House of Commons
Thursday 3 July 2014
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
National Lottery Funding
Through the work of the national lottery promotions unit and individual national lottery distributors, we continue to raise awareness of funding for good causes. Demand for lottery funding continues to outstrip supply, with over £1.5 billion spent on national lottery projects in just the past 12 months.
The Heritage Lottery Fund recently made a large contribution to the new visitors centre at Bletchley Park in my constituency and also paid for the restoration of some of the old codebreaking huts. May I invite my right hon. Friend to visit Bletchley Park to see for himself what a vital role the Heritage Lottery Fund plays in preserving the heritage of the country?
I have visited Bletchley Park a number of times, as I am sure all hon. Members have done, to look at its vivid story and see how that is brought to life. I would be more than happy to do so again. It is a fitting tribute to the remarkable men and women who worked there, including a wonderful woman in my own constituency, Betty Webb, who served there. I am delighted that Bletchley Park has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for its restoration. My hon. Friend is right to give credit to John Major, as he has done in the past, for setting up the fund.
The Secretary of State may know that as chair of the John Clare Trust, I have been the beneficiary of quite a lot of Heritage Lottery funding. I am delighted with it and would like more for projects going forward in my constituency, but will the right hon. Gentleman remember that it does not replace a Government committed to culture and heritage?
The Secretary of State will be aware that alongside the national lottery, society lotteries contributed £145 million to good causes in 2012-13 and could provide a lot more if the prizes, draw and turnover rules were deregulated. His Department has long promised a consultation on this but has yet to publish it. In the light of the recent Centre for Economics and Business Research report on society lotteries, can he tell the House when the consultation might come?
Changes in lottery and gambling markets have made it clear to us that the consultation on society lotteries should be more wide ranging than we had previously thought. The Gambling Commission is providing us with further information and advice, and we are planning to conduct the consultation later this year.
The Arts Council announced this week that 99 organisations will be financed solely by the national lottery and it has to cut support to 58 other arts organisations because of the huge cuts in the Department. Local authorities have also been forced to reduce support to arts organisations. Given that London gets 20 times as much philanthropic money per person as the rest of the country, does the Secretary of State agree with the statement from the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) that arts organisations that cannot raise philanthropic funds are totally misguided and “pathetic”?
The hon. Lady will know that I do not agree with her. She knows that Government grants for arts funding have been cut because the Government of whom she was part left our country with the largest deficit in the industrialised world and left us with very difficult decisions to make. The good news is that the Arts Council receives funding from other sources and, taken together with total funding of almost £3 billion during the life of this Parliament, the level of funding is virtually unchanged from the situation in the previous Parliament.
Given that many regions, particularly in the north, generate disproportionately more revenue for the national lottery, what further steps will the Government take to ensure that other regions where more money is generated get their fair share of sport, heritage and arts funding?
The Government’s broadband programme will provide superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by 2017. In February 2014 we announced nearly £3 million in further grant funding to support superfast coverage in Cornwall.
One of my constituents who runs a small business in a not-spot area purchased satellite broadband after being told that they would not get a fibre-optic connection. Can they now bid for some money if Cornwall council is successful to enable other connections, and will it cost people more for any other type of connection?
Superfast Cornwall has a satellite broadband offer for premises that currently have slow-speed broadband and are not likely to gain a fibre-optic connection. The grant of almost £3 million that the Government gave in February in phase 2 will help increase coverage. My hon. Friend’s constituent can make an application to Superfast Cornwall, and that will be a decision for it to make. We are making progress on the issue, but I agree that there is much more to do.
10. Finland and Sweden will cover about 99% of their populations with 4G networks capable of delivering high-speed broadband, but the UK’s model of coverage with 2G and 3G has failed many people in rural and island areas. Will the Secretary of State consider a different approach to 4G for rural areas, including mast-sharing and controls on rents at mast sites, especially as 4G will deliver up to 30 megabits and might wirelessly reach areas that cable broadband might not reach? (904626)
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that there has been a significant increase in superfast broadband coverage since 2010, rising from 45% to 73%, but there is much more to do. There has also been a significant change in 4G coverage in the UK, which many people use for broadband, as he rightly highlights. For example, O2, which has a licence for 4G, is committed to extending it to 99% of the country.
7. Linford and parts of East Tilbury and West Tilbury in my constituency fall between the Tilbury and Stanford-le-Hope exchanges, which means that a small but significant community will not benefit from either the commercial roll-out of superfast broadband or the Government-funded programme. What options do I have to ensure that those residents are not disadvantaged by a geographic anomaly? (904623)
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the Government have announced additional funding of £10.72 million for Essex under phase 2 of our superfast broadband programme. The local project team for Essex should be able to advise him on the revised coverage targets. The Government have also announced eight market testing pilots to explore supply solutions for improving broadband coverage beyond 95%.
The analyst, Redburn, has pointed out that claims that the UK is doing well on superfast broadband are
“only true using a rather unambitious definition of superfast”.
A number of European countries now have over 20% fibre- to-the-home penetration, with symmetric 100 megabits- per-second services. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), told me in a written answer on 23 June that he does not know how much of that we have in the UK, but the industry estimates penetration to be about 0.5%. Surely we need to be doing much better.
I was pleased when the Government announced the awarding of the contract to look into ways of using satellite to bring superfast broadband to remote areas of Scotland that fibre-optic cables cannot reach. It is very important that that work is done as soon as possible. What time scale does the Minister envisage for bringing superfast broadband to remote areas of the highlands and islands by satellite?
These pilots began in June, so they are very recent and it will take a number of months before any results are known. We have deliberately picked a number of different companies with different types of technology to ensure that we learn as much as we can. I envisage that we will have more information in six months.
The tourism industry is central to the Government’s long-term economic plan, which is why we are investing over £177 million, including partner funding, in the GREAT campaign and other international and domestic marketing campaigns. We recently re-launched the Tourism Council, a partnership between industry and the Government.
The Suffolk coast is well known as a very attractive place to visit, with its open skies, beaches and cultural offerings. You are certainly most welcome—both you, Mr Speaker, and the Secretary of State—as the shadow Secretary of State will know. However, also adding to the long-term economic plan will hopefully be the construction of Sizewell C. My local businesses have understandable concerns about the impact of the construction phase on tourism in the area. Can he offer any helpful advice?
I can tell my hon. Friend that I will be more than happy to visit. I am sure that Mr Speaker has been a number of times himself. The Suffolk coast is indeed beautiful—it is a jewel in Britain—and everyone should be encouraged to visit. She will know that I cannot comment on any planning application that is taking place, but she will be pleased to know that the Government will continue to work hard to promote Suffolk through VisitEngland and other organisations. The wonderful Suffolk coastline featured in VisitEngland’s “Coastal Escapes” marketing campaign was funded by the regional growth fund.
The NATO summit in Newport provides an opportunity to promote Wales to the world, boosting tourism and the wider economy. What discussions are the UK Government having with the Welsh Government to ensure that the summit has a distinct Welsh flavour?
8. Inbound tourism is as strategic a sector for this country as advanced manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, and the Tourism Council presents an opportunity for it to punch its weight. Will my right hon. Friend set his sights high in terms of productivity, skills development, and co-operative working on distribution channels in marketing this country to the world? (904624)
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know, as will other hon. Members, that last year inbound tourism hit a new record high of 33 million visitors spending a record amount of £21 billion in the UK. He rightly points out the importance of improving skills, and we are working with the Tourism Council on that.
