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House of Commons

Thursday 13 March 2014

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—

Football Governance

1. Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): What her policy is on the future governance of professional football. [903014]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): I should explain to the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State cannot be with us today, as she is in the United States.

I continue to work with the football authorities in pressing for improvements in the game. They have made some very positive changes, notably to their governance and financial fair play rules, but I believe that they can and will make further progress. We intend to legislate if football fails in that important task.

Tom Greatrex: I declare my interest as one of the founders of the Fulham Supporters Trust, and I can increase the Minister’s burgeoning understanding of football by telling her that this has not been a great season for Fulham so far.

When the Select Committee reported in 2011, it referred to some of the problems of the role of supporters in the game. In his response to the Committee’s follow-up report almost exactly a year ago, the Minister’s predecessor said that he would soon set up an expert working group, under the auspices of the Department, to examine the role of fans in the governance of football, but as yet that has not happened. Will the Minister tell me when exactly it will happen, so that fans can see that the Government are taking the agenda seriously and not just paying lip service to it?

Mrs Grant: I am very interested in this issue. I have met representatives of Supporters Direct, and we are considering a recently updated proposal that we have received from the organisation in the last few weeks relating to the setting up of the expert group, which will enhance supporter engagement. I am keen to press on with this. I will continue to work with the Football

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Association and with football authorities, and will take the FA up on its offer to provide secretarial support for the group.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Given the recent conviction of the former owner of Birmingham City football club for money laundering, the fraud convictions of the putative owner of Leeds United, and the fact that we still do not know the identities of the individuals who own Coventry City, does the Minister agree that a “fit and proper person” test should be applied to the owners of football clubs, and that it should be administered by the authorities and, if necessary, given the legal security of being underpinned by statute?

Mrs Grant: My hon. Friend has made an important point, but I believe that the enhanced checks and requirements that have been introduced by the football authorities are making some difference. I am also hopeful that the Football Association regulatory authority will ensure that changes in club ownership are much more fully scrutinised.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that 12 months ago her predecessor promised us that the Government would present proposals based on the Select Committee’s report? The current situation in Coventry is disgraceful: fans have to make a round trip of about 70 miles to Northampton. When will we see some real action to deal with that?

Mrs Grant: I think that we are starting to see some action, but I agree that we need to see more. Last August the Football Association introduced reforms which included smaller boards and a new licensing system to deal with matters relating to ownership, finance and supporters. I think it fair to say that a start has been made, but more needs to be done, and if it is not done, we will legislate.

Broadband Infrastructure

2. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): What recent estimate she has made of the number of businesses that have secured contracts from (a) Broadband Delivery UK and (b) local authorities for broadband infrastructure development in England and Wales. [903015]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Broadband Delivery UK has entered into a framework contract with BT and Fujitsu. There are 40 local authority projects in England with funding from BDUK, and the Welsh Government have one project in Wales. All the contracts have been delivered via BT. I am pleased to say that, under the super-connected cities programme, 70 suppliers have been registered, 300 vouchers have been awarded, and 1,000 more are in the pipeline.

Ian Lucas: In a recent report, the Public Accounts Committee said that local authorities were contributing £236 million more than the Department had predicted in its 2011 business case, and that the sole monopoly provider, BT, had contributed £207 million less. As the Minister responsible throughout the programme, does the Under-Secretary of State believe that that is an effective use of public money?

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Mr Vaizey: I do. Ofcom confirmed yesterday that we now have the best broadband in the European “big five”, and the fastest roll-out of 4G in the world. We continue to press ahead with 5G, we have published our spectrum strategy, and we have one of the most formidable digital infrastructure programmes in the world.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend on the work that he is doing, but he no doubt shares my disappointment that Thirsk, Malton and Filey will have only 78% high-speed cover by 2015-16. Will the Government reverse their priorities to ensure that, with the help of NYnet’s excellent work, broadband will penetrate the hardest-to-reach areas in rural constituencies?

Mr Vaizey: North Yorkshire has one of the most advanced broadband programmes so far, with more than 75,000 premises already passed. The councils in north Yorkshire are to be commended for that. As my hon. Friend knows, we have awarded an additional £250 million in order to push out our programme for rural broadband to help rural premises and businesses.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Recently the Prime Minister was mocked by Chancellor Merkel for the slow progress in rolling out broadband across the UK and the number of not spot areas, many of which reside in my constituency. Although I accept that this is largely a devolved issue, what extra help can the Minister give the Welsh Government to ensure that when the Prime Minister next meets the German Chancellor he is not embarrassed?

Mr Vaizey: More than 100,000 premises in Wales have already been passed and the target is to reach almost 700,000 by early 2016. If the Prime Minister sees Chancellor Merkel again and wishes to discuss broadband, he can present her with the Ofcom scorecard, which shows that Britain’s broadband is better than Germany’s. I would not say that this was a case of schadenfreude—except that schadenfreude is the only German word I know.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): Will smaller companies with innovative technologies get a slice of the action in reaching the last 10% of hardest-to- reach rural areas? To that end, although the money offered by the Department for Communities and Local Government is welcome, is there not a danger, if it must be match funded by local authorities at a time of funding crisis, that the process will be much slower than it would otherwise be?

Mr Vaizey: I hate to get territorial but the money has actually been offered by DCMS not DCLG. It is important that the money is match funded because having local authorities involved makes the programme even more effective than it already is, but as my hon. Friend knows we have a £10 million innovation fund for the last 5%, which we are hoping many young and nimble companies will apply for.

First World War Commemoration

3. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What plans her Department has put in place to ensure a suitable commemoration of the first world war. [903016]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): 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 appropriate acts of remembrance and provide a framework for learning, community and cultural projects through a package of funded activity worth nearly £100 million.

Stephen Metcalfe: As part of our local commemorations, I am leading a project that will see schools, veterans organisations, sports bodies, clubs, societies and the wider community in Basildon and its two twin-towns of Heiligenhaus in Germany and Ville de Meaux in France come together to create a unique trilingual exhibition exploring social attitudes then and now called “Never forget”, “N’oubliez jamais” and “Niemals vergessen”. Does my hon. Friend agree that the commemorations offer an excellent opportunity to remember that however dark the hour, there is always light and hope to be found?

Mr Vaizey: This is becoming a multilingual Question Time. Having recently visited Thurrock and seen for myself the amazing cultural activity that goes on in my hon. Friend’s part of the world, I have to say that the innovation he talks about does not surprise me in the slightest.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Will the Minister say a little bit about the importance of the contribution of what were British empire troops—troops from Commonwealth countries of today? What exactly is happening to link up with other countries to commemorate and highlight their vital contribution in the first world war?

Mr Vaizey: We have an extensive engagement with Commonwealth countries and we are determined to acknowledge the role of the Commonwealth countries, recognising that the war could not have been won without them. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will write to the hon. Gentleman detailing exactly the activities we are undertaking with Commonwealth countries.

14. [903030] Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Will my hon. Friend work with me and the dedicated voluntary group Swindon in the Great War, which is doing everything it can to mark the significance of the centenary with commemorative events, but which is finding the process of obtaining funding a challenging one?

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend is a neighbour of mine and I know that there is a lot of cultural activity and innovation in Swindon. He will have many small community groups that will want to apply for funding, and I will certainly assist him as much as I can. The Heritage Lottery Fund is extremely keen to make the application process as simple as possible.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Will the Minister join me in congratulating local communities who are taking initiatives to raise funds to commemorate the first world war, particularly those in the Shankill road in my constituency who are getting together with people in other communities to raise a suitable commemorative memorial in Woodvale park? That is a tremendous initiative and it deserves to be congratulated.

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Mr Vaizey: The right hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. The remembrance activities must involve all communities, and we should be tremendously proud of the way in which the communities are getting involved. One of the important parts of the commemorations over the next four years will be to bring younger generations into these activities.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): On that important point about younger generations learning about the almighty sacrifices that were made in the great war, will the Minister give us an update on the millions of pounds of funding he has put towards schools’ battlefield tours?

Mr Vaizey: I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that more than £5 million has been set aside to enable secondary schools to visit battlefield sites. Over the course of four years, every secondary school in the United Kingdom will be able to send at least two pupils to visit the battlefields of world war one.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May I urge the Minister to think carefully about the contribution that Members of this House and of the other House made to the first world war? On 6 November 1914, Arthur O’Neill, a Member of this House, was killed at Klein Zillebeke while on active service. Four days later, Henry Parnell, a Member of the other House, and Bernard Gordon-Lennox had also been killed. They have a war grave at Klein Zillebeke. Would it not be a good idea to commemorate them in Belgium? Perhaps the Minister could mention this to any important Belgian visitors who might be coming here today.

Mr Vaizey: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. It is important that we recognise the contribution to world war one made over a wide range by many different groups. Recognising the contribution made by hon. Members is particularly apposite.

Football Clubs (Supporter Engagement)

4. Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): What steps she is taking to increase supporter engagement with football clubs. [903017]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): Supporters are key to the success of any football club and I commend their active engagement in the sport. My Department works closely with Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation, and will of course continue to do so.

Stephen Doughty: I thank the Minister for her answer. I should like to put on record my membership of the Cardiff City Supporters Trust and the Cardiff City Supporters Club. Given the importance of emblems, colours and club names to national heritage, what consultations does the Minister think should take place as a matter of course with supporters’ representatives if any changes to those elements are proposed? Does she think that that should form a key part of future licensing arrangements for football clubs?

Mrs Grant: The role that supporters play is critical, and I am encouraging the football authorities further to develop their relationships with supporter groups. As

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the hon. Gentleman knows, financial support is made and supporter liaison officers are in place. The offer of secretariat support for the expert group that I have mentioned is also a welcome move, but more needs to be done.

BBC (Funding)

5. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment she has made of the desirability of changes to the funding basis of the BBC. [903019]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): No assessment has been made at this stage. The review of the BBC’s charter will be the appropriate juncture at which to consider all aspects of the BBC, including how it is funded. We have not yet set out proposals for the timing, scope or process of the charter review.

