House of Commons
Thursday 18 June 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Farm Animals: Disease
We have made it very clear that we do not support the routine preventive use of antibiotics or the use of antibiotics to compensate for poor animal husbandry. That is reflected in the revised guidelines on the responsible use of animal medicines on the farm, published by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate last December. We continue to work with a number of industry bodies to encourage the development of prescribing guidelines, to challenge and optimise prescribing practices and behaviour.
Today, we hear that MRSA of a livestock origin is not only likely to be well established within the UK pig herd but has for the first time been found in British retail pork, from which it could be passed on to humans. In the light of this new and extremely troubling evidence, will the Department now finally set clear targets for phasing out routine preventive use of antibiotics in farm animals where no disease has been diagnosed, or is the Minister happy to take the risk of a post-antibiotic future?
It is important to recognise that livestock-associated MRSA is a different strain from that which affects our hospitals and does not cross to the human population. This country has always had slightly lower levels of antibiotic usage than countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, which have had more serious problems. They have to be prescribed and clinical decisions have to be made, but the guidelines we have issued mean we have managed to suppress the use of antibiotics and ensure they are used sparingly.
Does the Minister agree that microbial antibiotic resistance is by no means exclusively a concern for veterinary medicine, and will he join me in welcoming the publication back in 2013 of a Government strategy to deal with the issue across Departments?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This issue also affects the Department for Health, and the chief medical officer is leading our work in this area. As my hon. Friend says, we have published an antimicrobial strategy setting out our approach for the next five years. It is also true that, although the use of antibiotics in farming has been relatively static over the past decade or so, we have seen an increase in the use of antibiotics in medicine, which is of great concern.
McDonald’s is phasing out beef products that contain antibiotics, but it has indicated that beef products containing ionophore drugs will be acceptable, as they harm neither animals nor humans. What discussions has the Minister had with the catering industry about that?
I have not had any specific discussions on that point. As I have said, all antibiotics have to be prescribed. It is important to distinguish between routine use and preventive use. Sometimes it is right to use them preventively if there is a particular problem in a herd or a flock, but they have to be prescribed by vets—and only sparingly.
Air Quality (Glasgow)
As the hon. Lady is aware, air quality in Scotland is a devolved issue, so I have not had direct conversations with Glasgow City Council, but I saw the Scottish Environment Minister on Monday. Officials are in regular contact with Scottish Government officials about the revision of UK nitrogen oxide air quality plans, including those for the Glasgow urban area.
I thank the Minister for that response. Given the recent European Commission ruling relating to Client Earth, does the Minister consider it wise, with ongoing issues on Hope Street in Glasgow, that Glasgow City Council expedites its action on this issue in its air quality action plan?
Scotland, in common with 27 member states of the European Union, is non-compliant with the EC arrangements. Does the Minister agree that low emission zones can help improve air quality in cities such as Glasgow and that, in proposing a low emission zone for London, the Mayor of London has offered a good way to improve air quality?
I am glad that you recognise my Glasgow credentials, Mr Speaker, because sometimes my classic cockney accent confuses people.
I welcome the Minister to his place. In any such discussions with Glasgow, I ask that he takes into account river traffic. The Thames is busier than the Clyde, but vessels on the Clyde do contribute to emissions. Will he ensure that he remembers that addition?
I, too, welcome the Minister to his place. Last year, the Government wrote a letter to all local authorities, trying to blame them for the 29,000 deaths that air pollution is causing every year in the UK and saying that any fines imposed by the EU for failure to comply with the air quality directive would have to be paid by them. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that it is the Government who are solely responsible for compliance and any fines arising, will the Secretary of State write again to all local authorities to accept her responsibility and overturn her previous threatening letter?
I am very happy to discuss that matter in detail, but as the shadow Minister said—[Interruption.] “Say yes”, it is suggested from the Opposition Front Bench. As the shadow Minister has acknowledged, we need to tackle this issue in partnership with local authorities. The prime responsibility needs to reside there because the sources of the emissions are quite different from one local authority to another, and therefore the solutions will be different from one local authority to another.
Flood Defence Schemes
One hundred and sixty-one schemes are due to start this financial year, as part of our £2.3 billion, six-year programme, which will protect an additional 300,000 properties by 2021. That represents a real-terms increase in flood investment.
Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the work of the three internal drainage boards that affect my constituency, Witham first district IDB, Witham third district IDB and Upper Witham IDB? What steps will the Government take to ensure that the Environment Agency, which is lackadaisical in my local area, and other parties work together more effectively for the benefit of my constituents in Lincoln and the people of Lincolnshire?
Like my hon. Friend, I am a huge fan of internal drainage boards. We have some fantastic drainage boards in Norfolk and I have visited the internal drainage boards in Boston. I want internal drainage boards to work closely with the Environment Agency to continue to protect homes and farmland. I would like this model to be rolled out across the country.
The coalition Government announced £80 million to protect the Humber estuary over six years. That is only 9% of what the Environment Agency said was required. Does the Secretary of State agree that investment in flood defences can be seen as an economic opportunity, rather than as a burden that has to be borne?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that investment in flood defences is an economic opportunity. Our six-year programme will result in the generation of £30 billion of economic value. We are committed to looking at the Humber plans and are due to report back on them in July.
Hunting Act 2004
As we said in our manifesto, we will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act 2004 on a free vote on a Government Bill in Government time.
The Secretary of State will understand that my constituents and, indeed, the whole country are overwhelmingly opposed to the repeal of the foxhunting ban. As she said, the Government have made a clear commitment to a vote on repeal, but she has not made clear the nature of that vote. Will she confirm that the vote will be on a parliamentary Bill that is considered in this House and the other place in the normal way?
We on this side of the House are confident that we would win a vote to prevent the repeal of the Hunting Act, but it is clear from the Minister’s answer that no plan is in place for a vote. On that basis, and given that 80% of voters support the ban on hunting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) pointed out, why does not the Secretary of State just drop the idea and get on with the job of making sure the legislation is enforced?
I am a bit surprised to hear the hon. Lady talk about her side of the House, given that this has always been a free vote matter that is up to the conscience of individual Members. I have made it very clear that I support repeal of the Hunting Act and would vote on that basis, but I recognise that Members need to make their own decisions on the issue, so I am surprised to hear that the vote would be whipped by the Labour party.
Flood defences are an absolute priority for this Government. We are spending £2.3 billion on more than 1,500 schemes over the next six years, which will help us reduce flood risk to our country by 5%.
I thank the Secretary of State for her response, but the reality is that in the last Parliament the Government promised £3.1 million of investment to reduce flood risk in my constituency, but figures published by the Environment Agency show that only £1 million of funding has been granted. Can the Secretary of State confirm which schemes will not go ahead and why the Government are failing to deliver on their commitment to manage flood risk?
