House of Commons
Thursday 22 October 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Death of a Member
I am sorry to have to report to the House this morning the death of our parliamentary colleague Michael Meacher, Member for Oldham West and Royton, who represented his constituents in this place without fear or favour for 45 years. Many colleagues here present will have known Michael well. He served his party, his constituency and his country with dedication, ability and commitment, holding high office in Government, but above all cherishing Parliament—the legislature—and the responsibility of Members, under whichever Administration, to hold the Executive to account. In recent years, he was a very prominent, active and effective contributor to the work of Parliament First. I was privileged to come to know him well over the past six years since I took the Chair. He will, I believe, be sadly missed, and at this very unfortunate and miserable time for Lucianne and the family, we extend to them our condolences and express the hope that they can look forward in the future to happier times.
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 First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 29 October.
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
BBC (Charter Renewal)
I commend the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) for her enthusiasm.
We have just consulted on the scale and scope of BBC services in the charter review consultation, which ran from 16 July to 8 October. My Department will provide a summary of responses and will consult on further proposals in the spring.
Ealing has long been a BBC borough, with the wig and prop department in north Acton and many things filmed there. It has many BBC employees, hundreds of whom have contacted me wanting to safeguard its distinctiveness. The Secretary of State is a fellow music buff—we are both alumni of the all-party group on music—and was at the reception where it was revealed that 75% of music played on the BBC would not get exposure on commercial airwaves. Does he not appreciate that the people in that room and my constituents fear for the BBC’s unique music output under his Government’s plans for charter renewal?
I am conscious of the very strong creative industries based in Ealing. As the hon. Lady says, I was present at the BBC “save music” event a couple of weeks ago, where I expressed my surprise that anyone had felt it necessary. I am the first person to recognise the importance of music on the BBC. I believe that the BBC plays a very important role in providing a platform for genres and bands that would not otherwise be covered in the commercial sector. We are having a consultation, we have received 190,000 responses and we will analyse those responses. I share the hon. Lady’s view of the importance of music on the BBC.
“The Great British Bake Off”, “The Voice”, “Doctor Who”, “Strictly” and “Match of the Day” are great British programmes made by our great British broadcaster, which is loved by millions here and around the world. Why do the Government seem so resolute and determined to diminish the role and the size of the BBC, weakening our influence abroad and undermining British programming?
Even if I wanted to tell the BBC that it should not broadcast “Strictly Come Dancing” or “The Great British Bake Off”—and I do not—I would not be able to do so. It is up to the BBC to choose. What I do think is appropriate is that, at the time of charter renewal, we should have a debate about the BBC’s purpose, its scale and scope, its funding and its governance. That is what we are doing, and we are extremely pleased at the very high level of response that we have received.
May I associate myself with your remarks about Michael Meacher, Mr Speaker? Unusually, we shared a member of staff across the House, which I do not think happens very often. He was a great man and your words were very well said. I send my sympathies to his family.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be far better for subscribers to the BBC to determine the scale and scope of its services, rather than the Government? If the BBC is as popular with the public as it claims, it has nothing to fear from moving to a subscription model. Given its international recognition, is it not inevitable that, freed from the shackles of the licence fee, the BBC’s revenue would increase substantially if it moved to a subscription model?
I am, of course, familiar with my hon. Friend’s views on the BBC. He has made his case with customary strength and fluency. We are analysing the responses to the consultation and his view will be taken into account, as will the other 192,000 we have received.
During the charter renewal negotiations, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the level of support for decriminalising non-payment of the TV licence fee across the country and across the House? Some 150 colleagues from all parties, including the hon. Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), signed my early-day motion that called for decriminalisation.
I am aware of my hon. Friend’s work in supporting the campaign for the decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee. I understand the strength of opinion on the subject on both sides of the House. We are looking at it carefully. However, as he will know, David Perry conducted a thorough review of the issue and came up with a number of important concerns that would need to be addressed if we were to go down that road.
I share the sentiments expressed about Michael Meacher. He was, 30 years ago, the first Member of Parliament I ever met.
In a very interesting speech to the Society of Editors this week, the Secretary of State said, with respect to the BBC’s intention to help local news, that it should not employ more journalists, but should commission content from court reporting, councils and the like. Was that a warning to the director-general of the BBC or a direction? Was it another attempt to top-slice the licence fee, this time in favour of local newspapers?
It was support for a proposal that was first put forward by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which I chaired and of which he was a member. He may recall our advocating this initiative that the BBC could take to help local newspapers. I understand the concern of the local newspaper industry that certain actions of the BBC are undermining it. This initiative could support local newspapers, both by making information available more generally and recognising that local newspapers provide an invaluable service in holding to account local institutions. It is still under discussion and I welcome the progress that is being made.
The charter renewal process is a big challenge for the BBC, as is remaining impartial in its coverage of the forthcoming EU referendum. Many of us on the Government Benches are not confident that the BBC is up to that challenge. What is the Secretary of State’s view?
I have followed with interest the discussions in the European Scrutiny Committee on that issue and am aware of the concerns that have been expressed. It is for that reason that I wrote to the chairman of the BBC Trust and the chief executive of Ofcom to re-emphasise the importance of the impartiality requirements on all broadcasters, particularly in matters of some controversy, of which I suspect the European Union referendum will be one.
I, too, attended the launch of UK Music’s great Let it Beeb campaign, which calls on the Government to protect vital BBC music services from cuts during charter renewal. Despite numerous briefings to the press about wanting to cut the BBC down to size and reports that Radio 1 and Radio 2 will be sold off, the Secretary of State told the audience that he would be “very willing” to sign the petition. I hope that he has done so. Given his new-found enthusiasm for the BBC, will he use this opportunity to sign up to another vital characteristic—the BBC is and must be a great universal broadcaster that produces something for everyone? Will he make that promise?
One thing I do not want to do is reach conclusions on every question contained in the Green Paper before we have even started going through all the consultation. [Interruption.] I did express my support for music on the BBC, but we are looking carefully at all the responses that have been received. I share the hon. Lady’s view that the BBC is a great broadcaster, and it is my intention that it should remain that way.
I am delighted to tell the House that our most recent estimate of the value of the creative industries has put it at about £76 billion, and they have grown three times faster than the economy as a whole.
Through its famous annual festivals in literature, food, science, performing arts, jazz and poetry, Cheltenham is a cultural powerhouse, but what are the Government doing to support cultural hubs such as Cheltenham’s Everyman and Playhouse theatres, which are so important for the town’s cultural offer and its economy during the rest of the year?
The Everyman is an outstanding theatre, which is why it is part of the national portfolio and receives a grant from the Arts Council—indeed, it has recently undergone a significant refurbishment and benefited from money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Playhouse, as an amphitheatre, no doubt would still potentially have access to capital grants or programme grants. Of course, we have recently introduced a theatre tax credit, which will help them all.
May I associate myself with the tribute to Michael Meacher, with whom I worked for many years? He gave his life to public and political service, and was respected in all parts of the House.
Is the Minister aware that the UK is a world hub for creativity and the creative industries, but that certain lynchpins, such as the BBC and the Design Council, are at the heart of the creative sector. Please, do not sacrifice either of those. There are dark forces, such as certain media barons, who would like to see the BBC diminished.
I agree with the last Labour Secretary of State, who said that we should not make the BBC a political football. The Government are asking perfectly legitimate questions about the BBC, but I note the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the UK being a creative hub. I was concerned about his comments on the Bond movie on Twitter this morning. He attacked the Bond franchise, which employs thousands of people in this country and whose producers make such a fantastic contribution to our cultural life. I hope he will stand up for James Bond.
It is a little-known fact that Bristol and Bath have the second largest number of tech and creative industries anywhere outside Hoxton. What more work is the Minister doing with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to grow this sector even further?
We continue to support tech hubs all across the country. I was particularly pleased to recognise Bath Hacked in a speech on smarter cities yesterday. Bath is leading the way in smart city technology and the internet of things; it is so high tech that it would be the perfect place to set the next Bond movie when it is made in the UK.
The Minister will know that Scottish companies are leading the world in the design and export of video games. Does he agree with Chris van der Kuyl, the chairman of Dundee video games company 4J Studios, who told the Scottish Affairs Committee this week that UK immigration policy could prevent companies such as his from recruiting the very best of talent from overseas? Why is this Government’s regressive immigration policy harming world-class Scottish businesses?
We support the video games industry, not least with the £4 million prototype fund, which we recently launched with Abertay University, based in Dundee. I was delighted when Tech North announced last week our new visa policy to allowed highly skilled people into the country to support the highly successful Scottish and indeed UK games industry.
The Secretary of State will recall that when he came before the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport on 9 September, he said:
“At the moment, there are no plans to sell Channel 4”.
Shortly afterwards, on 24 September, one of his officials was photographed marching into Downing Street clutching a memo that said:
“work should proceed to examine the options for extracting greater public value from the Channel 4 Corporation…focusing on privatisation”.