Despite recent sporting setbacks, our enthusiasm remains at fever pitch. Will the Minister, like me, be among the 3 million people it is anticipated will go to watch the start of the Tour de France this weekend? The Grand Départ will showcase some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside. Will he join me in wishing Yorkshire every success in hosting this event and wish every participant well, and, of course, success to our British riders? What is he doing to ensure that the event goes smoothly and that the region continues to benefit from the boost to tourism that it will get from hosting this event?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the Grand Départ taking place in Yorkshire. It is a very important sporting moment for the UK. I will be visiting on day one, on Saturday, and I look forward to seeing him there. The Prime Minister will also be visiting, and the sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), will be helping as well.
14. Fylde is the golf capital of Lancashire, with outstanding courses including the Open championship course at Royal Lytham and St Annes. What are the Government doing to ensure that Britain is getting the most out of this lucrative section of the tourism market? (904632)
4. What recent discussions he has had with England's international football representatives on allegations of corruption within FIFA. (904618)
These are very serious allegations. Of course, major sporting events need to be awarded in an open, fair and transparent manner, but, as the Prime Minister has already said, we need to wait to see the results of Michael Garcia’s inquiry before discussing next steps.
I thank the Minister for that very cautious response. I have just finished two years as chair of the sports committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and I am its rapporteur on corruption and governance in sport. Now that the investigative journalists of The Times have revealed how much corruption is going on, and Greg Dyke has spoken out very boldly on this, does the Minister agree that it may be time for a Joint Committee of the House to look at this question in some detail before the beautiful game is mired by the behaviour of FIFA?
What discussions is the Minister having with her colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and with football governing bodies to bring about an end to the abuse of the migrant workers who are facing very serious human rights abuses building stadiums in Qatar?
Mobile Telephone Coverage
We need to improve mobile coverage in the UK, and I have been discussing with Ofcom and the mobile network operators what more can be done. The mobile infrastructure project will extend coverage to remote and rural areas that currently have no coverage.
As usual, my hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is true that French nationals who visit the UK get better coverage than his constituents because of international roaming. I encourage operators in the UK to go further and I am discussing the issue with mobile operators and Ofcom. No firm decisions have been taken at this point, but it is a very important issue.
May I commend my right hon. Friend on his efforts to extend mobile coverage, but is he aware that many of my constituents have been without any mobile coverage for nearly three weeks due to Vodafone having to remove a mast from premises that the landlord required it to vacate? Will he consider looking at the electronic communications code to see whether it can be strengthened to give the same sorts of rights that already exist for other utilities, such as water and electricity?
I was not aware of that particular issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but now he has raised it I will certainly look into it and see whether we can help. The electronic communications code is a very important issue and I am looking into it right now, because I agree that it was set up for a different age and there need to be significant changes.
As the House has already heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the UK’s broadband coverage is among the best in Europe: 73% of premises can access superfast broadband compared with just 45% in 2010. Government investment will drive superfast coverage up to 95% by 2017.
Sadly, rural areas will be left behind. I understand from NYnet that Thirsk, Malton and Filey will have only 78% coverage by 2015-16. Given that farmers will have to apply digitally for farm payments from 2015, they will be grossly disadvantaged. Will the Government please make it a top priority to ensure that those who have the weakest coverage will be fast-tracked to superfast broadband?
We certainly will. NYnet is one of our most effective programmes and I praise the county council for its effective work. We have already passed 120,000 premises under this programme. We will have reached 170,000 by next spring and we have allocated further millions to take coverage even further.
The EU is a very big area, but Bridle road in Stanfree in Bolsover is relatively small. They told me to ask the appropriate Minister to sort out the broadband that they have been messing about with for four years in that Bridle road, Stanfree area. They must have a letter—get it sorted.
I am tempted to just say to the Minister, “Somerset—get it sorted.” The good news is that two more communities in my constituency—Fivehead and Milborne Port—will be connected over the next few months, but there are a lot of villages in exactly the position described by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) that will not be connected. Does the Minister recognise how critical Somerset’s bid to the superfast extension fund is in filling in some of those gaps and getting broadband to the rural areas that desperately need it?
Yes, I do. The whole point of all the completely justified questions that have been asked is that people want broadband. That is why we are putting £1.2 billion into rolling out rural broadband and why total funding of something like £70 million from BT, European funding and Broadband Delivery UK is going into connecting Devon and Somerset. More than 250,000 premises are planned to be networked and we have allocated a provisional £22 million for the next phase.
This issue is not just a rural problem. At my recent business event, companies told me how lack of access to fast broadband is seriously hampering their businesses. How will the Minister ensure that areas on the edge of major urban centres also get superfast broadband?
The whole point of the rural broadband programme is to help the areas she speaks about. Local councils are in charge of the roll-out, so they should know best where the money should go first for the most impact. As I say, we have had phase 1 to get to 90%; we now have phase 2 to get to 95%; and the money we have allocated for new technologies will give us the figure we need to get to 100%.
First World War Centenary
The important contribution of all our Commonwealth partners will be commemorated as part of our centenary programme, starting with a service of commemoration on 4 August in Glasgow cathedral.
It is right that we honour the remarkable sacrifice of so many members of the Commonwealth during the first world war, including the 40,000 Indian and Anzac casualties at Gallipoli. Will the Minister assure me, as someone whose father fought and so nearly died in that controversial campaign, that the centenary events for Gallipoli next April will include full recognition of the contribution of the 27,000 French casualties and the 120,000 British casualties at Gallipoli?
As my hon. Friend will know, Gallipoli is one of our key dates in the Government’s programme. My Department is working very closely with the embassy in Ankara to ensure that the event at Cape Helles on 24 April next year marks the British and Commonwealth contribution appropriately. We are also working with the Gallipoli Association on a UK-led event, and I would welcome my hon. Friend’s input into its planning.
Regional Museums and Galleries
First, may I welcome my hon. Friend to the Chamber? This is the first opportunity I have had the chance to welcome him to the House.
In 2012-13, national museums sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport lent objects to more than 1,500 museums around the country through touring exhibitions, star object loans, loans of local significance and long-term loans.
Regional museums would benefit from a much more active programme of loans from national museums, which are sitting on hundreds of thousands if not millions of works of art that are rarely if ever seen by the general public. The Secretary of State recently viewed the site of the new Newark national civil war museum, which is a perfect example of a regional museum that would benefit from active loans from national institutions. What can the Department do to encourage national museums to review their civil war collections and to loan them to our museum in Newark?
I know for a fact that the Secretary of State thoroughly enjoyed his visit to the new National Civil War centre, which was awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund of £3.5 million in 2012, and we look forward to its opening next year. I am certainly happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss what we can do to encourage loans of civil war objects from national museums, but it is important for the House to remember that national museums are of course independent and do not simply do what the Government tell them.
Independent research estimates that the Government’s investment will generate £20 for every £1 by 2024. Wales has received almost £70 million from the UK Government for the roll-out of superfast broadband. We are confident that this will benefit the Welsh tourist industry, as well as the Welsh economy more generally.
My hon. Friend will be aware that I consider his Department’s decision to allocate funding for rural broadband to the Welsh Government to be a mistake. A total of £120 million has now been allocated from taxpayer funds for the roll-out of broadband in rural Wales, yet my constituents and businesses in the tourist sector in my constituency are no nearer to getting any answers from the Welsh Government about when and where they will have roll-outs. Does my hon. Friend agree that transparency is crucial when £120 million of taxpayer funding is being spent?
It is important that roll-out is as transparent as possible—people need to know when broadband is coming to their area. More than 160,000 premises have been passed but I am sure that Opposition Members will have a word with their Labour colleagues in Wales to encourage them to be more transparent with my hon. Friend.
