House of Commons
Thursday 9 July 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Transport for London Bill [Lords]
That the Promoters of the Transport for London Bill [Lords], which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2010-12 on 24 January 2011, may have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of Bills).—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 16 July.
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
This Government have not made any estimate of the value of the public stake in Channel 4.
Does my hon. Friend share my view that since Channel 4 barely makes an operating profit, any future economic value is more likely to come from cutting broadcasting and production costs, and there may therefore be little public service role for it if it were to be so treated?
I note what the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee says. No doubt under his new remit he will want to make an inquiry into Channel 4. That inquiry might note that Channel 4 has increased its investment in broadcasting by 15%, which is welcome.
The tourism sector directly contributed nearly £60 billion to the UK economy in 2014. Taking account of indirect benefits, the sector was expected to be worth more than £133 billion last year, supporting about 3.2 million jobs in the UK.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign to make Southend the city of culture. It was, of course, narrowly beaten by Hull, but nevertheless I am aware that Southend has many attractions. As a fellow Essex MP I am in favour of anything that will attract more visitors to our county.
The fantastic tourism potential that lies in country sports is worth £1.6 billion to the economy, and some 480,000 shooters pursue their sport across the whole of the United Kingdom. What more can the Minister do to ensure that country sports and tourism can go forward together?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the range of anniversary commemoration events taking place this year, which happen to include the 750th anniversary of the battle of Evesham in my constituency, not only showcase our heritage but provide a good boost for the tourism economy?
We are fortunate this year to celebrate a number of important anniversaries, including Agincourt, Waterloo and the first world war, and my hon. Friend is entirely right to remind the House that we can add the battle of Evesham to that list. The commemorations will not only increase awareness of our heritage, but will draw more visitors to this country.
The importance of persuading visitors that we have many attractions to offer outside London, as well as in London, is something I am very conscious of, not least because it was one of the principal recommendations of the Select Committee’s report on tourism. We will be responding to the report very shortly. I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s point. We will certainly, if not set targets, be doing our best to persuade visitors to enjoy all the attractions right across all the nations of the UK.
The Secretary of State will be aware of how important the tourism industry is to Cornwall, but is he aware of the damage that the Government’s current rules, which restrict families from taking their children out of school during term time, are having on the Cornish economy? Visit Cornwall estimates that it has cost the Cornish economy about £50 million. Will the Secretary of State be willing to meet me to discuss how we might address this issue and support the Cornish tourism industry?
I understand the point my hon. Friend makes, although he will appreciate that this is principally a matter for the Secretary of State for Education rather than my own Department. I understand that headteachers are encouraged to be flexible in setting their week, but children’s education is important, and we should not deprive them of it by changing their ability to go on holiday.
I am sure the Secretary of State will welcome the figures from the international passenger survey published last month, which showed that the number of overseas visitors to the UK is up 3% for the first four months. However, does he share my concern, and that of the tourism industry, that the figures show that expenditure is down 7% so far this year? If this trend continues to the end of the year, total revenue could be down by £1.53 billion compared with 2014, potentially putting 28,000 jobs at risk. Given those concerns, is it not time for the Government to put together a national strategy for tourism?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the fact that the number of visitors has continued to increase and is at record levels. Nevertheless, he is right that there has been a small drop in spend. That may be more to do with the weakness of the euro than anything else. On his call for a national tourism strategy, my Department is reviewing all our policy areas. We will respond to the Select Committee report very shortly and set out precisely our intentions to promote tourism in the UK.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to the many attractions of Cleethorpes. As I said, we are looking to boost tourism outside London. We already have specific projects in Yorkshire and in the south-west. I am sure the people of Cleethorpes will take maximum advantage in attracting the extra visitors who will no doubt be coming to the region to celebrate Hull’s city of culture status.
Female Participation in Sport
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the England women’s football team on winning bronze at the world cup in Canada. I am sure the whole House would agree with me that their performance in the world cup will inspire many girls to play football.
Female participation in sport is up since we won the Olympic bid in 2005 and is up since 2010, but despite an initial spike immediately post-London 2012, it has begun to decline since 2012. This downward trend is unsatisfactory and the forthcoming publication of our sport strategy will establish how the Government will reverse this trend.
England is hosting this year’s rugby world cup and I am delighted to be welcoming the cup itself, the Webb Ellis, to Halifax rugby club on 5 August. As a former fly-half for Lancaster University and the Halifax Vandals, may I say that it was disappointing that the latter team folded as we simply did not have the numbers to continue? Will the Minister tell me what lessons can be drawn from the Olympics to promote the rugby world cup as a means of encouraging women in particular to continue all types of sport into their adult lives?
The legacy of the rugby world cup is something we are taking very seriously. As somebody who has a premiership female rugby team in my constituency, I know it is a growing sport. The success of the England women’s sevens getting to Rio next year will continue to inspire many girls and ladies to play rugby in the future.
The number of females joining sports clubs in Wales since the 2012 London Olympics has increased by a massive 81%, while in England, as the Minister said, there has been a steady decline. The investment in grassroots sport by the Welsh Labour Government has enabled my constituents Hannah Brier and Emily Jones to come through the superb Sport Wales development structure. Hannah, aged 17, has already broken the 100 metres Welsh national record, which had stood for more than 30 years, and is now a member of the GB team going to the youth world championships. Emily, aged 10, has been supported to represent Disability Sport Wales and has won two national gold medals. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Hannah and Emily on their fantasmagorical achievements, and will she meet the sports Minister in the Welsh Labour Government, Ken Skates, to see whether she can pick up any tips?
I would be delighted to congratulate the hon. Lady’s constituents on their success so far. She herself will be encouraging of that, given her own history of competing for the GB youth team in Munich, and I know she takes grassroots sport incredibly seriously. It is important that we all do what we can to encourage the next generation of athletes, particularly women, to participate in sport.
May I suggest that other people copy my hon. Friend the Minister, who, in her personal capacity, has trained and led girls’ football teams? We need more people to understand that taking part in sport and then passing on one’s skills to others is one of the best ways of getting participation up. I congratulate her.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s kind comments. I think that participation in sport is incredibly important, but the only way to get people doing it is to have an absolutely solid group of volunteers helping to run grassroots sport. That is something I would like to encourage. We have seen phenomenal success from organisations such as Join In that help to facilitate participation across the country, and I would encourage everybody in the House to get involved with their local sports club.
There was a recent Grant Thornton report on the legacy and its impact on Scotland, and I would be happy to share those details with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that the legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics be felt across the United Kingdom, and that is something we will be developing further in the forthcoming sports strategy.
