House of Commons
Thursday 4 February 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Chemical Spills (River Tamar)
We take the issue of chemical spills very seriously, particularly in the context of the Tamar. Such spills have caused significant damage to biodiversity and, specifically, to fish. We are analysing the pH levels and the dissolved solids to prevent future occurrences.
Legal proceedings were brought and the decision was made by Truro Crown court, under the hon. Judge Carr, to instead impose an enforcement order. Some £70,000 has been contributed by the company, but, much more importantly, five new lagoons have been put in place to deal with the incident and chemical processes are being used to prevent a recurrence.
Indeed, sir. Cornwall is well-known for its history of mineral extraction, whether it be china clay or Cornish tin. Cheshire is about to enter into mineral extraction as well through fracking. The Government have gone back on their pledges on monitoring and preventing chemical spills from fracking rigs. While the Minister is considering the potential pollution of the Tamar, will he also consider whether there is sufficient monitoring to prevent chemical leaks from fracking in the headwaters of the River Dee, like that in the headwaters of the Tamar?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for an ingenious connection, although the nature of the extraction in the two cases is quite different. The Environment Agency takes its responsibilities very seriously, whether in respect of quarrying or fracking. If there are particular concerns, I would be happy to sit down with him to discuss them in more detail.
Emissions Standards: Fines
In the wake of the Volkswagen engines scandal, it is extremely important both that we have monitoring in place to check the real levels of emissions of nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants from engines, and that we have proper fines in place. This Department and the Department for Transport will look very carefully at the proposals that were put forward by the Commission last week.
I am grateful for that very positive response from the Minister. Does he agree that it is time to break the relationship between industry, testers and regulators, so that the process is truly independent and so that Government agencies, whether they be in his Department or the DFT, act wholly in the public interest?
As a matter of principle, it is incredibly important that regulators are entirely independent of the industry they regulate. This is essentially an issue for the DFT. The reason the Commission’s proposals are interesting to ourselves and the DFT is that they include both the commitment on spot checks, with a clear indication of the fines, and a separation, as the hon. Gentleman says, the regulator and the industry.
Car emissions are a main contributor to poor air quality in this country. Many of the former local authorities that covered my constituency were among the first to sign up to the Clean Air Act 1956, but much of that progress has gone backwards as a result of poor air quality in urban areas. Is it not time for a new clean air Act that is fit for the 21st century?
On the foot of the ongoing discussions with the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in relation to our inquiry into air quality, will the Minister hold the car manufacturers to account to ensure that car owners throughout Britain and Ireland who have been affected by the defeat devices are compensated?
This is a DFT lead, but the issue raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) about the Commission’s proposals addresses the relationship between the manufacturer, the vehicle owner, and the kind of fines that could be imposed. That is why member states will be looking closely at that Commission proposal.
Our commitment to the UN target of halving food waste is immensely important, and work on that is being taken forward by the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, the Waste and Resources Action Programme—WRAP—and the Courtauld 2025 agreement. It will aim to build on work that we have achieved since 2009, which has reduced household food waste by 17%.
The Minister is right to highlight the reduction in household food waste, but he will know that that is not being matched by the food industry. Will he explain why Government Whips objected to the Food Waste (Reduction) Bill, which was promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) last Friday? Would it not be better to get the Bill into Committee, where its provisions and the positive course of action that it proposes could be properly considered, and we can take the opportunity to end the scandal of food waste?
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who has campaigned strongly on this issue for a long time. We have significant concerns about the targets set in that Bill, and we believe that its proposals include perverse incentives. Voluntary measures have increased by 70% the amount that retailers have managed to redistribute to charitable organisations, and the real key will be getting councils and retailers to work on a unified system.
While visiting the anaerobic digestion plant belonging to Severn Trent, which is near to my constituency, I was impressed by the energy recovery from food waste. However, does the Minister agree that too much edible food is still going into waste? How do the Government plan to intercept that food for redistribution while it is still edible?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, because at the moment the average household in the United Kingdom wastes more than £60 a month on food waste. We must ensure that food is not wasted in the first place on its way from the farm gate to the house, and if food cannot be consumed by humans, we must ensure that it is consumed by animals, and that it goes to anaerobic digesters only as a last resort.
The Soil Association estimates that between 20% to 40% of UK fruit and veg is rejected before it even reaches the shop—it is deemed as being a kind of “wonky veg” because it fails to meet the supermarket’s strict cosmetic requirements. Will the Minister ensure that supermarkets and manufacturers transparently publish their supply chain waste—I think Tesco is doing that with food waste hotspots? That is vital if we are to achieve a meaningful reduction in waste.
I absolutely agree that that is vital, and we recently held a round table with retailers on that issue. One solution, although not a total solution, is being pioneered by Tesco and Co-operative supermarkets, which are looking at individual varieties—for example, of potatoes—that result in much less food waste on the way from the farm gate to the shelf.
My constituents in Kettering, especially those from the wartime generation, are horrified about the amount of food that is wasted. How can we get back to the principle that we do not put more food on our plate than we can eat, and that we consume the food that is on our plate?
My hon. Friend has drawn attention to one of the central points of this issue, which is human behaviour and culture. Certain things can be done by the Government and others by retailers, but in the end a lot of responsibility rests on us all regarding how much food we buy, how we use it, and how much of it we throw away.
Flood Defence Programme
A total of 246 schemes will begin construction in 2016-17 as part of our first ever six-year programme of investment in flood defences. That £2.3 billion of investment represents a real-terms increase on the last Parliament, and will protect an additional 300,000 homes.
I congratulate the Minister on championing this cause. Does she agree that when it comes to investing in new flood defences and improving existing ones, getting the support of local authorities, drainage boards, and the private sector is incredibly important? Will she pay tribute to Mike McDonnell in my constituency, who has helped to set up a community interest company to invest in sea defences along the stretch of coast adjacent to Snettisham and Heacham in west Norfolk?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When internal drainage boards work with local businesses and local councils, we can get really good local solutions. The community interest company is a particularly interesting model, which is being pioneered by him and his constituents in North West Norfolk. It could potentially be used elsewhere.
Sheffield remains £20 million short of the investment it needs to protect our city. The Department is holding a teleconference with council leaders, but will the Secretary of State commit to visiting Sheffield to see the innovative flood defences we have planned that will protect the city from a potential £1 billion of economic damage?
As part of the national resilience review being led by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Sheffield is one of the core cities that will be looked at in particular to make sure it is sufficiently resilient to flooding. I am sure that as part of that review there will be a visit to Sheffield to ensure that that very important city has the protection it needs.
Flood Re insurance will help many householders in Thirsk and Malton affected by recent floods, but it does not cover small businesses or leasehold properties with more than three units. In one such development in my constituency at Topcliffe Mill, residents of a two-bedroom flat now face a premium of £4,000 a year and an excess of £40,000. Will Ministers agree to meet me and representatives from the insurance industry to consider how we can provide a solution to this problem?
We have not ruled out an application to the EU solidarity fund. We have until the end of February to apply. We need to find out the total cost of the floods before a potential application is made. Our priority has been to make sure we get funding to affected homes and businesses as soon as possible. In fact, for the floods that took place on 26 December, funding was with local authorities on 29 December. Our priority has been making sure we make £200 million available to fix the damage and help communities to get back on their feet.
The devastating floods across the country are extremely well documented, as are the knock-on effects of the Government’s decision to postpone or cancel capital schemes—an estimated cost of £5 billion. Communities, families, individuals and businesses have suffered ruinous consequences. It is imperative that the Government do everything possible to maximise resources from all areas. The Secretary of State mentioned the EU solidarity fund. Time is running out, with only three or four weeks left for an application in relation to Cumbria. Will she just get on with the job and do it now, please?
This Government have invested more in flood defences than ever before: a real-terms increase on the previous Parliament, which was a real-terms increase on what was spent under Labour. The fact is that the Labour Government spent £1.5 billion and we are spending £2 billion in this Parliament. We have got money to affected communities as soon as possible—that is our priority.
