House of Commons
Thursday 12 December 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 was asked—
The royal charter, which sets out a framework for the press to establish a self-regulatory body, was granted by the Privy Council on 30 October. It protects freedom of the press while offering real redress if mistakes are made. The Government have no role to judge any proposed self-regulator.
During our inquiry into electoral conduct, we found that if people from a particular group, such as Christian, Muslim, Jewish or gay, felt that they had been discriminated against in print, they could argue it only under the heading of “inaccuracy” with the Press Complaints Commission. Will the Secretary of State use her influence, while the new code of conduct is being drafted, to ensure that those who feel discriminated against have proper redress in the future?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and commend her for that report. My officials are talking to the Equality and Human Rights Commission about the findings of the report, but I would say that the Government have no influence on the code. I am sure, however, that others who are listening will take note of her comments.
Rugby World Cup Tickets
We are in regular contact with the England rugby 2015 organising committee. We have provided advice on a range of options to manage the risk of ticket touting.
Will the Minister look again at making the rugby world cup an event of national significance like the Olympics, which would mean that fans would be able to buy tickets at face value? If the Minister reconsiders, Labour would help to deliver the necessary legislation in the new year so that real fans do not get ripped off by ticket touts.
If fans from New Zealand and Australia buy tickets for the world cup final in the expectation that their team will get there and one or both are knocked out in the semi-final, we will need a mechanism to allow supporters from those countries to sell them on to the supporters of the countries that are in the final. Does the Minister therefore not accept that the resale of tickets for the rugby world cup is not only inevitable, but desirable?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. At the end of the day, we want people to be able to watch a fantastic rugby tournament. The Government do not believe that legislation is necessary to control tickets; we believe that organisers, promoters and ticket agents should be looking at what they can do to protect customers and to make events accessible.
Tickets for the rugby world cup final are already on sale on viagogo for more than 10 times face value, and that is before tickets have even gone on sale to the general public. Is that not another example of why the Rugby Football Union is so keen for tickets to be protected so that ordinary fans can enjoy the sport? Why will the Government not take the action necessary to protect ordinary fans?
Fans are going to enjoy the tournament and fans are going to enjoy this sport. As I have set out, we believe it is right for organisers, promoters and ticket agents to deal with access to events and tickets. Successive Governments have concluded that regulation should be the last resort.
14. Does the Minister agree that the Government are absolutely right to be focusing on encouraging as many young people as possible to take up this wonderful sport, and that the best advice we could give to anyone who feels that they are about to be ripped off by ticket touts is simply to shun them? (901617)
The House will have heard the powerful points put by my hon. Friends. Next year, 2.3 million tickets will go on sale for rugby union world cup matches in this country. It is the third-largest sporting tournament in the world. As the Minister knows, the organisers want to protect rugby fans from ticket touts and are asking for us to do the same as we did in the Olympics and ban the secondary ticketing market. So far, she is refusing to do this. We would help with the legislation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) rightly said. Will she think again so that the 2015 rugby union world cup can be enjoyed by rugby supporters, not exploited by ticket touts?
The event will be enjoyed by rugby supporters and not exploited by ticket touts. I met England rugby 2015 recently and am aware of its concerns. I will always listen, but I am confident that mechanisms are in place to ensure that this event is enjoyed and not spoiled. There are many different mechanisms that can be put in place, including barcoding, named tickets and staggered releases, and I am delighted that 500,000 tickets will go on sale through the RFU’s members next May.
First World War Commemoration
The Government will mark the centenary of the first world war with a programme of national events, cultural activities, educational initiatives and community projects from 4 August next year through to Armistice day in 2018. We will deliver a centenary that will mark, with the most profound respect, this seminal moment in our modern history for the benefit of all parts of the community.
I recently took my family to St Symphorien and had the privilege of seeing John Parr’s grave—it was a moving moment for us all. We are working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to trace families of other men buried at St Symphorien, and we very much hope that a number of the families will be able to attend the event. We would welcome any help in tracing the families involved.
My grandfather Harry Hanson’s first taste of combat in the first world war was in March 1915 at Neuve Chapelle, where he fought alongside thousands of Indian troops who to this day remain buried in France. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment that we will celebrate the role of Commonwealth troops, particularly Indian troops, during this first world war celebration?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the significant Commonwealth dimension to our commemoration of the first world war. It is most fitting that the first event, which will follow shortly after the Commonwealth games in Edinburgh next August, will involve Commonwealth leaders.
Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the £1.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to save Stow Maries aerodrome in my constituency, which is the last remaining, intact first world war airfield? Does she agree that Stow Maries, from which pilots flew to defend us against zeppelin attacks, would be a fitting place to start the commemorations that her Department is planning?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that there are not that many structures remaining for us to look at as part of our commemorations around the first world war centenary. I am sure that that airfield could play an important role in bringing this to life for new generations.
Springwell Dene school in my constituency already does excellent work in taking students to visit world war one battlefield sites, but it is concerned that because of its children’s special educational needs, it might not be able to take part in the Government’s scheme. Will a Minister from the Department meet me to discuss this matter and how we can ensure that all children in our communities can join in this commemoration and understand our history?
The hon. Lady is right that the Government have invested considerably in ensuring that schoolchildren can visit battlefields, and of course that programme should be open to all children, although it is for schools to decide who exactly is involved. I am sure we would be interested to know more about the problems experienced and to try and resolve them, working with our colleagues in the Department for Education.
On 1 July 1916 at the battle of the Somme, the 36th Ulster Division fought alongside the 16th Irish Division, showing great courage and heroism in that much commemorated battle. Will the Secretary of State outline what discussions she has had with the Republic of Ireland Government to commemorate the battle of the Somme and other battles where the two nations fought together?
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that considerable conversations are taking place between ourselves—and not just my Department, but others—and our colleagues in the Irish Republic. This is an important part of Irish history and it is important to recognise it in the work we are doing. If the hon. Gentleman had a look at the full list of events being undertaken, I think he would be pleasantly surprised and happy about what we have done.
With the decision not to repatriate the fallen in the first world war, the legacy for our nation is that almost every village, town or city in the land has either a simple or a magnificent war memorial. What plans are in place to ensure that all of these are spick and span to commemorate the start of the first world war?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are very few communities in our country that do not possess a memorial to those who fell in the first world war, although there are, of course, a few thankful villages that had no need for one and might commemorate the event in different ways. We already have a good funding level for the restoration of memorials, but this is something that we continue to look at. If there is an indication that further support is needed, we will of course look at it further.
Sportivate is not a competitive sports programme. It offers young people the chance to try a new sport for the very first time. Nearly 300,000 14 to 25-year-olds have completed the Sportivate course in the last two years, including 4,250 young people from the hon. Lady’s constituency. Around half of the 300,000 participating are women, 80% of whom have gone on to play sport on a regular basis.
The Minister will doubtless be aware that the Education Select Committee recently published a report looking at the legacy of the Olympics, which has been somewhat disappointing. Has she had any discussions with the Department for Education about the restoration of school sport partnerships, the abolition of which has done so much harm to young people’s participation in sporting activities and their long-term health?