That is devastating news for the creative industries and current affairs. I have a simple question: when did his officials break the news to him that they were working on privatisation proposals for Channel 4 behind his back?
May I say what a joy it was to see the hon. Gentleman at the PinkNews awards last night at the Foreign Office where I was privileged to present the public sector equality award to the Ministry of Defence? I wish to put on record my congratulations to the Ministry—[Interruption.] I am pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman say from a sedentary position that it was a mutual pleasure. I can also say with pleasure that of course he would expect us to look at every option when it comes to considering the future of Channel 4.
Sporting Activity (Participation)
The number of people playing sport hit an all-time high in 2012, but has since begun to decline. That is unacceptable. The last time the Government published a strategy for sport was back in 2002, 13 years ago. Later this year, I will be publishing a new, cross-departmental strategy for sport and physical activity which will deliver our vision for an active nation.
I hope that my local football club, Brereton Social FC, is bringing on the football stars of the future. The difficulty that the club faces is that, in the winter, the youth teams cannot play because the pitch is either waterlogged or frozen. It really needs a 3G pitch. What support and funding is the Government making available to clubs such as that to complete projects and, in turn, to help children participate in sport?
Having been involved in grassroots football for many years, I have spent goodness knows how many Sundays wondering whether a stud will go into a frozen pitch or whether a muddy middle is fun or dangerous, so I sympathise with the hon. Lady’s point. Shockingly, compared with the 4,000 plus artificial pitches in Germany, we have only 680 in England, but through the Park Life project we will see more than £60 million going into developing facilities, which will include major investment in, and the expansion of, artificial pitches.
Notwithstanding the early departure of England, holding the world’s third largest sporting event here was always going to provide a good opportunity to encourage people to take up rugby. The festival of rugby, which is running alongside the tournament, has already had 1,000 events and a million people taking part. The Rugby Football Union legacy programme has already achieved its target of introducing rugby to 400 secondary schools by linking with clubs. Does the Minister agree that we have had a fantastically exciting tournament so far, and that these events are great ways to get people involved in the game?
May I take this opportunity to congratulate Scotland, Wales and Ireland on reaching the quarter-finals of the rugby world cup? Some might argue that at least one of our home nations should still be in it. [Interruption.] I know how to play the crowd. The 2015 rugby world cup has been the biggest ever, with attendance and tickets outstripping previous cups. Nearly half a million people have visited the Fanzones to which my hon. Friend refers. I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating all those who have helped to deliver such a successful tournament.
Although some schools make a really good effort in ensuring that their sporting facilities are available to the wider community, others do not. What discussions has the Minister had with her colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that schools do a much better job in ensuring that their sporting facilities are available to the wider community, particularly in the winter months?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I regularly meet my counterpart in the Department for Education and we discuss all matters relating to school sport, including facilities. It is important that we ensure that our schools are properly equipped to deliver an appropriate and adequate physical education curriculum.
I wish to put on record my thoughts and appreciation of Michael Meacher. He was a great support to new MPs in this House.
What plans do the Government have to include transgender people in sport, as they are often excluded? It is important that sport is an inclusive activity.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. The recent consultation on sport ensured that we looked to see that everybody is included in participating in sport and physical activity, and it contains a significant section on discrimination. The responses to that consultation will form an important part of the sports strategy.
Football Supporter Ownership
The expert working group was set up a year ago yesterday and I expect its report, with a strong set of recommendations, by the end of November.
It is four years since the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport reported on football governance, requesting changes from the FA, Premier League and the Football League, but we still have not seen those changes come through. Will the Government now consider legislation on supporter ownership?
I know that the hon. Lady is a keen football fan and has worked closely with the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, and I know that this issue is very important to her and to her Magpies-supporting constituents. The working group’s report will be published next month and I expect it to contain strong recommendations. We will consider those recommendations when they are given to me next month.
It is five years since the Government stated that they would make changes on fan ownership. Since then, we have had two Select Committee reports and, after four years of waiting, the Government finally set up the expert working group, the report from which is imminent. Does the Minister agree that it is time for bona fide fan groups to be given the right to elect and remove representatives on club boards and the right to buy shares in their clubs? For too long those with vested interests have been allowed to stand in the way of progress on these issues and we must not miss the opportunity that the expert working group offers us.
We all share the view that football fans are the lifeblood of the club they support and many people feel frustration about club ownership. I have been pleased with the level of engagement with the supporters’ representatives group and I am confident that the final report will provide a structured approach for greater collaboration between clubs and fans. That might well include some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The working group report will be published next month and before his ten-minute rule Bill comes before the House in December. I hope that he will look at the report and support us in implementing the recommendations.
Sporting Activity (Participation)
Women’s participation is up by more than 500,000 since we won the Olympic bid in 2005, but recent figures show the beginning of a decline since the high point in 2012. We know that lots of women regularly take part in physical activity that is not measured at present, but we also recognise that various obstacles put women and girls off playing sport. The new sports strategy will help to remove those obstacles.
My great city of Stoke-on-Trent will be the 2016 European city of sport. That is brilliant news for my constituents, but we need to ensure a strong legacy from that accolade. Research suggests that families on low incomes have only £2.55 a week to spend on active leisure activities. Young women prefer to participate in organised indoor sports, but many are precluded from doing so on the basis of available funds. What is the Minister doing to ensure that young women are actively encouraged to participate, regardless of their parents’ pay packets?
I feel very strongly about this issue, having coached a girls football team for many years. As a football club, we have made sure that cost is not a prohibitive factor in involvement. It is important that we ensure that there are many activities out there in which women and girls can participate, and Parkrun has become one of the fastest growing. It has a huge amount of support from women and girls all over the country. There are many different reasons why women do not participate in sport and cost might well be one of them, but we must consider all those issues as part of the wider sports strategy.
Does the Minister agree that parents have a huge responsibility? At about this time parents are thinking of what to buy their daughters for Christmas. It might not make parents the most popular people in the household on Christmas morning, but they might consider buying their daughters gym membership and a pair of trainers.
As someone who is hopefully producing a future sports star, I do not think it is for me to dictate to parents what they buy their children for Christmas. It is important that parents understand that their girls might want to get involved in sport, and perhaps not in traditional girls sport, and that they should be as supportive as possible.
There is a significant drop-off in girls’ participation in sport from 49% in year 7 to a surprisingly low 31% in year 9. Does the Minister agree that more research is needed to understand the reasons for that drop-off, and that we need to start taking action much earlier to make sure that girls are growing up with sport as a normal part of their lives?
There are many reasons why girls stop participating in sport at certain ages and it is important that we understand what those may be. We know that 14, for example, is a key age when girls start to lose interest in sport. It is important that schools and clubs outside schools understand all the competing pressures in a girl’s life at that age and can support them into sport and physical activity at appropriate points. Good places will do that and be as adaptable and flexible as possible, but it always worth looking in more detail into why people stop playing sport or participating in physical activity.
World Football (Governance)
7. What steps he is taking to promote good governance and the elimination of corruption in world football. (901729)
The Government take very seriously the issue of good governance in sport, at both national and international level. Combating corruption in sport requires a co-ordinated and international approach. The Government are therefore discussing the issue of good governance with our colleagues in Europe, the Commonwealth and the wider international community to explore what more we can achieve by working together. The UK is due to host a round-table discussion on tackling corruption in sport at next week’s Open Government Partnership global summit in Mexico.
Before it even knew who the candidates would be, the Football Association came out in support of Michel Platini as the next president of FIFA. He is now under investigation, like Sepp Blatter, for corruption. What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with the FA about its support for Michel Platini?
I have regular discussions with the FA and, unsurprisingly, the subject of the presidency of FIFA comes up frequently. Although the decision on which candidate to support is ultimately a matter for the FA, the Government have made it clear that we expect to see a new FIFA, with a new president who can drive reform and not one tainted by the problems of the past.
The Secretary of State says that the issue of FIFA governance has come up regularly in his conversations. Is it not masking the issue in Qatar, where workers continue to die? In the study up to 2013, more than 1,300 people were reported to have died. What representations have the Government made on the humanitarian crisis in that country resulting from the preparations for the World cup in Qatar in 2022?
I am aware of reports of concerns about the workers who are preparing for the World cup in 2022 in Qatar, but I understand that Qatar has put in place measures to ensure that their welfare is protected. We will no doubt continue to monitor that matter carefully and I will certainly look at any further concerns that have been expressed.
Many people believe that FIFA will be incapable of reforming itself and that an independent reform commission should be established. Would the Secretary of State welcome the establishment of such a commission, and would the Government be prepared to offer any assistance that that commission needed?
I share my hon. Friend’s view that those currently involved in FIFA are probably least equipped to advise on how it should be reformed, and there may well be a case for the kind of independent body that my hon. Friend advocates. We would be happy to discuss that further, should FIFA ask us to do so.
