25 Oct 2010 : Column 1

House of Commons

Monday 25 October 2010

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport was asked-

Community Arts Projects

1. Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): What plans he has for the future funding of community arts projects. [18943]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Future funding for particular arts projects is ultimately a matter for the Arts Council but, as part of its recent settlement, we have asked it to limit cuts to the overall budget for arts organisations to just 15%. When this is combined with an increase in income for the arts good cause from the national lottery, I am confident that community arts projects will continue to be successful.

Ian Lavery: Will the Minister tell the House what impact the cut of 29.6% to the Arts Council budget will have on the future success of the creative industries?

Mr Vaizey: Although the overall grant to the Arts Council has gone down by 29%, we have asked the Arts Council to limit the cut to arts organisations to just 15%, and when we take into account the significant increase in funds from the national lottery, the overall cut to the Arts Council will be below 12%. That is very good news, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will congratulate the Secretary of State on such a fine settlement.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): Will the Minister please confirm that this Government will not repeat the mistakes of the previous Government and ensure that national lottery funding is kept to its original purpose, which includes funding the arts?

Mr Vaizey: I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that we will not repeat any of the mistakes of the previous Government.

Arts (Funding)

2. Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on funding for the arts. [18944]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): I am pleased to say that last week I agreed with the Chancellor a package of cuts that will limit the cuts in funding for front-line arts organisations and museums to just 15%, a figure that compares very favourably with many other parts of the public sector.

Mr Cunningham: Can the Secretary of State say what discussions he has had with his colleague the Secretary of State for Education about protecting the arts at universities and the teaching of art at school?

Mr Hunt: We have had considerable discussions with the Department for Education, with which we share a belief in the importance of cultural education. However, the Secretary of State for Education has made it clear
25 Oct 2010 : Column 3
that the best way to secure that is not by ring-fencing money going to schools, but by giving heads the discretion to use the money as they fit. By doing that, we are confident that heads will understand the extreme importance and value of arts education.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time when the amount of public money available for the arts has inevitably had to be reduced, it is all the more important that we should try to increase business sponsorship and philanthropy? Does he agree that Arts and Business has an exceptionally good record in that area, and that it would therefore be rather strange to cut the amount of money going to it at this time?

Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend for his well-informed question. He is absolutely right that at a time like this, boosting philanthropy and other sources of income for the arts is extremely important. Arts and Business has done some valuable work. Obviously its funding is a matter for the Arts Council, which operates at arm's length. However, I am pleased to be able to tell him that before the end of the year, we will be announcing a package of measures designed to boost philanthropy and help to strengthen the fundraising capacity of arts organisations-something that will be helpful to them in difficult times.

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State recall saying in January of this year:

Last week we saw a 30% cut in the Arts Council budget and a 15% cut to the British Film Institute. Does the Secretary of State understand that his role last week as Chancellor's little helper, rather than the champion for the arts, makes his words seem pretty hollow? How many arts organisations does he think will go to the wall as a result of the cuts?

Mr Hunt: May I start by welcoming the hon. Lady to her position? She brings with her considerable showbiz panache-something that, despite his many other talents, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) tried but failed to do for many years when he was doing her job.

The hon. Lady has only been doing the job a short while-[Hon. Members: "So have you."] Indeed. I will perhaps forgive her for not understanding how the figures work, because after the lottery changes introduced by this Government-changes that the Labour party opposed every step of the way-the actual cut in the arts budget is less than 12%. Perhaps this is a moment for the Opposition to review that policy; otherwise there will be two parties in British politics that want to throw a lifeline to the arts and one party that wants to take it away.

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): We have already heard that changes to the national lottery have meant more money for the arts, but does the Secretary of State agree that we could go even further, were we to change the taxation regime for the national lottery to a gross profits
25 Oct 2010 : Column 4
tax regime? That would bring in yet more money for the arts. Will he tell the House what progress is being made in that direction?

Mr Hunt: I am very happy to do so. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a big opportunity if we change the taxation regime for the national lottery. When we were in opposition, Camelot gave us undertakings that it was prepared to indemnify the Government against any reduction in Treasury revenues, were such a change to be made. If it were still prepared to do that, I am sure that we could make fast progress.

Tourism and Hospitality Sector

3. Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): What discussions he has had with representatives of the tourism and hospitality sector on the effect on that sector of reductions in his Department's budget. [18945]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose): As I am sure the hon. Gentleman would expect, I have regular and extensive discussions with representatives from right the way across the tourism industry in all parts of the country, and I hope to continue to do so.

Ian Mearns: Will the Minister outline what plans the Department has to facilitate growth in tourism and hospitality in the north-east of England? Tourism North East and its successful and popular marketing programme, "Passionate people, passionate places", have until recently been under the umbrella of the regional development agency, One NorthEast, which is soon to be abolished. Given that Tourism North East's advisory board's proposed alternative marketing strategy has been rejected by the Government, what does he envisage will fill the vacuum in order to support the highly important tourism industry in the north-east of England?

John Penrose: I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and we have already made representations within Government on the importance of continuing tourism marketing spend, to ensure that local tourism boards of all kinds have continuity of funding. I hope that he will also be pleased to know that I have tasked VisitEngland to ensure that, for any programmes that are halfway through, as much continuity as possible is maintained.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): The Minister will understand that the tourism and hospitality sector in North Yorkshire benefits greatly from having so many race courses there. Will he ensure that the owners, trainers, jockeys and everyone else involved, including stable boys and girls, benefit from any changes to the levy to ensure that tourism and hospitality continue to flourish at race courses?

John Penrose: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that racing is an important part of our tourism industry. Race meetings all round the country bring in many people from the domestic tourism market, but they are rightly internationally famed for bringing in foreign visitors too. She is right to point out that any changes to the levy will need to ensure that the existing important symbiotic relationship between racing and
25 Oct 2010 : Column 5
bookmaking is maintained, and that a fair solution is achieved for all. I am sure that we will endeavour to achieve just that.

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): This Government have little feel for the history and heritage of this country, although they are among the drivers of the tourism sector. Will the Minister explain why the Government are seeking to protect the overpaid panjandrums of the Olympic Development Agency while cutting English Heritage by 30%?

John Penrose: I think that that last comment was extraordinarily rich, coming from a member of a party that, within living memory, was going on about cool Britannia and that completely failed to fund heritage in the way that it should have been funded over the past 10 or 15 years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that the entire heritage sector feels that it has been undervalued and underfunded for a very long time, in stark contrast to what is now happening under the new Government. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, if we take into account the changes in the lottery, we can see that the total cut to heritage funding is minus 4%, and that is all.

Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme

4. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If he will discuss with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the merits of extending the listed places of worship grant scheme beyond 2011. [18946]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose): I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his comprehensive spending review statement last week that the listed places of worship grant scheme is to continue. I am delighted, as I am sure all hon. Members are, that that is the case. We have had to make some small reductions, and it will now go back to its pre-2006 status, but other than that, it will continue. I hope that my hon. Friend and others will join me in praising that decision.

Mr Hollobone: I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on doing his bit to save the scheme, which many of my constituents were worried was going to be cut altogether. Will he expand on what "pre-2006" actually means for those churches applying for funds?

John Penrose: I would be delighted to. Basically, it means that local community groups raising money to repair the fabric of their church will continue effectively to be able to claim grants equivalent to the value of the VAT on the works that are done. The only difference will be that some categories of work-primarily, professional fees, bells, organs and the like-will be excluded in the way they were before 2006, but everything else will continue to be claimable.

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): May I thank the Minister for safeguarding this scheme, but does he regard his success on this front as the only success his Department has had in its negotiations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

25 Oct 2010 : Column 6

John Penrose: No, I do not. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Department's overall settlement, he will see that we did pretty well compared with many. As mentioned twice already, the increase in funding from the lottery will help to allay the effects of some cuts, so this means that, overall, we hope to have managed to focus the cuts away from the front line and protect as much as possible the nation's culture and heritage.


5. Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): What recent progress has been made on the roll out of broadband to rural areas. [18947]

10. Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): What plans he has to roll out next generation broadband to rural areas. [18952]

11. Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): What progress he has made on his plans to roll out next generation broadband. [18953]

13. Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure that all areas have access to high-speed broadband. [18955]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): We are making excellent progress in broadband roll-out. Last week, the Chancellor announced four superfast broadband pilots in rural locations in the Highlands and Islands, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Herefordshire. There will be further announcements before the end of the year on how we will roll this out to the whole country.

Andrew Bridgen: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. In view of the potential cuts to rural bus services on top of the disastrous cuts in rural post offices under the last Labour Government, does he agree that the roll-out of broadband to our rural communities is absolutely vital in the fight to prevent rural isolation?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Superfast broadband in rural areas offers huge opportunities for things such as telemedicine, home education and working from home. The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts estimates that when this is done, it will have created about 600,000 jobs. The difference between Government and Opposition Members is that when Labour were in government they had secured £200 million for broadband roll-out, whereas we have secured £830 million. I think the public know who is doing better.

Harriett Baldwin: The villages of Ripple, Shrawley and Aston Somerville have all been in touch with me recently about the problem of very slow broadband speeds. Is there anything I can say to my constituents now about what can be done to speed things up?