9. What the role is of the Great British Food Unit in promoting British food (a) in the UK and (b) overseas. (903453)
We launched the Great British Food Unit in January. It brings together expertise from UK Trade & Investment and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to create a team of 40 people in London and teams around the world, including five people in China, to promote great British food. I am pleased to say that food and drink manufacturers have already agreed to expand their exports by a third by 2020.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I am concerned that the Secretary of State is anti-European, because she is denying our European colleagues the opportunity to drink great British beer. Although we imported £418 million of beer last year, we exported only £494 million of beer. Given that we brew the best beer in the world, that figure should be much higher. What is she doing to promote the British beer industry and to encourage our European friends to sup up?
I know that beer is my hon. Friend’s passion, and I congratulate him on his role as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on beer. Also, his constituency is home to some of the finest water in our country that produces some of the finest beer. In fact, Lord Bilimoria, one of the founders of Cobra, is one of our food pioneers helping to promote great British beer not just in Europe, but in India and China—we recently promoted great British beer at the Baker Street brew pub in Chongqing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are fantastic jobs to be had in the food industry, from farming to engineering and food technology. Food and drink is our largest manufacturing sector, and we need more apprentices in this vital sector. We have an ambition to triple the number of apprentices by 2020, and I will be holding a round table shortly with some of the leading figures from the industry to make sure they commit to that goal.
The Great British Food Unit and the enthusiastic Secretary of State will know that some of the greatest food on earth comes from the Gloucester Old Spot pig and from Gloucester cattle, including the single Gloucester cheese, which is famously used in the annual cheese rolling race. There is no better place to see these and 130 other great Gloucester producers than the Gloucester services on the M5, described by The Telegraph as probably the best service station in the UK. Were she to find herself near the M5 in the near future, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and I would give her a warm welcome and a Gloucester Old Spot sausage. [Laughter.]
To hit a more serious note, after that interesting and humorous exchange, may I say to the Secretary of State that to produce great British food, we need great British technology? The news yesterday that Syngenta, our leading European food innovator, which produces wonderful technology and innovation and has a large plant in my constituency, is to be taken over by ChemChina means that overnight the European capacity for innovation in food technology and much else will be wiped out. Should the House not debate that very seriously before it goes through?
We are investing in science and technology. Last year, the Prime Minister announced a food tech innovation network, and, in terms of DEFRA’s capital budget, we are doubling our spend on investment in science and animal health research precisely so that we can take advantage of these huge opportunities.
The Great British Food Unit depends on great British farmers producing the goods for the unit, but many farmers are still experiencing problems with the Rural Payments Agency. One of my constituency farmers was only told late on Sunday afternoon of the failure to issue his payment, and even then it was done by email. What will the Secretary of State do to make sure that farmers are properly supported by the RPA?
The hon. Lady is right: farmers are facing difficult cash flow at the moment. We are doing all we can to get those payments out as soon as possible. It is the most complicated common agricultural policy that has ever been introduced. We were still getting the final details of it in February last year, but up to 77% of farmers are now being paid, and £1 billion has gone out the door to farmers. We are working to make sure that the farmers get their money as soon as possible.
Scotch whisky is a great Scottish and UK success story, with exports totalling £4 billion annually. Does the Secretary of State agree that reducing the 76% tax burden on an average bottle of Scotch in the coming Budget would send an important message that the Government support the industry? Will she speak to her friend the Chancellor and ensure that such a reduction is included in his statement?
I am sure that the Chancellor and the Treasury team have heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say. I agree with him that Scotch whisky is our top international export. Other products such as Scotch gin, which I promoted recently with the Scottish gin trail, taking people from the golf clubs of St Andrews to the distilleries around the north of Scotland, can also play a massive part. We have fantastic products in Scotland and fantastic products right across the UK. The Great British Food Unit is all about promoting them around the world. I am happy to work with the hon. Gentleman on that.
17. In supporting Dorset food and exports internally and across the world, will my right hon. Friend pay particular tribute to some notable producers in my constituency: Fudges, the Blackmore Vale dairy, Sixpenny Handley brewery and the Langham estate? Without wishing to outdo my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), I should also add to that list the manufacturer of Dorset knobs, which I am very happy to offer the Secretary of State. Will she also take into account in all that her Department does the burden of regulation and the impost of the living wage, because many of these producers are very small, so those burdens fall particularly heavily on them? (903462)
I would be delighted to visit some of the fantastic producers in Dorset that my hon. Friend mentions, such as the Blackmore Vale dairy, and to see what they have to offer as well as using the Great British Food Unit to promote them both here and overseas. We are working to reduce regulation on our food and farmers, and over the course of this Parliament we are looking to reduce the costs by £500 million, so that we can see more new businesses opening, more exporting and more selling their fantastic food here in Britain.
Flooding: Agriculture Industry
Farmers in many parts of the country have been affected by the winter flooding, notably in Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Scotland and, of course, areas of Northern Ireland. We identified 600 farmers in Cumbria alone who suffered flooding after Storm Desmond. Unlike the Somerset floods two years ago, the flooding events have been relatively short-lived. However, in their wake, considerable damage has been done to stone walls, hedges and tracks. In England, we have established a farm recovery fund to help farmers get back on their feet.
In Northern Ireland, there is a long-established relationship with the Republic of Ireland Government in relation to Lough Erne and its levels. The UK Government had a relationship, too, from 1950, when that deal was made. Have there been any discussions with the Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development about reviewing the levels of Lough Erne to stop farmers from being flooded in the area?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, flooding is a devolved matter, but if there is a need for discussion with the Irish Republic and if the Northern Ireland Administration would like me to be involved in that, I would be happy to have that conversation with them.
Farmers in areas in the south of my constituency, around Methley and Mickletown, have had large areas of their land flooded to hold water in order to prevent flooding of housing, which the farmers themselves agree with. However, what they do not agree with is the Environment Agency saying that it could take up to six years for this water to drain off the land. One particular farmer in my constituency had 80% of his land covered. Will my hon. Friend speak to the Environment Agency to speed up the draining of the water from this land?
That is a good point. Natural flood plains play an important role in alleviating the risk of flooding in urban areas. We intend to use the countryside stewardship scheme to help us to deal with flood problems. As for my hon. Friend’s specific point about the length of time for which land has been flooded, I shall be happy to take it up with the Environment Agency and see what can be done.
I am still waiting to hear the date of the meeting with Members whose constituencies lie along the River Wharfe to discuss the flooded farmland in Pool-in-Wharfedale and Arthington, in my constituency. We particularly need to discuss what can be done upstream to prevent the water from coming down and threatening both farms and housing. When can we have that meeting?
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), the floods Minister, has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said, and will be willing to meet him to discuss his concerns. My hon. Friend has already had many meetings with the many Members who have been affected by winter floods.
The Secretary of State says that DEFRA wants to be able to spend more on flood defences by reducing the millions paid in penalties to the EU every year. However, the National Audit Office says that the Rural Payments Agency fiasco could cost the country a whopping £180 million a year in penalties. Can the Minister confirm the most recent estimate of the amounts that are being paid to Brussels in fines, rather than being spent on British agriculture and dealing with flooding?
The “horizontal” regulation that governs the disallowance system has been changed, and the penalties that the Commission can charge, and their frequency, have increased. That is the issue of concern in this instance, rather than any particular issues involving the rural payments system. I repeat that we are spending £2.3 billion a year on flood defences, and have provided £200 million to help people to get back on their feet after the most recent episode.
Nature Improvement Areas
7. What assessment the Government have made of the contribution of nature improvement areas to habitat creation and wildlife conservation. (903451)
The nature improvement area report has been overwhelmingly positive, which is quite a rare feature of monitoring reports of this kind. I pay particular tribute to the Wild Purbeck nature improvement area, where there has been an extraordinary combination of activities: saving the ladybird spider, which has included 3,000 volunteer hours, and involving schools through the forest school learning initiative. These are great, great projects.
I thank my hon. Friend for our hedgehog summit on Monday. What measures does he propose, along with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to increase the number of hedgehogs, which, as he knows, has declined by between 30% and 50% over the last 15 years?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has become a doughty champion of the hedgehog. The most important thing for hedgehogs, which are a much-loved species, is their habitat, and we are dealing with that by means of our hedgerow schemes, as well as the woodland planting schemes that the Secretary of State is promoting, which include the planting of 11 million more trees over the next five years. The real challenge for all of us, however, is to see hedgehogs in a suburban context, and, in particular, to consider the possibility of providing them with access and corridors through garden fences.