The women’s cycling tour recently held its Northamptonshire stage, whose triumphal arrival into Kettering, amid cheering crowds, was the highlight. Will the Minister agree that women’s cycling is leading the way in encouraging women to take part in sport?
Listed Sports (BBC)
This will be among the many issues up for consideration as part of the charter review, and I shall be making an announcement about the review in due course.
The Secretary of State will be aware that Ofcom is currently reviewing who is entitled to broadcast listed events. We are in Wimbledon fortnight, and the whole country is united in watching this great event, but with the BBC so financially constrained, how can he assure people that the whole country, regardless of ability to pay, will be able to follow the dramas and successes of British sports people in the future?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we maintain a list of events that are required to be shown on free-to-air television, and the Wimbledon tennis finals are on that list. The non-finals matches are on the B list, which ensures that secondary coverage is protected. It is ultimately a matter for the sport, however, as to whom it sells the rights to.
The Secretary of State is obviously well aware of the debate about the effect that taking an individual sport off free-to-air television has on long-term participation in that sport because it does not get the exposure. Is his Department doing any work on assessing the effect that taking live action off free-to-air television has on long-term participation in those sports?
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but as I have suggested to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), it is a matter for individual sports governing bodies as to whom they sell their rights to, and each governing body will want to weigh up the balance between maximising the revenue that will go into sport and trying to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity not just to watch but, I hope, to participate.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House exactly how he plans to involve the Scottish Government in the charter renewal process? Lord Smith says that the Scottish Government should be involved, but he is a bit vague about the process itself.
I have been in correspondence with the Scottish Government Minister and we have given an assurance that we will abide by the terms of the Smith commission agreement. We will, therefore, involve the Scottish Government and, indeed, the Governments of the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies in the charter review process. I shall give further details in due course.
Will the Secretary of State confirm whether decriminalisation of non-payment of the TV licence formed any part of his recent negotiation with the BBC when it agreed to fund the over-75s licence fee? Has he already conceded this issue to the BBC?
As I announced to the House on Monday, that does form part of the agreement we have reached with the BBC, in that we have said that decriminalisation will be considered as part of the charter review process. I shall publish David Perry’s report on that matter very shortly.
BBC Sport is phenomenally popular: 51.9 million people watched at least 15 minutes of the London Olympics—that is a whopping nine out of 10 people in this country—and this year’s England-France six nations match drew the largest ever rugby audience of 9.63 million. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the Olympics will remain fully on the BBC and the six nations will be free-to-air?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Olympics are in the group A of listed sporting events, so there is a guarantee that they ought to be shown free-to-air. As he will know, the pan-European rights have been acquired by Discovery. Whether or not the BBC reaches a deal with Discovery over those rights is something for the BBC and Discovery. However, I can give him the assurance that, because they are part of the list, the Olympics will be shown free-to-air.
Well, I am not sure that the Secretary of State is right about that, because the Office for Budget Responsibility says that the shabby little behind-stairs deal that he cooked up this week for the licence fee represents another 20% cut in real terms to the BBC. That is not a cold bath: it is a prolonged period in the deep freeze. Is it not the case that, when sports rights inflation is running into double digits, this BBC settlement means that the Secretary of State is in effect forcing sport off the BBC? Does he not realise that sport belongs to the fans, not to BSkyB, BT or Discovery, and the fans will be furious if the BBC can no longer compete for these important sports rights?
It is a matter for the BBC as to which rights it seeks to acquire, but the hon. Gentleman seems to ignore the contribution of other public service broadcasters. I point out to him that every single match of the rugby world cup will be shown free on ITV and that Channel 4 has developed its racing coverage, which is widely watched and admired by many people.
Children’s Creative and Cultural Experiences
Obviously, my Department works very closely with the Department for Education. In fact, the Secretary of State and I will do a joint event at the Creative Industries Federation and will talk about our massive success in music and cultural education. We might mention, for example, the £460 million that has been invested since 2012.
The problem is that that investment has not increased children’s cultural and creative experiences. The Warwick commission revealed a drastic decline in music education and that only one in 12 British people are, as it put it, culturally active. Will we continue to see this decline under the Conservative Government so that only those people who can afford to send their children to expensive public schools will be able to ensure that their children get the chance to learn music and to experience live theatre?
Our Taking Part survey shows that since 2008-09, participation by children aged between five and 10 has increased, the number of children going to our museums has increased, the number of pupils taking arts GCSEs has increased—and so on and so forth. I do not share the hon. Lady’s view.
No, he does not, because that is not the Education Secretary’s view. Labour Members seem to take the view that if we talk up science, we are somehow talking down the arts. My right hon. Friend was not doing that at all. I suggest the hon. Lady reads the speech.
Bassetlaw parliamentary summer school is having a wonderful week, not least—as shown by the incredible feedback I received last night—in respect of the session featuring you, Mr Speaker. Does the Minister not agree that there is a problem for children living way away from the big cities such as London, in that they do not have the same cultural opportunities as those who are living in the big cities, meaning that the Government need to intervene to ensure that resources go there to provide those opportunities?
I absolutely agree that we should support pupils wherever they live. That is why we have, for example, the museum and schools programme to help young people visit regional and national museums, and the heritage schools programme, which has been a huge success. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but we are working on it.
National Heritage (Salisbury)
The Salisbury area has many wonderful heritage treasures. These have benefited from substantial investment from both the Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and include the famous cathedral, Stonehenge and the Avebury world heritage site.
Salisbury Cathedral has the finest copy of Magna Carta, and June Osborne and her team have put together a spectacular range of events to celebrate the 800th anniversary. Two hundred children from across my constituency will gather this evening to perform the Magna Cantata musical. Will the Minister affirm that the Government will continue to support this wonderful building and all that goes on there?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting so many young children in his constituency engaged in celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. This fantastic project has received more than £400,000-worth of investment through the Heritage Lottery Fund, while the cathedral itself has benefited from £600,000 from our first world war centenary cathedrals repair fund. Salisbury Cathedral will continue to be eligible to apply for further support from our listed places of worship grant scheme and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
First World War
We will commemorate the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 2016 and the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 2016. We are in the early stages of planning appropriate events in 2017 and 2018.
The Prime Minister Harold Wilson was severely wounded in 1915 at the Battle of Loos, which I understand will be commemorated in Scotland in September. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that when it comes to the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, it will be commemorated in the great northern cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, recognising the contribution of the northern pals?
