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House of Commons

Thursday 24 November 2011

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before questions

New Writ


That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough constituency of Feltham and Heston in the room of Alan Keen, deceased.— (Ms Winterton.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Common Agricultural Policy

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What recent steps she has taken on reform of the common agricultural policy. [82269]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Having just heard the writ being moved, I am sure it would be the right thing to do to express our condolences to Alan Keen’s wife, Ann, whom we all remember, on behalf of the whole House.

The Government have commenced negotiations on the CAP reform proposals, which the Commission published on 12 October and which, for the first time, require the co-decision of the European Parliament. I recently met Agriculture Commissioner Ciolos, together with the Agriculture Ministers for the devolved Administrations, to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom are taken into account.

Mr Bone: Our net contribution to the European Union in the last five years of the Labour Government was £19 billion, and in the next five years of this coalition Government it will be £41 billion—an increase of 116%, because Tony Blair gave away Mrs Thatcher’s EU rebate. At the time, he said that our net contribution would not increase because the European Union had promised massive reform of the CAP. Who was lying, Tony Blair or the European Union?

Mrs Spelman: That is precisely why the UK Government have expressed their disappointment that the proposed CAP reforms lack ambition. Although the commissioner correctly identifies food security and climate change as the two key challenges that agriculture faces, I regret that the proposals do not really address the great challenge.

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Therefore, we will seek to improve them to get the best possible outcome for taxpayers, consumers and farmers alike.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): The Secretary of State will recall that that great European, Socrates, said that a politician who does not know the price of a bushel of wheat should not be in the job. If we got rid of the CAP, we would have to have a BAP—a British agricultural policy. Knowing our farming community—a landowning community—and its control of top Tories, I suggest that the BAP would be far more expensive than the CAP.

Mrs Spelman: I think we are speculating wildly about the future of Europe. My job is to concentrate on getting an improvement in the reforms. It is important to appreciate that the underlying objective of the CAP is to provide good-quality food at a reasonable price. My Department is committed in its business plan priorities to producing more food sustainably, precisely to achieve that objective.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that a primary objective must be a move from market-distorting production supports to supporting public goods, such as the environment and amenity. How much progress does she believe the CAP reforms are making in that direction? How do we ensure that that general direction of progress can be accelerated?

Mrs Spelman: That is a helpful question, as it enables me to share with the House the fact that we are on a journey with these proposals. We welcome the fact that the Commission wants to “green” the CAP. Taxpayers have every right to expect other public goods for the subsidy they provide. We feel that the “greening” proposals also lack ambition, and we want proper recognition of the fact that UK farmers go a lot further than those in a lot of other member states in providing stewardship schemes that make a real difference and provide environmental benefits that address problems such as the demise of species.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): There is much talk of returning powers from Brussels to this Parliament and the British Government. Would the CAP not be a good policy to bring back to Britain? Could we not subsidise British farmers, even at the current levels, and save billions of pounds from our budget every year?

Mrs Spelman: The nature of the supplementary questions is ranging much wider than the remit of my Department. As I have said, my job at each one of these Council meetings is to get the best possible deal for consumers, taxpayers and farmers in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. That is my duty.

Dangerous Dogs

2. Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the consultation on dangerous dogs. [82270]

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The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): My noble. Friend Lord Taylor, who leads on the subject of dangerous dogs in DEFRA, has been working alongside Lord Henley at the Home Office to see how the proposed antisocial behaviour measures can be best applied to such behaviour relating to dogs. DEFRA has also been developing proposals on reducing dog attacks and promoting more responsible dog ownership. This is now at an advanced stage and, subject to ministerial clearance, we will be able to make an announcement early in the new year.

Michael Connarty: That is a very helpful reply, because while the Government have been divided on this matter—DEFRA and the Home Office share this responsibility—and dithering, quite frankly, yet another very serious attack on a postman has been reported by the Communication Workers Union. Someone nearly lost most of the fingers on one hand in an attack by a dog, which was clearly vicious, in a private property. We need to deal with that problem quickly because members of the postal services who go into private property must be protected from people who keep vicious dogs.

Mr Paice: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The issue of dangerous dogs on private land is very important and it is one of the issues we are discussing closely with the Home Office because, as he will know, it would require amendment to primary legislation.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): Further to that reply, one of the consequences of the dangerous dogs debate has been the stigmatisation of an entire breed, the Staffordshire bull terrier, which makes up a huge percentage of the abandoned dogs that Battersea Dogs and Cats Home takes in and a vast bulk of those that are hard to rehome. Yesterday, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home launched a campaign in Parliament to reclaim the good name of the Staffordshire bull terrier. May I invite the Minister to endorse that campaign?

Mr Paice: Yes, I am happy to endorse that campaign, having been brought up as a child with bull terriers, as my parents had them—[ Interruption. ] I said “with”, not “by”. I entirely accept my hon. Friend’s contention that the vast majority of that breed are perfectly harmless.

Mr Speaker: Much has now been explained. We are very grateful to the Minister.

Carbon Emissions

3. Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on the introduction of mandatory reporting of carbon emissions by businesses. [82271]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I have had recent discussions with ministerial colleagues on the issue and I know that there is a lot of interest in it. There is an appetite in Government for it but, as the House will be aware, any policy has to undergo an impact assessment, which we are in the process of clearing.

Sheila Gilmore: There are only four months until the Government are obliged either to introduce carbon reporting or to explain why they have not. When the

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Members who previously sat on the Opposition Front Bench supported the proposal, they said that it would help economic growth. Why, in the present economic crisis, is it not being pursued more vigorously?

Mrs Spelman: Two things have emerged. We had more than 2,000 replies to the consultation, which showed that carbon is reported in very different ways. One challenge is to find a way in which it can be reported meaningfully so that investors know which company to invest in, because they understand the information they receive. Secondly, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is consulting on the content of company accounts—narrative reporting, as it is known. We need to synchronise the issue because carbon reporting would be in a set of company accounts. I perfectly understand the requirements of the Climate Change Act 2008 in that regard.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Climate change is the biggest market failure the world has seen and the Secretary of State’s decision on whether to introduce carbon reporting to correct the failure is imminent. That decision is a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to create green growth and drive the development of low-carbon products and services across UK plc. With youth unemployment at record levels and mandatory reporting supported by Britain’s largest employers, how many jobs does she estimate would be created in the UK’s green economy if it was introduced?

Mrs Spelman: The hon. Lady shares entirely with me an appreciation of how important it is that we make progress in that area. She will have seen how the coalition Government have committed to challenging targets in order to change our economy to a low-carbon basis. In the spirit of being on the same page on this matter, I can say that I am keen to do what I can to transition the economy in that regard. On this specific question, however, I hope that the hon. Lady will appreciate that, as I said in my reply to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), we need to synchronise carbon reporting in a way that investors can understand. At the moment, there are different requirements on companies to report in different ways. We need a meaningful measure of carbon reporting in the spirit of achieving that low-carbon economy.

Mary Creagh: The Secretary of State signally failed to answer my question. There is no estimate in the impact assessment of the number of jobs that the new products and services would create. When the global recession struck in 2008, Labour’s future jobs fund created green jobs for young people in wildlife trusts, country parks and green charities across the country, but they are now on the dole. Carbon reporting will help us to move to the low-carbon economy. When did she last sit down with the Chancellor, one to one, to discuss the autumn statement that he will make on Tuesday and how DEFRA will play its part in creating the conditions for green jobs and growth to tackle the crisis?

Mrs Spelman: I do not think it is my job to share in advance with the hon. Lady the content of the autumn Budget statement. As I just said, I share with her the clear vision about opportunities to create jobs if our

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economy is transitioned into a low-carbon economy. If her party felt so passionately about that, why did it not proceed with what she now claims we should be doing during its 13 years in office?

Common Fisheries Policy

4. Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with her EU counterparts on reform of the common fisheries policy. [82272]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): As the UK fisheries Minister, I continue to have discussions about reform of the common fisheries policy with a wide range of people and organisations. They include the EU Commission, Members of the UK and European Parliaments and ministerial colleagues of other member states, as well as representatives of our fishing and related industries. I will continue to press our case for reform as negotiations develop in the Council and European Parliament.

Amber Rudd: I thank the Minister for that answer. His and the Government’s commitment to sustainable fisheries and sustainable fishing communities is well known and much appreciated. Is he aware of the real anxiety, shock and growing opposition from the smaller fisherman community to the transferable fishing concessions being proposed, given that this has been so damaging to smaller communities?

Richard Benyon: The fish in our seas are a national resource and what we are talking about, in the reform of this failed policy, is getting a fairer system for the allocation of that resource. Transferable fishing concessions in other countries are sometimes a lever towards better conservation, but I reassure my hon. Friend and fishermen in her constituency that we are not happy with the proposal that has been made thus far. We think it requires much more detail and there are certain elements of it to which we are opposed. We will keep her and the House informed at every stage.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Will the Minister accept that, however the common fisheries policy is reformed, the biggest threat to fish stocks in our waters and internationally is unsustainable commercial fishing? Given that, what is he doing to ensure that all public procurement of fish in this country, including by this place, is from sustainable sources?

Richard Benyon: I am pleased to report, if the right hon. Gentleman has not heard, that the Government are announcing Government buying standards at the highest level, commensurate with the Olympic standard, which is considered to be the relevant level of sustainability. Across Government, we will procure fish only from sustainable sources.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Will my ministerial Friend agree that one of the most exciting aspects of the proposed reforms is regional control? Will he strain every sinew to ensure that we end the exclusive competence of the EU in this regard and allow regional fisheries to control their own waters?

