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House of Commons

Thursday 22 March 2012

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—

Superfast Broadband

1. Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): What progress he has made on his plans to extend superfast broadband to rural areas. [101297]

10. Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): What progress he has made on his plans to extend superfast broadband to rural areas. [101307]

13. Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): What progress he has made on his plans to extend superfast broadband to rural areas. [101312]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): May I apologise for the Secretary of State’s absence from questions today and thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving him leave of absence? The whole House will be aware of the happy reasons for that absence.

We anticipate that the broadband delivery framework contract will be signed with suppliers in mid-April, and we expect the first three projects to enter procurement using the framework immediately after. We have set a target for all broadband procurement to be completed by the end of 2012, so that delivery can be completed by 2015.

Julian Smith: I thank the Minister for that answer. Rural north Yorkshire is already benefiting from the Government’s investment in broadband, and after yesterday’s Budget cities will, too, but at higher speeds. How do we avoid a continued digital divide between rural and urban areas, but at higher speeds?

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend has been a doughty champion of his part of the world in securing superfast broadband. All the country will benefit from superfast broadband, but it is quite right that we continue to invest in higher speeds, particularly for cities, to maintain our global competitiveness.

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Karen Lumley: Will the Minister congratulate Worcestershire county council, which has set aside £8.5 million in these difficult times to secure superfast broadband? In Redditch we have a £300,000 project to enable residents to stay at home and work instead of travelling into cities. What can the Government do in these times to help local authorities further?

Mr Vaizey: We continue to invest a substantial amount in broadband roll-out, and I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Worcestershire county council on investing alongside the Government. It is a great testament to the scheme that we have put in place that we have secured private funding and local government funding alongside central Government funding.

Caroline Nokes: What progress has been made to overcome the issues of state aid in unlocking the rural broadband fund, which will help in counties such as Hampshire?

Mr Vaizey: We have applied for a UK-wide scheme for state aid approval. We believe that we are close to approval, and we continue to work closely with the European Commission on the issue.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): The cumbersome and expensive Broadband Delivery UK process appears almost to have eliminated competition, which ought to have had a very important role in it. Ministers made a big strategic error in supporting superfast broadband at county level, rather than regionally. Does the Minister recognise that it will be a scandal if the outcome of the process is that, in the end, all the money is just handed over to BT?

Mr Vaizey: I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, as a former telecoms Minister, does not understand that, if we had had a national or a regional scheme, competition would have been even harder to secure. As it is, three major competitors remain in play in terms of broadband roll-out.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): How, in rolling out broadband, will we ensure that the people who undertake installation in different regions—rural areas as well as urban—do not simply move from London and then take their skills back to London, and that a skill repository is left among the work force where broadband is installed?

Mr Vaizey: I cannot guarantee that the engineers who lay broadband will stay in the areas in which they work, but the key point about broadband roll-out is to ensure that all parts of the country benefit from the infrastructure so that we can base companies with high skills all over the country.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer found extra money to extend superfast broadband to small cities, but, as the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) said, the real digital divide today is between those with broadband and those without. Peter Cochrane, former chief technical officer at BT, giving evidence in the other place, described access as “a fundamental human right”. Two million people, mainly in rural areas, are

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still without broadband, and Labour pledged to guarantee 2 megabits to almost every household by 2012, but this Government will not achieve that until after 2015. Why are Ministers so unfair in their treatment of rural Britain?

Mr Vaizey: I certainly reject the accusation that we have been unfair on rural Britain, and my glass, unlike the hon. Lady’s, is half full not half empty. I look forward to going on a tour with her to Belfast, Cardiff, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and so on and telling people that they are getting unfair treatment from the Government because we are investing in their broadband networks.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Rural Britain, in the shape of the small town of Bradford on Avon in my constituency, welcomed the news this week that it is to have superfast broadband with the conversion of its exchange. [ Interruption. ] In the Budget yesterday the Government announced pilots, including one in Wiltshire, for rural growth networks to address the barriers to economic recovery. Will funding from those networks be available to increase the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas?

Mr Vaizey: I did not hear the entire question because of the continued carping from the Opposition at our support for our major and smaller cities. I will happily work with the hon. Gentleman to ensure that all broadband funding is used as effectively as possible in his area.

Superfast Broadband

2. Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): What progress he has made in improving access to superfast broadband. [101298]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): We have now approved the local broadband plans for Durham, Warwickshire, Northumberland and Staffordshire project areas, which means that 24 of the 45 plans received by the 29 February deadline have been approved; that is more than half. All submitted plans, including Greater Manchester’s, will be approved by the end of April 2012.

We anticipate that the contract for the broadband delivery framework will be signed with suppliers in mid-April and expect the first three projects to enter procurement using the framework immediately following the contract’s being signed. We have set a target for all broadband procurements to be completed by the end of 2012.

Mr Nuttall: Will there be any scope for transferring funds from the moneys announced for Greater Manchester —the city region—to fill in the gaps in rural broadband?

Mr Vaizey: I will happily discuss that issue with my hon. Friend. I take his point—unlike the Opposition, he welcomes the investment in Greater Manchester.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The announcement last August also indicated a figure of almost £70 million to be used in Scotland. What

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contact, if any, does the Minister have with the Scottish Government about how services are being developed north of the border?

Mr Vaizey: I have regular contact with the Scottish Government, who have welcomed the funding and are putting in their own funding to support broadband roll-out in Scotland.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): It was once said that the entire empire hung by Lancashire’s thread. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Lancashire county council on prioritising superfast broadband? The entire county now hangs from its fibre optic cable.

Mr Vaizey: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Lancashire on its superfast broadband. It is a very innovative and go-ahead authority, which has also been particularly pioneering in libraries.

Press Complaints Commission

3. Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential effects on local newspapers of the closure of the Press Complaints Commission. [101299]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): The Leveson inquiry was established by the Government last July and will make recommendations to my Department about reform for the system of press regulation. The closure of the Press Complaints Commission is a matter for the industry, but the new structure will apply to all newspapers, local or national.

Jim Sheridan: My local press are watching with interest to see what replaces the PCC. What measures are in place to defend or protect the general public when taking redress against, mainly, the national newspapers? Will the Minister share with the House how many meetings, if any, his Department has had with national newspaper editors or proprietors?

Mr Vaizey: I do not have the details of meetings with national editors, but I am happy to share them with the hon. Gentleman by way of a letter. The Press Complaints Commission mediation procedures will continue during the transit to a new arrangement.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The Press Complaints Commission is engaging in a pretty ludicrous example of shenanigans at the moment; it is trying to bounce Leveson into some new plan that it is trying to put forward. Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that the only thing that the Government are interested in is what Leveson comes up with—not some shoddy deal struck by the editors?

Mr Vaizey: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is being entirely fair. My understanding is that although the final answer lies absolutely with Lord Leveson’s

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inquiry, Lord Leveson has made it clear that he wants the press to begin to make moves to get their house in order while he considers all the evidence.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): The harrowing evidence at the Leveson inquiry from victims of phone hacking and other abuse by the press means that we all want a new press complaints system, which must be independent of politicians and editors and able to enforce its rulings on all newspapers. Does the Minister recognise that the proposals being put forward by Lord Hunt, chair of the Press Complaints Commission, fail to meet either of those tests? Until they do, they will amount to nothing more than a change of name and business as usual. That will simply not be acceptable.

Mr Vaizey: Lord Hunt has put forward his proposals and I urge the right hon. and learned Lady to work with him if she thinks that they are not adequate.

Football Governance

4. Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): What consideration he has given to the response from the Football Association, Premier League and Football League to the Government’s response to the report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on football governance; and if he will make a statement. [101301]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Before I answer, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our best wishes to Fabrice Muamba for a full and speedy recovery.

In their response to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry, the football authorities have proposed plans for a smaller FA board, a club licensing system, the establishment of an FA regulatory authority and a closer working relationship between clubs and supporter groups. I welcome all those moves, and I would like football to implement them as soon as possible.

Lindsay Roy: May I, on behalf of the whole House, endorse the sentiments expressed by the Minister about Fabrice Muamba? I thank all the medical and club staff for their timely intervention in saving Fabrice’s life. The unity of support from fans across the country has been impressive and demonstrates the best of British values.

What action will the Minister take if the working parties recommend that further powers are needed to remove barriers to the co-operative status of football clubs?

Hugh Robertson: We have decided to pass the initial report generated by the DCMS Committee back to it for further consideration and ask for its recommendations. I would not want to give the hon. Gentleman a firm commitment before I have seen the Committee’s recommendations, but I am absolutely determined to ensure that supporters are better represented and have a more central role in the running of their clubs.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the proposed FA regulatory authority needs to have real teeth and that there should not just be a rebadging of rules that have failed,

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in some cases, to identify the ultimate owners of clubs or to protect communities from the impact of a club’s insolvency?

Hugh Robertson: Yes.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Fans’ organisations are concerned that the response from the governing bodies does not go far enough. We will have achieved nothing if we do not create greater opportunities for fans to become involved in the governance of the game. Football’s governing bodies have indicated that they are prepared to co-operate and work positively with the Government’s expert working groups. When does the Minister intend to set up those working groups and when does he intend to have them report back by?

Hugh Robertson: I think that the debate has moved on as a result of the football authorities’ response in terms of a licensing system and an explicit commitment to supporters’ liaison officers. There has been a very considerable movement as a result of the Select Committee’s work. As I said, I want to wait to see what the Committee has to say. We will absolutely take on board its recommendations and also look at means to incentivise club owners to make shares available to fans.