Tour de France
There has been a strong legacy of cycling from the London 2012 games and I am sure that the Grand Départ in Yorkshire will inspire cycling across the region and the UK as a whole.
I sincerely hope so. I know the Minister will join me in congratulating City of York council and the other local authorities involved, along with the cycling organisations, on all the preparations they have made for the race. In terms of public participation, cycling is the third most popular sport in the country. The biggest single disincentive for cyclists is the state of the roads and the danger. Will her Department set up a joint initiative with the Department for Transport to improve road safety and so get more people on their bikes and cycling?
I think that the Tour de France Grand Départ will be a tremendous success. All plans are on track, and I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking all those involved in the preparations—the teams in Yorkshire, Essex, London and Cambridge. It will be an amazing highlight for the year and one we will never forget. I am happy to have a chat with him about his suggestion. Thank you.
Although England’s footballers and Andy Murray have sadly fallen, our sporting season is still in full swing. This weekend sees the climax of the Wimbledon championships, the grand prix at Silverstone and the Tour de France Grand Départ, as we have just heard. Politicians who wish sports stars well seem to jinx them, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of Mark Cavendish’s rivals the best of luck.
The additional £5 million arts funding allocated to Hull this week is very welcome, but is a drop in the ocean compared with the money that goes to some of our national institutions, such as the National Theatre, which gets £18 million a year. What pressure can the Secretary of State bring to bear on national institutions to make sure they do everything they can to support our national city of culture for 2017, bearing in mind that Hull has had a 25% cut in our council funding during this Parliament?
I know that the hon. Lady is as excited as I am that Hull is the city of culture for 2017. It won against strong competition and has done extremely well. She is right to point out the recent announcement of additional funding from the Arts Council. It also announced that Hull will become a major partner museum, which is a significant step forward. The Hull initiative for 2017 and beyond will boost the local economy and jobs, which I am sure she will welcome. I am happy to look into what more can be done to help.
T2. Given BT’s virtual monopoly in contracts for superfast broadband and the problems with that company that have been raised by hon. Members today and previously, is it not about time that the Government held an inquiry into its performance, or would that be better done by the competition authorities? (904604)
The National Audit Office conducted an inquiry. I am confident that BT is doing its job incredibly effectively. We are passing a total of 20,000 premises a week with broadband, and that figure will soon be up to 40,000 a week. More than £60 million has been allocated to Lancashire and more than 130,000 homes there will get superfast broadband as a result.
The evidence before the Leveson inquiry laid bare the pain and suffering caused to victims of press abuse. The press felt they could act with impunity as there was no proper complaints system, and all parties in both Houses agreed to a new system of independent self-regulation for the press. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the appointment of David Wolfe as chair of the recognition board for the new press complaints system? Does he agree that the rest of the board should be appointed as soon as possible, and will he join me in encouraging the press to establish and put forward for recognition a Leveson-compliant, independent regulator so that there is an effective complaints system that is independent of both politicians and the press?
As the right hon. and learned Lady points out, there was rightly a cross-party approach on this important issue. The key to that consensus was that whatever transpired needed to be independent of Government and that there needed to be a self-regulatory body. I will not comment on anyone who is appointed to the recognition panel, because I do not believe that that is a job for Government. It is an independent process and the Government, including my Department, have no role in it. It would therefore not be proper for me to talk about any individual.
As for whether a body should apply for recognition, it is up to the body to decide whether the incentives that we have put in place are enough to encourage it to join. The Government have done what they set out to do.
T3. Last week, I organised a music skills day at Glossopdale community college in my constituency in conjunction with UK Music, at which more than 100 students from across High Peak learned about the different skills in the industry. The Secretary of State will know that the creative industries are a big economic force in this country and earn about £70 billion each year for the economy. The music skills event gave young people information about the opportunities to work in that sector. Will he say what else is being done to provide even more support to the creative industries across the country? (904605)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I join him in welcoming the work of UK Music in promoting careers in that industry to young people. Just this week, a report showed that the creative industries have added more than £70 billion to the economy over the past year and that they employ more than 1.7 million people. Employment is growing five times faster in that sector than in the rest of the economy. Just yesterday, I helped to launch the industry-led creative industries strategy, which is full of more good ideas.
T4. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the excellent Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and other arts organisations based in Newcastle upon Tyne on their successful Arts Council bids? In doing so, will he acknowledge that there is still a problem with the disproportionate amount of private sector arts funding—the figure is 82%—that is drawn into the capital and not to the regions of England, and consider the remedy that is set out in “Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital”? If he has not read that report, I commend it to him. (904606)
I am very happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums—it is a fantastic place that I have visited on at least one occasion. I am pleased that following the Arts Council settlement the balance between London and the regions has shifted in favour of the regions. As he knows, I believe that every arts organisation around the country is capable of raising private funding and should be doing so.
T5. I thank the Minister for the assistance that he and Ofcom have given the community radio station in my constituency, MKFM, in its bid for a permanent FM licence. Will he assure me that he will continue to do all he can to assist such community radio stations to expand the vital service they provide to local communities? (904607)
T6. Ministers will know that cyber-bullying is a growing problem, particularly among teenagers, but the offences fall, confusingly, between five different Acts. Is it not time for Ministers to talk to their colleagues in other Departments to bring about a specific offence of cyber-bullying that mirrors the offence of harassment in the real world? (904608)
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I work closely with the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims and the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), on the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s representations have been heard and they will be considered in the usual way.
T9. Will the libraries Minister join me in congratulating Northamptonshire county council’s library and information service on being named the best council services team at this year’s Municipal Journal awards? Whereas other local authorities are closing libraries and cutting opening times, the Conservative council in Northamptonshire is extending opening to seven days a week and extending the range of services on offer, and has recruited more than 600 library volunteers. (904611)
T7. I congratulate the Minister for creative industries on his outstanding work in encouraging international film makers, especially from Bollywood, to come and make their films in the United Kingdom. Does he agree that it is important that that helps with jobs, growth and the diversity of UK film making? (904609)
I am very pleased to have that question from the right hon. Gentleman. Although we obviously welcome investment from the west coast of America, particularly yesterday’s announcement by Warner Bros. that it will be filming J. K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts”, it is important to remember that Bollywood is bigger than Hollywood, and we need also to encourage Indian film makers to make films in this country with our excellent crew and casts.
T8. The theme of much of this morning’s exchanges has been broadband and mobile coverage. Will the Minister meet me and other interested rural and island Members of Parliament to discuss how proper 4G coverage on a Swedish or Finnish model may help the aims of comprehensive mobile and fast broadband coverage in the years to come? (904610)
Broadband is going extremely well in the UK, mainly because we are better together. We are working with Scotland and Wales to roll out broadband and 4G coverage. The hon. Gentleman should not be so modest: we have outstripped a lot of the Scandinavian countries. We have just laid 400 km of undersea cable to the highlands and islands. That could not have been done without the UK Government working with the devolved Government to bring broadband to our rural areas. We are better together.
As my hon. Friend knows, VAT is a matter for the Chancellor. We keep all taxes under review, but there is no plan to reduce tax for the tourism sector.
Sarah Hunter from North Tyneside is part of the England women’s rugby squad. Despite what the Minister said earlier, will he join me in wishing Sarah and the team the best of luck as they head off to the women’s rugby world cup in Paris this summer?
I enjoyed visiting that wonderful rainbow festival, London Pride, over the weekend in our capital. It has become a magnet for hundreds of thousands of tourists, who enjoy the rich diversity of the United Kingdom.
