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House of Commons

Thursday 18 April 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

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

Regional Arts Funding

1. Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the level of funding available to regional arts organisations. [151739]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am sure that the House will allow me briefly to pay tribute to Sir Colin Davis, one of the world’s finest conductors, who died last week.

Over the life of this Parliament, we will invest almost £3 billion to help to create rich cultural experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

Tristram Hunt: I thank the Minister for his answer and I echo his tribute to Sir Colin.

Does the Minister share my real concern that the Arts Council appears ready to allocate a further £20 million of taxpayers’ money to London’s South Bank when so many arts organisations in the regions are crying out for funding? Given that our capital city is so wealthy and has such deep pockets, surely a much greater proportion of private and charitable funds should be financing that otherwise very worthwhile endeavour.

Mr Vaizey: That is a capital allocation for the further redevelopment of the South Bank, and obviously some of our major national arts institutions are based in the capital, but something like £174 million is going to arts organisations outside the capital this year, and that level of funding will continue.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Chester is the north-west’s flag-bearer in the bid to be the city of culture in 2017, and we are trying to build a coalition of local and regional organisations to support our bid. What support is the Department offering in relation to city of culture 2017? Would my hon. Friend care to visit Chester and see the jewel in the crown of the north-west?

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Mr Vaizey: I was in Chester only a few weeks ago, and it certainly is a jewel in the crown in the north-west. May I take this opportunity to say how delighted I am that so many cities—and, indeed, regions—have applied to become the city of culture?

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that some local authorities, such as my own in Exeter, are doing their best to maintain the cultural and artistic life of their areas in spite of the massive Arts Council cuts, while others—neighbouring Somerset, for example—have cut support for the arts completely? Does he believe that such cuts are a false economy?

Mr Vaizey: The right hon. Gentleman could have cited the battle that we had with Newcastle, which initially planned to cut all its arts funding. I believe that local authorities should invest in the arts, as has the city of Liverpool, which, on the back of being the European capital of culture, is now a cultural and tourist destination that is second to none.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Kettering’s Alfred East art gallery is the oldest purpose-built gallery in Northamptonshire and, to celebrate its centenary this year, it recently put on display some 350 pictures, filling the gallery. Will my hon. Friend encourage other art galleries around the country to get paintings out of their archives and to put them on display?

Mr Vaizey: I know that it is the Arts Council’s intention to pursue a policy of lending out paintings, and I would certainly encourage art galleries and museums to lend paintings when it is possible to do so.

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): Lottery funding is a crucial source of cash for regional arts organisations, and I have repeatedly asked Camelot to provide a constituency breakdown of the purchase of lottery tickets so that MPs on both sides of the House can see whether their constituents are getting their fair share of cash. Will the Minister urge Camelot to provide such a breakdown?

Mr Vaizey: I am well aware of the hon. Lady’s campaign, and I will certainly look at that issue on her behalf and write back to her about it.

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): The Minister recently claimed that the Government’s funding cuts had had no impact on new writing in regional theatre, but the report “In Battalions” tells a very different story. Over the past 12 months, 62% of theatres have had to cancel one or more new plays, and 54% are commissioning fewer of them. The Minister must surely agree that that is significantly different from what he claimed. Does he therefore accept that the Government’s policies are hitting regional theatre, and will he tell the House what he is going to do about it?

Mr Vaizey: We have responded to the “In Battalions” report. I note that, of the 20 or so theatres that took part in the survey, about half had actually received an increase in their funding. We continue to support new writing, and theatre cuts amount to less than about 3% overall, so theatre has been well protected. The report concentrated on a few theatres whose funding had been

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impacted and did not concentrate on those that had had their funding increased or had received new funding. It ill behoves the hon. Gentleman, who supported Newcastle’s arts cuts, to complain about arts cuts.


2. Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): What progress her Department has made in improving broadband availability throughout the UK. [151740]

8. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What progress she has made on broadband delivery. [151746]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): Two thirds of premises in the UK now have superfast broadband available. Some 100,000 more homes and businesses are getting coverage every week and average speeds have increased from 5.2 megabits in May 2010 to 12 megabits by November 2012.

Alun Cairns: The Government have made excellent progress in rolling out broadband across the UK, and the Secretary of State should be congratulated on that. However, there are some rural communities where the last mile remains a problem. What consideration has she given to reviewing the regulations to empower rural communities to take more control in assisting in the rolling out of broadband to their areas?

Maria Miller: As my hon. Friend will know, the Government have committed to 2 megabits on a universal basis throughout the country. We also have a £20 million rural community broadband fund to do the sorts of things he mentions, including working with the Welsh Assembly to make sure broadband reaches rural areas. Importantly, we are also always looking at ways to remove barriers that are stopping that last mile, and I will continue to work with my hon. Friend and other colleagues on that.

Andrew Selous: On 9 February last year I asked the Secretary of State’s predecessor when broadband speeds would improve in villages including Hockliffe, Tilsworth, Stanbridge and Eggington in my constituency, where speeds continue to be about 1 megabit per minute, which makes watching video on the internet very difficult. Will I be able to pass on some good news to my constituents shortly?

Maria Miller: I understand my hon. Friend’s impatience, and the nine months’ delay we had in getting state aid approval for our broadband programme was certainly problematic. I am pleased to be able to tell him that the programme in his Bedfordshire constituency is green-rated and that we are due to begin its procurement in the week of 7 May, with the contract to be agreed in August. That is good news for his constituents.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Government’s complete and utter incompetence—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Already I have support. The Government’s complete and utter incompetence in the Department for Transport’s letting of the west coast main line franchise means delays that will result in the trains to Cardiff and Swansea having no wi-fi or broadband until 2016. When

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will the Secretary of State seize hold of that opportunity, because the situation is creating real difficulties for businesses that want to relocate from London to south Wales?

Maria Miller: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about the ability of business people—or anybody else—to do work when on trains, and I have spoken to my colleagues in the Department for Transport about it. Importantly, however, as I have said, two thirds of premises in this country now have access to superfast broadband. The hon. Gentleman will also want to know that the internet contributes more than 8% to the UK economy, which is the highest proportion in any G8 country. We are impatient for more change, but we have already made a great deal of progress.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): First, may I join in what the Minister, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), said about Sir Colin Davis? He was an enormous figure in music, who was admired and respected, and who inspired people not only in this country, but around the world. He is a sad loss to the London Symphony Orchestra, this country and music generally.

Everyone knows that access to decent-speed broadband is vital to businesses and people’s work and home life and is needed in all areas. When we were in government, we committed to everyone in the UK getting decent-speed broadband—at least 2 megabits per second—by the end of last year. This Government abandoned that target, and Ofcom says that 2.6 million households still have not got decent-speed broadband. Instead the Government promised superfast broadband by the end of 2015, but there is growing concern that they will not meet that target. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that those concerns are wrong and that she is on track to meet the Government’s target of 90% of premises getting superfast broadband by 2015?

Maria Miller: The difference between the right hon. and learned Lady and me is that she may speak warm words, but this Government are actually making practical interventions. Not only with our commitment to 2 megabits universally, but through our urban project and our rural broadband project, we are actually delivering for the people of this country. More than two thirds of premises now have access to superfast broadband, so perhaps it is little wonder that the people of this country bought so many goods and services online in 2011—we bought more than any other major economy. Broadband has a fantastic role to play, and we are making sure it reaches more and more households. Indeed, it will reach 10 million more households by the end of this Parliament.


3. Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): What assessment she has made of progress towards rolling out superfast broadband to 90% of premises by 2015. [151741]

10. John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): What assessment she has made of progress towards rolling out superfast broadband to 90% of premises by 2015. [151749]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): We are making good progress. With the signing of the procurement for Northumberland this week, 20 projects should be under way, representing more than 60% of the budget. All procurements are scheduled to complete by the end of summer 2013.

Nic Dakin: Given that the Government’s intention is to achieve 90% coverage by 2015, why are they signing contracts with delivery dates in 2016?

Mr Vaizey: I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the contract that was signed on 8 March with Onlincolnshire, the brand for the delivery of broadband in Lincolnshire, with £14 million of investment from the Government and £8.5 million coming from BT. At the end of that contract, the coverage will be not just 90% but 94.5%.

John Robertson: Following the supplementary question of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) on Question 2, access to broadband and superfast broadband is one thing, but uptake is another. At a time when the Government are trying to make people use broadband to access benefits, what are they doing to ensure that such people have access to broadband and that it is rolled out, considering that, as a written reply they gave me demonstrates, they do not even know the numbers?

Mr Vaizey: I treat any question asked by the hon. Gentleman with great respect, given his long and distinguished career with BT. [Interruption.] I would like to answer the question, but I am being heckled by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). Perhaps when he stops heckling me, I can get on with answering that important question. The previous Government appointed Martha Lane Fox to run the Race Online 2012 campaign, which has become Go ON UK. She has brought together charities and businesses to encourage people to get online, which is very important. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills also has a campaign to encourage small businesses to get online and learn to use e-commerce.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Small businesses in rural areas are desperate to access superfast broadband and most of the not spots are in rural areas of north Yorkshire. What are the Government doing to penetrate the 10% of rural areas that have no prospect of superfast broadband by 2025?

Mr Vaizey: I know that my hon. Friend, as the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, does a fantastic job in highlighting the need for access to superfast broadband in rural areas. I was delighted to visit north Yorkshire at the end of last year to open the first cabinet. The uptake of superfast broadband from the cabinet that I opened is 30% ahead of schedule and more than 15,000 homes in north Yorkshire have already been reached, thanks to that programme and the Government’s help.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Commercial firms and Worcestershire county council are making excellent progress in rolling out superfast

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broadband in Worcestershire. In addition, villages in my constituency such as Overbury, Little Witley and Martley have come up with innovative rural solutions. Will the Minister welcome an event that I am holding in Pershore on 10 May to demonstrate those alternative technologies to some of the rural communities that are in the last 10%?