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Richard Benyon: I entirely support the words of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have an opportunity to achieve something that we have failed to do for decades—a system that reflects local needs. It is absurd to have a common fisheries policy that from Brussels sets net sizes for fishing fleets around our coast. We have to have some form of regionalisation. We like the direction that the reforms are taking and we wish to see more detail in the coming weeks.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is it not remarkable that in the space of a quarter of an hour the Government, who are supposed to be blazing a trail for bringing back things from the common market and the European Union, have already eliminated the repatriation of the common agricultural policy and, according to what the Minister just said, fisheries is not on the agenda, either? Are we not being led up the garden path?

Richard Benyon: It is always nice to hear from the hon. Gentleman with his cheery disposition so early in the morning. He probably did not hear my reply to the previous question, in which I said that we are talking about the repatriation of controls whereby countries around a sea basin will have greater management of our fisheries. The wider question about whether we should have a common fisheries policy at all probably is not for this forum but is, perhaps, for a higher pay grade. He is welcome to take part in the frequent debates that we have in the House on this matter.

Electronic Training Aids (Cats)

5. Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): What her policy is on the use of electronic training aids for cats. [82273]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): DEFRA has neither commissioned nor evaluated any specific research on electronic training aids for cats. DEFRA is currently awaiting the publication and evaluation of recent research on the use of electronic training collars for dogs, before making any decisions on whether to introduce any proposals relating to those devices.

Natascha Engel: I thank the Minister for that answer, because 250,000 cats are killed on the roads every year. Containment fences and electronic devices help to keep cats safe, and they are completely different from the electronic collars used on dogs. Will he guarantee that, when his Department consults on banning the use of electronic collars, he will distinguish between cats and dogs and work closely with the group, Feline Friends, which is based in North East Derbyshire—my constituency?

Mr Paice: I think I can confirm to the hon. Lady’s satisfaction that we have no plans to do anything about training aids for cats. Indeed, the research on dogs that I referred to relates only to collars, not to what is known as the invisible fence. We therefore have no such proposals.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend explain why the Home Office has responsibility for dangerous dogs and he seems to have responsibility for domestic cats?

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Mr Paice: Well, it is probably because, as anyone who knows me will confirm, I am extremely soft and really just a pussycat myself.

Waste Review

7. Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the number of green jobs that will be created by implementation of the waste review. [82275]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Britain’s waste and recycling sector is valued at more than £12 billion, employs 120,000 to 150,000 people and is forecast to grow by between 3% and 5% per annum over the next seven years. The waste review set us on the path to a zero-waste economy. It will support the sector’s transition from focusing on disposal to landfill to the greater reuse, recycling and recovery of waste material.

Nick Smith: If the Secretary of State adopted a 70% recycling target, as the Welsh Assembly has, an extra 50,000 private sector jobs could be created over the next four or five years. Why does England have a lower recycling target than Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? It has the weakest targets in the UK.

Mrs Spelman: As I have explained before, targets in specific areas can play a role in achieving a zero-waste economy, but they can produce perverse consequences. I recently attended the Waste and Resources Action Programme conference, where it was clear that the waste industry feels that one of the things that has driven innovation and change is the landfill tax. There is no question but that the new capacity through new technology to recycle more materials is an engine of growth in the economy.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I should like to press the Secretary of State a little further on recycling, particularly on the recycling of packaging, because the Government have been too timid in their packaging recycling targets so far. We have been promised a consultation this year on more ambitious targets from 2013 onwards. We are nearly in December, so will she tell us when that will happen?

Mrs Spelman: I think that the hon. Lady would agree that the Courtauld commitment has helped, through voluntary agreements with different sectors of the economy, significantly to increase recycling targets. We have recently concluded new responsibility deals on packaging with the hospitality and catering sector. As part of that ongoing progress, I remain committed to the Courtauld process further extending into the community, and of course we will consult shortly on new opportunities as they arise.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): The incoherence of those two answers serves as testament to the fact that the waste review comes from a Department of missed opportunity. Put simply, green growth creates jobs. The economy is in dire straits. Growth has flatlined; confidence has tanked; and 1 million young people stand unemployed. My question is simple: what will the Secretary of State do about it?

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Mrs Spelman: The hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening to the fact that the waste industry is a bright star in the economy, with growth rates of 3% to 5% per annum. One of the reasons the industry is so successful is the constant stream of entrepreneurship and innovation, as we increasingly see waste as resource. There is continuous progress in this area, and I think that he would agree that the landfill tax has been an important regulatory driver in helping to encourage that innovation.

Animal Welfare

8. Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What discussions she has had with (a) her EU counterparts and (b) ministerial colleagues on the implementation of the welfare of laying hens directive. [82277]

12. Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): What discussions she has had with (a) her EU counterparts and (b) ministerial colleagues on the implementation of the welfare of laying hens directive. [82282]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): Discussions at EU level are ongoing, and the UK is fully engaged with the Commission, other member states and the devolved Administrations on finding a practical enforcement solution. We need to protect producers across the EU who will have complied with the ban from unfair competition from those who fail to comply.

Pauline Latham: I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he agree that the concerns of the United Kingdom are being heard because of early representations by this Government? Will he commit to doing the same for our pig farmers, who risk being disadvantaged in the same way by new animal welfare regulations due in 2013?

Mr Paice: I can confirm to my hon. Friend that it is over a year since we first told the Commission that it was quite obvious that a number of countries would not be able to comply in time. She is absolutely correct that this is a precursor to an even bigger welfare issue: the ban on sow stalls, which comes in on 1 January 2013. If we do not get it right this time, it does not bode very well for 2013.

Sarah Newton: Colin Carter’s Eggs in Perranwell has invested in high standards of hen welfare, and it is understandably concerned, as I am, that cheap eggs—in particular, processed or liquid eggs, which account for 25% of the market—are coming in from parts of the EU that do not have such high standards. What is my right hon. Friend doing to prevent that?

Mr Paice: As I said in my opening answer, discussions are still going on. There is a further meeting of officials in Brussels next week, and that really is the last chance for the EU to prove that it is serious about improving animal welfare and enforcing its regulations. If, as I fear, no solution comes about next week, I will make an announcement shortly on how we intend to protect our industry.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): My constituent Mr Tulip and his family have spent almost £8 million bringing their farm up to the EU directive level. If the

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meeting next week does not go well, will the considerations include banning eggs from countries that are acting illegally?

Mr Paice: I fully appreciate that UK producers have invested about £400 million in new systems, and they are entitled to expect others to do the same; that is perfectly reasonable. As for the measures that will be taken if we do not get anywhere in Europe—and I cannot claim much optimism on that front—I will make an announcement shortly. A ban has not been ruled out, but I am sure that the hon. Lady will appreciate that there are some pretty big legal issues here.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Given that the British egg industry has spent some £400 million on meeting the requirements of the EU directive, and countries such as Spain, Poland, France and Italy have done everything to avoid their obligations under the directive, should not the Minister say at the EU meeting that unless the Europeans put the right deal on the table, there will be a British unilateral ban to keep out illegal eggs from other EU countries?

Mr Paice: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Some 12 member states will not be in full compliance—some to a much greater degree than others—and he is right that Spain and Poland are among those 12. As I say, we have not ruled out a ban. It is important that the other countries—member states that, like us, will have complied, including most of the northern European countries—work together wherever possible to make sure that we have maximum impact when it comes to forcing compliance elsewhere.

Food Manufacturing

9. Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on (a) food prices and (b) support for British food manufacturing. [82278]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I have, in the normal course of business, discussed food prices and support for food manufacturing as part of the Government’s growth review, and we continue to work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and UK Trade & Investment to help boost growth, exports and efficiency in the whole food chain.

Catherine McKinnell: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Food manufacturing is very important to the north-east, especially to my constituency; firms such as Nestlé, Warburtons and Greggs play a really significant part in the local economy. What specific plans does her Department have, working alongside BIS, to support that vital sector, including through research and development and capital allowances, and by increasing exports, thereby helping to support tens of thousands of jobs in the north-east?

Mrs Spelman: All the firms that the hon. Lady mentions are household names, and indeed the food industry contributes more than £80 billion to the UK economy. As I have said, I have had representatives from the Food

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and Drink Federation and from agri-food businesses in the Department to ask them what we can do to help them remove barriers to growth in trade. I have very good news to report: for the seventh year in a row, UK exports of food and drink have risen.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Uplands are a vital source of food production in this country, and the Secretary of State will know that they are supported through the uplands entry level scheme. Does she share my concern that money from the scheme is often snaffled by absentee landlords, rather than going to the hard-working tenant farmers who produce the food?

Mrs Spelman: When we announced our £26 million uplands package, one of the things we said we would do is give priority to uplands farmers who want to take up entry level schemes. We specifically spoke about the need for landlords to back their tenant farmers who want to take advantage of the scheme.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Public procurement is a key way of supporting British food production and high food standards, yet the Department for Work and Pensions sources only 11% of its food from UK producers, DEFRA is failing on its own policy for sourcing sustainable fish and the new ethical standards for food served in public institutions were ridiculed in a report this week for being even weaker than those at McDonald’s. Will the Secretary of State please stop clowning around with food standards and UK food production jobs and at least try to keep up with Ronald McDonald?

Mrs Spelman: There is no question but that the Government, through procurement choices, can make a big difference to the food and drink industry, which is one of the reasons we set additional requirements on all Departments to buy to higher standards, including sustainable fish, when we announced the guidelines for Government buying standards in September. We do not yet have figures for the most recent month, and no doubt it will take time to adapt to the changes, but the point is that there is a commitment right across central Government to buy to the highest standards that we expect from British food producers.