And possibly the Wilson family, too. I am most grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for your assistance. My hon. Friend nevertheless makes an important point—that the sacrifice of our citizens in the first world war represented contributions made by every single part of the United Kingdom, and it is extremely important to commemorate that. As my hon. Friend will be aware, on the centenary day of 1 July next year, there is a major event at Thiepval in northern France. I am sure that other parts of the UK will want to participate, including the great cities that he mentioned.
Local Community Radio
Community radio is a fantastic success story in this country. We have almost 230 radio stations on air and we maintain our community radio fund.
The current regional system for awarding FM licences to community radio stations has resulted in Cannock Radio having no clear timeframe in which to apply. Would my hon. Friend consider replacing that system with one that is more predictable, fair and frequent?
I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I know that the Leader of the House visited the brilliant Cannock Radio station with her recently. At the moment, we want to keep the regional system because we believe that it provides greater certainty than an on-demand system. However, I will certainly talk to Ofcom about the point that she has made.
Champions League (Cardiff)
I congratulate Cardiff on securing the 2017 Champions League final. The Government have made no formal assessment of the economic benefit of the event, but we know that fans travelling to the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley are estimated to have contributed more than £40 million to the London economy, so we expect that hosting the biggest club game in football will provide a positive boost to the Welsh economy.
I thank my hon. Friend’s Department for helping to bring the Champions League final to Wales. I should also point out that the first Ashes test started in Cardiff yesterday. Will the Minister continue to do everything she can to help to attract major sporting events to Wales, to boost our economy and further encourage people to take an interest in sport?
In recent years, Cardiff has shown the world that it is the home of major sporting events, including the current Ashes test, the UEFA super cup and the canoe slalom, as well as games in the rugby league world cup and the upcoming rugby union world cup. I fully expect any future bids, along with the city itself, to benefit from Cardiff’s success in staging such events, and we will continue to work with UK Sport and the Welsh Government to identify and secure top-class sporting events for the city.
The charter review is the appropriate process through which the Government consider all aspects of the BBC’s activities, its scope and scale, its funding, and how it is governed. A key aspect of this will be to consider its integrity and independence and how these are best upheld.
The Secretary of State is a reasonable man, and I like him a lot. We would both agree that the BBC is not perfect, but will he put a stop to this BBC phobia? When we look at any part of the foreign press, we can see that the BBC is the best broadcasting service and that the balance of broadcasting in this country is the best in the world. Please do not damage it without thinking.
The hon. Gentleman was very kind in his first remarks, and I therefore could not possibly disagree with him. And I do not: the BBC does have many outstanding qualities, and it is the intention that, in the charter review process, we shall endeavour to strengthen them, not weaken them.
My right hon. Friend talks about strengthening the BBC, and he is right to say that it has many good values, but one of the problems that has existed over a number of years—the BBC itself has admitted this—is that it has tended to be very much an EU-biased organisation. It is almost institutionally biased. Is that something that the review will take into account?
The question of how the BBC meets its impartiality requirements is certainly part of the charter review process, as that forms an essential component of its governance. My hon. Friend will be aware that the BBC Trust adjudicates complaints against the BBC about impartiality at the moment. Some people have questioned that, and it is certainly something that we will be considering.
Universal Service Obligation (Broadband)
As part of the digital communications infrastructure review published in March, we said that we would look into a universal service obligation of 5 megabits, as that could be particularly helpful in reaching the last 5% for broadband access.
I thank the Minister for his answer and urge him to implement a universal service obligation as soon as possible in order to achieve that final 5%. I represent a constituency whose rural areas suffer from a lack of broadband, but the large town of Kilmarnock, with 50,000 people, also has areas that lack broadband access. The UK is rightly proud of the Royal Mail’s universal service obligation, and the 21st century equivalent should be a similar obligation for broadband.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question about helping urban areas that do not have superfast broadband. He is right to point that out, as about a fifth of the last 5% are in urban areas, and we must do more there as well. I am very pleased that the roll-out in Scotland is going so brilliantly well, thanks to the hundreds of millions of pounds supplied by the Westminster Government.
The sports Minister has, quite rightly, paid tribute to the English women’s team for their third place finish in the recent world cup. We should likewise pay tribute to Team GB who returned from the European games in Baku with an impressive haul of 47 medals, 18 of which were gold, placing them third in the medals table. I am sure that Members will also be watching the latter stages of Wimbledon and the Ashes very closely and hoping for further British triumphs.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer, and I add my congratulations, too. Back in 2011, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee reported on football governance, and recommended that there should be changes to the way the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League were governed. It said that, if they did not change their own governance, the Government would legislate. Those organisations have not come forward with those changes, so will the Government now legislate?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right; I remember that report extremely well. It is the case that some progress has been made in the right direction since then, but we shall continue to press for further change. I have regular meetings with the Football Association and the Premier League, and we will be publishing our sports strategy shortly.
T2. With the Ashes series beginning and the sun out, many of our local cricket clubs in Cornwall are once again opening their doors for the summer season. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to make it easier for sports clubs to access grant funding and planning consent to improve facilities for our young cricketers in Cornwall, to give them the opportunity to one day pull on the three lions and play at the highest level? (900843)
Access to good facilities is at the heart of our nation’s sporting offer, and I am grateful to Sport England for its excellent work in helping local clubs to fund new facilities, investing £3.2 million across 85 sports facilities in Cornwall since 2012, including two cricket projects in my hon. Friend’s own constituency. I encourage any local clubs with queries about facilities to get in touch with Sport England, as it offers a range of grant programmes.
The Secretary of State was forced to tell us elements of the financial settlement for the BBC, but there is still no proper process for charter renewal. He says now that he will publish the Green Paper. Will he make an oral statement to the House on this matter before the summer recess? The simple one-word answer “yes” will do us nicely for today.
T3. The whole House will have been appalled by the mindless destruction of cultural heritage sites by terrorists in the middle east. The ancient Iraqi city of Hatra is just one of the many historic sites cruelly targeted as part of a concerted campaign to destroy the history and heritage of us all. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government are doing all they can to prevent the senseless destruction and exploitation of our ancient history? (900844)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to that matter. Obviously, our first priority is the human cost of these terrible conflicts, but the devastation to some of the most important cultural sites in the world is also of profound concern. We are uniquely placed to assist with this. We are developing a cultural protection fund to support the protection of cultural heritage, and I hope that we can give further details shortly.
The Minister will know of my support for local television services in Mold, in my constituency. Will he, ahead of the meeting that we have with my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on Wednesday, indicate what progress he has made in his discussions with the BBC about using financial support to help expand that service for north-east Wales as a whole?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We had a useful meeting with him and his colleagues. There is an opportunity to make progress. I cannot update him in the House, but I will update him at the meeting in short order.