Mr Vaizey: I have worked closely with my hon. Friend on some of the community projects that she has championed in her constituency. If her constituents are watching this morning, I can tell them that they have no more doughty champion. She stops me at every possible occasion to raise these issues. She and I have worked together to push through the bureaucracy and get these innovative community projects up and running, so of course I welcome them.

Inland Waterways: Tourism

4. Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): What steps she is taking to promote tourism on inland waterways. [151742]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): The Government, through VisitEngland, promote tourism on inland waterways in a number of ways. Inland waterways have benefited from Government funding through the £25 million rural growth fund and a £1 billion contribution to the Canal and River Trust.

Gavin Williamson: South Staffordshire has some of the finest canals in England, with the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal and the Shropshire Union canal. What more can my right hon. Friend do to encourage not only more domestic tourists, but more international tourists to discover the delights of our canals, which would bring much-needed business not just to rural communities, but to our towns and cities?

Hugh Robertson: I have a very simple and, I hope, positive answer for my hon. Friend. VisitBritain will actively market all of Britain’s canals and waterways on its public-facing website. I hope that that will achieve the effect that he desires.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): The Nene runs through my constituency, providing great leisure facilities for tourists and locals. However, when I visit places such as Barnwell country park these days, it concerns me to see such a reduction in resources, particularly from the local authorities. For example, the rangers are gone and the hides that had been maintained have been taken away. Will the Department for Culture, Media and Sport make representations to the Department for Communities and Local Government on its budgets, given that they will be cut under the Chancellor’s recent Budget?

Hugh Robertson: Clearly, my Department wants to do everything it can to encourage tourism and the development of tourism facilities. Decisions made by local authorities in that regard are, of course, a matter for them, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that for those assets that lie within my control, everything will be done to promote the inland waterways of this country.

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First World War Centenary

5. Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): What plans she has to ensure a suitable commemoration of the centenary of the first world war. [151743]

9. Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): What plans she has to ensure a suitable commemoration of the centenary of the first world war. [151747]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): The Government will deliver a four-year programme to mark the centenary, focused around the themes of remembrance, youth and education. We will lead the nation in acts of remembrance, and a £50 million fund will be made available to provide a framework for learning and community-led projects.

Penny Mordaunt: For Hampshire, investing in our heritage will also yield considerable sums in visitor revenue. I am delighted that Hampshire county council has sought to invest in HMS Monitor M33, which will yield millions in heritage funds and tourism income. Does the Secretary of State think that Hampshire Liberal Democrats who opposed that measure should visit Portsmouth dockyard to see what a good return on investment looks like?

Maria Miller: I thank my hon.—and maybe gallant?—Friend for that question. I have visited Monitor M33 and there are only two such battleships left in existence. Hampshire county council has had the foresight to invest in something that would otherwise have been lost to the nation, and it should be applauded for doing so. As my hon. Friend points out, that is not only good for the heritage of our country, but great for tourism in Portsmouth.

Henry Smith: What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with broadcasters, particularly BBC local radio, to mark this important centenary? No community in our country was left untouched by the impact of the first world war.

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is right to say that every community—and, indeed, every individual—in this country can find their story with regards to the first world war. My officials have been talking to the BBC and other institutions that are already well developed in the ways they will be supporting this important event, which was probably one of the most defining in this nation’s history.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): A huge contribution was made by Dr Elsie Inglis and the medical teams of women who helped not just as nurses, but as doctors. They felt that their contribution was to the whole of the UK, not merely to Scotland. Is the Secretary of State prepared to meet me and other Edinburgh MPs to discuss how that contribution could be commemorated in London? I understand that some difficulty has been placed in the way of an exhibition on that.

Maria Miller: The hon. Lady raises the important issue of the role of women and the way in which the first world war had an immeasurable impact on that.

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I would, of course, be delighted to hear more about the point she raises, particularly the role of women in medicine. The lottery will make available funding for local community projects, and I am already working closely with Scotland and Scottish officials to ensure that we correctly mark this event in Scotland too.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): The first world war was caused by a complete foreign policy malfunction based on the imperial ambitions of the elites of the time. It resulted in the deaths of 30 million soldiers and 7 million civilians. Surely the Secretary of State agrees that it would be more appropriate to commemorate the end of the war, rather than to replicate in 2014 a jamboree reminiscent of the jingoistic nonsense used to drum up support for the slaughter.

Maria Miller: I have to say that the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention is not quite what I would like to hear. We should ensure that we mark the entirety of the first world war from its beginning to its end, as it had a considerable impact on every community in this country. I recently had the honour of visiting many of the war graves of those who gave their lives throughout the war, and we need to ensure that we honour their memory in full.

17. [151757] Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): On a recent visit to the war graves in Belgium, with all the emotions that everybody feels, it struck me how much we owe to thousands of soldiers from across the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean, Africa, Nepal and, in one cemetery, even China. There is a real chance in these commemorations to involve every British person, regardless of race or religious background.

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is right. I, too, have seen some of those graves. I can reassure him that our noble Friend Baroness Warsi and I are working with me on that—she has a number of commemorative events in hand.


6. Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What progress she has made in ensuring the future delivery of broadband to rural areas. [151744]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Our analysis suggests that funding for the Cheshire project is in line with funding for other projects. Given the high level of European regional development funding plus contributions from local authorities, fibre coverage is expected to reach 96% of premises in Cheshire at the end of the programme. We are hoping to sign the contract by the end of this month. I hope my hon. Friend will help me to reach that goal.

Fiona Bruce: I thank the Minister for that reply, which rather pre-empts my supplementary question. Perhaps I could cite some figures in support of my belief that Cheshire’s Broadband Delivery UK funding needs to be looked at again. In comparison with other northern counties—Shropshire has £8 million, Lancashire has £10 million and Cumbria has £17 million—Cheshire

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has been provided with £4 million. Will the Minister meet me and representatives from Cheshire East council to discuss that?

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend was absolutely right: just like our rural broadband programme, my answer was well ahead of schedule. I simply echo what I said, but add that I will meet my hon. Friend at 4 o’clock this afternoon to discuss the issue.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The Minister has said in the House before that money has been allocated to the devolved Government in Edinburgh. Has there been much discussion since the allocation of that funding on how broadband is rolling out in rural areas in Scotland?

Mr Vaizey: We have allocated £100 million to the devolved Administration in Scotland. We have regular discussions, not just between the Minister responsible and me but among officials. We signed the highlands and islands enterprise agreement, which was one of the most difficult to sign because of the extremely rural nature of the area. I understand that roll-out plans continue apace, but I will certainly re-engage with the Scottish Minister at the earliest opportunity.

14. [151754] David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I welcome the steps that the Government are taking to improve broadband provision in rural areas, but will my hon. Friend tell the House what steps the Government are taking to make available best practice on community-led solutions to help our most isolated rural communities? Will he also tell the House whether BT and other service providers are involved in that important initiative?

Mr Vaizey: We work closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the rural community broadband fund, which is designed to help communities that are not part of the local and national rural broadband roll-out to get access to superfast broadband. Of course, we also work closely with BT and other providers on that.

Small Companies: Arts

7. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What steps she is taking to ensure a cultural climate which encourages small companies and start-ups in the arts sector. [151745]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): The Government are developing a wide range of initiatives through our creative economy programme and Arts Council England to support the establishment of small companies within the arts sector. In 2011, we launched Creative England, a national agency that invests in and supports creative companies.

Mr Sheerman: This is supposed to be the Department of Culture, not the Department of Philistines. If the Minister goes to real parts of the country outside London, he will see that there are so few grants and little money available for start-ups. The lifeblood of our cultural heritage and our cultural future comes from

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new groups starting up. Theatre groups, literary groups and groups across the piece are starved of resource. That is not good enough. What is he doing about it?

Mr Vaizey: I bow to no one in my admiration for the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption]apart from my Secretary of State, as was said from a sedentary position. I say that particularly given his family connection with the Arts Council and the expertise that he is able to access across the dinner table on occasion. We are working very hard. Most of the money that we use to fund arts organisations goes outside London, and we set up Creative England to provide a national body to support creative start-ups outside London, and that is doing a fine job.

Mr Speaker: It sounds as though the Sheerman household is an improving environment.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Will the Minister join me in the commending the excellent work of the Creative Foundation in Folkestone in supporting start-up creative businesses? Does he agree that its work will make Folkestone and east Kent an excellent choice for UK city of culture in 2017?

Mr Vaizey: I have visited Folkestone on many occasions. It not only has the adornment of my hon. Friend as its Member of Parliament, but benefits from the extraordinary philanthropic work of Roger De Haan, who has invested millions in Folkestone. He understands that investing in culture is one of the key ways of ensuring regeneration.

Gaming Machines

11. Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): What progress her Department has made on its review of B2 gaming machines and other aspects of gaming machine stake and prize limits. [151750]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): The consultation period for the triennial review of gaming machine stakes and prize limits closed on Tuesday 9 April, at which point my Department had received over 9,000 responses. Officials are currently in the process of analysing them.

Simon Wright: My constituent David Armstrong became addicted to B2 machines, losing more than £100,000 over four years. Real people are suffering real hardship from these machines. Although the Government are seeking more evidence of the link, that will take time, so may I urge the Minister to take a precautionary approach in the meantime and limit the maximum stake to £2?

Hugh Robertson: It goes without saying that I am extremely sad to hear about the case my hon. Friend raises. I very much hope that he was able to respond as part of the review and that his response is one of those being analysed by my officials. If that review produces the sort of evidence that he has cited, I absolutely give him the assurance both that we are very aware of the problem and that we will not hesitate to act on the basis of that evidence.

