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House of Commons

Thursday 3 December 2015

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—

Superfast Broadband

1. Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): What plans his Department has to ensure universal provision of fast or superfast broadband. [902528]

4. Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con): What plans his Department has to ensure universal provision of fast or superfast broadband. [902531]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): By the end of 2017, 95% of homes and businesses in the United Kingdom will have access to superfast broadband. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last month, by the end of this Parliament people will have a legal right to request a broadband connection, no matter where they live. We will be consulting on these plans, which will put access to broadband on a similar footing with other basic services early next year.

Kevin Hollinrake: I welcome the universal service obligation to provide 10 megabits of coverage to the whole country by 2020. Point-to-point wireless can provide a solution today up to 30 megabits, but the organisations behind those facilities will not invest because state aid will one day bring fibre to those communities and take away their customers. Can Ministers provide a solution to this important conundrum?

Mr Whittingdale: I commend my hon. Friend on his advocacy for his constituents on the importance of achieving superfast broadband as quickly as possible. The universal service obligation will provide a safety net, but it will take some time to work out the details. In the meantime, we would welcome all the alternative suppliers putting forward their solution. It may well be that different solutions will be appropriate for different places.

Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con): Some parts of my constituency such as central Rochester, the peninsula and the businesses in Chatham historic dockyard

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have been suffering from poor fibre-optic broadband coverage from BT for too long. Much-needed upgrades were supposed to be in place from December last year, yet we are having to wait until the 2016-17 financial year at the earliest. What can the Minister do to stop broadband companies from dragging their heels so that all residents and businesses can enjoy the services that they ought to have?

Mr Whittingdale: I fully appreciate the wish of my hon. Friend that her constituents should have access to superfast broadband as soon as possible. We are making extremely good progress on phase 2. We have already passed an extra 3.3 million premises, and that will rise to 4 million by early 2016. By the end of phase 2, we expect to have achieved 97% coverage in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We will then work hard on the remaining small number of houses, which will have the possibility of the universal service obligation to rely on.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Those of us who are long and strong advocates of universal service welcome the Government’s U-turn on this matter. Only a few weeks ago, I was told by the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy that this was not possible, and it was not Government policy. I will be taking part in the consultation, but will there be any new Government money from the UK, the Welsh Government or the European Union?

Mr Whittingdale: I would be extremely surprised if that was what my hon. Friend said, as he has been a leading advocate of the universal service obligation policy, which will benefit all the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, just as it will every other household in the country. The precise details of how the universal service obligation will work are still to be worked out, and that will obviously include how it will be paid for, and we shall be consulting on that over the coming year.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Given the report that was published this week by Ofcom, which illustrated the differences in broadband speed in Northern Ireland and the fact that Northern Ireland has 73% coverage compared with 88% in the rest of the United Kingdom, what action will the Secretary of State and his officials take to address this matter?

Mr Whittingdale: I believe that the Ofcom report showed different possible causes for slower broadband, including, I am told, Christmas fairy lights. That is why it is making available an app to measure the speed of wi-fi. I can tell the hon. Lady that in Northern Ireland we expect that by the end of the superfast broadband project 87% of homes and businesses will be covered. The Northern Ireland Government have received £11.4 million from Broadband Delivery UK for the project.

18 [902546]. Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): In some easily accessible areas in my constituency superfast broadband is extremely economically viable; BT has received a huge amount of subsidy since 2010. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that this is unacceptable and will he meet me to see what we can do to get this right and solve the problem of accessibility?

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Mr Whittingdale: We are making good progress, as I have already mentioned. We are optimistic—indeed, confident—that we will achieve the 95% target by the end of 2017. That still leaves some difficult areas. I will, of course, be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss what more we can do to ensure that all his constituents can benefit from superfast broadband.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab): What steps is the Secretary of State taking with other Departments to enforce broadband speeds? These questions are about superfast broadband, but what constitutes “superfast” on the ground, as it were, is a matter of great dispute. Many providers say that they provide speeds of “up to” a certain number. What enforcement steps is he taking?

Mr Whittingdale: I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s concern that advertised speeds are not delivered in practice. We talk regularly with Ofcom about that matter. Ofcom is carrying out detailed research and, as I mentioned earlier, making available an application that will allow consumers to test whether they are achieving those speeds. The universal service obligation, to which the question refers, that is coming into place will require all providers to be able to supply at least 10 megabits —the speed that Ofcom currently assesses as necessary for someone to be able to enjoy most normal applications.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Five years after abandoning Labour’s universal service commitment and having delayed his own super-slow crawl-out at least three times without proper consultation with either Ofcom or the industry, the Prime Minister magics a universal service obligation out of thin air. The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, with whom I have the deepest sympathy, is forced to pretend that it is part of some strategy that has not been published or even consulted on. The Chancellor, however, is not in on the trick: the comprehensive spending review does not mention the issue once. Does the Minister have any idea of how much the obligation is going to cost—or it just a sop to his Back Benchers whose mailbags are bulging with complaints about broadband?

Mr Whittingdale: That was a good try by the hon. Lady, but in actual fact we have been making extremely good progress. The superfast scheme has now passed an extra 3.3 million homes and we will achieve 95% by the end of 2017. The universal service obligation is to allow those few remaining households who do not benefit to have a legal right to require broadband. As to the costing, we are in discussion with the industry about that and we will consult on it. We look forward to hearing all inputs to the consultation, including the hon. Lady’s.

Access to Culture and the Arts

2. Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): What steps he is taking to improve access to culture and the arts for more disadvantaged communities [902529].

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for this question about the important issue of improving access to culture and the arts for people from disadvantaged communities. I was delighted with the Chancellor’s

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autumn statement, which did not cut funding for the arts and heritage. That will be welcomed very much by Labour Front Benchers, who were predicting doom and gloom. There are a number of schemes that help disadvantaged people, but I want to work on the issue for my White Paper in the new year.

Paula Sherriff: The Arts Council will have more than £1.5 billion to support the arts over the next three years. GPS Culture has calculated that 43% of that will be invested in London—a spend of £81, compared with just £19.80 per head for the rest of the country. Frankly, people in Dewsbury, Mirfield and the rest of Yorkshire feel let down. Will the Minister take action to rebalance funding between London and the regions to ensure that everyone, including those from disadvantaged communities, gets access to culture and the arts?

Mr Vaizey: My understanding is that tonight in Dewsbury there will be a fantastic free arts event for families at Crow Nest park funded by the Arts Council. The creative people and places fund targets funding outside London. More than half of the multimillion-pound Grants for the Arts programme goes to a quarter of the most deprived areas in England. The Arts Council is doing a lot. We are doing a lot more than was done under the last Labour Government. We have massively increased the funding that goes outside London, which Labour never addressed.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Last Saturday evening, my family and I attended the Kettering gang show at the Lighthouse theatre in Kettering, organised by the local Kettering scouts. It was a fantastic show. Given that the scouts do so much very good work with boys and girls in disadvantaged communities throughout this country, will the Minister take this opportunity to praise the scout movement for how it encourages young people to get involved in the arts?

Mr Vaizey: I would love to take this opportunity to praise the scout movement and all the volunteers and voluntary organisations that do so much for the arts. Their contribution should not be forgotten; we should not simply look at those organisations that are funded by the Arts Council.

John Nicolson (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP): On the issue of disadvantaged communities and their languages, the Gaelic language is the most endangered in these islands. Why, therefore, in the autumn statement did the Government withdraw their total direct UK funding of £1 million, and can I ask him to reconsider?

Mr Vaizey: As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, there were two one-off grants in the last Parliament to support that important work, and those contributions have made a valuable difference, but they were not annual grants stretching way back into the past. They were two one-off grants strongly supported by the then Chief Secretary.

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the £40 million commitment from the Discover England fund will also help to promote arts and culture across Britain?

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Mr Vaizey: Yes, I do, and it is extremely important that that fund is co-ordinated with the arts and heritage funding that the Chancellor has kept stable for the next five years. If we combine the funding for arts, heritage and tourism, we can generate some meaningful interventions across the UK.

Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) (Lab): The Government’s official annual figures, “Taking Part”, published in July, show a marked decline in the percentage of young children participating in key activities including dance, music, theatre, drama, arts and crafts. In 2010, on average, more than 50% of five to 10-year-olds took part in those activities: it is now just 30%. Is it not the case that under this Government access to arts and culture has undeniably gone backwards, and it is disproportionately disadvantaged communities and working-class kids who lose out the most?

Mr Vaizey: Our museums have never received more visitors and our arts organisations are thriving. Rather than criticising the arts, this is the hon. Gentleman’s opportunity to apologise for the appalling scare- mongering he undertook last month, claiming that the arts would be cut by 30%. He should apologise now at the Dispatch Box.

Michael Dugher: It is an odd request to be asked to apologise for the Government’s figures, but I am more than happy to highlight their poor performance. I shall give him some more figures—not scaremongering, but real figures. Recent research by Ipsos MORI revealed that 70% of children of non-graduate parents spend fewer than three hours a week on cultural activity. That compares with 80% of children of graduate parents who spend more than three hours. Last week’s spending review, which the Minister mentions so much, means that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will face a 5% real-terms cut, and the central grant for local government is being cut by a massive 56%—a £6.1 billion reduction by 2019-20, which is not exactly a cause for a circuit of honour. What assessment has the DCMS made of the impact of local government cuts made by the Government on libraries, museums, galleries and theatres that all rely on local councils?

Mr Vaizey: I take the issue of access to arts by all our communities very seriously, which is why I support all the schemes that the Arts Council is undertaking. But again, the hon. Gentleman can make a difference. He does not have to feel powerless on the Opposition Benches: he can ring up Labour Lancashire now and ask why it is withdrawing all its funding from all its museums.

Broadband Grant Vouchers

3. Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): What assessment his Department has made of the rate of take-up of broadband grant vouchers by small and medium-sized businesses. [902530]

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am grateful for the chance to address this important issue, and I am delighted that more than 50,000 firms in the UK have taken advantage of our broadband connection vouchers, as well more than 1,000 public buildings.

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Antoinette Sandbach: My constituents in Eddisbury will have connections below the Cheshire average for superfast broadband. What steps can be taken to ensure that Connecting Cheshire will prioritise better superfast broadband access for rural businesses and residents in Eddisbury?