With the ability to convert civil partnerships into marriage later this year, does the Secretary of State believe that there is even more to celebrate in pride festivals throughout the UK in the coming months and years?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I agree with him. He may be interested to know that the Government will today lay the draft regulations for converting civil partnerships to marriage. The Government previously said that the cost of conversion would be calculated on a cost recovery basis, and that is correct. We had indicated about £100, but I am happy to say that, in almost all cases, the cost will be £45. It would be unfair to charge couples who were in civil partnerships before same sex marriage was available, so I am pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has agreed to waive the conversion fee for one year from 10 December.
Tourism is important to my constituency of Strangford. It definitely brings jobs and opportunities, as promoted by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Will the Minister consider joint tourism promotions with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board so that we can benefit from tourism throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
Will the Minister join me in welcoming two pieces of excellent nautical news for Portsmouth harbour? Not only will it play host to Sir Ben Ainslie’s new America’s cup sailing team hub, but today it welcomes Oceans of Hope—the first yacht to complete a global circumnavigation with a working crew with multiple sclerosis, including my Gosport constituent Phil Gowers.
The Minister will no doubt be aware that Northern Stage’s excellent adaptation of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” closed at the weekend at Richmond, following a successful nationwide run. What is the Minister doing to ensure that regions outside the north-east benefit from the excellent cultural talent that we produce?
The latest round of Arts Council funding has pushed more money out to the regions, and I am particularly pleased about the new £15 million fund it has set up specifically to support talent outside London, and to keep people outside London working in our regional theatres and doing innovative work.
Earlier this week I visited GamCare at its headquarters in Clapham to see the wonderful work it does helping people with problem gambling. May I urge the Secretary of State and the Minister to go themselves to listen to the counsellors, as I did, and to get their perspective on what we can best do to help people who sadly develop a gambling addiction?
I forgot to welcome the Secretary of State, so I do so warmly and ask whether he will support our all-party effort to get at least 150 MPs to read a poem of the countryside, and raise funds to get kids from poorer parts of our country out to the countryside this year?
There is concern that the Government’s approach to allocating funding for the superfast broadband extension programme will leave most rural areas at a disadvantage. What help and assurances will the Minister give to constituents in the villages of Rumburgh, St James and Ringsfield that they will not be penalised?
The principle behind the programme is that we allocate funding in order to get to 95% coverage. We expect local authorities to match that, and we will then work with them to target the areas where it is needed most. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the best way forward.
Women and Equalities
The Ministers for Women and Equalities were asked—
Rights of Women and Girls
The Government are committed to the protection and promotion of women’s rights in the UK and internationally. I met many of my overseas counterparts at the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict last month, which brought together 128 country delegations, UN agencies and civil society. We discussed how best to achieve that aim, including providing opportunities for international collaboration and the exchange of best practices.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this case, and pleased that Mariam Ibrahim and her family have now been released. They are currently staying at the US embassy in Khartoum. The British embassy in Khartoum continues to follow the case closely and is in close contact with the defence team. We continue to raise our concerns about this case and the broader human rights situation in Sudan with the Sudanese authorities, including with a recent delegation of Sudanese female MPs whom I met. We will continue to work bilaterally and in international forums such as the UN to tackle violence and all forms of discrimination against women.
Ministers are right to draw attention to the appalling sexual violence faced by women and girls in conflict, but we also have responsibilities when women seek sanctuary in the UK. Will the Minister set out what action is being taken following the serious allegations and concerns about operations at Yarl’s Wood detention centre?
The hon. Lady is right, and it is important and extremely welcome that the Government set up last month’s global summit. Those who seek asylum in the UK need to be offered protection, and the Government are committed to making our asylum system more gender sensitive. We have made significant progress, including putting in place new enhanced guidance supported by high-quality training for all decision makers. Women who seek asylum can request a female interviewing officer and interpreter. They can also bring a friend with them to interviews to provide emotional support if needed.
In last night’s Adjournment debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) talked about the case of the abducted girls in Nigeria. He made the point that the problem is not that those girls were abducted, or that others have been abducted since, but that many are at risk and are no longer going to school. Will the Minister look at that speech and prepare a written statement on behalf of her Department to respond to the points my right hon. Friend made?
I certainly will look at that speech—I am afraid I did not have a chance to read it in full before this morning’s Question Time. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that one of the tragedies of the situation that has evolved in Nigeria is that the girls who were abducted were doing exactly the right thing—they were in school and taking exams. We absolutely do not want to put girls around the world off their education. The UK remains committed to helping to find the schoolgirls. I shall look at the speech and think about how best to respond.
Gender Pay Gap
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It is good to be back. May I place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott) for the fantastic job she did in covering my maternity leave?
The full-time pay gap has now been almost eliminated for women under the age of 40, but we must close the gap across all ages and for part-time workers. We are promoting transparency through the “Think, Act, Report” initiative. As the pay gap is partly driven by the different sectors and jobs in which men and women work, we are encouraging girls and young women to consider a wider range of careers through the “Your Life” initiative.
I, too, welcome the Minister back to her place. The Equal Pay Act 1970 dates back some 44 years, so why does the Minister think that last year the difference between earnings for men and women went up and not down, and why have women in their 20s seen the gender pay gap double since her Government came to power?
The 0.1% increase in the pay gap in the past year is certainly not a sign of things going in the right direction, although it was a very small increase. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the fact that 40 years after equal pay legislation, it is not good enough that we still have a pay gap in this country. We need to look at the causes of that pay gap, which might include time out of the workplace. The new flexible working entitlements regime that came in this week will help to change the culture of our workplace. As I mentioned, we need to look at occupational segregation. We also need to look at discrimination and outdated attitudes when women are not being paid the same for the same work. We need to change that, which is why we are working with businesses.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. Only 7% of engineers are women. That difference in the sectors is a significant driver of the pay gap. The problems start very early in children’s lives, so we need to look at the messages that are being put out through the education system but also more widely in the media regarding stereotypes and what young girls are encouraged to aspire to. We are encouraging parents and schools to have the information they need to assist their children.
I, too, welcome the Minister back.
Progress on narrowing the pay gap has all but come to a standstill. Progress was much quicker under Labour, so will the Minister admit that narrowing the gap by 0.1% in four years is just not good enough?
I certainly agree that we need to ensure that we close the pay gap. This is an important issue. It is ideal if we can work with employers to do so. The “Think, Act, Report” initiative means that 200 employers covering 2 million employees in the work force are working to improve the situation for women. They have already made significant steps forward since joining up and since that initiative started in 2011. Two thirds of those employers say that they now publish more information on gender pay. Nearly half of them now do pay audits. That would not have happened without this Government’s initiative, but we have said that we will keep the issue under review, because we need success.
In June I met many of my overseas counterparts at a global ministerial round table at the global summit of women held in Paris. This event brought together business, professional and governmental leaders to explore strategies and best practices in accelerating women’s economic progress worldwide. The most important task for the UK Government, as for the rest of the global community, is to build a stronger, fairer economy capable of delivering lasting prosperity. Women and girls are essential to the UK’s economic growth.
What was really interesting about going to the international summit—it was the same when I went to the Commonwealth summit in Bangladesh last year—was just how many of the same issues we share around the world in terms of enabling women to play their full part in economies. We talked about gender equality, parental leave, returners to work, supporting older workers, women’s access to finance and the importance of coaching, mentoring and role models in encouraging women to set up their own businesses.