T4. I have been recently contacted by a constituent whose nine-year-old daughter, Lola, is a talented young ice skater. Lola competes in skating competitions all across the UK. Although her family do all they can to support her financially, they find it difficult to secure sponsorship because of her age. Will my hon. Friend provide any guidance on where my constituent can apply for funding to ensure that we continue to encourage and support our stars of the future? (900845)
I appreciate the challenge that Lola’s family have faced in securing support for her talent. I imagine that many of us have constituents in similar positions. I understand that my hon. Friend’s office has already contacted Sport England for advice on this matter. The usual funding route for talented young athletes is through SportsAid. However, this support is mainly aimed at the over-12s. At the age of nine, it is more common for talented athletes to get sponsorship in kind from local businesses that want to support athletes, and I would very much encourage Lola to explore that route.
Last month, the new platform, Apple Music, was prompted into paying artists during its three-month free trial period, after concerns were raised by many people, including Taylor Swift, that they would not be paid for their work. This issue affects many music artists, including those in Liverpool and across the country, who struggle to make a decent living. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that music artists are paid fairly for their work in the digital age?
I hope it is in order for me, Mr Speaker, to congratulate the hon. Lady on her recent marriage. She makes an extremely important point. I thought that Taylor Swift’s intervention was well made. As technology changes how we access and buy music, it is important that we put the rights of the creators at the forefront of our minds. This Department, particularly under this Secretary of State, will do everything that it can to preserve the intellectual property rights of creators and ensure that they are fairly remunerated.
T5. On Saturday, I will have the colossal joy of sitting at Edgar Street and watching the first home game of Hereford football club—the new football club in my constituency. Will the sports Minister join me in congratulating the new club, the Hereford United Supporters Trust and all the fans who have got behind it? Does she share my view that more can be done to crack down on and improve the owners and directors test, which has signally failed so far and which needs to be improved if we are to improve governance in our grassroots football? (900846)
Does the sports Minister accept that a lot of culture, media and sport often appears to be somewhat middle class? Will she do her bit to ensure that the deprived areas of the UK are properly looked after by visiting Nottingham North, my constituency, and examining the state of sport there?
First, may I offer my sympathies to the family and friends of Junior Dian? It is always a tragedy when such events occur in sport. My hon. Friend and I share a constituency border so I am especially aware of the local coverage of this matter. I agree with him that it is an important area to look at. In Italy, for example, all amateur and professional athletes are screened for heart conditions, which has resulted in an 89% drop in the death rate since its introduction. It is an important area, and one that I will look at in some detail in the forthcoming sport strategy.
The magnificent Llangollen international eisteddfod, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), has been bedevilled by artists having difficulty in securing visas to visit the site. This did not happen to Burt Bacharach, whom I saw earlier this week, but it does tend to affect visitors from Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Will the right hon. Gentleman meet the Home Secretary to try to address this problem?
I have previously visited the eisteddfod, so I know what a magnificent event it is, and I hope that perhaps I will have a chance to do so again in the future. I am very conscious of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. I am anxious that those who have skill and talent should be able to visit this country, so that as many people as possible can enjoy them at the eisteddfod and elsewhere, and I will certainly continue to pursue this matter with the Home Secretary.
T7. Many of my constituents living in Tanners Gate, Titchfield Common, have been struggling for the past two years with the serious problem of poor broadband connectivity, only getting 15% of the speed they have paid for, and complaints to BT have been in vain. Will my hon. Friend help me to remedy the situation? (900850)
I should be delighted to help my hon. Friend. I am pleased that broadband roll-out has reached something like 95% in her constituency, so coverage is very good, but I am delighted that Ofcom has recently announced new rules under which consumers can leave their broadband provider with no penalty if the provider does not provide the promised speeds.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Palace of Westminster (Restoration and Renewal)
We intend to establish a Joint Committee of Parliament on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. I expect this to be established before the summer recess. The Committee, which will be co-chaired by the Leaders of both Houses, will consider the independent options appraisal report, which was laid before both Houses on 18 June, as well as related evidence. It will then make recommendations to both Houses on a way forward, taking account of costs, benefits, risks and potential timescales.
Too many decisions affecting the country as a whole are made by people who view them through the prism of their personal experience living and working in London. Does the Leader of the House recognise that moving Parliament out of the Palace of Westminster not only is the most cost-effective approach to restoration, but provides a unique opportunity to take decision making out of the metropolitan bubble; and will he think seriously about temporary relocation to one of our great northern cities, such as Sheffield?
Can the Leader of the House be more specific about when he will bring the Deloitte report back to this place for a full discussion? Although I enjoy a relationship of solidarity, reciprocity and mutuality with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), may I put in my bid for Manchester, please?
As I said, I think we will get many more such representations. Seriously, this is something that has to be agreed by everyone: we need the agreement of this House and of the other place. We need to have a sensible plan that represents value for the taxpayer, as well as recognising that this is a historical part of our nation and the centre of our democracy. We will endeavour to make sure we deliver a sensible recommendation in a timely way that gives this House a way forward.
I welcome what the Leader says about providing a plan for the restoration. My introduction to the House of Commons was in Committee Room 18, where the leaking roof demonstrates the importance of restoration. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not rule out a half-and-half solution to refurbishment?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for not lobbying for Andover. In my view, the job of the Committee is to look at all the options, not to rule any option in or out at this stage. What is of paramount importance is that the solution chosen must enable our democracy to continue to work effectively.
Although my constituents in Kettering would support the cheapest option, which also happens to be the quickest option, of closing down the Palace of Westminster and moving us out, please can we quell all this nonsense about going to different parts of the country and make sure we just go over the other side of Parliament Square to the QEII conference centre?
I hear my hon. Friend’s view. Of course the possibility of temporary relocation is one of the options that will have to be considered. I have to say that my own view is that we should move out of this place, were we to choose to do so, with the utmost caution and care, and that is not where I personally am inclined to take us.
Will the Leader of the House take into account the impact on tourism and on the UK economy if we move out of this building? Many people come to the UK from abroad to visit the Houses of Parliament, but it is highly unlikely that they will come to visit us in some aircraft hangar in another part of the country. Will that be a key consideration when the decision is made? [Interruption.]
From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was surprisingly self-deprecating in suggesting that my hon. Friend is the tourist attraction, rather than him. The position of this building as the centre of both our democracy and our national life—part of the magnet that brings so many tourists to London—is absolutely something that we should take into account.