Mr Sheerman: Does the Minister agree that, despite the BBC’s annus horribilis over the past year, the licence fee has delivered the finest broadcasting company in the world, and that we should defend it? Could we have a “fit and proper person” test for the chairman of the BBC? Is it not time that we had fresh leadership at the BBC?

Mr Vaizey: I am a great supporter of the chairman of the BBC Trust, to whom I think the hon. Gentleman was referring. I am also a great supporter of the BBC, and I echo what he has just said: it produces some of the finest programming in the world.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The BBC is for ever telling us that the licence fee represents excellent value for money. If that is the case, does the Minister agree that it would have nothing to fear from moving to a voluntary subscription arrangement? Presumably, everyone would be queuing down the street to pay their subscription, if it provided such excellent value for money. We certainly do not need the criminal law to force people to pay it.

Mr Vaizey: One of the reasons that the licence fee represents value for money is that this Government have frozen it for the past four years.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Despite its disadvantages, the licence fee remains a good way of funding the BBC. Of course no one wants to see 50 people go to prison each year for non-payment, but given the financial implications of decriminalisation, this is clearly a matter to be considered alongside the other funding issues at the time of the royal charter renewal. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Government will reject new clause 1 to the Deregulation Bill, tabled by the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen)?

Mr Vaizey: My Secretary of State is on record as saying that this is an idea that needs considering, although I do not want to get ahead of myself, because there is a question on the matter further down the Order Paper. She is also on record suggesting that the best way to consider it is as part of charter review.

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Mr Speaker: The Minister may not have long to wait for the question that he anticipates.

11. [903025] Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Does the Minister agree that any change to licence fee enforcement would go against the coalition agreement of 2010, which committed to a full financial settlement for the BBC up to the end of 2016-17, given that it has been estimated that the amendment, if passed, could cost the BBC £200 million a year in revenue?

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend illustrates the point perfectly. There are many complicated issues surrounding the debate that has started about decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee. It is important that all those factors are taken into account, which is why the Government’s position is that it is perhaps better to do so during charter review.

Betting Shops (Area Deprivation)

6. Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the social and economic effects of betting shops in areas with high levels of deprivation. [903020]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): The Government continue to examine the relationship between area deprivation and the impact of betting shops as part of our ongoing review, which will report later this spring.

Alex Cunningham: Many of my constituents and I enjoy watching football and other sports on television, but we are sick and tired of betting ad after betting ad during every event under the sun. Coupled with the increasing number of bookie shops in communities, that is driving betting culture, particularly among young people, who are promised an easy fortune but do not get it. Will the Government do anything to cut the advertising and this escalation of betting promotion to protect our communities into the future?

Mrs Grant: The hon. Gentleman raises a lot of important issues there, but I can tell him that considerable pressure is being kept on the industry. I met the chief executives of the big five bookies in December and January. We requested and they have complied with strengthened player protections. The Secretary of State has also asked the Gambling Commission to consider tougher and mandated player protections. She has also asked other regulators to review gambling advertising.

15. [903032] Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Given that more money is staked on the national lottery than is staked in betting shops across the nation, is that not a much bigger threat to deprived communities? Is it not better to have a betting shop on the high street than an empty shop, which is often the challenge?

Mrs Grant: My hon. Friend needs to remember that betting and gambling are safe activities. Betting is legal and is enjoyed safely by many millions of people up and down the country. We just need to ensure that those who are vulnerable are properly protected. This is what the Government are determined to do.

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Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): What analysis have the Government made of the link between betting shops and the explosion of payday loan outlets on our high streets?

Mrs Grant: Betting shops tend to be located in areas of high footfall. It is not at all clear that there is a link between area deprivation and problem gambling, but our ongoing review will assess the available evidence. We will report later this year on that matter.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Having stood shoulder to shoulder with the betting industry, the Government have been forced into a series of humiliating climbdowns in the Lords on virtually everything that we have been telling them that they must do—review of pre-watershed advertising, regulating spread betting, one-stop shop for self-exclusion and adopting the code of the Association of British Bookmakers as mandatory, having told us that that was unnecessary. I wonder whether the Minister ever feels that she is in office, but that we are running her Department. I have another instruction for the Minister: give councils the powers that they are calling for to limit the number of fixed odds betting terminals in their areas. Are the Government on the side of local people or of the betting industry?

Mrs Grant: I am staggered by the shadow Minister’s statement. He complains about the number of bookies on the high street and about the proliferation of FOBTs, yet it was his Government’s Gambling Act 2005 and liberalisation over 13 years—their relaxation of the rules—that put the country in the position that we are in now. I am afraid that I will take no lessons from him.

Women’s Participation in Sport

7. Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): What steps she is taking to increase women’s participation in sport and physical activity. [903021]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): Our £1 billion youth and community sport strategy is delivering new ways to help women and girls develop a sporting habit for life. We have invested £2.3 million in a year-long pilot in Bury looking at ways to break down the barriers to female participation. I am glad to tell the hon. Lady that the pilot is producing some very good results.

Heidi Alexander: Back in February, the Minister made some remarks about the fact that different types of women may be attracted, or not attracted, to different types of sports and physical activity. Although I agree with the general point she made, I was worried by her simple characterisation of some sports as “feminine” and others as “unfeminine”. Does she regret her choice of words? Does she accept that many women would see her remarks as simply some sort of throwback to the 1920s?

Mrs Grant: I caution the hon. Lady about believing everything she sees and reads in our newspapers, and I am a little surprised at her question. Nevertheless, I am happy to provide clarification by saying to her what I said to the press: we should be listening to what our women and girls want, and we should be giving it to

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them. We should not be prescriptive, but we should be listening. As a sportswoman myself, I believe that there is a sport out there for everyone. In addition, I think our sports governing bodies need to work harder and be even more innovative in attracting women. We also need to share best practice so that other sports can learn lessons from sports, such as boxing and netball, that are doing particularly well in attracting women.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Kent FA on its highly successful Goals for Girls event held in my constituency last Saturday and Sky Sports on covering it live? Is that not an example of how broadcasters should be showcasing women’s and girls’ sport, encouraging them to participate in all sorts of physical activity?

Mrs Grant: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I know that a considerable amount of football activity takes place in her neck of the woods. While she was attending her event last Saturday, I was attending a girls under-15s international in Maidstone, where England won 8-0. On her point about the media, if we want to see more women in sport and an increased profile of them, we need the media to do more. The BBC and Sky have upped their game since the last Olympics, with individuals such as Barbara Slater doing a lot more.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that we should take this opportunity to place on the record our great thanks to our successful Olympians and Paralympians in Sochi, particularly Lizzy Yarnold and Jade Etherington? This should be used to encourage more women to reach the top of their chosen sport.

Mrs Grant: I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. Our Olympians and Paralympians are making us very proud. They are brilliant role models in their own right and I know that they are inspiring a lot more women and girls in our country to take up sport.

Sport for People with Limb Loss

8. Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): What support the Government are providing for PE and recreational sport for people with limb loss; and if she will make a statement. [903022]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): Since this Government came to power, an extra 200,000 disabled people are playing sport on a very regular basis. Through Sport England, we are investing £170 million to improve sporting opportunities for those with disabilities, including limb loss.

Alison Seabeck: Given the success of our Paralympians in both the summer and winter games, and the inspirational effect they have on young amputees, does the Minister share my concern that NHS England is supplying either a sports limb or a standard limb to young people, thereby restricting their capacity to compete or take part in recreational sport? Will she agree to talk urgently to her colleagues in the Department of Health about that, because it is having a serious impact?

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Mrs Grant: I am certainly very happy to take up the matter that the hon. Lady raises. Increasing participation in sport for disabled people is a key priority for this Government and for Sport England. There is still an unacceptable gap between the numbers of disabled and non-disabled people doing sport, and we need to make sure that the gap closes.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Does the Minister agree that skiers such as Kelly Gallagher and our Paralympians are a fine example of what everyone can achieve in this country?

Mrs Grant: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. Jade Etherington and Kelly Gallagher, and their guides, Caroline Powell and Charlotte Evans, are glowing examples of what can be achieved by sportswomen in this country.

Online Antisocial Behaviour

9. Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with social media companies on tackling online antisocial behaviour. [903023]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I chaired a meeting with social media companies on 13 February to discuss measures to protect people when they are online. We confirmed our position that social media companies should respond quickly to incidents of abusive behaviour on their networks and ensure that they have measures to protect users. We intend to continue to work with industry on those issues.

Mr McKenzie: We have continually called on the Government to introduce legislation to deal with the epidemic of cyber-bullying that we are witnessing, so why do they not make it an offence in its own right?

Mr Vaizey: Working with social media companies in a flexible, responsive way is the best way forward. We have covered a whole range of issues, including age and identity verification, the reporting of abuse, adjudication, auditing, filtering and funding; we can cover all of those comprehensively and flexibly through dialogue.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Adam Simmonds, the police and crime commissioner for Northamptonshire, is determined to tackle online crime, and particularly the issue of child victims. He set up a child exploitation prevention team, which is a national lead pilot. Will the Minister work with colleagues in the Home Office to ensure that Government funding for such pilots can be directed at local police forces, and not just at regional or national crime agencies?

Mr Vaizey: I will certainly bring my hon. Friend’s concerns to the attention of the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims; in fact, this afternoon, he and I will chair the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, which brings together a range of stakeholders to talk about these issues.

2022 World Cup (Migrant Workers)

10. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What discussions she has had with FIFA and the Football Association on the rights of migrant workers in Qatar employed in preparations for the 2022 World cup. [903024]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): While there have been no direct discussions with the FA or FIFA, the Government have regular discussions with the Qatari authorities on issues including human rights, and welcome their pledge to investigate the treatment of migrant workers.