Seven schemes in the hon. Lady’s constituency have now been identified within the six-year programme between now and 2020-21, with a total investment value of £4.3 million. We are also raising money from partnership funding and the private sector, which enables us to protect more homes and more communities.
In 2007, the community of Thatcham suffered the surface water flooding of more than 1,100 homes. Since then a huge community effort, working with the Environment Agency and unlocking a lot of local funding as part of the partnership funding scheme, has seen a lot of measures reintroduced. The last piece of that work needs preliminary design funding for this year. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the new Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), whom I welcome to the best job in Government, look closely at this case, so that Thatcham is protected for the future?
I am sure that we will look very closely at the case that my hon. Friend has made. We are enabling local communities to bundle up projects so that we can have more small-scale projects, and we have put through our plans on sustainable urban drainage better to protect housing from flooding.
Food and Farming Sector
British food and farming is worth more than £100 billion a year to our economy and employs one in eight workers in Great Britain. That is why the Government are committed to working with industry to develop a long-term plan to buy more, sell more and grow more British food. The plan will set out how British food and farming can become a world leader that is innovative, competitive, profitable and resilient, and we will work on that in the months ahead.
I draw Members’ attention to my declaration of interest.
Population growth predictions estimate that we will need to produce 60% more food by 2050, but British crop yields have plateaued over recent years and the agrichemical toolbox available to farmers has been ever reducing. Will the Minister look seriously at offering more support for research and innovation that is focused on increasing yields and on the production challenges that farmers face today?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Following large growth immediately after the war, yields have plateaued in recent decades. DEFRA is spending about £1.75 million a year on research into crops, and our research councils, through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, have a number of programmes in this area. In particular, Rothamsted has a major programme called “20:20 Wheat”, which aims to get yields of wheat to 20 tonnes per hectare in the next 20 years.
My hon. Friend highlights a real problem with dairy at the moment. We have had a very difficult year, following a very good year last year. The long-term prospects for the industry are good: demand is growing by about 2% a year, and the Government are making it easier for farmers to average their tax, working with the National Farmers Union to develop futures markets to help farmers manage volatility, and making available investment—through the rural development programme—to help farmers improve their competitiveness.
The number of young people entering the UK food and farming sector is encouraging. What assurances can the Minister give that young people can access the skills they need to ensure that the sector has a secure future in areas such as west Cornwall and my hon. Friend’s constituency?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have Duchy College in my constituency, and many of his constituents attend it. He makes an important point: we want to treble the number of apprenticeships in food and farming and to encourage more young people to choose farming as a career. We are working with organisations such as Bright Crop to get ambassadors to go into schools to help teenagers to choose the right subjects so that they can take up careers in farming. That area will be a major part of our food and farming strategy.
18. Does the Department have a contingency plan to support British agriculture and protect the British food industry’s market access in the event of our leaving the European Union and the common agricultural policy? If so, will the Minister publish it? (900424)
No, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the Government want to renegotiate our relationship with the European Union, and then we intend to campaign to stay in. The CAP is not perfect, and during the course of this Parliament we will push for a mid-term review. We will also argue for longer term reform so that the CAP serves farmers and consumers more effectively.
Farmers in my constituency, a mere 10 miles from Manchester city centre, are still seeing the productivity and competitiveness of their businesses inhibited by the lack of superfast broadband. What discussions is the Minister having with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to expedite the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas?
The Secretary of State had a meeting yesterday on that very issue. Broadband Delivery UK has made available some £750 million to roll out superfast broadband in our most rural areas, as well as funds to pilot new technologies in the hardest to reach areas. We recognise that this is an important issue, and the Government will focus much of their energies on it.
The Government have withheld from Scotland the vast majority of a €230 million pillar one allocation of EU uplift money. The UK qualified for that money only because of Scotland’s low payments. Can the Minister explain why, against the clearly expressed will of the Scottish Government and all political parties in the Scottish Parliament, the Government intend to deprive Scottish farming communities of most of that money?
The allocations that we have made are based on land types, and historically Scotland has tended to have less per hectare because its land was less intensively farmed, but it actually receives more per farm holding than any other part of the UK. We have made it clear that we will have a mid-term review of that issue, which will include comparisons of land types in every part of the UK.
Climate Change Adaptation Plan
Our £2.3 billion capital investment programme will better protect 300,000 homes through a range of flood risk management measures. York will benefit from the programme to the tune of £5 million. We already have a climate change adaptation plan—the national adaptation programme—and it is currently being assessed by the adaptation sub-committee: we expect to learn from its report.
As I mentioned, £5 million has been committed specifically to flood defences in York. The flood re scheme is currently on track. It is an extremely impressive but complex scheme that will provide insurance to the most vulnerable and at-risk people within your constituency.
Cost of Living (Rural Britain)
Reducing the cost of living in rural areas depends primarily on overcoming the challenges of distance and sparsity. That means boosting productivity and investing in a strong economy and infrastructure, such as road, rail and high-speed broadband. The rural fuel rebate means that some of the most rural areas now benefit from a 5p per litre fuel discount.
People in villages such as Stillington, Carlton, Thorpe Thewles and Redmarshall in my constituency have seen their buses reduced to the odd one here and there, or they have gone altogether, as private companies have pulled out because local authorities no longer have the money to subsidise them. I am sure the Minister agrees that affordable transport links are essential for rural areas, so what can I tell my constituents that the Government will do to connect them to the rest of the area?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that connections of any sort, whether digital or bus connections, are vital for isolated rural areas. Some councils have found solutions to that and there is a community bus fund, championed by the Department for Transport. I look forward to talking in detail to the hon. Gentleman, if he is interested, about the problems in his constituency.
The Minister mentions the rural economy in the context of broadband. I quite agree that we need to boost broadband, but does he agree that we really need to send a signal to BT to enhance its efforts to ensure that we are properly connected in rural areas?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Working with BT involves the work of every single constituency MP to ensure that we get the information on which areas will be connected and we hold British Telecom to account for the more than £700 million of public money that the Government are investing in a highly impressive programme in rural broadband roll-out.
Is the Minister, like me, a compulsive listener to “Farming Today”? Is he aware that many experts are saying on “Farming Today” that the cost of living in rural communities will be affected in the long term by climate change and how it impacts on the crops we can grow successfully in the rural economy? Is he worried about that? Is he talking about it, or have this Government given up on climate change worries?
Climate change is baked into every aspect of this Department’s work. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the risk assessment conducted in 2012 on climate change adaptation focused specifically on flood risk, but he is correct that there are other issues we need to look at—and look at relentlessly—which is why we look forward to providing a full response to the assessment provided by the climate change adaptation sub-committee.
