House of Commons
Thursday 21 January 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
Small Production Companies: Cornwall
I hope you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, if I briefly pay tribute to the great George Weidenfeld, who died yesterday. He was a great patron and supporter of the arts.
The Government have taken steps to support small production companies across the UK through tax reliefs and grant schemes. In the last two years, Creative England has supported 51 productions in Cornwall, which has led to 439 shooting days in the county and an estimated on-location spend of nearly £7.5 million.
Tourism in North Cornwall has benefited hugely from the “Poldark” effect, but other television dramas are also produced across our beautiful coastline, including “Doc Martin” in Port Isaac and “Jamaica Inn”, filmed on Bodmin moor. Will my hon. Friend assure me that he will continue to support the film industry in my part of the country?
Of course. I am well aware of the “Poldark” effect. In fact, I am often mistaken for Aidan Turner’s body double. There are 13 great production companies in Cornwall. Our film tax relief has brought more than £7 billion of film investment to the UK as a whole, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to support productions in Cornwall.
Indeed. Independent production companies in Cornwall and other areas of the country benefit hugely from Channel 4’s unique not-for-profit commissioning strength. Will the Minister please explain why the creation of another business like ITV and Channel 5 is in the interests of production companies in Cornwall, and why it is in the public interest for Channel 4 to be privatised?
I feel like I am taking part in an episode of “Just a Minute” where the subject is Cornwall. We have gone from the south-west to the heart of Westminster, where Channel 4 resides, in its headquarters on Horseferry Road. As the hon. Gentleman is well aware—I know there is another question on Channel 4 later—we are considering all options to take this fantastic channel into the future.
Subsidised Satellite Broadband Programme
I am pleased to confirm that all those living in houses unable to get a speed of at least 2 megabits per second can now take advantage of a subsidised satellite broadband installation, which should deliver speeds of about 10 megabits per second or more.
Connecting Cumbria promised my constituents superfast broadband, but this has not happened quickly enough or to the original programme, which has denied my constituents access to vital services. What assurance can the Minister give that, under the universal service obligation, they will be provided with a minimum of 10 megabits per second by 2020?
I am pleased to say that the Cumbrian programme is going extremely well. About £20 million of Government money has been invested, and in the hon. Lady’s constituency we will reach 92% by the end of the programme, which is a fantastic result, considering that, commercially, less than half of her constituents would have got superfast broadband. We will soon be introducing a consultation on the universal service obligation, and we intend to proceed with haste.
This kind of option is very important in rural areas such as mine, where we have technology issues getting broadband to Longney and Elmore. We have done some good work with BT, but can the Minister guarantee that we will push ahead with all options to make sure everybody has access to broadband in my constituency?
Yes, I can guarantee that. We are moving as fast as we can to deliver superfast broadband, and we intend to reach 95% of the country by the end of 2017 and to have superfast broadband for everyone by 2020. We also have to think again about what we need to do in the decade after that.
In early December, the Minister cast himself as Santa Claus, announcing a “Christmas present” for UK homes and businesses: £60 million to provide satellite provision for those failed by his super-slow broadband crawl-out. As of Monday, a grand total of £8,000 had been spent and only 24 people had benefited from his supposed gift. Was it the fear of seeing him coming down their chimney that put people off or the fact that this is an inadequate stunt designed to fob off his Back Benchers and leaving millions digitally excluded for many Christmases to come?
I thank the hon. Lady for that “Bah Humbug” question. I am delighted that, thanks to our superfast broadband programme, we have reached around 90% of the country. We have cast aside the Scrooge-like 2 megabits target that Labour had for the country as a whole, but we promised everyone guaranteed speeds of 2 megabits, and that is what we have done by providing subsidised satellite services.
I am sure the Minister was busy at Christmas with rehearsals for the “Poldark” Christmas special. I welcome his announcement about enabling those in rural areas to get satellite broadband. This is a particular issue in Rossendale and Darwen where farmers struggle to get broadband. Will my hon. Friend undertake to work with the National Farmers Union and others who are in touch with those working in our rural industries to ensure that farmers find out about this fantastic offer the Minister made before Christmas?
Since a commitment was given in a Westminster Hall debate to expanding superfast broadband across Northern Ireland, I have been contacted by many constituents who have told me that they cannot increase their business—this is mainly small businesses and people who work from home—or start a business without it. What is the Minister doing exclusively to help people with small businesses in the rural community to advance this issue?
We had a very successful broadband voucher scheme, which brought superfast broadband to something like 55,000 businesses. That scheme has come to an end, but we always review what specific help we can give to businesses. The roll-out in Northern Ireland is now picking up pace, which will help both homeowners and businesses alike.
Grassroots Sport: Deprived Areas
I fundamentally believe, and it is reflected in the new sports strategy, that sport has the power to change lives and communities, particularly in deprived areas. As a result, we will invest significantly in organisations that deliver programmes in deprived areas, which will make a difference in health outcomes, community cohesion and individual life chances.
As this will probably be the Minister’s last Question Time before the arrival of her new baby, may I wish her and her family well for the next few weeks?
Does the Minister agree that sporting programmes such as Kicks, run by the Premier League, and Hitz, supported by the rugby premier league, do excellent work tackling gang crime and antisocial behaviour and rehabilitating young offenders, and that they should be at the heart of the delivery of the Government’s new sports strategy?
I am a huge fan of both those schemes. The Premier League Kicks project, which is supported by a number of partners, including my own Department and now the Home Office, shows that 75% of its participants live in the top 30% most deprived areas in England. Where the scheme has been run, it has seen a 60% reduction in antisocial behaviour. It is exactly those kind of projects that will play a key role in delivering the new sports strategy.
Certain members of society that we are trying to reach to ensure that they participate more in sport rely on apps and a greater use of technology. It is something that we reference with a great deal of interest in the sports strategy. Having recently met the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, I know that a great deal of work is being done to increase the number of apps and make sure that technology plays a key part in ensuring that we get the nation active.
Kettering Town Harriers, of which I am proud to be a member, is a fantastic local athletics club, which offers great opportunities for boys, girls and adults from across the borough of Kettering and further afield. Does my hon. Friend agree that local athletics clubs are a great way to help people get involved in sport?
I certainly believe local athletics clubs can play an important role within their own communities. I know of athletics clubs across the entire country that want to make sure that they reach out beyond their core to ensure that all people who want to get involved in athletics—track and field—can do so. Major events, such as the Olympics coming up this year, will help to inspire others to get involved in the future.
May I join the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) in wishing the Minister all the best for her forthcoming maternity leave? I am sure that we all look forward to the birth of a budding young athlete.
While volunteers at the grassroots of sport struggle with scarce resources and ever-increasing charges for facilities, we are seeing a growing number of scandals involving those at the elite end of sport lining their pockets with money that could well be invested in the grassroots. That is demoralising for those who work so hard to deliver sport in our communities. Is it not time to insist that people who are found guilty of doping, match-fixing or accepting bribes are given life bans, no matter who they are? Are the Government demanding that all United Kingdom-based agencies, whether sporting, financial or criminal, actively search for evidence of corruption and cheating in our sport?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to ensure that as much money as possible is invested in grassroots sport. I am pleased that, as part of the sports strategy, we have managed to encourage the Premier League to at least double its investment in grassroots sport, which will be underpinned by the welcome settlement in the spending review. I was disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not share our joy over that settlement.
Scandals and allegations of corruption are, unfortunately, ongoing. It is very disappointing when each scandal is reported. We in the Government will see what we can do, and if it is necessary to review existing legislation, we will do so. In the meantime, we are encouraging international federations to root out corruption as quickly as possible.
Amateur Sports Clubs: Flooding
After the floods became more widespread, Sport England doubled its emergency flood relief fund, which is designed to help finance necessary recovery work for amateur sports clubs that are affected by flooding. That is entirely a matter for Sport England, but the Department and I receive regular updates on issues that clubs in affected areas are facing. The Football Foundation and the England and Wales Cricket Board are providing additional flood funds to assist clubs that are ineligible for Sport England funds.
I thank the Minister for her reply, and wish her well for her forthcoming maternity leave.