This Government back tourism and want to spread the benefits throughout the country. That requires concerted and sustained action across Government, and in partnership with the sector on jobs and skills, transport, regulation, and the great British welcome. Last month, I chaired the first meeting of our inter-ministerial group on tourism to co-ordinate work. The new Tourism Industry Council and Business Visits and Events Board will be meeting later this autumn to advise on our approach.
I assure my right hon. Friend that the Government’s new focus on tourism is hugely welcomed across the west country. He highlighted the fact that part of this plan is the promotion of skills and jobs in the tourist sector. Is he aware that, as a result of our booming food and hospitality industry in Cornwall, there is currently a large shortage of qualified chefs? Can he assure me that the promotion and provision of skills in the food and hospitality sector will be part of the strategy?
I very much agree. We are indeed aware that some of the finest restaurants in the world are based on these shores, not least in Cornwall. All tourists want something good to eat, and we should try to ensure that they get it. We are taking action in this area. For example, one of the Government’s trailblazer apprenticeship programmes announced by the Prime Minister centres on professional chefs, and we will be looking further at the important issue of skills as part of a reformed Tourism Industry Council. I would be happy to hear any other ideas that my hon. Friend has on the issue.
Tourism is worth £3.8 billion and 49,000 jobs to the Liverpool city region. Attractions include the Gormley statues on Crosby beach in my constituency, which I hope the Secretary of State will visit, if he has not already done so. However, those who go to the VisitEngland website would be forgiven for thinking that everything is about London; apart from the odd reference, there is nothing about the rest of the country. Will he address that point and ensure that Government investment and support goes to the tourism industry across the country?
I welcome London’s success in attracting international visitors—it is the most visited city in the world—but I agree that our next challenge is to persuade visitors to this country of the fact that there are many attractions outside London, not least in Liverpool. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his invitation to see the Gormley statues, which I hope I will have an opportunity to do.
A key element of our five-point plan for tourism is ensuring that tourists visit places outside London, as I have said, and that requires good infrastructure covering road, air and, of course, rail. Of specific interest to my hon. Friend and his constituents will be the work that the Rail Safety and Standards Board is doing on a “rail for tourism” programme, which we hope will be launched in January.
National Museums (Free Entry)
We made a manifesto commitment to keep access to our national collections free, and we intend to honour that.
Bradford is widely known as a centre of cultural excellence and is rightly proud of the National Media Museum, which is one of our cultural treasures. Over the years the free entry policy has helped support the museum and allowed thousands of families to access a much loved museum and cultural activities that they would not otherwise enjoy. Will the Minister assure my constituents that the future of the museum and the free entry policy are safe in his hands?
I am happy to give that assurance. I am also happy to note that the National Media Museum—part of the Science Museum Group—has through the new Treasury loans scheme refurbished its IMAX theatre and partnered with Picturehouse. The Science Museum is planning to put £1.5 million of its own money into launching a free science Launchpad, and a new marketing drive saw admissions rise over the summer. It is thriving.
Since the last Culture, Media and Sport Question Time, the England team has won the Ashes; the English, Welsh and Northern Ireland football teams have all qualified for the European championships; Team GB has won four gold medals at the world athletics championships; and, although the home nations are no longer in the hunt for the rugby world cup, the tournament has enjoyed record-breaking attendances and been an organisational triumph.
I am sure that all that is very fine, but people need tickets to see those events. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 was supposed to enforce measures on ticket resales, but yesterday’s Which? report has shown that there are major holes in that. How does the Secretary of State intend to enforce the Act, and what steps will he take to address the concerns expressed by Which?
T2. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State assure me that during the current consultations on the BBC charter the vital role of local radio, particularly stations such as BBC Essex, will not be overlooked in a modernised BBC? (901743)
I share my right hon. Friend’s admiration for BBC local radio, particularly BBC Essex, which does a magnificent job in keeping his and my constituents informed. The BBC does local radio exceptionally well, and it is hard to envisage the commercial sector being willing to provide a similar service. On that basis, I strongly hope that it will continue.
On behalf of everyone on the Opposition Benches, Mr Speaker, may I associate ourselves with the fine tribute that you paid to Michael Meacher?
In a speech on Monday to the Society of Editors, the Secretary of State revealed that he is looking at shelving a central part of the Leveson recommendations, which would make it easier for people to bring libel and privacy cases against newspapers. Does he not agree that any backtracking on this issue would significantly weaken the incentive for publishers to sign up to a royal charter-backed regulator?
Let me begin by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his position as shadow spokesman for Culture, Media and Sport. It is an excellent job that I am sure he will enjoy. The only job that is better than his is the one on the Government side of the House.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a key element of the Leveson proposals will come into effect at the beginning of November—that is, the exemplary damages provision, which can be awarded against newspapers that are not subject to a recognised regulator. That is a serious sanction, and we will want to see how it operates. However, we are also aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the potentially very punitive aspects of the cost provision, which could damage local newspapers severely—the very papers that are entirely blameless of abuses of the kind that were carried out over the past few years.
Speaking back in 2013 after the cross-party agreement, the Prime Minister said:
“If this system is implemented, the country should have confidence that the terrible suffering of innocent victims, such as the Dowlers, the McCanns and Christopher Jeffries, should never be repeated.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 636.]
If this essential part of Leveson is shelved, it would not only break a promise made by the Prime Minister; it would let down the families and the victims of phone hacking. Will the Secretary of State now make it clear that the Government still stand by the cross-party agreement and are committed to enforcing this key recommendation of Leveson?
The system enacted by Parliament remains in place—that is, the royal charter and the recognition body that has been set up—but it has always been made clear that it is a matter for the press as to whether it chooses to seek recognition, or for a regulator as to whether it chooses to seek recognition. I want to consider this matter carefully before reaching a final decision, but I am keenly aware that the priority for most people is that we have in place a strong, tough and independent regulator. Certainly the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has now been set up, is a considerable improvement on the previous regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission.
T8. As a former local BBC and commercial radio presenter and reporter, I am keenly aware of the vital work that all our local journalists do in scrutinising our councils. Does the Minister believe that the BBC’s bringing in 100 locally pooled journalists will help local journalism to flourish or hinder it? (901749)
As I said to the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), at a time when local newspapers are finding it very difficult in the current economic climate, the BBC can play a role in supporting them. I was concerned by the suggestion that the BBC would directly employ journalists, as that would add to the pressure on local newspapers rather than reduce it. However, I understand that the News Media Association and the BBC working group are making very good progress in achieving an agreement that will be of real benefit to the local newspaper industry.
T3. Will the Secretary of State and his team put heavy pressure on the Premier League to support grassroots football through the TV rights deal, instead of squandering it on already very rich footballers while our children get changed in the winter besides a muddy, often unplayable pitch? (901744)
I read the hon. Gentleman’s recent piece in The Huffington Post and agreed with not necessarily the tone but the principle of what he wrote. The Premier League is incredibly wealthy and we should celebrate that success, but it should contribute more to grassroots football. The Prime Minister announced recently that he wishes the Premier League to double the amount of money it puts into grassroots football. I will continue to have strong conversations with the Premier League over the forthcoming weeks.
Many grassroots sports clubs would not exist were it not for the volunteer coaches and others who run them incredibly well. We should celebrate the people who get involved. The forthcoming sports strategy looks at making sure that we encourage more people to get involved in delivering sporting activities through clubs and in their communities. I hope everyone will welcome that.
T4. The Arts Council will have more than £1.5 billion to invest in the arts across the country over the next three years. Of that sum, 43% will be invested in London at about £81 per head, but in my region the figure will be closer to £15 per head. That is just not good enough. What is the Minister doing to redress the balance between London and the regions? (901745)
We debate this important issue regularly. It is important to stress that a lot of the money that goes to “London” arts organisations goes to organisations based in London that do work all over the country. The chief executive of the Arts Council has made it absolutely clear that he intends to ensure that more lottery money goes outside London. He is quite right and has our full support.
May I first record my shock at not being asked a single question about broadband in this Question Time? This is a red-letter day, although I am waiting to see whether the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) is going to get to his feet.
We have brought the Information Commissioner’s Office into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so we now have a shocking thing—joined-up Government—and I will meet the ICO and Ofcom to keep a close eye on what they are doing to tackle the scourge of nuisance calls.
T5. I want to press the Secretary of State further on some of his earlier comments. The Central Fife Times, The Courier, the Dunfermline Press and the Fife Free Press are local and regional papers that serve my constituency with diversity and distinction, but I am concerned that institutions such as the BBC, as they develop new platforms, may crowd out such local excellence. Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that a local commissioning model for local content is put in place as part of the charter renewal process? (901746)
I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to his local newspapers. I believe that local newspapers serve an absolutely vital function in supporting local democracy, and I want the BBC to support that. Any new BBC service has to undergo a market impact assessment, and we are keenly aware of the need to avoid doing anything that causes unfair damage. As I have said, I support the principle of local commissioning.