There can be no question about it: it does cost more to live in rural areas compared with urban areas, so I very much welcome the reduction in fuel duty, the cap on petrol prices and equalising the council tax. All these things are extremely helpful, but transport must be central to this. Twenty-five per cent. of people in my constituency do not have cars. Will the Minister take steps to look into community bus services, such as Bradies taxis, which I launched last week in my constituency? They are at the end of a telephone and will go and pick people up from their rural locations.
My hon. Friend is a great champion of the issues of rural areas. The Department for Transport launched an interesting scheme towards the end of the last Parliament to provide support for community transport schemes. If he wishes to discuss it in more detail, I would encourage the council to apply to the Department for Transport for that fund.
Public Sector Food Procurement
We launched the Bonfield plan in July last year to help the public sector to buy more local, seasonal food. It means that £400 million of business is available to our farmers and food producers. We are making good progress on that, and only this week I discussed with the Justice Secretary how it could be implemented in his Department.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. We have fantastic produce in the west midlands, from Burton’s Marmite to Worcestershire pears. I am pleased to see that Birmingham City Council is working to make sure all its schools meet the Bonfield standards, and I would like other cities, towns and villages across Britain to do so too.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Ever since I have been a Member of Parliament, the amount of home-grown food as a proportion of the total has dropped and dropped. If we could increase it, it would be good for our balance of payments and good for jobs. What does my right hon. Friend propose to do to increase it?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that we need to grow more, buy more and sell more British food. We produce fantastic food in this country. At the moment, for example, we are importing two third of our cheese. There is more we can do to encourage investment in the dairy industry and we have a massive opportunity with exports. By 2018, China will be the world’s biggest food importer, and we have just put in place a food and agriculture counsellor in China to promote that fantastic British produce.
The Government are taking a series of steps to reduce air pollution. We are tackling pollution particularly from transport on a number of fronts. For example, we are transforming public transport and private vehicles by supporting the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and encouraging sustainable transport by investing in cycling. We are also tackling pollution from industry.
I thank the Minister for his reply. The common good matters nowhere more than in respect of the air we breathe. Will he commit today to drop all objections to European standards on air pollution—unless they are on the basis that the standards are too lenient?
I look forward to discussing in more detail with the hon. Lady exactly which European standards she is talking about—concentration levels or total emission levels, for example. If she is talking specifically about nitrogen dioxide, this Government are absolutely committed to meeting the EU targets as soon as possible.
Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Johnson Matthey, the world’s leading manufacturer of autocatalysts, which is internationally recognised for its diesel trap technology. Will he do all he can to ensure that the tax regime in this country and emissions regulations that apply here allow for the deployment of the latest technology in this field?
My hon. and learned Friend will not expect me to comment on a Treasury issue in relation to taxation, but I would like to pay tribute to the work of Johnson Matthey. My hon. and learned Friend has suggested that we meet, and I look forward to meeting this company with its innovative technology as soon as possible.
Fifty-nine years ago, the former Denton urban district council was one of the first local authorities in the land to sign up to the Clean Air Act 1956. Back then, we had thick pea souper smogs that could be seen; today, air pollution is an invisible killer. Is it not time that this Government adopted a new Clean Air Act fit for the 21st century?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged the work done over the last 60 years by parties on both sides of the House to address air pollution. It is very striking that sulphur dioxide is down by 88%, while we have halved emissions in particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. More is to be done, particularly on nitrogen dioxide, and I look forward to working very closely with the hon. Gentleman on that subject.
National Pollinator Strategy
Bees and other pollinators play an absolutely crucial role in our environment and are estimated to contribute around £400 million a year to our economy. Last year, DEFRA published the national pollinator strategy—a 10-year plan to bring about the best possible conditions for pollinators to flourish. The Government are committed to taking action to support pollinators across all types of land, enhancing the response to pest and disease risks and improving our evidence base.
I share the concerns of many constituents who have contacted me about the threat to the bee population from the proposed use of pesticides. We tamper with bees’ wellbeing at our peril; the evidence on this issue is incomplete. Will my hon. Friend give me an assurance that the restrictions on neonicotinoids will not be lifted until the evidence is complete?
I can tell my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom has implemented the restrictions in full, and that the European Food Safety Authority is about to conduct a review. It has made a call for evidence, to which the United Kingdom will contribute. We have commissioned work from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and that will be taken into account when the authority has completed its review.
I recommend to the Minister Hoxton Manor honey, which is made by the many urban beekeepers who are now based in my constituency. Production there has mushroomed in the last decade; indeed, my first piece of casework involved a beekeeper. Does the Minister agree that we need to encourage more urban beekeeping to ensure that we have a good ecosystem in our inner cities as well as elsewhere?
I welcome the pollinator strategy, but yesterday I was contacted by a large number of people who were effectively lobbying. Will the Minister assure us that he will look at all the evidence, in order to ensure not just that the wonderful bees are protected, but that our farmers can farm economically and produce healthy food?
Many of my hon. Friend’s constituents have contacted me as well, and I know that there is a great deal of concern about the issue. There is a gap here: we do need more field trials. The United Kingdom has commissioned some work of that kind, as have other European Union member states including Sweden.
I am going to lose all my honey now. [Hon. Members: “How much?”] I shall ignore the heckling from my own side. It usually comes from the other side.
I was very concerned to learn that farmers who use polytunnels are buying hives in order to pollinate them and, as a condition of their contracts, must then destroy the hives with the live bees inside. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm or deny that, in the context of his review, or at least look into it if he is not sure of the answer.
I was not aware of that particular problem. We have tightened the regulations on imported bumblebees that are used in glasshouses in order to ensure that the native breed, audax, is the main one used, but if there is a specific issue involving honeybees, I shall be happy to engage in correspondence and then deal with it.
DEFRA’s priorities are a cleaner, healthier environment, a world-leading food and farm industry, a thriving rural economy, and a nation that is well defended against natural threats and hazards. As a one-nation Government, we will ensure that people in rural areas have access to the same opportunities and technologies as those in towns and cities. We want to unleash the potential of our fantastic countryside.
All sectors of the livestock industry, which is hugely important in Montgomeryshire, are struggling with low prices, and that includes milk producers. The Minister said earlier that he saw a positive long-term outlook, but many dairy farmers will not survive in the long term. What steps are the Government taking to help to ensure that all livestock farmers can compete internationally on a level playing field?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. The dairy industry is vital to the future of food and farming. I was delighted when the Chancellor announced in the Budget that farmers would be able to “tax average” over five years, which will help to manage the current volatility. We are also seeing exciting developments in the dairy sector: for example, the producer organisation launched by Dairy Crest will improve farmers’ bargaining powers when they are selling their products.