The grounds of both Ramsbottom United football club and Ramsbottom cricket club, which are in my constituency, were completely submerged during the recent floods, which caused tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of damage. Although the supporters have worked valiantly and they have done what they can to help themselves, the clubs are still struggling to recover. What further help might the Government provide, as a matter of urgency, to help them to do so?
I have read about the awful damage at Ramsbottom cricket club and “Rammy United”, as I believe it is known. It seems that the wider community, sporting and otherwise, has done an incredible job in helping with the immediate clear-up. The ECB, the Football Foundation and others have pledged financial support, but if the clubs need assistance with anything else, my hon. Friend is welcome to get in touch, and we will try to ensure that they receive all the help and advice that can be provided.
My ministerial colleagues regularly meet a range of stakeholders to discuss issues relating to the work of the Department, including the future of Channel 4. The Government are considering a number of options, including those proposed by Channel 4’s leadership, but no decisions have yet been made.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Channel 4 on achieving a record number of both Oscar and BAFTA nominations this year? Does he agree that it would not be able to deliver its unique and invaluable remit if it had to return a profit to shareholders?
As I have said, my concern is to ensure the continuing success and viability of Channel 4, which is why we are considering a number of options. I understand that the last Labour Government did so as well, and that they also considered privatisation. We have not yet reached a conclusion, but I will adopt whatever policy I believe is best designed to ensure that Channel 4 continues to enjoy the success that the right hon. Gentleman has described.
Does the Secretary of State recognise the inherent tension in the fact that one of the purposes of privatisation would be to raise the maximum amount of money for the Treasury, and the more Channel 4 sticks to its distinctive and successful remit, the less money is likely to be raised? Can he assure the House that, when he makes his final decision, the preservation of the broadcasting and the creative success of Channel 4 will be uppermost in his mind?
I am very happy to give my right hon. Friend exactly that assurance. The reason why we are looking at different options for the future of Channel 4 is to ensure that it can continue to deliver the remit in what is going to become a very fast-changing and challenging environment. However, as I have made clear before, it is the remit that matters, and I want Channel 4 to continue to deliver it into the future.
Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to consider the “One year on” report on Channel 4’s 360° diversity charter? Does he recognise that, while diversity is a pronounced feature in Channel 4’s particular vocation, increasing diversity is not only the job of Channel 4, and will he value diversity when he considers the BBC charter renewal?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The challenge of increasing diversity applies across all broadcasters. It is something that I know my hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy has paid close attention to—and indeed he was speaking only this week with Idris Elba, who is another person who competes with him in terms of his own attraction.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Chancellor of the Exchequer now believes Channel 4 privatisation will bring the Conservatives much public opprobrium for a relatively small financial return and that the Conservatives are now backing away from the idea of privatising this much loved public institution?
I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but, as I said earlier, no decisions have been taken. I have not had an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because we have not yet reached our own conclusions on it, but I look forward to doing so in due course.
First World War Commemorations
There are two key first world war events to commemorate this year. On 31 May, national events will be held in Orkney to mark the battle of Jutland and the wider war at sea, and on 1 July national events will be held both in Manchester and at the Thiepval memorial in France to commemorate the battle of the Somme. These form part of wider national commemorations over the next two years, and I would encourage all hon. Members to read details of the latest 14-18 NOW culture programme, which was announced yesterday.
I thank the Secretary of State for the work he and others, including the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), have been doing in ensuring the smooth running of these commemorations. They will have seen the great success of the Tower poppies installation at the Yorkshire sculpture park, which reminds us all of the importance of ensuring that the commemorations extend to every corner of the country. Does he agree that in this important year of commemoration we should also find a moment in this House for Members to come together and pay their respects in this place? Will he use his good offices to ensure that such an opportunity is forthcoming?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words, and in turn thank him for his support. We may argue over many matters in this House, but I think all parties can come together in memory of those who sacrificed so much. He mentioned the weeping window and the wave sculptures, and I was delighted that the Chancellor has made more money available to allow us to take that sculpture to more parts of the country, including St Magnus cathedral, as part of the commemoration of Jutland. The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that we should have an opportunity here to commemorate those who gave their lives is an excellent one. It is not entirely one I can deliver, but I am very happy to pursue it.
Can my right hon. Friend say how Devonport is going to be included in the battle of Jutland commemorations, since my grandfather was a gunnery officer and wrote an eyewitness account of it?
I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s wish to see the commemoration, given his own personal connection, and I pay tribute to his grandfather, and indeed all who served at that time. He will know that a series of events is being planned, including the ceremony at the Orkney islands. Descendants of those who served at the battle are invited to take part in the events and I hope he will apply—although he will need to be rather quick since the closing date is tomorrow. He may also be interested to know that the Royal Navy will be marking the centenary at memorials in his constituency at Devonport and also at Portsmouth and Chatham.
Children and Young People: Access to Sport
A positive experience of sport at a young age can create a lifelong habit of participation. It is therefore important that all children have the opportunity to engage in sport and physical activity in a way that interests them, and that sits at the very heart of the new sports strategy.
I thank the sports Minister for her question and I wish her well with her maternity. I am aware that she will have other notable diary commitments, but I would like to invite her and other parliamentary colleagues to join me, the BBC and ITV on 2 February for the parliamentary launch of the Six Nations rugby season. Does she agree that free-to-air sports, underpinned by the listed events regime, are crucial to inspiring young people to take up sport?
I am conscious of the fact that my hon. Friend’s injury is sport-related and that at this moment he might therefore not be the best advert for encouraging people to get involved in sport. On his specific question, I understand that the Secretary of State is hoping to attend the event on 2 February. Alas, I shall—I hope—be otherwise engaged. However, I do of course agree that sport on free-to-air TV, underpinned by the listed events regime, is crucial to inspiring youngsters to take up sport. Like so many others, I am looking forward to the Six Nations, even though I shall be watching it from my armchair.
May I gently point out to both Front-Bench teams that I do not seem to have heard the words “England”, “cricket”, “South Africa”, “Joe Root” or “Yorkshire” this morning? Can we congratulate the English team on what they achieved in South Africa, as we have not already done so? On young people’s access to sport, is it not a question, in this age of childhood obesity, of young people getting out into the countryside and walking as well as engaging in sport? As the chair of the John Clare Trust, I know how difficult it is to get children from poorer areas into the countryside so that they can learn about it and learn to love it.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to congratulate our England cricket stars on their sporting success in South Africa. We should also congratulate our English men and women down in Australia, who appear to be doing incredibly well in the Big Bash tournament. Of course, ensuring that children are involved in sport is incredibly important and we need to ensure that they are inspired by all the different sports that are available to them. The sports strategy is very much designed to encourage people who want to do all sorts of sports and physical activities, whether traditional sports or other outdoor activities such as mountaineering or climbing, and to ensure that they have access to them.
The Government are supporting an increase in visitor numbers to Yorkshire through the work of VisitBritain, VisitEngland and the GREAT campaign. Yorkshire received record inbound tourist numbers in 2014, and we are continuing to work hard to attract domestic and international visitors to the county. That is why the Prime Minister has published his five-point plan on tourism and why at the recent spending review we secured a new £40 million Discover England fund.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when a heritage item is movable, there is a case for occasionally placing it on display outside London and the south of England? Is he aware that Hull is our city of culture next year, and that many people in Yorkshire have been expecting that the aeroplane used by the Hull-born aviator Amy Johnson will be on display in the region? However, the London-based Science Museum has refused to give its permission, saying that the plane must stay in London. Will he join me in asking the London-obsessed Science Museum to think again, and will he agree to meet me to discuss this matter?
I am very much aware that Hull is to be the next city of culture; I recently had a meeting with the organisers, as did both my ministerial colleagues, to discuss that. I quite understand why Hull should want to celebrate the life of Amy Johnson, who was born in the city. I know that there has been a lengthy dialogue about the specific issue that my right hon. Friend has raised and that the Science Museum is concerned about the delicate state of the aeroplane and the potential cost of the move, but I am happy to look into the matter further and I am of course willing to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss it.
