House of Commons
Thursday 30 January 2014
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, Media and Sport was asked—
The Government have committed a further £250 million to extend superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by 2017. In addition, we are investing £10 million to find ways to provide superfast broadband to the hardest-to-reach and remotest premises.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s answer. Many homes and businesses are indeed benefiting from superfast broadband, but important local employers are not, such as the Nare hotel on the beautiful but remote Roseland peninsula. What further assurances can she give such businesses on how they can expect to receive superfast broadband?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in this. I think she will be pleased that the existing £132 million Superfast Cornwall project is already delivering superfast broadband to 82% of homes in her area, and there will be further opportunities to extend coverage with the additional £250 million that we have announced. Projects in her area will clearly be eligible to bid for such funding.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for those assurances. In my constituency of High Peak, which is very rural, many farms and businesses are in the last 10%. They have many other below-spec utilities, such as poor electricity supplies, and it is crucial they get good quality, fast broadband. It is as important for the last 10% as it is for the first 10%.
As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, the Government are already investing more than £7 million in superfast broadband in Derbyshire, and the additional money that we have pledged—£250 million—will give further coverage in his area, but it will be up to the local authority to ensure that it is targeted in the right way. I am sure he will work with the local authority to ensure that that is done well.
More than a third of all new properties benefiting from superfast broadband are in Wales. Will the Secretary of State applaud the Welsh Assembly Government for their success in that area, and what does she think she can learn from Wales for England?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing up the situation in Wales. Of course, the coalition Government are proud to have ensured that that funding was in place to make that happen for the people of Wales. As he will know, if it was up to the Labour party, all that the people of Wales would be receiving by now is 2 megabits, which would absolutely not have been right for businesses in his area.
There appear to be a large number of businesses and houses in my constituency, right in the centre of Edinburgh, that will not get superfast broadband in the foreseeable future. I have been in touch with the right hon. Lady’s Department, the Scottish Government, the council and BT, but nobody seems to be able to offer any hope that we will get superfast broadband. What is she going to do about it?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, it is important for the Scottish Government to address such issues. I was pleased to see BT pledge only this week to put an extra £50 million into exactly the sorts of areas he is talking about—city-centre areas where that is currently not commercially viable. I welcome that extra investment from BT.
18. While I obviously welcome progress on rural broadband, certain parts of my constituency, including the Lenches and Abbots Morton, are really struggling. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and key stakeholders in those areas to try to find some solutions? (902302)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have to keep up the pressure to ensure that we have superfast broadband where it is needed for all the different groups that can benefit. Either I or the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), would be delighted to meet her and her constituents, because we want to ensure, working with those providing this vital infrastructure service, that it is getting to the right people in a speedy manner.
The Secretary of State knows that 5 million people in rural areas still do not have broadband connection. Really, she must admit that the £10 million is just a stop—a sop, I mean—to divert attention from the devastating Public Accounts Committee report. Can she guarantee that the £250 million she mentioned will not all go to one provider, and can she explain how it is good value for money to pay £52 for a connection in a rural area but £3,000 for a connection in a super-connected city?
I am not sure that the shadow Minister had a total grasp of her question. Perhaps she needs to catch up with some of her councillors on the ground who have a better grasp than she does. I am particularly thinking of County Councillor Sean Serridge, a champion for digital inclusion in Lancashire—one of her councillors, I think—who has said that the work we are doing in his area
“is a great achievement and shows that we are well on the way to achieving our goal of providing 97 per cent of the county with superfast broadband by the end of next year.”
The difference between the hon. Lady and me is that we are getting on with it, while she is just still talking about it.
We are all very jolly in Cumbria that 93% of our homes will be connected to superfast broadband by this time next year. The fact that 7% will not be and will have a minimum of 2 megabits per second download speed should trouble us, particularly when we realise that that means an upload speed of only 0.2 megabits per second, which causes serious problems for businesses in areas that are not connected. What can my right hon. Friend do to guarantee that the 7% of businesses and residences that do not have superfast broadband are helped?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. That is why we have put in place a £10 million fund to look at how we can get to hard-to-reach places with new technology and new ways of doing things. He is right that superfast broadband is one of the most important infrastructure projects that this Government are putting in place. We are doing the hard work that the Labour party did not do when they were in government. The results speak for themselves: coverage in the UK is higher than in Germany, France, Italy and Spain and, what is more, our broadband lines are cheaper as well.
Betting Shops/Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
The Administrations for Scotland and Wales were consulted during the Government’s review of gaming machine stake and prize limits, which was published in October 2013, and my predecessor wrote to the Scottish Parliament on these issues in 2013.
The number of bookmakers in the city of Glasgow has increased by 20% in the past seven years, and millions of pounds have been lost from our poorest communities—a situation that has been replicated right across the United Kingdom. The city council has asked the Scottish Government for powers to limit the number of bookmakers in such communities, and I ask the Minister, when she next has contact with the Scottish Government, to work with them, so that there is co-ordinated action across the United Kingdom to empower local authorities with the ability to control the number of bookmakers in local areas to suit their circumstances.
I hear what the hon. Lady says, but we believe that local authorities are already so empowered. Local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales have powers to ensure public protection by using licensing conditions afforded by the Gambling Act 2005 brought in by the Government of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). However, planning is a devolved matter, and it is therefore for the Scottish Government to decide.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Will the Minister confirm that the recent independent health survey showed that considerably more of the richest people in the country played on fixed odds betting terminals than the poorest, unlike scratchcards, which 16-years-old can play and which considerably more of the poorest people in the country play than the richest? Does that not demonstrate that Labour Members’ problems with fixed odds betting terminals is not about who the money comes from to put into them, but about who the money goes to in terms of their prejudice against bookmakers? If the money from FOBTs went to good causes, would there be any campaign against FOBTs?
Will the Minister comment on the recent document published by William Hill, which for the first time recognises the social problems involved with the clustering of betting shops? It quite clearly says that this could be tackled by amendments and changes to the Gambling Act 2005.
I repeat what I have just said, which is that local authorities already have powers to control clustering and to control concerns on their high streets that need to be dealt with. Article 4 directions have been very recently used by Southwark and by Barking and Dagenham, while Newham has used licensing conditions very recently.
Does my hon. Friend agree that although it is quite legitimate for people to have concerns about the number of bookmakers on our high streets, the fact is that the number of bookmakers in this country in recent years has remained relatively stable at between 8,000 and 9,000, which is well below the peak of 16,000 in the 1960s?
