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House of Commons

Thursday 16 June 2011

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—

Digital Economy Act 2010

1. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): When he expects to implement the remaining provisions of the Digital Economy Act 2010. [59857]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): The provisions relating to the online infringement of copyright have been subject to a judicial review, but following the Government’s success in that case, we hope to announce a new timetable for the implementation of the measures in the Act shortly. We hope that the initial obligations will be proportionate, fair and effective.

Andrew Gwynne: I am grateful for the Minister’s response, but before the general election, his junior coalition partners campaigned fiercely to oppose web disconnection as part of the Act, and firmly pledged to take disconnection off the statute book. The coalition Government are now reviewing whether the disconnection provisions are technically workable. Does that mean that they are okay with the principle of internet disconnection, and what is the time scale for publishing Ofcom’s findings on sections 17 and 18?

Mr Vaizey: I think the hon. Gentleman refers to the provisions to block websites. As he quite rightly says, Ofcom has prepared a report on that, which we will publish alongside our proposals for taking the Act forward.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): Will the Minister join me in congratulating that great academic centre of learning, Bournemouth university, on expanding its digital economy studies in areas such as media studies and graphic design? Half the technicians who worked on the science fiction film “Avatar” are graduates of the university.

Mr Vaizey: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Bournemouth university, which I visited when I was the Opposition spokesman. It is one of the leading digital media centres, not just in this country, but, I suspect, the world.

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Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): It is over a year since this House overwhelmingly backed the 2010 Act, yet there is no sign of the key measures in it being implemented. As the Minister says, the judicial review has come and gone, and there is agreement on costs, so why does he not just face down his critics, put in a programme and get this Act implemented?

Mr Vaizey: That is exactly what we intend to do.

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Further to the Minister’s earlier answer, he will recall that Liberal Democrats argued that the web blocking proposals simply would not work. Has he come to the same conclusion, and will he accept that it is vital to find ways to protect the internet protocol of creators from illegal websites? Will he tell us what will happen on that?

Mr Vaizey: As I have said, we will announce our proposals shortly. We asked Ofcom to prepare an independent report on the effectiveness of technical measures to block websites, which we will publish at the same time as our conclusions.

British Sign Language

2. Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to ensure that users of British sign language have equal access to telecommunications services; and if he will make a statement. [59858]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): We have implemented the revised EU electronic communications framework, including specific provisions relating to disability and equivalence. Ofcom has been given new powers to impose obligations with regard to equivalence on all providers through general conditions. We continue to work very closely with Ofcom and fully support its current review of relay services for deaf and hearing-impaired telecoms users, including BSL users in the UK.

Gemma Doyle: Deaf Connections tells me that there is an urgent need to introduce video relay technology to create equal access to telecoms for BSL users, but as the Minister indicates, Ofcom is about to launch its 11th publication on the issue. Will he meet Ofcom to discuss the pace of progress on access to functionally equivalent telecoms for BSL users?

Mr Vaizey: I can assure the hon. Lady that I take this issue very seriously indeed. It is not strictly accurate to say that this is the 11th Ofcom review. The review, which we look forward to, is being conducted in the light of the revised EU communications framework. Ofcom will publish a consultation document in the summer, but I have met Deaf Connections and constituents who lobby me on this issue, and I take it very seriously.

Superfast Broadband

3. Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): What plans he has for the roll-out of superfast broadband. [59859]

9. Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): What plans he has for the roll-out of superfast broadband. [59866]

16. Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): What plans he has for the roll-out of superfast broadband. [59873]

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The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): When the Government came to office, just over £230 million had been allocated to broadband roll-out; that has now been increased to £830 million. It is still not enough, but we are determined to do what we can.

Claire Perry: The people of Wiltshire welcome the fact that they are among those receiving money in the next tranche of the high-speed broadband roll-out. However, high-speed, superfast broadband raises the spectre of children accessing inappropriate material on the internet more easily, which worries many parents. What pressure is the Minister putting on internet service providers to make access to internet porn an opt-in option? If that work fails, is he prepared to regulate to keep our children safe?

Mr Hunt: I can confirm that the Government take this issue incredibly seriously—the Bailey review on the sexualisation of youth is one indication of that. We are also having a meeting with the trade body United Kingdom Internet Sites to take the issue further. We believe strongly that internet service providers need to behave in a socially responsible way and to do what they can to protect children, so we fully support what my hon. Friend said.

Nigel Adams: What assessment has the Secretary of State made of how the roll-out of superfast broadband could support the introduction of universal video relay service in the UK, which would ensure that deaf sign language users have equal access to telecommunications?

Mr Hunt: The kinds of services that my hon. Friend mentions demonstrate exactly why it is important that we have an ambitious programme for the roll-out of superfast broadband. In the summer, Ofcom will be reviewing precisely the matter he raised. I would urge him to join me in encouraging the Labour party to get behind the agenda for superfast broadband. It is committed to 2 megabits; we are committed to superfast broadband. We want to be in the fast lane, not the slow lane.

Mel Stride: In Northlew, a small village in my constituency, a local not-for-profit organisation has ensured that about 200 subscribers now receive broadband using a microwave network. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that such technology will be covered under Broadband Delivery UK funding guidelines, so that other villages in my constituency may benefit from it?

Mr Hunt: I can confirm that our policy is technology-neutral. We are asking local authorities to come forward with a broadband plan that will secure 100% 2-meg connection, and 90% superfast broadband, but how they do that is up to them. I am aware that 8% of my hon. Friend’s constituents live in “not spots”, where they have no broadband access at all, and 13% of them live in houses with less than 2-meg connection. That shows what a priority this is. We want to be extremely imaginative, and I hope that we will have the support of the Labour party—

Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State.

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Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): Many consumers are removing their fixed lines and using mobile telephony to access the internet. I recently wrote to the Secretary of State to say that because of the delay to the spectrum auction, there is a potential loss to the Exchequer of £316 million. Given that O2 is threatening legal action against Ofcom that could further delay the auction, will he consider using his powers under wireless and telephony legislation to ensure that this happens sooner rather than later?

Mr Hunt: We are absolutely committed to proceeding with the spectrum auctions as soon as possible, and we will do everything necessary to make that happen. However, I want to make the broader point to the hon. Gentleman, who is pretty well-versed in technology matters, that we think that mobile is going to play a vital part in the roll-out of superfast broadband. At the moment, the amount of mobile internet data is tripling every year. We need to get that mobile data to a fixed-line fibre point as quickly as possible if we are to deal with the twentysixfold increase in mobile internet data that we expect over the net four years.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): The Secretary of State recently clarified in a letter to MPs that the £530 million from central Government for the roll-out of superfast broadband will have to be matched by local authorities. Where does he expect this money to come from, and on what basis does he estimate that it will be enough to deliver 90% superfast broadband coverage?

Mr Hunt: We have done a very scientific study, which we will be publishing shortly. It shows the number of areas in each local authority area with either no access or slow access, or where we think the market will not provide access. We have done that calculation, and we know the costs involved in making it possible. We are confident that local authorities will support this agenda enthusiastically, unlike, I am afraid, the hon. Lady’s own Front-Bench team. So far we have had seven pilots in which local authorities have shown precisely that enthusiasm, including Wiltshire, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry).

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The Opposition are delighted that the Secretary of State has finally woken up and recognised that there is huge interest in the delivery of broadband services. Why, then, has he put back Labour’s commitment to universal broadband by a full three years? That means that rural constituencies, many of which are represented by Government Members, will lose out in the important race for growth and jobs under a Government not committed to providing the right infrastructure.

Mr Hunt: Let me start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box in DCMS questions, and let me answer him clearly. The reason we had to put the date back three years is that there was not enough money in the kitty—something that the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury under his party knew only too well and was prepared to write down. However, we have not ditched that commitment; we have said that we will deliver it in this Parliament. Indeed, we have gone

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further and said that this is not just about 2 meg, because today’s superfast broadband is tomorrow’s superslow broadband. I would urge the hon. Gentleman and those on his Front Bench to get behind this Government’s commitment to a 90% roll-out of superfast broadband.

Rugby League World Cup

4. Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): What steps he is taking to support the promotion of the rugby league World cup in 2013. [59861]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): I have met the executive chairman and chief executive of the Rugby Football League on a number of occasions. Last November the Prime Minister provided a video message for the official launch of the 2013 rugby league World cup. The RFL is selecting venues with UK Sport’s support. These will be announced in November, and I will work with RFL on its promotional campaign as it develops.

Helen Jones: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that the World cup gives us an opportunity to promote a sport that is family friendly, in which there is very little trouble on or off the pitch, and which is much cheaper for families to access at the weekend than major football games? Does he also agree that the World cup gives us an opportunity to encourage visitors to some of our northern towns? This could be a win-win situation, so will he pledge to do all that he can to use the World cup to promote those ends?

Hugh Robertson: The short answer is yes. May I thank the hon. Lady for her support both for the sport in general and, in particular, for her home team? As she correctly says, any major sports event is a fantastic opportunity to drive money into the local economy. That is why we have put more money into the major events part of UK Sport, which is standing behind the rugby league World cup, which I am sure will be a terrific success.

Creative Industries Council

5. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): What steps the creative industries council will take to help increase employment and growth in the creative industries. [59862]

6. Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): What steps the creative industries council will take to help increase employment and growth in the creative industries. [59863]

7. Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): What steps the creative industries council will take to help increase employment and growth in the creative industries. [59864]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): The creative industries council will provide a forum for the creative industries and the Government to engage in a joined-up way. Members will instigate industry-led approaches to boosting the growth and competitiveness of the creative industries, with the Government facilitating and removing barriers where appropriate.

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Kerry McCarthy: Bristol is to be home to one of the new local enterprise zones announced in the Budget, with a focus on the creative industries. Will the creative industries council be able to offer practical assistance to make the zone a success, or will it be just a talking shop at the national level? Will it deliver results on the ground?

