House of Commons
Thursday 26 February 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Transport for London Bill [Lords]
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Thursday 5 March (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), who is responsible for sport, and I have regular discussions with the Premier League and the Football Association. Together we work in partnership to ensure that funding for grass-roots football remains strong.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but does he recognise that there is a growing crisis in grass-roots football, in terms of facilities, pitch quality and fees, which local authorities have often been increasing because of local government cuts? Will he back Labour’s call for the Premier League to use some of its new windfall to meet its 5% commitment to fund grass-roots football?
I join the hon. Gentleman in his suggestion that there should be more investment in grass-roots football, and he will know that the Government allocated more money in the last autumn statement. Together with the Premier League and Football Association money, that is £100 million of new money going into grass-roots football over the next three years. On his point about the Premier League, I should say, first, that the Premier League already does a lot—I welcome that and we should all commend it. However, with the recent increase in its finances, we can all expect it to do more.
Moving the FIFA World cup in 2022 to the winter could have significant financial consequences for the Premier League and for all levels of football in England and Europe. Will the Secretary of State be raising this issue with FIFA? Will he be discussing it with other European Sports Ministers?
A few years ago when it was first announced that the 2022 World cup would be held in Qatar, my son Suli, who was 10 at the time, said to me, “How are they going to hold this competition in such blazing heat?” If my 10-year-old son knew that, I do not know why Sepp did not. We take a close interest in this, but ultimately the decision has to be made by the relevant football authorities.
Previous TV deals with the Premier League have not resulted in comparable increases in funding for the grass roots and football family. Does the Secretary of State accept that the only way of guaranteeing future funding is for this Parliament to legislate to ensure that 5% of Premier League revenue goes to the grass-roots and football family?
I do not accept that there is a need for legislation. What there is a need for is a continued and active dialogue between Government and the Premier League to make sure that its investment in grass-roots football continues. As I said, given the recent news that the Premier League had of a windfall, we should encourage it to do more.
2. What assessment he has made of the role of film festivals in promoting the creative industries in the UK. (907739)
Film festivals make a valuable contribution to promoting the film economy and enhancing the cultural life of the UK. In addition to running two festivals of its own, the BFI, as the Government’s lead agency for film, provides £1 million of lottery funding each year to support film festivals right across the UK.
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. I am sure he will be aware that one festival the BFI helps to fund is the Glasgow film festival, the UK’s third largest and best festival, which is under way in Glasgow and is finishing on Sunday with the UK premier of “Force Majeure”. He has talked about the BFI funding, but given that the BFI’s grant in aid budget will be 10% lower next year than it was last year, what is he going to do to ensure that film festivals such as Glasgow’s continue to get that vital support?
Like the hon. Gentleman, I am delighted about the Glasgow film festival, which I believe is in its 10th year and which is going from strength to strength. He will know that it has received funding: it has been awarded £25,000 by the BFI this year, which is a good result. As well as the grant in aid funding, the BFI has access to lottery funding, which it is using wisely. That is partly reflected in the success of British film: just last year we had a record year of investment in British film and of success, and I am sure that he would join me in welcoming that.
Of course a Shropshire film festival would be very welcome indeed. Is the Secretary of State aware of a recent decision by Gapictures, which was due to film “Dracula” on location in Shropshire, to switch to another European country? Given that Shropshire has been home to many famous films, including, more recently “Atonement”, will the Secretary of State look at new ways in which the United Kingdom can keep those production companies that want to film in locations such as Shropshire, rather than have them switch to other European countries?
If my hon. Friend had auditioned, a different decision might have been made!
There has been an increase in the number of films made in the regions of the UK. “Dracula Untold” was recently made in Northern Ireland. We have had “Outlander” in Scotland, “Testament of Youth” in Yorkshire and “Far from the Madding Crowd”, which is set in Dorset, to name but a few, so there has been great success in regional films. What my hon. Friend says about Shropshire is quite right. There are some fantastic locations and there is some fantastic talent in Shropshire, and I think the film industry should be listening.
In a week when we have seen British success at the Oscars and London Fashion Week, and last night at the Brits, no one should be in any doubt about the importance of our film, fashion and music industries and all our creative industries. The basis of future jobs and investment in those creative industries depends on the protection of intellectual property. Will the Secretary of State ensure that, in consideration of the European digital single market, he will be absolutely vigilant to protect our creative industries, including small and medium-sized enterprises, and ensure that he rethinks the paper that the Prime Minister sent to Juncker, which would allow for changes that would pose a real threat to many independent projects? Will he insist that there is time for proper consultation before its implementation?
The right hon. Lady is right about the importance of intellectual property to our creative industries. One of the reasons why we have been successful in this area for many years is that as a Government we have taken the right approach. It is right that the EU looks at the issue. It will be a good thing in principle for the creative industries throughout Europe to have a better single digital market, but we must take a well-balanced approach. The paper that the right hon. Lady refers to was a discussion paper. The Government have not decided on their final policy or approach, and there should be more consultation.
3. For what proportion of parliamentary constituencies the 95% target for the roll-out of superfast broadband will be reached by 2017. (907741)
Ninety-five per cent. of the UK will have access to superfast broadband by 2017. I have placed our estimate of coverage by constituency in the House of Commons Library.
I can tell the Secretary of State that thousands of people in my constituency, one of the most urban in Scotland, have no guarantee of getting superfast broadband by 2017 or any date after that. I have raised this with local government, the Scottish Government and the UK Government. I do not want to ascribe blame; I want to see some action so that the residents who have contacted me again and again, such as the ones in Western Harbour, Leith who contacted me recently, will have some guarantee that they will get superfast broadband in their houses.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the importance of superfast broadband both to residents and to businesses. Considerable progress has been made in his constituency in the past five years. Today, 87% of homes and businesses there have access to superfast broadband. That will rise to 98% by 2017, and that is better than the national target of 95% by that time. However, I hear what he says, and he is right to mention the importance of the issue.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. He should tell those villagers that the Government have an active programme to reach the most remote areas with superfast broadband. He will be interested to know that in the middle of last year we undertook a pilot, with seven projects using mostly wireless and other types of hybrid technology. We are now having a good look at the results of that pilot, and I shall be able to make a further announcement shortly.
Businesses in my constituency, from farmers in Carrington to multi-million pound exporters on Trafford Park, complain that they are still waiting for superfast broadband. They are paying 10 times the price for one fifth of the speed, with a damaging effect on their business. These are not remote rural areas; they are a stone’s throw from Manchester city centre. Can the Secretary of State explain why they are waiting so long for the basic support that their businesses need?
There has been a significant improvement in superfast broadband access over the past five years. Coverage throughout the UK has doubled from 40% to 80%. We have the best coverage among large EU nations and the highest average speeds, as well as the lowest average prices in Europe, but we can still do better. In urban areas, it is difficult, if not sometimes impossible, for the Government to provide a subsidy, as they do in non-commercial areas, but I am looking actively at what more we can do in urban areas.
The experience of my constituents this winter is that it is too easy for BT to declare MBORC—matters beyond our reasonable control—and then to take months to repair faults, or not turn up for appointments. Will the Secretary of State examine BT’s licensing conditions with a view to tightening up the rules so that it cannot just use the MBORC cop-out?