The 12 nature improvement areas were the right response to the Lawton report, but they were supposed to create 1,000 hectares of new woodland, 1,000 hectares of new chalk grassland, and more than 1,500 hectares of new wetland. How many hectares of each of those have actually been created?
I am proud to say that Northern Ireland has eight areas of outstanding natural beauty, 47 national nature reserves, 43 special areas of conservation, and 10 special protection areas. The charities—especially the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds—are working very hard in campaigning for support for wildlife in urban areas. What discussions has the Minister had with his Northern Ireland counterpart about preserving the countryside and ensuring that housing does not expand further from urban areas into rural locations, often encroaching on the wealth of wildlife in those locations?
We work closely with our Northern Ireland counterparts. Some of these issues are of course devolved, but we would love to work more closely on issues such as these, and if there are opportunities to do that, I personally would be delighted to engage more closely.
Flood Defences: Farmland
As a result of the Government’s £2.3 billion programme, more than 420,000 acres of farmland will be better protected by 2021. That means that over the course of the decade between 2010 and 2021, we will see 1 million acres of farmland being better protected from flooding.
I recently visited the River Steeping in my constituency with representatives of the Environment Agency and saw the huge amount of damage that badgers are doing to flood defences in that area—[Interruption.] Don’t worry. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Environment Agency’s preferred method of creating artificial setts to relocate badgers will have a meaningful effect on the riverbanks and secure the area for the future?
I was pleased to meet my hon. Friend and representatives of the local internal drainage boards to discuss flooding in his constituency, and I am pleased to hear that the Environment Agency has found a solution to this issue. I note that 100,000 acres of agricultural land in his constituency will be protected as part of our six-year programme.
While the Government are prevaricating, farms and businesses in the north of England and in Scotland are struggling to cope with the aftermath of the December floods. Can the Secretary of State explain why she needs to find out the total cost before applying to the EU solidarity fund, and will she be able to do this in time to meet the deadline?
The hon. Lady should be aware that we have made a farming recovery fund available, and that we have already paid out money to farmers worth up to £20,000 for each farmer. As soon as the floods took place, we looked on satellite mapping, identified the affected farmers and got on with paying them and sorting the issue out.
Access to fast reliable broadband is of course important for rural areas, as the hon. Lady well knows. There are two indicative measures that we have taken. One was to ensure that by the end of last year anyone who wished to have a 2 megabit service could access such a service. Perhaps more important is the universal service obligation, which will be in place with 10 megabits by 2020.
In 2012, when I criticised the Government for abandoning Labour’s universal broadband commitment, the then Secretary of State said:
“We have a plan and we are going to deliver it.”—[Official Report, 25 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 1059.]
So was it part of the plan that, in 2016, farmers would still be unable to get the broadband access they need in order to fill out the forms that the Department makes it mandatory to complete online? What is the plan now?
As the hon. Lady is aware, farmers are able to make applications on paper. Also, she is even more aware than I am of the fact that this is an extremely difficult issue to deal with in rural areas. We have just carried out seven very interesting pilots with operations such as Cybermoor to look at different technological solutions, but the key indicator is the universal service obligation of 10 megabits by 2020.
The roll-out of superfast broadband in Devon and Somerset is being hampered by the poor performance of BT Openreach, which still has a virtual monopoly in the area. Is it not time that the Government did something to tackle that monopoly?
The Department for Communities and Local Government leads on this issue. The reason that the seven pilots have been interesting is that they are community-led pilots that have looked at different technological solutions ranging from satellite through to point-to-point wireless connections. We are going to need all those solutions and to involve all the different parties in order to deliver the difficult challenge of rural broadband.
Following the severe flooding in the north of England over Christmas, the Government are working to help communities to get back on their feet and to restore critical infrastructure. We are taking forward two important areas of work: the national flood resilience review to assess how the country can be better protected from future flooding and increasingly extreme weather events and, in those areas affected by flooding, we are taking a catchment-based approach looking at what improvements are needed to flood defences and at upstream options for slowing the river flow.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I held a round table meeting, with not just supermarkets, but food manufacturers, because we need to address the issue of food waste right through the food chain. We are working on the next step of the Courtauld agreement—Courtauld 2025—which will have voluntary targets to get both supermarkets and the food manufacturers to a better level.
T6. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will reallocate fishing quota from those who hold it only as an investment to active, small-scale fishermen such as those who fish out of Lowestoft, who bring real benefits to their local community? (903480)
My hon. Friend will be aware that we had a manifesto commitment to rebalance quotas, and we have already commenced that this year, with the quota uplift that comes with the introduction of the landing obligation. We have made it clear that we will give the first 100 tonnes, and 10% thereafter, to the under-10 metres, and this year it will give them an extra 1,000 tonnes of fish.
T2. The recent Tesco case has shown the importance of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Does the Secretary of State share the view of the National Farmers Union, the Farmers Union of Wales and many in the dairy sector that now is the time to consider extending the adjudicator’s remit right across the supply chain, from gate to plate, even if that requires legislative change? (903475)
I am aware of the representations made by the NFU and of the conclusions of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in this regard. I know that colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are about to commence a review of the role of the adjudicator so far, and it may well be that as part of that they look at how the code is implemented. There would be challenges involved in trying to regulate things that far up, with thousands and thousands of different relationships to police, but we hear what has been said and we will look at this matter.
T8. Cross-compliance rules prevent hedge cutting in August, yet the only bird that seems to be nesting at that time is the very prolific wood pigeon. The rules are preventing farmers from doing vital work, as they are unable to get on to that land during August. Will Ministers agree to look at this to see what can be done to change these rules? (903483)
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that I am always looking at the cross-compliance rules to see whether we can introduce proportionality. I do not agree with him that it is just the wood pigeon that is being protected; yellowhammers and other rare species that we are trying to encourage to recover also have second broods later in the year.
One less well-publicised deal the UK has been negotiating with our European partners recently is the circular economy package, which could not only bring about significant environmental benefits, but create jobs and growth. The Government, however, do not seem to have a strategy for achieving the ambitious waste targets set out there or for unlocking the economic opportunities that would come from greater resource efficiency. When are we going to have a proper waste resources strategy from the Secretary of State?
The circular economy package is absolutely central, and we are looking closely at it. We sat down with a number of different people last week specifically to address it. The key is in getting the right balance between preventing the resources from being wasted in the first place and the targets that the European Union is setting, but I absolutely agree that this is vital and I am very happy to include the shadow Secretary of State in these discussions going forward.
I thank the Minister for that response —I hope the Secretary of State can reply to the next question. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation says that the huge growth in plastics production means that by 2050 there could be more waste plastic in the sea than fish. Just 5% of plastics are recycled, 40% end up in landfill and a third end up polluting our ecosystems. What is the Secretary of State doing to combat plastics pollution? For starters, how about doing what President Obama has just done and ban microbeads in cosmetic products?
Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the multimillion pound joint investment by the Environment Agency and my local authority in the work on the River Avon, which runs through my constituency, as it will help to reduce flooding for hundreds of homes and businesses across the constituency? Will she also look at further funding should the flood risk increase?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I congratulate the Environment Agency and his local authority on that work. What we are doing as part of the national resilience review is making sure that we are properly protected right across the country. We are investing a record amount in flood defences, and doing it in a way that is fair. Therefore, our flooding formula reflects the number of houses and businesses protected wherever people live in the country.
T3. I welcome the announcement of further marine conservation zones around our coast to protect our wildlife. However, back in November 2012, when the previous round of MCZs was announced, many in my constituency were very concerned that the zone to protect Hilbre Island was dropped at the eleventh hour, especially in the light of the licence for underground coal gasification that exists in the Dee. Why was Hilbre Island not included in this latest round? (903476)
We ruled out Hilbre Island, following assessments by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, because the simple truth was that the features that people said were there were not there sufficiently for us to designate those areas.