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for broadband and for her constituency. I am very pleased that almost half of her constituency will benefit from our superfast broadband roll-out—almost 15,000 homes in her constituency have already been passed, but by the time the project is finished more than 30,000 will have been passed.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): There will not be many successful business parks where the highway stops short of the park and people have to get out of their cars and walk the rest of the way. Can we apply the same logic to another important highway—broadband—and make sure that business parks are properly connected so that small businesses can thrive and prosper?

Mr Vaizey: There is no reason why business parks should not be part of the superfast broadband roll-out programme. It is also important that business park owners, who charge rents and provide services to their tenants, get on board and ensure their tenants have broadband.

Broadband Universal Service Obligation

5. Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con): When he plans for a broadband universal service obligation to be in place. [902532]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): As the Prime Minister announced, people will, by the end of this Parliament, have a legal right to request a broadband connection, no matter where they live, from a designated provider, at a minimum speed, up to a reasonable cost threshold. We will consult on those plans in early 2016.

Lucy Allan: I thank the Secretary of State for meeting me and being so patient about my many queries on this issue. Telford residents in the Trench Lock and Lightmoor new-build areas, and residents of historic Ironbridge, tell me that they struggle daily with inadequate broadband. When can they expect the same, increased connectivity as other people across the UK?

Mr Whittingdale: The Telford and Wrekin project is set to deliver superfast broadband access to 98% of homes and businesses by the end of phase 2 in 2017. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to press us to ensure that the few remaining constituents of hers who do not have such access obtain it. From this month, they will have a right to a basic broadband service of 2 megabits per second, and will be able to take advantage of the universal service obligation when it comes into effect.

16. [902544] Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but will he assure me that the pace of the

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roll-out will be increased so that businesses in my constituency, such as Excel Group in Wareham, can have fibre access?

Mr Whittingdale: We will achieve the 95% target by the end of 2017, when the contractual arrangements we have achieved will enable us to invest more in going beyond that. We will be putting in place the universal service obligation, which will benefit my hon. Friend’s constituents and those of all other Members.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): It is all very well having the universal service obligation, and I urge that it be introduced as quickly as possible, but the key question is the definition of “affordable” or “reasonable”. Will the Secretary of State confirm that when it is introduced my constituents will be able to afford what the providers offer?

Mr Whittingdale: The universal service obligation is a safety net to benefit those few remaining people who have been unable to access superfast broadband. We are consulting on the precise details, including the costing, and we are discussing with industry how that will be met. I assure my hon. Friend that it is intended that it should be affordable to his constituents and those of all other Members.

Football Supporters Associations

6. Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with football authorities on the voluntary and community work of supporters associations. [902533]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tracey Crouch): I have regular discussions with the football authorities on a variety of issues, including the work of supporters associations. The expert working group set up by Government has been looking at building on supporter engagement. I have received a copy of its report, which will go to the football authorities for approval by their boards.

Henry Smith: Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Crawley Town supporters alliance for its charity work through the Crawley Kicks project for young people, and for raising funds for Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice in Sussex?

Tracey Crouch: I share a TV region with my hon. Friend, so I also follow the ups and downs of his club. It is nice to be able to congratulate Crawley Town supporters alliance on their admirable community work. Supporters groups up and down the country make a hugely valuable contribution to their communities, as well as raising funds for their club. Football clubs are stronger when working with, and in the best interests of, their supporters.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): The Northern league was founded in 1889 and is the second oldest football league in the country. It could not have survived without the dedication and commitment of supporters and volunteers. A shining example of that is Mr Mike Amos, the chairman of the Northern league, who is retiring this year after 20 years. Like many other volunteers in non-league football across the country, he has done a

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fantastic job. Will the Minister join me in thanking the likes of Mr Amos for their dedication and commitment, and wish him and his family the very best for the future?

Tracey Crouch: Football is nothing without its fans, its volunteers and the communities that it works in. It is important that we celebrate and honour those who dedicate their lives in a variety of different ways to football, so I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Mr Amos on all that he has done to serve the Northern league.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Will the Minister say when the report from the expert working group will be published? We were hoping that it would be published at the end of last month. While the arrests in Zurich this morning highlight the problems in the governance of world football, there are still many concerns about the governance of football in this country, too.

Tracey Crouch: I can certainly give an indication about when I expect the report. If anything, I owe the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) an apology, because in my response to this question last time, I said that it would be published before his Bill comes before the House tomorrow. I have received a copy of the report. It has been done by football for football, so it is only right that the football authorities that need to look through it are given the opportunity to do so. I expect that to be done within the next three weeks and that the report will be published in January.

Sports Strategy

7. Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): When the Government plans to publish its new sports strategy. [902535]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tracey Crouch): I plan to publish the new cross-departmental strategy for sport and physical activity before Christmas.

Ruth Smeeth: The Department’s own “Taking Part” figures show that children’s participation has dropped under this Government. The number of five to 15-year-olds playing competitive sport outside school has dropped 19%. Given that my city, the great city of Stoke-on-Trent, has been awarded European City of Sport for next year, when are the Government going to give us some detail, stop talking and start delivering so that my constituents can get the most out of next year?

Tracey Crouch: The hon. Lady has only to wait a very short time to see what the Government will be doing to deliver a brand-new policy on sport. Making sure that children participate in sport at a very early age is incredibly important. We know that if children develop the habit of sport at a very early age, it is something that they will continue. If she can bear with us for a few more days, I hope that she will get the answer to her question in more detail.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I know that the Minister is very keen on increasing participation in sport. Is she aware of the work of Wheels for All, a Lancashire charity which allows cycling

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for those with a disability? It is concerned that its activity levels are not being included in the Government’s activity survey because it does not count as sporting. There is too much focus on elite paralympic sport and not enough on activity levels that benefit the disabled community.

Tracey Crouch: My hon. Friend makes a really good point. The previous sports strategy relied on only two crude measurements around participation and medals. As I have indicated during previous discussions in the House, the new sports strategy will look beyond those two measures to see what social value sport brings to the community. That of course will mean that nobody should be prevented from participating in sport or any kind of physical activity.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Any new strategy should involve the participation of more ladies and girls but must also address obesity, particularly at primary school level. Can the Minister say what discussions she has had with our Health Minister to address that issue?

Tracey Crouch: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I regularly meet Ministers across all Departments, but especially Health and Education Ministers. The new sports strategy is cross-departmental and will deal with many different issues. We will ensure that it aligns carefully with what the Department of Health is doing in the long term to combat obesity and childhood obesity.

Mr Speaker: Paul Farrelly. Not here.

Horserace Betting Levy

9. Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What progress he has made in reforming the horserace betting levy. [R] [905237]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tracey Crouch): May I first draw the House’s attention to the written ministerial statement in the name of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that was laid in Parliament this morning and confirms that the 55th levy has now been set? Despite this, the Government remain committed to replacing the current levy system to create a level playing field for British-based and offshore gambling operators. Work is continuing and we will make a further announcement in due course.

Mr Robertson: I am grateful for that response. One of the proposals put to the Minister by the sport of racing is for a racing right. Will she say what work the Government have done in considering the proposal, whether she needs further detail from the industry and what timescale we are talking about?

Tracey Crouch: The previous Government undertook three consultations and we are committed to replacing the outdated levy. Work is continuing and more detailed policy design is under way. We will make a further announcement in due course.

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): There is growing concern in the five racecourses in Scotland, including Musselburgh in my constituency, regarding the delay in

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introducing the new horseracing right. May I press the Minister for some form of timetable so that the racecourse industry knows where it is?

Tracey Crouch: Reform of the levy is an incredibly detailed piece of work and we want to ensure we get it right. It is important for everybody involved that we ensure that racing, a huge economic contributor to the UK economy, continues to be strong. We therefore want to ensure we do things appropriately.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I should make people aware of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The total prize money fund for horseracing in the UK is £130 million, and, in one form or another, bookmakers hand to racing almost £200 million—nearly 50% more than the total prize money. Is it not fair to say that bookmakers pay a fair price for the racing product, and was it not irresponsible of the racing industry to turn down the extra millions of pounds on offer to it in the recent levy negotiations?

Tracey Crouch: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know he takes a keen interest in this matter. I assure him that discussions on the levy, including the voluntary contribution, took place, as the Secretary of State’s ministerial statement today makes clear. There is an issue with offshore remote gamblers not contributing from the statutory perspective, and that requires reform. We are therefore looking at it in close detail.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): It is two years since Labour forced the Government to commit to introducing a racing right to ensure that racing gets a fair return on all forms of betting based in the UK. It is estimated that the industry is missing out on £30 million a year. I press the Minister again: when can we expect a conclusion to the discussions on the horseracing right, and what discussions has she had with the industry about a sports betting right for all sports, which the last Labour Government initiated, that can be reinvested in grassroots sport?

Tracey Crouch: I have already answered the question about the timeframe. We must look at this in detail and an economic evaluation is taking place. The Government have no plans to introduce a sports betting right. The new model for horseracing will replace an existing arrangement for transferring funds from betting to horseracing.

Mobile Phone/Broadband Reception: Rural Areas

10. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): What steps the Government have taken to improve mobile phone reception and broadband service in rural areas. [902538]

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am thrilled with the progress we are making on broadband and mobile coverage. [Laughter.]Labour Front Benchers like to mock me, but I want to tell you, Mr Speaker, about the International Telecommunication Union, which states that the UK has risen from 10th to fourth in the broadband rankings,

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overtaking Sweden, overtaking Holland, overtaking Hong Kong and overtaking Finland. The broadband European scorecard, published this week, showed that once again we are at the top of the EU big five. That is progress.

Daniel Kawczynski: Yes, progress indeed—but I am interested in Shropshire, which I represent and where issues remain outstanding. I very much hope that the Minister will give me some assurances about the work to improve coverage in Shropshire and to reform the electronic communications code.

Mr Vaizey: Broadband roll-out in Shropshire is now exceeding the number of Michelin stars. Almost 12,000 homes in my hon. Friend’s constituency have been passed by our broadband programme, and we will get to 92% of his constituency. We will reform the electronic communications code to make broadband roll-out go even faster, especially when we introduce our universal service obligation.

15. [902543] Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): A report published by Ofcom in August found that 24% of Scotland’s landmass had no mobile signal, and the highlands and islands continue to be the worst areas for 3G coverage in the UK. The 4G mobile option took no account of Scottish Government proposals to set coverage requirements for each local authority. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure connectivity across all parts of the UK with 5G licences? Does he agree that 5G may be part of a solution to provide superfast broadband in rural areas?