Mr Vaizey: I was lucky enough to visit Bristol recently, where the astonishing success of the creative industries is a wonder to behold. We certainly do not want the creative industries council to be a talking shop, which is why we set up four or five work streams, which I hope will be relevant to businesses in Bristol.

Mr Bain: UK Music has established that the music industry employs nearly 100,000 people and generates almost £5 billion a year for the UK economy. However, one of the biggest problems for up-and-coming musicians is in obtaining credit or finance from the banks. Can the Minister assure the House that the work of the creative industries council will lead to an increase in the amount of capital available for young musicians?

Mr Vaizey: I will certainly take the hon. Gentleman’s point on board. I recently met important industry figures Sandie Shaw and Brian Message, the manager of Radiohead, to discuss with a specific bank making capital available to musicians. I hope that other banks will take note of that initiative.

Steve Rotheram: The Minister is aware of the devastating impact of the cuts agenda on the cultural sector through lost economic benefit. However, is he aware of the importance of innovations that are directly attributable to music sales, such as X-ray computed tomography—or CT scanners, as they are more commonly known—which were developed by EMI primarily through sales of Beatles records, by four lads who shook the world? Without leadership, is the Minister not putting similar investment opportunities at risk?

Mr Vaizey: I am aware of the huge cultural vibrancy of this country, which is why I will travel to Liverpool later this month to open the Magritte exhibition at Tate Liverpool. Liverpool really is a vibrant and creative city. Returning to the earlier question about the Digital Economy Act 2010, the reason we are so keen to press ahead with it is so that our creative industries can earn money from the content that they create.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the key determinants of the success of the creative industries is the strong protection of intellectual property? Is he considering following the example of President Obama and appointing a champion for intellectual property, which would send that signal? Does he agree that what would send precisely the wrong signal is any suggestion from local authorities that the enforcement of actions against pirate or counterfeit goods by trading standards officers should not be seen as a priority?

Mr Vaizey: I met President Obama’s copyright tsar, Victoria Espinel, when she was in this country last week. We had a meeting with the IP crime group, which is very effectively taking forward the enforcement of

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measures to tackle IP crime. The Minister, Baroness Wilcox, is also an extremely effective champion of the IP industry.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): The creative industries in the UK are world leaders but, to continue that trend, we need to ensure that the courses that are studied in our higher and further education establishments are truly robust. Will the Minister pledge to work with the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that those courses are fully recognised and really worth while?

Mr Vaizey: In an earlier answer, I praised Bournemouth university. One of the first things that I did as a Minister was to commission the Livingstone-Hope report on skills in the video games industry to ensure that our courses were fit for purpose, and I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate Sir Alex Hope on his well-deserved OBE for that work.

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): The Government make available about £2 billion to British banks under the enterprise finance guarantee scheme to support small and medium-sized enterprises in the creative industries. Music industry representatives have told me that only two music companies have been successful in raising loan finance via the EFG scheme. One very experienced music manager was successful only on his ninth attempt. What is the Minister going to do to improve the scheme and to support our music industry?

Mr Vaizey: I suspect that the hon. Lady met the same people at the meeting that I referred to earlier. I absolutely understand the issue to which she is referring, and I want to continue to work with the banks to try to educate them on how the enterprise finance guarantee scheme can be used to support the music industry. Important changes in the Budget, such as the enterprise investment scheme, will also help our creative industries.

Digital Switchover

8. Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): What recent progress has been made on digital switchover. [59865]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Television switchover is on track and progressing extremely well, with almost 36% of UK homes having switched to digital already. A further 17.2 million homes will switch by the end of the programme in 2012.

Andrew Bridgen: Many of my constituents are concerned about the impending digital switchover in the east midlands. Can the Minister assure the House that any issues relating to previous digital switchovers have now been addressed? On a more local point, does he acknowledge that it is important that areas receive the right regional news for their area? That is not currently happening in many parts of North West Leicestershire.

Mr Vaizey: I hear what my hon. Friend says. Regarding regional news, his constituents will receive digital terrestrial television either from the Waltham transmitter, for BBC East Midlands, or from Sutton Coldfield, for BBC West

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Midlands. Digital UK has a postcode checker that will allow constituents to work out which service they will receive. It will also give them advice on how to re-tune if they want to receive a different service. Digital switchover has proceeded extremely smoothly, except in one area: my own county of Oxfordshire, where the transmitter burned down. I do not expect that to happen again, however.

Mr Speaker: I am sure that the Minister will not take it personally.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): We in Wales know that digital switchover is a great thing, but it is not quite a utopia. The Freeview package that is available in my constituency and many other valleys communities is greatly diminished compared with the rest of the country. This means that Rupert Murdoch has a virtual monopoly not just on first-view American movies and many sports matches but on the actual provision of television services. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that my constituents get a fair deal?

Mr Vaizey: I would certainly be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss coverage in south Wales. I have learned from many years’ experience that there is no such thing as utopia, but we can strive towards it. As far as Mr Murdoch’s monopoly is concerned, I know that he will have taken note of Ofcom’s investigation into pay TV, sports rights and other such competition issues.

Computer Games Industry

10. Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on future Government support for the UK computer games industry. [59867]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I discussed future Government support for the creative industries—including the video games sector—with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the development of the plan for growth which was published alongside Budget 2011. The plan for growth sets out the specific actions that we are taking to tackle major barriers to growth in the creative industries and to create the right conditions for creative businesses to flourish.

Jim McGovern: I do not know about high-speed broadband, but that was a high-speed answer—and I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that it is not the one I was looking for. He will be aware that games companies in the UK are closing and that many of their staff are going to Canada. Ireland is now looking to introduce tax breaks, but for some reason this Government persist in doing nothing. Will the Minister reassure me, the House and my constituents that the assessment of tax breaks for the industry, as recommended by the Scottish Affairs Committee, will be carried out as a matter of priority before more harm is done to this very important industry?

Mr Vaizey: I am mindful of your desire, Mr Speaker, to crack through the Order Paper, which is why I tend to answer questions in a rapid manner. Let me first

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congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his championship of the video games industry. I know that 150 jobs have been created in the industry in his own Dundee constituency. Measures in the Budget, such as the changes to the research and development tax credit and the enterprise investment scheme, will help the video games industry. I will continue with my vocal and, I hope, practical support for that important industry.


11. Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What recent progress he has made on his consideration of News Corporation’s proposed acquisition of BSkyB. [59868]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): Following my announcement on 3 March, I am currently considering responses to the consultation on undertakings, and I will announce my decision when the process is complete.

Alex Cunningham: Has the Murdoch empire, with its alleged wholesale illegal activities, not shown itself clearly unfit for an even greater control of the British media?

Mr Hunt: This is an issue about media plurality. I am not legally allowed to consider any other issues, but phone hacking is incredibly serious. The police are following their investigations and they must follow them wherever they lead. If the hon. Gentleman is not convinced by me, he should perhaps be convinced by his own Front-Bench team, as the shadow Culture Secretary has also said that the serious admissions of culpability by News International are not relevant to the News Corp’s BSkyB media plurality issue.

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): The Secretary of State promised a decision on this matter on 26 April—and we are still waiting. Does he understand why people have no confidence in the integrity of the process or his role in it when, instead of referral to the Competition Commission, he has taken the unprecedented step of personally overseeing negotiations covering the legal, contractual and financial arrangements involved in establishing Sky News as a standalone company? The Secretary of State tells us that he is currently taking lessons in how to be a football referee. I assume he understands that the referee’s job is to be neutral—not to help one of the teams bundle the ball over the line.

Mr Hunt: The shadow Culture Secretary cannot have it both ways. I was accused before of rushing the decision, so now I am taking as long as it takes because we want not a rushed decision, but the right decision. I am not personally overseeing the negotiations. It is being done by Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading, and I am receiving independent written advice from them at every stage, which I have either published or will publish. When it comes to the question of dithering, when I made the announcement on 3 March on what I was minded to do, the shadow Culture Secretary said that after talking to relevant parties, he would announce whether he supported my decision or not. We are still waiting to hear whether he does.

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Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Is it not the case that the development of the media market in this country is such that newsprint, internet, TV and, indeed, mobile platforms are coming together? Such common ownership will become more obvious, as reflected in the drift of policy. Would it not be wrong to hold that policy back and oppose that sort of development just because of the Labour party’s hatred of a single individual?

Mr Hunt: We absolutely want media policies that allow convergence. In fact, our local TV policy is a precise example of that, as we want to encourage local newspaper groups to get into other platforms. This particular issue, however, is about media plurality. It is about making sure that no one has too much power in any one part of our media. That is the prism through which we have to look at the issue, and that is what we are doing.

Local Television

12. Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): What recent representations he has received on proposals for local television; and if he will make a statement. [59869]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): We have had 140 responses to our consultation on local TV, including 69 expressions of interest from people interested in providing it.

Simon Kirby: Does my right hon. Friend agree that local TV can be successful in places such as Brighton and Hove, where its funding, its audience and its coherence with the local community are all factors contributing to its success?

Mr Hunt: I absolutely agree with that. My hon. Friend will know that I met Angi Mariani, the publisher of “Latest Homes” magazine in Brighton and “Brighton Lights” online magazine, who has submitted an expression of interest in running a TV station in Brighton—[Interruption.] He will know because he was with me when I met her.

Mr Speaker: We always appreciate a bit of extra information.

Mr Hunt: This has widespread support among local communities, universities and the internet community. In fact, the only organisation that does not support it is the Labour party.

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): Now that the Secretary of State has been forced to abandon “Hunt TV”—otherwise known as “a new national TV spine”—his plans for local television are in disarray. Does he agree that, given his ministerial responsibility for ITV and Channel 4, there would be serious ethical concerns if he attempted to solicit funding from them for his personal vanity project? Can he confirm that, in the midst of 16% cuts, the BBC will be required to spend £25 million of licence fee payers’ money on supporting local television only if it can be proved to be viable, sustainable and good value for money?