John Mann: May I suggest that the Minister pulls her finger out and starts raising this issue? The football industry seems far more concerned about the weather during the World cup than the fact that hundreds of Nepalese and Indian workers have died constructing the sites. Even more grotesquely, perhaps, those who get seriously injured are left financially destitute precisely because they are injured. Will the Minister raise this issue properly, as the Government should?

Mrs Grant: Indeed, the issue has been raised by colleagues in the Foreign Office, but we will of course continue to encourage the Qatari authorities and other interested parties to do more. We need to make progress on improving the living and working conditions of migrant labourers. Of course, we stand ready to support those efforts where we can.

Local Newspapers

12. Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): What information her Department holds on the number of local newspapers that have closed since May 2010; and what steps she plans to take to support such newspapers. [903027]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): The Department does not hold that information, but our local press plays an incredibly valuable role in local communities, and we appreciate the challenges facing the sector. We have a number of policies to support local newspapers.

Nic Dakin: I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he have a view on the number of local papers that have, like the excellent Scunthorpe Telegraph, since May 2010 moved from being daily newspapers serving their community to being weekly newspapers serving their community? What impact does that have on communities?

Mr Vaizey: I understand that the Scunthorpe Telegraph has made that move and that, as a result, its circulation has gradually risen by a small amount. The Government have restricted the amount of local papers that councils can put out, relaxed media ownership rules, and continued to have statutory notices in local papers, so we do want to support local papers where we can.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Is not one of the big tragedies resulting from the loss of local newspapers the impact on journalistic training and the quality of scrutiny of our councils? Is the Minister having discussions with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about this important matter?

Mr Vaizey: I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s point that we rely very much on the quality of local journalism to hold local councils to account, and it is important that,

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where possible, savings are made and money continues to be invested in local journalism. My local newspaper group, which publishes the

Oxford Mail

and the


tries to invest as much as it can in local journalism because it recognises that that is what sells its papers.

Contemporary Arts

13. Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): What steps she is taking to support contemporary arts. [R] [903028]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): The Arts Council invests funding to nurture and champion talented artists across the country. Over the life of this Parliament, this Government are investing nearly £3 billion in the arts.

Sarah Champion: The film maker, Steve McQueen, learned his craft with the support of small-scale contemporary arts organisations, as do the majority of our artists. Does the Minister agree that for our internationally regarded arts scene to flourish, grass-roots contemporary arts organisations need the security of Government funding to maintain the significant contribution that they make both to our economy and to our culture?

Mr Vaizey: I certainly do, and I am pleased to see the amount of funding that is going to the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, which the hon. Lady used to run. Further to my earlier reference to my visit to Thurrock, I was delighted to see the new artists’ studios that have opened there to support artists from the local area.

Topical Questions

T1. [903004] Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I have already mentioned in passing the £250 million superfast extension programme and our European pre-eminence in all matters broadband. Since we last met, we have published our spectrum strategy, and both the Secretary of State and the Sports Minister have travelled to Sochi to support the extremely successful Team GB, which had the best results in any winter Olympics for 90 years.

Kate Green: Trafford Park in my constituency is due to be connected to superfast broadband as part of the Greater Manchester rural broadband programme, which is vital for the many businesses located on the park. What can the Minister do to ensure that the programme remains on track so that every business in priority areas of economic growth is connected following the completion of the BDUK programme?

Mr Vaizey: I will strain every sinew to ensure that the programme remains on track. That is my pledge to the hon. Lady and I am pleased to say that our programme is now ahead of schedule, that BT has completed its £2.5 billion commercial roll-out and that we have the best broadband of the big five in Europe.

Mr Speaker: The Minister’s endeavours will be a challenge to the most vivid of imaginations.

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T2. [903005] David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): In Macclesfield, we are rightly proud of our rich silk heritage, which will be highlighted during the 200th anniversary of our Sunday school building, which is part of the Silk Museums Trust. With that in mind, will my hon. Friend tell the House what steps are being taken to celebrate the heritage of our traditional craft industries?

Mr Vaizey: Of course I can. My Department works with the Heritage Crafts Association and other bodies on the Craft Industry Board set up by creative and cultural skills to support the economic growth of the craft sector. I am also delighted that the craft sector has been chosen as one of the groups in the second phase of the apprenticeship trailblazers and that, at the end of last year, we managed to list at grade I the Queen Street Mill in Burnley, which is a late 19th-century textile weaving mill. I thank my hon. Friend for that question.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): It is the right of each and every child to have the experience of, and opportunities in, culture and the arts, and it is important for our economy too. So it is of great concern that at GCSE, fewer children are sitting art and design. Music is down 9% and drama is down 13%, and we see the same happening in A-levels. How can we nurture the next generation of talent and how can young people fulfil their potential as human beings and engaged citizens, never mind their creative potential in the arts, if they do not have the chance in school? Does the Secretary of State’s assertion that the Government are making great strides to ensure that the arts are a central part of every child’s education not sound increasingly out of touch?

Mr Vaizey: I met the Minister for Schools only this week to discuss the success of our cultural and music education plans. We are the first Government to introduce a national music education plan. We set aside hundreds of millions of pounds to create music hubs, to extend the In Harmony scheme and to support the teaching of music in schools. The Secretary of State for Education has, through his own personal initiative, supported initiatives such as Shakespeare in schools and heritage schools, and the Arts Council has its bridge organisations. There is a lot going on in cultural education and in music education, and I urge the right hon. and learned Lady to have a look.

T3. [903006] David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the BBC’s duty to provide fair and impartial coverage needs to reflect the views of the many people who question the so-called consensus on climate change and that the BBC must stop acting like the public affairs department of Friends of the Earth?

Mr Vaizey: I think that my hon. Friend has made his point very effectively.

T5. [903009] Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Power sellers are purchasing thousands of tickets to top musical and sporting events online within seconds and selling them on minutes later for massive mark-ups. What are the Government doing to stop this distortion of the market and to stop fans being ripped off?

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): We do not have any plans to introduce legislation, which is what I am constantly asked about. We want all the various organisations and events as well as everyone else connected with ticketing to look at the facilities that are available and I am confident that that will happen so that people can enjoy events in the right way and access tickets at a fair and reasonable price.

T4. [903008] Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): In a few weekends’ time, Tamworth council will hold its 10th St George’s day festival, which is a great day out for all the family and a boon to local businesses. Feel free to come along, Mr Speaker, if you wish. Will my hon. Friend support that initiative and encourage other local authorities to follow Tamworth’s lead, which makes the best use of our heritage assets and encourages local people to take a greater interest in the local history and traditions?

Mr Vaizey: The Tamworth St George’s day festival is renowned throughout the country, if not the world, and I hope that many councils across the country will be looking at how Tamworth uses St George’s day to highlight its incredible heritage assets.

T6. [903010] Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister responsible for the arts will, I am sure, be aware that the critically acclaimed film “Under the Skin”—which, incidentally, had its UK premiere at the excellent Glasgow film festival last month—was one of a number of UK co-productions in recent times. What assessment has the Department made of the impact of precluding co-productions from funding through the enterprise investment scheme on the British film industry?

Mr Vaizey: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. We support co-production across the world and have signed many co-production treaties over the past three years. I am not quite clear how those treaties are inhibiting the creation of British films; I rather thought they were supporting them. If he wants to write to me in greater detail, I will respond more fully.

T8. [903012] Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Following the Minister’s January meeting with the Tourism Alliance, she was keen to secure a cross-Departmental council with the aim of boosting Government action to boost tourism growth. Will she advise the House on what progress has been made in setting up that council?

Mrs Grant: I remain keen to set up a tourism council at the earliest possible opportunity. A large amount of work has been done and I have asked my officials to work with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to consider how best to achieve that.

T7. [903011] Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Many of my constituents are concerned about the advertising of gambling through broadcast media, particularly at times when children and young people

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see it—that is, the kind of advertising that makes it seem easy to win big money very quickly. What steps is the Minister taking to tackle that problem?

Mrs Grant: The Secretary of State recently made it quite clear in a statement and a speech that we have asked the appropriate regulators to look into gambling advertising in the context of the rules, regulations and guidelines.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Wiltshire council has more than met the match-funding requirements for Government support for broadband so far. I welcome the superfast broadband extension programme, but will the Minister assure me that that early commitment will count in favour of the council and not against it when the Government seek match funding for the latest scheme?

Mr Vaizey: We want councils to match fund the money we have put up for the superfast broadband extension programme, as it is important that they are involved. I recognise the amazing work that has been done in Wiltshire, and I have visited to see the work being done on broadband roll-out. I hear what has been said.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): My constituents are concerned about the impact a third betting shop will have on a small geographical area in Formby, and they are amazed that there is nothing that they or their councillors can do to prevent that shop from opening. Will the Minister listen to people up and down the country who are concerned about the impact of too many betting shops and will she allow local communities the powers to prevent the spread of such shops?

Mrs Grant: I always try to listen. These are important issues. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that local authorities have good powers at their disposal to control the location and number of betting shops through article 4 directions and use of their licensing conditions, but of course I shall continue to listen.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): According to the recent health survey, the only two forms of gambling in which the poorest people are more likely to participate than the richest people are bingo and scratchcards. Given that fact, can the Minister justify allowing 16-year-olds to buy scratchcards when for any other form of gambling the minimum age is 18? Will she review that urgently and ensure that buying scratchcards is something that can only be done by 18-year-olds?

Mrs Grant: I am aware that my hon. Friend has considerable knowledge in this area. I am happy to look into the issue of scratchcards and come back to him.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Disabled People

1. Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the cumulative effect of the Government's policy programme on disabled people. [903033]

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3. Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the cumulative effect of the Government's policy programme on disabled people. [903035]

6. Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the cumulative effect of the Government's policy programme on disabled people. [903039]

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mike Penning): The Treasury regularly produces analysis of the cumulative impact of coalition changes, including welfare. However, even independent bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies do not feel that results can be broken down reliably for the disabled community.

