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10 Dec 2009 : Column 501

T6. [305604] Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): One question only this time, Mr. Speaker. The British people are rightly concerned about animal welfare, and will broadly welcome the phasing out of battery cages in 2012. However, they do not wish to see imports of eggs and other chicken products from countries outside the EU that still raise animals in poor conditions and in batteries. What will the Government do to prevent the import of eggs and other chicken products that have been produced using poor welfare standards outside the EU?

Jim Fitzpatrick: As I discussed with the egg and poultry conference about two weeks ago, our position is still to hold firmly to the 2012 ban on battery cages. I was asked what plan B was. Plan B is to lobby the Commission to ensure that there are no imports of eggs from countries with lower standards, and to introduce a new marking number-No. 4-for those eggs that fall below standard. That is plan B, but we have not yet given up on plan A, which is to hold firm, and hope that the Commission holds firm, to the ban on battery cages that will come in in 2012.

T5. [305603] Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): May I ask my hon. Friends about insect pollinator research funding? In particular, can they allay the fears of those involved that the method of assessment of such research projects could lead to big gaps in essential research areas such as husbandry for bee keeping and in the money being devoted to honey bees and bees generally? We do not need elegant academic research; we need a practical result that will save the honey bee.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Norris): I certainly can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government take the health of Britain's bees and other pollinators very seriously indeed. The decline in bee health is a complex issue with no single cause. The insect pollinator initiative consortium has now considered the expressions of interest received and has invited four research bids for the £10 million that has been made available. It will make its final decisions on allocations early next year. In the interim, it is crucial that all interested parties play an active role in DEFRA's healthy bees plan in order to tackle this hugely important and complex issue. They have a lot to say, and lots of expertise, and we want to hear from them.

T7. [305605] Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I met representatives of the Environment Agency this week to discuss flood and river issues affecting my constituency, and I was advised that, despite efforts to tackle domestic and commercial waste dumping, there are still problems with people dumping waste in our rivers. What recent assessment has the Minister made of this problem, and what action are the Government taking to try to tackle it?

Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. There is so much good work being carried out by the Environment Agency and by volunteer groups around the country, including in my own constituency. I am sure that, like me, he has spent many
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happy weekends knee deep in the waters-subject to the Environment Agency's approval, of course. I will happily look at the issue that he has raised and drop him a line to give him the state of progress.

T9. [305607] Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Since I was first elected as MP for the City of York, the Minister's Department has moved hundreds of jobs to its offices at Kings Pool in my city. There is now a major development site right next to Kings Pool that would allow DEFRA to build additional office space if it wanted to transfer more staff from London and the south-east to the north of England. Will the Secretary of State ask his director of estates to look at the real estate possibilities in York, and consider whether they would help the Department to deal with its staff relocation plans?

Hilary Benn: I promise to take careful note of the kind bid that my hon. Friend has made. Perhaps it will be the first of many.

T8. [305606] Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): The Commons Act 2006 placed additional duties and responsibilities on those who hold commons rights. It has been brought to my attention that the lord of the manor of Rochdale, who is a New Zealand resident, has claimed title to considerably more common land than he is entitled to. Will the Minister undertake to look into this with the Land Valuation Office? Residents in the Littleborough area of my constituency are seriously concerned about the effect that that decision is having on them.

Hilary Benn: Very gladly. If the hon. Gentleman will give me further details, I will do precisely that.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What are the Government doing to encourage the producers and retailers of halal meat to increase the use of pre-stunning, which is compliant with the Koran and which would have significant welfare, economic and political benefits?

Jim Fitzpatrick: There are no plans to change the regulations on religious slaughter as they stand at the moment. My hon. Friend and I have had a meeting with some of his constituents in the past month to discuss this issue in depth. We obviously encourage support for the regulations as they stand, but there are no plans to change the status quo.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): The proposed Milton Keynes-Bedford canal enjoys cross-party support and will bring many benefits to the region. It has interesting financial arrangements and could well go ahead, but it is stalling at the moment. Will the Minister use his influence to get the project moving again?