Mr Hunt: What my hon. Friend can say is that this Government have committed to this country having the best superfast broadband network in Europe. Labour Members promised 2 megabit access for the whole country, so they wanted us to be in the economic slow lane, whereas we want to be in the superfast lane.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 7

Graham Evans: When does my right hon. Friend expect the results from the rural broadband pilots to be gathered?

Mr Hunt: I hope the rural broadband pilots will start in the middle of next year and that, by the end of that year, we will be in a position to see how successful they have been. The broader issue with these pilots is that we have managed to secure nearly £1 billion of investment for this project-a lot more than the Opposition ever did-but it is going to take a lot more money than that, so we need to use this money to catalyse private sector investment. The point of the pilots is to understand the best way to achieve that, so that we can roll it out to the whole country at minimum cost to the taxpayer.

Anne Marie Morris: I am sure the Secretary of State will be as delighted as I am to learn that Broadhempston primary school in my constituency has recently gained access to high-speed broadband. However, he will also be acutely aware that there are many other household businesses and schools across Devon that remain effectively broadband blackspots. It is important to act urgently to ensure no part of Devon is still struggling to get broadband as other parts of the UK move into the super-broadband age. I am particularly concerned because I believe we are not part of the pilot and I do not wish to wait two years for progress. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me in order to discuss this important matter further? What assurances can he give me that parts of Devon will have access sooner rather than later?

Mr Hunt: The assurance that I can give to my hon. Friend is that, having inherited a situation in which 250,000 homes have no access to broadband, we have developed a credible and affordable plan to deal with it; and that pledge applies to her constituency just as much as it applies to every other constituency in the country.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I welcome the expansion of broadband-although before too long there will be 250,000 people without homes, let alone in homes with access to broadband-but might the Secretary of State consider whether broadband is not slightly yesterday's technology? There are now cities around the world that are wholly wi-fi, so that people are not dependent on bits of lead and copper. Will the Secretary of State consider an experiment, perhaps in Rotherham? Could it be turned into a wholly wi-fi town?

Mr Hunt: The broadband pilots that we have announced are not technology-specific. If the right hon. Gentleman had asked me what I thought the likely solution would be, I should have said that there was likely to be a mix of fibre, wi-fi and mobile technologies that deliver universal connection. However, we want to wait for the pilots to establish the most cost-effective way of achieving that.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): When will this super-duper roll-out reach the 25 ex-pit villages in Bolsover? People keep asking me when that will happen. The Secretary of State has painted a wonderful picture, but will it be this year, next year, some time or never?

Mr Hunt: I have good news for the hon. Gentleman to take back to the villages of Bolsover. Our commitment is that we will achieve that during the present Parliament. We will have the best superfast broadband network in Europe. The difference between the Government and
25 Oct 2010 : Column 8
the Opposition is that under us there will be no phone tax, no increase in the licence fee, and nearly £1 billion of investment. Who says that you cannot do more for less?

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Why was Wales excluded from the superfast broadband pilots?

Mr Hunt: Wales has not been excluded. Herefordshire is on the border of Wales, and I very much hope that some of the benefits of the pilot there will spread over that border.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): The last Government committed themselves to 2 megabit broadband for everyone by the end of 2012. You have committed yourself to vague promises to improve the broadband network. Can you say precisely when everyone in the country will have 2 megabit broadband?

Mr Speaker: Order. I have committed myself to nothing on this matter and I can say nothing on this matter, but I hope that the Secretary of State can.

Mr Hunt: We have not said that we will not honour that commitment. We have delayed it from 2012 to 2015, for the simple reason that, as the hon. Lady will understand, there was not enough money in the pot.

S4C (Funding)

6. Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): What plans he has for the future funding of S4C; and if he will make a statement. [18948]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): The comprehensive spending review secured funding for S4C that will last throughout the next four years. We think that, in partnership with the BBC, we have a settlement that will be sustainable and also reduce the serious problems that S4C was facing in terms of its loss of audience share.

Jessica Morden: What hope is there for the Government's respect agenda with the devolved Administrations if the Secretary of State did not even have the courtesy to consult Welsh viewers, the Welsh Assembly Government or even S4C itself over the handing of its funding to the BBC?

Mr Hunt: We faced severe challenges in regard to public spending. We managed to secure that public spending for the next four years, and at the same time we addressed something that the hon. Lady's party did not address at all: the fact that over the past five years the weekly reach of S4C had halved. I think that what we have done is an achievement of which we can be proud.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): The private sector of television production is very important as a generator of wealth and jobs in my constituency. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effects of his cuts on that vital sector-a sector that, if I may say so, only the stupidest of Governments would attack in the middle of a recession?

25 Oct 2010 : Column 9

Mr Hunt: During my discussions on the future of S4C, I was very aware of the importance of the Welsh independent production sector. That is why I have made it an explicit part of our agreement with the BBC that it will continue to outsource 100% of S4C's production to the sector. It is also why funding for S4C has been secured for the next four years-funding on which the Welsh production sector depends.

Football Governance

7. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): When he last met the Football Association to discuss proposed reforms of football governance. [18949]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Before answering, may I pay tribute to Andy Holmes, the double Olympic rowing gold medallist who, sadly, has passed away at the age of just 51?

For reasons the hon. Gentleman will understand, my Department's current priority is winning the 2018 football World cup bid. However, I will continue my discussions with the football authorities-and, indeed, Members on both sides of the House-in order to deliver on the coalition Government's commitment.

Bob Russell: The Minister has no doubt discovered by now that those at the top of football are as impotent as a room of eunuchs, that financially they have regimes that would make bankers blush, and that, with greedy footballers and parasitic agents, the game is being ruined. With that in mind, is it not time that the current Government-the last Government failed to do this-held a royal commission or some other inquiry, because the game is incapable of regulating itself?

Hugh Robertson: As was clear in the debate in Westminster Hall a month or so ago, there is widespread cross-House agreement that the position we are in at present is not satisfactory. People know where we want to get to eventually, but the problem is that, because of the disparate nature of football club ownership, there is no one silver bullet that will deliver that. I have said that I will consult widely over the next six months. I will continue to do so, and during that consultation I will, of course, bear the hon. Gentleman's suggestion in mind.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): The Minister has always struck quite a helpful tone on the governance of football issue, but does he accept that resolving the recent situation at Liverpool football club, for example, owed nothing at all to the stewardship of either the premiership or the Football Association, and that, frankly, the regulatory bodies are now beyond redemption? By all means the Minister can consult, but will he make sure that he brings the regulatory bodies to order so that there is proper regulation that serves the interests of the supporters?

Hugh Robertson: Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that commitment. As I think he knows, this process started some while before May-indeed, Ministers in the former Government were crucial in that. There is a clear cross-House will for this situation to be sorted out. As I have said, we all accept that the current situation is not satisfactory, and we know sort of where we want to get to, but there is no one single answer that gets us there. I promise the hon. Gentleman that I take this issue seriously and that I will do what I can.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 10

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): As part of any consultation, will the Minister look very seriously at foreign investment particularly in our lower league clubs? That is leaving many clubs in situations such as Portsmouth found itself in last week, as the directors and owners are not fit to run a football club and are just asset-stripping them.

Hugh Robertson: I absolutely take that point, although I remember that we looked into this issue when in opposition and it was clear both that there were as many examples of good as of bad overseas ownership, and that for a long time some of the worst excesses were committed by English owners. This is not necessarily a nationality problem, therefore, although my hon. Friend makes a good point.

Commonwealth Games 2014

8. Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to ensure the successful staging of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games. [18950]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Responsibility for staging Glasgow 2014 rests with the organising committee and its key partners including the Scottish Government, Glasgow city council and Commonwealth Games Scotland. I have already met my Scottish counterpart on two occasions, visited Scotland House during my trip to Delhi-the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that-and had initial meetings with the Glasgow 2014 team.

Mr Davidson: I rise with some trepidation as Glasgow is nowhere near Herefordshire. Notwithstanding that, however, will the Government be a bit clearer about the help they intend to provide over the coming years, in particular to Glasgow city council and the organising committee?

Hugh Robertson: I can promise the hon. Gentleman that, given my name, I am very well aware that Herefordshire is nowhere near Scotland. I can also promise him that the Government have delivered on all the commitments they gave Glasgow 2014 as part of the bidding process and that we are examining ways in which we might help it further as the process moves forward.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Minister will, of course, know that the BBC has pulled out of being the official broadcaster of the Glasgow games, which has the potential to cost the games millions of pounds in terms of the broadcasting infrastructure. Will he join me in making a case to the BBC about reconsidering that? When he does so, will he remind the BBC that it has obligations to the whole UK?

Hugh Robertson: I will certainly do that. I just say to the hon. Gentleman that, as the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) will recall, a similar row occurred when the BBC did not secure the Paralympics rights for 2012 but, as things have worked out, I think that most people agree that the fact that those games will now be on a different broadcaster is to everybody's benefit. This was not one of the issues raised with me in any of my meetings about the Commonwealth games in Delhi, but he has my word that if it becomes one, I will certainly take it up.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 11

Olympics Legacy

9. Mrs Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the legacy for Halifax of the London 2012 Olympics. [18951]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Halifax and Yorkshire stand to gain from a wide range of opportunities created by the games, through businesses winning games-related work, increased tourism and cultural events. I am glad to tell the hon. Lady that the Olympic Delivery Authority has already awarded contracts to 39 suppliers in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Mrs Riordan: Given that these Olympics are London-focused and that the capital missed out on the worst of the cuts announced last week, how will the Minister ensure that towns such as Halifax do benefit from the Olympic legacy in terms of much-needed grass-roots sports facilities?