We are in favour of the digital single market. In particular, we want increased portability in order to allow consumers travelling abroad to access services for which they have paid. I am aware, however, of the concerns expressed by the audio-visual sector that the principle of territoriality might be undermined. I am very keen that it should not be and that we do nothing to damage those industries, which make such a huge contribution to this country.
T6. Will the Minister join me in commending the work of Greg Clarke, chairman of the football league, in encouraging more black and minority ethnic applicants for football roles, including managers and youth coaches, and will she call on the Premier League to follow that excellent example? (901747)
T7. May I pay tribute to my friend Michael Meacher, who in addition to being a parliamentary champion was also a great advocate for his constituency and his constituents—they always came first? My thoughts are with Lucianne. Sport can play an invaluable role in enabling social cohesion. How will the Minister ensure that that is recognised in the new sports strategy? (901748)
In the past we have judged success in sport by two rather crude measurements: the number of medals we have, and participation. Those aspects are incredibly important, but I am also looking at ways to consider social and community value when developing sport in future.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
The Government will carry out a review of the new system next year, subject to approval by the House today, and I will consult the relevant Committees, including those in the House of Lords, should this House agree the proposed changes. We will consider carefully any observations and recommendations that arise from those reviews, to ensure that the English votes mechanism works as effectively as possible. I expect that the House will return to this issue at that time.
What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that measures on English votes for English laws do not damage the fabric of our cherished Union and lead to a situation where this House could be deemed to be the representative assembly of England, rather than the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and that is why we have chosen not to go down the path of an English Parliament. As we devolve more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—we committed to that in our manifesto and we believe it is the right thing to do—we seek to ensure that the English also have a role in that devolution, but not in a way that removes any Member from any part of the current debating process in this Chamber.
I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for probably the first time in my life, so that is a good thing. Will the Leader of the House ensure that in any review he undertakes, the position of border constituencies such as mine in Wales, and those in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, are reflected carefully so that Mr Speaker’s tight discretion on determining what is an English-only Bill is reviewed in the light of pressures on my constituents?
I, too, find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). Does the Leader of the House not accept that unless he is very careful in the drafting of the new rules, there will be the unintended consequence of creating certain members of the other place who will be more powerful than Members of this House?
I do not accept that. We have taken great care in drafting the rules. We will monitor very carefully their operation in practice. If the hon. Gentleman and other Members have concerns over the next 12 months, they will undoubtedly want to raise them as part of our review process.
The proposed changes to Standing Orders would mean that clauses or schedules that Mr Speaker considers to relate exclusively to England, or to England and Wales, disregarding any minor or consequential effects for other parts of the United Kingdom, will be subject to the new legislative process.
Minor or consequential, and consequential. This will include any potential spending effects. Any decision on spending that will have a material impact on the allocation of funding to the devolved Administrations will always be taken by a vote of the whole House of Commons through either the estimates process or a money resolution.
In response to a question from me in June, the Leader of the House said that the Scotland Bill could be considered as “English votes for English laws”. When we debated EVEL on 15 July, the Leader of the House committed to producing a list of measures in the Queen’s Speech that he thought might be subject to EVEL. I would very much appreciate it if he could tell me where I could find that list.
It will of course be a matter for you, Mr Speaker, to decide which measures are subject to this process. It is, as I will tell the House this afternoon, my view that there are probably two or three remaining Bills in this Session that are likely to prompt you to issue a certification decision. All this, of course, is entirely academic until the House has decided whether to accept the Standing Orders.
The Leader of the House mentioned the estimates process. Has he discussed with the Treasury the likely increased scrutiny of the estimates process as a result of the can of worms he is opening up with English votes for English laws? The Procedure Committee is very much looking forward to Treasury officials appearing before it. I wonder whether Treasury officials are looking forward to appearing.
We have no current plans to make changes to the conference recess. We periodically review the parliamentary calendar to ensure that it allows for Members and the House to carry out their work in the most effective way possible both in the House and in their constituencies, being mindful of other responsibilities that Members may have.
Her Majesty’s Government love it when Parliament is not sitting, because there is no one to hold them to account on the Floor of the House of Commons. Given that the number of days we have in recess is already far too large and that it is completely unnecessary to have an adjournment for the main party conference season, will the Deputy Leader of the House reconsider her remarks?
This House already meets for over 150 days a year. I recognise the length of the recess. A decision was made in the previous Parliament to remove the extended recess so that we would sit in September. I think that is the right approach. It worked well in the previous Parliament and it worked well last month, too.
These are disappointing comments from the Deputy Leader of the House. There is now a real willingness in this House to reconsider its recess plans. It is simply absurd that we abandon our business for one week to accommodate eight Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament. When we come to consider the recess period, may we also look at when the recess starts? Surely it is within the wit of this House to have a summer recess that includes all the summer holidays of every nation of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman has made this representation before. I note that the Scottish Parliament reconvened the week before we did in September and, as a consequence, did not quite cover all its school holidays. Dare I say that the result in May 2015 was not exactly predicted when the parties set up their initial conference arrangements? As Deputy Leader of the House, I always listen to representations.
My hon. Friend the deputy Leader of the House, the Leader of the House and the Conservative party chairman are talented people, and it cannot be beyond their wit to organise the Conservative party conference into a Friday, Saturday and Sunday so that the House can continue sitting. May I urge her to reconsider this suggested initiative, rather than dismiss it out of hand?
I never dismiss Members’ contributions out of hand. Like my hon. Friend, I enjoyed our party conference in Manchester this year. I am not conscious that I am the chairman of the Conservative party and therefore make our conference arrangements, but, as always, we are a listening Government, and I am sure we will take representations appropriately.
I do not entirely agree with the suggestion from the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) about the party conference season, but there is an issue about how suitable parliamentary scheduling is for modern families, both for Members and House staff. For example, next week is half term, yet we are taking recess the following week. What is the deputy Leader of the House doing to modernise how House business is scheduled to address this problem?
I appreciate the hon. Lady was not here, but in the last Parliament the House resolved to make some changes to its hours. I am conscious of the responsibilities people might have—whether with families, children, parents or other extenuating circumstances—but, as I have advised new Members already, the Procedure Committee looked again at this and decided not to recommend any changes to the House. It is open to the Committee to make further investigations, however, and I am sure that her comments will be passed on to its Chairman and that she can make them directly.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Restoration and Renewal
7. When the Commission plans to bring forward proposals on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. (901720)
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I would like to echo the tributes to Michael Meacher, who gave outstanding service to the House.
The House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords House Committee asked for the independent appraisal of options and costs for restoring and renewing the Palace of Westminster that was published on 18 June. The range of costs for each option is given and explained in the document. The two Houses have appointed a Joint Committee, which will report to both Houses in due course. In the meantime, essential and urgent work to maintain the Palace continues.
Many people up and down the country recognise and appreciate the value of this place, in terms of both our national history and it being at the heart of our democracy and its tourism value. I have been asked locally whether there are any plans to establish a fund that members of the public can contribute to in order to support those restoration works. Does the right hon. Gentleman have any such plans?
The Administration Committee considered this matter in the last Parliament, and its relevant recommendations have been implemented. The most significant changes include offering more choice of equipment, the introduction of a financial limit and the provision of a tablet computer to all Members to facilitate paperless and mobile working. It is possible to secure more centrally provided equipment within the £5,945 allowance than in the last Parliament. Some 75% of Members have placed orders for new equipment.
My staff diligently worked through the options and came up with a direct replacement that exceeded the budget by £5. I offered to top up the budget to allow my staff to operate, only to be told that it was not possible because of bureaucracy. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider this matter so that equipment purchased with office budgets in the last Parliament is not just thrown away and Members can use it in conjunction with other equipment?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I was aware of the background to his concerns. As I understand it, there needs to be a limit, and many Members, myself included, have worked in such a way that they come in just below that limit. I understand that, from an accounting point of view, significant costs would be attached to ensuring the flexibility he asks for.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
House Business Committee Proposal
There was an absence of consensus on this matter at the end of the last Parliament, and there is still no consensus now. We discussed it in Westminster Hall last week with the hon. Gentleman and two other hon. Members.
The Wright Committee reported to this House and created a Backbench Business Committee, the election of Select Committee Chairs and the election of Select Committee Members. The House approved all those issues. The one issue that it has not been able to approve or has not approved is the creation of a House business committee by which Members rather than the Government or alternative Government can be represented on it. Will the Deputy Leader of the House allow the House of Commons to make a decision in Government time on whether we should have a House business committee or not?
As I explained at length in the Westminster Hall debate last week, one of our predecessors, the noble Lord Lansley set our four tests. We have yet to receive a recommendation or create a proposal that can pass the four tests that we believe necessary for the creation of a House business committee.