In a message to all the people of the world, Pope Francis will say that climate change is mainly caused by human activity, and threatens unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem. Does the Secretary of State agree with the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), her predecessor as Environment Secretary and a well-known climate change denier, or does she agree with the Pope?
I agree with the Pope. The Government are absolutely committed to tackling climate change. The Paris summit is coming up, and we have taken the lead in securing a deal to limit temperature rises to 2°, which is an important priority. Our Department is clearly responsible for adaptation to climate change, and we take that into account in everything that we do, whether it relates to agriculture, flood defences or protecting nature.
I am glad to hear it. The right hon. Lady has accepted the second-largest percentage cut of any Department—an £83 million decrease—in this year’s budgets demanded by the Chancellor. Can she assure the House that she will not repeat the mistakes of her predecessor in 2010, who is in her place, and who cut £100 million a year from the flood protection budget, only for the Department to have to put some of it back after the winter floods caused devastation in 2013?
Over the previous Parliament, we succeeded as a Department in reducing our budget at the same time as protecting frontline flood defences; we actually saw a real-terms increase in flood defence spending over that of the previous Government. At the same time we also protected our animal-disease response capability, so that we had the same number of vets working in our Department in 2010 as we did in 2015, and I will—
T2. Bovine TB is an incredibly serious disease, with over 26,000 cattle slaughtered last year alone. My constituency of Lewes falls in a high-risk area. What steps are being taken to roll out pilot vaccination programmes and other measures to help support farmers in the south-east? (900386)
It is part of our 25-year strategy to roll out additional cull areas in high-risk areas and to roll out vaccinations in edge areas. The hon. Lady’s constituency, in East Sussex, is part of a high-risk area and has an edge area, and we would be happy to consider any application that came forward.
T3. With a Greek exit from the eurozone a looming possibility this week, and given the inevitable downward pressure that will put on the exchange rate between sterling and the euro, has the Minister made any contingency plans to deal with the disastrous impact that that exchange rate change will have on the real value of farm support payments in the UK? (900387)
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we do face risks and difficult economic times. What we are committed to doing is helping British producers sell their products—we have seen exports rise to £19 billion. Also, when we had the issue with the Russian trade embargo last year, we were able to find new markets for products—for example, we found a new market for mackerel in Nigeria—and we will continue with that work.
T4. Wales is home to some of our country’s finest food and drinks: Welsh lamb, Brains beer and Penderyn whisky, to name a few. What role does the Secretary of State think protected food names have to play in adding value to and boosting Welsh exports? (900388)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I enjoyed some of those fantastic products at the Royal Welsh show last year. There are great protected food names, like Welsh lamb. We have 63 protected food names in this country, and they command a market premium at home and overseas. I want to see us get up to the level of the French, who have over 200, and I encourage companies across our country to apply.
T6. In the Minister’s written answer to me yesterday, he refused to publish the National Farmers Union application for an exemption on the ban on using neonicotinoid pesticides. Does he agree that on this vital subject and this major threat to bees and pollinators the public should know what is going on behind closed doors? If so, will he publish that information, even if he redacts the names of the farmers? (900390)
The hon. Lady knows that that information is commercially sensitive, but what I can say is that two applications are being considered by the Health and Safety Executive, and before any decision is taken we would take the advice of our expert committee on pesticides.
T5. The black country’s canal network is an important part of our industrial heritage, supports a variety of wildlife and hosts many leisure facilities. Will the Minister update the House on what is being done to clean up our inland waterways? (900389)
I could not agree more strongly with my hon. Friend on the importance of waterways. Nearly 10,000 miles of rivers and internal waterways have been cleaned up; phosphate pollution is down by one fifth and ammonia down by one sixth; and water companies will be investing £3.5 billion over the next five years in improving our water quality.
T7. Up to 4,000 properties are at risk of flooding in my constituency, so the Government’s announcement of an extra £7.5 million for flood defences in Great Grimsby was welcome. However, that figure includes a £5 million black hole of unallocated funding and my constituents are worried that their homes may be flooded again this year. Will the Secretary of State meet me so that we can get this funding shortfall sorted out and start protecting people from the risk of flooding? (900391)
I am delighted that the hon. Lady is pleased about the investment in flood defences in her constituency. During the last Parliament, we raised £140 million in additional funding, which is 10 times that raised by the previous Government. We are already up to £250 million—more than 40% of our target—within two months of our six-year programme, and we are going to help deliver that.
We are working on this all the time. One of the most complicated common agricultural policies in history has just been introduced, and we are already in discussions with Commissioner Hogan about simplifying that and making it easier for farmers to apply it. The next round of CAP negotiations are coming up and we want a much simpler policy.
T10. Many of my constituents in rural areas desperately need faster broadband speeds to run their businesses and create jobs in an area where unemployment is 50% higher than the average. The Under-Secretary referred earlier to planned investment, but rather than have my constituents wait years under current plans will he meet the providers again and tell them to get a move on? (900394)
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the progress on superfast broadband has been pretty remarkable; we have gone from 40% to 80%, and we will be at 95% by 2017. If there are specific issues related to his constituency, I would, again, be very happy to sit down to discuss them in detail.
T9. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. British beer is the best in the world, and our beer sales at home and abroad are booming. That is good for British brewers and for British farmers, connecting grain to glass to the lips of beer lovers across the world. What can we do to encourage more beer exports? (900393)
I completely agree with my hon. Friend; we are now exporting 1 billion pints of beer around the world. I have had the opportunity to visit the Ilkley brewery and taste its fantastic produce, as well as Fuller’s in London. I have not yet visited Burton—I am still waiting for the invitation. Perhaps it is in the post, so that I will be able to promote it, too.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Of course we must briefly pay tribute to my predecessor, who fulfilled this role with great aplomb and will be for ever remembered as enabling the legislation on women bishops.
The Church faces a great challenge in terms of its sustainability, particularly in rural areas. The Church Commissioners will be helping to support those churches that want to come back to the heart of the community by opening their doors to a wide range of uses that serve the community.
May I join you in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend and welcoming her to her new role, Mr Speaker? Brierfield Methodist church recently secured much-needed Heritage Lottery funding support for roof and masonry renovations, but Nelson United Reformed church is having to close next month, after 150 years of worship. Will my right hon. Friend set out how she will work with the Heritage Lottery Fund and other bodies to help preserve the church buildings, for which the Church Commissioners are responsible?
My hon. Friend has just mentioned the Methodist Church and I am sure you would agree that it is right that we should all record our sympathy to the Methodist Church in South Carolina, which has suffered a terrible shooting tragedy.
I intend to work very actively with the Heritage Lottery Fund, which dedicates about £25 million a year to essential repairs for all listed places of worship. Given the urgency of my hon. Friend’s specific case, I suggest we work on it together immediately.