14. [101313] David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The key issue is supporter ownership of clubs, which is absolutely crucial. At AFC Telford United, we have a superb model of club ownership by supporters. What more is the Minister’s Department going to do to model, with clubs and owners, new structures for supporter ownership of clubs?

Hugh Robertson: I pay tribute to the work done at AFC Telford, which is a model of that sort of scheme. This is not an entirely easy problem to grapple with, because no two club ownership models are the same. Unlike, for example, the Spanish model and many other European models, the models in English football are very different from club to club and from division to division. We have to find ways to incentivise owners to place their shares in public ownership.

Creative Industries

6. Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): What support his Department is providing to the creative industries. [101303]

8. Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): What support his Department is providing to the creative industries. [101305]

9. James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): What support his Department is providing to the creative industries. [101306]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): We have introduced the Creative Industries Council and maintained existing direct support for film through the national lottery and film tax relief. Building on this success, I am sure that the whole House will welcome yesterday’s announcement by the Chancellor of the introduction of similar tax reliefs for the video games,

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animation and high-end TV production sectors. The UK has some of the world’s most successful creative industries, and yesterday’s Budget will ensure that they can continue to grow and support jobs up and down the country.




The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is almost as loud as his tie.

Alun Cairns: I am grateful to the Minister for his answer and welcome yesterday’s statement by the Chancellor in support of the creative industries. The advertising industry is one of the most creative and innovative in the UK economy, and it is worth £7.8 billion. Does the Minister accept, though, that constant threats of regulation and red tape can stymie that innovation and creativity, and that the pendulum might have swung too far and there could well be a need for a review of some of the regulations?

Mr Vaizey: I never lose an opportunity to praise the advertising industry in the UK, which is one of the most successful, or its regulatory system under the Advertising Standards Authority.

Mary Macleod: I welcome yesterday’s announcement from the Chancellor about games tax relief. Does my hon. Friend agree that it will benefit companies such as Sega in my constituency, establish the UK as a world-leading games maker, and stop the brain drain of talented games developers to overseas?

Mr Vaizey: I never lose an opportunity, when I drive over the flyover, to look at the huge headquarters of Sega in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Not only will that proposal stop the brain drain; it will create a brain import scheme.

James Morris: Birmingham and the black country have a very creative software and hardware development industry, but it often finds it difficult to recruit the skilled people it requires from the region. What support can the Minister give to local centres of excellence, such as the Aston and Wolverhampton science parks?

Mr Vaizey: We continue to focus on skills. The higher apprenticeships scheme will help to provide talent for the UK’s IT industry. May I take this opportunity to praise Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope for their “Next Gen.” report, which has led to a revolution in the computer science curriculum in schools?

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I welcome the Government’s U-turn on support for the creative industries, but I note that there is less talk today about this being a “Downton Abbey” Budget. I wonder why that is. Will the Minister explain the exact difference between the support that he has announced for the video games industry and the support that the Labour Government introduced two years ago, which his Government scrapped in their first Budget?

Mr Vaizey: The difference is that the new support includes help for television drama and animation. Fundamentally, the difference is between the ambition of the Government and the poverty of ambition of the Opposition.

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Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Minister will know that the Hargreaves review of intellectual property and the Intellectual Property Office consultation continue to exercise and concern our creative industries. Does he believe that having the maximum number of exceptions to copyright helps or hinders our creative industries? Will he come and give evidence to the inquiry of the all-party parliamentary intellectual property group in the next few weeks?

Mr Vaizey: The hon. Gentleman has been a doughty champion for rights holders and the protection of intellectual property. As he knows, I ensure that rights holders’ views are expressed regularly during the Hargreaves consultation. I have not yet received an invitation to give evidence to the all-party parliamentary group, but I look forward to receiving it.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): The Government want philanthropy and corporate giving to replace public subsidy for the arts. However, the excellent Nottingham Playhouse tells me that sponsorship and donations are falling due to the flatlining economy. Does this funding black hole not threaten the future of our regional theatres?

Mr Vaizey: The hon. Lady is quite wrong. We do not want philanthropy to replace Government support for the arts; we want there to be a partnership between philanthropy and Government support for the arts, which is extraordinarily generous.

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): Hundreds of my constituents who work for Aardman Animations, Europe’s largest animation company, were delighted by the reference to Wallace and Gromit in yesterday’s Budget. Does my hon. Friend agree that the extension of film tax credits to the TV and animation industries is important not only for maintaining British talent and ingenuity in Bristol and other places in our country, but so that children grow up watching programmes that are made in Britain and sound as though they are made in Britain?

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was privileged to visit Aardman’s headquarters. I gather that it has just held the premiere of “The Pirates!”, its new film. Those in the House with young children may want to go and see it. He is right that the proposal is about keeping talent in this country.

Leveson Inquiry

7. John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Whether he plans to submit evidence to the Leveson inquiry on culture, practice and ethics of the press. [101304]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Following a request from the inquiry, the Secretary of State will submit evidence as part of the elegantly named “module 3”, which is considering the relationship between the press and politicians. In addition, my Department is working constructively with the Leveson inquiry by providing background information where possible.

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John Cryer: In that evidence, will the Minister at least say that the replacement for the Press Complaints Commission should be politically independent and independent of what used to be Fleet street?

Mr Vaizey: As is well known, the desire is to see independent self-regulation that is independent of the press and independent of the Government.

London Olympics

11. Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): What economic legacy his Department expects to result from the London 2012 Olympics. [101308]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): The new £130 million tourism campaign to showcase Great Britain in 2012 aims to deliver an additional 4.6 million visitors, £2.7 billion of extra spend and the creation of about 60,000 job opportunities. The UK is already benefiting from the games, with 98% of the £6 billion-worth of contracts for the “big build” and 90% of the £1 billion-worth of contracts for staging the games going to UK businesses. If we add to that the £1 billion boost to British business that is expected through trade and investment, it amounts to a strong economic legacy from the games right across the UK.

Brandon Lewis: Some of us will have already had the good fortune to see the fantastic work that has been done at the Olympic park, and millions of visitors to this country and British residents will see the work done by British companies, workers and engineers to develop and produce that fantastic park. What more can we and the Government do to ensure that we get the message out that it is British engineering and British construction workers who have delivered such a fantastic venue?

Hugh Robertson: The answer is the GREAT campaign, which targets our 10 major markets around the world. It goes out to them on the back of the success of the Olympic park and tells them to come this country, do business and drive our tourism industry.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): After the Olympics and Paralympics, will the Department continue to play a role in the legacy arrangements, or will that pass to the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Mayor of London? What structure will there be for overseeing the continuing delivery of the Olympic project?

Hugh Robertson: That is a very good question and quite a difficult one to answer, because much of the park will of course pass to the mayoral development authority, so much of the area around the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will come under the ambit of the Greater London authority. The DCMS will continue to have overall responsibility, but each Department will have particular responsibilities for the part of the legacy related to its work.

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Does the Minister agree that one economic legacy will be the tourism legacy? Does he see that there would be real benefit in allowing tourist information centres to have access to the footage made by the BBC of the torch relay, which will travel

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the length and breadth of the country, so that they can use it for future advertising? Will he work with me to ensure that the International Olympic Committee allows the BBC to make that footage available?

Hugh Robertson: Yes, of course we will. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who is responsible for tourism, tells me that both VisitBritain and VisitEngland have access to a large number of images already, which we clearly want to promote on the back of London 2012. We will do all we can.

Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): Nearly 1,500 businesses from across the UK have built the Olympic park and will equip the Olympics. That is a great British achievement. Does the Minister therefore share my concern that those businesses, which have done so well, are too tightly constrained by the marketing rights protocol, which prevents them from publicising the part that they have played? Would not every Member, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), whose constituency hosts one of those businesses and who has talked to me about the issue, want to promote, praise and thank those businesses for their efforts?

Does the Minister agree with me, with the “Building 2012” campaign and now with Sir John Armitt, the chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, that we should seek from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and from the IOC the necessary concessions to ensure a national celebration of our great British businesses that built the Olympic park on budget and on time?

Hugh Robertson: The right hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. She knows, as I do, that those regulations date back to the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 and were put in place to give us the best possible chance of raising as much sponsorship as possible from the private sector. The result, of course, was that the organising committee was extraordinarily successful in raising £700 million of sponsorship, which brings with it intellectual property issues.

That said, I absolutely recognise the issue that the right hon. Lady has itemised. Because the process has been such a success, we want the country and individual businesses to go out and tell that story. The regulations, of course, apply only until just after the games, and we will do all we can to ensure that they work.

Digital Economy

12. Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): What steps he is taking to promote the digital economy. [101309]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): My Department is delivering a number of programmes and initiatives that will support growth and innovation across the digital economy and the economy more generally. We are investing up to £830 million in digital communications infrastructure by 2015 and working with Ofcom to deliver the 4G spectrum auction this year, and we will shortly publish a Green Paper setting out proposals for a regulatory framework for the

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communications and media sectors aimed at providing a thriving environment for growth and innovation in the UK.

Elizabeth Truss: I was delighted to read earlier this week that Britain leads the world in e-commerce, with 10% of all business taking place online. However, I am concerned about getting more young people involved in the industry, given that the number of people studying computer science is lower now than it was a decade ago and the proportion of women doing computer science has gone down to only 14%. What are we going to do to get more young people involved in the industry?

Mr Vaizey: I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. As she is probably aware, e-Skills, the sector skills council, had a specific computing for girls scheme to encourage girls at school to study computing, but the Secretary of State for Education’s important speech on revolutionising the computer science curriculum in January shows that this Government are committed to ensuring that more people study computer science. We are working with industry to ensure that more children choose that option.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Why is superfast broadband being delivered in Morocco by 2013 and in Britain by 2015?