14. I have been working with the Altrincham and Sale chamber of commerce, which tells me that it is vital that businesses club together to ensure that communication nodes go to more remote parts, even in urban areas. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that businesses co-operate to ensure that they can get the broadband they need? (907755)
I do agree with the hon. Gentleman. He will know that we offer vouchers for businesses in more than 22 cities under the superconnected cities programme, of which more than 10,000 companies have taken advantage. Many of the companies have clubbed together and I encourage others to do so.
Villages in the borough of Kettering on the Northamptonshire-Leicestershire border—right in the middle of England—will be among the last to get broadband, at the end of 2017, yet innovative cross-border thinking involving BT exchanges on the other side of the county boundary might bring about a quicker solution. Will the Secretary of State encourage such an innovative approach?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who has taken a strong interest in this matter. I have heard him speak in the House on behalf of his constituents on a number of occasions, and once again he comes up with an excellent idea, which we shall follow up.
The Government’s own figures show that Somerset’s rate of access to superfast broadband is only 41%, which hardly meets the needs of rural businesses and residents. Connecting Devon and Somerset allows bids from other suppliers in the Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks, but I understand that, because of the reason of screening of information, only BT, as a monopoly supplier, will be able to bid for the second phase. I have written to the Competition and Markets Authority; will the Secretary of State do the same and investigate exactly what has happened?
As my hon. Friend raises a specific issue, I will have to take a closer look at it. I am glad that she has written to the Competition and Markets Authority, but if this is a competition issue, it should be dealt with by the independent regulator. However, if there is more that she thinks I can do, I shall take a closer look.
The tourism industry was worth an estimated £127 billion, gross value added, to the UK economy in 2013. Some £56 billion of that is direct contribution. Tourism supports 3.1 million jobs in the UK.
The economy of Staffordshire and Tamworth has a growing leisure and tourism component, but that is putting an increasing strain on our transport infrastructure. Will my hon. Friend encourage the Department for Transport and Staffordshire county council to invest in local roads so that they will be fit for our leisure economy?
Last December, as my hon. Friend knows, the Government announced £1.4 billion for road investment in the midlands, creating about 900 new construction jobs for the area. That will help to support the leisure industry in the whole of the region, including Tamworth.
Tourism makes an important contribution to the north-east’s economy, but north-east tourism attractions and projects are missing out on European funding. Will the Minister intervene to support job creation and growth in the region?
There are considerable efforts to ensure job creation and growth in the area. The north-east is a fabulous area for tourism. Our local growth fund, the regional growth fund, the coastal communities fund and the rural development programme, which effectively involves European money, are pockets of funding that could certainly benefit the hon. Lady’s constituency.
Does the Minister agree that food tourism is now vitally important to the British economy? Will she send her congratulations to Craig Bancroft and Nigel Haworth of Northcote hotel, who for 15 years have successfully run a food festival called Obsession, which runs for 15 days with five courses with matching wines of international and national repute? If I send her the date for next year, will she put it in her diary? I may be able to get Nigel Haworth to make her his traditional Lancashire hotpot.
Children and the Arts
It is wonderful to have a question from the hon. Lady. For one terrible moment I thought she might not be here, but I am so pleased to see that she has arrived in time to hear me answer that we believe strongly that children should have every opportunity to learn about and experience the arts. At the beginning of this year, we announced another £109 million for music and cultural education. That takes the amount we have invested in music and cultural education to £400 million in this Parliament.
Perhaps the Minister would like to have a conversation with his friend the Mayor of London about the state of traffic in south London this morning.
Why has the number of children who experience the creative arts, except for film, declined every year that the hon. Gentleman has been responsible for this field? Why has the number of children studying art, drama and dance—creative subjects—at GCSE fallen so radically while he has been in charge?
At the very last Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions of this Parliament, every one of which I have attended, I think the hon. Lady makes a slightly snippy point, particularly as the Taking Part survey shows that participation by children has increased for those aged between five and 10 and stayed at the very high level of 99.4% for those aged 11 to 15. There has been an 8% increase in those taking arts GCSE subjects since 2010 and participation in music, dance, art and design continues.
The new Progress 8 measure for secondary schools will provide more space for the arts in school accountability measures. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that there is the greatest incentive for schools to provide high-quality arts education, including through prioritisation by Ofsted?
I co-chair the cultural education group with the Minister for Schools. We are having a meeting next week. I was pleased to see that Ofsted has made it clear that under its new inspections beginning later this year, an inspection must take account of whether a school offers a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum. Music will be a clear element of that.
Does the Minister accept that whatever spin he may put on it, when the Education Secretary told pupils not to study arts subjects because it would hold them back for the rest of their lives, she and his Government were systematically undermining artistic education for all children in this country? Is he not ashamed that on his watch the number of children taking part in music in schools has fallen from 55% to 36%? Does he not realise that a strong artistic and cultural education should be the universal entitlement of every single child in this country, because it is good for them, good for the economy and good for this nation?
This week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jennie Lee’s first White Paper on the arts, and I am pleased that 50 years later we continue to support the arts, particularly in education. The Education Secretary did not say what the hon. Gentleman claims that she said; she said that for too long people had thought that science had held back their careers. She has praised arts education and she is giving a very important speech on cultural education next week. The hon. Gentleman is invited.
We have invested a total of £10 million in VisitEngland’s Holidays at Home are GREAT campaign, with the fourth campaign launching this spring. VisitEngland is also promoting and developing domestic tourism through its Growing Tourism Locally campaign.
My constituency enjoys a vibrant tourist economy that includes Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club, Lytham music festival and Ribby Hall village, to name but a few. What steps is the Minister taking to promote further tourism investment growth in the north-west?
The Government have recently announced £10 million of funding for tourism in the north of England, which is very good news for my hon. Friend’s constituency, the wider north-west and tourism across the north of England. We hope that the agreed project will commence this April.
12. Today the civic buildings and street lamps across Rugby are festooned with dressing for the rugby world cup, which will be held later this year, celebrating Rugby’s status as the home of the game. During the tournament, visitors will be able to visit a fan zone and see where it all started back in 1823. Does the Minister agree that people coming to this, the third largest sporting event, provides a valuable economic opportunity not only to Rugby, but to venues across the UK? (907752)
13. May I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for recently meeting a delegation from Plymouth to discuss Mayflower 400, which of course is about commemorating the founding of the American colonies and will hopefully boost our tourist economy? What support might the Department be able to give this really historic event down in Devon in 2020? (907753)
It will be a marvellous event, and I know that my hon. Friend has been fully involved in the programme, which will be fabulous for tourism. I am pleased to announce today additional funding of £35,000 for the city’s Mayflower museum, which will help to ensure a strong legacy for the celebrations. [Interruption.] We hope to be able to offer further support for the programme in due course.
VAT is a matter that is constantly raised with me, but it is one for the Chancellor. He keeps all taxes under review, and I am sure that he will keep this one under review too. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that I am holding a round-table meeting on VAT with the industry in the next two weeks.
Sports Pitches (Redevelopment)
It is vital that appropriate playing fields are preserved for local communities. We will always work to protect and improve their provision. Enforcement of mitigating conditions at a local level is a matter for the local authority.