I am sure the Secretary of State will be delighted to know that Hull now ranks in the top 10 cities of the world to visit, according to the “Rough Guide”. On that basis, I am very pleased that one of my constituency neighbours, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), has supported the bid to bring Amy Johnson’s plane to Hull. Also on that basis, will the Secretary of State press the Treasury to fill the £5 million gap that has resulted from the Arts Council turning down an application for funds to refurbish the New theatre in the city? That refurbishment needs to go ahead in time for the 2017 celebrations. I make this request in the light of the fact that the Treasury has found £78 million to pay for a new theatre in Manchester.
The hon. Lady is quite right to highlight the autumn statement and the settlement that was achieved, which included money for arts institutions across the country. I am aware of the issue relating to the New theatre in Hull, and of course I am keen to support as much as possible in the city during this very important year approaching. I am happy to continue to press the case, but obviously she will understand that there are a lot of competing bids. We are determined to make Hull a success as the UK city of culture.
BBC Charter Renewal
Good progress is being made on the BBC charter review programme. The consultation launched in July received 192,000 responses. We are, of course, committed to reading and analysing all of them, and we reached 150,000 earlier this month. In addition, I have commissioned further reviews and research, including an independent review of governance and regulation led by Sir David Clementi. In the coming months, my Department will work towards publishing proposals for the future of the BBC.
Does the Minister not accept that the huge number of responses to the consultation—the second largest response to any Government consultation—shows the concern for and interest in the BBC? In the interests of full transparency, will the Secretary of State now give, as my constituents are demanding, a specific timetable for the Government publishing their full response to the BBC consultation?
As I say, I am very pleased about the volume of responses we have had, although approaching 150,000 of them came in within 48 hours; 38 Degrees has boasted of its success in generating all those responses. That does not mean they are not valid expressions of opinion; it just means that perhaps they are not wholly representative of public opinion at large. However, we are committed to reading every one. That is proving a logistical challenge and it has taken longer than we anticipated, but we will be publishing both a summary of the consultations and our proposals as soon as we are able.
There have been persistent reports that, as a part of cost-cutting, the BBC will downgrade news coverage and its parliamentary coverage. Does the Secretary of State agree that the public reasonably expect a news channel and comprehensive parliamentary reports to be essential parts of a public service broadcaster’s remit?
My constituents tell me that they do not want the BBC dismantled or diminished, and they certainly do not want its remit narrowed. This Government have flogged off more of our national assets than almost any other, so can we really trust them with the BBC?
The BBC charter expires at the end of this year, and that provides an opportunity to look at all aspects of the BBC in what is a very fast-changing media landscape. That is the purpose of the charter review. We have not reached any decisions yet and we are listening to all expressions of opinion about the future of the BBC, of which there are very many.
13. How does the Secretary of State explain the worrying discrepancy between the amount raised via licence fees and the amount spent in Scotland? There is a mismatch between the £335 million in income for the BBC from Scotland and the £190 million spent there. Does he not agree that a fairer share of that income would boost our broadcasting sector and provide funding for the restructuring of BBC Scotland? (903153)
Of course, viewers in Scotland, just as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, benefit from the national programming of the BBC. She will be aware that the director general recently gave evidence to the Scottish Education and Culture Committee, in which he pointed out that in 2014 £108 million was spent on local content and that that rose to more than £200 million when central support and distribution costs were included.
Ninety-seven per cent. of the adult population of the UK use the BBC services for an average of 18 hours every week, and their perceptions of the BBC have improved over the past 10 years. According to the BBC Trust, 85% of the public support the BBC’s main mission to inform, educate and entertain. Those figures are a remarkable endorsement of the public service ethos of the BBC. The consultation on charter renewal of the Secretary of State’s Department closed on 8 October last year, and he has now spent more time considering the responses to that consultation than he allowed for the public to respond. When will he get his act together and publish the results? Can he just give us a date today, please?
May I begin by welcoming the hon. Lady to her new position? I have been doing this job for a relatively short time—just eight months—and she is now the third Opposition spokesman I have faced. I do hope that she survives a little longer than her immediate predecessors. In relation to her question, I am keen that we should publish our proposals, but we did not anticipate 192,000 responses. She will understand that, if I were to get up and publish our conclusions, she would quickly be at the Dispatch Box claiming that we had not properly analysed them and that this was a cosmetic exercise. It is not a cosmetic exercise and we are reading the responses carefully.
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman sounds as if he is procrastinating. The BBC charter expires at the end of this year, but he has not even got around to publishing his White Paper because the consultation is taking so long. Will he guarantee that his Department’s time wasting will not result in some kind of debilitating short-term charter extension beyond the end of the year? Will he be clear today that the next charter will be for a minimum of 10 years?
Charter review comes round once every 10 years and I am determined that we should get it right. We will take however long it takes to ensure that we fully consult and consider the options, and we will publish as soon as we are ready. We are currently considering the length of the next charter, which was one of the questions in the Green Paper, and it will form part of our conclusions when we come to publish them.
Since the House last met for these questions, the Minister for sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), has launched the first Government sports strategy in more than a decade and the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), has become the longest serving arts Minister in history. We have also seen the sad passing of some of our great cultural icons. I am sure the whole Chamber will join me in extending our sympathies to the families, and indeed the fans, of David Bowie, Jimmy Hill, Alan Rickman and Lemmy, and also in celebrating the enormous contribution that each made to the sporting and cultural life of our country.
The success in attracting the “Star Wars” trilogy to the UK underlines the terrific talent available in our creative industries as well as the incredible variety of filming locations. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the impact of tax credits on the film and other creative industries?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the success we have had in attracting international investment in film to this country not just in “Star Wars”, but in a huge proportion of the major films now being made. Part of the reason for that is indeed our creative industry’s tax credits. In 2013, the creative industries accounted for 5% of the economy, and our tax credits are one way of our supporting them. The film tax credit has been responsible for nearly £7 billion of investment in the UK, and our high-end TV tax credit has helped to support more than £800 million of investment.
T5. What assistance will the Department give to local authorities to keep their regional museums open following the recent Museums Association report, which stated that one in five regional museums has closed in part or in full and that one in 10 expect to introduce entrance charges to cover reductions in local authority funding? (903163)
I read the Museums Association report, and I welcome the fact that 60% of museums have seen their visitor numbers increase and that 40% of museums have seen their museum outreach increase. We want to work with local authorities and to work through the Arts Council with local authorities. I urge Labour authorities such as Lancashire to look again at their horrific plans to close their museums.
T7. What progress has been made in securing at least 5% of the Premier League TV deal for grassroots football? Children’s football is virtually unplayable at this time of year, yet the Premier League continues to throw money around as though it is going out of fashion. (903165)
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that through negotiations and discussions with the Premier League I have managed to secure at least double what it currently invests in grassroots football. That will be more than £100 million per annum from the domestic TV rights, which equates to about 6.5% of the total.
T3. The long-serving Minister responsible for arts and broadband will share my disappointment that despite his welcome promise to ensure that no home in the country has broadband speeds of less than 2 megabits per second, there are apparently parts of my constituency in Gloucester that have still not reached that speed. I have raised one particular area and problem with BT since 2013. First BT promised to upgrade the cabinet, then it failed to do so, and now it says that it is commercially unviable. Will the Minister meet me and celebrate his long tenure by resolving this problem? (903161)
I will happily meet my hon. Friend at any point. I am pleased that at least 93% or 94% of his constituents have superfast broadband. Of course, it is more difficult because of state aid rules to subsidise broadband in cities, but I will certainly meet my hon. Friend and discuss the particular issues he faces.
I, too, wish the Minister well on maternity leave. I hope that it all goes well and that we see her back in her role.
A recent response from the Gambling Commission to a freedom of information request has revealed 633 possible incidents of money laundering in betting shops in the past 12 months alone. Not only that, but online we are seeing videos of fixed odds betting terminals being smashed up with chairs and hammers. What are the Government going to do to protect lone staff and vulnerable people in betting shops?
I take the issue of money laundering in gambling very seriously and the Gambling Commission is currently consulting on proposed regulatory changes to strengthen the fight against that crime. I understand that the Treasury will be consulting on the EU directive on money laundering, which will include gambling. On the issue of violence in betting shops, there has of course been an increase in the number of police callouts to high street shops. Whether the callout is related to FOBT machines is not recorded, but as a keen campaigner on BT machines I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that today I have published on the gov.uk website the evaluation of the £50 regulations introduced last April, and I expect a triennial review of stakes and prizes to begin soon.
