House of Commons
Thursday 1 May 2014
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County Constituency of Newark in the room of Patrick Mercer, who since his election for the said County Constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham in the County of Buckingham.—(Sir George Young.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
1. What progress has been made on the delivery of broadband in rural areas; and if he will make a statement. 
The Government’s broadband programme will increase superfast broadband coverage to 95% of UK premises by 2017. The programme has already delivered superfast broadband to more than 500,000 premises. A further 20,000 premises are gaining availability per week and that number is set to rise to 40,000 per week by the summer.
Who would have thought just a month ago, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) and I were sharing a drink at Birmingham City university, that he would be where he is now? I congratulate him on his appointment on behalf, I am sure, of both sides of the House.
My right hon. Friend talks about superfast broadband and there has been huge progress, but I am afraid that there are still large areas of the country where there is no broadband at all—the not spots. When will broadband coverage be as universal as electricity supplies?
I thank my hon. Friend for that warm welcome. I remember that drink well. He mentioned my constituency of Bromsgrove. Like his constituency, it is semi-rural and there is naturally concern among my constituents about broadband coverage. He will therefore be pleased to know that the Government are providing £780 million of central funding to support superfast broadband, so that 95% of UK premises can enjoy it by 2017. We have also launched a £10 million fund to explore with suppliers broadband solutions for the other 5%.
I begin by congratulating the Secretary of State on his appointment. We hope that he enjoys the next year in his job. This might be the first time that he has answered questions on broadband roll-out, but so great is the concern across the House that this is the 494th time that such questions have been asked. This week, we learned that no one in Oxfordshire has applied for the vouchers under the lacklustre £150-million super-connected cities programme. Why does he not adopt our proposal of switching half of those funds into helping the 15 million people who are digitally excluded?
Again, I thank the hon. Lady for her warm welcome. We looked at the previous Government’s proposals. The reason we changed the policy was that, frankly, it was not working. Already under this Government, superfast broadband coverage has risen from about 45% when we came to office to 73%. The UK has better coverage than the other EU5 countries. I hope that she will join us in implementing these policies.
16. The broadband programme in Suffolk is going rather well, but to reach the 95% figure and cover places such as Wangford and Yoxford, we need a bit more money from the Government. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) will welcome our representations. 
My hon. Friend is passionate about this issue and has brought it up a number of times. I would be happy to meet her to discuss it further and to see how we can better use the existing resources that are available.
12. Although the roll-out of broadband to rural areas is going at some pace, it is going rather slowly in parts of rural Wales. I wonder whether the Secretary of State is happy with the manner in which the Welsh Assembly is doing this and whether it is meeting his expectations for the whole of the UK. 
My hon. Friend makes his point well. Well over 100,000 premises in Wales have been connected to superfast broadband under this Government, but obviously there is a need to do more. I am keen to consider ways in which we can make the process quicker.
I also welcome the Secretary of State to his new post.
The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), was in my constituency a couple of weeks ago and may have heard one or two things from my constituents about the hard-to-reach rural areas where broadband will be difficult to install. Will he look again at the requirement for match funding for very rural areas? Quite simply it will not work, by definition, in areas where there are very few people.
I can tell my hon. Friend that the rural broadband programme is making good progress. I accept that it is patchy in certain parts of the country, but a number of projects have gone live as the roll-out has begun. I will examine the issue that he raises, but the current evidence shows the rate of connectivity rising and suggests that the match funding programme is progressing well.
9. We are grateful for the Government funding for superfast broadband in North Yorkshire, and we are well on the way to getting high penetration across the country. One way in which we can reach our most remote areas is through technology, and BT has a new, smaller fibre box, but it needs special regulatory approval. What can the Secretary of State do to help us move that process on so that we can deliver to our most remote areas? 
My hon. Friend rightly highlights the significant role that BT plays as a huge stakeholder in rolling out superfast broadband around the country. I have already had a meeting with BT in my new role, and I look forward to having further meetings to see how the process can be taken forward.
2. If he will meet alleged victims of unethical and unlawful conduct by the press to discuss how to prevent such conduct in the future. 
I support freedom of the press while wanting to ensure that redress is available when mistakes are made, and I will welcome representations from a range of stakeholders who have an interest in the matter. My meetings will, of course, be a matter of public record through the Cabinet Office in the usual way.
I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new job. I think it is probably the best job in government, and I hope he enjoys it.
I was not quite sure from the right hon. Gentleman’s answer whether he will meet victims. I hope he will, because as he will be aware, they are not happy with what has happened since the Leveson report and they are certainly not happy with attempts by some newspapers to set up a replacement for the discredited Press Complaints Commission. Does he agree with the Prime Minister, who said on oath to the Leveson inquiry that the test is
“not: do the politicians or the press feel happy with what we get? It’s: are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves by this process”?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman feels passionately about the issue, and I am sure he recognises that since Lord Leveson’s report was published, we have made significant progress on the issue on a cross-party basis. As he knows, the royal charter has now been granted, and it is now for the press to decide what they wish to do next.
On the issue of meeting alleged victims, if they were to make a formal request, I would give it serious consideration.
I confess that, like many Members, I am occasionally a political anorak and watch political campaigns. Over the past few weeks I have watched the Indian elections, and particularly the media coverage over there. May I impress upon my right hon. Friend the point that although the British press is far from perfect, we have to be mindful of throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I have said before, a number of industries have bad apples and make mistakes, but we must recognise that the freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy.
But it was not just one bad apple, was it? It was not one rogue reporter, it was systematic abuse of people who were the victims of crime themselves or had lost family members in Afghanistan. I hope the Secretary of State will understand that those victims of crimes and unethical conduct are deeply troubled by the creation of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, because it has been cobbled together by two Conservative Members of the House of Lords and is still a case of the press marking their own homework.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the industry and the Government agree, as I believe do all parties in this House, that self-regulation is the way forward. That was at the heart of the Leveson principles. As I said, the royal charter has been granted and the press have responded by setting up a self-regulator, and it is now for them to decide how they wish to take that further.
Gambling: Social Media Sites
3. What steps he plans to take to reduce simulated gambling on social media sites. 
The Government are aware of concerns about gambling-like activities on social media. The Gambling Commission has published a review of existing evidence and is working with all relevant bodies to analyse data and assess any relevant risk.
Will the Minister tell the House how she will ensure that no promotion of online gambling is targeted at young people using simulated gambling sites? Clearly, those people are already very vulnerable, and the temptation for real gambling to be advertised to those young people is immense. How will she ensure that that does not happen?
Of course, the remote gambling Bill that will be presented later this year will do an awful lot to deal with any abuse coming from online gambling. The risks of social gaming fall into two categories: consumer exploitation and problem gambling. The Gambling Commission is looking at both, and I am happy to speak to it and to take advice on the specific issue that the hon. Lady has brought to my attention.
Am I right in thinking that the mischief of which the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) complains about deregulating gambling was introduced by the previous Labour Government in their Gambling Act 2005?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, and we have spent a considerable amount of time unravelling a lot of the work that Labour Members did over the past 13 years—so much so that I was happy to present a set of proposals and a package of reforms yesterday.
4. What assessment he has made of the effect of online gambling on vulnerable adults with a gambling addiction. 
Problem gamblers tend to participate in a wide range of gambling rather than one particular form. The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill will allow consistent consumer protection for all British-based users of online gambling products.
I welcome the fact that the Government have now agreed to put in place a one-stop shop system for self-exclusion. Will the Minister confirm when she expects that system to be put in place to protect gamblers?
I expect it to be put in place within the next six months.
Will the Minister explain the conflict between all this concern now about problem gambling online, and the nanny state regulations that she introduced yesterday—egged on by the Labour party—on fixed odds betting terminals, which will only lead to people moving their gambling from a controlled environment in betting shops to similar games and machines with unlimited stakes and prizes on the internet? Surely the proposals she put forward yesterday will only make online gambling problems worse.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The proposals put forward yesterday were a very sensible response from a responsible Government who want to assist local communities and protect highly vulnerable people. I believe that nothing more nor less would have been appropriate.
Yesterday, the Minister carried out a U-turn on online gambling and FOBT machines. She has accepted our call for councils to be given planning powers to restrict the clustering of betting shops, but she has done nothing for those who want to respond to local concerns about the numbers of FOBT machines they already have. We welcome the fact that after more than two years of refusing to act, the Government have finally accepted our proposals. She also announced a £50 limit on stakes on FOBT machines, which she relies on the betting industry to impose. What evidence has she seen that convinces her that a £50 limit will deal with problem gambling? She is aware of research being conducted by NatCen. If that says that the £50 limit should be lowered, will she act?
The hon. Gentleman raises a lot of issues and I will do my best to deal with them in the time available. The measures will certainly put an end to unsupervised easy cash-based staking above £50, allowing continued use of machines while ensuring greater opportunities for supervision and protection. The measures are targeted, reasonable and proportionate, and completely justified on a precautionary basis. We have made no change to the stake and prize. The U-turn is absolute nonsense. The shadow Minister knows that I have declared continually that there is no green light for FOBTs, and our package of reforms has been carefully considered. In my opinion, our proposals are targeted and proportionate; his proposals were knee-jerk and impractical.
I invite the Minister to take no lessons from the Opposition who are just opportunistic about FOBTs—in 2000 there were none, but in 2010 there was an explosion of 30,000 FOBT machines. The packages yesterday to protect communities are welcome in my constituency, which has seen a saturation-level of FOBTs, particularly in Palmers Green. Will she also consider the introduction of a cumulative impact test for licence applications? Is it part of the package? That would assist communities that want to take back control of this issue.
I know that my hon. Friend has considerable concerns about FOBTs, not just in his constituency but around the country. We will see strengthened play protections that will help to deal with the risks of FOBTs, wider self-exclusion and more intervention. I am happy to have a chat with him about the issue of impact assessments that he has raised.
Rugby World Cup Tickets
5. What steps he is taking to prevent tickets for the 2015 rugby world cup being purchased by organised syndicates of touts. 
I am grateful to the hon. Lady and the members of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse for the important work they have done on this issue. However, while I am aware of the concerns of the rugby world cup organisers, there is no evidence to suggest that introducing legislation to prohibit ticket touting is needed to deliver a successful event this year.
I know that the Secretary of State has his own opinions on this issue, but he will no doubt have heard this question being answered in the same way month after month. The Government seem to think that there will not be a problem, but if they bothered to look online, they would see that there already is a problem. Thousands of tickets for the rugby world cup are already for sale online at many times face value. If the Secretary of State will not accept the Opposition Front Bench’s offer of co-operation in banning the unauthorised resale of tickets, will he at least accept the recommendation of the all-party group on ticket abuse that calls for greater transparency and adequate protection for consumers?
I know that the hon. Lady is very passionate about this issue and I commend her for her leadership, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), of the APPG on ticket abuse. She will know that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee looked at this issue in 2008, as did the previous Government in 2009. I agree with their broad conclusion that there is no need for further legislative action. However, I would be more than happy to sit down with the hon. Lady and discuss her concerns further.
Football Clubs: Finance
6. What steps he is taking to help football clubs in financial difficulty. 
I continue to work closely with the football authorities to press for improvements in governance. They have made some good progress, notably putting clubs on a much stronger financial footing through the introduction of the financial fair play rules.
I thank the Minister for that reply and I congratulate the Secretary of State on his new job, to which he is bringing his characteristic freshness and intelligence.
Last Saturday, Hereford United won their do-or-die relegation battle to stay in the conference premier league despite extremely difficult financial circumstances. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Bulls players and staff, and in recognising the massive role played by the club’s supporters in sustaining the club? Does she share my view that all the football authorities need to get together now and look at what more they can do to preserve our football heritage and support clubs in the lower leagues?
My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) is not in his place, so I can congratulate the Bulls on their win over Alfreton. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who has worked tirelessly to help Hereford United, which has had a difficult time recently. Running a football club is a challenging matter and supporter trusts play a crucial role in that regard. I will follow the Hereford United Supporters Trust bid for the club with eager interest.
Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways to ensure financial security is to get football supporters involved in clubs? Some three years ago the Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommended a working group be set up to look at the issue and the Government agreed. The Government are now in Fergie time on this, so is it not time that the working group was set up?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point latterly. The setting up of the expert group is one of my priorities, and I am determined to see it established. The support of fans is crucial and I expect the group to meet for the first time in the coming weeks.
Kettering Town football club has scored more goals in the lifetime of the FA cup competition than any other club in the country. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Despite this distinguished record, in recent years it has had far more than its fair share of financial difficulties and is now in the very minor leagues. There is a feeling among constituents that there is far too much money in the Premier League, with overpaid footballers getting ridiculous salaries and not enough money going into football at the grass roots.
I take on board what my hon. Friend says. We have to look after all our football clubs. Financial issues are critical and the football authorities have made significant changes in recent years, introducing an early-warning system for tax debts, salary caps and, as I mentioned, the financial fair play rules. Those changes are helping clubs across the piece to stay on a stronger financial footing.
I know the Minister and the whole House will want to take the opportunity to wish Ballymena United all the very best on Saturday in the Irish cup. Does the Minister plan to visit Northern Ireland and meet the Irish Football Association to see what assistance, development and help she can give to the IFA in the development of the beautiful game in Northern Ireland?
That is an offer I would find very difficult to refuse. I wish Ballymena United well in their cup match and I will certainly look at my diary to see whether we can work in a visit to the hon. Gentleman’s wonderful constituency.
First World War Commemorations
7. What steps he is taking to ensure that a cultural programme forms part of the first world war commemorations. 
10. What steps he is taking to ensure that a cultural programme forms part of the first world war commemorations. 
Culture has always been absolutely central to how we understand and try to make sense of the first world war and, in the same way, it will be central to the centenary commemorations. The 14-18 NOW programme will deliver a UK-wide programme of cultural events in 2014, 2016 and 2018. It will inspire people of all ages, and from all backgrounds, to take part in the centenary.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my local museums in Saltash and Liskeard, which provide boxes for schools to enhance the cultural experience of young people, so that they can better understand what happened in world war one? I recommend that he visit the excellent display in Saltash on the Suffragette movement, a campaign important both at the time and for women like me today. Does he agree that adequate funding must be provided to help museums progress with such wonderful initiatives, lest we forget?
Local cultural institutions have a key role to play in the first world war centenary commemorations. I am delighted to hear about the contribution from Saltash. As my hon. Friend says, it reminds us of the vital contribution that women made during the war. I will certainly be interested in a visit.