I will take that as a no—that the Minister will not bring forward a motion on this matter. The Backbench Business Committee, however, has put down such a motion and Members will have the opportunity in a week’s time to vote on whether they want to discuss proposals for a House business committee. Does the Minister agree that that is an excellent way forward?
My hon. Friend is a member of the Backbench Business Committee, and I know he has an interest in this issue. He displayed his knowledge of Standing Orders in Westminster Hall last week, and I believe he advised the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) to contest the decision. Of course, that situation has arisen in this Session because we used to adjourn in Westminster Hall but it now considers motions. The Backbench Business Committee has decided that this is a good use of parliamentary time next Thursday—it is a judgment that it has made.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Staff Working Conditions
The Commission seeks to provide good working conditions for all its staff. Terms and conditions of staff are kept broadly in line with those in the home civil service. No staff are paid below the London living wage. A range of facilities, including welfare support and learning opportunities are provided. The 2015 staff survey showed increasing job satisfaction, with 86% of staff willing to recommend the House of Commons as a good place to work.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that my campaign has been about not only the payment of a living wage in both Houses of Parliament, but ensuring that we are an exemplary employer—better than John Lewis, better than Waitrose, better than anywhere. We should also set an example in terms of pay, conditions and how we treat the staff of this House. We have not treated them very well in the past.
China (Human Rights)
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on human rights in China, following reports that human rights lawyer, Zhang Kai, imminently faces a severe prison sentence or the death penalty for defending civil liberties.
We are in the middle of a hugely positive state visit, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said will benefit not just our nations and our peoples, but the wider world. Yesterday, the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had extensive discussions with President Xi Jinping and his delegation. These discussions continue today, including when the Prime Minister hosts President Xi at Chequers.
As we have made very clear, the strong relationship that we are building allows us to discuss all issues. No issue, including human rights, is off the table. The UK-China joint statement that we have agreed commits both sides to continuing our dialogue on human rights and the rule of law.
Turning to the case of Zhang Kai, we are aware that he has been accused of “endangering state security” and “assembling a crowd” to “disrupt social order”, apparently in relation to his work with Churches in Zhejiang province. We are concerned that his whereabouts are undisclosed, and that he has reportedly been denied access to legal representation.
At the UK-China human rights dialogue, which was held in Beijing in April this year, we raised issues relating to religious freedom in China, including the destruction of churches and religious symbols in Zhejiang province. We raised a number of related individual cases. A transparent legal system is a vital component of the rule of law, and we urge the Chinese authorities to ensure that proper judicial standards are upheld.
I thank the Minister for his reply, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question.
This is, of course, an urgent matter because of the imminent risk that the lawyer Zhang Kai could be sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison—or even the death penalty, given that he faces grave charges including threatening national security—and the risk that there could be a closed trial. Zhang Kai’s family do not know of his situation, and his lawyer has tried several times to ascertain it. The matter is also urgent because of wider concern that China’s human rights position should be raised directly with President Xi Jinping during his state visit, which ends tomorrow.
Zhang Kai’s case is significant not only in itself, but because he is one of nearly 300 lawyers and human rights defenders who have been detained since July this year. At least 20 are still in custody or have disappeared, their whereabouts unknown. We know from the example of the case of Gao Zhisheng—another prominent human rights lawyer, who defended, among others, members of the Falun Gong movement and who was “disappeared” on several occasions and imprisoned in solitary confinement for three years, where he was severely tortured—that the consequences of secretive detention can be grave.
Lawyer Zhang Kai had been advising Churches in China’s Zhejiang province in connection with the demolition of churches and the forcible destruction of more than 1,500 crosses in Zhejiang over the past two years—a gross violation of freedom of religion or belief. The Churches affected include both unregistered and state-approved Catholic and Protestant Churches.
As we have heard, Zhang’s is not the only case. Nineteen-year-old student activist Joshua Wong faces court next week for inciting unlawful assembly, and I understand that among those who are also in secret detention is Wang Yu, a fearless defender of feminist activists and the victims of rape. Thousands of political prisoners also continue to languish in Chinese jails, the most famous being Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is halfway through an 11-year sentence for peacefully advocating democratic change. Members may well wish to raise other cases, including, perhaps, events in Tibet and Xinjiang, and the plight of the Uighurs.
As chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, I welcome the opportunity to engage with China. The Select Committee on International Development met representatives from the Chinese delegation yesterday to discuss the sustainable development goals, which include a commitment to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies and access to justice for all. I recognise the significance of the business relationship and the importance of dialogue with China on a range of issues, including trade, but I hope that dialogue on human rights, freedom of thought, speech and assembly, and the rule of law will also be placed at the centre of the relationship. It is well recognised that the promotion of such freedoms contributes to better business and economic outcomes for the peoples involved. The two go hand in hand.
As the United Kingdom’s relationship with China develops, it is good for us to remember the words of Martin Luther King:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does in this area. We work closely together in relation to other countries. This evening’s Adjournment debate is on Burma, and she will no doubt take part in it.
In respect of China and human rights, I am sure that many Members on both sides of the House will want to know what was discussed and when. I shall do my best to answer that question, although I stress that the state visit is still under way. I know that the Leader of the Opposition used an opportunity to discuss these matters when he had a meeting with the President.
I do not think that it is really a question of what we have raised. What I find interesting is what the President said during yesterday’s Downing Street press conference when asked about human rights. He said—among other things—
“All countries need to continuously improve and strengthen human rights protection to meet the needs of the time and the people. And on the issue of human rights, I think the people of our respective countries are in the position—in the best position to tell. And China is ready to, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, increase exchanges and co-operation with the UK and other countries in the area of human rights. Thank you.”
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As the relationship between our two countries becomes ever closer, we are in a position to raise these matters continually, particularly the extremely concerning individual cases to which she referred.
The freedom to practise our religion is one of the most fundamental of human rights. For many people around the world, including in China, religious belief defines who they are. It should therefore be a matter of great concern to this House when those rights are infringed, wherever that happens across the globe.
As we have heard, since the summer a large number of lawyers and human rights activists in China have been targeted and detained, including Zhang Kai, whose case was raised by the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). Can the Minister give the House any further information about the circumstances that led up to Zhang Kai’s detention and that of other human rights defenders and activists?
Article 18 of the UN declaration of human rights, says that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.
Can the Minister also confirm that article 36 of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China specifies that
“citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief”,
but then goes on to say that
“The state protects normal religious activities”?
Will he tell the House what his understanding is of this term and what it means for the practising of religion and, in particular, Christianity, in China?
Have Ministers had an opportunity to raise these concerns with their Chinese counterparts, either before the current state visit or during it? Does the Minister have any information about when any case against Mr Zhang might be heard?
The Prime Minister has said that the developing trade relationship between the UK and China provides an opportunity for further dialogue. We agree. Will the Minister therefore undertake to the House, if the Government have not already done so, to raise this case during the remainder of the state visit, as my hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary, both in their places in the House now, will do later today?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks. There is a whole range of cases about which we are concerned. The case in Zhejiang is not new. If the hon. Lady trawls back through Hansard, she will see that I answered a question raised by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) on this back in June, when I talked about our concerns about restrictions on Christianity, particularly in Zhejiang province. I went on to say:
“We raised these, and our broad range of concerns around religious freedom, directly with Chinese officials during the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue in April this year. We have also highlighted them publicly in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy.”
Further to that, in September I answered a question from my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). I reiterate what I said then:
“I am aware of reports that lawyer Zhang Kai was detained on 25 August, alongside two of his assistants, Liu Peng and Fang Xiangui, and members of a Christian congregation.
I am concerned that this is reflective of the wider situation facing rights lawyers in China. Reports suggest that over 200 lawyers have been detained or questioned since 9 July, and the space in which they operate is increasingly constrained.
The UK supported an EU statement of 15 July which said the detentions raised serious questions about China’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law. We have ongoing discussions with the Chinese authorities on human rights and rule of law issues, and discussed these matters in detail during the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue in April.”
I then went on to say what I have said in answer to an earlier question.
On the question of whether this case and other cases will be addressed, a number of cases are always being addressed. This is not just a one-off and I cannot gainsay what the Prime Minister might say. The Chancellor will of course be with the President in Manchester tomorrow, and there will be a private meeting between the President and the Prime Minister at Chequers later this evening. I do not know what will be on the agenda, but I do know they have an ever-closer relationship and these matters are continuously being discussed.
May I raise the case of a very old man—he is 94—called Cosma Shi Enxiang, who died in prison in China last year? His only crime was that he was a Catholic bishop who refused to kowtow to the state. This is a very serious matter; it is the sort of thing that was happening in this country in the 16th century. The House does not want vague assurances from the Minister; we want to know that, while we respect the world’s growing superpower and want to trade with it, we are absolutely fearless in these matters and that during this visit our leadership will raise these matters with the Chinese President.