For farmers, farmgate prices are so low that the single farm payment is absolutely essential. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the Rural Payments Agency recognises that there are still too many farmers who have not received their payments, and that work is being done to ensure that, next year, we catch up so that we are not late in paying again?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. A number of farmers are facing cash-flow issues, which is why we are putting as much resource as possible into the RPA. We are now up to 77%, and we have paid out £1 billion. The cases that we are now dealing with are the more complicated ones, including those involving common land and cross-border land, which take extra time. As I have pointed out, we are dealing with a very complicated cap. One of my main efforts is to try to simplify that cap and enable farmers to make claims online this year so that the system will be faster next year.
T5. London breached annual pollution limits just days into 2016, repeating what happened in 2015. The Government were forced by the Supreme Court to publish plans on reducing air pollution. Does the Secretary of State think that her Department is doing enough to tackle air pollution? It is projected that there will be five years of this in London. (903479)
As the hon. Lady said, we published plans just before Christmas to ensure that we comply with those air pollution levels. The level of roadside nitrogen dioxide has fallen over the past five years. We have invested £2 billion in that already, but we do need to do more, which is why we issued the plans just before Christmas.
I thank my hon. Friend for his point. The Great British Food Unit has not just outposts around the world, but regional teams to help local businesses, whether they are in Cleethorpes or elsewhere in the country, to promote their food both in the UK and overseas. Certainly, seafood is a huge part of that.
T7. Can the Secretary of State confirm that it was her signature on a letter last July promising to drive forward fracking in sites of special scientific interest and national parks, in complete contradiction to assurances previously given? May I respectfully suggest to her that, since she is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, she should be standing up for the interests of the environment and rural areas, and not the interests of big globalised fracking companies that want to frack in rural Cheshire? (903482)
As the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering made clear in their report, shale gas extraction is safe and has minimal impact on the environment, provided that it is correctly regulated. I am absolutely confident that we have very strong protections in place through the Environment Agency to do that.
Has my hon. Friend thought through the impact of the introduction of marine conservation zones on the under-10-metre fleet? That could have an effect on smaller, non-nomadic boats, which might be banned from fishing in their own grounds.
I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that the interests of fishermen are taken into account when we make decisions on these designations. It is important to note that designation does not mean that we ban fishing; it may mean, for instance, limitations on the particular types of bottom-trawling gear that do most damage.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
The Electoral Commission recently wrote to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, following that Committee’s recent evidence session, on a number of issues, including the potential impact of the date of the referendum if it were to be held in June. A copy of the letter is available on the Committee’s website.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer. As he will know, early-day motion 1042, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), has cross-party support in the House. It calls for the EU referendum not to be held in June.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that holding the referendum in June would seriously undermine the democratic process? Furthermore, yesterday the First Ministers of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales published a joint letter calling for the EU referendum not to be held in June. Does he not agree that the Government should respect the calls from the devolved Administrations and defer the referendum?
It is for the Government to decide how they respond to the letters from the heads of those Governments. The Electoral Commission has strongly advised the Government and the House about the date of the referendum. The Government listened; they are not holding the referendum in May. I am sure that, as soon as a specific date is announced, the Electoral Commission will give further advice.
Given the lengthy procedure for determining the lead organisation, will my hon. Friend make it clear that the Electoral Commission will ensure that it appoints a lead organisation in sufficient time—and not halfway through the campaign?
My hon. Friend has his finger on the pulse. Let me read one sentence from the appropriate letter:
“As may be expected, the impact is greater the closer together the dates of poll and is particularly significant for the first two Thursdays in June (2 and 9 June in the case of 2016.) I would encourage that these dates are avoided if it is possible to do so.”
That is the advice that the Electoral Commission has given the Government.
Policy Development Grants
The Electoral Commission has recently written to the Government setting out its recommended approach to implementing the reduction of policy development grants, which the Government announced in the spending review and autumn statement of 2015. A copy of the Electoral Commission’s letter will be placed in the House Library.
Policy development grants allow political parties to develop considered, costed policies to the benefit of the people living in the UK. As the hon. Gentleman said, the grants are to suffer a cut, which will save the Treasury a very small amount of money relatively but have a big impact on political parties. Does he agree that there could not be a less appropriate time for such a cut?
The important thing is how the money is allocated among the various parties. The hon. Lady will know that the Electoral Commission has consulted the smaller parties. It has written to the Government recommending that those parties should be disproportionately protected—that is, they should get a smaller cut than the larger ones. The Electoral Commission is waiting for the Government to respond to that advice.
Is this issue not a real worry? In a healthy democracy we need parties to be able to develop policy. What is going on in the House of Lords and in this Chamber is penalising the Opposition in terms of the Short money and the policy development grant they get. That cannot be good for democracy, can it?
The hon. Gentleman always speaks very clearly and powerfully on these issues. Unfortunately, the issue he raises is a matter for the Government, not the Electoral Commission. It is for the Government to decide the size of the grant; the Electoral Commission will advise the Government on how the grant should be allocated.
This mean, despicable cut will hamper the power of Oppositions—the Conservative party will be in opposition in the future, as they were in the past—to reduce the democratic accountability of this place. Would it not be a great improvement, if the Government wish to improve the quality of our democracy, to cut the number of hereditary chieftains who sit in the House of Lords and the number of people in the House of Lords who buy their places by making donations to political parties?
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Queen’s 90th Birthday
The Church of England will mark the 90th birthday of Her Majesty with a large number of events and activities at national and local levels. Alongside these events, the Bible Society and HOPE have released a companion book titled “The Servant Queen”, with a foreword written by Her Majesty that discusses how her faith has influenced her service of this nation over the last 90 years.
I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole country when I say that the opportunities for the Queen to be celebrated are most welcome. The Church is recommending that every parish church organises an exhibition or festival on the weekend of 10 to 12 June. Will my right hon. Friend use her office to encourage residents to challenge local authorities that seek to charge for road closures or to require events to have public liability insurance?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, because there will be a large number of activities in London, not least a special service at St Paul’s on 12 June, and his constituents will no doubt want to be there. While this issue is not directly my responsibility, I will use my good offices with the Local Government Association to try to make sure that our constituents are not impeded in celebrating Her Majesty’s birthday in the best possible way.
Street Pastor Teams
The Church of England has supported Street Pastors since its formation in London by the Ascension Trust in 2003. A large proportion of its clergy and members of the congregations are involved in Street Pastors. In Kettering, nine of the 27 street pastors are Anglicans.
Kettering is indeed fortunate to have a superb team of street pastors, who go out in the town centre at weekends to speak to, often, vulnerable people and to many young people who are the worse for wear and who have had too much to drink. That really is an excellent example of faith-based action. May I urge my right hon. Friend, through her good offices, to encourage the Church of England to get even more involved in supporting such a worthwhile cause?
I could not support that recommendation more. There are now 12,000 trained street pastors in our country, serving 270 towns and cities. It is particularly interesting that the nightly reporting inventory for the last year for Kettering showed remarkable attention to detail. It refers to giving away 125 pairs of flip-flops, 294 bottles of water and an amazing 2,299 lollipops.
In my constituency, Street Pastors started in September 2015. Its vision is to go out to help vulnerable people and to do the best for them, and the results have been excellent. What discussions has the Church of England had about working with other Churches? We are better together, as we all know, and if we can do these things together, we can reach more people.
As I indicated, the concept of street pastors did not actually originate with the Church of England, and we acknowledge that. However, Anglicans support absolutely what the street pastors do. Churches should work together; indeed, we should look to work with other faiths. In the city of Birmingham, near my constituency, there are also street pastors of the Muslim faith, and I have seen for myself what an impact street pastors have on gang culture and on tackling knife and gun crime.
Ethical Investment Policy
During 2015, the Church Commissioners’ ethical investment strategy won awards at the Portfolio institutional awards in the category of responsible investment. The commissioners have also had success in leading shareholder resolutions on climate change behaviour with BP and Shell, and they will continue to work with other institutional shareholders on filing similar resolutions at their annual general meetings.
