House of Commons
Thursday 4 July 2013
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
While there are no measures that control the number of dogs kept on a single property, a number of laws regulate the effects of keeping animals, which include welfare, cruelty, safety and environmental effects. Furthermore, the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, with which the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) is very familiar, had its Commons Second Reading on 10 June and it provides further measures to help tackle irresponsible dog owners.
Following the tragic death of Jade Lomas Anderson, my constituents in Atherton and across Bolton West believe that more should be done to reduce the number of dogs in houses where they create a nuisance and create fear, because of their ferociousness. Will the Minister amend the current legislation so that there are specific clauses whereby owners can be made to reduce the number of dogs if they are causing fear and potential danger?
I am aware that the hon. Lady has tabled amendments to the Bill exactly to that purpose, and they will be considered in Committee. I do not wish to pre-empt that discussion, but she will know that our view is that the antisocial behaviour orders available in the Bill, on which guidance will be available shortly following discussions with all the appropriate authorities, will deal with the very nuisances that she seeks to remedy.
Of course it is right that the legislation should protect postal workers and utility workers, and make provision against antisocial behaviour. But may I just tell my hon. Friend that there is actually High Court authority—a settled law—whereby if one has more than six dogs, one requires planning permission? We should not be too prescriptive here—if I want to own a number of pugs, it should not be for the state to tell me whether I should own two or four pugs, providing those pugs behave themselves properly.
My hon. Friend has stated the position exactly. Irrespective of the number of pugs he has in his possession, the key thing is whether he is a responsible owner of those dogs, whether he has them under proper control and whether they represent a danger to himself and his neighbours.
The UK is an influential leader in the protection of endangered species, through our own actions as well as our input to relevant global agreements. For example, we recently helped to secure additional protection for various marine and timber species through the convention on international trade in endangered species. The UK has contributed to various assessments of global biodiversity, but it is difficult to assess the effects of one country’s policies alone.
We used to be a great leader on this issue, but now we do not even properly fund wildlife crime prevention in this country, despite the change to the law that I successfully moved under the previous Government. Why do we have almost silence from this Government on protecting endangered species and promoting the issue abroad?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. We have funded the wildlife crime unit, which does great work, both at home and abroad; we have been a leader in global forums on dealing with international crime—for example, we have co-funded Project Wisdom, through Interpol, to tackle the illegal trade in endangered species; we are involved in a variety of different operations in Africa and other range states to protect wildlife species; and the expertise we have at home is part of a fantastic partnership between the UK Border Agency, the police and various other agencies, which other countries come to look at.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the key role that Chester zoo is playing in the “If They’re Gone” campaign, whereby it is leading on orangutans and it has orangutan month in August. Will he tell us about the key role the campaign is playing in promoting awareness in the UK?
The “If They’re Gone” campaign is one of the highlights of what this country is doing in giving leadership. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has launched the rhino part of the campaign, and the elephant part highlights the importance of making people aware of the risks that ivory poaching poses to that species. The next phase is the orangutan phase. The orangutan is an endangered species and this country is determined, through our footprint abroad and in terms of the palm oil we all use—making sure we are responsible at home and abroad—to protect that very special species.
The Minister mentioned rhinos and elephants and recent reports have shown that terrorists are slaughtering those animals to raise revenue for terrorism. In making their assessment, will the UK Government link up with the experts in counter-terrorism in the Foreign Office to ensure that we make as big a contribution as possible to stopping that dreadful trade?
The Foreign Secretary recently convened a meeting of Ministers to do in this country precisely what is happening in the United States. There has been a realisation that this is not just an environmental problem—it is about security, too. In large parts of Africa, organisations such as al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army are helping to finance the evil they do through this trade. There is a realisation that we need a cross-government approach and that was the basis of the event that the Prince of Wales hosted at Clarence house. We will formulate that approach in a meeting later this year to ensure that we are co-ordinating things across government while pooling resources with other Governments to ensure that we are doing precisely what the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Of course, the largest area on the planet’s surface given over to the protection of endangered species is the Chagos marine protected area, which we established when we were last in government. The Pitcairn governing Council and the Bermudan Government are now asking the UK to designate marine protected areas in the south Pacific and the Sargasso sea. What technical assistance will the Minister’s Department give to ensure that those excellent proposals become a reality?
First, let me congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment to the Front Bench; I am sure that he will adorn it with his skills. I think that he is the sixth shadow Minister in opposition to me, and he is very welcome.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The scheme in the Chagos islands is exemplary and we want to see such schemes developed throughout the overseas territories. There are already plans to see proper marine protection around St Helena and a very exciting project in South Georgia. I want to see a necklace of marine protected areas that can be this country’s legacy from our imperial past to the future protection of marine zones.
Common Agricultural Policy
The new CAP framework through pillar two provides a good basis, with a range of tools to help us, to improve the environment and our biodiversity. Farmers and other land managers already provide a range of environmental benefits. The new arrangements will allow us to enhance the effectiveness of existing schemes and consider new approaches that contribute to our “Biodiversity 2020” quantified outcomes.
Will the Secretary of State now make good on his promise of public money for public good and ensure that the new CAP is implemented in the most effective way possible by maximising the transfer of funds from pillar one to pillar two, ensuring a central role for agri-environment schemes and implementing an ambitious approach to the greening of pillar one funding?
I am happy to confirm my long-standing belief that we should transfer 15% from pillar one to pillar two. Our pillar two schemes do real good for the environment and 70% of our arable land uses those schemes. We also need to develop new schemes, as 30% of the new pillar one will depend on greening. We also have a guarantee, which we drove through the negotiations, that 30% of the rural development funds will be spent on the environment.
The settlement for farmers across Britain is a tough one and they need to compete in a single market with all their continental competitors. Can we ensure that we implement our part of the single farm payment in this country in the most sympathetic way possible so that we can have effective and competitive food production?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. I have said on many occasions—I frequently repeated myself during the negotiations—that we must ensure that the way in which we impose CAP reform is simple and easy to understand. We will not make the mistakes of the previous Government, who caught us up in a horribly complex system that cost us €590 million in what the EU calls disallowances but in what I would call a fine.
May I urge the Secretary of State to be a champion of joined-up government? The G8 settlement on social impact investment was a breath of fresh air; can it link to anything in the CAP settlement, so we can get some serious social impact investment in the rural economy?
Upland farms in the UK, particularly those in England, are good at delivering environmental objectives. What will the reformed CAP do to ensure that upland farms maintain their financial viability, so they can continue to deliver those public goods?
I confirm again my belief that because in parts of the UK, such as upland areas, it is tough to make a living purely from food production, there is a significant role for taxpayers’ money to be spent on environmental schemes supporting the valuable work upland farmers do to protect and improve the environment, upon which sits a tourism industry worth £33 billion.
The “State of Nature” report produced by 25 major UK conservation organisations found that 60% of UK species reliant on farmlands are in decline. Does the Secretary of State agree that there has been concern about a shortage of funding for high nature value farming areas? What steps will he take to support farmers so that they can continue to produce high-quality food in those areas and protect threatened species as well?
I think the hon. Lady knows that we get real value out of our existing higher level stewardship scheme. As I made clear in previous replies, I will endorse the transfer of money from pillar one to pillar two for environmental schemes, which will bring real benefits to our biodiversity and the species about which she is concerned.
The UK food security assessment published in 2010 is a detailed analysis of the global and domestic factors affecting UK food security, including productivity, supply, affordability and safety. The Government continue to monitor trends, but overall the assessment concludes that the UK is well placed to deal with future challenges. In 2012, officials reassessed the report and concluded that it still represents a robust analysis of food security in the UK.