Hugh Robertson: I am delighted to tell the hon. Lady that the best possible news is that I have been to Halifax to deliver that message. On 20 July, I was able to visit the Ling Bob school in her constituency, where I attended a morning session connected with the Chance to Shine scheme. I saw the entire school playing cricket in the playground, and the school had clearly used this to shape its curriculum for the day. That is just one example of many that are brought about by the 2012 games.

Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): The concern about the sporting legacy is shared not just in Halifax but, as I am sure the Minister is aware, right around the country, in view of last week's announcement that the funding for the Youth Sport Trust and school sports partnerships would be ended. Today, we have seen statements from 442 head teachers, coaches and physical education teachers expressing their concern that this puts the legacy for the London 2012 games and the aspirations of young people at risk. This has taken 10 years to achieve for young people in state schools. What assurance can he give that those children will continue to enjoy sport in the way that they have been led to believe is their entitlement as part of the Olympic legacy?

Hugh Robertson: The answer is in two halves. We have been able to do many things that have secured the sports legacy for the London 2012 games: a generation of new facilities is appearing in and around the Olympic park and our other venues; there will be a considerably increased profile as a result of the games; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport has already announced our plans for a schools Olympics; we are bringing forward plans for community sport; and we were able, as part of last Wednesday's settlement, to produce a new major events sports strategy, which will produce a tapestry of events post-2012.

The right hon. Lady's point about the Youth Sport Trust is an interesting one. It is fair to say that it has performed extremely well in some places, but if she was honest about it, she would say that its performance has been less good in others. The fact remains that after 10 years and probably comfortably more than £1 billion
25 Oct 2010 : Column 12
of investment only one in five schoolchildren in this country is playing competitive sport-that is not a terribly good result.

UK Sport/Sport England

14. Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Minister for the Cabinet Office on proposals to merge UK Sport and Sport England. [18956]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met Francis Maude on 8 July to discuss the public bodies Bill-

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sure that the Minister is referring to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr Maude); alternatively, he should refer to him as a Minister.

Hugh Robertson: My apologies, Mr Speaker. They discussed bringing together UK Sport and Sport England, and that was also discussed at an inter-ministerial meeting on 13 September. I also met my devolved counterparts to discuss the issue when I was in Delhi and I have, of course, discussed it with many others in sport and inside the two bodies.

Mr McCann: Recent correspondence from the Scottish Executive somewhat complacently suggests that they are merely aware of the proposed merger. Given UK Sport's responsibilities for the world-class performance programme across the United Kingdom, how will the Minister ensure that there is a fair distribution of financial support for our elite athletes?

Hugh Robertson: That was one of the issues that we discussed in Delhi. I am sure that it will not have escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice that part of the comprehensive spending review announced on Wednesday was framed by a decision to increase the amount of money going in to sport. We were able to announce not only that we would stick to the original spending limits envisaged for London 2012 and would honour those commitments in full, but that UK Sport would have the same level of funding, or slightly better, for the start of the Rio cycle than it is enjoying this year.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): In addition to the merger, the Government are cutting the funding that the two organisations receive as well as cutting £160 million from school sports and axing funding for sports colleges. Before the election, the hon. Gentleman praised Labour's support for sport and pledged that it would not be undermined by the Conservatives. Will he tell us what impact those decisions will have on his predecessor's ambition to get 2 million people taking part in sport?

Hugh Robertson: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place and I hope that he enjoys the position as much as I did-and, if I might say so, spends as much time doing it as I did. I understand his point, but he must admit that the amount of debt interest this country pays out every single day is the same as the entire community sport budget each year, so it is a considerable job to tackle it. By increasing the lottery shares to UK
25 Oct 2010 : Column 13
Sport and Sport England, not only have we been able to shield in full UK Sport from the effects of this, preserving elite athlete funding through to 2012, but by the end of the four-year cycle of lottery funding Sport England will have more money going through its front door than it did at the beginning. That is, I believe, a considerable achievement.

Topical Questions

T1. [18963] Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): During the summer, despite the pressures of the comprehensive spending review, we made good progress in our priority areas of tourism, philanthropy, broadband roll-out, local television and the schools Olympics. We will have announcements on all those areas before Christmas.

Diana R. Johnson: Many of my constituents have contacted me, concerned about the local independent BBC news that runs in East Yorkshire and Hull through Radio Humberside and programmes such as "Look North". There is great concern that, because of the cuts to the BBC budget, areas such as East Yorkshire will lose that local independent news. What guarantee can the Minister give me that we will continue to have that?

Mr Hunt: There is no bigger supporter of local news than me. I made it one of the most important parts of our media policy, but if we are to have a thriving local media sector, people in the sector need an assurance that the BBC will not undertake more local activity than it does; otherwise, they simply will not take the risk of setting up newspapers, radio and television stations, and so on. We have come to a very good solution in this licence fee settlement, which is that the BBC has made a commitment that it will go no more local than it does currently. It is confident that it will be able to continue with its current obligations for the period of the settlement.

T7. [18969] Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Is it not quite wrong that somebody can be sent to jail for not paying their BBC television licence fee? Will the Secretary of State liaise with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the BBC, like every other utility, pursues its civil debts through the civil courts rather than using the force of criminal sanction?

Mr Hunt: The licence fee is a curious system, but it has delivered outstanding results for British broadcasting. Most British people, when they go abroad, find that one of the things they miss is the BBC. One reason the BBC has been successful is that it has had sustained income through this rather curious system. That is why we have said that we are on the side of the public on this. We have given the BBC a tough settlement-freezing the licence fee for six years-under which we will continue with the structure of the licence fee as it is.

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): We will work with the Government on issues where we agree, such as the Olympic games and England's World cup bid. The Secretary of State will agree that the BBC is one of this country's great institutions and its future a matter of
25 Oct 2010 : Column 14
public interest. Of course, the BBC cannot be exempt from cuts at this difficult time, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman how he can justify a negotiating process that rode roughshod over the independence of the BBC, crushed any serious prospect of reform and involved no consultation with licence fee payers or parliamentarians? Will he confirm that at one point in the negotiations the BBC Trust board considered mass resignation and that he now faces a judicial review sought by S4C? Is that not another example of the Secretary of State doing a dodgy deal for the Chancellor to further his own political ambitions, instead of providing responsible leadership on an issue of crucial importance to the future of this country?

Mr Hunt: May I start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his post? I am delighted to talk to him about the BBC because the new licence fee settlement was announced last Wednesday and the silence of the Opposition's response has been absolutely deafening. They have not been able to work out what to do because we have agreed a settlement that is acceptable to the BBC and is very popular with the public. Let me tell him the difference between what happened when his party negotiated the licence fee and when we did it. With his party, it took two years, it cost £3 million and we ended up with an above-inflation rise. With us, it took two weeks, it cost nothing and we got a freeze for six years.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Given Ministers' helpful answers about the funding of regularly funded organisations in the arts, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that those organisations will be encouraged to do developmental and outreach work in such a way that all corners of the country are reached and that younger and smaller organisations are supported?

Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right: we have given regularly funded organisations, with the agreement of the Arts Council, a settlement that is nothing like as bad as those in other parts of the public sector. I am very keen that on that basis-I have made this point to everyone I have spoken to about it-they should not cut outreach and education work, of which there are some outstanding examples in his constituency. On the basis of the conversations I have had, I am very reassured that those obligations will continue to be fulfilled.

T2. [18964] Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I am sure that the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating all those involved in Newport's successful staging of the Ryder cup last month, but does he understand that it is hard for the Government to talk about the long-term economic legacy of major sporting events such as the Ryder cup given that two days after that event they announced 300 job losses at the local passport office?

Mr Hunt: I went to the Ryder cup and I thought it was a fantastic example of how major sports events can make an incredible contribution to our wealth. Every year, 3.5 million people come to this country to watch or play in sports events, so they are big wealth generators. However, if we are to continue to support such events, we have to put the public finances on a sustainable footing, and that means using public funds much more efficiently than the hon. Lady's party did in its 13 years in power.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 15

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that Yorkshire's tourism board, Welcome to Yorkshire, is the only tourism agency in Britain to be shortlisted for an award in the world travel awards? Will he join me and all other hon. Members in the House from God's own county in wishing Welcome to Yorkshire the very best in its endeavours?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose): I should be delighted to do so. I spoke to the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, Gary Verity, last week, and he told me about its excellent progress. It is worth pointing out that the board is up against tourist boards that represent entire countries, rather than single counties, in having got this far. I am sure that everyone here is delighted by its progress thus far and of course we wish it luck in the final.

T3. [18965] Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): Before the election, the Minister for Sport was keen to applaud Labour's record on sport and pledged not to undermine it. With the massive cuts to funding for school sport, to local authorities and to Sport England, does he now feel that his Government are undermining the excellent progress that was made under the Labour Government?

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Absolutely not, because, as the hon. Gentleman will see if he examines the figures, in every year for the next four, the amount of money going to UK Sport and Sport England, with the exception of that to Sport England next year, is greater than it was under the Labour Government-so, no.

Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): Many Members on both sides of the House have been kind enough to share their sympathy with me and my constituents about the devastating fire that afflicted Hastings and its pier recently. However, the reports of its death are exaggerated: the sub-structure is intact, the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust is launching an appeal and we hope to rebuild on top of it. Will the Minister meet a group of us so that we can tell him more about it and learn from his experience?

