25 Oct 2012 : Column 1051
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1051
House of Commons
Thursday 25 October 2012
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): My Department actively monitors retail food prices and their impacts on household expenditure. We know that some households are seeing the amount that they spend on food increase. The Government provide safety nets through welfare to support those on low incomes and out of work. We also provide a number of schemes, such as Healthy Start, to help the most vulnerable in our society afford and have access to nutritious food.
Valerie Vaz: The Minister will be aware that the Department’s own book of statistics states that there has been a 12% increase in food prices, and that people are going without fruit and vegetables. The Netmums website states that one in five women are going without food to feed their children. What discussions has he had with his colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that families can feed themselves?
Mr Heath: I do not in any way minimise the hon. Lady’s point, but I talk not about food poverty but about poverty. The fact that food prices have gone up means that people are finding it more difficult to make ends meet. We need to continue to talk to colleagues in the DWP and others to ensure that we provide as much support as possible. We also need to do what we can with manufacturers, processors and retailers to ensure, for instance, that vegetables that are perhaps not the best quality are available at a lower price that people can afford. If we do all those things, we can help people through what is undoubtedly a difficult period.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1052
Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): I am pleased to hear the Minister talk about waste within the supply chain. I was much involved in a project called Ugly Food. Can we ensure that we do not just target retailers, who say that they have no waste within their system, but increase waste in the supply chain at the producer and consumer end?
Mr Heath: The hon. Lady touches on an important point. Ugly veg is still tasty veg, and there is absolutely no reason it should not be sold. We need to bear down on waste at all points in the food chain. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign is dealing with exactly that and looking at whether we can improve products and practices right the way through the system, to ensure that we minimise waste and get the best possible value for the consumer.
Nick Smith: Ebbw Vale food bank fed more than 1,000 Blaenau Gwent families last year, and each month my office issues more and more food vouchers. I am alarmed that low-income families are struggling to put food on the table. What representations has the Minister made to the Chancellor and the Work and Pensions Secretary about growing food poverty and the impact of universal credit?
Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman should recognise that, as I said earlier, what we are talking about is poverty. One thing that I have always stressed is that poverty exists right across the country, in rural areas as well as urban ones, and we need to deal with it. The Government have been taking action to help protect the most vulnerable, and we will continue to do so.
Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): What message would the Minister give to my local authorities, which are taking land out of food production to develop on the green belt when there are perfectly adequate brownfield sites available in the borough?
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that the Government’s plans for minimum alcohol pricing will make alcohol more expensive for hard-working, moderate, responsible drinkers while doing nothing to tackle problem drinking and the problems associated with it? It will also be devastating for the west country cider industry. Will he make representations to his ministerial colleagues to scrap that ill thought out scheme, which is not based on any evidence whatever?
I do not think this matter is directly related to the question asked by the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), but of course there is a continuing debate on the issue, which will involve the Home Office and the Department of Health.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1053
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): We know that the spending power of hard-working families is being hit by the Government’s flatlining economy and wage stagnation. Shoppers are using self-imposed rationing, putting products back at the checkout and skipping meals to feed their children, yet the Secretary of State has urged shoppers to tackle his so-called “dessert deficit” by eating more UK-produced ice cream. Does he ever feel that he is living in a parallel universe?
Mr Heath: This may come as news to the hon. Lady, but there are people in this country who still eat ice cream, and on the whole it is better if they eat British products rather than those imported from overseas. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is absolutely right.
Last week, the Secretary of State announced the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, and the Minister has spoken about the existence of poverty, in particular rural poverty. More than 1,000 workers in the Secretary of State’s constituency will be worse off as a result of his decision, and his own impact assessment states that abolishing the board will take £238 million of pay over 10 years from rural workers and the rural economy—
Mary Creagh: The abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board will take money out of the pockets of workers and put it in those of their employers. On the Opposition Benches we believe that the person who picks the apple should be able to buy the fruit. Why does the Minister not agree?
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): The Dairy Supply Chain Forum and the Dairy 2020 initiative are focused on the future of the industry and opportunities to boost growth and exports. After months of hard work, not least by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice), the many beneficial terms of the industry code of practice can be translated into contracts. Implementing the EU dairy package will provide new opportunities for innovation and collaboration, and £5 million of additional funds from the rural development programme for England are available for high-quality projects from the dairy industry.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1054
Mr Heath: I am optimistic that with the voluntary code we have for the first time the basis to be fair to producers, processors, retailers and consumers. I want to make that stick, and I believe that it can make a real difference. As I have said all along, if the voluntary code is not successful, we have the opportunity to bring forward a statutory code, and I will consult on that later this year if necessary.
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Further to our discussions last week, what discussions has the Minister had with ministerial colleagues in the devolved institutions about the introduction of a similar voluntary code for the dairy industry in Northern Ireland, where prices are particularly volatile?
Mr Heath: That is a matter for the devolved Administrations who have responsibility for agriculture and for what they feel is appropriate for their own jurisdictions. The Government will offer any support and help they can, and provide advice to further the objective of a voluntary code, is that is what is wanted. The Department maintains contact and has conversations with counterparts in the devolved Administrations, and will continue to do so.
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): In consulting on the European Union dairy package, will the Minister take into consideration the wish of dairy farmers to set up producer organisations to strengthen their hand in the milk market?
Environmental Protection (Home Security)
3. Mr Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): If he will make it his policy to intervene when measures introduced by the Environment Agency or Natural England to enhance the natural environment threaten the safety and security of people’s homes. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): There are times when legal requirements to protect the environment could make it more difficult or expensive to protect people’s homes, such as properties at the top of eroding cliffs that are protected for their natural character. However, such cases are rare. If there is a conflict between meeting a requirement to protect the environment and protecting people, there are clauses that allow things to go ahead for imperative reasons of overriding public interest if there are no other solutions.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1055
Mr Gibb: I do not know how well my hon. Friend knows the West Sussex coast, and the Pagham coast in particular, but over the past few years, a build-up of shingle and sand, known as a spit, has developed at the mouth of the Pagham harbour nature reserve. That spit is causing scouring of the beach through the action of the waves and the seawater trying to escape, and that is eroding the beach by up to several metres a year and beginning to put people’s homes at risk. One solution would be to carve a channel through the spit, but both the Environment Agency and Natural England are resisting that approach. Will the Minister come to Pagham so that I can show him at first hand the problem we are facing?
Richard Benyon: I had a premonition that Pagham might be mentioned, and therefore yesterday at some length I consulted Natural England and the Environment Agency. They assured me that there are no environmental reasons why solutions cannot be found on that part of the coast; I know that the coastline is extremely dynamic in that part of the country. I am keen to assist my hon. Friend, and I would gladly make such a visit if that would ensure that local people’s fears were allayed, and so that nothing done by any Government agency will be taken as a measure that puts people’s homes more at risk.
Hugh Bayley: When places face flooding, it is important not to ignore the human cost. Fortunately, the floods in York a month ago were not as bad as 12 years ago, but I have once again visited constituents who were hacking plaster off the walls in their homes. They will be out of their homes for months to come and must pay for very expensive renovations. One café owner had to throw out tonnes of food. Can the Environment Agency take responsibility for providing advice to local authorities and for getting the insurance companies to move quickly?
Richard Benyon: I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. The residents of Water End in his constituency have waited long for a scheme, and it is due to start in the new year. I have huge sympathy for everybody who was flooded throughout the summer. I can assure him that the Environment Agency and any other Government body will take what steps they can to make life easier, including by providing advice to residents through the local authority or directly.
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): I welcome and support farmers markets. I and other DEFRA Ministers have been visiting local communities across the country and encouraging people to eat and drink local produce. I have recently visited a farm near my hon. Friend’s constituency, where I saw farmers produce wonderful food. In buying and eating local food, consumers will support rural jobs and help rural economies to grow. Farmers markets are an excellent way of bringing local producers and consumers together.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1056
Chris White: Farmers markets are very important to both rural and urban communities, and provide an opportunity for local people to purchase excellent local produce directly from source. The markets also provide a valuable opportunity for independent retailers to access new customers and help them to compete with their larger rivals. Will the Minister consider working with local authorities to champion the importance of farmers markets and promote awareness to people throughout the country of markets in their area?