This week, The Economist’s global food security index ranked the UK 20th this year, behind Germany, France and Spain. Can the Minister confirm that food prices in this country rose by more than 4% in the year to May? In the absence of a strong plan from the Government to boost lower-cost, home-grown food, is it not the poorest who bear the largest share of the burden?
The hon. Gentleman is mixing up food security and affordability, and the two are not exactly the same. I answered his original question about food security, on which this country is in a pretty good position. However, rising food prices are a real problem for many families across the country. The factors that affect food prices, which include commodity and oil prices and currency changes, are largely out of the control of any single country. We need to make sure that, as he says, we boost UK production as much as possible and make affordable food available on our shelves, and that is exactly what the Government are doing.
The 700 children in food poverty in my constituency and their parents would find the Minister’s answer that we are in “a pretty good position” incredibly complacent. I have visited the food bank in Corby, and the people there attribute the massive rise in the number of people coming to them directly to this Government’s economic and social policies. Will the Minister visit the Mustard Seed food bank in his constituency to find out why demand is rising so quickly?
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the meaning of the term “food security”, which was the question I was asked and gave a response to. I have said clearly that there is an issue about rising food prices and about poverty across the country, and the fact that families sometimes find it difficult to buy the food that they need. If he thinks there is a direct correlation between the number of food banks and poverty, will he explain why the number of food banks increased by more than 10 times during the previous Administration? Was that the result of the same factors or not?
With world population set to rise to 9 billion, we need to nearly double world food production with half as much land, energy and water. Does the Minister agree that British agriculture science and research from GM to a range of other technologies has a major part to play in helping us feed the world?
It is absolutely right that we have the know-how in this country to exploit a wide range of technologies which could make a real difference to being able to feed the rising population not just in this country, but across the world. I hope the agri-tech strategy that we are in the process of launching will make a real difference in getting research into the right areas, making that usable in terms of applicability, and then sharing that expertise with those people who can put it into effect on the ground.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who asked the last question. Does the Minister agree, in addition, that the use of otherwise productive land for biofuels in particular and for solar power is a waste of perfectly useful productive agricultural land, and that we ought to minimise those things and maximise the amount that we can produce in this country?
We have to get the balance right between land that is used for energy, which we need—let us not get away from that—and land that is best used for food production. Those decisions are often best taken at local level. Nevertheless, I am conscious of the need to make full use of good agricultural land for food production.
The Minister’s complacency and definitional hair-splitting on the issue of food insecurity, at a time when half a million people were fed in this country by food banks will go down very badly outside this place. This week, his ministerial colleague in the other place said it was difficult to make the causal connections between the benefits squeeze and the soaring use of food banks, yet the Trussell Trust says that 45% of the people who need the help of its 300 food banks have come because of benefit delays or benefit changes. Which of those statements is true?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady fails to understand the terms that she obviously fed to her Back Benchers to ask me about. Food security is a well understood concept. We are talking about feeding the world. We are not talking about food prices in the UK, but food prices in the UK are a very serious issue and not, I think, a matter on which to try to score political points. I am grateful to the various charities which help those who find themselves in difficulties. It is important that we support that in every way we can. I notice that the hon. Lady, with some fanfare, issued a policy review last night, “Feeding the Nation”, which supports virtually all our policies. I give her just one word of advice. If you are going to mention one of our great British cheeses, get the name right: it is single Gloucester, not single Gloucestershire.
Common Agricultural Policy
At the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 26 June political agreement was reached on the CAP reform regulations. Overall the CAP package does not represent a significant reform, but we substantially improved the Commission’s original proposals and fended off attempts by others to introduce a number of regressive measures. By agreeing to the regulations now, we are able to provide certainty to farmers and paying agencies.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer and congratulate him on his work at the council. Will he enlighten the House on what those regressive measures were, because my farmers remain very concerned that they will be worse off as a result of some of the changes compared with their continental competitors?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to enlighten the House. It was extraordinary that at a very late stage in negotiations the European Parliament made moves to penalise the most efficient dairy processors and reward the least efficient. There were extraordinary moves as late as last Monday night to introduce coupled payments for tobacco, pigs, poultry and cotton. I think the UK played a part, working closely with our allies, and we saw off a number of other regressive measures, such as double funding. I hope that when the detail is worked out with the representatives of the farming unions, they will see that we stood by British farming and stopped a lot of really bad things coming through this reform.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the best possible reform of the CAP would be to return agricultural policy to member states? Will the issue of agriculture be on the table when the Prime Minister renegotiates our relationship with Europe?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I am a strong supporter of being able to make more decisions on these matters in this House. It might reassure him to know that this reform means that a lot more decisions will be made locally, so there will be, in effect, an English CAP and each of the regions, which were very keen to be able to make decisions, will have power to decide on all four regulations.
The key will be how the reform is implemented in this country. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the active farmer will remain the main beneficiary, particularly those in the uplands, tenant farmers and commoners whose animals graze on common land?
Emphatically, yes: I am very happy to confirm to the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that, as we work out the detail of the implementation of the reform in England, our drive will be to ensure that the agricultural sector gains from it. As I made clear in my comments on pillar two, we want to direct this towards rural areas in a way that benefits the rural environment and rural farmers.
It is, of course, right that public money should be spent on public goods. At a time of severe austerity, what public good is there in spending hundreds of thousands of pounds—indeed, £1 million cheques—on large landowners who do not need the money?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The fact is that we are going from 7 billion to 9 billion people. There has been complacency in this country over recent years, because there was unlimited, safe and easily accessible food to be bought abroad. We want to make sure that we have an extremely efficient, high-tech agricultural sector producing food. I take food security extremely seriously and welcome large, efficient farmers.
Marine Conservation Zones
We are analysing all the responses and evidence submitted following the recent consultation before making final decisions on designating the first tranche of marine conservation zones later this year.
I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that the Select Committee was getting a bit frustrated about this, and the Government’s response to the Committee did not improve the situation. Does the Minister understand that there is real frustration about the slow speed at which this is going and the apparently arbitrary way in which the Government have selected the zones? Will he reassure the House that they are serious about delivering the policy?
I assure my right hon. Friend that I share his frustration. I inherited a system that created huge expectations but which did not match the evidence required to make these zones work. We are now seeking to make sure that they are evidence-based, affordable, fit in with what happens locally in the seas and part of a coherent package.
Vital marine habitats off Devon and Cornwall will be lost for ever because this Government are not implementing a fully ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones or following the time scale laid down in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Will the Minister please think again and tell the Chancellor that the costs of inaction in the long run will be far greater than the costs of protecting our marine environment now?
The right hon. Gentleman is looking at marine conservation zones as if they are the only show in town. We have 42 special areas of conservation and 37 special protection areas around the English coast. About a quarter of our inshore waters are protected and we have more than 300 sites of special scientific interest in the intertidal zone. What we are trying to do with marine conservation zones is part of a much bigger picture of marine protection. We will be one of the leading countries in the world for marine conversation and the right hon. Gentleman should feel proud about that.
Last week, we announced a headline agreement with industry to guarantee affordable flood insurance for people in high-risk areas. The Association of British Insurers has assured Ministers that implementing Flood Re will have minimal impact on customers’ bills. We will be seeking the necessary powers in the Water Bill. Tackling flood risk will help to keep insurance terms affordable in the long term. We have announced record levels of capital investment of more than £2.3 billion for 2015-16 to 2020-21.
I congratulate the Minister on securing that new deal for universal and affordable flood insurance, which eluded the last Labour Government and me. Will he actively encourage people who live in flood-prone areas to take up the capped premiums and not risk being uninsured?
My right hon. Friend should take a large slice of the credit for the deal that we have achieved. She worked hard to set in train something that the previous Government did not even look at, which is a successor to the statement of principles. I assure her that the key part of the deal is ensuring that we cap premiums, particularly for the most vulnerable, and, importantly, that we cap excess charges.