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and wish him well. Can he reassure me that this cultural programme will be truly UK-wide, with a chance for people in all parts of the country to join in?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I can reassure her that the 14-18 NOW summer 2014 season will be truly UK-wide, with events across the country for all people to take part in. The ambition is to reach at least 10 million people over the four years of the cultural programme.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new post. I look forward to working with him and with those on my Front Bench in the coming months to ensure that we deliver a fitting commemoration. It is of course right that we focus on the service and sacrifice of those who lost their lives on the front line, but we should also ensure that we recognise the contribution of men and women on the home front who toiled in the mines and the factories, worked the land and cared for the wounded. Will the Secretary of State say how we can ensure that their voices are heard?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and for the support he has given to the centenary commemorations—I really welcome that cross-party support. He raises a very important point. It is important to ensure that the efforts on the home front are properly commemorated, and I am happy to discuss that with him further if he thinks we can do more.
8. What assessment he has made of the potential benefits of encouraging sports-related tourism. 
The United Kingdom is hosting a series of major sporting events between now and 2019. VisitEngland is working closely with the organisers of the Tour de France and the rugby world cup 2015 to maximise the potential benefits, which could be considerable.
The Minister mentioned the rugby world cup, which is now just 500 days away. Will she join me in congratulating the 13 cities which will host the matches, and which are creating additional attractions for the rugby fans throughout the world who will want to visit the birthplace of the game, where it all started in 1834 when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran?
I am delighted to congratulate the 13 host cities. My hon. Friend’s constituency, with its unique link to the birthplace of rugby, has an excellent opportunity to benefit from next year’s tournament.
Tourism is a growth industry in the north-east, supporting 18,000 jobs in an area that still suffers from the highest levels of unemployment in the country. What is the Minister doing to support tourism in areas such as the north-east in the light of the forthcoming major sporting events, given that such events provide an excellent opportunity for its promotion?
I grew up in an area close to the north-east, and I know how fabulous it is. We have an excellent domestic tourism package, and VisitEngland has launched two brilliant “holidays at home” campaigns, which have generated millions of pounds of incremental spending. I hope that the hon. Lady’s constituency will benefit from that.
As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on American football—and I declare my interest in that regard—I can tell the House that when it comes to sport-related tourism, I know of no sport that has the same potential. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the National Football League on hosting three American football games at Wembley this year, and will she welcome the visitors who will come to support the Miami Dolphins, the Oakland Raiders, the Detroit Lions, the Atlanta Falcons, the Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars?
I probably just need to say yes to all that—and many congratulations to all concerned.
The Minister rightly mentioned the Tour de France, but will she also note the fact that the opening stages of the Giro d’Italia cycling race will take place in Northern Ireland next week? That is important in the context not only of world cycling, but of the Northern Ireland Executive’s efforts to bring major sporting events to Northern Ireland, thus greatly increasing the tourism potential of the Province.
I think it is fabulous that that event is to take place in Northern Ireland. Such events have huge benefits, not just for tourism but for the economy, and they are also a real inspiration when it comes to persuading people to take part in sport.
Reallocation of Television Spectrum: BBC Three
11. What recent discussions he has had with Digital UK and Ofcom on the re-allocation of the television spectrum to be vacated by BBC Three. 
The BBC Trust is currently considering the proposal to stop broadcasting BBC Three. I have not yet discussed what may happen to BBC Three’s Freeview channel number with either Digital UK or Ofcom.
I know that the Minister is very conscious of the concern felt by people in Scotland about Scottish Television’s proposals to introduce local television. Is it not a problem—I have spoken to Ofcom about this—that the BBC seems to think that it can keep the BBC Three channel and invent BBC One plus one, even though it is currently failing to use the channel properly? Is it not important for the BBC not to have a monopoly, and for the channel to be available to other public broadcasters?
I know that the hon. Gentleman met Ofcom this week, and that he has raised this subject in the House and led a debate on it. The BBC Trust will make the final decision on whether the BBC Three channel should go to an online service, but I understand that Digital UK will allocate the channel in the normal way, taking account of the due prominence rules in the public service broadcasting guidelines. However, I have noted the hon. Gentleman’s point, and will follow it up.
It is two years since Digital UK completed the changeover from analogue and a large number of households were persuaded to buy Freeview boxes. There have been reports that Freeview is now under threat. Given that many households in my constituency rely on it rather than on cable and satellite, which are more expensive, can the Minister assure them that Freeview will continue?
I was pleased to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and see how well local television is doing in his part of the world. I can assure him that Freeview and free-to-air television is very important, and the Government will continue to support it.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
13. What recent discussions he has had with gambling addiction charities on funding for research into fixed odds betting terminals. 
I regularly meet groups and individuals interested in gambling. Earlier this year I chaired a meeting of faith groups, care providers and campaign groups to discuss issues of concern.
It is apt that the Secretary of State has moved from the Treasury to the DCMS, and I congratulate him on his promotion. How much of the £90 million that will be raised from the increase from 20% to 25% in the levy on FOBTs will be given to GamCare?
Taxation matters are always for the Chancellor to respond to, but I have met representatives of GamCare and I intend to visit its premises in Clapham shortly before the recess. I acknowledge the excellent work they do in looking after problem gamblers.
Can the Minister explain what impact assessment was made of how many small and independent betting shops will close and how many jobs will be lost as a result of the measures she announced yesterday, coming on top of the increase in tax announced in the Budget?
As I have said previously, these are sensible measures taken by a responsive Government and they will assist local communities and protect vulnerable people. They are balanced, proportionate and have business in mind too. Nothing more or less would have been appropriate.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
It is a pleasure to join you for my first oral questions as Secretary of State, Mr Speaker. The Department continues its work in a large number of areas, including but not limited to extending sporting and cultural opportunities to as many people as possible, promoting the creative industries, encouraging both international and domestic tourism and delivering a transformation of broadband.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new role. We know of the multiple benefits of sport in all its forms, but particularly of the social and health benefits. However, a recent survey by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation found that more than half of girls are put off physical activity as a result of their experiences in school. I appreciate that measures are already in place to provide support, but what more will the Secretary of State commit to doing to increase women’s participation—or is support for women something that an increasingly male-dominated Cabinet does not like to provide?
The hon. Lady has asked questions about this issue before and I know she is passionate about it. She has made an important point, and it is a shame that she had to finish with party political point scoring on what is a very important issue. She will be aware that the Government have taken a number of initiatives in this area already, and despite her attempt to make a petty point at the end, I will be happy to meet her if she wants to discuss any ideas she has about what more we can do in this important area.
T2. I am sure that the Minister will be interested to read the forthcoming report from the RadioCentre, called “Action Stations”, on the output and impact of commercial radio. I am proud that my local commercial radio station, High Peak Radio, is mentioned in the report, which also outlines the economic benefits of commercial radio: every £1 invested yields £8 for the advertisers. The report will be officially launched on 13 May and I am sure the Minister will study its findings, but does he agree that commercial radio plays a significant role not just in the country’s economy but in supporting communities such as mine in High Peak? 
Commercial radio is vitally important both locally and nationally. Some 35 million people listen to commercial radio every week, and UK radio revenues continue to increase. We have seen the launch of the first national talk radio station, LBC, and digital radio is vital to commercial radio’s future. I know that the Secretary of State is keen to meet commercial radio operators as soon as possible.
I add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) on his promotion. His elevation to a seat at the Cabinet table sends out a strong signal that in this country, our politics must be for people from all communities, all ethnicities and all walks of life, and I wish him well in his job.
As the right hon. Gentleman takes over leadership of this important Department, we will be urging him to fight hard for the arts and to promote the crucial role that the BBC plays in the cultural life of this country. I want to ask him about young people and music. Creativity is being squeezed out of the curriculum; fewer pupils are taking music at GCSE and A-level; music services have been cut by almost 30%; and now the Department for Education wants to cut a further 12% of music resources available to schools through the education services grant. Will he intervene with the Education Secretary and make the case for music in schools?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her warm welcome. The work that she did when in government, especially on equalities, has had a lasting impact and I welcome much of it. Music and arts in schools are important, and I have already had a discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on that issue. Action that we have already taken, such as ring-fencing funding for music in schools, is very helpful, but I want to see whether there is more we can do.
T4. Mobile phone coverage in parts of Wales is as bad as coverage in places in Africa, Kazakhstan and the Alps. Does the Minister have a view on when we can expect a 20th-century service in Wales, let alone a 21st-century one? 
I am pleased to say that a 21st-century service is well on its way. We have the greatest roll-out of 4G technology anywhere in the world and the major mobile providers will complete their 4G mobile coverage two years ahead of schedule. We will then take a look at how effective that is and we will continue to work with mobile operators to improve mobile coverage.
T3. What is the Government’s current position on net neutrality, particularly given recent discussions and decisions in both Europe and the United States? 
I like to think that we were ahead of the curve in putting together a code of conduct, to which the major internet service providers and mobile phone companies have subscribed, under which they agreed that they would not block traffic for anti-competitive reasons. Obviously, we are carefully examining the telecoms package that the European Commission has proposed, which includes a potential regulation on net neutrality.
T5. Between 18 April and 31 May, Belper, a town in my constituency, is holding its annual arts festival, throughout which 179 events in 99 different venues will be drawing in the region of 16,000 visitors to the local area. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Belper, led by volunteer George Gunby, and other towns and villages that are holding similar events? What is the Minister doing to support such initiatives? 
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the amazing work she does to promote Derbyshire in this House, She has so effectively led the Derbyshire embassy, which I was delighted to attend. The Belper arts festival is putting together a fantastic and enticing programme. I am also pleased to see that the Arts Council is supporting the Red Earth theatre in Belper, the Buxton arts festival and the Wirksworth festival in Derbyshire.
T7. I am sorry that the sports Minister, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and indeed the Secretary of State were not able to attend the all-party group on basketball event yesterday on Speaker’s Green, where Opposition Members were able to out-dunk Government Members by 56 to 33. The Minister will, however, be aware of the deep concern across the House about the future of our national basketball teams after UK Sport withdraw all their elite-level funding. What consideration has she given to providing elite-level development funding for accessible team sports such as basketball which fall foul of the no-compromise model of UK sport? 
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and I am sorry that I could not attend the event—I wanted to but I had a clash. I believe a Conservative won the event, and that is always welcome. As she well knows, sports governing bodies, including that for basketball, have received large amounts of public money—taxpayers’ money. It is certainly no gravy train and if sports cannot deliver increasing participation, it is absolutely right that the money should be diverted to those that can do so. I do not believe that doors are ever closed for ever and I would be happy to have a chat with her about the proposal she makes.
T6. Many private sector companies are big supporters of the arts in Britain. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how important he believes that support to be? 
As usual, my hon. Friend raises an important point. Support from the corporate sector for the cultural sector is very important. It amounted to around £110 million last year, almost a fifth of total investment. In the past couple of weeks, I have been to the Globe, which is supported by Deutsche Bank, and the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern, which is supported and sponsored by Bank of America. Just yesterday I went to the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum, which is supported by BP. It was held in a new exhibition hall, which received the majority of its funding from the Sainsbury family.
Lowton girls group came to talk to me about its concerns that music videos portraying sex and violence are being watched by children and young people. Why will the Government not legislate for age ratings for music videos online?
Parents tell us that they want age ratings on music videos that are unsuitable for younger children. We consulted on legislation to introduce the British Board of Film Classification age ratings for music DVDs. We will introduce legislation to Parliament within the coming months, and we will bring into force new age rating requirements as soon as possible. I am also working with the music industry to get age ratings for online music videos as well.
T8. I join others in welcoming my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his new position and invite him to visit Bournemouth, the UK’s premier seaside resort, at the end of this month when it is organising its first free wheels festival, which will include historic classic cars, monster trucks and supercar demonstrations on the sea front. Does that not illustrate how the experience offered to visitors is just as important as good accommodation and a picturesque location? 
The Secretary of State has just whispered to me that he really does look forward to visiting Bournemouth, and I am, on his behalf, happy to congratulate Bournemouth council on organising this wheels festival. I am sure that this free-to-visit family event will attract visitors over the Whitsun bank holiday weekend, boosting the local economy and raising the town’s very special profile.
People whose homes and businesses were recently flooded will know, as we did in Hull in 2007, of the benefit of having local BBC radio stations. Those radio stations are often seen as the extra emergency service in times of crisis. Will the Minister confirm that, in any future negotiations on funding for the BBC, protection is given to local radio services?
Absolutely. I echo what the hon. Lady says. During the severe floods in Oxfordshire in 2007, BBC Radio Oxford certainly played an invaluable role. I can assure her that the value of all BBC services, including local and regional services, will be considered as part of the review of the BBC’s charter. We have not yet announced the timing, scope and process of the charter review, so it would be premature of me to say anything further at this point.
May I also add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on his appointment? The Blackdown hills and villages such as Upottery, Clayhidon and Rousdon are finding it difficult to get broadband. We welcome the Government’s money, but BT is finding things difficult and there is secrecy about where the broadband will be delivered throughout the constituency. Will the Secretary of State meet me and local representatives to discuss the way in which we can roll out this broadband in a much better way?
Absolutely. It is important to point out that the progress of rural broadband is really picking up pace, with 20,000 homes passed every week, but we must get out the information to local residents. I am sure that the Secretary of State will meet my hon. Friend at the earliest opportunity to discuss his points.
When imposing the changes to the betting and gaming industry, did the Government consider conducting an impact assessment on the potential job losses? Before yesterday, William Hill had already announced 109 betting shop closures, with the loss of 420 jobs, which mainly affect young women between the ages of 18 and 24.
We are of course always mindful of jobs, not just for women but for everyone. The package I announced yesterday was sensible and proportionate and it deals with a number of concerns about powers for local authorities, controls for the community and the importance of protecting highly vulnerable people. We have acted where it has been needed, which is more than the Labour party did during its 13 years in power.
Women and Equalities
The Ministers for Women and for Equalities were asked—
Violence Against Women
1. What recent discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on reducing levels of violence against women. 
The Ministers for Women and for Equalities attend the quarterly Home Office inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls and are committed to supporting the Government action plan, published on 8 March, to end violence against women and girls. The Government have taken recent key actions such as rolling out the domestic violence disclosure scheme and domestic violence protection orders, and we commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s review of domestic abuse and have announced steps to ensure the recommendations are acted on. I highlighted the action plan when the Minister for Equalities and I gave a presentation to Cabinet this Tuesday on policy issues of particular relevance to women.
I welcome the Minister to her new position, which is well deserved. How will she, in her new role as Minister for Women, support the Government’s commitment to ending violence against women and girls?
I know that my hon. Friend is a dedicated campaigner in this area. The Government recognise that violence against women and girls is strongly linked to gender inequality. Our action plan sets out work to raise the aspirations and ambitions of women and girls and the Government are also taking strong action to support women’s economic empowerment and making lasting changes to ensure that our workplaces match the needs of women in modern Britain, including by extending the right to flexible working, increasing child tax credits and extending the free entitlement to early education.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role. Two women a week in England and Wales are killed by a current or former partner and in my constituency we have had two violent murders of women in just eight months. Both of the women were in their 20s with a young child or children. Women’s Aid has warned that cuts to services mean that women and children are likely to remain in abusive situations or are more likely to return after they have left. Is it not time for the Government to accept Labour’s idea of an independent commissioner on domestic and sexual violence to champion victims such as those in my constituency and to drive improvement?