The Minister is right; it is a matter for the local authority. In the case of Westinghouse sports ground in Chippenham, the problem has caused Sport England to send an impressively assertive solicitors letter to Wiltshire council suggesting grave concerns about its resolve to secure mitigation for the loss of sports facilities. Will the Minister give her support to Sport England in insisting that Wiltshire council does not allow a precious sports pitch to slip through its fingers?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I understand from Sport England that work is planned to begin replacing the cricket pavilion at Westinghouse sports ground, and that is very good news. Sport England has been in regular contact with the developer, the council and residents, and I know that the hon. Gentleman has too. It wants sporting facilities to be maintained at the site as per the section 106 agreement, and will continue to help and provide expertise. I support the stance that Sport England is taking.
It is important that sporting facilities are available to everybody, particularly people with disabilities. I know that the Minister is working very hard on providing those facilities for disability sport. She may be aware that the England cerebral palsy football team will not be able to play at the next Paralympics because cerebral palsy football has been dropped off the agenda for Paralympic sport. Is she as concerned about that as I am?
Yes, I am very concerned. Although this is a decision for the International Paralympic Committee, I recently met the chief executive of the British Paralympic Association to discuss the issue, and disability sailing as well. We are a great footballing nation, and a great sailing nation too, and I understand the frustrations about this decision. I therefore intend to speak to the IPC president, Sir Philip Craven, in the next couple of weeks.
Let me tell you, Mr Speaker, that these final DCMS questions are turning into an absolute joy. I can see your heart lifting every time I reach the Dispatch Box, and now I have done so to tell you that the creative industries make a fantastic contribution to London’s economy, employing half a million people.
My constituency is home to the west London creative industries hub, comprising hundreds of TV, IT and other creative industry businesses. To be successful, these businesses need to be connected. My hon. Friend and colleagues have done great work in delivering superfast broadband especially in rural areas, but will he consider some of the creative companies in west London that are still waiting to be superfast?
On Tuesday night I spoke to the Hounslow chamber of commerce at the headquarters of iBurbia in Chiswick. The managing director there rushed up to me to say that he had just got superfast broadband by using one of our super-connected voucher schemes. He also said to me, utterly unprompted, that he thought my hon. Friend was one of the hardest-working people he had ever met. He told the entire room, full of hundreds of business people, that fact.
Obviously London is an important creative hub in terms of its contribution to the UK economy, but other cities such as Bristol can make a real contribution too. What assessment has the Minister made of programmes like Plus Tate, in which the Tate is working with other galleries such as the Arnolfini in Bristol, that enable the London institutions to help places in other cities?
Plus Tate is a fantastic programme that belies the statistics saying that London has more money spent on the arts than the rest of the country. The money that goes to the Tate helps to support 24 contemporary art museums around the country, and the scheme is very successful. It is worth bearing that in mind.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern expressed by creative industries in London and elsewhere about the way in which the EU regulation covering temporary structures is being interpreted as that could lead to huge extra costs in the building of film sets and theatrical and musical stages? Is he aware that other European countries are not interpreting it in this way, and will he ensure that we are not gold-plating unnecessarily?
Mobile Phone Coverage
As you know, Mr Speaker, improving mobile coverage is a priority for the Government. Thanks to the Secretary of State’s negotiations with the mobile operators, we have reached a legally binding agreement with them. Under that agreement, not spots in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will fall from 5.4% to just 1.3%.
Mobile coverage in Wrexham is not super. After five years of this Government, businesses and individuals in Wrexham town centre complain constantly about this issue. I am surprised that the Secretary of State did not reply on this, because he heard about it in Wrexham recently. Why have this Government failed?
It is certainly true that the Secretary of State met the brilliant local campaigner in Wrexham, Andrew Atkinson, and had long discussions with him about improving mobile coverage. If the hon. Gentleman wants to support Mr Atkinson’s campaign to improve mobile coverage, he is welcome to do so.
11. I may be wrong, but I believe I glimpsed the Minister in my constituency—on a mini-digger and endangering a cabinet that was about to be upgraded. While he was there, did he get any information about the timeliness of the roll-out of broadband in Wales, given that the Government have contributed £57 million to the project? (907751)
In my Ynys Môn constituency, 2G is poor, 3G is patchy and 4G is non-existent; yet my constituents pay exactly the same contract prices as people who have full coverage in cities. Does the Minister agree that there should be some sort of differential on contract prices for, or even a rebate from, companies that do not provide a full service?
Sailing (Disabled People)
The Government are committed to seeing everyone realise their sporting potential. Sport England is investing £800,000 in the Royal Yachting Association’s sailability programme, designed to make sailing accessible for disabled people. Thanks to that investment, more than 11,000 people with disabilities were able to enjoy sailing in 2013-14.
The great advantage of sailing over almost every other sport is that both disabled and non-disabled people can work together as equals. The loss of sailing from the Tokyo Paralympics would represent a giant step backwards. What more can the Minister do, working with Paralympic and sailing organisations both UK-based and elsewhere in the world, to reinstate sailing as a sport in the 2020 Paralympics.
Although that is a decision for the International Paralympic Committee, I recently met the chief executive of the British Paralympic Association to discuss this very issue. On several occasions, I have met my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who is also very concerned. Britain is a great sailing nation, and I completely understand the frustration of our Paralympic sailors. I therefore intend to speak to the IPC president Sir Philip Craven in the very near future.
In the past month, British talent has enjoyed incredible success at the Grammys, the Baftas, the Brits and the Oscars. That is just another demonstration of the way in which this country’s creative industries lead the world. I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating all our award-winning actors, film makers and musicians, no matter what school they went to.
I warmly welcome the report, which I shall study very closely. It is an important contribution to the future of the BBC, and all its suggestions, including the one the hon. Gentleman mentions, will be taken account of when the charter review process starts.
T5. Two weeks ago, Tamworth won growth funding to regenerate its town centre and build an enterprise and creative quarter. Will my hon. Friend say what more the Government can do to help our creative industries and allow Tamworth to take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity? (907762)
We will work incredibly hard with my hon. Friend as the excellent local MP for Tamworth to support that creative cluster. We will also work with the local enterprise partnership and Creative England, which supports the creative industries outside London.
It has not been a good week for the Secretary of State, but it has been a good week for entertainment and sports fans. If the Government had listened to us, thousands of fans buying tickets for the rugby world cup, the Ashes and many other events would have been saved from having to pay several times the face value for tickets that were hoovered up by organised gangs of touts. Everyone accepted our argument that action was needed on secondary ticketing, except for the Secretary of State, who should have been representing those fans. Will he ensure that the measures in the Consumer Rights Bill will be implemented without delay? While he is at it, will he come to the Dispatch Box and apologise to the fans he has so badly let down?
My view on this issue has not changed. Consumers must always be put first. That means that they should be allowed to sell tickets that they no longer need, and that fans who were not able to get them the first time should be able to buy them. Those principles have not changed. However, we were not prepared to jeopardise the Bill’s safe passage through the House and accepted the amendment. The important thing is to see how it works in practice. The amendment includes a statutory review, which I hope will look at all the issues, and we will see how it actually works.
