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House of Commons

Thursday 24 January 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Motion made, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be considered on Tuesday 29 January.

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Native Tree Species (Disease)

1. Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): What steps he is taking to safeguard native tree species from the threat of disease. [139061]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): Last October I introduced a ban on the movement of ash trees, and as recently as last week I introduced tighter controls which require notification by importers of consignments of certain oaks, sweet chestnuts and plane trees, allowing plant health inspectors to target inspections.

I instructed Professor Ian Boyd to convene the independent taskforce on tree and plant health, chaired by Professor Chris Gilligan. I welcome its interim recommendations, which presented radical ideas to safeguard Britain’s trees from disease, and I keenly await its final report, which will be published in the spring along with the updated Chalara control plan.

Caroline Nokes: Hillier Nurseries, which is in my constituency, is the United Kingdom’s leading grower of trees, and one of the largest growers in Europe. Last year it supplied trees to the Olympic park. It is imperative for the control plan for ash dieback and other tree diseases to be robust and responsive, but what reassurance can the Secretary of State give the company that the Government will support a programme involving the breeding of disease-resistant trees?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend has asked exactly the right question. We know from scientific evidence that Chalara cannot be eradicated, but that there is likely to be a percentage of resistant trees. I have asked DEFRA’s chief scientist, Professor Ian Boyd, to work with experts in genetics, as a priority, to establish the best ways of identifying and developing the sources of that resistance.

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He began his work in December. We are also working closely with industry—including splendid companies like the one in my hon. Friend’s constituency—on an updated version of the Chalara control plan, to be published at the end of March.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The truth is that the Forestry Commission is in absolute chaos. A total of 530 posts have been lost, 60 of them—60!—in forest research. The Secretary of State has the gall to stand at that Dispatch Box and act as if the world is all right and what he is saying has put everything in order. That is not the case, and he needs to get a grip.

Mr Paterson: I think that there may have been a question lurking in the humbug somewhere. The fact is that we have enormously increased research on plant diseases. I pay tribute to all those in the Forestry Commission and the DEFRA agencies who conducted a totally unprecedented survey of the whole United Kingdom—2,500 pieces of land, each 10 kilometres square—and analysed where the disease had come from. We know that, sadly, it has blown in and that there is a genetic strain, and we will work with companies such as Hillier’s to find it.

16. [139078] Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): What role does my right hon. Friend think the public can play, not only in the response to ash dieback but in our wider approach to tree health?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his much more constructive question. The public can play a key role. We know that there is a genetic strain that is resistant; we have seen it in Denmark and Holland. Organisations such as the Woodland Trust can play a vital part in helping us to identify the trees that are resistant so that we can start to breed from them.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State may know of my interest as chair of the John Clare Trust, which runs a campaign called Every Child’s Right to the English Countryside. The likelihood of any child’s visiting any green space is halved in a generation. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), we need an army of people to go out into our forests and woods, to act as detectors of disease, and to help us to fight it. We need that army of people to go into the country’s green spaces and act in the same way as the membership of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who are good at noticing any decline in the bird population.

Mr Paterson: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is exactly the way in which we will confront some of these diseases. As I have said, a number of trees are resistant, and it would be enormously helpful if the public became involved in searching for them. There are some 80 million ash trees in the country; officials cannot spot them all, but the public can, and that could be immensely beneficial. I pay tribute to the members of the public who paid a key role during the week in which we surveyed the entire United Kingdom.

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2. Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the response to the recent floods. [139062]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): The Government are grateful for the response from our front-line emergency services, which were deployed around the clock, including during public holidays. The staff of the fire, ambulance, police and other rescue services, local authorities, the Environment Agency, the voluntary sector, and local communities worked tirelessly in response to the floods. The Flood Forecasting Centre consistently provided high-quality forecasting and was able to predict risks accurately, which enabled timely action to be taken on the ground.

Sheryll Murray: I thank my hon. Friend for the interest he took in the flooding that occurred in my constituency over the two weekends prior to the Christmas break. How can he best help communities in my constituency in the aftermath of the floods?

Richard Benyon: Like other hon. Members, my hon. Friend contacted me during those severe floods and kept me informed. I was able to use the information she gave me in my discussions with the Environment Agency and others, and I am coming down to see for myself the issues in her constituency in the near future. We are better prepared for flooding events than ever before, but that does not mean we are in any way complacent. We learn from every flooding event, and I assure her and her constituents that we will learn and that if improvements can be made, they will be made. I will make sure that we are working across government to achieve the results that her constituents deserve.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): On 26 November, the Secretary of State told the House that he would consider targeted emergency funding for communities affected by flooding, such as those in my constituency. Will the Minister tell the House what he has decided to do?

Richard Benyon: The hon. Lady will be aware that a long-established scheme, the Bellwin scheme, is there to assist local authorities when their recovery costs rise above a particular threshold. I understand that a number of authorities got some funding over 2012 and some did not. I want to work with her and others to ensure that where we can help, we are doing so, and that there is a co-ordinated response to these devastating flood incidents. Nearly 8,000 properties were flooded in 2012, and we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help them.

Mr Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Hundreds of homes were badly flooded in my constituency last June, following a freak 36-hour rainstorm. Thousands of my constituents now face problems with flood insurance; I am told of excesses in the tens of thousands of pounds. May I emphasise to my hon. Friend, in his negotiations with the insurance industry and others, the importance to my constituents of finding a replacement for the flood insurance statement of principles as a matter of urgency?

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Richard Benyon: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I am coming down to his constituency to hear the concerns of his constituents. I can assure him that we want to achieve something better than the statement of principles, which does not cover all properties and has no element that affects affordability. We recognise that there are real concerns about this, including in my constituency, where insurance premiums are being hiked dramatically. We want to protect those on low incomes who are at flood risk.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): The statement of principles runs out in June 2013. The Association of British Insurers considers the negotiations with the Government to be at crisis point and estimates that 200,000 people will be without insurance. What do I say to my constituents who are coming to my surgery asking me what they should do about insurance? This is in absolute disarray.

Richard Benyon: I entirely reject the idea that our talks with the ABI are at crisis point—nothing could be more different; they are progressing at a very high tempo. We are negotiating with the ABI, with meetings happening on a seemingly daily basis and at the highest level in government. We want to achieve something that is better than the previous Government negotiated with the industry. We are dealing with large international financial institutions. We want to get this right for the taxpayer and those at flood risk, and we are working hard to achieve that.

Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon) (Con): Six communities in my constituency were flooded three times in 2012—in July, November and December—and people there are naturally desperate about what to do. I realise that there is no money, because of our high-spending predecessors, but can the Minister find any extra resources to put into flood defence and prevention schemes to help my constituents cope with what may happen in the future?

Richard Benyon: I am glad to inform my hon. Friend that we are spending a lot of money—£2.3 billion of taxpayers’ money—on what the Government should be doing, which is building flood defences. In addition, we are looking carefully to ensure that we are supporting all the relevant agencies, such as the Environment Agency, to ensure that watercourses are flowing and that we are addressing all the factors that contribute to flooding. I entirely understand the desperation that his constituents must feel as a result of repeat flooding events, and we are working hard to deal with those.

Flood Defence Schemes

3. Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): How many properties were protected from the recent flooding by flood defence schemes. [139063]

4. Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): How many properties were protected from the recent flooding by flood defence schemes. [139064]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): The Environment Agency estimates that more than 22,000 properties in England

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and Wales that would otherwise have flooded in December have been protected through a combination of flood defences, maintenance work, storage basins and temporary defence measures. In addition, 183,000 properties were protected between April and November.

Damian Collins: Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important that the Environment Agency’s flood maps are as clear and accurate as possible? When the Dymchurch sea wall was completed in my constituency, it took a considerable time for the benefits of the scheme to be known to home owners and industry.

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Environment Agency’s national flood risk assessment assesses the likelihood of flooding and that information should be transferred to insurance companies when the new data are available. I understand that local circumstances meant there was a delay in his constituency, but the map will be updated in April.

Harriett Baldwin: I thank the Secretary of State for paying a visit to Upton upon Severn to see how the new flood defences protected the community through last winter’s floods. Will he consider carefully the business case and bid for flood defences for the market town of Tenbury Wells when they come to the Environment Agency later this year?

Mr Paterson: I enjoyed visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency. I pay tribute to those in the Environment Agency, councils and other public services who worked so hard over Christmas and the new year. She is an indefatigable supporter of her constituents’ demands and the Tenbury Wells scheme is in play as part of the extra funding that is being made available, but I cannot make any announcements today.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): In government, Labour provided funding to protect 160,000 households from flooding over two years. This Government will take four years to protect the same number of properties. Why?

Mr Paterson: That is a slightly dotty question. Some flood schemes take several years to plan and this really is not a party political issue; schemes were built by the previous Labour Government from which we are benefiting now and we are building schemes now that will last for a generation. There are substantial schemes in play. The circumstances have been incredibly difficult because of the awful mess we inherited—we still have the worst deficit in western Europe—but despite that we plan to spend £2.1 billion to protect 145,000 properties. In the spending round in November we got an extra £120 million that will over time protect a further 60,000 properties. These are good schemes and the hon. Gentleman should support them.

Flood Insurance

5. Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): What progress his Department is making on negotiations with the Association of British Insurers to ensure that affordable home insurance against flooding is available to householders in Cleethorpes constituency and elsewhere. [139065]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): Constructive discussions with the Association of British Insurers on behalf of their members and with others about the future of flood insurance continue at the highest levels of government. A range of options are on the table and no final decisions have been taken. We need a solution that ensures affordable insurance bills for those at flood risk but does not place unsustainable costs on wider policyholders and the taxpayer.

