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House of Commons

Thursday 15 December 2011

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

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


1. Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Whether he has made an assessment of the effects of reductions in local authority funding for libraries. [86781]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): The provision of library services is the responsibility of local authorities but my Department keeps in close touch with them. Indeed, my officials have met representatives from seven local authorities to discuss their proposals.

Kate Green: Trafford council is withdrawing its mobile library service and axing 15 library staff, and it wants volunteers to run Old Trafford library in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that the expertise of professionally qualified library staff is important in getting people reading and improving literacy and English language skills, particularly in the most disadvantaged communities?

Mr Vaizey: Trafford council has also opened a new library in Urmston, but I certainly agree that the role of professional librarians is incredibly important in the provision of library services.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): My hon. Friend and I are privileged to represent Oxford constituencies, and Oxford county council is managing to keep all 43 public libraries open notwithstanding a difficult financial settlement. Is not the reasonable inference that some local authorities have elected to make deep cuts in front-line services simply to make a political point and that it is perfectly possible, if local authorities put their minds to it, to keep libraries open?

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Local authorities have challenging decisions to make, and my approach is to give them the space and time to make those difficult proposals. Local authorities are going about their provision differently but all have a

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strong commitment to their library service, and the Government are also strongly committed through maintaining the statutory duty.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister aware that some very hard-pressed local authorities up and down our land have already put libraries in children’s centres to dual use? Now that the opening hours of those Sure Start children’s centres are being cut back, people are losing their libraries as well. Will he talk to other Ministers about this matter?

Mr Vaizey: I shall happily talk to many other Ministers in other Departments about the importance of libraries, and certainly I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments: co-locating a library service, whether with a children’s centre or other services, is very important.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Will the Minister accept an invitation to come to the brand-new Canada Water library, which was designed and planned by a Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition administration but continued and opened under a Labour administration? Both groupings running the council have agreed that there will be no closures across the borough and have sustained services. Will he come and see what can be done when the will is there?

Mr Vaizey: I would be delighted to visit that library, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting what cross-party consensus on libraries can achieve. It is worth reminding the House that although we tend to focus on library closures, it is also worth focusing on the fact that more than 40 libraries are opening or being refurbished across the country.

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): Libraries are places of great benefit to our country, educationally, culturally and economically, but Government cuts to local authority budgets have placed 600 of them at risk of closure. If they close, they will be lost to our communities forever. What does the Minister believe are his full responsibilities when it comes to protecting Britain’s libraries?

Mr Vaizey: I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the hon. Gentleman on the award of his MBE for his distinguished military service.

My responsibility for library services extends to England, as it is a devolved matter in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I have a responsibility to superintend the library service, and local authorities have a statutory responsibility to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. Unlike the previous Government, we are not putting that statutory duty under review.

Women in Sport

2. Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): What steps he is taking to increase the participation of women in sport. [86782]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Sport England is investing £480 million in 46 national governing bodies between 2009 and 2013 to grow and sustain participation. This approach is entirely inclusive and encourages opportunities for everybody to participate

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in sport regardless of their gender. Sport England also funds the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation to provide specialist advice and support to national governing bodies.

Tracey Crouch: I congratulate the Minister on all that he and his Department are doing to increase participation levels, but does he agree that while women’s sport accounts for only 5% of all sports coverage, the profile of sports women will remain so low that not only will talented athletes not make it on to award lists, such as the BBC sport’s personality of the year, but many of our best role models will be totally anonymous, thus making it harder to inspire and encourage women and girls to participate in sport and physical activity?

Hugh Robertson: Yes, I do agree with my hon. Friend. One of the encouraging things is the opportunity that next year’s London 2012 Olympics presents to showcase the talent that exists among women, as well as male athletes.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): But is not school sport the bedrock of participation, and should it not be a priority? If so, why have the Minister’s Government cut spending on school sports by 64%? Is that not sending the message that school sport no longer matters?

Hugh Robertson: The first point is that, as the right hon. and learned Lady should know, this Department is not responsible for school sport, which is funded by the Department for Education. What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has championed personally is a school games competition that is intended to drive up participation across both genders.

Ms Harman: The Minister talks about driving up participation, but will he tell us how he will monitor how much sport young people are doing in schools when he has scrapped the school sports survey? As his Government have cut the school sports partnership, it is even more important that we know what the effect on participation in sport is. [ Interruption. ] Is it not remarkable that Ministers are sitting there saying, “It’s nothing to do with us”? They really should be making an impact on Ministers in other Departments to ensure that they support school sport across the whole of Government.

Hugh Robertson: I am afraid the right hon. and learned Lady is mistaken. The policy responsibility for school sport lies with the Department for Education, and she should know that all too well. This Department is playing its part by introducing a new school games competition. That has been extraordinarily successful, with 11,000 schools now signed up. We will also produce a new measure for those aged 16 to 24—precisely the point at which we take responsibility for young people—among whom participation has been falling year on year for most of the last 10 years.

Football Governance (Supporters)

3. Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment he has made of the potential role of supporters in football governance. [R] [86783]

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The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): The Government’s response to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport’s football governance inquiry sets out a number of recommendations for increasing supporter representation and ownership at football clubs. In their response, the Government have challenged the football authorities to determine the best way of achieving the right changes, and we will be a key partner in those discussions.

Tom Greatrex: I thank the Minister for that reply and declare my interest as the founder of the Fulham Supporters Trust, notwithstanding our result last night, which demonstrates that we are not the only people who have had a bad week in Europe. I am sure that he will be aware of the proposals published by Supporters Direct on football club licensing. Will he encourage the football authorities to engage with Supporters Direct, in line with his comments about the inquiry by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and his Government’s response to it, to ensure that supporters have a role in football governance in the future?

Hugh Robertson: Yes, I will certainly do that. I am delighted that the premier league still funds Supporters Direct after the events of last year. The football governance reform strategy is about getting the key parts of the front end of the process right—the reform of the Football Association board, the link between the board and the council, and the new licensing system. As part of that licensing system, we expect those concerns to be addressed.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I do not know whether the Minister is familiar with that great football club AFC Bournemouth, which is due to enter the premier league in the next decade. Until that happens, Bournemouth, along with other non-premier league clubs, continues to struggle financially. What more can be done to encourage a greater distribution of wealth in English football?

Hugh Robertson: The distribution of, broadly, the broadcast moneys that go into the premier league and football league is, of course, a matter for those leagues. However, we expect the governance of football to allow for a proper distribution of those moneys. I think everybody across the House is agreed that there is a considerable distance to go before that is achieved, but I hope that it will be as part of this process.

Football Governance (Football Association)

4. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Football Association on football governance. [86784]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): The Secretary of State and I continue to meet the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League collectively to hear their progress on the reforms that the Government have called for in their response to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport’s football governance inquiry. The football authorities have until the end of February to come forward with their proposals.

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John Mann: The Football Association is significantly more enlightened than either UEFA or FIFA when it comes to tackling racism in football. Would the Minister be prepared to meet the all-party group on anti-Semitism and community groups such as Community Security Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust and Searchlight to listen to our concerns about what more the Government, the FA and UEFA can do to tackle the potential for racism at the Euro 2012 championship?

Hugh Robertson: Yes.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the football governance report that the Minister talks about include football agents, because those parasites took £210 million out of the game in the last three years from the premiership alone? Just imagine how that money could be spent within the game, including on football in schools, if it was used properly instead of lining the pockets of these spivs.

Hugh Robertson: Off the top of my head, I cannot remember whether the Select Committee report includes a specific element on agents. As part of the new licensing fee, however, that is exactly one of the issues that we would expect to see addressed.


5. Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): What plans he has to support the tourism industry in 2012. [86786]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): Next year represents the biggest opportunity in our lifetime to profile the British tourism industry, and we have announced the biggest ever international and domestic tourism marketing campaign designed to attract an extra 4.5 million visitors to the UK in the years that follow the Olympics.

Esther McVey: Continuing the sporting tourism theme, next year the Royal Liverpool golf club will welcome the women’s open golf championships with the first ever women’s day, so we will be developing tourism through our exceptional golf facilities while also ensuring youth engagement and celebrating women’s success. I would like to extend an invitation to one of the Ministers to come along.

Mr Hunt: I congratulate the Royal Liverpool golf club, and I would be delighted to attend—diary permitting. I agree with my hon. Friend that sport is a massive driver for tourism. Two million people come to this country every year to watch or play sport. I hope that sport in Liverpool will be helped by this week’s announcement of a new local TV station for Liverpool, on which I am sure my hon. Friend will be an early honoured guest.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): What is the Secretary of State doing to support the tourism industry to attract more people to smaller conurbations like Halton, which has the excellent Norton Priory museum and the Catalyst science centre, which is currently struggling. What is he doing to attract more people to the, shall we say, less obvious tourist areas?

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Mr Hunt: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is part of our commitment—and, indeed, his party’s commitment—to make sure that next year benefits the whole country and not just big cities like London. We have announced that next year we will have the biggest ever campaign to boost the domestic tourism industry, including a nationwide promotion of a 20.12% discount for hotel rooms booked in 2012. I urge him to encourage hotels and attractions in Halton to take part in that promotion, which is a big way to get people to take a holiday at home, as there is so much to see here next year.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I thank Ministers for their visits to Dover to promote the castle, the white cliffs and the fine view we have of France. Should it not be a particular priority that we promote tourism in our coastal towns?

