Before Christmas, I met the Lord Chancellor to discuss areas of common interest.
I thank the Minister for her reply, but may I draw her attention to the chronic lack of funding that has led to a crisis in social care that is particularly affecting working-age disabled people? May I also draw her attention to the report “The Other Care Crisis”, produced by five leading disability charities? There has been a colossal 45% increase in applications for judicial reviews of local authority social care policies. Does she think it is acceptable to undermine the judicial review process for disabled people who are simply trying to get the social care that they need?
There is no undermining of the judicial review process. In 1974, 160 applications were made, but last year alone, there were 11,000. Only about one in six of those applications was granted; fewer still were successful. We are ensuring that the right appeals proceed and that the unmeritous ones do not. This is about ensuring the integrity of the judicial review system and the smooth running of the legal process.
A phenomenon that I see in my constituency is that private landlords are saying, “No housing benefit.” The Minister knows that it is illegal to say, “No blacks, no Irish” and so on, but disabled people are more likely to be dependent on housing benefit than other people. Does she believe that what those private landlords are doing is legal or illegal? If it is illegal, will she enable disabled people’s organisations to take cases through judicial review to stop the landlords doing it?
Good local authorities work with good local landlords. As I have said, we will ensure that the correct cases go through. We want to ensure the integrity of the system, and those people who need to take cases to review will be able to do so. We are on the side of disabled people and we will ensure that their views are heard.
Violence against Women and Girls
There have been a number of recent discussions involving ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education on issues relating to ending violence against women and girls. These include a round-table with police and crime commissioners and the Local Government Association on local commissioning, and a round-table last month on ending female genital mutilation.
The Minister for Women and Equalities has already welcomed the fact that 1 billion women are rising today, but does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the campaign wants the Government to do a lot more? Will he ensure that he works with the Education Secretary to make the prevention of violence against women and girls an integral part of education policy that is delivered in every school as part of the statutory curriculum, and will Ministers vote yes in today’s important debate?
We welcome the campaign and the opportunity for the House to debate these issues at greater length later today. Schools are, of course, free to teach about issues such as sexual consent within personal, social and health education or in other lessons, and children can benefit enormously from high-quality education that helps them to make safe and informed decisions and choices. The DFE has conducted a review of PSHE and will publish its outcomes later this year.
My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to this abhorrent crime. He uses the commonly received expression, but I urge everybody to stop using it, as there is nothing honourable at all about this form of criminal activity. It is part of the overall approach that the Government are taking to try to combat violence against women and girls. He will know that the Government have ring-fenced nearly £40 million of stable funding up to 2015 for a range of tasks of this type, including for the area he has raised.
It is “One Billion Rising” today, and the Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) was simply not good enough. We have had too many warm words and too much waffle from Ministers on this subject. It is no good saying that schools are free to teach about sexual consent. All schools should be teaching our children and young people not to harm each other and to have respect for themselves. They should be teaching them that sexual violence is not normal. The Department for Education has blocked for three years any movement on legislation to introduce compulsory sex and relationship education with zero tolerance of violence in schools. It has been looking at it for three years and has done nothing. It must act. Will the Minister now support that action and our debate today on introducing compulsory sex and relationship education in schools to protect our children?
I hear my Back Benchers saying, “What did you do?” The idea that this social problem began in May 2010 injects an unnecessarily partisan tone into an area that should be beyond party politics. Of course these matters are taught in schools right across the country. I am pleased that the campaign to reduce teenage relationship abuse, which has been effective and welcomed by people of all political persuasions, is being relaunched today. It will focus on what constitutes controlling and coercive behaviour. I hope it will have a compelling impact on boys in particular, but on teenagers of both sexes when they see that campaign.
I am sure the Minister recognises the importance of cross-border co-operation in tackling organised crime such as the trafficking of women and girls. Will he do everything in his power to ensure that Britain continues to co-operate with our European partners on this important issue?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need for international co-operation to combat all forms of crime, including the particular form of crime he brings to our attention. The Government are, of course, committed to working with other Governments all around the world to reduce serious and organised crime and its impact on the United Kingdom. That very much applies to other European countries as well.
Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities
Tackling unemployment is a priority for this Government, and our approach is to support people according to individual needs. There are 3 million ethnic minority people employed in this country—far more than ever before—and we are determined that this progress will continue.
The all-party parliamentary group on race and community report on ethnic minority female employment found that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are particularly affected by unemployment, with unemployment rates of 20.5% compared with 6.8% for white women. Is it not high time that the Government revisited their colour blind approach to unemployment and started to take specific steps to support BME communities to access the labour market?