This is an incredibly serious issue and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House have dealt with tragic cases of women who have been put at risk of violence or who have suffered violence at the hands of their partner or someone close to them. Protective injunctions remain within the scope of legal aid, and immigration cases in which domestic violence is a factor continue to qualify for funding. We have also recently scrapped the application fee for those injunctions to ensure that there are no unnecessary barriers between people and the help they need, and we have said that if there are any other areas in which legal aid is not being made available, we want to be made aware of them. I am happy to look again at the issues that the hon. Lady has raised.
Most police officers are sympathetic and helpful when women report incidents of domestic violence, but sadly some still have a negative attitude. What more does my hon. Friend think can be done to ensure that police responses are consistent, which is particularly important for women reporting serial offences?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are many excellent police officers up and down the country who respond incredibly sympathetically and supportively to those who make complaints or allegations of violence. It is important that victims of sexual abuse feel empowered to come forward to report that abuse and I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and all Ministers across Government would like to encourage people to do that and to encourage the police to take all allegations seriously. If there is anything further we should be doing, I am happy to look into it.
I welcome both Ministers to their new roles. We have the new Minister for Equalities, and it is always good to see people from ordinary backgrounds at the top table of politics, and the new Minister for Women, and it is a pleasure to shadow another woman from the east midlands in this role.
Violence against women is one of the many examples of how women’s equality cuts across all Departments. In fact, all Government decisions are relevant to women, so will the Minister for Women be attending all Cabinet meetings?
Women’s Sport: Media Coverage
2. What progress the Government Equalities Office has made on encouraging improved media coverage of women’s sport. 
We have seen some progress from the media, and especially from broadcasters, in this area. The top-quality coverage of our inspirational women in Sochi was absolutely tremendous, but of course more needs to be done.
I thank the Minister for that response. Has she had time to reflect on the links between media coverage and sponsorship, and does she not find it extraordinary, in the 21st century, that sponsorship of women’s sport pales into insignificance when compared with that of men’s sport?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is quite right that the level of women’s sport sponsorship deals is very low indeed, compared with all deals; it is at about 2%. Having top-level women’s sports events covered in the media will of course encourage companies to get involved. I congratulate Helena Morrissey and her company, Newton, on their smart decision to sponsor the women’s boat race.
Glasgow’s Commonwealth games will be a marvellous opportunity to highlight excellence in women’s sport, but regrettably, regional TV and radio coverage of women’s sport is woeful in this country. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed whether she has made any representations to public service providers and commercial radio about the need for women’s sport to be covered in much more volume and detail.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Women’s sport is one of my priorities, and visibility and coverage of women is key to so many things, including sponsorship. We have had a number of meetings with the media and print magazines. Sky and the BBC have certainly upped their game since the 2012 Olympics, through more coverage and dedicated sports programmes focusing on women. Female individuals such as Clare Balding and Barbara Slater are an important part of that process.
First World War Commemorations
3. What steps he is taking to ensure that the contribution of people from black and minority ethnic communities in the first world war is appropriately commemorated. 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the significant contribution of ethnic minority soldiers to Britain’s war effort. He may be interested to know that just last week I made a private visit to Ypres; I went to the Menin gate memorial remembrance service and saw for myself that among the names of soldiers whose graves are unknown, there were many from the Indian subcontinent.
I thank the Minister for Equalities for that answer and welcome him to his position. More than 1 million people from ethnic minorities served our country in the first world war, and 12 soldiers from the Indian subcontinent have been awarded the Victoria Cross for valour. What are the Government doing to ensure that Victoria Cross recipients from minority communities born in other countries are properly commemorated?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point, and I am pleased to tell him that recipients of the Victoria Cross who were born abroad will be commemorated not only in their country of birth, but here in Britain.
I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. This is the first time in the history of this country that a majority of Ministers in a Department are from the ethnic minority communities—all with different hairstyles, but all appointed on merit. I strongly support what the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) said. Could we have a physical representation of that, and may I offer Leicester as a city in which a monument could be put up to those who served in the war?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his warm words, despite his comments about my excellent hairstyle. He makes an important point about a monument—I cannot think why he picked Leicester—and that is certainly worth looking at.
My great-grandfather fought in the great war, a fact that I became aware of only in the past decade. May I impress on my right hon. Friend that as well as a written record of history, there is often an oral history of acts of great bravery in the Indian and, specifically, Sikh regiments?
I thank my hon. Friend for the question, and for the contribution his family made to the great war—as did, obviously, many other families, but especially, as he highlighted, people of ethnic minority backgrounds. He has made an important point, and I will certainly look at that.
The Commonwealth contribution to the first world war was significant. In particular, one in 10 people who served came from undivided India. In Northern Ireland we have a very large Indian community. What discussions has the Minister had with the bodies responsible in Northern Ireland to ensure that the community’s significant contribution is commemorated?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He will know that more than 70,000 soldiers from the Indian army made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of Britain in the great war. With respect to Northern Ireland, I have not had any discussions so far in my new role, but I will certainly raise the matter at the earliest opportunity.
Bullying in Schools
4. What steps he is taking to reduce homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. 
This Government are committed to tackling all forms of bullying in schools, and have provided advice to schools on how to tackle this harmful behaviour. However, we know that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying persists and we have therefore recently awarded the contract for a new project to identify the best ways to help drive out this type of bullying.
I am pleased that the Government have this week announced the contract for the review of evidence of what works in tackling such bullying. Can the Minister explain how she expects the outcome of this work to be taken forward and how the findings will be made available to schools in a way that will easily and practically help to inform their approach?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for this important project. This type of bullying is completely unacceptable. It must be addressed and we must learn the best way to do that. NatCen Social Research, to whom the contract has been awarded, has already started looking at the evidence for the most effective measures to tackle such bullying. It will report in the summer and we will use its report to develop and pilot interventions in schools. The learning from those pilots will be consolidated into a single package of guidance on what works, so that we can share that experience widely across all schools. That will help to ensure that the outcomes of the project live beyond the funding that is available and that they are embedded in future support for schools.
What message does it send to those tackling homophobic bullying in this country that this country has a garrison in Brunei, which has just introduced the death penalty—stoning—for homosexuals?
That is clearly a worrying issue, which I am happy to raise with my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, as appropriate.
Clearly, any kind of homophobic bullying is completely unacceptable in schools or anywhere else. I just wonder whether the Department has a hierarchy of bullying—whether it considers homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying to be more serious than other forms of bullying, or whether it considers all forms of bullying to be equally important.
Clearly, bullying is bullying, regardless of the intent behind it. All forms of bullying need to be tackled in schools and stamped out. It has a hugely detrimental impact on the ability of children to enjoy school and on their achievements and their grades at the end of it. In 2012 this Government introduced the requirement that when inspecting schools, Ofsted should consider how the school tackles bullying. That is now considered part of Ofsted’s inspection, to make sure that schools are tackling all forms of bullying, regardless of the intent behind it.
Older Women’s Employment
5. What steps she is taking to support older women’s employment. 
Jobcentre Plus uses a range of innovative approaches to help older claimants. Local schemes include IT support aimed specifically at older people, dedicated advisers for those aged over 50, and help to convert dated qualifications into certifications that are relevant for modern employers. Overall female inactivity is now at a record low.
I am rather surprised by the Minister’s response, given that unemployment among older women has rocketed by more than 40% and the Work programme has failed more than 90% of women aged over 50. Her response was complacent. What more is she going to do?
I am disappointed by the hon. Lady’s question. More than 3.5 million women aged over 50 are in employment, which is more than 63% of that age group. Across the UK more women are in work than ever before. There has been additional support for older women. One example of the support that jobcentres are providing that has made a real difference is the new employment allowance that helps people to set up their own business. Nearly a quarter of those who have set up businesses using that allowance are over the age of 50 and it is proving particularly popular.
Women are revered in many societies for their knowledge and wisdom, but the first thing that comes up in a Google search for “employing older women” is toyboywarehouse.com. In America, women will not stand for invisibility or marginalisation and have created OWL—the Older Women’s League—to fight for older women in public policy and the workplace. Does my hon. Friend believe that we should do the same in the UK?
The Government are in the process of appointing a business champion for older workers, and an announcement will be made in the next couple of months. That person will have a responsibility to ensure that older workers—in particular women, as the proposal came out of the recommendations of the Women’s Business Council—are taken more seriously by employers and have their skills and experience recognised. This may well be an issue that the champion would like to take up.
The Minister mentioned the older workers business champion, but that was promised over a year ago following a recommendation from the Women’s Business Council. Why have we had to wait for more than a year? The Minister said that the Government are looking at appointing such a champion, but is the year’s delay a result of older women not being a priority?
The Women’s Business Council made a wide range of important recommendations on how women interact in the economy from school age to leaving the work force, and the Government have been working carefully to ensure that we implement as many of them as possible. That element is now in track. The older workers business champion will be appointed shortly, and I hope that we will then see the next part of the process taken forward.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the Oban House care home and the Government’s policy for safeguarding residents in care homes.
The images that we saw on our screens last night were truly disgusting. No one deserves treatment like that. The family and loved ones of care home residents should not have to endure that. Poor care is completely unacceptable. Everyone should receive the highest standards of care delivered by well-trained and compassionate staff. We are committed to making that a reality and to preventing abuse and neglect. We are putting in place, through reform of the Care Quality Commission, a range of measures to improve the regulation of care homes, to hold to account providers that are responsible for unacceptable care, and to improve the quality of social care.
The chief inspector of social care at the CQC is putting in place new rigorous inspections carried out by specialist inspection teams. New fundamental standards of care are being introduced as requirements for registration with the CQC, which will allow the CQC to prosecute providers—and their directors—that are responsible for unacceptable care. We are introducing a new fit-and-proper-person test for directors of companies that provide care, which will allow the CQC to remove individual directors. The care certificate is on track to be introduced in March 2015 and is currently being piloted by employers. That certificate will include compulsory training. The CQC is being given the power to produce ratings of care providers that will provide a fuller picture of the quality of care than mere compliance with minimum standards.
A new statutory duty of candour on providers of care is being introduced, which will place a legal requirement on organisations to be open with patients about serious incidents. We are introducing a new offence of ill treatment and wilful neglect—one for an organisation and one for individuals. It will apply not just to those who do not have capacity, as is currently the case, but to all users of health and adult social care and all health and adult social care settings. A consultation on the new offence ended on 31 March, and we are now considering the responses. We aim to bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity.
I thank the Minister for his statement. The majority of residential care providers provide good, if not excellent, care. However, many of us across the country will have been sickened by the contemptible and callous treatment of elderly people in the Oban House and Old Deanery homes that we saw on “Panorama” last night. When we were shown the many calls for help from Yvonne Grant that were ignored, I, for one, railed against her so-called carers.
I acknowledge that the Care Bill will improve the safeguarding of elderly care home residents, but residents and their families need to know that their voices of concern are heard and acted upon when they feel that care is poor. The CQC needs to be up to the job. I met the CQC two days ago and felt that its engagement with residents and relatives could be much better. Can the Minister assure the House that the CQC will have the staff and expertise to carry out all the necessary inspections, including on the financial viability of care homes? Will he ensure that there is effective monitoring of care homes between inspections so that if there is high staff turnover, for example, that will be flagged up? Can he tell the House what training will be required for care homes staff? Will it be on the job and, if so, for how long?
Although it is right that care workers are held to account for their actions, senior managers should also shoulder their responsibilities. The Government failed to support my amendment to the Care Bill, which would have introduced an offence of corporate neglect. That would allow the prosecution of a care provider if the culture they set is a contributory factor in abuse or neglect. Police Operation Jasmine identified that sort of corporate neglect in south Wales. Will the Minister look again at the proposal in order to promote the care we all want for our loved ones in the place that they call home?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his urgent question and his supplementary questions, which are absolutely legitimate and important. I agree that it is incredibly important that we recognise that there is a lot of great care out there, with incredibly dedicated care workers doing a very difficult job, often in difficult circumstances and without great pay. It would be awful if they were all tainted by the actions of a few.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the Care Bill can make a difference and improve standards. It allows for the introduction of a care certificate so that everyone will be required, for the first time, to have compulsory training and meet a standard of competence before undertaking unsupervised care work. Part of that will be on the job, as I think is right for such work, but it is essential that people meet that standard.
The hon. Gentleman made the essential point that relatives, loved ones and the users of services themselves need to be heard. One thing we have done in that regard through NHS Choices is introduce the ability for anyone to comment on care services in a care home or in domiciliary care and to put their comments online, so that there is no hiding place for unacceptable standards of care. People’s comments and the judgments of the CQC will be available for everyone to see through the NHS Choices website.
I hope I can reassure the hon. Gentleman in relation to his amendment to the Care Bill. I totally agree with him about the importance of being able to prosecute for corporate neglect, which we will address, but in a different way. We are introducing fundamental standards of care that every care provider, and indeed every NHS hospital, must meet in order to be registered with the CQC. Where those standards are not met and there are serious failures, and where there is culpability because of corporate neglect of the sort he describes, the providers will be prosecuted. The CQC will have the power to prosecute not only the company or trust, but individual directors. This is the first time that that has been made possible. The existing regime is flawed, because the CQC must first serve a notice before anything can be done, and if the company complies with the notice it cannot be prosecuted, which is hopeless. We are removing that so that we can move straight to prosecution, as was the intention of his amendment.
I fear that this case will not be the last. May I invite the Minister to think longer term? I have often reflected on why our society outsources the care of elderly loved ones to the state. In the longer term, with an ageing society, I wonder whether we are going to have to look after our elderly more at home. Is there any policy formation within the Department along those lines, because the last thing I would like to happen is see my relatives being treated in the way we have seen?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. In ensuring that we have decent, civilised standards of care for older people, but also for people with learning disabilities and others in vulnerable positions, it cannot be any one party on its own that achieves that objective. It is a challenge for the whole of society, and we must recognise that. Government have their part to play in setting very clear standards and making it absolutely clear that where these standards are not met there are consequences. Through the integration pioneers that we have around the country, we are demonstrating that with better collaboration between statutory services and families, wider communities and neighbours, we can achieve better care for people. The state cannot do this on its own. It has a crucial role to play, but this is a challenge for the whole of society.
I think the whole country was appalled last night when the BBC’s “Panorama” programme exposed the neglect and abuse of vulnerable older people at the hands of their carers. When older people and their families take a decision to move into residential care, they must be assured of high standards. Poor care must be stamped out and those responsible properly held to account.
First, I want to press the Minister on the specific case at Oban House. He will be aware that concerns were first raised about the home by whistleblowers back in 2012. What action was taken to address those concerns, and were they brought to the attention of Ministers? In its latest inspection in February, the Care Quality Commission reported that the home had too few staff and that some residents waited too long for staff to answer their calls. Will the Minister set out precisely what action was taken after those failures were highlighted back in February?