Mr Hunt: Absolutely. There is the Olympic torch visit to Dover next year, and it is a way to ensure that many other major coastal tourist attractions will get into not just the national but the global spotlight next year.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): Many tourists visiting this country earlier this month would have been horrified when they turned on their television sets in their hotel room only to find a highly paid public presenter advocate that British citizens should be taken out and shot in front their families. What does that say about the future of Britain and what kind of message does it send to the rest of the world?

Mr Hunt: I do not think it says anything at all about our tourism industry.

Rural Broadband

6. Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): What progress his Department has made on the roll-out of rural broadband; and if he will make a statement. [86787]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): Eight local authorities have moved to the procurement stage for the roll-out of rural broadband. I will write to all local authorities this week to tell them that as a condition of receiving public funding for their rural broadband programmes, we will need them to move to procurement by the middle of next year and to have signed a contract for the roll-out of broadband by the end of next year in order to make sure that we have the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015.

Julian Smith: North Yorkshire is making good progress in its procurement process, but EU procurement rules make it very slow, which is frustrating for many businesses and constituents. What message would my right hon. Friend give them? Will he commit to coming and launching the north Yorkshire pilot once the procurement process is complete?

Mr Hunt: I would love to, as I recognise that north Yorkshire has gone further faster than many parts of the country and the £18 million grant that it received has helped that. We have tried to make the European

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regional development fund rules simpler to enable local authorities to tap into them for their rural broadband programmes. I would certainly be happy to help my hon. Friend and every local authority speed up the process of getting these contracts signed.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May I urge the Secretary of State to look very closely at his definition of rural? Many areas that look urban, such as former mining constituencies, actually feel very rural in relation to broadband because businesses still need fast broadband but, because of the contention rate, find it very difficult to get a decent service.

Mr Hunt: The hon. Gentleman is right. Let me reassure him that our commitment is to 90% coverage of superfast broadband for the whole country. We talk about rural broadband because that is where there are particular challenges, but we are not forgetting semi-rural areas. We want it to apply to the whole country and, indeed, we want our cities to go even further with a faster broadband offering, as announced by the Chancellor in the autumn statement.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I commend the Minister on this initiative but, as he explained, it still leaves perhaps one in 10 households and premises without the prospect of faster broadband. What consideration has he given to the contribution that could be made by innovative wireless technologies, such as the WiBE—or wireless broadband extender—designed by the British business Deltenna in Chippenham, to improving broadband using mobile spectrum networks in rural areas?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Wireless and mobile solutions will be very important in dealing with that final 10%. We are strongly encouraging local authorities, as part of their broadband plans, to come up with a way of reaching that 10%, even if it is not the same mechanism by which we reach the 90%. The kind of technologies he talks about might well have an important role to play.

Work Visas (Musicians)

7. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the system for granting work permits and visas to foreign professional musicians performing at concerts in the UK. [86788]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I have had no such meetings but the arts sector, my officials and the UK Border Agency meet every quarter as part of the arts and entertainment taskforce to have such discussions.

Kerry McCarthy: The Minister might be aware that on 6 December some Congolese musicians who had been working with Damon Albarn and Oxfam on a project were refused entry to the UK to perform at Rough Trade Records. I appreciate that there was some confusion about the type of visas they needed to apply for and about the process, but can anything be done to make it easier? It is a valuable, worthwhile project, and it is a shame that they were not able to perform.

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Mr Vaizey: I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her question and for the good work she does to highlight the issues for musicians coming into the UK and for British musicians who wish to travel abroad. My understanding is that those musicians applied for a tourism visa when they should have applied for an entertainment visa, which applies even if someone is performing pro bono. I would happily take any recommendation she has to improve the website and pass it on to colleagues at the Home Office. I shall also ensure that it is discussed at the next arts and entertainment taskforce.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Will the Minister join me in congratulating the UK Border Agency in processing 95% of all non-settlement applications within three weeks, while acknowledging that many applications are dealt with far faster than that?

Mr Speaker: With particular reference to professional musicians, of course.

Mr Vaizey: I would certainly endorse that work. UKBA has a target of 90% and has achieved 95%, which contributes to the vibrant live music scene we have in this country.

Mr Speaker: I call Kevin Brennan. He is not here.

Participation in Sport

9. Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): What plans his Department has to increase participation in sport. [86792]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Sport England is investing £480 million in 46 national governing bodies between 2009 and 2013 to grow and sustain participation. In addition, we have introduced the new Places People Play lottery-funded legacy programme and will be launching a new sports participation strategy aimed at 16 to 25-year-olds in the new year, to ensure we create a real lasting sports legacy after London’s games.

Damian Collins: Sportsmen and women need to have confidence in the governing bodies of the competitions they play in. Will the Minister send a message to FIFA that following the resignation of Mr Havelange from the International Olympic Committee, Sepp Blatter can and must allow the publication of the Zug court report into the $100 million bribery case involving FIFA officials and International Sport and Leisure—that is, ISL?

Hugh Robertson: I shall certainly do that, but I should warn my hon. Friend that I am not sure that FIFA pays a great deal of attention to what we say any more.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): The Minister knows that one of the main reasons we won the Olympics was our promise on the participation rates, but the target of involving 2 million more people in sport and physical activity has been dropped. I have the greatest respect for the Minister, but further to his earlier answer on school sport, what discussions has he had with the Department for Education about the cuts in school sports and school sports co-ordinators?

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Hugh Robertson: No one who is involved in sport wants to see money go out of sport, but the question completely overlooks the economic backdrop that sits behind that. If Opposition Front Benchers are seriously going to say that the level of funding that has been invested in school sport against an economic backdrop in which £120 million is paid out in debt interest payments every day can be maintained, they should tell us what else in sport should be cut instead. I have not heard a single constructive suggestion of that sort.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Minister welcome the National Football League’s efforts to increase the amount of American football played in this country—not at the taxpayer’s expense? Also, what position in an American football team would he play?

Hugh Robertson: I think I should honestly say that that is slightly outside my area of competence, but I would of course welcome any efforts in that regard, particularly efforts better to educate Ministers.

Mr Speaker: The fact that something is outside the area of competence of a Minister has never stopped a Minister before, but there we go.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The person who launched the school games was the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport—it was not the Department for Education. Ministers have been using the figure that one in five children are involved in inter-school competitive sport, and they will know that that figure comes from the PE and sport survey that is carried out in schools every year. That figure is measured on the basis of children taking part in nine competitive sport events against other schools in a school year. We know from what the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said in a Westminster Hall debate that that is not an ambitious target. How is the Minister going to measure the impact of the school games on increasing participation in competitive sport? Is the benchmark nine times in a school year or more?

Hugh Robertson: Let me answer this in two parts. First, a number of schools want to sign up, and I am delighted to say that we have got 11,000 schools signed up, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would welcome. On the part of the equation for which this Department is responsible—the cadre of people from 16 to 25—we will make an announcement in the new year.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I recently visited the Desborough indoor bowling club, which has benefited from an investment via the landfill tax, and I was pleased to see a large, enthusiastic and mainly retired membership. At the other end of the age spectrum, what can the Department do to encourage the participation of retired people in sport?

Hugh Robertson: The next round of whole sport plans will have a concentration of young people, particularly those aged between 16 and 25, but that is not exclusive. I probably ought to be slightly careful about how I say this but for sports such as bowls, which might appeal more to those at the other end of the spectrum, it would be entirely within the remit of the new whole sport plans for the bowls governing body to put in a plan that drives up participation at that level.

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10. Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the potential effects on communities of the closure of local libraries. [86793]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is very important that local authorities take into account the needs of their local communities when assessing their comprehensive library provision. That is why I have written to all local authorities to remind them of that.

Chris Evans: What message does the Minister have for Caerphilly borough council, which wants to close Aberbargoed library in the face of opposition from residents and local councillors who want to save that vital community resource?

Mr Vaizey: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the duty to superintend the library service is devolved to the Welsh Government. What I would say to Caerphilly borough council, which I believe is led by Plaid Cymru although there is no overall control, is that I am delighted it is investing in its library service and that it has opened or refurbished six of its libraries.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Hunmanby library will stay open if volunteers man it, but will the Minister intervene to assist with at least a part-time library presence from North Yorkshire county council to enable it to put a business plan in place in the interim?

Mr Vaizey: I would always encourage any local authority to work with the local community on the provision of community libraries and to provide the support of a professional librarian behind the community library service.

London Olympics

11. Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential legacy of the London 2012 Olympics for children and young people. [86796]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): There is a cross-party commitment to use the games next year to have a lasting sporting legacy for young people. That will partly be through the school games, which my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and the Olympics has talked about, as well as through the extraordinary sports facilities that will be built next year and a new youth sport strategy that is designed to boost participation among young people, which we will be announcing in the new year.

Julie Hilling: I saw first hand the real difference that a school sports partnership was making to the participation rates and, indeed, the performance of young people in Bolton West. Now that it has gone, how will the Secretary of State ensure that my constituents benefit from the Olympics?

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Mr Hunt: Some school sports partnerships did an excellent job but, overall, participation among young people fell under the last Government—it has fallen from 58% to 54% over the last four years, three of which were under the last Government. That is why we are looking at the whole business of how we reduce the drop-out rate among people leaving school, so that we can have more people who have sport as a habit for life, including in the hon. Lady’s constituency.

Commonwealth Games

12. Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): What recent discussions he has had with the organising committee for the 2014 Commonwealth games on disabled sports. [86797]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): The sports programme for the 2014 games is being determined by the Glasgow organising committee in consultation with the Commonwealth Games Federation and the International Paralympic Committee.