Absolutely. I am delighted that in Old Windsor and across the constituency, 2,000 more people are now connected to superfast broadband. Will Ministers continue the roll-out and, in particular, focus on satellite technology, which can bring a better experience, even when we are doing constituency correspondence?
First, I encourage my hon. Friend’s spouse to ensure that the family filters are turned on in the Afriyie household. His point about the greater use of satellite technology throughout the UK is well made. That is something that we are actively looking at.
T2. The Music Venue Trust will launch its report on the challenges faced by small and medium venues at an event that I am hosting in Parliament on 9 March. What value does the Secretary of State place on the importance of the live music circuit to the UK’s world-dominating music industry? If he is not able to drop in on 9 March, may I send him a copy of the report, so that he can hear the concerns about the challenges facing venues? (907758)
The hon. Lady makes an important point. I will see whether I or the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy can drop in on 9 March. She has campaigned actively on behalf of venues in her constituency, some of which I know well. I went to The Fleece during my youth in Bristol. She is a great champion for such venues and I hope that we can work together on these issues.
T8. Further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), does the Minister agree that the decision of the International Paralympic Committee to exclude sailing from the Tokyo games in 2020 is not only an enormous setback for that important British sport, but will rob us of the next generation of inspiring sailing sportsmen, such as Fareham’s Geoff Holt? (907765)
That is a concern and I will speak to Sir Philip Craven about the matter.
T3. I am grateful to the Minister for his support in my Adjournment debate for Premier Christian Radio staying on Digital One. His predecessor, speaking about digital radio to the Broadcasting Bill Committee in 1996, said that“no more than two of the stations on the multiplex should be aimed at predominantly the same…audience”.—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 14 May 1996.]What is the current policy on station diversity on Digital One and, in future, on Digital Two? (907760)
In what may be my last answer in Culture, Media and Sport questions, having attended every single session since the beginning of this Parliament, may I say that I was very happy to support the right hon. Gentleman’s campaign to keep Premier Christian Radio on the multiplex? I will certainly check after questions what the current policy is on diversity on the multiplex, as that might add another string to his very important argument, if that is not too much of a mixed metaphor to end on.
The mixed ability rugby world cup will take place for the first time ever in my constituency later this year. I know that the Minister has met the event organisers, for which I am grateful, and I also thank the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) for his strong support for the event. Will the Minister set out what support the Government can provide to attract sponsorship for the event, to make it the great success that it deserves to be?
I have met the gentlemen from my hon. Friend’s constituency, and they gave me a fabulous black and yellow rugby shirt, which I put on. They are called the Bumbles, and they are fabulous. I will be happy to have a meeting or discussion with my hon. Friend about funding that event.
T4. Earlier, the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy dodged his way around the figures that I cited from the Warwick report about the drastic decline in children’s experience and learning in creative subjects. Perhaps he will respond more positively to another of its recommendations, which is that every publicly funded organisation that deals with cataloguing and archives on the net should be encouraged to use the same mechanisms for the cataloguing of GLAM—galleries, libraries, museums and archives—so that the archives can be more easily accessed and searched by everyone. (907761)
I was obviously premature in my last answer, Mr Speaker.
I have a lot of sympathy with that recommendation. Putting museum and archive content online and making it easily accessible to both teachers for their lesson plans and students for their learning is an important issue. I will have a number of meetings in the coming weeks to discuss some ideas about it.
Women have traditionally been under-represented in the classical music world. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State therefore congratulate Milton Keynes city orchestra on organising a special concert under the baton of Sian Edwards on international women’s day to recognise the huge talent of women in classical music today?
I join my hon. Friend in warmly commending the Milton Keynes city orchestra. I have three young daughters who all learn instruments, and I know that they take huge inspiration from seeing more and more women in orchestras and in music, which I warmly encourage.
T6. Although it is not a universally rewarding experience being an away fan following Fulham, it is certainly the case that travelling supporters bring vibrancy, atmosphere and colour to football fixtures. Given the largesse that now exists in the Premier League, does the Minister agree that it would be a good measure for clubs to take to ensure that there is a cap on the price of standard away tickets, so that some of the benefit of the additional TV revenue comes to the fans who help make the atmosphere of the games? (907763)
I fear that my hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy was being even more premature than he thought. A couple of weeks ago, he extolled the virtues of the fantastic portable antiquities scheme, which has now brought in more than 1 million artefacts. Is he aware that there has been a 5% cut to the scheme this year, and that several finds liaison officer posts are under threat? We really need to find a more sustainable, long-term solution for funding that excellent scheme.
T9. Will the Secretary of State welcome tomorrow’s meeting in Nottingham between “Get Creative”, from the BBC, and “What Next?”, which is organised locally? Will he also underline the strong commitment that he gave me at the last Culture, Media and Sport questions that he considers arts, culture and heritage just as important for the outer cities as for the often oversubscribed inner cities? (907766)
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Homophobic bullying is absolutely unacceptable, and we are committed to eliminating it. That is why we have announced £2 million of grant funding to support schools to address the issue more effectively. That complements the £4 million that the Department currently provides to charitable organisations to tackle all forms of bullying.
Is the Minister aware that Mr Gay World, Stuart Hatton, lives in my constituency? He recently launched a fantastic anti-bullying campaign called “So What?”. His message is simple: some of us are straight, some of us are gay, so what? With Stonewall reporting that nearly a quarter of lesbian, gay or bisexual pupils miss school because of homophobic bullying, his message is sorely needed. Labour’s shadow Ministers are backing Stuart’s campaign. Will the Minister?
I very much welcome the hon. Lady setting out her constituent’s campaign, and I will be happy to look at it as it sounds excellent. We all agree that tackling homophobic bullying must be a real priority for the reasons that she outlined in her question, and because of the impact that it has on LGBT young people, and indeed other young people, as this issue also affects those who are not LGBT.
I am pleased the hon. Gentleman recognises that we have a long-term economic plan that is also successful—two things that the Labour party does not have. The previous Government removed people who were about to become long-term unemployed from the claimant count by putting them on training programmes. We have stopped that charade and now have an honest measure. We have a record number of women in work, a record female employment rate, a record number of older women in work, a record older female employment rate, and a female participation rate that is close to the highest on record—a record of which I am very proud.
In the last year I have dealt with a number of cases concerning older women who have previously been in work but are now struggling to secure a new position having found themselves unemployed. They often feel that discrimination plays a part in the refusals they have been given, but they simply do not have the means to challenge the companies and organisations involved, so that discrimination is left unchallenged. What should women who find themselves in that situation do?
First, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice), a record number of older women are in work and we have a record employment rate for older females—that is obviously good news. For those in the position that the hon. Lady sets out, we have looked at programmes to help older workers return to work. New pilots were announced in the autumn statement last year to look at barriers to work, and at our sector-based work academies and work experience programmes that are particularly tailored to the needs of older workers.
Unemployment is down by 37% in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend welcome the fact that UK women are getting into work faster than in any other country in the G7, which shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan is working in my constituency?