The review of category B machines affects Scotland as much as any other part of the country. In answer to a question about FOBTs from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 8 January, the Prime Minister said:
“We will be reporting in the spring as a result of the review that is under way, and I think it is important that we get to grips with this.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2014; Vol. 573, c. 295.]
Will the Minister confirm that we will get to grips with FOBTs in betting shops in the spring and that, most importantly, that will include a review of the £100 stake and £500 prize money maximums?
We have been getting to grips with that since we came to power in 2010. For the record, in 1997 there were no FOBTs, yet by 2010, when the Labour party was removed from power, there were more than 30,000. I am afraid that I will not take any lessons from the shadow Minister, as we are the ones who are gathering the evidence, pushing the industry to provide data and taking problem gambling seriously for the first time.
We have not made an assessment, but I assure the hon. Lady that we take very seriously the need for regulation that is fit for purpose, especially on content that is seen by children and young people. The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice has specific codes on advertising to children, which are administered independently by the Advertising Standards Authority.
But the number of gambling commercials has increased by about 1.3 million since 2005 and doubled since 2010. Will the Minister back Labour’s call for a review of pre-watershed gambling advertising to ensure that those adverts are not influencing children to gamble?
I assure the hon. Lady that we are working with the Gambling Commission, the Advertising Standards Authority and Ofcom to examine the impact that such advertising may be having on the licensing objectives in the Gambling Act 2005, which include the protection of children and vulnerable people.
The UK’s cultural and sporting assets are of enormous value in cultural diplomacy. They enhance the UK’s influence, reputation and soft power around the world.
The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games and the enduring success of the premier league ably demonstrate how British sport can put us on the world map. Does the Secretary of State agree that more can be done to exploit our sporting reputation through the British Council as a means of extending British influence overseas?
My hon. Friend is right to recognise the valuable role that London 2012 played in taking Britain’s image around the world. It is an enduring legacy. He is also right that we can do more, and the British Council, together with UK Sport and national governing bodies, can certainly do a great deal to enhance and strengthen our influence. The sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), recently met the chief executive officer of the British Council to discuss precisely that.
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the potential role of the UK’s cultural and sporting assets in advancing human rights, specifically lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights? There is some evidence that in Africa and the Caribbean in particular things are going backwards on gay rights, not forwards. Surely some soft diplomacy on the issue could help.
The hon. Lady raises an extremely important point. We want to increase participation in cultural and sporting activities for all, and that is at the heart of the work that the Arts Council and Sport England are doing. She is also right to say that LGBT rights in particular have a natural partnership with culture, and I have been examining that, particularly in this, the year of culture that we have with Russia.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that soft power is all the more important in increasing understanding between ourselves and countries with which we may have differences of view? She has just referred to the forthcoming UK-Russia year of culture. May I invite her and the shadow Secretary of State to join me at the launch of that event in this place on 24 February, in advance of her attending the winter Olympics in Sochi?
My hon. Friend’s invitation is kind, and I will certainly see whether I am able to attend that event, although I think he will know that the games start next week.
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a huge opportunity to utilise the role of culture in developing our relations with a whole host of nations. I was pleased to sign a cultural agreement with my counterpart on my recent visit to China, and in the past 12 months we have also signed a cultural agreement with South Korea. He is right that the UK-Russia year of culture will be an enormously important opportunity.
I have been slightly pre-empted by other Members mentioning the UK-Russia year of culture. It was reported in December that Sir Ian McKellen was advised by the Foreign Office not to travel to Russia because he is gay. How does the Secretary of State think we can use cultural diplomacy to overcome some of the issues with LGBT rights in Russia, and should we not use people such as Sir Ian and encourage him to go to Russia to make the case?
I am not aware that the FCO would make that sort of advice available to people, although it is obviously important that we advise people on security issues, as we do in relation to many nations. The hon. Lady is right to say that we can use culture and cultural links to advance many human rights issues. When I visited Moscow and St Petersburg in December to discuss the year of culture, I used that opportunity to meet a wide selection of human rights organisations, including those that support people on issues of domestic violence.
Football Governance and Finance
I will continue to work with football authorities to press for improvements in the game. They have made some significant changes, but my expectation is that they can, and will, make further progress. We will move to legislate if football fails in that task.
I am sure the Minister knows about the dispute between Coventry city council and Coventry football club, since I and my colleagues have made representations to her Department in the past. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on football governance from July 2011 found the Football Association in need of urgent reform and called on the Government to introduce legislation if drastic changes were not made. In April 2013, the then sports Minister stated that he agreed with the Committee and that his officials had started working up a draft Bill. Where is the Bill? Let us have some action.
Football authorities introduced reforms in August last year, including smaller boards and a new licensing system to deal with ownership, financial matters and supporter liaison and engagement. A start has been made, but much more needs to be done. As I have stated, if more is not done there is always the option to legislate.
Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), will the Minister consider publishing the draft Bill and supporting documentation referred to by the previous sports Minister and place them in the House of Commons Library?
There is all-party support for the changes to football legislation mentioned in the Select Committee report and I urge the Minister to keep the pressure on. Otherwise, experience shows that football authorities think we have gone away. Football supporters want to see change.
Whether it is financial mismanagement that results in clubs losing their grounds, or bonkers owners trying to change team names or team colours, surely it is time for parliamentary intervention to protect the rights and interests of fans.
Will the Minister join me in endorsing the Swansea City football club model in which the supporters trust owns 20% of the club and sits on the board of directors? Last year the club reported a profit of £15.3 million, following a £14.6 million profit the previous year. Surely that is the way forward for football governance.
That sounds a very interesting model and, of course, it is for football authorities to agree what works best. I think there is a place for all types of ownership, and supporters will always have the best interests of their clubs at heart. I am delighted that AFC Wimbledon, Brentford and Exeter City are now owned fully or partly by supporters. I have had recent meetings with Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation, and I look forward to working with them closely on a number of projects.
I continue to work with the football authorities to press for improvements. I deplore all forms of bad behaviour on the football pitch, including that directed towards referees. I welcome the FA’s recent work on respect within the game, including reducing assaults against referees by 21% since 2011.
In recent months, two referees officiating the Nuneaton and district Sunday league have been badly assaulted by players. Because those incidents take place on the pitch, the authorities do not apply the same gravity to them as they would if they happened elsewhere. What more can the Minister do to protect referees in the amateur game?
I am appalled to hear of the physical assaults against those two referees, who have no doubt done excellent work in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The FA and Sport England have invested £60 million in the programme on raising standards. I would also welcome the full protection of the law for officials wherever attacks take place to ensure that community football is safe and enjoyable.