Huw Irranca-Davies: For obvious reasons we try not to intervene in individual projects, recognising that British Waterways has a good overview and has achieved a lot in the past decade in opening up new stretches of canals that had fallen into disrepair. I wish the project well and if the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I shall take a look at it. I applaud the enthusiasm of the people who
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want to open that stretch. We have many such instances across the country, showing why the strength and enthusiasm of volunteers are such a bedrock of the British Waterways network.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Many farmers are challenging new maps from the Rural Payments Agency. Will the Minister consider looking at an RPA presence on the ground so that a more constructive process for challenge could be developed, along the lines of moving towards stewardship applications with which farmers seem much happier?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The progress on re-mapping the country is steady. Earlier this week I chaired a meeting between the RPA, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Agency and the Tenant Farmers Association, which are relatively pleased with the progress that has been made on a complex issue. There are deadlines in January that we have to meet and we are working as hard as we can to ensure that that takes place, so that we can pre-populate the maps for next year's claims. At the same time, we welcome the progress made in the payments for 2009.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give an updated statement on the surface water charges that affect sports grounds, churches and charities?

Huw Irranca-Davies: I am pleased to give an update. My hon. Friend and others who have lobbied assiduously on that matter will be pleased to know that the issue appears in our Flood and Water Management Bill. With the support of this House and the other place,
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we will get that measure on to the statute book and protect scouts associations, churches, community halls and others.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): In light of the outbreak of the fatal disease swine fever in Russia, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to re-examine our bio-security arrangements?

Hilary Benn: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point and he will know that we are always vigilant. The teams monitor carefully what is happening elsewhere and he can rest assured that we will do what is required in light of the evidence. If he would be interested-I am sure he would-I will be happy to write to him further.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): The Secretary of State may be aware that there is great local concern that sites have been identified for potential land raise facilities for waste disposal on the boundary between my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). Will he give a clear statement that he believes that such approaches are increasingly out of date and unacceptable and that we should be looking for approaches that generate energy from waste, rather than just dumping it, often in inappropriate locations?

Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman completely. We need to get our landfill down, which is why-because of the landfill levy-domestic recycling rates have risen from 8 to 37 per cent. in the past 12 years. I shall be consulting after the turn of the year on whether we should ban certain products from landfill. Food waste is a good example; why put it in landfill when we could turn it into energy?

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Business of the House

11.33 am

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for the forthcoming week is:

Monday 14 December-Second Reading of the Personal Care at Home Bill, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Tuesday 15 December-Second Reading of the Flood and Water Management Bill, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to Welsh language.

Wednesday 16 December-Motion on the Christmas recess Adjournment.

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 January will include:

Monday 4 January-The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 5 January-Second Reading of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill.

Wednesday 6 January-Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Video Recordings Bill.

Thursday 7 January-A general debate on the pre-Budget report.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 January will include:

Monday 11 January-Second Reading of the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 7 January will be:

Thursday 7 January-A debate from the Public Administration Committee on "Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall".

Through you, Mr. Speaker, may I also offer my best wishes for Christmas and the new year to all hon. Members, and on behalf of all hon. Members, may I offer our best wishes for Christmas and the new year to the Clerks of the House, the Officers of the House, catering teams, the cleaners, the police, the doorkeepers, and all who work so hard to keep the House running smoothly? I think that everyone deserves a very good Christmas and new year.

Sir George Young: May I thank the Leader of the House for giving us next week's business?

I warmly welcome the change from the right hon. and learned Lady's initial refusal to allow time for a dedicated debate on the pre-Budget report. The House will want to discuss the issues raised by the Chancellor's statement of yesterday, and we will particularly welcome the chance to highlight that the Government's pay freeze will hit the poorest public sector workers, unlike our proposals, which excluded the million lowest paid employees. This debate will also give Ministers the opportunity to explain the cost to the NHS of the rise in national insurance.

If I am on a winning streak in asking for debates, may I repeat my other request, for a debate on Afghanistan? I appreciate the efforts that the right hon. and learned Lady is making to ensure that every week we get an
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opportunity to question Ministers on Afghanistan, but does she appreciate that Members are looking for a more substantial opportunity to discuss Government policy on Afghanistan, particularly in advance of the proposed London summit at the end of January, so can we have a full day's debate, in Government time, early in the new year?

I welcome today's written ministerial statement from the Leader of the House on the Kelly report. We are relieved that the Government have finally accepted our arguments that legislation is needed now to implement Kelly in full. Can the right hon. and learned Lady give an indication of when this proposed legislation will be brought forward and whether it will take the form of a stand-alone Bill or an amendment to existing legislation?