The hon. Lady says, “What a surprise”, but my hon. Friend is holding an event to talk about getting more disabled people back into work with a number of excellent local employers. The hon. Lady should congratulate her on that, rather than being churlish about it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I cannot do better than report what the OECD said, which was that we had a long-term economic plan and effective economic policies, and that the performance of the labour market in the United Kingdom was “remarkable”.
The number of young women claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than one year is up by 30%. Bankers have done very well under this Government, so why does the Minister not use a tax on bank bonuses to pay for a guaranteed job for young women?
It is fascinating. Only a few weeks ago, in the debate on Labour’s job guarantee, the Secretary of State pointed out that Labour had spent the bank bonus tax 11 times with 11 different policies. If spending it for a 12th time is the best the hon. Lady can do, she needs to go back to the drawing board.
The gender pay gap has fallen to its lowest level ever and has been entirely eliminated among full-time workers under the age of 40, but our goal must be to eliminate it entirely. We are tackling systemic pay inequalities through a range of measures: the Your Life initiative to get more girls into science, technology, engineering and maths; improved child care; extending flexible working; and introducing shared parental leave.
Forty four years after Labour’s Equal Pay Act 1970, sadly women earn on average 81p for every £1 that men earn. Tomorrow, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has a Bill providing for transparency in larger companies. Will the Government support it?
The Government’s position is not to support that particular Bill, but we are encouraging much more transparency through the Think, Act, Report initiative, to which more than 270 employers, covering 2.5 million employees, have signed up. Nearly half of them have done an equal pay audit in the last year and two thirds are publishing more information on gender equality. I agree that this is a hugely important issue on which we need to make more progress, and we are committed to doing so.
That is a fantastic question, and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with the specific statistics for different sectors. Sectoral differences are a significant part of the gender pay gap. We know that occupational segregation—the congregation of women in much lower paying sectors—is a significant driver of about one third of the pay gap, which is why the initiatives to get more girls studying STEM subjects are so important.
I wholeheartedly endorse the speech by Patricia Arquette—I have already welcomed it on Twitter because I think it needed to be brought to a wider audience. In the UK arts industry, as in all industries, it is important that there be greater transparency and support for women in the workplace in terms of promotion and seniority. That is what we will continue to promote.
I am sure that like me my hon. Friend is pleased that the Work programme is helping the long-term unemployed, both men and women, back into work. Will she confirm that the number of long-term unemployed people has fallen to its lowest in five years and that the claimant count in my constituency has fallen by 42%?
Employed people entering refuge accommodation can claim help with their housing costs through housing benefit, which is both an in-work and out-of-work benefit. When paid to claimants who are in work, it is calculated on the basis of their earnings. The Government have provided £6.5 billion in housing-related support over this spending review period so that when someone enters a refuge the support element of the provision will not be means-tested.
Does the Minister agree that the safety of women suffering domestic violence ought to be prioritised over their ability to access funds at a time of personal crisis? If so, will she support my call for means testing to include an assessment of the economic impact of abusive and controlling relationships?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has done a lot of work with the charity My Sister’s Place, based in his constituency, and I agree that at a time of personal crisis the first thing refuges do—this will be the case for most of the refuges I have spoken to—is offer security, not ask how somebody will pay. He will have seen the ministerial letter to My Sister’s Place making it clear that where a victim of domestic violence takes up temporary accommodation, while also making arrangements to return to their home, housing benefit for both properties can be payable. Discretionary housing payment is also available.
The Berkshire women’s refuge serves my constituency incredibly well. We all abhor domestic violence, particularly towards women, so does my right hon. Friend, like me, welcome the victim surcharge, which ensures that those who commit these acts contribute to making reparations?
I absolutely welcome the victim surcharge, which results in important payments being made. I am sure that he will also want to welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government just before Christmas of an extra £10 million to secure refuge accommodation for the next two years.
Childcare Business Grants Scheme
Working families benefit from a thriving child care sector, with the scheme supporting up to 3,000 new child care businesses in the next financial year. I am pleased to inform the House that, from this April, we are doubling the value of the grants available to childminders and nurseries. We will also extend the scheme to existing child care businesses that have been trading for less than a year.
In my constituency, there is a huge demand from mothers with young children for safe and secure childminders from a diverse background. What further measures is my right hon. Friend able to take to ensure that those young mothers can return to work knowing that their children are safe and secure?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that childminders are a crucial part of the child care sector. We want to see more of them, which is why we have enabled the establishment of childminder agencies. To date, the childcare business grant scheme has benefited more than 4,000 childminders, including almost 30 in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The scheme has also benefited seven nurseries in Harrow, East—MiniSteps, for example.
Disabled People (Access to Work)
7. What assessment she has made of the effects of Government policies on disabled people’s access to work. (907735)
Over 3 million working-age disabled people are now in employment. There are 141,000 more disabled people in work than a year ago, and the employment rate has risen, demonstrating that disabled people are benefiting from the Government’s long-term economic plan.
In September last year, the Minister published statistics showing that only 206,000 of 529,400 personal independence payment applications had been cleared. When he published those statistics, he said:
“By the end of the year we expect that no-one will be waiting for an assessment for longer than 16 weeks.”
Yet when the updated figures were published in January, they did not include the number of those who had waited longer than 16 weeks. Will the Minister now ensure that those figures are published so we can see whether the anecdotal evidence we get from our constituents is correct?
I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that I published statistics just ahead of my appearance at the Work and Pensions Select Committee. Last year, when I got this job, the average wait for a claimant was unacceptably high, at around 30 weeks. After sustained effort from my Department and our assessment providers, we had more than halved that by the end of the year. I am very pleased, and we will continue that focus.
Recent figures have shown that only 7% of disabled people on employment and support allowance gained sustained employment through the Government’s Work programme, which is worse than if there were no programme at all. In Sir Bert Massie’s report on the link between disability and poverty, he highly recommends replacing this clearly failing programme with one of locally controlled specialist support for disabled people. A Labour Government would commit to do this, so can the Minister tell us his Government’s position on this issue? If they do not believe that change is necessary, how can they justify those figures?
I do not need to justify those figures. If the hon. Lady had used more up-to-date figures, she would know that performance has significantly improved and that more people are being helped into work through the Work programme, work choice and access to work. Yes, more disabled people are being helped than before. As I said in response to an earlier question, 141,000 more disabled people are in work now than last year. I think that is a record to be proud of. There is more to do, but good progress is being made.
Although the number of people bringing discrimination claims to the employment tribunals is not collected centrally, the number of complaints of discrimination from ET claims is collected. From July to September 2014, there were 5,475 complaints of discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation, or of having suffered a detriment or unfair dismissal due to pregnancy, or complaints relating to equal pay. This compares to just over 18,000 in the quarter from April to June 2013, a fall of 71%.
There has been a particularly shocking fall of more than 90% in the number of sex discrimination cases, including those involving pregnancy-related discrimination. Many women on low incomes cannot apply for fee remission in order to go to an employment tribunal, not because of their own incomes, but because of their partners’ incomes or savings. Does the Minister think that that system is giving those women fair access to justice? Furthermore, is it not penalising good businesses that do not try to get away with poor, discriminatory practices, unlike others which know that there will be no danger of a challenge if they do so?
Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable and unlawful, and the Government have recognised the need to tackle it. In November 2013, we announced an extensive programme of research on perceived pregnancy and maternity discrimination in Great Britain. We have made a commitment to conduct a review of the introduction of the fees, and we will do so, but we think that this is a matter for the next Administration and the next Parliament.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 2 March—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Devolution in England: The Case for Local Government”, followed by a debate on “Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two—NATO”. Further details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: Devolution in England: The Case for Local Government, 1st Report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, HC 503, and the Government response; Towards the next Defence and Security Review Part Two: NATO, 3rd Report from the Defence Committee, HC 358, and the Government response, HC 755.]
Tuesday 3 March—Estimates day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system, followed by a debate on children’s and adolescents’ mental health and child and adolescent mental health services. Further details will be given in the Official Report. At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
[The details are as follows: Support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system, 4th Report from the Work and Pensions Committee, HC 720 of Session 2013-14; Children’s and adolescents’ mental health and CAMHS, 3rd Report from the Health Committee, HC 342, and the Government response.]
Wednesday 4 March—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipations and Adjustments) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill, followed by Opposition day (unallotted half-day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion; subject to be announced.
Thursday 5 March—There will be a general debate on international women’s day, followed by a general debate on Welsh affairs. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 6 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 9 March will include:
Monday 9 March—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to “Commission Work Programme 2015”, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 10 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Deregulation Bill, followed by a motion to approve statutory instruments relating to counter-terrorism, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to subsidiarity and proportionality and the Commission’s relations with national Parliaments.
Wednesday 11 March—Opposition day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party—subject to be announced—followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.
Thursday 12 March—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 13 March—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 5 March will be a general debate on planning and the national planning policy framework.
I thank the Leader of the House.
Monday and Tuesday are estimates days, and we shall have a chance to scrutinise Government waste, but the form of the debates will allow us only to scratch the surface of those overspends. Does the Leader of the House agree that rather than three days being allocated for debate, the estimates process needs to be made much more rigorous? Will he support our plans for a yearly session of budget questions to each Department, so that Secretaries of State can be held to account directly for their spending decisions?
Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) described what seemed to be a worrying case of the blatant misuse of public resources for party-political purposes. After she had passed an e-mail from a concerned constituent to the Prime Minister, her constituent received a party-political reply from No. 10 featuring propaganda about the Conservative Party manifesto. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether party-political letters are being prepared at public expense and civil service neutrality is being undermined, or whether correspondence intended for the Prime Minister is being passed directly to the Conservative party? Will he tell us why this seems to be a developing theme with this Government, with millions of letters to small businesses on No. 10 headed paper filled with Tory propaganda, Government announcements conveniently located in marginal seats, the Prime Minister and Chancellor travelling the country on public money on their “long-term economic scam tour” and the unexplained 22% rise in the Government’s external communications bill just as the election is approaching? Will the Leader of the House also arrange for an urgent statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General on these disturbing developments?
Today, we have had the last set of quarterly migration figures before the election and it is clear that the Prime Minister’s pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands is now in tatters. Instead of net migration’s being reduced, it is now higher than it was at the start of this Parliament and illegal immigration and exploitation are getting worse. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Home Secretary on the huge failure in her Department?
Figures released this week show that the number of people on zero-hours contracts has soared, but in this place we have had the sorry sight of the Conservative party defending the right of its MPs to earn millions of pounds on the side. Our motion yesterday was a sensible solution to the widening gap between the rules we have in this place and the standards the public expect of us. In a democracy, when we are out of step with public opinion we must change. The Government voted against banning paid directorships and consultancies, so I want to ask the Leader of the House whether his party is ready to contemplate any form of change.
I have been reading an interview this morning with the Prime Minister in woman&home magazine. In it, he praised his wife and said that behind every great man there is a great woman. Surely he meant that behind every great man there is a very surprised woman.
I am getting a bit worried, Mr Speaker. During questions yesterday, the Prime Minister boasted of how successfully he combines his job as Prime Minister with being the Member of Parliament for West Oxfordshire. That must be easy, because the constituency of West Oxfordshire does not even exist. Last week, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) knocked on the door of a local resident claiming that he was their MP, but was greeted by the wife of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), who pointed out that he was in fact canvassing in the wrong constituency. I do not know about second jobs, but perhaps they should pay a bit more attention to their first ones. It is of course possible that they both just had a mind blank, like the leader of the Green party, who was involved in an eco-friendly car crash at the LBC studios on Tuesday. I gather that following her interview the Green party has joined the Conservative party in campaigning to be excluded from the leaders’ debates.
Although some Government members do not seem to know quite where their constituencies are, the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) appears to have left his for another planet entirely. He has been formulating the new Conservative health policy and not content with wasting £3 billion on a top-down reorganisation of the NHS, he told a journal this week that the way to take the huge pressure off doctors is astrology. He claimed that it is a useful diagnostic tool, enabling us to see strengths and weaknesses via the birth chart. It is unclear whether he thinks that the Chancellor would have met his deficit reduction targets if only he had not broken that mirror.
One person losing his constituency by choice is the Leader of the House. Asked at the weekend why he was leaving Parliament, he replied, “I’ve been Foreign Secretary and I’m determined not to be Prime Minister.” If I may say so, that goes some way to explaining his time as Leader of the Opposition.
As ever, I am grateful for the questions from the hon. Lady. It shows what a broad party we are that we welcome views from all parts of the galaxy, as she has just demonstrated. On the question of what is behind every great man, I have always thought that behind every great man is an astonished mother-in-law, so that is a further refinement of that phrase. I can assure her that the Prime Minister knows where his constituency is and it is of course in west Oxfordshire even though that might not be its name. It would be wise, of course, for all candidates from all parties to know the boundaries of their constituencies for the general election.
On the so-called car crash interview of the leader of the Green party, I think she has been taking lessons from the shadow Chancellor, who has given a series of disastrous interviews in which he has managed to fall out with his own window cleaner, quite apart from anything else. I have previously put the hon. Lady forward for her party leadership, but I really think she ought to consider being the shadow Chancellor in the coming general election campaign, because a shadow Cabinet member has said that if the shadow Chancellor
“carries on behaving like this he is not unassailable…He has complete contempt for colleagues. He’s not a team player.”
The hon. Lady is a team player and she could replace him. I think she would do a much better job than he has done. Indeed, Labour might not then need to bring back Lord Prescott to the front line of the campaign, which in any election campaign is a sure sign of desperation.
I have enormous respect for Lord Prescott, but having to go back 10 years is a sign of desperation for Labour.
On a more serious question, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) asked about Government waste. I remind her that this Government have saved, thanks to the Cabinet Office Ministers, more than £10 billion a year just by making elementary things in government more efficient. They have done that year on year by making sure that contracts are not excessive and that Government Departments buy services together. This Government have rooted out waste in government.
The hon. Lady asked about the estimates days, the subjects for which are, of course, chosen by the Liaison Committee, so there is a well-established procedure. The hon. Lady has reforms in mind, but as things stand it is the role of Select Committees and questions in this House to hold Ministers to account. Although I am not closing off any sort of reform, that will be a question for the new Parliament, in which, as the hon. Lady has noted, I will conveniently not be present.