Farm Administration

10. Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): What progress she has made in reducing the administrative burden of inspection and regulation on farmers. [82280]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): My hon. Friend and the House will know that the Government attach huge importance to the need to lift the burden of regulation while maintaining standards. On 3 November I announced the publication of the interim response to the independent farm regulation taskforce. We will publish a final response early next year.

Simon Hart: Does the Minister agree that this is all about trust and that, where possible, we should trust our farmers to self-regulate and impose statutory regulations only where absolutely necessary?

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Mr Paice: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am afraid that there appears to have been a view over the years that every farmer was a potential criminal, and farmers felt very disillusioned about that. We believe that the vast majority want to comply with regulations and can be trusted to do so, which is why we are looking at earned recognition so that we can concentrate our resources on the small minority who might not comply.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): The Minister will be aware of some initial concerns about additional administrative costs for the farming community following the introduction of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which has proved to be really effective and has been welcomed by farmers. Will he assure the House that there are no plans to change how the agency operates or how it is funded?

Mr Paice: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. The GLA was set up after the tragic events at Morecambe bay and, to the best of my recollection, was supported by all parties in the House. That work is still extremely important. Discussions are taking place within Government on whether DEFRA is the right place for the GLA, so I cannot give the undertakings he is perhaps demanding, but the existence and purpose of the GLA is absolutely right and will be maintained.

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): Suffolk farmers expect this Government to reduce red tape. On the May report of the regulation taskforce, will the Minister tell us what the compliance cost saving will be if his Department delivers all 200 cuts in bureaucratic processes?

Mr Paice: I am afraid I cannot give my hon. Friend a figure at this stage because we are still developing our final response. We are going through all 214 recommendations and are determined to be bold and ambitious, as we were urged to be by Richard Mcdonald. Much of the cost to farmers is the result not of complying with regulations, but of the bureaucratic burden of the process of complying, and that is what we are trying to address.

Endangered Species

11. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): What steps she is taking to curb the hunting of endangered species. [82281]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): No native endangered species can be legally hunted in England. Although we cannot intervene directly in legal hunts of endangered species allowed by foreign Governments, the UK pushes for international co-operation through the convention on international trade in endangered species—CITES—in order to ensure that any trade in endangered species is sustainable. The UK also strongly supports the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling.

Kerry McCarthy: Will the Minister therefore join me in condemning the trophy hunting of endangered and vulnerable species such as that carried out by the millionaire banker and Tory donor, Sir David Scholey, who was

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pictured in

The Sun

recently, posing by the bloody corpse of a lion under the headline “Who’s the bigger beast?”? Does the Minister condemn that?

Richard Benyon: We recently had a debate in Westminster Hall about lion trophies and importation to the UK. There are certain areas of Africa where lion populations give real cause for concern, and we are working through colleagues in CITES to ensure that the concerns in that debate and throughout the House are raised. Yes, I will condemn any hunting of an endangered species, for whatever reason, if it puts that species at risk, and this Government have responsibility for—

Mr Speaker: We are ever so grateful to the Minister.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Does the Minister not agree that one of the best ways to prevent the illegal hunting of endangered species overseas is ever tougher controls on the illegal import of bush meat to the UK? What is he going to do to take that forward?

Richard Benyon: We are very concerned about bush meat and importation, and that is why we have protected funding for the work taking place at ports and airports, and for the expertise that we have, on the matter. There is also a very good case, which we have made in Britain, for being much stronger on the export or import of rhino horn which, as we know, is putting that species at very severe risk of extinction.

Topical Questions

T1. [82289] Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): My Department takes responsibility for safeguarding the environment, supporting farmers and strengthening the green economy. In that context, I will attend important climate change negotiations in Durban next week. The items on the agenda include sustainable agriculture, as well as the protection of international forestry. In addition, I will have a series of bilateral discussions as part of the preparations for Rio plus 20, on which I will lead, and, of course, update the House on my return.

Mr Hollobone: Farmers in the Kettering constituency continue to complain about the difficulties that they encounter in obtaining their single farm payment, especially where there have been changes to farm boundaries. I know that much has been done to sort out the Rural Payments Agency, but what more can be done to sort out that wretched organisation?

Mrs Spelman: As I am sure the whole House is aware, the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice) has been working hard to improve the performance of the Rural Payments Agency, and there is indeed a strategic improvement plan to help achieve that. The target was met in June for payments, and we are making good progress towards achieving the target that is required to be met by the end of this year.

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T2. [82290] Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside is concerned about the future funding of higher-level stewardship on the west Pennine moors and the Red Moss site of special scientific interest, which are both in my constituency. What assurance can the Secretary of State give that she will secure funding and not be out-negotiated by the French, or by the Treasury?

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question, because we are very conscious that the uncertainties of the EU proposals on common agricultural policy reform are causing some landowners and farmers to worry about their stewardship payments. May I, though her and the House, assure everybody involved that the Government are determined to continue with our stewardship schemes, both higher level and entry level, and will do everything in our power to ensure that that happens? We are at an early stage of the negotiations, but we are determined that somehow—either through a transfer of money from pillar one to pillar two, or perhaps through the greening element of pillar one—we shall maintain those excellent schemes.

T6. [82295] Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with Latin American colleagues to prepare for the forthcoming international conferences in Durban and Rio?

Mrs Spelman: I have had two in particular. I met Brazil’s Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, during negotiations in Nagoya, and as Brazil is the host nation I went down there to help the Brazilians with preparations for Rio plus 20 next year, and most recently, as the House will be well aware, we had a visit from the Colombian President and the Environment Minister, Frank Pearl, whom I met at the Department with a proposal for sustainable development goals, to which we have given our support in principle.

T3. [82291] Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): When the Government’s long overdue water White Paper finally comes out, will the Secretary of State confirm that small businesses, not fat cat water utilities, will be at the centre of deregulation?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): The water White Paper will be published in the next few weeks. It will set out a way forward for the water industry that will encourage new entrants.

T9. [82298] Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Currently we pay our farmers not to grow crops, but at the same time the world population is growing, and half the world is in need of food. What will my right hon. Friend do to end that scandal, so that our farmers can get back to what they do best: growing crops for this country and for the rest of the world?

Mr Paice: I hesitate to challenge my hon. Friend, but that waste stopped four or five years ago. We no longer have set-aside. The worry now is the Commission’s proposal effectively to reintroduce a 7% set-aside as

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part of the ecological focus areas that the Commissioner proposes. We do not believe that that is the right way forward. We have to produce more food, but we must do so sustainably. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we are sorry that the proposals, so far, do not meet that challenge.

T5. [82294] Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): May I draw the Minister’s attention to early-day motion 2273 in my name, which has attracted more than 60 signatures from Members of all sides of the House and calls for the implementation of mandatory CCTV in UK slaughterhouses? It is disturbing that around 90% of cases of animal cruelty in UK slaughterhouses do not result in a successful prosecution. Will the Minister consider introducing a pilot scheme to trial such an approach?

Mr Paice: Animal Aid believes that around 70% of slaughterhouses already have CCTV. Regarding the recent, quite proper, furore over cruelty to pigs at what was then called Cheale Meats, it is important to point out that CCTV cameras were there—albeit perhaps pointed in the wrong direction—so they are not the final panacea that some people believe them to be. Nevertheless, we are considering them as part of a wider-ranging package to ensure that there is no cruelty to animals in those last few moments of their lives.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Does the welfare of laying hens directive present an opportunity for us to support our farmers and food producers through country of origin labelling and information on compliance suppliers and sources of egg? Will the Minister have discussions with supermarkets and other retailers on egg products, liquid and powder egg, and prepared foods, so that it is easy to buy good eggs?

Mr Paice: I can assure my hon. Friend that I have had such discussions and will continue to have them. I can assure the House that overall, the supermarkets, and indeed much of the processing sector, are determined to comply with the spirit of the legislation and procure egg and egg product only from compliant cages. As I said, I may well make a further statement shortly.

T7. [82296] John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The Minister has consistently said that the review of the common fisheries policy is a golden opportunity, and he has said the same again today. Will he therefore make a promise to the House that the British fishing fleet will be larger at the next election than it was at the beginning of this Parliament?

Richard Benyon: That would depend on there being more fish to catch. What we seek to achieve through a proper reform is conservation measures that we can manage much closer to home, which can lead to a recovery in fish stocks and therefore an increased opportunity for our fishing fleet. I want to see a reform of common fisheries policy that means that the sons and grandsons of fishermen can see a future, because they cannot at the moment.

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Mandatory greening under new CAP reform proposals would remove a fifth of land on higher level stewardship farms from

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food production. What representations has the Secretary of State made to the EU Agriculture Commissioner about the damaging impact that that would have on food security in this country?

Mr Paice: My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about that. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we met the Commissioner only 10 days ago and impressed on him the fact that the proposals were not in accordance with the challenges of global food demands in the coming years. I can assure him that we are not a lone voice. Listening to the voices around the Council table reveals that the vast majority of Ministers are opposed to taking further land out of production.

T8. [82297] Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): Business groups have warned that the Government’s decision to delay the establishment of marine conservation zones will impede investment in marine industries, including renewable energy and sustainable fishery projects. Does the Secretary of State agree?

Richard Benyon: We are progressing the implementation of an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones, which have to be sustainable in every sense. That means that they have to be able to withstand any challenge that may be put to them, legal or otherwise, so we need to get more evidence for some of them. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this Government remain absolutely determined to take this forward, but we need to get it right. If that means we have to take a month or two longer—or six months longer, to be perfectly accurate—that would be a better way than getting it wrong.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): This week has seen the launch of the ecosystems market taskforce. What are the practical implications of that?

