House of Commons
Thursday 3 March 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—
Broadband: Urban Areas
I am very pleased to tell you, Mr Speaker, that the broadband roll-out is going extremely well, particularly in our cities. I am also particularly pleased at the success of our business voucher scheme, under which 50,000 businesses have benefited.
I make no apology for returning to the thorny issue of the frustrations of e-poverty in the city of Gloucester. In 2013, BT promised to upgrade box No. 90. In 2014, it said it was sorry for the delay, but that it would still happen. In 2015, it changed its mind. In 2016, at a meeting with me earlier this week, it asked, “Could you send us the original emails saying we would ever upgrade this box?” At what stage is a commitment from BT a real commitment that will not result in constituents turning around to me and saying, “You lied”?
I am obviously not BT’s spokesman, but I hope BT is listening to what my hon. Friend has to say. He is a fantastic constituency MP. While I am very proud of the success of our roll-out programme, it is incumbent on BT to get its act together in terms of customer service and delivering on its promises.
When the Minister boasts that we have some of the best broadband in Europe, who is he comparing us with? Is he aware of the House of Lords report showing that, for broadband speed, we are the 19th fastest in the world and the 12th fastest in Europe? Is that not really abysmal, and can we not do better?
I do not think we could do better than we are already, actually. When I compare our broadband, I do so first with similar countries, such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy, all of whom we are beating. I would not look simply at speed. The hon. Gentleman takes a very narrow view, and does not look at prices. We have some of the lowest prices anywhere in the world. If we look at results—the fact that we lead the world in e-commerce, for example—they show that we are probably the world’s most advanced digital nation.
In urban areas, such as Bath, technology is available to skip the roll-out of superfast broadband and go directly to the installation of ultrafast broadband. Does the Minister agree with the logic of that, which will help to reduce disruption and save money in the long term and give businesses in Bath a huge boost?
It is very important to set realistic targets. That is why we dropped Labour’s pathetic 2 megabits policy and went to 24 megabits. Now is the time to start looking at a gigabit Britain. I utterly endorse what my hon. Friend says. Let us not get stuck in the past with Labour; let us go forward to the future.
Is the Minister aware that the very latest European Commission digital economy scorecard, published in just the past few weeks, ranks the UK below not just the Nordic countries, which we would expect, but countries such as Belgium? Despite the well-known antipathy of his Secretary of State to all things European, will the Minister press the European Investment Bank to put more money into extending broadband, particularly in rural constituencies such as mine of East Lothian?
It may be that BT, having heard his question, is already on the phone to my hon. Friend.
I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s tone of contempt for small countries such as Belgium. I think small countries—small and perfectly formed countries—are often extremely successful. Just the other day, I was talking to an investor about the extraordinary digital businesses that exist in Edinburgh, such as Skyscanner. Those really groundbreaking businesses are developing thanks to our digital policies. I know that he will support what we are doing. I have forgotten his original point, because I was going on so much about what a fantastic, digitally innovative country Scotland is.
Public Service Broadcasting
Public service broadcasting is the powerhouse of the UK’s world-class television industry. In 2014, public service broadcasters invested £2.5 billion in original TV content, and accounted for over half of all TV viewing.
I have had representations from hundreds of constituents in Cambridge who are concerned about the future of the BBC. They are overwhelmingly supportive and positive. We now have the results of the consultation and more than three-fifths of respondents were in favour of continuing with the current funding system. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that there will be no further top-slicing of the licence fee?
I hope to be able to update the House on our progress on the renewal of the charter in due course. We are taking all the responses seriously and taking them fully into account. We have already agreed with the BBC that one of the top-slices of the licence fee—the additional amount that is taken for broadband—will come to an end in 2020.
I know that my right hon. Friend will have noted the BBC’s forthcoming Shakespeare season, which is being held in collaboration with many other bodies, including the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is designed to bring Shakespeare to life for a new generation, using not just TV, but radio and online services. Does he agree that that is exactly the sort of thing the BBC ought to be doing, and something that only the BBC could do?
I agree with my right hon. Friend very strongly. This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It is an enormously important event and the BBC has a crucial role to play. I had the pleasure about 10 days ago of watching the filming of Ben Elton’s new comedy, “Upstart Crow”, which is based on Shakespeare. As my right hon. Friend says, I suspect that that is the sort of thing that only the BBC would do.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the proposals of BBC Scotland to strengthen its news output by investing in jobs and production for an entirely editorially independent “Scottish Six” programme, anchored from Scotland, are a development that all of us across the House can welcome as an example of a long-term commitment to public service broadcasting? Will he just promise us that there will be no interference from Downing Street?
I had a very good meeting with Fiona Hyslop a couple of weeks ago to talk about the way in which the BBC meets the requirement to serve all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. I obviously welcome any investment at the BBC that will create additional jobs, particularly in Scotland, which I know the hon. Gentleman will value. How the BBC goes about meeting the obligation to serve the nations and regions is a matter for the BBC. Certainly, neither I nor my colleagues in No. 10 would want to instruct it on how to go about it.
Eighty per cent. of the 192,000 responses to the Green Paper consultation say that the BBC serves its audiences well or very well, and the majority believe its content to be both high quality and distinctive from that of other broadcasters. The Secretary of State purports to be a supporter of the BBC, so why is he using charter renewal to cut back and restrict what the BBC does, rather than help it to compete in the rapidly changing and increasingly global broadcasting environment?
I was not surprised to find that the responses showed that the vast majority of people value the BBC. As I have said, I value the BBC. The hon. Lady will have to await the publication of the White Paper, but it is not a question of trying to cut back the BBC’s output. Nevertheless, there is a case, which is borne out by some of the responses and by other surveys we have conducted, for saying that the BBC needs to be more distinctive. That is something that the director-general himself said when he set out his plans for the charter renewal.
The Secretary of State’s speech yesterday was rather more about bashing the BBC than anything else. That is what the chair of the BBC Trust said. Bashing the BBC is the one thing the Secretary of State agrees about with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor these days. They all want to use charter renewal to eviscerate the BBC and do its competitors a favour, rather than to deliver what the licence fee-paying public want. They just do not seem to accept that the British people like the BBC and want it to continue what it is doing. When will the Secretary of State accept that charter renewal should be about making the BBC fit for the future, rather than trying to diminish it for the commercial convenience of its competitors?
The hon. Lady must have looked at a different speech from the one I delivered. It certainly was not about bashing the BBC. Indeed, as soon as I finished making the speech, I had an extremely good meeting with the chairman of the BBC Trust, who did not mention anything about my bashing the BBC and welcomed what I had said.
The charter renewal is precisely about making the BBC fit for the future. I intend to bring forward the publication as soon as is possible, but, as the hon. Lady knows, there are a number of very important contributions, including the 192,000 consultations, that we want to take fully into account.
Satellite Broadband Voucher Scheme: Lancashire
We are making great progress on superfast roll-out. We have reached almost 4 million premises, and it is going extremely well.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to spreading faster broadband to rural areas, but my constituents have found it difficult to find information about the voucher scheme. Will my hon. Friend commit to working with Lancashire County Council and Broadband Delivery UK to ensure that households that could benefit from satellite broadband are made aware of that important scheme?
In my original answer, I was obviously pointing out how well the satellite broadband scheme is going as well. We launched it at the end of December to ensure that people with speeds of less than 2 megabits per second can get the speeds they need. It was a soft launch, but we will make the scheme much more high profile in the next few months. I will happily work with my hon. Friend to make sure that his constituents can benefit from the scheme, although I note that superfast broadband roll-out will be almost 100% both in his constituency and in Lancashire.
York, along with other affected areas, is currently being promoted with a £1 million publicity campaign, which was announced by the Prime Minister on 28 January. It is designed to encourage British families to spend their Easter holidays in the north of England. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also launched Virgin Trains 30% discount offer on 1 February, as part of his visit to York to promote the city and its wider region as open for business.