The Prime Minister dealt with the question of correspondence yesterday. The rules are exactly the same as they were under the previous Government and they are observed.
I am pleased that the long-term economic plan has entered the hon. Lady’s vocabulary, as well as that of the rest of the House and the country. I know she tried to alter one of those words, but it shows that that phrase has entered the economic vocabulary not just of the nation, but of the world. The head of the OECD stated this week:
“My main message to you today is well done. Well done so far, Chancellor. But finish the job. Britain has a long-term economic plan, but it needs to stick with it.”
The Chancellor is backed by economic commentators across the world, unlike the shadow Chancellor, who has fallen out with his own window cleaner. That is the actual choice before the country in the coming election.
The hon. Lady asked about yesterday’s debate. One of the points I made during it is that there have been many improvements to transparency and accountability in this Parliament and there will be scope for further improvements, but neither I nor the House agree with the hon. Lady’s proposals. She said that millions were being earned. I recall that one of the few Members recording more than £1 million in outside earnings in this Parliament was the brother of the Leader of the Opposition before he left the House. I note that the Leader of the Opposition did not put forward his proposals for reform until his brother had left the House of Commons. Perhaps he is in favour of family businesses, after all—you never know—or perhaps we have found the limits of fratricide: it’s all right to stab your brother in the back politically, but not to cut off his earnings as well. How extremely thoughtful of the Leader of the Opposition.
Earlier this week, during proceedings on the Serious Crime Bill, I highlighted the need for effective mandatory reporting of suspected sexual abuse in regulated settings, to afford better protection to our children and vulnerable people. Today, we shall hear in more detail about the repulsive activities of Jimmy Savile at our local hospital in Buckinghamshire, which will further reinforce the urgent need for reform. Will the Leader of the House give serious consideration to giving more time for a full debate on mandatory reporting, so that we might perhaps achieve cross-party consensus that could lead to action before the general election, rather than waiting until later in the year?
As my right hon. Friend knows, the Secretary of State for Health will make a statement on this matter shortly, and there will be opportunities for her and other Members to ask him questions. This is an important issue, and she, as a local Member of Parliament, will take a close interest in it. I think it would be best for the House to wait to hear what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to say before we consider what further debates on mandatory reporting might be necessary.
Later this year, the world will turn its attention to the conference of the parties in Paris in December and, before that, to the conference on sustainable development goals in September. In July, the conference on the financing of development, which is perhaps more important, will take place in Addis. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is important that we have a major debate on that conference in this Chamber in Government time, and that the Treasury should be represented at such a debate to explain to the House precisely what it will be doing to ensure the success of the sustainable development goals and of the United Nations framework convention on climate change in December?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of that whole sequence of conferences later this year. I remember agreeing, as Foreign Secretary, to give assistance and advice to France on the hosting of the Paris meeting, because we in this country have so much expertise on these issues. This is a matter for the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for International Development, so it would primarily be for them to take part in any such debates. The Treasury’s role is to help to supply the money, as is so often the case. I certainly hope that there will be debates on the matter, but I anticipate that they will now have to take place in the next Parliament. The Backbench Business Committee has a few remaining days in this Parliament, as I have announced, but it would be a matter for the Committee to decide whether we had a general debate on these or other issues.
My question will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend, as I have asked it several times before. In the diminishing number of days between now and Dissolution, is it still his ambition to hold a debate and a vote on the options in his White Paper “The Implications of Devolution for England”?
My right hon. Friend’s question comes as no surprise—he has indeed asked it several times. The answer is that my ambition remains the same, but I have not achieved it yet. I am conscious of that, but such a debate and vote would of course require a measure of agreement among the parties in the House, including in the coalition, on how to phrase and frame the question. But it is not too late to have such a debate.
On Friday evening in North Antrim, we will be celebrating the life and times of Private Quigg, who in 1916 was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous valour at the Somme. Yesterday, we read the wonderful news about Josh Leakey, who has just received the most recent Victoria Cross. Does the Leader of the House plan to do anything here formally to celebrate the life of this modern-day hero, and other heroes who have been awarded the VC, to enable Parliament to pay its respects to those wonderful people?
That is a good point. The hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention to an individual of whom the whole nation will be extremely proud—the only living recipient of the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan. Everyone who saw pictures of the ceremony on their television screens this morning will be intensely proud of him. We can give consideration as to how the House should recognise people who receive those and other medals for valour and gallantry. Much has been done in this country to recognise them. The brilliant new extension of the Imperial War Museum celebrates the recipients of the Victoria Cross throughout history, for example, and I recommend that everyone should go and see that. Perhaps we can give further consideration to how we can meet the hon. Gentleman’s request.
Will the Leader of the House speak to his colleagues in government to consider how small, resource-stretched charities such as the amazing Burnham Area Rescue Boat, which is so busy all year round delivering life-saving services and famously was on television every day during the Somerset floods last year, are informed about Government schemes such as the inshore and inland lifeboat grant scheme? Such schemes would help small charities such as BARB to access the funds they need so badly.
I very much congratulate the local charities that my hon. Friend is talking about on the work done during the floods, and the Government are always open to further suggestions to improve information to them. There are many sources of information for charities; Grantmakers and governmentfunding.org.uk are appropriate examples of where charities can find the necessary information. I know that if my hon. Friend has suggestions as to how that can be improved my colleagues will be grateful for them.
The Leader of the House will know that many, many months have passed since we agreed the principle of standardised packaging of tobacco. I understand that we are waiting for the detail of the regulation to come through. Can he tell us how that will happen, whether it will be dealt with on the Floor of the House or in Committee, and when it will happen?
I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman that yet; otherwise I would, of course, have announced it in the business statement. Details will become clear as the days go by. I have made it clear before that regulations could be laid but that they could not be made until after a date in early March—I believe in the first week of March. We have not got to the point when those regulations can be made, and we will announce how we are to do it in due course.
Westcliff high school for boys, Westcliff high school for girls, Southend high school for boys and Southend high school for girls are four superb local grammar schools. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the funding of grammar schools, because at the moment they are perversely discriminated against in funding terms on the grounds of their very success?
As my hon. Friend knows, we support the expansion of all good schools, including good grammar schools. I know that the schools he mentions are superb grammar schools in his constituency. Grammar schools, with their combination of high standards and ambition on behalf of the pupils, have a very important role to play in this country, so I certainly would not rule out any debate. Such a debate would have to be pursued through the normal channels, but it would allow him to bring to the House’s attention successful schools such as the Westcliff high schools and Southend high schools in his area.
On the day when the whole House celebrates with pride and congratulates our servicemen on their valour in Afghanistan, would it not be appropriate to consider early-day motion 813?
[That this House records its sorrow at the deaths of 453 British soldiers in Afghanistan and notes the post-conflict judgements by Brigadier Ed Butler that the UK was under-prepared and under-resourced, by General Sir Peter Wall that the calculus was wrong, by Major General Andrew Mackay that the war was a series of shifting plans, unobtainable objectives, propaganda and spin, by former ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles that the UK operation was a massive act of collective self-deception by military and politicians unable to admit how badly it was going, and by General Lord Dannatt that the UK knew it was heading for two considerable size operations and really only had the organisation and manpower for one; and calls for an early inquiry into the conduct of the war in order to avoid future blunders.]