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Mr Hunt: Far from our plans being in disarray, we have published plans for about 10 local television stations, and we hope to have double or triple that number by the time the process has been completed. ITV is quite capable of looking after itself.

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to be a little bit consistent. When his party was in government, it planned to take £40 million from the licence fee to support two regional television channels, and to top-slice the fee. We are taking much less money, and we will create far more local television stations. I urge all Labour Back Benchers to encourage Front Benchers to back this initiative, because their constituents will support it wholeheartedly.

FIFA World Cup

13. Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): What his policy is on support for a future bid for England to host the FIFA World cup. [59870]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Any future bid for a FIFA World cup is some time away, which is probably not a bad thing. Such a bid is unlikely to be submitted until 2030. Any decision would be considered on its merits, but I would expect a far greater degree of transparency and accountability in FIFA before we could consider any future bid.

Damian Collins: Does the Minister agree that without reform of FIFA to give it greater transparency and accountability, any England bid is likely to fail in the world of double-dealing and self-interest that FIFA has become under Sepp Blatter—unless, of course, he wants to get Del boy to front the next England bid?

Hugh Robertson: It is clear, both from our experience of the last bid and from what has happened subsequently at FIFA, that the organisation is in need of radical structural reform, and the principles of transparency and accountability must govern that. The newly re-elected president has set a process in train, and we will watch it carefully, but I doubt that we will consider a future bid until that process has been completed.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): Accountability and transparency are also an issue in domestic football. Does the Minister agree that it is surprising and disappointing that the Premier League has withdrawn its funding for Supporters Direct, an organisation that is committed to transparency in football ownership?

Hugh Robertson: As the hon. Gentleman says, transparency and accountability are an issue in English football, and we await the Select Committee’s report with interest. As for Supporters Direct, I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees that the language used by the chief executive constituted vileness of an entirely different order, and was quite unacceptable coming from someone holding such a position. That, of course, should not detract from the good work done by the organisation more generally. I believe that a meeting between the new chief executive and the Premier League is scheduled for Friday, and I hope that it will come to a successful conclusion.

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BBC World Service

14. Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): What plans he has for future (a) funding and (b) parliamentary oversight of the work of the BBC World Service from 2014. [59871]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): We have protected funding for the World Service with an efficiency saving, and accountability to Parliament will continue through the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Alun Michael: Does the Secretary of State agree that Britain’s place in the world, and its contribution to the world, are enhanced considerably by the work of the BBC World Service? I have seen that in relation to Somaliland and in eastern Europe. Does he share the widespread concern that is felt about the fragility of the service worldwide, and what can he do to satisfy us that Parliament will be fully involved and that the service is safe in his hands?

Mr Hunt: I entirely share the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the BBC World Service, which is an incredible jewel in our national crown and a very important part of our soft power. The moving of the service directly into the core BBC presents it with tremendous opportunities. It will strengthen the service’s independence and perceived independence, allow efficiency savings that will ultimately enable more to be invested in programming, and create the potential for improvements in the television service, BBC World News, which I think are long overdue.

Departmental Efficiencies

15. Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What efficiencies in the administration of his Department he plans to make in the next 12 months. [59872]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose): Our aim is to reduce the Department’s administrative spend by 50% during the life of this Parliament. We have already reduced the pay bill by £3 million from 2010-11 through a voluntary redundancy scheme, and a programme to deliver further savings is in place.

Mr Hollobone: What methods are being engaged to expose yet further efficiencies that have not already been identified?

John Penrose: We continually keep everything under review, as would be expected. We have identified a number of particular points that I hope will satisfy my hon. Friend, including Ministers not using the Government car service, which will save about £250,000 a year, reducing hospitality expenditure by about £60,000 a year, and cutting spend on travel by about £30,000 a year. We will continue to scrutinise very carefully to find other such examples.

Media Training Programmes

17. Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Whether he has had discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice on the contribution of media training programmes to the rehabilitation of women in prison. [59874]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discusses a broad range of issues with his Cabinet colleagues. The Government believe that education and training programmes, such as the prison media centres project at HMP Downview, play an important role in the rehabilitation of prisoners.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that we should roll out rehabilitation models that use culture—such as the prison media centres project, which is run by people in my constituency—more widely, and will he therefore have further talks with the Secretary of State for Justice to ensure there is a national roll-out of such schemes?

Mr Vaizey: I understand that one of my officials is due to visit the project at the end of June, and no doubt he will return filled with ideas about how we might encourage such projects around the country.

Arts Council England

18. Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the likely effect of recent funding decisions by Arts Council England on arts and cultural organisations. [59876]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): My Department and Arts Council England continue to monitor the impact of the recent national portfolio announcements. Regularly funded organisations whose applications for the national portfolio were unsuccessful will continue to receive support during the financial year 2011-12, which will enable them to explore alternative sources of support or adapt their business plans.

Mrs Glindon: Given this year’s cut of 74% in arts funding for young people, communities and schools, what are the Government doing to widen access to art and cultural activities for young people and under-represented groups?

Mr Vaizey: The Arts Council has clear proposals to continue to support cultural education in schools, and we have also asked Darren Henley, the managing director of Classic FM, to build on his successful report on music in schools by now looking at the whole of cultural education in schools.

Topical Questions

T1. [59878] Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): Over the next few weeks, I will have much progress to report on all our five priority areas, including broadband allocations for local authorities, next steps for the awarding of local TV licences, inaugural pilots of the school games, a 2012 tourism marketing strategy and a policy to promote financial resilience for the arts.

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The House will want to congratulate Andy Murray on his success at Queen’s on Monday, and wish him success for another tournament about to start a few stops further down the District line.

Michael Connarty: I am sure the Secretary of State supports the idea of there eventually being independent licences for all four parts of the United Kingdom, but at present how can he possibly justify the fact that STV is not recognised as an independent producer, and is therefore denied access to 25% of the production available through the system, as it is treated like other small independents? Surely this must be taken on, and STV must become a qualified independent producer?

Mr Hunt: I am very well aware of the case STV is making. The only point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that the outstanding success of our broadcasting industry has been based on the division between broadcasters and producers and that has benefits for Scotland, as it does for the whole of the United Kingdom. Under our local TV programme, we hope to award many more licences for much smaller areas.

T5. [59883] Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have been allocated some 9,000 tickets for the 2012 Olympic games. Will he reassure the House that none of them will be provided as free perks either to Government employees in general or, in particular, to UK politicians?

Mr Hunt: I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend about the details of those tickets: 3,000 tickets have been allocated to staff associated with the project—they will be purchased and are available through a ballot; 2,400 are being made available to host towns and cities, and they, too, will be purchased; 2,900 will be made available to guests of the Government, including international business guests and dignitaries, to make sure that we secure an economic legacy to the Olympics; and 450 tickets will be allocated as prizes in the school games, to which 6,000 schools have signed up.

Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): The House is grateful for the Secretary of State’s clear exposition, and I hope that this is widely publicised.

I hope that the House will join me in welcoming to our proceedings a delegation from the Dutch Olympic committee. As London prepares to welcome the world to our Olympic games next year, will the Secretary of State recognise the limited scope for the International Olympic Committee to do more than issue invitations to the national Olympic committees of countries around the world? Given the sensitivity about what we would describe as pariah regimes, will he assure the House that all necessary and relevant diplomatic intervention will be taken at the appropriate time to prevent their participation?

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): The short answer is that I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady. What was very apparent yesterday in dealing with the Libyan regime was how much easier it is to deal with these situations if the regime is the subject of European Union banning orders. With all such regimes it is a huge help if they are the

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subject of the relevant international sanctions. Like her, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to the delegation from the Dutch Olympic committee. They are close allies of ours in the cause of football reform, an issue close to the heart of the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), and I hope that they have a successful trip.

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Further to my correspondence with the Minister over the past two and half months following the Public Accounts Committee hearing on Ofcom and the notice I gave him that I would be raising this issue, will he confirm whether Ofcom will use present value estimates on net returns of long-term investments in its 2010-11 annual accounts? Would that comply with Treasury principles?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I do not know, so I will write to my hon. Friend.

T2. [59880] Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): Supporters Direct has not just been helping fan involvement in football clubs; it has also been advising on the bid for the Walthamstow dog track and helping to involve the community in that. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can help to promote fan involvement, not only in football but in a range of other sports?

Hugh Robertson: That is the first question I have ever had on dog racing, but it will not be the last. In the circumstances, probably the best thing to say is that I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to hear more about this.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s earlier comments about the importance of mobile broadband and the role it can play. Does he recognise the current imbalance in the market, with some providers having access to better bandwidth or a better spectrum on the bandwidth? What plans does he have to use the 4G auction to correct the imbalance?

Mr Hunt: I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in and commitment to this subject. We recognise that there has to be a competitive market in broadband and that it would be very damaging for the broadband market if we did not have a competitive market in mobile provision. I know that Ofcom is working very hard to structure the spectrum auctions to make sure that we do.

T3. [59881] Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Secretary of State still believe in localism? If so, why is he undermining local radio up and down the country, reducing morale? Why is he attacking all those third sector arts organisations that are collapsing up and down the country because of a lack of funding?

Mr Hunt: We are not, and I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his information from. We have published the most ambitious local media strategy for many years, providing a way forward for local radio stations. We are continuing to support many community

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radio stations. On local arts groups, we have put in place a big package to try to encourage and help arts organisations to be resilient in difficult financial times.

Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): The Crewe Alexandra girls centre of excellence in my constituency has a proud and enviable record of producing first-class international players and it has built a strong reputation, over many years, across the whole of the footballing community and beyond. The Football Association has rewarded that success by deciding to close the centre, leaving many gifted players and their parents dumbfounded and devastated. Can my right hon. Friend look into the matter urgently and take it up personally with David Bernstein, the chairman of the Football Association?

