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Commons Chamber

Volume 568: debated on Thursday 10 October 2013

House of Commons

Thursday 10 October 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—

Food Aid

The provision of food aid ranges from small, local provision to regional and national schemes. There are no official figures for the number of food aid organisations or the number of people using them in the UK. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has commissioned research to assess publicly available evidence on food aid provision in the UK, and that work will be made available in due course.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. In the past year, several new food banks have been opened in my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Stockton South by excellent organisations such as A Way Out and the New Life church. Some are supported directly by the Trussell Trust, which states that the number of people relying on food banks has gone up from 41,000 to 350,000 since this Government came to power. What does the Minister think has caused that explosion in demand?

There are a number of complicated reasons for those changes and nobody is quite sure. That is one of the reasons we commissioned this report. The use of food banks has been going up for some time, and it also increased dramatically under the previous Government. This is a good example of the big society in action, and we are seeing some good organisations stepping up to help people.

I welcome the Minister to his new post, but I hope he will have time to refer to the facts and figures of the matter. Under this Government, the use of food banks has rocketed, and I hope he will read carefully the report from Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty that came out in May and shows that, this year alone, half a million people will access emergency food aid. I think that is a national disgrace. Does the Minister agree?

As I said, the reasons for the increase are complicated. The hon. Lady asks about the facts and figures, so let us look at them. The accepted way to measure household expenditure on food is by looking at the bottom 20%. We know that in 2008, when the previous Government were in power, the lowest 20%—the most disadvantaged households—spent 16.8% of their income on food. That figure is now 16.6%. If we look at the facts, spending on food as a percentage of household income for the most disadvantaged is no more than it was in 2007.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the provision of food banks in this country should be seen in the light of the tenfold increase in food banks under the previous Government, and will he commend the work of the Coalville food bank in my constituency?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we must recognise that if we want to tackle poverty we must help people get back into work and off benefits. That is one reason why the Government’s welfare reforms are so important.

I welcome two west country colleagues to the Front Bench and wish them every success. Does my hon. Friend recognise that food banks have careful rules about how much food they give to people and how often they give it, to ensure that people do not become dependent on food parcels? Surely giving a helping hand in times of need is a very good thing indeed.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Two food banks in my constituency do very good work, and, as I said earlier, that is an example of the big society in action. We should support that and welcome it.

Bovine Tuberculosis

I welcome the Opposition Front Benchers to their new positions—the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), who is the new shadow Secretary of State, and the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty). I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), who have stood down from the Government Front Bench, for their sterling work, for the absolute support I received, and for the sensible advice and experience they brought to their posts. I also welcome two new Under-Secretaries of State, my hon. Friends the Members for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) and for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson). They come from a rural background and will embellish the Department.

The answer to the question from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is that the Government have recently completed their consultation on a draft strategy for achieving officially bovine TB-free status for the whole of England in 25 years.

The truth is that the cull is incompetent—it has been described as such by the lord mayor of Oxford, and the whole May family, including Brian May, say that it is a disaster—but we should not ignore the fact that what is being done to badgers in the west country is morally reprehensible. It is ineffective and inefficient, and ignores scientific opinion. Why does the Secretary of State not resign?

The hon. Gentleman supported a Government who did nothing about the disease. Thanks to the policies of the Government he supported, 305,000 otherwise healthy cattle were hauled off to slaughter at a cost to the British taxpayer of £500 million. If we go on as he left it, the disease would double over nine years, we would be looking at a bill of £1 billion and we would not have a cattle industry. The pilots were set up to establish the safety, the humaneness and the efficiency of a controlled shooting by skilled marksmen. It is quite clear that, after the first six weeks, we have succeeded on all three criteria.

Schools across Britain recently celebrated world milk day—milk is produced by cattle, Mr Speaker—which I saw for myself when I visited Pavilion nursery school in Attleborough, Mid Norfolk. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House applaud that initiative as a key opportunity to highlight the benefits of milk as the health drink, and the enormous pressures facing the UK dairy sector, not least the threat of TB in cattle. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that the dairy market is working properly for consumers, processers and farmers?

Order. That was an extraordinarily strained attempt on the part of the hon. Gentleman to shoehorn his personal pre-occupations into Question 2, but the Secretary of State is a dextrous fellow, and I dare say he can respond pithily.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend raises a vital point—we need a dynamic, productive and successful dairy industry. We will not have a dairy industry if we do not tackle that bacterium, and if we do not do what every other sensible country has done when there is a reservoir of disease in cattle and a reservoir of disease in wildlife.

The estimate last October was that there were 4,300 badgers in Somerset. The estimate this week is 1,450. Is it the Secretary of State who has moved the goalposts, and not the badgers? Has he not scored a massive own goal in pursuing this misguided cull?

I do not know whether the hon. Lady saw my comments. I stated something that was screamingly obvious: badgers are wild animals that live in an environment in which their numbers are impacted by weather and disease. She should reflect on this. I can report to the House that some of the animals we have shot have been desperately sick—in the final stages of disease—which is why we are completely determined to see the pilot culls through, and why we will pursue measures that the previous Government ducked. We are dealing with a bacterium that affects cattle and wildlife, and ultimately human beings. We will address that bacterium in a rigorous and logical manner.

Further to that point, given that the policy must be based on sound science and evidence, can my right hon. Friend say whether there have been similar dramatic drops in badger numbers in the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency site at Woodchester park and sites such as Wytham in Oxfordshire, where they are monitored closely?

I cannot give my hon. Friend the exact numbers at Woodchester park, but in other areas there has been a significant reduction in badger numbers compared with this time last year.

Last year, the Secretary of State cancelled the cull because there were too many badgers. Yesterday, he admitted that the cull in Somerset would be extended because he could not find enough of them. Can he explain why Gloucestershire has also applied for an extension, even though the six-week trial there has not finished? Is it because the badgers have moved the goalposts there as well?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. I should like her to reflect that, back in 1972, we had the disease beaten—it was down to 0.01%—when we had a bipartisan approach. In every other country where there is a serious problem in cattle and a serious problem in wildlife, both pools are addressed. Her Government tried to sort the problem out by addressing the disease only in cattle. That was a terrible mistake.

On the numbers, as I have just told the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), these animals are wild. There have been similar reductions in Gloucestershire. We are satisfied that, if the local farmers company wants to go on and to apply for an extension, we will be broadly supportive.

I am afraid that this policy is an absolute shambles. The Secretary of State has failed to meet his own target of eradicating 70% of the local badger population in Somerset, and it is clear that he expects to fail in Gloucestershire too. He must know that extending these trials risks spreading TB over a wider area. Rather than the ever-rising cost of policing his failed approach, we need a coherent plan to eradicate TB through the vaccination of badgers and cattle, and tougher rules on the movement of livestock. Instead of blaming the badgers, when will he stop being stubborn, admit he was wrong and abandon this misguided, unscientific and reckless killing of badgers?

I am disappointed by that question. We are clear—and we have had advice from the chief veterinary officer—that the number that was achieved in Somerset will lead to a reduction in disease. The hon. Lady should look at what Australia did with its buffalo pool, what New Zealand did with the brushtail possum and—importantly—what the Republic of Ireland did when it had a steadily rising crest of disease in cattle. As soon as the Irish started to remove diseased badgers, they saw a dramatic reduction in affected cattle and, happily, the average Irish badger is now 1kg heavier than before the cull. The Irish are arriving at a position that we want to reach— healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers.

As part of the cull is taking place in my constituency, I thank the Secretary of State for being the first in over a generation to tackle this issue. Does he share my concern at the statement made by the police and crime commissioner for Gloucestershire yesterday opposing the extension of the trial? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is for the Government and Parliament to decide what should happen, not a publicity-seeking PCC?

Policing issues are not for me. There will be legitimate protests because we live in a democracy and we respect that, but there is a grey line and we do not support obstruction of a policy that was endorsed by both parties in opposition and in government and has been endorsed by this House.

England Coastal Path

We have not set a timetable for completion of the English coastal path. We will be implementing coastal access step by step by tailoring the amount of activity to the resources available. Natural England is currently working on a programme to deliver coastal access on a number of stretches of the English coast.