Mr Heath: I welcome what my hon. Friend says. The first successful farmers market was established in Bath in 1997, not a million miles from my constituency. There are some 750 regularly occurring farmers markets in the UK. The National Farmers Retail and Markets Association—FARMA—brings them under a membership organisation. I encourage local authorities to establish farmers markets wherever there is local demand. They make a valuable contribution to local choice, and to the vitality of our town centres.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): The availability and affordability of insurance in flood-risk areas is an important issue for this Government. We are in intense yet constructive negotiations with the insurance industry on a range of approaches that could succeed the current statement of principles. In the meantime, the Government are continuing to invest in managing the risk of flooding. We are on course to exceed our target to provide better protection to 145,000 households by March 2015.
Ms Stuart: The statement of principles expires in June next year. It is extremely important that households and small businesses in my constituency get insurance cover and household insurance. They will find little comfort in the Secretary of State’s answer.
Mr Paterson: I am sorry the hon. Lady is disappointed. Within two days of taking office I had a meeting with Otto Thoresen, the head of the Association of British Insurers. We are engaged in detailed discussions, which I obviously cannot reveal, because we do not negotiate in public. However, I reassure the hon. Lady that the Government take this matter very seriously. We know that the statement of principles runs out next year and that it must be replaced—I hope by something that is more comprehensive and effective.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): About 450,000 homes and properties in the country are at risk of flooding. People will find it increasingly difficult to obtain flood insurance, particularly for properties that are built on functional floodplains. Will the Secretary of State take a lead, with his colleague the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to end house building in totally inappropriate areas? Builders leave, developers go away and home owners are left with no insurance.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1057
Mr Paterson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is aware that it was agreed in the national planning policy framework that there would be no more building on floodplains. She is quite right that it is absolutely idiotic to build houses in such inappropriate places. However, I reassure her, too, that the Government take this matter seriously. We want to find a solution that follows from the statement of principles, but that is better and more comprehensive.
Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role as Secretary of State and to his first DEFRA questions. When he took up his new position, was he briefed by his civil servants that the number of schemes deferred had risen, that spending on defences had fallen, that climate change meant that flood risk had risen and that this announcement was dangerously overdue?
We are spending £2.17 billion on flood defences. I have visited Nottingham and was in Northwich recently, and there is real value in these schemes, which is why, despite the difficult financial circumstances we inherited from the last Government, these schemes saw only a 6% reduction. They are really good value.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Many residents in Halesowen were badly affected by flooding in 2008 and are concerned about whether they will be able to obtain appropriate flood insurance in the future. Will the Secretary of State reassure them, as I think he already has, that they will be able to obtain appropriate flood insurance and that the Government are doing everything possible to ensure that they can do so?
Mr Paterson: I would like to reassure my hon. Friend emphatically that we are determined to arrive at a solution to this problem that—I repeat—provides availability and affordability to those who might suffer from floods.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): I recently met my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to discuss speeding up the roll-out of the £530 million rural broadband programme. Together, we are determined to deliver this quickly in order to provide 90% of premises with superfast broadband at 24 megabits per second and elsewhere with standard broadband of at least 2 megabits per second by 2015. The Government’s £20 million rural community broadband fund helps extend superfast broadband in the most rural locations.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1058
to the heart of the UK’s IT industry. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that the Government make the right decisions so that all my constituents can take full advantage of the digital revolution?
Mr Paterson: I entirely sympathise with my hon. Friend. If he thinks it is bad in Bracknell, he should come to North Shropshire. This is an absolute priority for us. At one bound, broadband overcomes the centuries-long disadvantage of working in a rural area. We are determined to roll it out, which is why I am working closely with my Cabinet colleagues and why we have relaxed the planning constraints for five years—to get this through and done.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): No, Secretary of State: come to Rathlin Island—the situation there is absolutely abominable. It is an island off an island that requires reliable broadband so that people who require medical scripts and everything else can get them quickly. I hope that he rolls out the new broadband service across the whole of the UK, including Ulster and Rathlin Island.
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to Rathlin Island. He will be pleased to know that I was there a few months ago, in my previous post—it has the most wonderful puffin reserve, which is well worth visiting. He touched on health, which is an important element. We all think about the business angle, but there are real advantages in delivering health care in rural areas. Another key element is helping elderly people, for whom it is a boon, when they are isolated, to be able to contact their relations, shop online and stay in touch with the real world.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that all the programmes that the Government are funding, such as the one in Cornwall, which involves European Union structural funds, prioritise the areas that are still on dial-up? I am concerned that we are concentrating on superfast broadband—areas that some companies would have got to in a few years anyway—when we need to prioritise those still on dial-up.
Mr Paterson: I entirely sympathise with my hon. Friend’s comments about the problems in rural areas—I have already touched on the problems in my constituency. It is an absolute priority for us to get functioning broadband that works right across the country by 2015.
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): This week I met representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses, who were almost as eloquent as the Secretary of State in expressing the desire of small businesses in rural areas to play their part in reviving the rural economy. However, they cannot do so because of a lack of rural broadband. Will the Secretary of State admit that abolishing Labour’s universal broadband pledge—a pledge to bring broadband to everybody by the end of this year—was a huge mistake?
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1059
Mr Paterson: I am happy to accept the hon. Lady’s comment on my eloquence, but I do not accept her criticism of what we are doing. We think that what we are doing is going to work. We are working closely with the European Commission, with local government and with BT and the other providers. We have to get this done. We have a plan and we are going to deliver it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): A £165 million package of measures to support rural economic growth is being rolled out across England. Of that, £100 million of rural development funding is targeted at improving rural businesses, with 38 projects in Staffordshire already receiving funding under the farming and forestry improvement scheme and seven projects being actively considered for rural economy grants. Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent local broadband plan has also been allocated £7.44 million from the Government’s £530 million rural broadband programme.
Gavin Williamson: Halfpenny Green vineyard in my constituency has over the past 30 years been producing some of the finest quality English wines. It has become an important local employer and is a perfect example of the importance of farm diversification. Indeed, Mr Speaker, the wine is so good that I am sure I would even be able to provide you with a bottle—if I was able to get called earlier in statements. [Interruption.] Maybe even two bottles. Can my right hon. Friend explain what steps he is taking to encourage rural diversification for farmers?
Richard Benyon: I am only mildly piqued that I have not been offered a bribe. I can assure my hon. Friend that this Government are serious about offering encouragement. For years, Ministers have been telling the farming community that it has to diversify its business, but then, in other directions, they have been putting up barriers to that. We are doing that work with highly focused grants, such as the ones I have described. We are also providing broadband, which is a key deliverer, and support across a range of other measures to ensure that businesses precisely such as the one that my hon. Friend describes can function and are economically effective.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon):
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs fully appreciates the importance of honey bees and other pollinators. We
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1060
need to understand the possible threats in order to tackle them. To that end, we continue to fund a number of research projects on the potential impacts of pesticides. That will enable us to develop the way in which such risks are assessed and regulated. In addition, DEFRA contributes to the insect pollinators initiative, which supports research into the main threats to insect pollinators.
Stephen Phillips: My hon. Friend will know that research at Stirling university has recently found that exposure to even low levels of neonicotinoid pesticides can have a serious impact on the health of bumble bees. Given the importance of bees, both to our farmers and to all those who are interested in pollinating crops, does the Minister agree that his Department needs to look again at the use of these pesticides?
Richard Benyon: Yes I do, and we are. The Health and Safety Executive’s chemical regulation directorate, along with the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and the European Food Safety Authority, have looked in detail at Stirling university’s research. They believe that it is interesting and adds to the debate, but that on balance the risks do not require a ban of neonicotinoids. However, in DEFRA we have commissioned further research, through the Food and Environment Research Agency, using expertise from Stirling university, which provided the original piece of research, because we want to make absolutely sure that we are getting this right.
Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the Environmental Audit Committee is undertaking an inquiry into hive collapse, bees and pesticides. Will he undertake to ensure that his Department supports the inquiry to the best possible extent and also responds at the earliest possible date to its outcome?
Richard Benyon: I hope that in the reply I gave to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) I showed the seriousness with which we are looking at this issue. We know that pollinators benefit our economy by around £450 million a year. That is a service that nature provides. We want to make absolutely sure that we are protecting that, and we will work with any organisation that is doing research of that kind.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson):
The badger culling pilots, which we now plan for next year, will test the effectiveness, safety and humaneness of controlled shooting. Our plans for an independent expert panel to oversee
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1061
the design and analysis of the data collection have not changed. Monitoring will include field observations and post-mortems. If monitoring indicates that controlled shooting is an acceptable technique, the policy will be rolled out more widely.