I thank the Minister for his detailed response. About 200 businesses in York were flooded after Christmas, and thankfully many are now getting back on their feet. Building on what he said about the recent VisitEngland campaign to encourage families to visit northern tourist destinations such as York, will he consider providing individual grants so that local tourist attractions can market themselves and let everyone know that they are open for business again?
I know how assiduous my hon. Friend is in his commitment to the area. I am really pleased that York is open for business following the recent floods and welcoming visitors back. Tourism businesses in flood-affected areas that were directly or indirectly impacted are eligible for the £5 million recovery fund from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and businesses can use those grants to help promote themselves. VisitBritain and VisitEngland are in dialogue with specific flood-affected businesses to spread the message about the areas that are open for business and ready to receive visitors.
It is 1,000 years since King Canute’s accession to the throne. “Campaign Canute” is trying to raise £2 million so that Jorvik Viking Centre can reopen before 2017. What additional support can the Minister bring to that major tourist attraction in York?
The Government’s first priority, of course, has been to deal with the physical impact of the floods themselves in the short term, and we have worked hard to make that happen. We now need to make sure that businesses that were affected attract the bookings that they need over the next few months. I have been to the Jorvik Viking Centre myself in the past and was very impressed with it, and I look forward to going again in the future. VisitEngland and VisitBritain are in discussions with such businesses and are using all their channels to support affected areas.
The Government are taking a range of measures to tackle nuisance calls, including strengthening the regulators’ ability to take enforcement action against organisations that break the law and increasing consumer choice by consulting on making it a requirement for direct marketing callers to display their calling line identification.
Many of my constituents will be very pleased by that answer, but does the Secretary of State accept that they will hope that the action will be taken quickly? Like me, they are fed up to the back teeth with sleazy calls trying to sell them PPI protection or help with personal injuries that never happened. It is time that something was done to stop those disreputable practices.
My right hon. Friend and I are constituency neighbours, so I am very much aware of our constituents’ concerns about this subject. I am sure that neither he nor I would ever be guilty of making nuisance calls, either in relation to our own elections or, indeed, on behalf of candidates in other elections across the pond. However, action is being taken. The new measures are taking effect and in just the last week, the Information Commissioner’s Office announced a record fine of £350,000 against one of the leading firms responsible for nuisance calls.
Nuisance calls are increasingly annoying to me and many of my constituents—the problem may affect people in Scotland more adversely, with nine out of 10 residents claiming to have had them in any given month—and 30 March will mark the second anniversary of the DCMS report, “Nuisance Calls Action Plan”. What plans does the Secretary of State have to publish a revised plan, detailing what success the first plan has had and what future action can be taken to tackle the problem?
We keep the matter under continual review, but we have taken a number of measures, and we will shortly come forward with the outcome of our consultation on strengthening the requirements for direct marketing callers. I am also in contact with organisations such as Which? that have a good record on the matter. If further measures need to be taken, we will certainly do that.
The roll-out of superfast broadband is going very well and we have reached almost 4 million premises.
Areas in my constituency fall into the so-called “broadband white areas”, where internet access is virtually non-existent. In 2010, the Government committed to providing every home with a basic broadband connection by the end of 2015. Three months on from that date, I have been contacted by many constituents who are still without a decent broadband service to their homes or businesses. Will the Secretary of State look into that and deliver on the commitment that was made five years ago to give every household and business access to broadband, which, in 2016, is surely a necessity, not a luxury?
I am very pleased to tell the hon. Lady that about 96% of premises in her constituency will get superfast broadband, but also, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), the satellite voucher scheme is now available and all the hon. Lady’s constituents who do not have broadband or have broadband under 2 megabits can apply and have satellite installed for free.
Those of my constituents who have missed out on the roll-out of superfast broadband are now pinning their hopes on the universal service obligation, which the Prime Minister announced before Christmas. How far has the Minister got with the consultations that I understand have to be conducted before the USO can be introduced?
I am very pleased to tell my hon. Friend that we are proceeding at pace with our consultation, the results of which we will issue shortly, and we will probably legislate to introduce the universal service obligation in the digital economy Bill. I am delighted that he will get 99% superfast broadband in his constituency anyway.
I have several cases of superfast broadband not reaching certain constituents, particularly businessmen. In the light of that, what discussions has the Minister had with broadband companies about improving copper cables, thus enabling them to reach further, and connection boxes so that superfast broadband is available to more people?
We constantly challenge the communication providers to provide new technology and I am pleased that Virgin is extending its roll-out and that BT is introducing G.fast. I am also pleased that superfast broadband will approach around 85% in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
Details of all the meetings that I and other Ministers have had with interested parties on this matter are available via the Department’s transparency returns. In addition, my officials engage regularly with all interested stakeholders to discuss gambling policy more generally, including the issue of fixed odds betting terminals.
In 2014-15, people in Wirral lost more than £2 million at fixed odds betting terminals, and more than £290,000 of that was lost in my constituency of Wirral West. Low pay and insecure work is such a feature of our economy that people cannot afford to lose large sums of money. Will the Government realise the seriousness of the risk that FOBTs pose to people on lower incomes and substantially cut the maximum stake?
I understand the concern about fixed odds betting terminals, and we keep the issue under review. The hon. Lady may be aware that last year we brought in new requirements that improved player protection, in particular by putting a stop to unsupervised play for stakes of over £50. It is already clear that that has had an impact on player behaviour. As far as we can see, the rate of problem gambling remains at under 1% and has not shown any sign of rising as a result of FOBTs.
As the Secretary of State knows, the inconvenient truth is that problem gambling rates have reduced since the introduction of fixed odds betting terminals. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling claimed that each fixed odds betting terminal makes a profit of £1,000 a week. As a betting shop is open for more than 90 hours a week, that works out at an average profit of around £11 an hour. Does the Secretary of State think that that is an excessive profit rate? If he does, what does he think an acceptable profit rate would be?
I have regular meetings with ministerial colleagues at the Home Office to discuss a range of issues.
Companies such as Facebook often talk about corporate social responsibility, and I can think of nothing more responsible than co-operating with the police about death threats. Greater Manchester police have been waiting weeks for Facebook to help to identify those who made such threats to some Members of this House, not least me. Does the Secretary of State agree that Facebook and other social media need to do more to help the criminal justice system?
I expect all social media companies to assist the police and uphold the law. Those providing communication services to users in the UK have an obligation to comply with UK warrants that request the content of communications, and with notices requiring the disclosure of data. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should bring that to the attention of Facebook, and indeed to Greater Manchester police, if such co-operation is not forthcoming.
Will the Minister join me in roundly welcoming the consultation that is starting today on taking action against cowardly internet trolls who create fake social media profiles and bully, harass and menace others online, and on taking action to help children affected by online bullying?
I entirely share my hon. Friend’s concern, and it is very distressing when such things happen. I discovered that someone had set up a profile of me without my knowledge a few weeks ago, and I swiftly had it removed. It is clear that we must tighten the law where people are using such profiles to cause distress. In some cases they are breaching the law, so I welcome the new guidelines from the CPS.
Internet companies are required to respond to requests from the police, but there is no timescale for that. It takes more than three weeks on average before Twitter provides data to the UK police for criminal investigations. What will the Minister and the Government do to force internet companies to respond promptly and immediately to our law enforcement agencies that are pursuing criminals?
As I said to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), I expect all social media companies to comply with the law without any unnecessary delay. If there is evidence that they are delaying, I am happy to discuss the matter with my colleagues in the Home Office and to consider what more can be done.
EU Digital Single Market
This Government are a great champion of the digital single market, and I know that all colleagues will have read the Prime Minister’s excellent White Paper. It means, for example, that people will no longer pay roaming charges when travelling across the EU, and once the digital single market is in place, we will see a huge increase in our GDP.
According to the No. 10 website, we could create £325 billion of additional growth by fostering a digital single market, and it points to the advantages of that for consumers. Given that, why would anybody campaign to leave the EU rather than energetically work to get the best deal for the UK?