The Government have provided a wide range of targeted support through Jobcentre Plus, the Work programme, the Youth Contract and our “get Britain working” measures. As a result of the increased flexibility that we have given to providers, interventions can be tailored to specific needs.
Equality and Human Rights Commission
We have completed many key aspects of our reform programme. We have appointed a dynamic new chair and a strong and diverse board, and have reached agreement on a budget. We want the Equality and Human Rights Commission to go from strength to strength, and to be one of our most valued and respected national institutions.
Company Boards: Female Representation
In 2010 we asked Lord Davies to review the obstacles preventing women from making it on to corporate boards. Following his report, a range of steps have been taken. They include a voluntary code of conduct for executive search firms, amendments to the UK corporate governance code, changes to narrative reporting, and the establishment of the Women’s Business Council. Over the past year, 38% of those appointed to the boards of FTSE 100 companies have been women.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the arrival of his new baby daughter, who, for all we know, may be a board director of the future herself?
I thank the Minister for her answer, and I congratulate the Government on the excellent work that they have done to increase the number of women on boards. May I urge them, however, to focus particularly on the pipeline in companies this year, and to encourage our UK corporate boards to engage in a robust discussion about child care, “keep in touch” days, and the big cliff that appears when women reach childbearing age?
My hon. Friend is right. That is the point at which, for many women, it becomes very difficult to participate in the workplace at the same level as before. However, there is a great deal that employers can do to help both mums and dads to play a stronger role in the workplace. The Government’s “think, act, report” initiative is encouraging companies to think about what they can do not only to recruit the best women, but to retain and promote those women and ensure that their talent is nurtured all the way to the boardroom.
The hon. Lady has rightly highlighted the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith). It is now easier for women to make faster progress towards becoming non-executive directors, but the executive route is also important. The Women’s Business Council is looking at all the different stages in women’s careers in considering what action can be taken, and we look forward to the publication of its report later this year. We are seeing progress in the right direction, but we must stay on top of the situation to ensure that it continues to improve.
We will continue to support religious freedoms strongly. For example, the Government believe that people should be able to wear crosses openly at work, and we are pleased about the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Eweida case. The right of people to manifest their religion or belief at work is a vital freedom.
My hon. Friend, who takes a keen interest in this issue, will know that religious freedom is guaranteed under article 9 of the European convention on human rights. However, just as it is right for people to be able to express their religious beliefs, people in this country have a right not to be discriminated against. The recent rulings in the European Court show that, in law, we have the balance about right.
The Secretary of State and I are providing the House with very regular reports on the adulteration of processed beef products with horsemeat. As the House will appreciate, it is not possible to give a running commentary on active investigations. Therefore, for operational reasons, we were unable to inform the House of the Food Standards Agency’s plan to enter the two meat premises in west Wales and west Yorkshire earlier this week. As part of its audit of all horse abattoirs in the UK and the ongoing investigation into the adulteration of meat products, the FSA gathered intelligence that led to it and the police entering the two meat premises and seizing horsemeat. The FSA also seized all paperwork from the two companies and is investigating customer lists. The FSA suspended activities at both plants immediately. The FSA will continue to work closely with the police, and if there is evidence of criminal activity, I will expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved.
I met retailers and suppliers again yesterday, and they confirmed that they are on course to provide meaningful results from product testing by tomorrow. The Secretary of State has made a written ministerial statement today on the outcome of his successful discussions in Europe yesterday. The co-ordinated control plan proposed by the Commission is a welcome step to help address a pan-European problem.
The FSA’s most recent tests for the presence of bute in horses slaughtered in the UK checked 206 horse carcases, and eight came back positive. Three may have entered the food chain in France, and the remaining five have not gone into the food chain. The FSA is working with the French authorities in an attempt to recall the meat from the food chain. I understand—I am sure that the House will be glad to hear this—that the results of bute testing in the withdrawn Findus products have come back negative. The chief medical officer and the chief executive officer of the FSA will be making a statement on both these matters later this morning.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that statement. I am sure the whole House will welcome Tuesday’s raids by the FSA and the police. May I ask him whether all customers of the meat-processing plant have been contacted about the raid and alerted to a potential risk?
I am glad that the FSA is investigating the concerns about horsemeat entering the food chain that I first raised with Ministers last month. Action must be taken to deal with any criminals whose activities have so badly damaged consumer confidence in the UK food industry. I raised the problem of bute-contaminated horsemeat being released into the human food chain with the Minister at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions last month. What action did he take with the FSA to reassure himself after I raised those concerns? Was he aware of bute contamination before that day? Will he explain why, up until four days ago, all horses were being tested for bute in this country but were still being released for human consumption? I am astonished to hear that a further three could have entered the food chain in France, given that I raised this issue with him last month. That is astonishing. We were in the middle of a horsemeat adulteration scandal; this is just catastrophic complacency from him.
