House of Commons
Thursday 31 October 2013
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—
My Department and the Scotland Office have had regular discussions with the Scottish Government on broadband coverage in Scotland, including on the delivery of two projects for the highlands and islands and for the rest of Scotland. These projects will make superfast broadband available to more than 670,000 homes and businesses.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but approximately 17% of the homes in Argyll and Bute will not receive next generation broadband from the BT contract to lay fibre-optic cables. More innovative solutions are needed to deliver next generation broadband throughout the highlands and islands. Will my hon. Friend work with the Scottish Government to come up with innovative solutions, so that all the homes in Argyll and Bute can have access to next generation broadband?
Forty two local broadband projects have now agreed contracts and are in implementation, and we are now passing approximately 10,000 premises every week. We have made a huge amount of progress.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but what do I say to the local authority and residents in villages such as Pitton who believe they are in the percentage that will not qualify for the imminent roll-out through the BT deal? They want to be free to develop new community-based solutions with alternative providers, as they anticipate they will not get anything from BT for a long time.
This is not just an issue for rural areas. Semi-rural areas often fall between two stools. It is difficult for people to get broadband to their home, either because they are too far from the final mile or because the bung that has been given to BT to roll this out across the country and make it almost impossible for anybody else to compete has made it difficult for other operators to get into areas such as the Rhondda.
What will my hon. Friend say to the 5% of those living in the hills, particularly farmers, who will not have access to superfast broadband by 2016? Will he implement the Select Committee report recommendation that they be given advance warning, so they can make alternative arrangements to those on offer from BT?
As I have said repeatedly, it is up to local authorities to publish their local broadband plans and I am delighted, particularly after the Secretary of State wrote to them, that many have now done so. People in Wiltshire and Yorkshire will know where the project is rolling out.
It seems to me that BT is a big company that sometimes does not treat small communities very well. May I draw to the attention of the Minister the village of Rushden in my constituency, where residents are complaining that they are not getting the proper broadband access they deserve, despite their best efforts with BT?
All sides support self-regulation of the press. The royal charter sets out the principles for self-regulators if they wish to be recognised and take advantage of costs and damages incentives. The choice to sign up lies with the industry.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. We are here because Lord Justice Leveson said that he wanted a new voluntary code from the press that had statutory underpinning. The press have come forward with a new draft code that does not have statutory underpinning and the Privy Council has come forward with a code that appears not to have press support. Would it not be helpful if Lord Justice Leveson gave us all a steer on what he thinks should happen now?
I will, of course, leave it to Lord Justice Leveson to speak for himself on whether he wants to contribute further to the debate, but I can say clearly to my hon. Friend that the essence of the Leveson report was self-regulation. I believe that we now have a way forward that will safeguard the freedom of the press and provide a good system of redress when errors are made. It is important to make the royal charter work; it is the best way to stave off the statutory regulation of the press that some are trying to impose.
Regarding the royal charter, one of the more belligerent newspapers is running a piece today under the headline, “Approved behind closed doors, curbs that end three centuries of Press freedom”. For the benefit of that newspaper’s poor readers, would the Secretary of State care to comment on the accuracy of that headline?
We have had a great deal of debate on the self-regulation of the press, through the Leveson inquiry and through the 11 subsequent debates in this House and the other place. The important thing is that we make this work for the industry and for people who are seeking redress.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and all those involved in the difficult business of striking the right balance. Given the overwhelming public support for a system of independent regulation, does my right hon. Friend agree that the editors and press barons should now recognise that the will of Parliament has been declared, and that they should support the people, come to terms with this measure and negotiate with her?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I would add that the public overwhelmingly support a free press, so it is important that we strike the right balance. I am sure that everyone here today would agree that the new system has to have a free press at its heart, while giving individuals the right level of redress, as I believe it will.
I thank the Secretary of State for the key role that she has played in finally getting the royal charter sealed by the Privy Council yesterday. Clear evidence was presented to Lord Justice Leveson of innocent people suffering as a result of press abuse, and it is almost a year since he produced his report, so a proper complaints system that does not infringe the freedom of the press and that is truly independent of the press and politicians is long overdue. Does the right hon. Lady agree that the press have nothing to fear from an independent complaints system? Will she join me in encouraging the industry to establish a genuinely independent self-regulator and put it forward for recognition?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her kind sentiments. It is also important to place on record the fact that the press are making good progress on setting up a self-regulator. They have already issued papers and are well into the necessary negotiations. Perhaps I could ask her a further question. Will she join me in staving off any form of pressure for statutory regulation of the press, because it is clear that some are still trying to use that as a threat?
I endorse the view of my colleague on the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), that there is no serious justification for saying that the royal charter marks the end of press freedom. Will the Secretary of State accept, however, that the ability of Parliament to have a say on the rules under which the press regulator operates—even with a requirement for a two-thirds majority, which, as she knows, has no constitutional validity—allows that claim to be made? If it is that provision that is preventing some newspapers from joining, will she now, even at this late stage, consider alternative safeguards such as the one in the PressBoF charter?
My hon. Friend is right to say that safeguarding that freedom and ensuring that there is no political interference in the system are absolutely critical. That is why I was keen to make the further change to ensure that any changes would require not only a two-thirds majority here and in the other place but the overwhelming support of the regulatory body.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
The Government have conducted a review of stake and prize limits for all categories of gaming machine, including fixed odds betting terminals. We took advice from the Gambling Commission and the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board as part of our review, which was published earlier this month.
The Minister will be aware that last week, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), the Prime Minister said he would look again at the damaging effects of fixed odds betting terminals. When will this review begin, and what form will it take?
The Minister will be aware that the Kent Messenger recently reported that gamblers across Kent and the Medway lost £33 million on FOBTs, including £1.6 million in my constituency and £1.9 million in her own constituency. Does she agree, therefore, that we need to look properly at the devastating impact that these high-risk, high-stake machines are having on our constituents?
13. The stakes taken by these machines are so great that they have become a magnet for money laundering gains. Coral, the bookmakers, has recently been exposed for taking £900,000 of laundered money. The Serious Organised Crime Agency thinks the problem so great that bookmakers should be included in money laundering directives from the EU, which are currently under review. What is the Minister’s view? (900830)
As I keep repeating, my view is that these machines raise serious issues, but we need to take a fair and decent approach to the issue of problem gambling, while not over-regulating bookmakers. We therefore need to do our research and look at the matter in detail so that we can come up with a balanced, sensible and fair way forward.
Does the Minister agree that one effect of allowing B2 gaming machines in bookmakers is that they help to maintain the viability of these offices, providing employment for local people and an environment where those with a gambling problem are more likely to be identified and pointed in the direction of the help they need than if they were to sit at home gambling on the internet, where, incidentally, they could gamble any amount they liked?