I disagree completely with the hon. Lady about that. Funding of some £1 billion is being put into youth and community sport by this Government. We have also committed £450 million over the next three years to primary school sport. We are running the school games in which 16,000 schools are participating, to encourage children to engage in competitive sport. More people are doing sport than ever before. The school sport partnerships were very expensive, very bureaucratic and, sadly, failed, with only two out of five pupils competing in sport on a regular basis.
May I welcome my hon. Friend’s focus on participation in sport for women between those ages? I think too much focus on competitiveness can put them off from engaging. Will she confirm that all sports are involved, including swimming, which I learned at that age, and it is something that I continue to pursue in my advanced years?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I am pleased that she still enjoys swimming—and may she continue to enjoy it for many years to come. She made an important point about competition. Competition can be great, but not everyone likes it. We want people to be active and to enjoy sport, which is why changes have been made to the national curriculum to provide a broad range of team and individual activities such as dance that will appeal to those who may be a little less competitive.
Tourism is at the heart of the Government’s growth agenda. It is one of the largest export industries in the UK. It helps to rebalance our economy, generates investment and creates jobs, and it is at the centre of the country’s economic recovery.
Derwent Valley Mills is a world heritage site that extends throughout my constituency and beyond, but families currently have nowhere to take their children so that they can cycle safely between the mills. I have set up a cycling group, which is considering the possibility of putting a cycling track well away from the traffic to make it safe. How can the Secretary of State help me to ensure—in conjunction with the Olympic legacy—that children are encouraged to keep active, while also being able to enjoy a piece of history?
Through that excellent local initiative, my hon. Friend has demonstrated that culture and sport are never too far apart, and I commend her for the work she has done. The integrated transport block grant that local authorities receive for small transport improvement schemes, including cycling schemes, is potentially an important source of funding for the project in her constituency, as it enables local authorities to come up with the solutions that are most suitable for their areas and for projects of that kind.
Next year, 2014, will mark the 1,100th anniversary of the great town of Warwick. It will be a year of celebrations. You will, of course, be very welcome to attend those celebrations, Mr Speaker, and I am sure that many other people will want to visit the town. Will the Secretary of State—who will also be very welcome—tell us what policies are being drawn up to support towns such as Warwick, where tourism plays such an important part in our local economy?
My hon. Friend is right. Warwick castle is a great attraction in the area, and, having visited the town as a child and, more recently, with my own children, I know that it is a great place to visit.
Our tourism figures are strong at the moment, and the Government are continuing to invest in both VisitBritain and VisitEngland. We want to ensure that people from outside the country not only come to London, but travel beyond the capital to places such as Warwick. We are also encouraging more people in this country to spend holidays at home, and VisitEngland is doing well in that respect too.
As a woman of taste and refinement, does the Secretary of State agree that Huddersfield is the jewel in the crown of God’s own county of Yorkshire, not least because its university has been named university of the year? Does she agree that it is about time Huddersfield, Yorkshire and the north of England in general benefited from a fair share of tourism activity, especially as we shall be on the Tour de France route?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are linking the various parts of our departmental brief, because sport can be a great way of increasing tourism. The Tour de France, and the Government’s investment in it, will ensure that more people are able to experience the joys of Yorkshire, and can visit places such as the Yorkshire sculpture park while they are there.
One of the major tourist attractions next year in the United Kingdom will be the Commonwealth games. The games will take place in Glasgow, but there will be further events in Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland. Although nearly all the tickets have been sold, I am sure that the atmosphere in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere will be as exciting as the atmosphere in London during the 2012 Olympics. What are the Government doing to encourage people in the rest of the United Kingdom to visit Scotland during the games, so that everyone can benefit from that wonderful experience?
As the hon. Gentleman says, the Commonwealth games will serve as a great hook to encourage more people to visit Scotland. However, there will also be the golf and festivals to encourage people to get additional value out of their visits. During November alone there were nearly 3 million visits to the UK, 10% more than in the same month last year. We are doing important work through VisitBritain, the Scottish Government and VisitScotland to encourage more people to visit not just London but the United Kingdom as a whole, and I think we shall see great success in the months and years to come.
Children’s Participation in the Arts
I frequently meet the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), because the DCMS and the Department for Education now have a joint music and cultural education board. We now have a national music plan and a national cultural education plan, and we work very closely together on this.
In 2011 the Secretary of State for Education abandoned the creative partnerships programme for schools. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that that programme generated £15.30 in economic and social benefits for every £1 of investment. Since then nearly a third of museums have seen a decrease in visits by schools and over 2,000 schools and hundreds of thousands of pupils no longer benefit from this culturally enriching programme. Does the Minister think his colleague at the DFE got that decision right?
The latest figures show that 99% of 11 to 15-year-olds visited and experienced culture in the last year, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Education extended the In Harmony programme; ring-fenced money for music; helped us to create heritage schools; set up the first ever national youth dance company; and put in place the first ever national music and cultural education plans.
I recently had the fantastic opportunity to go to see a mini-opera at Chester cathedral put on by Cheshire fire and rescue service, Manchester Camerata and three local primary schools. The idea of the opera was to teach children about fire safety. Does my hon. Friend agree that the arts and culture have got a huge role to play in encouraging young people to get involved in education?
I have frequent engagement with Manchester Camerata and I commend its imaginative approach in engaging other parts of local services, particularly the fire and rescue service and the health service. The arts can not only engage young people and children in education, they can also help to engage adults in a whole range of other local services.
This is a very convoluted question, so I hope the Minister will bear with me. I just wonder whether he has had an opportunity to see the National Youth Theatre production of “Tory Boyz”, which I am told is about a lot of homosexual Conservatives. They, among many others, might want to ask the Government why they are taking such a long time to allow the upgrade of civil partnerships to full same-sex marriages. He is having plenty of time to ask the Secretary of State now. Will he bring it forward a bit faster?
In fact, the creative industries is one of the few areas of the British economy that is currently growing, but despite what the Minister said, Ofsted has criticised the effectiveness of music hubs and one school in six is cutting arts subjects. If DCMS Ministers cannot persuade their colleagues at the Department for Education to take a broader view, our young people will be permanently disadvantaged. Is the problem that the Minister is not sufficiently persuasive or that the Secretary of State for Education is too narrow-minded?
I would never accuse the Secretary of State for Education of being narrow-minded. I take on board the hon. Lady’s praise for my Secretary of State who is leading the growth in the creative industries. We in DCMS are led by a Secretary of State who is leading a Department for growth. That is very good news indeed, and I repeat what I said: there is a huge input from the Secretary of State for Education.
I really would not take too much from an Ofsted report that looks at music hubs four months after they have been created and condemns them. The hon. Lady should speak to her friends in the Musicians Union, who are furious about that report.
Arts Council Funding
Arts Council England makes its funding decisions independently of Government, but it must take care to ensure all areas of the country have access to its funding. We have discussed this with the Arts Council and continue to do so, and the Arts Council has indicated that a priority in its forthcoming investment round will be to achieve a better balance from public funding and lottery investment across the country.
The Minister might be aware of the recent report, “Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital”, which stated that in 2012-13, £69 per head was spent in London while £4.60 per head was spent in the English regions. That represents a ratio of 15:1, which does not exist anywhere else in the world. How long will it take to get this fixed?