Alex Cunningham: In my Stockton North constituency, 860 disabled people have been referred to the Work programme, but only 60 have found employment as a result. Does the Minister agree that a 7% success rate is appalling? What will he do to ensure that Work programme contractors provide greater specialist support for disabled people to help them into work instead of abandoning them?

Mike Penning: There was only one Government who abandoned disabled people on the Work programme and that was the previous Administration, and that is the truth. We will not allow that to happen. We will work very closely—[Interruption.] Opposition Front Benchers can try to shout me down, but it is the truth, and everyone knows it is the truth. Yesterday I was in Leeds where we talked to employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to give them the confidence to employ people with disabilities and long-term illnesses.

Sandra Osborne: The Government finally seem to have woken up to the scale of the problems that Atos has in delivering the work capability assessment. Why then has it been awarded the personal independence payment contract when it is clear that it has such serious capacity problems?

Mike Penning: We are doing something to address the Atos WCA contract that the previous Government brought in. We are working with it to get it out of that programme, because we are not happy with the quality. We will work with it and Capita in ensuring that PIP produces exactly what it needs to do.

Nia Griffith: A disabled constituent of mine, in common with many others, has been called in four times for assessment by Atos and had his entitlement docked. He has gone to appeal, had a successful result, and had it reinstated four times. Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about setting a limit on the number of times that Atos can call in people for a reassessment in any given period? It is a total waste of public money as well as causing immense distress to constituents.

Mike Penning: That is exactly what I have been looking at. In particular, I have been looking at tribunal cases, as we have a backlog of cases on the WCA, the policies before PIP and the disability living allowance. I am looking carefully at what is happening. Some can actually

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go for up to 10 years. That is what I intend to do for people who are desperately in need of the benefit, so that they are not called in as much as they are now.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Does the Minister agree that it is really important that everyone in this country can fulfil their potential and do really well in the workplace? To that end, what is being done to engage employers and help disabled people do really well in business?

Mike Penning: As I have said, we have a programme going round the regions at the moment—it was started by the Prime Minister in London—to give employers the confidence to take on employees and to break the myth that it is more expensive and more difficult to employ disabled people or people with long-term illnesses. We all know that they will give more loyalty, dedication and commitment than anyone else in the work place.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I welcome the written statement from the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), that discretionary housing payments can be made available for long-term or indefinite periods for disabled people. Will the Minister ensure that that applies across the board so that people do not have to keep being reassessed when there is no realistic prospect of them recovering?

Mike Penning: That is exactly what I am looking at now, as I alluded to in my answer to the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). We want to ensure that when someone has gone to appeal and won at the tribunal, they are not called back in, because there is a suspicion that that is vindictive. We will ensure that that does not happen.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): The introduction of personal independence payment requires applicants to complete a demanding form—I am sure that the Minister would call it rigorous—so what assistance is his Department providing to people who are blind or partially sighted in completing the paperwork?

Mike Penning: PIP is replacing disability living allowance, less than 6% of the recipients of which ever had a face-to-face assessment. At the moment, around 90% to 95% of claimants are being called for a face-to-face assessment, which is much too high, and we will bring that down as much as possible. We are working with the relevant lobby groups, particularly the Royal National Institute of Blind People, to ensure that the information is available in a way that can be used across the board.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): This morning I received a letter from my constituent Tracy, a distressed and house-bound disabled woman who put in a claim for PIP last August but is still waiting for a home visit. She has been told that she might have to wait another six months. It is yet another example of how disabled people are being failed. What is the Minister going to do about it?

Mike Penning: People are waiting too long for PIP assessments, partly because of the number being called for face-to-face assessments—between 90% and 95%—

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which is much too high. The policy was for that to be about 70%, so I think that it could be reduced further. We are looking carefully at whether it is absolutely necessary for that number of people to be called for assessment. When a face-to-face assessment is not needed, PIP will be granted without it.

Occupational Gender Segregation

2. Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effect of Government policies on occupational gender segregation. [903034]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Jenny Willott): We asked the Women’s Business Council to look at how we could tackle the barriers women face in the workplace and when choosing a career. It published its recommendations in June last year, and we are working closely with businesses and across Government to turn them into reality.

Bridget Phillipson: It is worrying that the number of female apprentices has dropped, and much more needs to be done to attract women into traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as engineering and manufacturing. When will we see some progress from the Government on that?

Jenny Willott: The Government are very proud of our record on apprentices. Over this Parliament we are funding a quarter of a million more apprenticeship places. In fact, more girls and women are taking up these opportunities than boys and men, particularly at the higher levels, where over 60% of apprentices are women. There is an issue with the proportion of women taking up more traditionally male apprenticeships, which is something I will be taking up with the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock).

Women in Public Life

4. Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): What initiatives she has taken to enhance opportunities for women in public life. [903037]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Mrs Helen Grant): The Government have enabled political parties to use positive action, should they so wish, to increase participation by under-represented groups. We have extended to 2030 their ability to use women-only shortlists. We have also set an aspiration that 50% of new public appointments should be filled by women by the end of this Parliament.

Mr Burns: Does my hon. Friend accept that it was a Conservative, Mrs Pankhurst, who campaigned for votes for women; that it was the Conservative party that gave all women the vote; that the first woman to take her seat in this House was a Conservative; and that it was the Conservative party that provided this country’s first woman Prime Minister? We will take no lessons from others about our commitment to enhancing opportunities for women. As I am sure you will appreciate, Mr Speaker,

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the Unites States will have an opportunity in two years’ time to elect a woman as their next President—Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mrs Grant: Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our party has a proud record on all these areas. However, we recognise that we are on a journey and that it is far from complete. It is therefore very important that all parties continue to prioritise that very important issue.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I wonder whether the Minister can help me. Since 3 February I have been asking various Government Departments about the gender breakdown of public appointments they make and which ones are paid. All the Departments consistently refer me to a table published by the Cabinet Office that makes no reference to which roles are paid. Will she ensure that we know how many women appointed to public office by this Government are paid and how many men similarly appointed are paid?

Mrs Grant: I know that this is an important issue for the hon. Lady and that she raised it during the international women’s day debate. The Government have a very good record on public appointments. I will do my best to find that information for her. I am aware that she has made a freedom of information request. If she does not receive an answer in the next few weeks, I shall be very happy to look into the matter further.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Will the Minister join me, and I am sure many hon. Members in this House, in congratulating Boni Sones OBE on her achievements in founding and running Women’s Parliamentary Radio? Her work will be archived at the London School of Economics and has led to the book “When There’s a Woman in the Room”. Does the Minister agree that Boni Sones deserves this House’s sincere thanks for encouraging women to participate in public life in the UK and overseas?

Mrs Grant: I am very happy to endorse and agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. Boni Sones is a fantastic role model in her own right and has done considerable amounts for the representation of women in Parliament.

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): Will the Minister join me in condemning the Financial Secretary’s comment this week that there are no women on the Monetary Policy Committee because

“appointments are made on merit”?

Mrs Grant: I am not aware of the exact details of what my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has allegedly said, but as the hon. Lady has already heard, this party has a proud record in relation to women’s progression. The coalition has driven through a number of policies to promote women and to allow them to develop on merit, and I am sure that that process will continue.

Gloria De Piero: When Labour was in government there was always a woman on the Monetary Policy Committee. Again, I invite the Minister to condemn the comment by the Financial Secretary that

“appointments are made on merit.”

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Mrs Grant: It is obviously a matter for the Bank of England to make its own appointments. However, these are issues for everyone: for Parliament and for all businesses. We must do whatever we can to make sure that women progress and get into positions of power, and I am in no doubt that that process will continue if we all work together.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): By maintaining the law that allows the Labour party to use women-only shortlists for selecting its candidates, the Minister must accept that that means either that Labour party selection committees are inherently sexist and turn down the best woman for the job in favour of a man, or that we are not getting the best person for the job in the seats concerned. Can she tell us which one of those it is?

Mrs Grant: On women-only shortlists, we are a democratic political party and we do not dictate to our grass roots. We know that some of our associations have already chosen women from their own shortlists, but this is a matter for them to decide on.

Women in Work

5. Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): What steps she is taking to support women in work. [903038]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Jenny Willott): There are record numbers of women in work and we are taking strong action to support them, including by extending the right to request flexible working from June this year, introducing a new system of shared parental leave from next April, and supporting families through the new tax-free child care scheme from next October.

Chi Onwurah: For international women’s day last Friday, we held a What Women Want at Work event in Westgate community college. Women from across the constituency raised many issues, including zero-hours contracts, sexism, stereotypes and the minimum wage, but the No. 1 issue was child care and how it prevented mums from going to work and those in work from having children. Will the Minister now back Labour’s pledge to increase free child care for three and four-year-olds to 25 hours?

Jenny Willott: This Government have done a huge amount to improve the child care situation for women in work. We have increased the number of hours that are available free for three and four-year-olds and extended that to more deprived two-year-olds. Under universal credit, we will increase the amount that is refunded for recipients of child care tax credit from 70% to 85%. As I said, from next year we are introducing tax-free child care for parents of children under the age of 12. We are also increasing the number of child care places, and this is having an impact. For example, the cost of child care, particularly after-school child care, is starting to come down in England.

7. [903040] Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): The renaissance in manufacturing, particularly in the car industry, means that there is a skills shortage that could be reduced if more women chose that career

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path. Will the Minister encourage other companies to act like Jaguar Land Rover, going into secondary and primary schools to advocate such career paths?

Jenny Willott: The right hon. Lady is right. This is very important. The Government are doing quite a lot of work to try to encourage the number of women going into science, technology, engineering and maths. The Government have a project with the Royal Society on diversity in STEM and we are supporting a scheme of STEM ambassadors going into schools to encourage people to take up those subjects. Of the 25,000 ambassadors, 40% are women and 10% are from ethnic minorities, so the Government are doing as much as they can to try to increase the number of women in these areas.