The Minister will be aware that, at 12.4% of GDP, the UK’s internet economy is by far the largest of all the G20; it is double that of the US, more than twice the size of Germany’s and about four times the size of France’s. Does the Minister agree that getting a good deal on the digital single market is particularly important for the UK, because so many jobs and so much of the economy depend on it?
I agree with my hon. Friend. He points out the share of the internet economy, and it is incumbent on the Opposition to explain why they come to this House all the time to rubbish our digital record and pretend there is no broadband in the UK. How has the digital economy come about if people are not using the brilliant superfast broadband we are delivering?
Our five-point plan for tourism makes clear the Government’s support for the tourism industry. That includes a commitment to encourage tourists to explore the country beyond London. I am delighted that we have secured the £40 million Discover England fund. That competitive fund will encourage public and private sector partners across the country to come together and improve our English tourism offer.
My hon. Friend is well known as a real champion for his constituency and for Northamptonshire, and I commend him for that. I recognise the importance of privately owned heritage such as Rockingham Castle in supporting tourism. I am pleased to say that historic houses can apply for Heritage Lottery funding of up to £100,000 on projects that are a public benefit. Sites on Historic England’s heritage at risk register can apply for funding from Historic England. [Interruption.] It is very important for the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) to know the facts.
Mr Speaker, before you reprimand me, may I remind the House that John Clare was a Northamptonshire peasant poet? The John Clare Trust has opened his wonderful cottage to visitors and tourists, and the Minister would be welcome to pay an official visit at any time. Will he also tell the world that the trust supports the Every Child’s Right to the Countryside campaign to get kids out into the country and learning?
15. Northamptonshire and Rugby share a heritage in leather products: in Northamptonshire it is footwear and in Rugby it is balls for the game that bears the town’s name. The town saw 50,000 visitors during the Rugby world cup, which established an interest in sport tourism. Does my right hon. Friend agree that now would be a good time to develop a permanent rugby-themed visitor attraction in the town? When we get that attraction, I will invite him to come along and visit. (903871)
Internet Service Providers
We have a very competitive internet service provider market in the UK. Ofcom has just published its digital communications review. It promises further changes, which we welcome.
Will the Minister tell the House what discussions he has had with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills regarding the potential benefits of encouraging alternative investment and competition in the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure?
We have announced a joint review with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills of business broadband, and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills takes a very close interest in that issue. Both Departments are very focused on Ofcom’s recommendations. My message to BT is that I hope it will reach agreement with Ofcom in the very near future.
In areas where there is insufficient competition, tough regulation is required to ensure that existing providers are providing a fair service. In parts of rural Cheshire, there is no competition and insufficient regulation because Ofcom allows providers to charge a premium to rural customers because they live in rural areas. Where there is insufficient competition, will the Minister speak to Ofcom to provide that tough regulation and a fair deal for rural broadband customers?
Yes. I met the chief executive of Ofcom yesterday, and I told her that we were four square behind the digital communications review, which includes, as I say, tough measures on BT—we want BT to reach agreement on that by the end of the year—and pro-consumer mechanisms such as automatic compensation, which we also strongly support.
Northern Powerhouse: Arts Funding
I am pleased to say that there is strong support for the arts within the northern powerhouse project. For example, there is investment in the Factory in Manchester, as well as our backing for the Hull city of culture project and, of course, the Great Exhibition of the north.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and his plans for the future. This year sees the return of the Barnaby festival in Macclesfield, with over 100 events, 250 artists and performers—of course, all visitors are welcome. Does he agree that, with £90,000 of Arts Council funding joining the mix of private and public funding, that is a perfect example of how arts funding can help to add fuel to the northern powerhouse?
I agree with that. I understand that the funding has helped, for example, to make the festival director a paid position for the first time. It is a great example of how the Arts Council is working with organisations all over the country, but particularly in the north, to support our world-class arts and heritage.
As the Minister will know, the Royal Photographic Society’s archive was recently threatened with being moved from Bradford’s National Media Museum to London. What assessment has he made of the impact of such a move on cultural provision within Bradford, the wider Yorkshire region and, indeed, the northern powerhouse?
I have been closely involved with the Science Museum on the future of the National Media Museum, and I am pleased that it is now being put on a firmer footing. However, I would say to the hon. Lady that there is extensive support for the arts in Bradford, with something like £9 million of Arts Council funding. I point her to the excellent article by the chief executive of the Arts Council about the support it is giving to Bradford.
The Minister shows great artistry in the picture he paints, but we know that the regions were already losing out on arts funding by a ratio of 14:1 before the Chancellor chose to chop billions from northern local authorities struggling to maintain arts for all. The Sutton report last week said that the arts are becoming less and less accessible. Does the Minister agree that the arts are far too important to our culture and our identity to be left in the hands of a privileged few?
I would certainly agree with the hon. Lady on that. Our forthcoming White Paper will announce new measures to increase access to the arts, but we have already supported, for example, music education hubs, extended the In Harmony scheme and introduced new schemes for the arts in schools, so I take great issue with her implicit criticism that we are not doing anything to increase access to the arts.
Historical Sex Abuse: Broadcasting Sector
The report published by Dame Janet Smith last week was the result of a comprehensive and wide-ranging review. This is clearly a matter for the BBC, which commissioned the review and is responsible for responding, but I know that the chair and director-general take these issues extremely seriously, and I have already had a discussion with the director-general about them.
This four-year, £6 million inquiry confirmed that Jimmy Savile molested 72 victims, that he raped a youngster as young as eight and that attacks occurred in the corridors and dressing-rooms of every BBC premises over a period of 47 years, yet no senior manager, past or present, has accepted individual responsibility for failing to stop him. Does the Secretary of State believe that this is an adequate response from Britain’s leading public service broadcaster?
I hope that my hon. Friend will read in full the statement by the director-general, which makes it clear that the BBC takes this matter very seriously. It has offered a full apology and fully accepts the recommendations of Dame Janet Smith. The important thing is that measures are put in place to ensure that this kind of thing can never happen again. A lot has been done already by the BBC, but I welcome the fact that the BBC has also accepted the recommendation that a further review be carried out to ensure that everything possible is being done to stop this kind of abuse ever happening again.
As you will know, Mr Speaker, today is World Book Day.
Since our last question time, my Department has published a summary of the responses to our consultation on the BBC charter review, Sir David Clementi’s report on the governance and regulation of the BBC, and the results of independent research on the BBC’s market impact. All those publications will inform our thinking.
The House will be delighted to hear that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), has had a baby since the House last met. I am sure that Members will join me in congratulating her, and in wishing her and the new arrival well.
I know that the House will also join me in congratulating the British winners of last weekend’s Oscars, and in wishing our Davis Cup and track cycling teams well this weekend.
The British horseracing industry has an economic impact of £3.5 billion a year, and the Aintree and Haydock racecourses are very popular with my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend tell us when he plans to require offshore bookmakers to make a financial contribution to racing, as those based in Britain already do?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of horseracing to this country. I can tell him that we intend to introduce a new funding arrangement for British racing by April 2017. We will create a level playing field for British-based and offshore gambling operators, and will ensure a fair return for racing from all bookmakers, including those based offshore. The racing industry will be responsible for making decisions on the spending of the new fund. We will make further announcements shortly.
Four out of five tourism companies surveyed by UKinbound believe that staying in the European Union is important to their business. UKinbound’s chief executive officer, Deirdre Wells, has said:
“Saying ‘yes’ to staying in the EU sends a clear message that we are open for business.”
Why is the Secretary of State so intent on damaging our tourism industry by campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union, against the policy of his own Government?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, whatever the decision on Britain’s future membership of the European Union, this country will remain open to tourists, not just from the European Union but from across the world. We are already enjoying a steady increase in the number of international visitors, and I expect that to continue.