We are working with the Gambling Commission, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, the Responsible Gambling Trust and the industry itself to rapidly advance our understanding. Dealing with problem gambling and protecting the vulnerable are priorities for this Government.
A recent study conducted in the London borough of Newham found that 87% of gamblers believed B2 machines to be addictive, and many described them as the crack cocaine of gambling. Will the Minister assure gamblers that the Government will listen to their personal evidence and experiences, and respond to them as a matter of urgency?
Has the Minister read the Association of British Bookmakers’ code for responsible gambling and player protection in licensed betting offices, which has been released recently? If so, does she think it goes any way to allaying the fears of many Members?
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Is the Minister aware that virtually every new gambling product since the 1970s has been referred to as the crack cocaine of gambling and that to think that this is unique is ridiculous? Given that people can lose an unlimited amount of money within a minute on a five-furlong sprint at Epsom, does she agree that opposition to FOBTs is ridiculous, particularly given that they have a bigger rate of return for the punter—97%—than any other gambling product in any betting shop or casino, or anywhere else for that matter?
My hon. Friend raises some interesting issues, but work has begun and we will look at all the evidence and all the research. In addition, we will put pressure on the industry to develop its own harm mitigation measures. We must ensure that those measures work and that their success is evaluated.
As the right hon. Member will be aware, the royal charter was granted yesterday. A copy will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses shortly.
Given the endemic misreporting of this issue by the press itself—including, I am afraid, by the Financial Times, which claimed this week that the right hon. Lady was going to break the all-party consensus and support the non-Leveson-compliant PressBoF charter—will the Secretary of State now explain for all our benefits what she thinks will happen next?
It is a complicated issue, which explains the difficulties in the reporting of it. The royal charter has been put in place. More importantly, as the House should recognise, the press is well down the road of setting up the self-regulatory mechanism that it needs to move forward. That should be applauded, and the whole House should welcome it.
The Government place great importance on tourism. It is an excellent part of our growth strategy, which is why we are investing over £130 million, matched between the public and private sectors, in the GREAT and other marketing campaigns, both at home and abroad.
Following a very successful summer in South Thanet, profiling some of my beautiful beaches, I was very much hoping that the Government might reopen the issue of daylight saving, which would deliver £3 billion extra to the economy and 700,000 jobs in the tourism sector.
I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate advocate of tourism in her area, and I have been fortunate in being able to visit her constituency. However, as the Prime Minister made clear quite recently, in the absence of consensus on this matter throughout the UK—including in Scotland and Northern Ireland—it would be inappropriate to consider making changes.
With 8,000 people in Worcestershire—the glorious county that gave birth to Edward Elgar—working in the tourism industry, will the Minister welcome the 13.5% increase in long-haul flights into Birmingham airport? Will she also welcome the news that, in 2014, the runway will be lengthened and even more markets will be able to access tourism in Worcestershire?
May I push the Minister on the arts as part of the tourism attraction? People come to this great country for our great artistic endeavours, but we have arts in the regions, and is it not about time that, through the Arts Council and other means, the regions got the support they deserve—rather than just, “London, London, London”?
What specific proposals has the Minister for the promotion of world heritage sites? Ironbridge Gorge is an incredibly important world heritage site, and an engine for the regional economy in the west midlands. We are missing a trick as a nation by not promoting such sites more strongly.
VisitEngland and VisitBritain do very good work, and I am sure they both have comprehensive strategies, but the hon. Gentleman has made a good point. I shall be happy to meet him and hear about any ideas that he may have, and I shall certainly pass them on.
One iconic institution that attracts a lot of tourism into the United Kingdom—and, indeed, within the United Kingdom—is the great British pub, where people can enjoy tremendous real ales, tremendous food and a wonderful welcome, but far too many pubs are still closing every week. Will my hon. Friend discuss with fellow Ministers what more can be done to retain the vitality of this amazing industry, particularly in the realms of rate relief for rural pubs?
I am very fond of my own local pub, the Unicorn in Marden, and I do step in there now and again. I reassure my hon. Friend that we are doing a great deal to assist the business sector, and that includes helping pubs by reducing fuel and beer duties. We are also trying to simplify planning, and are continuing to cut red tape, regulation and bureaucracy.
The Minister will, of course, have noticed that Scotland has been named the third best place to visit in 2014 by the “Lonely Planet” travel guide. The guide cites a
“jam-packed schedule of world class events”,
including the Ryder cup and the Commonwealth games, as well as our
“buzzing cities and stunning scenery”,
much of which is in my constituency. It also notes that the referendum gives Scotland an opportunity to
“shine on the world stage”.
Does the Minister agree that, without even a vote being cast, Scotland has already won?
Scotland is a wonderful place in which to live and work, and I am sure that it will put on an absolutely fantastic Commonwealth games event next year. I look forward to my next trip up there. I grew up in the borders and spent many a time in Dumfriesshire and Gretna Green, so I know what a beautiful place it is.
Horserace Betting Levy
I am delighted that an agreement was reached last week on the 53rd levy scheme. The levy provides vital support for horse racing, a sport that is enjoyed by millions, supports thousands of jobs across Britain, and contributes to local economies.
On Tuesday we have Second Reading of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill, which proposes the introduction of a UK licence for offshore gambling providers but fails to deal with levy avoidance. Will the Minister urgently address that issue and get on with the job of producing a long-term, sustainable funding arrangement to support Redcar race course and the rest of our vital horse racing industry?
The Bill is actually about increasing protection for British customers, and allowing British-based operators to compete on an equal footing with remote operators. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman approves of that. We do not intend to use the Bill to reform the levy.
The Minister may be aware of the existence of remote channels. If British racing is to have any sustainable, long-term future, any betting activity must involve a legally binding contribution, including activity through remote channels.
I am grateful to the Minister for pointing out how many thousands of jobs the horse racing industry creates and sustains each and every year. The levy is largely collected from bookmakers’ shops, the number of which has halved in the last 20 years, falling from a peak of about 17,000 to 8,500. Does the Minister agree that it is important for us to see the debate about machines and gambling in proportion, and for it to be evidence-based, so that we do not lose any more shops and, as a result, jobs in the betting and horse racing industries?
The new agreement between the big four bookmakers and many of the race courses is an important breakthrough and it is important that the momentum is maintained, but, worryingly, some of the smaller courses and independent bookmakers may lose out, so may I encourage the Minister to have an early meeting with the all-party group on the racing and bloodstock industries to talk about these issues so that we can keep the pressure on?