Jonathan Edwards: My constituent Jemma Morris is an aspiring paralympian in archery, and the county of Carmarthenshire has high hopes that Jemma will fly the flag for Wales next autumn. She will reach her sporting prime in the Commonwealth games in 2014; however, there will be no archery competitions for disabled sportspeople. Will the Minister raise the issue with the Commonwealth Games Federation so that disabled archers are able to showcase their skills on the global stage?

Hugh Robertson: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is in the GB squad, but I visited the paralympic archery squad at Lilleshall last year, so I may have met her. The position with the paralympic mix in the Commonwealth games is that four sports are necessarily included, and the local organising committee is allowed to select another four. I suspect the problem may be that Glasgow has not selected archery. Clearly, since this is a devolved issue, my remit over the Glasgow organising committee is limited, but I will certainly raise the issue when I next see the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Mr Speaker: Well, the inquisitive appetite of colleagues in respect of substantive questions appears to have been exhausted. I call Mrs Sharon Hodgson. She is not here. We move on to topical questions.

Topical Questions

T1. [86736] Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): This week we announced the first cities that will be getting licences for local TV. They are Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Preston, Southampton and Swansea. We hope to award a further 40 licences in the following year.

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Kate Green: Ministers are aware of the considerable concern that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ treatment of VAT on five-a-side league football is causing businesses such as the Trafford soccer dome in my constituency. What steps can Ministers take to support this popular sport and ensure that it continues to thrive?

Mr Hunt: The hon. Lady is from a constituency with fantastic sporting traditions. We want to do everything we can to get more young people playing sport next year of all years. If she supplies us with more details, we will happily make representations to the Treasury, although it is a very difficult climate in which to get concessions on things such as VAT.

T2. [86737] Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Two of my constituents, Audrey Cole and Colin Maddever, live in Doddy Cross, where there is no broadband. Superfast broadband is being rolled out across Cornwall, but these constituents still have to use expensive dial-up, which is frustratingly slow, blocks their incoming calls and increases costs. Furthermore, there are many farmers in that area who have to file their VAT returns online but find that they are unable to do so. What message of help does the Minister have for the 33% of people in South East Cornwall who have no broadband access at the moment?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point very powerfully. There are still 250,000 homes in this country with no broadband access at all. We are absolutely committed to making sure that we deal with that problem by the end of this Parliament, which is why we have announced very ambitious plans. Cornwall, like the rest of the country, is being asked to submit a broadband plan that deals with all the broadband “not spots” as well as providing superfast broadband to 90% of its residents. I hope very much that at the next election my hon. Friend will be able to go back to her constituents and say that the problem has finally been addressed.

Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): Today the Indian Olympic Association meets to condemn Dow Chemical’s controversial sponsorship of the 2012 Olympic stadium wrap. Will the Secretary of State join me in reaffirming the Indian Olympic Association’s view that a boycott of the Olympics would merely make Indian athletes the innocent victims of the ongoing controversy caused by the continued debate about liability for the Bhopal gas disaster and ensuing contamination? However, have the Government carried out a risk assessment of Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the 2012 stadium? If not, will he commit to doing so and sharing the results so that an agreed course of action on a cross-party basis can be taken to mitigate any assessed risk of the sponsorship?

Mr Hunt: Of course I welcome what the Indian Olympic Association has said about a boycott. As the right hon. Lady will know, boycotts are illegal under the Olympic charter. With the greatest respect to her, because of the enormous role she has played in the 2012 project, she is a member of the Olympic board and shares some responsibility for all the decisions that have been made. We look to her to play a constructive role in resolving this difficult situation, not exacerbating it.

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T3. [86738] Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Two weeks ago Transparency International cut its ties with FIFA. The corruption watchdog objected to the lack of independence in FIFA’s new outside governance committee and to the fact that its remit will not extend to allegations of past wrongdoing. What pressure will the Minister and the Football Association exert so that we can shine a light on the serious allegations of systemic corruption at FIFA both past and present?

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): We will do everything we can, both internationally through our European counterparts and elsewhere, to ensure that FIFA becomes what we all want it to be: a properly transparent and accountable body that is capable of fulfilling the remit it is supposed to have to govern the global game.

T7. [86743] Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): It is some time since John Robb of Louder than War approached me about the problems musicians have when trying to get visas to tour the United States, and we brought a delegation to see the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who has responsibility for culture. Will he update the House on the progress being made in talking to the Americans about this and, in particular, whether we can persuade them to look at reciprocal arrangements and adopt measures similar to those that we have here whereby organisers of big events can help to facilitate the visa process?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Officials from my Department have had constructive discussions with the United States embassy, which has taken on board our points, and those discussions continue. Obviously the US will continue to want to implement its regulations, but it has heard the hon. Lady’s concerns via my officials and we are continuing a constructive dialogue with the US.

T4. [86739] Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement of local television and the greater media diversity that it will bring and note with interest the impressive list of cities involved. Crawley finds itself on the cusp of two television regions, so may I put in a bid for it to be considered as a future centre for local television?

Mr Hunt: I am sure that Crawley would be an excellent place for a local television station and that my hon. Friend would make a very good contribution to it when it happens. Our plans for superfast broadband, which we talked about earlier, mean that it will be possible to launch a local television station in Crawley with no transmission costs by the end of this Parliament, so I hope that he encourages local media groups in his constituency to take advantage of it.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Further to the Secretary of State’s earlier answer to the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) on tourism, has he made any regional assessment of the number of visitors likely to visit the UK regions as a result of inward

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tourism for the London Olympics and the jubilee celebrations next year? In particular, has he had any discussion with the Welsh Assembly on how we can attract additional visitors to my area?

Mr Hunt: Because of the way the 2012 project has been constructed, with the progress of the torch relay across the whole country, including it spending a significant amount of time in Wales, and because of the cultural Olympiad, which is happening across the whole country, we are absolutely determined that next year will be a bumper year for tourism in all parts of the country. We have a big domestic tourism marketing campaign, which is fully supported by Visit Wales, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will encourage businesses in his constituency, which has some particularly beautiful scenery, to take part in that promotion to encourage more people to have a holiday at home next year.

T5. [86740] Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): In my constituency, we are busy pioneering the “Stroud Special” train, which is designed to take up the slack on the route from London and to encourage people to come and benefit from Stroud’s hugely impressive environment, pubs and all the rest. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a good initiative, which certainly justifies infrastructure expenditure?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose): Of course, we encourage any organisation—any local tourism body—to lay on the kind of facilities and product offerings that my hon. Friend describes. It is absolutely essential that we secure better local marketing and ownership of the local tourism visiting experience, and I am glad to hear that Stroud is leading the way.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Radio 1 programme “Introducing…in Scotland” has helped launch the careers of fantastic Scottish artists such as Paolo Nutini, Calvin Harris and Frightened Rabbit, yet it is threatened with cancellation. Campaigners are coming to London on Monday to deliver a petition to Radio 1, and the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) has kindly agreed to meet them, but does he agree that it is exactly the kind of programme that we need in order to introduce new British music talent to the British public?

Mr Vaizey: I very much look forward to meeting the campaigners and to receiving the petition with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, I am a strong supporter of new music on the radio; that is why I campaigned so vigorously in opposition to save Radio 6 Music.

T6. [86741] Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Many constituents have contacted me with their concerns about the increase in spending on the Olympics opening ceremony. Will the Minister take this chance just to explain the extra value that we will receive for that money?

Mr Hunt: With pleasure. We expect that 4 billion of the world’s 7 billion people will watch the opening ceremony, which will be the biggest single opportunity in our lifetime to showcase this country, its history, its

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culture and its tourism to the whole world. I want it to be of great benefit in places such as the Peak district and my hon. Friend’s constituency, and that is why I went to the east midlands and had a very positive session with the local tourism industry on how it can harness the amazing opportunities that we will have next year.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): When Lord Coe decided that Dow Chemical was a suitable ethical partner for the Olympics, was he aware that earlier this year, in May, it had been blacklisted by the Indian Ministry of Agriculture for five years for bribing officials to get the chemical Dursban fast-tracked before the growing season—a chemical that has been banned in the United States for some years because of its health risk to human beings?

Mr Hunt: That is a question the hon. Gentleman will have to ask Lord Coe.

T8. [86744] Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): The Olympics are a real opportunity to boost tourism in the UK. Will my right hon. Friend say some more about his plans to spread the benefits of tourism to, in particular, the north-west of England?

Mr Hunt: That is why next year we will have the biggest ever marketing campaign to encourage people to take a holiday at home. It is designed to encourage the whole UK not to take for granted what we have on our doorstep. I know that my hon. Friend has great local stories, such as the Pendle witches, which he would like the whole country to find out more about, and next year is the moment to do so.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What discussions has the Olympics Minister had about the security implications of the cuts to police funding and the changes to control orders, which will allow very dangerous people back into the capital in the months leading up to the games?

Hugh Robertson: We have had extensive consultations with the Metropolitan police and all the security agencies about security for London 2012. The Metropolitan police assistant commissioner with responsibility for that area, Chris Allison, gave a presentation to the organising committee before the passage of the recent London Olympic and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Bill, and the Met has raised no such concerns.

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): May I thank the ministerial team and the Opposition parties for their support for my Live Music Bill, which passed through its entire Committee stage yesterday? There are, however, fears among some residents associations that it will reduce protections against noise and antisocial behaviour. Will the Minister confirm that that is not the case and that, although we wish to see an explosion of live music in small venues, we want to continue to protect residents who live close to pubs and clubs?