Mr Vaizey: I have to say that 5G is some way off, but I am pleased that we are investing in the research. The hon. Gentleman may be looking at our plans to clear the 700 MHz spectrum, which will provide even better mobile coverage, but I know that he will rise with me to applaud the licence deal that we did with the mobile operators to get 90% geographical coverage around the UK by the end of 2027, with his interests firmly in our hearts.

Welsh Language

11. Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): What plans he has to promote and strengthen the Welsh language. [902539]

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): Well, what can I say, except that we are committed to the Welsh language? We are committed to providing Government services in the Welsh language, and we are firmly committed to S4C.

Glyn Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that S4C plays a key role in promoting the Welsh language in Wales? Does he understand that the widespread disappointment that people in Wales feel about the DCMS contribution was significantly reduced in the autumn statement?

Mr Vaizey: I am afraid that my glass is half full on this one. We secured £83 million of funding for S4C in 2012-13, and that funding remained broadly stable for the lifetime of that Parliament. Even now, if we take into account the contribution made by BBC News,

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S4C will receive a guaranteed income of some £90 million a year. That is guaranteed income, which any other media company—obviously, apart from the BBC—would cry out for.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): But S4C is the only Welsh language channel. It is a national treasure for the United Kingdom. If the Government really have a commitment to the Welsh language, they need to stop cutting the income of the only Welsh language TV channel that we have. Will the Minister please reconsider?

Mr Vaizey: S4C was brought in by a Conservative Government. S4C has been supported by Conservative Government. S4C will continue to be supported by a Conservative Government; but unfortunately, we have had to make difficult decisions about funding across all areas of Government spending, because of the catastrophic mess left by the Labour Government.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): In its general election manifesto, the Conservative party promised to safeguard the funding of S4C; yet last week, the comprehensive spending review outlined a further cut of 26% in the UK Government’s support for S4C. Is the Minister aware of his Welsh history and what happened the last time the Tories broke their promise in relation to S4C? Will he now consider the need to ensure that S4C is adequately resourced?

Mr Vaizey: As I keep repeating, S4C is adequately funded. It is extremely generously funded. It is generously supported by the BBC. It will continue to receive a generous grant from my Department. It is more generously funded than any other media organisation in terms of the number of viewers that it receives.

Topical Questions

T1. [902518] Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale): Since the last Culture, Media and Sport questions, Adele’s new album “25” has enjoyed record-breaking chart success, the latest Bond film continues to do excellent business, we concluded our hosting of a tremendous rugby World cup and, of course, Great Britain has won the Davis cup, but we have seen the ability of sport to bring people together in an incredibly powerful and moving way at the England-France game at Wembley. The positive impact of the many areas sponsored by my Department on our economy, culture and general wellbeing were recognised and reflected in the spending review.

Jason McCartney: Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating rugby league star Kevin Sinfield on being shortlisted for the BBC sports personality of the year award? Following the autumn statement, will he say how the Government are supporting the sport of rugby league and, in particular, the bid for the rugby league World cup in 2021?

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Mr Whittingdale: I would, of course, like to congratulate all 12 contenders for the sports personality of the year award. However, hon. Members might be aware that there are some fans of Leeds Rhinos in the Department, one of whom is not sitting a million miles away from me, and I am sure that she will be very vocal in supporting Kevin Sinfield. However, with regard to the rugby league World cup, when we hosted the competition two years ago, it drew more than 450,000 fans and generated an estimated £9.6 million. Officials are due to meet the rugby league next week to discuss its proposed 2021 rugby league World cup bid.

T6. [902524] Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP): The Immigration Bill seems to make it harder and harder for people in the creative industries, like all others, to work with people across the globe. Has the Secretary of State considered the benefits to our creative industries of a new short-term visa, and will he speak to the Home Secretary about the possibility?

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): The hon. Lady raises an important topic. We have a close relationship with the Home Office and keep in close contact with it in on this important issue. Working with organisations such as Tech City UK, we have reformed immigration rules to allow people with the right kind of high-level skills to enter the country and work in our creative industries, and we will continue to work with the Home Office on the issue.

T2. [902519] Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con): The Minister will be delighted to know that last night, Telford Town Park was announced as the UK’s best park. Will she join me in congratulating all those involved, particularly in Hollinswood and Randlay Parish Council, Friends of Telford Town Park and Telford and Wrekin Council, for the important work that they do?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tracey Crouch): This is excellent news for the people of Telford, and I congratulate everyone involved on winning the best park award. Urban parks are vital in providing opportunities for people to get active in the fresh air, and it is important that we protect them for the benefit of local communities.

T3. [902520] Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): As we come to within two days of Small Business Saturday, the Secretary of State will be aware that Channel 4 currently works with more than 350 production companies, including a large number of small and medium-sized businesses. Can he assure us that in the event of any privatisation of Channel 4, the livelihood of those important small businesses will not be threatened by the desire to centralise and rationalise to save money?

Mr Whittingdale: I share the hon. Gentleman’s admiration of Channel 4’s work in supporting our creative industries. I am concerned to ensure that Channel 4 continues to have a sustainable and viable future and deliver its remit. With regard to the possible ownership structures, no decisions have been taken, but we are examining a number of different options, including the one put forward by Channel 4 management.

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Whatever decision we reach will be designed to ensure that Channel 4 continues to make a considerable contribution to our creative economy.

T4. [902522] David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I am grateful for the work that is currently being undertaken to review the case for greater integration of outdoor recreation in the current sport strategy. What steps are being taken to promote outdoor recreation, to further boost domestic and international tourist activity in rural areas in Macclesfield and across the country?

Tracey Crouch: Outdoor activity is a hugely important part of the tourism offer in rural areas across the whole UK, and the total annual tourism spending attributed to leisure activities is phenomenal. It is of course a key strand of the new strategy, and as tourism Minister I can say that it links in nicely with some of our other activities.

T9. [902527] Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (UKIP): There is mounting evidence that the BBC and its licence fee are inhibiting local newspapers’ ability to develop online. If the Secretary of State is to water down his previous antipathy to the licence fee, will he at least prevent it from being used in a way that hurts non-licence fee-funded local media?

Mr Whittingdale: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about local newspapers, which play a vital role in local democracy. I welcome the fact that discussions have been taking place between local media groups and the BBC to determine what the BBC might do to assist local newspapers. I understand that very good progress has been made, and I hope that the BBC will therefore be able to play its part in recognising the contribution that local newspapers make to news provision and giving them some recompense for that.

T5. [902523] Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con): With the highly successful Westminster gaming event having taken place earlier this month, does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that computer programming and gaming are viable career options for many young people in our rural communities?

Mr Vaizey: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an excellent point about not only the fantastic broadband roll-out in Cornwall, but the south-west’s fantastic games economy, regarding which we can talk about companies such as the Engine Room, Auroch Digital and Opposable Games. As a strong supporter of games and a successful roller-out of broadband, I wholeheartedly agree with both elements of his question.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I cannot let the Minister get away with his comments about S4C. In May, the Conservatives’ manifesto said that they would safeguard the funding of S4C. How does the Chancellor’s statement last week safeguard the funding of S4C along the lines of that manifesto commitment?

Mr Vaizey: S4C will continue to receive funding from DCMS and the BBC, and it will continue to be the most generously funded media company in the country in terms of the number of viewers that it gets.

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T7. [902525] Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con): In September, a new memorial to the miners who lost their lives in the local pits was unveiled in Rugeley. On Saturday night, one of the four statutes was severely damaged by a driver who crashed into it and fled the scene. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in condemning the action of this callous individual and tell me whether any Government support is available for the repair, maintenance and renewal of local memorials?

Mr Whittingdale: I entirely share my hon. Friend’s feelings. I was concerned to hear about the damage to the memorial to the miners who lost their lives, especially as it came so soon after more than 2,000 people lined the town’s streets for its unveiling in September. I am sure that the whole House will join my hon. Friend in condemning the actions of the person responsible. I can tell her that my Department administers the memorial grant scheme. If a registered charity is responsible for the care of the memorial, it will be able to benefit from a refund of VAT paid on repair work.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): If the Government are really serious about opening up culture and the arts to disadvantaged communities, will the Secretary of State explain to my constituents why £150 million was announced for London museums in the comprehensive spending review and there is £100 million for a new arts complex in Battersea, yet Hull, which is the 2017 UK city of culture, is getting a share of £1 million allocated by the Chancellor? How does that work?

Mr Vaizey: I have been to Hull twice now to find out what is going on, and it is fantastic to see the improvements—[Interruption.] Labour Front Benchers can mock what is going on there, but the people of Hull will see those Members laughing at their efforts to produce a great capital of culture.

The hon. Lady does not mention the £78 million for the Factory in Manchester. She does not point out that the intention of the £150 million to get storage out of Blythe house is to get objects away from London and out to the regions. I welcome Hull, even if Labour condemns it as the capital of culture.

Mr Speaker: The Minister is an exceptionally excited fellow this morning. I do not know what he or the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) had for breakfast, but I shall probably take care to avoid it.

T8. [902526] Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): The Minister will be aware of the campaign by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association to safeguard sculpture in the outdoor realm either from removal or from being sold off. This is a worthwhile cause, so what can the Government do to safeguard and support public sculpture?

Mr Vaizey: I feel strongly about this issue, Mr Speaker, but I shall try not to get too excited about it. I was pleased to secure the future of the Henry Moore sculpture on Abingdon Green, as well as to campaign to keep a Henry Moore sculpture from being sold by Tower Hamlets

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and to prevent a Hepworth sculpture from being sold by a shopping centre, so I will support any public campaign that keeps a sculpture where it is meant to be.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Last but not least, I call Greg Mulholland

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I, too, am delighted by the nomination for BBC sports personality of the year of Leeds Rhinos legend, Kevin Sinfield, who is now of Yorkshire Carnegie, and I am equally delighted by the nomination for Otley cycling world champion, Lizzie Armitstead. Given the popularity of cycling, will the Department and the Government get behind making the Tour de Yorkshire a four-day event so that we can build on its huge success last year?