After the great flood, in the words of the old negro spiritual,
“God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water but fire next time”.
Smethwick has certainly suffered from fire this week. Will the Minister, with other Departments, look urgently at banning sky lanterns and, with the Environment Agency, look at the licensing arrangements regarding storage at recycling sites that have large quantities of flammable material?
People in my constituency who have been flooded will welcome the news about flood insurance and the extension of the £50 off their water bills. Does he agree that that shows a commitment to the people of the south-west that was never shown by the previous Government?
We have a proposal from this Government, not a deal. The Secretary of State said that
“this announcement means that people no longer need to live in fear of being uninsurable”.
However, all band H properties are excluded, as are so-called “genuinely uninsurable” properties and all properties built after 2009. Given that it has taken the Minister three years to get to this point, will he now admit that his proposals do not provide universal access to cover?
What an uncharacteristically graceless question from the hon. Gentleman. When the deal was announced from the Dispatch Box last week, there was an audible sigh of relief, not only from Government Back Benchers, but from Opposition Back Benchers. The deal has been welcomed and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows in his heart that it is a good deal and one that will last for the long term.
The Secretary of State meets regularly with his counterpart at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to discuss the roll-out of the £530 million rural broadband programme. We are determined to deliver that quickly to provide 90% of premises with superfast broadband at 24 megabits a second and elsewhere with standard broadband of at least 2 megabits a second. Further discussions will focus on the £250 million of additional broadband funding that was announced as part of the spending review.
It is clear that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been briefing against Broadband Delivery UK in recent weeks. The Minister must acknowledge that it is his Government’s decision to abandon Labour’s pledge of good broadband for all by 2012 in favour of superfast broadband for some by 2015 that has left rural businesses and residents in the digital slow lane. How does he justify the devastating impact of that on the rural economy?
I am sorry, but I cannot accept that. One reason why the hon. Lady is sitting on the Opposition Benches is that her party lost the rural vote, partly because it left rural Britain in a digital no-go zone. We have set out a programme that, by 2015, will see the rural economy playing its part in the rest of the economy through the extension of superfast broadband, and I think she knows it.
I am delighted that things are moving on in Gloucestershire. Of the 44 county projects, 27 are now contracted and the remainder will be by September. We will start to see fibre being laid in huge quantities around rural Britain, and it will be as easy to run a creative industry firm in a converted farm building in my hon. Friend’s constituency as it would be in the middle of Gloucester.
Has the Minister carried out any assessment of the impact of digital exclusion on deprived communities such as mine, particularly for young people, who increasingly need internet connections to complete schoolwork, apply for jobs and so on?
We have indeed. We know, for example, from the work that PricewaterhouseCoopers has done that there is an average benefit of £365 a year to families who have proper digital access, for precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gives. I was at a remote location in Northumberland national park the other day seeing a satellite solution that was providing an extraordinary benefit to the eight houses at the end of a long valley, so I am well aware of the points that he makes.
I very much welcome the moneys that the Minister’s Department has made available to extend broadband into the hardest-to-reach places, but identifying exactly which places those are and what it will take to achieve that is no trivial exercise. Will he reserve some of the funds for councils such as Wiltshire that have submitted an expression of interest but still need to conduct the detailed survey work required?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is convening a meeting in the next few days with a number of community-led schemes that are concerned about the uncertainty over whether they will be among the final 10% hardest-to-reach areas. Over the next few weeks, we will have a much clearer view of where there are problems. We want to ensure that we iron out those problems so that people know that they are in that 10% and can then access money through the rural community broadband fund.
The Department’s priorities are growing the rural economy, improving the environment and safeguarding animal and plant health. Today, I have published a draft strategy for achieving official bovine TB-free status in England over 25 years, and a copy has been placed in the Library. The strategy draws on international experience demonstrating the need to bear down on the disease in cattle and wildlife. It sets out our determination to work in partnership with the industry to develop and deploy new technologies, and we will also explore new options for governance, delivery and funding. Tackling the disease will require long-term solutions and national resolve. Our cattle industry and countryside deserve no less.
Ash is a huge and important part of woodland scenery in Yorkshire, especially in upland areas, and ash dieback is increasing at an alarming rate, with more than 500 cases having been identified. The Secretary of State has reduced the staffing of the Forestry Commission by more than 500. How will he deal with something that could be a catastrophe for our woodlands without shifting staff and closing other parts of the Department?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the potential damage of Chalara to our rural environment is absolutely devastating. We will make our dispositions of the resources within the Department in the autumn, but I assure him that I have made plant health an absolute priority, right up with animal health. I have been to Australia and New Zealand to see what they are doing on biosecurity, and the plant taskforce has made some important recommendations, such as the risk register, which we are already implementing.
The answer for ash is to find a genetic strain. There is sadly no magic potion that we can spray on ash trees yet, although we are testing 14 of them, so a genetic strain is the real answer. For that reason, we have put out 250,000 young ash trees to see which ones are resistant.
T3. The average household loses £700 of food each year to waste. The Government have improved the date labelling of food, but will the Minister help even further by supporting prominent labelling advice on how food can best be stored at home to prolong its freshness? (163135)
My hon. Friend is right, and through the recently announced third phase of the Courtauld commitment, the Government are working with retailers and manufacturers to design products in ways that help households reduce food waste and save money, including improved storage instructions. The Waste and Resources Action programme—WRAP—is working directly with consumers through the Love Food Hate Waste programme, to help people know how best to store different foods.
The Government spent £25,000 on a consultation into sky lanterns which concluded that the fire risk is significant, and that they pose a risk to planes and a significant risk to the operation of coastal rescue services. With an estimated £6 million damage caused by a single sky lantern at Smethwick, and a fire that needed 200 firefighters and left only one spare fire tender to cover the whole of the west midlands, are the Government still seriously saying they will do absolutely nothing?
The hon. Gentleman knows all about doing absolutely nothing on sky lanterns. I asked questions about sky lanterns year after year from the Opposition Benches, and within a month of taking office I commissioned a report into the potential harm they cause to farm animals. The report concluded that it was not possible to quantify the damage to animal welfare in ways that would justify a ban, but it indicated that there was a significant danger of fire. I have communicated that to my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, and I plan to meet them to discuss further action.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question because it pertains to every business in the countryside. Through the red tape challenge, DEFRA will have reviewed all its regulations that emanate from the EU by the end of the year, and as a result there will be 12,000 fewer dairy inspections per year. Since 2011, for every £1 of compliance cost, we have removed £13.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for recognising the importance of the national pollinator strategy, which we hope to have in time for consultation at the end of this year. A wide range of other pollinator-friendly policies and initiatives are in place, but there are gaps we want to fill, particularly in research. That will give us the opportunity to look across Government and work with non-governmental organisations to review everything we are doing and establish our commitment to the future security of pollinators.
T9. The single-use plastic bag tax has proven successful in Wales. It is being adopted in Ireland and will soon also be adopted in Scotland. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s current plans regarding the introduction of a similar tax in the rest of the country? (163142)
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have been looking at this issue for some time and we believe there is a need to bear down on the use of plastic bags, particularly those that are non-recyclable. We are looking carefully at evidence from Wales and note the decision in Scotland. We hope to come forward with plans in due course regarding what is appropriate for the English market.
T4. Now that the Government of millionaires for millionaires have waged war against the poor people of this country by driving down their incomes and pushing up the cost of fuel through the roof, what will the Minister do about food prices, which are increasing three times faster than the pay packet of the average worker? (163136)
Given the importance of the common agricultural policy to the EU, does the Minister share my frustration at the lack of Europe-wide food labelling? We heard yesterday from the all-party group for European reform that this was down to language problems, but food labelling can be done with symbols and pictures. Will he pursue this to make sure that we can trade more of our food across Europe?