Last week we had national women in engineering day. As the Minister says, only 7% of professional engineers in this country are women. What she did not say is that that is the lowest figure in Europe. In eastern European countries, the figure is 30% and countries such as China and India are far ahead of us. In her conversations, will she see what we can learn from other countries that are more successful?
When I speak to counterparts overseas, I always engage with the lessons Britain can share and what we can learn from other countries. I am proud to represent Loughborough university, which has, I am told, the highest number of female engineers in the country. I understand that last night the hon. Lady was at the Royal Academy of Engineering awards, where more than one half the rising stars awards went to female engineers. There is, however, more progress to be made.
We want young girls to achieve and to travel the world. Many young girls want to get into business and to travel. If they do not have science and maths as a basis for getting into business and getting good careers, they will not succeed.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I assume that he supports the EBacc and that he welcomes the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), who I think has done more than anyone else in recent years to triumph and to talk about the importance of all students, particularly girls, studying science and maths. [Interruption.] I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman was there supporting her, too.
The Government offer a wide range of support to women entrepreneurs—for example, the new enterprise allowance, mentoring, business advice and start-up loans. I also recently announced a £1 million challenge fund specifically to support women to move their businesses online and take advantage of superfast broadband. We know these measures are making a difference, with more women running their own businesses than ever before.
There are many different areas, but let me just pick one. The latest statistics from the Federation of Small Businesses show a dramatic increase in the number of women starting up businesses in the retail sector, and high streets across the country are seeing the benefit. Half of all small businesses established in retail in the past two years are primarily owned by women. That is in stark contrast with 20 years ago, when it was less than a quarter. That demonstrates the fundamental role that women are playing in helping the country to recover from recession. I hope that Members on all sides of the House will encourage retail businesses on their high streets to apply for the Future High Streets Forum’s Great British high streets awards.
It is a very good question. There is no doubt that more progress is needed. Earlier this week I was at an event for the 30% Club, which has been campaigning for a voluntary business-led approach, started by Lord Davies, to get more women in particular on the boards of companies. Part of that is about working with executive search companies and asking the chairmen of companies to think differently about appointments. Often the traditional and expected route of a CV is not something that women or others, particularly from black and minority ethnic communities, can put forward. We need to broaden the way in which chairmen of boards, and the boards themselves, appoint new directors.
6. The rise and rise of women in business is boosting growth and opportunity across the country. We have an inspiring role model in Gloucester, in the first female editor of the Gloucester Citizen in its 138-year history, Jenny Eastwood. The chair of the Gloucestershire local enterprise partnership, Diane Savory, is one of only three female chairs of the 39 LEPS. Will my right hon. Friend join me in recognising their achievements, and in encouraging both Jenny and Diane to do even more to promote new female “Gloucesterpreneurs” like Sarah Churchill of the award-winning Artisan Kitchen? (904640)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on coining the new word “Gloucesterpreneurs”, and I hope that he will campaign vigorously under that slogan over the next few months. I am happy to join him in congratulating Gloucestershire Media on its Women in Business awards. Through the work of the Minister for Cities—my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark)—and the Deputy Prime Minister, the Government are focusing on regional growth, city deals and the power of local enterprise partnerships, and on encouraging growth outside London. That is why I am particularly pleased to hear about the new female entrepreneurs in Gloucester who have set up businesses during the past few years.
Participation in Sport
Sport England and UK Sport are committed to achieving equality in grass-roots and elite sport. They invest in a range of expert bodies to work with sport to remove barriers to participation among under-represented groups.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we might achieve even more success in international sporting competitions if our sporting authorities had deeper contacts among ethnic minorities, and were able to use their expertise in what we might consider to be minority sports, but what in their countries of origin are majority sports?
My hon. Friend has made an interesting point. UK Sport and national governing bodies capitalise on a wealth of diverse global expertise in order to get athletes on to the podium. Sport England also invests in organisations such as Sporting Equals to promote physical activity and diversity in all sport.
I know that I speak for a certain proportion of people in this country who were dreadful at sport at school and never improved thereafter. What will the Minister do to encourage people who have never had a positive experience of sport to take our necessary exercise by that means?
The content of marriage registers has not changed since civil marriage was introduced in 1837, so it is about time we took a further look. I have discussed this matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and we are currently considering a range of options.
The Minister has referred to a range of options. Given that Labour changed the law in respect of same-sex couples and adoption back in 2002, what consideration has he given to ensuring that any changes that may be made to marriage certificates reflect the fact that many individuals now have legal parents of the same sex?
Can the Minister tell us how much it would cost to bring marriage certificates into the 21st century? If he cannot, why are his colleagues in the Home Office team saying that it would be too expensive? What price do he and the Government place on equality?
If the hon. Lady had been listening carefully, she would have already heard the answer to that question; I talked about civil partnerships earlier. We have rightly said that when people are converting civil partnerships into marriage, having entered into those partnerships before same-sex marriage was available, we will waive the fee. I think that that demonstrates the Government’s priorities.
Business of the House
The business next week will be as follows:
Monday 7 July—Estimates day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on universal credit implementation, followed by a debate on the implementation of the common agricultural policy in England. Further details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: There will be a debate on universal credit implementation: monitoring DWP’s performance in 2012-13, Fifth Report from the Work and Pensions Committee, HC 1209, Session 2013-14, and the Government response published as Second Special Report, HC 426, Session 2014-15.
The lead Department is Work and Pensions.
There will be a debate on the implementation of the common agricultural policy in England 2014-20, Seventh Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, HC 745, Session 2013-14, and the Government response published as Seventh Special Report, HC 1008, 2013-14.
The lead Department is Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.]
At 10 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Tuesday 8 July—Second Reading of the Modern Slavery Bill, followed by proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill.
Wednesday 9 July—Opposition day [4th allotted day]. There will be a debate on the subject of education, followed by a debate on housing supply. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 10 July—There will be a general debate on the UK’s justice and home affairs opt-outs.
Friday 11 July—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 14 July will include the following:
Monday 14 July—Consideration of a Bill, followed by a motion to approve the first report from the Committee on Standards on the respect policy.
Tuesday 15 July—A motion on the retirement of the Clerk of the House, followed by Second Reading of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.
Wednesday 16 July—Opposition day [5th allotted day]. There will be debates on Opposition motions, including one on the subject of health.
Thursday 17 July—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 18 July—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall will be as follows:
Thursday 10 July—A debate on the second report of the Work and Pensions Committee on the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. On Monday, we will have the first allotted day for the debate on the estimates. That is an arcane and opaque process that does little to scrutinise the actual spending of the Government. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need to reform the estimates process to ensure real scrutiny? Will he support my call for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to answer questions in the Chamber on the estimates, separately from the Budget, and for each Cabinet Minister to have a yearly Budget question and answer on spending in their Department?
On Tuesday, we will debate the Modern Slavery Bill, which the Opposition support but which in some areas does not go far enough. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether his Government will accept our amendments to provide statutory legal guardians for child victims of trafficking, and greater transparency in supply chains to ensure that companies do much more to prevent slave labour?
Yesterday, private Members’ Bills were formally introduced. Labour Members brought forward a series of Bills to tackle the scourge of zero-hours contracts, to strengthen the minimum wage and to protect the NHS. However, all Conservative Members could do was cheer yet another Bill on the UK’s membership of the European Union. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] They are at it again. While we bring forward practical solutions to the crisis in living standards, all they can do is bang on about Europe.
