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House of Commons

Wednesday 10 March 2010

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked -

Music Licensing Levies

1. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What representations the Office of the Third Sector has received on the effects on charities and the voluntary sector of new music licensing levies. [321234]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Angela E. Smith): I have had a number of meetings with third sector representatives to hear their concerns. I have also met representatives from Phonographic Performance Ltd and the Performing Rights Society for Music. These meetings are helping to facilitate negotiations, and subsequent agreement between the two sides, about detailed arrangements for music licensing, prior to implementation.

John Howell: I thank the Minister for her response but, on the basis of her own figures, the changes to the exemption in music licences for charities and voluntary groups will cost them £20 million a year. Does she not think it hypocritical that Ministers can write in letters to my constituents that they have developed an environment that encourages charities to thrive when they are saddling them with a cost of £20 million a year?

Angela E. Smith: No, I do not. The hon. Gentleman has to understand that removing the exemption was not a whim of Government but a legal imperative. I think that we are the last country in Europe to remove it, but the important thing is that we proceed with agreement. Clearly, the Government do not want to put any additional burdens, including costs, on charities. It is very important that charities and the organisations that could be affected discuss the matter, and that is why I am very pleased to be able to facilitate those discussions between the two sides.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): Everyone recognises the right of PPL to get the income from its work that the courts say it deserves, but I am sure that it would not wish to be seen to be imposing in any way an undue weight of levy, on the smallest charities in particular. Will the Minister try to make sure that there is a
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measured response to the outcome of the negotiations, and in particular that the amount of bureaucracy that charities will have to face as a result of this change is kept to an absolute minimum?

Angela E. Smith: Yes, of course. In fact, I met PPL and PRS this week after a meeting that I had the previous week with the Association of Charities Shops and the charities concerned, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and umbrella groups. We are very clear that we cannot have a system that imposes unreasonable burdens on charities, including administrative burdens. I pressed a joint system on PPL and PRS, and they are looking at it and are keen to facilitate it. Under that system, charities would get demands or letters only from those organisations, and not from others. The aim is to keep costs to a minimum, given the effect that the change could have on charities.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): Does not the small print of the Government's impact assessment show that no fewer than 250,000 voluntary organisations would suffer from this new music tax? The consultation stated:

We know that Lord Mandelson is all powerful and sweeps all before him, but could not Cabinet Office Ministers have shown a little backbone in resisting this new music tax?

Angela E. Smith: That question illustrates the right hon. Gentleman's fundamental misunderstanding. First, the levy is not a tax in any way, because no money at all accrues to the Government, whereas tax is money that goes to the Government. I therefore suggest that he gets his facts clear, as that might help him to understand the issues. Secondly, the Government have to make this change, as it is a legal imperative. We are working with all the organisations and charities involved and are having discussions in an attempt to reach agreement before any decision is taken forward.

Mr. Maude: Does the Minister accept that it is by no means agreed universally that there is a legal obligation to make this change? We know that it will cost £20 million overall to the sector, and it will also impact on church halls, which are already suffering under the red tape imposed by the Licensing Act 2003. Among all his many other grand appointments, Lord Mandelson is now a Church Commissioner. Does she not find it curious that the person who is meant to be the Minister defending the Church of England is, at the same time, giving it a kick in the collection tins?

Angela E. Smith: Witty but inaccurate. The right hon. Gentleman has to understand that the Government are seeking to minimise costs for all organisations, and that is why we are facilitating meetings leading to agreement. We intend to proceed with agreement between the charities and voluntary organisations and PPL. He suggested that the costs would be around £20 million, but I think that that is an overstatement. The organisations concerned- [ Interruption. ] That number was contained in the original consultation, but I think that we have moved on significantly from then, as a result of the negotiations. I shall keep him up to date, as he seems to sadly out of date at present.

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Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that many hon. Members across all the Benches have campaigned for many years to ensure that the people who produce the music-the musicians-have the right to be rewarded for their efforts. That is what this is about. This is not a tax, but people deserve to get rewarded for the music that they record. The money happens to come through the PPL, but it is the artist who receives it. Does she agree that it is a matter of balance? It must be possible for the Government to work this out with the charities and the musicians: the charities must not be affected, but the people who make the music in the first place should not be robbed.