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Telecommunications Market

12. Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): What her policy is on competition in the telecommunications market. [151752]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Our telecoms market is one of the most open and competitive in the world. Effective deregulation has set industry free to create new services and set international standards. Of course, the way we configured the 4G auction ensured that we remained a full-player marketplace in mobile.

Stephen Timms: The mobile operator 3 has a licence because the previous Government wanted competition. The Secretary of State and I were recently at a celebration of 3’s 10th anniversary. That competition has hugely benefited customers, so why has the entire rural superfast broadband fund been handed to one company—to BT? BT is now behaving like any monopolist that has everyone over a barrel, and we have heard about the consequences from all sides this morning. Why has competition been forgotten?

Mr Vaizey: Competition has not been forgotten. May I say that I bow to no one in my respect for the right hon. Gentleman as a former telecoms Minister who did so much to promote competition. As a result of that, BT has just a 30% share of the broadband market, and the market share of the historic incumbent in the copper broadband market is one of the lowest in the world. That is a testament to the right hon. Gentleman’s great work, but we are carrying it on. We made sure that our process for rural broadband was competitive. It just so happens that BT has won the contracts, and I reject the suggestion that it is behaving like a monopolist. We are getting value for money for our contracts, and BT is a great British company doing a great job for Britain.

Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): On the subject of rural broadband, I encourage my hon. Friend to recognise that there is more competition in the market than some people understand. Companies such as Cotswold Satellite in my constituency have high-quality, high-speed and low-cost satellite services that are available now, to anyone who wants them.

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are a number of players in the marketplace. It is fiercely competitive, not just in mobile but with Virgin in fixed-line and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, there are many community players as well.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I am sure the Minister will join me in welcoming the National Audit Office inquiry into why the 4G auction raised £1 billion less than was forecast. In a time of austerity, it is quite wrong for the mobile phone companies to be given spectrum at prices below even what they were prepared to pay. In his letter to me, the Comptroller and Auditor General said:

“This differs from the earlier auction of 3G spectrum…where the generation of proceeds was at least one of the objectives of the auction.”

Why was the Minister so casual with taxpayers’ assets?

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Mr Vaizey: I utterly reject that accusation. After the 3G auction, there was a National Audit Office inquiry, and it is entirely standard procedure to have the NAO run the ruler over the 4G auction. I happen to believe that Ofcom did a fantastic job in running it. I went personally last night to congratulate the 92 men and women who worked on that auction and delivered a fantastic result. In the 3G auction, telecom companies paid far too much and it took too long to roll out 3G. Now we are likely to get 4G by the end of 2015— two years ahead of schedule and with 98% coverage.


13. Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): What steps she is taking to increase the contribution of tourism to the British economy. [151753]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): The campaign launched by a partnership between the GREAT campaign and VisitBritain will deliver 4.6 million inbound visitors and more than £2 billion of spending by 2015. VisitEngland’s marketing, including Holidays at home are GREAT, generated incremental spending of nearly £30 million last year, and a new round will be launched in May.

Mark Pawsey: My constituency benefits from being the only place to have given its name to a sport that is played all over the world. My right hon. Friend was kind enough to accept my invitation to visit Rugby and see how we are preparing for the 2015 world cup. Does she agree that my constituency’s link to the game provides a fantastic opportunity for the boosting of local tourism in our economy?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is right to draw our attention to the historic link between international sporting events and tourism. All Members should think about how they can promote the efforts that their constituencies are making to benefit from the tourism industry, which now supports more than 2.5 million jobs and more than £100 billion in the economy.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Britain’s musical heritage is one of the key drivers of tourism in this country. Liverpool is the most obvious example because of the Beatles, but we should also remember Manchester during the heyday of Madchester and the Hacienda. What is the Minister doing to bring such examples to the attention of tourists to the UK, and how does that fit into the Government’s strategy?

Maria Miller: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Many of our cultural institutions are going abroad to present a positive image of this country’s cultural and arts sector to potential visitors, but it is campaigns such as the GREAT campaign that can pinpoint cultural assets which reside not only in the south-east and around our capital city but throughout the United Kingdom, and can encourage more people to enjoy more of our great country.

15. [151755] Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): Given that transport links are one of the Government’s priorities for tourism, what discussions is the Secretary

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of State having with those in other Departments about improving, in particular, rail links to our major tourism hotspots?

Maria Miller: I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in this subject. As he knows, we have launched an extensive programme to establish how we can improve not just rail links but other transport links throughout the country, and tourism has to be at the heart of those discussions because of its important role in the UK economy.

Topical Questions

T1. [151760] Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Maria Miller): On behalf of the whole House, let me put on record that our thoughts are with, and our condolences go out to, all who have been affected by the tragic events that took place at the Boston marathon. I was pleased to learn that this weekend’s runners here in London, a number of whom will be Members of Parliament—including our own departmental Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan)—will be asked to wear a black ribbon as a sign of respect and solidarity, and that a period of silence will be observed before the race begins.

Andrew Stephenson: I echo my right hon. Friend’s comments about the Boston marathon. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were injured.

Back in February, I raised with the ministerial team the subject of Olympic legacy funding and the funding of grass-roots sports clubs. I am delighted to say that since then another Pendle club, Burwain sailing club and training centre, has benefited from funding. I have recently been working with Colne football club, which will also be bidding for funds. What more can Ministers do to promote the funding that is available to grass-roots sports clubs in Pendle?

Maria Miller: As my hon. Friend will know, increasing participation in sport is at the heart of our legacy programme, and we have a £1 billion fund to promote it. In particular we have the Places People Play scheme, which relates directly to the legacy, the aim of which is to ensure that people continue to be inspired by London 2012 not just for the next 12 months, but for the next decade.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Everyone will want to send condolences to those who have been affected by the bombing that took place during the Boston marathon on Monday. This Sunday 37,500 runners will take part in the London marathon, and hundreds of thousands of people will line the streets to cheer them on. Some will be cheering on my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), and we wish him all the best.

Given that the London marathon is one of the greatest occasions in the annual sporting calendar for the United Kingdom, may I invite the Secretary of State to deliver some words of reassurance, and to

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update us on discussions in which she has engaged with the aim of ensuring that that sporting event on Sunday is what we remember?

Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman is right to bring that up. He will know from London 2012 that this country has a great deal of experience of ensuring that our sporting events go well and that security is at the heart of the planning process. The London marathon is no different and I can tell him clearly that my right hon. Friend the sports Minister met the Mayor yesterday to go through the plans again to reassure themselves and the Government that we have the right security procedures in place. We are reassured, as a result of our experience not just with the marathon but with the Olympics, that we have the right people in place to ensure that the event is a great success.

T5. [151764] Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): I commend the Minister on the work that is being done on rolling out superfast broadband, but this week I have heard from some constituents who are concerned about possible delays in rolling out superfast broadband to rural Fylde. May I have an assurance that the Minister will look into this and that we will get some transparency from BT to ensure that we have reassurances for rural areas?

Maria Miller: I can understand why my hon. Friend has raised that issue. As I said earlier, the role of superfast broadband and connectivity in our lives is growing. It is one of the most important ways that people can do business in this country. We are ensuring that it is a priority to get connectivity, whether it is through 4G or superfast broadband, to all areas of the country. I am pleased to consider specific examples, but I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), is meeting BT weekly to go through each of the procurement plans in detail. Indeed, 60% of our programme for rural areas has been procured and it is going ahead at great speed.

T2. [151761] Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): Has the Secretary of State had any luck in breaking the logjam of appointments in Downing street, or is the Prime Minister still blocking anyone who is not a member of the Conservative party from serving on trusts and boards?

Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman is perhaps thinking back to a bygone age, when that was an issue. I can reassure him that we want to have the best people in place to do the job. What I will say directly to the hon. Gentleman is that we are trying to do a better job of ensuring that we get more women involved in those appointments and that we have diversity on our boards, not just in business but in trusts.

T6. [151765] David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): The Britain on Foot campaign, which will be launched publicly in May, will help many more people to get active outdoors and will help boost tourism in rural areas. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government back those aims and the campaign and will she join me in welcoming the hard work that is

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going on from the British Mountaineering Council, the Outdoor Industry Association and the Ramblers in taking this forward?

Maria Miller: I know that my hon. Friend takes a deep interest in this subject and I absolutely agree with him about the importance of getting people out and about so that they can enjoy the beautiful countryside of our country. The initiative that he has undertaken is absolutely right, as it will not just improve people’s health but show tourism opportunities.

T3. [151762] Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): The Minister wants councils to invest in the arts, yet the Department for Communities and Local Government has cut council budgets in such a draconian manner that many of them are being forced to fund services only when they are statutorily required to do so. Since the arts are an important factor in economic regeneration, when will we get some joined-up government so that his Department is not pulling in one direction while the DCLG pulls in another?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): When will we get Labour councils that, instead of keeping money for their back offices, support money for the arts? When will we get Labour spokesmen in this House condemning Labour councils that cut the arts budget?

T8. [151767] Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that if one believes that the highest of British culture can be found in military music and pageantry, in the architecture of Sir Christopher Wren—about whom it was famously said “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice”—and in the incomparable English of the King James version of the Bible, no finer example could be found than yesterday’s magnificent funeral for the late and great Margaret Thatcher?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend raises an important point. All of us will have felt that yesterday’s event was superbly staged not only by St Paul’s cathedral, but by our military personnel. It was a fitting tribute to a great leader and a woman who is an inspiration to many of us.

T4. [151763] Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Birmingham, historically the city of Pebble Mill, has great BBC traditions. Widespread concern has been expressed that in Britain’s second city, much programme making has been transferred, with the licence fee payer in the midlands no longer receiving value for money. Does the Minister agree that with dialogue now under way with the new director-general, our great national broadcaster has an obligation to ensure that Birmingham does not suffer a disproportionate impact and remains a world-class centre of production and programme making?