Mr Whittingdale: As I said earlier, I congratulate all those who have received nominations for BBC sports personality of the year. It is a testament to how many successful sportsmen and women we have in this country that this year’s line-up is so strong. I am strongly aware of that cycling tournament in the north and we will certainly consider that.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Sitting Hours

1. Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP): If he will bring forward proposals to reform the sitting hours of the House. [902508]

6. Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential benefits to the House of Commons of it sitting at 9:30am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. [902513]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Dr Thérèse Coffey): Sitting hours are decided on by the House. They are regularly reviewed by the Procedure Committee and decisions are made by hon. Members based on the options recommended following consideration of the relevant evidence. I say to hon. Members who want change that although this matter was decided on in the last Parliament, there is no reason why they cannot make representations to the Procedure Committee for further consideration.

Martyn Day: Our staff have to be here at unreasonable, family-unfriendly hours. May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House what we are doing to ensure their health and wellbeing, and to be a considerate employer?

Dr Coffey: I do not speak on behalf of the Commission, but it is my understanding that the House is a very proactive employer in managing health and safety, and appropriate conditions for staff. Of course, we are employers of our own staff directly, and it is for us, as their managers, to ensure that they have appropriate conditions.

Will Quince: I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks, and I will take that advice. Does she agree, however, that starting at 9.30 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays would not

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only make the House more family-friendly, but allow some Members to see their family and children of an evening?

Dr Coffey: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. These matters were debated extensively, and I think it is fair to say that there are probably 650 different opinions on what constitutes something family-friendly. Nevertheless, one of the important things that Standing Orders of the House do is ensure that all hon. Members have the chance to come to Question Time. He will recognise that the sitting hours of the Chamber are not necessarily the sitting hours of Committees and other such meetings. All these things need to be brought into the round.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): We need to remember the need for schools to come and visit on Tuesday mornings before we make rash decisions based on the interests of MPs based in the south-east.

Does the hon. Lady agree that some of the coverage about the possibility of moving private Members’ Bills from Friday to Tuesday was absolutely ludicrous? Frankly the busiest and hardest-working day for most constituency MPs is Friday, when we are in our constituencies. We should be able to do that every week, and therefore look at dealing with private Members’ Bills on Tuesday evening.

Dr Coffey: The hon. Gentleman will know that this option was considered by the House in the last Parliament, and there was a vote on it. At the time, hon. Members decided not to pursue that option. Again, the debate can still be had.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): For debates on assisted dying and the European Union Referendum Bill, more than 300 people appeared here on Fridays. If people want to turn up on a Friday, and the issue is important enough, they are perfectly capable of doing so. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if people want a 9-to-5 job, there are plenty of them available, and they should apply for one rather than be a Member of Parliament?

Dr Coffey: I should say that “9 to 5” is one of my favourite songs by the great Dolly. My hon. Friend is an advocate of many causes on Fridays, and I think he makes a fair point about hon. Members picking issues of significant interest that have attracted Members to stay here. Daylight saving is one example, as is assisted suicide, which has been mentioned, and there are other such matters on which hon. Members will find time to be here. It is for hon. Members to decide how they wish to fulfil their role, including in relation to the introduction of private Members’ Bills.

English Votes on English Laws: Divisions

2. Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): What progress has been made on preparations for the first divisions of the House which will follow the new Standing Orders on English Votes on English Laws [902509]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Dr Thérèse Coffey): Preparations for the first Divisions under the new Standing Orders have been under way for some time. The House authorities and the Government have

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worked together to put in place arrangements for the Divisions, including the use of tablets to assist in the recording of double majority votes. Hon. Members who were here in the last Parliament will have seen the use of iPads as a test ground for that.

Andrew Bridgen: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she confirm that, going forward, every MP from every part of the UK will still be able to debate and vote on every piece of legislation in the Commons, and make it clear that the accusation that this will create two tiers of MP is simply not true?

Dr Coffey: I agree with my hon. Friend that every Member in this House will continue to debate on Second Reading, during various elements of Committee and Report stages, and on Third Reading. It is simply the policy that we have successfully introduced that, when it comes to matters that are devolved and that affect England or England and Wales only, it is crucial that measures have the explicit consent of the MPs from those nations involved.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): If we are to have English votes for English laws, why, on non-devolved matters that particularly affect Wales, such as the future of S4C, can we not have Welsh votes for Welsh laws, with double majority votes for MPs from Wales?

Dr Coffey: We were very careful, in our proposals, to ensure that every Member could continue to debate and vote on matters, even if they affected only England. We are still the United Kingdom Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly was established to deal with devolved matters. The hon. Gentleman recognises that, as do we.

Prime Minister’s Questions

3. Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If he will bring forward proposals for Prime Minister’s questions to take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays in each week. [902510]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): I sense a new campaign from my hon. Friend, but I am afraid there are no plans to change the current arrangements.

Mr Bone: I take that as a nod and a wink to start a campaign—I appreciate the Leader of the House’s subtlety. We should go back to having two sessions of Prime Minister’s questions. This week, PMQs was lost, quite rightly, but if we had two sessions, the Prime Minister would at least have been here once, and he is the servant of the House, not a President. Will he encourage me a bit more to start that campaign?

Chris Grayling: I fear not. The practical problem is that, if Prime Minister’s questions take place on a Tuesday and Thursday, it would be difficult for the Prime Minister to represent Britain internationally. On the whole, I think that the full session on a Wednesday strikes the right balance. I regard yesterday’s decision to postpone questions for the week as something that would happen only in exceptional circumstances. In my view, we should stick with the current arrangements.

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Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to consider my suggestion to limit to 10 minutes the exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, with no limit on the number of questions that could be asked in that time. Recently, that exchange has been taking up almost half the time available for PMQs—so that we can hear from Mary from Manchester or Olivia from Oldham. Will he look at this proposal and see whether we can get more Back Benchers in?

Chris Grayling: I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, but I fear it is for the Chair to decide when to accelerate proceedings.

November Recess

4. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): For what reason it is his policy for the House to retain a November recess. [902511]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): We give careful consideration to how we manage the recesses across the year, but ultimately it is a decision for the House. My colleague the Chief Whip and I are always happy to consider the calendar across the year. We have a November recess because it was originally the time of the Queen’s Speech, and there were always two or three days either side for Members to spend time in their constituencies.

Diana Johnson: I appreciate that, but that is the point: it was previously the date of the Queen’s Speech, but that now takes place in May. I am still confused, therefore, as to why the Government feel that November is an appropriate time for this recess, especially given that it does not fit with school half terms—if that is what the Leader of the House was thinking: that people could spend time with their families.

Chris Grayling: The November recess is not particularly designed to be family time; it is for Members to spend time on important constituency work. Those who seek to take part in the important business that sometimes takes place here on a Friday will know that it is not always easy to find weekdays to spend in the constituency. It is sensible, therefore, to set aside a few days across the year primarily for constituency work.

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House explain why the Government have not yet given the dates for the Easter recess, and can he guarantee that they will co-ordinate it with the school holiday and not make the same mistake they did with the November recess? Announcing the date would enable Committees to organise their hearings and MPs would be able to plan their time in their constituencies?

Chris Grayling: We will always do our best to give as much notice as possible, but our prime responsibility, as business managers, has to be to ensure that the Government’s business can be delivered across the Session. We will seek to strike the right balance and provide that information as soon as we practically can.

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Back-Bench Business

5. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If he will ensure that debate time for Back-Bench business is safeguarded. [902512]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Dr Thérèse Coffey): The introduction of the Backbench Business Committee, as part of the Wright reforms, was a great innovation in the last Parliament. It is for the Committee to schedule business on the days allocated to it in each Session and for the Speaker, Deputy Speaker or Chair of the debate to manage them when they take place.

Mr Hollobone: The Leader of the House has protected Back-Bench business very recently with a scheduled time limit for the debate. What is the policy of the Deputy Leader of the House on doing this? May I encourage her to do it far more often so that Members know when a debate is likely to finish?

Dr Thérèse Coffey: I am not exactly sure of the procedure that my hon. Friend refers to. It is usually at the discretion of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee to indicate the likely times of debates on each topic if the Committee chooses to split up its days. The concept of injury time for all business was considered by the Procedure Committee in the last Parliament, but the Committee agreed with the then Leader of the House that rendering uncertain the time of conclusion of debates in the House would be undesirable.

Leader of the House: Question Time

7. Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): What assessment he has made of whether oral questions to the Leader of the House is an effective use of parliamentary time. [902514]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): The oral questions rota is regularly reviewed to ensure that the Government and other answering bodies can be adequately scrutinised, reflecting any machinery of government changes and the quantitative evidence of Members questioning.

Antoinette Sandbach: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s answer, but there are many important issues that need to be raised. Will he consider whether oral questions to the Leader of the House are the best use of time?

Chris Grayling: I am very tempted by the idea of merging questions to the Leader of the House with business questions, as we seem to cover a lot of the same ground. There are areas of activity where there is a case for allowing more time for scrutiny in the House. I intend to give careful consideration to the matter in the coming weeks. There may well be a case for change.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): Has the Leader of the House made any assessment of whether we ought to have more time to put questions to him, given that today, for example, not all Members’ questions on the Order Paper will be reached.

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Chris Grayling: I am very much in favour of all Members having the opportunity. It is a matter of ensuring that we make the best use of parliamentary time and have adequate time for scrutiny. If one listens to the topics covered in this short session today, it is not entirely clear to me why we could not take those as part of business questions and make this 15-minute slot available for another topic, such as Scotland or International Development, where there might be a case for an extended session.

Restoration and Renewal

8. Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): What steps he has taken to assist the work of the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster (Restoration and Renewal). [902515]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): As a member of both the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster and the House of Commons Commission, I have been working closely with fellow members of those Committees to ensure that colleagues in both Houses will be able to consider the recommendations of the Joint Committee in the new year.

Martin Vickers: Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Committee does all it can to contain the costs, while ensuring that the House continues to meet within the confines of the Palace?

Chris Grayling: I agree with my hon. Friend. We have a duty to ensure that we deliver an effective home for our democracy, protect a world heritage site and do that at a cost that is right for the taxpayer. My aim is to avoid a period of change which creates disruption for our colleagues and high cost for the taxpayer, so we are working to find the best balanced solution for all Members.

House of Commons Commission

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Restoration and Renewal: Costs

9. John Nicolson (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP): Whether officials of the House have discussed with HM Treasury the potential costs of restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. [902516]

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Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): Officials have kept the Treasury informed about the methodology adopted by the independent options appraisal and have taken advice from the Treasury on the treatment of major projects, such as the restoration and renewal of the Palace, in terms of the Treasury’s Green Book business case guidance. It would be premature to discuss the cost of specific options until the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster has concluded its work.