John Penrose: I should be delighted to do so. I confess to some personal experience, in that two years ago Weston-super-Mare pier in my constituency went up in flames, and I am delighted to tell everyone that on Saturday just gone I had the honour of opening it. It was like the first day of the sales, as everybody dashed up to be first through the door. I should be delighted to meet representatives from Hastings and I hope only that they will have a similar renaissance of their pier.

T4. [18966] Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): Will the Minister explain why the Government have decided to underwrite the 2015 rugby union world cup, but will not give the same guarantees to the 2013 rugby league world cup? To paraphrase a famous comedian, "Is it because we is northern"?

Hugh Robertson: Tempting though it is, the answer is absolutely not. If the hon. Lady gets hold of a copy of the letter I wrote to the chief executive of the Rugby Football League when I took over, she will see that I said I was absolutely determined to ensure that precisely
25 Oct 2010 : Column 16
the same treatment was applied to both codes of rugby-for obvious reasons. The slight problem was that the RFL did not ask the then Government-of course, the hon. Lady's Government-as the Rugby Football Union did when mounting the bid. My intention is to treat both similarly.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Before taking office, my right hon. Friend was keen to promote the subtitling of parliamentary coverage. He may be aware that the service often ends by 6 o'clock in the evening, long before our debates here conclude. Will he urge broadcasters to ensure that all our proceedings are accessible to the 1 million users of subtitles who are either deaf or hard of hearing?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): We are obviously keen to make parliamentary proceedings accessible to everybody, particularly late-night Adjournment debates, which I take. We now have an e-accessibility forum that is progressing that agenda, and we have also increased the amount of subtitling by broadcasters on a voluntary basis.

T5. [18967] Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): Last year, more than 2,500 athletes with learning disabilities took part in the Special Olympics in Leicester. Will the Minister agree to meet those involved, to learn lessons from the event and make sure that people with learning disabilities can play a full part in sports and athletics in this country?

Hugh Robertson: Absolutely. I visited the event in Leicester last year, and, as the hon. Lady will be aware, the Special Olympics GB team has already been to No. 10 Downing street to meet the Prime Minister before going off to the games in Warsaw. I am absolutely behind the team and would be delighted to meet them. If the hon. Lady would just give me a month while we get the 2018 bid out of the way, I should be absolutely delighted to do anything I can to help.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend's earlier comments on broadband. When will the BBC contribution from the licence fee come on stream? Will it form part of the £830 million commitment? Is it designated for a specific project or just part of the general fund?

Mr Hunt: I am happy to answer that question. As part of the licence fee negotiation that we concluded, the BBC has committed to put £150 million into broadband roll-out for every year of the new BBC licence fee settlement. That is how we shall get the nearly £1 billion of secured investment for the broadband roll-out, and I hope it will benefit my hon. Friend's and everyone else's constituency.

T8. [18970] Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): How do Ministers intend to ensure that blind and partially sighted people, for whom radio is a vital lifeline, will not be disadvantaged if commercial pressures mount to switch from analogue to digital radio?

Mr Vaizey: As I mentioned in an earlier answer, we now have an e-accessibility forum that is taking forward
25 Oct 2010 : Column 17
many of those issues. One of the vital functions of the forum is to make sure that manufacturers take on board the issues and ensure that partially sighted people and people with other difficulties have full access to programmes through technology.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked-

Business Committee

1. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What progress has been made on the establishment of a House business committee. [18986]

4. Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): What progress has been made on the establishment of a House business Committee. [18989]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): The Government are committed to establishing a House business committee. The Backbench Business Committee, of which the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) is a member, has got off to a good start, and we shall seek its views on how the House business Committee might operate.

Mr Hollobone: Is it the intention of the Deputy Leader of the House that once the House business Committee is established it will subsume the Backbench Committee, or will the two Committees carry on in parallel?

Mr Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. It is a fairly complex matter. If he re-reads the Wright Committee report, he will see that there is a degree of ambiguity about the precise interrelationship. I think the assumption is that the two Committees should sit alongside one another, with some common membership, but it is an area we need to discuss in detail with him and his hon. Friends on the Backbench Business Committee, and more widely in the House, so that we establish a system that will work for the whole House and make sure that both Back-Bench business and the interests of the House as a whole are protected.

Graham Evans: Does my hon. Friend agree that the creation of the Backbench Business Committee was a necessary step to restore the value of Back-Bench business, which was badly neglected under the previous Government?

Mr Heath: My hon. Friend will not be surprised to know that I entirely agree with him on that point. The Backbench Business Committee has made a good start in ensuring that important matters are brought before the House in a timely way. My greatest regret is the fact that the previous Government took so long to accede to the very reasonable request from the Wright Committee and many Members on both sides of the House to make that happen.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I warmly congratulate the Government on introducing the Backbench Business Committee, but can the Deputy Leader of the House guarantee that in future-as there always was in the past-there will be a European affairs debate before a European Council meeting and a full statement from the Prime Minister afterwards? This week, a European Council meeting will decide things such as our relationship
25 Oct 2010 : Column 18
with Russia and whether there should be Europe-wide regulation of the financial services industry, but the House will have not a single debate on it.

Mr Heath: I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that the arrangement of statements is, of course, a matter for the Government. Other debates, as the Wright Committee clearly sets out, are a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. I am sure that his comments were heard by the Committee.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): One of the most important reasons for setting up a House business Committee is to protect the rights of Members. Such a committee will not be set up in time to deal with the fiasco of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, but will the Deputy Leader of the House assure us that he will protect the rights of Members of this House by ensuring that the statutory instruments relating to the Bill are debated before Report, and that he will place a record of the Government's discussions with the devolved Assemblies in the Library? Is it not right that matters concerning elections to this House should be debated first here and not in the unelected House?

Mr Heath: I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position as shadow Deputy Leader of the House. I certainly do not recognise the word "fiasco" in any connection with that Bill, which will be in Committee later today.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Well I do!

Mr Heath: The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that he does recognise the word "fiasco", but the only fiasco I have come across in the course of our debates is the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) speaking for 50 minutes without mentioning his amendments. That may have been part of the problem of timing in relation to the Bill.

Select Committee Reports

2. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What plans he has to increase the opportunities available for debate of Select Committee reports on the Floor of the House. [18987]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): Select Committees have been strengthened by the introduction of election procedures for members and Chairs. Powers to set the agenda of the House have also been given to the Backbench Business Committee, which with the Liaison Committee is providing opportunities to debate Select Committee reports in Westminster Hall and on the Floor of the House. Those two measures have increased the ability of the House effectively to hold the Government to account.

Philip Davies: The Wright Committee recommended that there should be more opportunities to debate Select Committee reports on the Floor of the House. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to make that a reality, or is he just leaving that to the Backbench Business Committee?

25 Oct 2010 : Column 19

Sir George Young: With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, he is in a much better position than I am to ensure that more Select Committee reports are debated on the Floor of the House, because following the implementation of the Wright Committee, the days for those debates have been handed over to the Backbench Business Committee, on which he sits. The Committee has the freedom to decide whether to debate Select Committee reports or other matters; that power no longer rests with the Government.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): If more Select Committee reports are debated on the Floor of the House, can we avoid situations such as the one that occurred recently, when a Treasury Minister told the Public Administration Committee that he could not give the figure for compensation to Equitable Life policyholders because it had to be announced the following week in the comprehensive spending review, before leaking the information to the press that weekend? Could that be one way around this problem?

Sir George Young: I reject the hon. Gentleman's implication that there was any impropriety in the discharge of information relating to Equitable Life. The figure was given in the CSR statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week.

Parliamentary Calendar

3. Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): What proposals he plans to put to the House in respect of the structure of the parliamentary calendar for the remainder of the current Session. [18988]

5. Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What proposals he plans to put to the House in respect of the structure of the parliamentary calendar for the remainder of the current Session. [18990]

7. Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): What proposals he plans to put to the House in respect of the structure of the parliamentary calendar for the remainder of the current Session. [18992]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced the proposed parliamentary calendar until the end of 2011 last Thursday at the commencement of business questions, and I hope right hon. and hon. Members will have had the opportunity to pick up a copy.

Jason McCartney: I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that answer, which will allow me and many colleagues in the House to plan our next few months in our constituencies. Can he help me plan the next four and a half years in my constituency, by giving the House an update on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill?

Mr Heath: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have had the Second Reading of that Bill. It should go into Committee shortly. I hope it will be able to make speedy progress, given the degree of consensus that exists across the House, and we hope it will receive Royal Assent at the earliest opportunity.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 20

Rehman Chishti: Does my hon. Friend agree that plans to reform the parliamentary calendar will enhance the ability of the House to scrutinise and debate effectively the Government's proposed legislation for this Session?

Mr Heath: It is important that the House has the fullest possible opportunity to hold the Government to account. One of the difficulties that we had previously when the House did not sit in September was that there was a large part of the year when the actions of Ministers could not be scrutinised by the House. My answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes, I do think that is the case, but we can still do better. That is why I am convinced that we should continue the discussion about how we can best organise the parliamentary calendar to enable the House to do its job as effectively as possible.

Amber Rudd: Does my hon. Friend agree that if we have more transparency and clarity in the calendar, it will stop giving the impression, which we may have got with the previous Government, of legislation being railroaded through?

