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House of Commons

Thursday 9 December 2010

The House met at half-past Ten o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked-

Rural Payments Agency

1. Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): What progress her Department has made on increasing the efficiency and reliability of the Rural Payments Agency. [29438]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): The agency is implementing the key recommendations from the independent review of the organisation, which was published on 20 July. That involves six priority projects designed to improve customers' experience, establish an efficient operation and make essential preparations for the expected 2013 CAP reforms. Progress is being closely monitored by the RPA oversight board, which I chair.

Greg Mulholland: I thank the Minister for that answer and for attending the sustainability event the other evening. He is well aware of the chaos in the past few years with the single payment scheme system, and the Rural Payments Agency's inability to pay farmers promptly-three alone in the Arthington area of my constituency. Can he please give an assessment of the Rural Payments Agency's ability to carry that out and sort out the mess?

Mr Paice: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As the House knows, there have been some dreadful performances by the RPA in years gone by, and they have not yet all been eliminated. There are still some long-standing cases, which we are trying to work through. We will do that as soon as possible. The board is making arrangements to speed up that process, but I am happy to tell my hon. Friend and the rest of the House that between 1 December, when the payment window started, and 3 December some 83,300 farmers were sent their single farm payment in those first three days-that is 79% of all claimants by volume. It is ahead of last year's achievements, despite all the problems of mapping changes.

Educational Access Programme

2. Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): What recent representations she has received on her Department's funding for the educational access programme. [29439]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): The countryside provides a wonderful learning environment and many organisations do valuable work. My Department will continue to provide funding for educational access through existing agri-environment agreements and through capital payments under new higher level stewardship-HLS-agreements. We are also investigating ways of encouraging the continued provision of educational access, and of addressing the barriers that currently exist.

Mr Spencer: I am very grateful for that answer-I am delighted to hear it. I hope the Minister agrees that my constituents John and Kathy Charles-Jones, who provide access to farms for schoolchildren, do an excellent job of showing the next generation how technology and high levels of animal welfare are playing a big part in food production for the nation.

Richard Benyon: I and my ministerial colleagues are passionate about getting more people in this country to understand how our food gets from field to fork. We are impressed with the work that so many farmers, charities and other organisations do. We are listening to representations that several organisations are making to us. We want to see whether we can expand what goes on in the next phase of HLS schemes, to secure the capital payments and to work out ways we can eliminate some of the barriers to encouraging schools to get on to farms. That can include changing health and safety provision.

Flood Defences

3. Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): Which planned flood defence schemes will not proceed as a result of her Department's planned reduction in expenditure on flood defences. [29440]

18. Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): Which planned flood defence schemes will not proceed as a result of her Department's planned reduction in expenditure on flood defences. [29455]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I am sorry to have to tell the House some sad news. A member of Environment Agency staff was tragically killed yesterday in an accident. I hope the whole House will join me in extending our condolences to his family at this difficult time.

No schemes have been cancelled as a result of the spending review. Schemes already under construction or under contract will be completed. The Department has launched a consultation on how national funding should be allocated to flood protection schemes in future.

Toby Perkins: May I associate myself with the Secretary of State's remarks a moment ago?

In Chesterfield in 2007, more than 500 homes were flooded and it was expected, from DEFRA's previous statement, that 145,000 homes across the country would be removed from flood risk by 2011. I understand that the date has now been moved back to 2015. Does the Secretary of State recognise that the reduction in funding
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for flood defences and the removal of those homes from that earlier expectation flies in the face of the comments that she and her party made in opposition?

Mrs Spelman: With respect, I think the hon. Gentleman is confused about the figures. The Chancellor in fact gave the figure of 145,000 homes as a minimum to be protected during the spending review period-there was never any suggestion that that would happen by 2011.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has constituents in Chesterfield who are flood-affected. The Environment Agency is currently proceeding with the Avenue coking works remediation project, which is under construction. That should help to provide protection to more than 100 properties in his constituency.

Karl Turner: One key recommendation of the Pitt review was that the Government should increase spending on flood defences by more than inflation year on year. With the Government's 27% cuts to flood defence budgets, have they turned their backs on communities such as mine in Hull East, which is still suffering very badly from the effects of the 2007 floods?

Mrs Spelman: Sir Michael Pitt's review, which was commissioned by the hon. Gentleman's party when it was in government, says that we

schemes. The Government have launched a consultation on payment for outcomes, which will help to provide more flood defences to more communities in future.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): May I join the Secretary of State in expressing my condolences to the family of the Environment Agency member of staff who tragically lost his life? I pay tribute to all those who put themselves in harm's way in the event of floods. All who serve on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee would like to record our appreciation of their work.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on protecting capital expenditure. However, I am concerned to ensure that work will continue on maintaining watercourses and that more work will be done, because that too can protect from floods. May I draw her attention to the fact that the statement of principles may well not be reviewed in 2013? Is she alarmed by that development?

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend is right, as Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, to record the Committee's sympathy for the EA staff member.

DEFRA is expected to spend £2.1 billion over the period of the spending review on flooding-half will go on maintenance, and the other half on capital-so I am confident that we can maintain our flood defences. The Association of British Insurers has warmly welcomed the proposals under the payment for outcomes scheme. That will assist us in renegotiating the statement of principles.

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Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): I have mentioned the Teignmouth flood defence scheme to the ministerial team on a number of occasions. May we have an update? Will funding be made available for those very important works?

Mrs Spelman: I cannot comment on individual projects ahead of Environment Agency decisions, which it has said it will make after the end of the consultation period on payment for outcomes, which concludes on 16 February. However, my hon. Friend's concern about flooding in her constituency is taken very seriously by all of us.

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): All on this side of the House share the condolences expressed by the Secretary of State for the Environment Agency worker who sadly lost their life.

I am afraid that the confusion mentioned by the Secretary of State is on the Government's part. DEFRA's 2009 report stated that 145,000 homes would be protected from flooding by March 2011. They have abandoned that aim because of huge cuts to the EA's flood defence budget-27% next year-and instead now hope to protect the same number of homes by 2015, two years after the current agreement with the insurance industry expires. That deliberate choice to delay will cause widespread anxiety and uncertainty for homeowners, businesses and local authorities up and down the country. The Government should now be honest with the country: either they know which flood defence schemes will be abandoned and are aware of the consequences of those cuts, or the cuts are indiscriminate, and the consequences are not understood. Does the Secretary of State know which schemes will be abandoned-yes or no?

Mrs Spelman: I just said in answer to the previous question that the Environment Agency would make decisions on all pending schemes after the close of the consultation on 16 February. As regards the figure that Opposition Members keep quoting, at no point has the figure of 145,000 properties receiving more protection ever been attributed to a time any sooner than 2015, the end of the spending review period. It would be inappropriate to compare spending levels with those of the previous Government, because Labour has failed to say how it would have accommodated the 50% cut in capital that the previous Chancellor had committed it to.

Primates as Pets

4. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): If she will bring forward proposals to prohibit the sale of primates as pets. [29441]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): The Government do not encourage the keeping of primates as pets, but a code of practice for the welfare of privately kept non-human primates lays down robust guidance for primate owners and keepers. Failure to follow that code would put the owner at risk of prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Mark Pritchard: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that response, but self-regulation is not working. There are currently 5,000 primates kept as pets in the United Kingdom, many of them in cruel and cramped conditions.
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It is hard to believe that in the 21st century the party of Wilberforce, who apart from abolishing slavery set up the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the coalition Government are not doing more to end that barbaric and outdated practice.

Mr Paice: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his determination on this subject and his rightful concern about animal welfare. I must point out that his figure of 5,000 is at the top end of the estimate. We do not know how many there are, but the estimate is between 1,200 and 5,000. If, as he says, many of them are being kept in cruel circumstances, that is not a matter for self-regulation; it is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act. If he or anybody else knows of primates being kept in what they believe to be cruel conditions, the owners are almost certainly in breach of providing the five freedoms, which is an offence.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): What discussions has the Minister had with counterparts in the Home Office on measures to ensure that primates that are brought into the UK for sale as pets are not caught in the wild and then diverted and used for research purposes in particular?

Mr Paice: I am very glad that the hon. Lady has asked me that question, because I asked it of myself yesterday when I was going through the information. In reality, primates are not coming in from the wild. I understand that only one animal in the past decade is believed to have been wild-caught and then brought into this country. Of course, they are all covered by the convention on international trade in endangered species anyway, so there are restrictions in place. Anyone wishing to import a primate into this country has to have a licence, and there are very strict conditions. I am happy to write to the hon. Lady if she would like to know about them.


5. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas. [29442]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): The Secretary of State and I are in regular contact with our ministerial colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on this important matter. As a member of the ministerial group on broadband, I speak regularly with Ministers in those Departments on the key issues, including the rural superfast broadband pilots announced on 21 October and the national broadband strategy "Britain's Superfast Broadband Future", published on 6 December.

Mr Hollobone: The Kettering borough rural forum, which represents residents in all 22 villages in the borough, has contacted me to say that it is unhappy about slow rural broadband speeds, and about Kettering's apparent exclusion from the Government's attempt to tackle the problem and from the 160 locations announced by
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BT. Will my hon. Friend do all he can to help residents in the rural parts of Kettering borough address the issue?