Last winter, the church of St Mary’s in Lytchett Matravers was shut due to a lack of heating, and parish churches across Dorset struggle to meet both their parish share and to ensure that their buildings remain open. What plans does the Church Commissioner have to provide support for churches such as St Mary’s in Lytchett Matravers to ensure that they remain open, and will she meet me to discuss the matter?
A total of 250 churches have managed to install renewable energy facilities. The Church offers a church care support system to help parishes make changes and modifications to their heating systems to bring down the costs of heating. I suggest that we work closely together with this specific example and see what can be done.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—
The Electoral Commission has begun its assessment of the referendum question proposed in the European Union Referendum Bill and will publish its assessment before Parliament returns from recess in September. The Commission has previously reported on the neutrality of the proposed question as part of the assessment of the question contained in a private Member’s Bill in 2013. That report found that a number of voters perceived a bias if the phrase, “Remain a member of the European Union” is used in isolation. The Commission therefore recommended an alternative question, which it found to be more neutral but which did not use yes and no as response options.
The Electoral Commission has said that the most neutral question for the EU referendum would be: should the UK leave the EU, or should it remain within the EU? Does my hon. Friend not believe that the Government should accept the independent advice of the Electoral Commission as to what is the most neutral question and put that in the referendum Bill?
My hon. Friend slightly anticipates the situation. The Electoral Commission is currently assessing and consulting on two questions: the question in the Bill and the question, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union.” It will provide its findings and recommendations to the House in September.
EU Membership (Costs and Benefits)
The Electoral Commission is currently considering what public information it will provide to voters on how to register and cast their vote at an EU referendum. However, given that it is also responsible for designating lead campaigners as well as registering and regulating other campaigners, the Commission does not believe that it would be appropriate for it also to produce a guide providing information about the costs and benefits of EU membership first hand as campaigners would want to make such a case themselves.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and that is what many of our constituents want. The issue is: who is best placed to provide that impartial guide? Given the complexity of the question—there are so many unknowns—and the importance of ensuring that the Electoral Commission does not in any way undermine its neutrality and independence, it may not be the right organisation to carry out that task.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Persecution of Christians (Iran)
The Church of England is aware of the plight of the Christian community in Iran and works closely with the Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, the right Reverend Michael Lewis, and the Bishop of Iran, the right Reverend Azad Marshall, to give support where it can.
The recent report on the persecution of Christians in Iran by Christians in Parliament with the all-party group on religious freedom and belief recounts serious neglect of human rights of Christians in Iran. Surveillance, arbitrary arrests, lashings, torture and severe prison sentences are common. What steps is the Church taking to encourage respect and tolerance for Christians and for those of other minority faiths in Iran and elsewhere in the middle east?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the report produced by the APPG. I attended the meeting at which some of those recommendations were put to a Foreign Office Minister yesterday. The Archbishop of Canterbury invited the Grand Imam of al-Azhar to both Houses of Parliament to express encouragement to religious and political leaders to speak out in support of moderate voices in the region.
May I echo the remarks made by the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce)? It seems to me that one’s right to faith and freedom of religion are fundamental human rights and I am concerned that within the Christian faith, Christian leaders need to do more to educate those who come to worship on a Sunday and do not know that others are denied that right.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. It is important for people of all faiths to encourage one another in a spirit of tolerance. The Grand Imam made the point that the message of Islam and Christianity is enough to build the bridge of continuous understanding. That is what he said in this place.
The Church works closely in tandem with the Foreign Office to put diplomatic pressure on countries in which there is abuse of religious freedom. I know that the hon. Gentleman was present at the APPG yesterday and he will have heard the Foreign Office Minister give us encouragement to work together on this.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—
EU Referendum Bill
The Electoral Commission has set out in its briefings on the European Union Referendum Bill why it does not agree with the disapplication of section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, as proposed in the legislation being considered by this House. The commission’s briefing papers on the legislation are circulated to hon. Members and published on its website.
Does my hon. Friend expect the Government formally to respond to the helpfully clear advice that
“there is a risk that the use of significant amounts of public money for promotional activity could give an unfair advantage to one side of the argument”?
If so, can it be published?
I am not aware of any legal duty for the Government to respond to any recommendations made by the Electoral Commission, but I was pleased to hear earlier this week that the Government appear to be moving in the direction of the advice given by the commission. I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is a tenacious warrior on this issue, will welcome that.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Wellbeing of the Clergy
The Church of England seeks to support its clergy and their families and dependants through their challenging roles ministering to parishes. This support includes, but is not limited to, housing, pensions and continual training.
The demanding responsibilities of clergy in the Church and across civic society is having a serious impact on their physical and mental health. In the light of their office holder employment status, what commitments can the Church Commissioners give to improving their duty of care to clergy?
Those of us in public life are all aware of the pressures on mental and physical wellbeing, but I acknowledge that is particularly the case for clergy. The hon. Lady worked closely with an important test case on the status of clergy and it is right to take forward the question of their wellbeing. Programmes such as the Arrow programme, provided by the Church Pastoral Aid Society, can assist clergy in making themselves more resilient in these challenging roles.
The elections for the General Synod of the Church of England will be taking place during late September to mid October. Any communicant lay person who is on the electoral roll is eligible, so I suggest that we all encourage those who we know who could increase the diversity of Synod to apply.
I am encouraged to hear that. I am a lay canon at Wakefield cathedral, and when I go to church most of the people in the church are women, but 65% of the membership of the Synod are men—mainly middle-aged men like me. When are we going to get some leadership to get more women in the Synod?
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Names on Ballot Papers (Guidance)
9. What steps the Electoral Commission is taking to make guidance clearer on the use of commonly used names on ballot papers. (900403)
The commission first clarified its guidance on the law on commonly used names in 2011, then restated that guidance in March 2015 when it became clear that there was some confusion surrounding the rules. The Electoral Commission keeps its guidance under regular review.
Advice from the Electoral Commission at the recent local elections suggested that middle names were not acceptable as commonly used names, leaving the wonderful councillor John Nigel Steward Anderdon on the ballot paper simply as “Nige”. What assurances can my hon. Friend give me that guidance will be clearer in the future?
The law that we in this House passed in 2006 states that a candidate may state a commonly used forename if it is different from any other forename that he or she has; therefore the use of a second or third Christian name—for example, Nigel or Boris—does not qualify under the 2006 legislation. The Electoral Commission is reviewing the matter, and if people have representations they would like to make, the commission would be grateful to receive them.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, representing the Public Accounts Commission, was asked—
Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Project
The current arrangements for the audit of the House of Commons by the Comptroller and Auditor General differ from those for the public bodies which allow him the right to examine the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of public expenditures under the National Audit Act 1983. As a consequence, any examination of the restoration and renewal programme would require the House to request him formally—he must be requested; he has no right—to review and report on these expenditures. Those arrangements secure the absolute independence of the House.