Mr Vaizey: Because Britain is bigger. [ Laughter. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sure that that is an immensely amusing and informative reply and we are grateful, but the House will want to hear Mr Weatherley.

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): Will the Minister welcome with me and the digital economy in Hove the news yesterday that Hove will be included in the next round of superfast broadband bids?

Mr Vaizey: May I say, if you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, that I find it odd that Opposition Members have such distaste for Morocco? What is wrong with Morocco getting superfast broadband? Why is that seen as some kind of weird phenomenon? [ Interruption. ] Perhaps I am channelling my inner Boris.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on how well he has campaigned for superfast broadband in his part of the world in Brighton and Hove? We will ensure that we work with him to ensure that the generous Government funding that is available supports his constituents.

London Olympics

16. Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): What information the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games has provided to his Department on ticketing arrangements for the London 2012 Olympics. [101315]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Ticketing for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games is a matter for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, a private company independent of the Government. LOCOG, however, has made public a wide range of information

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about the sale of London 2012 tickets to guide those who wish to purchase them and will make public a full breakdown after the final tranche of tickets is sold.

Dame Joan Ruddock: Rachel, my constituent, purchased her family’s Olympic tickets last year. Subsequently, she found herself pregnant, and expects to have a few-week-old baby at the time of her events. When she contacted LOCOG, she was told to purchase an extra seat for the baby, but that the seat could not be guaranteed to be next to the parents. Given that airlines allow babes in arms at 35,000 ft, surely it is possible in a stadium. Will the Minister intervene? [ Interruption . ]

Mr Speaker: Order. We all want to hear this answer.

Hugh Robertson: I will not even attempt to defend that one. However, as a result of the campaign run by Mumsnet, the organising committee is considering that exact issue. The situation the right hon. Lady describes is clearly an absurdity and a solution will be found.

London Olympics

17. Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): What plans he has for the London 2012 Olympics media centre after the games. [101316]

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): The Olympic Park Legacy Company aims to create a thriving commercial district on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park that will generate several thousand job and training opportunities. In January, it announced a shortlist of three organisations from the fashion, technology and leisure sectors as potential long-term tenants of the press and broadcast centres. It aims to appoint those tenants later this summer.

Meg Hillier: In reference to the Minister’s previous answer, I hope the Department retains an interest in this matter even though it falls under the legacy company, because my constituents and the many businesses in my constituency are keen to see incubator and creative business spaces. Given that two of the bidders may now join forces, leaving only two, I hope that the Department is vigilant to ensure that we get that creative business thread running through the new Olympic park.

Hugh Robertson: To correct the hon. Lady, the responsibility for this matter will pass to the mayoral development corporation when it comes into being. It will have responsibility, and she will therefore have direct access to it through local councillors elected to the Greater London authority.

Mr Speaker: The appetite has been exhausted.

Topical Questions

T1. [101317] Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): Yesterday the European Hockey Federation announced that London, and the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic park, had been selected as the venue for the 2015

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European hockey championships, the first such event on the park. This is in addition to the Commonwealth games, the rugby league, rugby union and cricket world cups, a world athletics championship, world championships in triathlon, gymnastics and canoeing, and bids out for a youth Olympics, rowing, swimming and eventing championships. It is an extraordinary success story for British sport and a hugely positive legacy from London 2012.

Kevin Brennan: Google is failing to enforce privacy rulings online, dragging its feet when told to take down offending material and prioritising websites that carry illegal, unlicensed content at the top of its search results. When will Ministers act to ensure that Google prioritises legal sites over illegal sites?

Hugh Robertson: We have regular discussions with Google on all these issues. It is better than the hon. Gentleman suggests at taking down illegal material, and those discussions will continue.

T2. [101318] Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): We, the taxpayers, have spent £9 billion on the Olympics and we are very proud of them. But everybody I talk to, including myself—I occasionally talk to myself—[ Laughter. ] Calm down, calm down. Will the House come to order, please? Nobody has actually got a ticket, apart from a chap I was talking to last night who had applied for £8,000-worth of tickets. He is the only person I have met recently who has got a ticket. I have raised this before with the Minister and it is a serious point. The Minister has told me in the past that he has to satisfy the corporate people because they have put in hundreds of millions of pounds, but we have put in billions of pounds. What more will he do to get tickets to ordinary people so that this becomes a people’s games?

Hugh Robertson: The problem to which my hon. Friend alludes is caused by the simple fact that 6.5 million tickets were available and 26.5 million applications were made. The fact is that demand massively outstripped supply. Some 75% of those tickets have gone to the general public, and a full breakdown will be available as soon as the next tranche of ticketing is over. The advice to him and everyone else who wishes to apply for tickets is to apply in the next tranche, which will go exclusively to those who were involved in the process earlier.

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): Given the recent presentation by the WI of a 70,000-signature petition against library closures, demonstrating the strength of public support, and with no vision, no strategy and no urgency from a Minister who is fast becoming the Dr Beeching of libraries, does he share my view that he has a responsibility to act as a champion for libraries across government? If so, how would he assess his performance to date?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): The trouble is that the hon. Gentleman has no view. When I was in opposition I gave my view on Wirral. What is his view on Labour-controlled Brent closing libraries? Has he got a view? When he gets a view, he can start talking about libraries.

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T4. [101320] Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): All local authorities in England, bar one, and certainly the Conservative local authority in Wales, publish details of invoices in excess of £500. I raised the matter with the BBC as I believe it should do the same, and Mark Thompson rejected the idea on the basis of the benefits of confidentiality and competitive tension. Does the Minister agree that it is time that the BBC followed the example set by others?

Mr Vaizey: My view is that the BBC is quite rightly independent from Government, but my hon. Friend may wish to take that point up with Mr Thompson’s successor who should be appointed some time later this year.

T5. [101321] Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The Minister will not be surprised that I am delighted that a cross-party campaign has resulted in the announcement of £50 million for a competition for small cities, such as Brighton and Hove, for ultra-fast broadband. When will we get the bid information and what timetable does the Minister have in mind for the competition? So that we might welcome him for the second time and the Secretary of State for the first time to see first hand what Brighton and Hove’s digital cluster is already achieving, will they accept an invitation to come to Brighton’s digital festival in September?

Mr Vaizey: We will publish our consultation on this issue as soon as possible, and that will detail the chronology for awarding the £50 million. I am so pleased that the hon. Lady welcomes this funding, unlike the Opposition, who continue to carp about it. Of course I will come to Brighton, for the second time, for this wonderful digital festival.

T6. [101323] Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): In north-west England, we have BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire, but no BBC Radio Cheshire—it is an outrage. Furthermore, the community station, Cheshire FM, has recently closed down. What are the Government doing to encourage local stations and other local media to flourish and succeed?

Mr Vaizey: I could be here for hours talking about the success of local television, community radio, BBC local radio and commercial radio, but I will address the specific point about BBC Cheshire. The BBC is independent of Government and my hon. Friend may wish to take the matter up with the successor director-general when they are appointed later this year.

T3. [101319] Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I am sure that by now the Minister has seen the recent “Dispatches” programme “The Great Ticket Scandal”. If he and, in particular, the Secretary of State have not, they can have my DVD copy. It makes for good watching and I recommend that he watch it. As he knows, the programme provides the most damning proof yet that consumers are being ripped off—or at least priced out of cultural events —on an industrial scale. Will he now please commit to examining the secondary market again with a view to ensuring that we put fans first?

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Hugh Robertson: The hon. Lady and I have debated this issue for many long hours in this Parliament. The matter raised in the programme to which she refers is now the subject of an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading, so I had better be careful. I simply say what I have said before: during the last Parliament, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the previous Government looked into the matter, and we have looked at it again. I think we are satisfied with the position as it currently sits, but should further evidence of criminal activity come forward, we will certainly reconsider the matter.

T8. [101325] Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Leaving aside the special rules relating to the Olympics, does the Minister agree that it is not the place of the state to interfere with the freedom of an individual or company to resell tickets for sporting or cultural events?

Hugh Robertson: The position at the moment is that we grant a ban on ticket touting for major events where it is a requirement of bidding for those events. That has become the settled position under successive Governments and as a result of the work of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Until there is evidence of widespread criminal activity, that will remain the position.

T7. [101324] Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Last year, Arts Council funding was cut by £71 million, local authority funding was slashed and investment in the arts by private business fell by almost £10 million. Would the Minister like to have another go at providing a credible answer to Nottingham arts organisations about how to fill the funding gap that his Government have created?

Mr Vaizey: Overall funding for the Arts Council will be reduced by less than 5% because we have given it back the lottery money that the Labour party robbed from it to pay for the Olympics. The answer for Nottingham Playhouse is to have an MP who champions its work and talks it up, not down.

Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): Would the Minister be surprised if I joined other Brighton Members in saying that Brighton and Hove would be an excellent place for ultra-fast broadband and that we look forward to bidding as soon as possible?

Mr Vaizey: Indeed, and I again congratulate the work of all the Brighton MPs, but particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), on their campaigning skills.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): In Manchester, as in Morocco, a digital economy requires a digital infrastructure, but more than 2 million people are excluded from that because they live in rural areas. Will the Minister reassure the House that he recognises the importance of geography by reinstating Labour’s universal broadband pledge?

Mr Vaizey: The hon. Lady mentioned Morocco. It is an interesting fact that Morocco has less than half the population of the United Kingdom.