The horse racing industry is not just part of British culture; it is also essential to our rural economies. However, we have an offshore betting industry that largely does not contribute anything, through a levy, to the industry. It is therefore important that the Minister reviews the Government legal advice on the betting levy in the light of the European Commission ruling in July of this year that allows a levy to be imposed. Will she review that in time for amendments to be tabled to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to a certain extent, because the levy was created 50 years ago and does not completely deal with modern betting and racing practices, so, as I have previously said, I will consult. We will take evidence and look at the situation very carefully indeed, and try to find a modern, sustainable and enforceable legal solution.
BBC (Golden Goodbyes)
It is right that licence fee payers expect their money to be spent responsibly, and a part of that is ensuring that these matters are subject to the right level of scrutiny. Under the leadership of Tony Hall, a cap on all future severance payments has already been implemented.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does she agree that the BBC must comply with the Public Accounts Committee order for disclosure of the 150 senior managers who received pay-offs at taxpayers’ expense? Has she made that clear to the director-general and the chairman of the trust?
I, like my hon. Friend, believe transparency is incredibly important, and in particular for the BBC for the reasons I have just given regarding what licence fee payers expect. Detailed decisions about the disclosure of personnel information are squarely for the management of the BBC, but I understand the point my hon. Friend makes.
I think it is fair to say the judgment of senior management on some of these matters has been questionable. I am pleased to see that future deals in excess of £75,000 will need to be approved by the BBC senior management committee, and we should not see severance payments exceeding £150,000. I think that is absolutely right.
The four mobile network operators are aiming to roll out 4G mobile broadband services to 98% of the population. EE is aiming to reach that by the end of 2014, and the others by the end of 2015.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but he has not been able to share with me the number of households that will not have access to fixed-line solutions by that time: in communities in a large part of my constituency, from Hilperton and Semington to Whitley, fixed-line fibre installations will not even have begun. Will he issue guidance to local authorities on how they can use mobile spectrum-based solutions in their broadband programme?
Online Music Streaming Services
My colleague the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and I are keen to ensure that artists are appropriately rewarded for their creative content, including in the online world. Where music-streaming sites are legitimate, the payment of royalties is a commercial arrangement between the rights-holder and the online service provider.
I thank the Minister for that response. A number of musicians have recently pulled their music from Spotify because the amounts that such online services pay is so minuscule that the emergence of new artists and the financial sustainability of new music are being threatened. Does he think that the larger labels should follow the example of some indie labels and give a 50:50 split to their artists?
As we are talking about new or emerging artists, may I use this opportunity to congratulate James Blake on winning the Mercury award last night? He is a classically trained pianist who won for his album of ambient music. I would hesitate to interfere in the commercial arrangements of either the big labels or the indie labels, but I am sure that each can learn from the other.
I should also say happy Halloween, if that is indeed appropriate, Mr Speaker.
We recently announced a £10 million fund dedicated to celebrating some of our nation’s most important anniversaries. Visits to museums and galleries are at their highest ever levels. The merger of the Gambling Commission and the National Lottery Commission has now been completed, saving the taxpayer £1 million a year.
I was going to say that the Secretary of State is an absolutely wonderful woman, and then she went all American by referring to Halloween—I would prefer us to stick with a British institution. May I say to her that she did a wonderful thing yesterday, I am very proud of her and I hope she will stand firm on these issues? The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) was right earlier when he said that it is now for the industry to come to terms with what the public want in this country, which is a fair system of redress—nothing more, nothing less. Will the Secretary of State tell us when the body that will be able to regulate the body that is going to be doing the regulating will be set up?
I will resist saying, “With friends like the hon. Gentleman, who needs enemies.” I thank him for his kind words and, I am sure, the sentiment in which they were meant. Obviously, he is right to say that we have made very good progress, and I hope he will join me in now resisting all calls for any form of statutory regulation of the press, which some others have been trying to impose. He asks me about the timing, and I can tell him that the panel will be set up in the next six to 12 months.
T4. A small business in my constituency has had its telephone “slammed”: taken out of its hands and given to a local resident. We have been trying to get redress from Tesco, which has been reallocating these telephones lines. It is affecting the advertising and business costs of this small business; it is losing business and the resident is regularly receiving inquiries about tattoos. (900806)
Slamming is against the Ofcom regulations, and I am appalled to hear about what my hon. Friend’s constituent has gone through. I will certainly do everything I can to assist her, as this is an appalling practice.
Will Ministers join me in congratulating the National Theatre on 50 years at the very heart of our cultural and artistic life? It is a great reminder of the sheer quality of the excellence of our national arts institutions, many of which are based in the capital. Outside London, however, the picture is now very different. I pay tribute to those who have produced a report today showing the massive disparity in Government and lottery support for the arts. What the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) said earlier is wholly wrong: whereas Londoners get £70 per head each year the rest of the country gets only £4.60 per head. So what are the Government going to do to rebalance our cultural economy?
The hon. Lady raises a point that we are trying to address, after her Administration did so little to address it. We are trying to make sure that our great national institutions do work regionally and to throw a spotlight on the excellent work they do. Only a month ago, I was at an exhibition in my constituency that had been put on by the Victoria and Albert museum. We should be applauding the work that our national institutions are doing in the regions.
T6. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for the detailed correspondence that he has had with me on the technical issue of radio spectrum use for DAB, but on my constituents’ advice I remain concerned that successive Governments may have wasted some radio spectrum. Would he please arrange a meeting between me and my constituents and the relevant technical staff to try to lay this issue to rest? (900808)
T2. I hesitate to make a party political point, but I must pick up the Secretary of State on what she has just said. There are real problems with arts funding outside London, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). It is not the case that the previous Government did nothing. My own city, Liverpool, saw a renaissance in the cultural sector. Will the Government now play their part and commit to a report on proper cultural funding for cities that do not happen to be our capital? (900804)
The hon. Lady is right to say that there is a problem. What I was saying is that we are trying to resolve a problem that we inherited. She will know that Liverpool receives £89 million a year, the highest funding outside London. I agree that we should try to make sure that the great regional culture that we have in this country receives the support it requires.
I am delighted to update the House on the significant progress we are making. We are connecting more than 10,000 homes a week. Half the projects that are under way are already ahead of schedule and we are bringing in 4G two years ahead of schedule. This is a triumphant programme.
T3. On Monday I asked the Minister for Universities and Science why the UK is the only country in the EU that will introduce a private copying exception without a levy on copying devices to compensate UK artists, and he said that other countries had introduced far wider exceptions, which is not the case: only two of them have. Will the Minister talk to his counterpart in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that our artists are not left worse off than those in the rest of the EU? (900805)
T8. Today has seen the launch of the all-party group report on nuisance calls. It contains 16 excellent recommendations which, if implemented, would significantly increase protection for vulnerable consumers, improve the effectiveness of the regulators, and renew confidence in the telecoms and direct marketing industries. Will my hon. Friend therefore support my private Member’s Bill tomorrow to implement some of those recommendations as soon as possible? (900811)
As my hon. Friend knows, he and I have been discussing this issue for many months. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the fantastic work he has done to make progress on the issue. He knows that I support many of the points that he makes in his private Member’s Bill.