Women in Work (Overseas)

8. Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): What discussions she has had with her overseas counterparts on steps to promote the role of women in work internationally. [903041]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jenny Willott): We participate in the EU presidency Gender Ministers meetings, which enables us to discuss all the goals in the Europe 2020 strategy and the Beijing platform for action, including women’s employment.

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Only yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities spoke at an international event at the Commission on the Status of Women, organised with the Tanzanian Minister of Equalities, specifically to promote women working in the science, technology, engineering and maths industries.

Andrea Leadsom: I thank the Minister for that answer. Although I agree with the Financial Secretary that appointments should be made on merit, does the Minister agree that City regulators’ record on appointing high-calibre women is pathetic, and that if they were to identify those women, that would go a long way to promoting women in work internationally and they would be very good role models?

Jenny Willott: The hon. Lady is quite right. We definitely need to increase the number of women in senior roles, not only in the City and financial institutions but across the country more generally. This Government have done a huge amount of work with Lord Davies to increase the number of women on boards and we are starting to see a significant increase in the number of women in those positions. At the beginning of this Parliament, the figure was 12.5%; it is now more than 20% and we are on target to hit 25% by next year. I agree with the hon. Lady, however, that this is an important issue that we need to tackle.

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Business of the House

10.31 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 17 March—All stages of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure, followed by a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Pensions Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Pensions Bill, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to mesothelioma.

Tuesday 18 March—A general debate on Ukraine, followed by motions to approve statutory instruments relating to combined authority orders, followed by a motion to debate three EU proposals on criminal procedural rights.

Wednesday 19 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 20 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 21 March—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 24 March will include:

Monday 24 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 25 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 26 March—Motion to approve a statutory instrument, followed by remaining stages of the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 27 March—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 28 March—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 and 27 March will be:

Thursday 20 March—A debate on the contribution of women to the ordained ministry of the Church of England.

Thursday 27 March—A debate on the seventh report of the Transport Committee on local authority parking enforcement, followed by a debate on the eighth report of the Transport Committee on access to ports.

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

Reports this week have suggested that the House might prorogue at least a week earlier than the recess date the Leader of the House has announced, because there is so little business in the Commons. Will he confirm whether that is the case? If so, why will he not give us some more Opposition days so that we can set out our alternative to this clapped-out, zombie Government?

Last year, Eurosceptic rebels on the Tory Back Benches tried to amend their own Queen’s Speech in order to deliver a referendum on EU membership. In a panic, the Prime Minister was forced into setting an arbitrary

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date for an in/out referendum, proving that he is desperately trying to manage his own party rather than acting in the national interest. While the Prime Minister is banging on about Europe, Opposition Members are clear that our national interest is best served by remaining in Europe, focusing on tackling the cost of living crisis and providing an in/out referendum should there be a further transfer of powers. Is the Leader of the House expecting his Eurosceptic rebels to attempt to amend the Queen’s Speech again, and if so, what else will the panicking Prime Minister be forced to concede to buy them off this time?

Last week, the Leader of the House was unconvincing when he tried to claim that the Government take account of votes in the Commons, despite the fact that they have ignored more than 20 of them. Later this afternoon, the House will vote for a second time on a Back-Bench motion to end the badger cull. Will he now confirm that if the House again votes to end the cull the Government will abide by the will of the House?

Yesterday, it was revealed that a report on the Work programme that was ready six months ago is being suppressed by Ministers, because its contents would embarrass the Government. The report reveals that nearly 50% of employers found the programme ineffective and criticised the support that participants received. So far, more than £1 billion of public money has been spent on the Work programme, yet people who go through the scheme are more likely to return to Jobcentre Plus than to get a sustainable job. The Department for Work and Pensions is acquiring a reputation for incompetence and cruelty. Given the importance of tackling long-term unemployment and the public money spent on this programme, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Work and Pensions Secretary to make a statement on the serious allegation that the report is being withheld?

When the Chancellor gets to his feet for the Budget statement next week, the British people will wonder why, despite his self-satisfied spin, they still do not feel any better off. In 2010, he predicted that the economy would grow by 8.4%, but it has grown by just 3.8%. In 2010, he told us that he would balance the books by 2015, but we will instead have a deficit of nearly £80 billion. He told us that he would get Britain working, but there are 1 million young people without a job, and under-employment is at the highest level since 1992. He told us that we are all in this together, but he has cut taxes for millionaires, while working people are £1,600 a year worse off and thousands are forced to turn to food banks to feed themselves at the end of the month. It is not a recovery if millions of people do not experience it.

On Saturday, the Deputy Prime Minister told his spring conference, without any sense of irony, that “consistency matters in politics”, so how are the Liberal Democrats doing? On Tuesday, the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) failed to move a new clause in his name in relation to the hospital closure clause in the Care Bill, despite claiming to have led the opposition to it. Despite all the Lib Dem handwringing in public, when it came to it, not one Liberal Democrat voted to remove the draconian ministerial powers from the Bill. At the Lib Dem spring conference last weekend, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) said that the new homes bonus was “incoherent”, “unfair” and “absurd”. Who would have thought that

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he is actually a Minister in the Department responsible for it? The Liberal Democrat party president, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), has called the bedroom tax “wrong and unnecessary”, although the Deputy Prime Minister reaffirmed his strong support for it in the House yesterday. It is clear that what we get with the Liberal Democrats is the rhetoric of Arthur Scargill and the voting record of Mrs Thatcher. It is no wonder they were beaten into fifth place in a by-election last week by the Bus Pass Elvis party. Come the general election next year, we will all just be waiting for the Liberal Democrats to leave the building.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response. On the date of Prorogation, she is getting a bit confused. We have published the calendar, including the recess dates, which are not changing—Prorogation is not a recess; it is Prorogation—and as she knows, the date of Prorogation is subject to the progress of business.

We are using less time than we expected for two reasons. First, the House of Lords is not insisting on its amendments, but accepting the amendments that are made in this House. As far as the Government are concerned, that is a good thing, because we are securing agreement on Government legislation and consuming less time in ping-pong than would otherwise be the case.

The other reason, which the shadow Leader of the House ought to acknowledge but does not, is that there is a zombie Opposition. Yesterday, the Intellectual Property Bill came forward on Report and Third Reading, and not one Labour Back Bencher spoke. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is a major piece of legislation, had its Second Reading a fortnight or so ago. Three Labour Back Benchers spoke all day, one of whom was a Labour Whip, hoisted rapidly on to the Back Benches in order to say something.

We have a zombie Opposition who do not have anything they want to say. That deals with the hon. Lady’s point about Opposition days. The days have been allocated, although we will happily talk about the matter. There is nothing else that the Opposition are able to talk about, but they may be able to think up something. However, there were many weeks earlier in the Session when they had the chance to debate the economy and they did not do so. We will have a chance to debate the economy in the Budget debate and we will find out what the position really is.

That will be very interesting, given what has been said in the last couple of days. The shadow Business Secretary said on the “World at One” programme:

“Most of our thirteen years in office we didn’t have a debt, er, a deficit,”—

he was a bit confused about that—

“because we hadn’t had the financial crash.”

That is complete nonsense. The shadow Chancellor said:

“I don’t think Governments should spend money they haven’t got”.

The Opposition are in a parallel universe. They ran a deficit not just in the immediate run-up to the last general election, but from 2002. They did not mend the roof when the sun was shining. They spent money that they did not have. One pound out of every four that

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they spent went on borrowed money. That was a disgrace, and what was the result? The result was that 7.2% was wiped off the value of the economy of this country. That is the equivalent of £3,000 for every household in the country.

That is why we are pursuing the long-term economic plan, which will no doubt be the centrepiece of the Budget debate that I have announced. We are reducing the deficit that Labour left us, taking 3 million people out of income tax altogether, freezing fuel duty, capping welfare, delivering the best schools and skills for young people, creating more jobs, and backing small business and enterprise. We are doing those things. That is the debate that will matter most in the business that I have announced. It would not be appropriate during the Budget debate to have an Opposition day. The Opposition will have the chance to have their say. Perhaps they will explain why they are in such denial.

The House voted for the European Union (Referendum) Bill by 304 votes to none in this Session. It was not a Government Bill, but a private Member’s Bill. The House knows perfectly well that it was not a coalition commitment. The same principle will apply in the next Session. If the ballot affords it, there will be an opportunity for a Member to bring forward a private Member’s Bill in the same way.

I do not know where on earth Labour is coming from on that issue. The moment the leader of the Labour party got up and talked about it, the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said that it was a “shoddy compromise”. The Institute of Directors was more or less right when it said that

“the EU has to change, and it makes sense to put such changes to the British people.”

The Government have already put it into legislation that there cannot be a further transfer of powers to the European Union without a referendum and the consent of the people of this country. As a Conservative, I believe that the people of this country are looking not simply to have that but to have a renegotiation of our relationship with the rest of Europe. They want a focus on the things we want to achieve, such as completion of the single market, competitiveness, free trade and working together on issues that matter, while at the same time ensuring that we in this country have greater freedom and sovereignty to decide on issues that we are responsible for, and that do not need to be agreed and delivered through a European Union mechanism. We are clear that an EU referendum for that purpose is necessary, but that is not the same as what the Labour party is offering.

The shadow Leader of the House also asked about the Department for Work and Pensions, but that is a bit rich coming from the Labour party, which every time has left government with unemployment higher than when it came to office. Labour Members are now complaining about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and a Work programme that has supported 1.36 million people. There are 1.6 million more jobs in the private sector. There are nearly 1.3 million more jobs than when Labour were in office. For a Department that is concerned with getting people into work, that is a record of which it can be proud.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Speaker: Order. As always, large numbers of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I simply remind the House that we have a statement on school funding followed by two statements by Chairs of Select Committees on the reports of those Committees. We then have what I advise the House is a very heavily subscribed debate under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee on the badger cull. The consequence of all that is that there is a premium on brevity, and I ask colleagues to ask single, short supplementary questions without preamble, and for the Leader of the House to provide characteristically pithy replies.

Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000? My right hon. Friend will have seen yesterday’s Court of Appeal judgment, which from my reading seemed clearly to misunderstand what this House and the other place set out in primary legislation. I am glad the judgment will be challenged, but a debate would be helpful so that the House can fully understand who makes the law—this place, or judges.

Mr Lansley: I agree with my hon. Friend that it was a disappointing decision, and the Government will appeal it in the Supreme Court. We have been clear that preserving the confidentiality of communications between the Government and the heir to the throne is an important principle to be protected. Indeed Parliament endorsed that approach when it passed the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, amending the Freedom of Information Act. The case obviously relates to earlier papers, but the House is clear about that principle.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Humberside police has the highest number of child rapes reported to it of anywhere in the country, with 176 cases reported last year, alongside 193 adult cases. The Ministry of Justice has cut funding to the Hull rape crisis centre, and if it closes, people will have to travel 60 miles to Leeds for face-to-face specialist crisis counselling. May we have a debate on the Government’s commitment to rape crisis centres and their secured funding?

Mr Lansley: If I may, I will ask my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Justice to respond to the hon. Lady on that point. She will know of the Government’s commitment to this issue, and in the action plan published on Saturday she will have seen further references to our support for action relating to domestic violence against women and girls, and to issues relating to her point. She will also know that Ministers at the Ministry of Justice will respond to questions on Tuesday if she is in her place.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): May we have a statement on the Government’s position regarding whether the recent environmental statement consultation on HS2 complied with Standing Order 27A? Does my right hon. Friend believe that it could be subject to a complaint?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend, and the House, will have noted that this week it was settled that the assessor appointed by House authorities will summarise the responses to the consultation report to Parliament by 7 April. The Standing Orders Committee has already ruled that the environmental statement is compliant, which I hope will be helpful to my hon. Friend.

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Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): This week a new report shows that an EU-wide target of just 30% of energy from renewables by 2030 would create an extra 500,000 jobs, yet UK Ministers are leading the charge against strong and binding renewable targets. May we have an urgent debate on the number of jobs the UK will miss out on, and on the need for the Government to change their position?

Mr Lansley: I am sure the hon. Lady, if she has not already done so, will read the written ministerial statement on the European Environment Council. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs both attended and, rightly, pursued ambitious targets. They argued that it is very important for us not to have binding renewables targets, because it is necessary for each country to meet not just the challenge of climate change but supply and security requirements.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I understand that the Prime Minister’s excellent policy to have an in/out referendum by 2017 cannot be introduced as Government legislation, because it is being blocked by the Liberal Democrats. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House next week on whether he would welcome a Back-Bench amendment to the Queen’s Speech asking that the EU referendum be debated in Government time?

Mr Lansley: If I may speak frankly to my hon. Friend, the Government’s objectives are put into the Queen’s Speech—that is what we set out as a Government. On behalf of the Government, I have to say that, if the Government do not agree that there should be an EU referendum Bill, then we do not agree that. I am afraid it is then for the House to decide by other means.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): May we have a debate soon in Government time on the operation of the National Crime Agency? It is not operating in the way it should in Northern Ireland, because of issues in the Northern Ireland Executive, where the nationalist parties are blocking it. Criminal assets cannot be seized in Northern Ireland and there are real dangers for the UK as a whole—it is a national issue. May we have a debate on what the Government are going to do about that?

Mr Lansley: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He will recall our disappointment—and I imagine his—that the legislative consent motion was not forthcoming to enable the NCA’s remit to extend to Northern Ireland. I cannot promise a debate immediately, but he knows that this is a matter of continuing concern to my hon. Friends at the Home Office. We will continue to consider the matter and update the House.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): High energy prices affect everybody, but the worst affected are those who live in rural areas off gas grid. They are unable to avail themselves of the dual fuel discount and rely on liquefied petroleum gas or fuel oil. May we have a statement from an Energy Minister late next week to set out what will be done as a result of the package that

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I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer will want to announce in his Budget statement to help precisely those people?

Mr Lansley: I understand what my hon. Friend is looking for. I cannot anticipate what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will say in the Budget statement, and therefore whether there will need to be a statement to follow it, but I will, if I may, draw this matter to the attention of Energy Ministers. They completely understand the point he is making and it has been a matter of discussion and debate in this House. It is something we continue to keep in mind.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): The Leader of the House has announced that there will be a motion to approve a statutory instrument on 26 March. Will he advise the House on the subject of that statutory instrument?

Mr Lansley: No. That is provisional business and I will announce it next week.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): May I request an early debate, in Government time, to discuss a risk assessment of the Flood Re replacement of the statement of principles? I understand that the Prime Minister is organising a review of many of the exceptions, but it has come to light that leaseholders will not be covered. Leaseholders do, of course, own their own property, and it is unacceptable that their insurance will go up prohibitively and put them in a higher risk bracket that in most likely circumstances they will not be able to afford.

Mr Lansley: I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to respond to my hon. Friend on that point. In addition, issues relating directly to this matter are being debated during the House of Lords consideration of the Water Bill, so we may have an opportunity to consider them when the Flood Re provisions come back from the House of Lords.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): Businesses in Telford want a link between the M54 and the M6 northbound and the M6 toll road, and are concerned about the fact that the project is being significantly delayed. May we have a statement from a Minister about the plans that are being made?

Mr Lansley: I am very interested in this subject, because I often use, as it were, that road—

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): As it were?

Mr Lansley: It is very helpful to have the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber. We would all fall into error without him, would we not? We fall into error with him, actually.

I travel up the M6 on my way to Anglesey on the old Telford road, and it is frustrating not to be able to make the connection between the M54 and the M6. I will speak to my colleagues at the Department for Transport, and I shall be interested to hear what they have to say.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the support of the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) for my campaign

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for a link between the M6 southbound and the M54? I should welcome a debate on the issue, and I invite the Leader of the House to join me on the new road link at any time.

Mr Lansley: I may have an opportunity to stop over in my hon. Friend’s constituency. When I was last there, I had a very good time.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): Can the Leader of the House explain why the Secretary of State for Education has not made a statement on the raising of the participation age? According to statistics from the House of Commons Library, a significant number of young people have been abandoned and are not in education, employment or training, although the law says that they should be.

Mr Lansley: I think that our proposals for young people are very positive. We have made it clear that they should not be in the position that the hon. Gentleman has described, but I will of course speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education so that he can respond to the hon. Gentleman and look into the issue.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): Given the news that the new Jaguar Land Rover engine plant next to my constituency is creating 750 skilled jobs, and Sainsbury’s is creating 200 in my constituency, may we have a debate about the role of volunteers, jobcentres and colleges in the upskilling of employees in their new positions as the economy continues to grow?

Mr Lansley: That is a good point. When we point out, rightly, that 1.6 million more people are in private sector employment, we should bear in mind that that is more than just a big number. A great many specific companies are creating jobs such as those to which my hon. Friend has referred, and that is a very positive development, especially when jobs in this country—such as those being created by Jaguar Land Rover—are a result of successful competition in global markets.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): We learnt today that G4S was repaying more than £100 million following its overcharging for electronic tagging. May we have a statement from the Justice Secretary about this corporate chicanery?

Mr Lansley: I recall that we did have a statement from the Justice Secretary at the time when the failings of the companies concerned were identified. He made clear our determination to secure redress for the taxpayer, and I pleased to say that it is evident that he succeeded in that regard.

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): May we have a statement on the proposed sale at auction of Wisbech magistrates court? One taxpayer- funded body, the Ministry of Justice, is selling it at a reduced rate because a second taxpayer-funded body, Cambridgeshire police, is refusing to vacate it as a sitting tenant, thus preventing a third taxpayer-funded body, the local authority, from redeveloping the site, and therefore not offering the taxpayer value for money.

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Mr Lansley: I know that this matter is important to my hon. Friend’s constituents in Wisbech. The Ministry of Justice negotiated for some time with Fenland district council, which then withdrew its offer. The Ministry decided that sale at auction was the best option, but the auction did not proceed because an offer was received from a local developer at what it considered to be an acceptable market price. It is likely that the sale will be completed imminently, but I have asked the Ministry of Justice whether the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara)—who is responsible for the courts and legal aid—could discuss the issue with my hon. Friend as a matter of urgency, in order to establish the position.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has been kind enough to arrange for the responsible Minister to reply to me on the personal independence payments, where problems are growing by the day—I have more and more cases—but surely the time has now come for the Leader of the House to arrange for the Secretary of State to come here and make a statement on the problems with PIPs and what he is doing to sort them out?

Mr Lansley: I think the hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware that we are making progress with the transition to PIPs and there are clearly issues that have to be resolved to make that happen. I will talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions and see what further update they can give the House on the progress being made in dealing with those outstanding issues.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): To mark yesterday’s 25th anniversary of the web, Tim Berners-Lee called for a digital Bill of Rights, something my party also called for at its recent spring conference. Will the Leader of the House make sure time is available for such a Bill to be debated, and could he persuade the Queen to include it in her speech?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will know that I am not in a position to anticipate the contents of the Queen’s Speech.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): You did last year.

Mr Lansley: I did not.

Chris Bryant: You did so.

Mr Lansley: I was interested in what Tim Berners-Lee had to say. My hon. Friend will recognise that it is a legislative challenge to contemplate such a thing, but it is important to understand how we can secure the rights of people using the internet and the protections they are looking for while at the same time making sure that it is the bastion of freedom I think it was always intended to be.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister be making a statement to the House following his visit to the middle east? If so, does the Leader of the House anticipate that being on Monday or a different day? Secondly, given that debates on the middle

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east in Westminster Hall are regularly over subscribed, is it not time that the Government put, in Government time, a full day’s debate on the Israel-Palestine question?