It is totally unacceptable that all UK horses were being tested for bute at slaughter but still being released into the human food chain until four days ago. We know that, with more than 9,000 horses slaughtered in the UK for human consumption abroad last year, we must make sure that horsemeat intended for humans is not contaminated with bute—it really is as simple as that. So why did the Minister not act immediately when I raised this issue three weeks ago in this House? Why did he not order full testing, and order that horses should be released only when clear from bute, the moment I raised this with him? We need to know whether the horsemeat entering the UK in these adulterated products contained bute.
Will the Minister tell the House whether the FSA has conducted its own tests on the Findus products to ensure that action can be taken through the criminal courts? Which other countries are testing their horsemeat lasagnes? Which other countries have received those horsemeat lasagnes? We hear from the media that they went to 16 countries, so why have they been withdrawn in only six countries—Britain, Ireland, France, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway? What has happened to the products in the other countries? Has the Minister sought or received reassurances from his EU counterparts that the products have been withdrawn in all EU countries?
Yesterday, the Secretary of State travelled to Brussels for a meeting with his EU counterparts. That arch-Eurosceptic had a damascene conversion to EU labelling regulations on the way. He wants more of them, he wants them quickly and he wants the Commission to hurry up with them—so much speed when his Government have spent the past two years blocking Labour MEPs’ attempts to get better country of origin labelling for processed meats and ready meals. [Interruption.] They do not like hearing it, but they are all keen on it now, Mr Speaker.
Is there not a danger with the EU testing that the most high-risk products will be withdrawn over the next three weeks and quietly disposed of? Yesterday, the Secretary of State said:
“Nobody had a clue that there was adulteration of beef products”,
yet the Government were told by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that it was testing last November. It seems that he and his colleagues are just totally clueless.
Listening to the hon. Lady, one would fail to understand that probably the biggest investigation into criminal behaviour that has ever been conducted across Europe is going on at the instigation of this Government and as a result of the actions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He instigated the meeting of Farming Ministers of the affected countries and the Commission, established Europol in a co-ordinating role, brought forward the labelling of ingredients for products as an emergency item within the EU, exchanged data at a speed that was never done under the Government whom the hon. Lady supported, brought forward an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health to consider probable thresholds, and got the matter on the agenda for Council on 25 February. That is a quite remarkable achievement in a very short time. The Government are committed to proper investigations based on evidence.
Let me finish with one point raised by the hon. Lady—[Interruption.] If she would stop shouting at me, I will give her the answer. She raised the criminal investigations following her assertions in this House about phenylbutazone. She was repeatedly asked by the Food Standards Agency to share the information she purported to have and she refused to do so. I think that every citizen in this country has a duty to provide evidence to the relevant investigating authorities when there is evidence of potential criminal behaviour.
Is not the hon. Lady’s difficulty the fact that in 2006, under the previous Labour Government, changes were made that led to there being no daily inspection presence in meat-cutting premises? As the House and the country listen to the hon. Lady, will they not become increasingly convinced that all this sound and fury is about drumming up shock-horror headlines rather than responsibly contributing to solving the problem?
There is a lot in what the hon. Gentleman says. When I hear those on the Opposition Front Bench giving a critical analysis of the very arrangements they put in place as though they had been invented over the past few months, I find it difficult to take some of their criticisms seriously.
My concern is that this scandal is the tip of the iceberg and there is much more to be uncovered about what goes into our food and what is in the meat supply chain. Will the Minister assure me that the Government will learn the lessons from this episode and mount a wider investigation into those issues?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. We need to get to the bottom of some of the supply chain issues across Europe. First, we need to deal effectively with the immediate problem, but then we need to stand back and take a long, hard look at some of the other practices. The retailers and processors in this country and across Europe also need to consider how they operate, because I am not convinced that they are as convinced as they ought to be of the provenance of some of their goods.