Richard Benyon: I am very keen to help the constituents of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, particularly in rural areas, who will benefit massively from the very good sum of money that we have announced-£530 million over this spending review period, increasing to £830 million in the two years after that. That will mean that constituents such as his will have the means not just to improve the quality of their lives but to run businesses and employ people. It will change the environment, and I can assure him that the disappointment of his constituents will soon be addressed as we start rolling out the hubs from which superfast broadband will operate. There is an enormous sum of money for a very ambitious project right across government, and I hope he will notice the difference very soon.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): When the Minister is in discussions with providers, will he make representations on behalf of people in rural areas who are complaining to me-and, I am sure, to many other hon. Members-that they keep seeing advertisements indicating significant broadband speeds, but that they can very seldom, if ever, get those speeds? Will he ensure that those companies' advertisements are more accurate?

Richard Benyon: It is important that providers are accurate and that the Government give the lead in ensuring that what people are told is within the realms of reality. The first paragraph of the executive summary of "Britain's Superfast Broadband Future" states:

That is our intention. We intend to carry those providers with us and to deliver for the hon. Gentleman's constituents and others in rural areas.

Dog Control Notices

6. Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): What her policy is on issuing dog control notices on private property. [29443]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): As I think my hon. Friend is aware, a proposal to issue dog control notices on private land was included in the dangerous dog consultation, the responses to which we have now published. The Department will respond to the issues raised in the consultation, including wider matters, and will make an announcement about the Government's approach in the new year.

Angie Bray: I thank the Minister for his answer. As he will be aware, the vast majority of those who responded to the consultation expressed opposition to the idea of dog control notices on private land. However, does he agree that we need to find a way of protecting workers, such as postal workers, who have to access private land to carry out their official duties?

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Mr Paice: The answer has to be yes. Of course we feel responsible for public service workers who, to a degree, put themselves at risk from dogs on private property. I cannot prejudge the outcome of the discussions, but I can tell my hon. Friend that what is important is that, since the end of the consultation, the Home Office has announced a review of all antisocial behaviour tools. DEFRA is represented on that working group, which is reviewing all antisocial issues, including the law on dogs.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I am sure I am not the only Member who has been bitten by a dog while election campaigning. More importantly, several of my constituents have also been bitten or had their dogs bitten by aggressive dogs. It is clear that dogs are being bred and kept for aggressive purposes. The Government have to get that under control. I suggest to the Minister that we need compulsory licensing, chipping and muzzling of dogs, especially for those known to be aggressive.

Mr Paice: In my experience, most letter boxes are dangerous enough on their own without the dog behind them. However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's point entirely-this is a serious issue. I can only repeat that we have been out to consultation, and that the results of that consultation, including the most popular outcomes, are all on the website. The Government are considering the matter now and, as I said, are working with the Home Office, and will make an announcement shortly after Christmas.

Pitt Review

7. Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): What progress her Department has made on implementation of the recommendations of the Pitt review on lessons learned from the 2007 floods on levels of flood protection for homes. [29444]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Good progress has been made on taking forward the Pitt review recommendations. We are implementing the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 and have recently launched a consultation on our national strategy. We published the national flood emergency framework in July, and held a response exercise last month to launch preparations for Exercise Watermark, which will test responses to severe wide-area flooding in March next year.

Stephen Gilbert: I welcome the Secretary of State's reply and was delighted to welcome her to Cornwall so that she could see for herself the recent flooding in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray). One of the lessons we have learned is that the Met Office gave a warning at 10.30 pm of an 80% chance of flooding some six hours before homes were affected and businesses destroyed, but that warning was never passed on to residents. Will she agree to meet me to discuss how we can improve early warnings?

Mrs Spelman: I commend my hon. Friend's work in helping with the ongoing recovery in his constituency. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that it is
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hard to predict surface water flooding events. In the afternoon of that event, there was only a 20% risk of severe flooding, but by 10.30 pm, when most people are in bed and asleep, it had increased to an 80% risk. One lesson learned from previous flooding incidents is that flood wardens, who can knock on doors and alert, in particular, vulnerable members of the community of the increased risk, can assist a community's resilience.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): Simon Douglas, the director of AA Insurance, was quoted in the Evening Standard as saying that "inadequate spending" on flood defences would

What help will the Government offer to the thousands of people who will find themselves in that situation?

Mrs Spelman: I refer the hon. Lady to my earlier answer about the warm welcome that the Association of British Insurers has given to the payment for outcomes approach, which, as the ABI chairman made clear, is what Pitt called for, what the ABI has been calling for and what the communities that would like to build greater resilience have also been calling for. I am sure that it will assist those at risk of flooding.

Rural Impact (CSR)

8. Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): When she plans to publish a rural impact assessment in respect of the comprehensive spending review. [29445]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): My Department is the rural champion in government, and we are working with other Departments as they develop their policies following the spending review. Those policies are the responsibility of individual Departments, but DEFRA will work with them to inform a policy statement in the new year, setting out this Government's commitment to rural people, and our approach to promoting and supporting their needs.

Susan Elan Jones: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her answer, but will she home in a little and give me one concrete example of something that DEFRA has done in this area?

Mrs Spelman: DEFRA is continually active in rural-proofing all policy that comes through, and hon. Members who have served in government will know that any Cabinet Minister has that function within their Department through DEFRA. The allocations have not yet been made, so the individual working out of the spending allocations has not been achieved. Let us consider, for example, the impact that DEFRA has had, working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, in achieving a roll-of out superfast broadband in four rural pilot areas.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The Department is facing deep cuts-34% in capital and 28%, I think, in current costs-thanks to the appalling profligacy of the previous Government. Does the Secretary of State agree that vital to our countryside is the maintenance of environmental schemes on our farms? We have got to preserve biodiversity and a higher level
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of environmental conditions in our countryside. I hope that she will be able to reassure the House today that despite the cuts, she will be determined to ensure that that still happens.

Mrs Spelman: I am delighted to be able to draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that we anticipate an 80% increase in higher level stewardship schemes, notwithstanding the need for DEFRA to make a contribution to addressing the budget deficit that we inherited from the previous Government.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): We had expected the publication of the rural impact assessment, but I am afraid that all we got was more weak excuses for the Secretary of State's failure to produce it. If she is having trouble completing her own assessment, will she at least back the findings of last month's report on rural poverty by the Commission for Rural Communities-soon to be scrapped by her Department-which found a lack of proper business support provided to farmers by the Government, poorer access to welfare services in the countryside and a quarter of farming households living below the poverty line, under the first Government since 1926 to try to remove employment protection from agricultural workers? Is not the reality that this is a spending review that slashes investment from rural bus services and social housing, from a Government who are indifferent to the greater inequality that their policies will cause in rural Britain?

Mrs Spelman: Oh dear. I think that constitutes a serious own-goal. The hon. Gentleman should surely be aware that the data that the Commission for Rural Communities was using to make its assessment relate to the period when his party was in government.

Mr Gray: Get back to jockland.

Hon. Members: Point of order?

Regulatory Burden (Farmers)

9. Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): What recent progress her Department has made on reducing the burden of regulation on farmers. [29446]

16. Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): What recent progress her Department has made on reducing the burden of regulation on farmers. [29453]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): One of my first actions was to appoint Richard Macdonald to lead a taskforce to identify ways of reducing the regulatory burden on farmers. The taskforce recently completed a public consultation and will make recommendations to the Government by April next year. I hope that it will bring about a change in culture in implementing our regulations, while at the same time maintaining standards.

Nadhim Zahawi: I thank the Minister for that reply. Farmers in Stratford-on-Avon will welcome the Government's commitment to the industry-led review of regulation. Can he give farmers a time frame for the review, so that they can begin to enjoy a regime that makes it easier for them to produce the food that we eat and care for the countryside that we all cherish?

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Mr Paice: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as he and many others are championing the cause of reducing regulation in our rural areas. As I said, the taskforce will report to the Government in early April 2011, and we will then have to see how to take it forward. I cannot be absolutely precise about the time scales, but I would like to take this opportunity to say that this is not about reducing standards, but about reducing the burden of process that has become so prevalent over recent years. We have seen an obsession with process, whereas we need to move much more towards making a judgment on outcomes.

Alun Cairns: DEFRA has had a better regulation agenda for many years, but few, if any, farmers have seen any tangible benefit from the reduction in bureaucracy and red tape. What reassurance can the Minister give that the current review will lead to real benefits for farmers in my constituency and elsewhere?

Mr Paice: The reassurance I can give is simply this. When we were in opposition, seeing how the previous Government made noises about reducing regulation but never did it convinced me that we had to find a new way. It is not just a question of abolishing regulations-although if they can be abolished, they should be-but about how we implement and enforce them. We have become obsessed with requiring farmers to fill in countless forms, tick loads of boxes and read legions of guidance notes when what really matters is whether the benefit expected from the regulation is achieved. That is what we have to focus on now.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Minister for his responses. One big concern of many farmers and landowners over the years has been about red tape, particularly filling in grant forms such as for, among other things, single farm payments. Sometimes they inadvertently fail to tick a box. Can we have some flexibility in the system to ensure that those who qualify for the grants get them and do not lose out because of one small mistake?

Mr Paice: The hon. Member puts his finger on an extremely important point. I have studied many cases in which farmers have been penalised because, as he said, they omitted to put a figure in a particular box or something like that. Although I have pushed back hard on this front, we are unfortunately constrained very much by the European Commission's Court of Auditors, which is very robust. The disallowances are completely out of proportion. We are working with the Commission, and I have chased up these matters with it to try to get a more proportionate sense of penalty. Hopefully, we will then be able to move forward.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): One key issue repeatedly raised with me by farmers is cross-compliance and the heavy penalties they face for minor infringements that are of no material consequence whatever. Does the Minister share my view that these penalties are out of all proportion? Will he raise this issue with the Commission as a matter of urgency?