T2. Fort Fareham is on Historic England’s heritage at risk register; it is listed as priority A. Built in 1861, it forms part of the region’s distinctive naval and coastal history. What support can the Minister give such heritage assets, which are at risk of rapid deterioration, particularly those in private ownership? (903876)
I am well aware of Fort Fareham, which is one of several sites that testify to the important role of Portsmouth in the defence of our nation in the past. The purpose of the at risk register is to enable Historic England and other partners to target their advice and support at the sites that are in greatest need. I am pleased to say that Historic England is working with its partners in south Hampshire to make the most of the fantastic history of Portsmouth harbour.
T3. I am sure that the Secretary of State was as aggrieved as I was to learn that late last year the Royal Society of Arts ranked South Tyneside as one of the lowest boroughs in the country on its heritage index. He should know as well as I do that South Tyneside has a huge amount of history and culture to offer. Would he consider accepting an invitation to come to the borough, with members of the RSA? He could take part in our summer festival, explore our ancient Roman sites, or perhaps pull a rabbit out of a hat during the upcoming annual magic show at our brilliant arts venue, the Customs House. (903878)
That is an almost irresistible offer, given the attractions of South Tyneside. The magic show sounds highly enticing.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to stress the importance of heritage to South Tyneside and, indeed, to the whole country. I hope that I shall manage to accept her invitation in due course, but I know that, in the meantime, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett), is being assiduous in trying to visit as many tourism and heritage destinations as possible.
T5. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that all Government Departments get behind the Government’s excellent new sports strategy, particularly in relation to outdoor recreation, with its benefits for physical health and for the tourism economy in rural areas in Macclesfield and far beyond? (903880)
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the value of outdoor recreation and sport. We recognise this and we are committed to working across the Government Departments to ensure that the new Sporting Future strategy promotes opportunities for everyone to get involved in outdoor activities, no matter where they are. Indeed, Sport England already invests millions of pounds in activities as diverse as trail running, canoeing and mountaineering, which provide exciting opportunities. We will continue to work with other Departments to make sure that this happens.
T4. Across the regions of the UK, there are some 4,500 miles of road with no mobile phone signals, according to a recent RAC report. That includes 452 miles in the highlands without 4G, 3G or 2G, which means that no texts or calls can be made there. Will the Minister commit to taking action to plug these specific gaps in mobile coverage? (903879)
I am pleased to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the emergency services network proposals will see 300 new mobile masts built, and our mobile infrastructure programme will see 75 miles covered. Our changes to the licences of mobile providers will require 90% geographical coverage, which will also result in improvements in mobile coverage.
T6. My right hon. Friend the Sports Minister pro tem will have seen yesterday’s suggestion from distinguished luminaries in the medical world—including from places such as the University of the Pacific, wherever that might be—that we ban any form of tackling in rugby in schools. Does he agree that it is time to stop this mollycoddling of young people, and, while doing all we can to ensure that sport is safe, to let schools get on with teaching contact sports and the values that they represent? (903881)
My hon. and learned Friend will be well aware that the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to get involved in sport from a young age, provided that it is made available within a safe environment. The Department for Education is responsible for sport in schools. Rugby and many other sports always carry an element of risk, and we expect those supervising sport at that level to ensure the safety of all participants. He will be interested to note that as part of our strategy on sport and physical activity, a full review of the duty of care in sport is to be carried out, chaired by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
T7. Local authority budgets are now under extreme pressure, and the Treasury is urging councils to liquidate all extraneous assets. Will the Secretary of State confirm from the Dispatch Box that that should not include the antiquities, paintings and artefacts in local authority museums and galleries? None of us wants to see a fire sale of our national heritage on the back of this Government’s stumbling economic policy. (903882)
One treasure that I hope will not be liquidated is the hon. Gentleman. I hope he will not be liquidated by the Momentum campaign in Stoke and that he will be reselected. We are all praying for him on this side of the House. In answer to his question, it is obviously up to individual local authorities, but they must adhere to the code of ethics of the Museums Association. I take a very dim view of local authorities getting rid of their heritage assets, particularly those that have been left to them by prominent members of the community.
There have been numerous resignations from the board of London 2017. Has the Secretary of State had the chance to discuss the reasons for that with London 2017, and does he have any concerns about its working relationship with UK Athletics?
T8. To prevent our pop charts from being disproportionately dominated by acts from private schools, and to prevent another all-white Brit awards like the event that was criticised last week, would the Minister consider starting a scheme similar to the much missed music action zones that the Labour Government created to encourage creativity and talent in music in non-classroom contexts? (903883)
This country produces some of the finest music acts in the world. A lot of the ones that I go to see certainly did not go to public school, and I am looking forward to going to see Muse and, I hope, Rainbow in the coming months. Of course, I want to see opportunity for everybody who has talent to succeed.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic champion, on riding her first winner over fences at Wincanton yesterday, on Pacha Du Polder, a horse owned by Andy Stewart and trained by Paul Nicholls? Her exploits are a big boost for the racing industry. Will the Secretary of State confirm that when he sets the rate of the new levy, he will be taking into account all the current streams of funding that go into racing from bookmakers, such as picture rights?
I of course join my hon. Friend in congratulating Victoria Pendleton. I heard her talking about her success this morning, and it shows how somebody can achieve great accomplishment in one sport and then go on to succeed in a second. On the specific point he raises about the extension of the levy to cover offshore, the amount will be determined by an analysis, which we have commissioned, of the funding and costs of racing. That will take account of all sources of revenue, including media rights, as he points out.
T9. Will the Secretary of State tell the House why his Government have gone from promising victims of press abuse that part 2 of Leveson will happen to saying that it “may” happen? Will he also tell the House how many meetings he and his Cabinet colleagues have had with newspaper proprietors over the past year and whether that was a topic of conversation? (903884)
We have always said that any decisions about whether or not Leveson 2 should take place will be taken once all the criminal proceedings have been completed. We are not at that stage; further criminal proceedings are under way. Once those are completed, we will come back to look at this question. We regularly publish a record of all meetings with newspaper proprietors, with victims of press intrusion and with ministerial colleagues. Of course, I have regular meetings with all of those, and I am looking forward to having a further meeting with Hacked Off to discuss these matters in a few weeks’ time.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Public Engagement in Parliament
The Government are committed to promoting public awareness of Parliament. Much has been achieved in this area in recent years, and this important work must continue. The Government particularly welcome the new e-petitions site, which has increased public engagement with Parliament since it was set up in July. The site collected 7 million signatures in its first six months, and to date 135 petitions have received a Government response and 19 petitions have been debated in Westminster Hall.
I thank the hon. Lady for her response. One way in which we can ensure that more people engage in politics is by reaching them at a young age, and I therefore welcome the increase in school visits to this place under your speakership, Mr Speaker. What assessment has the Deputy Leader of the House made of the effectiveness of schools visiting Parliament and of the education centre in getting young people interested and involved in politics? In addition, has she given staff their bonuses for now having to try to explain the Government’s incomprehensible English votes for English laws process?
I visited the education centre for the first time earlier this week to speak to children from Sandlings primary school in my constituency. It is a really impressive facility and I am sure that Mr Speaker is rightly proud of it. The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about our effectiveness at getting children from around the United Kingdom to come here, and as a constituency MP I have written to the Administration Committee to ask it to look at the effectiveness of that programme.
Further to the excellent point made by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), will the Deputy Leader of the House join me in welcoming the news that 224 students from seven Pendle primary schools will be visiting Parliament in the next three months? Will she also join me in reminding teachers from across constituencies such as mine, which are more than 200 miles from London, that a travel subsidy is available for school trips to this place?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that he has got so many children engaged in this. Of course, the subsidy regime varies, but this is also about initiatives such as the Speaker’s school council awards. I have written to every school in my constituency encouraging them to enter it, and I think the closing date is in April.
Will the Government look at the level of school subsidies? I looked at it in relation to people from my school coming down, and found that they are only allowed to claim the subsidy if they are coming to the House of Commons as the main part of their business. If they are going to be doing other things in London, they cannot claim the subsidy. There are too many rules for the scheme to work for people in my constituency.