Graeme Morrice: Obviously, I am aware that there will be a major debate on this subject later today, but may I ask the Secretary of State why DEFRA got the number of badgers living in each pilot cull area so wrong? Why did he undertake a survey only last month, weeks before the cull was due to start?
Mr Paterson: The answer is that we did not get the numbers wrong: we got them accurately and in a scientific manner, but the National Farmers Union, which had geared up for a lower number, requested that we postpone the culls. We and the NFU are following the science rigorously.
Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon) (Con): But if we do not proceed with the culls next year is not the risk that the impact on farmers’ livelihoods and mental health will continue? This is a dreadful disease and it is extremely distressing to farmers that they have to cope with it.
Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is not just the trauma of the appalling loss—26,000 cattle last year—but every time a herd is tested it is difficult for farmers. Some animals become violent, and the disease, not just the culling, is causing regular stress. It is essential that we go ahead with the culls next summer and prove that they work, so that we bear down on disease in wildlife and in cattle.
Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Will my right hon. Friend explain why circumstances next year will be different from those this year, enabling the culls to go ahead and reduce the incidence of bovine TB and not spread it?
Mr Paterson: I explained at some length in my statement the other day, in which I spoke for, I think, 90 minutes, that certain circumstances led to the NFU’s decision to request that we postpone. There will be time to prepare. There will be no hitches next year: we will deliver this policy.
The Minister might be aware that I made myself very unpopular among Labour Members when I voted against the ban on hunting with dogs. I therefore know what it is like to make an unpopular decision, but the badger cull is wrong: it is wrong because these wonderful creatures roamed this country before we did and it is wrong because it would destroy tens of thousands of living animals. There is no scientific evidence that it would do any good, so the Secretary of
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1062
State should stop listening to farmers and listen to the great British public and Mr Brian May.
Mr Paterson: I respect the hon. Gentleman for his independence of judgment but—I am sorry—we disagree. The science is clear: after nine years there was a 28% reduction in the culled area. If we look at New Zealand, Australia or the Republic of Ireland—I talked to a farmer in France on Monday—we see that there is not a single country that is struggling with TB in its cattle industry that is not bearing down on wildlife and cattle, and we will do that.
Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): The Secretary of State blames the NFU for stopping the cull and the media blame No.10, but either way we can all understand the Secretary of State’s reluctance to take responsibility for this setback. May I ask him, on a scale of one to 100—I know that is a risky prospect, as arithmetic is not his Department’s strongest suit—how likely it is that the cull will go ahead next June?
Mr Paterson: I am not blaming anybody. I have been working very closely with the NFU since I took office. I have been studying this issue since I was the shadow spokesman and put down 600 questions, taking a serious, detailed interest in it. This is the right policy. It is the policy pursued by every other country, as I have said. Unlike with the vapid pronouncements we have had from the Opposition, this Government will take on a deadly disease, which is a zoonosis, so if we do not get a grip on it, it will prove a risk to human beings.
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): In view of that and of my right hon. Friend’s answer, it is important to base things on sound science. If he has read the science and understands the answers he has received to the 600 questions, he will know that the 12% to 16% reduction has to be viewed against a rise elsewhere. It will not rise as much as it would have done otherwise, but it is still a rise in bovine TB. Does he not accept that?
Mr Paterson: No, I dislike disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman, with whom I used to work closely on the EFRA Committee and when I was the shadow spokesman. The evidence is absolutely clear: there was a 28% reduction in disease after nine years in the cull area. That is why we are going ahead next year.
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): Officials are in discussion with the Financial Reporting Council ahead of the introduction of mandatory carbon reporting to ensure effective enforcement of this new requirement.
In a recent written answer, the Minister estimated that the benefits of mandatory carbon reporting stood at £741 million over 10 years compared with just £28 million in compliance costs. Given the clear economic, social and environmental benefits of mandatory carbon
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1063
reporting, with he give the FRC the teeth it needs to crack down on companies that continue to flout the law?
Mr Heath: My Department does not have responsibility for the Financial Reporting Council—the hon. Lady will understand that—but it has proved very effective at ensuring that legislation that applies to carbon reporting is upheld. We recently held a consultation on the draft regulation, which closed on 17 October, and we received about 100 responses. We will look very carefully at them.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): I begin by paying tribute to the great work done by my right hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice). I want to build on their efforts over the past two years by galvanising the rural economy while improving the environment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome this morning’s growth figures. We should not all jump at one set of figures, but growth of 1% is significant, and I really want the rural economy to play a part in future growth. Abroad, I will represent the United Kingdom in the European negotiations and I will promote British exports at every opportunity.
Mr Allen: I welcome the Secretary of State to his new responsibilities. Does he know that in my constituency the big water users such as textiles and brewers are now in decline—and many have disappeared—with the consequence that the water table is rising? Will he meet me, representatives from the city of Nottingham and the Local Government Authority to discuss sustainable urban defences against flooding? Would he please meet us soon?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Happily, I was in Nottingham during my first week in office, looking at a £45 million flood defence scheme. I thought it was brilliant, not only in protecting 16,000 houses but, more importantly—I did not realise this until I went there—revealing 500 acres of previously blighted land that is now open for development by the private sector. I am interested in what he has to say. I will work on this issue with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who is the big expert, so it might be better for him to meet the hon. Gentleman.
T2.  Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con):
I was encouraged by the Secretary of State’s earlier comments on fixed line broadband, improving accessibility, reducing red tape and speeding up the planning process.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1064
Will he reassure me that that action extends to mobile communications in rural areas, as we need to extend the mast size and reduce red tape in this sector, too?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is dealing with this matter at Cabinet level. This is vital to the roll-out of the broadband scheme. We have already made a decision to relax planning for a five-year period to make sure that nothing can get in the way of the roll-out of broadband 2 for the most remote rural communities.
T6.  Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): In response to the recent statement on the badger cull in the House of Lords, the noble Lord Krebs urged Ministers to gather together scientific experts and rethink the Government’s strategy altogether. Why does the Secretary of State not do just that?
Mr Paterson: We have been over this ground on several occasions during the last few days. We are absolutely clear about the fact that the scientific analysis of the trials conducted by the Government that the hon. Lady supported show a 28% reduction in the culled area. That is the information that we are going on, because it is scientifically based.
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. There were reports on the radio this morning about the horrific danger to our 80 million ash trees. We have already launched a consultation on the ground, involving a detailed investigation into whether the disease has taken root in the country. The results of that consultation will be reported to me tomorrow, and I shall discuss it over the weekend with the head of the Forestry Commission. However, on the basis of the evidence that we have seen so far, I intend to introduce a ban on imports and tight restrictions on ash movements in Great Britain on Monday.
T7.  Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): We were told that the Government would help local authorities with the costs of the floods. Now we have been told that those in Newcastle do not count, and that the city council will have to find £10 million from a budget that is being halved by the Government. Why is it that in Newcastle we have the wrong sort of water?
Richard Benyon: An improved scheme called the Bellwin scheme kicks in when spending related to flood damage hits a certain threshold, enabling local authorities to apply to the Government for extra funds. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise specific concerns with me, I shall be happy to consider them, but the Bellwin scheme has been accepted for many years.
T4. [T4] Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the impact of onshore wind farms on local environments such as Frodsham Marsh in my constituency? Plans for a wind turbine farm there have just been confirmed.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1065
Richard Benyon: Along with the Department for Energy and Climate Change, we are conducting a review of policies relating to onshore wind. I hope that my hon. Friend will contribute his concerns and those of his local community to that review, because we want to ensure that local communities work with the Government and do not feel put upon by them when it comes to renewable energy systems.
“any weakening of the Agricultural Wages Board or its abolition would further impoverish the rural working class, exacerbating social deprivation and the undesirable indicators associated with social exclusion”.
What has changed, and how would he explain that change to the 1,020 workers who were previously protected by the board in his constituency?
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): I think I know rather more about workers in my constituency than the hon. Gentleman. I am aware of the circumstances in the agricultural industry, and I am also aware that there are now many protections for low-paid workers. I would not be proceeding with the consultation unless I was convinced that this was in the interests of those who work in my constituency and throughout the country.