T5. A change to the royal charter on the press requires a two-thirds majority, so some hon. Members’ votes will have twice the weight of those of other hon. Members. Will the Secretary of State put this constitutional innovation to a vote in this House? (900807)
The hon. Gentleman must have missed the 11 debates we have had on that. There is all-party support for the way we are going forward. May I correct him slightly? It is not just a two thirds majority of both Houses, but unanimous agreement of the regulatory body that is required.
That is an interesting idea. There is no current plan for a national sports museum, but I know that the National Football Museum in Manchester is very popular. It is free and it receives about 100,000 visitors every year.
MPs from both sides of the House had an excellent meeting with the FA last week on the future of women’s football. Unfortunately, the commission that the FA set up was initially all white and is still all male. What does the Minister think about that, and can we remind the FA that the future of women’s football is important, too?
The Minister will be aware that North Yorkshire has taken great strides in rolling out superfast broadband across the county. The project is near completion. Will the Minister consider early release of the phase 2 funding for areas such as North Yorkshire to help bridge the digital divide in those areas?
May I use this opportunity to congratulate North Yorkshire on forging ahead with the superfast broadband programme, which has made astonishing progress? I hear what my hon. Friend says. We are working out the details of how to allocate the next tranche of funding to take superfast broadband to 95% and I will keep him informed.
What progress has the Secretary of State made to prevent tickets for the 2015 rugby union world cup from being bought up and resold with a great mark-up on the secondary market? There is clearly a great desire that something should be done to crack down on that, so will she confirm that she will introduce the necessary legislation, as we had for the Olympics, and kick the touts into touch?
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Sexual Violence Prosecutions
The Home Office has chaired a meeting with the Director of Public Prosecutions and national policing leads to consider the fall-off in police referrals and prosecutions. That has led to a six-point plan to support successful outcomes for victims of rape and sexual violence.
The number of women reporting rapes has increased by 4,000, but the percentage of such cases being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service has continued to fall from 50% when Labour was in government to about 30%. The Minister says that he has a six-point plan and the Secretary of State told me on Monday that there had been round-table meetings, but when will we see action for women, or will we continue to see cuts in services for victims of rape and domestic violence?
We all take this issue very seriously in government. I am concerned about the fall in referrals and I think part of that is due to engagement between the police and the CPS, because the fall-off in referrals has not been matched to the same degree by a fall-off in convictions. This is nevertheless an important matter. I am taking a personal interest in it and I am also talking about it to all the chief constables, who are coming into the Home Office this afternoon.
According to freedom of information requests compiled by Labour, there has been a 33.5% drop in the number of rape cases referred to the CPS for prosecution since 2010. That figure was rising under the previous Government. Given that police budgets have been cut by 20% over the same period, does the Minister accept that the hollowing out of police services has led to more perpetrators of rape and sexual violence getting away with it? What is he going to do about that disgraceful situation, which will inevitably lead to more perpetrators committing rapes, as they feel emboldened to do so with impunity?
I welcome the hon. Lady to the Front Bench, as I understand that this is her first outing.
I do not believe that the issue of funding for the police is in any way connected with this matter, because otherwise—[Interruption.] Otherwise, we would have seen a drop in the number of investigations of murder, homicide or complex fraud, and we are not seeing that. Other factors are at play, I think, including the number of historic allegations that are quite rightly coming forward and the fact that there is more encouragement of people to come forward—[Interruption.] I know that this is the hon. Lady’s first outing, but if she let me answer the question rather than chuntering it would be helpful. This is a serious issue and I want to try to address it properly.
We are taking action on this matter. The figures from the Office for National Statistics show a 9% increase in the number of sexual offences being reported and a 9% increase in the number of rapes recorded by the police in the year to June 2013 compared with the previous year. The number of convictions has changed only marginally from earlier years, because prosecution cases that will not be successful are weeded out at an earlier stage. I have already said that we are concerned about this matter. I want to look into the precise reason referrals have gone down, and it is my intention to ensure that we get as many successful prosecutions as possible.
FTSE 100 Companies
The Government support Lord Davies’s voluntary business-led strategy for increasing the number of women in UK boardrooms. Good progress is being made: women now account for 19% of board members in our FTSE 100 companies, up from 12.5% in February 2011.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Is she aware of the importance of the so-called mumpreneurs, who work from home and contribute approximately £7 billion a year to our economy? Will she join me in congratulating those inspirational women and pledge to support them?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in congratulating mumpreneurs and applauding their work. I know that she is a small business woman and knows a great deal about the sector. The figures speak for themselves: in the last quarter we saw a further 27,000 women taking up entrepreneurial roles in our economy, making 1.2 million in total. That is real progress indeed.
I take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Lady to her first questions on the Front Bench. I am sure that she will make a good contribution to all our Question Times. She is right that the Government have a huge role to play in setting an example. In my Department we have a significant majority of women in leadership roles. We want to ensure that in future we have even more women not only in Parliament and as Ministers, but in the Cabinet—something on which the Prime Minister has made his thoughts very clear.
Violence against Women and Girls
The answer is the same either way, Mr Speaker.
The coalition Government’s action plan to end violence against women and girls sets out a number of commitments to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls. We have extended the definition of domestic abuse to include 16 and 17-year-olds, and our national campaigns on teenage rape and relationship abuse challenge the attitudes underpinning violence against girls.
With research telling us that one in three young girls in this country report experiencing sexual harassment in school, why did every single Member on the Government Front Bench vote against making sex and relationships education compulsory for both boys and girls in all schools in Britain?
May I first congratulate the hon. Lady on her involvement in the banknote campaign and say how sorry I was to hear about the abuse she received as a consequence?
The governing bodies of all maintained schools must have an up-to-date sex and relationships education policy. The guidance makes it clear that all young people should understand how to avoid exploitation and abuse and how the law applies to relationships. In addition, we have two hard-hitting campaigns, on teenage relationship abuse and teenage rape prevention, which have been very successful, as the number of website hits shows.
Essex has one of the highest incidences of domestic violence in the country, and two tragic murders have occurred in Harlow as a result of domestic violence. What help can the Government give to education and local charities to reduce domestic violence?
I have already mentioned the websites we have introduced, which have had over 1 million hits since 2010. We are also taking clear action on online abuse and have published documents this year taking forward our strategy. I intend to make it a high priority during my time in office.
Despite the commitment that the Prime Minister made in this House that police would be able to retain the DNA of individuals arrested but not charged with rape, we now know that over the summer the police have had to destroy the DNA records of thousands of suspected sex offenders before the appeals process is introduced at the beginning of next month. Has not that shocking incompetence by the Government put more women and girls at risk?