Yes. Indeed, it is just a year to the day since the Archbishop of Canterbury said that a good economy is based on
“the principle that you pay the tax where you earn the money. If you earn the money in a country, the revenue service of that country needs to get a fair share of what you have earned.”
I could not put it better myself.
One of the ways in which the Church deploys its investments, ethical or otherwise, is in supporting schools across the country. Will my right hon. Friend use her offices to persuade the Church, and particularly certain dioceses, to take a more responsible and open-minded approach to joining academy groupings where some of their schools, particularly primary schools, are underperforming and need to change?
The Church of England is the largest provider of education in this country, and it is co-operating with the Government in trying to address poor performance in schools. Eighty per cent. of Church of England schools are rated “good” or “outstanding”, but the Church recognises the need to work with schools where the performance is not as good as that. Multi-academy trusts present a great opportunity for successful Church of England schools to mentor and help with the raising of standards among those which find this more difficult.
Church Leadership: Women and BME Groups
The Church of England needs to increase its vocations for ministry by around 50% in the next 10 years in order to sustain the 8,000 clergy it currently has in parish ministry. The representation of women in the Church has grown significantly, with almost equal numbers being recommended for ordination training. Currently, those of black, Asian, and minority ethnicity make up 3% of the clergy population, and the Church is committed to increasing that percentage.
I welcome that answer. May I ask that, when trying to increase the range of people available to take up positions that are currently vacant, we pay particular attention to churches that have been vacant for long periods, because that is damaging to communities such as that at St Matthew’s in Skegness?
I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend on this, because as recently as Tuesday night in this House we passed the obscurely titled Diocesan Stipends Fund (Amendment) Measure. That Church Measure—it originated from the diocese of Lincoln, which covers his constituency—should enable his diocese to invest in the training of more clergy by releasing money from the funds for that purpose.
Churches and dioceses across the country have responded enthusiastically and creatively to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call to support credit unions and community finance, often building on pre-existing initiatives and helping to build financial resilience in communities. The diocese of Gloucester has recently part-funded the appointment of a credit union development worker for Gloucestershire Credit Union and established collection points in local churches.
The diocese of Gloucester has shown real commitment to breathing new life into Gloucester Credit Union; I should declare an interest as a long-standing member. However, we need to do much more to reach effectively those who are most vulnerable to loan sharks. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, while the Church of England builds and promotes its own new credit union, that will not distract from the important work it does in supporting existing local credit unions?
I absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. Every Member of this House would recognise the importance of credit unions at the local level, but that goes hand in hand with, and does not detract from, the Archbishop’s task group on responsible credit savings, which has sought to harness the Church’s national and grassroots resources in support of developing a stronger community of finance.
As chairman of the all-party group on credit unions, may I welcome my right hon. Friend’s last answer? I also welcome the leadership that the Archbishop of Canterbury has shown on the issue of problem credit. Does she welcome the launch of Fair For You, and will she comment on how the Church can support that community finance initiative in the rent-to-own sector that is taking on some of the challenges in that sector and showing that responsible, local community finance can compete?
I will certainly take that suggestion back to Church House. The Church has shown commitment to helping people manage their money and invest safely, and to teaching our children at the very earliest age—through its LifeSavers project, with assistance from the Treasury—how to ensure that they do not get into debt. All that is evidence, I think, that the Church will be supportive of my hon. Friend’s suggestion.
Return of Kings
Roosh V is a US, self-styled pick-up artist. Media reporting has suggested that supporters of Roosh V and the Return of Kings website were scheduled to hold nine events across the UK this Saturday 6 February. An announcement on the group’s website has been publicised in the press this morning, stating that no Return of Kings events will be held on Saturday.
The Government condemn in the strongest terms anyone who condones rape and sexual violence or suggests that responsibility for stopping these crimes rests with the victims. Responsibility always unequivocally rests with the perpetrator of these serious crimes.
Any form of violence against women or girls is absolutely unacceptable. The impact of domestic and sexual violence on the victims—physically, psychologically and emotionally —cannot be overstated, and the Government are working closely with victims and survivors, support services, the police and criminal justice agencies to end these terrible crimes. If criminal offences have been committed, including incitement of violence against women, the Government would expect local police forces to deal with any offenders appropriately.
The Government do not routinely comment on individual immigration or exclusion cases, but the Home Secretary has powers to exclude an individual who is not a British citizen, if she considers that their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good. This Home Secretary has excluded more foreign nationals on the grounds of unacceptable behaviour than any before her. That can include, and has included, exclusions based on threats posed to women’s safety because of encouragement of violence against women.
The Government are pleased that the Return of Kings events appear to have been cancelled, and I look forward to this afternoon’s full debate in Westminster Hall on the subject of the role of men in preventing violence against women. I am sure we will discuss these issues at length.
I welcome the Minister’s response. There has been widespread ridicule of, and revulsion at, the antics of the group Return of Kings, including from the respected police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, Vera Baird, and parliamentary colleagues. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has written to the Minister about the matter, and there has been widespread coverage in the media. The public, in this country and worldwide, have also responded. Indeed, there are 63,000 signatures to the online petition calling for the events to be banned, so I am very glad that they will not go ahead this weekend. That is in no measure, as far as I can tell, due to the action of the Government, but we need assurances for the future, because Roosh V has said that he cannot stop men attending private meetings.
The Minister has said that the Home Secretary has the power to exclude individuals from the UK. What information do the Government hold about Roosh V’s plans to travel to this country in future, and is it the Minister’s expectation that he would attract a ban? Has she or the Home Secretary considered classifying Return of Kings as a proscribed group?
Events were advertised to Roosh V’s followers, which led to plans for counter-demonstrations in a number of UK cities, creating a threat both to public order and to women’s safety. The Minister has said that the police have powers to act if they believe that crimes have been committed. Does she believe that the threshold for incitement to rape or hate crimes has been met? What discussions have been had with the police, and what guidance has been issued to them, about handling such activities? In relation to the online advertising of the events—at which participants were apparently required to give the password “pet shop” before being admitted—what discussions have the Government had with internet providers and Facebook about taking down those offensive posts?
The events take place against the backdrop of a 41% increase in rape in the past year and the loss of much specialist provision. According to the Women’s Budget Group, 29% of the cuts announced to local authorities in the 2015 spending review could fall on services to support women who are suffering from violence, and 32 specialist refuges closed between 2010 and 2014. Many rape crisis centres have told me that they have no guarantee about their funding after next month. Will the Minister assure the House that that funding will continue from April this year?
As the Minister has mentioned, there will be a debate in Westminster Hall this afternoon on the role of men in tackling violence against women, and that is welcome. I expect that it will cover perpetrator programmes and compulsory sex and relationships education in schools, for which Labour has been pressing for many years. Will the Minister commit to introducing compulsory sex and relationships education as part of the personal, social, health and economic education curriculum in every school?
Finally, when will the Government ratify and implement the Istanbul convention, which was signed in 2012? What is the explanation for the delay?
I start by agreeing with the hon. Lady that the comments of this individual and the proposals of this group are absolutely repulsive. I am sure that everybody in the House will join us in condemning what they have said. Such things have no place in British society. I assure her that the Government are taking all the steps we can to deal with the matter, and I will be happy to write to her on the specifics of what the Government can do. She will understand that I cannot comment on individual cases, and many of the things that she asked about are operational matters for local police. I will be happy to write to her about what local police can do to stop such activities, but it would not be appropriate for me to go into detail here.
The hon. Lady talked about ridicule, and I share her view that we should ridicule the group and show contempt for them, because they hold the most ridiculous views. She mentioned Vera Baird, with whom I agree that we should make a point of ridiculing the comments. If we can show that they are ludicrous, people will not want to be part of this.
The hon. Lady asked about internet providers. As she knows, we talk with internet providers about many topics, including indecent images of children online, children having access to pornographic material, and inappropriate material. I will certainly take this point up with the internet providers when I see them at the UK Council for Child Internet Safety board next month.
The hon. Lady asked about the Istanbul convention. We have an issue on article 44 of the Istanbul convention, which concerns an extraterritoriality matter. We are discussing it with the devolved Administrations, because it needs primary legislation, and I am not going to ratify the convention until I am absolutely certain that we comply with all its measures. We comply with everything except that one point, and I want to make sure that we deal with it before ratification.