The most important thing about food labelling is to have systems that are readily understood by the consumer. One of the difficulties is that there is a huge weight of information that could be put on a packet, but putting everything on a packet does not necessarily make it more intelligible and useable for the consumer. We have to get the balance right, and talk to other member states in the EU about it as it is a European competence, but we are absolutely determined to provide proper understandable information that allows consumers to make informed choices.
T5. Blackrod town council recently passed its second resolution to ban Chinese lanterns because of the risk to animals and the danger of fire. The Minister says that he is taking the issue seriously and that he raised it in opposition. Three years on, when will we see legislation to do something about this problem? (163137)
The hon. Lady raises an important point that has been raised before. I am clear about the potential danger but we must act proportionately. We have done a study as far as our departmental responsibilities are concerned, which are to do with animal welfare. Other issues—for instance fire—fall into the areas of responsibility of other Departments, and I must now talk to my counterparts to take their views on it and on how we take the matter forward. But I have to say that we have done more in the past 12 months than was done in the previous 13 years.
The Minister is familiar with the concerns of my constituent Andrew St Joseph about the lack of involvement of landowners in decisions taken about flood defences and maintenance. Will he look into it and give me an assurance that this will no longer happen and that landowners will be consulted on the maintenance of defences?
I have huge respect for Mr St Joseph and his Essex Coast Organisation. If he feels that he is not being consulted, I want to make sure we address that. My understanding from the regional director and others is that they have regular meetings with him and with the Essex Coast Organisation. If my hon. Friend has other information, I will want to work closely with her to ensure we correct that.
T6. Following the horsemeat scandals, there are still serious concerns about meat in the supply chain. When will we get a full report? In Leicester there are still concerns about halal food. What discussion has the Minister had with the Food Standards Agency on this? (163138)
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have commissioned a major review of food safety as it relates to contents, led by Professor Chris Elliot, which will be made available to the House and discussed. On halal food, we have held discussions with the faith organisations because it is a critical issue for them; not necessarily a Government issue, but certainly something that matters to them.
Rural crime is a real concern and needs to be resolved locally, which is one reason why we have directly elected police and crime commissioners who can now be held accountable to their local electorate. But there is also a firm role for Members of this House to make sure that local police forces are making this a priority.
T8. The Government’s rural broadband roll-out is such a disaster that I have farmers in my constituency who are expected to upload data both to the Rural Payments Agency and to HMRC online when they have no possibility of getting a connection. Will the Minister stop this demand? (163141)
One of the absurdities under the last Government was that they wanted things done online but farmers did not have the ability to do so. That is one reason why we have made roll-out of rural broadband so important. The hon. Lady knows that it is on the verge of being rolled out in her area, which will be of great benefit to some remote communities.
What proportion of those living in rural areas have not just slow broadband, but no affordably priced commercial broadband at all, such as the village of Isfield in my constituency? Will the Minister liaise with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that these “not spots” are given priority in the roll-out of superfast broadband?
Beyond 2015, the intention, with the extra money that has been allocated, is to get superfast broadband to 99% of properties. I have seen technology that gets good quality broadband to very remote communities, so I hope my hon. Friend’s constituents will soon be online and able to compete in the global economy.
The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Bats in Churches
A small number of bats living in a church can be manageable, but parish churches are finding an increasing number of bats taking up residence in large roosts. There are significant costs in financial and human terms to those who worship in these churches, and to the wider community. The present situation is simply unsustainable.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. As a church warden, I know that many members of parochial church councils live in fear of bats taking up residence in their church buildings, because of the damage bats cause and the difficulty they have in removing them because of EU rules. Will my hon. Friend give the House some idea of what costs can be incurred by churches that have to remove a colony of bats?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Parish churches have to raise the money for bat litigation at considerable cost to their community, and that can prevent their own mission and ministry. The sums of money can be large. For example, the church of St Hilda’s in Ellerburn in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) has spent a total of £29,000 so far, which is a significant sum for a small congregation to finance. As yet, there is no resolution in sight, but I was grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) for indicating in a recent debate in Westminster Hall that there might be a prospect of St Hilda’s, Ellerburn at last receiving a licence from Natural England to resolve this issue.
I must say that I rise with some trepidation on this topic, given the explosive response from the Second Church Estates Commissioner to my gentle question in a Westminster Hall debate last week. Since then, I have been told that the Bat Conservation Trust and the Church Buildings Council were having productive conversations on the bats, churches and communities pilot project funded by Natural England until February this year when they stalled. Will the hon. Gentleman use his good offices to bring the two together to continue those conversations?
My concern with the hon. Lady’s approach and the Bat Conservation Trust is that they seem to think that this is an issue that can somehow just be managed. I have to keep on saying to her that this is not an issue that can be managed. Large numbers of churches are being made unusable by large numbers of bats roosting in them. Churches are not field barns; they are places of worship. Following my debate in Westminster Hall, I had a number of letters from clergy up and down the country saying how distressing it was for them, before they could celebrate communion on Sunday, to have to clear bat faeces and bat urine off the altar and the communion table. That is not acceptable.
May I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner and the Under-Secretary for helping St Hilda’s, Ellerburn? It is a matter of urgency that the congregation can reclaim their church from the bats.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an important point. [Laughter.] This is not a joking matter. This is serious and people have to understand that. I am grateful for the attention paid to this issue by the Under-Secretary. We are making real progress, but we need to ensure that places such as St Hilda’s, Ellerburn can continue to be places of worship and are not closed as a consequence of bat faeces and bat urine.
The House of Bishops issued a pastoral statement before the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in 2005. I expect that the House of Bishops will want to issue a further statement before the legislation on same-sex marriage comes into force. The House of Bishops is due to consider this December a report on sexuality, chaired by former permanent secretary Sir Joseph Pilling. The work of that group will assist the House of Bishops in its deliberations.
I am grateful for that reply, because I recently came across a case of a Christian couple in a same-sex relationship and with children in the local Church primary school to whom it was made clear by the local conservative evangelical church that they would not be welcome to worship in it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such intolerance and bigotry have no place whatever in the Church of England? When the Church issues guidance, it is very important that that is made quite clear to both parishes and Church schools.
Of course I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. If he would like to give me the details of that case, I will most certainly take it up with the diocesan education officer. Children in Church schools come from a wide variety of family backgrounds, and teachers offer the same compassion and care for all. Each child is valued as a child of God and deserving of the very best that schools can offer. I would not expect any Church school to discriminate against any child, whatever their personal or family circumstances. If any right hon. or hon. Member comes across any instance where he feels that a Church school is in any way falling short of the standards that this House would expect, I hope they will get in touch with me.
Notwithstanding any differences we may have over the same-sex marriage legislation, does my hon. Friend agree that one immediate contribution that the Church of England could make towards improving pastoral care for same-sex couples and their children would be to recognise blessings for civil partnerships in churches?
Further to the important question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), is the Second Church Estates Commissioner aware that one of the weaknesses of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is that the rights given to children of same-sex couples are not planned to be the same as those for children of traditional couples? Will he have a word with his colleagues on the Front Bench about rectifying that?
Closed Churches (Alternative Use)
Under the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, the Church Commissioners are responsible for settling the future of closed church buildings. For most, we are able to secure suitable alternative uses in partnership with a local diocese, but I should stress that the Church of England is not in the business of closing churches unless absolutely necessary.
Although I hope that churches will always remain principally used for worship, it was great to visit the grassroots family centre at St Philip’s church in Nelson recently and see the job club IT courses and other programmes now being run from the building by the Blackburn diocese. That stands in stark contrast to St Mary’s in the same town, for which the Church Commissioners have not had responsibility for over 20 years and which has remained boarded up since it was deconsecrated back in 1987. Does my hon. Friend agree that the St Philip’s family centre is a great example of an alternative use for a church building?