I am not sure that I accept the version of events that has been given. The hon. Lady will of course understand, as will the whole House, that there is a balance to be struck between the unnecessary retention of DNA in terms of civil liberties and the need to prevent serious crime. Striking that balance is something that the Government are very keen to get right.
Is it the Government’s view that taking steps to increase awareness of and prevent violence against women and girls is more important than increasing awareness of and preventing violence against men and boys, or is it the Government’s view that it is equally important to increase awareness of and prevent violence against all of them?
I certainly agree that it is important to act on violence against any individual. Of course, it is predominantly against women and girls and vulnerable adults, and they must come first in our consideration, but it is also true that the £40 million recently allocated to deal with these matters includes a strand to deal with violence against men and boys.
Women in Business
Under this Government, more women are in work than ever before, and we are determined to do more. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities has already mentioned the excellent work to increase the number of women on boards. We have also set up the Think, Act, Report initiative promoting gender equality in the workplace, and 131 companies have signed up, covering almost 2 million employees.
I understand what the Minister says, but we have some of the highest levels of female unemployment in a generation. Does she agree that mothers of school-age children need a guarantee of stable, wraparound care if they are to be able to pursue careers in business or elsewhere? If she does, will she back Labour’s primary child care guarantee and explain why her Government scrapped the previous Labour Government’s Extended Schools programme, which provided urgent and necessary breakfast clubs and after-school clubs to help parents, particularly mothers?
I certainly agree that child care is an absolutely key element for many women making their way in business and, indeed, in other careers, but I do not agree that making an uncosted proposal that all schools should suddenly provide such wraparound child care without providing the means to do it is a sensible way forward. Instead, the Government are making it easier for childminders to set up in business, breaking down the barriers, and introducing £1,200 per child per year of tax reliefs on the money that parents spend on child care.
Figures from Chwarae Teg indicate that 7% of employed women in Wales are in senior management compared with 11% of men. What discussions has the Minister had with the Welsh Government about action to close that gap?
Lots of discussions go on in government among officials on these issues, but I have not personally had any such discussions with Welsh Ministers. However, Governments have a role to play in leading by example with the civil service, in trying to make it easier for women to achieve parity with men on pay and progression, and in working with businesses to make the business case that diverse teams achieve better results.
Disabled People (Workplace Provision)
6. What steps she is taking to improve the position of disabled people in the workplace. (900839)
The Government have a number of programmes in place to enable disabled people and people with health conditions to get into and remain in work. We intend to publish proposals for those programmes in our employment strategy by the end of the year.
One of those programmes is the Access to Work scheme, but since the election the number of disabled people it supports has dropped by over 15%—that is about 6,000 people. Will the Minister commit himself to taking steps to ensure that that worrying trend is reversed?
I will commit myself to giving everybody who wants to get into work the opportunity to do so, whether they are disabled or have health difficulties or not, and to keep their jobs and continue in employment. I will look carefully at the figures. The Access to Work scheme is working very well, but nothing is perfect.
Only 3% of disabled people in the employment and support allowance group in the Work programme found a job after two years. Given the Government’s failure to help long-term disabled people into work, is it not a bit rich for Tory MPs to be lecturing disabled people to get a job?
Public Bodies (Board Representation)
The Government have an ambitious aim that 50% of new public appointees should be women by the end of this Parliament. We are modernising recruitment practices and this approach is working. Our figures show that 37% of public appointments during 2012-13were women.
My hon. Friend raises a very good point. The Government are working with 52 different firms that have signed up to the voluntary code of conduct. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has appointed an experienced diversity champion, Charlotte Sweeney, to review the effectiveness of the code and report back to him in the new year. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of Departments that employ head-hunting firms for public appointments, but it is made absolutely clear that one of the key attributes that they need to look for is diversity.
Will the Minister confirm whether Labour’s target that 50% of new appointments should be women has continued, and whether the Government have removed the targets to increase the number of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities in public appointments?
It is very important that we address diversity in all its forms. Sadly, the previous Government did not achieve the aim of women comprising 50% of all new appointments. We are working towards achieving that by the end of this Parliament, but I think we all agree that we need to do more. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that other areas of diversity, including background, ethnicity and disability—a whole range of different characteristics—are also important. To get truly high-functioning teams, we need diversity in all its forms.
Pregnancy (Work Discrimination)
Discrimination against a woman because of pregnancy is totally unacceptable, rightly illegal and bad business sense.
The Equal Opportunities Commission’s 2005 report showed that, unfortunately, 30,000 women lost their jobs as a result of their pregnancy. As I outlined during the Children and Families Bill debates, we are now considering how we could best obtain a more up-to-date picture of the current extent of this problem.
I thank the Minister for her forthright answer. Research by the law firm Slater & Gordon has found that only 3% of women who believe that they suffered discrimination because of being pregnant had actually sought legal advice. Does the Minister accept that charging women £1,200 to take a case to an employment tribunal will make it even less likely that such discrimination will be challenged?
I understand the hon. Lady’s concern and I think we should all be worried about the issue, but I do not think it helps to suggest that any woman who wants to take a case will be charged £1,200. That figure is only for cases that reach a hearing, which are a small proportion of the overall number. It costs much less—only £250—to lodge a case in the first place. There is also a significant fee remission and costs will often be awarded if there are problems. It is important that we do not scare off people from making claims, because we want to make sure that we crack down on rogue employers who discriminate against pregnant women.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 4 November—Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.
Tuesday 5 November—Second Reading of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill, followed by general debate on the reform and infrastructure of the water industry and consumer bills. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 6 November—Opposition day [10th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Energy Price Freeze”. The debate will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by a motion relating to explanatory statements on amendments to Bills.
Thursday 7 November—A debate relating to standardised packaging of tobacco products. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee, followed by general debate relating to the commemoration of the first world war.
Friday 8 November—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 11 November will include:
Monday 11 November—Second Reading of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on a reasoned opinion relating to the regulation of new psychoactive substances.
Tuesday 12 November—Opposition day [11th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 7 November will be a debate on the fifth report of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, “Energy prices, profits and poverty”, followed by a debate on the fourth report of the Transport Committee, “Cost of motor insurance: whiplash”.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I also welcome him back to his place. I hope he has fully recuperated.
The Offender Rehabilitation Bill has finally reappeared after I raised its mysterious absence three times and after yesterday’s Opposition-day debate. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government accept or intend to remove the Lords amendment to clause 1, which would require them to seek the approval of both Houses before they continue to push ahead with their reckless plans to privatise the probation service?