At a cost of £1 per metre, the coastal path represents excellent value for money. However, the Minister’s predecessor showed little enthusiasm for the project, leading to fears that it would be shelved. Will the Minister confirm that the coastal path budget will be protected during deliberations on the Department’s future spending, and give a date for final completion?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question: it was a pleasure to serve alongside her briefly on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee following her election. The key issue for us is pushing forward this project, but we have to be honest about the fact that we are in a time of restricted resources. We must therefore be efficient in working with landowners and others to streamline the process and to deliver the coastal access that everyone in the House would like to see.

Bovine Tuberculosis

4. How many cattle were slaughtered in Britain as a result of bovine tuberculosis in the last 10 years; and at what cost. (900345)

Between 2003 and 2012, a total of 305,270 otherwise healthy cattle were compulsory slaughtered in Great Britain as a result of bovine TB. In England alone, the disease has cost the taxpayer £500 million in the past decade.

Cattle may not have the same anthropomorphic advocates as some other animals, but they are equally part of God’s creation. Is it not a tragedy that more than 300,000 healthy cattle have had to be slaughtered? Is it not right that unless, collectively, we manage to sort out bovine TB, huge numbers of other healthy cattle will be slaughtered? There has to be some concern for cattle in all of this.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this matter. In his county, 234 otherwise healthy cattle were slaughtered in 2012. Shockingly, in the first six months of this year the number of healthy cattle slaughtered reached 307. I again appeal to those on the Opposition Front Bench to look at the policies pursued in America, Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and even by their socialist friends in France, where there are regular culls of diseased animals. We do not have a valid cattle vaccine. We are working closely with the European Commission, but we are at least 10 years away from that, so the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) cannot hide behind dreams ahead. We have to address the disease now with the tools we have at the moment, as every other sensible country does.

It is indeed a tragedy that so many cattle have been slaughtered, but that does not make a badger cull right or effective. The Department is reported to be undertaking new research into the possible gassing of badgers. Will he confirm that that is the case? If so, what is the scope of the research, and why does he have cause to think that the 2005 DEFRA review, which found that gassing badgers could not be done humanely, is no longer valid?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. As I have just said, until we can establish vaccines we have to use the tools employed by other sensible countries to remove wildlife. Our TB strategy is clear about looking at other methods of removing wildlife. Yes, gassing is under consideration, but we will not use it unless it is proven to be safe, humane and effective.

14. Farmers in Stratford-on-Avon welcome the Government’s commitment to the control of bovine TB through the culling of badgers. There is, however, significant concern about the reservoir of TB in camelids and the lack of a testing or control regime for these animals. What do the Government intend to do on this matter? (900356)

I am acutely aware of the concerns of livestock farmers about the risk to cattle posed by camelids. However, evidence suggests that camelids pose a very small risk of spreading the disease to cattle and badgers. In fact, there are no known cases where a cattle breakdown has been caused directly by transmission from camelids. Nevertheless, I have asked the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England for advice on a proportionate disease control regime for the camelid sector, including how surveillance, breakdown and pre-movement testing can be more effectively carried out.

Media reports suggest that some gassing of badgers is taking place. Will the Secretary of State confirm that if his officials come across any evidence of the gassing of badgers, they pass it on to the police?

Emphatically yes, because any random cull would worsen the disease. If the hon. Member has such evidence, he should take it to the police.

I congratulate my hon. Friends on their new positions and I look forward to working with them. Sadly, bovine TB is well established and endemic in various parts of England, but other parts are free of the disease. What action is the Department taking to ensure that the disease does not spread from the highly infected areas to the less infected areas?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. The danger is that unless we get a grip on the disease in high risk areas it will work its way across to other areas—I cited the figures for Oxfordshire in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry). Our TB strategy is clear about containing the disease in high-risk areas and not letting it spread. We must be emphatic about that.

Given that it has so far cost the taxpayers of Somerset and Gloucestershire £4 million, I was rather concerned that the Secretary of State implied that he did not think that policing was of any concern to him. Does he not think that that money would be better spent on a comprehensive badger vaccination programme?

I think the hon. Lady may have misinterpreted my comments. I do not handle policing; I handle disease in animals. This is a zoonosis, which has to be brought under control. It will take 10 years for a programme agreed with the European Commission to develop a cattle vaccine. Labour Members need to recognise that we cannot sit around as they did, waiting for a new tool to arrive. We have to use the existing tools, which have effectively reduced the disease in other more sensibly run countries.

Dog Ownership

We have a robust package of measures to tackle irresponsible dog ownership and improve public safety. New powers will allow local authorities and the police to deal flexibly with local dog issues. There will be new legal protection against dog attacks on private property and stiffer penalties for those who let their dogs kill or injure someone.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. With my rescue pugs, Bo and Lily, about to take part in the Westminster dog of the year show, does my hon. Friend agree that I will be responsible for their behaviour—may God help me—just as all dog owners are responsible for the behaviour of their own dogs?

May I wish Bo and Lily the very best of luck in the Westminster dog of the year competition? I was told by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) earlier that his own dog, Cholmeley, will be there offering competition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) makes a very good point. I had a rescue dog—a border collie called Mono, and these dogs make for loving and dedicated companions. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that getting responsible dog owners is the way to get good dog behaviour.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate the Minister on his new position. Unfortunately, I do not have a dog, so I cannot enter one into the competition.

As for dog attacks, my own mother was attacked in the run-up to local elections by a dog on private property. As the Minister will be aware, around 70% of dog attacks on postal workers occur on private property. What effect does the Minister think the extension of the criminal offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control on private property will have on all those whose jobs depend on visiting people’s homes?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Volunteers in my own constituency, too, have experienced dog attacks. For the first time, this measure will give hard-working people such as postal workers and others who visit homes as part of their job the full protection of the law when they are confronted by an out-of-control dog. This Government support hard-working people—not just in words, but in deed.

The ease with which puppies can be traded on the internet is bringing more and more poorly looked after and sometimes dangerous dogs into the community. Will the Minister update us on what progress has been made to ensure that animal welfare and responsible ownership are promoted when puppies are made available for sale online?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. My noble Friend Lord de Mauley recently met members of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group and they discussed a voluntary code to improve standards of internet advertising. Officials have looked at the problem of illegal puppies being imported through our ports—an area in respect of which I intend to have further meetings in the weeks ahead.

The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) will be pleased to know that my rescue German shepherd dog, Diesel, is not taking part in the competition this year. However, on a serious point, one way in which dog owners can act more responsibly is to make sure that they do not buy puppies from industrial puppy farms, which are often sold through pet shops or online and too often result in dog rescue centres bursting at the seams with the numbers of puppies and older dogs in them. Will the Minister agree to meet me and dog rescue charities—Marc Abraham has done a lot of work in this area—to look at how we address the disgraceful issue of industrial puppy farms?

I commend the work the hon. Gentleman has done on this issue. I know he hosted a recent meeting on the subject in Parliament, which I attended. I would indeed be happy to meet him about the problem. We all know that part of the problem with out-of-control dogs stems from them not being raised or socialised properly in the first six months of their lives. That is why we need to look at the issue of the responsibility of dog breeders. We should remember that good laws are already in place requiring those breeding puppies for sale to have a licence from the local authority. We need to ensure that that is enforced more widely.

Will the Minister explain why he is ignoring all the dog charities and other agencies, including the RSPCA, the Royal College of Nursing and the police, and is not introducing dog control notices in the forthcoming Bill?

I have considered the issue carefully, and have concluded that, far from being more limited than the Scottish-style dog control notices, the community protection notices proposed by the Government have more scope and are more flexible. This week we have published guidance for practitioners. I think that there is concern not because the proposals for community protection notices are not good enough, but because there is not yet enough understanding of how they can be used.