Hugh Robertson: I think that question gives me the opportunity, which I am sure everybody across the House will want to take, to wish the England women’s football team good luck in the forthcoming world cup. In response to hon. Friend, I will of course take the case up if he sends me the details.

Mr Speaker: I call Chris Ruane. He is not here, so I call Fiona Mactaggart.

T6. [59884] Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): In his response to the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), the Secretary of State spoke about his efforts to persuade internet service providers to create an opt-in system so that families can be protected from porn on their computers. Is it not time to abandon his charm and start using the stick of regulation so we can protect families from porn flowing into the home?

Mr Jeremy Hunt: That is precisely what we are doing. We are telling people that if they do not co-operate in bringing forward measures that will deal with this issue fast, we will legislate and regulate.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): I welcome yesterday’s announcement that 10,000 tickets for the Olympics will be made available free of charge to members of our armed forces. Will the Minister update the House on who else will benefit from the ticket share scheme and, specifically, on whether it will help school children in my constituency?

Hugh Robertson: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced, a number of tickets will be available to winners of the school games. A further tranche of tickets are available to Sport England through the Places People Play initiative that will go to local sports champions.

T7. [59885] Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I want to thank the Minister responsible for the creative industries for having a productive meeting with me and a delegation this week to discuss the problems that UK musicians are having getting visas to tour the USA. Will he confirm that the Department is behind our efforts to smooth the path for musicians wishing to tour in the US and that he will do all he can to help us?

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Mr Vaizey: I thank the hon. Lady. I thought it was a very productive meeting and my Department will certainly do all it can to facilitate relationships with the US Administration and to iron out some of the bumps in the road for musicians as regards obtaining appropriate visas.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Does the Minister for Sport and the Olympics agree that the Olympics are a celebration of world sport and host countries should be very careful about trying to ban people from coming to this country for the Olympics?

Hugh Robertson: I certainly agree that the games are a celebration of world sport. We touched on this issue with the question from the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell). It is really important that when there are regimes that we do not wish to invite to this country, the relevant international sanctions should be in place to back that up. One of the ironies of the current process is that the ban put in place for the 1980 Olympics produced results for two people who did not abide by that ban, Lord Coe and Lord Moynihan, who are, of course, central to the delivery of the current games.

T8. [59886] Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The BBC is in discussions with DCMS over changes to the public value test. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that, notwithstanding the freeze in the licence fee and the cuts that the BBC is having to make, no services or TV channels will be allowed to close?

Mr Jeremy Hunt: I cannot give that guarantee, because the BBC operates at arm’s length from the Government and, quite rightly, has editorial discretion about what it does or does not do. What I can say, however, is that when we negotiated the licence fee last October, it was on the understanding that the 16% saving in the licence fee in real terms, to be implemented over six years, was an efficiency saving and that we would not expect the BBC to be unable to deliver any of its core services within the agreed budget.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—


1. Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Whether the House of Commons Commission has made an estimate of the monetary value of the residential accommodation provided for officials situated outside the secure part of the Commons estate. [59849]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Outside the secure area, the House holds a long lease on a residential flat at 102 Rochester row, which is valued at £540,000 and has an annual rent of £440. A freehold property at 22 John Islip street, which is used as hostel-style overnight accommodation for staff supporting sittings of the House, is valued at £600,000.

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Thomas Docherty: Perhaps I could press the hon. Gentleman. Given that we now have far fewer late-night sittings and that after the next general election we will have 50 fewer colleagues, perhaps now is the time to evaluate whether we could move those beds into the estate and make some real savings for the public purse.

John Thurso: The Commission is very alive to seeking savings within the accommodation budget. There are a number of possibilities that may arise in the future and these are kept under active consideration.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

House Business

2. Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If he will bring forward proposals to hold Back-Bench business each sitting Wednesday and Prime Minister’s questions each sitting Thursday. [59850]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): I have no plans to do so.

Mr Bone: The House sits for 139 days a year excluding private Members’ days. Under the previous Government, Members were encouraged to turn up on Monday evening and leave on Wednesday night. If we are to restore Parliament to the fulcrum of our democratic process, we must restore Thursday to a full business day. Does the Leader of the House agree?

Sir George Young: I certainly believe that Thursday should be a paid-up member of the parliamentary week. There have been 38 sitting Thursdays in this Parliament, for 21 of which my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary has indicated that he would like me and, indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), to be present. When the Backbench Business Committee has tabled business on a Thursday that has required a Division there has been a good turnout by Members of Parliament, so I am not sure that I entirely accept the view that Thursday is not a fully paid-up member of the parliamentary week.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): The question put by my fellow Backbench Business Committee member, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), is about establishing one day every week in the parliamentary calendar as a Back-Bench day, which would surely be helpful to the Leader of the House and the business managers as the Government could then schedule business around us and have the certainty of having one day a week for Back-Bench business.

Sir George Young: My own view is that it is to the advantage of the Backbench Business Committee and the House to have the flexibility of the current arrangements. The Wright Committee, on which the hon. Lady and I both sat, said at paragraph 214 that

“it could be left open to a process of regular discussion and negotiation as to which day of each week would be devoted to backbench business. This would avoid the rigidities referred to above.”

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Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): If, as some people are proposing and as the Select Committee on Procedure is currently considering, private Members’ business was moved from Friday to some other point in the parliamentary week, there would be an even greater risk of Thursday becoming downgraded. In the nicest possible way, may I remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that during his thankfully unsuccessful bid for your seat, Mr Speaker, he himself brought forward the notion of moving Prime Minister’s questions to a Thursday?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is indeed the case that when I was on the Back Benches I could do some blue-sky thinking but my horizons are now more constrained. I say to him that the Prime Minister is more than satisfied with the current arrangements for Prime Minister’s questions.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): Is not the real reason why the Leader of the House cannot announce more time for Back-Bench business or give us the date for the end of the Session that the Government are running into trouble with their own legislation? Their Public Bodies Bill has been shredded in the Lords, they have been defeated on police commissioners, their Back Benchers are getting jittery about pensions and they have had to recommit the Health and Social Care Bill. Why do they not stop rushing into botched, ill-thought-out legislation, think things through and allow more pre-legislative scrutiny? Think how that would have improved the Health and Social Care Bill!

Sir George Young: I will take no criticism from Labour Members about the way we handle the parliamentary programme. We are giving far more time for legislation than the previous Government, who frequently guillotined the remaining stages of Bills. We have on several occasions allowed two days for Bills on Report, including this week, and we have extended the Session so that the House has more time to consider the legislative programme, so I entirely reject the hon. Lady’s assertions that we are rushing legislation through the House.

Opposition Day Debates

3. Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the procedure governing Opposition day debates. [59851]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I have received no recent representations on the matter.

Greg Hands: I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his answer. One of the problems we have at the moment with Opposition day debates is the late notification of the topic and the motion, which deprives Members on both sides of the House of the opportunity to prepare speeches and points. Will he have a word with his opposite number to see how we might be able to improve the procedure to help to improve debate on both sides of the House?

Mr Heath: I have to say that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is open to the Opposition to table the subject for debate immediately after the date is announced, and it would be a courtesy to the House if

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it were given an appropriate length of time to know what the debate will be and to allow Members to table amendments, if they wish.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Is the Deputy Leader of the House satisfied with the amount of time the non-Labour Opposition parties get for Opposition days? Surely all the time that was afforded to the Liberals has gone to the Labour party. Why did none of it come to the smaller parties, which seem to get half a day every decade?

Mr Heath: In the allocation of time, we are bound by the Standing Orders of the House. The hon. Gentleman might like to look at the Standing Orders and suggest to the Procedure Committee or others that they should change them, but at the moment we can do only as the Standing Order require.

House Proceedings

5. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What recent progress he has made on his proposals to make the proceedings of the House of Commons more topical. [59853]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): Since the general election, the Government have established the Backbench Business Committee, reintroduced September sittings, increased the amount of time available for topical questions and are making many more statements than the previous Government. I think that the increased level of coverage we have seen of questions, statements and debates in the media is testament to the increasingly topical nature of this place.

Andrew Stephenson: I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his answer. A key step in making proceedings more topical would be to launch Select Committee reports on the Floor of the House. What progress is being made on that proposal? [ Interruption. ]

Mr Heath: The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) says from a sedentary position that that is a good idea. It is indeed a good idea. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will shortly write to the Chairs of the Backbench Business Committee and the Liaison Committee to seek their views on proposals to allow for short statements and questions from Committees on the day of publication of some reports.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): The Deputy Leader of the House referred to topical questions in his initial response, and we have seen those recently extended to International Development questions. Are there any plans to do so for other Departments that do not have topical questions, such as the Scotland Office, Wales Office and Northern Ireland Office?

Mr Heath: There are no current plans for further extensions, but we were very happy to accede to the request, which actually originated with the Opposition, to find time for topical questions on some of the Departments that previously did not have them. There are no plans to extend topical questions at the moment, but we will of course entertain any such requests in future.

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Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will the Deputy Leader of the House consider reactivating the second Adjournment debate procedure so that when Government business collapses, as it will today, there is an opportunity to use the full parliamentary timetable for Back-Bench business?

Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point which he might like to put to the Procedure Committee for its consideration. It is not for me, as a Minister, to give a yea or nay to the suggestion, but the Procedure Committee could usefully look at it.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

IT Equipment (Charitable Organisations)

6. Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Whether the House of Commons Commission has considered the merits of redistributing used IT equipment to charitable organisations. [59854]

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): This matter was last considered shortly before the 2005 general election. The House received advice that accounting regulations required the recovery of the residual value of publicly funded assets when they were disposed of. For that reason, the possibility of charitable donation was not pursued and the assets were resold after having any data and software removed.

Stephen Mosley: I thank my hon. Friend for his response. Is he aware that the House of Lords allows the redistribution of old IT equipment to charities, and will he ask the Commission to reconsider its 2005 decision?