Well, the balance in lottery funding between the regions and London was 60:40 under the previous Government, and it has now gone up to 70:30. The Arts Council chairman is well aware of the issue and wants to go further. The Arts Council has set up the strategic touring programme and the creative people and places fund to help to rebalance arts funding in the regions, and our brilliant Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced proposals to support touring theatre with tax relief.
When this matter was last raised here, the Secretary of State seemed to imply that the answer was for London-based companies to do more touring, and the Minister has said that again. Do they not recognise that Londoners deserve to have the benefit of our great arts companies, such as Northern Stage, the Live Theatre and the Northern Sinfonia? If more touring by London companies is not the answer, what is?
As always, the hon. Lady makes a fantastically brilliant point. It is important to strike a balance. This is not just a matter of London organisations going out to “the regions”. I am very excited about more co-productions between, for example, the National Theatre and the regional theatres, to enable productions created in regional theatres to come to London so that we can get some of the fantastic benefits of the brilliant arts going on outside London.
Professional Football (Stewardship)
I have regular meetings with the English football authorities to discuss a range of issues, including the stewardship of professional football.
I think there is general agreement that professional football in this country is rotten to the core, not least as a result of parasitic agents taking millions of pounds a year out of the game and of football wasting its riches in the same way as successive Governments wasted the North sea oil revenues. The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has done a good job with its report and recommendations, but does the Minister agree that what we need now is a royal commission on professional football in order to clean up the game?
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The football authorities introduced reforms in August, including smaller boards and a new licensing system, to deal with ownership and financial matters and to improve relations with supporters. That is certainly a start, but more definitely needs to be done. If it is not done, there is always the option of legislation.
Will the sports Minister convene a meeting between the football authorities and the betting industry? We are seeing an increase in cheating, in the form of match-fixing and spot-betting, and we need to start a discussion on what constitutes an appropriate bet. Betting on the number of corners or of red and yellow cards, for example, is inappropriate. Does she agree that there should be a discussion about that?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I know that he has considerable knowledge of these issues. We had a meeting a couple of days ago—it was reported in the papers—with the main governing bodies and the Gambling Commission to discuss the very issues that he raises: match-fixing and spot-fixing. The integrity of the sport is absolutely paramount, and we must keep sport clean. It is obvious that a multi-agency approach is needed to deal with these issues, and we also need to continue to ensure that player education is developed and that information sharing happens. We also need to share best practice.
We have regular meetings with various organisations. The ownership of clubs is obviously an interesting matter, and there is a place for all different types of ownership. I am going to meet some of the supporters groups in the new year, and I am sure that they will raise the issue of ownership with me. I remain open-minded about this. I know that clubs that are owned by supporters work very well indeed, and that the supporters have the best interests of the game at heart.
The 2009 Parry report on sports betting recommended strengthening the law on cheating, as defined in the Gambling Act 2005. Jacques Rogge has described cheating in gambling as being
“as dangerous as doping for the credibility of sport.”
The Secretary of State called a summit this week, presumably to explain to sports governing bodies why the Government alone have failed to meet the recommendations of the Parry report. She rejected all our amendments to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill on match-fixing. Following the recent allegations in football, will she now reconsider her position?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the law is working. It is in place, and we have seen recent arrests and the good work of the National Crime Agency. We have criminal offences of bribery, corruption and fraud, and there is an offence under section 42 of the 2005 Act. The law is in place and it is being used. Of course, we must keep it under review, and I will do that.
Nuisance Telephone Calls
The issue of nuisance telephone calls is a priority for the Department, and we will be publishing our action plan shortly. We would like to see more effective enforcement by the Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom, through use of their substantial fining powers. Also, we are keen for them to more easily share information with each other.
A 90-year-old constituent of mine who has signed up for the telephone preference service continues to be plagued by nuisance calls. There is not enough urgency from the Government on this matter. Will the Minister commit, as a starting point, at least to implement all the recommendations made by the all-party group on nuisance calls? That would be a start.
I reject the accusation of a lack of urgency. I have worked closely with a number of stakeholders over many months. We are publishing our action plan in the new year because we want to take account of the excellent reports by the all-party group and the Select Committee.
I am glad that the Minister wants the Information Commissioner’s Office to be able to take more enforcement action to tackle this menace. Will he therefore lower the legal threshold above which the Information Commissioner is able to take enforcement action?
We recently launched our £100 million super-connected cities broadband voucher scheme, providing qualifying small and medium-sized enterprises with up to £3,000 of funding to access superfast broadband. As part of the autumn statement, further support measures were announced for the film industry, sport, and regional arts and culture, and there was an announcement of a new £10 million competitive fund to market test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband to reach some of the UK’s most remote communities.
I thank the Secretary of State for announcing Hull as the city of culture for 2017 on 20 November, and for immediately getting on a train to visit the city—we very much appreciated that. In line with the original thinking on the city of culture status, will she help the city by making sure that some of our great cultural prizes, such as the Turner prize, the Booker prize and the Brit awards, come to Hull in 2017?
The city of culture programme is a great way to showcase our great cultural assets outside London and around the country. I was delighted to meet so many of the people who were crucial in putting Hull’s bid together. I would also like to commiserate with those that did not make it to that final accolade, as the semi-finalists were also extremely strong. I will do all I can to make sure that being city of culture in 2017 is as successful for Hull as being city of culture has been for Derry/Londonderry.
T2. I recently raised with the Minister the case of a constituent in Gloucester who has been plagued by nuisance calls even after she had changed her telephone number and registered with the telephone preference service. Sadly, as all hon. Members will know, that is not an isolated case. I was grateful for his reply, in which he said that what we need is more enforcement, not more law. Will he outline what specific action he intends to take to make that happen? (901624)
We intend to publish our action plan early in the new year. As well as looking at the issue of the threshold, it is important that we bring the two regulators closer together. It is also important to note that Ofcom is undertaking a review of the telephone preference service to check what changes can be made to make it more effective.
The Active People survey figures that were published as we walked into the Chamber this morning show that they were down on last year. When the last set of figures was published, the Government blamed the weather. Will they do so again today? The time for excuses has passed. Even more damning, the figures for 16 to 25-year-olds are down by 51,000. There was no better golden legacy left to this Government than the one in sport. Just what will the Government do about this terrible situation?
I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman is being so negative. I have seen that report. More people, including women and people with disabilities, are participating in sport in this country than ever before, which should be celebrated. Of course there is more to do, and we will do it. We are focusing action on 14 to 25-year-olds, who have competing demands on their time. We expect the sports bodies to focus on this. If they do not, there will be consequences. They receive a large amount of public money, and if they cannot produce the goods, we will get other people involved.
T3. If the Secretary of State came to Lancashire and had a selfie done with me and was enthusiastic to show it to the wider public, she would find that uploading it would be a bit hit and miss, because in Lancashire only 55% have access to superfast broadband, compared with 65% nationally. Will she ensure that, rather than being left in the digital dinosaur age, Lancashire will have superfast broadband rolled out as quickly as possible, and that 100% will get access to it? (901625)
My hon. Friend is right to say that every corner of the country needs to be in our targets when it comes to rolling out superfast broadband. I am delighted to tell him that that is exactly why the Government are investing more than £1 billion of public money in rolling out rural superfast broadband. We are making rapid progress in his area. As of the end of last month, more than 11,000 premises had been passed, and Ofcom data now show that Lancashire county council has more than 67% availability of superfast broadband. We are making progress, but we need to ensure that that continues.