John Nicolson: Given that the project will be paid for by the taxpayer, have there been discussions about how the House will liaise with the Treasury about keeping costs under control and how best to provide ongoing scrutiny for Members?

Tom Brake: Clearly, there will be such discussions, given that restoration and renewal will be a costly project. If the hon. Gentleman has strong views, I encourage him to submit evidence to the Joint Committee, which will take evidence until 22 January. I am sure the Committee will want to take his concerns on board.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—


10. Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): What progress the Government are making on reforming the estimates process. [902517]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): This matter is currently being considered by the Procedure Committee, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to communicate his views to its members.

Patrick Grady: We were told during the debates on English votes for English laws that there would be opportunities to debate and amend provisions relating to Barnett consequentials during the estimates process. Given that the Chancellor has cut the Scottish Government’s revenue budget by 5.7% over the next four years, when in the estimates process will we have an opportunity to debate, amend and vote on that?

Chris Grayling: The House can of course vote on the estimates each year. However, if the hon. Gentleman is looking to have an extended debate, it is within the gift of this House to change its procedures in order to ensure that he has the ability to contribute and vote in the way he wishes.

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Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council

10.35 am

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the meeting of the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (James Duddridge): I thank the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for his urgent question, which gives me an opportunity to talk about the excellent work of the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council. The meeting formally concluded late last night, but in reality it will carry on today with a number of bilateral meetings across Whitehall, including with me.

The Joint Ministerial Council is the highest political forum established under the 2012 overseas territories White Paper. It brings together Ministers, elected leaders and representatives from the overseas territories for the purpose of providing leadership and shared vision across the territories.

At this year’s meeting we discussed a large range of subjects, including child safeguarding, economic development, financial services transparency, climate change, sustainable energy, education and skills and the challenges of providing healthcare in small jurisdictions. We also discussed sports participation by the overseas territories, pension arrangements with the Department for Work and Pensions, governance and security. We had a very full communiqué establishing how we would work together over the coming year. It has been very successful and I look forward to further meetings later today, following up on some of the commitments made last night.

Mark Durkan: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, which I have asked from my perspective as an officer of the all-party group on anti-corruption. I welcome what the Minister has said about what he regards as the success of the council meeting, and I hope that we can see evidence of that in relation to key issues, such as child safeguarding and climate change.

However, in relation to financial services transparency, which is what most concerns us, how satisfied is the Minister that there really has been significant progress on, for example, the signal stance that the Prime Minister has taken against corruption and the strong indications that were made about the criteria set down by the Treasury on the requirements for real transparency and proper registers of beneficial ownership of companies in the overseas territories, because they provide the shelter for all the tax scams and shams? This is not just populist tax jealousy; these scams and shams scandalise legitimate businesses and rob developing countries of key moneys. It is not a victimless crime.

Are the overseas territories co-operating? As I understand it, only Montserrat has agreed to the standards that are sought. Where are the other overseas territories on that? In the ongoing bilateral meetings today, will we really see moves from others? Is it true that the Cayman Islands have flatly refused and are making no moves on these matters?

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When will we hear from the Treasury, if not from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on how detailed the commitments are going to be on meeting the requirements that it has set down for real transparency, because other businesses and professionals need to see them? Organisations that are working on behalf of global tax justice, such as Oxfam, Christian Aid, ActionAid and Global Witness have concerns and want to support the Government’s efforts. When will we know more?

James Duddridge: An enormous amount of progress has been made over the past few years in relation to financial services transparency, particularly openness on tax. I think the hon. Gentleman wants to probe me more on beneficial ownership and the transparency around company ownership. I will quote from the joint communiqué that was issued overnight and is found on the Foreign Office website. When further bilateral meetings are held, the Government usually issue a written ministerial statement the following week, as we intend to do when we have had the benefit of the additional post-JMC bilateral meetings.

The communiqué was written by all members of the overseas territories, signed up to by all members, and agreed to by the UK Government. The members

“agreed to hold beneficial ownership information in our respective jurisdictions via central registers”.

There is a lot more text, but I will end with the final sentence:

“We agreed that addressing this issue would be given the highest priority and that progress on implementation would be kept under continuous and close review.”

I have had several meetings today, it will be high on my agenda over the coming months, and we will make progress. However, some of the detail is quite technical. I think that some of the hon. Gentleman’s views of this issue are a snapshot of the situation in the middle of the JMC. There is often quite extensive, and sometimes quite robust, discussion, but late last night we got to a shared understanding that moves us further forward.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Minister will know that three quarters of the jurisdictions of the Commonwealth continue to criminalise same-sex sexual activity. Happily, that is not the case in the overseas territories, where the only discrimination is in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, which have different ages of consent. Only Gibraltar and the Pitcairn Islands recognise same-sex unions and facilities for same-sex adoption. What discussions has the Minister had with our overseas territories about their continuing to improve their position in respect of anti-discrimination measures towards their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens?

James Duddridge: I thank the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee for raising this issue. Progress has been made. He mentions the Cayman Islands, and only this week their premier reported to their parliament on their recognising equal marriage, which is a great step forward. Small territories have legislative constraints on time, and it may take them longer to get all the legislation through that they would want. However, this is a priority for a number of territories, and we will do all we can to support them in bringing forward modern legislation that we would like to see around the world so that everybody, regardless of their sexuality, is treated equally.

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Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): Only last week, Mr Speaker, you told the House that we should be doing more to celebrate the progress being made by the overseas territories on transparency of the affairs of companies based in those territories. I will welcome progress where progress is made. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) mentioned Montserrat in particular, which should be commended for introducing a public register for its small financial sector. It is also commendable that the overseas territories have been leading the way with the commitment to automatic exchange of information.

However, we all know that there is much more room for improvement. Most developing countries remain outside these new commitments to exchange information, and there is much more that the UK and the territories can do to help bring them in. A clear commitment to providing information to developing countries on a temporary, non-reciprocal basis would help, as would producing statistics on the source of assets in our financial institutions. That would genuinely be something to celebrate. All the world’s major financial centres have agreed to the same standards as the overseas territories on information exchange, as the G20 has made clear. It is the new global standard, and we should expect nothing less.

On company ownership transparency, we will celebrate when the UK Government commit to supporting Montserrat in making access to its register free, online and in open data format, and when we see such public registers implemented across the rest of the overseas territories. Anguilla, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands: none is inclined to change its position at all, despite even the Prime Minister watering down his demands. Instead of demanding public registers, as the Prime Minister once advocated, the Department devised three tests for the territories’ regimes to meet: first, access to company ownership information without restriction; secondly, an ability quickly to identify all companies that a particular person has a stake in; and thirdly, a requirement that neither the companies nor their owners are tipped off. All those are good things, but they are the minimum that should be done. The Government are responsible for good governance in the territories, not for a minimal standard of governance. There is a real lack of ambition on this crucial question.

As the events of this year’s council have shown, there is some disappointment. The Financial Times reported this week that the Cayman Islands have flatly refused the UK’s request to give law enforcement agencies access to beneficial ownership information, arguing that such a basic measure as allowing investigators to trace the proceeds of corruption poses a “competitive disadvantage”. The Prime Minister has called on the territories to act since 2013. Surely it is now clear that his Government need to redouble their efforts to bring standards up to scratch.

In fiscally difficult times at home, the overseas territories, as leaders in international finance, should have world-leading standards, not be world leaders in enabling corruption and tax evasion. My party made a manifesto commitment to require the overseas territories to produce publicly available registers of the real owners of companies based there. When will the Government match our, and indeed the general public’s, ambition in this regard?

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Mr Speaker: Order. I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution, but before the Minister answers, let me just say to the House—I hope, for the last time—that from now on I am minded to insist on the time limits for these exchanges. The first point is that the hon. Lady was supposed to take two minutes, but she took over three. She is by no means the only offender, and I recognise her sincerity and commitment, but she was over her limit. It is as simple as that.

The second point is that, where there is an urgent question or a ministerial statement, the shadow Minister is not supposed to come in to deliver a speech, but to give the briefest reception to the statement by the Minister and then ask a series of pithy questions. It is not a speech in a debate, but a series of questions.

As I say, I recognise that the hon. Lady is new to the House, though a very capable individual indeed, but in future we will have to observe the time limits and the appropriate format. I give notice that if those are breached, I will simply cut the question off. I do not intend any discourtesy, but if we have rules, we must stick to them.

James Duddridge: In relation to Montserrat, I do not know what discussions the hon. Lady has had with Premier Don Romeo, but one of the reasons why it was easy for Montserrat to comply with some of our earlier requests was the lack, sadly, of a financial services industry, which is still developing there. There are many enormous challenges in Montserrat, but quite frankly, financial services is not one of them. It is easy to be fleet of foot when an extensive industry is not already in place.

There is much more of a challenge for the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, where we are focusing our attention. It is wholly untrue to say that the position at the end of the Joint Ministerial Council was one of obstruction by the Cayman Islands or, indeed, any other territory. I will have further discussions with the Cayman Islands today, but they and everyone else signed up to the following language:

“We discussed the details of how these systems”—

the central systems—

“should be implemented, including through technical dialogue between the Overseas Territories and UK law enforcement authorities on further developing a timely, safe and secure information exchange process to increase our collective effectiveness for the purposes of law enforcement.”

Some of the technical detail is quite tricky—there are different systems in different jurisdictions—but there is an ongoing and close dialogue with the National Crime Agency about how we can achieve such things.

A number of comments have been made that I would say are not misleading but perhaps slightly out of date. Once hon. Members have had time to digest the communiqué, they may wish to find an opportunity to discuss the subject again in more detail so that we can have a robust exchange, consider how we can make further improvements and get a shared understanding, because we all want the same thing.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate the Minister on the Joint Ministerial Council and wish him all the very best in the bilateral discussions he will have over the next 24 hours. I want to reflect on what the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) said. I hope she recognises

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that there has been and will continue to be progress. It is fair to say that, although we must insist on co-operation with tax authorities and law enforcement agencies, there is a distinction between secrecy, of which we do not approve, and the demand for privacy by those who use banking services not just in the overseas territories, but in the UK. That line should also be respected in dealing with these matters.