T4. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the many towns across the UK that will be laying on cultural experiences in the coming year? In Horsham, that varies from a brand new cultural festival we are putting on in the summer to pancake racing next month. The Secretary of State would be very welcome to join me at either. (903162)
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating all those towns holding arts festivals, which include not just Horsham but Maldon. I am particularly pleased that there are plans in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as part of a festival, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, which will be marked not just across the country but around the world. I would be very happy to visit an event in my hon. Friend’s constituency, although I cannot promise to participate in the pancake race.
Despite the Secretary of State’s earlier bluster about national programming, people in Scotland were shocked by the £145 million differential between income and expenditure as regards the BBC licence fee. That could free up £100 million for direct production in Scotland, which would support 1,500 jobs and add a boost of £60 million to the economy. Will he commit to full devolution of broadcasting to make that happen?
I am aware of the concerns in Scotland about this, and, as I said earlier to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), it is something that the director-general discussed with the Select Committee last week. I shall be seeing the director -general later. It is important that the BBC should serve all parts of the country, but I do not think that we can simply sit down and allocate spending precisely in proportion to the licence fee. It is a national broadcaster.
T6. I, too, wish my hon. Friend well in her imminent personal sporting challenge. As she knows, Faversham and Mid Kent is rich in fascinating tourist destinations, such as Leeds castle and the historic market town of Faversham itself, so I welcomed the recently announced £40 million Visit England fund. Will organisations such as Visit Kent have a chance to bid for a share of this fund? (903164)
I am proud that “Downton Abbey” was made in Ealing—the below-stairs servants quarters were in my constituency—but the series has now ended, so what are the Government doing to increase representation on and off-screen of the nation’s ethnic, regional and gender diversity so that the airwaves are not all dominated by the classes upstairs?
I fully support the sentiment behind the hon. Lady’s question. We have worked closely with the broadcasters to have stretching targets. We have put the Creative Diversity Network on a permanent footing and we have clear guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on what broadcasters can do—but they need to get on with it.
T8. Destination Staffordshire recently submitted its bid for funding from the European regional development fund. In the interests of brevity, will my right hon. Friend encourage Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government to look favourably on the bid—yes or no? (903166)
My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of tourism to Staffordshire as it contributes to the economy of so much of our country. He will know that this is a matter for my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I understand that discussions have taken place and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), the Minister with responsibility for local growth and the northern powerhouse, would be happy to set up a meeting to discuss the position.
I am very conscious of the challenge to ensure that we get the message out that Yorkshire and other parts of the country affected by flooding are open for business. We will be looking closely at what we can do to support those businesses affected by flooding. I hope we will be able to say more about that quite soon.
Did I just hear the Minister confirm that there would be a triennial review this year, and will she comment on exactly when and what that will be?
Andy Murray, who hails from my constituency, won again last night. He is a hero and the epitome of integrity in sport. He made some comments this week about matchfixing. We have had the International Association of Athletics Federations report and the FIFA fiasco. Can the Minister assure me that we will do all we can to make sure that we are a shining example of promoting integrity in sport, as epitomised by Andy Murray?
I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in that call. I have spoken this week with the Lawn Tennis Association, the All England tennis club and the Association of Tennis Professionals. We are determined to do all we can to support them in ensuring that the game is absolutely clean, and I know they are committed to that as well. We will be holding a summit later in the year, looking at the challenge of tackling corruption across all sectors, including sport.
Given the imminent demise of the largely unsuccessful Arqiva mobile infrastructure programme, what can now be done to improve the “not spot” situation, which is wholly unsatisfactory in relation to the £400 billion rural economy?
I am pleased that we should have 75 sites erected as a result of the mobile infrastructure programme. Thirty-two people living in Wales have benefited from a new mobile site that has just been erected. I am pleased that under the deal that we negotiated with mobile operators, they will increase their coverage to 90% geographic coverage.
I congratulate my local team, East Kilbride football club, on reaching the last 16 of the Scottish cup for the very first time. Does the Minister agree that it is unfair that while English fans can watch their national team free of charge, Scottish fans have to pay? Will she meet the Scottish Government’s sports Minister to discuss and resolve the situation?
That is a matter for the home nation football associations, so the Scottish FA should negotiate with UEFA, under its central sales strategy, which broadcasts qualifying or friendly matches. We have a listed events regime whereby we can see home nations compete in the European championship and, of course, world cup final tournaments, but home nations need to qualify to be able to do so.
The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) has a nerve trying to claim to be the champion of betting shop workers. If his policies were adopted there would be far fewer of them, because many betting shops would close. Does the Minister agree that if we want to see more staff employed in betting shops—I certainly do—they need to have a viable financial future, particularly in relation to negotiations on machines and the levy?
There are some very strict rules and statutory requirements, particularly on the number of staff in betting shops. They are subject to health and safety regulations, and voluntary minimum standards are required across the industry. I expect all operators to adhere to those standards in order to protect their staff on the high street.
Restoration and Renewal
2. What steps the Commission plans to take to ensure public and parliamentary scrutiny of the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster after a decision on the options for that project has been made. (903180)
I anticipate that both Houses will have an opportunity to debate the matter once the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster has reported. The question of future scrutiny will be aired in those debates and the House of Commons Commission will listen carefully to the views expressed before making any decisions.
Many of my constituents find it difficult to understand how we can consider spending billions of pounds on a palace—literally a palace—for parliamentarians when so many of them can barely afford a roof of any kind over their heads. Can we have an assurance that the Joint Committee, which so far has met entirely in private, will soon meet in public and that all documentation relating to its considerations will be made public?
I am sure that the Joint Committee and the Leader of the House will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments and will want to respond positively. It is worth underlining the fact that we have neglected the upkeep of this building for many decades and that we do need to make investment in what is, after all, a world heritage building.
I would like to thank the House of Commons Commission for contacting me, as chair of the all-party group for disability, to ensure that we are involved in plans to restore the Palace of Westminster. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that all restoration and renewal work fully addresses issues of accessibility for people who have disabilities?
I do not want to pre-empt what the Joint Committee will come up with, but I am sure it will carefully consider that matter. I think that every Member of the House will agree that it would be a completely missed opportunity if these works did not also ensure that the Palace is fully accessible to anyone with disabilities.
As well as having an opportunity to debate the R and R programme, it is hugely important that Members have an opportunity to promote businesses in their constituencies that can take part in the works. For example, Crown Paints, based in Darwen, would be a fantastic company to provide paint and to advise at this early stage to ensure that costs are reduced.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Clearly, a project on this scale will require the participation of small, medium and large businesses from all over the country. When the project comes forward, I hope that the initiatives used to promote opportunities for businesses in the run-up to the Olympics will be deployed for the restoration of the Palace.
Could the House of Commons Commission and the Joint Committee consider the idea of an historic trust into which the estate could be placed in order to separate the politics of renewal from the restoration of a national asset?
I am all for scrutiny, public and parliamentary, but can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that a decision will definitely be reached before the end of this Parliament and that we will not waste any further time or public money debating this very important issue in the next Parliament?
I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance because it is for the Joint Committee to decide what it recommends as a way forward. I think that everyone in this place knows that this work must be undertaken, and it is in our interest and that of the taxpayer that it is pursued vigorously. The longer we delay, the greater the costs associated with the works.
May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to look seriously, and imaginatively, at how this reconstruction is going to be funded—perhaps by public subscription through a form of crowdfunding? May I warn him not to enter into a careless public finance initiative like the one in Halifax, where £770 million has been paid back on a hospital that cost £70 million?
I hope that everyone in this place has learned the lessons of PFI. Again, it is not for me to work out what the financial arrangements are going to be, but clearly PFI may well be one of the more expensive options. I hope that the Treasury will look at something that is perhaps more straightforward in funding these improvements.
Equality, diversity and inclusion are core to the way in which the House of Commons service works. The Commission agreed a diversity and inclusion strategy that promotes gender equality, and receives regular updates on its delivery. Key measures include targets for the number of women in the senior pay bands, fair and open recruitment, and promotion of flexible working.