T4. I listened carefully to the Minister’s earlier response on ticket touting. I remind her that it is some years since the Government and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport looked at the issue. Operation Podium, which policed the Olympics, reported earlier this year that ticket touting is rife with criminality and money laundering and said that now was the time for regulation. Why will the Minister not act now to protect rugby fans from that criminality? (901626)
It is very important that this wonderful grade 2 listed farm is protected from development as far as possible, and any development around it should be as sympathetic as possible. English Heritage runs a fantastic heritage protection service in this country, which will only be enhanced by the new model that we have just announced.
T6. In South Shields, more than £2.8 million has been lost on high stakes, fixed-odds betting terminals. Those machines allow players to gamble as much as £100 every 20 seconds and have already been banned by a number of countries. Will the Minister take action to tackle the damage that the machines do and back Labour’s call to limit the maximum stake on these machines to £2? (901628)
T8. Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) on arts disparities, may I raise a further complication? When the Arts Council for London, or the English Arts Council—London based—finds itself in the north-west it never usually goes much further than Manchester and Liverpool. (901630)
T7. Given that Hull has won the prestigious title of city of culture for 2017, will the Secretary of State join me in pressing colleagues in the Treasury and Department for Transport to ensure that we have proper, good-quality transport links, including electrification of the railway line to Hull and improvements and upgrades to the A63? (901629)
The Secretary of State referred to the 10% who are most difficult to reach with superfast broadband. Does she recognise that in areas such as mine that number is far bigger than 10%, and that the rural economy is dependent on small micro-businesses and on much higher than average levels of home working? Will she get on with allocating the £250 million that has been set aside for that 10%, and will she not make it match funded by already broke rural authorities?
My hon. Friend is right that making superfast broadband a priority infrastructure project for this country was the right decision for the Government. The plans we inherited from Labour were lamentable. He will know that we have already allocated £250 million and will be announcing shortly how that will be used. He will also have noted in the autumn statement an additional £10 million for the hardest-to-reach areas where we need innovative solutions.
T9. According to the charity Scope, disabled people are warning that the positive effect of the Paralympics on public attitudes is being undermined by widespread “scrounger” rhetoric. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with media organisations to challenge that pervasive and unpleasant narrative? (901631)
The hon. Lady will know that we are working hard on the legacy for disabled people of London 2012. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who is the Minister for disabled people, is at the heart of our legacy programme. We are ensuring that the media have the opportunity to showcase, particularly through sports, the incredible contribution of disabled people to our society. Through that positive imagery, we can challenge the rhetoric that the hon. Lady is talking about.
The Minister has already spoken of the benefits to tourism of major sporting events, particularly the rugby world cup 2015. Now that the locations have been set, does she agree that there is a big opportunity for places such as Brighton, Exeter, Milton Keynes, Leeds and Newcastle to attract new visitors, and that my constituency, as the birthplace of the game, will get a particular economic benefit?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Major sporting events bring huge benefits economically, in tourism, and most of all in inspiring people to get involved in sport. As the birthplace of rugby, my hon. Friend’s wonderful constituency has an opportunity to increase its profile both nationally and internationally.
T10. Under Labour’s universal broadband pledge, everyone would now have enjoyed a year of full access to decent broadband instead of the ongoing delay and controversy. Will the Minister be sending out e-Christmas cards this year and, if so, does he take responsibility for all the problems that so many people will still have receiving them? (901632)
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Gender Pay Gap
This Government are committed to reducing the gender pay gap. Women have had the legal right to equal pay for nearly 40 years, but there is still a long way to go before we achieve equality in the workplace. The Government’s focus is on driving the necessary culture change in business, in particular through improving transparency.
Forty-three years on from Barbara Castle’s landmark Equal Pay Act 1970, will the right hon. Lady be pleased to be remembered as the Minister who brought in a fee of £1,200 for a pregnant sacked woman to take a case to an employment tribunal on grounds of discrimination and her right to equal pay?
I am disappointed that the hon. Lady continues to follow this line of questioning, as she is at risk of scaremongering with her reference to the £1,200. She will know that the vast majority of individuals who want to bring a tribunal claim will pay a far lower fee and that our remissions scheme will protect those who cannot pay. I hope she will ensure that she is not scaremongering in this regard because pregnant women will want to know the facts about the support available to them.
We will not tackle the gender pay gap until we tackle gender segregation in apprenticeships. May I suggest that the Minister re-examine the conclusions of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee in its “Women in the Workplace” report, and introduce a clear target and reporting strategy so that we can tackle that gender gap?
The hon. Lady is right that we want to ensure that more women see apprenticeships as an opportunity to get into different fields, particularly STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—related occupations. We know that the gender pay gap has a significant link to the career choices that women make, and apprenticeships have a good role to play.
Is it not slightly embarrassing for this Government and Labour to be lecturing about equal pay when the Equality and Human Rights Commission, under the previous Government and still today, pays white people more than it pays ethnic minority staff, pays disabled staff less than its non-disabled staff, and pays women less than it pays its male staff?
My hon. Friend is right to ensure that we are transparent about the reality within public organisations, such as that to which he refers. My Department publishes its pay so that everybody can see how it treats individuals, and I am pleased to say that the gender pay gap in my Department has disappeared. I hope that by ensuring that transparency of salary information we will continue to see more Departments in the same position.
The biggest source of the gender pay gap is the difficulty that working women have in finding well-paid employment that is flexible enough to cope with their child care requirements. What more can the Government do to increase flexibility in the workplace?
My hon. Friend is right that, rather than introducing yet more legislation, the Government have been ensuring that we modernise the workplace and that in doing so we modernise the culture around flexible working in particular. It is a shame that the Labour party in government was unable to put in place flexible working. We have set great store by flexible working for all, and ensuring that everybody, regardless of their care responsibilities, has that option available to them.
The hon. Lady will know that under this Government more women are in work than ever before, that the figures show that salaries are rising, and that we are tackling the long-term issue of the gender pay gap by changing the culture in business. Her party failed to do that by not ensuring that flexible working was available for all. We are making sure that a workplace that was designed by men for men is now designed to accommodate women too.
Cost of Living
We recognise that these are tough times when both women and men need help with the cost of living. As last week’s autumn statement shows, the Government are providing that help—on income tax, fuel bills and council tax bills—to ensure that hard-working people can make ends meet. Critically, we are also taking the necessary steps to rebuild our economy following the financial crisis.
I have conducted research in my constituency, where 83% of women told me that they are much worse off now than they were in 2010. They said that was down to increasing energy bills and the cost of food. Does the Minister accept that there is a cost of living crisis now and that women are bearing the brunt?
I absolutely accept that people up and down the country are facing significant challenges with the cost of living, which is why the Government are taking action to help them. While we are talking about accepting things, I think that the hon. Gentleman needs to start to accept that one reason why families up and down the country are facing such challenges is the financial mess that his party got our country into.