John Penrose: May I join everybody in the House in congratulating my right hon. Friend and, indeed, his compatriot Lord Clement-Jones at the other end of the corridor, who have been instrumental in guiding the Bill

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through both Houses so far? I can reassure him, as he said, that protections for local residents and local residents groups will be maintained as they are.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): If it is right to cut the school sports budget by £162 million, a 60% cut, why is it right to double the budget for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics from £40 million to £80 million?

Hugh Robertson: In a sense, the hon. Gentleman has answered his own question. The two figures are in no way comparable. The amount of money that goes into school sport—[Interruption.] I have to say to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) that even she might have worked out that £160 million each year is a great deal more than £40 million once.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): The deadline—[ Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sure that the House wants to hear the question from Dr Thérèse Coffey.

Dr Coffey: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Tomorrow is the deadline for schools to register for the Get Set network, part of the Olympic legacy that can cover every school in our land. Will the Minister encourage children, parents and teachers to ensure that their schools are registered and take full advantage of the values and benefits on offer?

Hugh Robertson: I most certainly will. More than 20,000 schools up and down the country have now signed up to the Get Set programme, and I absolutely encourage every school across the country to do likewise. It is also great news that another 11,000 schools have signed up to the school games project, and I encourage many more to do that.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—


1. Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the Government’s e-petitions website. [86674]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): Since the launch of the site, more than 3.2 million signatures have been submitted. The signatures and the debates that have stemmed from them have shown that we are indeed building a successful bridge between people and Parliament. Last Wednesday, I gave evidence to the Procedure Committee on the e-petitions system. I look forward to reading the views of the Committee when it publishes its report.

Brandon Lewis: I thank the Leader of the House for that answer. Will he outline how the Government are taking account of views in forming policy from the e-petitions, particularly given the excellent news in

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the autumn statement following the fantastic campaign run by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on fair fuel prices?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Six petitions have gone through the 100,000 threshold, of which four have been debated. The Hillsborough debate, one of the best that we have had this Parliament, obliged the Government to clarify their policy on the documents that they held. My hon. Friend referred to the autumn statement following shortly on from the debate on fuel, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). We have also had two debates on extradition and the Government have undertaken to have a look at their policy on extradition.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): I joined the Leader of the House in giving evidence to the Procedure Committee investigation into e-petitions and their short-term future. The Committee will shortly produce a report on the future of e-petitions. Will the Leader of the House guarantee that any short-term proposals for e-petitions will not be imposed on the House without a debate and vote, to avoid the problems that we had in introducing e-petitions in the first place?

Sir George Young: It was a pleasure to give joint evidence to the Procedure Committee last week with the hon. Lady. The Government would not want to impose any new arrangements on the House without going through the usual process of consultation. I await with interest, as I am sure she does, the outcome of the Committee’s deliberations, when we will see its proposals about how we handle e-petitions in future.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, will know that the big green bag on the back of your Chair is for citizens of this country to petition their Parliament to do something. Given that precedent, should not the e-petitions initiative be to Parliament, and not to the Government?

Sir George Young: That question was put to me by the Procedure Committee last week; my hon. Friend might like to read the response that I gave. The coalition Government made a commitment to introducing an e-petitions system. At the moment, it is run by the Government and the moment a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, I transfer it to the Backbench Business Committee, which considers whether the petition should have an opportunity for debate. That can take place only if the petition is then sponsored by a Member of Parliament. We have a system unlike the previous one, which ended at No. 10 and went nowhere. The system that we now have ensures that the petition does reach Parliament once it has gone through the threshold.

Parliamentary Privilege

2. Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): What representations he has received on whether correspondence between hon. Members and their constituents is subject to parliamentary privilege. [86675]

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The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has received no representations other than in the course of the Westminster Hall debate on the Bill of Rights, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), to which I responded. As I said then, although Members’ correspondence may be subject to qualified privilege for the purposes of the law of defamation, the House has never sought to assert that such correspondence is a proceeding in Parliament. Therefore it is not protected under article 9 of the Bill of Rights.

Stephen Phillips: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware of the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the draft Defamation Bill that correspondence between Members and their constituents should clearly be the subject of qualified privilege. It is critical that our constituents can correspond with us freely and frankly. I hope, therefore, that he can assure the House that the Government will bring forward legislation in that regard.

Mr Heath: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. The Government will examine that recommendation in making their response to the Joint Committee, of which he was a distinguished Member. I hope to update the House shortly on our related work on the draft parliamentary privilege Bill.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I rather agree with the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) about parliamentary privilege and Members’ correspondence. In the wider context, the concept of parliamentary privilege is in a bit of a mess. We are relying on rather antiquated concepts at the moment. In the light of what has happened this year, when I believe that many witnesses, in giving evidence to two Select Committee, have lied to Parliament, I suggest that we now need a criminal offence of parliamentary perjury for when people lie to Parliament.

Mr Heath: The courts have always recognised the right of each House of Parliament to regulate its own affairs. I accept that there are legitimate questions about the House’s enforcement powers and the punishments available to it. It is right to look afresh at whether the powers of each House are appropriate. That is part of the work that we are doing to bring forward a draft Bill on parliamentary privilege. If the hon. Gentleman is a little patient, he will see shortly that we are considering that matter.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Further to an answer that I received in September, in which the House of Commons Commission said that it costs the public purse a further £1.5 million for us to come back for the two-week September sitting, is it not time that we looked carefully at the programme of sittings of the House so that we are not constrained—

Mr Speaker: Order. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Lady. I am sure that her question is of great importance to her and possibly to others, but it suffers from the disadvantage of bearing absolutely no relation to the question on the Order Paper.

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Allocation of Business Hours

3. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): How many hours of business he plans to allocate to (a) general debates on subjects determined by the Government and (b) Back-Bench or private Members’ business in January and February 2012. [86676]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will announce the business for January and February 2012 in the usual way, during business questions on a Thursday.

John Mann: It is obvious to all of us that this coalition has run out of steam when it comes to legislation and everything else. Given that many Back Benchers on both sides of the House have good and sensible proposals for legislation, why does the Leader of the House, instead of bed blocking debating time, not give us the opportunity in January and February to bring forward that legislation?

Mr Heath: What a load of nonsense. I am afraid that I do not agree. Over the past two weeks, the House has had the opportunity to debate important and topical issues, including the economy, Europe and immigration. This afternoon, thanks to the Government’s establishment of the Backbench Business Committee, the House will debate financial education in schools, an issue that has received more than 100,000 signatures on the Government’s e-petition website. I believe that this Government have placed Parliament back at the centre of our national life.

Mr Speaker: Second time lucky, Anne Main.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Thank you for your indulgence, Mr Speaker. Again, September sittings will cost £1.5 million. Is it not time that the House moved its sittings so as not to cost the public purse an extra £1.5 million?

Mr Heath: There is a slight sense of déjà vu about that question. This is matter that the hon. Lady ought to put to the Procedure Committee, which is currently looking at the calendar of the House of Commons. She will be able to present her case to that Committee, and we look forward to its report in due course.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Despite this being the longest Session in post-war history, the Government’s legislative programme is a shambles. While we twiddle our thumbs in the Commons, the Lords are taking apart the Government’s ill-conceived, badly drafted and mean-spirited welfare reforms. Just yesterday, the Government’s policy of imposing a bedroom tax was defeated by an all-party alliance that included a former Conservative Secretary of State for Social Security. Is it not time that this Government listened to reason, dropped the more punitive parts of the Welfare Reform Bill and instead built a genuine consensus to make real progress on welfare reform?

Mr Heath: I make no apology for Bills receiving proper scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament, and we are committed to that. When legislation is receiving that

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scrutiny in the other place, it is right for us to wait until it has finished its deliberations, listen to what it has to say and then, in due course, address it in debate in the normal way.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

4. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What plans he has for future pre-legislative scrutiny of Government bills. [86677]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): The Government recognise the value that pre-legislative scrutiny can add and are committed to seeing more measures published in draft. This week the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), published for pre-legislative scrutiny draft measures on the recall of MPs. In addition, so far this Session we have published draft measures on Lords reform, financial services, defamation, the detention of terrorist suspects, individual electoral registration and electoral administration, civil aviation and a groceries code adjudicator. The Government expect to publish further measures in draft this Session, including on parliamentary privilege.

Diana Johnson: As my hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and for Bassetlaw (John Mann) have indicated, the Government’s legislative programme has ground to a halt. Would it not be sensible for us to spend some time scrutinising the draft Detention of Terrorist Suspects (Temporary Extensions) Bills now, rather than wait and debate them in a hurry when we are faced with an emergency?

Mr Heath: We will be bringing forward further measures, and if the hon. Lady is patient—

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): When?

Mr Heath: And even if the hon. Gentleman could be just a little patient, they may find that they hear news to their advantage later today.

Mr Speaker: Expecting patience from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) might be a triumph of optimism over reality, but I leave that question for the House to consider.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—


6. Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): How many apprentices are employed in the House of Commons service. [86679]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): There are currently no apprentices employed by the House service, although two are employed by Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology as software developer apprentices. The last group of three apprentices in the Parliamentary Estates Directorate completed their training in 2010 and have subsequently been appointed to permanent posts. Catering and Retail Services has offered a two-year apprentice chef scheme, but there

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have so far been no successful applicants. The House service is keen to employ more apprentices and continues to take steps to do so.

Robert Halfon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Will he take further steps to work with the charity New Deal of the Mind and support and encourage other MPs to employ apprentices in their own offices?