James Duddridge: I know that my right hon. Friend follows these issues carefully. We have had a number of discussions about this very subject, including late last night after the Syria vote. Privacy is important, but it should not be used to disguise corrupt practices, international terrorist moneys or the avoidance of taxation. It is very much a balancing act. The UK is on the side of greater transparency. The Prime Minister has led that charge internationally and will do so over the next year, including at a big global conference on corruption early in the new year.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): The Minister and I were at the same Africa all-party group this morning, where the importance of domestic resource mobilisation for development was discussed. Of course, it is almost impossible for African Governments to mobilise domestic resource when multinational companies hide their profits through offshore tax havens.

How has the JMC paved the way for the anti-corruption summit that the UK Government will host next year? What discussions took place in preparation for that summit, and how many overseas territories are expected to attend it? Generally, how are we getting our own house in order and those of our overseas territories before we start demanding the same of others?

James Duddridge: The Prime Minister and the UK are leading the way, and we are ahead of the G20 standards. The issue is not the tardiness of the overseas territories, but our concern that they go beyond what is required by the G20. Effectively, there is an arbitrage problem, in that the business will carry on being done, be it corrupt business or the movement of terrorist moneys, but will simply be done in a different jurisdiction. We do not want to move corrupt moneys, corrupt practices and tax evasion and avoidance; we want to eliminate them and to do so everywhere. It is therefore important that all international partners move forward at the same pace. The UK has taken the lead and the overseas territories are increasingly stepping up to the mark and delivering.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The overseas territories are some of the most beautiful places on earth, and I have been blessed to visit some of them over my 23 years as a Member of Parliament. I am encouraged by what the Minister said about the advances in LGBT rights in the overseas territories. Perhaps in his discussions with representatives of the overseas territories, he might drop it into their ears that not only is this a matter of equality and human rights, but, given that the pink pound is rather strong, they may be able to open their doors to hundreds of thousands more LGBT visitors from the United Kingdom.

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Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is most certainly a notable globetrotter. That is well recognised throughout the House.

James Duddridge: To clarify, Mr Speaker was talking about my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), rather than me.

I certainly support the moves that my hon. Friend describes. This is not just an issue of equality. A number of the territories are incredibly beautiful places and a lot of money comes into them through tourism. Even more money could come in through tourism. There needs to be greater diversity of income and a move away from financial services. Attracting everybody, regardless of their sexuality, is good for business, as well as being the right thing to do.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The UK Government have made a commitment to consult on the best way to stop the UK property market becoming a safe haven for corrupt money. Has that been discussed with the overseas territories, and what progress is being made on it?

James Duddridge: That matter has been discussed. We discussed specific examples of individuals arrested in the United Kingdom. When we have looked at their assets, we have found that they were renting property, but that, on closer examination, they owned the property through offshore companies. We want to open up beneficial ownership so that we can interrogate the actual position and seize assets in a timely manner. In a number of cases, assets can be sold or transferred quite quickly, so that they are out of the reach and jurisdiction of the UK Government. One reason we place so much emphasis on financial services transparency is so that our law enforcement agencies can get their hands on assets as quickly as possible before they are moved somewhere else around the world.

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): To what extent is the Joint Ministerial Council driven by the Foreign Office? Will the Minister advise the House how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office works with Departments such as the Treasury to tackle issues such as money laundering and tax evasion, which the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) raised?

James Duddridge: The Foreign Office leads on collating the Government response on overseas territories, although in all candour, over the two days probably 70% or 80% of sessions were led by other Departments, rather than the Foreign Office. We had heavy participation from the Department for International Development, and others spoke on specific issues. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport made a contribution, as did a Health Minister. The Department for Education was represented, leveraging in its understanding of child abuse. The Department for Work and Pensions spoke on pensions, and the Minister for the Armed Forces and the Solicitor General—both of whom are in the Chamber today—showed great interest in the overseas territories and have been supportive in developing our relationship with them. It is very much an effort by Her Majesty’s Government, rather than just the Foreign Office.

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Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Minister for his statement. He mentioned child abuse and child safety, and we are aware that paedophile rings operate not only in the overseas territories but across the whole world. We need to have an exchange of information, and joint police forces working together. Will the Minister tell the House what was discussed in relation to that matter?

James Duddridge: A vast number of initiatives were discussed, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that increasingly international rings are smuggling children across jurisdictions and borders, and procuring individuals for sex. Increasingly, the internet is used, and a much more co-ordinated approach is required. That was discussed in some detail at the JMC, and leaders of all the overseas territories outlined what they had done in-territory. There was a commitment to pull those actions together and to learn from best practice.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Foreign Affairs Committee met leaders of the British overseas territories this week, and they raised various issue that we will write to the Minister about. One thing that struck me is that they were hoping for a new relationship in the way that governors are appointed, and they would like more input in that. I believe that modernising the whole system is a perfectly sensible proposal, and I would be interested in the Minister’s views.

James Duddridge: I thank the FAC for meeting leaders of the overseas territories, and I have already had a chat with other Committee members about what was discussed. The appointment of governors is a matter for the Foreign Office. Ministers do not get directly involved in decisions on who should be governor, but we do get involved in the process. I had a meeting about the governor in Bermuda, and I made a number of promises to the Premier, Michael Dunkley, about how we would take seriously his desires to get the right type of candidate to replace our current excellent governor who so ably hosted me in August.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on this urgent question. Clearly, we do not talk about the overseas territories enough, and the shadow Minister wanted to raise a lot of issues. Does the Minister agree that at least once a year in Government time we should have a formal debate about our overseas territories with the Minister responding, so that we can discuss all the matters raised today?

James Duddridge: I am disappointed that my hon. Friend thinks I am so naive as to be tripped up by such a question, but our colleagues will be listening. [Interruption.] It has been pointed out to me—as if I did not already know—that perhaps that could be a subject for the Backbench Business Committee.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Does the Minister agree that our overseas territories should be taking the lead in preventing the flow of corrupt criminal and terrorist money, rather than waiting for everybody else to do it at the same time? Will he set out a timetable for when the overseas territories will have in place the registers and access rights that we need?

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James Duddridge: As it differs from territory to territory, I will struggle to give my hon. Friend an absolute date by which that will be done. I am reviewing what we are doing this year, and that is one checkpoint. Another checkpoint will be the end of February, which sits halfway between the beginning of the new year and the Prime Minister’s conference on corruption. I expect significant progress to be made during that time. A lot of that progress, however, will be what is committed rather than what is done. We will need to commit to a precise timescale. I think that timescale will vary quite significantly from territory to territory depending on how they hold their data—in paper or electronic format and whether that is in a central place—and whether they need to change legislation to bring all the information together once they have agreed in principle to do so.

I should be able to give my hon. Friend a better answer early next year once we have gone through the process. The timescales should be challenging not only in reaching agreement on what should be done but, as he says, in terms of what is done.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): As the Minister knows, the Chancellor announced in the March Budget that the waters around the Pitcairn Islands would be a marine protected area, something in which Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the university and the Marine Biological Association take a great deal of interest. Will my hon. Friend explain how this process is moving forward, so that other overseas territories are able to consider becoming marine conservations areas, too?

James Duddridge: Marine biodiversity around overseas territories is enormous. In fact, a large percentage of global biodiversity, on both land and sea, is in and around the overseas territories. The Pitcairn Islands provide a strong example of how a marine protection area can work. There are similar investigations on Ascension Island. We are working collaboratively with other territories to consider how this scheme might be extended. It was in the Conservative party manifesto to extend a blue belt across the overseas territories. In reality, I think that will mean a different type of solution for some islands, but this issue is discussed every time we meet and every time we meet we make further progress in protecting biodiversity.

Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): Will the Minister update the House on child safeguarding opportunities in the Falkland Islands?

James Duddridge: The hon. Gentleman is clearly very well informed. The Falkland Islands are leading the way on child safeguarding issues, specifically co-ordination. We aspire to having the same standards everywhere that are the best internationally. It is sometimes difficult, however, for an island of 4,000 people to have exactly the same arrangements as an island of our size or a smaller island. The Falkland Islands, with the permission of the rest of the Joint Ministerial Council, are co-ordinating work on behalf of all the overseas territories to learn not only from their excellent experience but to ensure that best practice and resources are shared on this important subject, which was the first item on the JMC’s agenda. It was the only time during the JMC

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that we had multiple Ministers and Departments at the meeting. It was incredibly important and I congratulate the Falkland Islands on leading the way.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I congratulate the Government on setting up the overseas territories’ Joint Ministerial Council. I also congratulate the Government on introducing a feasibility study into the resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Will my hon. Friend update the House on when a decision on the resettlement of the Chagos islanders might be known, so that they can join the overseas territories family?

James Duddridge: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is a great advocate on this subject on behalf of his constituents and the people who used to inhabit the islands. As he knows, an extensive KPMG report has been published. Following that report, there was a consultation, the results of which have not yet been produced. It would be wrong for any Minister at the Dispatch Box to draw too many conclusions without having seen the full facts. I am, however, more than happy to meet him privately to discuss the process, and I am more than happy to be totally transparent in the House when the report comes out and to answer questions on this subject in any way that the House desires.

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Business of the House

11.4 am

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week? Before he does so, will he just straighten his tie?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 7 December—Remaining stages of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 8 December—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the European Union Referendum Bill, followed by debate on a motion relating to cross-border co-operation to tackle serious and organised crime: the Prüm agreement.

Wednesday 9 December—Opposition day (12th allotted day). There will be a debate on mental health, followed by a debate on the effect of the autumn statement measures on women. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 10 December—Debate on a motion on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, followed by a general debate on international human rights day. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 11 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 14 December will include:

Monday 14 December—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve European documents relating to migration, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 10 December will be:

Thursday 10 December—General debate on the protection of ancient woodland and trees.

Chris Bryant: You sat in that chair yesterday, Mr Speaker, from 11.30 am to 10.54 pm, as I am sure you are aware. By my accounting, that is 11 hours and 24 minutes, or 684 minutes without a break. That is quite a test of endurance, and some of us are wondering whether, like Davros in “Doctor Who” you have secretly had some kind of feeding and filtration system fitted into the chair or some hidden tubes. Or perhaps it is down to drugs. Now that the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan, the owners of Viagra and Botox, have come together, perhaps they have invented a new drug, with which you have been impregnated, Mr Speaker, which means that you can keep a stiff upper lip all day.