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Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Now that BT has lost its challenge to the Digital Economy Act 2010, when will the Government publish the initial obligations code and statutory instrument?

Mr Vaizey: We will publish it as soon as possible.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): There has been lots of bombast this morning, but does the Minister appreciate that for working-class children, two to three libraries closing a week, the withdrawal of arts education in our schools and a £71 million cut to the Arts Council are significant? Does he understand the intrinsic value of the arts to young people in this country?

Mr Vaizey: Okay, the right hon. Gentleman has thrown down the gauntlet. Let me tell him a few facts. First, two or three libraries are not closing. Fewer than 100 libraries have “closed”, and many of those have been transferred to communities. More than 40 libraries are opening, but Labour does not talk about that. We have just published our cultural education plan, the first such plan this country has ever had. Overall arts funding will be reduced by less than 4% over the next four years, so the right hon. Gentleman should stop talking down what is happening in the arts and talk about the huge success we are having.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): The parents of young people suffering from eating disorders are often distressed to find a hoard of press and magazine articles with graphic images and details of low weights and tiny amounts of food eaten, which have been used as inspiration. The media are rightly very careful when reporting on suicide. In a similar way, will the Minister urge media outlets to take cognisance of the media guidelines created by the eating disorder charity B-eat, to avoid the sensationalism of this illness, which can be very damaging?

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously on this important issue. Magazine editors take their responsibilities extremely seriously, but I would be happy to meet her to discuss her campaign and also to work with her to engage with magazine editors.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): The Minister said that competition is still in play for superfast broadband procurement, but as he knows, many of the projects have only one bidder, BT. As far as I know, only one other bidder in the whole country is still in the frame for those projects. Will he confirm that, and say why he thinks the exercise has been so unsuccessful in engaging the degree of competition that we would all have wanted?

Mr Vaizey: We engaged a great many companies, but we cannot invent competition. However, at least three organisations are still involved in the bidding, and I firmly believe that the way we went about it—ensuring that local government had a say and that the contracts were awarded across local government areas, rather than regionally or nationally—promoted competition and offered up the opportunity for community broadband providers, for example.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): How many jobs does the Minister expect to be created or lost in the gambling industry as a result of the changes in the Budget, how

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many online betting businesses that are currently offshore will come back onshore, and how many jobs will come back with them?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose): I am delighted to have a chance to answer at least one question. Unfortunately, the answer is that I do not know, because this is an issue for the Treasury.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): None the less, could the Minister, who is responsible for tourism, please have a word with the Minister responsible for broadcasting and arts, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), and explain to him the geography of Morocco? It is twice the size of this country, and when it comes to expanding rural broadband, it is the size of the country that matters. Not very many people live in Blaenrhondda or Blaencwm, which are a long way from cities, but they are the people who really matter if we are to get our economy going.

John Penrose: I am enjoying busking this one. The short answer is that the population of Morocco, I am told by many people on the Benches behind me, is only half that of the UK—it is also economically smaller—and as I am sure everybody will appreciate, the density of population is also relevant when it comes to connecting people to broadband.

Mr Speaker: It sounds to me as though there is plenty of scope for an Adjournment debate on the matter.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): Whitefield’s tabernacle is Kingswood’s only grade I listed building and has important religious significance in the history of non-conformism, yet it is in a severe state of disrepair, despite featuring on the TV programme “Restoration” several years ago. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how best to preserve this precious building?

John Penrose: The short answer to that one is yes.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Parliamentary Privilege

1. Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): What plans he has for consultation with hon. Members on the Government’s proposal for a draft Bill on parliamentary privilege. [101327]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): It is our intention to publish a Green Paper containing draft measures on parliamentary privilege before the end of the Session.

Mark Lancaster: Which particular aspect of the current system of privilege does the Minister feel is in most need of reform and why?

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Mr Heath: I am going to have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he will need to read the paper that we are producing, because it will, I hope, be a comprehensive survey of everything that relates to privilege and ask some pertinent questions about whether reform is necessary and whether it would be helpful to Members of this House in going about their business. He will have to be patient and wait for the paper, which we hope to publish before the end of the Session.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I hope that whatever the Government produce will indeed be a “green” paper, because there is one key issue that has to be resolved before we move any further, and that is: should we be putting anything about parliamentary privilege into statute? The danger is that the courts would then choose to interpret our actions and proceedings in this House, which would rather undermine the Glorious Revolution.

Mr Heath: For once, I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Green Paper will ask the specific question whether the case has been made for legislation. We have approached this issue with an open mind, and we want to seek the views of both Houses on whether legislating further on parliamentary privilege is either necessary or desirable.

Legislative Programme

2. Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): What criteria were used to determine the Government’s legislative programme for the next Session of Parliament. [101328]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): The Government intend to introduce a legislative programme in the next Session to deliver deficit reduction, boost growth, support aspiration, reform public services and implement the priorities in the coalition agreement.

Duncan Hames: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. That same coalition agreement described the introduction of a groceries code adjudicator as a “first step” in protecting the interests of consumers and farmers, not least those in the hard-pressed dairy industry. I do not know of any Member who represents as many dairy farmers as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), so will he use his influence with the business managers to ensure that a Bill to introduce a groceries code adjudicator makes its way into the next Session?

Mr Heath: Obviously I cannot pre-empt what will be announced on 9 May, but the Government remain committed to introducing the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. I am pleased that the draft Bill has received pre-legislative scrutiny and that it has been warmly received across the House. As my hon. Friend rightly says, I have a clear constituency interest in the progress of that particular piece of legislation.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Will the Deputy Leader of the House confirm that the Committee stage of the House of Lords (Amendment) Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House? Will he also ensure that the Government will not ram the

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legislation through the Commons, as they did with the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, and that there will be sufficient time for debate?

Mr Heath: The House of Lords (Amendment) Bill is a constitutional Bill, and it is normal that the Committee stages of such Bills are taken on the Floor of the House. I have no reason to suppose that this Bill will be an exception. We will of course provide adequate time for debate.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I propose a change for the Government when they are considering their legislative programme for the next Session? Will they bear it in mind, just for a change, that they are in coalition with the Conservative party?

Mr Heath: I doubt that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ever forgets that fact.

Public Reading Stage (Government Bills)

3. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What progress he has made on establishing a public reading stage for Government Bills. [101330]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): The Government conducted an experiment with a public reading stage on the Protection of Freedoms Bill. Following an evaluation of the experiment, we intend to conduct trials in the second Session to determine the best ways for members of the public to comment on specific details of legislation. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I will update the House on our detailed plans early in the next Session.

Stephen Metcalfe: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he tell the House from whom he will seek advice on how best to push this measure forward?

Mr Heath: It is very important that, before we undertake further pilots of public reading stages, we have an opportunity to reflect on any improvements that could be made to the technology and the processes involved. That will involve talking to many people. Hon. Members may have seen the recent announcement that Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has agreed to advise the Government on improving open government, and we will want that work to influence how we proceed with public reading stages.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I welcome what my hon. Friend says about improving public engagement, particularly with regard to public reading stages. Does he agree that we need to make it easier for the public to follow Committee stages of Bills, too, once the public reading stage is over? Will he have discussions with Jimmy Wales and others, particularly those involved in social media and online engagement, on how we can demystify the legislative process in this country, so that more members of the public can contribute their views?

Mr Heath: My hon. Friend highlights the purpose of what we are trying to do, and she rightly says that we are trying to demystify the process. The more that members of the public can interact with the House and

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understand how we go about our business and how they can influence the progress of legislation, the better. I can certainly give her a commitment that we will be looking at that. We will be looking at a variety of innovative ways to help the public to understand the process of legislation and the legislation itself, when it is presented to the House and to the public.

Legislative Scrutiny

4. Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve the effectiveness of scrutiny of legislation. [101331]

6. Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve the effectiveness of scrutiny of legislation. [101333]

7. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve the effectiveness of scrutiny of legislation. [101334]

8. Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve the effectiveness of scrutiny of legislation. [101335]

9. Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve the effectiveness of scrutiny of legislation. [101336]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): The Government recognise the value of parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. We have ensured that Bills have adequate time for proper scrutiny in the House. The Government are also committed to publishing more legislation in draft to enable pre-legislative scrutiny.

Brandon Lewis: For how many Bills have the Government allowed two days on Report ?

Mr Heath: In this Session, five Bills have had a Report stage taken over two days. Indeed, both the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill and the Finance (No. 3) Bill were considered over three days. This is more than in any Session of the previous Parliament, when there were none whatever in the first and last Sessions.

Mark Menzies: How many Bills had pre-legislative scrutiny in the last Session, and how did that compare with this Session? Will the Deputy Leader of the House make a statement on plans for the future?

Mr Heath: The Government have published nine draft measures this Session, and are committed to publishing more measures in draft in the next Session, with a view to pre-legislative scrutiny. Further specific announcements will be made at the start of the new Session. In the last Session under the previous Government, two Bills—just two—were published in draft.

Andrew Stephenson: Will the Deputy Leader of the House say more about the Government’s plans for post-legislative scrutiny?

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Mr Heath: Like their predecessor, the Government are committed to reviewing every Act of Parliament three to five years after it has passed. Government Departments publish Command Papers, allowing Commons Committees to decide whether or not to conduct further post-legislative scrutiny of each Act, when it is appropriate to do so. Forty-four of these memorandums have been published since this system was introduced in 2008. We welcome the work undertaken so far by Select Committees to examine such memorandums, but it is up to the Select Committees to decide whether they wish to do more.