John Thurso: Perhaps I could point out to my hon. Friend that the total for Members’ equipment recovered to date is £75,000, which is approximately half its total value. The House of Lords has far less equipment, and it is of lower value, and can therefore take a different view. However, we will consider the matter at the end of this Parliament.

Commons Facilities (House of Lords)

7. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Whether the House of Commons Commission has assessed the likely effects of enabling Members of the House of Lords to use facilities of the House of Commons. [59855]

John Thurso: Currently, all peers have access to some facilities in this House. Peers who were formerly Members of this House have access to a wider range of facilities here, and the House of Lords has a reciprocal arrangement for former Members of that House now in this House. The recent Administration Committee report on catering and retail services in the House makes some recommendations on widening access for peers, especially in the dining rooms at lesser-used times.

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Mr Sheerman: The hon. Gentleman will know that that report is quite honestly full of some pretty absurd suggestions about the closure of facilities that this House of Commons values very highly, including the major cafeteria in Portcullis House in the evenings. There are almost 800 Members of the House of Lords, and rising, but there are going to be only 600 Members of Parliament. Our facilities, dedicated to Members of Parliament, are already under great pressure, and to open up all of them to another 800 Members would make life for most elected Members very difficult.

John Thurso: As I understand the report, that is a suggestion rather than a full recommendation. The House of Commons Commission will consider the report in due course, and I am sure that representations from the hon. Gentleman, and from other right hon. and hon. Members who might wish to make any, will be fully considered at that time.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

European Legislation (Scrutiny)

8. Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): What plans he has to reform arrangements for scrutiny of European legislation in the House of Commons; and if he will make a statement. [59856]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said in a written ministerial statement on 20 January, the Government are keen to explore new ways of scrutinising European Union issues. He is in discussions with the European Scrutiny Committee and its counterparts in another place, but the Government will of course welcome proposals from other parliamentarians.

Miss McIntosh: From a reply to a written question, I understand that the Government are keen to end the gold-plating of EU directives, but the only way of doing so is by granting MPs the power to amend the statutory implementing regulations as they go through the House—to amend the text and to reject the regulations. Will the Government approve that?

Mr Heath: I understand the argument for amending draft orders. The difficulty is that, if the two Houses of Parliament amend matters differently, we will then need a reconciliation process, and, instead of an order-making process, we will effectively have a small Bill going through the procedures of Parliament. There are some difficulties with the hon. Lady’s proposal, but I will of course pass on her concerns to the Minister for Europe.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): During the final two years of the previous Parliament, the then Opposition railed against the fact that the structure of the European Standing Committees collapsed into basically random Committees. There used to 39 Members on three Committees who debated regularly the issues coming from Europe, and it was promised that they would be reinstated. The level of ignorance about European business in this House has gone through the roof, however, and it is time that the Government

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put people back on those Committees in order that they learn the business of Europe before they stand up and open their mouths.

Mr Heath: I will not comment on the hon. Gentleman’s final observations, but he is right to say that we need to

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ensure that the House is able to scrutinise European business appropriately and fully. That is why I am sure the Minister for Europe is very much engaged in talking to him and his colleagues to make sure that we get the parliamentary structures right—and as soon as possible.

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Southern Cross Healthcare

11.33 am

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health what action the Government are taking in respect of the crisis in Southern Cross.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow): The Government have made it very clear that the welfare of residents living in Southern Cross homes is paramount. We appreciate that recent events and media speculation have caused concern to residents in Southern Cross care homes, to their relatives and families and to staff. I very much regret that.

I should like to reassure everyone that no one will find themselves homeless or without care. The Government will not stand by and let that happen. Department of Health officials have been in frequent contact with Southern Cross’s senior management over the past three months, and that will continue. We are engaged with the company, the landlords and the lenders, and we are monitoring the situation closely.

The Government are acting to ensure that all parties involved are working towards a swift resolution with a comprehensive plan for the future, which must have the welfare of residents at its heart. It is for Southern Cross, its landlords and those with an interest in the business to put in place a plan that stabilises the business and ensures operational continuity of the care homes. That work is happening, and we must let it continue.

Let me be clear: this is a commercial sector problem, and we look to the commercial sector to solve it. All the business interests involved fully understand their responsibilities, but the Government also have a role to play. That is why we are working closely with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, the Local Government Association, local authorities and the Care Quality Commission to ensure that robust local arrangements are in place to address the consequences in the event that the company’s restructuring plan failed to put in place a business that was on a stable footing.

Yesterday, a meeting took place between Southern Cross, lenders and landlords in a committee. They agreed to work together to deliver a consensual solution to the company’s current financial problems over the next four months. They also made it clear that continuity and quality of care for all 31,000 residents will be maintained and that every resident will be looked after. That is a welcome development and the Government are encouraged by that positive agreement by the main stakeholders.

The exact details of the restructuring plan over the next four months will be set out over the next few days and the following weeks. The joint statement issued yesterday by the company, the landlords and the lenders provides further reassurance that the continuity of care of the residents is at the centre of this consensual restructuring. The Government will continue to keep close contact with all involved in the process, and I will continue to keep the House informed.

Nick Smith: I thank the Minister for his statement. In recent months, we have seen a drip, drip, drip of negative news stories about the financial stability of Southern Cross. After yesterday’s meeting with the 80 different

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landlords, the company’s future is still very uncertain. However, residents of Southern Cross, their relatives and the directors of social services will need further information—sooner rather than later—on what comes next for the company.

Residents and their relatives need peace of mind, and they need it now. The company appears to be hanging by a thread; the numbers speak for themselves. It has reported half-yearly losses of £311 million and its share price has dropped by 97% since 2006. Forty thousand staff work for the organisation, but 3,000 redundancies have been announced. There are 31,000 residents in 750 care homes; this is a UK problem, with 400 constituencies affected in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.

The Government have been too slow to get a grip on the situation. The issue has been live since last December, but Age Concern says that the Government have allowed it to reach this crisis point. Questions that need answering include the following. Newspaper reports say that Southern Cross owes Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs £20 million. Will the Government allow the company to be dragged down by that £20 million debt? What banks are owed money by Southern Cross? How much is owed and what actions will the banks be taking? How are the Government working with the company’s landlords—particularly NHP Ltd, whose parent company is hidden in a fog of complex overseas equity holdings? What are the Government doing to ensure financial probity in this crucial sector? We need to stop the get-rich-quick merchants preying on our elderly relatives.

Who will lead on this issue at the very highest level? This is a cross-Government matter that needs health, business and regulatory intervention. We need reassurance that residents will be safe in their homes, that continuing care will be of the highest standard and that, in the coming months, the Government will focus on ensuring stable financial governance for companies that care for our old and our vulnerable.

Paul Burstow: The hon. Gentleman asks a number of questions, some of which are for Ministers and others of which are for the landlords. He asked about NHP Ltd, and he is right to identify the fact that it is the largest landlord. He also asked about bank lending; obviously, the lenders have a key part to play in a solvent restructuring of the business, and that is why they were at the meeting yesterday. He mentioned HMRC, which, as an autonomous Government body responsible for making these decisions, is considering those matters at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the financial problems and the seeds of the problems. I urge him, in looking at the history of this, to look back several years to the restructuring of the company and the business model that was established and that caused the problem, and to ask himself who were in government at that time.

Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have just one priority in this set of circumstances, and that is to secure the interests of residents? Will he assure the House that he will send a clear message into the system that there will be zero tolerance of any slippage in the quality conditions that are imposed on the providers of care to residents, and that he will continue to keep his eyes firmly focused on the day-by-day quality of care that is delivered to residents?

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Paul Burstow: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Government’s paramount interest—it is the interest that all of us in this House should have—is to ensure the welfare of residents. That has been the message that I, as a Minister, and officials have been giving, and will continue to give, to Southern Cross and to the landlords, and the CQC will have the responsibility of ensuring that that is carried out. It is absolutely clear that we all have to ensure that the restructuring succeeds, because that is in the best long-term interests of the residents.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): I thank the Minister for his statement, limited though it is. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on being granted this urgent question on an issue of great importance to Members of the House.

This is not the first time that Members have tried to bring the Minister with responsibility for care services before them to respond to their concerns. The lack of leadership and information from him during this period of uncertainty and anxiety for Southern Cross residents and their families, as well as its employees, has been notable. As a result of the agreement reached yesterday, we now appear to have a period of relative stability. However, great uncertainty remains for residents and employees at Southern Cross homes. We have heard that Southern Cross will now begin a period of restructuring, with reports of around 300 homes changing management, but contracts have been ripped up and it seems that 3,000 jobs are being lost. What assurances can the Minister give on security of employment for those working in Southern Cross?

On safety, last week we heard that Southern Cross is making 3,000 people redundant. We have also heard from the Care Quality Commission that Southern Cross has breached standards at 164 care homes—the equivalent of 28% of its English estate. Can the Minister guarantee the safety of and standard of care for residents, and how will he do this? Will the CQC carry out more frequent inspections?

There has been widespread condemnation of the business practices that led to Southern Cross’s financial problems. It is all very well for the Minister to point fingers at what might have happened many years ago, but this problem exists now, and the Minister is in government now. When people are treated as commodities with no thought to the consequences for them of this risky business model it is important that Government step up to the plate and do something about it. Southern Cross is not the only company in this industry to have financial difficulties. We have heard from the Business Secretary that the business model of Southern Cross and others in the residential care industry will be looked at by his Department. Will the Minister provide more details on the timing of this review and how Members will be told about its findings?

On cuts, the Minister says that there will be robust local arrangements, and I am sure that local authorities will step up to the plate if asked to do so. He must recognise, however, that local authorities are already under enormous strain as a result of the cuts imposed on them by his Government, including the cuts that they are already having to make to adult social care. How can they be expected to pick up the pieces of this national problem without assistance nationally from

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Government? In other words, are they to be given more resources to deal with the problem of Southern Cross if they are expected to be involved in plan B?