Mr Heath: I agree entirely. If we can make sure that plenty of days are allocated for, for instance, the Committee and Report stages of Bills, which the Government have been committed to doing, and if we can ensure that the House uses that time sensibly and adopts a rational approach to the important things that need to be debated at length and those that may not need to be debated at quite such length, the House can start to look like a grown-up legislature able to do its job effectively.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): But is it not the case that even in the timetable that has been announced, we still have an extremely long summer recess in which Ministers will not be held to account in the House? Would it not be sensible if, instead of running days on unpredictably until late at night, we used more days during the summer to hold the Government to account, rather than holding them to account between 10 o'clock and 11 o'clock at night?

Mr Heath: The hon. Lady has expressed that view before. I do not entirely agree that we have an overlong summer recess, with the September sittings. That makes a huge difference to the way in which the House does its business. I also do not entirely agree that sittings are unpredictable. Where we have provided additional time, it has been in response to expected statements, to make sure that the House has protected time to do its business. We are constantly responding to the hon. Lady's Front-Bench team demanding more time and longer sittings to scrutinise Bills effectively. We must get the right balance. We will look at the matter in more detail. The Procedure Committee has said that it will look at the calendar in the round, and she may want to give evidence to the Committee on her views.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

8. Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to provide further opportunities for pre-legislative scrutiny of Government legislation; and if he will make a statement. [18993]

25 Oct 2010 : Column 21

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): We have announced the publication of our four draft Bills in this Session. That is the same as in four of the five Sessions of the previous Parliament. More draft Bills are being prepared and I hope we will have a more impressive total by the end of the Session.

Diana R. Johnson: Is not the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill a lesson in how not to legislate? Despite it being a major constitutional change in this country, there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny. As I understand it, the Government are tabling hundreds of Government amendments while it is on the Floor of the House. Should not the Government rethink this, abandon the Bill and bring back one that has been properly thought through?

Mr Heath: The hon. Lady is pursuing this argument. Early in the lifetime of a Government, there will, of course, be some Bills that are not available for pre-legislative scrutiny, simply because-apart from anything else-otherwise the House would be sitting here with nothing to do. That is why we have ensured that these important Bills are debated on the Floor of the House, where they can receive the longest possible scrutiny. I hope that, by the completion of all its parliamentary stages, every part of the Bill she mentioned will have been available for scrutiny, if hon. Members wish to pick up any specific points. I simply do not believe that there is an alternative way of doing business. Having said that, our normal practice will be to introduce important Bills in draft, as has been clearly stated. There are more Bills in the pipeline, and she will find that, by the end of the Session, considerably more Bills will have been considered in draft than in the previous Session.

Business Committee

10. Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): What progress has been made on the establishment of a House business Committee. [18995]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier.

Robert Halfon: Does my hon. Friend agree that the House business Committee, allied with the Backbench Business Committee and the elections to Select Committees, has restored the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive? What other steps is he taking to redress that balance?

Mr Heath: We have already introduced quite a hefty group of reforms. I place on the record again my gratitude to the Wright Committee for its work, although I do not think that its proposals are necessarily the end of the story. I hope that the work of the Procedure Committee and the work that we will continue to do in bringing forward suggestions from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and myself will give us the
25 Oct 2010 : Column 22
opportunity to ratchet up steadily the involvement of individual Members of the House, to enable them to do the job that they were sent here to do on behalf of their constituents, which is to represent their constituents properly and to hold the Government to account in both their legislative and executive functions. The previous Parliament was incapable of doing that simply because of the restrictions placed on it. I hope that we can now make steady progress in improving the reputation of the House.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): But is not part of the job of an MP to introduce private Members' Bills when they come first, or even ninth, in the ballot? It is vital that the House looks closely at private Members' Bills and at the Committee stages to ensure that we are able to bring measures to the House and get them enacted?

Mr Heath: We need to consider urgently how we scrutinise private Members' legislation. The Procedure Committee is currently looking at that, and I hope that it will make proposals in the near future. Meanwhile, we will have to consider-my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is considering this-how we best use the time made available by the slightly longer Session than usual to enable greater scrutiny and greater opportunities for private Members' legislation already in the pipeline.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) rose-

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Angus Robertson.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP) indicated dissent.

Mr Speaker: No, the hon. Gentleman is not standing. He was poised, perched like a panther. I call Mr Pete Wishart.

Pete Wishart: Will the hon. Gentleman assure me that the House business committee will be a Committee of the whole of the House, not just the Government parties and the Labour Opposition? What is he and the Leader of the House doing personally to ensure that smaller parties are properly represented on the new Committee?

Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman knows, because we discussed the matter very early in this Parliament, that the Wright Committee was not terribly helpful in its proposals to him and his colleagues. Having committed ourselves to implementing the Wright Committee, we were left in some difficulties. However, we need to ensure that the voices of smaller parties in the House are clearly heard. I hope that he will take part in the necessary discussions about the establishment of the House business committee to ensure that that is done in good order and in a way that is consistent with the Wright Committee proposals while reflecting best practice in the House.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 23

Points of Order

3.34 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House will recall that on 5 July the Secretary of State for Education announced the closure of the Building Schools for the Future scheme and the cancellation of 700 school building projects. Six hundred had reached financial close and were described in a list published by the Department as "unaffected". However, last Friday local authorities received phone calls to tell them to make 40% efficiencies in those projects, threatening to throw local plans into chaos.

On the "Politics Show" yesterday the Education Secretary said that schools were informed back in July of the potential for further large-scale cuts. However, councillors in Salford, Leicester and Nottingham dispute that claim, which is at odds with the statement given to this House back in July that the remaining projects would be "unaffected". There is a great deal of confusion in communities throughout the country about Building Schools for the Future. The projects matter greatly to children and teachers in those communities and to Members in this House, so I request through you, Mr Speaker, that the Education Secretary makes an urgent statement to the House to clarify matters.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for his point of order. I confess that here and now I detect nothing on which I should rule. That is a narrow interpretation of my responsibility, but it is a direct response to the point of order that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. I have heard very clearly what he has said. He has in a sense put his request for a statement on the record. That will have been heard by Members on the Treasury Bench, and I hope that it is helpful, both to the right hon. Gentleman and to others who have expressed an interest, if I remind the House that there is an upcoming debate on the comprehensive spending review, within which the concerns articulated by the right hon. Gentleman will doubtless be more fully aired.

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You will understand the distress and concern that has been caused in Salford as a result of a telephone call that came out of the blue at the end of last week, saying that our Building Schools for the Future programme might be cut by 40%. I ask you to convey to the Secretary of State the deep concern that people have and the gravity of the need for him to respond. I shall ask him for an urgent meeting to discuss the matter with people from Salford, and I just ask that you, Mr Speaker, ensure that he is fully aware of the distress that the matter has caused.

Mr Speaker: I note what the right hon. Lady says and certainly do not treat it with levity, but I am not convinced that I am, in this situation, a better conveyor belt than the right hon. Lady herself. She has just registered her concern and conveyed her message to the Secretary of State, and in those circumstances I do not think that I need to do so.

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Wednesday last week, at column 986 of Hansard, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal
25 Oct 2010 : Column 24
(Dr Coffey) may have given the wrong impression to the House by implying that in the European Parliament Labour MEPs had supported an increase in the EU budget. That is not the case, nor did they vote for the EU to have tax-raising powers. I say that to set the record straight.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has done so-doubtless to his own satisfaction and, possibly, to that of others.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has assured the House that no decision has been taken on the future of RAF Lossiemouth. However, defence documents have been forwarded to me indicating that the Air Force top brass favours RAF Marham as the main future base for Tornado aircraft. Such a decision would decimate the Moray economy, cut armed forces numbers in Scotland by 25% and concentrate the RAF in the south of England. Given how important an issue this is for service families, for Moray and for the whole of Scotland, has the Ministry of Defence confirmed when an official announcement will be made in this House?

Mr Speaker: The short answer is no, but the hon. Gentleman has made his point with his usual force.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning I received an answer to a written question from the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). My concern about the answer is that it refers to only half my constituency, when my question referred to the whole of it. Inasmuch as there has been a boundary change, the answer refers to the part of my constituency which was formerly in the old Gateshead East and Washington West seat and totally ignores the half that was in the constituency of Tyne Bridge. I am a bit concerned not only from my perspective, but for all hon. Members, because we are anticipating 600 boundary changes some time in the future.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is proving that he is fastidious to a fault, and what I can say by way of advice and assistance is that I feel sure that a quick visit to the Table Office will yield a benefit to him, not least if he seeks to table further questions, as I suspect perhaps he might.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is time that we investigated the appallingly vacuous answers that we are having to parliamentary questions. They are the worst answers I can remember in 25 years in this House. I will give just one example from last Wednesday, when I asked a question on the number of desertions from the Afghan army and police. That is a matter of great importance for our soldiers in Afghanistan, because our whole exit strategy is based on a strong army. The answer that appeared made no reference whatsoever to the substance of the question asked. This is becoming increasingly common. The Government seem to be systematically leaking on a more incontinent basis than any other previous Government, and they are not answering questions; they are now treating this Parliament with disrespect.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 25

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Lest others who listen to our proceedings are not aware of it, I can remind them, or inform them for the first time, that the hon. Gentleman is the author of a well-thumbed tome entitled "Commons Knowledge: How to be a Backbencher". Over the years, he and I have both tabled very large numbers of questions, but I have to say to him, with some relief, that I have never been responsible for the content or quality of the answers under successive Governments.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, but it is not one, as I think he knows, on which I can rule. What I will say to him is twofold. First, the Leader of the House is sitting on the Treasury Bench and will have heard very clearly the plaintive representation that he has made. Secondly, as an inquiry is currently being conducted, or is shortly to be conducted, into the subject of parliamentary questions and ministerial answers under the auspices of the Procedure Committee, if memory serves me correctly, the hon. Gentleman, with his vast experience and many examples, might wish to submit evidence to that Committee. I think that that would be useful.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Further to the point of order on the Building Schools for the Future programme, Mr Speaker. If it is the case that there have been significant changes to money that was allocated in July, can you make sure that there is information in the Library prior to Wednesday's debate on the comprehensive spending review?