Mr Paice: Yes, I entirely share the view that these penalties are out of all proportion. I have raised this with the Commission and, more importantly, I and
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many other Ministers of Agriculture have raised it in the context of the review of the common agricultural policy, which has just commenced. We have firmly expressed to the Commission our view that the next system of CAP support must be simpler, both for individual farmers and for member states to implement.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): Having met Richard Macdonald, I am confident that he will undertake a thorough and comprehensive review of the regulatory burden on farmers. When he reports, will my hon. Friend ensure that he receives support from other Government Departments and that that these matters are discussed, if necessary, with the European Union as well?

Mr Paice: I can assure my hon. Friend that I am in close contact with the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), and, as I said in answer to an earlier question, with the relevant Commissioners across Europe. We are determined that if this industry is to flourish and succeed in the face of increasing world demand for food over the next decades, it must be freed up from unnecessary burdens of regulation.

Tree Planting

10. John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): What representations she has received on her Department's plans for its project to plant 1 million trees in the next four years. [29447]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): Thus far, DEFRA has received around 100 e-mails from local authorities and community groups seeking information on or expressing an interest in the big tree plant campaign and a small number of letters from other individuals and organisations.

John Robertson: How much of the money received through privatisation will be spent in the areas of planted trees? How much of it will be spent north of the border, particularly in Glasgow?

Mrs Spelman: With respect, the question is about the big tree plant campaign, a partnership campaign that DEFRA will support with £4 million of public money. The campaign is being run in conjunction with a large number of partners and charities, including Groundwork, Keep Britain Tidy, the Tree Council and the National Forest Company. In every sense, it is a big society campaign.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South) (Lab): Two hundred and fifty thousand a year sounds like a lot of trees, but not when compared with the estimated 250 million trees-1,000 times as many-owned by the Forestry Commission in England, much of which the Government are intent on selling off and putting at risk. Will the Secretary of State tell us what she will say to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who is actively campaigning against proposals to dispose of a similar proportion of Forestry Commission land in Scotland-a sale of trees that Lib Dems have described as "hugely flawed" and as a "money-making scam"?

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Mrs Spelman: Let me say a couple of things in response to that. With the 250,000 trees a year planted as part of the big tree plant campaign, the challenge is that the majority will be in urban areas, particularly in deprived communities, so significant plantings in those areas will benefit those communities. As for the Forestry Commission, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman, rather than reading the newspapers as a guide to Government policy, should adopt the better-informed approach of waiting for the launch of the consultation proposals, which I have discussed closely and successfully with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Common Fisheries Policy

11. Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): What recent discussions her Department has had on reform of the common fisheries policy; and if she will make a statement. [29448]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): As UK fisheries Minister, I have had discussions with a range of organisations and people about common fisheries policy reform, including discussions with the EU Fisheries Commissioner and other member states' Ministers during November's EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council. I have also met representatives of the fishing industry-both the large-scale and under-10-metre sector-MEPs and non-governmental organisations. I plan to have further discussions in pressing our case for radical reform of the CFP.

Peter Aldous: I thank the Minister for that reply, and for meeting a delegation of Lowestoft fishermen last week. I wish him well in his negotiations at next week's Council of Ministers meeting. The future of fishermen and communities all around Britain depends on a successful outcome. Will the Minister confirm that in the review of the CFP, his priorities will include a fair deal for the under-10-metre fleet and the elimination of discards?

Richard Benyon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his good wishes for next week's negotiations, and I confirm that the UK is committed to genuine fundamental reform-to achieving healthy fish stocks, a prosperous fishing industry and a healthy marine environment. Part of that agenda is to ensure that we have regionalised decision making and an end to the top-down failure of the current common fisheries policy, and that we give fishermen a stake in the long-term health of fish stocks. That involves those in the under-10-metre sector; I am deeply mindful of the problems that they have faced in recent years, and I want to give them and the communities that they support a long-term future under a reformed CFP.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): As I represent two fishing ports in Northern Ireland, may I ask the Minister what further progress has been made towards regionalisation?

Richard Benyon: I am grateful to the hon. Lady and to other Northern Ireland Members who have been forceful in putting the case for the fishing communities that they represent. I recognise that they, like many other areas of the country, are affected by an industry in crisis. Our immediate attempts will be to secure for
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them adequate fish stocks to exploit over the coming year. However, I put on record my determination that they should not continue to live from hand to mouth. As someone who has been in business, I do not know how fishermen can deal with a bank manager when they do not know what they will be able to achieve in three, four or five months' time. I want to give them a longer-term future, in which they can be part of the solution, rather than being constantly browbeaten by an overbearing and multi-layered regulatory system.

Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the Minister, but may I remind those on the Treasury Bench that there are a lot of questions to get through, and that a little economy is needed in their answers?


12. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What recent steps her Department has taken to maintain the level of biodiversity. [29449]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): We will act on agreements reached at the successful biodiversity conference in Nagoya through a new biodiversity strategy for England, which will be published alongside the natural environment White Paper in the spring.

Andrew Rosindell: Will the Secretary of State outline the Government's policies on the protection of biodiversity in our 16 British overseas territories? In particular, will she tell us what the Government are doing to protect the biodiversity of the Henderson island, one of the Pitcairn Islands, where an appalling rat infestation has caused 25,000 chicks to be killed every year?

Mrs Spelman: I think that everyone in the House is well aware of my hon. Friend's concern about, and interest in, the overseas territories. I am delighted to be able to tell him that while attending the biodiversity conference, and the day before, I was able to announce additional spending under the Darwin initiative and, specifically, help with the protection of the Henderson petrel.

Nocton Dairies

13. Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): What representations she has received on the proposed provision of a super-dairy in Lincolnshire by Nocton Dairies; and if she will make a statement. [29450]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I have received numerous letters on this subject from animal welfare organisations, Members of Parliament and individual members of the public. I recently met a group of Members and others to discuss their concerns. However, I must emphasise that the proposal is for planning consent, on which I cannot comment.

Bob Blackman: Animal welfare organisations, dairy farmers and all who care about natural food in this country rightly fear that this is the thin end of a very thick wedge, with the potential for activities such as those that go on in California. What action will the Minister take to ensure that that does not happen?

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Mr Paice: I readily understand that the idea of mega-dairies creates strong emotions, although I cannot talk about a specific example. I believe, however, that we should be led by the real evidence and the science, which is why DEFRA has commissioned a three-year study at the Scottish agricultural colleges of the issues surrounding mega-dairies. A separate study of the directly related subject of the genetics of high-yielding cows is also taking place. I promise the House that if the outcomes of those studies-we should have the first results towards the end of next year-precipitate the need for action, action will be taken.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): When I have raised the subject with the Minister in the past he has made clear that this is a planning issue, but he has also said that he personally has no objections to mega-dairies. Could there not be a moratorium on the granting of planning applications for big schemes that are in the pipeline, such as Nocton's, until the results of the reviews that he mentioned have been made public?

Mr Paice: I entirely understand the hon. Lady's point, but no Minister in DEFRA has the power to create a moratorium. This is entirely a planning matter, and it is up to the local district council to decide how to respond. I have no powers to stop the development.

Higher Level Stewardship Schemes

14. Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): What recent representations she has received on provision of funding for permissive access routes under higher level stewardship schemes in rural areas. [29451]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): About 3,000 current agri-environment agreements support permissive access, contributing around 3% of the public rights of way network. As part of the spending review, we have looked very closely at how best to maximise the funds that we receive from the European Union for higher level stewardship. Funds will continue to be provided for permissive access under existing HLS agreements, and we will also continue to provide capital payments under new HLS agreements.

Dr Poulter: As the Minister will know, there are 129 higher level stewardship agreements in Suffolk. They help to provide an excellent link between rural and urban communities, and to interest young people in schools in issues relating to agriculture and food. Given the importance of such schemes in Suffolk, will the Minister agree to meet me, along with Suffolk farmers, to establish how we can develop the schemes further in the county?

Richard Benyon: I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend, and farmers in his constituency. We are keen to maximise the use of money from the rural development programme for England. For every pound that we put into biodiversity or environmental works through HLS, we receive £3 from Europe, whereas access is funded entirely through Government spending. That does not mean, however, that there is not an enormous amount that we can to do to encourage the kind of access to
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which my hon. Friend has referred. We will secure the capital spending, and we will make further provision to secure access in other parts of the country.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The loss of primitive access from future HLS schemes will have a very detrimental effect on the improvement of schemes under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and various sorts of stiles and benches that are erected in the countryside to provide access for people. How is the Minister going to resolve that, and ensure that the countryside remains open to the entire British population?

Richard Benyon: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that people will be able to claim for items such as stiles because they are capital items, as are car parks and the provision of access for disabled people. Those claims can still be made, therefore. The hon. Gentleman is a very strong advocate of HLS, and he and many other Members were worried that we might not be able to protect it under the spending review. We have done, however: we are going to increase it by 83%, but we are focused on reversing the decline in biodiversity and helping environmental works on farms. That is why we have taken the decisions that we have.