John Thurso: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. Employment by MPs is not a matter for the Commission, of course, but certainly the House will do everything it can to assist in such efforts. I am sure that as he has put the matter on the record, colleagues will be aware of his very sensible suggestion.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Bills (Third Reading)

7. Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Whether he has considered bringing forward proposals for the Third Reading of a Bill in the House of Commons to be taken after its consideration by the House of Lords. [86680]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): Any Bill first published in this House must currently pass through all its stages, including Third Reading, before it is sent to the House of Lords. We are aware of the suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), but the Government have no plans at present to bring forward proposals to change the current arrangements.

Dr Huppert: Currently, Members in this House are forced to decide on a Bill when it is not in its final form, and in many cases Government amendments have been promised that we have yet to see. Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that the primacy of this House would be strengthened if our Third Readings always happened last, and will he consider how that could be brought about?

Mr Heath: I understand the principle behind my hon. Friend’s question. No Bill can become law until this House has agreed to all its provisions, including any amendments proposed by the House of Lords to a Bill first published in this House. I am not sure that I immediately see the value that would be added by a further general debate on a Bill, but I advise my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark that if they wish to pursue the matter, it should perhaps be considered by the Procedure Committee and by the other House.

Parliamentary Reform

8. Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): What progress he has made on implementing the coalition agreement commitments on parliamentary reform. [86682]

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The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): Since taking office, this Government have made substantial progress on implementing the coalition’s commitments on parliamentary reform, which have helped to make the House more effective, transparent and accountable. Measures have included establishing the Backbench Business Committee, launching the e-petitions system and transferring responsibility for Members’ pay and pensions out of our hands and into those of the independent regulator.

Working with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), we have also piloted a public reading stage for the Protection of Freedoms Bill, published proposals to allow the recall of Members of Parliament and started work to establish a commission on the West Lothian question. We will also shortly bring forward proposals on how we will proceed with the draft parliamentary privilege Bill.

Harriett Baldwin: There certainly has been a great deal of parliamentary reform. One commitment in the coalition agreement was to establish the West Lothian commission. A written ministerial statement on 8 September said that that would happen in the weeks following October, but certainly by the end of the year, so exactly when will we get that commission?

Mr Heath: I should first congratulate the hon. Lady, who since her election has demonstrated her commitment to this issue, not least during the passage of her private Member’s Bill, the Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill. As she correctly says, the coalition programme for government set out our commitment to establishing a commission to consider the West Lothian question, and my hon. Friend the Minister who has responsibility for political and constitutional reform updated the House in a written statement in September. The Government intend to publish the make-up and terms of reference of the commission shortly.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Deputy Leader of the House obviously could not list all the Government’s parliamentary reform achievements because that would take up a great deal of parliamentary time. One that he missed was the commitment to introduce a Business of the House Committee. When will that happen, and what process will the House undertake to scrutinise it? Will he define “shortly” if he uses that word in his response?

Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Time simply does not permit us to set out all the important reforms that this Government have introduced to the House, and there is much still to be done. One of those things is the establishment of the House Business Committee. We are clearly committed to doing that during the third year of this Parliament, and are happy to ensure that that is the case. We are looking forward to introducing proposals after we have listened to those on both sides of the House who have an interest in the matter.

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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 and a bit of next year?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): The business for the week commencing 19 December will be:

Monday 19 December—General debate on apprenticeships.

Tuesday 20 December—Pre-recess Adjournment debate. The format has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee.

Colleagues will also wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on 20 December.

The business for the week commencing 9 January will include:

Monday 9 January—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 10 January—Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill.

Wednesday 11 January—Opposition day [un-allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 12 January—Motion relating to a statutory code of practice for pub companies, followed by motion relating to parliamentary representation.

The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 12 January will be:

Thursday 12 January—Debate on the Home Affairs Committee report on “The Landscape of Policing”.

May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and all right hon. and hon. Members a very happy Christmas and new year, and thank all those who have kept the House running smoothly during the year, including the Clerks, the Officers and staff of the House, the Doorkeepers and the cleaners? A merry Christmas to all with peace and good will.

Ms Eagle: Many of us are incredibly relieved that we have finally spotted a Government Bill arriving in the House, even if we have to wait until next year to see it. May I take this opportunity—the last business questions before Christmas—to echo the Leader of the House’s Christmas wishes? I wish you, Mr Speaker, your Deputies, the staff of the House, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House, and all Members and their staff a very happy Christmas and contented new year.

The House rises on Tuesday. The Government will no doubt be tempted to slip out as much bad news as they can in the last hours when they think that no one is looking. With 27 written ministerial statements on today’s Order Paper alone, can the Leader of the House assure me that any announcement of significance will be made as an oral statement to this House?

Last week, I said that the Prime Minister was isolated in Europe, but I did not know then quite how alone he would end up. Last Friday, the Deputy Prime Minister was apparently firmly behind the Prime Minister’s premature use of the veto at the European Council,

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saying that he was fully signed up to it. A few hours later, as his own party erupted in outrage, he let it be known that he was “bitterly disappointed” by it. He claimed that he told the Prime Minister that his actions were bad for Britain.

As the Prime Minister came to the House to make a statement, his Deputy got into a gigantic sulk, went to the gym and then straight on to Sky News to moan about his own Government before drowning his sorrows at the Ministry of Sound. The Business Secretary was apparently furious with the situation. The Scottish Secretary has publicly denounced the Prime Minister’s use of the veto and the Energy Secretary has claimed on the Floor of the House that in Europe

“if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”—[Official Report, 12 December 2011; Vol 537, c. 574.]

On Tuesday, all Liberal Democrat Ministers and Whips, including the Deputy Leader of the House, and five members of the Cabinet refused to support a motion congratulating their own Prime Minister. The Ministerial Code says:

“The principle of Collective Responsibility…requires that Ministers should be able to express their views frankly in the expectation that they can argue freely in private while maintaining a united front when decisions have been reached.”

What a joke. Is it not the case that in this Government, the Liberal Democrats have got it completely the wrong way round? They argue in public, but in private they will not stand up to the Tories no matter how much the Prime Minister humiliates them. Will the Leader of the House now confirm that the Prime Minister does not need to get a doormat for Christmas because he already has one?

While the Deputy Prime Minister hosts a European re-engagement event for business, the Prime Minister is busy fomenting opposition to the deal to appease his Eurosceptic Back Benchers. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Prime Minister is going to amend the Ministerial Code so that it more accurately reflects the cynically choreographed “licensed dissent” which is becoming more obvious by the day?

Unemployment has risen this week to well over 2.5 million, which is the highest level for 17 years and includes more than 1 million young people, who are now in the growing dole queue. The Employment Secretary spent yesterday saying that the figures had stabilised, but the Prime Minister told his party last night that

“2012 will be the worst since the 1980s”

On Tuesday, the Justice Secretary admitted that Britain was facing

“a long period of youth unemployment.”

Will the Leader of the House tell us why the Government have resigned themselves to a long period of high youth unemployment and a wasted generation? Instead of planning for this, would the Government not be better doing everything they can to stop it by adopting Labour’s five-point plan for jobs and growth, which would give 1 million unemployed young people some hope for an otherwise bleak 2012? Should not the voters of Feltham and Heston reject this do-nothing Tory pessimism and vote for Labour’s excellent candidate in today’s by-election?

As Christmas approaches, many of us are racking our brains to think of appropriate gifts for friends and family, but with the Cabinet it is very simple: flip flops for the Deputy Prime Minister; a shredder to be shared

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between the Business Secretary and the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office; and an espresso machine for the Justice Secretary so that he does not doze off in the Chamber again.

I was having trouble thinking of ideas for the Prime Minister until I discovered the Eton college online gift shop, where I found a very appropriate gift for him: “decision dice”. For those who are not familiar with the finer gifts available from the Eton college catalogue, the dice are described as:

“The ideal gift for the indecisive or those who just can't make up their minds.”

They are presented in a stylish chrome box engraved with the college coat of arms. For just £14.75, the dice are the ideal present for a Prime Minister whose U-turns this year have included: the sale of England’s forests; cuts to school sports; anonymity for those accused of rape; and the scrapping of the office of the chief coroner.

I know that the Leader of the House with his usual gallantry will be trying to think of a gift for me. May I tell him that all I want from him for Christmas is the date of the Queen’s Speech?

Sir George Young: I am not sure that there was a lot there about the business of the House, but let us have a go.

The hon. Member for Wallasey welcomed—I think—the announcement that a Bill would be given its Second Reading after the recess. I remind her that the House is not simply a legislation factory. We are not going to make the mistake that the last Government made of imposing too many ill-considered, ill-drafted Bills on the House. The Chamber has other things to do: the Chamber is here to hold the Government to account, to debate matters of national interest, and to represent the views of Members’ constituents, and we are determined that it should have adequate time in which to do those things.

The hon. Lady spoke of written statements being rushed out before the recess. It was precisely in order to avoid making the mistakes made by the last Government and to avoid a last-minute rush that 27 written statements were issued today, days before the House rises.

As for our being isolated in Europe, on my way to the House I just happened to see a headline in The Independent which read “EU 26 fight to stop pact unravelling”.

In response to the hon. Lady’s lengthy thesis on relationships, I simply make the point that the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister is stronger than the relationship between Tony Blair and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who were members of the same party. [Interruption.] Several autobiographies chronicle the weak relationship between Tony Blair and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The unemployment position has indeed stabilised, as the hon. Lady will see if she reads what was said in the House yesterday by the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). It can be found in column 844 of Hansard. My right hon. Friend told us that in the last month employment had risen by 38,000 and unemployment by 16,000, that the youth unemployment figure had remained static, that the jobseeker’s allowance claimant count had risen by 3,000, and that the number of people who had stopped claiming incapacity benefit and income support as a result of the

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Government’s welfare reforms was 10,000. The figures cover only one month, but they do show some signs of stabilisation in the market.