A report published by Age UK this week warned that 3 million elderly people are worried about whether they will be able to stay warm in their homes this winter. However, all the Government do is act as a mouthpiece for the big six energy companies, which are profiteering at everybody’s expense. It has been more than a month since we announced our plan to freeze energy prices until 2017 and all the Government do is dither. The Prime Minister says that he wants to roll back green levies, even though he introduced 60% of them. He cannot even tell us which ones he wants to cut. Will the Leader of the House tell the Prime Minister to stop standing up for the wrong people and vote with us next week to freeze energy prices and reset this failing market?
I note that the private Member’s Bill on the EU referendum returns to the House on 8 November. The Electoral Commission said this week that the question in the Bill risks causing a misunderstanding and it suggested a change of wording. The Leader of the House will be aware that, when the Electoral Commission recommended a change to the Scottish referendum question, the then Secretary of State for Scotland said:
“The UK Government has always acted on the advice of the Electoral Commission for every previous referendum.”
Given that the Bill was written in No. 10 and is supported by the Prime Minister, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will table the appropriate amendment to the referendum question in the Bill?
In January, the Prime Minister went to Davos and told the world that the UK would use its presidency of the G8 to tackle tax evasion. Last week, he could not tell my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) why he had refused to close the £500 million eurobond tax loophole. On Monday, we discovered that the flagship agreement to recoup tax from UK residents who hide money in Swiss bank accounts has brought in more than £2 billion less than the Chancellor scored in last year’s autumn statement. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee says that £35 billion is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the money that the Government have lost to tax scams. Why, then, have the Government appointed as head of tax policy a man who is on record as saying that “taxation is legalised extortion”? Is it any wonder that, despite the meaningless ministerial PR, the tax gap keeps on growing and Tory donors are laughing all the way to their kitchen suppers in Downing street?
The coalition agreement promised to
“put a limit on the number on Special Advisers.”
It has just emerged that there has been a 50% rise in the last three years, costing a record £7.2 million. The Deputy Prime Minister has 19 special advisers in his office alone, which is nearly 20% of the total. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is a complete waste of money? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] It seems that there is agreement across the House on that.
The only thing that appears to be going up faster than energy prices under this Government is the cost of special advisers, which has gone up by a massive 16% this year. There are now 98 special advisers in the Government, but the more of them there are, the more incompetent the Government seem to become. This week, the Department for Work and Pensions lost its appeal in the Supreme Court on its flagship back to work scheme, the Health Secretary was humiliated in the Court of Appeal over Lewisham hospital and the Government had to slow down universal credit for the third time and apply the brakes to disability benefit changes. Yesterday, they could not even write an amendment to our Opposition motion on education that was in order. We then had the spectacle of the Minister for Schools winding up the debate on teaching robustly in support of the Government and then abstaining on the vote. Will the Leader of the House therefore make time for a debate on the mounting evidence that this Government have abandoned all notion of collective responsibility and are descending into chaos and incoherence?
Today is All Hallows’ eve and children across the country will be dressing up as the Deputy Prime Minister to scare their friends. I just hope that they do not do what he does—promise treats, but hand out tricks instead.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, not least for her kind words after my back operation. Indeed, even when I was not in the Chamber, she kindly said some nice things. I am quite pleased about this back operation; it has got me up and about and I have the picture to prove that my backbone is intact—a useful thing in this life. When I was away, the shadow Leader of the House said that she was pleased she would get to find out what the Deputy Leader of the House, who sits alongside me, was thinking. Of course, I always knew what he was thinking while I answered questions, and we now know the truth. He is thinking, “I know the answer to this one”. He demonstrated that when he did an admirable job in answering questions while I was away.
The shadow Leader of the House asked a number of times about the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which will come before the House for Second Reading. In fact, I think three Bills came from the Lords at much the same time, and the Offender Rehabilitation Bill will be the first to be debated in this House. We will consider what we need to do but, as was made clear in the other place, our intention is to press ahead with a reform that will enable a large number of offenders with a sentence of less than 12 months to secure rehabilitation for the first time, and bring down the scandalous level of reoffending among those who have been prisoners. It is important to get on with that, which is what we are doing.
The shadow Leader of the House asked about energy prices, notwithstanding that my right hon. Friend the Energy Secretary will make a statement in a few minutes. The hon. Lady should reflect, however, on the apparent utter confusion on her own side during this week’s business in this House and the other place. The Leader of the Opposition stood here and said that he cares about trying to bring down energy bills, while Labour Members in the other place were voting for a decarbonisation target that would have added £125 to the bill of every household. Labour Members cannot have it both ways; they cannot complain about increases in bills when the Leader of the Opposition—as Energy Secretary before the last election—wanted to increase costs through the renewable heat incentive, including a £179 hit on gas bills.
Labour cannot have it both ways, and the so-called price freeze is not a price freeze but a price con. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will demonstrate that the Government are doing what needs to be done and introducing to the market competition that did not exist when we came to office. We are getting the lowest tariffs available for customers, and doing everything we can to ensure efficiency and low costs to people, while delivering on our energy security, environmental and carbon reduction targets.
The hon. Lady asked questions, perfectly reasonably, about the Bill for consideration on Friday 8 November, but that is a private Member’s Bill, not a Government Bill—[Interruption.] I will laugh if I like. I think at the end of the debate on 8 November, we will be smiling, not the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). That Bill is a matter for its promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton).
It was rather an own goal by the shadow Leader of the House to talk about tax avoidance. Not only are the Government taking measures that are delivering a substantial increase in tax revenue—when compared to our predecessors—from those who would otherwise seek to avoid or evade tax, but today my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will announce, as reflected in a written ministerial statement to the House by the Business Secretary, that we are going to proceed with a register of company beneficial ownership that will be accessible to the public. That is important not only in this country but across the world to establish who owns what, and who is therefore liable for taxation.
In the business that I announced, I was almost tempted to pre-empt the 12 November Opposition-day debate; no doubt it will be on energy price freezes again, but it ought to be on the economy, as that is the issue. I have not been here for the past two weeks, but it was fascinating listening to business questions and Prime Minister’s questions. Labour Members do not want to talk about employment because we have had record employment figures. They do not want to talk about the economy because figures last Friday demonstrated that the economy is growing at a faster rate than at any time since 2008. [Interruption.] The supposedly silent one—the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell)—talks about the cost of living. I would be happy to have a debate on the cost of living, because, under this Government, 25 million basic rate taxpayers will be £700 better off than they were under the Labour Government; 3 million people have been taken out of income tax altogether; fuel duty is 13p per litre lower than it would have been under Labour; and there is support from the Government so that councils can freeze their taxes through the life of this Parliament, when, under the previous Labour Government, council taxes doubled. We delivered the biggest ever cash increase in the state pension last year. Those are the things the Government are doing to support people with the cost of living. We will continue to do so.