Martin Vickers: The Minister will be aware that many residents of Cleethorpes and other towns live in areas that are designated as high risk by virtue of their postcode as a result of Environment Agency mapping even though they might not have flooded for 50 years or more. Will he take on board those concerns and bear them in mind in his negotiations with the insurers?

Richard Benyon: I entirely understand that frustration, but the Environment Agency now provides mapping down to a 50 metre by 50 metre square, which is a lot more accurate than using postcodes. Insurers sometimes take different approaches to assessing flood risk and, in addition to Environment Agency data, most companies will use past claims history. I urge my hon. Friend and his constituents to use their local Environment Agency office, which is, I think, in Lincoln, as it can provide details of individual properties that are at risk. That can be extremely useful for householders in their negotiations with an insurer.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I have absolutely no doubt that the Minister is working very hard to strike a deal with the ABI. However, the same answer was given at the last Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions pre-Christmas. Will the Minister update the House on what real progress has been made since then and on what the sticking points are?

Richard Benyon: I would love to be able to announce that a deal had been reached. As I have said before, I am afraid that we cannot negotiate these issues on the Floor of the House. They are sensitive—and market sensitive, too—and we want to ensure that when we come to the House we have a rock-solid case that is watertight and that will last for a long time. I know that this matter is a great concern to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and I am delighted that preparatory work has started on the flood scheme in Morpeth. The real comfort will not come, however, until his constituents have the assurance they need on insurance.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): How much does the Minister think premiums will rise by next year if he is not able to reach agreement with the insurance industry?

Richard Benyon: The real problem is that premiums have been rising pretty dramatically while the statement of principles has been in place. There is no affordability element to the statement of principles. We want to protect those on low incomes in flood-risk areas, and we think we have a method of doing that. We are at an advanced stage in negotiations; I will come to the House shortly, I hope, with details.

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Rural Economy

6. Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): What policies his Department is implementing to boost the rural economy. [139066]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): A £165 million package of measures from the 2011 rural economy growth review is helping rural communities. It includes support for five rural growth network pilots, which are expected to create around 3,000 jobs and 700 new businesses, and rural development funding. We are improving superfast broadband infrastructure in the remotest areas and boosting key sectors such as tourism. We are increasing export potential and unblocking barriers to growth by removing red tape.

Gordon Henderson: I welcome my right hon. Friend’s remarks, particularly those relating to broadband, because improving broadband reception in rural communities will help their economy. Is he as concerned as I am about the apparent reluctance of BT to pay its full contribution to funding the roll-out of superfast broadband?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend isabsolutely right; I cannot think of any measure that we are undertaking that will do more to help a whole range of economic activities in rural areas. I had a meeting with Ian Livingston, the chairman of BT Group, the week before last. We also discussed the issue in Cabinet, and the Prime Minister himself chaired a meeting on it this week. This is an absolute priority for the Government. We are determined to reach the target of 90% of premises being connected to superfast broadband, with the remainder having a standard of 2 megabits. If my hon. Friend has data on issues affecting BT, he should write to me.

17. [139079] Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State accept that, according to the Government’s own estimates, the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board will take £250 million out of national rural economies and hit 14,000 workers in Wales? Will he listen to what people are saying outside the House about that abolition, and in particular will he listen to what is being said about it in another place, so that he understands the strong feeling that the proposal should be rejected?

Mr Paterson: I am afraid that I just disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. The board is a dinosaur relic from 1948. The rural economy is now dynamic. Those in agriculture are skilled people—cowmen are like hen’s teeth, and skilled tractor drivers are in demand—and many of them are paid well over the minimum wage, which did not exist in 1948.

11. [139072] Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): In December, I was delighted officially to reopen the Trawden post office in my constituency, which has been modernised and has extended opening hours, thanks to investment from the Government. Will my right hon. Friend say more about what he is doing with Ministers from other Departments to support small businesses in rural areas, such as the Trawden post office?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As a previous secretary of the all-party group on sub-post offices, I wholeheartedly concur with and support what he says. Unlike the last Government, we

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have supported sub-post offices. There has just been an agreement on the subject with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Department for Transport, and I talk regularly to my Cabinet counterparts about the benefits that rural post offices bring to the rural economy.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): If the Agricultural Wages Board is abolished, about £250 million will be removed from the rural economy according to the Government’s own figures. Prime Minister Thatcher never did it; neither did John Major, and the Minister of State signed parliamentary motions against the abolition—that was before the ministerial trappings trapped him. What does the Secretary of State say to the tens of thousands of lowest-paid farm workers who may face a race to the bottom in pay and conditions because, after a four-week consultation, he knows better than them?

Mr Paterson: I am just sorry that the Labour party wants to head back to the 1940s. I see a dynamic, growing structure in our rural economy. In contrast, will the hon. Gentleman join me in celebrating the £19 million investment by Müller Dairy in a butter plant that will turn 100 million litres of milk into 45 million tonnes of butter? That will stop import substitution and bring jobs to rural areas. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) should preserve his melodic tones for when he is on his feet, rather than in his seat.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): The coalition Government have brought a welcome fresh impetus to rural economic growth, but skills shortages are still a problem. Will the Secretary of State share with the House the benefits that the skills and knowledge framework fund of £20 million could bring?

Mr Paterson: I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend back in her seat and now released to ask pertinent questions, such as the one she just asked. She makes a key point—that we will not grow the rural economy if we do not have suitably trained and skilled young people, and the measure she mentioned is vital in developing the right taskforce for the right jobs.

Urban Development (Green Fields)

7. Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): When he last discussed with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government the use of green fields for urban development. [139067]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): In the normal course of business, I have regular discussions with ministerial counterparts in the Department for Communities and Local Government about a range of planning issues. The national planning policy framework sets out the Government’s approach to encouraging sustainable development and provides strong protection for the countryside. It is for planning authorities to consider how best to optimise development for economic growth, and such considerations will include green fields in their areas.

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Sir Bob Russell: I recognise what the Minister has just said, but it does not appear to be what the planning Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), is saying. Will this Minister give me an assurance that green fields are an important feature surrounding our towns, and that brownfield sites must be developed before any of those green fields are built on?

Richard Benyon: I refer my hon. Friend to the excellent national planning policy framework, which DEFRA was closely involved in drawing up. The requirement to reuse land previously developed—brownfield land—is contained in paragraph 111. The best and most versatile land is also protected—national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and, importantly for my hon. Friend, greenbelt land as well.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): If a council decides to build all its housing inside the village and town envelopes, rather than on green fields used for farming, and a developer appeals to the Government, who is the Minister’s inspector going to back?

Richard Benyon: The hon. Gentleman seems to ask me to conjecture on individual planning decisions. We have the national policy. All our local authorities will have their own policies. Where those policies are found to have been breached, the planning inspector will presumably point to that. We can go around the country and see some daft developments that have taken place over the decades. Too many houses have been built on floodplains or have been badly sited around small and large communities. We can all point to that. That is why a new planning policy which protects the countryside and green fields is being taken forward.

Schmallenberg Virus

8. Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to deal with Schmallenberg virus. [139068]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): Schmallenberg virus is carried by vectors, including midges, which are difficult to control. Infection outwith pregnancy has minimal impact and the resulting immunity protects from the effect on offspring in the subsequent pregnancy. I understand that several pharmaceutical companies are developing a potential vaccine and these will require to be licensed as safe by the veterinary medicines directorate. Use of the vaccine will be for the livestock keeper to decide in consultation with their veterinarian.

Glyn Davies: The increasing devastation caused by the Schmallenberg virus is taking place at a particularly difficult time for the sheep industry, with unfavourable weather and rising costs. Will the Minister go further and give the farming industry some idea when the vaccine will be available, so that it can have some confidence in protection for future flocks?

Mr Heath: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an exact answer as to when the vaccine will be available. When a new disease occurs, companies can apply for a provisional

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marketing authorisation in the UK, and a rigorous scientific assessment process is required to ensure that any vaccine is safe. Once satisfied with this, the veterinary medicines directorate will grant a provisional marketing authorisation for that product. It is widely reported that one company has recently submitted a dossier of relevant information to the veterinary medicines directorate for its consideration.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Farmers will be very pleased that there is the possibility of a vaccine for the disease, but the Minister will know that the management of sheep varies considerably from the lowlands to the uplands. Will the Department be in a position to give advice to vets and farmers about how to optimise the use of the vaccine, depending on their management schemes for their sheep?

Mr Heath: I certainly hope that we will be in a position to do that. I also think that there are some key issues about flock management; the key is whether infectious midges are around at the same time ewes are in lamb. As I said, if infection occurs before the ewe is pregnant, that provides immunity, rather than disease, so we might also need to take into account synchronisation in production and in the tupping period. I am shortly to bring together representatives of the sheep and cattle industries and vets so that we can discuss some of these issues.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Minister for his tutorial on that matter.

Dairy Farming Sector

9. Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to assist the dairy farming sector. [139070]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): I am always happy to impart information, Mr Speaker; that is what Question Time is for.

I am encouraging early progress to implement the industry’s excellent code of practice. I am consulting on ways dairy farmers can strengthen their position in the supply chain through producer organisations, and £5 million of new funding has been made available to boost collaboration and growth under the rural development programme for England. I am encouraging the industry to explore new markets at home and abroad to help develop its long-term potential.