T5.  Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): Forty-eight animals have been slaughtered in the port of Ramsgate owing to the resumption of live animal exports. What procedures have been introduced to deal with the crises that we have been experiencing in Thanet?
Mr Heath: As my hon. Friend knows, the circumstances in Ramsgate—about which we have spoken—were entirely unacceptable. I want to make that absolutely clear. I immediately asked for a report to be drawn up by officials who were working on animal health regulation, which they will submit to me shortly. I shall be happy to share their findings with my hon. Friend.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): When I introduced my Food Waste Bill earlier this year, I thought that I was making good progress in convincing the then Minister in the House of Lords of the need for legislation to protect good-faith donors of food to charities from criminal and civil liability, but I now have the impression that DEFRA is trying to hide behind EU food safety standards. What are Ministers doing to move things forward?
Mr Heath: On the day I was appointed, the hon. Lady very kindly twittered that she did not like me. However, I shall put that aside and say that I shall be happy to discuss the background to her Bill with her if she wishes, and see if the Department can do anything to help.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1066
T10.  Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Although Thurrock is an urban constituency on the edge of London, a large proportion of it is rural and lacks decent broadband provision. In light of the Minister’s previous answer, can he confirm that villages such as Bulphan, Orsett and Horndon-on-the-Hill will be in line for improved broadband provision?
Richard Benyon: My hon. Friend might like to encourage those villages to apply for the third round of the rural community broadband fund. That will be running from January, so there is time for his communities to get their bids in. He makes a good point: instead of talking only about the most remote communities, we must remember that there are rural communities close to urban areas that have appalling broadband, too.
Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Towards the end of last week I met a constituent whose new insurance premium has gone up by some 8%. She lives in an area that has occasionally been flooded, and the massive increase plus the excessive excess means this lady will have to abandon her home. Does the Minister know how many businesses and residential properties are now being abandoned because people cannot afford flood insurance?
Mr Paterson: The hon. Gentleman makes a highly pertinent point. The statement of principles is not working at present, and affordability is a key part of that. I have meetings coming up shortly with the Association of British Insurers and I will establish its latest figures, but we want to resolve this: we are determined to get to the bottom of it, because I totally sympathise with people such as the hon. Gentleman’s constituent.
Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Can the Minister confirm that the moneys available in the rural community broadband fund that come from the European Union will not be subject to European state aid rules?
Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): The Secretary of State should have banned the import of ash seedlings the minute disease was found in nurseries in this country. He will not be forgiven for any delay by the people of this country, who so value the ash trees. Will he ensure that the Forestry Commission has all the resources it needs to be able to confront this terrible threat?
I think the right hon. Lady is being pretty unfair. The minute we heard about this, we launched a consultation. That will report tomorrow. On the basis of evidence—[Interruption.] All the right hon. Lady’s colleagues are shouting at me about evidence
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1067
and science-based information, and from tomorrow evening I will look at the evidence, and if it is sensible to ban imports, I will take that decision and make restrictions on Monday.
George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his Department’s announcement last week of the launch of an agricultural science strategy. Does he agree that British agricultural science has the potential to boost our great industry and support emerging markets around the world?
Mr Heath: I very much welcome the initiative, which is a joint venture between ourselves and our colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I believe we have an enormous amount to offer in both growing our own industry and offering technology which is of value across the world in dealing with issues of food security.
The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Diocese of Leeds
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): Before I answer the question, may I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Stuart Bell, who served as Second Church Estates Commissioner for some 13 years, the longest period anyone has served in that post since Parliament created it in the mid-1830s? He did so with considerable diligence and sensitivity. He will be much missed, and may his soul rest in peace.
Following consultation on its initial draft reorganisation scheme for the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield, the Church of England Dioceses Commission expects to publish a revised draft scheme on 29 October. Accompanying its report will be a statement on the effect of the proposals, if implemented, on the mission of the Church of England and a detailed estimate of their financial impacts.
Philip Davies: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. We all appreciate that savings need to be made, but with the proposed abolition of the Bradford diocese and its incorporation into a larger Leeds diocese, what steps will be taken to ensure that the communities across the Bradford district will not be given less priority in the Church of England?
Sir Tony Baldry:
May I suggest to my hon. Friend that he discuss his concerns with the Bishop of Bradford, who I am sure will be able to reassure him that the Christian and Church of England mission in his constituency will in no way be diminished by these proposals? One of the greatest threats to the Church’s mission in his constituency is the continuing theft of lead from churches. No fewer than six churches in his constituency have had lead stolen from their roofs—St Peter’s church in Shipley has had lead stolen on four separate occasions, notwithstanding protections such as SmartWater. So may I take this opportunity to entreat my hon. Friend, as I know the Bishop of Bradford
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1068
and the Archbishop of York will, not to frustrate the Third Reading of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill when it comes before the House soon?
Sir Tony Baldry: The General Synod will resume on 20 November the final approval debate on the legislation to enable women to become bishops. I will be voting for the Measure, and I hope and pray that at least two thirds of the members of every house of the General Synod will vote to ensure that, at last, we can have women bishops in the Church of England.
The message I hope this House will send via my hon. Friend to the Synod is that not only do we want the Synod to make a final decision this month that clearly says women can be bishops in the Church of England, as a legacy of the outgoing archbishop and as a tribute to his work, but we need the Church of England to catch up into the 21st century if it is to do a good job for everybody. I hope that there is no more shilly-shallying, that the Synod gets on with it and that we get a clear decision so that we can move to having women bishops.
Sir Tony Baldry: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. May I commend to his attention, and to that of other right hon. and hon. Members, an article written by the Archbishop of Canterbury in last week’s Church Times, which is available in the Library? He stated that
“a Church that ordains women as priests, but not as bishops, is stuck with a real anomaly, one that introduces an unclarity into what we are saying about baptism and about the absorption of the Church in the priestly self-giving of Jesus Christ.”
Mr Bradshaw: In his conversations with the bishops, will the hon. Gentleman tell them that just because House of Lords reform has been abandoned they should not feel any less pressure to do this and that a failure to agree a Measure that gives women bishops equal status with male bishops would still lead to a severe constitutional crisis between Church and state?
Sir Tony Baldry: In fairness, I think that the House of Bishops recognises that, and when it met last it amended the Measure in a way that should commend support. Indeed, the bishops took a lead on that from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in the same article, made it clear that he thought the ordination or consecration of women as bishops was good for the whole world. He said:
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1069
“It is good news for the world we live in, which needs the unequivocal affirmation of a dignity given equally to all by God in creation and redemption—and can now, we hope, see more clearly that the Church is not speaking a language completely remote from its own most generous and just instincts.”
Sir Tony Baldry: I think that the consequences for the Church of England will be very grim indeed. I hope that the General Synod, and those who might be tempted to vote against this Measure in it, will reflect on that point.
Sir Tony Baldry: The evidence of a recent report shows a 30% increase in attendance at cathedral services in the Church of England over the last 10 years. The Church of England’s figures estimate that 12 million people visited an Anglican cathedral or royal peculiar, such as Westminster abbey, last year. A recent report confirms that finding by stating that more than 27% of England’s adult population made such a visit in the last 12 months.
Fiona Bruce: I assume my hon. Friend is referring to the recent Theos report, “Spiritual Capital: The Present and Future of English Cathedrals”. Does he agree that cathedrals are much more than vital tourist destinations and play an important role in building social and spiritual capital? They act as a hub to connect communities through social action work, such as that of street pastors or homeless projects, and also allow many people to feel, as the report states, that
“the cathedral gives me a greater sense of the sacred than I get elsewhere”.
Sir Tony Baldry: I entirely agree that cathedrals are centres of spirituality, reflection and history. Some 300,000 children visited cathedrals last year and 15,000 people are regular volunteers at cathedrals. They are a fantastic resource for England and are much to be celebrated.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1070
Sir Tony Baldry: The remains that are thought to be those of Richard III are at present with Leicester city council’s museums department and the university of Leicester’s archaeological department, which are carrying out tests to see whether it can be demonstrated that the remains are indeed those of Richard III. Once those tests are concluded, the nature, place and marking of any reinterment will need seriously to be considered.
John Mann: Will the hon. Gentleman let it be known to the warring factions of York and Leicester and to the Church Commissioners of the Church of England that the great priory of Worksop, which is halfway between the two cities at the end of the road through the forest, and which is at the centre of the kingdom of Richard III, can provide the most appropriate final resting place for the king?