According to analysis from the House of Commons Library and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the married couples tax break of less than £4 a week announced by the Chancellor in the autumn statement will be paid to men in five out of six cases. Does the Minister believe that is the best way to support women facing a cost of living crisis?
The hon. Lady and others will be well aware of the differences within the coalition over that policy, as set out in the coalition agreement in 2010. What the Government are doing that will help women hugely is cutting income tax bills for 25 million people—six out of 10 of whom will be women—up and down the country, putting £700 back in their pockets.
Does the Minister agree that one of the costs faced by the record number of women now in work is the cost of government, which they pay for through their taxes? Will she therefore welcome the fact that 1 million women have seen a 100% reduction in the cost of their income tax?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that taking women out of income tax will help significantly. It is important that we cut people’s tax bills and ensure that the Government deliver value for money. That is what this Government are doing, because the last thing that will help women, or indeed men, is leaving this mess for the next generation to clear up.
Does my hon. Friend remember, as I do, a time when women cleaners in the City paid tax at a higher rate than their millionaire bosses and when women pensioners were offered a derisory increase of 75p in their pensions? She has already mentioned the tax thresholds, and we now have the triple lock on pensions. Is that not really good news for many women across the country?
My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that the £650 a year increase in the state pension resulting from the triple lock will hugely help women and men up and down the country with the cost of living—that is a wide range of people, from newly retired pensioners to those like my wonderful grandmother, who celebrates her 100th birthday today.
When it comes to the pay gap and the cost of living, the people who are often under the most pressure are women between the age of 30 and retirement age, where the pay gap is biggest. What is the Minister doing to help older middle-aged women to carry those burdens?
I will not be drawn into giving exact descriptions of women at different stages of life, but I think that the hon. Lady is right to highlight the fact that there is a particular issue for women in that age group. Opportunity Now has recently been undertaking Project 28-40 to research the barriers that those women, in particular, face in the workplace—if Members want to contribute to the survey, I understand that it is open until Sunday. Obviously, the changes we are making for shared parental leave and flexible working will be particularly helpful for those women.
We all send our love and congratulations to the Minister’s grandma today. Will my hon. Friend assure us that there are rigorous equality impact assessments of all Government policies for women in general, and for black and minority ethnic women and women with disabilities in particular?
My right hon. Friend makes the important point that all policies need to take into account the impact they will have on equality. Every Department has a responsibility to ensure that that is taken into account when it brings forward a policy, and not just as some kind of afterthought when it is going through a checklist at the end, but to embed that right through the policy-making process so that those things are considered at the beginning.
Office for National Statistics figures show that women working full-time have seen almost £2,500 wiped off their real earnings since the election. Does the Minister accept that this shows that her Government’s cost of living crisis is hitting women particularly hard; and why, then, are Ministers continuing with economic policies that hit women three times harder than men?
The statistics that the hon. Lady uses are entirely partial. They do not take into account, for example, the changes to the taxation system that disproportionately help women through the income tax cut that we have made. The point that she really needs to understand is that the best way to tackle the cost of living crisis is to ensure that we get on with building a stronger economy that will support jobs and growth. That is what this Government are doing, whereas Labour’s plans just rely on ever more debt that the next generation will have to clear up and pay back.
Violence Against Women
The coalition Government is strongly committed to tackling violence against women and girls. Some £40 million of funding has been ring-fenced between 2011 and 2015 for specialist domestic and sexual violence services. We have created two new offences of stalking, introduced legislation to criminalise forced marriage, and re-launched our successful national “This is Abuse” campaign. On 25 November, we also announced the roll-out of domestic violence protection orders and Clare’s law to provide greater protection for victims.
A clear majority of women in prostitution experience serious violence in an exploitative trade that promotes wider gender inequality. Will the Minister commit to reviewing the European Union’s draft report on sexual exploitation, which makes it clear that the burden of criminality should shift from seller to buyer, and write to me with his reflections?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of vulnerable women involved in prostitution. The Government is particularly concerned about women who have been trafficked who end up in that situation, and that is the primary concern that we are taking forward.
Last year 1.2 million women were victims of domestic violence. It is well known that the police do not prioritise dealing with these crimes, so what more can be done to encourage them to take them seriously and deal with them properly?
I assure my hon. Friend that we have made our concerns known to the police and to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and we are taking matters forward with them. Yesterday the Home Secretary and I met the DPP and the national policing lead to try to make sure that we understand why there has been a drop in referrals. However, it is also worth pointing out that the number of successful prosecutions for domestic violence has risen to 73%—the highest ever.
8. The recent report by the Children’s Commissioner into child sexual exploitation found really shocking levels of sexual assault and rape among children, and that young people had a very limited understanding of consent. I listened to the Minister’s response, but he said nothing about how we inform the next generation. Why are the Government refusing to implement the Children’s Commissioner’s recommendation and make sex and relationship education compulsory in all our schools?
It is a bit unfair to say that I did not mention such matters, because I referred to the re-launch of the “This is Abuse” campaign, which has already been very successful, with 85,000 visits to the website since it was launched last week and 19,000 plays of the “Hollyoaks” TV advert. We are getting through to young people through that campaign. I agree with the hon. Lady that child sexual exploitation is a very serious issue indeed, and I congratulate the deputy Children’s Commissioner on the work she has undertaken, which we are taking forward in conjunction with her.
That is a question I have asked the Director of Public Prosecutions, because the legislation has been on the statute book for 28 years and throughout that time there has been no successful prosecution. I think that that partly relates to the reluctance of children to give evidence against parents. I assure my hon. Friend that we are considering the matter. The DPP is looking at existing cases and reviewing whether we can reopen some of them, and I am hopeful that there will be prosecutions in the near future.
Effects of Economic Climate on Ethnic Minorities
4. What assessment she has made of the effect of the economic climate on people in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. (901596)
The Government’s policy is to help disadvantaged communities and disadvantaged areas. It does not prioritise any particular race or ethnic background.
On Monday, Members from across the House spoke passionately about what Nelson Mandela had done to make the world a fairer place, but those words are meaningless if they are not followed up by deeds. It is unacceptable in 21st-century Britain that black men are more likely to be unemployed than white men, and that women from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are twice as likely to be unemployed as the national average. Why is there not a comprehensive racial equality strategy to address these issues?
The hon. Lady makes important points, but I must tell her that there are more ethnic minority people in work in the UK—3.1 million—than ever before. More, of course, needs to be done, which is why the Government have in place a range of tailored support through Jobcentre Plus, the Work programme, the youth contract and our Get Britain Working measures.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 16 December—Second Reading of the Care Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 17 December—Remaining stages of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill [Lords] followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments.
Wednesday 18 December—Opposition Day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on accident and emergency services, followed by a debate on food banks.
Both debates will arise on an official Opposition motion.
Thursday 19 December—Select Committee statement on the publication of the Ninth Report from the Transport Committee entitled “High Speed Rail: On Track?” followed by matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment as selected by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 20 December—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 6 January 2014 will include:
Monday 6 January—Remaining stages of the Water Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 19 December and 9 January 2014 will be:
Thursday 19 December—A debate on immigration from Bulgaria and Romania.