Broadband (Rural Economy)
We published an impact study last year. It showed that, in a decade’s time, the rural gross value added will be £3.3 billion—in 2013 prices—greater than it would otherwise have been. No doubt my hon. Friend welcomes the £10 million we are investing in broadband in Kent to help achieve that.
I welcome the Minister’s answer. Businesses in my constituency of Dover and Deal complain persistently about the appalling service provided by BT on connections, line speeds and fixing things when they go wrong. What more can he do to ensure that BT delivers as promised?
My hon. Friend rightly raises that issue regularly. The Government work with Ofcom and BT Openreach to ensure that the highest standards are maintained. There are occasional problems, which we work on, but BT did a good job over Christmas and new year during the floods.
We are putting £500 million into broadband. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out in her answer to the Opposition spokesman, Labour councillors up and down the country are applauding our fantastic work. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would want to join them in applauding us on how quickly the roll-out programme is going.
National Lottery Act 1993
The Government most recently amended the National Lottery Act 1993 in 2010 to restore the lottery shares for arts, sports and heritage good causes to 20%, reversing Labour’s cuts. Together with strong lottery ticket sales, the change has meant that funding for those areas has risen significantly since the beginning of the Parliament.
I welcome the 2010 changes, but will the Minister also consider the Culture, Media and Sport Committee report from a couple of years ago? The health lottery effectively markets itself as a national lottery, yet it does not give the same proportion of money to good causes or of tax to the Government. Will he look at the situation again? It desperately needs changing for the benefit of all.
I hear what my hon. Friend says. Hon. Members agree that society lotteries play an important and successful role in raising money for local charities, whereas the national lottery serves a different purpose. The erosion of the distinction between society lotteries and commercial gambling makes it clear that any consultation on society lotteries would need to be more wide ranging. We have therefore asked the Gambling Commission to advise us on how the national lottery, society lotteries and commercial gambling markets interact. We will assess that advice and, if necessary, frame a consultation document.
I declare an interest as chair of the John Clare Trust—it is John Clare’s 150th anniversary this year. We have received a lot of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. I was against the lottery when it came out, and I was wrong.
As an aside, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) wins the prize for heckle of the year. I will certainly look into the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). It is important that hon. Members have access to lottery distributors to press their cases.
If I did not know of the link of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) with the John Clare Trust, I would have a quite serious problem both with my short-term and long-term memory, as he has mentioned it several hundred times in the deliberations of the House.
Will the Minister undertake to discuss with the Northern Ireland Executive particular issues relating to the operation of the Big Lottery Fund in Northern Ireland? If he has, will he update the House on the result of those discussions?
Arts and Culture
Over the life of this Parliament, the Government are investing nearly £3 billion of public and lottery funding in the arts in England; £2.3 billion in museums; and more than £2.1 billion in our heritage. We are championing the role that culture plays in the economic, social and cultural life of our country.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Harlow is the cultural capital of the east of England? [Interruption.] Oh yes. Not only are we officially a sculpture town where the family of Henry Moore reside, we are the birthplace of fibre-optic communications. Will my right hon. Friend come to Harlow to visit the excellent Gibberd gallery, Gatehouse Arts and Parndon Mill, so she can see for herself the excellence of art in Essex?
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of his constituency. I will do everything I can to come and support the work he is doing to support culture and the arts in his area. We should recognise that culture, the arts and our heritage play an intrinsically important role in all our constituencies. We all have a duty to support them.
May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to research, published today by the shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, which shows that the most deprived communities will suffer the biggest cuts to their councils’ spending power? As council funding is even more important for the arts than central Government funding, this will have a massive impact on the arts in those areas, especially as they are the least able to mobilise philanthropy and people have less money in their pockets to spend on participating in the arts. With the lion’s share of Arts Council funding going to London, what will the Secretary of State do to back up councils and support their vital work in trying to ensure that the arts are for all and flourish in deprived, as well as well-off, areas?
The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to say that it is important that every community has the opportunity to appreciate the importance of arts, culture and heritage, and that this is at the heart of the work of the Arts Council. She is right that some, perhaps less enlightened, councils are not investing as they should, and I hope she would join me in encouraging all to recognise the importance of culture and heritage, and support them through these difficult times. I would, however, pick her up on something. We are doing what we can to redress the situation we inherited. Some 70% of the Arts Council’s lottery investment now goes to projects outside London. Sir Peter Bazalgette has made it clear that he will be doing much more on that, but obviously we cannot change overnight the situation we inherited.
In 2004, English Heritage considered the question of disposal of all 44 bishops’ houses by the Church Commissioners and reported that the eight historically most significant, including the Bishop’s Palace in Wells, should be kept in use. Will the Secretary of State meet me to clarify what advice her Department has received from English Heritage on what is meant by keeping a palace in use, and whether, pursuant to English Heritage’s ongoing conversation with the Church Commissioners, that means being used by our bishops?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The bishops’ palaces are an important part of our cultural heritage. I was in Wells recently meeting pupils of the Cathedral school benefiting from the music and dance scheme funded by the Department for Education. Wells has a proud tradition, and on this matter I will try to support her.
Betting Shops/Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
The Government are working with local authorities on how to make best use of existing planning and licensing powers in regard to betting shops.
Does the Minister agree that the clustering of betting shops and FOBTs in high streets in cities such as Hull is having a detrimental effect, and will she now support the Opposition’s call to give local authorities more power to control the number opening?
Local authorities already have powers, such as article 4 directions and licensing conditions. The hon. Gentleman is complaining about the number of betting shops and FOBTs on high streets, but it was his party’s Gambling Act 2005 and his party’s liberalisation and relaxing of the rules that got us into this position in the first place.
There is clear evidence of the huge value of the UK’s creative industries in the updated figures we released earlier this month, which revealed that they are now worth more than £70 billion each year to our economy. British creativity can be seen all around the world; so, too, can British sporting success, and next week I will be travelling to Sochi to support Team GB. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing them good luck.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Tourism is a vital part of our economy. We have invested £137 million in our international GREAT campaign, but we also need to ensure that constituencies such as his, which have been hit by the recent problematic weather, receive support so that they can continue to be attractive tourist destinations.
T2. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Manchester on attracting a world-class game developer to the UK? PlaygroundSquad will train 60 young people a year—some of them from Oldham, I hope—to work in the creative gaming industry. Does he agree that Manchester’s vision to be a digital production hub is helping to establish UK plc as the creative capital of Europe, and that these developments and industries will sustain our economic recovery, not a return to growth based on consumer debt? (902304)
The Government are extremely grateful for the hon. Lady’s support for our policies. We are looking forward to an announcement shortly on the video games tax credits to go alongside the television, animation and film tax credits, which have done so much to support our creative industries, with the support of Manchester city council, which plays a key role in helping to support creative industries in that part of the world.