Sir Tony Baldry: I can see that there will be quite a lot of competition. If there is conclusive evidence that these are the remains of Richard III, the tradition would be that they would be reinterred in the nearest Christian church or cathedral, which happens to be Leicester cathedral. In such circumstances, I hope it would be possible to arrange a meeting with the dean of Leicester to see how that could happen.
Jonathan Ashworth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I am sure that Worksop has many fine qualities, but given that it was the Grey friars who took the body of Richard and buried him at what was then the Greyfriars church—a site just a stone’s throw from Leicester cathedral—and that he has been in Leicester for 500 years, is it not most appropriate that he should be finally laid to rest at Leicester cathedral?
Sir Tony Baldry: I understand that point of view, and once we know the provenance of the remains I shall seek to use my best offices to arrange a meeting with the dean of the cathedral and others to ensure that this can be done in a proper and timely way.
I was concerned about how many other kings might come up, as I never thought my career would involve the question of how we might bury kings. I am glad to say that the Church can account for all of them. I am afraid to say that the head of Charles, king and martyr, is still separated from his body, but they are both at St George’s, Windsor. The only one still missing is Henry I, who seems to have got lost somewhere in Reading after the dissolution of the monasteries. I can account for all the other kings and queens being properly and Christianly buried.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1071
Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): I must say to my dear and hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) that it is not 500 years but 527 years since Richard was killed. Despite that passage of time, he is still very well regarded in York. [Laughter.] We have a museum to Richard III—
We respect Richard III enormously. But to argue on the Floor of this place over his mortal remains is more like medieval cathedrals fighting over saints’ relics. I do not think it is appropriate. I have heard what the spokesman for the Church Commissioners says, and they are wise words.
The Church of England has been active in its support of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, which will shortly have its Third Reading in the House. At a local level, the Church of England continues to offer advice and support to help churches to implement security measures that will make the theft less attractive while allowing the public to visit memorials without hindrance, and the Church is also working at local level with communities and the War Memorials Trust to preserve the names recorded on memorials and to clean, renovate and repair memorials in advance of the centenary of the commencement of world war one.
Guy Opperman: All of us welcome the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill to deal with this heinous crime, but does my hon. Friend agree that the churches themselves need to engage with local scrap metal dealers so that there is not the repetition of this offence on a local basis?
The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1072
Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon): The commission runs public information campaigns before elections and referendums to encourage people to register to vote. The campaigns are targeted towards groups less likely to be on the electoral register, including young people. The commission also provides guidance and sets standards for awareness to be raised locally by electoral registration officers, for which it has provided a range of resources to help them to do this, including template posters, press advertisements and press releases. Where underperformance is found, the commission provides EROs with targeted support.
Gavin Shuker: I am aware that many initiatives focused towards young people involve the use of social media, and I can twitter with the best of them, but will the hon. Gentleman give me the assurance that these social media tools will not be used as a replacement for more practical ways of getting young people to sign up to vote?
Mr Streeter: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is important to target public awareness campaigns towards young people in a way that is most likely to attract their attention, for example, by using TV and radio advertising, but on channels that they are likely to watch, which you and I, Mr Speaker, are probably not likely to watch.
The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): Lambeth Palace and the Church of England are in regular contact with Christian development and mission agencies as to how best the Church might support vulnerable communities in Syria. However, the nature of the conflict in Syria means that it is proving incredibly difficult to give support to those communities in most need. The Archbishop of Canterbury remains in regular contact with religious leaders in Syria as well as with religious leaders from neighbouring countries.
Mr Hollobone: The Christian community in Syria is one of the oldest in the world and one of the largest in the middle east. Indeed, was it not St Paul himself who was converted on the road to Damascus? Is there not a very grave danger that if the wrong people come out on top in the present conflict in Syria there could be a bloodbath of Christians on a biblical scale?
Sir Tony Baldry: Yes, and that is why the Church of England is using such influence as we have to talk to the Russian ambassador and others here and in other countries around the world to present humanitarian concerns arising from the conflict in Syria and to encourage the Russian Government to play a more constructive role in resolving the conflict to try to seek to avoid a bloodbath of Christians and others.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1073
Business of the House
Wednesday 31 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to EU budget simplification and the multi-annual financial framework.
Thursday 1 November—A debate on a motion relating to the beer duty escalator, followed by a debate on a motion relating to air passenger duty. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Thursday 8 November—A debate on a motion relating to the medium-term financial plan for the House of Commons administration and savings programme. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. We welcome the fact that Britain has finally emerged from recession, but we should never have been in a double-dip recession in the first place. It was a recession created in Downing street by a part-time Chancellor who cut too far, too fast.
The Jimmy Savile case has rightly caused widespread disgust. There are serious questions for the BBC to answer, questions that were not answered during the director-general’s unsatisfactory appearance before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, but the issue goes much further. As happened in the Rochdale scandal only this year, it appears that in the Jimmy Savile case victims’ complaints were not taken seriously. We need to learn these lessons and, for the sake of the victims, uncover the truth. An independent inquiry is needed, so may we have an urgent statement from the Home Secretary?
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1074
I have been keeping a list of the occasions when Ministers blame the weather for the omnishambles. So far, the Government have blamed the poor performance of the economy on the snow, before deciding that the reason was in fact too much rain. Then the Immigration Minister blamed the chaos at Heathrow border control on the wrong type of wind. Now the Environment Minister has blamed too much rain for the U-turn on the badger cull. We have seen the badger U-turn, the Energy Bill shambles, the west coast main line fiasco, plebgate, and only today it appears that Ministers have got their sums wrong on tuition fees. It is not the weather that is to blame; it is the Government’s incompetence. Ministers need to get a grip, so may we have an urgent statement on what has gone wrong from the man who is meant to be in charge of Government competence: the Deputy Prime Minister?
The abolition of child benefit for higher earning taxpayers was one of the Government’s first shambles. The complex rules introduced by the Chancellor mean that from January an estimated half a million households will have to complete self-assessment tax forms for the first time. Many people have raised concerns that, weeks away from this change, Revenue and Customs has not written to families to warn them. There are those who have suggested that the Government’s reluctance to send out those letters might have something to do with the upcoming elections for police and crime commissioners. May we have an urgent statement from the Chancellor setting out how his Department will let families know of impending child benefit changes?
“Over the years, he has surprised political pundits with his Lazarus-style tendencies, and perhaps even this time he is merely on a sabbatical and will be back.”—[Official Report, 6 September 2012; Vol. 549, c. 383.]
And he is back! It is a miracle. Given my predictive powers, the House might be interested to know that my tip for the 4.25 at Doncaster tomorrow is Flashman. I also predict that there will be another omnishambles along soon.
May we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on fare dodgers? Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the conductor on the Virgin train service who refused to let the Chancellor have a free ride? The hapless part-time Chancellor was bundled out of the goods exit at Euston to avoid the waiting media, and it was left to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) to bat for the Government. His explanation was that “train tickets are so confusing it is easy to get into the wrong carriage.” No wonder this Government have gone off the rails.
“you’ll get surprised by what’s going on”
“surprised on a day-to-day basis”.
“the first thing I do in the morning”,
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1075
“turn on the Today programme and hear what’s going on”.
So two and a half years into office, the Government are divided, Back Benchers are in revolt, and Government policies are unravelling daily, and the best strategy that No. 10 has come up with is to listen to the “Today” programme. We just can’t go on like this.
Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House; I enjoyed that. I am not a betting man, but if I were I would never bet against my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young)—that’s for sure. It is a pleasure to have him back among our colleagues, although I have always valued my right hon. Friend the former Chief Whip as a colleague and pay tribute to his time in Government. We should all reflect on what a tremendous contribution he has made around the world as International Development Secretary.
To pursue the hon. Lady’s analogy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, indeed, the Government are on the right track. The figures published this morning for quarter 3 growth, to which she referred for about 12 seconds, are a reflection of the right approach being taken by this Government. I understood her to say that we should not have been in this position; indeed we should not. We were in this position because we inherited an economy that was close to bankruptcy from a Government who had spent without thought and put us into enormous debt. The debt has been at the heart of this, and Labour Members seem never to learn. They never seem to understand that the answer to this country’s problems in resolving the deficit and the debts is not more borrowing.