Mrs Spelman: That is one of the commitments that we gave in the natural environment White Paper. We have asked Ian Cheshire, the chairman of Kingfisher Group, to chair the ecosystems taskforce, together with a number of business leaders and scientists. This is an opportunity to help business in this country to take the chance, with the new green technologies and green growth, to grow our economy into a low-carbon economy, and beyond that, towards all the opportunities that realising the true value of natural capital can provide.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Secretary of State give an update on the progress being made by her Government to tackle international speculation in food commodities? That is a major factor in driving up food prices, which is affecting our constituents and others internationally, and it needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency.

Mrs Spelman: The evidence regarding the role of speculation in the rise of food prices is perhaps not as clear as the hon. Gentleman sets out. The main reason for volatility in prices is that supply and demand are tight, and the best way to address that is to improve the supply of food to the market. Transparency is the key to helping to reduce volatility. We, as a Government, support greater transparency so that people around the world know who is producing what, where, and how much they have in stock. That will help to buffer prices.

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Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The six-day movement rule and the ban on on-farm burial are particularly burdensome to livestock farmers. Since their introduction the scientific understanding of these matters has moved on. Will the Minister commission a scientific review of the regulations with a view to their relaxation?

Mr Paice: Both issues appear in the Macdonald report, to which I referred earlier and to which we will be responding early in the new year. The burial of dead animals, in particular, is controlled at EU level, and it is not entirely within this Government’s gift to change the rules.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Civil Partnerships

1. Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What the authority is for the policy of the Church of England that services of blessing should not be conducted in church premises for those who register civil partnerships. [82259]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): In its pastoral statement of July 2005, the House of Bishops affirmed that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership. The Church of England’s response to the Government’s consultation document on civil partnerships on religious premises, which was produced earlier this year, reflected that policy and was approved by the Archbishops Council and by the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops.

Mr Bradshaw: I am grateful for that reply. Given that when the law changes to allow civil partnerships to be conducted on religious premises many Church of England priests and parishes will want to conduct such ceremonies, would it not be better for the Church of England to do what it did when it first allowed the remarriage of divorcees in church, and allow individual priests and parishes to make the decision?

Tony Baldry: In fairness, I would contend that the Church of England, led by its bishops, has to be free to determine its own stance on matters of doctrine and ethics. The Government have said that the new option to register civil partnerships in places of worship must be entirely voluntary. That means that those who think that the Church of England should opt in need to win the argument within the Church.

Church Tourism

2. Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to promote church tourism. [82260]

Tony Baldry: I was delighted recently to visit with my hon. Friend some of the historic churches in her constituency. As she is aware, the General Synod passed

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a motion encouraging all dioceses to support church tourism and to link with the wider national church tourism strategy. The Church is working closely with its entire group of dioceses and with the Churches Tourism Association to assist local churches in encouraging visitors, especially in the run-up to the Olympics, the diamond jubilee and Open Churches Sunday.

Laura Sandys: I thank my hon. Friend for his trip to my constituency to see some of the wonderful churches in east Kent, which are great tourist attractions. Is he able to introduce me to the people who run tourism at Canterbury cathedral, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors? They might be able to do more to move some of those tourists to other beautiful churches in east Kent.

Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Our cathedrals attract thousands of visitors each year. We need to encourage those who visit cathedrals such as Canterbury to visit the many fantastic churches full of history and heritage in the surrounding areas, such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Public Accounts Commission

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

National Audit Office

3. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions the Public Accounts Commission has had on ways in which the National Audit Office can be made more effective and efficient. [82262]

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): The Public Accounts Commission discusses the NAO’s use of resources twice a year. Last November we endorsed its strategy for the three years from April 2011, which included plans to save 15% in nominal terms—21% in real terms—over that three-year period. The commission looked at the NAO’s efficiency gain in March when we examined its draft estimate. The commission will next meet on 7 December to consider the NAO’s proposed resource requirements for the three years starting in April 2012.

Mr Sheerman: Have the hon. Gentleman and the commission considered introducing the same sort of reforms that the Government have produced for the Audit Commission? Has he considered using the big five private accountancy firms more widely, or has he learned some lessons from the disaster that is the Audit Commission reform?

Mr Leigh: All that has happened so far—we will discuss this at our meeting on 7 December—is that the Government have proposed that the NAO take over from the Audit Commission solely responsibility for the preparation and maintenance of the code of practice, which sets a framework for the audit of local bodies, together with associated guidance for local auditors. The NAO will also be able, when reporting to Parliament on the activities of central Departments, to examine the

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impact of policies administered by local bodies. The NAO is making preparations for those potential areas of work. We will give it sufficient resources to enable it to do that work responsibly and properly.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): When the National Audit Office produces excellent reports, such as the recent report on flood defences, would my hon. Friend consider allowing the Select Committees concerned to debate their contents and conclusions, rather than just the Public Accounts Committee?

Mr Leigh: My hon. Friend makes a good suggestion. She knows that I was, in a previous incarnation, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. We were keen, and remain keen, for the National Audit Office to extend its work so that it reports not just to the Public Accounts Committee but to all Select Committees. I am happy to take her suggestion back to the National Audit Office.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is underselling himself. He served with great distinction as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee for two Parliaments.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Food Banks

4. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What steps the Church of England has taken to support food banks. [82263]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): The Church is heavily engaged in food banks across the country. There is a national network of food banking centres in towns and cities. Food banks give out nutritionally balanced emergency food to people in crisis. Food banks also offer additional support to put people in touch with relevant agencies that can offer further support.

Andrew Selous: In South West Bedfordshire, churches in Dunstable and Houghton Regis have just agreed to set up a food bank, and churches in Leighton Buzzard run a homeless service. Churches in those towns also support street pastors. Churches throughout the constituency are taking part in the “Let’s Stick Together” initiative run by Care for the Family. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is an amazing record of achievement in contributing to our local community?

Tony Baldry: I hope that churches across the country will seek to engage with and support their local communities whenever they can. The churches that my hon. Friend cites in his constituency are an excellent example. Local churches can support food banking in several ways, including through the direct giving of food donations, and through volunteering and working where necessary to step in to assist those in need. I hope that we can do that right across England.

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Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the Bishop of London on his support for the “Feeding the 5,000” event in Trafalgar square last Friday? That organisation looks at how we can use the phenomenal amount of food that goes to waste in this country to feed people who are in food poverty.

Tony Baldry: The Bishop of London’s leadership on that initiative is excellent, and it is an excellent initiative.

Church Buildings (Theft)

5. George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): Whether the Church Commissioners have considered English Heritage’s guidance on (a) theft of metal from church buildings and (b) replacing lead with modern materials. [82264]

Tony Baldry: The theft of metal from churches continues to be a very serious problem. About 10 churches a day suffer from theft. Insurance payouts for the theft of metal from places of worship have increased by 70%, and according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, the full cost of metal theft to the domestic economy across all sectors is upwards of £770 million.

George Hollingbery: The latest English Heritage guidance note on the theft of metals from church buildings states that

“support for the use of…non-traditional materials…would be exceptional.”

However, the guidance note on solar panel installations is relatively liberal. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hard to reconcile the two, and does he understand why Hambleside Danelaw, an alternative roofing manufacturer in my constituency, is clear that the guidance is not in the interests of churches, their congregations or the wider good?

Tony Baldry: On the substantive issue of the theft of lead, the Church remains convinced that making cash scrap metal transactions illegal is the single move that will have the greatest impact on reducing that crime, and it is pleased to see that proposal gaining wider acceptance. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday that the answer

“lies in looking at how the scrap metal market is currently regulated.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 296.]

I undertake to investigate in detail my hon. Friend’s specific point about Hambleside Danelaw, and I shall write to him.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the greatest tragedies about the loss of metal from war memorials, whether they be on Church property or elsewhere, is that there is currently no central record kept of the people whose names are recorded on them? Will he undertake to ask the Church Commissioners to work with the Imperial War museum, and indeed the Ministry of Defence, to provide a central register of those whose names appear on war memorials?

Tony Baldry: I would hope that in the run-up to 2014 to 2018, the centenary of the first world war, churches across the country will not only work on updating,

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conserving and repairing war memorials but give thought, as many communities are, to updating the records of those who lost their lives in the first and second world wars. The theft of inscriptions from war memorials is a detestable offence, and a further example of the need to tackle the theft of metals as urgently as possible.

Christians (Pakistan)

6. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What support the Church Commissioners are providing to Christians in Pakistan. [82265]

Tony Baldry: The Church of England is very aware of the issues facing the Christian community in Pakistan. Two dioceses in the Church of England have strong diocesan links in Pakistan, the diocese of Manchester with Lahore and the diocese of Wakefield with Faisalabad. Four members of the Manchester diocese are currently visiting Pakistan. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pakistan focus group was formed in 2006 to keep him informed of issues of significance in relation to Pakistan, to assist him in representing his views appropriately in Pakistan, England and elsewhere, and to maintain positive relations in support of the Church of Pakistan.

Andrew Stephenson: I thank my hon. Friend for that full answer. What initiatives have been taken to increase awareness among Pakistani-background Christians and Muslims in the UK of how they can support inter-faith religious harmony?

Tony Baldry: The Archbishop of Canterbury is very much concerned about the importance of good relations among Pakistani-background Christians and Muslims in this country. When Christian leaders from Pakistan visit the UK they are introduced to prominent Pakistani-background Muslims so that they are aware of the situation, and to encourage them to use their influence and contacts in Pakistan to support persecuted religious communities. The Church of England sent a delegation of both Christians and Muslims from the UK to Pakistan in 2009 on the invitation of the Government of Pakistan, to visit Christian and Muslim community leaders, Government Ministers and officials.