We certainly do not see this visit as presenting a binary choice between greater economic co-operation and human rights, as some would have us do. I reject that utterly. As I have said, there are individual cases that have been raised consistently. We are one of the few countries to have an annual human rights dialogue with China, and we are of the view that that gives us the right format and architecture within which to raise these specific individual cases. I believe that that is the right way to pursue these matters. As our relationship becomes ever closer, we are in a better position to discuss these very worrying cases with our Chinese counterparts.
Will the Government use every opportunity, including those that arise this week, to make it clear to China that human rights and equality are a fundamental part of achieving greater and fairer economic growth? Given that the Chinese ambassador said at the weekend that no one would be put behind bars simply for criticising the Government, will the Minister join the United States Secretary of State John Kerry in calling for the release of Zhang Kai? If not, why not? More broadly, will he commit to speaking out, without fear or favour, against the use of the death penalty, even when it is used by strategic allies such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and China?
We do speak out without fear or favour. The United States is responsible for making its own comments on various matters. I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier comment that we supported an EU statement on 15 July on the detentions in Zhejiang. We believe that that is the right place for us to do that, along with our bilateral discussions with the Chinese themselves.
As we have heard yet again, freedom of speech and dissent in China are being brutally repressed, not least in Tibet, where the mere possession of a photograph of the Dalai Lama can result in imprisonment or worse. In the UK, our democracy is built on the principle of free speech, so can the Minister tell me why protesters in the Mall exercising their right to draw attention to human rights abuses in Tibet were this week corralled behind barricades at the back while Chinese state-sponsored cheerleaders were given “Love China” T-shirts, Chinese diplomatic bags and a prime position at the front?
My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner for Tibet and he will know that, after the death of the senior Tibetan Buddhist, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, in July, we supported an EU statement and the remarks of a Foreign Office spokesman were carried in the media. Prior to Tenzin’s death, I continued to call for his release, including in parliamentary debates on Tibet in June and in December 2014.
I warmly thank the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for bringing this issue to the House. I am sure that this debate will be watched by people in China, so this is an important occasion. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question.
Does the Minister agree that our ability to raise our voice and put pressure on China because of its gross violations of human rights is in part based on the recognition that this country has itself made a commitment to human rights? Does he recognise that the increasingly negative tone being used in this country to describe human rights as a problem—even to the point of describing the legislation as “Labour’s Human Rights Act”, which I cannot believe is a compliment—undermines our ability to champion human rights abroad? We cannot champion human rights abroad if we regard them as a nuisance at home. Will he ensure that he and his Government stand up for human rights in this country, as part of our policy of championing them in other parts of the world?
The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right. It is incredibly important to have good human rights in our own country before we preach to others, and I believe that we do. In my travels around the globe—looking after two thirds of the world, as I am obliged to do—I have observed that our own human rights are way better than those in the majority of countries. A second thing that gives us a huge moral case when we go round the world is that this Government have pledged to spend 0.7% of our GDP on international aid. Those two factors give the United Kingdom a good say at any table.
While I welcome the commitment of the Minister and the Government to greater intimacy between this country and China in economic terms, the concern of many people in this country is that we rest on carefully crafted diplomatic language when it comes to discussing human rights. We may have an architecture for dialogue, but people are looking for delivered change and a fundamental change in attitude. What will happen if there is no discernible change in outcomes and between what the Chinese say to us and what they practise? What sanctions or actions will the Government take?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for asking this urgent question. The Chinese people and Government have done a tremendous amount during the past 30 years to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, thus giving them access to human rights they did not previously have. However, men and women shall not live by bread alone; this is much more important. As other hon. Members have said, human rights are also a vital and absolutely fundamental part of development. Will my right hon. Friend look in particular at Hong Kong—he mentioned the situation of the students and others there—where we have a particular responsibility, given the 1984 agreement?
Yes. Mr Speaker, you will not be surprised to hear that Hong Kong falls within my area of responsibility, so hon. Members can all sleep safe in their beds. Just last week, we had a visit from the chief executive of Hong Kong, C.Y. Leung, which went very well. We had discussions with him about Hong Kong. My position and that of the Government on the issue of suffrage for the election is well known. We restate our interests in Hong Kong based on the joint declaration and in line with the basic law.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on asking this important urgent question. As she said, we and China signed the sustainable development goals in New York last month. Goal 16 emphasises governance and the rule of law. Does the Foreign Office see that as a way in which we can raise human rights issues, including trade union rights—an important matter, which has not yet been raised this morning—with the Chinese?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We are increasingly working together on a number of global goals, such as climate change, development, peacekeeping and global health. It is important to say that, as China takes its place on the world stage as a major player, we see ourselves working ever more closely with the Chinese on issues that confront us all—peacekeeping, climate change, antimicrobial resistance—including on the UN Security Council. That will deepen the relationship and will again allow us to raise difficult issues that should not be off the table.
By placing human rights at the core of the Helsinki accords back in 1975, significant progress was made in moving the Soviet Union towards a new place. Can something similar be done through the European Union and our partners to drive home the message that we are really serious about human rights in China?
To answer the earlier question from the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), we are serious about human rights wherever there are such issues, but particularly in China. As I say, we believe that we have an advantage in being able to have an annual human rights dialogue with the Chinese. The next one will be in the United Kingdom next year, which will give us a good opportunity to drill down into specific cases. Those cases are ever changing, but the underlying trends are very often not changing. Those occasions allow us to raise our concerns and to oxygenise them.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on allowing the House to discuss this matter. The Minister says that he wants to move forward, so will he report back to the House on why particular lawyers and the artist Ai Weiwei were detained?
On the situation with Ai Weiwei, the Home Office spokesman said that the Home Secretary was not consulted over the decision to grant Mr Ai a one-month visa. She has reviewed the case and instructed Home Office officials to issue a full six-month visa. We have written to Mr Ai, apologising for the inconvenience caused. No doubt, the hon. Lady will have been to see the exhibition that is on not a million miles from here. If she wishes to raise other specific cases with me, I am always happy to see her. In advance of the Chinese state visit, I met a lot of pressure groups and non-governmental organisations in the Foreign Office who came to raise their concerns with me and my officials.
I will sleep better in my beds tonight—[Laughter.] I will sleep better in my bed tonight knowing that the Minister is looking after two thirds of the world. I would sleep even tighter if I knew who was looking after the other third. Does he agree that the way in which human rights will change in China is through working with countries like ours and seeing that there is nothing to fear from freedom of religion and freedom of speech?
I know that Mrs Bone will be following my hon. Friend’s comments about how many beds he has. There are things that we take for granted in this country. We should be ever-vigilant of the fact that others around the world do not enjoy those same liberties. I agree with him that the UK can show that we are able to have criticism, dialogue and debate and that, at the end of the day, no one is threatened by it. Freedom of religious expression is a fundamental human right. That is one of the things that all too often in this country we accept as the norm. We should be jealous in guarding the privileges that we enjoy and do everything we can to export them to countries that are less fortunate.
May I associate myself with your kind remarks about Michael Meacher, Mr Speaker? My experience of working with Michael was somewhat different, in that I was employed by him here for two years in the late-1980s. If one way in which we should judge people is by how they treat their employees, particularly the more difficult and truculent ones, that is further evidence of his tolerance and generosity of spirit.
On the Chancellor’s recent visit to China, he was described by Chinese state media as
“the first Western official in recent years who focused on business potential rather than raising a magnifying glass to the ‘human rights issue’”.
Was not Ai Weiwei right this week when he said that the Government are sacrificing essential values for short-term gain?
No, he was absolutely wrong. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor did raise human rights during his visit to China. In Xinjiang, he addressed the case of Ilham Tohti and called for his release. It is not right to say that when Ministers travel in China and meet our Chinese counterparts here in the UK, we do not raise such cases. The hon. Gentleman is precisely wrong.
In advance of the state visit, I was contacted by Rev. Lorelli Hilliard, the vicar of St John with St Philip in Nelson, who expressed concerns about religious freedom in China. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that our improving commercial relationship certainly does not prevent us from speaking frankly and candidly with the Chinese about these issues, and may even be helpful?
Yes, that is certainly the case. As we get ever closer in our relationship and our dialogue, so we are able to raise these difficult issues with our Chinese counterparts. Mr Speaker, you presided over the speech by President Xi in the Royal Gallery in which he referred to the ever-growing and ever-closer links, particularly with British parliamentarians, and invited more British parliamentarians to go to China. I submit that that would be an extraordinarily good way of forging closer relationships and raising these cases, as parliamentarians, in China.
Of course we should be engaging with China, and promoting dialogue and trade, but there has been a huge sense this week that the Government are willing to sell themselves to China for any price, especially on this absurd nuclear energy deal—I say that as a supporter of nuclear energy. Surely we should have the moral confidence to stand up for what we believe in as a country, especially on political freedom and on religious freedom. Ultimately, other nations will respect us more if we are willing to do that.