The right hon. Gentleman may remember that in the previous Parliament I raised the issue of the representation of women, both as politicians and authors, in the Parliamentary Bookshop. When perusing its bookshelves, visitors from all over the world, potential MPs among them, would gain the impression that the House was almost exclusively male and white—as they would, for that matter, when viewing the walls in the Palace of Westminster. What steps is he taking to ensure that, superficially at least, the Palace of Westminster better represents the people and diversity of this country?
Again, the appropriate authorities will have heard the hon. Lady’s question. Like her, I think it is important that we recognise the very important role that women have played, and continue to play, in politics, and I hope that will be reflected in what is on offer in the bookstores.
It is very important that the House of Commons sets the agenda for gender equality. The right hon. Gentleman has outlined some of the things that have been done, but what more is being done to let people outside this House know that we are leading the way and setting the examples in raising gender equality issues?
Independent assessments are carried out of how Parliament addresses the issue of equality. For instance, members of the public could look at Stonewall’s assessment. That puts Parliament nearly in the top quarter, so progress is being made. More still could be done, but that is a very good way for members of the public to assess the progress we are making.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
LEADER OF THE HOUSE
The Leader of the House was asked—
We have fulfilled our manifesto commitment in introducing English votes for English laws, which I believe will strengthen the Union. We have undertaken two Legislative Grand Committees, and several statutory instruments have passed without Division. The House knows about the tablet issue affecting two hon. Members in the live Division on Tuesday. It was recognised immediately, and their votes were recorded, included by the Tellers and listed in Hansard. The Government will undertake a review of the English votes for English laws procedure later this year, and the Procedure Committee has already announced its technical review.
During the English votes for English laws debates, we were repeatedly assured by the Leader of the House that no legislation would pass without a double majority. On Tuesday, we voted on an England-only certified motion to annul secondary legislation. How satisfied is the Deputy Leader of the House that, had the majority of the whole House voted for the negative motion while the majority of English Members voted it down, we would have a statutory instrument that financially affects Scotland that the majority of the House had voted against?
Half the students at Glyndwr University in my border constituency are from England and it was directly financially affected by the vote earlier this week referred to by the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law). The institution is vital to my constituency and is directly affected by financial decisions made by this House, so is it not wrong in principle that my voice, on its behalf, should be taken away and that my vote counts for less than that of the hon. Lady?
5. What steps he is taking to modernise the voting system of the House. (903186)
Since October 2014 the House service has been investigating means of electronic recording of Divisions, with a view to improving the timely publication of Division lists, making Division data more accessible to the public and easier to analyse, and improving accuracy. There was a trial in the last Parliament and hon. Members will have seen it in practice on Tuesday. Full implementation of tablet recording of Divisions is expected later in this Session.
The voting system in this House is archaic, as exemplified yesterday when well over an hour was spent on four different votes on the Psychoactive Substances Bill. That cannot be a proper use of parliamentary time, particularly when it can be used to debate the substance of Bills. Can we please consider moving forward with a system of electronic voting and look to other Parliaments across the world, not least the Scottish Parliament, which uses it to great benefit?
There is an established tradition in this House. I recognise that hon. Members may have different views, but many Members value the opportunity given by the time during Divisions to see not only each other but Ministers and similar. The number of hours available in this House for scrutiny of the Government and legislation far exceeds that in other Parliaments in this country and, indeed, around the world.
As I have said, there is a long-standing convention and a lot of Members value the fact not only that we link votes to debates, but that the convention of walking through the Lobbies gives them the opportunity to speak to other people. It is a matter for further debate and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will speak to the Procedure Committee in due course.
I have always thought of my hon. Friend as a very traditional man. The other place has been using that technology for some time. It is a useful thing to do and I look forward to the electronic recording of votes being introduced into this place in due course.
I urge my hon. Friend to stick to her guns on this issue. I am sure that far more people visit this Parliament than the Scottish Parliament, and I suspect that most people visit this Parliament to see what we do and to respect our traditions, rather than necessarily to listen to what hon. Members have to say. We should guard our traditions with great care.
It is timely that I follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), because, since the election in May, Conservative Members and Ministers have denied this House a vote on exempting carers from hospital parking charges, ensuring that children learn emergency first aid and improving access to low-cost treatments for conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. Does the Deputy Leader of the House believe that the way of voting on private Members’ Bills is undemocratic, looks outdated to the public and needs to change?
I speak as somebody who has taken a private Member’s Bill through the House, which is a unique way to bring in legislation not introduced by the Government. The hon. Lady will know that the Procedure Committee is looking into this matter. Frankly, it is important that legislation is properly scrutinised. The Procedure Committee will come up with recommendations on which the House can further deliberate.
I had the privilege of serving for a year on the Digital Democracy Commission that you, Mr Speaker, established. The commission, which had a majority of lay members, endorsed the principle of walking through the Lobby for the benefits it brings. However, we urged the House to come up with a proposal for electronic voting by swiping smart cards to speed up the process, to ensure our constituents can quickly see how we have voted and to begin to modernise the House. Will the Deputy Leader of the House advise us on what progress has been made on that?
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 25 January—Remaining stages of the Childcare Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on a motion on foreign policy and development aid in central and east Africa. The subject for this debate was picked by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 26 January—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords], followed by the remaining stages of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 27 January—Opposition day (17th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Housing benefit cuts and supported housing”, followed by a debate on prisons and probation. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 28 January—Debate on a motion on the NHS and a social care commission. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 29 January—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 1 February will include:
Monday 1 February—Second Reading of the Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on a motion on the future of the Financial Conduct Authority. The subject for this debate was picked by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 2 February—Second Reading of the Enterprise Bill [Lords], followed by a motion relating to the House of Commons Commission.
Wednesday 3 February—Opposition day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 4 February—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 5 February—Private Members’ Bills.
Brevity is, of course, something you are yourself used to, Mr Speaker.
What a week it has been! As we debated psychoactive substances in this House, the American Republican campaign seemed to be on psychoactive substances. Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump must be the ultimate case of Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Two Tory MPs have confessed to taking poppers in the Chamber. I do not mean that they actually took the poppers in the Chamber—I do not know whether they did—but they made their confessions in the Chamber. We also learned that the Leader of the House is going to be out-outed by the Work and Pensions Secretary, who is not only an outer as far as the EU is concerned, but so determined to be out that he wants to be out of the two Out campaigns. Talk about two bald men fighting over a comb. As P. G. Wodehouse wrote in “The Small Bachelor”,
“if men were dominoes, he would be the double-blank.”
To be serious, Mr Speaker, may we have a debate about the operation of English votes for English laws? EVEL seems to be descending into farce. Last Thursday, a Committee considered the order abolishing student maintenance grants. You certified the order as an England-only one, yet two Scottish MPs and one Welsh MP were selected to sit on the Committee, in which they voted. That was fair enough, but on Tuesday, when the Labour party ensured that there was a vote of the whole House, two English MPs—the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon)—were excluded from the lists.
I have several complaints. First, last week the Leader of the House said of this measure:
“If it is prayed against, it will not pass without a vote of the whole House”.—[Official Report, 14 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 1002.]
Either he meant that a vote would happen automatically, in which case he does not know the rules of the House and, frankly, he should go and get himself another job, or he meant that he would make sure that the measure was put to a vote of the whole House, in which case we have been sorely disappointed because he did no such thing and, frankly, he should go and get himself another job. Which is it? Does he not know where the Table Office is—it is just out there—or did he never intend to table a motion?
What is particularly bizarre is that because the Government used the negative process and failed to table their own motion, as they had promised, it was virtually impossible for the measure to be defeated. Even if English MPs had wanted the order to be annulled, the whole House could have overruled them because the annulment required a double majority under Standing Order No. 83P. So much for EVEL—it is nothing but an elaborately farcical pretence at democracy and we should get rid of it as fast as possible.