My right hon. Friend will recall that, some time ago, he kindly agreed to ask the chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to meet me. After three and a half years of waiting, I am still very much persona non grata. The disgraceful chairman and chief executive seem to believe that smearing and slandering an individual Member of the House as hysterical—among other vulgar and untrue insults—is an acceptable modus operandi. The situation has reached an impasse. If a Member of Parliament finds that there is no direct redress or recourse in an ongoing issue with IPSA, despite numerous correspondence, e-mails and phone calls, and despite interventions from both the Leader of the House and the party’s Chief Whip, please will my right hon. Friend advise what option is left open to that Back Bencher to secure a professional and equitable conclusion from that inept, discredited and wholly unfit-for-purpose organisation?
Although my hon. Friend will understand if I do not comment on the points he makes on his case with IPSA, I suggested directly to the chief executive that my job could be to facilitate a meeting on a without-prejudice basis between him and my hon. Friend. I continue to believe that that is the right way to proceed. IPSA has important responsibilities in relation to all hon. Members, and it should be prepared to discuss and account for the way in which it discharges those responsibilities to hon. Members. I reiterate my offer to my hon. Friend and the IPSA chief executive. I am happy to facilitate and be present at a meeting at which they discuss, on a without-prejudice basis, their concerns.
Tuesday will mark another first for the Backbench Business Committee: for the first time, we will have representation from a member of the minority parties, in the form of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to welcome him to the Committee, but also pledge to review, as soon as possible, the status of minority parties on the Committee, so that they can have full voting rights, as every other member of the Committee has?
I join the hon. Lady in welcoming the prospect of the attendance of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) at the Backbench Business Committee. I very much enjoy my opportunities to attend. I am a silent one in the Committee, but I listen carefully. It is a good way of understanding the views and interests of the House for debate. The Backbench Business Committee has admirably demonstrated that it is possible to schedule sittings on, effectively, a non-partisan and consensual basis, reflecting views of Members on both sides of the House. That is a very good basis on which to involve the minority parties and ensure that the views of the House as a whole are heard. The membership of the Committee is a matter not for me, but for the Procedure Committee. I would be happy to facilitate any review by that Committee to that effect.
You will know, Mr Speaker, that Burton upon Trent is the home not only of British beer, but of the England football team at St George’s park. Football fans throughout England are looking forward to cheering on Roy’s boys in Brazil next year. There is no better way to do so than when enjoying a pint in the local pub, but, because of Britain’s licensing laws and the time difference, many people will be unable to watch the football and enjoy a pint at the same time. Therefore, may we have a debate on UK licensing laws and exemptions, to give some cheer to England football fans and put some money in the pockets of Britain’s publicans?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Fortunately, he has done so in good time for his proposal to be considered before the World cup finals—while I was laid up, one of my pleasures was watching England play Poland. I will raise the matter with my hon. Friends at the Home Office, because there have been occasions in the past when it has been thought appropriate to have exemptions to licensing arrangements to recognise the time at which such major sporting events take place.
May we have a debate about the membership of this House? We now have the incredible spectacle of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), the former Prime Minister, describing himself as “an ex-politician”. How can someone be a Member of this House and an ex-politician at the same time?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot account for the views of the former Prime Minister. “Politician” is an interesting description, but as Members of Parliament we are all here with a responsibility to represent our constituents, both in the constituency and—in my view—here in Westminster.
The Bill to pardon Alan Turing completed its passage through the Lords yesterday. Can the Leader of the House assure me that, as in the Lords, the Government will leave the decision to Parliament and not seek to oppose the Bill?
I recently met a GP in my constituency who described how resources were being wasted on health tourists, but his concerns were ignored when he reported them to the immigration services. I know that the Immigration Bill is making progress, but does the Leader of the House agree that health tourism deserves a debate in its own right?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and it is why, when I was Secretary of State for Health, I instituted a review, which reported in the middle of last year. That review is the basis on which the Government are proceeding with the Immigration Bill, and there will be occasions to debate that issue during the progress of the legislation.
May we have a debate on early-day motion 598?
[That this House notes that World Polio Day is on 24 October 2013; further notes that within five years polio, like smallpox, can be eradicated across the world; recognises that in the last 25 years cases are down 99 per cent with 2.5 billion vulnerable children reached through vaccination programmes which offer a blueprint for cost-effective, targeted and outcomes-driven international public health intervention; further notes that just three countries, from an original 125, now have endemic polio – Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan; understands that vaccination programmes must focus on these countries to eradicate the disease and prevent its return elsewhere; further recognises the contribution of more than 50,000 British Rotarians towards a polio-free world through their volunteering and £20 million fundraising contribution; realises that the funding gap for this final effort to eradicate polio is a tangible £620 million; appreciates that the Government has contributed a world-leading £600 million towards eradicating polio to date; and calls on the Government to help finish the job of creating a polio-free world by continuing to commit funding, maintaining the UK’s commitment to the World Health Organisation, Rotary International, CDC and Unicef’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative and associated Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-18 and ensuring the UK's continued global leadership role through seeking support from international bodies, governments, non-governmental organisations, corporations and the wider general public to help eradicate this disease once and for all.]
That would enable the House to reflect on the £600 million the Government have already given to eradicating polio; on the fact that we could eradicate it completely, as we have smallpox, within five years; and on the fact that Rotarians across the country have raised £20 million through voluntary efforts to eradicate polio. This is a once-in-a-civilisation opportunity to eradicate polio once and for all. May we have a debate in which we can commit to eradicating polio in our lifetime?
I have read early-day motion 598, which highlighted world polio day last week. I cannot promise time immediately, but it would be appropriate to discuss this issue either through the Backbench Business Committee or in an Adjournment debate. It is very important that we achieve this aim, but it is fraught with risk, because of the circumstances we have seen most recently in Syria, where the breakdown of the health infrastructure as a consequence of the conflict has led to an outbreak of polio. We have to achieve polio eradication alongside getting health services into places such as Syria that do not have them at the moment.
I cannot immediately offer a debate, but I will discuss this with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. They, along with Tata, recognise the strategic importance of that company to the United Kingdom and have together developed a joint Her Majesty’s Government-Tata Steel strategy to support the business and ensure that it is in the right position to support our growing economy in the future and to enable our competitiveness. Any redundancies are very regrettable, and we feel very much for the difficult time that the work force is experiencing. Jobcentre Plus and its rapid response service will be available and will do all it can to help to support those workers.
I have never doubted my right hon. Friend’s backbone. When can we expect Second Reading of the Water Bill? It contains important provisions on competition and will have a big impact on customer bills and Flood Re insurance. There is enormous interest in the Backbench Business Committee debate next week, which unfortunately clashes with the meeting of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I am sure we would all like to know when Second Reading will take place.