English Votes on English Laws
The Government’s proposals were published on Thursday 2 July, and they have been discussed twice in the Chamber. I have announced that there will be a full debate on them next week, and I shall discuss that further in the business statement at 10.30 am.
The Leader of the House has made it clear that, assuming the proposals actually go through, the operation of EVEL will be reviewed after 12 months. As part of that process, will the devolved Administrations and Parliaments be consulted on the impact that decisions taken under EVEL have had, especially with regard to Barnett consequentials?
The Prime Minister promised that the Procedure Committee would have a look at all the plans before anything was progressed. That obviously has not happened. Will the Leader of the House now make a commitment to ensure that not just the Procedure Committee but the Scottish Affairs Committee can look at the plans and approve them before there is any progression to English votes on English laws?
One of the things I did upon our return to this place after the election and my assumption of my current responsibilities was to discuss with the—then previous, and now current—Chair of the Procedure Committee how to handle these matters. I have agreed with him that his Committee will play a very active part in considering the impact of these changes over the next few months, and its views will be central to how we approach the review in 12 months’ time.
The Government’s proposals were published on Thursday 2 July. Both before and after publication, there have been extensive discussions with colleagues from across the House, and such discussions will continue before the debate next week. This Government were elected on the basis of a manifesto commitment to deliver English votes for English laws, and opinion polls have indicated support for this principle in both England and Scotland.
The Government promised to consult the Procedure Committee before the debate next Wednesday. Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell us what discussions will take place with the Procedure Committee before any decision on the changes? Will she agree to meet an all-party delegation from north Wales to discuss the implications in our area?
I had the pleasure of responding to a debate on the effect of EVEL on north Wales, and I would be very happy to meet anybody concerned. I will today send out an email about drop-in sessions for any MP who wants to talk about the proposals in further detail. In answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question, I refer him to the answer just given by my right hon. Friend.
In the light of the Government’s sudden and welcome change of approach to EVEL next week, will the Deputy Leader of the House outline how they intend to ensure that full and proper consultation takes place on a genuinely cross-party basis on this very important and difficult constitutional issue?
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already made approaches to other parties. We are holding the open drop-in sessions—[Interruption.] Well, they are consultation sessions. I am not aware that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) has approached me or the Leader of the House to have those conversations. I have already responded to the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson). I remind the official Opposition that last autumn they were invited to have discussions, but they declined to do so.
Voting Rights (MPs)
The Government’s proposals, to which I assume the hon. Gentleman is referring, would ensure that all MPs voted on legislation—on Second Reading, Report and Third Reading. The Government’s proposals would ensure, however, that English and Welsh MPs, when they are affected, would consent to the new laws that affect only their constituents on subjects that are devolved elsewhere.
The Minister mentioned the opinion poll of the general election on 7 May. All Members from my party were voted in with full rights to represent the interests of our constituents. That is what the Government’s proposals seek to take away. Also, she talks about a veto for English and Welsh MPs, but does she not recognise that we have a mandate from the Scottish people to implement home rule? It is the veto of Government Members that is stopping the people of Scotland getting their express wishes.
The people of Scotland voted to stay part of the Union last year. I respect the fact that the SNP have 56 MPs, but I would point out that in considering the Scotland Bill we are not debating individual Bills: we are debating the powers that will be transferred from the remit of the UK Parliament and Government to the Scottish Parliament and Government. That is a two-way conversation, and that is why all Members of the House may express their views during that deliberation.
House Business Committee
There was an absence of consensus on this issue at the end of the previous Parliament, and there is still no consensus at the beginning of this Parliament. The Government therefore have no intention of bringing forward proposals.
I warmly welcomed the proposal in the Conservative party’s 2010 manifesto for a House business committee. The consensus that the Minister mentions is one between the two Front Benches—the Government and the alternative Government. Will she consider the interests of Parliament in allowing it to have at least some small say in setting its own agenda?
The reforms that were voted on at the beginning of the 2010 Parliament gave much more time to Back-Bench business, to debate matters topical to Back Benchers. The hon. Gentleman will also note that we voted at the end of the last Parliament to add extra time in Westminster Hall for consideration of matters determined by Members of Parliament.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) is absolutely right. The mother of Parliaments is grown up enough to run its own affairs, and the only disagreement is from the two Front Benches, who do not want to give up power. If we pass only legislation that has consent, we will get nothing through. That is an abject failure. We need a House business committee, so why not at least put it on the agenda, have a debate and let the House decide?
Many people in many parts of the UK are tied into mobile phone contracts, but they receive poor or little service. Will the Leader of the House give us a debate in Government time on that important issue to allow those people—
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Mole Valley, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Palace of Westminster (Restoration and Renewal)
Clearly, the answer will be a combination of the assessment that will be made and the normal following of procedures to try to stop that happening. I am very aware of that issue as a member of the Commission, and as the hon. Gentleman will know from my background, I do not like overruns.
8. What steps have been taken to promote recycling of waste on the parliamentary estate. (900879)
Parliament’s recycling and recovery rate has increased, from 47% in 2008-09 to 62.5% in 2014-15. A new system of office waste recycling was implemented during Dissolution in Members’ areas across the estate, using clearly marked, separate bins for mixed recycling. This is expected to make a significant contribution to helping Parliament to achieve its target to recycle or recover 75% of waste by 2021.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer. As a new Member, I have noted that much more could be done to promote recycling on the estate, particularly of paper waste. I hope that, in addition to pursuing a digital strategy to lessen paper waste, the House will seek to become more adept at how it disposes of the masses of paper discarded each day and also clarify what happens to any leftover food.
Clearly I agree with the hon. Lady. If she looks at the website, she will see there is an interesting waste hierarchy that we utilise in the Commons. First comes prevention, which she has touched on—not using as much paper—then comes preparing for reuse, recycling and other recovery, particularly energy recovery, and finally there is disposal.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 13 July—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 14 July—Conclusion of the Budget debate. At 7 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Wednesday 15 July—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to hunting, followed by a general debate on English votes for English laws—the first of a two-day debate on that subject.
Thursday 16 July—Matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.
Friday 17 July—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 20 July will include:
Monday 20 July—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
Tuesday 21 July—Second Reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
If I may briefly explain to the House, on Monday I will, having listened to comments from hon. Members, publish a modified set of draft Standing Orders on English votes for English laws. We will debate those on Wednesday. Subsequent to that debate, I will table a final set of Standing Orders, which we will debate at an early opportunity once the House returns.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business, which has clearly been subject to last-minute, sudden change.