The Minister will be aware that following the awful abuse exposed by “Panorama”, a number of staff have been suspended, and HC-One has said it will increase staffing levels and improve training at the care home. However, is he fully satisfied that the safety and well-being of residents at Oban House is not still at risk?
This case raises serious questions about not only the inspection of care homes but the role of local councils. Councils and local authorities, which are much closer to care homes, should have a strong role in monitoring and driving up care standards. They should be the first safety net. Was it not a major error, therefore, to remove in the Care Bill the CQC’s powers to check that local councils are commissioning care services properly?
Care home bosses who fail to ensure that their residents are treated properly must face tough consequences. I heard what the Minister said about holding those bosses to account. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), as he outlined, proposed an amendment to the Care Bill to introduce a new criminal offence so that negligent care home owners can be fined or sent to jail. Is it not disappointing that the Government voted against that amendment?
In the first three years of this Parliament, social care budgets have been slashed by £1.8 billion. Yesterday, the growing abuse of zero-hours contracts, particularly in the care sectors, was revealed. Does the Minister accept that we will never get the standard of care that we aspire to from a social care system that has been cut to the bone? Should the coalition not revisit its brutal cuts to social care, which make such a situation more, not less, likely to occur?
This shocking case is yet another reminder that the time has come for a radical rethink of how we care for older people. These abuses must stop. How many more “Panorama” programmes exposing appalling cases such as at Oban House must we see before proper action is taken? Today, the Government must explain how they plan to prevent older people facing further abuse and indignity.
I thank the hon. Lady for those questions. I completely agree that unacceptable practices, and abuse and neglect, must be stamped out. I hope she is pleased that the Government are taking action to ensure that we can prosecute care providers who have allowed unacceptable practices. When I came into my job and had to respond to the scandal at Winterbourne View, the question I asked officials was, “What has happened to the company? How has it been held to account?” I was told that the Care Quality Commission could not prosecute because it had to serve a notice first, and if the company complied with the notice, nothing could be done.
A flawed regulatory regime was established when the CQC came into being. We are changing that so that providers of care can be prosecuted if they fail to meet fundamental standards of care. [Interruption.] I am answering the question. That is precisely what we are doing. The hon. Lady mentioned the issue of corporate accountability and corporate neglect, and that is exactly what we are addressing: we are giving the CQC the power to prosecute when there is corporate neglect.
We are also going further by introducing a fit-and-proper-person test so that every director of every care company will have to demonstrate that they are a fit and proper person. That should already be the case, but this is the first time it has happened. We are also introducing proper standards of training for all staff.
On the care home concerned, I hope it will be helpful if I write to the hon. Lady setting out the whole sequence of events and the entire timeline of the steps taken by the CQC. I commit to doing that in the next few days so that she will have the full picture.
We have made sure that the CQC is independent—we have strengthened its independence. We are introducing a far more robust inspection regime and we are addressing a problem. When the CQC was introduced by the Labour Government, the design of the inspection system was for generalist inspectors who might inspect hospitals one week and care homes the next. We are introducing specialist inspections. When inspectors go into a care home, they will talk to relatives, residents and staff, to get a much fuller picture of what is going on. Care homes will then be rated on their standards of care, so everyone will know what their local provider’s standards are.
I hope the hon. Lady will feel that real, substantial steps are being taken to address unacceptable standards of care and to ensure that people are properly held to account when bad things happen.
Everyone in the House will want to ensure that anyone in residential care is treated with the compassion we would expect if our own much-loved parents were in such care. In addition to supporting the CQC’s specialist inspections, does my hon. Friend not think that we may be reaching a point where health and wellbeing boards will need to consider setting up panels of trained, independent lay visitors to visit residential care homes in their own area—unheralded and unannounced—to check whether people are getting the care and compassion that is merited and that we would all want for anyone in a care home in our constituencies?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question and I very much share his view. In my own county of Norfolk, a brilliant third sector organisation is doing precisely that. It is arranging for ordinary people to go into care homes, judge the sense of kindness of compassion there and give a much richer view than statutory agencies might be able to provide. I would also point to the role of Healthwatch England, which has been established through the health reforms. Those organisations have the power in every local area to go into care homes—they cannot be blocked from going into them or any other health or care setting—to make their own judgments on where things are going wrong. Through that much greater transparency and openness, we will not only expose poor care but drive up standards.
Do not terrible events such as those revealed by the brilliant “Panorama” team show that the Government were wrong to reject one of the central recommendations of the Francis report, namely that care assistants should be regulated?
First, I share the right hon. Gentleman’s recognition of the work that “Panorama” has done. It is interesting that two examples of appalling abuse—namely this case and that at Winterbourne View—have been exposed as a result of hidden cameras. We must acknowledge that and recognise that there might be a role for the use of hidden cameras in the CQC’s work where there is potential evidence of abuse and where we need to establish that evidence in order to take effective action.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about registration, my concern is that the registration of nurses did not stop awful things happening at Mid Staffordshire. It is not in itself a panacea that ensures good-quality care. For me, the most important element is proper training to ensure that everyone is trained to an acceptable standard before undertaking unsupervised care work. If we can establish that standard across the country, we can drive up standards.
Care homes should be places of light and laughter, rather than places of fear and neglect. They should be seen as part of their communities, rather than apart from their communities. Will the Minister therefore look again at the proposals in this Government’s White Paper on care and support for commissioning a piece of work delivered by the programme called My Home Life, which is all about delivering relationship-based care? Rather than care that is just about transactions, the programme is about changing the nature of the relationship between those who provide care and those who receive it.
I am certainly happy to have another look at the White Paper and to discuss it with my right hon. Friend, but let me just address his key point. It is absolutely right to say that when we have closed doors, awful things can happen beyond the sight of the public. Professor Martin Green, who is a very good leader of providers of care, has argued the case for care homes to become a sort of hub in their local community, opening their doors to ensure that they become a centre of excellence for that community and providing services and support for people who may live independently at home, but who would benefit from the skills in such an organisation. Openness, transparency and ensuring that the public gaze is cast upon what goes in such places is the right way forward.
Before I came into the House, I worked for the Care Standards Inspectorate for Wales, and when I had concerns about a care home with which I was working, I made unannounced inspections. Will the Minister tell us how many unannounced inspections were made at Oban House, and can he guarantee that the CQC has enough inspectors and enough capacity to carry out frequent unannounced inspections for homes about which it has any concerns?
We are making absolutely sure that the Care Quality Commission has the capacity and the funding to do its job properly. That question was also asked by the shadow Minister, and I apologise for not responding on that point. We absolutely want to make sure that the CQC has the capacity to do unannounced inspections, but, critically, to do much more robust inspections as well.
This is a process—we cannot introduce a different system overnight—but the new system of robust inspections is already being used in about 1% of care homes, with a view to the process being rolled out fully in October this year. The first ratings of care homes will emerge in October this year. Members of the public, when they are making crucial decisions about where a loved one will receive care, will therefore have much more information about which care providers are good and which are not up to standard. I will make sure that the hon. Lady receives the same timeline of what the Care Quality Commission did that I offered to the shadow Minister.
Yet again, it has taken undercover reporting by the BBC and covert recording by families to shine a spotlight on these appalling abuses. Given that people with dementia, in particular, cannot tell their own story—in some recent cases, that has involved their being slapped—should not the CQC not only make unannounced visits, but seriously consider undercover work to record these terrible abuses?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I have spoken to the chair of the CQC, David Prior, specifically about this matter. It is looking at both the use of hidden cameras in appropriate circumstances and at mystery shopping—going into care homes, finding out what is going on and getting a real picture, rather than things perhaps being hidden away from view when a named inspector turns up. All these mechanisms have to be used. We have to be prepared to do these things to ensure that people in very vulnerable situations, particularly people with dementia, are cared for with dignity.
The care homes sector is growing in size and in profitability. In his remarks, the Minister focused on the low wages that are paid to care workers in the sector. Often, the pay reflects the value that is put on the work that is being done. Will he look at pay and profitability in the sector, and consider the impact that it may have on bad practice?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The difference in the providers that pay people properly is clear. Incidentally, domiciliary care is another area where there are concerns. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) visited Wiltshire recently, which has moved away from the old style of paying people a pittance and now gives care workers a salary. When that happens, the whole culture starts to change completely.
We must ensure that there is compliance with the minimum wage, as well as advocating wages that are better than the minimum. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has done a lot of work in the sector to address the abuse of the minimum wage regulations, which is far too widespread. It is completely intolerable for any care provider not to meet its statutory obligations. As the shadow Minister said, we have to ensure that when they commission care, councils cannot be complicit in an arrangement that they know will end up with people not receiving proper pay.
Nobody could accuse the fastidious Minister of excluding from the answers any consideration that he thinks might in any way be material. If he can combine that with reasonable economy, the House will be even more grateful to him than it is.
On the Minister’s last point, I am pleased that Gloucestershire county council, notwithstanding the financial pressures on it, has prioritised spending on adult social care for elderly people and those with learning disabilities. From his conversations with the CQC, is he confident that its culture is not just that of a tick-box regulator, but that of an organisation that sees itself as the champion of those who are receiving care and their families, such that if it sees the sort of abuse that was highlighted on television last night, it will act to ensure that it comes to an end and that the perpetrators are dealt with swiftly?
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your gentle guidance. I will do my best.
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. One cannot change the culture of an organisation overnight. The Care Quality Commission was a dysfunctional organisation, but it now has really good leadership in the form of David Behan and its chairman, David Prior. They understand the importance of changing the culture and ensuring that they are always the champion of the patient.
I say to the Minister and all colleagues in the House that this is not good enough. It is disgraceful. We had it before and we had similar answers. We have to stop this. There are wonderful carers out there—most carers are wonderful—but they need support, good skills training and to be paid properly. Surely we ought to have a charter in every home that says, “These are your rights. Don’t let them be infringed. They are clear.” Every good hotel and business has such a charter hanging up where everyone can see it. Can we not have that tomorrow?
Many care homes are signing up to exactly those standards. The more that happens, the more we should applaud and encourage it. The hon. Gentleman is right that we should all be completely intolerant of such abuse and neglect. It is a challenge for the whole of society. Whichever Government are in power need to hold the line of being absolutely intolerant of any failures of care and must demonstrate that when they happen, there are real consequences that will hold people to account.
As I found out recently when trying to find a suitable home for a relative, trying to get assurances about the quality of care and not just the quality of the buildings, let alone working out how one pays for it all, is a minefield. The truth is that this abuse was uncovered not by the CQC but by the BBC. Following on from the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), could we not have a reporting mechanism, be it through residents, their relatives or volunteer visiting friends, which would be particularly appropriate for those who lack capacity, that would trigger such an investigation by the CQC, with the use of undercover cameras and so on? Could we not have something as high profile as ChildLine that works and that people know about?
I thank my hon. Friend—or is he right honourable?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course the work has to go way beyond just what the CQC can do. I mentioned in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) the fact that organisations focusing particularly on compassionate care now carry out inspections and make reports. I have also mentioned NHS Choices, which means that any member of the public can give their comments on the care experience of a loved one. The more people use their power to highlight unacceptable things that are happening in care homes, and indeed great things, the better.
My constituent Maureen Pycroft witnessed appalling standards in the home where her husband Barry was meant to be cared for, and she was horrified to learn that the same care provider went on to run other services and abuse other vulnerable people some years later. Will the Minister assure me that the CQC now has powers to ensure that when there is abuse in homes, the providers who run them will be barred from running homes in the future?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and that is why we are introducing the fit and proper person test for every director of every care or health care provider. If they have been complicit in unacceptable standards or prosecuted for unacceptable care, the CQC can require them to be removed from the board of a care provider. The new standards should help considerably.
Nobody who uses schools is unaware of Ofsted and its job. Should we not look for a similar situation with regard to the CQC, and is there not a big public information job to be done to ensure that people know better what the CQC is there for and how to access it?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The CQC needs to build a reputation so that everyone has confidence in its ability always to represent the patient’s interests. I believe that the CQC’s leadership understand that mission and are well on the way to achieving it, but it will not happen overnight.
I have seen wonderful examples of residential care in my constituency, but I have also had concerns raised with me about staffing levels and zero-hours contracts in other care homes. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and transparency is key, so what are the Government doing to enhance and protect the vital role of employees who blow the whistle on poor standards of care?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to recognise that there is great care out there, and we should applaud care workers who deliver fantastic care. I was at an awards dinner recently at which individual care workers were given awards for providing great care. Celebrating great care is incredibly important in changing the culture of the sector.
The Government took steps to fund a helpline that had previously been only for health workers and extended it to social care, so that anyone can seek advice about what to do if they want to whistleblow. The culture must be that anyone feels able to blow the whistle and get things done, and the CQC must respond effectively when that happens.
The Minister will be aware that we have previously had problems with a care home in Harlow, but we also have some excellent ones, particularly Tye Green Lodge, Alexandra House and a number of others. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should boost the confidential hotline and set it up as a proper hotline like Crimestoppers, to allow people to feel that they can call? Does he also agree that we should ensure that it is advertised properly to everyone who uses care homes and their relatives?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and it is right to highlight the great places that are providing excellent care. The Care Quality Commission makes it clear that it encourages members of the public to come forward and alert it to concerns, but we must do much more to make it easy for members of the public, so that they understand exactly what they need to do if they have concerns.
I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) for her comments, particularly on local authorities. A major factor in all this and across the care sector has been the widespread privatisation of very good local authority care homes. In my constituency, three superb homes were forcibly closed. They were loved by their staff, their residents and the families, and admired by local health professionals—all closed; all gone. Is it time to re-establish a role for local authorities in providing care services and making all care locally and democratically accountable?
Unacceptable standards of care must be condemned and challenged wherever they occur, whether in the private, public or voluntary sector. Mid Staffordshire hospital was an NHS hospital, yet awful things happened. We must be intolerant of abuse or neglect wherever it happens. On local authorities—the shadow Minister raised this point—we have the power to require the Care Quality Commission to inspect on specific issues, including where there are concerns about the commissioning of care. It is important that those powers are there to be used.
The BBC shone a spotlight in its programme on the practices of specific care homes. What message can my hon. Friend give to people whose vulnerable family members have been in those homes and treated so appallingly? What level of reassurance can he give those families that their safeguarding is being taken care of and that this abuse will stop?
The way I would put it is that we owe it to those families to demonstrate that we are taking effective action to address the very serious concerns they have raised. All the steps the Government are taking, which I have outlined this morning, will go a long way to eradicating such behaviour. Where it does occur—there will always be bad apples in any system—there must be real consequences not only for that individual care worker, but for a company that allowed such things to happen in the first place.
As a constituency MP I respond to CQC reports by visits or by writing to care homes. On a recent visit to a very good care home, staff talked to me about their new apprentice with great enthusiasm. That apprentice will receive good training and support, and I am sure they will be a good employee. Is the Minister confident that the CQC has the capacity to oversee and assess apprenticeship training to ensure that it is not just cheap labour and that apprentices are getting the best education?