Mr Speaker: Ministers will have heard the request that the hon. Lady has made. I have noted it myself, and it does not seem unreasonable. I cannot continue now the debate and exchanges that have already taken place, but I am grateful to her and to all hon. Members.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con) rose-

Mr Speaker: Mr Nuttall addressed the House for over an hour on Friday, but he feels a great thirst to raise a point of order, and of course I shall hear it.

Mr Nuttall: Further to the point of order on parliamentary questions, Mr Speaker. If I may assist, I understand that an e-mail has already been circulated from the Procedure Committee asking for any problems to be submitted to it.

Mr Speaker: That is most helpful; we are all exceedingly grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 26

Speaker's Statement

3.43 pm

Mr Speaker: I have a statement to make to the House. I have to inform the House that, as required by section 144 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, I have received the certificate from the judges appointed to try the election petition relating to the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency election on 6 May 2010. The judges have determined that the petition be dismissed, and have certified that the hon. Member for that constituency was duly returned at the said election.

I shall lay the certificate on the Table, together with the shorthand writer's notes, and will cause the full text of the certificate to be entered in the Journal. Members wishing to read the certificate for themselves will find it set out in the Votes and Proceedings for today, which will be circulated with the Order Paper in tomorrow's Vote Bundle, available online and from the Vote Office.

Business without Debate

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Investor Compensation Schemes

Question agreed to.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 27

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

[Relevant documents: The Third Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, P arliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, HC 437, and the oral evidence taken before the Committee on Thursday 15 July on the Coal ition Government's programme of political an d constitutional reform , HC 358-i .]

[5th Allocated Day]

Further considered in Committee

[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

New Clause 19

Press comment etc not subject to spending controls

'Expenses incurred in respect of the publication of any matter relating to the referendum, other than an advertisement, in-

(a) a newspaper or periodical,

(b) a broadcast made by the British Broadcasting Corporation or Sianel Pedwar Cymru, or

(c) a programme included in any service licensed under Part 1 or 3 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 or Part 1 or 2 of the Broadcasting Act 1996,

are not "referendum expenses" for the purposes of Part 7 of the 2000 Act.'.- (Mr Harper.)

Brought up, and read the First time .

3.45 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Evans. The new clause is a straightforward and clear response intended to cure, for the alternative vote referendum, a possible ambiguity in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 framework on the regulation of referendum expenses. It clearly states that the costs of covering and reporting on the referendum in the media are not referendum expenses for the purposes of that Act. That means that those costs will fall outside the regulatory regime that the PPERA puts in place.

I want to be absolutely clear that the new clause does not change the position on the regulation of advertising in the media by campaigning individuals or organisations. Such media costs will continue to be subject to the usual spending restrictions in the 2000 Act. However, we believe it is important to ensure that media outlets are not caught by the spending restrictions in place for the referendum when publishing information about it, since they will play a vital role in building public awareness.

I take this opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform for the scrutiny of the Bill that they carried out despite the time available. The Committee's members tabled a similar amendment, and I am grateful for their focus on the issue. They identified the problem and the potential ambiguity, and argued that it needed to be dealt with. The Committee identified a potential problem with the framework for referendums, as set out in the PPERA. Where there is ambiguity in statute there may be arguments either way,
25 Oct 2010 : Column 28
but I accept that on an issue as important as this, the law should be clear. That is why the Government have tabled their own new clause, similar to that tabled by the Committee's members and identical in its intention. However, I believe that there are sound technical reasons why our version is preferable.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I warmly welcome the fact that the Government have tabled the new clause. Broadly speaking, the Minister is absolutely right that it was never anybody's intention that ordinary newspapers, magazines, television broadcasts and so on should be included in the referendum expenses regime. However, there are some complications because of some of the terms used in the new clause.

I note that the Minister said en passant that the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) managed to come up with a report despite the time available, but of course the lack of availability of time was entirely down to the Minister, not down to anybody else. As the Minister noted, the Committee produced its own version of what a new clause might look like, and a lot of us have been lobbied by different parts of the media in favour of some version or other of an amendment such as this one. The Minister said that the Government's version was slightly different, and I hope that he will be able to take us through why.

The new clause mentions, first:

As I understand it, it is remarkably difficult to specify in law what is a newspaper or periodical. So far as I can see, there is no one clear definition of newspaper or periodical. I assume that the Government understand "newspaper or periodical" to be the same, not two separate concepts.

I can find two instances of a definition in statute. The first is the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1881, which states:

"oftener" is slightly strange language-

I presume that the Government are not relying on that definition, because it applies only to England and Ireland, which is in a Bill that tried to ensure that all newspapers and periodicals were registered. That registration process no longer exists-now anyone is free to publish a newspaper or a periodical.

The second instance is in section 7(5) of the Defamation Act 1952, which states that

25 Oct 2010 : Column 29

I am sure that keen-eared Members noted that between 1881 and 1952, there was a difference of 10 days in the frequency with which a printed item might be described as a newspaper or a periodical.

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): That may have had something to do with Christmas and a monthly publication potentially covering five weeks at that time of year. However, the shadow Minister may have stronger ideas about the reason for that difference-or mistake.

Chris Bryant: It seems slightly odd to go to 36 days because there is no specific definition of the date of publication. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right that if the Christmas edition of a monthly publication is published around 15 November-after doubtless being written around 15 July-there might be more than 26 days between it and the next edition. However, large elements of the Defamation Act have been repealed, although the precise definition of newspaper seems still to exist. The territorial extent of that Act is not only England and Ireland, but Wales and Scotland.

Election law has for some considerable time made allowance for newspapers and periodicals so that, for example, an edition of The Times that advocates people voting Conservative or The Guardian bizarrely supporting the Liberal Democrats in a general election are not suddenly caught for election expenditure. I understand that, but the new clause needs greater clarity, not least because many more people now engage in publication. Under the 1881 Act, people had to be licensed to do that. Today, anybody can publish, and there is no specification in law of the number of copies that must be published, only of the frequency. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary's Conservative association produces a regular newsletter. Whether it is counted as a newspaper or periodical is of material significance to election expenditure.

I therefore hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can first explain his understanding of newspaper or periodical and from where he derives the definition, not least because the new clause does not refer to the derivation of the interpretation.

Secondly, subsection (b) of new clause 19 refers to

or Channel 4, but Channel 4 is going to be part of the BBC in the near future-

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): S4C.

Chris Bryant: Sorry, S4C, not Channel 4. S4C is going to be part of the BBC in the near future. I presume that subsection (b), which might be presumed at a later date to transfer to other referendums, would not be disturbed by the congruence of the two organisations, I think in 2013-14.

Subsection (b) also uses the term "broadcast", a word that, in legislation, specifically refers to broadcasting from one to many points. That is to say, the broadcaster does not determine the precise number of people who receive a programme, network or channel, as opposed to cable, which has never before been referred to as broadcasting, because it is point-to-point. That is to say, the cable organisation knows exactly where the programme is going, because there is a direct connection between A and B, as opposed to what happens in
25 Oct 2010 : Column 30
terrestrial broadcasting, whether digital or otherwise. That is why the Communications Act 2003 has separate provisions for broadcasting and cable. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that when he says "broadcast" he does not just mean broadcasting, but includes cable and the provision of any such programme via any other means.

I ask that because subsection (c) refers explicitly to

I do not understand why subsection (b) refers to a broadcast-as opposed to either a programme provided by the two organisations listed or one included in any service provided by them-and it contrasts with how subsection (c) has been constructed. In addition, there is an issue relating to the provision of party political broadcasts, because there will be a different level of provision of party election broadcasts in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, as a result of the elections being held there, from that provided in England during the run-up to the referendum and the short campaign for those elections. I suppose that any of the political parties in those areas could decide that it wanted to major on the alternative vote provisions and the referendum in its party election broadcast, and therefore might be considered to be in conflict with the provisions under the terms of the 2000 Act or the Broadcasting Act 1990.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): A party might indeed consider doing that, but would the hon. Gentleman concede that the political reality of the situation is that most parties and combatants in the Scottish and Welsh elections will have better things to do than consider the AV referendum? That further underlines the folly of holding the referendum on the same day as those elections, thereby not giving the issue its proper space in those territories.

Chris Bryant: Indeed. Many of the provisions that we will talk about in the main debate this afternoon relate to the combining of polls, but this is the only point in the debate on the Bill when there can be any discussion about party election broadcasts, because this is the only point in the Bill that they are referred to. All the other elements-how many registers of electors there should be, what colour the ballot papers should be, how many polling cards there should be and so on-are referred to in the new schedules that we will come to a little later, but not broadcasting, which is a reserved responsibility.