Thursday 9 January—A debate on the Fifth Report of the Transport Select Committee on access to transport for disabled people, followed by a debate on the First Report of the International Development Select Committee on global food security.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I take this opportunity to wish him a happy birthday for yesterday?
I also thank the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, for the chance the House had on Monday to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. Will the Leader of the House confirm when he plans to reschedule the business that we had to move to accommodate what was an entirely appropriate and solemn occasion?
Today the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority released its recommendations on MPs’ pay and pensions. Does the Leader of the House agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that those suffering a cost of living crisis will not understand a pay rise many times the rate of inflation? Does he agree that, notwithstanding IPSA’s independence, a joint meeting should take place today to ask it to reconsider the package?
Given that the autumn statement has, in effect, turned into the winter statement, does the Leader of the House agree that it is crucial for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a statement on the provisional local government finance settlement for England before the House rises next week? Local authorities are already struggling with huge cuts and they need as much time as possible to deal with the unpalatable decisions this Government have left them with.
More than 50 hon. and right hon. Members attended yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), on the future of the badger cull. It is becoming increasingly clear that the cull is an expensive disaster for farmers, wildlife and all taxpayers. Since the extensions to the cull were announced, hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions and many experts have demanded that the Government rethink their approach. Some hon. Members who were in favour of the cull are changing their minds, but all the Environment Secretary does is ignore the facts, hide behind written ministerial statements and assert his personal belief that it is working. Does the Leader of the House agree with the swelling numbers on his own Back Benches who recognise that this cull is a travesty? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State to emerge from his sett and come to the House for an urgent debate in Government time on the future of the 40 further culls that are currently scheduled to take place?
Last week’s autumn statement confirmed one central fact: working people are worse off under this Government. The Chancellor made the desperate claim that
“real household disposable income is rising”.—[Official Report, 5 December 2013; Vol. 571, c. 1101.]
We know, however, that the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies was right when he said that household income is
“almost certainly significantly lower now than it was in 2010.”
Does the Leader of the House think that the Chancellor was right to include the incomes of charities, universities and pension contributions in his calculations as if they were household income? Does he agree with the Office for Budget Responsibility that it is “inconceivable” that household incomes are rising?
The Government began by insisting that they did not enjoy making spending cuts, but the mask slipped a few weeks ago when the Prime Minister donned his white tie and tails and told an audience in the City that public spending cuts are not just for now but for ever. As the Office for Budget Responsibility has said, by 2017-18 Government spending on public services and administration
“will shrink to its smallest share of national income at least since 1948, when comparable National Accounts data are first available”.
This Government’s stated aim is pre-1948 levels of spending, but with double the number of retired people to care for and far more expensive health needs. Despite the hollow protestations of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today, the fact is that the Liberal Democrats signed up only last week to creating this pre-war vision of an unnaturally shrunken and feeble state.
The Chancellor can throw as much mud as he likes at the previous Labour Government, but the British people will see straight through him to the cold, stark reality of this baleful vision of a country with no social justice and no safety net—a country in which people sink or swim. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on this Government’s Hobbesian vision of the future?
The fiasco at the Department for Work and Pensions continued this week, with the Secretary of State being dragged kicking and screaming to the House after trying to sneak out a major delay to his flagship universal credit programme two hours before the autumn statement. Despite wasting many millions of pounds on useless IT and admitting that he will fail to meet his already extended deadline, he farcically claimed in the House that the entire programme was “essentially…on time”. On that definition, living standards are essentially soaring, the badger cull is essentially a success and England is essentially winning the Ashes.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, especially for her birthday greetings. I heard the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), tell us about her grandmother’s 100th birthday today, and it is great that I have a way to go. I am encouraged by that thought; I am of course now more than halfway there.
The hon. Lady asked about the business that was on Monday’s Order Paper. I am very glad that we could rearrange the business on Monday to have the tribute debate, which was one of those occasions when the House demonstrated its capacity to capture the nation’s mood and speak on its behalf. Of those items of business, the Secretary of State for Defence made a statement on defence reform on Tuesday that he would have made on Monday, and we dealt with the statutory instrument relating to terrorism on Tuesday that would otherwise have been debated on Monday. I hope to be able to announce a date for the Intellectual Property Bill when I announce future business in the new year.
The shadow Leader of the House asked about the IPSA report that has been published this morning. Like other hon. Members, she will have heard what the Prime Minister and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, and I hope that IPSA very clearly hears exactly what the party leaders have said. It is incumbent on hon. Members across the House who disagree with its judgment to make that very clear to IPSA. I have done so on behalf of the Government, making it clear that IPSA should take into account the public sector pay environment; our conclusion is that IPSA has not done that and should reconsider. The report is not a final determination, in the sense that IPSA must have a statutory review after the election, and it has made it clear that it will do so. I hope that such points will be made forcefully, so that IPSA arrives at such a reconsideration on that basis.
The hon. Lady asked about the badger cull. There was of course a debate yesterday, and the farming Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), responded to it. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues will continue with the pilots—I stress that they are pilots and give us an enormous amount of information about the mechanisms by which a badger cull can be pursued. Colleagues in the House and people outside need to be aware of the enormous cost and the tens of thousands of cattle that have been slaughtered as a consequence of the failure to tackle bovine TB previously. That has to be tackled, and the question is how we can do it most effectively. The pilots will give us the information that we need.
I was pleased that the hon. Lady said that there was a need to follow up on the autumn statement. Although time is tight, any opportunity that we have to follow up on the autumn statement will be welcomed by Government Members. It will give us an opportunity to debate the improvement in the growth forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility; the progress that we are making on cutting the deficit; the freeze on fuel duty all the way through to 2015, which will mean that the price of fuel will be 20p per litre lower by the end of the Parliament than under Labour’s plans; and the reduction in the burden of business rates. Like many colleagues in the House, I spoke to small businesses on Saturday who expressed their support for the reduction in business rates that the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement.
Such a debate would also give us the opportunity to talk about how we can raise living standards. That can be achieved only with a stronger economy. It comes ill from any representative of the Labour party who stands at that Dispatch Box to follow the example of the shadow Chancellor and fail to recognise—indeed, to be in complete denial of—the simple fact that the reason why living standards in this country have suffered is that the economy shrank under Labour, in the worst recession for a century, owing to a 7.2% reduction in national output. The only way in which we will be able to raise people’s living standards is by strengthening the economy, which the coalition Government are doing.
Finally, it was a bit rich of the hon. Lady to speak of a “fiasco” at the Department for Work and Pensions on a day when the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions could not decide whether the state pension would be inside or outside the welfare cap. She replied as she did because Labour has it in mind to curb increases in the state pension in order to raise benefits. That is not a judgment that the Government will make.
Finally, I recall that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—
Yes, two finallys for the price of one.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said yesterday that the shadow Secretary of State could not tell the difference between a write-off and a write-down—between a write-off and a depreciation. The Labour party is lecturing us about useless Government IT schemes after what it left! In the Department of Health, I had to take £2 billion out of the contract costs for an NHS IT scheme that was not delivering. Even after I had taken £2 billion out, we were still left with virtually £5 billion of committed contractual costs. The last Government could not run an IT scheme in a brewery!