Paul Burstow: The hon. Lady is long on critique but very shallow when it comes to how she would approach this differently. Last week, I set out in a written ministerial statement the approach that the Government were taking. We also dealt with this extensively at last week’s Health questions.

The hon. Lady asked about the 3,000 job losses that are being proposed as part of redundancy measures by Southern Cross. Let us be clear: it has a statutory obligation to declare a ceiling for the number of job losses that may—I repeat, may—take place in the business. I have asked the CQC to undertake additional inspections to address concerns arising from the proposed job losses, and that has already been put in place.

The hon. Lady talks about cuts in social care spending but glosses over the fact that this Government, through the spending review, agreed to an unprecedented transfer of resources from the national health service to support social care, with £2 billion extra going into social care by 2014.

We might agree that we need to learn lessons from what is happening to Southern Cross, in respect of regulation and how we ensure a stable and successful social care sector for the future. That is why the Government are committed to an overhaul of social care and to bringing forward a White Paper to set out the plans in due course.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the fundamental problem was a flawed business model that was allowed to exist for far too long under the previous Government?

Paul Burstow: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. It is oft commented in the financial pages of our media that that is one reason why this company is in this position and why such a restructuring is necessary. However, I take heart from the joint statement that was issued yesterday following the meeting between the landlords, the company and the lenders. It suggests that a clear route map is being worked out that will ensure continuity of care. That is what all Members of this House must want. We must all be interested, ultimately, in the welfare and interests of the residents in those homes.

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): But is it not absolutely clear that the business model deployed at Southern Cross—selling off 750 freehold properties at colossal profit and then leasing them back, the state paying the fees to meet those rents, and the rental income being siphoned offshore by the landlords into tax havens, leaving the homes grossly underfunded for many years, with 164 homes failing basic CQC standards—is a national disgrace that must be replaced? Does that not mean that the Prime Minister’s commitment to sell off all public services to any willing provider must now be abandoned?

Paul Burstow: I think we need a reality check. About 78% of care in the social care sector in England is provided in the private sector. That transfer to the

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private sector has not happened just in the past 12 months; it is the product of successive Administrations’ policies over many years. We must draw lessons from the experiences of the last few months, but we must focus on the paramount interests of residents and ensuring that this restructuring is successful. That is what I am focused on.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I thank the Minister for the information he has given the House and congratulate the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on his urgent question. There are two such homes in my constituency. This matter is of great concern not just to residents, but to staff. The impact on staff morale has an impact, in turn, on the care given to residents. I urge my hon. Friend to facilitate a speedy resolution as best he can, and to look at the model that we expect local authorities to adopt for buying care. Residents, their families and their advocates should be consulted more and be more involved in the process, so that care is more tailored and there are not such enlarged packages that can be exploited by large organisations, which may not be run as openly and transparently as they should be.

Paul Burstow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that important question, which points to the need for greater personalisation in the delivery of social care in the longer run. At the moment, in concert with our local authority colleagues, we must be clear about what happens in the event of failure, but also focus on ensuring that this business successfully ensures its future, and that of its employees and the residents who live in its homes.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): A lot of people know that running care homes has been a licence to print money. This is the second such case in a fortnight, the first being Winterbourne View. There are billionaires in the background making a ton of money. There is evidence that it is not just Southern Cross that is in this position. The goose might have stopped laying the golden eggs, so it is time to go back to what we had in the old days: local authorities being in charge and owning care homes. What is more, would it not be wonderful if everybody was able to go to care homes, like hospitals, free of charge?

Paul Burstow: It is important to put on record that something that the hon. Gentleman said is not, and never has been, the case. Social care in this country is not free. That is one of the big inequities of our current system and one of the big challenges that the Government are determined to address through the review that Andrew Dilnot is undertaking.

On the hon. Gentleman’s question about the good old days, I have to say that many people did not see those days as good, because the care was not personalised and individualised, and it was not always of good quality, either.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Will the Minister say something more about the specific steps he is taking to see that the Care Quality Commission ensures that standards of care are maintained during the transition period in homes in my constituency owned by Southern Cross? What steps will he take to ensure that the CQC takes its responsibilities seriously?

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Paul Burstow: That is rightly a key preoccupation of all Members who have constituents who are Southern Cross care home residents and their family members. We have been very clear in our discussions with the CQC that it has to maintain a clear focus on the behaviour and conduct of those homes during the transitional period, and particularly during the restructuring. As other hon. Members have rightly said, the CQC has already identified problems and is addressing them through its enforcement powers, and it will continue to do so.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister will know that many residents of Southern Cross homes, including in my constituency, have dementia, and that a lot of people with dementia cope very poorly with changes. What may happen is therefore of enormous concern to their relatives. May I therefore press the Minister—he must have had discussions with his officials—on what the Government’s legal position is, what the back-stop is if the worst case scenario develops, and what he will do now to reassure my constituents and many others that the Government really will ensure that their relatives do not face changes that will dramatically affect their quality of life?

Paul Burstow rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. By my reckoning the hon. Lady posed three questions, but I know that there will be an immaculate and beautifully tailored single reply from the Minister.

Paul Burstow: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

I can assure the hon. Lady that, first and foremost, clear arrangements are in place to deal with a catastrophic failure, which I think is now increasingly unlikely. More importantly, we need to ensure that we learn lessons from past care home closures and take them into account in future. However, we can also be clear that the underlying viability of this business is very strong indeed. We need care homes, and that is why we now have a route towards a solvent restructuring of the business.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): My concern is for the residents of the two care homes in my constituency, one in Goole and one in the Skippingdale area of Scunthorpe. It would be wrong if anyone tried to use the situation as a shield for making cheap political points.

Given that there are going to be up to 3,000 job losses, what measures will the Government take to monitor the quality of care and the staff ratio at individual homes, to ensure that there is no negative on impact on the residents? We are all concerned about that.

Paul Burstow: The hon. Gentleman asks an important question about the impact on the quality of care if there are staff losses. When it became clear that the company was posting a figure of 3,000 redundancies, I instructed the CQC to undertake additional assessments to ascertain any likely effect and ensure that there is no impact on the quality of care.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What is the Minister doing to beef up the CQC? As I understand it, there have been a number of redundancies there, and if he wants to maintain the quality of care he has to

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beef it up. Does he know that the

Coventry Evening Telegraph

recently conducted an investigation into 10 homes in Coventry, which were found greatly wanting in their standards, hygiene and medicine distribution?

Paul Burstow: On the hon. Gentleman’s question about the staffing of the CQC, I can confirm that last October I authorised an additional 75 inspectors’ posts to be filled by that organisation to strengthen it in the very way that he asks for.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Given that the change in business model seems to have led to the current difficulties, what procedures have the Government and the Department put in place to prevent similar business collapses? Is the Minister convinced that the CQC has sufficient investigative, as opposed to enforcement, powers should the problem sadly recur in future?

Paul Burstow: There are certainly issues arising from the current situation that we will want to consider as we go about reforming social care. However, I think it would be wrong, while we are in the midst of the restructuring that the company is undertaking, to bring forward a hard and fast set of solutions to ensure the long-term stability of the social care sector.

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): Tomorrow I will visit Bellevue Court in my constituency, one of the many Southern Cross-run homes around the country. I note what the Minister says about the Government guaranteeing that no one in the care of Southern Cross will be left without care as a result of what is happening. Clearly it is preferable for Southern Cross and its landlords and lenders to reach a solution that ensures that, but may I press him a little harder on what will happen if that does not come about? How will he live up to the guarantee, which the whole House has noted today, that if the rescue plan that Southern Cross is trying to achieve does not come about, the Government will ensure that no one is left without care and no one’s care is compromised either in Bellevue Court or in any of the 750 homes throughout the country?

Paul Burstow: I entirely understand why the right hon. Gentleman wants to press for further details about what would happen in the hypothetical circumstances that he is keen to explore. However, given the nature of the commercial discussions that are going on at the moment, to give credibility to hypothetical situations is to create the possibility of their becoming a reality. I do not want that to happen.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): The previous Government’s failure to regulate the banks led to a crisis in that sector. Is the national disgrace of Southern Cross, to which Members of all parties have referred, caused by a similar dereliction of duty through their failure to regulate the care sector?

Paul Burstow: I am entirely focused on ensuring, through the facilities and offices of the Government, that all the parties involved are clear about their responsibilities, which they are, and that they understand

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the reputational damage to them if they do not do what they must, which is to ensure a timely, thorough and effective restructuring of the business that secures the continuity of care for residents.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): In opposing the proposed sell-off of care homes by Nottinghamshire county council, I have been warning the council for 18 months about the crisis in Southern Cross, but that is not the only big care home provider with problems. As Mimosa, another major provider in my constituency, is also now in crisis and threatening to throw people out of Forest Hill care home, is the Minister prepared to meet families from my constituency so that he is ahead of the game on the next occasion rather than behind it?

Paul Burstow rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I will of course ask the Minister to provide a brief reply, as I know he will be happy to do, but we must focus on the very specific question of Southern Cross. This is not a general debate, whatever the temptations experienced by the hon. Gentleman.

Paul Burstow: In the spirit in which the question was asked, if the hon. Gentleman were to write to me I would be only too happy to consider his request.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): The residents of Brierfield House care home in Brierfield and Hulton care home in Nelson will welcome the Minister’s reassurance that no one will end up homeless as a result of this fiasco. Will he say more about how we will learn the broad lessons of this situation and ensure that something like this can never happen again?

Paul Burstow: As I have indicated, in the work that we are currently doing preparatory to producing a White Paper later this year, we are engaged with many stakeholders in discussing quality and regulation. We want to ensure that we are clear about the right questions to ask in framing policy, and that we then get the right policy to deliver a more sustainable, high-quality social care system for the future.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): The point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) made is the key one. The Minister has been very careful not to say what he should be saying, and I understand why—his officials will have told him not to. Will he pledge to the House that if there is a catastrophe of the kind we all want to avoid, every vulnerable person who should not be moved will be able to stay in their residential home? That is the pledge that we need to hear from him today. He needs to show some leadership as the Minister responsible.