The Broadcasting Act 1990 makes it clear that

In addition, we specified in section 127 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 that

25 Oct 2010 : Column 31
4 pm

It is my contention that this provides us with a degree of uncertainty about what should happen during the process of the combined elections, particularly in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but also in England, in relation to party election broadcasts and referendum broadcasts. This will be the first time that broadcasters have had to deal with this set of coincidences-or rather, not coincidences, but this deliberate combination. There is a danger that, if political parties are obsessing too much about the referendum, many voters will worry that there will be an excess of referendum and party political broadcasts next year. Certainly in Wales, we will probably have them from the beginning of February all the way through to May. Some people might think that one party election broadcast a year is enough; I am sure that most of our voters do.

The real danger is that there will be conflict between the different kinds of party election and referendum broadcasts, but the argument can also go the other way. If, for example, all the people who appeared in a television broadcast during the AV referendum campaign in Wales were from the Labour party, people might contend that the broadcast in question was not a referendum broadcast but a party election broadcast on behalf of the Labour party. I very much hope that the Government will be able to clear up some of these problems.

In the Communications Act 2003, section 333-which is halfway to 666-requires Ofcom to ensure that party political broadcasts, including those for referendum campaigns, are covered by UK regional ITV, Channel 4, Five, Classic FM, talkSPORT and Virgin 1215 services. Obviously, the BBC is separately obliged to cover the broadcasts under the rules set out in its charter and governed by the BBC Trust. I presume that no elements of that are going to be changed by the announcements that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport made last week. The 2003 Act also requires S4C to cover election and referendum broadcasts, but places regulatory responsibility with the Assembly, not Ofcom.

That brings me to another subset of the problem, which is that I am not sure whether there has been explicit consultation with the Assembly on the provision of party election and referendum broadcasts in the run-up to next May. I hope that the Minister will be able to place in the Library of the House all the correspondence that he has had with Ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on the combination of polls, on the elements that I have raised in relation to the new clause, and on the statutory instruments, which I understand have not yet been tabled, but which the Leader of the House wrote to some of us last week to say would be tabled very soon. I do not think that they have been seen yet, however. I would be grateful if the Minister could answer some of those questions, and lay in the Library of the House all his correspondence with Ministers in the devolved Administrations relating to these issues.

25 Oct 2010 : Column 32

Mr Mark Field: I agree with what the Government are trying to do in new clause 19; they have taken on board some of the concerns expressed by the Select Committee. However, I want to ask the Minister a question about the increasingly important influence of the new media. Does he not feel-I appreciate it will not apply to this particular referendum-that much of our legislation, particularly that dealing with media comment, is now ripe for a much more radical overhaul? This could be the first referendum in which we see a significant amount of money being spent by online providers trying to put their message across-in both the English and the Welsh language, I suspect-on this issue. Much of the legislation already in place looks more towards 20th-century and perhaps even, in some cases, 19th-century media. Much of the new media will have a greater impact-not just through blogs, but through a whole range of forums coming under the auspices of existing magazines and periodicals-so I would like to know what indications the Government have had about the likely costs and whether they will count towards the amount of election expenditure.

It strikes me that we are now living in a much-changed world. Younger voters in particular are less likely to look at newspapers, periodicals or even the television as the most important mechanism for getting comment on political and other related matters. There is concern that a great deal of our legislation requires a much more radical overhaul than people appear to have in mind. Given the context of where we are today, however, the new clause provides a sensible way forward, taking into account many of the concerns expressed by the all-party group.

Mr Harper: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) for raising a number of questions. Let me step back a little and explain why we tabled the new clause.

The problem arises from the definition of the word "material" in schedule 13 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The reason for the concern -some media organisations were worried-is that there was some ambiguity about the meaning. We think "material" means leaflets and other campaigning items, but we decided to fix any ambiguity.

The hon. Member for Rhondda asked me why we prefer our new clause to the amendment that the Committee had tabled. That amendment changed section 117 of the 2000 Act, with the effect that media costs were still categorised as referendum expenses within the regulatory regime. The amendment further specified that although these were referendum expenses, there was no need for individual bodies to be permitted participants if they wanted to spend more than that. That might not have been the Committee's intention, but that is how we thought it would work. By comparison, our amendment simply says that those media costs are not referendum expenses at all, so they are not subject to the regulatory regime set down by the Act. We think that that provides a more direct and less confusing approach than the Committee set out in its amendment. Our new clause has the same spirit and purpose, but we prefer it, as I have explained.

The hon. Member for Rhondda asked a number of questions. As to the definition and use of language, our approach is to use the equivalent provisions in the
25 Oct 2010 : Column 33
PPRA that regulate third-party activity in elections, which have been in place since 2000. The commission responsible for regulating the provisions is happy with how it has been defined and will issue some guidance setting out the case in a little more detail. As I have learned, it is not terribly helpful-to use a ghastly phrase-to have undue specificity on the face of the Bill, whereby every single possible definition of a media outlet is set out. If that is done, but one possible meaning is not captured by the definitions, it makes it easy for a person to argue that they are not covered. Having a broader definition, about which the commission can issue guidance, is much more likely to hold up legally, particularly when it comes to some of the new media to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster has rightly drawn our attention.

I shall come to my hon. Friend's point about the future in a moment, but we have followed the approach in the PPRA and made it explicit that, in the case of this particular referendum, the regulations will be the same as those applying to third-party activity in elections. I think that, because the referendum and the elections are to take place on the same day, it is important for us to apply the same regime to both.

Chris Bryant: The Minister is talking complete sense, but I should like to be absolutely certain about what constitutes "a newspaper or periodical", notwithstanding the issue of the convergence of a number of different media. There is a clear definition in the 2000 Act; perhaps he could give it to us.

Mr Harper: We have simply replicated the provision in the PPRA. I do not have it in front of me, but I should be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about it later.

Chris Bryant: I understand that. My point is that I am not sure that there is a definition in law of "newspaper or periodical", and I think that it is about time we had one. Definitions appeared in legislation in 1881 and 1952, but they conflict with each other.

Mr Harper: As I think I made clear in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, it is much better to leave such definitions to case law, which can evolve over time. If they are defined too tightly in statute law, and then new media appear and changes take place in the way in which the media are produced, we shall find that we must continually update primary legislation in order to keep up with the changes. The hon. Gentleman put his finger on it when he referred to those older definitions and the fact that they have changed. It is better to set a wider definition. The commission can issue guidance, and if problems arise, the courts can interpret the definitions in the light of changes in the way in which media organisations work, and changes in technology. That way of proceeding will produce a tighter definition than trying to include too much detail in primary legislation, which will then become out of date.

The hon. Gentleman asked about our use of the words "broadcast" and "programme". Again, we wanted the clause to be consistent with the third-party expenditure
25 Oct 2010 : Column 34
provisions in the PPRA, and also with the parent terms in the Broadcasting Act 1996, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We did not want to open up gaps enabling people to argue that the words did not mean what they had in those original pieces of legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster referred to new media and changes in communication and technology, particularly in the context of the internet, e-mail and similar techniques. Because this will be the first United Kingdom-wide referendum to use the framework in the PPRA, one of the commitments that the Government have given to the Lords Constitution Committee, which has prepared a report on referendums, is that once it has taken place we will review the way in which it has operated, in order to establish whether we should make any legislative changes-changes in the framework, not just in specific referendums.

As my hon. Friend will know, the coalition Government are committed to introducing more referendums on both European and local matters. We now have a good opportunity to review the working of the system and to establish what practical changes are needed, given that there are likely to be more referendums in the future.

Chris Bryant: I thought that there would only be more referendums on European matters if treaties were proposed that would take powers away, but that is-I hope-a debate for another day.

I am still somewhat perplexed about the Minister's understanding of "broadcast" and "programme". I recognise that there are parallels in other legislation, but the concept of what constitutes the expense is material in this context. Is it the expense of making the referendum broadcast, which might include the cost of filming and so forth, or is it the expense of broadcasting the programme?

Mr Harper: I have not yet dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point about party election broadcasts and referendum broadcasts.

On the issue of election broadcasts as against referendum broadcasts, it will be for the Electoral Commission to address the matter of referendum broadcasts with the yes and no campaigns once they have been designated. I listened very carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Rhondda about the differences between the rules for party election broadcasts and for referendum broadcasts and the provisions on them, and I thought-if I may say so as he was very courteous about me-that he explained them very clearly. On his specific point about the rules in respect of combination and what correspondence there was on that with Ministers in devolved Governments, as he will know, Ministers in devolved Governments are not responsible for the administration of elections. At present, that is the responsibility of the three territorial Secretaries of State and my officials and I have been discussing these matters with them. The hon. Gentleman will also know that the Calman proposals include recommendations to devolve the administration of elections in Scotland to the Scottish Government, but that has not yet taken place.

4.15 pm

Chris Bryant: So there has been absolutely no consultation with the Administrations in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland about the combining of polls, the statutory
25 Oct 2010 : Column 35
instruments that are to be laid later this week, or the referendum broadcasts, which in Wales are the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly not Ofcom?