What the shadow Leader of the House said was entertaining, but, when it comes down to it, it was, frankly, trivia. What really matters is what is actually happening in this country, and she neglected that. This morning’s growth statistics are very encouraging and illustrative of the progress that is being made. The Chancellor said at an early stage that the recovery would be choppy, and indeed it has been, but these figures illustrate where we are going.
Another illustration of our being on the right track is that the employment situation is so much improved. The latest statistics show that there are over 1 million more people in private sector employment since the election, that youth employment is improving, that the number of people on out-of-work benefits is down, that inflation is down, and that new company creation in 2011 was the best ever, with over 1,230 new companies being created per day.
Beyond the economic sphere, the latest figures show that crime rates are down by 6%. In the NHS, which is of course closest to my heart, waiting times are among the very best we have ever seen, including a reduction in the number of those waiting over a year for their treatment in the NHS, which was some 18,000-plus at the time of the last election and is now down to nearly 2,000. I hope that the shadow Leader of the House will reflect on the realities across the country rather than on Westminster trivia.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1076
investigation, and by Kate Lampard on behalf of the NHS, and there are two BBC inquiries led by Nick Pollard and by Dame Janet Smith. All those inquiries are independent and I see no reason at this stage for us to think that there would be any merit in seeking to overturn those inquiries, which are making progress. We must simply make sure that, as I know they will, they all respect and understand the fact that the police’s criminal investigation must take precedence.
Mr Speaker: Order. A very large number of hon. and right hon. Members are, as usual on this occasion, seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that business under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee will follow. There are two pieces of such business, both of which are of intense topical interest. The second piece is a debate and I can tell the House—because I have the list—that it is extremely heavily subscribed. If I am to accommodate colleagues now, within a limited time frame, brevity from Members on the Back and Front Benches alike is essential. We will be led in that by Caroline Nokes.
Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will no doubt be aware of the announcement by Ford today of the closure of the Transit factory in Swaythling in my constituency, with the loss of 500 manufacturing jobs and potential further losses in the supply chain. Will he please find time for a debate on this serious matter, which affects not just my constituency, but the surrounding constituencies of many right hon. and hon. Members?
Mr Lansley: I am sure that the whole House will share my hon. Friend’s regret at the loss of any jobs, particularly those in a major plant in her constituency. She will know that Ministers will be focused, as they have been elsewhere, on trying to provide whatever help and support they can. She will also know that this is in the context of many very positive announcements in recent months by the motor vehicle industry, including that this country is a net exporter of cars for the first time in many years, and of investments at Honda, Nissan, BMW and Jaguar; but that does not take away at all from the distress that today’s announcement will no doubt have caused in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I undertake that Ministers will respond and keep the House informed on action to support the staff affected.
[That this House notes that Ministers have recently repeated the claim that the lives of British soldiers should be put at risk in Afghanistan to counter the alleged Afghan Taliban terrorist threat to the UK; believes that there is no truth in this claim and that the lives of British soldiers should not be sacrificed when no threat to the UK exists; and calls on the Coalition Government to adopt an independent foreign policy.]
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1077
Canadian and Dutch soldiers have returned to their own countries from Afghanistan with their heads held high after large sacrifices in blood and treasure. We have heard today the dreadful news of two further deaths of British soldiers. There will be many tributes to them that will be sincere and heartfelt, but will not history judge that their epitaph should be, “They died to protect the reputation of cowardly Ministers”?
Mr Lansley: The House knows not only that we will pay heartfelt tribute to service personnel, including the two who it was announced yesterday have tragically died in Afghanistan, but that the people of this country and this House will take the view that they have died in defence of the interests of this country and to protect this country and that we are in Afghanistan to combat a terrorist threat and, alongside that, to help put in place in Afghanistan a sustainable and more democratic country for the future. That is why they are there and we should honour and value the contribution that service personnel make.
Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): May we have a debate on the £1 billion-plus of losses in derivative trading by Network Rail? Some of us would like that money spent on trains and bridges over railway lines instead of in a second-grade investment bank.
Mr Lansley: I do not have an immediate opportunity for a debate on that subject, but if I contact my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, he may well be able to give a reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood).
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): After nearly 11 years of being held without charge or trial, British resident Shaker Aamer is still in Guantanamo Bay, in spite of the fact that both US and UK authorities have said that he can be released. May we have an urgent debate to try to understand what the obstacles are to getting this man released and make that a real priority?
Mr Lansley: I know that hon. Members of all parties have taken a close interest in the situation of those who are at Guantanamo Bay. The hon. Lady may care to consider raising the matter at Foreign Office questions next Tuesday, but it also seems to me to be a subject on which she might like to seek a debate on the Adjournment.
Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): May we have a debate on the independence of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? You will recall, Mr Speaker, that in February I established through a written question that Ministers had met IPSA on nine occasions in the previous four months. I suspect the dead hand of the Treasury, because I asked a question in September, and the answer given this Monday at column 636 of Hansard refused to give information on the number of occasions on which the Treasury and Treasury Ministers had had discussions with IPSA.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1078
compromising IPSA’s independence. I regard it as my responsibility to be fully informed, not least as a member of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, so that we can express views to IPSA. Members have rightly taken the view that there should be independent scrutiny of their pay, pensions and terms and conditions through IPSA. It is important that having established that independence, we make it real.
Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): The Government’s council grant cuts, housing benefit cuts, welfare benefit cuts and health funding cuts are having the worst effect on the poorest families and individuals. May we have a debate on the overall impact that all the Government’s cuts are having on the poorest families and communities?
Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman should recognise that our policy is about the reform of the benefits system. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is making clear today, if we can encourage people into work, that is the best route out of poverty. The benefit reforms will change the culture for good.
Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): May we have a debate on university technical colleges? They have been a great success story, and Members have not had an opportunity to examine what drives that success so that we might see more and more of them.
Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Many Members might envy the position that I am in, because a university technical college is being established in Cambridge, which is enabling many young people to come forward and acquire training in skills that will support the life sciences industry. That is a tremendous step forward, and I pay tribute to the Baker Dearing Educational Trust and those who have taken the initiative forward. I hope that many Members, like my hon. Friend, will encourage UTCs in their area. She might like to raise the matter with our colleagues at Education questions on Monday.
Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): In 2010, the Government decided to defer a decision about sport on free-to-air television, because they were waiting until digital TV came fully into operation. It is now fully operational, but Culture Ministers have told us that there will not be a discussion on the matter. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate? After all, top sport should be for the masses, not the few.
Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. I must say, I was struck last week at business questions—perhaps it will be true again this week—that there is a lot of interest in sport, from governance through to the Olympic and Paralympic legacy and on the point that he raises. That might make it appropriate for issues related to sport to be debated in the House at some point. Perhaps those of us who timetable business can discuss that.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1079
will soon have its Third Reading debate. It has had two years of hard work put into it, with consultation with Home Office officials and other Departments, and there is support for it throughout the House. If it is frustrated and talked out on Report or Third Reading by just one Member, will he undertake to find Government time for it to complete its passage through the House? Churches, communities and the transport system up and down the country cannot allow Back-Bench filibustering to prevent the Bill from passing into law.
Mr Lansley: I heard what my hon. Friend said when he responded to questions on that matter on behalf of the Church Commissioners. He knows that the Government fully support the Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway). Members throughout the House will know, as I do from my constituency, of the damage, distress and expense caused by metal theft. That is true not only in relation to churches but perhaps particularly in relation to the theft of metal from memorials in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday. I cannot give him the undertaking that he seeks, not least because I am hopeful that the Bill will attract the House’s support on the day in question.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Has the new Leader of the House seen the Chartered Management Institute’s commissioned report on the quality of management in Britain, which shows that 38% of managers—public and private sector—are awful, and that only 40% of managers in our country have any training at all? Does he find it worrying that very few of those GPs who will be running clinical commissioning groups have any management training?
Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman may like to look at the composition of clinical commissioning groups with great care. They combine managerial and clinical expertise, and he should not diminish the importance of clinicians being directly involved in the commissioning process. Securing the right medical and clinical services for patients in an area is not simply a managerial task; it is both managerial and clinical.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): May we have a debate on equal pay for women? That request arises first out of yesterday’s landmark decision on the issue by the Supreme Court, but also because county councils up and down the country are facing a problem caused by a failure to pay the women they have employed over the years. In Northumberland, for example, hundreds of my constituents face a five-year delay to be paid.