It has been a year and a half since what was billed as the Prime Minister’s last speech on Europe, but what have we seen since? A Prime Minister too afraid to stand up to the Eurosceptics in his own party has been suffering rebellion after rebellion. The more they bully him, the more he appeases them by picking fights in Europe. The trouble is that he keeps losing. Only this Prime Minister could come to the Chamber and claim that losing 26-2 is actually a triumph. If that is what success looks like, I would not like to see what happens when he fails.
We have a PR Prime Minister who cannot deliver the goods. He promised to protect the NHS and keep waiting lists down, but four years later cancer waits have increased by nearly half. Two thirds of people cannot see their GP within two days and the A and E waiting time target has now been missed every week for almost a year. Instead of getting his facts wrong and smearing the Welsh health service, the Prime Minister should listen to the chair of the British Medical Association, who said that the NHS is
“palpably fraying at the edges”.
Will the Leader of the House finally admit that people cannot trust the Tories with the NHS? Will he arrange for a debate in Government time, so that the Secretary of State for Health can come clean about the scale of his failure?
The Government are living in a parallel universe. The Chancellor claimed that we are “all in this together” but Government figures show that in the last two years 1 million more people fell into absolute poverty. Lord Finkelstein, the Tory peer and one of the Chancellor’s closest confidantes, let the cat out of the bag recently when he said that future Tory cuts will
“undoubtedly fall on poor people”.
Does the Leader of the House agree with him, and will he tell me whether Lord Finkelstein was present last night at the Tory summer ball, where, I am told, a bottle of champagne was auctioned for £45,000? [Interruption.] Was that cheap champagne? We now know that last year’s event was attended by six billionaires, 73 financiers, the owner of a strip club and the judo partner of Vladimir Putin. While the Chancellor’s hedge fund mates and dodgy donors are getting tax cuts, millions of Britons are living in poverty, and now the Chancellor’s ally says they can only expect it to get worse. So can the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on the meaning of “all in this together”?
The Conservatives recently tried to rebrand themselves as the workers party. They produced that beer and bingo advert aimed at people they think of as proles, but this week they have had to abandon a photo-shoot for working-class MPs because they could find only 14 of them. That is far fewer than went to Eton. It is becoming harder for them even to pretend they are in touch with real life: the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway) thinks that Londoners who cannot afford the soaring rents should get on their bikes to Manchester; the family business of the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) is buying up swathes of social housing, trebling rents and threatening mass evictions; and a Tory councillor in Coventry thinks that people who use food banks are selfish.
The Tories say they have changed on Europe, they say they have changed on the NHS and they say they have modernised the Conservative party, but we all know the truth: no matter what spin they put on it, it is the same old Tories.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for responding to the business statement, and to her and her colleagues for giving me the opportunity to announce the business for next Wednesday. She asked about reforming the estimates. As she knows, I am not proposing any reform of the estimates process as such, but Select Committees have considerable latitude and potential to undertake inquiries on departmental expenditure plans and, through the Liaison Committee, to bring forward, on estimates days, opportunities for the House to debate those. I recall that when I was Health Secretary the Health Committee undertook an annual substantive inquiry on all aspects of the health budget. That is not true of all Select Committees, but it is an important pointer to the direction in which we may go. She will be aware that the Public Administration Committee is in discussion with the National Audit Office and often emphasises the importance of NAO support, not only to the PAC but to other Select Committees, in the scrutiny of departmental expenditure.
The hon. Lady asked about the Modern Slavery Bill. Its Second Reading is coming up next week, so, if I may, I will leave things until that debate. We agree on the principles, and I hope the legislation will be of substantial importance. We need to get it right, but, working together, not least with the benefit of the pre-legislative scrutiny, which has been important in that context, I am sure we will have an opportunity to respond to the issues she mentions.
The hon. Lady referred, as did the Leader of the Opposition, to the NHS. I remind her that the Prime Minister was in no sense smearing the NHS in Wales. On the contrary, he was setting out some simple facts. The decisions that the Labour party has made on the NHS in Wales should be understood by people in England as well as by people in Wales. The Labour party has cut the budget for the NHS by 8% in Wales, whereas this year this coalition Government are increasing the budget for the NHS by £3.5 billion. Over this Parliament the NHS budget will increase by £12.7 billion—that is a real-terms increase. That is what is enabling the NHS to deal with rising demand and the very large number of additional patients: 1.3 million more accident and emergency attendances; more than 1 million more in-patient admissions; 6.5 million more out-patient appointments; and 3.5 million more diagnostic tests. Those are substantial increases in demand, and the NHS, with a small real-terms increase, is coping extremely well with that—better than in Wales, where the budget has been cut. For that reason, the latest report—the 2014 report—from the Commonwealth Fund in America put the UK at the top of its comparison of leading health systems across the world. We can be proud of that. All the data on which it is derived, contrary to what the shadow Health Secretary was saying, relate to the experience of the people in this country, in the health service, under this coalition Government.
The hon. Lady asked about private Members’ Bills. I am looking forward to debating those Bills, not least the EU Referendum Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) on 17 October. I do not understand why she thinks that that matter is not important to the people of this country. If the European parliamentary elections did nothing else they demonstrated that it is important to the people here. Let me say something that is quite unusual for me. The hon. Lady should listen to Len McCluskey and Unite, because they are telling her party that it should be supporting a referendum on our relationship with Europe.
The Prime Minister’s speech, the Bloomberg speech, was important as it made it clear to the people of this country that they had a right to expect us to enter into a renegotiation of our terms that would lead to reform and give them a choice. As the Prime Minister has said, at the end of the day it is the people of this country who will have a choice. He has fought and won in Europe before. He won in getting us out of the banking bail-out in which the Labour party would have left us. He got the budget cut. When we had a Labour Government, they gave away part of the rebate. Our Prime Minister protected the rebate and cut the budget, and that is important. He will win those battles again.
Finally, I did have the pleasure of going to the summer party last night. I did not see my noble Friend Danny Finkelstein—[Interruption.] I did not buy the champagne, which was bought not for drinking purposes but because it was signed by Margaret Thatcher. [Hon. Members: “Yes!”] The highlight of the evening was not the auction but a speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who illustrated the positive achievements of this coalition Government and the increasing likelihood of a Conservative victory at the next general election.
Can we have a debate on the eminent suitability of Derby as the location for the HS2 college? The land is vacant and it is a brownfield site. We can offer apprenticeships and everything that the HS2 college requires, and we are celebrating 175 years of the rail industry in Derby. It is the best place in the country for such a project, so I wish to have a debate on that.
I understand and applaud my hon. Friend for her support for that project and for her constituency. She will know that the HS2 college will act as a national college, operating on a hub and spoke model, with a main site linking a network of providers across the country. We launched a consultation to identify the most suitable main site for the new college. Bids were assessed and four locations were shortlisted: Derby, Birmingham, Doncaster and Manchester. Those locations gave presentations to support their bids on 27 June, and a final decision on the preferred site will be taken by Ministers shortly.
Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Foreign Secretary to make an urgent statement in which he condemns the murder by Israeli terrorists of the Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped yesterday? The murder was the outcome of the hysteria that was deliberately provoked by the Israeli Prime Minister following the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Will he ask the Foreign Secretary to send our sympathy to the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir; to join the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, who has described the murder as “sickening”; and to make it clear to the Israelis that we expect nothing more than the hunting down and bringing to justice of the murderers of this poor boy?