I do not regard as ridiculous more than £30 billion-worth of investment from China into the UK, let alone into our nuclear industry. I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that if the previous Government had paid more attention to the gap in our energy provision, we would not find ourselves in the position we are in.
I welcome a lot of the words we have heard from the Minister today—when they are turned into actions we start to get somewhere. As well as making the point that the nations represented here give a good example of the fact that dissent and disagreement from official Government policy does not represent a threat to national security, does he agree that the right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights and so any nation that carries out wholesale executions of its population is in breach of fundamental human rights? During this week’s visit, will the Government be specifically encouraging the Chinese Government to take steps towards the complete abolition of the death penalty? When was the last time the Government made similar representations to the Government of the United States of America, which executes more of its citizens than almost any other nation on the planet?
We are getting a little wide of the mark there, but I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who is not in his place but who goes around the world restating British policy against the death penalty. That is our official policy; it is what we use as such at every meeting and we will continue to do so.
The Minister will have heard the Chinese President say:
“we have found a part of human rights development suited to China’s national conditions.”
Will the Minister explain what part of human rights development, if any, allows for the possible execution of Zhang Kai, the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, the alleged forced harvesting of organs and the harassment of Ai Weiwei? Why, at a time when the UK should be strengthening its commitment to human rights, does Sir Simon McDonald, the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, say that human rights are no longer a priority for the UK Government?
Human rights are actually being brought into the mainstream work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, because we think they inform everything we do on a day-to-day basis. The right hon. Gentleman quoted part of what the President said and I shall just cite the last bit of it:
“China is ready to, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, increase exchanges and cooperation with the UK and other countries in the area of human rights.”
That seems to me to be very positive indeed.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 26 October—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Tuesday 27 October— Remaining stages of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
Wednesday 28 October—Opposition day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate on steel, followed by a debate on health.
Thursday 29 October—Back-Bench business day. A motion in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) relating to a House business committee, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the distributional effect of proposed reforms to tax credits.
Friday 30 October—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 2 November will include:
Monday 2 November—Second Reading of the Housing and Planning Bill.
Tuesday 3 November—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 4 November—Remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Bill.
Thursday 5 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 6 November —Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the week commencing 26 October will be:
Thursday 29 October—General debate on the future of the green investment bank.
Finally, Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with your very gracious remarks earlier about Michael Meacher? He was a great figure in this House. Even those of us who very much disagreed with his policies respected him as a great parliamentarian, a man who made a major contribution to our public life. He will be much missed by his friends on both sides of this House.
I, too, pay tribute to Michael Meacher. To be honest, few Members can have had such an impact as he had in his years as Environment Minister. He was an indefatigable stalwart who battled away in the intellectual trenches of politics for nearly five decades in this place. In his last speech in this House, he delivered an absolutely excoriating attack on the Government’s economic policy, and he ended with the words:
“So much for the Government’s…‘long-term plan.’”—[Official Report, 4 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 819.]
Our thoughts warmly go out to his family and to all those who knew him well.
May we have a debate about how we celebrate anniversaries in this House? Yesterday, we completely ignored Trafalgar day, despite it being the 210th anniversary of one of the United Kingdom’s greatest naval triumphs. This Sunday, St Crispin’s day, will see the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt at which several hon. Members of this House fought, though not, contrary to rumour, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). The Speaker, Thomas Chaucer, brought along 12 men at arms and 37 archers. I think that you, Mr Speaker, might feel that you need them for your press conferences. Next year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
It was an immense pleasure this week to see the band of the Brigade of Gurkhas beat the retreat in the Speaker’s Court in proper recognition of their 200 years of valour and 13 Victoria Crosses that they have won, but should we not in Parliament do better at recognising these important national milestones?
Talking of beating the retreat, when will the Government beat the retreat on the cuts to tax credits? I can offer them two opportunities coming up very soon. There will be a vote in this House on Tuesday and another on Thursday. Before the Leader of the House gives us a whole load of tripe about financial privilege in the Lords, may I remind him that this is all his fault—his personal fault? The Government could perfectly easily have introduced these cuts in a Bill. That would have been a money Bill, which you, Mr Speaker, would have certificated as a money Bill and which we would have been able to look at line by line, but the Lords would not have been able to look at it because it was a money Bill. But oh no, the Leader of the House is too clever by half. He decided that a statutory instrument was best, so there would be just one-and-a-half hour’s debate on it and no amendments allowed. Unfortunately, the only downside—oh dear!—is that it has to go to the Lords. So he has been hoist on his own petard. In the end, every single one of us here knows that some way or other the Government will beat the retreat. Tory Back Benchers want him to retreat, and even The Spectator today says that they have lost sight of the human factor, so retreat the Government will. Will the Leader of the House just tell us when it will happen? I promise that we will not crow.
I warmly congratulate Mr Alex Newton on being appointed the new editor of Hansard and pay tribute to the retiring editor, Lorraine Sutherland, who had to cope with John Prescott’s contributions in this House. Members will know that Hansard is not exactly a verbatim record—thank goodness. It corrects repetitions and mistakes, so may I suggest that Hansard starts by re-examining the Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday. He said that he was “delighted” to be bringing in the tax credit cuts. Delighted! He cannot possibly have meant that. There must surely be a heart in this man.
On steel, the Prime Minister said:
“We will do everything we can to help”.—[Official Report, 20 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 956.]
What he actually meant to say was, “We will do absolutely nothing to help.” He also said yesterday that the Government intend to relax the Sunday trading laws. When will that be debated and when will it be tabled? What Bill will it be in? I ask that simply because many of us on the Labour Benches, and I suspect on the Government Benches too, want to keep Sunday special.
I thank the Leader of the House for granting extra time for psychoactive substances this week—sorry, I mean the Psychoactive Substances Bill. I noticed last week that the Leader of the House did not answer a single question that I asked, so I warn him to take notes today, as, from now on, I will be writing to him after each session for answers to any questions that remain unanswered.
On 25 November, we shall have the autumn statement together with the comprehensive spending review. It is surely incumbent on us to scrutinise public spending diligently, including public spending cuts. Will the Leader of the House set aside three full days for a proper debate about the implications of the Government’s cuts? Of course the deficit must come down. We have to live within our means, but we will oppose any measures that are unfair, counterproductive or false economies.
You will know, Mr Speaker, that the Public Accounts Committee published a special report this week on the conduct of the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People when he was a member of that Committee in the last Parliament and leaked a draft report to Wonga. The matter stands committed to the Privileges Committee for a decision on whether it is gross contempt of the House—or at least it would if the Government had set up the Privileges Committee. Will the Leader of the House tell us why it has not yet been set up? Is it because the Prime Minister knew perfectly well that the issue was coming along the track? When the noble Lord Touhig was found to have asked for a draft copy of a Select Committee report some years ago, he immediately resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary pending the decision of the then Standards and Privileges Committee, which later suspended him from the House. Will the Leader of the House explain why the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People has not done the same?
With the opening of the new Bond movie next week, will Ministers celebrate the British film industry by auditioning for the next film? I can just see the Health Secretary, who will doubtless be playing Dr No. The Home Secretary will make a cameo appearance in her steel-tipped kitten heels as Rosa Klebb, and I can just imagine the Culture Secretary jumping across roofs in a fine exhibition of parkour on Her Majesty’s secret service. The Chancellor would look very fetching as Miss Moneypenny, and I gather that he is quite a cunning linguist—that is from “Tomorrow Never Dies”, Mr Speaker—and the Mayor of London’s career is surely proof positive that you only live twice. As for the villain running an evil media empire, intent on world domination—well, Members can pick their own. I note from the press that the spectre of dismissal is hanging over the Leader of the House, but perhaps he can take a quantum of solace in the fact that it would be the Work and Pensions Secretary who would get the part of the smooth-pated Oddjob, who comes to a grisly electrocuted end.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned anniversaries and he is right to say that we should celebrate all the work that the Gurkhas have done on behalf of this country. I think that he and the Leader of the Opposition will join me in recognising another, rather sadder anniversary today, as it is the 50th anniversary of the tragedy at Aberfan, a terrible event that led to the deaths of 116 children and 28 adults. It is a blot on our history and something that we should never forget. I hope that everyone in the House will remember those tragic events today.
The hon. Gentleman is, as we know, highly regarded among those on his Benches for his knowledge and understanding of the procedures of the House, so I am slightly mystified by his comments about tax credits and legislation. He will know that tax credits do not come within the scope of a Finance Bill, so I am a little puzzled by his assertion that we should have put the measure into a Finance Bill. He will also know that even if this House were to resolve to change that process, it would open up a range of additional questions about the role of the House of Lords and whether they should debate Finance Bills. I am surprised that he appears not to understand the processes of this House and I advise him perhaps to consult the Clerks afterwards who can put him right, I am sure.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of tax credits more generally. It is, of course, a matter that has been carefully debated in this House and voted on twice by MPs in the past few weeks. The measure has been supported by the House twice and it is interesting that the deputy leader of the Labour party did not turn up to oppose the changes, which we believe should now go forward and be put into action.