What has happened at St Philip’s in Nelson is outstanding. I pay tribute to all who have made it happen. St Philip’s now homes a Sure Start project, a drug rehabilitation project and an Early Break project. I hope that churches and church buildings can always be at the centre of the community for wider community use.
It is also important to prevent churches used by other denominations from closing. Will the hon. Gentleman look at the situation facing St John’s, an historic building in Burslem? A different denomination wishes to continue worshipping there, but urgent action is needed to ensure that all the community groups can continue to use the church as well.
For the financial year 2011-12, the commissioners achieved a total return of 9.7%. Over the last 20 years the commissioners have returned an average of 9.9%, which outstrips our personal aim of meeting the challenging target of retail prices index inflation plus 5%.
The Church of England has very tough ethical investment policies, and we can demonstrate that the Church Commissioners have significantly outperformed the market while investing ethically, and that it is possible to invest ethically and get a genuinely good return on those investments.
Archbishop Justin wants to see a more flourishing community finance sector, and he has asked those responsible at Church House to explore how the Church of England can support the credit union movement. The Church Commissioners have agreed to provide support for that initiative.
Following the welcome summit called by the Government on payday loan companies, and given the view of many in this House that there should be a cap on the interest that such companies can charge, will my hon. Friend suggest that an all-party group goes to see Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to encourage support for the Church’s credit union initiative and to persuade the Government that we need to cap the interest on payday loans?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. The Anglican Mutual credit union is raising capital from a number of sources to increase its capacity. I have been checking, and I think that practically every book in the Old and New Testaments exhorts against usury. In the other place, the Archbishop of Canterbury wisely stated:
“The Financial Services Act provides for a study of the consequences of a cap to be looked at and then for the cap to be brought in at an appropriate level. Caps are needed at a sensible level that does not choke off supply and send people into the hands of loan sharks…Caps are there to prevent usurious lending…We need to…cut out legal usury from our high streets.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 June 2013; Vol. 746, c. 485.]
I entirely agree that we need to work out how we can prevent legal usury from continuing in this country.
May I press the hon. Gentleman on this matter? Surely what was said at the G8 about social impact investment is manna from heaven for the Church of England, because it can be used to provide an alternative for social enterprises at the heart of the community. This is not just about payday loans; fixed-odds betting is the curse of our urban communities.
I am not entirely sure where the hon. Gentleman seeks to differ from me on this. I certainly think that we need to sort out legal usury, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) and I will form part of an all-party delegation to discuss with Ministers how we can cap those rates of interest that seem somewhat usurious.
Association of English Cathedrals
English cathedrals are among the cornerstones of English culture, of our music, of our art, of our sculpture, of our writing in the English language and even of our engineering innovation. Unlike our museums and art galleries, however, they get no regular Government funding. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) has agreed to meet representatives of the Association of English Cathedrals. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us when that meeting will take place?
York Minster is one of the glories of England. Maintaining our cathedrals is a huge responsibility. The hon. Gentleman was present when the Under-Secretary met cathedral deans recently. That meeting raised a number of issues, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary agreed to meet representatives of the association. I hope that the meeting will take place shortly, and I will try to ensure that the hon. Gentleman can attend.
Kettering Street Pastors
No greater luck hath an hon. Member than to spend a Saturday night with my hon. Friends the Members for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and their street pastors. The work that the street pastors do is genuinely impressive. Large numbers of volunteers from all denominations are concerned to ensure that those who are enjoying the night economy are well looked after and that they get home safe and sound. I pay tribute to both my hon. Friends for the support that they are giving to those initiatives.
Well, I fear that however I answer this question, I am likely to receive invitations from right hon. and hon. Members of all parties to go and sample the night life in their constituencies. I thought the way in which the night economies were managed by the police, by the street pastors and by everyone in Wellingborough and Kettering made them both attractive destinations for people to go and visit.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be:
Monday 8 July—Remaining stages of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill (Day 1).
Tuesday 9 July—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, followed by consideration in Committee of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
Wednesday 10 July—Opposition Day [5th allotted day] (1st part). There will be a debate entitled “The Effect of Government Policies on Disabled People” on an Opposition motion, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism, and the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.
Thursday 11 July—Debate on a motion relating to parliamentary consent to arming of anti-Government forces in Syria, followed by a general debate to mark the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster.
The subjects for both debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 12 July—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 15 July will include:
Monday 15 July—Second Reading of the Defence Reform Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 11 July and 5 September will be:
Thursday 11 July—Debate on social care reform for working age disabled people, followed by debate on large scale solar arrays.
Thursday 5 September—Debate on the sixth report of the Communities and Local Government Committee on councillors on the front line.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. We have all been watching with concern as events in Egypt unfold. There are many British nationals in the country, so will the Leader of the House ensure that Members are regularly updated on this fast-moving situation?
The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill returns to this place on Monday, as the right hon. Gentleman has announced. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) and I asked him last week whether he would provide extra time to ensure consideration of all the necessary amendments stemming from the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. I thus thank the right hon. Gentleman for responding by granting an extra half day, which will allow some extra time for this important Bill? Will he confirm that he will protect the additional time he has allocated so that we do not lose it to Government statements and find ourselves back where we started?
This Government have a woeful record on telling the media what is happening before they tell this House—in breach of the ministerial code. Yesterday, we reached a new low with the Defence Secretary’s spectacular failure to provide Members with crucial documents relating to his statement on Army reserves. You, Mr Speaker, have rightly admonished the Defence Secretary in the strongest possible terms, and today’s Order Paper says that there will be a clarification statement, but by the time I rose to speak, we had still not received it. Surely the Defence Secretary should now have the guts to come back and subject himself to the scrutiny of Members, who will finally have adequate information in front of them.
I pointed out a few weeks ago that the Education Secretary is at the bottom of the Government’s correspondence class, with a damning report from the Procedure Committee showing that eight out of 10 of his responses to MPs are answered late. This week, we have discovered why: he has been so busy composing an edict on the content of his departmental letters that he is not doing the day job. Apparently, he has demanded prose worthy of Jane Austen, George Orwell and, rather oddly, Matthew Parris. Does the Leader of the House agree that if the Education Secretary spent less time telling everyone else how to do their jobs and more time doing his, we would not have a shortage of a quarter of a million primary school places? Does he also agree that this is further proof that with this Government it is all about spin and never about substance?
The Back-Bench Bill to be presented by the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) is becoming a classic parliamentary farce. I hear that in order to keep Members here for the big day, the Prime Minister has been forced to invite his mutinous colleagues round for a barbecue tonight. While millionaire donors get kitchen suppers at No. 10, the poor Back Benchers are shoved out into the garden.
If it is a pyjama party, perhaps Rebekah Brooks should be there.
I am told that the Prime Minister will be flipping the “posh burgers”, while the Cabinet will be dishing them out. That may sound like a rare treat, but there will be trouble if members of the Cabinet do their burgers the same as they do their policy: reconstituted, undercooked and over-garnished. I certainly would not relish them.
I note that the Tory Taliban continue to fire on all cylinders. Tomorrow they will debate the introduction of a Margaret Thatcher day, and next Friday they will debate the abolition of any protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. Their alternative Queen’s Speech is so off the wall that I cannot help wondering what they will come up with next. A Bill to disfranchise all but the landed gentry, perhaps? The repeal of the Factory Acts? A Bill to confirm that the earth is indeed flat?