Order. As usual, a great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I remind the House that there is a statement by the Chair of the Liaison Committee to follow and then two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. There is, therefore, heavy pressure on time and pithiness from Back and Front Benchers alike is imperative.
This morning we heard about cuts to the mental health budget. We are supposed to have a national health service that treats mentally ill people, young and old, in a respectful way. That requires resources. What will the Leader of the House do about the Government policy to cut those vital services?
The hon. Gentleman will remember that it was this Government who in 2012 for the first time introduced a requirement—a duty—in the NHS that mental health issues should have parity with physical health issues, and that must of course be reflected in the way that clinical commissioning groups commission services. There is a structural issue, however, that I experienced when I was Health Secretary and that I fear continues. Many of the services that are commissioned and paid for from NHS providers are paid for under a tariff. Therefore, if somebody requires treatment, the provider gets paid for that, but as a consequence, the clinical commissioning group—mental health services are substantially not on tariff—gets a block grant. After the tariff expenditure has been calculated by the commissioners, the amount available for the block grant is often being squeezed. That is why mental health providers wanted a tariff basis, although they have not yet got it consistently. I hope the commissioners, NHS England and Monitor will continue to make progress on that.
Although there are large companies in my constituency, Mid Derbyshire has a wide range of small and medium-sized businesses. George’s Tradition, a local chain of award-winning fish and chip shops, employs a large number of young people. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the abolition of national insurance contributions for under-21s?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and delighted that after the autumn statement last Thursday, on Tuesday we were able to table a new clause to the National Insurance Contributions Bill that will bring into law the opportunity to reduce national insurance contributions for those under 21 who earn less than £813 a week. As John Cridland of the CBI said:
“Abolishing a jobs tax on employing young people under 21 will make a real difference and help tackle the scourge of youth unemployment.”
That will be the second time in this Parliament that we have been able to abolish a jobs tax.
Last week it was reported that one in five hospital admissions are a result of alcohol abuse, and thousands of babies are still born every year damaged by alcohol consumed during the mother’s pregnancy. May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the Floor of the House in Government time on our serious and growing alcohol problems, and what the Government propose to do about them?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s continuing concern about the abuse of alcohol. The issue is not the overall consumption of alcohol in this country, but the extent to which there is abusive use of alcohol, and to which young people are accessing alcohol, and the consequences that flow from that. I cannot promise a debate immediately, but following the alcohol strategy that the Home Secretary announced last year, I look forward in the new year to further statements in the House on how we take that strategy forward.
Yesterday the UK hosted the G8 dementia summit, which had strong international support for the leadership shown by the Secretary of State for Health and the Prime Minister in putting dementia at the front of the G8, and the international challenge and fight against disease. May we have a statement or debate in the House to allow all parties to discuss how we can do more to change the way we think about dementia, from its being something that every old person gets to becoming a disease, like cancer or AIDS, that with effort, collective funding and new science and technology we will defeat?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I, like Members across the House, was impressed by the support brought together by this country and the Prime Minister in following the issue up at the G8 summit. Colleagues will recall the G8 summit on HIV/AIDS and how that led to a worldwide acknowledgement of the nature of the problem and the removal of stigma in addressing it, as well as investment in research and treatment. We need all of that and more for dementia, because the scale of the task and the challenge is immense and there is no time to lose. The pace at which an ageing population is leading to rising numbers of people with dementia means that immense costs will be associated with care if we do not make great improvements in research and treatment.
May we have a debate on the commissioning of the meningitis B vaccine, which is crucial for children? There are several such cases in my constituency and in the rest of Northern Ireland. Can time be made available for a debate?
I fear I cannot promise time to the hon. Lady immediately, but I recognise the problem. The Government in England and the devolved Administrations work closely together on the development of the vaccination programme. If I may, I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department of Health to correspond with her, sharing that with the Northern Ireland Health Minister.
Among other things, the purpose of Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is to make the system open, honest and transparent, reduce the cost of politics and help raise the standing of MPs with the public. In the light of IPSA’s announcement this morning of a 9.2% pay raise for MPs, along with a cost-neutral package of reforms, may we have a debate on whether IPSA is fit for purpose? It is totally out of touch with what is going on in the country, has not reduced the cost of politics and does nothing to contribute to raising the standing of MPs with such packages.
My hon. Friend will be aware that IPSA’s proposal is not a final determination, as the pay element is subject to a statutory review. We have made progress: in July, there was a package that would have cost more. IPSA has tried, as he will see in today’s publication, not to increase the cost of politics. Since it put the new scheme of costs and expenses in place, the cumulative reduction in total cost in the past three years is £35.8 million, so the cost of politics is being reduced. The Government are doing their bit. The Prime Minister and his colleagues reduced Ministers’ pay by 5%, compared with our predecessors, at the start of this Government, and that has been frozen for the life of this Parliament. There is a particular point relating to IPSA’s judgment on MPs’ pay at a time of continuing pay restraint in the public sector, on which it has to listen to party leaders.
Exactly a week ago, suspected al-Qaeda militants burst into a hospital in Sana’a killing 52 people, including all the doctors, nurses and patients. May we please have a debate next week on the situation in Yemen, and may I ask the Leader of the House not to ask me to raise this issue at Foreign Office questions? That would not help us. We need a debate next week.
I am sure Members understand fully the seriousness of the situation to which the right hon. Gentleman rightly refers. I cannot promise time for a debate next week, but I am sure he is aware that there is scope for such matters to be raised before the Adjournment next Thursday under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee.
Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the conduct of the Iraq war started in 2009 and has cost more than £8 million. The report was due to be published in 2012; a year later, there is still no sign of it. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister or the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), to come to the House to make a statement on when the report will be published, or on who or what is delaying publication?
Sir John Chilcot wrote to the Prime Minister on 4 November to update him on the inquiry. He reported that continuing discussions on certain classified documents had delayed what is known as the Maxwellisation process, and hence publication of the report. Members and the public can see that correspondence, which is published on the Iraq inquiry website. The Government are committed to giving Sir John as much time as he needs to finish his report. Readers of that correspondence will be aware that the Government continue to act in good faith to enable Sir John Chilcot to complete his inquiry as soon as he may.
I warmly congratulate the Government on announcing that the first same-sex marriages will take place on 29 March, not least because this is Norman Tebbit’s birthday—so that’s one in the eye for the bigots, isn’t it? Will the Government explain next week, however, why they are delaying for so long the introduction of the upgrades to same-sex marriages for those currently in civil partnerships? France managed to do it a week after legislating, so why are we taking 18 months?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for the announcement made by the Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), about the opportunity on 29 March. My recollection is that the legislation includes a requirement for a review of the situation relating to civil partnerships, so I suspect that is one thing that needs to be proceeded with in the first instance.
May we have an early debate on school transport? If a youngster passes an entrance exam to Clitheroe Royal grammar school, but lives more than three miles from it and has to go past another school on the way, they get no assistance with school transport costs, which is hugely discriminatory. We should be encouraging youngsters to attend the school of their choice.