Mr Lansley: I am not presently anticipating a statement by the Prime Minister and I do not think it is customary for there to be statements following every visit the Prime Minister makes. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Prime Minister makes a great number of visits, including substantial numbers of trade missions, as he has to Israel and many other countries, and we do not make statements as a matter of course.

There has been a wide range of debates in Westminster Hall and elsewhere on the middle east, including most recently on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, but so far as the Israel-Palestine negotiations are concerned, I am not aware of the House having had any recent opportunity for a debate. However, he and other Members who seek to have such a debate could of course approach the Backbench Business Committee.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): May we have a debate on science and technology skilling, because over 30% of the 200 businesses I have polled in my constituency were concerned about the science and technology skills of their new recruits? A debate would enable us to discuss how we can improve those skills and help businesses in places like Tamworth, which has an unemployment rate of just 2%, find the resources they need.

Mr Lansley: I agree with my hon. Friend. This is very important. He will recall the initiative just last September of a £400 million fund—£200 million from the Government matched by £200 million from the private sector—for university science departments to develop world-class facilities so that Britain can meet the science industry’s demand for highly skilled young people. In my constituency, only last week recruitment was taking place for the first entry to the university technical college in Cambridge, which is offering courses and places focusing on life sciences training for young people, and similar things are happening in other places. We need these developments, and we are very much aware of the demands coming from industry for those kinds of skills. I hope in Tamworth and elsewhere we will increasingly be able to support the places that are required.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The Keogh review looked at operations and other procedures that revise or change the appearance, colour, texture, structure or position of bodily features. May we have a debate on why the review makes no mention of the damage, disfigurement and permanent scarring that can result from tattooing and piercing, an area in which there is very little regulation of those without the skills and ability to carry out those procedures?

Mr Lansley: I confess that I have not had an opportunity to look through Bruce Keogh’s review in detail, although I was probably responsible for initiating it. I will look at it, and I will check with the Department of Health as to its position on this and ask it to respond directly to the hon. Lady.

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Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): Given the situation in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, the Leader of the House will be aware that the tourism trade has been affected on the peninsula. May we have a debate on this in Government time? The effect has been devastating over half term, and Easter is nearly upon us. We are going to have to make plans to ensure that everyone in the UK understands that the peninsula is open for tourism and business.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am very pleased that the railway line through Dawlish will reopen by 4 April, a fortnight earlier than was previously expected. If an opportunity arises for a debate, I suspect that it is more likely to be on the Adjournment than by other means, but it would be helpful for the Government and for Members to make it clear that the south-west will be open for business, including tourism, this summer.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) about the Work programme evaluation report, whose existence was revealed yesterday by “Channel 4 News”? The report apparently points out that people who are out of work on health grounds are getting a particularly raw deal. When will it be published?

Mr Lansley: I confess that I do not know when it will be published, but I will talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions and ask them to reply to the right hon. Gentleman.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): May we have a statement on the future of children’s heart surgery units? Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming today’s NHS England report, which confirms that the Leeds heart surgery unit is safe and running well?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I will join my hon. Friend in welcoming today’s report. It is important that children’s heart surgery units should be safe, and that any past failings in the standard of care that they provide should be identified and dealt with. This report is not the same thing as the review of the future of children’s heart surgery centres, which was conducted not on the basis that the existing units were unsafe but on the basis of determining how the highest clinical standards could be sustained in the future. That review has yet to be completed by NHS England, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will want to report to the House when that moment arrives.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The number of those needing life-saving organ transplants continues to rise, but the number of donors is staying at the same level. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this vital, life-saving matter?

Mr Lansley: I am able to tell the hon. Gentleman that organ donation rates have risen by 50% since 2008. There were two reviews under the last Government. Also, transplant rates have increased by 30% since 2008. That is encouraging, and it is partly a result of investment in transplant nurses. As he will know, the relationship between skilled staff and the family at the point at

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which the question of donation arises is an important one, and I hope that we will be able to make further progress on that.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): As the Leader of the House will know, I have introduced a Bill to increase the maximum sentence for those who cause death while driving while disqualified, from the present two years to 14 years. May we have an urgent statement from the Ministry of Justice on what is being done to address this issue?

Mr Lansley: I cannot promise a statement, but I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about this, and that the Secretary of State for Justice feels very strongly about these issues. He will be answering questions in the House on Tuesday, and perhaps my hon. Friend will be in his place at that time to ask him about this.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): Following the passage of the legislation earlier in the week, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the future of district general hospitals? Warrington and Halton hospitals have already lost their vascular services; a review of maternity services is now under way; and nearby Whiston hospital continues to have financial problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) and I would like some reassurance from the Minister that our local hospital will not have its services downgraded or removed, as we have seen previously under this Government.

Mr Lansley: The legislation passed earlier this week does not threaten district general hospitals. It secures a commitment to the fullest consultation to enable us, if necessary, to reconfigure services on the basis of clinical quality as well as finance. Under the 2009 special administration regime of the previous Government, the process was finance-driven, not quality-driven. I am astonished at the effrontery of the hon. Lady getting up to talk about a vascular services review that started under her Government—as far as I am concerned—and about Whiston hospital, which was one of a number of unsustainable private finance initiative projects put in place by the previous Government. They had no idea where the money was going to come from to pay for that from within the local economy.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I was recently approached by a constituent who expressed concerns that Plymouth city council is granting planning permissions for pop-up shops to sell what are generally known as legal highs. As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth is a university city with 30,000 students in it. I have great reservations about selling these legal highs. May we have a debate on the matter so that we can have a better understanding of what Government policy will be?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Planning control, as he knows, considers the land use impact of different types of development, but does not generally regulate the sale of particular items inside shops. The Home Office, however, is taking a comprehensive approach to tackling this reckless trade, working closely with the Local Government Association and trading standards. My hon. Friend will be encouraged that the

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Minister for Crime Prevention has commissioned a review to see how we can enhance our response, including possible legislative responses, alongside better health promotion and education.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): This week, sadly, sees the third anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict, and yet we seem no further forward today than we did a year or two years ago. The international community, including the United Kingdom, bears a heavy responsibility for this. May we have a debate in Government time so that this House can explore all possibilities to start the international community along the course of a peace settlement?

Mr Lansley: We all share the evident sense of deep disappointment expressed by the hon. Gentleman at this third anniversary about how damaging the situation in Syria has been to the people there and to international peace. He will recall that the Foreign Secretary made a statement on Monday, 24 February, which included reference to the situation in Syria and ongoing questions there. I cannot promise a debate at the moment. It is something that is regularly reported to this House, and if time were to be available for a debate at this stage, I know that it is something that the Backbench Business Committee would certainly want to consider.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Recently, a large cargo ship was apprehended by the Israeli navy with a record haul of rockets being transferred from Iran to Gaza. Yesterday, a record number of rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel. Given that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Israel for the first time as Prime Minister, may we have a wide-ranging debate on the middle east, including our relations with Israel and the sanctions to be imposed on Iran?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I will not repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love). There are Members throughout the House who might seek to initiate a debate with that broader scope.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): The unmanned level crossing at Smithy Bridge has not worked properly since it was installed. Local people have been inconvenienced, and there is the potential for safety risks. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have a debate on Network Rail’s ability to manage such projects effectively?

Mr Lansley: I cannot promise a debate immediately, but I recognise the issues. Issues relating to level crossings more generally have come to the fore. Network Rail has a considerable programme of investment. It has been straightforward recently about the failings that have occurred with level crossings and with its approach to the safety concerns expressed about such crossings. I hope that that is changing. If I may, I will take the opportunity to ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport about this and ask them to respond to the hon. Gentleman directly.

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Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1174 about bingo taxation?

[That this House believes that bingo plays an important role in the community; notes that Harlow Mecca Bingo has 54,000 members; further notes that despite being a soft form of gambling, bingo is subject to a gross profits tax of 20 per cent, despite all other forms of gambling being taxed at 15 per cent; and therefore urges the Government to reduce the bingo tax so that it is in line with other forms of gambling.]

May we have an urgent debate, with a full House, so that we can support the 54,000 members of Harlow Mecca Bingo and ensure fair taxation for bingo clubs, in order to boost bingo across the country, to boost employment and to boost prizes?

Mr Lansley: I have seen my hon. Friend’s early-day motion. It is a pity it was not tabled earlier in the Session, as it could have been early-day motion 66—that would have been even better. I will take his question as a further application to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot anticipate what the result will be, but he will of course have opportunities to raise these issues during the Budget debate.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): May we have a debate or a statement on the Highways Agency, particularly the way in which it manages temporary road schemes? Businesses at Tollbar End in Coventry, where there is a three-year scheme, have been badly affected because people have been held up while going to work in the morning. Some businesses have said that if they had known it was going to take this long they might not have invested in Coventry. May we have a statement, and will the Leader of the House get the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) to respond to the issue, as I raised it with him last week in the Department for Transport?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will recall that Transport Ministers will be responding to questions here again next Thursday but, as I wish to be as helpful as I can, I will ask them to respond directly to him about this scheme. Transport schemes often take much longer than we might imagine they would, but it seems that this one has taken a long time.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): May we have a statement on communications by Action Fraud with my constituents, whose cases are referred to it and they then hear nothing?

Mr Lansley: I cannot promise a statement but I will try to make sure that I get an appropriate response from Ministers, particularly if my hon. Friend is able to give me additional details.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Last Friday, more than 100 women attended my “Labour Listens” event in my constituency. They were deeply concerned about the sexualisation and objectification of women, which is still common in the media, exemplified by The Sun’s page 3. As the Government seem to be struggling to fill

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their time, may I help them by suggesting that we have a debate in Government time about the sexualisation of women?