T3. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the creative industries are now worth more than £70 billion to the UK economy, and would she care to comment on the success of the creative industries and what support the Government can provide so that they can continue that success? (902305)
I am delighted to say that, as we have already announced, the creative industries are now worth £70 billion to this country. It is one of the fastest-growing sectors. It is a little surprising that the Opposition are launching their second review into the creative industries—industries they said were at risk from global pressures—but I am delighted that the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) only last week endorsed our policies when she said that our creative industries were a huge success story. Perhaps that is the result of four years of a Conservative-led Government. We should not return to the idea of—
T6. Violent attacks on betting shop workers are on the rise and single-staffing policies mean that many have minimal protection from harm. Yet in many shops operators have not installed protective screens for their staff until after an incident has occurred. Will the Minister look at requiring all betting shops to install screens for the safety and benefit of the staff? (902308)
Local authorities that are concerned about any betting shop can use their licensing conditions, which were used very successfully by Newham when it had concerns about crime, antisocial behaviour and under-age gambling. With regard to the number of staff in shops, licensing conditions can again be used.
T4. In the last four years, over 600 businesses have advertised on Brighton’s excellent Juice FM. Will the Minister join me and the Advertising Association in encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to use our diverse local media to publicise their businesses? (902306)
The Advertising Association has today issued a report showing how important advertising is for small and medium-sized businesses. My hon. Friend graphically illustrates that with the example from his constituency, particularly using the excellent local radio station Juice FM.
T7. Arts funding in London is £70 per head. In the rest of the country, it is £4.60 a head. In the north-west, that has led to reductions in funding for organisations as diverse as North West Playwrights, the Manchester Camerata and even the Wordsworth Trust. What is the Secretary of State going to do to address these anomalies and to make it clear to the arts funding organisations that culture does not stop at the M25? (902309)
Statistics can be used in many ways. If one looks at the funding per visitor to visitor attractions, one sees that the funding for London is very low. Manchester and the north-west have many thriving cultural institutions including the Manchester Camerata, which is ably led by its chairman Bob Riley. He is doing so much to promote philanthropy and is getting the Manchester Camerata to work with schools and health services, which I am sure the hon. Lady knows about.
T5. One of my favourite bands is Muse. When I recently Googled “Muse MP3 download”, nine of the 10 sites listed were illegal. Is there something more that my right hon. Friend can do to encourage companies such as Google and Yahoo to remove those illegal sites from their listings? (902307)
I share my hon. Friend’s concern about sites that contain illegal material, and I raised that directly with Google when I visited it last year. The Government are acting decisively, particularly with the police IP crime unit, to remove payment facilities from illegal sites and to prevent advertising from appearing. We think more can be done and we will continue to press Google to play a full role.
T8. Will the Secretary of State confirm that one third of the superfast broadband is now happening in Wales not, contrary to his assertions, due to the Secretary of State for Wales, but due to Ken Skates the Labour Minister there? (902310)
I would gently remind the right hon. Gentleman that funding for these projects is distributed using the Barnett formula to make sure that Wales gets the share that it really needs. Of course we continue to work with the Welsh Government to make sure that that is done correctly.
T9. Does my hon. Friend agree that London is the premier tourist attraction for the whole world and, with a massive 63% of visitors to the UK coming to London, that that contributes directly to the UK economy? What more can she do to ensure that that is protected and enhanced for the good of the economy overall? (902311)
I welcome London’s incredible success in attracting so many visitors. It is important for that success to continue. The Government promote the UK, including London, through the GREAT campaign, which has just received a 49% increase in funding from the Chancellor.
A family contacted me recently about their mother who had become addicted to online bingo and had gambled away tens of thousands of pounds. They asked me to highlight to Ministers not only the issue of daily limits, but just how hard it was, with the mother’s permission, to close these accounts, with bingo operators repeatedly trying to hook her back in with offers and emails. Will the Minister look at the issue?
I am happy to look at all issues of this nature but I remind the hon. Lady that the remote gambling Bill will require all operators selling online gambling to British consumers to hold a Gambling Commission licence and to comply with conditions that include having policies, procedures and practices to promote socially responsible gambling.
T10. The Secretary of State will be aware that the England cricket team ran into a spot of bother in Australia, and did not manage to retain the Ashes. Will she join me in congratulating the England women’s team, who did retain the Ashes in Australia this week, and who have given all English cricket fans a team to be proud of? (902312)
Further to Question 11, would it not be sensible to give councils the power to say that there must be no more gambling shops in their areas because saturation point has been reached? That would not mean stopping gambling shops per se; it would merely impose a limit which does not exist in planning legislation at present, whatever the Minister may think.
In Somerset, we now know which areas will not benefit from the roll-out of high-speed broadband. Some of them have been in the news over the past couple of days. When the Secretary of State distributes the funds that she has available for the last 10% of the population in rural areas, will she please not do so on the basis of an elaborate bidding system, and will she please not ask for match funding from rural areas, where it will simply never happen?
My hon. Friend, who speaks with passion about this subject, will know that we have already committed ourselves to spending an additional £250 million on starting to address that last 10%, and to an additional £10 million budget for the hardest-to-reach areas. We must of course ensure that the money is used wisely, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to use it to fill the gaps that the commercial providers simply cannot reach.
The outstanding Nottingham Playhouse faces threats, if not to its whole future, to its ability to commission and stage new work as a result of the Government’s local authority cuts. What is the Secretary of State doing to support councils such as mine which want to promote new work and new talent in our region?
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Sochi Winter Olympics
Along with the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), who is sports Minister—I shall be attending the winter Olympics in Sochi to support our Team GB athletes. The sports Minister and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who is Minister for disabled people, will also attend the Paralympics to support our Paralympic GB athletes.
I share my right hon. Friend’s concern about the protection of human rights for LGBT people in Russia. I have raised the issue personally both with Ministers and with non-governmental organisations, as have my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Over the coming months, Stonewall will be developing a programme of activities which it will seek to deliver to human rights defenders in Russia, to help them to support LGBT people in the country. Stonewall’s work is being made possible by support from our coalition Government.