11. Regrettably I have no four-legged friend entered in the House of Commons dog show today—[Hon. Members: “Aah!”] I know, I know. Also regrettably, the number of dangerous dog attacks on guide and assistance dogs—which cost £50,000 to train—is rising. What steps might my hon. Friend take to increase the sentences that are handed down for such attacks? (900352)

That is a very good point, which has also been raised by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. In the summer, we consulted on proposals to increase the maximum penalties for dog attacks on people and assistance dogs. Such attacks can have a devastating effect on the victims. Attacks on assistance dogs can cause them to lose their confidence and become unable to help their owners. We are currently considering what sentences would be appropriate for such attacks.

Water Bills

Water bills are regulated by Ofwat, which sets price limits every five years. Government guidance to Ofwat in advance of the 2014 price review has emphasised the importance of delivering a fair deal for all customers, and of protecting customers who are struggling to pay their bills. We have also published guidance to help companies to introduce social tariffs for vulnerable customers.

There is a cost-of-living crisis in my constituency and throughout the country. Millions of households in England and Wales are experiencing water poverty. Will the Minister support Labour’s proposal to impose—not just recommend—a duty on water companies to introduce social tariffs to help struggling families to pay their bills?

I entirely understand what the hon. Lady has said about the cost of living. We are all aware of the problem. I represent an area in which incomes are very low, and in which water bills are a significant issue. It is clear from our discussions with Ofwat—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has engaged in some recently—that it understands the importance of the issue, and believes that the benefits to water companies of, for example, low borrowing rates should be passed on to customers. I am pleased that companies are considering the introduction of social tariffs, and I shall continue to keep the matter under review.

I congratulate all who have been elevated to both Front Benches. We look forward to the return, in the very near future, of those of them who have served on the Select Committee—[Laughter]—in their ministerial capacity.

Will my hon. Friend use his good offices to press Ofwat to ensure that the 2014 price review enables the necessary investment to be made in the infrastructure and in innovation? May I also tease out of him the date on which the Water Bill will be given its Second Reading, and can be scrutinised by Parliament?

I thought for a moment that my hon. Friend, who chairs the Select Committee, was petitioning the Prime Minister to summon us back to it, and that our tenure on the Front Benches might be very brief.

The timing of the Bill is, of course, a matter for those who manage our business. I look forward to debating the issues with colleagues in the House and, subsequently, in Committee.

What my hon. Friend has said about investment in the sector is crucial. We have already managed, through our regime, to deliver huge investment in water infrastructure. We now want to establish a regime which, while being fair to customers, also attracts further investment, so that we can have an industry that is fit for the future.

May I begin by paying tribute to the previous Minister who worked in a bipartisan manner throughout his term in office and welcoming both new members of the Government Front-Bench team? I should also thank the chairlady of the Select Committee for her tutelage of us all over the past three and a half years.

Does the Minister understand that when households are struggling with inflation-busting water bills, it is simply unacceptable for water companies to try to avoid paying corporation tax? If he does, will he work with Opposition Members to make the necessary improvements to the forthcoming Water Bill?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and look forward to debating these issues with him. As we look at the regime the Bill is seeking to bring in, we can discuss some of these issues, although there are probably other key areas we will want to focus on. The issue of corporation tax is crucial across many industries and I look forward to hearing what the hon. Gentleman has to say on the subject as we move forward.

Topical Questions

DEFRA’s priorities are growing the rural economy, improving the environment and safeguarding animal and plant health, and I am today pleased to announce £3 million of funding from the anaerobic digestion loan fund, which will enable farmers to obtain funding to set up small-scale anaerobic digestion plants. The technology will not only save farmers money on energy costs, but will provide them with the opportunity to boost their income by exporting electricity to the grid. It will also help them cut waste and reduce the amount of artificial fertilisers they use. This funding is an example of this Government’s commitment to sustainable economic growth and environmental improvement. The two are not mutually exclusive.

I want to ask about food banks and, in particular, about the answers the Minister gave a few moments ago in response to questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). I understand that in April 2013 DEFRA commissioned important research to review evidence on the landscape of food provision and access. Given that this information and research will be very helpful to Government in targeting policy to the most needy, why is it not being published? I know the Minister is new in post, but can he expedite this, because a promise was made that it would be posted on the Department’s website?

I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. We undertake research on a whole range of areas and this obviously cuts across a number of different Departments, with whom we are consulting.

T4. Will the Secretary of State ensure more people are able to enjoy access to woodlands, particularly those close to our towns and cities? (900401)

We are consulting on the future of the publicly owned forest and management of forestry issues generally and looking at what we will take forward. There are many excellent landowners, such as the Woodland Trust and the National Trust, who encourage public access and enjoyment of woodland and I look forward to working with them and other landowners to ensure we increase access for everybody.

A National Audit Office report today shows the response to the horsemeat scandal was hampered by confusion caused by the coalition Government splitting the Food Standards Agency’s responsibilities in 2010. It also raises concerns over the reductions in food testing, public analysts and local officers working on food law enforcement since this Government came to power. So will Ministers now accept their share of responsibility—or is this the fault of the badgers?

The Department will look at this report from the NAO and study its recommendations very carefully, but I have to say there is no evidence that the division of the FSA’s role has contributed to this, and, more importantly, we have appointed Professor Chris Elliott to look at this whole issue in great detail and his report will be key.

T5. Given the importance of exports to the country’s economic recovery, what is my right hon. Friend doing to help producers and exporters open up foreign markets? (900402)

Only this week I was in Cologne, taking our largest ever delegation to the world’s largest food fair; last month, I was in Moscow, where we announced a trade deal opening up the market for beef and lamb which will be worth up to £100 million over three years; and our work last year in opening up China has led to a 591% increase in pork exports in the first six months of this year.

T2. My constituents who work at Tate & Lyle have been very appreciative of the Secretary of State’s efforts to secure a level playing field for cane sugar refiners in the European market. His former ministerial team were very diligent on this issue. I welcome his new team and wonder whether he can reassure the House that they will be equally determined on this issue. (900399)

I can, indeed, give the right hon. Gentleman that reassurance. The EU sugar regime is one of the most distorting parts of the common agricultural policy, and we had great success in negotiating the removal of sugar beet quotas in 2017. However, he rightly says that we need now to take those trade barriers down, and time is of the essence. We are therefore pushing the European Commission to ensure that all opportunities to secure additional trade concessions are taken at the earliest opportunity.

T6. The Secretary of State will recall the petition I sent him that was collected by Climate Friendly Bradford on Avon; more than 1,000 Wiltshire residents were calling for a charge on single-use plastic carrier bags. How will the Minister ensure that neither the Chancellor nor the supermarkets cling on to the cash it collects? (900403)

Although in England we cannot mandate where the money will go, because the relevant primary legislation, the Climate Change Act 2008, does not allow for that, we will discuss with retailers how the money raised should be spent and encourage them to give the profits to good causes. We have an expectation that, as in Wales, the money raised should benefit good causes.

T3. Is the Secretary of State aware of the most recent piece of scientific research on the Cayman turtle farm? It supports the position of the World Society for the Protection of Animals that: “There is no humane way to farm sea turtles”. Will he, along with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, take decisive action to alleviate the suffering of these endangered animals? (900400)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The matter he raises is of real concern to a number of Members who have written to me. We are taking what actions we can, but we are the Government of the UK, and he has to remember that.

T8. Poaching in some parts of Africa is getting so bad that Tanzanian Minister Khamis Kagasheki has called for a shoot-to-kill policy to deal with poachers, following the loss of half of Tanzania’s elephants in the past three years. On current trends, it is estimated that the African elephant will be extinct in the wild by 2025. What action are the Government taking to tackle the illegal trade in endangered species? (900405)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this shocking issue, on which he is absolutely right. The problem is even worse in respect of rhinoceroses; we lose one every 11 hours. So this Government are taking a world lead. We are calling a conference on 13 February next year, and we intend to co-ordinate world action—with western countries, with the countries where these animals live and with the countries where there is significant demand—before these iconic species become extinct.

T7. Whether or not the Government see sense next week and accept our amendments on dog control notices, that will not resolve all the issues relating to dangerous dogs, including controlling breeding, and ensuring that puppies are properly socialised and that children and adults are educated about dog ownership. Does the Minister agree that we still need a full dog welfare and control Bill? (900404)

Actually, I do not agree. There are lots of bits of legislation covering many areas, but the laws are in place. We need to ensure that they are better understood, which is why we have published guidance this week pointing out what community protection notices can do and how they can be used by practitioners.