Will my hon. Friend consider the July 2012 veterinary residues committee declaration that the horse passport of any horse treated with phenylbutazone should declare—and should be appropriately signed—that that horse should not enter the food chain? Is it the case, as at that time, that some vets are still prescribing bute without checking the passport or ensuring that the horse is subsequently signed out of the food chain?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. It is absolutely clear that the horse passport should show that a horse has been treated, and that horse is then not put into the food chain if it is inappropriate to do so. As I have looked at the situation, I have become more and more convinced that the horse passport system, which was introduced by the EU and implemented in this country by the previous Government, is not as effective as it should be, by a long way. Once we have dealt with the initial problem, we ought to look at the system again. I want to see an effective record of provenance for horsemeat, just as for any other animal. We have a very good system for cattle and sheep, but for horses the system is inadequate.
The whole House should take seriously the risk of phenylbutazone getting into the food chain. We should therefore be pleased to hear that the test results on one batch have come back negative, but of course there is an awful lot more horsemeat in circulation, some sourced in the UK and some sourced elsewhere. My concern, which I put directly to the Minister, stems from the very good report published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today. Where is the testing facility going to be? Is it adequate? Will the Minister give the House an assurance that there will be adequate investment in testing in this country?
In this country, I think we now have the situation under control, but I am concerned that there are third-country imports of horsemeat into the European Union. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has secured an agreement across Europe that there will be bute testing in other countries for horsemeat coming in. It is important to note the chief medical officer’s advice—and the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Science and Technology Committee, will be aware of the importance of this. It is clear that at low levels—and we are talking about low levels in horsemeat—there is a very low risk indeed that bute would cause any harm to health. Nevertheless, we need to eliminate it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has put together one of the biggest operations of its type ever in the European Union to secure a result across the whole of the European Union? Will he acknowledge that the use of bute is grossly exaggerated? It is used, but nothing like as much as is claimed.
I do not resile from the fact that phenylbutazone should not be present in horsemeat that is presented for human consumption; let us be absolutely clear. However, my right hon. Friend is right to say that the actions that have now been put in place—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is at this moment at Europol and Eurojust in The Hague, securing police and justice co-ordination on this matter—are unprecedented. It is extremely welcome that European authorities are now getting to grips with the problem.
It is interesting that the Minister’s attitude has changed since the statement on Monday, when he was at pains to say that there was no risk to public health and that this was an issue of mislabelling and fraud. Clearly, when bute enters the food chain, it is a public health issue, and given that a very small percentage—1%—of carcases were tested, should not the Minister make an apology to the House?
What I said, and have repeatedly said, is that there is no evidence of material that is harmful to human health having been put on sale in this country. That is still the case, and I am very glad that that is the case. We are testing for bute. That is the prime responsibility of the Food Standards Agency. It worries me sometimes that people seem to think that food safety is a secondary issue. It is not. It is the prime responsibility.
The FSA is examining the paperwork from those companies at the moment. I understand that some of it is a little difficult to interpret. I cannot give my hon. Friend a categorical assurance, because some of the meat present appears to have been unlabelled and therefore its destination is unknown. The FSA and the police are certainly taking every action they can, but at the moment they are examining the paperwork.
Does the Minister share my astonishment that Tim Smith, who was chief executive of the FSA until only last year and who is now the technical director in charge of food standards at Tesco, is not only still in his job, but still on the FSA board? Some would say that is not just switching horses, but trying to ride both at the same time.
I have to say that I am impressed by the degree of co-operation we are now seeing from the industry and all food businesses in the testing regime we have put in place, from which we hope to have meaningful results tomorrow. Who works for which company is not a matter for the Government or Ministers at the Dispatch Box, but whether we get results that reassure the public is a matter for us.
Given the importance of this issue to all our constituents, will the Minister join me in calling on Her Majesty’s Opposition to work with the Government in the national interest to sort it out, rather than making cheap party political points?
The beef, lamb and pork sourced in the United Kingdom follows a strict traceability system. Farmers in the United Kingdom have experienced a marked decrease in their incomes over the past 12 months. Can the Minister confirm that costs accrued as a result of the horsemeat scandal will not be passed on to farmers or farming organisations?
I hope that no costs will be directly apportioned to farmers, but the hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about the assurance schemes we have in this country, and not only those relating to the traceability of our meat, but the various assurances placed on top of that through schemes. I think that we have every reason to be proud of the quality of meat in this country, particularly cut meat, some of which is the best in the world. Of course, farmers in his part of the country play a leading role in providing that quality meat.
In 2006 the Food Fraud Task Force identified the potential problem of food fraud and made 32 recommendations for dealing with it. Can the Minister explain to the House what action the previous Government took to implement any of those recommendations?
In answering the question from the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), the Minister said that there was a problem with horse passports and sought to blame the previous Labour Government for it. Does he remember what he told the House on 17 January? He said:
“The hon. Lady seems to think that there is some difficulty with horse passports. I simply do not think that that is the case. I would happily set out the difference between the route for horses going to slaughter and the routes for others.”—[Official Report, 17 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 1027.]