The hon. Lady referred to today’s by-election. I hope that voters in Feltham will use it as an opportunity to reveal whether or not they approve of the stand taken by the Prime Minister last week, and I hope that, if they endorse it, they will go out and vote for the Conservative candidate.

The hon. Lady said that her Christmas wish was to know the date of the Queen’s Speech. I admire her bravery, because it was not until 5.30 pm on Tuesday this week that the House was informed of the business for the following day, Wednesday, when the Opposition held a one-day debate. The Opposition give the House less than a day’s notice, and the hon. Lady wants me to give the House months’ notice of the date of the Queen’s Speech.

Observing who is sitting next to the hon. Lady, let me end on this note. Like the leader of her party, the shadow Leader of the House has a sibling who is also a Member of Parliament, and whom I welcome to the Front Bench. According to an interview with the shadow Leader of the House and her sister, published earlier this year,

“they haven’t had a… row in decades.”

The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) said

“we do know how to be with each other. It doesn't mean you can’t disagree, but you know—you’re sisters”.

Given that admirable expression of family affection, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Wallasey might be able to give the leader of her party some advice on how to manage relationships.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Following those stellar performances from the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House, may I gently remind colleagues that we are focusing on the business of the House for next week and the beginning of 2012?

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on the activities of parking enforcement companies—particularly Citywatch and Securak—which could be likened to demanding money with menaces, racketeering and extortion? May I make a final plea on behalf of a constituent? Toyin Lawal’s car was pinched by Citywatch from a car park that it was not even licensed to patrol, and it wants eight grand to give it back to her. I want the police to go round and get her car back off these criminals.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend’s constituent is fortunate to have such a proactive Member of Parliament championing her interests in the House. He might know that legislation has now gone through making it illegal to clamp cars on private space. I think that it comes into effect in March next year.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): There is only one full year before the Government have to introduce proposals on the establishment of a House business committee. Will the Leader of the House therefore

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consider early next year establishing a time-limited Select Committee like the Wright Committee, on which he and I served, to consider proposals for what such a House business committee would look like? It could inform the Government and the House on how to move forward.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who reminds the House of the commitment in the coalition agreement to establish such a Committee by the third year. She has proposed one way of implementing that commitment. There might be other ways, but I can assure her that I am actively considering how we deliver on that commitment, and at the appropriate time I would very much like to involve her in those discussions.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Christmas is a time when we think about the most vulnerable not only in the United Kingdom but abroad. Although Syria is not Libya, does my right hon. Friend agree that we need an urgent debate to discuss Syria and to ensure the end of the killing of thousands of innocent men, women and children?

Sir George Young: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I cannot promise a debate before the House rises, although there is the pre-Christmas Adjournment debate on Tuesday. I shall pass on his concerns, however, which are widely shared on both sides of the House. We have made clear our view that the President should step aside in the light of what is going on and allow a democratic Government to take over. I shall pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate before the House rises on the importance of buying goods made in the United Kingdom? There are about 10 days of shopping before Christmas and we have a £30 billion trade deficit with China. I have conducted an experiment that shows that it is possible to buy presents made only in the United Kingdom, or, at a push, Britain and Europe. May we have a campaign and debate to get people to buy things made here, because it provides employment for young people and creates jobs?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has already launched such a campaign with his questions. I hope that all those tuned in will do what they can to promote jobs and prosperity by, where possible, buying goods made in the UK. On the trade deficit with China, he will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and many Cabinet members have made repeated visits to China to promote inward investment and to help companies based in this country to win export orders from China, so we hope to make progress in reducing the trade deficit between the two countries.

Mr Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): May we have a debate on the Portas report into our towns and cities, particularly recommendation 9, which states that in-town car-parking charges are too high, act as a deterrent to in-town shopping and should be abolished? Unless that debate is soon, will he circulate that recommendation to

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all Labour-led local authorities so that they know that their anti-car policies are putting local shops out of business?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who might have seen the written ministerial statement accompanying the publication of the Portas review earlier this week. There were several recommendations, some of which were aimed at local authorities, particularly the one to which he referred, and others of which were aimed at the Government. The Government will respond in the spring to the recommendations, and in the meantime I shall ensure that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is aware of my right hon. Friend’s strong views about the disincentive effect that high parking charges can have on the prosperity of high street shops.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 2527, standing in my name and those of several other hon. Members, which expresses revulsion at the murder by Israeli soldiers of a peaceful demonstrator, Mustafa Tamimi, at whose head they fired point-blank a tear gas canister, and following which they manhandled his grieving sister?

[That this House expresses its revulsion at the deliberate killing by Israeli soldiers of Mustafa Tamimi, aged 28 years, while the Palestinian was taking part in a peaceful demonstration at Nabi Saleh on Friday 9 December 2011; notes that an Israeli soldier specifically and deliberately aimed a gas canister at Mustafa Tamimi's head, which hit him point-blank inflicting horrific injuries; further notes that these Israeli soldiers blocked access to an ambulance, pushed around Mustafa Tamimi's sister, who was deeply distressed by her brother's appalling injuries, and laughed and gloated at her; and calls for international action, rather than mild remonstrances, to prevent further Israeli murder of innocent Palestinians.]

Is he aware that at the funeral, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and sewage through hoses at mourners? Will he ask the Foreign Secretary to tell the Israelis that they have to stop this sadistic thuggery, which no doubt they will resume again tomorrow?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question and for raising that issue. He may know that there was a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on Government policy on Israel, which would have been an appropriate opportunity to raise the matter. Given that he might have been unable to be there, I shall of course pass on his concern to the Foreign Secretary and ask him whether, if appropriate, representations might be made to the Israeli ambassador.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): This House welcomed the Arab spring. May we have a debate in the new year on the Arab winter? I am referring to the Bedouin of Palestine-Israel, 30,000 of whom, or thereabouts, face the prospect of being removed in the new year from lands that they have occupied from before the formation of the state of Israel. This is ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Let us debate the Arab winter.

Sir George Young: The answer I give my hon. Friend may be the same as the one I have just given to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman). There was an opportunity to raise the issue

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in the House of Commons yesterday, in Westminster Hall. We have arranged fairly regular debates on north Africa, the middle east and Afghanistan. I hope that there will be other opportunities in the new year to have similar debates, which will provide my hon. Friend with a platform to raise the legitimate concerns that he has just brought to the attention of the House.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May we debate the Russian winter? I am not referring to the weather; I am referring to last week’s elections, which were profoundly corrupt. All who went to witness the elections say that there was massive vote-rigging. In Chechnya, for instance, 95% of the vote came in for Mr Putin’s party, despite the fact that everybody noticed massive vote-rigging. May I also suggest gently to the right hon. Gentleman that he take this matter up with his colleagues? There are Members of this House who sit on the Council of Europe in the same grouping as members of Mr Putin’s party, and there is no reason why we should hide from the fact that there has been corruption in Russia. We need to ensure proper democracy.

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman will have seen the protests in Russia over the weekend about the conduct of the election. I am not sure whether this gives him any satisfaction, but I understand that President Putin has ordered a review of how the elections were conducted, although one should perhaps not set too much store by that. I shall draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to the concern—I suspect shared by those on both sides of the House—about the conduct of the elections and, again, see whether appropriate representations might be made to the Russian ambassador.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency have very much welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement of the £20 billion national loan guarantee scheme to get cheaper loans to businesses. That is particularly important in parts of the country such as Cornwall, where there are many seasonal businesses involved in, for example, tourism. May we have a debate on this excellent new scheme and find out more?

Sir George Young: I hope all of us can remind businesses in our constituencies that £20 billion, which is a huge sum of money, is available through the national loan guarantee scheme. These are loans that the Government will stand behind; therefore, the banks can offer them at a lower rate of interest to companies in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We all have a role to play in promoting the scheme and in enabling businesses to take advantage of it and go ahead with investment projects that they might otherwise have been unable to afford.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Westminster city council’s proposed new evening and weekend parking charges have aroused universal condemnation, with genuine fears about the impact on job losses in the west end economy. The Secretary of State for Transport has gone on record as saying that she believes that such charges are a fund-raising measure, in which case they would be ultra vires. May we have an urgent debate, not only about the impact of such parking charges on the west

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end economy, but about the extent to which some local authorities are using parking charges to plug the black hole in their finances?

Sir George Young: I am a strong believer in local democracy, and I believe that it is for Westminster city council to take decisions about the appropriate level of parking charges. I am sure that the hon. Lady will make her own representations to the city council, although I would be surprised if it did anything that was ultra vires. However, at the end of the day, this is a matter for Westminster city council, not the Government.

Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the regulation of service charges for residents of private retirement accommodation who are on fixed incomes, such as those of Wright Court in Nantwich, in my constituency? Often they are not properly consulted by the providers of such accommodation about either the services that they require or the services that they can afford.

Sir George Young: As a former Housing Minister, I am aware of the problems facing many leaseholders, who find themselves confronted with service charges that they believe to be unreasonable. There are a number of protections in legislation, but my hon. Friend may know that there is also the Leasehold Advisory Service—which I set up when I was Housing Minister—a specialist body sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government that can perhaps advise his constituents in dealing with the challenges that face them.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): May we have a debate about the impact of the disastrous consequences of the Prime Minister’s decision to isolate the UK from the rest of Europe on the ambitions of the devolved nations? The Leader of the House and other hon. Members refer to “separatists”, but are not the only real separatists in this House the little Englander separatists on the Conservative Back Benches?