Paul Burstow: The pledge that I can give to the House today is that all local authorities with Southern Cross care homes and responsibilities for residents whom they have placed there are clear about their statutory duties to guarantee and provide care, not just for state-funded residents, but for those who are self-funded. That is the clearest guarantee that I can offer—it is the essential guarantee of continuity of care.

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Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): My constituents are unclear about what effective regulatory early warning system exists to detect financial weakness in care home providers. In the light of the Southern Cross experience, how can any such mechanism be improved?

Paul Burstow: A number of hon. Members have asked how we ensure that we improve the system. Indeed, one question that the Health and Social Care Bill rightly raises is the future role of Monitor in effective regulation of the social care sector. We are exploring that issue with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and we continue to discuss it with other stakeholders. That could well offer us a longer-term solution.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): As the Minister says, the care sector is increasingly reliant on private sector providers. The sector includes not only people who run care homes, but care agencies. I suspect that they will be one of our next problems.

As a significant proportion of care home and care agency income comes from public funds, I believe that the Government and local authorities have both the right and the responsibility to assess the financial stability of providers, which they entrust with the care of very vulnerable people. Why has that not been done?

Paul Burstow: I should take this opportunity, because it has not been asked of me, to say that I have this week spoken to Ministers in the devolved Administrations. My officials maintain contact and dialogue with them. There are real concerns in Wales, where 17,000 residents in 54 care homes are affected.

The right hon. Lady is right that we need to look at wider issues in the sector. Of course, under the current legislative arrangements, the CQC has a duty to examine financial viability. We will look at that issue further.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Following the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher), directors have very specific duties in the stewardship of a company. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary about referring this matter?

Paul Burstow: I have not had those discussions—the need has not arisen—but I can be clear that the company feels that the consequences of yesterday’s meetings are important in terms of its ability to carry out a restructuring that safeguards the interests of residents.

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): My constituents ask me specifically whether their elderly and sometimes frail relatives face the prospect of moving. I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) raised that issue, but what reassurance are we to give to our constituents in that respect?

Paul Burstow: I have tried to give the House a number of reassurances on that point. I would add that there have been home closures over a number of years, from which we must learn lessons. One lesson is that we must minimise the possibility of closures and ensure that when they take place they are handled sensitively, slowly and carefully. That is why I welcome the work that the

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Association of Directors of Adult Social Services recently published—it sets out strong, clear, evidence-based guidance to assist local authorities in managing any closures in future.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I have one Southern Cross home on Kesteven way in Hull and I am concerned about what the Minister said and the complacent attitude that the Department of Health is showing on the role of local authorities. Is there a co-ordinated plan for the whole country, bringing together all the local authority plans, so that we know that there is coverage for the whole country if the worst happens? I am not sure that there is.

Paul Burstow: Such work is in hand and has been for some time.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): There is concern among Members on both sides of the House that 31,000 of the most vulnerable people in our country face having to move care home, with all the risks to their health that that involves. The Minister should not introduce a White Paper but sense the urgency of the matter. He should introduce regulations to ensure that the sector is more tightly regulated, and that such a situation does not happen again.

Paul Burstow: I understand the desire of all hon. Members for urgent action and a rapid resolution that secures the interests of residents, but I did not hear the hon. Lady suggest what those changes to regulation should be. When she cares to offer such suggestions, we can look at them.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I am grateful for the Minister’s reassurances, but I am afraid that they ring a little hollow, because I was aware of a great many shortcomings in the level and quality of care in Southern Cross homes in Gateshead before its financial crisis became a matter of public record. It seems that the CQC is looking at homes on an individual basis, and that it is not drawing a national pattern of the rotten care ethos within the whole of that organisation. When will the Minister address this as a national problem?

Paul Burstow: I am doing that, and shall certainly make it my business to look up past correspondence from the hon. Gentleman raising those concerns, so that we ensure that they are properly addressed.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am keen to accommodate remaining colleagues, but may I remind them of the merits of brevity?

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Residents in the six Southern Cross care homes in my constituency will be horrified by the Minister’s opening remarks. He said that this is a commercial problem to be dealt with by the commercial sector, which is absolutely outrageous and will frighten the wits out of each of those 31,000 residents. This is a society problem, and it should be dealt with by the Government. What small crumbs or words of comfort can he give to people in my constituency? When will we stop abusing elderly people and using them as marketplace commodities?

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Paul Burstow: Two contributors to this debate have conflated two completely separate issues. Yes, the business is in serious financial stress—it is working its way through to being a viable business in future—but this is not about the abuse of older people in those homes. We should not conflate the two. It is unhelpful. We need to have a sensible debate and secure a sensible restructuring of the business.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): I must tell the Minister that he is displaying a remarkable complacency in this crisis, which—like it or not—is his responsibility now. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be holding surgeries this weekend and meeting the families and loved ones of the vulnerable people who live in those care homes. He has failed to give any guarantee about their future and he has not convinced the House of what lessons he has learned in the short term. This weekend, who can we phone—who will be in the Department?—if there is a problem?

Paul Burstow: I made it clear in my statement that the Department has taken steps, working with landlords, Southern Cross and others, to ensure that each party is clear about its responsibilities, and clear on what actions they would take in the event of business closure. However, I also want to be clear that as we move forward, we need to ensure that we learn lessons from this in the context of regulation, and to ask how this was allowed to occur in the first place. Now is not the time for those questions. My focus, as the Minister, is ensuring a successful restructuring of the business, and ensuring that the business remains focused on the welfare of residents.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I am sorry to press the Minister again on this, but I think he recognises that changes to care, even when well planned, have a serious impact on the health of care home residents. Can he guarantee that if those commercial discussions fail, residents will continue to be cared for in their existing homes?

Paul Burstow: The Government have made it clear that in no circumstances will we allow the residents of any of those care homes to find themselves made homeless without good continuity of care. That is the pledge that we make.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): But is not the real question how the Minister will secure that guarantee? There is a real tension between care and commerce, and it seems to me that the restructuring could well affect certain areas disproportionately. We need briefings from the Care Quality Commission to ensure that Members in their constituencies can have feedback and reports on exactly how this matter is being dealt with.

Paul Burstow: I have already said that I take seriously the need to keep the House informed as we progress these matters. I am also clear that the paramount interest—the interest that the regulator has a statutory duty to enforce—is residents’ welfare. That is what we are doing, and what we will continue to do.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I welcome the Minister’s comment that every resident will be looked after. Will

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he further reassure residents of Baytree Court in my constituency that they will suffer no detriment as a result of this situation?

Paul Burstow: I can say that of course we need to make it absolutely clear to landlords and the company that their actions have consequences, and that their actions now must be focused on a speedy resolution to the restructuring of the business that ensures it can continue to employ good-quality staff and provide care for the 31,000 people who live in its homes.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): I heard the Minister say that he had had discussions with the devolved Administrations. In his discussions with his Scottish counterparts, was he made aware of the very real concerns of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that should there be a catastrophic outcome, as he described it, they would not have the funding or resources to deal with the consequences? What is he going to offer to help in that respect?

Paul Burstow: That catastrophic outcome is by far the most unlikely of all the outcomes for Southern Cross. The most likely outcome is a successful restructuring with some of the business being moved to other operators that currently are the landlords of some of these homes. When I spoke to Nicola Sturgeon earlier this week, we discussed all the issues that concern her and me, and we agreed on the need to pursue the path of a consensual, solvent restructuring of the business as the best way of securing the welfare of the residents in those homes.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Eighty per cent. of Southern Cross’s income comes from the taxpayer, yet attempts seem to have been made to offshore as much of that money as possible. Age UK says that in the future all care home providers should have to demonstrate to the regulators that they have a solid business model. In his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), the Minister seemed to imply that there had been no suggestions for how regulation could be strengthened. Will he seriously consider Age UK’s suggestion over the coming months?

Paul Burstow: I am grateful for that question because it allows me to make the point that Age UK was very welcoming of the Government’s proposition to look at Monitor’s role in the social care sector. We are in discussions with it and will continue to consider the idea.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): I understand that the Department of Health was invited to yesterday’s meeting with Southern Cross. With 31,000 vulnerable people facing the possibility of losing their homes, why did no one from the Government attend?

Paul Burstow: The character of the meeting has changed significantly over the past couple of days. The meeting is now focused on reaching a clear agreement between the lenders, the landlord and Southern Cross. We wanted to ensure that they were focused on that, which is why no representatives of the Department of Health were at the meeting.

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Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): All the contributions today have concentrated mainly on the rights and plight of residents, which is entirely understandable—I would not expect it to be any other way—but we should also think about the work force of Southern Cross. Just yesterday I was in touch with the local GMB organiser in Dundee, John Moist, who told me that at the homes in Dundee the work force are totally demoralised, which I think the Minister would agree is not the best atmosphere in which to provide care. Further to what was said earlier, will he consider setting up a helpline for MPs? Hon. Friends have talked about family members of residents coming to their surgeries this week; I have had employees at my surgeries, and it would help if I had someone to contact.

Paul Burstow: Just two days ago, I had a meeting with GMB officials to discuss their concerns about this and other issues in the social care sector. Of course we will consider the appropriate arrangements that might need to be put in place in the event of the scenarios that the hon. Gentleman talked about.

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Academies (Funding)

12.14 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education to make a statement on funding for the academy programme.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): The errors reported in the Financial Times today relate to mistakes made by local authorities in their returns to the Department for Education, which relies on local authorities to provide accurate information about their spending. Occasionally, individual local authorities make errors that can lead to academies getting too much, or indeed too little, funding. The system for funding academies, which was set up—I have to say—by the previous Government, is unclear, unwieldy and, in our view, unfair. It is no surprise, therefore, that some errors occur, which is why we are proposing changes to the school funding system to ensure that all schools and academies are fairly funded. We are proposing a system without the complexities that lead to these types of problems.