Will the Secretary of State meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) to discuss the persistent and serious breaches of control of the Waste4Fuel site on the boundary of our constituencies, which the Environment Agency appears to be unable to cope with?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the concerns of his constituents about this site. I have looked into the issue, am aware of it and discuss it with the Environment Agency. If he and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington wish to meet me to discuss it, I will be happy to do so.

Does the Minister share the concern of Stoke-on-Trent boat club, and the Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs all over the country, about DEFRA’s deferment of the decision to stop Environment Agency navigation waters going over to the Canal and River Trust? Will he urgently review that situation and raise it with the Treasury?

The hon. Lady has obviously been concerned about these matters for some time. I would be happy to hear more from her about the details and perhaps we could take the matter forward on that basis.

Do my right hon. and hon. Friends share my alarm at the growing practice of Natural England’s insisting on the removal of sheep from land under new stewardship projects? Given the absolute need for the UK to be able to provide more of its own food, is that not a dangerous step? Will Ministers take action?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, which touches on our conundrum in the hill areas, where we clearly want to increase food production but also want to improve the environment. We will be consulting shortly on whether we modulate a significant sum from pillar 1 to pillar 2 and what the shape and form of those pillar 2 schemes might be. I am absolutely clear that we have a real role to play in helping hill farmers to keep the hills looking as they do and to provide them with sufficient money to provide food.

Is it acceptable that properties built after 2009 and small businesses will not be covered by the Government’s new flood insurance scheme?

We are working very closely with the Association of British Insurers on the new scheme, which will replace the statement of principles, and we are looking in detail at a range of different options. We do not propose to extend the scheme to post-2009 properties.

Local people have for many years expressed concern about the Whitsand bay dump site. They have identified an alternative site; will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the reclassification of that alternative site?

I know that the issue is important for my hon. Friend and I would be more than happy to meet her and others affected by the decision.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but I think that Mr Philip Hollobone must be the last questioner.

To better understand the spread of TB in wildlife, why are the badgers that are being culled not being tested to see whether they are infected or not?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Let me clarify in simple terms: carcases that have been shot would not give an accurate reading following post-mortem.

Church Commissioners

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

Cathedral Congregations

1. What lessons the Church of England has learned from the increasing size of congregations attending services at cathedrals. (900313)

I am glad to report that over the past 10 years there has been a 35% increase in average weekly attendance in cathedral services. A team from Cranmer Hall at St John’s college, Durham is conducting a detailed survey of the trends in increased cathedral attendance.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. It is indeed good news that there has been such a significant increase in the number of people worshipping in cathedrals over the past 10 years. Will the research seek to discover why attendance at services held in cathedrals has been going up at a time when attendance at many parish churches has been declining?

Absolutely; the research will seek to understand the detail of attendance trends at cathedrals and I hope that the results of the study will be published early next year.

I am sure that many of us will be of the view that the increased attendance in cathedrals must be down not only to the high standards of liturgy but to the fact that they have a diverse range of clergy. On the subject of churches and diversity, would the hon. Gentleman like to congratulate the Church in Wales on the decision to elect women as bishops? Would he say that there are great lessons to be learned for the Church of England, which is increasingly becoming a minority within the Anglican communion on that issue?

The House well knows that I very much look forward to the day when the Church of England can welcome women as bishops.

Syria and Egypt

2. What discussions the Church of England is having with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office regarding the protection of religious minorities in Syria and Egypt. (900315)

Following the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to the middle east in the summer, he met my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in July to discuss the vulnerable situation of religious minorities in Syria and Egypt. The Church of England has made representations to Foreign Office Ministers to suggest appointing an ambassador at large for religious freedom.

That is a welcome bit of news, both about the meeting and the initiative. May I reinforce the point that in Syria and Egypt and across the middle east and north Africa the decline in Christian communities is alarming and they are feeling horribly oppressed, as they are in many other Muslim countries of the world? Will my hon. Friend ask the commissioners and the Church in this country to make that a priority in the years ahead? They need our help, and they need to know that the rest of the Anglican communion is on their side.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is difficult to underestimate what is happening. The International Society for Human Rights, a secular organisation based in Germany, estimates that 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. The bishop of the Coptic Church in Egypt, based in London, has said that there is almost ethnic cleansing to eliminate Christianity and Christians in Egypt, so this is an issue to which we must all—the Church of England, the Foreign Office and civil society as a whole—give the highest priority. Whether it is people being murdered in Peshawar or churches being burnt in Baghdad, this is a terrible issue which must be addressed collectively.

I urge the hon. Gentleman to look at the recent report by Amnesty International into the attacks on Coptic Christians and on churches, in Egypt in particular but in the middle east more generally. I echo the request by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) for the hon. Gentleman to talk to his colleagues in the Foreign Office and ensure that this issue is an absolute priority for them.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I reiterate what the Archbishop of Canterbury said on the Amnesty International report. Archbishop Justin said that he welcomed

“this timely report from Amnesty International”

and continued:

“Attacks on any community are deplorable and any state has the responsibility to protect its citizens. The appalling attacks in August on the Christian community in Egypt highlight the need for all citizens to be duly protected. Despite the pressure they are under, by the grace of God, Christians in Egypt continue to do all they can to work for the good of the whole of the society of which they are an essential part.”

It is very welcome that organisations such as Amnesty International are drawing attention to what is happening to Christian minorities in the middle east and elsewhere in the world.

If Muslims were treated in this country as Christians are being treated in Egypt and Syria, there would be international outrage. Can the Church of England work with the papacy, the United Nations and other international organisations to have a real international initiative, perhaps with the Arab League, to condemn all these atrocities before they get far, far worse?

The international community as a whole needs to recognise that the persecution of any faith group, and the persecution of Christians across the world, is wholly unacceptable and has to stop.

Food Banks

3. What work the Church of England is undertaking to support food banks in local communities; and if he will make a statement. (900316)

Many parish churches are closely involved in running and supporting food banks all across the country, and a recent report from the Church Urban Fund found that four out of five churches are supporting a food bank in one or more ways.

I was pleased to hear what the hon. Gentleman just said about the progress made in the Church of Wales. The fight obviously continues in the Church in England to ordain women bishops. On the increasing number of people using food banks, however, does the hon. Gentleman agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury that

“there is a danger…that people are categorised, that all people on benefit are seen as scroungers and that’s clearly completely untrue”?

The benefits system exists to ensure that those who are entitled to benefits receive benefits. In respect of food banks, the question really is one of concern, which has been raised earlier in the House today, about the increase in the use of food banks. I would like to report to the House that the Church of England’s mission and public affairs team, together with Oxfam and the Child Poverty Action Group, are examining the underlying reasons for the rapid growth in the use of food banks, and will recommend changes in policy and practice that would help to reduce the use of food banks in the longer term.

Order. I will not repeat what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) has just said from a sedentary position. The Second Church Estates Commissioner is an extremely distinguished Member, but he is not what was said of him from a sedentary position.

If we were not discussing such an important subject as food banks, Mr Speaker, I would comment to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) that one of the great things about this place is that one must have humility. Ever since I received my knighthood, the family at home have called me “Sir Cumference Hippo”, so I would not worry too much.

Public Accounts Commission

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

Accountancy and Auditing Standards

4. What steps the Public Accounts Commission is taking to encourage improvements in the quality and standard of training in the accountancy and audit professions. (900317)

The Public Accounts Commission has a number of statutory functions in respect of the National Audit Office, including approving its corporate strategy, agreeing and laying its estimate and appointing non-executive members of the NAO board. Naturally we have no direct responsibility for training, but we always press the NAO to fulfil fully its obligations on training.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that many of us who had employees in the banking sector and friends who had a stake in the banking sector were horrified by the lack of ethics of the accountancy profession when it came to the basic job of auditing the banks and auditing other big corporations where they did it badly. Surely we should speak up through the Commission about ethics, responsibility and moral certitude in accountancy.