Angela E. Smith: My hon. Friend makes a valid point about balance. We should have a balance and an agreement between the two sides that are affected.

Cabinet Meeting (Durham)

2. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): What the cost was of holding the Cabinet meeting in Durham on 18 February 2010. [321236]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Tessa Jowell): The cost of the Cabinet meeting and the public engagement event was £67,473, excluding VAT. The Cabinet's visit to Durham on 18 February created an opportunity for a whole range of ministerial visits right across the region.

Mr. Robathan: There is a suspicion abroad that the whole range of ministerial visits may have had more to do with electioneering for the coming general election, having used public money to get up there. Will the Minister please tell the House-if she cannot do so now, will she put a full list in the public domain-what party political engagements each Cabinet Minister had when he or she went to Durham?

Tessa Jowell: It is absolutely reprehensible to undertake uninformed smear. The Cabinet's visit to Durham and the visits that the Cabinet has undertaken to other cities in England and Wales reflect the Government's determination to get out and about, not to be wholly based in London, and I want to make it absolutely clear that the conduct of the Cabinet visits and the ministerial meetings are fully subject to the ministerial code. If any party political campaigning is undertaken, the costs are met by the Labour party, which would be responsible. There is complete transparency, and the hon. Gentleman should not make such claims.

Voting Age

3. Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): What recent representations the Minister for young citizens and youth engagement has received on the merits of lowering the voting age to 16 years. [321237]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Ms Dawn Butler): Representations have been made by various groups, including the British Youth Council and the UK Youth Parliament. The Government are absolutely determined to increase the engagement of young people
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in politics and will continue to review how best that is done, and that will include consideration of lowering the voting age to 16. We are also very innovative: today, we have the march on Government, and I will be on Habbo, where we have already had 40,000 visits and almost 1,000 members, to engage with young people.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for an extremely comprehensive reply. In view of the fact that the debate on voting at 16 is clearly ongoing, will she inform me and, of course, the House about what action the Government are taking to ensure that citizenship education is consistent with our objectives of improving the democratic system?

Ms Butler: My right hon. Friend makes a valid point about citizenship education. The Government believe that it is crucial to provide the best citizenship education for young people. The Department for Children, Schools and Families is funding 11 higher education institutions to provide free continuing professional development courses for teachers, and certificates and masters-level credits will be awarded when they are completed. On 18 March, we will have a debate right here in the House in Committee Room 14 to discuss citizenship education.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Would it not be more appropriate to try to ensure an increase in the participation of the 18-to-25 age group, before considering lowering the voting age to 16?

Ms Butler: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but one age group should not be considered to the exclusion of any other. In fact, it is habit forming when people, especially young people, get involved and engage in politics; they are then more likely to carry that through later on in their lives.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Surely, in my constituency, as in others, the voting record of those between the ages of 18 and 25 is so low that something desperate needs to be done, does it not?

Ms Butler: I agree with hon. Friend that something desperate needs to be done. Surely, as part of that, hon. Members should make a cohesive effort to go out and engage with young people in all constituencies.

List of Ministerial Responsibilities

4. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What the cost was of producing the list of ministerial responsibilities published by her Department in October 2009; and if she will make a statement. [321238]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Tessa Jowell): The list of ministerial responsibilities is produced in-house by the Cabinet Office. Costs are met from within existing Cabinet Office budgets and are not separately identifiable.

Mr. Bone: This document is terrific value for money. On page 2, it ranks the Cabinet members in order of importance. For years, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was ranked No. 2, but last October he was demoted to No. 4. Was that the unleashing of the forces of hell within the Cabinet Office?