Over the last few days, a great deal of abuse has been hurled at Members for their views on whether or not we should support extending airstrikes to Syria. Some Members have been called murderers, others peaceniks and terrorist sympathisers. I hope the Leader of the House would agree that, although all MPs expect a certain degree of hurly-burly in political life, it is a fundamental principle that all Members are sent not as delegates but as representatives with the full power to exercise their judgment and their conscience to speak and vote without fear or favour, and that no MP should ever be intimidated.

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I think we would all agree that, sadly, some of the abuse has been beyond the pale. Several Members have had their offices barricaded. One Member had her house surrounded, while many have had photos of dead babies pushed through their front door at home. Today I gather that some Members have received photos of severed heads. MPs have broad shoulders—of course we do—but may I ask the Leader to review the arrangements regarding the security of Members’ homes and offices? This is not just about Members; it is about their families and, indeed, their staff, as several Members have pointed out. In particular, will he look at whether the responsibility for funding these matters should now be taken away from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and restored to the House authorities?

I express the thanks, I hope, of the whole House for the way the police and staff of the Serjeant at Arms dealt with the legitimate demonstrations in Parliament Square yesterday evening. It is important for people to be able to demonstrate, but MPs and the public should be able to go about their business. Most importantly of all, I am sure we all wish the men and women of our armed forces a successful and safe return.

Yesterday we lost Cabinet Office questions, so will the Leader clarify what has happened to them? Will they be next Wednesday, as I presume, and will International Development questions then be shunted on to the week after and so forth? When will the deadlines for these various questions now be?

I have asked the Leader of the House twice about the recess dates for next year, and he has done 50 shades of grayling about it. On Tuesday morning, he told the United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association that it was all to do with getting Government legislation through before Easter. May I remind him that the House does not meet for the convenience of the Government? The Government are accountable to the House, and it would be good to know the recess dates as soon as possible, not least so that Committees can make the dates of their sittings available to the public.

The Leader of the House has just said that we shall be considering Lords amendments to the European Referendum Bill next Tuesday. How much time will he be providing for that debate? The most important of the amendments involves the decision to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote. The Government regularly say that this is the most important decision that the country will face in a generation, so why on earth do they want to exclude from the vote the very generation who will be most affected by it? After all, at 16, people can have consensual sex, move out of the family home, rent accommodation, refuse consent to medical treatment, join the armed forces, drive a moped and drink alcohol. Even the three Crown dependencies already allow votes at 16.

Why on earth not just give in now and allow 16 and 17-year-olds the vote, so that returning officers can get on with signing them up as soon as possible? Apart from anything else, the only way the Government will get the Bill on to the statute book this year is by caving in now. Their lordships voted in favour of the amendment by 293 to 211, and I bet they will vote the same way all over again. I predicted the tax credits U-turn several Thursdays ago, I predicted the junior doctors U-turn, and I hereby predict the votes at 16 U-turn.

Will the Prime Minister update us on his so-called renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU? As I understand it, he wants everything to be signed off at

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the December meeting of the European Council. The Council meets on 17 and 18 December, but the House rises on 17 December, so how on earth does the Leader of the House expect us to be able to question the Prime Minister on the outcome of the meeting? This is meant to be one of the most important renegotiations of our membership that we will have seen.

Some of us think that the Prime Minister is playing Russian roulette with our economic and political destiny. Hounded by his Eurosceptic Pavlovian dogs on the Back Benches, he keeps on doing the wrong thing. Last year the Government opted out of the Prüm convention on the stepping up of cross-border co-operation, particularly in relation to combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration. We are now the only EU country to be excluded from the convention. Labour said that that was a ludicrous decision last year, but now the Home Office has finally woken up and said that there is a

“clear and compelling case for signing up to the Prüm agreements.”

Too right, but this kind of hokey-cokey seriously undermines our national security, which surely depends on our being an active member of the European Union. By sharing information with our close European allies and partners, we can prevent dangerous crimes and bring criminals swiftly to justice.

The Prime Minister’s weakness in failing to stand up to his Back Benchers has reduced our security, but only now, after Paris, are the Government finally recognising that fact. How much time will we be given for the debate on cross-border co-operation, which will also take place on Tuesday?

As you will have seen, Mr Speaker, Tyson Fury won the world heavyweight boxing title last weekend, and has now been nominated for the title of BBC sports personality of the year. I hope that he does not win. You may also have seen his comments.

“There are only three things”,

he has said,

“that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s paedophilia.”

Leaving aside the bizarre, rather heterodox theology, that equates homosexuality with paedophilia. As I hope the Leader of the House agrees, that is profoundly offensive, and it is the kind of language that leads more young people to commit suicide. I gather that Mr Fury has subsequently said that some of his best friends are gay, so may I suggest that we invite him to Parliament some time in the near future? I am quite happy to go head to head with him.

Chris Grayling: I very much agree with the comments of the shadow Leader of the House on the events of this week. I also pay tribute to him for his brave stance yesterday. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the issue of the security of Members of Parliament and the need to protect them against criminal activity. We are all subject to legitimate public scrutiny, but it will never be acceptable for Members’ personal safety to be put in jeopardy or for them to be the victims of activities that a court would judge illegal.

In the House, Mr Speaker, we never discuss the security arrangements for Members, but suffice it to say that you and I would both agree that it is and will continue to be a priority for the House of Commons

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Commission and the House authorities to do everything we possibly can to protect the right of Members to express their views in a free and unfettered way, and to protect them when they do so. I also echo the hon. Gentleman’s words of thanks to the police, and not just the police who were on duty yesterday but all of those who provide protection to Members of this House, whether in this place or in their constituencies.

Following yesterday’s debate, in which Members on both sides said that they would expect regular updates on the situation in Syria, I should like to inform the House that the Government intend to provide a proper update statement before the Christmas recess. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our good wishes to the British air crew involved in action overnight.

Members might like to note that the first measure covered by our English votes for English laws procedures passed through this House uneventfully on Tuesday evening. I should like to offer my thanks to the Clerk and to all the Officers of the House who have been involved in making the preparations for the new systems.

I am sure that the shadow Leader of the House and all hon. Members will want to join me in sending our congratulations to the Prime Minister on the 10th anniversary this weekend of his election as Conservative party leader. Leading your party for a decade is a considerable achievement. It is one that others might perhaps aspire to achieve, but at the moment they look unlikely to do so.

It is also the anniversary this week of the stand that Rosa Parks took on a bus in the United States to secure race equality in that society. I am sure we all agree that the changes to our societies since then, and the ongoing work to stamp out race discrimination, are not only necessary but something we should all be proud of and committed to.

The hon. Gentleman asked me what was going to happen to the Question Time sessions. You will remember, Mr Speaker, that I addressed that issue in my business statement on Tuesday, when I indicated that questions would simply move back a week. The Prime Minister’ questions session—the sift for that session has already taken place—will simply take place next Wednesday; the same will be the case for Cabinet Office questions.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the European Union Referendum Bill debate. There will be a proper debate on the issue of votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. It will be a separate issue, and the House will vote on it. If this House, as the elected House, again expresses its will that 16 and 17-year-olds should not at this moment be given the vote, it is my sincere hope that that view will be accepted in the other place.

The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the EU Council, and used the words, “as I understand it”. I am afraid he cannot simply go by what he reads in the papers. There are a lot of rumours and counter-rumours around at the moment, but when the Prime Minister is ready to make a statement, he will make it to the House and explain what is happening.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the House deciding on various matters. The House decided a year, or a year and a half ago not to opt back into a number of measures. The Government are bringing forward a

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proposal on Tuesday to debate the Prüm directive and the House will be able to decide on that matter. It is absolutely right and proper that that should be the case.

On the question of Tyson Fury, homophobia is not acceptable in sport. We should work hard to encourage more people in sport to be open and accepting of gay people in sport. It is right and proper that that change happens. I agree with the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman expressed, and as a Formula 1 fan, my vote is for Lewis Hamilton.

Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con): On small business Saturday, I will be announcing the winners of Cannock Chase’s local shop and market stall competition. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing good luck to all the nominees? May we have a debate in Government time on the contribution of independent shops and market traders to our local economies?

Chris Grayling: I think small business Saturday is a fantastic innovation, and I wish all the businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency well for the awards this weekend. If I may, I will pay tribute to Home Instead Senior Care, which was the winner of the Epsom and Ewell business award last week. I have also been asked by the Deputy Leader and by my Parliamentary Private Secretary to make reference to Fishers Home Hardware in Suffolk and Boulangerie Joie de Vie in Finchley and Golders Green and to wish them well. While we are on the subject of fishers, perhaps we might send our good wishes to the fishermen and fisherwomen of this country.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I also congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your Herculean effort yesterday? It is not for nothing that you have gained the title of “Golden Bladder” for the way you chaired yesterday’s proceedings, and I think the whole House is very grateful for the very kind and well-managed way you structured yesterday’s debate. But please, Leader of the House, let us never have another debate like this ever again in the House. Such was the demand to speak in yesterday’s debate that about 50 Members never got the opportunity to contribute, and many of those who did were confined to just a few minutes at the end of the day.

We live in a new type of representative democracy where MPs are lobbied and communicated with by means that were never anticipated, certainly when I was a new Member of Parliament. Constituents expect to see their MPs in this House expressing their opinions, particularly on massively important issues of state such as yesterday’s, and I am disappointed that the Leader of the House could not commit to the request from all around the House and the country to have a proper structured debate that would have allowed everybody who needed to contribute to the debate to get in. Let us hope we never have that again. I hope the Leader of the House will agree that if we have further debates as important as this, he will find the necessary adequate time so every Member gets an opportunity to contribute on behalf of their constituents, who have the legitimate right to hear from their MPs.

One of the consequences of shoehorning that two-day debate into one day is the impact on departmental questions; the Leader of the House was right. I listened

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very carefully to what is going to happen on this. What that means for us on the SNP Benches is that we will not now have Scotland Office questions until next year. It will be two months since the last Scotland Office questions. We have a live Scotland Bill now; we have huge questions to be asked.

There is also the question of the impact of military action on Scotland; 97% of Scottish Members of Parliament did not vote for military action last night and 72% of Scots oppose military action. We hear all this stuff about the family of nations and the pooling and sharing, but Scotland has rejected this military action. I know that matters not a jot to this Government—it is of no consequence to them—but it is massively important for us, and we will not have an opportunity to ask our Department about issues such as this until next year.