Heather Wheeler: I thank the Minister for his reply. I was disappointed to see Arla Milk Link’s recent milk price reduction of 0.23p per litre. Farmers were given just one day’s notice of the cut, but they would have to give between 12 and 15 months’ notice before being able to leave their contract. That is against the commitments made in the voluntary code of practice and runs counter to the good progress made in the past few months by other processors, such as Dairy Crest, which is based in my constituency of South Derbyshire. For the voluntary code to work, we must ensure that there is a level playing field—

Mr Speaker: We need a question immediately.

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Heather Wheeler: How does the Minister intend to ensure fairness for both my dairy farmers and processors?

Mr Heath: I understand that the Arla price reduction was triggered by its agreed price formula, rather than made simply at its discretion, but I appreciate the concerns about the timing of the announcement and compliance with the industry code. That is why at last week’s Dairy UK board meeting I pressed for all processors to get on with implementing the industry code in their farmers’ contracts. I reminded them that if the code fails to deliver the desired outcomes over time, I will consider legislating.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Last year, Compassion in World Farming investigated a random selection of dairy farms in Germany, Spain and Denmark and found recurring evidence of cows being pushed to their physical limits to produce high milk yields and being chained indoors by the neck, in some cases all year round. Will the Minister back Compassion’s call for specific European legislation to set minimum welfare standards for dairy cows across the European Union, as we have for pigs, chickens and calves, which would help to set a level playing field for dairy farmers in this country?

Mr Heath: We always need to be aware of welfare issues in farm animals. This country has nothing to be ashamed of in the standards we have, compared with those of many others. We continually press at European level for common agreement on levels of farm animal welfare, and we will continue to do so.

18. [139080] Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): Dairy farmers in Hazel Grove are on the front line of the spread of bovine TB from the south, and they are astonished that DEFRA will not release information about infected herds in their area. Will the Minister take a second look at the reply he gave to me in a written answer and meet my farmers to discuss the issue?

Mr Heath: I will certainly be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss these matters if that would be helpful, because I understand entirely the concerns of farmers in his area, which are shared by people across the country who face the devastating scourge of bovine TB.

Dairy Industry

10. Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): How his Department plans to encourage innovation in the dairy industry. [139071]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): We are already taking action to support innovation and to help the industry achieve its potential. I have launched a £5 million RDPE—rural development programme for England—dairy fund to boost competitiveness and help businesses grow. I am working with UK trade international experts to develop a dairy exports summit, offering support to businesses that see export as a route to growth. We are also putting £2.5 million into research on sustainable proteins for feeding livestock, including 15 projects for the dairy sector.

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Guto Bebb: I thank the Minister for his response. Will he join me in celebrating the work of the Tesco dairy centre of excellence, a partnership with Liverpool university located on a working farm in the Wirral? The centre ensures that best practice guidelines are offered to the supply chains for Tesco, many of whom are located in Wales. It is a great example of how the supply chain can work for the benefit of the industry.

Mr Heath: I welcome and encourage all such beneficial collaborations. They can serve to optimise the input costs, efficiency, competitiveness and ultimate profitability of our farmers, all of which are key to their long-term future.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Following the excellent work that the Government have done to secure the access of pigmeat from this country into China, for example, what work is the Minister able to do to encourage dairy processors to look slightly to the longer term in developing these markets, given that the more low-hanging fruit might be just to explore opportunities in this country?

Mr Heath: We continue to press all the opportunities that we can for export potential. Indeed, the Secretary of State was in Shanghai recently pressing for exactly what my hon. Friend is asking for, which is opportunities for dairy exports in China. The industry needs to grasp opportunities, when they are there, to develop new export markets and find the right products for the right place so that we can expand our industry.

Fishing Industry

12. George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): What progress he has made on creating long-term sustainability in the fishing industry. [139074]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): We are making good progress towards sustainable fisheries. We secured an excellent, science-led result in the annual fisheries negotiations, setting sustainable fishing opportunities for 2013. We are negotiating genuine reforms of the broken common fisheries policy to eliminate discards, require sustainable fishing rates, and introduce regionalised management. We are working to address over-capacity issues within the English fleet and supporting market-led initiatives to help fishermen to get the best return for their catch.

George Hollingbery: The Minister will be unsurprised to know that I have a question about recreational sea angling. What work has the Department undertaken to assess the importance of this sector to the creation of sustainable fishing, and thus to fishing communities?

Richard Benyon: I am very grateful for the co-operation of recreational sea anglers in a project that we ran last year to find out how many there are, their contribution to the local coastal economy, what they are targeting, and their huge value in being the eyes and ears of the natural environment. Recreational sea angling is a key part of our policy to support coastal communities and the marine environment.

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Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that the disgraceful over-fishing of mackerel by Iceland, leading to the Marine Stewardship Council removing mackerel from the list of sustainable fish, exposes the folly of the idea of repatriation of fisheries policies?

Richard Benyon: The Marine Stewardship Council has not delisted mackerel; another organisation downgraded it. It is certainly still right to buy British-landed mackerel—it is still a sustainable stock—but, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, we have serious worries about the activities of the Faroe Islands and Iceland in declaring a unilateral total allowable catch and not being willing to negotiate. We are working very hard to try to bring them back to the table, and we will use every measure we can. This is the most important stock for the United Kingdom industry, and most of all we want to protect it for the future.

Topical Questions

T1. [139081] Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): DEFRA’s focus remains on growing the rural economy, improving the environment, and safeguarding animal and plant health. As well as responding to events such as the flooding that affected the west and south-west of the country over Christmas, we continue to explore new ways of ensuring that we are able to deliver DEFRA’s priorities more effectively, placing our economy and environment on a sustainable footing. This ranges from triennial review of our delivery bodies—the Environment Agency and Natural England —to a new integrated system for common agricultural policy payments. We must strive for better outcomes through greater efficiency, integration and innovation.

Stephen Phillips: Given the devastating impact that bovine tuberculosis continues to have on our farmers, will my right hon. Friend update the House on the most recent assessment he has made with regard to the deployment of a vaccine in cattle?

Mr Paterson: Last week I met Commissioner Borg, the EU Health Commissioner, to agree a way forward for developing a workable cattle vaccine. A provisional timetable has now been agreed, and a copy of the letter outlining this to me has been placed in the Library this morning. It acknowledges the UK’s leading role in pressing forward on a cattle vaccine. and for the first time recognises that we are on course to deploy a vaccine. The legal and scientific process could take up to 10 years. In the meantime, we will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to check the progress of this terrible disease.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): I am in receipt of evidence showing that several horses slaughtered by UK abattoirs last year tested positive for phenylbutazone —or bute—a drug that causes cancer in humans and that is banned from the human food chain. It is possible that those animals entered the human food chain. Is the Minister aware of this?

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The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): I understand that the Food Standards Agency carries out checks in slaughterhouses to ensure that equine animals presented for slaughter are fit for human consumption, in the same way as it does for cattle, sheep and other animals. In addition, the FSA carries out sampling and testing for phenylbutazone and other veterinary medicines in meat from horses slaughtered in this country. Where positive results for phenylbutazone are found, the FSA investigates and takes follow-up action to trace the meat.

Mary Creagh: I am not clear whether that was yes, the Minister knew, or no, he did not. Either way, I am astonished that he has not raised the issue. The public have a right to know. It is a very serious development. What steps will he now take to ensure that illegal and carcinogenic horsemeat stops entering the human food chain? Last week, when I asked about difficulties with horse passports, he dismissed my concerns. Will he now review his short-sighted and reckless decision to scrap the national equine database?

Mr Heath: I think that the hon. Lady misunderstands what the national equine database did. The records of horse passports continue to be retained by the passport issuing agencies. There is no difficulty in tracing the use of a horse passport, so to suggest that the national equine database was required to do that is simply erroneous.

Mr Speaker: We must now speed up.

T2. [139082] Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): One of the largest employers in my constituency is Edwards of Conwy, the makers of the finest sausages in the United Kingdom. It has recently won a significant new export order to Malaysia. What work can the Department do to ensure that this country’s fantastic food producers get as much support as possible to export our product?

Mr Heath: The one controversy that I will not enter into is the question of who makes the best sausages in the country, because it will never end. I congratulate Edwards of Conwy on its success and entrepreneurism. Export is a key way of creating growth and I am committed to supporting our farming and food and drink sectors in doing so.

T3. [139083] Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): We are still waiting for an announcement on irresponsible dog ownership and dangerous dogs. When will we have that announcement and what will it cover?

Mr Heath: I can only say that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have published a consultation on the issue. We have received 27,000 responses and we have to do justice to them. We will make an announcement about the way forward soon and I am sorry that I cannot give a more explicit assurance.

T4. [139084] Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): What assessment has been made of the effectiveness of the national wildlife crime unit?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): We believe it is a valuable tool in the fight against wildlife crime, not only domestically but internationally, where there is

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great and worrying evidence of large-scale organised criminality that is affecting the survival chances of some of the most iconic species. I am delighted that we, along with the Home Office, have been able to continue the funding of the unit and we hope that it will continue its great work.

T5. [139085] Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): Last year the Secretary of State said that there would not be a Commons vote on repealing the Hunting Act 2004. Will he reassure the overwhelming majority of the British public who support retention of the Act that there will be no vote at any time in this Parliament?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is declared coalition policy to have a free vote on this issue at the appropriate time.

T8. [139088] Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for launching the global food IF campaign yesterday. The UK runs a large deficit in food, so what can the UK do to increase food production and make its contribution to the global situation?

Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. When we talk about sustainable agriculture, we need to have in mind our need to feed not only the people of this country but the people of the world. We have to have a clear strategy on how to get to the point where every sector of agriculture in this country has not only maximum efficiency and effectiveness but sustainability.

T6. [139086] Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State guarantee that cuts to the Food Standards Agency have not and will not compromise meat hygiene inspections or the agency’s ability to ensure that meat is legal and safe?

Mr Heath: I seem to have answered a lot of questions recently about the Food Standards Agency, which is a matter for the Department of Health, but I will soon be giving evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on exactly that subject, and I hope that I will be able to set out exactly what the FSA does and does not do. I hope the hon. Gentleman will look at that evidence session and the conclusions of the Committee.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): As a prelude to my hon. Friend’s much looked forward to visit to the Committee, will he assure us that there is less chance now of horsemeat entering beefburgers and other parts of the food chain, and that the checks on frozen and processed food are as strong as those on fresh food?

Mr Heath: I certainly hope that that is the case after all the publicity over recent weeks about what was done in Ireland, and that we can assure my hon. Friend’s Committee that the FSA is working effectively and in collaboration with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to ensure that every single abuse of the process is tracked down and dealt with effectively.

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T7. [139087] Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): It took the Government nearly two years to respond to the original consultation on irresponsible dog ownership, and it is now 10 months since they announced their further consultation. Ministers are showing appalling complacency on the issue, and Members want to know when they are going to get their act together on it.

Mr Heath: Many colleagues behind me are asking, what about the 13 years of the Labour Government when nothing was done? I have already said that we plan to bring proposals forward soon. My noble Friend Lord de Mauley is working closely with the Home Office on a variety of associated issues, and we will make an announcement shortly.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his impassioned speech at the Oxford farming conference in defence of agricultural innovation. As we consider areas in which we might renegotiate our relationship with Europe, will he comment on the importance of a European framework that supports science and innovation in agriculture?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for his work in pushing for development of the agri-science sector. That was one issue that I discussed with Commissioner Borg last week, and we are determined to push ahead and examine every technology that could help advance our agricultural industry.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): At last week’s fisheries talks, the Scottish pelagic fleet took a 15% cut in mackerel quota, in line with scientific advice, to compensate for the overfishing of Iceland and the Faroes. What action will the Minister now press the European Commission to take, and when can we expect to see it?

Richard Benyon: I had a meeting with the pelagic sector yesterday, at which I assured it that we would take every measure that we possibly could. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the UK fleet has done the right thing despite the fact that the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea was based on the activities of countries such as Iceland and the Faroes. I am absolutely with her, and we will do our best next week in Brussels to ensure that the Commission understands how important the matter is to Britain.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): The second wave of city deal bids offers great potential to rural communities in wider areas. Has the Minister seen the Swindon and Wiltshire city deal bid so that he might consider whether that partnership offers a blueprint for extending the benefits of city deals into neighbouring rural economies?

Richard Benyon: I am really impressed with what is happening in Swindon and Wiltshire, and I want to use it as a model around the country. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss it further.

T9. [139090] Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm that legislation to ban wild animals in circuses will be included in the next Queen’s Speech, or can we expect more delays on that important animal welfare issue?

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Mr Heath: As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said in the debate on a private Member’s Bill on Friday, we will very shortly introduce a draft Bill. That will then be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and it would be quite wrong for Ministers to prejudge what further progress that will result in.

Church Commissioners

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

Same-sex Marriage

1. Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the implications of same-sex marriage for the Church. [139091]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The Church has had a series of discussions with the Government Equalities Office and officials over the past few weeks regarding the drafting of the Government’s Bill. There have also been meetings between senior Church representatives and the Secretary of State.

The Church of England’s position on the issues of principle were set out clearly in the published submission from the two archbishops last June. I understand that the Bill is to be published later today, and I would prefer to defer any further comment on the detailed drafting of it until Second Reading, which I understand will be soon.

Miss McIntosh: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Will he give an indication of the timetable that the Church would need in order to implement the rather complicated system envisaged in the Bill?

Sir Tony Baldry: That will depend largely on the timetable set out in the Bill, and my hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to clarify one important point. The Church of England is not asking for any special treatment or protection under this legislation; the issue is simply that the Bill should be drafted to ensure that the Church of England has the same freedoms as all other Churches and denominations to decide these matters for itself, and that, of course, must reflect the unique legal position of the Church of England.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Speaking as someone who had a heterosexual marriage celebrated and registered in church, I hope that the Church Commissioners will explain to Colin Hart, the self-appointed campaign director of the so-called Coalition for Marriage, that having unity and diversity is a good idea, and that nobody in the Church of England ought to be worried about same-sex couples having the same opportunities of marrying as those of the opposite sex.

Sir Tony Baldry: These are issues that we will each have to address on a free vote on the Bill’s Second Reading, which I understand will take place soon. It may be for the convenience of the House if I give a brief summary of the submissions made by both archbishops in response to the Government’s earlier consultation, so that there is no ambiguity about the Church of England’s position. In their summary, the two archbishops said:

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“The Church of England cannot support the proposal to enable ‘all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony.’ Such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history…To change the nature of marriage for everyone will be divisive and deliver no obvious legal gains given the rights already conferred by civil partnerships. We also believe that imposing for essentially ideological reasons a new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise.”

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—

Voting (UK Citizens Abroad)

2. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Whether the Electoral Commission is taking steps to make it easier for UK citizens resident abroad to vote in UK elections while ensuring safeguards against electoral fraud. [139092]

Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon): UK electors overseas currently have two options to vote in certain UK elections: by post or by appointing a proxy. The commission has been calling for the Government to review the electoral timetable since 2003, and it therefore welcomes the provision in the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill to extend the timetable for a general election from 17 to 25 working days. That will give overseas voters more time to return their postal votes. The current security arrangements for postal vote applications will still apply.

Michael Fabricant: There are 3.5 million expats living abroad—1.5 million in Australia and the United States, 800,000 in Spain, and many, many more, yet only 1% are registered and get to vote.

Mr Streeter: Shocking.

Michael Fabricant: And as my hon. Friend says, that is shocking. Will the commission investigate precisely why we are in this appalling state of affairs, and explain what it is going to do about it?

Mr Speaker: Given the illustrious post held by the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), I am not sure it is fitting to wave a pen at him.

Mr Streeter: I completely agree and I did feel rather intimidated, although it was only a cheap biro. My hon. Friend raises an important point that many colleagues on all sides of the House have raised over the years, and it is time for action to be taken. Any change in the law or procedure is obviously a matter for the Government and this House, not the Electoral Commission. However, I am persuaded by my hon. Friend’s rhetoric that more needs to be done, perhaps by conducting some qualitative research into why more Brits living abroad do not register to vote. I will make that suggestion to the Electoral Commission, and it will be up to that commission whether to take it forward.

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Church Commissioners

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

Religious Education

3. Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of ways in which religious education teaching could be improved and ensuring that teachers have an understanding of basic Christianity. [139093]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The Church of England’s board of education and diocesan education team share the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend about the quality of RE teaching. The Church is working with the Religious Education Council and other national bodies to ensure that the profile of religious education remains high. I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend and that of the all-party parliamentary group on religious education, which does so much to highlight those issues.

Fiona Bruce: Does my hon. Friend agree that RE is important because it has a crucial role in the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of children; a pastoral role in creating space in classrooms where they can safely explore ideas about some of life’s most profound challenges and values; and a role in promoting mutual tolerance and understanding? However, does he also agree that, for that to happen, we need good quality RE teacher training and support?

Sir Tony Baldry: I fully agree with everything my hon. Friend says. That is why we are concerned about the removal of postgraduate certificate in education places for religious education and the minimal amount of time primary teachers receive to address religious education in their training. However, rather more encouraging is the fact that student take-up of religious education at GCSE has been at substantial levels for many years. The number of people sitting RE exams demonstrates that young people are indeed curious about faith and religion.

Civil Partnerships

4. Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What the policy of the Church of England is on celebrating civil partnerships. [139094]

Sir Tony Baldry: The Church of England’s position remains as set out in the House of Bishops pastoral statement of July 2005. A working group chaired by the former Northern Ireland Office permanent secretary, Sir Joseph Pilling, is reviewing the Church’s approach to sexuality more generally and will submit a report to the House of Bishops by the end of this year. A private member’s motion seeking to authorise the registration of civil partnerships in Church of England churches is due for discussion in the General Synod in due course.

Mr Bradshaw: As the hon. Gentleman will know, a number of senior Church of England bishops have, in the context of the debate on same-sex marriage, expressed

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their support for civil partnerships, but would the Church of England’s opposition to same-sex marriage, and the distinction it tries to draw, be more credible and have more authority if it allowed Church of England parishes that want to conduct civil partnerships to do so?

Sir Tony Baldry: The right hon. Gentleman makes his point well. Given the sensitivity of the issue, the most sensible thing for me to do is to ensure that his comments and those of any other right hon. and hon. Members are drawn to the attention of Sir Joseph Pilling.

Women Bishops

5. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of whether the informal discussions among General Synod members in February 2013 will lead to significant progress on enabling women to become bishops. [139095]

Sir Tony Baldry: I refer the hon. Lady to the letter from the secretary-general of the General Synod, which was placed in the Library of the House on 19 December. I understand that the working group established by the House of Bishops had a good first meeting on 3 January. It meets again next Wednesday. The facilitated discussions in early February will be followed immediately by a further meeting of the House of Bishops. I know that all concerned understand the urgency of the situation.