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Tessa Jowell: The hon. Gentleman is almost at the point of doing a PhD thesis on departmental responsibilities, so great is his fascination with the topic, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer is more focused on guiding this country out of recession and ensuring that people keep their jobs and that businesses survive the deepest global recession than he is on the list of departmental responsibilities.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I agree with the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) that the document is very useful, but rather than a beauty contest-a list of who the Prime Minister likes at a certain time-it is something that many hon. Members use for the purpose of information. The problem is that, as soon as it is published, it is out of date. What is being done to ensure that Ministers' offices are aware of what their Ministers' responsibilities are? When members of my office have used that list to ring up Departments, they have found that the portfolios have changed.

Tessa Jowell: Perhaps I can undertake to ensure that a review is conducted to ensure that Ministers' specific responsibilities are accurately documented, for the convenience of Members across the House.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Why has the Cabinet Office refused to publish a list of Parliamentary Private Secretaries to accompany the list of Ministers? Is it because 12 PPS posts remain vacant since last June's ministerial reshuffle? Those are traditionally the first rungs of the ministerial ladder: ambitious Back Benchers-well represented today-should be stampeding to get a toehold. Do the vacancies reflect a lack of talent on the Labour Back Benches, or just a lack of appetite to serve the present Prime Minister?

Tessa Jowell: The people at home who may be gripped watching Cabinet Office questions will be bewildered by the Opposition's preoccupation with such matters when there are so many big issues facing our country, which every single Member listed in the directory of Ministers is focused on tackling, in the interests of the people they represent.

Civil Service Compensation Scheme

6. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What recent progress has been made in negotiations on the civil service compensation scheme; and if she will make a statement. [321243]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Tessa Jowell): For the past 18 months, officials have been in discussion with the six main civil service unions to negotiate changes to the civil service compensation scheme to eliminate age discrimination, to protect the lowest paid and to deliver the savings of £500 million over three years committed to by the Prime Minister. The new scheme will be brought into effect from 1 April, with the agreement of five of the six civil service unions. The amendment scheme was laid before the House on 5 February. The Public and Commercial Services union rejected the new proposals and held industrial action on Monday and Tuesday this week.

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Julie Morgan: I have thousands of civil servants working in my Cardiff, North constituency, particularly in Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in Llanishen and Companies House in Gabalfa, and I met PCS representatives earlier this week. I urge my right hon. Friend to do all she can to settle the damaging dispute with the PCS. Will she return to the negotiating table to try to reach a settlement with the PCS?

Tessa Jowell: I want to be absolutely clear with my hon. Friend, who I know is very concerned about the position of civil servants in her constituency and who has represented their interests so diligently. There is no question of any further negotiation. The amendment scheme that gives effect to the changes, agreed by five of the six trade unions, has been laid before Parliament. It is a fair set of proposals, which deals with the issues of age discrimination that are persistent in the old proposals. The new scheme benefits the lowest paid and compares well with other schemes in the public sector. There is no question of reopening negotiations.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): In Plymouth, we have hundreds of hard-working civil servants who have served the country very well indeed at the Land Registry. They are extremely concerned about how they are being treated by the Government in a change of terms of conditions without proper consultation. Why are the Government treating the Land Registry civil servants in Plymouth so badly?

Tessa Jowell: It is not the case that the interests of civil servants have been ignored, neglected or in any other way not treated with the direct integrity that is deserved in respect of the hard work of the thousands and thousands of civil servants who serve this country. The Land Registry civil servants will be subject in exactly the same way to the proposals under the new compensation scheme which, as I say, are particularly focused on benefiting the lowest paid.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): The loyal, diligent workers at the tax office in Chorley are being run down in numbers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is totally unacceptable to offer them jobs in the benefits and credits department, only for them to find out that in January that offer was withdrawn and they now face redundancy? Is that not the crisis that we are facing, and the reason why PCS is so unhappy? Will she look into the issue as a matter of urgency?

Tessa Jowell: I am happy to have further discussion with my hon. Friend about the concerns of civil servants in his constituency, but it is the intention that all negotiations are conducted in a way that accords dignity and respect to those civil servants who are subject to any changes.

Departmental Carbon Dioxide Emissions

7. Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): What discussions she had with ministerial colleagues on reducing levels of carbon dioxide emissions attributable to the use of information and communications technology in Government Departments. [321244]

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