When may we debate the motion on private Members' Bills, which has been languishing on the Order Paper for more than a week? Unless we debate and resolve the issue soon, we will run the risk of not debating any private Members' Bills at all in this Session.

May we have a debate on yesterday's report from the Public Administration Committee on the unsatisfactory handling of the special report from the ombudsman on Equitable Life? As the Committee recommends, a mechanism needs to be found so that we can debate findings from the ombudsman without having to rely on either Government or Opposition motions. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that it would be sensible for the Government to respond to that recommendation during the debate on the Wright Committee report on Commons reform?

In the same vein, when will we debate and vote on the Procedure Committee's report on the election of Deputy Speakers? This is an initiative from you, Mr Speaker, which requires action if we are to get a new system in place before the beginning of the next Parliament. The Procedure Committee has said that it is seeking the endorsement of the House. When might it secure it?

May we have a debate on the Copenhagen agreement early in the new year? This is an historic moment, which we hope will deliver a real and meaningful settlement. Given that, will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the House is able to debate the conclusions of Copenhagen in full, and its implications for the UK?

Finally, as the right hon. and learned Lady has made clear, astonishingly, this is the last business question before Christmas, so, despite the fact that many people have yet to send a single Christmas card, I, too, would like to take this opportunity to offer you, Mr. Speaker, and all hon. Members including the right hon. and learned Lady, as well as all the staff and Officers, from the Clerks to the caterers, the cleaners, the police and the doorkeepers, a very happy Christmas and new year.

Ms Harman: I am happy to accede to the right hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on the pre-Budget report, and I have announced that. We are also looking for an opportunity to hold a debate on Afghanistan, and, given the context of the London summit, it is obviously even more important that the House has an opportunity to debate the issue, as well as hearing statements from Ministers, which have been made regularly, and hearing from the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Question Time when he answers on the subject.

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The right hon. Gentleman made a point about the Kelly report and legislation to take forward Sir Christopher Kelly's proposals. We all recognise that the House had to deal with the public anger and concern about the abuse of the allowance system by some Members. The House did not sit back waiting for Kelly. We have already substantially changed the allowance system and legislated for the establishment of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. As the right hon. Gentleman recognises, there will be further legislation, particularly to make it the responsibility of IPSA to decide Members of Parliament's pay and pensions. We had, of course, already voted not to decide our own pay, but we will now bring forward legislation to put that on a statutory footing. I am not yet in a position to tell him and the House whether that legislation will stand alone or be added to existing legislation, but, whatever the vehicle, we are determined, and the whole House is agreed, that we should go forward on that basis. There is, as he said, a motion outstanding for debate on private Members' business. It is important that that is taken forward, and it will be.

On Equitable Life, as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury set out in the Opposition day debate on Equitable Life, Sir John Chadwick will produce an interim report by the end of the year, and a final report in the spring. He is hard at work on that very important business.

The election of Deputy Speakers has been considered by the Wright Committee. The Committee has also considered how the House chooses the Chairs and members of Select Committees, how the public can provide input to debates in the House of Commons through petitions and how House business is managed. I have written to Opposition parties about those issues, because how we should make progress on them is a House matter; it is not for Government diktat. We want to achieve consensus and we want to bring forward a motion on which both sides of the House can agree. I have asked Opposition parties to give me their views on all the issues that the Wright Committee has dealt with, so that I can introduce promptly, within the time limit that is expected of the Government, a motion that will achieve consensus, so that we can go forward with that important Committee's proposals.

On the right hon. Gentleman's festive comments, did he say that he had not sent a single Christmas card yet?

Sir George Young: I said that some people have not.

Ms Harman: Well, it could be said that the shadow Leader of the House is not one of the most cheerful Members of the House- [ Interruption. ] No, he is not. However, this is the time for Christmas parties. Even though it has been a very difficult year for the House and for the economy, we should not ignore the festive season altogether. With that in mind, I have been thinking about what we should all sing if we were to have a karaoke party, and I have allocated to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) the karaoke number, "Remember You're a Womble". As the shadow Leader of the House is really the Morrissey of the House, I have chosen for him the Smiths number, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now", and for myself, I have taken a Billy Joel number, "Uptown Girl".

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Ho, ho, ho, Mr. Speaker. [ Laughter. ] May I wish you and all our staff and Officers of the House a Happy Christmas?

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