Mr Lansley: The Government very much support equal pay—yesterday’s decision seemed a bit of a “Made in Dagenham” moment, did it not? Although the circumstances of that case are particular to it and relate to time limits and jurisdiction, I hope that it conveys a message about how to ensure equality and equal pay in every work force, which should be in every employer’s mind.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab):
May we have a debate on plans by the NHS in south-west England to introduce regional pay? Those plans are opposed by south-west MPs from all political parties, and we are
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1080
still waiting for a delegation to see the Minister. I have asked for a debate several times, and we need to have one urgently.
Mr Lansley: I attended Health questions earlier in the week, and thought that that issue was ably responded to by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter). What he said is clear: the Government support the “Agenda for Change” framework and, like NHS employers, we support the reform of that agenda to provide the flexibility that employers are looking for, so that it can be achieved within a national framework. That is what we are looking for.
Mr Lansley: As my hon. Friend will appreciate, the debate scheduled for next week on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill will no doubt afford an opportunity to demonstrate that the Government are on the right track, as demonstrated by the GDP figures. Quarterly figures have been, and will be, choppy, but it is important to establish the right framework for the longer term. That is about achieving investment in infrastructure, and instilling confidence so that we can see that investment coming through. It is about deregulation and ensuring that business has a lower-cost environment, and recognising that we are in a global race and must ensure we are competitive in terms of tax, regulation and skills. The Government are making positive progress on all those things.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): The children and families Bill will be a significant piece of legislation in a complex area, and I fully support its aims. Will the Leader of the House ensure that when it reaches Report, sufficient time will be made available so that hon. Members who may not have been on the Bill Committee have a full opportunity to discuss the legislation’s complex provisions?
Mr Lansley: As the hon. Lady will be aware, since the election we have been able to timetable more opportunities for debate on Report, and I pay tribute to my predecessor and the Whips for ensuring that. Often, not just one but two days have been allocated for the Report stage of major Bills. As the hon. Lady says, the children and families Bill is very important. It has not yet been introduced, although we look forward to that.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): May we have a debate on the issues faced by older people who are seeking to save money for retirement? The all-party group for ageing and older people has just launched a report on older savers which shows that £13 billion is lost through poor advice and a failure by banks to switch accounts.
I take note of what my hon. Friend says. People feel strongly about that very important issue. We will of course look at the business, and no doubt the Opposition and the Backbench Business Committee will also consider the matter. It could be considered in
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1081
the context of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and the approach taken by banks to their customers.
Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House investigate the delay in publishing the results of the pilot scheme on recording Atos assessments, and ensure that they are published as soon as possible?
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): With the economy growing, inflation lower than expected, public borrowing lower than expected and more people in work than at any time in our history, I am sure the Opposition will use the next Opposition day to talk about the economy, but if for some inconceivable reason they do not, will the Leader of the House ensure that Government time is made available?
Mr Lansley: Yes; I reiterate my hon. Friend’s extremely good point and commend it to the shadow Leader of the House when she considers the business on—I believe— 7 November, when the Opposition will no doubt take the opportunity to debate the latest positive figures on growth, employment and the reduction of inflation, and the simple fact that since the Government came to office, we have cut the deficit we inherited by a quarter.
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I understand the Leader of the House used to have an interest in health. In that case, will he use his influence with the current Health Secretary to persuade him either to have a debate, or at least to make an oral statement, on access to radiotherapy? There was an announcement at the Tory party conference, which the Health Secretary mentioned in question time, but it would be a courtesy to the House if we were allowed to understand the detail. The issue is about not just capital, but revenue.
Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman might like to know that the Leader of the House still has an interest in health, and I was at Health questions this week. He is right that the Health Secretary made it clear that he has made an announcement relating to a new radiotherapy innovation fund, which will support hospitals to ensure that patients have intensity-modulated radiotherapy if it is appropriate for them and that there is more access to stereotactic ablative therapy, both of which the hon. Gentleman has asked for and both of which this Government are now supporting.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Northern Lincolnshire has had some promising announcements recently to boost the local economy, but yesterday Kimberly-Clark announced the closure of its factory at Barton-upon-Humber in my constituency with the loss of 378 permanent jobs and 120 others. Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement to give details of additional Government support that might be made available to benefit the local economy?
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1082
Mr Lansley: As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), that is further evidence of the choppy waters through which the economy is moving, which are a consequence of global competition. The investment that is coming to this country, which is positive, and contrary announcements that cause us considerable regret, are both a consequence of global competition. Our job is to ensure that, whenever we can, this country is the best possible place for investment. This is about rebalancing the economy, which is bringing additional investment into manufacturing. Rebalancing is important, but I entirely take my hon. Friend’s point that it will also mean that we ensure we give support to individual businesses to maximise their activity in this country—as we are doing, through, for example, the regional growth fund and local enterprise partnerships. I will ask my hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to respond on the issues my hon. Friend raises.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): May we have an early debate on the emergence of two-nation Britain, because, although the figures are good for London and the south, according to House of Commons figures given to me today, in Barnsley unemployment is up 6% on last year, in Bradford 9%, in Leeds 3% and in my own constituency 1%? We are now seeing an emerging disconnect between the north and the Tory and Liberal Democrat shires of the south. We need a one-nation Government, not this Government of the south, by the south, for the south.
Mr Lansley: As a one-nation Conservative, I believe that we are a one-nation Government. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted any more evidence of that, he would have paid more attention to the announcements made by the Deputy Prime Minister last Friday, I think, on regional growth 3, which will support the kind of innovative investment in the north of England that is integral to its economic development.
Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Not only has the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Stafford fallen by 14% since April 2010, but we have just had the welcome news that a record 272 new companies were formed in the first six months. May we have a debate on how to support these new companies, so that they create the jobs and pay the taxes we need?
Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am happy to say that those figures are reflected in many constituencies across the country. Stafford is clearly working well, and I applaud what they are doing there. Yes, I hope we will have the opportunity, not least in the debate on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, to see how we are creating that kind of environment. I would draw particular attention to the work being done through the youth contract and apprenticeships to ensure that young people are finding the kinds of jobs with skills training attached that will enable them to support industrial development in the future.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab):
May we have an urgent debate or statement from a Minister to explain why the Minister with responsibility for welfare reform, Lord Freud, has agreed that in Northern Ireland payment of
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1083
housing benefit directly to landlords will continue, while in the rest of the country payment must be made directly to tenants—despite all the problems, highlighted by many people, with that—and to explain the unique circumstances for this decision?
Mr Lansley: I will of course talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions, so that they reply specifically to the hon. Gentleman, but my understanding is not that the changes to universal credit rule out the possibility of direct payment, but merely that it is important that they be assessed and examined to ensure they are appropriate. Wherever possible, we want those in receipt of universal credit to feel like they are in work. We do not want to change the sense of that, so that they get their pay and it is their responsibility to live within their means.
Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Earlier this week, I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Glasgow. One issue discussed was that of marine and renewable energy. It appeared that few people were aware of the role that the south-west was playing in delivering that. May we have a debate on this important issue, so that we can promote the south-west and its contribution in this area?
Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not least for attending the BIPA, which I know is valued on both sides of the Irish sea. I hope that we will have the opportunity for that debate. He might want to look to have it when we consider the Energy Bill. The Government attach considerable importance to this matter and have invested more than £17 million in testing and academic facilities for marine energy in the south-west, and are encouraging the region to become the first UK marine energy park. I am sure he will want to illustrate that contribution to our future energy requirements and security during our debate on the Energy Bill.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Last week, the quiet rituals of Friday afternoon in west Cardiff were shattered by a series of hit-and-run incidents that left a young mother dead, her three children motherless and many more injured and traumatised by the events. Will the Leader of the House find a slot where I can put on the record my thanks to the emergency services—the police, the fire service, the ambulance service and the NHS—whose swift and well-co-ordinated actions undoubtedly saved many lives?
Mr Lansley: I am sure that the House will join me in expressing our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the young lady who died and in extending our best wishes to those who were injured. We were all shocked by what happened. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to express appreciation for the emergency services. We in this House should do so every time we have the opportunity, because these terrible, shocking moments illustrate how much we depend on their prompt and effective action.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con):
Will my right hon. Friend support the planting of a Red Windsor apple tree in honour of the Queen’s diamond jubilee by Mr Speaker on Speaker’s Green next Wednesday at
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1084
half-past 2? Will he attend the planting and will he encourage Members on both sides of the House to do so too, to support the Woodland Trust, among others, which is planting 6 million trees for the environment of this country this year?