The right hon. Gentleman rightly calls these murders sickening, as are all murders of teenagers. The Government very much condemn the abduction and murder of the Israeli teenagers and the abduction and murder of the Palestinian teenager. It is vital that those who are responsible are held accountable, and in that respect we welcome Israel’s commitment to bringing those responsible to justice and President Abbas’s firm condemnation of the abduction of youngsters. It is essential, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, to avoid any action or rhetoric that could lead to further loss of life, and events such as these highlight the importance of reaching a negotiated two-state solution with the benefits that that would bring to all Israelis and Palestinians. I will of course, as he asks, draw his comments to the attention of the Foreign Secretary. As he knows, the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues are assiduous in keeping the House informed of events in the middle east. These events and others in the middle east are of serious concern.
BT is still using its position as a monopoly supplier to hold up the roll-out of rural broadband. May we have time to discuss that in this place? I have just had the latest list from my constituency and it is pitiful how many places have been enabled. The time has come to send a clear message to BT from the House of Commons that we have had enough of its using its position to blackmail the people of this country and to slow down high-speed roll-out.
As my hon. Friend knows, BT has won many contracts across the country to provide the roll-out of broadband. As he will have heard during questions to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the overall progress of broadband roll-out is now very impressive, but we must ensure that it reaches many parts. We both know how frustrating it is that, despite the rapid increases in demand for broadband services, in areas where the infrastructure for superfast access to broadband has not been put in place, services are deteriorating rather than remaining stable. It is vital, and I endorse what my hon. Friend says: we need BT and other contract providers—but principally BT—to be well aware of the requirements to put every effort into meeting and, if possible, exceeding their contractual commitments on superfast broadband.
I endorse everything said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), but on a domestic issue raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), may I suggest that we have a statement or a debate on political funding so that we may try to find out how many Ministers have been involved in meetings and social events with some of the richest people in this country in order to raise cash? Must the Tory party always prostitute itself with an election looming? And the Tories have the impertinence to criticise trade unions!
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no prohibition on social events, although perhaps he wishes for one; I am not sure. As far as I am aware, only one political donation in this country buys influence and that is the political donation made by the trade unions to the Labour party, with £12.6 million donated by Unite since the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) became the hon. Gentleman’s leader. They are now demanding the appointment of a Cabinet Minister for trade unions, no less, whose purpose will be, they say, to bring home the bacon. Since they already decide the candidates for the Labour party, determine the policy of the Labour party and effectively control the leadership of the Labour party, that is some bacon—or perhaps I should say some bacon sandwich.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the publication of the Chilcot report? As someone who attended the debate and changed my mind on how to vote because of what the then non-working-class Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons, I think that it is essential that the Chilcot report is published as soon as possible without redactions so that the House can judge the veracity of what we were told on that momentous occasion.
Those of us who did not support the invasion of Iraq in 2003 are as anxious as my hon. Friend to see the Chilcot report. In his letter of 28 May to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir John Chilcot said that it was the inquiry’s intention to submit its report to the Prime Minister as soon as possible. I can tell the House that it is the Prime Minister’s hope that it will be able to do so before the end of the year. The Government will not comment on the Iraq inquiry before the publication of the report.
Each and every time a Government Minister is asked about zero-hours contracts, they reference their hope to ban exclusivity clauses, but there are far more problems associated with zero-hours contracts than that, and many other ways in which people are exploited. May we therefore have a debate on zero-hours contracts in Government time?
Control of discretionary social funds passed from the Department for Work and Pensions to local councils on 1 April 2013. In the first year, my local Labour council, Redcar and Cleveland, turned down 91% of applications from people in need and spent only £256,000 of its £765,000 allocation. May we have a debate on how councils are making use of these discretionary social funds?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which might benefit from an application for an Adjournment debate, not least because there may be other Members elsewhere in the House who feel strongly, as he does, about this and their local authority’s decisions.
Boxing, swimming, running and cycling, though not all at the same time, are incredibly well followed and practised sports across Northern Ireland. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the legacy of the Commonwealth games so that we can see how the benefit of those wonderful games will be applied to sportspeople across Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I do not know whether we have time available before the Commonwealth games for such a debate. We are very much looking forward to the Commonwealth games, which will be a tremendous event, and to the opportunity to see this country, not least Scotland, showcasing itself as a venue for great sporting achievement. In that context, in Cambridge and in my constituency, we are also very much looking forward to seeing the Tour de France coming through on Monday.
At the end of this month NatWest bank proposes to close the final bank branch in Harrow Weald high street, which will have a devastating effect on businesses and individuals in the area. The key point nationally is why banks are allowed to close the last branch in a high street. May we have a debate in Government time on the future of retail banking and the effects on the high street?
I know that my hon. Friend raises a point that will be of interest to many Members across the House, not least at the moment when there is a sort of secular change taking place in the structure of retail banking, with the withdrawal of retail banking from many high streets, including in my own constituency, and the loss of the last remaining bank in some villages. It is difficult to go anywhere else for that kind of access. My hon. Friend and other Members might exploit the opportunity, through the Backbench Business Committee or otherwise, to see whether there is demand among Members for such a debate. He is a member of the Backbench Business Committee, so I know that he is familiar with how that Committee works.
Back in 2010, when I believe the Leader of the House was the Health Secretary, a promise was made to fund a paediatric neuromuscular consultant post for Birmingham. Would he be interested in a debate in which he can tell us what steps are needed to turn that into reality?
It is two years since the Chancellor halved the bridge tolls on the Humber bridge, and figures out this month show that local car users have saved £19 million in crossing tolls. At the same time the number of Humber bridge crossings have gone up. Businesses have also saved money through the halving of heavy goods vehicle tolls. May we have a debate next week on how our long-term economic plan is helping the Humber? That would give us an opportunity to explain to the House why the HS2 college should be in Doncaster.
I am glad that my hon. Friend can illustrate with evidence the success of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced. It is part of the broader process of ensuring that we have effective infrastructure to support the growth that our long-term economic plan is generating. I am delighted that it is having that effect on infrastructure, as well as on employment, which is going up, and on the deficit, which is coming down, and with taxes now being able to be brought down and with education and skills being promoted, not least through apprenticeships. That is all very much part of the long-term economic plan for regeneration on Humberside.
During the first and second world wars the majority of engineers in Britain were women, yet today women make up only 7% of the engineering work force, the lowest percentage across Europe. Iceland has 43%. May we have a debate on how we can ensure that women understand that engineering is a first-class career option, for example with companies such as Ford in Bridgend?
I have every sympathy with what the hon. Lady says and absolutely agree with the principle of trying to bring more women into engineering. Clearly that is very much in our interests, by supporting the further rebalancing of the economy and the growth in manufacturing. It has been pursued by successive Governments. I remember working as a civil servant, way back in 1980, on the Young Engineers campaign, and Women into Science and Engineering was established at that point too. That was 34 years ago and we have still not succeeded. We must ensure that engineering is at the forefront of careers advice, that there is support for the right courses and, indeed, that engineering role models are made available to young women.
May we have an urgent debate on the independence of think-tank charities? Last year the Institute for Public Policy Research took up to £40,000 in donations from the TUC and then published a report calling for—wait for it—more trade union power. It looks more like a sock puppet than an independent think-tank charity.
I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say. He might want look for opportunities to raise the matter himself, perhaps in an Adjournment debate. In any case, I think that it is an important subject for all of us to be aware of. Wherever we are engaged in public policy making, I hope that it will be evidence-based and objective. One of the Nolan principles is objectivity. That should be as true for those who seek to influence policy as it is for those who make it.