Charming as the Secretary of State and the sports Minister are—[Interruption.] I did not mean to be patronising; I meant to be rude, actually. Charming as they are, would it not make far more sense to take a leaf out of President Obama’s book, and to include John Amaechi, Nicola Adams, Tom Daley, Gareth Thomas and Clare Balding in the delegation, in order to make the point that those who know what it is to enjoy the freedom to live your life as you want in this country have something to offer the rest of the world in Russia?
The hon. Gentleman will know that it is very important that Team GB see that the British Government are behind them every step of the way. I make no apology for the fact that the Minister for sport and I are going to the winter Olympics. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in saying that the team have our very best wishes.
Non-gender Specific Documents
Non-gender is not recognised in UK law. The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination if it arises from their being perceived as either male or female. We recognise that a very small number of people consider themselves to be of neither gender. We are not aware that that results in any specific detriment, and it is not Government policy to identify such people for the purpose of issuing non-gender-specific official documents.
There is a wider point to make. This week, when Hayley Cropper’s funeral takes place on “Coronation Street”, would it not be a good time for the Government to announce that they are taking further steps to reinforce and implement their transgender plan of action, and perhaps to consult on the format of official documents? When can we expect further thought on this matter and a statement?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), and I regularly meet many different groups, including those that represent people of transgender. I gently say to him that, in some circumstances, the Government need to collect gender information to ensure that they target resources correctly and fund public services accurately, for example when estimating pensions. Gender information can also help with identification. That is why we continue to believe that it is necessary to collect that information.
Why will the Minister not follow the lead of Germany and Australia and enable parents to register their child as “x” when they are neither obviously male or female? That would remove the pressure to make a hasty decision on gender immediately after birth.
The hon. Lady will know that there are provisions for parents who face such challenges. Her Majesty’s Passport Office carried out an internal review of gender markings for passports. A copy of the review has been laid in the House so that Members may refer to it. It concluded that there would be no significant advantages to including a non-gender specification. Of course, we will continue to look at the matter. I am sure that my colleagues in the Home Office and other Departments that issue such documentation will have listened carefully to the comments that have been made today.
BAME Groups (Labour Market)
The ethnic minority employment stakeholder group supports the Government’s ethnic minority employment strategy. The group meets regularly and reports progress to the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), who has responsibility for employment.
Back in November, an inquiry report published by the all-party parliamentary group on race and community and the Runnymede Trust found that discrimination was present at every stage of the recruitment process. What plans does the Minister have to tackle illegal discrimination, and what new approaches is he developing to tackle BAME unemployment through the Work programme?
To answer the second part of the question first, we look at each individual case. Evidence has shown that that approach has been much more successful in getting people, particularly those from the black community, into work. If there is discrimination, there is legislation on the statute book to deal with it. It should be reported to us and we will take action.
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but his figure is not quite correct, because 80% of that 51% of young black men are in full-time education. That is what is actually going on. We need to work hard on individuals and ensure that the discrimination that the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) referred to does not take place. We must work together to do that and that is what we intend to do.
In some areas of the country, we have work to do in respect of unemployment. We are working very hard on that. We need to work together. One area that is of particular concern to me is the high unemployment rate in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, particularly among women. One reason for that, although not the only reason, is that there are language issues. We need to work on that closely in our constituencies, which I am doing in my constituency, because English is not usually spoken fully by ladies in those two communities.
Online Abuse of Women
We have made it clear that we expect social media companies to respond quickly and robustly to incidents of abusive behaviour on their networks. We will be inviting a number of social media companies to discuss what more can be done to protect all users, including young people and women, online.
Oh behalf of my own party, may I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister? Liberal Democrats do not, and will never, tolerate the abuse of women in the workplace. Does my hon. Friend agree that the abuse of women and others online should be treated in the same way as offline abuse, and will he tell us what he can do about it?
Yes, I do agree with the hon. Lady, which is why I welcome the recent convictions of John Nimmo and Isabella Sorley, which clearly demonstrate that threatening or harassing behaviour is illegal, whether online or offline. Last year, the Crown Prosecution Service made 2,000 prosecutions under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the recent excellent debate in the Chamber on cyber-bullying, during which we heard some harrowing examples of victimisation. Will he now meet representatives of the social media companies, as he did with the internet service providers last year, to see what more can be done to tackle this issue?
Yes, we certainly intend to have that meeting with the social media companies and, particularly, to put in place procedures giving people a clear ability to report abuse and procedures to ensure that they are responded to in good time. It is important to emphasise that the Government take cyber-bullying extremely seriously. That is why we introduced new powers for teachers in the Education Act 2011.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his last answer, which deals with some of the problems I have seen involving young people being targeted by Twitter trolls—for want of a better term—and teachers not being entirely clear about how to report this and support the young people in question. Will the Minister confirm that, as part of his discussions, he will continue to have meetings with colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that teachers right across the piece, down to primary school level, know how to deal with this issue?
Yes, we have regular meetings with colleagues in the Department for Education, who work tirelessly on the issues of cyber-bullying and bullying in general. It is important to stress that Ofsted now holds schools to account for how well they behave in relation to bullying. It is also important to note, in the spirit of the hon. Lady’s question, that we help teachers to help their pupils, particularly when they are subject to abuse online.
I hope that the Minister will be aware of the report from End Violence Against Women, “New Technology: Same Old Problems”. One issue that the report highlighted was the sharing of intimate pictures online, suggesting that even if the person in the photograph had originally consented to it being taken, they ought to have the right to object to it being posted online, and that the internet service provider or the website should co-operate with them in getting it removed.
I am aware of that report, and that is another important issue that is worth raising with social media companies. There is a debate in Europe at the moment on the future of data protection regulations, and it is important to put on the table the issue of people being able to retrieve their data from websites to which they have freely given them.
Following on from the very good debate that we had in the House on cyber-bullying and from the question that the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) has just asked about plans for a meeting, is it not the case that the Minister and all of us need to do more to educate and help not only teachers but parents about these dangers? Should we not also be helping parents to understand their responsibilities and advising them on what more they can do to protect their children?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The work we have done with ISPs has been to give parents the tools on how to block sites. I am particularly pleased that the main ISPs have come together and put £25 million on the table to begin a campaign—I think it starts this spring—to educate parents who, for many reasons, are not as familiar with the technology as are their own children.
Child Care Provision
The Government want parents to be able to access affordable child care so that they can afford to work while knowing their child is in a safe and stimulating environment. The Department for Culture Media and Sport provides grants to those wishing to set up a new child care business and the Department for Education is increasing child care provision by: simplifying the rules so nurseries can expand more easily; enabling good and outstanding childminders to access Government funding for early years places to make care cheaper for parents; and legislating to create childminder agencies to give parents and childminders more choice.