First, I applaud the hon. Lady for going to those care homes and seeing for herself what is going on in response to Care Quality Commission reports. We should all be willing to do that. I have already said that the CQC has been given extra funding, and we are completely committed to ensuring that it has the capacity to do its job properly and substantially increase the number of apprentices in that sector. As she says, proper training is vital to ensure a properly trained work force.
Does the Minister agree that the most effective way to raise standards and ensure a culture of compassion and sympathetic care in a full range of care settings is by strengthening corporate responsibility? We need public opprobrium to be aimed at the owners and directors of those companies so that they are persuaded to introduce systems such as lay visitor or advocacy schemes within those care settings, to ensure that examples of this sort do not happen.
My hon. Friend is right. That is why the Government have taken steps to ensure that the Care Quality Commission can prosecute when there are examples of the new fundamental standards of care we are introducing being breached. In future, no one will be able to get away with allowing poor standards of care in their workplace. We will take action through prosecution and the fit-and-proper-person test to drive up standards.
The Minister has spoken a fair bit about the extra powers he will give the Care Quality Commission, but staff at that agency gave the Old Deanery home a clean bill of health in November 2013. Two months later after the “Panorama” revelations they found significant failings. What will the Minister do about inspectors who failed to do their job? Will they be free to carry on as if nothing has happened?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. In a way, he makes the case for why the inspection regime needs to be much more robust and not a tick-box exercise. More effective inspection, with inspectors talking to staff and, crucially, relatives of those in the care home, will provide a much better picture of what is going on there. It is for the CQC as the employer to address any concerns it has about the way in which its staff have conducted themselves, but the new tough inspection regime is being introduced, with 1% of care homes already covered. It will be fully implemented by October this year.
I applaud the Minister for his efforts to change the prosecution regime for residential care home abuse, but is he optimistic that he can get the changes through so that we might see some exemplary prosecutions by the end of this year?
I hope that the changes will be implemented in October, but of course criminal investigations take time. The whole purpose is for the changes to act as a deterrent to stop bad things happening, but I take the view that if there is evidence that awful things have happened, the CQC must use its new powers. If it were to do so, it would send a very clear signal to the rest of the sector that this is a serious regulator that will use its powers effectively.
Because of the high turnover of staff in the adult care sector, intelligence on care staff, especially those who have committed abuse and are barred, is very important. Why has there been a 60% drop in the number of people barred from working with vulnerable adults on the basis of information from care home providers in the last three years?
I will investigate the figures that the hon. Lady mentions. She is right to suggest that it is important that if employers—both in the social care and health sectors—dismiss a worker for abuse of patients or residents, they refer the case to the barring scheme. If employers are not doing that, they are failing in their responsibilities. We have to protect people in such cases and I will look into the point she raises.
The CQC has recently published a critical report on some care homes in north-east Lincolnshire that care for people suffering from mental health difficulties. I welcome what the Minister said earlier about the need for better training. Dealing with mental health patients is particularly challenging, so can he give an absolute assurance that more work will be done to ensure that training meets the standards required?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the fact that it is just as important to protect and provide great care for younger adults who have other needs, be those mental health issues, learning disabilities or autism, as it is for frail older people. All the requirements on compulsory training will apply equally in the former settings as they will in the latter. We have to drive up standards there as well.
The Oban House health care home is located in my constituency and I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, the House and the Minister for not being here when the Minister made his statement. I hear that the Minister made a comprehensive statement that covered a lot of the issues. When the dust has settled, will he agree to meet me and any concerned constituents to assess how the situation arose and how we can make progress?
Yes, of course I will.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 5 May—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 6 May—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Wales Bill. It may be helpful if I remind colleagues that the House will sit at 2.30 pm next Tuesday and that the moment of interruption will be at 10 o’clock.
Wednesday 7 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Water Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 8 May—A debate on motions relating to House of Commons business, including on petitions, programming, parliamentary privilege and amendments to Standing Orders, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 May—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 May will include:
Monday 12 May—Consideration of Lords amendments, followed by remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill (Day 1).
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall will be:
Thursday 8 May—A debate on the fourth report of the Scottish Affairs Committee on the impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland: interim report, followed by a debate on the 10th report of the Environmental Audit Committee on sustainability in the UK overseas territories.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
Mr Speaker, yesterday you announced that the Clerk of the House will be retiring after 42 years of distinguished service to this place. There will be an occasion in future to pay an appropriate tribute, but for now I just observe that his seminal opus “How Parliament Works” still remains the most borrowed book in the whole of the House of Commons Library. The warm applause he received from all sides of the House yesterday is a fitting tribute to the esteem in which he is held.
Given the languid nature of the Government’s legislative programme to date, may I congratulate the Leader of the House on managing to find at least some business for us to consider? Will he now confirm to the House what we all know: that next Thursday he will be at the Dispatch Box announcing an early Prorogation and admitting that they are a Government who have not only run out of ideas but out of steam?
I note that next Thursday we will debate a range of motions on House business, including on programming, privilege, e-petitions and Standing Orders. I also note that some of those motions are being rewritten at the last minute and even as we speak. Will the Leader of the House set out what he will be proposing? Will he tell us how he plans to structure the debates and, more important, whether there will be separate votes? After last year’s embarrassment of Tory Back Benchers moving to regret their own Queen’s Speech, will he confirm whether the Government are trying to avoid a repeat performance this year by attempting to limit the number of amendments that can be tabled, or are they frantically rewriting the motion even as we speak because they realised that they going were to lose the vote and have had to back off from this attempt to gag Parliament? What a spectacle: a Government who have to contemplate changing the Standing Orders to stop their own Back Benchers amending their own Queen’s Speech, and then have to abandon the attempt because they realised they would lose the vote.
On Monday, almost 80 Conservative Members were allowed to absent themselves or rebel on their Government’s flagship High Speed 2 Bill. Those conveniently absent included the Attorney-General, the Minister for Europe, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury—and the Prime Minister. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Prime Minister has been taking lessons on collective responsibility from the Liberal Democrats?
Today is May day. Given that the Tories have farcically renamed themselves the workers party, will the Leader of the House tell me whether he or the Chief Whip plan to be on any May day marches this weekend to show solidarity with their comrades in South Cambridgeshire and North West Hampshire? May we have a debate, in Government time, on the increasing levels of insecurity in work, so they can explain exactly why it is that there are now more than 2 million zero-hours contracts in this country, and why underemployment is at record levels?
Yesterday the Government were forced to reveal the list of 16 firms that had been given priority access to the Royal Mail fire sale. We now know that Lazard—the same firm that had advised the Business Secretary on the price—bought nearly half the shares that were available to the priority bidders, and was able to make a profit of £8 million in a single week. The chairman of Lazard in the United Kingdom is a former Tory Member of Parliament. The Chancellor’s best man made a mint, and numerous Tory donors appear to have benefited from being allowed into this cosy old boys’ club. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills so that he can explain the cronyism that exists in the Government?
With just three weeks to go until the local and European elections, the race is hotting up. The Prime Minister, on the campaign trail in Essex, could not tell his Chelmsfords from his Colchesters—which proves that with this Prime Minister it is not “The Only Way is Essex” but more like “Made in Chelsea”. Meanwhile, in their bunker, the Liberal Democrats are eagerly awaiting the verdict of the electorate. The number of candidates they are putting up is significantly down, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) has described his own party as “largely pointless”, and the Deputy Prime Minister must be fondly reminiscing about the days when everyone thought he was the man who was going to change British politics. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury recently declared that the Cornish were now a national minority; I think it is about time that he also declared that the Liberal Democrats are now a national joke.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the business statement, and, in particular, for her warm words about the Clerk of the House. I hope to be able to announce before the summer recess an opportunity for us to pay tribute to the Clerk. I share the hon. Lady’s sense that we have in our present Clerk someone who has been not only exemplary in the fulfilling of his duties but inspirational in his attachment to the House of Commons and its responsibilities, and to the quality of democracy and accountability in this place. That was demonstrated amply in his letter to the Speaker, which was read to us yesterday.
I welcome the deputy shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), to his new position. We are very grateful to the former shadow deputy Leader, the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), and wish her well in her responsibilities for water and animal welfare. I have to say that the arrival of the new shadow Deputy Leader of the House has not yet produced any improvement in the quality of the jokes in the response to the business statement, but we look forward to that; it might happen. If nothing else, we know that we shall now have plenty of advice on procedure, which I am sure we shall all appreciate.
Curiously, the shadow Leader of the House began by asking me what I was going to announce next week. I shall announce next week what I am going to announce next week, but it will come as no surprise to the hon. Lady that I shall not be in a position to advise on the date of prorogation until the business that needs to be transacted during the current Session has been assured. And that is the point—we do have business. We have had a busy Session: I believe that we have introduced some 24 Bills, not including carry-overs, which is a substantial programme. There are four Bills whose progress we need to complete, and we are dealing with five that will be carried over into the next Session.
The hon. Lady asked about the structure of next Thursday’s business. Time does not permit me to describe all the motions that will need to be considered, but I propose that there should be a time-limited debate lasting some three hours and allowing consideration of a range of issues relating to House business. There will be separate votes on those issues at the end of the debate.
The hon. Lady asked specifically about the content of Standing Order No. 33. We are simply trying to fulfil what I consider to be the responsibility of the Leader of the House, which is to ensure both that the will of the House can be met and that the Standing Orders are clear and unambiguous. The current position is that the Standing Order sets no limit to the number of amendments, although that was not the intention behind it. I think we can arrive at a solution—not least with the benefit of advice from the Procedure Committee—that will attract consensus throughout the House, which is always my aim.
The hon. Lady asked about the HS2 vote, which illustrated the benefit of business questions, not least because it gave Members an opportunity some weeks ago to ask for additional time, as I think the shadow Leader of the House did. Additional time was found to ensure that we had a very full debate on Monday of this week, and time on Tuesday to debate the future processes for scrutinising the HS2 Bill. There was a majority of more than 400 in favour of the Bill, which was a very satisfactory outcome.
As the shadow Leader of the House knows, the Prime Minister is a very busy man. His support for HS2 is not in doubt. [Interruption.] Opposition Members should not get too excited. I have taken the trouble to look at how often the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) voted in the 2005 Parliament, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and subsequently Prime Minister. He voted on 12.7% of occasions. The Prime Minister in this Parliament has voted on 17.8% of occasions—a considerably improved performance. In fact, it is not only an improved voting performance but an improved performance as Prime Minister.
We have not had an opportunity to announce and discuss the future business of the House since 10 April, and I was struck by the fact that the shadow Leader of the House did not ask for a debate on the economy, on jobs, on the progress on inflation. [Interruption.] Oh—zero-hours contracts, I see. The Opposition are not really interested in how many jobs there are. Don’t worry, there will be an opportunity to discuss jobs, including that issue. My right hon. Friends and others at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills undertook a consultation on zero-hours contracts, so they are in a very good position to come to the House and advise on how we can achieve improvements in such contracts and end abuse. However, in doing so we will recognise that it also matters to people that there are more jobs, that they are in jobs. Since we last met, it has been announced that the number of private sector jobs has increased by 1.7 million overall; that inflation has gone down to 1.6%; that confidence as reported by business surveys is at a 10-year high; and that growth in this country is now the fastest among the leading economic nations.
Several hon. Members
Order. As usual, a great many hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but there is important business to follow and therefore a premium upon brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike. We can be led, in an exemplary fashion, on that front by Mr Charles Walker.
I thank the Leader of the House for his movement on Standing Order No. 33 and for providing significant time next week for business to be transacted relating to my Committee’s reports. I urge him, a reform-minded Leader of the House, to join the Procedure Committee in driving forward an e-petition system that is absolutely geared to the needs of the House of Commons, its Members and, of course, our constituents.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and his Committee for their work. I hope that next week’s debate will enable us to demonstrate that although we have a very successful system of e-petitions to Government, we do not have a mechanism by which members of the public can petition their Parliament. It is an essential and historic element of the work of this Parliament that it receive and consider petitions and grievances. Although the public have on occasion seen petitions to the Government website turn into debates in this House, strictly speaking the House has no ownership of the petition system itself. I hope we can, through that debate, initiate a process by which we can enable members of the public to feel that they are petitioning their Parliament and seeking its response, and action and response from Government at the same time.
One problem with the e-petition system was that it has not so far been debated by the House, so I welcome next week’s debate. If the Procedure Committee is to do the work on the details of bringing forward a system, will the Leader of the House confirm that we can all work together to have those proposals debated and voted on as soon as possible by the whole House, so that a system can be in place as soon as the new Parliament starts?
The hon. Lady is right about that, and I want to work with the Procedure Committee and other stakeholders across the House to ensure that we have something that works for the House and for the public. When hon. Members work back from the simple fact that the petitions website will be taken down at Dissolution early next year and has to be with the new Parliament when it assembles—we hope to introduce it in its adapted and enhanced form—I hope they can see that we have to agree in principle what needs to be done by the summer recess.
May we have a debate on competitive tendering within the NHS, using as a case history ERS Medical, a private firm that cheated to win a contract for patient transport services in Essex? This morning, former members of the NHS ambulance trust turned up for work at ERS and were turned away. I would say that that is illegal—it is certainly immoral—and we should look at whether ERS Medical is up to any more of these cheating tricks to win contracts.
My hon. Friend will understand that I am not in a position to comment directly on the issues relating to ERS, but I will ask my colleagues at the Department of Health whether they will be able to respond to him, not least if he wishes to provide any further information.
Of course, competitive tendering for patient transport services has been a part of the NHS for a long time; it is not something that has been recently introduced. What is new in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is an absolute statutory basis for competitive tendering to be undertaken on the basis of delivering for the best interests of patients, and that is very important.
As a result of changes to the minimum practice income guarantee and the quality and outcomes framework last year, five GP practices in my constituency are threatened with closure, and The Times reports on its front page today that Tower Hamlets is not alone in this. May we please have an urgent statement from the Department of Health on what assessments have been made of the impact of these changes on constituencies such as mine? Would the Leader of the House be so kind as to reinforce my request for an urgent meeting with the appropriate Minister at the Department of Health?
I will of course convey that request and ask whether a Minister will be able to meet the hon. Gentleman. I know from my previous work at the Department of Health—he, too, will understand this—that the MPIG was established under the 2004 GP contract, which had many flaws, one of which was that although it was said at the time that the MPIG would disappear over time, no mechanism was put in place for that to happen. The new framework proposes that the MPIG will disappear over time, but there is a substantial seven-year transitional period for that to happen. I will of course ask my colleagues to amplify things to the hon. Gentleman in detail.
Will my right hon. Friend allow an early debate on rural broadband? On 1 January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is introducing “digital by default” for all single farm payments, but 22% of my constituency will not have access to fast broadband so this really does require the most urgent attention from the Department.