It will be of great concern to everybody in the House that more and more people think that Westminster politics is remote, corrupt, boring—inexplicably—and unclear. A third of eligible voters in Britain chose not to go down the road and cast a ballot in last year’s general election. What does the Deputy Leader of the House believe are the main problems with Parliament that put people off, and what are the Government doing about it?
Voter engagement in terms of general election turnout collapsed in the 2001 election, after four years of a Blair Government. I am pleased to say that voter turnout has increased. The hon. Lady talks about this institution potentially being corrupt. That is not the case, as we have high levels of integrity, but where MPs have been found to break the law, they have been sent to jail and that is where they belong.
Estimates are formal requests for authorisation of expenditure proposed to the House by the Government. Scrutiny of these, which are effectively departmental budgets, is undertaken in a variety of ways, including debates selected by the Liaison Committee, and it is also open to Select Committees to examine these budgets. The Procedure Committee has recently announced that it will look at the House’s procedures for examining estimates and the passing of legislation that authorises this expenditure—the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill, which we dealt with yesterday.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for her answer. May we have a commitment today that steps will be taken to modify the estimates process so that Members representing Scottish constituencies can properly scrutinise the impact of legislation on Scotland?
I think the hon. Lady is on the Procedure Committee. Is that right? [Interruption.] I think she is. She will be aware of the inquiry that is happening right now. I believe that the Committee is accepting written submissions till 25 March. I really want to emphasise this point: when I served on a Select Committee, we certainly dedicated time to scrutinising budgets. I encourage all Select Committees to do likewise.
Yesterday, this House approved a budget spend of more than £600 billion without any real debate or breakdown of the Barnett consequentials. As fewer than half the Secretaries of State have taken oral questions since the estimates were published, how are Scottish MPs—or indeed any MPs—meant to hold the Government to account?
I believe that there are avenues to do that. I welcome this inquiry by the Procedure Committee, especially as it might open up some new ideas, and I hope that all political parties will contribute to it. I really encourage this idea that Select Committees are one avenue. Of course Ministers are always held to account at this Dispatch Box, and by written questions as well.
I am not sure whether the Procedure Committee has invited me or my right hon. Friend to give evidence, but I am sure that it will. Our Government have always been in favour of modernisation of the House, and there is no reason why that journey will not continue.
Back-bench Business Debates
It is for the Backbench Business Committee to schedule the business for the days allocated to it in each Session, and for the Chair to manage the debates when they take place.
This afternoon or perhaps late this morning there will be a debate on gangs and serious youth violence, which is an extremely important topic. The Leader of the House will know that this debate was scheduled for an earlier day, but because of urgent questions, statements and other business overrunning for legitimate reasons, there was no time left for that important debate to take place. That situation could have been avoided had the Leader of the House allocated that debate protected time. Using that experience, will he look to protect Back-Bench business on future heavy business days?
As I have said to the Chair of the Committee in recent weeks, I keep that under careful review. It is certainly the case that the gangs debate moved to today because of a number of other parliamentary events that took place on the original day. However, the Backbench Business Committee has been able to bring the debate back to the House shortly afterwards. and as there are no urgent questions or statements today, there should be a full day available for today’s important debates. I will keep the matter under review, but I will need to be persuaded that things are going badly wrong before we could countenance a change to the way things work at present.
Surely the Leader of the House will agree with me that it is not just Back-Bench business and debates that are affected, but the rights and privileges of Back Benchers. Is he aware that very often the Opposition get squeezed by Front Benchers, with all their privileges, acting as Back Benchers as well, so it is much more competitive for us? Will he also bear in mind the fact that after my point of order to the Speaker, we had better behaviour from the Leader of the House and his Front-Bench colleagues at business questions, but after one week they have reverted to type?
Will my right hon. Friend consider the fact that when Back-Bench business debates are scheduled in this House, Members on all sides take the opportunity to come along to participate? We on the Backbench Business Committee try to arrange for 15 speakers, and if the debate gets squeezed and pushed to another day, that is very unacceptable to Back Benchers who have made the time to speak on important subjects?
Of course, that is an important point. That is why I say we will keep the matter under review. This is the first occasion that it has happened in recent times. Clearly, if it becomes a regular feature, we may have to think again, but I do not want to manage processes unnecessarily. We need to see whether there is genuinely a longer-term issue.
4. When the Government plans to make a decision on future levels of Short money. (903889)
The Cabinet Office published a document on 18 February seeking views from members of the parliamentary parties panel, political parties, individuals who were elected to the House of Commons at the last election, and the Clerk of the House, with a deadline of 7 March for written submissions. I understand that there will also be oral discussions. These responses will be considered before any decision is taken. We will then put forward a proposal for Parliament to approve.
Government consultation is ongoing, but there is clearly a pressing need to know what resources will be available in a few weeks’ time. Can the Deputy Leader of the House assure us that no changes to the Short money allocation formula will take effect until the beginning of the 2017-18 financial year at the earliest?
English Votes for English Laws
We have fulfilled our manifesto commitment to introduce English votes for English laws, which I believe will strengthen the Union. We have undertaken two Legislative Grand Committees, and several statutory instruments have been passed without Division. There have been some technical issues, but they relate also to the introduction of electronic counting in this House using iPads, which is routine in the other place now and which the House authorities are working on. Clearly, we would not wish to be left behind by the other House in the technologies that it uses. We will undertake a review of English votes for English laws procedure later this year.
Does the Leader of the House not agree that the current Gilbert and Sullivan system for EVEL is simply unsustainable? It is confusing, haphazard and totally incomprehensible to the public. Will he therefore join my call for a referendum on an English Parliament so that the voice of England has clarity in our representative democracy? After all, we know how much he enjoys a referendum.
I am not necessarily certain that that is the Labour party’s policy. It is an interesting concept, but the Government were elected on a manifesto to deliver English votes for English laws in this place. It is set out in detail how we will do that, and we have implemented our commitment, as the electorate would have expected.
6. Mr Speaker, you will be aware that Coleg Cambria in my constituency has students resident in England who are directly affected by issues you have certified under the EVEL procedure as relating only to England. Will the Leader of the House urgently consider this issue, which is directly affecting the livelihoods of people in my constituency? He is limiting my voice on these matters. (903891)
I have to admire the hon. Gentleman for his persistence in this matter, but as I have explained to him time and again, he has no say over matters such as health and education in his own constituency. It is not obviously logical that we should make special arrangements for him to have that say across the border in constituencies represented by other Members of this House.
There has barely been a more disastrous and divisive innovation than English votes for English laws. It is totally unnecessary, and the Tory majority in England and the UK is crushing any hope of a Tory revival in Scotland with this anti-Scottish tone. Is not EVEL now ripe for abolition, and should it not be confined to the dustbin of history?
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 7 March—Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill.
Tuesday 8 March—Remaining stages of the Enterprise Bill [Lords] (day 1), followed by a debate on International Women’s Day, a subject determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 9 March—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Enterprise Bill [Lords] (day 2), followed by, if necessary, consideration of further Lords amendments.
Thursday 10 March—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill, followed by a debate on a motion on record copies of Acts. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 14 March will include:
Monday 14 March—Remaining stages of the Energy Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 15 March—Second Reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Wednesday 16 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.
Thursday 17 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Friday 18 March—The House will not be sitting.
Finally, I indicated before Christmas that we would provide regular updates on the situation in Syria. The intention is that there will be a further statement shortly on matters in Syria.
There have been two fire alarms in the Palace this week, and on both occasions there was great confusion among Members and members of the public. May I urge the Leader of the House to initiate a review of those arrangements as soon as possible?