Insurance Premiums (Flooding)

15. Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effects of proposed changes to her Department's flood defence budget on the level of insurance premiums for homes at risk from flooding. [29452]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): DEFRA is working closely with the insurance industry to maximise the availability of flood insurance cover. We are consulting on changes to the way in which Government funding is allocated to flood and coastal erosion risk management projects. That will help safeguard insurance terms by encouraging increased investment beyond levels that the national taxpayer alone can afford.

Diana Johnson: The insurance market in Hull has been closed since 2007, and unless people had insurance then, they will not be able to get it now. Moreover, for people who can access insurance, premiums have gone up hugely. What does the Minister have to say to my constituents, as even those who currently have insurance are now very concerned that they will not be able to continue to have it in the future?

Richard Benyon: The hon. Lady's constituents, like mine, have suffered greatly from flooding in the past, and what she says is true: there are excess charges and premiums have risen. We have taken forward, from our very successful flood summit, two important working parties with the insurance industry-one on data sharing, so that information on where money has been spent is made available to insurers, and a second on working with the insurance industry so that following the post-2013 statement of principles, there will be an environment in which insurance is still available. The insurance industry will then be able to gear up for a new environment in which specialist brokers can start to help constituents such as the hon. Lady's and mine.

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Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Recognising the challenge of securing insurance in certain parts of the country, I recently met representatives of the Association of British Insurers, and they talked about building design and the fact that electric circuits are at the bottom of buildings rather than in the middle and higher. That is one of the primary reasons why people are out of their homes for months if not years, as opposed to merely needing replacement furniture and so forth. Will the Minister agree to meet the ABI to discuss such building design principles?

Richard Benyon: I have met, and do meet, the ABI, and we do talk about such matters. I need do no more than recommend one of the great legends, Mary Dhonau-[Hon. Members: "Maradona?"] No, Mary Dhonau. She runs the National Flood Forum, and her home has frequently been flooded. The last time she was flooded she made no claim because she had taken precisely the precautions that my hon. Friend mentions. I hope that more households will learn from her experience.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): There was a bit of confusion from the Secretary of State earlier about the figure of 145,000. The figures are in DEFRA's 2009 annual report, and I will happily send the link to the Secretary of State's office so that she can see the delay that the 27% cut has caused.

The Minister says he is consulting on new flood defence proposals. The new system would remove the Environment Agency's role in deciding who gets flood defences, and communities would be expected to pay a flood tax in order to receive central Government funding. Will this new system not disadvantage people from poorer parts of the country who cannot afford a new flood tax?

Richard Benyon: Oh dear-another own goal, I am afraid. The hon. Lady really must read the consultation documents. She will then see, first, that that is one of Sir Michael Pitt's recommendations, which she and her predecessor were very keen the new Government should continue to put into effect, and secondly, that payment for outcomes is not a flood tax. It is not compulsory; it is an additionality, and it provides clarity for communities that for too long have failed to get their schemes above the line. The hon. Lady's point will be very unwelcome if that is her party's future policy, on its blank sheet of paper.

Mary Creagh: One of the key recommendations of the Pitt review was that investment in flood spending should rise above inflation year on year. No matter what dodgy DEFRA maths the Minister tries to put before the House he cannot disguise a 27% cut in flood defence spending. We increased it by 38% over three years-that is the difference. That gave communities and the insurance industry certainty. He has increased the risk that the insurance industry could walk away from universal flood insurance after 2013. He has already mentioned speciality brokers; does he agree that we will need a new statement of principles in 2013 to make sure that flood insurance is universally available?

Richard Benyon: We will certainly need a new relationship with the ABI post-2013, but the hon. Lady must be careful with the numbers that she bandies around before the House. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central
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(Hilary Benn) had spoken of 50% cuts in capital for the Department that she now shadows if Labour had been re-elected, and she cannot now decide that that was a pipe dream and was not mentioned. Of course this issue is important: it is about people's homes and flooding. Some 5.2 million homes in this country are at some risk of flooding, and the Government have made this issue a priority. That is why we have protected this budget out of all proportion to other budgets in the difficult round that has been forced on us by the previous Government.

Topical Questions

Mr Speaker: I remind the House that if we are to get down the Order Paper we need short questions and, from Front Benchers, short answers.

T1. [29463] Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I commend the work of those who volunteered their services during the extreme weather, particularly our farmers. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that they provided a valuable service to many communities-from clearing snow to transporting midwives. That is a great example of the big society.

Andrew Selous: Will my right hon. Friend give the House a rough idea of the cost of food imported into the country that we are able to, and have the capacity, to grow?

Mrs Spelman: In 2009 the UK imported indigenous food-food that could be grown in season in the UK-with a total value of approximately £15 billion. Total imports of food, feed and drink in the same period were valued at £32.5 billion.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): The right hon. Lady's colleague the Minister of State, who has responsibility for forestry, wrote to all MPs in October saying that he would consult the public on the sale of England's forests before the end of the year. We now hear that he has postponed that consultation until the new year-yet in a parliamentary answer to me he revealed that he is busy meeting forestry companies on this very issue. When will the public get their say on the future of England's forests?

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): The hon. Lady is getting a bit carried away. The consultation will start in January, and it is perfectly reasonable for us to discuss with experts in the field the possible implications of all the things that we are thinking of doing before we firm up the ideas that we put to the public for consultation. The hon. Lady must be extremely careful on this subject, because we have just discovered that the previous Labour Government sold 12,000 hectares of forest without any form of sustainable protection for any of it.

T2. [29464] Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): Essex landowners and farmers contribute £1 million annually to the Environment Agency for sea defence and maintenance
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work, and they have provided information for the Essex shoreline management plan, but they have not been able to access the committees that have made the decisions and finalised that plan. Will the Minister ensure that in future my local farmers will have access to those committees and be fully integrated in the decision making? Will he also pledge to meet representatives in my constituency?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I am very concerned by what my hon. Friend says. I know that the Environment Agency contributed £25,000 to the "Managing Coastal Change" project led by the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association. If they are not being listened to as part of the shoreline management process, they should be. I will take every step to ensure that happens.

T6. [29468] Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I am a keen hill walker, but the Government are selling off England's forests and nature reserves. Why are they selling off those natural assets for a quick buck without getting strong assurances on public rights of way?

Mr Paice: The hon. Gentleman should have listened to earlier answers. We have not announced that we are selling a single hectare yet. [Hon. Members: "Yes, you have!"] We are going out to consultation on that. The Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported, even if he was not a Member then, sold off 12,000 hectares of forest without protecting the access that he talks about. We will make sure-and it will be in the consultation-that whatever we do protects all public benefits.

T3. [29465] Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): Green spaces and trees are vital in our cities, and I am fortunate that my constituency has many beautiful parks, including Dukes meadows, Gunnersbury park, Osterley park, Boston Manor park, Syon park and Hounslow heath. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what plans the Department has to plant many more trees across the city of London?

Mrs Spelman: I invite my hon. Friend, and encourage her constituents, to participate in the big tree plant campaign, which was launched at the beginning of December and will continue, and for which there are publicly available funds. We will do this in partnership with a number of charities, and I imagine that they have members in her constituency. In participating, she will demonstrate the effectiveness of this big society approach.

T7. [29469] Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): This Con-Dem Government propose to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board-a proposal that even Mrs Thatcher refused to implement. The Prime Minister suggests that because of the minimum wage the AWB is just a quango, but that "quango" covers workers' wages, holidays, sick pay, overtime, standby arrangements and even bereavement leave. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is just a quango?

Mr Paice: The hon. Gentleman should be aware that until the Warwick agreement, when the trade unions forced the Labour party to back down, it was Labour party policy to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. I
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should make the point that agriculture has changed dramatically in the 60 years since the board came into being. The previous Government did not reinstate any of the other wages boards when they had the chance to do so. Instead they instigated the Low Pay Commission, and we believe that that is the right body to manage agricultural wages, as it does everybody else's wages.

T4. [29466] Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Following the successful Nagoya conference on biodiversity and against the background of the current very important climate change conference in Cancun, can the Secretary of State tell us how she intends to take forward the protection of biodiversity, both in this country and internationally?

Mrs Spelman: As I said in response to an earlier question, the new biodiversity strategy for England will be published alongside the natural environment White Paper in the spring, to which we have had an astonishingly high number of contributions from the public: there have been in excess of 15,000.

T10. [29472] Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Given the Minister's acknowledgement on Second Reading of the Sustainable Livestock Bill of the serious nature of the deforestation caused by the production of soy for livestock feed, what position will the Government take on reform of the common agricultural policy to reduce UK imports of soy?

Mr Paice: The hon. Gentleman rightly raises an important issue. We want to reduce our dependency on imported protein, but not if that means, in the short term, destroying our domestic livestock industry only to have to import product fed on soya from the very sources we are trying to protect. On the CAP, it is very early days because the Commission has only just published its early proposals. However, I can assure him that agricultural sustainability, in the dramatically changing circumstances foreseen over the next 40 years, is right at the heart of our position. We want to make sure not only that we have money for research to find alternatives to imported soya, but that we can continue to provide for our domestic needs and those elsewhere.

T5. [29467] Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that monitoring agencies such as the Environment Agency need sharper teeth, so that they can step in more forcefully when pollution rises to unacceptable levels, particularly in residential areas such as Horn lane in Acton?