Women and the Episcopacy

7. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What assessment the Church Commissioners made of the number of dioceses which have voted in favour of the proposed legislation on women and the episcopacy. [82266]

Tony Baldry: The result of the reference of the draft legislation to the dioceses was that out of a total of 44 dioceses, 42 approved of women and the episcopacy.

Diana Johnson: How will the exceptional level of support from both the laity and the clergy be reflected in the passage of the legislation through the House?

Tony Baldry: I think that it is clear that there is overwhelming support for women bishops. The outcome of the recent vote in the dioceses will be reported formally to the General Synod in February, following which it will be asked to approve any necessary final

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adjustments to the drafting of the legislation. I certainly hope that during the lifetime of this Parliament it will be possible for me to bring forward a Measure to the House so that we can approve women bishops in the Church of England.

St Paul’s Cathedral (Demonstrations)

8. Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): What discussions the Church Commissioners have had on the effects of demonstrations outside St Paul’s Cathedral. [82267]

Tony Baldry: I understand from the Bishop of London and the chapter of St Paul’s cathedral that they are in daily contact with the City of London corporation and the City of London police, as well as with the protestors. The chapter of St Paul’s and the Church are committed to working towards peaceful solutions with the protestors and the authorities concerned.

Mr Winnick: Would not that be the best way, to have a continued dialogue, bearing in mind the fact that many if not all of the demonstrators and the people who have set in—I have visited them—feel very strongly indeed about the growing inequality of wealth in our country?

Tony Baldry: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Those concerns have been well reflected by the comments made by the dean and chapter of St Paul’s.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): The London demonstration seems to be adding to an air of tension between Church and state, and there are other examples of bishops becoming much more involved in Government policy. What role can my hon. Friend play to calm that quite worrying situation?

Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend must remember and recognise that both archbishops and a number of bishops

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are Members of the other place: they are Members of Parliament and are entitled to have their views heard. I would suggest that every archbishop and diocesan bishop is a significant leader within their community. They are entitled to speak out and be heard by the country and the House. The Church of England is a national church and the bishops are part of the national voice of this country.

2012 Olympics

9. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): How many churches plan to hold community celebrations for the London 2012 Olympics. [82268]

Tony Baldry: The ecumenical organisation More than Gold has been set up to help churches to engage with the Olympics. There are more than 400 Church of England More than Gold champions, which means that more than 400 churches are already organising activities using More than Gold resources.

John Mann: Would it not be appropriate for churches across the country to follow the magnificent lead of the joint churches in Bassetlaw, who are at the heart of preparing Olympic participatory activities, and are inviting the community into church grounds so that the Olympics can be fully and actively celebrated?

Tony Baldry: That is a fantastic example by the church in Bassetlaw, and I hope that every church will replicate it in all sorts of ways, such as by providing volunteers for the Olympics and hospitality programmes, hosting one of the many mission teams that are coming from overseas to help to give extra impact to activities, and linking hands with other churches to run community festivals and hospitality centres. I very much hope that every church in England will consider how they can use the Olympics as an opportunity to engage with the wider community.

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Business of the House

11.32 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): The business for the week commencing 28 November will be:

Monday 28 November—General debate on political developments and security in the middle east, north Africa, the Sahel, and the horn of Africa.

Tuesday 29 November—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make his autumn statement, which will be followed by consideration of Lords Amendments to the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Public Bodies Bill [Lords], followed by a motion relating to national policy statements relating to ports.

Wednesday 30 November—Opposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 1 December—Motion relating to BBC cuts, followed by a general debate relating to debt advice and debt management services. The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 5 December will include:

Monday 5 December—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 6 December—General debate on the economy.

Colleagues will also wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on Tuesday 29 November.

Ms Eagle: I should like to begin by paying my own tribute to Alan Keen, whose death was announced to the House this week. He was a dedicated champion of his constituents. Many of us have happy memories of Alan, especially of the Tea Room football banter that we all shared with him. My thoughts go out to his wife Ann and the family at this very difficult time.

Mr Speaker, this week you let it be known in no uncertain terms that the leaking in advance of statements is a gross discourtesy to the House. On Monday, you warned the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about the disclosure of his housing statement in the weekend papers. Less than 48 hours later, not only was the Government’s energy statement leaked, but the fact that there was to be a statement at all was tweeted to the world half an hour before the Secretary of State could be bothered to inform his opposite number or the House. Can we now take it that it is the Government’s intention to replace the Order Paper with the Twitter feed of The Guardian? Does the Leader of the House deplore this behaviour, and will he give me a personal assurance that it will never happen again?

On housing, the Government’s rushed-out PR blitzkrieg on Monday came the day before official figures, which they will have seen, showed a complete collapse of

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housing starts across Britain from 32,000 to just 454 across the entire country. In my own region of the north-west, not one single housing start was made. Monday’s cynical choreography was clearly designed to bury bad news. May we have a proper debate on the worsening housing crisis now that the full facts of the Government’s failure have been revealed?

Two weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to tell me that

“the Queen’s Speech will be held in May to coincide with the fixed election dates”.—[Official Report, 10 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 454.]

But last week his counterpart in the other place, Lord Strathclyde, seemed to contradict him by saying that it could be in April. That is despite Government undertakings given by Lord Wallace during the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill that there would be a fixed day in May for the Queen’s Speech. Based on these assurances, Labour peers withdrew an amendment to the Bill which would have set the Queen’s Speech in May after local elections. Will the Leader of the House now clear up the chaos between the Government Front Benchers in the two Houses? Will he confirm that it is not his intention to stage the Queen’s Speech just ahead of election purdah? Surely he has no desire to put Her Majesty in an invidious position by using her in a politically partisan pre-election stunt in her diamond jubilee year?

Every week demonstrates that the Government’s economic policy is hurting but not working. The Office for National Statistics revealed a 3.5% real-terms fall in average incomes, while chief executives and directors enjoyed a 15% increase in median earnings this year alone. Meanwhile youth unemployment passed 1 million, showing the brutal price our young people are paying for the Government’s failed choices on the economy. Long-term youth unemployment has risen 77% since the Government scrapped the future jobs fund. As the economy continues to flatline, instead of Government action all we are hearing from the Prime Minister is his latest list of excuses. Last year it was the snow, this year it has been the royal wedding, civil servants, trade unions and employment rights—and now it is the eurozone. The Prime Minister is like an Eton schoolboy, facing rustication by his headmaster, who will say anything and blame anyone rather than take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Will the Leader of the House now admit that these policies are not working and urge the Chancellor to announce an economic rethink that puts jobs first in next week’s autumn statement?

In opposition, the Prime Minister said that lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen, but after 18 months and the loss of a Cabinet Minister there is still no sign of the promised register of lobbying interests. Today there are disturbing reports that Ministers’ spouses and partners will remain free to lobby the Government for private companies under any new rules. This week, it was also revealed that a serving Conservative peer and ex-Chief Whip has been appointed UK representative for the Cayman Islands in order to oppose any further regulation of offshore tax havens. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government propose to address the increasingly urgent need for tough regulation in this area, and what is the Government’s position on serving Conservative peers lobbying against regulation of tax havens?

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Sir George Young: May I begin on a consensual note and endorse every word that the hon. Lady said about our former colleague Alan Keen? Our thoughts are very much with Ann and the family at this difficult time for them.

On the statements and announcements earlier this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in response to a point of order, explained the background to what happened on Monday. Inevitably, as a background to the housing statement, other organisations were involved and their consent was needed to make the statement. Therefore it was more difficult—although equally essential—for the Government to maintain strict confidentiality about the announcement. I confirm that I deplore any leaking of statements that should be made first to the House and I am happy to remind my colleagues of the ministerial code and what is expected by you, Mr Speaker.

We inherited a deplorable housing position. The outgoing Government admitted that they did not give it the priority that it deserved. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Lady will welcome the initiatives announced on Monday by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government to kick-start the housing market, to get public land into play and to make it easier for first-time buyers to buy their first home.

On the date of the Queen’s Speech, I said on 10 November:

“The Queen’s Speech will be announced in the usual way.”—[Official Report, 10 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 454.]

I am not in a position to confirm a specific date—as the hon. Lady knows, it is subject to progress in another place—but I can confirm that all constitutional proprieties will be observed come the state opening of Parliament.

The hon. Lady did not remind the House of what action the Labour party took to deal with executive pay and the widening differential between executive pay and average pay, to which I referred at the last business questions. As she will know, we are consulting on the matter—consultation ends tomorrow—and we welcome the High Pay Commission’s contribution. We are consulting on shareholder votes on executive pay, reforming remuneration committees, including the possibility of an employee representative, greater transparency and a much stronger link between pay and performance.

I was amazed that the hon. Lady had the nerve to mention lobbying. The outgoing Labour Government refused to implement a Select Committee recommendation of a statutory register of lobbyists. In the coalition agreement, we committed to introducing that register, and consultation on the proposals will begin shortly. We would welcome any advice that she might have.

Finally, the hon. Lady mentioned the economy. I was interested to read that apparently the Leader of the Opposition will say today:

“The biggest economic gamble in a generation has failed”.