The hon. Lady mentioned the debate this afternoon in Westminster Hall. I pay tribute to the white ribbon campaign, which has been instrumental in making it clear that men do not want to see violence against women and girls.
Finally, I want to take up what the hon. Lady said about the 41% increase in rape. That is a 41% increase in reported rape, and we welcome that, because it shows that victims have the confidence to come forward and that they are reporting those crimes. If they do so, we can get convictions, which are at their highest ever level. The crime survey for England and Wales shows that the level of those crimes is not going up, and we welcome that. We want to see more reporting, and I hope she will join me in welcoming the increase in reporting.
I welcome the Government’s commitment, through education, to raising awareness about sexual and relationship abuse with its “This is Abuse” campaign. Does the Minister agree that more emphasis must be placed on tackling controlling behaviour and emotional abuse, which often go unreported?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The “This is Abuse” campaign has been extremely successful, and I am very pleased that the Government announced, just before Christmas, that we are continuing with it. It is so important that young people understand what is appropriate, understand what is appropriate in relationships and understand what a normal loving relationship is, as opposed to an abusive one.
My hon. Friend will know that the new domestic abuse offence—the offence of coercive or controlling behaviour—was commenced on 29 December. The new offence had been called for for many years. It was a difficult thing to do, which is why the Government made sure that we got it right, but we now have the ability to prosecute and convict offenders who never commit physical violence against their victims, but have abused them for far too long.
I thank the Minister for her comments. I join her in condemning rape and violence in any form and, in particular, any attempt to blame the victims. I wholeheartedly agree with her that responsibility must always rest with the perpetrator.
We in the Scottish National party are pleased that the events have been cancelled. The anti-women agenda behind them is utterly and completely repugnant. In Scotland, our petition against the events, which were due to take place in Edinburgh and Glasgow, has attracted about 40,000 signatures. Members may be aware that SNP Members have signed an early-day motion condemning these sexist and hate-mongering meetings and the misogyny behind them.
In Scotland, Police Scotland has been working closely with anti-violence against women organisations. It put out a fairly strongly worded statement about the policing of the events that were to have taken place. It is obviously absolutely paramount, as I am sure the Minister would agree, that women should be able to go about their lawful business, day and night, in our cities and towns without being subjected to this sort of intimidation.
The Scottish Government and Police Scotland have worked hard on the investigation of sex crimes in Scotland. The Minister will be aware that a number of years ago —in 2008—the Scottish Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service set up a specialist national sexual crimes unit. I was very proud to be one of its founding prosecutors. Our conviction rates for rape and sexual violence have indeed increased, but we are still working very hard on that, as these are challenging crimes to prosecute.
I associate myself with the questions raised by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), and I thank her for asking this important urgent question. SNP Members, too, want the Istanbul convention to be ratified as soon as possible, and I am sure the Minister will reassure me that she is continuing to liaise with the devolved Governments about that.
Will the Minister reassure me about one point raised by the Member for Stretford and Urmston? If the Home Secretary becomes aware of any plans this gentleman—I use the word loosely—may have to enter the United Kingdom, will she liaise with the Scottish Government, and indeed the other devolved Administrations, on any future events?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her comments. I assure her that I will copy her into my letter to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). We want to take all the steps we possibly can, and I want to set out in depth the steps that the Government can take and what we will do.
The hon. and learned Lady mentioned the Istanbul convention. I assure her that we are liaising with the devolved Administrations to make sure that we ratify it as soon as possible. She talked about police forces. I want to pay tribute to Police Scotland, and to all police forces across the United Kingdom. It is worth making the point that such criminals do not recognise borders, and police forces need to work together to make sure that we tackle these crimes. Such crimes are not acceptable in the United Kingdom—and I mean the whole United Kingdom.
I very much support what the Opposition Front Benchers have said. We defend our cherished liberty of free speech to the utmost, but with that freedom must come responsibility. May I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I am pretty certain all Conservative Members would welcome the proactive engagement of the Home Secretary and her Department not only in excluding this man—frankly, he is an embarrassment to all men—but in proscribing his organisation?
I want to reassure my hon. Friend that he would struggle to find a more proactive Home Secretary. This Home Secretary has excluded more people and done more to tackle violence against women and girls than any Home Secretary in history, and I am very proud to serve in her Department.
These planned meetings may well have been simply a publicity stunt by an attention-seeker so insecure in his own masculinity that he goes to such lengths to augment the size of his—er—following. I have been contacted by many constituents—men and women—who are outraged and revolted and also frightened by the planned meeting in Newcastle, so can the Minister reassure them that anyone meeting in Newcastle or anywhere else, or coming to this country to plan or condone rape, would be treated in the same way as anyone planning or condoning murder, terrorism or any violent act?
I can assure the hon. Lady that that is a criminal offence and such people would be treated in the same way. I join her in her comments about the possible reasons why this individual is doing what he is doing—to ensure that he gets publicity, which he may need for other reasons. I will say no more.
Can we be really robust in deciding who is allowed into this country and who is not? Rather than relying on individual police forces to intercept such individuals after their arrival, if the Government have clear intelligence that an individual or a group are seeking to incite criminal activity in this country, the Government should have no qualms at all about making it clear that these people are excluded from our country, so that we do not have to put extra pressure on our police forces, who have many other things to do.
My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on individual cases, but I agree that it is much better to exclude than to deal with such people when they are here. This Home Secretary has excluded more foreign national offenders and foreign nationals than any other.
I can see no possible benefit from this individual being allowed into the UK now or in the future, so may I add my voice to those of hon. Members who say that, although we understand that the Minister cannot comment on individual cases, we hope that very soon she will be able to do so by saying that this person is excluded permanently from the UK? She cannot talk about operational police matters; is there a general steer that she would hope to give to the police as to their response to this matter?
Although I share the revulsion at this group’s views and the need to exclude such people from the UK, there is a substantial weight of evidence now to suggest that this group has no plans to meet and is concocting these plans across the globe to generate maximum publicity for its vile views, and that it is taking politicians and the media across the globe for a ride. I welcome the news that these alleged events have been cancelled, but has the Minister seen or heard any evidence to suggest that there was actually a plan to hold any of these events in the UK?
I have as much information as my hon. Friend as to how valid the plans may or may not have been, but he makes an important point. We should all remember, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) said, to treat such people with ridicule rather than seriously.
I, too, welcome the public revulsion which has resulted in the cancellation of the Return of Kings meetings, including one in Cardiff, which Plaid Cymru was set to oppose. How will the Minister address the wider question of the balance between free speech online and the incitement of violence against women as though it was socially acceptable?
As part of the review of public order, will my hon. Friend review the weighting of the community impact element when the police decide when to intervene? One of the problems with such public order decisions is that the police take quite a black and white decision about whether the law has been broken, rather than taking a wider view of the impact that that has on the community involved.
This is not the first time that a campaign of violence and aggression has been orchestrated via the internet, and it will not be the last. Although we hear warm words from the Government every time there is an incident, nothing ever seems to happen. I press the Minister to say what action the Government will take over the ease with which vile messages can be distributed via the internet.
I assure the hon. Lady that it is a criminal offence to make these kinds of comments. The Government do not take these matters lightly. We work hard and at length with the internet service providers, which have a responsibility to ensure that such messages are not distributed.
This individual’s offensiveness and arrogance are exceeded only by his ignorance. There are real worries about whether the meetings were anything other than a publicity stunt to get a reaction. Does the Minister agree that the key thing is to ensure that there are positive role models for young men, which the majority of people are, and that the key mistake this individual made was to think that many men would want to attend meetings so vile in their intent?
On the very day when we will discuss for the first time at Westminster the positive role that men can play in preventing and ending violence against women, does the Minister share my concern that this small, small man’s abhorrent views and publicity seeking risk distracting us from the positive role that the vast majority of men —real men—would like to play in ending misogyny in all its forms?