Last night I attended a function organised by the all-party group on rail in the north at which Northern Rail set out its future investment programme. Unfortunately, it will only go as far north as York. At another recent meeting, Network Rail outlined its proposals for the next control period, none of which will go beyond York. The current disparity in public infrastructure spending between London and the north-east is 520:1. May we have a debate on when this Government will put that right?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware, not least from the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speech at the beginning of last week, of the importance that we attach to the further promotion on infrastructure that enables all parts of the United Kingdom to have maximum access to the economic growth being generated by this Government’s long-term economic plan. High-speed rail will clearly make a significant difference, but there are many other projects being promoted by Network Rail. I will draw the attention of the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport to the point the hon. Gentleman makes as we approach the publication later this year of the infrastructure plans for the next 10 years.
Order. It is both exceptionally cheeky and thoroughly disorderly for the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) to be seeking to catch my eye at business questions, for which he arrived almost half an hour late. I do not doubt that he has a point of the highest importance in his mind, and of which he thinks the House needs urgently to be informed, but there are other mechanisms, including points of order, whereby he might be able to realise his objective. Meanwhile, I am concerned for his leg muscles and advise him to remain in his seat. I call Mr Nigel Evans.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I will ask my hon. Friend’s question for him.
I want to be helpful to the shadow Leader of the House because of her view that Conservative Members are rabid fanatics obsessed with the issue of Europe. Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate on Europe in order that we can praise the Prime Minister for his valiant standing up for British interests against the election of President Juncker? We could also look at reform of Europe. There has to be something wrong when we spend £30 million of our money by sending it abroad to youngsters who have never set foot in the United Kingdom via the payments that we give in support to these children. I believe that we now have the support of Germany on this. I think it is therefore an area where real reform can now be made.
I noted the reports this morning about debates in the Bundestag about exactly these issues of transfer payments and benefit payments to other countries. That highlights the fact that there is a growing sympathy for what our Prime Minister and members of this Government have been saying about the necessity of the free movement of peoples being about free movement for the purposes of work, not of access to benefits, and that will form part of our reform programme. I cannot promise an immediate debate, although my hon. Friend will have noted that next week’s business includes a debate on the justice and home affairs opt-out.
Does the Leader of the House agree that it is disgraceful that a very high percentage of children up and down our country never get to visit the British countryside? May we have an early debate on access to the countryside? Will he join my campaign, which is an all-party campaign that includes some very good Members on his Benches, to get 150 people in every constituency to read a countryside poem on video, thereby raising £5,000 that will go towards getting schools in poorer areas of our country to visit the countryside to love it and learn about it?
I have every sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. I am fortunate enough to have, and to live in, a constituency that is predominantly in the countryside, and I very much appreciate what a privilege that is. It is something that is not necessarily available to people in cities and urban areas, and we should give them access to it. I am very engaged with what he describes about the reading of poetry. I will talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about ways in which his admirable objective can be pursued.
There is concern among residents in my constituency that the two hospitals that serve it, based in Grimsby and Scunthorpe, are having to share more and more services and the different specialisms at each location. May we have a debate to explore the reasons for this? Much of it is driven by medical professionals, which is quite right, but, as the Leader of the House will appreciate, it causes considerable concern to constituents.
I completely understand what my hon. Friend says. As he says, this is, and should be, clinically led, and it should be evidence-based. He will recall, no doubt, that this has been happening over the years; it is a steady process, not something that started under this coalition Government. It is sometimes the necessary consequence of securing access to sufficient staff with sufficient expertise and sufficient regular practice to be able to provide a 24/7 service; we need a 24/7 NHS. It should not, however, lead to a loss of access that has a damaging impact on outcomes; it should be outcomes-based. In relation to his local area, I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department of Health to respond specifically to his point.
This House has made real progress on scrutinising important public appointments. Will the Leader of the House outline what process will be in place to allow the House to scrutinise the Government’s nomination for the next European Commissioner?
I think that the Prime Minister in this House and my noble Friend Baroness Warsi in the House of Lords yesterday made it clear that while this nomination is one for the Prime Minister, it is open to the scrutiny Committees of the House to request, as they could on any nomination for commissioner, that evidence be given to them. It will be a matter for the nominee concerned as to how to respond.
Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) raised the case of Keith Williams in Justice questions. He was released early from prison by the Parole Board, completely and utterly against the wishes and views of the victim of his terrible crimes. May we have a debate on how we can make sure that the victim’s views are paramount in the criminal justice system, so that before anybody is released on parole, moved to an open prison or released on temporary licence, the views of the victim are taken fully into account and put at the top of the priority list? Such a debate would also showcase the fantastic work of organisations such as Families Fighting for Justice.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making his case very well. I will ask my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to respond directly to him. I am sure he will find further opportunities for a debate, perhaps on the Adjournment or elsewhere, in order to raise the issues properly. I hope he recognises that, through legislation and other action, the Government have sought continuously to put the interests of victims at the forefront of the criminal justice system.
As secretary of the all-party group on steel and metal related industry, I have received a response from the Exchequer Secretary declining to meet us. Given that this week, in announcing the devastating loss of 400 jobs in south Wales, Karl Köhler, head of Tata Steel Europe, cited problems with Government policy, such as business rates and delays in getting help for energy intensive industries, will the Leader of the House prevail on his colleague to meet the all-party steel and metal related industry group?
I was aware, of course, of the very sad loss of jobs at Port Talbot and sympathise with the hon. Lady’s constituents. I will discuss the issue with my ministerial colleagues. There may be a question about where ministerial responsibility lies: given what the hon. Lady has said, it probably lies more with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills than directly with the Treasury.
This week is create UK week, giving us the opportunity to reflect on the £70 billion-a-year contribution to the economy from the creative industries. In my constituency there is an ever-expanding creative industry, providing some 1,200 jobs in the video games sector in my area alone. May we have a debate about the contribution of creative industries to our economy?
I understand the important role played by our creative industries, including the video games sector, in our economic recovery. Indeed, I think that was illustrated by the replies given by my colleagues to the preceding questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The creative sector is worth £71 billion to our economy, with its employment figure growing at five times that of the economy as a whole. It is a great success and we are committed to working with the creative industries to take the strategy forward. Create UK was launched just yesterday in order to make further progress, and I hope my hon. Friend’s constituency, which is such a leading location for firms in the sector, will be able to fully benefit from the strategy.
Last week’s Sunday Express reported that a suspected terrorist was freely supporting and encouraging young Britons to travel to Syria to fight jihad. May we please have a debate in Government time on what additional powers we may need to introduce for returning radicalised young people who have been fighting jihad in Syria and Iraq?
I understand completely the seriousness and importance of the point raised by the hon. Lady. There will be Home Office questions on Monday. We also intend to introduce powers under the Serious Crime Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords, relating to extraterritorial jurisdiction in relation to acts concerned with terrorism, preparation for terrorism and similar. I know I may be asking the hon. Lady to wait a little, but this House will have an opportunity to debate that Bill in due course.
Salisbury cathedral’s repair programme has been ongoing for 27 years at a cost of £1 million a year. Therefore, I am very pleased to know that the Government’s first world war centenary repair fund offers an opportunity to provide a boost to the work at the cathedral. Will the Leader of the House make time for a ministerial statement on the outcome of the application, so that Salisbury cathedral can make use of that much-needed funding?
I am very glad that we have been able to give support to our cathedrals, which are a wonderful aspect of our overall heritage, especially as they are often the focus of commemorative events. Indeed, I was able to be with the Royal Anglian Regiment at a commemorative event in Ely cathedral just the Sunday before last. The cathedrals that have been successful in securing grants from the first world war centenary repair fund will be announced in a written statement on Thursday 10 July. I will of course ensure that my hon. Friend’s comments are noted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.