I agree, and I am glad that he has seen the light. It was the reckless gamble that he and the shadow Chancellor took in the last Parliament that got us into this mess—borrowing beyond our means, claiming to have abolished boom and bust and completely failing to regulate the banks properly. Now they want to increase the deficit by more than £20 billion. It is their economic strategy

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that has failed the country—it is no wonder that the shadow Chancellor, by his own admission, is often to be found in tears.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. As usual, there is extensive interest. However, Backbench Business Committee business is to follow, and it is important that we allow adequate time for that. Brevity is therefore of the essence—and we will be led in that important exercise by Karen Bradley.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): May we have a debate on the Work programme and the successes on the ground? Last month, I met Staffordshire Moorlands community and voluntary services, which had taken on 56 of the most difficult to place individuals and had already found full-time work for four and part-time work for two. It would be useful for colleagues to share these on the ground success stories.

Sir George Young: I would welcome such a debate. It might be possible to have one after the autumn statement if there is a debate on the economy. I welcome the involvement of the voluntary sector in the Work programme. Citizens Advice, Mencap, the Prince’s Trust and Action for Blind People will be involved in delivering the Work programme and helping to find sustainable long-term jobs for those currently out of work.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): On Monday, the Prime Minister promised a housing revolution. On Tuesday, the shocking statistics were released showing a 99% collapse in the building of affordable homes and homes for social rent. The code on the release of official statistics states that statistics should be released in a way that “promotes trust”. May we have a statement to the House on whether the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Housing and Local Government knew of those shocking statistics before on Monday offering the latest false dawn to the people of England?

Sir George Young: The statistics to which the hon. Gentleman refers were put out by the Homes and Communities Agency on a date arranged some time ago, and it would have been wrong—it would have breached the code of practice on statistics—for any Minister to have referred to them on Monday.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Signs near motorway service stations read “Tiredness Kills. Take a Break”, yet parking companies are driving motorists back on to the motorways in contravention of those signs. Is it really the role of the state, through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, to assist private parking firms that are at the limits of legality? May we have a debate on the matter? Perhaps the Home Affairs Select Committee could also investigate these rogue parking companies.

Sir George Young: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I hope he recognises that those signs perform a useful purpose in promoting safety on motorways by encouraging people to take a break rather than carry on driving. If there were any unauthorised benefit from those signs of the type that my hon. Friend has described, I would of course be happy to take it up with the Secretary of State for Transport.

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Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): The Metropolitan police have just announced that they have arrested their first suspect in computer hacking. This marks phase 2 of the hacking scandal. Does the Leader of the House think that there might be merit in having a debate, which would allow us to test the remit of the Leveson inquiry to see whether it is wide enough to incorporate this new sinister development as well as look at the recent revelation that the Mulcaire evidence file contains a suggestion that intelligence service profiles were part of his information?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information. If there has been an arrest, he will understand the difficulties of debating matters relating to it in this Chamber. He will know that the Leveson inquiry is sitting at this moment, looking at these issues, as is the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I hope that there will be adequate opportunities—both in the House and outside it—to pursue the agenda to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Will the Leader of the House grant us a debate as soon as possible on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the light of its recent report suggesting that the extreme weather events we were previously promised may not occur for another two or three decades and the release of several thousand more e-mails from the East Anglia university climate research unit showing that many scientists are privately lukewarmists rather than alarmists about the climate but are afraid to say so in public? Secondly, the IPCC system is being systematically abused and Government officials have been urging scientists to come out with evidence biased in the direction of alarmism lest the Government appear foolish—

Mr Speaker: Order. This is an abuse. The right hon. Gentleman is an immensely senior Member. He had heard my exhortation to brevity and wilfully defied it. It really will not do.

Sir George Young: I understand my right hon. Friend’s strong views on this subject. He will know that a statement on related issues was given yesterday by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change when there might have been an opportunity for him to amplify his views. I cannot promise a debate in the short term, but I hope my right hon. Friend is successful in applying for a debate on this important subject in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): The report of the independent commission on and inquiry into the events that took place in Bahrain earlier this year was published yesterday. It shows what we all suspected and have heard about over the last few days—that psychological and physical abuse and torture took place there. In Monday’s debate, will the Foreign Secretary indicate the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to this very good report?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for bringing to the House’s attention this important report and what it says about the abuses and atrocities she mentioned. As she says, there will be a debate on

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Monday, and I will ensure that the Foreign Office Minister who handles the debate comes fully briefed to deal with the specific point that the right hon. Lady has raised.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Do the Government think that the European Union summit at the end of next week is of so little consequence that it does not require any discussion before it takes place? Does my right hon. Friend recall that there used to be a regular debate before each European summit? Why has that practice been abandoned? Do the Government think that nothing of consequence will be discussed at the summit?

Sir George Young: The practice has been abandoned because of paragraph 145 of the Wright Committee report, which specifically mentioned the two pre-European Council debates that formerly took place in Government time. The Wright Committee recommended that that debate and the other set piece debates should be transferred to the Backbench Business Committee along with the time in which those debates took place. That has now happened. My hon. Friend should go to the Backbench Business Committee with his request for a debate on this particular matter. I have to say to him that it is not as though we have not debated Europe in this Chamber: we had a debate on the petition on the referendum; we had a motion to approve the budget on 8 November; we had a motion on Croatia on Tuesday; and we had a general debate on the UK chairmanship of the Council of Europe. It is not the case that these important issues have gone by default in the Chamber.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Yesterday the Scottish Parliament discussed the Act of Settlement, and there was broad and overwhelming agreement that the discrimination against Catholics must come to an end. When the Government consider sexual equality and the succession, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the House gets the opportunity to debate this ongoing discrimination against Catholics?

Sir George Young: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there will be a Bill on the royal succession, and I hope it will be possible to debate the important issues he has just raised in that context.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we have a debate on the increasing level of crisis in the eurozone, following the news that yesterday even Germany, which everyone was hoping was going to bail out the eurozone, was able to find buyers for only two thirds of its debt bonds for the first time since it scrapped the Deutschmark and adopted the euro?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Government receive a wide range of advice on a number of matters, including the international economic situation and outlook. A range of contingency plans are in hand. It would be inappropriate to comment on what may or may not happen, however, or on the detail of that advice.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Two weeks ago we learned that the Home Secretary had ordered a secret pilot that left our borders unprotected.

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This week we learn that French company Eamus Cork Solutions, famed for sleeping guards and letting detainees wander off, has been given a contract to protect our borders, and the Government now want, at huge cost to the taxpayer, to fly volunteers in from Russia, South Africa and India to cover our borders. May we have a debate on the effectiveness of this Government’s UK border controls?

Sir George Young: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Select Committee on Home Affairs is currently conducting an inquiry into precisely the issue he raises. We take border control seriously. We are introducing a UK border agency. The situation we inherited from the outgoing Labour Government was less than satisfactory, and we are now putting the deficiencies right.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): Given that striking public sector workers will in effect be saying next week that the rest of us should pay more tax to support their pensions, may we have a debate in Government time on their premature and irresponsible actions?

Sir George Young: I endorse what my hon. Friend says about the impact of this strike. I hope that, even at this relatively late moment, many of those who are contemplating striking will not do so, as a strike would have a damaging impact on the economy. Negotiations on the pension deal are continuing. It is my view—and, I think, the view of many in this House—that it is a generous offer, striking a fairer balance between taxpayer and public sector employee. The best thing that could happen would be for those involved to accept the offer that is on the table, to call off the strike action and to get on with rebuilding the economy.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Witnesses before a Select Committee have said that the inquiry into the Werritty affair was rushed and inadequate, and possibly in breach of the ministerial code as it was not conducted by the only person who is the enforcer of the code: the independent adviser on ministerial affairs. As the inquiry was conducted for reasons of political expediency to avoid embarrassment for the Government, and as new evidence is available, should we not have a full legitimate inquiry conducted by the only person authorised to undertake it: Sir Philip Mawer?

Sir George Young: No, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not intend to cast any aspersions on the person who carried out that inquiry, Sir Gus O’Donnell. It was a full inquiry; it was not rushed, as the hon. Gentleman implied, and I think it brought the matter to a satisfactory resolution.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May we have a debate on deportation? On occasions too numerous to mention, when I investigate through the UK Border Agency the immigration status of people who come to see me in my constituency surgeries, I discover that they had exhausted their possible remedies many years ago and had been told they had to leave the jurisdiction. They are exhorted to leave it voluntarily, but of course they have no desire to do so but want to stay in the UK indefinitely. Until we get to grips with the whole issue of people leaving the jurisdiction who have no right to be in the jurisdiction, we will never sort out the problem of immigration.

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Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is right, and he will know that in the last 15 months the Home Office has taken effective action and more people are now being deported than was the case in previous years. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration wants to make further progress, and I shall ask him to write to my hon. Friend setting out the further action we are taking to make sure that those who are not entitled to stay in the country leave it.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): On 3 November I raised an issue in respect of the public duty costs allowance. Uncharacteristically, I have not yet received a response from the Leader of the House as to why £1.7 million has been paid to former Prime Ministers. That money has obviously gone through the Government’s books in some way, so may we have a list of exactly what duties were performed, and whether invoices and receipts had to be provided?

Sir George Young: I am sorry if the hon. Lady has not received any information that she is entitled to. I will chase this matter up the moment these business questions finish, and make sure that she gets an answer from the appropriate Minister.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The TaxPayers Alliance has recently published a new and compelling report called “Industrial Masochism”, which demonstrates how the carbon floor price threatens the jobs of tens of thousands of British workers as energy-intensive businesses relocate overseas. Could we find time for an urgent debate on the impact of the Government’s climate change policies on British industry, so that workers in these vital manufacturing sectors can learn why their jobs have been sacrificed on the high altar of global warming?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. As he will know, following the statement by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change a document was published setting out the impact of climate change policies on households and industry. I think my hon. Friend will find that that document comes to a slightly different conclusion from the TaxPayers Alliance. I would welcome a debate on this matter, as would my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) who spoke a few minutes ago, but I cannot promise that we can find time for that in the near future.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House invite the Prime Minister to come to the House to explain why he did not feel the need to declare his land deal with a major Conservative party donor and lobbyist? Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), what is the point of having an independent standards commissioner if his advice is never sought?