That is a very interesting question but it is rather wide of our responsibilities. I wish we had those responsibilities, but we are responsible only for the budget and the annual report of the National Audit Office, which audits accounts in the public, not the private, sector, so I am sorry I cannot do more for the hon. Gentleman.

Church Commissioners

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

Bats in Churches

5. What recent discussions he has had with Natural England on bats in churches; and if he will make a statement. (900318)

I understand from Natural England that the licence application for St Hilda’s in my hon. Friend’s constituency was submitted last Monday and a decision is expected this week. Following the granting of a licence, the work would start on site next week, blocking the access points of bats. The application is for the exclusion of bats from the interior of the church only, so this solution is intended to allow the interior of St Hilda’s church to be completely free from bats, while allowing their continued use of the exterior of the building.

It is a source of some cynicism that the licence was issued or applied for only after my question regarding bats having the run of the church, St Hilda’s at Ellerburn, appeared on the Order Paper. As £30,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent conducting a survey which has as yet led to no result, will my hon. Friend exert all his influence on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to issue the licence so that the congregation can meet and use the interior of the church free from intrusion by bats?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is worth recording that this one single parish church has had to spend tens of thousands of pounds so far just to get to this position. We have to improve the whole situation in relation to bats in churches. It is not a joking matter. Churches are not field barns; they are places of worship, and it cannot be right that bats can be excluded from reopened railway tunnels and the living spaces of domestic homes, but it is so difficult for active community buildings such as churches to resolve such an issue.

Church Credit Union

The Church of England is developing a three-pronged strategy in its work with credit unions. The first is to link parish churches to local credit unions to offer support where any is available. The second is to set up an archbishops taskforce to work with the credit union movement and the local banking sector to produce credible alternatives which offer financially responsible products and services. The third is the plan to found the Church’s credit union, primarily for clergy and Church employees.

I welcome the work the Church is doing to promote the good work of credit unions. Will my hon. Friend also update the House on the involvement of the Church Commissioners in the proposed new bank, Williams & Glyn’s, which I understand is to lend to local small and medium-sized enterprises in particular?

I am glad to be able to report to the House that the Church Commissioners were part of a consortium of investors that will be partnering with Royal Bank of Scotland to set up a new bank, Williams & Glyn’s. It will be a vigorous challenger bank which is intended to set up the highest ethical standards and give consumers more choice, and I hope that it will work out how we can better help some of those denied access to financial services.

With regard to the first of my hon. Friend’s three prongs, are there any sub-prongs, by which I mean ways that local parishes can work with credit unions, perhaps through the use of premises, the recruitment of volunteers and board members, and, critically, raise awareness by marketing the credit unions?

Absolutely; the Church of England is rich in resource, buildings and expertise, and we want to share all of that. We want to encourage many more credit unions to be established across the country.

Scrap Metal

8. What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to publicise the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act on 1 October 2013; and what steps churches are taking to protect themselves from lead theft. (900322)

The Church of England has been working closely with its insurer, Ecclesiastical, to promote the “Hands off our church roofs” campaign, and the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, which came into force on 1 October, is extremely welcome. Overall, we hope that we can promote the various deterrence methods available to protect church roofs and metal artefacts from theft.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that since it was made clear that that legislation would be introduced there has been a significant reduction in the incidence of metal theft? Although vigilance is still needed, does not the passing of the Act mean that we are no longer fighting a losing battle?

The whole House will be really pleased about the introduction of the Act, because although we still have some way to go, the reduction in the incidence of metal theft has been substantial. Although churches of course still need to use CCTV, SmartWater and so forth, the fact that scrap metal can no longer be traded for cash—people can no longer rip lead from roofs and sell it the next morning for cash to a local dealer; it is now a cashless business—is clearly already having a considerable impact on ensuring that our heritage does not continue to be ripped off.

Business of the House

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 14 October—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 15 October—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, followed by a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Deep Sea Mining Bill.

Wednesday 16 October—Opposition day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on zero-hours contracts, followed by a debate on high streets and changes to use orders. Both debates with arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 17 October—A debate on a motion relating to defence reforms, followed by a debate on a motion relating to funding support for deaf and young people. The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 18 October—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 21 October will include:

Monday 21 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 22 October—Second Reading of the Immigration Bill, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to the European public prosecutor’s office.

Wednesday 23 October—Opposition day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 24 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 25 October—Private Members’ Bills.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I begin by echoing the Prime Minister in congratulating Professor Higgs, this year’s joint winner of the Nobel prize for physics for his work in explaining why the universe has mass? I think his theory may even be able to explain how the badgers managed to move the goalposts.

I note that the Offender Rehabilitation Bill is still strangely absent from future business, despite the fact that it completed its Lords stages well before the summer recess. The Leader of the House will know that on Report in the other place the Government lost a crucial vote and that clause 1 now reads:

“No alteration or reform may be made to the structure of the probation service unless the proposals have been laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.”

We have had no such document, so will he explain why the Government have published contracts to sell off £800 million-worth of probation services and why probation staff have been given notice that they might be offloaded to companies such as G4S or Serco next spring?

It looks to me as though the Government are deliberately ignoring the will of Parliament by delaying the passage of this Bill until after they have privatised the probation service, so rendering their defeat in the Lords irrelevant. Could the Leader of the House prove that my theory is wrong by telling me when we can expect to see the Bill in this House?

The Government succeeded in rushing through their sinister gagging Bill last night without giving us adequate time for scrutiny. It now goes on to the Lords in similar haste so that the Government can get their gag in place in time for the next election. Given that Parliament has not been given the chance to scrutinise the Bill properly and it was not consulted on before it was published, an independent commission has been established to analyse its impact. Will the Leader of the House join me in giving evidence to that commission, and will he give his assurance that the Government will not proceed with the Bill until the findings are published?

We are just back from the conference recess and we learned a lot from the conferences of the two parties in power. The Liberal Democrats believe they have a right to be ensconced in their ministerial cars in perpetuity, whoever wins the election, and the Tories dream of a land of hope and glory. The reality is that, with this incompetent Government, it is more a land of hopeless Tories. I also understand that, following his conference speech, the Business Secretary has changed his voicemail to that old Liberal Democrat staple, “Please leave a message after the high moral tone.”

I am relieved to see both the Leader of the House and his deputy, and, indeed, the Patronage Secretary, in their place after the Government reshuffle at the beginning of the week. Reshuffles on either side are a difficult time for everyone and I want to take a moment to recognise the service of all those leaving their respective Front Benches as a result of Monday’s events. The Leader of the House and I have both been on the right and wrong sides of reshuffles in our time, so we have a personal insight into what people go through. I salute the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who lost his Government job on Monday and was good natured enough to repeat a tweet he received after he had been given the bad news, which said:

“Fisheries Minister sacked. Word is he’s gutted”.

Inexplicably, our friends in the Press Gallery treat reshuffle day as though it were a nerve-wracking episode of “The X Factor”. All that was missing on Monday was some tense music and Dermot O’Leary giving out hugs at the end of Downing street, although I did think that some aspects of the Government’s reshuffle really were worthy of reality TV. First, a Liberal Democrat, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), was sacked for being too right wing. Given that criterion, I am surprised the Deputy Prime Minister managed to spare himself. Then we realised that the Prime Minister’s new strategy to stop his Back-Bench rebellions was to give as many people as possible a job. It seems that a small state needs a very big Government. It then emerged that the Deputy Prime Minister had put a conspiracy theorist in the Home Office behind the back of the furious Home Secretary. I understand that the book written by the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) is shooting up the Amazon charts as a result of all the unwanted publicity. I am sure we all look forward to the new Minister telling us what really happened at Roswell, whether NASA faked the moon landings and whether Elvis ever did actually leave the building.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. I am enjoying our return to business questions after the recess.

I join the shadow Leader of the House and our respective party leaders in congratulating Professor Peter Higgs. It is wonderful that this country has produced so many leading scientists and, indeed, recipients of Nobel prizes. That is something that people in Russia might like to ponder when they call us a small country. I am reminded that there is one college in the small city of Cambridge on this small island that has more Nobel prize winners than the whole of Russia.