Early-day motion 813 lists the comments since the war of the generals who took part. They universally say that it was futile and an act of self-delusion in which lives were wasted. Is it not right that we consider what happened in that war and have a full inquiry as early as possible, in order to avoid other hubristic politicians sending young men to die in vain?
The hon. Gentleman often pursues this issue and we have discussed it before. These are important issues; it is always important to learn the lessons from any military conflict. I do not agree with his assessment, having been to Afghanistan many times. I have to reflect on the fact that international terrorist bases were operating in Afghanistan before the western military action which are not there today. Our national security has been improved as a result, and the lives of millions of people in Afghanistan have been improved by the action we took. We will disagree on that assessment, but no doubt it can continue to be debated over the years ahead.
My 13-year-old constituent Lucie Low is suffering from a rare, complex illness and is currently in Medway hospital in sheer agony. The hospital is working with Great Ormond Street hospital and King’s College hospital to help find a diagnosis and support her pain relief. Will the Leader of the House allow for an urgent statement on supporting children who are suffering from rare health conditions? I met Lucie yesterday in hospital and saw the suffering she is in. Please, may I ask everyone to do everything they can to help her and her family at this difficult time?
My hon. Friend is right to stand up for the needs of his constituent and bring the attention of the House to such a case. The Government want to see all children with complex needs receive the very best care and support. I am pleased to say that since 2010 the number of doctors working in paediatrics has risen by 11%, but that does not mean that everything is perfect. I will draw the attention of my colleagues at the Department of Health to what he has said about this particular case, so that they can respond to him directly.
Given that it was not possible for me to raise in Health questions or with the chief executive of NHS England in a personal meeting the continuing concerns about the procurement of a PET scanner across Staffordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, will the Leader of the House give assurances, amid concerns about openness and transparency, that there has been no undue influence from the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) as a board member of Alliance? There are real concerns about the possibility of a monopoly service, which may mean that the contract will need to be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority. Will the Leader of the House find time for a proper, open debate about these continuing concerns?
The hon. Lady has raised related concerns before in the House. I am sorry that she was not able to do so in Health questions, because there will be no more Health questions before the election; we are entering a period in which some Departments will not have further questions before Dissolution. However, she is still able to ask written questions and to seek answers in every other way through correspondence with Health Ministers. I will draw their attention to the matter that she has raised. As Leader of the House, I cannot give her any assurances about what she has asked, but I know that my colleagues will want to attend to what she has raised in the House today.
May we have a debate on the spiritual, cultural and musical contribution that cathedrals make to the life of the nation? During the 300th anniversary year of the Three Choirs festival, will the Leader of the House thank all those who have contributed to the festival over 300 years and the cathedrals of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford that have hosted the event, and particularly Hereford that is hosting it this year?
I certainly congratulate the cathedrals of Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester on this 300th anniversary. Cathedrals play an important part in the life of our country. As the House may be aware, the Prime Minister has asked me to oversee the plans for VE day, just after the general election. We have not yet announced those plans, but I have it in mind that they will involve the cathedrals of the country in an important way. They are an important thing to celebrate, as my hon. Friend has made clear.
Has the Leader had a bid from the Department for Transport for a debate on road safety? Even though our roads are among the safest in the world, the latest casualty statistics show some worrying trends. There is an ongoing concern about cycle safety and the Green Paper on graduated licensing has disappeared, so there is quite an appetite for a debate on road safety before Dissolution. Might that be possible?
Road safety is a very important issue that Members on both sides of the House have always taken seriously and on which broadly the United Kingdom has a strong record by international standards. We have to maintain that, and it is right to debate it if there are any doubts about it. That is a legitimate subject to put forward to the Backbench Business Committee. I cannot offer any Government time for it in the remaining days of the Parliament. The Department for Transport does have questions remaining before Dissolution—next Thursday—and I encourage him to raise the issue then.
May we please have a debate on nuisance phone calls, which would allow us to consider the merits of this week’s announcement by the Government on giving more powers to the Information Commission to stop unwanted calls? The proposal has been extremely popular among and warmly welcomed by my constituents in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue on which, as he says, the Government made an announcement this week. The statutory instrument was laid this week and will become effective by 6 April. The measure will make it much easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to take action on nuisance calls, including by issuing monetary penalties. We have just had questions to the Department responsible, and while I cannot necessarily offer a debate, that would be a good issue on which to pursue one in the coming weeks.
There is much discussion in the corridors of this place about whether the House might dissolve earlier than expected ahead of the general election. Should not hon. Members know now whether that is in the minds of the Leader of the House and his colleagues, given the implications for all of us of the date when we cease to be Members of the House?
Tempting though it would be to spring a great surprise on the hon. Gentleman and others, the date of Dissolution is set down in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 as 30 March, so there is no doubt at all about that date. Of course, it is possible for people to speculate about a date for Prorogation in advance of Dissolution. The Chancellor has announced that he will present his Budget on 18 March, however, and I am sure that it will be necessary for the House to debate that Budget at some considerable length, so clearly the date of Prorogation will not be very much in advance of the date of Dissolution.
Local authorities throughout the country are finalising their budgets for the coming year. Tonight, Labour-run Harrow council will consider proposals from its administration to impose a garden tax on the collection of garden waste and to increase the council tax by 1.99%, thereby avoiding a referendum, while it is closing down popular libraries, including the Bob Lawrence library in my constituency. May we have a debate in Government time so that we can consider what local authorities throughout the country are doing to decimate local services and increase taxes?
The people of Harrow are fortunate to have my hon. Friend to speak up for them when their local authority is behaving in that way. Rather than cutting front-line services and hiking council tax, councils should be making sensible savings, such as through more joint working, better procurement, cutting fraud and using transparency to drive out waste. It is disappointing that Labour-run councils such as Harrow are taking the lazy option of making cuts to the front line, rather than adopting many other local authorities’ best practice of making sensible savings.
At my recent jobs and skills fair in Edinburgh, which was attended by hundreds of my constituents, one of the main conclusions was that the job-creation powers in the Work programme are best delivered by local authorities. In the last few weeks of his distinguished political career, will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy—a legacy for which he will be known the world over—by finding time for the House to pass my Job Creation Powers (Scotland) Bill?
The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating for effect, tempting though it is to leave such a lasting legacy. Of course, many more powers, including for job creation, will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament by whoever wins the general election, because of the implementation of the Smith commission proposals. It will then be important that there is decentralisation within Scotland, because there is a danger for Scotland and Wales that England will become the most decentralised part of the United Kingdom before long, which will mean that devolution is not really leading to power going down to the local level. I know that the hon. Gentleman advocates that, but I cannot, just on that basis, agree to give Government support for his Bill.
Children with Morquio disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and tuberous sclerosis are being badly let down by NHS England, which cancelled its process of approval of the drugs for these ultra-rare conditions. I am sorry to say that these families now feel that they are being fobbed off by the Department of Health and Ministers. May we have an urgent statement to confirm that we will have what we asked for—an interim funding solution to fund these drugs, to be announced before this Parliament is dissolved?