Does the Minister agree that this situation is symptomatic of a much bigger, awful trend towards misogyny, hatred against women and violence that we are seeing on all sorts of media, including Twitter, which is international? What efforts is she making to promote an attitude of zero tolerance towards that trend, not just in Britain, but by taking leadership internationally to address it at its roots?
The hon. Gentleman leads me into an answer that could potentially last many days on the different things that need to be done internationally to promote women and women’s rights, such as the action that the Government are taking to tackle female genital mutilation and forced marriage. All people have a right to exist and live equally. These views and comments are not acceptable.
It is a ridiculous irony that the events have been cancelled for the safety of this man’s supporters, given the nature of the events. I join everybody in their condemnation of this sick individual and his misogynist followers. Will the Minister pay tribute to the groups of campaigners across the country, particularly in Glasgow, who have helped to force the cancellation of the events? Will she also pay tribute to Police Scotland, which has worked closely with the campaigners in Glasgow and Edinburgh to ensure their safety at the events? There was unequivocal condemnation in the Police Scotland statement, which said that
“sex without consent is rape.”
I agree with the Minister that most men will not support these vile, anti-women, misogynistic, pro-rape views. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will support the Home Secretary unequivocally in making sure that Roosh V never sets foot on British soil. What more are the Government doing to make sure that the small number of individuals who do support these abhorrent views learn the error of their ways and see that such views are not acceptable in a decent society?
The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that prevention and education are incredibly important to make sure that the young men—and older men—who hold these views understand that they are wrong. The “This is Abuse” campaign, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) mentioned, is part of that, as is our work to end gang and youth violence and exploitation, because young men who are in a circle where it is seen as acceptable to exploit young women and treat them as no more than sex objects have to be educated that that simply is not right.
The fact that this event in Glasgow has been cancelled shows that people do make Glasgow. Does the Minister agree that any event planned to coach men how to coerce women into having sex. is not a free speech issue but an issue of public safety and order? Will she join me in condemning the sick-minded halfwits who support these events and were planning to attend them, and does she welcome the fact that this weekend they will now be sitting in their underpants, eating cold ravioli from a tin?
Such grotesque misogynist and homophobic views are not masculine—they are a perversion of masculinity and are cowardly. Does the Minister welcome initiatives by the National Union of Students and student unions—including in Leeds—to train bar staff to spot signs of sexual harassment? We must stamp out sexual harassment in all our society.
I would be very interested in learning more about what the hon. Gentleman says, as that is exactly the kind of initiative that we need to ensure that it is clear that no woman can ever be guilty of inciting her own rape. Rape is committed by the perpetrators, and they are the only people who are responsible.
As the Minister will know, I wrote to the Home Secretary on this issue in response to the outrage and anger of my constituents who contacted me about it. The Government of Australia have publicly stated that they will continue to monitor any application from Roosh V, or anyone else associated with the Return of Kings. Will the Minister assure the House that the UK Government will do likewise for any individual associated with this group who is promoting a diet of hate?
Business of the House
There is not much jazz in this, unless there is an MP4 concert coming up, but that is not something I know about. The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 8 February—Motions relating to the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2016 and the State Pension (Amendment) Regulations 2016—that certainly doesn’t have any jazz in it—followed by debate on a motion on the future of the routes of the Great Western Railway. The subject for that debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 9 February—Opposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a half-day debate on the European referendum on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party, followed by a half-day debate on housing on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. That will be followed by a motion to approve a money resolution on the House of Commons (Administration) Bill.
Wednesday 10 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports, followed by a motion relating to the Procedure Committee report on the notification of arrest of Members.
Thursday 11 February—Debate on a motion relating to Equitable Life, followed by debate on a motion on the conservation of sea bass and the effect of related EU measures on the UK fishing industry. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 12 February—The House will not be sitting.
We have yet to finalise the full business for the week commencing 22 February, but provisional business will include:
Monday 22 February—Second Reading of a Bill—[Interruption.]
Hon. Members will just have to wait—anticipation for next week.
I also inform the House that the business for Westminster Hall for 11 February will be:
Thursday 11 February—General debate on the persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims and other religious minorities in Pakistan.
It has been quite a week, hasn’t it! I thought I was hearing things yesterday morning when listening to the “Today” programme, when they said that a “Belgian loon” had given the Prime Minister his backing, I thought, “Is that gross BBC bias? Inappropriate stigmatising language?” Perhaps they were talking about a Walloon? No, it was Mr Sander Loones, the vice-chair of the New Flemish Alliance. So now we know—the Loones back the Prime Minister.
As far as I can see, the only people Leave.EU hates more than the EU are Vote Leave. And Grassroots Out, of course. Oh, and then there is Better Off Out, which I thought was a gay organisation but apparently is not, and is a completely different organisation from Get Britain Out, which also is not a gay organisation. “Splitters!” we might all shout. Leave.EU believes that Vote Leave does not really want to leave the EU. Vote Leave believes, however, that Leave.EU is a bunch of right-wing homophobes—it is not far wrong. Leave.EU thinks that Vote Leave are a bunch of hippy-dippy, let-it-all-hang-out libertarian lunatics. And everyone hates Iain, apparently. Will the Leader of the House tell us which group he is going to join? Will it be Grassroots Out, Vote Leave or Leave.EU, or will he just sign up to the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front and the Popular Front of Judea all at the same time?
I note that the Leader of the House just announced the Second Reading of “a Bill” for 22 February. That is not an announcement—it is a non-announcement. What Bill will this be, or does the Leader of the House even know? Has the Chief Whip not told him yet? He could whisper in his little ear and tell us all later. For all we know, following what the Minister for Europe said earlier this week, it could be the putting children up chimneys Bill. Frankly, I would not put it past this lot. Now that the new Justice Secretary has consigned yet another preposterous policy that came from the pen of the former Justice Secretary, will the mystery Bill be the Chris Grayling abolition Bill?
Incidentally, Mr Speaker, I can let you in on a secret, as long as you do not tell anybody else. Apparently, members of the Cabinet refer to the Leader of the House as the Dark Lord, although at this rate I think he is going to be the Invisible Lord. Will the hon. Member for Mordor ensure that the Work and Pensions Secretary comes to the House next week to make a statement on the despicable appointment of Doug Gurr, the head of Amazon China, as a non-executive director of the Department for Work and Pensions? Is this some kind of cruel joke or deliberate insult to benefit claimants and people in receipt of pensions?
For years, Amazon has used anti-competitive practices to crush competitors. It has used deliberate and calculated means of avoiding paying its fair share of tax in this country and it has systematically refused to co-operate in tackling VAT fraud. If it was a benefit claimant, people would be accusing it of fraud. The figures are shocking. It took £5.3 billion of sales from British internet shoppers but, according to Companies House, paid just £11.9 million in UK tax. That is a tax rate of 0.002%—not 0.2% or 2%, but 0.002%. Those are best mates rates. Is it not always the same with the Tory Government? There is one rule for the rich and powerful, and quite another for the rest.
When the Work and Pensions Secretary comes to the House, will he explain this to us all? Under his rules, if we take two twins born in 1953—let us call them, for the sake of argument, Jack and Jill—Jack gets £155 in state pension, while Jill gets £131 just because she is a woman. And that is not all. Less than one in four women born in the 1950s will qualify for the full flat-rate state pension. That is a disgrace! It is unfair, unjust and immoral.
On Tuesday, we had the Second Reading of the Enterprise Bill. The Bill has already been through all its stages in the House of Lords. As it started in the Lords, the Public Bill Committee in the Commons cannot take any public evidence. Yet in a case of startling hubris, the Business Secretary announced that the Government intend to add a whole new section to the Bill to liberalise Sunday trading. This was not in the Conservative manifesto. It was not even mentioned in the Lords. Who are the Government frightened of—the bishops or the voters?
Lent starts on Wednesday, so may I suggest a new Lenten discipline for the Leader of the House and the Government? Tell the House first. Today is Time to Talk day, when we talk about mental health. Will the Leader ensure that the NHS England mental health taskforce report, which has been constantly delayed and was originally promised for before Christmas, is not published during the recess, but when the House is sitting next week? Leaks from the report suggest a £1.2 billion gap in mental health provision. Warm words about mental health and parliamentary sovereignty are all very well, but we will judge the Government by their actions, not their words.