Diana Johnson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the document that was produced and put in the House of Commons Library shows no acceleration of the usual glacial way in which the Church of England operates? Does he also accept that in 2015 we could still find ourselves dealing with an unrepresentative laity stopping the Measure? Surely we can something more quickly.

Sir Tony Baldry: The hon. Lady is being uncharacteristically uncharitable. Anyone present at the meeting in the Moses Room with the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate would have been left in absolutely no doubt that the Church is determined to take the matter forward with all due speed and diligence. A working group was set up immediately and facilitated discussions will take place next week. It is important to try, as quickly as possible, to find a way forward that enables fresh legislation to be brought before the General Synod in July.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—

Elections (Increasing Participation)

6. Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): What recent guidance the Electoral Commission has issued on ways of increasing participation in elections. [139096]

Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon): The commission undertakes public awareness work to raise awareness of elections and how to participate in them, including by encouraging people to register. Electoral registration officers and returning officers have a statutory duty to

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promote participation locally, and the commission provides guidance to help them to do so. The guidance focuses on ensuring that people know how to participate.

Hugh Bayley: Given the consequence of the experiment in individual voter registration in Northern Ireland, does the hon. Gentleman agree with the commission that those people who already have their names on the electoral register throughout the United Kingdom should have their names kept on the register until the time of the next general election so that they should be able to vote at that election?

Mr Streeter: Yes I do, and, more important, so do the Government, which is precisely why it is going to happen.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): One way to boost electoral turnout is to have candidates who are able to enthuse positively the electorate. Does the Electoral Commission have any plans to crack down on nasty, negative and dishonest campaigning?

Mr Streeter: In the many conversations I have had with the Electoral Commission over the months and years, this specific issue has not cropped up.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Given the situation in Northern Ireland that has already been referred to, where the current state of the electoral register is so bad that it is estimated that only about 70% of people who should be on the register are on the register accurately, will the hon. Gentleman ensure that lessons are learned from Northern Ireland and that efforts will be made in conjunction with the Electoral Commission there to ensure that something is done urgently?

Mr Streeter: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Lessons have been learnt from the situation in Northern Ireland, not least the fact that people who are on the register in summer 2014 will automatically be on the register for the general election in May 2015.

Church Commissioners

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

ECHR (British Airways)

7. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights that British Airways acted unreasonably in banning an employee from wearing a cross at work. [139097]

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The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): The Church of England welcomed the recent judgments from the European Court of Human Rights. The victory of Ms Eweida is a straightforward victory for common sense. In a free country, the wearing of symbols of one’s religious faith should be entirely uncontroversial. I do not believe that Christians, just because they are Christians, should have any greater rights than anyone else in the community, but certainly Christians, because they are Christians, should not have fewer rights.

Andrew Stephenson: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Although Nadia Eweida won her case against British Airways, which I wholeheartedly welcome, a nurse lost her case regarding the wearing of a cross at work, something she had done for 30 years. The Right Reverend the Bishop of Exeter has described the laws as balanced against the rights of conscience and faith. Does my hon. Friend agree with those of us who believe that we still need to do more to protect religious freedoms and tolerance in the British workplace?

Sir Tony Baldry: Personally, I think the ECHR got the balance on religious symbols about right. While fully upholding the right of Christians and others to wear discreet religious symbols at work, this, like many other rights, cannot be an absolute. In the case of Ms Chaplin, we fully accept that the need for hospitals to preserve the highest standards of hygiene, and safety has to come first.

House of Laity

8. Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): What steps are being considered within the Church of England as to how the House of Laity may be made more representative of church congregations. [139098]

Sir Tony Baldry: Last year, the Synod voted to explore alternatives to the present system under which the House of Laity is elected by deanery synod members. I understand that the report, with options for change, will be discussed by the synod at one of its meetings this year.

Martin Vickers: I thank the Church Commissioner for that reply. The unrepresentative nature of the House of Laity is clearly holding the Church back, involving it in interminable, internal debates. Very few congregations are aware of the process of election and very few members of congregations get involved in election. Will he use his good offices to ensure that, as a matter of urgency, new proposals are brought forward?

Sir Tony Baldry: I think my hon. Friend’s comments will be shared by many throughout the Church, which is why it is exploring alternatives to the present system under which the House of Laity is elected by deanery synod members. I am sure that the comments my hon. Friend makes will be borne in mind when that report comes to be debated later this year.

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Business of the House

10.33 am

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

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 28 January—Remaining stages of the Succession to the Crown Bill.

Tuesday 29 January—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, followed by remaining stages of the HGV Road User Levy Bill.

Wednesday 30 January—General debate on Europe.

Thursday 31 January—Consideration of opposed private business nominated by the Chairman of Ways and Means, followed by debate on a motion relating to the Liaison Committee’s report on Select Committee effectiveness, resources and powers. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 1 February—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 4 February—Second Reading of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 5 February—Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

Wednesday 6 February—Opposition Day [16th allotted day]. There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 7 February—Debate on a motion relating to subsidies for new nuclear, followed by general debate on the closure of A and E departments. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 14 February will be:

Thursday 14 February—Debate on eating disorder awareness.

Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.

Yesterday’s Opposition day debate on the disgraceful blacklisting of trade unionists who raised safety concerns, along with other workers in the building sector, was very powerful. Members highlighted the devastating impact that the practice had on construction workers and their families across the country over many years. Although there is legal action by some of those affected, we still do not know the extent of the practice or who was involved, which is why we called in yesterday’s motion for a full inquiry to get at the truth. The Government did not oppose our motion yesterday, which we welcome, so could the Leader of the House ask the Business Secretary to make a statement quickly on what action Ministers will now take to stop this practice ever happening again?

This week the International Monetary Fund cut its growth forecast for the UK, and this morning its chief economist called for a reassessment of the Government’s

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fiscal policy. Moreover, December’s figures showed Government borrowing up 4% year on year. It is up because the Government’s economic strategy is failing, and it is hard-pressed families who are paying the price.

Yesterday in this House the Prime Minister was asked about food banks. The chief executive of the Trussell Trust said that his answer was “manipulating the numbers”. The number of people turning to food banks for support has increased by 90,000 since the election. This year it is expected that 250,000 people will need help from food banks to get by. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions obstinately refuse to visit a food bank to see for themselves the consequences of their failing economic strategy, so may we have a debate in Government time on food banks?

Ministers claim that the Government’s flagship energy efficiency programme, the green deal, will enable thousands of householders to take out a loan to make their homes more energy efficient. Having scrapped schemes introduced by the last Labour Government which helped to make thousands of homes more energy efficient, the Government have a new scheme, which has been months in preparation. Forty organisations are involved and 600 trained builders are on stand-by, ready to spring into action, but the Department of Energy and Climate Change admitted this week that just five households had benefited. The Federation of Master Builders had a simple explanation for this failing policy: it said that the Government had done too little, too late to promote the scheme. Given the recent freezing weather and the inevitable impact on people’s energy bills, could the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on the latest Government shambles?

Last week I warned that those on the increasingly fractious Government Front Bench were at risk of turning on each other. On cue, we had a petulant outburst from the Department for Education, when a Government source blasted the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), a former Education Minister, as a

“lazy incompetent narcissist obsessed only with self-promotion.”

I am puzzled by who the DFE source could be. It could not have been a civil servant or a special adviser, because what happened is clearly against the special advisers code of conduct. Who does that leave? Could we have an urgent statement from the Education Secretary to clear the matter up?

The Leader of the House has announced a debate next week on Europe. Ahead of that debate, could the right hon. Gentleman say whether enabling legislation would be needed for a referendum to happen? Could he also confirm that the reason why there has been no Government statement on Europe is that the Prime Minister in his speech yesterday was not announcing Government policy? In next week’s debate, therefore, will the Foreign Secretary be speaking for the Government or the Conservative party?

The Leader of the House will recall that, a little over a year ago, he and I both voted against an in/out referendum. It is not immediately apparent what seismic events have occurred in European affairs to prompt Conservative Ministers to have a damascene conversion on this issue. Two Government Parliamentary Private Secretaries were fired for voting in favour of holding an

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in/out referendum. Will those Eurosceptic martyrs now be reinstated to Government? Will they be reinstated now that the Prime Minister has joined the headbangers in obsessing about Europe rather than tackling the effects of his failing economic policies?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her further questions. I was grateful to her and other Opposition Members for giving the House good notice of yesterday’s Opposition day debate on blacklisting, following our exchanges at business questions last week. That certainly assisted the debate, during which the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable) said that the evidence available to date did not merit a new inquiry, but that it would be a serious matter if new evidence came to light that those practices were continuing. He asked anyone with information about the practice continuing to get in touch with the relevant authorities. I echo that request.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about economic forecasts. Our forecast was set out in the autumn statement by the Office for Budget Responsibility. It was produced independently—something that was never done under the previous Government, who published their own manipulated forecasts. The International Monetary Fund has forecast that growth in the United Kingdom this year and next year will exceed that of the eurozone. So, notwithstanding the OBR’s statement that the crisis in the eurozone has been a “major drag” on performance in this country, given that that is our principal market, we are none the less able to expect higher growth than the eurozone.

We have discussed food banks at business questions, and I have said that I visited a food bank in Loughborough with my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan). The Prime Minister has also answered that question at Prime Minister’s questions on many occasions. I will simply reiterate that, on 9 January, the director of the UK food bank network said:

“I think the need has been there for a while. The growth in volunteers, and awareness about the fact you can get this help if you need it, help to explain the growth this year.”