As I understand it, there are 500 more after-school clubs than there were at the time of the last election, which is a 5% increase over the past couple of years. The Department for Education is working extremely closely with schools to encourage the increase of breakfast clubs, wraparound care and after-school clubs as they make it far easier for a large number of parents to work while their children are in a safe and protected environment.
As a working mother under the previous Government, I was painfully aware of how child care costs became the most expensive in Europe. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s introduction of tax-free child care really helps working parents get the affordable quality child care they need?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is not the only thing the Government have done to ensure that child care is affordable. By increasing the number of hours of free Government-funded child care to which three and four-year olds are entitled, parents are saving nearly £400 a year more. Furthermore, by introducing extra free child care for disadvantaged two-year-olds, parents save £2,400 a year, which makes a significant difference to the families of some of the most deprived young children.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker. Since the last election, the cost of nursery places has risen five times faster than pay, and there are 35,000 fewer child care places. Given that so many women are forced out of work because of unaffordable child care, will the Minister back our plans to provide 25 hours of child care for all three and four-year-olds of working parents?
I do not recognise the figures highlighted by the hon. Lady. The latest figures from the Department for Education show that there are 100,000 more child care places. According to the latest figures, there were 2 million child care places in 2011, which was a 5% increase on 2009, so the number of child care places has increased. As the mother of two young children, I totally appreciate that the cost of child care can be an excessive burden on families. However, the Government have done a lot to offer support and are doing more with the offer of tax-free child care from next year, which will make a significant difference to the amount that parents have to pay for their child care.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Mesothelioma Act 2014
Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014
European Union (Approvals) Act 2014
Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014
Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2014.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 3 February—Second Reading of the Deregulation Bill.
Tuesday 4 February—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, followed by a debate on a motion relating to energy company charges for payment other than by direct debit. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 5 February—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on the NHS, followed by a debate entitled “Job insecurity and the cost of living”. Both debates will arise on an official Opposition motion.
Thursday 6 February—General debate on Scotland’s place in the UK, followed by a general debate on international wildlife crime. The subjects for both debates have been determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 7 February—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 10 February—Consideration of Lords amendments.
Tuesday 11 February—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 12 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.
Thursday 13 February—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 14 February—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing what little Government business there is for next week. An analysis by the House of Commons Library has revealed that this Government spend a third less time debating Government legislation than the previous Government. Is that because they have run out of ideas or because they are too busy arguing among themselves to produce any positive proposals?
The Immigration Bill was once considered the centrepiece of Lynton Crosby’s legislative agenda, but eight months on from the Queen’s Speech the Bill is in disarray. Having been in suspended animation for two months, it returns today with more than 50 amendments tabled at the last minute by a Government running scared of their own mutinous Back Benchers. Almost uniquely, it comes back to the Floor of the House without a second programme motion that would have guaranteed debate on all parts of the Bill. That means that we will not have time to consider crucial issues such as the wrong-headed abolition of first-tier tribunal appeals in immigration cases.
Will the Leader of the House now admit what I and many of his Back Benchers already know: that less than five hours is simply not enough time to debate the amendments to the Bill? Perhaps he could tell us why he has not scheduled more time when there is plenty of spare time next week to ensure that all amendments tabled get a proper hearing in this Chamber? Will he now schedule extra time? Surely he cannot be afraid of his own Back Benchers.
The winter Olympics in Sochi get under way next week and I am looking forward to cheering on our Olympic and Paralympic athletes, but we cannot ignore the homophobic laws that the Russian Government have recently passed and the resulting vicious crackdown. In an attempt to downplay that law, President Putin has assured us that some of his best friends are gay while praising Elton John as an “extraordinary person”. The mayor of Sochi has claimed that there are no gay people in his town at all. Surely when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are oppressed, assaulted and killed in Russia, it is our duty to stand up for them. Will the Leader of the House outline what the Government will be doing to make our views on the unacceptability of that repression crystal clear to President Putin?
Nearly four years ago, the Chancellor predicted that by now the economy would have grown by 8.4%. This week, we learned that he has achieved 3.3%. Four years ago, the Chancellor promised he would eliminate the deficit by the end of the Parliament. He is now telling us that it will take nearly twice as long. Yesterday, the Governor of the Bank of England pointed out that the “consumer spending boom” that the Chancellor has unleashed is unsustainable and on Monday the Business Secretary broke ranks and warned that with no rebalancing in sight the Government are presiding over the wrong sort of recovery.
Instead of fixating on statistics in a doomed attempt to tell people that they are really better off, should not the Government be promising that there will be no further tax cuts for millionaires? Or will they just admit that under a Tory government all we will get is tax cuts for the few and falling living standards for the many? Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on what on earth the Chancellor could mean by the phrase, “We’re all in this together”?
Recent floods have caused anguish for people up and down the country and the weather forecast means that things looks likely to get worse over the next few days. Last night it emerged that the Somerset Levels, which have been flooded for almost a month, will now get assistance from the military. It comes to something when it takes a PR disaster by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to get the Government finally to do the right thing for the people of Somerset.
The Environment Secretary claims that he has been spending more than ever on flood defences, but total spending on flood protection has fallen by as much as £100 million. The Government have almost halved spending on river maintenance, and it has emerged that a year ago they ignored a report that specifically mentioned the need for dredging in Somerset. He may have been outwitted by badgers moving the goalposts, but even so, may we have a statement from the Environment Secretary about what he plans to do to get a grip on his brief?
Mr Speaker, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the England women’s cricket team on their outstanding performance in retaining the Ashes? What does that say about never leaving men to do a woman’s job? I am sure that the Leader of the House will tell us how the Government plan to honour their success.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader for her response to the business statement, in particular for giving us notification of the debates next Wednesday so that the House knows them well in advance. I welcome the debate on job insecurity, which no doubt for the Opposition will be led by the shadow Chancellor.
The hon. Lady asked about time spent on legislation. As far as I can see, the amount of time spent debating legislation in this Parliament looks set to be almost the same overall as in the last Parliament—about 3,200 hours, although it is not terribly sensible to measure the quality of legislation by the amount of time spent debating it, not least as many Public Bill Committees have finished early, and we have devoted more time to debate on Bills on the Floor of the House, as distinct from in Committee.