Mr Vaizey: The BBC is obviously independent of politicians and it would be wrong of us to make decisions on its behalf. Under the previous Government the BBC began the move to Salford, which has been very important. I know that the new director-general recognises, as did his predecessors, that the BBC has a duty to the whole country. May I also take this opportunity to welcome the opening of the biggest library in Europe in Birmingham?

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Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): The decision to hold the FA cup final at 5.15 pm to allow more football fans to watch the game after their teams have played earlier in the day means that City and Wigan fans will struggle to get back by train. Does the Minister agree that the solution for the future is to reinstate the FA cup final as the showpiece game on the last day of the season, the week after the last round of the league games?

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): Everyone across the House will have been appalled by the scenes that we saw at Wembley last Saturday afternoon and early evening. Both the FA and the police are looking very carefully into what happened and the causes behind it. Clearly, kick-off times is one element of that. It would be wrong of anyone here to prejudge that investigation, not least because I am almost sure there will be a criminal element to it, but if any action needs to be taken, the hon. Gentleman has my assurance that that will take place.

T7. [151766] Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): The BBC has committed to £300 million of broadband funding from the digital dividend post-2015, yet despite my repeated questions on the subject, the Minister has refused to say what will happen to that money or even if Broadband Delivery UK will continue to exist post-2015. Can he answer my question now or, if not, can he promise that the answer will be in the forthcoming communications White Paper?

Mr Vaizey: I bow to no one in my respect for the hon. Lady, who did a fantastic job when she worked for Ofcom. We are actively looking at the options for spending that £300 million for the last 10%. As soon as we have an answer, she will be among the first to know.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): I recently visited the excellent Neon Play studios to see at first hand just how much potential there is in the video games industry. However, this is set to be hampered by the EU Commission investigating UK games tax relief, which has only just been secured after lobbying by the Minister and the industry representative, TIGA. Will the Minister stand up for our position?

Mr Vaizey: Yes. I am working closely with the European Commission on its investigation into video games tax relief and I am confident of a good result.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): This week we have seen the re-emergence of soccer violence in the UK. As a result, hooligans will be banned, if convicted, from league grounds. They are now congregating in non-league grounds, where the banning orders do not apply. Will the Government look at extending banning orders to non-league grounds?

Hugh Robertson: I say again that no one in any part of the House would do anything other than condemn the scenes that we saw both on Saturday and again on Sunday. Incidentally, I do not think this marks a return to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s. Huge progress has been made but clearly there is an issue

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there and it is one that we need to address. We are awaiting the results of the investigations from the police and the football authorities. As I said in answer to an earlier question, if action needs to be taken, this Government will take it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I am afraid this question will have to be the last.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Will the Minister tell us what steps he is taking to ensure that consumers do not lose Freeview television reception as part of the 4G roll-out?

Mr Vaizey: An organisation has been established called at800, which is funded by the mobile operators to the tune of £180 million. It is the biggest programme of its kind anywhere in the world.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Earnings: Gender

1. Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): What assessment she has made of the most recent statistics on differential earnings for women and men in the (a) public and (b) private sector. [151729]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Jo Swinson): The gender pay gap is falling and currently stands at 19% in the public sector and 26% in the private sector. The causes of the gender pay gap are varied: roughly a third can be attributed to education and the types of jobs women do; about a third can be attributed to work patterns and the need to take time out of the labour market, for example for caring; and the remaining third is unexplained, which could include discrimination. The Government are committed to tackling the gender pay gap and believe that we absolutely need to get it down.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her commitment on this issue. More than one in five of the lowest paid full-time women workers earn under £80 a week, and it is much worse for women in low pay than it is for men. Will she indicate that the Government have that in their sights and have a strategy for dealing with inequality across the wage range, particularly for those struggling at the very bottom end of the income scale?

Jo Swinson: My right hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the gender pay gap is lowest for those at the lowest end, with a 7% gap in the bottom 10%, compared with a 23% gap in the top 10%, but there is absolutely no room for complacency. This week, as he will know, we announced a 1.9% increase in the national minimum wage, which is set against a 0.8% increase in wages, according to the most recent ONS statistics. Of course, two thirds of the beneficiaries of that rise in the national minimum wage will be women.

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Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): The Government’s report, “Think, Act, Report: one year on”, states that 54 organisations have signed up to the Government’s voluntary equality pay scheme. Given that there are 6,000 businesses in the UK that employ more than 250 people, does the Minister think that a 0.9% sign-up rate demonstrates sufficient voluntary progress on equal pay?

Jo Swinson: Clearly, we want to increase the number of organisations signed up to “Think, Act, Report”, but we have also been focusing on those that employ the largest number of workers. The current figures show that more than 80 organisations and large-scale employers have signed up, which represents 1.3 million employees. I think that is a key figure, because 1.3 million employees are now protected by companies that are ensuring that they not only consider what they need to do to tackle the pay gap, but act on it and, importantly, through transparency, report on what they have been doing.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 requires businesses that employ more than 250 people to measure and publish their gender pay gap figures. Will the Government implement that and, if not, what is the problem with doing so?

Jo Swinson: When the Government launched the “Think, Act, Report” initiative, we set out the fact that we believed it would be helpful if companies took a voluntary approach in pursuing this matter. Of course, we have not ruled out commencing that part of the 2010 Act at some future point, and we have also brought forward legislation—this measure is set out in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill—that will force organisations found guilty of breaching equal pay laws to conduct equal pay audits. I think that there is a clear message to be sent to employers: they should get their house in order on equal pay, or the equal pay audits will be coming down the track.

Workplace Potential

2. Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): What recent progress she has made on helping women achieve their potential in the workplace. [151730]

The Minister for Women and Equalities (Maria Miller): There are more women in work than ever before. Since the coalition Government came into office, 347,000 more women are in employment. We are supporting women to maintain their connection to the labour market, which will allow them to reach their potential in work. That is why we have announced the extension of the right to request flexible working to all by 2014 and the introduction of shared parental leave by 2015.

Margot James: In some workplaces women are dramatically under represented. According to the Institution of Engineering and Technology, just 6% of the engineering work force is female. What more can the Government do to influence the choices young girls make and to open their minds to the potential of a career in engineering?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is right. It is about choices, particularly the choices that young girls and women make in school and in higher education. That is

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why the National Careers Service has such an important role to play. We also need teachers to encourage young girls to take those subjects that can help them go into engineering, as well as all the work we are doing to modernise the workplace in order to keep them there.

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): The Government’s own equalities impact assessment on universal credit admits that the policy might encourage many second earners, who are usually women, to leave work and stay at home. Does the Minister agree that such a move would turn the clock back on women’s equality and undermine the role of women in the workplace?

Maria Miller: Absolutely not. Our work under universal credit to increase access to child care for women working fewer than 16 hours represents the first time that such support will be in place. We should be championing universal credit as a way of making sure that more women can stay connected to the labour market at a time when they also have caring responsibilities.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Many working women lose out when they have a baby. Last month, a survey by the lawyers Slater & Gordon showed that more than one in seven women returning from maternity leave do not have a job to go back to, yet the Government are not even bothering to collect proper data on pregnancy-related redundancy. The Slater & Gordon research showed that two in five new mums were refused flexible hours and nearly half said that the job they had gone back to was less good than the one they had left. What are the Government doing to get a grip on pregnancy discrimination?

Maria Miller: I am sure that the hon. Lady will be pleased to know that I recently met many of those who are looking at the issue, which, like her, I take seriously. I want women not to have a false choice between having a family and staying in employment; they need to be able to do both. That is why by changing the culture in our workplaces so that businesses look at how they can accommodate women—not just in respect of their statutory duties, but more fully than that—we can make sure that women can not only have their family responsibilities, but continue in their jobs.

Senior Business Posts

3. Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): What steps she is taking to increase the number of women in senior positions in business. [151732]

The Minister for Women and Equalities (Maria Miller): The Government are supporting Lord Davies’s voluntary, business-led approach to improve the number of women on boards, which has resulted in an unprecedented increase to date. On top of that, our “Think, Act, Report” initiative encourages companies to take action and report on gender equality in the workplace, promoting greater transparency. More than 80 leading companies are signed up so far, representing more than 1.3 million employees.

Dr Coffey: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer about an issue that we both believe to be important. A number of Government Members have undertaken

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an inquiry. Will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to meet us to discuss some of things that we have raised—such as unconscious bias training, which leading companies are giving as a matter of course to help more women get up the pipeline?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that such work can make all the difference in changing that culture in the workplace. I am aware of the Conservative Women’s Forum’s work in the area, and I applaud it. I would be delighted to meet her.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know that the recent Cranfield report and the Davies progress report say that much more needs to be done. Does she agree with the Business Secretary, who says that there is a lack of progress and that quotas are a real possibility?

Maria Miller: The Business Secretary and I helped to launch the most recent update on Lord Davies’s report. Both of us noted how much progress had been made. However, the hon. Lady is right to say that there is still much more to be done, whether in FTSE 100 or FTSE 250 firms. However, the House should note that considerable progress has been made under the Government—progress that was not forthcoming before.

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): The message that we send from this place is important. Some 32 Ministers are entitled to attend Cabinet meetings, but just five are women. Will the Secretary of State join me in urging the Prime Minister to put the situation right?

Maria Miller: The hon. Lady will know that the Government are absolutely committed to the importance of equality and fairness and of getting more women involved, not just at the top of our organisations but throughout them. What we and other parties are doing is making sure that we develop that pipeline of great women to take those positions in future.

Human Trafficking

4. Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): What steps she is taking to prevent women from becoming victims of human trafficking. [151733]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Mrs Helen Grant): Raising awareness with potential victims in source countries and training front-line professionals in the UK are key to our work in identifying and preventing the exploitation of potential victims of all ages, genders and nationalities.

Mr Burrowes: Given the shocking statistic that British girls trafficked for sexual exploitation make up nearly half of all modern-day slavery victims in the UK, what voice and help is the Minister giving those voiceless and helpless girls?