I suppose we should not be surprised that there is a degree of uncertainty on the Labour Benches, because we have had some interesting reports about what is going on. A message is being passed to me from a person with a vested interest, as is often the case for the Leader of the Opposition. A member of the Labour party has said to me:
“Farce doesn’t begin to describe our position any more. It’s the political equivalent of all the slapstick staples rolled into one. The Three Stooges pie fight. Stan Laurel stuck up a ladder. The house collapsing on Buster Keaton.”
That is a message for me from Simon of Rochdale. You know, Mr Speaker, the people of Rochdale are wise and that is why, I think, they elected him as their Labour Member of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman talked about steel. We are very clear. We are doing everything we can to support the steel industry in a difficult period for the workers and all those who live in those communities. We have looked at changing the rules on procurement. We are working to provide financial support. We are in discussions with the European Commission about what support we are able to provide. We have raised the issue of dumping with the Chinese this week. We will do everything we can to support our steel industry, but I remind the Opposition that it was when they were in government that steel output in this country halved, and manufacturing in this country almost halved as a share of our national income. Under this Government manufacturing is growing and the steel industry has held up in output terms and has employed more people, so I do not think we should take lessons from the Opposition as we work very hard to address an extremely difficult set of circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman raised questions about Sunday trading. That is a matter that will be debated in the House shortly.
I am rather surprised. The hon. Gentleman claims to know all about the procedures of this House, and he will know that at Business questions each week the Leader of the House gives the business for the following two weeks. That is the way it is today and it is the way it will continue to be. He will have to wait for the business to be announced when we come to that point, and I will make a point of announcing that when the time is right.
I have always had high regard for the hon. Gentleman as someone who knows the House of Commons procedures, but once again he seems be getting it wrong today. He is asking me for answers to questions of detail about ministerial responsibilities. This is a session for asking about future business, so when he asks me about numbers of asylum seekers or details of the Prime Minister’s knowledge about issues, I understand that he wants to ask the questions, but he needs to go to the relevant departmental questions and raise those matters himself. Today is about the future business of the House and I will be delighted to answer questions about the future business in this House. I just cannot help him. If the Clerks can spend a little time with him giving him a refresher course, perhaps next week we will not see quite such a lack of understanding of parliamentary process.
I had the pleasure of working with Michael Meacher in Parliament First. He was a great parliamentarian and he always wanted to put the House first. In that regard, what is my right hon. Friend’s view of the motion to be voted on roughly this time next week about establishing a business of the House committee? Would he regard it as House business on which there should be no whipping on the Government side?
I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about this and how expert he is at working at parliamentary procedure. Perhaps he might like to give the shadow Leader of the House a lesson afterwards. It might be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. I am going to have to make my hon. Friend wait for a few days. I will give the matter careful consideration. Whipping is not a matter for me—it is for the Chief Whip, and I am sure he will make that point as well. I do understand the point he makes.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I paid tribute to Michael Meacher last evening at the start of the debate on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, but I associate the Scottish National party with your comments this morning, Mr Speaker.
This is not a particularly good week for those who are poor or struggling to make ends meet in Tory UK. The tax credit whammy will be followed by the remaining stages of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill next week as this Tory Government up their assault on the poorest, most marginal and most vulnerable in our society. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) raised the issue of suicides related to changes to benefit arrangements for disabled claimants right across the United Kingdom. Apparently, something like 60 live investigations have been undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions into the circumstances surrounding these suicides and deaths. May we have a debate—that is the only thing we can do—to assess what is happening to the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginal in our society? Will the Leader of the House publish the results of those DWP investigations?
One thing that happened in the past week—like Brigadoon, it appears once every 100 years—was the emergence of compassionate conservatism. The remarkable speech from the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) showed that there was some element of that within the callous heart of this Tory Government. We also hear about concerns from the Mayor of London, but such signs of compassion are to be chopped down just as they appear.
The Leader of the House is even considering suspending the work of the House of Lords because it dares to disagree with the Government. I am not a friend of the donors and the cronies in that place, but at least I respect their right to have their view on these issues. The Leader of the House seems to want either to suspend the business of the other place or flood it with even more Tory donors—a place that is already bloated with more than 800 Members. Here is another solution that the Scottish National party might support: how about just abolishing the place? That would solve the problem at once, because the Tories would get their way and face no opposition, having stamped down on dissent on their Back Benches. We would give that proposal a sympathetic hearing.
Mr Speaker, this is the last business questions at which I will be addressing you as an equal Member with my English colleagues, if the Leader of the House gets his way and consigns me and my colleagues to second-class status in this House following today’s EVEL vote. Indeed, a week on Monday we might see the first certification from you, Mr Speaker, on the Housing and Planning Bill, which I know you are looking forward to with great interest. Can the Leader of the House confirm that that will be the first EVEL certification? While we are on the Bond theme, I think I prefer Austin Powers, because after today’s vote the right hon. Gentleman will forever and a day be known as this House’s Dr EVEL.
I think that I still have fractionally more hair than Dr Evil.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have great affection for him as a parliamentarian and very much enjoy debating with him, but I cannot help but feel that today we are getting some slightly mixed messages. For one extraordinary moment I thought that he was about to reinvent himself as a champion of the House of Lords, but then he returned to his view that it should be abolished, raising my expectations and then dashing them at a stroke. Whatever my views might be—I happen to have great regard for the other place, as well as for him—I am afraid that I do not have the power to suspend the House of Lords. Therefore, I counsel him not to believe everything he reads in the newspapers.
I also encourage the hon. Gentleman not to be quite so cynical about compassionate conservatism. Let us look at a couple of things that have happened under this Government. We are seeing child poverty come down, not up, despite all the warnings from the Labour party. One of the achievements I am most proud of is the fact that our party, both in coalition and now in a majority Government, has overseen a rapid drop in unemployment and in the number of children growing up in workless households. To me, that makes a crucial difference for the development of the next generation. That is something I will always be proud of, and something that I think lies at the heart of a compassionate Conservative party and what it is achieving for this country.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the debates on tax credits, but I am afraid that he has a rather misguided view of our approach to the poor. I remind him that we are cutting the rents of social tenants, increasing childcare, perhaps to the tune of £2,500 a year, cutting taxation for people on low incomes and boosting the national living wage for people on low incomes. This is a Government who care about people on low incomes and are doing practical things to help them. However, we cannot continue to have a high-tax, high-welfare and low-wage society. We have to change that, and that is what we are doing.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about what the Government are doing for the steel industry. Many of my constituents are affected by the redundancies in Scunthorpe, so we need regular information to pass to them. Will he give an absolute assurance that the Business Secretary will come to the House regularly to make oral statements, particularly after visiting Brussels for talks with the European Commission in the coming days?
That is an issue I take very seriously. I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that Ministers with responsibility will want to keep the House informed. Indeed, the Prime Minister has addressed the issue on more than one occasion. We will do everything we possibly can to ease the problems caused by a deeply distressing change in world steel markets and to protect the livelihoods of workers in this country, but at the same time we will continue to pursue a policy that has succeeded in bringing down unemployment right across the country. It is much better to deal with these challenges in the context of an improving labour market, rather than a worsening one.
A large group of women born in the 1950s have been badly hit by the acceleration of the state pension age as a result of the Pensions Acts of 1995 and 2011, and many of them, including my constituents, were not informed of the changes, which clearly have a key impact on their future pensions incomes. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) requested a debate on the issue last week but received a fairly dismissive reply. This issue is very important to hundreds of thousands of women, so I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider.
I understood the points that were made last week, but I would simply say that Governments of both sides have taken the view in recent years that we have to increase the state pension age. It was done under the previous Labour Government and it has been done most recently under the coalition Government. We are seeing life expectancies rise massively in this country, and that is good. People are living far longer than they did before, but the inevitable consequence is an increasing state pension age, and that is what has happened. If the hon. Lady wants a debate, she can certainly refer the matter to the Backbench Business Committee. I understand that it is difficult for the women concerned, but in a world where people live much longer than they did before, it is impossible to make a transition without some kind of impact on those involved.
This morning, the Competition and Markets Authority released a report outlining a number of issues in the current account market that affect personal and business customers. May we have a debate in Government time on what measures can be taken to create more competition in this market?
This is an important issue. We very much want consumers to get the best possible deal. It is a marketplace where issues have been raised, as we have seen from today’s developments. The Treasury team, including the Minister responsible, will be here on Tuesday for questions. I encourage my hon. Friend to take part and make sure that Treasury Ministers respond appropriately to her concerns.