It is slightly odd for the right hon. Gentleman to ask these questions and attack us for the failings of a system created by the previous Labour Government, of which he was a member. We are the ones sorting it out, just as we are sorting out this country’s historic budget deficit. The question for him is: does he agree that we should raise the bar for secondary schools from 35% achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths, to 40% next year? Does he agree that we should further raise it to 50% by the end of this Parliament? Does he agree with our announcement today—[Interruption.] I do not know why the Opposition do not want to hear this. Does he agree with our announcement on extending the academies programme to underperforming primary schools, particularly the 200 worst-performing primary schools, many of which were in that state for a decade while his party was in government?

Andy Burnham: When will the Government learn that they cannot just bat away the question and always blame somebody else for the things that go wrong? Today’s Financial Times writes that the Department has given a large number of academies in England more money than they were entitled to. The news comes just days after the Secretary of State caved in to a legal claim from 23 councils that too much money was taken from their budgets to pay for academies. This raises a simple question: do the Secretary of State and the Minister have a grip on the budget?

But where is the Secretary of State? On a day when serious questions are being asked about whether the rapid expansion of his academy programme is backed up by a properly funded plan, only this Secretary of State could be in Birmingham announcing another major expansion of it. Why is he not here making that statement to the House of Commons? Should he not be here to reassure Members that he can proceed with his academies programme fairly and efficiently without penalising other schools in Members’ constituencies? Will the Minister tell the House how many schools have been overfunded, and what is the total amount paid in error? Will this money be clawed back from schools? It is not good enough for the Minister to stand there and

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blame everybody else. When will he take responsibility for the budget of his own Department? If it did not spot the mistake before the

Financial Times

reported it, why not? When will it put in place a proper accounting procedure?

Under threat of legal action, the Government have announced a U-turn on academy funding. Can the Minister set out the details and timetable for a review, and does he accept the need for urgency? Is it not the case that the Secretary of State repeatedly finds himself in these positions because he rushes ahead and fails to consult people on changes? We have been here before on school sport, education maintenance allowance and Building Schools for the Future. The only way people can make him listen to them is to launch a legal action. That is no way to run a Department. We hear that he will pay the councils’ legal costs. In the past year, he has spent more money on solicitors’ fees than Ryan Giggs and Fred Goodwin put together. How much has he spent on legal costs, and is this not a scandalous waste, when every penny is needed for children’s education?

The Secretary of State is today raising the floor targets for secondary schools and focusing the academy programme on struggling schools. These are Labour policies, and we are pleased at his dramatic conversion to them. We support raising standards in our schools; it is the standards of the Secretary of State we worry about. Perhaps the plan we needed to hear today was for poorly performing Departments to be taken over by successful ones. The only trouble is—there are no successful Departments. On the radio today, the Secretary of State tried pathetically to blame Labour for his latest blunder. Is it not time that he took responsibility for his own serial incompetence before people lose confidence in him altogether?

Mr Gibb: Yet again, the right hon. Gentleman overstates his case. First, the Secretary of State is in Birmingham today speaking to the National College for School Leadership, which is a very important part of our system of raising standards, and I am sure that his predecessors spoke every year to those conferences too. We are taking action to tackle the problems, although I should remind the right hon. Gentleman that the problem highlighted by the Financial Times occurred every year under the last Labour Government. The difference between the former Government—his Government—and this one is that we are taking action to sort it out. That is why we announced a fundamental review of the school funding system. That review is already taking place, and we will be making further announcements and holding a further consultation on the details later this year.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of the LACSEG—the local authority central spend equivalent grant—which is about double funding, where central Government are funding both the local authority and the academy for the same central services. Again, that is something that occurred under the last Labour Government, and we are sorting it out. That is why the Department for Communities and Local Government top-sliced £148 million off the funding to local government—to deal with that double funding. We are now looking at the issue again, as a result of the action taken by the 23 local authorities, and sorting it out. I

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would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether he supports us in our review of the funding system, so that we can create a simpler and clearer system that all can understand, and one that is similar for schools and academies. We want to achieve a per-pupil funding system that is fair and that all can understand, rather than the system over which his Government presided where schools in some local authorities received some £4,000 more per pupil than other schools with the same problems. Those are the problems that this Government are seeking to sort out, and I hope that he will support us in those plans.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Is it not the case that this urgent question is a smokescreen for those who oppose academies, given that we have created more academies in 12 months than Labour created in 12 years? Is it not also the case that the last Government left 500,000 children illiterate, and that those who are creating obstacles to academies want to wallow in mediocrity rather than pursue excellence?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. It is not clear where the Opposition stand on, for example, free schools. Since the election, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) has said that he opposes the establishment of free schools. However, since the news broke that one of Tony Blair’s closest aides is setting up his own free school, the right hon. Gentleman has told journalists that he now supports free schools. Which is it: does he support our academies programme and the free schools programme, or would he close down those schools if he came to power?

Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): When I published the original policy paper on academies 10 years ago, it was never intended that they should be overpaid and that local authorities should be underpaid for doing the job of supporting pupils. Can the Minister confirm that the 2.25% that has been withdrawn from school funding generally and the overspend on academies have denied other children the key services that they need to raise standards and give them the life chances that all of us should want for every child?

Mr Gibb: I think it is rich when former Education Secretaries attack us for this policy. We are talking about a system that this Government inherited from the previous Government, and we are trying to sort it out. We will look at every instance of underfunding or overfunding of academies on a case-by-case basis. We want to reach a position where all schools and academies in this country are funded through a fair, simple and transparent process.

Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): We can all accept that the problems that have occurred are the fault of the regime in place under the last Labour Government, but can the Minister give me an assurance that he will put in place a replacement formula, so that the next tranche of academies will not suffer from the same inconsistencies, and local authorities, which will continue to service other schools, will not experience a detrimental cut in their allowance?

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Mr Gibb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising those issues. That is precisely what we intend to introduce and what the current review of school funding is seeking to deliver. That review is taking place right now, and later in the year we hope to be able to announce a further consultation on the details of its outcome.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister aware that he is in danger of alienating those of us on the Opposition Benches who believe in the academy model for underperforming schools and who welcome announcements that are made to this House? The question asked by Sarah Montague on Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning has to be answered: does the incompetence that we are talking about this morning emanate from local authorities, as the Secretary of State said time and time again, or from the Department?

Mr Gibb: As the Secretary of State made clear, we are talking about an error in the figures reported by local authorities to the Department, and these errors happen every year. We are determined to simplify the system, because it is the complexity of that system which results in local authorities making those errors when they report the numbers. The only way to tackle the problem is to simplify the system, which is what the school funding review is charged with delivering.

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): Does the Minister agree that this urgent question is an extraordinary own goal? Labour either knew about this structural, technical problem and did nothing about it, or else it had no idea. Which does the Minister think is worse: not knowing or ignoring?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend raises an important point, which goes to how to handle opposition. That is why I asked the right hon. Member for Leigh the questions that I did. This is not about just jumping on the latest bandwagon of a Financial Times report; it is about working out where the Opposition stand on issues such as raising the bar on standards in secondary schools and how to tackle the 200 worst-performing primary schools.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Since the beginning of the year, at the request of parents in my constituency, I have been trying to find out the funding basis of the several free schools due to open there. I have with me correspondence from the Department giving every possible excuse for not giving that information—it even makes “The dog ate my homework” sound plausible. The last correspondence, from two months ago, concerned my appeal against the refusal under the Freedom of Information Act. I have had no response whatever from the Department, which is concealing the information either because it does not know it because it is incompetent, or because free schools are being treated in a preferential way. Will the Minister please now answer those questions?

Mr Gibb: Details of free schools will be published once they open, so the hon. Gentleman will be able to see all that information once that free school opens. We are concerned about disclosing details of proposals for free schools where they have been turned down, because that can cause embarrassment to the individuals who

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have made those proposals, who will sometimes be teachers who have existing jobs. There are all kinds of reasons why we have to maintain confidentiality for those proposals, but all those details will be made available for any free school that opens.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement about simplifying the system. I hope that he agrees that it is only fair that students in free schools or academies should receive the same amount of funding as that provided to those in LEA schools.

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend raises a good point. That is how the system is supposed to work, and how it does work. Academies are funded on the same basis as maintained schools; however, they have more control over that element of funding which is currently spent by the local authority on those central services provided by the academy. That is all that is meant to happen with the funding system. It is the complexity arising from that system and the fact that local authorities are funded by both the Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government that has led to problems. However, this is an issue that we are tackling and sorting out.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Even though the Secretary of State is in Birmingham, just in case he does not get a chance to talk to Councillor Les Lawrence, who recently complained bitterly on the front page of The Birmingham Post about significant hidden costs in the academies programme that leave local education authorities out of pocket, can the Minister address those concerns and say what the Secretary of State’s answer to Les Lawrence would be if he has the chance to talk to him today?

Mr Gibb: We have talked to Les Lawrence on many occasions. He raises an important point, which is that when the top-sliced funding for local authority central services is taken away from local authorities, there is an issue about how we allocate those savings across local authorities. That is the issue on which there has been correspondence with those local authorities. We are reviewing the position to ensure that we do not leave local authorities in a position from which they cannot fund the central services that they continue to provide to maintained schools, as well as those that they continue to provide to pupils attending academies.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) that the Opposition do not like to listen to the success story that is the academies programme. Why does the Minister think that more than 1,200 schools have already applied for academy status?

Mr Gibb: Those schools are applying because of the autonomy and independence that academy status brings to them. My hon. Friend is right to cite the figure of 1,200. By now, 704 academies have opened, compared with 200 when this Government came into office. They are delivering a very high standard of education, and I hope that the Opposition will support not only our existing academy programme but our proposal to extend the programme to primary schools and, in particular, to the 218 worst performing primary schools.