When are we going to have a debate on the Strathclyde report? They have had one in the House of Lords, but we have not had one here. We have seen a dramatic increase in the use of statutory instruments since this Government came to power. They are now churning out 3,043 a year, compared with 1,891 a year under Labour. That is a 60% increase. And they are on more important matters: fracking in national parks, slashing working tax credits and cutting support for poorer students. Surely it is wrong to limit the powers of the Lords in relation to statutory instruments, when 3,000 such measures are being pushed through the Commons on unamendable motions every year.
The latest of these instruments is the Recall of MPs Act 2015 (Recall Petition) Regulations 2016—a very catchy title. This is no minor piece of legislation, as I am sure you are aware, Mr Speaker. It is 174 pages long—nearly three times longer than the original Act. Yet the Government are allowing only a 90-minute debate in Committee on Tuesday. I think that we should have a proper right of recall. That is what I voted for in the last Parliament, rather than the damp squib the Government introduced. Surely such an important measure should be considered by the whole House, line by line.
Next Wednesday is Holocaust Memorial Day. This afternoon, we will have a debate on the memorial day and remember the millions of Jews who were exterminated, the trade unionists, the Roma, the gay men, the so-called asocials, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and, of course, the people with disabilities who were killed under the T4 forced euthanasia programme, which saw 9,722 men and women gassed at the Brandenburg centre in 1940 alone.
But genocide is still happening today. Daesh slaughters Yazidi women and children in Syria and Iraq. In Darfur, the Sudanese Government have been engaged in genocide for more than a decade. I am sure that the Leader of the House would agree that we must always take sides, because looking the other way helps the oppressor, encourages the tormentor and perpetuates the crime.
That brings me to Russia. Sir Robert Owen has delivered his judgment on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The Home Secretary will make a statement in few minutes and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) will respond. I fully understand why the Government want to engage with Russia—she is a key player in Iran and Syria—but the one thing we know for certain about the murderous, kleptomaniac regime in Russia is that it walks all over the weak. Putin has no respect for those who let him do what he wants.
On 7 March 2012, this House declared unanimously that it wanted the Government to introduce a Magnitsky Act to ensure that nobody involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky or the corruption that he unveiled was able to enter this country. The USA has such an Act. Is it not time that we made it absolutely clear that Russian murderers are not welcome in this country, and that the likes of Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun may enter the country only if they are prepared to stand trial?
May I start with the English votes for English laws vote? I thank everyone among the House’s officials who has been involved in introducing the new system. Barring the minor glitch on Tuesday, it has been done very effectively and I am grateful to all those who have been involved in making it happen. The glitch was clearly a minor human error. I, for one, do not think that it is right to start blaming those who set up the new system for that minor human error; I am surprised that the shadow Leader of the House would make that suggestion. I am grateful to all in the House who have been involved in making the new system work.
A couple of points were raised about the restoration and renewal project. Regardless of what we as a Parliament choose to do, that work would have to be carried out anyway. This is a grade I listed building and a world heritage site, and the work we are talking about has to happen regardless. The Committee will report soon, probably in spring, and it will hold sessions in public, probably after the consultation period, which—I remind hon. Members—finishes next week. I encourage everyone to take part.
I echo the comments about Holocaust Memorial Day, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for marking it. It has always been an important point in the parliamentary calendar, and I am grateful to the Committee for continuing the tradition.
I have announced two more Opposition days. The shadow Leader of the House has asked for debates on a variety of subjects. He will clearly have a lot of different bids for Opposition day debating time, so let me try to help him, particularly with things that he may not have time for. He did not ask me for a debate on his party’s extraordinary new defence policy of sending our nuclear submarines out to sea with no missiles. Despite his comments on Daesh, he did not ask for a statement on Syria, so that his party leader can set out his plans for negotiations with the brutal murderers in that part of the world. He did not ask for a debate on his party’s new policy of reopening discussions on the future of the Falkland Islands with Argentina, or for a debate on trade union law so that his party can argue for a return to the days of flying pickets and secondary strikes, putting companies out of business and workers out of jobs. If he wants additional time to debate those issues, I am sure we can look carefully at that.
I am certainly willing to provide extra time for debate on the backbone—or lack of it—of members of the shadow Cabinet, who are not brave enough to put their own jobs on the line when it comes to standing up to a Leader of the Opposition whose policies pose a real threat to this country.
The shadow Leader of the House has left the Church of England because he believes that its policies are unacceptable, but he will not do the same for the shadow Cabinet, even though its policies are clearly unacceptable. He and his colleagues have abandoned the red flag. By scrapping our defences and doing deals with our adversaries, today they are about keeping the white flag flying here, and the hon. Gentleman should be ashamed to be still sitting on that Front Bench.
The House may wish to know that following the non-violent demonstration at Fenchurch Street station regarding c2c timetable changes, the service is now even worse. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on matters affecting the Showmen’s Guild? I have the honour to chair the all-party group on fairs and showgrounds, and I would like the House to consider issues relating to that, such as admissions and the distinction between Travellers and traveller-showmen.
My hon. Friend is one of Parliament’s great characters, so I am not in the least surprised to discover that he fulfils that position in the all-party group. He is right: there is a world of difference between those who travel this country bringing fairgrounds and entertainment to our communities, and a great time for young people, and those who occupy public land illegally and leave behind a vast amount of mess to be cleared up at huge public expense. We should always be proud to make that distinction in this House. My hon. Friend does a great job with his work, and he is right to say that that distinction is enormously important.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
Another week, another EVEL shambles—this week the now infamous iPad malfunction. How could they possibly do that to the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), the most English of all English Members in the House? A man who sits proudly in his Union Jack underpants and whose ringtone is, “There’ll Always Be an England”, has been treated as mere and meagre Scot and subject to the second-class status that we have in this House. “Reinstate the hon. Member for Romford” is the call from the SNP Benches. Seriously, the confusion around EVEL continues, and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) deserves a better response than we got from the Deputy Leader of the House—perhaps the Leader of the House can help us with that.
The Leader of the House has always characterised the double majority and the Scottish veto—or the English veto, as we call it—as something that would give consent to a particular instrument. This week we had a measure that withheld consent but that was subject to the EVEL mechanism and the double majority vote on which we were obviously subject to a English veto. What is the response of the Leader of the House to that? When we start to distinguish Members according to geography and nationality, that will always be reinterpreted and extended. By the end of this Parliament, we will have a real divide in this House. That may be the Leader of the House’s legacy as he goes off to fight one of his Euro-battles to get the country out of Europe.
Are the Government prepared to respect the House of Lords vote on the Trade Union Bill? I am not a great supporter of the House of Lords, but I note what it did this week. More important to me is whether the Leader of the House will respect the recommendation of the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution Committee that Scotland be excluded from the scope of the Bill. We do not want the Bill to destroy the very good trade union relations that we enjoy in Scotland. This is a deeply ideological Tory Bill and the Government are trying impose it on a country that does not do Tory. Can we leave it at the border and not have this Tory Trade Union Bill in Scotland?
Growing numbers of people are concerned about the situation in Yemen. Our role in equipping and advising the Saudi air force in its bombing campaign was rightly raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). We have sold £10 billion-worth of aircraft to the Saudi air force, yet the Arms Export Controls Committee has lain dormant since the general election. Will the Leader of the House now pledge to get the Committee up and running as quickly as possible, so there is at least some form of scrutiny and oversight of arms exports to countries such as Saudi Arabia?
We heard all sorts of rumours yesterday about a possible maingate vote on Trident, which I am very disappointed to see is not in the Business statement. We are now in a situation where all of us could make a decision about maingate. All the major parties have now got their positions, which are apparent for everybody to see. The Conservatives—the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) is nodding—want to spend billions of pounds of our money on useless obsolete weapons of mass destruction. The SNP is implacably opposed to that spending. The Labour party, of course, has the yellow submarine option, which is maybe for and maybe against, while at the same time sending submarines out without any weaponry whatever. So we are all in a position to make a decision. Will the Leader of the House now get on with this, so we can have a proper decision and see how the parties respond?
I wish all our friends in the Scottish National party a very enjoyable Burns night next week. I do not know whether they will be piping in the haggis in quite the traditional way after our discussions last week—they should perhaps be piping in the black pudding from Stornoway; whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) would agree with that is a different question—but I wish them all a very enjoyable evening of celebration next week.