Mrs Grant: The Government recognise that, sadly, trafficking can and does occur in the UK. The inter-departmental ministerial group on human trafficking

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brings together all parts of the Government and raises awareness of trafficking, which can affect boys and men in addition to women and girls, across the UK. The group also highlights the tailored support available through the Government’s contact with the Salvation Army. The police are also doing a great deal of very good work to tackle trafficking.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister talk to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee about how women who are terrified of publicity could give evidence to Select Committees in confidence that they will not be named and identified?

Mrs Grant: I am very happy to have a conversation about that with the hon. Gentleman and the Chairman of the Select Committee.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I think the Minister is being a little reticent. She perhaps forgot to say that on Monday the Prime Minister is opening an exhibition about human trafficking and the hidden number of slaves in our constituencies. Will the Minister welcome the Prime Minister’s intervention? It would be good if she did.

Mrs Grant: I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s reminder of that. It is an excellent idea, I welcome it, and I will visit it.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that many women who are victims of human trafficking, instead of being given the support they need, end up being prosecuted or having action taken against them under immigration rules. What assessment have the Government made of the suggestion by the Centre for Social Justice in its report last month that there should be a modern slavery Act that outlines an obligation to investigate indicators of slavery so that when there is a suggestion that there has been human trafficking, it is investigated rather than people being prosecuted?

Mrs Grant: It sounds like a very interesting report. I have not yet read it in detail, but I certainly will, and I will look at what the hon. Lady said. Our aim, at the end of the day, is to tackle this terrible issue at source. It is an abhorrent crime. We want to work smarter at our borders, have better law enforcement, and make sure that people do not become victims.

Government Policy: Disabled People

5. Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the cumulative effect of the Government’s policies on disabled people. [151734]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): The Government provide equality analysis of policy changes routinely, as required by the Equality Act 2010. It is not possible to publish a robust cumulative impact assessment separately for disabled people because a number of overlapping reforms are continuing until 2017-18. The caseload is dynamic, and, as under the previous Government, the data are limited.

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The previous Government did not do it because they did not want to put out incorrect information, and neither do we.

Bill Esterson: Let me tell the Minister about a constituent of mine. He was assessed as fit for work after being disabled for 12 years as a result of a degenerative disease. While he appeals, he loses £25 a week in benefits. He has now lost a further £14.71 a week through the bedroom tax and £34 a month as a result of the council tax reduction scheme. That is over £200 a month in total. Like thousands of people with disabilities—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry, but we are very pressed for time. I need a quick question with a question mark at the end of it—a sentence.

Bill Esterson: Does not my constituent’s example show that it is time the Government admitted they have got it wrong about the impact on disabled people?

Esther McVey: I would like to refresh the hon. Gentleman’s memory about a couple of points. The work capability assessment was brought in under the previous Government, and we are trying to get it right. Equally, the cumulative impact on housing under the previous Government shows that 1.8 million people were left on waiting lists, a quarter of a million people were in overcrowded housing, and the housing bill doubled. The intention of our cumulative impact is to get it right.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): Virtue is not found solely in the amount of money that is spent. Does the Minister agree that it is as important to enable disabled people to fulfil their aspirations and live fully in society as it is to focus on financial payments to a proportion of them?

Esther McVey: I completely agree with my hon. Friend, who does so much in this area. This is about fulfilling potential, protecting the most vulnerable, and helping those who would like to get into work. The budget remains at £50 billion, which is a fifth higher than the average in Europe, over double that in America, and six times more than in Japan. We are world leaders and I am proud of our record.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): The Minister’s answer to the question illustrates why we need a cumulative impact assessment. She said that it is a dynamic, changing situation. A huge amount of reform is coming in, and that is exactly why we must have a cumulative impact assessment.

Esther McVey: I agree on certain points, but I want to ensure that correct and robust information is handed out and, for the reasons I have given, that is not possible. We do not want to trade in inaccurate information. Our intention is to ensure that we support the most vulnerable people, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): Two thirds of families hit by the bedroom tax are disabled, according to the Minister’s own figures, and for many of them there is nowhere to move to. In Wakefield district, 5,600 households are being hit by the

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bedroom tax, there are fewer than 200 smaller homes available, and Wakefield and District Housing estimates that it will take seven years to re-house everyone. It is even more difficult for disabled families, because most of the homes do not have disabled access. The discretionary housing fund will not help all of those families. Why do not the Minister and all her colleagues stop hiding behind the nonsense in their briefing papers and go out and hear from the families who are being hit? They have nowhere to go and no way to pay. What does she tell them to do now?

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Esther McVey: I listened carefully to the right hon. Lady. The discretionary payments, which we have trebled, are going to the right people. We need to make sure that local authorities are very clear in what they do. We have also exempted pensioners, and if a disabled child cannot sleep in the same room as another child, that room will be exempted. Rather than making inaccurate comments and perpetuating myths, the right hon. Lady should get her facts right and get behind the reforms that we are making to replace the mess that she left behind.

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Business of the House

10.36 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 is as follows:

Monday 22 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Public Service Pensions Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill [Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Partnerships (Prosecution) (Scotland) Bill [Lords],followed by a motion relating to section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993.

Tuesday 23 April—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by Opposition day [unallotted half day]. There will be a debate on Northern Ireland. The debate will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Wednesday 24 April—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by Opposition day [unallotted half day]. There will be a debate on the Agriculture Wages Board. The debate will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 25 April—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to banks and banking, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to railways, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

The date and time for the prorogation of Parliament will be set once the progress of business is certain.

Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s possibly full business timetable.

Yesterday we marked the end of an era with the funeral of Margaret Thatcher and our thoughts are with those who knew and loved her. I rarely agreed with her, but she did break the existing political and economic consensus and I think it is time that we did so again.

We are now entering the final hectic days of this parliamentary Session—if necessary. Next Wednesday it will be five weeks since the Prime Minister was last held to account in this House. Given the likely timing of Prorogation and the state opening on 8 May, it is possible that he will have to be answerable here again only twice before June. Does the Leader of the House agree that this is a completely unacceptable state of affairs? What will he do to ensure that this House stops conveniently going into recess on Tuesdays, thereby letting the Prime Minister off the PMQ hook?

On Tuesday the Communities and Local Government Secretary got himself into a right old pickle with his chaotic plans for a free market free-for-all in conservatory construction. With Labour, Liberal Democrats and Tories uniting against him, he was forced to hint at an unspecified concession, but in the damning words of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), his colleague around the Cabinet table for two years,

“we will not believe what”

the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government says

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“until we see the proposals in black and white.”—[Official Report, 16 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 196.]

Will the Leader of the House clarify what this mysterious concession might be, or cannot this incompetent Government even organise a concession in a conservatory?

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): George will like that.

Ms Eagle: I suspect that the Patronage Secretary has got a few conservatories of his own.

For 60 years, the Agricultural Wages Board has protected vulnerable rural workers from exploitation at the hands of rich landowners, but on Tuesday, without so much as a hint of debate or a vote on the Floor of the House, the Government abolished it. This transfers £240 million from workers in some of the toughest and lowest-paid jobs in rural England directly into the back pockets of their employers. It is a disgrace that such a crucial protection can be removed without so much as a vote or even debate in the democratically elected House. It will take our Opposition day debate for the arguments to be heard, but rural workers protections have already been destroyed. It is clear from the parliamentary timetable that the Government could have made time for the issue to be debated properly. Anyone would think that the Prime Minister was trying to avoid business running on until Wednesdays.

In 28 of the 31 weeks that the Health Secretary has been in the job, England’s major accident and emergency units have missed the target for treating patients within four hours, but at the same time he has handed £2.2 billion of NHS funds back to the Treasury. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement on how Ministers will bring all accident and emergency departments in England back up to the national standards they set? Despite being forced to backtrack once already, the Health Secretary persists with his damaging section 75 regulations, which will effectively privatise the NHS by the back door. The Lords will debate them next Wednesday, so will the Leader of the House tell us when we will debate them in the Commons?

Following the Budget, the International Monetary Fund this week again slashed the UK growth forecast and agreed with us that the Chancellor needs to change course. A year ago, it predicted growth of 2%, but that has now dropped to just 0.7%. Unemployment is rising, real wages are falling and borrowing is shooting through the roof, but the Chancellor’s only growth strategy seems to be to destroy rights at work. When will he get real and admit that his plan is just not working? Our downgraded Chancellor has been busy trying to be a man of the people, attempting to distract attention from his huge tax cut for millionaires by dropping his aitches in a speech at Morrisons—and he was not even very good at that. With a failing economic strategy, a faltering legislative programme and a Government adrift, will the Leader of the House tell the Chancellor that we need a change of course, not a change of accent?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, particularly for her gracious good wishes to those of us who knew Margaret Thatcher well. Many of us at her funeral service at St Paul’s cathedral yesterday were tempted to think it the end of an era, but we realised that that was not the case at all—it simply marked her passing. It was a very personal event, a

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funeral service, and even with the national and international presence, it did not represent the end of an era. It was a reflection of the character of Margaret Thatcher. I hope that that persists and that we all understand the importance of values and principles and of seeing them through to completion.

The hon. Lady asked about the Prime Minister’s response to questions in the House. The Prime Minister is assiduous in his attendance in, and support for, the House and in responding to questions. The number of statements made and questions he answers in response to them is unprecedented compared with his predecessors, and of course she neglected to observe that on 8 May, on the state opening of Parliament, the Prime Minister will open the debate on the Gracious Speech.

The hon. Lady talked about permitted development rights. She would not expect me to anticipate at business questions what will be a further debate in the other place on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, but under the circumstances I thought my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government did what was right. We know how important it is, through the extension of permitted development rights, to give people an opportunity—this carries through the principle of localism—to develop their own homes. This is not something we should disparage; it is something we should support, and it will have the additional benefit of supporting growth in many communities. We just want to ensure, recognising the debate in the House, that we do so in a way that recognises where concerns arise.