Of course we must have value for money on this project. The National Audit Office is already involved: it is working with the project managers and will be looking at the finances on a continual basis. The House must report its finances. If the hon. Gentleman can restrain his impatience, the independent options appraisal will be published this afternoon, and for my part, I hope we can be allowed to stay here.
I am pleased to be able now to announce the results of the elections for Chairs of Select Committees. No ballot was necessary for 12 Committees for which a single nomination had been received. They are as follows:
Communities and Local Government
Mr Clive Betts
Energy and Climate Change
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Northern Ireland Affairs
Mr Laurence Robertson
Mr Charles Walker
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs
Mr Bernard Jenkin
Mrs Louise Ellman
Mr Andrew Tyrie
David T.C. Davies
Women and Equalities
Mrs Maria Miller
In the contested elections, a total of 621 ballot papers were submitted, the ballots being counted under the alternative vote system. The following candidates were elected:
Business, Innovation and Skills
Mr Iain Wright
Culture, Media and Sport
Dr Julian Lewis
Dr Sarah Wollaston
Science and Technology
Work and Pensions
I warmly congratulate all those elected. I should like—I hope on behalf of the whole House—to thank all those who put themselves forward for election.
Business of the House
Before I do so, may I echo Mr Speaker’s words of congratulations to all those elected as Select Committee Chairs, offer my commiserations to those who were unsuccessful, and echo Mr Speaker’s words of thanks to all those, particularly the Officers of the House, who were involved in conducting the election process?
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 22 June—Second Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill.
Tuesday 23 June—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Finance) Bill, followed by a motion relating to the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill.
Wednesday 24 June—Opposition day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 25 June—General debate on reports into investigatory powers.
Friday 26 June—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 29 June will include:
Monday 29 June—Consideration in Committee of the Scotland Bill (day 2).
Tuesday 30 June—Consideration in Committee of the Scotland Bill (day 3).
Wednesday 1 July—Opposition day (4th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 2 July—General debate: subject to be announced.
Friday 3 July—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business, which includes, in particular, the Adjournment debate we will have next Monday on stone theft. After the events of the past few months, we on the Labour Benches have been wondering where our election stone has got to.
I, too, offer my congratulations to all those colleagues who have just been elected to chair Select Committees. They do an extremely important job in this House. I add my commiserations to those who were unsuccessful. Given that my own nomination process is over now as well, I can safely say that MPs are now free to roam the Corridors completely undisturbed.
Later today the report on options for the restoration and renewal of Parliament will be published, and I understand that the recommendations will all have significant and expensive implications. Will the Leader of the House tell us how he will ensure that the whole House has a chance to discuss and debate the way forward?
I note that once again there is no reference to English votes for English laws in the future business, but rumours continue to abound that we will be discussing Government plans as early as next week, so can the Leader of the House assure me that we will have adequate time to discuss and debate these important proposals, and will he tell us when that is likely to be?
The Greek debt crisis poses a serious threat to Europe’s economy, including that of the UK. With the Greek central bank now warning of a “painful” road ahead and no sign of a solution, what contingency plans exist to protect the UK economy from the effects of a Greek exit from the eurozone? Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Chancellor to come to the House and report on the outcome of the meeting of EU Finance Ministers in Luxembourg today?
After last week’s breathtaking U-turn in the Bavarian Alps , the Prime Minister is now in full retreat on the European Union Referendum Bill. We have had complete confusion over the referendum date. First, the Prime Minister said it could coincide with next year’s elections, but this week he was forced to back down at the last minute because he knew he had lost his majority. We still do not know whether Eurosceptic Cabinet Ministers will be able to campaign for an out vote—something I believe the Leader of the House will want an answer to, at least some time soon.
Finally, on Tuesday, after frantic whipping and a desperate letter from the Minister for Europe begging them not to rebel, no fewer than 27 Back Benchers, including five former Cabinet Ministers, voted against the Government. After that sorry spectacle, will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government have already conceded our amendments on today’s amendment paper? May we have a debate on the complete chaos that has characterised the Government’s flagship Bill? I was thinking about watching the new film “Jurassic World”, but if I want to see a bunch of dinosaurs tear each other apart I might as well stay and watch his Back Benchers.
This week we marked 800 years since the signing of Magna Carta and the origin of the rights we enjoy today. Although some of its clauses, such as those on the return of Welsh hostages and the removal of fishing weirs from England, have been somewhat overtaken by events, this country’s commitment to basic rights and freedoms remains a proud part of our heritage and crucial to our future. As the nation celebrated at Runnymede, will the Leader of the House tell us why the Prime Minister chose to mark the anniversary by reaffirming his intention to scrap the Human Rights Act? Will he tell us why the Prime Minister has rejected the advice of his previous Attorney General, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who said that scrapping the Act will undermine human rights across Europe?
I know that the Prime Minister could not tell us what Magna Carta actually meant when he appeared on “Letterman” three years ago, but he would be wise to pay attention to the lessons of history now. Magna Carta came about because the King fell foul of pushy, rebellious barons who would not accept his authority. After it was signed, the King ignored it and kept going back on his word. It took his death from a surfeit of peaches and the accession of a new young King to finally quieten the rebels. After the Chancellor’s impressive debut at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, if I was the Prime Minister I would be worried, and I would certainly stay well away from any peaches.
The hon. Lady mentioned stone theft. It is a matter of great concern to all of us when parts of our national heritage are endangered, and I was particularly concerned by the idea that the Labour party might take an object of great symbolic importance, break it into tiny pieces and sell them, as happened to the Berlin wall. Perhaps she can give us an assurance that that will not happen.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments on the Select Committee Chairs. Of course, she is wrong to say that the election process is over, because we will now have Members campaigning to join the Committees. It has certainly been a great exercise in democracy across the House. The Tea Room will probably be much quieter for at least the next 48 hours.
On the restoration of the Palace of Westminster, hon. Members will be aware that today we will see the independently commissioned report on the nature of this building and the challenges that await us in ensuring that it has a strong future. Officials will brief Members of Parliament later today. We will then approach the issue immensely carefully. We will set up a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the report and the options it lays out. We will then decide on the best approach, but that provisional decision will be subject to extensive discussions over the months ahead and to a vote in both Houses. My clear view, as I said last week, is that this building is an important part of our national heritage and our democracy and must remain as such. I am not warm to the idea that we should look to move elsewhere. None the less, we have to face the challenges of ensuring that the building is fit for the 21st century, and that discussion will involve all Members of the House.
The hon. Lady asked about English votes for English laws. I know that she is eager to see our proposals, but she will have to wait a few days longer. I have given a commitment that the proposals will shortly be laid before this House, discussed and then voted upon.