It is not just the Prime Minister’s Back Benchers who are out of touch. On Tuesday, Tory welfare Minister Lord Freud denied that there was any link between the rise of food banks and the Government’s benefit chaos. Since the Government’s benefit changes, there has been a sevenfold increase in visits to food banks in Wirral. They were visited by 9,000 people this year, and in most cases the reason was the benefit changes. This is a Government who have given a tax cut to their millionaire donors while plunging a third of a million more children into poverty. May we have a debate on what they can possibly mean by their increasingly ludicrous phrase “We’re all in this together”?
This week, in an attempt to seem like a man of the people, the Prime Minister told a group of Kazakh students that he aspired to be the most high-profile member of an élite club at an élite school: Harry Potter. That outraged Potter fans everywhere, and inspired The Daily Telegraph to organise a poll which concluded that he was actually more like Draco Malfoy. The Defence Secretary cannot make a statement to the House, the Education Secretary cannot answer questions, and the Chancellor cannot organise a burger stunt. Is not the reality that the Prime Minister is presiding over a Cabinet of muggles?
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the business statement. Let me begin by saying that I think all Members continue to be very disturbed by the turn of events in Cairo, and in Egypt generally. As we know, this is a very fast-moving and fluid situation. The Foreign Office has increased our consular presence in Egypt. I join my colleagues in advising British citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the country, apart from the Red Sea resorts, and to monitor, as necessary, the travel advice that is available on the Foreign Office website.
Like the Foreign Secretary and, I think, all Members on both sides of the House, I hope for restraint and calm and an end to the violence—especially given the very disturbing accounts of sexual violence—but I also believe that this provides us with a salutary lesson about the nature of democracy. What is necessary in a democracy is for people to resolve their conflicts peacefully, and to do so by means of democratic processes. I think we all agree that while that should not include military intervention, which we deplore, we expect those who are elected to govern in a constitutional framework that respects the rights of minorities and enables all people who live in a democracy to feel that they are fully represented. To answer the hon. Lady’s question directly, I know that the Foreign Secretary and other colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take every step to ensure that the House is kept fully informed.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s welcoming the additional time for the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill. Never let it be said that we are not a listening set of business managers. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) is here, but I am grateful for his representations. We are moving towards the end of term before the summer recess. As the House knows, inevitably, a range of issues will require to be announced before the recess, but we will take steps to ensure that the time that is available for that debate is protected, so that it happens as planned.
The hon. Lady asked about yesterday’s statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Mr Speaker, you will have received a letter from him apologising for the Ministry of Defence’s failure to deliver documents relating to the statement. As the hon. Lady rightly said, the House will see a written ministerial statement from my right hon. Friend. I have the text of the written ministerial statement—
I will read the text out if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to. Rightly, we said that we would clarify the answers given, and that is what the text does: it clarifies the issues relating to Kilmarnock, the Vale of Glamorgan and the Scottish and Northern Irish Yeomanry headquarters. Therefore, that will be available for Members. I regret that we did not share the documents in advance, provide the documents referred to on time, or give the House all the information necessary to respond to the statement. We owe the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) and other colleagues an apology for that, and on behalf of the Government I give that apology. We will endeavour to ensure that it does not happen again.
The hon. Lady asked about responses to parliamentary questions. As she knows, I am proud of the fact that, during my time as Secretary of State, the Department of Health, a busy Department that is asked many questions, responded to questions on time in 99% or sometimes 100% of cases, a record that it has maintained following my departure. I know that the Secretary of State for Education and the permanent secretary at the Department are acutely aware of the need to raise their performance. I share with the Secretary of State the desire to ensure that, in doing so, good prose is used. My personal preference is for colleagues, when composing answers, to pay more attention to Sir Ernest Gowers than to Jane Austen, but that is just a matter of taste.
Barbeques in Downing street is not really a matter for business questions, but the hon. Lady does not seem to realise that we are united while Labour is run by Unite. That is the difference. We would love to see her at the barbeque. Perhaps she would like to come. If she does so, we can use the opportunity to see what her position is on a referendum on the future of this country in Europe. We are determined to give the people of this country that choice and to secure the best interests of this country through a negotiation of its relationship with the rest of Europe. Looking at the business before the summer recess, I hope that there will be a further opportunity for a debate in Opposition time. She might like to use that to go beyond the debate that the Opposition had on lobbying and to consider third party influence in the political system. We will bring forward a Bill relating to that issue, but the Labour party, before it deals with any motes in anyone else’s eye, must take the beam out of its own eye, which is that it is run by the trade unions. It is a party where third-party influence is rife. It is a party where 81% of its funding comes from the trade unions, and that does not just buy influence; it apparently buys the opportunity to select Labour party parliamentary candidates. That is an outrage. The legislation we introduce will not change that situation, but it is in the gift of the Labour party to do it, and the fact that it has not and that the Leader of the Opposition does not do it is a demonstration of how weak he is in his own party, as he would be in any other situation.
May we have a debate on transparency in local government in the modern digital age, to raise in particular the concerns that council senior officers and monitoring officers, notably those in the London borough of Tower Hamlets and others, have sought deliberately to undermine recent guidance by the Secretary of State to encourage more widely available filming and broadcasting of council meetings by local residents and journalists?
I am interested in what my hon. Friend says, and I will certainly raise it with my hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government who, he will know, feel very strongly about the importance of such openness and transparency. Previous issues in relation to the desire of some councils—only a very few, we hope—to try to control the media in their area is in part what has led to the Local Audit and Accountability Bill that is currently in another place, but my hon. Friend raises a further important point.
Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said about food banks, the Trussell Trust estimates that almost 350,000 people are using them, and that figure has tripled since 2012. As the Department for Work and Pensions does not record or measure these referrals, how can the Government be sure there is no link between food bank usage and welfare cuts? May we have an urgent debate on this issue?
I cannot give the hon. Lady a debate on this subject, but she will have heard the answer given repeatedly at this Dispatch Box both by me at business questions and by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The use of food banks increased tenfold under the last Government. One of the critical changes that have taken place is that before the election the Trussell Trust had been looking for food bank access to be advertised in jobcentres, but whereas that was not given by the last Government, it has been given under this Government. There is therefore greater access to food banks, which is important for people who are in need.
Last week it was my pleasure to open the East Midlands airport academy, which is working with young unemployed people to give them the skills and confidence they need to take their place in the workplace. Despite youth unemployment being down 15% last year in my constituency, we must do much more. May we have a statement on what steps the Government are taking to help reduce the scourge of youth unemployment?
The whole House will be glad to hear of the East Midlands airport academy, and I am sure my hon. Friend is proud of the contribution it is making and of his constituency for the job creation that is helping to reduce youth unemployment, as he described. Fortunately, we are not remotely complacent. We have seen a reduction in youth unemployment in the latest data, which are for the last quarter, and since last year, but we continue to take further action. We have put £1 billion into the Youth Contract, more apprenticeships, more work experience places, and more incentives in relation to wages to encourage employers to take on young people, and over the last year youth unemployment fell faster in this country than it did in the United States, Germany, Canada, France or Italy.
In my constituency of Wansbeck, we have always had a healthy horse population, as they have been well looked after by careful owners, but recently we have seen an explosion in irresponsible horse ownership, with horses being tethered next to almost every available blade of grass. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on this problem, because if it is not effectively and efficiently tackled by local authorities we will see loss of life and serious injuries to residents in Wansbeck and other parts of the country?
I am sure the House will agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is a most unsatisfactory situation, which might apply in other constituencies. I do not know whether he has had an opportunity to raise it with my hon. Friends at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but if he has not I will certainly draw it to their attention and ask them to respond. I know in my own constituency and elsewhere that there can be difficulties with people bringing horses on to land and then sometimes simply abandoning them, and the responsibilities of the landowners in those circumstances can be very onerous.