Sir George Young: The right hon. Gentleman might have put that question to the previous Prime Minister. On the first issue, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took the necessary advice from those at No. 10, and that advice was that he did not have to register that particular piece of property. The information is in the public domain anyway because of the Land Registry.

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Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): There is real concern in Otley among staff, students and the local community about the conversion of Prince Henry’s to an academy. May we have a debate on the rules surrounding conversion to academy status, because at present it can be done on a single, even a casting, vote on the governing body, and consultation can simply be whatever the school says it should be? That is clearly unsatisfactory, and it needs to be changed.

Sir George Young: I say to my hon. Friend—[Interruption.] Those rules are—[Interruption.] Those rules—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. It is very discourteous for all sorts of finger-pointing across the Chamber to take place. The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) has asked—[Interruption.] Order. [Interruption.] Order. I am not looking for, or expecting—[Interruption.] Order. I am not looking for, or expecting, any response from the hon. Gentleman, and it is not for the hon. Gentleman to sit in his place shaking his head. The hon. Gentleman asked—[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman had better watch himself very carefully. He has asked a question of the Leader of the House, and the Leader of the House is courteously responding. The hon. Gentleman will sit quietly and listen to that response. If he finds himself unable to do that, he knows what his alternative is.

Sir George Young: The rules to which my hon. Friend refers are exactly the same as those that pertained under the previous regime, and which we inherited from the outgoing Government. I will draw his concern to the attention of the relevant Department and see whether there is any role for the responsible Minister to play, but I have to say that, by and large, conversion to academy status has been welcomed by local communities.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): May we have a debate on Lords reform? I do not know whether the Leader of the House is a fan of “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!”, but would not one interim solution to the overcrowding he is causing down the other end of this building be a new reality TV show, perhaps called “Peer Pressure”, as that would provide an efficient and entertaining way to cull the rapidly increasing population of the unelected?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman may find that when his parliamentary career here finishes he does not end up in the upper House. I say to him that one of the problems that we inherited from the outgoing Government was the total failure—[Hon. Members: “Oh no.”] Oh yes. We inherited their total failure, after three elections where there had been overwhelming Labour majorities, to deliver on their election manifesto and reform the upper House. We have a draft Bill going through at the moment, which is being examined by a Joint Committee—I am sure that it will be interested in the hon. Gentleman’s views. The person who increased the size of the House of Lords more than anybody else was Tony Blair.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): May I echo the call by the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on lobbying, particularly that by trade unions? Many of

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my constituents have expressed concern to me, as they feel that trade union cash should not buy a vote or an amendment in this House.

Sir George Young: I would welcome such a debate. My view is that it would be in the interest of the Labour party to have a slightly weaker link with the trade unions. I think that many Labour Members, in their heart of hearts, believe that the pension deal on the table is a generous one which they would like to commend but cannot because of the links to which my hon. Friend has just referred.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Can the Leader of the House clear up his confusion over the Queen’s Speech? He had previously said that it would be in May. It was claimed that the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill would create a more predictable parliamentary timetable, and during its passage Lord Wallace, on behalf of the Government, committed them to May-to-May Sessions. Yet last week Lord Strathclyde referred only to “spring”, which we know means, in ministerial terms, from the first crocuses in February to sometime in the middle of June. The Leader of the House can clear this up now, so will the Queen’s Speech be in May—yes or no?

Sir George Young: I refer to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle); we will announce the date of the Queen’s Speech in due course. If the right hon. Gentleman can be patient, he will find that the moment will come. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act fixes the date of the next general election in May 2015—that is a fixed event. The actual date of the Queen’s Speech between now and then depends on the progress of legislation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use whatever influence he has in the other place to make sure that the Bills before it complete their passage in good time.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend seen the e-petition from my constituent Mr Colin Riches entitled, “Support The Best Policy for Children; give Both Parents Equality in Law”? May we have an urgent debate on the Norgrove report and ensure that fathers have equal access to children?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the House’s attention to the independent review panel, which has just reported. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is considering all the recommendations in detail and will respond in due course. We want a family justice system that meets the needs of those at the heart of the system—the children.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): May we have a debate to discuss the challenging of racism in politics? If such a debate were secured, I would like to raise the issue of the St Andrews university Conservative association burning an effigy of US President Barack Obama last Friday. Almost one third of students at the university are American. Does the Leader of the House believe that such incidents are conducive to Britain’s relationship with its closest ally?

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Sir George Young: I would condemn what happened in that particular club, and I hope that there is no repetition of that incident in any organisation associated with my party.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Please may we have a debate about exports and, specifically, the success of British exporters? The latest data for the first three quarters of this year show a 13% increase in exports, with faster growth in exports to the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—especially China.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to one of the ambitions of our economic policy, which is to switch the emphasis on growth from spending and borrowing to investment and exports. The fact that we are not in the eurozone enables us to have a competitive exchange rate, which in turn gives our exporters a head start over those in some other countries.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Are the Government delaying the Queen’s Speech because the economy is flatlining, because they have run out of ideas or because their legislation is so bad for Britain that they cannot get it through the other place? Are we ever going to have the Queen’s Speech?

Sir George Young: The Government’s legislative programme has made good progress through this Chamber and is now in the upper House, where we are awaiting the Welfare Reform Bill, the Health and Social Care Bill and the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. I hope that those Bills will receive legitimate and proper consideration down there and then come back. When the Government have got their Bills through this House, it will then be time to give the date of the Queen’s Speech, but not until then.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): May we have a debate on the maintenance of railway lines in Wales? The Conwy Valley railway line in my constituency should be maintained to route availability 7 standard. A commercial proposition to use the line to carry goods has been rejected because the line has not been maintained to that standard, thus costing jobs and investment which are much needed at this time.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question because, as a former Secretary of State for Transport, I am interested in promoting use of the railway. The issue that he has raised is a technical one for Network Rail, but I will raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to see whether we can make some progress and expand that route for the use to which my hon. Friend has just referred.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): The Leader of the House must not keep hiding behind this wretched Wright Committee recommendation abolishing debates on Europe. I know that we have had specific debates on this and that, but the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) is absolutely right to say that we need a broad debate on Europe, particularly at this stage of our historic relationship with the EU.

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The Backbench Business Committee carries out its

Daily Mail

rent-a-petition, rent-a-debate duties, but it is for the Government to provide time to discuss this vital issue for our nation’s future.

Sir George Young: I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that if we had not implemented the Wright Committee’s recommendations, he might well have been one of the first to criticise us for going back on a clear election commitment. The fact of the matter is that the Government have given some of the power and patronage they used to have away. We have given it to the Backbench Business Committee, which gets roughly one day a week, and it is up to that Committee to decide what it does with that time. One set of debates that was handed over to that Committee, along with the defence debates, was the pre-European Council debates. The Committee has chosen not to have such a debate. That is a consequence of setting up the Backbench Business Committee and transferring the days to it.

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): The Leader of the House may be aware that Welcome to Yorkshire, the official tourism agency for Yorkshire, is due to lose its public funding in April 2012. May we have an urgent statement from the Minister for Tourism and Heritage, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), setting out what the Government might do to bridge this funding gap in the next financial year, in order to protect the Yorkshire tourism industry from potentially catastrophic circumstances?

Sir George Young: As my hon. Friend will have discovered, other Members in the House think that their own county deserves generous support on funding tourism. Yorkshire was the county that received more cash than any other area of the country, and it is having to go through the same process as everyone else in adjusting to the new regime. It has an advantage, in that Yorkshire received £10 million of regional development agency funding for the financial year 2011-12, because of a three-year agreement between Welcome to Yorkshire and Yorkshire Forward, which other regions did not get. I can say to him only that there may be other sources of funding—the regional growth fund, the European regional development fund and the rural development programme for England—to which he may turn for assistance.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I would like to return to the issue of the housing statement and the Homes and Communities Agency figures. They show that in London the number of social rented homes started between April and September this year was just 56, which is 7,469 down on the figure for the previous six months. If the Government knew that the figures were going to be released on Tuesday, why was the statement not made on the same day?

Sir George Young: The statement was made in its own right, independent of the statistics to which the hon. Lady refers, and I do not think that she should link them in the way that she has. I hope that she will welcome what was said on Monday, which was aimed at kick-starting the housing market and doing better than the outgoing Labour Government on housing starts and housing completions.

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Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): May we have a debate on the very long-standing regional disparity in rail ticket pricing, particularly given the welcome investment in rail infrastructure? Sadly, that will not directly benefit many of those living in the west country, who are at risk of becoming the poor country cousins on rail transport.

Sir George Young: I have some sympathy with the point that my hon. Friend makes, because I sometimes see him on the same train as me when I go to my constituency. I will raise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the issue as to whether there is a disparity between ticket prices and investment in infrastructure, and see whether there is any role for her to play in getting a more level playing field.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): The Business Secretary gave a speech yesterday on the dilution of employee rights. It was accompanied by a written statement in this House and a fleeting mention in yesterday’s Opposition day debate. He now seems to be indicating, through the media, that he did not agree with a word that he said in either his speech or his written statement. May we have an urgent statement in this House on the role of employee rights and what the Government’s intentions are by making it easier to fire employees rather than hire them?