The ink was barely dry on the voting Clerks’ ledgers when the jets were in the air last night with their deadly cargo. Can the Leader of the House say more about what he will do to keep the House updated? We particularly want to hear about what is going to happen to the refugees, because all this is going to do is increase the demand for this country to deal with refugees; if we are bombing that nation, it is a natural consequence that there will be more refugees in the coming year. So we want to hear more about the Government’s plans on that.

This week has been characterised by finding targets, friendly fire and civil war, but that is enough about the Labour party. Every Government need an effective Opposition, and especially a callous, Conservative Government such as this one. If the Labour party cannot get its act together and cannot agree on matters as important as going to war or Trident, will it get out of the way and let the Scottish National party in there, because somebody needs to hold this Government to account for what they are doing?

Chris Grayling: I am afraid, as is often the case, the hon. Gentleman and I do not agree. Yesterday, we heard some very impassioned and powerful speeches—some speeches that will be memorable in the history of this place. They were made on all sides of the House and by Members on both sides of the argument. I think the debate we had yesterday showed this House at its best. We heard from 104 Members after what had been, over a period of a week and a bit, about 20 hours of debate, discussion and questions in this House. I think yesterday this House got it right. I also think it got the decision right, although I accept we do not agree on that. We heard impassioned speeches from the hon. Gentleman’s Benches, the official Opposition Benches and from our Benches. I think that is what people expect in their democracy.

The hon. Gentleman asked about holding the Government to account. As I said earlier, it is very important that we provide regular updates to this House. There will be a statement before the Christmas recess to update the House. It is right and proper that that is the case.

I have thought long and hard about the issue of Scotland questions. The hon. Gentleman asked how the Government will be held to account over the decisions taken yesterday. The answer is that there will be a statement in this House on precisely those issues, so that United Kingdom Members can ask questions about a decision taken across the United Kingdom.

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I have also thought carefully about the structure of question time sittings. It would have been possible to swap them around. In my judgment, the question time sitting that might have been delayed until after Christmas was that of the Department for International Development. However, given the hon. Gentleman’s comments about refugees, I think it is right and proper that this House has the opportunity to question the Secretary of State for International Development on the work we are now doing on Syria, as part of a holistic strategy, to make sure that we provide proper support for refugees and prepare for what we hope will be a period of reconstruction and redevelopment in that country as soon as we can possibly achieve a lasting peace.

I accept that this House took big and challenging decisions yesterday. We as an Administration will now seek to make sure that this House is informed properly and appropriately and that it has the chance to question properly and appropriately. Given the passions expressed from the SNP Benches yesterday, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand my view that it is a greater priority to have a statement on what is happening in Syria and International Development questions before Christmas. He has plenty of opportunities to ask questions about Scotland matters and he will carry on doing so, including the moment we come back in the new year.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): The shadow Leader of the House was absolutely right to condemn the vile behaviour of a minority in respect of colleagues, including himself, acting according to their conscience. However, his argument was not advanced by his reference to Conservative Eurosceptics as dogs, however Pavlovian.

Many of our constituents’ most anguished pleas to us relate to the cancellation, very often at short notice, of hospital procedures and operations. That seems to me to be on the increase. May we have a debate in Government time on the provision of step-down care in our national health service and, in particular, the disappearance in many parts of the country of our excellent community hospitals?

Chris Grayling: Of course, the state of our local health service is a continuing matter of concern for our constituents and for all of us as individual constituency Members. As individuals, we will always be champions of those local facilities. Although emergencies happen and are sometimes unavoidable, I say to the health service that I have always believed that, unless there are unforeseen circumstances, cancelling operations should be done only in extremis, because of the disruption it causes to individuals. My hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate for community hospitals in his own county and I am certain he will continue to take advantage of the opportunities this House provides for him to make sure that he is a champion for the health service in Wiltshire.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): The Backbench Business Committee would like early confirmation, if possible, that we will be allocated the last day before the Christmas recess on Thursday 17 December. We have been given notice that that is likely, but it has not yet been confirmed. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) is a member of the Committee and has pointed out that, on occasion, the time allocated for Back-Bench business

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has been severely squeezed by statements and urgent questions. On Monday two weeks ago, we were given three hours of protected time, which was a very welcome departure. I think that is what the hon. Gentleman was referring to: the allocation of three hours of protected time for a particular debate. I say to the Leader of the House that we would like to see more of that, if at all possible.

Chris Grayling: I am happy to look at that suggestion. I think it was discussed in the last Parliament and that the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor felt that it was not necessary, but I am happy to discuss with him whether we need to protect the business. In some respects, the allocation of time is a mixed responsibility—it depends on how many urgent questions there are—but I accept his point. Perhaps we can have a conversation about it.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have a debate on a review of section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 on the wearing of masks and face coverings on demonstrations? Surely, on public demonstrations on public land, the police should not have to apply for a special order to remove them. If people really have the courage of their convictions —whether they be members of the National Front, Occupy or the Stop the War coalition—statutory legislation should allow for the removal of all masks and face coverings on public demonstrations.

Chris Grayling: I have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says and the Home Office should certainly give that careful consideration. These coverings are used to intimidate and in our society there is room for legitimate process and not for intimidation. We should look very carefully at whether anything that allows protesters to intimidate rather than protest should be permitted.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware of the bizarre decision by the Chancellor to axe the £1 billion funding for the first two carbon capture and storage projects in the UK. He might also be aware that Teesside’s ambition is to create the first industrial CCS project, with the potential to create thousands of jobs in an area that the Leader of the House will know has been devastated by job losses in the steel, mining and construction industries as well as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. May we have a debate to discuss the implications of the Chancellor’s decision, described by the industry as disastrous?

Chris Grayling: We had to take some difficult decisions in the spending review. We have not ruled out carbon capture for the future, but we have to take practical decisions based on value for money for the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is our duty in government and it is the duty of all Governments in office. We will continue to look carefully at carbon capture technology and I hope that a time will come when it is a sound and viable approach, but none the less the Government have taken a difficult decision. I simply remind him that in the northern half of the country the economy has been growing faster than in

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the southern half. The best way of securing jobs for the future in his constituency and the surrounding area is to continue that growth and get investment in there.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): On Remembrance Sunday, an organisation projected on to the House of Commons a swastika with the message “Modi not welcome”. We know it happened, because the organisation put out a statement saying that it had done that. We have photographic evidence and witness statements from those who saw and took photos of those responsible. We know that the message was completely wrong, Mr Speaker, because you made Narendra Modi most welcome on his historic visit to Parliament. May we have a statement on what measures we will take not only to combat this incident but future more serious incidents?

Chris Grayling: For any organisation to link the swastika to Prime Minister Modi in a demonstration in this country is unreservedly unacceptable. We have close relations with India and I would condemn any such action. I am also aware of the incident to which my hon. Friend refers. It is not yet clear that that was an actual incident as opposed to a creative use of computer technology to create the sense that it took place. If he has information that suggests that it did, I think that you, Mr Speaker, and I would be very glad to see it.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May we have a debate on cuts to the police? The Metropolitan police is making clerical staff redundant and filling those posts with warranted officers. That flies in the face of the Government’s policy of making police more visible to the public; I assume that the Met will adopt a policy of moving desks closer to windows to fulfil that requirement. May we have a debate on that, as it is seriously depleting the number of officers available in our communities?

Chris Grayling: I think the hon. Gentleman is a couple of weeks late. If he listened to the autumn statement, he will have heard that we are not cutting police budgets. It is a matter for the Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to decide how to spend their budgets most effectively in the interests of the citizens of London and I will not seek to tell them how to do so. We have not cut their budgets; we have actually protected them.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): There was an incredibly well-attended debate in Westminster Hall this week about temporary post office closures and my own village post office in Honley has been closed temporarily, supposedly, for up to six weeks now. May we have a statement on these temporary closures, which many communities fear might end up being long term? They are much-needed assets in rural and deprived communities.

Chris Grayling: I can understand the concern, because there have certainly been occasions when temporary closures have led to permanent closures. I can well understand the anxiety. I suggest to my hon. Friend that when Ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are before the House on Tuesday week, he might want to raise that question with them.

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We all want to protect local services in our constituencies, even though on some occasions change, sadly, is unavoidable.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): Later today, I will host the inaugural meeting of the all-party group for Alevis, Alevism being a philosophy, a religion and a social and cultural identity. Sadly, neither Alevis nor their religion are recognised in Turkey, their country of origin. May we have a debate in Government time on the positive contribution that more than 300,000 Alevis living in this country make to this country as well as about the situation under which they live in Turkey?

Chris Grayling: One of the fundamentals that characterises our society is the desire to defend the interests of religious minorities. We are a liberal democracy that believes in freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of worship. I commend the right hon. Lady for the work that she is doing, and I am sure she will seek to use one of the occasions available to her in this House to provide a greater platform for the work she is doing with that all-party group and for the communities she is seeking to represent.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): As my right hon. Friend knows, I have been campaigning to save the hedgehog, whose numbers have declined by more than a third over the past 10 years. Whereas hedgehogs are not a fully protected species, badgers, whose numbers have risen significantly, are. May we have a debate or a statement on protected species so that we can explore the need to have greater flexibility in this?

Chris Grayling: I commend my hon. Friend for the work he is doing. He is only too well aware, as I am, of the decline in hedgehog numbers in this country. It is only if our society works together to try to rectify that situation will we provide an opportunity for those numbers to be restored. A variety of different challenges face us, and I wish to pay tribute to The Times for launching a campaign in defence of our hedgehogs, encouraging all of us to make holes in our garden fences to create a superhighway for hedgehogs. Although I do have such a hole in my garden fence, sadly, I do not have any hedgehogs in my garden at the moment—I hope they will arrive.

Mr Speaker: While we are on the subject of protected species, I should point out to the House that the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who is sadly not in his place at this time, was for a considerable period, as he has often pointed out to the House, president of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Colleagues may wish to reflect upon the appropriateness of the right hon. Gentleman holding that particular post.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): In the past week, we have had much discussion about a tax on sugar products and the Government’s intentions in that area. Many of us feel that there should also be a tax on fatty foods. Will the Leader of the House consider, and agree to a debate in this House on the issue of, ensuring that any such tax is used directly for the health service?