The hon. Lady asked about the situation in Greece. It is an immensely important matter, and the Government are thinking very carefully about how we would respond if the situation deteriorates. If there are developments, clearly the Chancellor will feel a duty to inform the House. Let us hope that the situation can be resolved without the kind of economic turmoil that it could lead to in Greece and elsewhere in Europe.
The hon. Lady mentioned party unity. I have been impressed this week by the breakout of unity on the Labour Benches as Members from all sides of their party united behind the great hope for the future of their leadership—the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). As I looked at the hon. Lady’s background and the nature of the people who have been supporting her campaign—I congratulate her on having made the next round of the contest—I wondered whether she and the hon. Gentleman might make a dream ticket together.
The hon. Lady mentioned anniversaries occurring this week. I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you are aware that this week also marks the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, with the re-enactment of that great battle taking place today. What you might not have known is that Napoleon’s armies marched to Waterloo under the banner of an eagle. The eagle was defeated, it was captured, and it is now in the hands of the Scots.
After yet another very serious car crash near Galleys corner on the A120 in my constituency, will my right hon. Friend make Government time for a debate on traffic flow and safety improvements on this very important road in my constituency?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place in this House. He has already made a great start in representing the interests of his constituency on an immensely serious issue that we as a Government take very seriously. He will be aware that the Department for Transport is already funding a study on how it can improve safety on that stretch of road. It will look very carefully at the conclusions of that study and will, I hope, make necessary improvements.
I too thank the Leader of the House for the business for next week. I add my congratulations to the winners of the Select Committee Chairs—not because I have a personal interest—and give my commiserations to the losers. I felt that it was like a bad Oscars or “Britain’s Got Some Sort Of Talent” when the announcements were being made, but congratulations to everybody involved.
I am sure that the Leader of the House has heard this morning the absolute fury from Scotland about the early ending of the renewables obligation for onshore wind and the very real threat from the Scottish Government to have this judicially reviewed, such is the threat to the 70% of the industry that is based in Scotland. Some 100 applications will now be under threat because of this Conservative Government’s almost ideological contempt for onshore wind and other renewables.
This seems to fit into a pattern. We have the return of the Scotland Bill in a couple of weeks, but this week not one amendment was accepted by a Government who said they would listen to the Scottish Government on the Bill. Amendments that were agreed cross-party even by the Conservative party in the Scottish Parliament have been rejected by the Government. It is almost as if they want us to go, given the way they are dealing with Scottish issues in the House of Commons.
I want to talk about English votes for English laws as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) asked some very basic and reasonable questions about the Leader of the House’s proposals and plans for English votes for English laws, and what did we get? “I intend to bring the proposals to the House.” We know that is what he intends to do, but as well as having no debate, no scrutiny and no consultation, we are not even supposed to ask him basic questions about English votes for English laws. When are we going to see these proposals and have them brought before the House?
I thought I was going to take part in business questions today after the first Government defeat. What a gift was given to the Labour party this week with the Tory rebellion—an open goal, only for it to put the ball in its own net. The Leader of the House likes to go on about seating arrangements in this House. I suggest that what we might want to do is to have us on the Labour Benches as the real Opposition to this Government, because that compliant lot, sitting on their hands again and again, are letting the Tories off the hook. They will not be let off the hook by the Scottish National party—that’s for sure.
May I start by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his elevation to the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee? He is going to be busy, because he wears another hat when participating in business questions.
On onshore wind, this Government are committed to renewable energy, but I am afraid that my idea of renewable energy does not involve covering some of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom and the highlands of Scotland with wind farms. I support offshore wind, but I also support the beautiful countryside of the United Kingdom and I want to preserve it. I am proud to be part of a Government who believe that is important.
The Scotland Bill implements the recommendations of the Smith commission—a commitment that was made by the previous Government and which has been continued by this Government—in the wake of the decision by the Scottish people to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
On the issue of English votes, as I have said, I will, when we are ready, inform the whole House. I say to the Scottish nationalists, with apologies, that I do not intend to inform them of our plans before I tell the whole House.
Finally, on the seating question, I gather that the morning race continues and it looks like the SNP won this morning. Opposition seating arrangements are a matter for the two parties involved to sort out and for us to watch with amusement.
I have recently been contacted by the directors of the last remaining traditional Nottingham lace makers, Cluny Lace, which operates in my constituency. It has recently been informed by Historic England that both its business and its business premises are about to be listed. That would seriously impact on the way in which this historic company operates and may put it in jeopardy. Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the way in which Historic England operates its listing process, given the fact that Cluny Lace is a going concern, not a museum?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Regulation to protect our heritage should not destroy it. She is absolutely right to draw the matter to the attention of the House. I encourage her to draw it to the attention of the Department concerned through both a written question and, possibly, an Adjournment debate. She has made an important point and I am sure Ministers will have noted it.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 143 on Careermakers Recruitment, standing in my name?
[That this House condemns in the most severe terms the employment practices of Careermakers Recruitment, 86 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester, M4 4EX, and in particular their maltreatment of a constituent of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, with regard to overlong working-hours and failure to observe health and safety legislation; calls on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to investigate their activities and, if he regards it as appropriate, to refer their violation of employment laws to the police; and warns all potential contacts to have nothing to do with these swindlers.]
Will the right hon. Gentleman turn his attention to it, in order to get the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and, if need be, the police to deal with these rogue people who exploit employees and harm and damage their lives? This is an essential matter and I look to the right hon. Gentleman to follow it up.
May I commend the Father of the House for his continuing diligence on behalf of people in Manchester who have to deal—not often, but from time to time—with unacceptable employment practices of the kind that this House would always condemn? I cannot comment specifically on the case he has raised, but I will make the Department for Work and Pensions aware of his concerns and I hope he will take the opportunity to raise them directly with the Secretary of State as well.
First, may I say that my Adjournment debate on stone theft is on Monday evening?
My local Kirklees Council does not have a local plan in place, resulting in a developers’ free-for-all, and I am encouraging local residents to submit their objections to the Grimescar Valley development. Could we have an urgent debate on such situations and on planning as a whole?
I wish my hon. Friend well with his debate on stone theft. We wait with interest to see whether the precedent set in the general election campaign will be followed by any of the Labour leadership candidates producing their own stone commitments.
The serious issue of planning affects many constituencies. The changes this Government have put in place are specifically designed to give greater power and authority to the local plan. I urge every council to move ahead as quickly as possible with the planning process, and I urge my hon. Friend to bring the matter to the attention of Ministers during Communities and Local Government questions in 10 days’ time.
Is it still the Government’s intention to hold a debate in Government time on the renewal of the Trident platform, and is the right hon. Gentleman able to say something about the timing of such a debate?