On forthcoming business, the Opposition have taken the opportunity to schedule a debate on the Agricultural Wages Board next week and we will debate it then.

On A and E waiting times, the hon. Lady raises a point that I have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health respond to, but I am sure he will take further opportunities to do so. She should look—and perhaps talk to her hon. Friends in Scotland and Wales—and recognise that this has nothing to do with the character of the targets set. The targets were set at 95% on clinical advice—quite appropriately—but A and E departments are coming under a range of pressures during the course of a very severe winter. The situation in England is not different from that in Scotland and Wales; in fact, if anything, the pressures and resulting delays in treatment are greater in Wales and Scotland. Although she is not here at the moment, her right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) will have an Adjournment debate next week precisely to raise these issues.

Finally, the shadow Leader of the House talked about the IMF. When she looks at what the IMF has had to say, she will see that it is clear that there is considerable scope for optimism across the world, although there are substantial problems in Europe. We as a country are very exposed to those problems; none the less, according to the IMF we are anticipated to have higher growth rates in the year ahead than Germany or France. We also have employment levels that are considerably better and unemployment rates that are considerably lower than the average across the eurozone. I think she should express support for that, rather than seek to disparage this country’s economic performance.

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Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we have a statement on the case of Mr Haroon Aswat? This man is a suspected terrorist who the British courts have decided must be deported, not to some war-torn failed state, but to the United States of America. Now the European Court of Human Rights has decided that it is apparently not safe to deport him to America. If America is not considered a safe and suitable destination for deportees, that raises the question: where on earth is considered safe and suitable?

Mr Lansley: The House will have heard what my hon. Friend has had to say. The Government are of course disappointed that the European Court of Human Rights found that extradition to America would breach Haroon Aswat’s human rights. That judgment does not become final for three months. My colleagues at the Home Office are considering as a matter of urgency all the legal options that are available. They include whether we request a referral of the case to the Court’s Grand Chamber. Given that, I hope the House will understand that I cannot comment further on the case at this time.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): As we are coming to the end of the Session and the end of the Session for this Backbench Business Committee, may I take this opportunity on behalf of every member of the Committee to thank all Back Benchers who have brought us ideas for debates, which have always been interesting and have frequently been entertaining?

Mr Lansley: I share the hon. Lady’s view. In these seven months that I have had the privilege to be Leader of the House, I have had the opportunity to see the Backbench Business Committee at work. It has been a positive reform in this Parliament and it continues to improve and strengthen its position. I note that Andreas Whittam Smith talked in The Independent this morning about what he regarded as a revitalisation of Back-Bench power in this House. That is due not least to the work of the Backbench Business Committee, and I am glad that we have had the opportunity to support it.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): Next week, Keith and Frances Smith of Warwick Books will present a petition to Downing street on the amount of corporation tax paid by Amazon. They want to ensure that there is a level playing field between multinational businesses and small businesses such as theirs. As part of that, all businesses must pay their fair share of taxation. The petition has been signed by over 100,000 people. Will the Leader of the House consider allocating time for a debate to ensure a fair tax system for all UK businesses?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those points. He will have noted that, in a debate yesterday, the general anti-abuse provision was discussed, which is a very important provision. What I would say reflects what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said earlier in the year. We are concerned to pursue a twin track: to continue to reduce corporation tax, as the Chancellor set out in the Budget, so that we are highly competitive among international economies; and to promote and support enterprise and growth. We recognise that one of the most important ways to make the corporation tax reduction possible is to minimise evasion,

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reduce avoidance and tackle abuse. That is what the Government are doing. The more we can achieve that, the more we can ensure that the tax take is what it ought to be and reduce the rates of tax.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 1199, in my name and those of other hon. Members?

[That this House expresses its disgust with and condemnation of Global Vision College, Manchester and its staff member Sunny Gilani, for stealing £1,500 in fees from an applicant who paid them this money, was unable to obtain a visa to the UK to take up a place at the college, asked for her money to be returned and has not received it despite several letters sent to the college by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton; warns prospective students to have nothing to do with these swindlers; calls on Greater Manchester Police to investigate this larceny; and calls on the Home Secretary to investigate the validity of this college in being able to recruit overseas students.]

Global Vision college has stolen £1,500 in advance fees from a niece of a most trusted constituent of mine who could not get a visa to come here from Pakistan. Despite prolonged correspondence from me, the college has refused to return the money. Will the Leader of the House be kind enough to warn all potential students to steer clear of these thieves and ask the Home Office to investigate whether such an institution should have the right to have overseas students?

Mr Lansley: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me that, although I read the Order Paper assiduously, as he would expect, I have not particularly taken note of early-day motion 1199. I will of course read it and bring it to the attention of Ministers at the Home Office. I know that he is very careful in pursuit of his constituents’ interests, and I will encourage Home Office Ministers to investigate the matter further.

Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware of Brighton and Hove city council’s proposal to install safe drug consumption rooms in the city? Have the Government been consulted by the council on the matter? May we have time for either a statement or a debate on that important issue?

Mr Lansley: We have not seen any detailed proposals. It is important to say that the Government will not support any actions that contravene the United Nations drugs conventions or the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Permitting premises to be used for consuming or possessing substances controlled under section 8 of the Act is illegal. As I say, we have not seen detailed proposals. The establishment or operation of drug injection rooms risks encouraging illicit trafficking and carries a significant risk of harm in local communities.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): May we have a debate in Government time on the future arrangements for the funerals of ex-Prime Ministers, given the fact that we have spent extravagantly— £10 million or £20 million—on Mrs Thatcher’s funeral? May we have a debate on future rules for future Prime Ministers, and can the Government publish all the detailed costs to aid that debate?

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Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman should know that matters of this kind are inappropriate for public debate, but that does not mean that they are not the subject of—[Interruption.] The preparations for future funerals are not a fit subject for public debate, but they are the subject of detailed consideration, as were the arrangements for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral over a substantial period. I do not recognise the figures he mentioned; I have no knowledge of any basis for figures of that kind. We have made it clear that the figures will be substantially below what he mentioned and they will of course be published in due course. All the arrangements relating to Baroness Thatcher’s funeral seemed to me entirely appropriate and fitting in the circumstances.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Section 68 on page 21 of the General Medical Council’s “Good Medical Practice” states:

“You must be honest and trustworthy in all your communication with patients and colleagues. This means you must make clear the limits of your knowledge and make reasonable checks to make sure any information you give is accurate.”

Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS, failed to abide by that duty in his decision to suspend children’s heart surgery at the Leeds general infirmary. When are we going to get a statement from the Secretary of State for Health that will finally announce a proper investigation into this fiasco?

Mr Lansley: I do not agree with my hon. Friend in relation to Sir Bruce Keogh. I think that he acted as anybody, objectively, would believe he should have done when in receipt of that information, in order to take a precautionary approach while trying to establish all the facts and to put patient safety first.

On my hon. Friend’s question about a statement, I know that he was here in his place when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health responded to an urgent question on Monday. My right hon. Friend answered questions at that point, as well as making it clear that he would be willing to do so again in the future.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): My constituent Richard Freeman has not seen his son in six years, since his ex-wife abducted him and went to live in America. Despite numerous British court orders stating that his son should be returned to him, his ex-wife has refused to comply. Government figures show that instances of parental child abduction have risen by 88% over the past decade. May we have an urgent debate on this rapidly growing problem? What steps can be taken to ensure that parents can be reunited with their children?

Mr Lansley: I know that Members across the House will have encountered cases similar to the one that the hon. Lady raises. They are very distressing and cause immense harm to families. Ministers are well aware of this issue, but I will of course ensure that my hon. Friends respond to her on this case. I do not recall this matter being debated recently, so she and colleagues across the House might like to ascertain whether a suitable opportunity could be found for an Adjournment or Back-Bench debate, as I know many Members are concerned about it.

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John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Two of my constituents recently contacted me about a loophole that allowed the Bank of Ireland to raise the differential rate on their mortgage, leading to a 200% increase. The Financial Services Authority argued that it could do nothing about it, as it had happened before 2004. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement from the Treasury so that we can find out what can be done about this?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises an important point. As he suggested, such cases are the responsibility of what is now the Financial Conduct Authority, and he will know that Martin Wheatley, the chief executive of the FCA, has exchanged correspondence on the matter with the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie). Those letters have been published on the parliamentary website. Mr Wheatley states:

“We currently have no plans to treat this as a prima facie case of mis-selling.”

In the case of the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), the FCA appears to cite the fact that the mortgages originated before such mortgages were included in the scope of regulation in 2004, and that to address the issue would require retrospective legislation. My hon. Friend will understand that we could consider that only in the most exceptional circumstances. However, I understand that the Bank of Ireland has waived early repayment charges for customers affected by the changes. That might mean that his constituents will be able to find a more competitive rate elsewhere.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The new director-general of the BBC took up his post at the beginning of April. The BBC is of course independent of the Government, but is it not time to have a debate in Government time to remind the BBC of its regional responsibilities and of the fact that there should be some correlation between the licence fees raised in certain regions and the amount of programmes commissioned in those regions?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady makes a point that I know is important to Members, and I do not know whether she had the chance to raise it with Ministers at Culture, Media and Sport questions a few minutes ago. I cannot at this stage promise any business in this Session—we are looking at business in the next one—but it would probably not be appropriate for the Government to raise the matter that she mentions, save, further on, as part of the debate leading to the renewal of the BBC’s charter. However, she might find opportunities elsewhere in the House to debate the issue.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Very graciously, you, Mr Speaker, came to my constituency last week to open the first London office of the Silver Star Appeal diabetes trust, and later that week I handed over a Ladbrokes cheque to St Luke’s hospice as a result of a grand national bet I had placed. To my horror, I discovered that mean-minded Harrow council has removed discretionary rate relief from all charities in Harrow, as a result of which St Luke’s hospice alone will lose £17,000 a year. May we have a debate on the operation of non-domestic rate relief by local authorities, as we try to build a big society in which charities can provide services that the public sector does not?