Richard Benyon: I thought that this subject might come up, because my hon. Friend has a debate on it next week, when I look forward to giving her a more detailed reply. The simple answer is yes, we have to make this clearer. There are no secrets here; the data should be available to local communities and I will do everything I can to support her constituents in this regard.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): My constituent, Lisa Boughton, who lives in Catcliffe, which was flooded in 2007, has this year-not in 2008 or 2009-suddenly been faced by Aviva with a 79% hike in her insurance
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premium. Will the Department call in Aviva to say that that is an intolerable burden to put on a person of limited means?

Richard Benyon: I entirely understand that, because it is an experience that many hon. Members around the country have had. This is why we have to engage with the ABI and have an arrangement that continues after 2013. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are working hard with the ABI to try to ensure that the concerns that he has raised are understood.

T8. [29470] Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): The Secretary of State knows that the Thames tideway tunnel scheme has already seen its costs double from £1.8 billion to £3.6 billion, and that it will cause massive construction disruption along the Thames and add £40 per annum to Thames Water customers' water bills. Can the Minister assure me that the Government have tried to find the best value-for-money solution to sewage discharge in the Thames?

Richard Benyon: I can assure my hon. Friend that we continue to challenge the cost assumptions behind that scheme. It is a massive undertaking, and I can see that it will fall on Thames Water's charge payers, so we want to ensure that if it goes ahead, it goes ahead because it has to, and that the work is done at the best possible price.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): In 2003 my private Member's Bill became the Household Waste Recycling Act, obliging local authorities to introduce doorstep recycling. Local authorities have until the 31st of this month to comply, and I am glad to say that 94% are in compliance. What does the Minister intend to do about the remaining 6%?

Richard Benyon: The right hon. Lady is a great expert in that field, and I pay tribute to her on that issue. It is an absolute priority for our Department, and it being taken forward as part of the waste review, not only to ensure that the difficult wins are achieved, but to consider how we can continue to encourage local authorities to deal with areas where, on recycling, there is still a long way to go.

T9. [29471] Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): At meetings throughout the dales in recent weeks, constituents have complained that the Yorkshire Dales national park authority is distant and aloof. How will the Minister ensure that in future national park authorities will be more thoughtful towards the communities they seek to represent?

Richard Benyon: I am very pleased with the response so far to our review of national park governance. We like national parks and want to support them, but the Government's firm view at this point is that we should review how they are governed to ensure that they are accountable to local people, and that local people can take part in their decision-making processes. That is the purpose of our review, and I hope that my hon. Friend's constituents are taking part in it.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Given the huge importance of provenance and traceability in agriculture, is it not time to consider compulsory country of origin food labelling?

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Mr Paice: I am delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman, and to remind the House, that two weeks ago the food industry produced a voluntary set of principles to which all major retailers and respective organisations have signed up. The code involves making clear the country of origin of meat, meat products and mainstream dairy products. Alongside that, we have the European negotiations in which the prospect of mandatory labelling is also being considered.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Much organic matter still finds its way to landfill, where it is not only a hazard but a great waste of sustainable energy. What progress has the Department made in promoting anaerobic digestion as a good way of dealing with such waste?

Richard Benyon: Anaerobic digestion offers not just great potential for our society, which is concerned about diverting food waste up the waste hierarchy and away from landfill, but opportunities for communities, farmers and farming businesses to develop schemes that can deal with waste and feed into our energy system. So we are certainly considering that as part of the waste review, which will be announced in early spring. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take close notice of it.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): May I implore the Minister, when he attends next week's fisheries discussions in Brussels, to raise
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with his French and Italian counterparts the issue of the continued fishing of bluefin tuna? What can he do to ensure that we protect that very endangered species?

Richard Benyon: I hope the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that we have continued the very strong line that his party, when it was in government, took on bluefin tuna. I am very keen to work with him, because he has great expertise in that field, and I can assure him that we raise the issue frequently at every level to ensure that we continue to push towards the protection of that iconic species.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): The Department is aware of the importance of the port of Falmouth's plans to create new jobs. When will its application for marine consents be decided?

Richard Benyon: I know that that issue is of massive importance to my hon. Friend and her constituents. The decision is imminent; I shall involve her at the earliest stage, and we will work from there. I absolutely understand the importance that the application has for local jobs.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but we must move on.

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Speaker's Statement

11.34 am

Mr Speaker: I have received a report from the Tellers in the Aye Lobby in the Division at 7.18 pm last night on deferred Divisions-the hon. Members for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). The number of Aye votes was erroneously reported as 320, instead of 310. I will direct the Clerk to correct the numbers in the Journal accordingly: Ayes 310, Noes 216.

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Business of the House

11.35 am

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): The business for the week commencing 13 December will be:

Monday 13 December-Second Reading of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Tuesday 14 December-Consideration of Lords amendments to the Superannuation Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Bill [ Lords], followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Identity Documents Bill.

Wednesday 15 December-Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Loans to Ireland Bill, followed by a motion to approve the ninth report 2010-11 from the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Thursday 16 December-Motion relating to park homes, followed by a motion on the work of the Public Accounts Committee. The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 20 December will include:

Monday 20 December-General debate on firearms control.

Tuesday 21 December-Pre-recess Adjournment debate, the format of which has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 13 and 20 January 2011 will be:

Thursday 13 January-A debate on the impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Department of Health.

Thursday 20 January-A general debate on anti-Semitism.

Hilary Benn: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his statement. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we can expect the localism Bill to be introduced? Two weeks ago, he said it would appear "shortly." On the same day, the Minister for decentralisation, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), said it would be published "imminently." Last week, the Leader of the House said it would appear "very shortly." However, having searched high and low for this shy and retiring Bill, I can find no sign of it. In a week that has been full of difficulty for the Government, is this Bill yet another little local difficulty that they have not been able to resolve?

May we have a statement on press reports published this week that impostors have been seeking to gain access to the parliamentary estate? It is now clear that a number of individuals seeking jobs here have claimed to be die-hard opponents of lifting the cap on tuition fees, but have turned out to be the very opposite of what they said they were. What can the Leader of the House do to protect us from these potential double agents?

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Has the Leader of the House made any progress on getting the Prime Minister to make his much anticipated apology to head teachers and school sports co-ordinators for his disgraceful attack on what they do? When will the heavily signalled U-turn arrive, or is it stuck in a queue behind the localism Bill?

Talking about trust in politics, can we have a debate on the subject? I ask because it is not just the Deputy Prime Minister who has been breaking his promises in recent weeks; it has been the Prime Minister, too-on VAT, child benefit, 3,000 more midwives, no spending cuts to front-line services, the knife crime pledge and educational maintenance allowances. On 6 January, at a Cameron Direct event, the Prime Minister said in answer to a question on EMAs that

Two months later, on 2 March, the Education Secretary was even clearer:

What are our young people, many of whom are watching our proceedings today, to make of such behaviour? Did the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary believe what they were saying or not? Either way, it is no wonder that so many young people think, "Well, if that's the new politics, you can forget it."

In case the Liberal Democrats think that they can tell us-if they are courageous enough to put their heads above the parapet today-that the Government's tuition fee proposals will increase social mobility, may we have a statement confirming that scrapping EMAs will make it more difficult for young people from low-income backgrounds even to get to the starting gate of higher education? To make matters worse, the coalition is also destroying the Aimhigher programme, which is all about social mobility.

Turning to this afternoon's debate, even with a 6-minute limit on speeches, very many Members will not get the chance to represent their constituents today. For a long time now, we have been told that there will be no up-front fees. We have been told that all students will pay back at the same rate according to how much they earn. This week, the Business Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister told their party that the proposals will not put anyone off from going to university. If that is the case, can we have a statement on why the Government are proposing that some students from the least well-off households will not have to pay fees in their first year? Either the Government believe what they have been saying-in which case, why make this proposal?-or they have finally accepted what we have been saying about students being put off, in which case their whole argument collapses. We need an answer.

Is it any wonder that thousands of young people are now standing outside Parliament demanding a say on their future, while MPs from both Government parties are scurrying around hiding from them? They were promised a fair system for their higher education, only to discover that this coalition Government, with the support of Liberal Democrats, is about to let them down-and they will not forget it.

Sir George Young: I said last week that the gestation period for the localism Bill has been a little longer than anticipated. It is now being delivered at high speed to
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the parliamentary birth centre by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As I said last week, I hope that it will be before the House well before Christmas.

On the second issue, the right hon. Gentleman bangs on about the position of the Liberal Democrats on tuition fees, but the Liberal Democrats got their Front Benchers behind a policy on this before the Labour party did. They got themselves organised on Tuesday, but it was not until yesterday that the shadow Chancellor claimed in an article in The Times that there was

I have to say that it is he who is a member of the coalition parties when it comes to tuition fees and funding higher education.

The Government will be delivering school sports, but in a different way from the previous Government; instead of having a centralised PE and sports strategy, we want to redeploy resources and people, putting a new emphasis on competitive sport. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's specific question, we will be announcing how we will spend the money we have allocated for school sport in due course.

On the education maintenance allowance, we are committed to ensuring that every young person remains in education and training until they are 18. Evidence shows that about 90% of EMA spending goes to students who would have stayed in education anyway. There was an enormous amount of dead-weight. We are replacing the EMA with targeted support for those who face genuine financial barriers to participation.