I cannot give an indication yet about the timing of such a debate, but there will be, at an appropriate moment, a chance for this House to decide on the future of Trident. That is only right and proper, and this party and this Government are absolutely committed to it. I know there are some divisions of opinion in this House, but I hope that, on the two Front Benches at least, there is an absolute commitment to preserving our nuclear deterrent.
May I return the Leader of the House to the independent options appraisal on the future of this building? I know that there will be a vote next year, that a Committee will be appointed and all the rest of it. However, the report has been widely trailed and we are told that it will be incredibly expensive for us to stay here. It would be useful to have an early debate, so that the views of Members can be discussed. There is no point in saying that this is an iconic building; what is important is what goes on inside this building.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course we have to ensure that this building is fit for the work that is done in it today to continue for generations to come. There will be a briefing on the report in the Boothroyd Room at 12 o’clock. I will work as hard as I can to ensure that all Members have an opportunity to contribute their views, not only in this Chamber but in discussions with those who are involved in the project.
I am extremely worried for my constituents in Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden and Failsworth, and for people across the country. This week, a report was published in the media regarding the crisis that is unfolding in home care services. We all have a vested interest in this matter as we are all getting older. I would like an urgent debate about how we can ensure that older people are treated with dignity and respect, and how we can deal with the unfolding crisis.
The hon. Lady has taken advantage of the Adjournment debates system to bring that and related issues to the House next week, when I am sure she will make her representations to Ministers. Of course we are all concerned to ensure that proper care is provided to the elderly. That is why the last Government established the better care fund, which will integrate social care and health care funding in a way that will improve the quality of care for the elderly, which is very necessary.
Sir John Chilcot’s failure to publish his report in a timely fashion is a betrayal of the military covenant, a betrayal of those who served in Iraq and, in particular, a betrayal of those who have suffered as a result of the Iraq war. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on why Sir John has failed to bring forward his report?
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that there is increasing concern across the House about the amount of time it is taking for Sir John’s report to be published. The Prime Minister himself has expressed concern about this matter. It is, of course, an independent study, but I very much hope that those who are involved in putting the report together are listening carefully to the strength of the views being expressed in this House. The current delay is not what anyone envisaged, nor is it the right way to treat an issue of this importance.
Is the Leader of the House as alarmed as I am at the collapse of a number of trials of notable republicans in Northern Ireland, including Padraic Wilson, Rosa McLaughlin and a host of others, and at other cases where people have been arrested, such as Gerry Adams, with no trial pertaining thereto, and at the fact that these trials have all collapsed because of serious sex cases that the people have allegedly been involved in? The fact that none of those historic trials can be brought to a proper, full and complete hearing is damaging public confidence. Does the Leader of the House feel that there is an opportunity for a proper inquiry into those matters?
The hon. Gentleman makes a series of important points. In my previous role, I had regular contact with the judiciary in Northern Ireland. I regard them to be of very high quality and to be very committed citizens of Northern Ireland. I do not wish to say anything that in any way denigrates the work that they do. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will take note of the questions that he has raised in the House today. They are matters that need to be dealt with sensitively, given the independence of the judicial process. I will make sure that she is aware of his concerns.
With the resurfacing of the M6 diverting much of the night-time traffic through Penkridge, Gailey and Dunston in my constituency for up to 70 nights over the coming months, may we have a debate on how Highways England can operate resurfacing and other major works more efficiently and effectively, so that they do not cause such disturbance to residents?
Having had to divert off the M6 a couple of times recently myself because of the roadworks, I share my hon. Friend’s concern about the impact on the surrounding communities. That is not always avoidable, given the need for improvements. As the improvements take root and the road is reopened, there will probably be a positive impact on the communities that he represents. I will ensure that his comments are drawn to the attention of the Department for Transport, and he should use all the channels available to him to ensure that Ministers are aware of the need to speed things up as much as is humanly possible.
While we are waiting for the briefing on the parliamentary building, is it not clear that previous reports have shown the crumbling state of the building and how costly it would be if the essential work to be undertaken were done with Members, staff and everyone else in place? I heard what the Leader of the House said about the Committee and the rest of it, but is it not important that a decision is reached, so that the necessary work can begin in 2020? The longer we delay it, the more costly it will be.
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. We need to get on with this, because there is no benefit in inappropriate delays. Of course, there is other work to be done on the parliamentary estate before that work can happen, but I am clear that we need to move ahead with it expeditiously.
May we have a debate on vehicle excise duty, which most people call car tax or road tax? That would give Members the opportunity to consider the rules governing that tax, particularly the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s practice of collecting tax twice for the same month when a vehicle changes hands from one owner to another.
I hear my hon. Friend’s point. Of course, the DVLA is working hard to improve the vehicle tax system. The removal of the tax disc, for example, has both saved money and created a system that we hope and believe will be more efficient. I am sure that Ministers will have noted his comments.
We will wait to receive the report along with everybody else. It is an independent report, and independent reports are submitted to Government when they are submitted to Government. As soon as we are able to give further information about it we will, but we are waiting in the same way that the hon. Gentleman is.
Further to the answer that my right hon. Friend gave last week to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) about legislation on caste discrimination, does my right hon. Friend agree that the issue is not so much whether discrimination legislation is unwanted as whether it is necessary? If we are to have a statement by the Minister for Women and Equalities, will she acknowledge in it the meetings that she has had with those affected by caste discrimination in this country and the representations that she has had from them?
These are of course sensitive issues. We are a society in which every individual should be treated equally and fairly, and the law should apply to all parts of our society in the same way. There will of course be opportunities to address Ministers the week after next, when we will have Women and Equalities questions and Communities and Local Government questions. Both colleagues who have raised the issue in the past week and a half should feel free to raise it with Ministers again on those occasions.
Why is everybody assuming that if we have to move out of Parliament while it is repaired, we will automatically move somewhere else in London? Why cannot we move to the midlands—preferably the black country? It would be much easier for most Members to get to, and it would enable Ministers and the metropolitan elite running the civil service to find out what life is like for the rest of us. As you will know from your celebrated visit to Dudley just a few years ago, Mr Speaker, and as the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), who is in his place, will know, the Edwardian masterpiece that is Dudley town hall is at least twice the size of this Chamber and would provide adequate accommodation for every Member.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his diligence in promoting the great town of Dudley and the black country, which is a fine part of this country with a great heritage, some great businesses and some great communities. However, I suspect that if we ended up having a debate about alternative venues for the House, we would probably find 650 different arguments being made.
Southampton airport is in my constituency. Aircrew on planes from all airports are rightly suitably trained for any emergency, but recently a 47-year-old woman died on a plane heading to Europe. Will my right hon. Friend allow time for a debate on the availability of suitable equipment on aeroplanes, particularly defibrillators, for use in times of need and to prevent diversions?