The hon. Lady made no reference, of course, to the employment statistics that were published yesterday. They showed that employment is now at a record high, and that it increased last year by 552,000—the largest increase in one year since 1989. Time might not have permitted her to refer to the crime statistics published this morning, which show an 8% reduction in crime, year on year, to September 2012. That is extremely welcome.

The hon. Lady referred to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s speech on Europe. I fear that she did not explain what the policy of the Labour party was, however, but I think we know. The Leader of the Opposition told us yesterday that Labour was opposed to an in/out referendum. So, as we discovered last week, the right hon. Gentleman believes that powers should come back to this country from Europe, but he has no mechanism by which he would seek to achieve that. He also has no basis on which to ask the British public for their consent to such a settlement. I am afraid that the Labour party has a problem. It has no interest in a new vision for Europe, such as the one the Prime Minister set out yesterday. That vision is attracting support right

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across Europe, including from the Finnish, Czech, Dutch and Danish Governments. They recognise that what is required is a more flexible, more competitive and more open Europe that is democratically accountable. As Leader of the House, I believe that what the Prime Minister said about the primacy of national Parliaments in securing democratic accountability was most important. But Labour has no vision for Europe, no trust in the British people and no support for democracy.

My final point is that the shadow Leader of the House might have a small problem with democracy. There was a local government by-election in her constituency in the Wirral. In that by-election, sadly occasioned by the death of the sitting member, in Leasowe and Morton East—a ward Labour won last year by a majority of 318—Ian Lewis, the Conservative candidate won by a majority of 265 votes. On the same day, in the neighbouring constituency of Wirral South, in a by-election in Heswall ward, the Conservative Kathryn Hodson overturned a Labour majority and won the seat, pushing the Labour party, which held the seat last year, into third place.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I am sure that, from now on, questions and answers will relate exclusively to the business of the House for next week and the provisional business for the following week.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Does the Leader of the House have any views on what will happen in next week’s local government by-elections following the Prime Minister’s speech on Europe? I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has granted a debate on Europe so that all the party leaders can make their position quite clear—with the Prime Minister saying we want an in/out referendum, the Leader of the Opposition opposed to it and the Liberal Democrats facing both ways.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It seems to me that next week’s business, including as it does a general debate on Europe, affords an excellent opportunity for the Foreign Secretary to set out the Government’s position—and in so doing, he may well refer to the Conservative party’s policies for beyond the next election. That should provide a real opportunity for the Conservatives to maximise the Conservative vote at any by-election.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Should we not have a statement today from the Home Secretary on the 16,000 immigration cases that have been found by the chief inspector of borders and immigration—in addition to the number of cases found last year—with boxes being found in all kinds of places, unknown to the UK Border Agency? When is the Home Secretary going to get a grip on the situation after nearly three years in office and stop blaming her predecessor?

Mr Lansley: As the hon. Gentleman should know, this is an historical problem. It would not arise now because the reconsideration of those rejected applications could not happen under the current policy. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration has made it clear that this is being dealt with and that such a situation

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would not be allowed to arise again. As I have made clear in business questions before, the chief inspector of borders and immigration is equally clear that performance is being turned around. The Minister has said that he is not satisfied with the performance of the UK Borders Agency and the chief executive is not satisfied with it: they are taking every measure to ensure that it is improved in the future.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): May we have a debate on the mis-selling of interest rate swap products by the banks to small and medium-sized enterprises, on the speed with which these matters are being resolved and on the fact that businesses across the country are facing bankruptcy?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I know is a matter of concern for many Members that have small businesses across their constituencies. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I cannot recall precisely who is investigating the problem at the moment—it may be the Office of Fair Trading, but I am not sure.

Mr Williams: The Financial Services Authority.

Mr Lansley: The FSA—I am grateful to my hon. Friend for prompting me. The FSA is investigating the matter. As we have discussed at business questions before, it is important to try to help small businesses in the interim, but it is particularly important that the FSA pursues its investigation with rigour. I know it will.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on the Government’s red lines on their negotiations with Europe? We know that the Prime Minister is going to take a tough line on this issue, but we do not know what he is taking a tough line on. Will he make a statement to clarify what the red lines are?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will have noted that I announced a general debate on Europe next Wednesday. I know that one key aspect of that debate will be the Foreign Secretary setting out how the balance of competences review is under way. The Government are pursuing that now. The first set of reports covering four semesters has already been published and is open for consultation. I hope Members will have an opportunity to respond before February.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): Tomorrow, I will be hosting an event at Warwickshire college with the Minister with responsibility for creative industries. This event is partnered by the Gazelle Local initiative and is spearheaded by the college’s principal, Mariane Cavalli. The aim is to create an entrepreneurial college, building on partnerships with employers, entrepreneurs and social enterprises, with the potential to make our colleges engines for growth. Will the Leader of the House commit Government time for a debate on how our further education colleges can collaborate better with businesses to prepare our young people for work?

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Mr Lansley: Yes, my hon. Friend makes a very important point, and I welcome his comments about FE colleges getting together with employers in his constituency. Colleagues from across the House and I met the principals of FE colleges who visited Westminster yesterday evening to discuss just these issues. There are many opportunities now for FE colleges, which they are taking, to get involved, together with local enterprise partnerships, to maximise participation in apprenticeships programmes and work experience. What the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), recently said about traineeships adds to the opportunities for FE colleges to equip young people for work.

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op): The Leader of the House may be aware of the tragic case of my constituent, the Indian student Souvik Pal, who went missing on new year’s eve in Manchester, and whose body was tragically found this week. The right hon. Gentleman may or may not also be aware of the huge publicity that this case has received in India. Taken together with the callous and brutal murder of Anuj Bidve in Manchester on Boxing day last year, there is now growing concern that Indian students and their families will be put off studying in the UK. May I ask for a statement or some Government action on this important issue?

Mr Lansley: I am indeed aware of these tragic and very disturbing cases, as I know the House is, and we share the concern that the hon. Lady expresses on behalf of her constituents. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was recently in India and had the opportunity to discuss with the Indian Government many issues, including students coming here, and was able to reassure them. However, I will talk to my right hon. Friend and see whether there is any further means by which she can provide the necessary reassurance.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): May we have a statement on departmental responses to letters? Despite 11 attempts over five months to get a response from the Treasury to a constituent’s query, I have so far failed. I very much hope that the Leader of the House can help to sort this out.

Mr Lansley: If my hon. Friend or Members across the House experience failures on the part of Departments, I hope Ministers will respond and take action. However, if I can be of any assistance, I will. I will certainly be in touch with the Treasury and will perhaps encourage my colleagues there to respond to my hon. Friend before they answer questions here next Tuesday.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give a rather positive answer to a question I asked last week about whether the debate on preventing violence against women could happen on the international day of action against violence against women, on 14 February. Can he say whether he expects the Backbench Business Committee to be allocated that day, so that I can see whether we might get our debate?

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Mr Lansley: I if may, I shall simply smile delphically at the hon. Lady. These are matters that we keep closely in touch with the Backbench Business Committee about.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): The Ormiston Forge Academy in my constituency is using its new freedoms to develop innovative relationships with business to improve the teaching of science and other technical subjects. May we have a debate about how academies are using their new freedoms to improve the educational experience of children in such subjects?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I agree: it has been extremely encouraging to see the considerable progress that has been made, not least with academies and free schools taking such opportunities. For example, on EBacc take-up, in 2013 the number of pupils taking triple science will have gone up by 82%. That and other increases in the number of science students are very important for the future competitiveness and success of our students.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that a massacre of London’s police stations, including Wanstead police station in my constituency, is under way. Apart from anything else, it is funny that Boris did not mention it until his campaign was over and he had been elected. Given the number of closures that are in the pipeline, may we have a statement from the relevant Home Office Minister?

Mr Lansley: As the hon. Gentleman will know, consultations are taking place about police stations across London. Responsibility lies with the police authority and with the Mayor in his capacity as commissioner, but I will of course raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking all the postmen and postwomen who have worked so hard to deliver residential and business post during the period of bad weather? May we have a debate on Royal Mail and the provision of 4X4 vehicles for rural areas, which would enable parts of Shropshire that have not received their post to start to receive it if the snow continues?

Mr Lansley: I share my hon. Friend’s appreciation of the postal service. My constituents and I have experienced no interruption in mail deliveries, which is important and welcome, and I congratulate Royal Mail on its work. I will ask the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) whether the Department, or indeed Royal Mail itself, could tell my hon. Friend a little more about how Royal Mail is equipping itself to ensure that deliveries are not interrupted.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): When can we expect an announcement about future business in the Northern Ireland Grand Committee?

Mr Lansley: Regrettably, I am not in a position to add to what I have said thus far, but I will write to the right hon. Gentleman if I have any more information about the future business that is planned.

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Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): May we have a statement on motorway safety and the use of chevron markings? Many accidents occur because cars are travelling too close to each other, and the markings are a simple and cost-effective way of encouraging the keeping of safer distances between them. I have not been able to establish from answers to parliamentary questions whether there is a strategy for the provision of more markings. The M3 has none at all. I should appreciate the support of the Leader of the House.

Mr Lansley: I understand the benefit of chevron markings. There is a point on the M11, which I use a great deal, where they are very helpful in maintaining space in traffic, particularly as it is a two-line highway. I will ask the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) whether my hon. Friend, and perhaps other Members, could be given more information about the road safety programme on the highways.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): May we have a debate on fair access to universities? Yesterday’s announcement that AS-levels would no longer count towards A-levels was greeted with almost universal opposition. The University of Cambridge, for instance, said that the change would

“jeopardise…a decade’s progress towards fairer access”.