Mr Lansley: Yes, I do indeed support that. I and the Deputy Leader of the House look forward to being there, and I think the shadow Leader of the House hopes to be there too. I am sure that that is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House and look forward to the Speaker joining us in expressing our appreciation to Her Majesty on her diamond jubilee.
Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time to remember Noor Inayat Khan who was an operative in Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive? May I express my thanks to the Speaker for helping in the campaign and to Members of the House who signed early-day motion 109?
[That this House congratulates the Memorial Trust of Noor Inayat Khan set up to honour and to recognise her extraordinary bravery; notes that Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross as one of only three women in Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive and was also awarded the Croix de Guerre by France; recalls that under the code name Madeleine she was the first female radio operator in occupied France in 1943; further notes that despite being tortured she remained silent and her last word was Liberté; further notes that she was executed in Dachau at the age of 30; welcomes the permission given by the Vice Chancellor of the University of London for a bust to be installed in Gordon Square, near the house where Noor lived and from where she left on her fatal mission; further notes that the majority of the funds needed to fund the statue has already been raised by the Trust; congratulates the donors; encourages further donations to the Fund; and looks forward to the unveiling of the first memorial to a British Asian woman when the sculpture by Karen Newman is completed in Autumn 2012.]
May I also thank the university of London, which agreed to my request to place a memorial to Noor on its land in Gordon square? The sculpture by Karen Newman will be unveiled on 8 November. Noor was executed in Dachau concentration camp; this will be an opportunity for us to remember a true British heroine.
Mr Lansley: I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Lady, especially at this time of year, for drawing attention to the courage and example of the men and women of the Special Operations Executive, and of Noor Inayat Khan in particular. The House will also recall early-day motion 109 in that respect. I hope that the memorial to her—the sculpture to which the hon. Lady referred—will constantly remind people of the remarkable courage of those in the Special Operations Executive and the contribution they made.
“not caused by human activity”.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1085
join me in condemning this irresponsible and anti-scientific position, and will he find time for a debate about evidence-informed policy?
Mr Lansley: I will not join my hon. Friend in that respect, although that does not mean that I agree with the leader of Cambridgeshire county council. We are all allowed our views, and he is allowed his. My hon. Friend and I will have talked to many of the scientists at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. When one does so, it amply illustrates the character of climate change, what is really going on and the threat it poses.
Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House offer a helping hand to Scotland’s First Minister, who recently mislaid some important legal advice on the future of an independent Scotland in the EU? We have searched everywhere for it. It may be under the sofa; the First Minister may have left it on a bus; his dog may have eaten it—we just do not know. It could have been mislaid in the Foreign Office—and it is the Foreign Office, not the Scottish Government, that has responsibility for external relations with the European Union. Will the right hon. Gentleman implement a cross-departmental hunt for the advice? It must exist; the First Minister says so and the only alternative is that he is a liar, and that would be unthinkable.
Mr Lansley: To be honest, in this context I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would be better to instigate a search for the credibility of the First Minister in Scotland, because as far as I can see, earlier in the year he was saying that he had legal advice, but then it turned out that he had not even asked for it. As the Prime Minister quite rightly said yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, that just exposes the lack of credibility of the arguments being presented by the Scottish National party for the break-up of the Union.
Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): My Twitter feed is often packed with comments from Opposition Members whenever there is negative economic news, but today it is remarkably empty. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on the economy so that we can discuss today’s data as well as recent positive data?
Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Although parliamentary time is tight, it is awfully tempting to arrange a debate on the economic figures—on growth, employment, inflation and borrowing. I fear, however, that we might not be able to do so. I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell): as the Opposition have time available in the week after next, perhaps they might like to debate the issues.
Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the Clerks and staff of the House, including Hansard, on their enabling us to make a smooth transition to our earlier sitting hours? Will he quash the ugly rumours that this is a mere experiment and confirm there are no plans to review the earlier hours?
Mr Lansley: I of course share the right hon. Lady’s appreciation of the way in which the Clerk and staff of the House assist us in our business. The House was invited to make a decision and a decision was made.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1086
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on the creation of the excellent new Blue Collar Conservatives group last week? As the Labour party has abandoned the working classes and appears to want to stand up only for people who do not want to work and appears to believe in suppression rather than aspiration, would not such a debate show that the natural political home for anyone in the working classes is the Conservative party?
Mr Lansley: Yes, I share my hon. Friend’s view. We are now in a coalition Government, but the Conservative party has always been most successful when it has reached out to all the nation. That is why I am a one-nation Conservative and why in the 1980s more trade unionists voted Conservative than voted Labour. They were right to do so and our country has consequently been transformed. It continues to be my ambition and that of my party that we continue to be a home for people of aspiration, wherever they come from.
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): On the theme of aspiration and working people, may we have a debate and statement on why the Government regard people doing unpaid work experience as being in employment?
Mr Lansley: I shall gladly ask my friends at the Department for Work and Pensions to reply on how the statistics are calculated. The latest figures show an increase of more than 50,000 in the number of young people in employment and a decrease in the number of people on out-of-work benefits, and he should celebrate that.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): My local council, Kirklees, is going through the latest stage of its consultation on the local development framework. May we have a debate on the five-year land supply and the scrapping of the regional spatial strategy housing targets to ensure that development is sustainable?
Mr Lansley: I know from my own circumstances of the importance that was attached to abolishing top-down housing targets set under the regional spatial strategy, and why the local development framework is so important. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has said that the local development framework must meet the test of providing locations for sustainable housing sufficient to meet an area’s need for a number of years ahead. To help my hon. Friend, I shall ask my right hon. Friend to write to him.
Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): The Foreign Office is due to publish its landmark strategy on business and human rights any day now. Will the Leader of the House talk to Ministers about exactly when the strategy will be published and ensure that time is found for a ministerial statement to the House to accompany its much-awaited publication?
Mr Lansley: I know that my colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are well aware of the hon. Lady’s points, but I shall draw their attention to them. She might like to bear it in mind that an opportunity to ask that question will arise at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1087
Mr Lansley: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. It is worth our making the point in our constituencies and to our constituents that Parliament is connecting with the public in a way that has never happened before. Fourteen e-petitions have crossed the 100,000-signature threshold, and we and the Backbench Business Committee have enabled debate to be held on all of them. In addition, the Government will respond to every petition that passes the 10,000-signature threshold. On behalf of the Government I am putting the responses on the website, and some 20 will have gone up by now. I hope to complete the process of responding to all those that have passed the 10,000-signature threshold in the next few days.
Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Improving home energy efficiency is essential to combat fuel poverty. The Insulation Industry Forum has just told me that there will be 16,000 job losses in its sector soon. May we have an urgent debate to help prevent this loss of key skills, given that investment in energy efficiency is so important?
Mr Lansley: It is tremendously important, and it is the green deal, which began its implementation at the beginning of October, that will make such a difference in enabling that to happen. The green deal support, the largest such programme we have ever seen, is specifically designed to support some of the measures, such as insulation, that will make the biggest difference to energy efficiency. I hope that exactly that will happen as we get behind this programme.
25 Oct 2012 : Column 1088
debate about how the Government can make it easier for small charities, such as Black Country Foodbank and Loaves and Fishes in my constituency, to take on jobseekers on work experience without those jobseekers fearing that they will lose their benefits?
Mr Lansley: I share with my hon. Friend the feeling of encouragement that we get from the employment figures, as they show the number of people in work and reflect the support we are giving them. I will, of course, ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions to address the specific point he raises.
Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): In the Harrogate area, this year is on track to be the record year for the opening of new business bank accounts. Last year saw a record half a million new businesses created in the UK. Before coming to this place, I was involved in starting businesses, and I am sure they play an important role in our economic recovery. May we have a debate to recognise the progress made and to explore what more could be done to make the UK the best place to start a business?
Mr Lansley: As my hon. Friend says, the progress is tremendously encouraging. The rate of new business creation in 2011 was the highest ever at more than 1,230 a day. Along with my colleagues, I will try to encourage debate on this issue and take advantage of whatever opportunities we can. New business formation is vital. As we know, the support we can give for small business—including finance for lending and small business lending—and the initiatives we have announced will make a considerable difference, but we are looking tirelessly at how we can stimulate effective lending to businesses to enable those businesses that are being created at an unprecedented rate to go on to grow and expand.