As for the time allowed for the debate, I think that the right hon. Gentleman is losing his touch. Last Thursday, when I announced the debate, his only question was on when we would have sight of the text on the Government's proposals. That small spark of interest developed into the conflagration that we saw last night. A business of the House motion was tabled on Friday last week. He could have amended that motion, but the Opposition did not get around to amending it until the debate was well under way and it was far too late. On one of the key issues facing this Parliament, the shadow Leader of the House has been caught asleep at the wheel.

On the other issues that the right hon. Gentleman addressed, those will be the subject of the debate that is about to take place.

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on expanding cadet schemes so that young people can do cadet service not only with the police, the Army, the Navy and the services, but with other uniformed services such as the coastguard? That would greatly benefit young people and give such services the opportunity to contribute to the big society idea in a positive and meaningful way.

Sir George Young: I can think of no bigger supporter of the big society than my hon. Friend. He has proposed a genuinely helpful and innovative idea. I will share with ministerial colleagues the idea of expanding the cadet service to give young people the opportunity to gain experience in the professions and careers that he has mentioned. I will pursue his suggestion with vigour.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find an opportunity for a debate on bank lending so that I can articulate the concerns of the managing director and owner of the excellent Talgarth Bakery, which I recommend to the Leader of the House? The owner managed to secure funding from the Welsh Assembly Government to purchase a unit of property next door to his business, so that he could expand his work force and his small business. However, Barclays bank asked him for a 35% deposit that he could not secure. He has therefore had to turn down that opportunity for expansion. That is a common tale of small and medium-sized companies not being able to access finance. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time?

Sir George Young: That is a long way for me to go to buy my bread, but I take note of the excellent quality of the produce in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I hope that other banks that are listening take the opportunity to pick up new custom by offering the facilities that were denied by the firm's existing bank. I hope that that leads to the resources that the company needs being forthcoming. I will, of course, raise with ministerial colleagues the general issue of bank lending, because that was a condition of the support that the previous Government gave.

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): May we have a debate on the future of the horse racing levy, which, as my right hon. Friend well knows, is the mechanism by which a contribution is made to the racing industry by the gambling industry and those who place bets? The levy is in desperate need of modernisation, and I think that many hon. Members would have an interest in such a debate.

Sir George Young: Indeed, the matter is of great interest to the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire, who has a number of racing stables in his constituency. I am unable to provide an immediate debate in Government time, but the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is in her place and will have noted the bid. It might be the subject of an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall or in the House.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): May we have an urgent debate on the announcement that is buried on page 73 of today's overview of draft legislation for the Finance Bill, which suggests that rather than raising £3.5 billion from the banking levy, the Government will raise only £2.5 billion? On a day when they are telling university teaching professionals and students that some of the cuts are unavoidable, is it not a scandal that they are climbing down on the bank levy?

Sir George Young: The Government are not climbing down on the bank levy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it absolutely clear that he wants to extract the maximum possible resources from the banks. The amount that we will collect is a lot more than the previous Government had planned.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): May I ask for a statement, or for a clarification from the Leader of the House, on a clause in the coalition agreement, which states:

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Is that merely an aspiration, or will the Government insist that the directive is disapplied in the UK in return for our agreement to an EU treaty revision?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that we are committed in the coalition agreement to limit the application of the working time directive in the UK. That means that we would like to find a solution to the problems caused by the SiMAP and Jaeger judgments. It also means that our position on the retention of the opt-out will be absolutely firm. Any attempt to trade off between a solution to those cases and the opt-out will lead to the same stand-off as in the last negotiations.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Given that the Government's national security strategy has identified terrorism as the biggest threat that we now face, and in the light of recent events, will the Leader of the House grant a debate on his Government's plans to cut counter-terrorism policing by 10% over the next four years?

Sir George Young: The business next week includes a debate on terrorist asset freezing, and the hon. Gentleman might have an opportunity at that time to raise the issue that he has just touched on.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): In a recent parliamentary answer, the Government confirmed that, to meet our targets on renewable energy, they will add 26% to the average annual domestic electricity bill and a whopping £246,000 to the average medium-sized non-domestic user's bill. Given that the Government are trying to create economic growth and tackle fuel poverty, may we have a debate on this, so that the public can understand how damaging these policies are, and that they represent a futile attempt to tackle global warming, which we have not even had for the past 15 years?

Sir George Young: I understand the concern expressed by my hon. Friend, but the Government remain committed to their carbon reduction targets. In the near future, we will be debating the Energy Bill, which contains a number of measures designed to reduce the cost of energy, which my hon. Friend is rightly worried about, and he might have an opportunity during the passage of that Bill to develop his arguments.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House make provision on Monday for plenty of time for personal statements by hon. Members? There is a rumour that some Liberal Democrats are planning to abstain this afternoon by voting in both Lobbies. "Erskine May" says:

It also states that Members who had done so mistakenly would be allowed, on the following day, to explain in a personal statement which Lobby they had intended to be in.

Sir George Young: I do not think that that is a matter for the Leader of the House.

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Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): Members might not be aware that, last Thursday, a piece of legislation was passed in the House which grants the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards the power to investigate any MP he wishes, if he thinks fit, without having received a prior complaint. This would of course result in the headline the following day, "Parliamentary sleaze watchdog investigates MP". Will the Leader of the House please tell us why he saw fit to grant such powers to someone who is unelected and probably has the leakiest office in Westminster, and who also has close relations with the media?

Sir George Young: It was not I who granted those powers. The House decided, without Division, to approve the unanimous report of the Standards and Privileges Committee, which carried the resolution to which my hon. Friend refers.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): A constituent of mine who served in Her Majesty's armed forces was hooded and beaten in a mock interrogation while serving in the Army. He suffered psychological damage, turned to alcohol and has since had his military pension reduced to 6%. When will we have an opportunity to debate the treatment of military veterans who have served so well in our armed forces?

Sir George Young: In the relatively near future, we will be debating the Armed Forces Bill, which might provide an opportunity to raise such issues. I am very sorry to hear what happened to the hon. Gentleman's constituent, and I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to the incidents that he has just described.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Many parents in my constituency-not least my constituency caseworker-have experienced immense frustration in dealing with the apparently dysfunctional Child Support Agency. May we have a debate in the not too distant future on the future of the agency?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is not unique in having a regular dialogue with the CSA on behalf of his constituents, and I share and understand his concern. He will know that, following the public bodies reform announcement on 14 October, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission will be abolished as a non-departmental public body, and instead become an Executive agency of the Department for Work and Pensions. It is our intention that all functions of the commission will be moved to the Executive agency. I hope that that will result in an improvement in the performance of that body.

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): May we have a debate on the education maintenance allowance? The Government keep telling us about a report which states that 90% of people say that they do not need EMAs at all, yet not a single student or member of a student's family was asked to take part in the report. The only people who were asked to take part were sixth-formers, and I suggest that that report simply does not hold water. The Leader of the House should call a debate on that subject.

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Sir George Young: I repeat what I said a few moments ago: the evidence shows that around 90% of EMA spending goes to students who would have stayed in education anyway. No Government confronted with that sort of dead-weight expenditure can ignore it, and we will be saving some £0.5 billion by moving to targeted support to help those who face financial barriers to participation.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Will the Leader of the House grant us a debate on the UK travellers who are still seeking compensation for flights cancelled during April's volcanic ash cloud? Mr and Mrs Ashworth from Colne in my constituency have now been seeking compensation from Ryanair for more than seven months. They have sent in the same forms and provided evidence of their entitlement several times, and done everything that has been asked of them, yet Ryanair is still failing to honour its responsibility, leaving my constituents out of pocket.

Sir George Young: I am very sorry to hear of Mr and Mrs Ashworth's experience, but they are fortunate to have a Member of Parliament such as my hon. Friend to pursue their case. If Ryanair is failing to respond to their claim, the next step is to talk to the complaint handler for the EU state in which the event occurred. In most cases, that is the national aviation regulator, and in the UK, it is the Civil Aviation Authority.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): If those who are protesting peacefully and lawfully today are kettled by the police so that they are unable to use even basic facilities for a long time, may I tell the Leader of the House that we will expect a statement from the Home Secretary after the vote today to give the House an explanation of what has occurred? May I also just mention-

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): No, we simply do not have time, and I think that the hon. Gentleman has got his point across.

Sir George Young: I am not going to get involved in the operational responsibilities of the Metropolitan police. I am sure that they will discharge their responsibilities to the public sensibly today, and keep public order outside Parliament.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motions 520, 598 and 1,160?

[That this House welcomes the statement by the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs that there is a 'huge untapped potential' for recruiting more special constables in the future; notes that the number of specials in Essex has doubled over the past four years to nearly 700 officers; further notes the public service of special constables, who are dedicated volunteers, often working in hazardous conditions; believes that transforming the Special Constabulary into a Territorial Army-type force would enable specials to cover more policing duties and would offer excellent value for money, sustaining frontline operational services; further believes that specials are a genuinely local force, like Neighbourhood Watch, who offer an invaluable source of community intelligence; and therefore
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calls upon the Government to refocus its resources to incentivise special constables, so that they can work more hours and develop professionally.]

Will my right hon. Friend make a statement on what steps the Government are taking to support special constables, and will he support my planned amendment to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill that would give local authorities the power to give special constables a discount on their council tax?