Henry Smith: I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee which receives a thick bundle of policies and proposals from the European Union each week. What measures can be taken to ensure that more of these can go before departmental Select Committees, as they cover the whole vast area of UK national policy?

Mr Heath: Of course I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. The Government are keen to explore possible ways further to improve the effectiveness with which this House deals with European legislation. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is in discussions with Select Committees and others about possible changes.

Graham Evans: The effectiveness of scrutiny of legislation is important, and so is the cost of the effectiveness of such scrutiny. One mechanism that arguably assists with that scrutiny is that of early-day motions. I congratulate the Government on reducing the annual cost of early-day motions by 38% since 2010, but I hope my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the Procedure Committee’s announcement that it will carry out a fresh review of early-day motions in the near future.

Mr Heath: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and the fact that he recognises that the House of Commons Commission is looking across the House to establish where savings can be made. The interest of Members in the hon. Gentleman’s recent Adjournment debate, to which I responded, highlighted the variety of views on this issue. It is quite right that, if there is a swell of opinion for further reform in this area, it would be appropriate for the Procedure Committee to consider the issue of early-day motions.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Further to the question put by the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), will the Leader of the House look again at establishing permanent membership of European Standing Committees? The ad hoc approach, frankly, does not work.

Mr Heath: Again, I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The Government are continuing to explore ways to improve scrutiny, and there remain areas that we need to explore. One issue to bear in mind is whether hon. Members would be willing to serve on such a Committee. If that is the case and if we can make satisfactory arrangements, we will of course bring them to the House.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): If there is a new look at early-day motions, will the Deputy Leader of the House ensure that Members will not be deprived of one of the rare opportunities to criticise parliamentary

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answers? A recent EDM suggested that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), gave a parliamentary answer that reached a new low “in evasiveness and vacuity”, and recommends that in future Ministers should read the question before answering parliamentary questions.

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sure we are talking about these matters with reference to the scrutiny of legislation.

Mr Heath: Yes, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s question was about the scrutiny of legislation. I have already set out our position on EDMs. We recognise that they have value, but sometimes some can, shall we say, come close to an abuse of the House in terms of their cost compared with their benefit. On the subject of questions to Ministers, the hon. Gentleman knows that if there are deficiencies in the responses Members receive, I and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House are always happy to take that up with the Departments and Ministers concerned.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): What plans does the hon. Gentleman have to extend the time available for the consideration of Bills on Second Reading? It has become traditional for Second Reading debates to be considered on a single day. May we extend the time available, as many Members, especially Back Benchers, want to contribute on Second Reading?

Mr Heath: First, let me make the important point that the scrutiny of legislation is an essential part of the business of this House. People often talk about Government time as if it were unrelated to the business of the House when, in fact, it is Parliament’s time in order to scrutinise legislation. I merely make the observation that the more time that is eroded from so-called Government time by consideration of other matters that are no doubt of enormous importance—such as urgent questions and emergency debates—the less time is available to the House to scrutinise legislation properly.


5. Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Whether he plans to submit evidence to the commission on the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons. [101332]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): I welcome the announcement by the Minister for political and constitutional reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), of the terms of membership for the commission, and I will be following its work closely. Although I have no plans to submit evidence to the commission myself, it will no doubt wish to take account of the authoritative works and voices on this issue, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be among them.

Harriett Baldwin: When in opposition, the Leader of the House produced a distinguished pamphlet on the topic that the McKay commission will be studying. Does he propose to send that work to the commission? Also, does the commission intend to take written evidence, and to meet in public to take oral evidence?

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Sir George Young: The commission will be meeting in public and it has asked for evidence. My hon. Friend is too kind about the work of the democracy taskforce to which I contributed when I was on the Back Benches, but I am sure this exchange will have drawn the commission’s attention to the existence of that important work.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Is not the easiest and most elegant solution to the West

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Lothian question for Scotland to become a normal, independent, self-governing nation?

Sir George Young: “Bring it on” is what we on the Government Benches would say. That particular issue is beyond the remit of the commission, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will do what he can to bring forward the date when we can resolve it once and for all.

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Budget Leak Inquiry

11.33 am

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op) (Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on whether he will instigate a Budget leak inquiry, in view of the accurate pre-reporting of a number of the detailed proposals in his Budget statement, including one of the matters that was agreed under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act.

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): As with every Budget, we have seen a vast amount of speculation, and, as ever, a vast amount of it has proven to be unfounded. As the Chancellor has said, a Budget produced within a coalition is different. The days of the Chancellor coming up with a Budget in secret are gone. This was not a Conservative or a Liberal Democrat Budget; it was a coalition Budget. In the course of coalition Budget negotiations, various proposals were raised, discussed and debated. That occurred more widely than in the past, when the Chancellor told the Prime Minister what was in the Budget the day before or, as in even more recent days, when the Prime Minister told the Chancellor what should be in the Budget the night before. The Treasury does make announcements throughout the year. For my own part, people will have seen the work on tax transparency and personal tax statements, which was in response to a consultation on this very issue laid before the House in November and subject to a ten-minute rule Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer).

On the specific question, it is a long-established practice of the Treasury not to comment either on whether a leak inquiry has been established, or on its conduct or outcome. There will be ample opportunity to debate the Budget over the coming days. Today is the second of four days of debate on the Budget. It is perhaps an unfortunate consequence of this urgent question that this is being delayed, and so is delaying the shadow Chancellor, from whom I am sure the House is eager to hear.

Chris Leslie: Coalition government is absolutely no fig leaf for these very serious breaches of the ministerial code—[Interruption.] Government Members may wish to listen. Paragraph 9.1 of the code states:

“When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament.”

There have been clear and flagrant violations of this crucial principle. It is a significant insult to the primacy of Parliament and this House of Commons, to whom the Chancellor should be accountable. It is a shame he was not able to come here to answer for himself on this matter.

Our constituents expect that Members of Parliament should be the first to hear and question policy announcements from the Chancellor, and hold him directly to account. The Chancellor is treating Parliament as a peripheral afterthought, and that is totally unacceptable. But this is not just about the sovereignty of Parliament; if the Chancellor and his acolytes are prepared to pre-brief and leak key information about very sensitive tax changes, that risks handing privileged information to those who can take advantage of any advance knowledge.

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The ministerial code is enforced by the Prime Minister, who should instigate a leak inquiry if the Exchequer Secretary refuses to do so. He did not say whether he was or was not going to have an inquiry—at least he could leak that little bit of information for us today. It is also necessary, of course, to include an investigation of conversations between the Chancellor’s special advisers and the civil service and the media. Of course, civil servants are guided by the civil service code. It is unlikely that newspapers will reveal their sources, but Ministers and special advisers should be interviewed and asked who they spoke to, when the conversations occurred and who sanctioned those conversations. If information was released pre-Budget without approval from the Chancellor and was leaked, it is a very serious breach of security and of the civil service code.

Yesterday’s Budget was described by The Economist as

“more of a newspaper review than a Budget”.

Another view was that

“the Budget has had all the leak-free qualities of a teabag in a sieve.”

It might be quicker to list what the papers did not publish before the Budget, but for the benefit of the House I shall list some of those measures that did come out: the reduction in the 50p rate appeared in The Guardian last week and in the Financial Times; the changes to the personal income tax allowance appeared on ITV News on Tuesday night, when the exact figure was given; the stamp duty land tax changes appeared very precisely in the Financial Times and in basically all the newspapers on Wednesday morning; the changes to stamp duty land tax on residential property associated with capital gains tax changes appeared on the “Andrew Marr Show” at the weekend; and the North sea oil and gas commissioning certainties appeared in the Herald Scotland on Saturday 17.

The one Budget change that was not leaked was the £3 billion raid on pensioners, now dubbed the “granny tax”. Some 4.5 million pensioners are to lose an average of £83 next year. In times gone by, Chancellors did the honourable thing when it was revealed that their Budgets had leaked. In contrast, when asked about the Budget leaks on this morning’s “Today” programme, the Chancellor said:

“inevitably the days when the Chancellor dreamt this all up in secret, shared it with the PM 48 hours before he delivered his speech...are gone”.

Well times are not so different that they give licence to the Chancellor to fling around the contents of the Budget red box to any passing journalist, regardless of the consequences. Mr Speaker, we have heard the usual dismissive indifference from the Minister to these serious concerns, so perhaps I need to ask you, as a point of order, for general guidance about how the rights of this House, and the public’s expectations of orderly policy announcements, can be protected? Can you take steps to ensure that the Chancellor does not treat Parliament and the wider public with such utter contempt in the future?

Mr Gauke: I was not entirely sure whether that was a question or a point of order, Mr Speaker, and at one point I was not entirely sure whether the hon. Gentleman was complaining about measures not being briefed in advance or being briefed in advance. He referred specifically to the 50p tax rate. In the days running up to the Budget there were various reports about the 50p rate and it was

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public knowledge that the Chancellor had commissioned HMRC to undertake a report on the 50p rate and how much that tax was raising—an issue that I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to debate for very long. In that time, it was very clear that the Chancellor was going to make a statement, but what did we see in the press? We saw stories that it was going to stay at 50p, be cut to 45p or be cut to 40p. We saw press reports that it was going to happen this year or next year. There were at least five different versions of what was going to happen on the 50p rate, so it is not surprising that one of them turned out to be correct. However, it is also the case that four of them turned out to be incorrect.