My hon. Friend will have heard our colleagues responding in Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions on issues relating to rural broadband. Some 20,000 homes in rural areas are acquiring broadband each week. It can be difficult to provide broadband in some rural areas, but the Government have a clear focus on ensuring not only that we achieve the objectives we set out on broadband in total, but that we focus on the most difficult-to-reach areas, finding technological and financial solutions for those, too.
Is the Leader of the House aware that there cannot be a more deserved debate than one about the demise of the two deep coal mines in Thoresby and Kellingley, and that it should be held as soon as possible? There are three pits left in Britain, two of which are hanging on by their fingernails. As there is plenty of time to deal with the matter, will he arrange a debate so that we can discuss ways of saving those two collieries? Applications could be made for EU state aid. The Government could also find £70 million out of the £700 million that they took out of the miners pension scheme last February. Those are ways to save these pits, save the jobs and keep the coal mining industry afloat.
The hon. Gentleman will have heard, as I have, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) respond precisely to some of the questions that he has just put. I completely understand that he and other Members may well wish to have a debate on this. It would be appropriate for them to seek to apply for an Adjournment debate, or to go through the Backbench Business Committee. I cannot promise Government time for this matter—
It is about state aid.
The hon. Gentleman says that it is about state aid, but my right hon. Friend has made it clear that there is no mechanism by which the EU can provide state aid; that is not how it works. It is about whether this country is in a position to provide aid that would qualify as state aid and be accepted. He has heard my right hon. Friend respond directly to that point at this Dispatch Box.
The floods have at last receded in Somerset, and we are going back to normal. Can we please have time in this House to discuss the important lessons that we need to learn not just in the area of the Somerset levels but right across the United Kingdom where flooding has been a concern? We do not want another year like this one for any part of the United Kingdom. Unless the lessons are learned, we potentially face this problem time and again given the way in which the climate is changing.
I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, and he is quite right. The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that, by establishing the work of the new flooding Cabinet Committee, he is ensuring that there is strategic ministerial oversight of policy on flood recovery and long-term resilience, which is exactly the point that my hon. Friend makes. As those lessons are learned and exercises come together, Ministers who are overseeing the matter will, I am sure, take an opportunity to update the House as soon as possible.
A month ago, the Business Secretary told me that links between donations to the Conservative party and profits made from the sale of Royal Mail shares were nothing to do with him. Now that we know there are links, may we have an urgent debate on propriety in politics? In a week in which my constituents have seen a Member resign over propriety issues, it is clear that these matters go right to the heart of belief in British politics.
The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong; there are no such links. I was involved in this area more than 20 years ago, and we made it absolutely clear that in the Conservative party, donations never buy influence over policy. I wish it were the same in the Labour party, but it is not. Last year, Len McCluskey gave the Labour party £1.2 million and said that the time had come to have a policy for rent controls. What did we get—a policy on rent controls.
May I ask for an early debate on financial travel support for parents who wish to send their youngsters to faith-based schools? Parents came to see me because they want to send their children to the Catholic school, St Augustine’s, in Billington. As they have to pass a non-faith-based school, they will get no support whatever for travel costs, and it will cost the parents hundreds of pounds. Financial discrimination is religious discrimination and that should not happen.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is in the Chamber representing his constituents as assiduously as he has always done. We look forward to his continuing to do so. I will, if I may, ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Education to respond to him. It is important that, although there are significant financial constraints, we try to ensure that parents can in practice access the choice that we want them to.
In the light of the arrest and detention of a certain Gerry Adams in connection with the murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 who was abducted and murdered by the IRA, of which Gerry Adams was commander in Belfast in the ’70s, simply for going to the aid of a dying soldier, does the Leader of the House agree that this is an appropriate time for a debate on victims, so that they can be reassured that evidence will be followed up and that people will be brought to book no matter what their status or standing in society?
The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, understand that I am not in a position to comment on any ongoing police investigation. His point about victims is important and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made clear at the Dispatch Box recently in relation to the wider circumstances and questions about the on-the-run terrorists review, we should always make sure that the needs of justice are served and that victims can see that we are continuing to pursue the issues that relate to that.
On Monday, I sought to ask the Home Secretary about the cost of the MPs’ asylum and immigration hotline, but was unable to do so. Will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box and give us that figure, and can we also talk about the proposal for a dedicated asylum hotline so that MPs and their staff are not tied up with comments and questions from people seeking explanations about their asylum applications and can focus on our constituents’ needs?
My hon. Friend will know, not least from the many occasions on which I have quite properly received representations from hon. Members, that it is important to Members of this House that they can advise and support their constituents on many issues arising from asylum and immigration and that they can do so effectively through their contact with the Home Office and its associated agencies. I will, if I may, ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration to respond directly to my hon. Friend on the subject of the cost of the asylum immigration hotline. If he is happy to do so, he might like to have a direct conversation about how we can best represent our constituents in a way that serves their interests.
Will the Leader of the House find adequate time for discussion of the outstanding reports from the Standards Committee that await debate and of the report from its predecessor, the Committee on Standards and Privileges, on the proposed revision to the guide to the rules relating to the conduct of Members? That report was published in December 2012, yet we are still waiting for time for a debate in the House.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, which allows me to say that I had hoped that we might have resolved those issues before now. We have not and I hope that we will soon. We and other stakeholders across the House need to establish consensus not only on that important issue but on how we might take forward the issues that the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee are considering as regards a more general revision of the code of conduct. I hope that in our conversations and my representations to his Committee we might be able to strengthen the work of the Standards Committee and give greater reassurance to the public and our constituents about the independence and robustness of the processes we have in place.
As chair of the all-party group on self-build, custom-build and independent house building, may I remind the Leader of the House that next week’s business includes a debate on this important subject, to which the Government committed £150 million in the recent Budget? Hon. Members who wish to intervene in that debate should attend at the end of the day next Wednesday.
My hon. Friend is quite right and, in self-build week, he has managed to obtain an opportunity for an Adjournment debate that will highlight the support we are giving and the potential there is for people to increase our housing supply in this country through self-build. We do not do very well in comparison with many other countries and he is an advocate of our doing much more. I encourage Members who have the opportunity to do so to support my hon. Friend in his debate on this important subject.
As we have been talking about petitions today, will the Leader of the House take account of the growing number of people from Huddersfield and Halifax who are signing a petition because they are deeply concerned about the possible closure of accident and emergency departments in those two towns? That is very important to them. May we have an urgent debate on what the hell is going on in A and E departments up and down our country?
I know the hon. Gentleman will be aware that what is going on is that we are continuing to deliver high standards of care in A and E departments in circumstances where there is a consistently rising number of people attending. We need to do two things. We need to make sure that people are cared for effectively in the community to minimise their requirement to use A and E, and we need to focus A and E on the task that it needs to do. But when people go to A and E, we need to make sure that they go to an emergency department that has the skills and the capability to deal with their case, and what is available at present varies dramatically between locations. We need to ensure that people with the most serious conditions get to the emergency departments with a full range of capabilities to deal with them.
Each year more than 324,000 tenants are evicted in response to complaints they must make about the condition of their homes, so it is no surprise that 12% of private tenants do not report any problem for fear of retaliatory eviction. May we have a debate about stopping bad landlords dodging repairs when evicted tenants complain to their local councils, and giving tenants the right to appeal a notice to quit if it is a response to a problem, particularly as more than 1.3 million private rented homes do not meet the Government’s decent homes standard?
My hon. Friend will be aware that our colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, through their review of property, have identified the extent to which there is a deficiency in the quality of the housing stock in part of the private rented sector. We want to make sure that people have good access to housing and that the housing is of good quality. I will, if I may, talk to my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government about when we might have an early opportunity for them to respond further in relation to that.
Tomorrow I will be meeting veterans and beneficiaries of the Royal British Legion at the very well named 617 Squadron room at the new Penarth Pier pavilion in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming their work and find time for a debate on the importance of community covenants and strengthening community partnerships, such as this excellent work?
I would like to take the opportunity to join the hon. Gentleman in our support for the community covenant and support for the communities who are backing up the military covenant in this way. It is important to recognise the sacrifice and the tremendous contribution that many people have made through their service in the armed services. I do not see an opportunity for a debate immediately, but there may be ere long further opportunities for us to highlight that in our own constituencies.
Two years ago, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), now the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I addressed the UK Trade & Industry Leicestershire chamber of commerce conference. In my speech I highlighted the need for business to look beyond the eurozone to emerging markets and our Commonwealth partners for export growth. Given that exports to India were up 20% last year and exports to China are now averaging £1 billion a year, may we have a debate on what steps the Government can take to help further UK business to export to new markets?
My hon. Friend is right. I applaud what he has done in Leicestershire to enable businesses to access the support and help of UKTI. Many Members will be aware that UKTI has significantly improved its offer to businesses, as was reflected recently in export week, but we know we have much more to do. If we can increase the proportion of businesses in this country, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, that are exporters, we can ensure that the recovery that we are seeing in the economy can be sustained for many years to come.
I thank the Leader of the House for his kind words earlier, but I was disappointed by his response to the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) made about Royal Mail. Can I take it from his response that he does not think that the Government have any lessons to learn at all from the way that they handled the sale of Royal Mail?
In relation to the business of the House, the hon. Lady will be well aware that both the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills and the Public Accounts Committee are looking at the issue, and no doubt they will bring forward reports, which I know that the Government will want to consider carefully and respond to. The reason why I was perhaps more dismissive of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) than of the hon. Lady’s perfectly proper question is that the hon. Gentleman’s question was based on a false assertion. The Royal Mail privatisation was achieved successfully. I know from my involvement in past privatisations, as a civil servant way back in the 1980s, that it is very difficult to get the price right at the initial public offering. It is normal for the privatised company subsequently to sell at a higher price than the one at which it was offered. It is very important to establish the price at which it can be underwritten, and to engage substantial investors to ensure that the bulk of the sale can be made.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will welcome, as I did over the Easter recess, the news that Wolverhampton Wanderers have been promoted to the championship. I am a stoic Wolves fan, but I am not asking for a debate on that, as it might be guillotined. Perhaps more pertinently, the Black Country local enterprise partnership has outlined a vision for regeneration in the area, and I warmly endorse two aspects of that vision. One is around the Wolverhampton interchange, and the second is around cultural capital investment in the city centre. May we have a debate on how LEPs, and this one in particular, facilitate regeneration in areas such as Wolverhampton?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I wish Wolverhampton Wanderers well; Wolves have a great history, and it may be that their future is getting better all the time. I am sure that he and many supporters of the club will be very encouraged by that.
On my hon. Friend’s question about the Black Country LEP and many other LEPs, it is important to note that we are agreeing a whole range of city deals that are enabling locations across the country to identify what they believe will best assist in economic regeneration for the future. The same is true of applications to the regional growth fund. The LEP and the local authority are coming together, as my hon. Friend says, to define projects such as the interchange. That is very important, and it is important for them to make bids to the regional growth fund. There is £3 billion already committed to 430 schemes under that fund, and there is dramatic leveraging—something like a fivefold or sixfold leverage—of private sector investment as a consequence.
Several hon. Members
Order. I recognise that there is intense interest, as always, in business questions. I simply remind the House that we have two important debates, under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, to follow. The first is on cervical cancer screening tests and the case of Sophie Jones, and the second is on freedom of thought, conscience and religion. We must progress to those before too long, so I appeal for short questions and answers.
Two weeks ago, Imperial Tobacco announced its intention to close the Horizon factory in Lenton, with the loss of more than 500 jobs, leaving many of my constituents and their families reeling. Can the Leader of the House confirm which Department or Minister is co-ordinating the Government’s response and the resourcing of joint work by the city council, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Futures, the LEP and other partners? When will a Minister report to Parliament on the practical support to be offered to those affected by the shock decision?
I can understand how the hon. Lady feels about the impact on her constituents. On those who will lose their jobs, ensuring that they can access new employment and, if necessary, retraining and the like is a responsibility for the Department for Work and Pensions. As for wider interests, and supporting the local enterprise partnership and local authorities in ensuring a broader economic development response, that is the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I will ask both Departments to contact the hon. Lady about the steps that they are taking.
I listened carefully when the Leader of the House announced the business for next Thursday. Perhaps he could add some time to the debate on the procedures of the House for discussing the Backbench Business Committee. He, I and the Chairman of the Committee could then explain to the shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), that it was not the Prime Minister who scrapped debates ahead of European Councils; this House unanimously decided, as a result of the Wright Committee recommendations, to give that time to the Backbench Business Committee. We could also suggest that having a debate before every European Council would not be welcome.
Yes, the House took an important and positive decision to give Back-Bench Members, through the Backbench Business Committee, the opportunity to assess the relative priority of debates. I am not sure of the view of shadow Leader of the House on the matter, but I hope that she might have a word with the shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), to make it clear that trying to revert to the past will actually undermine the independence of the Backbench Business Committee and of Members of this House.
There are 48,000 homes in the private rented sector in Liverpool. All those tenants had been heartened by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government when he said that he wants
“longer fixed-term, family-friendly tenancies that meet their needs.”
May we have an urgent statement about when the Government will honour that aspiration and support the proposals announced today by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to scrap letting fees, end excessive rent rises and introduce long-term tenancies?
If the hon. Lady is saying that she supports what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is doing to promote flexibility, quality and supply in the housing market, I am pleased. I suspect, however, that what she is saying is that we do not want to go beyond that to a rent control policy of the kind advocated by her leader. In that respect, she probably takes the same view as the shadow Housing Minister, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), who said on “Channel 4 News” in January that
“rent controls are not going to work in practice”.
What the hon. Lady said was right then and it is right today.
This morning, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the National Children’s Bureau published a report analysing the UK’s poor record on child mortality compared with the rest of Europe. Yesterday, the Department of Health’s children and young people’s health outcomes forum also acknowledged that the UK has a historically poor child mortality record. May we have an urgent debate to consider how we can ensure that the UK is the best place not only to end life, but to begin life?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will recall that, some two and a half or three years ago, I initiated work on how to improve health outcomes for children and young people, which led directly to the work of the children and young people’s health outcomes forum. It forms part of the NHS England mandate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has put in place and is a key part of Public Health England’s work. However, outcomes for children and young people depend on things far wider than what the health service does, such as being ready for school and avoiding periods when young people are not in education, employment or training. Such measures are critical, which is why the Government are focused on them.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House likes mangoes, but today marks the first day of the EU ban on the importation of Indian Alphonso mangos, a decision taken by Brussels without consultation with the House that will cost businesses in Leicester and beyond millions of pounds. May we have an urgent debate on the matter, with an action plan to get the ban reversed?
I have sampled the mango in question and can testify that it is extremely tasty.