Sir George Young: I endorse my hon. Friend's support for special constables. As I announced a few moments ago, we are debating the Second Reading of the police Bill on Monday, and if he were lucky enough to serve on the Public Bill Committee, he would have an opportunity to table his amendment to exempt special constables from paying council tax. I should add that powers already exist to allow police authorities, with the support of the chief constable, to pay an allowance to some or all special constables in their area, and the Government also want to do what they can to increase the number of special constables.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): My constituents at Hull York medical school are concerned that the House of Commons has not had an opportunity to debate fees and medical education. As time will be so short this afternoon in the debate on raising the cap on tuition fees, will the Government allow a debate on that particular issue so that the House can effectively scrutinise the important issue of training our doctors for the future?

Sir George Young: The hon. Lady is right to say that the training of our doctors for the future is important. The Government have no plans for such a debate, but I refer her to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, as this might be a suitable candidate for one of her debates.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in the 2001 Parliament, the House voted to rise at 7 o'clock on Wednesdays, yet last night we rose at 11 minutes past midnight after debating a motion that was proposed at very short notice and at great inconvenience to many Members? Does he think that that is a satisfactory situation, particularly when the shadow Leader of the House spoke for more than two hours in what was apparently a filibuster?

Sir George Young: To one extent, we were better off having that debate yesterday; otherwise, we would have had it on Tuesday at 10.30 pm, and it would have gone on until even later. We do not plan to have debates after the moment of interruption on a regular basis but, from time to time, it is necessary to ensure that the business of the House is properly discharged.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): On school sport, the Prime Minister said in answer to a question I asked last week that there would be a change of heart and that he would examine the matter. We had a debate in which there was wholehearted support from all parties for a change of mind. The redundancy notices are starting to go out to school sports co-ordinators. May we have a decision on what will happen?

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Sir George Young: As I said a few moments ago-I think in response to the shadow Leader of the House-the old system cost too much and was too bureaucratic. We will announce how we will spend the money that we have allocated for school sport in due course.

Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on careers advice in school? Although I welcome the coalition's plans to introduce an all-age service, we need to ensure universal, specialist careers advice for all our young children, that starts in schools from a very young age and does not impose plans from the top down. I believe that all hon. Members should debate that before any final decisions on provision are implemented.

Sir George Young: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. With the establishment of an all-age careers service by April 2012, we intend to restore a focus on specialist expertise and careers guidance for young people, based on independence and professionalism. I regret that the single focus on careers guidance has been lost in recent years, and we hope to put that right. If we have time for a debate on the matter, I hope that the Back-Bench business committee can allocate one.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House enlighten us about why he has decided to pull stumps half-an-hour early this evening, because he did not do so last night? Instead of criticising the Opposition, will he tell us why he has chosen to restrict debate by taking that half-an-hour off when so many Members want to speak?

Sir George Young: We followed the precedent of the previous Government, who, in a similar debate, drew stumps at 5 o'clock.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time on propriety in the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? My right hon. Friend will know, because three hon. Members, including me and the very experienced right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), have advised him of the matter, that it is alleged that Anne Power, the communications official at IPSA, is touting so-called juicy stories around the Lobby to friendly journalists. That accusation has been made on several occasions. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to speak to the chief executive of IPSA? At the very least, the individual concerned is breaching the Data Protection Act. If true, the position is completely unacceptable and intolerable.

Sir George Young: If that activity took place, it is indeed unacceptable. I think that I am right to say that a question was tabled to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on the specific issue, and an answer was provided either yesterday or today, stating that IPSA denies that any such contact took place.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): Throughout the past week, towns in my constituency and throughout central Scotland have resembled a scene from Armageddon: children have not been able to get home from school and have had to stay there overnight; students have had to stay in colleges; lorries have been
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abandoned; people have been stuck in cars for 14 hours; there have been fuel and food shortages, and now the Army is on the streets trying to clear the ice. Will the Leader of the House grant time for a debate or a ministerial statement on the Government's response to the inclement weather, which we used to say happened now and again, yet now comes every year? Things need to change in the United Kingdom; we need to respond far better and far more quickly. Will the right hon. Gentleman grant time for a debate?

Sir George Young: There are real difficulties, which we have all seen on our television screens, in Scotland. Most of the responsibility for addressing them has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, any support that the Westminster Parliament can extend to Scotland will be given. However, I doubt whether there is time for a debate between now and the Christmas recess.

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Last week, the Financial Times investigated the EU structural funds for poorer regions. It found £500 million paid out in error and £92 million of suspected fraud last year alone. Mercifully, only 10% of the funds have been paid out. May we have a statement and a debate on the action that is being taken to whip OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud body, into shape and prevent the remaining £260 billion from being squandered?

Sir George Young: The whole House will deplore any waste of funds. Of course, it is right that EU structural funds should be put to the use for which they are designed. I am happy to say that the UK has above average implementation of the SCF, and the UK programmes are on track to meet their targets. I cannot comment on the programmes of other member states, but I will draw the Foreign Secretary's attention to my hon. Friend's general point about the lack of accountability in part of the budget.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): On 16 June, in his speech to the Hansard Society, the Leader of the House said that

He also said that his Government believe that a strong Parliament leads to a better Government. How does he square his belief in a strong Parliament with the Government's shameful truncating of the debate on their proposals on tuition fees?

Sir George Young: I have to say to the hon. Lady, who was Deputy Leader of the House, that we could have done what the previous Government did and allocated five hours for tuition fees, including the business motion. Any time spent on the business motion would have come out of that five hours. The previous Government did that, but we have more respect for Parliament than to do that on this issue.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The main problem with common sense is that it is not always as common as we would like. This week, it has been reported that farmers in Suffolk have not been
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allowed to clear snow from the highways because their agricultural vehicles are running on red diesel, which does not attract full road fuel duty. Will the Leader of the House advise on how we can get an immediate derogation for farmers involved in essential snow clearing? What can we do to ensure that the ridiculous situation does not happen again with the next snowfall and the next national emergency?

Sir George Young: It would be absurd to penalise or arrest farmers for clearing snow with tractors that use red diesel. I hope that common sense will prevail, but I will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ascertain whether, if a derogation is necessary, one might be issued.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): May we have an early debate on the fashionable, right-wing notion of the nudge? In particular, may we have a discussion about the impact of the nudge on students and young people in persuading them not to go to the best universities because of the extortionate fees that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are introducing?

Sir George Young: A nudge is better than a nanny or, indeed, an Act of Parliament. It may be that the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene in the debate later, but, in the fear that he might not be called, has made his intervention early. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): May we have a debate about the lobbying activities of former Ministers in the previous Government? My right hon. Friend will have seen today's report from the Standards and Privileges Committee, which recommends that Geoff Hoon be banned for five years and Stephen Byers for two years from holding a parliamentary pass for what it calls a particularly serious breach of the code of conduct. What can we do to ensure that there is no repetition of that Labour sleaze in future?

Sir George Young: I have announced that there will be a debate on that report on Wednesday evening, when the House will have an opportunity to decide whether it wants to enforce the sanctions that are recommended in it. I very much hope that it will act as a salutary lesson to anybody who is thinking of repeating the offences that were committed in those cases.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Two weeks ago, the Leader of the House was courteous enough to agree that a debate, not in Government time, on war crimes in Sri Lanka might be important for the House to hold. That was before it was made clear that the Secretary of State for Defence is planning to visit Sri Lanka before Christmas. Will the Leader of the House clarify whether that is a private or an official visit? If it is the latter, could we ensure that a debate takes place in Government time on support for war crimes?

Sir George Young: It was a private visit. It is open to the hon. Gentleman, as it is to all hon. Members, to apply for a debate in the pre-Christmas Adjournment
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debate by doing so before 4 o'clock on Monday. That would be a suitable opportunity for holding a debate on war crimes.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend find time for Ministers to make a detailed statement about the announcement by the CBI lobby group that 25% of manufacturers report greater than normal exports this month, which is the best survey showing since 1995? Does not that show that the Government's economic strategy is bearing fruit? The House should know about it.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Manufacturing has a vital contribution to make to exports and to reducing the high unemployment that the Government inherited. The latest CBI monthly industrial trends survey suggests that manufacturers expect output growth in the sector to accelerate in the next three months, and the CBI's output expectations index rose to plus 13 in December from plus four in November. That is encouraging, and indeed signals that the Government's economic policies are working.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Tomorrow in Oslo at the Nobel peace prize ceremony, there will be an empty chair, because Liu Xiaobo, who should be there, is rotting in a Communist prison. Nevertheless, his spirit will be there representing all the best in humankind. Can the Leader of the House get the Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary to make a statement on why they have said not one public word about Liu Xiaobo? Mrs Thatcher raised Sakharov and Lech Walesa, but the current Government are cowardly and utterly spineless in raising the case of Liu Xiaobo? Will a Minister go to the ceremony tomorrow so that Britain is represented?

Sir George Young: It is deplorable that the winner of the prize is unable to attend the ceremony, and I deplore the loss of liberty involved. Foreign Office questions are next Tuesday, when the right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise that matter, but I can tell him that it was raised when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently visited China.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on the appropriateness of Royal Mail stopping the delivery of mail when there is snow on the ground? In large parts of my constituency, no mail has been delivered for about seven days because Royal Mail feels that it would be inappropriate for postmen and postwomen to go out in case they slip, and small businesses are suffering.

Sir George Young: I am very sorry at that loss of service in my hon. Friend's constituency. I hope that the health and safety measures to which she refers will be fair, balanced and proportionate. I understand that Royal Mail has an agreed policy with the unions whereby they conduct a walk-risk assessment process for the postal round-it is referred to as a "walk". I will raise the issue that she raises with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), to see whether he has a role to play in restoring the service in her constituency.