I want to end with a few words about personnel in the office of the Leader of the House. I understand that he has decided to do without the services of his head of office, Mike Winter. I cannot say how retrograde a step I believe this is. Mike is a man of complete and utter civil service professionalism. He served Labour and Conservative Leaders of the House with complete impartiality and dedication, working closely with Members of all political parties, putting in extremely long hours and leading his team admirably. He frequently put me right. His total focus has been on serving the House, which I gently suggest to the Leader of the House should be his focus too. I wish Mike well.
Mr Speaker, your request about the length of the shadow Leader of the House’s contribution lasted just one week.
The shadow Leader of the House made several requests for statements. I simply remind him, as I do each week, that I provide him with extensive opportunities to debate matters in the House, but we have established in recent weeks that each week he stands and asks for debates, and almost never do they get tabled when the Opposition are given time for them. He and his party table debates on fewer than one in six of the subjects he asks for debates on. Either he is not seriously interested in them, or his own party is not listening to him.
The shadow Leader of the House asked about tax paid. I simply remind him that our steps to recover tax from companies such as Google are necessary because, during its 13 years in power, Labour did nothing about it. I sit and listen to the hypocrisy of the Opposition—they ask why we are doing this now and they talk about mates rates—but they did nothing about it in government. He also talked about pensions, which they did nothing about in government either. We are introducing a new single-tier pension that will deliver fairness for people in our society and ensure that everybody has a decent retirement. In the 13 years Labour was in power, when did it ever do anything about that?
The shadow Leader of the House talked about the changes in the Enterprise Bill. I simply remind him that we are the elected House, and we will debate a matter related to devolution, which is something that Labour is supposed to support but which it clearly does not any more.
Once again, we heard nothing of this week’s events in the Labour party and its latest madcap idea. As if using nuclear submarines as troop carriers was not enough, the shadow Chancellor now wants to get rid of borders. Yes, no borders at all! We would have terrorists crossing borders, organised crime spreading its nets and more and more migration against the wishes of the people of this country. The Labour party has been seized by a madcap ideology, and the shadow Leader of the House is still sitting there and supporting it. I do not understand why.
Will the Treasury take a closer look at the proposed changes to the disbursement of landfill tax revenues through the landfill communities fund before they become effective in April? Currently, 10% of the funds for every project are raised by a third party—usually the applicant—but the proposal is to transfer that 10% to the landfill operator. The concern is that many small operators might withdraw from the scheme, meaning that fewer projects can be considered. I am sure that this is an unintended consequence.
I am aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I can assure her that the Department for Communities and Local Government is in discussions with industry representatives and is trying to do what it needs to do in the right way. It has to take some decisions, but it is fully aware of her concerns as it looks to reach a decision.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. Mr Speaker, I am sure that you and the rest of the House would like to know that today is World Cancer Day. Almost every household in the country is touched by cancer, so this is a great opportunity to pay tribute to all the wonderful staff who work in the hospitals across the whole of the United Kingdom and treat people with this still appalling condition.
This morning, the Daily Mail intriguingly asked, “Who will speak for England?” I have no ambition in that department, but I was thinking that the Leader of the House is perhaps the ideal candidate. He is “Dr EVEL of Lore”, the man who liberated English legislation from the oppression of we pernicious hordes of Scots MPs and he is also one of the leading Eurosceptics in the Cabinet. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
We have an opportunity to debate this matter because we have a European debate next week, courtesy of the Democratic Unionist party—I am grateful to DUP Members for bringing it to our attention again. Perhaps we will have another opportunity to discuss the joint letters from the First Ministers of the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments from across the UK. Perhaps it will not be so contentiously dismissed as it was yesterday by the Prime Minister when it was raised here. A little bit more respect for the First Ministers of the various Assemblies and Parliaments would be in order this time round.
We have only one week in which to secure a deal on the fiscal framework—the critical financial arrangement that underpins the Scotland Bill—yet the two Governments could not be further apart. We had only an hour or so to debate it yesterday, unfortunately, as a result of the extended statement, and there will be no further opportunity to look at this before agreement is to be reached next Friday. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury said something intriguing yesterday in front of the Scottish Affairs Committee. He said that if agreement on the fiscal framework is reached, it would have to come back to this House for a possible debate, and he hinted at a possible vote. I do not know what the Leader of the House knows about what the Chief Secretary was saying yesterday, but it raises some intriguing questions. If it does come back to this House and the House then rejects the fiscal framework, what on earth happens to Scotland? I want to hear the Leader of the House respond on this matter.
I know that urgent questions are a matter for you, Mr Speaker, and that you decide whether or not they happen. Could we have a little debate or even just a conversation about urgent questions on sitting Fridays? There were two last Friday, and that presents immense difficulty for Scottish Members—in fact, for Members of any constituencies other than those in London—because we cannot get to the House on a Friday morning. We have to make some critical decisions on whether to stay for the urgent questions or go back to serve our constituents on a Friday—the one working day when we have such an opportunity—given that we have to spend a day travelling back and forwards to this place. May we have a conversation about that, Mr Speaker?
May we have a debate on tax arrangements across the United Kingdom? Apparently, Labour wants to tax workers on below-average earnings in Scotland, but also to reduce taxes for the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not know whether this is Labour’s Better Together tax or the Tory austerity tax, but I would like to have some clarity about Labour’s plans for the whole UK.
Lastly, I come to an issue on which we might all be able to agree—MP4 for Eurovision! The time has come. I know that you are a fan, Mr Speaker, as is the Leader of the House. This is a political contest, as we know, and we have had all these young starlet acts trying to achieve a win, but now is the time for grizzled old politicians to get in there and do their bit for the United Kingdom. I am sure I will secure the support of the whole House for MP4 for Eurovision.
I think that is a great idea. The hon. Gentleman and I do not always share exactly the same views on European matters, but I can tell him that I will happily champion the cause of MP4 in Eurovision. I just hope that there is a change when it comes to those difficult votes, because countries in eastern Europe unfortunately tend to award the UK entrants “nul points”. Let us hope that MP4 will turn things round. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have the support of the whole House in doing so—
Oh no. I am sorry to say that the shadow Leader of the House will not be supporting MP4 for Eurovision. I think that is a shame and a betrayal of the principles of the House, but never mind.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asks whether I am going to speak for England. I have to say that I speak for the United Kingdom, and I think all of us here should speak for the United Kingdom. He called me Dr Evel—I have been called Dr Evil and the Dark Lord today, so we are mixing our books somewhat—but on the EU vote, we were very clear, as was the hon. Gentleman’s former First Minister, that there should be a sensible gap between the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elections and a referendum. The Prime Minister made it clear yesterday that there will be a gap of at least six weeks, which is the gap requested by the hon. Gentleman’s former party leader. He will therefore forgive me if I treat his comments today with a degree of scepticism. We are simply doing what the Scottish nationalists asked for.
The hon. Gentleman is more pessimistic than I am about the fiscal framework. I am sure that the constructive dialogue between the Government at Westminster and the Government in Edinburgh will ensure that there is no problem with it, and that we will reach agreement. We all want to see a Scotland Act, rather than a Scotland Bill, in time for the Scottish elections, and we will continue to work to that end.
Urgent questions on Fridays are, of course, a matter for you, Mr Speaker, but I am sure that the Scottish National party will want to participate in Friday debates just as actively as any other party in the House.
There is one more thing on which we can agree today. The hon. Gentleman talked about Labour’s tax rise proposals. I do not think that they are good for Scotland either, and I think that that is why the Labour party is struggling in Scotland. Saying to people, “Vote for us and we will increase your taxes” has never, in my experience, been a good platform for an election.
Let me give the Leader of the House an opportunity to be a white knight for the people of Lancashire. The county council has embarked on a consultation about the withdrawal of subsidies from bus services. The consultation will close at the end of March, but in the meantime the council has already told bus operators that it will withdraw the subsidies, and some services will cease on 21 February. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to make a statement about this sham consultation, and about what can be done to help some of the most elderly and vulnerable people, living in villages, who will be isolated if the bus cuts go ahead?