This week, the Government’s reckless and shoddy plans for what they like to call English votes for English laws have descended into chaos. On Tuesday, the Leader of the House had to be dragged to this Chamber kicking and screaming to account for his complex and controversial plans, but it was clear from that debate that he did not even have the support of his own side. We then had the sorry spectacle of the Government abstaining on their own process while he fled the Chamber in embarrassment. He published 22 pages of draft changes to our Standing Orders, which he was proposing to ram through the House with minimal votes and debate next Wednesday. Now I am told that he is frantically re-drafting them in a desperate bid to regain the support of his own Back Benchers, which I assume is why they have not been laid.
This morning I hear the Leader of the House was summoned to the Prime Minister’s office to account for his role in creating this mess. As we have heard, the outcome of that meeting appears to be two days’ debate, rather than one, but we have still not seen these draft Standing Orders. The Leader of the House said he would publish them on Monday. Will he now give us an undertaking that when we have the debate with votes on EVEL, he will allow all amendments to be taken?
The original point that I raised in the debate on Tuesday was that the process by which he had decided to institute these controversial changes did not allow for a proper examination—an amendment process—of very complex changes to Standing Orders. Will he now give us an assurance at the Dispatch Box that whenever we get to vote on these changes—he has not announced when that will be—it will be done in a way that allows all appropriate amendments to be taken and voted on? Will he also say whether the Procedure Committee will get to look at the changes that he tables on Monday prior to this House voting on them, as he promised in his English manifesto?
Last night we learned from reports in the media that the Government intend to stage a sudden vote to wreck the Hunting Act 2004, which, in the muddle and confusion, they have now moved from Thursday to Wednesday. Why were MPs inundated with emails from pro-hunting groups who clearly knew about the timing of this vote before the Government had even announced it to Parliament? When will the statutory instrument be tabled? Can the Leader of the House confirm that it will remove the existing limit on the number of hounds that can flush a fox to guns, thereby effectively wrecking the Hunting Act? Does he agree with his own Sports Minister, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who said that the underhand way in which the Government are behaving amounts to relaxing
“fox-hunting legislation via the backdoor”?
Why will the Leader of the House not allow more than 90 minutes for the debate? Will he confirm that it is indeed the Government’s intention to wreck the Hunting Act using this back-door device because they do not have the majority to repeal the Act itself or the guts to try?
Yesterday the Chancellor’s second Budget in four months rebranded parsimony as largesse and stole Labour policies in an attempt to disguise a savage attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. He gave with one hand and hoped no one would notice just how much he took with the other. His so-called living wage con has already unravelled. The Living Wage Foundation has confirmed that it is not a living wage at all, and that in fact his plans amount to a cut in what the living wage is worth today. He said that
“Britain deserves a pay rise”—[Official Report, 8 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 337.]
Despite that, the poorest working families will be massively worse off because he has slashed £4.5 billion from tax credits. With his sleight of hand he has impoverished millions of low-paid workers, disabled people and children just weeks after the Government conveniently redefined child poverty—and Conservative Members cheered him to the rafters for doing it.
This Budget could not hide the fact that growth has slowed, exports have stalled, and the economic recovery is still fragile. There was nothing in the Budget to challenge the Chancellor’s woeful record on productivity, which the Office for Budget Responsibility has revised down for next year, and the year after, and the year after that. The Chancellor ducked all the big decisions on infrastructure, putting the northern powerhouse at risk. That is hardly surprising, as this week the Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse revealed that the Government have not yet actually worked out where the north is. I see that the Government’s plan for infrastructure and productivity will be published tomorrow —a day when the House is not even sitting. Will the Leader of the House explain why that was not done in a ministerial statement today?
The Conservatives have suddenly started claiming that they are the workers’ party, and I am beginning to worry that they have taken it a bit too far. We have five-year plans, we have shameless propaganda on wages that bears little resemblance to the truth, and now we have a two-child policy. Whatever next—a portrait of the dear leader adorning Parliament Square?
I have listened to what the hon. Lady has said. Of course, she, from her time in government, would not understand the logic of this process. You table a draft, you listen to the people who read it, you make some modifications, you have a debate, and you then have a vote. It is called consultation. Labour Members never did that when they were in office; they just published their proposals and voted them through with a large majority. In a shock development, we have actually listened to hon. Members’ comments. Labour Members ask for more time. The surprising thing is that the Labour Chief Whip spent the past few days going round Conservative Back Benchers saying, “Please, please vote for more time”, yet if she had just come and asked me for more time I would have given it to her—and now I have. But that is the way they operate.
Labour is now essentially an English and Welsh party, so the question for Labour Members is whether they are going to vote for extra rights for English and Welsh MPs on matters that affect only their constituencies. Is Labour going to back our proposals or vote against them? If it is going to vote against them, I look forward to debating that on the doorsteps of this country, because I know where the voters of England and Wales stand; the question is whether Labour Members stand alongside them.
On the hunting issue—[Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) can’t help himself, Madam Deputy Speaker, so you’ll have to give him a bit of slack.
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) talked about a back-door device. Since when has a statutory instrument in this House been a back-door device? Ninety minutes is the normal length of a debate on a statutory instrument on the Floor of the House. The proposals that the House will debate next week will not lift the ban on hunting with dogs. They respond to the representations of upland farmers. Members of this House—certainly those on our side—will have a free vote in responding to the legitimate concerns that have been raised.
I come to the hon. Lady’s comments on the Budget. Talk about hunting—the problem for the Labour party is that every single fox they had was shot yesterday in this Chamber. She said that the Chancellor had a woeful economic record. The only woeful economic record in this place in recent years was that of the last Labour Government. We have spent the past five years sorting out the mess that was left behind. Yesterday, we saw some of the fruits of our work: tax cuts to give people in work more money in their pockets; a national living wage that reflects the work done by the people of this nation; support for business; and encouragement for investment in skills and technology—exactly the kind of things that this country needs to deal with the productivity issues that we inherited from the last Labour Government.
What was not in the hon. Lady’s remarks this morning—and I am not surprised—was any reference to today’s strikes. In the capital and across the south-west of England and Wales, the trade unions are disrupting the working lives of ordinary people. Government Members condemn those strikes as being utterly unnecessary, inappropriate and the wrong way to address the concerns. Have we heard a single voice of concern from the Opposition? Not one word. Perhaps that is because, as we learned this week, the hon. Lady is the second choice of Len McCluskey for the deputy leadership of the Labour party.