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Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): The citizens advice bureau in Wolverhampton provides highly valued advice and services to my constituents, including, thanks to the financial inclusion fund, debt advice. Before the comprehensive spending review, the Government said that they would make an announcement on the future of that fund after the CSR, then we heard that it would be made in December, and now we are told that it will be in January. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Government make an urgent statement to end the uncertainty for the citizens advice bureau and my constituents, whom it serves so well?

Sir George Young: There will be a debate next Tuesday in Westminster Hall on legal aid. I pay tribute to the work done by the CAB in the hon. Lady's constituency. If she takes part in that debate, I will ensure that she has an answer to her question.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Weatherfield's-and Rossendale's-most famous son, William Roache, and the cast of "Coronation Street", on the programme's 50th anniversary today? Will he find time for a debate on the contribution of the creative industries to the north-west economy?

Sir George Young: I am sure that the whole House will want to join my hon. Friend in his congratulations to the producers and cast of "Coronation Street" on its 50th anniversary-it is a well loved and enduring British institution. I pay tribute to William Roache, who has starred in the programme since its very first episode. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend's constituency stretches to Weatherfield, but he can probably console himself with the fact that his postbag is not quite as large as that of whichever Member represents Albert square.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The Dear Leader should not dismiss so lightly the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). If peaceful protesters are kettled this afternoon-it frequently happens for six or eight hours or even longer-the Opposition will expect a statement from the Home Secretary.

Sir George Young: I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I believe that the police will discharge their responsibilities in the correct way and ensure that any protest is peaceful.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Last Thursday, when our minds may have been elsewhere-mine certainly was-we approved changes to the rules of the Standards and Privileges Committee. How much of the allegation that the new rules mean that wide-ranging investigations can be launched without any direction from the Committee or any complaint is correct?

Sir George Young: The commissioner has been given the powers to start an investigation without a formal complaint. That is because in certain cases, complaints appeared in newspapers and were widely reproduced, but nobody made a formal complaint, so there was no investigation. The Standards and Privileges Committee
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introduced its proposal to address that particular problem, and it was unanimously approved by the House last week.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): May I yet again make an impassioned plea to the Leader of the House to use his good offices to encourage Defence Ministers to come to that Dispatch Box to tell us what progress has been made on compensation payments for Christmas island victims and veterans? They have waited long and hard for some compensation. Let us put the legalities aside. Does the Leader of the House agree with early-day motion 1116, that there is a moral obligation on this Government, as indeed there was on the previous one, to pay compensation to those people?

[ That this House notes with regret the decision of the Court of Appeal to deny ex-servicemen compensation for the illness and injuries they believe they suffered as a result of exposure to radiation from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted between 1952 and 1958 on mainland Australia, the Australian Montebello Islands and on Christmas Island in the South Pacific; further notes that deleterious health impacts and cancers caused as a result of radiation exposure can appear several years after the exposure; therefore believes that, where compensation claims by atomic test veterans fall foul of a statute of limitations on the time period within which a claim should normally be made, Ministers should still consider those claims; further notes with alarm that Dr Sue Rabbit-Roff, a researcher at Durham University, has contacted 2,500 veterans in the UK and New Zealand establishing that twice as many were suffering from the radiation-induced cancer, multiple myeloma, than had been conceded by successive British governments; welcomes the French government's agreement to compensate its own atomic test veterans, those who contracted illnesses attributed to the country's nuclear tests in the Sahara and French Polynesia, between 1960 and 1996; and calls on the Ministry of Defence to set aside its case in the courts and recognise its moral responsibility to compensate the UK soldiers and their families who acted in good faith to fulfil their military duties but as a consequence have suffered from exposure to radiation. ]

Sir George Young: I understand the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings on that subject. He will have the opportunity to put that question to the Defence Secretary at Defence questions on Monday.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Some weeks ago, the House was promised-in a ministerial statement and on the Floor of the House-that by Christmas, there will be a statement on contaminated blood. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is still the case?

Sir George Young: I confirm what was said in oral questions on Tuesday-that Health Ministers expect to report the outcome of the review before Christmas.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South) (Lab): In Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, the Minister with responsibility for forestry made several references to the 1% of Forestry Commission land that has been sold off in recent years. Those routine sales are dwarfed by the fire sale of our English forests that the Public Bodies Bill, which is currently in the other place,
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makes possible. May we have a separate debate in Government time on the protection of, and access to, our woodland? England's forests are far too precious to be just another clause in that Bill.

Sir George Young: I can give no undertaking that there will be such a debate, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party sold some 12,000 hectares of land without any reference at all.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Although I very much welcome the increase in exports, many small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency are finding it difficult to get capital from banks. If they get capital, they find that the banks want to charge enormous interest rates. Is it not time we had a debate on that, because the coalition Government very much want an increase in the private sector?

Sir George Young: It is essential for economic recovery that the banks provide the finance necessary to generate wealth. As I think I said in response to an earlier question, I will draw that issue to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There could be an opportunity to pursue the matter further at the next Treasury questions.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a statement on the work of the Met Office, particularly given its forecast on Sunday evening of inclement weather in Scotland on Monday? During that statement, could we take the opportunity to dissociate ourselves from the disgraceful comments of the Scottish National Minister in the devolved Administration, who sought to lay the blame for their failure to do anything on the Met Office, even though it had warned of inclement weather?

Sir George Young: I am reluctant to be drawn into Scottish politics. I see no prospect of an early debate on the Met Office, but there will be an opportunity to question at the Dispatch Box the Ministers who have overall responsibility for it.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to debate firearms on 20 December. The Leader of the House will be aware-I copied him in-that I wrote to the Home Secretary more than a fortnight ago to ask her to explain why almost 5,000 children have shotgun licences. I am yet to receive a reply, but I am sure that the House will think that one would be appropriate ahead of that debate. Will the Leader of the House urgently investigate that and ensure that the House is informed of the reasons why those children have shotguns?

Sir George Young: I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote to the hon. Gentleman yesterday to address his specific queries. I have a copy of the letter with me in case it has not reached him.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The noble Lord Hill has confirmed to me that students in year 12 currently in receipt of education maintenance allowance will not be able to receive it as they progress into the second year of their post-16 course. They will then become the first cohort of students vulnerable to the new tuition fee
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regime. I am sure that the Government do not intend that small group of students to pay such a heavy penalty. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made?

Sir George Young: They will be eligible, if they are in financial need, for the continuation of EMA, which was referred to earlier.

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch have been brought to a standstill by the arctic weather over the past 10 days and local authority resources are at breaking point, and that is before the Government's public sector cuts. May we have a debate on what the spending cuts will mean for this country's future preparedness for winter emergencies?

Sir George Young: That is a matter for the devolved Administration in Scotland, who get a block grant from the UK Government to apply as they think fit. They are accountable for how they discharge their obligations and the priorities on which they decide.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): May we have a debate in the House about why £2 billion in business rates is being withheld from local authorities until 2013-14, prior to a general election, while the Government are still insisting that front-loaded cuts be imposed on local authorities at present?

Sir George Young: I hope that there will be a statement on local government finance in the relatively near future, when the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to put that question.

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Points of Order

12.21 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Under the terms of the timetabling motion for the business that is about to come, if the debate started now, we would take a vote at 5.21 pm, because only five hours are allowed despite the fact that the moment of interruption does not come until 6 o'clock under normal business. Is there anything that can be done, even at this late stage, to get us the extra 39 minutes that we would have had under normal circumstances, so that hon. Members who want to contribute to the debate have a chance to do so?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): The timetabling for the debate was decided last night.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have given advance notice of this point of order to the Member in question. During Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions earlier, Mr James Gray directed a racist remark towards my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain). What steps can you take to protect Members of the House from the racist views espoused by Mr James Gray, and will you now ask him to apologise?

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I cannot imagine what sedentary remark the hon. Gentleman may have heard, but I am certain that had it been out of order in any shape, size or form, Mr Speaker, who was then in the Chair, would have picked me up on it. Further to that, as a Scot born, bred and educated, who never left the borders of Scotland until the age of 21, I think that unlike the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), I have the highest respect and love for my native heath. I would never say a single word against it.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Deputy Speaker: No, I will not take any more points of order on this matter. It might be appropriate, particularly given what is about to be debated, that I remind Members of the House that good temper and moderation are characteristics of parliamentary debate. I am sure that if the Chair had heard anything untoward, it would have been dealt with then.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. During an answer supplied to me by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during DEFRA questions this morning, she appeared to imply that a document issued by an agency of her own Department, entitled "Poverty amongst farming households", related solely to the policies of the previous Government. I have examined the document very carefully since DEFRA questions and found references to a document from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and to the Agricultural Wages Board. Can you provide the House with some assistance on how we can ensure that Government Departments communicate more effectively with each
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other, how Secretaries of State can be properly appraised of the contents of their own Departments' documents, and when-

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. This sounds like an extension of Question Time, but I am sure that Members on the Treasury Bench will have heard the points that have been made.

Bill Presented

Loans to Ireland Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Secretary Hague, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Paterson, Danny Alexander, Mr Mark Hoban, Mr David Gauke and Justine Greening, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with the making of loans to Ireland by the United Kingdom.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 125) with explanatory notes (Bill 125-EN).

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