Like other Members, I am aware of the issue my hon. Friend raises. It is often quite complex: there is not necessarily no help at all, but that help may be limited to those in low-income households. I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Education to reply to him about those issues and how they see us being able to help promote parental choice in relation to schools.
In the light of a constituency case, may I ask the Leader of the House to persuade the Secretary of State for Health to come to this House to make a statement on the lack of places available to sectioned juveniles? There appears to be a dearth of units around the country appropriate for that type of care, and commissioners have told me that they find it difficult, in the current health structure, to work out how best to place these young people.
I will raise that issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If, as the hon. Lady says, it relates to a constituency case, I am sure she will write to him—if she has not done so already—and I shall encourage him to respond on the particular case and the general point.
The autumn statement included commitments to investment in several much-needed improvements to roads in England, and the Welsh Government will take similar decisions in Wales. May we have a debate or written statement on the establishment of a process to deal with improvements across the border between England and Wales, which have collapsed as a consequence of devolution?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point that I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales about. I know he will share his interest in the issue. Devolution has many merits, but all of us in the devolved Administrations and the UK Government want to work together to deliver the infrastructure improvements we all want.
Will the Leader of the House indicate when we can have a debate on housing? I have raised this issue before. There are many people in this country who have no prospect of ever being able to afford a property, who have great difficulty accessing council or housing association properties and who therefore have no choice but to enter the unregulated and—in London—incredibly expensive private rented sector. May we have a debate on Government proposals, if there are any, to regulate the private rented sector, including through a cap on rents or at least some kind of fair rents formula?
Yes. I cannot at the moment promise the hon. Gentleman a statement, given the considerable pressure of legislative business, but when we can have one, I personally would welcome a debate on housing. One of the Government’s priorities is to turn around the 400,000-plus reduction in social housing under the last Government. We are setting out to ensure that more social and affordable housing is available, and we are seeing an increase of approximately one third in the number of planning approvals, which will sustain what I hope is now a rising trend from the position we inherited from the last Government on overall house building numbers.
May we have a debate on nuisance calls? Time and again, my constituents are being plagued by automated and unwarranted nuisance sales calls. These are often via unidentified numbers and can be particularly worrying for isolated people, especially the elderly who live on their own.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. He will know that tackling unsolicited marketing nuisance calls is being addressed through measures in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport strategy paper published in July, to which I referred in previous business questions, and through an action plan to be published shortly. I know that Members have gone to the Backbench Business Committee to seek a debate in order to influence the content of that action plan. My hon. Friend and others may well have a sympathetic hearing from the Backbench Business Committee.
The Leader of the House will be aware that, after two disastrous franchise agreements, rail services on the east coast main line have been publicly and successfully run since November 2009, achieving record levels of passenger satisfaction and returning hundreds of millions of pounds to the Treasury. May we have an early debate on the Government’s imminent plans to re-privatise the east coast main line service—against the best interests of the taxpayer and the passenger, and without full public consultation?
Given the launch of Formula E—an electric car racing championship, much like Formula 1—does the Lord Privy Seal agree that we should have an opportunity to promote a similar contest for aeroplanes made of composite materials and powered by electric batteries, because that is one way of pushing forward innovation in an exciting way, matching up our ambitions in the autumn statement?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He will know that the Government share his aspiration that by 2050, almost every car and van in the UK fleet will be an ultra-low emission vehicle. The huge UK automotive industry is at the forefront of the design, development and manufacture of such vehicles. The Government published in September their ultra-low emission strategy, “Driving the Future Today”. I have to say, however, that due to the limited capability of battery technology to store sufficient energy even for short flights, there is currently no prospect of which we are aware for commercial electric aircraft. However, I will encourage my colleagues at the Department for Transport to discuss his ambition further with him.
The Leader of the House obviously heard the shadow Leader of the House talking about yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the badger cull. Even the Chief Whip took the time to attend it. There is a demand and a real expectation on both sides of the House for this Chamber to have a lengthy debate on the issue. We all know about the plight of farmers, but we also realise that money is being wasted on this cull.
The Leader of the House will be aware that annuities are coming under increasing scrutiny. At a recent meeting of the all-party group on pensions, which I chair, it was made clear that millions of current and future pensioners would benefit considerably from improvements to annuities and from greater transparency, competition and flexibility. Will a Treasury Minister attend next week’s pre-recess debate, so that I can encourage the Treasury to focus on this area?
My hon. Friend raises a point of real importance. Many Members are, like me, aware of the pressure on annuitants buying annuities at times when yields can be relatively low, highlighting the importance of their getting the best possible deal, the best possible information and, frankly, the lowest possible charges. If my hon. Friend raised this issue in the pre-recess Adjournment debate, I cannot promise that a Treasury Minister would be there because my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House is going to respond to it. My hon. Friend could, however, be confident that if he raised the matter, Ministers would be made aware of it and would listen to what he had to say.
The education of 16 to 18-year-olds already receives 22% less funding than the education of those aged between five and 16. May we have an urgent debate on the impact of the 17% cut in funds for the education of 18-year-olds that was announced this week?
I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I will ensure that my colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills respond to the part of the hon. Gentleman’s question that was relevant to further education colleges, and that the Department for Education deals with his point about the overall distribution of education funding.
A business in my constituency has sadly fallen victim to a scam involving a bogus website, and I fear that such illegal activities are more widespread. Given the impact that cybercrime can have on small businesses, and given the work that the Cabinet Office is undertaking on cybercrime—it is set out in a written ministerial statement today—may we have a debate about this important issue on the Floor of the House?
As my hon. Friend knows, cybercrime is often under-reported. Action Fraud is a national reporting service run by the National Fraud Authority, a Home Office agency, to which members of the public and businesses can report fraud and financially motivated cybercrime either online or by telephone. The Government have announced a £4 million campaign to raise awareness of cybercrime among businesses and individuals, including young people, so that they can protect themselves better. It will be launched in January, supported by the private and voluntary sectors. I cannot promise a debate at this stage, but my hon. Friend will have noted that in January, members of the public and businesses will have an opportunity to be better informed.
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy, perhaps next week? Although the Energy Bill finally received Royal Assent this week, it has become apparent in the last couple of days that the future of Eggborough power station, which accounts for up to 4% of UK capacity, has been placed in jeopardy because of a unilateral, last-minute and unexplained change to the early contract for difference allocation process undertaken by officials at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Small business Saturday was a big success in the borough of Kettering last week, when local people came out to support their local traders. Given that the beneficial effects of every £1 spent in the local economy are worth £1.76, I am sure that the Leader of the House, like me, is supporting the campaign by the Federation of Small Businesses to keep trade local. The aim is to encourage people to buy locally from now until Christmas. Will he ensure that, throughout 2014, we have regular opportunities to highlight the good work and endeavour of local small businesses and traders?
Yes. I believe that we in South Cambridgeshire shared my hon. Friend’s experience, and I am sure that was the case throughout the country. Of course we want to support local businesses, but so do many consumers who require locally produced, well-differentiated goods. Small businesses are the economic powerhouse of the future. We have 400,000 more of them now, and small business formation is at a record level. That presents a tremendous prospect, as long as we continue to give those businesses the support they require.