Following the tragic suicide in May this year of Olive Cooke, who was hounded by the aggressive marketing tactics of leading charities, including being swamped with phone calls and letters, and following the exposure by the Daily Mail of the fact that those appalling practices are being used today against the most vulnerable and elderly in our society, may we have a debate to ensure that the code of conduct has teeth and that those grotesque practices stop forthwith?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Daily Mail’s campaign has been immensely valuable in highlighting a shocking set of practices. It is simply unacceptable for charities to exploit vulnerable, elderly people to raise funds. Charities that have been involved in such practices should be ashamed of themselves. Of course, the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill is currently working its way through the other place and will end up in this House in the autumn. I say to charities that if they do not want the House to react sharply against what they are doing in those debates, they ought to get their house in order pretty quickly.
I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
Well, well—what an EVEL shambles! I am prepared to take the Leader of the House at his word that he is listening and is prepared to move on this issue. May I suggest a way forward that we could all agree on and work together on? We are grateful that we are getting an extra day’s debate and that we will have more time to consider the issue, but now is the time for him to go to the Clerks, get a Bill and bring it to the House so that we can debate all the issues to do with English votes for English laws properly, given its historical significance and constitutional importance. We would then have the opportunity to amend it and to treat it like every other major piece of legislation. Will he commit himself to delivering that today?
There was a promise to go to the Procedure Committee. That was clearly broken—a manifesto promise made by this Government. Before anything happens, the proposals should go before the Procedure Committee and the Scottish Affairs Committee. They should proceed only with the permission and say-so of those two Committees. Will the Leader of the House commit to that today?
Madam Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.]
I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We debated the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill for four days. Some 200 amendments had been tabled, and there were some 20 Divisions. How many of those amendments did the Government accept? Zero. None. Zilch.
The amendments were designed in the Scottish Parliament to improve the Bill and deliver the principles of the Smith commission. They were agreed by all parties in that Parliament, they were voted for by the Members who are sitting behind me now. None of them was accepted. We already have English votes for English laws, because all those amendments were voted down on the backs of English Members of Parliament: it was they who decided the votes. When will we get Scottish votes for Scottish laws in the House of Commons?
Finally, may I ask whether we can have an urgent debate on mis-selling and false labelling? What we heard yesterday was nonsense. The Government should have been pulled in front of the Advertising Standards Authority for describing what we heard about as a national living wage. I think that the people of the United Kingdom are waking up this morning and trying to understand what sort of nonsense this is. I am sure that we shall hear much more about it in the future, because we have never come across anything quite like it before. To call that a national living wage does not even do respect to the label.
The whole point about Standing Orders is that they are the way in which the House conducts its business. We have discussed that extensively over the last few weeks, and I have discussed it with the hon. Gentleman. It is the clear view of the people who put these proposals together in the last Parliament, and of some distinguished figures in and around this place—including former Officers of the House of Commons who are now in the other House—that Standing Orders are the way in which this matter should be conducted. However, I have said to the hon. Gentleman that I shall be happy to consider the possibility of legislation after we have tried the system out for 12 months, and I will listen to his representations during the review that will be carried out at that time.
Of course, if the hon. Gentleman wants the Scottish Affairs Committee to consider these matters over the next few months, he—as Chair of the Committee—is perfectly free to make representations to his colleagues about doing so. We will listen carefully to what that Committee says, as we do in the case of other Committees. As I have said, I have discussed our approach very carefully with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, who is entirely happy with it.
The hon. Gentleman has returned to the issue of the Scotland Bill pretty regularly since the House reconvened. He appears to be missing a crucial point—namely, that this is a United Kingdom Parliament, voting on proposals that affect the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom, and the Bill is therefore a matter for United Kingdom Members of Parliament. Similarly, when the rest of us vote on English votes for English laws, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues from Scotland will vote on that as well. He asks why we cannot have Scottish votes for Scottish laws. The answer is that he has Scottish votes for Scottish laws already: he has had that since the 1990s, in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
If we are to have a debate on mis-selling, the mis-selling that we should be debating is the outrageous way in which the Scottish National party claims that fiscal autonomy would be fine and would not lead to a massive deficit in Scotland, huge tax increases for the Scottish people, and an economic disaster for that country.
The lives of thousands of my constituents, and many other people in Kent, are being made miserable by the use of Operation Stack. Lorries parked on the M20 are causing traffic chaos across a large part of the county. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate to be held in Government time, as a symbol that transport Ministers are determined to replace this wretched policy with something that will allow the people of Kent to go about their daily business when there are industrial problems in France?
I understand my right hon. Friend’s concerns. Similar concerns have been expressed to me by his neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). I understand the impact of what is happening on the people of Kent, and, indeed, on the lorry drivers who end up stranded on the motorway for days on end. I hope very much that the French Government will resolve the issue by sorting out the problems that are causing the challenges in Calais and are having a knock-on effect. I urge my right hon. Friend to raise the issue with the Home Secretary next week, but it is clear that the situation in Calais needs to be resolved in a way that will enable free trade to continue to flow through Calais and also end the problems experienced by his constituents.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how HMRC treats vulnerable taxpayers such as my constituent Mrs Latimer of Morden, who is her mother’s carer and works part time as a guide for disabled children. She cannot read and write, she has learning difficulties and she has suffered a stroke. She is being fined £10 a day because she has been unable to complete her forms. She needs the protection of this House.
It is always important that Government agencies treat vulnerable people with great care, particularly when there are personal circumstances that make it difficult for them to deal with procedural issues. We have the Budget debate, when Treasury Ministers will be present. We also have Treasury questions in 10 days’ time, but I am sure that Treasury Ministers will have noted the concerns the hon. Lady raised today.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that the only reason he is able to bring to this House an SI on hunting is that the Labour Hunting Act 2004 provided the legal basis to do so, and that all it does is bring the provisions on hunting in England and Wales in line with those that work well in Scotland?
My hon. Friend is right. This is a simple reform. It does not do the kind of things to which the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) referred. The Labour party is struggling in Wales too, where it lost seats in the general election, and it might want to ensure that it considers taking steps that are helpful to Wales.
As it is now the fashion to have debates that straddle the recess, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on bell-ringing next week to reflect Tory MPs’ reaction to the Budget, to be followed after the recess by a debate on hand-wringing, after they have had the opportunity to meet thousands of their low-paid constituents, who are going to lose hundreds of pounds as a result of the failure of the national living wage to match the withdrawal of in-work benefits? When the Tory party claims to be a one-nation party, does it mean that it has a mandate in only one out of four nations in these isles?