The hon. Gentleman asked about sensitive numbers. I can assure him that the numbers on the stamp duty land tax—the increase to 7%—which I am sure he welcomes, certainly did not come from the Treasury, and neither did the exact number regarding the personal allowance as far as I am aware. We also heard from the hon. Gentleman that in days past these things did not happen. May I remind him what happened when he was last a Government Minister? In the 2005 Budget there was a leak about tax credit increases that turned out to be correct, a leak about alcohol duties that turned out to be correct, a leak about fuel duty that turned out to be correct, a leak about inheritance tax that turned out to be correct and a leak about stamp duty that turned out to be correct. There were also leaks about council tax refunds and the winter fuel allowance, all of which were entirely correct.

I could look at more recent announcements such as those about VAT in 2008, about the green bank, the youth jobs package, fuel duty and schools, all of which turned out to be accurate. I am sure that Government Ministers would then have said that that was speculation and I am sure that in many cases they were absolutely correct. It is difficult to give full credit to the hon. Gentleman given that detailed information about Budgets has been put into the public domain by previous Governments for many years, but he has only now suddenly become very upset. I am not surprised that the Labour party wants to focus on an issue of process rather than on the substance because this Budget is going to get the country growing again and is reforming the tax system in a sensible and growth-friendly way.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. There is extensive interest in this subject, which I am keen to accommodate, but that requires brevity, a great example of which can now be provided by Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I wonder whether my hon. Friend notices the incongruity of those who oppose openness in the Budget but were all in favour of it in terms of risk registers. Does he agree that the criticism is either muddled or synthetic?

Mr Gauke: In the interests of brevity, Mr Speaker, I agree.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Given the failure of Ministers to admit whether they will benefit from the cut in the top rate of tax and the description by the

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Chancellor of tax avoidance as “morally repugnant”, will the Exchequer Secretary now ensure that all Ministers’ tax arrangements are published?

Mr Gauke: We do not have a tradition of politicians publishing their tax affairs, but I have to say that for a Labour politician to say that in the context of the current mayoral election takes some nerve.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. May I remind the House that this is a narrowly focused urgent question seeking a leak inquiry? It is a matter of great importance, but it is on that matter that exchanges should be focused. This is not a rerun of the Budget debate, which will be continued, but is about the subject of the urgent question.

Mr David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that there will obviously be wild speculation before any Budget, much of which turns out to be wrong, and that we do not need any lectures from Opposition Members, who leaked everything all the time when they were in government?

Mr Gauke: I do not think that we can draw a conclusion that there has been a decline in the standards of journalism just from the fact that in 2005 the predictions of what was in the Budget were more consistently accurate than in 2012.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Surely a leak is an unauthorised or inadvertent publication of restricted and confidential information. On that basis, this could not have been a leak, because it was clearly not inadvertent and it was clearly authorised. It was none the less in severe conflict with the ministerial code, and that surely is what the Prime Minister should investigate.

Mr Gauke: I am not sure that there was a question there, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for his views. The Government clearly authorised some information to be put out in advance of the Budget. For example, there was a speech by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister makes speeches from time to time; I am not sure that people should be getting upset about that.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is rank hypocrisy on the part of Opposition Members to accuse this Government of leaking? Can my hon. Friend remember how many times the Labour Government held inquiries into leaks about their Budgets?

Mr Speaker: Order. Let us be absolutely clear about this. The hon. Lady can make a general charge. She cannot and will not make a personal charge against an individual Member in any part of the House. I trust that the hon. Lady is not accusing the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on the Opposition Front Bench of hypocrisy.

Lorely Burt indicated dissent.

Mr Gauke: I, too, want to be very careful and not accuse the hon. Gentleman of hypocrisy, but there are dangers of inconsistency.

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Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On Monday the Home Secretary came to the House and confirmed that there would be a leak inquiry into the Hillsborough media reports. Why is it that the Home Secretary has that grace, but the Minister does not?

Mr Gauke: Let me repeat what I said earlier. It is a long-established practice of the Treasury not to comment on whether a leak inquiry has been established or on its conduct or outcome.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that Labour’s record of leaking is as long as its record in office. Not only did the last Govt leak like a sieve but Hugh Dalton, a previous Labour Chancellor, was forced to resign for leaking Budget secrets—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. I made the position clear. This is a set of exchanges about a specific and narrowly crafted urgent question. It may be about many things within that context, but it is not about 1947. We will leave it there.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): The previous Labour Government leaked worse than the Titanic. Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever the Labour party’s budgetary policies may be—we are not quite sure—they would be an equal disaster?

Mr Gauke: Within the constraints of the question, I will just say yes.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): Will the Minister concede that the Chancellor has shot himself in the foot with such widespread leaks, because all that he had to announce yesterday was the tax grab on grannies, which he hoped people would not notice? Will he concede that the leak inquiry that may or may not be going on now in the Treasury should consider the leaks of Office for Budget Responsibility judgments, and that now is the time to put the OBR on a proper independent basis similar to that of the Office for National Statistics?

Mr Gauke: Of course the OBR is independent, and that may be some irritation to Opposition Members, given its conclusions about the failure of the 50p rate.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the only possible explanation for the general hypocrisy on the Opposition Benches, given their own leaking of this urgent question before the Speaker’s Office announced it, is their desire to avoid the good news of GlaxoSmithKline’s investment announced this morning?

Mr Gauke: I am interested to learn that this story was apparently briefed before any decision emerged. [ Interruption. ] I understand that that is incorrect and that it was not announced on Twitter before your decision, Mr Speaker. If it was, I am sure that there will be an internal Labour party inquiry.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The reference to Hugh Dalton in 1947 is of course wrong, because he resigned and the leak had been reported in an evening newspaper before he sat down. What we are talking about now is

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the ministerial code and the accurate and extensive reporting of what was in the Budget across the media the morning before the Budget statement. That is the difference, and that is what we want to be investigated. Are we going to have an investigation or not?

Mr Gauke: I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s first point. I should also reiterate that we have a coalition, which means that there are negotiations and discussions involving both sides. It also means that the Budget tends to be finalised some days in advance of the Budget speech. That is quite a contrast to previous years, when revisions were made, documents pulped and decisions taken at the last minute. I think that we have a much better process, thanks to the discussions within the coalition and the involvement of the Office for Budget Responsibility.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Does the Minister believe that the Opposition would improve by getting some consistency on whether information should or should not be released?

Mr Gauke: We can hope for consistency, but I am not an optimist on that front.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Leeks are normally very popular in Wales, but given that only 4,000 people in Wales pay the 50p rate of tax, compared with 94,000 in London, taken alongside the regional pay leak, this represents a massive transfer from poorer people in Wales to richer people in London. Does the Minister not agree that spreading that sort of fear through leaks ahead of the Budget announcement is disgraceful, and has he not admitted that he has given leaks by referring to our alleged leaks?

Mr Gauke: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s analysis is wrong, because the rich will of course be paying five times the amount as a consequence of the Budget measures. I am afraid that his analysis is no better than his jokes.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Will my hon. Friend accept that he made a mistake in saying that part of the Budget was leaked by the Labour Government in 2005? In fact, the whole Budget was leaked to the Evening Standard .

Mr Gauke: I suspect that my hon. Friend is right and apologise to the House for getting that wrong.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): One of the reasons why Budget leaks are particularly serious is that they facilitate tax avoidance. When the Budget speech was leaked in 1984, Lord Howe instituted a police inquiry and everybody working on the Budget was interviewed by the police. Why does the Chancellor of the Exchequer not do the same?

Mr Gauke: I know that the hon. Lady speaks with great knowledge on this issue. I agree that it is very important that sensitive information is protected and can assure her that, on the one potentially sensitive area of stamp duty, the Treasury was not involved. If something is announced in the morning, even if it comes into effect

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at midnight, people still have the opportunity to exchange contracts in the interim period, as indeed was the case when previous Governments raised stamp duty.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I was an avid reader of pre-Budget commentary in the newspapers and found that there was plenty of new content in the Chancellor’s presentation yesterday that had not been covered at all and plenty that the media had got wrong. Is this not a complete waste of parliamentary time, and will my hon. Friend ensure that none of his official time is wasted in the pursuit of this phantom leak?

Mr Gauke: If the intention is to keep the shadow Chancellor’s speech off the lunchtime bulletins, I suspect that it will succeed, and who would blame the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) for wanting to do that?

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Would the Minister describe it as a coincidence that the £3 million stealth tax on pensioners was one thing that was not leaked?

Mr Gauke: I am not sure whether we are now getting complaints that we are briefing too much, or too little.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Clearly, the most difficult job in Parliament is to respond to the Budget speech. If everything was leaked in advance, why did the Leader of the Opposition get it so spectacularly wrong?

Mr Gauke: There is a theory that we might have wanted to help him, but I can assure my hon. Friend that that is not the case, although I can see the argument why the Leader of the Opposition might have wanted that help.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): By describing the systematic and orchestrated leaks as somehow an accident, does the Minister not realise that he and the Chancellor remind people of Captain Renault in “Casablanca” when he goes into Rick’s place and is shocked to discover gambling going on, even as he collects his own winnings? Is this approach not simply amoral, and should Ministers not have a higher standard around the Budget?

Mr Gauke: I am afraid that if we were looking at the previous Government we could round up the usual suspects there, because there was plenty of leaking under them, but we heard none of the synthetic outrage from the Labour party then.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I have a dream in which the Budget is merely the confirmation of ideas that have been fully consulted on and people can actually understand what the tax regime will be in advance. I commend the Minister for his work in trying that, rather than worrying about this flim-flam.

Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend makes a good point about our more deliberative and consultative process for tax policy making, and some of the announcements

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in the Budget yesterday were the culmination of a long process of consultation, for example the reforms of controlled foreign companies, which have been widely welcomed. As a corporate tax regime, ours is increasingly recognised around the world, and I am delighted that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) pointed out earlier, we had the announcement from GlaxoSmithKline this morning.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): How does the Minister explain the headline on Wednesday morning in the Financial Times—it could have been any of the major newspapers—which stated: “Osborne in tax grab on top-end property”? The article went on confidently to assert that the duty would be 7% on properties priced at £2 million and above. Surely that was a leak. If it was not, what was it and what will he do about it?

Mr Gauke: I do not believe that the figure of 7% came from the Treasury, but we also ought to recognise that in last year’s Budget the Chancellor made it clear that we were looking at getting more money from those owning high-end properties, so it should not have come as a complete surprise that there was an announcement along those lines in the Budget yesterday.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): It was widely reported in the press before the Budget, and in fact before Monday, that on Monday morning the quad would meet for a final sign-off of the Budget. Surely anything that was in the papers about the Budget before that point would have been complete speculation?

Mr Gauke: There is a lot of speculation, but one of the aspects of Budget policy making under this Government is that it is much more orderly and systematic and decisions are reached in a proper way, unlike the chaos that reigned under the previous Government.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The Liberal Democrats were briefing extensively in the past few days, and I just wonder whether the Minister would like to investigate why they seem to have preferential access to information before Parliament does.

Mr Gauke: It is only to be expected that coalition parties will want to make their arguments and to set out their case, and we do have a Budget that is formed by a coalition, but it is a Budget that is good for the country.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): My hon. Friend mentions the consultation work that the Treasury does in order to reach final positions on the Budget. One of those was shown yesterday, with the new regime for oil and gas and decommissioning—something that the industry very much welcomes and which will provide a great boost. Does my hon. Friend agree that such consultations lead to speculation but are vital in terms of getting into the Budget the right result for people?

Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and our progress on oil and gas will be welcomed throughout the country and, especially, in Great Yarmouth.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): On stamp duty specifically, will the Minister implement an inquiry into how many transactions of more than £2 million took place between

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the time that such reports were in the newspapers and the Budget announcement, and into how much that cost the hard-pressed British taxpayer and pensioners who are having to pay the granny tax?

Mr Gauke: On the general point about leak inquiries, I have said what I have to say on that, but we have to bear in mind that identifying a property of more than £2 million, reaching a conclusion on negotiations and exchanging in the course of one morning is somewhat ambitious.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): If the Minister is ever tempted to go down the route of a leak inquiry, will he at least commit to backdating it to 1997?

Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Presumably, the Labour party would be very supportive of, and co-operative in, any such venture.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister has said three times now in his responses that the Treasury was not responsible for leaking the stamp duty changes. The first time that he said so, he added, “as far as I know.” Is not the point that he should know and, therefore at least on that point, that a leak inquiry should be instituted immediately?

Mr Gauke: I have absolutely no evidence that the Treasury briefed on the 7% stamp duty announcement, but none the less an announcement was made in the morning, and the measure came into effect at midnight last night. We also ought to make the point that that measure, on stamp duty land tax, is going to get more money out of the wealthy, and much more successfully, than the Labour party managed with its failed 50p rate.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the fact that the Opposition have tabled an urgent question today on media management is further evidence that the Budget was a good Budget and Labour has nothing to say on growth or jobs?

Mr Gauke: I agree. The focus on process not substance is very revealing.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I congratulate the Minister on some excellent press management this morning, and on the headlines, which have been very helpful to us. But I want to be helpful, so that he can be specific about the area of suspicion. Can he now say that no Treasury Minister directly, or special adviser indirectly on their behalf, gave information to the press about any Budget measures prior to the Budget yesterday?

Mr Gauke: Just to be clear, I will give the hon. Gentleman a Budget measure that was confirmed yesterday: personal tax statements. Ministers were aware that we were going to inform the press about personal tax statements, so the question he asks is extremely broad. There were measures announced yesterday in which Ministers were involved, but I am not aware of any Minister being aware of the briefing of market-sensitive information.

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David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a bit rich to be asking this question today—[Hon. Members: “A bit rich!”] Does he agree that it is more than unfortunate to ask the question today, when articles such as the one I have with me, from The Guardian on 11 March 2008, state:

“Alastair Darling is set to deliver his first budget to the House of Commons tomorrow…but in reality, much of it has already been trailed”?

Mr Gauke: Some things are not entirely new. The Labour party really does have to think back to its time in government and to the behaviour undertaken then. What is remarkable is that Opposition Members managed to brief some of their announcements, given that most were decided only at the very last minute.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Will the Minister clarify whether he expounds the virtues of advance notification and discussion because we have a coalition, or whether he thinks that it is a bad thing to leak? Was the one thing that he did not share with his coalition partners perhaps the granny tax?

Mr Gauke: All Budget decisions were agreed by the Government as a whole, and the quad was heavily involved at all stages in that. People in a coalition will always make their arguments and set out their case, and some of that will be done in private, some of it in public, but it is a far more orderly process of Budget policy making than we have seen for many years.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): In the context of coalition government, there will inevitably be much pre-Budget discussion and much greater media coverage. Does my hon. Friend agree that such coverage is bound sometimes to be right, and that it is ridiculous to interpret it as leaks?

Mr Gauke: I refer my hon. Friend to, for example, the 50p debate, which the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) mentioned. In the days before the Budget there were five different versions of what was going to happen. One turned out to be correct and four turned out to be incorrect.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): We heard almost more information and detail on the Budget on Tuesday evening than we did on Wednesday evening. Was that due to the Liberal Democrats, was it due to the Conservatives, or were they simply all in it together?

Mr Gauke: My right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out yesterday a Budget for growth and for working people. There was an awful lot of information in it. It was an ambitious Budget, and one of which this Government are very proud.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that Budget leaks are to be deplored, as indeed is the alleged break-in at the Leader of the Opposition’s office, purportedly to find his Budget policies? I can inform the House that the would-be thief left empty-handed.

Mr Gauke: It would be a very foolish thief whose motivation was to find policies from the Leader of the Opposition.

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Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that, if any profiteering took place due to leaking the announcement on stamp duty land tax, it would be morally repugnant? What action will he take if his secret leak inquiry finds evidence that it took place?

Mr Gauke: We ought to put the matter into proportion. The idea that someone would be able to identify a property and exchange contracts in the course of a morning is highly unlikely. As I have said, I have no reason to believe that the Treasury was in any way involved in briefing that particular item, but there was a lot of speculation that there would be something on properties, and that speculation turned out to be correct.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Does the Minister agree that such discussion as that which took place between the coalition parties leading up to the Budget is more healthy—more open and transparent—for our democracy than leaving things all in the hands of one, lone control freak?

Mr Gauke: I certainly agree that we do not want to return to the days when a Chancellor, in close co-operation with his special adviser, worked in a sort of secret bunker, not sharing any information with anyone, including the Prime Minister. That is not healthy, and, as we saw, it did not result in sensible tax policy making.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Is not the most serious aspect of leaks the further degradation of ministerial code reform? The Public Administration Committee has been told by the previous independent adviser on the code that the Prime Minister himself is in breach of the code. If the Committee decides unanimously that the present adviser on the code is not fit to hold office, should Sir Alex Allan resign?

Mr Gauke: That is clearly not an issue for the Treasury. The Government will respond to the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised in due course.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I would not dream of accusing anybody on the Opposition Benches of hypocrisy, but the last time I saw more assembled piety than there is on those Benches today was when I visited a Catholic convent in the southern Philippines in 1985. Has it occurred to the Minister, as it has occurred to me, that this urgent question is simply a distraction from the debate on a Budget for jobs and growth that helps working people? That is what my constituents in Gloucester want to hear us debate today.

Mr Gauke: I understand concerns about there being a debate before the Budget, but now Opposition Members do not seem to want a debate on Government measures after the Budget. I think we should have that debate.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Given that the centrepiece of the Chancellor’s Budget yesterday was an increase in the personal tax allowance that gives a tax break to 24 million people on low and middle incomes, and given that that was in the coalition agreement, does the Minister agree that a journalist would not need to be Sherlock Holmes to speculate that that increase would be in the Budget?

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Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; that is in the coalition agreement. We have always said that we wanted to make progress on that, and I am delighted that we did yesterday.

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): Does the Minister agree that it is typical of Labour Members to be obsessed by media headlines and spin when they ought to be doing what we do on the Government side of the House—make good policy?

Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Yesterday’s was a Budget of substance, this is a Government of substance and we will continue to get the country out of the mess that we inherited.

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) based his case on different speculation in the newspapers about the future of the 50p rate. Does the Minister not recall that when the 50p rate was introduced by the previous Government, the first news of it came from a newspaper, not the Dispatch Box?

Mr Gauke: I am sure that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. My only query is that I thought it might have been on the television; but if he says it was in a newspaper, I am sure that he is right.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): In 2005, the Evening Standard covered details of the entire Budget; in 2008, the Daily Mail covered the details of VAT and The Daily Telegraph had details on fuel; in 2009, The Observer covered details on youth jobs; in 2010, there were details on the green investment bank. Would my hon. Friend welcome at least some consistency in policy and practice rather than the lack of constructive opposition that comes from Labour Members?

Mr Gauke: I would welcome that consistency, but I do not expect it.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): Before 10 o’clock this morning, the Labour party press office announced on Twitter:

“Urgent Question in the House this morning @ChrisLeslieMP calling for a Budget leak inquiry”.