Yes, indeed, Mr Speaker. Temporary restrictions are in place, as the right hon. Gentleman says, and are important to protecting home-grown salad crops—an important industry worth £320 million a year—from potential pests and diseases. India is a key trading partner, but we know that these temporary restrictions will impact only on a very small percentage of the successful business that we conduct with it. However, we are working with our Indian and European counterparts to resolve the issue.
As for the business of the House, I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has secured a debate on the Adjournment at the close of business next Thursday that will allow him to raise his concerns with the House.
Now that we have five-year, fixed-term Parliaments, we are obviously in the longest general election campaign ever, and perhaps the business of the House should be changed to reflect that. Clearly the Leader of the Opposition is not going to ask the Prime Minister any questions on jobs, growth or the reduction in the deficit, so can we change Prime Minister’s questions so that the Leader of the Opposition can ask the Prime Minister three questions and then the Prime Minister can ask the Leader of the Opposition three questions? That way, we might have a proper examination of the fact that we have created 1.5 million new jobs, growth was up by 3% last year and the deficit has been halved.
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion, but I fear that it is not one we will take up. When the Leader of the Opposition asks his six questions, often what he leaves out speaks volumes, and I think that will inform the public as he continues to be bereft of anything to say on Labour’s plans for the economy.
We all rightly condemn the abduction of more than 200 girls from their school in Nigeria, so may we have an urgent debate on how Britain can help to ensure that they are returned to their rightful place, which is with their families and, more particularly, are in education?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We will all have been horrified by what we have seen and by the continuing trauma that those girls and their families and friends must be experiencing. We will do everything we can to help. I will of course speak with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see whether they can advise Members on what more can be done.
May we have a debate on what the Government are doing to recognise, assist and support businesses that focus on energy efficiency, such as the Vaillant Group—Glow-worm, as it is better known locally—which has a base and factory in my constituency?
The Vaillant Group is very well known. We are doing a great deal to promote the important energy efficiency sector, which is already worth more than £18 billion and employs over 130,000 people in this country. It is economically important to my hon. Friend’s constituents and many others. Indeed, the installation of more efficient gas boilers, the green deal, the energy obligations and the product policy in building regulations are all promoting renewable heating technologies through the world-first renewable heat incentive.
I was delighted to learn a few minutes ago that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has secured an Adjournment debate on the mango ban, which is causing considerable concern for businesses in my part of Leicester as well. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to ensure that we can bring a delegation of businesses affected to the relevant Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ahead of that debate?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I always try to assist Members of the House in whatever way I can. I will certainly see whether Ministers would be willing to have such a meeting in that time frame.
This coming week I will join a party led by the mayor of Rugby on a visit to the Menin Gate memorial to remember local people who lost their lives in the great war, reciprocating the visit made by Field Marshal John French, the Earl of Ypres, who unveiled Rugby’s memorial in 1922. Can our commemorations here in Parliament include a debate on the links between our constituencies and where our brave soldiers lost their lives?
As I told the House at the last business questions, I hope to be in a position to announce a further debate in which Members can talk about how their constituents are commemorating the events of 100 years ago, as I am sure my hon. Friend’s constituents are doing. I was very proud to have an opportunity to visit a village in my constituency only last Friday where they are planning a publication that details each person who died in service during the first world war and tells their story, including where they fell and where they are commemorated.
The Minister for Civil Society recently said that it was “okay” to lose some of the youth services that have been slashed due to Government cuts because—excuse me, Mr Speaker—they were “crap” in the first place. May we have a debate in Government time on the devastating cuts to services for young people, which will also give the Minister an opportunity to explain his disgraceful and derogatory remarks?
I do not remember reading those remarks and I do not know precisely the context in which my hon. Friend spoke. However, because I know him very well, I know that he is a devoted advocate of supporting civil society, charitable organisations and community groups in providing high-quality services, including to children and young people. I will alert him to what the hon. Lady has said and give him an opportunity to respond.
According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Northamptonshire is officially the most enterprising county in the country. May I share with the Leader of the House the good news from the latest economic review by Northamptonshire chamber of commerce for the first quarter of this year? It says that 78% of manufacturers in the county report increased export sales and that over 90% of manufacturing and service sector firms expect turnover and profitability to stay the same or to improve over the coming year. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House about why counties such as Northamptonshire are leading this country out of the great recession?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know from personal experience of meeting business people in his constituency that those in Northamptonshire are indeed very enterprising—although I imagine that the title he claims will be hotly contested in this House. His question is apt, because this week we have seen evidence from the latest first-quarter GDP growth data that manufacturing is the fastest-growing sector of the economy. That is in marked contrast with what happened under the previous Labour Government, when manufacturing employment was cut by 1 million and there was a focus on financial services to the detriment of manufacturing.
Last month the Government were absolutely right to give the go-ahead to the new power station at Hinkley Point, at a cost to the consumer of £92.50 per megawatt. May we have a debate on consistency in Government subsidy, given that last week they announced that it would be unfair and insupportable to give a subsidy to onshore wind, which costs between £70 and £80 per megawatt?
As the hon. Gentleman will recall from a response from the Prime Minister at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions, the point about the build-out of onshore wind farms is that the Government set a target to increase onshore wind farms and renewables generation, and it is not necessary, in our view, to keep providing a subsidy to go beyond that. The point about nuclear is that it is a different form of generation. It is, as it were, the bedrock of security of supply, and it is important to ensure that it is there.
The tourism industry is absolutely essential to the south-west, yet operators in my constituency say that even now they are getting phone calls from people who are convinced we are still under water. May we have a statement before the bank holiday—I appreciate that that probably means the tourism Minister coming back here this afternoon—to tell the world that the floods have gone; that the railways are mended; that the food, drink, countryside and welcome are as great as ever; and that Somerset and the west country are very much open for business?
My hon. Friend makes the point very well, and I hope that people will listen to it. He is absolutely right. The railway line has reopened and the waters have receded. People have gone to enormous trouble to rebuild and recover, and Somerset and the west country are open for business. I was very pleased over the Easter holiday to see evidence of people who were really enjoying themselves in the west country. I hope that people will have sunshine this weekend so as to have an opportunity to enjoy themselves again.
For the benefit of the UK Independence party donor who said this week that women should be banned from wearing trousers, may we please have a debate on the historic contribution that women in trousers have made to this country, including Amy Johnson from Hull, who wore trousers as an aviator, the women’s Land Army in the second world war, and Princess Elizabeth, who wore trousers as a mechanic serving in the second world war?
Well, good for her. I cannot promise a debate, but I entirely endorse the hon. Lady’s sentiments.
Bowel cancer is often a completely curable disease, but a key to successful treatment is early diagnosis. May we have an urgent statement about the effectiveness of bowel cancer screening programmes, particularly in relation to access to colonoscopies, and a comparison between the effectiveness of bowel cancer screening services in Wales and in England so that we can gain best practice?
I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department of Health to respond in detail, particularly on the point about comparisons. We should be very pleased that during this Parliament we have seen the roll-out of the bowel cancer screening programme across England. We look forward very positively to being able to roll out flexible sigmoidoscopy, as we plan over the next three years, which will enable not only early diagnosis of bowel cancer but early interventions. That will make a further big, positive step forward.
May I ask the Leader of the House for a statement or a debate in Government time on the operation of the Access to Work scheme? I recently met a constituent who faces losing her job because she cannot pay through the scheme for a qualified British sign language interpreter. This is a very important and urgent matter on which Members need to be able to question Ministers.
As the hon. Lady will know, through the Work programme and the new Help to Work scheme, further details of which were announced this week, we are focusing on ensuring that we give everybody, including those whom it has clearly been most difficult to help, the support that is necessary to enable them to get back into work. However, she has raised a particular, and interesting, issue. I hope that she might give my office further details, and I will ask a Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions to respond.
The Leader of the House will know that I previously presented a Bill to the House that considers increasing the sentence for those who cause death while driving when they have been disqualified from driving from the current two years to 14 years, in line with the sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. I know that the Government were sympathetic to what I said then. Will the Leader of the House clarify whether they have taken a decision on the Bill prior to next week’s debate on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill?
My hon. Friend is right that the Government do indeed share his concern about those who drive while disqualified and cause death or serious injury on our roads. He will know from my statement that the first day on Report of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will be on Monday 12 May. I direct him to that debate, where I know he will be in his place to hear the response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice.
One and a half million pounds worth of donations to the Tory party from private health care providers resulted in £1.5 billion—
There is evidence. The Leader of the House is shaking his head, but I have cast-iron evidence. Those donations resulted in £1.5 billion-worth of NHS contracts going to those same providers. Will arrange a statement to explain why the Government are refusing to exempt the NHS from the EU-US trade negotiations, thereby threatening the future of the NHS as we know it—or is that also linked to those donations?
I scarcely know where to begin in refuting that nonsense. First, donations to the Conservative party do not result in contracts—they simply do not. It is a complete travesty and a disgrace to suggest that the people who take procurement decisions within the NHS would be influenced in any way—or, frankly, know whether the individuals associated with any particular company happened to have political affiliations or otherwise.
On the transatlantic trade and investment partnership negotiations, I wish that Labour Members—this was evidenced during our debate on the subject—would focus on the dramatic potential for increasing trade, jobs and growth in Europe and America rather than trying to focus on something that will not have the effect that the hon. Lady describes, because within the NHS there is already, as there was under her party’s Government before the last election, scope for private companies in America to access contracts if they are able to provide the best services inside the United Kingdom.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1306?
[That this House notes that Essex County Council is turning off street lights across Essex between the hours of midnight and 5am to make savings; further notes that turning off street lights in Harlow affects many Harlow residents, many of whom work late shifts; acknowledges that some Harlow residents have expressed concerns that they feel unsafe; and therefore calls on Essex County Council to review its decision and shorten the amount of time that street lights are turned off each night in Harlow.]
My right hon. Friend will be aware that Essex county council is turning off the street lights in Harlow between the hours of midnight and 5 am. This is affecting many residents, particularly females and shift workers late at night. Will he look at this issue and contact the Department for Communities and Local Government to see what can be done to extend the hours that the lights are on, and may we have a debate on it?
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making and he will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is also aware of it, as shown in a reply he gave during Question Time yesterday. Street lighting is the responsibility of the local highways authorities, including Essex county council in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The Government advise that, when considering its street-lighting needs—including when considering turning them off—an authority should work closely with the emergency services and other key partners on community safety.
Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), the Leader of the House will know that the country will be looking to Parliament to play our part in the world war one commemorations, and I know that Members on both sides of the House will wish to do so. We had a very good debate in this place last year, but this year many of the key anniversaries fall during the summer recess, so may I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate before the summer recess, so that Parliament can be given the opportunity to pay its own tribute to those who served us 100 years ago?
The hon. Gentleman is right and I hope to be able to announce such a debate before the summer recess. Since our last debate on the subject I, like many Members throughout the House, have seen great evidence of how constituents are proposing to commemorate the events of 100 years ago.
Several hon. Members
Order. May I appeal to the remaining Members to ask succinct, single-sentence questions so that we might proceed to the next debate ere long?
The Keep Sunday Special campaign has insisted there should be no change to Sunday shop opening hours and it is supported by the Home Retail Group and the workers. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate to put this matter to rest for retailers and workers?
I am not aware of the plans to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I cannot promise a debate, but I will check to see whether there is any way in which we can provide him with the reassurance he seeks.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to report to the House when she will be taking the next step in delivering a modern slavery Bill? She asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) to set up a cross-party Joint Committee and it has just reported after 10 weeks of work. We need to build a consensus for a modern slavery Bill, which we promised on the 200th anniversary of Wilberforce’s Bill.
We are very grateful to the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am not in a position at this stage to anticipate the contents of the Queen’s Speech.
The Leader of the House must have been dismayed with the compensation award made to convicted triple killer Kevan Thakrar. Given that the Government have a bit of time on their hands, why do they not introduce a short, simple Bill that says that any future awards of that kind must be paid directly to a special fund for victims?
Other Members will have been just as dismayed about that. I am not sure whether what the hon. Gentleman suggests is the right solution. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice to respond to the hon. Gentleman with his views.
Yesterday the Government issued a ministerial statement on fixed odds betting terminals, which resulted in a sharp rise in bookmakers’ share value. When will Members get an opportunity to debate the proposals in full? I hope it will be before the Whitsun recess.
I cannot at this stage say that there will be a debate on those issues, but it is important that the written ministerial statement said positive things about providing safeguards in relation to fixed odds, high-stakes betting terminals. It also said what I think communities will regard as very encouraging things about how local planning authorities can make their own judgments about the extent of change of use with regard to betting shops on local high streets.
May we have a debate on long-term unemployment? In my constituency, the number of over-25s on jobseeker’s allowance for more than two years has risen by 41% in the past year alone. The rate is now the eighth highest in England and Wales. Instead of recognising that their Work programme is failing, Ministers now want to punish my constituents even further with yet another of their silly schemes, which has been shown not to work. Instead, they should implement Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee, which I guarantee would work.
As I have said, I hope there might be an opportunity for a debate on employment, if not before then during the debate on the Queen’s Speech, which might include a proper focus on it. That would enable us to celebrate the fact that there is a record level of employment; that employment is up by more than 1.5 million since the general election; that youth unemployment is down 38,000 on the previous quarter and lower than at the time of the election; and that the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training is at its lowest in five years.
May we have an oral statement on the inspectorate of constabulary report, which says that police are failing to record up to 20% of crime? The situation is intolerable.
The Home Secretary rightly commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake that inquiry and is very clear that we want to ensure that police-recorded crime figures are robust. Those figures and the independent crime survey point strongly to the same conclusion, which is that levels of crime are falling and policing is working. On debating the HMIC report, the hon. Gentleman will know that it is an interim report, so the Home Secretary will no doubt report to the House in due course.
May we have a debate on the excellent review of diagnosis and treatment carried out by the Pernicious Anaemia Society, which is based in Bridgend? Pernicious anaemia involves memory loss, poor concentration, debilitating tiredness, personality and balance problems and mood swings. Two thirds of those who responded to the review were unhappy with their current treatment. That is diabolical. May we have an urgent debate on the issue?
I can well understand how strongly the hon. Lady feels about pernicious anaemia, which she rightly describes as a very debilitating condition. I will ask my colleagues at the Department of Health to respond to her about the position generally. She and other Members might like to seek an Adjournment debate in order to raise the issues.
Cervical Cancer Screening
I beg to move,
That this House notes the e-petition relating to the tragic death of Sophie Jones from cervical cancer; believes that the Government should urgently issue guidance stipulating that all women should have the choice of taking a smear test regardless of their age and in consultation with their doctor; and further notes that the best way to combat cervical cancer is by increasing awareness of its symptoms so as to ensure that early diagnosis rates are driven up, doctors and nurses understand that although it is very rare, younger women can develop cervical cancer, and high levels of coverage among young girls of the HPV vaccination programme introduced in 2008 are achieved.