I recognise the interest, which is reflected in the acceptance of the debate by the Backbench Business Committee. I cannot tell my hon. Friend when Second Reading will be. She will understand that we set out to publish draft measures on flood insurance, which are important to Members across the House, and that they will benefit from consultation before we proceed with Second Reading and consideration of the Bill.
The sister of my constituent Gemma was murdered last year in Blackpool in the most horrific circumstances. During the court case, the murderer consistently referred to Gemma’s sister as “it”. May we have a statement or a debate on what the Government are doing to tackle the objectification of women and girls?
I am sure the House will want to join me in expressing sympathy with the hon. Lady’s constituent. I think I remember the case. If I may, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to respond. We have published a strategy and taken a wide range of measures to tackle violence against women. I will ask her to respond to this particular point.
When the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill returns to Parliament, will there be scope and time for a full and proper debate into the principles at stake and the circumstances that have emerged from Labour’s inquiry into the Falkirk selection process? [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Opposition Members may shout, but the relationship between the Labour party and the trade unions could have been addressed in the Bill. I invited the Leader of the Opposition to do that and he did not even have the courtesy to reply. It is not too late. Measures could be introduced by the Opposition to regularise the relationship between trade unions and political parties on political funds. Frankly, all I have seen of the investigation at Falkirk suggests that, contrary to the right hon. Gentleman’s protestations, he did not investigate. He is not creating a new relationship and he is not dealing with the issues inside the Labour party and the trade unions. He still continues to dance to Unite’s tune.
The Leader of the House will know that a general election is due in Bangladesh in a few months. May we have a statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on what we and our allies in the European Union are doing to assist the Government party and the main Opposition party, but not their Islamist allies, to ensure that free and fair elections take place again?
If my recollection is correct, I believe I heard Foreign Office Ministers refer to this matter during Foreign Office questions. I will check if that is the case. If it is not, I will talk to them and ensure that they write to the hon. Gentleman and consider at what point it might be appropriate to make a written statement to the House.
We all enjoy the contribution from the shadow Leader of the House, but this week she made a good point about the number of special advisers in the Government. If she is right that there are 19 special advisers in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, that, quite frankly, is a disgrace. May we have a statement on how many special advisers the Deputy Prime Minister has and when he plans to cut that number?
I apologise to the shadow Leader of the House for not answering that point. My recollection is that last week the limit on the number of special advisers was further reiterated by my colleagues at the Cabinet Office. If I may say so—this will not make me popular with my hon. Friend—it has to be understood that coalition Government creates special circumstances and a necessity for independent sources of advice to the two parties working together in coalition.
It is extraordinary that in one week two decisions by Secretaries of State have been held by the courts to be legally flawed. May we have a statement on whether they acted against civil servants’ and legal advice, and could the legal costs be published?
The case of the back-to-work scheme demonstrated that the Government were operating on the basis of thoroughly sound principles, and it was important for that to be established. On Lewisham, I understand perfectly what my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary did and why he did it, and I think he was right to pursue the issue, because the relevant legislation, which we did not introduce, was not clear. The unsustainable providers regime was established in primary legislation under the previous Government, but unfortunately it was not clear, so it was important to get that clarity by taking the case further.
I am delighted that the Prime Minister has announced today that companies must publish and make public details of who owns and controls them. In the interests of further transparency, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on demolishing the firewall between the taxpayer and private companies holding Government and local authority contracts by requiring them to meet the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act for those parts of their business paid for by taxpayers’ money?
I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s point—I recall the issue of private companies providing health care services paid for by the NHS—but it would be intensely difficult simply to apply the Freedom of Information Act to private companies and to draw clear distinctions between those parts of their activities to which public money relates and those to which it does not. That is why the public sector, when procuring services, makes clear in contractual provisions the requirement for proper transparency and openness about the nature of the contracts and services being provided to the public.
On special advisers, the Leader of the House’s answers to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and to the shadow Leader of the House were complacent. All over central Government, Ministers are bearing down on spending Departments, yet when it comes to their own personal support, it appears there is one rule for them and one rule for everyone else taking the cuts. A debate would allow us to test whether the Deputy Prime Minister genuinely needs 19 special advisers and why we have a record number of special advisers, given that in opposition they were so opposed to the growth in their number.
The coalition agreement made it clear that we would set a limit on the number of special advisers, and we are doing that, but it is also important to recognise, as has been demonstrated properly in the civil service reform plan, the need not only for civil service advice, but for access to external and independent sources of advice. Excellent and necessary though its role is as part of the infrastructure of advice and delivery, the civil service does not have a monopoly of wisdom. We need further advice as well.
I have said previously in the Chamber that the business of business is business and the business of government is creating an environment where business can thrive. Unemployment is now down to 2.8% in my constituency. May we have a debate about the heroic efforts of businesses in my constituency and across the country, which have created 1.4 million new private sector jobs since the last general election?
I congratulate my hon. Friend, and I am sure that his constituents share his pride in what they are achieving in employment creation and the wealth creation that goes with it. That is exactly what we are here to encourage. Throughout this Parliament, the extent of new job creation has been encouraging, but it is especially encouraging that we have now turned the corner and restored some of the growth lost in the recession created in Downing street under the last Government.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on police funding for our capital cities? I ask that in the light of some very odd answers I have received on policing funding for Cardiff, including one in which the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims said he had had meetings with a wide range of international partners on the issue. I appreciate that we are rivals in rugby and football, but I would not have thought the Severn estuary too wide a gulf for him to cross.
A couple of days ago, as the Leader of the House is aware, we had an enormous conference between British and French chambers of commerce to show that we were working together on a lot of energy projects. Total was there; Arriva was there; EDF was obviously there. May we have a debate on the importance of cross-channel inward investment? We have just heard about unemployment in the UK. This is a chance for us to show that this country is serious about our infrastructure and welcomes foreign investment through our chambers of commerce.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Government Members are supporting investment in infrastructure, although we wonder about those on the Opposition Benches. This is not just a Government-to-Government thing; it is an area in which businesses can work together, and I am delighted that my old friends in the chambers of commerce are working with their counterparts in France in this way.
Last week, the Prime Minister failed to answer my question about why the Government had failed to close the £500 million eurobond tax loophole. Yesterday, the former Chancellor, Lord Lawson, accused the Government of “getting nowhere” on corporate tax avoidance and said that the UK should take the lead on the issue. Given the importance of the issue for Britain, may we have an urgent debate on the Government’s progress and on their unwillingness to explain why they choose to leave loopholes open?
I would have thought that our introduction of the general anti-abuse rule, the fact that our Second Reading debate on the National Insurance Contributions Bill next Monday will cover the extension of anti-abuse legislation into national insurance, and our announcement today of the registration of beneficial company ownership all demonstrated that we were taking further steps beyond the many already taken by the Treasury to deliver on the reduction of tax avoidance.