I am not yet in a position to enlighten the House on the timetable for our consideration of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill. I will announce that in due course. The Ministry of Justice is rightly proceeding with plans that will improve the quality of probation services and, importantly, offer probation services to those who leave prison after short sentences. That is an important reform and I look forward to the consideration of the Bill in this House.

The shadow Leader of the House tried to return to the debate on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. However, it has now left this House. I met Lesley-Anne Alexander, Stephen Bubb and others to discuss the establishment of the commission. I made it clear that we would take account of anything that they said, but that it was important for them to consider the issues more quickly. They are establishing the commission two and a half months after the Bill was published and in the midst of its passage. I will gladly hear what they have to say, but we will proceed with the Bill in the Lords as planned. As we made clear in yesterday’s debate, we have a timetable for the passage of the Bill. It received full scrutiny on the Floor of this House and I know that their lordships will do a similar thing in their House.

I will not dwell on particular aspects of the reshuffle. As the shadow Leader of the House kindly observed, we have all been subject to these things over the years. My observation is that what goes around comes around. I agree with her that a number of my colleagues have given very good service as Ministers. We very much appreciate that and thank them for it.

We must always be aware that one can contribute to public life not only through ministerial office, but through many other forms of service in this House and in public life more generally. I left the shadow Cabinet and sat as a Back Bencher for a couple of years. That did not mean that I could not make a significant contribution. For example, I helped to write the provision in the Communications Act 2003 that provided that media mergers should be subject to a public interest test in the same way as other mergers, which has been found to be of considerable use. I therefore encourage my colleagues who have left the Government most recently to reflect on the other opportunities for public service.

Today, we will rightly have a debate on the funding of local councils. May we also have a debate on the future of small local councils? My constituency contains the smallest local council in England, which is finding it nigh on impossible to survive. We need to consider how we will fund small councils not only for the next two years, but for the next decade. We must consider whether they can survive in the changing world in which we live, given the recession that we are all facing.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about funding. If he has an opportunity to speak in today’s debate, I am sure that it will be relevant. I will say two things. First, while small local authorities have a valuable role in ensuring that democracy is accessible and relevant to their populations, many such public authorities have successfully explored ways of sharing costs and back-office services with other authorities, and that is very useful. Secondly, the BBC survey discovered that it is possible to secure more and better services with less money. That point will be important in this afternoon’s debate. It illustrates how public services have responded to the tough times that we inherited from the Labour Government and is a credit to those who are running local authorities.

Given that the general public think their regulators are ineffective, can time be found for a debate on whether we should replace the current regulators with organisations that can stop British consumers being ripped off?

It is particularly important that we ensure that regulators and the competition authorities are effective. Competition is what delivers for consumers, and regulators have access to concurrent competition powers with the competition authorities. We need to be sure that those powers are being used to deliver the benefits for consumers that competition should deliver.

I understand that we are now to call High Speed 2 the north-south railway. Will the Leader of the House find an opportunity for the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House during the next week to announce that just a fraction of that investment could be spent on providing a barely adequate east-west railway?

It is a great pleasure to have my hon. Friend here to ask a question. He was a distinguished occupant of the post of Deputy Leader of the House, and we thank him for that and for his work in his subsequent responsibilities related to farming.

Over the next few years, up to about 2020, there will be much larger investment elsewhere in Network Rail than in HS2. It is not absorbing resources that would otherwise be available for the rest of the network. On the contrary, we have among the largest ever investment programmes elsewhere in the rail system, and rightly so. Just as HS2 will meet clear north-south capacity requirements, we need other investment to meet capacity needs elsewhere.

Now that we are back in operation, may I ask the Leader of the House if we can reflect on something that troubles me—the growth of monopolies in almost every sector of life? Whether we are talking about the energy sector, the supermarkets or transport, there are organisations with a monopolistic tendency to do down the consumer. May we have a full debate on monopolies and how we regulate them?

I think that is exactly the same point that the hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) made, and in a sense I think we agree about it. We need competition if we are to deliver benefits to consumers, and we need it to be robust. That competition is not driven naturally in markets; it has to be regulated for by authorities. We should not have a free-for-all in markets, because of the tendency towards monopoly. We must have effective competition regulation to make competition happen, and this Government have been keen to ensure that it is in place. To be fair to the previous Government, they also did that under competition and enterprise Acts. This country has established what is regarded as one of the more effective competition regimes, but we must continuously be vigilant and use the competition authorities to deliver it.

As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth university was named in the top 300 in last week’s Times Higher Education world rankings, putting it in the top 1.5% globally. Will he join me in congratulating it on its remarkable feat? May we have a debate on the role of universities in delivering growth in our economy both here in Britain and globally?

My hon. Friend is right, and I join him in expressing appreciation for the tremendous progress that Plymouth university has made and the standards that it is achieving. He and other Members will be well aware not only of the comparative strengths in our higher education system, which are dramatic, but of the contribution that they are making to our economic recovery and our future prospects. If we are going to win the global race, it will be on the basis of knowledge-based industries. The connection between universities and higher education and the new industries of the future is critical.

May we have a debate on the privatisation strategy, which colleagues have mentioned, with a particular focus on Royal Mail? Many people feel that that sale is outrageous and that a lot of smaller investors have been locked out of the process by the fee level.

This House passed legislation that permitted the privatisation to go ahead, and many small investors will have seen the advantage in seeking to be party to that privatisation and part of the future of Royal Mail—a future that will be stronger by virtue of its access to private capital.

Today is world mental health day, and mental illness will be one of the major health challenges we face over the next 20 years. May we have a debate on the vital issue of achieving parity of esteem between physical and mental health conditions in the national health service?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and it is right to recall that issue today. The Backbench Business Committee has helpfully scheduled debates in the House on two occasions, which has allowed the House to make a signal contribution to identifying the problems associated with stigma and discrimination related to mental health. We should not rest on that, however, and must pursue the issue further. The Time To Change campaign—which has now rolled out across the country, supported by £60 million of Government funding—is capable of making a big difference. I recall it was trialled in Cambridgeshire, and a lot of people appreciated how it enabled many people to change their views about the impact and character of mental health problems, which so many people in all sorts of families suffer from.

On 16 August and 2 September I wrote to the Business Secretary on two matters: first, the Government’s role in selling fake bomb detectors to other countries, and, secondly, the export of chemicals that could be used to make chemical weapons in Syria. I have not received a reply to either letter and I wonder whether the Leader of the House’s wonderful civil servants could have a word with their counterparts in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to find out why the courtesies of the House are not being followed.

Yes, of course. I will be glad to do that as I regard it as one of my responsibilities to assist Members in ensuring that we respond promptly—timeously, I should say—to requests for information and representations to Ministers.

May we have a debate on job creation and the possible impact of tax rises on larger businesses? Last week I visited Honeytop Speciality Foods in my constituency—a company that employs 900 people and is creating 200 extra jobs over the next month. It has exported naan bread to India and made Dunstable the crumpet capital of the United Kingdom. I do not want to see anything that would threaten investment and the creation of full-time British jobs.

Next time I am delayed by a traffic jam on the A5 in Dunstable I will take time out to enjoy a crumpet. I am grateful to my hon. Friend because it is important to illustrate that when we mention the 1.4 million new private sector jobs created since the election, we sometimes lose the human character behind that big number. Those 200 extra jobs in his constituency show that human benefit because these are people in jobs who are bringing home good salaries and changing their economic prospects and those of their town. That is multiplied many thousands of times across the country, and it is right for him to draw attention to the importance of supporting that.

Further to the answer of the Leader of the House to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), a few weeks ago I wrote to the Home Secretary about her proposal for a £3,000 visa bond on visitors from India and Pakistan, which is causing consternation in my constituency. Last week a Home Office official rang my office to say that they were sorry, but there is a 12-month backlog of correspondence and they are waiting for the Home Secretary to sign those letters. Does the Leader of the House think that is acceptable?

If I may, I will speak to the Home Office and see what the position is. I am sure there is not a 12-month backlog for Home Office correspondence, but I will find out the position and report back to the hon. Gentleman.