Last week I asked whether the Leader of the House plans to delay the Queen’s Speech until after the EU Referendum. He refused to answer, which is of course usual, but we all now know that the Government intend to extend this Session beyond 23 June. We know that not because the Leader of the House has told the House, but because Downing Street has told The Times. I know that, as a Brexiteer, the Leader of the House is not allowed to see Government papers any more, but one would think that the Government would at least allow him to know when the recess dates will be. So come on, just tell us: will the Queen’s Speech be after 23 June, will there be a Whitsun half-term recess, will the House sit during the week of the referendum, and will he give us the dates through to the end of the year? Before he goes all pompous about this—oh no, it is too late for that—I just say to him that Members from across the House, and, for that matter, the staff who work in this building, all want answers to these questions.
The terrible news about the article in The Times is that Downing Street has also said that there is going to be a reshuffle after the referendum and that the Leader of the House tops the list of those who are going to be sacked. I, for one, am beginning to feel very, very sorry for him, so I have been searching the job pages for him. Sadly, the only thing that seemed even vaguely suitable was working as an unpaid voluntary intern for the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett), but unfortunately he says in the job description that he wants somebody who is a “good team player”, so that rules out the Leader of the House. All the other jobs say they want someone with a good sense of humour—need I say more? He need not worry though: I am sure the Prime Minister will give him a glowing reference.
The previous Parliament was the zombie Parliament—for months on end the House had no proper business—and now we have the return of the living dead. They walk among us, they look like Ministers, and they are paid like Ministers, but they are doomed. They hate the Prime Minister; they think he is damaging the economy and putting our security at risk. Frankly, the only thing that is keeping them in the Government is the £23,570.89 in extra salary they will get come 23 June.
How do the Government intend to fill the business between now and then? Here are my suggestions. One: I have married a lot of people in my time—to one another, as a vicar, that is—but it has always seemed wrong to me that marriage certificates include the names of the fathers of the bride and groom but not the mothers. Even the Prime Minister says that he wants to change this, but apparently he has written to one of our Members saying there is not enough time. Well, there is clearly now going to be enough time to do it in this Session. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) has a handy private Member’s Bill to be considered tomorrow: why do not the Government adopt it or help it into Committee so that it can be amended?
Two: I am delighted that the Government are no longer going to water down freedom of information, but should we not extend it to private companies engaged on public sector contracts? How much did the Government’s preposterous review cost? The Leader of the House might as well tell us now, because he knows full well that if he does not we are going to put in a freedom of information request and he will have to tell us in the end anyway.
Three: I am glad that Adele did so well at the Brits last week, but tickets to see her live are now selling on the secondary market for up to £24,000. This market pretends to support the arts, but actually it just leeches off them. The Business Department’s review of the ticket resale market closed on 20 November. When is it going to be published, and when will the Government legislate to put an end to this pernicious, parasitical secondary market?
The hon. Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Salisbury (John Glen) and I have long been calling for a parliamentary inquiry into concussion in sport. This week, more than 70 doctors and health experts have written to the Government calling for a ban on tackling in school rugby games. I do not want youngsters wrapped in cotton wool, but given that it is 12 years since the West Bromwich Albion footballer Jeff Astle died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy brought on by heading the ball, five years since 14-year-old Ben Robinson died of second impact syndrome, and Will Smith’s new film “Concussion” shows how the NFL failed to protect its players and ended up with a legal bill of $1 billion, is it not time that we set up a proper parliamentary inquiry to make sure that we get all the facts out there?
Next week sees the 100th anniversary of Harold Wilson’s birth. He gave women, for the first time, control over their own property and their bodies; he abolished the death penalty; he decriminalised homosexuality; he introduced the first race relations Act; and he won the referendum to stay in Europe. He ended censorship and created the Open University and the Arts Council. For that matter, under him we won the Eurovision song contest—I know the Leader of the House is obsessed with this—three times: three times more than we have ever won it under the Tories. Is it not outrageous that we have a louring statue of Mrs Thatcher, who made my constituents’ lives miserable, but just a bust of Harold Wilson, who made this country a civilised society?
I very much hope that we will win the Eurovision song contest under the Conservative party next year, with that great band MP4 leading the charge for the nation.
In order to understand what does and does not work with fire drills, it is, of course, necessary to carry them out. Lessons will be learned from the experience earlier this week, but I extend my thanks to all the Officers of the House who were involved in the fire drill. They will now work out how to make sure that our processes are appropriate and suitable for the future.
We will announce the date of the Queen’s Speech when we have decided the date of the Queen’s Speech. As always, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) makes the mistake of believing that what he reads in the papers is what is actually going to happen. We will take a decision on the Queen’s Speech and we will announce it to this House, as usual.
We have to be mindful of the need to ensure the progress of business. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. It is somewhat ironic that, on the one hand, he asks, “Where are the recess dates?” while on the other he says, “This is a zombie Parliament with no serious business.” He is completely wrong. I have just set out plans for the Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill next week. That really important measure will restore a sensible balance to many aspects of our policing and justice system. I have also announced the Second Reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which will be crucial in enabling us to defend our country. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is a feature of a zombie Parliament, then frankly he does not know what the word “zombie” means.
May I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the work done collectively by Members across the House, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), on the issue of head injuries? I know how serious an issue it is. The Children’s Trust is situated in Tadworth Court, just outside my constituency, and it does a brilliant job in helping children who have had the most terrible experiences. The issue should be of concern to Members on both sides of the House. I hope very much that the Select Committee will pick up on the work that my hon. Friend and others have done and write a full report. The hon. Gentleman asked for a parliamentary investigation, and the best way to do that is through the Select Committee.
The Welsh affairs debate will take place later today. It was, of course, St David’s day this week, and I extend my good wishes to all Welsh Members of Parliament. I am looking forward to 5 May, when the people of Wales will have the chance to get rid of a failing Labour Administration.
It is a bit of a relief to me to see the shadow Leader of the House in better spirits today than he was yesterday. I do not know whether others noticed that he looked utterly miserable during Prime Minister’s questions, but I understand why. It was not just because the Leader of the Opposition spent last Saturday, just like old times, at a CND rally, or because he has appointed the former Finance Minister of the Greek Syriza Government as his new economic adviser, although heaven knows how any self-respecting Member on the Labour Front Bench could take that appointment seriously. It was not even because a former shadow Cabinet member said of the Leader of the Opposition’s appearance at the parliamentary party meeting on Monday:
“Expectations were rock-bottom—and he fell below them”.
The most bizarre claim to come from the Labour leadership this week was when the Leader of the Opposition said that he gets his moral compass from “Eastenders”. Surely not even the shadow Leader of the House can think that this is a man fit to be Prime Minister.
I understand that it is hard for someone who has decided, as the shadow Leader of the House has, to become a cheerleader for a team he clearly does not support. I would be happy to grant him a debate on learning from the lessons of history, because he is the man who says he is proud to have stuck a knife in the back of Tony Blair. Only this week, however, he seems to have had second thoughts and has started to show signs of thinking again, because he told a group of students:
“‘I’m going to talk about Tony Blair, I think we’re still allowed to speak about him”.
Of course, those were the days when Labour was a serious political party.
Some French Minister has apparently been saying today that if we have the nerve to come out of the EU, all 4,000 people in Calais will be put on rubber boats and come across to Britain, because the French do not want anything to do with them. If I were a Frenchman, I would be hugely embarrassed by my Government. If a country that is two and a half times the size of this country, with roughly the same population, cannot disperse 4,000 people and look after them, it should be ashamed of itself. Could we have a statement next week from the Foreign Secretary on whether it is the Government’s position that, if we come out of the EU, we would have more rather than less immigration to this country?
I am absolutely certain that the Foreign Secretary will be back before the House shortly, so there will be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to put that point to him. In the last couple of weeks, I have heard the French Interior Minister reassure us that the French Government would not wish to put at risk the bilateral agreements over border controls between the United Kingdom and France.
I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. Today is World Book Day, and it is worth noting, especially as I am chair of the all-party writers group, the wonderful wealth of writers that we have in this country and the power of literature to bring joy to people and enhance their lives.