Accessing Government services using 0845 numbers can cost as much as 41p per minute via mobile phones. May we have a statement on what progress the Government have made on transferring this access to local-rate 0345 numbers to ensure that the Government do not directly profit from the delivery of their own services?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are aiming, as far as is possible, through the digital by default strategy, to give members of the public access to direct online channels of communication, so that they do not have to rely on telephony so much. Some departments, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, have made considerable progress in moving away from 0845 numbers; I am told that 95% of its personal tax callers now use an 03 or equivalent number. I know from my experience at the Department of Health that part of the principle behind the shift from NHS Direct to the 111 telephone system, which is in principle the right thing to do, is moving away from an 0845 number to a simple, easy to remember and free 111 telephone system.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House has had an opportunity to look at early-day motion 337, which stands in my name and those of other hon. Members, on the 125th anniversary of the Bow match women’s strike.
[That this House welcomes the first Match Women’s Festival being held in London on 6 July 2013 to mark the 125 years since the 1888 strike by 1,400 mainly women workers at the Bryant and May factory in the Bow area of East London; notes modern research by the historian Louise Raw that proves that the strike was instigated, organised and led independently by the match women themselves and then supported by others, after many years of dangerous working conditions, poverty wages and bullying by the match women’s employers; further notes that the match women’s strike in 1888 led directly to the Great Dock Strike of 1889 in the same part of London and, therefore, set in train the historic events from which the Labour Party was created in 1900; and believes that the match women’s victory was also an inspiration to the Suffragette movement and for all those campaigning for equality today, especially on issues such as violence against women.]
May we have a debate that would allow hon. Members to tell the true story of what happened to those brave women, neglected by historians for many years, and how they changed the course of history by standing up for their rights at work?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I had not had, but now have, an opportunity to see early-day motion 337. I will take an opportunity, as I know many hon. Members will, to read it and perhaps to read about it. I very much welcome what she has had to say; she rightly raises important issues that we need to commemorate and always reflect upon in current circumstances.
May we have a debate on the anomalous situation of precipitous demolitions ahead of planning applications being considered? High Trees in Eastfield road, Peterborough, a striking Victorian house, previously occupied by the Family Care charity, faces the threat of demolition as a result of a speculative application for 90 student bedsits by a mystery developer. Will the Leader of the House persuade his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to look again at this issue, so that we can avoid precipitous demolitions ahead of planning application consideration and, thus, protect our heritage and built environment?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I can imagine how he and his constituents might be alarmed by an experience of that kind. I will, of course, raise it with my colleagues at DCLG and encourage them to respond to him regarding what powers are available and how they are appropriately used. He might note that our DCLG colleagues will be here answering questions on Monday, which might give him an opportunity to raise the matter then.
The Leader of the House spoke about the need for a debate on third-party influence. Does he feel that should include consideration of the impact of large, multi-thousand-pound donations from individuals such as John Nash, a chairman of Care UK, to Government Members?
I was a director in Conservative central office 20 years ago, when the Conservative party made it absolutely clear that donations to the party would not secure influence—they would not come with strings attached. In those two decades the Labour party appears to have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing. It continues to be a party dominated by its paymasters; 81% of the resources that the Labour party depends on comes from trade unions. In quarter four last year, one trade union, Unite, gave Labour £832,990 and that did not come without strings—it came with many strings attached.
Tourism in Cleethorpes has been badly hit in recent months following the closure of the main rail route out of the resort as a result of a landslip. The incident has highlighted the economic fragility of many seaside resorts, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on such matters?
I know that my hon. Friend has been assiduous in pursuing the issue and, in response to questions that he has asked before, I have raised it with my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport. I cannot promise a further immediate debate on rail matters—of course, some rail issues were open for discussion yesterday—but I will of course raise the issue with my hon. Friends once again on his behalf.
When can we debate the office of police and crime commissioners, which is causing disruption, waste and unhappiness throughout the country? The concept of having two people in charge, one of whom has almost unlimited Henry VIII powers while the existing chief constables have their powers diminished and threatened, is a matter of great concern and a threat to the independence of our police.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issues relating to the police and crime commissioner in his part of the world with me and with the Prime Minister, and he will have heard the reply. I would say two things. First, democracy matters and, in this context, the accountability that comes with election is important in itself. I know that it is enabling people across the country to feel that to a greater extent than in the past their priorities can be directly reflected in the priority setting of police services for their area. Secondly, if he has specific issues about his constituency my hon. Friends from the Home Office will be available for questions on Monday 15 July.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the Prime Minister’s written statement yesterday that the Department for Education has ceased to have responsibility for youth policy—ironically, at a time when the commission considering youth work, which I chair, has been inundated with evidence from academies and other schools about the importance of the links between classrooms and youth work. Given the disproportionate impact of local authority funding cuts on youth work, may we have a debate—I do not believe we have had such a debate in this place for some years—soon after the recess on the future of youth services in this country? We could then consider the progress on the Government’s Positive for Youth policy in the light of yesterday’s announcement.
I cannot immediately offer a debate and I know that my hon. Friend will understand that the ability to relate issues to do with young people across government and to give them a renewed focus was at the heart of the Prime Minister’s changes, as announced yesterday. I am glad that this week we had the announcement of a major extension of funding for youth sport, which will, I hope, form part of the Olympic and Paralympic legacy. That is very important. I shall raise the issues he mentions with my colleagues and as the opportunity for such a debate will probably not arise immediately in Government time, he might consider asking for such a thing in the context of priorities through the Backbench Business Committee.
May we have a debate on the demands for a public inquiry into the allegations that the Metropolitan police sought to undermine the Macpherson inquiry? There are revelations today that a report has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission that a senior officer sought to gather information on someone who was about to give evidence to the inquiry and did so with the intention of undermining that individual. If that proves to be true, it seriously calls into question the way that senior officers across the country approached the Macpherson inquiry and further undermines the process of the police investigating the police. Only an independent inquiry with the right to summon people and to have them give evidence under oath will satisfy the public that the matter is truly being looked into.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Home Secretary made it very clear in the House that she has confidence that a number of inquiries that are being undertaken into the issues surrounding Stephen Lawrence’s murder continue to be independent, but that she has not taken off the table any further steps that might be needed to ensure that there is the rigour and independence required. She continues to keep the issue under review.
Back in 2008, Bradford & Bingley was expropriated by the Labour Government in a horrid and flawed decision taken by the then Prime Minister and Chancellor. Nearly 1 million shareholders and bondholders still do not know how and why their company was confiscated. Surely the Leader of the House agrees that it is time the Government and the Financial Conduct Authority made it abundantly clear what decisions were taken in the run-up to the confiscation. Will he arrange for the Chancellor to make a statement laying out exactly what decisions were taken, so we can find out once and for all why Bradford & Bingley was treated so unfairly compared with other banks in a similar situation?
On behalf of my hon. Friend and other Members who share his views, I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My hon. Friend will be aware that our right hon. Friend will not himself have direct access to the papers of the previous Administration, but I will ask him what steps, not least in the context of the continuing inquiry into banking standards, it is appropriate to take to find out more about the circumstances.
Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate as soon as possible on how we restore and achieve a renaissance of the great towns and cities, such as Huddersfield, Leeds and Manchester, in the north and midlands of our country? Does he believe that if there were a £50 billion pot to invest in those cities—a wonderful opportunity—the city leaders would spend it on fast rail to Manchester instead?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge not only what has already been achieved in some of our great cities, but the importance of the city deals. To take the example of Manchester, the city deal reached there is visionary and far reaching, and if the earn-back scheme does what it is intended to do, it will provide enormous investment in the infrastructure of the city. Other cities across the country—I think Huddersfield is one of them—are bidding for a city deal. This is their opportunity to come forward with a vision for their city—it should be not top-down, but led locally—and the Government are looking to give support to those city deals.