Is not ignoring everyone’s views on a subject a particularly dangerous form of narcissism?

Mr Lansley: I am pleased to note that, having not managed to introduce his argument during questions on yesterday’s statement, the hon. Gentleman has returned to it now. I like to think that business questions give Members a second chance.

The University of Cambridge, part of which is in my constituency, has sought on occasion to use its own attainment test because of its lack of confidence in its ability to distinguish between candidates on the basis of A-levels. Yesterday evening I spoke to the principal of Hills Road sixth-form college in Cambridge, which used to be in my constituency, and which sends as many candidates to Oxford and Cambridge as any institution anywhere in the country. I am confident that, along with other routes, the retention of AS-levels, although they will no longer contribute directly to A-levels, will give that college an opportunity to demonstrate that its students have the capacity to excel at the best universities.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): May I echo the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) for a debate on science and technology, because 100 years ago Birmingham and the west midlands was known as the workshop of the world and in this century it must be the science lab of the world? May we have a debate on not only how we encourage students to study those subjects, but how we encourage scientists and technologists into the classroom to inspire them?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I entirely agree with him. Our Government’s reforms to curriculum, qualifications, teaching and the schools system will support better science and technology education. They include: a strengthened mathematics

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and science curriculum; more rigorous key stage 4 qualifications; and, not least, attracting more graduates with the appropriate qualifications into teaching by offering bursaries of up to £20,000. We all know that the ability to teach science and maths effectively for students often depends on teachers having the appropriate specialist qualifications.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): As we do not appear to be overwhelmed with Government business, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the plight of disabled people under this Government? Like many other hon. Members, I am now receiving letters from disabled people who are in despair at the cuts they are facing. One gentleman wrote to me last week saying that he believes the answer for him is the introduction of voluntary euthanasia. Is it not about time we had a proper debate on these issues?

Mr Lansley: I am sorry if anybody should ever feel that, because it is absolutely not necessary. As the Prime Minister has clearly said, and as I have reiterated, the changes to benefits for disabled people, including the personal independence payments, will focus more resources on those most in need with disabilities. I also dispute what the hon. Lady said about the business. This week five Government Bills are being considered in this House and five are being considered in the other House—that is a busy programme.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on the use of police cautions? This week, we have had the case of a burglar who admitted 113 offences and was given a caution by Surrey police. Surely that is a totally inappropriate use of a police caution. That person should not have been seen at a magistrates court; somebody who commits 113 burglaries should be dealt with at a Crown court.

Mr Lansley: I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say. Of course, we must be careful, as the Executive, not to trespass on the prosecuting decisions of the prosecuting authorities, but I will raise the points he makes with my colleagues at the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Leader of the House share my concern about the large number of bankruptcies, including the recent ones at Comet and HMV, and those at many small businesses up and down the country? Is he also concerned about the growing evidence of a big question mark over the ethics of the people who carry out the process and administration of bankruptcy? The way they work it means that they suck all the lifeblood out of what remains in the business and leave nothing for the creditors. May we have a debate on this corrupt process, which goes to the very top of some of our big accountancy companies?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will understand that I make no comment on his closing remarks. In this Parliament, we have legislated for a reform of insolvency practices. A review is under way to look at some of the ways in which the claims of creditors can best be met

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during insolvency. I share his concern where bankruptcies occur, but I would also point out that in the past year for which figures are available—I believe it was 2011—we had the highest rate of new business formation in this country for a long time.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): My constituent Jason Durk was recently charged £60 for an urgent prescription that was unavailable from local pharmacies, apart from the hospital dispensary. The alternative for him was to visit accident and emergency, where he would have paid only £7.20. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on joined-up budgets in primary care to prevent this very unfortunate situation where somebody who was desperate to receive medical attention had to pay a ridiculous sum of money?

Mr Lansley: If I may, I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health to respond to my hon. Friend on that point. There is a distinction between access to prescription medicines, which attract the normal prescription charge—my hon. Friend and the House will recall that some 90% of all prescriptions are free—and access to medicines that are supplied in an emergency, which attract a higher charge. That is not about a prescription but about the cost of providing medicines in an emergency.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): Further to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), the Leader of the House might be interested to know that a written answer I received on 15 January showed that between 2010 and 2012 the number of days it took to receive a decision on tier 1 visa applications made from within the UK went up from 30 to 83. In the same period, the number of cases taking more than four weeks to process has gone up from 25,000 to just under 64,000—all while this Government have been in office. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary or a Home Office Minister makes an urgent statement on that process, as those figures do not show the progress he mentioned earlier?

Mr Lansley: I will not reiterate the points I made earlier. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration has made it very clear that he does not yet regard the performance as satisfactory, and nor does the chief executive of the UK Border Agency. I will of course encourage my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department to find opportunities to update the House during questions and at other times about improvements in performance at the UKBA.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Yesterday in the European Parliament there were some important votes on reform of the common agricultural policy. That subject is important for producers and consumers of food. Will the Leader of the House set aside some time so that Ministers can set out their views and hon. Members can reflect their constituents’ concerns about this important matter?

Mr Lansley: As my hon. Friend rightly says, that is important. He will know that as those measures make progress the opportunity to consider them will be offered to the European Scrutiny Committee, which will decide

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whether it should be debated in Committee or on the Floor of the House. We will have to wait and see, but reform of the CAP has been a continuing priority of this Government. As the Prime Minister’s speech set out yesterday, it is an illustration in one very important area of the importance of the single market and of how the single market must promote competitiveness, ensuring that not only producers but consumers get the best deal.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate on the challenges facing Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust? The Leader of the House will know from his former role that there is a question mark over whether the forthcoming review of services will result in the retaining of key services, such as a full maternity unit, at Furness general hospital. There is also a need for lessons to be learned about the great failings at the trust over recent years.

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman is right—I am very familiar with the issues at the trust and had opportunities in the past to meet the staff and visit Furness general hospital. I will not venture any view about the outcome of the review, but I shall certainly ask my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health to correspond with him and give him an idea about the process and any emerging conclusions.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): The Secretary of State for Education has taken significant steps to reintroduce rigour into the examination system, yet my constituents will not necessarily benefit from that because of the devolved settlement and the different approaches taken in different parts of the UK. May we have a debate on the examination system to provide clarity and certainty to employers and universities who want to know the differences in the approaches of the various authorities around the UK?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point, not least because he speaks from a Welsh perspective. There was recently a debate in Opposition time on reform of the exam system, which provided an opportunity for my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department to demonstrate that our reforms are replacing GCSEs with rigorous world-class examinations, for example. We are setting out to ensure not only that standards are set and maintained in core subjects but that our examination system and curriculum match the best in the world.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Ovarian cancer is called the silent killer, as its symptoms go unrecognised and spread quickly. We could save the lives of 500 women a year if our services matched the best in Europe. Can we have a debate on how to improve awareness of the symptoms among both women and GPs, so that we can catch this cancer earlier?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The disparity in survival outcomes for some of the main cancers is at the heart of the improving outcomes strategy for cancer that the Government set out; indeed, I set it out when I was Secretary of State for Health. I visited the very large-scale research project on ovarian cancer. From memory, I think 200,000 women formed part of that trial, which should soon—in the

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next couple of years or so—start to give us results that might lead to much better options for screening for ovarian cancer, and hence early access to treatment.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Can we have a debate on the long-standing problem of interference on licensed radio stations, particularly in London and south-east England, from illegitimate broadcasters?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend tempts me a little. He will remember “The Boat that Rocked”, a recent film that was in part about trying to suppress pirate radio stations. When I watched it with my wife, I had to confess to her that in the mid-1980s, as Private Secretary in the Department of Trade and Industry with responsibility for the Radiocommunications Agency, I was the official sending teams out to shut down pirate radio stations. Happily, that is now Ofcom’s responsibility, and I will of course ask the chief executive of Ofcom to let my hon. Friend know what steps it is taking to ensure that the integrity of broadcasting on the spectrum is maintained.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Britain is now set to renegotiate its relationship with the European Union. May I suggest to the Leader of the House that a first priority in the negotiations should be to seek to withdraw from the common fisheries policy and re-establish Britain’s historical fishing limits? May I also suggest that in next week’s debate, the Government come forward with proposals on the common fisheries policy, and perhaps think about using the Norwegian model as a basis for the future?

Mr Lansley: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity of next Wednesday’s debate on Europe to raise those issues. I know the Prime Minister referred, in his speech yesterday, to reform of the common fisheries policy as an issue, and included in that is the question of the balance of powers and competences. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will hear from the Foreign Secretary in that debate about how our balance of competences review, which will be conducted by the Government during this Parliament, will inform the renegotiation and allow us to secure some return of powers.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): In the Prime Minister’s speech on the European Union yesterday, he properly and rightly drew our attention to the importance of the single market, and said that it should include energy. I would say that the key theme should be competition and connectivity. Will the Lord Privy Seal have discussions with his ministerial colleagues to make sure that we have something significant to say on that soon?

Mr Lansley: I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s view. Indeed, one of the most remarked-on things about the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday was that it was directed not just at Britain, but the whole of Europe. All of us in wider Europe need to create a more flexible and competitive Europe; that goes particularly for eurozone countries, whatever their needs may be in terms of integration in the eurozone. As for energy, when it comes to being part of a single market and meeting the 2014 deadline, delivering that kind of competition is exactly what we need to do to demonstrate the benefits of European Union membership.