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Mr Lansley: I am glad my hon. Friend raises that point, because I think it will be of concern to Members across the House. In all our constituencies we look to local authorities to exercise their community responsibilities. That is particularly the case at present, as local authorities have growth incentives that they can use to support not only enterprise locally but important community facilities. I therefore hope what my hon. Friend has said will be heard not only in this House but in the chamber of his council.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I am sure both you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House will agree that the future of our country depends greatly on entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship and business start-ups, and that many small businesses have been ill served by the banking sector in this country over a number of years. Is the Leader of the House aware that many small business start-ups are now using crowd financing for funding? That is a new way of regenerating our economies and communities, but is he also aware that the Financial Conduct Authority will introduce a regulation on that in about three weeks’ time—on 14 May, I think? Only a very small number of people have been consulted on it. People with crowd funding expertise in relation to start-up businesses have not been consulted, and neither has this House been consulted on a measure that is vital to the future of enterprise.

Mr Lansley: I completely endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the importance of start-ups, and in the last year for which figures are available more new businesses were created in this country than in any of the previous 20 years. It is important that we continue to support start-ups, however, and the availability of finance is central to the success of new businesses. I am aware that new businesses are increasingly using crowd financing and other innovative sources of funding, although I was not aware of the details relating to any FCA regulation. I will ask my hon. Friends at the Treasury to write to the hon. Gentleman about that, and to let us know about the processes for the scrutiny of any such regulation.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1282 on the rights of Tesco workers in Harlow?

[That this House notes that whilst Tesco has stated that it has no plans to re-open its Harlow site at a future date, there is evidence from the USDAW trade union that Tesco gave the same assurances when it shut the Feny Lock plant, which was later reopened with workers on lower pay; regrets therefore that many Harlow workers are now facing redundancy and, despite promises of support, many are still without jobs to go to; further regrets that Tesco's corporate pay protection policy appears only to apply to certain elements of salary rather than to total compensation; therefore urges Tesco to explain why managers from the closing Harlow plant will be able to move to the Dagenham plant with full terms and conditions, but that this is being denied to Harlow workers; and further urges the company to allow its Harlow workers to move across to the Dagenham plant with their full existing level of pay.]

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Tesco is closing a distribution centre in Harlow, which will affect 800 jobs in my constituency, including those of many

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members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. Despite promises of pay protection, in reality workers are facing losses of up to one third of their income if they move to the new Dagenham site, and for many that will be unaffordable. May we have an urgent debate on workers’ rights, so that Parliament can consider how to stop big corporations maltreating their workers?

Mr Lansley: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I know he has been working very hard to support his constituents who are affected by this. The centre is not far from my constituency, so I know about what is happening, and other Members, including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), have concerns about similar issues. Jobcentre Plus is supporting those at risk of redundancy at the centre. Given my hon. Friend’s views and the concerns of other Members and of this House on this important matter, he might like to consider seeking, if not in this Session then early in the next one, a debate on the Adjournment.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): The hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) introduced a welcome debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on the impact of police cautions on young people in their later years, to which the Minister responded constructively. The debate also threw up wider issues such as how Criminal Records Bureau disclosures of cautions and minor convictions are blighting people’s lives years and decades later—and there were similar impacts on candidates of all parties during the police and crime commissioner elections. May we have an early debate to encourage Ministers to propose early action to put a stop to this unfair and discriminatory practice?

Mr Lansley: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised that matter and to hear that the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice gave a constructive and positive response. If I may, I will check with my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Home Office and my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) about when there might be a further opportunity for Home Office Ministers to tell us more about their views on the matter.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): May we have a statement on the effectiveness of the amendments to the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 that came into effect two months ago? The House will recall that the amendments made it a criminal offence for metal dealers to pay in cash for scrap. Initial figures from Leicestershire police show a pleasing 47% decrease in the incidence of metal theft across the county. That will be a great relief to churches and others in my constituency who have been targeted repeatedly by metal thieves.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and other Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway). The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 will create a robust new licensing regime that will further restrict the market for stolen metals. My hon. Friend is right that we are making progress. The Association of Chief Police Officers estimates that there has been a 38% reduction in recorded metal theft offences. Likewise, Network Rail and the Energy Networks Association report a big reduction. This is an

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important matter not only to churches, but, as I know from my constituency, to villages that have had their communications completely cut off, in some cases a number of times, because of the theft of metal from the networks. We are taking action, not least with the benefit of that private Member’s Bill.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): May we have a debate on the Chancellor’s policies and his failure to ensure that banks support small and medium-sized businesses? A company wrote to me recently, saying that

“we keep hearing on the news that the government want to see SMEs growing stronger. How can this happen if SMEs do not get financial support from their banks.”

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of the House and will no doubt have taken the opportunity to raise those issues in the debate on the Finance Bill. I draw to his attention what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said recently about the launch of the business bank, which will deliver billions of pounds of additional support through lending to businesses.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will notice that future business includes a motion on draft regulations under the Reservoirs Act 1975 that are to be considered shortly by the relevant Statutory Instrument Committee. It is an integral and essential part of those regulations that the safety guidance for reservoirs recommended by the Institution of Civil Engineers be approved and released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. A number of projects that are in the pipeline, such as the reservoir project in my own Pickering area, are dependent on that advice, which has been awaited since 2010. May I make an urgent request for the Secretary of State to come to the Dispatch Box to give the reasons for that delay or to publish that guidance forthwith?

Mr Lansley: I will, of course, ask my colleagues at DEFRA about the matter that my hon. Friend rightly raises and seek a response for her as soon as possible.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): BBC Radio Humberside reported this morning on fake internet job adverts that claim to be for companies such as B & Q. They ask for personal details, such as bank account details, and money for Criminal Records Bureau checks up front. With people desperate for work in Hull, some may fall prey to such scams. Please may we have a debate on how we can raise awareness of this issue and go after these criminals who are preying on my constituents?

Mr Lansley: That is a very important point. I will talk to my right hon. and hon. Friends, not least at the Department for Work and Pensions, who I hope are aware of what the hon. Lady has described through their Jobcentre Plus network, to see what action they and local authorities can take.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): May I say how much I am looking forward to welcoming you to Plymouth tomorrow, Mr Speaker, to meet HMS Heroes and members of the Youth Parliament?

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Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House agree that there is only one word to say about yesterday’s funeral of Baroness Thatcher, and that that is “Britannia”?

Mr Lansley: In St Paul’s cathedral, where so many heroes of this country are memorialised, I thought yesterday that we were taking our leave not only of a woman who inspired many and achieved so much, but of the first woman Prime Minister. She will figure high among great Britons in future.

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): Yet another deadline has come and gone for the award of the Thameslink rolling stock contract, and there have been at least 10 similar deadlines. The original decision to award the contract was made in June 2011. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss the failings of the Department for Transport and its inability to award this Thameslink contract?

Mr Lansley: I cannot promise time at the moment, but the hon. Gentleman will note that my hon. Friends from the Department for Transport will answer questions on Thursday 25 April, which might be an appropriate point. In the meantime I will check with them to see whether there is anything on which they can further update the hon. Gentleman.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): The main rail route into Cleethorpes has been closed since 9 February following a landslip at Hatfield near Doncaster. In the short term, the most important thing is to restore services, but in the longer term there are concerns about the safety and monitoring of the spoil tips. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement outlining the responsibilities of the various regulatory agencies and the frequencies of inspections?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend because that is an important issue for those in north Lincolnshire. I reiterate my point about Transport questions next Thursday because he will clearly want to raise that issue if possible. I will also contact my hon. Friends because I know they will want to take action on this issue and provide reassurances as soon as they can.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May we have a debate on the NHS in London in the light of the review of health services in London published by Imperial college this week? In the foreword, Ruth Carnall—the former chief executive of the NHS in London—makes it clear that when the Leader of House was Secretary of State for Health he was wrong to halt the reforms in 2010, including “A Picture of Health” in my area of south-east London, and that there were consequences for patients as a direct result of his decision. Such a debate would give him an opportunity to apologise to my constituents for the serious problems caused in south-east London as a result of that decision.

Mr Lansley: I have not seen the foreword by Ruth Carnall, but it is clear that at the last election “A Picture of Health” was wholly opposed by very large parts of the community in south-east London. People voted against it and for a Government who would not put up

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with it—we were clear about instituting a moratorium on that so that we could proceed with more rational proposals that would deliver more secure and sustainable services for patients. That is what is happening in south-east London as a consequence of the use of legislation passed by the previous Government but never used, to institute a special administration regime.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The shadow Leader of the House mentioned the frequency of Prime Minister’s questions. My recollection is that it was Tony Blair who moved to holding it on one day a week rather than two. When she was here, Mrs Thatcher loved this place, this mother of Parliaments, and she would come twice a week to answer Prime Minister’s questions. Would it be a fitting tribute to her for the Leader of the House to make a statement next week, reinstating Prime Minister’s questions twice a week?

Mr Lansley: I am in favour of paying tribute to Mrs Thatcher in very many ways, but that is probably not one of them.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is naughty because he knows perfectly well that this is not the mother of Parliaments. He is, however, right on one point: because of the Government’s jiggery-pokery, the Prime Minister will answer Prime Minister’s questions only four times in 12 weeks. Even worse, the Chancellor will probably not answer Treasury questions until three whole months have passed since the Budget. The first Treasury questions is likely to be on 18 or 25 June. We could solve all that if the Government fulfilled their promise to bring in a House business committee by the third year of this Parliament. We were generous and allowed that not to be by the beginning of the third year—that is what we all thought the logic meant—but we are now at the end of the third year. I presume that we could use the week after next just to introduce that legislation.