May we have a debate on the salaries and wages to be paid to staff in the national health service? There have been reports that there will be no wage increase next year, but one is expected. Does the Leader of the House agree that we rely very much on the dedication and hard work of our NHS staff, that we should not treat them in that way, and that they should not be taken for granted in that way?

My hon. Friend will be aware that pay in the NHS is the subject of independent pay review. Therefore, to that extent, the recommendations on future pay will wait on the results of independent review. It is quite proper that the Government, in that context, should provide evidence to the pay review, which has happened. The affordability of any pay rise must have a bearing on that evidence, bearing in mind the overall Government approach, which is for the overall increase in pay to be of the order of 1% in the year ahead. As I know very well, there is contractual pay progression in the NHS. When I was Health Secretary, it was about 1.4% per year. I believe it has increased recently. As he will understand, there is an obvious relationship between the affordability of progression pay of that kind and any headline basic pay increase.

I have previously asked a question on the sale by the Ministry of Justice of the former magistrates court at Fenton town hall, to which I received a reply stating that the Ministry of Justice wanted to receive maximum funds for the sale. Given that neither the Ministry of Justice nor its predecessor Departments have ever paid so much as a penny to the people of Stoke-on-Trent to buy or rent the building, may we have a debate in Government time on Government Departments selling buildings that properly belong to local people? Perhaps we could have the debate before the petition is delivered to No. 10, which will happen soon. It is outrageous that the MOJ is selling a building that belongs to the people of Stoke-on-Trent, who have never received a penny for it.

If I may, I will look at the correspondence—I recall that the hon. Gentleman rightly raised the question previously and has received a reply. If the MOJ has proper ownership of a building, it must, not least in the interest of the taxpayer, ensure that it realises best value for it, but the Government have been clear on the opportunities local communities should have in relation to assets of community value. I cannot promise a debate, but I will look at the hon. Gentleman’s point.

As part of its reporting of national security issues, The Guardian has not denied sending the detailed family and personal information of our security agents across borders. That is illegal and it is threatening our agents and their families. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary to clarify that the law will be upheld, whether or not the organisation involved is hiding behind the fig leaf of journalism?

My hon. Friend and the House know that the freedom of speech we prize so highly comes with a responsibility. Members of the House and the public will have been struck by what the director general of MI5 said this week. I am sure he was right to say what he said. In that context, I will ask the Home Secretary to consider my hon. Friend’s point and how she might inform the House in due course, but it seems to me that, regardless of any action taken by the Government, it is incumbent on the press—meaning, in this context, The Guardian—to exercise accountability for its decisions.

May I declare my interest and remind the Leader of the House that 1 million people in this country have undiagnosed diabetes? He is the architect of the health and wellbeing boards. May we have a statement or debate on the amount of money they are spending to create awareness of the condition among the general public? I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), for the good work she did on diabetes before she was moved from the Department of Health.

I join the right hon. Gentleman in thanking the Under-Secretary for the work she did, which has taken us into a new era in public health. We are protecting the real value of the resources within the NHS budget, which we are increasing in real terms, but a larger increase is going to public health, because, as he correctly identifies, if we can anticipate future illness and act to prevent it, it is important that we do so—in the case of diabetes, early diagnosis and intervention has successful outcomes. Health and wellbeing boards, as part of their joint commissioning in public health, will look at how they can ensure that people access diagnoses of the conditions that place them at risk.

Given the importance of localism, which the Government have recognised, and in the light of the new powers communities have been given to influence housing decisions in their area, does the Leader of the House agree that the time is now right for a debate on a community right of appeal in the planning process? That is not the same thing as a third party right, which the Government have considered and rejected, but at the moment local communities feel disfranchised in the appeal process.

My hon. Friend might like to note that on Monday 21 October my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be here with his colleagues and she may consider it worth her while to raise this issue then. We must be careful in this context. It is important to ensure, as we have, that we strengthen the local or community voice in the establishment of local development frameworks and—as I have seen done very effectively—through neighbourhood plans, to create a framework so that those who exercise their right to bring forward development on land they own or have acquired do so in the context of the community’s view about the use of land in their area. Otherwise, we might run the risk of a chilling effect on development as a consequence of subsequent rights of appeal for the community against planning permissions that have been granted.

Demand at Trussell Trust food banks has gone up 800% under this Government. When can we have a debate on this cost of living crisis?

We are continually engaging in a debate on the issues relating to cost of living, and how families are able to cope with the consequences of the reduction of wealth in this country by 7.2% under the last Government, in the most serious recession we have faced in a century. It is inconceivable that such a reduction in wealth would not have consequences across society. Fortunately the number of workless households is now at its lowest level, and those who are in work are increasingly finding that their tax bills are going down. Inevitably and rightly, there are charitable and other endeavours to help those people who are in hardship, just as the benefit system should. We will have further opportunities to debate how we can target that support to best effect, and I look forward to those.

Perhaps we could have a wider debate on planning laws. The issue that has had a real impact on the Ribble Valley, whose core strategy is not in place, is the number of speculative planning applications that have been put in. The local council turns them down, they go to appeal and the decisions are overturned. It is not only communities that feel frustrated, but local councillors, who wonder what the use is in rejecting such planning applications only to have their decisions overturned time and again.

I completely understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, not least because South Cambridgeshire—he will not be surprised to learn—has a heavy demand for new housing and many applications. We want to ensure that we also meet housing need by having local plans in place, including neighbourhood plans, so that decisions can be made consistent with the local understanding of how planning should be structured in the area. That is what needs to happen. If those local plans show how they will meet the housing demand for the next five years, they should be robust in the face of challenge.

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education on his announcement that only the first entry results for GCSEs will count towards school league tables? Any improvement in a pupil’s progress through his or her hard work and excellent teaching will not be counted. Is that not the wrong way to deal with multiple exam entries?

It is important to have clear and meaningful indicators of school performance. If I may, I will ask a Minister at the Department to respond to the point the hon. Gentleman rightly raises, rather than attempt to do so myself.

With regard to private Members’ Bills and the forthcoming return of the European Union (Referendum) Bill, will the Leader of the House remind the House that the Bill is such a beautiful yet fragile flower that seeking to improve it by amending it will be about as useful to its life as throwing a gallon of poison over it?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This important Bill is drafted in a straightforward way. Even with the best will in the world—he is very knowledgeable about the procedures of the House—seeking to improve private Members’ Bills in a way that is no more than tinkering risks prejudicing them. Those who, like me, share the view that the Bill should pass—it will give people the say that they should have, and at the right time, in the future of this country’s relationship with Europe—should accept that and get on with it.

Total UK production decreased by 1.1% between July 2013 and August 2013, with manufacturing decreasing by 1.2%. Between August 2012 and August 2013, production output decreased by 1.5%. Investment in plant and machinery for factories remains below 2007 levels. The Leader of the House talks about the global race and the Chancellor talks about the march of the makers. May we have a debate on manufacturing and talk about why UK manufacturing is in full retreat at the moment?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to remind the House that business confidence is up, consumer confidence is up, exports are up, construction is up, manufacturing is up, growth forecasts are up, and that only this week the International Monetary Fund’s international outlook upgraded its forecast for the UK economy for this year and next year by more than any other major economy.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House to make a statement about the recent changes proposed in Europe to both the packaging of tobacco and the banning of menthol cigarettes? While we all support anything that reduces the number of people who take up smoking and reduces the number of cigarettes that people smoke, the House needs to have the opportunity to debate this serious health issue.

These are important issues and the House will want to consider the agreement in Europe this week on the tobacco directive. Rather than the Secretary of State coming to the House to make a statement, the proper route is for the issue to be scrutinised by the European Scrutiny Committee. If the Committee then recommends a debate in the House, we will seek to achieve that.

I have been contacted by a number of parents who are concerned about the Prime Minister’s announcement at the Conservative party conference on “earn or learn”. This might just be one of the attention grabbing gimmicks we expect from the Government during conference season, but people are concerned about it. May we have a debate so that the Government do not rush into this ill-thought-out policy?