Mr Harper: No, that is not what I said. The hon. Gentleman asked about what correspondence I had had on administering the elections, and I was just making the point that that is not the responsibility of Ministers in the devolved Administrations. There has, of course, been some contact, however. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has had discussions with the First Minister about, for example, the combination and whether the Welsh Assembly Government wanted to move the date of their election. They made it very clear that they did not. The hon. Gentleman will also know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has also had such conversations. Furthermore, I forwarded copies of the letter I sent to the hon. Gentleman and other Members explaining how we were going to lay the new clause and new schedules on combination that we will debate today not only to Ministers in the devolved Administrations but to the leaders of each of the parties represented in all three devolved bodies-the Parliament and the two Assemblies-in order to keep them informed. That is a perfectly reasonable way to conduct our business, and it is properly respectful of those nations.

Chris Bryant: Except that it is not much of a consultation if the Secretary of State for Wales goes to the First Minister in Wales and says, "The referendum is going to be held on the date of your Assembly elections. Do you want to move your Assembly elections?" That is a pretty rum sort of consultation-more a case of holding a gun to the other side's head than a proper consultation.

Mr Harper: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is characterising that in a sensible fashion. This is a national referendum to be held in the United Kingdom, and it is a reserved matter for the UK Government to decide upon. When this whole issue arose and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made a statement to the House, some Members asked what consultation had taken place and he made it clear that this is a matter for the UK Government and that it was right that this House heard the announcement first, before any conversations took place with the devolved Administrations. I do not think that is disrespectful; rather, it is properly respectful of the rights of this House.

Mr MacNeil: Does this not highlight that when devolution was established by the then Labour Government, they were trying too hard to hold on to power and they should instead have been a bit more relaxed and allowed the devolved Assemblies or Parliaments a bit more power over the governance of their own elections? That is not rocket science.

Mr Harper: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. In my response to the hon. Member for Rhondda, I set out what the arrangements are now for the administration of elections. One of the things that has been discussed as part of the Calman proposals is the suggestion to devolve the administration of elections to the Scottish Government. I hope that we can take that forward, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Na
25 Oct 2010 : Column 36
h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) would welcome it. I think that I have run through the issues raised by the hon. Member for Rhondda and by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster. He is no longer in his place and that demonstrates that his questions have been adequately answered.

Chris Bryant: It does not follow.

Mr Harper: I think that in this particular case it does follow. It might not follow if the hon. Gentleman left his place, but I think that my hon. Friend has left the Chamber because he was satisfied. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to support the new clause.

Question put and agreed to .

New clause 19 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 20

Combination of polls

'(1) Where the date of the poll for one or more of the following is the same as the date of the poll for the referendum, the polls are to be taken together-

(a) a local authority election in England;

(b) a local referendum in England;

(c) a mayoral election in England.

(2) The polls for the referendum and the Welsh Assembly general election in 2011 are to be taken together.

(3) The polls for the referendum and the Scottish parliamentary general election in 2011 are to be taken together.

(4) Where the date of the poll for one or more of the following is the same as the date of the poll for the referendum, the polls are to be taken together-

(a) a Northern Ireland Assembly Election;

(b) a Northern Ireland local election.

(5) The following have effect-

Schedule [Combination of polls: England], in relation to the polls to be taken together in England under subsection (1);

Schedule [Combination of polls: Wales], in relation to the polls to be taken together in Wales under subsection (2);

Schedule [Combination of polls: Scotland], in relation to the polls to be taken together in Scotland under subsection (3);

Schedule [Combination of polls: Northern Ireland], in relation to the polls to be taken together in Northern Ireland under subsection (4).

(6) Polls taken together under this section must not be taken together with any other polls (despite provision in any enactment to the contrary).

(7) Section 16 of the Representation of the People Act 1985 (postponement of poll at parish elections etc) does not apply to any polls taken together under subsection (1).

(8) In this section-

"local authority election in England" means the election of a councillor of any of the following- a county council in England; a district council in England; a London borough council; a parish council;

(a) a county council in England;(b) a district council in England;(c) a London borough council;(d) a parish council;

"local referendum in England" means a referendum held in England under Part 2 of the Local Government Act 2000;

25 Oct 2010 : Column 37

"mayoral election in England" means an election in England for the return of an elected mayor as defined by section 39(1) of the Local Government Act 2000;

"Northern Ireland Assembly election" means an election to the Northern Ireland Assembly;

"Northern Ireland local election" means a local election as defined by section 130(1) of the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962;

"Scottish parliamentary general election" means an ordinary election under section 2 of the Scotland Act 1998;

"Welsh Assembly general election" means an ordinary election under section 3 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.'.- (Mr Harper.)

Brought up, and read the First time .

Mr Harper: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a) to new clause 20, leave out subsection (1) and insert-

(1) Where the date of the poll for a local authority election in England is the same as the date of the poll for the referendum, the polls are to be taken together.'.

Amendment (b) to new clause 20, leave out subsection (4) and insert-

(4) Where the date of the poll for a Northern Ireland Assembly Election is the same as the date of the poll for the referendum, the polls are to be taken together.'.

Amendment (c) to new clause 20, in subsection (8), leave out from '"local referendum in England"' to the second "Local Government Act 2000;"

Amendment (d) to new clause 20, in subsection (8), leave out from '"Northern Ireland local election"' to "Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962".

Government new schedule 2- Combination of polls: England .

Amendment (a) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 11, in sub-paragraph (1) leave out '15th' and insert '28th'.

Amendment (b) to new schedule 2, after paragraph 12, insert-

Amendment (c) to new schedule 2, leave out paragraph 15 and insert-

Amendment (d) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 17, leave out sub-paragraph (1) and insert-

25 Oct 2010 : Column 38

Amendment (e) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 18, leave out sub-paragraph (1) and (2) and insert-

(a) the referendum or relevant election to which it relates, and

(b) the colour of ballot papers that should be placed in it.'.

Amendment (g) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 27, in sub-paragraph (1), leave out

and insert

Amendment (h) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 27, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) to (4).

Amendment (i) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 40, at the end of sub-paragraph (3) insert

(c) the person is a Member of Parliament.'.

Amendment (j) to new schedule 2, after paragraph 43 insert-

(a) the respective elections to the Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales devolved administrations, and

(b) local council elections in each part of the United Kingdom.'.

Amendment (k) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 44, at the end of sub-paragraph (1), at end of sub-sub-paragraph (a) insert

Amendment (l) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 44, at the end of sub-paragraph (1), at end of sub-sub-paragraph (b) insert

Amendment (m) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 44, at the end of sub-paragraph (3), at end of sub-sub-paragraph (a) insert

Amendment (n) to new schedule 2, in paragraph 44, at the end of sub-paragraph (3), at end of sub-sub-paragraph (b) insert

Amendment (o) to new schedule 2, in Part 2, in the second column, in the entry relating to Regulation 71, leave out 'eleventh' and insert 'fifteenth'.

Government new schedule 3- Combination of polls: Wales.

Amendment (a) to new schedule 3, in paragraph 15, leave out sub-paragraph (1) and insert-

Amendment (b) to new schedule 3, in paragraph 17, leave out sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) and insert-

25 Oct 2010 : Column 39

Amendment (c) to new schedule 3, leave out paragraph 18 and insert-

Amendment (e) to new schedule 3, in paragraph 45, at the end of sub-paragraph (3) insert

Amendment (f) to new schedule 3, in paragraph 47, in sub-paragraph (1)(d), leave out 'separate' and insert 'keep separate throughout'.

Amendment (g) to new schedule 3, in paragraph 49, sub-paragraph (1), at the end of sub-sub-paragraph (a) insert

Amendment (h) to new schedule 3, in paragraph 49, at the end of sub-paragraph (1), at end of sub-sub-paragraph (b) insert

Amendment (i) to new schedule 3, in paragraph 49, at the end of sub-paragraph (3), at end of sub-sub-paragraph (a) insert

Amendment (j) to new schedule 3, in paragraph 49, at the end of sub-paragraph (3), at end of sub-sub-paragraph (b) insert

Government new schedule 4- Combination of polls: Scotland .

Amendment (a) to new schedule 4, paragraph 15, leave out sub-paragraph (1) and insert-

"(1) The official poll cards used for the referendum and for the Scottish parliamentary election must be combined for all electors qualified to vote in all the polls.'.

Amendment (b) to new schedule 4, paragraph 17, leave out sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) and insert-

"(1) Separate ballot boxes must be used for the referendum to that used for the Scottish parliamentary elections.

(2) Each ballot box must be marked to show-

(a) the referendum or parliamentary election to which it relates, and

(b) the colour of ballot papers that should be placed in it.'.

Amendment (c) to new schedule 4, leave out paragraph 18 and insert-

"18 (1) The Chief Counting Officer shall select the colour of the ballot paper used for the referendum.

(2) The ballot papers used for constituency or regional ballots shall be of a different colour from that selected by the Chief Counting Officer.'.

Amendment (e) to new schedule 4, in paragraph 42, at the end of sub-paragraph (3) insert


(c) the person is a Member of Parliament.'.

Amendment (f) to new schedule 4, in paragraph 46, in sub-paragraph (1)(d), leave out 'separate' and insert 'keep separate throughout.'.

Amendment (g) to new schedule 4, in paragraph 48, at the end of sub-paragraph (1) (a)insert

'containing ballot papers for the referendum vote.'.
Next Section Index Home Page