The shadow Leader asked about the Immigration Bill, which we brought back, as we anticipated we would in the programme motion—she said that there was not a programme motion—passed by the House on 22 October. Often, when we table additional programme motions that have the effect of inserting knives into the programme, we are criticised; when I do not bring a programme motion to the House and do not insert knives, the shadow Leader complains. It is perfectly normal to proceed on the basis of the programme motion set at the commencement of debate on a Bill.
The hon. Lady also asked about the winter Olympics. I was not in the House at that moment, but I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport about the matter, as indeed did the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have made clear to the House the support that we are giving to gay groups and organisations in Russia. I hope that our support for them and for human rights generally is transparent, including arguing for the defence of human rights in Russia.
The shadow Leader of the House asked about the floods, which we have discussed in previous business questions in response to questions from my hon. Friends. She and the House will have heard in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday what the Prime Minister said we would be doing about that. I can reiterate that we are spending £2.4 billion in this four-year spending period, which is more than the £2.2 billion spent by the previous Government in the previous four-year period. The partnership funding approach has brought in a further £180 million of external money. That means that more is being spent on flood risk management than ever before.
The hon. Lady also asked about reducing the deficit. I thought that was probably a bit of an own goal on the part of the shadow Leader of the House, when it has become obvious that the Institute of Fiscal Studies has not only demolished Labour’s 50p tax rate policy but has found out the shadow Chancellor for the way he constructed his plan for reducing the deficit. It does not involve reducing the deficit at all—by no more than about a third of what is required—because it leaves out entirely borrowing for investment, which is absurd. The amount of borrowing is the amount of borrowing. We have to reduce the deficit. The Labour Government left us with the largest deficit in the OECD, and they continue not to understand the nature of the economic problems that they created in the past and would create again in the future. More borrowing leads to more taxes, which leads to cutting this country’s economic security, but we need to give people a greater sense of security.
We are only a month into 2014, and I wish that next week’s Opposition day did not reflect the Labour party’s desire to shift the debate away from the economy, which grew by 1.9% in 2013. There are 1.6 million more people employed in the private sector and, according to a Lloyds TSB survey, business confidence is at its strongest since 1994. Inflation has hit its 2% target and the International Monetary Fund has confirmed that Britain is the fastest-growing major European economy. We are pursuing a long-term economic plan that will reduce the deficit, cut taxes, create more jobs, make welfare work, and deliver better schools and skills, but all we have from the Labour party is more taxes, more borrowing and, I am afraid, more debt.
Order. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, my normal practice is to call everyone in this session to put a question. However, today we have important matters appertaining to the Immigration Bill to consider and a pretty constrained timetable in which to do so. I cannot do anything about that, but it would help if we had brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike. I warn colleagues in advance that it might not be possible to accommodate everyone at business questions on this occasion because I have to take account of the next business.
Will the Leader of the House, on behalf of the Government, take the opportunity to make a statement in defence and support of the Queen and the royal family, and the amazingly good value that they provide to the United Kingdom, and the territories and realms? Will he set out that any underfunding is due to a failure of Governments properly to fund the royal family, and dissociate himself from the disrespectful and unwarranted report published by the Public Accounts Committee?
The Government applaud the way in which the royal household has been managing its affairs more cost-effectively in recent years and securing greater value for money while living, in what are inevitably tough times, in a way that reflects the pressures that exist throughout the public sector and in many organisations. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was absolutely right to establish a new arrangement—my hon. Friend will recall it—that gives more certainty and security for future funding in relation to revenues from the Crown Estate.
Four weeks ago, I asked for a statement on the publication of a report on food banks, and last week I asked the same question. Will the Leader of the House get in touch with the Department for Work and Pensions to get it to publish that report? May I suggest that he sends some dogs in, because the Department has had the report for so long that it must be out of date by now?
Commuters on the south coast have been struggling with inadequate transport infrastructure for decades. Gosport is the largest town in the UK without a railway, it takes longer to travel on the fast train from Portsmouth to London than it does to go from London to Doncaster, and the A32 and M27 are virtually at gridlock. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the transport infrastructure in the Solent region?
My hon. Friend might like to pursue the broader question of transport links in her area through an Adjournment debate, if she is able to secure one, but I shall of course get a reply from a Transport Minister, which will reflect the fact that we are making the largest investment in this country’s railways since the Victorian era.
Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate on the introduction of the bobby tax, which has gone unnoticed by many Members, but will require young people to pay £1,000 to apply to join the police, which will be an insurmountable hurdle for many disadvantaged groups?
Reputable temporary employment agencies are being undercut by disreputable ones which incorporate travel and subsistence in basic remuneration. The Government are taking action to tackle these agencies, but further, faster action needs to be taken before more reputable agencies go out of business. May we please have a debate on what can be done in this unfortunate circumstance?
I will see what our hon. Friends at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are able to advise in relation to that. My recollection is that the rules on what is counted in the minimum wage are very clear about these matters, but I will take further advice.
Naloxone reverses the effects of opiate overdose but it currently needs to be prescribed. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has recommended that it be made more widely available to trained people such as hostel staff so that they can more effectively intervene in an overdose case. May we therefore have a debate, please, on the limitations created by the Medicines Act, which contains rules that are preventing this ground-breaking work from going further and more lives from being saved?
Of the 144 hours that Parliament has sat this year, 33 hours have been spent on Government Bills. We have an Immigration Bill before the House today and there are nearly 50 pages of amendments on very, very important issues. I urge the Leader of the House to think again and to bring in at this late stage an extra day to debate exceptionally important issues.
My hon. Friend will know that so far in this Session the House has spent just over 500 hours debating Government legislation. I entirely understand the point he makes about Bills having two days on Report, and we have programmed that seven times in instances where that was programmed at the outset. I cannot give another day. We have to make progress with this business. My hon. Friend understands perfectly well, I know, that in order to be confident that the Bill will secure passage—and we must ensure that it does—we wanted to make sure that it was completed now.
May we have a debate in Government time on aviation and regional airports in the United Kingdom? With the ongoing work of the Davies commission, the impact that this has on the regions is extremely important. For Northern Ireland the link into long-haul flights and to London is particularly important.
My hon. Friends from the Department for Transport will be at the Dispatch Box next Thursday, if the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to ask them questions relating to that. I know that he and other Members will recall that the potential of regional airports was stressed very much when the interim report of the Airports Commission was published, and we continue to take that very seriously.
May I request an early and urgent debate on the role of dredging and regular maintenance of watercourses, both major and minor, in the prevention of flooding? In addition, may we discuss the further delay to the adoption of the sustainable drainage systems regulations? Sustainable drainage has a huge impact on the potential reduction of flooding and the regulations are long overdue.