The Leader of the House and I now have a joint experience in fighting referendums. We have both been on the sharp end of various “Project Fears”. In the Scottish referendum, I experienced “Project Fear”, and he is now experiencing the new “Project Euro-fear” as he leads the campaign to yank the UK out of the EU. The scaremongering from the in side is almost straight out of the useless and dysfunctional Better Together manual, and it is likely to cause as much damage to the in campaign as it caused to the massive lead of the no campaign, which was shredded, in Scotland. As a supporter of our place in the EU, I want that counterproductive scaremongering to stop, although I presume that the Leader of the House is quite happy with it, given that it will probably work in his interest. Can we have a debate about positive campaigning, and can we encourage everybody to ensure that when we debate our place in Europe, we do so as positively as possible?
We need an urgent statement from the Defence Secretary on Trident. Apparently, he is just about to declare that Trident renewal is already under way, before we have had the opportunity to approve that in the House. It is absolutely appalling that the Defence Secretary can simply take the House for granted, and he must come to the House and explain himself. Scotland rejects Trident, and we intend to make it a huge issue in the Scottish elections. We simply refuse to have that weapon of mass destruction dumped on our nation without any approval from the House.
What do we do now, Mr Speaker, about large parts of Scottish funding? On English-only legislation, you are to lay aside minor or consequential issues when certifying legislation as English only, even though they have huge Barnett consequentials to Scotland. The Leader of the House told us that the mysteries of the Barnett consequentials lie in the mystery of the estimates. I tried to debate estimates in the estimates day debate, but I was ruled out of order within two minutes and 46 seconds. Somebody, somewhere, has to tell us how we should get that addressed and when we, as Scottish Members, will get to discuss, debate and vote on the critical issue of the Barnett consequentials.
Finally, the irony of last night’s debate on the Lords amendments on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, in which Tory after Tory lambasted all those wicked Lords, was not lost on Scotland. For the Tories, however, the Lords are only to be chastised when they do not do the Tories’ business, and to ensure that that happens, the Tories are going to introduce another 40 Tory Lords. Why do the Tories not just back us? Instead of trying to gerrymander that bizarre House, how about working with us and getting rid of the whole shooting match altogether?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need for positive campaigning, and I hope that all who are involved in the debate over our membership of the European Union in the coming months will take a positive approach and set out the facts so that the British people can take their decisions. I gently chide him for mentioning “Project Fear” when he talked about positive campaigning, and I remind him of the things that he said about the introduction of English votes for English laws. To listen to what he said, one would have thought that about as much doom and gloom and disaster as possible would fall on us, but it is not entirely clear to me that that has happened. The Union has not fallen apart because of the introduction of English votes for English laws, and the Scottish people I know think that it is entirely fair.
The hon. Gentleman raised Trident. If he is concerned to bring the Defence Secretary to the House to explain himself, there are mechanisms in the House by which the hon. Gentleman can do so. He can either seek your consent, Mr Speaker, or use the other avenues that are available to him, and I am sure that he will choose to do so. He talks about Trident being “dumped on our nation”, as he phrases it. I remind him of all the people in Scotland whose livelihoods depend on Trident, and of the people in the north-west of England whose jobs depend on the future replacement of Trident. Is he really saying he wants all those jobs to disappear? Is he really saying he wants the area around Rosyth to end up abandoned and without an economic role for the future? I do not think that is in the interests of those communities. I have to say that it is in the interests of Scotland and the United Kingdom that we retain a nuclear deterrent both for our national security and to ensure there are jobs in the parts of the United Kingdom that need them.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the estimates debates. I simply remind him that he is a member of the Liaison Committee, which chooses the subjects for debate on estimates days. The Committee is perfectly free to hold discussions on any aspects of public spending, and it chose to do so on Foreign and Commonwealth Office matters. It is for the hon. Gentleman, who sits on the Committee, to secure the debates he wants.
The position of the hon. Gentleman’s party on the Lords has been well set out. I must say that I think the Lords plays a role in helping to improve the quality of legislation in this place, but I suspect that we are never going to agree on that subject.
In recent months, five coal-fired power stations have announced that they will close, potentially close or partially close: one of them is Rugeley B. The Government have stated that they intend to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2025, but market conditions mean that the closures may come far sooner. May we have a debate in Government time on energy policy and the role that existing power station infrastructure can play?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I heard her question at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. She is freely able to bring forward that subject in an Adjournment debate or to seek consent for a Back-Bench debate to have it discussed in the House. The matter clearly affects the constituencies of a number of hon. Members, and I encourage her to bring that subject forward for discussion.
If this Session of Parliament runs beyond June, will the Leader of the House consider giving us more days for Back-Bench business and for private Members’ Bills? If he gives us more days, will he put the Bill I am promoting with support from colleagues on both sides of the House—for the automatic registration of children for free school meals and the school premium—at the top of the list on one of those days? That is the one move we could make between now and the summer holidays that would have a real effect on poor families.
The right hon. Gentleman has a long track record of pursuing social reforms of that kind, and I will certainly look very carefully at what his Bill proposes. Of course, the progress of business in the House very much depends on our success in getting Government business through. We have a substantial programme—it was set out in our manifesto—to bring forward and complete by the end of this Session. I want to make sure that the dates set for both the Queen’s Speech and for the end of this Session and the recess are consistent with our need to ensure that our manifesto is implemented.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the impact of c2c timetable changes on the lives of commuters who live in Southend? The company has at long last accepted that there is overcrowding and it has ordered new rolling stock, but it has just announced that it will not be arriving.
I commend my hon. Friend for the work he is doing on behalf of his constituents on an issue that, in different ways and on different lines, affects very many of us. The Transport Secretary will be in the Chamber for questions next Thursday, and I encourage my hon. Friend to raise the issue directly with Ministers. He is doing a good job in keeping the company under pressure at a time when there are clearly serious issues about the delivery of the service on that line.
As Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, I wrote to the Leader of the House to look for assistance in getting protected time for particular debates. The debate on gangs and serious youth violence was bumped, but has now been rescheduled for later today. On Tuesday, which is International Women’s Day, we have a particularly time-sensitive debate on International Women’s Day. I asked the Leader of the House to give an undertaking that the time for that debate would be protected. I have received a reply, and I am afraid to say that no such undertaking has been given. That is regrettable, because it is possible that there will be urgent questions and statements and that the Enterprise Bill will run, which would curtail the time for the International Women’s Day debate. We have already seen evidence that such protected time is required from time to time. Will the Leader of the House please reconsider that matter?
As I have said, I have given that matter careful consideration. I have looked at the flow of business on Back-Bench days and will watch carefully next Tuesday. I am sure that you and I, Mr Speaker, will want to ensure that there is proper time for debate on that day. At the same time, I have to be mindful of the working hours of staff and of this House, so I do not want to make significant changes without being confident that there is a real problem that needs to be solved, rather than an occasional problem. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will keep the matter under review, but my hope and intention is that we will have proper time available next week.
I think that will simply add grist to the mill of the debate on the European Union referendum. Although I have not scheduled a debate on European Union matters for next week, I am in little doubt that there will be an opportunity shortly for those matters to be raised with Ministers.
Most Members will be surprised that many current and former service personnel never receive a medal acknowledging their service. All those who served accepted the danger and sacrifice associated with their decision, but they will never receive a medal unless they were actively involved in conflict or served for a very lengthy period. May we have a debate in Government time on the introduction of a national defence medal, which would be a tangible recognition of their service?
It is open to the hon. Lady to bring forward an Adjournment debate on that subject if she wishes. From my perspective, I do not think that medals should be handed out without consideration of the contribution that has been made and the individual’s circumstances. If we start to have medals for all, the value of the medals for particular examples of valour and service in particularly tough circumstances will perhaps be slightly devalued. I praise unreservedly all our armed forces, but the medals system that we have always had in this country is designed for those who go beyond the routine and put themselves in danger in the service of this country.