Sir George Young: I think that that charge might be made against the hon. Gentleman. One might think that his was a separatist party, if I might say so. However, we had such a debate on Tuesday, on an Opposition motion, when he would have had the opportunity to raise the matter, although as I said a moment ago, it is by no means clear that we are isolated in Europe.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): Last Monday the Design Commission launched a report called “Restarting Britain”, which is about the importance of design in the UK. Given the importance of design in securing growth, particularly in partnership with manufacturing, will the Leader of the House give some Government time for a debate on design and its importance for our economy?

Sir George Young: As my hon. Friend may know from the Localism Act 2011, design is one of the key issues that we think should be taken into account, and I thank him for his well designed question. I cannot promise an early debate on the issue, but when the House returns, he might like to apply for a debate in

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Westminster Hall or see whether the Backbench Business Committee can allocate a debate on this important issue.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate on the behaviour of the energy companies? My constituent Mrs Larkin, from Hyde, has seen her monthly tariff rise from £65 to £79—an increase of more than a fifth—despite having always been in credit, and the energy company will not take any lesser amount as a more reasonable compromise. Given these times that we are in, when living standards are being squeezed, surely the energy companies should be behaving more responsibly.

Sir George Young: One of the initiatives that the Government took a few weeks ago with the energy companies was to make it easier for consumers to shop around and get a better supplier. That is an option that the hon. Gentleman’s constituent may like to reflect on. In the meantime, however, I will pass on his concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and see whether he can play any role in resolving the issue that he has raised.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we please have a statement updating the House on when the driving test centre in Bury is likely to reopen? The centre was damaged owing to the ingress of water last Christmas. In the summer, driving instructors and their pupils, who were being greatly inconvenienced by the closure, were told that the centre would be reopened this year, but it is clear that this will not now happen.

Sir George Young: I understand that the delay was caused by structural issues that came to light at a late stage. Work is expected to commence in January, and I understand that it is hoped that testing at the Bury driving centre will resume in February 2012.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): Given that the Leader of the House seems to have some time to play with, may we have a debate in Government time on the landscape for Government support for carbon capture and storage? The inability of the Chancellor, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Energy Secretary to make clear how much of the £1 billion previously allocated will now be available following the announcement in the autumn statement is causing uncertainty in the industry. We need to get ahead with this if we are to maximise the export potential of that crucial industry.

Sir George Young: This issue was raised at Energy and Climate Change questions relatively recently, when it was confirmed that the £1 billion is still available for suitable schemes.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): May I reiterate the call for a debate on the Portas report? In my constituency of Aberconwy, the town of Llandudno is still doing comparatively well, as the main retail centre for north Wales, but other towns, such as Llanrwst and Penmaenmawr, are seeing a decline in the retail sector, which might be combated by adopting some of the proposals in the Portas report.

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Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who adds weight to the representations made a few moments ago for a debate on that important report, which is also something that the Backbench Business Committee might like to consider if representations are made. The report was published alongside our own research and showed that some high streets are weathering the downturn—he referred to one in his constituency—whereas others have seen 40% less retail spending. We will respond to the recommendations in due course—probably in the spring—but in the meantime, I agree that the House might like to debate the issue.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I thank the Leader of the House for his assiduous answering of my questions over 2011. I want to ask him for one more urgent debate or urgent statement on behalf of my constituent Sheila Wither, who is disabled and has to pay £1.20 for a return journey on Ring and Ride, whereas the able-bodied over-60s can travel free by bus. Centro has consulted, but Sheila tells me that she agreed to the slight charge only because she feared losing the service. The Department for Transport cannot intervene. Will the Leader of the House do the right thing so that people with disabilities can travel free, just like their able-bodied counterparts?

Sir George Young: I am flattered by the hon. Lady’s confidence that the Leader of the House can succeed where the Department for Transport has apparently failed. I will, of course, make appropriate inquiries to see whether we can help the hon. Lady’s constituent.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): May we please have an early debate on value for money in the Metropolitan police? It has emerged that for its most senior staff alone—those on salaries of between £80,000 and £260,000—the Metropolitan police has paid just under £70,000 for private health insurance. It is hard to justify that money, which could be spent on providing constables to fight crime on the front line.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend will know that the ultimate decision rests with the Metropolitan Police Authority, but I agree with my hon. Friend’s message that, at a time of downward pressure on public expenditure and the need to preserve resources for the front line, this issue should perhaps be given careful scrutiny before it is decided to carry on with it.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): May we have a debate on the effectiveness of the Health and Safety Executive? A recent report highlighted that approximately 1,500 people die in work-related accidents every year but that the Health and Safety Executive investigates only one in 19 cases. Will the Leader of the House seek clarification of those figures and, if they are correct, what more will the Government do to protect people at their workplace?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to a quite impressive statistic on the numbers investigated and the total numbers reported. I will raise the matter with the appropriate Secretary of State and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Most of my constituents in Dover and Deal work in small and medium-sized enterprises. Will the Leader of the House find time for a

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debate on how to help SMEs expand and on what the Government are doing for those enterprises to encourage more jobs and money?

Sir George Young: There was an opportunity in the debate on the autumn statement to put in the shop window some of the schemes that the Government have initiated. I remind my hon. Friend of the £1 billion business finance partnership for investing in exactly the type of businesses to which he refers, but through non-bank channels. That might be an appropriate avenue for my hon. Friend to explore for directing funds to mid-sized businesses in his constituency. The process of allocating those funds will begin early in the new year.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Now that the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill has been scrutinised by both the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills and the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is it not time that it was brought before the House so that this measure, which is very popular with the public, can become law?

Sir George Young: As the hon. Lady rightly says, this Bill has had consideration in draft and it was a popular measure welcomed on both sides of the House. There will be a second Session of this Parliament, and the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill is a strong candidate for consideration as part of it.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May we have a debate early next year on social care and paying for the costs of care homes? We have been promised a White Paper in the spring, but it appears that this is going to be no more than a progress report and will not contain substantive policy decisions. It is sometimes argued that it is difficult to establish cross-party agreement on this issue, but if we were to have a debate, we could see whether there was cross-party agreement on the funding of social care and the cost of care homes. As co-chair of the all-party group on carers, I very much hope that this issue can be resolved before I leave Parliament. At the present rate of progress, however, I will be contesting further elections in Banbury before this matter is resolved.

Sir George Young: Regardless of whether the problem is solved, I hope my hon. Friend will continue to fight a large number of elections in Banbury. He will know that one of the first actions we took was to establish the Dilnot commission, which reported in July. There is a commitment to publish a White Paper in the spring, which will outline the Government’s response to the important issues. There have been a number of debates on this important subject, but I would welcome a further one. We inherited a situation in which there were lots of White Papers but no action was taken during 13 years.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Can we have a statement from the Leader of the House—or whoever he delegates it to—on how we can hold the Government to account over participation in school sport? We put questions to the Secretary of State at DCMS Question Time this morning, but he refused to answer any about how we are going to monitor participation at school age. The Secretary of State has put £11 million into school games: it was announced by him and it is on his Department’s website, so it is not unreasonable to expect

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answers to DCMS questions about it. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on who is going to be accountable for answering questions on this subject in future?

Sir George Young: That sounds a little like unfinished business from the question and answer session that we have just had. I caught the end of DCMS questions and I thought that my right hon. and hon. Friends were answering questions with their usual competence and accuracy. I will, however, draw the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to see whether there is anything he wishes to add to what he said a few moments ago.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): A very important matter for many Members is the law criminalising assisted suicide. Bearing in mind the expectation of a campaign to try to change this law, will my right hon. Friend ensure that Members have an opportunity to express their views on this issue early in the new year?

Sir George Young: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I think that this issue was debated during proceedings on a private Member’s Bill during the last Parliament, although I am not sure whether we have had a debate on it in this Parliament. It sounds to me an admirable subject for a debate on which strong views are held on both sides. I suggest that my hon. Friend presents himself to the Backbench Business Committee to put in a bid. I think he will find support on both sides of the House in seeking consideration of that important matter.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Can we have a debate about how commitments made on the Floor of the House by the Prime Minister to Back Benchers are adhered to by Ministers? On 7 November, I asked the Prime Minister:

“If the eurozone continues to fail to deal with the crisis, what actions will the Prime Minister take to protect the interests of the UK?”

At the end of his answer, he said:

“If he wants to discuss privately with a Treasury Minister the elements of any plan, he is at liberty to do so.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 39-40.]

I took up that invitation and wrote to the Chancellor on 8 November, but I have had no reply, even though we are about to go into recess and this is a very important matter. I am concerned about whether this is going to be a broken promise by the Prime Minister—or, worse still, that it means that the Government have no plan to deal with the eurozone crisis.

Sir George Young: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement to the House on Monday and answered questions for almost two hours. There was adequate opportunity for the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, others to press him on the matter. The Prime Minister answered questions on Monday, and I cannot believe that there is any uncertainty left about where the Government stand on this matter.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): This week I attended the screening of “The Iron Lady” and was disturbed by the way in which the film portrayed its subject. Can we therefore have a debate on respect,

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good manners and good taste, as I found the film—although brilliantly acted—to be disrespectful to a Member of this Parliament?