Parents should be encouraged by what the Prime Minister has said. All indicators regarding young people’s prospects suggest that they should be in either education, employment or training. Not being in education, employment or training can cause serious damage to their prospects. We are setting out to minimise the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training, and I hope the hon. Lady supports that.

It was announced last week that developers had signed a legal agreement with Blaenau Gwent council for construction of the Circuit of Wales. It was also announced that the project will be part-funded by the Welsh Government. May we therefore have a debate on the subject of devolved Governments using public funds potentially to distort markets—in this case, a matter of great concern to the Association of Motor Racing Circuit Owners?

I need to point out that one of my constituents is the chief executive of the Heads of the Valleys Development Company, so I will make no comment about that. I will, of course, ask my colleagues in the Treasury to respond to my hon. Friend’s point.

May we have a debate on why the Government are refusing to do anything about the scandal of rip-off premium rate phone lines? The Which? report out today shows that this is a continuing scandal, yet I understand that the Government plan to take no action on it. Why are the Government always on the side of rip-off big business rather than the little guy?

On the contrary, the Government have been very clear that public services should not use premium rates so that people can access public services without paying a premium price to do so. If I may say so, when I was Secretary of State for Health, the roll-out of 111 as a service could be distinguished in a number of ways from its predecessor service NHS Direct, including being free to those who use it. There is a wider issue about the use and impact of premium rate services, particularly from utility companies and the like: customers, and particularly vulnerable people, should be able to access them without having to pay an extra charge. I shall ask colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to respond to the hon. Gentleman on this point.

The closure of the A344 alongside Stonehenge appears to have caused chaos along the A303. The Stonehenge traffic action group is very keen for the roads Minister to make a statement on progress made towards dualling this infamous stretch of road. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that happens?

I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. I sat in a queue on the A303 in August, so I had the benefit of that experience myself. I will, of course, ask my colleagues at the Department for Transport about this. As my hon. Friend and the House know, the Department is well aware of the problem and is seeking to deal with it. I hope that, by the end of the year, it will be in a position to make announcements as a result of its study of the relevant options.

My local authority wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), about cuts to the fire service on Merseyside. The reply it received, however, was rather disappointing because it came from a civil servant and not from the Minister. Will the Leader of the House confirm that replies to local authorities, especially on such important matters, should come from a Minister, not a civil servant?

If I may, I will check the position with the Minister responsible for the fire service, who is assiduous in his duties. I know that he would normally expect to respond to local authorities on this issue; we need to know what happened. It might have had something to do with the summer recess and an attempt to ensure that the local authority received an early reply, but I will inquire into the circumstances.

May we have a debate on the lamentably slow way in which the banks are dealing with cases of alleged mis-selling of interest rate swap products, which affected many businesses across the country, and on the fact that tailored business loans, in respect of which similar products have the same damaging implications for people’s livelihoods and businesses, are not included in the review at all?

My hon. Friend is right to raise these issues and to be persistent in raising them. We need the banks to come forward with their compensation schemes as quickly as possible. I will raise my hon. Friend’s particular point with colleagues in the Treasury and ask them to respond.

Colleagues may feel that, when it comes to Opposition Back Benchers, I have left the best until last.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

On 9 August, the Hull Daily Mail led with the following report:

“Yesterday the Prime Minister…said A & E departments would get a share of the money over the next two years, to ensure they are fully prepared for winter.”

On 10 September, I learned that Hull will not get a penny of the £250 million set aside for this winter. May we have a debate on why Hull, despite its real needs, is not getting a fair share of funding—it applies to council funding, too—from this Government?

As the hon. Lady will recall, a written statement reported that there had been full consultation between the Department, Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority to establish how resources could be used to offset the specific risk of their not meeting the required service performance standards. In fact, Addenbrooke’s hospital, which is in my constituency, received no resources, although its staff had worked immensely hard to maintain their performance standards. Ministers are only too aware of the issue, but they have focused their additional resources on managing the greatest risks throughout the country.

I understand that in Wellingborough the song “Maggie May” is being sung with great gusto today following the publication by the Home Secretary of the Immigration Bill. Lefties hate the Bill, the Labour party is against it, and I understand that some Liberal Democrat MPs are queasy about it—so it is clearly the right Bill. Will the Leader of the House insist that the Immigration Minister come to the House and introduce it as a matter of urgency?

I am happy to report that the Immigration Minister is available and ready to introduce the Bill presently. As my hon. Friend will have noted, I have announced a date for its Second Reading, so that we can make progress with a vital measure that will ensure fairness in relation to access to services and the country’s immigration structures.

Like me, the Leader of the House represents constituents who are heavily affected by the A14. He will have been as saddened as I was to learn of a fatal car accident that occurred in the summer on the A14 near Kettering, in which two young people in their twenties lost their lives because a drunk driver was driving along the road in the wrong direction. That drunk driver was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment by Northampton Crown court. Along with many of my constituents, I feel that that simply is not enough. May we have a statement from the Ministry of Justice, or a debate on the Floor of the House, about the sentences that are imposed on people who kill passengers on our roads as a result of either bad driving or drink-driving?

I entirely share my hon. Friend’s distress at what happened. The character of such events, not only on the A14 but on other roads, is very disturbing. My hon. Friend may have heard the Prime Minister say, during Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice had asked the Sentencing Council to review sentences for driving offences, including the offence of causing death through dangerous driving. I will refer my hon. Friend’s question to the Secretary of State for Justice, and will try to establish when he may be able to report further on the issue.

May we have a debate on the booming manufacturing sector in Yorkshire? Today, we heard the sweet news that Haribo is to open a new £92 million factory in the county, which will provide 300 new jobs and which has received £6.4 million from the regional growth fund. In my patch, we learnt over the summer that Disposables UK would be moving to new premises; Wentworth Valve is also moving to new premises, and the order books of Camira Fabrics are bulging. Will my right hon. Friend allocate plenty of time for a long debate on the manufacturing success in Yorkshire?

That is immensely encouraging news from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I am delighted to hear it. I have been struck by the number of new projects that are being supported by the regional growth fund. I believe that about half a million new jobs will be associated with projects that are receiving such support, or for which such support is in the pipeline.

As we all know, creating the right economic framework is the fundamental way of bringing new investment to the country and promoting new investment in companies here. That is what the Government are doing and what we will continue to do, and I know that, as a consequence, more companies will report having received new investment of the kind to which my hon. Friend has referred.

May we have a debate on how councils are responding to community applications for “assets of community value” registrations? Leeds city council recently turned down applications for a playing field and a swimming pool in Headingley and Hyde Park, where there are very few such facilities, on the grounds that the community would not realistically be able to buy them. I do not think that that is appropriate in terms of legislation. May we have a debate to establish whether the community could at least try to bid for those facilities?

That is an important point. I will ask Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government to respond specifically on how the new legislation should be interpreted in relation to what should be entered on to the register of community assets and whether some pre-emptive decision should be made about whether the community would be able to bid for that. It is important that assets of community value can include sports fields and sports facilities, and the right to bid really applies, of course, when that list of community assets is established, so the point my hon. Friend makes is important.

The Education Committee recently published a report on school governance and school improvement. The report has generated some interesting comments from the Government, so the Committee would like to have a debate in this Chamber. Will the Lord Privy Seal consider that request, and may I say that I hope that debate is held in this Chamber so we can all focus on what is an important step in the right direction through improving accountability and localism in our schools?

I encourage the Select Committee to seek time for such a debate through the Liaison Committee, which has a certain allocation of time, although the Backbench Business Committee has substantial time available in the week after next, and not only on Thursday, so I hope it will take good advantage of that, not just in respect of the school governance issue but also in the light of what we have read this week in the OECD report. I have to say I was staggered by this simple fact, if by nothing else: we are among the three highest performing countries in literacy for 55 to 65-year-olds, but we are among the bottom three countries in literacy proficiency among 16 to 24-year-olds. All of us in public service and public office should be ashamed of the fact that we are not making progress in improving literacy and numeracy skills among the young people currently leaving school and those who have been leaving school over recent years. That is shameful, and we in this House should focus on it.