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Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Yesterday, my constituent Terry Renshaw came to London, alongside his more famous former workmate, Ricky Tomlinson, and other members of the Shrewsbury 24 group, to get the Government to consider releasing papers relating to their 1972 trial. May we have an early debate on the release of those papers, particularly as the Government signed an order this very month to prevent their release until 2022, which will impact considerably on the group’s ability to put to the Criminal Cases Review Commission the case for looking at the matter again?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the matter on behalf of his constituents and others. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to respond to him. I will also, if I may, take an interest in that response, because these are not issues with which I am very familiar, but I will be glad to see what she has to say on the matter.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Primary schools in my constituency have told me of the challenges that they are facing from the growing demand for places and the pressure that this is causing, particularly on capital budgets. I do not think that it is just a local issue. It is affecting primary schools up and down the country. May we please have a debate to discuss what is being done to ensure that schools can cope with the growing demand for places?

Mr Lansley: Yes; my hon. Friend raises an important point. The problem is not confined to his constituency. The number of live births in this country began to rise in 2001 and since then, through to 2011, there has been about a 16% increase, so we have rising rolls in primary schools. The Building Schools for the Future plans of the previous Government did nothing to help primary schools respond to that. My hon. Friends in the Department for Education have been doing that, and through the spending review we are making available £2.7 billion to target local authority areas needing to provide places. I know that my hon. Friend will have seen in the capital allocations particular emphasis on meeting basic needs in the education system, which of course includes areas where demography demonstrates that capacity of schools is not sufficient.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): May we have a debate on why the Prime Minister says in a Tory party advert that he plans to pay off the nation’s debt, when in fact the Prime Minister plans to increase the national debt by 60%, according to his own Treasury forecast—a percentage that would be larger than in any other European nation?

Mr Lansley: It gets a bit rich, doesn’t it—the Labour party talking about debt. The debt would have been so much worse if we had carried on in the profligate way of the Labour Government. We came together as a coalition Government recognising that in the national interest we have to reduce the deficit. We have reduced the deficit by a quarter. It is a programme set out by the Chancellor in his original Budget in 2010 and maintained ever since to eliminate the structural deficit. It is a formidable task. It will not happen in one year. It will

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happen by 2017, and from that point we will stop the growth of the national debt, which doubled under the previous Government.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Plymouth university, the city council and the chamber of commerce are all seeking to bid for the Government’s city initiative. Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on how such Government initiatives are helping cities and towns such as Plymouth, where 38% of working people work in the public sector, and how that can help to rebalance the economy?

Mr Lansley: The initial city deals in the largest cities demonstrated how those can energise economic potential by bringing people together and allowing them to think not in terms of what local authorities, universities, chambers of commerce, local enterprise partnerships and central Government do individually, but to put all that together. I will not be parochial, but Cambridge is also submitting an expression of interest in the next round of city deals. I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury about whether we might find an opportunity for some of the cities that are coming forward with new expressions of interest in city deals to have, in effect, a shop window to say how they would use that flexibility.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In Hull North seven members of the Hooper family, including a disabled five-year-old child, will lose £80 a month because under the coalition’s bedroom tax, they are under-occupying their four-bedroom house. On 8 January, Hull city council told me that it had 73 one and two-bedroomed properties available for households needing a smaller property, but 4,700 tenants will be hit by the bedroom tax. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House about the shambles that this unfair policy will cause up and down the country?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady and her party need to recognise that when, as I and many hon. Members know, very large numbers of people are seeking access to social housing and we have large numbers of under-occupied houses, it is necessary to do something about it. If the hon. Lady wants to raise the issue, she will have the opportunity at questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and his colleagues on Monday.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Concerns have been raised in my constituency about problem gambling and the operation of fixed-odds betting terminals. Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on the impact of problem gambling on local communities?

Mr Lansley: There will be a debate on offshore gambling tomorrow, so if my hon. Friend is here and able to contribute he might find that it will be in order to refer to some of those issues. Although gambling is an important and legitimate industry, I entirely share his concern, and there are limits that we must be sure we understand and police. As he will know, some useful analytical research has been done to help to understand what impact changes in the legal framework for gambling might have had on problem gambling.

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Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Payment protection insurance mis-selling appears to have spawned another abuse: people are being subjected to unsolicited texts, e-mails and phone calls. In addition, spurious claims then have to be defended by businesses, such as those in my constituency, which is putting them at risk. Is it not time we had a debate on the behaviour of claims management companies?

Mr Lansley: My memory is that the issue was raised in the Backbench Business Committee’s discussions, but I cannot be sure at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and I might talk with the Chair of the Committee. I think that it might have scheduled the debate and that it has already taken place, but I just do not remember entirely. However, there are certainly important opportunities for us to debate that.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 965, which is about using the extra revenue raised by the new 45p rate of tax?

[That this House notes newspaper reports that the top rate of income tax is expected to raise more money when it falls to 45 pence, not less, as fewer will avoid it; further notes that the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Treasury have estimated that £7 billion was lost when the top rate was raised by the previous administration to 50 pence; concludes therefore that when the economy recovers, any extra revenues gained from the rich by the cut in the top rate should be used to pay for lower taxes on lower earners, for example by restoring the starter 10 pence rate of income tax; and finally notes that a new generous 10 pence band between £9,440 and £12,000 would be worth at least £250 annually to British workers, and would lift everyone on the minimum wage at least halfway towards earning the living wage in cash terms.]

Will he consider having a debate on the subject so that we can see whether we could use the extra revenue to restore the 10p income tax rate and lower tax for lower earners?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I have seen that early-day motion—we have discussed it in previous business questions. My hon. Friend has been assiduous in raising it, including, if I recall correctly, during Northern Ireland questions. He is so assiduous in these matters that I think no Government Minister can be unaware of the point he is making. However, it is of course a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Prime Minister yesterday acknowledged the If campaign on world hunger and confirmed that he wants to see the issue addressed at the G8 summit he will host. We also know that many other issues are being canvassed for consideration at the summit, ranging from tax evasion to the impact of speculation on commodity prices, climate change and

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banking. Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that he will ensure that there will be adequate debate in Government time in advance of the summit to address those issues so that they do not all have to vie with each other for hard-pressed Back-Bench business time?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who makes an important point. The House had an opportunity to debate global hunger yesterday in Westminster Hall, and I know that will not be the last opportunity. It might be for the usual channels, and indeed the Backbench Business Committee, to discuss how and when the priorities for the G8 summit, including, as he rightly says, the Enough Food for Everyone campaign, are debated by the House prior to the summit.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time on the success of our free schools policy? The Hindu free school in my constituency is heavily oversubscribed and the I-Foundation is now applying for a network of Hindu free schools across the country so that parents, if they wish, can choose a Hindu ethos for their children’s education.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am surprised that the Labour party appears to be openly sceptical about free schools, 79 of which have opened in little more than two years. They are playing an important part in increasing the diversity and character of state education. No doubt my hon. Friend has in mind the Avanti House free school in his constituency. I hope that it and other free schools will continue to demonstrate that they can create not only a more diverse and appropriate range in state education, but higher standards by responding directly to the needs and wishes of parents and pupils.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Last year, one of Lancashire’s best public schools, Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Blackburn, applied to become a state school under the Government’s free schools programme. If approved, this will mean that a school to which for years only the wealthy could send their children will be open to all, free of charge. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is a great example of the Government’s free schools policy in improving choice in education? May I therefore join other hon. Members in calling for a debate on the free schools policy?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is very encouraging that we do not have to see a binary divide, as it were, between independent education and state education, and to know that there is an opportunity for the very best to be available to pupils, wherever they come from and whatever their circumstances. I know, as he does, that free schools are part of that. In addition to the free schools that are already open in my area, 100 more are due to open this year, including one in my constituency.

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Points of Order

11.26 am

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs orals earlier today, the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), raised serious and valid concerns over the possibility of horsemeat treated with a substance called bute—phenylbutazone, a potentially carcinogenic substance—entering the human food chain. Those concerns have been raised by the Government’s own independent veterinary advisers as well. The Minister seemed unaware of the issue and did not respond to these valid concerns. Could you, through your good offices, in concert with the efforts that we will make, try to ensure that the Minister or the Secretary of State appears here on Monday, or at the very earliest opportunity, to give an oral statement and answer questions on this vital issue of concern to human health?

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his attempted point of order. I know that he would not seek to draw me into a matter of contention, because that would be a wrong thing for him to do, and he would not knowingly do any such thing, I feel sure. What I would say to him is this: first, he has made his point; and secondly, the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House are present in the Chamber and will have heard his concerns. It is of course up to a Minister to decide whether he or she wishes to volunteer a statement, although the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced Member of the House and a shadow Minister, will be aware that there are means by which Members can seek to engage Ministers in matters of interest to them and more widely.

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Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. After the next business, we move on to a debate on voting at 16. Most Members of the House and most people outside were not able to watch the debate on that subject by the Youth Parliament. Would it be possible for you, Mr Speaker, or another occupant of the Chair to provide some time today information on the web link, if that is available for others to look at, so that they can see the young people’s debate on the subject that we are about to come to?

Mr Speaker: That is a very helpful point of order from the hon. Gentleman; I should not say that with such a note of surprise in my voice. I would want to be able to accommodate his request, although I cannot say for certain how quickly it can be done. He is right that the Youth Parliament had a very important debate on the matter, and it would helpful if there were wider access to it. I thank him, and we will try to oblige.