Is not that symptomatic of his rather high-handed attitude, which has really irritated people, and does not it explain the Government’s flat-footedness at the beginning of the crisis?
There has been an attempt to bring the national equine database into this matter as though it were a panacea. That is not the case, and I have been consistent in saying so. Those who feel that a national equine database would have improved the situation are sadly mistaken. We need to look at the issue of horse passports, but we do not need to return to an issue that is frankly irrelevant to the situation in hand.
Phenylbutazone, known as bute, can be bought off the internet in tablet form, in injectable form, and as an apple and citrus-flavoured powder. Most horse owners believe that it is the only effective anti-inflammatory drug in controlling joint pain. It is so easy for owners to get hold of it that I wonder what the Minister might have in the way of proposals to ensure that there is some integrity to the system. Does he agree that testing is the only way of identifying the use of this drug?
I do not want to move away from the position that it is crucial to understand: it is the responsibility of those who are selling products and those who are processing products to obey the law, which is very clear that a horse that has had phenylbutazone administered to it should not be entering the food chain. We have a regulatory issue as to whether the horse passport system across Europe is sufficient to meet that task, and that is what we are addressing. It would not be helpful to people who own horses across Europe to say that they cannot use a very useful anti-inflammatory drug; rather, we need to say, “If you do that, don’t put it on people’s plates.”
Following the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), will the Minister now confirm what action he had taken to deal with bute before she raised concerns with him on the Floor of the House on 24 January?
I have already explained that phenylbutazone is a well-known issue and that it is one of the things that is looked for at the point of slaughter, particularly through the horse passport system. I have also said that there may be deficiencies in the horse passport system that we need to address—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) is shouting at me from a sedentary position. I do not think that is helpful to a serious discussion of the subject. [Interruption.]
With all the cheering, Mr Speaker, I could not quite hear you.
Does the Minister agree that this is really all about the exposure of a very significant deception whereby the rule of law has been broken? Does he also agree that it is important that he has discussions with his European colleagues about bringing in mechanisms to stop it happening again, especially through making sure that the supply chain is properly transparent?
The hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) says helpfully, “It’s in the folder.” [Interruption.] We have had rather a lot of dates in our heads in this unfolding situation, and I make no apologies for not being able to give—[Interruption.] I cannot find the date in here. I am not going to give the hon. Lady a wrong answer; I will find it and tell her later.
Looking to the future, we really have to put the consumer at the heart of food safety and food health. When we bring forward the review of EU labelling, can we ensure that my constituents are able to understand what is in their food and do not need a degree in food science to know what they are eating?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point—that food labelling is supposed to help, not confuse the consumer. That is why we are trying to make sure that the food labelling system is not only accurate—that goes without saying—but that it gives people information that is useful, not confusing. There will be talk about excluding information that, frankly, simply confuses the consumer. We have a consultation at the moment about the labelling of mince. I do not think it is helpful to call mince sold in this country as it always has been anything other than mince. I think that that is helpful to the consumer, not unhelpful.
Although the whole House will welcome the Minister’s belated recognition of the importance of horse passports, may I suggest that he talks to the Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government, who have been looking at this issue for some time and who recognise the importance of accurate passporting to control the movement of horses across Wales?
Food safety and quality is an international matter and we need collaboration across borders. When criminal activity is involved, Europol has a particularly important role to play. Will the Minister ensure that we identify where this horsemeat came from in order to verify, for instance, that it was not slaughtered on unlicensed premises?
That is why we need a European-wide criminal investigation and why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is at The Hague today talking to Europol. Europol can act only if requested to do so by member states, and the UK has made such a request, in company with Mr Le Foll, the French Minister. That is why it is proceeding and I think that that will add a lot of co-ordination to what otherwise might be a fragmented police investigation.
It is reported in today’s press that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland told the FSA about its concerns in November 2012. I ask the Minister again: when were Ministers first told about this problem? Perhaps the answer is in his folder, if he would care to look at it.
We have said all along that there is co-ordination between the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the FSA. We have also said—the hon. Lady can look back at the record of it—that the Irish were not acting on the basis of an intelligence-led operation, so there was no prior information. They did spot checks and told us that they were going to do so. As soon as they had confirmed results, they told the FSA and the FSA told Ministers. That is all a matter of record.
Confidence in the food supply chain is key and it is retailers who bear the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the safety of the food they sell. What assurances has my hon. Friend sought from retailers about the integrity of the supply chain networks?