When will the House have an opportunity to express its opinion on the new fiscal framework for Scotland? When we have a debate on that issue, will we be able to debate Barnett consequentials? For example, when the United Kingdom Parliament gives more money to Glasgow in city grant, there is a Barnett consequential that means that more money goes to the Scottish Government as a result.
The Scotland Bill is making progress through the other House. I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The agreement that we have reached will provide for a transitional period to a new world for the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government now have to start using the powers they have been given and taking some of the decisions that other Governments have to take, which they have so far insulated themselves from.
In the last few weeks, there have been many stories in the media about gamblers and addiction. Tony Franklin lost his money, his job and his family, and claims that fixed odds betting terminals were the reason. It is clear that the gambler stands little chance of leaving the roulette table with heavier pockets than when he entered. There is a need to change the legislation on fixed odds betting terminals. Would the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on that matter?
Unfortunately, we have just had Culture, Media and Sport questions, when the hon. Gentleman would have had an opportunity to raise that matter with the Ministers concerned. They will, of course, be back before the House in due course. I am aware that this is a matter of concern across the House. It might be possible to take the subject to the Backbench Business Committee if his concerns are shared across the House.
If the Government persist with their intention of delaying the vote on Trident renewal until after the Labour party conference, it will become harder for pro-defence and pro-Trident Labour MPs to vote in favour of renewal. May we please have the date on which the debate and vote will take place, especially if more time will be made available by extending the length of the Session?
This week, a Select Committee in the Lords found that, contrary to Government claims, the Trade Union Bill will profoundly affect Labour party funding. Previously, the Leader of the House had a letter from the Minister for Skills, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), seeking to make concessions on the Bill. Will the Leader of House now agree to the concessions and commit to cross-party talks to reach a fair and long-lasting settlement on party funding?
Of course, that is a matter of discussion and debate in the Lords, and the Lords Committee has made recommendations. We are trying to provide a sensible balance for the future. [Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House says, “Oh no you’re not”, but the Conservative party has to seek voluntary contributions from individuals who choose to back it. The Labour party has depended on a system in which people have to go beyond the extra mile to take themselves out of automatic contributions.
One of the major issues to be debated during the European referendum campaign will be the size of the UK’s net contribution. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate so that those of us who are in favour of leaving the EU can outline the infrastructure projects and improvements to public services on which we could spend that money? It would also provide others with an opportunity to try to defend why money should go to Europe rather than be spent in their constituencies.
My hon. Friend makes his point in his customarily succinct way. Of course, we have just had an all-day debate on our EU membership, and I am absolutely certain that it will not be the last time these matters are debated in this House between now and June.
May we have a debate on the dodgy dossier that the Government have produced in advance of the EU referendum? I do not know whether you, Mr Speaker, saw the Minister for the Cabinet Office skewered on the “Daily Politics” by Andrew Neil yesterday when he tried to back up his claim that Norway had to abide by three quarters of the EU’s laws. Andrew Neil pointed out that the figure was actually 9%. If the Government are prepared blatantly to lie so badly on that issue, perhaps we need a full debate on the dodgy dossier to see how many other blatant lies they are prepared to resort to.
Hannah Morris, the fantastic Camden youth mayor, is stepping down later this year. When I have spoken to young constituents, the point has been made to me over and over that young people feel disfranchised from politics and disengaged from Parliament. That has been exacerbated by the Government’s refusal to lower the voting age and their scrapping of policies such as education maintenance allowance. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate in the House on young people’s worrying disengagement from this Parliament, the mother of Parliaments?
We talked earlier about the importance that the education centre plays in this place and the importance of bringing as many young people as possible to Parliament. All of us individually have a duty on this matter, and I spend quite a lot of time talking to groups of sixth-formers in my constituency. I am sure the hon. Lady does the same. Every one of us has a duty to go out and explain why the decisions that we take in Parliament and the issues that we debate are of material importance to young people, and why they should vote and take an interest.
Can time be found for a debate on the effects of uncontrolled immigration into the UK, which would be one of the impacts of our remaining in the EU? It has a massive impact on people’s access to services, healthcare, school places and decent wages, and it is extremely important to my constituents.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He may have seen the serialisation of the new book by Tom Bower over the past few days, which has exposed just how complicit the Labour Government were in opening our borders and allowing uncontrolled immigration to this country. Those who were part of that party and that Government should be forever ashamed of the way in which they allowed uncontrolled immigration—not managed immigration or immigration organised in a careful way—as a deliberate policy. They should be ashamed of that.
Has the Leader of the House received a request from any Minister to make a statement explaining why the wheels have come off the Brexit BMW, or perhaps a request from an individual Member who has performed a handbrake turn on EU membership to make a statement explaining their diversion? Such statements would provide the public with critical facts about the weaknesses of the Brexit case and the motivation of some people in supporting it.
Has the Leader of the House seen reports that plans are being drawn up to reclassify e-cigarettes as tobacco products for tax purposes? Vapers and the sector accept that some additional duty should be charged, but the consequence of the proposal is that the price of e-cigarettes to consumers will more than double. Public Health England has deemed e-cigarettes to be 95% safer than tobacco, so may we have a debate to consider taxation of those products to ensure that they remain an effective method of smoking cessation?
I know that my hon. Friend raises a matter of concern, which affects a large number of people. I suspect that it is the sort of proposal that causes uncertainty and disquiet about decisions made in Brussels. I very much hope that no decision on the matter will be made without due care and attention, and without due focus on whether e-cigarettes are a good way of enabling people to move away from smoking.
May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, which showed that 10 of the 12 towns and cities in greatest economic decline are in the north of England? Not a single town in the south is among the worst 24 listed. That causes real concern about the vision of a northern powerhouse. We urgently need a debate, particularly as Steve Rumbelow, the chief executive of my council, Rochdale—which, incidentally, is listed as the town in the greatest economic decline—has accused the foundation of using out-of-date figures, which mask the progress made in northern regions.
It never ceases to amaze me that Labour Members do not understand why the northern powerhouse is needed. It is because, when they were in power, the manufacturing sector of this country almost halved. Northern towns declined steadily—Labour policies failed the north of this country unreservedly. That is why we need a northern powerhouse, which helps to contribute to the significant fall in unemployment across the north of England. We inherited high unemployment in those towns and cities, and we are sorting it out.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments about St David’s day, and I look forward to the Welsh affairs debate later. Cardiff and Wales held the rugby world cup at the turn of the millennium. Since then, we have held the FA cup finals, the Ryder cup, the UEFA super cup and Ashes tests, and played our part in the Olympics. I pay tribute to the Scottish Government for what they did with Glasgow and the Commonwealth games. Is it not time to have a debate about what we can do to chivvy and encourage the Welsh Labour Government to put in a bid for the Commonwealth games to come to Cardiff?
London did a fantastic job of hosting the Olympics, Glasgow did a fantastic job of hosting the Commonwealth games, and I would love to see the Commonwealth games come to Cardiff. I echo my hon. Friend’s view and I hope that the Welsh community will come together and find the right moment to make that bid for the future.
Last week, I discreetly visited the besieged district of Sur in Diyarbakir. I witnessed almost incontrovertible evidence of suppression of civil liberties and worrying signs of the potential for more civilian deaths. Given Diyarbakir’s proximity to Syria, the fact that Turkey is a NATO ally, and emerging evidence that Turkey is targeting US and UK-backed Kurdish forces fighting against Daesh in Syria, will the Leader of the House commit to a debate in Government time to allow Members to discuss the nature of our relationship with our NATO allies?
Tomorrow, I will be at New College in Huddersfield with the Anthony Nolan “Register & Be a Lifesaver” programme. May we have a debate on bone marrow donation, blood donation and organ donation to see how we can increase the number of people involved in those programmes and raise awareness?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and I pay tribute to everyone involved in that important work, particularly in his constituency. He raises an issue that has, over the months, been of concern to Members of all parties. Again, it might be a subject that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee would like to consider as an opportunity for a Thursday.