On the English votes for English laws vote earlier this week, yes there was a mistake. However, I do not believe we should condemn human error in a project that has gone pretty smoothly. I do not think anybody would wish to exclude my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) from anything, nor would he allow himself to be excluded. As the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) says, he is the ultimate English nationalist. He is also a United Kingdom nationalist as well. That, I think, is the point the hon. Gentleman misses about the Trade Union Bill. He talks about imposing something on the country. We are all part of one country. That is what the Scottish people decided in the referendum. I know it is difficult for the SNP to accept that, but the reality is that this is a United Kingdom Bill. I appreciate that SNP Members may disagree with it, but it will be voted on by the United Kingdom Parliament and I expect that it will be passed by the United Kingdom Parliament.
On Yemen, in Prime Minister’s questions the Prime Minister made it very clear, in response to the leader of the SNP at Westminster, the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), exactly what the position is in Saudi Arabia and exactly what our role—indeed, non-role—is in the conflict taking place in Yemen. We all want to see a solution: a proper Government who can represent all the people of Yemen. The hon. Gentleman talks about the Arms Export Controls Committee. It can, of course, meet whenever it chooses. It is a partnership of a number of Select Committees. It is not for the Government to instruct Select Committees to meet.
The hon. Gentleman was right to highlight, as I did earlier, the chaos of the Labour party’s policy on Trident. I do not know where it stands now. Does it want to build submarines but send them to sea empty? That is probably the case. At least the SNP has a clear position. The fact is that the Labour party is all over the place on this issue. When we bring it to the House, I suspect our parties will have an interesting time exposing the Labour party’s fraudulent position.
Order. I must advise the House that no fewer than 47 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I am always keen to accommodate colleagues, but there are two ministerial statements to follow and two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. There is, therefore, a premium on brevity. What is required from each Member is a single, short supplementary question without preamble and a characteristically pithy reply from the Leader of the House.
Derby City Council has granted planning permission on vital green wedge land in Oakwood—land that prevents the city from being an urban sprawl—in spite of substantial local opposition. The site contains very old and diverse woodland, but will become totally surrounded, preventing wildlife from entering and leaving. May we have a debate on providing corridors for wildlife in planning applications on green spaces to ensure safe havens for wildlife and to allow that wildlife to travel to and from established habitats?
I understand the concern, which was raised recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) with regard to his own campaign, and I know that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has considered it carefully. We always wish for local authorities to provide a balance between the necessary development to provide housing for the people of this country and wildlife protection.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for advance notice of the Back-Bench business debates on Thursday 4 February, but I note also that we have time allocated on Monday 25 January and Monday 1 February after Government business. Will he again consider protecting time for those debates so that we have at least three hours? I also point out to right hon. and hon. Members that the Backbench Business Committee is very much open for business.
Will the Leader of the House be good enough to give us a debate on how we can get back our country? On the immigration question, the voters absolutely have to understand how the Dublin regulation is being bulldozed, with the connivance of the Commission, through Angela Merkel’s own policy, and how human rights laws are being extended to allow people in Calais to come over here. These matters go right to the heart of the referendum. Can we have our country back please?
First, as my hon. Friend knows, the broader issue will be extensively debated in both the House and the country over the coming months. On the more immediate issues, it is important, in the interim, that, when the EU takes decisions about what happens right now, it does not forget the interests of the UK simply because we are not in the Schengen area.
May we have a debate on the lack of accountability of transport bodies, at regional and national levels, when they do not work together? We recently suffered hours of gridlock because of an accident on the motorway and a football match at the Etihad stadium—events likely to happen on the same day from time to time. The agencies involved find it impossible to work together or come up with any solutions.
It is important that transport bodies are mindful of such events. Occasionally in recent years, major national events have coincided with major engineering works—on the railways, for example. The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I am sure the Transport Secretary will listen. He will be here to take questions next week, when she might wish to make that point again.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the heartless cuts to local library services by Labour-led Telford and Wrekin Council, and may we have a debate on the vital role that library services play in communities such as Donnington, Hadley and Newport in my constituency?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Library services remain of enormous importance to people in this country. It is striking how Conservative councils have faced the financial challenges, which all local authorities face, innovatively while still managing to deliver quality services, while Labour councils, all too often, cannot provide the efficiencies we need while protecting those services.
Last week in Women and Equalities questions we could not ask any direct questions about the Select Committee’s report on the transgender issue. Will the Leader of the House consider allowing time for Topical Questions as part of Women and Equalities Question Time?
I am happy to consider that. We review the structure of questions from time to time. The hon. Lady might also wish to take the matter to the Backbench Business Committee to secure a debate. We now make a substantial block of time available to the Committee, as we have heard today. It is a good opportunity for Select Committees to seek time for debates about reports.
We have heard today that the Leader of the House wants a debate on the future of Trident, that the spokesman for the Scottish nationalists wants a debate on the future of Trident, and I know from personal experience that the leader of the Labour party is never afraid to have a debate on the future of Trident, so why have we not been given a date for the maingate debate and decision? Surely the Prime Minister cannot be so occupied with considerations of European negotiations as to delay this issue once more, when it was outrageously delayed for five years as part of a grubby coalition deal in 2010.
As we have heard, my right hon. Friend feels strongly that we should have such debates. He may be right about the Leader of the Opposition, but I am not sure that the rest of those on the Labour Front Bench want to have that debate any time soon. This is a matter under consideration and I hope to be able to indicate in the not too distant future the Government’s plans for future debates about defence matters.
The International Association of Athletics Federations has recently acknowledged the widespread doping in world athletics. This morning, UK Anti-Doping has asked to see Arsène Wenger because of his long-term brave outspokenness on doping in football. What are the Government going to do about this issue, and may we have a debate?
I think we now understand where your footballing sympathies lie, Mr Speaker. Sadly, I fear my team, Manchester United, are unlikely to overtake yours this season, but we can but hope and keep our fingers crossed. We have, of course, just had Culture, Media and Sport questions, and I am sure that the Secretary of State has already thought carefully about the issue and will continue to do so. I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are raised. He makes an important point—doping in sport, in whatever sport, is to be roundly condemned and dealt with with the strongest possible force, when appropriate.
Pursuant to yesterday’s Adjournment debate, sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), may we have a debate on the entirely unsatisfactory situation whereby international banks treat Members of Parliament as persons of interest in organised crime?
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) for bringing forward yesterday’s debate and I offer my strong support for the comment that has just been made. On behalf of Members of all parties, I say that it is absolutely inappropriate for international banks to look upon Members as anything other than normal customers. The fact that they pursue a line that is, I believe, often intrusive, inappropriate and unnecessary is something that we should all clearly state we believe to be unacceptable.
We were all delighted in October last year when the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Saudi Arabia led to the release of Karl Andree from a Saudi jail, which the Foreign Secretary attributed to the strength, breadth and depth of UK-Saudi relations. The Prime Minister said at the time:
“We have always acted on…British prisoners overseas, with all countries, not just Saudi Arabia”.
We surely have strength, breadth and depth in our relationship with India, so I ask the Leader of the House for a statement outlining exactly why we could secure the release of Mr Andree from Saudi Arabia, but seemingly not of my constituent, Billy Irving, from five years’ vigorous imprisonment in Tamil Nadu in India.
Let me first commend the hon. Lady for her diligence in pursuing this case. Since she last raised the matter, I have raised it with the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister. After today, I will pursue it further and try to ensure that she receives an early reply to the representations she has been making on behalf of her constituent.
The Government have been told by the insurance industry that all businesses are offered flood insurance for their businesses, but we know after devastating floods in Calder Valley over Christmas that that is not the case—and where it is, we know that the premiums and excesses are often extortionate, unaffordable and unfair. May we have a debate on flood insurance for business and on whether the Government will begin negotiations with the insurance industry on behalf of business, as they did with domestic properties and Flood Re?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know that the county he represents as well as his own area has been affected, and we all want to see continued progress being made in the areas affected by flooding to try to get businesses and homeowners back to normal. He knows that Flood Re was set up as a residential system in the first place, but I can assure him that Ministers are currently in discussions with the insurance industry about how to address precisely the concerns he has raised today.