Mr Lansley: As far as I could see, the House was happy when I published a calendar for the year ahead last October. Most of the issues the hon. Gentleman raises are a simple consequence of that calendar. In so far as they are not, they appear to be the consequence of his engaging in speculation about the date of Prorogation. The date of Prorogation, of course, has not been set.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Sheep farmers in upland areas of Britain have suffered unprecedented disaster as a result of recent snowfalls. Today’s written statement by the Minister with responsibility for agriculture, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), is welcome, and I have just learned that I have secured an Adjournment debate on this matter next Tuesday. Will the Leader of the House encourage hon. Members who want to represent the people who are suffering in their communities to attend that debate, where their contributions will be very welcome?

Mr Lansley: Many people across the country, including those who live far from the upland areas where sheep farming is pursued, will none the less have felt distressed about what happened to hill farmers and their sheep. I declare an interest, as my sister-in-law is responsible for sheep farming in a part of north Wales. Many people

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living in my hon. Friend’s part of north Wales have been particularly hard hit, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the agriculture Minister was able to announce details of additional support today. I hope Members will support my hon. Friend’s Adjournment debate next week. This would demonstrate not only that practical support will be available to those affected, but that a great deal of shared feeling exists about the circumstances that have hit these people so hard.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): We had a Westminster Hall debate in March on the Foreign Office’s report on its human rights work in 2011. It was frustrating because we had only 90 minutes to discuss the report on all aspects of its human rights work. The 2012 report was published just this week. Will the Leader of the House look at whether we can have a full day’s debate on that report on the Floor of the House? Will he talk to the Select Committee Chair and the Government about that, so that we do not end up discussing this report in March 2014—with a two-year time lag?

Mr Lansley: I shall, if I may, talk to my colleagues in the Foreign Office and to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. If I recall correctly, the debate arose in Westminster Hall, following a Select Committee report. This is more properly a matter for the Select Committee and the Liaison Committee first, and I shall of course discuss it with them.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Across the nation, some 70,000 disabled wheelchair-bound children are awaiting the right wheelchair to enable them to lead full and active childhoods with as much independence as possible. The Leader of the House will know that the charity Whizz-Kidz does much excellent work in providing such wheelchairs to children in Kettering and across the country. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on how charities such as Whizz-Kidz can take best advantage of the NHS reforms to get the right wheelchairs to the right children as quickly as possible?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I had the privilege of speaking at the reception for Whizz-Kidz in the later part of last year. I saw how it takes the opportunity to put children in the right wheelchair in a day, bringing fantastic improvements in the availability of the right wheelchair support for children. It is precisely because of that sort of evidence of how charities, as well as private sector organisations, can add value to the NHS that the section 75 regulations are going through as they are. They are not about privatising services; they do not do any privatisation: what they do is give those responsible for commissioning these services the opportunity to look at how they can deliver the best possible service to their patients.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): North Cheshire hospitals are set to lose hundreds of posts, yet the Department of Health is paying £2.2 billion back to the Treasury and is spending millions on a totally unnecessary reorganisation. May we therefore have a debate on the competence of the Department of Health, which is hitting front-line services while not spending its full budget?

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Mr Lansley: I was Secretary of State for Health, so I understand the position. The NHS quite properly recorded a surplus for the previous year, amounting to about £1.6 billion. However, there is a distinction to be drawn between the availability of resources within the NHS and Government financial accounting for the Department of Health as a whole. What happened—and I think it is reflected in what has happened this year—was that a surplus in the Department was not spent during the financial year and was therefore once more available to the Treasury; but that does not mean that the Department did not ensure that the NHS organisations with the surpluses would continue to have access to them in future years.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Next Thursday, theoretically, I shall initiate an end-of-day debate about the appalling human rights situation in Burma. It is particularly appalling for the Rohingya people, who are being slaughtered daily. The European Union will decide on Monday whether to end sanctions against Burma. May we have an early statement to confirm that, while approving of political reform, the EU does not approve of ethnic cleansing in Burma?

Mr Lansley: I know that the issue raised by my hon. Friend is causing concern throughout the House. The British Government regularly raise our human rights concerns with the Burmese Government, and both the Foreign Secretary and Baroness Warsi did so this week during meetings with members of a visiting Burmese Government delegation. We have always said that when serious crimes have been committed, those who have perpetrated them must be held accountable for their actions.

If my hon. Friend were to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, he might have an opportunity to raise the issue during Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday, and, given the business that I have announced, I personally imagine that he will have an opportunity to initiate his debate on Thursday.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): May we have a debate on access to NHS data? On Tuesday, I was told in a written answer that information on A and E waiting times at Trafford general hospital was not available, but I have subsequently learnt that it is. On Tuesday, during health questions, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), agreed to meet me and parliamentary neighbours to discuss the situation. Will the Leader of the House help to expedite that meeting?

Mr Lansley: I will of course contact Health Ministers and ask whether they can expedite those discussions, but I should add that in the NHS we are publishing not only more data but more relevant data than ever before. That is particularly true of not just A and E waiting times, but the whole set of quality indicators on the A and E dashboard. Much more relevant information is being provided, and is being provided at hospital level. I am surprised by what the hon. Lady has said, given that we are now publishing more and better data.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): May we have a statement from the Home Office on the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, in the light of revelations from

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the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection about serious cruelty during experimentation at Imperial College London?

Mr Lansley: I know that my hon. Friend has secured a debate in Westminster Hall on 5 February on the regulation of animal experiments and testing. He will be aware that the use of living animals in scientific procedures that may cause pain, suffering, distress or harm is strictly regulated under the Act.

I know from working with companies and with the university in my constituency that we have what is, in my view, the strongest regime in the world in this regard, but we must always be vigilant. Home Office inspectors are investigating the allegations of cruelty and bad practice at Imperial college’s Hammersmith campus, and will make recommendations in regard to any action that needs to be taken as a matter of urgency. However, I cannot prejudice what their investigations may lead to.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): My constituent Louisa Nkang was granted indefinite leave to remain in this country in January 2011, but has been waiting for more than two years for the release of immigration status documents because the authorities say that they are still conducting security checks. The situation is hugely distressing for her, and the UK Border Agency has given me an unsatisfactory response. What advice can the Leader of the House give me?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman demonstrates good attendance in the House and he will have seen that a number of Members on both sides have raised issues about the performance of the Border Agency during a number of business questions. Ministers at the Home Office are actively aware and engaged and they are reforming the agency. That is why the Home Secretary came to the Dispatch Box and made the announcements she did shortly before the Easter recess. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support Home Office Ministers in seeing those changes through.

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Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): This year in my constituency, Conservative-run Lancashire county council has reduced its part of the council tax bill. Pendle borough council, run by a coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, has frozen its part of the council tax bill. Labour’s police and crime commissioner for Lancashire has increased his part of the council tax bill. May we therefore have a debate on how we can help hard-working families with the cost of living by keeping council tax low?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion and think it would be very helpful if we found such an opportunity. Of course, the debate on the Gracious Speech at the start of the next Session might well provide an opportunity to talk not just about helping councils to fund a council tax freeze for the third consecutive year but about addressing the issue of precepting authorities, too. In the debates on the Finance Bill, we can discuss the fact that we have cancelled Labour’s planned fuel duty increase, which is saving a typical motorist £40 a year. We have increased the personal income tax allowance, leading to a cash tax cut of £267 in the tax year ahead. Those are a range of changes with a direct impact on supporting people with the cost of living during tough times.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): The Leader of the House suggests that we should wait until Foreign Office questions on Tuesday to raise the issue of Burma, but that might be too late. Human Rights Watch’s report on crimes against humanity and against the Rohingya people in Burma is out on Monday and the sanctions will be discussed on Monday, so Tuesday will be too late. Will the Leader of the House urgently raise the subject of the report with the Foreign Secretary before he goes into the debate on EU sanctions?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Lady and I will of course ask the Foreign Secretary or Foreign Office Ministers about that issue and, if appropriate, whether there is any update that they can give the House when it sits on Monday.

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Point of Order

11.26 am

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would welcome your advice and guidance on a matter relating to the answering of questions by the Education Secretary. You will probably know that he has one of the poorest records in the House for doing so. I believe that he has been officially chastised for his poor failures, but sadly that appears to have had little effect. I tabled a number of named day questions to the Secretary of State on 21 March with a named day of the 26th. I received four answers on the due day, but I note that the three Ministers concerned—the Under-Secretary of State responsible for further education, skills and lifelong learning, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock); the Minister for children and families, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson); and the Minister for Schools—have demonstrated their ability to work as a team and collaborate on answers, as they all gave me exactly the same answer to four very different questions. They all said, “I will reply as soon as possible.” It is now four weeks since I tabled the questions and more than three since I received the holding replies. I received one answer today. I am sure that you will agree that it is unacceptable for Ministers to ignore questions and I would be obliged if you helped me in extracting some proper ones soon.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, in response to which I have a number of observations. First, the hon. Gentleman will know the importance that I, as Chair of our proceedings, attach to the delivery by Ministers of timely and substantive replies to parliamentary questions. The Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House are present on the Treasury Bench and I hope that one or other of them will be good enough to make contact with the Minister, in the best tradition of Leaders of the House, to exhort rather faster progress in delivering replies generally and in replying to the hon. Gentleman in particular.

Secondly, I alert the hon. Gentleman to the fact that the Procedure Committee is monitoring the performance of Government Departments on this front, and the hon. Gentleman might wish to share with the Committee the evidence he has just reported to the House.

Lastly, I simply mention to the hon. Gentleman that I know that the Procedure Committee has been watching particularly closely of late the performance of the Department for Education in these matters. I hope that that is helpful.