Supporters of Coventry City football club, including myself, are dismayed that the club’s owners are applying to the Football League to move the club to Northampton for the next three years. The board of the Football League has to sanction the move, which I strongly urge it to oppose. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to make an urgent statement on this important matter?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that I can imagine is of significant concern to his constituents and others in the area. Although it is not an immediate responsibility of the Government, this is something that I know my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport dealing with the governance of football take seriously and I shall of course raise it with them. I know that they will respond to my hon. Friend, so that he can keep his constituents informed of what the circumstances are and what the Government’s view may be.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) for giving me some leeway to raise this issue.
I have now seen a copy of the written ministerial statement, which the Library received at 10.43, although it is actually a draft, so perhaps we should not be too confident about it. The WMS contains no details of the number of personnel who will lose their job or have to move, or what the requirements are for each of the bases; it does not provide any moving dates; it does not say which constituencies personnel are going to; it does not state if they are moving locally; it does not give the base locations in any of the cities; and it does not explain how Kilmarnock ended up, in handwriting, on the list. May we have a proper statement from the Ministry of Defence at the earliest opportunity—perhaps even on Monday?
The hon. Gentleman knows that many of the matters he raises would not have formed part of the original circulation of documents. I have made very clear our regret that the information that should have been available when the Secretary of State sat down at the end of his statement was not available at that time. The information, in so far as it was incorrect at the time it was given to him, is being corrected in the written ministerial statement, but as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, there are further questions to which he wishes to have answers. I will of course ensure that my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence take note of those questions and respond to him as soon as they can.
Will the Leader of the House raise with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the inequitable and unjust situation whereby a banker who wishes to sell a derivative or hedging product, such as interest rate swap agreements, has to be registered, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, but the directors of many thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, who are classified under the FCA’s test as sophisticated enough to take responsibility for signing such an agreement, are not registered, authorised and regulated by the FCA and therefore are ineligible for the FCA’s redress scheme?
This is a matter of notable interest and possibly no little complexity. It is not immediately obvious to me, which may be the result of my own stupidity, that it represents a business question, but the ingenuity of the Leader of the House is legendary and I shall leave it to his interpretation.
I think that what my hon. Friend is looking for is a response from Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and I will try to secure that. She may find that it is none the less in order to raise some of the issues that she describes in the context of the discussion on the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, as they are clearly relevant to that. I am pleased to say that we have now allocated a day and a half to enable such issues to be raised.
I am sorry to have to come back to the debacle that was yesterday’s defence statement, but we still do not have clarity. I find it astonishing that a Secretary of State, whether that is the Secretary of State for Defence or for Education—there is a similar problem there—can come to the House and give a statement with incorrect or inadequate information for Members in all parts of the House to peruse. I ask respectfully why the Leader of the House, having seen the statement this morning, even though it appears to be only a partial statement, did not make it available prior to today’s business questions. Surely that would at least have shown some willingness on the part of the Government to try to keep Members informed on this very complex matter.
I will continue to ensure that we make the information that is provided to the House available as quickly as we can. As I say, I had the language of the written ministerial statement shortly before I stood up, but I did not have it in a form that I could distribute to Members and I was not confident that it was in the Vote Office at that point.
That is why I was not confident that it was there. I am very clear that we did not meet the standard that we were looking to meet yesterday. We are determined to ensure that we make this information available, and make it available when the House has a need for it.
May we have a debate on the need for a change of culture in the BBC? I would have hoped that scandals over recent years and even in recent weeks would allow the BBC to be more transparent and open with its viewers and the licence fee payers. I recently tabled a freedom of information request to ask how many journalists and staff travelled with the British Lions to follow them in Australia, and the BBC refused to answer it because it falls outside the Freedom of Information Act. Is this not a bad example of how the BBC works?
Many Members in the House will have sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. Many Members will also remember the long struggle that took place to secure access to the BBC for the National Audit Office. When one sees, for example, the report that the NAO published recently in relation to severance agreements at the BBC, that entirely justifies the openness that resulted from its access. I am sure Members will be looking to the Public Accounts Committee’s hearings with the chairman of the BBC Trust and looking to the BBC Trust which, as regulator of the BBC, must take responsibility now for ensuring that the cultural changes that are required in the BBC are seen through.
It cost £73,000 to help prepare three NHS chiefs for a recent Public Accounts Committee hearing. May we have a Government statement on how and why consultants were hired for 52 days in advance of a two-hour PAC hearing, and who will be called to account for this gross misuse of taxpayers’ money?
As far as I am aware, that should not have happened and it was an excessive use of resources for that purpose. I am sure my hon. Friends at the Department of Health and in particular its permanent secretary will want to examine precisely why that happened. [Interruption.] I think it happened after I was Health Secretary. Rather than rehearse or receive training, civil servants and others who give evidence to Select Committees would be well advised simply to think through what their responsibilities are and how they discharge them. That is the most important thing they can do and the proper preparation they should undertake.
Aldi, Morrisons and Tesco want to build big stores in my constituency; some people are against and some are in favour. Yorkshire Water, meanwhile, wants to rip up the listed Victorian reservoir spillway at Butterley in Marsden, and nearly everybody is against that. May we have a debate on how communities can be involved, how the process can be a lot more transparent and how local views can be heard on such major planning issues?
My hon. Friend raises important issues with which the House has become familiar, not least through his robust advocacy of the heritage represented by the Butterley spillway. I reiterate that my colleagues from the Department for Communities and Local Government will be available to answer questions on Monday, which my hon. Friend might find helpful. In addition, the Government are focused on securing local decision making, not least through neighbourhood plans, which, if used to their fullest extent by local communities, give some of the protection that he rightly is looking for.
I have just benefited from a period of paternity leave following the birth of my first child, Ruby Erin—8 lb 7 oz and both mother and daughter are doing well, since you ask, Mr Speaker—as a result of a right that was extended by the previous Labour Government. Could time be made available to discuss the extension of employment rights to parents, including those who find themselves in the impossibly sad situation of losing a child immediately after birth?
I think the House will join me in congratulating the hon. Gentleman and wishing his daughter Ruby and her mother the very best in the future.
We take very seriously the availability of paternity leave and, indeed, flexible leave, which is why we included additional relevant provisions in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. There are issues concerning bereavement and sadly we have not legislated for additional rights in that regard, but there is a responsibility on employers to consider and look sympathetically at requests for leave in circumstances of family stress, and I hope that they will do so.
Order. May I just point out to the House that there are still about 20 colleagues seeking to contribute? I would like to accommodate them all, as I almost invariably do, but there is a statement to follow and then two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, so there is intense pressure on time necessitating exemplary parliamentary brevity, which will now be shown by Mr Peter Bone.
May we have an urgent statement from the Leader of the House about tomorrow’s business? There will be a very important debate and I praise the Government’s Chief Whip for using his power to ensure that Conservative Members will be present, but I understand that the other parties are trying to persuade their Members not to attend. What advice does the Leader of the House have so that Members can come here tomorrow and vote for Margaret Thatcher day?
I say to all Members, and Opposition Members in particular, that they should not come here because their Whips tell them to or absent themselves because their Whips advise them not to be here. On the contrary, the reason they should be here is to explain to their constituents whether they are in favour or not of giving the people of this country a say over our relationship with Europe.
May we have an urgent debate about who is in charge of the Department of Health? They are like Laurel and Hardy. The Secretary of State appears to be more interested in—I am sorry, I have completely forgotten the rest of my question.
I regret to have to again ask for a debate on the plight of the young Tamil children who, at the end of the conflict a number of years ago, disappeared. They have never been found and their parents and relatives have never been told what happened to them, even though we fear that we know what happened to them. May we please have an urgent debate on that matter?