I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this important debate to the Floor of the House, although I wish it was not under such tragic circumstances. The number of MPs present does not necessarily reflect the wider public interest in the issue. Perhaps that shows that many MPs have lots of competing interests and that many who would have liked to have been here today are, unfortunately, unable to attend.
I want to place on record my thanks to members of the Backbench Business Committee, skilfully chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), for listening to the voices of the tens of thousands of people who wanted this issue debated, and to the Leader of the House for recognising the considerable national interest in it. I also thank the Liverpool Echo, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail for their continued coverage of Sophie’s case and the steps they have taken to raise awareness of this debate and, more importantly, the issue of screening and the early identification of symptoms, which I will go into in more detail during my contribution.
I want to place on record my gratitude to Sophie’s mum, Peri, and to each and every one of the 321,925 people who signed the online petition following the heartbreaking death of her daughter earlier this year. They made history in the process by accumulating the largest ever number of signatories to a Government e-petition.
There has been a lot of speculation and conjecture about what is actually being requested today, but my motion, seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West—
Sorry—she will kill me for that!
The motion is clear in its intent. I am not calling for the introduction of routine cervical screening for all women and young girls under 25, but I am calling on the Government to issue guidance that stipulates that all women should be able to request a cervical smear regardless of their age. Put simply, young women and teenage girls who present to their GP with possible symptoms of cervical cancer should have the choice, if they so desire, to have a smear test, but that must of course go hand in hand with extensive consultation with their GP to ensure that they are informed of all the potential consequences of the procedure. Given the limited number of cervical cancer cases in women under the age of 25—just 47 in England in 2011, according to Department of Health figures—such an option would not open the floodgates to thousands of unnecessary, costly or possibly damaging tests for young girls.
The motion is an attempt to promote the issue, and to encourage the medical profession to take up the provision that is already available to doctors of granting screening tests to females of any age in exceptional circumstances. It must be said that some of the medical profession are clearly not exercising that power, and that has proven fatal in cases such as Sophie’s. Indeed, at the heart of the motion is one simple premise—that a woman of any age over 16 should, through written departmental guidance, have the right to make an informed choice for themselves.
I will highlight areas in which I believe the Government could take immediate action to educate and inform both patients and medical professionals better about the symptoms and diagnosis of cervical cancer in young women and teenage girls, but I want to make it clear that I am very much of the opinion that any changes to age restrictions must be evidence-based.
Sophie Jones was a much-loved and popular 19-year-old girl from the Wirral who had her whole life ahead of her. She had fashioned a successful career in modelling, and was described by her twin sister Ashleigh as
“the life and soul of everything”.
In 2013, after experiencing constant stomach cramps for more than a year, Sophie visited her GP. She advised her doctor of her symptoms and asked for a smear test. Sophie knew that something was seriously wrong, but she was continually refused a test solely on the basis of her age. Instead, Sophie’s GP incorrectly diagnosed her with Crohn’s disease. Last November, Sophie was forced to enter hospital permanently, due to the deterioration in her health and the escalation of her condition. Despite that, numerous doctors still failed to recognise her symptoms or to diagnose her illness accurately.
Eventually, Sophie and her family’s worst nightmares were confirmed when she was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix. Tragically, by the time doctors were able to make an affirmative diagnosis, it was too late. The cancer had spread to other parts of her body, and by then she was terminally ill. For four months, Sophie fought against her devastating disease and, with her family and friends alongside her at her hospital bed, fought bravely to the end. On 15 March, after four long and excruciating months, Sophie’s defences were overwhelmed by her condition and she lost her struggle for life.
There was a time in Britain when a cancer diagnosis struck the fear of God into people, but thanks to advances in medical treatments and preventive measures, early diagnosis ensures that cancer patients survive in more than half of cases. Cancer is no longer a death sentence if caught early enough. Sophie’s diagnosis came too late for treatment to be successful, but it should never have been that way. That is what makes her case so painful for her family and friends.
I know that I speak on behalf of my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral South and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) when I pay tribute to Sophie’s family and friends for the dignity that they have shown, and for their determination to highlight Sophie’s story to prevent anyone else from ever having to go through what they have been through. Sophie was failed by the current system, and that should not be allowed to happen to anyone again.
Moreover, I am confident that Sophie’s case is not an isolated incident. I am aware of other cases, and other Members will speak about cases that have been brought to their attention. Those cases include that of Maryanne Makepeace, who was told that she had a water infection, before she was finally diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Just last week, the BBC in Wales reported the case of 20-year-old Jessica Bradford, who was also told by her GP that she was too young for cancer. Initially, she was diagnosed with thrush, with the doctor believing that she had a sexually transmitted disease, but Jessica was eventually diagnosed with cancer of the cervix. She has been told that she is now infertile, having undergone radiotherapy and chemotherapy. That is one example of how a woman exercising her right to a test resulted in her being given treatment, which I hope will lead to a full and complete recovery.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer worldwide. It is the 11th most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the UK, amounting to about three in every 100,000 women, according to the crude mortality rate of Cancer Research UK. There are, on average, just short of 1,000 deaths from cervical cancer each year in the UK. Three women are diagnosed with the disease every day.
As Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust points out, almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the persistent high-risk human papilloma virus. The NHS guidance on the HPV vaccine indicates that 99% of cervical cancers are caused by an HPV infection, and that four out of five sexually active adults will come into contact with it during their lives. The condition is not one that solely women can get; men also carry the HPV virus. The thing is that many people do not necessarily present with any particular symptoms.
It is worth highlighting the other risk factors that can affect a woman’s propensity to develop cervical cancer. They include smoking, as carcinogens weaken the immune system and leave the individual more likely to attract an infection of the cervix, as well as unprotected sexual activity at an early age, teenage pregnancy, multiple births, decreased immunity in women receiving immunosuppressant drugs and, in some cases, mothers given the DES—diethylstilbestrol—infertility drug when pregnant. Some medical opinion suggests that long-term use of the contraceptive pill, for instance for more than 10 years, can slightly increase the risk of developing cervical cancer, although I am sure there is consensus that the benefits of the pill far outweigh the risks for most women.
The previous Labour Government’s decision to introduce the HPV vaccination programme was extremely apposite. It has saved and will continue to save many thousands of lives across the country. However, we must be relentless in rolling out the vaccination programme in our schools and colleges. Typically, year 8 girls—those aged 12 and 13—are offered the vaccination, and the take-up rate is about 80%. The vaccination offers protection against their developing the condition in later life. A catch-up programme was also introduced by the previous Government in 2009-10, in which almost 1 million girls aged between 12 and 18 were vaccinated. The continued roll-out of vaccination in girls before they become sexually active will greatly decrease the chances of their contracting the infection, and it will increase the chances of cervical cancer survival.
As many as 2,800 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than a third of sufferers die each year because of the failure to catch the cancer through early diagnosis. It is impossible for women on their own to detect abnormalities in cervical cells, but symptoms that seem inconsequential when taken in isolation can amount to a clear indication of cancer of the cervix when assessed cumulatively. Those include abnormal bleeding during or after sexual intercourse or between periods, post-menopausal bleeding if a woman is not on hormone replacement therapy or has stopped it for six weeks, unusual and/or unpleasant vaginal discharge, discomfort or pain during sex, and lower back pain. As the cancer develops, it can cause additional symptoms such as frequent urination, blood in the urine, rectal bleeding, diarrhoea, incontinence and lower-limb lymphoedema.
My hon. Friend is giving an excellent description of the symptoms that everyone should be aware of. It is refreshing to hear a man talking about the symptoms of women’s cancers. Does he agree that one thing that we can definitely do today is raise the awareness of those symptoms and encourage men and women to understand more about women’s cancers?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. In all honesty, I did not know an awful lot of this information before I was asked to head up the campaign in the Backbench Business Committee to get this matter debated in the House. I suspect that the same is true of many male colleagues on both sides of the House and many men in the wider public. We must destigmatise the use of words like “period” or “vaginal discharge” by men, because it is important that such things can be spoken about openly. As the father of two daughters, I certainly want them to be aware of the symptoms of this condition, so that they can bring them to my attention and I can help and guide them should they need a consultation with the GP. This is an important matter for us to debate in the Chamber. I am sure that other colleagues will go into the symptoms of this horrible disease.
The danger of highlighting the symptoms is that some women might misdiagnose themselves, causing them unnecessary worry. Conversely, if doing so means that one person with the symptoms is diagnosed with cervical cancer and has her life saved, it is well worth it.
According to the NHS figures, the vast majority of women’s test results come back normal. For about one in 20 women, the test will show some abnormalities in the cells of the cervix. Most of those changes will not lead to cervical cancer and the cells often return to normal on their own. Indeed, that is particularly true of young patients. In some cases, the abnormal cells need to be removed so that they cannot become cancerous.
About 3,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK, which amounts to 2% of all cancers diagnosed in women. As I have stated, cases of cervical cancer in women under 25 years of age are extremely rare. They amount to about 1% of all cervical cancer sufferers in England. However, the relatively small number of occurrences should not be dismissed as statistically negligible. The mission of the NHS cervical screening programme is
“to reduce the number of women who develop cervical cancer and the number of women who die from it.”
The screening programme is credited with saving the lives of about 5,000 cancer patients a year across the board.
In 2004, the last Labour Government increased the age at which young females could have a test from 20 to 25, in accordance with international recommendations from the World Health Organisation. America has adopted the position that a test should happen at 20 years of age or within three years of first sexual activity, whichever comes earlier. To me, that seems an appropriately flexible policy to have. It is estimated that early detection and treatment prevents up to 75% of cervical cancers. The contention centres on the appropriate age at which screening should become routine and on the health consequences for somebody who chooses to have a test before the recommended age of 25.
So that I am not accused of presenting an imbalanced view of the medical thinking on this issue, I should say that there is an opinion among some professionals that smear tests on young women and teenage girls can lead to false positives, unnecessary treatment, anxiety for the patient, infertility or pre-term delivery later in life. There can also be discomfort, embarrassment or, less commonly, pain during the screening test. There is a very small chance of getting incorrect results, which could lead to abnormalities being missed or to unnecessary distress and treatment. There is also a chance of unnecessary treatment occurring if the abnormalities would have corrected themselves naturally. Some of the treatments that are used to remove abnormal cells may increase the risk of premature delivery in pregnancy.
Undoubtedly, there is still extensive debate in the medical profession about whether tests on young women would have the desired impact. In 2009, the British Medical Journal released a paper on the effectiveness of cervical screening with age, which concluded:
“Cervical screening in women aged 20-24 has little or no impact on rates of invasive cervical cancer up to age 30. Some uncertainly still exists regarding its impact on advanced stage tumours in women under age 30. By contrast, screening older women leads to a substantial reduction in incidence of and mortality from cervical cancer.”
For that reason, it is important to reiterate that the motion does not call for routine screening for under-25s.
I believe that it is the duty of any Health Minister to adhere to the medical advice that is presented to the Department. To my knowledge, no new evidence has emerged that is substantial enough to change the Government’s position on screening ages. I believe that, at this juncture, it would be prudent to follow the decision of the Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening in 2009 to reaffirm the policy that the age for routine screening should remain at 25. However, although it is right that politicians should not ride roughshod over medical experts, it is the job of Health Ministers to examine the orthodoxy of the day, to keep matters such as age restrictions under constant review if new evidence emerges and to scrutinise international patterns and comparisons.
I must mention that I am not a medical expert. My opinions are predicated on what I have read and learned about the subject. The debates on either side of the screening argument need to be qualified by further research. I believe that there are steps that the Minister can take right now to address those concerns and the concerns that have been highlighted by Sophie’s death. For me, the Minister should get to work on five things immediately.
First, the Government should address the online advice and guidance that is available to young women and girls who suspect that they have the symptoms of cervical cancer. At present, it is far from adequate. In the course of my research for this debate, I was amazed at the total non-existence of good online advice for young women who suspect that they are displaying the symptoms of cervical cancer. Despite young people having a higher propensity to use the internet to access information than most adults over the age of 30, there is an absence of advice on what steps should be taken by young people who are concerned that they are exhibiting the symptoms and on the support that is available. On the NHS “Your health, your choices” website, there is no mention of what young girls or teenagers should do. Instead, there is a vague information section on smear tests for over-25s. Users of the Public Health England website are forced to wade through pages and pages of material and to follow hyperlink after hyperlink before they finally find the information that they need in the frequently asked questions section. It appears that some of the information online—
Order. I was very reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he has been going on for over 23 minutes. Other Members wish to speak and there are other debates today. The guidance is that Members should speak for 10 to 15 minutes, so I have given him a lot of latitude. I would be grateful if he thought about speeding through his points so that we can move on to another speaker.
That is not as I was informed, Madam Deputy Speaker, so apologies if I have overrun my time limit. I was told absolutely the opposite. I will try to conclude, and I will contact the Minister in writing with any points that I miss out.
Whatever is said and decided today, this debate needs to be the beginning of the process, not the end. I said when I made my application to the Backbench Business Committee on 8 April that I was there as a spokesperson for the 320,000 signatories to the “Sophie’s choice” petition. Today, I have presented their case, which is a case for women’s right to choose, for clearer medical guidance for patients and professionals, for improvements to the sex and relationships education system—I will inform the Minister about that in writing—and for immediate action to tackle the blind spot that exists in the vaccination programme for 19 to 24-year-olds.
We must not forget that it was the people who put this debate on the Floor of the House today, and now it is time for the Government to listen to the British public and act. In their name, let us ensure that Sophie’s legacy is a life-saving one, so that her family and friends can take comfort from the fact that despite failings of the highest order in her case, Sophie did not die in vain.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on securing the debate. Needless to say, all our thoughts go out to Sophie’s family and friends at this time of loss.
The hon. Gentleman rightly focused on the importance of early diagnosis, which is crucial with not just cervical cancer but cancer in general. I hope, in a relatively brief speech, to remind the House of the importance of the figures that the Government are due to publish soon—one-year cancer survival rates broken down by clinical commissioning group. I and fellow Members of the all-party group on cancer believe that those figures could have a transformative effect in encouraging earlier diagnosis, thereby saving literally thousands of lives.
The recent period has been interesting, because we have had both good news and bad news on cancer. The good news is that, as Cancer Research UK announced only a few days ago, 50% of those diagnosed with cancer now are likely to make it to 10 years following diagnosis, which is twice the survival rate that existed back in the 1970s. That is extremely positive. The bad news is that in this country, shamefully, one in four cancers are still first diagnosed as late as when somebody goes to A and E. It is of further shame that figures suggest that if we were to match European averages for cancer survival rates—just the averages—we could save an additional 5,000 lives a year. If we believe the OECD’s figures, if we were to match international averages—again, just the averages—we could save up to 10,000 lives a year. That shows clearly that we have a long way to go and that early diagnosis is crucial. The all-party group describes it as cancer’s magic key. There are very few magic keys in life, with which we can open the door and find that there is suddenly a plethora of riches in front of us, but a magic key does exist for cancer, and it is early diagnosis.