What the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues never seem to understand when they talk about austerity is that austerity means living within our means. That ought to be a pretty basic premise for all of us in our own lives and in our national life. The SNP may appear to believe that we can borrow our way into the future; we do not. We believe we have to create wealth, jobs and prosperity for this country. Our way is the only way to do so. Their way is the way to ruin.
In rural areas such as Bacup, Tockholes, Whitworth and Edgworth in my constituency, tackling “not spots” is a much better solution than hard-wired superfast broadband. Will the Leader of the House ask the relevant Secretary of State to place a statement before the House explaining what progress the Government are making in tackling “not spots” in rural areas?
Ensuring that we have good broadband and good mobile connections around the whole country, particularly in rural areas, is essential. This Government have been working hard to try and improve things, as did the coalition Government. I will make sure that Ministers are aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns. He is right that it is essential to ensure that we have a modern, high-tech rural economy that can best equip people in those areas for their jobs and businesses.
There was an absence from the Budget statement yesterday of any commitment to fund essential transport projects such as the electrification of the trans-Pennine link, although we did hear about Crossrail, as ever. Rail campaigning groups in my constituency are very disappointed because these cuts will mean no extra rolling stock for our local rail lines, not just the Manchester-Leeds connection. May we have a debate on what the Manchester Evening News is now rightly calling the northern power cut?
I am a bit surprised that the hon. Lady appears so sceptical about Crossrail, which I thought her party had supported throughout the years. We are committed as a Government to one of the biggest programmes of rail modernisation that this country has seen for a long time. She talks about electrification. We will electrify the trans-Pennine route. She needs to look back at her party’s record in government when, over 13 years, it electrified, if I remember correctly, 10 miles of railway line. We are setting in place a proper modernisation programme for our railways. Labour failed to do so even when it had the money.
I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend agreed to a debate in Government time on the way in which so-called Travellers are thwarting the whole essence of the planning system. I have a number of dreadful cases in my patch, including one where so-called Travellers have submitted applications followed by appeals for 10 years or more. They are building on the site as well as squatting on it. It is green belt land; they should not be there.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is a bit of a contradiction in terms—if someone is a Traveller, why are they establishing a fixed site to live on? My view is that every citizen of this country should be subject to the same laws as everyone else. We should not make exceptions for any groups, and it is an oddity that should be dealt with—people who claim to be Travellers should not be given special permission to establish fixed sites to live on permanently.
Millions of people will lose out as a result of the Budget, but, regarding other business next week, is the Leader of the House aware that despite all his denials, there will be a dishonest attempt to legalise foxhunting? A 90-minute debate is totally unacceptable and will be viewed with contempt by millions of people in the country who detest the very idea of foxhunting being brought back?
My hon. Friend has already proved an effective advocate for her constituency. My family originates from Lancashire, and it is a fine county with many great historic sites. She and others who represent that county will continue to beat the drum for it, and at the various available opportunities, such as questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, they will no doubt ensure that the Minister responsible for tourism also gets the message.
Many people across the UK are tied into mobile phone contracts yet they have either poor or no service in the areas where they use their phones. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time on whether people should be given the same rights as those with landlines and broadband to switch or cancel those contracts?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and it is simply not reasonable for companies not to offer the service that is being paid for. I know that he will use the next session of questions to the DCMS to raise that matter, and he might also find an opportunity to discuss it during the Budget debate over the next few days because it also has an impact on business.
May we have a debate on open prisons? On 3 February the then prisons Minister wrote in a written answer to me:
“Prisoners may no longer be transferred to open conditions or allowed out on temporary release if they have previously absconded,”
Imagine my surprise to read about Ross Underwood, who on May 24 absconded from HMP Springhill. The court heard that Underwood had a previous conviction for absconding from the same prison in 2009. May we have a debate to clear up the shambles relating to open prisons once and for all?
My hon. Friend knows that I took great interest in that area in my previous role as Justice Secretary. I do not believe it is acceptable for people who have previously absconded to be allowed back into open conditions, and I changed the rules to ensure that such things should not normally happen. He will undoubtedly raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, who I am sure shares my view on that.
It is two months since the general election and this House has appointed its Select Committees. The people of Britain face unprecedented threats to their security, yet we still do not know who the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee will be. Will the Leader of the House bring membership of that Committee before the House next week so that it can meet before the recess?
I think all parties are finalising their appointments to Select Committees. There are a number of Select Committees where that needs to be completed. It is very much my hope and expectation that that will happen as soon as possible, and hopefully before the summer recess.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that it is illegal to use a statutory instrument to wreck or repeal an Act—a fact the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) is well aware of?
The Leader of the House is very keen for us all to accept austerity and live within our means. May we therefore have an early debate on the cost of HS2? The most recent evidence puts the estimate, with disguised and hidden costs, up to £160 billion at a time when the trans-Pennine electrification has been put on hold and the northern powerhouse is a sham. There is a conspiracy of silence on both sides of the House on HS2. Can the country really afford this wasteful project?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that HS2 was originally proposed by the Labour party. If we do not do something about the genuine capacity problems at the lower end of our rail networks, constituents in his northern seat will be affected. I am surprised, therefore, that he believes that we should not make the changes needed to improve things for his constituents.
As the Prime Minister continues with our EU renegotiations, will he please reference the continued breach of EU treaties by the Italian Government with regard to foreign lecturers working in their universities? Known collectively as the lettori, these people have been discriminated against for more than 30 years. May we have a statement from the Government on how finally we are going to bring this injustice to a conclusion?
Will the Leader of the House consider a debate to ensure the upper House is more fairly representative of the broad spectrum of political opinion in this country, so that it might at least try to retain the pretence of legitimacy?
I suspect the hon. Gentleman is referring to the fact that there are not many UK Independence party peers in the House of Lords. I suspect he is feeling lonely. He has no friends in this House, so I suspect he is looking for a few friends at the other end of this place.
This is very much a concern for Members on both sides of the House. When we look at the challenges for our individual local hospital trusts, we realise that this is one of the biggest pressures they face. I remind my hon. Friend of the work my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is already doing to try to address this issue. He will no doubt have heard my hon. Friend’s comments today. We really do need to get to grips with this properly.
May I take the Leader of the House back to 1980? Baroness Thatcher’s Government were one year old, the Commodore Pet computer was the height of technological advancement and the first Pacer trains were developed as a short-term solution to rail capacity in the north of England. May I now bring him forward 35 years? With electrification cancelled, the Chancellor merely offers us an Oyster card to use on our now decrepit Pacer trains. May we have an urgent statement from the Transport Secretary on rail strategy for the north of England?