Yet I understand from your office, Mr Speaker, that the urgent question was not officially announced to the House until exactly 10 o’clock. Will the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) now call for a leak inquiry on that urgent matter?

Mr Gauke: Earlier this morning, the hon. Gentleman denied it. [Interruption.] He is shaking his head now, so he is clearly denying that that is the case. Presumably, it is reasonably easy to work out what time a Twitter post was made and to know what time the urgent question was announced. But it is not for me to lecture the Opposition; I am sure that they would be very concerned if there had been such a leak and they would be cracking down on it straight away.

Mr Speaker: It is not really a matter for the Minister. These matters are dealt with in a very specific and orderly fashion—the submission of a request, the consideration of the matter at the appropriate time of

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the day by my colleagues and me, and the disclosure of the result of the request to the interested parties. All was done—I know the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) will be satisfied that it was—in an absolutely orderly way on this occasion as it is on every other.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Has the Minister discussed this matter with his colleague the Chief Secretary to the Treasury? I have found the earliest published source of information on the Budget. It was written by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary—on the front page of the Liberal Democrat election manifesto nearly two years ago.

Mr Gauke: And it was all going so well. I confess that I have not spoken to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary this morning and that I have not read all that manifesto. But I would say that the Budget has Liberal Democrat policies and Conservative policies. It is a coalition Budget that is good for the whole country.

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Business of the House

12.15 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House please give us next week’s business?

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

Monday 26 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 27 March—Motion relating to assisted suicide. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee. Colleagues should be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on Tuesday.

The business for the week commencing 16 April will be:

Monday 16 April—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 4) Bill.

Tuesday 17 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

Wednesday 18 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 4) Bill (day 1).

Thursday 19 April— Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 4) Bill (day 2).

The provisional business for the week commencing 23 April will include:

Monday 23 April—Remaining stages of the Financial Services Bill (day 1).

Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

Last week, I recommended to the Cabinet horses that they could back at the Cheltenham festival. Well, the verdict is in, and I have to announce that I will not be giving up the day job. Palace Jester, the horse that I recommended for the Deputy Prime Minister, was much talked about before the race and entered the field with high expectations, but it failed to live up to its overblown hype—it wilted at the first sign of pressure and ended up nowhere. That just proves that Palace Jester was exactly the right horse for the Deputy Prime Minister.

I have been forced to conclude that I am about as successful at tipping horses as the Chancellor is at managing the economy. Yesterday, the Chancellor made a rare appearance in the House to present his millionaires’ Budget. Although an appearance from him at the Dispatch Box is always a pleasant surprise, the content of the Budget certainly was not.

In future, the Government could dispense with the Budget Red Book altogether and just publish a collection of newspaper clippings; instead of delivering a Budget speech from the Dispatch Box, the Chancellor could just review last week’s papers. Will the Leader of the House undertake to update the House at next business questions on how the leak inquiry is going?

This time last year, the Chancellor said his budget would

“put fuel into the tank of the British economy.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]

Since then, the economy has stalled, unemployment has risen and he is borrowing £150 billion more than he planned. What fuel has the Chancellor been using?

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After the lamentable record on growth, what was needed yesterday from the Chancellor was a Budget for jobs. Instead, we got a Budget that will be remembered for giving a huge tax cut to the richest 1%.

We were all astonished to learn from the Chancellor this morning that he was not a top rate taxpayer. The hunt is now on for the name of his accountant, who will surely find himself in spectacular demand. Given that the Chancellor has answered the question, surely the rest of the Cabinet should now do so too. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a note to be placed in the House of Commons Library listing which members of the Cabinet have benefited from the cut in the 50p rate?

Yesterday’s ideological Budget gave a £40,000 tax cut to the richest 14,000 people—wrong choice. Yesterday’s Budget introduced a stealth tax on pensioners to pay for that—wrong choice. Cuts to tax credits in April mean that 200,000 households will now be better off on the dole than in work—wrong choice. With VAT increased, fuel duty going up and child benefit cut, this is a Budget that leaves families £253 a year worse off—wrong choice.

It is not just the Government’s choices that are wrong; their entire philosophy is wrong. We now have a Government who believe that the top 1% will work harder if they are given a tax cut while everyone else can be made to work harder only by having their income cut. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on that notorious phrase, “We’re all in this together”? I have been trying to understand what the Chancellor could possibly have meant by it, so I looked up the word “all” in the Oxford English Dictionary, which said:

“All (noun): the entire number of; the individual components of, without exception.”

Having scoured the dictionary, I have to report to the House that I could not find a definition that excluded the top 1%, so will the Government be writing to the Oxford English Dictionary to ask it to correct its definition?

Were the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on the phrase, “We’re all in this together”, the Deputy Prime Minister could lead it, because he has claimed that this was a “Robin Hood” Budget. The Deputy Prime Minister had a very expensive education at Westminster school; what did they actually teach him? In my more modest school, we were told that Robin Hood took money from the rich and gave it to the poor, not the other way round. Every time I have asked the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on fairness, he has ignored my request, and now we know why. This was a Budget that was neither fair nor progressive and built unfairness on top of economic policies that have failed. Will the Leader of the House finally find time for a debate on fairness?

This week, Government Members waved their Order Papers for tax cuts for the richest 1% and the Cabinet banged the table when the Health and Social Care Bill was passed. Wrong choices; wrong philosophy; wrong ideology: same old Tories.

Sir George Young: It is perhaps unfortunate that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) began by apologising for her tips on horses and then accused us of making all the wrong choices—not a good start. She apologised for her tips; I think she is going to have to start apologising for some of her jokes.

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The hon. Lady asked a whole series of questions about the Budget. We have four days’ debate on the Budget. When we come back after the Easter recess, we will have a debate on the Floor of the House on the Finance Bill, and then two more days’ debate on the Finance Bill, as well as a debate on the Financial Services Bill. She asks me for time to debate these issues, but it seems that we are debating very little else over the next week or so. She and her hon. Friends have criticised us for taking a gamble with the Budget, but they took the gamble when they were in government by spending money they did not have and racking up debts that could not be paid.

On the hon. Lady’s comments about fairness, what was fair about selling off the nation’s gold at a record low price? What was fair about giving pensioners an insulting 75p a week increase in the state pension? What was fair about abolishing the 10p tax rate? What was fair about leaving this country with the biggest budget deficit in our history? Labour set back fairness in this country, not the coalition.

Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): Will the Leader of the House kindly consider making time available for a debate on the Olympic legacy, with particular regard to the regions outside London and the south-east? In Erewash, Long Eaton United football club has recently been awarded £50,000 by Sport England—a very exciting investment that demonstrates how we must continue to provide support all round the country.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the benefits throughout the country of our hosting the Olympics. A firm in my own constituency is making tents for some of the Olympic sites. There is not only the spin-off impact of the purchasing but, as she says, the money that is being distributed by Sport England via the national lottery to promote sporting organisations in all our constituencies. Only last week, I was at two events where cheques for £50,000 were handed out to clubs in North West Hampshire; that is part of the Olympic legacy.

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Given the number of occasions on which the House has discussed the situation in Sudan, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it was a great pity that it took George Clooney to remind the international community that the situation there is getting worse and worse, day by day? May we have another debate of the whole House so that the Prime Minister can explain what actions he has taken, including whether he raised the matter with President Obama during his recent visit to America?

Sir George Young: The right hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the problems in Sudan. I commend the publicity that was generated last week in the United States. I cannot promise a debate in the near future, with the House rising next Tuesday for the Easter recess, but the right hon. Gentleman might like to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for a debate in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment so that we can address this urgent matter when we return.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): The Leader of the House will recall the “Newsnight” revelations before Christmas that the head of the Student Loans

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Company was not having tax deducted at source. The Government subsequently initiated an inquiry across all areas of the civil service, but that did not include the BBC. Having submitted a freedom of information request to the BBC, this week I received a reply indicating that 41 non-talent-based members of its staff are being paid over £100,000 a year and are not having tax or national insurance deducted at source. Will the Government find time for a debate on the abuse of tax regulations in the public sector?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government have made the position clear in so far as the civil service is concerned. As he will know, the BBC is an independent organisation, but I am sure that his question will have been heard by those at the BBC and that they will want to respond to the points that he made in the light of the FOI request that he has recently had answered.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): My constituents in Bruntsfield and Morningside are becoming increasingly concerned about the proliferation of mini-supermarkets, which are having a significant impact on local traders. May we have time allocated for a debate on the number of mini-supermarkets in our local communities and the detrimental effect that that is having on local traders?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising a key issue. I think that the Backbench Business Committee held a debate in January on the subject of the future of the high street and the Mary Portas inquiry. The Government have said that they will respond to that inquiry in the spring. I hope that it might be possible, perhaps with the assistance of the Backbench Business Committee, then to revisit this issue to see whether we can get the balance right between the supermarkets and the imperative to have a flourishing high street full of smaller shops.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when he expects the remaining demonstrators to leave Parliament square and when he expects the road works outside Derby Gate to be completed, as apparently it has taken three months for two valves to be put on to a defective water main there?

Sir George Young: I will make inquiries about the last matter. I commend my hon. Friend’s work over many years in campaigning for Parliament square to be restored to its traditional glory. He will know that all but one of the encampments have been removed. I believe that the last remaining encampment is subject to an injunction that is to be heard quite soon. On the works on Parliament street, he will know that that is a matter for Westminster council, and I will raise it with the council. I am grateful to him for his initiative in ensuring that the road surface opposite the House of Lords is now much flatter, which is of great assistance to those of us who go on two wheels.