Sir George Young: Unlike my hon. Friend, I have not had the benefit of seeing the film, although I know a number of hon. Members saw it earlier this week. There were conflicting views about it. Some found it to be a good film; others, obviously like my hon. Friend, found bits of it to be distasteful. I would welcome a debate, but I think Ministers should be cautious about expressing views that might be seen to be a form of censorship of films produced by independent producers.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Nagoya protocol on access and benefit sharing was designed to take millions of people in the world out of poverty and to release new medicines and products on to the market for the benefit of humanity. The Government signed that protocol at the convention on biodiversity at Nagoya in 2010, but it has yet to be ratified. Will the Leader of the House look into this as a matter of urgency, as ratification is vital if we are to get the protocol into force?

Sir George Young: I am very happy to raise that matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at DEFRA and to get a response to the hon. Gentleman before the House rises.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): Metal theft is a scourge across the entire country and yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly) and I met the Minister responsible at the Home Office, Lord Henley, and found much agreement with the provisions in the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), which has widespread cross-party support. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Home Secretary for a statement on this subject as a matter of urgency when the House returns in January?

Sir George Young: I think I am right in saying that there was an exchange on metal theft during Home Office questions on Monday. I can confirm that we are considering a range of measures, which include banning cash payments, supporting scrap metal dealers in identifying stolen metal and seeing how we can make it more difficult to steal such types of metals. We are also working with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Transport police have set up a new unit, but I will pass on my hon. Friend’s suggestion that we reconsider the private Member’s Bill to see whether we can make swift progress.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House explain to me why the House is returning on Tuesday 10 January? It seems to me that Monday 9 January is the day that we should come back.

Sir George Young: The House agreed to come back on 10 January in a motion that was put to the House last month. That date has been agreed. The House will

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still be sitting more days than in the first two years of the preceding Parliament, so there can be no suggestion that we are slacking.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): With over 90% of its shop units occupied and 100% of the units in the Newlands shopping centre full for Christmas, Kettering’s town centre is weathering the economic storm better than most. May I join the calls for a debate in Government time on the Portas report into Britain’s high streets before the Government publish their response, so that the Government can be informed of Members’ views and opinions?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing a suggestion that was made earlier, and I am pleased to hear about the prosperity of the shopping centre in Kettering. He is a member of the Backbench Business Committee and is probably better placed than I am to organise a debate on high street shops between now and the time when the Government respond. I hope he will therefore look sympathetically on colleagues who come to him with such a request, in view of the statement he has just made.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Can we have a statement from the Leader of the House next week on an important issue? The Government have refused until now to say who would take over if the Prime Minister were incapacitated, and after last week’s performance some of us would be very worried if it were the Deputy Prime Minister, in case he was in a sulk. Will the Leader of the House tell us who would take over? Would it be the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or perhaps Mrs Bone?

Sir George Young: I think Mrs Bone might be towards the bottom of the list of possible successors, admirable though her qualities of leadership might be. My hon. Friend has asked me this question before and I refer him to the answer I gave on that earlier occasion.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Given the media headlines yesterday on young people’s unemployment, it is easy to forget that young people aged 18 to 24 have experienced high unemployment as a percentage of the population since 2006—for many years now. It is obviously a structural issue, so may we have a debate on how we can help young people’s aspirations? I hope that we could debate in a non-partisan way measures such as those incorporated into the youth contract and take into account the cross-party report on the future jobs fund published by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions.

Sir George Young: Some of those issues were touched on in yesterday’s debate. We all have a role to play in tackling youth unemployment in our constituencies by drawing to the attention of potential employers that element of the youth contract that gives employers a subsidy of £2,250 a year, to cover the national insurance contributions, if they employ somebody aged between 18 and 24 who is on the Work programme. We can all publicise that scheme and encourage employers to take advantage of it, thereby playing a role in reducing youth unemployment in our constituencies.

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Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): In December 2005, the then Government applied the influence referred to by the shadow Leader of the House to negotiate away £7 billion-worth of 1984 EU rebate in return for some illusory promises on common agricultural policy reform. Six years on, would it be appropriate to have a short debate on which of those promises resulted in action? I suggest that it need only be a short debate, since there has been very little action.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend reminds the House that the previous Government surrendered a very valuable rebate some time ago. We want a substantial reduction in the size of the CAP, with a higher proportion of CAP funds for the cost-effective delivery of public goods, and we want a fair deal for our farmers and for taxpayers within a smaller budget. We hope to continue to deliver environmental public goods through an ambitious agri-environment programme. We will press on with our agenda of getting a square deal for this country in CAP reform.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Given recent revelations about exam boards and in the light of information that I have obtained that shows that exam boards have been allowed to increase their charges to maintained schools by more than 10% a year for each of the past five years, may we have a debate about what has gone wrong with the exam board system? May we also have an investigation into who knew what and when, and who is responsible for denigrating our exam system that badly?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. There is concern, particularly in the light of recent reports, about what is happening. I think that I am right to say that today one of the Select Committees is taking evidence on that very subject, and we await its report. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has asked Ofqual to investigate some of the allegations and to report back. It is crucial that we restore the credibility of the exam system and that is what my right hon. Friend wants to do.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): In the Harrogate district, there are nearly 8,000 small businesses employing about 70,000 people. Please may we have a debate on small businesses and the measures the Government are taking to support them? In particular, I am thinking about the cut in small business corporation tax and the extension of the rate relief holiday. I have started businesses and worked in small businesses and I know that those measures will be very helpful. May we please treat this as a matter of urgency, because small businesses are the engines of growth in our economy and we must do all we can to help them thrive?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of some of the initiatives that the Government have taken to help small businesses. He could also have referred to the changes we have made to the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trust regimes to increase the flow of capital. We have also launched the new seed enterprise investment schemes to encourage investment in start-up companies. As I said a moment ago, we all have a role to play in drawing to the attention of employers in our constituencies

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the measures the Government are taking to tackle unemployment and promote prosperity in the areas we represent.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Last Friday, I visited the Alternative school in Barnoldswick and met head teacher Kirsty-Anne Pugh and the staff there. The school provides education for a number of young people who, for one reason or another, have not succeeded in mainstream education, and I feel that it has real potential to apply in future to become a free school. May we therefore have a debate on free schools and how they are fostering diversity, fairness and aspiration in our education system?

Sir George Young: I would welcome such a debate and I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. Half of the first 24 free schools are located in the most deprived 30% of areas in the country. I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend had to say about that school wanting to become an academy, and I welcome that, but he also reminds the House of the potential of our education reforms to help not just children in mainstream schools but those in special schools, who need every single piece of help they can get.

Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): At this time of year, I know that the thoughts of the entire House will be with British armed forces serving in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. I was one of a number of MPs who recently visited Camp Bastion, and it is certainly at the forefront of my mind. In the light of that and as a gesture of seasonal good will, will my right hon. Friend consider allowing a debate in this House to update us on operations in Afghanistan and the welfare of British troops?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend speaks for the whole House in reminding us of the sacrifice that our armed forces have made and the fact they will continue to work over Christmas. May I suggest that she comes to the House on Monday for Defence questions, where she might have the opportunity to convey directly to Defence Ministers her appreciation of the armed forces and to get an authoritative response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State?

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): In my role as chair of the enterprise zone group and from talking to businesses in tourism, engineering and energy across Great Yarmouth, I can see clearly that among SMEs and individuals there is a real aspiration for growth and development in their businesses—it is almost tangible. Bearing that in mind, as well as projects such as the seed enterprise investment scheme and others that have been mentioned today, may I echo colleagues’ and hon. Friends’ earlier words about the importance of a debate in Government time on business and what the Government are doing further to highlight the great opportunities for businesses in our country?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting some of the initiatives we have already taken to help small businesses, and I was interested to hear about his experience. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I am sure that when the House returns it will want to debate the economy, giving him a platform to

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talk about the schemes that have already been introduced and the further steps he would encourage the Government to take in order to make more progress in his constituency.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): I wrote in June to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), because Network Rail was missing eight out of 10 of its targets. In November, the Office of Rail Regulation said that its projections showed that Network Rail would fail to meet many of the targets that had been reset for it. The latest report from the ORR said:

“Train performance continued to deteriorate”.

That is having a massive impact on my commuters, as 60% of delays have been attributed to it. When can we have a statement? Network Rail is being monitored still for failing so many targets. May we have an urgent statement on its performance in the new year?

Sir George Young: I am sorry to hear about the problems that my hon. Friend’s constituents face because of the failures of Network Rail, which has a somewhat unique governance structure that makes it difficult to hold it to account. I will share her concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. My hon. Friend will know that additional funds were announced in the autumn statement to help railway infrastructure. I hope that some of that might filter through to her constituency and reduce some of the problems she has mentioned.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): May we have a debate on Saif Gaddafi and the London School of Economics given that the university refused to divulge information as to the circumstances in which he was awarded his PhD, despite freedom of information requests? Will the Leader of the House speak to the Minister with responsibility for higher education and urge him to call on the LSE to publish what really went on in this disgraceful episode of taking blood money for PhDs?

Sir George Young: I understand my hon. Friend’s deep concern, but I am not sure that I can comment on individual information requests. I do not know whether he has approached the Information Commissioner’s Office. He has a right of complaint to that office and from there to the first-tier tribunal. In general, when a request is made for the release of the personal information of others under the Freedom of Information Act, such information can be released only if that would be in compliance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act. We are looking at the FOI Act as part of post-legislative scrutiny and I can only suggest that my hon. Friend pursues the avenues I have just touched on.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Leader of the House and reciprocate his good wishes to me. I take this opportunity to express good wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year to all colleagues and to all who serve the House.