Mr Lansley: I am pleased that the hon. Lady was able to celebrate international women’s day with women in her constituency. She raises an important issue. Some of the most damaging effects of objectification of women are evident in some of the violence against women and girls, which of course was the subject of the further action plan that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published on Saturday. We do not have the immediate prospect of a debate on these issues, but I hope that she recognises that in the sense I have outlined we are addressing some of the abuses that result.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): May we have a debate on banking? In the light of recent events, the House should particularly explore whether The Co-operative Group has

“the ethics of responsibility, co-operation and stewardship”

claimed in 2012 by the Leader of the Opposition or is simply a very badly run institution with appalling corporate governance?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is right; many Members will be very disappointed by this situation, particularly given that, not very long ago, the Leader of the Opposition was talking about the ethics and responsibility of the Co-op—it is a pity that it came to all this. Many of us have a sense that we are having to deal with so many of the abuses in the banking system in the past. The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 will be very important in that respect, and I hope that some of the principles that this Government are putting in place for future conduct in the banking system will be fully embraced in the governance of the Co-op.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): All the scientific evidence now agrees that concussion can be fatal, yet the Rugby Football Union, the Welsh Rugby Union, the Football Association, the premiership and the governing bodies of many of the other sports in this country are in complete denial about the danger that is posed to many of their players, particularly young players. I do not want a debate on this, because the danger is too serious; I want the Leader of the House, now that we are getting on so well, to organise, with me, the setting up of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into concussion in sport, so that we can save people’s lives.

Mr Lansley: I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman that. I recognise the problem; obviously, I had a health interest over many years, and on a number of occasions

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I remember neurologists describing some of the difficulties to me, and I think that some of those doctors have been at the forefront of making the case to some of the sporting bodies that the hon. Gentleman talks about. If I may, I will refer the issue to my friends at both the Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to see if they can facilitate a response to his points.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): On Monday, I attended the annual Westminster gathering of the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions, and heard both of its optimism for the future and its concerns. Leisure parks and piers are vital ingredients of our seaside resorts, and the best of them can be found in Cleethorpes. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate to consider how best the Government can encourage and support our seaside towns?

Mr Lansley: I am very glad that those representing leisure parks and piers were able to be here at Westminster. Those who watch our proceedings in the House sometimes might not realise the sheer volume and extent of interest in what goes on in the Palace of Westminster far beyond the debates in the Chamber. My hon. Friend is right about the issues for coastal towns, which he understands so well. That is why we created the coastal communities fund of £23.7 million in 2012 to help coastal towns and villages provide training and employment opportunities. In August last year, we announced that that fund would be increased to £29 million, and that it would be extended until 2016. That in itself is a manifestation of the Government’s support for the issues that my hon. Friend raises.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): In manslaughter cases in which a single punch to the head has resulted in death, we are seeing absurdly low sentences, as permitted under sentencing guidelines. Obviously, I want much tougher sentences. Will my right hon. Friend agree to give the Chamber the chance to debate this very serious issue?

Mr Lansley: I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say. I think that the subject may be in the scope of debate on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. I encourage him to raise these issues; it is important for Parliament to set out its expectations regarding sentencing guidelines. The Bill will, I hope, be an opportunity for the issue to be debated.

Mr Speaker: Order. I thank the Leader of the House and colleagues for the very timely progress that we made in this session.

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School Funding

11.23 am

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): With permission, I would like to make a statement about the action we are taking today to deliver fair funding in English schools.

The school funding system that we inherited is unfair. Previous Governments knew that the system was unfair but failed to act to reform it. For too long, the school funding system has been based on historical data that were out of date and no longer reflected pupils’ needs. That has resulted in a system that is opaque, overly complex, and, frankly, unfair to pupils, parents and teachers.

Sometimes, similar schools just miles apart can be funded at very different levels, merely because they happen to be in different local authority areas. In other cases, schools with many disadvantaged pupils can end up being funded at a level that is well below that of a nearby school in a more affluent catchment. For example, a school in Birmingham in which only 3% of pupils receive free school meals gets higher funding per head than a school in Shropshire in which over 30% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. That unfair and inefficient allocation of funding to pupils stops us making sure that all children get the best possible teaching.

Many right hon. and hon. Members have campaigned for fairness, and the coalition has made it clear that it not only recognises the problem but will act decisively to address it. I pay tribute to the many hon. Friends who have campaigned strongly on the subject for many years: my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey), for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), for Worcester (Mr Walker), for Norwich South (Simon Wright), for Chippenham (Duncan Hames), for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), for Gloucester (Richard Graham), and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), and many others.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who tells me that she first raised the issue 13 years ago in her maiden speech. Most of her campaigns deliver success over a shorter time scale. I hope she will be pleased with the announcement today.

We have already made more progress than any recent Government in moving towards a fair funding system. We have made significant progress at a local level, where we inherited an unnecessarily complicated system. Our reforms for 2013-14 and 2014-15 mean that the system is now fairer, simpler and more transparent, with at least 80% of funding now allocated on the basis of the need of each pupil within a school. These local reforms represent a significant step forward, but we now want to make funding fairer at the national level by addressing the distribution of funding between local authorities.

The Government announced in the spending review last summer that they would consult on how to allocate schools funding in a fairer way, and we will now do this. Today I can confirm that in 2015-16 we will take the first huge step towards delivering this fairer national funding. This will be the first time in a decade that funding has been allocated to local areas on the basis of

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the actual characteristics of their pupils and schools, rather than simply on the basis of historical levels of spending.

Given the importance to schools of stability and certainty in these difficult economic times, we have decided not to set out a multi-year process of converging all local authorities towards a single funding formula. We have concluded that the right time to do this would be when there are multi-year public spending plans, so we can give greater certainty to schools. But the case for action is so strong that we intend to act immediately—I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) will be pleased to hear this—to deliver a substantial £350 million boost to schools in the least fairly funded local authorities in the country. We will be able to achieve this—Opposition Members will welcome this as well—without any local authority receiving a cut to its per pupil schools budget. The extra money will be allocated in April 2015, for the 2015-16 financial year, delivering in this Parliament, and not, as previous Governments have done, talking and then delaying until the future. No local authority or school will lose from this proposal, but around four in 10 areas will gain. We are able to deliver this significant boost by using money from within our protected schools budget and because of additional money from the Treasury. This is only the start of the transition to fairer funding and eventually a national funding formula, but it is the biggest step towards fairer school funding in a decade.

Today, the Secretary of State and I are publishing a consultation on fairer school funding in 2015, and I will explain briefly our proposals in this document. To allocate the additional funding fairly, we are proposing that for 2015-16 every local authority will attract a minimum funding level for every pupil and school. We propose to set a minimum funding level for the basic amount that all pupils should attract; for deprived pupils; for pupils with English as an additional language; for pupils with low levels of attainment on entering school; and for pupils who have been looked after—for example, in foster care. We also propose to set a minimum level of funding that all schools should attract, regardless of size, to help with fixed costs, such as employing a head teacher, and to help smaller schools. I plan to set a minimum level of additional funding that schools in sparsely populated areas that are vital to serving rural communities should attract.

We will also, of course, apply higher funding to certain areas where teacher pay costs are higher. Our consultation document sets out our proposals in full for all the minimum funding levels. Where there is a gap between a local authority's budget and what it needs to meet our new minimum funding levels, the Department for Education will give the local authority additional funding to close that gap in 2015-16. Where a local authority's budget already exceeds what it needs to meet our minimum funding levels, we will not make any change to the amount of per pupil funding that it receives from the DFE. I confirm that no local authority and no school will receive less funding per pupil as a result of these proposals.

The proposals will mean that local authorities that currently receive unfairly low funding, such as Cambridgeshire, will have their funding significantly boosted. Based on the indicative figures set out in our

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consultation document, Cambridgeshire will see a long-awaited increase to its schools budget of about 7%. That will increase Cambridgeshire’s per pupil funding rate from about £3,950 a year to £4,225, an uplift in 2015-16 of £275 a pupil. Based on current estimates, that equates to a boost of about £20 million for schools in Cambridgeshire. I am sure that the announcement will be welcomed by Cambridgeshire MPs, including the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, and their constituents who have campaigned for many years for further funding.

Cambridgeshire is just one of 60 local authorities that, based on current estimates, stand to gain from today’s historic announcement of an extra £350 million in funding for schools. I can tell hon. Members that by percentage rise the top 15 of the 60 authorities are likely to be Bromley, Cambridgeshire, Brent, Sutton, Northumberland, South Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Merton, Croydon, Bournemouth, Buckinghamshire, Cheshire West and Chester, Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Devon. In addition, areas such as Norfolk would receive an extra £16 million, Derbyshire £14 million and Surrey almost £25 million. Of course, many traditionally low-funded rural authorities are on that list, but hon. Members will want to note that areas such as Blackpool, Brent, Bury and, indeed, Stoke-on-Trent would gain under these plans. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will welcome these announcements.

I know that the plans will certainly be welcomed in many schools across the country, scores of which have been generously funded by the coalition Government at a time of austerity, with a £2.5 billion pupil premium being added to a per pupil budget that is protected in cash terms. We understand, however, that schools, like all public sector organisations, face cost pressures from pay, energy price inflation and the necessary implementation of the proposals of the Hutton report on paying for high-quality public sector pensions. The changes will ensure that the least well-funded schools can now not just deal with such pressures but spend extra money to improve attainment.

The consultation document we are publishing today sets out our proposals in detail. A copy of the document will be placed in the House Library and in the Vote Office. We welcome input and feedback from schools, local authorities and the wider public. I look forward to considering their views before we announce final arrangements for school funding for 2015-16.

Today’s £350 million increase in funding represents a huge step forward towards fair funding in English schools and will make a real difference on the ground. It delivers fairness without creating instability, uncertainty or cuts in better-funded areas. We remain committed to further funding reform once the long-term spending plans are available after the next spending review. I commend the proposals to the House.