May we have a statement on criminal legal aid to clarify whether the Government still intend to go ahead with their disastrous two-tier contracts for criminal solicitors? I realise that the Leader of the House will not welcome a sixth high-profile U-turn on policies he championed when he was Lord Chancellor, but the current chaos is, in the words of the Law Society this week,
“undermining access to justice for the most vulnerable in society.”
Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that the Law Society endorsed the package in the first place, two years ago. Let me also remind him that we have had to make tough decisions in a variety of areas of government—including legal aid—from 2010 onwards, because we have had to sort out the right royal financial mess that was left behind by the Labour party.
Dudley council is banning dogs from the parts of Himley Park that are most easily accessible to people with visual and other disabilities. May we have a debate on facilities to allow guide dog owners and puppy-walkers to exercise their dogs properly?
It is important, as we rightly do the right thing for people with disabilities, for us to try to ensure that they are given the support that they need throughout society. My hon. Friend has made an important point about his constituency. I am sure that his comments will have been heard by his local authority, and that it will be considering whether it should, and how it could, act on them.
Some Members’ votes can now be void. Chamber votes on substantive issues such as women’s pensions have been voided, and votes on serious issues are increasingly avoided, by means of statutory instruments. Which of those does the Leader of the House take most pride in?
The House has followed the Government’s current ways of working for decades. It did so under the last Labour Government, and it did so under the coalition Government. We have made no major changes, barring the very necessary change to provide the fairness in our devolution settlement that the English votes for English laws system represents.
It is with great delight that I update the House on a matter that has been raised in the Chamber many times by my predecessors. Llanishen and Lisvane reservoirs have now been taken over by Welsh Water on a very long-term lease, and I praise both Welsh Water and Celsa for signing the deal. The nub of the question, however, is how we can recognise community groups such as the Reservoir Action Group, which has been campaigning for more than two decades with MPs and councillors. The honours system could, of course, give awards to some of its members, but how can we honour such community groups more broadly? The RAG, for instance, has made a huge contribution to Cardiff and to the reservoirs.
I should like to praise the volunteers in my hon. Friend’s constituency for the work that they have done. Last week I suggested to the Backbench Business Committee that it might wish to hold a day-long debate at some point this year so that Members could praise and reflect the work done by voluntary groups in their constituencies. As my hon. Friend says, the honours system can be used to reflect the exceptionally good work done by individuals in all our constituencies, and I am sure that many of us have used the system in that way, appropriately, in the past, but the Prime Minister runs the Points of Light awards on a daily basis, and my hon. Friend might like to consider that option as well.
I am sorry to say that Sheffield remains extremely vulnerable to flooding, as it has few and inadequate flood defences. So far the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has allocated only £23 million of the £43 million that Sheffield needs to protect existing homes, businesses and prime development land, to enable new homes to be built, and to promote job creation and growth. May we have a debate in Government time on DEFRA’s grant in aid programme, so that we can ensure that it recognises the substantial economic benefits of our flood defences?
The hon. Lady has made an important point. In all the areas that have been either directly affected by or threatened by flooding, there is now a real determination among local communities—as well as at Government level—to focus on doing all the sensible things that can be done to prevent flooding. I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s concerns are passed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She will be back in the House shortly, and the point could be put to her directly then .
Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, which is in my constituency, serves our growing university town. Yesterday the clinical commissioning group announced a 12-week consultation on closing our accident and emergency department and moving it to Halifax. The backdrop to that is a ruinous private finance initiative deal under which we will pay £774 million for a hospital that cost £64 million to build. May we have an urgent debate on this appalling situation?
I well understand my hon. Friend’s concern about A&E services in his constituency. No doubt he will make strong representations locally, to the CCG, general practitioners and local decision-makers, but the appalling structures of PFI are, of course, a legacy that was passed to us by the last Labour Government. We look back and ask, “How on earth did they ever think those deals were a good idea?”
Last week I described the Leader of the House as a Brexit mini-beast, but this week I should like to extend the hand of friendship to him, and invite him to join me on a Southern train. I will buy the lattes. I hope that, at the end of the journey, he will want to make time available for a debate in the House to discuss my proposal that passengers should be entitled to compensation when their trains are delayed by 15 minutes, rather than the 30 minutes that currently apply.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He does not need to invite me on Southern rail; I was on Southern last night—indeed, I am a regular traveller on Southern and on South West Trains. He makes an important point and one of the things I find frustrating is that I personally believe we should be tighter on the statistics around delays to services as well, because they can get away with being a few minutes late and that will not show up in the statistics. So the right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and he and I will continue to argue for better services on behalf of our constituents. I am sure his comments will be listened to.
May we have a debate on the Prime Minister’s very sensible proposals this week about the importance of immigrants learning English, which is certainly an issue in Bradford among many Muslim women, to help them integrate into British society? In such a debate, perhaps we could discuss who should pay for these English lessons, because many of my constituents think it should not be the taxpayer who foots the bill; it should be the people themselves. If I decide to go and live in Spain, I would not expect the Spanish Government to teach me Spanish.
My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently, but the key to this is that it is absolutely essential that people who come to live and work in this country speak English, and our communities have ended up more divided than they should be because of the fact that so many people who come here cannot speak English. That really has to change.
We learned from the Evening Standard just over an hour ago that the Government intend to devolve local metro train services in London from the Department for Transport to Transport for London, something that was dismissed by the Leader of the House as renationalisation when I pressed him on it last year. In the light of that welcome decision, can we now find time for a debate on the details of the Government’s proposals, and in particular what can be done to compel operators like Southeastern, which will lose their franchises as a result, to improve their services in the interim?
Changes of this kind would be a matter for detailed discussion in this House. I have not seen what is in the Evening Standard so I cannot tell whether it is a rumour or otherwise. What I would say is if this Government are going to bring forward changes that affect Members of this House, we will set out details to them and listen to them.
Weetabix is a delicious and nutritious breakfast cereal the wheat for which is sourced from farms within a 50 mile radius of the Weetabix factory at Burton Latimer in the borough of Kettering. The agriculture Secretary is there this morning to launch the new great British food unit to promote the export of British foodstuffs around the world. Will the Leader of the House make sure that at all his breakfast meetings, and at all the breakfast meetings arranged by the House authorities, Weetabix is made available?
Mr Speaker, I am sure that you and I, as members of the Commission that ultimately looks at catering matters, will give careful consideration to that representation. However, we may have to have a two-course breakfast as my hon. Friend will have heard from both sides of the House the call to have a cooked breakfast with black pudding afterwards.
I hope the Leader of the House is in good health and has been enjoying some of that superfood that is Stornoway black pudding as recommended in my early-day motion 936, and which is easily ordered on the internet.
[That this House welcomes the recognition of black pudding, Marag Dhubh in Gaelic, as a superfood; notes that its calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and protein-rich nature make the black pudding an excellent addition to a healthy, balanced diet; expresses pleasure at the economic benefits to Stornoway butchers of its EU Protected Geographical Indication, one of the many great benefits of EU membership; and encourages everyone to discover the great taste of Scottish food.]
With his health suitably fortified, will the Leader of the House look to have a debate on the suggestion of a new Act of Union in the UK by Peter Hain and other ennobled gentlemen, and maybe the Government and these gentlemen could get behind my ten-minute rule Bill on Scots votes for Scots laws and engage with Scotland’s democratic representatives?
Hopefully the Stornoway superfood will provide an appropriate counterbalance to the glass of the other product that comes from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which I suspect will be drunk in copious quantities next week on Burns night. What I would say to him is if the Scottish National party is now calling for a new Act of Union, that is definitely a new departure and one we should perhaps consider very carefully.
May we have a debate on the export value and potential of Bury black pudding, which was raised with me when I visited the Bury Black Pudding Company last week? This will enable me to dispel the suggestion raised by some hon. Members that the black pudding made in their constituencies is in the same league as Bury black pudding. This is clearly a scurrilous suggestion that needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
Following the point made by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), may we have an urgent debate on cuts to funding for English for speakers of other languages? Walsall Adult Community College has had £380,000 cut from its budget for doing what the Prime Minister asked it to do. The Prime Minister has now allocated £20 million, so please can the college have its money back?