Sir George Young: The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills was in the Chamber yesterday answering questions during his speech and he spoke in the House after he made his speech to the Engineering Employers Federation. We had an opportunity to cross-examine the Secretary of State only yesterday on precisely the issues that the hon. Gentleman has just raised.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Earlier this month, despite the considered statement of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 2 November, West Midlands ambulance service workers voted to strike next week, threatening to bring chaos to a service that deals in matters of life and death. May we have a debate on the implications of that strike, because I fear it will be very deleterious to the health of many people in the west midlands?

Sir George Young: I hope that people in the west midlands have listened to my hon. Friend and will reflect before they go on strike, if that is what they are planning to do next Wednesday, and on the consequences for schools and, in some cases, for health. I hope that if the Labour party has any influence it might bring that to bear on the trade unions, condemn the strikes and persuade them to abandon them and accept the generous offer that is on the table.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that a YouGov poll this week showed that 59% of people agreed with a total ban on smoking in cars with passengers, a view supported by the majority of all three major parties’ supporters. The British Lung Foundation, of which I know the Leader of the House is a supporter, says that 86% of parents support a ban when children are present. My ten-minute rule Bill on the subject is 10th on the list tomorrow and is likely to run out of parliamentary

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time. Will the Leader of the House please give some Government time so that we can debate that important issue and so that the House can make clear its view on a ban on smoking with passengers and children, and also on an outright ban?

Sir George Young: I commend the hon. Gentleman’s work and that of the all-party group on smoking and health, which has played an active role in campaigning and was very influential in the last Parliament in making progress on the ban on smoking in public places. I cannot promise Government support for his ten-minute rule Bill—he will have to come along tomorrow and see what happens—and I see some difficulties in trying to enforce a ban on all smoking in cars. That might have to wait until public opinion has moved on.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): May we have a debate on the equity of child benefit payments, particularly when parents are separated but still have joint child care responsibilities?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend raises a serious issue. Sadly, more and more families are splitting up and there is an issue about whether the child benefit should go to one parent or another. I think I am right to say that at the moment it cannot be split. That is also the case with other child-related benefits. I will raise the question with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has responsibility for it, and see whether there is any way of coming to an arrangement whereby those benefits or tax credits are apportioned in a fair way to reflect the responsibilities that underpin them.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The Leader of the House has debating time on his hands. May we have a specific debate about the provision of social rented housing in this country? There are 20,000 people in Telford looking for rented housing in the social sector and thousands of them are in urgent need. May we have a debate as soon as possible on rented housing provision? We have heard already from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) about the collapse in the provision of new social rented homes and we need a debate urgently.

Sir George Young: As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have announced that there will be an Opposition day. Perhaps his bid was heard by his friends on the Front Bench. He will also know that waiting lists doubled under the last Labour Government and that is the problem we are now trying to address.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): The sympathy that my constituents feel for public sector workers who face a freeze in their pay and changes to their pension contributions will be significantly eroded by the inconvenience and worse that will be caused by the proposed strikes. May we have a debate on the legitimacy of those strikes, so that we can see whether Labour Members will stand up for their constituents or their paymasters?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are trying to get a fairer balance between the public sector employees and the taxpayer, who pays a very

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large percentage of the pension contributions. My hon. Friend raises a good point. I detect public sympathy ebbing away from those who are planning to strike and they would do well to reflect on that before they go ahead with their action on Wednesday.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Would it not be useful to have a debate in the very near future on the obsessive hatred—there is no other way to describe it—that the Tory party has and always has had for the trade union movement? Trade unionists need no lectures about public service and patriotism from the Conservative party.

Sir George Young: That is a travesty of my party’s view about trade unions. I was a member of a trade union until I was expelled and described as a “pin-striped bovver boy” by ASTMS, the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, back in the 1970s. The trade unions have a legitimate role to play in this country but we think that the very strong links between the trade unions and one political party are unhealthy for that party.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): Our constituents in care homes are among the most vulnerable we represent and the Care Quality Commission is supposed to be one of their guardians, yet its recommendations are not always implemented. May we have a debate on the important subject of how we protect those very vulnerable constituents?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is quite right that sometimes action is not taken. The answer is that the Care Quality Commission has a range of enforcement powers at its disposal and his message is that it should use those more often to address the problems he has described. The CQC has a range of enforcement powers that it can use to bring a provider back into compliance and in the case of the most serious failings it can cancel a provider’s registration, which would simply result in that provider’s closure. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has emphasised to the CQC the importance of driving up standards and using all the powers at its disposal to do that.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): May I press the Leader of the House? Given the shockingly low number of affordable housing starts—just 454 in the six months from April, a figure that was revealed the day after the Government’s much-trumpeted housing strategy—may we have a debate in Government time on the crisis in our construction industry?

Sir George Young: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government on Monday, which addressed the parlous state of the housing and construction industry we inherited, the action we are taking to bring public land back into use, the incentives we are giving to local authorities to develop and the help we are getting through building societies and banks for first-time buyers. We are taking effective action to kick-start the sluggish housing economy that we inherited.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): The economy of my constituency is almost entirely made up of small and medium-sized enterprises, public support for which

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comes from both sides of the England and Wales border. Will my right hon. Friend programme a debate to discuss the future of SMEs and support for them, with particular reference to cross-border issues?

Sir George Young: There will be an opportunity to debate that issue in the debate on the economy that I announced at the beginning of this question session. We are determined to make more resources available to SMEs and, as part of Project Merlin, the Chancellor announced that the banks intend to lend £190 billion of new credit to businesses, which is a significant increase on the £179 billion in the previous year. We are taking other action, such as reducing the corporation tax rate for small businesses. I would welcome my hon. Friend’s contribution to that debate and the response from Ministers will set out all the action we are taking to help SMEs.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Research reported last week has found that 10,000 babies are born each year damaged by smoking and the consumption of alcohol and drugs during pregnancy. Some 6,000 of those babies are affected by foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Is it not time for the Government to make a statement on and bring forward proposals to deal with this tragic situation?

Sir George Young: The Government are very anxious to drive down perinatal and antenatal mortality and we have taken a number of measures already to promote public health. The Health and Social Care Bill, which is now going through the House, will, I hope, make some progress in that direction. I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ask whether there is more we can do to diminish the number of babies who are born damaged or, sadly, die because of excess alcohol consumption by their mother.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): Through the all-party parliamentary group for local growth, enterprise zones and local enterprise partnerships, it is clear that the organisations involved in enterprise zones understand the importance of opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises in enterprise zones. Seajacks in Great Yarmouth is likely to be the first organisation to go into an enterprise zone, highlighting how important SMEs can be for growth and job creation. May we have a debate in the Chamber on the importance of SMEs, particularly with reference to opportunities in enterprise zones?

Sir George Young: I believe that my hon. Friend is the chairman of the all-party group and I commend him for his activity in that regard. I hope there will be an opportunity when we debate the economy to say a little more about SMEs. We have extended the level of small business rate relief for two years. We have a new fund of enterprise capital funds, which I hope will help, and there is also entrepreneur’s relief and other initiatives such as the enterprise finance guarantee, all of which I hope will help SMEs to grow and employ more people.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The National Audit Office has revealed the shocking statistic that £2 billion is owed to the Ministry of Justice by convicted criminals in outstanding confiscation orders and unpaid

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court fines. That figure is £400 million higher than in the previous year. Given that it is the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to reduce the number of people in prison and increase the number of criminals who are fined, may we have an oral statement from the Secretary of State for Justice, so that we can hold him to account for this shocking state of affairs?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. That figure has gone up because the courts are using the relevant provision more often than previously. Also, some of the confiscations are for very large sums indeed—I think there is one of £189 million—which explains why there has been an increase. I can tell my hon. Friend that a blitz on this, using a range of powers such as attachment of earnings, seizure of assets and other measures, is planned to try to get that figure down.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Last Sunday in Hungary, legislation was passed that withdrew recognition of Hinduism as a recognised religion in the country. That threatens not only people’s right to celebrate and worship in accordance with the religion of their choice but the land-ownings of people who celebrate that religion. So far, the Hungarian ambassador refuses to take delegations representing those Hindus in this country and, equally, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been unable to intervene in this process. May we have an urgent debate in the House on the protection of religious minorities in countries where they are threatened in this way?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. I understand that our ambassador would be very happy to meet him and talk it through, and that our ambassador has already raised the matter with the Hungarian authorities. As I understand it, the legislation is aimed not at discriminating against Hindus

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but at preventing quasi-religious organisations from benefiting from a tax break. It would be quite wrong if Hindus were penalised and I very much hope that the dialogue that my hon. Friend has with the ambassador will enable progress to be made and reassurances to be given to the Hindu community in Hungary.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): The decision to extend small business rate relief until October 2012, which the Leader of the House has mentioned, has been hugely welcome in Pendle, where more than 1,000 small businesses fall into the relevant category and have benefited from paying either reduced business rates or none at all. May we have a debate on the success of that scheme and on what more the Government can do to support small businesses, which are the backbone of the British economy?

Sir George Young: I very much hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer tuned in and heard my hon. Friend make that bid, and that he is able to take it into account as he prepares his remarks for next Tuesday. As I have said, I hope there will be an opportunity to debate the extensive support that we are giving to SMEs when we have the debate on the general economy.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that last year the House voted to raise the subsidy for post offices by up to £500 million, but there is no accountability to the House about how that money is spent, where it is spent and what criteria are used. May we have an urgent debate on that, because I believe that the Post Office is failing in its delivery of post offices, and we might be able to reopen the post offices in Wangford, Walberswick and Blythburgh?

Sir George Young: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I wonder whether this is a subject that the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills might look at and press with the Post Office. I will raise it with ministerial colleagues to see whether we can get some accountability for the large sum she has mentioned.