I cannot promise an immediate debate, although I suspect the House will have opportunities relatively quickly now to debate and discuss the implications of the widespread flooding and, in particular, to receive an update in relation to the very difficult circumstances experienced in Somerset. I entirely take my hon. Friend’s point. I know from my own area the importance of internal drainage boards and the work they do in maintaining drainage. I do not wish to embarrass my hon. Friend, but may I say that her question is a further reflection of the very important work she does here on behalf of her constituents and others? She is a fine Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and we much appreciate the work she does in this House.
May we have a debate on the Deputy Prime Minister’s national pledge for free hot school meals for infants from September 2014, which of course was pioneered in Hull in 2004 by Labour but axed by the Liberal Democrats? Or is it likely to go the way of all pledges that the Deputy Prime Minister makes?
My constituents Mr and Mrs D’Costa-Manuel have been trying to get disability living allowance for their autistic son. Despite the fact that they have lived in this country for over three decades and their son was born here, they have been unsuccessful in the application, because of a short period of time spent in Australia. Will the Leader of the House ask our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to look into the case and make a statement?
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concern for his constituents, but one of the conditions for entitlement to disability living allowance, as he will know, is that a claimant must have been present in the country for two of the past three years. He will understand that all decisions on benefit claims must be made in accordance with the relevant legislation, but if he provides further details I will ask the Department for Work and Pensions to look into the matter.
The Prime Minister has curiously contested the fact that child poverty had risen, saying he was not happy
“with the measure. I think we need a better measure.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2014; Vol. 574, c. 859.]
Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time to discuss what the Government propose to do about the escalating problem of child poverty, other than fiddling the figures?
The House will recall that the Prime Minister said that the data the previous Government used to measure child poverty related to relative poverty and that, on that measure, it has come down. The figures for 2011-12, the latest period for which data are available, show the number of children in relative poverty to be 2.3 million, a fall of 300,000 from 2009-10, when the figure was 2.6 million. The latest data from this Parliament show that the number of children in relative poverty has fallen by 300,000.
May we have a debate on transport? Is the Leader of the House aware that the Government, at a time when they are seeking to spend billions of pounds to enable a few trains to run faster, have bizarrely announced that they want to lower the speed limit on certain sections of the M1 motorway, and for reasons other than road safety, which is without precedent? We already have the lowest road speed limits in Europe, and only 8% of travellers choose to travel by rail, so will the Government announce a new initiative—HSM1?
I remind my right hon. Friend that the Government’s investment in rail is intended principally to increase capacity, as demand on the railways has doubled since privatisation. We need more capacity. With regard to speed limits on the M1, I understand that the reduction is to be a temporary measure related to air quality, but I will of course ask the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill)—my right hon. Friend’s parliamentary neighbour—to respond to him on that point.
The Leader of the House recently arranged for a reply from the Department for Work and Pensions on a matter I raised about delays in personal independence payments, for which I am grateful, but yet again I have had a constituent raise the matter with me. May I again request a debate in Government time so that we can discuss and examine in detail the delays, which are affecting my constituents and many across the country?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We did indeed correspond following his previous question, and that confirmed that the Department does not have a target for completion of personal independence payment claims. It is a new benefit, and we are looking closely at how long the journey to completion of claims takes, against the original estimates. Where there are further opportunities to streamline those processes, we will certainly introduce them.
May we have a Treasury debate on regional cuts to air passenger duty for entrants to the long-haul market, which would stimulate growth, reduce the burden on the south- east and kick-start the regional economy? I echo what was said by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds).
I will not reiterate what I have said, but the point about regional airports is well taken. Taxes and duties are of course matters for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I will be glad to alert my hon. Friends at the Treasury to the point that my hon. Friend raises.
Will the Leader of the House trouble his Cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to come to the House to provide a statement on the latest confusion in energy policy? Just last month, he described Ofgem as fit for purpose, but it is widely reported today that ministerial sources have said Ofgem is in the last chance saloon. Given that part of Labour’s policy is to reset the dysfunctional energy market, may we have a statement to help the Secretary of State to catch up with the reality of the system over which he is presiding?
A couple of weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) raised with the Prime Minister in the Chamber concerns about British involvement in the bloody assault nearly 30 years ago on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar. Will the Leader of the House update us on the progress of the consequent inquiry? Will it report next week, and will he arrange for a statement either by the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary?
I regret that I cannot advise the right hon. Gentleman and the House on the timing of the completion of that inquiry, although it is being proceeded with as a matter of urgency. As I have said, for that reason I cannot advise the House about the character of the statement that will then be made.
Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to come to the House early next week to make a statement on the latest idiotic comments from the Council of Europe that benefits levels in this country are too low and should be almost doubled? For how much longer will this Government allow the Council of Europe and unelected pseudo-judges in the European Court of Human Rights to decide things in this country that should be decided by this Parliament?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions would welcome the opportunity to come to the Dispatch Box on that subject. He might well say, as I do, that it is lunacy for the Council of Europe to suggest that welfare payments need to increase when we paid out £204 billion in benefits and pensions last year alone. Millions of people find that the welfare system in this country provides a valuable and fair safety net when they need it most—not least pensioners, who benefit from a triple lock that now represents the highest share of earnings received by pensioners in their state pension for more than 20 years.
I remember the days when the Leader of the House used to say that there ought preferably to be two full days on Report, or at least a day on which there is no statement. Today, a Thursday, is the one day when there will always be a business statement. It is the shortest day, and the most difficult day on which to have proper debate. Why on earth are we having the whole of the Report stage of the Immigration Bill in one afternoon? Since he has effectively conspired with the Chief Whip to make sure that their colleagues do not get to debate all the amendments, will he congratulate the Speaker on stitching him up like a kipper?
Under the previous Government—indeed, when the hon. Gentleman was Deputy Leader of the House—it was much less common for Bills to have two days on Report, while it was more common to have programme motions to insert knives into debates. As far as I am concerned, we have allocated enough time: Thursday is a normal sitting day—we start two hours earlier, and we finish two hours earlier—and it is entirely normal for questions, such as the business question, to be asked.
This week, Charlie Webster is running 250 miles and visiting 40 football clubs to raise funds for Women’s Aid and to encourage football clubs, players and fans to unite in the fight against domestic violence. May we have a debate on utilising the power of sport to tackle domestic violence?
I am very glad to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Charlie Webster on taking up that challenge, which will give not only financial support, but tremendous publicity to something that all hon. Members have collectively shown our commitment to, which is to try to reduce domestic violence in all circumstances and to give people a strong sense of its unacceptability.